Chapter Forty-Four

Posted: September 6, 2015 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     Maddie whirled at her sister’s cry, gun raised and prepared to fire.  To her relief, she saw that Jessie stood alone on the sidewalk, no sign of the undead around her.  Confused, Maddie ran back to her side, anxious to reassure her that she was safe and quiet her before she caused a problem.

     “Sssh,” Maddie hissed, grabbing Jessie’s arm.  “Stop it, they’ll hear you!”

     Instead of stopping, Jessie screamed again, and pointed down the street.  Maddie looked – and felt her stomach drop.

     Hannah and Caleb had fallen behind, slowed by Caleb’s injured knee and inability to walk alone.  They trudged forward, Caleb leaning so heavily on the older woman that every step was a stagger.  Both of their heads were down, watchful for any storm debris that may trip them up and further hinder their progress, trusting entirely in those who had gone ahead.

     And entirely unaware that they had amassed a following at their backs.

     Jessie’s screaming alerted them to their danger; Hannah looked over her shoulder and screamed herself, nearly dropping Caleb’s weight in the process.  She made a valiant attempt to increase their speed, putting a short distance between them and the shambling horror that drew ever closer, and would probably have succeeded in getting them to safety….had she not tripped over something unseen in the water, and gone down to her knees on the pavement.

     “No!” Jessie screamed.  She dropped her gun and started to run toward them, her hands out.  Before she’d gone more than a few steps, powerful arms grabbed her from behind and swept her back.

     “Shoot!” Vinnie yelled, spinning Jessie away.  “Shoot them, Madelyn!”

     Maddie needed no further encouragement.  Aiming as best she could, she fired off four shots in rapid succession, hoping to at least hold the others back and allow Hannah to regain her feet.  The first shot hit home; it punched into shoulder of the nearest undead, sending him stumbling backward for a precious few seconds.  The rest went wild, as her arm was pulled upward by the force of the gun; having never used one before, she made the mistake of shooting one-handed, and the power of the weapon was beyond what she had expected.

     Nonetheless, the reprieve afforded by the single shot was enough for Hannah to scramble forward and lurch to her feet.  She turned back, to reach for Caleb’s hand – and found the kid yanked from her grip, backward into the horde.

     This time, Maddie screamed.  Steadying her wrist with her free hand, she fired again, shots that stayed true but did nothing to stop the undead from falling on the prostrate figure before them.  She pulled the trigger repeatedly, even after the impotent click-click-click signaled that the clip was empty.  When Hannah reached her side, red-faced and sobbing, Maddie wrenched the shotgun from her hands and fired once more.

     Caleb cried out only once before they were wholly on him.  Then he disappeared from Maddie’s view, covered over by the creatures.  Screaming with rage, she fired on them, until the shotgun too had been emptied of ammo.  Beside her, Hannah continued to sob.

     Distracted by their quarry, the horde did not advance further; they clustered instead around Caleb’s fallen body, seemingly unaware of anything beyond their need to feed.  Behind her, something rumbled, and Vinnie shouted.  “This way!”

     Maddie turned away, nearly blinded by tears.  Reaching out, she hooked Hannah’s arm with her own and stumbled back toward the station house.  Vinnie had raised the metal bay door and stood waiting, one arm still wrapped around Jessie’s torso; he struggled to simultaneously hold the door open and keep Jessie from escaping his grasp and running back toward where Caleb had fallen.  “Get inside,” he instructed through gritted teeth.  Ducking her head, Maddie swept under the raised door and into the bay, followed quickly by Hannah, Vinnie and a kicking, screaming Jessie.  Her shoes had barely cleared the threshold when Vinnie slammed the door back down, leaving them all in darkness.

     “Here,” he said, shoving Jessie into Maddie’s arms.  “I’ll be back.”  Before she could respond he moved away, penlight in hand, to check that the building they’d entered was empty.

     Jessie fell against her, sobbing so hard that her whole body shook and her breath came in short, rasping gulps.  Maddie held her, smoothing her hair back from her face and murmuring soothing nonsense into the younger woman’s ear.  She clamped down on her own sadness; just as she refused to dwell on the reality of their circumstances, or what might become of them if they couldn’t escape the city, so too did she refuse to allow her grief to gain a foothold.  That way, she feared, lay madness.

     Gradually, Jessie’s crying abated, and she sagged in Maddie’s arms, exhausted.  Just when she thought she couldn’t hold her sister’s weight for much longer, Vinnie returned, grim-faced but unharmed.

     “No one’s here.”  Though his voice was measured, calm, Maddie knew he was disappointed; he’d convinced himself, with Hannah’s help, that someone would have stayed behind, and they hadn’t been wholly abandoned.  That might still be true – there were other places they could seek out for help – but the emptiness of this particular place was a bitter pill to swallow.

     “Now what?” she asked, unable to hide how hopeless she felt.  She squeezed her sister tight.  “We can’t go back out there.”

     “Not tonight,” Vinnie agreed.  “We’ll try again in the morning.”  He pointed toward the back of the ambulance bay, the penlight shining.  “There’s a loft upstairs.  We’ll wait up there.”

     Maddie helped her sister along, all but carrying Jessie across the bay and up the stairs.  Hannah followed silently behind, her head bowed.

     The loft was small but neat, meant to be a temporary resting place for the small crew who staffed the house.  Judging by the size of the bay below, Maddie guessed that it had only ever held one ambulance, maybe two; it was an auxiliary station, designed to service the neighborhood and not much else.  They might have better luck finding help at one of the city’s larger stations, where multiple crews were expected to be on duty and the doors were never closed.  For now, however, they were stuck here.

     The loft held no cots, but there were three couches arranged beneath the high window, old and worn but still comfortable.   A small kitchenette was tucked into the far corner; the drawers squealed when opened, but contained matches and candles, an enormous relief.  Maddie wasn’t sure she could have spent the rest of the night in complete darkness.  Once Vinnie had lit them, she pulled him into the corner, anxious to discuss what they should do.

     “We can’t stay here,” she whispered urgently.

     “Obviously,” he agreed, irritated.  “There’s no water or power, and we left everything behind.”

     That drew Maddie up short.  She’d of course known that they’d fled the house with nothing more than the weapons they could carry and whatever Vinnie already had in his bag, but hearing it brought the gravity of their situation home.  They had no food, no water, no emergency supplies – and no ammo beyond what she held in her pockets.  She pictured the giant duffel, stuffed with boxes of bullets and other guns, and groaned.

     “It’ll be okay.”  Vinnie pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly.  His lips pressed against her hair, her face, and finally, her mouth.  “It’s okay.  I have a plan.  We-”

     “No!”

     Jessie’s shout prompted them to pull away from each other.  She rose from the couch and advanced on them, her face a mask of fury.

     “No more plans,” she said savagely.  “I’m done listening to you.”

     “Jessie.”  Maddie held out a placating hand.  “It wasn’t his fault.”

     “Yes it was,” Jessie insisted.  “It was!  I could have saved him, but he pulled me away!”

     Maddie shook her head.  “You dropped the gun.  He was trying to help you.”

     “Bullshit!” Jessie cried.  She began to cry again.  “And anyway, he dropped him.  He did it on purpose!  Caleb couldn’t run, and that’s why-  why-”  She bent at the waist, wracked once more with sobs.  “It was his fault.”

     Maddie glanced at Vinnie, who grimaced but said nothing.  She tried once more on his behalf.  “Jessie, he didn’t mean to hurt Caleb.  It was an accident.  You can’t really-”

     “You’re such an idiot.”  Maddie reeled back, shocked by the viciousness in her sister’s tone.  “You’ll follow him anywhere.  Stop thinking with your cunt.”

     Maddie slapped her.  “That’s enough,” she warned.

     Jessie cupped her reddening cheek and sneered.  Even in the dim light, Maddie saw the hatred in her sister’s eyes.  Chills raced through her.

     “Why don’t you ask him,” Jessie said slowly, her voice raw.  “Ask him what happened when he drove me home.”

     “What?”  The sudden change in topic threw her off-balance.  Maddie looked from her sister to Vinnie, confused.  “When?”

     “The night of your wedding.”  Jessie turned her baleful gaze on Vinnie.  “He didn’t tell you, did he?  Ask him what happened.”

     Maddie shook her head again, at a loss.  She stared at her sister – at the grim satisfaction on her face, and the sly smile that twisted her mouth.  In the flickering light, she saw something she’d seen once before, on the face of another woman.  Triumph.  Then the implication hit her, a punch in the gut, and she gasped.

     “You’re lying,” she said angrily.  She turned to Vinnie.  “Tell me she’s lying,” she demanded.

     Vinnie met her gaze, his face blank.  She saw his jaw work, clenching tighter and tighter.  Then he looked away, saying nothing.

     “Oh my god,” she whispered.  She stepped back, away from him, one hand out as if to ward off a blow.  She looked at them both – Vinnie, his shoulders slumped, and her sister, that vicious grin still on her face.

     “I told you,” Jessie said.  She narrowed her eyes at Maddie.  “I told you I had dibs.”

     Unable to face them, Maddie fled down the loft stairs to the dark bay below, her sister’s laughter ringing in her ears.

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Comments
  1. Thea Landen says:

    Am I wrong for thinking Caleb was dead weight anyway? :-X (I might be a terrible person.)

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