Thomas and Ren walked toward the flimsy road barricade marked by the enormous sign indicating the Hazardous Exclusionary Zone. A corner had been blasted off somehow, leaving scorch marks across the lower right portion. Graffiti had been scribbled all around the lettering. Thomas stopped for a moment to read it, feeling wary. Ren stepped around the barricade. Patches of oily black weeds sprouted around it. Or were they normal weeds in the process of slowly dying? Thomas was unable to discern which.
“But don’t worry, they only come out at night. It won’t happen to us. It takes months of living here to accumulate enough toxic waste in your brain tissue to cause madness.”
Ren turned back to him. “Coming?”
Thomas frowned. “What’s in there?”
“Lots of things. Most of it’s not as bad as you expect, but some of it’s a lot worse.”
Thomas grimaced at the convoluted statement. Ren turned and continued walking. Thomas trotted up behind her to keep pace. He saw ahead increasing ruination and remnants of suburban life. It was a blasted and broken landscape of desolation and despair. He shivered to think what it might look-–and feel like–- at night. Everything Landic had spoken of made him anxious at how much time they had before dark. He moved up beside her and spoke, “Wait. It makes no sense for you to keep me in suspense until we run into something awful that surprises me. I’m not a kid. You don’t need to shield me. Just tell me what the hell we might be facing, and I’ll be ready.”
Ren kept walking and faced forward as she spoke. “We shouldn’t see anything until after dark, like I said. So we’re fine for now.”
Thomas grabbed her shoulder, forcing her to stay and turn to him. “Not good enough. Tell me now. What if I fall into a hole over a nest of giant mutant centipedes? I want to know if shooting them with this gun,” he said, drawing the revolver, “will do anything, or if I should just yell goodbye to you as they munch on me.”
Ren sighed, “All right. There are feral mutants. I’ve seen anthills the size of houses, with ants as big as dogs. They usually mind their own business. But there’s also hungry rats out here bigger than cats, swarms of eight-legged arachnoids that will cut you in half and suck out your innards, and carnivorous fish-mutants the size of sharks that crawl up out of the toxic pools formed in the basements of collapsed buildings. Fungal spores that will choke you and sprout from your body in a matter of hours until you’re a giant walking mushroom. But don’t worry, they’re almost entirely underground, I’ve only ever seen them a few times. What we really need to worry about are the former human residents.”
“What, they mutated into something worse?”
“Oh no. Not at all. It’s the gangs of looters and bandits from outside with guns. They hunt the mutants in the Hez for sport. They’ll hunt us too. And it gets better! Many people who used to live here, or wound up here with nowhere else to go, are chemically poisoned due to the high exposure levels. They become crazed savages, driven mad as a result of absorbing the high levels of toxicity. Castoffs, they’re called.”
Thomas looked at her, frowning and speechless.
Copyright 2016 Brian Clement.