The Swarm and the Flyer

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You still feel the same way about Josiah.

I slouch in the loveseat, waiting for Josiah to finish his last cat-cow on his yoga mat. It’s so damn easy to watch the way his shoulder blades move and roll. We still have work to do before we turn in for the night, but it’s already fifteen after 10:00. My eyelids sag, pleading with me to get to bed.

Remember what you and him talked about. The 18-wheeler’s the next goal. Find that CB radio, get in contact with someone. Anyone.

But I like watching Josiah do what he’s most passionate about. There’s something peaceful about seeing the pulse thrum in his throat after a good acro session. I’ve been scrawling out lists, routes, and pros and cons to leaving the Cy House, but at the end of the day, Josiah’s the one who seems okay letting the planning go, if only for a couple of hours.

“Ufff, that one really stretched my back out,” Josiah says, plopping down on his butt and gives a hefty but satisfied sigh. His smile is kid-like and glimmers. I bow to him like we used to do at the end of yoga class. “Namaste.” Then I grin as Josiah presses his forehead to his mat and repeats the same affirmative yoga mantra.

“Joking aside, I’m glad you’re still doing yoga.” I toss my legal pad onto the table and rub the back of my head. “Gotta keep the dream alive somehow.”

Josiah folds his legs so that he’s in butterfly position, then furrows his eyebrows and stares at the hardwood floor. “Same goes for you,” he adds. “I know it’s more important now than ever. Carrying on like this…” He gestures like I’m supposed to see something reassuring in the middle of the empty living room floor. “It helps both of us stay grounded. Especially when everything’s so bleak.”

“That’s all we can try and do,” I murmur. Josiah doesn’t look up at me, not right away.

I take that as my cue and head to the kitchen, where I study the cabinets. Plates and bowls that are still so foreign to me remain, former possessions of the most recent owners of the Cy House. I smirk to the empty kitchen. Cy as in cycling. Psy as in psychology, my major before the world ended. Clever, I know.

I rake my hand through my hair and close my eyes. Yes, it’s really reality that just four months ago I was packing up my things and helping Eric and Brad clean up this very same kitchen on our move-out day. The goodbyes still sting.

I shake the pain off. Time for one last supply count.

The pantry door in the corner is still misaligned and needs a sharp upward jerk to pop open. I step back and study the two rows of canned food on the middle shelf, some labeled, others not. Thank God. The newest owners of our old college pad had probably watched all the news reports and taken the stories of the first few freak-of-nature human deaths seriously. Back in August, videos went rampant on TV and online, many depicting living particle clouds as they had descended on people and swallowed them up.

I lean against the door frame and swallow down vomit. The body parts and rain of blood soon stopped being censored across the web as panic mounted across the U.S., China, and, last I’d seen, Brazil.

I snatch up my yellow notepad and run another tally: eleven cans of veggies, nine one-liter bottles of water, six cans of tuna, another six of mixed fruit, and four boxes of Ritz crackers. Zero big jugs of water. Doing the math, I figure we have another two weeks left before we run out of everything, gas included. Before we have to make good on our word and get ready to head out to find Josiah’s family. He said he’s willing to take the risk to drive those nine miles back to his parent’s house in Argyle, the town just south of Denton. “I know my family’s waiting,” he told me a couple of days ago, “They’re gonna be okay.”

One more week of surviving here at most, and that’s if our batteries and the boarded-up windows hold out.

I take the broken yellow radio that Josiah left on the counter and toss it in the trash, then look up at the lone branch of the lowest tree outside as it sways in the wind. I figure it’s just my imagination, seeing the faint purple swirls that recede into the dark the second my eyes adjust to the oppressive darkness out there.

I unclench my fist and close my eyes.

We can’t stay here forever.

The first sign that things were very wrong came with the news reports that aired in late August of this year. I was the only one watching TV upstairs until my roommate, Brad, decided to come upstairs. We were in a townhome, my memories of the Cy House already fading. I had graduation on the mind. It was just over a year since my dad was killed in the car accident. I didn’t want to let him go.

“This is the first report?” Brad had asked me.

I nodded and grimaced. Brad sucked air through his teeth with a whistle. He shuddered and stepped around the couch, while I remained splayed out across the couch cushions. One man in Laguna Hills, California had been walking by the beach when people saw him start to panic and scream about something ringing in his ears. Some God-awful noise that he shouted was splitting his head open. Onlookers pointed out what looked like storm clouds rolling in from the coast. Then the clouds started to move purposefully, following the man like they were alive. Conscious of what they were doing.

Not ten seconds later, there was a deafening boom: the man’s skull -- or what remained of it -- was smashed across the wooden boardwalk and sand. The clouds receded and disappeared somewhere over the ocean in seconds. People screamed and scrambled for cover with the frantic desperation of onlookers trying to get away from an active shooter.

It didn’t take long for the body count to rise. The stories started trickling in one by one, some separated by weeks, others by only hours. A woman near Vancouver was found with the remains of her infant twins in their Jeep Grand Cherokee just outside the city limits. The entire left side of their vehicle had been ripped to shreds, like a huge pair of teeth had taken a chunk out of it. Witnesses said they had seen two separate gunmetal grey clouds swooping around the car moments before the dull boom went off.

When I saw that second news flash, I glanced over at Brad, who was leaning against the couch, his eyebrows furrowed. “Holy crap,” he said, shaking his head and pressing his fingertips against his lips. “I gotta call my parents.”

Brad ducked into his room, fingers flying across his phone screen. He called for Thunder to follow him. With a whimper, Thunder trailed after Brad. his matted tail swishing nervously.

“What the hell are those things? ” I muttered, my brain not comprehending the footage of the purple masses that rolled in from the sea. Some of them had small orbs inside, their pale red glow chilling me to my core.

Soon specialists were being interviewed. My gut told me it had to be something other than “ultra-high frequencies,” as a scientist from Penn State specializing in electroacoustics had called the sonic booms during a news interview I had watched later that night. I didn’t suspect anything less than aliens, or some nano AI experiment gone wrong. Hell, maybe even angry spirits back from the dead to punish us for fucking up the earth. The haze and glimmering bodies that took no particular form might have passed for clouds on any other day, but not that night.

There would be way more speculation in the coming days. Things me and my teammates wouldn’t be able to make sense of.

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