The Swarm

by Jeff Dosser

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

conclusion


Blake moved in, rounding the side of the Chevy. Gun raised, he confronted two men and a woman firing at the Deuce. Blake took aim and fired. His first shot spun the closest man around. The second sent him flying across the hood of the car. The other two spun on him, eyes wide behind their dusty goggles. Blake’s next shots exploded like crimson flowers across the second man’s chest and sent him slamming into a rusty truck bed, his rifle clattering from his grip.

Blake drew a bead on the woman but couldn’t pull the trigger. He’d killed before, especially during the war, but this was a woman, the weaker sex. He hesitated.

The female bandit didn’t suffer the same compunction. Before he could breathe Blake found himself staring into the barrel of her shotgun. He saw the flash, an impact, like a horse’s kick, hit him in the head. Blake landed on his back, gazing up to a dirty sky through a pane of shattered glass. Rolling onto his shoulder, he saw the woman rack the gun and take aim. There was a whoosh of the truck’s flamethrower and the world exploded into light.

Blake curled into a ball and covered his exposed face as a river of flame washed over the cars. He heard the woman’s screams, felt her heavy footfalls as she raced past.

Blake crawled to his knees and saw the bandit stumbling away, wreathed in flames. She didn’t go far before collapsing into a burning heap.

Blake stood and examined the carnage. Besides the two he had shot, there were four more burning bodies beside the Plymouth.

Jim came striding up, the M-1 thrown over his shoulder. “Just like old times, huh?” On the other side of the faceplate, Blake could see the grin on Jim’s face.

“Yeah, except for the army of zombie insects descending on us,” Blake said.

Jim looked over his shoulder at the darkened sky. The oncoming swarm stacked into the heavens like a hellish thunderhead, blotting out the sun.

Around them, hundreds of roaches were scurrying from beneath the graveyard of vehicles, drawn by the sudden activity and heat... and death. Despite the flames still flickering along the bodies, roaches flitted and crawled across them. Blake knew that in a matter of hours there would be nothing left but bones.

“How bad are you hurt?” Jim asked.

“I think I’m okay,” Blake told him. “Let’s just get the road cleared and get out of here. If the swarm arrives before we get to the silo, we’re done.”

Blake followed Jim to the Plymouth, and with hand signals to guide her, Sadie soon had the derelict pushed off the road. Jim crawled into the driver’s seat while Blake climbed back in on the other side.

He saw that two large holes had been drilled through the windshield by the gunfire. Sadie scrambled to cover them with tape and cardboard she had fished out of the back while Blake pulled off his helmet. He felt the scratchy legs of a large roach slip down the front of his suit.

“Gawwd!” he yelled, his forehead wrinkled is disgust. Blake reached deep into his suit and drew it out.

He held the two-inch long insect between pinched fingers before crushing it. The dark body collapsed with an audible crack as the hollow shell collapsed. He threw the tiny body to the floor, but it crawled slowly towards his boot. Not until he had ground it into the dust of the floorboard did the creature stop moving.

Blake looked at Sadie. She studied him, her brows knit in concern. She already had a wet rag in her hand when she handed him the water bottle. “You’ve got some pretty bad cuts. Take a drink and let me clean those up.”

As she dabbed at his face, Jim stole a glance, giving Blake a knowing wink.

“So what the hell happened out there?” Jim asked,” How did your shatterproof faceplate get shattered?”

“That’s what happens when you get shot in the face with a shotgun.” Sadie added, “I saw the whole thing before I hit ’em with the flames.”

Jim gave a low whistle. “Shotgun huh? Well, you’re one lucky bastard, Blake, that’s all I gotta say. I hope your luck holds.”

As if on cue, a powerful gust rocked the truck, and a deeper darkness enveloped them. On the radar, the blob of black settled across the center of the screen as surely as a closing eye.

“How much further we got?” Sadie asked, voice quivering.

“This is the turn-off now,” Jim said spinning the wheel and racing onto a gravel road. “The silo is only a mile ahead. “

Sadie grabbed her helmet out of the back and slipped it on. She looked over at Blake, her eyes wet. “What are you going to do without a helmet,” she asked. “You’ll never make it.”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” Blake said, putting on his best Rhett Butler accent.

Sadie smiled, tears streaming down her face. “That was awful.” She laughed.

“I don’t know, I think he’s improving,” Jim added.

Outside, the darkness swirled about them; a trillion tiny, hungry bodies buzzing past. Jim had slowed, the headlights barely illuminating the gray gravel of the route. As the tires ground past a chain-link gate, the lights illuminated the rounded concrete sides of the silo. In front, a flight of stairs led up, lost in the twisting maelstrom. Jim slammed the truck into park.

“Okay, the door is at the top of those stairs,” he said. “The launch team is waiting inside to let us in; we just have to make it to the door with our packages. “

Jim drew a pack from behind the seat, while Sadie and Blake worked their own onto their backs. Blake put on his broken helmet and clicked it shut. Sadie eyed the broken faceplate, her mouth grimaced with worry.

He shrugged. “Maybe it will help.”

“Why don’t we stay until the swarm passes?” Sadie asked.

Blake reached over and tapped the radar. “Because this is just the edge of the storm. By the time it passes, the packages will be useless.”

“Then how about you stay here,” she suggested. “Jim and I can take your pack, and you’ll be safe.”

Blake met her wet eyes. “That patch on the windshield will never hold. “

They both looked at the taped cardboard. It quivered beneath the gnawing jaws of a thousand invaders.

“They’ll be inside in a few minutes, no matter what.” Blake said, “Besides if you take my pack, it’ll slow you down, you might not make it.”

Blake heard her sigh.

“All right,” she said. “Let’s get this over with.”

Jim studied them with stony eyes. “You guys ready?”

They both nodded.

“Okay. On the count of three.”

Blake gripped the trucks handle, his heart thudding in his chest. “One... two... three!”

Blake swung the door open and dropped to the ground, the howl of a billion wings engulfing him. In the dim glow of the headlights, he helped Sadie down. Then, hand in hand, they raced for the stairs.

Ahead, Jim leapt up the stairs taking three at a time. Across his face, Blake felt the smaller roaches blown in through the shattered glass. They crawled along his body, found the opening in his helmet. At first, they came in one by one, then by the handful, then by the dozens.

Eyes squinted, he peered through a forest of tiny legs and hungry mouths. They groped for every opening, wormed into nostril and ear. He tried to blow them out, but a gasp of air through gritted teeth sucked in a cloud of choking dust instead.

Blake let go of Sadie’s hand, scraping at the insects clogging his throat, digging into his ears. Already, hundreds had crawled deep into his suit. Tiny mouths gnawing at his flesh, a living-dead acid etching away the skin, feeding on every nerve covering his body.

“Blaaaake!” Sadie’s frightened scream echoed through his helmet as he tilted back, over balanced and rolled down the stairs. For an instant, he saw her turn, racing after him, then the wailing tempest shuttered around him like a shroud.

Lungs choked, burning for air, Blake rose to his knees. He stripped off his helmet, wiped the crawling filth from his mouth, drew in a great, frantic breath. His mouth clogged with dry squirming bodies, small, dusty forms fluttering down his throat, crunching between his teeth.

Collapsing to his side, Blake expected death, even welcomed it as an end to his torment. Then a cool white cloud exploded around him. At first Blake thought he must be dead, his first encounter with the hereafter.

Then the creatures covering his eyes and mouth dropped away, tumbling to the ground in a twitching, quivering mass. He raised to an elbow, gawking in wide-mouthed awe as an alabaster vapor jetted skyward, infusing with the maelstrom like so much cream dumped in a cup of coffee.

Around him, insects dropped to the earth like rain. In seconds, their dry, desiccated forms were nothing more than so much goo squishing beneath his fingers. Then the wind shifted and Blake saw the source of his salvation. It was Sadie. She stood in the center of the staircase, legs planted, the high pressure canister gripped in both hands. From its mouth a stream of gas jetted out like water from a hose as she guided the torrent this way and that.

As he watched, the flow of white petered out and she let the canister fall. It clattered noisily down the steps in a world suddenly devoid of sound. Then she turned and spotted Blake lying on the ground before her.

By the time he pushed to his feet, she was at his side, diving into his arms. “Oh, my God!” she cried. “I thought you were dead.”

He swallowed hard, heard the dry click in the back of his throat. “You and me both.”

“That was damn quick thinking,” he said. “Using the canister to destroy the swarm.” He scanned the dusky horizon, spotted Venus rising in the east. “Wish I’d thought of that.”

Sadie’s cheeks flushed behind the helmet’s protective plate. “Well, it just came to me.”

Through his boots Blake felt the ground begin to tremble, the low throaty growl exploding into a crackling roar as a rocket clawed its way into the sky behind them. The heated wave of the ship’s engines blew them both to the pavement, covered them in a cloud of dust every bit as blinding as the swarm’s.

Then as the dust cleared, Blake stood and pulled Sadie’s to her feet. “There goes North America’s last hope for the future,” he said. “And with my canister, we’ll be able to save Europe as well.”

Sadie’s helmet hissed as she snapped open the seals and dropped it to the ground. “Do you think there’s any hope this will work?” She looked up at him, and he noticed for the first time how her eyes sparkled when she smiled.

“Of course there is,” he said. “Where there’s life, there’s always hope.”


Copyright © 2017 by Jeff Dosser

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