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On My Way, Book 1 - One Bad Day

On My Way, Book 1 - One Bad Day

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Read as I write: Please enjoy these rough chapters as I go. All text is subject to change and copyrighted by A. R. Shaw.

Read the Synopsis

I'm just an ordinary guy on a routine business trip, trying to get from Baltimore back to sunny San Diego. But little did I know, my life was about to dive headfirst into absurdity. It all kicks off during my layover in Denver when, out of nowhere, the entire airport goes pitch-black. Seriously, even the planes outside decide it's a great time to play hide-and-seek, and the flight attendants swear off flashlights. It's like a twisted sitcom plot, but there's nothing funny about it.

My stomach's tied in knots as I try to make sense of the chaos. All I can think about is getting back to Emily, my better half. But as the situation gets weirder by the second, I can't help but wonder if I've unwittingly landed a role in the newest dystopian.

Back in San Diego, Emily's waiting anxiously for my return, clutching her phone like it's a lifeline. She's oblivious to the madness I'm facing, and I'm doing everything I can to keep her from going off the deep end. I spin yarns to explain the delay and the nationwide power outages. "Don't stress, Em," I chirp, trying to sound like everything's A-okay. "They're just giving the airport a makeover, and I'll be on my way soon!" If only she knew my phone battery's hanging by a thread and there's nowhere for a charge.

In reality, I'm knee-deep in a post-apocalyptic circus, stumbling through a world that's lost its marbles. Danger lurks around every corner, and my journey home is shaping up to be a tragicomedy of epic proportions. But even in the midst of this chaotic absurdity, I can't help but find humor in the madness.

As I trudge through this surreal landscape, spewing tall tales to keep Emily blissfully ignorant of the insanity I'm wrestling with, I can't suppress the desperate laughter that bubbles up. In a world gone dark, where uncertainty reigns supreme, laughter has become my coping mechanism, a lifeline that's equal parts hilarious and heart-wrenching. Welcome to my desperate journey back to the woman I love, where the punchline is yet to come, and I'm praying it's not my last.

🔵 Chapter 1


One more flight. The tremor again.
I squeezed my hand into a fist before anyone noticed, especially me. I’m almost
home. The whole trip so far was uneventful. Good even. I cleared up the
decision in Baltimore—business as usual, and on the last leg back to San Diego.

Denver is the usual hustle and
bustle I noticed as I sit in the black Naugahyde chair. Are they still made of
Naugahyde? The chrome frame didn’t indicate. Certainly, can’t be leather. The
others are all plugged in, and I will be as well as soon as I find my earbuds.
I can listen better to Emily that way. I can hear beyond her voice to the tenor
of her mood. She’s done so well the past month. Her anxiety is finally under
control, or so I hope. The boys even sounded like they were caring for things
around the house like I’d asked. As much as you could ask a five- and
seven-year-old. At least they’re kind boys. Not the kind to give their mother
grief like I did as a kid.

It wasn’t her fault she’s so
fragile these days. After her father’s death, she seemed fine. She would smile
and nod, just like expected if you asked her. But I knew something was off. I
was too busy to really pay attention. She wasn’t lying exactly; Emily would
never lie, but a silent switch had triggered, and she was anything but fine. I
think I knew it before she did. There was even an odd smell about her that I
couldn’t place when I finally came to bed late at night. And then one day, she
didn’t pick up the boys from school. The secretary called my office, and later
that night, after a frantic search, I found her sitting in the car in the
pouring rain in front of the grocery store, completely crumbled.

A piece of me died that day.
Emily’s literally a part of my soul, and I had no idea she was in so much pain.
Grief is an awful thing. It silently gnaws on your insides. And though she
couldn’t tell me what was happening, it was the death of a part of her that I
loved so much, it killed a little piece of us both. Now, I can’t leave her for
long. It’s more me than her. I can’t bear to let her sink that low again
without me. I promised to catch her, and I’ll be damned if I let her down

So this was a quick trip I’d been
putting off for months. She promised me she was fine, stop treating her like a
delicate flower. But what she doesn’t understand is that I’m the delicate
flower. She’s my petal. I know it’s cheesy but I can’t…won’t, do life without

I clear my throat as I fish the
earbud from my satchel pocket and snug it in my ear. Enough of that. Emily’s
fine. One more trip, and a quick drive to the house. No more than four hours
from now. I scan the departure board while thumbing home on my phone. So far,
my next flight says on time. All is well, as I hear Em pick up the other line.

“Hi babe!”

“Henry, you made it. How was your

See. She sounds fine. She’s fine…
“Easy. Not even turbulent.”

“Good. I saved you some King Ranch
Casserole in case you're hungry when you get home.”

“Oh, you didn’t have to do that.”

“I know it’s your favorite. The
boys loved it.”

“Listen, don’t wait up. I’ll just
sneak in. You need your sleep.”


“I’m serious, you have to get up
early and get them off to school early, it’s Thursday, and they have early
morning karate practice. See, I remembered.”

“I meant to say, I miss you, and
you’re welcome to wake me…when…you…arrive…”

She was smiling. I could feel it
through the ether. And now, so was I. “Oh…oh, I see. Well in that case…” I
lowered my voice like a teenage boy because I was certain the hairy middle-aged
guy sitting next to me knew what my wife was hinting at. “I’m on my way…”

“I love you, Henry.”

My voice suddenly graveled. “I love
you more.”

That’s when the lights died, and
the call ended.

“Em?” I said in the dark amongst a
sea of stunned blue screens.


🔵 Chapter 2


In the pitch, that's where we were in that prolonged half-second. Many of those
lit blue screens elevated in a flash. Others were shadowed momentarily as their
owners reached for their loved ones. A few, like my own, doused - a throwback
from my military days. I see you. You there, in the darkness. Others, like me,
moved in silence to place their backs against a wall, away from the others. The
idea: they can't sneak up on you that way, or at least, you can see them

"Everyone, remain calm."

"Where are the emergency

"What's going on?"

"Really! This is ridicu…"

"Everyone rema…"

"YOU remain calm! Turn on the
damn lights!"

Shouting. Crying. A threat of
bodily harm. Someone ran past me, one of those silent guys, only he was going
the wrong way. I know because of my habit. A fun little game. I scan every
corner. Find two exits as soon as you enter a room. And I quietly turned right
and began walking calmly to one now. This was going to turn ugly real quick.

I squeezed my phone, thinking of
Em, and slid her into my suit breast pocket for now. She’s worried. I needed to
try and call her back, but the light... the light. It would have to wait. And
my battery - I only had a quarter charge due to the sketchy rental car plug-in
that got me here.

More shouting already and a scuffle
nearby. Were the fawns becoming prey so soon? Never waste a good crisis…
Someone thrashed my shoulder. I kept walking - a steady gait as I switched my
bag to my left hand, reserving my right hook as an option. My suit jacket,
already smudged. Em would scoff; she helped me pick it out and had it tailored.
The lighter hue of heather gray, she'd said, highlighted my blue eyes. I didn't
have the heart to tell her at the time it would stain too quickly. It was impractical
for business travel. But the arched eyebrow and gleaming eyes stifled my
resistance. Anything for Em.

"Please remain in the secure

At least they got the damn intercom
working, or was that a bullhorn? But where the hell was the backup generator
and no emergency lights? What was up with that? I made it to the window. There
were planes out there earlier. Their blinking lights doused right in front of
my eyes. Why would they turn them off suddenly? And the little guys with their
glowing sabers, where were they? Out there, I'm sure, only their beams are
benign. I pictured one of the vested guys in my mind. Banging on the heavy end.
Staring straight down into the orange cone. What the heck? Did all their
batteries die at once? But then I saw one glow dancing quickly in the distance,
not the man carrying the flame but the light itself like a panicked firefly.
Then suddenly, that spark, too, vanished in a flash.

That's when it hit me. I stopped in
my tracks and spun. I'm sure my suit jacket did an unmanly little twirl, but
who was watching? The lights, even in the distance, were out. This wasn't an
EMP. So far there was no explosion. A failed grid? Likely. But there was
something more. Someone turned off the airplane blinkers. That took a human,
and the disembodied orange... that was an order.

Were we sitting ducks? Awaiting

My pace quickened as pandemonium
erupted behind me. More screeching. More yelling. I was running now, be damned
restricted area.

The exit. No more than twenty feet,
but I knew its hidden guardian awaited. I could try to reason with him. His
name was likely Bob. I’m sure he had a family. I’ve always marveled how the
brain works in a panic. So many thoughts conjured in the blink of an eye. And
just as I resolved this encounter in my mind, a new, rather panicked demanding announcement.


Let’s just say that at that moment,
I did not stop to reason with Bob…

🔵 Chapter 3

Chapter 3

I am not the young man I used to be, back when I jumped from perfectly good
planes in foreign desert lands. Those days are over. But at the moment, I feel
the exact reason I gave up the fun stuff of my youth. Those times got you
killed. I was fortunate enough to pass the baton with a knee and ankle injury.
But as the pain reminded me of my glory days, it took second place because,
here I am now, with empty lungs, bereft of resident air, lying face up on the
tarmac, resourcefulness, clutching my briefcase firmly to my chest to keep my
link to Em secure. Yet, I'm pretty sure my laptop didn't make the trip. I feel
a crunch beneath my forearms. No one made the leap after me. Their loss, I

As I attempt to convince air to
regain residence in my lungs, I observe an odd sight in the sky—actually,
several sights, as I quirk my eye. Time has once again slowed to a snail's pace
amidst the rushing chaos. Above me is a formation of gray jellyfish floating on
the breeze. It strikes me, perhaps I've been knocked unconscious because that's
precisely what the moonless sky resembles against the night—a sea of gray,
undulating jellyfish slowly but determinately making their way toward the
airport. Hundreds of them...

While I grapple with this puzzling
observation, a burst of orange appears suddenly on my right periphery. That's
when it dawns on me.

I roll aside, defying the negligent
air, because a gray shape is descending right toward my face.

I spring to my feet.

I'm running now, okay, limp
running, and more marigolds come into view on either side of me in the
distance. Somehow, I don't hear a thing except for the blood rushing through my

I gape one stride ahead. Suddenly,
I'm clutching a football and dodging ghostly opponents.

Someone else is doing the same. He
darts and zigzags ahead of me—a younger man. My testosterone gets the better of
me, and I accelerate, convinced I can outrun him. But then, I'm not watching
above as closely as I should, and I nearly collide with one coming from the
opposite direction. My opponent and I then race to clear the field, both of us
bent over, out of breath. (Mine returns when I'm not looking.) We’re behind the
sea now, heaving over bent knees, both turn back, and the flower field has won
the game. It's a bouquet of growing flames.

I'm still clutching my briefcase. I
don't know how. We lock eyes, the stranger and I, and look up again, scanning
the darkened skies. A whole herd of them floating on the breeze ahead.

"What are..." he begins,
but then I instinctively throw my briefcase to my face as a grounded plane
between we and the garden, explodes.

We’re both down, but when we rise,
we’re suddenly best friends and backs together we’re circling for below and above
for the next auburn bloom maker.

He completes, yet I’ve not found
words, “What’s going on?”

Then I stammer, because my brain is
failing to make the links. “Attack, we’re under attack. I think.”

“Those were drones! Incendiary

I swallow. “I’m not…” I began to
debate because so much tech has evolved since my desert days, but the point is
mute when we see a figure on fire in the distance. He’s walking fully engulfed.

My friend looks at me, as if to
say, are we helping?

I see it’s a question. A question
on his mind.

I can’t grumble at humanity. Not
now. There’s no time. I run for the enflamed. I’m teaching a lesson. Of how, to
me, we humans should behave. I’m certain he’s right behind me, my new friend. But
at some point in the next fifty yards, I sense he’s not.

It doesn’t matter, I shove the case
at the man burning to death. Knock him to the ground and pound the flames
enough to then roll him free. He’s doused but he’d dead… I hope. Because the
agony of his condition… I wouldn’t want to live through that myself.

But then I notice the edge of my
jacket, the flame caught like a virus. I pound quickly with singed fingers.
Beating myself. Em’s jacket… somehow, I don’t feel the pain.

I catch sight of my friend running
away in the distance. Perhaps he wasn’t wrong.

I look back at the building, the
plane, the growing garden… I pat my phone again, feeling the shield over my
heart, take one last look at the charred remains on the ground and run too into
the dark, slowly at first but pick up speed thinking I’m a coward.

But then, I reason numbly, I can grant
only one family a hero. And that’s mine.

🔵 Chapter 4

Chapter 4

I’m nearly upon my friend. He knows this, we survivors of the bloom. I don’t mean
to follow him. I’m just running in the same direction. Running away. Away. But
then, my porcelain stare wells, and I stop.

He senses this too and for some
reason, he’s also stopping. All bent on catching air, he grabs a glance above,
as do I, and between, he tries to say something but instead just waves his hand
to me. An urge to follow.

I shake my head and despite the
chill, I swipe sweat from my forehead with one burnt finger and steal a glance
around my braced arm. We’re leaving them. Left them to their fate. The white spikes
ablaze. The fires are spreading across the scrub and if I’m honest, I can hear
them now. I can hear their agony. Their yells in the ginger light. I swallow
and glance at my companion again. He’s scanning the sky while I lean over. And
when he looks back, he jerks his head the other way. I nod with a slow blink.

We are silent communicators, my
partner and I. Survivors of the jellyfish sea.

But we’re not the only ones. A
favor of the growing glow, shadows in the distance dart in the night. We
scatter not unlike rats it seems, when our world is threatened. Of course, I
knew this. I’ve seen this scene. Only I wasn’t the rat back then. I was the sea.

“The fence.” My friend stops. “Can
we get over it?”

I find this a funny question.

Can we get over it?

I brace my satchel like a lift, and
he with one step, I shove him higher like a man trampoline.

At the top, he reaches down for me.
For some reason I pause at the sight of his palm. I hand him the case, a foot
in a rung. He tosses it over and then reaches again. I swallow and clasp the
offer, give way to the grip and let him hoist me enough to gain the edge.

He drops to the other side, as I
tear a heathered cuff on a raw edged peak. And then I watch in horror as I drop
at an angle. My phone departs on the lost side.

The moment grounded, I scurry. My
hand lunges beneath the wall. But not without a price. A tine catches my wrist
as I finger the rounded edge and inch Em back to me, leaving a wet line down
the center of my hand. It’s no matter, she’s mine again.

“Hurry,” my friend says in an
accent I can’t quite place.

I look at him confused. “What’s the
hurry now?”

He only points. And when I turn
back, I see them again. It’s not over. A new herd floating on the breeze. Only
now against the mari-glow, they look more like weather balloons.

“It’s China. Bet my bloody ass!” he

I look above, “How many more?” I thumb
the side of my phone.

“Cover the light, mate. I’ll watch.
You look. We need to find a way out of this.”

Out of this, out of this. I
swallow, cup a hand over the screen. One missed call. I flip the green notice with
a thump. Then a gray national alert. “Remain indoors, it says.”

“Why? To be burnt to a crisp,” he

With no real answers, I kill the
light, grab my bag and again we are running.

“You ever been here, mate?” he
calls back to me.

Here. Here? “Denver?” I ask as our
feet find and pound down a vehicle-less asphalt utility road. I notice ahead
and assume behind, there are others now too. Those that made it from the flame.
Shadows of our former selves, we are running.

“Yes. I mean, no. Airports don’t

His scoff is nearly a laugh. “Do
you know where we’re going?”

I think about this. And I agree,
this is funny. So many answers… but mine is, “Home.”

🔵 Chapter 5


I’m determined, no matter what it takes, I
will make it home. It's a promise I've silently vowed to myself, a pact formed
even before I've had time to fully grasp the direness of the situation that
surrounds me. How far does this sea reach? Is it
China? Only a local incident caused by an industrious but irate airport employee.
Did he not get a raise? Perhaps a bad performance review… We need to stop trying
to save our own asses, so that I can do a bit of research and find out what’s really
going on. But as my wall partner and I begin to run again when he sees an
airship bally out another mass of gray, we’re searching the skies for
the next onslaught.

It's then, that I realize I somehow
lost a shoe. I have no idea where my loafer landed. Was it with me when I rudely
assailed past Bob and vanquished like Bugs Bunny over the cliff? I have no
idea. But it’s making my stride retarded, and I’m unsure if it’s a good idea
but I decide that no shoes is better than one shoe, and I stumble to a stop and
flip off the other one. We’ll do this solo for now on.

The guy in front of me, looks back.
There’s a sort of dim light up ahead and he’s heading toward it though I’m not
sure that’s a good idea. Why am I letting this guy call the direction? He doesn’t
know where he’s going any more than I do. I scan the horizon; one direction is
as good as any if it brings us a reprieve so that I can see how far this insanity
stretches. Then it dawns on me, if this is only a local incident, then I’m
pretty sure leaving the airport grounds nullifies any compensation I’m due. Am
I overreacting? I look up again and see more balloons, only this time, they are
slowly driving toward other parts of the airfield. Spreading flaming pollen along
the way.

“Here! Over here!”

When I look, there’s a guy standing
in the middle of the road with a flashlight that he keeps cupped with one hand,
and the other one is holding up a grate on the side of the road. Others, those
that made it over the fence are gathering there ahead.

“Come on, my partner yells.”

But I’m already shaking my head. “I’m
not going down there.”

“Why are you stopping? We can ride
it out below.”

“No… no way. I’m not going down
there. That’s not a good idea. All they have to do is drop one of those things
over the hole.”

There’s at least twenty of them
now, all hovering, awaiting their turn to descend the rungs, someone hands a
kid to reaching arms from below.

“Go ahead if you want,” I say. “I’d
rather take my chances up here. More exits.”

My partner seems conflicted. His
eyes shift. He’s stammering. He owes me no loyalty.

“Stay,” I say and take off again. I
only look back once; he’s looking after me as I run in my sock feet off into
the darkness. I am not going down there. There’s no way out, only one entrance
and that’s up. If there’s a fire overhead, you in a cooker. No thank you. But I
can’t try and reason with the others now. They are on their own. That’s what I’m
telling myself for now anyway. I cannot help them. I cannot help them. I…I stop
and turn back. My old partner looks up at me. “They’ll fry down there!” I yell
from a distance.

He says something I cannot hear and
I’m not looking because something in the distance has caught my attention. I
drop my bag and run back to them. “Get out!” I’m waving my arms. “Get out of
there, you fools! Look!”

The guy with the flashlight aims
his beam and there, three ghosts are on their way. Like Death itself with a scythe
in his grasp leading steadily like Pac Men. “Hurry, get out of there! They’re coming!”
I’m scream and when I get there, I shove the guy with the light out of the way
and grab the first arm I see. I’m yanking them out. One by one. Pulling them

People are screaming now, running
and screaming. “Hurry! Go, go! Where’s the kid?” It’s nearly upon us. A swarm
of them now on their way, as someone hands me a boy. Like me, he’s only wearing
socks. I fling him over one shoulder. I have no idea who his parents are. Or
where they might be. I run. I’m running with a screaming boy on my back and when
I make it back to my bag, I grab the side of it without breaking stride. Not a
good hold, with one hand and run on, tossing scant looks behind me as I go. There’s
fire behind me already. More to come, I’m sure. I feel the degree and remember
the boy and pull him forward. It’s an awkward jog, and pandemonium all around.
Some didn’t make it, their respite nothing more than a trap.

“Stop! Stop!” A woman wails.

The boy in my arms is reaching in
her direction, I turn. Hand him over to the one he loves. “Go this way!” I say
as she takes her son. “Don’t turn back.”

But instead, she regains her stride
with the fleeing mass the other way. They are running together in their panicked

I stare at the sky and that’s when
I see, the monsters targeting those that flee.

I’m running backward. “Son of a…” That’s
deliberate. I look around and see more buildings on fire. I turn, switch hands with
my bag, and pull the strap over my head. Then check my pocket once again, feeling
the familiar square. And instead of following the others, I head off, alone,
away from the death sea.


🔵 Chapter 6

Chapter 6

and fences and alone in the dark. I climbed. I stumbled. I fell more than once.
I’m now down to one barefoot and one socked, though I can’t tell you how I lost
the last one but the last time I checked behind me, there were no undulating
masses, only distant orange glows. I’ve made a gap between the others and me. Yet,
I continue and when I see their shadows running in the distance, I widen the
gap even more. I know it’s an awful thing to do. And with an ache in my heart like
never before, when I see more than one person in a group, they soon become prey.
And yet, I still ignore them. It’s as if there’s a heat sensor on those things
or something. They’re going for the most kills with one efficient aim.

Because of that hideousness alone I’m
grateful for the pounding in my ears because their screams are hard to bear. I’m
headed in generally the right westerly direction, I think, and keep bargaining with
myself to keep up the steady cadence until I’m sure I’m clear of the onslaught.
With the depleting bar on the phone in my pocket, I know I only have a little
time to both check the news and to reach out to Em before she finds out the danger
we’re in. I can only pray my family too isn’t running for their lives as I run
for mine. I can’t go there yet…

Will a signal cause one of those
things to follow me? Are they tracking heat and cell reception? I have no way
of knowing but I’ll have to test this theory soon, which means not inside a shelter.
I must find a place to hide with a million exits. Out in the open, in a field,
alone. That’s the only way to go, I reason. It’s the only way to make sure of
the assumptions. To test the theories rambling around in my panicked mind. I
need to find a car, something I can drive, but wait, will that attract them too
I wonder. I’m paranoid now and it’s not even an hour since the nightmare began.
And finally, I stumble again over a dry clump of dead grass as I check my six
and fall to one knee. “Get aw-ay,” I yell when I spot a slim figure fall to the
ground below where the enemy might be. I only hear a wail. It’s coming from my
shadow, that lack of air I detected before. I’m glancing above and then down
again. The figure sinks to the earth.

“It’s sensing heat signals. Go on
your own. We’re safer that way,” I reason with the shadow.

“Help me,” it says.

The heels of my hands are braced
hard against my knees. I’m exhausted. I look down and shake the sweat from my
face. Only my eyes look up again. Above the shadow. I draw in a deep breath as
I scan the sky. Suck in a breath I pick up my bag again and start walking
slowly toward my sunken silhouette.

The voice. It’s bearer no older
than twelve I imagine.

“Where are your parents?” I say
when I reach her.

No answer.

I scan the skies again.

Then, “Not here,” she says.

I take that as, it’s too much to

She’s a tiny lithe thing. I decide
I can’t leave her. She’s small enough. Maybe if we stick close together the
things won’t detect us as more than one. Who am I kidding. I know better. But I’m
bargaining with myself. Justifying this exception. I’m not sure why.

“Come on,” I say and silently berate
myself that this is a bad idea as I’m grabbing her by the scruff and hauling
her along with me as I see more of those things on the horizon. They are headed
northwest, but I don’t want them getting any ideas.

“Keep up,” I say as I let her go
and slow to let her match my pace. She won’t be able to keep this going for long,
but we have no choice, and I can’t carry her.

“They’re… going… after groups,” the
shadow pants out in hollowed breaths.

I’m nodding, though she can’t see
that in the darkness.

“Don’t talk,” I say. “Conserve your
energy and stay close.”

I hope that’s enough to give her
hope because that is all I give. I tell myself, if those things start heading
our way, I will peel off from her. I will abandon her. I will have to
leave her to them, no matter what. A rule I’m trying to establish in my mind
for this adjustment.

But for now, the observant girl is keeping
pace because I can feel her right fingertips brush the back of my forearm on
occasion. Ahead I see a cluster of hanger type buildings. Warehouses perhaps. I’m
heading that way. Not for them, but the void between might suffice. Enough for
me to light the phone up and do a little research. I’m scanning right and left
and then suddenly the girl shifts her position to my right side. I’m not sure
why she does this. But it throws me off and I’m suddenly scanning the left
horizon and there it is.

“Call out right or left next time.”

A few beats later and she says, “They
hear us too.”

I smirk. Of course, they do. I feel
like I’m suddenly in a comic book, Batman and his Robin. And we are running. Running
in the dark. And I realize she is slowing. I’m going to wear her out too fast
before we get there. I decide we can take the time and slow a pace. I’m not
going to carry her. I’m not.

And we’re almost there.

…and then she stumbles and falls. I
even hear the breath huff from her lungs.

And when I turn and scan the sky
above, of course there’s not one but three.

I should leave her.

That was my new rule.

I can’t help but reach behind.

She slaps my hand away and is up
and shoving.

I can’t help the smirk on the crook
of my grin.

In a third space of my mind I’m
smiling, but that’s taken over by need to survive the damn things heading our

And without knowing why, the girl
is now yelling. And in that third part of my mind, I realize it’s because I’ve
grabbed ahold of her without realizing it because I can’t slow my pace any
longer and we’re headed right for the corrugated door of the building in front
of us. It’s enough of a distraction to make me veer at the last second to the left
side because two-thirds of my attention has been devoted to the blossom beings
chasing us from above. They’re coming. And when we skirt the end of the
building to the right, I slide the girl quickly alongside me as the balloons venture
above us and beyond. I suddenly find my hand is covering her mouth because I’m
making more noise with my heightened breathing than she is. She’s yanking my
hand down and with another glance, I relinquish the grip.

But the balloons have relinquished
their volley as well and in no time, the building in front of us is inflamed
with a vapor liquid, and an effervescent scent that reminds me of Play Doh from
my youth. It’s confusing. Such a calm Sunday, comics memory enmeshed with
horror. Yet I find myself still running, my second finger latched to this kid’s
collar somehow. She’d keeping pace because for the life of me, I don’t know why
I can’t let her go. And I can tell, I’m stumbling her pace and she’s not happy
about it, but I can’t help myself.

Yet we’re behind another building
and I’m happy to discover I don’t have a hand clamped over her mouth. Instead,
we’re both panting our lungs out and looking through the gap in the sky for any
chance of an ominous hover. The heat from the three buildings behind us still
feels like an inferno. And then we hear an explosion and one glance at my bat girl,
and I realize we agree to move on with a nod.

This time, I’m following her. A 12-year-old
girl. Me and my balls and my briefcase still latched to my hand. She peers
around the corner and begins to bolt, yet I yank her back with a manly hand I
didn’t know I still had attached to the back of her neck just in time for the
shadow to pass above us. She sees it too, before she reacts with the back of
her jabby elbow and sinks into the hollow of my chest.

Then we erupt.

Run, along the sides of the
building in unsocked feet as fast as we can. She’s in front and I’m behind. She
becomes a geiser attachment. I even shove her little head around corners as I’m
glancing above and aback. Until finally, she shugs the shit out of my grasp and
I realize my brutal methods.

I want to reason it’s kept us safe.
I want to explain clearing a space, yet it doesn’t hold with a twelve-year-old
civilian girl. And I see, that’s not what she wants either because she’s
grabbing a hold of me too and shoving me down. 
Because above, she sees.

There’s a volley. A dozen or move. And
she sinks into my squatted chest, hoping to become one person and not a target
that we are both collectively thinking is ahead of the both of us.

I’m swallowing knowing the whites
of my eyes are flooding most of my vision as I scan above and pulling someone’s
child against me. I’m not sure if I’m keeping her safe or my self. Holding
like a teddy bear.

And the last thing I expected at that
moment, was my phone ring out this familiar tune, “You can take all the tea
in China, Put it in a big brown bag for me…”

🔵 Chapter 7

Chapter 7

orange bloomed at our feet, and then suddenly, I’m falling backward through the
wall I thought was there. The girl too. Only it wasn't a wall. I realized soon
after that it was a door that someone thought to open. Liquid fire. Fire
everywhere and all at once. The girl sitting on my chest is suddenly lifted as
my pant leg catches, and I become the girl screaming from the fluid flame. I'm
pulled away, and the same man from before, my partner in crime, is now stomping
on my foot. But there is no time for whining as the bloom flames, and I am up
and running as others shout. The girl is holding my bag now and yanking on my
arm. She is loyal, it seems, even in the face of death. I'm grateful because
I'm also hobbling along. Then as my old partner waves us to follow, she jerks
her head and pulls me in the opposite direction. I know what she's doing. In
this short time, we've made our own rules, our own alliances, she, and I.

As I stare after our liberator, I
see too, he's joining a crowd, and I agree with the girl. We mustn't get caught
with numbers. She and I are the right-sized for a solo mission as long as I
don't blow it with my devices.

My phone?

I begin beating my chest, trying to
find the solid, and then realize, I never let her go. She's still in my hand,
and luckily, my unconscious mind turned off the damned ringer. I slid that
troublemaker into my pocket where it will remain until I have time to save my
own life… and the girl's who's become my caretaker.

I owe her.

I nearly got her burnt to a crisp.

And still she's loyal to a man with
no shoes, no socks, and singed toes.

"This way," she whispers
as I check back over the darkening field and realize some of the fires in the
distance are beginning to die out. The light they've created is dimming along
with the lives it's taken. In a few hours, what I imagine will remain are
charred bodies and the mother of all questions as to what prompted their
demise. But it's too early for that now…

Now we're still in the midst of
saving our own lives, lest we become one of them, and my brush was too close
for my liking.

We're slowing, and despite the pain
in my feet, we must get ahead. I realize then the girl is tired. Her adrenaline
wanes. I can't blame her, but we can't quit now.

I pull ahead, and now it is me
dragging her shaking body.

"What are you… I can't. I need
a break," she whispers. "Put me down."

"Quiet," I say as I
wrestle my bag over my shoulder and land the girl over the top.

I turn and scan for shadows in the
distance. We need to remain out in the open. Avoid buildings and the others to
keep from attracting those damn things. I head southwest, where there's more
scrub, and it's darker. It's not time for the light. Let the others deal with
those surprises first. What we need to find is a house, a farm, or a desolate
space with only one building or two. Then I can plan. But for now, the plan is
just to run. Run on injured feet with my Em in my pocket and a strange girl
over my shoulder. So many questions. So few answers.

And then I see a glow coming from
the hill on the next horizon, so I slow my awkward pace and shift the girl from
my shoulder. She begins to speak, but I shush her. "There's a road,"
I whisper. My brain is making calculations, can we outrun those things?
"Maybe we can get a car," I say, but as we inch closer, we see how
impossible that idea is. Where the road lies ahead, there is a river of flames.
The girl shakes her head and backs against me. I have to agree. "Come
on," I say, taking the girl's arm and leading her away. While mentally, I
cross off that option, I see in the distance what looks like a cattle farm.
Certainly, whoever programmed the jellyfish considered the heated body mass of
livestock because I can see across the enflamed road, their blocky Angus bodies
displacing the inky sky in the distance, and there isn't one ablaze among them.
We'll have to enter the golden light of the overpass to reach the other side,
and I know this is risky, but I see no other choice.

The girl's eyes are on the overpass
too. She knows what I'm thinking because when I say, "Come on," she
stays put as if I'm her father and leading her to the doctor's office for her
annual school shots. Without a word, she raises her other arm and points. I
glance back and see there's movement on the bridge. Scratch that… there's
movement above the bridge as well. And then we both duck when a shotgun blasts.
I peek up and see the man on the bridge fire again, into the death air balloon.
It bounces back and then comes to their doom again. The man fires a third time,
but this time, he runs, knowing he's only delaying the inevitable. And then to
the left, I see more movement. It's alerted others. They have him surrounded,
and when he sees this too, the man does something I didn't expect. He runs to
the side of the bridge and jumps into the flames below.

“So maybe not the bridge…”

🔵 Chapter 8

Chapter 8

We ran north along the bright-gloomy
highway for what seemed an hour or more. Both of us out of breath but after
seeing the man choose his death, the girl and I didn’t bother debating our next
move. We just ran. I still don’t know who she is. Clearly, I might be kidnapping.
But just like Em, and the mystery of the bloom, I haven’t had time to ask her
who she belongs to as we scurry through the darkness and a way across the lava

And then it comes, a second
overpass that’s downhill and not as bright as the one before and still when we
stop and I squint into the distance I see them, or the lack of light behind
their silhouettes. The beefy beasts, with head signals and yet there still isn’t
a bloom among them. They’re just watching the light parade.

“Come on,” I hush out and grab the
girl’s arm. We are tired of remaining close but then we remember our theory
that the things are going for crowds and ones. But we still haven’t figured out
why they cornered the man on the bridge, only that he escaped the darkness. We’ll
have to enter the light but not as bright as the one before. I veer the girl to
the left. She whips her head around to the left and scans the skies. I do too.
And just for fun, I look ahead, north and east as well. The scanning makes me
stumble over my now damaged bare feet but regain my footing. Shoes are good
This random thought blows through my mind. Not a good time for meaningless

I need focus. I need to get us out
of this. I need shoes,
think again as I stumble and skin my right toe, again.

Then the girl does something I don’t
expect. She flings my arm away and starts hauling ass in front of me with her
head turned back and wide eyes looking above my head.

I don’t even look back. I know what’s

What she doesn’t know, is that shoes
or no shoes, I can outrun her skinny legs. And I too, pick it up but I can’t
help myself. It’s like those times when you were a younger man camping with
your best mate out. And you tell him, you need him as bear insurance policy and
when he asks what that means, you shove him forward with a smile, so he gets a

Would the balloon land on her as I
get away?

I couldn’t do it.

I hauled her up in my spare arm as
I ran faster. My kindness might doom me but for this girl, I’ll take the risk
for now. She is a liability but then again, had she not startled, I would not
have known we were being trailed by the bully. I say bully, because I’m hoping there’s
only one and not a swarm of them like before.

She seems to sense this question when
we’re halfway over the highway and says as I jostle her midsection. “It turned
back.” She squirms from my grasp.

I’m confused. Why would it do that?
I turn back as I set her down and see too that the death maker is bored of the

Good riddance, asshole. I can’t
help but think in curse. This scenario would make the Pope swear.

“Let’s go,” she says impatient.

And I quirk an eyebrow at the gray
and move along to the other side of the highway scanning the skies on all
horizons like a paranoid squirrel. Maybe there’s more waiting for us on this
side. Maybe the last one was just handing us off to his buddies hiding behind the
darkness of the careless cows.

What? It could happen. Anything’s
possible now.

But as I look in the less dim
light, I only see more cows across the way over a barbed wire fence. Which I
note: That’s gonna be fun… As for the cows, some of them are standing in groups
watching the crazy human action with mild curiosity and others are lying down
chewing their cud as humanity comes to an end without a care in the world.

What they don’t know is that this
is on them too… what happens to the feeder… happens to the herd. Or at least
that’s what’s rolling through my mind as we scurry up a slight embankment while
I check our six again and boost the girl up at the same time. Still nothing.

She runs ahead to the wire line,
and I have yell ahead but then regret using my voice. We have to stay as one to
avoid any detection and at the moment we are two. Or at least that’s our literal,
‘running theory’.

She retreats.

“Hold up,” I say as I slow my pace
over bush and bramble. We’re no longer on the glass strewn road or tarmacs. Again,
we’re on unknown footing and some of the terrain has burs and stickers. I note
to myself, I’m a wimp without shoes and yet a Spartan with them. Assuming Spartans
wore shoes, and if not, I’m a wimp again.

These inner ramblings, I cannot
stop it seems while I’m taking refuge from livestock.

Then after more scanning, we do
that odd thing and nod at one another without a word, the girl and I. A silent
agreement that this is our plan. We’re joining the safety of the Night
Angus. I set my case down and take off my jacket and wrap it over the low pocky
wire and take my bloody foot and step down while pulling up on the top wire.

The girl slips through and then I
too cross the line and reverse the steps. With my jacket now in place, I make
sure I still feel my link to Em and grab my bag.

The girl is waiting close by standing
guard and that’s when I realize too in the dim light that she has also lost her
shoes somewhere along the way. I suddenly feel guilty for complaining to myself
about myself.

“Come on,” I whisper.

She resists.

I’m scanning wildly.

“Do they bite?”

The cows.

She means the cows. As if they are
a bigger threat than the bloom.

“No,” I scoff. “At least I don’t
think so.” But honestly, I’m not really sure.

She doesn’t budge.

“Look,” I show her my palm. I’m not
sure why. “It’s not like they’re going to set you on fire.”

That seems to work because she nods
and unroots.

We stay together and give the cows
a wide berth. A few of them make a noise and the girl jumps. I might have
jumped a little, too. But we head for the barn, or the overhand, whatever it’s
called. I assume that’s where they feed these guys.

And before we reach the entrance,
we turn back and scan the sky again but both of us are instead transfixed on
the glowing horizon. And our mouths slack open just a pinch because our brains
need the extra neurons to process the destruction our eyes are taking in.

From our rise, what we see is
scorched earth and what looks like a few tiny ants are scattering as grays drop
more blooms.

I touch her back, “Come on. Let’s
find out what’s going on.”

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