SCREAMERS -- a climate-themed cli-fi short story by Frederick Foote“I don’t dream. I quit dreaming. Turned it off. I try not to feel for anyone.” A dystopian short story where humanity wanes in the bed it made for itself…
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I‘m scavenging, a mile or so from my base camp. It feels good to be above ground on a rare mellow day like this. The sun feels like a warm massage on my neck and face. The breeze, a gentle caress. I breathe deeply. How beautiful it would be to live above ground all the time, every day. But that’s impossible with the storms and the fires and the Screamers. I have found a pharmacy that’s mostly intact and I’m leaving with antibiotics, analgesics, bandages, and canned food in my backpack. I’m half a block away from the drug store when the shrieking starts behind me. I have been spotted.
I’m fucked, I think. I can’t outrun them. This is new territory for me. I don’t have a bolt hole.
A second screeching voice joins the first.
A third Screamer joins in, this time much closer to me.
I pick up the pace.
Ahead is a bank with locked doors and a a broken window. Maybe there is a hiding place in there, I consider. A Screamer’s stalking cry comes from deep within the bank.
Then, there’s a howling from my left.
Just past the bank I see an apartment building, broken entry doors, and a shattered glass covered floor.
I dash in, find the stairwell, taking two steps at a time.
On the second floor, I hear the first-floor door slam open. The roaring scream echoes up the stairwell.
I exit at the second floor and spy an ax, its bloody edge resting a few feet from the stairwell door. Without hesitation I pounce on it.
The screaming grows louder.
I slip the blade of the ax between the stairwell door and the floor. I lie on the floor, my back against the opposite wall. I kick and kick and wedge the ax in place.
The Screamer hits the door like a wrecking ball. The door shudders.
A weaker attack. The dumb-ass must have broken its shoulder or arm.
Another new scream followed by two more.
There’s a frantic pounding on the door amid ear-piercing sounds of rage and frustration. Tumbling, banging, snarling, ripping, cries of pain. Their frustration has boiled over. They’re attacking each other, ripping each other apart.
It ends minutes later with whimpering moans, and a few weak strikes against the door. I keep my foot on the ax.
How did it come to this?
I remember my wife, Mona, roaring in satisfaction while ripping Patsy, our six-year-old daughter, to pieces. I recall the impact of the bullet from my brother Jim’s revolver snapping Mona’s head back. The sound of the gun brings Screamers running to my house. We run. I get away. Jim doesn’t.
The tears come as I lay against the door. A tsunami. I curl into a ball. I can’t stop crying.
Eventually, I crawl into an apartment. I wipe away the snot and tears and use my two-way radio to call home base.
“Home Base, this is Randell.”
The response’s immediate.
“Randell, where the fuck are you? Are you okay?”
“Fine, I’m okay. I’m in an apartment building, second floor, near 5th and “V” streets. I’m okay.”
“Screamers were up early this morning. They chased me up here.”
“Okay, can you make it home? I can’t risk anyone to help you.”
“I’ll be okay. I’ll make my way back at dusk. Thelma, I’m tired. I’ll call back before I leave.”
“No. Listen, HQ says these creatures are learning, planning, setting traps for us. You have to be extremely careful.”
“It’s only been six months. How can they adapt so quickly?”
“HQ doesn’t have an explanation. I just know it’s more dangerous out there than ever.”
“Copy. Thelma, be safe.”
Fuck! Six months ago, we were consumed with worry over the massive fires, floods, windstorms, and earthquakes. Nathan Fuller, the philosopher, warned us, “We’re part of nature. We may be severely impacted by Climate Change.”
I knew Nathan. He was a friend and a colleague. However, I didn’t understand what he was saying. The Maniac virus struck six months ago after his prophetic warning. The virus impacted only twelve percent of the population worldwide. Unfortunately, it had a more significant impact on cities and areas with high population density. It was an airborne virus with a twenty-four hour incubation period. The virus turned its victims into raging homicidal maniacs — Screamers, as they began to be known. I understand Nathan now.
Governments collapsed within months along with commercial systems, global communications and transportation networks. All was gone in a flash.
Then the climate and weather changes grew more severe.
And now here we are.
I don’t dream. I quit dreaming. Turned it off.
I try not to feel for anyone.
I squash any sign of hope.
I try to stay busy. Scavenging. Hunting them. KP duty. I just have to keep moving.
Dusk and dawn disorient the Screamers, makes them drowsy, docile, nearly inert. But those are really short hunting seasons. The rest of the time, they hunt us.
“Wham! Bam! Bang!”
What the fuck? They’re back at the door. Shit. I scramble back to the door. The ax’s still in place.
“Open up. Please, open up. We saw you run in here. Please. Please!”
Three or four different voices. Is a child with them? Stupid fucks. Their banging’s going to bring Screamers.
“Shut the fuck up! Be quiet.”
They hear me. That makes them even louder. More desperate. More noise.
I hear the screams in the distance.
I feel the panic outside the door.
The ax is wedged in tight. I can’t move it. I don’t want to move it.
I go back to the apartment. Close the door. Cover my ears.
I wait for dusk.