Tyler Selby grew up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where the sunsets are beautiful and the playgrounds are devoid of grass. He spends free time playing video games and taking long walks on virtual reality beaches. He looks forward to more published pieces and is honored at the opportunity here at Scarlet Leaf Review. You can find him on Twitter @TylerVSelby.
The beasts came from all sides, one after another. James ducked behind a piece of broken building, hard snow clinging to his pant legs as he regained his balance. Peering through what remained of a window, he saw the last building left standing after 10 years of acid rain. Vines crept up the walls, and the asphalt of the road had all but melted away. Patches of grass poked through the snow, worn by the tracks of passing animals. He readied his rifle and dug his boots into the ground with a crunch. “Almost there.” James creaked open the double doors, sweeping the empty lobby with his rifle before closing the door behind him. He took a bike lock from his bag, circling it around the door handles and locking it with a key he tossed to the side. Shadows fly across the windows, creatures clawing and banging the door to get inside. James hurries across the lobby to the stairwell, its guardrail all but rusted away. After sprinting up the stairs James comes to a long hallway, littered with medical supplies and hospital beds. He walks by dozens of rooms, stopping at the only one with its door closed. James breathes heavily and sits down outside of the room. He takes a bottle out of his pocket, the label ripped off, then drops a pill into his hand and finally his mouth. He swallows, then his head drops down and he falls asleep. *** When James wakes up, the hallway has changed. The walls are a pristine white with a bright blue strip running across the walls. The floors are clear, the ceiling lights glint off of the polished floor, signs of a recent mopping. The absence of people still haunts the place though. James rises to his feet and sighs, knocking on the closed door in front of him. “How long are you planning on standing there?” someone asked. James forces a smile and enters the room. “Hey there, good-looking, been a while hasn’t it?” Claire watches James sit down in a chair, a warm smile on her face. “Took you long enough, Hun, seems to get longer every year. You know you don’t have to keep—” James looks up at Claire with a tinge of pain in his eyes, silencing the thought. He attempts to steer the conversation in a different direction. “I’ve been turning on the radio every night. I’ll find someone else in this mess, right?” “I know you will honey. You just have to keep looking.” Downstairs a claw begins to scrape through the doors, itching to get at the lock. James lays his head in his hands and begins to cry. “Goddammit.” “Come on, Honey, you can’t keep doing this. You come here every year, risking your life for what? To see me one last time?” “Yes! You were the one thing that kept me going, the one thing that told me everything was going to be okay! And then you weren’t there. So yes. I’m going to keep coming back, again and again, until I’m killed by those things or my age catches up to me.” An eye protrudes from the door, sounds of scraping claws getting louder. Claire looks at James with a similar sadness. “Listen. There’s something you need to know. This is the last time you’ll be able to see me like this. It’s not your fault okay?” “What do you mean, the last time? I can’t lose you now. P-please.” “Do you remember what my face looks like? The tattoos on my arms? How about what color my eyes are? Honey, you’re forgetting what I look like, and the only reason you remember what I sound like is because you hear me in your dreams. It’s been 7 years. Time to move on.” James’ crying turns into a sob, pulling his hat down over his face. “I didn’t…” He pulls a makeshift bouquet of flowers from his bag, a sweet bundle of yellow and purple. “—Get to give you your Christmas present! Here, Y-your favorites.” He bends over the table next to Claire and places the flowers in a vase next to her. “I love you, so much. And that’s why you need to stop torturing yourself like this. I need you to talk to real people now, help each other live. It’ll be a while until you get to see me again, but I’ll be waiting, ever so patiently. Go live again, for me this time. Don’t miss this chance.” Claire begins to fade from view, the room fading into a twisted version of itself. Skin tears off of the creature, reaching through the small gap. “No. Please God, not yet.” The pearl white of the room crumbles away, ceiling panels hang down and the light above fizzles out. As Claire fades from view James takes the old dusty sheets that Claire had just been sitting in and holds them close to his chest. The first light of day seeps through old curtains. The dust blankets the room, not bothering James. A sound comes from the radio sitting on the table. The sunlight scorches the beasts, their pained screeching heard scurrying away into the shade. “Oh fuck, does anyone copy? Please, anyone!” a man says. James rushes over to the table, wiping tears from his eyes. “Yes, I copy, I copy! What’s happening?” “We have a group, we’re holding the Bringston Bridge, but not for long. Jesus we need help down here!” “Hold tight, I’m on my way.” “What’s your name?” “James. It’s James Teynor.” He cocks his gun, giving one look back at the room’s table, seven vases all filled with increasingly old bundles of flowers, some completely empty, failing the test of time. He kisses the door of the room labeled Claire Teynor and runs down the stairs towards a bridge in the distance.