'Over My Shoulder'
The story follows Ava Jacobs, a lone survivor a year after the Outbreak. After Ava is sought upon by a local group, she delves deeper into the uncharted world of danger at every turn. Whether it be from those who seek flesh, and those who seek power.
Please leave comments and feedback! I'd absolutely love it.
The door slams open as my heavy boot connects. Glass shatters everywhere, leaving only jagged spikes in the doorframe. The sound of skull cracking echoes as I release my bloody hand from its hair and let it crawl back to its feet, hungry for my flesh and with blood dripping down its torn open face. I glance quickly at the mark of blood and hair clumps that stick to the wall, a sour expression finding its place upon my face. I pull out my blade from its cover to protect myself just in time as It tries to claw my arms with its absurdly long nails, but instead catching the leather of my jacket.
A quick side step avoids getting my eyes scratched out. While I’m not sweating taking on one of them alone, it still sends jitters up and down my limbs. This one though is putting up a particular fight, but it’s still slow like all the others. I keep my movements quick and sharp, focusing on not stopping in one movement for too long and bouncing on the front of my feet. It lurches forward, arms directed at my throat, and I duck past again. Its teeth bashes against each other in an attempt of sign language for “Let me eat you!” but it misses and goes flying past me. Its legs get tangled, causing it to crash to the ground. Hearing a loud snapping noise, I move my head slightly to the left and see that a bone has fractured through the skin, and the white bone sticks out alarmingly clear from the decaying skin. I struggle to not breathe through my mouth, but the smell of rot fills my nostrils and a wave of nausea covers me.
A year of smelling this kind of rot and it still sends my stomach into catatonic mode. Watching it twists around and tries to grab for my ankles, I jump back far enough to gain momentum to lift my foot up directly above its head. I try to picture I’m stepping on a big, growling, and drooling Watermelon, but it’s not much use. My foot makes contact and my grunting mixes with the splintering noise of more crushing skull. It’s not a sound one could get used to, or would want to. In the silent moments of the day, my brain decides that it’s these sounds and memories I’m going to remember and playback for hours instead of happy things like usable Toilet Paper and Internet Connection.
Its arms wring out and making scooping motions towards me. Just die already! I want to scream at it and shout until my throat is torn but know Them, it’ll just bring more. Like a mindless swarm, where one is having a good time, they all join soon after. As I take another step back and see that its head has concaved in the back, but it manages to continue advancing towards me. Its movements have slowed down, but its desire for me outweighs anything else. Like a ravenously thirsty wanderer in the desert, I’m the mirage of water it longs for. It’s now or never, so I check my blade before lifting it over my shoulder and bringing it down hard into its head. The blade sinks deep until it hits the hilt, then I put all my strength into bringing it back out again. It’s stuck. Like, suction cupped stuck. The irritation and exhaustion oozes throughout my body and I clench my jaw shut to avoid letting out an angry scream. It’s not the big things that kill you; it’s the little small things that accumulate up over time. After placing my foot against whatever hard bit of skull is left, the blade comes out with a sickeningly popping sound. Its arms have stopped reaching for me slowly. A gurgling yell escapes from beneath me. Grasping the knife firmer, I slam it back down again. My breath is ragged and my muscles ache, but managing to pull the blade out once more, to make it a Kill Shot, I stab it once more. Three times or nothing…I recall to myself as I pull the blade out of the soupy concoction of brain matter, blood, and hair clumps. Staring down at my blade, I have no desire to wipe that on my clothes, so I reach down and try my best of removing evidence on the body’s dirty and ripped clothes. It gets most of it out, so I slip the blade back into its cover on my hip. I take a moment to breath, recollect myself, but find myself staring down at the body that lies in front of me. This is the worst part. It’s the part that grounds me, brings me back to reality and slaps me in the face with the aching truth. I try to stop myself every time I know I’m doing it, but I have yet to succeed. I notice that it’s wearing a pink floral printed dress, below the knees and with only one strap holding on for life, as the other has been ripped apart. She’s been Dead for a while then. There are no shoes. The skin is a sickeningly green-brown, with large scratches and cuts all over. This could have been someone’s mother, or wife…
The back of my hand finds my mouth in an attempt to avoid vomiting, or letting out a choking sob. It does the trick long enough for me to tear myself away to grab my pack that had slipped off of me when it attacked. As I’m reaching to grab for it, I notice the gunky blood smeared on my hands, and I try not to cringe or gag when I wipe it against the shelving, before wiping my hands over the last somewhat clean bits of my pants. I begin leaning my body weight into taking another step, but pause to stare back at the body; a pool of dark blackened blood pools around now, staining the tiled floor.
Enough of this, I reprimand myself. You’ve done this many times before and have moved on. This one is no different. I grab the hook of my red spotted light brown pack and press on, hesitating before coming around the corners. Gripping my gun in my other hand, my eyes patrol the small convenience store that I had been eyeing for about a day and a half before reasoning that it was safe enough to scout out. It seemed abandoned, and no Humans had come into it in that time, so I made the gamble of entering in. Supplies were running low and I had been playing it safely, limiting my chances of scavenges.
I planned it all out in my head, simply and precisely. It was going to be a quick in-and-out job. Grab the supplies, whatever may be left, and get out of there before anything realises. Well, not going to plan so far. The gun swings casually in my hand by my side. I normally do not use it because, besides knowing the basics of how to hold it properly and shoot it, I wasn’t that great of an aim. It was more for show, to intimidate anyone, alone or in groups, who thought that looting a lone survivor was their best chance. The only action this gun had seen was for point blank kill shots that I knew I had no chance of missing. When it came to Them, my first choice was my knife. Every single time. No loud noises, no accident firing or missing the target, and no alerting others. The only downside of that was the fact that I had a higher risk of getting bitten or scratched due to close proximity.
Though I should be on high alert for Them or other Survivors, I’m unable to stop myself contemplating if I should raid the stores nearby. Would they have any supplies that are useful? Two of the next-door shops were Retail. Clothes, shoes, bags, those types of things. Perhaps grabbing a new pair of pants that aren’t covered in brain matter would be an option. Shaking my head in a way of ridding these thoughts, I turn my attention back to keeping an eye and ear out for danger.
All the posters and boards still hang for dear life, selling ghost items to dead people. Even from my distance, the layer of dust is thick and entirely coated.
Aisle 4, Sweets/Candy/Chocolate. I lick my lips. I’m used to the taste of dirt and whatever else is on my face now, but sometimes it becomes a fresh sensation which disgusts me worse than the last time. Dried and flaking from dehydration, the last thing I want to do is mix what saliva I have left with the dirt lining my mouth. What I wouldn’t give for just a tiny bite of chocolate, or even just a small hard piece of candy. My stomach growls and my hand instinctively covers it, as if it would shush it quiet. The only noise is of my stomach, and my boots cracking over broken glass, torn papers, and the rest of the litter leftover from the initial panic when the Outbreak started. The grime and dust on the floor and shelves prove that no one has been here for a while to scavenge, and while that relaxes me slightly, I can’t help but wonder why no other Survivors thought there might be any supplies left or over-looked.
A little radar in my head begins to go off as my paranoia and doubt start playing Ring-around-the-Rosie in my mind. The grip on the gun tightens. The aisles look pessimistically empty; my hope drops more and more slowly over time, like the sands in an hourglass. I’m sure there is something, anything, left behind. Matches, batteries (that aren’t crushed or mangled), a radio, even feminine hygiene products look good to me right now. A small little local grocer wouldn’t have been the first to be looted, so I desperately keep my hopes up.
My right foot cracks and splinters a box of crayons lying on the floor. It splits apart and free pencils go rolling aside as I pass the 5th Aisle. Not too sure I need Soft Drinks or Juice, though it’d be nice to not drink questionable water for once. The window, while dirty and smudged from who knows what, allows what light there is outside in. A storm is coming from the smell omitting outside, like Mother Nature herself is telling everyone that everything is south fast and to escape to safety. Staying outside in the Forest in my little makeshift camp won’t do for tonight. Trapped in a small tent by the loud pattering of a thunderstorm would mean anything, or anyone, could sneak up. Perhaps I’ll have to stay in the Grocer longer than I had planned…I tell myself, rolling the idea around in my palm and weighing the options.
Luckily I found a thick leather jacket that warms me on the cold nights. It was my first stolen item, and it made me feel like the worst human being alive, but also that the next thing I should have stolen was something bigger. The jacket, which is covered partly in blood splatter, protects me from much more than just the oncoming cold weather.
The smell that surrounds the aisles is one of rotting, spoiled food that either no one wanted or was on the outs before anyone had time to notice. Reaching behind me, I pull my makeshift hood over my head and pull the extra fabric over my face, only leaving my eyes uncovered. You don’t know what could kill you, and I sure as heck won’t go out from the common cold or from bacteria hovering in the air, eager to attach itself to my lungs and enjoy the ride. As I pass aisle by aisle, slowing down to get a good hard look, I chew my lip lightly. The aisle for bread passes, then the aisle for makeup and other cosmetic products. It’s the only aisle that still has a considerable amount of its stock, but I pass it after scanning for certain items, which are of course out of stock.
Once reaching the aisle I’m aiming for, I turn down it and see the carnage. A grim stare slowly rises on my face as my hope dies down a little more pitifully as I glance down at the smashed open cans, the shelf after shelf of emptiness, or one singular can that has exploded. Gripping the bag tighter, I take one careful step after another. At first, my attempts at stepping over everything seems to work, until I reach a point where my legs won’t reach over large amounts of trash. I’m not giving up and turning back because my legs aren’t the average human’s size, I attempt at one little leap and step straight into the biggest pile. Great. Absolutely fantastic. A+ effort, Ava. Looking ahead, the ground begins to become so full of litter that my only resort is to drag my feet through, separating it and creating a new path. Hope begins to dwindle as I see more and more shelves with no promising supplies. No wonder no one came in here…they’ve already taken everything.
A small, annoyed groan escapes me at the fact that I took a stupid risk for nothing. I want to punch a wall, or a shelf, or anything in my way at this point, but the reminder of the surprising welcoming party back at the entrance pulls me back from making a stupid mistake.
I pause briefly in the middle of the aisle. Litter covers my shoes and is reaching past my ankles. If it gets any higher, I’ll make too much noise. I contemplate turning back. Looking for potential ideas, I pivot around in place scanning up and down for anything. There’s nothing but litter in every direction that I want to turn in.
Turn back, or continue on when there are only aisle after aisle of trash? I pull my mask down for a moment to catch my breath. My hands are clean enough for me to wipe my face exasperatedly. I haven’t slept the whole night through for a couple of days now. Lethargy is pulling at me whenever I give myself a moment to think, and I verging on the edge of bursting into a mess of screams and sobs. Supplies are low; energy levels are low, what else could go low now?
Huffing to myself, I pull my mask back up and continue storming through the trash, slower this time though. A sweat breaks out, beginning on my nose then my forehead. The mask is warming up quickly from my breathing, and the concentration of not trying to awaken everything in a 10-mile radius from crashing tin cans and broken glass makes the sweating worsen. Pausing every so often to listen to various sounds that I suspect are either Them, or a rabid animal scavenging like myself. I’m comparing myself to rabid animals. Is this rock bottom? Because it feels like rock bottom.
After persevering through the thickest part of the trash, it begins easing up and I can comfortably walk without stepping on or breaking something. I scan the shelves up and down, trying to find a can that hasn’t exploded, isn’t opened, or spoiled. A can of soup lies on its side, a small pool of foul smelling liquid trailing underneath it. I take a moment to stare and attempt of picking gently at memories and experiences of what a freshly made, hot steaming soup used to taste like. It feels like I’m trying to remember something that I don’t know if I’ve made it up, or it was actually a memory.
I know that there is no way any soup made it, and even then, I wouldn’t be able to cook it without alerting Them of where I am by the campfire smoke. I tear myself away from the woeful soup and am about to reach the end of the aisle when something glints – catching my eye – I pause warily, then slowly turn my head to inspect. There, standing like a sentinel flag of hope, is a non-spoiled, non-explosioned, non-opened, can of food. I walk over to it almost giddy, but then a doubtful thought pops into my mind. Why would a can be by itself on the shelf when all the others are spoiled, opened, or exploded? I frown, making up worse case scenarios in my head, and then decide I might as well check it out. I didn’t come all this way just to wimp out at the chance that it may be a trap.
Making a small jump over a large box of baby nappies that lay discarded, partially open, and dusty, I grab the can from the dusty shelf and inspect the label as I twist it around in my palm. Canned Corn. If it isn’t off, it should taste like sweet, sweet garbage. I drop it carefully, making sure not to incite its imminent explosion, into my pack and notice another can. It’s un-opened, un-spoiled, and just standing there. I can picture myself standing there, wide-eyed and shaking slightly from hunger. If this isn’t the human version of a scavenging racoon, I don’t know what is.
This time it’s canned carrots, and I hold it at a sheer distance from myself. Carrots. Good. This’ll keep away the starvation for a little longer. I place the second can into my pack like a sleeping newborn. Best not to disturb what could be imminent danger. I spend a few quiet moments going through each can that appears after another, inspecting expiry dates and if the pull-tabs have been ripped off in a rage from some unknown passer-by. A weight starts pulling at my arm, and I can feel the pack starting to buckle and the contents rolling around as I sway side to side as I search.
I decide that it’s enough, and that I shouldn’t push my luck any further when I hear a loud crash behind me. My pack drops from my hands as I instinctively grab for my pistol that hangs from my hip. It crashes loudly to the ground, and I flinch. A can or two rolls out from my bag and I curse slightly under my increasing breath. My heart begins to pound and my skin has gone cold.
“What the hell! Bloody oath! I was not expecting to see anybody else here” a wide, toothy, grin pops out from around the shelving and I raise my gun to aim. My hands shake from the shock, and I stare deadpanned at the towering figure standing before me.
“Whoa! Looks like someone is stocking up for the Apocalypse,” she pauses as if expecting raucous laughter or applause, “Bad joke. I’m sure there are some bags of rice in the back though, if you’re brave enough to check it out” the grin widens, and I place my finger on the trigger. She takes a casual step towards me, her boots cracking and smashing the broken glass. She holds the packet-cracker hand and her other hand up quickly in a gesture of warning. “Be careful where you point that thing. Last time I saw someone raise something like that, one of the Biters got a nice home made piercing,” she said, “But it was through the forehead, not the ear type, I’m afraid” her look of concern shifts into another roguish smirk and she lets her hand drop back to the pack of crackers.
I’m in such a state of confusion and shock that I don’t respond. My gun stays raised, but the fatigue in my muscles is causing my arms to tremble, and I can see the tip of the gun shaking.
She munches on one cracker, and then reaches for another as she continues staring at me. “What’s your name, then?” she asks, a look of hesitation on her face, like she’s questioning if I’ll actually shoot her if she moves one inch, before decidedly relaxing and taking one step closer to me.
“Not much of a talker. That’s all right. I love filling the sile-“
“Stop,” I demand, “Any closer and you’ll join the other one who got too close” my eyes flick over to the front door, and the stranger’s eyes follow.
“Hey! Whoa, I didn’t mean any harm or anything. I’m just making conversation. I’m unarmed, if you didn’t notice – unless you count crackers as a violent threat, then consider me locked and loaded!” she jokes again, a light chuckle filling the tense air. Is she for real? Cracking jokes while being held at gunpoint?
My face feels red hot and flushed, a bead of sweat forming on the top of my back itches and I fight every urge that courses through me to wipe it away. Where did she come from? I didn’t even hear her until she was right behind me. I scan her for possible information and for weapons. A knife hangs loosely on her hip, glistening at certain angles as she moves. There is a gun either behind her back, or hidden in her jacket somewhere, so I do not lower my gun.
“Look, my name is Violet. Like the colour, or whatever you think Violet is,” she shrugs, “I came in through the open door. The one near the dead Biter with soup for brains.” She gestures over to it with her chin, but I don’t take my eyes off her.
“Alrighty, Miss Serious. I’m going to ask a question, so don’t blow my brains out.” She pauses, awaiting confirmation. I hesitate. How are you meant to respond to this? I can only think of nodding, so I do. She nods back and smiles.
“Do you have a group? I’m guessing from your pack that if you are, it’s either an insanely small group of people who eat air with a side of corn or you’re stocking for one. Are you alone?” she looks around suggestively, one brow raised in an attempt to make me spontaneously call out a group from thin air. She’s purposely ignoring the fact that she is taking one tiny step at a time gradually towards me. She’s already reached about a quarter of the shelf when I shoot a warning bullet on the ground beside her. I call it a warning shot, because I was actually trying to aim further away from her but my aim causes it to hit a box an inch away from her foot. She flinches violently, and the crackers in her hand drop to the ground. She curses under her breath and strokes her hand through her short hair, like she is an agitated mother who just witnessed her child drop something that wasn’t supposed to drop.
“Okay, that was my bad. I should have sensed that sounded a little…threatening,” she takes a step back, her hands up in the air, and my back relaxes for a split second. The comedian named Violet looks down at the crackers on the floor and clicks her tongue.
“What a waste of food that tastes like dirt covered paper…too bad” she says as she looks back up at me like I was meant to empathise with her tragic pain. Her patience wears thin as she folds her arms and stands there.
“So, you got a name or am I going to make up one for you?” she asks, a sarcastic undertone in her voice makes me feel compelled to respond. I hesitate again, not knowing what the protocols in these situations are.
“I happen to think that Shortie has a nice ring to it. Or perhaps a Hobbit fro-”
“It’s Ava. Pleasure to meet you, Violet” I spit her last name, like it’s disgusting to the taste. She seems taken back that I interrupted her, or perhaps that I have a working voice, but it lasts for a second as her trademark smirk returns.
“Well, the pleasure is all mine. You alone?”
My hands begin to sweat, and it takes me an enormous amount of concentration to focus on her and to re-grasp the weapon firmly in my shaking hands. It’s a gross nervous tick, and one that I try not to focus on in a possible life-or-death situation.
“The one who has a gun pointed at their chest, first”
As she is contemplating my response with a chuckle, I note that she looks fairly clean. I’m a little concerned that I’m noticing what she looks like, when she could clearly pull out a hidden gun and blow my brains out while I’m elevator eyeing her, but then I see her hands are far too clean. Her hair is blonde and cut short, like a Pixie’s, and doesn’t have a trace of dirt or blood in it. Unless she found a day spa that I haven’t, there’s no way she has been surviving on her own.
I begin to rapidly create a plan, even if that means shooting someone. Shooting Violet point blank.
“Look, I’m no Sherlock Holmes here or anything, but by the way you didn’t see or hear me until I was standing behind you, you must be new to this whole ‘No-Group-Loner-For-Life’ lifestyle, I’m guessing. I have a grou-“ a clicking sound emanates from my gun interrupts her. Her eyes widen as they flick quickly behind me, her hand reaches out as if she’s reaching for me, and by the time I have time to react, I feel giant hands shove my back so hard I fly towards the ground.
My gun flies as I throw my hands out to soften my landing, but I land and skid into the glass. I let out a painful cry that feels like it’s exploding from my chest, tearing at my throat as the shards imbed themselves into my skin, but my pulse races from adrenalin. Flipping around, a figure stands there with a black mask covering its face and a gun now in its hands.
An opening to attack arises when the figure’s eyes glance towards Violet, which gives me time to launch at its legs and topple it over with all my weight. Shelving and spoiled food comes crashing down with us and the only sounds are my grunting and the figure’s raspy shouts as I crawl up towards its throat and begin clawing. I’m saddled, on top of the figure, all my weight pressed upon its chest and my hands grasped firmly around its’ neck. I hear shouts and feel hands gripping and tugging at my shoulders, but I lean forward harder, my sole desire at this very moment is to crush the figure that struggles underneath me throat.
I’m beginning to think that maybe I have a chance of surviving and escaping, until a something heavy smashes me in the back of the head. Pain shoots throughout my body, sending signals of panic and fear. My visions blurs before turning black. My body crashes limply to the ground, crumpled with the heap of trash; the world is slowly coming apart around me as I continue to hear shouting, loud footsteps, and cracking glass.
“Travis, you grab her pack. Karina, you check her for Signs. Carter and Benjie, you man the doors and keep a look out for Biters. I’ll stay with Karina, in case she gets nippy” Violet’s voice, stern and sure, sends an army of thudding footsteps around me into different directions. I don’t know where they came from, or how they magically appeared, but I imagine a whole horde of people based on the sounds and vibrations. My heartbeat drums in my ears like a timer. Counting down the seconds until I am finally taken down. I force myself to focus on the footsteps and the furthest thing from a bright light. They race all over the place, and the heavy vibrations echo throughout the store. I groan as two hands pull me onto my back. The pain causes me to cough, and the hands that are searching me stop abruptly. “Do you think…?” I hear a different woman’s voice now. It’s foreign, and slightly accented. I can’t pin point where from as I imagine the liquid oozing out of my head onto the tiles like the one I killed earlier.
“No, she didn’t show any Signs. Just check for superficial Signs. We need to go” the first woman’s voice ends the conversation and I feel heavy boots stomp away.
“No…please…” I manage to cough out. My vision is so blurry that all I see is a shape of something hovering over me, and I reach out to grab it.
“Stop it, girl! You’re going to get us all killed if you make me take any longer than necessary.” The woman continues to handle me, lifting up my arms and twisting them around then dropping them, only to pick and twist my legs around.
“Alright! She’s got no Signs. Let’s bail out, we’ve got less than 3 minutes” she calls out, not loudly enough to alert Them, but enough to be heard to those around. I’m violently picked up like a rag doll, thrown over the shoulder of what seems to be a tall walking mountain with a scraggly beard. Managing to open my eyes for a split second, I see a toothy grin looking up at me. Then blackness.
Screaming. I hear violent screaming. Sounds of shrieking and gunfire roar in my ears and I want to cover my ears and scream along with them. Slamming doors. Something heavy slamming down on the ground. It’s not until I hit the ground hard and conclude that the heavy object is me.
“Please! Don’t do this! I…I ca-“ a loud shot of a gun rings through the air and I kept help but think for a moment. Did I die? Did I really go out like that? One little overlooked detail of a door being left open, and that’s how I died. One small slip up. I want laugh to myself, but then all I feel is wave after wave of pain. More screaming, more terror. I want it to end. I don’t want to look at the terrified faces of those who know they are about to die. I want it to end. I want it all to stop. I can’t see it again.
My eyelids slowly pry apart. It takes effort to hold them open without them slamming back down, dragging me back to the blackness of sleep. My mouth is achingly parched. I feel like someone has put a vacuum to my mouth and sucked all the precious liquid out of me. The walls of my throat have turned into strips of sandpaper that cause me to wince in pain as I swallow a formed droplet of saliva.
I’m obviously not dead if I’m wincing in pain and contemplating the desire to look the floor for the tiniest bit of moisture, so I open my eyes wide enough to look around. The same bloodied and grimed tiles are underneath my face. Shivers run up and down my arms and back like skittering bugs crawling on my skin. My teeth chatter softly but quickly become uncontrollable. The sign above my head sways unnoticeably.
Aisle 10 – Home and Outdoor.
Light Bulbs, Electrical, Hardware.
I sit up abruptly, alarmed by the last resurfacing memory of gunfire and screaming, but the surge of blood to my head causes me to momentarily forget how to breathe from surging vortexes of pain. Reaching to the spot that throbs at the back of my head, my fingertips trail across a large egg shaped wound. I stop short. My hands are bound together by the wrist in rope in front of me. Blinking away the sleep and nausea, I fail to see that there is someone standing in front of me. The figure coughs needlessly. My breath hitches in my throat. His gaze is firmly fixed on me, and a gun in his hand reminds me of where I am, and what happened.
“Alive, I see. Thought we may have hit you too hard and possibly taken you out” He simply stares, as if his explanation is met to bring me to my knees in gratitude. I don’t respond, but stare back.
“Your head is going to give you a bit of trouble for awhile, but nothing too serious.” He adjusts his belt; possibly a nervous tick or a subtle act of intimidation but I don’t see any hidden weapons.
We only met mere seconds ago, and yet I’ve already created an entire mental list for him. Nervous, lacking skill in small talk, fidgets with his gun like it’s a close friend, continually glancing over his shoulder towards where the Backrooms are. The rest of his group, and the chick Violet, must be back there doing something and left me in his charge. It’d explain why he is nervous. Nobody wants to be in charge of a hostage well worked for and risk the chance of being the one who lost them if they run.
His long trench coat billows around his knees as he moves, pacing back and forth. He’s older than most I’ve seen, but looks fit enough to handle himself. Ex-soldier perhaps? Or an old apocalypse prepper who was lucky enough to reach the day he had been preparing for?
He pauses in his pacing as he sees me elevator-eyeing him like a game of deduction. He obviously notices what I’m doing and returns the favour. It’s not a creepy gazing up-and-down; one that makes your skin crawl and tug at your clothes to cover yourself more. It’s a seizing up-and-down, a ‘Are you even a threat?’ gaze. I open my mouth to make a comment, but my throat is too dry and my head throbbed with every little movement. He watches for a second more, then reaches for a nearby shelf and drops a water bottle in front of me. I struggle a bit to reach the bottle, grasping my bound hands around it and taking small, short sips from it savagely. My eyes don’t leave him, and his invites the challenge. The paranoia that lives within the knots of my mind slowly coil higher and higher. If he has a certain agenda, I’m not picking it up. You don’t give water to captives, and you don’t tell them that their head wound isn’t serious. I take one more sip of water and place it back between my knees.
The man seems a bit startled by my firm outburst, but he gives a gentle type of smile back in response.
“Why attack me in the shop? I was carrying a gun…I could have shot.” I ask irritably. What’s their game plan? Attack me, search my body, bring me back to their Safe house, and then care for me until they can finish me off? My eyes widened at a new thought that creeps into mind. Perhaps they wanted me for bait. Living bait is worth more than dead bait.
He seems deep in thought at my question, and that drives my irritability further. I start as if I’m about to get to my feet, but I rearrange myself against the steel shelving that digs into my back.
“Looking at circumstances, you would have shot either way,” I must have given him the impression or expression that I was offended because he raises his eyebrows to halt me from speaking, “It’s what anybody would have done. Logically, it makes sense.” He finishes off with a little nod of confirmation and returns to pacing. I try to remember the exact details of what happened to me, but all I can focus on is the ache that makes me concerned something in my brain has rattled around or come loose.
“Can I ask your name, or are you going to nod at me again? Because I’m not afraid to nod back” I ask with eyes staring him straight down in an attempt to intimidate. He strokes his short beard one with hand, and looks up somewhere in thought.
“I don’t see the harm. It’s Carter.” he says, placing his gun back in its halter on his belt and resting his hands on his waist.
“Carter…” I roll the name around in my mouth like tasting a fine wine, judging it and inspecting it. He doesn’t react, but nods again and takes his pacing further on, still within sight.
Around the store, things are still intact how I left it. I wasn’t knocked out for very long then. Broken bottles and paper are strewn all over the smudged floor. Empty shelves. Everything seems the same until my sight reaches near the front door. There are more bodies than just the floral-printed one I left at the front doorstep. The front door is not too far from where I sit now, and I see my kill lying, face down, on the ground. Dried blood still coats its head, the sticky black puddle of blood underneath it has been stepped in, leaving footprints around the store. No one has bothered to move it away from the door. I turn slightly to my left to see a pair of legs on the ground, the other upper-half of the body hidden by the shelf. Its clothes aren’t as muddied or torn like the other corpses. What happened while I was unconscious?
Carter strolls over again, the gun back in his hand swinging somewhat casually for a guard. I try not to flinch every time it aims it my direction, leading me to obnoxiously tsking or dodging out of the line of fire. He doesn’t seem to get the hint.
“Could you not aim that dangerous weapon at the part of my body I love the most?” I sarcastically ask, pointing to the gun with my eyes. “Don’t worry about the gun. This is just a precaution, in case we happened to be wrong about you. Can’t have you turning and snapping that jaw at everyone nearby. Consider it Lurker-Insurance.” He twists the gun around as if it’s just a simple water squirter.
“You can be well assured, I’m not one of Them. If you haven’t noticed, I’m not trying to tear your throat out with my teeth.” The exasperated tone in my voice causes Carter to frown. The first time I had seen Them feast, it was a struggle to keep anything down for hours. I thought they were crazy, perhaps mental patients that had escaped from an institute somewhere, but when I saw one Change in front of me, my mind was quickly changed on the matter.
“You could have fooled me by the way you went straight for Benjie,” Carter says, his tone taking on a darker tone. I got it. I nod at him and shut my mouth. I’m not about to go and try convincing others that I’m not one of Them, that’d just make them more suspicious. My hands are red from being grabbed so hurriedly, and the ropes that bind my wrists were pulled tight enough for my hands to have a slightly pinkish hue. I wonder where the others could be. They wouldn’t be dumb enough to leave one person alone with a supposed Them. His browned trench coat floats about his knees as he turns around in circles, looking for something above my view line. I want to ask him if it was a mis-timed costume, but I disregard the desire to as he turns to look around and I spot the hunter’s knife dangling in a cover strapped to his belt.
“So,” I say, letting the air between us hover for long enough. “You come here often?”
Carter watches me, his mouth turned into a hard line. My expectation of a chuckle, or even just a hard breath of air out of his nostrils as acknowledgement, are flattened when he continues to stare annoyedly. Carter has flipped a switch, and choosing to sit here in the darkness seems now like a better choice than to deal with his uncomfortable silences and the frown that is etched onto his face. I lean forward, trying to find any form of comfort. Looking down at my hands, I see that the larger glass shades have been taken out, but not thorough cleaned out. If I get an infection because they simply wanted to, ‘talk to me’, someone will get a bowl like haircut I gave the previous customer. Quickly glancing over to the Floral-Print Them, still face down, a smirk crawls onto my face. In my peripheral, Carter is watching.
“Hey Buddy, if you’re going to stare, might as well make it worth my while and tell me what’s going on” I annoyedly remark to the air, side glancing at him. This makes him madder by the telltale sign of his hard-lined mouth, which has somehow turned downwards at the side but not at the point of frowning. “I don’t know whether you’re brave, or just dumb,” he says with a scowl, “But watch your words carefully, Pumpkin. You don’t know what type of men are leering in the shadows” There’s a deafening silence that makes the air pulsate with tension. Is he threatening me, or trying to advise me?
With a lopsided smile, I flash the ropes on my wrists to show them off. “Not much I can do from down here, Old Man. Unless I decide that running is a good idea, since you guys clearly didn’t think of tying my feet up.” Tauntingly, I continue watching him with an eyebrow raised.
He shakes his head violently, muttering under his breath, “You are barking mad…”
I’m thoroughly confused, and am ready to get up to my feet if I don’t start getting some sort of answers.
“Look,” I switch to a serious tone, “I was just scavenging for food. No harm done. You take whatever supplies you want, it’s yours” I offer, “You’re very welcome, by the way”. He frowns and folds his arms, making the leather of his trench coat taut. If it had a voice, I’m sure that leather would be screaming bloody murder.
“Just untie my hands, and let me walk out of here. No questions asked!” I continue shamelessly, but Carter is not budging. He squats down to my eye level. He dangles the gun in his hand, his wrist resting against his knee.
“Listen here. You - Ava - are not going anywhere just yet,” he explains, unblinking. My lip starts to taste like iron from how hard I am biting down on it; a frown jumping from Carter’s face has now found residence on mine. He pulls himself back up to his feet, grunting slightly. I watch him menacingly all the way.
“Stay here, I’m going to look for something, or someone,” he says, giving me one final glare, then walks off. His heavy thudding boots storm away, crunching all the glass and debris in his wake. A loud sigh escapes me as my focus shifts to my tapping foot on the linoleum. What a stupid old man, thinking I’m going to sit here and have a tea party with Miss Floral-print over there.
The rain draws my attention through the two heavy shelves, a pathway to freedom and possible escape. Heavy raindrops are coating the glass, making it almost impossible to look out of without distorting the other side. Pausing for a moment, listening for any footsteps or voices nearby. It’s gone quiet. Except for the noise of rain that’s getting heavier by the minute, it’s only me here. I lean forward to look down the rest of the aisle, but find nothing.
Day light has been sucked by the black storm clouds an hour ago, and the store is getting darker. My eyes haven’t adjusted quite yet, so blinking frequently has become a problem, at the mercy of whatever is around me in the dark. Lightning strikes, sending a bright and blinding flash throughout the store, then a couple of seconds later a loud thunder strike slams down. A trembling boom quakes through the air and a plan starts evolving.
Not knowing how long Carter is going to be, I slowly pull myself up to a squat. Carter clearly did not think it through to bind my wrists with rope in front of me, instead of behind my back, but I secretly thank him under my breath for being so trusting. One last check of the aisles and nearby shelving confirms my suspicion and I pep myself with a firm nod. I’m going to find a weapon of some sort, and then book it out of here.
Footprints of blood scatter everywhere in a manic matter, and my eyes slowly follow to where they lead. Its strides are long, so guessing that whoever it was, they were running. My gaze continues further until spotting the legs that lay face down, behind the shelving. I sneak over, inspecting the damage, when before I can acknowledge it, my eyes roll over body after body after body. A pile has been pushed into the corner with about ten bodies, from just what I can see standing here, slightly hunching over. My hand flies to my mouth, and I can feel myself stifling a slight shriek.
Are they Them…or Humans? I don’t want to find out. Blood is streaked all over the ground, leaving drag marks against the white tiles and leading towards the pile. I don’t know how long I stand there, looking over the arms and legs that coil together, entwining like they are one body, before I manage to pull myself away. Screw the weapon; I am not staying here longer than necessary.
I slowly tiptoe towards the front door. It’s still fairly damaged from when I half flew, half trip kicked it open to deal with was pulling me in and trying to rip my arm off. If I push it open slow enough, I should be able to shimmy through and avoid alerting anything or anyone. After that, I’d run until I got back to camp, throw the rest of my supplies in, and book it to somewhere other than this place.
I’m merely steps away from the door now. My size in this situation is an advantage. The less the door opens, the less noticeability. The ropes binding my wrists will make it more difficult than it should be, but with some tact it shouldn’t hold me back.
Once I reach it, I am careful to step around the shattered glass that is scattered over the ground. Another lightning flash erupts outside, making me look towards the sky. The rain is verging on a torrential pour down. Placing my hand on the handle, I wait for the loud thundering boom to ignite. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi. Four Mississ – A loud thunderous clap rumbles the ground and sends vibrations rippling through the ground. I grab firmly, and pull open the door in time with the clap. It’s sparingly far enough for me to creep through. I start to push one leg through, then part of my torso. A bit of my t-shirt fabric catches on a sticking out shard of broken glass and I almost let slip an exasperated groan. I keep my cool though, look around to see if anyone is coming or if I hear anything over the pouring rain, and when there’s no sound coming from inside, I pull my hands up to the fabric and yank it. It tears the seams, a little hole poking out. I’m going to pay for that later, but I ignore the fact for now. Then a smart idea pops into mind. I place the rope up to the broken shard and try scrapping it alongside the sharpest part. As I begin to apply pressure, my instinct tells me I’ve applied too much. The glass splinters, then cracks apart. Crap. I stand there, broken glass falling to the ground, and I quickly look around. No footsteps, no sound of screaming or yelling. It’s almost too easy! I exclaim to myself in my mind as I continue to press myself through the door, little by little.