Read The Death Match Online

Authors: Christa Faust

Tags: #Supernatural Thriller, #Fiction

The Death Match (9 page)

BOOK: The Death Match
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Tanya chose that moment to emerge from the bathroom. She seemed to have scrubbed away the worst of the peeling skin that was sloughing off her face and body. She’d styled her thick hair to hang down over the most damaged half of her face and had slathered a pound of makeup over the other half. She’d tied a colorful scarf several times around her broken neck to brace it and could almost pass for a living person. Well, maybe a homeless meth freak with a bad case of crank bugs.

“Morning, baby,” she said to Stacy, leaning in to kiss her cheek. “What’s for breakfast?” She peered over Stacy’s shoulder into the smoking pan. “That poor bread looks just like I feel.”

She turned to Matt and winked, then picked the least burned piece of French toast right out of the hot pan with her bare fingers and took a huge bite.

“I’ve got some questions…” Matt began.

“Ooh, I don’t feel so good,” Tanya said, hand to her blistered lips, and turned away, toward the kitchen window. “I think maybe I can’t eat normal food like this anymore. I think I’m gonna…”

Tanya ran for the bathroom and slammed the door. After that, uncomfortable silence. No sounds of retching. Nothing but the sizzle of the burning bread in the pan. Nothing except…

Was that a subtle, stealthy step outside the kitchen window? A soft crackle of dead leaves nudged aside by a shifting shoe?

Matt leaned over to the window and spread the slats of the dusty miniblinds to peer out into the front yard. No one was there. But did the dying flower bed below seem a little flattened out, like someone had been standing there seconds before Matt looked through the window?

“Stacy,” Matt said. “Something isn’t right.”

There was a sharp, splintering crash as the front door was kicked in and the room suddenly filled with corrupted henchmen.

Stacy reacted instantly by stepping forward and flinging the pan full of searing grease at the intruders. Matt unslung his ax and slashed out at their reaching hands, backing their attackers off but not driving them away.

“Who the fuck are these guys?” Matt asked Stacy, pressing his back defensively against hers. “If Long is dead, why are they attacking us? Who are they working for?”

But it was more than just a question of employment. There was something seriously wrong with these men. They were not undead like Tanya. They were still living, breathing humans, albeit corrupted like all of Mr. Long’s thugs. But there was something missing. Their eyes were open but unseeing, glassy and vacant. They barely reacted to the cuts and hot grease. They could be knocked back by the physical force of punches or
kicks but seemed oblivious to pain. The Ouroboros tattoos on their arms were puffy and swollen, looking less like ink and more like fresh, infected brands.

Matt thought of what Mr. Dark had said about human bodies:

They’re much more fun to drive by remote control.

Stacy kicked a bearded thug in the face hard enough to dislocate his furry jaw, but he barely staggered back enough for her to slip through and run for the bathroom.

“Tanya!” she called, shouldering the locked door and busting it open.

Matt sank the head of his ax into the chest of an eerily silent thug as he followed close behind Stacy. When he yanked it free, he spun and nearly ran right into her when she stopped cold in the bathroom doorway.

The window was open. Tanya was gone.

“She set us up!” Matt hissed, slamming the now crooked door on the advancing thugs and holding it closed with his full weight. “She must have told them where we were.”

Stacy was wide-eyed and flushed, shaking her head.

“No,” she was saying over and over. “No, she wouldn’t…”

“Out,” Matt said, gesturing to the window with his chin as the thugs on the other side of the door rammed mindlessly against it. “
Now!
We can argue about this later. If there is a later.”

Stacy looked up at Matt, her face conflicted for a moment before her self-preservation instinct kicked in and she dove through the window.

Matt timed the thuds against the door and made a run for the window himself in the lull just after a hit. On the next thud, the men on the other side came tumbling through
the now unimpeded door. The lead guy slipped on the zebra-striped bath mat and the two behind him tripped over his prone body. They fell together in a flailing heap, giving Matt the half-second lead he needed to make it out into the backyard.

He rolled and got his feet under him, ax at the ready. Stacy had already grabbed her sledgehammer from its resting place beside the massive truck tire she utilized in her punishing workout routine and was caving in heads and smashing kneecaps.

Matt joined in the fight, but these guys were like zombies. They just kept on coming. Stacy was overwhelmed, the hammer ripped from her hands, arms wrenched up high behind her back. Matt had his own hands full fighting off his own attackers and couldn’t get to her.

That was when Tanya dropped from the roof of the house like a hunting jaguar, landing on the back of the thug holding Stacy’s arms and hooking her fingers into his eye sockets. Before Matt’s brain could register the surprise that Tanya hadn’t abandoned them after all, she had twisted off the guy’s head like a bottle cap and flung it across the yard.

The now headless thug collapsed sideways awkwardly, and Tanya leapt free from him as he fell, backing away as every remaining thug in the yard turned single-mindedly toward her.

They hadn’t come for Matt and Stacy. They were there to snatch Tanya.

Tanya was having none of it.

She fought them off like a rabid wolverine, biting any body part that got too close to her face. To Matt’s further astonishment, she grabbed Stacy’s four-hundred-pound truck tire and flung it like a Frisbee, taking out a pair of goons. Whatever had been done
to bring her back from the dead had clearly given her already considerable strength an unnatural boost. Why didn’t Matt have superstrength? Why did Matt look normal and Tanya didn’t? Why was any of this happening in the first place? Again, so many
why
s and not enough answers, but now was not the time for wondering. They needed to get the hell out of there.

Stacy’s backyard wasn’t the most scenic location in the world, butting up against an ugly industrial wrecking yard for old ships, but that big, chaotic shipyard looked beautiful to Matt. It was a great place to get lost, full of improvised weapons and places to hide. The only problem was the ten-foot chain-link fence topped with razor wire. Matt was considering taking an ax to the chain-link, but Tanya was way ahead of him. Before he could blink, she had climbed to the top of the fence and ripped the razor wire loose with her bare hands.

“Come on,” she said.

Stacy hit the fence and started climbing, with Matt close behind.

On the other side of the fence, they found themselves in a long, narrow corridor between shipping containers. Moored at the end of the splintery dock was the rusted hulk of a ship, covered in scaffolding and flapping, oil-stained canvas. It was in the process of being broken down for scrap, with large sections stripped to the skeletal framework, but the hull was still seaworthy enough to stay afloat in the polluted bay. There was only one way onboard, a narrow, flimsy piece of wood forming a kind of rough gangplank. The possessed thugs were clambering over the fence behind them, so there was no way to go but forward, toward the water.

“Go!” Matt said, shoving Stacy ahead of him as he knocked a stack of weathered rebar over into the path of their attackers.

The clattering distraction delayed the thugs for half a heartbeat, long enough for Matt to follow Stacy and Tanya across the wobbly gangplank and onto the dead ship. He was about to turn and smash the plank behind him to prevent their attackers from following, but one of the more aggressive thugs made a crazy, kamikaze leap at Matt from halfway across the plank, grabbing his ax hand and a twisted armful of shirt. The thug’s feet slipped and dangled over the water, his considerable weight nearly pulling Matt over the rusted railing.

While Matt struggled to break the man’s grip and free himself, two other thugs came barreling across the plank and onto the ship. Matt could hear the grunts and scuffles of Stacy and Tanya fighting them off but couldn’t see what was going on because he was so focused on avoiding getting dragged down into the water. He peeled the thug’s thick fingers loose from his arm while maintaining his grip on the ax. He could feel the seams in his shirt starting to give out.

Then, just as Matt was able to get his right arm free, his shirt tore and the thug dropped silently into the churning water below, clutching a fistful of plaid fabric.

Two other henchmen were making their way across the gangplank, but Matt wasn’t going to let them on board. He sank the ax into the weathered wood and it split down the middle with a resounding crack, dumping the thugs into the drink along with their flailing compadre. Several other henchmen were clustered on the shore, but there was no way for them to get on board the ship. To his surprise, instead of working to find
some way to make a new gangplank, they simply faded back, disappearing into the maze between the shipping containers.

Had they given up or just backed off to regroup with a renewed attack?

Matt didn’t have time to contemplate this lucky break for more than a few seconds when he heard Stacy let out a stifled scream of pain between clenched teeth. He spun, ax in hand, to see her wrench herself free from a ragged piece of broken railing that had punctured her thigh muscle.

Tanya took down the last remaining thug, finishing him off while Matt ran to Stacy, helping to support her as he eased her over to an old packing crate and sat her down.

He examined her injury through her torn pant leg. It was a deep, keyhole-shaped stab wound in the thickest part of her quadriceps, bleeding steadily. He ripped a strip from his already torn shirt and tied it around her thigh in a makeshift bandage.

“Tanya,” she called over Matt’s shoulder. “Baby, are you okay?”

Tanya was still crouched over the dead thug with her back to them. She did not respond to Stacy.

Matt found himself beginning to doubt his initial distrust of Tanya. She clearly wanted to be with Stacy bad enough to fight for it. To kill for it.

Matt finished the knot on the bandage and went over to Tanya, placing a hand on the small of her back.

Tanya spun at his touch like a wary animal. Her jaws were lathered in gore as she chewed rhythmically on a slick purple loop of intestine.

She was eating the dead thug.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

When Tanya saw the look on Stacy’s face, she let the rubbery chunk of intestine drop from her lips, wiping her mouth sheepishly with the back of one hand.

The horror of the moment stunned Matt into silence. Just a moment ago he’d practically been ready to throw a welcome-home party for Tanya. Now the reality came rushing back to him. It didn’t matter how much she looked and sounded like the woman Stacy used to love. She wasn’t a human being anymore. She was a walking corpse who needed to eat people to stay alive. She was a monster.

“Sorry,” she said, shrugging like it was no big deal. Like she’d been busted sneaking a bite of the cake that was supposed to be saved for company.

“Tanya, no…” Stacy moaned. “I’ll feed you. You don’t have to do this.”

“I’m hungry, baby, and I’m sorry to say that your burned French toast just doesn’t do the trick. I woke up hungry and I’ve been hungry ever since. It’s part of the deal, I suppose, being one of the walking dead.”

“She’s not Tanya anymore,” Matt said.

“Sure I am, baby,” Tanya said. “I’m just Tanya on a new diet. Think of it as Atkins plus.”

“Plus what?” Matt asked. “Murder? Did you kill Glen?”

“Glen?” Tanya frowned. “Who’s Glen?”

“The guy at the pier.”

“Oh,” Tanya said. “Him.” She turned away. “What can I say? I got hungry. He was there.”

Matt glanced over at Stacy. She was staring at the water, at the deck, at the sky. Anywhere she could pretend she couldn’t hear any of this.

“What about Oscar? The dockworker they pulled out of the water near the aquarium, the one with the tattoo.”

“No,” she said. “I didn’t kill the Black Dahlia either. Look, I told you, I got hungry. That one guy was there. That’s the end of the story.”

“That one guy and this one guy.”

Matt gestured to the dead thug.

“Right.” Tanya wiped her dripping chin again and smirked.

“Tell me what happened to you after we left.”

“I don’t know,” she said, her expression suddenly far-off and a little anxious, “but I do know this: I’m not the first one.”

Matt turned sharply toward her, thinking back to the chained fighters he’d seen in the training room. The ones who looked too horribly battered to be vertical, yet they were.

“What do you mean?”

“I saw other dead people, people like you and me, reanimated, when I was fighting for Long. But they were…not right. Like animals. I just blocked it out, told myself they were sick or beat up bad or something like that. I remember one of them got out, got loose, and Long’s weird friend sent a bunch of tattooed guys to get her back. I guess they didn’t all make it home from that little hunt.”

“Long’s friend?” Matt could feel the nausea in his gut turning to icy dread.

“Yeah,” she said. “He had this creepy guy that was always hanging around. He didn’t say much, but he was always smiling, like a game-show host who was about to give you the grand prize. Long was just a pervert who liked to watch women fight, but that guy. He was worse. He was the first thing I saw when I, you know, woke up.”

Mr. Dark waiting for the rebirth like a proud papa in the delivery room. Was that what this was all about? Was he trying to create some kind of supersoldier to spread his evil across the globe? Was he trying to create his own Matt Cahill? Or was Matt one more in a long list of failed experiments? What did all of this have to do with the altar at the Blood Mesa and the fighting pits here and at the mental hospital? Matt could feel tendrils of connections, but he still couldn’t make any sense of them.

BOOK: The Death Match
10.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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