“The infinite in me honors the infinite in you.” —Anonymous
Chapter One: Gage
The beasties screamed and laughed and howled from the forests surrounding the village below Gage’s hut which sat on a ledge overlooking the valley. His skin prickled, though the breeze was lite and had not yet cooled off from the night. He watched the sun setting behind the mountains to the West. It thinned from a sphere, to a half sphere, to a thin line, and then, to nothing but residual light. He rang the bell that would warn the villagers of the coming night. The momentum of the bell carried his arm up above his head and then he pulled again, the muscles of his arm bulging under the weight and momentum of the bell.
Chapter Two: Clara
The ringing of the bell settled into the valley along with the dusk. The night would approach quickly, and without the bell, it would sneak up on them like a beastie in the forest.
In the village, people froze, alarmed at it’s sound, then grabbed their belongings—kids and backpacks and bags—and rushed toward their huts, kicking up dust as they ran.
Clara stumbled and regained her footing. She carried with her a bag filled with supplies for the coming week, brought in by her friend Hope from the mostly deserted city—Soylent, NGP2 (a pellet of nutrition derived from natural gas) and a book to read (Dracula). She zigged and zagged around others who were also zigging and zagging around still others. Reaching her hut, she tossed the bag inside. She took one last look around.
The light had faded all too quickly, and left in it’s wake, a darkness that sent shudders through her. The moon had begun to rise in the sky, a tiny sliver of a moon, silver and shining like a splinter of metal. The maniacal laughter of the beasties took her breath. They sounded close now.
Clara shut the door to her hut and dragged the log latch into place. She leaned her back into the now closed door and breathed a sigh of relief.
Chapter Three: Mars
Gage looked up to the night sky from his stretch of forest. The beasties couldn’t reach him here, and he lay prone in the grass in front of his hut, secure in this knowledge. He strained his eyes and searched the night sky for Mars, but couldn’t find it’s bright white light, visible only at certain times of the year. “Is that where you are, Mom and Dad?”
The wind picked up and blew leaves across his body.
Chapter Four: The Dream
Clara awoke outside her hut, staring out towards the field in only her nightgown. The wind blew at it’s tattered edges and they flapped against her legs. She searched the darkness and the two-track road that crossed before her, grown over and rutted, for the villagers’ bodies. There were none. The road lay empty. It must’ve been a dream. How did I get here, then? The last she remembered, she had pulled the latch of her hut door into the locked position and tucked herself into bed. It’s happening again. She blinked back the blurriness caused by sleep.
In her dream, she had seen the bodies of the village’s people strewn across the ground. Some lain in pile of three or more, some separate and alone, but everywhere she looked, bodies. And blood. It, too, was everywhere. It pooled around the victims bodies, poured away from them in rivulets of crimson, and seeped through bottom edge of the hut where she had stood looking out the door. She called out. No response: no movement, no cries or low moans, nothing but the stirring of the wind. Everyone, dead. She stood frozen in fear, cold with the knowledge that she was all alone. Then a noise rang out from the field. A yell—more animal than human. She had left her hut and followed out along the side of it until she had a full view of the field. The yell rang out again, and this time it she recognized it as a roar.
She still shook from the dream.
She had been startled awake by a noise in the field. She stepped back into the shadows of her hut until she stood so close to it that she could feel the roughness of the river cane siding against her back. More river cane served as the roofing and spilled off the edges of the roof like an awning. She crossed her arms and hugged her body against the wind. She scanned the periphery of the village and the field for any signs of movement. She didn’t know how long had passed since she’d gone to bed, but night fell quick this time of year and it had already settled into the field. A tiny sliver of moon hung above, but it wasn’t enough light. She couldn’t see anything. The field lay quiet except for the rustle of overgrown grasses in the wind. But the faux quiet and the complacency it brings could be deadly and the rustle of grasses could mask a stalking predator. I’m too exposed out here without weapons. Her heart raced. She crouched and crawled toward where she thought the door to be. The edges of her nightgown trailed her in the dirt. She felt the way before her with her hands until she found the door of her hut. She lunged through the opening and shut it behind her. She sat back against the door and gathered her thoughts.
Clara gathered her resolve and stood on shaky legs. She would go to Gage and tell him of the dream. She searched the dark for her Red Cross flashlight. She tripped over something in the floor and navigated to the corner of the hut where the was sure she’d stowed it. She grappled in the dark for it’s familiar cracked handle. She grabbed it and started winding, one minute of winding for every ten minutes of light. After a few minutes, she turned the flashlight on. It’s beam illuminated a patch of plaster on the inside wall of her hut. She swung the flashlight around until she found her clothes, threw them on, and stowed her daggers in their sheaths on either side of her hips.
She stepped out into the dark night. The beam of the flashlight lit up a swath of ground a few feet in front of her. She walked slowly down the main road to the edge of the village. As the grouping of huts receded behind her, she heard a scream echoing off the cliffs surrounding the village. It was high pitched and ragged, filled with the terror of all that lay in wait in the night. The Beasties. This isn’t the brightest idea. She shuddered. But it can’t wait.
The Beasties were said to have escaped from government research facilities across the country in 2025, five years prior to The Gathering, the time when the country was evacuated to a secured facility in the West. The government had blamed the fires that had ravaged the country, said that the Beasties had escaped during The Great Blaze, but rumor had it, someone had released them. No one still alive had seen one, but their roars, if you could call them that, because they were more like blood curdling screams than roars—like they’d inhaled the terror of every victim they’d ever hunted and exhaled it back out every night—were well known by everyone in the village.
She continued onto a small footpath. She stumbled at times as she shown the light back over her shoulder, pointing it to the sound of a twig snapping. She walked for some time. When she arrived at Bald Mountain rock, a rock that had rolled downhill years ago and settled into the valley, she turned onto another footpath, smaller still. It wouldn’t be long now, she thought. The path wound around shards of boulders which lay in heaps on the edges of the trails. Many of the countryside’s natural boulders had cracked and crumbled during The Great Blaze.
She saw the dark form of his hut in the closing distance.
She yelled out his name. “Gage! Gage!” She arrived at his door and shook it with all she had. The door rattled and she yelled for him again. “Gage!”
The door opened. Gage stood in a tight fitting tank top in the frame of the door. The edges of his muscled chest shown in the light of her beam. He rubbed his sleepy eyes with a fist.
Clara looked away, down to the dirt at their feet. “It happened again, Gage.” She said in almost a whisper.
“Come in.” He stepped aside. “You shouldn’t have come here alone.”
“But I had to tell you as soon as possible, Gage. And anyway, who could have come with me? An elder? Fancy I tell one of them about my strange visions.”
“No. Not if you care to remain in the village.”
Clara passed her flashlight over a table sitting along the far wall. A notebook sat open on it. She walked over, passed the beam over the first page. It was a sketch of a saw blade attached to the end of a baseball bat with a bolt secured through the middle. “Dreamer. You’re always coming up with something Gage.”
Gage rushed over to the table and closed the notebook.
“I’m just playing, Gage. It was a good sketch. The idea of it. Where do you come up with these things.”
“You know, mostly I rummage through the junk pile in back. Hope brings me anything sturdy or sharp that she finds in the city. I told her I can use any of it. Then I get to brainstorming. How can I put these pieces together as a means of protecting the people here?” He grabbed the closed notebook and tossed it onto a pile of other notebooks in the floor. “Now what did you come here to tell me about?”
In the glow of the flashlight, she told him of the dream.
“But it could just be a dream.” He said.
“I don’t just have dreams. You know that. They always come true.”
“I guess I was hoping for a first.” He said.
“What are we going to do?” She asked.
“I don’t know. This is big. Well, we’ve got a heads up so we’ll know to keep an eye out for anything.” He said.
A howl wound up the canyon to Gage’s place. It was faint like a lonesome wind through the hollows.
“Could it have been the Beasties?” He asked. He rubbed his chin, in a contemplative manner, where hair had recently sprouted in rough patches.
“I don’t know. I didn’t get close enough to the bodies. I just froze.” She hugged her body as she remembered.
“It’s ok, Clara. We’ll figure this one out in time.”
“It’ll be a first.” She said. “But, God, I hope so.” She shuddered.
Gage grabbed the flashlight from her hands and shown it toward a pile of blankets on his bed. “There’s no sense walking back at night. You’ll sleep there. He grabbed one of the blankets and drug it to the floor. I’ll be here if you need me.”
Chapter Five: The Mark
Twelve hours later, as the dawn turned the once blackened sky to grey, Gage threw back the cover that had lain across him, sat up, and pushed his hands through his mussy hair. “Well, another day is here.” He stood and lit a lantern on the nightstand with the whoosh of a match. He watched Clara’s sleeping form in the flickering light. She breathed quietly, but soundly. He picked up a large shard of mirror, careful not to hold it too tight, looked into it’s ragged diamond shape. Pulling at the edge of his tank top, the mark he’d known all of his life—a figure eight lain on it’s side—peaked out from the center of his chest. He trailed a finger along it. A tickle followed his finger across the scar of flesh, followed it’s curves around and around again. “I don’t know what you are or what you stand for, but I know you are the key to who I really am.” He shook his head in disappointment. Would he ever unlock it’s secret? Would he ever know where he came from or who he really was?
He walked outside to the bell and rang it again. Sun-up had arrived, the long night fading into a distant memory. Down in the village, hut doors would soon swing open, familiar faces nodding into the daylight. From his hut on the ridge, the sun now peaked over the mountains to the East. The beasties would have already retreated to their caves and crevices after a long night spent out hunting.