<-- Earlier | Cursed Earth | Later -->
I'd lost count of just how many hours it had been. Jess was asleep, her head on my lap, and I think I dozed off too. Carefully I pressed my ear to the door, listening for the scraping and scrabbling of chitinous claws or the weird rattle of demon tails, but I heard nothing. In a way, the silence was reassuring.
"Psst, Jess, wake up," I said, nudging her. She came to with a start.
"Are they gone?" she asked, her voice low.
I hesitated a moment. "Looks that way," I responded at length. "Let's bug out."
Surprisingly she was on her feet before me. I opened the door, slowly, cautiously, and glanced around. The corridor of the old office building was dark, lit only dimly by the full moon's light streaming in a window, and I couldn't see much. Jess gingerly sidled out the door, leading the way with the muzzle of the shotgun, and I followed after her, snapping around to check the other way as soon as I was past the frame.
Nothing. The coast was clear. Letting out the breath I'd been holding, I re-slung the FAL, then strode over to the window. A dark city at night really was an eerie thing to behold. All these buildings, crumbling and decaying, like the skeleton of civilization. I scanned the skyline, looking for any sign of life, but with no success. At length I spied a parking lot in front of a Wal-Mart. It wasn't much, but it was something. At least we'd find shelter there, and if we were very lucky, maybe food, fuel or other supplies. I pointed it out to Jessica.
"I hate Wally World," she groused. "But I don't really have a better idea. Let's go."
We made our way down to the ground floor and out onto the deserted street. Lightning bugs and buzzing moths flitted here and there, in and out of broken storefronts and wrecked, burnt cars. A shadow zipped past me as an owl descended, seen but not heard, to grab a rat from the street ahead. You could almost forget the world is infested with hideous things from Outside, I thought.
A rustle from my right snapped me out of my reverie. I turned toward the sound, drawing my dad's old revolver as I did. Jess flicked on her light and shone it into the darkness. Two eyes glared back at us in the dim glow of the torchlight, a low hissing snarl issuing from whatever creature we had surprised. I drew down on it, placing my sights directly between the eyes. I meant to dispatch what I thought was an alpha demon before it could alert any of its bigger kin, but the creature moved first. As it bounded toward me, out into the moonlight, I made out the silhouette of a lynx with a rabbit in its jaws. It bolted between us, nimbly dodging, then paused and gave one more glance over its shoulder before disappearing around a corner. I chuckled slightly as I lowered the gun.
"Heh, nice kitty," Jess said. "Darn cats, scaring me like that! Whoa, wait..."
She panned the flashlight's dim, flickering beam around the broken storefront where the lynx had been, pausing over a fallen neon sign bearing the pawnbroker's symbol. Though the shop was decrepit and long-abandoned, there were still shelves of merchandise around, surprisingly unmolested. "Will you look at that," she said. "Maybe our luck is changing."
"Don't bet on it," I snorted cynically. "But then again..." The light's beam stopped over an item I vaguely recognized, a long flashlight with a clear plastic body and a copper coil at the base. On a hunch, I picked it up, shook it a few dozen times and flipped the switch. Instantly a brilliant beam lit the gloom. "Right on," I said, shifting the kinetic flashlight to my weak hand. "Let's see what else is in here, shall we?"
A quick search of the old pawn shop turned up a few packs of batteries, a laser pointer, a few more rounds of ammo for the FAL and a box of 10mm Auto ammo, but unfortunately no gun to fire it. We left and continued on toward the Wal-Mart, pleased with the windfall.
The Wal-Mart parking lot was deserted, unsurprisingly. What was somewhat more surprising, was the dead spider-thing in front of the door, its corpse riddled with bullets. "Damn," I mumbled. I was hoping I'd seen the last of those creepy bastards. Brushing the thought aside as much as I could, I unslung my rifle and made my way inside. It was getting late, so my main concern was finding a secure, defensible place to bug in for the night. If we managed to find any fuel or useful supplies here, so much the better.
Jess and I picked our way through the chaos within. She managed to find a serviceable change of clothes, but I wasn't so lucky - the one pile of jeans that might have been my size was covered in stinking demon blood. Fucking typical, I thought. I moved on through the wreckage of the electronics section toward the back room. I was just about to push the door open when I stopped short. The window was obscured by weird white threads. It might not even have connected had I not heard the ominous clicking from behind the door. My eyes went wide and I began backing away from the door rapidly to warn Jess.
I looked over my shoulder toward her, ready to break into a run, when I saw her edging backward down an aisle, her gun up and scanning nervously. My suspicions were confirmed when I heard the sound of scrabbling claws from her direction. The first spider slunk around the corner and Jess dispatched it without a second thought. The roar of the shotgun seemed to embolden the others, though. Two dozen more came barreling into the aisle from both sides, skittering frantically over one another to get to their quarry.
Undaunted, Jess fired round after round, the patterns of buckshot tearing the creepy things down with deadly efficiency. She never missed a shot, and the first seven went down rapidly. Of course, that was about the time the striker clicked uselessly on an empty chamber. "John!" she yelled. "A little help here!" She rapidly slung the gun, still backpedaling, and drew the Beretta. The pistol cracked over and over, more spiders going down, as I tried to find a position where I could shoot without hitting her. She finally cleared the aisle and I opened fire into the onrushing arachnids. The first shot took down two spiders, that fell on a third, and for a moment I thought we had the situation under control, when a great weight fell on me from above.
I fell prone, cracking my chin painfully against the hard tile, my rifle slipping from my grip and skidding across the floor. In a panic I scrambled to get up, but something was pinning me down. A flash of searing pain erupted in my shin as something hard and sharp cut through skin and scraped against bone. Oh hell, don't let that be a spider, I thought, even though the alternative was probably worse. I jerked my leg away and tried to get my arm free so I could turn and see what I was facing, but I was thoroughly pinned. It was about then that I realized the pistol fire had ceased several seconds ago. I thought of Jess, buried under the onrushing tide of spiders, and cringed. "Like fuck, said the duck," I murmured through gritted teeth, fishing with my other hand for the revolver. "You bastards are not getting me that easily!" Eventually the gun came free of its holster, but I was still pinned. I felt cold breath on my neck - this was definitely a demon, not a spider - and I started struggling even harder. I finally managed to get one arm free and I punched the demon as hard as I could given my awkward position. If the otherworldly bastard felt it, though, it didn't show it in the slightest.
Suddenly I felt a jolt and a gout of vomit-smelling yellow demon gore poured over my face. The fiend screamed in pain and recoiled, taking enough weight off me that I could move. I turned to see Jess' hatchet embedded in the shoulder of the biggest damned gamma demon I'd ever seen. The beast wasted no time in addressing the new threat, though - it sprung off of me, using my wounded shin as a springboard, and crashed into Jess, taking her to the ground with a painful-sounding crunch. Without thinking I brought the revolver up and squeezed off my last four rounds. The demon reared up when the .357 Magnum hollow-point slugs tore into its back, giving Jess enough space to get free. Only problem was, the demon's biggest problem was now me - and I was out of bullets. Think fast, Johnny-boy, I could hear my father's voice echoing in my head. Without thinking I went for my sword, snapping it out in front of me. The demon slammed into me, its claws clamping around my left arm, but my aim was good, and twenty-six inches of cold cobalt slipped between the demon's scales and penetrated its torso cleanly. I drew the blade back violently, pulling the demon off balance. Suddenly the demon shrieked and the loud report of the FAL rang out from my left. The heavy bullet tore through the demon's left shoulder, wrecking it and leaving its arm a useless limp weight. It let go of my arm and hesitated for just a moment.
A moment was all I needed. I brought the sword around in a reverse chop, biting into the fiend's neck, then, using it for leverage, I got to my feet and hacked at the thing again, bringing the blade down on its wrecked shoulder, severing the arm completely. I didn't wait for it to respond, though. Down came the sword again and again until it bit cleanly through the monster's neck, dropping its severed head to the floor.
Shaking with the adrenaline surge, I wiped the reeking blood from my face and looked around for further threats. The spiders, the entire crowd of them, were clogging the aisle with their corpses. Spent shotgun shells and 9mm brass littered the ground, and Jess stood near, bloodied but very much alive, holding my rifle.
"Let's get the fuck out of here," Jess said at length. I just silently nodded my assent. Jess retrieved her shotgun, and we briefly took cover in another aisle to plan our next move.
The adrenaline wore off and I became aware of the pain in my shin again. It didn't look too bad, though - it was a claw rake, not a bite. I doused the wound with some peroxide from my backpack and had Jess bandage me up. It hurt like merry old hell, but I wasn't too worried for now. The main matter was getting out of this place in one piece.
We made directly for the door. It seemed like outside would be more secure than in - an unusual state of affairs in a place like this. Halfway to the door, the back room door burst open and more spiders poured out.
"Oh, you have got to be fucking shitting me," Jess complained to nobody in particular.
I glanced around, looking for anything that might be useful - and then I saw it. This aisle still had a few cylinders of MAPP gas on one shelf. With a sly grin, I picked one up and lobbed it just in front of the onrushing spider horde. "Think fast, assholes," I snickered as I drew a bead on the cylinder and fired right as the horde reached it. The fireball flamed up, blasting spiders skyward, on fire. Not stopping to admire my handiwork, we ran on, out the door.
Once outside, I spied a corpse slumped against a light pole. As we passed it, I noticed the butt of a gun sticking out from under its torn jacket. I stopped and took the weapon while Jess took the opportunity to reload. The gun was a Glock 20 in 10mm Auto - a perfect fit for the bullets I'd found earlier. I shook my head at the odd coincidence and looked up at the moon. "Maybe there is a goddess after all," I mused aloud. It wasn't much, but you take what you can get in this cursed Earth of ours.
After a few minutes, no more spiders were forthcoming. Jess and I stole off into the night, back toward the car. I'd take my chances there, I thought - I'd had more than enough spiders, this night.