‘The Wastes’ by Dan Johnson

The scorched ground crunched under worn boots, as the wind weakly tugged on his weathered clothes. It was deathly silent, with only the harsh and melodic crunch every step he took, and the heavy wheezing of the gas mask which was vital for surviving this desolate wasteland. The rubber formed an alliance with the moisture to chafe and rub his face until it was raw, further adding to the already uncomfortable situation. It had been a while now since it happened, was it the work of politicians, who live comfortable lives in state-of-the-art bunkers? Or was it the wrath of the earth, punishing us for our sins and past transgressions? It doesn’t matter at the end of the day, because while humans are adaptive, they’re sure as hell destructive.

Then a rattle.

Was it a snake? They’d gotten big since he’d last seen one. Maybe the radiation had something to do with that. No, he heard the tell-tale tap of small feet. He reached for his side, tightly grasping his weapon and unholstering it. The tapping grew into a rattle of legs. He pulled the slide down, cocking a bullet into the chamber. It reared its ugly head.

An insect. A centipede, to be precise. Only it wasn’t the centipede that schoolchildren so lovingly crush underfoot for being icky, no. It was the type that grew to the size of roughly a small dog and the length of a car. These nightmares could snake around the cars and scale walls at frightening speeds, and could easily remove a finger, no, a leg when fully grown with their two spindly and razor-sharp pincers. And it thought that he would make a lovely midday snack.

He aimed down the sights, looking into the grinding and all-consuming maw of the beast, checked that the safety was off, he’d forgotten once and nearly lost his hand to what was a dog, and fired. Click. Damn, he forgot to check if the gunpowder was still viable and not rotted and useless. Now he faced two problems. The centipede barrelled towards him all legs moving in unison like the waves of a stormy sea. Click, click, click. The bullets popped out the gun, one after another, abandoning him after failing their mission. The centipede was now mere meters from him, it would go straight for the gut, leaving him alive but immobile, where it would then bring him back to it’s nest for eating at a later date, or if he was lucky, it would be the throat, causing not instant, but a far quicker death.

Click, drawing closer. Click, pincers widening. Bang! then soft thud, as it hit the floor with the new hole going through it’s exoskeleton and right through its brain.

He took a dumbfounded look at the creature that lay before him, before gathering his wits and pulling out a small knife and cutting into the creature. It would be food for about a week, but it wouldn’t be enjoyable. 

Nothing was worth enjoying anymore. Not in what was left. Not in The Wastes.

Featured image by Wendelin Jacober from Pexels

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