Virgil heard something tapping on the top of his computer
monitor. He looked up. His teenaged daughter Ginny looked back at him.
Virgil checked his watch.
“Shit! Is it that time already?” he said.
“Language, Dad,” Ginny chided.
Virgil’s workmate Roger peered over the cubicle wall
like a bespectacled meerkat.
“What’s up, Virgil?” He feigned surprise. “Oh, hello,
Ginny. Didn’t see you there. You look lovely in white, as always.”
“C’mon, Dad,” said Ginny. “You know how bad the drive
home can get if we miss the window.”
“You should take the bus,” Roger said smugly.
They found Virgil’s car in the parking building in
a row of anonymous Japanese imports, drove down to street level and eased
into the traffic. They were moving at a steady pace when the swarm hit.
The air was thick with wasps the size of a man’s thumb. They splattered
against the windscreen. Virgil slowed to a crawl and turned on the wipers,
smearing insect gore across the glass. They could just make out the screams
of the driver of a convertible one lane over who hadn’t been able to get
the top up in time.
“Poor sod,” muttered Virgil. Ginny tugged at the cross
pendant around her neck and said nothing.
Then, as suddenly as the swarm had appeared, it dispersed,
blown away by a wind that came up out of nowhere.
“Look,” said Ginny. She pointed. “A tornado!” Virgil
squinted as he tried to make out where it was centred. The smoky cone spiraled
into the air, sucking up debris.
“Oh, God,” he said. “It looks like it’s over the dump!”
Ginny frowned. “Dad!” she said. “Don’t blaspheme!”
The twister passed metres away, pelting cars with
jettisoned filth and flipping less fortunate vehicles in its wake. Virgil
ducked reflexively as his car shuddered, airborne rubbish bags striking
the roof and bonnet. Slow-flowing slime oozed down the windows. A used
diaper entangled itself on the wipers. It split, and the wipers laboured
across the windscreen as they smeared its contents back and forth. Ginny
“Wasps, tornadoes and shit, and we haven’t even made
it onto the motorway yet,” Virgil muttered. Just as he spoke, the traffic
ahead sped up. He loosened his grip a little on the steering wheel as he
headed for the on-ramp.
“Watch out for the dog,” Ginny said.
“Oh, no—not the dog,” Virgil groaned.
The size of a small horse, it stood in the middle
of the on-ramp, barking and snapping at car tyres as they swerved to avoid
it. It had an impressive strike rate, judging by the number of cars with
punctures lining the verges on either side of the road. Not surprising,
thought Virgil, considering the mongrel has three heads. A motorcyclist
tried to do a U-turn. Virgil snuck past the dog as all three heads were
occupied with chewing off the rider’s legs at the knees. He looked ahead,
and swallowed a curse.
They were approaching the bridge, and things were
heating up there literally. The liquid flowing sluggishly under the bridge
was a deep, dirty red. Large bubbles broke the surface. Every now and again
a flaming geyser erupted from the river, spilling over the sides of the
bridge to engulf passing vehicles. Virgil stopped the car.
“Tell me when,” he said to Ginny. “I can never figure
out the pattern.”
Ginny nodded. “3…2…1…go!”
Virgil planted his foot on the accelerator. He cleared
the bridge with inches to spare. Heat radiated through the glass from the
blast of fire rising up behind them.
The road ran ahead for about five kilometres across
a stretch of sandy desert. Ginny gave a low whistle. “They’ve taken out
a bus!” she said. A forty-seater bus lay on its side, several of its tyres
pierced with arrows. A herd of centaurs pranced around it, waving their
bows in the air. A naked, muscle-bound giant with horns growing from his
temples flexed hairy biceps as he forced open the doors and hauled out
“Isn’t that Roger?” asked Ginny. A thin man in a knitted
vest sailed through the air and landed awkwardly. He sizzled on contact
with the sand. Before he could stand, several vulture-like creatures swooped
down on him. Their human faces twisted in fury as they pinned him under
their talons and ripped his flesh with jagged teeth. One lifted her head
from her meal and hissed at Virgil. Blood dripped down her chin and splattered
on her sagging blue-veined breasts.
“You should take the bus,” Virgil mimicked savagely.
Ginny shot him an offended look and slapped his hand.
Once past the fallen bus, the traffic flow improved. “Looks
like rain,” Ginny said. Dense black clouds gathered overhead. The air grew
oppressively hot. Sweat beaded on Virgil’s forehead as he struggled for
“This can’t be a good sign,” he said.
Fire began to fall from the sky, daintily at first,
like the harmless spluttering of a child’s sparkler. It intensified until
it fell in thick blobs of flame. Ginny closed her eyes and gripped the
armrest. Her lips moved in a silent prayer. Virgil fixed his gaze on the
road ahead. They emerged out the other side of the downpour with the car’s
paintwork smoking and scarred, but both occupants unharmed. They slowed
to a halt behind a long queue of cars.
“What’s the hold-up this time?” Virgil said.
Ginny wound down her window and leant out as far as
she could reach. She gasped, pulled back into the car and quickly wound
the window back up.
“Road works,” she said grimly.
Virgil swallowed hard. His hands trembled slightly. “God
help us,” he croaked.
“Amen,” nodded Ginny.
They crept forward with agonizing slowness. To break
the monotony, Virgil turned on the radio. The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy
for the Devil” was playing. Ginny snapped the radio off. They continued
for the next twenty minutes in silence.
A few cars ahead, Virgil spotted the start of a line
of orange cones. Seconds later, they were in chaos. The lane marked out
with cones split off in three directions, the new lanes snaking haphazardly
across the motorway and intersecting with each other in places. Hulking
man-like creatures in fluorescent yellow vests stood at irregular intervals.
Green drool dripped from their grinning maws as they randomly spun Stop/Go
signs, sending confused motorists into slow-motion collisions. A couple
of drivers got out of their cars to swap insurance details. Virgil leant
on his horn.
“Look out behind you!” he shouted. He pointed at a
crew of bony little purple-skinned men wheeling a steaming cauldron into
place behind the unsuspecting drivers. One turned around in time to see
the men tip the cauldron over. Hot tar spilt over the road, pooling around
the drivers’ ankles. They screamed and frantically tried to extract themselves,
but more mutant road workers were on hand to prod them with pitchforks
until they overbalanced, sprawling face-first into the tar. The little
purple men applauded, waving their forked tails with glee. A bulldozer
rumbled forward to push the abandoned cars out of the way, collecting several
occupied vehicles in the process.
“We’ll never make it,” Virgil said.
“Have a little faith,” said Ginny. “They must be due
for a smoke break any minute.”
As if on cue, all the workers dropped their tools.
Some took out thermos flasks and poured themselves steaming cups of excrement.
Others produced cigarette packets. One creature leant over and lit his
cigarette on the burning flesh of his last victim. Virgil avoided their
eyes as he picked a tortuous path through the site.
They emerged into an eerie scene of calm. The last
of the daylight abruptly fled, and with it went the sweltering heat from
the road works. The car’s headlights struggled to penetrate the darkness.
Virgil shivered in the sudden cold. The car slipped and slid on ice coating
the road. They didn’t see the figure in the middle of the road until they
were almost on top of him.
He stood nearly nine feet tall. At first Virgil thought
he was wearing a full-length black coat, but then the man flexed his shoulders
and opened up two magnificent ebony wings. All Virgil could see of his
face was his glowing red eyes. Virgil stared, mesmerized. His hands slid
nervelessly from the wheel.
Ginny sighed. She leant over her father, pressed his
right leg gently onto the accelerator, and awkwardly took control of the
steering with her left hand. As they rolled past, the winged man lost eye
contact with Virgil. He shook himself awake and took over from Ginny. She
looked out the back window and gave the retreating figure the finger.
In an instant they were in suburbia. Virgil turned
into their street, then into their driveway. The streetlights cast a benign
yellow glow around Ginny’s head as she got out of the car. Virgil’s wife
greeted them at the door. He kissed her cheek.
“Sorry we’re late, love,” he said. “The traffic was