Authors: Britten Thorne
"Take all of it," I said. "I have more spots like this."
He dropped in front of the pile and tore open the first can he grabbed using an opener from a jacket pocket. He had a spoon tucked away somewhere, too, and was shoveling beans into his mouth within moments.
"Slow down," I said, dropping into a crouch next to him. "You'll get sick." Fuck, the poor guy was shaking. What had happened to him? He reached for a second can, but I placed a hand on his wrist. "You'll get sick," I said again.
But he was mindless with his hunger. He pushed me, hard, and I toppled and slid back. Dust rose around me, clouding my view of him. If I’d known he was that bad off I wouldn’t have showed him the whole store at once.
Well, it wasn’t my problem. The pile was his now. He’d be leaving. I’d be the last and only city dweller once again. I rose and retreated; the rooftops called. I’d wait to hear his engine’s thunder and watch him drive away. And then I’d unravel and watch myself wander the streets. As it was before him. As it always would be.
Pulling on my goggles, I stopped on the cracked sidewalk just outside the hotel’s doorways. Distant roars.
More engines. More motorcycles.
I stood frozen and listened. Were they getting closer? It was hard to tell. They were still very far away.
Cans clinked together in the doorway. Adam had packed up the supplies in a plastic bag and was standing behind me.
Your friends?” I asked.
No.” Something in his voice chilled me. My heart hammered in my chest.
You should go.” My jaw clenched against them, but I forced the words out. My whole body tensed, rejecting what I was saying. “You should get out of here.”
I know.” Yet my arms sought his. I clung to one, feeling his muscles tense, so hard and strong against my cheek. I closed my eyes. “Josie…”
My head spun at the sound of my name. I staggered; I had to sit down. He helped lower me to the concrete. “Josie, I’m sorry. I have to lead them away. They’ll do so much worse to you than I did.”
Go,” I moaned. I leaned back against the building’s side. “I know. Go.”
He kissed me; it wasn’t like before. It was tender; sweet. Less like someone starving; more like someone who
something. I turned away. I had to.
You saved me,” he breathed, his breath hot against my cheek. “I won’t forget that. I will come back.”
Then he was gone. With him went that string that so briefly held my sanity neatly together. I felt like I was dissolving.
Isolation was making me strange.
Perched atop an old armchair on a roof, I listened to the engines roar. I felt like a demented queen banishing all men from my realm. I felt bereft.
Eventually the sounds stopped. They didn’t fade; didn’t disappear into the sunset. They just stopped. I didn’t have them in visual range when I realized it. They sounded far away - probably out in the woods to the north.
I promised myself I’d stick to rooftops until I was sure, only coming down for food and other supplies. When I did have to descend, I was armed. Two long knives. Not the kitchen kind - I’d gotten these my older brother, long after he turned. It was almost laughable. He was the loser of the family. He couldn’t get a job, couldn’t seem to get his life together at all, and was a total conspiracy nut. He’d had survivalist plans from long before the living corpses were anything but a myth. I’d mocked him for years.
Yet here we were. He was dead, and I was using his supplies. I strapped the sheaths to my belt and kept the long knives in my hands as I walked, and barely even thought about him. It felt like someone else's life.
I expected to bump into strangers around every corner. Part of me was convinced they’d parked far away. Part of me could
them, like parasites in my blood, like invaders hiding in my home. I could sense their breathing, their very presence. The dust was disturbed in places I hadn’t walked. It swirled through the air before me as if someone had just passed through and I had just missed them.
Or maybe it was just ghosts.
Did this mean Adam hadn’t lead them away? Had they caught him, or given up on him, or killed him? Or worse. Maybe he was betraying me. Handing me over to some group of men. I gripped my knives tight and crouched down along a wall as I walked between supply spots. Maybe they were ignoring me and hunting for my stores.
Well, they couldn’t have them.
She moved some of them to higher ground. As if she was a bird and they were wingless creatures. As if would help one bit if they read her tracks.
My. MY tracks. Keep it together!
I was starting to float above myself again.
Not yet. Not until they’re gone.
I was asleep on a ratty old mattress on the eighth floor of some apartment building when they found me. I didn’t even hear them approach. Nothing shifted, nothing crumbled or toppled to wake me up. The city betrayed me.
Morning, girly.” The gruff voice startled me out of a deep sleep. I sat up with a jerk, backing away from the sound. I only bumped into another pair of legs.
Four men. I couldn’t fight four men. Could I? “Where’s Adam?” I asked. They all wore black leather jackets, too, but theirs were different. The patches were a different shape, the pockets in different places. Theirs were looser.
They exchanged a look but didn’t reply.
Basements. Maybe if I’d hidden in basements.
It was an absurd thought. I knew it. But I regretted thinking of it too late anyway.
She’s crazy, man. Just wrap her up and let’s go.” The speaker was the man behind me. The first voice, the gruff one, came from the man before me. He had a shaggy black-and-white beard and beady eyes.
He said to the men, “Give me the rope.”
No no no NO.
I leaped. I’d slept with my knives beneath my back, and I gripped them tight as I jumped to my feet. They weren’t expecting me to move so fast. Blades met flesh as arms reached out to grab me. Blood flew, splattering the walls. Men shouted. Arms recoiled in pain, and I was past and out the door.
I didn’t have a chance in hell of escaping and I knew it, but I ran anyway. I wasn’t giving up without a fight.
But if I make it outside…
I knew this city like I knew my own body. They would never catch me if I could disappear into the concrete maze.
I slammed myself into the doorway to the stairwell and without pausing, hauled myself up onto the railing. Eight floors was too many to drop. It was also too many to outrun the men. But I could make it down to the next landing if I swung right. And then to the next. I took a deep breath, sheathed my knives, and jumped.
I landed with a loud, echoing thud, and I grunted as the wind was knocked out of me. Dust choked me as I gasped desperately for air. Nothing felt broken, so I staggered forward, trying to suck in oxygen. I ran down the next two flights, then jumped again when I had my breath back. I could hear the men in the stairwell above me. Shouting, running.
Five flights was still too many to jump to the bottom, so I hurled myself at the next landing again. I was more prepared this time and I rolled as I hit the ground. “Stop! You ain’t getting away, bitch, just give yourself up now!”
I couldn’t spare the breath to respond. I ran down two more flights. Their footsteps were getting closer. I looked back and could see the dust cloud preceding them as they ran.
Two flights. Survivable. I made the jump.
Something snapped when I struck the ground. Fiery pain flooded my entire right side, but all I could think was
not a leg, not a leg
. I stood and tested my weight on both feet. They held me up; I could keep moving.
As I burst out the fire door and out into an alley, I felt something wet soaking the side of my shirt. Blood. I hadn't broken something, I'd landed on something.
I'd only jogged a few feet, but I was already getting lightheaded. I didn't have time to cover my tracks, so there was no way to hide. I touched my knives. Still secure in their sheaths. Could I hope to fight them? Maybe if they came at me one at a time.
I emerged from the end of the alley; I could hear them shouting from the doorway, so I took off, fleeing with no goal, no plan, no chance. I screamed in frustration as I stumbled.
"Josie!" I looked up. Adam was just a few buildings away, up the block from where I stood. He started running towards me, but he was too far.
And, I realized with an awful cold feeling in my gut, I didn't know if I could trust him. I turned and ran the opposite way. "Josie!" he barked again.
Then, gunshots. Bits of brick exploded from the wall next to me. All I could think was "no fair" as I ducked through the front door of the next building. I dropped behind an overturned desk just inside the doorway and covered my head with my hands.
I've gotten out of worse. Get up
. The gunshots continued outside. If I could find a back exit...
But my feet wouldn't obey. In fact, they felt cold. I felt cold all over.
. I checked my side. The blood had soaked clear through my shirt and coat, and now was blossoming down my pants leg.
Someone burst through the doorway. "Get up. " Adam.
Why had he shot at me? He was firing again. I couldn’t tell where, my head was spinning, hard. Was he shooting at me? "Get up!"
I stood. The tone of his voice gave me no choice, though my body protested and my vision swam. He looked at me. "Fuck. Can you run?"
"You brought them here." I could hear the panic in my own voice but I couldn't stop it. I hadn't survived and outlasted the dead so I could be taken out by the living. I backed away from him. "Leave me alone! Get the fuck out of my city!"
"Then run!" He pointed the gun right at me. My legs felt like lead, but I ran. I scrambled further inside the lobby. There was an open door leading into a dark hallway, and I ducked through, all while Adam kept firing his gun.
My footsteps and my labored breathing echoed down the narrow passageway. I slammed against the walls as I ran. I was out of strength, out of time, and I knew it, but I couldn't give up. It just wasn't in me.
The doorway the end was unlocked, but I could barely push it open. Hearing Adam's heavy steps running towards me gave me the extra surge of energy I needed. I tried to turn and shut it in his face but I was too slow. Eyes blazing, he slammed into it and pushed me back.
"Get up!" he roared before I even hit the ground. I gripped one of my knives as I struggled to my feet. When he reached out to grab me, I made a wild swing.
"Fuck!" I'd made contact. He back away a step, holding his wrist. I held the knife in front of me.
"I'll kill you, I swear it."
"No time, Josie." He pulled the gun from his hip and aimed it at me. I might have reacted faster if my head wasn't in such a fog. But I just swayed there as he pulled his weapon free. "Tuck the knife away." My stomach sank. I was caught. I couldn't fight or flee a gun aimed right at my chest. "Now!" I jerked at his shout. With a glare, I jammed the knife back into its sheath. "Give me your wrists. Fast. Fast!" I squeezed my eyes shut as I extended my arms. He bound my wrists with a bit of twine from his pocket, tying a fast and tight knot. I whimpered.
"Get on my back." He turned and crouched in front of me.
I swung my bound wrists over his head and yanked back hard against his throat. He staggered as he tried to stand and untangle me. I might have done some real damage if I wasn't so weak. As it was, it surprised him and threw him off balance.
He jerked his head back and cracked me on the nose. The blow made my vision swim. I tried to hang on, keep fighting, but I felt the struggle flowing out of me as surely as the blood from my side. He took a deep ragged breath as my grip loosened.
I expected him to hit me again. He only said, "Don't go passing out. Stay with me, Josie." Then, bent at an angle to keep me from sliding off, holding my bound wrists in front of him for leverage, he began to run.
The world went fuzzy around me. I had no sense of where we were going. All that I knew was the pain in my side, the pain in my head, and the feel of my chest against Adam's back as he ran. Scenarios ran through my head, and none of them good.
Please, come down on our heads. Don't let him get away with me. Crush me first, just keep me here.
I offered my plea to the city like a prayer. It didn't answer.
I don't know how far we ran before he stopped and put me down. We were on the outskirts, near a parking lot by a train station. He sat me up against a wall beneath a bridge.
"Still with me?" He tilted my chin so I was looking at him, but I felt my gaze slide past. I couldn't focus. He fumbled at my belt and took one of my knives. "Wait here."
As if I could go anywhere. I was cold and exhausted and throbbing everywhere with pain. And still bleeding.