There I was, in the middle of the empty street with almost a half-dozen of them bearing down on me. And in that moment, I asked myself: how did I get to this point; death wailing down on me with dispassionate approach, my end so near? It all started this morning.
I’d been sat at home, bathed in the neon light which always glowed around me, the illumination that kept me safe and sound. I was reading, I can’t even remember what. Some pulp novel about alien invaders maybe? I was scraping the metaphorical barrel of my local bookstore’s offerings. I was sitting there, book open in my lap, soft light dancing across the pages alongside my gaze, when I’d heard a sound. A loud clang, like metal hitting stone. This startled me. It wasn’t because strange noises were unusual in town, where sound tended to carry far, more so because it was a calm windless day. Normally when something moved or fell outside, strong gales were the culprit. Who else could it be? There were no animals left since the incursion, none that weren’t adept at hiding anyway. And the people… Well, suffice to say that it was usually the wind. So, on this calm, quiet morning, I was suddenly engaged with the possibility of something else. Perhaps I was over-eager, attention starved from extended solitude. Maybe I was just tired of endless loneliness, ready to jump at any chance for something else.
I checked all of the neon lights hung upon my walls before I headed out. I didn’t want to return to a nasty surprise. They were all working nicely. I dipped into my utilities room to grab a recharged battery from atop the generator humming its music from the corner. The battery I placed in my shopping cart, hooked up to the switch. Hopefully I wouldn’t need this, it was more a last case scenario, but after all this time I’d become very used to playing it safe. Lastly, I grabbed my shield and, fully kitted, I headed out the door.
Those first steps into the outside always scared me the most. They’re attracted to heat, those creatures, and my generator was the only source of warmth around. Nothing… I was safe. They hadn’t sensed it recently or they’d be hanging around. They usually dispersed after a while, but I was wary. It was misty out, perfect weather for them to camouflage in. Slowly, carefully I began making my way in the direction I’d heard the abnormal sound. Walking with reason, wondering just what I might discover before this day was through.
I wanted it to be another survivor, like me… or maybe not like me. I’d spent so long alone; I wasn’t sure I knew how to be kind or caring or hospitable anymore. It had been three years since the incursion, and I’d spent most of it alone. Most of us died in the first few weeks. Few lasted more than a couple of months and it was only by sheer luck that anybody could have held out longer. I lived above a tattoo parlour in a seedy part of town. That’s how I discovered their distaste for neon lights. It’s funny, back then the nocturnal glow of neon outside my window kept me awake, yet now it’s the only thing that allows me to sleep easy.
I came to a halt. Ahead of me on the path, I could see wisps of white. And then the cold hit me. I rapidly retreated a number of steps. It hadn’t sensed me yet, it seemed, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I flicked the switch on the back of the riot shield I had repurposed, and the neon light attached to its facade flicked into life. Precautions, always taking precautions. I willed with all my strength for it to move elsewhere. I could see it clearer now through the misty veil, the Spirit. It was large in size, easily three or more metres tall, writhing and changing its form in constant motion. They always reminded me of old sailor tales of sea monsters. The kraken, a colossal squid, with its tentacles outstretched, searching… searching for what? On land now, I faced its spectral kin. Monsters from a different sea, another dimension entirely, that just happened to drift into ours. Foul fate that we had.
That sound again. The Spirit had drifted away in another direction, and I was free to resume my course. More carefully now, after that brief encounter. It took me another ten minutes to reach the area I thought to be the source of the noise and begin to look around. It was an old warehousing district, abandoned as the rest of the town. Broken windows and dented shutters echoed the last days of the human experience, where looting for resources was rampant. Nobody knew how dire the situation was then, how could they? We knew there was a threat, but we didn’t know from where or from who. The spectral dimension was an unknown factor, one that could have stayed unknown to us forever, had those walls not come down. Why? Who knows… no one will ever know.
After a few minutes of searching, I began to hear a light clanging nearby. It sounded like one of the shutters; I’d heard it before sometimes when it was stormy out. Those days I liked to go scavenging for supplies, when the rain would hide my heat from lurking shades. As I neared the clatter, it grew louder and louder until I was nearly adjacent. My suppositions were correct, it was indeed a roller shutter. It raised slightly, yet only served to slam back down, accentuated by tiny yelps, as the dog caught up in its cord fought desperately to escape.
I was so overcome with the emotion of finding this helpless animal, that I almost neglected the caution I’d once strongly held. I stopped myself mid-step. Only then did I notice them there. Four of them, approaching from one side of the building, with a fifth coming around the opposite corner. Whatever I did, I needed to act fast. I knew full well that I should leave that distressed beast. It wasn’t worth risking my life over, was it? What life? Standing there, unsure of what next step to take, I realised what little I had left to lose
Without further thought I reached for the semi-automatic pistol on my belt. I so seldom used it, I’d almost forgot it was there, but now it was needed. I pulled it up in straightened arm, braced myself and fired. One shot, two, again and again I pulled the trigger. When I had finished, I was surprised to see that I’d hit my mark. The rope connecting the dog to the rolling shutters was severed… at least partway it was.
“Here boy!” I shouted, the first time I’d heard my own voice in days. And the dog strained at the rope. SNAP! The restraint severed and the fearful animal ran towards my voice… bring several hungry Spirits in tow. There was no time for thinking then. I bundled the receptive dog up into my arms, pushed on the trolley and leapt into it as it rolled. After a moment of fumbling beneath me, I found the emergency switch and threw it back, submerging myself in the light of the neon signs hung around me, hopeful of their safety. As we rolled, I pictured all of the things that could go wrong with this. The Spirits could follow until the battery dies out, or the trolley could crash shattering the lights. Me and this dog which I barely knew could find ourselves consumed by those wretched uncaring fiends.
They could survive just fine without feeding at all, so why? Why did they chase us now, covet our warmth? Were they jealous perhaps? Envious of a warmth they can never fully possess, only fleetingly grasp? Or maybe they didn’t even know why, and they were driven purely on instinct, likely the lowliest forms of us all? These questions flashed through my mind like a monstrous cavalcade, with no calm in sight. Then I looked down at the dog, the furry mammal that sat between my legs, only glad to have found a friend to be near and to care for him. In that moment I began to think of all of the ways this could go right. We could escape, we could live on, and now that we had each other, maybe the world wouldn’t seem such a lonely place.
Luke Hannon is an aspiring author and poet from County Meath, Ireland. In 2022, he received first place in the Macra na Feirme Creative Writing Competition Poetry Section with his poem “Altar Man.” He has previously been published in the Irish Farmer’s Journal, Agriland, Wingless Dreamer, Suburban Witchcraft, Running Wild, Tiny Seed Literary Journal, Black Poppy Review, Nat1 Press, Unstamatic, and Supernatural Park Podcast. He is soon to be published in two Nat1 Publishing anthologies and Wingless Dreamer’s Sea or Seashore anthology. He enjoys genre fiction and writing about the themes of mental health, nature, love, and loss.