Chapter Nineteen

Posted: January 19, 2014 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

Day 15

     Maddie lay in the dark, listening to her sister’s gentle snoring, and wondered what the hell they were going to do.
They’d been stuck in Vinnie’s apartment for four days. Four days of nonstop news on the television, endless sniping with her sister and repeated, failed attempts to find a way out of the godforsaken city and get home.

     Four days of waiting for the girl, Summer, to recover. Or die.

     Maddie had been hopeful that she was going to get better. On the first day Summer had been talkative, laughing and joking with Caleb; she’d even eaten some of the soup Vinnie had insisted would help her. On the second Maddie had sat with her, rubbing her back and making sympathetic noises while the girl cried, explaining again what had happened down in the tunnels. She wanted them to find Dirk; would not lay back and sleep until Maddie had promised that they would try.

     That had been the last time she’d spoken to anyone.

     Now it was two days later and the girl slept on, unable to be roused. Caleb insisted she was resting, rejecting all other explanations for her deep, disturbing slumber. Maddie and Vinnie had had a dozen arguments over whether she could be hauled down to the car and taken to the hospital; with each passing hour Maddie had grown angrier and angrier with his reticence to do anything beyond stand around, waiting to see what would happen.

     After much yelling, he’d finally consented to canvassing his neighbors for a working phone. Most doors remained closed, no matter how much they knocked; when they finally found a friendly face, an older woman who called Vinnie “Honeybunch” and offered them cookies, the effort proved to be a waste of time – ten calls to 9-1-1 ended in nothing more than a ringing line. A quick call to Maddie’s mother had at least been picked up by the machine; she’d left a short message, assuring Grace that they were fine and trying to find a way home, before Vinnie had dragged her back to the apartment.

     The news report that evening had offered an explanation for their failure: 911 was no longer operational. Nor were the emergency rooms at any of the city’s four hospitals; it seemed mandatory vaccinations for personnel had not had the desired effect, and most of the doctors and nurses were either laid up at home or lying on cots at Bayer Stadium.

     Help, Maddie had realized, was not coming.

     A particularly loud snooork from her sister roused Maddie from her thoughts. Sighing, she gave Jessie a shove before rolling over herself, wishing for the hundredth time that she had ear plugs. Although she had to admit, it wasn’t just the snoring that kept her awake at night; even if she could stop worrying long enough to sleep, the floor of Vinnie’s living room wasn’t exactly the most comfortable place to be camping out. Vinnie had magnanimously offered the use of the sofa, but both women had refused, Maddie because he was already displaced from his bed, Jessie simply to keep her sister from sharing sleeping space with him.

     Forget it, she told herself. You can worry about all of this crap in the morning. Sleep.

     For a few minutes, it seemed like she would be successful. She was just starting to drift off when she heard a creak in the bedroom.

     There was no reason to pay it any mind. Vinnie’s building was old, and anyway, Caleb got up multiple times a night to fuss over Summer, rearranging the bedding and wiping her face with fresh cloths, as though such simple measures would bring her back to him. Maddie had already grown used to ignoring his middle-of-the-night puttering around.

     Nonetheless, she was jerked back into alertness by the sound. After a moment she realized her body was rigid, her ears straining as she held her breath.

     Creak.

     She sat up, aware as she did so that Vinnie was already throwing his blankets off and rising to his feet. He was a mere shadow in the dark room, moving toward the bedroom door before she could get up.

     “Vinnie!” she whispered, not wanting to wake her sister. He stopped, a disembodied voice coming out of the darkness.

     “Stay there,” he ordered. “I’ll check.”

     “Yeah right.” Stumbling, she made her way to his side, tripping over Jessie’s feet in the process. He caught her arm as she fell into him.

     “It’s probably nothing,” he told her. For the first time since she’d met him, she thought she detected uncertainty in his tone.

     “We’ll just peek,” she said.

     Moving slowly, Vinnie eased the door open.

     As she’d expected, Caleb was hovering. He perched on Summer’s side of the bed, a damp cloth in his hand; from the look of her cheeks, he’d been scrubbing them for some time. He muttered to himself, his speech low and rapid.

     Maddie took a cautious step into the room. “Caleb?” The kid jerked, his shoulders twitching, but didn’t stop wiping. “Caleb. What are you doing?”

     Vinnie nudged past her, pushing her closer to the bed. Maddie’s gaze fell to Summer’s face, and she froze. The girl’s expression was utterly blank; her mouth hung open, jaw slack. Aside from the chaffed redness of her cheeks, her face lacked all color.

     “Oh no.”

     “She’s fine.” Caleb nodded at his own words. “She just needs to cool off. She’s so hot. Feel her forehead.” Maddie shrank back, not wanting to lay a hand on the girl, but he continued as though she’d complied. “See? It’s just a fever. I need to cool her off.”

     “Caleb.” Vinnie stood at his side, his eyes lingering on Summer’s face for only a moment before he turned away. “She’s gone.”

     “No!” Caleb shook his head, frantically redoubling his efforts with the cloth. “It’s just a fever. She’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

     “You need to move away from her,” Vinnie said, putting his hand on the kid’s shoulder. Caleb shrugged him off. “Come on, Caleb. You know you can’t sit here.”

     “Leave him alone,” Maddie said. She heard the tremble in her voice and swallowed. She hadn’t known the girl very well, had barely spoken to her since they’d met, but her eyes still stung with unshed tears. “She was his friend. Leave him be.”

     Vinnie gave her a withering look before reaching toward the girl. Caleb grabbed his wrist before he could touch her. Rather than argue, Vinnie spoke gently. “I just want to check her fever. Okay?”

     The kid hesitated, then nodded, releasing his grip. Maddie watched as Vinnie stroked the girl’s forehead, brushing the hair away from her face before trailing his fingers down, over her cheeks and along her jaw. His fingers paused for a few moments; he closed his eyes, brow furrowed, and then shook his head.

     “She’s gone,” he said again. “Move away from her.”

     Not waiting for an answer, he strode to his dresser and yanked open a drawer. When he turned back toward them, he had the gun in his hand.

     “NO!”

     Maddie wasn’t sure which one of them screamed louder, but it was Caleb who leapt up and hurled himself onto Vinnie, grappling for the gun. Both men shouted and shoved; though Vinnie had several inches and fifty pounds on the kid, Caleb proved to be stronger than he looked – he wasn’t able to wrestle the gun away, but he did manage to use his body to prevent Vinnie from raising his arm to take aim. In their struggle they moved across the room, crowding Maddie closer to the bed. Recoiling – she’d never touched a dead body and certainly wasn’t going to change that now – Maddie skirted the mattress, stopping at the foot to shout at them.

     “Stop it! Somebody is going to get hurt!”

     Jessie appeared in the doorway, hair knotted and tangled from sleep. She blinked in the light. “What’s going on?”

     Her arrival startled Vinnie, who looked at her with distraction for just a second. It was all Caleb needed – with a primal scream, he brought his fist back and then down, slamming it into Vinnie’s wrist. The gun flew, landing on the carpet near Maddie’s feet.

     Caleb pressed his advantage, lowering his head to ram the other man’s chest; Vinnie hit the wall behind him with a solid thud. He groaned. “Pick it up,” he gasped at Maddie. Wincing, he wrapped his arms around Caleb, preventing the kid from moving away to strike him again. “Pick it up!”

     Maddie took a step back, shaking her head. Just seeing the gun unattended on the floor terrified her; she’d never held one, and besides, she wasn’t going to do what he wanted her to. There was no way she could shoot Summer, no matter that the girl was already dead.

     “I can’t,” she told him.

     “Pick it up!” he screamed back.

     “I can’t!” She looked around frantically, searching for an escape. “I can’t! I can’t shoot her, I can’t, I can-”

     The words died on her lips.

     The dead girl in the bed was moving.

     Summer’s hands rose and fell, flopping onto the bed. She writhed, seemingly unable to extricate herself from the blankets; her body thrashed wildly from one side of the bed to the other. She grunted frantically, animal sounds that sounded horribly familiar. She sounded like…like…

     Oh my god. Oh holy shit.

     Visions of the photographer filling her head, Maddie dove for the gun. Caleb continued to kick and scream, begging her not to hurt Summer; his cries mixed with Vinnie’s shouts and the increasingly loud snarling, a cacophony of confusion and terror.

     With shaking hands, Maddie raised the gun. It was lighter than she’d expected, the grip pebbled against her palms. Her aim wavered as her arms trembled. I can’t do this. Maybe he was wrong; maybe she wasn’t dead. I can’t do this!

     The thing in the bed freed itself; rising to her knees, she looked Maddie full in the face, lips pulled back to bare her teeth. A roar, bigger than she’d have thought possible for such a small person, filled the room.

     “SHOOT HER!”

     Closing her eyes, Maddie pulled the trigger.

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Comments
  1. mxcoot says:

    Holy shit you did it again, left me wanting more.

  2. Thea says:

    Awesome chapter!

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