Something was just odd about that morning. Not one leaf blew on the trees or tossed through the grass. Pooled in the shallow culvert just outside my window, the water was eerily still and unsettlingly silent. The neighborhood dogs weren't barking either; and usually they were yapping up a storm.
Mom called early that morning—it must've been somewhere around seven. But it wasn't the usual yakking on about corns, calluses, and high blood pressure—she was more hysterical.
“Do you see it,” she asked.
I yawned into the phone. “See what, Mom?”
“That big thing climbing out of a volcano in Peru.” Her voice grew careless. “It's all over... all over the news.”
“No I haven't, Mom.” I turned to my girlfriend, Jamie, and rolled my eyes. I smiled. “It's Mom,” I whispered.
“I figured that much,” she grinned.
“Did you hear me,” Mom's voice grew louder.
“Well then,” she demanded, “turn on the God-damned TV!”
After switching on the TV, I couldn't escape the reports. They were everywhere! On CNN, MSNBC, local stations, everywhere. She was right. This thing was huge, but hard to make out. And just as Mom had said, it was climbing out of a mountainside. What is this thing, reporters asked? No one knew.
It's head was like a locust or something, fresh out of it's shell. It looked soft; new, like it had just formed. Grotesque arms extended down the mountainside, into the foothills, and approached a little village. At the tip of each arm a sharp lance the size of a city bus lay weak in the volcano dust. And villagers just stood there awestruck.
In shock, I stepped outside. It was a struggle to breath. The air was tight in my chest; the breeze smelled like the strongest chlorine I'd ever known. On the surfaces, a thin shield of white covered each car and each rooftop.
“Out of character for rural Ohio.” It was Franklin's voice.
“Yeah,” I pointed to the sky, “and look at the dark clouds rolling in here.” I scratched my chin. “A storm maybe?”
Franklin opened the gate from his yard to mine and got closer to talk. He was an older man, I'd guess around 70, I never asked. A nice guy. He'd given me a transmission for my Chevelle, let me use any power-tool in his garage, and even offered me and Jamie some tickets he'd won from Kings Island last Summer. He grinned and looked up. “Never seen a storm like that,” he said swiftly. “Not in all my years.”
“What do you think about this thing in Peru?” I asked.
“Ah, who knows?” Franklin spit some tobacco into a cup. “With all these computer graphics and stuff, I wonder if it's not made up,” he added. “But what do I know, I'm an old man.”
We laughed and stood there for at least five minutes before either one of us spoke another word. Maybe we both were contemplating the what if's. I know I was. Old man or not, I could see some concern in Franklin's face. And if it scared him, maybe I should be too.
I tried to wash the fear with laughter. “Like the moon landing,” I said... “A phony.”
He smiled. “Yes, like the moon landing.”
“Guess we'll be buying volcano creature souvenirs before too long and visiting the museum.”
“If it's going to be a disaster,” said Franklin, “they'll find a way to make money from it. You can bet your hiney on that one.” He grinned and spit again.
We both gasped for wind. First I'd wheeze, then Franklin. The air was getting too thick outside, so I shook his hand and headed inside. I stepped into the hall, where the air was a little better, and looked. I could breath now! “Jamie,” I yelled. “Jamie, where are—”
For a moment, I went empty. There she was... lying there in the kitchen floor, motionless. I checked for a pulse, but nothing. No breath from her nose; no color in her face. My own heart throbbed in my chest, what was I going to do? What was wrong with her? I was panicking—I realized that—so I needed to square myself if I loved her.
I stooped down to her side and began CPR, checked for airway, tilted her head back, and softly placed my lips to hers. And with that soft touch, I never even so much as gave her one breath, she woke up and looked at me. It was a startled look.
“Aubrey,” she gasped. Her eyes rolled back, then fixed to my face. She spoke to me sleepily. “I don't know what happened,” she said. “I was cutting some apples, then I fell.”
I knew worry showed on my face. “Are you feeling okay now?”
“Weak.” She tried to raise but couldn't. Her grip tightened my hand and then released.
“Let's go to the sofa,” I smiled. As I carried her into the other room, I noticed Jamie was lighter than normal. “Lay here and I'll get you some juice,” I said.
“Aubrey.” Jamie's eyes filled with tears as she snatched my arm. “Don't go,” she pleaded.
I paused to breathe. “Okay,” I said, as comforting as I could. “I'll stay.”
I sat down and she slid up close to me. With my arms around her she quit crying, sniffled a little, and softly spoke. “I had a horrible dream,” she said. “It was like a premonition.”
“Like telling the future?” I asked.
“Yeah, but it was so real.”
“What was it about?” I asked, brushing some damp hair from her face.
“A figure in a dark cloak came to me... like death, but different.” Jamie's eyes were fixed again. “He said because I was female, 'the threat', it was my responsibility to tell the world of it's end.” She paused for a second and then snapped back into emotion and looked at me. “Aubrey, it was so real.”
Quickly she interrupted and continued. “He showed me all the suffering that was to come, like watching it on TV or something.”
I didn't know what to say. My mind kept wanting to say things, but the right words just wouldn't come out. Whether or not it was a dream wasn't the appropriate question... if what Jamie dreamed would really come true , that was the question at hand. And with all the weird stuff going on today, I had no reason not to believe her.
Jamie made breakfast that morning, without electricity. We fired up the grill outside, even though the thick air made flame almost impossible. The two of us sat there staring at each other like nothing was happening, but we both knew—in shock—that something was.
Franklin died a few days earlier; his niece said his lungs collapsed because of the thick air. They flew him back home to West Virgin, she had said.
Finally the electric popped back on. News reports said old Franklin wasn't alone. Over 675,000 people worldwide had succumb to the reduced oxygen levels in the air. Mostly elderly. Those same reports showed the creature that rose from the volcano taking cities across the world. The once soft-like head was now a thick, strong skull supported by a webbed patchwork of muscle. It's untouchable arms were lethal. And the armies of several nations threw everything that had at it... nothing. In Ohio, Cincinnati had already fallen.
Jamie looked at the TV and then at me. “What are we going to do?”
“I'm not sure,” I said honestly. What could be done? All we could do was watch news reports and see people destroyed one by one. I was scared shitless... but I didn't let on.
It was night outside now; and hard to see anything that was coming. Sitting there in my recliner I contemplated the options. I even thought of underground bunkers I'd seen on the Military Channel. Surely we could find one before this thing caught up with us. But the car wouldn't budge; wouldn't even start. So that idea was out.
“I'm going outside,” I said.
“Okay.” Jamie said, looking tense. The sweat on her brow was beginning to dry as she pulled a half-bitten fingernail from her mouth. “Be careful, Aubrey,” she said. “Don't leave me for too long.”
Carefully, I stepped outside. It was a clear night—not a dark cloud in sight. Those dark clouds faded away a few days ago. The brightest moon hung just above the street and lit the houses at the end of Hamilton Drive. Over at Franklin's place it was dark though, and I thought about him, how nice he was to me and Jamie. It didn't seem right.
I glanced at our house and back up again. But this time the moon had changed colors, now it was red! The deepest red I'd ever seen. It was as though the surface was filling up with red. The sudden change had recolored the ground from pristine white to crimson and with it came a stinging rain. Feeling it now, I ran inside.
“It's raining har—”
“Aubrey!” Jamie broke in. “Look at your arms!” she panicked.
I slowly looked down and saw my arms... covered in blood. I wiped ferociously as blood streamed onto the beige carpet. On my shoulders, drizzling down the hairs on my arms, and flowing from my fingertips... the blood-rain was all over me.
“It's the rain.” My voice was screechy. “It's raining blood!”
Braving the sharp rain to feed my curiosity, I stepped outside again. This time I was horrified. Coming up Hamilton Drive was the beast, a huge skull, in the nighttime dark. Just as the news had described it, but much more heart-dropping in person. As it slowly hovered some 100 feet above the street, the evil creature shot lightening from it arms, destroying houses, cars, everything that existed on our street. Each exploded and then disappeared. It was erasing everything and ending quick the screams inside.
I darted inside fast and grabbed Jamie. “It's here,” I said. “We've got to go.”
“Where are we going to go?” Her voice was frantic.
“I'm not sure,” I said swiftly. “We'll go out the back door. Streets behind us haven't been hit yet.”
I grabbed some parkas from the back bedroom and then Jaime. She was shaking, I could feel her. And goosebumps infested both our arms. I kicked the door to fight a strong building wind and we dashed through the yard. The wooden fence behind us was no match for the wind and it took it, so we used the advantage and fled to the next street. I'm not sure how, but I had the feeling Franklin's house was gone—ours was next—and if it was, I didn't want to be anywhere around.
“We'll keep running,” I yelled. “Don't stop, Jaime.”
She tightened on my hand. “I won't,” she cried, “I won't.”