Chapter 22 .


“What do we do?” I asked as the two zombies ran towards the open store door and a third zombie appeared on the street.

Hunter grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the back of the store.  We went back into the dark hallway that would lead to the door to the back.  Hunter closed the inner door behind us. We went a little down the hallway, but we didn’t go all the way out.  There was pounding on the door Hunter had just closed and several moans. We heard the front store door bang open a few more times and more moans and pounding sounded at the door.

“We can’t leave Darren,” I whispered still aware that Hunter held my hand.

“What do we do?” he whispered back genuinely wanting to know.  “If we go out back and circle around, the zombies will see us and charge us once we get to the front.”

I nodded even though he wouldn’t be able to see me in the dark.

“Okay,” I whispered.  “You brace the door and we’ll open it just enough that I can put my ax in zombie heads.”

“That’s risky,” he whispered.

“It worked for us before,” I whispered back.

“Doesn’t mean it wasn’t risky.  I guess everything is risky though in a world full of zombies.  Okay. We’ll try it, but at the first sign of trouble you run out the back door.”

“And you too,” I said because I didn’t like the way he worded that.

“Me too,” he agreed.

We went back to the door as quietly as we could.  There was less pounding on the door and the moans had quieted.  Hunter opened it just a crack.

There was a zombie right there.  His eyes had dulled and were centered on the floor, but as soon as he saw me, he pushed against the door, squeezing his hands through the crack and groaning loudly.  There was shuffling and movement behind him as the other zombies in the room came back to the door.

I brought my ax up and then down hard in between his eyes.  I used all my strength to pull it out. The zombie fell dead at my feet.  Another one immediately took its place. Several hands reached inside now and Hunter’s face strained in the faint light as he held the door in place with all his strength.

I killed this second zombie and a third took her place.  Except there was an additional higher pitched moan coming from almost waist level.  I had forgotten about the zombie child. I shifted so my backpack fell forward slightly to the front at waist level just as the child tried to bite me.  She got my backpack instead. She bit into it over and over trying to find flesh not understanding that it wasn’t me. I killed the third zombie bringing the ax down on top of his head with one hand as the other steadied the backpack.  

A teenage zombie came to take that one’s place.  The child zombie pulled on the backpack and in the process threw me off balance.  I stumbled forward toward the teenage zombie’s reaching bloody fingers. He grabbed my shoulders and started pulling me closer.

I looked down just to make sure the child zombie hadn’t made it passed my backpack.  The last thing I needed was for her to bite my stomach while I was fighting off the teenage zombie.  But as soon as I looked down I saw her attention was no longer on me or my backpack. She had seen Hunter.

“Hunt,” I warned, but couldn’t get out more than that as the teenage zombie with incredible strength pulled me towards his chomping mouth.

Without the child holding my backpack, I was able to raise the ax over my head with both hands and bring it down into the teenage zombie’s head right as his teeth bit the sleeve of my jacket.  He slid down on top of the other dead zombies as I retracted my ax. There were bite marks on my jacket, but he hadn’t managed to tear it.  

Hunter slid back slightly as the child zombie attacked him.  The door opened a little wider as he did so. Two zombies were left outside the door.  They managed to push the door open enough for both of them to come through at once. Before I could step back both zombies had me pinned against the wall.  I put my ax up sideways and shoved the handle in both of their mouths. I had to use all my strength to keep them at bay. My arms were tired and beginning to ache, but I couldn’t give up.  Hunter would help me. I had to believe in him. There was a shuffle beyond the zombies but I couldn’t see passed them.

I imagined myself getting a sudden burst of strength and twisting around so the zombies were against the wall and Hunter and I could make a break for the door.  I pushed with all my might trying to gather my strength against the zombies as I imagined, but they only pushed back. They wouldn’t budge. Their claw like fingers tugged at my jacket, pawed at my face.  I think one of them cut my cheek, but I wasn’t sure if they had actually broken the skin.

And then Hunter was behind them.  There was a splattering of blood on his cheek, but I didn’t think it was his own.  He brought his knife into the back of the neck of one of the zombies in front of me.  This allowed me to push the remaining one back slightly. I tore the ax handle free from his mouth and quickly swung it down into his head.  He dropped to my feet as I pulled the ax out. The store was now zombie free. At least for the moment.

“We need to go get Darren,” Hunter said.

I nodded.  “I agree,” I said.

We went to the front of the store and quietly peeked out along the street.  There were zombies further away, but not close enough where they would pay any attention to us.

We ran quietly and half crouched across the street.  I started to go down the stairs, but Hunter grabbed my wrist.

“When we go in there,” he said quietly, “I don’t know what we’ll see, but whatever it is, whatever we have to do, trust me please.  Just go along with whatever I say.”

I nodded.  I did trust him.  There were things he was keeping from me, but he had kept things from me since he stopped being my friend all those years ago.  I was just happy he was my friend again.

We went down the stairs.  Hunter took in a deep breath before he opened the door and stepped inside.  It was dark, but there was a faint light from somewhere up ahead. I didn’t realize there were black curtains in front of us, until Hunter pulled one back slightly.  The light immediately got brighter, but it was still dim. I stepped into the studio, Hunter close behind me. There were bean bags set up all around. Soft candles were on the floor providing the light.  Not very fire safe. A handful of people sat in the bean bags, relaxed, faint smiles on their faces, eyes drooping. Other people walked around the bean bags and brought drinks to those who sat in the bean bags.

“You shouldn’t be here,” a woman’s voice said.  Her hair was raven black, her eyes a deep brown, her skin was pale with a beauty mark by her lower lip.  She had tiny wrinkles by her eyes, but that seemed to only enhance her beauty. She stood tall halfway in the room, drink in hand, and addressed Hunter.  Her eyes didn’t land on me once.

“I’m looking for my friend,” Hunter said.  “He just came in here.”

“Oh,” the woman said.  “This one?” she stepped to the left and further in the room was Darren sitting on a bean bag with a drink in his hand.  He was talking to a young woman who stood patiently in front of him. The young woman had flawless, dark skin and hair. Her eyes were a light brown.

“I don’t know where my friends are.”  His voice reached us from a distance. It sounded muted.  “I thought they were right behind me, but then they weren’t.  I hope they are okay. Should I go out and bring them in?”

“Darren,” Hunter called out.

Darren turned to us and smiled.  “There they are.” He held up his drink to us in a greeting.

Hunter took my hand and pulled me with him as we went to Darren.  His grip kept me close to his side. I was grateful for that. I was getting creepy vibes from everyone standing in that room.  I didn’t get it from those who sat in the bean bags.

When we reached Darren, Hunter took the drink away from him.

“Hey,” Darren said.  “That’s mine.”

Hunter handed the drink to the young woman who had been speaking with Darren, then he leaned down, grabbed Darren’s wrist and pulled him to his feet.  This entire time, he still held my hand. “We’re leaving,” Hunter said.

“But you just got here,” the young woman said.  She took Darren’s other wrist in her hand.

“Yeah,” Darren said.  “We just got here.” He broke free from Hunter’s grasp.

“You aren’t really what we are looking for,” the woman who first addressed Hunter now addressed me.

Was this a weird thing where they didn’t want women?  I looked around the room again, but there were a few women in the bean bags and there were men and women both serving the drinks so I had no idea why Hunter and I were singled out.

“You can stay though if you want,” the woman with raven hair and a silky voice said to me.  “You, however,” she addressed Hunter again and her voice changed from silky to dangerous, “need to leave.”

“I’m not leaving without my friends,” Hunter said.

“Everyone needs to relax,” Darren said.  He took the drink away from the young woman.

“Don’t drink that,” Hunter took the drink away from him.

“But it smells and tastes like honey and strawberries,” Darren said as he took the drink back from Hunter.  “It’s delicious.”

“Wait!” Hunter rushed to take the drink away from Darren, but Darren already had it to his lips and downed it in one swift gulp.  He handed the empty cup back to the young woman. “Here, Lily, you’ve got to try it.” Darren grabbed a cup from one of the people passing by.  He sniffed its contents and smiled dreamily. “It smells like honey and strawberries.” He handed me the cup. “And look at the color. It’s such a pretty turquoise color.”

The contents in the cup were clear.  Darren grabbed another cup and started to bring it up to his lips, but Hunter let go of my hand to grab the cup away from Darren.  I sniffed the contents of the cup, but it didn’t smell like anything. Was this alcohol? Was Darren drunk already?

“Don’t drink that,” Hunter said to me.  

“I won’t,” I said.  The older woman with the pale skin took the cup away from me and handed it off absentmindedly to someone that was walking by.

“Come on,” Darren said.  He took Hunter’s hand and dragged him to the bean bag.  He pulled him down into it so they were sitting squished side by side.

“Come on, Lily.”  Darren patted the space next to him even though there really wasn’t any room left on the bean bag.

“No, Darren,” Hunter said.  He stood up and pulled Darren with him still holding hands.  “We’ve got to go.”

“But I haven’t even asked if they can help us yet,” Darren said.

“They can’t.”/”We can.”  Hunter and the woman said at the same time.

“See,” Darren said.  His words were slightly slurred now.  “They can help us.”

He tried to fall back onto the beanbag, but Hunter held him up.  I noticed that the others who were serving the drinks had paused and were all looking at us.  Those in the beanbags didn’t care.

“Let him stay,” the woman said to Hunter.  “We can help him.”

“No,” Hunter said.

“Is he yours?” she asked.  There was a subtle change in the air, a subtle change in Hunter.  I didn’t know what it meant, but I could see the resolve behind his brown eyes – the certainty of what he must do.  I had no idea what it was he thought he must do.

“Yes,” Hunter said.  He wrapped an arm around Darren’s shoulders and held him close to him.

“Both of them are yours?” the woman asked and her eyes flicked to me and then back to Hunter.

“Yes,” Hunter said.  He wrapped his other arm around my shoulders and drew me close into his other side.

“Really?” this time her question was directed at me.

I didn’t understand what any of this meant, but I knew this place creeped me out and I only felt relatively safe in here when Hunter was close.

“Yes,” I said and I wrapped both of my arms around Hunter’s waist.  I thought it must have been the right response because Hunter breathed a little easier and the woman scowled slightly.

“Darren,” she said in that silky voice.

“Yes?” Darren asked her.  He didn’t make any effort to move out from under Hunter’s arm.  

“Is it true?  Are you his?”

I held my breath.  Hunter held his breath.

“We’re all ours,” Darren said drunkenly and he wrapped his arms over mine so we were both hugging Hunter as he had his arms draped over our shoulders.

Both Hunter and I let out a sigh of relief.  The woman frowned.

“Ours,” Darren said with his eyes closed.  His arms over mine suddenly slacked and he collapsed.  Hunter let go of me and caught Darren right before he hit the floor.

I almost missed the little flick of the finger the woman did and then a large man came from out of the shadows.  He picked Darren up as if he weighed nothing and started to carry him away from us.

“Wait!” Hunter said and immediately went after him.  The woman grabbed his arm to hold him back.

I didn’t realize what I had done until everyone else moved around us.  It was then that I realized I had my ax out threatening the woman as I stood between her and Hunter.

“I guess you are his.  Relax,” the woman said easily.  “Follow me.”

She led me and Hunter through some more curtains into another room.  This one was filled with sleeping bags. Several of them had people sleeping in them.  The large man set Darren down on one of the sleeping bags.

Hunter and I rushed to Darren’s side as the man backed away.

“I will make an exception,” the woman said.  “You may stay here until he wakes up.”

Hunter started to sit Darren up.  Darren’s eyes stubbornly remained closed and he was limp in Hunter’s arms.

“We’ll leave now,” Hunter said.

“You’ll carry him through the zombies like this?” the woman asked.  “You’ll all be dead before you can go two blocks. Stay and rest until he wakes up.  I insist.”

The large man blocked the entrance at her words.

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