Thursday, July 7, 2016

They Just Seem A Little Weird

Percy took the first step onto the basement floor, Donna right behind him. Their flashlights flicked on at the same moment. In another situation, Percy would have recommended continuing carefully in the dark, but bright lights tended to cause the rotters to flinch away, and that was useful.

Donna swept to the right with her beam of light, Percy swept to the left. They'd become naturally coordinated over the last couple of weeks. Percy had training, Donna had good street smarts and a willingness to learn.

Percy never spoke of his training, despite the obviousness there had been training. He never spoke much of his life Before at all. That first night he'd found Donna and Sherie huddled together in an tiny multi-use office building in a tiny backwater of a town, he'd simply said he could help keep them safe and would offer them no harm. He'd proven himself in the night that night, hearing and responding to a hungry rotter long before the other two had heard it coming. The quiet, competent man had also been the one to find Rebecca after the caved in building disaster that had separated Rebecca from her daughter, Georgie, and Aimes, the former Marine trying to get the mother and daughter safely to the Hoover Dam.

At first Percy had been reluctant to escort Rebecca to the Dam, feeling the farther they all stayed away from the military presence there the better. “Have you seen what happens when some former military asshat puts himself in charge of a bunch of desperate civvies?” he'd asked, but said no more against it when Rebecca made it clear that was her best chance of reuniting with Georgie.

“All right,” he'd said, simply. “I'll get you there. And I guess I'll get you back out if we have to do that, too. With the kid.”

Now Percy took point as he and Donna crept through the basement. He pointed out daylight spilling into the basement from around a corner and the far end. Between them and that corner were several dark rooms with closed doors and one on the right with a broken door. As they moved, silently, he tested each door knob.

All were locked and secure.

At the broken door, he swept the room with his light, then motioned to Donna to guard the door while he had a closer look. “Just some supplies. Nothing we can use, mostly cleaning and paper supplies,” he said, very quietly, as he came back to the door. “Some animal nesting. Probably rodents.”

“Blech,” Donna said softly with a shudder. He pointed at the corner with the daylight filtering across the floor and wall and they headed that way. Donna felt her hackles rise. If there was an open window or door to the outside down that way, anything could have come inside.
They eased around the corner, shutting their flashlights down. Beyond the corner was a heavy, broken door leading into a boiler room scattered with debris. The sunlight came from a small, broken window on the wall opposite the door; it lit up enough of the hall and the room for them to see, but the sunlight created shadows that cast much of the room into murky darkness. It was just big enough that a human being – or something human sized – could have wriggled through.

Donna stilled, unable to tell if the darkness held motion or if her eyes were playing a nasty trick. After a moment, Percy motioned them forward again.

They moved slowly, silently. Every nerve ending Donna had felt a hard pinch of caution.
Percy reached the window and a screaming shadow lept for him from behind the boiler to his right.

Donna screamed in response and had her Louisville Slugger up before a conscious thought could even have passed.

“Donna, stop!” Percy shouted, trying to fight off the snarling shadow.

I'm not-” she yelled back before realizing he didn't think she was attacking him, he was telling her to hold off.

With a final cry, Percy managed to dislodge the shadow and Donna saw it clearly. A terribly thin cat, clearly a nursing mother, yowled angrily and sternly at them. The two shaken humans slowly backed away from her.

She feinted a lunge, shrieking again, and Donna tripped over some of the debris, twisting her knee and falling backwards, smacking the side of her head on a thick boiler pipe. The world went blurry.

Somewhere, far away, the airhorn blared.

She heard Percy curse. “Go,” she said, urgently. “I'll... I'll catch up. Go!”

He vaulted over her and was gone. The mama cat retreated behind the boiler.

“Smell you,” hissed the voice on the other side of the classroom door, and the doorknob began to jiggle violently.

Rebecca smothered a yelp with both hands.

“SMELL THAT,” the harsh voice growled. A barely human face pressed itself against the narrow window in the classroom door, and Rebecca recognized the boss rotter they'd run into earlier, whose followers they'd taken out before seeking refuge here in the school.

The creature gnashed its teeth against the window and jimmied the door, pounding on it with one hand. Its eyes bulged and were blood red.

“You can work the doorknob,” Rebecca whispered, watching the doorknob turning side to side in horror.

“You,” the boss rotter hissed. “Smell you. You die.”

“You can talk!”

“Rebecca!” Sherie said sharply from inside the closet. “Airhorn and get the hell in here!”

Rebecca scrambled to do just that. She blasted the airhorn a couple times, and the creature snorted in pain, dropping down below the door window and out of sight. Quickly grabbing the backpacks and a chair, Rebecca hurried into the storage closet, shutting the closet door. She wedged the chair beneath the knob, grateful that the door opened into the closet so she could effectively wedge it this way and not risk them being locked into the closet as if they would be if she'd had to lock it from the outside.

Percy whipped around the corner toward the classroom, club hammer cocked up and back and ready. He noted in that split second the boss rotter, the damage it was doing to the classroom door, that the door was about to be broken open, that it was alone in the hallway.

It noted as quickly the danger it was in. With a final, snarling shove, it slammed into the breaking door and splintered it around the handle, breaking inwards to the classroom.

Percy was inside the doorway just as it scrambled up, disturbingly fast, scrambling to find purchase to leap towards him. He brought his left knee up and pumped his leg out toward the creature, kicking it backwards into a sprawl across the floor. His left foot came down and he used his momentum to swing himself forward. Using the leverage in his shoulder, elbow, and wrist as he brought the hammer sweeping down, he lunged in and smashed it across the jaw, dropping onto its chest with his other knee.

It made a wet, huffing “hhchchooorkh” sound as its chest forcibly deflated beneath his weight, blood spattering upwards from its damaged face. Percy reversed his hold on the hammer, bringing it up so he could smash it down full force on its forehead, hopefully ending the struggle.

Somehow it managed to get a hand up to deflect his dropping arm, brushing the hammer to the side just enough that it only struck a glancing blow. It gripped his arm with fierce strength and raised its head up just enough to bite his arm, sharp teeth sinking deeply into his skin.

Asshole!” he snapped. He shoved his forearm further into its mouth, pushing its head back against the floor, forcing its jaw downward to apply pressure to the hinge of its jaw.

It gagged and struggled against him. He grabbed his hammer in his left hand and repeatedly smashed it into the rotter's face with all the force he could muster at that angle, continuing relentlessly until the rotter's face was obliterated and it was still beneath him.

Oh my God, Percy,” Rebecca said, and he managed to push himself off the creature and turn to face her. He wobbled a bit and she rushed to help him into the rocking chair. “You're bleeding.”

Yeah,” he said, dropping the hammer, helping her get his long sleeved shirt off his injured arm. Clinically, he noted it was not a life threatening injury and would not cause permanent disability, as long as it did not become infected. “Grab the first aid kit.”

Donna sat beside him as he lay in the supply closet on the bed originally made for Sherie.

We've got the truck secured and loaded. We have the maps we need to get us to the dam. We're ready, Percy.”

“Good,” he whispered, his voice thin and raspy. “Do not hesitate to kill anything that gets in your way.”

We won't,” Donna promised.

You could still come with us,” Sherie said, leaning against the doorway, looking in at Percy as he rested.
Can't,” he said, as sternly as he could manage. “Something is very wrong inside. Losing coherence. Losing me. Don't know what will happen when I am all gone.”

We can get more antibiotics,” Rebecca said. “Different ones. Something. Just because the ones we had didn't work...”

Not an infection. Not like that,” Percy said. “You know that.”

And it was true – his arm had healed over the last week, better than they had expected, even. There was no sign of infection at the wound site.

Write it in the book,” he told Rebecca. “Make sure people know. Boss rotters have something bad in their bite even if the normal ones just have germs in theirs.”

We will,” Donna said. “We could come back and check on you, maybe.”

No. You won't like what you'd find.”

She nodded slowly, understanding. Rebecca assumed – hoped - he meant how he'd have changed by then, but the other two women knew he intended to end his life as soon as the women were out of sight so he couldn't become something that would endanger them. It was also why he refused to let them stay with him any longer.

Get to the dam. Get to the kid. Keep an eye out,” he said. “Be bad ass. You are bad ass.”

I promise,” the women all said, as one.

Donna kissed his forehead as if he were one of her children, and they left him there, alone.