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Science Fiction Adventure Thriller

The doors acted as a barricade against the monsters. 

Six inches of solid, silver steel that glinted in the bunker's harsh lighting. Seven feet tall, ten feet across. They took up almost an entire wall in the small, square space. Impossible to look away from. To ignore. An ever-constant, ever-pressing reminder of Damen's surroundings. Of his trapped state, alongside the other thirteen who cowered in the dusty crevices of the bunker. 

Priamos had known of the monsters and had built the small, steel space deep underground. He'd been the one to stock it full of the canned goods. The fake air, in their little round containers. The mounds and heaps of bottled water, their cases long since collecting the stale dust that filled all their lungs. And he'd taken his family down there days before anyone else heard of the monsters. 

His wife, Sariya, now huddled in the corner, murmuring a bedtime story to their youngest daughter Asena. Damen shook his head, silently correcting himself. No longer the youngest. She was their only. The only one the monsters hadn't gotten. 

Priamos, and his once neighbor Hans, now stood beside the periscope, the only thing that allowed them to see beyond the steel walls. Only the men used it. Lifted up its black shroud and peered through its grimy lens. Sariya and the other women were forbidden, as was Asena and the other children. That included Damen, for, despite his long legs, his storky build, Priamos insisted he was not yet a man. Not yet strong enough to see the monsters roaming the wastelands that had once been their home. Their world.  

Although he wasn't permitted to look upon the gristly beats, he could hear them. Could hear them clawing at the bunker door. Howling to be let in. Swearing that they meant no harm. Claiming they were people Damen used to know. Finnick, the butcher. Eliza, his schoolteacher in year three. 

That's how they fooled you, Priamos told the thirteen inside. That's how they got you to open the door. To allow them inside. 

No one questioned him, especially not Damen, for they all knew the monsters' trickery had been the downfall of Priamos' eldest daughter. She had fallen for their pleas. She had let them inside the bunker, long before Damen had arrived. 

There had once been twenty. Now, with his arrival, there were only thirteen of them. An unlucky number, Damen told himself. A cursed number. 

Priamos moved away from the periscope, shielding it with the dust-coated rag once more. He faced the gathered, who watched him expectantly. One by one, his gaze slid over their faces, including Damen, who watched him from where he perched on a cabinet. 

"There are few monsters out tonight," Priamos finally said. The crowd let out a collective sigh of relief, gripping each other tightly. "Perhaps, in a few months, there will be none at all." 

He shared a pained look with Sariya, and Damen tracked it closely. Other than Priamos, Hans, and the two other men, Sariya was the only other who had seen the monsters. 

Of course, they had all heard the description of the silent stalkers. The ones that were upon you before your lips had even parted in a horrified, pained scream. The ones with long, raking claws that attacked their steel doors. The ones with drooping faces that let out pitiful shrieks, claiming to be something, someone, they weren't. The ones that ate you from the inside out. 

Damen knew they should terrify him. He knew he should cower like the others, pressing his back into the wall furthest the doors. Share fearful glances with the others when the monsters came knocking at night. Yet he didn't. He couldn't. 

Damen couldn't feel any fear toward them until he saw them. Until he knew the whispered stories were true. 

But the bunker was small, and the rules were what kept them alive. Only the four men looked through the periscope. Only they witnessed the monsters' sagging skin. Empty, veiny eyes. 

A woman, Sasha, looked down at her sleeping children, pressed close against her bosom. "What of our canned food? Our supplies dwindle; my children cannot carry on much longer."

"She is right," another protested. "We are beginning to look like the skeletons of the lost. Of those the monsters reached."

"We will be alright," Priamos reassured her with a tight smile. "We have food enough yet."

Damen glanced at the corner of the bunker. The one that used to be overflowing with cans. Now, only a handful sat amidst the empty and bent ones. He swallowed stiffly, trying to ignore the ache piercing his stomach that intensified with even the smallest of shifts.

The women's voices had grown louder, overlapping even Priamos. "My children will starve! You cannot expect us to last on these alone! Should it come to it, would we begin to consume one another?"

Priamos and the other men tried to silence them, for they had begun to awaken their children, whose dry mouths opened in sobs. They rubbed at the caked dust on their faces, clutching their bellies, crying out for food. For water. 

"If we leave, the monsters will catch us," Priamos tried. "We cannot outrun them. No one can! We will all be lost!"

"Let me go!" Damen was hardly aware the words had even slipped through his dry lips, and they fell like a heavy net over the others. Catching their words, their arguments, and silencing them. He hardened himself against their disbelieving stares, leaping off the cabinet so he stood before them. "I can outrun the monsters!"

Two dozen hollow eyes landed on him, darkened by the bunker's shadow. By sleepless nights, listening to the monsters attacking their steel doors. Pleading to be let in. To be saved. 

Priamos shook his brown-haired head, his fingers massaging his bristly beard. He was the first to speak. To meet Damen's eager eyes. To say firmly, "No. You cannot. No one can."

"But I can!" Damen protested. "You don't know how fast I am. How quickly my legs can carry me. Mother called me a stork; she said no one could ever run as fast as me. And when she heard of the monsters, she told me to run. To run here. So I did. I ran so fast that I never even saw the monsters." 

Priamos squared his large shoulders, crossing his arms. His eyes deep pools, ones that would drown you if you gazed into them too long. Those in the bunker knew to stop questioning Priamos when he did this, knew that their argument was void, and every inch of Damen told him to shut up as well. To back down. Yet he fought it. Kept talking. 

"Give me some food and water. Let me leave so that I can search for more. Perhaps there are others. Others that the monsters haven't reached. I can find them. Just let me look through the periscope so I can see them. So I can know what I will be fighting. One look-"

"No!" Priamos' voice shook the bunker, sending dust from the ceiling raining down on them. He slammed his fist against the counter, turning solely on Damen. Setting his jaw. "This is what this is about, isn't it, Damen? You have always begged to see outside. To see the monsters. This is not about our food. This is your own selfish, foolish desire." With every word, his voice rose, his feet brought him one step closed to Damen until he towered over him. Until his shadow fell across him. "No one leaves the bunker! No one sees the monsters!"

For as tall as he was, surpassing most everyone present, Damen would never be as tall as Priamos. As muscular and intimidating. For months, he'd cowered under the man, but now, he found himself straightening his spine, bent from the days crouched in the dimness. Shoving back his shoulders, running a hand through his untamed, shaggy hair. 

"You are afraid," Damen whispered. "You are afraid of the monsters."

Sariya rose, pushing her daughter off her. "We all are afraid! This argument is fruitless. Pointless. No good can come out of this crazed desire to see beyond these walls. The doors protect us, Damen. That is why we hide behind them."

Hans nodded, his hawk-like gaze piercing. "Do you not hear the monsters clawing at our doors? Do you not hear the voices they have stolen?"

"You said there were few tonight!" Damen argued. "We should go now, before more come. Before the chance to find food is gone! Before we are trapped here forever!"

Priamos slapped him in one quick, abrupt motion, his hand raking across Damen's cheek. The force sent him stumbling into the wall, clutching his face where a stunning red handprint had been left behind. Tears began to well, pooling in his green eyes, and he blinked them away furiously. 

Perhaps Sariya was correct. Perhaps he was crazed. Yet he was only as crazed as the rest of them, cowering in fear. Waiting for the day the monsters left on their own. Damen wouldn't give them the chance to leave. He was tired of being afraid. Of hiding in the bunker, of staring at the steel doors. Of breathing in the artificial air. In and out. In and out. 

The barricade was breaking around him. Crumbling in his mind. He needed out. He would get out. And the monsters wouldn't catch him. Not him, with his stork legs. His thin build. The years he'd spent running errands for his mother, dashing between the alleyways, taking every shortcut he knew. More than anyone else did. More than Priamos. 

Because he was quicker than Priamos. He was quicker than them all. 

It was that thought that fueled Damen as he took in the other twelve a final time. Sasha was right; they were becoming skeletons. But he could save them. Perhaps he couldn't fight the monsters- no one could- but he could outrun them. 

Damen sprinted, tearing across the bunker. Slipping under Priamos' arms as they reached out to grab him. In a fluid motion, he grabbed a supply pack from where it hung on the wall. Ripped it off the pegs. Sariya shouted, lurching forward to stop him as he slid it on. 

Damen was all but deaf to the others screaming as he yanked open the heavy doors with enough room to squeeze through. He expected them to follow him. To try and bring him back, yet the moment he was out the doors, they slammed them shut at his back. 

The dull thud resounded in his ears as the blinding evening light filled his vision. Much brighter than that in the bunker. Damen shielded his eyes, stumbling forward, and as he did so, his worn shoes caught on something. 

With an oof, he tumbled to the stairwell outside the steel doors where, overhead, the remains of the cellar doors leading down to it were clawed to shreds. 

Landing with a painful jolt to his shoulder, Damen lay against a mass of something cold. Clammy. Something that stunk, its putrid scent clogging his nostrils. He coughed, taking in his first gulping gasp of fresh air. The air not inside the walls of the bunker. 

And, as he did so, his vision adjusted, permitting him to take in what lay before the bunker doors. What still reached for the steel walls, even in death's final embrace. 

Faces. Bodies. Those he knew. Finnick, the butcher. Eliza, his old schoolteacher. And others. So, so many others. Their faces sagging off their bones, their empty eyes were still wide open. Countless filled the stairwell, clogging the cramped space. 

Damen gasped, a sound he couldn't physically hold in, his breath catching in his throat. Snagging in his lungs. Because, for the first time, he realized every corpse was eerily similar. 

No scratches covered their skin, save those they'd gathered from clawing their way to the door. No bite marks, either. No sign of the monsters who had killed them. 

"Because they didn't," Damen hissed, the words falling on unhearing ears. "Because the monsters didn't kill them." His voice was hollow, almost not believing it himself. "Because there's no such thing as monsters."

He turned back to the bunker, to the prison that had held him captive for so long, and began to laugh. Began to leap, to jump, among the corpses. 

"There's no such thing as monsters!" he yelled, grinning. Feeling the warmth of the evening rays on his face. "There's no such thing as monsters!"

Mid-leap, his chest seized unexpectedly. Mid-leap, he felt a flower of pain grip his body with thorny roots, and, mid-leap, he collapsed to the floor. Gasping. Every inch of him shaking. Trembling. His mouth foaming as he clawed at his throat, an unexpected burning sensation filling it. 

Coughing, Damen fell against the steel doors. Clawing at them. Begging to be let in. Shrieking for Priamos, because, suddenly, Damen understood. 

The monsters moved faster than any of them. Faster than even him. 

Yet Priamos and the other men had lied. They couldn't see these monsters, not even from their periscope, because they weren't monsters. Not really, anyway. 

Yes, they choked you. Yes, they killed you from the inside out, but it wasn't their claws who had left the long, jagged marks on the steel doors. The ones that, in horror, Damen found himself adding to. 

Increasing the indents, the fingernail marks in the steel, as he hacked. As blood speckled his lips. As he pleaded to be let back in, to breathe the air within the bunker. The air that wasn't poisoned. The air that wasn't full of monsters. 


***


Within the bunker, Priamos held his wife close, listening to the sound of clawing at the steel doors. The others pressed near to them, having risen the moment Damen dashed outside. 

The children wept, fat tears rolling down their skeleton cheeks, and Sasha lifted her son, drying at them with her dirty sleeve. "The monsters have gotten Damen," her son hiccuped. "They've gotten him, Mama."

"Yes," Sasha whispered. "Yes, they did."

"Will they get us?" her son asked, fearful eyes fixated on the door. 

Those within the bunker turned to Priamos, the screeching outside growing almost unbearable. Damen's voice, though he knew by the looks on their faces that they didn't believe it was him. In their heats, they saw only the monsters. 

Yet Priamos knew the truth, as did the men and Sariya. But the truth wouldn't keep them afraid. And without the fear, they wouldn't remain inside. They would think they could withstand the air, as his daughter had. They would think they could withstand what the nearby bombings had left behind. 

So Priamos squared his shoulders. Crossed his arms. Tensed his jaw. Said, quite firmly, "No, the monsters will not get us. Do not be afraid. We are safe, for the doors act as a barricade against the monsters." 


July 13, 2020 17:37

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2 comments

Adhi Das
09:15 Jul 30, 2020

nicely written:)

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K. M. Carpenter
14:42 Jul 30, 2020

Thank you!

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