Underground

I know you are expecting the post-Apocalyptic cannibal Soylent Green story, but this was something I started early on in the 100 Days, 100K process and wanted to finish. Like many stories I write, I asked for inspiration from among my friends on Facebook. In this case, i wanted to write some horror, so I asked them what scared them This is the melding of a few of those answers. In addition, it is definitely near future sci-fi as well as being horror, most because I try and keep a lot of stories in one particulr milieu that stretches from the present to the post-Post-Apocalypse.

———–

Laura hurried toward the underground station as fast as she dared in the tall, narrow heels she wore. Had she made a run for it, she might have made it to the crosswalk before the light changed. As it was she stopped at the curb and swore. She tried to stretch her short dress down and the top up up while she waited, refusing eye contact with any of the other waiting pedestrians.

The talkie wrapped around the back of her ear vibrated and she jumped involuntarily. She had forgotten to set it back to chime after she left the nightclub. “Answer,” she said. She ignored the snerks from the twenty-something girls behind her. It was a generational thing. No doubt they had implanted thinkies, like all the cool kids. Laura was neither cool nor a kid, even if for one night she decided to pretend she was.

“Mrs. Cooper?” Anita asked in her ear.

“I know. I’m sorry,” she said as quietly as she could. “My meeting ran late,” she lied, unless one considered a furtive liaison with a married coworker a “meeting.” “I’m just getting to the U now. I’ll double your rate for the extra hour, I promise.”

“No, it’s not that,” said Anita but Laura was not listening. The light had changed and the small herd of pedestrians that had gathered moved suddenly forward. She tried to weave around a pair of young men in business suits but they were oblivious to her or the way they took up the whole lane.

“Mrs. Cooper?” Anita repeated. “Something weird is happening.”

Laura’s throat tightened with fear and her gut twisted with guilt. “Is Andy alright?” she asked, no longer trying to be quiet. In her head, she railed, All I wanted was to go out and get drunk and get laid, have a little goddamn fun for once! Thoughts like that, unbidden and powerful and true, were the real reason she never transitioned to a thinkie.

“No, Andy’s fine. He’s playing with his puzzle thing.”

Finally across, Laura was able to swerve around the two men and leave the snickering debutantes behind. “So what’s the problem,” she asked, annoyed. As she stepped onto the escalator leading down into the station, she heard Anita’s answer drop out. A few seconds later, her talkie latched onto the U-Fi signal.

“–people. It’s really weird,” Anita was finishing.

“Okay,” said Laura. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll be home soon. I’m just a few stops away.”

Anita paused and her voice shook when she said, “Okay, Mrs. Cooper, if you say so.”

Laura  said, “Bye,” sharply, more to the talkie than to Anita. She was a sweet girl and lived in the building, and Andy was very fond of her, but she exasperated Laura with her constant worrying. Laura supposed it was what made her such a good sitter for Andy, between his complicated medications and his stimulation issues. She made a mental note to give Anita an extra big tip tonight.

She looked up into nowhere and her display appeared. She blinked and rolled her eyes, bringing up the time and the train schedule. It was already sitting at the platform. Dammit. Laura pushed her way down the escalator, ignoring the dirty looks of the people she jostled aside. Her head was swimming a little as both the cosmopolitans and the post coital endorphins wore off. Get to the train, she thought. You can rest easy then.

She made it, but just barely. If an old man with a follow-along had not had trouble getting the little robot suitcase onto the train, the doors would have closed before she got there. She thanked the powers that be for stupid machines and slumped down into an empty, backward facing seat. The car was near the back, since she jumped in one of the first she had gotten to, and sparsely populated. Most of the sensible folks had gone home hours ago.

Half a moment later, the doors hissed closed and her talkie came alive of its own accord with the spiel from the train: rules, safety procedures and stop information. Her display, also unbidden, highlighted the emergency exists before flashing an advertisement for an online dating service and then disappearing again.

The train hummed quietly as it moved and rocked ever so gently. Laura let herself sink deeper into the seat, putting a foot up on the seat in front of her and sliding down so her bare cheeks touched the cool plastic. That’s right, she recalled. He had kept her panties. Tomorrow was going to be awkward. She put her purse on her lap to ensure some semblance of modesty in case she fell asleep and slid further down.

Sleep almost nabbed her but her talkie buzzed again. She bolted up, causing her skin to rub uncomfortably against the chair. She adjusted herself, getting the thin skirt between her and the chair again, before growling, “Answer.”

Anita was crying. “Mrs. Cooper?” she sobbed. There were strange noises in the distance and, closer, the unmistakable sound of Andy whimpering. Laura could see him in her mind’s eye, sitting on the floor, knees pulled to his chest, hands cupped over his ears, rocking. She thought she heard him say, “Get away from the window.”

“Anita!” barked Laura in the Sales Manager tone she used with underperforming interns and over-friendly colleagues. “Calm down and tell me what’s wrong.”

“Something is happening,” Anita said. “There’s people in the street and I think they have guns.”

“What? Anita, that’s impossible. There are no guns allowed in our–”

She was interrupted by a strange sound from the talkie. There was a whoosh and a gurgle and a clunk and then something like a muffled scream from Andy. “Anita!” Laura said, then again, yelling. She looked around and she knew something was wrong. Other passengers were talking rapidly or scanning their displays or thinking at other parties. “Anita! Are you–”

“Mommy?”

Laura’s breath caught in her throat. “Andy?” she asked as calmly as she could manage. “Are you okay? Where’s Anita, baby?”

“She fell down,” Andy said in his usual distant tone. “She is bleeding. I told her to get away from the window.”

Oh, God, thought Laura. What the hell is going on?

“Andy, I need you to call the police. Do you remember how to call the police?”

“Yes, Mommy, but I don’t think–”

The train stopped. It did not screech to a halt or lose power and coast, it just stopped. Everything went dark and the hum of the magnets below turned suddenly to the sound of metal screaming against metal and the train stopped. The passengers did not. Most of them were flung forward, bounding off the hand bars and poles or careening into chairs or windows or one another. Laura was thrown against the seat she was in and the breath was knocked out of her and starbursts filled her vision.

It was over in an instant but she did not know how long she sat motionless, afraid that if she tried to move she would discover that her back was broken or that she had been impaled on something. There was no light at all except for the false light of her display. It read, “No signal.” She checked the talkie. It was functioning but in the Underground without the U-Fi network, it was useless.

In the darkness, someone moaned in agony. Farther away, screams of pain and calls for help. Laura set her jaw and refused to cry out. If she started now, she wouldn’t stop. She waited, taking one deep, ragged breath after another and letting it in a slow, controlled exhale. She watched the clock in her display. Ten minutes went by. Some voices in the darkness silenced while other intensified. She thought there should be emergency lights in the tunnel, but if there were, they did not turn on. The pungent darkness, stinking of insides let out, human and mechanical, seemed to grow darker and heavier with each passing moment.

“Go”, she said to herself but did not move. Inside, she responded, Rescuers will come. “Andy needs you now,” she hissed through a set jaw. Andy needs me.

Laura groped in the unfathomable pitch until her hand found the cool metal of the bar on the back of her seat. Unsteadily, she pulled herself to her feet. Her back and ribs ached, but nothing seemed broken. Ridiculously, she pulled down her skirt as she stood. She had never experienced darkness like it before, she realized. Even on the blackest night, some light somewhere slipped in, especially in the city. This was the literal absence of all light and she suddenly felt very uncertain. Her first step was tiny, her knees wobbling and her body shaking uncontrollable. She groped forward with the other hand in search of the next seat-back hand bar and refusing to let go of the one she held until she had found it. When she did, she took another step forward, shaking still but more certain.

Five steps later, the thundering in her chest subsided and her body stopped shaking. She adjusted to the distance between the seats and she moved with confidence. Reach. Step. Reach. Step. Reach. Nothing. She stumbled suddenly. Goddamn door, she thought too late as she tried to catch her balance, waving her arms like antennae before her. She might have caught the bar before she fell if her foot had not landed on a soft, slick mass. She panicked and her weight shifted and she felt her heel sink in. Her ankle twisted with a pop and she cried out. As she went down, her fingers caressed a hand bar slick with blood and her head caught the corner of a seat back. She landed in a heap, spinning in the darkness, on top of a motionless body. She tried to roll off the body buy just found her face pressed against his — she could feel the stubble on his chin. She started to scream but it turned into a heave and vomit spewed onto the dead man.

Laura sobbed uncontrollably in the darkness. She had not made it half the length of this one car. She would never escape. She would die here. Andy would be left alone against whatever was happening out there.

Between sobs, she heard a sound. It was coming from ahead of her in the blackness. It was a voice, low and weak, but not an agonized moan like the others. It was a word, she was sure, but she could not make it out. The need to know was enough to stifle her hysteria and she picked herself up from the vomit covered corpse. Slowly, carefully, Laura stumbled and groped her way toward the sound.

As she approached, Laura determined the voice belonged to a young man. She followed the repeated word, this dying man’s mantra, until her hands found him in the darkness. First she found his knees, then his face, and finally the vertical hand bar. All were slick with blood and too close to one another.

“Light,” the young man repeated, each time a little weaker and more frightened than the time before.

Laura did not think he was asking for light. She groped the man’s broken form until she found his pockets. She rummaged through each one, listening to him say the word over and over, until in his front pocket — he was so bent by his collision with the hand pole she could not tell in the dark whether it was left or right — she felt a small, cool metal cylinder. She fumbled with it until she found a soft button on one end of the cylinder.

Laura pushed the button and immediately wished she had not.

The opposite end of the cylinder exploded with pale white LED light, so bright and powerful it initially blinded Laura. The man from which she had taken it was the first thing she saw. His body was bent impossibly around the pole, his legs akimbo and his torso twisted into a knot. He tried to smile, said, “Light,” again, and expired with a tortured shudder.

In her foolish desire to not watch a man die, Laura turned the light away from him. It’s bright, ghost glow revealed an abattoir, the most foul and uncompromising laws of physics on bloody display. She understood suddenly how lucky she had been when the train came to its instantaneous halt. The other passengers, those in side facing seats or standing, had been flung forward and crushed, rent and split by their inevitable impacts with the car, it’s furnishings and the other occupants.

Laura vomited again.

Soon she was empty — of alcohol, of food, of horror and of despair. All that was left inside her was a relentless ache, a need to get to Andy. She put the flashlight in her mouth, gripping it with her teeth, in order to free both hands so she could steady herself as she picked her way through the corpses on unsteady legs.

When the train had stopped, her car and the next had collided and, with nowhere else to go, skipped sideways. Though each door to the other was shattered and open, they were off center from one another. The opening between the cars was less than a foot wide. Laura made her way to the opening and between the twisted frames while shining the light. The next car looked much like her own, painted red and littered with crash dummies. At the far end, however, she could see the doors to the next car were open wider and beyond she made out a soft glow. A weak salve of hope comforted the ache inside and she tried to push through the gap to the next car.

Despite at he contortions and squeezing, only one bare, blood smeared leg fit though. The hope began to dissipate and the ache grew and she screamed and sobbed wretched filth at the universe. When her rage was spent she forced herself to breathe and think and finally the answer came. Laura pulled herself out of her cocktail dress. She knelt down and scopped up handfuls of cooling viscera and smeared it over her ever naked inch. Gripping the light again in her mouth, she pulled apart the doors as hard as she could and pushed.

Naked, bloody and bawling, Laura forced her way through the gap one part at a time: an arm, a leg, a breast, her head, the other breast, her hips, and finally the rest of her spilled out and she landed in a heap, gasping for breath. When she had regained some of her strength, she half heartedly reached through the gap to retrieve her dress. Laying as it was in the pool of blood and worse, the dress was unwearable. Instead, laura cast around until she found a jacket that had been shoved onto the overhead rack. It was relatively clean and dry and covered most of her. She put it on and once again clambered through a slaughterhouse killing floor to get to the next car.

When she arrived she saw that the car beyond this one was turned on its side. It looked as though she could climb through and up onto the side, not the roof, of the next car and travel that way, which seemed an easier path than navigating the seatbacks, especially littered as they were with bodies. Ahead, the glow brightened and was perhaps two or three cars beyond this one. Happy not to have to wade through blood and corpses, Laura clawed and scrambled her way on top of the next car and half crawled, half pulled herself along its length. The next car was oriented correctly and just as she began to slide her way down into it, since there was not so much room between her and the ceiling fixtures atop the next car, she saw one of the distant lights wink out of existence. It reappeared suddenly and she realized there had been movement just as she heard voices.

Laura’s first instinct was to cry out but with the flashlight in her mouth she could not. She reached to take it from her lips and call for help when she heard a distinct sound — she likened it to  when you take an air pump off an over-filled bicycle tire — followed by a brief, pained graon. She put her hand over the lit end of the flashlight and held her breath. She heard a muffled almost mechanical voice that sounded like a command and then heavy footsteps echoing in the tunnel. They grew louder.

Laura fumbled with the flashlight. She managed to press the button and turn it off but as she did her blood-slick fingers lost hold of it and it fell. It rolled away and tipped off the end of the car, landing with a clatter. The footsteps stopped. A moment later, they resumed, louder and faster than before, getting closer.

Soon they were in the car on which Laura lay. At first she could make out nothing of them, only hearing their rough movements and oncomprehensible commands as they climbed over the seats of the turned car. Then a light appeared, some sort of flare thrown by one of them. The light was dim and orange, hardly enough to see by. She made out figures in black vinyl or leather wearing what looked like gas masks and goggles and carrying short barrelled, very heavy looking rifles. They could have been police or soldiers or aliens for all Laura could make out the details.

As they scanned the car, she held her breath. She was keenly aware of one naked breast pressed against the glass ceiling that had been a window, uncovered by the long jacket as she crawled. There was pained voice from below and the figures — she thought there was three of them — moved toward the sound. A heartbeat later, the air sound went off again and the voice silenced. The figures scanned the car, looked into the next, then left the way they had come. They never looked up.

Laura held her breath until her lungs burned and starbursts danced in front of her eyes. When she finally exhaled it was slowly and silently and she breathed in just as quietly. She did not move from her perch for a long time but eventually the ache of longing overcame her terror and she knew she had to move on.

It was dark save for the feeble orange glow of the flare. She let herself down clumsily but quietly and landed in the space between the flipped car and the next. She searched the darkness for her flashlight but her hands did not find it. Resigned to more darkness, she moved carefully forward, probing each step with her feet and keeping one hand always on a seat back. Soon she discovered that the lights she had seen were more flares, one or two every car for a half dozen cars. In their dim glow she made out a body or two in every car with a round, apparently cauterized hole in the head. She remembered the confusion in Anita’s description of what she saw and the terror in Andy’s voice. Her stomach churned and her heart pounded.

Three cars down the line Laura got her first whiff of cool, fresh air. She moved forward as fast as she dared. After two more train cars she could see a station. It was her station, mere blocks from her apartment building. It was illuminated by more of the flares but occasionally a brighter, white light would pour in from above like a searchlight shining down the escalator. Backlit by that light, she could make out three or four of the armed and armored figures standing guard on the platform. her blood froze and her resolve withered. She crouched down in the train car and sobbed silently. Part of her wanted to just walk up to the platform, just to end it. Let them shoot her. Andy was probably already dead, after all. And if not, he would be soon.

It was that thought, of her son huddled in a corner as the figures raised rifles at him, of Andy crying out for her in his last moments, of him being alone because she had let herself die before getting back to him, that galvanized her. Laura knew there had to be some way past the figures guarding the platform.

She crept forward as slowly and quietly as she could, peaking over the seats briefly every step to make sure the soldiers, if that was what they were, had not moved. In the station, the tracks tunnel widened and there was room on either side of the train. The train itself had sped past the station for at least a half dozen cars before colliding with whatever barrier had stopped it cold.

As she moved forward, Laura caught a glimpse of the sky through the escalator shaft. She thought she saw lights in building windows. She knew she saw flames and that sweeping white searchlight. Almost as soon as the sky became visible, her talky buzzed against the back of her ear, causing her to suppress a sharp cry, and her display popped up. “Searching.” She was getting a signal.

Ding-ding-dingding-diiiing chirped in one of the pockets of the jacket she wore. Loud. It occurred to her only then how old-school the jacket was. She searched the pockets swiftly until she found it: an honest to goodness pocket talkie, blinking and chirping as it acquired a signal and received messages and missed calls. Laura fumbled with the ting, unsure of how to turn it off, and looked up. The soldiers had left the platform.

Their heavy steps echoed in the pale orange glow. Their rifles cast long, strobing shadows whenever the search light passed. They moved silently, using hand signals, the four of them approaching the train car in methodical turns. A fist raised in the air by the lead soldier and they paused. Then the hand opened, fingers stiff and tight together, and waved sharply forward. They moved onto the train in a predatory pounce, perfectly executed. Their rifles puffed and cauterized holes appeared in three bodies. The lead soldier knelt and after a brief search withdrew the pocket talkie stuffed beneath a long dead passenger. “You have 19 messages,” it flashed.

Laura heard the rifles fire as she pulled herself onto the platform. She did not look back, but scrambled to her feet and sprinted. She was not going to make it. They were going to see her and shoot her in the back and she was going to die on the platform. When her feet hit the unmoving escalator, she heard the chirping of the pocket talkie stop. She dared to hope, just a little, and thrust herself forward up the escalator. Her sweat mixed with others blood on her naked flesh under the dead man’s jacket. Her breath came in fiery gasps. She cursed every skipped aerobics class, every time she took the elevator, every offer to watch a movie instead of go to the park with Andy.

Andy.

Laura growled like a mother bear and pulled herself up the escalator. The sound of boots and metallic, muffled voices speaking an unknown language followed her toward the street above. As she emerged into the open night air, she heard the distinct puff of one of their rifles and her left arm exploded in pain. She did not stop running. She emerged from the station access. Through the haze of pain and fatigue she saw an alley. It was comfortingly dark. Before this very moment, she would never have entered it walking alone at night. Now she ran for it with all her strength, turning the corner and clattering against the recyclotrons and composters. She pressed herself against the wall and held her breath and waited to die.

Minutes passed. Finally the adrenaline began to wear off and the pain in her arm became unbearable. She pulled the jacket off her shoulder to find a perfectly round, dime sized, black hole in her tricep. It had missed the bone and left a bloodless wound that ached like a long unattended dore tooth.

“Connection acquired,” appeared in her display. “Call home,” she started to say but a black-text-on-red crawled across her vision. “Emergency Broadcast Message!” it read. She still was not getting any sound in her talkie, just the unsettling buzz as it tried to connect to the city network.

Laura watched the scroll. Unprovoked attack. Stay indoors. Help is coming. Stay indoors. Do not attempt to engage the enemy. Stay indoors. Nothing of real value.

By then, the pain had subsided to a dull throb and the pounding in her ears of her own heart had lessened. She could hear distant sirens. She quieted herself and listened hard. There was the distant pop-pop-pop of gunfire and the thoombbbooow of explosions. Whatever was happening, it was big. A war? invasion? Whatever the case, there were good guys, too.

With her talkie still down, Laura rolled and shifted her eyes to navigate the menus until she brought up a map of the city. At least the GPS satellites were operating because she appeared as a blinking blue dot in an unnamed side street off 7th Avenue. “Directions home,” she said as loudly as she dared but the display did not change. The full network was still down, but Laura knew her way home from the station well enough to navigate with the map. She blinked twice and rolled her eyes and the map expanded by a half dozen blocks. Re dots appeared every few blocks on the map. She recognized them as emergency vehicles, usually used to help avoid traffic congestion. She found her street and building and saw a half dozen red dots surrounding it. There was no way to know what the dots represented: fire engines, police cruisers or Army tanks.

She knew she had to move. Sitting there, leaning against the wall, out of apparent immediate danger, her body had betrayed her. Her skin burned where she had scraped herself pushing through the doors. Her arm throbbed where she had been shot. Her legs were leaden with the sprint up the escalator. Her mouth was dry and her throat was parched and her eyelids were so very heavy. Then her mind joined the mutiny. No one had seen her. She was safe. She could hide for just a little while, just long enough to regain her strength. What did it matter anyway? She was just a forty something lady with all the sags and wrinkles to prove it and if she popped her head up it was likely to get blown off. Just like Anita.

Laura’s mind made the leap of its own accord: Anita to Andy, the pathway unarticulated but inherently understood, the way one remembers a childhood birthday party upon tasting cotton candy for the first time in years. She pushed against the wall until she was standing. She tied the jacket tight around her waist but kept it unbuttoned, not for modesty but for a feeling of cover and protection. Deliberately looking into her upper peripheral vision and lowly back to the center of her normal sight she dragged the city map into her regular field of view. Thinking a prayer to a God she had only ever heard her grandmother talk about, Laura pushed herself from off the wall and ran toward her building.

She kept to the side streets and alleyways, avoiding red dots whenever she could. The city was a battlefield. Police and what looked like the national guard battled the strangely clad soldiers while hoverers and flyers sparred in the sky with vehicles she had never seen before. Between her GPS display and luck she did not deserve, Laura arrived across the street from her building. Her heart sank. It was engulfed in flames. She bawled suddenly, uncontrollably and fell to her knees.

Strong hands grasped Laura by the shoulders and she shrieked. She tried to pull away but more hands grabbed her arms and yanked her to her feet. She swore and spat and bit until someone gripped her face and turned her head sharply.She found herself staring into a fireman’s mask. “Calm down, lady, or I swear to god I’ll leave you here!” he screamed through his air filter.

The reality of it all struck her dumb and she went weak and compliant. As they walked her to a bus surrounded by city guardsmen, she saw an explosion tear through the lower levels of her building. It rumbled and coughed and then fell, collapsing vertically in a plume of ash, smoke and dust.

The firemen handed her off to a guardsman who asked her name. He stared at her when she mumbled it, obviously recording it, and then pushed her onto the bus. There were dozens of other people, covered in grime and blood, staring blankly ahead. Suddenly self conscious, Laura pulled the jacket closed and walked unsteadily down the aisle between the seats until she arrived at the back of the bus.

She was sitting, staring blankly out the large window at the burning city, before she realized there was a child next to her. He was sitting on the floor, almost under the seat in front of him, huddled with his knees in his chest and rocking.

“Oh, God,” sobbed Laura and reached out to him.

The bus lurched forward. The driver turned the wheel hard to make the sharp cut. He never saw the incoming missile, and even if he had, he could not have maneuvered the bus bus fast enough to avoid impact.

 ———-

Once again, I want to remind you if you enjoyed this story, please share it and this blog. My goal is to grow a readership. Also, feel free to comment. Almost everything that end up here is a first draft, so I look forward to constructive criticism.

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