The city of Los Angeles was barely recognisable anymore.
The sky was an infinite stormy grey. Sunlight and blue skies had become rare. Debris littered the street, the black asphalt peeking out from underneath the carpet. Cars were scattered, left to rot on the streets, windows shattered, roofs and doors dented, some were even discarded upside down lying abandoned. Buildings were falling apart the crumbled mess on the pavement; smashed windows wept razor sharp shards, leaving gaping holes in the remaining walls. The most unwelcome of these sight were the corpses rotting in amongst the debris, their purist stench infiltrating the streets, leaving one to wonder how long since they had been there.
The sounds of gun shots were no longer a surprise as they echoed throughout the urban centres world. Wailing, screaming and cries for help resonated through the stagnant air even though they knew no one would come.
After 15 years of war, it was every man, woman and child for themselves.
Anything human was now threats; it didn’t matter if they had been family or a friend, a co-workers or a classmate. They were threats, a threat to you and your life. Normalcy had been eradicated in the new world. Friendship or love left abandoned and forgotten. Bravery or selflessness was now nothing more than a lost legend. There was only war.
The person that had once inhabited your body no longer existed. Your memories, flashbacks of what your life used to be, your dreams only images that fade away as soon as you blink, probing your eyes to see what your mind already knows. The only certainty was that to survive, you had to shoot first and if you must ask questions, ask them later. If you were to wait too long then you would die. There are no second chances or rewinds in such an ugly game. Your corpse would accompany the sick parade rotting silently on the silent streets in a cold and silent world.
A man named Aiden Walker, a 36 year old man lived by that code. He had been vomited by the world into war with eternity 15 years ago. A stale wind hissed at his choppily cut hair as he walked through the quiet streets of what was LA, a rifle gun in a white knuckled grip in his gritty blood stained hands. A shotgun and sniper rifle was positioned across his back. Two handguns were strapped to his hips, alongside three throwing knives hiding in a worn, leather belt. His tired eyes continued to scan the area for any movement or sounds that could incriminate a threat.
He stopped dead as the echoes of footsteps sounded ahead. He moved to grab his rifle, ready to make a quick and easy kill but stopped mid-action.
There was more than one set of footsteps.
Aiden scanned the area once more with a deadly focus. A small group turning around the street corner caught his attention.
In an instinctual decision, Aiden ducked behind an overturned car, out of the open street and away from the prying eye of the group. It was unusual to see a group of so many humans together. Most tried to survive alone, as was most practical. You couldn’t trust anybody; Aiden had already learned that lesson the hard way.
The group he had travelled with years ago had turned on him. One of the men had shot him in the leg, making it nearly impossible to run though desperation won out. They had made him a distraction, used him so they could escape a second group. When Aiden had met eyes, eyes of someone he had once called friend, he saw neither remorse nor guilt in his face but Aiden had seen it. He had seen something akin to guilt and some mixing with the cold of his eyes. That last shred of humanity was ripped away as he turned and ran.
Aiden could faintly remembering scrambling backwards through the pain bursting behind his eyes. The smell of garbage and death had filled his nose as he hid behind overflowing trash cans, a decaying corpse sharing the space. He could hear the newcomer’s voices, loud and angry, pitiful and pleading. Then the sound of a gunshot followed by silence. The last thing he could remember was seeing the group trudging down the broken streets.
With a blink, Aiden’s memory dissipated a sound tugging at his brain. He heard the group come closer, their footsteps pounding louder against the cracked cement of the road. He gripped his rifle in his hands and peered through a broken window in the car he was hiding behind.
A small group of 3 men and a woman came into view. They looked worse for wear; their clothes were torn, tears decorating the dull and dirtied fabric, coppery brown flecks danced and hung on them, reminiscent of spilt wine soaking into their skin.
It wasn’t wine.
‘No one here’ a dark haired man with ice blue eyes muttered, his voice heavy with discontent as he looked around the empty streets.
Aiden heard a dry jaunting voice over the others ‘Damn I really wanted to kill one today’ He felt his stomach twist into an ugly knot. Yes, he knew you had to kill to survive but to kill for the pleasure of it… that was something that didn’t sit well with him.
‘You’ll get another chance Craig’ the woman spoke softly, a twisted cold smirk crossing her face, ‘After me of course, I get the first kill, ladies first after all’.
‘Maybe we’ll get a kid, they always scream the loudest’ the group hooted and laughed at the prospect of a child screaming and begging for their life.
Aiden’s grip on his gun tightened in anger and his palms sweated in fear. These people had lost their humanity, become killing machines, no love, empathy, moral or ethical centre. They had become monsters and he didn’t have a problem with killing monsters.
Aiden turned slowly and moved to the side of the car, getting a clear shot at one of the men’s head. He breathed in deep, focusing his senses before pulling the trigger.
A loud bang echoed throughout the destroyed street.
Screams and cries of alarm sounded from the remaining three as their companion fell to the floor, blood pooling around his head, dead instantly. Aiden quickly ducked behind the car, to avoid being seen.
‘Looks like we’ve got a live one!’ one of the men yells out his tone gleeful despite the death of his comrade. Aiden heard the click of their guns being loaded. ‘You’ll pay for that one’.
He waited as he listened to their footsteps. One was coming close. Aiden lowered his gun to the asphalt underneath before quietly reaching for one of his knives. ‘Come out, come out and play!’ the man taunted.
In a fluid motion, Aiden flung his arm to the left and caught the man directly in the stomach ‘Argh!’ he cried out in pain but that was it as Aiden stabbed another knife through his neck.
Unfortunately Aiden’s actions caused him to become visible to the remaining group members. He managed to duck just in time as a shower of bullets rained down on him.
Aiden pulled out his handgun, flicking the safety clip off; he jumped up and shot directly at the woman before ducking back down.
By the cry of pain emitting a second later, he knew that he had hit the target. Aiden looked over the side of the car hood to see her on the floor cradling her knee. Her once beautiful face was scarred and cringing in pain as she whimpered. Aiden shot again.
The woman collapsed, dead on the asphalt. Blood splattered across her leg, the second bullet between her eyes now glazed over with death.
Aiden had lost sight of the other man while he was distracted by the woman but the sound of a rock rolling behind him gave him enough warning to jump out of the way as the last man shot at him.
‘You’re dead pal’.
Aiden avoided bullet after bullet, ducking and rolling out of the way before he came to a stop in the middle of the street facing the man, like an old western shootout.
The man glared his brown eyes alight with anger as he looked around at his dead comrades. With a firm hand, he raised his arm; gun trained at Aiden’s forehead. An evil, twisted smirk danced across his face, as he pulled the trigger but to his horror and surprise, nothing happened.
“You’re all out” Aiden states and the man’s eyes widened when he realised what Aiden had done. He had managed to avoid every bullet in the clip of the gun, leaving the weapon empty and useless. “Go to hell, you son of a bitch” Aiden spoke coldly before shooting his own gun.
The sound of his body thudding to the floor echoed throughout the street, before it all went silent.
Aiden let out a deep breath, glancing around the street at the four dead bodies littering the road. His stomach twisted painfully at the sight of all the blood before the logical side of his brain kicked in. It was his life or theirs; he reasoned trying to convince himself that he had done the right thing.
The group’s earlier conversation popped up into his head and the pain in his stomach disappeared as he remembered that they weren’t humans, they didn’t feel remorse for their actions, and they took pleasure in taking other people’s lives.
They were monsters.
Aiden slowly trudged back towards the car he had used to shield himself. Snatching up his rifle from the ground, he turned and pulled the two knives out of the dead man’s body, wiping away the blood on his green sleeve. He slung his rifle back over his shoulder by his shotgun and strapped his knives back into his belt.
Now came the worst part, searching the bodies.
The men had the most ammo, with several water bottles and food packets stashed into their backpacks. When he came to the woman, he continued his regular search system until he saw a gold chain around her neck. Pulling it out he realised it was a necklace with a heart locket pendant. Aiden swallowed before flicking the locker open.
Inside was a photo, an image of a little girl with brown pigtails and a toothy grin staring at the camera. Aiden’s eyes closed as a wave of emotion crashed over him much like a stormy wave hitting a rocky shore. He glanced down at the dead women beside him, dead green eyes staring up at him lifeless.
He could easily guess what had happened, she was a mother who had lost her daughter in the war and to stop the pain she became devoid of emotion, a human that didn’t feel the pain of losing the person she loved most.
She became a monster.
Looking down at the locket once more and at the bright smile of the little girl, he flicked the locket closed and let go of the necklace. The metal made no noise as it came to rest against the woman’s unmoving chest, the heart right above her own. With another pang, his fingers moved and closed her eyes.
Standing up, Aiden took in a deep shuttering breath and began to walk away. His mind drifted away from him as he walked slowly over the cracked road. Thoughts of what life used to be like seemed almost like a dream.
He glanced at shattered glass windows wondering if they used to be shops, filled every day with new customers seeking to buy or maybe just browse the items stocked on the high shelves. Perhaps it was an office or apartment building lobby, neighbours waving at each other, a friendly greeting as they passed.
He didn’t know. It was impossible to tell from the ruins.
A swirl of resentment flashed through him in a bolt of hot anger as he thought of those responsible for all of this. They were all dead now, killed in the first few months of war by furious and hate filled humans.
Yet now Aiden thought about it, it didn’t seem much like a punishment when he thought of the waves of terror that occurred in the next 15 years.
He closed his eyes as his thoughts drifted into dangerous territory. He knew he wasn’t always like this, a man driven by survival, one that shot first and asked questions later. Thoughts of the life that had been ripped away from him were quickly restrained to the back of his mind.
Glancing up at the fading sun, Aiden glanced around trying to find a spot to hide out for the night. Nights were even more dangerous than days.
Aiden let his green eyes scan the area he had walked into. He was away from the crowded streets of the city, though the suburbs didn’t look much better. The houses were broken down, windows smashed and some were even burned to the ground. The streets were littered with debris as bit of the asphalt cracked open.
He wondered what the street had looked like 15 years ago. Green lawns, white picket fences, children riding their bikes up and down the streets while their mothers gardened and their fathers washed the cars. It was a happy place, one full of laughter and carelessness.
Now that picture was gone, dissolved, broken, and lost, just like all other memories of the old world.
Aiden let out a sigh of relief as he caught sight of two metal doors against the side of a burned house. An old basement entrance would be enough shelter for the night. He jogged over and fiddled with the lock keeping the slanted doors shut.
He glanced around cautiously before drawing his hand gun and shot at the lock, the padlock blasting away from the doors. In one swift move, Aiden yanked one of the doors opened and entered the darkness of the basement.
It didn’t look like much, Aiden mused seeing power tools hanging uselessly on the racks, bits of wood and scrap pieces of metal littering the stone floor. It was enough though; it was enough for one night.
Aiden had managed to find a couple of old candles hidden in boxes thrown in the corner to be forgotten. He avoided looking through the rest, not wanting to disrespect the privacy of the people that lived here once upon a time.
He struck a match and light filled the room from the burning candles. Aiden nibbled on small pieces of bread and meat. Food was scarce and he had to ration out his meals if he wanted it to last long. Water dribbled down his chin as he drank from a bottle, the droplets quickly wiped away with brush of his hand.
Aiden sat in silence surrounded by candles in someone’s basement. He wondered if it had been a family, a husband and wife with kids running amuck upstairs. Perhaps the basement was used as an escape route, a quiet place for the man of the house to work in the silence of the night. Perhaps it was a place the mother used for quiet as she did the children’s dirty laundry.
All Aiden could do was wonder.
As the man lay down on the stone floor, an old worn blanket thrown over his body from his pack, his mind wandered. He was 21 when the war started, a foolish boy living large in a college life. Parties every night wit is friends, not a care in the world. Aiden could barely imagine what he used to be like; his friend’s faces nothing more than blurred images. Memories that seemed like faded drams.
His mind took a turn and wondered about the group he had killed that day. If the woman was a mother, he wondered what the men had once been. Fathers, brother, husbands, all titles lost in the chaos of war. Identities lost as their humanity faded and monsters they became.
Aiden wondered before exhaustion and the temptation of sleep overwhelmed him.
If they were monsters … what did that make him?