The Nightmare (rev 2)

No one can remember exactly when it all began, but the consensus seems to be about 2 weeks ago. We all know what happened, or at least we all have a theory of what happened. Two weeks ago, a Tuesday evening, just like any other Tuesday that had ever been. It was a warm summer night; most houses were dark with everyone sleeping. Walking through the neighborhood I could hear window fans, and AC units starting up in the darkness. I couldn’t sleep and decided to go for a walk in the warm night. Right as I was returning home, I remember feeling like something was not right. I wanted to get into the house and pretend that everything was fine, but there was a tension I could feel in the air. I took a moment to look around as if there were something immediately close to me that could explain the sensation. That’s when everything lit up, brighter than any daylight I had ever seen. I could see blue skies above me, and the clouds in the sky were a sickly dark orange color. For that brief moment a bright light washed over the scene, blindingly bright. I stagger back towards the house terrified knowing what this is. Shortly after the light came is began to dim, into a violent dark orange, tinting to everything it fell on. Baffled I looked around the sky to see where the light was coming from, North… How could the sun be coming from the North, I wondered? The only possible explanation hit me about the same instant the shock wave did. A Thundering explosion of noise, followed by an unholy hot wind, which blew furiously through the trees.
I stood there for a moment, unsure of what just transpired. I knew what had happened, but somehow the reality of it was too horrible to accept. Having witnessed all the signs, my brain still refused to accept the evidence. My mind was ablaze with dizzying memories of news casters, and warning commercials. There were steps that needed to be taken, and supplies that needed gathering. But but here in the moment, none of it seemed real, I just stood there, staring to the north, knowing what I would see peaking above the tree tops any moment. Sure enough, within a minute I could see it, the cloud self-illuminated by its own heat and fire. Rolling up into the sky making its telltale mushroom shape. I could hear tormented cries and screams from the neighboring houses now. People woken by the horrible sound of the explosion. As if under some external control I began my tasks, scrambling in the darkness trying to find my way around the house. First it was to the bathroom, stop the tub and turn on the water. Moving as if in a trance I managed to get from room to room, performing perfunctory tasks in each, either to preserve water, collect some piece of gear, or to ensure that the windows were closed. I knew that I would have to return to each window to seal them as they showed us on the television. Thankfully the blast had occurred distant enough that they were still intact. I began running through countless scenarios in my mind, why was there only the one blast? Would there be more? And most importantly where was the blast?
It seemed like days of work, but it was only about 1 hour. All the water taps had been turned off, the water stored in bathtubs, sinks, pots, and pans, would have to be enough. Windows were taped and sealed to prevent inflow of contaminated air. Central air had been turned off, not that it had mattered. There was no power, even my laptop wouldn’t start. Surely the toxic fallout would be coming down by now, even this far away, it wouldn’t be safe to go out doors for two weeks at least. Finally, it hit me, much like the blast wave I had felt earlier; standing alone in the living room of my house. The realization of what had occurred, the reality of what life was going to be like. I spent the rest of the evening sobbing in the corner of the room.
The small radio was of little use or help. The only stations that I could get to tune in were so faint I couldn’t make out anything they were saying over the static. I had a couple of ham radios that proved to be much more useful. Evidently the blast was north, in Seattle; why there was no follow-on attacks was anyone’s guess, of which there were many. Some people believed that the blast was the act of terrorists, others believed that it was a measured response to some other attack America had made on another nuclear power, another thought was that the attack had been mostly defended off, and the burst in Seattle was “the one that got through”. In the end, none of this mattered, all that mattered at this point was surviving long enough for FEMA, or civil defense authorities to set up operations. One of the things that became most disturbing was that no-one seemed able to reach anyone outside of the state. All the news reports that could be gathered from other operators were generic and for the most part useless. No one seemed to be able to reach anyone else outside our immediate area. Again, there were plenty of theories about this over the radio, but the most credible seemed to be that the relay towers were damaged in the blast, and no one could reach outside the range of their unaided radio.
Spending two weeks locked into the house, with no running water, and diminishing supplies was difficult. Even more difficult was the fact that no one seemed to have any information on when the relief centers would be erected. I could hear the occasional gun fire in the distance, telling me that some people’s supplies ran out sooner than they had hoped. All I could do is make sure that I kept my rifle by my side, and hoped for the best. At the end of the two weeks, I figured it would be safe enough to venture outside for short periods of time. The neighborhood was exactly as I remembered it, but covered in a thin layer of ash. It almost looked like a serene fine dusting of snow, but the darker color of the ash betrayed such thoughts. I decided not to explore yet, just in case the fallout was still toxic, and resumed to wait in my home. Surely FEMA would be here soon…
It was that night that the nightmares began. I awoke frightened not knowing what exactly had happened. Vague memories of chasing, or being chased, something was trying to get me, something horrible. Honestly, I was surprised that the nightmares had taken this long to set in. Deciding that I had enough of the bad dreams for the night I decided to stay up the rest of the night reading. The next day was just like every other in the aftermath of the nuclear blast. I rationed out some more of my water for the day, took inventory of my dwindling supplies of food, and as always listened to the hand crank radio I had. There must be some news by now I figured. Surely one of the local radio stations would have gotten back online by now, or perhaps one of the more distant stations would be broadcasting with more power. Alas again, nothing, just static, and one or two stations that were inaudible over the static.
Seeing that the day was going to be another without any news, I decided to check on my neighbors, living in a retirement community I was concerned for the health of some of the elderly residents. When I knocked on the door, there was no response. I tried knocking several times, but to no avail. I decided that while it would be risky to walk around the house looking in windows, I had no alternative to see if my neighbor was home, gone, or, gone… Walking around the closest side of the house, I wondered what exposure I was giving myself of radiation from this adventure. Coming to the first window I carefully peered over the sill to see inside. The horrible sight I saw brought me back to the most horrible of memories from the war in Iraq. There was my neighbor, eyes frozen open, in horror staring into empty space. But the most terrifying part of it, was the condition they were in. Bloodied and torn apart looking like they had been either mauled by a bear, or had something explode from within them. Gasping I recoiled back and fell to the ground. Cursing myself for my carelessness I rushed back home. Due to my careless fall into the ash I was going to have to strip and dispose of my clothes outside the house.
Screams, shouting voices, and something moving in the shadows. I am cornered and am trying to escape, but I can’t seem to move. Then I awaken to something perhaps even more horrifying than the dream I was just having… Someone is knocking at my front door.
In all my years in the military I had to open doors and venture through to the unknown more times than I could count. But in all those times, I was one of many people, and we were on the outside coming into the building. None of my training could have prepared me for this, how could I open the door and pull security at the same time? If I went to the door and unlocked it, the person on the other side would know exactly where I was, and would be able to shoot me if they wanted to. After a few moments of indecision, I finally made my mind up, I would approach the door with my pistol in hand, I would try to stand in off angle positions and open the door carefully. As I approach the door I could hear a rustling outside, and what sounded like a woman sobbing. Feeling a little more at ease I carefully opened the door raising the pistol demanding the person on the other side show me their hands. What I see before me takes me by surprise. A woman who couldn’t be more than 30, wearing multiple layers of clothing and a large framed backpack which appeared to be overflowing with food.
“Please don’t shoot!” the woman cried between sobs. “Please help me, they’re all dead!” the woman collapses into the entryway of my home, and I am overcome with compassion to help her. I holster my pistol and pull her into the entry way. Closing and locking the door behind her I ask her “Who’s dead? Who are you?” I seem to have a million questions flooding my mind, but adrenaline prevents me from thinking rationally. “They’re all dead… my friends…” the woman is wracked with sobs and unable to say anything more. “Relax, it’s okay now, you’re safe here” I try to reassure her. “Please, please, don’t let me sleep” she looks up at me and pleads with me between sobs. “I can’t go back to sleep, if I do, I know it will get me” her terror is reflected in her eyes, which are reflecting the cold terror that is gripping my soul. “The shadows, the shadows will get me…” she manages to murmur in a cold dead tone.
There are very few times that I felt like I have had the world swept out from under my feet. This was one of them; “Don’t let you sleep?” I managed to stammer. “Please, please…” again the only thing she can manage to say between sobs. “It’s okay, we’ll stay up together” I managed to get her to the living room where she collapsed onto the couch. “Look, my name is Jesse, you can stay here as long as you need to, it looks like you brought a good amount of supplies too. What’s your name?” I try to get her talking to me. “Megan…” is all she can manage from her trance like state. “Look, Megan, I need to know, what happened to your friends?” I ask. “I don’t know” her tone is lifeless and I can see she’s on the verge of breaking down again “I just remember having a really bad dream, then hearing them scream…” tears well up in her eyes again and she lapses into uncontrollable sobbing once more. The connection of the dream seems too important to me to let it go. “What dream?” I prod her, “I don’t know, I’m being chased, and I can’t get away, then I wake up, there’s something in the shadows chasing me…” Megan’s tone is flat and lifeless she looks like she hasn’t slept in days. “Look Megan, I know that you’re afraid of the nightmare, it sounds horrifying” I decide not to tell her about the similarity of my nightmares. “But you look like you haven’t slept in days, you need to get some rest.” I’m trying to be as reassuring as I can, trying to get her to trust me. “You need to sleep, I’ll stay up and watch over your sleep. If you start having a nightmare I’ll wake you up immediately”. Having had the nightmare myself, I am now perplexed at the commonality of the nightmare. Megan’s expression reflects the horror of the dream, as she shakes her head violently. “No! no, the shadows will get me” Megan looks like she could pass out in the moment regardless of her protests. “Look, the chances are that you won’t even dream. I know it’s scary, but you need to sleep, we can talk more tomorrow” I plead with her to get some rest. Megan’s eyes are heavy, and she’s already seemingly dozing. She begins to try to say something, but resists, and just puts her head down to sleep.
As I watch her sleep, I can see small twitches and shudders, but nothing that seems like a horrible nightmare. Hoping that her sleep will be good, or at least decent. I get up to make a pot of coffee on my propane stove. I can feel sleep setting its claws into me, but I cannot let myself sleep until I wake up Megan to watch over my sleep. From the kitchen, I can still see into the living room where Megan is sleeping. She still seems to be sleeping decently, so I feel a sense of hope, that perhaps this plan will work. Having a moment to myself now, I try to assemble what’s going on in my mind. Somehow there must be a connection, I just can’t figure it out. I’m drinking my coffee in the kitchen occasionally looking in on Megan. Something is looming in the back of my mind, but I can’t put my finger on it. I know what the connection is, but for some reason I just can’t think it all the way through. Suddenly there is a bone chilling scream from the living room. I’m so startled I drop my coffee cup, as I turn to rush into the room to check on Megan. As I look up and start to rush back into the living room; I am faced with a sight so horrific I am frozen in horror and disbelief. Megan is laying on the couch, covered in blood, staring into the darkness of the room around her. Her eyes are fixed looking at something, that’s when it dawns on me, there’s something else in the room with her. As I look over at what she’s staring at I can feel all the blood in my veins freeze cold as ice. There is a shadowy form of a person standing over her. The human silhouette seems formless, almost like a specter floating over her. The figure appears to be wearing a helmet of some kind, holding something in their hand that could be a flashlight? a radio? The silhouette stoops over the lifeless body of Megan, placing on hand on her neck, for a moment. I am frozen, unable to move in the terror of what I am watching. Horrified by the scene I cannot move, frozen as I watch what is transpiring before me. The shadowy figure moves their hand to Megan’s wrist, for a moment, then stands again. As the figure stands I can see there is lettering printed on its back. Somewhere deep in my subconscious I am working out the details of what I have just witnessed. My brain is frantically trying to assemble all the things I saw into some coherent realization. The shadowy figure bows its head in a solemn gesture, then shakes its head and “walks” away through a wall in my home. The figures movement is smooth, and ghost like, passing through the wall effortlessly like it wasn’t even there. As the figure passes through the wall a strong smell of death fills the room.
The sheer terror I feel is fighting to take control of my body. It screams at me to run, but I cannot stop staring at the lifeless figure of the woman on my couch. I know what I witnessed, I had seen it time and time again in the past, but there was no explanation for what I had just seen. No rationalization could be made, there was simply no way that I could have seen what I just saw. Yet it all somehow seemed to make sense to me. There was something about the figure’s attire, the lettering on its back. What were the letters? I can see them in my mind, but I cannot assemble them into anything meaningful in my head. As I walked up to Megan’s body, I could clearly see burns on her face and hands that were not there before. The skin was red, and even charred in some places, but there was more. Areas of the skin that were not burnt, were grey and bloated. A familiar site, I had hoped I would never see again. I slowly reach down to her body. I already knowing what I will feel, I’ve felt it before. The firm coolness of her skin tells me that she had been dead for a long time. Perhaps days, perhaps weeks, but that’s impossible. Looking closer I can see that her blood is coagulated, and clotted. How, how could this be possible. Almost like the realization of her state changed something in my head, I remembered the letters on the figures back. I can feel the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, and an icy cold sensation pours over my neck and down my spine. The letters were “F.E.M.A.”
As the sun is raising again, the room is bathed in a dull low light. There’s a mirror on the wall in the room and I want to look up at it. Taking a deep breath, bracing myself for the impossibility of what I know I will see. As I look up at the mirror, I can barely make my reflection out in the dim light. Taking a step closer to it, and I see what I already know. I don’t want to believe it, seeing the confirmation of my fears, makes them even worse. For a moment, my mind screams, shouts, and smashes everything in the room. But soon a cool calmness settles over me. A comforting feeling, of finally knowing the truth. Now I know why the FEMA camps have never been set up. Why the radio only receives static, and why I can only reach a few people on it. I feel the chill in my soul that shivers up my spine. I know what I must do, but something deep inside refuses to let me do it. Still fighting to take that next breath, still fighting to hold onto any sense of reality I can.
I’m not sure how long I stood there, looking at the face in the mirror staring back at me. But after some time, the calmness takes over. I know what I must do, I know what has happened, and I have finally come to terms with it. Walking back into the kitchen, I find and turn on my HAM radio, I take a moment to consider what I will say, then finally the words come to me. “CQ, CQ, this is KWX3… everyone out there… it’s… it’s time to sleep, don’t be afraid of the dreams, just go to sleep… This was KWX3, signing off for the last time… goodnight everyone…”. As I walk slowly to the bedroom, passing the blank walls that I never got to decorating. I consider why chose to live in such a bland house. I think to myself, “I hope they don’t mind that I never got around to hanging some pictures or something…” As I close the door behind me, I realize how stupid this thought is, why would the rescue workers care what was or was not on my walls when I died. I close the door behind me, and lay down on the bed. Perhaps knowing will somehow make the dreams not as bad, but at any rate, it’s time to end the true nightmare…

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