Chapter 9: Here There Be Monsters
As a child Relic had always needed a candle burning by her bed when she went to sleep. Her mother would always light it, tuck her into bed, and then wait for the girl to fall asleep before blowing it out to conserve the wax. Relic wasn't sure why she was so terrified of the dark back then but as time went on she adapted to the darkness.
When River began teaching her how to shoot she had to adapt. They left the safety of the Community before dusk but sometimes weren't able to make it back before darkness fell. At first she had been a mess, clinging to her friend, fearing every noise, but then she realized her fear was completely pointless. Things could get her in the daylight just as easily. And the presence of River during the twilight had always alleviated some of her anxiety .
When she first traveled alone through the wasteland she had been so disoriented that she didn't have a chance to be scared, but the fear started to resurface once she got in the boat and headed alone across the Great Lake. The nights were punctuated with odd noises and Relic swore she saw large creatures moving beneath the surface, sometimes a tentacle or large fin would make large waves in the distance. When she finally reached the Wasteland her terror of the night had been renewed. Most of her nights were spent sleepless. The darkness became oppressive. When she met the two men that ended up being slavers, Relic had been desperate.
But the anxiety she was experiencing now was worse than anything she'd felt before. At least in the Wasteland she could take comfort in the stars, but down in the dungeon of the subway tunnels there was nothing. The main part of the tunnels had been illuminated with an odd green glow, but down this tunnel there was just complete and utter blackness, except for the beam from the flashlight. Relic had never seen a flashlight before but she remembered reading about them. It was something like a fireless torch, but the thing was actually quite finicky. If you dropped it at all, it would take several minutes to turn back on again. Not that she had it at the moment anyway. No, she had graciously given the flashlight to Anna who was tending to Johnny's wounds and she was on her own, probably on a suicide mission, to get him the aide he needed.
The trio had spent the first half of the day distancing themselves from the battle at the tower. In their hurry to get away from danger then ended up running headlong into it. From the darkness came these humanoid creatures, with dried skin and sunken eyes. The smell was sickly sweet and overpowering. Fear had completely paralyzed Relic at first. These were undead creatures, and she couldn't understand how they had risen from their grave but at the same time she found herself blessed. These things weren't people, she didn't have to regret killing them. So for the first time since she started killing, Relic didn't lament protecting herself.
The second half of the day had consisted of killing these creatures as they attacked from the darkness, but that was before Johnny began succumbing to his injuries. He was bleeding to death slowly and they had nothing at all to patch him up. So Relic had volunteered, once she knew Johnny and Anna were relatively safe, to go find first aid for him.
It had only been a few minutes but it felt like hours. She had one hand on the damp wall and the other holding a crowbar. She had wanted to curse something fierce when she tripped over the thing and landed in a large stagnant pool of water, but was now glad for at least a semblance of protection. The idea of being torn to shreds by the beasts didn't appeal much to her. She had already seen what they had done to various rats and other animals that had made its way down there.
The sound of her heartbeat was the only thing Relic could hear, but she timed her steps with it. The repetition let her focus instead on the task, not on her crushing fear, not on her dying companion or the monsters. It was only Find a medkit, Find a medkit over and over.
Her hand slipped on the wall, almost causing the girl to fall over again, as she met the frame of a door. This was what she had been looking for. Some sort of supply closet or old office, she wasn't exactly sure how these subway systems were laid out, but Anna had given her instructions on what to look for.
Her hand traced down the door frame, touching the cold metal lightly with her finger tips, until she came across the handle. She twisted it, and was immediately met with the resistance of a lock.
Seriously?Relic asked herself as she stood with her back against the metal door. Now she was presented with a quandary. Should she waste her time and energy on breaking it open with a crowbar or go farther into the tunnels, looking for an unlocked door? Breaking it open would make noise, but if she wandered farther into the tunnels she might get lost or get attacked by something worse than the undead. But an image of Johnny bleeding to death in the dankness of this tunnel was enough to get her to turn back to the door, place the crowbar in between the door and the frame, and start trying to break it open.
Relic had never used a crowbar before and she definitely had never tried to break down a door. She attempted to pry it open at first, using the crowbar as a lever, but the result just left her biceps aching and her blue dress soaked in sweat.
"This is ridiculous!" Relic said as she started to bash the door handle with the crowbar. "Open up you .stupid door!" She punctuated each hit with another word, increasing her attacks as she grew more and more frustrated. She carelessly let her right hand slip farther down the bar, crushing it when she brought it down a second time. Pain erupted through her fingertip, and she yelped in response, throwing the crowbar angrily to the ground before sitting down on the stoop beside it. She kicked the concrete in her frustration, jamming her toe, and causing her anger to simply grow. Relic stared into the dark abyss, trying to calm her forceful heart.
She was so tired of not being able to do anything. Sick and tired of not knowing what was going, of being pulled in every direction, and being too weak to actually help anyone. Relic had always assumed she could take on the world, do absolutely anything she put her mind to, but now she sat alone in the darkness, defeated by a door. She finally had a chance to help but she was wallowing in self pity as Johnny bled to death with a stranger. And her finger was killing her, which was just the topping on the cake.
Taking a deep breath, filling her lungs with warm, stagnant air, Relic put both hands onto the concrete. The ground was dirty, wet, but both her fingers landed on something metal. The right hand rested on the crowbar, but the right on something much smaller. Her finger traced the outline of the object. It was round on one side. The lower portion was thinner, half smooth, half jagged. She picked it up in her hand.
"You have got to be kidding me." She whispered to herself, while getting back to her feet and putting the key into the hole beneath the handle. The lock released its hold on the door as she twisted it, and Relic was just glad no one was there to see her humiliation.
The room was some sort of closet or storage area but it was lit by a peculiar plastic box in the back. The thing was iridescent, with large letters spelling out Nuka-Cola. It cast odd shadows across the various objects in the room. It was large, with a huge metal shelf alone one side and broken desks on the other. The shelf was covered in a variety of items, some of the oddest being cups and plates, and an ammunition crate filled with shotgun ammo but no shotgun. But Relic's gaze fell on a small white box closest to the plastic glowing box. The red plus sign on it indicated it was a medical kit. She grabbed for it, finding it covered in a thick layer of dust and grime which transferred to her slightly damp hands, filing the groves in her hands.
A deep grumbling from the door way caused the woman to turn suddenly, jumping to the side just as a soulless creature lunged for her throat. It crashed into the metal shelf, becoming entangled in it momentarily. Relic grabbed for her crowbar then realized it was still outside. Instead, as the creature flailed for a second, she grabbed a metal pipe from the shelf. It really did have an odd assortment of equipment. The monster succeeded in extracting its limbs from the shelf, and just as it turned its sightless eyes on her, it was bashed across the face. The thing stumbled backwards, knocking into the already flickering illuminated box, plunging the room into darkness again.
For a few moments the image of the Cola box and the zombie was etched onto Relic's retinas. White ghosts trailing through the darkness. She swung blindly again, hearing the creature get up, but hit only the shelf. A vice grip wrapped around her bicep, unkempt nails digging into her soft skin. She brought the pipe back around as she felt the creatures fetid breath on her shoulder. A warm liquid splattered over her, and the creature fell.
Relic checked to make sure the medkit was still in her hand, tripped slightly over the dead monster, and felt her way to the door. Once past the door frame she stopped briefly to add the crowbar to the hand already equipped with a pipe. If these things were skulking around the every corner it would be good to have as many weapons as possible.
She paused to listen for a second, really focusing on the smallest sound. There was a faint, very faint, moaning sound. A symphony of the monsters, milling around in the dark crevices of the place. A shudder traveled quickly down her spine. At that moment she would have preferred to take on the Followers.
The walk back to Johnny wasn't too long. Slowly the pitch blackness of the side tunnel brightened into the eerie green glow. Relic's eyes were glad to be of use again, but they protested at the sudden brightness. The pupils contracted violently, sending a sharp pain through the eye. She squinted for a moment, letting her eyes adjust, then walked with a purpose toward where Johnny lay, no longer needing to molest the wall.
"Is he still alive?" She asked Anna when she returned to his side.
"He just passed out. Did you get the med kit I asked for?" The blonde's hands looked like they had been dipped in brown paint. She attempted to wipe them off on her maid skirt but only a few flakes fell off. Relic handed her the medkit, which the woman opened quickly, pulling out old gauze and a stimpak.
"Do you know how to use that stuff?"
"Of course. Before I was a maid I patched people up for a living" Anna said as she leaned down to Johnny. Relic had to look away; blood was beginning to get old to her.
"Why'd you become a maid?"
"Why does anyone do anything around here?" It was a rhetorical question. They both knew the answer was bottlecaps. "He should wake up in a second. Stimpaks usually bring people around pretty quickly." So Relic crouched down beside the sleeping man, waiting for him to wake up. They needed him to hurry up, because sounds were beginning to echo in the tunnels outside.
There had always been a preconcieved notion in Johnny's mind that tunnels and darkness meant danger. After all, he had spent his childhood growing up as a scavanger. His parents would hunt through destroyed buildings, railway stations, subway stations. If there was a chance that they could find pre-war tech or working equipment then they were definitely going looking for it, despite the fact that Johnny was only a child during that time, they would bring him along as well. Johnny couldn't even begin to describe some of the horrors he saw when he was but a boy, monsters of terrifying appearance and even more terrifying tempers. He had never really thought about it before, but this was very likely the reason why he avoided tunnels and dark places like this so much. It wasn't so much of a phobia as much as it was commen sense, and that common sense was coupled with a very bad feeling as soon as they had entered this forsaken place.
The feeling of these tunnels, which might as well have been catacombs for the group, was worse than anything Johnny had been in for a long time. The roof was falling in, in most places, the air was thick and old, it smelled of death. The darkness closed in them quickly, the strange green glow being their only source of light but the darkness fought at it. Down here, it wasn't just an absence of light, it was like a living breathing entity. An evil substance that had grown accustomed to the slaughter given to it by the creatures who lived here, it wanted more of it, it wanted the death and blood it had grown to crave.
Shadows moved within the darkness, at first they were hard notice, but as they moved on Johnny could see them clearly. There were many of them, moving and following the small group, making it appear as though the darkness itself was moving and breathing, perhaps it was to some extent. The creatures behind the darkness existed in this place for so long they they had become a part of it, using it much like a flower would use the sun. They survived because of the anonymity darkness provided them, they survived because of the travelers, adventurers, and scavengers the darkness lured into it's hallow embrace with promises of fortune or safety. The darkness was more than just an abscence of light here.
When the creatures finally did attack, they hit hard and they hit fast. Johnny, Relic, and the maid who called herself Anna had been going in circles for what felt like hours trying to find a way out and had just decided to take a short break when the first ones found them. Ghouls, feral ghouls to be exact. Mindless creatures that many called zombies, and to be fair, it was a term that fit these poor souls better than any other.
Ghouls themselves were misunderstood in Johnny's opinion. He had fought with some fine ones, and killed some even better ones. When it came to these mindless abominations that were their brethren however, killing one was much like chopping a weed. For every one you killed, it seemed as though several more would take its place. They were vicious creatures that had been so destroyed by radiation that unlike ghouls who were just mutated humans, these were animals living off of primal instincts only. As feral ghouls showed the entire wasteland, violence was apparently a very dominant primal instinct.
They fought hard, the feral ghouls did. Johnny, Relic, and Anna fought harder though because unlike these ghouls, they had a lot to lose. Fear could turn a monstrous beast into a cowering mess, or it could turn a simple creature into a force to be reckoned with. Fighting for your life, fighting for fear of death, that was something that could turn a docile animal, violent. Unfortunately for the ghouls though, Johnny wasn't exactly a docile creature to start with.
The ghouls fought with sharpened nails, teeth, and vicious tempers. Johnny and his group fought with everything they could grab, bullets for Johnny and Relic, and a baseball bat for Anna. The monsters attacked from every direction, like radroaches trying to feast on a dead molerat. Soon, Relic ran out of ammo on her gun, but thankfully Johnny still had enough to spare for his two six-shooters.
In their wake through these darkened halls which were quickly looking more like tombs, many dead bodies laid behind them. Bodies who had long since lost their soul, but only recently lost their life. Soon, all the action began to be too much for Johnny to take. Even in the darkness of the tunnel, it was easy to see how pale his face had become. Every shot from his guns would momentarily fill the entire tunnel with light, showing their decaying attackers before going back to darkness. The flashes and booms from his pistols got slower though, and when Anna glanced behind them at Johnny, she saw him slumped against the wall.
"Who's brilliant idea was it to come down here? If I was going to die, I would have much rather done it in the tower. At least in there I had a nice comfortable spot already picked out behind that pillar and a twenty-one gun salute already firing." Johnny said weakly, slipping a cigarette out of his pocket and between his lips, though he had no lighter so he begrudingly slipped it back into his pocket.
Anna, the maid, began saying something but Johnny was far too concerned with staying awake to make out what she was saying. She and Relic were talking about something, but the words were distant, as if being spoken through water. His grip on his guns slowly relaxed, and the darkness of the tunnel finally embraced him.
So was the end Johnny Cadillac it seemed... again. This time was much different than the others however, there was no feeling wherever he was. There was only darkness and murky images. Through the images though he could swear one of them was... Relic? Yes, it was Relic, had she died too? Why was she here? Johnny suddenly realized he was standing in whatever dark place this was, she was wearing her blue dress but it lacked all of the feral ghoul blood that had recently been spilled on it. Suddenly, she approached him and kissed him again. If this was death, maybe it wasn't so ba-
A sudden sharp pain coursed through Johnny's body like lightning, pulling him out of the haze like you would pull someone out of the water. The pain was replaced by a fire that burned through his veins, he shot into an upright position breathing heavily. The green glow and familiar stale stench of the tunnels filled his senses once more. Far more alert, and far more awake, he looked down quickly to see a stimpack sticking out of the wound on his leg. The needle of the device was buried all the way into his muscle.
Grabbing the thing, he pulled it out and tossed it aside. In the green glow he could see the edges of the wound healing slightly with whatever medicine was in the stimpack, and the blood beginning to slow it's drain from his body. With the fire still burning in his veins, he caught his second wind and pushed himself to his feet, looking between Anna and Relic. He paused for a moment when he saw Relic, in his dream she had been so real he thought that...
"You know... I'm really getting tired of dying." Johnny said quietly to himself as he stood up. Spinning his guns slightly, his hands and body were shaking a little bit. Not from fear or lack of blood anymore, but from a pure adrenaline rush caused by the stimpack, "You know, perhaps I shouldn't have complained about dying so much. I mean, I'm already in the presence of an angel." He said with a wink, though due to the darkness, it was impossible to tell who he was winking at.
"Well, you are quite flattering Mr. Cadillac, but I am no angel, it was Relic here who did the real saving." The maid spoke, causing Johnny to pause for a moment. It was obvious he hadn't intended it for her, but he rolled with the punch.
"Please, call me Johnny, and don't worry... I'm no angel either." When Johnny spoke, he was hesitent to look at Relic. He had meant his original flirt for her, but now was carrying it on with another girl.
"Well, who is out here really? We all have our dirty secrets." The maid said as she grabbed her weapon and stood up, a baseball bat she had found int he tunnel further back.
Johnny checked his holstered guns to make sure they were loaded and ready for anything else before taking a step forward, "Yes, some dirtier than others..." Johnny paused for a moment, glancing at Relic again before pulling at his gun as a screech echoed throughout the tunnels.
"Perhaps we can discuss the complexities of our pasts and how we like our secrets dirty later though." Johnny said calmly, obviously back to his normal, non-chalant self. The effects of the stimpack still coursing through him.
The sound of the unearthly screeching faded and into the eery green light, several feral ghouls could be seen running toward the group. Behind those ghouls were several more, then several more. Like a wall of fury running towards them, it seemed as though the entire tunnel system of ghouls was awake and making their final charge.
Johnny stood there for a moment in a stance ready to fire before he really began to assess the situation, "To run or to fight... You know, I believe now is the time we do the thing that I do best." Johnny said as he pulled the hammer back on both of his pistols, "We fight like hell... so we can run away."
He opened fire with both pistols, the front row of ghouls immediately collapsed as the bullets found their marks in the darkness. The momentary flashes from his muzzle lit up the tunnels and unfortunately revealed just how many ghouls were attacked. The screeching and groaning of their attackers was growing louder and louder, echoing off the walls to the point where it was just a loud hum of sound. As the front line fell, several ghouls tripped and stumbled over their dead comrades.
Johnny was reveling in the confusion and chaos that had exploded across the tunnels. Death was screaming at him now, almost literally as the many ghouls made their charge. It could barely be seen in the faint darkness, but behind his guns, Johnny had a faint smile on his lips. It was somewhat refreshing knowing that in a few moments you could be ripped to shreds and die and that your only purpose in life now was to survive. Then again, perhaps he was still jacked up on the stimpack.
"Oh, I'm sorry..." Johnny said, pausing his firing momentarily and calmly turning twoard Relic and Anna. "I probably should have mentioned that you should both be running now." With a grin, he turned back to the mob of ghouls, allowing the women to make the run first as he backed up from the mob coming towards him. The booms from each of his shots was deafening as it echoed off the walls of the tunnels. With every boom of his guns, the beasts would screech and yell louder as they got closer.
Johnny didn't hesitate or panic as he backed up though, he simply made sure every bullet it found it's mark. One bullet in the head, another in the knee to trip it, one in the eye, mouth, shoulder, chest. It was as if he was marking his targets, but as they got closer it was like trying to stop a tidal wave by throwing bricks at it. Johnny finally turned and began to run, tripping on the rubble slightly as he tried to catch up to Anna and Relic. They were headed down the tunnel toward what looked like an old railroad car.
Once again, the next ten minutes were going to define he and Relics futures... really, they ran into these situations far more than any two people should. Though Johnny had to admit, it was kind of nice to finally share his near death experiences with someone instead of having to deal with them on his own. It was always better to die with company than alone, much like it was always better to dine with company than it was alone...
The ironic thing was, that no matter what, one of those two things was going to happen tonight. It wasn't Johnny, Relic, or Anna that would be dining with company anytime soon, the same unfortunately, couldn't be said for their pursuers...
Suddenly, Johnny slammed against the tunnel floor, both guns slipping out of his hands and sliding in front of him when he hit. He felt himself being pulled slightly, and then flipped over. There was a ghoul lying on the ground with him, a fast one that had apparently gotten ahead of the mob and wrapped it around Johnny's legs. It crawled on top of him and sunk it's nails into Johnny's chest, though he didn't make a sound, between the adrenaline and stimpack flowing through him, he felt little.
The ghoul then opened it's mouth far wider than any human could, revealing rows of rotten and sharpened teeth. Sharpened from chewing on bone. The monster then lunged down, trying to bite Johnny's neck. Johnny managed to slip his arms out of the monsters grasp and grab it by the through, his other hand pushing up on the monsters upper jaw trying to keep it from tearing his neck and face apart. The beast snapped it's mouth open and closed only inches from Johnny's face.
Johnny struggled for a moment, but then paused as curiousity got the better of him. He leaned forward slightly and smelled the creatures breath before retching and leaning as far away as possible, "Ugh... You know, perhaps if you brushed your teeth more you wouldn't be so grumpy." Johnny said through strained breaths, as if conversing with the ghoul. The mob was quickly catching up on the pinned Johnny. He hated to admit it, but this seemed like a no win situation. It seemed he had finally pushed his luck too far, yet the last thought on his mind wasn't how he regretted dying, but how he hoped Relic had kept running to save herself... What had happened to him? Had he gone soft? Perhaps he deserved to die if he was thinking such compassionate and caring thoughts as those.