James yanked on the cargo pants Serenity had left in a pile by the bathroom door, and still soaked ran into the living room.

Serenity was yanking open drawers in the TV stand, and pulled out a compact, dark gray pistol. With quick efficiency she ejected the magazine, slammed it back home, put a round in the chamber and then looked to James, eyes wide. “What do we do?”

In response he ran to the front door, caught himself, then looked around for a weapon. There was nothing good, so he snatched up the heaviest iron skillet he could see and then raced down the stairs.

They burst out into the street. Cars were still driving by as if nothing was going on, though drivers were rubbernecking with wide eyes as they passed the laundromat.

Out of which people were streaming, several badly wounded.

James looked in through the huge windows. A half dozen people were trapped in the back corner. He saw three gremlins stalking toward them over the washing machines, their scales gleaming in the electric lights.

“Come on!” he shouted hoarsely and pushed his way past an elderly man who was emerging to enter the laundromat.

Machines chugged and vibrated. Canned music played over hidden speakers. The linoleum was streaked with blood, a heavy set Hispanic lady lay just inside the doorway with her throat torn out.

“Hey!” James had no idea as to what he was going. “You lot! Over here!”

The gremlins paused, looked back over their narrow shoulders at him. Serenity stepped inside, gun held in both hands before her, and fired.

The first shot missed. A hole appeared in the wall. But she fired again, and the bullet hit the center gremlin right in the chest, causing it to stagger back and screech in pain.

It took a second bullet to knock it down.

The other two dove off the machines. James crouched, skillet held in both hands like a baseball bat, gaze flicking at the avenues of approach. Someone was sobbing in the back, while the crowd outside just stood there, watching.

“I’ve got twelve rounds left,” said Serenity, voice weirdly calm. “Should be plenty. Stay back and let me -”

A gremlin leaped into view, doing that flea jump from the back of a huge machine that came chest high, arms spread, maw open wide. Serenity fired, missed, and the gremlin fell upon James, who swung the black iron skillet like he was going for a home run.

The skillet hit the gremlin full on. It felt like smacking a bag full of sticks. The gremlin was knocked back against the washing machine, bounced off, shook its head and then hissed at him, black blood shining on several contusions and the side of its head.

Serenity fired once, twice, three times. James kept his eye on his gremlin. It ran at him, feinted a leap, then ducked low and scooted under his swing.

“Shit!” he yelled, back pedaling, but it was too fast.

The gremlin leaped for his face, needle fangs flashing.

James let go of the skillet so that he could bat it away, but as soon as the gremlin touched him a film of gray light appeared all around James’s body, encasing him an inch above his skin, and the gremlin screeched and leaped off, its hands and knees and shins burning and giving off acrid smoke.

Serenity fired her gun. The gremlin’s temple shattered, and it fell over to lie still.

“Shit,” gasped James again, staring at the crumpled body, his shoulders heaving as if he’d sprinted a mile. He looked up to Serenity who stood there, eyes wide, glazed, pistol still held before her with two stiff arms. She blinked, scanned the laundromat, kept the gun up.

James straightened, looked over the machines at where the other people were cornered. “There any more of them?”

“That’s… I mean - no.” A young Hispanic woman stared at him with glassy eyes, her face pale. “Mama? Mama!” And she ran forward.

One of the others was a heavyset man who had his phone to his ear. “They said we’d be safe if we didn’t answer the question, they said we’d be safe!”

“Yeah, well.” James fought the urge to drop his skillet. “Welcome to the new world, pal.”

Serenity put up her gun, blinked again, and then seemed to wake up. “Shit. Wow. I need a drink.”

“Tell me about it.” James resisted the urge to nudge the dead gremlin. “Nice shooting.”

“Thanks.” She took her finger off the trigger and lowered the gun to her side. “Dated a guy who owned a gun range out in Queens. He thought giving me an unlimited pass would keep me from breaking up with him.”

James felt the adrenaline come down, his whole body starting to feel trembly and loose. “It work?”

Serenity smirked. “For a while, yeah.”

“Come on!” The guy with the phone pulled it away from his ear and glared at it. “What is this, Detroit? Why the fuck won’t 911 pick up?”

“Mama?” The Hispanic woman was slowly kneeling beside the dead lady by the door. “Mama?”

“Shit.” James wanted to just walk away. What had gotten into him? It’d been years since he’d been triggered to act like that. Had taken years of conscious effort to deaden those instincts. Now he was running around with a cast iron skillet like some god damn hero. He could feel it. A tidal pull. A gravitational suck that threatened to bring him back to life. To make him care again. To get involved.

He didn’t want it.

But the sight of the dead gremlin and the woman’s rising sobs were like hooks in his soul, keeping him from sinking. There were people bleeding outside.

And he knew nobody was coming to help.

“Talk to the girl,” he told Serenity. “Get a sheet to cover her mother.”

“What is this?” yelled the guy in the back. “Mexico?!”

Wearily he walked out the front door to the sparse crowd. They eyed him, nervous.

“I used to be an EMT.” The words sounded so foreign in his mouth. “If you’re injured, come inside so I can look at you. You’re feeling shock, which means you don’t realize how badly you’re hurt yet. Let’s get you patched up.” He eyed a portly man who was clutching his badly mauled gut. “Anybody here got a car? We’ll need to get this man to the ER.”

“They said to stay away,” said an old lady. “Said no room.”

“Even so. Now come in. Inside if you’re hurt.”


* * *


An hour later James and Serenity climbed her stairway back to the apartment. The badly wounded guy had called a friend to come drive him to the ER. James had torn up clean sheets to bandage and staunch the other lacerations, none of which were life threatening. Serenity had mostly failed to calm the bereaved woman, but a station wagon full of relatives had shown up ten minutes later and with much shouting and grief hauled her and the body away.

A single bullet hole let light stream into the stairway from the laundromat.

James closed the door behind them, and together they slumped down onto the couch.

“I’m going to need more ammo,” said Serenity. “I’ve got several cases for my Glocks, but it won't last long if I have to shoot those fuckers more than once.”

“Ammo’s going to disappear fast,” said James. “I need a gun, too. Skillet’s not the best.”

“What was that?” She turned to stare at him. “When the demon leaped on you? I didn’t see it right, but something happened.”

“Yeah.” James stared down at himself. “Must of been that aura. The Lead 1, whatever. Activated when the gremlin touched me.”

“Gremlin.” She snorted. “This ain’t the Goonies.”

“There weren’t any gremlins in the Goonies.”

“They’re demons. Anyway, that’s great. Like a spiritual bullet proof vest, or something.”

“Or something, yeah.” He felt numb. He’d known what to do below, how to take care of those people, give instructions, act calm. But now that they were up here, he felt overwhelmed. “We need to stock up. Water, food. Medical supplies. We should hit an army surplus store. Get some gear.”

“Yeah?” She leaned back and eyed him sardonically. “And how we paying for all this?”

James froze. “Shit. I’m sorry. Just…”

“Don’t be. I’m not calling you out. But I only have a hundred bucks to my name. Fifty rounds cost about twenty bucks. I was planning on buying everything I could get my hands on.”

“Yeah, yeah.” James stood, smoothed down his beard, set to pacing. “But if this keeps up there’s a good chance we’ll lose power and water. Food will disappear. We need camping gear. Water filtration. We need - fuck.”

Serenity watched him. “We’ve got a hundred bucks. Maybe we should just wait for the looting to start before we go shopping.”

“Maybe we should get out of here.” He moved to the window and stared down at the street. “Manhattan’s going to become a deathtrap. The tunnels and bridges will be snarled up in traffic jams. No food, no water, no power. The boroughs won’t be much better. Too much population density.”

Now it was Serenity’s turn to stand, her alarm obvious. “Leave? And go where? You heard the news. This is happening everywhere.”

“Go where there are less people, less of a strain on resources.” James ran his fingers through his hair. “I don’t know. Upstate, maybe.”

Serenity gave a hollow laugh. “You’re talking like everything’s going to go to literal hell. You think the government’s going to collapse? What about the - the - military? The National Guard. They’ll do what they did for Hurricane Katrina, right? Bring in food?”

“This will be like a hundred Katrina’s all at once.” James turned away from the window. “Washington, Miami, Philly, New Orleans, LA, Chicago, Detroit - if this keeps going, they’re all going to implode.”

Serenity stared at him with helpless horror. “So - what? We quit town, head into the fucking boonies, and start a farm?”

James looked down at this hands.

“You know how to farm? ‘Cause I sure don’t. And you want to be out the jungle when the next Nemesis shows up? ‘Cause I don’t. I want to be here, in my hometown, close to the ammo.”

James scowled.

Serenity moved to stand before him. “Or is it something else? Hmm?” She angled her face to try and meet his stare. “What would we be running from, exactly? Nemesis 2, or some other kind of demon?”

James hissed and broke away, strode up to the window and stared out. He could hear sirens. Always with the sirens.

“Fine. I take that back. Who doesn’t have their own demons? Lord knows I’ve got a stable of them. But… no. I’m not going to cut and run to Upstate New York. Not… yet.”

James hung his head and sighed. His thoughts roiled. He rubbed his fingers over his knuckles, one set callused and ingrained with the kind of dirt you didn’t just casually wash off, the other swollen and raw and red.

He summoned the count down.


77 Hours till Nemesis 2 Released

Then, curious, summoned the rest of his stats. Reread them.

“You know. If this were a casual, every-day kind of end of the world scenario, I might just quit town.” He turned to stare at her. “But it ain’t. We’ve got… these statistics. And one of them reads Rank: Mendicant 1.”

“Mendicant,” said Serenity. “I looked it up. Old school word for beggar. But kind of has that sexy Saint Francis of Assisi vibe to it.”

“Point being, it’s just level 1. Same with my aura. Lead, level 1. We’ve no Benedictions, no Miracles, no Virtues, no Class.”

“Well, on that last one speak for yourself.”

Despite himself James smiled. “So… maybe we’re overlooking something vital here. Like how that gremlin -”


“- bounced off my aura. Maybe there’s a way to get more free points to assign. To level up, like a video game. Become more powerful. Who knows what we could unlock from this bizarro situation?”

Serenity narrowed her eyes. “And how do we do that?”

“Won’t be by sitting around in here. Only thing that comes to mind is killing gremlins.”

“We already killed gremlins. Nothing happened.”

“Maybe killing one or two ain’t enough. Maybe we have to kill a handful. Maybe ten. I don’t know.”

“And then we get higher ranks, and more points.”

“Exactly. We can boost our strength, our agility, our Arete. And be that much more ready when Nemesis 2 shows up.”

Serenity shrugged. “Beats going to Jersey. I just need more ammo.”

James suppressed a shiver of excitement, and realized he wanted to go kill those little fuckers. That for the first time since… well, since his life fell apart, he had a legitimate way to vent his fury. And he’d be saving other people in the process without having to work as an EMT.


“I’m going to need a gun.”

“Honey, guns cost money. You’ll have to settle for your skillet for now. It’s a good look for you. Really.”

“Ha ha. Well. Shall we?”


“Why not?”

“Why not indeed. I was going to suggest stopping by Herman’s for a drink, but… sure. Let’s get some ammo. And kill some demons while we’re at it.”

James nodded and sat to pull on his boots. Serenity pulled out her phone while she waited, then let out a low whistle. “You’ve gone viral!”


“That video from last night. Over eight million views. Twelve thousand comments. Wow.”

“Twelve thousand comments?” James tensed up. “Do I - should I start answering them, or…?”

“Oh, you’re trending as hashtag sexylumberhomelessjack.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

Serenity rolled her eyes. “It means, cave man, that in another life you’d be starting a new career. But seeing as it’s the demon apocalypse, too late.”

“Well.” James stood up, feeling awkward and stiff. Sexylumberhomelessjack? “That’s, ah, good. I’m glad we got the word out.”

Serenity laughed, some of her old confidence returning. “Oh, you are too darling. How come no homeless babe hasn’t snapped you up already?”

James stared at her, then looked away.

“Oh.” Serenity’s humor fled. “Sorry.”

“No worries.” He coughed into his fist, forced the pain away. It was a dull ache. Getting ornery these days was more a trained reflex than anything else. “Let’s get that ammo.”

“The sporting goods store is only four stops away.” Serenity put her pistol in her purse. It barely fit. Grabbed her thick coat, then stared at him. “You’re going to freeze.”

“Your ex leave a jacket?”

“No. But the only thing I have your size is perfect. Wait here.”

She darted into her bedroom, and a moment later emerged with a caramel brown furred pimp coat.

“You’re serious.”

“Try it on! Look, it’s warm. And you know what they say: sexy lumberhomelessjacks can’t be choosers.”

James took the full-length coat gingerly. The fur was cheap imitation, but the inner lining was in good condition. With great reluctance he pulled the coat on. It was tight across the shoulders, the sleeves were an inch too short, but otherwise it fit.

“Fucking awesome,” said Serenity, her tone deadpan. “I’ve died and gone to heaven. Can we post a video of you giving battle tips with the skillet?”

James laughed helplessly and strode past her. “Come on. It’s time to go kill some shit.”


A note from pwtucker

Man, these chapters are burning a hole in my pocket.

If we get 4 new ratings this afternoon (10 total), I'll drop Chapter 6 early.

Support "Dawn of the Void - a LitRPG Apocalypse"

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