Written for the Flash Fiction Challenge: Brand New Monster at Terribleminds.
Harris lifted a hand to his head, groaning. Beside him, Sarah rolled over. “Feeling it, are you?” she asked without sympathy. Each word struck like an axe, and synapses screamed.
“Coffee?” Harris asked. One hand scrubbed across dry, gritty eyes, the other twitched on the cover of their bed. His wife snored; too theatrically to be real. Sighing, Harris clambered out of bed, and squinted at the bedroom door. His legs trembled; his tongue, furry and swollen, tasted like it had started to rot in his mouth.
“Shit,” Harris said.
“You kept me up until twenty past four,” Sarah said.
“Sorry, honey.” Harris stumbled to the door, creaked it open and picked his way down the stairs. They had a small house, him and Sarah, but it was clean, homely, and he had never been jealous of his friends as they had moved up the corporate ladder, buying bigger and bigger houses, but spending less and less time in them. Yawning, he went to the kitchen and started changing the filter in the coffee machine. The kitchen table was covered with empty cans. His stomach turned over at the smell of stale beer and he quickly looked out the window.
He saw a body, sprawled halfway down the stone stairs that led down to the road.
Coffee and hangover forgotten, Harris hurried outside. It was Tyler, his head twisted at an unnatural angle. His phone, a blackberry, had slipped from his hand and smashed against the step. Blood congealed around his left ear, and streaked the side of his face. Horrified, Harris pulled his own phone out of his pocket. An old, blocky cell phone that Tyler had mocked him for having last night. “You can’t even check your email on it!”
The phone could still call 911. He dialed, fingers shaking, the numbers blurring before his eyes.
The line was busy.
Stunned, Harris re-dialed and listened, hand shaking, to the same a-tonal busy signal.
“Debra,” he said. Debra lived a few doors down, but she was a nurse, training to become a doctor. He looked again at Tyler, at the stiff, pale, cheek resting against the stone step; a shudder ran through him and he leapt to his feet and charged down the road.
He hammered on Debra’s door. Nobody answered, so he went to the window. The curtains were open.
Inside, Debra sat at her computer, slumped to one side. Her cup had spilled, brown liquid dripped off the edge of the computer desk and onto the floor. A cat sniffed at it. The chair was on wheels, pushed back slightly from the desk. Harris looked at her face. A gaping hole where her eye should be; red, raw, horrific. The other eye stared blankly at nothing.
Harris became aware of the silence.
Sunday afternoons were quiet. But normally you could hear children, playing in the gardens. Lawnmowers buzzing. The steady sound of traffic on the I-28.
His thoughts jumped to Sarah, asleep in their bed.
Spinning, he ran back the way he had come, vaulted Tyler’s body and charged up to the bedroom.
Sarah slept, snug beneath the covers. Harris shook her shoulder, and she cursed as she woke up. Then she listened to his frantic story.
“The radio,” she said.
They didn’t have a TV, they hadn’t bothered to upgrade it when the digital switchover happened. They both preferred to go for a walk, play cards, or enjoy a leisurely meal together than to waste time watching TV, or worse, youtube. The only computer they owned was an ancient PC, an atari. But they did enjoy listening to the radio, and they had an old one in the kitchen. Harris went downstairs first, and drew the curtain so Sarah wouldn’t see Tyler’s body.
The radio crackled and hissed as they turned the dial. Sarah finished making the coffee, and poured him a cup. Suddenly a voice broke through the static.
“If you’re listening–Christ, is anybody listening?–don’t turn on your computer! Throw away your ipads, your blackberries! Anything connected! It came from the internet, understand? Oh god! It came from the internet! There’s nobody left.” Sobbing broke out, crackly, distorted. “I saw it… I saw it… it was like, it burrowed…” Sobbing broke out again, and then the station went dead.
Sarah and Harris stared at each other.
“What are we going to do?” Harris picked up his coffee, looked at it, then put it down again.
“There’s an Amish community about sixty miles west. If we can make it there…” Sarah said. She was pale, but calm.
Harris nodded, went to the window and peeked through the curtains. As he stood there, his stomach went cold.
Little tentacles, silvery-grey and speckled with dots of blue light, were sneaking out of the window of the house opposite. They quested blindly, rubbing at bricks, coiling around the ivy that grew up the side of the house. As he watched, more and more of them started to appear.
Harris tried to imagine how many computers there were, how many internet-TV’s, how many games consoles, smart-phones, tablets, kindles. In kids bedrooms, sitting next to the kitchen table. In offices, in the white-house. In military submarines, and on cruise ships. All across the world.
“Honey,” Sarah said.
He turned to her. She rested her hands on her belly. He looked at the swell of it, and fear blindsided him.
“We’ll make it,” Sarah said. “We have to.”
Harris nodded, and picked up the kitchen cleaver. Fear turned to determination. They would make it.
They had to.