Cap walked cautiously away from the fence and headed into the forest. The trees provided cover for them, but it also offered camouflage for the enemy. His eyes never stopped moving as he traversed the overgrown path.
Briggs trailed after Cap, seemingly unaware of the concept of stealth. He nudged a shrub with the toe of his boot. A murder of crows took flight, their annoyed caws and angry wings echoing through the trees, breaking the unnatural stillness of the forest. He followed their path with the nose of his gun.
“Damn it, Briggs,” Cap said. “Stop screwing around. And put that back on.”
Briggs glanced at his gas mask. “I can’t breathe in the stupid thing.”
“Do I have to give you a direct order?”
“You can try, but seeing as we might be the only military left on the planet—the only people left on the planet—I’m not too worried about court martial when I disobey.” He took a deep breath in through his nose and smiled as he exhaled. “Mmm. Pine. Air’s fresh and clean.”
Fool. “You take too many risks. You know that?”
“What was that?” Cap raised his weapon, turned, and looked to their left.
Briggs did the same to their right, a synchronized routine honed with years of working together and perfected since they’d been on their own. “Clear.”
“Just a twig snapping.” Briggs lowered his gun.
Cap gestured for him to raise it again. “If it was, that means someone snapped it.”
“Or something. Like a raccoon or a squirrel.”
“Yeah. Some thing. Exactly why I’m concerned. Put your damn mask back on, Briggs.” He’d grown too fond of his subordinate to lose him now. Especially when he wasn’t just his only companion—he might be the only other person in the world.
“There’s no proof the virus is airborne, Cap. We don’t know if the creatures are mutations or something else entirely, but there’s no reason to assume we need these ridiculous masks. They’re stifling. And mine smells funky.”
“There’s no proof we don’t need them, either. Better safe than sorry. Put it back on. And weapon at the ready. Something’s out there.”
“The creatures don’t attack in the daylight. And they don’t stalk or hunt. They’re mindless monsters. No strategy. No stealth. Whatever snapped the twig, it’s not one of them. It’s just an animal.” He poked the bush he was standing beside.
“Stop it! Stop poking bushes and breathing potentially contaminated air and being insubordinate. Stop being—”
“Being me?” Briggs shook his head. “Sorry, Cap. Can’t do that. If we are the only people left, I’m not going to spend my last days sucking stale air through this contraption and tiptoeing down deserted paths.”
“Caution could save our lives.”
“Save them for what? If I go down, I’m going down swinging. And I’m taking some of those SOBs with me.”
“Or we could be careful. Find a survivors’ colony. Work toward a cure. Or a method of eradication.”
“A survivors’ colony? Are you insane? There’s no one left!”
Cap spun toward the noise. Briggs didn’t bother. “Damn it, Briggs. Raise your weapon!”
“It’s an animal. Unless we’re hunting for dinner, there’s no point.”
Then it dropped onto Cap from an overhead branch—an oozing mass of rotting flesh, foaming mouth, elongated claws and fangs. Unable to raise his gun, he got in only one futile punch before the beast enveloped him with bulging limbs, tore the mask off his face, and bit into his neck. The pain lanced through him, a fiery flow through his veins from the ravaged flesh to his furthest extremities. The torment was all-consuming, leaving him unable to fight back. Rendering him incapable of anything but succumbing to the agony.
Briggs fumbled with his gun, fired a rapid succession of bullets into the creature’s back.
It flung Cap’s limp body to the ground and turned toward Briggs, yellow eyes glowing, mouth dripping with a mixture of blood and foam.
Briggs slowly raised his mask and slipped it over his head.
The fool. The brash, naive fool. Too little, too late.
The creature pounced, tearing first the mask and then Briggs’ body to shreds.
As Cap lay on the path, he feigned death and prayed the beast wouldn’t return to him. Blood flowed from his wound and into the musty, loamy earth, and he inhaled deeply. Reveled in the organic scents of damp leaves and sappy pine. If it was to be his last breath, he was grateful it was mask-free.
Post inspired by the WordPress daily prompt: Ooze.