(12) Dead Body; Zero Stars

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We start along the front of the motel, because circling around back of it is something I need to work up the nerve to do, even with companions. Ditzy keeps her flashlight on the lookout behind us as Calico J and I scan the building. I've trained us all on what to look for: stuff like water damage and burn marks, as well as broken windows and any recent detritus that might indicate the place is inhabited. We find none of the above around front. Two of the doors stand open. I'm not ready to start looking inside yet, though, so we note those and move closer.

Ditzy is the first to actually step beneath the veranda. My heart is already setting a bass beat to some Horror soundtrack, but as she approaches the motel wall, a familiar crawl of dread burns and ices me simultaneously.

"Back up," I say, without thinking.

Maybe because I've saved her from Redding before, Ditzy skips away from the wall. She turns her flashlight on it instead. Only then do I see it. A long vein of Redding runs along the crevice where the building meets the cracked concrete veranda. It blocks the bottom of the doors, but when I look closer, I can spot the rooms it branches off into. Branches like that lead to Sleepers. Neither of the open doors have them. Three of the eight locked ones do. The rest are either empty, or they house survivors.

"Ditz, no Redding in the open rooms," I say, then pause. I feel like there's no Redding in those rooms, but the presence or absence of branching from this particular vein isn't enough confirmation. Accurate or otherwise, my feelings aren't an adequate basis for safety. "Can you check them?"

She readies her weapon and walks right up to each in turn, punting the doors wide. Both prove empty. The people inside them fled when the world went to hell, then.

I brace myself and move to the first room without a Redding connection, where I knock on the door. "Hey, is there anyone in here? We're survivors."

I should probably say more if I want to reassure anyone that we're safe. After all, if someone had come to my door like this on Red Thursday and the week or so after, I probably wouldn't have answered. I only did it for Calico J because he was hurt and sounded absolutely terrified.

"We won't hurt you," I add. Silence continues to reply, which means I'm probably talking to an empty room. I check the door handle. Locked.

Calico J moves to the other end of the motel and starts the same screening. We meet in the middle. No replies, and all the remaining doors are locked. With nothing left to try here, it's time to check the back. I take a deep breath, then lead the way off the concrete.

The grass around the motel is overgrown and heavy with dew. It only takes a moment for my sneakers to soak through, and the ground makes a sound midway between a swish and a squelch every time I step on it. We've got a few hours yet until the Red Rain starts, but the water table out here is high enough that the soil is saturated. There might be Redding everywhere. I sweep my flashlight around for any sign of bodies, pooling, or wetlands.

"Meg," says Calico J. My heart skips an uncomfortable number of beats as I look back. Calico J has his flashlight trained on one of the motel windows. It's shattered.

I count the rooms. This was one of the locked doors with no Redding-branch—no Sleeper—and the break in the window isn't big enough for a person to climb in through. No smart survivor would stay in a room with a broken window. So it should be empty.

It doesn't feel empty.

"Ditzy, weapon handy over here," I say. "I'm checking this one."

I test that my headlamp is secure enough to survive a fight, then grip my hockey stick and approach the window. My foot crunches on something in the grass. The ground sparkles when I look down: there's shattered glass everywhere. The window was broken from the inside.

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