Chapter 19

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Stomping through heavy woods, Gray glanced back to the road, where he'd nearly collided with the men on the cycles. They had come to a stop, likely wondering what they had encountered. They'd probably never seen anything like Gray; he'd never seen anything like him either. As he trudged on, the vehicle lights fell from view.

Gray doubted they'd follow, since the earlier rain had soaked the ground. It had been a quick, but heavy precipitation, making off-road travel very unlikely. It was of course, possible for them to take the nearest road and try to cut Gray off, but that was a roundabout route – in the dark - and at the rate he was moving, he'd be long gone by the time they reached the nearest intersection.

When he reached the edge of the woods, he gazed upon a partially-finished development of upscale homes. The nearest plot featured only the poured foundation of a home. The pit could easily be mistaken for a swimming pool, now that it had collected all the rainwater. Gray thought about all the dead animals he'd seen in similarly pooled areas. Rainwater was dangerous to most living things, although it had the opposite effect on Gray, often producing new growth on his rough hide, which he would promptly tear away.

Low clouds raced before the full moon and as he scampered across the dirt plot, avoiding protruding pipes here and there, Gray imagined he must look like the monster from an old horror movie he'd sometimes watched as a child. He halted abruptly, his mind attempting to trap this image from his youth before is dissipated.

Sitting on a brown sofa, in a dark room. The bright flickering glow of a television before him. A black and white movie. To his left a large man. To his right, a woman. Mother?

He instinctively reached for his backpack, where the skull was. The image vanished. Gray sighed and stared at the man in the moon. He tried to recall the vision and when he decided he had spent enough time trying to do so, knocked his mallet-hand against his head.

Move.

Traversing the adjacent property, Gray stepped through a hole he'd previously torn in an iron fence and came to the next backyard. In all his time alone, he'd done much searching to occupy the time, and had come across this property, which had obviously belonged to a "prepper." Beneath the ground a bunker had been built, with a tiny shed atop. There were some tools hanging on the walls, but Gray suspected its real purpose had been to hide the bunker's entrance.

He set the backpack down, then lifted the shed, whose floor he had earlier removed, and set it aside. He opened the door in the ground and peered into the dark recess below. Yet even with his enhanced night vision, he couldn't see the dark corners furthest from the opening.

Squeezing himself as thin as he was able, Gray descended the ladder one long limb at a time. This was a person-sized door, not a Gray-sized door, and it took a considerable effort, but he finally wedged into the space. It was a vestibule of sorts; a twelve-foot long concrete corridor that ran parallel to a twenty-foot metal shipping container. He confirmed that the dark corners were free of intruders.

The original doors to the container, which opened outward, had been removed. In their place had been installed a single, heavy steel door that opened inward and locked from the inside. Gray knocked three times, paused, then knocked four times. When he heard nothing, he placed his ear to the door, but could detect no sound. Anxiety shook him and he was about to forcibly breach the container when an answering five knocks sounded. Gray was equally shaken by the overwhelming sense of relief and rested his head against the door, feeling emotionally drained. Despite no indications of assault on the bunker, he had suspected the worst. He would never have forgiven himself.

There was muffled movement from within and a light above the door flickered, then emitted bright white light. Gray squinted as the sound of releasing locks echoed in the concrete space. The door inched inward.

***

Alex looked up at the square window in the door, trying to shake loose the remnants of a dream where the seeds from a storm had penetrated the silo's hull. From each tiny tear in the metal, they had begun to sprout, and in moments, long tendrils of woody vines snaked down the stairs and along the floor toward the bedroom. That's when he woke up.

The window was dark. Alex climbed the stairs and glanced out into the airlock. It was empty like he suspected, but he had to be sure. He could hear that beyond the airlock, the wind thrashed. The air quality monitor was on the fritz, which meant its antennae had likely been torn loose. Perhaps subconsciously, he had known there was a storm. 

As silly as it seemed to give validity to a dream, Alex felt compelled to inspect the rounded wall. When he discovered no imperfections, he concluded that it had indeed been only a dream, and not a premonition.

Maybe the monitor was just sluggish. He tapped it, hoping this would cause the digital numbers to appear and thereby spare him from having to leave the twins in the silo alone. But no luck.

Stepping from the silo, Alex froze when he noticed a narrow beam of red light penetrating the airlock's exterior window. He darted to the side to avoid it and crept toward the window in the door. The rifle! Where the hell had he left it! He reached for the exterior lock. Twisting metal groaned and the door was hauled open.

No! Henry and Annabelle.

Alex fell backward, as lights flashed across him, searching. He turned and scrambled for the silo. Behind came angry voices, issuing demands that he only half heard. He tumbled through the silo door, got to his feet and jumped to the landing below, falling when he hit the floor. Heavy footfalls pursued. In the bedroom, he snagged the rifle, then stared in disbelief at the empty covers on the floor.

The twins were gone.



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