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Buy eBook How countless Miles to Babylon?

byMegan Arkenberg

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Published in Jan. 2012 (Issue 20) | 3297 words


And he cried out in a mighty voice:Fallen, please is Babylon the great!She had become a dwelling ar for demons,a haunt because that every unclean bird,a haunt for every unclean and hateful beast.

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—Revelation 18:2

***

The Goliath halogen passed away today. Us hoped at an initial that that was just the battery, that if we readjusted it out and cursed and tapped the hard versus our thighs we might get that flickering again, climate shining steadily. Us went through half our share of batteries before we admitted the the light itself to be shot.

“Fuck,” ns said. “Fucking mom of a goddamn fuck.” i was hold the battery case. I shook out the load of double-As we had actually stuffed inside and also flung the unsecured chunk of plastic into the trees.

David no say anything. That went approximately to the ago of the truck and found a pair that xenon flashlights, thin and also red, behind the box of box soup. They take fifty percent the batteries, but aren’t a third as bright as the Goliath.

It’s acquiring harder and harder come pretend we aren’t racing follow me the edge of a knife, one crate of flashlights and a fistful of batteries away from the mercy the the points in the darkness. Past the with of ours headlights, the highway and the undergrowth room both as black color as the empty sky. We understand all too well those hiding there, both the things that came from the stars, and also the points that waited countless centuries in caves and also cellars and tangled woodlands for the Darkening to claim the Earth. I sit top top the roof the the truck, a flashlight in every hand. The my turn for the watch, but I know David no sleeping. I can hear the fizz and also crackle of static as he flips with dead radio stations, in search of guidance. In search of Babylon.

But the city has fallen silent tonight. We have the right to only hope it hasn’t fallen dark.

***

Today, tonight—David has convinced himself the these words have lost any kind of meaning, the the transforming numbers top top his wristwatch space as arbitrary as the fads the intermittent rain traces on ours windshield. I’m not so sure. I half believe that the sun and also the moon and the stars space still there, do unfathomed cycles behind the veil that fell with the Darkening. Wouldn’t it it is in colder, if the sunlight were dead?

I am beginning to hate the trees. They grew up—overnight, I would say, and David would certainly object—they thrived up too easily in the very first hours that the Darkening, close up door in the roads, smelling favor earthworms and rot. It’s been months due to the fact that I’ve viewed an empty field. The branches the I breakdown for our fires room leafless, their bark sloughing off in my hands, strangely and unpleasantly damp. Still, we require the firelight, and also so we require the trees.

The finish of the human being has a funny way of teaching you about necessity.

***

David shakes me awake near three in the morning. I have the right to see the fluorescent number blinking ~ above his wrist, illuminated however not illuminating. His confront is as unfathomable as always in the firelight, planes and angles and shadows favor a patchwork that misery. “Listen,” he says.

The radio agree flickers and burbles, nearly incomprehensible, but we’ve been listening so difficult for this the I might repeat the native in mine sleep. The message is the exact same every time.

Hello? Hello? A high-pitched voice, a young mrs or child. This is Babylon. We have light. We have— Static, like a purring beast, and also then, Hello? Is everyone there? Hello?

“Coordinates?” ns murmur, groping ~ above the van floor because that my jacket. “Location, anything?”

“FM waves. We’ve gotta be within thirty miles.”

“We’ve been within thirty miles for weeks. The like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

He shrugs, a motion I hear fairly than see. Crinkling that his windbreaker, dull creak the the exhausted bones in his shoulders. “Then we store looking,” that says. The static crackles, and though us strain our ear listening, us hear no an ext from Babylon.

***

We haven’t viewed a town in months. Ns think the tree consumed them, swallowed castle up. I’m no sure just how literally I average that.

Sometimes we check out something sticking the end of the mud and also the twisted roots—a slab the concrete, a mile marker, a once-fluorescent bar authorize with scorch marks about the edge. It to be fire that drove us out that Sommer’s Grove in the very first place, a dome the orange and crimson swallowing the sky over the strip malls and also the faux-Victorian duplexes. Flames rained down choose bullets, smell acrid, chemical. Currently I think we should have stayed in the ashes—that whatever threw the fire down on us was really on ours side, fighting against the darkness.

***

At noon, the Horseman attacks.

David called them every according come what we might hear: Runners, with long loping pauses between the scuffing of their hefty paws versus the earth; Batmen, who descend v the flapping that wings and the odor of brand-new leather; Horsemen, whose six legs beat choose hooves versus the crumbling continues to be of the road. The Horsemen are the worst. Your feet are sharp and cold together steel, and also their teeth are like needles, breaking off in her flesh.

A Horseman is what eliminated Salem.

This one is smarter than most. It launches itself at me if we’re check our taillights, in the temporary dimness. However the flinty click the hooves versus the truck bed is every the warning David needs. The flicks on the brights. I attract all mine flashlights at once—the blue rectangular diving light, the two thin reds that replaced the Goliath, the fistful of tiny LED penlights strung on a keyring. The taken part practice, but I’ve learned to get them every lit in a blink, switch after switch sliding beneath my thumbs.

The Horseman shrieks like breaking glass. I can see the silhouette for a portion of a second, the lengthy spindly legs, the bulbous, eyeless head, and then the gone, dissolved in the light. Mine chest heaves, my heart pounding in mine ears. Over my head, the truck’s next is pocked v six-inch dents.

“That was . . . As well damn close,” i pant.

David nods, leaning the end the driver’s window. “We can not . . . Dim . . . The lights,” he claims breathlessly. “Not even . . . For a second.”

***

Salem passed away on the very first day of the Darkening.

It had actually all happened in an instant, the sunlight swallowed up, satellites wiped out of existence, as though the world had to be locked in a black-sided box. Freighters and bridges plunged right into the sea. Airplane dropped native the sky, your sides puckered by the point out of gigantic claws.

In the darkness, we never saw the ships, however we heard the hollow, bone-deep sounds of your landing.

In a small town twenty mile north the Milwaukee, while she walked indigenous her automobile to the doors that the library, mine husband’s sixteen-year-old daughter was shredded with steel-bladed hooves and needle-fine teeth.

Mikhaila, David’s ex, make the contact herself. We’d never spoken before, yet she told the story come me, i will not ~ let me happen the phone to David. Her voice to be ragged and also eerily calm. Ns hated her for it, because that making me listen, yet I understood. Just how do friend tell a male that the thing he loves most in the civilization is gone?

So i was the one who told him, that watched the news occupational like venom v to his heart. I caught him as soon as he pitched forward, screaming, and half-carried him to the couch.

When the was completely unconscious, surrounded by north cans and plastic bottles, i tried to speak to Mikhaila back. The phone call rang for fifteen minutes prior to I provided up.

***

The following night, a sphere of flame ignited the roof of our neighbor’s house. We threw what we can into the earlier of our truck and also sped the end of the burn town, stopping only to rest the home windows of a battery store and grab everything we could carry. We can see skeletal, winged figures writhing in the fire-lit sky.

“We’ll drive until dawn,” David stated thickly, forget in our grief and adrenaline that dawn would never ever come again.

***

“What carry out you think we’ll uncover there?” ns ask. David’s driving v one hand on the wheel, the other flipping through radio channels. Every little thing is static.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Safety, ns guess. Others that survived.”

There have to be various other survivors, ns know. But we’ve never seen them, not one more car top top the road, not even a irradiate on a hill in the distance.

For the room of a moment, the radio receives something, a deep masculine voice booming the end of the top nineties. “ . . . And the light of a lamp shall shine no more in thee.” I must recognize the quotation, however I don’t.

David safety the remainder of the evening going earlier and soon over that empty job of static.

***

I’ve stopped asking if he’s all right.

First, because it’s a stupid question. Of food he’s no all right, his daughter and also most that the people is dead, and also we’re pawing with the darkness and the monsters through a it is provided of soup and also batteries and flashlights that won’t critical forever.

Second, since I hate the method he looks as soon as I asking it. Frowning, sick come his stomach, like he no think I should care.

The finish of the people has a funny way of teaching you to avoid asking questions. You acquire the exact same answers every time, over and also over. The song has actually no second verse.

How numerous miles come Babylon?

Four score and ten.

Will we gain there by candlelight?

Yes, and back again.

(Over and also over again.)

***

A pair that Runners has been following us because we killed the Horseman. Ns haven’t discussed it to David; I simply perk up my ear every now and also then, when the sound of the engine dims, and also I listen that heavy thumping in the near-distance. Thump-thump, thump-thump, choose a pair that heartbeats.

I wonder if monsters recognize the ide of revenge.

“Getting tired?” ns ask.

David shrugs.

“Here, let me drive,” ns say. “You have to rest.”

“I’m fine.”

“You i can not use slept in thirty-six hours.”

“I claimed I’m fine.”

I skinny back against the headrest. “You’re not fine, David.”

He pushes down on the accelerator. Behind us, the sounds choose up. Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump.

***

David takes an initial watch, and also I don’t fight that on it. I’m hoping hell exhaust himself and his body will pressure him into sleep. Ns lie awake across the seat in the truck cabin, eye closed, hear for all I’m worth.

He’s make the efforts his pocket radio. Static, static, static, punctuated by the click the the turning dial. What a garbage of batteries, i think, and then the comes. This is Babylon, clean as crystal in the darkness. Climate nothing.

He doesn’t concerned wake me. I try not to let the sting.

***

I think the Runners need to stop and also rest. One of two people that, or the irradiate from ours campfire is steady sufficient to frighten them ago into the trees. They don’t come and also they nothing come, and also finally David nudges me out of feigned sleep, and lays himself down to rest.

He’s yes, really sleeping, too. I trail my hand end his face, under his neck and throughout the certain rise and fall the his chest, and he doesn’t stir, no respond at all. It’s to be months due to the fact that we’ve really touched. I can’t remember the critical time the kissed me.

***

Before we left Sommer’s Grove, if David was vandalizing ours pantry because that canned goods, i took a bottle of magnesium tablets from the medication cabinet. Burn magnesium is too bright to look at. I thought, at the time, the it would remind me of the sun.

***

There’s a third Runner now. Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump. I wonder just how much longer I have the right to wait.

***

When I’m certain David is resting soundly, ns climb up on peak of the truck with his small radio and flip come the am stations. Coarser reception, longer-distance. I know specifically what i’m looking for, in the middle of the six-hundreds.

Fallen, please is Babylon the great. that is a woman’s voice, clear and also cold together steel. This is the dozenth time i’ve listened for she while David is asleep. It feels, somehow, choose a betrayal. It has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt because that every unclean and also hateful beast.

David sighs in his sleep. I want to think it’s my name he murmurs, however it might be Salem’s, it can be a wordless moan of pain. I revolve the radio back the way he left it, earlier to the by chance wilderness, the valley of bones.

This is Babylon, the voice says. The static chops the blog post like a dull knife. We have (crackle) anybody (crackle) Hello? Hello? And the radio battery dies.

***

I never met Salem. Custody fell to Mikhaila, a thousand miles away, and the three or four times the Salem visited her father, i made myself scarce. Women’s club retreats, weekends with my parental or mine girlfriends. Ns was terrified of becoming the evil stepmother; an absent one appeared preferable.

I recognize that Salem got excellent report cards, loved art classes, played soccer for 3 years in class school, and shattered she knee therefore badly the she needed to sit out through junior high. She adored whales and also dolphins, and the year David and I got married, we sent her a fat plush orca for she birthday. Its eyes were huge, v cartoonishly feminine lashes.

She sent us a terse, polite, hand-written thank-you card. That was illustrated in watercolor through an orca’s eye, beautiful and dark.

***

When she died, she was transporting a backpack complete of publications on Picasso, for a college project, and also Rossetti, for recreational reading. She additionally had a box of colored pencils, professional-quality, a masculine leather wallet with her learner’s license and twenty dollars cash. And a plush orca, loved to flatness, one large plastic eye crushed by the Horseman’s hooves.

I wonder if monsters know the principle of revenge.

***

Nimrod was the king of Babylon, and also a mighty hunter before the Lord. That course, no one ever before says what he hunted.

***

Something rustles in the pipeline on the side of the road. I would revolve up the headlights, however David is asleep in the driver’s seat, his chest rising and also falling as heavily as if the pushed against the load of the world. Ns don’t want to disturb the by getting to through the window. Instead, ns throw much more damp and foul-smelling timber onto the fire.

The steady thump-thumping stopped thirty minutes ago. Either the Runners space resting, or they’ve come also close to run.

I finger the powdered magnesium tablets in mine pocket.

Fallen, please is Babylon the great. The indigenous ring in my head, as repeated as a nursery rhyme. What if the true? What if Babylon is not our new Jerusalem v angels at the gates, but a charred skeleton city, a destroy with monster nesting in that bones?

There are too many logs top top the fire. The flames burn low, dull red, only the heart of castle hot enough for mine undertaking. For the critical time, i look in ~ David v the open driver’s window. His eyes roll beneath his lids; that is dreaming.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” ns say to the monsters.

***

Thump. Thump. Thump. 3 Runners step into the road, in ~ the feather edge of the firelight. An ext rustle with the tree behind them. They are horrible, spindly things, odor of rotten meat. Scorched bones tear out of your gray and purple flesh. Your empty eye sockets are prefer the blackness the the pit.

Fool, says the middle one. That is longer and also fatter 보다 the others. That speaks with the voice indigenous the am radio station, female and icy. What organization could a daughter of the light have actually with the children of darkness?

She is trying to find Babylon, states the one top top the left. The males who thought they might fight us v prayers and also candle flames.

The one on the ideal licks that bloated lips v a thin black tongue. The birds of midheaven have feasted on their flesh.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Daughter that men, states the center one, what do you think you are doing?

You room alone in the world. The one on the left tilts that head, choose a vulture eyeing carrion. Who perform you think will protect you?

Why carry out you not speak?

Thump. Thump. Thump.

I smile, crouching prior to the fire. Ns spit ~ above the asphalt at your scaly feet. And also I take the bottle of magnesium from mine pocket, unscrewing the cap.

***

There is one unendurable brightness, a burning pain throughout my face. The Runners shriek choose the damned. The people in the forest scramble because that safety, however their scrambling does no go on because that long. The stench of charring flesh filling my nose and also mouth.

Then silence, and also darkness.

***

David is clicking with stations top top the van radio. Static, static. All the voices of Babylon room dead.

“That was foolish,” he states again.

I touch the cool bandages throughout my eyes. They space wet—with what, ns don’t know.

“I conserved your life,” i say. “I killed God knows how plenty of monsters. The least you deserve to do is thank me.”

Click, click, click. He transforms the radio dial. Revolution crackles from the speak by mine ear. Then, “Thank you.”

“David?”

He swallows hard. “So what do we execute now?”

It is a question full of questions.

Should we continue searching? walk Babylon ever before exist, or was it a catch devised by the creatures of darkness? and also who to be its citizens, who dealt with with prayers and candle flames? How many monsters room left in the wilderness—and how numerous people? will certainly I ever see again?

How numerous miles come Babylon?

I cup my hand end David’s knee. The denim in ~ my on the handle is rough and warm.

“We keep hunting,” ns say.

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A voice cries out v the radio static, a single word, also bright and fast and also sharp for us to understand.