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Excerpt from the novel Inherit the Earth by David Poynter
Endgame (The ultimate horror)
Phera, the original mutant bedbug, had lain more than twenty-seven thousand eggs in her lifetime. Her multi-greats grandchildren numbered well into the hundreds of trillions and occupied every inhabitable landmass in the world.
Having never been able to see more than shadows and fuzzy shapes, she’d remained in an enormous cave containing giants for many days and nights. When it became vacant, she’d moved on by hitching a ride with a creature, not half the size of the giants. After living with that host for a considerable length of time, then becoming lost, she picked up on the scent of her favorite food again and again. She’d follow its delectable scent only to have it fade and disappear.
Finally crossing paths with a giant, she’d taken to living in the fabrics containing its scent. A few close calls had occurred when the giants, instead of wearing the material, would place it into liquid. Unable to breathe, swimming became a necessity, and Phera had been lucky to find dry land before drowning.
Successful in frequently partaking of her favorite food for another thirteen years, she eventually became disinterested in nourishment or anything else and hadn’t laid eggs in ages.
The males had ceased being attracted to her, making the sexual assaults a thing of the distant past, though she occasionally dreamed of them.
The recurrent, uniquely pleasant dream became more frequent as Phera had grown old. She didn’t sleep often, but the fantasy would be precisely the same as the one she’d experienced over a decade ago — a brilliant flash of light, followed by the most pleasant sensation she had ever felt.
She presently found herself in a spot similar to where she’d been in the fantasy, staring at white and gray forms that rarely moved. Feeding never crossed her mind and hadn’t for some time. If she’d been a younger bug, she’d have gone into hibernation long ago.
Giants had once inhabited Phera’s cave. A trace of their scent lingered but not enough for them to still be residing there, not that she cared. In an opening to the cave, she’d perched herself on a ledge where she could see through a hard but transparent barrier.
A sudden blinding light plunged her vision into total darkness. As day instantaneously became night — a vague sensation of pain accompanied the flash, a hundred times the intensity of the sun. Phera next experienced the same feeling of ‘Nirvana’ she had in the dreams. Moments later, everything she’d ever known or felt faded to nothingness.
Seconds following Phera’s demise, her corpse vaporized along with most of the building in which she’d resided. A billion humans, along with most of Phera’s descendants, were currently dying along with every land-dwelling plant and animal on Earth as hundreds of atomic blasts occurred all over the world.
People and animals residing outside the blast zones would begin to feel the effects of radioactive fallout within days or weeks, depending upon how far from ground zero they were located. These living things were the genuinely unlucky ones who’d remain alive but have to deal with the horrific sickness before finally succumbing.
At the Pentagon, in Washington, at seven o’clock that evening, General David Pennington woke with a vague recollection of the previous night’s activities. He’d consumed far more than his usual volume of Patron before staying awake all night and halfway through the day while continuing to drink heavily.
He fuzzily recalled playing with the tablet and remembered tapping the first two sequences of four-digit codes.
As the first four were activated, a low-pitched beeping sounded, and a yellow light began to flash. Four more taps triggered a pulsing red light and a much higher-pitched tone that chirped simultaneously with the first audible and visual alarms. The interval between notes represented an octave plus a tri-tone; the difference, recognizable to any musician, reminded the general of his 2014 Toyota Camry. Except for the much higher pitch, the beeps were reminiscent of the convertible ten-year-old sedan’s horn. It had been his first car, and the noises took him back forty-five years, to when he’d been a teenager.
His next recollection had been waking covered with debris and realizing the big screen had gone blank. A diagonal crack appeared from the lower right corner to the upper left, and the battery-powered emergency lighting shone through the thick cloud of suspended dust particles permeating the room.
Pennington immediately realized what had happened, as narcissistic pangs of remorse and guilt-filled his dark soul.
Oh, my dear God, David. What have you done? You stupid son-of-a-bitch! You forgot to admit the women!
Having pushed ‘the button’ amid an alcoholic blackout, he hadn’t unlocked the doors. None of the designated survivors had been able to enter the Pentagon and its bomb shelter.
Pennington had always believed a pre-emptive first strike would be the best strategy for preventing the most casualties in the United States. However, his plan had included having all those pretty young girls as company for ten years afterward.
Now, he found himself alone with three hundred sixty years’ worth of food and water and the realization he’d never be fraternizing with another human being. The fact that he was responsible for killing a billion people hadn’t escaped his conscience, but Pennington’s military mind considered all lives lost a case of collateral damage. He would be able to live with taking the lives. He could, however, only wonder about the success of his plan.
Had the strategy of a first strike saved American lives?
By the looks of the War Room, it was evidence of the destruction of Washington. He knew he’d never know the answer to his own question.
The prospect of being alone for the rest of his life was too much to fathom, much less bear. Solitary confinement after the war had not been a part of his selfishly devised plan.
For the next couple of weeks, Lt. General David Pennington consumed little food while increasing his consumption of Patron.
In the wee hours of one morning, he crawled across the room to a desk drawer, reached up to open it, and took out his .45 caliber pistol. He placed the barrel into his mouth and pointed directly upward.
Barely recognizable as speech, even to himself because of a mouthful of lethal weapon, he heard his own garbled words.
“Forgive me, Lord!”
When he pulled the trigger, most of the top of his head and brains splashed against the ceiling of the war room as fragments of skull ricocheted in every direction, and his big body slammed the floor.
Two weeks later, in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, the day began unremarkably. The partly cloudy morning was unseasonably cool with a slight breeze blowing from the southwest.
By two o’clock, the sky had blackened, lending an appearance more similar to post-dusk or pre-dawn than mid-afternoon. Only the faintest light was detectable outdoors, and it was as dark as midnight inside the cave.
Turk, who had become the leader of the camp, knew what it meant, and lit the oil lamps attached to the walls but kept the information to himself. Directing everyone deep into Onyx Cave, to the ‘hospital’ sector, he told everyone that the bugs had invaded deeper into the cavern. After they’d secured enough food and water to last a month, he requested weapons be stored and instructed his troop to stay put in the bug-free zone. He then camped near the entrance to await the radioactive particles, which would undoubtedly arrive, sooner or later.
The next day, the darkness continued, and ash fell from the sky, stacking up like snowfall. Within another week, he and the rest became nauseous from the effects of nuclear fallout. Weakness and hair loss followed, and blisters formed on people’s skin along with fever, mouth sores, and headaches. By the fourth week, some had already succumbed to coma.
Turk walked through gray slush and dirty, blackish snow toward the Humvees. Outside temperatures had dropped by thirty-five degrees in less than a month. He brought one of the automatic rifles, along with four ammo clips, into the cave.
Feeling numb and devoid of emotions, his plan as he saw it would be a gesture of compassion, meant to spare misery, sickness, and pain — not to cause it. Aware of the suffering to follow if he did nothing, he felt obligated and committed himself entirely to the mercy killings. Not only did he wish not to experience the sickness himself, he considered it a noble act to spare everyone else from a horrific demise.
Turk laid the loaded-to-capacity rifle and three other clips upon the cave’s floor, in a pattern resembling a cross. Tucking the clips into his belt, he stood and quickly strode to the deepest recesses of the dark cavern where his fellow citizens awaited his instructions.
Sam and James realized what he intended to do and rushed him. Turk was ready for them. Weakened by sickness, both men were slower than they’d have been ordinarily. Turk cut them down before they could move five feet. He then shot Vance in the head because he represented the next greatest threat among those who remained.
Resetting the rifle to fully-automatic fire, he commenced blasting all the rest who huddled in the recess of the cave.
The sound in the relatively small area was deafening as eighty-three men, women, and children died within mere moments. He reloaded and continued to fire. After another ninety-four rounds had penetrated the bloodied mass of bodies, he slammed in another clip and fired again until the carbine fell silent. For several more minutes, he watched for any movement from the cluster of mutilated corpses before he turned and walked away without a glance back.
When he returned to the mouth of the cave, Turk reflected upon his actions for a few moments.
Better this way. Radiation is a monstrously horrific way to die. The sickness, watching your loved ones rot before your eyes, the terrifying nature of it all as it lasts for months without the possibility of a cure. The misery. Yes. Much better like this.
Convinced his plan was the best for all concerned, Turk walked from the cave to the Humvee, and after a short drive into town, parked the vehicle at the end of Spring Street. Using a scoped deer rifle, he began to snipe every human he spotted. An expert marksman, he began shooting them in the head from a quarter-mile.
After driving to the top of the mountain, Turk climbed to the roof of The Crescent Hotel and killed dozens of people from the high perch.
Once everyone had hidden from his sight, he went door to door hunting people who had taken cover in their homes.
At a residence on Mill Hollow Road, the owner stepped from the side of the brick building as Turk approached. A shotgun blast caught the ex-secret serviceman’s left arm above the elbow and spun him to the graveled driveway. Turk instantly swung around, leveled his .45 caliber pistol, and shot his attacker three times in the chest. He then entered the house and killed the other four terrified family members as they crouched in the corners and closets of various rooms.
After four hours of hunting and killing, Turk returned to his vehicle. He briefly considered several severe, bleeding wounds he’d sustained as some of Eureka Springs’ residents had fought back.
He contemplated allowing himself to bleed out, in penance for the lives he’d taken. With an impulsive change of mind, he positioned the weapon’s barrel beneath his chin. Angling it upward, he pulled the trigger. The first three rapid-fire rounds passed through his lower jaw, just above his Adam’s apple, then through the roof of his mouth before instantly exiting his head. Three holes formed a crude isosceles triangle at the top of his skull; then his body fell lifelessly from the driver’s seat and into the street.