Chapter 1: All Hell Breaks Loose
June 1st, 2018
This was just another typical day in the Emergency Room. Half a dozen Hispanic gang members dead or dying from a recent shootout. Only one looked like he might live but would probably never walk again. A few dozen people who overdosed on the nearest thing they could find for a varying number of reasons. An old lady who took a bad fall and now had to quietly admit she might not be able to keep up with an independent lifestyle.
Then all hell broke loose. More literally than I ever thought possible.
I was just a nurse in the Emergency Room of San Francisco’s General Hospital taking a few minutes to recompose myself after having to deliver some really bad news to a family of four that used to be five when I happened to look out the window. There was a massive, fiery explosion just a few miles away. The shock wave came next, battering but not breaking the windows. I ran to my boss to tell him to grab virtually everything we think we’d need to help any victims the ambulances would bring in. He was a quiet man who never stopped moving. Not to breathe, not to eat, not for anything while he was working. Nothing would distract him. Then he looked out the window and stopped dead, eyes wide and jaw loose. It was a brief glance at first, then a double-take. When I looked out the window, what I saw was more unbelievable than my boss’s lack of momentum.
More explosions. Dozens of them. And something we couldn’t explain. It looked like a hole in the sky, its rim made completely of fire. Pouring out of this hole was what looked like fighter planes, but that was definitely wrong. There was no sound of an engine, and even at the distance we were, we could see that they all had strikingly humanoid forms. Winged humanoids, like an Angel or something far worse.
My boss voiced a thought, “Are we being invaded?” but it was lost in the ensuing chaos. Everything kicked into high gear. By the end of two hours, we were treating more burn victims than we could ever possibly handle and prepared ourselves for a whole lot more. Each victim had horror stories about Demons invading from the sky. No one believed them until the Demons came crashing through our part of town.
Suddenly, everything and everyone was in panic mode. There was a twelve-foot-tall thing in the parking lot clad in medieval looking armor throwing giant balls of fire and swinging a massive sword through anyone unfortunate enough to be there. Over a dozen small, winged terrors the size of a cat flitting around through the halls clawing mercilessly at anyone nearby and throwing more fire at those who weren’t. The chaos only intensified when the military showed up and did what they could with attack helicopters and drone missiles.
Nothing seemed to affect the bigger Demons. They’d be hit by a volley of machine gun fire then fly up to the helicopter that shot it and tear it in half. The smaller ones could at least be knocked out by a solid hit from whatever we could find lying around. It held them off for a little while, but it became pretty clear pretty quickly that we weren’t going to stand a chance against anything bigger than the Imps as people started calling them. We fled carrying what and who we could up to higher and higher levels. We didn’t want to go all the way to the roof for fear of being hit by stray machine gun fire or getting torn apart by Demons. Even as we tried our best to save everyone we could, slowly but surely our numbers were whittled down. First the patients who simply couldn’t survive, then the nurses who couldn’t handle it.
My name is Mariah Adams. I’m the last of many E.R. nurses in the San Francisco General Hospital. I’ve worked hard to get where I am and I’ll never understand why some people would say I was given easy A’s in Med school and a fancy scholarship because of the color of my skin. I’ll never understand why just being African-American brings the worst out in some people. But all those sleepless nights in college and all the murderous twelve-hour shifts in the hospital barely matter anymore.
Looking out over the devastation that occurred over the past few days, I can scarcely believe I’m alive. We had barricaded ourselves as best we could at each floor before finally settling down on the fifth. The vast majority of the initial casualties were patients who simply couldn’t defend themselves or run away without help. Then came my co-workers who couldn’t take it anymore. By the end of the first day power was out for most of the city and our backup generators kicked in. The backups went out after about six days and anyone that tried to go refuel them never came back. With fewer and fewer nurses to handle more patients than we could handle at full strength on a good day, our people started giving up. At first, it was just a few quiet overdoses on pain medication in a back room, then it was very loud disputes over what little food and water we could scrounge up. We eventually settled it by drawing straws between the hospital staff and the patients who were nearly or fully recovered. The two people that drew the shortest straws would have to go out into the city to scavenge what they could before returning back to the group. They rarely, if ever, came back.
For better or worse, I never drew the short straws. Now it’s just me and Hector left. Hector is a small, Hispanic man that was a victim of gang related gun violence. Of the seven people from the same shootout that were brought in, he’s the only survivor. Even then, only barely. The shot completely severed his spinal cord. In the best of times, he’d never walk again. Now his body has to cope with injury, a lack of food and water, and sleep deprivation. It’s pretty difficult to sleep amid the sounds of screaming Demons, dying people, and constant explosions from the military or otherwise.
Hector hasn’t been talking much. The shock of his injuries and losing his friends on top of all that’s been happening probably makes that too much to ask of most people. He has told me that everyone calls him Smalls because he likes Biggie Smalls and he’s five foot two so his friends thought it was funny. I guess it stuck.
It’s been almost two hours since the last group of people left to go look for food. Since the most consistent group came back within an hour and a half, the two hour mark is the point when all of us would give up hope. I turned away from the window to see Smalls in the chair where I left him staring despondently at his useless legs. We had a box of granola bars and one bottle of water between us. Doing nothing means we’d starve. Leaving means we’d probably get ripped apart by Demons. Neither option was good but I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. I’ve never been able to.
“Smalls...” I called out to him. He made no motion that he heard me. “Smalls, it’s time to go. We’ll have to do it while it’s quiet out. The others probably won’t be coming back by now. I’ll have to carry you down the stairs since the elevators are broken. Then we’ll find you a wheelchair on the first floor and see what we can scavenge from the area.”
He just shrugged halfheartedly while I continued. “Does your family live close by? Maybe we could see if they’re okay.”
Smalls glanced up at me and rolled his eyes. “You really think they’re alive after everything we’ve just seen? Demons from Hell come from a flaming hole in the sky that I can still see through the window!” He pointed vehemently outside at the aforementioned hole that was clearly visible. “The military couldn’t do shit, we’ve been dropping like flies, and we have nothing but pocket lint and granola bars?!” He stared at me incredulously. “You are one hell of an optimist, lady.”
I stared at him blankly and stated, “I could just leave you in the chair.” He shook his head and grumbled something under his breath before consenting. The climb down five flights of stairs was painstaking but doable. I was very glad when we found a wheelchair and I could finally set him down.
As I wheeled Smalls out into the parking lot, I cautiously looked around for any signs of trouble. The only thing I could see was destruction and bodies left to rot.
“So, Smalls, wanna head home?” I asked.
“Seriously?! The last thing I want to see is my dead family!” He sharply retorted.
“You don’t know that they’re dead, Smalls.”
He gestured at the rubble and corpses. “Look around you! People in the ghettos where I live are gonna be the first ones dead.”
“Again, you don’t know that. And I don’t see you coming up with any better ideas.”
“Why don’t we go see your family then? See how they’re doin’?” He angrily suggested.
“My family lives in Chicago, Smalls. After the cell towers went down, I haven’t heard anything from them.”
He sighed before he spoke again. “Fine. Let’s just go to a grocery store or something. See what we can find.”
“You really think that a grocery story is going to have anything in it at this point?”
“Well, how many people tried to raid the hospital in the past few days?”
“Almost none, but we’ve pretty much cleaned it out.”
“Exactly! If no one can make it to a hospital after all this, then there’s still a chance we can find something at a grocery store.”
He clutched his side in pain and glanced around warily at the seemingly deserted city. Having no bag to carry anything, he held on to the food while I pushed him through the streets. We wandered cautiously for several hours, fearful of any noise. The sound of distant gunfire could be heard constantly as we traveled. I didn’t know much about guns except how to keep someone alive after they’d been shot, but Smalls entertained himself with a guessing game trying to figure out if it was military or civilian firearms in the distance. He got bored after guessing ‘military’ for the hundredth time in a row.
When we arrived at a grocery store somewhat near the hospital, it was in an equally dismal state. The cars that weren’t overturned in the parking lot were either burnt-out or bombed-out wrecks in no shape to drive. Not that anyone would want to drive on the streets at the moment. They were completely littered with corpses and abandoned vehicles and pockmarked with explosion holes that reeked of sulfur. The storefront itself wasn’t in much better shape either. While there were noticeably fewer corpses inside, it had been ransacked by what looked like hundreds of panicking people. Windows were broken, bloodstains were prevalent, and nearly everything edible had been taken.
Despite the blood and the bodies, we felt safer inside than out. We grabbed a pair of matching shoulder bags from the shelves and set about scavenging what we could. Smalls was insistent that we find a gun or a knife to defend ourselves with, but that idea didn’t last long since the place we were scavenging from only carried ammo and no guns. And I felt that we needed to conserve bag space as much as possible. He begrudgingly accepted but said that a gun shop should be our next stop. I would have obliged had we not been stopped dead in our tracks by a friendly yet awkwardly menacing voice.
“Finding everything okay?” Said the voice. It was a staff member of the store, still dressed in a ragged uniform. He was holding something behind his back while slowly advancing toward us. His skin was noticeably pale, but most disconcerting were his eyes. They were completely black; No iris, no pupils, no sclera. Only blackness.
“We’re doing alright, thanks.” I stated calmly. “Do we still need to pay for all of this in light of everything that’s happened? I’m more than willing to do so, it’s just...”
“Oh, no that’s fine.” He cut me off. “If you haven’t heard already, we’re kind of in a state of emergency right now. So I don’t think my boss will mind. Have you been keeping up with the news? Got a phone on you?”
“I do...” I answered hesitantly. “But it’s dead. It didn’t last long after the power went out. Mind if I ask? Is something wrong with your eyes?” While asking, I put myself between Smalls and the employee who was getting uncomfortably close now. I’d taken a few self-defense courses over the years and the fact that he was still hiding something behind his back put me on edge.
“No. Nothing’s wrong. Not anymore.” He chuckled. “In fact, I feel better than I ever have...”
“And why is that?” I steeled myself and took up a defensive stance as he looked more and more like a lion about to pounce.
“You’ve surely seen these wonderful, beautiful creatures roaming around the city, haven’t you? They come bringing such wonderful gifts for anyone who doesn’t immediately shoot at them. I help them to find food and in return they make me feel stronger and healthier than I ever have before.”
Smalls leaned forward in his seat. “And what do they do for food?”
The employee grinned menacingly. “Sounds like you’re about to be lunch.”
He charged forward the remaining five feet much quicker than I expected. I barely managed to get out of the way of his knife as he tried to stab me. It cut my clothing but I couldn’t tell if it was anything deeper. I grabbed a hold of his wrist and snapped it as quickly as I could. But he just laughed and shouted. “Part of their gift is never feeling pain again!”
He lunged at me again. If Smalls hadn’t grabbed me from behind and pulled me back just a few inches, I don’t think I would have seen the employee drop the knife into his other hand and stab at my heart. I grabbed Smalls’s chair and started running as fast as I could toward the exit. The knife-toting madman behind us casually chuckled and popped his wrist into a more agreeable position before pursuing us. When he did, there was no way I could possibly outrun him. I threw what little there was on the shelves into his path, but it could only do so much to slow him down. I pushed Smalls a little further before turning around to face our attacker. I didn’t have time to say much before he was already on me. Instead, I just had to avoid the knife as best I could while slamming down on one of his knees as quickly as I could. Even if he couldn’t feel pain, he still wouldn’t be able to walk very easily.
I grabbed Smalls again and ran. The man with the knife growled like a feral dog and began limping after us as best he could. We were able to make it to the exit long before the madman but both Smalls and I were startled by the sudden appearance of a man carrying a rifle.