The air was hot as she clawed herself forward. She thought the fire must be far behind her now, but every breath burned in her throat and wanted to come out a cough. She swallowed the cough, grabbed a fistful of dead grass and pulled herself forward again.
Behind her flames crackled. The smoke that floated gently by her danced with red embers. The fire must be closer than she thought then. Another fistful of ground, another slow drag forward. All that mattered is that she kept moving. If she kept moving she would survive. She had to.
She tried her legs again, digging one foot in the ground, pushing to stand up but it was no good. She couldn’t feel her feet, or her calves. Above her knees there was only agony.
Falling down she turned to one side, resting on her hip, looking behind her for her sister.
She was still there, walking along side her, going no faster on her two good legs than her sister could crawl.
“Run,” she begged again, “Get away. One of us had to get away!”
Her sister only shook her head slowly, looking down at her sadly. Clear tracks tracing down her cheeks from the tears she had shed as she walked.
A howl came then, carried along on the breeze with the smoke and the ash. Another howl answered, so much closer.
“Please!” she begged, but the other girl only turned away, looking back behind them.
The smoke billowed blackly behind them, rising up from what had been their home. Were their parents alive still? Their brother?
The fire was spreading quickly. It had been a dry summer. The grasses were dead, the trees dry, the whole world eager to nurse a flame.
As she watched a new plume of black smoke seemed to separate from the rest. Dark and low and moving right for them and it wasn’t smoke at all. It was the beasts, coming at them, coming FOR them.
She rolled back over and began clawing herself forward again. One fistful of dying earth at a time, her useless legs digging twin tracks behind her until she finally reached what she wanted.
The trap-door to the panic shelter was under her hands, and she still had the key on the chain around her neck. Already at ground level she didn’t even have to take it off to unlock the heavy slab.
“Help me lift it” she said to her sister, but no help came.
Turning her head she saw her sister several feet behind her, still where they had been when the pack had turned their way.
The smoke that wasn’t smoke surrounded her now. Individual shapes danced just out of focus in the black haze. Individual creatures only distinguished by the burning orbs of their eyes, the white flashes of their teeth as they advanced.
Her sister didn’t scream as they swarmed over her, but she did. The anguished howl was animalistic, raw, the most real thing she had felt since this madness had started hours ago.
One of the unfocused shadows raised its head, smoke curling up from it in shaggy steamers, mocking the fur that it should have been. It raised it’s snout to the sky and sang out before leveling it’s ember gaze at her again, flashing a white toothy grin out of its darkness.
It came at her, not at a gallop but at an easy lope. They had taken her sister so easily, they must think it will be the same with her. She was already on the ground right, easy prey.
“No,” she whispered, “no, no, no, no!”
Flopping over, she grabbed the ring on the trap door and pulled. It didn’t budge. She needed more leverage.
Behind her she could hear soft footsteps, heavy panting, it would be on her in seconds.
She shoved herself up onto her knees, willing to feel something below them, to be able to stand, to pull the door open, but it was no use. This would have to be good enough.
Grabbing the ring with both hands, she strained. Something in her shoulder popped, something in her back seemed to tear, but the door came up a little. Enough. She shoved her fingers into the deep black crack she had created and heaved upwards.
The beast was on her then. Even the numbness of her limbs could not protect her from the excruciating heat of it’s jaws clamping around her calf, one of its massive paws digging its claws into her thigh for just a moment before the beast released her.
She heard a sound behind her like a cross between a cough and a sneeze. It was the poison, of course, the reasons her legs didn’t work. What had stopped her had also saved her, surprising the beast with a mouth full of nothing, no feeling, no taste, no sensation. But he would get over the surprise soon and finish her off. It was the job he had been created for and nothing would stop him.
Looking down into the square of blackness that led to her family’s safe room, she couldn’t see the bottom, only the ladder going down into the dark. Wouldn’t do her much good now would it.
Behind her, everything seemed to be happening behind her tonight, she felt another presence. More wolves, unentertained by the dead sibling, had come to end the live one.
“Well, you can’t have me,” she said. Reaching one hand up to grab the door she threw herself forward. Pulled by the weight of her body the door slammed above her, automatically locking, as she fell into the abyss.