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THE BREACH • by Gay Degani

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Artwork by: Lindsay Joy

The sudden hammering on the door jolts him awake. He doesn’t know for sure if it’s dawn or dusk. His upended sofa, his queen-sized mattress and box spring, his mother’s hutch block the loft’s only row of windows.

“Dan! It’s me.”

Val? No way. How could she make it through the city? He’s dreaming. But he never dreams anymore. Almost never sleeps. Not if he can help it.

“Daniel, open up.”

At the door, he wavers. Anyone might be a carrier, a host, the instrument of death. He glimpses through the peep-hole. Val’s chestnut hair is tangled, her face streaked with mud. She clutches his wedding picture, an armful of clothing, Darwin’s collar. He lets her in.

“They got Darwin?” he asks, locking the door behind her. Watching her. He still finds her beautiful. That long curve of neck still moves him.

“Ran away,” she says and darts around his new place like she used to dart around their apartment. She used to look for women. Now she looks for Chloratons.

“We’re going to the lab,” she says. “Dad says it’s safe.”

“Nowhere’s safe.” He doesn’t tell her he can’t face the danger. The devastation.

“Let’s go. Now.” Val’s eyes. Big. Dark. He reads something there he hadn’t expected to find.

He goes.

He didn’t want to know how bad it was. And now he does. People fleeing in every direction, panicked by an enemy whose tiny size and almost noiseless stealth make surprise attack the common tactic. Human corpses obstruct doorways, hang from windows, clutter curbs. And the dying–curled where they’ve fallen–cry out as the Chloratons drill into blood and muscle with their needle antennae, each victim yielding up his precious treasure of deoxyribonucleic acid.

Val slaps Dan’s face. He wants to deck her, but she grips his arm with both her hands–the bundle of clothes, the photo, the dog collar dropped at their feet–and yanks him forward.

She stops. Swears. Spits out, “The car’s gone. Someone stole the car.”

Dan’s voice comes out in a rush. “We gotta go back.” He stumbles toward his building, but a woman twists through the front door onto the steps, ripping at her clothes, tearing at her skin. Val grabs his arm–“Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go!”–and he lets her drag him across the street and into the Factory where he used to drink Jack Daniels, straight up, most nights since Val kicked him out. That is until the waves of Chloraton war ships landed.
Light sputters dimly from sconces inside the saloon despite the crash of the city’s power grid. Orbital’s “Out There Somewhere” pings and pops from the radio. Carl, the bartender, is at the far end of the bar, hunched over, talking to some old alkie.

“Carl,” Dan calls. Waves his hand. Val bats it down.

“Stop!” she hisses. “Come on!”

He jerks away from her, pushes through upturned tables, knocks over chairs. Carl doesn’t look up. Neither does his customer.

Dan grips the bartender’s shoulder. It’s sharp, brittle. And then Carl turns toward him, but Carl isn’t turning. He’s tumbling to the ground. Dan reaches out, snaps back as Carl’s body hits the cement and shatters. Val’s there, whispering in his ear, “Come on, baby, come on. C’mon, C’mon, C’mon.”

She shoves him through what they both now realize is a battleground of human husks. Yet Dan has to suppress the urge to stop, to see if they too will shatter.

In the back room, Val finds the basement door and while Dan lurches down the stairs, she stays at the top, slamming the rotten door, sliding the rusty bolt, listening for the faintest shuffle of Chloratons in their wake.

Trembling, Dan struggles to hold himself together, tries not to see the woman on the steps of his building shredding at her flesh. Not to see the bartender’s splintered shards at his feet. Val tiptoes down. Wraps her arms around him, yet he’s still shaking. A generator vibrates nearby. He pulls away from her and kicks the machine into silence.

Val says, “We’re gonna be okay,” and pushes him behind barrels of beer, cardboard boxes, a metal table. Dan slides onto the damp cement and wonders why he hadn’t struck out across town to find Val. Why she had to come for him.

She brings a blanket and scrunches down next to him.

“They advance and retreat,” she says, meaning the Chloraton invaders. “Dad says it’s a matter of timing. We’ll wait a while, then head for the tunnels. It’s not too far. He has a car waiting.”

Dan says nothing. She snuggles in. Kisses his cheek. He feels ashamed.

When Val’s breath wakes him, Dan rests his lips against her forehead. It’s warm, smooth, smells like sweat. She stirs, moves closer to him. He loves her. He wants to save her, but how? The bartender didn’t fight against the invaders, staying where they found him, not moving, letting it happen. But the woman who ran from his building did fight. She tore her own flesh to get to them. But neither survived. Neither Carl’s acceptance nor the woman’s defiance proved strength against the enemy.

Val says, “Do you think they’ll come?”

Then she gasps, her fingers tightening around his arm. He listens. Hears the slightest purr on the stairs.

Their flimsy fort won’t repel the Chloratons. But a distraction might, a body manifesting itself at the front of their march could lead to a mindless frenzy. And leave enough time for someone to escape.

“Val,” Dan says, turning toward her. But she’s gone, the grip of her hand still tingling around his arm.

Beyond the barrels and cardboard, a faint shadow flicks by.

A sharp cry, a groan, and the sound of someone thumping to the ground.

Dan holds his breath and wonders how long before he can make his break for the tunnels.


Gay Degani is looking forward to a year more dedicated to writing than ever before.

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THE BREACH • by Gay Degani, 3.9 out of 5 based on 57 ratings
Posted on March 13, 2008 in Science Fiction, Stories
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  • http://www.writewords.org.uk/sarah_hilary/ Sarah Hilary

    Stunning stuff, Gay, so action-packed and breathless. I love zombies, the infected, all that mess and mayhem – and you did a brilliant job of conjuring all the right emotions whilst inventing something new, these tiny, savage invaders.

    *shiver*

    5 out of 5 – top star rating! Absolutely loved it.

    Sarah

  • rumjhum

    This is a very good read. Thanks for the story. :-)

  • Oonah V Joslin

    Gay, tell me the Chloratons aren’t coming for me…I’m scared…I don’t want my DNA sucked out and go splat on the cement. :)

  • http://www.writewords.org.uk/sarah_hilary/ Sarah Hilary

    Not to worry, Oonah, I’ve saved you a place in my helicopter. Please being a machete.

  • http://www.writewords.org.uk/sarah_hilary/ Sarah Hilary

    Please BRING a machete – the panic is making me type funny

  • http://afburns.wordpress.com/ Alexander Burns

    Fantastic.

    I don’t think a machete will help. :)

  • http://www.writewords.org.uk/sarah_hilary/ Sarah Hilary

    Maybe a miniature one? Or an egg whisk? Damn, I need a weapon!

  • gay degani

    Wow! Thank you, you guys. I’m an old-school SCI-FI fan: Asimov, Herbert, Heinlein, Bradbury, Finney and more than a little frightened to take the plunge, but it was soooo much fun. Thank you for liking it!! (“The Lab” is JPL–not four miles from my house–so you can follow me!! We’re on the same side of the tunnels!)

  • http://nihawkins.wordpress.com Nik

    Intense! And I like to see a woman in the typically male heroic/self-sacrificing role.

  • http://germsama.livejournal.com Nathan Trader

    There is a lot packed into this short piece. Interesting sci-fi plot aside, the characterization is amazing. You managed to sneak in just enough story behind these characters (Like the dog collar! Nothing to explain that, but the effect was profound), that I felt almost like I knew them. That’s really important with this kind of ending, and it left me heartbroken. That’s quite a feat for a story just a little over 1k words.

    I loved it. 5/5 stars from me, as well.

  • http://shamelesscreations.com Kevin Shamel

    Yeah, Gay, five stars from me, too. Simply brilliant writing. Great backstory elements to go from, fast paced, good characterization. I really, really like this story.

    I love that the Chloratons are from another world, too. Teeny alien invaders who eat your DNA. That’s good stuff.

    It reminded me a bit of Shawn of the Dead, but not at all slapstick and goofy like that.

    Yay, Gay! I can’t wait to read the stuff from when you’re “more dedicated to writing than ever before”. Treats for us!

  • Betsy Weigandt

    Gay, This is your best short story ever. Keep up the good work!!! Betsy

  • gay degani

    I was worried after I had them go into the bar. I did see Shawn and loved it, but decided that the story and people were different enough not to change to setting. It’s always a tough call. Thanks to all of you for such kind words!!!

  • http://www.writewords.org.uk/sarah_hilary/ Sarah Hilary

    Gay, for me this was much more Romero than Shawn. You’ve got the claustrophobia and the emotions, the humanity driven to extremes (good and bad) by the stress and pressure of the situation.

  • Jane

    Very good story Gay. Keep writing – you have a great style!

  • Erin

    I really enjoyed this. Action-packed and a breathless ride, but also stand-out characters. Well done.

    Poor Val!!!

  • Claire

    Whoa! I’m biting my nails! Loads of drama…Please keep writing! Very thrilling! Louisiana’s in…OK?

  • Mark Dalligan

    Great read. Liked the idea of the world brought low by tiny invaders.

    Definitely 5/5.

    Cheers

    Mark

  • http://canyonsofgray.blogspot.com DJ Barber

    5*!!!!!

  • Denise P

    I want more! What happens to them?

    I like the characters, very believable…and the subject matter is also a favorite of mine, I grew up on sci fi in the ’60s & ’70s, my dad encouraged us to read all of his favorites, Bradbury, Asimov (we are Russian), Heinlein, we saw all the movies, too. My younger brother still shudders thinking of Soylent Green and Omega Man…

    Gay, this could be a great pitch for a film script…

  • gay degani

    Thank you soooo much. I don’t know about a film, but it does feel like the germ of a larger piece to me. Hmmmm, time for research!

  • willow christer

    Wonderful read.

    Willow healy

  • willow christer

    You have the writer’s ability to write gripping copy.

    Willow

  • Doris, Grammy, Mama D

    Great Gay!! We all loved it. You know I am not a fan of sci-fi but as usual, your characters are sooo real!
    5 shiny stars

  • Bev Callister

    Awesome, Gay. I’m very impressed!

  • June Korte

    The chlorotons sound so real–would like to hear more of the same. You wonder if he makes it to the tunnels, and what happens to her? Is she now a zombie? June Korte

  • Jim

    Incredibly engaging as usual…though now I’m actually a bit scared of your mind! You go, Gay!

  • Denise P

    I say DO IT!

  • Alan Beard

    Just caught up with this story. Excellent – like one of the commentators I’m impressed with the characterisation – the relationship summed up in little details (she used to look for women..) – as well as shock of the Chloratons – their smallness a touch of genius. Yep definitley conjures up scenes from a film to me. Great!

  • Avis Hickman-Gibb

    Good old fashioned Sci-Fi. Great pace, and I was left wanting more. Very natural writing and so believable. Can I cadge a seat in your ‘copter Sarah H?

  • http://www.theperfectblogtitle.blogspot.com/ Rena Sherwood

    You write as if the end of the human race would be a bad thing :-)

  • Marcos Villatoro

    Gay Degani says she looks forward to another year of writing, and I’m glad. This is a wonderfully tense story. Forgive the reference, but I had “I Am Legend” in the back of my mind–more for the tension and the ‘feel’ than plot. The story has voice.

    MV

  • gay degani

    Marrrrrrcos! Hey there. Thank you so much for reading this. You helped put me on the path!!!

  • Sharon T

    Wow! This story had me on the edge of my seat. I don’t say that as a cliche metaphor. I was literally on the edge of my seat. My adrenaline is pumping now, and I haven’t even had my first cup of coffee. Interesting that someone above mentioned “I Am Legend.” I got more of a “War of the Worlds” vibe (and I mean that as a complement). Great suspense, and so many details packed into such a small space. Loved the dog collar, too. Way to go!

  • GMoney

    It may not score high on originality, but very well-written and an enjoyable read. I liked the contrast between the acceptance of the bartender and the women tearing off her own flesh.

  • http://www.wildwoodpress.org Coralie Johnson

    Could this be the beginning of a larger sci-fi piece? There seem to be endless possibilities based on the last lines…I wonder what will happen next?

  • http://www.demonhunterseries.com TL Gardner

    Great suspence!! I love it!

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  • Prakash

    Hi Willow, I liked the story, too. Remember Dhulikhel? If you do write back. Prakash

  • Anne Marie

    Kept me reading! How would they escape? Could they? Do we get a sequel? Or even a prequel?

  • Christina

    Gay, loved it! I can’t believe we never spoke of our mutual Sci-Fi appreciation. I was glued to every word, while my imagination filled in imagery likened to Twilight Zone meets Hitchcock, but better, because I know you personally. I can’t wait to read more. May 2009 bring you inspiration to continue to create, and even more love and encouragement from those around you.

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