Chapter Thirty Five

Posted: October 12, 2014 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     It quickly became apparent that the outage was more than a temporary glitch; the tiny lights on their absent host’s myriad electronics remained dark, a loss Maddie found oddly unsettling. There was a difference, she felt, between a wholly unlit room, and one whose black aura was sprinkled with the familiar, if ineffectual, glow of power indicators and cable connections. The longer she sat, staring into nothing, waiting for the power to return, the more her discomfort grew.

     Anxious to prevent the heebie-jeebies from taking hold, she stirred from the sofa, moving carefully toward the living room’s large window. There were no trees in Shawn’s neighborhood, no leaves and branches she could watch whip back and forth in the storm until her nerves were soothed, but she found herself drawn in that direction anyway. As a child, she’d caused her mother endless grief with her urges to press herself up against the nearest glass surface, palms open and framing her face, so she could watch a thunderstorm rage through their yard. Standing at the window, Grace had always cautioned, was asking for a tree limb to come crashing through, or a freak electric current to run through the metal frame and shock her. Years of such warnings had done nothing to curb Maddie’s voyeurism, though they did serve to make her feel eternally guilty every time she disobeyed, even long after Grace had given up trying to save her reckless daughter’s life.

     The guilt was there now, as Maddie reached out to draw back the curtain; Grace’s voice, shrill with fear and dismay, echoed in the back of her head. It made her pause, as it always did, before she swept the fabric aside, an ingrained response that in this case gave logic a chance to catch up with impulse.

     The storm was not the only dangerous thing out there.

     Maddie swore under her breath. If she opened the drapes, there was a good chance that anyone out on the street would see her, standing in full view like an oblivious dumbass. She might as well throw open the front door and invite any nearby…things in for dinner. Common sense dictated that she find something else to do: nap on the couch, crash out with Hannah, play 20 Questions with herself in the dark.

     Slip back into bed with the naked man you left alone upstairs.

     A picture formed in her mind – strong thighs, covered in downy soft hair, between which nestled the cock she could no doubt coax into taking another ride. She swayed on her feet. She still ached from earlier, a mostly-pleasant combination of soreness and satisfaction; now that ache increased, as she considered fumbling her way back up the stairs.

     She’d gone so far as to take a step toward the foyer, her recently-acquired resolve crumbling in the face of the throb between her legs, when thunder once more cracked overhead, stopping her in her tracks and jolting her back to reality.

     She turned back to the window in a huff, angry with herself. She needed a distraction, now.

     Considering her options, she finally settled on pulling the curtains back just a tad, enough so she could see out but nothing, hopefully, could see in. The old lady who lived next door to her parents managed to do it – she saw everything through her blinds, an invisible spy, the bane of everyone’s existence. Maddie was certain she could do it too.

     Moving carefully, she pushed a fabric panel aside and smushed her face into the opening, peering hard through the hole she’d created. The reward was instant: her eyes had adjusted to the lack of light, and she was able to see the rain, falling in sheets and bouncing off the pavement. She imagined being outside, allowing the water to drench her clothes, her hair, to pour over her uplifted face and pool in her shoes. She could almost feel it, pounding on her shoulders, washing away the tension she carried and leaving her fresh and clean, the way it was washing the detritus of the city out of the streets. Rainwater rushed along the curbs, bubbling over the drains as the force of the storm outstripped the sewer’s ability to handle the run-off. The prospect of a flood appeared more likely than it had a short while ago, when she’d first wished for such an intervention. The storm just might-

     Maddie paused in her thoughts. An unpleasant prickle swept across her scalp, down the back of her neck and over her arms, her body reacting before her mind registered that something had changed. She squinted into the darkness, narrowing her gaze.

     Something was moving in the shadows.

     It took a few moments – long enough that she began to doubt what she’d barely seen – and then a figure emerged, stumbling out of the inky darkness that pooled around the house just down the street. He lurched up the sidewalk, weaving back and forth, looking for all the world like a man determinedly making his way home after closing down the bar. Maddie wondered, guiltily, if her reptilian brain was mistaking drunk and disorderly for dangerous.

     The next flash of lightning put a quick end to her doubts. No one, no matter how drunk, could walk home while missing half an arm.

     The flashbulb effect of the lightning left her vision momentarily blurred, but the image remained burned in her brain: the torn suit, hanging from the man’s drenched frame, the right sleeve missing from the shoulder. His arm ended just above the elbow, an injury he seemed entirely unaware of. Pity and fear served to tighten Maddie’s stomach; she remained frozen, anxious to see where he would go, deeply afraid that he would turn in her direction.

     She was so focused on the creature’s trajectory, she didn’t realize that Vinnie had come up behind her. “Hey,” he said quietly, landing a soft kiss on her ear.

     She jumped, hard, suppressing a strangled scream. Her hand, still clenched around a fistful of fabric, jerked to the side, whipping the curtain open wide. Lightning, in a terrible burst of timing, flashed again, lighting up the section of exposed window and startling her even more; this time, she did scream, a sound that was blessedly swallowed by another resounding thunder boom.

     “Sorry,” he said, the hint of a laugh in his voice. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”

     She whirled on him in a fury, groping through the dark until she caught hold of his bicep and squeezed, digging her nails into his bare skin. “Shut up,” she hissed.

     “Everyone is asleep,” he whispered back, his confusion evident.

     “One of them is out there.”

     She felt the shift in his demeanor instantly; he shunted her to the side, ignoring her grunt of surprise and outrage, and peered through the curtain himself.

     “Do you see it?” she asked, when he was silent. “Is it still there?”

     “Yes.” He waited a beat. “What is it doing?”

     “I don’t know, let me see.” Slowly, she peeked through another gap in the drapes, eyes scanning. It took her a moment to find him – he’d moved further down the street, his figure merging in and out of the shadows. He seemed to have turned around, as he was heading back in the direction from which he’d originally come.

     They watched him go in silence, until the next burst of thunder. The creature’s head swung at the sound, and after a few seconds of deliberation he turned again, heading once more toward them.

     “It’s following the sound,” Maddie realized.

     “Trying to,” Vinnie agreed. “There’s probably an echo out there, which is confusing it. It doesn’t know which way to go.”

     Maddie frowned, disturbed by the idea. She knew the intelligence of these things was limited – she’d watched Summer walk right off the edge of a bed, after all, risking a broken limb or other injury without a second thought – but there was something incredibly sad about a consciousness so easily confused by something as fundamental as an echo. Whatever he was now, he’d once been a person, someone smart enough to hold down the kind of job that required a suit and tie. To be reduced to little more than an animal, baffled by unfamiliar sounds and spurred only by the search for food, seemed a colossal waste.

     She didn’t know how long they stood there, watching the man stumble his way up and down the street, turned this way and that by a force beyond his control. Eventually the gap between the rolls of thunder allowed him to pick a direction and set off, until he moved beyond where they could track him. As he disappeared from view, Maddie heaved a sigh of relief, one that quickly turned into a hitching sob. Pity, terror, and exhaustion overwhelmed her, and she began to cry, silent tears that coursed down her cheeks and dripped from her chin.

     “Hey,” Vinnie said again, his voice tender. He pulled her toward him and she sagged against his side, allowing herself to find comfort in the arm he wrapped around her. She decided, in that moment, that she didn’t need a distraction from him; that could come later, when “later” was something concrete, rather than a time there was no guarantee she would see. Right now she needed him to distract her from everything else.

     “You should sleep,” he told her, his lips moving against her hair.

     She shifted beside him, sliding her hand down over his stomach until it rested on his crotch; her fingers flexed, kneading him through the thin cotton pants he wore. “Come with me,” she breathed.

     To her surprise, he moved her hand, his grip gentle but firm. “Someone has to stand watch,” he said. “More of them could come. I shouldn’t have gone up in the first place.”

     She knew what he meant but flinched anyway. He must have felt it, or sensed that he’d said the wrong thing; he squeezed her hand before ducking his head, planting a swift kiss on her lips before she could fully withdraw. “Worth it,” he murmured reassuringly. “But irresponsible. You go.”

     She hesitated, not wanting to leave him alone in the dark, until he gave her a gentle nudge. “I’ll do it next time,” she promised, moving away before he could argue. She turned back at the stairs, one foot on the first riser, and peered through the darkness; she could just barely see him, standing at attention before the window, his shoulders squared off as he stared out into the street. A soldier.

     She hoped he’d still be there in the morning.

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