Our first All Hallow's Read treat comes from local Texas writer Jackie Perez, who was generous enough to share her prologue of her longer work entitled "Fidelity".
Enjoy this tale of youth, and of the moments of terror when everything breaks down. Happy October 1st!
The trees were alight with color when Yulia’s world fractured; orange leaves that bled into yellow, a smattering of brown hanging overhead. If Yulia tilted her head back far enough, she could catch a glimpse of blue through the thick foliage. Not even the howls of the Cursed could make Yulia flinch in fear here- the stone walls that surrounded this city were just out of sight and strong. Far stronger than her Mama or Papa could ever be.
“You think they’d actually try and eat us?”
“Wha-“ Yulia blinked, brought once more back to the present. Avgust’s blond hair stuck up in every direction, the faded blue scarf he wore far too big for his tiny body.
“The Cursed,” Avgust huffed before he jerked his thumb towards the rise of gray through the brush; the mighty stone walls of New Volgograd. They reached for the sky; worn stone and decades smudged mortar, the one defense from the outside world and this place. And oh how the Cursed wailed, scraping nails against the wall and slobbering just out of view. Avgust rolled his eyes before he trotted forward, boot laces slapping the ground. “Damn, don’t you pay attention?”
“So? Everyone says damn,” Avgust grabbed for Yulia’s hand and she could feel how clammy her big brother’s hand was. He tugged Yulia along, her shoes scuffing along the dirt path. “Whatcha gonna do about it?”
“Tell Mama,” came the simple reply. Yulia could hear the Cursed following alongside the wall- they slammed against the stone wall, growling and snapping. Human words from the less infected leaked out; barely formed guttural groans, whimpering cries of “help” and “die.” Yulia bit her bottom lip, casting a glance over her shoulder.
Nothing but tall trees and an even taller wall running along the city’s edge. “Avgust, I’m scared.”
“W-Wimp,” Avgust’s voice was a near whisper as Yulia was dragged along.
“You’re scared too!”
Red blossomed across Avgust’s cheeks. “Am not~”
The Cursed wailed; a blood curdling tone that sent ice trembling down Yulia’s spine. Nothing could compare to that. Not even Mama’s fights could make Yulia tremble like this. Not when Yulia was envisioning jagged nails scraping against worn stone or a black rotting maw opening wide to crunch Yulia in half. The Cursed were the stuff of nightmares and Yulia automatically reached for her big brother’s hand.
Avgust squeezed her hand as they trotted towards the edge of town, now safely away from the creatures at Baba Yaga’s beck and call. “What,” Avgust scoffed, not looking at Yulia. “Don’t tell me you were scared!”
Yulia frowned, her laces flopping against the ground with every step she took. They were almost to the first hill that overlooked part of the city; the ground was slowly turning from a dirt path to a lined gravel road. “You were too~”
“N-No! I was not!” Except Yulia knew he was; Avgust’s hand was just as clammy. “I’m not scared of anything!”
“Except spiders,” Yulia chirped.
Avgust frowned, pink coloring his cheeks. “Everyone’s afraid of spiders!”
“Well you’re weird,” Avgust huffed as he dragged Yulia along. They had finally reached the swell of the little hill, giving Yulia a familiar glimpse of New Volgograd. Of the red clay tile roofs and dingy white brick houses; purple flags hung from building to building. The marketplace was easy to spot as the two siblings moved: an array of booths and multicolored tents that stood out among the dinginess, barely visiable shapes of animals being herded to the butcher’s block, iron wrought gates slicing a barrier around the marketplace and the nicer looking homes to the left of it.
The two siblings walked in relative silence- their shoes crunching gravel and then worn concrete, lost in a sea of skirts and dirt stained clothes. The crowds were suffocating; bodies that lined the streets and pressed in on each other, invading space and oh how Yulia clung to Avgust’s hand. She didn’t like wandering the masses, not like Avgust did. So Yulia trudged behind Avgust, chewing on her bottom lip.
“You know you can stop gripping my hand like tha-”
“But I’m scared,” Yulia whined, practically pressing herself into the back of Avgust’s leg. Her chest was starting to hurt, her tiny fingers biting into her brother’s hand with every passing second.
It was the light that reached them first.
A flicker out of the corner of Yulia’s eye; a burst of orange bleeding into yellow, like leaves that drew the eye. Screams slammed into her- deafening shrieks that clawed their way into Yulia’s ears and the rumble of worn stone tumbling down. Thick gray smoke billowed out and those mutated shapes appeared. The images of the Cursed- elongated limbs and torn muzzles, yellow fangs snapping on thin arms and jagged nails ripping through delicate flesh.
“Christ,” someone screamed.
Yulia squealed at the loud ‘pop’ in her shoulder; Avgust yanking her so hard that little shoes slapped the ground. “A-Avgust~”
“Just stay close,” he snapped, thin fingers digging into her wrist. The crowd of people were pressing into them: hard tacked shoes that smashed against her feet, elbows that smacked Yulia in the head. “W-We,” Yulia could hear the fear laced in Avgust’s words, how his hand trembled with every passing second. “We’ve got to get home!”
“A safe room,” Avgust babbled as they turned the corner; buildings bellowed as they hit the ground. Home was too far away now and both of them knew it. Getting through this crowd would be impossible. Yulia could hear blood curdling howls and screams- words garbled from misshapen mouths and the crunch of bones. “A safe room, we need to find a sa-“
“Big brother, we’re too far away from a safe room!”
Not when Yulia could see the doors slamming shut; rusted, reinforced steel banging against the worn earth and people screaming for them to open. The signs of Safe Rooms surrounded them were bright orange and white in nature, arrows pointing down to the main door and to the metal air vents with their little tents to shield from the rain.
Avgust skidded towards a closed Safe Room, Yulia trailing behind him. “J-Just shut up, Yulia!” Her brother slammed a fist against it; it made a hollow sound, something that sent shivers down Yulia’s spine. She reached for her brother, trying to curl into his thin frame, to muffle out the monsters roars. “We’ll be fine! I promise we’ll be fine!“
“They’re gonna eat us,” Yulia screamed. She tried to press her face into Avgust’s back, little arms wrapping around him. There was the muffled thumping of Avgust’s fists against the steel door, the roar of monsters getting closer. “A-Avgust, I don’t wanna die!”
“We’re not going to die! I promise- Open the door!”
It sounded like a scream.
Something slamming into the side of Yulia’s head; sharp and cruel, talons digging into baby soft skin. Air whooshed out of her lungs and pain raced through every nerve; it was like an explosion devouring her. Burning and swift- Yulia’s screams have muted as she flew through the air. She bounced off a brick wall, the taste of iron filling her mouth. “Avgust,” Yulia whimpered, trying her best to look up.
A Cursed hovered over Avgust. Avgust, Yulia’s big brother, her best friend. He was barely moving; Yulia could see it in the twitch of his legs, in how twiggy elbows bent in an attempt to move. Crimson stained golden hair and through her brother’s shirt; Yulia whimpered. “N-No! Leave him alone!”
The creature moved with an unnatural grace: long limbs twitching and body lean. It’s muscles squirmed under a rotting coat like live things, red coating too thin lips. Freshly infected. It looked at Yulia, thin lips pulling back in a horrific smile. Black talons lowering over her brother’s head.
“Avgust,” Yulia tried to scream. She couldn’t hear herself. It was like a gurgling yelp, her skinned knees pulling up to her chest. “Avgust, help me!”
The snap of his neck was the loudest thing Yulia ever heard.And then it all went backwards.