Do it the hard way? The fucker. She wanted to go medieval on his ass, but oh man, he was big. She wasn’t tiny by any standard, but her neck ached from looking up at him. On a good day she would barely reach the notch in his chin.
Today was not a good day, which did nothing for her terror levels. Her heart tripped about in her chest like she was having a coronary.
She should have stayed at Mary’s house, safe and sound and starving. How could she have missed him, even crouched down, rifling through the cupboard? Al of the effort to be hypervigilant on her few trips out into the world, and yet here she was, caught. She had to escape. Civilization was gone. Law and order a distant memory. Who knew what people would do now that the rules did not apply.
Apart from his size, the stranger seemed normal enough, if appearances counted. A head of dark hair with traces of gray, broad shoulders, and a mind jam-packed full of plans, apparently. The way he stared disturbed her. And his long, lean face inched lower and lower, as if he planned to kiss her.
Had he forgotten she had teeth? She hadn’t. He risked losing more than a nipple if he tried to kiss her.
Ali heard the moaning the same time the stranger did. His head snapped around as his big body tensed. The oversized paws dropped from her hair and hip, enabling her to make a dive for the shotgun.
All kinds of confidence rushed back into her once she had the weapon tight in her hands.
God, who to turn the gun on first, zombies or him? Her heart sped.
Ali had watched the world unravel through Mary’s front window, her own neighbors murdering and looting. Once law and order were gone, no one could be trusted. She’d crawled up into the attic and puled the ladder up after her, then stayed there a month after everything was silent, too scared to move.
A common enemy didn’t mean a thing. This man had done little to engender her trust. He might not have hurt her so far, but he showed no signs of letting her go, either. Asshole.
Meanwhile, the asshole was all business. One hand retrieved his pistol while the other reached for his pack and delved within. He emerged with a box of ammunition, which he proceeded to load, every move calm and efficient. The loony smile was long gone, just like she should be. It was better to be safe than sorry.
The shotgun felt good and heavy in her hands. Survival was everything. She could only trust herself for that. She had to be alone.
“Sounds like we’ve got a group of them,” the man reported, his big hands stil on the go, seemingly unconcerned about her gun. How could it not occur to him that she might be just as much of a threat as the infected? “They’re coming from the street out front. Go out the back door, I’ll be right behind you. Go.”
But she didn’t move a muscle, just stood there, overwhelmed, trying not to empty the slight contents of her stomach onto the kitchen floor. This house wasn’t secure. Escape meant going outside, where the infected were. The thought terrified her. Her mind became a mess of white noise. No choice, she had to go out there.
“What are you doing?” the man bellowed. “Run!”
Escape back to Mary’s house. Back through the rabbit hole and up into her safe place in the attic. All on her own.
He could follow but, being built akin to the proverbial brick shithouse, no way would he fit through the hole in the fence. His surviving this long told her he could obviously handle himself and deal with the infected on his own. He would be fine.
Ali ran like a rabbit, straight out the kitchen door and into the midday sun, her gun held before her in a grip that could choke.
It was safer alone. Alone was best. If her own neighbors had gone nuts then strangers certainly couldn’t be trusted. And this guy was the quintessential definition of strange. No need to feel guilt over leaving him. She didn’t even know him. So why were her feet faltering?
Why look back?
They were there, the infected, spilling around the sides of the house and into the suburban backyard, lurching forward in their fucked-up fashion. Far too close for comfort and far too many to fight. She broke out in a cold sweat. The tattered, bloody remains of clothing hung from their putrid flesh, rank in the summer air. No humanity left, walking nightmares. Hungry, yawning mouths stretched wide.
The acid burn of bile hit the back of her throat.
Ali turned away, clutched her gun tighter, pushed her legs harder, feeling the fire in her calves. Through the long, green, overgrown grass, past the bright, plastic children’s swing set, and on toward the back fence she ran.
The stranger’s heavy footfalls were close behind her when the toe of her boot caught in the cracked concrete path. Her balance deserted her. She threw a hand out, ready for the fal , but he was there. Fingers hooked into the back of her jeans, righting her before she could greet the ground. He kept her upright and on her feet. He saved her life.
“Keep going.” Sweat had beaded on his brow, but the gun in his hand was steady.
Ali pushed herself forward.
Shots rang out behind her, the noise startling against the chorus of moans and groans. She braved a quick glance over her shoulder and watched more and more infected stumble around the sides of the house, like a lunch bell had been rung. Or a shotgun discharged.
Which she had done, back in the kitchen. Shit. Damn.
They might not enjoy sunlight but it wouldn’t stop them if a meal was at hand.
Ali dived for the break in the shoulder-high fence and scrambled through on hands and knees, pushing the shotgun ahead of her.
She ran into something that stabbed through her denim, slicing into her skin. A sharp stab of pain shot up her leg and made her gasp.
She ignored the pain and tugged herself free.
The escape hatch was three wooden palings with their bottom halves missing. She had to wriggle and wrench to get her hips and butt through, but it beat the exposure of the open streets. Eight weeks worth of dwindling rations and sitting up in the attic, sweating it out, had whittled her away, but it was stil a tight fit.
Behind her the big guy swore as her rear cleared the rabbit hole and sweet liberty beckoned. His pack flew through after her, knocking into her heel. She stumbled back up onto her feet, ready to be gone.
The fence groaned and shifted behind her, protesting the weight as his hands gripped the top, boots scrabbling for purchase as he heaved himself up and over.
Before his feet could hit the ground, she was off and running. On through Mary’s prized rose garden, straight over the top of the spot where she had buried the old lady. Her stomach tumbled and turned.
The key was on its piece of string around her neck and she tugged it up and over, wincing when she nearly took off an ear in her haste.
He had to be close behind her, but there was nothing he could do once she was inside. Mary’s house was Fort fucking Knox, bars on every window, deadlocks on every door. Not that it had helped. Back before anyone knew what was happening, Mary had taken a bite to the wrist. Apparently, the plague had been cooked up in a lab somewhere in Asia. No one would admit to exactly where. How it escaped had become another mystery, but it went global in days.
Nothing to be done. Not for Mary or anyone else. It couldn’t be murder if the person was already dead. And infected was dead.
Everyone knew it. Everyone who was left.
Luck was with her and the key slid in, the door clicked open. Everything unfolded as it should. She sobbed with relief. Get inside, and get safe.
The stale, oven-like air of the house greeted her with al the promise of home. She slid the gun onto the kitchen bench, gave both hands over to clenching the door handle and throwing herself against the solid old wood in a whole body effort to slam it shut. Lock the whole fucking mess out. Get back up into the attic. Pull up the ladder. Screw the light of day. She would stay up there til hunger or thirst drove her out, and that was a promise. You could go a long time on a box of cereal and a couple of bottles of water.
This was her home now. Her haven.
“NO!” the big guy roared on the other side. Then his hands were there, fingers jammed in, prying the door open and forcing his way inside. Too strong. She couldn’t stop him. But she wasn’t done yet.
Ali bolted for the ladder, panic pushing at her heels and sweat stinging her eyes. The door slammed shut behind her. The deadbolt was thrown.
A fresh cramp bit into her side, but no way would it stop her. Not a chance.
One hand hit the cool rough surface of a metal rung. Safety was so close she could taste it, sitting on the tip of her tongue like a tease.
Her feet couldn’t work fast enough. Her damp hands slipped, but above, the comforting dark of the manhole beckoned. The superheated air from the midday sun wafted down, furnace-hot and so welcome.
“No you don’t.”
Strong arms wrapped around her waist and pulled, prying her free of the ladder with disgusting ease. She shrieked every insult known to woman and man, fighting him off with al she had. “You fucker! You motherfucking cock-sucking asshole. Get your fucking hands off me! Get off me!”
She kicked, punched and flailed. His hard chest stopped her fist short, jarring her wrist. Pain shot up her blood-smeared leg as she kicked. She wasn’t getting anywhere but she wasn’t giving up, either. Whatever the fuck he wanted, he couldn’t have it. She’d fight till her last breath. The big bastard took her down with ease, pinning her to the floor. Not crushing her, but giving no leeway.
Hot tears of frustration scalded her cheeks as she screamed words of abuse at her captor. They were a torrent, jumbled and nonsensical. She screamed till she choked. Then her cries morphed into gulping pleas for him to listen, to let her up and let her go. To leave her alone. Why the hell wouldn’t he listen to her anyway? What the fuck was wrong with him?
This man was every bit as good at the silent treatment as she was. In truth, he was better.
Eventually, she stopped. The tears, the words, all of it.
They lay on the pastel linoleum floor in a mess of sweaty limbs. She could barely move with the big bastard on top of her, holding her down. Her arms were pinned by his hands and her legs trapped beneath his. Effortlessly, he contained her. Ali shut her eyes tight, blocking out his determined gaze. Now he’d take what he wanted and all she could do was survive. A cry caught in her throat. She’d seen a woman dragged out of her car and raped on the Neilsens