Day 1: The Attack (Paul)
Paul couldn’t understand what he was seeing. Down the street, lasers tore through a family of four. Almost in slow motion, a mother covered her son with her own body before a black drone swooped down, cutting her to pieces. The boy had enough time to cry out a single time before a laser sheared off the top of his head. Paul remembered buying cookies from him, part of some fundraiser. Why were these things attacking his neighbors? They were good, harmless people.
Everything happened too fast. First, the sky ripped apart, and now these things fell on them like black rain, firing their red lasers, blasting holes in his neighbors. He looked around, trying to find Matty and Abby. He couldn’t see Krista anywhere, but hadn’t she been right beside him? A flash caught his eye from the treehouse, and he heard someone yell, “Dad, get in the house!” It was Matty, clutching Abby to his hip. They were safe or at least sheltered from the things pouring death from above. He didn’t know what to do.
“It’s madness!” Someone stumbled into him. It was old John Gardner, gripping him by the shoulders and pulling at him. The contact jarred him back to his senses, and he realized he’d never make the distance to the kids without being cut down.
“Everyone inside,” Paul yelled. “Come on.” He saw Matty fall back into the treehouse with Abby. They are safe, they are safe, they are safe, he thought. He made it into a silent benediction, a small thing to protect his children. They can’t hurt his kids while he prayed. The crazy and perfect idea stuck. The words became a talisman.
The black ships whizzed silently through the air, hitting people with horrifying precision. A neighbor he recognized, dimly, ran towards him. Gary? Paul couldn’t remember his name. Maybe-Gary was only ten feet away when a black ship struck. The horrible sounds of chainsaws rattled in Paul’s skull, and then a hole appeared in Maybe-Gary’s chest, below his neck. His head tilted, and he stumbled the rest of the way to Paul.
“Have you seen my jacket?” Maybe-Gary asked, his eyes wide and unseeing. Blood poured from his mouth. He collapsed into Paul’s arms, and they both fell into a pile. Paul screamed and struggled from underneath Maybe-Gary.
“They are safe!” Paul yelled. He pushed Maybe-Gary’s wet body to the side and half-crawled, half-ran to his front door, where John was already inside. Sharon, Martin’s wife, was with him and had made it to the front step. Paul got to them at the same time another black shape attacked.
“Watch out!” He dove forward, throwing his body through the open front door, past Sharon. He crashed into John and sent them tumbling. Sharon was a pace behind but wasn’t fast enough. A laser fired, and she screamed as she collapsed to the ground. John jumped over Paul and pulled her into the house and kicked the door closed with his foot.
A single minute had passed since the attack.
Paul’s hands were tacky with blood, and he tasted pennies. Beside him, Sharon screamed and held her leg. More blood. Blood everywhere, all over his floor. Krista would be so mad; she’d want him to clean it. He pulled his knees to his chest and whispered, “they are safe” a few times for good measure. Sharon would not stop screaming, and he wondered if his chant would be less effective now. The rules were not clear.
“Shh, shh, it’s okay,” he said, knowing the words were lies. He didn’t move to comfort her.
“My leg. It shot my leeeeegggggg!” Sharon screamed out the final word, writhing on the ground. Paul tried to shush her, conscious of the growing puddle of blood pooling underneath her knees.
“We have to stop the bleeding, Paul,” John said. “She’s hit, can’t you see it?” His British accent sounded out of place among the carnage and for some reason, it reminded him of those old Monty Python sketches. He clamped his hand over his mouth to stop from giggling.
The lasers had turned Sharon’s leg into ruined meat from the butchers. They had sheared her calf off, leaving a ragged hole in her jeans. White bone peeked through her torn flesh.
“They are-” was as far as he got before a day’s worth of beer and hotdogs exploded from his mouth. He turned his head and added the contents of his stomach to the pool of blood.
“Okay, everyone. Okay. It’s okay. Okay.” John was stuck in repeat, his eyes wide and unseeing. Paul tried to get up, but his hand slipped on the floor. The smell of the vomit mixed with blood, a visceral, raw odor that assaulted his senses.
Sharon reached out with a shaking hand. “Help me, please.” Tears streamed down her cheeks. “There’s so much blood. My kids.”
Paul let his mind run on auto-pilot. What would stop the blood? Towels or bandages? And… jackets? Why would Sharon want a jacket? Who had said that? That didn’t seem right. He couldn’t think. But also, they are safe.
Slipping on the blood, he got to his feet and stumbled to the powder room down the hallway. He grabbed towels and threw them at John, who caught them with one hand, and tried to figure out how to press them on the wound. He attempted to take her leg, and Sharon screamed, the broken yell of a wounded animal. Paul clapped his hands to his ears and John recoiled.
“We need to do something,” he said to John, who nodded. They stared, waiting for the other to make a move.
“Pressure,” Sharon gasped. “You need to apply pressure.” Paul recalled that she was a nurse or something. He was just glad someone was telling him what to do. She gripped John and pulled him close. “As much pressure as I can bear and as much as you can give. Don’t stop this time when I scream.”
John looked like he would pass out. Paul didn’t blame him.
“Water,” she snapped as John leaned forward with his towels.
Paul rushed to the kitchen. Behind, Sharon’s piercing screams followed. Towels. Jackets. They are safe. All good ideas. In the kitchen, he couldn’t find anything to hold water. He tried cupping his hands and bringing it to John that way, but the water kept draining out. On the kitchen table, a leftover cereal bowl from this morning. Would that hold water? Cereal bowls held milk. Was that right? Matty once called cereal cold soup, and he had laughed. His thoughts came to him from a distance, fuzzy and half-formed. It was like watching a horror movie through your hands.
He filled the cereal bowl, water mixing with leftover milk to create a chalky fluid. In his pocket, he felt a buzzing. His phone. He pulled it out and came close to dropping it. His hands were so slippery with blood.
The display said it was Matty. His boy. His baby boy. Only a touchscreen away. Paul kept trying to slide right, but the sensors on the phone wouldn’t register through the gore coating his fingers. Swearing, he wiped enough of the viscera on his shirt to answer the call.
“Dad.” Matt’s voice on the other end was like a balm, and Paul could think again. He dropped to the floor, back against the kitchen cupboards.
“Are you okay?” Paul asked.
“No.” Matt’s voice was higher than usual, he sounded ten years younger. Paul thought he was crying. “They’re killing everything. We’re in the treehouse, hiding near the back, away from the windows. None of the things are coming near us.”
“Stay there. I’ll come out and get you.”
“No,” Matt screamed. “Stay in the house. They killed P-Pete and Kate. They’ll kill you too.”
“It’s okay, buddy, I’m here. Nothing will happen. I’m with Mr. Gardner and Heather’s mom. We’re alright.” He didn’t trip on the lie. It wouldn’t do either of them any good to know about Sharon. With his free hand, he punched his leg, harder and harder. He had never felt so powerless in his entire life. His kids needed him.
“Dad, what are these things? Why are they doing this?”
“I don’t know. Just stay low to the ground, okay?” Paul said. “Cover up the windows if you can. Don’t let your sister out of your sight.”
“I won’t. Is Mom with you?”
“No. I haven’t seen her. She was beside me, but…” He stopped. But I left her outside. Christ alive, he left his wife outside to die and didn’t even think about her. In an instant, a kaleidoscope of images bombarded him. Krista, with her sly, half-smile that always held secrets, her dark, curly hair she’d work for so long to straighten, only to have it coil back within hours.
“I saw her with Mr. Keene. Heather’s Dad. I’ll call her next.”
“Okay.” Paul tried to work moisture into his mouth. “Call me right back, okay? I need to help people here.”
“Okay.” Matt paused for a moment. “If we don’t make it, I love you.”
“I love you too, Matt, but none of that, okay? We’ll be fine.” Paul had no idea if that were true, but he needed to say the lie out loud.
Matt broke the connection. Now that his head was working, Paul got a proper container of water to take back to Sharon and John. Sounds of her screams no longer reached him, and he hoped that meant John had gotten the bleeding under control.
Where is Krista? He thought.