Welcome to the End//Part 16--Once Human
Her face is flush, all the color drained out of it. Her breath is slowing; she’s obviously spent. I don’t want to bother her, but I don’t have much of a choice. I don’t know how long this little bubble has before it pops.
I push her shoulder and tap at my wrist once she turns her head.
“What?” She’s not picking up on my homemade sign language.
“How long do we have?” I’m shouting inside my mask. Makes me feel like she can hear me better, I guess.
“I don’t know. A couple of hours probably, but that’s not a certainty.”
“Then sleep,” I shout. “I’ll wake you in a bit.”
Caroline rolls her head to the side and closes her eyes. She’s gone fast, her breath now a rhythmic in and out.
I listen to the rain batter against our little roof. It’s starting to slow, but only slightly. It’s still coming in waves. A torrent then something less. Then another torrent. It’s those moments of something less that are starting to get longer.
I can’t hear the wailers in here, and with the size of this little bubble -- a couple blocks diameter -- I can’t see them either. My curiosity is getting the better of me, though. I stand and climb down from the pile that Caroline and I ended up on and walk the couple of blocks to where our shelter terminates. It just disappears into the ground in a sizzling blue ring. I can see it before I come to the edge.
I can see the wailers too. They are still stalking out in the rain. They seem to be walking sloppy circles around us. One of them spies me as I approach the edge of the dome. It opens its mouth wide and cries a deep and guttural shriek that I can only barely hear.
These things look like something from a twisted cartoon, one of those underground bits of animation that would be part of some creepy cartoon tour that would hit college campuses. Hands and feet that looked human to some degree, but also not. Toes and fingers were now some kind of extended claws. The face had been stretched long, like someone had grabbed a tight hold of the chin and just pulled with everything they had. That made the mouth bigger, making room for jaws filled with sharp and pointed teeth.
The back had become stooped and their walk was awkward and crouched. The only thing that still looked mostly human were the eyes. They’d gone all black, but they still had the almond shape. Human, it’s hard to believe that’s what these things once were or what these people had to go through to become like this. Was it a living torture? Or had they died before turning to these things? Were these cries meant to terrify us, or were they seeing those of us remaining and crying out for help?
I continue to approach, and the thing swings a clawed arm at the dome. Its hand draws back in a violent motion. Whatever our shelter is made of, it isn’t so much as nicked. I move closer and the thing cries out. Two nearby wailers also approach, crying out the same. They want to get to me, but I’m safe. Or safe enough for now. I’m the animal in a cage. They are the kids at the zoo taunting me.
We need a plan, though. Once this little dome disappears we will be just as exposed as we were before. I have to wake Caroline. We need to be prepared.