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Five Minutes EarlierTwo gunshots rung out, echoing through the streets of a sleepy town. Lights snapped on in the shuttered windows. A woman screamed. Shouts pierced the air. Two more loud cracks fired off.
Then, there was silence.
Five minutes earlier, a man stood at a street corner. His hands hung lazily in the pockets of his gray hoodie. A layer of stubble coated his slightly tanned face, much of which hid under the hood.
Four minutes earlier, he crossed the street, moving quickly despite the utter lack of traffic. He seemed anxious. His hands remained jammed in his coat pockets. A bead of sweat hovered on his brow. The hoodie didn't help. Warm, moist air hung over the town.
Three minutes earlier, he slipped off into a side street, and then wound his way into an alley. His dark-gray cargo pants blended into the moldy brickwork of the imposing walls. Something stuck out from his right pocket. He glanced down at it, and then continued onwards.
Two minutes earlier, he reached a fire escape and stopped, gl
The CullingTrey stared up at the dull ceiling as he lay in his bed, stricken by a strange sense of dread. The reptilian man groaned and stretched his scaly arms wide, sliding off the bed and onto his feet. He stumbled to a small window, looking out upon the rolling forests that surrounded his small cabin. The hills rose and fell like waves frozen in time, glowing softly under the light of the ethereal moon.
All seemed at ease, yet he could not help but feel an indescribable worry. He walked to the doorway and peeked out into the stairwell. The heavy darkness obscured the lower floor. He returned to his bedroom and picked up a small oil lantern, striking a piece of flint to set it alight. Its warm, ruddy glow flooded into the room, forcing him to squint until his eyes could adjust to the light. He lifted the lamp and stepped out into the hall, holding it far in front of him to dispel the shadows.
Nothing appeared in the stairwell. Trey tentatively descended the steps. They creaked loudly as he wen
CC Round Four: The EndUntoten's death brought a chill over the ever-dwindling curs. The tiny dog seemed like an innocent thing- something that had been inadvertently hurled into a maelstrom of madness.
Erx crept across the wide room, trembling with exhaustion and shock. He slumped to the floor next to Zasha.
"Zasha?" he asked.
"E-Erx? Are you okay?"
"No. I'm not."
"What happened? Are you hurt?"
"No, I'm not hurt. I'm afraid. Everyone's lost faith. Even Beyra doesn't think this can last."
"Even she? But she is the one doing all of this."
"Whatever she sees, it's terrible. And it's getting worse. These scavengers are just the beginning."
"You don't mean-"
"These might be the end times."
Zasha gasped in disbelief, letting out a sickly wheeze.
"But- but you said-"
"Yes. We won't fall. We'll choose to live."
"Even if everything comes crashing down?"
A soft, hoarse chuckle caught Erx's attention. He turned to face the Doberman from hours earlier.
"You're still trying to save the dead, huh? What'd I tel
CC Round Four Pg.8Erx stood atop the cold roof, shivering as a frigid gale whipped through his tangled fur. All sound deferred to the whistling fingers of the unrelenting wind. He stared down at the street below, where the limp body of the wolf lay as if in a deep slumber. Blood leaked from its jaws, which had smashed directly into the pavement and partially torn off. Its legs lay splayed out at awkward angles, shattered by the crushing force of the impact.
He couldn't look away.
Finally, the collie let out a bleak sigh and plodded down the stairwell, hurriedly making his way back through the twisted to seek out his wounded foe. He heard the voices of her two companions well before he saw them.
"Untoten!" cried a desperate voice. "Untoten, can you hear me? UNTOTEN!"
Erx raced around a final corner and caught sight of the two. They glanced up briefly before returning their attentions to the bleeding cur lying at their feet. Untoten whimpered and tried to reach out to touch their paws. She shuddere
CC Round Four Pg.6"RUN!" shouted Erx, his voice laced with panic.
Untoten realized the danger a moment before either of her companions could. She bolted into the schoolhouse, diving between a pair of toppled desks. Greg and Stief picked up on the hint a moment later. They backed away in the opposite direction, snarling brutally in an attempt to intimidate the wolf. Their ploy worked for a brief moment. The creature halted in its tracks and swung its head around, noticing a flicker of motion from the small dog it had set its greedy eye upon but a moment ago.
It snarled and leapt through a half-intact window, sending a hail of glass shards flying through the air. Several fragments embedded in its muzzle, tearing open its flesh with deadly ease. Untoten yelped at the loud noise and panicked, rushing into the wall but two feet from where Erx hid. His concealment ruined, he hastily squeezed free of the alcove and fled deeper into the building.
The two ran together as one, guided by Erx's memory of the windin
CC Round Four Pg.5The dogs of Pripyat kept the wilderness at bay.
With the dogs in disarray, the wilderness came to play.
Beasts of every form filtered into the outskirts of the ruins. Many encountered resistance, driving them back to whence they came. Some, however, went unchallenged. They delved further and further into the city, culling the weak and the pale.
One such creature, a stray wolf separated from its pack, stalked through the alleys. A bloody gash surrounded the gory remains of what once was its left eye. Small claw marks peppered its face. Dried blood stained its matted fur.
It walked with trembling steps. Hunger clawed at its belly.
The brute slipped through a side street and sniffed at the air, whimpering as the odor of decay flowed into its nostrils. The city struck the creature dumb with its sheer vastness. Great behemoths rose high into the blueness of the sky, scraping the heavens with their sheer greatness. Endless corridors of cracked stone led off every which way, forming a maze so
CC Round Four Pg.4The three creatures stopped in their tracks, stricken with nausea. Even Vully, who had watched the last wisps of life slip from his mortally wounded companion, could not bear the sight of the scavenged corpse. He averted his eyes and backed away.
"How- why-" he began. "It's not- not "
Erx stood motionlessly, his gaze fixated upon the brilliant, syrupy red. Several sets of tracks led away from the pool- some of rats, some of dogs. They trailed off in every direction. One wound on for a time before terminating in a great splatter of blood.
"It's wrong," he spoke, spitting out every syllable as if they were toxic. "The dead deserve better than this."
He waited for a reply, but none came. Vully had taken flight.
"Where'd the bat go?" asked Untoten after a long silence.
"Somewhere else. He shouldn't have to deal with this. Come on, let's get inside."
They slipped through a shattered doorframe, settling under the light of a cracked window. Erx lay upon the floor, whilst Untoten perched
ViolinI remember the day
you told me violins
were strung with cat gut
and that is why
you hated music
(who says that to a child?)
I followed you
all that summer.
I watched you
grow away from mother -
your whiskey held better conversations
and all she did was cry.
We'd sit cross-legged on the porch
and count the horseflies
settling on our lunch.
You would drown tadpoles
in a bucket
surprised they could not swim
and I would dream
of cherry popsicles.
And when night would gather
on the sidewalk
I'd hold my breath
until a star appeared.
Don't bother making wishes
you'd tell me -
stars are dead weight in heaven
and God has cloth ears.
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