This story is by Shawn P Burke and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Plagues had happened throughout history, but this one was unprecedented.
Jake Clover struggled to make sense of the plague’s ravenous nature. Rifle in hand, he rested on a boulder in the woods, watching over the cave that provided him and his friends shelter. He reflected on the circumstances. Scientists deemed it a virus and called it DAVI-1. Regular folk called it The Dark Haze or The Cursed Mist. People could call it what they wanted, but Jake knew it to be evil. It wiped out most of the world, but Jake still found gratitude for being alive and not having to be completely alone.
Luck had been on their side. Jake’s companions were Sami, Ally, and their son, Mitch. He thought back to when he found them, and how the teenaged Mitch had lost his family to the Haze. Sami and Ally had adopted him. “We always wanted a child, a family,” Sami had told Jake. “So, we made it happen.” Jake found comfort in this memory.
Fatigue fell on his conscious as he gaped at the misty mountain side. Breathing in the polished breeze, he reluctantly dozed into a dream of a normal world.
He woke to a scream.
Jake pointed his rifle into the dark, leafless abyss.
“HELP!” The screams echoed. “HE’S TRYING TO KILL ME!” The voice sounded like a child’s. He heard a twig snap and spun around to see Mitch’s
slender stature standing there. He gave a gasp and grunt before lowering the gun.
“Christ sake,” Jake exhaled. “Why are you up here?”
“I heard screaming. I wanted to make sure you were good.” Mitch said softly.
If his adrenaline were lower, Jake could have smiled.
“PLEASE!” He heard the scream again. Both him and Mitch turned their attention back to the shadows. A light wind began to blow. With what little moonlight illuminated from the sky, a small figure was visible. It ran toward them. Jake prepared to fire.
“Don’t shoot!” Mitch pleaded. “I think it’s a kid!” Jake’s target was in sight.
BOOM. The echo sounded like fireworks. The shadowy figure fell.
“I said, ‘don’t shoot!’” Mitch ran into the darkness. Jake followed.
“I shot what the kid was running from,” Jake said when he caught up.
They examined the monstrous man. He hit it in the forehead which looked to do the job. Jake came to call these things cannies for their cannibalistic nature. Skin rotted all around his face, exposing his giant razor-sharp teeth. Blood engulfed its shredded shirt and jeans.
“Over there!” Mitch yelled. They both made their way to him together. Mitch took a knee next to the young boy. He could not have been more than ten. His whole body shook. “You’re safe now, guy. We got you.” Mitch tried to comfort him. All the boy could do was tremble. Mitch decided to hold him. “It’s okay,” he repeated. “My name is Mitch and that big guy is Jake. We’re not gonna hurt you.”
“Do you have any family, kid?” The boy slowly turned his head to Jake. He shook his head to signal, no.
“Th-th-they w-w-w-were killed,” the boy stuttered out. “The th-th-thing chasing me is my brother.”
Jake’s heartache ignited. ‘This world is such bull shit.’
“What’s your name?” Mitch asked.
“We have to figure out something for him,” Jake said. “He can’t stay here with us. It’s too dangerous.”
“He needs us now. Let’s see what my moms think.”
“Who is that?” Ally asked while starting the morning fire.
Sami jumped from her cushion. “Are you out of your mind? He can’t be here!”
Jake placed a hand over the boy’s shoulder.
“He just lost his family and had to run from a canny.” Mitch explained. “He didn’t tell us much. You saved me from being alone. I want to try and save him.”
Jake looked to the boy whose face was milk white. “Enough arguing,” Jake said. “We will figure out something for him, but for now, he stays here.”
Silence ruled the cave.
A few days had passed since welcoming the boy to their haven.
“Can you tell us anything about what happened?” Sami asked the boy as the group sat around the fire.
“He’ll talk about it when he’s ready,” Ally said.
“Why is he so pale?” Mitch asked.
“It happens to people with recent trauma,” Jake explained. “I had a lot of patients with this kind of symptom.”
The boy began to speak. “I saw a black and purple cloud.” Daniel whimpered. “It-it was all around our house. It broke our windows, a-a-and it…” he struggled to finish.
“Take your time, kid,” Jake said supportively.
Tearful, he continued. “It killed my parents and it turned my brother into that thing. It got me, but nothing happened to me. Why didn’t anything happen to me?”
Jake hugged him, and he sobbed into his shoulder.
Daniel’s reservations continued to grow.
Mitch attempted to get him to play catch, and climb trees, but he had no success. Jake was concerned about Daniel’s headspace.
Sami and Ally did the mom thing with him, but it was ineffective.
‘Could this be some kind of illness from the Haze?’ he wondered. Jake knew that these were not symptoms of exposure but in this reality, anything was possible.
Without explanation, he turned into a normal ten-year-old. Jake was perplexed and his uneasiness grew. Daniel still continued to grow paler.
Smoke smothered the cave.
Jake and his crew sat around the fire sharing stories of their lives in the old world. He felt horrible for Mitch. “You had to grow up a lot quicker than the rest of us, Mitch.”
“I just want to help us survive.”
Ally and Sami gave a proud nod.
“You guys are so cool!” Daniel shouted. “Thank you for letting me live with you.”
“We’re happy to have you,” Ally smiled.
“I want to do something for you guys now! I want to show you a fun trick!”
“Go for it, buddy!” Mitch cheered. The boy stood there, doing nothing.
Then, he fell hard to the stone ground.
Jake rushed to his aid. He was unconscious with a faint pulse, almost lifeless. The others stood by the fire, aghast. “C’mon kid, wake up.” Jake gave him a subtle shake. Daniel’s lips began to move. Only murmurs came out. “Take your time. It’s okay, figure out your words, Daniel.”
“Daniel?” he said, his voice deep and raspy. “Daniel is dead.” The boy’s now blood red eyes opened. Veins popped from his face. He placed his cold hand on Jake’s chest.
Jake felt an intense energy from the boy’s touch that sent him flying across the cave.
Jake struggled to move as he watched from the ground.
“I am a messenger of the magic,” the thing said, his tone like that of a demon. “We are the plague, and the world is now ours.” A black and purple cloud manifested around The Messenger.
Jake was helpless.
Sami, Ally, and Mitch stayed close to one another as The Messenger approached. It directed its arms at the three, and the haze began to swirl like a snake down its arms. Sami and Ally hugged Mitch before tossing him to safety. The Messenger unleashed the cloudy blast and it struck Sami and Ally definitively. They levitated from the ground, horrifically convulsing and screaming. Their skin turned gray and then they were silent. They hit the ground, dead.
Jake managed to stand up. Mitch ran to the bodies of his lifeless parents. The Messenger gave an ominous laugh.
“Hey, shithead,” Jake shouted.
It turned to Jake, raising its black brow. “How do you live?”
“C’mon, try it again,” Jake said as he rose to his feet. “Not strong enough, are ya?”
The Messenger laughed. The cloudy blast exploded from around The Messenger and shot toward Jake at full strength.
It did not strike.
Instead, the cloud swirled around Jake and began to glow gold. Jake embraced the potent power he was harnessing and fired the shroud back at The Messenger. It gave an incredulous scream and combusted into blue flame, withering away into ash.
It was like it never existed.
Jake carried the bodies of his fallen friends up the cave’s steps as Mitch followed.
They walked through the archway, being met with sunlight over the wicked wild. They buried them together and then they mourned.
“What was wrong with Daniel?” Mitch asked.
“I don’t have a solid answer,” Jake said, frustrated. “All I know is your moms and Daniel deserved better.”
“You’re immune to that magic,” Mitch said, “and can make it good.”
Jake knew he was right.
“We can’t stay here.” Mitch rose to his feet from the grassy dirt.
They packed essential supplies into duffel bags and abandoned the cave.
They walked off to face uncertainty, but with hope that maybe Jake Clover could help save the cursed world.