Friday, January 22, 2016

Future Graveyard - Flash Fiction Challenge

Prompt complements of Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds blog

Future Graveyard

            After the world ended, demons strutted around like they owned the place. Which, I suppose, was true enough, but it made me madder than when Prof Stein announced he wasn’t grading on a curve.
            I stood at the foot of the brushed bronze building, my oversized sweater jacket pulled tight around me. People bustled every which way, hurrying to work or home or some other pointless social function. It didn’t really matter where they were headed, because if I failed now, humanity was even further screwed. I stared up at the sky, a puffy gray. A year ago, I would’ve used a mild winter day like this to cuddle up and study Psych 101.
            I gained a curious glance or two from the busy trench-coated people, leading lives in unknowing service to the demons. I ignored them; I was busy searching for demons. Easy to spot, too, when eye contact was made. For me, I could see it plain as day, for just a second, their faces slipped like an old TV flipped to a station with horrible reception.
            God had given us struggle, but the demons had given us ease. Insidious and impossible to deny, humans had taken their offering like a starving kitten offered warm milk.
            I rubbed my hands furiously together, trying to work up some warmth and yeah, maybe some courage, and walked through the revolving doors of the World Hunger Alliance.
            The woman seated at the reception desk was a well-coifed, classically pretty brunette. Her inspection of me was almost not at all noticeable, though she had to be wondering what a college-age kid with a messy ponytail was doing with an appointment to see the executive director. She blinked and smiled.
            “You must be Anala Whitcomb?” Her smile stayed in place.
            I nodded.
            “Ms. Larvale will see you shortly. Could I offer you some coffee? Hot chocolate? Water?”
            I was cold and had a personal shortcoming when it came to anything chocolate, but I also had made a promise to never take anything a demon offered. This woman wasn’t a demon, but it was too close by extension for my taste.
            Of course, if all went well today, I was about to break that promise anyway. Not for chocolate, no, I needed information. And I’d take it gladly from any source, even a demon.
            I shook my head and took a seat in the lobby. The tile floor was polished and new. The chairs were comfortable and next to me sat a benign assortment of magazines, including the quarterly publication for the World Hunger Alliance. The cover featured Ms. Larvale, the executive director, hugging a smiling chubby African child in each arm. The title story read ‘The End is in Sight.’
            Har, har. Those demons could really play it tongue in cheek.
            Not quite true, as the end had happened a year or more ago. No human I’d met really knew and the demons certainly weren’t forthcoming with the deets. There were precious few humans who could see the demons, but even they didn’t have any idea. I mean, it wasn’t as if Michael and Lucifer had had a cage match in the streets of New York, good and evil duking it out.
            One day I just started to see them. Talk about freaking the hell out. That was me. I spent time tucked away and on some really nice drugs. But I wasn’t the only one, and we all saw the same things. The weird faces, yes, but other things, too. I’m not crazy, though I did entertain the thought.
            It all changed when I saw one and started to walk the other way. He caught up to me and laid a firm hand on my shoulder and spun me around. “What did you see?”
            Trembling in my boots, I said nothing.
            “Come on, little human, I know you sense me. I’m just curious what you indagatrix actually see.”
            Lips quivering, staring into his wrong face, I mumbled, “Your face…it shifts and moves.”
            He lifted a corner of lip and nodded. “That’s interesting. So… you’ve never seen anything else?”
            With his hand so firm on my shoulder, I was rooted to the ground, unable to run. Power emanated from his touch, and my skin turned hot in an instant. Whimpering, I swallowed and shook my head.
            “Well, if you’re to be afraid, you should have a good reason.”
            Before me, his face slipped entirely, replaced with reptilian skin, leathery, and greasy hairy reaching his waist. But it was his eyes that undid me. The sclera turned red, the pupils turning almond shaped and bright yellow.
            He blinked and was human again, now smiling. “Was it good for you?” He chuckled.
I found my voice then, because I assumed death was to follow shortly. “What are you?”
            His now perfectly normal face smiled. “We are demons, little human, and this is our world now.”
            So that’s how I found out the truth, about the most anti-climatic apocalypse imaginable. We didn’t fight it as a species. Hell, we didn’t even know it happened. Demons took over, gave us humans everything we wanted. An end to starvation. World peace. Poverty a thing of the past. Oprah threw a big party.
            We never talk about what we gave up to get those things. Sometimes I wonder if they even remember.
            I remember. I do.
            I was still staring at the picture of Larvale on the magazine. Blinking, I tossed it aside. Near as I could tell, she was as close to head demon as existed. I’d fought for weeks to get this appointment. In the end, inspiration had struck.
            “Look, I really need to speak with her.”
            The assistant had sniffed over the phone. “I’m sorry, but Ms. Larvale only sees preapproved appointments and you can’t tell me what your affiliation is, or what your business is.”
            With my resolve fraying all around me, I gave up a key piece of information. “Ok, please give her a message for me. And if after that, she doesn’t want to speak, I’ll honor that, I will. Ok? Will you, will you give her a message at least?”
            A deep sigh carried just fine over the fiber optic line. “I will give her a message, young lady. Go ahead with it when you’re ready.”
            I paused, not sure if this was a grave mistake or a necessary evil to get to the evil. “Indagatrix.”
            “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?”
            “It’s just one word.”
            “Can you spell it?”
            Gritting my teeth, I did. I only knew how to spell it after some research, after the demon had let the word slip. It was Latin, that much I figured out. What it had to do with me, I had no idea.
            The assistant paused then, and I could read her hesitation over the line.
            “Like I said, give her the message and if she doesn’t want to talk to me, then I’ll honor that.” I had no idea what I’d do next, but it wouldn’t involve a phone call.
            “All right. I’ll see she gets the message.”
            I received a call to set up my appointment within the hour.
            Now here I was, the appointment I’d so desperately wanted, and scared worse than when my big bro Kyle made me watch the Exorcist in third grade.
            A woman pushed through double glass doors, looking like a school marm. Plaid wool skirt, glasses perched on the tip of a long pointy nose. “Anala Whitcomb, I presume?”
            Thank God she was human. Otherwise I might’ve bolted. Seriously, I’m not brave.
            Nodding quickly I stood and wrapped the bulky sweater jacket tighter.
            The woman held the door open for me, gesturing to the elevator. We were both tucked inside when she hit ’60.’ All the way to the top.
            The pressure from the elevator pushed against me but I didn’t want to touch the railing, why exactly, I couldn’t say. The door opened to a well-appointed modern office, all slick lines done in shiny black and gray. Then I saw her.
            She turned to look at me, her face slipping, slipping. It didn’t stop, didn’t slow down.
            Oh shit, oh holy mother, oh shit.
            Her voice called out, pleasant and honey smooth. “Gertie, lead her on in.”
            Was that a hint of amusement?
            I’m not brave, no, but I also have a streak of impetuousness that’s never served me well. Like, say, now.
            “Ms. Larvale, so nice to meet you,” I said, trying hard to mask the stink of fear coating my armpits.
            I walked right in to her office, the demon lady, and took a seat in a big leather chair across from Larvale. Gertie closed the door behind us.
            Her face was still a mess of staticky channel and I couldn’t decide where her eyes should be. “Could you, um, fix your face?”
            A soft chuckle. But she did. Her features snapped into place with lightning speed. “Does this suit you better, Anala?”
            I shivered. Her saying my name felt very much like she was cursing me, but something told me she shouldn’t know her words affected me. Probably she’d use it to screw with my head further.
            Larvale leaned back in her chair and steepled her fingers over her lap. “It’s ridiculously rash for you to come here, you know? You have no way of knowing this, but my kind loved to kill you Indagatrix not so long ago. Since we’ve won, we don’t really bother. It’s more fun to watch you go mad.”
            Ok, then. Down to brass tacks.
            “I’m not crazy.”
            Larvale nodded. “Maybe not yet, but when you see the graveyard, stretching out before you, as far as your human eyes can see, then we’ll see.”
            “Graveyard?” I swallowed.
            “Of your kind. There are so many of you now, we will never again go hungry. We will stay, help you breed, help you further indenture yourselves. And you Indagatrix will be the only witnesses.”
            Against the tide of her words, hope swelled inside my chest. This was why I was here, I suddenly understood. This.
            The words came out a whisper, but with a fine edge of steel hardening them anyway. “So it’s not over.”
            Larvale laughed.
            “There’s hope.” I stood and walked out, my spine pulled erect with fierce purpose.
            Larvale’s skittering chuckle followed me out.
            I didn’t care.
            The war wasn’t over. They hadn’t won.
            There was hope.