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Shades of Red
There's no other shade quite like it; the red of fire, of explosions, of autumn leaves and summer skies, of strained eyes and battered wounds all pale in comparison to the liquid that painted my boots. I rested against the body of a willow tree, unable to make out the scenery beyond the braided branches. I wasn't sure how long I'd been there. I wasn't sure of the day or time. In one hand, my father's revolver hung limply. In the other, a faded picture of my daughter.
I tried to remember where I was. I didn't know how long it had been since I last moved beyond the willow. I remembered the warfare. I remembered the creatures.
They ripped through the armor of cars that tried to flee, through the walls of buildings where some tired to hide. Their bodies stood against our firearms, against everything we had, hardly slowing them down. They stopped for nothing but the taste of blood on their tongues. Though we fought like monsters ourselves, it was nothing compared to their sheer brute force and invincibility.
Women were dragged by their hair into darkened alleyways, no one able to respond to their terrible cries. Children were trampled by the chaotic mobs or swept away by vampires, easy prey. Men were forced into a heated battle. Many were killed almost immediately, their bodies broken and remains spilt. Some were not as fortunate, their bodies transformed by the vampire's bite, to where they became monsters themselves, turning against their own kind.
The massacre went on for hours. I was sure no one would survive. Yet, here I sat, my body aching in remembrance of the battle, but still intact. Perhaps there were others outside, in the city who had survived. Perhaps even my daughter.
The idea was doubtful and unrealistic. Emily was only twelve. She was too young to suffer something like warfare and endure. The image of her body trampled in the crowds or beaten by a vampire sent my heart racing. As did the thought that she might still be alive, hiding in the ruins of the subway or sewers. My chest throbbed, my throat sore with dread and excitement. I turned to my attention to the folded picture in my hand. Emily's smiling face looking back at me. She had her mother's smile. Her golden hair bundled by a white ribbon, long strands framing her face. Her vibrant green eyes sparkled against the tones in her sundress. Her hands propped neatly across her lap. Shame seized me as I studied the face through the creases in the fold.
How could I not have thought of Emily sooner? How could I just sit like a coward and hid, not knowing that my daughter was truly dead?
Lifting my arm away from the ground and clutching my gun, I sought for the strength in my limbs. Though the sensation of death enclosed me, the knowledge of the gruesome scene that awaited me beyond the willow's protection, I couldn't stay. The realization of my failure to seek my daughter gripped my heart. I wanted to believe she was alive, to believe I wasn't entirely alone in the city. If I had survived, surely someone else had.
Though my body screamed in protest, ready to collapse under my own weight, the desire to find my daughter was the much greater. I couldn't stay not knowing whether she was alive or not. I needed to see what had become of the world beyond the willow. I wanted to find someone who could help me; if I couldn't find my daughter, kill me.
The joints in my knees began to quiver and shudder as I staggered to my feet. My weight stumbled into the truck of the willow, dependant for the support. Frustration accompanied by fatigue. Groans of agony escaped before I could summon the will power to stop them. Pain shot through my entire body like needles tearing at my skin from the muscle. My stomach churned as my head began to spin. My forehead sought the hollow form of the tree, my breathing labored. Weakness plagued me like a virus.
With great effort, I pushed away from the tree and passed the braided curtain.
Horror seized me.
Corpses littered what had once been a proud city park. Bodies, human and demon, hung from the trees and plagued the lake's dark waters. Thunder shook the earth and a gentle rain fell. The corpses of a young man and woman welcomed me; their bodies entwined as one, huddled against the broken stone of a statue. The man's jaw, a series of sharp corners and ridged angles, was thrown open, frozen in a moment of panic and terror. His skull had been shattered, leaving the exposed brain tissue to rot and fester. Maggots crawled from the tilted cranium, bathing in the slick fluids that slid down the man's throat and chest. The women's body was perfectly place across the man, as if she had tried to protect him. Her left arm was completely gone at the shoulder. Her eyes had been ripped from the sockets. Her head was directed towards the dark sky, her mouth gaping as flies danced around open hollows in her skull. The dress she wore was now nothing but rags drenched in her own blood. Her fair legs were tangled together; her ankles cut and bruised with the meat of her heel bare and putrid.
Six or seven bodies, all belonging to women, lay piled together like wet and broken dolls. Fountain angels, wrapped in ribbons of stone, poured streams of water from their damaged jars against the dead. The decaying flesh of a child floated face down in the tainted pool, her dark hair, thrown up over the laughing statues. The scents of raw decomposing flesh flooded the air. My stomach reeled, retching in response to the smell that invaded my nostrils. I felt my stomach jerk.
Ignoring the metallic taste in my mouth, I carried myself pass the many lifeless mounds that dotted the park, thinking only of Emily as I traveled toward the city. The rain fell soothingly against my open wounds and over my face. I overlooked the hundreds of empty eyes and horrendous expressions, all of them frozen in everlasting terror. I tried not to picture Emily, her tiny body drifting in the lake or lodged in one of the heaps around the park. The revolver my father had given years ago was still clutched securely in my hand. I'd never had to use it before and had once hoped I'd never have too.
Burning skyscrapers stood just beyond the gates of the park, smoke swelling into the darkened clouds. I slid down the muddy banks, the iron gate entrance now in sight. I turned once more and looked about the park. I knew I wouldn't come back. Even if I didn't find my daughter in the city, I wouldn't return to the place. There wasn't a reason to. Emily wasn't here. I closed my eyes against the rain and recited a short prayer, wishing peace on the many deceased.
The city was in utter ruin.
The quite rain hadn't stopped most of the fires that burned in every building. Sparks broke out in quick sudden bursts form broken streetlights, the polished steel frames bent in unimaginable shapes or severed in pieces. Shards of glass glistened against the light of the moon, shimmering in the rivers of blood the pooled in the filth. Bodies decorated the city as they had the park, claiming open doorways and windows, street corners and bus stops. Corpses lay in the streets, like drunks sleeping against the black asphalt. Impaled flesh jerked in the breeze and gentle rain. The roar of thunder and the flash of lighting tore my attention to the sky. Black clouds billowed together, like giant birds. Hell was here in this city.
A sharp sudden cry shattered the stillness in the city. I turned around, pitching my gun to my chest and listened for the sound again. Another horrible shriek rung in the air again and, this one, a deliberate scream for help. I hurried as quickly as my legs would allow. The cry had come from a dilapidating apartment complex. It took only a moment to recognize the complex as my own, the place I had called home in the city.
Tearing through the front door, tossing carcasses aside, I broke for the stairway. Focusing on the cries, I threw open the door to the fifth level and ran almost instinctively to room 1303, the room that had been my own. I stood in the hallway, my fingers toying with the polished doorknob.
Another scream shook me.
Rushing inside I turned about the living room, the furniture tossed about, and the room in disarray. Trails of blood darkened the ivory carpet, leading across the checkered tiles in the kitchen. I passed through the kitchen, avoiding broken blades and porcelain shards. I followed the track to my bedroom, the navy walls splattered in dark blood. The window nearby was shattered, glass fragments glittered against the wooden floorboards. In the center of the disorder sat a young girl. She sobbed hysterically, her curled in an effort to protect herself.
"Emily!" I cried, recognizing the blond mop and bloodied face as my daughter.
She looked up, her eyes wide with fear, dancing over the image of me. The dress she wore was tattered and frayed, her fingers gripping hold of holes in the skirt. Her white stockings were muddied and torn, her feet completely bare. Golden strands fell from the knotted mop on her head.
She suddenly turned back, looking behind her. She cried again and bent back into herself, her fingers holding her head.
I heard the demon before I saw it stumbling from the back room. He was a vampire. My heart pounded in my chest as I watched him stagger about. I simply stared; unable to comprehend the condition of the vampire's body. He should've been dead. Even with his demon qualities, his body was dying; his right arm severed at the elbow and deep sores covered his bare chest. Blood still pulsed from his injuries and saturated his uniform. His black wings, once a fright to behold, now dragged lifelessly, like tattered rags behind him. He snarled and hissed, his claws revealed. His bloodshot eyes turned between Emily and me. I tightened my grip on the revolver as his glare sharpened on me. Terrible roars of anguish and maddening hunger warned me not to interfere as he stammered towards the body closes to him, my daughter.
I brought up my gun and fired once. The bullet hit the vampire in the neck. Blood rendered from the fresh wound as he staggered back, screaming and wailing. His claws reached for his neck as he curled into himself. The sight of his own blood freshly coating his fingers enraged him. He roared angrily and rushed me.
The revolver suddenly felt like deadweight in my hand, the adrenaline strangely disabled me from lifting my arm to use it. The demon ran at me, pushing aside chairs and tables with complete disregard for anything in the room. I backed away, stumbling, my gun falling from my hand. My eyes ran around the floor, franticly scanning for the revolver. I turned and launched a chair at my assailant, pushing him to the ground while I ran for the pistol. I prayed to God for a bullet in the chamber. I was sure that was all I would need.
My prayer was answered.
As the vampire reached its feet, I shot. The bullet hit my attacker in the chest and slowly he dropped to the floor. I stood up and leaned against the old green sofa, looking at the demon as he jerked and shuddered. He seemed at ease all at once, unafraid of the death, even falling peacefully into it. My heart calmed. I took a deep breath and raised the warm steel of my father's revolver to my lips.
I heard Emily call for me.
Rushing to her side, I dropped my empty pistol. I gathered her tiny, shivering figure in my arms and let her weep on my shoulder. Her body shook violently. Blood soaked her clothes. She was freezing, her skin as cold as ice. I pulled the shirt from my back and wrapped her as tightly as possible. She squealed in protest.
"It's okay Emily," I reassured her, rubbing her arms. "Everything's okay now. I'm right here, Sweetheart."
"Daddy," she cried, staring as if she had just realized who I was. "Daddy, please take me away from the city," she whimpered. "Please Daddy. I don't like the city."
"Of course," I turned and picked up my gun. Though it was empty it was all I had to defend us both. "We'll leave right now, Emily."
She wiped the tears from her vivid green eyes and smiled weakly.
"Thank you, Daddy."
Twenty minutes later, I was walking away from the city and the park. I had tried to find a vehicle to carry us further and faster, but to no avail. So instead, I bundled Emily in what decent rags I could find and carried her in my arms. My body ached. Every movement became harder and took even greater effort to endure. I felt my legs to stagger. Emily tightened her hold on me.
"Daddy," she replied. "Are you tired?"
"Very," I groaned. "I think maybe we should find some place to rest. Daddy's feeling very sick."
I took shelter in some bush just beyond the city. The rain still poured and thunder clapped, washing over the city. I watched as the fires in the metropolis slowly died away and the city darkened. I sat, once more, my back to a dying tree with Emily in my arms. Though she was wrapped tightly in blankets and rags, her body still shivered and jerked.
"Are you okay, Emily?" I panted.
"I'm hungry Daddy," she whispered.
Sickening shivers crawled down my spine. It wasn't the words that frightened me, but the way they were spoken. I could hear the hiss in her gentle voice, the demonic quake in her breathing as hunger started to take her. I looked down into her eyes, red bleeding through the beautiful living green. She turned up, her expression impassive.
I only smiled at her. I smiled as I felt her lips at my throat, smiled as she started to bite down, the rich fluids spilling over her lips and down my chest. I leaned my head back against the dying trunk, welcoming the inevitable. I would die here. My heart began to slow as I felt myself falling. As I took my last breath, as I tried to calm my daughter's hurt and hunger, I could only reflect on single thing; how lovely all the shades of red were.