“C’mon help me up!”
Reginald moved over, ignoring the painful chorus his body was singing and grabbed Femi’s hand, pulling him upright. He tried to ignore the screaming which, together with the snarling and growling seemed like a perverted form of thematic music. The screams were the cries of fear confronted by madness and savagery. They were the screams pulled out from the deepest recesses of the brain, the place past all reason, all thought, the place reserved for the unthinkable, and then some.
Reginald clamped down hard on the fear; he could feel it building like a whirlwind, so he clamped down hard on it and dragged it screaming into the bars of his soul.
He fished out his handkerchief and handed it to Femi, who mumbled his thanks. Picked his bag and rummaged through it, found his water bottle and gave it to Femi. “Here. Don’t finish it.”
“Thanks.” Femi rinsed his mouth, spat out the bloody water, then drank some. Screwed the cap back on and handed the bottle back to Reginald. Reginald unscrewed the cap and took a drink. Screwed the cap back on, then put the bottle in his bag. He realized that the screaming had stopped. They both looked at themselves for a while, and as they turned in the direction of the road, they heard thrashing in the forest.
Something was coming their way.
Wordlessly, they dived back into the bushes. Eventually the ‘thrasher’ came into view and stopped.
It was a passenger, the last guy to leave. He turned around in a full circle, head darting this way and that. His fright was evident in his every gesture.
Reginald waited a beat, until he was sure the only sounds he could hear were his own loudly beating heart and the guy’s deep breaths, and then he tried to get his attention. “Psst.”
The guy stopped, cocked his head.
He turned in the direction of the sound, squinted, then his breath caught in his throat as he rushed over to them, babbling in a whisper, as much a whisper as he could manage.
“Oh God oh no they killed them all they killed them and ate them and burned them God please they-”
“Shhh,” Reginald cut in. “Calm down boy, calm down. Just tell us what happened.”
The boy, for he really was a boy, he didn’t look a day over twenty-one, stared at them wide-eyed, facial muscles twitching, lips trembling, as he tried to speak.
But when he opened his mouth, he began to cry.
Somehow, this was worse.
Reginald realized that he was hearing the cries of a person who knew he had no chance under the heavens, no hope, of survival.
“I followed them,” the boy who had introduced himself as Chike began, “after…you know…I’d said sorry. I didn’t like what they did to you, but there was nothing I could’ve done; they would have simply pounced on me because they would see me as a traitor, that’s why I kept quiet.
“So I followed them. They were well ahead of me, I tried to move faster but I slipped and fell. I could hear them talking, urging themselves to move faster. I knew when they had gotten to the bus; they were hollering at themselves to close the door, and I tried to get up to meet them.
“I never made it to the road, and that’s why I’m alive. If I’d reached the road I would’ve died.”
Chike stopped. They were seated on the ground, where the beating had taken place. Chike looked towards the road, the fear in his eyes. He turned to Reginald and Femi.
“I was almost on the road when I heard the car start.”
Chike took a deep breath.
“It was an ambush. At least it seemed that way. There was no way they could’ve survived. It was as if these…beasts knew we were going to come back. They…they…”
“Alright,” Reginald said, patting him on the back. “I think we get the picture.” Chike heaved a sigh of relief.
Silence. Then Femi spoke up. “What do you think is going on here?”
“Apocalypse,” Reginald replied.
“We are all going to die here,” Chike said.
No one disputed that.
About an hour-and-a-half had gone by since the whole thing started. To Reginald it seemed like a day-and-a-half. Now, they were just three guys against God knew how many of these things. They could even be hunting them right now.
“We have to keep moving,” Reginald said, standing.
“To where?” Femi asked.
Exhaling, Reginald said, “I… I don’t really know, but we have to move, we’ll stay away from the road and walk. Okay…let me see… Alright. Let’s walk back in the direction we came from. Perhaps we’ll be able to leave this place. ’Cos I don’t think we are in our own world anymore.”
Femi was tired; he looked like he had a nasty accident and came out lucky (true). Chike looked scared. Reginald was doing his best not to fall to pieces.
What a motley crew.
Reginald realised that he was the only one capable of leading them at the moment; he didn’t think the others could lead themselves anywhere if they were left alone.
“Alright,” Femi said, “let’s go.”
They set out, Reginald in the lead, Femi behind him and Chike bringing up the rear. The leaves and branches slapped and scratched their faces and arms ( Reginald’s arms were quite safe in his jacket sleeves). They tried to stay away from the road without losing sight of it. Reginald didn’t really know what to do. He wasn’t really what you would call an ardent churchgoer, neither was he a good Christian, hell he couldn’t even remember his last Confession. But he was praying now. He took out his Rosary, looked at it. Despite the fact that he was not a good Catholic, he never left home without it. Now, he was glad for that. Holding the Rosary in his hands somehow seemed to calm his beating heart. Slowly, his fear receded into the shadows of his heart, his eyesight seemed to clear, he felt lighter. If only-
The rustling stopped his train of thought cold.
Reginald stopped. Femi nearly bumped into him.
“Get moving,” Femi began, “will y-”
“Shhh,” Reginald cut in, finger on his lips, motioning for him to be quiet. All three were silent as Reginald scanned the bushes.
After a moment, Femi could contain it no longer, and he whispered a question, “What?”
“I thought I heard something.”
“What kind of sound?” Chike asked.
Reginald kept quiet for a moment. Then shrugging, he said, “It’s probably us. Let’s go.”
Nearer this time.
All three stood stock still, eyes darting this way and that, breath coming in short gasps. “Calm down,” Reginald whispered, “just calm-”
The beast sprang.
They heard the snarls and growls, looked upwards and to the left as a large shadow covered them all.
Reginald’s thought was, I hope it ends quickly.
The bullets struck the beast in the neck, hard and fast, digging bloody furrows, hitting the face, the chest, hands, reddish black liquid spraying everywhere, the gunshots sudden and ear-shattering in the oppressive silence. Reginald, Femi and Chike flung themselves to the ground, hands over their heads, faces digging in the dirt. Someone was screaming, screaming.
They heard the beast snarl in pain; a chilling, vocal outburst so animalistic and yet so human at the same time.
A thud, and then rustling.
Then nothing; nothing but the screams which tapered to whimpers.
“Shut up boy,” a gruff voice said.
The whimpering continued.
Eventually, Reginald raised his head and heard the crunch of footsteps on leaves and stones and twigs. He looked sideways, took in the boots. He sat up and raised his hands to shield his eyes against the sun so he could look at their saviour.
He found himself looking at a soldier.
A soldier with a smoking AK-47.