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Creative Nonfiction Speculative Horror

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

THE DRIFTER 

By Nathan Olaleye 



February 2nd, 20—I’m not sure anymore. 

Blasting from the North, the flakes never cease in waltzing to the wind’s moans and biting rhythms. I can’t say no one dies in winter, but rates have dug long through the usual threshold. We’re down to 60 now. All I wish for is just not a 59.  


Never have I prayed for my daughter’s ruddy skin to return and be durable enough to withstand my nails as I hug her. Hysterical coughs have strangled almost all her speech; she looks like a melted ice-cream cone, if they even exist anymore. But despite my prayers, the indifferent force answers with the same, nagging half-truth: It wants atonement for my wrongs. I’ve cheated and butchered to keep my daughter safe... and I feel no regret.  


But Death won’t have her this year. We’ve organised a foraging squad, thirteen men, all with their own loved ones to save.  

We have shack-sized stacks of food, guns and medicine for the climb, plus a few trucks that still work. Courtesy of fusion cells. 


We would be divided into drivers and walkers.  


Perhaps it was just a half-truth. Still, if it all goes to hell -- it’s the thought that counts. 


15th: 


Evergreens lined the banks like guests of a marriage, as a silk carpet of a river flowed long out of our sight. We crabbed our way through and held our guns up, partly in homage to the matrimony of Sun and nature. But Daniel wanted to cut the cake early. 


“This water could leave a man with flashes for the whole day,” he hollered from one of the trucks. 


“Then, gawk up,” ordered Roman. 


“I’m just bothered with … Why?” 


“Probably deposits of Radium,” Shapiro had to explain.


We proceeded to shift from finding an abandoned hospital to history. In our own antiquity, the great empires battled for the few resources left on Earth. Major earthquakes, floods, wildfires, plagues, and other stuff made everything feel straight out of The Book of Revelation. The greatest two fought the most devastating war and quelled the chaos by harnessing their divine cosplays to rain blinding stars on each other, taking everything else in the crosshairs. Oceans boiled. The sky went bilious and vomited its sickness unto the few, surviving communities that were simply at the right place and time. We all knew this story deeply, but we didn’t feel much about it, as those who mustered up the resolve to tell us spent most of their days crying to death.  


At least none of them stars reached the clinic. 


The sun had set rapidly, ushering us to make camp. Donald, the oldest, told us more about that time, stuff that would’ve been too sensitive for the Originals to narrate without—at the very least—sobbing. 


“Most people didn’t have to hunt or farm to survive," Shapiro continued from Donald. “Instant food was displayed on shelves for people to simply reach out and pay for through tiny rectangles. Computers did their thinking for them; robots did their cooking and cleaning. Children would be gambolling on the couch and watching cartoons, as mom looked for which clothing was skimpy enough to seduce Dad into spending the night, while he would be studying a hockey game and washing down his gin with bubbly drinks they called ‘sodas.’ "


“Must have been real easy, back then,” Daniel yawned and fondled his rifle. 


“Well, it wasn’t.” 


“Sure, having your leg swell from the Rad bites of a Dungaroo is way better.” I persisted by muttering, “My daughter’s kicking and singing to the gripping cold compared to what people then were going through.” 


“I ain’t backing down. Imagine having your whole life structured in private buildings far from home, that based your worth on how well you perform in shading the right circles on a paper so disconnected to the profession you really do enjoy, only to realise it was all to trick you into toiling for a boss who only cares about how well you fill their pockets, cramped in giant cuboids, as most would later spent their free time drowning under great floods of pleasure, scrolling through endless images of people striving to look better than you in every way, ripped apart by the tides of insecurity and depression.” 


“(cough, cough) good food, medicine, (cough) less winter, less predators...” 


“Like that all lasted. Rations often brought nothing but a pack of unsalted beef. Some organised protests for the lack of Grey-boil vaccines, and the Provincial Parlie's responded with shrapnel shells. Would you love to have to walk through crime-brewing streets to the bus stop, all because you can’t afford the fusion-powered cars?” 


“Have you seen this world? Who the hell even needs a car when having to settle in the remote patches of glowing forests, amid … skeleton-moulded dust piles and... and Dungaroos! God, those things.” 


“Please, it’s time for bed,” came Donald. “Conserve your will force for another 20 miles. We’re too near the end to start bickering.” 


26th April: 


Why the hood? 


I get that it would’ve foraged the boot first and ripped apart some tyres while smashing the side windows for a brief nosing. 

But the hood just seems trivial to me. 


“Maybe it was just really hungry,” Why does Daniel make the most unhelpful comments?  


“Only Ya Guias could’ve done this,” Donald studied the mass of jagged boot remains, and turned to pick out some man-made stone markers. 


“Wha...?” 


“What the natives call, ‘Mutated Bear.’ Some very crazy stuff can happen to generations of survivors with no access to the outside world, and parents too distraught to teach them proper English.” 


“Least it didn’t get to the engine,” I gestured. 


“Well, it’s too late to start abandoning because of a halved food supply. We better move out of their territory soon.” 


Then, we trundled up to a Crooked Forest. As in, with trees that literally seem just one chip away from tumbling. Lots of Maples, too. 


It was also a mere opening to the Great, Viscous Swamp, a once glistening lake now cemented with thick mud, such that walking through felt like endless, dripping cobras were trying to haul you down an abyss. 


“This journey feels like an abyss, " Daniel could make only faint revs with the already ravaged Rover. What more did he need? 



What more did he need? 



 I soon cringed and later stood aghast as the jagged mass of what was the boot had ensnared the rest of the Rover into its mangled cult. And a cult would always need a sacrifice.  


Daniel pressed his pedal a bit too much. Donald and Shapiro were in that truck. I saw Shapiro’s head muddled into a Pinkish-Gray pile. Donald had flown from the passenger seat unto a screaming pit of gut-searing rocks. 


I’m still unsure if I could’ve reached the Rover. I can’t say if I could’ve saved the sole survivor, that dazed fool that sent of our oldest and wisest splattering, waving his twitching hand for help. 

Still, the Rover swerved from the left, its only support plummeting with it to the hole. I saw Daniel sprawl like rotten-old ragdoll out of the car, contorting and later gliding, almost in brief acceptance of the saw-toothed stone that would soon shatter his peace, his body sinking into the void, as that lone, red rock made the loudest bleat.


May: 


The end to Spring storms. 


Only Five remain. Most succumbed to disease, foolishly believing April would stay April for long.  


It doesn’t matter now. We’re here. The clinic. 


Despite the broken ceiling, it really did seem like the only Pre-war structure untouched by a bomb. Dust pirouetted through sunrays like genes, endlessly rearranging into new features each generation. This generation brought the tone of settling from the chaos, reinforced by the solemn, half-shattered plaque that dominated the rotunda, a Stone Age-fonted caption hanging from it. 


I can’t say all was peaceful before the war. Blue-boil posters were camouflaged about the hallways. Shapiro was right about one thing. 


Some skeleton had their phalanges poked through a few ID documents. They depicted a student, blond-haired, five-seven, with a uniform sweater. 


“Wait,” one of the guys hollered, “Why do all the patients have uniforms?” 


And their badges did resemble those boulder writings on the plaque. 



This wasn’t a hospital-- it was a school. How else can most rooms be cramped with the broken-down pieces of desks, textbooks and motivational posters. 


Looks like we were actually searching for the school clinic.  


... 

Only a Great Flood could ravage that day-care of a place. We squelched past torn Butterfly posters, and the formidable jags of a Syringe poster dominating the left wall, spewing, “Vaccines are limitedly available. Get yours now. "


Paving the road were the shadows of creatures resembling giant roaches, their exo-skel's ripped open, folding them into dripping-white crumbs.  


We got to the cooler— it looked like something doctors should be keeping in several safes. It also looked like something someone very recently left there.  


One of the boys tapped the code, unleashing packets of STEM-Solvers.  


The cure for my daughter. 


But there was nothing else. The cooler had nothing in its sac to rummage for the rest; All the months, the gut-rending hunger and bitter cold, their families’ wellbeing -- for nothing. Although they knew this was likely, nothing—at the very least—could hold back their sobs. 


Leaning in to stroke Abdi’s tremouring palm, I failed to realise his unbudging resolve. 


He reached for his crowbar before I could even touch him, stabbing the hinges of a hatch on the wall only he saw. His left sole had crashed into one of the bubbly crumbs. 


He spent a good two minutes cracking it open, revealing only darkness. Darkness. Darkness, and a faint red blotch. 


Something jumped him. It left his face concave and with layers, like a birthday cake. I noticed the yellow-green dots floating in and out of its eyes; the three segments of fangs jostling and stabbing into each other.  


The Dungaroo. 


Its comrade, the knobbly, still moving pupils of a giant roach head smothered in its teeth, rushed in and snatched another one of our friends’ faces. I did not know why we hadn’t run earlier. 


The stairs had collapsed. Or at least, the first bit. We threw ourselves like lit cocktails, yet only two of us made it. Our friend’s echoes never stopped scorching our eardrums, only amplified by the coming Dungaroo waterfall, even as we made it to the door. 


Why do I keep using “we?” I know how this ends already. 


Something must’ve ignited under those stairs, likely a fusion battery. 


It sent me alight and away from the other man, my last sight of him being that he too had been caught in flames.  




              ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 





The next week: 



Then, I woke up. I woke up in a half-husk of a body. But I woke up. Then, I remembered my daughter. I remembered the cooler. And I hated that I woke up.  


I fondled a sharp stick; I aimed for my neck. . . 



But I just couldn’t. 


She’s gone; I'm lost, and virtually dead to the other townsfolk, knowing by now of how much of a smouldering failure this mission was. But my story—my story is only embers.  


It butchers me to understand that I would never kiss her freckled cheeks again, but what good is that to a dead man? 


So, yes, I have officially ended my life in order to craft a new one, before this army of Redwoods and Evergreens, torn-apart mountains and the full glory of the Sun. May that indifferent force show me mercy on this vagabond way. 

April 08, 2023 22:38

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3 comments

Mofope Olaleye
21:50 Apr 12, 2023

I really would appreciate that.

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Mofope Olaleye
21:49 Apr 12, 2023

Hello. I wanted to ask if anyone could my review my story and hand me some pointers to improve my craft.

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Mary Bendickson
15:16 Apr 18, 2023

This story is filled with vivid depictions of our world after a nuclear war and the desperation of survivors to find food and medicine while avoiding predators. You are a good writer. I don't like sci-fi much so I got lost in too much showing and not enough telling me what I was being shown. Not your fault. It's me. Sadly the last man standing lost his daughter and his friends, was tempted to take his own life but decided to try again. Keep writing. There is a huge audience out there that love this kind of vision you share.

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