In The Clutches Of Life
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A woman watched her father's chest rise and fall from the chair next to his hospital bed. The heartbeat monitor beeped in time with the song she listened to through her headphones. She wished she could spend her last visit chatting, but that's difficult to do with the unconscious. Besides, she'd end up repeating the same introduction from the last twenty three visits. The whole:

"Hello."

"Hello, have we met?"

"Yes, I'm, uh… I'm your daughter."

"That can't be right, I have two sons!"

Wait a beat.

"Well, yes you did also have two sons. But you also had me."

"Where are they?"

"Eric is currently working in the field, so he can't make it. And uh… well Tony's no longer with us. But I'm still here."

"Eric and Tony? I thought my boys were named Andrew and Joseph."

"No, but— actually never mind."

"Can you get the nurse for me? I think my bed needs readjusting."

"Sure, dad."

Get up to leave.

"Wait, what was your name again?"

"Joyce. You named me Joyce."

And then get the nurse. Joyce had gone through the motions every time she visited. Except this last time. Each of those twenty three times, Joyce felt a sting in her chest, and wished her father would just go back to sleep. But now Joyce got her wish, and she'd realized that twenty four is a nicer number than twenty three. Too bad they'll miss the chance.


Ten trained soldiers approached a dusty warehouse near the docks. The crashing of waves against the rocky shoreline washed out any noise made by MTF Iota-10. The team lined up next to the back entrance.

Captain Eric Michaels held up two fingers and a thumb. An instruction. Three.

His thumb retracted, leaving the fingers. Two.

One.

Michaels kicked in the door and Marquez threw a flashbang. The team plugged their ears and turned away from the door just long enough for the grenade to go off —BANG!— then charged in behind it. Guns out. Bullets sprayed.

Some guards hit the ground. Others dove behind Marshall, Carter and Dark branded crates. The rest took lead to the chest.


As Joyce's song finished, she stood up from her seat. She looked at the nurse, politely leaning against the door frame. Joyce couldn't remember how long the nurse had been standing there. It could've been minutes, it could've been hours.

"It's about time."

"Yeah, I know," Joyce replied. She glanced down at her dad again. He held one of his pillows close, like a child with a favorite teddy bear.

"Right. I'm on my way," she said to herself.

"We'll tell you when it's over." the nurse called after Joyce, who half-ran out of the room. Joyce refused to cry, but that didn't stop her from shaking. She took a seat in the waiting area and just rocked back and forth, trying to calm herself. She'd done worse in her day job. She'd lost lives before. Hell, she'd lost her own family before. Although, it does feel less real when they're ripped apart by eldritch abominations, or succumb to memetic hazards.

"Why does this one have to feel so…" Real? Concrete? Palpable? Genuine?


Michaels popped out from behind a forklift and shot a few rounds at the men across from him. MC&D must've doubled their detail since the last raid. He was already out of ammunition, and his team was running low altogether. A quick scan counted about twelve bogeys left. Michaels turned to the private next to him.

"Turner, give me cover."

"Where you headed sarge?"

"You see that crate over there?"

"Yeah?"

"How much you bet this shipment's part of a weaponry order?"

Turner opened his mouth to speak, but Michaels held his finger to Turner's lips.

"Trick question. Never tell me the odds."

"Just get going Solo."

Michaels smiled and darted toward his prize as Turner let loose another round of bullets. A sharp pain shot up Michaels' leg. Clean shot through the calf. The adrenaline carried him to the crate. Michaels cut the straps with his tactical knife, and then shot the lock off. The side of the crate fell open on its own. Michaels' grin grew a little wider.


"So normal?" Joyce looked up to see Niklo, "Sorry, thought it was worth coming inside to check in on you. Also the car was getting stuffy."

Niklo took a seat next to Joyce. He had volunteered to drive her back when the deed was done, since she probably wouldn't be in a good headspace to be safe on the road.

"It also helps he has a name. Not a number," Niklo continued.

"Not helping."

"Sorry, thought I'd just take your mind off of it."

"Can you just, be quiet? Please?"

"Right, sorry."

Joyce returned to rocking as Niklo watched her. She put her headphones on again, but didn't play any music. She just wanted the pressure up against her ears to give her that feeling of isolation, the illusion of being alone in a crowded room.

"Are you sure you need to be here for this? We can just—"

"I said shut up! It's not your dad you're pulling the plug on! So just shut up!" The waiting room went silent. Joyce looked around, the color drained from her face. Just as her gaze reached the entrance, the nurse arrived, also looking pale.

"Umm… Mrs. Michaels?"

"Yes?"

"I believe the doctor would like to, um, show you something."


Michaels grabbed one of four devices. After untangling the device's tubes, wires, and plastic casings, he managed to get a grip on the thing. Michaels was about to break every rule they pounded into his head during training.

He stood up from behind the crates and pulled the trigger. There was no recoil, no noise, nothing. Except a large hole that opened up in the security guard Michaels aimed at.

Now, to rinse and repeat.

Michaels aimed to take another shot. A bullet caught one of the tubes. Michaels collapsed, started screaming, and tried to hold the side of his body that just wasn't there anymore.


Joyce nearly ran to the room. She flung open the door.

A single, long beep rung in her ears. The heart monitor had gone flat.

Joyce's dad looked over from the hospital bed. Finally awake.

"Who are you?"


After the firefight died down, Michaels' screaming could still be heard throughout the building. Even with all the blood loss, he screamed. Even with a hole where his left lung used to be, he screamed. He felt it. And he kept feeling it. The world was all fuzzy, but it still hurt. It hurt so much.

And when Michaels was carried away by his squad, who simply didn't know what else to do with the man, the screams and the moans of the others echoed around the warehouse. All those with lead in their chests, heads, arms, legs, lungs, hearts, feet, eyes. They writhed in the clutches of life.


On that day
The reaper laid down his scythe
Turned in his shroud
Bid farewell to the masses
And quietly retired

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