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This is the worst nightmare ever. Swearing silently in my head, I try to inch closer to Jim for fear of losing his grip. He tightens his grip on my hand. For a few minutes, we simply stand amongst the retching creatures, my mind whirring. How far are we from the left turn? How are we going to get out of here?
A roar comes from my left and I jump in fright. The image of Emma with her great tank roaring flashes across my mind. There’s an Alchemist here? But we would have seen the tank!
But there is no time to think. The Retchers start thrashing down the hall at high speed. Their flailing arms slap across my face and torso from all directions. A second roar fills the air and the Retchers speed up. Then, it strikes me – it is Jim who had roared, not the Alchemist. There is no time for us to marvel at Jim’s brilliance. We run down the corridor together with the creatures, hardly keeping up with them. Then, without warning, he pulls me to a left turn and we finally detach ourselves from the group. He pulls me to a stop, pressing me against the wall. We listen quietly, hearts thumping as the mob stampede down the hallway. We walk quickly and quietly down the corridor, hands outstretched. Then the tip of my fingers jabbed painfully into something hard in front of me. Jim opens a door and we sneak out, shutting the door quietly behind us. Fortunately, no other creatures are lurking outside.
The air is fresh on the rooftop. A cooling breeze reminds us of the excrement staining our clothes once more. The helipad is in the middle but something tells us that it would be unwise to loiter in the open. Jim nods towards a stack of crates at a corner and we settle down there, waiting for the chopper to come for us. We sit side by side and gaze at the cityscape stretched out before us. There is a Ferris wheel to the left and cable cars to the right. Some of the lights in the skyscrapers have gone out, indicating the parts of the island that have gone down under the attack of the monsters.
We wait until the familiar deep orange splashes across the sky, the sun rising up and above the skyline. And there it is, the sound of the helicopter arriving. We run towards it, grateful and relieved. But all of a sudden, the door to the rooftop burst open and the mob of Retchers come thrashing towards the helipad, attracted to the sound of the helicopter. Quickly, we climb onto the chopper as two men in pixelated green army uniform buckled us down. The helicopter rises quickly into the air as one of the Retchers lashes out its tongue, hits the door of the chopper and dissolving a hole in it. One of the army men opens fire.
“No, don’t!” I shout, but it is too late.
Its head explodes as it falls back to the ground, black bile spilling out. Seconds later, it reemerges as the Alchemist, its green tank blinding under the morning sun. It roars and the rest of the Retchers charges towards us at top speed, but we are already out of reach. Then, two figures appear at the doorway of the rooftop. Strangely enough, the Retchers back down quietly behind the Alchemist, their arms stop flailing.
“Please, help!” the woman screams.
“Hold it! There’re two more!” one of the army men stops the pilot. “Get the ladder ready.”
“No!” Jim interjects hurriedly, grabbing the man’s arm and stopping him. “She isn’t talking to us.”
We watch, half frightened, half curious, as she pushes Annie towards the Alchemist.
“Help my Annie, please!” she begs.
Annie cowers as far as she can back into her wheelchair, but her mother is pushing her forwards.
“Stop!” I scream. “Someone save her!”
But there is nothing we could do. For the Alchemist’s hand has slammed hard into Annie’s chest and she lets out a scream that sends chills down my spine. Two seconds later, the Alchemist rips out what looks like her heart and she slumps against the wheelchair, dead, blood pouring out her open wound. Then, the Alchemist looks up at us and swallows the heart whole.
I freeze, horrified at what I had just witnessed. Tears are streaming down my face as the Alchemist picks up Annie’s body and walks to the side of the roof. Then letting out its huge roar once more, he tips her over to the bouncing Jesters below. All of them scramble ecstatically towards her, then sink their razor sharp teeth into her flesh, tearing it away from her body.
“No‼!” the woman screams.
But it is soon drowned by the Alchemist’s roar and the Retchers close in on her, salivating. When they retreat, Annie’s mother is shaking on the ground, panting and retching like Johanna did.
The chopper zooms away, leaving Annie’s mother behind as one of them. I close my eyes and held my necklace tight, shivering.
“Are you alright?” the man whose nametag on his uniform says “Alvin” asks.
I nod, unable to speak. They hand us some food and water and we gulp them down within minutes. Then, Alvin takes out a first-aid kit and starts applying cream on our scalded areas.
“Where are you taking us?” Jim queries.
“Back to our air base. We’ve set up a refugee camp there.”
“No, wait,” I cut in. “Can you take me somewhere, please. I am looking for my father.”
“And where is that?”
“Wincon’s Hat Bay, Nijuha Estate. Not far from here.”
“That place has gone down, miss. One of the first few places that got infected,” Alvin informs me. “That area is not safe anymore. There are no survivors.”
I swallow hard at the news. “No,” I say again. “I want to try for it.”
“I am not letting my team land there. We’ve lost men there when trying to pick up survivors before.”
“Please. You don’t have to come with me, I just have to get there. I’ll walk from that refugee camp if I have to.”
Alvin stares at me for a few seconds, then tells the pilot to turn around.
“We’re lowering you down by the ladder. We won’t be landing.”
A while later we arrive in Nijuha Estate. I peer out of the chopper. The streets are dirty, trash cans spilled over, other things burnt and charred, windows broken. I point out my block to them and they lower the ladder while hovering over the rooftop.
“Thanks,” I say to Alvin. Unbuckling my seat belt, I am surprised to see Jim already clambering over to the ladder.
“I’m coming with you,” he declares.
I smile at him gratefully and he nods, disappearing down the ladder. Alvin hands me a backpack as I get out of my seat.
“There’re food and weapons in there, and a phone. Call us and we’ll see if we can get you out of here.”
I nod, thank him again before climbing down the ladder. Jim is already on the ground, poised with a blade in his hand. When nothing comes thrashing out at us, we make our way into the building, walking quietly as the chopper zooms away. The entire place is quiet and not a single soul is in sight. I look down at my burnt palms and am reminded of the Phantoms. Keeping an eye out for any disturbances, I lead the way to my house.
After climbing down four flights of steps, I reach my doorstep home. The door is wide open, newspapers and broken bottles strewn all over the floor. My couch is ripped, slashed presumably by a knife that lay by the television which is cracked down the middle. Slowly, I step into my house, unable to accept what I am seeing. We check all the rooms. Chaos seems to have reigned here before our arrival. The rest of the rooms are in a similar mess – lamps are flipped onto the floor, windows broken, black bile and bloodstains everywhere… Finally when we are sure the coast is clear, Jim closes all the doors and windows. I draw the curtains and then sit on my bloodstained bed. Clutching my necklace tight, I break down into tears. Jim comes into my room and stands awkwardly at the doorway.
“Maybe…” he begins, “Maybe he escaped.”
“He would’ve told me.”
“Maybe he lost his phone like you did.”
I continue sobbing uncontrollably. He walks over and sits himself next to me, taking my hand. “Come on. We fought to come here. Let’s not give up.”
“You know, Jim, maybe that woman was right. Maybe- maybe… I mean. Look at Matt. He was supposed to be dead and then he revived. You saw the leaves of that tree. It was stained with that black stuff on the dagger and it grew leaves healthier than ever. And Em- she became so strong. Maybe it really is for the better-”
“Clare, stop it.” Jim shakes me hard. “We both know that is nonsense.”
I shake my head and stares into his brown eyes. “How do you know?”
There is a moment’s silence, and then his grip on my shoulders lessens.
“I don’t,” he says finally.
A faint snarling in a distance alerts us. We creep to the window and peer out from behind the curtains. Not far away from our block is a canal and the monsters are once again crowded around there.
“What are they doing?” I ask.
We watch them for a while as they climb in and out of the canal, splashing in the water. Whenever they emerge, there is something green in their hands. A full grown monster passes it over to a smaller sized one and it puts the green stuff into its mouth.
“They’re eating,” I whisper.
An Alchemist lumbers into view and turns to climb into the canal. For the first time, the tank looks empty. He reappears a while later, stuffing green stuff into its mouth and the tank starts filling up.
“They’re hungry when they are low on their… ammo,” Jim concludes. “They need to recharge, like a battery.”
“Like us,” I add.
“Stop it, Clare,” Jim says firmly. “They’re not like us.”
The tone in Jim’s voice makes it clear that this conversation is over. I stand up and walk out of the room.
“Where are you going?” he asks, grabbing my hand.
“I’m going downstairs to look for Dad.”
Jim thinks for a moment and did not protest. Finally, he agrees to come with me but not until we are well-rested. We empty the contents in the backpack Alvin had given us. There are two bottles of water, two torchlights, a radio phone, a few packets of biscuits and rations, two air pistols and air pellets.
“What good will these pistols do? Don’t they see that they come in a horde?” Jim asks, looking at the weapons incredulously. But it is better than nothing. We clip the pistols to our belts and eat a few biscuits. When we are ready, we walk to the door quietly and look out of the window. The coast is clear. I step out of the door first, Jim trailing behind me. The neighbourhood looks worse from here than when we were airborne. Units are burnt down and the 7-eleven shop looks like it had been looted. The cashier’s box is open, shelves crashed to the ground. We stuff our backpacks with bread and more water before heading towards another shop. The night is slowly creeping up on us after hours of walking but there is still no sign of Dad. The final hopes I have are slowly dwindling. We know we have to find a place to rest for the night, but many doors and rooms are stained ominously with black bile and blood and we dare not go higher up in the buildings. Snarling and retching noises are growing louder and louder as the sky grows darker. The streetlamps fail to turn on like they usually did.
“Can’t we just go back to that shop to stay for the night?” I say, clinging onto Jim’s jacket.
“The doors and windows are broken. They can get in as easily as we can get out. If we get cornered in there we’re dead.”
Then, a faint glowing light appears in the distance down the winding road that leads to another estate. It is growing larger as larger. The sun dips below the horizon and the retching noises join in. The glow surges towards us, lighting up the Retchers leading the mob. We turn and sprint silently out of the way, but the mob changes direction immediately and heads straight for us.
“Shit! They can see us, Jim!”
The apartment buildings loom into view again as we run back towards Nijuha Estate. But another pack is charging towards us from the front. I pull out the air pistol and fire a few pellets, but the mob just keeps coming.
“No use! Over there!”
Jim points to a dull green metal door under a block. I recognise it at once. It was once a bomb shelter that was transformed into a mini shop underground. Dad and I used to patronise the shop for cheap ice-cream. We run and slam into the door, Jim rattling the handle. But it is bolted shut.
“Shit!” Jim curses and pounds on the door.
Suddenly it swings ajar just a little. Without hesitation, we slide through the small crack slam it shut, bolting the lock. We can hear the creatures outside snarling and retching. The door starts glowing hot with the Phantom’s heat. We back away from it and climb down a flight of steps. Then a torch clicks on to our right, illuminating a pale, ghastly face in the darkness.
The Final Evolution © 2013 by Auby Sparksfield. All rights reserved.
Written by: Ms. Auby Sparksfield
Edited by: Isaac Tan
Click here for Chapter 5