Limping. Can’t remember how long. Can’t think straight. This dull, distant pain in my leg. Sirens. Something’s burning?
— Can’t believe —
Everywhere, people are running. Streaming between cars, trying to get away. Some lurch, limbs twitching. Bodies lay still on the asphalt, bleeding. And others …
— oh-god-oh-god-oh-god-oh-god —
Others feed. A pile of people, their flesh shredded and eyes milky blanks, hold down a screaming, kicking old man. They tear loops of guts from his abdomen, press them to blood-streaked mouths —
— HELPMEPLEASEHELPME —
These thoughts … They’re not mine.
I focus. How did —
A BANG tears through the screams and sirens. Ten steps away, a police officer, gripping a pistol, hurries among the parked cars, yelling for others to run. Focus punches through his terror. Through that tunnel of determination I see him years earlier, a newly promoted First Lieutenant in some foreign war. Terrified but well trained, and —
A scream. Sallow-skinned hands grab a teenage boy by a tangle of hair. His mind a jumble of wordless horror. He swats the hands drawing him close.
I open my fingers, letting him —
My hands remain clenched in his hair, pulling.
The teen lurches one way, another, and he’s free, running, leaving bits of bloody scalp clasped in my fingers. My hands press this into my mouth. Bitter, salty. Something base and savage within me is satisfied and — disgusting — craves more.
Yet it’s not me. Only my body desires this flesh. To feed. To spread this special death so we can change, leave, ascend —
The cop fires again. To my right, a young woman staggers, a raw, red scream where her right cheek should be. Blond hair in a ponytail, skin translucent, blue veins beneath. The torn collar of her blood-spattered college sweatshirt exposes a bite wound on her shoulder.
Beyond her, burning shapes twirl and dance out of a flaming store front.
Across the small grocery store parking lot, her clouded eyes lock with mine. Questions flood between us.
— what’s happening — when did — how long have — can you remember — stop yourself — how can we hear —
A memory that might be hers or mine or belong to someone running between us: Sirens jerking me/her/us awake. Contradicting radio and television and Internet reports. It’s local. It’s worldwide. The military is moving in. Government communications have broken down. It’s in the water. The air. Our very thoughts and words. A fast, desperate debate with our roommates to stay put or make a run for it. One of us — me, her, the cop — needed to find someone. Save someone. So I/he/she/we went out into the chaos, terrified but more afraid of losing —
BANG. Her right eye explodes. Our connection snaps. She drops, but a force — a momentum — tries to pull me after her into … something. A glimpse, a whiff: higher and bigger and beautiful. Inevitable.
Unsteady legs turn me, on the edge of balance, facing the cop. Hands reach out, feet shuffle forward, ignoring others racing past.
That’s right, the cop thinks, towards me. His concentration hardens. Seven rounds left in this clip, one more clip to go. His car just on the other side of Fuller Avenue. If backup doesn’t show by the time he reloads, he’ll fall back.
And out there among the jagged, interweaving thoughts are others like him. Still thinking, still evaluating. Their minds solid consistent shapes among the amorphous panic. Their rational, human minds resisting the raw, adrenaline-fueled impulse to flee that spreads like fork lightning through the unconscious, animal connection we all share.
And others like me, most adrift in their terror but others joining, connecting. Thinking. A Tokyo subway station. An apartment building courtyard in Cleveland. A church in Cape Town.
I’m sensed, welcomed.
— is this intentional — part of a plan — how are others —
Not in English, but I understand. Thought, not words. Pure.
— our flawed, finite bodies jettisoned so our minds —
Another BANG and I’m yanked back and up and out, into somewhere else. Somewhere above, somewhere of everything and everyone. I’m barely aware of seeing my mangled body collapse through the eyes of the cop because now I see everything through everyone’s eyes.
Matt Moore is the author of Silverman’s Game (Damnation Books). His short fiction has appeared in several print, electronic and audio markets including On Spec, the Drabblecast, the Tesseracts anthologies and Night Terrors. His previous story for AE, “Touch the Sky, They Say,” is nominated for an Aurora Award.