The squat, muscled beast gathered itself, canines bared, to leap at my throat. It was, of course, a Tasmanian Devil. The harsh noontime sun beat down as we glared at each other. Then its tiny brain decided and the compact form launched. I bent to one knee, drew my katana, and swept it in front of me.
The body fell to one side, the head fell to the other.
A scan of the desert showed no companions. I scraped a mark on my belt, drew a rag along the handcrafted blade, and headed back to my compound.
I’ll spare you the extensive backstory—how first Tasmania went dark, and then the reports came of carnage in Sydney, and finally the terrible day when San Diego was overrun by the snarling black horde. Phoenix being only a three hour drive from the coast, I knew it was time to load my BOV with extra victuals and gas cans and fly up 1-17 to the safe house.
So they had come. I decided to return to the shelter; excursions would be riskier henceforth. I trotted along a rocky path only trained eyes could pick out from the scrub. My sanctuary was camouflaged partly to preserve me from Devils and partly from moochers.
It wasn’t my fault the rest of the world had succumbed to a catastrophe anyone with eyes could have seen coming.
By the time I’d returned to the roughly ramp-shaped feature, its roof overgrown with creosote and dried-out grass, a sheen of sweat covered my muscular arms and shoulders. I crouched in the shade of an artificial cave, reaching into a hidden cavity to unlock the door. I crawled into the entrance and drew the slab behind me.
I paused and listened for a moment in the semi-darkness. The only sound was the low, hollow whistling the vent made when a breeze swept over the desert.
I had designed the house for off-grid survival. Ten thousand gallons of water filled the rainfall-renewed cistern. The roof was dirt, and home to jackrabbits for an easy food source. In the vault was a year’s worth of freeze-dried rations in foil packages. And while my weapons’ cabinet had a small army’s worth of guns and ammo, I’d crafted my bow and arrows from sustainable local materials.
At least the Indians’d had one good idea.
In short, I was well-prepared for the Devil incursion, and to hell with the Pollyannas who’d ignored the signs.
Satisfied the safe house hadn’t been compromised, I crept through the tunnel and emerged in the multi-purpose room. From this sunken, hexagonal hub, the guns, kitchenette, food vault, and the escape tunnel were only steps away. I threw myself on a couch and toweled down. Just for form’s sake, I switched on the radio and found only the usual static.
I have to admit that I’d have found it annoying if civilization had managed to survive the hordes of Devils.
As I switched off the radio, something that had been bothering me subconsciously came to the fore. The hum of the vent was lower than it had been before, as if the opening had been enlarged.
The katana whispered as I unsheathed it. I crept toward the niche where the vent let out.
My eyes slowly got used to the dim light of the room. I could make out a round shape just barely jutting past a box in the niche. A shiver went up my spine as I approached so quietly even predator senses could not detect me. Each step increased my angle of vision. My worst fear had been realized. It was a Devil—in my safe house! Apparently the dumb beast had forced itself down the vent, and now it was hiding in the niche, and waiting for its chance to rip out my throat.
But only a fool goes into the snake’s lair. I kicked the box. The Devil sprang away from the wall, landing in front of me in an aggressive crouch. The fangs gleamed whitely as its dull black eyes glared. Vibrating in tension, it would pounce at any moment.
“Prepare to die, Devil,” I said, ready to add another notch to my belt.
It waited a beat too long, showing a modicum more patience than was usual for its kind. The hairs on the back of my neck rose up. Maybe these Devils had evolved, learned to coordinate. I heard the scrape of claws on concrete behind me, and then they were on me.