Authors: Cody Toye
It’s not our fault, it never was. It was in our nature to be so curious. It could have been our scientific minds working overtime to comprehend something never before seen. Either way, our superiority complex over the world at large brought the destruction of our own species. When the first specimen was reported in a lab in San Francisco we still stood a chance. We could have destroyed it and keep humans on the top of the food chain, but it was in our nature to want to examine it. The millions of years it took evolution to produce such creatures should have warned us that time was limited.
If you want to look back a wink or two, Joan Redman could have saved us all when she stumbled upon the first pod producing plant in New York. She could have ripped it out of the concrete and smashed the horrid offspring’s before they produced. Our fate rested in her hands. On that sunny afternoon however, Joan noticed the small plant with the embryotic nightmares attached to the leaves and became curious. Frogs, little frogs being born from a plant that required no water and minimal soil seemed like the discovery of the century. I’m sure she felt the dread wash over her. Deep down she battled with her own demons to an extent, but in the end, Joan Redman wanted the fame. She watched as it wiggled in its little bubble waiting to be Mother Nature’s first born. The green veins pulsed and the plant shook all the way to its roots as it tried to escape. She simply smiled to herself as she carefully plucked it from the cracked sidewalk and walked it home. It took less than seventy two hours before she had it documented and sent to Dr. Moore’s lab in San Francisco.
I guess I could also argue that it was Dr. Moore who started it all, but then I would be pointing a finger at a brilliant man. He wanted to study it, to learn from it. He found it to be out of place in the modern world and feared it. He was convinced he could learn the internal secrets it held and prepare mankind for a fate worse than death…evolution. It was actually his partner Dr. Balm who was eating up the limelight. Between the articles in the magazines, the television interviews, and the seminars, he was eager to push it to the next step. He secretly injected hormones into the first pod animal, making it grow at an alarming rate. He introduced it to shallow water and mud full of nutrients. Day after day, he would watch the frog grow.
It wasn’t long after that, when Dr. Balm noticed new plants growing in the mud. He injected the hormones directly into the stems, helping things move along nicely. It took less than a week for the plants to produce new eggs and a few days longer for them to hatch. This time, things were different. The plants were larger and the eggs were oddly shaped. It was at this point that the nightmare truly began. By the time the lab opened the next day, all the eggs had hatched and were running wild. Instead of cute little frogs, baby alligators and poison tree frogs were produced. Tiny plants already started growing through the microscopes, on the table, in the cracks of the wall, and everywhere else the creatures germinated.
By the time the bodies were found by the authorities, the plague of pod creatures had begun. That was ten years ago. Even now, the vast darkness of the underground tunnels makes me shiver, but it is our home. Our only goal is to survive the daylight.
New York City
I walk through the dark hoping to see. I can feel the train tracks beneath my feet and smell the stagnant air in the subway, but nothing more. The cold metal of the ball-bat and few paperback books I salvaged from Earl’s bookstore has been my only friends these many weeks. Up until now, the only luck I have had for survivors were little clues of their existence. In the many crevices of the subway maze were hand carvings and left over ashes from hour fires. The hour fires were always a risky venture.
I myself have risked giving away my position, just to set glow on a lonesome night. I would light the kindling and lie in waiting with my trusty bat, hoping someone would catch a glimpse of the illuminating orange flame. Just like the carvings indicated, within an hour many pod rats would try to scurry into my sanctuary. You know what they say, where there’s pod rats, there’s always something worse waiting for left-overs. I adjust my gloves and straighten my jacket. Knowing that only half a mile separates me from the dangers lurking in the daylight helps me push forward. It has been two days since my last meal and my body is drained of all natural energy.
I can hold up only a day or two more within the confines of the stationary train, surviving off of the candy-bars and jerky I have squirreled away. Up until now, I have put all thoughts of my fate after my rapidly depleting resources run dry completely out of my mind. But let’s face it, eventually, I am going to have to leave the sanctuary of the darkness and search for food and shelter. My crummy bat may hold up to a pod-rat, but never to the infinite army of podradiles.
The silver tip of the subway became vaguely visible in the distant. The wood and metal of the old rail-way seemed infinite only an hour ago, but there is still something to be said about being at home. I slowly muscle the twin doors open. A loud screeching sound buzz-saws the eerie silence of the day. It took only a second for me to find my backpack and rip it open. The candy and jerky crashes to the floor as I empty the contents and snatch the first thing my hand bumps. As I rip the wrapper down the center, and bite into the juicy jerky, an unsettling sound echoes in the distance.
I take another bite, hearing my jaw work the meat into a slender portion. The sound seems to be coming closer. I frantically feel around in the dark, caught completely unprepared. My arm sways back and forth feeling for something...anything that is attached to my backpack. A nasty hiss follows the horrible sounds echoing in the distance. I pray I am wrong. I pray I have more time! My hand feels the vinyl strap and I struggle with the zipper. My heart seems to crawl directly into my throat as I reach deep into the recessed pouches. One by one, I eliminate the possibilities in my mind. After the third zipper, I feel the small rectangular box of matches. Throwing the bag aside, I strike the match against the box, sending a pungent sulfur smell into the atmosphere. Crippling panic sets in. The light cast shadows off of the small vine as it starts to spread across my home. Tiny pods grow from golf ball to watermelon size in a matter of seconds.
I push myself deep into the corner, trying to think of an escape plan. The slimy pods burst, spraying green puss across the room. Pod rats fall from the vines, insatiable in their hunger. Their glowing yellow eyes and sleek green bodies charge. I watch in horror as they skitter across the tiled floor by the dozens. I feel my spine cram against the back seat. The sea of nightmarish creatures washes closer to me, creating new vines with every step. I blindly fling my arms to and fro, waving the bat out in front of me. To my surprise, it makes contact with the back window. Glass rains down in the dark subway, agitating the rats.
I can see my reflection in the dark pupils of thy enemy. It jumps, snarling and biting, at my face. With a hearty thud, I make contact with the monstrosity. I hear it hit the floor and slide across the room. Three more latches on to my pants, followed by the heinous chewing on my upper thigh. The pain connects with the nerve center of my brain, reminding me of the dire situation I’m in. With my adrenaline pumping, I frantically kick and scream, connecting with the beasts tiny skulls. I crawl through the shards of glass protruding in the window in an attempt to escape. One arm in front of the other, I force my way through. As the glass shreds my skin and my blood spills out, the weight of my torso propels my body towards the tracks.
The impact was tremendous, jarring my back and cracking a rib. No time for recovery I think to myself as I watch the hoard come diving through the opening. I scramble to my feet, favoring the cuts on my arms. As they close in, my legs begin to understand the eminent danger I’m in. Kick after Kick they propel me down the wooden tracks, my footsteps echoing deep in the vast emptiness. I strain to see in the dark, knowing how relentless the pod-rats are. Just as a clean get-away seems plausible, I feel my left leg lock up. Sharp pain radiates from my ankle and the wooden beams seem to enlarge before my eyes. With my foot wedged between two splintered railroad ties I succumb to the force of gravity. Face first I smash against the ground, fighting consciousness. The white of my sneakers are barely visible in the ever expanding darkness. I can hear my breath ringing in my ears as I tug over and over again.
The green of the filthy rats flash into my view, now only a yard or so away from their dinner. Red sparkles flash before my eyes, the increasing high pitch ringing continues in my ears. I know I am done for, As soon as I gave in and pass out I will never wake up. To my surprise, the legion of rats let out a large yelp and scattered from view. I lay on my stomach attempting to regain any sense of control my body would allow me to have over it. A large wet glob collides in the back of my head. On the ceiling crawled a vine carrying a pod larger than a human. It stirred and started to crack, bringing a new round of paralyzing fear to engulf me. My shoe! I pull with all my might attempting to free myself from the confines of the nasty railroad ties. My foot pulls loose and I tumble forward once again. I watch as the pod splits and spills its contents onto the ground.
A large clattering thump echoes through the tunnels, followed by a deep low growl. Fangs dripping with green ecto-plasmic drool shine’s bright. Every step closer to me the tiger makes, fresh vines start to slither in its wake. I slowly pull myself up and prepare to run, knowing he will pounce at any moment. I can smell his putrid breath as he leaps towards my throat. With a wet thump, something knocks him off course sending his body careening against the far wall. To my surprise, a large muscular man wielding a two by four came to my aid. The tiger lay motionless with the wooden weapon stuck deep inside its skull. The head of the rusty nail driven through the board was barely visible through the green blood and split skin of the massive feline. I become increasing nervous as the man retrieves his weapon and walks towards me. His gaze was not fixed on me though; he seemed to be watching the vines sprout pods at an exponential rate.
Through the shadows stepped a small figure. As she moved closer to us I could see that she was no more than a teen hiding from the large brute no doubt. To my surprise, a small mousey voice matching her statue came flooding out. I almost didn’t understand. It has been so long since I heard a voice, any voice, other than my own that I had forgotten what it sounded like.
“We have to go Boomer. We have to go now! In less than ten minutes, those pods will hatch and the subway will be crawling. GET YOUR DUMB WEAPON AND LET’S MOVE!”
The large man in tattered clothing came closer once again. Fearing the worse, I blindly feel around for my trusty bat. When my hand bumps it, I wrap my thin fingers around it and squeeze tightly.
“S-s-stay back, I have a weapon. GET BACK.” I stammer. Without saying a word, one large hand grabs my wrist and hoists me to my feet. Confused and relieved to not have a fight on my hands I stand and brush myself off.
He flashes a gentle smile and points to the beam of sunlight pouring through the 32nd street exit.
“Are you from up there?”
He enthusiastically shakes his head, causing his matted hair to flop in his face.
“I’M NOT TELLING YOU AGAIN BOOMER. LET’S GO! IF YOU THINK I WON’T LEAVE YOU HERE THAN YOU’RE DEAD WRONG. I WILL AND NOT THINK TWICE.”
After a slight pause, the mousey teen continued on her rant
“I’M GONNA EAT YOUR LAST CANDY BAR.YEP. I WILL IF YOU DON’T GET US OUT OF HERE BEFORE THOSE PODS HATCH. I LOVE SNICKERS YOU KNOW.
The large man simply brought forth the shooing motion with his hands and led me towards the light. One foot in front of the other, the three of us walked in silence. My eyes seemed to cower at the invasion of sunlight. It had been almost a month since I stepped foot out of the subway, too afraid to face it alone. Up until now, my search for others brought nothing more than clues of their existence.
The sunlight felt good on my face. The fresh air and chirping of the birds made me forget why I was hiding in the first place. As I look around, I am reminded. Vehicles tipped on their side bearing the marks of war had vines savagely wrapped around them. Where the road used to be, an intricate vein-like infrastructure of cracks and plant life overtook the once busy freeway. Buildings were left in ruin with the rubble laying were it fell. Shards of glass still gleamed in the sunlight on the window seals. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the teen staring at me. I must have sunk deep within myself, taking in the horrific scene that seemed almost too unbelievable.