The climb burned the last of their gas.

Hand over hand.

Boots catching on rungs.

Maintaining a precarious balance.

60 pounds of gear on their backs threatened to send them tumbling ass over teakettle.

Weapons slung across the chest.

Lee felt his heart pound out of his chest.

Rendezvous with destiny, he thought.

“I’ve got it,” Karlajic said as he grunted.

Heavy metal scraped.

“The street?” Lee said.

“Yeah. Just another shove, and—” Karlajic let out an explosive breath as metal clattered, “we’re home free. Get ready to move.”

Straining every nerve, Lee pushed his legs. He vomited when he scrambled out of the manhole. Standing next to Karlajic, M4 at high-ready, Lee said, “What the hell?”

They were bathed in a sea of red light.

“FEMA lockdown lights. The federal government installed them in every major downtown after the St. Louis incident.”

“St. Louis incident?” Lee asked.

Yeah. During the third COVID wave, St. Louis thought it best to try and break away from the good ol’ US of A. Gives us operators an edge,” Karlajic said to Lee. “Now ranger up, pussy; we gotta get to shelter.”

Lee, exasperated, whispered, “Hooooaaaaaah.”

The two soldiers set off at a marching pace. Night vision guided them, each potential threat lased then cleared. Death creeping behind every corner, sharp teeth in the night prowling in every abandoned doorway.

“Can you help me, mister soldier?” a voice said.

“Ten o’clock,” Lee said.

“Chick? Maybe 50 yards ahead,” Karlajic answered.

“How? The fucking city’s been evaced.”

“We can’t be sure.”

Karlajic slung his SAW and pulled out a flash. Shining it, he called, “U.S. Army. Come out slow. We’re here to help.”

The alley was a maw of darkness swallowing up the light.

Karlajic played his light into the alley’s opening to no effect.

“Please help, mister soldier. The monsters got my roommate, got my dog.”

Lee seized Karlajic’s shoulder and yanked hard. He uttered a harsh whisper, “Stop. I’ve got no visual.”

A shadow detached itself from the wall of an alley ahead.


Karlajic raised his SAW. “Halt!”

A harsh, guttural voice growled out, “Come on, baby! I just want to fuck.”


Karlajic fired off a string.

Die, motherfucker! Die! His SAW sang.

She came from an apartment entryway. Every frustrated incel’s hard wet dream. Bimbofied. The curve of her hard, fake tits matched the curve of her squat carved ass, perfect hair, those too-large lips and fake lashes, the club bunny outfit, satin pencil skirt, high heels, topped off by a harness bra.

Future Dependapotamus material.

But no doe eyes on dolly’s face.

“Wanna fuck, soldier boy?”

Lee lased the chest of the buxom young lady. He planted the dot right between two perfect globular breasts.

Training kicked in, driven by fear-spiked adrenaline.

No hesitation.

A 5.56 round blew her chest open and knocked her on her huge ass.

“Fucking dick!” she shouted.

“Frag out!” Karlajic screamed.

Lee switched to point, Karlajic bringing up the rear now.

It was Karlajic’s turn. He yanked Lee down behind a car.

The alley exploded. Skeletal forms writhed and shrieked.

Two soldiers ran down the middle of the street.

Lee found his second wind. “For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me.”

“Dude! Hold it together!” Karlajic said.

Five minutes.

A quarter mile of running.

They had to pause.

Had to catch their breath.

Maybe their death.

Karlajic tried the radio, he keyed the mic, and in stuttering gasps called, “Break! Break! This is Private First Class Karlajic, 101st Airborne. To anyone. Over!”

After a moment, he smashed his radio against the pavement.

“Fuck! Shorted out. Worthless.”


They clomped down the boulevard, specifics were missing. The gist was to not get killed and to get out.

Shadows seemed to whisper in this city of the dead.

Here and there, a rustle, once a shout, disembodied and unclear, like something that draws a sleeper from a nightmare.

Arms carried at high ready, the two soldiers, despite the sweat sheen, could no longer give a fuck.

One foot in front of the other.

Somewhere in the sea of red, someone sang “Blue Bayou.”

Safeties off.

Hooooaaaah. Army life.

Lee broke the tension. “You know, dude, I really thought someone would be looking for us.”

“Something really bad happened. They don’t activate the red lights for nothing. Keep your eyes open for a corner store. Or a pay phone. This berg might still have one,” Karlajic said.

“Why the fuck did we listen to orders and leave our cellies in our footlockers?”

“Hazard pay, man.”

Karlajic’s eyes widened. “Speak of the devil.”


“Boost mobile store.”

“But they suck.”

“They’ll have phones.”

Karlajic rammed his SAW’s muzzle through the front door glass. The glass exploded when the cold, hard metal pierced it.

He stood back a moment surveying the interior and went over the demonstration models. Karlajic picked the biggest, most expensive one and yanked it off its power cord.

He had to fiddle with it for a moment, tactical gloves making it a clumsy operation. “Come on, damn it!” He cursed under his breath.

The phone fired to life.


Karlajic’s eyes fixed to the startup screen.

A bullet struck his helmet, knocking him sideways. He regained his feet just as Lee fired towards a roof top across the street.

“Getting inside now!” Karlajic shouted to Lee.

“Got it!”

Karlajic took cover behind a counter, out of the line of sight of the rooftops. Lee followed and took a kneeling position covering the entrance.

Karlajic looked at the phone screen.

“No signal. Great.”

It was in the briefing.

With that, Karlajic collapsed forward and hung his head between his knees.


A street over, the sound of automatic fire rang out. A powerful explosion rocked the block.

“What the fuck now!?” Karlajic shouted. “What the fuck now!?”

Inhuman shrieks again.

“Whoa, Karl. Someone is really kicking ass.”

“Let’s go!”

They exited the rear of the store into an alley.

Karlajic scanned it. “We’re in luck, Lee. We’ve got two blank-facing walls, three doors, two on each side, a couple dumpsters.”

“Straight shot, hooaaaaah,” Lee let out with a hiss.

Lee lifted his NVDs to take in the route. A red shaft of light bathed them from behind; the far end of the alley was a red column of light.

Slowly, they traveled the length of the alley, a blood-red and green-lit hell.

“Anything?” Karlajic asked.

“No creepy crawlies sneaking up on our asses.”

Like a ghost patrol, they moved; purpose not quite forgotten, they checked their overhead foot by foot. Each doorway offered promises of nothing good. The two dumpsters were thankfully emptied before the shit hit the fan.


It sounded like the shit was hitting the fan up ahead.

More gunshots and explosions.

It sounded like a platoon was raising hell.

They approached the opening in a low crouch and button-hooked out alongside the building.

Sheer luck.

They were behind the action.

Positioned behind a burnt-out hulk, Lee followed the shots. “Dude, it’s one guy.”

“No fucking way.”

Lee called out, “U.S. Army! Approaching on your six. Don’t fucking shoot us!”

Karlajic saw a man in solid colored BDUs firing a SCAR-16. “Mike? Mike!”

Mike turned to them, laying off his withering fire. “Well, look at who showed up to the party; my buddies from the sewers.”

A stream of brown tobacco juice shot out of his mouth.

“Y’all come on up now. I’m just givin’ these here demons a dose of hellfire!” Mike said as he touched off a grenade from the underslung launcher on his rifle.

A car exploded down the block.

Mike shouted “Hooooweeeeee!” in a burst of joy and shoved another 40 mm round into the breach. It closed with a dull thunk.

Lee flipped his M4’s fire selector to “semi.” A freak was sneaking from car to car.

A blur in the leaping shadows of the firelight. It stopped for a moment. Lee sent some mail downrange. The fucker’s brains exploded out of the back of his head.

“Thanks there, Lee; good shootin,’” Mike said before turning back to his weapon—“Gotcha, fucker!”—and blew the car up.

Karlajic raised the SAW, saw no targets. “Guess the fireworks chased them away?”

“Damn right!” Mike, an unearthly twinkle in his eye, in his best Baptist preacher voice, said. “Damn right! The fires of Hell be purging.”

Lee echoed him, softer, “The fires of Hell.”

Karlajic turned to Mike. “How about you get on the radio and get us the fuck out of here.”

“Radio? What radio?” Mike said, pointing at the side of his head. “Don’t have one, buckaroo. You boys are going to have to fight your way clear.”

Karlajic’s hand tightened on the SAW’s fore-grip. “What the fuck is this? Some kamikaze bullshit. One too many tours in Fallujah?”

Lee put a hand on Karlajic’s shoulder. “Yo! Yo! Calm down, bro.”

“Fuck that, I want some answers from Rambo here,” Karlajic spat at Lee. “C’mon, Mike.” Karlajic peered into his face. Mike’s ice blue eyes hardened. Karlajic got beak to beak. “C’mon, how long you been at this?”

It was a blur. Mike yanked the SAW above Karlajic’s head, the straps cutting into Karlajic’s neck and chest.

“Since the beginning, boy!” Mike said, white fire burning in the orbs of his eyes. He dangled Karlajic like a child.

“I stood at the right hand and captained armies in battles you couldn’t imagine.”

Lee turned his face away and cast his eyes downward.

“Lee! You going to let this psycho treat me like a bitch?”

“And do with me what thou wilt,” Lee mumbled.

“Don’t talk to him! Listen to me!” Mike commanded. “You have more to do; time to nut the fuck up, boy. There is a place you have to be.”

Mike dropped Karlajic on his ass.

Mike paced back and forth a couple time.

Turning his back, he told the two soldiers, “Go! Down Draeger Avenue, five blocks to the cathedral. There will be people there. Don’t worry about linking up with your unit. The situation is deteriorating. Regular units are pulling back.”

“But that means—” Karlajic blurted out.

“Yes. So go now. God be with you.” Mike faced them again; he held his weapon at a low carry, the lights forming a crude, bloody halo around Mike’s head.

Lee responded, “Et cum spiritu tuo.

Into the dark, red night, the two soldiers ran again.

As they entered the heart of downtown, sporadic gunfire and screams echoed through the night.

Lee fingered a medal around his neck, repeating the refrain, “Defend us in battle.”

Hysteria crept up Karlajic’s spine, planting itself in his heart; he cackled as they ran forward, free and wild.

The spirits and demons of the night peered from their dark corners and wondered, wondered and did not approach.

Acrid bitter smoke filled the night now.

The air grew hazy.

Ahead, a lone figure blocked their path. A young, slight man in a dark hoodie and black boots.

In the middle of the street he stood and swayed slightly. A pistol hung limp at his side.

Boot lugs ground into the asphalt, both soldiers issued their standard challenge, “U.S. Army!”

The figure swayed some more. He turned his face to the sky.

“U.S. Army! Drop the weapon!”

Karlajic took up the slack in his trigger.

“Please,” the figure whispered.

“Drop the weapon.”

The sear was about to break.

The pistol clattered to the pavement.

Lee secured the weapon. Karlajic frisked the figure and took a WWII style duty belt and holster off him.

Three boys stood face to face.

“What is your name?”

“Luke. I live with my grandmother. They took her.”

“Okay, Luke. I’m sorry, but we have to get to safety. Do you know how far the cathedral is?”

“Not far. Is it safe?”

“I don’t know,” Karlajic said.

“My grandmother goes to mass there.” Luke gazed aroun, listless. “Can I have my gun back?”

Lee looked at Karlajic; Karlajic nodded in agreement.

Luke got his .45 back.

Luke secured his rig around his waist.

Together, they wandered into the great cloud of the night.

And the night, the all-embracing mother, swallowed up the three boys.


For all installments of “Milites Noctis,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3