By the Shores of Time
Black, curdled blood splattered against the rooftop entrance, signifying their pursuer’s morbid state. The beasts that hounded them throughout the past hour were as clear as they could’ve been. Sets of red eyes glowed from the safety of the stairwell, awaiting Ricardo to lower his rifle. A hellhound waffled around with parts of its skull torn off by the high caliber round. It collapsed with a whimper as its thickened blood gushed.
Gabriel looked toward Ricardo, finding a cold sweat running down the side of his face. It bared its fangs when it looked toward their direction.
“Ricardo, we need to get the hell out,” he muttered.
“Where are we going exactly?” Ricardo questioned without taking his eye off the beast.
“Off the roof!”
“You lost your fucking mind?”
“They’re going to keep us pinned down here if we don’t do anything.”
“Fan out,” he whispered, meeting his raised eyebrow.
He snuck around the vent, cringing with each step. The hellhounds barked wildly before making their move. A hellhound charged at him, taking another bullet before tumbling toward Ricardo. He fell onto his back, nearly losing his grip on his rifle. One of the beasts jumped onto the vent, its weight crushing upon the heavy metal as it gazed into his eyes. He realized the other one went to intercept Gabriel, who had just reached the corner.
Gabriel stumbled back after the hellhound poked its head. Ricardo took aim, firing blindly over his friend’s shoulder. He felt the bullet whizz by before the notable thump struck its neck. Ricardo slammed his gun into the side of the hellhound’s face when it pounced on him, giving him a chance to scramble away. It tried to bite him, its jaws drawing near with every chomp.
The beast staggered along the edge, providing Gabriel the opportunity to push it off the edge. He stomped it against its snout as it desperately tried to pull itself up. With one heavy stomp, he sent it plunging into the sea of fog. He glimpsed his friend, struggling to hold off his attacker while its jaws gradually bent the rifle’s sturdy frame. Gabriel noticed a metal pipe along the edge as he rushed over to help.
A hellhound leaped over from behind the vents, forcing him to dive forward. He barely missed the beast’s serrated talons as the moist gravel sent it sliding off the building. Its paws being the last thing he saw. The hound broke the gun, spitting out its destroyed frame before attempting to sink his teeth into him.
Ricardo closed his eyes, covering his face, expecting to be ripped apart. A yelp replaced what would’ve been the sounds of his violent death, followed by the creature thrashing about. He quickly rolled away after feeling its heavy paws move erratically. Gabriel gripped the pipe while being swung wildly along the edge. He caught butterflies withholding his exhilaration. Ricardo awaited the right opportunity, hoping his friend would let go.
“Let go!” he yelled.
“Ah, shit,” Gabriel conceded, looking for a window of opportunity.
He slammed into a vent upon release, finally giving the green light for Ricardo to force the hellhound off the edge. He used his entire body weight, forcing it toward the edge. It couldn’t do anything but tip over the edge. After seeing it disappear into the thicket, Ricardo walked over to Gabriel. Aching pain writhed from the impact as he leaned against the vent to stand up.
“That was a hell of a rodeo,” Gabriel admitted.
“Right, rodeo,” Ricardo sighed. “Can you walk?”
“I could barely walk before, but your boy better have gotten away safely.”
“I don’t know about that.”
“That—Was a close call,” Joe struggled to catch his breath upon emerging from the rooftop entrance.
“Nice of you to show up,” Gabriel answered, glimpsing a black figure from the fire escape. “H—Hey, watch out!”
His plea went unheard as the hellhound snatched his arm, tearing it off with ease while leaving a bloodied stump. His cries overwhelmed the monstrous growl as it sunk its massive jaws into his collarbone. A loud crunch silenced the man’s whimpers as it slammed him into the ground. A loud pop resulted in the side of his abdomen bursting his innards. It began dragging the dead soldier toward the edge. Ricardo saw the opportunity to act while Gabriel watched in horror.
Ricardo ignored the hungered growls as he charged toward it. It continued to drag off the bloodied, nearly severed body toward the fire escape He closed the gap, forcing it toward the fragile platform, prompting its readiness to attack. Its sudden aggressive posturing loosened the rusted bolts along the top of the wall, destabilizing it. It barked defensively, but Ricardo hedged his bets. Its foot was caught under the railing before it lunged. The fire escape came down, dragging the beast into the foggy depths. The sound of crushed metal echoed throughout before silence set in once more.
What is it with these fire escapes falling down so damned easily, Gabriel thought.
Gabriel walked toward Joe’s brutalized remains, finding his stunned expression covered in blood. He kneeled down to close his eyes before looking toward his friend, who glimpsed the gruesome sight from where he stood.
“He had a kid on the way too, didn’t he?” Gabriel recalled, meeting his friend’s passive nod.
“We gotta toss the body over,” he responded.
“They don’t look like they die easily. Let’s throw over the body. It’ll buy us time to get out.”
Gabriel conceded, although disgusted, as Ricardo walked over to grab one part of the body. Looking away, he clenched his end of the remains, carrying it slowly toward the edge. Blood trailed along the gravelly surface along with his innards. They threw the body over, watching it disappeared with the trailing intestines.
“C’mon,” Ricardo spoke.
“How many, Ricardo?” he asked. “How many had to die out here for a few people?”
“They knew what they signed up for.”
“But we don’t bring this many, no matter the circumstance. Ricardo!”
“Are you complaining that we saved your life?”
“No, I’m complaining about the loss of life.”
It wasn’t long before they heard the creatures begin to tear the corpse apart, proving Ricardo’s point. Gabriel followed him close, reentering the building as darkness enveloped them. Their sight was only guided by the open apartment units as they carefully descended toward the lower levels. The gnawing of flesh grew louder, following the occasional spat over the remains. They looked toward the back entrance, seeing the beasts’ husky silhouettes behind the perpetual fog.
Ricardo guided him away from the shut entrance toward the nearby door. The dim lighting seeped through its crack, providing the slightest relief to Gabriel’s senses. They entered quietly, closing the door. Ricardo walked toward the large window, carefully prying it open to keep it from slamming to the top. They took a deep breath before glimpsing the other.
“Now’s our—” Ricardo spoke before trembling backward, missing the jaws of a hellhound.
As it tried to force itself through, they ran toward the other end of the apartment unit. Its menacing bark carried through the hollowed rooms. It wasn’t long before one of them broke down the entrance, quickly scouring the area for their prey. After slamming the door shut, they blocked it off by fitting a door frame in front of it.
“They’ve got us trapped,” Gabriel acknowledged after catching his breath.
“Shit,” Ricardo admitted. “This sucks.”
“They aren’t going to let up anytime soon. And we’ve got nothing to fight them with.”
They glimpsed the other, realizing their options were thin. Either someone sacrificed themselves or both would die fighting. A hellhound broke through the wood with ease before beginning to rip off the broken pieces. Gabriel swept his hair back before picking up one of the door’s broken pieces. He looked toward his friend with a smile.
“Guess it was a good run,” he nodded as Ricardo returned a grin.
* * * * *
Whispers bombarded her senses with every step Celeste took. Her eyes darted to the slightest bumps and creaks, evoking her underlying dread. The muddied path contained layers of gravel, which she believed to be the industrial sector of the city. Her assumption was confirmed upon glimpsing the silhouette of the large factories and warehouses that stretched the distance. A sudden gust ruffled the hem of her tattered shirt, flowing into the vast entrance. The whispers echoed from within the shrouded darkness.
“It’s—Just my imagination,” she tried to convince herself.
The faint silhouettes of the infected lingered along the path she would’ve taken. It was as though fate had other plans for her experience in the strange world. As though there was little choice, she walked into the factory.
She noted the rusted features adorning the tall tanks as the fog receded. Her eyes trailed the roof panels, observing the white-coated skies. Celeste basked in a moment of peace, recollecting on childhood moments of guessing the shapes of clouds. It was strange a place of harsh working conditions could provide a haunting beauty. She became startled by footsteps approaching behind her she swung around.
“There you are,” Alex emerged. “I—”
“Where did you go?” she asked, still visibly shaken.
“I should be asking you the same.”
“What? You forgot I fell into a river?”
Her response was met with suspicion as he looked past her. The decayed structure went further within, serving as a corridor to the north. She found it odd how he appeared both times, out of thin air. Rather than ask, she withheld her doubts.
“What are you doing here?” he questioned.
“What?” she responded. “I—I don’t know. I was drawn here.”
“Drawn here? You don’t change, do you? You’re always doing your own thing.”
“Is this your idea of berating me?”
She grew annoyed by his smile as he brushed past her. His behavior was a stark reminder of how he treated her when they were together. She followed him, observing his reluctance the further they went in. Darkness slowly encompassed the interior once more.
They soon arrived at the building’s center, which contained small containers and several mounds of mineral. A hole in the ceiling cast upon the pile, giving off a golden glow. Celeste walked toward it while he looked in awe. Kneeling down, she picked up a jagged chunk, examining its color against the little light she had.
“A gold mine?” his jaw dropped, drawing her grin.
“Not quite,” she responded. “Pyrite, better known as fool’s gold—Although recent findings did reveal a new type of gold residing within them. Cool, right?”
“Eh, so it’s mostly worthless? How do you know that?”
“Remember when I told you my great grandfather was a miner in the Cundinamarca region,” she remembered fondly.
“Can’t say I remember,” he responded, meeting her frown.
“He’d collect unique rocks he’d find during his shifts. He thought the chunk of gold he had until his death was actual gold. It—Made for a good laugh.”
“A stockpile of worthless rocks—Great.”
“You think the value of anything matters at this point? I guess for me it brings back fond memories.”
She smiled as she pocketed a hard-shaped piece before a pile of rocks collapsed in the distance. Celeste hid behind a cart alongside Alex while the disturbance came closer. Nimble footsteps were accompanied by an overwhelming odor. Celeste peaked cautiously, making out the silhouettes. Long-beaked, slender-bodied creatures stalked along the mounds. Upon entering shades of light, patches of fur covered its body. Their beady eyes searched the area while one stood atop the pile.
“W—Why are those here?” she gasped, covering her mouth, hoping she wasn’t too loud.
“Those are the things I got away from,” he whispered. “What are they?”
“They look like Abuhuwas.”
“They’re in indigenous Colombian folklore, but it’s just that—A bunch of made-up monsters.”
“So, what now?”
“We’ve come too far to turn back. We sneak around them.”
He reluctantly shook his head, glimpsing the stairs nearby, which hugged along the side of the factory. The creatures projected a strange flute-like call as they gathered around. Their deceptive frail bodies came with massive talons. They didn’t notice them reach the top floor, but the metal layout began to creak. Their sudden blowing calls sent chills down her spine as she looked toward the equally terrified Alex. He moved as quickly as he could, drawing their curiosity as they wandered toward the disturbance.
The abuhuwas spread out, searching for their prey while actively calling the other out. In a panic, Alex sprinted ahead, rattling the platform as their beaks released a trumpet-like acknowledgment. She ran into an office along the path, hoping to keep out of sight. She walked backward, watching and hoping they wouldn’t find her. She bumped into something, prompting her to turn to see the leathery line of flesh suits hanging from above. She held her hand over her mouth, withholding her horror. But the imagery remained even after glancing away. A creature smashed through the window, cornering her as it tried to grab hold of her. She pushed the table toward it, pinning it against the wall, escaping as it struggled to catch her.
Another abuhuwa charged at her when she emerged. She reflexively jumped off, slamming into a pile of minerals. She had little time to mull over the coursing pain in her arm as it dropped after her. Scratches and bruises covered her arm. Celeste tumbled with a timely misstep before it could grab hold of her. She continued down, hearing Alex’s loud panics as he descended the stairs.
Seeing the light at the end, she ran as fast as she could. The creatures were behind her every step of the way as they tried to catch her. She evaded them just barely each time, knowing what the consequences were if she were caught. The only thing that begged the question was why they were here, outside of their habitat in the Colombian rainforests. Whilst things made very little sense, this stumped her the most.
She slipped through the gravel upon reaching the factory’s exit, but she recovered quickly. The beak of one of the abuhuwa pierced the rocky foundation, revealing how powerful the unassuming creatures were. She glimpsed its bug-like eyes before running into the safety of the fog. A strange sensation overwhelmed her as their trumpets overcame the silence.
Celeste turned to find them disappearing into the building’s depths.
“Y—You made—” he stumbled over his words, approaching her tiredly.
“You left me,” she replied. “Again.”
“I—I was scared.”
A lilac tinge in her eye twinkled, sending him a cold shiver before she brushed past him.
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