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The Soldier's Return
Great Commander Alex Vaughn
From: The New Alexandria Gazette
Published: December 21st, 2010
Phoenix, AZ (AP) - Yesterday, at approximately 6:30 PM, a thermonuclear device detonated in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona. Although the exact amount of casualties is still being counted, reports that deaths, both military and civilian, could be upwards of 7.5 million. There was a military conflict occurring between the United States military and a militia seeking to create a coup d'etat at the time, and officials of the Secretary of Defense believe that the militia had illegally imported a thermonuclear weapon from Mexico before planting it beneath city hall and detonating it.
Numerous governmental agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have cordoned off the area do to lethal amounts of radiation. Currently, there is no comment from either agency...
Awakening... [0 Days, 0 Hours, 25 Minutes, 35 Seconds Post-Detonation]
Private First Class Derek Elias Anderson awoke to a terrible, paralyzing pain throughout his body. He could feel nothing, his entire body was numb. Groaning in pain, he sat up, shaking the dust and debris from off of his body. Suddenly remembering what had so suddenly occurred, he abruptly looked around the eerily silent landscape. Up in the sky, dark gray clouds hung over the entire world, and ash and fallout rained from the skies like evil black snow.
Wh...where am I? he thought to himself, trying to sit up but screaming in pain as he did. Around him, the world was burning, everything was red hot, and smoke drifted from the burning world into the skies, pieces of burning paper, cloth, ash, and rubble blew on the nuclear winds, and far off in the distance, he could see a mushroom cloud rising slowly into the air. "Hello!?" he called into the empty world, but his voice was hoarse and scratchy, he could barely hear himself. It hurt...everywhere...it hurt to breathe, it hurt to talk, it hurt to walk. His body was covered in gruesome burns, and he hoped that he hadn't been exposed to the radioactive fallout long enough to contract radiation poisoning. Covering his mouth with a silk handkerchief woven by his wife of little over a year, he stood up, stumbling away from the mushroom cloud, leaving the burning world behind him.
Seconds later, he cried out as he fell to the ground, landing painfully on his knees. The ground was burning hot beneath his touched, and it burned his hands. He jumped up, shaking away the heat, and as he took one step into the sandy earth just beyond the limits of a suburb to Phoenix, he heard the distinct cracking of glass. Looking down, he was amazed and terrified to see that the desert landscape was now almost entirely glass...but...
How was he still alive?
Realizing that he needed to keep moving to eliminate as much exposure to nuclear fallout as he could, he kept walking on, slowly, but surely. Around him, the buildings were burned and charred, and he felt a sudden sickness deep in his gut as he entered a playground, seeing the swings moving by themselves against the nuclear wind, the seats on fire. Everything was on fire...everything was a cherry red in color...and as he approached a brick wall belonging to what used to be a bank, he felt ill seeing the silhouette of a woman, hands up in the air, as if she was cowering away from the nuclear blast, burned into the side of the wall. Numb, he continued on, pausing for a rest a mile or two outside of city limits, at a junkyard where his unit, Delta Squad, was supposed to meet at the end of the day.
His Commanding Officer, CO for short, had informed them that this would be a quick and easy mission...simply move in, eliminate the coup, and evac, no problems whatsoever. No one had taken into account the recent chaos that had just ensued. He checked his watch, seeing that time had stopped...no surprise, such close proximity to a nuclear explosion would have sent out an EMP that would have fried all circuitry. He wandered around the junkyard, hoping to find some old, entirely mechanically run vehicle that he could hotwire to get the hell out of here. With this thought in mind, he grabbed the cross around his neck, recoiling at its boiling touch, and thanked God for the two years he had spent in college to be a mechanic, two years that he had, until now, felt he wasted on something that would never be used.
He finally found himself an old '89 Ford 350 pickup truck, and utilizing various scraps he found laying around, he managed to get it running after little more than a few hours, fueling up from diesel tanks he found in the basement of the lobby building, driving off into the desert and towards his home, one state over, approximately a nine or ten hour drive from here. He just hoped that this nuclear explosion did not reach his home, he worried for his wife...poor Maria must surely be worried sick about him, and his son of four months...how he hoped they were both okay...
Arrival... [1 Day, 12 Hours, 32 Minutes, 28 Seconds Post-Detonation]
He arrived at his hometown just as the sun was peeking to the east. The whole city was in complete chaos, people rioted in the streets, cops were shooting them. Bands of civilians, in response to the recent tragedy, had taken up arms against the local government, and he saw the Masons, his next door neighbors, standing on the street corner, beating two cops within inches of their lives.
He slowed as he passed by, and he watched in horror as Bob Mason, an overall nice guy, someone who wouldn't seem to hurt a fly, put the barrel of a .22 gauge shotgun up against the back of one of the cops' heads before pulling the trigger. A boom of thunder, and blood and gray matter splattered the pavement as the cop, who had been kneeling, slumped over into the street, his life's blood draining into the storm drain on the street corner. Someone through a Molotov cocktail at him, and Derek slammed on the brakes as liquid fire splashed across his windshield, swerving off of the street and into a ditch.
Furious, he climbed out from the cab of the truck, reaching beneath the overturned bed as he grab his M16 and fired at the group of young, chocolate-skinned kids, fleeing from the scene of the attack. He managed to shoot one of them three times in the back, and he slumped forward into the street. As he ran towards them, preparing to shoot, two kids emerged from the looted drugstore, eyes gaping at the dead child in the street as they looked up at Derek, running after him with .357 Magnums. He shot them down as well, and continued up the street, walking in the shadows of the trees that grew alongside the main thoroughfare.
His house, amazingly, was unharmed, and he unlocked the front door, walking inside and trying to flip on the lights...nothing. Swearing that the EMP blast had made it all the way out here, he groped around in the dark, finding a flashlight he had stuffed away in the lobby closet, locked away in a Faraday cage...thank God for his paranoia. He flipped on the light, overjoyed that it still worked, and proceeded to walk upstairs. The house was quiet, save the occasional groans and moans that an old house made. He eventually found his way into the son's bedroom, finding the bed empty and made. Alarmed, he ran into his own bedroom, finding it empty as well. Looking around the room, he spotted a note written on college-ruled paper on his nightstand, and reading it, he said out loud:
Taking little Johnny over to Nana's house. Mom isn't feeling well, and I'm afraid that she's...I can't say it...
I don't know how long we'll be gone, I just hope that we can get back before you return for your Homecoming. I love you, sweetie, and I miss you...and I hope to see you soon. We pray for you every night, and we hope that you are okay.
Your Forever Faithful Wife, Maria.
Upon reading the message, he felt a pang of sadness, and he quickly picked up the phone from the cradle on his nightstand, dialing Maria's cell phone number as he prayed for a dial tone...silence.
"Shit!" he hissed, slamming the dead phone back into the cradle. He collapsed onto the foot of his bed, rubbing his temples as he struggled not to cry. He only hoped that Maria hadn't heard the news. Even though she used to fervently watch the daily news, ever since the branch of radical US soldiers, called the Maxia, had begun spouting lies about the militia that had protected the country since their founding in 1997, she had refrained from watching any more news, holding a furious, almost homicidal, grudge against the US President for supporting the Maxia Regime.
Finally gaining control of himself, he sat back up again and proceeded to the cellar, where he recovered a propane stove and proceeded to make himself a bowl of chili.
Week Later... [8 Days, 4 Hours, Five Minutes, 4 Seconds Post-Detonation]
A week after his untimely return, Derek started noticing strange noises in his house...not the usual moans and groans of a settling house...but something else: footsteps, ghostly conversations, shadowy apparitions, and once, he was even awakened in the middle of the night by the hellish scream of a woman.
He was sleeping soundly when the screaming voice of a panicking woman aroused him from his sleep. Jumping out of bed, heart racing, he quickly looked around, and he heard the hellish scream again. Another voice joined in, sounding male, and he saw a shadowy figure race into the bedroom, passing right through him and fading away behind him.
Screaming in terror, he ran out of the bedroom, downstairs, and out of the house, pausing on the streets to catch his breath as he looked back at his house, now illuminated with candles in every window. A shadowy figure passed by his bedroom window, up on the second floor, far right side, and he was filled with an overwhelming urge not to go back inside. That night, he fell asleep in an old treehouse across the street, awakening the next morning to return to his house. At first, he felt silly, the house looked perfectly normal and welcoming, and he wondered if he had just dreamed or imagined the whole thing...sure he had awakened in the neighbor boy's treehouse, but he had a long history of sleepwalking.
Hesitantly walking inside of his empty house, he searched every square inch of the house, looking for any sign of the spirits he had encountered the previous night. There was nothing, however, and he resumed his normal activities.
The Haunt Worsens [10 Days, 0 Hours, 1 Minute, 2 Seconds Post-Detonation]
It happened again...
Just like last time, he was sleeping in his bed, only to be awakened by the screaming woman. As he opened his eyes, he was instantly terrified to see a young woman, with long, ruby-blonde hair, wearing a long nightgown, standing pressed against his closet door, staring at him. He screamed as he jumped up, and she quickly made a run for the bedroom door. Finally gathering his courage, he reached beneath his pillow, revealing a combat knife, and chased after the spirit, unsure of whether the weapon could harm it, but at least hoping that he could deter it. As he raced downstairs, he heard the sound of crashing pots and pans and ran into the kitchen.
Upon entry, he saw no woman, but the table had been set, as if someone was preparing supper. This image was very brief, and within seconds, it dissipated, returning to the barren emptiness. As he turned, wanting to go to the phone on the coffee table in the living room, to try and call his wife again, he heard a echoing clucking of a man's deep chuckle. "Feeling a little lonely?" a deep, airy voice rang out, and he quickly turned around, falling back as he saw a man, clad in a shredded, moldy officer's uniform, throat slit from ear to ear, head cocked to the side, dark, empty, purple-rimmed eyes wide in his skeletal face, mouth drooped and hanging open. His mouth moved with speech, but that was the only feature, and his head remained to the side, barely hanging from the spine. Although there was no blood, the pale, gray-skinned lips of the wound were thick and clean, and there was only darkness where his throat had been slit.
Further adding to the horror, the hilt and pommel of a rusty bowie knife stuck out from the back of the office, and he didn't walk, he actually hovered, swaying side to side, arms down at his side, shoulders relax, body stiff and erect, and he swayed in place, like a pendulum. With every pass, he flickered in and out of visibility, and a low, pulsating drone sounded whenever he was around. His breath was thick and liquid, sounding vaguely similar to Darth Vader's, and his voice wasn't deep...it was a loud, windy whisper, the words barely audible. Mumbling something, he flickered away, and that drone disappeared along with him. The hellish apparition gone, Derek finally released his held breath, and he covered his ears as he heard the ghostly sound of children's laughter and playing. The creaking of swings sounded as well, and he realized that it was the sounds of the playground he had passed...
A little girl's voice called out, saying, "Look mommy! Look at the pretty clouds!"
An older woman, presumably the mother, about early thirties, said, "Don't go too far!"
"Look, Mommy! Look!" and she laughed before there was a loud bang, and her laugh began a shrill scream of terror and horror, "MOMMY! MOMMY! HELP ME! HELP ME!"
In an instant...the ghostly sounds faded away, and Derek was left alone in the silence. After this occurrence, every night was met with the same thing. The screaming woman would rouse him from sleep at around 2200 hours, and he would chase the female apparition into the kitchen, only to be intercepted by the undead horror in his living room. Soon...this wasn't all.
He began to...see things...throughout the day. It wasn't just the apparitions at night anymore. Throughout the day, he would see the forms of bloodied, undead soldiers walking around his house, soldiers whom he knew he had killed in the hours leading up to the nuclear explosion. One was the most clear...a young boy, no more than 18, with big blue eyes, so struck with fear and innocence...
It had been obvious that the boy was a little...a little slow, and although he held a gun and was shooting. It was clear that he had no idea what he was doing or shooting at. When the retarded boy had landed a shot that had caught Derek's friend in the stomach, killing him from septic shock, Derek, in his fury, had brutally beaten the boy within an inch of his life before putting a 9mm round between his eyes. The boy, he remembered, had let loose such a terror-stricken scream of pain and terror...that it had roused Derek from his blind rage, and he instantly felt deep remorse for the murder.
The boy was not a soldier...
He had been merely protecting his ailing mother and their home from the two armies.
He began to see this boy, everywhere he looked, and he wasn't the only one. One by one, Derek was forced to undergo the mental and emotional torments dealt upon him by the spirits of all he men and women he had killed during that battle. The screaming woman in his bedroom, or the male apparition seeming to protect her no longer was the chief of his concerns. These soldier spirits haunting him wanted him dead...wanted him to suffer the same fate that they had. Emotionally, he began to collapse, losing his sanity. He began talking to himself, talking to the spirits, talking to inanimate objects even. His wife owned a big, life-size teddy bear that he had surprised her by purchasing for their anniversary, coincidentally Valentine's Day, during his tour in Iraq back in 2002. It was the one year anniversary of when they had started dating.
She treasured the bear, to the point where Derek would sometimes playfully tease her for it. When she had suddenly left, she had not taken it with her. By now, it had been a month since the nuclear explosion, and Derek began to fear that his wife was dead, he hadn't seen her since the day before he left to Fort Anderson in the Terminator capital of New Alexandria for training, nearly seven months earlier. He began to talk to the bear...and it talked back! It talked in a hilariously British voice, and he would carry on normal conversations with it, unaware that he was really the one telling the teddy bear's side of the conversation, falling into a cheap British accent to cover for his voice.
All Hell Breaks Loose...
He was done...it was too much.
The spirits returned again! They kept persisting! They wouldn't leave him alone! Every hour of every day, they lingered around him, everywhere he looked, they were there, chanting in deep, monotonous voice in ancient Latin, chanting some inaudible phrase. No matter how hard he tried to drown out the chant, it remained, and he further broke what remained of his sanity. "LEAVE ME ALONE!"
He cried out to the empty house.
His scream was met with a flood of visions...of memories of the battle, flooding his mind, all in gruesome detail. "I say Dear Boy!" Teddy began, "Isn't it just...hyper-realistic?"
"LEAVE ME ALONE!" he moaned, collapsing onto the couch, wrapping his arms around his knees, and rocking back and forth, "LEAVE ME ALONE!"
"See the Truth..." the nearly decapitated officer chanted, "See the Truth. See the Truth. See the Truth. See the Truth. See the Truth. See the Truth. See the Truth."
"See the Truth..." a little girl said, suddenly appearing behind him. She was dressed in a clean white dress, and her voice carried on in monotony, "See the Truth. See the Truth. See the Truth. See the Truth. See the Truth."
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! LEAVE ME ALONE!"
"See the Truth..." Teddy said, standing up and clumsily walking towards him, "See the Truth. See the Truth. See the Truth. See the Truth."
He abruptly rotated on his heels and ran away from the voices, away from the chant, away from everything. They chased him, marching towards him, stumbling towards him. They chased him upstairs, the visions returned, blocking out all view of the world before him. He slipped and fell, his fist going through the stained glass coffee table where his wife's treasured vase, a family heirloom, sat. The vase hit the ground, shattering, and Derek, unaware of the pieces of glass jammed deep in his hand, or the blood running down between his fingers and onto the stained oak floorboards, continued his sprint towards his room. He fell through the doorway, hitting the ground, looking up and screaming when he saw that his room had...it had changed! The furniture was brand new, the dingy blue carpet on the floor had been pulled, revealing beautiful, stained oak floors. He ran to the new nightstand, unaware that he was ripping out the drawers tearing everything apart until he found a scrapbook saying, "Our Loving Family..."
All sense gone, eyes wide with insanity, he tore through the book, ripping out the pages, howling like an animal when he saw photographs of his wife, looking young, happy, and now with dyed, ruby-blond hair, sitting on a park bench with another man, another one of his soldier buddies. The man held a guitar, and his wife was resting her head on his shoulder.
He checked the date of the photograph...February 14th, 2013.
"WHAT!?" he roared, "It isn't 2013!"
Tearing through the book some more, he found yellowed newspaper clippings and older photographs of his wife and himself, back when they were still dating, including their wedding photograph. Then he found a photograph of himself, taken in New Alexandria a week before he was deployed to Phoenix. Scrawled along the bottom of the photograph, in his wife's fine handwriting, in red marker, was the cryptic phrase, "In Loving Memory...February 14th 2001 - December 21st, 2010. You Were the Best Thing to Ever Happen to Me..."
"What is this?" he asked, eyes wild and insane.
He turned the very next page...and his heart sank as he read what he saw there...printed on a newsclipping, stained with teardrops.
"Derek Elias Anderson: March 21st, 1980 - December 21st, 2010. Derek Elias Anderson returned to our Holy Father's loving embrace on December 21st, 2010 in Phoenix, AZ. He was a Private First Class in the United States Army, serving a tour in Iraq before leaving to join the Terminator Militia in late 2009. He is survived by his loving wife Maria Rogers, John "Jake" Anderson-Rogers, his mother, Alice Anderson, and two brothers and sisters..."