Bryan had never imagined he would be the type of person to run towards gunshots, yet here he was. It was the only thing he could think to do, to find someone who wasn't after him. He didn't even know why the people were after him, or why he had been attacked in the first place! He just wanted his son, to hold him again, and to leave this filthy abandoned town.
In the middle of the road laid, slumped on one side, a mass that was slowly being coated in a fine layer of ash. The gunshots had slowed. Bryan tried to peel his eyes off the dead man. He had never seen an actual dead person before. Not even at a wake. Something about it just felt, odd, it was like the man was still alive. Bryan expected the man to move, but he laid flat, not moving under the ash.
Bryan was near by an open market, or at least what use to be an open market. He heard another single gun shot and some voices from over a chain-link fence. Bushes obstructed a clear view. He moved closer pushing apart dead branches to peer in.
A single police officer stood with his back to a building. Old rotting kiosks surrounded him, a silent ghost audience. Several people approached the officer, carrying a random assortment of jagged rusting blades. A single man sprinted forward, the officer fired a shot. The man kept coming. Two more shots and the man stumbled forward. The others in the crowd rushed forward. The officer turned and ran. His pursuers close behind. The officer went into the nearest building, shutting the door behind him. The crowd pounded at the door with their hands and weapons. They began to spread out, moving around the building, around their trapped prey, cats getting a cornered mouse.
Bryan looked on the man the officer had shot. Slumped, silent like the other he had seen. And then a twitch. Bryan expected a call of pain. But the man lifted his arm up and planted his palm on the ground. Lifting up onto his knees, the man stood, stumbled, a drunkard having only taken a hard tumble. Then moved forward joining the crowd as if nothing had happened.
Bryan had never seen a man shot before, just as he had never seen a body before. He had expected the bullets to shred the man, drop him with one shot, like a movie. At least not get up right after having been shot!
A deep whine blurted out. The heavy exhaust from a small motor. Bryan looked over. A fat man had started a chainsaw.
Bryan scrambled back away from the fence. He had to help the police officer. He stayed low enough to keep the bushes between him and the crowd's line of sight, it wasn't difficult, the bushes were thick and tall despite being dead in some patches. In the back of the market and building the officer had gone in, there was a general store across a short alley. Bryan went around to the front of general store. The windows were smashed in.
Climbing in the store was mostly empty, racks that were left were empty, or turned over. A few loose items remained. There was a set of metal stairs that ran up one wall and led to a single floating office on the back wall. Bryan took the stairs up. There was the single office that was void of furniture and left with only pieces of board and piping as its décor. Its only inhabitants appeared to be ants that came from the single window sill.
Bryan lifted the window, cracking the aged glass with the force of lifting it up. Across the way Bryan could see the officer come into view. They stared at each other, the older officer soaked in sweat.
Bryan picked up one of the boards and began sliding it across the window sill. He hoped it would work. The officer saw what he was doing and opened his own window. Just as the board made it across to the other side resting near the officer, something pulled his attention away. Bryan couldn't see what it was.
They were in. The officer raised his firearm. The deafening pops were silenced with the bright flash of the muzzle. Bryan couldn't see them, only the office, and the officer's desperate look. The officer turned, up and out the window. The cop's worn shoes slipped under him on the worn creaking board. Bryan held on tight. The movement ramming splinters into his skin. The cop stepped into the office and Bryan pulled the board back in. A glass bottle smashed against the side of the building.
Bryan looked down, below a woman in a tattered worn yellow apron screamed in anger at him.
Bryan and the cop didn't need communication. Scared animals don't need to tell each other of their fear. The two bolted down the stairs and out of the general store.
The two took off straight down the street dead ahead. To Bryan's surprise, the older cop ran faster, and seemed to have a general idea of where he was going. Fine by him. Bryan would get them lost, and into another pack of those people anyways.
Bryan followed the cop down a side street, looking back to see their followers. There were none.
It was another block down the street, another neighborhood, before the cop looked back and realized they were alone, for awhile. He stopped running, as did Bryan.
"Right there." The cop motioned towards a nearby house, the door was open, and overall the house seemed somewhat in one piece.
Bryan let the cop go first. He entered with his pistol up. Bryan waited a moment, and followed. The cop continued searching the small house, with his back turned he spoke.
"Shut the door."
Bryan nodded, more to himself, than to the command's of the cop. He closed the door. The house still had some of its furnishing in it. He used a small nightstand to prop against the door. The lock seemed flimsy but he locked it regardless.
Bryan jumped. A man was there as he turned.
It was the cop.
"Thanks for that out there."
"Oh, y-yeah, of course."
"No one else is here. How did you get here?"
"I came, looking for my son."
"No, I have, had a dirt bike." The cop grinned and shook his head.
"Come on, let's sit in the other room for a moment."
The living room still had its couch, it was covered in dust a small amount of ash which had blown in. There was also still a coffee table, loveseat, and random decorations on the fireplace mantle.
The cop plopped himself on the couch. A thick hoarse sigh came from his sweaty face. Bryan seated himself in the loveseat. He hadn't realized how much his muscles hated him until now.
"What's your name?"
"Dan, Dan Harvey."
"How did you end up here Dan?"
"My partner and I do patrols around here periodically, we knew some kids got in with their dirt bikes some we came to get them out. Looks like it was just you."
"Actually, I came looking for my son, you didn't see him?"
"Son? Well, no we just heard the motor. Ran into them and haven't seen a sane person since."
"You think they're insane?"
"Well they sure as hell ain't your average town folks."
"I mean, I-I pushed one onto a spike, in defense, and he got off like it was nothing. And then I saw you shoot one, three times, and he got back up!"
"It's not that unusual."
"What?" Dan sat up, his age showing how exhausted he truly was.
"I've seen drug addicts break arms and wrists and not even flinch at it as they twist it to the point the skin breaks. Moving after being shot or pulling off a spike isn't all that amazing for someone doped up enough."
Bryan swallowed hard, Jerry was somewhere out there, with a bunch of drug crazed lunatics wandering around. Bryan sank deeper into the chair and despair.
There was a long silence that filled the void between them. Silent enough the hairs of a dog could be heard moving in a breeze.
"A large group is odd."
"What?" Bryan asked looking up at Dan.
"So many people doped up. If that's what it is. It does add a possible explanation." Dan pulled in a raspy gulp of air with the sound of aged exhaustion. "It was July when the dogs started going missing. Everyone began to suspect animals, then people started going missing."
Dan stood up, there was a creaking and Bryan wasn't sure if it was the couch or Dan's knees. Bryan tracked Dan as he walked to a boarded up window and looked out between one of the slots.
"And then one day there were no more disappearances." He turned back and went to the other window to peer out. "For a long while there was nothing else. I don't know if I just responded to more calls, but I suddenly found myself working on more suicides then ever before." Dan returned to the couch. "Responding to suicides is a taxing experience. My wife and I went out not long ago. We went off into the hills to take in the sights of the mountains. We came along a bridge, pulled over. We were parked next to a gorge and there are walking trails that lead up to it with no barriers. We were going to take a picture of the sight from the bridge. As we stood there, a woman walked up from one of the trails and by us. She offered to take a picture of us. We politely declined. She kept walking, to the end of the bridge, where she smoothly stepped off the edge into the gorge. It was so smooth, with no hesitation, it was like she was expecting the trail to keep going. And that sound, that sound, it sticks with you."
Bryan sat still, or frozen. The events of the day and the sudden calm demeanor along with Dan's story left him with nothing else to feel but a cold sweat.
"You, you think they are connected?"
"Hmm? The disappearances? Possibly. Town is only a few miles out. The woman, I, I really don't know."
"Well," Bryan tried to think what to say, "I'm sure your wife's fine."
"Oh she doesn't feel anything anymore, a collision took her from me."
"Don't be. We need to get moving though."
They both stood once more. Bryan's knees throbbed with a weak ache and knew it would get worse.
"How many rounds do you have left?"
"A single magazine, do you have a weapon?"
"No, hey don't you have a radio?"
Dan sighed. "This little one," he said nudging towards his shoulder radio "will only get line of sight. It's not made to get out of this area. I've tried before. I could in my patrol car."
"How far is that?"
"A bit away, we got cut off by another group that was trashing it when we tried to get away."
"Think it's worth a shot?"
"Yeah, as long as the bastards didn't destroy it."
The two proceeded out. This time, taking their exit out of the back. Dan didn't want to be seen on the streets in the open. Bryan agreed it was a sound decision. As the two crunched through dead grass and over another privacy fence, Bryan was lost in his skepticism.
He believed Dan had plenty of experience, an old beat-cop like him would. But Bryan couldn't buy into the people being drugged up enough to explain the things he had seen. Something seemed off, and his instinct, no something even more primal screamed every time he saw one of them.
Bryan looked up to where Dan was pointing. Through the haze of the smoke and lit by the looming red sun, black smoke rose.
"Do you think it's a part of the coal fire?"
"No, smell that? It's chemicals, smells like tires." Bryan was afraid to admit he couldn't smell it. In fact everything smelled like smoke to him here. But he took Dan's word for it.
"You want to investigate it? What about your patrol car?"
"It's near that general direction, we would either have to pass by it, or go out of our way to go around. I want to know what it is."
Bryan followed in silence. He wondered if Jerry could see the smoke too, maybe he would head to it in hopes of help. Maybe it was Jerry, trying to signal someone. Bryan bit his tongue. That was a stupid thought. Jerry was a witty kid, he would figure out a way to get back to safety. Hell, he may even be at the truck now, wondering where his father was.
Bryan swallowed something fowl tasting. But it very well could be a worse story for Jerry, he could be a lot of danger, trapped without his father, or worse.
The duo continued down a dirt path, passing between a stone wall and rod iron fence. The gate was left open between both. The shrubs were dead, but the trees still grasped at life. Above a crow cried out. Just as Bryan saw the beady eyes of the bird it was off into the air. It's emaciated body disappearing off into the ash filled air beyond the tree tops.
A single stone building came into view on ahead. As they approached, Dan slowed and his feet became lighter. There were more buildings they could make out among the trees, and the crackling of a large fire could be heard.
There was a wooden fence that collected ash, and once was used to keep animals within the property. Dan moved closer, moving into a crouch. Bryan copied, he also noted a two dead animals contained by the fence. Fresh animals, too eviscerated to identify.
There was a clearing in the center of several small buildings, perhaps used for houses, but nothing like the rest of the town. There were live, albeit thin chickens which clucked and moved about. Several people moved about, wandering, and different, them. In the center a post stood, a large hook hung a figure through the left lung. The post still ablaze, tires burning putting out thick black smoke into the air. A car, a police patrol car, pushed in near by also ablaze. A sickly smell drifted over the duo.
Bryan looked away. His throat restricting. His stomach rose. A liquid pushed in his throat. Bryan forced his muscles shut and looked up straining. The body's burning stench overpowered the smell of the tires, or mixed with it, and it burned at Bryan's eyes.
Beyond the burning alter, a church, with a caved in corner and two eyes looking right at them.