Title: And monsters see me
Sequel to: I see monsters
Summary: It’s the End of the World as they know it. Again!
Rating: Adult; NC-17 for eventual Adult themes.
Genre: Apocalyptic/Plague/End of the world scenario
Warning: Character death everywhere!
House opened the front door to a frozen Hell. The wind entered uninvited, and slammed the kitchen door closed on the opposite side of the room. He locked the front door for the sake of it, then went into the yard and keyed the truck's ignition, letting the engine turn over for ten minutes. He did it everyday to keep it running. They’d need it when the highway thawed out. Then he set off for the North Road. He'd packed the tent, two torches and a handgun. Half an hour into his trek and he’d decided that the seasons were gendered, and winter was a cold-hearted bitch. A hateful spinster. She'd probably been spurned by autumn, the bastard male of the seasons who changed and engorged and ripened everything, removing anything of worth from winter’s path before she arrived. Leaving her nothing to do but go on a ‘Hell hath no Fury’ trip and punish everything left.
This snow was her baby bitch, and it was all for him.
His progress was agonizingly slow. Dragging his leg by hand, his cane was useless. His cane was a joke. He’d have tossed it away if it hadn’t been his only one. He was going to die out here for Cameron. He’d make sure to die with his bare rear pointing up so she could kiss his frozen ass when she found her way back.
~ ~ ~
The North road out of Shelburne took Cameron over the Connecticut River where she picked up the Route 2 Highway. She’d been relieved to see the river flowing, and unfrozen. A confirmation that it wouldn’t be winter forever; life moved on. Spring would be here soon enough. Walking along the road alone felt dangerous, so she entered the forest. The map had revealed a trail there that followed the highway, and the snow in the forest wasn’t as deep. She followed the trail until she was about a mile outside of town where she picked up Route 2 again.
The sign reading “Welcome to GORHAM, Incorporated 1836” was a sight for sore eyes. She checked her watch and realised the walk had taken her about five hours – she figured it would have taken much less time if the snow hadn’t been so deep. She was breathing hard and her cheeks were flushed from the walk, but the adrenalin surge felt good. She dropped her pack and took a rest for five minutes. Her skin prickled with sweat, and she felt hot from the exercise. The plan was to get in and get out of town quickly. She didn’t mind following the highway at night, the snow made everything brighter anyway, she just didn’t want to be in the forest when night fell in.
What House had labelled a ‘One Donkey Town’ (Because it wasn’t big enough for a horse) was actually very pleasant and accommodating. But she figured he would need to change his idiom to ‘One Moose Town’ as there were no donkeys to be found, but there was a large moose waiting to greet her as she approached the centre of town. It was standing in the middle of the street, indifferent to its surroundings and chewing winter flowers from an otherwise empty bed outside a restaraunt. Cameron didn’t know if they were dangerous animals. She didn’t think so, but she waited for a few minutes to see what it would do. When it did nothing but ignore her, she decided to move carefully past it and collect the things she needed.
She and House had raided the obligatory Mom ‘N’ Pop’s grocery store long before winter. As she approached the store this time she noticed, with some alarm, that someone else had been there since they had. When they’d been there before they’d found it open. There had been no need to break in. Cameron could see that the window had been smashed in completely and snow had blown into the front of the store. She stepped back and scanned the town for signs of life, placing her hand over the Walther in her pocket. It seemed like it was just her and the moose. The only sound came from the wind and the creak of the sign above the store. She went in, and filled her pack quickly with any tinned goods she could find. When that was done, she filled a take-out bag with candy bars and potato chips for House. There wasn’t a lot left when she was done. They had only taken a small amount of what had originally been there. Whoever had been there after them had taken nearly everything else. She found a couple of dented Pepsi cans on the floor and put them in her pack too.
Cameron left the store and opened a bag of potato chips. She ate quickly. It was the first thing she'd eaten all day and she felt light-headed from burning more energy than her body had fuel for. She crossed to the small bookstore on the opposite side of the road and found it open and vacant. She’d half-expected to see some ancient bookstore owner slumped behind the counter. A first edition of Moby Dick or something equally classic open in front of him, fully committed to reading until the world turned black for him. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. There was nothing to be found but dust, a mediocre offering of mainstream bestsellers and a tiny selection of classics at the back. She scanned the shelves for five minutes, allowing herself no more time than that. Eventually she pocketed a couple of paperbacks from the recommendations standee, and picked out a beautiful, leather-bound copy of The Great Gatsby for House. She managed to fit them all into the big front pocket of her slicker and then left the store.
On her way back out of town, she came upon a small clinic with a pharmacy attached to the side and decided to stock up on some essentials. The smell inside the pharmacy was horrifying. There were four rotting corpses in the waiting area alone. There had to be more in the back. She gagged but kept her lunch down. She found some bandages, and filled two medicine bottles with Vicodin, against her better judgment. But she needed peace offerings, and nothing said ‘I’m sorry’ better, than highly addictive painkillers when it came to House. She crossed into the clinic and found five more dead bodies, one of them seemed to be a dead doctor. There was nothing worth taking in the clinic, so she swiped a few patient files, losing the folders and stuffing just the pages into the front pocket of her slicker. She figured it would be something for House to do later. She could pitch him symptoms and see if he could guess the ailment in three clues or less. She’d do anything to keep his mind active. House needed puzzles like she needed air. She knew it was highly unethical to take the files, but she was quite sure every patient was long dead now, and wanting to keep House semi-sane overruled her moral convictions.
Before she made it outside she retched, spilling bile and undigested potato chips onto the floor, the smell finally getting to her. Once outside she wiped her eyes and gulped in fresh air. The moose hadn’t moved the whole time she’d been in town. She bid him farewell and began her journey home.
What a strange old day. First that damn moose had arrived, and then the pretty girl had followed. He’d watched her moving around his town, taking his supplies. He’d become transfixed by her, peeking carefully through the blinds of the Sheriff station. He’d been about to put a bullet in that old Moose’s head but had been dumfounded to see the little missy just strutting into town. He’d retreated, scampering for the station, so sure he’d been seen by her, but she hadn’t even noticed him.
Al was quick when he wanted to be. You had to get up pretty early in the morning to put one over on old Al.
He just couldn’t take his eyes off her. Sure, he could’ve gone and put a bullet in her head anytime, but he’d been unsure at first whether she was really there, or if he was just seeing things again.
And where was the fun in killing her if she was real? When he’d decided for sure that she actually existed, he’d decided he was going to play a little game. He was going to see how far he could track her back out of town before she noticed he was following. Hell, for sport, he wouldn’t even take the rifle.
It had been so long since he’d had any fun, and how dare she just come into his town like that, completely uninvited. Well, old Al would show her what they did to thieves in Gorham.
Cameron’s feet were beginning to ache inside her boots. Hunger licked at her stomach, but she couldn't face the idea of eating anything else yet. The land was slightly raised on one side of the trail and dipped on the other. To her right, a regiment of Black Spruce trees stood guard. The ground was uneven and dangerous. Rocks and broken tree branches had become frozen into the path. Her foot met something solid as she stepped over a large rock and she tripped forward, only catching her balance at the last minute. She’d already been grounded twice and her knees were scuffed. The forest seemed to expand in every direction like a woodland universe. It was just after 4 P.M. and it would be dark soon. She needed to pick up the pace.
She approached a withered Jack Pine that had branches like outstretched arms, as if welcoming her. Just beyond the pine, something caught her eye: a flash of colour. She reached for the gun, and then realised with mild terror that she’d left it back in Gorham, on a bookshelf at the bookstore. Crap, oh crap. House was going to flip out. It only took a fraction of a second for her eyes to adjust between the near and far points of her vision, and then another fraction for the tension in her facial expression to relax into utter surprise.
It couldn’t be.
Ahead of her in the forest was Robert Chase, or at least, that’s what her eyes were telling her. The sight made her heart clench. Her lungs emptied of air. Her gloved left hand came to her face, autonomous with shock.
Chase was wearing blue jeans and a white shirt, complete with tie; covering the shirt was a woollen tank top. He had his fingers tucked into the front pockets of his jeans with just his thumbs showing. He wore no jacket, and his breathing did not charge the cold air.
Wind heaved through the trees, making her slicker flap out behind her.
“You’re not real.” Words for herself, not for him.
A familiar smirk appeared, derisive yet tender. God she had missed him. She wanted to run forwards and hug him. She wanted to breathe in his smell. But Chase had to be dead and ghosts didn’t exist. She believed in Darwin and the Big Bang and hard, scientific fact. Be rational. This visualisation was her stressed brain playing tricks on her; nothing more.
She closed her eyes, hoping it would make him go away, but when she opened them again Chase was much closer, maybe twelve feet away from her. It was comforting yet terrifying at the same time.
She closed her eyes again because she didn’t want to see him anymore. She couldn’t bear to see him when she knew he could not really be there.
‘Allison,’ he said tenderly, ‘don’t be frightened.’
Cameron covered her ears with her hands and shook her head. She hadn’t mourned Chase, not properly. Survival had taken up every inch of her life since the plague had decimated mankind. Now four months’ worth of repressed emotion spilled forth and she couldn’t help but let it out. She allowed herself to cry, to grieve for all of the people that she had lost. But when she opened her eyes again he was still there. Patient. Watching the tears spill down her cheeks. She sniffed, wiping her wet face on the back of her gloves until her cheeks stung from the rough wool. She felt like an abandoned child alone in the woods.
‘Allison,’ the tenderness in Chase’s voice replaced by something more severe, ‘he’s got a knife.’
Chase looked past her toward the Spruces behind her. She turned. There was a dark figure dressed in army fatigues and a Flack jacket moving toward her at an alarming speed.
“Jesus,” she gasped, surprised and frightened. Instantly she knew this man was real. She turned to Chase again but he was gone. She felt for the Walther again but it wasn’t there. It was not there, and this was why House had warned her not to go alone.
The man stopped when he noticed that she’d noticed him.
“Hey,” he said, smiling. He held his hands up in a gesture of peaceful surrender. They looked dirty.
“I’m sorry, didn’t mean to startle you. I saw you in town, before.” He jabbed a thumb behind him. “You’re the first person I’ve seen in months!”
He started to close the distance between them, his right arm outstretched, offering his hand. “So, it's nice to meet you, I’m Al.”