Dean brushed the snow off the goggles and searched his surroundings. A shroud of white roared around him, drowning his vision, forcing him to seek shelter. New snowflakes pelleted his goggles as soon as he brushed the crusted ones away and the wind tore at his long coat as if wanting to steal it.
The street looked like a scene from a Christmas movie - one of horror, not holidays. Three feet of snow-covered everything, burying most cars to their roofs. The streetlamps lay broken, the ice too heavy to keep standing up and the wind too brutal. The windows of buildings were smashed, the snow that rushed inside becoming the only regular resident for most.
And it was cold. So goddamn cold.
Dean held onto his hood, trying to keep it over his head against the wind. With what little he could see through the blizzard, he headed towards a flat building, hoping it was what he was looking for. His stomach growled and his hands and feet felt alarmingly numb. If he doesn’t find shelter soon, he could risk a black finger.
He couldn’t afford to lose another thumb to the cold.
The howling winds screamed like banshees, swirling around his ears and rushing by as he ignored their wails. It’s been snowing like this for days now, the wind building large dunes at leeward sides of buildings.
If it keeps on like this, the whole town will get buried.
Though there was no one to complain about it. As far as Dean knew, he was the last one. Others taken either by the cold or worse.
Dean brushed his goggles again and felt a little hope. The flat building was indeed the supermarket. Hopefully, there would still be some food left inside. And shelter.
He took his rifle from his shoulder and kept it pointed low at the ground. There was a big pile of snow blown to the side of the supermarket, burying the underground garage house completely. The front windows were all shattered and the blizzard sent waves of snow and wind inside the building. But it also built a natural slope than Dean could climb over.
As he walked inside, he noticed the front-most shelves turned over and buried by snow. The steel grids of shopping carts stuck out like frozen rib cages of some nightmarish creatures. It was dark inside. Too dark for Dean’s taste, but he didn’t dare use his flashlight.
He may not be alone.
He raised his rifle and proceeded past the piled up snow at the front of the supermarket. As he went deeper, the store provided shelter from the wind and Dean could take off his hood and goggles.
Goggles removed, his vision improved, but it was still dark. The blizzard was so dense that it cut nearly all sunlight. He paused for a moment to listen. The wind whistled behind him, the aisle signs hanging from the ceiling creaked, swaying gently.
No indication of life.
Dean walked over to the nearest shelves that still had products sitting on them. Most of the stores in this town still held quite a lot of supplies, despite civilization falling to a biological war years ago. There just weren’t enough people left to eat the food, for they were the food.
“Dog food,” he read on one of the cans and smiled wanly. Not his favorite choice though it beat starvation. He paced along the aisle searching for something better.
He stopped, his blood freezing over the sound of a baby crying.
It sounded surreal, echoing through the darkness of the abandoned store, accompanied by the wailing winds. It was weeks since Dean last had contact with a human and even then it was to protect himself from robbers.
But as much as he longed for another person to talk to, he knew better than to trust his senses. The crying sounded genuine, but it was no human child. Not by far.
He remembered to breathe, steadying the grip on his hunting rifle.
I should go, he thought, not wanting to waste bullets if it came to that. But he needed food. And he was sick of dog food.
He hesitated. The crying stopped and subsided to a soft sobbing. Just one more row, if nothing’s there, I take the dog cans and run.
Dean hoped he wouldn’t regret his decision. He was risking his life, sticking around after hearing one of them in the store. He rounded the end of the shelves carefully, controlling his breathing and keeping mindful of the things scattered on the floor, not to trip over in the low light.
He found beans. A whole row of them, and corn and peas as well. Looking on the lowermost shelf, even a few jars of dried tomatoes. A small relief came to his face at the payoff of his risk, but he didn’t let his guard down. With care, he took off his backpack and placed the cans inside with one hand, while holding onto the rifle with the other at all times.
The crying came again, much closer. Dean turned and noticed something moving on the floor at the end of the aisle, some thirty feet away. He squinted, but it was too dark to see.
His heart raced as he stuffed the cans in the backpack and fished out a flashlight. He inserted it in the slot on the rifle and turned it on.
A faint blue light from the nearly dead batteries illuminated the aisle and revealed a small figure crawling on the floor. It was a baby. And it was crying.
You ain’t fooling no one, mimic, Dean thought, keeping his eyes fixed on the baby. If he listened carefully, he could hear the crying coming from somewhere behind the shelves, not from the little child on the floor. Of course, that was not a child at all.
Dean heaved the backpack onto his shoulder and stood up. The baby disappeared around the corner and reduced its crying to sobs once more. They were coming from behind the shelves parallel to Dean’s aisle. It was time for him to go.
He started back towards the snow pile. His flashlight was fading, so he turned it off, saving the power. He put his hood and goggles back on, preparing for the brutality of the blizzard.
Then, the baby rounded the corner up ahead, stopping Dean in his tracks. He could hear two slightly different cries coming from the parallel aisle.
His heart sank as he regarded the tiny body. It looked just like a real baby, moving its hands and feet as it seemed to crawl on the floor. But no human baby could survive such extreme cold completely naked and alone.
Dean raised his rifle and waited. He would have to use bullets, but he would have to be damn sure to hit before he’d pull the trigger. Every one of them counted.
The baby screamed at him, sounding angry.
“Cry all you want, I know it’s you, mimic,” he shouted back, annoyed that the beasts would use such disturbing tactics to lure in their victims. Dean had seen it work too many times, watching innocent people rushing to help the poor children, only to discover those weren’t children.
The baby plopped to the floor like a toy and was pulled back behind the shelves, sliding on the floor in silence. A low hiss, followed by a guttural growl, came from behind the shelves. Dean heard a set of multiple feet, tapping sharply on the cold floor tiles.
“Let’s have it, you devil!”
The shelves turned over all of a sudden, pushed by something strong. Cans of dog food clattered to the floor and Dean jumped back, barely getting out of the way. There, climbing over the shelves, was a monster. Its upper torso, with head and arms, resembled a human, though gruesomely elongated and twisted, followed by the lower body comprising a thick thorax with dozens of chitinous feet, like those of a centipede. A huge centipede. But the worst part of it was the tail. It began at the side of the thorax and dragged several feet behind the creature until it finished in the shape of a baby. Dean didn’t know if the baby was somehow impaled on that tail and controlled like a ventriloquist’s doll, or if it grew from the tail itself, like some abnormal growth to lure in prey.
Either way, it made him sick to his core.
He aimed at the creature’s head, once a woman’s face, and fired. The bullet pierced through the eye, flying out on the other side. The gunshot reverberated in the supermarket, announcing to everyone Dean’s presence. The mimic’s body slumped over the shelves, its tail and tiny body at the end slumping with it.
Daren pulled the lever, ejecting an empty cartridge and locking a new one in place. He turned around just in time to see another mimic. The creature pounced him to the ground as Dean pulled the trigger. The bullet ricocheted off the floor tiles and a cracking sound came from the backpack as the jar shattered beneath Dean’s weight. The mimic opened its jaw, too wide for its vaguely human face, and revealed a row of spindly teeth.
Dean smacked its face with the rifle’s handle and pushed himself to his feet. The mimic reeled back, giving Dean just enough time to pull the lever and fire again. This time he hit it in its forehead, dead center.
With just one more bullet remaining in the magazine Dean turned and ran. He could hear more of the creatures, wailing deeper in the store and overturning shelves as they began running after him. The cry of babies rose to the ceiling, sending shivers up his neck.
Dean rushed out on the snow pile and slid down to the street level. The wind immediately slammed into him and the cold felt twice as bad here, out in the open. He glanced at the supermarket entrance.
The creatures didn’t follow. A single baby reached out into the blizzard, its body crawling on the snow, but the mimic’s lure was in vain. Dean would not follow. The baby seemed to look at him and reach with its tiny hand, pleading for him to come back.
Dean turned into the blizzard. Being alone, cold, and disturbed to his soul, Dean found himself thinking that perhaps he should go back. Perhaps he should let them have him. That way at least he wouldn’t have to suffer anymore, only a brief moment of intense pain as their teeth would sink into his neck and it would all be over.
No more pain and no more loneliness.
He paused in the wind, regarding his rifle, contemplating how many of the bastards he could take down before they got to him. There was one bullet in the chamber and he had four more magazines, all with four bullets. He might get a dozen if he were lucky.
When’s the last time you were lucky, old man?
He shook his head, feeling the weight of all of humanity’s blunders on his shoulders. And made a step back towards the supermarket.
A cry pierced through the wind. The mock sound of crying babies accompanied by gunshots would be the last thing he hears before darkness takes him. Horrible, but better than continuing to endure this misery.
The cry came again, but not from the direction of the supermarket. Dean frowned and turned around, rifle raised. Mimics rarely ventured out in the snow.
He could see a shape moving through the blizzard, though he couldn’t tell what it was due to all the snow. But the crying came from it.
I guess here’s the answer to my question, he thought. Lucky enough to get one for free.
He steadied himself in the wind and aimed. His finger tightened on the trigger, the cold making it numb.
The figure stopped, noticing him. It waved a hand and shouted, but the words were lost in the wind.
Dean kept his aim. “When will you bastards ever learn,” he yelled. “You can’t fool me! I know you’re not human!”
He squeezed the trigger, the gun fired, his shoulder absorbing the recoil. The figure twitched, its arm falling to its side and it slumped to the ground. Dean smiled.
The crying sounded again, louder and more frantic.
Dean frowned. Did I not kill it? He put the rifle back on his shoulder and took out his hunting knife, not wanting to waste a bullet for finishing off a mimic.
The crying continued, piercing the roaring winds and Dean approached the figure carefully, not wanting to fall for a pretense death.
As he stood over the body, he dropped his knife and fell to his knees. A woman lay in the snow, staining it red, her arms clenching to a tight bundle of cloth.
The crying came from that bundle.
With trembling hands, Dean reached for the bundle and looked. It was a baby, red-cheeked, tears freezing on its face as it cried with all its might.
I killed a mother.
The woman was human, the baby was real. He thought it was another mimic, thought that other people left the town, or were all dead.
At that moment, he felt a strong urge to put a bullet through his brain. But before he could do that, he would have to put one through the baby as well. Couldn’t let it suffer in the snow.
I can’t kill a baby.
He took his knife and placed the blade on the infant’s soft skin. It cried with renewed fervor, feeling the sharp cold sting of the blade. Dean tightened his jaw, tensing his whole body.
“Shh, it’s okay little one,” he said, putting the knife away and pulling the baby close. He checked the woman for a pulse, but his fingers were so cold that he couldn’t feel anything.
“You shouldn’t have come to this world, little one. There is nothing for you here but cold and suffering.”
Should he live? Take care of the baby? But what for?
Only to have it suffer eventually when the food or the firewood or the bullets run out.
Be a man and finish what you’ve started.
Dean took the knife again. And then the woman’s chest jumped, her mouth coughing up blood.
Her eyes opened wide, pain, and confusion in them. She looked at Dean and saw his knife and her baby.
Despite her shot wound, she sat up and tried to push Dean away, while grabbing hold of the bundle in his hands. Her strength was remarkable.
“Whoa, easy now,” Dean said and tried holding her still. “You’re shot through the chest. I mistook you for a mimic. Don’t move or you will die.”
She let out a scream, fearing for her child.
“I won’t hurt you,” Dean said, though he was considering killing the baby just a second ago. “Stay still, I need to stop your bleeding!”
She managed to rip the bundle from his grip and held on to it dearly. That seemed to ease her up, though the baby was still crying out loud.
“My shelter is about an hour’s walk from here. I’ve got better supplies for your wound there, but I’m not sure if I can carry you in time. I would like to try. This is my fault.”
“Save,” she said, voice hoarse. “My...baby…”
What have I done?
He fished some bandages from his backpack and mended the wound, just to stop the bleeding.
“Hold on to your child!”
He heaved the woman up, holding her around the shoulders and under her knees. He felt a surge of purpose warming his body up, the cold retreating.
Don’t you die on me, he thought. Don’t you dare die on me!
“I’ll make this right.”
He began walking through the blizzard, towards his shelter.
When the baby stopped crying, Dean kept walking.
When the woman’s hand fell slump and dragged behind over the snow, he kept walking.
When the body in his hands grew cold and the only sound that accompanied him was the wind, Dean kept walking.
He reached the shelter in less than an hour, the woman’s blood frozen on his clothes, his body shaking with strain and exhaustion. Both the woman and her baby died in the meantime.
Dean collapsed down and stared at his feet.
I killed them both.
He kept staring at his feet even as he heard the sound of chitinous feet tapping outside. With his peripheral vision, he could see a mimic entering his shelter. The hunting rifle was right there, in Dean’s reach, a full magazine in the backpack.
But he didn’t bother reloading.
He didn’t bother fleeing.
He didn’t bother feeling.
What have we done to this world?
The monster climbed over the corpses Dean brought in and growled. Dean closed his eyes as the jaw closed around his neck, and welcomed that short burst of pain before everything melted away.