All it wanted was the darkness.
But the light was everywhere in this alien world. It could sense it, pulsing, beating like a heart.
It would consume the light. The cruel light that had tainted the pure, cold flames of the night. And it would take
It crept out of the meteor in which it arrived. Chatter and screams from the creators of the light echoed in its mind.
The Cernunnos snarled, conveying all the rage it felt towards those creators.
The rest of the Cernunni crept up behind it, snarling as well, united in the common purpose of plunging the world into their familiar darkness.
“Exitium has come.”
“It’s been a common phrase recently, and it’s true. An apocalypse, possibly the destruction of the world, has come in the shape of what everyone is calling the Exitium Meteor. It’s been ten days since the Cernunni first landed, and the global death count has reached over seventy million,” the newscaster declared. “Now, onto Ugene with the areas that will likely be hit next.”
“Thanks, Johnny.” Ugene had a nasal voice that crackled with static over the radio. “Alaska has seen catastrophic amounts of Cernunni rampaging the northern tundras of the state. We remind citizens that the Cernunni seek out light, and in response, the federal government is shutting down power in all regions of Alaska in the hopes that the Cernunni have trouble finding new prey. Please stay wary and armed, and whatever you do, keep your homes dark. We assure you that the government will form a plan of action to rid the world of the Cernunni.”
Lex clicked off the radio, his mind numb. The Cernunni. The hunters. The new apocalypse. He had heard about them, of course. His cousin’s roommate had been killed by them. But he had never really been prepared for this.
He looked around, looking for something to arm himself with. A table lamp was all he could find. He unplugged it and limped to the elevator.
He had to get to the ground floor before power shut down completely. It was a long shot, but better than trying to get down the stairs with the looming threat of Cernunni attacks.
Lex had shattered the bones in his leg two years ago, in a car crash when he was nineteen. Now it tagged along with the rest of him like a dead fish. Broken and helpless.
The elevator beeped open, and he rushed inside, his left leg sliding behind him, hands clenched around his lamp. He had to get home. No matter how empty it was, no matter how hard it was being there. Empty meant free of Cernunni too, right?
A bead of sweat rolled down his face as he stared at the numbers flashing in the elevator. Four, three, two…
Clank. The elevator shut down and stopped halfway past the second floor.
“Damnit!” Lex cried, pounding the elevator with his fist.
He phoned first responders, clenching the phone so hard he thought it would crack.
“Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”
“Stuck in an elevator. Please, send help,” Lex half-sobbed into the phone. If Cernunni attacked the building, he would be dead meat. He couldn’t run and had nothing to fight with. To be honest, he wasn’t sure if he could fight. He was nearly shitting his pants already.
“We’ll get there soon, sir. Unfortunately, we’ve had many other emergencies at this time, and we’ll send a team in as soon as we have units available.”
“Fine. Just peachy. Thanks.” Lex hung up, breathing hard…
“Help!” He shouted. He pounded at the door, choking back sobs. He was filled with terror, but it was useless breaking up now. But he couldn’t stop the tears.
“Help!” He croaked, slamming his fists against the doors.
Clank. Thud. His fists pounded against the unyielding door.
“...the federal government is shutting down power in all regions of Alaska in the hopes that the Cernunni have trouble finding new prey. Please stay wary and armed…”
Click. April turned the radio off.
She was shivering in a long parka. The sky outside had gone dark, and it was damn freezing.
Of course, she thought. The Cernunni had to choose winter to land in their meteor and start attacking everything. Maybe in the summer, she would be a bit happier about the apocalypse.
Still, it didn’t help that it was...she looked at her watch. One forty-seven in the morning.
April stood and felt her way out of the cubicle. She groped about the building and found the stairwell. She staggered down the steps blindly and headed towards the kitchen.
Stay armed and wary...that’s exactly what April planned to do.
The kitchen was a bit brighter than her office, light streaming in through the window. There was a cake in the middle of the folding table, a chocolate one. The knife used for cutting the cake was still present, and April picked it up, cleaning it with her parka sleeve.
Then she realized what the light was coming from. The sky was too dark to give off light. It was dozens of people, flashlights in hand, in the buildings next to them. The idiots who weren’t taking the apocalypse seriously. Their beams of light soared across their office building, illuminating it with yellow light. Cernunni seek out the light…
Damn. She looked around.
The office building was empty. No kidding, it should be. April was the only one insane enough to stay this late at the office building.
Clank. “Shit,” she muttered. “I take that back.” She clearly wasn’t the only one here.
She held the cake knife out in front of her. Was it a Cernunnos or a human? A threat or not?
April crept forward cautiously, ever so cautiously. She didn’t consider herself a brave person, but she wanted to live. And if living meant being brave, so be it.
She was trembling head to toe, but she walked forward still. Her palms were clammy and she knew that if real danger aroused, she would probably drop her knife on her toes rather than put it to use.
Her heart pounded in her chest, deceptively loud.
The noise had come from the elevator. It was just down the hallway. The dark, creepy hallway. God, she was in a horror movie!
The noise came again.
April rapped warily on the elevator doors, knife in hand. “Hello? Is...anyone there?”
She heard a voice.
“Who is it?”
April sighed in relief. It wasn’t a Cernunnos.
“I’m April. You?”
“Oh, April, hey! It’s Lex.”
“Lex! God, you must have gotten stuck!”
“What gave you that idea?” Lex asked sarcastically. His voice sounded hoarse.
“Cernunni could be in this building. We have to get out,” She replied. “Did you call the police?”
“Yeah. They probably won’t be here for a while though.”
“Damn Cernunni,” April said.
“Damn them straight to hell,” Lex agreed.
April slumped against the elevator. It was so cold. Snowflakes drifted from the grey sky, dainty in their movements. The sky was lit up with green flames. The aurora borealis, she thought. She had forgotten that it was tonight. It soared into the sky, curling its green wisps in delicate patterns. She wondered if her parents could see it. She wondered if they were alright.
Then she wondered if the aurora borealis was the kind of light Cernunni were attracted too. Maybe that was why there were so many of them in the north.
“We have to open the elevator doors. If you don’t get out, Cernunni will tear through that metal like paper and kill you.”
“Why would the Cernunni be attracted to here, of all places? They’re all over Alaska!”
“I guess you haven’t looked outside, huh. Some idiots aren’t taking the ‘no light’ policy seriously. Downtown has become a beacon.”
There was silence for a long time. Lex wondered if April had left. She had every right to.
“What do you think they’re like?”
April paused for a moment.
“Well, they’re attracted to light, obviously. Everyone knows that by now. Ridiculously strong. Not too bright themselves, but vicious.”
“Yeah, but what do you think they look like? And where did they come from originally? They can’t have just spawned from nothing on the Exitium Meteor. How long do they live?”
“I don’t know, Lex. It’s not like scientists can just pick one up and study them.”
“Is there a way to kill them?” Lex whispered.
“I don’t know, Lex,” April whispered back. She suddenly felt awkward. She hardly knew Lex, he had just joined the company a few months ago. He was a few years younger than her and she had never taken the time to get to know him.
“Can you stay?” Lex asked. “Just until first responders show up. If Cernunni come, you can leave.”
April hesitated. She needed to get home and check on her parents. She needed to get home and be safe. Nonetheless, she found herself saying, “Sure. Just until first responders show up.”
“For company,” Lex said. “Because God knows we need it in a time like this.”
“For company,” April agreed.
A thought struck her. “How did you get stuck? Didn’t you know the power was going to turn off?”
“I shattered my leg two years ago in a car. It’s never been the same. I have a lot of trouble going down stairs, and I thought I could make the elevator before it shut down.”
“Does it ever hurt?”
Lex laughed bitterly.
“Yeah.” But not in the ways you’d think.
He could hear her sigh on the other side of the elevator. Lex smiled sadly. She reminded him so much of Marie. No! He thought. Marie died in the car crash two years ago! Keep it together. But a voice in his head whispered, At least you aren’t hallucinating this time.
“Is there anything around you that could force the elevator open?” He asked, though not with much hope.
April looked around. There were desks, lamps, microwaves... not the sort of thing that could force open an elevator.
She frowned. Maybe they couldn’t, but she knew something that could.
“Lex? I have an idea.” April took a deep breath. “But I have a feeling you aren’t going to like it.”
Finally, it was ready. April stepped back, admiring her handiwork.
Five LED bulbs were clustered at the top of a tower composed of a chair, half a dozen binders, and a crap ton of tape. It stood directly in front of Lex’s elevator.
“Alright, Lex, you know what to do. I’m lighting the bulbs.”
Inside the elevator, Lex nodded. He placed his foot on the railing, and scooted up the walls of the elevator, holding himself in a starfish position near the top of the box.
April took the power cord in hand and with a deep what-the-hell-am-I-doing breath, she plugged it into the socket. Five thousand lumens of light seared her retinas, illuminating the entire floor. It took her a few seconds to hear the scrambling. Damnit, the Cernunni were already closer than she anticipated. She dove under a desk, gum pulling at her hair.
Scrambling sounds flew up the stairs behind her. She clamped a hand over her mouth, shutting her eyes tightly. Terror was a churning pit in her stomach.
As the Cernunni approached, the light was drained from the room. All that remained in the lightbulbs were a dim, sparking light. The monsters pounced upon the tower, their dark silhouettes shearing apart bulbs, and just as April had hoped, the elevator doors.
Just like paper, she remembered. She was terrified of how right she had been.
Inside the elevator, Lex’s arms were trembling with exertion. Cernunni circled about just outside the doors, growling belligerently to each other.
He squeezed his eyes shut, panting quietly, as a Cernunnos crept inside the elevator box.
He could hear it searching for any sign of life. Lex knew he was safe, though. Darkness would shield him from their view. Unless his arms gave out. Which was entirely possible, considering how they felt now. Or if the Cernunnos had night vision.
He held his breath, pushing his last reserves of strength into his limbs.
Finally, the Cernunnos left through the shredded hole it had created.
He made himself count to ten before climbing unsteadily down onto the floor.
Lex lay there for a bit. Just lay and stared and thought, thank you April. He had never experienced the pain in his arms before. They flopped numbly onto the floor, much as his injured leg did.
April crawled towards him, mentally exhausted. They had to move. What was Lex doing? Her grey eyes softened, though, as they fell upon Lex, lying exhausted on the floor.
He was quite cute, she realized. April hadn’t noticed that the first day he had come to work for the company. Just another employee, she had thought. How wrong she had been.
He flipped his hair back with a heavy arm and squinted at her. “Whatcha looking at, Marie?”
April blushed and looked away, not fully understanding his sentence. “Nothing.”
Lex snorted. “Kay.”
“We have to get home now.”
Lex’s features fell. “I know.”
“Why don’t you want to go home?”
Lex looked up at April. “It’s just not the same anymore.” He cleared his throat. “But enough of that. We need to move. Cernunni are still in the building.”
“Right. See if you can find something better than a lamp to protect yourself.”
“Yeah, I’m not even sure I have the strength to swing it anyway,” Lex commented wryly.
He stood, leaning heavily on the walls and found two long knives in the cafeteria. Tucking them into his belt, he limped back to April.
“We have to take the stairs, don’t we?” He asked grimly.
“Well shit.” His leg was already being stabbed by hot needles of pain, cutting into his nerves and weaving about, burning them.
“I’ll help you down,” April offered.
Lex sighed, a red flush already creeping up his ears. “Thanks.”
They crept down the stairs together, knives at the ready.
April tried her best to keep quiet until they were safe, but she was anxious to know why Lex didn’t want to go home. Was it not safe there either?
Lex’s mind was a fog of pain. His arms hadn’t stopped trembling yet, and his leg always hurt when he used it too much. And this more than counted.
It was all he could do to not cry out in pain.
When they reached the landing seventeen painful steps later, (Lex had counted,) he slumped against the wall, knife thudding to the floor.
“You don’t look so good,” April remarked softly. “You’re burning up!”
Lex swatted her hand off his forehead with a small, tired grin. “It’s just the exertion.”
But he did feel faint. And nauseous. And hot, and tired, and sore as hell.
“I’m going to get home,” Lex said, his voice faint and without conviction. “I want to go home.”
“You’re going to get home,” April assured him. “Now come on.”
The sound of growling echoed from above them.
April listened in horror. She could see a faint light pulsing from around the corner, in the stairwell.
“Lex?” She whispered. “Just where did you leave that lamp of yours?”
He looked up at her, struggling painfully to his feet. “On the floor in the hall upstairs,” he said faintly, leaning slumped against the wall. “Why?”
“Oh, nothing much,” she whispered fiercely. “Just that!”
The lamp crashed onto the landing, trailed closely by the blurry shape of a Cernunnos. It swatted it, and the bulb was torn apart like it was made of feathers. Sparks flew lazily out of the remnants of the bulb. The Cernunnos screeched, leaving a ringing in April and Lex’s ears.
“Come on, Lex, we have to go! That will attract all the Cernunni in the building!” April kept her voice soft. They still had a chance of sneaking out of there.
Lex stumbled forward, leaning on April for each painful step. He bit his lip to prevent himself from crying out in pain.
There was a dark shape of a Cernunni lumbering towards them. The building was shrouded in the veil of night, but the creature would surely spot them if it wandered too close.
Her eyes cast about desperately and fell upon a door on the wall next to them. April nudged Lex, dragging him through the door.
The storage closet was pitch dark, unlike the grey, shadowy darkness in the halls and stairwells.
“Marie,” Lex mumbled.
April nudged him. “Who’s Marie?” she whispered.
Lex was lying in a bed. He looked up at the sky. It was morning, but you couldn’t tell. The sky was dark and the stars lit up the sky, their bright splendor shining down on him.
“Marie, wake up!” He said, nudging her.
“What time is it?” She asked, rolling over onto her side. “Lex. Lex!”
“Okay, okay, I’m checking.”
He reached over to check his phone on the side of his bed.
“Lex, wake up!”
“I’m already awake, Marie,” he said, annoyed.
“I know,” she replied, brows furrowed with confusion.
Lex sighed, rolling out of bed. “It’s nine,” he added.
He rubbed his leg, strangely sore.
“Lex, wake up already! We have to get home!”
Lex frowned. “Get out of my head!”
“I’m not the one in your head, you are!”
Tears leaked down his face.
“But this is my home!”
April came into view, peering over him. Lex struggled, trying to grasp the images of home, of Marie, but it was like trying to catch running water.
“Lex, wake up. I’m going to get you home.”
“No,” Lex whispered. “I was home.”
He closed his eyes, tears leaking down his face. “I want to go back home.”