by Brad 'Simon' Smith
If I had to do it all over again, I think I would have skipped breakfast.
I was sitting there, enjoying my omelet, something of a rarity, and I recall paying a fair price for it, due to the relative rarity of eggs in a town this far from an arcology, when the feeling of someone watching my every move came over me. Accompanying this feeling was a slight tinge of nausea. However, I wasn’t sure if it was something mystical, or if the eggs had been irradiated. Rather than risk being quarantined, I pushed my plate back, and dropped some cash on the table. I looked around, at the few other patrons in the early morning, and didn’t notice anyone out of place. However, in the Midwest, everyone looks abnormal. I’m sure my fellow diners were a collection of scavengers, mystics, and probably even a cultist or two.
I slung my pack over my shoulder, stood up, nodding to the waitress, a young woman whom had obviously been exposed to some radiation when she was younger due to the grotesqueness of her face which she managed to partially hide behind long bangs. As I was leaving the diner, I noticed some scrawled glyphs around the door frame, an apparent attempt by some amateur to ward the door against unknown terrors.
Halfway down the block, and I heard the first scream. I look back, and notice that some woman was being dragged out of her house by something that was obviously an unnatural abomination, something half man and half spider had both of her legs in its grasp. My hand went for my pistol, because I knew that I had no useful incantations to save her. I got the pistol half out of the holster before I saw the rest of them. Dozens of these things were lumbering down the street, faster than a man could run, snatching townsfolk left and right. I turned and ran to an apartment building down the block, hoping that there was a basement. At the same time, I pulled out my pistol, and chambered a round.
My left hand was reaching out to open the rusted wrought iron door, when I felt the hot breath on the back of my neck, and large hands grab my shoulders. I was yanked back and upward, and I knew one of those damned things had grabbed me. I tried kicking free of it, but it was as strong as an ape, and smelled twice as bad. I don’t think it knew what a pistol was, because it made no attempt to take it from me, as it turned and started lumbering back from where it came. I’m sure it quickly realized when I emptied half a clip into it. It dropped me and howled in pain, and I didn’t even bother to look behind me to see if I had killed it or not. I was too concerned with getting into the apartment building.
I ran down the unlit hallways, old paint peeling from the walls, and carpet lying in rotten patches where it hadn’t been ripped up or disintegrated completely. Managing to pull out a glow stick from my pack, I cracked it, bathing the hallway in an eerie green. I slid around the corner and noticed an old sign on a door which told me the laundry machines were downstairs. At the same time, I heard the shattering of glass and clattering of chitinous claws on patches of exposed concrete.
The stairs downward were covered in slick mold, and I lost my footing halfway down and managed to slam into the door to the laundry room. I gasped in pain, and opened the door. Ancient machines stood like sentinels, a testament to a time when life was peaceful, a time before the Rapine Storm. I closed the door behind me, not even bothering with the feeble lock. Instead, I pushed over one of the ancient machines, and it vomited forth some black water. Straining, I pushed it in front of the door.
I knelt in the center of the room, pulling my grimoire and several bits of chalk out of my pack. My mind entered a familiar state of calm, as I began reciting the words…