Cromartie moved through the storm drain with his rifle up. Wexler’s heavy machine gun was too long to provide adequate fire, so he was stuck on rear guard detail. Between them, Del Carmen, Larry, Maxine, and Bagwell formed a defensive circle around Brayden, the elderly couple, and the unarmed Sandow, who had the two small children strapped to his exoskeleton. They still had forty minutes to reach the rendezvous point before Jameson erased the city and everything in it from the map.
Wexler slowed to a stop when he heard his PDU pinging. He checked the readout “Shit.” A dozen red dots blinked on the screen and moved toward them rapidly. He didn’t even wait for visual contact as he fired two short bursts into the tunnel behind the group. “They’re already in the tunnels with us. Move your asses”
Three creatures slid out of a side tunnel in front of Cromartie. He let loose with a shotgun blast that turned one inside out. Del Carmen and Bagwell fired from either side of him, spraying the other two across the tunnel. They continued moving as more joined the crowd. The little beasts weren’t much larger than beagles with round wide snouts and the excess flesh rolls they’d seen on the first creatures.
The team moved fast, trying to keep ahead of the swarm. The elderly man shimmied up a ladder as they ran past it and climbed up to the manhole. He heaved against the steel cover, but it wouldn’t budge. He could hear his wife screaming for him to catch up as the little imps scurried up the ladder after him and chewed his ankles. Blood rained down as they tore through the flesh.
“Drainage ditch coming up. Three hundred yards on the left,” Cromartie said over the comms. Wexler’s machine gun was drowning out any other communication between the group. Brayden slipped and fell as they rounded the bend, and Wexler tripped over him falling to his back with a splash. Del Carmen fired a thermobaric grenade down the tunnel and pulled the kid to his feet. She grabbed the drag handle on Wexler’s exoskeleton and pulled him along unceremoniously. The ranger fired into the darkness as she pulled him along.
They came to the storm grate at the end of the tunnel. Cromartie and Bagwell grabbed the bars and bent them away from one another and waved the others out of the tunnel ahead of them. They climbed out of the ditch and ran down the street.
“Garbage truck at two o’clock ― that’s our ride.” Bagwell pointed it out.
Maxine jumped into the driver’s seat. Unable to find the keys, she ducked under the steering column and set about hot-wiring it.
Bagwell climbed into the passenger’s side. “Lawyer, my ass.”
“I went to law school on the GI Bill. I was military intelligence for six years, on loan to the Agency for two.” The engine coughed and sputtered before coming to life.
Wexler climbed into the dumpster hooked on the front of the truck, which Maxine raised up to give him a better vantage point to shoot from. Sandow and the civilians got in the back. The ORC quickly piled the trash over the others. Del Carmen and Cromartie hung from the mirrors as the truck made its way down the road to the exfil site.
A sharp shriek filled the air, and something shot into the back of the truck. It looked like one of the sewer imps, but had long flaps of skin that it used to glide into the truck. It bit into the old woman’s throat before anyone could react. More of them dropped from the buildings, gliding toward the truck. Larry took a swing with the ax and knocked the creature out of the garbage truck. Sandow loaded canister rounds into his grenade launcher and shot the creatures out of the air like a duck hunt in Hell.
One of the harpy-like creatures latched onto Cromartie’s pack and bit down on his neck. The arterial spray washed across Bagwell’s face. He laid back and kicked the door. It swung open, and the creature was smashed between a street sign and Cromartie’s body. The impact slammed the door shut, and Bagwell grabbed the sergeant and put pressure on the wound, “Sorry about that ― it was the first thing that came to mind.”
“No problem, Sir.” Cromartie’s words came in between gasps.
And then something hit them. It was massive, close to twenty feet tall. It slammed into the door, smashing Cromartie like a bug and knocking the truck off of its path and into a row of parked cars. Sparks and fiberglass flew into the air, and the big utility truck ground to a stop with an electric car twisted underneath its front end.
Wexler opened fire from the dumpster, but the giant reached in and grabbed him. It smashed him against the asphalt and flung his lifeless body across the street with the slightest effort. Larry took the tiny children from Sandow and ran down the sidewalk to the rendezvous point with Brayden on his heels. Sandow climbed out of the back of the truck and fired a phosphorous round at the beast, which roared in annoyance more than pain. It charged toward the ORC who climbed back into the truck and turned on the compactor unit just as it closed the distance. It swung a massive fist into the back of the garbage truck for Sandow, who moved out of the way and scurried over the top of the platen as it pressed the garbage further into the truck. He ducked under the behemoth’s massive arm and hit the emergency stop, leaving the giant’s hand trapped.
Del Carmen, Maxine, and Bagwell opened fire on the monster. Their bullets finding their mark on the creature’s head. It screamed at them ferociously.
Sandow fired a grenade at its mouth and watched as the cataclysm of blood and brain erupted into the sky. “That’s right mother—”
The harpies swarmed down on him and tore limbs away to get to the soft bits inside the armor. A swarm circled the three survivors, who fired their last few desperate shots into the air hoping to bring down as many as they could.
Staccato bursts of gunfire came from down the street. Lieutenant Chandler and his pararescuemen had arrived. They marched in a line, firing into the flock of monsters with deadly accuracy. Bagwell, Maxine, and Del Carmen ran for the extraction ship. Two more of the giants came barreling down the street after them. The survivors climbed on with the PJs following close behind, still firing back at the creatures. The ship lifted off before the ramp was even closed and began flying away from the city.
“We did it,” Maxine said softly. “We made it out.”
Bagwell’s chest exploded as a broken light post punched through his torso. Maxine watched helplessly as his lifeless body slid out of the rescue ship and toppled to the street below. The two giants beat on their chests and threw more debris at the ship. But they were too far away for it to matter.
“We’re clear, Colonel. Prometheus is a go,” Chandler radioed to the LOTOC.
Jameson watched in horror as the bombs detonated. He had just erased a large chunk of his own nation to protect it from monsters. The whole thing sounded insane. The fallout from the bombs would kill thousands. It was over, at least. There was no way anything could have outrun the orbital bombardment. He had stopped whatever that asteroid had brought. Through the view screen, something caught his eye.
He pulled up feeds from earth-based telescopes and saw around the world simultaneously. Amber lightning, flashing inside clouds of gases and space dust — the energy crackled and tore open the abyss. He watched an object streak through one of the tears. Then another.
He recited the ORC creed as dozens of the things shot down to the surface from their cosmic storms. “I represent the spirit of the warriors that came before me. I am a deterrent in peace and a weapon in war. I am a guardian of freedom and a defender of my people. An expert and a professional. Relentless in my tasks and merciless in my execution. I am a mean motherf–king front line moral destroyer. I am a United Militaries Ranger, and I will prevail.”
Plumes of shattered earth and dust rose into the atmosphere. Jameson lowered his hand to the launch button, ready to fire the last of his arsenal at the landing sites. More eruptions filled his monitors. He leaned on the console, watching the view from cameras and satellites around the planet. He had been given the eyes of God, and all he could use them for was to watch the world end. He slumped into his seat and let his fingers slide away from the button. An orange glow shined through his view screen. Something moved across it — something impossibly large on the other side of space. It reached through the rip and twisted a serpentine appendage around the station and dragged it through the storm.
Jameson removed the pistol from his belt. “I am a United Militaries Ranger.” The claxon sounded, but it was lost over the rending of the metal. The thing, the horrible thing from somewhere far beyond, was devouring the station. He pressed the pistol to his temple. “And I will prevail.”
David O’Hanlon is a genre fiction author from Arkansas. He has been published in anthologies, magazines, and online markets in a number of genres, but most often works in the field of horror. His stories are best known for their black humor, morally-challenged heroes and graphic violence which shape his unique style that he calls Horrorbilly—southern-fried tales with all the dressings of classic horror, delivered with an emphasis on style and entertainment. You can find him online at his website or on Facebook.
Featured image CC0 Creative Commons by TomBud via Pixabay