Chapter Twenty Eight

Posted: June 9, 2014 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     We have to go up to get down, he’d said, and unfortunately he hadn’t lied. Standing on the landing between floors 14 and 15, her back pressed against the wall, Maddie wondered just how far up they were supposed to be going. The suitcase she carried seemed to grow heavier with every step.

     “Not too much further,” Vinnie assured her, as if he’d read her thoughts. He stood tall, barely sweating despite the double-load he bore on his back, and she felt her face flush with a mix of embarrassment and guilt. She hadn’t complained, not yet anyway, but he’d sensed it just the same.

     She started to speak, to tell him she was just fine, thank you, she could trudge upward for days, but was shoved back into the wall before she could. She bit her lip to keep from yelling at the pusher, a move she immediately regretted – fresh agony shot through her mouth, and she was unable to hold back the yelp of pain.

     The people shoving past them didn’t even glance at her. She shuffled further into a corner of the landing and watched them go: weighted down with belongings, their faces tense with fear, a mass exodus. They streamed down the stairs, jostling against each other to get ahead. But not, she noticed, speaking. Not even any muttered swears when someone from behind managed to push their way ahead, not caring if they tripped up the person they were trying to pass.

     Stuck between floors, unable to go up and unwilling to go back down, Maddie wondered what these people would find once they reached the lobby. She’d tried to warn them at first, to tell them that the lobby could already be over-run, but no one had listened. They hadn’t hesitated; not one of them. She was done trying. Now she stood aside, as far out of the way of the crowd as she could, and waited.

     She’d been turning something over in her mind as they climbed, a puzzle to keep her from noticing the screaming protest in her calves, and now she went back to it. The question, of course, was How much do they know? She’d seen the movies, everybody had, and the prevailing wisdom in those was that they were mindless, focused on nothing but their next meal. But those were fiction, and this was…not.

     Could they climb stairs? That was the true question. Could they climb? She remembered Summer, the way she’d walked off the bed without missing a beat, and thought maybe not. It seemed so easy, walking up stairs, but it wasn’t, not really. A lot of things had to come together, to coordinate, in order for it to work. Were they capable?

     They could fall up the stairs. Maddie frowned at the idea. It would take a long time, but they could fall. And get up. And fall again. Or they could crawl.

     Wouldn’t crawling be as difficult as walking?

     Okay, fine. They could slither.

     That made her shiver, and she pushed it away.

     “Come on.”

     Vinnie’s voice broke her concentration. Looking around, she realized that the flood of people had reduced to a trickle – a few stragglers who were hauling down enormous suitcases, computers, and what looked like a small television set. Where the hell are you going to plug that in? The guy toting his tv was gone before she could think to ask, and then they were alone.

     “Just a little further,” Vinnie said again. He adjusted his packs, took a deep breath and started up, Jessie and Maddie trailing behind him.

     “What floor are we looking for?” she asked.

     “20.”

     5 more floors. 4 more landings. 11 more sets of stairs. Maddie shifted the case to her left hand, thinking she could use the other to haul herself up along the banister, and immediately dropped it. Her wrist cried out; her tired, bruised shoulder cried just a little louder. She watched the case bounce back down to the landing they’d just vacated and fought the urge to scream.

     “Sshh,” Jessie hissed at her. “They won’t know we’re up here if we’re quiet.”

     Maddie doubted that, very much – after the visit to the basement, she was pretty sure they didn’t rely on sound, or at least not solely. She was 99% positive they could smell what they wanted. There was no point in arguing, though. Gritting her teeth, she trudged down the steps, snagged the case and made her way back up.

     “Doesn’t your building have an elevator?” Jessie whined.

     “Sure,” Vinnie said, a hint of humor in his voice. “It’s 50 years old and breaks twice a week. You want to try it?”

     “NO!” Maddie knew she would climb 30 more sets of stairs before she’d climb into an elevator, reliable or not. The thought of being stuck inside the metal room, waiting for the doors to open and reveal whatever was on the other side, made her stomach roll.

     “I didn’t think so.” They passed another floor sign. “4 more floors. We’re almost there.”

     A sudden, horrible thought occurred to her. “What if it’s locked?”

     “What?” Vinnie turned abruptly, stopping in mid-climb to glare at her. “What?”

     “It’s an interior escape, isn’t it? Fire-resistant shaft? They’re not legal anymore. What if it’s locked?”

     “It’s not locked.” His voice was firm, certain, but she thought she saw a flicker of doubt in his eyes.

     “Are you sure?”

     “Of course I’m not sure,” he snapped at her. “I’ve never used it. If it’s locked, we’ll break it.”

     “Why didn’t we just use your fire escape?” Jessie asked.

     Vinnie rolled his eyes. “It’s busted. The ladder doesn’t drop.”

     “That’s illegal!” Maddie protested. “Your landlord-”

     “Look around you!” Vinnie shouted, and that look of revulsion was back on his face. Uptown girl, that look said. You don’t know anything. “You think he gives a shit about my fire escape?”

     There are homeless people living in his basement. Dying in his basement. He has a point.

     She dropped her eyes, staring at her shoes until she heard him start to move again. She focused on her feet, on getting one leg up and in front of the other, and listened to the sound of her own ragged breathing.

     They were one floor from their goal when the screaming started.

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Comments
  1. mxcoot says:

    Way to leave me hanging anxiously wating for what happens next.

  2. deltajuliet74 says:

    Awww no fair no fair no fair!!!!!!!

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