Walking down 2nd avenue, she couldn't help but notice all the children. Parents were walking their kids to school, to daycare, some were being pushed in a stroller. She pitied them. "Protect them from themselves, Protect them from each other, and Protect them from the wrath of God", she whispered to herself. She wasn’t religious, but held a faith of her own, believing the universe itself was alive and that everyone was a part of it; that everyone deserved to be safe and happy. She wished as much on most people she met.
The heat was sizzling off the sidewalk, the asphalt-paved streets, even the buildings were radiating warmth. A drop of sweat trickled down her temple, dark patches forming under her arms, across her back and between her breasts as she wiped her brow with the back of her hand. "A dragon sleeps beneath the city," someone once told her, and the memory came back suddenly.
Just then she noticed people ahead of her stopped, staring upwards, shielding their eyes and pointing toward the sky. She felt static surge across the tiny hairs on her forearms and heard a strange buzz rising in her ears like a thousand wasps unleashed. She turned around and looked up and saw a red fireball streak across the sky, leaving a billow of dark smoke in its wake. It crossed the narrow gap between buildings, and disappeared. That was when she heard the explosion...
The air shook with the force of the shock wave. Everyone fell to the ground as screams rent the air. Glass windows blew out and shards flew everywhere, cutting indiscriminately as they rained down after the blast wave had passed. Thankfully, she was standing against an apartment building, waiting for the m15 to arrive and had avoided most of the debris. As she regained her footing she noticed others who weren't so lucky: people on both sides of the street were shouting, moaning, and crying incoherently. There was blood everywhere, some of the people weren't moving.
She looked around, dazed and confused, her vision was slightly out of focus and it took her a moment to understand what she was seeing. They're dead, she thought to herself, as she noticed elderly bodies unresponsive to shakes and gentle taps from other survivors. The children she had wished protection to moments ago were still on the sidewalks, blood seeping from their ears, eyes and mouth. Time slowed to nearly a standstill, cars and trucks were frozen in place all down 2nd avenue, with people staggering out of their vehicles.
She felt a wet tingle from her left ear, reached up and looked at her hand, her fingers were tinged with blood. She took a quick assessment of herself, her head was fuzzy and she felt a little nauseous, whether from the impact or the scene surrounding her she could not say. She had some minor scrapes on her knees where she had fallen, her right shoulder and upper arm were a bit bruised, but there were no major cuts, nothing was broken, and she could stand and walk. She opened her backpack and took out an extra tee shirt, dabbing away the blood on her ears.. In front of her a young boy was crouched next to a young man, pleading.
“Dad, get up...” between sobs. She went to him instinctively, and saw his father was gashed across face and neck with glass, lying in a pool of dark red blood.
“Hey there, are you okay?” she asked, seeing that the boy appeared mostly unharmed.
“Ya...” he wiped some tears away with the back of his hand, “But my dad won’t get up. He’s bleeding.”
“Let me take a look, I’m a doctor.” She did have her PhD in Molecular biology, but her knowledge of medicine was limited to basic first aid. “I want you to go stand next to the building in that doorway. It’s safer there. What’s your name?”
“Collen.” he replied, as he warily stepped backwards to the archway of the apartment building she had just been standing against. She took another look at the boys father, rolling him on his back, careful to keep herself between his body and the boy. Leaning over she checked to see if he was breathing and wasn’t surprised when she found no breath, nor pulse. She searched his pockets and found his keys and wallet. As she put them into her pockets, she took her extra shirt and put it over the man’s head and face.
“I’m sorry...” she paused, stopping before Collen, not knowing what to say. His eyes welled with tears but he seemed to understand without the words.. “There’s nothing we can do for him now and I need to get you somewhere safe. Is your mom here in the city? Where do you live?”
“No, she lives in Phoenix, it’s just me and dad. Our place is just around the corner, 315 56th street between 1st and 2nd, apartment 12J.” he said, pointing south.
“My name is Hally, but everyone calls me Hal. Let’s go to your place and get you cleaned up and call your mom, okay?”
“Okay.” Collen took her hand and then started walking south toward his apartment. Hal had no idea what she was doing, but she felt she needed to get him off the streets. They had made it a block when the remaining survivors screamed and started running. Hal didn’t have time to react before a bright flash engulfed her vision, no sound accompanied the blast and after the flash faded she scooped Collen up and pressed him against the nearest building, shielding him with her body. No impact came, no explosion, but she felt the heat and electricity of the flash tingling across her skin. She reacted instantly, when there was no shockwave, no immediate threat, she kept the boy hoisted against her and started to run toward his apartment. That’s when she noticed the bodies of the fallen starting to stir.
She took no time to stop, but saw bloodied bodies twist and retch violently. Some of them spewed vomit and shook as if they were racked by a seizure. An elderly man with blood oozing from his eyes was on his hands and knees before her, coughing up an indistinguishable mixture of blood and half digested food. He raised his face, and she saw his eyes were glazed over, bloodshot, dark and empty. He tackled two women helping each other down the street who had just been passing him, clawing and biting at one while the other screamed and kicked trying to get him off her companion. Running past, Hal kicked him hard on the side, sending him sprawling a few feet away. “RUN! She shouted to the women.” Not sparing a second glance.
Surrounding her were similar scenes of grotesquery. The fallen had risen and were attacking anyone who was within reach. She felt her skin tingle, and a warmth coursing through her veins. With each step she gained more confidence, Collen seemed lighter, time slowed again and she was able to calculate the safest route across the avenue without encountering any of the zombies.
Zombies... she thought, as she bounded over cars, between monsters and their victims. She made a sharp left onto 56th street and there before her was pack of them mauling someone on the ground who was still sending shrill screams into the air as he was being torn apart. Hal found herself filled with rage, with a desire to protect the small boy in her arms, she had taken some Tae Kwon Do in college, but nothing prepared her for this. She felt a force rising in her chest, the air around her shimmered as she reached out with her right hand and flung the creatures clear across the street without understanding how. They crashed into cars and smashed into the concrete and glass walls of the opposing building. Stunned or destroyed, she wasn’t sure, but it gave her the time she needed to move.
Still holding Collen, she pushed through the doors in the lobby and that’s when she noticed the power was out. Casting her view around the entryway she found the door for the stairs and ran up them two, three or four at a time. Her stamina never wavered, and she reached the twelfth floor in a time frame she would have thought impossible. She put Collen down outside of the door, pulled out his father’s keys, unlocked the door and moved inside.
“What’s happening?” Collen asked.
“I’m not sure. I think some of the people...” she paused, unsure how to explain things to a small child.
“Yeah, something like that. And something else, I feel stronger. You saw how fast we came up those stairs? I didn’t even break a sweat.”
“You’re like a superhero. You saved me.” He smiled at her.
Hal laughed, “Maybe, let’s call your mom.” Hal pulled out her cell phone and they tried to dial Collen’s mom. There was signal, but the lines were jammed. “Let’s try again in a little bit. Why don’t we go to your room a pack an adventure bag. We’re going to have to get out of the city and I’m going to have to get you back to your mom, so it’ll be like an adventure. Empty out your backpack, let’s pack some clothes for you.”
They went to Collen’s room, it was small but cozy. He had a little desk, a dresser and a shelf full of action figures. There was a chest at the foot of his bed, and some 3 plastic crates stacked atop one another, holding clothes and shoes. It was well-organized and clean. Hal helped him pack the clothes he would need for the journey and then they went back into the kitchen and tried the phone again.
This time they were able to get through. Collen spoke to his mom and told her about his father. He mentioned the pretty lady that saved him and how they’re going to get out of the city and meet her. That’s when Collen handed her the phone.
“She asked for you.”
“Thank you so much. What’s your name miss?”
“Hal, no problem. He was right in front of me when the explosions hit. Any word on what’s happening? There’s no power here.”
“Space rocks is what they’re saying. Comet debris or something. There’s strange reports of people turning into... gosh I feel silly saying this...”
“Zombies. It’s true. We’ve seen them. They’re attacking people on the street. We’re safe here in your son’s apartment, but we can’t stay here. I have a sister in the city, our Plan B is to meet at my apartment 24 hours after some major happens and get out of the city. Our folks live in Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia. I can give you their address, if you can fly into Philadelphia we can meet there.” Hal said.
“Oh my. Please keep him safe. I’ll get on the next flight out. By the way, my name is April, and thank you for everything.”
Hal relayed the address and handed the phone back to Collen so he could say his goodbyes. After he hung up, he handed the phone back to Hal and she dialed her sister.
The phone lines were jammed again. Hal tried a few more times before giving up in frustration. She sat down with a sigh and held the phone in the palm of her hand. Remembering how she flung the group of zombies across the street, she focused on the phone. She felt it wobble a bit and then it lifted clear into the air, a few inches above her palm. It hung there, rotating slowly. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
“Wow!” Collen shouted. The phone plopped back into Hal’s hand as her concentration broke. “That’s a cool trick! You are a superhero. Told you so.” He said with a smile.
“I’m not sure what’s happening kiddo. Whatever made those people monsters must have affected the survivors. You might be super too...” Collen’s face lit up at the suggestion. He ran into his room and came back with one of his action figures. Carefully, he placed it on the coffee table and sat down on the ground so his eyes were level with it. His face scrunched in concentration, but after a few seconds he gave up when nothing happened.
“Oh, I don’t think so.” He said with a resigned tone.
“Maybe you have a different ability, don’t give up so easily. Let’s gear up and get back to my place.” She had Collen put on his skateboarding helmet and took a heavy leather jacket from the hall closet. Just wearing something to protect them felt right. Hal scavenged in the kitchen for any food they could carry with them. She put some cold cuts and fruit into Collen’s bag for him, but she wasn’t that worried about food since her apartment was stocked. She gave her powers a quick test, lifting the chairs and coffee table in the living room and gently lowering them again. She felt like she was starting to get the hang of it.
“That’s so cool....” Collen said amazed.
“Let’s hope it’s enough to keep us safe. Come on, we should get going.”
They climbed back down the stairs and Hal cracked open the door to the lobby, there was a man covered in blood and dust bent over a corpse blocking the entryway. For a split second she thought he might be trying to help, but then she realized the man on top was eating the one below. She let the door close gently and whispered to Collen, “Stay here, I’ll be right back.”
“No, I want to stay with you...”
She thought for a second, “Alright, it’s probably best if you stay close anyway. Stick behind me and if I tell you to run you do it, okay?”
Collen nodded his reply.
Hal opened the door and stepped lightly into the lobby with Collen on her heels. The zombie ignored them and continued munching on his meal. As they moved closer, they avoided pools of blood on the ground and Hal realized it would be impossible for them to pass unnoticed. She reached out with her hand and felt her force clench around the zombie’s head and neck. It was surprisingly easy to lift the creature straight up off the ground, it thrashed and snarled as it floated in mid-air, unable to find any sort of physical purchase.
“Dinner’s canceled ugly.” Channeling her disgust and revulsion Hal tossed the creature into the far wall, its body slammed into the marble facade with such force that it cracked and split the wall, leaving the mangled remains halfway lodged inside.
She took Collen’s hand and led him out the front door and cut right down the street toward the west-side.
They crossed second and third avenues without incident, avoiding small packs of zeds that were occupied with flesh-meals. At Lexington there were a few walkers stumbling around and as they crossed the avenue one took note and hurriedly stumbled towards them moaning. Hal knocked him off his feet by pushing out his legs and watched as he face-planted into the asphalt. By that point, three more had taken notice and came at them from the north. One moved very quickly, scrambling across the ground on his arms and legs like a rabid animal. He looked to be a young man, or at least he was a young man, before. Gore dangled from his face and a frenzied look consumed his dead-eyes. Hal stopped on the north-west corner of the street and lifted him high into the air, she sent him flying back the way they had come and he tumbled through the air crashing somewhere down the block. The remaining two she force-pushed up Lex, sending them crashing into the empty cars still clogging the street. The ruckus was enough to draw attention from the undead lurking in the area and they perked up and moved towards Hal and Collen en masse.
Hal saw small group after group turn and amble towards them. She scooped Collen up off the ground and ran westward with him over her shoulder as the horde assembled and followed. For the first time Hal was struck with fear. Her newfound ability had given her confidence, but now the sheer number of undead seemed threatening. There’s so many... she thought to herself. The run to Park Ave was short, but when she got there things were eerily quiet. Seeing the pack of zeds behind her, she couldn’t afford to take things slowly, and bolted across the street still carrying Collen. She jumped over a car, bounding off its hood, past a truck and barely noticed the scores of bodies littering the street. She lowered Collen to the ground and telekinetically pushed the cars and trucks together forming a makeshift barrier.
“That should slow them down.” She said, finding herself unfazed by the effort. Collen tugged at her sleeve and when she looked, she saw what had drawn his attention. From out beneath a UPS truck in front of them a dark, four-legged creature emerged. Its thick fur was matted with brown splotches of dried blood and dust. Its eyes were dark pits amidst tufts of light brown fur, and as it crawled into the daylight, it opened its mouth, distending it beyond what should have been possible. Rows of white teeth lined its mouth and as it moved the fur rippled and writhed as three, furry tentacles unravelled and extended around its body, each tipped with a three-pronged pincer.
“It kinda looks like a dog...” Collen observed.
The three tentacles shot across the space dividing them in an instant and slammed into a wall of force Hal projected in front of them, holding up her right hand defensively.
She noticed more dark forms emerging from under other vehicles and alleys, some larger and some smaller than the first. More came out from the shops and buildings that lined the streets. They looked like twisted malevolent cats and dogs, or what once had been a cat or dog. Each had its body grossly mutated with fur missing or in patches, some of them had tentacles, and all of them were crawling towards Hal and Collen.
“What the....” Hal’s jaw dropped, astonished. She focused on the nearest one and crushed it with a thought. Two more approached, jumping and running toward them. She picked them up and sent them flying backward until they vanished from sight. More and more emerged, and she saw others climbing along the sides of the buildings near her. Lifting both her hands she projected a solid bubble of force around the two of them. The horde of zombies was working its way over the barrier of cars and wasn’t far behind. She held the bubble and flung one or two away, crushed another, but still more and more came. The mutated animals began to drop down onto them, pummeling the field with tooth and claw. Collen grabbed Hal’s leg, preferring to hide his face in her side. She continued to crush, toss and slam the creatures every which way but it wasn’t enough. There seemed to be an endless supply, whenever she destroyed or repelled one, three more would materialize from their surroundings. When she felt the bubble fluctuate she stopped trying to attack them and just focused on maintaining the wall. The stench of their rotting flesh filled her nostrils. Their moans, hisses and cries filled the air, a cacophony of chaotic angry noise. They pounded on the bubble, and began to pile atop one another. Their forms had partially buried the force-shield and Hal was slowly being filled with despair as she saw no way out. The external pressure continued to build, sweat dripped down from her temple. She looked down at Collen and apologized, “I’m sorry kiddo...” Not knowing what else to say or do.
Just as she felt the bubble fluctuating, near collapse, another foreign force encapsulated her own. A man’s voice shouted from above, “Hold on and keep that shield up!” Hal looked up and saw a man floating in mid-air, he had shoulder-length straight black hair and black trenchcoat that billowed around him like smoke in the wind.
Hal focused all her attention on crystallizing the energy surrounding them. At first, the man’s shield felt tight around her own, but as she focused, the two layers fused and wove together forming an impenetrable wall of force.
“Might want to close your eyes, it’s about to get really bright. Now!” he yelled. Hal watched as tendrils of orange flame erupted from the monsters, first one and then another, before long they were all burning, consumed by a sea of fire that rose like a swelling tide. The mutants howled and roared as they were ripped apart. The flames moved like liquid, flowing over their bubble. Hal felt no heat, but the conflagration had completely consumed their bubble, bathing them in fantastic hues of red, yellow and white.
“Beautiful...” she whispered, before shutting her eyes involuntarily to protect them from the intensity of the light. When the light began to fade she opened them again and saw collapsed heaps of charred flesh, black smoke drifting off their corpses. The street and buildings surrounding them, as well as the vehicles were all covered in black soot.
She released her hold on the shield, “It’s okay Collen, we’re okay.”
He blinked his eyes and looked up. “What happened?”
“Someone saved us.” She said, nodding toward the man floating above them. He lowered himself to the ground in front of them.
“Are you two okay?” He asked.
“Fine, thanks to you.” She looked down at her arms, “I even got a tan.”
He laughed, “Glad we could help. I’m Adam, my roommate Jarrod is up on the roof above us. He’s the firestarter. I’d be happy to make introductions, if you don’t mind, I’ll lift us up there. It’s a bit safer.”
“We’re gonna fly?” Collen asked with wide-eyes.
“You bet buddy.” Adam replied. He extended his hand toward Hal with a warm smile on his face. She took his in hers and felt a tingle as they connected. Their eyes met for a moment and Hal felt a feeling of familiarity. He was obviously of Asian descent, Hal guessed Korean by the faint mocha hue of his skin. He’s cute, she thought to herself. She reached for Collen’s hand as well and together the three of them floated upwards into the sky.
They touched down on a building nearby. “That... was... AWESOME!” Collen exclaimed. “Did you see all those monsters? They just blew up!” His excitement was palpable. “There was like a million of those things, and Hal wouldn’t let them touch us and then that fire was everywhere. I can’t believe it. Can we do it again?” He looked up at Hal, his childish face radiant with glee.
Hal laughed and took a knee so she was level with him, “I think we’ll get the chance again before we leave the city. We don’t need to go tempting fate.” Hal smiled at him realizing they weren’t alone. She looked up and made eye contact with a tall man, he had brown eyes, shaggy blond hair and a handsome face. The smile he flashed suggested he knew it all too well.
“This is Jarrod.” Adam said.
“Pretty amazing huh?” Jarrod said, as he extended his hand wisps of flame trailed up his arm. Hal shook it firmly without hesitation.
“Thank you.” She said, not unkindly. “Thanks for your help, both of you.” She looked at Adam and smiled. “This is Collen.” He stood up straight and smiled proudly.
“Your son?” Jarrod asked suggestively.
“No,” She looked at Collen and felt a mixture of sympathy and affection. “He’s my friend.”
“Hal saved me after the explosion, she’s awesome. She can move stuff with her mind, has like, super-strength and she’s the most beautiful girl in the world. I don’t know what I would have done if she hadn’t found me after I lost Dad.” His eyes and voiced dropped off as he remembered his father’s death. Adam jumped in changing the subject.
“We’re roommates,” he said, referring to Jarrod, “we started killing these things once we realized we could. You’re telekinetic as well?”
“Yeah, I mean, I guess, I can move stuff with my mind like Collen said.”
“I’m not sure, I ran up a dozen flights of stairs carrying Collen and wasn’t even winded. Haven’t tested it out yet.”
“You might have subconsciously augmented your physical ability with your telekinesis. Interesting. We seem to have the same power.”
“But, you can fly.”
“Sure, so can you. You haven’t tried it?
“It’s easy, just relax and gently lift yourself like you would anything else. I root my ability on my skeletal structure and move that. It’ll give you the most maneuverability and stability.”
Hal looked at Collen nervously and he nodded her on. Jarrod was snapping his fingers emitting sparks, idly entertaining himself.
“Careful kiddo, Adam thinks everything he can do is easy.” He said without looking up. She tried to ignore him and focus on Adam’s instructions. She took a deep breath and focused on her skeleton and lifting it just a tad. Gradually her feet lost contact with the rooftop and once she was a few inches up she lost her concentration, wobbled and fell onto her hands and knees.
“Ouch,” she laughed. “This is so weird.”
“Beats building web-pages.” Adam grinned at her. “You just need practice, it’s incredibly freeing once you get used to it.” He floated a few feet off the ground.
Hal tried again and this time managed to maintain herself awkwardly in the air. She was semi-standing with a forward lean she couldn’t seem to straighten out. “Well this will make it easy to get out of the city. We were going to my apartment first, my sister might be there, and Collen’s mother is going to meet us at my folks place outside of Philly. Y’all are welcome to come with us.
“We’re the only ones killing these things, we should probably keep at it... It’d be terrible if any of them escaped the island.” Adam reflected.
“We’ve killed a lot so far, we‘ll probably end up taking out some more on our way out. I think we should stick together, we haven’t seen any other survivors, we can protect them.” Jarrod added.
“Can we fly again? Please?” Collen begged.
“Sure buddy.” Adam replied. A low rumbling shook the rooftop as a giant tree rapidly grew above the skyline to the north.
“What the hell?” Jarrod cursed.
“Could be another survivor... shall we?” Adam asked, looking at Hal. She, in turn, looked at Collen with concern. “It’ll be okay. I can keep us all away from danger.”
“Alright. Let’s do it.”
Adam lifted all four of them easily and they flew in formation. Hal was between Jarrod and Adam with Collen above and behind her. Adam arranged them. They aimed straight for the giant tree. It towered above the skyline, dominating Central Park. They flew over buildings and witnessed similar scenes of devastation again and again, abandoned cars and trucks littered the streets, fires burnt and smoked in them and the buildings. Adam took them high enough to see the impact crater. “That’s where it exploded.” He pointed toward Times Square.
“Fitting. Right?” Jarrod joked.
Hal looked across the open sky and saw a circular gap in the buildings below. Times Square was a smoldering steel skeleton of it’s former self. Everything was covered in grey ash, and smoke still drifted lazily from below.
“Oh my.” Hal covered her mouth in shock.
“Once Adam had us airborne we went to check it out.” Jarrod added.
“It doesn’t seem like it actually hit the ground. There’s no actual impact crater. What it looks like happened was that it exploded, mid-air, rendering that city-wide shockwave. It must have killed millions, instantly.” Adam said cooly. He could see discomfort across Hal and Collen’s faces and turned them toward the tree. “Collen, spread out your arms. I’m gonna teach you how to fly.”
They hovered for a second more and then Adam moved them off toward the tree. They went from leaning forward to lying horizontally as they picked up speed. Collen whooped loudly as the wind rush past his face. Hal kept looking for undead or mutated animals but she didn’t see any.
“There’s no creatures anywhere.” She shouted through the wind. Adam pushed his right hand outward and grabbed a ball of nothing, as he clamped down the wind brushing past them cease completely. The air itself stopped moving, even though they continued on. Collen was mid-whoop when the wind cut out and became suddenly self-conscious.
“Easier to talk inside of a bubble.” Adam smiled. “I saw.”
“We probably killed them all.” Jarrod said easily.
“It’s a big city. It’s likely there’s some still out there.” Hal suggested.
“We’ll keep an eye out. Whatever we see, we kill. It’s not like they have a chance.” Adam grinned at Hal. “Try holding yourself up and moving with the rest of us. You should be able to feel the field I’m generating. Just lock yourself in with us.” Hal flashed a little concern, so he followed with, “Don’t worry. I won’t let you fall.”
Hal focused on holding herself up. It proved to be easier than she expected. She was starting to get used to weightlessness and that helped. “You’re right, it is easy, and... incredible.” She said as she grinned at Adam. She moved away from the three others and shot forward a few hundred yards. Adam matched her speed and formed up on her.
“You’re a fast learner.” Jarrod observed. She smiled back and then winked at Collen.
They flew over the entrance to the park and approached the giant tree. It’s limbs were huge, gnarled things covered with leaves and massive vines. It was taller than a skyscraper, thicker than any building in the city, it looked massive and ancient even though it was only a few minutes old, and there was something else...
“It’s moving...” Hal observed. The trunk itself twisted slightly and vines lashed out at tiny black objects that seemed to move in perfect formation around the tree. “You see that?” She pointed at the swarm.
“They’re birds.” Adam reflected.
“So why is the giant-tree attacking the birds?” Jarrod asked. As if in answer, a few of the birds broke off the swarm and made a pass at the trunk. As they watched closely, they saw the birds spew a blast of blazing green liquid which seared and burned the trunk.
At the base of the tree they saw a ring of mutated animals clawing and gnawing on its massive roots.
“This is some weird shit.” Jarrod commented. Hal looked at him disapprovingly, nodding at Collen.
“Oh right. Sorry.” He hastily apologized. “Looks like they’re working together.”
“It would seem so. So far we’ve seen these things behaving wildly, on instinct. It’s possible something is driving them toward the tree. The way they work together though.” He laughed.
“What is it?” Hal asked.
“It reminds me of Starcraft.”
“A videogame. See how they’re coordinated, broken off into small groups, each assigned an individual task? It suggests they’re being micromanaged.”
“Controlled.” She replied.
“I say we help the tree.” Hal suggested.
“I’m in.” Jarrod added, conjuring a fireball in his right hand. The tendrils of flame wisped up his right arm and Hal saw that self-same glow burn behind his eyes.
“Alright. Hal, can you grab and isolate the swarm while remaining airborne?” Adam asked.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Do it. I’ll hold us here and keep us shielded. Jay, once she has them frozen, light em up.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Jarrod replied.
Hal focused on the birds and held her hands before her, as if she was holding a basketball. She realized she could feel their tiny bodies moving through space. She felt them and the space around them and held it in her mind and between her hands, simultaneously. Stop. She thought and suddenly they all ceased moving and hung in the air.
“Now!” Adam yelled.
Jarrod brought his hands together, clapping his empty hand with the fireball. As they connected the fireball burst in a tiny ring around his hands and a huge explosion engulfed the swarm. The force echoed across the park. Adam shielded them from the shock wave, but the mutants on the ground were knocked off their feet. The tree stopped moving, it’s targets gone.
Hal released her hold and the flyers fell from the sky, leaving trails of black smoke as they dropped.
“Score.” Jarrod said. “Nice work.”
“Now let’s get the ones on the ground.” Adam said, but as he did, the mutants below scattered and retreated across the fields into the surrounding underbrush.
“They ran away.” Hal stated.
“We haven’t seen that before.” Adam said
“Who cares? We win.” Jarrod projected fireballs at them which grew as they neared and exploded on impact.
As the tree ceased its defense its vines relaxed. It creaked and groaned as wood parted and grew. The top canopy split open and a branch grew straight up, at it’s tip there was a man, encased in the wood from the waist below. Hal’s quartet floated toward him cautiously. Both Adam and Hal focused on maintaining a defensive bubble. They relaxed a bit when he began to wave at them. He had short-cropped brown hair and his once-long sleeve shirt was ripped to shreds. When Hal looked closely she noticed pieces of bark flaking off his arms and chest.
“Hey There! Thanks for the help. Those things had chased me clear across the east side. Didn’t know what to do when they surrounded me, this just kinda happened.” He gestured toward the tree.
“No problem tree-beard.” Jarrod quipped.
“I’m Hal, this is Adam, Jarrod and Collen.” She introduced them in turn.
“The name’s Jake, and this is El.” A small silver snake wound its way up around Jake’s torso appearing on his shoulder, she licked his ear affectionately. It wound its way up his bicep and coiled along his forearm.
“Nice pet. You need a lift? We’re on our way out of town.” Hal offered.
“Sure, y’all can fly?”
“Sort of, it’s complicated. We can talk about it at my apartment, it’s just south of the park, 57th and 10th. If you can, uhm disconnect yourself from the tree I can lift you up.” She said awkwardly.
“No problem.” Jake said easily. He held his hands aloft at his sides and the wood flowed in layers, receding around him until he stood on a flat platform in torn jeans. He raised each bare foot in turn snapping it free from the tree.
“I’m going to pick you up now, try not to freak out.” Hal warned.
“Whatever you say pretty lady.” Jake smiled at her.
Hal rolled her eyes and jerked him upward to join them.
“Woah, this is weird.” Jake said.
“Weirder than becoming a giant tree?” Adam asked.
“Point.” Jake replied.
As the exchange was happening a dark form tore free from the trees below. It flew up fast behind the group before anyone could notice. Hal screamed as a blast of liquid fire coated the backs of her legs, buttocks and torso. Both she and Jake began to fall. They only dropped a few feet before Adam caught them and Jarrod had vaporized the fell-bird. Hal ripped a small wave of force outward from her self flinging off the strange fire. She screamed again as the pain washed over her and she lost consciousness. Adam formed a bubble around them and took them to Hal’s intersection in seconds.
Adam pulled himself to her, lightly holding her shoulders. She was still breathing. “Hal wake up. You have to stay awake. You’re in shock.” Her eyes blinked open as she took a deep breath. Her face was rife with agony.
“It hurts...” she muttered between breaths.
“Hally!” Collen screamed, reached out for her. Adam moved him over to her and he grabbed her right arm with his two small hands. “Is she gonna be okay?” He looked around at the faces of the men. They all wore grim masks and avoided eye contact, except for Adam. His face was still, with shades of anger. Her entire back-side was singed; mottled with red and black, blood oozed from the wounds. “It’s my fault.” he said quietly.
“It’s no one’s fault bro.” Jarrod said seriously.
“Adam...” she gasped.
“I’m here Hal.”
“Promise me... you’ll protect...” she winced. “Keep Collen Safe. Get him back to his mother.”
“Hey don’t get all last-words on me. I’ve got you telekinetically bandaged. I can keep you like this until we get the real thing.”
“You’ll be okay Hal.” Collen said as if he was praying. The rest watched, harboring their skepticism and slowly a blue-white light sprung up around Collen. It flowed around him like water and coursed across his arms and over Hal. As it made contact with her wounded flesh it healed before their eyes. In a few seconds, it was all over, the light evaporated and Hal’s wounds were gone.
Hal blinked with confusion, “What just happened?” She looked at her back as they rest of them stared onward in disbelief.
“Hally!” Collen shouted before wrapping himself firmly around her waist.
“The kid’s got talent.” Jake said.
“It would seem so.” Adam approved.
“Hah, yeah, no doubt. Collen’s our healer. Pro-level support kid.” Jarrod smiled.
“You gave us a bit of a scare there Hal.” Adam said with a smile. “Nice work Collen.” He beamed happily at Adam.
“You saved me kiddo. You’re super too.” Hal said.
“I’m just happy you’re okay Hally.” He replied.
“Let’s get inside. That’s my place.” Hal pointed out her building.
They landed softly on the roof and climbed down the fire escape and in through the kitchen window. They made some noise as they entered drawing a young woman in from the living room.
“Oh thank God Hal...” she ran to embrace her and Hal’s face showed relief as they connected. As they parted Hal made introductions.
“Everyone this is my little sister, Katelyn, Katelyn this is everyone.” Hal took the time to introduce them individually. They spent the next few hours changing clothes, showering and cooking up a feast of bacon and burgers. Thankfully the gas-range still worked even without power and as they sat down in the living room they swapped stories from the morning. Hal recounted everything they’d been through, making special mention of Collen and how he healed her. Katelyn ruffled his hair appreciatively and then began to tell her story.
“I was coming out of my dorm, on my way to class. As I was walking down the block I heard the first explosion, it sounded massive and the ground shook a few moments after I heard it. I knew something was wrong, so I pulled out my phone to call you and that’s when the second one hit. No sound, but that light, it was so strange. I looked around and I saw that everyone on the street had just stopped, a few people were getting out their phones trying to make a call but most of the folks had these awkward looks like they weren’t quite there. After a few seconds it just got crazy, people started attacking each other, randomly. It was so scary. One woman ran straight at me, jumping at me with a crazed look on her face but it was like she was moving in slow-mo and I just side-stepped her. Then another guy went to grab me and it was like the same thing happened, he moved so slowly I just ducked under his arms and dodged to the side. At that point I didn’t know what else to do so I just started running and that’s when I started to figure it out.”
“What?” Jake asked as he fed El a piece of bacon. Katelyn smiled at him and in a flash she was sitting beside him on the opposite side of the room, a light breeze washed over them all.
“Incredible.” Adam approved. “You’ve got enhanced sensory-motor response.”
“Is that like an STD or something?” Jarrod quipped. Katelyn gave him a dirty look.
“She’s really fast. Like Bruce Lee cubed by the looks of it.” Jake suggested.
“Pretty cool huh? I just ran up here and waited. I was so worried Hal. The streets were chaotic, I saw a pack of dogs or what I thought were dogs going at it against mobs of people.”
“And they were fighting the mutated animals?” Adam asked.
“Yah. Weird huh? I thought you guys said they were working together...”
“Indeed, when they were attacking Jake they were well coordinated, like they shared a hive mind.” Adam added.
“So it’s possible someone out there has the power to control all those creatures? Zombies and mutants?” Hal asked.
“At this point I think that’s the most probable explanation for what we’ve seen.” Adam observed.
“What does it want then? The only thing we’ve seen is violence, it attacks people, randomly.” Jake responded.
“Maybe they’re hungry?” Jarrod said as he bit into a piece of sausage.
“Or threatened. Think about it, as far as we know we’re the only survivors. All of us have some super-human ability and we’ve been killing these things off in large numbers. Whatever or whoever has control has to have taken notice. We’re a threat to its army.” Hal commented.
“Then what’s the end game here? What does it want?”
What do all men with power want? More power... the feminine voice rang through tall their minds with a soft lyrical intensity that left the words echoing inside their heads.
“Uh what was that?” Katelyn asked uncomfortably.
“My apologies. I didn’t realize El could project her thoughts to anyone other than me... until now.” Jake reflected.
“Your snake can talk?” Jarrod asked, incredulous.
“Since the explosion I’ve gotten a few words here and there, mostly warnings or emotions. She saved me from one of those mutant dogs, warning me before I saw it. Gave me enough time to conjure a shield of bark outta the ground. I didn’t think anyone else could hear her, so I didn’t mention it. Didn’t want y’all to think I was crazy. That was, however, her first fully formed sentence and a quote from the Matrix I believe.”
“It’s our favorite movie.” Jake explained.
“Dude you gotta ask her to cut that out, it’s seriously creepy.” Jarrod complained.
“My apologies, I guess she was feeling a little left out.”
“Can I hold her?” Collen asked.
Jake looked at El and they exchanged a silent glance before he said, “Sure buddy, just don’t squeeze her, let her hold onto you.”
Jake stretched out his arm and let El slide into Collen’s hands. She was just over a foot long with shiny silver scales and red eyes. Collen giggled as she wound up and down his arms.
Hal looked at Adam curiously and he shrugged back at her.
“I guess we can add telepathic snakes to the list...” Adam commented.
“What list?” Jarrod asked.
“Let’s see, superpowers, zombies, mutant monsters, asteroid impacts...” Hal counted each off on her fingers.
“Hey, don’t forget giant trees.” Jake reminded them, they all laughed.
Hal got up and went to her room, she came back with a small, portable survival radio. It was powered by solar power and had a hand crank and an LED flashlight on it. “Let’s see if we can get any idea what happening out there.” She put it down and clicked it on, at first there was nothing but static but then she found a station that had someone broadcasting...
“...seem to be migrating toward the west side with a large horde massing at the George Washington Bridge. All bridges and tunnels in the city have been shut down and blocked off, but we’ve had a few of what can only be described as undead, attempt to breach the barricade resulting in police and military officials shooting them down. It’s unclear what these things want, if anything. If you’re just joining us I’m Satirius Johnson for NPR news here on the ground on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. We’re waiting for a brief from General Jack Somerset, he’s the officer in charge of handling this incident which has become a national security matter. Oh here he comes...”
“Good afternoon ladies and gentleman, I don’t have a lot of time but here’s what we know. From our reconnaissance, we’ve determined that every living thing on the isle of Manhattan was killed or converted into these creatures. We haven’t had any incidents reported off the island as of yet, but we are encouraging everyone to evacuate the area immediately as a precaution. We’re also certain that the cause of this disaster was natural in origin and was due to the asteroid impacts from this morning. We’re keeping the island under quarantine and will not allow any of the infected to leave. That’s all I have and I’ll take a few questions.”
“General when you say infected do you mean that the creatures are contagious?”
“We have no evidence to support that conclusion. As yet, our forces have not had a chance to study these creatures up close. Until such time we are treating them as if they are extremely dangerous and will destroy any of them that try to leave the quarantine zone.”
“General, thanks for you time, it seems as if their numbers are increasing rapidly on the other side of the bridge. Is it possible they are preparing some sort of assault on the mainland?”
“It is possible, so far we’ve only seen a few of these creatures testing our defenses. Some have climbed across the bridge’s structure, some have ran across the road directly, other have climbed underneath - all of them were killed by our snipers and officers. If they do attempt a larger assault we are prepared for that and more of our forces are arriving every minute. We have a squadron of F-22s circling the city in rotating shifts that are fully armed with a variety of weapons. Those are supplemented by tanks on the ground, as well as artillery, and we’ve already managed to get a few thousand national guardsmen here who are being armed and briefed as we speak. Right now our orders are to maintain the quarantine and wait for further instructions from the President.
“General, just one last question, is it possible we experience more of these impacts from space?”
“Unfortunately I can’t answer that question and that’s all the time I have.”
“You’ve heard it here folks, if you’re just joining us there’s a military stand-off between a horde of mutant creatures and our armed forces at the George Washington Bridge connecting Manhattan to New Jersey...”
Hal turned the volume down. “Well this is interesting.” Katelyn commented.
“It’s not like it’s our problem...” Jake said.
“With great power comes great responsibility bro.” Jarrod chided.
“The Human Torch does have a point. The armed forces may be hard pressed to combat their numbers without our help. We also have experience fighting these things and information about their organization that could prove invaluable.” Adam reflected.
“We have a kid to think about too though.” Hal said.
“Perhaps you could take Collen and go to your parent’s place. The rest of us can stay and fight.” Adam said.
“I’m not leaving my sister.” Hal retorted.
“I wanna fight the monsters too!” Collen yelled a little too loudly. In a softer voice he continued, “Can we stay and help Hally?”
Hal looked at Adam and said, “I think we should stick together as much as possible, and do what we can to keep Collen away from the fighting.”
“Agreed.” Adam replied.
Hal thought for a minute and said, “Okay, I have a plan...”
Katelyn ran up the west side highway and passed by mobs of monsters without them so much as glancing at her. She moved so quickly that the creatures didn’t have time to react and all they felt was a burst of wind as she tore by them. As she approached the bridge she realized they were increasing in density, clogging up the street. This naturally meant that she would have to use them as stepping stones, so she lept off the ground and bounced from one head to the next. To an onlooker, this looked like a chain of small explosions, each mutant or zombie being pushed into the ground with incredible force. A few of the snipers and scouts took notice.
Katelyn got to the bridge and flashed across its length. She slipped behind the front lines and found an official-looking, large tent which she entered without being noticed. She slowed down to normal speed once she was inside. Around a large table there were several military types, some in fatigues, with a large smattering of police and city officials in business suits.
“Hi there!” She piped up. She was sure to wear some of her sister’s nicest clothes, a slim-fitting silk blouse with dress pants and some black high tops. The men turned toward her, one of the men at the table giving the standard, “Miss you can’t be in here...” and tried to escort her out. She zipped across to the other side of the room, which got their attention.
“Listen, I just need 2 minutes of your time. There’s information you absolutely must know and you have to know it now.” She rehearsed the speech a few times before she left the apartment, she gave them a rundown of the mutants, their hive-mind potential, and the fact that there were six survivors and all of them had abilities. She zipped around a few more times to demonstrate it full enough to the remaining skeptics. Then she laid out their plan.
“You should all be arrested. You have no authority here, but I won’t be the one to waste time or resources trying to stop you and your friends. If you can do what you say you can do I’ll lend you our support in anyway I can.” The General smiled at her before returning to his standard scowl and barked orders across the room to aids and guardsmen.
Katelyn led them outside to the makeshift helicopter landing pad and spun her hand in the air sending up wisps of dust and dirt that could be scene from across the river.
“There’s the signal.” Hal said as she floated with Collen clutched to her back and Adam close beside her. “Good luck.”
“You too, by the way, when this is over, would you want to get coffee or something?” Adam said awkwardly.
“Sure, I’d like that. Your timing sucks by the way.” She smiled back at him.
Adam laughed. “I know. I’m terrible at this. See you soon.” He floated off over the horde as she took Collen across the water to the landing pad. She saw a group assembled around the landing pad. Military folks fully geared out as well as suits and police littered the area. Their awe was palpable as Hal descended from the sky. She landed and let Collen down as the General approached her.
“You must be Hal.” They shook hands.
“Nice to meet you General. I hope we can help.” She offered.
“I’m sure you can, this must be Collen.” He bent down to greet the boy, but Collen hovered behind Hal’s legs.
“He’s a little shy. Katelyn can you take him...”
“Sure, come here buddy.” Katelyn took his hand and they were escorted toward the medical tents to keep him out of the fighting.
The general, Hal and his entourage all walked toward the bridge. “So this plan is your idea?” he said to her.
“Yep. We couldn’t leave all the fun to you boys, we have the same goal. Preventing these things from spreading, and from what we’ve seen it seems as if something is controlling them all.”
“Your sister filled us in. Anyway to find that something?”
“Nope, our telepathic snake can’t zero in on it, we think it’s in the horde, thus the plan.”
“I’m sorry, your what?”
“Don’t worry about it... whatever it is is in that horde, so if we take that out it should kill it.”
Hal stepped onto the bridge and projected a wall of force dividing the bridge. The barrier crossed half-way across the bridge and spread out from there.
“We haven’t seen any of them enter the water, so we don’t think they can swim.” The General added. “We’ve shot a few of them and seen them fall into the water, their bodies decompose rapidly in the river. My eggheads tell me that their molecular structure is extremely volatile or some such. They aren’t stable enough to swim.”
“That’s good.” Hal responded. She felt Adam’s force brush up against her shield. “They’re ready. Are you?” The general pulled out a walkie-talkie and checked that he had clear comms to the rest of his forces.
“Yes ma'am.” He replied.
Hal lifted them both high into the sky, floating several hundred feet above the bridge and camp. From here they could see the sprawl of infected pulsing toward a central point on the other side of the river as well as the military camp, tanks, artillery and personnel all spread out beneath them and occupying the surrounding area.
As they watched, trees and underbrush sprung up around the zombies. On the ground, they came to life, animated by Jake’s thoughts and wishes. Adam was with him on the other side of the river, they found a clear plot of earth up-river. Jake kicked off his shoes and sunk his feet into the dirt. Adam watched as bark sprung up around his feet and roots sprouted deep into the ground. El coiled around his neck like jewelry, connecting them all telepathically.
Jake: Can y’all hear me.
Hal: Loud and Clear.
Jarrod: I see you’ve started the party tree-beard. I’m gonna hit the dance floor.
Jarrod was atop a tall apartment building looking down on the massive horde. When the plants emerged and attacked he saw the creatures pile atop one another creating a massive pile directly beneath him. He took a deep breath and hopped up on the stone half-wall separating the roof from open space and glanced down. Below him plant life lashed, pierced and entangled the creatures from all sides. It was as if an army of trees and bushes rose from the earth to attack the undead. The creatures couldn’t defend themselves from it, and conveniently formed a huge mass directly beneath Jarrod. His eyes began to glow as the afternoon passed into evening. He felt the fire inside himself and in the creatures and in an instant his entire body was aflame, the warmth of it coursed through him and he slowly began to rise into the air on his own accord.
Jarrod: It’s official I’m totally the human torch.
Adam: I figured it was only a matter of time until you were completely flaming. Pun intended.
Hal: Enough joking, fry those things Jay.
Jarrod clapped his hands together and a fiery explosion ripped through the horde of undead. The tendrils cracked and destroyed a lot of the creatures and plants engaged in combat, but the pile beneath him remained, pulsing and writhing as if the creatures were engaged in some sort of fusion. Confused, he moved himself down closer to the pile and threw fireballs at it as he moved. Each collided with it and exploded, but there was no noticeable damage.
Jarrod: Guys we have a problem. This blob thing is fire-resistant. I can’t seem to hurt it.
He clapped his hands again, sending a rippling explosion through the massive super-organism, but it only seemed to infuse it with more energy. It’s tendrils of flesh swam over its structure more rapidly, its size increased and it started producing a churning rumbling noise.
Adam: Move away Jarrod, we don’t know what they’re doing. We need to form up. I’ll meet you on the roof.
Jarrod floated back up to the rooftop and saw Adam waiting there. He was looking off to the east away from the creature below.
Jarrod: Now what Hal?
Adam: We have a new problem.
Adam flashed an image of what he was looking at across their telepathic link. Simultaneously, everyone saw the eastern sky darken above the city skyline. It looked like small, dark clouds were moving in, but as the picture resolved itself each one of them could see several swarms of countless birds. They were moving towards their position, fast.
Jarrod: I got this.
Hal: I want you two to fall back, grab Jake and regroup over here. I don’t like any of this.
Jarrod: Sure thing, once I roast these bird things.
Jarrod flew up to meet them as Hal raised a protest. He ignored her. Once he got close enough to the swarm the birds flew into each other, creating a massive wing-shaped cloud. When Jarrod clapped, fire flowed through it but as before the energy was absorbed, not a single creature fell, it now seemed like they had fused together creating a massive flying object. He watched as a tentacle shot forward, a sharp barb-like structure on its end smashed into an invisible wall inches from his chest. His flames disappeared in a moment of shock and he fell from the sky. Adam caught him and then moved them both off toward Jake’s position.
The winged structure flew into the area and as it glided over the bridge the military opened fire on it. Tracers and bullets filled the sky and collided with the large black object, seemingly having no effect. It circled the bridge once and then lowered itself onto the blob of mutants, covering it protectively. It’s black feathery exterior shifted towards a dark leathery material.
The General was having frantic conversations with someone on the other end of the his walkie talkie. “I need to get down there Ms. Hal.”
“Of course.” She lowered them to the ground.
Hal: Where are you guys.
Adam: Right here.
Adam, Jake and Jarrod floated up from the water’s surface and join Hal on the bridge.
“Well that almost worked.” Jake said.
“We didn’t know they were immune to fire.” Hal said sullenly.
“I think they’re actually empowered by it. When I hit that thing on the ground, and again the one in the air, I felt the fire fuse with them. It should have ripped them apart. I don’t get it. I almost got speared too, only reason I’m alive is because of you bro.” Jarrod clapped Adam on the shoulder.
Adam smiled. “No problem. We watch each other’s back and stick together from here out.”
“No matter what.” Hal said. They watched as two F22 fighter jets tore past them as two thunderous roars ripped across the sky. They banked hard, turned and returned for another pass. Four missiles shot off their wings and raced toward the pulsing black pile of mutant flesh. Moments before impact it solidified and after the smoke cleared, it remained.
The flesh flowed over itself in layers, unfolding like a puzzle. Two black-scaled wings, as big as buildings extended into the air. Red, purple and yellow flesh uncoiled around the base, revealing a massive, thick tail. Its end forming a razor-filled maw that seemed to have a mind of its own. The rest of the creature was revealed as it stood up on two massive legs. It’s flesh was sinuous, as if the beast was made of blood and muscle alone. It had clawed hands and feet and it’s head was a distended animal skull with four prominent teeth dominating its visage. It’s eyes were vacant black voids deep within it’s boney face. It blasted a tortured screech from its mouth, everyone clamped down on their ears as the piercing whine hit their ears.
“Seriously, what the fuck.” Jarrod cursed.
“Looks like those creatures had some potential we didn’t know about, it looks like something out of Resident Evil.” Adam sounded impressed.
“If it has wings....” Hal started.
“It can fly.” Adam finished.
“We can’t let it get away.” Jake said. He walked over to the edge of the bridge and put his hand out over the water. A bloom of lily pads formed on the surface and released shoots which grew up to lightly entangle his fingers. Trees began to spring up around the creature and vines shot off between them lashing it down. The beast screamed and slashed, and destroyed a few, but more were growing to take their place.
Hal looked at the general. “We can’t hold it forever. Do you have any bigger weapons?”
He looked at her sternly and barked orders to his aids. Blasts ripped across the space above them as artillery was unleashed on the beast. The explosions ripped across its flesh but did no damage. Hal heard the thing release a dark barking cough.
“He laughs.” Adam observed.
The creature raised his clawed fists above his head and slammed the ground. The force shook the ground knocked everyone off their feet and causing the bridge to sway heavily. Adam and Hal caught everyone close to them but the bridge was groaning with stress.
“It’s not going to hold!” He leapt lightly into the air and put out his hands, magically the bridge stopped moving and held still.
“We need to get everyone off the bridge. General, pull your people back.” Hall instructed.
Trees grew up from the water and gently clutched the bridge, supporting its superstructure at key points. Jake looked over at her and smiled. The creature roared again and beat its wings down. Wind raced at them but was deflected by a large flick of Hal’s mind.
It’s wings beat again, the trees around it were destroyed, and it flung itself into the air.
“I’ve got one last idea. Keep this area shielded.” Hal said as she jumped into the sky. She raced up to the creature and carved into it, telekinetically. She swam in the space around its head and moved back in order to draw its attention. She backhanded the space between them and the monster’s head was slammed down by an invisible force. It roared and moved toward her. Hal flew off, sending a kick, punch or slash off whenever she found herself a moment ahead. When she was certain it was thoroughly pissed off she dived down toward the river, the creature pursuing her relentlessly. It closed the gap between them and extended a clawed hand toward her. The arm grew and shot itself off toward her just as she approached the water’s surface. She spun off , parallel to the water, pulled up and used all her power to slam the giant beast into the water. It connected with a splash, sending a giant wave out from the point where it connected. Hal was submerged as it rushed past her, but kept herself safe in a bubble of force. She could see the creature before her, it’s flesh smoking and bubbling as he attempted to stand. The water rushed back in below her and connected with the giant monstrosity before it could regain its composure. It roared and shouted as its flesh was dissolved. Eventually it collapsed into the water completely, parts sloughing off and floating away.
Adam: Nice work Hal.
Hal: Thanks Ad. How about that coffee?
An Original Work by Cyre2067.