Chapter Twenty Four

Posted: March 30, 2014 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

Day 18

     They woke to the sound of sirens.

     When the first one zipped by, Maddie did little more than stir quietly; years of living in the city had inured her to the noise. The second siren pierced the thin veil of sleep, prompting her to open one reluctant eye. As a third, then a fourth, joined the shrieking chorus, she struggled to sit up.

     “It’s early,” Vinnie mumbled, pulling her back down to the floor. His arm snaked around her, pinning her down.

     “Get off,” she said, squirming to get out of his grasp. “Something’s wrong.”

     “Just a fire or something. Go back to sleep.”

     “I want to see. It sounds like a lot. Let me up- Oh!”

     She swallowed her words as the bedroom door opened and her sister stumbled into view. Jessie squinted into the dim living room.

     “What the fuck?” she whined, a hand pressed to her forehead. “Is the building on fire?” She shuffled closer; Maddie knew the exact moment her eyes adjusted to the gloom: the look of hazy confusion left her face, replaced with a sneer.

     “Well well,” Jessie said, pinning Maddie with a contemptuous glare. “Don’t you two look cozy.”

     Maddie blushed. “It’s not what it looks like,” she said.

     “Your pants are over there,” Jessie said, pointing across the room. “So’s his shirt.”

     Maddie glanced at the man lying bare-chested beside her and wondered when that had happened. Frowning, she realized she didn’t remember much after the condom debacle. Oh no. She felt the blood drain out of her face, leaving her cold and shaky.

     “You’ve still got your panties,” Vinnie muttered. She was startled to see that he was fully awake, smirking as he reached over to snap her waistband. “I helped you put them back on.”

     “Gross,” Jessie snapped.

     Maddie ignored her; she stared instead at Vinnie, willing him to answer the question she knew was in her eyes. After a moment he shook his head, just once, a slow back and forth that flooded her with relief. It must have shown on her face; the good humor fled his, and he turned away.

     “Don’t look so happy about it,” he grumbled. Before she could respond, he threw back the blankets and got to his feet. “Put your pants on,” he said, tossing them to her; the balled-up cotton whapped her in the chest, not hard, but it felt like a slap just the same.

     Maddie wanted to explain, but her tongue felt glued to the roof of her mouth. She didn’t want to discuss it in front of her sister, or Caleb, who came tripping out of the bedroom just as she was wiggling into her pants.

     “What happened?” he asked. He clung to the doorframe, unsteady on his feet; from his grimace, Maddie knew the sirens were killing his head.

     The noise outside continued to swell; she pictured a cavalcade of cruisers out there, converging on the building, maybe this apartment. Summer, she thought, and shuddered. Surely Vinnie had been careful.

     Getting up with a groan – the floor had not been kind to her aching shoulders and back – she went to the window, flinching when the light flooded through the cracked blinds. Peering down at the street below, she gasped.

     “What is it?” Jessie asked. She came to stand just behind Maddie, looking over her shoulder. “Is it a fire? What-” She caught her breath. “What the hell?”

     Maddie stared, struck dumb. It seemed as though every cruiser in the city was flying down the street, lights flashing frantically; they took up both lanes, forcing oncoming traffic up onto the curbs as they struggled to get out of the way. A taxi failed to get over fast enough; a fire truck slammed into the front bumper, sent the cab spinning across the sidewalk and into a building, and kept going. No one stopped, or even slowed. Maddie eyed the cab’s mangled front end and waited for the driver to emerge.

     The door remained shut.

     “Where are they going?” Jessie breathed.

     Maddie shook her head. “I don’t know. But it can’t be good.”

     “They’re leaving.”

     Maddie turned, tearing her gaze from the window with difficulty. The scream of the sirens rose and fell, rose and fell, and she felt suddenly dizzy. The room spun, and she stumbled, lurching toward the couch. She reached out, hoping Vinnie would take her hand, catch her, but he was ignored her, his eyes glued to the TV. She collapsed down beside him, twisted, her face pressed against the back cushion.

     “Dick,” she muttered.

     “Sshh,” he hissed back.

     He turned the volume up higher, fighting the sound from outside. Maddie glanced at the screen and froze, her whole body going numb with fear. She read the chyron twice, then again, disbelieving.

     “Does that say-”

     “Yes. Shut up.”

     Maddie blinked, hard, hoping the words she was seeing would change, rearrange, become their true selves. But they remained. THE DEAD WALK, tidy script, plastered beneath a pair of news anchors who looked for all the world like they would rip off their mikes and run at any moment. The man sat rigid behind the desk, the papers clenched in his hands shaking ever-so-slightly; his face bore a frozen grin as he stared into the camera, not speaking, immobilized with panic. His co-anchor spoke at a rapid clip, her voice high and cracked.

     It had started at Bayer Stadium, she said, but Maddie knew that wasn’t true; Bayer was just where it had gone beyond their ability to explain it away. Hundreds had died, been piled up in the halls, and hundreds had come back, a groaning, rabid mass that had descended on the sick like they were a buffet. In a way, they had been – too ill to fight back, many near death already, most hadn’t been able to even leave their cots before they were fallen upon. Chopper footage showed a teeming crowd of people on Bayer field, snapping and snarling at each other like dogs.

     Police had barricaded the arena, hoping to contain it, but of course they weren’t able. The dead had flooded into the streets overnight, joined soon enough by hordes of others. People fled into the subways, only to find that those too were unsafe; trapped between two waves of undead, most didn’t make it back out. And still they tried; even as the newswoman warned against them, new footage came up, hundreds of people converging on stations, taking their chances. The clips had no sound, no doubt to protect viewers, but Maddie could easily imagine their panicked screams. She’d heard it before.

     “Local police are working to contain the situation.” The anchor’s calming voice had a brittle edge to it; she was reading her lines, but she clearly didn’t believe them. “The national guard has been mobilized. Stay in your homes.” She swallowed, her throat working. “The situation will be contained.”

     Maddie looked at the window, listened to the sirens and thought, Bullshit. Those cars outside weren’t rushing toward anything; they were running away. She tried to be angry, or disgusted at their cowardice, but found that she couldn’t. She wished she was in one of those cruisers instead, whizzing toward freedom. Surely they’d be let through the quarantine barricades. They were cops, after all.

     Vinnie muted the television and stared straight ahead; Maddie watched the vein in his temple pulse. She waited for him, for any of them, to speak, but the stunned silence stretched on.

     “Well,” she finally said. “Guess this is where you say ‘I told you so’.” When he still said nothing, she reached out, touching his arm gently. “Vinnie. What do we do?”

     He turned his head slowly, a look on his face she’d never seen before. Maddie’s scalp prickled. She took note of his eyes, the set of his jaw, and thought, G.I. Joe. He’d shed his civilian skin, had probably never been comfortable in it anyway. The man beside her now, his forearm like steel beneath her fingers, was a soldier.

     “Vinnie?” she asked.

     “Come with me,” he said, rising to his feet.

     “Where are we going?”

     He tossed Maddie her coat, then shrugged into his own. Pulling open a kitchen drawer, he retrieved the handgun, checking the clip before he stuffed it in his waistband. When he looked at Maddie again, his face was closed and cold.

     “We’re gonna need more guns.”

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