Read This Mortal Coil Online

Authors: Logan Thomas Snyder

This Mortal Coil

ALSO BY
 

LOGAN THOMAS SNYDER

The Disappeared (A Silo Story)

THIS MORTAL COIL

LOGAN THOMAS SNYDER

THIS MORTAL COIL

LOGAN THOMAS SNYDER

Copyright © 2014 Logan Thomas Snyder

www.loganthomassnyder.com

www.twitter.com/Logantarian

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or private retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.

Cover art creative attribution to
CoverDesignStudio.com
and Stig Nygaard

Bells.

He awoke to the sound of bells.
 

Real or imagined, their pealing clamor was something of a mixed blessing, an assault upon the senses he took for proof he was still alive. He tried to speak, only to find his tongue a thick and swollen mass inside his mouth. His limbs proved even more unwilling, responding as if they had been disarticulated and crudely reattached.
 

“Hello?” he finally managed to croak. Even his voice sounded alien to him, no thanks to his tongue.

It wasn’t just his voice, he realized. Everything he was experiencing was alien. Unfamiliar.
 

Where he had come from? Where was he now? What had happened to him?

What was his name?

All questions had answers, that much he knew for a certainty. Yet, for all that certainty was worth, none of those answers belonged to him.

He sat up slowly. Even that measured effort left him feeling lightheaded, to say nothing of grossly nauseous. His stomach churned as gracelessly as his vision. Breathing slowly, he willed himself to keep everything internal. He may not have known who or where he was, but somehow he understood he was in no condition to lose what precious little nutrients and fluids he had inside of him.

The quieting of the bells was replaced by a sanguine
drip-drip-drip
pattering the ground between his legs. Lifting a hand to his nose, he found a vivid crimson blot dotting the tip of his finger. He sat for a long moment, regarding the blood with detached, almost otherworldly interest. Bleeding. He was bleeding. This should have been cause for greater alarm, he knew, though somehow it seemed the least of an already daunting array of concerns.

Carefully, he took to his feet, inspecting himself as thoroughly as possible without aid of a mirror. As near as he could tell, he wasn’t injured. He felt as if he might have taken a blow to the head, but a quick pull of his fingers across his stubbly crown proved otherwise. No bumps, no scars, not even any nicks to show for what until recently had been a smoothly shaven scalp. Had he always shaved his head down to the pate? Like everything else about the situation, it seemed foreign somehow, incongruous to the person he was.

But then, who was he?

Even the clothing he found himself in offered no insight into his identity. The jumpsuit he was wearing was brand new, the fabric stiff and scratchy against the skin beneath. His skin, he reminded himself. The jumpsuit itself was sized perfectly to his measurements and an arresting, almost shockingly bright shade of orange. Was he a prisoner? There was nothing across the breast to identify him, no name or inmate number. He checked his pockets, turning them out and finding nothing. He even slipped the rubber shoes from his feet, checking the insides and beneath the insoles, though that proved just as futile as he suspected.

He was officially no one.

A man with no identity. No past. No place in the world to call his own.

All at once, he became aware of an acute, overwhelming pressure upon his bladder. Racing to the nearest corner, he tore open the snaps lining the front of the jumpsuit just in time to direct the imminent flow of urine away from his body. So intense was the feeling of relief his legs actually began to shake as he watched the golden, acrid stream arcing against the seamlessly joined walls.

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

The voice came from outside the room, distant and small. The sound was so startling he briefly lost control of his aim, feeling a warm splash wetting the leg of his jumpsuit. There was no time for embarrassment under the circumstances, though he understood he would have had good cause otherwise. Turning away from the wall, he hurriedly closed the snaps as he searched out the source of the voice. Only then did he notice the outline of a small window just above the spot where he had come to. It was filthy, caked with years of accumulated dust and grime. Smearing a hand across the opaque pane, he strained through the layer of dirt for a glimpse outside.
 

He was at least three, perhaps four stories above street level, he saw. Then he spotted the voice’s owner. Shuffling between the boxy, unremarkable buildings was a young woman wearing the same manner of fitted orange jumpsuit. She was confused and disoriented, clutching at her hairless head and blinking against the bleakness of their surroundings.

“Hello? Someone? Anyone?”

The man with no name tensed as a stray bolt of light caught the window, drawing the woman’s attention upward. Any question as to whether she had spotted him was put to rest when she lifted her arms, waving them back and forth above her head. Her face was flush with relief at the sight of another human being, even one obscured behind dirty glass. She started toward the building.

The woman barely made it three steps before a silvery barb lanced through the air, striking her in the base of her neck. Staggered, the woman dropped a hand to the place where the barb had lodged itself. Looking once more to the window, she made eye contact with him the very instant her head exploded in a spectacular burst of bone and misting brain matter. Spurred by some final electrical impulse, her body took one last step forward, then spasmed and crumpled limply to the pavement.

The man stood behind the window in stunned silence, staring down as thick, dark blood began to burble from the base of the dead woman’s gaping neck. His mind cycled rapidly, trying desperately to comprehend and assign meaning to the horrific scene, yet all he could picture was the look in the woman’s eyes the moment before.

She had
known
.

Had she felt it? The sudden swelling of her brain, the splintering of her skull as it ruptured from within like an overripe melon? Or had the spark of life already been extinguished, like a switch being flipped from above?

Somehow, he couldn’t decide which would constitute a worse fate.

A wave of fresh nausea gripped his stomach like a vise; warm saliva flooded his mouth, so thick and viscous it was impossible to swallow. That is, until he spied three more figures moving with rigid precision toward the fallen body. The men covered the ground between them in shifts, one taking point while two covered from behind before moving up the line accordingly. Each of the men was clad in blue and gray digital camouflage; each brandished the same strangely proportioned rifles.

Reaching the body, the three men made a quick sweep of the area before relaxing their stances. At ease, they smiled and chatted cheerfully with one another. One produced a camera and took a picture. Another clapped him on the back, apparently complimenting him on the shot. Then he took the camera, obligingly framing up a picture of the man posing with his prey. Even from such a height, the man behind the glass could see the man on the street was all smiles.

The turmoil roiling his gut finally won out as he put it all together. The jumpsuits that stood out so vividly in a world of urban neutrality; the shaved heads robbing them of their individuality; the lack of any visible identity. Together, it all added up to one singularly horrifying revelation.

Whoever these people were, this was sport for them.

And he and the woman, they were the game.

Standing straight after retching up what little he had in his stomach, he watched as the hunters formed up once again, looking this way and that as another shard of light reflected off the glass. One of the hunters stiffened visibly, pointing to the window. His fellows grinned as they followed his line of sight. Rifles at the ready, the three hunters started toward the building.

The hunt was on anew. They were coming for him.

He had to move, he realized, tearing himself from the window as fast as his listless legs would allow. Scanning the room quickly, he realized the far wall wasn’t actually a wall at all, but a roll-up door. The rusted metal door wasn’t especially heavy, though in his current state it seemed to require an almost inhuman amount of exertion just to crack, let alone hold open enough to shimmy beneath. Halfway through, he lost his grip and the door came down, pinning him to the floor. The pressure on his chest and arms was indescribable, yet somehow in the face of certain death he managed to lift the door and finish rolling into the hall with only his stolen breath to show for it. The door slammed shut behind him as he freed himself from beneath its grasp, echoing down the corridor with a resounding
bang
.

Stumbling down the hall, he noticed several of the rooms had been breached. It was as if the doors had been ripped from their frames and housings by an invading army of heavy machinery or god only knew what else. The feeling that this wasn’t the first time the building had been a place of conflict was not especially comforting, to say the least.

He was passing the last of the wounded rooms when another hairless figure in orange stepped out of the stairwell, clobbering him across the chest with a piece of rebar. The blow hit home like a wrecking ball, flinging him off his feet and flat onto his back where he sprawled against the unforgiving concrete like a
 
rag doll. Stars swam before his eyes, parting just in time to reveal a woman raising the corkscrewed metal above her head in preparation for the final strike. Only then did she seem to register he was not who she thought he was.

“Oh,” she huffed indignantly. “You’re not one of the hunters.” Far from contrite, she sounded painfully annoyed by the realization.

“No,” he gasped, still trying to find the fullness of his voice. “Please. Please, I don’t want to die.”

The woman scoffed, reaching down with a soft, perfectly formed hand. “Then get up already, damnit! We only have a few minutes before they find us.”

“I don’t think I can run.” He was surprised he could even breathe after how close she had come to caving in his chest.

“Then you’re going to have to hobble. C’mon!”

“So help me,” another, more masculine voice said as the woman helped him to the stairwell, “if he slows us down…”

“Shut the hell up and help me move him!”

There were two of them. A man and a woman. The other man joined her after a moment’s consideration, helping to shoulder his weight between them. He grimaced but managed to match their rhythm as they hustled toward the stairwell at the end of the hall.

“Where are we? Who are you?”

“No idea. Worry about introductions later. You think those bastards hunting us care about our names, you’ve got another thing coming, bud.”

“Wait,” he said. “Introductions? You know, don’t you? Your names? How do you know? Please, you have to tell me.”

“God
damnit
.” Ignoring the stiff look her companion gave her, the woman stopped them abruptly. She yanked at the collar of his jumpsuit. “Willem, okay? Your name is Willem. Mine is Theresa. His is Leonard. They’re tattooed just below our necks.” She turned in place to show him the tight black lettering between her shoulders. “Can we go now? Before those psycho fucks find us and make our brains go boom?”

“Willem.” He turned the name over in his mouth several times, finding it surprisingly agreeable. He was Willem. “Okay,” he said. “I’m ready.”

They had just started moving again when the ringing of footsteps echoed up through the stairwell. Theresa froze, suddenly crippled with uncertainty. With only seconds to spare, Leonard sprang into action.

“Get him out of here,” he told Theresa, yanking the length of rebar from her grasp. “Quick, up the stairs, to the next floor. I’ll hold them off.”

“What?! Are you insane?! You can’t possibly—”

“Just go! I’ve got this!” Before either of them could object, Leonard shoved them into the stairwell and up the first few steps, hissing for them to go.

With one last uncertain look behind them, Willem and Theresa hobbled up to the next landing as quickly and quietly as possible. Below them, Leonard whooped and hollered like some deranged beast, banging on the walls and making as much noise as humanly possible.
Maybe he is insane
, Willem thought as the hunters tromped up the steps, following the ungodly clamor as it receded further and further down the hall.

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