“Stand Down” Week 99 – Winternaut
Snowy season arrived, and all the Game of Thrones references finally petered out.
The rising, angry winds began biting ravenously with cold, and so the children and young adults (that is, all of humanity that remained of Oakville) largely kept to their houses. And, by now, those houses really had started to feel like theirs.
Many had spurned taking any building further than a block from the center of Scott’s operation, instead making unofficial homes in town hall. Jordan and Jocelyn were amongst these few.
Over a breakfast of expired cereal (that was no less still good, as should be expected of grains doused in more preservatives than a mummy), in Scott’s mayor’s-office-made-bedroom, Jordan presented some less-than-popular opinions regarding their situation.
“It’s just– you get what I mean, right? Every single thing we’re doing here’s out of some shitty teen drama movie. Post-apocalypse, living in the ruins of the old world, no adults around?” Jordan summarized, his understanding that it was all nonetheless necessary already explained.
“Yeah, and a disabled side-character.” Scott heckled.
Jordan’s eyes went wide. “You did not just say that, you cock-nut-nutty-fuck.”
Scott had grown comfortable enough with Jordan over the past few weeks that he could engage the otherwise still irritable man in playful insult-passing, and they’d grown yet closer as a result.
He still seemed to deflate every time he mentioned something Scott didn’t recall, but such had been becoming a less and less common occurrence as he learned about their apparently shared past.
This Jocelyn girl, however, remained a total unknown. She’d been with Jordan since this “Rudy” fellow, and had some manner of weirdness going on with that camera she kept. That was all.
Why she was so quiet, and always tailed Jordan, not even Jordan himself could explain. It didn’t seem they were an item, that he’d be able to tell no rewinds needed. She was predominantly just a specter, looking off out a window or at her photos.
That was, up until just then; she’d been looking at her photos as Scott and Jor talked, and then grimaced suddenly. She set the pictures upon the table, stopping the two dead in their speech. There was the weirdness; the pictures moved, and if Jordan was to be believed, in real time; reflecting the points of the world whereat they were taken– like a feed-only video surveillance.
These ones, Jordan recognized, were some of those taken on their trip towards Oakville. The particularly late ones.
Jocelyn tapped hurriedly at one of the pictures; “This one. Here.”
The photo was of a shopping center they’d been to on their way through Mississauga. The widely-windowed front of a Sobey’s was center focus– why Jocelyn had stopped to take a picture of that, was a question for the philosophers.
The confusion turned into cringing surprise as the two looked closer at where Jocelyn was indicating; reflected in a window on their rightmost of the store was a grisly scene. Children and teens, gathered before a host of others, only each tied and gagged and panicked, stood firm with long bits of wood or metal in their hands. At the center of the flock one of the restrained was being beaten with a crowbar. Every other there witnessed the process– the armed folks with an unseen expression, and the tied with horror. The breath of every one there could be seen in the cold air.
No sound escaped the photograph, but Scott, Jordan and Jocelyn could see the boy screaming as his chin dislocated, bringing the gag undone.
“Uh– that’s a T.V., right? That can’t be a window.” Jordan questioned, nervously.
Scott was transfixed. “No T.V.s could be working right now, much less there.”
No denying it, this was a real reflection. As real as anything viewed through a magic photograph can be, anyways.
An especially burly figure moved amongst the armed teens, strapped over in a fur-hemmed coat. He was the only one to turn from the scene as another victim was dragged into the bashing circle.
Scott and Jordan beheld a person who could scarcely be called a teen– his moustache and chin-scruff were little developed, and without them his face would seem babyish, but still he seemed like some mongol warlord straight out of a history book. His countenance was morose, and his long tied headhair was a mess. He bit the air as the wind picked up, and aimed some manner of bark at the throng of armed hooligans behind him. Without a moment’s hesitation, they surged en masse at the helpless, kneeled children– their game seemingly cut short.
“Whoah!” a voice echoed from over Jordan’s shoulder. “Pretty grisly.”
Some part of Geoul, present as the rabid winds, bit at him; telling him he should hate this. But, in truth, he felt nothing. He avoided the process as much as he could, if just to spare his ears the noise. But he’d had to be present for some bits, to keep the throng wary as to who was in charge. It was in those moments he realised just how numb he felt to it all. Watching the children corral, tie and kill other children, and not flinching.
He’d brought them here, these monster-people, these dark, grody reflections. Look at someone once, and he’d not even have to be around when their evil selves walked from some hell-earth into theirs, thirsty for blood. His own bit of magic.
He’d had the most experience with these monsters, what with the incident with his mother, so it came suspiciously that Angosin told him how to control them. With promises.
The promise that bent them to his demands, now, to get into those three tanky buses, taken straight from the yard. The promise of Oakville, a place full to bursting with kids thinking they’d be the ones to re-populate the earth.
That specific part had frenzied the mob. Their nihilism was inhuman, and total; they debated what tortures they would impart to this settlement’s denizens, how they would punish them just for dreaming they could make a difference. They bragged of those they’ve already tested, back on their death-world, as if discussing the intricacies of a board-game.
And there were ninety-something of them. Geoul didn’t know why Angosin wanted him to do this; he didn’t know why Angosin wanted the operation in Oakville demolished, and its supporters to die. All he knew was that he didn’t know what the hell else to make of himself, and that in the end, if Angosin had the slightest idea what he was doing, this might end up well for everyone.
He watched them motor off, leaving him in that now-empty town. He didn’t worry for the fact that they only had starter experience in driving, let alone driving buses; there wouldn’t be much to crash into, and they wouldn’t have any reason to stop.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. It cut off at the wrist, appearing from a misty nowhere. Angosin. A tug and a shifting of light, and he was in Oakville’s town hall.
The room was dark, and the person he’d shifted out of staggered out a confused wheeze. The teen lay there on a stretcher, half-awake in the corner. The table next to them, past the curtain, was stacked with antibiotics. Geoul put a meter between him and the patient, grimacing, and then took himself out into the hall.
Now came the second bit of his assignment: weaken the Oakville operation from the inside; ripen it for the ravagers’ arrival.
Scott and Jordan sat still with Jocelyn, hunkered over the photos. They were silent, as if they feared any noise might draw their attention, and make them miss something crucial. The photos they were looking at were those few that captured the road from Mississauga to Oakville. They’d seen the three buses depart, and though Jordan couldn’t recall whether they were going towards them, just voicing the possibility had glued them to their seats.
Soon came a violent rapping at the door, followed by a blunt entry; it was that chubby youth, “Kratos”. He seemed extensively out of sorts; his hair was overgrown, his face greasy and his eyes bagged; there was blood pooling around his shoulder, soaking into a strange patchwork garment that Scott had never seen him wear. He’d been entirely different when Scott had seen him a day ago. And, he hadn’t been hefting a pair of carving-knives.
Kratos shut the door behind him.
And, with a rabid yell the kid threw himself at the three, Scott and Jocelyn scrambling back as Jordan, less immediately mobile, settled for firing two hard gouts of Scorcho Sauce into the youth’s torso. He died in an instant, his chest sporting a steaming hole as his leap onto the table guttered, and he tumbled hard off the side.
Scott spotted a shape, moving at the door’s window. Large, it was, and slow– as if the person behind it was looking in. It seems Jordan saw it first, though– Scott saw Scorched ‘El already aiming straight at the door, Jordan’s eyes intense with death.
“Jordan!” Scott yelled forbiddingly, a hand out. He couldn’t wind back yet– he had to know what was going on.
Jordan hesitated, and the shape moved quickly away from the window. He swore under his breath and, half-real legs forming under him with some strain on his unseen core, he sent himself belly-down onto the table. His teeth gritted hard, he turreted streams of all-destroying liquid along the room’s wall; following the direction and speed of the shape. They went through the wall with some lag, sending up debris, smoke and dust, not to mention a horrible cracking noise. Through it all, afterwards, Jordan could see no body.
Scott grabbed him as he shunted himself back into the chair.
“What the hell?! That could’ve been anyone!”
“Right. It was the guy we saw in the photo. Didn’t you see the coat?”
“And–and– the kid!”
Scott was ignoring Jordan’s words, gesturing deliriously at the sizzling corpse on the office’s floor.
Jordan ignored him. He wheeled out into the hallway. The destruction of the Scorcho Sauce was radical; the burn had carried through the first wall, and halfway into the next. He didn’t know how harmful breathing brick-fumes might be, but, well, he was breathing it now.
The sauce puddled thinly on the floor. Amongst it was a pair of fingers, decaying rapidly in the fumes.
He was making to gander them closer when he heard a high whimpering somewhere by a corner off the hall. He rounded it, and found some chubby, hairy kid sat on the wall and holding his stomach.
“Gotcha.” Jordan said cruelly, Scorched ‘El rising behind him.
The child looked at him. His face was wet with tears, his breath ragged. It was Scott’s edgy assistant, Kratos, but– Kratos was back in the room. Jordan was quick to look at the kid’s hands; all the fingers were there. Further– the wound in his stomach looked like a stab.
“Calm it, kid, I’ll get Scott.” Jordan said, mustering as much kindness as he could in the moment.
Returning to the hall, he saw the door’d been closed. And, someone was already standing before it.
He was already standing before it. With his own, intact legs.
But it couldn’t be him, he was him– oh, this was some horror movie nonsense.
His reflection turned slowly, deliberately, to look at him. His fat smirk was toothy.
Every bit of him was as ragged as the strange Kratos, being pale and emaciated, though less spattered with blood. Instead, bindings of some yellow-white material plated his shabby clothing. Jordan got from the bigger pieces that they were bits of skull. Further, this Jordan held no weapon.
One smiling, as if in pleasant surprise, and one still roiling with annoyed realisation, they said at the same time; “No fucking way.”