w.i.p

by Gillian Ang

I ran as fast as I could and, behind me, I could hear the creatures, whimpering, snarling and panting. As I scrambled up the slope to the house, I glanced over my shoulder and saw that they had reached maximum growth. In my left ear I heard someone screaming at me to hurry up. In my current state of panic I couldnt make out who the voice belonged to. I could just make out that white paint marker across the grass when that voice spoke again. Before I could process the words, I flung myself chest down on to the ground. Someone must have activated the force field because a humming sound surrounded the house within seconds.

My racing heartbeat could be heard by anyone near me, I could feel all my veins throbbing along with my ears. The sound of a creatures howl filled the night as one of them got badly burned by the force field. They were smart enough to back off. When the thumps of the creatures paws faded off into the forest, Ihesitantlypulled myself to my feet and stared into the darkness of theforest, half expecting them to come back.

The front door flew open and my anxious crew ran out. I could see their mouths moving but all I could hear was a buzzing noise. Derek, the mission controller and also my best friend, must have seen the puzzled look on my face because the next thing I knew he was messing around with my earpiece. A few seconds later, I could hear the soft rustling of leaves inthe wind. Too close for comfort, a howl that sent shivers down my back.

What happened out there?! We lost you for a good 20 minutes! Jack, are you even listening to me? What happened to you?

I took a good look at the tired faces surrounding me in the front yard and decided I couldnt do this right now and went into the house. The wooden floor boards creaked under my weight, my boots felt heavy as I started up the stairs when Derek grabbed my arm.

Talk to me Jack, what happened? He pointed to the rest of the crew We are all here for you.

I messed up De, this time I really messed up.

Pulling free from Dereks grasp, I continued up the steps. As soon as I opened the door to my room, the memory of freshly baked cookies filled my nostrils and my face broke into a huge grin. Disappointment flooded me again as I saw no Sarah, no Abby but only a plate of last nights half eaten cookies. I felt a painful twist of my heart. I stopped by the door, as nostalgic feelings ran within me.

I am a scientist and five months ago, I created the Hounds. Their purpose was to serve as a protector to every decent family in the aftermath of the nuclear war. Something went wrong when we ran the first test on the first batch of Hounds. A miscalculation had led to an incomplete transfer of The Conscious hence the escape of 13 Hounds. A group of us had tracked them down to an isolated forest where they had formed a colony. My wife Sarah and my daughter Abby wanted to come along to see my creations and I agreed. Because I had believed I had created protectors even without the complete transfer.

****

Rise and shine sweetheart! said Derek as he put a cup of tea into my hand. I mutterd a thanks. The sun was just above the horizon and I heard the birds chirping outside my window. I guess I must have fallen asleep on the floor.

Sure man, please sit! Derek exclaimed, doing his best impression of me.

I rolled my eyes as he happilysat down beside me, Dont mind if I do.

He gave me that big, child-like smile that would make the hopeless hope and the sad smile. Derek and I went all the way back to our diaper years, our mothers were in the same cooking class and they would always swap their newest dish with each other. If we were lucky, they gave us some of the leftovers. Although Derek can be such a child, I could always count on him to be my rock. He sat there quietly for what seemed like an hour before speaking.

I gathered bits and pieces of what happened in the forest last night from the surveillance camera but I want to hear it all from you. Take your time and gather your thoughts carefully, keep in mind that they were my sister and niece, youre not the only one in pain here Jacky boy.

Dereks tone had changed from the childish happy-go-lucky boy to a damaged, hurt uncle and brother. It almost seemed like he was growling. It was a rare tone for a reason. I shuffled around to get into a comfortable position, which allowed me to face him. I took a deep breath and told him everything. He sat there, listening to every word I had to say, then got up and walked away. That was the last I saw of him for four long days.

The whole point of this mission was to track and capture my creation but all I could do after that conversation with Derek was just sit there, on the brink of insanity. Cups of tea appeared as if by magic over the next four days. I knew Derek didnt leave as I could hear the sound of active machinery down in the basement. If I am unfit to lead this mission, Im glad he is my replacement.

There is a mango tree outside the house near the white paint that marks the edge of the force field. I could still see Abby climbing and stealing mangoes. I could still hear Sarahs laughter. Everything slowed down and I just continued staring, not wanting to let go.

On the fifth day, instead of sitting by the window staring at that tree, I broke my routine and walked towards it. It was midday already and the wind was starting to pick up. Sarah would love this weather, I thought. That cooling, pre-rain wind blowing through your hair, she always said it made her feel like she was flying. I took a look at my surroundings and found myself lying right beneath the tree, looking up at hundreds of green mangoes. Abby would love this view. She always had an addiction to sour food, especially green mangoes. They may be unripe and hard but my daughter had the teeth of a tiger, she could bite through one easily and say its soft. Looking past the leaves and into the sky, I smiled, Sarah...AbbyIm coming alright? Im coming for you, wait for me. Ill be right there.

****

A loud scream filled my mind and then the room as my body came in contact with ice cold water, then my teeth chattered uncontrollably as I tried to keep myself warm with the towel given to me. Everything was so bright, my eyes blinked a few times before focusing on my concerned and angry looking crew.

YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY, JACK? YOU THINK YOU COULD JUST SWALLOW THAT BOTTLE OF SLEEPING PILLS AND SLEEP FOREVER?! WHAT ABOUT SARAH, EH? WHAT ABOUT ABBY? WHAT ABOUT US, JACK?! WE HAD TO PUMP THOSE PILLS OUT WITH NOTHING BUT A GARDEN HOSE, IT COULD HAVE CUT THE INSIDE YOUR THROAT. WE WOULD HAVE LOST YOU! screamed Derek.

Theyre gone, mate. My family is gone and.

One of the crew members took a sharp intake of breath as Dereks hand flew into my face. I was stunned. No one dared to move a muscle and all I could do was try and process everything. The whole room was silent except for Dereks heavy breathing. After what seemed like forever, Derek composed himself and muttered, Get him dressed, we leave in five.

The sun was bright above us but as we made our way deep into the forest the gloom matched my mood. Our house had been cleared out, the force field turned off and every crew member was armed with various pieces of hunting gear. Derek had the tracker and we were heading towards the Hounds colony. He hadnt spoken a word to me yet, no one had. And I couldnt focus right now; the after effect of an overdose wasnt pleasant. We made a well hidden camp while the sun was setting. A fire was a risk so we ate canned food. After dinner, Derek took me away from the group into a tiny cave, barely able to fit our bodies. We just sat and took in each others presence.

Theyre alive, Jack. I received an incoming radio call from Sarah. I heard Sarahs voice, shes alive along with Abby. So if you havent already figured it out yet, this is a rescue team. Derek said.

no, I shook my head, suddenly finding the mud beneath our feet really interesting.

Jack, please. Listen to me you have to stop

No! They died! I saw it with my own eyes! ..they breathing in and getting a strong grip on a rock, those creatures devoured them. Tore them apart like rag dolls, now stop playing me. They were my creation and I led my family straight to them. It was my fault. I stood up.

Derek stopped me and shoved the tracker into my face, Look closely, Jack. Those blips. You see them? They belong to Sarah and Abby, I put samples of their DNA in the tracker after I received the radio message. Ive never once lied to you, yet now you decide not to trust me? Im begging you, Jack, these are the life signs of your wife and daughter. You have to have hope, brother. His voice had dropped to a whisper. Hope. That was what Sarah always had.

****

Screams and howls echoed through the forest. Everything before them came as a blur. I found myself in the midst of killing spree, covered in blood, human or Hound, I didnt know. All I know is that death was upon every soul. A machete in my hand, a single Hound charged me at full speed, Derek fighting with two other Hounds. The rest had fallen. Derek and I fought like never before, swinging every blade we could find. Killing every Hound. The tracker indicated that my wife and daughter were inside the Hounds cave. The Hounds sense of smell, heightened after the genetic modification, and they took us by surprise. There was no other choice than to fight our way through. And so, here we are. About to die.

A yelp brought me back to reality. Derek had thrust his machete into the heart of a creature that was just about to bite my face off. After that everything was still. I thanked Derek who gave a nod in return as we ran into the Hounds cave. There was no sound, not a growl nor a yelp. Derek did a perimeter check and informed me that we had killed off the last of the Hounds. We called out for Sarah and Abby, looking through every inch of the tunnel, desperately following the tracker to them. The cave was a maze, big and hollow, I hoped that our voices would echo through the cave and eventually reach Sarah or Abby, but it was useless. We stopped to check the tracker once again. It showed that Sarah and Abby were right in front of us but all we could see was hard surface. Sliding our hands across it, feeling every bump, every crack of the cave, I eventually found a small tunnel leading to yet another cave.

They were both secured, the beeping sound of their heart rate from the cardiac monitor gradually slowing down, connected to their heads was my terrible machine. I couldnt believe my eyes. I knew they ripped off the machine when they escaped but I thought the damage was too severe to be fixed. Their intelligence was beyond any humans but all I could focus on was my wife and daughter that were now part of my machine. My terrible creation. The Hounds had not killed them. They wanted to expand their colony.

daddy.help Abby whispered, barely having the energy to breathe.

Jack! Theres another three of them here, but they wont be giving us any trouble. Stiff, like you said. Useless arent they without The Conscious, Derek kicked it to make a point.

One look at my wife and I knew there was nothing to be done. I made my way over and cupped my wifes cheek into my palm and kissed her. She looked at me and I knew she was just about gone. Sarah used up the last of her energy to direct my attention with her eyes to Abby and gave me a weak smile. I hugged her and said, for the last time, I love you.

Derek was startled by a sudden movement from one of the creatures, confirming that my wife was gone. I kissed her lips one last time and went to my daughter and held her in my arms. She also has my machine attached to her head but was still able to talk. I couldnt remove it, as that would kill her instantly. Putting on a brave face, I smiled at Abby.

Hey princess, its okay. I got you, youre fine now, dads here. I cradled her in my arms, holding back my tears.

Mommys gone, isnt she? They said that we were going to be puppies now, me and mommy. They said that were going to be heroes because we would save a new race from extinction. Arent you proud of us, daddy? she said, her voice was weak and soft. They said its painless and fast, that we wouldnt even notice any difference. Come with us, daddy.

I cried.

****

Derek sat on a boulder in front of me and we just stared at each other. He gave me a piece of the lamb he roastedand I gobbled it down hungrily. He laughed.

I always knew you were a dog, Jacky boy. And now look, Im related to a family of hounds. His laughter roared through the forest.

It was three years since the cave incident. Derek had moved into the forest with us. He had built his own log house, sometimes we slept inside but the animal instinct of sleeping in the open woods is stronger. The transfer was completed smoothly without any interruptions so my creation is finally a success. All Hounds have developed speech so we talked about presenting ourselves to the world, when the time was right. My wife and daughter are with me so I cant really complain. Life is a bit odd right now but Im happy. Were all happy.

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