The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
The Blue Tie
by R.A. Clarke
Just up ahead sat a railroad tie, painted blue to mark salvation. Beneath it lay a key to safety—to Orion—one of humanity’s last surviving strongholds in the area… maybe the last one. We’d lost radio contact with the others a few days ago, fearing the worst.
Four of us set out on a scavenging raid early this morning—my sister, Kathy, two friends, and I. Now, as dusk claimed the sky, my gut ached knowing I’d be the only one returning home.
Though something else seemed determined to come along.
The Takers first arrived two years ago. Strange bio-mechanical pods had rained down from the sky, bearing countless skittering beasts. Insectile legs supported fist-sized tapered thoraxes, their very skin fused with chrome-like shards. They swarmed, penetrated our bodies, then withered… leaving remnants behind to transform their new hosts.
I glanced over my shoulder down the long-overgrown tracks. In the distance, appeared a lithe female form. The same pursuer who’d been tracking me ever since we—I fled Craten, Orion’s closest town. Her silhouette appeared shrouded by mist, giving her the eerie appearance of a risen spectre. Exhausted and hungry, my eyes blinked hard against the failing light, wanting to believe it was only an illusion. But I knew better.
That creature following me was no ghost or hallucination. I had to move.
Crouching low over the tracks, I dug my fingers into the ground on one end of the blue railroad tie. The horizontal wood plank supported the parallel steel beams, its face pitted and cracked. Pushing rock and dirt aside, I ignored the sweat dripping off my brow as I searched. Finding nothing, I swiftly switched to the other end. Please let it be here. It has to be here. A grimace twisted my expression. Unless someone else got here first…
Keeping one eye on my pursuer, I dug with renewed vigour. My fingers wrapped around something soft. I pulled it out, brushing the dirt away as I stood. Yes, I said a silent prayer, clutching the tiny pouch within a white-knuckle fist.
I took off down the track.
The figure was much closer now, her wide eyes staring after me with determination. But she’d never catch me. She walked in my direction with her head tilted and strides sloppy as they tended to be so soon after the taking. At least until they built their own infrastructure within the body.
She was still alone—a blessing.
Soon, I’d be out of reach, locked safe behind the tunnelled gates of Orion.
Sweeping through several abandoned yard sites, a facade for a cult commune before the invasion, I targeted the home with blue cracked paint bearing our mark: an “H” surrounded by a ring of circles. It represented how humanity banded together with one goal: survival.
I entered the structure, ran down the stairs, and pulled back a rug concealing a hatch on the basement floor. Hidden beneath lay a sprawling network of underground tunnels. After prying the pouch from my hand, I pulled out the silver key, a copy of the one Kathy hid when the Takers ambushed us.
Unwanted images flashed before my eyes. Takers surging from the treeline. Scott and Jerry getting dragged off. The resolve in Kathy’s sea-blue eyes as she pushed me away, sacrificing herself so I could escape. Her screaming face before a Taker’s mouth clamped over hers, transferring one of its metallic parasites. It happened so fast—too many in one place. A trap…
I couldn’t fail her now. Someone had to warn Orion the enemy was coming. Somehow, the Takers knew where and when we’d be scavenging. I worried it had everything to do with our other strongholds falling silent… If they’d been infiltrated, the Takers would’ve absorbed their memories.
I had to save Orion—to preserve what remained of humanity. I had to try. My sister would’ve tried… A tear slipped down my dirty cheek as I twisted the key into the lock.
I descended the steps, pulling a string to move the rug back over the top as the hatch locked behind me. With my flashlight on, I proceeded to the bottom, then crossed a small room. A sturdy metal door sat at the far end. I rapped my knuckles over the rusted surface five times fast, then let out a low whistle.
I repeated the signal, but still nobody answered. There should be an Orion guard at the door. Where’s Gavin?
Icy fingers of fear clutched at my core.
The muted slam of a door reverberated overhead. Someone was in the house.
No, no, no.
I rapped and whistled, louder.
Something scraped at the hatch. But they don’t have a key. That fact bought me some time. But not much.
“Come on, answer!” I hissed.
Finally, a single knock sounded from the other side of the door. The hefty lock clunked open, and the door swung wide.
Gavin stood there, and I smiled, relieved. But he didn’t smile back. He stared at me with determined eyes, his head tilted. Then he lumbered forward, a mucous covered parasite already straining through his lips.
“No!” I slammed my flashlight into his head and pushed the door shut. I spun, pulling out my knife, knowing I’d have to fight my way back through that hatch.
I can do this…
But my bravado fizzled as quickly as it flared. There, at the base of the stairs, stood the lithe figure who’d been following me. The woman’s sea-blue eyes bore into mine as three more Takers followed her down the steps. There were too many.
She dangled a silver key from her fingertip. No.
The door creaked open behind me.
“Please don’t. This isn’t you…” I begged.
My sister’s head tilted further, her body twitching violently. Then she lurched forward with mouth open wide.
Fiction © Copyright R.A. Clarke
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from author R.A. Clarke:
Oh, That’s Good…
Plucked from the mind of multi-genre short fiction author R.A. Clarke, these original speculative fiction prompts are sure to inspire and spark your creative flame. From dark to light, quirky to horrifying, there’s a little something here for everybody. You’re cordially invited to sift through the pages; take your time, pick and choose… or, if you’re feeling brave, take the 52-Week Challenge. Just spin, switch, expand, elevate, and transform these concepts into your own, then jot down those shiny new plotlines in the handy note sections provided. Oh, and don’t forget to have fun while you’re at it. So, are you ready to dive in and write that next great story?