I snatched Bloodhound by his throat as soon as the words escaped his mouth, surprising even myself, when I lifted him off of the ground. He dropped his guns so that his hands could come up to grasp my wrist, a valiant attempt at an escape maneuver, but I squeezed his neck in a clear warning. I couldn’t stop the animalistic guttural growl that seemed to come from deep within me, it didn’t sound remotely human, it sounded like a predatory class beast in the wild.
“Would you prefer that sweet end come sooner, rather than later?” I spat at him, shooting daggers from my eyes, spitting the words through an involuntary sneer. “I could bring death upon you really quick and very easy.. but where would the fun be in that, sure it would be pleasurable, but in the end there would be no fun in it. Plus, I think my dear cousin would miss having you around, and I have zero patience for his sad moping. So here is what we’re gonna do now, and I need to be sure you’re listening very carefully. Are you hearing me loud and clear?”
He nodded quickly, his face getting red, and his breaths short. He looked at me like I was something unrecognizable, I felt like something unrecognizable, even though I still felt like myself.
“First, let’s both agree that neither of us have any idea of what is happening to me, my body is changing, certain talents have surfaced, and they are getting stronger.. those are the facts.”
I watched as his face had started to turn blue, but I wouldn’t give his ass the satisfaction of death, he was undeserving.
“Second, I can’t help that I’m a hot piece of ass, and niggaz wanna fuck me. With that said, Everyone knows that I have enough problems on my hands when it comes to men, I’m not looking for more on the menu, when my plate is full and overflowing.”
I brought our faces close, so that he could see the true future in my very eyes, I wasn’t playing anymore games with this motherfucker. I loosened my grip but kept it firm, torturing his lungs with mere sips of oxygen, his eyes were wide and intent upon me.
“Third, and last but not least, I’m aware that you and my cousin may have a special thang going on. As much as I may disapprove of his choice, I do understand the pickings are slim in a post apocalyptic world. While I’m fully confident in Tzar to take care of himself, there are battle wounds you get in life that you never get the chance to build a defense for. You’re a warrior, aren’t you? And a lover as well?..” He nodded slightly, and I smiled. “Yes, it’s in your blood, so you know there are countless ways to hurt that aren’t necessarily physical, I’m sure you’re wise enough to know not to let any harm come to my cousin as a consequence of you. I’d hate to have this conversation again, because then death won’t come to you so quick and easy.”
After I felt my point was made, I put him down, and brushed him off. He watched me carefully as I straightened out his clothes, his face was still red but his breathing had returned to something close to normal. I could smell the essence of fear emitting from his pores, so potent I could even feel it in air, the aroma was a deliciousness I even seem to savor momentarily. I smiled up at him, as he stood over me about two inches, his broad shouldered frame was a tad wider as well, he looked at me like I was worse than he could have imagined.. Maybe I was.
“Now that our little chat is over, let’s go back to the family and friends thing, that seems like the best option for you.. doesn’t it?” He nodded, with an unreadable expression, I nodded back with a smile. “Good, glad we’re on the same page, now c’mere, gimme a hug teammate!”
I grabbed him in a tight hug, wrapping my arms around his back, rubbing it a little. He just stood there tense, I could feel his heart racing through our clothes, it took the man a few moments to get the hint that I wasn’t going to release him till I got hugged back. If he wanted to kill me, this would have been the best time, but he made his choice when I felt the squeeze of his arms around me.
“There ya go, that’s a good boy! See, friends..” I cut in sarcastically, to further his embarrassment.
Even worse, his dick got hard as his body was pressed so close to mine, but I didn’t blame him. He was a man, and I looked how I looked, I was the exception to everyone’s ‘type’. I let him go and started back to the food court, just as the rest of the team began to return, they had two shopping carts filled to the brim with food and supplies. Tzar looked at Bloodhound funny when he walked up, and inquired about what was wrong, but the Hispanic merc played it off as nothing.
“Tzar, I need you and Jerry to take those carts to the Betty, start loading, we’ll be right behind you.” I told them, so we could have a moment to thank the survivors for their generosity.
We found them on the food court tier having a heated discussion about Martha, the nurse, she wouldn’t let Kahlil’s uncle see Carl today. Apparently she was really rude and nasty about it too, slamming the door in his face, after snatching the rations he brought them. This was said to be out of her character, which was normally nurturing and sweet natured. Bloodhound whispered to me that it was none of our business, we had to make moves, and I wasn’t going to argue about that.
I already said my farewells to the bulk of their group, so I made my way to where Kahlil and Hadji stood. I held my hand out to the kid and he took it, we shook and dapped up, completing our goodbyes. Hadji wanted a hug, and I could swear he was grinding against me as we embraced, I blushed as I loosened from his grip. Just as he let me go, we heard several screams cry out from somewhere in the store.
“What the hell was that?” Husk asked, checking his pistol rounds as he looked to where he thought the sounds came from.
“That sounded like Carl’s wife, Shannon. I’ll go check on her..” The blonde woman said, running down the stairs, we could see her disappear down an aisle somewhere.
“Poor Carl has probably passed on, we should say a prayer for him..” Kahlil’s uncle told their group, and everyone started to gather hands.
Another piercing scream rang out, and the woman could be heard running back towards us, three more people were making their way to the stairs behind her. When she got upstairs, we could see that her shoulder was bleeding through her pale cardigan, she had labored breathing and had broken out into a sweat.
“Help, help me please! They were.. Shannon.. She bit me.. She, she, shgggrrrrrrgrll..”
The change happened so fast within her, it was scary to see firsthand, the degenerative collapse of a person to the infection was something one could never get used to. The virus was something vicious and all consuming, it took all of you and still wanted more, making your instincts hunger for flesh. Moving lightning fast, she latched onto a young pale brunette teen, ripping through the tender flesh of the girl’s chest, where an ample bosom had just started to blossom. With such speed she moved on to the next person, sending the survivors into a riot. These people had no idea what to do, the havoc that ensued was intensified by the arrival of Carl, Martha, and Shannon. They each had swollen throats, with what looked like tumorous growths, resembling the vocal sac of a frog.
“Look! Do you see the ones over there? They’re different..” I pointed out to Husk and Bloodhound, who were trying to find us an escape route.
“Why does his neck look all swollen and bloated like that?” Husk asked us, but we were as baffled as he was, until one of the women started projectile vomiting a thick acidic bile onto a group of people trying to make a break for the stairs.
“Spitterz?! What the fuck..” I could believe what I was seeing, it was terrifying how the virus could manipulate the human genome, it made me think of what it could possibly be doing to me.
“C’mon, we’re going over the balcony!” Bloodhound yelled, grabbing my arm, leading me to the edge.
“What the fuck! Just because I can heal doesn’t mean I’m trying to test new ways to hurt myself! You’ve gone crazy!” I screamed at him, as I looked to make sure Kahlil, Hadji, and their uncle were right behind us. “What about them, do you expect them to jump?!”
A stern and clear “Yes.” was his only reply, when we got to the edge and looked down, we were right over the Decorative Bedding section. There were seven bed displays of Queen and Full size mattresses, I climbed up on the banister and swung my leg over, Husk was already up and down on one of the mattresses, making a twenty foot jump look all too easy.
I was readying myself to cast off, when suddenly something slammed hard into my back, I could feel nothing but gravity and the air below me, as we both went tumbling haphazardly off the balcony. The person with me crashed directly to the floor, and I hit the edge of a bed, the recoil sending me to the floor right on top of the infected blonde woman. The fall didn’t faze her, so her rebound and instinct to attack was immediate.
I pushed my elbow into her throat, and reached for my knife, only to find it gone. I panicked for a moment, but I saw it about a couple feet away. I lunged for it, and rolled to my feet once I had it, quickly stabbing into her skull when she pounced to attack. Suddenly, Kahlil landed in the bed to my right and warned me to run, I looked up and saw several figures making the jump. It was the rest of the group, random survivors, as well as those newly infected. I stood to my feet and those of us able, ran towards the front of the store near the lobby, the risen dead beat against the riot proof glass ahead of us, their ghastly howls called out with the presence of new flesh so near and close. Kahlil pointed to an office right in the front, there was a huge mirror that reflected our horror and those that trailed behind us, everyone started to file in as quickly as they could. Kahlil’s uncle and I were the last ones, the dead were hot on our tail, the older man tried to slam the door shut, but they had began to pile up behind it.
Husk was at the door about to intervene but I saw one of the spitterz about to attack. I knocked him out the way, and got hit with a splash of the acidic excrement to my chin and neck. I screamed as it burned through my skin, the pain something I never could have fathom. I assisted the older man in completely closing the door, when another one spit at us through the cracks. My hands got splashed, and the smell of my sizzling flesh was immediate.
“Godamnit Loki, I had things under control.. Fuck! Look at you man..” He screamed, standing over me, where I had crumbled to the floor in pain.
“Ugh.. Shhhhhhit! It burns.. ” I cried out, the searing pain was testing my durability, the fire just wouldn’t stop.
Bloodhound walked over to where I lay, and lifted me up by the vomit free part of my coat, he examined my face and could see the regeneration process in progress. He looked me over for a moment or two, no doubt fascinated with the way the skin etched and mended itself back together even as the acidic substance still burned in places.
“You’ll be fine, get up and stop being a bitch..” He said, as he threw my arm over his shoulder, taking on some of my dead weight.
Suddenly there was another scream similar to mine, it was Kahlil’s uncle, his hands.. They had been hit too. The flesh was melting away to the meat and muscle, in some areas, it was down to the bone. The two boys tried to help him, but he started to throw up and growl, he pushed them away as he started to seize. In the midst of his thrashing, there was a loud bang as Bloodhound put a bullet in his head, Hadji screamed and bum rushed the man, not afraid of the mercenaries fighting experience. They fell to the ground, and rolled till the hispanic broke free, jumping swiftly to his feet. The younger man was up soon after, ready to attack again, this time he was more calculating and patient.
“Stop! Please, both of you just calm down..” I pleaded through the pain, turning and looking to Husk to stop them.
He shrugged and did what I asked the only way he knew how, he clipped Hadji with the butt of his gun, no doubt nearly breaking his nose. Then he spun and gave Bloodhound a hard tap to the stomach as a warning, they both quickly ceased offensive action.
“Look where the fuck we are, we’re fucking trapped! But you wouldn’t know it with you two acting like armpits and assholes..” I yelled at them, barely able to stand to my feet, the burning was so intense and I felt the need to vomit.
Everyone backed up, as I spewed my guts in a nearby corner, the contents was filled with the toxic muck that had tainted my insides through the spitterz attack. It burned on the way up, leaving my body the same way it came in, collecting in a steaming puddle on the floor.
“Why haven’t you killed him! He’s turning isn’t he? Shoot him dead as you shot my uncle in cold blood!” Hadji yelled angrily at the Mercs, getting riled up all over again.
“He’s different brother, I’ve seen him in action enough to know it now, I think he might be immune.. or something even worse than that.” Kahlil broke in, grabbing his older brothers arm to settle him.
“Nonsense, that’s not possible.”
“Yet somehow, I am as he says..” I replied, finally able to speak, my voice rang out hoarsely from my bruised and battered throat. “Give or take a few adverse reactions now and again.”
I heard a gasp from them when they saw my face, it was scabbing and regrowing in front of their very eyes, the growth process was uncomfortable but it had at least cease the searing burn. I’m sure I looked like a half melted wax figurine, something Madam Tussaud would’ve created during an acid trip on Halloween. I was slowly but surely reverting to my normal self, but what could I call normal in reference to what I’ve become?
Taking stock of our present predicament, I could see we were in more trouble than we could’ve have imagined. I recognized the room as the retailer’s loss prevention office, there was a cage in the far end, and monitors lined the entire left side of the wall, showing live feed of the entire store. Which unfortunately had now been overrun by the bulk of former survivors, poor innocents who had sadly succumbed to infection.
The only ones left were the two brothers Kahlil and Hadji, plus three remaining members of their group who had somehow made it in the room with us. One was an alabaster skinned woman with wide lips and a narrow jaw, they almost didn’t fit her face, so I’d wager she had tweaked her mask at a mediocre plastic surgery practice. The other two were a set of spray tan blonde girls Kahlil’s age, one was distinctly feminine and the other seemed a tad tougher, a little rough around the edges.
All of them looked scared out of their wits, and clearly out of their element, the girly girl sobbed on her friend’s shoulder, and the other did her best attempt to console her. It was little use, there was no way to lie about the fact that we were trapped with nowhere to go. The monitors showed their former comrades, clawing over each other to tear at the offices door and one sided mirror. Looking out at them, it was as if they could see us behind the illusion, like they could smell us behind the glass. Their hands and bodies left smears of blood and grime across the window, one of the spitters had vomit, adding it’s own element to the ghastly streak of art they painted. There was no consolation in a moment like this, there was no comfort, we were trapped like meek prey in a box, the predators on the outside eventually making their way in.
“Guys, what do we do? We can’t stay here..” Husk asked, looking to either Bloodhound or I for some kind of leadership and direction.
“Umm.. I, no no, we, should um..” The handsome hispanic struggle to say, but paused, looking around nervously at a loss.
Truthfully, I had no idea what to do either, at least nothing that could save all of us. I looked around the room for some kind of inspiration, there was a vent in the corner but who knew where the hell it lead to. I turn to the window, that was now clouded and opaque from the smears of scum and entrails of the undead. We could shoot them, the mirror will eventually break anyway, I could hear the strain as they pound against it. My eyes soon fell to the cell in the back, the one where they would store shoplifters and vagrants, I thought it over a couple times, worst case scenario is we are trapped in a smaller box, which is a horror of its own.
“Look, there is just over a dozen and a half of them, we can take them out.. I say we get in the cage, let them in and blast’m full of bullets!” They looked at me as if I was crazy, but I knew we were out of options. “If we take out the spitterz first, we can take care of the rest by hand if need be.”
Only the three of us had guns, so we ushered the last of the survivors into the cell, Husk stayed at the door waiting for the signal to open it. Bloodhound gave whistle, and the other Merc unlocked the door and removed the desk we had barricaded it with. The risen pounded furiously, in a madness driven by a hunger for our living flesh, Husk turned the knob and sprinted as fast he could toward the cell we had gathered into. He was about to get grabbed, but Bloodhound was able to tag the woman in the head with his assault rifle, Husk ran inside and slammed the door behind him. The defenseless and unarmed survivors were hugging the back wall, trying to keep as far from the action as possible, right away I saw the first spitter. It was Shannon, I knew because she had it distortedly tattooed across the decaying skin of her collar, where her throat was swollen and throbbing with the lethally infectious discharge.
I raised Hunter’s gun, and sent a bullet right through her throat sac, blowing her skull from her body. Martha came running up fast as a speed demon on the left, and she was about to spit at us, it took three bullets from Bloodhound to take her down. The girly girl wouldn’t stop crying, her sobs were as loud as the howling and moaning from the dead.
“Would you get her to shut up!! Her crying is not helping.. She’s driving me crazy!” Hadji screamed to the tomboyish one, she just glared at him.
“Leave her alone brother, she’s just scared like the rest of us..” Kahlil pleaded, once again grasping hold of his older sibling.
I shot two of the undead, as my eyes scanned the crowd of infected for Carl, he was most evasive, like he was stalling for the right moment to strike. The sound of my heartbeat started to thicken in my ears, the thumping in my chest was the most unnerving sensation, and I soon broke into a light sweat. The girls cries and the horrific moans of the dead ones seemed to intensify thrice fold, causing my vision to blur momentarily, I crouch down and covered my ears hoping to ease the excruciating pain. I could hear Kahlil ask me if I was okay but I couldn’t answer the boy. Husk grabbed my arm and helped to my unsteady feet, he looked me over closely assessing my condition.
“Loki, what’s the malfunction?” He asked, pulling us back towards the wall, as Bloodhound kept a sharp eye out for the last spitter.
“I don’t know! My head feels like a bomb went off inside… Everything is so loud, AAAH!!
Another wave of intense pain hit me, as the sounds overloaded my senses, I wanted to rip my ears off and end it all.. but that was when I heard him. He sounded different from the others, it was unique, I could hear the low guttural growls emitting from him yet I still had been unable to locate the monster in the small crowd. Suddenly he grew silent, all sign of his presence had disappeared, and I lost him once more. Husk watched me with a questioning eye, Kahlil fearfully looked at me from his brothers side, it was as if they saw me as one of these monsters.
“I heard him..” I told Husk, I put my hand to my head, as if it could rub away the ache. “He’s out there, he just.. waiting.”
“Waiting for what?” Bloodhound asked, overhearing me.
“I don’t know.. It’s like he’s waiting for an opportunity to..” I was cut off by another round of sobs from the girly girl, she was hysterical at this point, the claustrophobic walls of the cages were seeming smaller by the second. “You have to stop crying! You are drawing attention to yourself, look how the dead react..”
She immediately shut up, shocked that I said something to her, if possible, she looked even more afraid now that I pointed out the way the risen feasted upon her with their frenzied soulless eyes. Her cries had riled them up and antagonized their hunger for our tender human flesh, they clawed through the bars, hoping to grasp the slightest piece of us to taste. The whole group had grown quiet and still at my warning to her, all fearful to gain the interest of the gaggle of risen before us.
The older brunette woman suddenly had a cough, she tried to stifle it with her hands, it seemed to help some. She cleared her throat softly, as her fit of cough eventually subsided, it was then we saw Carl finally reveal himself. He was so fast, he had caught us off guard, we barely saw him spit before we heard the coughing woman let out a bloodcurdling scream.
“Holy shit! What the fuck!” Hadji cried, pulling his younger brother behind him, as the woman kept yelling about her now acid burnt eyes.
“Oh god! Victoria move your hands.. Let me help!” The tough girl said, as she attempted to assist the woman.
“No! Get away from her!” Bloodhound screamed but it was too late, the woman had swiftly turned and latched her teeth to the girl’s throat, tearing the flesh away as easy as a loose leaf paper from a spiral notebook.
Girly girl let out another round of cries and sobs for her friend, as we watched the poor girl quickly bleed out onto the floor, the blood flowing from the tap as if it was endless. One and a half gallons of blood is nearly fathomless, until seen drained out onto the floor, the woman ate and chewed at her neck, until the head severed from the body, suddenly Kahlil made a sound and the infected woman’s head popped up. She sniffed the air and her head sway as if she were listen carefully, predatory instincts lead the way as she turned towards him with sightless burned away eyes.
I raised my gun to shoot at her, but Carl revealed himself again, this time he caught my raised arm with the acid spit, causing me to drop the gun. Husk let out a full clip of bullets into the group, but didn’t catch him, he did take out four of the dead thou, leaving their count at ten or so. I tossed him my last clip with my good hand, and picked up my gun just as the woman lunged at me, I dodged quickly out of the way of her sharply manicured undead hands.
“Loki, watch your back dammit!” Bloodhound screamed, as I had let her set me up for the trap, I could feel the fingertips of the dead at the cage door reaching out behind me, almost close enough to touch.
I tucked my gun away and took a solid grip of my knife, I had to wait for the right moment, that’s when I heard it again but closer, I spun around and slashed at Carl’s throat sack. Acid sprayed from the wound, but I quickly dodged to the left, causing it to land mostly on the woman attacking me. It melted away what was left of her face and burned most of her hair away, even so she still lunged for me. I saw Bloodhound creep in from behind, to clock her in the back of the head with the butt of his gun, the force cracking her skull.
Unsuspectingly, a stray had hand caught grasp of my dreads, pulling me back towards the cell doors. I tried to leverage myself to pull away, but it was no use, the undead fast food clerk had a solid grip on my locks. With no other alternative, I slashed with my knife the best I could, I missed his hand but I managed to catch my hair. Once released, I furiously stabbed at his face till eventually I breached his cranium, when I pulled my blade out he fell to the floor in a slump only to be replaced by another, who clawed feverishly at me. Bloodhound pulled me back towards the wall, my breathing was hard and heavy, the burning in my right hand was something fierce.
“You aight?!” He asked, a worried look on his face.
“I’m good, I swear.. it’ll heal.” I told him, it almost felt second nature to say it now, like I’d been born like this, when had I become so complacent to these mutations?. “We just have to get the hell out of here, I don’t know how much I have left in me..”
“We’re almost out of this, the hard part’s over!” Husk remarked, urging me on, it felt like we were a team again.
I gave him a small smile and a nod, feeling hopeful for the future of our group, it looked like we would all be a unit again. All of us were strong individually but as a team we could excel, we could survive, we could make it to the end of our journey. As quickly as the hope came, was just as swiftly it was denied, there was an explosion. It rattled the whole building, causing parts of the ceiling to fall in, I heard screams all around, pitched so loud and terrifying I had to cover my ears. I looked to see the girly girl had been pummeled by debris and partially crushed from the cave in. Hadji had pulled his younger brother back in time, as another piece of the ceiling came crashing to the floor.
“What the fuck is happening?!” He screamed at us, as we all cuddled into the far corner.
None of us could give him an answer, and as if to speak for us, another explosion rattled the building. Looking through the one sided glass, we could see the entire store front and on to the lobby, the riot glass between us and a shitload of dead ones had started to crack. It was clearly visible streaking across the front of the largest window, the risen that banged aggressively were only accelerating the the process. From the sounds they made and the looks on their gruesome faces, it was as if they could already taste us. I ran towards the cage front and began stabbing with my knife as best I could, Husk and Bloodhound ran up on either side of me and started to do the same with similar frenzy.
They out number our force three to one but that didn’t matter, we were born survivors, it was probably the only thing either of us ever got right in life, the only thing we were ever truly good at. Because of that, I knew no matter what happened next, no matter what horrors we faced, we would strive to survive.