by Conner Hayes
The industrial skyline oozed a hazy amber. The sallow green clouds ravaged our world. The buildings were empty except our own. Lawn chairs and hewed blankets swept through the suffocating, ash-laced air. A chilly, wafting wind raced towards us across the burning plains. We watched the approaching clouds of damp darkness streak towards us in the twilight from the balcony. It was the restless calm, the pulsating rhythm of the storm before it struck. We sat close together on the balcony and surveyed the ruin and emptiness, wondering where everyone had gone, wondering what had happened.
Gunshots and sirens echoed in the distance. From our perch we could not make out from which direction they were coming from. The sounds reverberated everywhere, echoing, enigmatic howls assailing us from all sides. A black car rolled past. Its windows were tinted black as well.
Was there even someone behind the wheel?
“We should go inside,” Randall said. I could hear the twitching tenseness in his voice.
“This one is going to be bad.”
“You go ahead,” I told him. “I want to see it.”
I couldn’t stop from watching the sickly sky. The sallow green was becoming a grating grey. Rain began to patter down, slowly at first, and then in a permanent downpour. Someone raced past, a stranger seeking shelter. I couldn’t see what they looked like; they wore a black hood. Randall had gone inside. It was just me out here now. I watched the stranger, but he vanished in the consuming fog. Was the fog coming from the ground or the sky? Was the stranger even there?
I felt the uncontrollable urge to venture out into the storm. There was something strange about this weather, something that I couldn’t explain but captivated my curiosity. I leaped over the railing of the balcony and wandered into the mist, following the direction the stranger had vanished into. The cackling thunder prevented me from hearing my own footfalls. The intoxicating rain kept me from feeling the crippling chill. Everything was growing cold. My freezing breath floated into the fog around me and dissipated in the mounting darkness.
I stumbled across a bent figure in the raging gloom. The man wore a hood. He was stooped over something on the broken ground. I slowly approached. He was bent over a body.
“Hello,” I said. He didn’t hear me. The whistling wind consumed all sound.
I crept forward. The strands of my long hair stung my confused eyes. The man was making a noise, a soft whimpering, crying.
I gently tapped the man on the shoulder. He whirled around and impaled me with his bulging yellow eyes. Was he even human?
“He’s dead,” the man croaked, barely audible over the crowing cry of the storm. “They killed him.”
“Who?” I asked after recovering myself from staring at the lifeless body. It had become the shade and stench of death.
The alive man’s eyes weren’t natural. They were moving, swimming, searching. They furtively darted from me, to the swirling sky, to the corpse, then back to the sky. He always watched the sky, even when he was watching me.
“It is too late for us,” the man said, meeting me with his maniacal gaze. He turned upwards and examined the sky with placid resignation, as if he was waiting for the inevitable.
“They are here.”
I followed his eyes upwards. Small, black forms were shooting down from the cryptic chaos surrounding us. An eerie howl, not the wind, resounded from the harrowing heavens. Everything had gone completely cold.
“Do we run?” I asked the man.
The man didn’t fix his gaze on me this time. He was transfixed on the doom awaiting us from above. I could tell from his posture that he wasn’t going anywhere. He was not going to try to run.
“It’s too late,” he said.
I ran into the deserted darkness, searching the shadows for salvation. A flurry of gunshots, a scream from somewhere in the darkness. I felt them stab my soaked back. I could hardly feel the pain. My flesh was numb. I fell to the mud and gazed at the sky. The sallow green and grey were gone. A surging darkness consumed the world and me. It was too late.
***Conner is a twenty-one year old English major pursuing a career in writing and academia. He is currently a senior at Birmingham-Southern College planning to obtain an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Ph.D. in English Literature. He has been published in 221 Magazine and The Copperfield Review in prose and Transcendent Zero Press’s Harbinger Asylum in poetry. Additionally, his novel was considered in the First Annual Young National Writers Contest at age sixteen.***