Prelude to the apocalypse – Paul

New York City, USA. Present Day

“It’s difficult. I don’t sleep well, and when I do, I’m woken by the terrors.” Paul Jackson resisted the temptation to hide his mouth behind his hands. The nine faces in the sharing circle were here for him, and he didn’t have to try to hide away from them.

“We’ve all been there,” Jerry said. Jerry was larger than life, with a belly to match. They all knew Jerry’s story. He’d lost both legs in Fallujah and had formed this veteran’s group to help those who’d been through the shit. “You taking your medication and staying off the booze?”

“I try to, Jerry,” Paul admitted. “But it’s hard, you know? Some days it feels like the whole world is collapsing in on me.” Paul had fallen into alcoholism and a dependence on pain medication. Those two monkeys rode his back relentlessly, although recently he’d found he could get the better of them. These meeting helped with that. It was good that there were people he could talk to, who could understand the way it was so easy to feel abandoned.

“Then you call me,” Jerry insisted. “You all know that, right?”

There were nods from around the sharing circle. There were no new faces today, which was disappointing to Jerry. He had wanted as many people present as possible for when he shared his news.

“We should never have been sent over there in the first place,” one of the others stated.

“Whilst that might be true,” Jerry pointed out, “pointing fingers isn’t going to get any of us anywhere. We have to take responsibility for where we are at if we are going to pull ourselves out of this.”

“They could still help us more,” Paul pointed out.

“Yes, they could, but then you would be even more dependent on the government. And I can tell none of you really want that. We have to learn to look after ourselves.” Jerry had a way of getting that message across, although tonight he seemed irritable to Paul, as if Jerry was eager to get this meeting over with. That was strange because their organiser was always the last one to leave.

“I think I’m ready, Jerry,” Paul suddenly said. This was the third meeting he’d been to, and as yet, he hadn’t shared what had happened to him. They all got around to that sooner or later.

“I think you are, too,” Jerry said.

“Ironically, I came out of it pretty much unscathed, or at least I thought I did. We were on patrol outside Tikrit a few years back. Seemed like just another ordinary day. One second, the Humvee is part of a four-vehicle convoy, the next it is on its side and I’m covered in other people’s blood.”

“IED?” Jerry asked.

“Yeah. They ambushed us, killed half a dozen of my unit. We hit them hard in response, made the bastards regret picking that fight. But I missed most of that. I was trapped in the burning wreckage. They ended up cutting me free.”

“And you feel guilty about that?” Jerry asked.

“Guilty? I don’t think…”

“Well, you weren’t there when your friends needed you.” There was an uneasy stillness that suddenly filled the room.

“Hey man, it wasn’t like that.”

“Really? Sounds like that’s exactly what it was. Sounds like you sat there in your own piss whilst better men did the fighting for you.”

“Hey Jerry…” one of the other group members tried to interject, but his words were cut off by the withering glare Jerry cast him.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?” Paul almost begged. His hands were shaking, the skin pale from the palpitations the unexpected confrontation had brought on.

“What’s wrong with me? I’m sick of your bullshit. You need to own your failure.”

“I didn’t fail,” Paul insisted. There were supportive voices to back him up. Jerry had lost the room, nobody understanding why their group leader was suddenly being so vicious.

“It’s the same with all of you,” Jerry pointed out, looking each individual in the eye. “You come here with your sob stories and your tales of woe, instead of growing a pair and making something of your lives.”

“Fuck you, Jerry,” the oldest member of the group said.

“Truth hurts, does it?”

“I’m not sitting here to listen to this,” Paul insisted, standing up, ready to storm off. The Sig Sauer P320-M18 that Jerry seemed to pull out of his ass quickly changed that plan.

“Sit down, Paul. I won’t tell you twice.” Paul did, his anxiety reaching new heights.

“This isn’t you, Jerry,” someone pointed out.

“You don’t know how right you are,” Jerry said. It was only then that Paul noticed their group leader wasn’t in his usual position. Jerry’s chair was set back from the circle, instead of being part of it. Nobody was going to get the jump on him.

“Why are you doing this?” Paul begged.

“Ah, the thousand-dollar question. Why do any of us do anything?”

“Are we supposed to frigging answer that?” one of the group said defiantly. Jerry shot that man in the forehead in response.

“Jesus,” Paul exclaimed. As the dead body slumped to the floor, Jerry pulled himself up onto his fake legs. Nobody saw the black specks that briefly floated across his eyes. The children of New York were fortunate that this demon was interested only in the body count he could create, rather than selecting individual targets.

“We are going to play a little game. I’ve got sixteen bullets left in this baby. If you play your cards right, some of you might get to live through the night.” Nobody was willing to argue with him.

“What kind of game?” Paul demanded.

“Well, it’s quite simple. I want to see who has the greatest will to live. You’ve all been through the wringer, and some of you are ready to just curl up and die. I want you to prove me wrong.”

“How?”

“By fighting, of course. There are eight of you, so it should be easy for you to pair up. Just know, only two of you will survive this night.” Jerry was lying, of course.

Despite being surprised by how ferociously some of them fought, he didn’t let any of them walk out that night. When the police finally arrived, Jerry went down, gun blazing, taking one of the officers with him.

Just another bit of chaos and violence added to the world. Jerry had been possessed by a demon from Hell, but the world had been driving him slowly mad anyway.

There seemed to be a lot of that, recently.

 

 

 

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