By the Shores of Time
Gabriel opened his eyes, glimpsing the slither of light from the darkness he laid in. Amidst the cold confines, warmth hugged against the back of his head. His body ached from the slightest movement when he tried to feel the source of comfort. He felt something soft underneath before feeling someone’s hands grab his. Gabriel found a set of brown eyes gazing upon him, illuminated the slit’s light.
“You’re awake,” she whispered. “I—was worried.”
Celeste suddenly slapped him a few times in a display of subdued frustration. What he’d done earlier was reckless, but she knew he took little stock in his safety. After they took a tumble into the abandoned home, she dragged his unconscious body into the large closet. Her heart filled with a mix of anger and concern as she waited for him to awake. When he glimpsed back, he didn’t harbor any hard feelings.
“I’m sorry,” he uttered while averting her gaze.
“No,” he conceded. “I probably shouldn’t have—”
“You must’ve really bumped your head bad back there.”
The light revealed her smile as he strained his eyes. Her hand reached for his chin, caressing his bristled cheeks. He felt her trembled fingers course through. He reached them to clasp it.
“We made it out, didn’t we?” he said.
“You could’ve gotten yourself killed,” she responded.
“It’s all a means to an end.”
She hid her face in the darkness when he looked away. The thoughtless bravado did more harm than good, as his sacrificial outlook became his vice. The bickering and discussions on his beliefs often ended in days’ long silence. For better or for worst, she’d always come around, realizing she couldn’t fight something that became central to his character.
“All right,” Gabriel grunted, sitting up with her guidance. “How long have I been out?”
“A few hours maybe?” she replied. “Are you—Up to it?”
She continued helping him onto his feet, seeing his grimace when he leaned against the wall. His weak breathing drew concern when he carefully slid it over. She held him back before he took a step forward.
“Don’t start running before you could walk,” she suggested.
“We don’t have time to waste,” he looked over his shoulder.
“You think he made it?”
“Well, you know what happens if anything were to happen to him.”
Celeste nodded after his eyes evoked a sense of urgency. The misty room masked the building ahead in a thick fog. The atmosphere was devoid of infected as they cautiously stepped into the room. Blood trailed from the balcony, prompting Gabriel to examine himself. His hands and arms were covered with scabs and dried blood. His disheveled hair rested along his shoulder.
She walked next to him, trying to look into the white thicket. The lingering fog remained a mystery since the following days of the outbreak. Stories of strange happenings were associated with the fog’s sudden prominence. He turned toward her, nodding in silent acknowledgment about their venture. She realized the slight limp, although his composed face hid the jolts and aches.
“Gabriel,” she spoke.
“C’mon, let’s go,” he insisted.
“Then I’ll lead the way.”
She was surprised by how quick he conceded, wasting little time as she took the lead. The hall was structured similarly to the house they escaped from. They heard nothing while listening for the infected. However, Gabriel revealed his reluctance upon glimpsing the path down. His shallow breathing lent to his jittery behavior, made Celeste feel uneasy. They peered into the bright fog layering the first floor.
Their footsteps mirrored the other as they descended. He observed their surroundings, finding it untouched by the strange phenomena. The thick fog reached around their waist, barely making their feet visible. Gabriel looked through the window, observing the terrain’s change. Celeste didn’t probe what he thought as he reached for the door handle.
“No matter what happens, stay close,” he suggested, seeing her compliant nod.
The pair stood out against the empty street’s white backdrop. It felt unrecognizable as the surrounding homes cast faint outlines against the otherworldly atmosphere. He began guiding her through the next block with a pained yet hurried pace. He’d occasionally stop to listen with peculiar scrutiny. The lack of infected presence made the hollow nature of the setting stranger.
A low hum blasted low vibrations through the air, prompting Gabriel’s panicked reaction. A strange, visceral horror struck within them. Celeste tried to glimpse whatever it was before they ran through the backyards. He slumped against the wooden fence to rest as his taxed breathing revealed his longstanding pain. Glimpsing his visible concern, she couldn’t remain silent on the matter. The hum rattled the trash cans and chairs along the patio.
“What is that?” she whispered, meeting his eyes.
“We don’t know,” he responded tiredly. “All we know is that it’s not as close as it sounds.”
“The closer it is, the quieter the hum becomes.”
She winced to the nonsensical explanation. Some things were better-left unknown as the fog hid unspeakable terrors. His tired gaze looked off as the rattling eased, marking its proximity. Celeste gulped, glimpsing the source of the vibrating hum. A strange monstrosity peeked through the roofs as it sluggishly passed. Its serpentine-like body contained several anomalies, like lumpy threads that hung throughout.
He glanced toward the young woman, finding her startled reaction. She watched something that didn’t belong in their world as it crawled through as though it had always been there. Once it passed, it hum intensified, forcing them to cover their ears. And then the deafening silence returned.
“C’mon,” he whispered, reaching over with a shaken hand. “We need to start—”
Distorted growls broke his focus as they looked at one another. He took her hand, continuing through as the howls drew closer. The clattering footsteps began to pick up pace. Celeste looked back, being left to the imagination of what was after them. Low growls surrounded them when they reentered the next street over. Gabriel tried to catch his breath, but the sudden howls kept him moving.
Before Celeste could pose the question, they ran into one of the open storefronts. His eyes adjusted, looking for the exit as the creatures were just beyond the nearby cars. She looked over her shoulder, glimpsing the jet black humps of matted fur poke from the low fog. A sudden pull drew her away from the hidden horror outside, guiding her toward the stockroom. They blocked the door after entering the small, unassuming area. A small window cast a small frame of light, revealing the shallow fog crawling along the floor.
Gabriel stumbled against the near-empty shelving unit. He quietly clenched his teeth in pain. Celeste strained her eyes into the other end, finding an untouched desk with a chair. She guided him toward the chair, setting him down gently. His silence left an unnerving impression, failing to disclose what was happening.
“Gabriel,” she whispered, meeting his tired eyes. “Are you going to tell me what we just saw?”
“Celeste,” he sighed, seeing the light cast against her scowl.
“I have a right to know, don’t I?”
“You do. I—just wouldn’t know where to begin.”
“You could start with what those things are.”
Gabriel gulped, forcing a response.
“I’m sure you’re familiar with the black dog, right?”
“Black dogs? Y-Yes.”
“When that serpent appears it brings different creatures with it. Those are some of them. We’ve lost a few runners to them already.”
“But, that was never reported,” she winced.
“Hey, we did what we had to,” he raised his voice. “We tell people what’s out here and it’s a fucking problem. There’s a lot of things that make it hard to sleep at night. This is why we operate the way we do.”
“Gabriel, if this is what’s going on then—”
“Then we create even more instability. Yeah, Victoria has things in control, but it won’t matter when this comes to light. That’s why there’s an unspoken rule, that’s why we pick who goes out.”
“People loyal to Victoria and you?”
“Hey, we do what we—”
A growl from the nearby alley interrupted. It snorted thick air against the wall as it walked along the side of the building. Celeste trembled, hearing its clattering paw slow toward the backdoor. The light along the door’s bottom darkened before it slammed into the door repeatedly. She backed into the table while Gabriel fixated at the door. He reached for her hands, hoping to calm her down. His eyes trailed toward the misty window, thinking about what to do as they remained silent. The creature stopped, snorting once more, before running away.
He walked toward the door, seeing the door’s dented midsection. The lock lodged firmly into the door frame while surrounded by the crumbled concrete. Celeste walked next to him, watching as he tried to open it.
“They’re trapping us,” he whispered, glancing over.
“What—Now?” she asked, trying to maintain her composure.
“They’re expecting us to go back through the front. Unless—”
Gabriel nodded behind her, pointing out the window. It could easily get both of them through, but they would catch on quickly. With his aching body and unaccounted injuries, he knew he wouldn’t get far. He turned his attention toward the door they blocked off, giving her the impression of what he had in mind.
“N—no,” she plead, gripping his arm.
“There isn’t much choice,” he admitted nonchalantly.
“The fuck do you mean?” she protested.
“It’s nice that I rubbed on you,” he smiled. “It’s not up for debate, I’d drag you down… And you’re able-bodied.”
“Were you planning to do this to Johnny?”
“Of course not, but we’re in a different situation. Celeste, things are gonna be alright.”
“And you stand there lying through your teeth.”
“Last I checked nobody here’s been fullest honest. Now, go. Keep going north of here and you’ll be back at the Sanctuary.”
His soft gaze became stern before turning away. He didn’t hesitate as he began dismantling the blockade they place, as she went toward the window. He didn’t think twice when he stepped out, slamming the door intentionally to draw their attention. She looked over, finding darkness before slipping through the window. She slammed into the concrete, recovering slowly as she hid beneath the blanketing fog.
The young woman froze upon hearing a low growl. She controlled her pant upon hearing its footsteps. She covered her mouth before slowly crawling to the side. She saw its muscular silhouette as it began sniffing her out. Celeste felt a metal disk as she clattered it against the wall, drawing its attention.
It let out a devilish bark before lunging at her. She flipped onto her back, using the flimsy metal to hold off the faceless beast. Its teeth tore away at it, providing the helpless woman a horrifying glimpse. Its red eyes glowed against the white fog, while black-matted fur covered most of its body. Part of its body rotted, oozing an awful stench she had only just realized.
Celeste panicked when feeling its weight pinned her. Its saliva scattered after each hefty chomp rivaled her audible cries. Her right eye glowed a lilac color, delivering a burst that knocked away the beast. She gasped, baffled yet relieved by the sudden turn of events as she scrambled to her feet. The beast kept a distance as she darted through the alley. The young woman didn’t dare look back while disappearing into the fog.
Sometime earlier, Gabriel was immediately greeted with a black dog smashing through the shop window. He trembled from the sudden entrance, as he evaded it when it charged at him. Fixtures collapsed upon it as he slid away. He didn’t look back as he threw himself over the window. The thick mist masked the rest of the pack that passed under its cover. He fell over before the pursuer behind him tried to claw him. It ignored the glass fragments that ripped into its rotting flesh as it slid through the large windowpane.
“Fuck,” he muttered, hearing steps fast approach.
He dodged another dog, lunging from the thicket. Its massive body crashed through the door’s window, sending his adrenaline surging. Another closed the gap between them, running as fast as he could. He saw one of the car windows were lowered, jumping in before it lunged at him. He crawled toward the other end as the beast began tearing the door apart.
“I’m not going to get that far,” he admitted as fear crept within his mind. “This is a shitty way to go—”
He exited the door after it ripped through the door. Gabriel slammed the door slammed into its snout, giving him but mere seconds of time. Even if it were all for naught, he’d rather die fighting at every opportunity. Pain surged through his leg, slowing him down to a crawl. They drew near, growling and ready to pounce. His heavy pant made it clear he couldn’t press on as much as he wanted. All he hoped was that Celeste got away.
Gabriel glimpsed a light in the distance before a thunderous shot echoed into the cloaked environment.
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