Another gunshot rang off in the distance as Woodrow pulled the trigger, sending a sharp piece of lead down into the brain of a lone zombie like a smite from heaven. Its dark brain juice spilled onto the street, which was painted with splotches of blood in an abstract pattern that nearly covered the entire surface of the road in front of the Parks and Rec Center. Woodrow smiled to himself as he pulled another round back into the chamber and spotted another zombie coming out of the park across the street. This one was much farther in than the others he'd taken out, but he knew it wouldn't be a problem. He caught its forehead in the scope, its absent, hollow face and orange eyes in plain sight. Without a touch of remorse, Woodrow pulled the trigger, but there was only a clicking sound. He pulled it again and got the same result. He looked up from the scope and pulled the rifle back in from the window, then took off the magazine and saw that it was empty.
"Shit," he swore loudly. "Down to one last mag."
"Finally," Jay muttered from the floor he'd slept on the night before. He'd tried to get a few more hours of sleep in, since they were holed up tightly and safe from harm, but Woodrow had decided to start off his morning by filling the majority of the downtown area with the sound of gunshots, empty bullet shells, and rotting human carcasses. Jay leaned up, pulling off the towels he'd used as blankets and stood up, stretching and yawning as loudly as possible. "Epic yawn, for the win."
"We need to go to the Gun Store on Woodlawn and 5th to stock up," Woodrow said, standing up and setting his rifle up against the wall before heading for the refridgerator to grab a donut from one of the boxes.
"You mean YOU need to go to the Gun Store," Dylan muttered, rubbing his eyes in exhaustion as he sat up. "We need to take some showers and stay our asses here."
"And who's going to keep you guys safe?" Woodrow asked, taking a bite out of his donut lazily. "Jay gave the only other weapon to Jonah, so none of you have anything to defend yourself with."
"We've got these dumbbells," Dylan responded, pointing behind him. "And a bunch of other weights to crack open some heads."
"Right," Woodrow shrugged. "I wonder how long that would last against a horde. Swinging heavy objects at them, little by little. That'll take out probably three before they start their feeding frenzy."
Jay sighed inaudibly and stood up, stretching once again. "Whatever. Let's get going so we can get back."
"Chances are we won't be back," Woodrow said, finishing off his donut. "The Gun Store is ten times safer than here. They actually have a lockable gun range and a chain link fence in front of the register to prevent robberies."
"Again, whatever," Jay shrugged, walking his way to the locker room in the back, taking one of his towels with him. "Going to take a shower and put on the same sweaty clothes I slept in afterwards like a boss."
"Where'd Francine go?" Dylan asked, looking around curiously.
"Who?" Woodrow responded.
Dylan rolled his eyes. "The girl Phillip saved yesterday."
"Oh. She went into the bathroom a while ago."
A deafening shriek rang out from across the workout area followed by a deep voiced scream, which caused Dylan and Woodrow to react militantly. It wasn't until their attention was turned to the bathroom that they realized that the shouts were coming from the back and a second later, Jay sprinted out of the locker room, out of breath and his eyes wide with fear.
"She was in there," Jay sighed, his heart still pounding through his chest. "Why the hell didn't anyone tell me?"
"Ask him," Dylan said, motioning back at Woodrow, who had already turned his attention elsewhere.
By the time they'd cleaned up and gathered their supplies, the four of them were on their way down the scortched morning streets of Ocean Valley's downtown area, which was now void of activity of any kind, alive or undead. Woodrow carried the rifle vigilantly, leading the way down the sidewalk, his eyes darting back and forth across the landscape watchfully as if the slightest movement would set him off. Dylan, Jay, and Francine, walked several feet behind him, quietly conversing as they continued onward for a few more blocks.
"Sorry about earlier," Jay apologized, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly.
"Its okay," Francine replied sheepishly. "You didn't know."
"Yeah, stuff like that ends up happening when I hang out with this guy," Jay mentioned, pointing upward towards Woodrow, who turned around slightly and gave him a dirty look before looking back onto pathway. "He apparently knew you were in there and didn't tell me."
"Its fine, really," Francine assured. "It was actually....I mean, yeah, no harm done."
"Yeah, excuse Jay if he seems a little shaken up," Dylan said to her, eying Jay with a grin. "He's not used to seeing naked women very often."
"Oh man, that is so hilarious, you funny funny man," Jay responded with a load of sarcasm, playfully smiling back at him. "Why are you not on somebody's stage? You are the next Steve Carrell."
"Thanks bro!" Dylan shouted with fake enthusiasm, reaching up for a high-five as Jay returned it just as jovially, the both of them shouting a melodramatic "Yeah!" as they did so. Francine chuckled nervously.
"I honestly um....wasn't completely naked."
"What're you talking abou - Oh...." Dylan said, realizing what happened. "So you were-"
"Using the bathroom, yeah," she said embarassingly.
"Yikes," Dylan said, quivering slightly at the thought but then stopped and looked off. "Yet strangely kinky."
"Hey!" Woodrow turned, shouting at the group. "Enough with the chatter, you know noise draws them. Keep quiet."
Jay sucked his teeth and shook his head, turning back to Francine. "So tell us about yourself, San Fran. What's life like for you on the surface? Is it weird being surrounded by a bunch of Seniors this early?"
"Well, to be honest, not really," she answered. "I mean, I'm always interacting with Seniors because I'm in a lot of AP and Advanced classes. In all honesty, I had to sign up for them because my dad wanted me to."
"Did you actually want to?" Dylan asked.
"Honestly, no I didn't but he's the one that sets the rules. I've been an exceptional student most of my life, but honestly, I never wanted to be that. That's what my parents wanted. I honestly wanted to have a social life, you know, make a few friends, but my parents have always gotten on me about the importance of education and how it trumps everything else that I want to concern myself with."
"Well thats not fair," Jay responded. "I mean, school is about much more than education. Its about social interaction too. Otherwise, everyone would be home schooled."
"I honestly was home schooled, a lot. I've been home schooled every other year since I've been studying. My parents have a lot of funds, so they could honestly get me the best that money could offer. Except recently, they've said I'd have to do my whole four years of High School here, so thats not an option anymore. I'm honestly glad of that though. At least now, I can interact with people more, even though I don't talk much. This is honestly the most I've talked with anybody in school. Ever."
"You know, I just noticed, you use the word 'honestly' a lot," Dylan said after analyzing her statement. "Have you ever picked up on that?"
Francine shrugged. "Sometimes. I just like the way it sounds. Did you know that the word, 'honestly', was invented by Shakespeare."
"Really?" Dylan answered. "I didn't know he invented words. I just thought he made an endless string of strange phrases that gave me the ability to resist giving a fuck about it."
"He actually created a lot of words," Jay said, shaking his head at Dylan's sarcastic ignorance. "The words, 'eyeball', 'puking', 'negotiate', 'obscene', 'hot-blooded', 'advertising', 'wormhole', 'alligator', and the age old phrase from the late 2000's, 'swagger', all came from Shakespeare. Thing is though, I don't think 'honestly' was one of the words that came from him."
"Yes, it did," Francine countered, turning to him. "I know for fact."
"You're probably thinking of 'lonely'. That one was invented by Shakespeare."
"No, its 'honestly', I'm telling you," Francine said with a confident smile. "I know better than anyone. I've studied Shakespeare for many years now."
"I'm sure you have, but I also know Shakespeare pretty well and I'm pretty sure it was 'lonely' that he invented. Not 'honestly'."
"Maybe he invented both."
"I don't know. I had to memorize the list they taught us in Drama class during my eighth grade year and I don't remember-"
"Hey look," Francine snapped at him, suddenly becoming slightly angered by Jay's persistence. "I said I know what I'm talking about. It was 'honestly' that was invented by Shakespeare, not 'lonely'."
"Okay," Jay said, holding his hands up in defense. "Let's just agree to disagree."
"No," she said, shaking her head in irritation. "I want you to admit that I was right. It IS 'honestly' that was invented by Shakespeare."
"I'm not going to admit anything, all right?" Jay replied. "Chill out."
"I think you're just upset because I'm smarter than you," Francine said, looking away with her arms crossed.
"Damn, whats with the attitude all of a sudden?" Dylan asked. "Why do you have to be right?"
"Because I've been beaten into being right, thats why," Francine answered frustratingly. "I've got the scars to prove it. When I say I know what I'm talking about, I know what I'm talking about. As far as my father is concerned, I have to know what I'm talking about or he'll get on me. I'm not even allowed to fail this class. If I do, they'll come down on me harder than ever before."
"Well I'm sorry to hear that," Jay answered somberly. "That's not fair, especially when this class involves you having to know and have learned things in the past that your parents have neglected to teach you, so if you failed, it wouldn't be your fault. But back to the subject at hand, I know that I'm right. I'll look it up on the net when we get back up on the surface so I can prove it to you."
"Fine. You'll be sorely disappointed though."
"HEY!" Woodrow snapped, becoming increasingly more belligerent. "I TOLD YOU GUYS TO SHUT THE HELL UP!"
"Why don't you mind your own business!" Jay shouted back at him, his face becoming red as he spoke.
"Easy now," Dylan muttered, lying a hand on Jay's shoulder.
"You know, I'm starting to get tired of you, Jay," Woodrow said, stopping his stride and turning to the group.
"Well, let me knock you to sleep then," Jay growled. He slowly cracked his knuckles as he walked closer to Woodrow. Dylan stepped into action, jumping in between the two defensively.
"Come on, please. Can we have one freaking group in this story that does not have some type of tension between them. I mean, jeez. Let's be mature for once."
"I agree," Woodrow muttered, keeping his eyes trained on Jay, who stared back at him coldly. "I'll be back. I've got to take a piss. Stay here."
Woodrow turned away from the group and slipped into an adjacent alleyway to the right of them. He disappeared around the corner of it and Dylan turned cautiously back at Jay, who was breathing heavily as he stared blankly at the spot in the alley where Woodrow had disappeared.
"Are you okay?" Dylan asked with concern.
"Yeah," he said, calming his breathing. "I don't know how much more I can take from him though. I'm sick of him trying to tell us what to do."
"Just hold out for at least another day, man. If we can....wait a second....what happened to Francine?"
Dylan gazed around curiously, Jay scanning the area as well with no sign of her in their immediate surroundings. In the alleyway, Woodrow stood by the side of a graffiti-covered wall and leaned his head back as he drained the lizard, sighing in relief. There were sounds that he could hear coming from his side, but he was too engulfed in the euphoria of the moment to care if it was real or just his imagination. It wasn't until he heard the sound of a bottle being kicked aside that he realized that it was real and sprung into action, looking to his side to see Francine staring at him from the opposite end of the alley that he'd entered from. How she'd gotten on that side of him in such a short amount of time without him noticing was beyond him. He quickly scrambled to shove his junk back into his pants as he shielded his torso away from her shyly.
"What the fuck are you doing?" he shouted at her, zipping his pants back up without the opportunity to shake.
"I just thought....you might want some company," she muttered modestly.
"Um, in case you haven't noticed, this wasn't exactly a moment I needed company for, Francine."
"I'm sorry," she said, looking down quickly. "But I mean....I couldn't help but notice...."
Woodrow turned to her curiously with a confused look. "Notice what?"
"How you are....down there."
"Oh," Woodrow said, chuckling evasively. "Right. I'm guessing you were impressed, huh?"
Francine nodded sheepishly and Woodrow walked toward her with a flirtatious stride. He was by no means going to try and hit on her; she wasn't exactly flattering to look at in his opinion, nor was she anywhere near his type, but even he wasn't able to resist the chance to woo a female, even one that he had no intentions of pursuing anything with. It also was apparent that a sexually deprived and borderline perverted young girl like Francine would eat up anything he would say to impress her.
"You should be glad you got to see a part of me that some girls wish they get to see," Woodrow said as he approached her. "Its like seeing a Shooting Star. Its a once in a lifetime opportunity-"
Without any warning at all, Francine reached forward and gripped Woodrow by the groin with all her might, grinning wildly as he screamed with a high-pitch and pulled her hand away from him. He held on to himself tightly, squinting his eyes in pain and looked back up at her.
"What'd you do that for?" he asked with a strain in his voice.
"Can I have a kiss?" Francine babbled with lust in her eyes, no longer paying much attention to his words.
"Please," she said, leaning toward him, grabbing hold of his cheeks with force as she tried to press his lips against hers. Woodrow pulled her hands from his face and pushed her away.
"I said No!"
A torrent of liquid suddenly splashed across Woodrow's face, nearly getting into his eyes and mouth. Woodrow shut them immediately and just as quickly moved to wipe away whatever had been sprayed on him so violently. When his hand went over the surface of his face, his finger grazed over a sharp object that was being held closely to his head, Woodrow believing that she was now holding something in front of him that would spell trouble in some way after she'd just most likely blown chunks all over him. However, when he opened his eyes to see her, he suddenly and wholeheartedly, wished he hadn't.
The sharp object in front of him was the razor sharp point of a spear, literally milimeters from the bridge of his nose as it protruded directly from Francine's forehead. Woodrow backed away quickly to see her lifeless eyes staring at him absently. Blood trickled down from the white spear sticking out of her head, having entered from the back. What had splashed onto his face was her blood and most likely some brain and skull fragments as well.
Francine's body collapsed forward, landing on the bone-white staff, which jerked her neck back gruesomely before it toppled to the ground. With her down, Woodrow spotted the source of the attack. A lone zombie stood at the opposite end of the alleyway. But it was different from the others. This one was naked and skinless. Its decaying muscles were grey and green, its orange eyes and yellow teeth displayed sinisterly with the absence of lips.
Woodrow, eyes wide with shock, acted fast and grabbed for the rifle he'd laid by the rusted trash can beside him. In response, the lone zombie tensed its eroding muscles until a white object began to emerge from its back, followed by several other white objects. Woodrow could see that it was a sharp slab of bone that was extending to approximately two feet or more. The other objects were the same, all projecting from its back together in a straight line down the surface of its spine. His spine. That was it, Woodrow thought. It was ejecting spears from its spine. Like some type of twisted porcupine-like creature.
The zombie reached back and broke off one of the bones from its back. Woodrow lifted the rifle as quickly as he could and aimed the creature down in his sights as it stood nearly twenty yards away from him. As soon as it was inside his scope, the creature reared back and hurled the bone spear directly at him. Woodrow obeyed every instinct in his body and immediately dropped to the concrete completely as the spear flew over him and out of the alleyway, drawing Jay and Dylan's attention as soon as it embedded itself into the concrete. Woodrow, lying on his side, aimed the gun down from a sideways position and captured the creature in his sights once again. He pulled the trigger three times and all of the bullets plugged the zombie's skull before it fell to its knees and then down to the dry alley floor.
Woodrow was nearly out of breath when he got back up, wiping the blood off of his face with his shirt. He stared down at the fallen zombie that lay on the other end of the alley, not even giving Francine a second glance.
"What the fuck happened?" Dylan exclaimed, entering the alleyway and stopping once he spotted Francine's dead body.
"What does it look like?" Woodrow answered, still breathing heavily. "We need to go."
Woodrow turned around and headed in the opposite direction with his rifle up, a touch of paranoia creeping upon him. Dylan reluctantly turned and joined him but Jay stood where he was, staring down at Francine, like she was his closest friend and she was gone forever.
"Come on," Woodrow shouted back at him. "She's back on the surface. She's out of this mess. We're not. Let's get moving."
Jay swallowed hard as he turned and followed the others out of the alley's exit. Several minutes passed without activity before the group, now reduced to a trio, walked the rest of the way to the Gun Store and arrived. They entered through the back door, breaking it open and using the shelves of ammunition on the inside to block the door they'd entered from. The place was less professional of a setup than what was usually seen from a Gun Store; it almost resembled a type of decrepit back alley illegal gun supplier collection of some kind. However, Woodrow was right about the caged bar that surrounded the register. Around the front of the shopping area, there were shelves of guns and ammunition organized based on the sections they were labeled under. The three of them surveyed the gold mine intently as they walked through, Woodrow nearly jumping in excitement when he spotted the exact set of rounds he needed in one of the aisles.
"Pick yourselves a weapon and load up, boys. We're sitting on a jackpot right now."
"So the shooting range is in the back?" Dylan asked curiously.
"Yeah, near the way we came in. Can't wait to get out there on it."
"Wait, hold on," Jay said, turning to him. "You can't use the shooting range. You'll draw the zombies' attention."
"Uh so?" Woodrow said casually. "We're sitting on the greatest line of defense in the city, dude. You didn't seem to have a problem with my shooting at the Parks and Rec."
"That's because we were above ground and sealed in tight. Here, we're in a leveled building. The chances of us getting overwhelmed are higher."
"Um again," Woodrow said with annoyance, gesturing at the weapons behind him. "Mountain of weapons here. We can hold our own."
"No, you can," Dylan countered. "In case you hadn't noticed, Woodrow, we don't know how to use most of these weapons. Hell, Jay only knows how to use a basic pistol, I don't even know how to do that."
"Well if you two would stop being a couple of pussies all the time, maybe I would find it in my heart to teach you. I mean, seriously, I have never heard you two whine and complain this much until we got here. You're really starting to kill my buzz."
"What are you going to do when your 'buzz' is all gone, huh?" Jay asked, slightly threatening. "You going to ditch us? Maybe go behind our backs and fuck our girlfriends like you did to Phillip?"
"You're still on that, huh? And my feelings on the situation were just completely disregarded because I don't matter. Your loyalty to that loser is sickening and pathetic. You actually take his word over mine; Him! The weak link of our group from the very beginning."
"He's our friend, Woodrow. He WAS your friend, but you fucked that up."
"Alright," Woodrow said, throwing up his hands in defeat. "I can't deal with this anymore. Let me know when you learn to let go of the fucking past. Then maybe you won't turn out like the rest of your family, huh?"
"Woodrow," Dylan warned, stepping forward, as he gazed back at Jay to guage his reaction. It was much calmer than he had expected from such a sting of a comment. He simply shook his head and looked off in another direction. Woodrow shrugged and walked out of the room, waving the two off as he went into the back, where the bathroom was located. Dylan turned back to Jay and started to address him when he was cut off.
"Its okay, man. I'm pretty much at the point where Phillip is now. I'm done with the guy. The sooner we ditch his ass the better."
"That's the idea, dude," Dylan said, lounging back. "Before we know it, he'll be out of our hair and we can get back to it being the three of us, like back at the Parks and Rec."
"Yeah," said Jay, walking past Dylan to the display model of a 1911 pistol that was hanging over one of the shelves by itself. He took it and opened the clip, surveying it as he walked to the ammo shelf and grabbed the box of rounds to go with it. "Might as well assemble some line of defense before he starts drawing infected attention."
"Right. You need any help?"
"No, I've got it," Jay said, opening the box of bullets and pouring some out into his hand. As he placed them into the clip of the gun individually, he spoke. "You know, its probably too early to be saying this, seeing as I have yet to see much action here in the Scenario after just two days, but I've got to say, I'm actually starting to enjoy my time here, despite everything thats been going on lately. I don't know what it is about it, but getting to walk down the streets of downtown with all of that silence, all of that peacefulness; its amazing for such a big city to be so quiet. I mean, I know its not really peaceful with the zombies and what not, but in an environment like this, its like every little thing counts, even the brief moments of peace, you know? Its just something to cherish. Especially when you know its not real. Its like the hectic times of teenage and high school life can all be dulled down for a little while at least when we're in here. Sort of makes me want to survive that much more in this place. Do you know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I do," Dylan said, staring off into space as he took a seat down in a wooden chair that happened to be lying against the wall next to one of the shelves. "I also know how you sound like you're high right now."
"Hell, I wish I was high," Jay said, slipping the clip into the pistol and cocking it back expertly. "I could actually get baked without getting into trouble in this place."
Dylan began to laugh as Jay joined in. The two were in hysterics by the time Woodrow had returned from the bathroom. But then something unexpected happened. As soon as Woodrow emerged from the back of the store, Jay, in mid-laughter, turned his new pistol on him and fired down, hitting Woodrow in the right thigh. He hollered in shock and grasped his leg tightly as Jay's smile disappeared and quickly formed into a scowl. He walked quickly over to Woodrow.
"Jay, no!" Dylan shouted, standing up, but making no real move to stop him this time. Part of him didn't want to. This wasn't real and as long as Jay knew not to kill Woodrow, it might as well be fair game, along with the fact that Woodrow would deserve every minute of it. He still couldn't help but look on aghast as Jay pistol whipped Woodrow in the face, knocking him into one of the shelves.
Jay stepped up to him and grabbed hold of his shoulder, pulling him back to face him. Woodrow looked on with mercy in his eyes, forming his mouth to say the word "No" before Jay brought his fist across and knocked him farther down the aisle. Jay chased after him as he staggered forward and shoved his foot into Woodrow's back, his head jerking as he flew forward and collapsed onto the caged counter of the register bar. Jay reached forward and grabbed Woodrow by his hair, yanking it back and slamming it onto the counter with as much force as he could muster. Woodrow's head bounced onto it freely as Jay manhandled it with ease, slamming it twice before tossing him across the room by his hair and watching him collapse against one of the shelves, knocking it over.
Jay stepped over the fallen boxes and bullets that rolled out on the floor around him and kneeled down toward Woodrow, who was slumped over the fallen shelf weakly. Jay turned him over and drove his fist down, closing his eyes as he continously struck Woodrow as hard as he could. His jaw was clenched firmly and he could feel the force surge throughout his body with each strike. Blood was spewing from Woodrow's lips, nose, and head, his face turning redder and redder with each blow.
"That's enough, Jay," Dylan said softly but loud enough to be heard. Jay didn't listen and continued to pummel him until he was completely disoriented. "That's enough!"
Jay finally stopped and stared Woodrow in his bruised, bloody, and tattered face. His eyes rolled around in his head aimlessly as blood seeped from his mouth, his mind completely knocked senseless. Jay stood up from where he was squating and pulled Woodrow to his feet by the collar of his shirt, hoisting him up and stepping over the fallen shelf as he shoved Woodrow toward the entrance of the store. He growled angrily and with all his might, forced Woodrow through the glass window, shattering it completely. He tumbled through and landed on the concrete sidewalk beside it, rolling to a stop with his face planted on the ground.
"Don't bother coming back. Don't bother calling. Don't bother speaking to me again. I will fuck you up just as bad." Jay stepped away from the store's window, heading for the back. He passed Dylan on the way by, who nodded to him with assurance as they began to make their way into the shooting range; the only place for them to be safe from the zombies while they laid low, now that the window had been broken. Outside, Woodrow stood falteringly from the sidewalk, swaying as he attempted to stay on his feet. He directed his gaze to the empty Gun Store and pointed to it angrily.
"Fuck you, Jay!" he shouted waveringly, blood and saliva dripping from his lips and onto his shirt as he spoke. "Some friend you assholes turned out to be! You think you can just kick me out and then you're done?! I'll be damned if I let you get rid of me that easily. You're fucking with Woodrow Gould, bitch!"
Woodrow gritted his teeth and felt an intense pain as one of his canines broke loose from its root after the abuse Jay had given his face. It dropped into his mouth and he spit it into the palm of his hand, gazing at it dismally. Finally, he collapsed to his knees and began to weep openly in defeat. This was it. He'd effectively ruined his own life. His best friends had turned their backs on him. Everyone had. And all because he wanted to prove to them that he wasn't the weak broken man he constantly felt like on a regular basis. All because he didn't want to admit that his remorse over betraying his own best friend was weighing him down more than any mistake he'd made in the past, and he couldn't, for the life of him, admit that he was wrong to anyone but himself behind closed doors. Now, with no one by his side, he was a useless shell of a man; he'd hit rock bottom and the insecure thoughts that led him to make these decisions in the first place had done nothing but leave him feeling worse than he'd ever felt in his life before. Now he was done.
Behind him, he could hear the low grumbles of a figure that he could tell had been stalking him. He whipped around and could see an infected individual standing in the middle of the street. It was by its lonesome, breathing heavily as it began to lick its lips with vicious hunger, staring at the unarmed and beaten human that lay crumbled before him.
Phillip opened his eyes and gripped tightly to the gun that had been laying in his hand over his chest when he fell asleep. He sat up from the bed he'd dozed off on and peered around the empty store. Phillip had decided to take refuge in an abandoned furniture and mattress shop. He'd boarded the entrances with some of the furniture before falling asleep, but even that was difficult. In the end, he'd sat there awake until the 12 O'Clock mark hit and immediately woke up back in the classroom. Now he was back in the same position he'd sat in overnight for his second session inside the Scenario. He'd found the gun that he was now in possession of in the back room of the store when he cleared the place out the previous night, making sure he was completely alone.
Phillip leaned over to the side of the bed and stared at the pistol in his grip curiously. He could always do it. He'd always wanted to know what it would feel like. And knowing that he'd just be on the surface after he pulled the trigger would make things all the better. Just to test himself, he brought the pistol to the bottom of his chin, resting his finger on the loop of the trigger. One simple movement and he could be back to worrying about his failing grades and the possibility of not graduating. He could go back to being pissed at Woodrow from afar and being alone for the rest of his senior year. Anything was better than being here. Anything. At this point, Phillip knew, without a doubt, that if something like this were to actually happen in real life, this zombie apocalypse/invasion/outbreak/whatever the hell the politically correct term was for it, he'd be the first to grab a weapon and do the deed. The only reason why he was hesitant now was because he did have a life after this and he did need the grade. He had to at least give it a try. In an honest-to-God post-apocalypse, there'd be no guarantee that they'd come out alive. So why fight the inevitable?
Phillip swallowed hard, feeling the barrel vibrate under his throat. He pulled the gun from his neck and instead, tucked it down into the bag that lay on the side of the bed as he stood up and headed for the bathroom. He actually chuckled lightly at the twisted irony of the fact that he wanted to survive more in this Scenario than he would in the event of an actual outbreak.
After washing himself off, he knew that it would be a scortching hot day, so he walked out of the bathroom with only a T-Shirt. When he emerged from the back of the store, he could see a figure standing over his bag, by the entrance of the door.
"Hey!" he shouted, as the figure, who he could see was female against the dark sillouette caused by the rising sun outside. The girl's ponytail swung about as she sprinted for the exit at the side of the store, which had had the least amount of furniture there to block it, making it accessible to enter. How could I have missed that, he thought to himself. Phillip sprinted after her, hopping over the sofas and chairs that blocked his path with expert precision. His parkour techniques would certainly come in handy in a situation like this. The door to the entrance sprang open and Phillip could spot who it was that had infiltrated his domain from the outside light. Tammy Camacho.
"Stop!" he shouted as she disappeared outside. Phillip reached the door before it closed and pried it open, emerging onto a back alley that ran adjacent to the furniture store. As soon as he was hit by the light of the dimly lit city grounds, he watched Tammy step rapidly up the fire escape along the apartment beside the furniture store. A glimmer of light flashed as she made her way up to the level above and Phillip spotted it. It was his gun. He swore under his breath and sprinted after her, hopping up onto the ladder that led to the fire escape. His steps echoed against hers as he followed her until she was on the roof of the building. When he reached it, she was already hopping across to the surface of another structure.
Phillip followed Tammy from rooftop to rooftop, tailing closely behind and slowly realizing that he'd left the rest of his things back at the furniture store and there would probably be no going back. Why was she stealing from him anyway? Why didn't she choose to ally herself with him and actually work together? He had no quarrel with her. But he needed his weapon back or else he'd be defenseless in a viciously dangerous environment.
Eventually Tammy stepped off the side one of the roofs onto a drainpipe and slid down to the level below into another alleyway. Phillip followed closely behind and watched as she hopped over the fence that closed off the section at the end of the alley. It took her a a bit of effort to get over it but she made it and continued to sprint across the street to a Square with a row of steps and a long-dried out and rapidly rusting fountain in the center. Phillip headed towards the fence himself but instead of climbing over it, he hopped onto the side of the wall and propelled himself across it with relative ease. Without losing momentum, he landed on the other side and sprinted after Tammy, gradually growing closer to her position.
Tammy made her way across the Square, up the steps, and hopped over a waste-high wall, heading down a closed-off walkway between two large abandoned corporate buildings. When Phillip reached the wall, he spotted Tammy sprinting off ahead of him, but knew he wouldn't be able to catch her if he continued down the same route. He needed to head her off in another direction. He looked ahead at the walkway and saw that there was a one-way turn leading to the side of the building, which continued on in that direction. Phillip looked up and spotted a ledge that led to several small windows. He could tell by the crevice of them that he would be able to use them to climb to the highest level of the building he'd be able to reach. Formulating a plot in seconds, Phillip ran for the ledge and pushed himself off the opposite wall with one foot to reach it. He climbed to the top of it and pulled himself up by each window crevice until he was a few feet above one of the rooftops, approximately ten or so feet from the ground. He shimmied across until he reached the windows around the corner of the building, stepping lightly but efficiently until he was directly above the rooftop he needed to be on. Without further hesitation, he hopped off of the window and landed on the gravel-covered rooftop expertly.
Phillip turned and scaled the side of the roof, watching eagerly as Tammy took the turn and continued along the walkway, which was surrounded by two rails on either side and accompanied with flowers and shrubberies planted to provide a decorative appearance to the corporation they were now occupying the grounds of. Phillip sprinted along the rooftop inconspicuously until the walkway began to diverge a bit closer to the building he was running along. He looked ahead and saw a space in between the rooftop he was on and the one a few feet ahead of him. With a running start, he hopped to the other side, landing lightly and rolling to keep his momentum in place. When he realized that the walkway was within jumping distance of the rooftop, he readied himself as he waited for Tammy to continue along its path. Tammy looked back one last time and smiled to herself confidently, believing that she had lost him in the thick of the chase, since she hadn't looked back to see him since she'd climbed to the roof of the first apartment. As she began to slow her stride, Phillip backed up, preparing with a running start and took off to the edge of the roof, propelling himself through the air wildly. He'd measured his distance and momentum wisely, landing directly on the path of the walkway with just a bit of extra force that was stopped by the rail he used to steady himself against when he landed. Tammy jumped in surprise at the sight of him.
Phillip smiled and walked toward her slowly as she lifted the gun to his face with obvious hesitation.
"You can't kill me, Tammy," he muttered softly as he knocked the gun into the air with his elbow and watched as it landed behind her. Tammy countered with a vicious strike to the face, sending Phillip tripping over his feet and tumbling against the rail left of him. He hadn't expected her to deliver a blow with that much clout. As soon as his awareness began to return, his vision repaired itself revealing Tammy, who swung her leg in the direction of his head. He leaned back carefully, dodging her foot, which slipped right through the opening in the rail. As she pulled it back, Phillip grabbed hold of it with both hands and held it tightly while Tammy hopped on her right foot, her balance jolted by the sudden apprehension. Phillip tossed her leg up freely and watched as she lost her balance and fell onto the concrete walkway with full force. While she lay there incapacitated, Phillip pulled himself up with the rail and sprinted towards the gun that lay just out of Tammy's reach. Just as Phillip stepped over her, she brought her fist up and hammered it onto Phillip's groin. Phillip doubled over in pain, but his head was now exposed, leading Tammy to grab hold of his cranium and jam her fist right into his nose.
Phillip leaned back and grabbed his face while Tammy scrambled to her feet and chased after the pistol. She leaned down and scooped it into her grip, then turned back in Phillip's direction, firing two shots toward the sky. Phillip watched as she hopped over the rail to the right of him and stepped down the hill that led to the street beside the corporate building and towards a four-story parking deck. Phillip hopped over the rail after her, confused at her intentions behind firing the gun into the air randomly.
As soon as Phillip and Tammy plowed into the empty parking deck area, the reason became apparent. Several low growls echoed throughout the structure and were accompanied by many more. Neither of them slowed their stride, although it had become evident that Tammy had set the mark on the both of them for the horde to follow. Tammy spotted an elevator at one end of the parking deck and pressed the button quickly. As soon as she did, the doors slid open and she stepped through, hitting one of the floors on the inside. Just as Phillip emerged into her view, the doors began to close. Phillip launched forward but met the hard silver steel of the elevator doors as it lifted her to the top floor of the parking deck. How did she know the elevator would work? he thought.
Before he could draw a conclusion, however, he felt a hand on his shoulder and reacted swiftly. He brought the back of his elbow onto the face of the zombie behind him and shattered its nose, sending it to the ground. There were more following it and he needed to keep moving. He spotted a door that led to a stairwell right by the elevator and burst through it, taking it three steps at a time as he climbed closer and closer to the roof of the parking deck....
When he reached the top, he plowed through the roof door, sweating profusely and panting so heavily that it could have been mistaken for dry heaving. In his fatigued state, Phillip spotted Tammy, leaning over the edge of the roof as she looked down onto the streets below. Phillip walked towards her quickly but tried his best not to make much noise in order to increase his chances of getting the jump on her. When he was within five feet of her, she turned toward him slowly with a look of determination and pressence that informed him that she had known he was there the entire time. Phillip stopped in his tracks. In one swift move, she lifted the gun into the air and fired one last shot, which he knew would only draw more attention. In the same movement, she hopped onto the top of the parking deck's border and tossed herself off the side. Phillip's eyes grew wide as he watched her plummet to her death. He sprinted toward the location she'd dropped from and peered over the side, only to find that she had disappeared and there was no sign of her pressence in the area whatsoever. Where the hell could she have gone?
A bang echoed behind him. Phillip turned to see dozens of zombies staggering out of the stairwell he'd just entered from and headed in his direction. He was now trapped on the top of an abandoned parking deck with no means of protection. Now he was approximately 89% fucked.
He needed to come up with something and fast. He peered over the side of the roof once again and measured the length in between each level of the parking deck. I may just make it out of this, he thought to himself. This would be a risky move, but anything was better than being mauled and eaten by a pack of rabid humans. Without looking back, Phillip tossed himself over the side, keeping hold of the ledge tightly as he measured the distance once again. On second thought, maybe this is a bad idea, he thought. No more thinking. Phillip let go of the ledge and allowed himself fall. As soon as the parking deck floor below him came into view, he reached out and grabbed the ledge right by it. The force of the sudden stop jolted him violently, causing him to wince in pain. His fingers stung as they dug into the concrete border that surrounded the third level of the parking deck. He readied himself once again. Two more to go. He let go of the ledge again and allowed himself to fall until the next ledge was within reach. However, his calculations were slightly off. Instead of equalizing his weight by grabbing the ledge with both hands, he caught it with the strength of his right arm. As a result, his left arm swung to his side and he could feel his right shoulder pop out of place.
Phillip screamed in anguish and gravity clawed its talons into his arm more and more, sending violent surges of pain through it until he could no longer keep hold of the ledge. Phillip let go and descended two stories below, plummeting onto a collection of shrubberies that were luckily growing along the bottom floor of the parking deck. Phillip rolled off of them and manuevered himself to his feet, sprinting from the scene as his eyes darted back to the vigilant zombies that stared down at him from the top of the parking deck. Surveying the rest of the deck, Phillip could see that he wasn't in the clear yet; There were more spilling out of the bottom floor and across the shrubberies that he'd landed on. Phillip turned and dashed into the road holding his injured arm aimlessly and searching for a safe haven but with the gunshot drawing in even more zombies from around the block, Phillip soon found that he was slowly being closed off in all directions and surrounded by the crowd of infected.
Out of the distance, a car's screeching tires echoed throughout the cityscape. Phillip's ears perked at the sound. Anyone that knew how to operate a car had to be uninfected. As soon as he realized this, a grey van spun across the road down the block and into Phillip's view, turning widely as it raced in his direction. Phillip waved his non-dislocated arm through the air wildly and jumped up and down to differentiate himself from the rest of the zombies and prove that he was human. At the sight of the figure in the road, the van spun to its side and skidded to a stop narrowly colliding with him. Phillip jumped in when van door slid open and he was greeted by Siobhan's unkempt but smiling face as she pulled him inside the van. He returned it and closed the door behind him.
"Holy shit, am I happy to see you guys," he said collapsing onto the floor of the van right in front of Sid, who sat with his leg out of the way, applying pressure to his thigh to ease the pain. He turned to Phillip with a weak but valid smile.
"Bro," he said warmly, giving him a high five, which Phillip returned. Bea floored the pedal once again and turned the van back onto the road with several zombified figures standing right in the path to be plowed out of the way like bowling pins. Phillip turned and spotted her, his smile slowly disappearing.
"Thanks for that back there," Phillip said to the group, but made sure most of his attention was directed to Bea.
She turned back quickly and answered him. "Yeah, no problem," she said kindly but just as quickly turned her eyes back to the road.
"You totally owe us now, you know that, right?" Siobhan asked playfully, rubbing her fingers in through her hair as she relaxed from the sudden comotion.
"I know, I totally do. That would not have ended well if you guys hadn't have shown up. What happened to your leg, man?"
"I have absolutely no clue," Sid shrugged, staring at the wound, which was soaking Siobhan's t-shirt and warping it from light blue to dark purple. "I was stepping into the van and next thing I know, my leg is halfway sliced off."
"Maybe you cut it on a loose pipe or something from the van."
"That wouldn't make sense, I would have seen it. I fucking hope I'm not infected."
"I'm sure its nothing, Sid, you shouldn't worry about it," Bea assured him from the driver's seat.
"Just...just get me to a store or something so I can cauterize this thing. Maybe that'll stop whatever infection might be spreading."
"Cauterize?" Siobhan repeated with surprise.
"Yeah, Cauterize. Its when you burn the flesh to stop bacteria from"-
"I know what it is, but why would you want to do that?"
"Because I don't see a valid hospital anywhere around here and I don't want it to get infected, with the Flu or otherwise. You've seen the tattoos on my back; I can take the pain. It can't be much different."
Siobhan sighed and exchanged looks of uncertainty with Phillip. "Sure, whatever you say. I just don't think its going to be the most comfortable thing in the world is all."
"Why would you be concerned about me being comfortable?" Sid asked with a smirk. "You're not starting to care about me, are you?"
Siobhan gave him a look of confusion. "What are you talking about? I've always cared about you."
The smile slid from Sid's face awkwardly. "Y-you did?"
"Yeah, of course. I mean, you're my friend, why wouldn't I care about you?"
Sid quickly nodded and rubbed the back of his head oafishly. "Friend, yeah. I mean, yeah, that makes sense, I guess. I mean I....I care about you too and stuff...."
Siobhan squinted with confusion as she looked at Sid, who smiled awkwardly. Phillip had the same confused look but smirked as he looked back and forth between the two of them.
"Okay, well," he said softly, setting himself onto his knees. "I'm going to move up to the front if you guys don't mind since there's more room up there."
"No, go ahead," Siobhan said, as he got up and sat in the seat directly beside Bea, grasping hold of his dislocated shoulder tightly as the bounce onto the seat sent a surge of pain through it. Bea noticed the sudden shock and gave him a strange look.
"You okay?" she asked sincerely.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," he reassured her. She shrugged and looked back at the road. Phillip looked over at her and gazed her up and down before looking back in front of him again. Without even realizing it, he repeated himself and sized her up several times over with the same routine, looking back and forth between her and the road. Eventually, she realized what he was doing and turned to him curiously, catching his eye. He smiled weakly and quickly looked back at the road, not wanting to even imagine what kind of pathetic look she'd given him when he turned away from her.
Sid's screams echoed throughout the back kitchen through the massive rag that had been tied around his mouth and behind his head. He bit down on it with all his might and shut his eyes tightly, gritting through the massive pain that the steel rod brought to his leg wound. Siobhan applied the seering hot slab of metal to it, having heated it with a rotary oven located in the back of the Italian Pizzeria that they had now chosen to hold themselves up in. Sid's shirt was off and he laid on his stomach on a long metal table with wheels on the bottom, being systematically but willingly tortured into healing his leg. Sid's screams could be heard from the eating area outside where the food would normally be brought out to the patrons and paying customers. The restaurant itself wasn't one of the fancy business string restaurants that were owned by the corporate moguls of the town. It was a general Ma and Pa store, which was a rare sight in such a regular town like Ocean Valley. Family-owned stores were an endangered business avenue. It was a shame that the place was abandoned, but the screams that could be heard from Sid assured Phillip and Beatrice that they would most likely not be visiting this place on the surface for a meal any time soon without reliving these disconcerting memories.
"Come on, take it like a man, you pussy!" Siobhan shouted with encouraging intentions, holding Sid's leg down with one bloody hand and applying the hot metal rod with the other. Sid pulled and teared at his shirt, which was balled up in his hands and his fingers were noticeably paler from the amount of blood flow he was cutting off from his constant grasping.
Back in the eating area, Phillip sat on one of the tables directly in front of Bea, listening to the show Sid was giving them from the back of the kitchen.
"He's really got some windpipes on him, doesn't he?" Phillip said with a smirk, listening to Sid's shrieks of pain.
"Yeah," Bea laughed, leaning back in her chair. "I keep telling him he'd do great in a Screamo band if he really tried."
Phillip chuckled. "Hey, you sing for a band, don't you?"
"Yeah, I'm the lead singer of this local band called the Unorthadocks. Siobhan plays drums for us."
"What kind of music do you guys do?"
"Some weird fusion of Jazz and Metal, I don't know. We suck anyway."
"I'm sure its not that bad."
Bea nodded with wide eyes and a grin. "You should hear us. I don't write the music, I just sing. I wish I could write music. Then we wouldn't sound like shit and get booed at every show."
"Well, I mean," Phillip started awkwardly. "I kind of write music sometimes. I just can't sing it. Maybe I could write a song or two to help you guys out."
Bea cringed. "I don't think Tyler would like that very much. He's our guitarist and the guy who founded the band. He gets pretty anal when outside sources try to get in on our stuff, but he's really just a stubborn asshole who doesn't want to admit the fact that this whole venture is a failure. Seriously, I really could be investing my time into better things....like finding a job."
"I hear you," Phillip nodded. "I mean, I have a job, but I know its difficult just trying to find anything these days."
"What do you do?"
"I'm a Pizza Delivery Boy," he said, shrugging with his good side and pointing upward. "Coincidentally. I don't work here, but I deliver pizzas from the Domino's on Erikson Boulevard."
"Oh so you have some experience with pizzas," Bea said with a smile. "Maybe you can help us whip something up in the back while we camp through this zombie thing."
"Well I do have a little bit of experience, so I think I can get something out of it, maybe," He replied, chuckling. This was the first time the two had been able to have a real conversation in....ever. The two barely knew each other, despite the massive amount of rumors and largely fabricated mess of a "relationship history" the students slapped together for them following the "Woodrow Incident."
The two sat in silence for a brief moment before Phillip reached up and grabbed his arm again, cringing in pain.
"Something wrong?" Bea asked worriedly.
"I'm fine I just....dislocated my shoulder a few minutes before you came. I've been massaging it but its not working."
"Yeah, you've got to pop it back into place," she said, standing up. "You want me to help you?"
"Please," he said, standing up from the table as well and turning his arm toward her.
"This isn't going to feel good"-
"I already know. I've done Parkour for four years. I've dislocated my joints more times than an old action figure."
Bea laughed as she placed her arm on the source of the bone's dislodging. "That's funny. My brother is into Parkour too, so I'm pretty much an expert at this from helping him out. Are you ready?"
"Yeah," Phillip said, bracing himself for it.
"One....two...." as soon as she reached two, she brought all of her force onto his shoulder bone and popped the top of his arm back into place. Phillip jolted at the sound of the loud crack and the pain that followed, gritting his teeth through it. When it was over, he put one hand on his shoulder and rotated his arm in a circular motion until he felt that everything was back in place again.
"Thanks a lot for that," he said warmly.
"No problem," Bea nodded. She then turned and headed for the door that led back into the kitchen. "I'm going to go check up on the others."
"Okay," he said, as he watched her turn to exit the room. Before she went through, she turned back around to him with curious eyes.
"Um," she started awkwardly, avoiding eye contact at first. "Hey, I was just wondering....have I, um....offended you in some way or something?"
"What?" Phillip said with confusion. "No, why would you think that?"
"I don't know, I just felt that....you know things were awkward between us....a little while back."
Phillip shrugged with a bit of awkward tention as well, realizing what she was referring to. "Its sort of always been awkward, since we don't really know each other like that."
"Yeah well....I mean, there was that whole thing....I've heard stuff....you know what, nevermind." Bea stopped herself and shook her head. "I'm just making it ten times more awkward, I'm sorry."
"Its okay," Phillip said, smiling. "No harm done."
"I'm just....going to go," she said, turning and heading uncouthly into the kitchen, leaving Phillip with a thousand tiny thoughts swimming in his head as he sat back onto the table and sighed deeply.
A loud crash erupted outside the station, jogging Sid out of his slumber. He lept forward from the floor he'd been sleeping on in full alert, gripping tightly to the sword he'd taken from the demonic room and listening intently for anything he may hear outside. It was pitch black in the Broadcasting room, but a light flickered on and Sid shielded his eyes. When they adjusted to the light, he saw Beatrice standing over him, her eyes squinted with a tired but alert expression. Her hair was messy and her make-up had been washed off the night before to prevent it from caking on her face. If Sid hadn't known any better, he wouldn't have been able to tell it was her without it. She did have a natural beauty to her appearance but having the punk look she normally sported, there was a deep contrast between school-appropriate rocker Bea and all-natural Bea. They were both wearing the same clothes from yesterday and they were much more noticeably unkempt than they were just a second ago in the classroom.
"What was that?" she asked quickly.
"You heard it too?" he said, standing up from his sleeping spot. "It sounded like it came from outside."
"Siobhan?" Bea shouted into the room. There was no answer. Sid and Bea exchanged nervous looks with each other. After a night of no luck with the radio station's transmitter, Siobhan had given up and the three spent the night sleeping on the floor of the Broadcasting room before midnight hit. Now that they were jerked awake by the crash outside and Siobhan was no where to be found, they were unaware of what exactly to assume. When they all entered the Scenario at once, would they all awaken at different times, depending on the speed of their descent into the subconcious world? Would that ever mean certain death if they didn't find a suitable place to hold up for the night or slept without securing their surroundings first? It would later become a frequent fear for all of the students who waited for their minds to drift as they laid back on the blankets, silently fearing for what they'd wake up to find when they emerged into the dream world of Ocean Valley.
Bea motioned her head toward the hallway that led to the entrance of the station. Sid gripped his sword tightly and nodded with assurance as she led the way to the door with her own weapon, a black medieval spear, sharpened at its end. The chairs that blocked the door had been moved, which only meant that Siobhan had exited the room at some point, leaving them there. This worried Sid, as he speculated that she may have had something to do with that crash, in a bad way.
Bea turned the knob of the door slowly but pulled it back with quick force, holding her weapon ahead of her vigilantly as she peered down either end of the hallway. When she saw that it was clear, she motioned for Sid to follow her and the two made their way out into the corridor. They moved quickly until they reached the end of the hall, just before the receptionist's desk. There was sound coming from the bathroom adjacent to them, clanking loudly as something hit the floor. Sid exchanged looks with Bea, who returned it and the two moved closer to its entrance. The two moved on either sides of it, waiting patiently for whatever was occupying it to exit. Footsteps echoed inside, drawing closer and Sid gripped his weapon even tighter, making eye contact with Bea as he prepared to strike.
Fortunately, Sid made a note to look before he attacked, for when he turned around, Siobhan flashed him a look of absolute horror as she exitted the bathroom. Sid pulled back the sword in an offensive motion but lowered it at the sight of her. Bea lowered her weapon too. Siobhan was so startled that she'd fallen back into the bathroom.
"Holy shit, what the hell was that?" she exclaimed in exasperation.
"Sorry," Sid said, reaching out with Bea to help her to her feet. "Didn't know what to think might've been in here. I was hoping it was you."
"You were wishing it was me," she said with a touch of anger in her voice. "You're lucky you didn't do that before I went to pee. I would have handed some asses to their owners."
"Did you hear that crash outside?" Bea asked curiously.
"Yeah. Didn't know what to make of it. Should we go outside and check?"
"Yeah, just let me go back and get my gun," Sid said, turning around and heading back towards the broadcasting room.
"No need," Siobhan called to him with a confident smirk, reaching into the back of her jeans and flashing his .38 in front of him. "You didn't think I'd come out of that room without protection, did you?'
Sid sucked his teeth. "You could have gotten a sword or something like everyone else."
"Yeah, but then I'm not everyone else, now am I?"
"Point noted. Now let's get out of here."
The trio crept towards the door and pried it open, examining the front parking lot. The sky was slowly fading into lighter shades of blue as the sun began to peak from under the horizon. Sid led the way with his sword ahead of him vigilantly, his eyes darting back and forth across the area for movement. He could feel his heart beating behind his rib cage from the tension. He needed to be moving faster than this. He looked back at Bea and Siobhan and nodded to them, signifying that the coast was clear. He pushed the door open and crept quickly along the side of the building until the group had made their way to its corner.
There was a light flickering by just out of view. It caught Sid's eye as he followed it, tiptoeing with a steady pace until he reached the corner of the wall. He crept to its side and spotted what had caused the disturbance. The massive radio tower that stood behind the station had collapsed. Wires were sparking dangerously, causing the flickering lights Sid had seen as he approached it. He had come to a conclusion. A structure this big wouldn't just randomly fall. Several other forces or one large force had taken it out.
Sid looked up into the aqua morning sky and his eyes went wide with realization. "Its a trap," he whispered to himself, before darting back to the others. "Get back inside! Now!"
Accompanying his shouts was a symphony of low growls surrounding their current location. The three looked around frantically to see a horde of infected charging towards them from all directions of the radio station parking lot.
"Head for the van!" Bea screamed, sprinting off on the path they entered from with Sid and Siobhan racing behind her. As soon as Bea rounded the corner, a zombie perked out from the side and rushed after her. Her spear at the ready, she jabbed the large metal rod into the creature's skull, blood spewing from its wound freely. Its monstrous screams of pain overshadowed the growls behind them and Bea lifted her leg, using the zombie for momentum to pull the spear out. When it fell to the ground, Bea continued across the parking lot in front of the station. Sid and Siobhan trailed behind, Siobhan firing into the crowd with the .38 and Sid swiping at the ones closest to them with the sword.
"Damn, this thing is heavy," Sid complained, as he swung the blade across the neck of one zombie that began to rush him and then another that crept along behind.
Siobhan noticed this and her eyes widdened. "Sid, NO! Don't cut their heads off!"
"What, why?" Sid asked, turning back to her. Suddenly, his eyes went wide as well when he realized his mistake. "Oh crap."
On cue, the dismembered heads of the two zombies he'd decapitated began to role to the closest infected individual and Sid watched as he bent down, allowing the two heads to attach themselves to it.
"Run!" Sid screamed, taking off after Bea with Siobhan following closely. There was no point in fighting their way out with their enemies growing stronger. It was time to leave. As soon as she reached the van, Bea forced the door open and hopped inside. She reached below the steering wheel and touched the two ripped wires together as the car revved to life. With a smile on her face, she reached over and pulled the gear back to reverse, flooring the pedal and spinning the wheel widely until the van had spun around to face the others. With its high beams on max, Sid and Siobhan shielded their eyes and ran for the doors of the van, while the Infected behind them were briefly incapacitated. Except for one. The zombie who had now been upgraded with a full-torso armor of nearly indestructable exoskeleton was able to stare into the bright light without being deterred. The van door slid open and Sid allowed Siobhan to hop inside first.
Surveying the two menacingly, the armored zombie reached up and ripped off a part of its exoskeleton which was plated on its chest, reared back, and hurled it in Sid's direction with the formation of a discus tosser. Sid, not noticing the move, prepared to hop inside the van, but not before the broken exoskeleton piece slid down by the wheel of the van and sliced directly through the back of his calf. As soon as it registered in his brain, Sid screamed out in agony before launching himself limply into the back of the van. Siobhan reached in front of him and slid the door closed as Bea punched the gas pedal and spun the vehicle out of the parking lot with zombies aimlessly chasing after them.
"What happened, what happened?!" Bea asked frantically, trying to gaze into the back seat and keep her eyes on the road at the same time.
"I don't fucking know!" Sid shouted through the winced anguish in his voice. He pressed his hand over the wound as the blood oozed copiously from the sliced portion of his calf. "Something cut me in the leg."
"Are you infected?" Bea asked with worry.
"I don't think so. None of them were close enough to do any damage. Fuck, this hurts."
"Here," Siobhan said securely, reaching around her waist and lifting her shirt off. Sid froze momentarily as he stared at her torso, which was only clothed with a small bra to hold her above-average-sized breasts. She reached over and began to wrap the T-Shirt around his wound tightly to apply pressure. Sid swallowed hard and gritted his teeth through the pain. When she was done, she leaned back on the side of the van door and sighed in relief.
"Jeez," Sid declared with a smile. "Didn't know you were packing like that."
"Well, I've been to a shooting range before, so I know my way around a gun," Siobhan said, surveying the .38 in her hand.
"I actually meant uh...." Sid rubbed the back of his head and lightly pointed up towards her.
Siobhan looked at him confusedly until she saw that he was pointing at her chest. She looked down quickly and then back up at him, reaching over to punch him in the arm.
"You're a spy, aren't you?" Shane shouted, pointing accusingly at Vic. "That's why you were asking all those questions. You were trying to get information on the Marxmin, weren't you?"
"That's not true!" Vic shouted back defensively. "You think my dad would let me out of his suite by myself and let me get kidnapped by those skinheads? As far as I'm concerned, you might as well be the bad guy here!"
"Me? What did I do?"
"My dad says you and your syndicate murder innocent people for fun and that you want to destroy our way of life. He says you're dangerous and he's making it his life's work to destroy you."
Shane laughed humorlessly. "That's incredible. I knew he was full of bull but I didn't know it was that bad."
"What are you talking about?"
"Most of what he's told you about us is what he's guilty of himself. HE'S the one trying to destroy OUR way of life. He's the one that kills innocent people and he does it indirectly through his lackies. Do you know how many people I've grown to love and grown up with that I've seen die right before my eyes by some Stratis scumbag? Its a wonder he hasn't just dropped a nuke on the Strays yet and get it over with!"
"All right, calm down!" the woman shouted at the two of them, lying her weapon over the rocking chair as she walked closer to the two. The boys turned to her curiously, their nerves dampening as she broke the tension. "I'm guessing you boys are probably hungry? I've got some food in the kitchen over there if you want me to fix you something."
Shane and Vic looked at each other in sheer confusion before turning back to her. This woman, who seconds ago had them held at gunpoint, was now showing some neighborliness and offering them a generous meal. Talk about a change of heart, Shane thought to himself. He eventually shrugged and nodded reluctantly "Sure, I guess that's all right."
The woman nodded back and walked past the two into the kitchen, the duo following behind her. She went straight for the cabinets and began to pull out several dishes, getting them ready on the counter before going into the refridgerator and pulling out the tin foil wrapped tupperware containers that held the food she was about to prepare. Shane and Vic took a seat at the round dinner table on one end of the room, sitting across from each other but avoiding eye contact of any kind. As the woman began to set some of the pots over the stove, she spoke to them with her back turned.
"You two can call me, Ms. Velvet and no, thats not my real name; I don't trust you enough to give you that, so deal with it. Anyway, you can't blame me for asking this, but what the hell are you two doing out here alone and with each other? Its almost like having Harry Potter and Voldemort holding hands at my front door."
Ms. Velvet chuckled but when she didn't hear either of the boys answer, she turned to them to see them looking back at her, puzzled. She rolled her eyes and turned back to the food. "Kids these days, I swear. Don't know nothing about nothing."
"Um," Shane said, hesitating to answer. "I saw this kid being kidnapped by some junkies and so I tried to save him. The chase eventually led us here. I had no idea I was saving the son of my worst enemy."
"And I had no idea I was being saved by a terrorist," Vic said dismissively, turning his head from Shane.
"Hey," Shane called, leaning forward. "I'm no terrorist. I've never terrorized anybody that didn't terrorize someone else first."
"So you've never killed a man?"
"To survive, yes, and for the good of the Marxmin."
"The Terrorist Syndicate?"
"We're not terrorists!"
"Then why does my father want to get rid of you?!"
"Because we represent a type of freedom that he doesn't want anyone to have, thats why. And thats beside the point. If you're so scared of us, why were you in the Strays in the first place?"
Vic was slightly taken back now that he'd been put on the spot so quickly. "I....I couldn't take living in the city anymore. It was sucking my life dry, I needed to get away."
"So you came to the Strays? The most dangerous section of the city?-"
"There was no where else I could possibly go. And I was curious to see what it was like."
"Thats the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Why would you come to the Strays where there's nothing for you, away from a place of luxury where you can basically get anything you want?"
"They have nothing that I want. And since you speak so highly of the life I had there, why don't you go live there yourself?"
Shane blinked in surprise. "Touche`, kid," he replied, rubbing his chin. "But thats not how things work for me. I've got what I want here and I earned it. I've got no reason to leave it all behind. You left everything you had so you could go to a place where there's nothing for you, where nobody will help you. And for what? Because you were ungrateful for what you did have?"
"No," Vic said defensively, before turning away. "I...I don't know...Maybe that is why...I don't want it to be why but...My schedule, its always the same. Get up, wash up, go to school, come home, eat, study, do chores, piano practice, violin practice, fencing class, bible lessons, study some more, go to bed, repeat the process. For the past five years, thats everything my life has consisted of, nothing more, nothing less. You told me that I'm smart and I took it as a big compliment, because its almost like I'm kept ignorant by my own family and friends, like every other kid that's grown up with me. Whenever I would ask about life outside of this place, no one would ever give me a good answer. They would either change the subject or force me to stop talking about it all together. Everything I've learned about the Strays, I've learned from eavesdropping. The only career option I have when I grow up is to be the heir to the Stratis throne. That's it. No if, ands, or buts. Its maddening; I have no control over my own life. I know I'm only twelve and I don't know everything there is to know about the world yet, but I want to learn and no one is willing to teach me. I'm sick of this web of lies thats being used to keep me on a certain path; I want something more out of life. So I got scared. Scared that I was having thoughts like these when I've only been alive for twelve years. To imagine still thinking this way ten years from now or even twenty....I had to leave. I don't care if its chocked up to me just being ungrateful, I couldn't handle living through the same mundane routines over and over again for the rest of my life like some caged animal. I'd rather die in the Strays than live like that any longer."
Shane listened intently. He could tell that the boy had put a lot of thought into this before going through with it. He knew exactly of the life Vic was speaking of. No matter how hard times had gotten as he grew up by his brother's side, he knew he would always be grateful that he didn't grow up under the watchful eye of Stratis Corp. After explaining his case, Vic had earned a little of Shane's respect for having the strength to actually defy his superiors and successfully stow away into the Strays by himself, despite his royalty.
"How did you get here anyway?" Shane asked curiously, as he was handed a glass of orange juice by Ms. Velvet.
"My bodyguard, Pierce, brought me here. He had been assigned to watch over me ever since the day I was born, so we had a bond that was closer than I had with anyone I knew, even my own father. He was the only true friend I had, aside from my sister, Kendall. When I told him about my plans of leaving, he was hesitant but after a while, he decided to help me make it happen. He's the most selfless guy I know and not completely corrupted by what my father created."
Shane took a sip of his orange juice, nodding with understanding. "So what do you plan on doing now?"
"I don't know," Vic shrugged. "I'll go wherever life takes me and stay away from my father's grip. As long as I don't get caught by him, I don't even care."
Shane looked away, twittling his fingers in thought. "What would you say to me letting the Marxmin bring you in?"
Vic whipped him a surprised and slightly offended look. "What do you mean? You want me to stow up with a bunch of gang members?"
"If you want to look at it like that, then yes," Shane said, sipping his drink nonchalantly. "But we're more than gang members, Victor. We're freedom fighters. And with that in mind, we don't break the heads of anyone that doesn't have it coming to them. Anyone willing to go with us will be taken in. Anyone willing to go against us will be taken out. Its as simple as that. We don't discriminate based on race, class, or personal preference. We take you as who and what you are. We won't force you to change; the way you come in is the way you stay unless you yourself decide to change. That's what separates us from Stratis Corp. Besides, its not exactly like you have anywhere to go anyway. Unless you find a nice family willing to take you in, you won't find the same hospitality anywhere else around here. The Strays has always been a cold and unforgiving place; thats why everyone clung to the Marxmin when the gang was founded, because it was the only place of refuge left for anyone here. Anywhere else you're likely to be killed."
"You know," Ms. Velvet interjected, as she began to scoop the food onto the plates. "I'd actually have to agree with him on that one. I wouldn't take my chances if I were you. You can't stay here with me, I know that much. This 'good host' business is a one time deal before I start ignoring you completely. I like to be alone."
Vic raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement before, looking away in thought. It seemed as if he didn't have much of a choice in the matter. He could stay here for a while, but when Shane felt that it was time to leave, he would have no choice but to go with him. If he was lying about the peaceful nature of the Marxmin, he would be headed into a bad environment. But why exactly would Shane lie about something like that? He had nothing to prove, not to him.
With the dishes prepared, Ms. Velvet turned around with the plates and laid them in front of the two before going back for the silverware. Shane turned to her curiously.
"So Ms. Velvet," he said, when he was given his fork and began to dig in. "Are you going to give us any kind of clue as to how you're allowed to live here and how this house is still standing in the first place?"
"Uh, no," Ms. Velvet said with a touch of sarcasm as she began to wash her hands in the sink. "Who says I'm obligated to do that?"
Shane shrugged. "Just thought it was common courtesy."
Ms. Velvet turned to Shane with a bit of offense. "Let me tell you something. I've been courteous enough by inviting you into my house, feeding you, and not shooting you on sight. You want anything else, you're going to have to start bargaining, buddy."
"Well I'm just saying," Shane said with a shrug, gathering more food on his fork and shoving it into his mouth as he spoke. "You haven't exactly given us any indication, other than this hospitality, that you're even on our side. For all we know, you could be planning to stuff us up and eat us later, like some fairy tale witch, or cut our throats if we end up sleeping here. Hell, you could've have possibly poisoned this food."
Ms. Velvet raised an eyebrow curiously. "Well you seem to be enjoying it quite openly."
Shane smirked and shrugged. "Yeah, well I'm not scared of dying. And this is pretty good."
"What about the radio?" Vic asked, turning to her as he washed down his food with his glass of orange juice. "Can you tell us about that?"
Ms. Velvet thought for a second, wiping her hands off with a small towel that had been lying between the handle and door of the refridgerator by her side. She finally set it down and looked back at Vic. "Yeah I suppose I can tell you about that. Not much to tell though. I've had that radio for almost fifty years now. It used to be one of those regular old-timey FM AM Radios that people used to listen to back before my time. I got it from my dad. It wasn't until a little while after that my brother outfitted it with some components of a Satelite Radio, so now thats how it works."
"Oh," Shane said with a touch of disappointment. "So its not a frequency radio?"
"Nope. Nobody uses frequencies anymore. Its obsolete."
Shane had been looking forward to informing Cassette that someone had made a breakthrough in the use of frequencies, but this new development meant that that was no longer a possibility. "So you said your brother outfitted your regular FM AM Radio to work as an XM one? He must've been pretty handy with technology."
"Don't think you're going to get information about me and my past by steering the subject," Ms. Velvet snapped. "Yes, my brother was inventive. That's all you'll know about him."
"No, no," Shane said, holding up his hands defensively. "I was just saying, I'm like that too. I outfitted an early Solid Day model boombox to play an iPod. I was just saying what he did was impressive, thats all."
"Oh," Ms. Velvet muttered, calming down. "Yeah, he was sort of a genius sometimes, just hard-headed. Anyway, yeah it stayed that way for quite a while and I was able to play a larger variety of music from XM, along with AM and FM."
"But thats what I don't get," Vic replied. "XM today is run strictly by Stratis Corp. It only plays opera and classical music and even that's rare, compared to the massive amounts of stock market news updates, conferences, and stuff like that."
"Exactly, and thats how it was for a long time," Ms. Velvet said, leaning back over the sink casually. "Until one day, I had it on a specific station: The Sanctuary. To be completely honest, I thought the radio was broken for years. The dial on it was always faulty ever since my brother toyed with it and after a while, the sound just stopped working all together, even when I would try to adjust the volume. It would play fine but I was just never able to change the station. So one day, I played around with it; finally got the dial working again and then I start hearing this music. Music that I've grown up with, stuff that Stratis would never allow to be played on the radio. The first song I ever heard from it was 'Like A Virgin' by Madonna. When it was over, I heard the same thing you did."
"DJ Pathos of Armor Clad Radio," Shane stated.
"Turns out the rumored story behind it all is that DJ Pathos was apparently a soldier in the Great War and he ended up surviving it all. He endured the years that followed it, the rise of Stratis Corp, all of that. Then when he was forced to assimilate into their lifestyle, he was....how can I say this....unchangeable. No matter what they did to him, no matter how many films they forced him to watch, how many times they tortured him into submission, he would never break. Some say its because he endured worse during the war, others say his PTSD actually worked as a resistant to the stuff they tried on him. At any rate, he escaped from their captivity and disappeared to an unknown location in the world, set up his own adio station, and just started broadcasting retro music, music from before the days when the private life of a musician was even an issue. Music that even I would consider to be old. And I lived before the Great War. Have you ever heard of the Beatles?"
"Yeah, of course," Shane answered. "We've got a collection of their works on our Universal Playlist."
"Right, but have you heard of the Beach Boys?"
"Um," Shane looked away in thought. "Don't know about that one."
"What about the Temptations?"
Shane shrugged. "Can't say I have."
"Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, The Doors, Bob Marley?"
Shane shrugged once again cluelessly. "I know Bob Marley."
Ms. Velvet shook her head in shame as she stepped away from the sink and started to make her way out of the room. "You've got a lot to learn, bucko."
"We lost him," Geneva stated, stepping into the Marxmin Council Conference room back in the reservoir Compound under the streets of the Strays. She was accompanied by Hope and several others that tagged along behind her. Marvin, who had been conversating with Abel before they'd arrived, turned to them with a confused look.
"What do you mean you lost him?" he asked with attitude.
Geneva shook her head and shrugged. "There was this kid getting snatched by Panache's goons. We went after them and it led us to the freeway to the Suburban District. He jumped on their car and we lost sight of him when they turned down one of the exits. We tried to go back but there was no sign of him."
Marvin sighed hard and put his palm over his face in discomfort. "Why does he always have to go and do this? Risking the safety of our own guys just so he can help one person."
"Well in his defense, you know Mr. Panache. You know what he would've done to that, kid. Shane has a personal vendetta against that guy; he said as long as he's capable, he'd never let another kid get harmed by him."
"I understand that but there's a time and a place for everything," Marvin responded. "Measures could've been taken. Springing into action spontaneously is reckless. God, that guy sometimes."
"To be fair, Marvin," Abel said, starting up from the table and walking to where Marvin stood. "He probably wouldn't be on this spontaneous tip if you hadn't started pressuring him to start making moves. Now he's making moves and you're critisizing him for it?"
"He knew what I meant. When I said actions needed to be taken, I didn't mean jumping headfirst in quicksand. I thought that went without saying."
"He's probably just acting out of frustration," Hope said. "You were kind of hard on him."
"I'm always hard on him, I'm hard on everybody. That doesn't change the fact that he needs to put the gang before anything else. That's where we differ. I would die for this gang. I thought he would too, but its seeming more and more like he wants others to die for this gang rather than himself, because he hardly thinks twice when he gets one of our men killed."
"Don't say that," Geneva interjected. "You know where Shane's loyalties lie."
Marvin sighed, shaking his head. "Well until he decides to show up, I'm taking charge. I now officially appoint myself as leader of the Marxmin during our current leader's absence."
"Are you serious?" Abel responded negatively. "I'm pretty sure it was myself who was appointed second-in-command, not you."
Marvin turned to Abel with an arrogant hunch in his posture. "I really think you need to stand down before your feelings get hurt, Abel."
Abel squinted his eyes in offense, forming his gaze into a glare. "What're you trying to say?"
Marvin looked off hesitantly then back at Abel, shaking his head and pressing his lips together. "You're not capable of running this gang. By yourself or with our help."
"And who says"-
"Says logic, thats who. Seriously, you blindly follow behind everything Shane does. You basically hang off his nuts every damn day of the week. How many times have you voiced your honest opinion on something he's done or had opposing views to his actions, huh? How many times have you made decisions of your own regarding how things are operated around here?"
"So your criteria to having leadership qualities is opposing everything your appointed leader does? I think I could be YOUR successor if that's the case."
"I'm serious, Abel. Do you have ANY ideas of your own or are you determined to put your trust in a man that would risk your life for the sake of someone he barely even knows? You have such blind faith in the guy that you haven't even thought of the possibility of something like this happening. You have done absolutely nothing to show any of us how you'd be a competent leader if he disappeared. No lie, the idea of putting this gang into your hands terrifies me."
Abel's jaw clenched at this revelation and he swallowed hard. "Fine," he said sternly. "If thats how you feel about it, I'm done."
Abel walked past Marvin and the group with complete disdain. Geneva reached out toward him genuinely. "Abel," she called, but he threw up his hand to stop her as he headed for the exit, slamming the door behind him. Geneva turned back to Marvin with a glare. "That was completely uncalled for."
"Hey, he asked what I was trying to say and I told him," Marvin shrugged, gesturing at the door where Abel had just exited. "Don't get mad at me for being completely honest. I'm entitled to my opinions too."
"I think your problem is that you care more about this gang than you do about friendship and trust, which is what this gang represents. That almost makes it a contradiction to even have you as our leader."
"Well guess what, Geneva?" Marvin said loudly, his frustration growing. "I'm all you've got. So deal with it. You're all dismissed."
Geneva and Hope looked at each other anxiously as they reluctantly led the rest of the group to the exit, Geneva eying Marvin closely as he circled back around the round table in the middle of the room, resting his arms on it in deep thought.
Ms. Velvet had taken Shane and Vic into her room upstairs, bringing the old XM-playing radio along. With her as their teacher, the two were given a rather long but entertaining lesson on the legendary music that ruled the airwaves during and before her time. Because Shane's musical tastes only consisted of what records, cassettes, and CD's could be uncovered and restored for the listening pleasures of the Marxmin Compound after the war, Shane couldn't expose himself to everything that was available and easily obtainable in the Solid Days. Now, with Ms. Velvet's help, he was being educated on the various artists and albums that existed in the early days of recorded music, farther back than he could have ever imagined that kind of music to exist. Vic's experience with it was unique, as he had had absolutely no exposure to anything remotely like this; the only music he'd ever listened to his entire life was classical. He had no clue there was anything like this out there.
After a while, Shane noticed Vic's overwhelmed reaction to this new cultural experience and so Shane suggested that he take his personal iPod, a spare he'd bought from Willis a day earlier, and take it outside to simply envelop himself in all of its unique tunes, taking it all in at his own pace. Vic thanked Shane and left the room with it as Ms. Velvet concluded her lesson and decided to leave Shane alone in her room to absorb the music that Armor Clad Radio had to offer.
Shane couldn't get enough of what he was hearing. He sat back in the rocking chair in Ms. Velvet's room with his eyes closed, allowing the radio to blasts its tunes directly at him, all of which he was taking in for the first time ever. The mysterious DJ Pathos regarded each of the songs and the artists that made them as legendary and Shane could immediately see why. All of them caught his ear; he heard songs such as Eye of the Tiger by Survivor, Welcome to the Jungle by Guns & Roses, Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas, Hounddog by Elvis Presley, Home Sweet Home by Motley Crue, Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye, Cocaine by Cream; the list went on and on. It was his equivalent to striking gold. Part of him wanted to sit there forever or have this radio with him 24/7 as his own personal soundtrack. That's when he leaned up with a brilliant idea. He had to take this back to the Marxmin. This was revolutionary. None of them had heard anything like this. Something this valuable should be played on the Universal Playlist for the entire gang to enjoy.
Unfortunately, while Shane rocked out to each of the songs, the itch was growing stronger and after a while he knew he couldn't ignore it. He stood up from the chair and walked to the door, looking down either sides of the hall before closing it. Then he quickly walked to the other side of the room by the window and pulled the bag of Prayer pills out of his pocket. Opening it up, he took one of the pills out and closed it back, shoving it back down into his pocket.
"Hey," called a voice behind him. He whipped around to see Ms. Velvet standing in the doorway with a saucer and a small tea cup stacked on it. "Why'd you close the door?"
"Oh, I just wanted a little privacy," Shane answered quickly. "I like to close myself off from everything when I listen to music."
"Oh ok, I understand," she said. "Yeah its some good stuff. I just made some tea for you and the boy, thought you might want some. I already gave him his."
"Oh yeah, thanks," Shane said thankfully. "I appreciate it."
He walked up and grabbed the saucer. "Have fun with your music," Ms. Velvet said, smiling slyly.
"Thank you," Shane replied with a laugh as she closed the door behind her. He took the tea to his seat and laid it down on his lap. With the pill still in the palm of his hand, he slipped it into his mouth and used the hot tea to wash it down. There was a stool in the corner of the room that he spotted, so he used it to lay the tea cup and saucer on before walking back to the chair to sit down. Before long, DJ Pathos announced the next song on the list, which was "Rated X", by Miles Davis. As the song began, Shane leaned back and closed his eyes again, losing himself to the sounds of space age jazz. Until he realized something. Miles Davis. That was his brother's favorite musician.
"Yep," uttered a strong voice to the right of him. Shane whipped in its direction to see the vision of the scarred wolf figure stitting down by the door, staring him down with its mysterious gaze.
"You're not real," Shane said with wide eye,s as he'd nearly forgotten about their last encounter after the recent turn of events.
"And you're sure about it this time?"
"You can't be. You only appear to me when I take the Prayer, which means you're an illusion."
"Or I could just choose to reveal myself when you're at your most vulnerable, Mr. Junkie."
"Don't call me that, all right?" Shane said, turning in his chair to the figure. "I've got enough going on without having a fake apparition of my brother insulting me about my drug habits. I'm not a junkie, I just wanted to take off some edge."
"Uh huh," the wolf nodded apathetically. "Look at you getting all defensive over nothing. It's only a matter of time before you start getting belligerent and needy for those things and ruin you and your friend's lives. I've seen it happen before."
"I'll get off of it soon. I've taken worst drugs than this and came out unscathed. Anyway, what do you want? Got any more life-altering information you want to share?"
"Not really," the wolf shrugged. "Just wanted to tell you that I think you're going to die tonight."
"Is that so?"
"Yeah. Call it a hunch. But you've got the freaking son of a global conglomerate in the same house as you. They will track him down. They will kill you. And they will get him back."
"So you're saying I should throw him to the wolves?" Shane asked, unphased. "No pun intended."
"Nah," the wolf smirked, looking away lazily. "I mean maybe, if you want to. Not really my choice. I'm just telling you what to look out for. They could have a tracker on the kid, you never know."
"Would you abandon him?"
"There you go again using me as a role model. Did I abandon Abel or Houston when they came along?"
"No. But they weren't the sons of Victor Stratis."
"Good point. But if you recall, I don't remember asking who they were before I did take them in, now did I?"
"But if you had known something like that, if you had found that out later, would you still have taken them in? Because I was going to take him in anyway if I hadn't."
"To be perfectly honest, I probably would. And then Stratis would target the Marxmin Compound and lead a full-scale assault against us, killing us all and taking him back."
Shane looked away in confusion and then back at Shawn. "Then why would you do it? Where are you getting at?"
The door to the room suddenly opened and Ms. Velvet entered the room. "Hey," she greeted again. "Why'd you close the door?"
"Um," Shane said with a puzzled look. "I like privacy when I listen to music."
"Oh ok, I understand. Yeah its some good stuff. I just made some tea for you and the boy, thought you might want some. I already gave him his."
Shane blinked a few times. "Okay," he said simply before turning around to the stool beside him. The tea cup and saucer were gone. Weird. He suddenly got up and reached out for the saucer again; Except this time, as soon as he took the saucer from her grip, Ms. Velvet picked up the tea cup and tossed the hot tea onto his shirt. Shane screamed and drew back quickly, manuevering the hot wet shirt off of his skin. When he looked up again, he saw that she was gone and the door was closed back.
"Yeah, it gets like that," the wolf muttered lazily. "In real life, you just grabbed the tea and poured it onto yourself."
Shane shook his head and grabbed his shirt, shaking it and finally lifting it off his torso. He laid it over the chair just as the door opened again. Shane turned to see Ms. Velvet at the door once more.
"Hey," she greeted a third time. "Why'd you close the door?"
Shane looked at Shawn anxiously, who merely gave him a devious smirk before he looked back at Ms. Velvet. "Do I ignore her?"
"Ignore what, honey?" Ms. Velvet asked with a curious look.
She responded. That meant she had to be real. But why did she ask the same question from earlier?
"Why are you shirtless?" she asked, chuckling.
"Oh, I spilled the tea on my shirt by accident," Shane answered.
"You mean the tea I've got right here?" Ms. Velvet asked in confusion, opening the door fully to reveal another saucer and tea cup that she held in her hand. Shane turned his attention to the fallen tea cup on the floor but saw that it had disappeared. "I made it for you and the boy, but I already gave him his."
This was getting stranger by the second. "Um, Okay," Shane responded, his eyebrows raised as he shook his head dismissively. He reached forward for the tea cup and saucer once more but was suddenly caught off-guard when she picked up the tea cup and reared back with the saucer, smashing it across his forehead. Shane fell to the floor, holding his head, and looked up once again to see that she was gone.
Shawn burst into laughter, shaking his head pathetically. "Priceless. You can pretty much figure out what happened yourself."
Shane looked to his side to see the shattered pieces of the saucer scattered around him while the fallen tea cup lie where it had fallen after the second encounter. It was the drug. It was almost as if it were playing tricks on him. Or maybe the wolf had control over it.
"Yeah, you should probably ignore her next time she walks in," Shawn said, still chuckling humorously. "Although if you don't stay put, she'll probably come into the room and do something else to you, which would be you making the moves ultimately."
"This was a mistake," Shane said weakly, leaning up and heading back for the chair, where the radio was still playing the mysterious abstract sounds of Rated X.
"You still didn't answer my question though. You would take Vic in, knowing it would destroy the Marxmin? Why?"
The wolf leaned its head back onto the wall and looked off in thought, an expression that seemed more human that Shane had ever seen from this peculiar creature. "Probably because I'm me."
"What does that mean?"
"I can't put it in simpler terms than that, kid. You're an adult now, you should be able to figure it out on your own. I'll be going now."
The door suddenly opened itself and Shawn stood up on all fours. "I'll see you around. Don't anything I wouldn't. Or maybe you should."
"What?" Shane said with utter confusion as he watched Shawn disappear behind the door before it shut itself. He kept his eyes glued to it cluelessly before slowly turning back to the radio, trying to process his mind around what he'd just been told. None of it made a lick of sense. In the midst of his thought, the door opened again and Ms. Velvet was back to greet him.
"Hey," she said warmly. "Why'd you close the door?"
Shane looked briefly in her direction before turning back to the radio, shaking his head.
Officers Best and McCall were called in to return to "Stratis City" by the captain of their department to respond to an emergency. When the two had arrived, they were informed that Victor Stratis' son had gone missing the previous night and that there was a suspect thought to be involved in the matter. Under their captain's orders, they were assigned to "interrogate" said suspect, who was currently in custody in the back room of the central station. They were told that the suspect was a man called Pierce Rutledge, formerly Victor Stratis Jr's personal bodyguard.
It was obvious that, without any leads to the whereabouts of Victor Stratis Jr, coupled with the fact that the Corporation's methods of handling situations such as this were hardly ever tame, this would be more than a simple interrogation. It would be torture, to be endured until Pierce gave up the location of Stratis' son. And so as it began; Officer Best and Officer McCall did not start off easy, but instead began the session with the heaviest of interrogation techniques they could provide, from heavy baton strikes to the face, to a few dismembered fingers, to a sharp blade in the ear canal. Because the room was soundproof, the deafening screams of their victim could not be heard anywhere else in the station, not that it would matter as they were under orders from the Boss himself and there would be no stopping this session.
It was about an hour or two into the "interrogation" that someone unlocked the door to the room where the torture was taking place and stepped through. Much to Best and McCall's surprise, they were greeted by none other than the boss himself, Victor Stratis, who would normally never come down from his suite on the top floor of the Stratis Tower to address such menial affairs as this. Unless something of his was involved.
"Mr. Stratis," Best greeted in amazement. He and McCall bowed slowly at his presence. "Its an honor, sir."
"Right," Victor muttered, visibly distraught as he walked closer into the dimly lit room. "This is him?"
"Yes sir," McCall answered.
At the sight of him, Pierce looked up with a touch of relief, blood and sweat running down over his face. "Mr. Stratis," he uttered weakly. "Please....tell them to stop."
"Gentlemen will you please excuse us?" Victor asked, staring unnervingly at the broken and beaten man strapped to the chair in front of him.
Victor shot Best a deadly look that caused him to freeze where he stood. He nearly lost the nerve to speak. "Y-yes, sir," he croaked nervously before he and McCall headed for the door, locking it on their way out. With the two alone in the room, Victor began to circle around Pierce slowly and rhythmically.
"Th-Thank you, Mr. Stratis," Pierce sighed with a smile. "Thank"-
"SHUT UP!" Victor screamed hoarsely, nearly louder than Pierce had been wailing during the torture. "My son is missing."
"Sir, he will come back"-
Victor suddenly began to chuckle. He shook his head as he circled around to face him. "You don't understand, do you? You were appointed to watch over my son. You had one job and one job only. And when I depended on you the most, you let my son get kidnapped by some Stray scum"-
"He wasn't kidnapped."
Victor came to a stop and gave Pierce his full attention. "Then what happened to him?"
"He - I -" Pierce stuttered, trying to get his words together. "He wanted out, sir."
"Out of what?" Victor asked sternly.
"Out of the Corp's influence, sir. He wanted to leave."
"So you let him?"
Pierce hesitated, shaking his head as if to beg Victor not press the question that he was reluctant to answer.
"If you answer, Pierce, I'll let you go. Just tell me where my son is so that I can know he's okay."
Pierce swallowed hard and let his head fall past his shoulders, shaking it to prevent himself from spilling the information. However, he finally realized that holding Vic's father back from being sure of his son's well-being would be worse than selling his old friend out. He had to tell him.
"He's in the Strays, sir. I have a GPS tracker of his position in my car. Just....please, he just wanted some freedom. If he's all right, please let him stay."
Victor's expression softened and he finally smiled. "Thank you, Pierce."
As his hands had been tightly held behind his back, Victor pulled them out of view, revealing a large silver pistol in his right hand. He pointed it at Victor's torso and fired several shots. Pierce convulsed with each one as the plasma-like blasts burned through his body with each shot. Pierce laid back in shock as the hot metal rounds that were embedded in his chest and stomach corroded his entrails, his mouth hanging open as they burned away at his vital organs and blood began to seep from his lips. Victor stepped up quickly, pointing the gun into Pierce's mouth just as his eyes fixed themselves onto Victor's, pleading for mercy with tears beginning to swell in them. Without any thought, Victor pulled the trigger and watched the back of Pierce's throat explode with a shower of blood that painted the wall behind him. Pierce's head slouched back over the chair, his eyes absent of life.
Victor sheathed the gun and turned around, heading for the door.
By the time Shane had gotten over the influence of the drugs, night had fallen. Ms. Velvet decided to spill her last bit of generosity on the two by giving them her bed to sleep in, while she took the guest room across the hall from it with the promise from them that they would be up and out by the morning. As an added treat, she left the XM Radio in the room to play while they drifted off to sleep. Shane and Vic were forced to share the same bed and they were close to drifting off to sleep as DJ Pathos began to play an obscure R&B classic, "Pave A New Road" by Eric Roberson.
"Hey Shane," Vic called, turning over in his bed to Shane's direction as he lay, seconds away from slipping off to sleep.
"What?" he asked, slightly frustrated. He was exhausted and knew they needed to be heading out first thing in the morning, so his tolerance for small talk was low.
"Why exactly did you save me?" Vic asked softly.
Shane hesitated in answering but mainly because his drowsiness made it difficult to come up with a valid enough answer. "Because you were in trouble."
"Would you..." Vic started cautiously. "Would have saved me if you'd known I was Victor Stratis' son?"
This question was even more difficult to answer. Shane forced himself fully awake to truly comprehend his question and finally, he shrugged. "Yeah," he said simply.
Vic nodded with satisfaction before rolling back over to his side of the bed. Suddenly, Shane turned slightly to ask him a question.
"Would you have trusted me if you'd known I was the leader of the Marxmin?"
After a minute of thinking, Vic answered, "Yeah."
"You don't have to lie to me."
"I wouldn't be anywhere near you right now if I was."
With no way to respond, Shane simply shrugged and took the answer as it was, slightly surprised but far too worn out to investigate the reason behind this sudden loyalty. He sighed and positioned himself back in the bed comfortably as he and Vic let their minds drift off to sleep just as the song came to a close....
....Until a booming voice came rushing into the building at full force.
"THIS BUILDING IS CURRENTLY SURROUNDED! PLEASE EXIT THE HOUSE SLOWLY OR WE WILL INTERCEPT AND ELIMINATE ANY POSSIBLE THREAT TO THE WELL-BEING OF VICTOR STRATIS JUNIOR! YOU HAVE FIVE MINUTES TO RESPOND!"
Shane and Vic shot up from their beds vigilantly, Shane crawling from the bed and sneaking towards the window. Vic, who's eyes were wide with worry, froze in the bed and stared at Shane as he peaked outside. The house was indeed surrounded by Scarf Squad cars. There were almost a dozen Stratis Officers standing around their vehicles, waiting patiently for them to exit. Shane recognized the Officer who had spoken to them using his own Squad car's radio intercom. Officer Best.
Shane turned around quickly and headed for the door. "Where are you going?" Vic whispered, as he watched him head across the room.
Shane didn't answer, but as soon as his hand met the surface of the door knob, it flung open and the two were greeted by the determined look on Ms. Velvet's face as she stood in the doorway. She immediately pressed her finger against her lips and motioned for Shane to stay in the room as she turned, walked to the staircase, and headed downstairs. Shane tried to protest but she moved sharply to stop him from following her and disappeared out of sight. He swore under his breath and headed back into the room, surveying the small army that had been assembled on Ms. Velvet's doorstep from the bedroom window.
Suddenly, there was a sharp sound of metal slamming shut and Shane's eyes widened when he realized what had just happened. Ms. Velvet had stepped outside. Why? Was she about to give herself up? Shane tried to adjust his view by the window, but could not see her from where he was currently positioned. After a while, Vic scooted over his way to join him.
"That's it," Best said slowly, watching her movements intently by his car as he spoke into the intercom once again. "Nice and slow."
Best then leaned over to his side where Shane spotted Officer McCall, standing just out of view watching the scene unfold. Best muttered something quickly to McCall and Shane watched in horror as he raised his gun and fired a single shot at the entrance to the house. Shane's body tensed up at the sound as he heard a body drop on the front porch. Soon, Best once again spoke through his intercom.
On cue, the windows of the bedroom shattered completely and Shane was knocked across the room. Disoriented by the blow, he felt Vic's small hands on his shoulder as he helped him up and turned for the door, sprinting out.
There was virtually no place to go with the entire house surrounded and the sharp chill of impending doom was steadily creeping above Shane's shoulders as they headed for the staircase. Suddenly, the door to Ms. Velvet's room was broken open by the foot of another SCAF Officer storming into the building. The Officer was standing right across from Shane and Vic when they prepared to step down the stairs. Just as he came into view with the blinding light on top of his machine gun, he pointed it directly at Shane, who realized that Vic was about to cross in front of him. In the spare of the moment, he shoved Vic across the hall as the SCAF Officer pulled the trigger.
A barrage of miniature lethal plasma blasts zoomed through the air and pierced into Shane's body, one by one. The first four hit him with so much impact that he lost his balance and slipped backwards off of the top step of the staircase. As the glowing bullets penetrated his body, blood flung into the air with each round that entered him, his mind operating in slow motion as his life began to flash before his eyes. His head hit the corner of one of the stairs as he tumbled to the bottom of the staircase and rolled to a stop, his eyes slipping into the back of his head.
"Target neutralized," the Officer said confidently, walking toward the fallen boy that had watched the scene unfold from afar and witnessed the death of his savior before his eyes. "Extracting the boy now."
As the Officer pulled Vic to his feet, he screamed and struggled to wiggle out of his grip, but the Officer held tightly, escorting him down the staircase and to the level below. Vic spotted Shane's fallen body at the foot of the step and examined it quickly as he passed by, staring with a shred of hope that somehow he'd survived the gunfire. His face was empty and Vic feared the worst. Shane Marx was dead...Just like his brother said he would be.