Chest pumping, hands clenched into fists, arms jerking oddly in the air, she runs down the street, heedless of any destination. She cannot hear anything but her own frantic gasps for air as she careens around corner after corner, but she knows her pursuers are there.
They are just behind and they are coming. They will not stop.
Soon she will have to. Her lungs are burning, her legs ache, and her brain seems to have ceased to function. Her only coherent thought is to somehow keep moving, keep going forward, no matter the cost. The farther she goes the more her body seems to refuse to respond to her commands, spasmodically moving of its own accord. Every step she takes seems to be a moment away from leading to her collapse onto the asphalt.
Yet every step does not end there, her momentum propelling her forward, until at last she knows, through some foreign instinct, that she can go no further. She ducks through the first doorway she sees and scrambles through the refuse within. It is pitch black, not a sliver of light reaching within. She finds her way by feel through the rooms, crawling over wrecked objects that have degraded beyond recognition and under collapsed ceilings, the smell of insulation choking the air.
She goes until she finds herself in a corner, far from the entrance, where she can crouch behind what she guesses are the remains of some equipment. Everything is metallic and angular with sharp corners that bruise. She hides there, settling back on her haunches and closing her eyes, listening to her breathing slow to a gentle rhythm. Her face is hot and sweat runs down her back, but she shivers as though from a flu. Everything hurts—her muscles, her bones, her head—as though she had been forced through this machine, bent and misshapen, and spat out the other side, whole but no longer complete.
For a time she is convinced she has escaped, that her pursuers have lost her. She tries to remember when she last had a clear look at them. The thoughts that come are sluggish and ill-formed. She was with Robert in the middle of the street, which they had known was dangerous. One could never be sure in these strange new days who was about. One could never be too careful. But they needed to scavenge. They both needed new shoes, new clothes, and there were bodies there, not even a day or two old. Untouched by the looks of it.
One of them proved to be less than dead, rising up from amidst the others right before her. Robert handled it, but her screams had drawn others. They emerged from what she had been certain was an abandoned building, shuffling toward them, four abreast, their eyes dead, but their intent terrifyingly clear. She ran without thinking, not even to see if Robert followed. She heard him give an odd grunt behind her and knew that he had succumbed.
Now she can think of nothing but that grunt and how she had done nothing to help him, had left him to be felled by those monsters. Her hands are shaking, the fingers curling up into oddly shaped fists. She can’t tell whether it is the thought of Robert gone, and her failure to help him, or the aftereffects of her mad flight through the abandoned city causing this. Colors swim through her vision and she blinks them back, the whole room spinning. She needs water, but she doesn’t dare leave her hiding spot for fear of being discovered.
It does not matter. She hears the footsteps and closes her eyes, mouthing silent words to herself, knowing she should be running again. The glare of their lights, distant, from another room, pierces the gloom, growing brighter by the moment. Next she hears voices, hushed as though afraid to disturb the ominous quiet.
“Room clear, confirm. Entering next.”
“Keep the lights facing this way boys. We can’t be going into this blind.”
The lights come to the room she is hidden in and she shrinks down further into the corner she has tucked herself, turning her head from them. She wills them away, but she knows they will not be going now. Some distant and lost part of her even beckons them on.
“And here. Check there where the ceiling came down. They sometimes crawl up those to hide when they’re incubating.”
“Right. Davis check over by the machine.”
“The rest of us backup. Stay alert.”
The words reach her as though in a dream. They make a sort of sense, but not one that she can process in any way. She stays where she is, trying not to shiver, though she feels very cold. There is an insatiable, overwhelming hunger that compels her, seeming to come from outside her, but seizing her whole. Her mouth salivates as the footsteps grow nearer and nearer.
Davis is there, leaning gingerly around the machine to peer into where she is hiding, the glare of the light striking her eyes. Before any thought can form, she reacts, leaping at him and knocking him to the ground, her mouth at his throat. She can taste his flesh, glorying in the warmth of his blood. His screams do not register in her mind, nor do the horrified shouts of the other men.
She does not feel the first bullet strike her. The second goes through her head and out her eye and into Davis. He goes still beneath her and she turns to look at the others, a dim curiosity in her mind along with the hunger. She stands and leaps toward the man nearest her, knocking him to the ground before he can react, her mouth at his throat as well. More bullets strike her, but she is beyond feeling.
“She’s fully incubated. Take her fucking head off.”
She does not give them the chance, pouncing on one and then the other as they frantically try to slow her down with their bullets before they reach for the swords at their side. When they are all lying prone on the floor, the comforting darkness restored, she begins to feed.
In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…
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