The New American Apocalypse, Pt. 11

(The New American Apocalypse

Table of Contents: Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four; Part Five; Part Six; Part Seven; Part Eight; Part Nine; Part TenPart Twelve; Part Thirteen; Part Fourteen; Part Fifteen; Part Sixteen;

Part Eleven:…)

Goddammit.  I should’ve seen this coming.  I really should’ve seen this coming.  There are a lot of reasons why, to be honest, ranging from the basics of classic genre story structure to…well, to taking a good hard look at myself and realizing that in my darkest moments, the people I love are the ones I tend to destroy.  But isn’t that true of everyone?  Isn’t that true of all of us?

I clear my throat, aware that the rest of my party of Tarnished Knights is staring at me.  “Um…um, hello?  Yes.  Ah-ha.  Ha.  Excuse me, I think I must have dialed the wrong number, ah-heh, heh, heh…could happen to anyone…”

“But you didn’t,” the Beast replies, its voice so foul it feels like a long, nasty tongue in my ear.  A long nasty tongue attached to a bottomless bank account and a face that would drive someone insane just to look upon.  “You dialed the right number.  You’re looking for the girl, right?  You warned us this would happen.”

“Oh, I did?” my voice ratchets up a whole octave, I swear, and I’m very happy that I didn’t put the call on speakerphone.  “When did I do that?”

Mr. Conrad rolls his eyes, his body following suit–yes, it’s a whole-body eyeroll, an expression of such pure and complete exasperation that your average man will never have to see it.  I see it, myself, merely on a weekly basis.

“Five days ago,” the Beast answers.  Oh, God, it sounds almost as bad as The Market.

“Oh?  Ah-heh.  Five days, well, well, well…” I can feel the first hint that the pill is working, the beginning of a hard-edged buzz under my perception, “You know, I wasn’t really in my right mind, at that time.  My wits were not about me.”

“I beg to differ.  You were smarter, back then.  You knew how to play the game, how to bet the winning horse, so to speak.”

Oh, shit.  Ohshitohshitohshit.  I fucked up.  Man, I fucked up.

Better not to let the others know, right?  Maybe this is something we can keep close to the vest.  Or maybe not.  Maybe this is something I should share.  I don’t know.  I don’t know…

“Well, um, look, is she there, at least?”

“Oh, she’s here, alright,” like being licked by something that could eat me, I swear I could feel its sandpaper tongue grind my face, could feel its breath, the reek of all the bodies it ate….  “She’s not in the mood to talk, right now.  She seems angry with you.  Seems to think you’ve betrayed her trust.  I’m sure she’ll come around after the re-education…”

“The–the what?  Ah, heh, ah, it sounded like you said…”

“Re-education?  Oh, I did.”

I make a sound like a crying animal, which I’ll admit is very embarrassing.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Hughes.  You just remember to bet the winning horse and I’m sure everything will turn out just fine.”

It hangs up and I’m left clutching the phone to my ear, white-knuckled and sweating.  Everyone else stares at me.  I can see the questions behind their eyes.  After a couple seconds I set my phone back down and swallow.  “Well.” I say.

“Well?” Mr. Swift asks.

“Well.” I repeat.

“Oh, stop that,” Anna finishes the last of the scotch in the first bottle and gestures to me with the butt of it.  “What happened?  What did you do?”

“Well, you know the story.  I was reckless with a brilliant woman’s heart, et cetera…had an existential panic about the breadth and length of my life, did something stupid, made someone cry…the usual sort of thing…”

Anna sighs.  She’s heard this story, before.  On more than one occasion.  She even played one of the roles, some time ages and ages whence.  She rolls the empty scotch bottle around in her hand and I think I see her consider hitting me with it, for a second, but she opts not to.  “Well.  We’ll add that to the long list of things you screwed up, these last couple weeks.”

Why did I lie?  Why?  There’s no going back, now, is there?  I could clear my throat, change my story, tell the truth, tell them I’d somehow betrayed this young woman to forces so dark and mad that I can’t fully comprehend them, that I’d not only thrown them and the American Public under the bus but also the girl, for fuck’s sake, that I’d thrown the whole world under the damned bus–yes, I could tell them that, I could, but, but…

As I mentioned, I’m something of a coward.

And, like a coward does, I lied.  Too late to look back, now.

“Anyway,” I continue, feeling the drugs ramping up in my system, feeling the impulse to act scratching at the inside of my skull and at all the muscles running through my body, “tonight we strike out, right?  We begin the Good Fight.  We take to the streets in the Blue Whale and make a run for Justice or something like it.”

“Right,” is the general din of agreement in the room.

“Then let’s get to it!”

We head down the stairs and back to the streets.  The screams have died down, now, and I wonder if the daily slaughter has really reached its end.  Are the Cannibals satiated?  Have they feasted to their fullness on the zombified civilian populace?  How many apartments have changed hands, tonight?  How many converts has the Beast scored?

Mr. Swift opens the doors of the van.  “We’ll have to split up for the first leg, I think.  Some of us will need to head out to connect with whoever’s still running The Feed…Conrad and myself, if I had to choose.”

“And what do the rest of us do?” Ballard asks.

“Well, Spencer will need to head into Manhattan to destroy the Poems of the Apocalypse.”

“He’ll need backup.”

“Right.  You and Anna accompany him.  I’ll take you as far as the river, and then Conrad and I will need to head out…we’ll maintain radio contact whenever possible.”  Mr. Swift, Esq, ushers Mr. Conrad into the passenger seat before opening the sliding door for the rest of us.  “I don’t think I need to remind anyone, but failure is not an option.”

“No it is not,” Ballard agrees.

I nod and smile.  Nod and smile, yeah.

I think about rocks and hard places.

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thesrhughes

I'm a writer of horror, dark sci-fi, and dark fantasy.