This story is by Samantha Caro and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Kayla pounded the rain soaked pavement. Muddy puddles splattered city grime over active combat boots. A messenger bag slapped a hard beat against her cargo clad thigh. A thick ring glinted red on her left hand. Behind her, the Nightmare let out a garbled screech and swiped air with a smoking tendril. Kayla caught the heavy stench of burnt rubber, rust, and death. Pedestrians swerved out of her way; grunting and groaning in their obliviousness. A litany of excuse me, pardon me, coming through, I’m so sorry, spilled from her mouth with the same sincerity of her shoulders colliding into slow travelers. Drinks spilled on the cement, food careened into the air, and Kayla kept running.
She hit the crosswalk. Cars sped by. She glanced back. The Nightmare seeped around people like oil. It towered over everyone; an amorphous, smoking mass of blackness that barely resembled a humanoid figure. Gold eyes glowed and bored into her.
‘Listen, listen my darling dear…’ it crooned a motherly voice in her mind. Kayla jerked. She drew her gun from its holster. There was a multitude of gasps. She aimed; fired. An eruption of screams dispersed the citizens. The Nightmare exploded in a billow of smoke and ash. Kayla heard the last vestiges of its whisper and swirled back around. She stumbled over the curb in her haste. Sirens followed her. Passersby stared with wild eyes. None of them glowed. None of them whispered in motherly tones. Kayla wanted to scream.
“Stop right there!” A helmeted security officer appeared from a telepad shoved in the hollowed out base of an office building. “You’re in violation of Weapons Act 238!”
Kayla didn’t bat an eye. “Agent Kayla Lescano of the Otherworld Division. I think a gun’s well within my job descrip.”
The officered stuttered. He looked down at the scanner embedded in his firearm. “But you’re not on duty yet!”
“Great! Guess I’m not late yet!” Kayla shot over her shoulder. He shouted after her, but the Nightmare was still on her trail. He would catch it on his sensors and understand. This wasn’t the first time a creature had gotten through the city’s barriers.
Kayla heaved gulps of air as she halted at the next corner. She tried to remember what her partner, Drum, had done when he was caught by one of these things. But she couldn’t think. All she saw was the burnt out husk of a woman she once called mother, reaching out to her from the skeleton house she’d once called home.
‘Listen, here, my darling, darling dear—’ the whisper drifted in her thoughts. A cloud of dust, smoke and rust swirled up around her. She smelled blood and decay. Kayla took off. A claw shredded air. She dove and rolled. Just a little further. She couldn’t let it get to her like this.
Kayla sought out the sun. Tall buildings and ominous clouds obscured it. Smoke billowed out of an alleyway. She ducked under another swiping claw. She leaped over a homeless man’s bottle-and-can-filled cart as the Nightmare lunged. A cloud released the sun. For one blissful moment, the whispers were gone and the miasma no longer choking. She reveled in the sunlight for a whole city block, and then the sunlight was obscured. The gray bleakness descended. The Nightmare appeared in her way.
‘Why won’t you wait for me? Why won’t you love me? Don’t you miss me my darling—’
Kayla skidded to a halt and stumbled back. In her mind’s eye, she saw the burnt out husk of a woman. She saw the skeleton house. She smelled the charred remains of wood and sick-sweet smell of burnt meat. Buildings were rubble, trees were blackened, the concrete scarred with massive welts. The husk reached out, called out, and Kayla screeched.
“You’re not my mother.” She twisted the ring on her finger and thrust her palm out at the Nightmare. A gust of air exploded. Passersby stumbled and yelped. The Nightmare burst into smoke again. Kayla staggered forward until she regained her balance and sprinted. People gave her a wide berth. Things like this just didn’t happen within city limits often. Outside, beyond the lower level tunnels, she had seen the unprotected world. The Nightmare was not much more than a pest out there.
The smog of dust, rust and rot grew stronger. The Headquarters grew closer. Beyond the glass doors she saw Drum. He stood all proper in his suit and his dreads held back in a loose tie. He squinted at her.
“Hurry! Lock the doors when I get through. Get ready!” Kayla glanced back. The Nightmare was closing in; gaining mass. She heard its whispers, loud and deafening in her ears. She saw the scene again. She kept running. Kayla stumbled through the glass doors.
A loud screech emitted from the Nightmare as the doors sealed shut. She stared up at the dissipating smoke and then back at Drum. He stared at the closed doors with a look of trepidation and uncertainty.
“You okay?” Drum offered his hand for her to take. “You’re late, y’know.”
“For good reason,” Kayla said as she took the offered hand. “A Nightmare. Got through the barrier, I’m guessin’.”
“Must’ve. Looked like a category seven or eight, though,” Drum said, and then, clearly wanting an answer: “You okay?”
Kayla stared at the dissipating smoke and then turned away. The lobby was deserted save for the two of them. She shivered.
“I’ll be fine, Drum.” Kayla drew the messenger back off her shoulder. “Gotta be to present this baby.”
“That the new gun you engineered?” Drum still looked like he wanted to press, but went along anyway.
“Yep. Should be ready for field testing…” Kayla flashed him a grin. “Hope you were looking forward to getting rid of some shadow bastards.”
“Don’t ya know the way to my heart so damn well.” Drum laughed. “Let’s get in there then, shall we?”