God of War
December 15th, 2022
A rush of adrenaline as they dive beneath a wooden porch, the dust and debris beneath the paneling, once disgusting, now the softest refuge. A few moments of rest and they were off again down the street. Need to keep their steps quiet. Need to dodge the hazy light of the last remaining street lamps. Power was going out everywhere, but at night the light offered no safety. The light attracted them.
Another minute of running and they were by the dumpster in an alley. They were out of breath, footsore, and the smell was wretched, permeating the air around them. Despite the terror and revulsion, they steeled themselves for the challenge ahead.
Rosa looked at Christie, Christie looked at Rosa.
“Loser goes in?” Rosa asked. Christi nodded as they raised her clenched fists.
“Rock. Paper. Scissors.”
Rosa’s hand came down scissors. Christi’s came down paper.
“Dammit.” Christie cursed. Rosa smacked lightly her on the back of the head for swearing. It’s what their parents would have done for swearing. “Best two out of three?” She tried.
“Not on your life.” Rosa frowned, cupping her hands into a foothold. “In you go.”
Christie sighed as she took the leg up, hooking her fingers over the dumpster and hauling herself in, landing amidst the garbage with a crash and a subdued “Eew…”
“Grow up.” Rosa frowned. “And don’t make so much noise.”
“But Rosa it’s so grooooss!” Her voice reverberated inside the metal dumpster. Rosa frowned even more. “It’s dinner. Now get something good.”
Rosa couldn’t blame her, Christie was only fifteen…then again she was fifteen as well. They were twins, now orphaned twins, she reminded herself. Orphan twins who were in the middle of a crash course in urban survival training.
“Ummm…I think this is was a tomato once.”
“What color is it?” Rosa looked up at the lip of the dumpster.
“Keep looking. Look for grains, pastas and cereals. Meats and vegetables are no good by now.”
Rosa heard a muffled sigh of disgust from inside.
“Find any rice?”
“People don’t throw out rice, Rosa!”
“Sure they do.” Rosa folded her arms, leaning against the side of the dumpster. “Keep looking.”
“Urgh…I think this ketchup bottle might have a little left.”
“Toss it out.” Rosa banged on the side of the dumpster, and a plastic bottle came whizzing out of the top of the dumpster, Rosa catching it out of the air. “Well it’s a start I guess.”
“Rosa there’s nothing here.” Christi complained after another five minutes.
“I said there’s nothing here!” There was the sound of feet clambering over metal as she pulled herself out.
“Who said you could come out?” Rosa turned to glare at her, arms still crossed, but Christi stared right back. It was always a disturbing event, like glaring at a mirror. Christie looked positively frightening with her red hair askew and her face and arms now thick with trash slime. What made it worse is that Rosa knew she didn’t look any better. This wasn’t the first dumpster they’d raided, and Rosa’s luck with rock-paper-scissors didn’t always hold.
“Rosa there’s no food left.”
Rose frowned. Not this argument again.
“There is! We just need to look harder.”
“No there isn’t! The stores are all looted, the homes are empty, and everyone took their food to the outskirts.”
Rosa shivered. The outskirts of town, where empty cars were lined up for miles, where the people had fled in droves to get away from the city center, and where the monsters in the dark had found them. All that was out there now was death. The pair of them weren’t just looting the city, they were trapped in it, and each day the monsters drew a little closer.
“We’re not going out there, Christie.”
“We need to, Rosa! Or else…” She trailed off, not needing to finish. They had seen more than enough of the people who had already succumbed to starvation, or died for what little food remained. Whether they left the city or not, time was running out.
They stared at one another, deadlocked, before another sound broke their silence. It was the sound of something large and heavy moving towards them down the alley, picking through the trash and debris with the snorting and huffing of an animal.
The pair of them fell silent. The anger and resentment replaced with fear. The beast, whatever it was, had come through the end of the alley they had taken to the dumpster. Both of them already shared the same fear. It was tracking them.
The first monsters in the city had been walking corpses and skeletons. As the weeks and months had passed, however, the things that stalked the streets grew stranger, bigger, and meaner. They had no idea what it was, and neither of them had any intention of waiting to find out.
Their sore feet no longer bothered them, nor did the disgusting aroma that still clung to them. The only thought they could conjure was the need to get away, the next step after this one, where their feet could land, and where they might find shelter.
A howl behind them, the sound of claws on cement as the monster gave chase. Rosa grabbed Christie’s wrist. She’d always been the slower one, she wasn’t going to let her fall behind.
Their legs ached, their breaths coming in gasps, one after another as they ran, legs pumping towards that day’s safehouse, still more than a block away.
She could hear the monster behind them, hear its claws scraping the ground, hear its ragged ravenous breath, could almost smell the scent of death upon its teeth. They needed to keep running, just a little further now…
There was a sound like thunder, a roar like a hundred lions as the air itself grew hot and tinged with electricity. The wind whirled and cut at them, before slamming into their weary bodies and sending them hurtling across the hard ground before skidding to a stop.
Rosa picked herself up. Her hands running over the fresh cuts and scrapes on her arms as she looked back at their pursuer. The monster, whatever it had been, lay in a heap in the middle of the road, mere feet from having overtaken them. Now, however, it didn’t move, its blood spreading across the ground. From its body rose a spear of immense size, forged from shining golden metal, its surface reflecting brilliant crimson energy as it hummed in the air.
Behind the beast, floating just off the ground was a chariot the size of a small car, built from iron and gold and studded with jewels the color of blood, the wheels thick and studded with spikes. The horses pulling it barely resembled what a horse should be, all onyx skin and bulging muscles, eyes aglow as fire snorted from their nostrils, but most terrifying of all was the driver of this infernal chariot.
He was a man, but taller than any man and…greater, that was the only way she could describe it. Every feature of him was flawless, as if carved from stone. He was dressed in flawless armor of brilliant gold sculpted to his physique. From his shoulders hung a billowing cape of deep red that seemed to flow and flicker on its own, its edges frayed and shifting as if the whole thing was woven from a splash of old blood. His face was hidden behind a full helm in the ancient Greek style, embossed with images of swords and spears with a great comb of red and black rising from his brow to run down its length. All that they could see were his eyes, bright and terrible, glowing with power as the being looked down upon his slain quarry.
“Pitiful.” His voice was deep, and it echoed in their skulls as he spoke. He stepped from the a chariot, and they could feel the ground quiver beneath his heels as he stepped forward to retrieve his spear, the blood on its shining silver head vanishing as the spear itself seemed to drink it from the blade’s edge. “These beasts are not fit to fight, merely to hunt. Disgusting.” There was hatred in his voice, as if betrayed by the monster he had slain so quickly. Rosa didn’t know whether to thank this being before them, to throw herself to her knees, or simply flee again in terror. When his eyes turned on them, however, her legs locked beneath her, refusing to even shiver.
“And why did you run!?” He roared, and their hair blew back In the wind. His voice was savage, like a great beast lurked within his throat, echoing all around them.
“You should have fought!” Rosa could see Christie quaking in her shoes, just as terrified as she was.
“Humans now…so weak and helpless.” He spat in disgust, before turning back to his chariot, cloak billowing behind him.
“W-wait!” It was all she could do to summon the courage necessary to even shout in his wake. But they were starving, hopeless, and no doubt even more monsters would begin to move into the city seeking food.
The end of his spear hit the ground, and the pair of them found themselves thrown onto their hands and knees.
“You would make demands of the God of War!?’ The being roared, and their foreheads hit the ground.
“P-Please…” Christie managed to stutter. “We’re hungry and cold…we can’t fight.”
“And you revolt me more with each passing moment.” He dragged the end of his spear across the ground, and Rosa could have sworn it sounded exactly like screaming.
“What do you seek from me? The strength to wage war? The power to fend for yourself, strength you should have been born with!?”
“Anything…” Rosa whimpered.
The being paused, but he did not shout at them, instead he laughed It was a cold and terrible sound, echoing in their ears.
“I suppose if nothing else I can be offered amusement. I will not give you food, weak children. Nor shall I give you warmth. But I shall give one of you strength, power enough to slay even disgusting monsters like this.” He gestured towards the lifeless heap that had been inches from killing them both.
Rosa beamed, her breath light in her chest as the words of salvation hit her. If one of them was that strong they could provide for the other. They could find their way out of the city, try and find somewhere safe to stay.
“You said one of us…”Christie said, her voice still hesitant. “Which one of us will get it?”
They could not see his face, but there was an undeniable amusement behind his eyes, a hard cruel smile as he lifted his hand before him. Fire appeared between his fingers, coursing and shifting before it spread outwards into the air, taking the shape of weapons that solidified and fell to the ground with a resounding clang. A spear and a pair of swords now lay on the ground before them.
Ares, his work accomplished, stepped back and watched them, only three words left for the now-armed twins.
“To the strongest.”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
(( JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=11&sl=589 ))