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Castro 1D Oak Crest Court Novato, CA 94947 (415)897-0305 mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org 5,543 words
Anthony A. Castro\The Last Birthing \2
They were a team of six – two in the surveillance van, two spotters on the roof and two field agents that would go into the building. It was summertime, almost noon in San Francisco, but the air felt cold and wintry. Don Cameron had traveled the world over since this had all started and, everywhere he went, things felt the same – even when it was out, the sunlight was weak and sickly. There was a cold and evil wind that circled the globe, a breeze that seemed to speak of frozen vastnesses beyond the comprehension of men. It brought with it madness and death, driving people to hideous acts of savagery and violence. There was precious little warmth left in the world. Cameron was the field agent in charge and, despite the cold weather, he could feel the cold sweat plastering the shirt to his skin and had to keep wiping his palms on his pants. He missed his family in Ohio, his wife and their two boys. He wondered if he’d ever see them again, if this terror stalking everyone on Earth would ever end. He shook his head and sighed. He inspected his MLA-6 high-capacity gauss rifle, trying to take some comfort from the hunk of steel and plastic that used magnetic linear acceleration to create the most effective and devastating rifle ever created by man. Besides, it seemed to be the only weapon effective against…them. The other team members were green, recent academy graduates who didn’t know what they were getting into – but Cameron knew. He’d been at Quantico that day, the day the world started to go to hell. For a few seconds, he screwed his eyes shut. He didn’t want those memories anymore, but it was as if some inner perversities made them unreel in his mind like a demented parody of a cheap horror movie.
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It’d been about a year earlier, when the FBI discovered a cache of forty-five egg-shaped, leathery things approximately two feet high stashed in a sub-basement of an old Chicago department store. The FBI agents sent them to Quantico immediately, where a team of scientists brought over from the DoD set up a testing lab in the fifth underground level, the deepest and most reinforced part of the FBI’s headquarters. Hell of a lot of good that did, remembered Cameron. He could barely contain his shudders as he remembered… First, he’d heard a deep bass note. It continued for almost thirty seconds, the deepest note he’d ever heard, so strong that Cameron grabbed his head in pain. Cameron’s framed Presidential commendation shook uncontrollably, beating out a rat-tat-tat before falling to the ground. The glass frame seemed to explode, but the shards were floating in slow motion as they fell to the ground. The note abruptly ended, followed by a sound like tinfoil being shredded… and then the shockwave hit. In Cameron’s mind, a voice was screaming BOMB. He felt the concussive push of an explosion on his chest, sending him flying into the wall. It knocked out the lights immediately, but it didn’t go dark. Cameron got up and shook his head, trying to focus his eyes and ignore the ringing in his ears. He opened his office door and ran out into the hallway. He found himself surrounded by a multitude of agents and technicians milling around in confusion, everyone asking what had happened. He’d heard rumors of something strange being tested down on level 5, but they were always doing weird science down there. It took a few seconds before he realized why it wasn’t dark. The power was out, there was a thin misting of dust in the air, but the emergency lights weren’t on. The walls, the floor,
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chairs, desks, every physical object except for people were starting to barely glow and pulsate with a strange whitish light that seemed to be growing stronger. Suddenly, he saw the floor down the hallway begin to bend upwards, as if a gigantic hand were pushing from below…but it wasn’t really the floor, it was more like some sort of bubble of that same whitish light that was rising from the floor. The bubble had a heavy black border and little lightning charges ran through it. Cameron yelled “Hey, watch it!” to the tall man who was next to the bubble, who turned to him just at the moment the bubble had him. Later, Cameron would swear that the bubble had moved towards the other man, almost as if it needed to feed and knew that humans would nourish it. The man opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out, his mouth continuing to open more and more as his body was lifted up, and Cameron could see the mad, helpless terror in the man’s eyes as his body stretched and melted into the borders of the bubble. Cameron saw a hand and part of a leg still sticking out, viscera glistening over the black surface of that damned bubble. He fell to his knees and threw up. He heard voices screaming, footsteps running, then a familiar voice yelling for someone to turn on the g-force generator. He looked up in time to see Dr….Salazar, he thought the man’s name was, holding some kind of long tube-like device and aiming it at the bubble that continued to rise and grow from the floor. He saw Salazar had a headset on, he was talking to someone…”on three, Atwood, Perkins, on three! Ready…one, two, three!” There was a loud pop, like someone opening a gigantic champagne bottle. The bubble surged forward again but it stopped growing, almost as if it had run into a physical barrier but it didn’t retreat. It stayed there, still pulsing and glowing, looking like a malignant negative image
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of a star. Salazar looked down at Cameron. “Are you all right, agent? Are you all right? Did you see what happened to the other agent? How many people are on this floor?” Cameron looked up, his eyes blood-shot and bleary. “Yeah, I’m all right…I saw it, it took him, he was melting over it, I couldn’t…” Cameron shuddered and threw up again. He tried to get up but his legs were two pillars of useless jelly that just couldn’t hold him. It was more than just shock, though. There was something about being close to that bubble that wouldn’t let him think straight, it felt like his brain was being covered in a web of static, everything around him was pulsing with that damned light, bizarre symbols and words were in his brain, weird colors that he’d never smelled before. Cameron moaned, tried to get up and collapsed back to the floor. He felt Salazar grab him under the arms and drag him around the corner. The agent took a deep, ragged breath, trying to control himself. He saw Salazar slump down on the floor next to him. Cameron looked at him and whispered “Thanks…you saved me.” Salazar stuck out his right hand. “Dr. Peter Salazar, on loan from DoD.” Cameron took his hand, replying “Don Cameron, field agent Grade 7. I know you, you’re the whiz kid from DoD’s weapons design lab.” “Thank God, a Grade 7,” said Salazar, ignoring Cameron’s comment. “Agent Cameron, listen to me,” he continued, “we’ve lost all contact with everything below level 2 – no phones, no intercom, no radio. You may be the most senior agent left alive down here. I need you to open room 17.” “Wha…what the fuck is that thing? Did you see what it did to him? How the hell are we going to stop it, we can’t do a damned thing, we, we, we…” Cameron was going into hysterics,
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the pitch of his voice rising until he felt his head snap back from the force of Salazar’s slap. Salazar looked him in the eyes, saying “Cameron, take a deep breath and focus! I need you to stay calm! We have to get to room 17 – the prototype extra-dimensional exploration suits for Project Shadowzone are there, we need them to go down to level 5 and see what’s going on!” “They started before I got here, I told them to wait, but they were ordered to proceed. We’d detected a strange sort of radiation coming from the eggs, I was following the procedure on a video stream thru my blackberry until Castro and Higgins made the first incision and tried to open the first one. It turned them…inside-out, and then there was that flash, I couldn’t see anything but I could hear the screams…the g-force generator the Japanese loaned us won’t stop it for much longer, whatever that thing is it’ll just keep on growing! Those suits are our only chance to get down there and stop whatever the hell is going on, Cameron, do you understand me?” Shaking, vomit covering the front of his shirt, Cameron got up. A part of him kicked in, the part of him that was cold and efficient and would make him do whatever he had to in order to end this. He grabbed Salazar’s sleeve and started running down the hallway, turning left and turning right, deeper and deeper into the underground maze until they reached a gigantic metal door with a retinal scanner and numeric keypad next to it. Cameron put his right eye up to the scanner and punched in the code. With an electronic ping, the door unlocked and swung open. Barely waiting, Cameron and Salazar jumped into the vault known as room 17 and pulled out two of the specially-designed protective prototype suits they needed. They pulled the thick, strangely-colored fabric open and put them on, attaching the special breathing tanks to their
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backs after putting on their helmets. Cameron pointed to the control panel on their sleeves and turned his helmet mike on – “Salazar, can you hear me? Come in, come in!” “Yes, Cameron, I can hear you,” the doctor replied. “Good…are you sure these suits will protect us?” The doctor didn’t answer for a second. “No, I’m not. We designed these suits for a parallel dimension exploration project but I don’t know if anything can protect us from… whatever those things are, Cameron, but we’ve got to try! We’ve got to get down to level 5!” With no power, they had to take the stairs. At least, they wouldn’t come into direct contact with the bubble until they reached level 4…assuming whatever the thing was, it really was shaped like a bubble. They went down slowly to level 3, and it looked like the sides of the bubble did actually curve. The suits protected them, but just barely. Cameron’s head still felt like it was being shot with bolts of static but it was at least manageable and he could still think more or less straight. That sensation of turning into a hysterical chimp he’d had upstairs wasn’t completely gone though…he had to fight hard to keep it down. Salazar was following him down the stairs. Cameron turned to look at him. The man’s face was pale and Cameron could see his left eyelid twitching. Salazar wasn’t faring any better. Cameron’s hand went to the door when they reached level 3, but Salazar’s voice came thru the mike “No, we have to get to level 5.” “But there’re hundreds of people on all these floors! We have to help them!”
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“Later! Level 5, we can’t save them until we stop this!” Salazar thought Cameron looked like he wanted to slug him. Reluctantly, Cameron kept going down the stairs. Halfway down to level 4 they ran into the border of the bubble. Cameron was terrified. He was trying to stay in control but he could feel wetness trickling down his legs. He knew they both had to get inside that thing to get through it. He held his hands out in front of him as he approached. His fingertips were close enough to brush the edges. Suddenly, he felt his hands being irresistibly pulled forward. It was almost like the bubble was a giant magnet pulling him towards it. His hands penetrated the bubble slowly. He heard Salazar’s voice. “Go slow, Cameron.” His hands were in up to his wrists…then he felt his entire being sucked into the bubble and turned inside out, his mind felt like it was being stretched in every direction at once, he heard a high-pitched scream that sounded like him, his brain was exploding into bands of colors he could smell and odors he could see, the world turned into an inside-out negative image, then all he could see was a giant golden symbol throbbing in front of him with a life that was retchinducingly horrible and unbearably, shockingly sensuous…and suddenly he was stumbling forward and falling to his knees, he was thru and now he was inside the bubble. Salazar was on the floor next to him, breathing hard with a shocked look in his eyes. They both noticed the light first – it came off stronger from the emergency lights, but it glowed and pulsed from every physical object around them, making everything look like amoebas trying to assume their shapes. Cameron couldn’t look at them for long before the waves of nausea started to hit him again. God, it just keeps getting worse and worse, he thought.
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Everyone they found was dead, their bodies in different stages of either turning inside out or melting. Not everyone had died from whatever the hell was being tested, though. A few had survived, but they’d been changed. Some of them didn’t even look human. They had attacked each other with whatever they’d found, hacking and slashing and carving strange symbols on their foreheads. They found the lone survivor on level 5 – it was a woman dressed in a white lab coat, the skin of her face hanging down her chin in bloody strips. Her eye sockets were empty, and she held her eyeballs in the palms of her hands where the eye stalks had grown into her wrists. “I can see you” she said to them, her forehead emblazoned with a strange symbol that gave off an eerie golden light. “They see you, too!” she kept screaming at them as they staggered down the hallway away from her. They reached the lab and entered. Cameron and Salazar were in the heart of a nightmare. There was one egg on the main table, with all sorts of wires and meters attached to it. The top flaps were open and the light poured out in liquid-like waves. There was something under the table. It was a mass of molten flesh, metal, and plastic writhing on the floor and making a disgusting whistling, wheezing noise that seemed to keep pace with the strengthening of the light. Cameron turned to Salazar. “What the hell are we doing?” Salazar shook his head, trying to concentrate. “Go to that control panel, there, to your left! See the green button?” “Yeah, I see it!” “Grab the key and stick it into the red slot. We’ve got to press the button and turn the key to the right at the same time! On my mark…one, two, mark!”
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Salazar then jumped to the panel behind him and turned three knobs in succession. Sobbing, he prayed to God that this would disengage the magnetic dampening field that was keeping the egg open. Cameron was seeing bands of light that he could smell, but Salazar was starting to understand the symbols they’d seen, what they meant, and he started to giggle uncontrollably as he felt his feet soften and liquefy… There was a loud bang as the top flaps of the egg suddenly snapped close. The ground trembled, concrete and dust filled the air as the light strobed intensely for several seconds. Cameron screamed and fell, his brain feeling like a strip of paper being wound and unwound and then it all stopped, the insanity and hysteria of what had just happened replaced by only two sounds: two small pieces of metal pipe swinging from the ceiling and hitting each other and the strange snuffling grunting noise coming from Salazar. Cameron didn’t see it until he was next to him. Salazar’s legs were gone, they were just a puddle of pulsing molten flesh. The doctor held out his hand to Cameron as he knelt beside him and said “They’re…everywhere…don’t…let them…hatch…they’ll…kill…us all.” He convulsively squeezed Cameron’s hands and died. Since then, Cameron had been working with thousands of police, military and intelligence agents from every country in the world in a desperate effort to discover what those eggs were, where they came from and who was stashing them in hiding places in every city in the world. He was the only survivor of Quantico. I guess that made me the expert, he thought. Every government in the world had joined in the effort. The threat was real and confirmed, they knew there wasn’t much time. After months of investigation, they had tracked down and discovered all the hiding places – only one per city, usually with at least fifty eggs, in
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a sub-basement or any other dark and damp underground place. But there was something else learned from Quantico: whoever was responsible for the eggs had stepped up their efforts after that disaster and that meant Cameron and the rest of the teams could wait no longer. They were set and ready. All the teams around the world were prepared to hit and destroy the eggs in one simultaneous attack. Today, it would all end. [BREAK] It was nice to have a big family. Momma and Daddy had lots of little ones, all wiggling and crawling every which way around the farm. Funny thing, they gave them all the same names: boys were named Ronnie and girls were named Mary. When you’ve got as many little ones as they had, it’s probably just easier to do that. But none of the little ones cared, they were just happy being kids. Every night, Momma would make dinner and afterwards all the little ones would gather around Daddy while he read from The Book. He would read to them for hours about the holy mission they’d been sent on by their elders and what a glorious transformation their victory would bring. Daddy’s faith was strong – he always told them their faith must be strong and without doubts because their cause was right and just. Their ways were hard but they had to be because they were the light that would cleanse this world. That had all been a long time ago, though. All the boys and girls were married off, just like their kind had always done. The day came when the youngest Ronnie and Mary were married and left the farm. They were the last ones and everyone cried as they hugged and said goodbye. Momma and Daddy were very old by then, and Mary and Ronnie both knew they’d probably not see them again. Daddy gave Ronnie a copy of The Book so their little ones would
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learn who they were and what their duty was. So with the Lord in their hearts, the youngsters took each other’s hand and went walking down that old road to the big city. They lived there for about two years before it was time for them to move on. Mary and Ronnie were married, so it was their duty to be fruitful and multiply. He worked in a car repair place and Mary stayed at home, preparing things for the big day. Poor thing, she knew that she wouldn’t walk again after her first birthing but she was strong in her faith. She knew what her duty was. With their family, it always took about a year for the babies to come to term. It’d been some fifteen months after they arrived when Mary’s skin started to change and they knew that the blessed day had arrived. Mary and Ronnie fixed up the nesting room with all the stuff their babies would need – the pitchfork and hay, the buckets of ice water, heavy curtains on the windows to blot out the sun, etc. It was raining that night, just like it would for every one of their birthings after that. Mary grunted once, and all her water broke. Whew, thought Ronnie, I didn’t think a little thing like my Mary could hold so much liquid! He reached into her folds, pushing aside the tentacles and the birthing slime, and ever so gently he pulled out the first little leathery egg. They laughed and cried when Ronnie showed it to her, and he was so proud of his Mary when she held it in her arms. But Mary wasn’t done yet. She kept grunting, and Ronnie kept delivering eggs. That first birthing they had twenty eggs – not bad, but nowhere near the hundred that Daddy said Momma had on their first birthing. They had ten buckets of ice water, so the little ones had to share two to a bucket. Poor Mary, she was so tired at the end that all she could do was look up at
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Ronnie and smile when he cut her throat. It was a tough job, but that’s the way it had always been with their family. Ronnie knew she hadn’t left him, though. The last egg was always the special one and he knew that his Mary was coming back to him. It took about two days for the last egg to hatch and for Mary to grow up again. He fed her and took care of her and showed her where he was hiding their future children. After the first day, they didn’t need water anymore, just darkness. Of course, Mary didn’t have legs no more, so Ronnie got her a wheelchair for when they went out. People would pretty much freak out if they saw her tentacles but he always thought they were kind of…sexy, he felt. Ronnie knew that Daddy would call that sinful but he just couldn’t help it. Ronnie sat on the ground surrounded by the eggs as he read The Book to them. He read the story of how the Lord had protected their people when the things had pierced the Veil and tried to corrupt their world and how the Lord had commanded them to go forth and multiply until they engulfed the dreadful place the invaders called home. The time came for Ronnie and Mary to leave their children behind and prepare for the next birthing. They hid the eggs under the floorboards of the attic, in the crawlspace, in a corner of the garage, anywhere where they would be safe in the dark. When they were done, Mary and Ronnie held hands and prayed to their Lord to take care of their little ones. The next day, Ronnie quit his job. When he got home, Mary had everything packed and waiting. Ronnie threw their stuff in the car, helped Mary in, and they took off to the next city. It had been some fifty years since their first birthing. They’d been in many cities since then and they’d had birthings in every one of them. Every once in a while, they’d run into one of
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their brothers and sisters and they’d be up all night, just chatting and catching up, bragging about how big their birthings were. Not everything was all right though. Men had discovered the birthing place in Chicago and tried to open up one of the eggs. Ronnie grinned as he thought of what a surprise those government guys got that day. But he and Mary, every Ronnie and Mary around the world, knew they were in danger after that. They had to be alert. The children had to be protected, no matter what. Yeah, it’d been a long time but the wait was coming to an end. The stars were lining up just like The Book said they would and when that day came they were all going to see something nobody had ever seen before. That was the day all their little ones would hatch, every birthing from every one of their brothers and sisters, their Lord would return from the stars and their Eden would begin. Can’t you just see it, thought Ronnie, a world filled with our little ones that are just like us, millions and millions of Ronnies and Marys covering the face of the earth and making it all one as they consume it…everything and everyone covered by the love of Ronnie and Mary. The Book said it would be so, and The Book was the truth. Besides, it would be nice to have a big family again. [BREAK] Things weren’t going to plan. Cameron wiped the palms of his hands on his pants again and thought Oh God, it’s all starting to slip away. It had started about two hours earlier, when Central Control lost contact with the Tokyo team. Each team was equipped with audio/video transmission implants that let Central Control monitor them constantly. Tokyo wasn’t transmitting. It had just stopped, two minutes after their team leader reported that they were all
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in position and ready to go. He knew the team leader – Akira Fukunaga had been his roommate at the Academy. Cameron rubbed his forehead and sighed. He couldn’t think about what was happening to his friend. Then it was Seoul, Beijing, Hong Kong…one by one, Central Control was losing contact with the strike teams. Within twenty minutes, contact had been lost with every team in Asia and the Middle East. After forty minutes, all of Africa was the same and after an hour Europe fell silent as well. They sent the backup teams in, of course, but it didn’t help. Central Control got one report from the backup team in Yemen. They didn’t send in any more backups after that. The guys at CC weren’t saying, but after a year of working on this Cameron knew that whatever had happened was bad. He recognized the tone in their voices… he’d sounded just like that after Quantico. Hell, he thought, they still don’t what the damn things are. The closest thing to an explanation he’d gotten was from a physicist specializing in string-theory dynamics that they were some sort of pan-dimensional chaotic beings who were planning on colonizing and overrunning the planet. Not control it or rule it but overrunning it, replacing all life with theirs. Cameron had gotten the first taste of that at Quantico, and that had just been opening one of the eggs…what would happen if those things actually hatched? The physicist had been part of the Project Shadowzone team. Salazar had mentioned that name, something about exploration of other dimensions. He blinked once and swallowed hard as it all seemed to click into place. Christ, he thought, what if we brought it on… “San Francisco, come in, this is Central Control,” he heard in his headset. “AIC Cameron here,” he replied, adding “tell me something good, guys.”
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“AIC Cameron, stand by please…we’re patching you directly to POTUS.” The President? Goddamn it, I don’t have time for pep talk bullshit, thought Cameron. He heard the deep rumble of a trained actor’s voice, the voice of the President of the United States. “AIC Cameron, this is the President. I’m personally monitoring your operation from the White House. Son, I’m not going to lie to you…the situation is grave. Central Control tells me that they’ve lost contact with every team around the world except for your men in San Francisco and the Seattle team. You few men may be the last hope for life on Earth. I just wanted to say that we’re all praying for you…good luck and Godspeed, soldier.” “Thank you, sir,” he replied as the fear gripped him. If the only ones left were his men and the Seattle team…no, he couldn’t think like that. They would succeed, damn it, they had to, they had to! He looked at his watch and saw that it was 11:55 AM. Five minutes until zero hour. He switched the frequency in his helmet and radioed his team to get ready. The surveillance men reported that thermal imaging showed only two in the basement with almost a hundred eggs ready to hatch. The building plans showed that there was a small flight of stairs and a door in the back that went directly into the basement. “That backdoor’s mine”, said Cameron, “I’ll go in there while Mirov and the two spotters come in thru the top basement door.” Cameron got out of the van and ran to the back of the house while Mirov and the spotters went in thru the front door. There was the door, with the glass upper half covered with a black garbage bag from the inside…he couldn’t see anything! He swore under his breath as he took out his lock pick and tried to spring the lock as quietly as possible. Then he looked up and saw the moon.
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Oh God, he thought, it’s getting worse. Now the moon was starting to glow and pulsate, just like he’d seen at Quantico. He could hear screams in the distance, coming from all directions. He barked one word into his mike, “Go!” Cameron kicked the unlocked door open and charged into the basement with his gun drawn…and stopped. The basement was dark, but he could see a shape moving. It smelled bad, like something that’d been left to rot in the sun. The floor was covered with water and he could see the eggs all around him, softly glowing with that inner light. He saw a shape moving toward him. It made a harsh grunting sound and Cameron saw it was a woman. She was grossly corpulent and she was…then he realized it wasn’t a woman, only the upper half of her was human and the lower half was a mass of tentacles that whistled as they writhed in the darkness towards him. Then Cameron saw the male step in front of him. For a second Cameron looked at him: he looked like any other kid from Middle America, blonde with freckles, tall and thin, until he saw the eyes. The pupils, he thought, the pupils, what’s wrong with them? There were no whites in his eyes, it was all pupil, stretched and distended, pulsing like the light from that damned bubble. Cameron tried to lift his gun but his hands were trembling so badly he couldn’t control them. He made a sound that sounded almost like a sob as he vomited. Ronnie saw the government guy kick the door in, saw him charge in and stop as soon as he saw his Mary coming towards him. He picked up a pitchfork and stepped in front of him, smiling. He could see the terror in his eyes. Ronnie felt sorry for him – he would never understand what a wonderful thing they were doing. The government guy looked into Ronnie’s
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eyes and was almost able to choke off his scream when Ronnie rammed the pitchfork straight into his belly. Cameron felt the tines of the pitchfork penetrate his stomach. Stupid, stupid, he thought, froze like a rookie, Mirov’s gotta hurry. He fell to his knees as the male pulled the pitchfork out of him. Cameron coughed and spat out blood as he fell on his side, still hoping that Mirov and the spotters could stop this. He was on the floor, looking up. He saw and heard Mirov kick the basement door in and saw the three men running down the stairs, guns out and ready. “Cameron!” yelled Mirov, moving towards him, kneeling down…when the male came out from behind some boxes, still smiling. Ronnie looked at the other government guys that were coming down the stairs. That’s enough, he thought. He pointed his left arm towards them and yelled out “Urya falangha notue! Urya!” The ground shook as the words Ronnie uttered came like smoke from his mouth and started to take almost physical shape in the darkness of the basement. As the words roiled in the air like oil over water, the darkness spread in waves that deepened to match the darkness that was growing outside…from his spot, Cameron could see out the back door that the sun was setting at midday. Then he heard Mirov and his men scream. The light, that hellish light that had filled Cameron’s dreams for the last year, it was extending out from the eggs, like a tentacle that came towards his men, enveloped them, covered them, melted them. They couldn’t move, like the hypnotized prey of some vicious carnivore too large and hideous to run from. Cameron shut his eyes tight but he could hear them screaming and begging, their voices blending with the insane
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laughter of the man and woman in the basement, the sounds merging and joining into a cacophonous chorus that welcomed the arrival of a new form of unlife… The last things Cameron’s mind registered as the eggs all started to hatch was that there were no stars left in the sky…and the screams in the distance sounded like his voice. THE END
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