Posted on December 11, 2013


The National Weather Service has issued a severe weather watch for the continental United States. National Weather Service meteorologists monitoring the massive smoke cloud forming in the central United States, predict it will travel in both east and west directions, with wind speeds up to thirty miles per hour. For your protection, shelter in place if the smoke enters your area, shut all windows and doors, and turn off all air conditioners and ventilation systems. Smoke inhalation can cause severe damage to your lungs, and asphyxiation and death may occur. 

This is a public service announcement from FEMA. Due to the series of large earthquakes in the central United States, a massive, highly hazardous smoke cloud has erupted from the resulting twenty-mile long fissure. All residents of the United States are advised to remain indoors until the smoke has cleared. Avoid all outside travel as smoke inhalation will cause asphyxiation and death, and visibility will be low, creating dangerous driving conditions. If you experience a shortage of food and/or water, please do not attempt outside travel. Local authorities will organize distribution of food and water where necessary.  Please do not attempt to travel to hospitals. If you feel your condition is life-threatening, please dial nine-one-one, and wait for emergency medical personnel. 

It was the day all atheists became believers, and the agnostics became certain there was a Heaven and a Hell. And all those who had always believed were spared the Wrath. 

It started with the largest earthquake ever recorded in human history, which caused a fissure twenty miles wide to split down the central United States, swallowing up every unfortunate soul in its path. 

From the seemingly infinite darkness came a thick grey smoke cloud that engulfed the entire country in less than a month, and continued to spread across both oceans, as well as north into Canada and south to Mexico. No one knew what to expect, or how to prepare for it, as all communications stopped coming out of the areas engulfed in the hungry mass. 

All you could do was pray.

Kalmer dropped to his knees and coughed so hard his throat hurt. He fell over on his side and immediately screamed. His right arm was broken. He laid on his back, still coughing, and gently rubbed his upper arm with his left hand. The coughing wouldn’t stop, and it felt like he might throw up his breakfast at some point. The smoke was worse than he, or anyone else could have imagined.

“Fuck..” he muttered hoarsely. He rolled to his other side and used his good arm to awkwardly get up. His eyes burned and he could barely see. He slowly removed his supply pack, wincing as he got his broken arm out of the strap. Getting down on one knee, he rummaged through it until he found his gas mask. It wasn’t easy getting it on with one hand and adjusting the straps, but he managed. Immediately, relief washed over him as he breathed in deeply without coughing. He took his canteen out of the pack and connected the water hose from his mask to the nozzle on the lid.

He almost choked when he heard the sound. A long, guttural rumble, followed by a snarl. He looked all around him, not being able to see much through the smoke. All that was clear was that he was standing in the middle of a street, next to the building he had landed on after bailing out of the Boo.

The next sound sent shivers down his spine. It was akin to wet towels being smacked on the concrete. He wished he had his sidearm, but it had fallen out of his holster in the mad dash to get his parachute on. It went down with the plane.

Something caught his eye. Two glowing red ovals, floating barely an inch from each other, several feet in front of him. There was the long guttural rumble again, coming from the direction of the ovals, along with that sickening smacking sound. The ovals grew larger and larger as whatever it was, was getting closer. Kalmer wanted to run, but had the overwhelming feeling that it was useless. Hopeless, even. He might as well just stand here and die now.

What the fuck?

“Get down!” Kalmer snapped out of his hopelessness and dropped to the ground on his stomach, stifling a scream as a surge of pain emanated from his arm. Gunfire erupted, and a hail of bullets flew over him, striking the mysterious creature. It roared, and the ground shook as it retreated in a hurry.

Someone knelt down to his left, cupped their arm under his armpit, and helped him up. He winced again as his broken arm protested any movement. The soldier standing before him said something that sounded like “martees obtoo-took.” Kalmer shook his head and said, “What?”

Mortis-obtutuque. It’s Latin for ‘death stare.’ That’s what happens when you look them in the eyes. You get this feeling that you should just give up and die. Most people do. You’re lucky we came along when we did. But anyway, are you hurt?”

Kalmer nodded, slightly shrugged his right shoulder. “My arm, it’s broken, I think.”

The soldier shook his head. “Shame,” he said, almost nonchalantly, looking past Kalmer. “Our medic was just killed a few hours ago.”

Kalmer shook his head again. He didn’t see anyone else. “Who else is with you?”

The soldier looked around, almost in disbelief. “Don’t you see them?” He pointed to random spots in the smoke and said several names. “That’s Richardson, McKail, Ovenson, Howard, Ramos and Ryoko.”

Not a soul stepped forward, and Kalmer understood. “I see.” He nodded.

“And I,” the soldier said, puffing out his chest, “am the great Van Helsing, monster hunter.” He laughed, but Kalmer found nothing funny about it. The laughing gradually, and awkwardly, stopped. “I’m kidding…” He sounded so hurt, Kalmer almost felt bad.

“The name’s Verruckt, and we should get inside that building.” He looked all around, suddenly nervous. Kalmer felt uneasy about sharing any space him, but agreed nonetheless. He picked up his bag and they both walked into the same building Kalmer had come out of.

They found that the bathroom on the other side of the lobby was least filled with smoke. Kalmer sat against the door, his pack next to him, and took off his mask. It wasn’t as easy to breath, but at least it wasn’t tight and sweaty. Verruckt took off his mask and helmet, revealing a thin, gaunt and pale face, dull eyes, and ruffled hair. The hair stood out to him. It wasn’t the standard short, cropped hair it should have been.

Verruckt sat against the wall a few feet across from Kalmer, his gun in his lap. He noticed his inquisitive stare.

“What is it?”

“How long have you been fighting this…this…” What could he call it? No one had come up with a name for this whole thing.

“The Rupture?”

“The what?”

“That’s what a lot of people where I came from called it, this whole mess. The Rupture.” Verruckt smiled, as if proud of having something to call it.

“And…where are you from?”

“Fort Carson, Colorado, home of the Fourth Infantry Division.”  His face beamed, the dullness in his eyes temporarily gone. Kalmer’s mouth dropped. “My god! You were almost at the epicenter of this whole thing!”

Verruckt nodded triumphantly, his smile growing wider. “Yup! Been fighting this almost since it started.”

“How did you end up all the way here in San Diego?”

“Well…” suddenly Verruckt looked to his right and said angrily, “Shut up! I’m telling the story!” Then he looked back at Kalmer, who tried, but not very successfully, to hide his confusion, and sudden sense of fear.

“Sorry. Ramos likes to interrupt. Don’t mind him. Anyway, all sorts of shit came out of that fissure. Flying mother fuckers, big, beastly mother fuckers, like rhinos, even some that look human, but they’re all scaly and have those red eyes, oh, and sharp teeth too. Seen guys ripped apart like they were made of tissue paper. Crazy shit.” He chuckled. Kalmer stared at him, his eyes wide with horror.

“But to answer your question,” he continued casually. “With such low visibility, it’s hard to fight them. They overwhelmed us pretty quick. The rhino-like ones can take out our tanks, the flying ones, our planes, as if the smoke isn’t bad enough, and the human-like ones…well, you know.” He was suddenly solemn, and spoke in a monotone. “We kept having to retreat, mixing together with other divisions but, it was all useless. These..they’re…whatever they are, they’re smart, and powerful. And that death stare…” He trailed off, and stared past Kalmer. “But,” he snapped out of his trance. “They can be killed. They can be stopped.”

A heavy silence followed; each of them sullen, lost in thought, staring at nothing.

“So,” Verruckt said abruptly. Kalmer looked at him expectantly. “You air force? Only air force wears that ugly fuckin’ tiger camo.”

Kalmer nodded, and realized he had failed to give him his name. “My name’s Marcus Kalmer, senior airman, Sixty-first Air Base Group.” He extended his good arm, and Verruckt shook his hand. “Charles Verruckt, corporal. You were based in Los Angeles, right?”

“Yeah. When the smoke was only a few hours outside the city, we, my crew and I, got orders to go up in our Boeing-zero-zero super fortress. It was just a B-fifty-two stratofortress with a few modifications that would supposedly help it fly in the smoke. We called it the ‘Boo.'”

Verruckt chuckled. “Nice name. I’m guessing it didn’t fly.”

Kalmer sighed. “No, the smoke clogged the engines despite the filters. My crew and I bailed, and the plane went down somewhere near here. My crew…we didn’t get to discuss a rallying point. So, I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again…”

Kalmer suddenly felt depressed, but intensely so, as if all the happiness had been sucked out of him. Verruckt didn’t say anything for a few painfully quiet moments. Then, “It’s all hopeless, huh?”


“It is. It’s all fuckin’ hopeless. Man,” he abruptly got up, his gun clattering to the floor, and took out his sidearm. “Don’t you just feel like killing yourself?” He admired his gun like a prized possession. Kalmer couldn’t object. He felt the same, but didn’t want to admit it.

“Well I do!” Almost giddily, Verruckt put the barrel in his mouth.

“No…don’t..” Kalmer knew he should try to stop him, but he felt so depressed that he didn’t care. What is this?

With a grin, Verruckt pulled the trigger, blood, brains and bone exploding like a volcano onto the wall behind him. His body slumped back to the floor, the gun falling about a foot away. Kalmer looked at it with wanting eyes, his ears ringing. Verruckt’s death made no difference to him. He just wanted the gun now.

What the fuck? His rational side kept him where we was, but the emotions were coming in torrents. A little voice inside his head was repeating, It’s hopeless, it’s hopeless, it’s hopeless. Die, die, die! 

This wasn’t him. He wouldn’t just give up like that. Something was causing this. There was a loud thump outside the door, and he quickly scrambled away from it, grabbing Verruckt’s M16. He sat next to the lifeless corpse, aiming the gun at the door as best he could with his arm screaming in pain, and waited, his own body wracked with the shaking from intense fear.

As if of its own volition, the door swung open slowly. A massive, dark, man-like figure stood there with glowing red eyes.

“Oh my god…” The thing grinned, revealing rows of sharp, pearly-white teeth. It extended its scaly, muscular arm towards Kalmer, and made a grasping motion with his fingers. It slowly raised its arm and, somehow, Kalmer with it. He slid up the wall until his feet were just dangling above the floor. A rumble came from the creature’s mouth. Laughter? Kalmer didn’t know. He pulled the trigger and screamed, unloading the rest of the clip into the creature. It stumbled back and fell, and Kalmer dropped to his feet.

All he could see were the creature’s black legs in the doorway, the rest was hidden in smoke. He quickly searched Verruckt for another clip and, not finding any, sat the gun on his lap and grabbed the pistol. He pointed it at the fallen creature and waited.

Nothing happened. Trying to keep from coughing, he slowly crept forward. The creature remained motionless. He crouched down to grab his mask by the door. He switched the gun to his other hand as he put on the mask. Once it was on, the red eyes and dark face was right before his. He screamed and stumbled back, falling next to Verruckt, hitting his head.

After the moment passed, he realized the creature had not moved. Not understanding what he had seen, his head throbbing, his arm aching, he quickly got up and ran out the door, not bothering to be cautious this time. The creature never budged.

He ran across the lobby and out through the glass doors into the street. He looked right, and then left, and picked right. As he started walking, he was filled with a new sense of determination. He was going to find his crew, and no Rupture was going to stop him.

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