Demons Outside... And Within Me

Submitted into Contest #60 in response to: Write a post-apocalyptic thriller.... view prompt

9 comments

Thriller Mystery

Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

That’s not the clock on the wall – that thing’s long run out of juice; it’s the one in my mind counting how much time remains for me. Sitting at my once-school desk, I examine the items laid out in front of me: two empty rifles; a gun that I just dug out of the basement; my mathematics textbook, covered in dried blood because that was the best weapon I could find as I returned from school (who says math won’t come in handy?); half a stale piece of bread with a memo lying atop it; and a water bottle brimful of rainwater. Not the tastiest, but given the situation, not the worst.

Seventy-four days ago, when we were suddenly being dismissed from school early, I thought I was in for a relaxing day on the bed with some popcorn and a horror movie. Turns out the horror was going to escape my PC screen and slap me right across the face.

The drizzle had worsened to rain and then to a tsunami. Shortly after, the heavens bellowed, and lightning cracked the sky. Through the breach entered long, neon-blue tube-like spaceships homing devilish life-forms, and with them, our destruction.

Scores of countries abolished. Hundreds of landmarks turned to ashes. Millions, if not billions, of humans obliterated.

My parents always said I was a survivor, a fighter that would move mountains and dry seas to get what I want. Some labeled me a bullhead, but I preferred “persistence that arose from the desire to leave this danged hell of a place.” Or whatever it was before all of this bloodshed. Doesn’t mean I’d go back to how my life used to be, heck no, but neither am I grateful for the creatures lurking outside.

“Let’s try to rationalize your negative thoughts with positive ones,” my therapist Sarah used to say.

Optimism, yes... My father will never come home drunk again. My mother will never turn a blind eye to my pain. And my sister? Well, she’ll never complain about how life owes her so much more.

A soft growl escapes my throat as I bury my eyes in the balls of my palms.

“I told you, Sarah. I freakin’ told you I was gonna end up alone.”

I crouch as if testing the smallest volume I can occupy. I’m in pain all over. It’s not the twisted elbow, the broken-but-healing knee, or the several abrasions and bruises. Take those away, and I’d still hurt. Breathing doesn’t come easily, and I have to force my lungs to do the unwilling.

It feels as though I’ve been stuffed into a body-shaped coffin.

I recall Sarah’s technique. Right hand on the left shoulder, left hand on the right. Alternating taps. I imagine a younger me, her short arms wrapped around my larger figure. Tap. Tap.

It’s all right. I’m here. I’m right here, I can hear little Little Charlotte whispering.

Inhale. Exhale. I repeat a few times before gaining the strength to turn around and look around my room for the final time. It’s still clean – made bed, folded laundry, organized dressing table – because I’ve always been a neat-freak, but seeing it now, it’s quite ironic. The world outside is in ruins while my house is in perfect order (except maybe the occasional corpse).

And then there was the inside of my soul… Demonic.

I grab a few things from my desk, including the shotgun, which is a lot heavier than it looks, but since I work out, I have sufficient arm strength. I tiptoe through my door and across the hallway. As I head down the stairs, I catch a glimpse into the living room where my sister’s lifeless body lay on the couch, her favorite blanket covering her, minus the arm hanging over the edge.

You’re welcome, sis.

I push down the mushy stale bread that’s attempting to escape through the wrong opening and will myself to descend. Each step sends an uneasy vibration that starts from my heels and ends at the back of my neck. Despite my tendencies to constantly greet death, I always expected myself to outlive the rest of my family because, one, I’m the youngest, and two, I’m the physically healthiest, but this was not how I imagined everything would go down.

I slip and smoothly steady myself as I land my bottom on the last step. When your entire life consists of you falling down, you learn how to handle it without a sweat. I remain there for a few moments, gun in one hand, and crushed paper in the other. Cumbersomely, I unroll it. An address. And a passcode.

To a safety shelter built by survivors like myself.

The only problem is that it’s in the deepest part of town – at least a month’s journey for me, not accounting for the monsters I’d come across and the extra injuries I’d obtain. And then there was the best-case scenario: death by starvation. I’d rather die with an empty stomach than dying in an empty stomach.

“Hey, Lil' Char,” She continues to sit by my side despite all the torture that’s awaiting her because of me.

“Should I just give up or keep fighting?” My voice is raspy, and I can feel the demons inside me tugging at my lifeline.

She hugs my arm and touches her soft cheek to my slightly-toned bicep. No answer. She never was good at giving me advice on the direction of my life, but her presence never failed to comfort.

"Humans are social creatures," Sarah said just a week ago.

"Yeah. You're gonna say I need friends., but I already have the perfect one. The one who'll never leave me, the one who'll always see my troubles and always hug me. The one who'll always be strong enough to protect me: Me. I'm my friend - the only one I'll ever need, Sarah."

I glance at Char. "And I was right."

"Perception is key. Humans, at the depth of misery, will only see what they choose to see."

I roll my eyes at that statement, but it stung to disrespect them. Those were the last words that left her mouth before our session came to an end. I wonder where she is now. Probably turned into a creature's nutrients.

I turn to the door. The door that my father used to stumble in through while constantly denying that he'd doused himself in alcohol. The door that my mother used to shut while we argued because she didn’t want the noise reaching the neighbors rather than trying to figure out how to mend our problems. The door my sister walked in through with her medical diploma in hand, still complaining my parents didn’t do enough.

Past that very door was the road to freedom which split into two directions, one toward death, and the other toward safety.

“Which path should I take? Should I join my family or survive on my own?”

I chuckle aloud. Funny. "All this time, I wanted to get rid of them, but here I am wanting to join them."

I stare at the doorknob for a few moments before getting to my feet. I swing back and forth on my toes.

“Hey, Char, it’s time to say goodbye.”

She tears up.

“Thank you for keeping me company for so long, but it’s time for you to go back up to my room and lock yourself in. This is a journey I need to embark on by myself. Alone…”

I wait. She rips herself apart from me and staggers up the stairs. Clutching my gun tightly – metal parts click together softly – and pocketing the piece of paper, I trod toward the door.

Death? Safety? Which is it?

I grab the doorknob. Unlocked, yes, because the creatures don’t have thumbs to open the doors. Not that they’d want to enter a house full of light anyway.

I turn my wrist, and it clicks open. Death. Safety. Death. Safety.

I swing it open aggressively, the force blowing my hair back. I grit my teeth, reading myself and holding up my gun. 

Which road do I take? 

AUTHOR'S NOTE: In no way does this prompt support the idea of suicide. The ambiguous ending serves as a reminder that we all have the choice to write our own ending.

If you need help, please reach out. Just as there is hope in a post-apocalyptic world, you, too, can find hope in the depths of your post-apocalyptic heart.

September 24, 2020 15:42

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

9 comments

9 P🎈
16:34 Jul 01, 2021

Woah.............a great and perfect piece, combining horror, thrill, suspense and most importantly human psychology (which became clearer and brighter after author's note, so smart of you to include that at the end :D) Well, the character is awesome (though seems like a teen, but very matured with words and thoughts) And adding an imaginative younger version (or the character at younger age :P) made it more interesting. And of course the title..........fab, says a lot about the story. Super satisfying story👍 Would you like to read my stor...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Gip Roberts
20:13 Oct 19, 2020

I thought I'd check this one out since I saw it had "demons" in the title. This was very dark, but very good, and I loved the author's note you included at the end! One thing, though: I couldn't figure out who "Char" was supposed to be and how they fit into all of this. Awesome story nevertheless!

Reply

Em P.W.
07:51 Oct 20, 2020

Thank you. Sometimes I like dark things, sometimes not. XD I really thought the author's note was necessary because sometimes when we're in a dark place, we tend to be sensitive about what we're influenced by and I didn't want my work to cause misunderstandings or pain to someone else. "I recall Sarah’s technique. Right hand on the left shoulder, left hand on the right. Alternating taps. I imagine a younger me, her short arms wrapped around my larger figure. Tap. Tap. It’s all right. I’m here. I’m right here, I can hear little Little ...

Reply

Gip Roberts
19:43 Oct 20, 2020

Ok, it makes sense now. I just wasn't reading that part closely enough. For some reason, I kept thinking maybe since her sister's body was still in the house, this was her way of grieving and saying goodbye to her. The only change I might suggest would be mention the protagonist's name is Charlotte somewhere in the first paragraph of the story. I'm like you: Sometimes I like dark things, but it seems like the world is obsessed with it these days. Nearly every bestselling novel is some kind of sad, tragic story. I like something upbeat and ...

Reply

Em P.W.
14:10 Oct 21, 2020

Ahhh, yes, I should've done that! Thank you so much for that tip!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Lily Kingston
19:09 Oct 08, 2020

I like how you put the reader in the narrator's mindscape. It works really well with the coping mechanism of humor and the techniques their therapist taught them. Keep up the good work and keep writing!!

Reply

Em P.W.
05:17 Oct 09, 2020

Thank you so much! I'm a fan of your work, so hearing this from someone whose works I admire is really uplifting. :D

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Raina Banerjee
09:56 Oct 02, 2020

An amazing and inspirational story which really touches the heart!!

Reply

Em P.W.
16:50 Oct 02, 2020

Awe, thank you. I'm really glad you think so! :D

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply