There is more to this world. I need to explore it more at some point. This may be a bit of an odd one either way.
Ride the Lightning
Papers lay strewn about the table amid old coffee stains and dirty dishes. It hadn’t been cleaned in some time, but the dust hadn’t settled yet. Trash and debris lay scattered around the rest of the room as well. To the side near the the archway out of the kitchen a path had been cleared to the door leading into the garage. But the rest of the room had been filled and corrupted by trash and debris.
In the living room just beyond the kitchen archway, the sight wasn’t much better. Damage to the furniture was a new edition. The couch had been ripped apart, stuffing scattered across the floor. Not much was left but the wood frame and springs that the stuff had covered at one time.
A recliner had been flipped to its side, opposite the couch. The lever that worked the recline action had been broken at the base. Part of it still stuck to the side of the chair but the wood had been splintered halfway up. The accordion mechanism that lifted the stool portion out had bent on one side and broken clean on the other. It could not be pushed back to its closed position.
Allan had been in the house for only a few minutes by this point and felt there was little left he might find of use. It had been ransacked long before he had arrived. Anything useful would have been stolen in the process. All he had wanted when he stepped inside though, was shelter from the coming storm. He hadn’t expected to find much more than that.
The power grid had shut down months ago. If the place had a generator, it would have been taken long ago. He needed the basement but without light he wasn’t sure he wanted to risk going down the stairs. Outside the storm clouds had blocked out much of what daylight still filtered through. Even then it had been a ages since he had seen full daylight.
He stood off to the side of the bay window that faced the front yard and the main road through the neighborhood. It remained as empty as it had when he first found it a few hours ago. This was the third house he had entered in his search for shelter.
So far he hadn’t found anything promising but the storm was getting closer and he was running out of time. This house would have to do. At least the main windows hadn’t been shattered by time or looters yet. He wouldn’t be getting soaked by the initial rains breaking through.
With an adjustment to his grip on his pistol he scanned the room once more before he ventured into the hall that lead deeper into the main floor.
It looked as if no one had been in the house for some time. But at the same time he still hadn’t found evidence of anyone having died inside the dwelling. Raiding parties ripped through the place some time ago and left it as it is. Didn’t give him much hope for the place as shelter but this one had been his best bet so far.
Thunder peeled back a layer of quiet outside as lightning lit up the living room with a deep red glow. Within moments after the crack of lightning, the winds came. Slow at first, but as they picked up speed the walls began to shake. Allan’s thoughts turned to the basement again. Even without a light source it was his best option now. He was out of time and need to get to better shelter fast.
He glanced down the hall before he set his decision with a step toward the basement stairs. Lightning again blasted the living room with red light. What little light he had available allowed him to see all the way to the bottom of the stairs.
He sucked in his breath and wasted no more time in deliberation. Greeted by a wooden staircase he resisted the urge to race to the bottom. Creaks and groans that answered each footstep to the bottom of the stairs. At the bottom, a soft light pushed its way through the gloom in an area off to the side of the landing.
The basement had been partially finished. Walls separated the various rooms, though the cement had not been covered with carpet. The partial light he could see might have come from an egress window or maybe a small basement window. It wasn’t much but still better than what he expected to find. The cement floor was a better than if this had only been a storm cellar with a dirt floor.
Allan found the lack of sounds in the basement unnerving, even after all this time. Another time, another place he had been in furnace repair. A basement without a furnace running was a cold house in winter. Now it was normal. The quiet of the dead followed him as his footfalls echoed in the first room.
The door directly across from the basement landing remained shut but the door on the wall beside that one hung on twisted hinges. What ever broke through it must have found what it was looking for and left the other alone. Or maybe it was still here.
No sooner had the thought drifted through his mind than he heard a scrape, muffled by the closed door. He stopped, his hand tight on the machete on his hip. The quick beat of his heart counted down the seconds that he remained motionless. But the sound didn’t come again. He pulled the machete from its sheathe and sidled to the open doorway.
This type of floor plan should have doorways that connect each of the rooms. He had been in a number of houses like this in the past. No open walk way but doorways on two walls to create a circular connection between the different rooms. Based on the floor plan on the main floor, he counted another two rooms past the two he could enter from the landing.
His breath flowed in a long silent pattern, meant to keep his heart beat under control and in turn his nerves. The last thing he wanted was to make a mistake that could cost him his life. He hadn’t seen anyone else in the past few houses of this neighborhood so his mind turned toward a rodent or possibly something bigger. Either way the diseases they carried would be an ugly way to die.
The next room had been a laundry room. A washer and dryer had been ripped apart by the side wall. The frames lay broken and all the wire had been stripped out. This was the room that had originally held the furnace and water heater as well. They were both stripped from their fittings and no where to be seen otherwise. Light pushed into the room from an egress window on the side wall.
Though at this point it wasn’t much. The storm clouds had completely blocked what little light would come from the sky. When the thought struck him that he hadn’t heard the thunder in a bit, a large rumble drifted across the sky. A burst of light bounced off the window but he couldn’t see the its source.
Allan adjusted himself closer to the wall with his back against it. He had heard something, not quite hidden by the thunder. What ever had made the noise had timed it to the outside noise but it still came through. He sidled away from the door to keep his eyes trained on where the sound had come from. He had his machete in his hand with a smooth pull of the handle.
When the thunder struck again, he was ready at the door into the room. The noise he had heard didn’t come out this time though. His grip on the machete handle intensified and his knuckles had grown white with the pressure. There it was, the noise again, a scraping as something slid across the cement floor. Sweat dripped from his brow.
The end of a crossbow rounded the corner first. It pointed toward the area just beyond where Allan stood. With a blur of movement he gripped the crossbow from the bottom and pulled it past his body. The person who wielded it stumbled forward and lost their grip. Allan tossed it away and the bolt shot forward into the wall beside him. His opponent tripped after it before they finally hit the ground out of Allan’s reach.
Allan whipped the machete around and pointed it at the person in front of him. “Who are you?”
“The same could be said of you.” The voice had come from behind Allan, from the doorway now to his back. “Drop the knife and get against the wall.”
He hadn’t counted on their being more than one assailant. Allan spun around, the machete still at the ready in his hand. At the site of the two crossbows pointed at his chest he dropped the machete and leaned against the wall. “I didn’t know anyone was still here.”
They were children. Not more than twelve, Allan was sure of it. The larger of the three said, “Not my problem. You okay Jace?”
The kid that had fallen to the floor picked up his crossbow and kicked the machete further away from Allan. After he reloaded his crossbow he took a position further away but kept the crossbow pointed at Allan’s chest. “I’m good. Got careless. Shouldn’t have rushed ahead like that.”
A heavy peal of thunder cracked overhead and the room lit up as lightning struck near the house. Allan said, “I’m looking for shelter from the storm.”
The leader looked him up and down then adjusted his grip on his crossbow. “There are other houses you could have gone in. Why are you in ours?”
“I’ve been to a few already. Yours was just the next in line.” Allan shifted his weight on his feet to a more relaxed stance. “Hoped to find some food too. But the houses I have been in already all looked to be wiped already.”
“Yeah, we’ve been through most of the houses around here,” Jace said. “This is our neighborhood.”
“I’m sorry to intrude. I haven’t seen anyone else in a while.”
The leader and the other next to him gave a nod to Jace and then pulled back from Allan. Jace focused on him and held his crossbow steady. “Hasn’t been anyone through here but us in a long time,” Jace said.
After whispered words the leader turned back to Allan. “You can shelter here. But only in this room. You leave this area, you die.”
“Just like that? That’s your offer?”
“You could go out into the storm.”
The storm raged outside. Thunder cracks shook the house above them. Allan had only counted the three children that had met him in the side room. If there were more, he hadn’t seen them. After they had decided to allow him to shelter in their basement, they disappeared behind the other door.
It wasn’t until after nightfall that the storm finally settled and left them in peace. He had slept through as much of it as he had been able, but knew that travel by night would not be in his best interest. After what sleep he had gotten he reached into his bag and pulled out some food stuffs. Dried meats and fruits he had gathered along the way had been his sole sustenance on his travels.
It wasn’t long after the storm that the door opened again. A crack, not enough to see into the next room, but enough to see a portion of the face that looked back at him. It shut again before he could say anything.
He didn’t move, didn’t adjust himself, but he knew there would be more coming from behind the door. It wasn’t long before they made another appearance. The same three from before entered his sanctuary. They left darkness into the dark of his room and gave no indication of anyone else behind them. Their crossbows hung at their sides.
“It’s time you go.” Their leader had taken position in front of Allan with his two companions at either side behind him.
Allan sized them up. He could take them. Get passed them and into the room beyond the door. He still hadn’t figured out what they had hidden back there. It didn’t matter to him really but curiosity takes a toll sometimes.
The storm had passed. The neighborhood had other houses to search besides this one. These kids had marked their territory and Allan wasn’t a killer, not without provocation. He started collecting his things and shoving them into his bag. ”I’ll go.”
They didn’t say anything else. Jace adjusted his crossbow with his hand on the pistol grip. But they held their formation and kept watch as he followed the stairwell to the upper floor. They hadn’t moved when he reached the landing at the top of the stairs and he couldn’t hear anything else as he found his way back to the front door.
The air outside had changed. It carried the weight of the storm. No longer crisp and clear, an energy charged through it and pulled at him when he stepped outside.
He couldn’t remember when the storms had first come and didn’t know what had caused them. It had been a change from his youth, rainfall that cleaned the air to these electrical storms now that charged the air. The sky hadn’t been clear in years.
No one else walked the cracked and broken street with him, as vacant as when he first entered the subdivision.
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