Cataclysm Dark Days Ahead (CDDA) Inspired Fiction
Austin shakes the empty pharmacy bottle. The thorazine is gone.
For so many years he hated them, their side effects, the flat feeling and shakes they gave him – but now that he had no idea where to get more, he was afraid to go without them.
Austin leans back on the beaten-up roller chair by the shelter window and sighs. Outside the window is a road, winding into quiet, old Bella. Bastion, to the south, is probably still a source of meds, water, and food – but that’s only because of the sheer number of dead bumbling through its streets, factories, and stores. It’s a death trap for sure.
There’s a stream nearby, but no telling knows what lives in it. The water certainly isn’t clean. The forest to the east is, perhaps, populated by edible creatures and mildly radioactive plants, but there is no way to know what, or who, already claimed the land. Even post-apocalypse, moose remain a real and present threat.
The shelter itself is nearing the end of its usefulness. Down the staircase is a poorly-stocked basement – the military never planned to actually use these evac shelters for more than a week or two, and Austin and the others had been there nearly a month before they left him for Bastion. He was too unstable, the group said, to come along – a pathological liar nearly out of the meds that kept him grounded. Maybe they were right.
They left him just a day earlier with 4 bottles of water and 3 days worth of military rations. He has a backpack, jeans and a flannel.
So here he is. A few days worth of sustenance, no plan, and no pills. He leans forward and put his head in his hands.
“You have problems, pal.” Austin sits up with a start. In the corner of the evac shelter, behind the benches, where survivors were to sit patiently and “wait for instructions,” are several storage lockers. Perched on top of one is a grey rat. Austin nearly falls off his chair.
“Did you just talk?” The rat jumps down from the locker and scurries up onto one of the benches.
“Things look pretty bleak, friend.” The rat looks around, its whiskers wiggling. “You’re almost out of food, water, supplies – we should probably come up with a plan.”
When Austin was a kid, his father locked him in the cellar for two days during an alcoholic spree. The basement, a one-room, damp construction, was infested with rats. Over the days Austin was in the basement, the rats grew braver and braver. By the time his mother managed let him out, the rats were all around him.
The taste of fear and anger comes rushing back. His mouth is dry. “We? We need a plan?”
“Depends on your goals, I guess.”
“My meds – I’m out of my meds.” Austin is pale.
“That is a fact,” states the rat. “That is a fact. Anyway, we can get you more. Surely there is a pharmacy, and food, and water in town. Maybe even some tools and cooking gear.” Austin is silent a moment.
“Why are you talking to me?”
“Well, it would be rude not to. Also, there’s no one else around, and I am, by nature, a gregarious person.” The rat sits down on its back legs, and wraps its tail around itself.
Austin shakes his head. His last dose was just five or six hours ago. “I’m dreaming. I’m hallucinating.” He looks out the window into the distance. It’s a clear day, a little breezy – unseasonably warm for spring in New England.
“Forget about your meds for a second. You will live without your meds. You have enough water and food for a day or so – then what? Get with it.” The rat lays down lazily and rolls over on its back.
Austin lowers his head – the rat does have a point. Bella is at least two hours away on foot, and there’s a solid chance it’s thoroughly ransacked. To get back to the shelter would take another two hours, and by then it would be dark. Worse, a third of the rations would be gone, and the hallucinations may get worse. The rat would only be the beginning.
“I’m alone with a talking rat. The others went to Bastion without me, and no one is coming back. Bastion isn’t possible. That leaves Bella.”
“Finally,” the rat states. “Signs of life.”
He hops from the bench and scurries into the shadows, and he’s gone.
It doesn’t take long for Austin to prepare for the walk to Bella, in no small part because he has virtually nothing to prepare. He finds a flashlight laying on the floor of the basement – the others must not have seen it as they left for Bastion. It’s a maglite, heavy and rugged. It’s a good find.
Austin packs his backpack with the food and water. A final sweep of the basement reveals nothing, even with the help of the flashlight. A sense of fear rumbles in Austin’s stomach.
He hoists his backpack over his shoulder, tightens his belt, and climbs the stairs. He is as ready as he can get.
As he steps outside, he’s stunned by how normal the world seems. If he weren’t painfully aware of the fact that he was situated in the middle of the end of the world, it would seem like a nice, New England spring day. Bella is about five miles away and the sun is well past noon. At a guess, Austin puts the time around three. Night would be a bad time to be in town.
He remembers the time he spent in the ward, when his disease first manifested. His dad was dead by then, cirrhosis got him, thank God, but his mom was still around. She found him in his room in his mid twenties after a couple weeks of odd behavior, talking to demons that crawled from the mirrors, shouting at her to turn down the organ music. They didn’t have an organ.
When they managed to get him to the ward, they blasted him with intravenous thorazine, and the demons went away almost immediately. A few weeks later he returned home, under strict warning not to skip his meds. That was five years ago. Never had he taken that warning so seriously as he does now.
The sun is just beginning to set, leaving maybe an hour of light left. About half an hour outside of town, right off the road, is a small house. It’s pretty dilapidated – the door hangs from its hinges, and from here Austin can see into the mud room. On the driveway is a beat up 2002 Ford Ranger, but it looks like everything of use is missing.
Common sense says to stop for the night, but his fear of abandoned apocalypse houses says push on. For now, rationality wins the day.
Austin steps up onto the patio, digs his mag light from his backpack, flips it on, and shines it into the mud room. It is appropriately muddy. A pile of shoes is kicked around, and a washer and dryer hang open, long out of use. Looks like someone rummaged through the room, knocking the cleaning supplies off the shelf and scattering the clothes around.
The living room looks like the scene of a robbery. The electricity has been dead for months, and everything is covered in dust. A staircase leads up to the second floor, and a door leads to the kitchen. Austin takes off his backpack and sits it on the cleanest part of the carpet he can find.
He creeps to the kitchen, and shines his light around the corner. The kitchen is small, with a table for two, a long-dead refrigerator emanating the smell of rotten milk and meat, and a sink piled with moldy dishes. The whole room smells like something died in it – pretty unlikely he’ll find any usable food or water.
A pile of blankets is balled up beneath the kitchen table. Austin grabs the blanket and pulls it.
Underneath it is a corpse. It’s seriously decomposed, and covered in some sort of fungus. Small, white mushrooms burst from beneath the skin, out the eye sockets, and from its mouth. A single, large mushroom cap stands proudly, burst through the chest cavity. Austin retches and reels back, nearly tripping over a kitchen chair.
“Should probably stay away from that.” The voice comes from above the refrigerator. Austin shines the light, and there stands the rat. “Might be contagious.” Austin’s heart pounds.
“Where did you come from?” Austin manages to stammer, and clammers away from the corpse. “What is going on?”
“I should introduce myself. My name is Templeton.” The rat crawls to the edge of the top of the refrigerator. “In an hour or so the sun will be down – don’t you think you should get some rest?”
“Are you kidding me right now?” A realization strikes Austin. “Shit. My meds. The mushroom thing probably isn’t even real.”
“Oh, it is,” states Templeton. “It really, really is. Anyway, it’s time to make a choice. Are you gonna get over our shroomy friend and hunker down here for the night, or stumble into Bella as the sun goes down, unarmed?”
“You suck at moral support,” Austin spits. His head is spinning, adrenaline still racing through him. He steps back into the living room, dry-mouthed, and drags a deep breath, and darts the light around the room – still empty. Another deep breath. Templeton appears beside him.
“All you got left is the upstairs.” Templeton saunters to the stairs and begins to hoist himself up, step by step. He stops and looks over his shoulder. “You coming?”
Austin draws a deep breath, looks over his shoulder at the mushroom corpse, and sighs.
“Yeah, I guess I am.” He grabs his pack from the ground, takes one last look at the mushroom corpse, and heads to the stairs.
About the Author: Jack Thompson
Jack Thompson is a professional writer, editor, and web developer. He’s been an avid gamer since the early 90’s, and fell in love with the roguelike genre after playing classics like Nethack, Dwarf Fortress, Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead, and Angband in the past few years. When he’s not building websites for small businesses or developing search engine marketing strategies, he helps to organize LRL and several other non-profit sites. To contact him or ask for his services, check out his website at www.writerjackcreations.com.