It wasn’t like a wall at all. The dark wave spewed across beaches, asphalt and sidewalks like swarms of hungry crimson ants. “Red tide” people said. Something about algae and the smell of rot. The rot was right at least.
I’d seen it coming from the city street as I stared at the horizon between brick buildings. The shoreline snuck up fast, carrying our detritus through corridors of shops, offices, restaurants and alleyways. Thick water running by cars, trying to drag them away as far as it could. Some tires sprayed in defiance, punctured by whatever the water dragged with it. Some drivers rolled on anyways They should’ve heeded the warning and ran.
The first screams amongst knee-high waters came from surprise more than anything. As the wave slowed, water subsided as people came to wade in the new paradigm of the shoreline city. It didn’t recede, having planted its heels past the beach borders.
New screams came from a few blocks down. The boardwalk itself seemed to become a wailing chorus as voices cried a cacophonic symphony. Sounds of spastic splashing and lurching bodies built as someone ran across the street only to trip into a roiling mass of thrashing water. Pale faces along city blocks watching gurgling subside as red dark as coal seeped up the street.
The first man fell as fast as he screamed, claimed by the bubbling font of the shallows. He threw out his hands, kicking the water, screaming. Dark masses obscured his body as he reached for anyone to save him. They were already running, terror nipping at their own heels.
Manholes burst in the street as people ran inland. With the horror in the water at their feet, no one thought to look up. An elderly woman, skin tan from a lifetime of sunny beaches, was the first to feel the rain of hard chitinous spines. Claws groped her soft flesh for meat to rend. Her thrashing couldn’t fend off spindly legs gnarling into her skin. A larger man caught outside the gym hollered like he was still using equipment, ripping the bottom-feeding abominations off his chest and arm. He stomped as bits of shell and claw foamed at his shins. The snapping and crack of armored little monstrosities like giant bugs wouldn’t stop them. I ran for an open door as more scurried up his back, turning his roars to gurgling as they tore out the sides of his throat and burrowed in and out of his ribs.
The door led to a set of stairs, the first few submerged. Out of water, out of danger. Lights flickered as I crested the last merciful dry step to a hallways of apartment doors. My calls for help were met with sounds of deadbolts and chains behind the doors that didn’t remain silent.
Further down was one door spilling dim incandescent light across the hall. The top hinge was broken off the doorframe, facing down another hallway to an elevator. The only path behind me led from muffled tortured screams. I’d take my chances with whatever was behind the quieter broken door.
I heard the canned laughter of a TV in the living room, all toothy smiles. The tray-table before the worn corduroy recliner was toppled over, food strewn on the floor. Up in a hurry, I thought. Who’d blame him? I’d ran too.
Groaning wormed through the bedroom door cracked open behind the puffy chair. Adrenaline fueled my hair standing on end like electricity. I knew I should run, but that was a person, hurt and alone. Another weak strain of vocal cords tugged at my humanity.
I peeked around the doorframe, blood thumping in ears. He sat on the floor, back against the foot of a bed. His plaid button-down shirt was snipped and torn, edges tattered with caked blood like he’d been attacked with scissors. His throat gurgled with undulations as his tussled head lolled back.
He wasn’t moving as I padded closer. His jaundiced skin sloughed in places, marbled with red and purple. In others, cysts and boils quivered and pulsed. Spectacles hung from one ear, the opposite eye clouded and bloodshot. Instincts screamed to run, but I’d listen too late.
Light muffled ticking enveloped the room. Maybe it’d always been there, ignored in hopes of doing a modicum of good within the nightmare. Stupid. Happy endings don’t exist. The bed vibrates as the walls shook off plaster dust from cracks and holes in the corners. His one good eye rolled before locking onto me, pupil dilating around my throat to strangle screams locked in my thundering chest.
Skittering rose as he pounced on me, hands grabbing my arms below the shoulder, shaking me from spine-chilled terror to boiling horror. My screams rang as his were muffled by an eruption of soft pink crustaceans and bile. They came from under the bed and out the walls, skittering like spiders on the ceiling. Thick lobster claws burrowed through foam mattress like a volcano of carapaces.
I kicked him away as I felt the soft bloated flesh of distended stomach rupture around my foot, spilling more on the floor nipping my toes. His head flailed as more tore through thin pustules writhing with hungry newborns. I stomped puddles of bile and meat as he bellowed froth.
The wave of claws and armored antennae followed as I ran into the halls, apologizing, screaming for forgiveness. His shambling body ran ahead of the horde, looking like giant red ants, some using thick tail slaps to jump and skip for a chance to grab hold. The grubbily hatchlings gnawed my bile-soaked shirt for the banquet beneath.
I hit the real wall of the elevator, tearing at the fleshlings on my stomach and chest leaving rivulets of blood as I crushed them in desperate fists; pummeling them under heel. I pressed buttons, any buttons, to close the doors as I looked back. I watched and wailed, back to the wall, as the incubator man oozed flesh and fluids, babies running down his body like insects. Walls bled red spindly-legged sea-roaches with claws. Antennae swung towards me like banner men from Lobster Hell.
Doors closed slowly as guttural juicy moans bellowed, spurting bulbous newborns and dark oily excrement down his torso. I begged it to stop. Let the doors close. Please, God, let me lay down behind metal doors. Mercy, please.
His face slammed the seam of clamping steel jaws with his last shriek pouring more of the tiny chitin-fiends into the closing crevice. Some squelched, bursting into gorish sprays of juices while a few were caught, still wriggling between metal jaws. I kicked at the door from my huddled fetal position on the floor until the squirms and squeals ceased.
Silence. Stillness. Reprieve, Shaking, I curled tight against my writhing stomach, spewing sick on the floor, drowning out the other stenches with my own. Slow descent gnawed at me. Faster, I begged. Anywhere but there. Hope has no right being expedient and cruel.
The horde grew quieter as the elevator left banging gates above. Silence was almost as unsettling. Every gear’s whine echoing in the old cabin frayed my nerves. I was a numb ball of electrified neurons convulsing on the floor.
The heavy crash set my screams on fire. Slamming on the roof deepened the dent boring towards me as dark putrescent ooze dripped from growing cracks. His face squelched through a hole, bloodied from bashing. Wet bellows spewed violent spasms of fresh hell as nipping tormented my arms and face.
Doors opened before his shoulders birthed through. Arms, shorn by jagged sheet metal, pulled him further as the red armored torrent of claws and tails wormed through gaps between flesh and steel. I ran screaming down the dark cement basement hall, water thrashing as my legs as I went, never ceasing behind me.
At the end was a heavy metal door. I slammed against it for all my life. Water ran through the threshold with me, fighting m. attempts to close it behind me. Two inches left. Water pushed harder, racing for salvation. One inch left. Hard shelled bodies slammed the bulkhead, claws reaching through the gap for purchase on anything to ravage.
I roared, a last act of defiance against the red wave. Fear and rage battered at the door a. red arms burst and cracked claws fell in pieces behind sealed might of shelter. Fluorescent tube lights hanging from the ceiling exposed the bunker’s reality. Knee high water flooded the fallout shelter, about six foot by six, complete with dry cot and steel desk supporting a radio clad in dust.
I rocked, clenched in a ball on the cot. I felt an eternity away from the sunny day and health of shoreline city morning. The stained shirt crunched with dried sick as I sat up, reaching for the radio. It’s turn-dials rolled through varying static and noise before catching hints of voices in sea of static.
I didn’t notice the rising water as the news caster relayed carnage in the streets as waters of red streamed from maws of the ocean. Were they escaping new sonar technology tested by the military? Global warming? Had God finally had enough of us? No one could explain it any more than I could the building temperature as water groped up my thighs. Steam stifled gasps as I clawed my throat.
Light flickered as oily water crept along my torso. In moments, I was thrashing to stay afloat as the radio turned to static, then clicking of claws. I looked up the walls, seemingly twenty feet tall, to a ceiling-less upper chamber, steel lid removed by crimson claw. The jittering jaws of an enormous lobster leering down clacked as another claw dropped large yellow bricks. I tried grabbing on like driftwood, but it melted into viscous oil around my hands, coating the water’s surface. Skin scalded as the taste of thick butter and garlic drowned screams as it filled my lungs.
“Fucking really?!” I felt glass snapping. “You’re changing those!”
The bed was drenched around me, smelling of vomit and salt. Sweat… just sweat… I raised my head like a hammer, with similar result as it hit the mattress like lead in nauseated sea. From the bedroom door came my roommate, Pedialyte in one hand and Pepto Bismol in the other.
“I even left a bucket,” they said, gesturing to the small trash pail at the edge of the bed by my face. “Looks like food poisoning,” they said as I looked across our apartment at the pot left on the stove.
The lobster… I thought. Of course. The dinner I couldn’t wait for. Lingering scents of garlic butter pervaded my nostrils. I heard the echo of claws rattling on metal pot walls, desperate to escape. I’d laughed. “Not today, little guy,” I’d said. “You’re too delicious to let go.” Bile wretched again, begging for freedom, brimmed with vengeance.