Chapter 4: Sick Like Me

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Devon felt the full weight of gravity pull at her limbs as she stumbled through the front door of their condo. Her head felt like any remaining fragments of the bullet were threatening to force their way back out. Her fingers tingled like she had plunged them in ice water. Her mouth felt like she was chewing a charcoal briquette: the taste of ash and jaw opening and closing awkwardly.

Hadn't she taken her pills last night before bed? No? She had set them out so carefully, too. The excitement of going out on the town, and the brightness of mid-day was too much to process. She knew this was an aura and she had a short time to get to safety.

She made it up the stairs, Dr. Mew purring at her heels in worry, and dropped to her knees in a pile of blankets at the foot of the bed. The seizure came on strong and the world disappeared as her eyes closed like a curtain.

Oh well. She needed to get a nap before work that night anyway.

~*~

Devon woke to a world on fire. Her old suburb across the train tracks just north of Nine Mile. Distant screams slapped her and pulled her from her stupor. She was in an alleyway, taking shelter in a cardboard box as she had before.

She crawled out on her hands and knees and gulped in deep breaths low to the wet concrete. Smoke poured over her in waves, darkening an already blood-red sky.

Her mind went over the basics of survival as she dragged herself to her feet on the brick wall beside her.

Get to safety. Defend the position. Scavenge. Save what she could. Save who she could. Put them to work to distract them from the situation. It would be just like camping. At least, that's what she had always told herself growing up. She was camping outside. Permanently. Like a lone wanderer exploring the world.

A mob stumbled down the street in front of her. She thought to call out to them. Instead, she ducked behind a dumpster and peered around the corner. It wasn't the raggedness of their clothing, or the way they dragged their broken shoes, or even the dirt and blood that matted their hair to their sunken faces that convinced her they were walking dead. They could've easily been refugees like her in the apocalypse.

It was the leader at the front, and how his jaw dangled by a yellowed tendon off its hinges. How his purple tongue licked the air. The way he hissed and waved his head side to side. How his black-veined, lidless eyes searched, no, hunted for her.

For Devon, it wasn't much of a stretch to imagine a shotgun strapped to her back. Days of playtime in videogames and hours spent on the couch watching movies had prepared her for this. She pulled the weapon out of the ether and pumped it with one hand.

One shot, two shots, three shots. She burst each head in a shower of red mist and laughed with as much glee as she did when popping bubble wrap. She made a hole behind the horde, just enough to get through, and full-sprinted across the street to an alley with a fire escape. She needed to get off the street. Get to safety. Step one.

She climbed to the top of a dumpster with a single jump. Turned, ran along the wall. A second leap and her hands gripped the rusty metal of a dangling fire escape ladder. She pulled her legs up through the hole and laid out on the grating to catch her breath. The horde of undead gathered underneath her, their gnarled, rotten fingers reaching for her as they clamoured over each other for a pound of flesh. She pounded the butt of the shotgun onto the hand that peeked out of the top of the ladder and rolled to her feet.

Devon made her way up the levels of metal ladders to the top of the building and stared out over the city. Broadway was a river of fire. Main street was a dark scar on the map, flooded with the turned residents who made the mistake of going to the Farmer's Market that morning.

She swung her legs over the concrete railing and sat with her hands folded. She slowly let out a long-held breath and went over her options. She just had to survive until Tamesis came home and either woke her up, or joined her. The rooftop was safe enough from the horde. She could find a way to bar the access door. Maybe gather her courage in a backpack she conjured and go explore the top level for supplies. Clear it and expand her territory.

Okay, this she could deal with.

A muzzle flash on her two o'clock caught her attention. Time seemed to slow as she rolled backwards. The round spiraled above her, leaving a trail in the air. She hunkered down behind the concrete barrier.

Her grip tightened on her shotgun. It was black, tactical-grade, and could hold maybe eight shells. She had already spent three, but all the rounds in the world wouldn't help her when its range wouldn't reach another marksman. She needed a rifle. Her name wasn't going to be on that bullet. Not again.

Could she get back down and still have enough shells to sneak up on them? Would they be thinking the same and try to close in? No, they were likely safe where they were. This was a strategic decision on their part. If Devon made it back down the fire-escape, she'd have to spend shells. If she went down through the roof access, she'd have to spend shells.

A decaying body crawled up from the fire escape and over the concrete barrier. Devon raised her shotgun and took it out at center mass. She held her breath and waited for more, and when none came, duck-walked herself over to the body and dragged it back to the southern barrier where she last saw the hostile marksman. She propped it up so that its head was barely visible. That would do. A decoy to distract them. If she could keep her head low, maybe she could check out the other sides of the roof and see if she could take a running leap for another building. The horde still gathered at her fire escape, but there might be less at the others. If she could just...

The decoy zombie grabbed her by the shoulders and took hold of her shotgun. With an intelligence and agility not known to the brain-dead it turned the gun on her and pulled the trigger.

"You're a rude one, greeting me like that. How's that feel?" he hissed through sharpened teeth. Specks of red sprayed across Devon's cheeks. He pushed her onto her back and straightened himself, a silhouetted monster.

Devon gasped for air from an empty, blown out chest. Her trembling hands felt the sharp edges of her exposed ribs as she stared up at the burning sky. The smoke that smothered the city blended with the darkness that closed in around her.

"Aren't you dead yet?" he spat. He squat beside her and looked her body up and down. She couldn't scream without lungs, but her lips still formed the question.

"Elymas?"

The zombie grinned through bloody teeth and snatched her by the wrist. He dug his filthy nails into her flesh. "Your mind is a terrible place, you know that? Is everyone always against you?"

Devon felt the gravel on the roof tear at her open back as he dragged her by the arm.

"Come then. I've been searching for you a long time, and I promise, my dear, my world is much more welcoming."

"

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