The fire from my match flickered in the middle of the night as you woke up next to me screaming. It felt almost as if time itself had slowed to a halt. Already we had been married for a week and it seemed nothing could stop us. Your eyes had turned a pasty white that night as your small petite and fragile limbs cracked as you stood waist up in our bed. Your jaw stood crooked as you slowly tilted your head studying the room around you. The room was yours just as it had always been. Zombie and fantasy posters hung on the wall lit by a black light you kept running 24/7. Your brother and I tried our best to keep it the same for you, before you fell away from us into the dreaming.
Two thirds of the Earths population went to sleep that night but not before delivering a message. Some told it in tongues while others spoke in dead languages no one could understand. You were one of the few that said it clear as day. I will never forget it, your voice as it cracked and groaned as your eyes met mine and I tried my best to wake you hoping you were only experiencing a night terror or that this whole thing has been a part of some bad dream. I failed and all I could do was listen as you repeated again and again, "we are coming".
Five years have passed since the day of your possession and now you lay still less in a coma aboard the Earth's first starship. You rest quietly in stasis as your brother not much older then I along with a thousand more survivors begin our deceleration toward what we have christened the Lamia, a daemon warship. Five years we have prepared for this day. This, our final stand against the daemons since they announced their arrival.
Five years ago everything changed when you entered the dreaming but that wasn't all. I can still remember the fire burning around the edge of the match as if the world was moving in slow motion. Time itself slowed to a halt around me but I felt my heart beat faster and stronger then ever. I thought maybe it was adrenaline or worry. All I wanted in that moment was to protect you. Before your mouth stopped moving I felt a power awaken inside me and I knew you weren't the only one that had changed that night.
Days after you slept the world went crazy. Riots broke out across the world. Everyone was trying to interpret the message. Some said it was the beginning of the end. Priests took to the streets and all over the world a fire of prayer ignited. The National Guard took to the streets and martial law was declared. Then NASA and several space agencies came on air and announced something that no one had seen coming. They had been tracking an unnatural object at the edge of our solar system. Days before the possession they had detected a signal from it. The signal similar to radio waves spread across the Earth. Everyone at some point had contact with it. We had all been exposed to something alien, something sinister. Many that fell died in their sleep. Committees were formed with volunteers searching for and rescuing the bodies of the dreaming.
In the first year scientists formed a new agency called Khione. They dedicated their time to preserving the bodies of the dreaming, many of whom were starving as the last of us did everything we could to take care of them. Khione developed the stasis chambers that froze the dreaming while NASA and other space agencies began working with military around the world to build a ship that could intercept the alien object hoping to find a cure. By the second year it worked. Built on the backbone of the "EmDrive", a project NASA had been secretly working on for years. All the pieces were falling into place and the first drones were sent into space.
They had four directives.
1. Hold still. - No sudden movements. Two things will happen they will welcome us and want to learn from us or they will see us as a threat and attack us. Whatever the hell is onboard is far more advanced then anything we can imagine.
2. Find a medium to communicate through – They will not speak our language though they may be able to read our thoughts. Each drone we have programmed to try multiple different ways of communication from mathematics and music to art and binary.
3. Be humble - Do not let your own feelings or beliefs cloud you.
4. Do not act hostile - Any act of hostility could be interpreted as declaring war. For all we know they are the same as us or perhaps they are just a group of refugees who have lost their planet. At the same time they could be explorers or it could even be some kind of prison ship. Nothing is off the table. Have an open mind but do not engage unless absolutely necessary.
This is it. A moment in history that will be remembered forever in time. Not long after intercepting the object which was slowly moving closer and closer to Earth drifting through the darkness of space like a derelict freighter our ship let loose a thousand drones each about the size of a man.
In that one night the drones were destroyed.
Black figures with white porcelain teeth that glowed fluorescent in the dark tore through the metal drones. The figures looked like daemons. Many of them resembled Baphomet however rather then a goat like head it was something more deformed. They were bipedal with wings and tails. Their bodies were strong enough to withstand the cold vacuum of space and they moved like feral animals using a magnetic field that surrounded their starship to move like sharks through water.
What the world saw that day changed everything.
The monsters of hell were real. Scientists theorized that many of the possessions throughout human history could have been caused by the same signal that hit the Earth. The daemons have been slowly embedding themselves as something for us to fear for thousands of years. Further study showed that the derelict vessel they were using to drift towards us was damaged. The daemons had been at war with someone else and they were running. We had no idea what they were coming to us for, we weren't even sure at first if they were truly hostile. Then the second message arrived. A small portion of the dreaming that wasn't in stasis woke up. Their minds were gone, they were infected. We called them the withered. They attacked with rage and hate and by the time we managed to take back control the daemons had sent us another message, one that said we were to bow to our new kings. Never in my whole life had I been more glad that you lay frozen, asleep. I prayed that you were dreaming of something better. A better world one with you and I, your family, our friends. A world that was at peace.
Your brother and I joined the infantry. A new division of the military was created to deal with the daemons. They called themselves the U.E.D. Aka United Earth Defense. Funded by Khione and various governments. The U.E.D. Enlisted civilians like myself and your brother Michael who were ‘chosen’. We did it so that we could protect you. It had been three years since the day you went to the dreaming. Vee, how I miss you everyday. How many hours of the day have I sat by your side waiting for you to wake up. Hoping that you could hear me. Wondering what it was you were dreaming.
Three years was how long it took for our gifts to appear. Some said if there were daemons then there must be Angels. They called us the chosen. Those that had contact with the dreaming moments after their possession had contracted side effects that made us more efficient. For some it was better eyesight, hearing, strength. Others it was like we had been given superpowers. When my adrenaline started pumping time seemed to slow to a halt. My mind moved faster then those around me. I could practically dodge a bullet when my heart raced fast enough. That same year a part of the daemon ship broke apart and accelerated towards the Earth impacting near Paris, France. Smaller ships impacted near Chicago, Mexico City, Brazil, and Okinawa, Japan. The daemons descended upon all of Europe and we had finally gone to war. You, your brother and I barely made it out of Chicago. We made a deal with our commanding officers that to protect you we would join the crew of the U.E.D. Perseverance, a starship equipped with an EmDrive built by a joint coalition between the U.S. and Chinese government.
Last year we left Earth and we have been preparing for this moment ever since. A thousand chosen against a horde of daemons. It seems the war between heaven and hell, the end of the world, that silly idea we always joked and wrote stories about has finally come true.
- - Jake.
I am twenty seven years old and dreaming of a forest…
We’re camping in the woods. Myself, you, your brother, a few of our friends. We are sitting around the campfire laughing, roasting marshmallows. Michael, your brother is strumming his guitar. A vintage Ibanez Artcore AF53. He’s playing random melodies. No real song. I’m not sure he even knows any real songs. It’s more therapy then anything else. He just strums whatever comes to mind. Moving his hands over the frets like he’s been doing this all his life. He only started to learn guitar a few years ago. You look me in the eyes and smile. Vee, your blue eyes, your black short hair. I memorize your figure. Just a few inches shorter then I am. I memorize your tattoos. You are only a few years younger then I am but you are far more mature then even most people my age. Just recently you had began an apprenticeship with a sculptor. You were going to change the world. I wake up to the smell of smoke.
The fire alarm sounds. A piercing screech takes hold of me and I rise instantly out of bed grabbing my pants and jacket. I place my hands over my ears and look through the dark. I can see the little red light of the fire alarm blinking on the other side of the room. I think about calling out to make sure that anyone else in my barracks that might be asleep rises buy fortunately I am already the last to wake. Michael and Todd have already made their way outside when I push my way through the door in a flurry of motion that makes me feel sick to my stomach. The entire barracks are on fire. I fall to the ground as a small explosion on the second floor sprays glass and wall across the concrete field I have found myself laying on. I try to imagine I’m in your arms. I try to remember my dream. To hold onto it as long as possible before the nightmare that is my reality takes me.
In the freezing air I look up and see a thin white trail of smoke reaching up to the sky above me. It’s half past midnight.
“Emily had another nightmare,” Michael says picking me up off the cold ground. Snow begins to fall around us. Sometimes I forget we have been training in Alaska. Its a different kind of cold. How I miss the comfortable cold weather of home. Chicago. One of the first cities taken by the daemons.
It takes only a few minutes for the emergency rescue services and fire department to appear. They begin to smother the fire. An officer named Ed quickly makes his way inside wearing as much flame resistant gear as he can. Moments later he carries out a young girl. Emily. The fire starter. I want to start crying. A part of me wonders if she is dead but this isn’t the first time this has happened.
“This is the third time now,” says Todd, a young man about my age with thick black hair and glasses. He was one of the few among us I had become friends.
“Least she didn’t go supernova,” said another.
“That hasn’t happened since before training began. She’s learned how to use her powers quite a bit since then,” said Todd.
I stood there in silence watching our barracks burn.
“Is everyone out?” I heard one of the older officers yell. We weren’t military, well not quite. We were members of the U.E.D. United Earth Defense. Each of us gifted with unique powers since the event took place and everyone fell asleep. We were being trained at a base in North Alaska to utilize our powers for combat purposes in preparation for war against the daemons. Many of us had already seen combat in Europe and parts of the North America. Michael and myself had barely made it out of Chicago with you. Vee, my fiancee, actually my wife. We married a week before the event. Michael’s sister. We carried you out of the city hours before the military dropped a nuke on top of it. Chicago became an irradiated wasteland. The first city to fall to the daemons. At this point that was only a few months ago. We found refuge in Michigan. It was there that our powers began to manifest (more on that later).
“Everyone is out, put the fire out,” said the U.E.D. Commanding officer on site. The U.E.D. Officer was Ed. He layed Emily’s body down on the ground. Her body was still smoldering, her skin covered in blisters under her charred clothes as if she herself had second and third degree burns covering her from head to toe. Slowly her skin began to heal as she opened her eyes. Tears began to fell as she threw her arms around Ed and began sobbing uncontrollably.
Bran, another soldier about my age who came into train with both Michael and I around the same time looked at the burning building. He whispers a word, some kind of prayer. I watch in silence as he inhales a deep breathe of air. His mouth seems to open an enormous length as he sucks in the air around him. Just as quickly as he inhales he exhales and a wave of wind moves across the barracks putting the fire out in an instant. The wind hits the barrack so hard it cracks the concrete. Not a trace of the fire remains.
“Emily, are you ok?” I ask as we all move towards her. Ed is still holding her tight hugging her as she sobs away in his arms. Ed is more or less our teacher. He has no powers of his own. He volunteered to take responsibility for us. In some ways we are all orphans. Most of our loved ones are in the dreaming. He was a decorated naval officer. From what I heard he commanded an entire ship and fought in three wars overseas before the day of the dreaming. The event it seemed affected certain areas of the world far worst then others. Much of Eurasia and the Middle East was devastated as millions fell into the dreaming never to wake up. The United States military used it to hit as many primary targets as possible. Dictators fell asleep and never woke up as did many politicians. Practically anyone with too many enemies was as good as dead. Our own vice president was even caught inside the dreaming. Power plants shut down and oil pipelines exploded as operators fell asleep at their desks. Radiation leaked and fires burned across the Middle East as well as many parts of China, Japan, and the United States. The day of the dreaming the National Guard took to the streets and secured as much of the country as possible. We went days without power, without electricity, without any idea of what was going on. I can still remember holding you in my arms just as Ed held Emily now. Begging God to tell me everything was going to be fine. Praying that she would wake up. That she would smile. That her hand would move.
“I did it again, I’m so sorry,” Emily cried.
“It’s not your fault honey, don’t cry. We got everyone out in time. There is nothing to worry about. We all knew this could happen anytime. You must not feel bad,” Ed said comforting her.
Slowly all of us took a knee beside her holding out our hands and placing them near her. I stop breathing and I feel my heart bumping in my chest. Bump, Bump, Bump, I open my eyes and look at Emily. I reach out to touch her. My adrenaline is kicking in. Time moves slower.
Three years since you entered the dreaming.
A heavy hand throws me to the ground.
Michael and I had been at camp not even an hour. I was inside the mess hall. I had already gone about a day without eating and Ed, who had picked the three of us (Michael, you, and myself) up from Anne Arbor, Michigan had told me that was my first assignment. The man that threw me to the ground was named Blair. He had been at the camp two weeks and had designated himself the ‘class bully’. Gifted with incredible strength Blair could punch a hole through a wall and not feel a thing. If you haven’t already guessed getting thrown to the ground by him hurt like hell. My gift was simple enough. When my adrenaline pumped time seemed to slow down. I wasn’t as cool as the Flash or Quicksilver. It wasn’t as if time was actually slowing down. I wasn’t in the matrix bending backwards dodging bullets. It was just the way my mind perceived reality. I saw Blair’s fist heading straight for me. It felt like I spent hours trying to figure out which way to move, how to counter him. My power made it possible I could work my way out of almost any situation. Except this one.
Blair hit me right in the side of the face nearly dislocating my jaw.
“You’re going to have to do better then that if you are going to have my back against the daemons,” he said. He let me go after that. Blair had lost everyone in Chicago. His family, his friends, everyone that meant anything to him. The day the daemons came to Earth he took the offensive trying his best to take as many down as possible but when they kept coming he retreated to the outskirts of the city. He watched as the bombs fell that decimated the city. I couldn’t blame him in a way. He was here for vengeance. To grow stronger so that he could face the daemons again. I sat next to Bran who showed me his gift by blowing a paper football across the room towards Todd who held his fingers like a goal. He filled me in on Blair. Even knowing what I know now I’m still pissed he hit me that first day.
There were eight of us with powers that came to Alaska. Eight of us that would be trained as a team to fight against the daemons. We were one of hundreds of camps all across the world separated for safety against any alien attacks. All of us would train with seven others until the U.E.D was ready to launch the Perseverance, a starship that would take all of us (including you and everyone else who had loved ones in the dreaming, cared for in stasis) towards the daemon ship. There we would use weapons and ships designed by several gifted with intelligence to fight back against the daemons. There we would make our final stand.
Myself, with the powers to slow time. Michael, who had the power to mimic others with powers. Blair and his super strength. Emily, the fire starter. Bran, the whirlwind. Todd, who could manipulate matter with his mind (though only a limited amount of time before he would become weak). Jackson, super eyesight and hearing. He was here on loan from a state prison. Apparently he was one of a few hundred inmates that were given time off their sentence for serving in the U.E.D - I never asked what he was in for all I knew and all I needed to know was that he was grateful he had been given a second chance. Last but not least was Nate, with his hyper intelligence. He was barely around us as he was almost always working with the U.E.D to develop a new batch of energy weapons we could use against the daemons. I was grateful, when Nate was around he had an ego the size of a small country.
The first few weeks after the event were the worst. We were living in a small townhouse with your brother in Chicago. I was working as a developer on an independent video game about zombies rising from the dead, you were doing your apprenticeship, and your brother was working as a mechanic downtown. I can still remember all the silly pieces of art I made. Each and every time creating monsters inspired from the back of my mind, nightmares I would have. Creating creatures described to me by others. Who would have imagined we would be face to face with such monstrosities in our lifetime. After the event many philosophers (mostly bloggers and a storytellers) began posting articles and making headlines telling the public that the nightmares were real. That the daemons had in fact been hacking into the subconscious minds of humanity since ancient times. Sending noise across space as they made their way towards our little blue dot. We had no idea why they were coming for us. It didn’t matter. I felt like I lost everything when you didn’t wake up. When emergency services finally made their way to our home and told us what was happening. When I sat by you in the hospital exercising your legs so you wouldn’t lose muscle while you slept in a comatose state. I was there when they inserted a feeding tube inside you so that you could. When they gave us our protein blocks because crops and farms around the world were depleting their resources without any manpower.
Many died in the streets. Homeless that fell asleep in alleys never to wake. Dead bodies in the sewers. The smell ran rapid through the streets. Roaches and rats fed off the dead. Two thirds = 0.6666666 of the Earth’s population fell into the dreaming and less than half of that survived the first six months. We just didn’t have the resources to take care of everyone. Mass graves were laid across the states.
We were lucky. So unbelievably lucky. The emergency services let us go back to our home after several weeks and would periodically check on you and your condition. Michael and I worked with several of the non profits to get food to those who couldn’t afford the rising prices that choked the economy to death. The entire world entered into a depression. Strategists and politicians worked day and night to come up with a new system of credit that would replace the old. The dreaming that couldn’t get the help they needed continued to die. Several gangs formed throughout the United States looting and moving themselves inside the empty condemned homes of the rich. Violence spread and martial law was declared. It took another six months before things started to feel normal again.
“With great power comes…” said some random newscaster on the television before it shut itself off.
“We lost power again,” Michael said looking over towards me. I was sitting by your side drawing in a moleskin sketchbook you had bought me years before. It was nearly filled now. Mostly portraits. I started to draw less scary things and focused more and more on the reality around me. I felt like I was a record keeper. Each time I moved the charcoal tracing out the eyes of someone I had known or seen on the streets I felt like I was making history. Someday you would wake up and I would tell you about the doctor who I drew that took care of you. The nurse that fed you. The older woman who died of old age beside you. Each portrait was a story ready to be told. We had a hospital bed moved in with us not long after we left the hospital. At this point nearly a year had gone by since the event. Nothing had changed. The world was starting to pull itself back together.
“What are you working on?” asked Michael looking over my shoulder.
“It’s one of the nurses at the non profit. You know the one that had the daughter with the hots for you,” I answered.
“Yeah, if only all the cute ones were awake,” he laughed.
The nurse I was drawing was in her late 40s. Someone who’s daughter was about our age had fallen asleep.
“More like all the beautiful ones were taken away,” I said staring at your face.
“You know I still get kinda nauseous when I hear you talk about my sister or see you look at her like that,” said Michael.
“Well if we didn’t live together,” I replied.
“Not going there,” he said. I had thought several times about moving out on my own hoping that I could move you out to the country and find a better way to take care of you. There was also Cambridge in Massachusetts. M.I.T was looking for volunteers to experiment on and research. They were hoping to forcefully wake people up. Some recent stories said they managed a few successful attempts however the patients died soon after mumbling and talking in tongues. I would trade places with you in a heart beat. Tear out my tongue just to speak with you again. I knew Michael was right. There was no way I would sign you up for any of those whack jobs experiments. I wasn’t gong to risk losing you and neither was he. We were stuck.
“You know I’m not going to leave,” I said.
“How about you draw something goofy like a cartoon. Maybe you could make a web comic or do something that would do some good in this world like make people laugh,” he said.
“Tried that remember, just felt wrong,” I replied. With so much wrong in the world it seemed strange drawing cartoons or trying to make something funny. I had always been a pretty serious person. I mostly preferred my art dark like the works of H.R. Giger or Zdzislaw Beksinski. I also loved the surreal art of Jaroslaw Jasnikowski and Jota Leal. I felt like that was the world I was living in now. A world unlike anything anyone could have ever imagined. The world didn’t end with a zombie apocalypse. It didn’t end with nuclear bombs (not yet anyway) or Nazi’s from the moon. It ended with the world falling asleep. I was living out the pages of a dystopian novel. The world had fallen to shit and was on a downward spiral. No. Slowly. There had to be a cure. There was always a way around. Even magic had to have limits. We knew about the object in deep space. Plans were set in motion to investigate it. Drones nearly a month away would investigate. The dreaming and the object went hand in hand. We knew that. All of Earth knew that.
A sound outside. Like a ringing. No. A screeching. Like nails against a chalkboard. Like a banshee screaming. Half the neighborhood was out of their homes. Michael grabbed a gun he had gotten his hands on not long after the event. Luckily the sound came from a park over a mile away and he wouldn’t need to use it. He was pre-determined to keep you, me, and everyone he loved safe no matter what the cost. With the world falling into chaos I couldn’t blame him. He taught me how to shoot that summer. Telling me should anything happen when he wasn’t around I had to be ready. I can still remember the first time I felt the kickback from the small handgun in my hand. The feeling of dust, the residue left over from firing again and again that covered my hand and my wrist. The smell of gunpowder that lingered even after I washed. I felt like we had become doomsday preppers. We even had a basement filled with canned goods and gallons of water.
It was the middle of the day. The power came back on. It was the news. A helicopter was flying around the middle of a small park. Two men were fighting. Well. More like one was beating the other. One man was wearing a long trench coat while the other looked like he was dressed like a lawyer. The one with the trench coat looked like a super villain you would see on TV. Half his face was burned and his hair was dark grey. He had dragged the one man out to the center of the park. He was looking for an audience calling out to the police that surrounded him. What happened next changed the world.
Later incident reports would call him ‘Reaper’. Dress like a super villain get a super villain nickname I guess. His real name had been Devon Jones. Before the event he lost his wife and child in a house fire. Apparently faulty wires were to blame. He tried to get money from the company that built his home only to lose the case in court. Seemed the judge was biased, the case never made it to a jury and was buried. He lost everything. His wife. His child. His home. He was living on the streets when the event happened. He was staying at a shelter. He woke up surrounded by dozens that had entered inside the dreaming. The man he dragged out to the center of the park had been the lawyer that worked for the faulty home company. Devon lifted him up by the neck and drained the life out of him. The lawyer became old right before the eyes of the world. The police fired killing the ‘Reaper’ in an instant but not before the world saw what happened.
This was the first televised case but not the first time ‘powers’ had appeared. The first recorded incident was actually a little girl in Brazil. She discovered that she could push people with her mind. After the ‘Reaper’ incident however people got scared. Fear of the unknown crept in. The United States was still under martial law and soon enough more heroes and villains began to appear.
At times it seemed like a joke. Vigilantes took to the streets defending the poor. I remember hearing stories about ‘chosen’ that emulated their favorite comic book heroes. Some even set up protective camps that people could find shelter. When the villains started doing the same thing only to sacrifice those they had taken in did people begin to get really afraid. No one knew who could be trusted and who couldn’t. Paranoia swept the world. Anyone with a gift was outcasted, reported to the military, taken away. This was also about the time the U.E.D was officially established.
Sometimes people got their powers at random. Someone could be sitting in a cafe and the next thing you know they go supernova. That’s what happened to Emily. She was writing at her favorite coffee shop. A steampunk story set in space. Something she had once dreamt of publishing. She wrote it now just hoping that somehow it would bring hope to those who suffered in the world. She was taking a sip of a mocha frappe with a double shot of espresso when she caught fire. First she screamed. The fire tore away at her skin bulging and blistering until she fell to her knees and a wave burned everything thirty yards around her. The cafe was destroyed and anyone inside was burned to a crisp. By the time emergency services arrived on scene she was completely unconscious laying half naked in burned clothes. Her skin had already began healing back. She was the first taken in by Ed. Rather then tie her in chains inside some military lab she was brought to Alaska to learn how to control her new gift. There was something magical about everyone that had powers. Something that couldn’t be studied. Something about their energy and aura. The surreal had become reality.
A month later. The first anniversary of the event occurred. A few weeks after that our drones met the object in deep space. The ship. The daemons. The world watched in horror as some, a small portion of those that slept began to wake. The daemons had delivered a message. They were coming for us. They demanded we ‘bow’ to them as our new kings, our new masters. Their second attack began. The sleeping rose as the ‘withered’.
“So the zombie apocalypse has finally come,” said Michael. He had just gunned down one of the dreaming that awoke next door. “It killed Susan,” I said staring at her dead body laid out on the front yard. “Just thank God Vee didn’t wake up to be a part of this,” he said aiming down the sight of his handgun and taking another shot at another withered.
You would think the end of the world would happen quickly. One moment there would be a world and the next nothing. We weren’t that lucky. The withered attacked and killed many of the survivors but in this case the end of the world only lasted a few weeks. Many of them were captured. Test subjects for the military. Even weapons released in third world countries we were still waging wars with. Nobody called them zombies though that was exactly what we were all thinking. This was just like that horrible episode of that one TV show we all use to watch.
“Another down,” said Michael. We had barricaded ourselves inside the house. We were being hunted by the withered. At this point we updated our arsenal to AR-15s and machetes over handguns and knives. The AR-15s were given to us by a man named Niles that lived less than half a block from us. He was one of those people. The kind that keeps a basement full of guns and ammo. He had been a Ranger at one time though he was starting to show his age now. He had just moved into town a few weeks before the event. He was hoping to be closer to his daughter whom he had been estranged from for many years. She was one like you who had fallen into the dreaming. Unlike you she didn’t survive. She had a heart condition and didn’t make it through the first few months. Many with physical problems like her couldn’t be saved.
“They seem drawn to us?” I said.
“Probably trying to get to Vee. Maybe something to do with the fact that she’s dreaming. Maybe it’s some kind of signal,” he answered.
“That makes sense, how many dreaming are there in our neighborhood?” I asked.