The John Freeman Saga, Volume I: At the Top of Lungs

Chapter 4

There was his brother in the middle of the clearing. Gordon was a good fifty feet away, but even from that far it was obvious he was in rough shape. His hair was disheveled, and his posture was slumped. The orange of his HEV suit–something from his Black Mesa days–made him conspicuous against the background of dead trees. Here John had reached his goal of finding his brother, but surprisingly enough Gordon was not the most eye-catching thing in John's vision.

To his brother's left was a floating mass of sinewy grayed flesh, tendrils of who-knows-what hanging off the bottom. Two appendages that could have been spindly arms were held out in front of it, with two finger-like protrusions on each. Above this all was the head, and that's what startled John the most. The thing's head was more massive than the whole rest of its body; it was a wonder the thing could keep it upright. In the center of what was probably the face, gaping black pits sat above another empty hole, making what could be considered eyes and a mouth. All in all it looked exactly like the type of monster John wouldn't fight for a million dollars. But Gordon was worth more than a million.

John watched in amazement as Gordon dodged balls of light hurled at him by the monster. Where they struck the ground dust blasted upward, leaving black burn marks. Gordon rolled out of the way of one and struck the thing with a crowbar. The hooked end sank into the pale flesh; green blood spurted out as he yanked it out again. Though there were a number of such wounds on the creature, they didn't seem to be having any effect. On the ground were several assault rifles and a pistol, apparently dropped when their ammunition ran out. As Gordon rolled away from another attack, he happened to look up, and his eyes met John's.

"John, over here!" Gordon yelled, his face lighting up. What am I doing? John thought. My brother's fighting for his life and I'm standing here gawking! John sprinted forward, bringing his weapon up. The monster was dead ahead, and Gordon was to its right, so John flanked left as he fired the gun into the thing's head. That got its attention, but did little else other than make it angry. John weaved back and forth as he dodged the creature's attacks, circling around it clockwise. As he had hoped, his distraction gave Gordon a chance to strike at the thing's back. The monster groaned in response, spinning around to face Gordon. The crowbar was ripped from Gordon's grasp, still embedded in the thing's flesh. That probably would have been the end of Gordon if John hadn't charged into the thing from behind. Even he wasn't exactly sure what he was doing; he just had to keep that thing's attention away from his brother. As he hit the monster's backside with a spray of bullets, it began floating in a circle around him. John was so focused on keeping it in the sights of his machine gun that he wasn't prepared for the blast of light that almost crashed into him. While he managed to jump back just enough to keep it from hitting him, the explosion of the shot slamming into the ground sent him flying.

Somewhere in his flight John let go of his gun, and when he came crashing into the ground all his senses were blurred. Somewhere his brother shouted his name, but John was too foggy to tell from where. Somehow the world came back into focus, and John staggered up. Off in the distance Gordon was running around the monster, landing a punch whenever he could, but it was obvious he was losing. John looked around for his gun and found it lying at the foot of a dead tree on the clearing's border. He picked it up and got ready to run back into the fight, but he had no idea what to do.

This thing's a tank! Bullets don't hurt it, there's no weak spot, and there's no way to get at any vital parts. He began running back to his brother, but suddenly he stopped. Unless… As he stared at the monster, an idea sprouted in his mind. Yes, this just might work! Running forward again, he switched his weapon from automatic to single shot.

"Gordon, look out!" he shouted at his brother, who was between him and the monster. Gordon looked back, apparently as surprised as the monster that John was on his feet. He jumped to the side as the monster prepared to dispatch its foe for the last time. But John stopped short as the thing charged at him. Bringing the gun up again, he fired at the pits where its eyes should have been. His first shot missed and hit the forehead, a trickle of green blood sprouting from the pale flesh. The monster was undeterred, but John's second shot flew straight into the left pit.

The thing staggered back as its moan shook the surroundings. John fired again with equal success, taking out the other eye. Apparently they were used for sight, because now the monster was flailing its arms around, clutching at the dark holes as streams of ooze poured out. John turned to Gordon. "Now! Now's your chance!" Gordon was staring in amazement at the success of John's attack; but he snapped out of it, charging forward one last time. "It's time to end this!" Gordon screamed as he jumped off the ground. His HEV suit launched him up at the creature's head as he drew his arm back. The thing never saw him coming.

Gordon's fist flew into the monster's forehead with a sickening crunch as he punctured the creature's skull. The HEV suit gave Gordon extra strength as his arm sank into the monster's brains. The thing howled like an animal for just a moment before falling silent. Whatever Gordon had hit must have been vital, because the monster began to tip over as Gordon pulled his arm out and jumped off. The monster ceased levitating, and crashed to the ground in a plume of dust, dead.

John's pulse finally began to normalize as he stared at the corpse. It didn't pop back up, it didn't start twitching; it was really dead. The breath he had been holding he let out sharply as he looked over at his brother. Gordon was staring at their defeated enemy, slouched in exhaustion. In a moment he turned to John, a smile sprouting on his face. The two brothers embraced, giving each other plenty of slaps on the back. Gordon's arm was still covered in slime, and it got ooze all over John's favorite riding jacket; but John didn't even care. He didn't care about anything except that his brother was safe. The two pulled apart as John asked if he was all right.

"I'm fine now," Gordon replied. "You aren't hurt, are you? I thought that blast had killed you!"

"Nothing can kill me that easy!" John declared. "So what was that thing anyway?"

"I don't know. I encountered something like it at Black Mesa, but I have no idea where this one came from."

"Huh… Well, I'm just glad I could help," John replied, gazing at the corpse. "Why do you think there was so much monster activity around here?"

"I don't know. The Black Mesa incident was caused by an experiment gone wrong, but I have no idea what caused this breakout." Gordon looked around in thought. "I feel like this isn't just a random happening. I think something big's going to happen."

"Well, the next time anything like this happens, I can come save you again," John said with a smile. "That is, if you can't handle it yourself."

Gordon was quite for a moment, but then asked, "Fine. But the next time I need saving, could you get here earlier?"

The two of them laughed. Not just at the joke, but also because they were happy to be alive. John spread his arms out and stretched, but suddenly he felt the ground shake. Gordon felt it too. Then they felt it again, and again; and it was getting stronger. Soon they could hear a boom that accompanied the shaking. John was about to ask Gordon what it could be when he saw something come crashing through the trees at the far end of the clearing. It was tall, with the same bizarre flesh as the creature they had just fought; but this one was much taller. Three spider-like legs held up a central body that was not much bigger than John was, but there was nothing human about it. Something on the front that could have been a head looked around the clearing, and then focused on John and Gordon.

"Bro, look out!" John yelled, pointing to the new creature. Gordon didn't need it pointed out; he was quite aware of it already.

"Run, just run!" Gordon yelled. He and John immediately bolted away from the creature, making for the cover of Ravenholm. As John reached the edge of the clearing he looked back to see the creature pursuing him, but he noticed something worse: Gordon wasn't following him.

His brother had tripped and was a ways behind, flat on his face. And the monster was headed right for him. John raised his gun, but he had spent the last of his ammunition fighting the previous monster. As he prepared to charge at the creature to attack it, distract it, anything, Gordon looked up. His fear-filled eyes met John's. "No, run! Get out of here!" Gordon yelled. John's brother started to struggle to his feet, but one of the monster's legs came down on top of him. A spike on the end pierced right through Gordon's protective suit, and the look of pain on his brother's face made John want to vomit. The look lasted for only a moment, and Gordon became still.

As John looked back in horror, his brother's last words rang through his mind. Tears flowed down his face as he turned and ran. The creature didn't follow him, apparently occupied with its kill. Rage and sorrow mixed in John's heart as he passed into the city. "I'll kill you, you monster!" John yelled, not knowing if the creature could even hear him. "If it takes the rest of my life, I'll get you back!"

To Be Continued

(Author's note) Thank you for reading! Volume II (an adaptation of "WhatHasTobeDone") will be coming relatively soon to my profile. If you add me to your author alerts, you'll be notified when it's posted.