Enoch is trapped in a world-encompassing catastrophe. To escape, he must find Noah.
approximately 1100 words
Enoch leaned into the freezing wind and plodded through snow drifts on leaden feet. Snow needled his cheeks and hid the street in a white miasma. He clenched his jaw and ignored the pain in his fingers and toes. Frostbite, probably. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered if he didn't find Noah.
The brick wall on his right loomed over him.
Something hidden in the snow caught his foot and he stumbled. He tried to catch himself on the wall, but it was too late. He tumbled into the snow and lay in a tangle.
He sighed and struggled to his knees, then gagged when he saw the frozen body extruding from the drift. He brushed away snow to reveal a mutilated, blue cadaver. The limbs had been hacked off, leaving bone and sinew exposed. Enoch hissed at the gruesome expression frozen in the man's features. "Grue," he whispered. This corpse was one of their victims, just like the other thousands he'd seen earlier this week, and the millions he'd read about online before the net went dark.
He struggled to his feet and backed against the wall, gasping. The frigid air blistered his throat. A cough wracked his body and loose phlegm filled his mouth. He spat, then peered left and right, everywhere but at the dead body. The world disappeared into the whirling snow. Even the wall next to him faded to nothingness after a dozen feet.
They were out there, somewhere, he knew. His breath fogged the air. It was still daylight for a while longer. He should be safe, at least until sunset. Darkness brought out the grue.
Enoch edged forward, one arm pressed against the bricks for support. He had to get to Noah, who held the promise of escape to another world. A world without endless death.
Gloom darkened the relentless storm. Enoch's teeth chattered and his chest rattled with each breath. Noah hadn't been at their first planned rendezvous, the lobby of the FBC International Tower. The grue had turned it into a shattered ruin. Fitting, since FBC's genetic engineers had created them in a venture gone wildly astray.
The house on the hill had been their backup meeting place, but it was a burned-out husk. No sign that Noah had ever been there.
His last chance was here, at the control house for Lock and Dam #3.
The wind keened and carried with it the howl of a grue. Shadows flickered in the fog, and fear jittered down Enoch's back.
The wall ended and his fingers slipped across a smooth, metallic surface. The door! Enoch fumbled with the latch. Footfalls thumped in distance. Claws scrabbled against the snow-covered streets. The ghoulish howls of grues, dozens of them, echoed off the canyon-like streets.
The latch abruptly gave way and the door swung open. Enoch dashed inside and slammed it shut. A brass lantern sat on the ebony-tiled floor and cast dim effulgence over the room. Enoch twisted the dead bolt on the door just as heavy bodies thudded against it. Muffled screams penetrated the room.
He'd escaped the grue for now, at least the ones who were outside. But they were everywhere. Enoch had no doubt that more waited inside, here, ready to destroy him.
He picked up the lantern and swung it about to illuminate the room. What looked like a sword from antiquity lay on the floor, and passages led off in all directions.
A broken display case caught his eye. Jagged glass in the wooden frame glittered in the light from the lantern. Enoch narrowed his eyes and stepped forward, drawn by a scrap of paper hiding in the dust.
Noah had left him a note. No, it was a map. Even better.
Enoch held the map in one hand and the lantern in the other, rotating to orient himself. There. That corridor was the one Noah had marked on the map.
A howl echoed from the darkened depths of the building. A grue. Where there was one, there were certain to be dozens.
Enoch picked up the sword of antiquity. It was better than nothing. He hoped he'd find Noah soon.
He held the lamp in one hand, balanced the sword and map in the other, and set off down the corridor.
The control house for Lock and Dam #3 consisted of twisty-turny little corridors leading off in all directions. At least it was warmer here. In fact, it was too warm. Sweat drizzled down Enoch's brow and burned his eyes.
The path marked on Noah's map spiraled downwards, deep into the depths underneath the control house. A putrid smell fouled the air. Enoch wrinkled his nose.
The cries of the grue sounded closer. The scrabble of dozens of clawed feet sent panic skittering down Enoch's spine. The map showed two more turns. Noah better have the answer.
At last, the corridor opened into a cavernous ballroom with a domed ceiling. Red and gold tapestries covered the walls, and crystal chandeliers flooded the interior with brilliant light. Someone had set the room up for a banquet, with tables, chairs, and fine china for hundreds.
Noah stood behind the bar polishing the granite surface, a broad grin on his face. "Hey, Bud, I see you made it."
Enoch gaped at him. "The grue! They're right behind me. We've got to get out of here."
The voice of Louis Armstrong filled the room, singing "It's a Wonderful World."
Noah pulled a key from his pocket and unlocked the cash register, revealing a huge red button in the drawer. "Yeah, I know. We screwed up this run."
The screams of the grue came louder. Enoch shouted, "They're coming, man. Get us out of here."
Noah's cheshire grin broadened. "Hey, no sweat. I'll just push the reset button. We'll play again tomorrow. I think we should have entered the basement of the house on the hill."
"Tomorrow? What are you talking about?"
A dozen grue lumbered into the ballroom, ichor drooling from their fangs.
Noah glanced at them and shrugged. "You know. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. Look, you're an awesome AI. I won't let anything happen to you. I'll just reset the game, and we'll try a different strategy. It'll be fun. You won't even remember today." He paused and irony glinted in his eyes. "'Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow.'"
Noah pushed the button and Enoch's world disappeared.