Fields, Stefan Zappia, short story

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Stefan Zappia
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13,500 words

 

by Stefan Zappia

 

When World War I breaks out, Liam Reinsman, a sensitive young man from the British countryside, enlists in the Royal Army to battle the Germans on the killing fields of France. After a year of fighting, the weary soldier boy and his brother come face to face with an evil that makes human conflict seem a childish game. From beneath the earth rises a mad, feral army of mutated abominations mankind calls the Cancer. Liam’s brother is killed and regiments on both sides are laid to waste as the Cancer eats, tortures, and murders its way across Europe. Having turned tail and ran, a disgraced Liam joins forces with a secret society that has emerged from the shadows to aid the world in this dire hour. Through blood, death, and hell, Liam will come to discover his destiny is to save the world.

 

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Excerpt:

The news of a war came in June. Kids have shallow minds to happenings like that, so back then it felt like nothing more than another turn of the world’s spigot: the same of the same, nothing a lad of sixteen should concern himself with. Save it for the riper years. We were far too focused on savoring every little ray of European sunlight.

The declaration followed a month later, when Summer achieved her long-awaited apotheosis. I remember how our parents’ faces shifted furtively from anxious grimaces of trepidation to inchoate smirks of fabricated serenity as they swiveled their heads to us while reading the morning papers, taken off guard by our silent bare feet approaching.

The sky was abundantly blue that day, leering through the window so picturesque and deceitful. Never before had it looked so rich. But I didn’t go outside that day; I stayed in bed and cried noiselessly. I was the older one, but I had always been more sensitive than Danny. He sat outside and played with ants till sundown shifted into a splotchy purple dusk. Something in their stare, in their lie, and in the ethereal blue above sent something horrible into me. I saw something in their eyes, and in the ocean floating over our world. I couldn’t understand what it was then. But I do now… Lord knows I do.

Another month passed, and dominoes were falling across the land. I knew it, and my parents didn’t hide it. They just hugged me tighter each day as if something were pulling them from me, or I from them. Summer was hot, but every few hours some frore gust snaked by for a split-second and shot terror up my spine. Danny never seemed to notice it, though. I could not enjoy the fleeting days of our splendid isolation, for my soul was preparing for what my mind could not perceive.

Tuesday was the day our island empire joined the fray, its spear tip waxed to thrust into the enemies of our allies with valiance and honor. I felt patriotism, sure, but mostly I wanted to defend my parents. Mum was sickly (of mind and body) and dad had lost his legs during the Boer Wars. Danny, a year younger, was the prideful one. His resolve stirred my own, and together we enlisted. Were it not for him, I don’t think I could’ve done it. Danny’s not here anymore. He was eaten a year into the whole thing...

That year was one of sobriety, for all us lads. War was not the adventure the propaganda vaunted of, but a stark product bought with blood, a vain testament achieved through mass sacrifice. I remember the first time witnessing death; I wasn’t shocked. Sickened, surely, but not surprised. I had expected horror, for dad never spoke fondly of the conflict he’d partaken in. We squatted in trenches while the rats picked at our dead. I saw the world through tinted glass eyes when the whistle blew and the air around us turned yellow, and I felt tiny fragments of myself wane with each life I released from its mortal coil.

Danny kept me buoyant, though. It wasn’t a fight for the crown at that point, or even one for our family. We crusaded for the sake of our own damned hides, and for that of the bastards beside us. Danny watched my back, and I his. We made a good team. We felt prepared for anything. But what came on Christmas day was something no man could have foreseen.

There was no holiday truce that year, no caroling, no soccer match, and no brief, hollow respite to reconcile on the grounds many of us would perish upon soon after. For that I was glad. Why would I want to exchange pleasantries with men who would seek our hearts when the generals sent the next letter? Danny made a “friend” of one of the Germans, and I think I shot him a week later. I’ll never know for sure.

Christmas Eve 1915 was bitter and wet. The rats had all been running west that night. Hundreds, probably thousands, crawled through our trenches, desperately fleeing from some looming easterly horror. We all felt it, and I had almost considered following them. Rats had been wiser than men that night. The next day, an army came to tangle with us, but they were not Germans. They carried with them a noxious council of envy clouds that shrieked out space-songs beyond any sense of rhythm, and they were not of man’s thread.

When the mist rolled in, it seemed like a shapeless oculus into the netherworld. The lumpish shapes that dragged themselves toward us appeared as silhouettes, phantoms exhorted from muddy unmarked graves, their keening supported such notions, but the roars, snarls, cackles, and screams were not of the dead. The dead would dare not emerge in the wake of what approached. Everyone was silent in that seemingly infinite moment; everything that was and ever would be existed solely between our crosshairs. Then the first of them stepped forth, out of the mist and into limpidity, and when I saw it, my sad mortal heart sank down to my loins.

What twitched before us was a herald of the endtimes, what many would label a demon. It peered at us with scattered, asymmetric eyes bloated with pus and it clattered its needled jaws like a rabies-stricken dog. Its body was green like rotted juniper and gnarled with tumorous muscle that convulsed with hexed celerity. Before a trigger could be pulled, before a commander could muster an order, even before a thought could shoot off in anyone's brain, a paroxysm exploded, a sort of intangible edict, a thunderclap heard in the mind, not the ears. Then the horde sprinted forward, beginning the manic genetic carnival.

They ran in gay strides, almost childishly, with warped faces locked in expressions of rabid hysteria. Their guises were twisted, jagged, and deformed, and their skin color varied across a squalid palette of greens, browns, reds, and blacks. No two were identical, but they all shared the same abominable nature, and they were all naked, bearing erect phalluses that ached with sadistic desire. Many of us, including myself, were paralyzed by the sight. This was the Devil’s army, risen from below to feast on the bounty of sin, and God had forsaken us all to their merciless advance. I was wrong about this, for the reality was far more abysmal, but at the time I thought the Rapture had come and we were all to be left behind.