The campfire crackled and licked at the three figures sat around it, casting long shadows that stretched into the night. The sound of crickets pulsed in their skulls, getting louder, louder, the more they concentrated on it. There was nothing else but the fire, the crickets, and the darkness. Vast emptiness surrounded them, and dwelt in them, as they sat in their trance of silence. A gust of wind kicked up the dust and threatened the fire.
"It's time for sleep, boys. This fire ain't gonna last much longer," the eldest said, gesturing towards their sleeping bags. "Get some rest."
"One more story, then we'll sleep. Okay, grandpa?"
"Yeah!" the youngest chimes in, leaning forward in anticipation.
"Okay, okay," he said laughing, "one more." He leans back and scratches his beard in thought, iron hairs flickering bronze. "What kind of story would you like? A story..."
"Of monsters!" one said, grabbing his torch and shining it under his chin.
"Careful, now -- don't waste the batteries!" their grandpa said, urgently. He sighed and scratched his beard.
"Monsters, eh? I think I've got a good 'un. You've both probably had enough of the stories of deathclaws and cazadores, of gruesome mutants and murderous androids. How about I tell you the greatest horror I ever saw, all them years ago. The greatest horror, boys... is man.
"I was a few years older than you," he gestured to the oldest boy, "when I saw him. I must've been about eighteen. Thought I was hot stuff. Won a few caps at a bar, and went out to buy my first real gun -- none of that junker shit, no, this was a hunting revolver. A real beauty. Stainless steel, polished it to a gleam. Little scope on top. Ain't nothing it couldn't take the head off of. I loved that gun. Called her Eleanor. First true love. Eh, well, second, counting your grandmother.
"Anyway, with that gun, I thought I could take on anything. And I pretty much could. Not a single raider could touch me. I gained quite the reputation for myself, they used to call me the--"
"We know, grandpa," they sang in unison.
"Yeah? Well don't forget it," the old man said, adjusting his position haughtily. "So, I was gettin' a pretty high opinion of myself -- and rightly so. I'm sitting in the bar one day, and I hear this ruckus. These men wantin' medicine because they been shot up pretty bad. Say they were attacked when scavenging in a vault half a day or so to the west. They seemed mighty beat up about it, saying they could've made a fortune from the loot. Now, being a dumb eighteen year old with a very high estimation of his skills, I think, Shit (don't tell your mother I said that), I could take on whatever's in there. See, vaults always had valuable stuff in. The kind of stuff that could set you up for life if you sold it to the right person.
"So, I set out across the desert. Not much happens. Get jumped a couple of times. But that's not what this story's about. I reach the vault. Eventually. Truth be told, I can't remember what number it was. We're talkin' fifty years ago, boys. Might have had a 'two' in it. Anyway, I find the vault. Big-ass gear-door is wide open. It's mostly rusted, but some of it is gleaming real powerful in the midday sun; real blinding. I approach, shielding my eyes, and step inside. It's nice and cool, but it smells odd. Like something burning; like iron; like blood. It ain't right, ain't natural, the feeling I get in there. Not right. But I have Eleanor, and I pull her out and walk with her in front. I ain't scared when Eleanor's leading me. Like we're holding hands, like she's pulling me along, into the darkness. And it is real dark. Only thing I see is the green, flickering glow of them old computers. I hear footsteps that ain't my own. So I stop."
The old man paused and stared into the fire. It writhed under his gaze. When he lifted his eyes, the night sky was much darker in the contrast. He looked at the two boys. They're waiting.
"I hear the footsteps, and I stop. Suddenly all the lights come on, and it's blinding -- I can't see shit (don't tell your mother). I'm in a tight corridor, but I jump into a room and rub my eyes -- I can see the blood in them, it's pulsing. I get a hold of myself and I jump back out and I shoot the guys; one shot each is all it took." He made a gun with his finger and mimed shooting. The boys laugh.
"There was three of them, and they were on the floor. Dead. They were wearing these blue jumpsuits; yellow lines; red stains. I go up to one of them to search him. I reach out to touch him, and he starts twitching, twitching. I take a step back and it gets more violent -- his arm's pounding the ground now, he's beating it bloody; I can hear the wet thump of the bloody flesh, and the sharp cracks of the bone. It goes faster and faster, until it goes straight through the floor -- it just slips straight through. The rest of his body is writhing now, and twisting in impossible positions -- his leg, it... it stretches, stretches so far, across the corridor; it's like something's pulling it, something's dislocated it and pulling it. All of his limbs are like that now, they're just stretching out of the corridor -- going through the walls. When I turned to run, he was just a sheet. A man had been flattened and stretched -- his bones dust, his muscles a paste. His face just ... slowly rotated. His eyes looked straight at me, followed me. But, I don't think they saw me."
Shaking, the old man looked to the night sky. He saw the moon, constant, a certainty, hanging like a pendent. Steadied, he looked at the boys and smiled.
"It's okay, Grandpa," the older boy said, reaching out and resting his hand on his shoulder, "it's a common glitch in Gamebryo."
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