Alec looked at his father in awe. He always did so before a search started. How could he not? With that big black beard, tattered coat, frayed rope belt, and rusty knife hanging from it, he looked like a hero from the stories he enthralled his son with before bedtime. He lived those stories every time he left the safety of their home to find food and supplies amidst the monsters. And soon, Alec would live them, too.

“Ready? Scared?” his father asked.

“Yes…no,” Alec answered.

“So you are scared?”


“You’re not ready?”



“Stop it!” Alec giggled exasperated.

A yellow smile grew from the center of the black beard.

“Bag,” his father said.

Alec happily ran off. Warped floor boards groaned under each step. A slightly tattered bag lied in a heap under a cracked and grimy window. His father had been saving it for this day.

He slipped his arms through the straps. Adjusting the bulk of it on his back, he turned to face his father. The giant looked down on the beardless, miniature version of himself proudly.

“Wait here; then you become a man,” he said before leaving the room.

Alec turned back to the window. He stared out at the skyscraper forest. Chunks of concrete bark broke off and tumbled down to the rats and rabbits scurrying through the ripped up, grassy asphalt below. The setting sun reflected against the shards of broken glass in those windows still lucky enough to have some. Most were black holes blind to the world. Flocks of crows sat on long unused powerlines drooping between wooden poles. Dozens of shadows screeching caw! caw!

Alec would be going into that world for the first time. All he ever knew was the room he stood in and the roof above. Outside was too dangerous. The monsters might get him, like they got his mother.

“Buddy,” called his father’s voice.

He couldn’t hear it over the cawing of the crows.

“Buddy,” his father called again.

Alec still made no acknowledgment. The crows had his full attention. Those black shadows seemed to be waiting for him to come out after so long.

Fear fed his imagination. He’d never been searching before. What if he got lost? Even worse, his father could get lost looking for him. He could get hurt. He could get his father hurt. The monsters…the monsters were out there.

“Alec!” commanded his father, looking at him from the door.

Alec turned. His teary eyes looked down at the floor.

“Buddy,” his father said gently and cleared the room in great strides. He knelt down and hugged his shaking son.

“You ready?’


“You are.”


His father leaned back, grabbed Alec’s shoulders, and looked him square in the face.

“You can do this.”

“No, what if you…me…the monsters…” Alec sobbed incoherently, his head shaking.

The pressure of the moment was too much. He sobbed more and pushed his father away. Instinctually, the huge man hugged his son harder. Tears flowed into the beard.

“It’s alright,” he said soothingly, “I was scared; my first search.”

He lovingly parted the boy’s hair with his fingers.

“Sorry,” Alec sniffled.

“Stay here. Watch for me.”

Alec swiped the back of his hand across his eyes and nodded. The giant stood up, took the smaller hand in his, and walked to the door.

“Move the bar when I go.”

Alec nodded.

“I’ll be back with the sun. Let me in.”

Alec nodded again with a sniffle.

Bang! His father disappeared behind the door. Alec pushed himself up on his tiptoes, reached with his fingers, and slid the heavy bolt into place.

In a flash, he was back at the window. Down below was his father, looking up and waving. Alec waved back. The wide back went off into the blood red sunset. Alec never broke his watch or the crows their constant cawing.


This is an excerpt from Craig Langley’s new novella, There’s Only Us, coming this Friday from Terror House Press.