Candice scanned the inventory of her weapons and supplies one more time.
Fire extinguisher? Check.
Dart gun and additional rounds? Check.
Radar reader? Check.
Reinforced helmet and overcoat? Check.
Days’ worth of power bars and bottled water? Check.
Fire-retardant boots and gloves? Check.
Grocery list? Check.
Normally, Candice wouldn’t risk a trip to the grocery during the light of day, but her infant son was suffering from some sort of stomach bug and she needed a few items she didn’t typically stock in her pantry. That and a prescription called in from her doctor’s made this trip necessary, despite the risks.
Walking into her garage, Candice checked her SUV for any vulnerabilities. Walking from the hood around to the back, she kicked the modified tires (special order metal tires from Uncle Albert’s Auto Stop) jiggled the caging around her headlights and bumper and then the spikes that covered every flat surface. Satisfied, Candice started loading her equipment into the SUV/armored car. Turning on the ignition, she hooked up the radar reader (a scanner was bolted to the top of the SUV) and conducted a brief scan of the fire retardant insulation for any breaches or tears. Seeing that the radar had loaded Candice searched a 500 yard perimeter, that thankfully, it came up blank. She had to move.
Hitting the garage door opener, Candice peeled out of the garage, just skirting the bottom of the garage door and hit the switch again to lower it. Watching to make sure it closed, Candice popped in her driving mix #1 and cranked up the volume, “here goes nothing,” she breathed before hitting the accelerator.
I’m a rolling thunder, a pouring rain… I’m comin’ on like a hurricane…
AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells blasted through her speakers as she took a hard left off of her street, all the while scanning the sky for any impending danger. Over the last year (had it really only been a year?), Candice had trained her senses so that now, scanning the sky, watching the radar, one hand at the ready on a dart gun or crossbow all while driving seemed almost natural. Too many of her friends had lost their lives in their effort to maintain what they called ‘normalcy’ since the SWITCH; she wouldn’t make that same mistake. Especially now that she had a child to protect…
My lightning’s flashing across the sky… You’re only young but you’re gonna die
She smiled as she thought of her son and then quickly shook the distraction out of her head… she needed to stay sharp.
She heard it before she saw it. The sweet melody floated across Candice’s subconscious and she reflexively checked the scanner. Sure enough, a small ping had appeared and it was heading directly for her. “Well, at least it’s not one of those little buggers,” Candice thought to herself. The tiny ones were always the most troublesome.
I won’t take no prisoners, won’t spare no lives… Nobody’s putting up a fight… I got my bell, I’m gonna take you to hell… I’m gonna get you, Satan get you…
“You said it, Brian,” Candice muttered as she backed the SUV behind a large hedge and threw it into park. Opening her sunroof, Candice quickly loaded her dart gun and stood up through the opening. Candice lifted up the spike-encrusted metal guard plate she had installed to protect the sunroof’s glass while it was closed and to serve as a shield when she needed a quick vantage point for an attack. And she waited.
Hell’s Bells… yeah, Hell’s Bells… You got me ringing Hell’s Bells… My temperature’s high, Hell’s Bells…
Then she saw it. Coming from the east, it was flying sporadically and thankfully, it hadn’t spotted her yet. Adjusting her scope, Candice pinned the flittering thing between her crosshairs and pulled the trigger.
Her target fell to the ground like a stone but Candice did not wait for it to hit; she was already pulling back onto the street before the dying thing exhaled its last breath. There had been a time when she would have investigated her kill, relished in it even. Not anymore. One close call had taught her it was better to keep moving than to inspect your prey. She touched her mutilated earlobe in tribute to the painful recollection.
Candice managed to make it the rest of the way to the grocery without further interference. Securing the strap of her helmet tightly under her chin, Candice grabbed her shopping list and dart gun before setting her fire extinguisher in the passenger seat where she could easily grab it, should the need arise. Turning off the SUV, Candice breathed deeply and then sprinted out of the vehicle and into the store.
Given the time of day, Candice was quite surprised to see there were about a dozen or so patrons doing their shopping today. “Good, I at least have some distractions available if necessary,” Candice mentally winced at how cold and calculating she had become. Did she really only see these people as useful tools in her fight to survive? Avoiding her own answer, Candice grabbed some bananas and dropped them into her cart. Walking to the pharmacy, she spoke with Francis the pharmacist for a few minutes about her son’s symptoms as she waited for his prescription to be filled.
“I’m surprised to see you out and about at this time of day, Candice. Is it really that bad?” Francis looked concerned despite the healing gash that covered the majority of the left side of his face. “Oh, he’ll be fine, Francis. I think it’s more of a case of his momma getting a bit stir-crazy. I know it’s risky, but honestly, I think the SWITCH task force must be making progress, I only encountered one of their kind on the way here,” Candice answered.
“Well, it’s about time. Ok, Candice, you’re all set. Tell Jimmy I said hello,” Francis said as he handed her a plastic bag containing the prescription. “Thanks, Francis. I will,” Candice smiled and made her way to the checkout to pay for her groceries.
Now came the difficult part. Candice had to make it back to her vehicle with all her groceries- an easy enough task two years ago, but today it was a leading cause of serious injury or even death. Leaving her groceries at the door, Candice scanned the sky and the perimeter of the building quickly and then booked it to her car. Safely inside, she drove the SUV to the entry of the grocery store and climbing through the passenger-side door she grabbed her groceries and stuffed them inside. “Whew, it must be my lucky day,” Candice said as she buckled up and sped out of the parking lot.
About a half mile from her home she heard the now familiar hum and buzz of a low-flying chopper. The SWITCH task force was hunting something, and they were too close for comfort. If she could hear them, then their target must be nearby. Looking to her radar, Candice frowned at the blank screen. “Hmm,” Candice said to herself, “something should be pinging out there…what gives?”. Flipping on the switch for her rooftop camera, Candice directed it towards her radar receiver… which was still smoking. It had been incinerated.
“Holy mother of pearl!” Candice slammed on the breaks causing something to jerk heavily off of the roof and slam to the ground behind her. How had it gotten past her? Taking no time to think, Candice ground the gearshift into reverse and slammed her foot on the accelerator. She felt the vehicle clip something but the satisfying double bump she was anticipating did not come. “Peanuts,” she swore. Throwing it back into drive, Candice floored it, hoping that she had stunned it enough to make an escape. Watching her rearview mirror, Candice saw something brown, and about the size of a small dog, stand up in the road. Then she saw the wings and she knew… it was coming.
“Crackerjacks!” Candice punched the steering wheel and literally pressed the pedal to the metal. This was going to be close. Looking in the mirror again, Candice saw that it was closing in, and fast. Suddenly, Candice was momentarily deafened by blades cutting the air almost directly above her. “Thank God!” she screamed as she watched a harpoon-sized arrow shoot from somewhere overhead and pierce her pursuer directly in the chest. A minute later, the helicopter had landed in the road behind Candice’s SUV and three men jumped out to collect their kill. Candice said a silent thank you to the fearless men behind her and continued on her way.
Arriving home, Candice tended to Jimmy and after he had fallen into a peaceful sleep, she walked to her calendar and crossed out one more day. 403 days had passed since innocent-seeming birds had all shed their feathery disguises (all but their song had vanished) and transformed into… dragons. Fire-breathing, flying wraiths of death that had terrorized mankind since their ‘switch’ over a year ago. No one knew what had caused the SWITCH, and no one cared. All efforts were directed to their extermination, and to survival.
The Not So Fantastic Reality:
Sorry, I know this one is a little on the long side, but I was having too much fun.
The above story was inspired by the following tidbits I encountered today:
ONE: I saw a bird on the way home today that for a split second I could have sworn looked like a little miniature dragon. It may seem like a stretch to you, but it doesn’t take very much for my brain to completely go off the deep end with an idea. So, I thought, what if it was a dragon? What if there were a bunch of dragons out there who were simply masquerading as common pigeons, mourning doves, osprey and sparrows? How could changing just one component of our reality as we know it, like birds suddenly becoming dragons, affect everything else in our lives? What would living in a world of bird-sized, killer, fire-bombing birds be like?
TWO: I’ve had AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells stuck in my head all day. When I looked up the lyrics I thought it would be a perfect soundtrack for this story.
THREE: My poor puppy-snoodle is not feeling so hot today (that would be Joey, my mini-dachshund for you non-baby talking folk). Not sure what’s wrong, I believe it’s just a stomach issue, but if you’re reading please send Joey happy thoughts (nothing worse than a sick, mopey, pathetic dog… heartbreaking)!
Love & Squirrels.
P.S. If you click on Uncle Albert’s Auto Stop in the story above, you’ll be taken to the actual link that inspired the modifications made to Candace’s SUV. Man, you can find anything on the internet!