2040 A.D. - 6 Years and 3 Months Before Eden
The ground trembled, releasing dormant clouds of dust. The sky…no longer there——just a ceiling as black as slate. It stretched past the horizon and covered the land around. Children crying, countless dying, it was all the same to him. Those few moments in despair, tied to war’s every whim, no matter where he went…everywhere. And though the Sun somewhere did rise, he could not seen it then. No, not then or ever, not even one more time. And, oh how soon that cold, dark night would thus forget her rays. And now with all his toils and tries, he could not bring back those days.
Bash’s eyes shot open as he felt their dry redness brushed against their lids. He reached out for his water, but his hand had overestimated the distance he put between himself and the glass, and soon after, it spilled onto the ground and clinked for a few seconds until it settled under his bed.
“Ah, you bitch,” Bash ripped the sorry excuse of a blanket off of him——really just a tablecloth he had found a while back——and fell off his mattress as he reached into the dark underside of his bed. Before long, his fingers brushed against the wet glass and gripped it with a satisfying sense of victory.
A knock came to his door, nearly causing him to drop his spoils of war. So, to not lose it again, Bash placed the glass on the nightstand and grunted, “What?”
“C’mon, Bash, we need’ta go. There’s another air raid.” Irene’s voice, about as clear as mud, broke though the door, but Bash caught on to what she was saying. “We can meet up with your wife and kid, too. I think I’ve found th——”
“What good is it telling me that? It won’t do us any good worrying.” Bash pushed himself up and fixed his bed, pulling on some old clothing he had lying near his bathroom.
“Cause it’s dangerous up here, and you know it,” Irene pressed more closely against the door.
“And what did I tell you?” Bash waved his hand and nearly tripped over while putting on his pants. “Shit,” he mumbled and then turned to the door with all the force he could muster in his voice, “I don’t give a God damn about those air raids. We ain’t been hit yet, and I don’t reckon we’ll be hit any time soon.”
“But what if we are——?”
“So what if we are?” Bash sat on his bed and, with much labor, slipped on his shoes. Reeking with condescension. “I’ll tell you what, you go on down there to make yourself feel safe, and if I get hurt…or die…you can just take my dead body and bury me next to Papa.”
“Dammit, Bash, quit being a moron. There ain’t no way I’d bury your sorry ass next to him if yer just gonna throw your life away. Y’know, Papa actually tried to live for us, and you know how much pain he was in, too——”
“Well difference between me and Papa is that I ain’t got no one to live for, so you can stop right there,” Bash, with a satisfied grunt, pushed himself up to his feet as he opened his door. Before long, a sudden force crushed up against his face and caused him to stumble back until he lost his footing.
“Gah, dammit!” He covered his nose as his other hand worked to get him up.
Irene stood there, her shoulders drawn back and her glare about as sharp as a knife, as she tended to her hand. “I know it’s pretty damn bad out there, Bash——I know it’s hell…because I feel that way, too, but don’t you dare say you ain’t got no one to live for. What about me? What about your wife and kid, huh?”
“And what about ‘em?” Bash’s voice sent tremors throughout the room, causing it to shake until any noise produced before that was nothing but a fading silence.
Irene paused and stared at Bash for a few seconds. Her glare pierced through the darkened interior of the room and focused in on Bash’s frantic eyes, and soon after, she nodded. “Okay.” She walked out of the room, leaving Sebastian’s door open, and went down the hall.
Silence ensued, except for an old fan blowing out the dust-ridden vent in Sebastian’s room, and Bash waved his hand after rubbing the last lingering seconds of pain out of his face.
A few minutes passed, and Bash let those final few thoughts dissipate into the recesses of his head. He stumbled over to his door and swung it open, this time making sure nothing crashed into his nose, and he moved through the hall until he got to the kitchen.
After a lonely breakfast of stale, dry cereal and a swig of water, Bash swallowed those final bites of food and relaxed for a moment. Tilting his head upward, he glanced around the kitchen, noting its stillness. “I don’t reckon we got any better cereal, huh?” He froze to think about that for a moment and then smirked to himself, murmuring, “I probably shouldn’t’ve said that. She’s already mad as it is.”
He twiddled his thumbs for a few more seconds and then squinted as the silence rang on. “Irene?” He pursed his lips and continued, “Ugh, alright, alright. Shit.” That last part was drawn out under his gritted teeth as he let out a weak breath. “I’m…I’m sorry about what I said to ya. It won’t happen again.”
More silence. This time, it was more profound——like a ringing that got louder the moment Bash cleared his head. “Irene!” He paced the house, only to find nothing inside it. Searching Irene’s room proved to be fruitless, too. “Dammit, Irene, cut it out. I said I’m sorry. Just where the hell are you?”
He scoffed in frustration and went to his room again, finding somewhere to sit on his bed.
His searching did not last long, as he eventually settled on the fact that Irene had gone to the bunker. The next few hours spent were of him cursing to any tangible thought he could produce, and after that, those thoughts dissipated and cleared room for regret. He began to wonder if Irene had made it to the bunker and he almost considered going out there to check, but his annoyance with her prevented him from doing so, keeping him put in his house to wallow in his own anger.
The next few days passed, and Bash cycled through worry for his sister and a bit of anger, in her and mainly in himself.
Bash finished the final few pieces of cereal that clung onto the bottom of the box and discarded it. He cursed his way through washing the dishes, muttering, “Damn Irene. Making me do the dishes on your day.”
Suddenly, he could hear a quiet click at the entrance to his house. While the noise was nearly indiscernible from the clashing of the dishes in the drying rack, Bash’s hearing was something he could rely on. He grabbed a knife and snuck around the corner, making sure whoever it was that entered his house could not hear him, and he peeked around to the entrance.
His eyes widened, and the grip on his knife loosened until its long blade found refuge into one of the splintering floorboards near his feet. “What are you doing here?”
“Now, Bash, is that the way you should greet your family?” Irene hobbled over to her brother and yanked the knife out of the ground, waving it near Bash’s chin. With a cackle, she murmured, “Keep that up, and we won’t have nothin’ to cut food with. Now, where are your manners?”
Bash’s eyes traveled between Irene and the new guests, who had still been huddled up at the door, and then he turned back to Irene once more. He whispered, only loud enough for Irene to hear, leaving an uncomfortable blanket of silence to linger throughout the rest of the room, “What the hell’s goin’ on? I thought you were kidding about finding them?”
“Bash,” Irene forced a smile and waved on for the two to enter. It was Bash’s wife and son, Isabel and Sebastian Jr. “They’re already scared as it is. So don’t go wavin’ a damn knife at them.”
“You didn’t answer my fucking question,” Bash’s eyes widened as he struggled to keep up with Irene. “Who cares, anyway. How the hell did you find them?”
With a devious smirk, Irene spun around to Bash as if she were thirty years younger and murmured, “I think I’m pretty darn good at finding things…and people. I know the ropes.”
“Hmph, ropes my ass. Well why don’t you string me up with one and hang me——this is insane. They hate me!” Those last few words, while still whispered, cut through the air like sandpaper.
An incredulous grin swept across Irene’s face, and the woman rolled her eyes. “C’mon, Bash, just give it a chance. Don’t you at least want them to be safe? Thought I’d round ‘em up for our trip to Langford. Lord knows what’s gonna happen here if we don’t leave soon.” She placed her hand on the counter and rubbed it. “Look, all I’m sayin’ is that if they’re willing to come here and face…you, then you should be able to do the same. You owe that to ‘em, at least.”
Irene swiftly spun around before Bash could ask what the tone behind “you” meant, and the two marched toward the main entrance. “Welp, it’s decided,” Irene beamed. “We’d love to have you stay. What’s the saying…mi casa…tu casa?”
“Irene, we ain’t got ‘nough food for th——agh,” Bash clutched his gut and nearly doubled over as Irene drove her elbow into it. “Right…mi casa, tu casa.”
The next three days were quite awkward between Bash and his wife and kid. While Sebastian Jr. was interested in Bash and wanted to get to know him better, making countless attempts at approaching him, Isabel was not having it. She made sure to keep the two separated as much as possible, asking Irene to keep track of Sebastian Jr. while she kept an eye on Bash.
Irene and her nephew, Sebastian Jr., were in the kitchen, working on a few dishes and food for the night. Irene claimed she was trying to teach the kid a few things and get to know him a little better, but anyone who knew Irene would know she was just trying to trick him into doing the hard work, which worked perfectly with Isabel’s orders to keep him occupied and away from Bash. She did not agree with it, but she would rather have the two safe than uncomfortable and wanting to leave shelter.
With an uneasy smile, Bash peeked into the kitchen from the living room and then turned back to face the wall farthest from him. There was Isabel sitting on the couch with an uncomfortable slouch to her form and an old book whose spine had nearly fallen off gripped into her hands with more force than a vice could produce.
“Y’know…” Bash whispered…nearly only quiet enough for himself to hear, “…it ain’t gonna run from you…the book, that is.”
Isabel took a few long seconds to lower the book so her eyes could be seen, and from what Bash could tell, she flashed a snide grin. “You’d know about that, wouldn’t you?” It was not long before she returned to her reading, which left Bash momentarily speechless.
“I deserved that,” Bash nodded, trying to find something…anything to focus on in the room to relieve the awkwardness perched on his chest. Within moments, he found an old receipt buried under a few more papers and began to read it, listing off the items and promotional codes in his head. Of course, that did not last long, and his curiosity eventually got the best of him and brought his eyes back to Isabel’s. “How’ve things been? You two holding up okay?”
“Oh,” Isabel sighed and flipped a page. “You know.”
“Well…I don’t——” Bash stopped himself, knowing what was coming.
“Yeah…” Isabel drew the end of that word out until it was nothing but a whisper, her eyes still focused on the pages of her book.
“But…it’s been okay, right? Ya’ll ain’t been hurt or nothin’?” Sebastian said.
“Yep. All good,” Isabel flipped on.
The awkwardness rushed full-force into the room and nearly drowned Bash in its heaviness. But, he was intent on swimming through it and finding more answers. “Hey, Bel——”
“Don’t…” Isabel’s voice wavered and nearly came to a full stop. “Don’t call me that.” Finally, Isabel pulled the book close to her and brought one of her arms behind it to wipe her face.
“I can get you some tissues…or a dishrag or something, Bel——I mean…” Bash stumbled toward the kitchen and tripped over before he could get even a few feet from his chair. “Dammit.”
He heard a small bit of disingenuous laughter burst through the murky silence of the room while he struggled to get to his feet, and after a few seconds, the laughing stopped. “Yeah, yeah, I deserved that, too.”
“You deserve a hell of a lot more than that, y’know?” Isabel’s voice lit up the room again, and this time there was a bit more life to it. “I mean, if I could, I’d take this damn book and knock you right across the head——” There was so much pain in her voice that it was tangible——that it nearly stung Bash through his heart. It hurt.
“Yes,” Bash drew out the end of the word, too, and formed a grin on his discombobulated face, trying to shake the pain he could feel from his wife. With a sigh, he turned around and faced Isabel as he rested against the ground. “I don’t know what to say. I fucked up.”
“Well, I don’t reckon you do,” Isabel leaned forward and placed her book on the coffee table. “What the hell were you thinking when you left? Well, forget me, but our son? He loved you. You saw his eyes whenever you’d come home. I dunno what it is, but it was something about your sorry ass that he looked forward to every single day. Hell,” Isabel pursed her lips and fought back a few tears, “even after a whole year of seeing just how unreliable you are, you wanna know what his reaction was when your sister, God bless her heart, said she’d bring us to Langford?”
Bash tried to open his lips, but there was not enough strength in his chest at that moment to say anything.
Isabel saw his desire to open his mouth and held up her hand, continuing, “He asked, ‘Can I see ‘Papa’?” Isabel’s words sliced through the air toward Bash, wavering like a weakened sheet of metal in the wind. Taking a few breaths, Isabel settled back into her seat and shrugged. “I don’t know why.”
“I’m not saying what I did was right,” Sebastian sighed. “I’m just saying…it was better to say goodbye to a…sorry ass like me…” he raised his eyebrow at Isabel, who reciprocated it with a nod, “…than it was to deal with my drinking. You remember it. I almost…” Bash shook his head. “…I could have hurt you two.”
“You know damn well that was lazy of you,” said Isabel. “I said I would get you help and would be there every step of the way. I was willing to do anything, and you still…left.”
“It’s not that easy,” Bash whispered.
“Not even easy enough for you to see your son?” Isabel remarked. “Really? Because I don’t remember you——”
“No, not even that easy,” Bash’s voice dragged on. “But I should have tried harder. I should have busted my ass off for you two, and I didn’t. And because of that, I was ashamed and felt like I had to leave. So, I got my sister to take care of me. She had to deal with me whenever I couldn’t even lift a finger. She had to go through with my mindless ramblings, my curses, my every damn fuck up I’ve ever done. Why would I make you deal with something like that, too? I loved you too much to do that to you.”
“And I loved you too much not to help you!” Isabel whispered.
Bash froze and looked up at Isabel, whose eyes had wandered the room and had done everything in their power to avoid Sebastian’s sight. “God dammit, I really fucked up, didn’t I?” He let the silence continue until he was dissatisfied by its empty response, and he then continued. “You actually meant all of that when we married? Y’know, our vows? 'In sickness and in health’?”
“Yes, and I still mean it. We’re still married, aren’t we? You know, every part of me is telling me to hate you for doing what you did, but I can’t, no matter how much I try. If it’s a face our son can love, then how can I even think of hating it?”
The silence after did not last long. Although it hung over Sebastian like an infinitely heavy weight, he was soon interrupted by a subtle but ever-growing howl from outside. It continued until it became obvious as to what it was.
Irene poked her head into the living room and clashed against the stillness of the air. “It’s an air raid. We need’t get outta here.”
Bash stayed still and watched the floor for a few more seconds and then jumped as he felt a hand grasp against his shoulder. He thought it was Irene and almost cursed at her, but it was someone else.
There stood Sebastian Jr. staring down at his father. With an almost indiscernible sense of urgency in his eyes, the boy muttered, “Papa, c’mon, we gotta go.”
Bash looked up at Irene, whose eyes were reflecting exactly what he would have imagined. I ain’t got no one to live for?
Bash shook his head and grasped the floor, pushing against it with a resoluteness he had not shown in a long time. I’ll be damned if I don’t got no one to live for.
“Irene, you start for Langford. I’m getting the knife,” Bash began toward his room, and Irene stopped him.
“That knife? You sure it’ll even work?” Said Irene.
“I hope so,” Bash answered. “It’s the only hope we’ve got. So, go on, and I”ll be there soon!”
Six months ago, Bash began to piece together some of the research he had been tasked to do back in his days at the military base and discovered some interesting findings. The substance that the military had been experimenting with…that which they codenamed Crimson Magic…had a very strong affinity for firepower, bombs, and most notably, Hellhounds. In fact, it seemed to be the thing that powered those creatures.
Years ago, the military had been given an assignment by an organization simply known as Re.Li.C., or Revitalization of Lifeline Corporation; it was headed by a woman named Naomi V. Imperimys, a prominent supporter of the war, who later happened to be the second-in-command to the warlord Ares, arguably the most powerful and notable leader of the anti-humanity movement.
Bash could not fully understand their motives, but what he did know was that they relied heavily on the Crimson Magic in their weapons and Hellhounds. With that massive power, they were a force to be reckoned with——a true terror to humanity. But, despite all that power, they still seemed to find themselves struggling against the resistance force, a force so seemingly weak and small in comparison that no reasonable person would bet on their victory or survival. So, Bash wanted to learn what caused the resistance to be so effective against their enemies.
He knew Hellhounds could not be killed with ordinary gunfire, so he had to find another reason as to why those creatures were dying. That was when he discovered a knife near the site of a few dead Hellhounds on a walk one day. The evidence was inconclusive, of course. He had no way of telling whether or not the knife could kill these things, and he doubted their effectiveness over that of the guns that also failed, but he had to take a chance. It was better than nothing.
Bash grabbed his knife from under his bed and dashed for the door, hearing the air raid siren continue. Something about today’s was different. Each fluctuation in the noise shook the house and sent chills slithering through his skin and to his gut. He felt urgency from them for the first time ever, as if they were alive and suffering.
Before Bash could reach the door, he felt a rumble from somewhere on the other side of his house.
“Dammit,” he said. “They really ain’t kidding this time.” Before long, he let the reality of the situation hit him, and with a sudden seizing of his body, he glared up in the distance. “Irene! Sebastian!” He paused and felt another explosion hit nearer to him this time. “Bel!”
Bash ran faster than he had in a long time down the path from the house, finally catching up to his family, who had not gone too far.
“Bash! Hurry up, they’re dropping bombs all over!” Irene waved at her brother and picked up her pace.
“Well, I can see that pretty darn clearly!” Bash spat back. “How far is Langford?”
“About a half a mile!” Irene answered, looking up in the sky for any sign of where the bombs would hit next.
“Damn, if they keep this up, we’ll never make it…” Bash tried to mutter that under his breath, but Isabel caught wind of his comments and shot him a dirty glance. “Oh…” he gave her an unsure smile and looked down at his son, who may or may not have heard his doubt. “…I mean, we won’t make it if we slack off! Let’s get going! Bel, I’m gonna put Sebastian Jr. on my shoulders. Is that okay?”
“Dammit, Bash,” Irene rolled her eyes, “You know damn well your knees can’t take that. The boy can run, trust me.”
“Don’t worry,” Isabel stared at Bash with a resolute nod. “He can run himself!”
The group agreed on what to do and began running. A while had passed, and for the most part, the raining bombs had stayed out of their way. They had to make a few detours here and there, but their path was pretty clear from then on.
Eventually, the field-turned-wasteland slowly introduced more buildings, and before long, the group had gotten close to Langford.
“We’re close!” Irene yelled. “When we get in the city, we’ve got a few more blocks until we get to the base. We can do it!”
Bash felt an odd rush of excitement run through him, as warped as that sounded. And, for a moment, he stared over at his wife and kid and then to Irene with a smile more pronounced on his face than ever before. “Didn’t expect our reunion to happen like this. I’d at least hoped we’d get to eat together.”
“Well you won’t have to hope for long,” Irene yelled, taking a sharp turn that her joints would not usually be able to withstand. “We’ll get in there and eat all the meals we want together. Just keep on going——!”
An explosion went off in front of Irene, causing the group to fall back and hit the ground. Bash’s eyes, widened with terror, were nearly left behind as his body bolted up to where his sister had fallen. “Irene!”
Bash reached his sister and grabbed her shoulders, sighing as he saw that the worst that happened to her was only a bit of dizziness. “Oh my God, you’re okay.”
“Hell yeah, I’m okay,” Irene grinned. “It’s just a little…agh,” she nearly slipped, but Bash supported her and brought her to an upright position.
“You gonna be able to walk? We need to go on. We’re close,” Bash stopped and scanned the street, watching as more explosions took place farther down. An odd sensation filled his chest, but he could not quite describe it. He felt sick. He turned back to Irene and bolted up with her in his arms, finally getting her to her feet. “Now, take Bel and Sebastian Jr. to Langford.”
“And what are you gonna do——?”
“Now!” Bash’s face reddened as strands of hair fell out of place. “There ain’t no time. Hurry up and take ‘em with you.” He gripped his knife as he turned his back to Irene.
Irene immediately understood and motioned for Isabel and Sebastian Jr. to follow her. “Alright, but you’re gonna come back in one piece, right? You gotta.”
“I can’t make any promises,” Bash’s voice shook, and his dirt-caked palms began to sweat, the dirt running to the creases in his hands. He could hear his family’s footsteps begin to grow more silent after a few seconds, and just to make sure, Bash turned his head to them. With content, he nearly turned back to tend to his own issues, but a terrible feeling engulfed his chest, only to be followed a few seconds later by the thing that caused it.
In front of Irene, Isabel, and Sebastian Jr. was a large shadow covered by the smoke created by the bomb. Sebastian cursed to himself and backed away from where he stood, turning to Isabel “Bel! I hope you’re still good at catching!”
“Huh——?” Isabel barely had time to speak, as her hand reached up and somehow caught the knife’s handle. “Dammit, Sebastian, you could’ve cut my hand off!”
Bash cringed but mainly ignored her protests, pointing at the beast behind her. “Slice at it! Who gives a damn if you know how to use a knife. As long as you cut it, the thing’ll back down!”
“Are you sure?” Isabel replied and nearly froze up, but she was encouraged by Bash’s next few words.
“I won’t be if you don’t try! Now do it, or we’ll all be dead!” Bash’s words pushed Isabel’s arm, which released an unsure slash into the creature’s obscured body.
A shriek too human to be an animal and too animalistic to be human slammed through the air and pushed the four back, causing them to reach for their ears. The overbearing shadow gave way to a weakened, hobbling form that eventually fell to its side, releasing more dust into the air.
“It worked,” Bash murmured, trying to withhold his shock. Irene, however, heard him loud and clear and prepared to give him a snide glance, but that was quickly replaced with horror as the words of warning she had for Bash nearly dissipated with an exhale.
Luckily, Bash sensed what Irene was referencing and leapt forward, avoiding the brunt of a claw-filled attack by a hellhound behind him. He cursed to himself, feeling an unusually powerful wave of air knock into his back. However, it was not enough to push him over–—just to wake him up.
Without warning, Isabel returned the favor to Bash and threw the knife at him, which landed at his feet. With a smirk, he grabbed it from the ground and turned around to face the perpetrator, which happened to be one of three large hellhounds. “Not so scary, now, are ya? Shit, who am I kidding. My hand’s shaking.” He laughed to himself, which only exposed more of his worry. “You three, get out of here now, while the path is open.”
“No can do,” Isabel replied. “We can’t see a thing, and there’s no telling what’s out there. We have no choice but to stay here.”
“Shit,” Bash murmured, waving the knife at the slowly approaching creatures. “Then that means we’ll have to inch our way forward.” Another explosion rang about ten feet to his left, nearly causing him to lose balance. “More like foot our way forward. Let’s get on with it!”
Sebastian slashed toward one of the monsters, catching what he assumed to be its snout, and the same noise broke though the ringing in the air. The slice was not as easy as he imagined it to be. Isabel made it look simple at first glance, but the reality was that it felt like the force of thousands of angry souls grabbing at his arm as he tried to slash away at them. And to make things worse, the creature’s skin sizzled as he attacked it, further making him wonder what he was dealing with.
“You’re all gonna have to deal with me now. I’m gonna make sure you regret killing my friends back then!”
He felt a hand clasp his shoulder. It was Isabel. “I don’t think they can feel regret.”
“No, you’re right, but they are the embodiment of humanity’s regret. For creating such terrible weapons. We’ve had to resort to iron age weapons to fend off our own horrors. It’s like we’re the ones being hunted now.” Bash’s words grew more frustrated by the minute until he finally decided to follow after Isabel and Irene.
From behind, Bash could sense a bit of fallback, but ahead was a whole different story. The air grew heavier, almost warning the group against proceeding forward. However, that was the problem. If they did not go that way, there would be nowhere else to go. It was imperative that they proceed.
But that sense of resolution did not last long. Bash felt a horrible pressure build up in front of them, this time confirming his fears. A large shadow formed in the dust and bolted toward the front, which happened to be Sebastian Jr. and Irene.
With urgency, Sebastian dashed to intercept it, placing his body between the monster and its targets. Because of his timing, he did not have the time to counter, only being able to accept the blow rather than slash away at it immediately.
He suddenly felt a sharp pain slash through his gut, which caused him to crumple to the ground. His body shook, and he could hardly muster the strength to keep his eyes open. He could feel the creature walking up to him, and a quick sniff from the Hellhound’s nostrils told him all he needed to know about his fate.
“Irene…” Sebastian mumbled, noting that the creature had backed up a bit after encountering the blunt of his knife. “When I tell you to, I want you to take this knife and run, okay?”
“What?” Irene murmured, horror laced in her eyes. She gripped the hand of Sebastian Jr. as her body refused to move. Isabel, too, felt the same way, unable to move.
“Just fucking do it!” Sebastian groaned as pain tore through his body. “Please, just do it!”
Bash, without checking to see if his sister would answer, used the remainder of his strength to turn around and sink the knife into the Hellhound’s face. The creature stopped and then attempted to jerk around, but Bash held his knife into its head without backing down, and soon after, the monster slowed down, weakened, and eventually collapsed into the rubble on top of Bash.
“Bash!” Irene rushed toward Bash, yanking Sebastian Jr.’s hand with her, who was quickly grabbed by Isabel, and shook her brother’s shoulders, stopping when she saw he was still clinging onto life. “Bash, you need to get up now. They can treat you in there. I know they can!” Frustrated at Bash’s inability to answer, Irene decided to take matters into her own hands and tried to grab the man to pull him out from under the Hellhound. The creature must have weighed half a ton because when she tried to move her brother, all she could hear was agony laced with his screams.
Horror filled Irene’s body as she tried even harder to pull Bash out, but it was no use. She was not strong enough, and Bash did not have enough strength left to survive a rescue mission.
Another set of footsteps appeared behind her, and seconds later, Isabel and Sebastian Jr. appeared next to the Hellhound, trying with all her strength to get it off of Bash. “C’mon, get the other side!” Isabel shouted, and Irene nodded, moving to her respective spot to begin lifting.
They tried for a few minutes and then quit when they realized nothing would work.
“Shit,” Irene murmured, tears pushing their way out her eyes. “Shit, shit, shit!” She kicked the hellhound a few times and banged her fist against it, eventually turning around before rushing to Bash. “Bash, are you awake?”
“I said…” Bash whispered. “…go. Take the knife and run——the three of you.”
“No,” Irene answered. “Not until you’re free.” She got up to her feet and stared at Langford. “Do ya’ll hear me? Help him! We need help! Now! Someone’s been trapped and needs to be saved! Help us!” She kept yelling until her voice was nothing but a few scratchy and weakened syllables, and she slumped over to watch Bash. “Help us….”
Isabel placed her hand on Irene’s shoulder. “They won’t come out during an air raid…not for one person. Irene, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, but you need to go. You need to get inside before you get hurt.”
Irene’s eyes focused on Bash’s for a bit longer as she watched the life fleeting from him. With a nod, Irene moved toward her brother as her body trembled and planted a kiss on his forehead, tears dripping down onto his face. “Bash, I’m so sorry I couldn’t help you.”
Next to Irene was Sebastian Jr., who up until then remained quiet.
Poor kid, Irene sniffled, watching silent tears stream down the boy’s face. Just got to see his papa again, and now….
The boy leaned into Bash and murmured, “Papa, please, get up. Papa, please.” He shook Bash a few more times until he realized the gravity of the situation. Before he could release a stream of unending tears, Bash’s hand moved a few inches, meeting the boy’s defeated fingers. Using what Irene assumed to be the last ounce of his strength, Bash grasped his son’s hand and gave it a long squeeze.
Irene reached over to the boy, whose face was nothing but a blank slate of defeat, tears painting its barren surface. She shook, and although she wanted to cry, she knew doing so would only harm Sebastian Jr. “We need to go, Sebastian. Your papa did this for us all, right, Isabel?”
Silence ensued, and Irene began to worry for the woman, turning around to see what happened. “Isabel, right——? Oh God.”
Irene stumbled with her words as the sight of Isabel came into her eyes. Blood-soaked clothes stuck to her skin, and weakened knees barely carried her over. The woman stumbled a few feet until she collapsed next to Bash, landing against his arm and struggling to reach hers around him.
“Isabel…” Irene whispered, barely having enough strength to console the woman. “Isabel, c’mon, get up! We need’t go!”
The woman was silent, and as her arm inched over Bash’s back, her body stopped moving, leaving one of the worst sights imaginable for Sebastian Jr.
Irene stumbled to Sebastian Jr.. who nearly leapt for his parents with a cry of pain, and embraced him, using whatever strength she could produce to get him off the ground. A claw slashed down from where the boy was sitting moments ago, and Irene felt its shockwave nearly tumble her over.
Her quick hands made for the knife, and soon after, she bolted for the bunker, ignoring Sebastian’s painful and unavoidable protests. All she could do was look forward, slash at whatever was in the way, and run.
6 Years Later - Two Days Before Sebastian Jr. Woke Up
Irene paused as those final few words managed to slip through her mouth, and her eyes, not particularly staring in any direction, finally settled on the ground near Dr. Jacobson’s feet.
She could hear a sniffling, and she knew it was not from herself. Looking up, she saw Jacobson take a handkerchief and wipe his eyes.
“What’s the matter?” Irene smirked, but that smirk was a weak one——one that even she could not believe.
“What? Are you kidding me? You two had to see that and live with it for six years. That’s…horrible.” The man struggled to his feet and moved to the sink, trying his best to get a few droplets of water down his mouth, which would barely open for him. Irene declined his offer for some and sat there, watching the man come back to his senses.
“He’s all I have, and though he ain’t my boy, I love him more than anything in this world,” Irene smiled. “He’ll be okay, right?”
“Oh, I guarantee it,” Dr. Jacobson waited a few seconds, squeezing his fists, and answered. “I’ll make sure of it.” He stopped and placed the back of his hand against Sebastian’s forehead, taking a few steps toward Irene. “This is such a terrible question to ask, but I must——what happened the next day? Did they find any bodies?”
Irene nodded and moved to Sebastian with the help of Dr. Jacobson. Staring down at the kid, she gave the boy another gentle smile. “They died in each other’s arms. That’s all I heard. They wouldn’t show me, and I honestly didn’t wanna see. It would be too much to relive that. I had to be strong for Sebastian.”
“This is my only regret of becoming a doctor…” Jacobson murmured.
“What’s that?” Irene replied, trying to take her mind off the imagery engraved in her head.
“I was born to save people, you know? So when someone dies in front of me…or even far away, I can’t help but feel so powerless, as if I failed as a doctor.”
“Hey,” Irene forced a smile and grabbed the man’s shoulder. “Don’t do that to yourself. It’s stupid. I mean, it’s not stupid that you care. I admire that. I really do. But, that was six years ago. Look what yer doin’ now. Yer saving lives——you’re saving that boy’s life, and it means more to me than anything right now. You’re no failure at all. We’ll get through this, and someday, we dumb humans’ll learn our lesson.”
“Now you know that’ll never happen,” Jacobson smirked.
“Well, maybe not, but I like to think that. If there were only more people like my papa out there…or Bash…or this boy…or you, maybe we’d have a chance, but until then, I’ll take the next best thing.”
“And what would that be?” Jacobson piped up.
“Can you keep a promise?” Irene murmured.
“I’ll do my best,” Jacobson nodded.
“No matter how many times we fuck up, will you and everyone like you clean up our messes? It’s a tall order, but——”
“That’s who I was born to be,” Jacobson smiled and looked at Sebastian. “And I’m sure he’ll say the same. So, yes, as long as I live, I’ll keep my promise.”
“Good, ‘cause we’ve got a long way t’go,” Irene winked.
The ground, still, no more dormant clouds of dust. The sky…forever bright——now a ceiling as calm as life. It stretched past the horizon and covered the land around. Children laughing, countless living, it was all the same to her. All those moments always fair, the peace now always here, no matter where she went…everywhere. And since the Sun always did rise, she could now seen it then. Yes, right then and always, until the end of time. And, oh how soon that cool, calm night would thus bring in her rays. And now with all her smiles and sighs, she could look back at those days.