Share This

Street of Hope | Kestrel's Aerie

Street of Hope | Kestrel's Aerie

Street of Hope

This is the third story based on a prompt from our Wavewriters group. Today’s prompt: Scent of a baby.

My squad was assigned to the south side of the Rue d’Espoir—the Street of Hope. Ironic, that: Our orders were to shoot anything that breathed, or moved. No hope if you were one of the Others.
Yeah, most of the Others could move, but it seemed that other “normal” body functions were shut down—no breathing, no heartbeat. I didn’t speculate on what else might not be working. The medicos (they were being called “exobiologists” but the fact is, the Others were just mutants, not aliens, no matter what some of the nutjobs on the Internet were proclaiming; trust me, I know)…the medicos suspected there was only enough brain activity to keep gross motor functions operating.
“Gross motor functions,” my ass: I’d seen one of the Others—a teen-aged girl who didn’t weigh 50 kilos—break McDougall’s neck with a swing of her arm.
So the sarge split us up into groups of three. I had Franklin and Wolfe with me. Good Marines, kept their heads in a fight, didn’t do stupid shit. After me, probably the best two riflemen in the entire company. Of course, there’s a drawback to being that good: Sarge put us on point. That meant we took every fourth building, starting with the fourth…which left three unchecked houses behind us, and a street full of them in front of us.
Surprise attacks by the Others were rare, but deadly. And our orders were to not reduce everything to rubble, so the squints could come in behind us do their “research”—something else I didn’t want to give much thought to. I’m all for separate services and all, but it wouldn’t have bothered any of us, from the captain on down, if the Air Force would come in and reduce the whole damned town to pebbles.
As we moved out, I recited the litany, “Remember, no second thoughts. If it moves, shoot it. Blow it the hell up if that’s what it takes. Stay in visual all the time, and if you lose visual, shout out. You guys know the drill.” They both nodded, grim-faced. They’d heard it before, but they also knew that every element leader was going to say the same thing, every time we lifted our rifles.
We walked down the street. At least we didn’t have to worry about snipers, or any gunfire, for that matter. But we still glanced in the doors and windows of the buildings we passed, until we reached the fourth one. Number 26 Rue d’Espoir. My birthdate. And today was the 26th too. I spent about a second trying to figure out the symbolism before muttering “Screw it” as I pushed open the door.
That was another weird thing (by now, you’d think the only thing we’d think was weird, was something normal): All the doors were unlocked. Windows were unlatched. If a chain held a gate closed, the lock was missing.
Typical house for this town, with a living area and a small kitchen on the main floor, maybe an eating area, a half-bath. Upstairs would be a couple bedrooms, maybe three, but then they’d be damned small, and a bathroom. Not much wasted space.
Before I crossed the threshold, I looked inside, just to be sure I had the layout in mind before I went in. I glanced left, right, then realized there was someone—or some thing—about 3 meters in front of me. “Shit!” I muttered, as I brought my weapon up, firing a burst at the Other, starting at belt level and moving up to be sure I hit the head as well. Soundlessly, the body crumpled to the floor. At least the goddam things died like regular people. That’s why we didn’t call ‘em zombies, and we didn’t cut the so-called journalists any slack when they did. Now that I think about it, that’s probably why none of our “interviews” ever got on network television (although I know there are some YouTube videos out there).
Franklin and Wolfe had moved in behind me, spreading left and right. “Save your ammo, boys…only shoot if you see a live target,” I cautioned. I looked again at the corpse on the floor, its unseeing eyes seeming to stare at me. In spite of myself, I shuddered, then moved farther into the room. We knew there’d be more: No one had ever seen just one Other in a building. There always seemed to be multiples of two. I was hoping just one more here, but wasn’t really counting on being that lucky.
We searched the closets and behind every door before heading up the stairs. “Wolfe, stay on the stairs. Frankie, go right, I got left.” They nodded, “Gotcha,” and we started up, with me leading the way.
As I neared the top of the stairs, I realized this house was laid out a bit differently from others: The main bedroom was to the right, at the front of the house. Normally, I’d take that one, but since I’d already told Franklin to go that way, I didn’t waste time changing things. Wolfe was positioned so he could see both of us, and we knew better than to go into a room alone.
I pushed open the first door on the left: the bathroom. I caught a scent of something…something other than the perpetual musty, almost moldy odor that was part of the atmosphere wherever there were Others. This was different, fresh—baby powder! “What the hell,” I thought, then said out loud, glancing at Wolfe, “D’you smell that?”
“Smell what?”
I shook my head. “Nuthin’…never mind.”
I looked into the bathroom. There was no closet, no curtain in front of the tub. The scent of a baby was a bit stronger as I looked around. I thought I heard something near the tub, and glanced back there. Nothing. “Maybe a rat,” I muttered.
I started to move in to look in the tub, then decided not to. I took a deeper breath. That baby powder was the best thing I’d smelled since the steaks we’d had on an R&R day three weeks ago. Reminded me of my little sister’s kid, who’d been born three days before I shipped out, over two years ago. That scent had stayed with me a long time, and I was brought back to that happy time with the baby powder smell that filled my nose.
I backed out of the room…never did look in the tub. No Other was small enough to have been hidden in there, anyway. Franklin had finished checking out the main room, and we headed to the other bedroom. I glanced at Wolfe to be sure he was at the top of the stairs, and he jerked his head to signal he was ready. In a low voice, I said to Franklin, “Got a feeling at least three.”
“Yeah, me too. Let’s do it.” He pushed open the door, or tried to. It wasn’t locked, but it was blocked. He pushed harder, and it gave a little. It was like something was pushing against it. He grunted, stepped back, and opened fire. A short burst, but it confirmed what we both figured: At least one of the Others were pushing against the door.
We both opened up then, shattering the door with our bullets, and we heard at least one body drop. A well-aimed kick by Franklin busted open the door. For the first time, Others made a sound. It was a low keening from two females; the corpse on the floor was another male. They put their hands up, and to this day, when I replay that scene in my mind, it seemed like they were pleading, hands raised in supplication.
We didn’t hesitate, spraying the room with our weapons on full auto. The Others collapsed, the keening silenced. We made sure there were no more in the room, then headed downstairs and out. I pulled the door shut and took out my can of spray paint. As I sprayed a blue check mark on the door, with the number 4 below it, I thought I heard a faint noise from inside, almost like an infant’s whimper. I paused, but didn’t hear anything more
I glanced back from where we’d come, to see the other members of the squad emerging from the houses they’d cleared. Sarge flashed me a thumb’s up. We moved on to 42 Rue d’Espoir.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.