Authors: Britten Thorne
I watched his blurry figure walk away. I thought I heard a gunshot. But suddenly the whole world was sideways and I wondered why the ground was so cold. Wasn't it still spring? We'd made paper flowers that day, and gone over our seasons chart, and I'd made a smiley little sunshine for the construction paper garden, so why was it so damn cold?
"Drink, Josie. Come on." My eyes were heavy. It was an effort to pull them open and I immediately wished I hadn't. Adam's face swam in my vision. And behind him were trees. I groaned. He pressed a canteen to my lips. "Drink."
I gulped the water down, more thirsty than I realized. I’d lost a lot of blood.
Bits and pieces of our flight came back to me. Adam had ripped up my jacket and tied the strips tight across my ribs to stop the bleeding. We'd run further, until reaching his motorcycle, and then we'd driven away from the city. All the while he kept checking my side and making me drink.
He'd pulled over into the woods before the sun went down to sew my wound shut. I was too out of it to feel much pain. I just remember looking up and seeing trees where brick and concrete belonged.
These weren't the actions of a man who wanted me dead. But there were worse things he could have in mind. And he still hadn't untied my hands.
After a long swallow of water, I asked, "How bad's my side?" The fog was slowly starting to clear.
"It bled a lot," he said. "I'm pretty sure you cracked a couple ribs. But you're going to be fine."
I asked the next most important question, though I was afraid of the answer. "What do you want with me?"
He cocked his head. "You thought I was attacking you."
"I thought you were with them." I knew now that he wasn't. It was a rough ride away from the city - the type you make when you're trying to escape.
"They were chasing me down. Like I told you, I wanted to lead them away. Keep you out of danger. I never would have sought you out in the first place, but... " He shrugged.
"You were starving." He nodded. "So now what?"
"I'm going to keep you safe." His eyes flashed with determination.
"I was safe before you showed up. I'll be safe again once they leave." I held up my bound wrists. "Let me go." He shook his head. "So, you do have something else in mind."
He grimaced. "No. I'm going to keep you safe."
What he means is, "I'm going to keep you."
But I wisely bit my tongue.
"We have a community," he went on. "My brothers. Devil’s Ashes." He indicated his jacket. The club. Or more accurately, the gang. "We have a place. It's secure. You'll be safe with us."
"I'm sure it's nice, but I've seen what happens when death gets inside."
His eyes flickered to mine and back to the fire. "We all have."
I closed my eyes. "I know what happens to women in this sort of world. I don't want to go."
"It isn't like that. We aren't like that."
"I don't want to go."
But his face was like stone. It didn't matter what I said. "You'll see. Once we're there. You'll just have to see for yourself."
I drank from the canteen and fell into silence.
I did develop a fever for a time. Without antibiotics, it was nearly impossible to prevent infection. We could only wait and hope my body would fight it off itself.
We stopped at a farmhouse only a few days into our journey. I was doing a poor job keeping track of time, though I did develop a mental map of where we were in relation to the city. I clung to that image tightly.
Adam pulled to a stop and helped me off the bike before hiding it in a shed and covering it with a canvas. I shivered with fever chills, and he rubbed my arms as we walked. For once, I didn't shrug him away. "Why are we stopping here?"
"Pit stop. My brothers and I maintain it. There should be food and water here."
"But you were starving."
"I was being chased. This is the last place I'd lead them."
Yeah, you just led them to me instead.
I expected him to take us into the house, but instead he knocked on a door that led into a cellar. It was an odd pattern, definitely some sort of code. "Devil Went Down to Georgia," he explained, "So if one of my guys are down there, they won't shoot at us."
There was no reply, so he opened the door and led me down into the dark. At the bottom of the steps he switched on a few battery operated lamps lining the walls.
It looked like the previous owners had used the place as a bar - the far end had a long counter lined with stools, though the shelves behind it had no booze. The rest of the room held a few cots and sleeping bags, with makeshift curtains made of blankets hanging between old standing lamps and coat racks, giving anyone who slept there a little privacy. It was actually sort of cozy. He untied my wrists, and I sank to one of the cots with a heavy sigh as he disappeared behind the bar.
"Not much in the way of food," he called, "Plenty of water, though. I'll trade our empty canteens." I don't know why he felt the need to inform me. I was going to go along with whatever he did no matter how much I didn't want to.
Heal. Heal and then escape.
He dropped a small tin of pineapples into my hands. "Something a little tastier than beans," he said with a grim smile. I nodded. "We're perfectly safe here," he said, "You can relax."
"Am I safe from you?" His expression darkened.
"Just stay here and don't make too much noise." He walked back up the stairs. I listened to him leave before digging into the pineapples. They were sweet and delicious, and he was right - it was a huge improvement over beans and bland canned vegetables, and they lifted my mood almost instantly.
I started to pull the curtain shut around my cot, but I heard a knock at the door -
knock. I froze. Adam wouldn’t have knocked. Not knowing I was the only one inside. There was nowhere to hide except behind the bar, and I’d be discovered there very quickly.
The door creaked as it opened. “Who’s there?” I called. Feet shuffled.
“Who the fuck’s down there?” a man called back.
“Go ahead, sounds like a girl,” a second man mumbled to the first.
“Girls can shoot guns, you fuckwit,” the first guy mumbled, then called, “We’re coming down!”
“I’ll fucking shoot you both!” I shrieked, jumping up from the cot and flattening myself against the far wall. Their footsteps halted.
“What the fuck is going on?” Adam. I sighed with relief.
Not the response you’re supposed to have. He’s not your friend.
“Holy shit, what are you guys doing out here?”
“Shit, Lark, where in hell have you been?” They greeted each other like old friends. I assumed they were part of his biker club, which was confirmed when they appeared - they wore the same black leather jackets with the winged devil on the back. A young woman trailed behind them, her blond hair windblown, her eyes distant.
“She wasn’t armed,” one of the men said - the second voice I’d heard. He was tall - really tall - and his bushy black beard was peppered with white hair. “What’s your name, sugar?”
I snarled, “I’m not ‘sugar.’”
“Her name’s Josie,” Adam said, “Josie, this is Van,” he said, indicating the tall guy, “And this is Preacher.” The other biker had fully gray hair and a broken-looking nose. He didn’t introduce the woman at all.
“She’s with you, Lark?” Preacher asked.
“I’m trying to take her back to the town, but she’s a little… hesitant.” Adam said.
Maybe it was a biker thing.
Not my business.
The three men settled at the bar - further away from me, but there was no getting out of earshot, though Adam kept his voice low. “I found her wandering the city. Don’t know how long she was alone for, but…” he shrugged. The two men glanced back at me.
“She crazy?” one of them asked.
Adam shook his head. “She’ll be okay.”
“I can hear you,” I sneered. I sat back on my cot, curling my feet beneath me. They didn’t reply - Adam handed them cans of food and canteens, and they started talking about other members of their club, some other club business. The blond took a seat on the next cot - nearly right next to me with the curtains pulled back. “You got a name?” I asked her.
She smiled. “They’ve been calling me Sunny. ‘Cause of my hair.”
“Okay, but what’s your name?”
She looked away. I decided not to press the issue. Changing your name after the end of the world as you knew it wasn’t the craziest thing a person could do.
The room was soon filled with the smell of leather and cigarettes. I don't know where they could have possibly gotten any out here - they were definitely a rare luxury, even in the city. I wanted to ask for one, but on the other hand, I didn't want to ask these guys for anything. Their laughter was rough and laced with bitterness, their stances arrogant, even as they sat.
"Sunny!" Preacher called, "Come sit with me if you two ain't gonna make small talk." She skipped over, and when he opened his arms, she sat on his lap. My stomach twisted. Was she a captive, too?
She didn't seem like it. She smiled enough, at least, though that could have been an act put on out of fear.
"Where'd they find you, honey?" Adam asked, leaning across the bar as he spoke.
"They rescued me." She giggled. "We're gonna rescue some other girls and then we're all gonna live together and help each other out."
"Tell 'em how you'll help," Preacher said, running a hand up and down her thigh.
"I can make babies," she said as if revealing a secret.
Adam blinked. "That's... something."
She leaned in closer to him. Inexplicably, this made me sit up straighter and my pulse quickened.
Jealous? What is wrong with me?
It had to be the fever.
She spoke with fervor. "We can outlast the dead because we can reproduce and they can't. We'll just keep killing them and having babies and eventually they won't be much trouble anymore."
Adam cracked a grin. "It's a good point, I'll give you that."
Here's where it turns. He tells me that I ought to consider the cause. It all goes to hell from there
. But he continued ignoring me.
The worst part was, Sunny did make a good point. But I couldn't condone it. If I was somewhere safe, surrounded by people I trusted, that would be a different story. Captive to a biker, crossing miles of wastelands against my will, it sounded like the worst horror imaginable.
Not a good point, Sunny, unless you're with good people.
And I didn't want to be with
I listened as Adam relayed our flight from the city. I was relieved that he didn't mention how we met, even when they pressed for details. He also made himself out to be the good guy when he pointed his gun at me.
Liar, I never panicked. I wasn't freaking out. At least not until you tied me up.
I said as much, calling over to the group, "I didn't need his help." But it sounded lame even to my ears.
Finally, though, the fever got the better of me. I could barely keep my eyes open. Preacher was fondling Sunny's breasts, right there in front of all of us, but I could barely muster any outrage. I just wanted to shut my eyes and get under a blanket. A pile of blankets.
I started to nod off sitting up, but Adam appeared, crouching in front of me, wrapping my wrists with the twine again. I whined and tried to protest.
"Shh," he said, tying the last knot. "I don't want you wandering out of here delirious with that fever. And these guys don't trust you." He pulled the blanket curtains shut around us, blocking my view of Sunny and Preacher latching lips at the bar.
. I shivered, though I knew I was burning up. Everything felt hazy.
"Drink." Adam pushed a canteen at me, and I obeyed, knowing I needed lots of fluids to get better. He pulled my boots off before kicking off his own and draping his jacket over one of the curtains.
"Lie down." God, I did not want to sleep in this tiny cellar with those tough bikers so close. Adam made it worse when he pushed a second cot right up against mine.
"What are you doing?" I knew it wasn't likely, but I'd sort of hoped to have a partition to myself. But he didn't need to push the damn cots together.
"Keeping you warm until your fever breaks."
I heard the others moving around. They wouldn't help, they were on his side. Hell, they called each other brothers.
"Your teeth are chattering. Just lie down. Look, we're not getting undressed at all. See?" He dropped onto his back on the cot next to me. "Or sleep sitting up, if it makes you feel better."
I squeezed my eyes shut. "You bastard."
"Stubborn. Stupid stubborn."
"Lights out!" Van called. One by one, he switched off the lamps along the wall, bathing us in darkness.
I shivered. There was no light at all in the tiny basement - no moon, no stars - and with the fever, I felt like I was floating in nothing, nowhere. I took a deep breath. And then another one. It made me think of death.