Cursed Earth | Later -->

With a final cough and sputter, the old Volkswagen's engine cut out and it rolled to a stop, fuel expended. Jessica reached into the back seat and shook the fuel can. "Goddamnit," she swore. "Empty. Looks like we're searching again."

"Well, at least it got us this far," I muttered with resignation, and swung open the door. I took my sword and rifle, both relics from an earlier time, from the back seat, and strapped them on. Jessica came around the back of the car to meet me, her shotgun in one hand and the diesel can in the other. Next up were the packs, of course; you never left your provisions behind, no matter how short the trip was supposed to be. That's just a bad idea. We headed off down the street, hoping something here still worked.

It was about ten o'clock, so we weren't too worried about the demons. Most times, they don't come out during the day. That might have been our first mistake - after all, there were more things than just demons around. The first clues, I think, were the rats. There weren't any.

Rats are a universal pest, they're everywhere. Even the demons and other beasts from Outside haven't managed to push the rats out - so when you don't see them, something's wrong. I was just beginning to ponder this when I first heard the noise, coming from above and slightly behind.

click... click... clickclickclickclick...

I turned, snapping my rifle up, to regard the source of the sound. Alpha demons, I thought, Goddamn alpha demons. That's when I saw it, a huge black spider-like thing, skittering down the side of the abandoned apartment building, its legs clicking against the concrete. I stared down the barrel of my FAL, the front post of the iron sights positioned between its jaws. The thing flexed its fangs, a drop of venom falling to the street below. I squeezed off a quick double tap, as much out of revulsion as coherent thought. The heavy rounds struck home, sending the arachnoid tumbling from the building to splork heavily on the pavement. Just then, Jessica tapped me on the shoulder.

"Umm, John," she stammered. "There's more of 'em!"

I glanced at the two shell casings at my feet, subtracting their number from the running count of ammunition remaining. Fifty-eight, I thought to myself. Just this magazine, and the one on my chest. After that... I turned to regard the new entrants to the fray, five more spiders skittering along buildings down the alley to our left. I briefly considered the possibility of simply shooting them all down, but then thought better of it - they were already uncomfortably close. "Run," I said. Jess dropped the can and was off like a shot, running down the abandoned main street with all the form and speed of a seasoned athlete - which she was, on reflection. Both of us were, really - running for your life all the time tends to do that. I was gone a second later.

I looked back, expecting the spiders to be gone, but they weren't. They were on the road now, more of them, a veritable army of skittering horrors running full-tilt after us. We were faster, but I knew it was only a matter of time until we ran out of energy, and then that would be that. Death by venom. Not a pleasant way to go; I'd already lost one friend that way, and hell if I was going to lose another. One glance told me that Jess was thinking along similar lines, the way she was scanning the buildings.

I saw the chance first, and broke right, shouting for her to follow. There was an alley just ahead, with an open door - a possible refuge. Quick as a cat I dashed around the corner, and came face to face with a demon, a big alpha elite. I was already too close for a clean shot. I dropped the rifle, letting it hang by the sling, and went for my sword, but I wasn't fast enough. I saw the thing starting to lunge for me, its maw wide open to bite, and knew I didn't have time to dodge. I braced myself for the impact, to feel those icy silicon carbide fangs scraping the bones of my face, when suddenly the demon's head exploded, chunks and yellow gore splashing against the wall. The roar of the Benelli 12-gauge semiautomatic reached my ears an instant later. I shook away the ringing in my ears and barreled through the open door, snapping my sword out just in case. Jess was close behind, slamming the door shut as she entered.

We continued up the stairs at a frantic pace, not daring to look back. After all, the spiders could scale the walls, they weren't limited to stairs like we were. Up three flights we went, before we came to a fire door. I kicked it open and charged through into a tiled hallway. Jess pulled ahead of me and opened a supply closet, and we piled inside. Not a minute later, the awful scratching and hissing of the spiders began, just outside. They couldn't get through the door. There we hunkered down, waiting, as hours ticked past.

We hid all day until, at long last, the hunting spiders left.

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