The Below

Submitted into Contest #160 in response to: Start your story with the whistle of a kettle.... view prompt

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Adventure Thriller Mystery

The whistle of the tea kettle brought us all crashing back to reality. The weight of the news that had just broken over the static on the old and only radio we owned was something we had all been dreading. The world had been in a freefall for years, but there had always been a glimmer of hope. The idea that maybe, just maybe we would be able to land on our feet. Even after the waves of illness, or the droughts, or famine, or… deaths. There had always been some hope. Every evening the radio would go silent and you would hear their voices. They sounded like angels even though we lived in a hell like state. But they meant hope. Until now. Until you hear their voices crack as they say their last farewell. As things, no longer humans, stand behind them and click… always clicking… One of the humans begins a soft whisper song, it takes awhile but eventually we recognize it. Amazing grace, it sounds different now. The picture I paint on the back of my eyes as I close them while tears run down my face is no longer that of a group of friends sitting in a studio believing in the good of the world. It is shattered despair, broken hearts with tear stricken faces and shaking hands. Hands grasping to one another as the  moments are numbered and timed with each passing click of the creature. You can hear the jaggedness of her breath as she struggles to keep her composure. The clicking is getting quicker signifying that they’re that much closer to the end. The cries begin to get louder in the background, yet the woman singing persists and is almost made more resilient to try and distract them in the final moments. She sounds louder and more sturdy than she had when she started, as if she was not standing up tall, eyes locked with the thing that now stood in front of her, that would soon take her life and add her to the death toll of the countless others it had already killed. 

The screams, it still echoes inside my head, were matched by the pitch of the tea kettle Sam was heating up for our usual evening tea and radio session. Then silence. The tea kettle was off the stove and we all sat staring at the radio, willing it to make a noise, willing for the voices to return. Minutes seemed to pass and nothing… and then a faint click broke the tension and plummeted us instantly into a level of dread only ever met when on the doorsteps of death. Then another, and another until they sounded like a hive and the noise became unbearable and we were forced to shut it off. The air felt thick, none of us wanted to disturb it. Force the weight of the world on the rest of us or ourselves. I looked around as I watched the rest of the group stare wide eyed still, breathing heavy yet frozen as well. It was the crashing of metal in the distance that shot us all into action. Only to realize it was Frederick, the red tabby cat that had somehow become a part of the group “sneaking” in through the upper window knocking the makeshift alarm out of old tin cans and rusted pans Peter had fashioned. I snatched him up and pulled him in for an embrace. Usually he was more reluctant but I think he could feel the shift in the wind, the impenetrable doom that had collected around us and wasn't sure if he needed us more than we needed him at that point. Tears dropped into his fur as I finally found the courage to speak “What now?” realizing how shaky my voice was. Peter clasped his hands behind his back and started shaking his head “I don’t know, I don’t know, FUCK” he exclaimed as he swung the hair he had previously been sitting on against a wall. “If they can’t make it, what are the chances we can?” “What about the rest of their camp? Weren’t they in a secure location? How did they even get in?” It seemed all of us had remembered how to speak and rapidly fired questions before any of the others could get around to answering. “Ok calm down everyone, calm down!” Sam, the unofficial leader, master of exuding steadiness in an unsteady world, though it took him multiple attempts to quiet the panic that had now taken up residency in all of our chests. “We don’t know the severity of what just happened, maybe it was an isolated incident…” “ And if it's not?! Then what?! We just wait for our settlement to be next?! They are three fucking miles from here Sam, you cant honestly think sitting around and waiting to be picked off is the answer?!” The group started up again throwing accusations and ideas at each other faster than I could comprehend. Several ran to grab their packs from other rooms and reconvened near the main door. “Hold up hold up let's stop for a second and think of the best plan. We can easily hole ourselves up in the below for a while, wait a couple days and see if they leave.”  “And what if they don’t? '' Amber calls out as she buckles the waist strap on her pack “What if they don’t and we are stuck down there, there isn't enough food and water to last us more than two weeks. I am NOT going to be a pig in a pen waiting to be slaughtered Sam and I hope you aren't either.” Before more could be said a quarter of the group slipped out the door and into the darkness. A hush fell over the group. I felt a rumbling in my arms and looked down at Fredrick. He was ridged, ears slicked back pushing into me, eyes fixed to the door. A low growl and a hiss escape him. Sam and I lock eyes followed by the rest of the group grabbing as much as we can. Then we hear it, the alarms going off all around the settlement. Gunfire, screams, people shouting. I can’t make out what is being said as we all run to the door below. Sam climbs in first helping several others in as quickly as possible, I hand him Frederick who ends up bounding over him to hide in the dark crevices of the below. I begin to descend as the gun fire gets closer… but so does the clicking, the sound of the front door being flung open stalls me only becoming unfrozen as Peter yells “MOVE” inches from my face. I jump with about 3 feet left to go landing on my back getting the wind knocked out of me as Sam offers a hand we all turn guns raised as Peter swings the below bunker door shut and darkness consumes us. 

The clicking sounds infinitely worse once you're deprived of your vision. Despite the depth and impenetrable security of the bunker it sounds like it is all around us. It's hard to do anything else, none of us want to move, make any indication that we are here. Not as long as it sounds like a hive of hundreds sitting at our front door. I am not sure when but I fell asleep for a while before waking to a soft light and whispers coming from the back of the below where the common area resides. I stand carefully, gun in hand and make my way back. Sam’s eyes are the first to meet me and he gives me a soft smile before standing and handing me a cup of water. I take it thankfully, unaware until that moment just how parched I am. I drink it quicker than I mean to know we will most likely have to ration from here on out. Glenda, Sam’s wife, comes over and takes my cup “Have a seat” she whispers and pulls out the chair she had just been residing in. I sit without much thought, only regretting taking her seat once I am already in it. I look over to say something and realize she is getting water from a spigot that had previously not been there. “When did that..” I start to say but cut off as Peter gives a laugh “Put it in just the other day. Took weeks to figure out the best way to do it, but something told me we might need it at some point. Looks like that happened sooner than I planned.” Sam and Peter gave each other a knowing look. Glenda placed her hand on my shoulder and handed me the cup now full again. Frederick came out of his hiding spot clearly frazzled but managing now that we were all ok. “It sounds like the clicking has stopped, when did that happen? How long was I out for?” “It stopped a few hours ago, same with the gun fire.” Another knowing glance between the two. “Is something going on? Why do you keep looking at each other that way?” Did I miss something?” I look around the room and almost everyone is looking at their feet “What’s wrong?” I exclaim?” Then I hear it. The tapping. Over and over and over again. I look up trying to pinpoint it. I stand trying to get a better idea of the source. I glance over at Sam and Peter, who seem to be holding their breath at this point. I start moving around getting my bearings more and more as I go. Heading straight to the front of the below. To the ladder. I stand looking straight up. Tap, Tap, Tap. I listen, there's something else, another noise coming from above. A human one… My eyes widened. It’s Amber. As faint pleas barely make their way through the door. “Please, I beg you, please don't let me die out here. Please don't leave me here alone.” Tap, Tap, Tap. Before I can speak I am pulled back away from the door. “We have to let her in, we can’t just leave her out there.” Sam steps forward and I step back “No don't give me any excuses she is one of us, we can't leave her out there she sounds hurt but still herself” “We can't risk it Emory, we have some intel” Sam says as he glances sideways at Peter who is busying his hands with whatever papers he has on the table, “They are adapting, while yes eventually they lose their humanity, there has been chatter that on several occasions they have been…” He sighs trying to find the words “SAY if they have what Sam? What could possibly be happening that would keep you from letting her in?” “They are becoming bait, Emory!” Peter shouts from across the table “Keep your voices down Peter for fucksake!” The tapping stops and we all turn to listen. Sam steps closer to me “Listen there is chatter that the things are remaining “human” claiming to be fine for a while after bait members of their party to come rescue them in order to trap them and then get ambushed” “How do you know if people are ambushed? How long is a while after?” I whisper in a hushed manner expending all the breath in my lungs. “Hours, a couple days? It's varied. Met a couple people who hung back during a rescue… Just in case. They said their group made it into the clearing where their crew member was and the creatures came out and instantly overran them. They didn't stand a chance.” “How long have you known this? Did they know?” I gesture up to where Amber still taps…. Or was… I pause and turn to look at the front the below… There was silence. I can feel the rest of the group press in around me as we almost take a collective step towards the front. Trying to hear the sounds we all know isn't there any more and in its place is the sinister noise we had all been holding our breath would never come… 

August 27, 2022 00:59

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