((WARNING: Violence, blood, body parts literally falling off and just general gross shit.))
Light poured through the doors as they opened, blinding Stone. She tilted her head back, a hand starting to lift over her eyes, and stopped. She realized... she couldn’t see out of her left eye.
Ooze dribbled down her socket, over her cheek. When she moved, something fell from her face. Stone looked down to see that white ball with a forest green iris rolling across the pavement. She surprised herself when she went to pick it up, only to watch her eye slide away from her, falling into a crack in the earth.
That was when she noticed the missing fingers on her hands, most of them gone with only her thumb, index, and middle fingers remaining on them both. Her skin was peeling off, revealing raw muscle tissue of yellow and orange bubbling underneath. Her right forearm opened up to reveal a piece of bone shining through.
Bones weren’t supposed to shine. Not like that.
Stepping into the bloody daylight, she canted her head and wondered why the red bones jutting from her body were shining. She glanced down, hand over her chest, to see metal-like ribs sticking out of her.
She should be screaming but, opening her jaw, it only clacked. Much like other parts she was missing, most of her mouth was gone.
The streets were paved with eerie silence. The snow had completely melted in the wave of heat. A hot wind blew through. Any bodies piling the streets withered, reduced to ash. Cars were turned over, leaving frail skeletons behind the wheel. What should have taken months if not years to decay left bodies in a rapid state of rigor mortis.
Steam billowed down one of the many avenues she trudged. While there was nothing left of the people, cars and buildings remained, though rapidly corroding, making the place appear many years abandoned than it was.
As she thought, in the end she had nothing.
The streets were empty, quiet as a ghost passing through. She must have walked for miles before her body couldn’t carry her an inch further past the road sign over the freeway revealing the exit out of Ashwater.
In the middle of the freeway devoid of traffic, the operative collapsed to her knees. Her one eye closed, feeling the blood dry and peel off her cold face. She tilted her head to the sky, desolate and red with strange seams drifting into the burning clouds. Like a hundred ribbons falling upwards, fading into black. Was it real, or were her eyes playing tricks?
Get up, Stone said to herself, only the words were not spoken. She had no lips anymore, just as parts of her face were missing, and her hair had gone. She no longer felt the need to breathe, with her lungs rotting from the inside and melting through her ribcage.
Yet she was alive in the most peculiar way. Pushing her body onto her side, she moved into a crawl. Then she helped herself onto her feet again, her knee rattling before giving out.
Stone heard a small, pathetic sound, and realized that she was the one making it. She reached for something, anything, before her remaining three fingers on her right hand clasped around a metal rod sticking out from the ground. What remained of a street sign poked out. Stone ripped it from the steaming asphalt.
Using the rod in place of her ruined leg, she staggered on into the gray mist.
The freeway opened up to her.
In the shattered side mirror of one dilapidated truck, now the casket of a skeleton slumped in the driver’s seat, Stone caught herself in a brief reflection. Her scars were hardly the least defining trait about her anymore. Shining material poked from her skull. It looked like pale red steel, but pristine. She had lost all of her teeth, and her head bald. She was a dying animal, carrying itself on its last legs. Something like her had no right to live.
I deserve to die.
Why wasn’t she? How was it that she was here, staring down miles upon miles of endless freeway, to the interstate across the Blue Mountains, where corpses were encased in metal tombs.
Stone was on her side, gazing into the crimson horizon and an end of the world. When a man’s shiny loafers stood in front of her field of vision, she had a passing thought to greet Death in kind. He stood beyond her line of sight, with her only eye close to the ground and seeing only the man’s knees as he crouched over her. A gentle touch came over Stone’s scalp, stroking the raw, peeling skin.
“Let me take a look at you.” Hands gripped her shoulders, sustaining her onto her knees. Her strength ebbed, head bowed until fingers reached under her chin.
In front of her was a man of rust-colored hair and sharp gold eyes. He was tall, possibly over six feet with his stature. His giant hands caressed her chin into his palm as he brought his thumb over her cheek.
While his face was foreign to her, his voice had rang familiar.
“Seems that you’ve inspired quite a bit of chaos, haven’t you? This would be my fault, I imagine,” he said and sighed.
He flipped his wrist, revealing a silver watch.
“What a mess. The Chancellor is dead, although it sounds as if his son lives. He’s in urgent care right now, at any rate. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you, Stone?”
Stone didn’t reply. Couldn’t.
“Nevertheless, you were successful,” Tremond continued. “You did well, Sergeant. I promise you that once this is done, you’ll be right as rain. Although you won’t remember this conversation, so I suppose there’s no point in colloquies, yeah?”
Agent Tremond laughed. He let go of Stone, forcing her to support herself on her knees. The man rose over her. Her head drooped, from seeing his fancy white dress pants to his clean loafers once again. Although her vision was spotted, she still heard things very well. Such as the sound of a gun cocking as Tremond took one out of his vest, and released the safety.
She felt the cold end rest against the top of her head. Stone closed her eye.
Wasn’t this where she supposed to be seeing her life flash before her?
“Goodnight, sleepyhead,” Tremond told her in a soft, soothing voice.
The trigger pulled.
Stone was fond of the sound bullets made. She was born in war, and lulled by a tune burrowed into her brain that she knew so well.