The whirring blades of my MD-902 throbbed against the warm evening air, and I smiled.
From 5,000 feet, the ground flew by in a carpet of dark forests and kelly-green fields. The sun hung low on the horizon in a picturesque array of dazzling orange and gold, and I could make out the narrow strip of the Ohio River to my left, glistening in the fading daylight. This time of year, the trees would be full of the sweet aroma of fresh blossoms, and the frequent rains kept small pockets of fluffy white mist hanging in the treetops. It was a beautiful view, one that reminded me of why being a helicopter pilot trumped flying in a jumbo jet far above the clouds every day of the week. Fourteen more days, and I’m debt free.
That made me grin even more. I’d been working as a charter pilot ever since I obtained my license at age 19, and after years of keeping my nose to the grindstone, I was closing on the final payment for real-estate in western Pennsylvania. With no debt, a fixer-upper house on 30 rural acres all to myself, and a respectable wage for a 26-year-old pilot, I looked forward to the financial freedom I could now enjoy. Maybe I’d take a vacation, somewhere exotic like Venice Italy, or the Dominican Republic. Or perhaps I’d sock the money back for the day I started a family. “Remember kleineun, a real man looks after his own.”
My elderly ouma’s
voice came back from the depths of my memories, her proud, sun-tanned face rising from the darkness. She and my Rhodesian grandfather had emigrated to the US when they were newlyweds, as the violence against white Boer descendants in South Africa spiraled out of control. My mother and father both died in a car crash when I was six, and it had been my grandparents who raised me. Due to this, I’d grown up with a slight accent that many of my classmates found amusing, and I could speak both English, and Afrikaans, the Boer tongue of our former home.
I shifted in my seat, stretched my back muscles, and glanced at the picture taped to my console. Both my parents flanked a grinning, gap-toothed six-year-old me, at the last Christmas we’d spent together. My mother beamed, her dark hair and Italian features a sharp contrast to my father’s sandy blonde hair and blue eyes. Sometimes, I liked to imagine they were smiling at me with pride at how well I flew the old silver-colored bird my company had assigned to me, and that made the long, lonely flights easier to bear.
A flicker caught my eye, and I broke my gaze away from the photograph.
Perched in its small cradle above the controls, my little black Garmin fuzzed over for a few seconds, its screen shifting from brightly colored maps to a barrage of grey static. Did the power chord come loose?
I checked, ensuring the power-cable for the unit’s battery was plugged into the port on the control panel. It was a brand-new GPS unit, and I’d used it a few times already, so I knew it wasn’t defective. Granted, I could fly and navigate without it, but the Garmin made my time as a pilot so much easier that the thought of going blind was dreadful.
My fuel gauge danced, clicked to empty, then to full, in a bizarre jolt.
More of the gauges began to stutter, the entire panel seeming to develop terrets all at once, and my pulse began to race. Something was wrong, very wrong, and the sludge inside my bowels churned with sour fear.
“Come on, come on.” I flicked switches, turned dials, punched buttons, but nothing seemed to fix the spasming electronics. Every gauge failed, and without warning, I found myself plunged into inky darkness.
Outside, the sun surrendered to the pull of night, the sky darker than usual. A distant rumble of thunder reverberated above the roar of my helicopter’s engine, and I thought I glimpsed a streak of yellowish lightning on the far horizon to my left. Calm down Chris. We’re still flying, so it must just be a blown fuse. Stay in control and find a place to set her down.
My sweaty palm slid on the cyclic stick, and both feet weighed heavy on the yaw pedals. The collective stuck to my other hand with a nervous vibration, and I squinted against the abyss outside.
I jumped despite myself, as the little Garmin on my panel flared back to life, the static pulling aside to reveal a twitching display. Each time the screen glitched, it showed the colorful map detailing my flight path over the ground below, but I noticed that some of the lines changed, the names shifting, as if the device couldn’t decide between two different versions of the world.
One name jutted out at me, slate gray like most of the major county names, appearing with ghostly flickers from between two neighboring ones. Barron County.
I stared, confused. I’d flown over this section of southeastern Ohio plenty of times, and I knew the counties by heart. At this point, I should have been over the southern end of Noble County, and maybe dipping lower into Washington. There was no Barron County
in Ohio. I was sure of it.
And yet it shown back at me from the digital landscape, a strange, almost cigar-shaped chunk of terrain carved from the surrounding counties like a tumor, sometimes there, sometimes not, as my little Garmin struggled to find the correct map. Rain began to patter against my cockpit window, and the entire aircraft rattled from a strong gust of wind. Thick clouds closed over my field of vision like a sea of gray cotton.
The blood in my veins turned to ice, and I sucked in a nervous breath.
Land. I had to land. There was nothing else to do, my flight controls weren’t responding, and only my Garmin had managed to come back to life. Perhaps I’d been hit by lightning, and the electronics had been fried? Either way, it was too dark to tell, but a storm seemed to be brewing, and if I didn’t get my feet on the ground soon, I could be in real trouble.
“Better safe than sorry.” I pushed down on the collective to start my slow descent and clicked the talking button for my headset. “Any station, this is Douglass Three-One-Four-Foxtrot, over.”
“Any station, this is Douglass Three-One-Four-Foxtrot, requesting emergency assistance, over.”
Still nothing. If the radio’s dead, I’m really up a creek.
With my hand shaking, I clicked on the mic one more time. “Any station, this is—”
Like a curtain pulling back, the fog cleared from around my window, and the words stuck in my throat.
Without my gauges, I couldn’t tell just how far I’d descended, but I was definitely very low. Thick trees poked up from the ground, and the hills rolled into high ridges with flat valley floors, fields and pastures pockmarking them. Rain fell all around in cold, silvery sheets, a normal feature for the mid spring in this part of Ohio.
What wasn’t normal, were the fires.
At first, I thought they were forest fires for the amount of smoke and flames that bellowed from each spot, but as I swooped lower, my eyes widened in horror.
They were houses.
Farms, cottages, little clusters that barely constituted villages, all of them belched orange flames and black pillars of sooty smoke. I couldn’t hear above the helicopter blades, but I could see the flashes on the ground, along the road, in between the trees, and even coming from the burning buildings, little jets of golden light that spat into the darkness with anger. Gunfire. That’s rifle fire, a whole lot of it.
Tiny black figures darted through the shadows, barely discernable from where I sat, several hundred feet up. I couldn’t see much, but some were definitely running away, the streaks of yellow gunfire chasing them. A few dark gray vehicles rumbled down one of the gravel roads, and sprayed fire into the houses as it went. They were fighting, I realized, the people in the trucks and the locals. It was horrific, like something out of war-torn Afghanistan, but worse.
Then, I caught a glimpse of the others
They didn’t move like the rest, who either fled from the dark vehicles, or fired back from behind cover. These skinny figures loped along with haphazard gaits, many running on all fours like animals, swarming from the trees by the dozens. They threw themselves into the gales of bullets without flinching, attacking anyone within range, and something about the way they moved, so fluid, so fearless, made my heart skip a beat. What is that? “Echo Four Actual to unknown caller, please respond, over.”
Choking back a cry of shock, I fumbled at the control panel with clumsy fingers, the man’s voice sharp and stern. I hadn’t realized that I’d let go of the talking button and clicked it down again. “Hello? Hello, this is Douglass Three-One-Four-Foxtrot out of Pittsburgh, over.”
An excruciating moment passed, and I continued to zoom over the trees, the fires falling away behind me as more silent forest took over. “Roger that Douglass Three-One-Four-Foxtrot, we read you loud and clear. Please identify yourself and any passengers or cargo you might be carrying, over.”
Swallowing hard, I eyed the treetops, which looked much closer than they should have been. How far had I descended? “Echo Four Actual, my name is Christopher Dekker, and I am alone. I’m a charter flight from PA, carrying medical equipment for OSU in Columbus. My controls have been damaged, and I am unable to safely carry on due to the storm. Requesting permission to land, over.”
I watched the landscape slide by underneath me, once catching sight of what looked like a little white church
surrounded by smaller huts, dozens of figures in the yard staring up at me as I flew over a nearby ridgeline. “Solid copy on that Douglass Three-One-Four-Foxtrot. Be advised, your transponder shows you to be inside a restricted zone. Please cease all radio traffic, reduce your speed, climb to 3,000 feet and proceed north. We’ll talk you in from there. How copy, over?”
My heart jumped, and I let out a sigh of relief. “Roger that Echo Four Actual, my altimeter is down, but I’ll do my best to eyeball the altitude, over.”
With that, I pulled the collective upward, and tried my best to gauge how far I was by eyesight in the gathering night, rain still coming down all around me. This had to be some kind of disaster or riot, I decided. After all, the voice over the radio sounded like military, and those vehicles seemed to have heavy weapons. Maybe there was some kind of unrest going on here that I hadn’t heard about yet? Kind of weird for it to happen in rural areas though. Spoiled college kids I get, but never saw farmers get so worked up before. They usually love the military.
Something moved in the corner of my eye, and I turned out of reflex.
My mouth fell open, and I froze, unable to scream.
In the sky beside me, a huge shadow glided along, and its leathery wings effortlessly carved through the gloom, flapping only on occasion to keep it aloft. It was too dark for me to see what color it was, but from the way it moved, I knew it wasn’t another helicopter. No, this thing was alive, easily the size of a small plane, and more than twice the length of my little McDonald Douglass. A long tail trailed behind it, and bore a distinct arrow-shaped snout, with twig-like spines fanned out around the back of its head. Whatever legs it had were drawn up under it like a bird, yet its skin appeared rough and knobby, almost resembling tree bark. Without pause, the gigantic bat-winged entity flew along beside me, as if my presence was on par with an annoying fly buzzing about its head.
Gripping the microphone switch so tight, I thought I’d crack the plastic, I whispered into my headset, forgetting all radio protocol. “T-There’s something up here.”
Static crackled. “Douglas Three-One-Four-Foxtrot, say again your last, you’re coming in weak and unreadable, over.”
“There’s something up here.” I snarled into the headset, still glued to the controls of the helicopter, afraid to deviate even an inch from my course in case the monstrosity decided to turn on me. “A freaking huge thing, right beside me. I swear, it looks like a bat or . . . I don’t know.” “Calm down.” The man on the other end of the radio broke his rigorous discipline as well, his voice deep, but level. “It won’t attack if you don’t move too fast. Slowly ease away from it and follow that course until you’re out of sight.”
I didn’t have time to think about how wrong that sounded, how the man’s strict tone had changed to one of knowledge, how he hadn’t been the least surprised by what I’d said. Instead, I slowly turned the helicopter away from the huge menace and edged the speed higher in tiny increments.
As soon as I was roughly two football fields away, I let myself relax, and clicked the mic switch. “It’s not following.” “You’re sure?”
Eyeing the huge flapping wings, I nodded, then remembered he couldn’t see me. “Yeah, I’m well clear.” “Good. Thank you, Mr. Dekker.”
Then, the radio went dead.
Something in my chest dropped, a weight that made my stomach roil. This wasn’t right, none of it. Who was that man? Why did he know about the thing I’d just seen? What was I supposed to—
A flash of light exploded from the trees to my right and shot into the air with a long finger of smoke. What the . . .
On instinct, I jerked the cyclic stick to one side, and the helicopter swung to avoid the rocket. Boom.
My world shook, metal screeched, and a dozen alarms began to go off inside the cockpit in a cacophony of beeps and sirens. Orange and red flames lit up the night sky just behind me, and the horizon started to spin wildly outside. Heat gushed from the cockpit door, and I smelled the greasy stench of burning oil. The safety belts dug into my shoulders, and with a final slip, the radio headset ripped free from my scalp. I’m hit.
Desperate, I yanked on the controls, fought the bird even as she spun toward the ground in a wreath of flames, the inky black trees hurtling up to meet me. The helicopter went into full auto-rotation, the sky blurring past outside, and the alarms blared in a screech of doom. Panic slammed through my temples, I screamed at the top of my lungs, and for one brief second, my eyes locked on the little black Garmin still perched atop my control panel.
Its screen stopped twitching and settled on a map of the mysterious Barron County, with a little red arrow at the center of the screen, a few words popping up underneath it. You are here.
Trees stabbed up into the sky, the belts crushed at my torso, glass shattered all around me, and the world went dark.
Copper, thick, warm, and tangy.
It filled my mouth, stank metallic in my nose, clogged my throat, choking me. In the murkiness, I fought for a surface, for a way out, blind and numb in the dark. This way, kleineun.
voice echoed from somewhere in the shadows. This way.
Both eyes flew open, and I gagged, spitting out a stream of red.
Pain throbbed in my ribs, and a heavy pressure sent a tingling numbness through my shoulders. Blood roared inside my temples, and stars danced before my eyes with a dizzying array. Humid night air kissed my skin, and something sticky coated my face, neck, and arms that hung straight up toward the ceiling.
Wait. Not up. Down.
I blinked at the wrinkled, torn ceiling of the cockpit, the glass all gone, the gray aluminum shredded like tissue paper. Just outside the broken windows, thick Appalachian bluegrass and stemmy underbrush swished in a feeble breeze, backlit by flashes of lightning from the thunderstorm overhead. Green and brown leaves covered everything in a wet carpet of triangles, and somewhere nearby, a cricket chirped.
Turning my head from side to side, I realized that I hung upside down inside the ruined helicopter, the top half burrowed into the mud. I could hear the hissing and crackling of flames, the pattering of rain falling on the hot aluminum, and the smaller brush fires around the downed aircraft sizzling out in the damp long grass. Charred steel and burning oil tainted the air, almost as strong as the metallic, coppery stench in my aching nose. They shot me down. That military dude shot me out of the sky.
It didn’t make sense. I’d followed their orders, done everything they’d said, and yet the instant I veered safely away from whatever that thing in the sky had been, they’d fired, not at it, but at me.
Looking down (or rather, up) at my chest, I sucked in a gasp, which was harder to do that before.
The navy-blue shirt stuck to my torso with several big splotches of dark, rusty red. Most were clean slashes, but two held bits of glass sticking out of them, one alarmingly bigger than the other. They dripped cherry red blood onto my upturned face, and a wave of nausea hit me. I gotta get down.
I flexed my arms to try and work some feeling back into them, praying nothing was broken. Half-numb from hanging so long, I palmed along my aching body until I felt the buckled for the seat belts.
“Okay.” I hissed between gritted teeth, in an effort to stave off my panic. “You can do this. Just hold on tight. Nice and tight. Here we go . . .” Click.
Everything seemed to lurch, and I slid off the seat to plummet towards the muck-filled hole in the cockpit ceiling. My fingers were slick with blood and slipped over the smooth faux-leather pilot’s seat with ease. The shoulder belt snagged on the bits of glass that lay just under the left lowest rib, and a flare of white-hot pain ripped through me. Wham.
I screamed, my right knee caught the edge of the aluminum ceiling, and both hands dove into a mound of leaf-covered glass shards on the opposite side of the hole. My head swam, being right-side-up again enough to make shadows gnaw at the corner of my eyes.
Forcing myself to breath slowly, I fought the urge to faint and slid back to sit on the smooth ceiling. I turned my hands over to see half a dozen bits of clear glass burrowed into my skin like greedy parasites, red blood weeping around the new cuts.
“Screw you.” I spat at the rubbish with angry tears in my eyes. “Screw you, screw you, screw you.”
The shards came out easy enough, and the cuts weren’t that deep, but that wasn’t what worried me. On my chest, the single piece of cockpit glass that remined was almost as big as my palm, and it really hurt. Just touching it felt like self-inflicted torture, but I knew it had to come out sooner or later. Please don’t nick a vein.
Wiping my hands dry on my jeans, I gripped the shard with both hands, and jerked.
Fire roared over my ribs, and hot blood tickled my already grimy pale skin. I clapped a hand over the wound, pressing down hard, and grunted out a string of hateful expletives that my ouma would have slapped me for.
Lying on my back, I stared around me at the messy cargo compartment of the MD-902. Most of the medical supplies had been in cardboard boxes strapped down with heavy nylon tow-straps, but several cases had ruptured with the force of the impact, spraying bandages, syringes, and pill bottles all over the cluttered interior. Orange flames chewed at the crate furthest to the rear, the tail section long gone, but the foremost part of the hold was intact. Easily a million-dollar mess, it would have made me faint on any other trip, but today it was a godsend.
Half-blind in the darkness, I crawled along with only the firelight and lightning bolts to guide me, my right knee aching. Like a crippled raccoon, I collected things as I went, conscious of the two pallets of intact supplies weighing right over my head. I’d taken several different first-aid courses with some hunting buddies of mine, and the mental reflexes kicked in to help soothe my frazzled mind. Check for bleeds, stop the worst, then move on
Aside from my battered chest and stomach, the rest of me remained mostly unharmed. I had nasty bruises from the seatbelts, my right knee swelled, my nose slightly crooked and crusted in blood, but otherwise I was intact. Dowsing every scratch and cut with a bottle of isopropyl alcohol I found, I used butterfly closures on the smaller lacerations that peppered my skin. I wrapped soft white gauze over my abused palms and probed at the big cut where the last shard had been, only stopping when I was sure there were no pieces of glass wedged inside my flesh.
“Not too bad.” I grunted to myself, trying to sound impassive like a doctor might. “Rib must have stopped it. Gonna need stitches though. That’ll be fun.”
Pawing through the broken cases, I couldn’t find any suture chord, but just as I was about to give up, I noticed a small box that read ‘medical skin stapler’. Bingo.
I tore the small white plastic stapler free from its packaging and eyeballed the device. I’d never done this before, only seen it in movies, and even though the cut in my skin hurt, I wondered if this wouldn’t be worse. You’ve gotta do it. That bleeding needs to stop. Besides, no one’s coming to rescue you, not with those rocket-launching psychos out there.
Taking a deep breath, I pinched the skin around the gash together, and pressed the mouth of the stapler to it. Click.
A sharp sting, like that of a needle bit at the skin, but it didn’t hurt nearly as bad as the cut itself. I worked my way across the two-inch laceration and gave out a sigh of relief when it was done.
“Not going to bleed to death today.” I daubed ointment around the staples before winding more bandages over the wound.
Popping a few low-grade painkillers that tumbled from the cargo, I crawled wriggled through the nearest shattered window into the wet grass.
Raindrops kissed my face, clean and cool on my sweaty skin. Despite the thick cloud cover, there was enough constant lightning strikes within the storm to let me get glimpses of the world around me. My helicopter lay on its back, the blades snapped like pencils, with bits and pieces of it burning in chunks all around the small break in the trees. Chest-high scrub brush grew all around the low-lying ground, with pockets of standing water in places. My ears still rang from the impact of the crash, but I could start to pick up more crickets, frogs, and even some nocturnal birds singing into the darkness, like they didn’t notice the huge the hulk of flaming metal that had fallen from the sky. Overhead, the thunder rumbled onward, the feeble wind whistling, and there were other flashes on the horizon, orange and red ones, with crackles that didn’t sound quite like lightning. The guns. They’re still fighting.
Instinctively, I pulled out my cellphone, and tapped the screen.
It fluttered to life, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get through to anyone, not even with the emergency function designed to work around having no service. The complicated wonder of our modern world was little better than a glorified paperweight.
Stunned, I sat down with my back to the helicopter and rested my head against the aluminum skin of the craft. How I’d gone from a regular medical supply run to being marooned in this hellish parody of rural America, I didn’t know, but one thig was certain; I needed a plan. Whoever fired the missile could have already contacted my charter company and made up some excuse to keep them from coming to look for me. No one else knew I was here, and even though I now had six staples holding the worst of my injuries shut, I knew I needed proper medical attention. If I wanted to live, I’d have to rescue myself. My bag. I need to get my go-bag, grab some gear and then . . . head somewhere else.
It took me a while to gather my green canvas paratrooper bag from its place behind the pilot’s seat and fill it with whatever supplies I could scrounge. My knee didn’t seem to be broken, but man did it hurt, and I dreaded the thought of walking on it for miles on end. I focused instead on inventorying my gear and trying to come up with a halfway intelligent plan of action.
I had a stainless-steel canteen with one of those detachable cups on the bottom, a little fishing kit, some duct tape, a lighter, a black LED flashlight with three spare batteries, a few tattered road maps with a compass, a spare pair of socks, medical supplies from the cargo, and a simple forest green plastic rain poncho. I also managed to unearth a functioning digital camcorder my ouma had gotten me for Christmas a few years back, though I wasn’t sure I wanted to do any filming in such a miserable state. Lastly, since it was a private supply run from a warehouse area near Pittsburgh to a direct hospital pad in Ohio, I’d been able to bring my K-Bar, a sturdy, and brutally simple knife designed for the Marine Corps that I used every time I went camping. It was pitiful in comparison to the rifle I wished I had with me, but that didn’t matter now. I had what I had, and I doubted my trusty Armalite would have alleviated my sore knee anyway.
Clicking on my flashlight, I huddled with the poncho around my shoulders inside the wreck of the chopper and peered at the dusty roadmaps. A small part of me hoped that a solution would jump out from the faded paper, but none came. These were all maps of western PA and eastern Ohio. None of them had a Barron County on them anywhere. The man on the radio said to head north, right before they shot me down. That means they must be camped out to the north of here. South had that convoy and those burning houses, so that’s a no-go. Maybe I can backtrack eastward the way I came.
As if on cue, a soft pop echoed from over the eastern horizon, and I craned to look out the helicopter window, spotting more man-made flashes over the tree tops.
“Great.” I hissed between clenched teeth, aware of how the temperature dipped to a chilly 60 degrees, and how despite the conditions, my stomach had begun to growl. “Not going that way, are we? Westward it is.”
Walking away from my poor 902 proved to be harder than I’d anticipated. Despite the glass, the fizzling fires, and the darkness, it still held a familiar, human essence to it. Sitting inside it made me feel secure, safe, even calm about the situation. In any other circumstance, I would have just stayed with the downed aircraft to wait for help, but I knew the men who shot me down would likely find my crash site, and I didn’t want to be around when they did.
Unlike much of central and western Ohio, southeastern Ohio is hilly, brushy, and clogged with thick forests. Thorns snagged at my thin poncho and sliced at my pant legs. My knee throbbed, every step a form of self-inflicted torture. The rain never stopped, a steady drizzle from above just cold enough to be problematic as time went on, making me shiver. Mud slid under my tennis shoes, and every tree looked ten times bigger in the flickering beam of my cheap flashlight. Icy fear prickled at the back of my neck at some of the sounds that greeted me through the gloom. I’d been camping loads of times, both in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, but these noises were something otherworldly to me.
Strange howls, screeches, and calls permeated the rain-soaked sky, some almost roars, while others bordered on human in their intonation. The more I walked, the softer the distant gunfire became, and the more prevalent the odd sounds, until the shadows seemed to fill with them. I didn’t dare turn off my flashlight, or I’d been completely blind in the dark, but a little voice in the back of my head screamed that I was too visible, crunching through the gloomy forest with my long beam of light stabbing into the abyss. It felt as though a million eyes were on me, studying me, hunting me from the surrounding brush, and I bitterly recalled how much I’d loved the old Survivor Man TV series as a kid. Not so fun being out in the woods at night. Especially alone.
A twig snapped somewhere behind me, and I whirled on the spot, one trembling hand resting on the hilt of my K-Bar.
Nothing. Nothing but trees, bushes, and rain dripping down in the darkness.
“This is stupid.” I whispered to myself to keep my nerves in check as I slowly spun on the spot. “I should have went eastward anyway. God knows how long I’m going to have to—” Creak.
A groan of metal-on-metal echoed from somewhere to my right, and I spun to face it, yanking the knife on my belt free from its scabbard. It felt so small and useless in my hand, and I choked down a wave of nauseas fear. Ka-whump. Creak. K-whump. Creak.
Underbrush cracked and crunched, a few smaller saplings thrashed, and from deep within the gloom, two yellow orbs flared to life. They poked through the mist in the trees, forming into slender fingers of golden light that swept back and forth in the dark. The soldiers . . . they must be looking for me.
I swallowed hard and turned to slink away.
Ice jammed through my blood, and I froze on the spot, biting my tongue to stop the scream.
It stood not yards away, a huge form that towered a good twelve feet tall in the swirling shadows. Unpolished chrome blended with flash-rusted spots in the faded red paint, and grime-smeared glass shone with dull hues in the flashes of lightning. Where the wheels should have been, the rounded steel axels curved like some enormous hand had bent them, and the tires lay face-down on the muddy ground like big round feet, their hubcaps buried in the dirt. Dents, scrapes, and chips covered the battered thing, and its crooked little radio antenna pointed straight up from the old metal fender like a mast. I could barely make out the mud-coated VW on the rounded hood, and my mind reeled in shock. Is . . . is that a car?
Both yellow headlights bathed me in a circle of bright, blinding light, and neither I nor the strange vehicle moved.
Seconds ticked by, the screech-thumping in the background only growing closer. I realized that I couldn’t hear any engine noises and had yet to see any soldiers or guns pointed my way. This car looked old, really old, like one of those classic Volkswagen Beetles that collectors fought over at auctions. Try as I might, I couldn’t see a driver inside the murky, mold-smeared windows.
Because there wasn’t one.
Lightning arched across the sky overhead, and the car standing in front of me blinked.
Its headlights slid shut, as if little metal shades had crawled over the bulbs for a moment and flicked open again. Something about that movement was so primal, so real, so lifelike, that every ounce of self-control I had melted in an instant.
Cursing under my breath, I lunged into the shrubs, and the world erupted around me.
Under my shoes, the ground shook, and the car surged after me in a cacophony of ka-thumps that made my already racing heart skip several beats. A weather-beaten brown tow truck from the 50’s charged through the thorns to my left, it’s headlights ablaze, and a dilapidated yellow school bus rose from its hiding place in the weeds to stand tall on four down-turned axel-legs. They all flicked their headlights on like giants waking from their slumber, and as I dodged past them, they each blared their horn into the night in alarm.
My breaths came short and tight, my knee burned, and I crashed through thorns and briars without thought to how badly I was getting cut up.
The cheap poncho tore, and I ripped it away as it caught on a tree branch.
A purple 70’s Mustang shook off its blanket of creeping vines and bounded from a stand of trees just ahead, forcing me to swerve to avoid being run over, my adrenaline at all-time highs. This can’t be happening, this can’t be happening, this can’t be happening.
Slipping and sliding, I pushed through a stand of multiflora rose, and stumbled out into a flat, dark expanse.
I almost skidded to a stop.
What had once been a rather large field stood no taller than my shoestrings, the grass charred, and burnt. The storm above illuminated huge pieces of wreckage that lay scattered over the nearly 40-acre plot, and I could just make out the fire-blackened hulk of a fuselage resting a hundred yards away. The plane had been brought down a while ago it seemed, as there weren’t any flames left burning, and I threw myself toward it in frenzied desperation.
Burned grass and greasy brown topsoil slushed underfoot, and I could hear the squelching of the cars pursing me. Rain soaked me to the bone, and my lungs ached from sucking down the damp night air. A painful stich crept into my side, and I cursed myself for not putting in more time for cardio at the gym.
Something caught my left shoelace, and I hurtled to the ground, tasting mud and blood in between my teeth. They’ve got me now.
I clawed at the mud, rolled, and watched a tire slam down mere inches from where my head had been. The Mustang loomed over me and jostled for position with the red Volkswagen and brown tow truck, the school bus still a few yards behind them. They couldn’t seem to decide who would get the pleasure of stomping me to death, and like a herd of stampeding wildebeest, they locked bumpers in an epic shoving match.
On all fours, I scampered out from under the sparring brutes, and dashed for the crumpled airplane, a white-painted DC-3 that looked like it had been cut in half by a gargantuan knife blade. I passed a snapped wing section, the oily remains of a turbo-prop engine, and a mutilated wheel from the landing gear. Climbing over a heap of mud, I squeezed into the back of the ruined flight cabin and dropped down into the dark cargo hold. Wham.
No sooner had my sneakers hit the cold metal floor, and the entire plane rocked from the impact of something heavy ramming it just outside. I tumbled to my knees, screaming in pain as, once again, I managed to bash the sore one off a bracket in the wall.
My hand smeared in something gooey, and I scrabbled for my flashlight.
It clicked on, a wavering ball of white light in the pitch darkness, and I fought the urge to gag. “Oh man . . .”
Three people, or what was left of them, lay strewn over the narrow cargo area. Claret red blood coated the walls, caked on the floor, and clotted under my mud-spattered shoes. Bits of flesh and viscera were stuck to everything, and tatters of cloth hung from exposed sections of broken bone. An eerie set of bloody handprints adorned the walls, and the only reason I could tell it had been three people were the shoes; all of them bore anklebones sticking out above blood-soaked socks. It smelled sickly sweet, a strange, nauseas odor that crept into my nose and settled on the back of my tongue like an alien parasite.
Something glinted in the beam of my flashlight, and my pulse quickened as I pried the object loose from the severed arm that still clung to it.
“Hail Mary full of Grace.” I would have grinned if it weren’t for the fact that the plane continued to buck and roll under the assault from the cars outside.
The pistol looked old, but well-maintained, aside from the light coating of dark blood that stained its round wooden handle. It felt heavy, but good in my hand, and I turned it over to read the words, Waffenfabrik Mauser
stenciled into the frame, with a large red 9 carved into the grip. For some reason, it vaguely reminded me of the blasters from Star Wars.
I fumbled with a little switch that looked like a safety on the back of the gun and stumbled toward a gap in the plane’s dented fuselage to aim out at the surrounding headlights. Bang.
The old gun bucked reliably in my hand, its long barrel spitting a little jet of flame into the night. I had no idea if I hit anything, but the attacking cars recoiled, their horns blaring in confusion.
They turned, and scuttled for the tree line as fast as their mechanical legs could go, the entire ordeal over as fast as it had begun. Did I do that?
Perplexed, I stared down at the pistol in my hand. Whoosh.
A large, inky black shadow glided down from the clouds, and the yellow school bus moved too slow to react in time.
With a crash, the kicking nightmarish vehicle was thrown onto its side, spraying glass and chrome trim across the muddy field. Its electro-synth horn blared with wails of mechanical agony, as two huge talon-like feet clamped down on it, and the enormous head of the flying creature lowered to rip open its engine compartment.
The horn cut out, and the enormous flying entity jerked its head back to gulp down a mass of what looked like sticky black vines from the interior of the shattered bus.
At this range, I could see now that the flying creature bore two legs and had its wings half-tucked like a vulture that had descended to feed on roadkill. Its head turned slightly, and in the glow of another lightning bolt, my jaw went slack at the realization of what it was. A tree trunk. It’s a rotted tree trunk.
I couldn’t tell where the reptilian beast began, and where the organic tree components ended, the upper part of the head shaped like a log, while the lower jaw resembled something out of a dinosaur movie. Its skin looked identical to the outside of a shagbark hickory but flexed with a supple featheriness that denoted something closer to skin. Sharp branch-like spines ranged down its back, and out to the end of its tail, which bore a massive round club shaped like a diseased tree-knot. Crouched on both hind legs, it braced the hooked ends of its folded wings against the ground like a bat, towering higher than a semi-truck. Under the folds of its armored head, a bulging pair of chameleon-like eyes constantly spun in their sockets, probing the dark for threats while it ate.
One black pupil locked onto the window I peered through, and my heart stopped.
The beast regarded me for a moment, making a curious, sideways sniff.
With a proud, contemptful head-toss, the shadow from the sky parted rows of razor-sharp teeth to let out a roar that shook the earth beneath my feet. It was the triumphant war cry of a creature that sat at the very top of the food chain, one that felt no threat from the fragile two-legged beings that walked the earth all around it. It hunted whenever it wanted, ate whatever it wanted, and flew wherever it wanted. It didn’t need to rip the plane apart to devour me.
Like my hunter-gatherer ancestors from thousands of years ago, I wasn’t even worth the energy it would take to pounce.
I’m hiding in the remains of the cockpit now, which is half-buried under the mud of the field, enough to shield the light from my screen so that thing doesn’t see it. My service only now came back, and it’s been over an hour since the winged beast started in on the dead bus. I don’t know when, or how I’m going to get out of here. I don’t know when anyone will even see this post, or if it will upload at all. My phone battery is almost dead, and at this point, I’m probably going to have to sleep among the corpses until daylight comes.
A dead man sleeping amongst friends.
If you live in the Noble County area in southeastern Ohio, be careful where you drive, fly, and boat. I don’t know if it’s possible to stumble into this strange place by ground, but if so, then these things are definitely headed your way.
If that happens . . . pray that they don’t find you.
Hello all ! I have a chronic pain more almost two years now, there is a muscle in my back why is constantly contracted when i'm anxious, and it give me pains like I never get before.
I would like to know, what you could advice ( No medics, only natural supplements ) to relax my muscles? I don't want to be less anxious, but just transform my hard muscles into smooths muscles. If i'm not taking xanax, it's because I don't want to get any brain effect, only relax my body.
What would you advice? ( Excluding: CBD, Bath, Yoga )
I like Misato, I think the "She's a groomer" memes aren't fair to her character. But the characters in Evangelion are broken, flawed people, and ignoring her ugly side is also unfair to her character.
She didn't take Shinji in to groom him, or because she thought he might be packing-pipe, she had only good intentions. She supported him properly, and she acted as a guardian, and older sister figure throughout the series, that is the relationship the she formed with him.
And then when Kaji died, she got wrapped up in her grief, and intended to use Shinji for sexual relief/comfort.
Probably she told herself it would comfort him too, maybe she didn't think about it at all and it was purely impulse. But it's clear what she wanted, and because Shinji isn't some oblivious caricature, he obviously picked up on it too.
And it was wrong, Evangelion doesn't portray it as sexy or hot, or a man's fantasy for a second. It's portrayed as a gross betrayal of their relationship and violation of the boundaries that she formed with him- which is exactly how Shinji reacts, he's not blushing and stammering, he's shocked and repulsed, he completely rejects her.
She flees, he wallows, and even when they're both in a better headspace they never once talk about it.
So, is she a groomer or a pedophile? No, probably not. But her conscience definitely isn't completely clean either.
First off I appreciate all the suggestions, advice and encouragement. I’ve been posting about a trio of senior kitties, trying to find them homes because they were wilting at the Baldwin Park shelter. There were many awesome people I heard from and that helped a lot. Thank you all.
I picked up Thalia yesterday morning from the shelter. The moment I opened her carrier box the smell was absolutely awful, she smelled like rotten filth and had globs of thick yellow and red drool hanging from both sides of her mouth. The globs were everywhere but her back, dried all over and incredibly disgusting. She was more dried filth than cat. But she purred and leaned into my petting.
I got her home, bathed her and examined the notes from the shelter vet. He noted a few times that she had stomatitis and a poor prognosis. He knew the first time he checked her how much pain she was in and just let her stay months at that shelter in excruciating pain.
I made her an appointment for this morning with my trusted vet, he’s a very good man. He was horrified that the shelter didn’t euthanize her immediately, for her sake. The chance of fixing her issues was very slim and he said she had to be at an 11/10 on the pain scale all day, every day. This issue didn’t happen overnight, it would have taken years.
Her original owner had to have known…for years…what was happening. When the condition became too bad she dumped her at a shelter. That shelter didn’t do what they were supposed to for a suffering animal. A person adopted her and returned her for “aggression” within 3 days. This was complete and utter BS, this little angel did nothing but purr and enjoy cuddles.
I do a lot of rescues. Since October alone I’ve scooped up dozens of hamsters and a few cats, rescuing them from situations that their negligent, uncaring owners caused. Did you know that every hamster cage sold by stores in the US is insanely cruel to hamsters? Even the smallest dwarf needs a minimum of 650 sq inches and at least 6-8” of bedding. If you go to Home Depot and look at their 55 gallon storage bin, that’s about the size you need…at least. Anything less is cruel and is even against the law in countries like Germany. All that chewing-on-the-bars and running around that so many people like to say is cute is a hamster being driven mad by what amounts to a Harry Potter staircase closet for a human.
Animals are living creatures and deserving of at the very least a bare minimum of living conditions. They are little souls dependent on the people that are supposed to be caring for them. If you don’t want an animal for life then don’t get one please. I don’t care if it’s a hamster, rat, cat, possum or horse. If they are living beings then they sure as hell should be treated as such and not like disposable toys that can be ignored, abandoned and tossed away like trash. Don’t get that hamster because your child (who is probably not ready for the responsibility) thought it was cute in a pet store. Do your research and be willing to provide what the animal needs for the rest of its life or DON’T GET IT.
Today my rescue cat Thalia was euthanized. My vet and I realized it was the only humane solution for her, no matter how much I (selfishly) wanted a little bit more time with her. So I held her as she died, and she literally purred with her head resting on my chest until she was gone. She let go before he had fully dispensed the 2nd injection. I tried to not cry until she was gone and just kept telling her how sorry I was that humans had failed her so badly for so long. She was an absolute angel and so loving, despite the immense amount of pain she was in.
When I brought her home yesterday I had decided to keep her for the rest of her life. I couldn’t wait to get her to the vet and start treatments that would help remove her pain. I didn’t know how short our time would be and instead I kissed her still head and have been crying since, switching between deep sadness and absolute rage.
The way our society treats animals is the way we treat each other. There are those who truly believe that just because someone doesn’t look, sound or act like them that makes those people or animals lesser. It’s an ugly mentality and causes a huge amount of the problems in this world. Every living being is worthy of basic respect and decency. From a child going hungry without lunch because the community decided not every child deserves to be fed if their parents can’t afford it to a rat being thrown into a trash bag to die a slow and horrible death with the other rats in there with him…these are LIVING SOULS.
If you don’t like animals, fine. How about not getting any and at least dealing with those you come across with decency? I know there are good people in this world as hurt and horrified by what they see every day as I am. I just feel like we are the minority and the majority just don’t care. We need to do so much better as a species. Stop this ass-backwards bigoted and hateful thinking and behave like decent human beings, please.
I'm a high school student and have severe menstrual pain to the point that I often have to miss school. I tend to throw up from the pain, and I can't walk for long enough to get from class to class.
Heating pads barely work, and hot baths need to be hot enough to make my skin red to help even slightly. I've tried Midol and pretty much every over-the-counter pain medication. No help.
I'm also somewhat irregular. Last cycle lasted 43 days. I bleed for around 7--9 days at a time and started having my period around the age of 10-11.
I plan on getting an examination soon and maybe prescription birth control or pain meds. However, I'm wondering if there's a way for me to get more excused absences from school per semester or something to a similar effect? I miss so much for my periods that i often have to go to school when im actually sick, although thats not my main concern here.
If it's relevant, the most intimate experience ive ever had was accidentally touching my friend's toe at a sleepover.
This story takes place back in the early 2010's. I was only around 4 or 5 at the time. I was placed in a daycare located in a suburban neighborhood, in a woman's house. Many children stayed here. As you entered the steps, a split-level staircase came into full view. Up the first set of steps, you came into a living room. I cannot remember the furniture, however, I remember a backyard in which I ran around a played. A small room with a fireplace sat with a small children's chair in it, a TV placed on the ground. I do not remember where I slept, but there was a small room with a few cribs in it, where the babies slept. I remember visiting my sister in one of these cribs. The woman- she wasn’t the nicest. Before my sister's death, I acquired a scar over the top of my forehead. I was said to have fallen onto a brick, given the cleanly straight scar across my head. I do not remember any of this. However, another day after the injury, I, being 4 or 5, accidentally used the bathroom on myself. Reluctantly, I told the daycare teacher. She was furious. She took me into a small, cramped bathroom, and placed me into the bath, shouting at me and despising me for doing an uncontrollable action. After I was bathed in the shallow, warm water, she took me back out and dressed me. However, instead of sending me off to live my life as I had been, she brought me into the basement and out to the garage. She snarled to me that rats lived in there, that they would eat me. And with that, she sat me on the lip between the door and the cold gray concrete and locked the door. I didn’t scream or beg to be let out, but instead huddled close to the door and sobbed, looking out at the dark garage, trying to not imagine the supposed rats that would come out for me. My hope was the thin line of light tracing the garage door, the only trace of life outside of this abysmal situation. I didn’t know how long I stayed there- it could have been 5 minutes or 30 minutes. However, the afternoon was my worst shame. My mother came to pick me up, and my daycare teacher condemned me, embarrassing me. She said, “Tell your Mom what you did.” Ashamed, I didn’t answer. So she answered for me, telling my mother about using the bathroom on myself. And I was ashamed. I hated what I had done, and blamed myself for what happened. My father wanted me out of there as soon as possible- I was lucky. My sister, however, was not. Sometime later, after attending this new Montessori school, she died. My mother came to pick me up, an unusual occurrence for this period of my life. It was my great-grandmother who did, who drove over with a bag full of snacks hanging off the side of the car seat. But my mother picked me up. She drove in the opposite direction of home, to the hospital. At the hospital, I never went into the room. I waited in the waiting room, happily watching a Disney movie. But the smell of the place- the smell wafted through my memory like a wave. And when I would smell it again, the memory would immediately return to my consciousness, as if it were in waiting to emerge once again. And how had my sister died? And how did my parents find out? A reporter knocked on the door, revealing that another little boy had gone into the hospital, but he was luckier. He only went into a coma, which could have life-altering repercussions. Then it hit them. My sister had shaken baby syndrome, a result of traumatic shaking and mishandling of children under the age of three. And so she died because of my abusive daycare teacher. I was the lucky one. The story surfaced in 2017 about the boy, but my parents never pressed charges. The woman got 15 years in prison for assault charges and many other things of that nature.
This shit is starting to get to me so I need some perspective on this whole situation please. I'm using my main account since two of my friends use Reddit and know my username anyway.
As a preface, I was in a 6 year relationship in which we were engaged that ended 2 and half years ago. The engagement ended due to incompatibilities that we couldn't ignore any longer, but it ended on great terms since we genuinely cared about each other. This current friend group formed during the last year of that relationship. We all hang out together all the time, have been on several trips together, support one another, and regularly stay the night at each other's homes. They are like my second family of sorts. Nothing sexual has ever happened between anyone in the group that I know of.
Well about 8 months ago I was finally feeling ready to date again with the intention of getting married and having kids after two long term flings. I expressed these feelings to my friends after we got back to my place from a bar. They were all excited for me and offered to help look, to which I declined since I'd rather let the process happen as organically as possible. Well nearly two weeks after this conversation, we've all gathered at 30F's 4ghouse after work for a dinner party since she loves to cook; except she had also invited one of her friends (31F) that doesn't normally hang out with us on nights like this. I couldn't care less since I think she's a great person to be around, super kind, and pretty funny although I've only talked to her a handful of times. As you have probably guessed already, she was invited for me which everyone was in on except for 28M and me. I'm not entirely oblivious/naive so I figure out pretty quickly that this is an informal date between 31F and myself. She spent a large portion of the night making conversation with me in an effort for us to get to know each other. Towards the end of the night I took 31F aside to the patio in order to talk about this situation in privacy. She tells me that 30F said that we would be great together and that finds me attractive and wants to find out where things could go. I tell her that I'm flattered but she's just not what I'm looking for in a life partner. There was some back and forth about why and what she might have done wrong, I stressed that it was nothing she did wrong and that she is attractive but I'm not interested. The conversation ended something like this:
31F: "But I don't understand, why wouldn't you be interested? From our conversations I think we should at least give each other a chance. "
Me: "It doesn't matter why I'm not interested. I think you deserve to be with someone who is crazy about you. Besides, I'm sure you have a ton of guys who are interested in getting to know you on an intimate level. "
31F: "Ok I understand, but let me know if you change your mind".
Exact words escape me, but I thought this whole thing was tied up that night with they conversation. We re joined the get together and had a good time with everyone before we all went home. The next goddamn day I'm contacted by friends 30F and 27F about 31F. They were annoyed that I didn't give 31F at least 1 date since she really tried to get to know me. I ignored the fact that they tried to set me up because I genuinely don't think it's a big deal. I reiterated what I said to 31F the night before but they continued to press me about why I won't date her. After like an hour of pressing me I finally told them that I don't like dating promiscuous women. How do I know that 31F was promiscuous in her past? Because it's hard not to listen to 23F, 27F, and 30F gossip and talk about people they know when we hang out. I know all about 31F's past since she and 30F went to college together. Now let me just say that I do not care if an individual is sexually free, as long as every one is safe, consenting, and healthy, please do whatever you want. I also don't look down on any one who chooses to live their life that way and try my best to treat everyone with respect. However I learned from that gossip that 31F was a "party girl" and had slept with over 50 men during her time in college. Again, she can do whatever she wants but I don't find that type of behavior appealing in a long term partner. I equated it to dating a vegetarian or someone who doesn't like pets. It's just a preference, that's it.
27F and 30F immediately jumped down my throat until 23F came to my rescue and helped them understand my perspective and thought process. I felt as though I was perfectly reasonable. I was a bit shocked when they acted like I shouldn't have this preference and that it was based in misogyny. Look, I have two sisters and most of my family are women, I don't have a misogynistic bone in my body. There was a slight shift in how frequently we hung out after that, but things seemed fine for the most part over the next few months. Even 28M came to me and said that he thought it was ok for me to have whatever preferences I wanted for whoever I plan to spend the rest of my life with. Case closed right?
No. A few months after that blip I met someone that I'm excited about (she sent me a rose on Hinge) and I began spending a bit less time with the group to spend more time with her. Everyone noticed and asked if I was dating someone and I of course said that I was and told them about her. Well 27F and 30F didn't like that she was 23 years old and started throwing out some pretty shitty accusations about me grooming her, or that I might have pedophilic tendencies. Then they brought up 31F again and said they now understand the "real" reason why I wouldn't date her. Friends 23F and 28M again defended me but things became increasingly tense. I don't understand what the fuck is happening with 27F and 30F. We were all solid before all of this and everyone has been so reasonable up until that night with 31F.
Can you all please share your thoughts? Is our friend group done? While 28M and 23F think it's fine, I'm still getting shit from 30F and 27F.
i feel like im never getting better… ive been in therapy since half my life (im 18) but nothing really gets better. I still overreact to many things and i cant function like a normal person.
daily life is challenging for me… i cant wash my clothes or do the dishes. i practically have no friends and the only people i have contact with regularly are my parents/grandparents.
im not wanted from both my stepparents so now i live alone. im not ready for this. cooking and cleaning is too much for me. i dont go outside and i just feel so alone.
i dont think anyone will ever love me romantically. i miss when i got groomed when i was 13-15 and i hate myself for that. but at least someone liked me back than. i dont care that it was only for sexual purposes, at least i wasnt lonely. im trying to play the same video games as back then just so that i can find someone to be in an online relationship for 2 weeks. at least i would be feeling more than just loneliness and emptiness.
i cant get myself to lose weight. sure i lost 2 pounds since i started but i think im gaining weight again. i dont eat healthy, i cant motivate myself to do so. i dont exercises, i do nothing but eating since that brings comfort to me.
i dont feel like im sick enough to fit in with other people that are mentally ill, although im classified as disabled by it… idk other people just seem to have it worse than me
Hello. I've been smoking for years, and always, I have all my muscles contracted, like i'm really anxious and it give me a lot of serious pain. I'm not looking to reduce my anxiety, but anything that could help to make my muscles smooth when they're hard.
Excluding Bath, Massages, CBD, what would you guys advice to relax my whole body on THC?
So we all can tell leslie doesn't shower but once a month (if that) and I'm fairly positive at her size she can't fit in a shower. I had a manager once that was her size who said she had to give herself sponge baths because she couldn't fit in the shower and tbh I don't think she was quite as large as leslard so there's just no way she fits. Like even a bath would have to be a tight squeeze. Do yall think there will ever be something strong enough to motivate her to change? It's so insane how someone can be one of the most undesirable people and still find themselves to be attractive and desirable. That kind of lack of self consciousness or social awareness is the 8th wonder of the world
I've (26F) been seeing my FWIB (30M) for about a month now (we are planning on dating officially if we continue liking each other past the honeymoon phase) and the first time I came over to his place I noticed it was very messy and his bathroom was not clean either, I really wanted to start cleaning then and there but I've done that in a prior relationship and ended up being treated like a maid so I held back. I mentioned to my FWIB that his bathroom is kind of gross and I'd like it if it was clean next time I'm over, he said it wasn't that bad but agreed and showed me he cleaned it next time I came over (I was very happy about this because it felt like he cared enough to listen and actually take action).
From what I understand so far - he likes things somewhat clean, just doesn't bother organizing things or trying to make his place nice. I gave him a bath mat and a front door mat cuz he didn't have one for some reason, he also doesn't have pillow cases (considering giving him spare ones that I have) but I make his bed before I leave his place and he likes it when he comes back (he leaves first for work). This morning, as I was leaving, I really wanted to just deep clean his place and organize it but I don't want to do it by myself in case he starts expecting me to keep doing it going forward. Then I thought - maybe I can suggest doing it together next time I see him?
Obviously it would be nice if he did this on his own but I don't think he cares enough and I can't see myself living with someone this disorganized/messy. He is a great guy overall, just not very clean and I refuse to be someone's maid again. Would it be weird/controlling to suggest this?