At first, the smells had churned her stomach.
Knees to her chest, back to the alley wall, Gigi Lamar kept the pressure on the wound. Out of sight from those in the street, she had this little section all to herself. Almost surreal, after the carnage she’d seen, the horrors she’d endured. Her home turned into a battleground, from which she’d fled. But this little spot of an alley, tucked away in the corner of the city? Safe. Even if for a short while. If only they wandered down here, they’d find her weak and vulnerable. She wouldn’t be able to put up much of a fight. Yet, none did. They had enough of a distraction to hold their focus.
The black billows of smoke didn’t waft in her direction — a column rose, straight up into the sky. A soot-filled plume, an ink-dark beacon for the city’s remnants. Gigi couldn’t decide if a curse or a blessing. Haze-filled lungs would not be pleasant. But carbon monoxide poisoning might be nice, right about now. To float in and out of reality, the hot throb in her neck reduced to a numb pulse. But no wind stirred the smog, and the cloud swirled upwards, unhindered.
Despite Gigi’s distance from the inferno, she could taste the flavours of the fire. The conflagration burned close enough to deliver every scent to her palate. Charred cloth. Melted plastic. Boiled chemicals. Ignited fuel. And something else, beneath it all. Something unmistakable, something Gigi didn’t want to name. Something sweet, in a vague sort of way. Something crisp and cooked. No matter what, she told herself. No matter what, I’ll never break that unholy bread. She wished she had a gun or a knife, to ensure she’d keep her promise.
A rocking — the sway of a ship on the ocean’s tides. The world tilted at a precarious angle. The dirty concrete beneath slid to one side, her centre of mass off-balance. One hand to her neck — lest she bled out — she dug her nails into the ground. And held on tight. Gigi’s stomach rolled within her, lurched with the vertiginous waves. The periphery of her vision frayed, the edges soft and fuzzed-out. The colours bled from the pores of the universe, the very life of the textures desaturated.
Gigi gritted her teeth and wished she had both hands for this task. If the incline rose any steeper, she’d slide down the slope and crash right into those metal bins. But the way the blood had spurted from the tear in her neck, she knew she could not afford to ease up on the pressure. She leaned into the tilt, reshifted her weight. Bile stung the back of her throat with its acidic tongue, and nausea rippled through her, from her head to her toes. She scrunched her eyes shut and waited for the drop.
Only, it never came. Gigi opened her eyes and all had returned to normal. A brief moment of confusion gave way to a chill of terror. A realisation, like a bucket of cold water. It had all been in her head. And from this to the next: her mind had begun to slip, the line between real and hallucination now blurred. Now that she thought about it, the pulse in her neck — the throb beneath her fingers — no longer thumped. Weak and gentle, the final twitches of a soon-to-be-dead creature.
Her arms dropped to her sides. A few final spurts of blood dribbled from the ragged hole — so dark they may as well have been black. Gigi’s chest rose and fell, rose and fell, rose and fell. A final thought, before the fog swallowed all: It really doesn’t smell so bad after all. And then… stillness. The breath sighed out of her, like the wind down an empty street. Her eyes focused — intent — on some ethereal spot in the air ahead, and then glassed over.
A short way away, the others continued to swarm and chow down. Grunts and growls, the utterances of satisfied creatures. Wet rips, thick crunches, the collision of teeth against bone. The flames had died down to a steady glow, the remnants now crisp and ash. The column still drifted from the wreckage, the colour now grey. The more volatile materials had since disintegrated.
After several absent heartbeats — who knows how many? — Gigi moved her eyes once more. A stale breath wheezed into her sandpaper lungs. Joints popped as she twitched. Her fingers clenched and unclenched, the muscles and tendons flexed as if for the first time. She opened her jaw and let it hang there. Catchin’ flies as her grandmother would have put it. Eyes — bloodshot and white — rolled in their sockets and took in the sights of this new world.
With a sigh, she staggered to her feet. The wound on her neck now congealed to black goo, Gigi had both hands in use. It seemed she would topple over as she rose — a forwards somersault full of snapped bones — but she didn’t. Somehow, she remained upright. She swayed there for a moment, the task of getting up accomplished, the future now uncertain.
A soft breeze whispered down the alleyway, bits of trash carried along with it. Sheets of discarded papers, items of clothing, lost effects, clumps of banknotes. The chorus of the others out on the street sighed in that gust, a throng of a thousand or more. Gigi’s nostrils flared, her white eyes widened, her head turned with the creak of an old door. Back and forth her jaw wagged — an ecstasy gurn.
With that wind came an aroma.
One unsteady step. And then another. And another. Gigi stumbled into the alley wall as she progressed. Slapped it with her open palms, left bloodied handprints painted there. Like the artwork made by preschool children. She staggered out of the alley mouth and into the crowd. For the first time in her life — if one can call such life — the others did not notice her. No heads turned to face her, no hungry howls filled the air.
Gigi moved through the crowd, not as prey but as one of them. All around, her brethren clutched pieces of meat like turkey legs. Tore the skin and the flesh off the bone, and chewed with open mouths. Stomachs satiated. Faces smeared with gore, bits of gristle caught between teeth. Happy grunts, pleased growls.
Gigi pushed through them, friends, family, strangers alike. No matter who’d they’d been before, all were now one. One horde, one hivemind, one pulsing organism. All became equal in the throng, no hierarchy existed. Brothers and sisters opened wide and gorged themselves on the forbidden fruit.
At last, she arrived at the twisted remains of the car. The vehicle she had — less than two hours ago — been a passenger in. The sole survivor of the crash, and no longer that. Bits and pieces of humans lay strewn across the interior. Barbequed to perfection — not that those in attendance had much of a worry for E. coli. Cooked or raw. All the same, to them.
She shoved her way to the forefront of the swarm, barged a small boy out the way. A surprised snarl twisted his features, but in his hands, he held something upon which he could gnaw. The white of a bone visible beneath the blackened veneer, the flap of a hinge. Gigi paid him no mind — the same way the others had paid her no mind. All now one, yes. All now no more important than the decayed backdrop against all this played out. Only one thing mattered now.
She reached into the still-warm wreckage of the car and grabbed a handful of flesh. Resistance as she pulled away. In a distant part of her mind, Gigi heard the tearing. Away came something mangled and melted, a balljoint at the end, scraps of cloth fused with the skin. She grinned at the prize, eyes wide in awe, mouth down to her chest. A trickle of saliva sparkled on her lower chin.
Gigi tucked on in.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
This was clever as hell! I've said it before, but I dig the way you write horror stories. There isn't anything that is blatantly obvious about the scariness, it's more of the reader really needing to feel the things you're describing to feel the scary. Imagery and description makes me feel like I'm there....and what a great twist on the prompt Joshua!
Thanks, Shea! I really appreciate the compliments. :) So glad you liked the twist on the prompt, too!