Phoenix

barren

I walk in sync with the chopping of a helicopter fleet in the horizon, the sound of the blades piercing the dusty, lifeless air echoing my heartbeat. What will it be like when I get there? Will there be a bowl of Mama’s hot soup waiting for me, just like before? And my brother Caleb – would he still be sporting that scruffy beard that we all told him makes him look like a caveman? Questions continue to saturate my mind as I think of how time is the only variable keeping this from being just another afternoon.

A chipper sparrow-lark whizzes past me and darts into the flat, beige sky. I track the bird until it disappears into the dusty atmosphere. The status of the world worries me; after awakening from the emergency cryogenic chamber in the basement of my school, nothing seems to be the same as it had the morning I left for class. Trees that I normally pass on my way back home are naked and black; weeds overtake the cracked road, and there are no vehicles in sight. Surprisingly, the residential centers along the road are still intact and appear lively. There has to be people somewhere, but where?

As I get near my turnoff, a familiar face greets me at the gate. “Galahad!” I shout, wrapping my arms around my dog. “Look at how big you’ve grown!” The last time I saw Galahad, he was only a playful pup. The dog I’m embracing now is anything but – his fur is ragged and clumpy in parts, a long scar occupies his muzzle. His peacock-blue eyes are faded into a cloudy gray. However, despite his dirty appearance, his stomach is plump and thick, indicating he’s been well-fed. His delighted licks wipe the soot off my neck and chin.

Galahad follows close as I finally arrive at a vacant driveway. What’s left of my house is a jagged, busted foundation and a rusted swing set in the backyard. Not even a dilapidated frame or any furniture remain – any evidence that this was once a house has been reduced to dust.

Dust. The idea of it and losing everything I used to love and know to it makes me chuckle, but no amount of laughter can mask the tears welling in my eyes. “Well, Galahad, it looks like it’s just you and me now,” I whisper, dropping my head and turning away from the depressing scene. My cries resonate in the barren wasteland, an unofficial funeral for the reality I used to know.

Battle Tactics

Gregory was at war with the crimson army.

“Guys, we’re under attack!” he exclaimed, darting towards the kitchen. “Get off your asses! I can’t take all of them by myself!”

Six red warriors buzzed around the room, each spitting incomprehensible incantations at the residents. Gregory couldn’t understand why his friends were still on the couch and not gunning for the door or taking them on as he was. This was the second attack of the day, and even though he prevailed before, the battle would be lost if he had to face them alone again.

One of them bit his neck; another ran its claws across his face.

Gregory ran to the other side of the room, trying to shake a few of the bastards off his back; he felt their pointy fingers digging into the nape of his neck. He was about to shout for help when he noticed the living room windows turn red – it wouldn’t be long before the crimson cloud occupied the house.

“Stephen, grab baby Lillian and get the rest of the family away from here! If you leave through the front door now, you might escape with your lives!”

His friends still acted as if there wasn’t an ominous force pent on killing them all – or worse: they could be forced into slavery for the evil Crimson King. The thought made Gregory shiver with fear, but what could he do if they weren’t willing to save themselves?

“I will never give up on you all, even if you find amusement in my pain and your impending doom! I will die before I let them touch any one of you,” he hissed, stomping at a few downed soldiers. There were two left, but all effort would be deemed worthless when hundreds of thousands more usher through the back door. Gregory scurried upstairs, hoping his pursuers would follow and his friends could devise a defense strategy.

Fighting back tears from laughing hysterically, Stephen was the first to speak. “Damn, Bethany, your cat is so insane! You’d think he was being attacked by a monster or something.”

“If you think this is funny, just wait until I give him this cat nip treat,” Bethany retorted, revealing a white plastic bag from her purse.