Read Scavengers Online

Authors: Christopher Fulbright,Angeline Hawkes

Scavengers (7 page)

She made it some distance along the road and headed down an embankment. Gravel rolled beneath her feet and she lost her balance. The infected gave chase. Most of them fell, but two of them – Mr. Whiskers and Fashion Model — came down full speed, bounding through the air with blood-slick grins.

Dejah forced herself to her feet. Her eyes scanned the terrain along the interstate and up and down Beltline Road. At the bottom of the hill was a drainage ditch. She spotted the culvert opening and ran for it. 

Reaching the entrance, she crawled inside. The light from the outside grew further away as she worked her way further into the tunnel. She found a concrete shelf near an intersection of tunnels where, alone at last, she curled up in the pitch darkness.

Dejah’s breath came in shallow gasps. Blood poured from her wounds and she could hear the stream against the concrete.
Oh, Selah. Please God, please protect my baby
. Blurry thoughts of Selah mingled with the fleeting knowledge that her life was draining from her.

I just want to see my baby
.

Unconsciousness took her.

Thirty minutes later, she died.

CHAPTER 10

 

Later that night, she came back to life.

It was like almost drowning. Like coming up gasping for air, lungs near bursting, head pounding. She coughed violently. Her vision was cloudy but began to clear. As she blinked away the fog, her first thoughts were of the birth of her daughter.  Then it dawned on her that, somehow, she herself had just been born all over again in the darkness of a drainage tunnel.

Besides the healing ache of recently shredded flesh and fractured bones, there was a persistent longing inside of her. It wasn’t a good sensation. She did a mental check of her faculties and touched her limbs, moved her joints around the way an arthritic old woman does in the morning to get things moving. Hands pressing over her flesh, she couldn’t find the raw, chewed places that were there when she … died.

Maybe I just fell asleep
.

But, she knew that wasn’t the case. She died. She reassured herself that she was indeed living again, and not disease-ridden like the roaming infected outside the drainage tunnel. Not that she could be sure of anything along those lines. She couldn’t be sure what it felt like to be one or other at this point. But, she didn’t feel any evidence of being infected.

Dejah crept from the tunnel. In the gold glare of the morning sun, she saw her wounds were miraculously healed. The remnants of that dull ache remained, and her stomach cramped with hunger.

She shook her head in disbelief. She checked her legs, which had been eaten; her throat, which had been ripped open; her arms, which had been chewed so much so that strands of ligaments were all that remained; and her abdomen, which the infected had torn into like ravenous hyenas.

Now, in the light of day, Dejah tenderly touched her flesh. It was mottled, ached, and tingled with pins and needles as if the areas had fallen asleep. She tested her fingers, curling her hands into fists. A wave of nausea and dizziness overcame her. She stumbled and reached to catch herself on the hillside before she fell.

Is this it? Am I one of them, now? Will I tear into the next human being I see as if they’re a bountiful feast?
Dejah kept checking her flesh for signs of the infection, but so far she looked healthy enough.

She
was
ravenous, but she craved a hamburger, cookies, milk, or a jar of pickles — nothing so gruesome as raw flesh. Still, food was a top priority, and if she didn’t get any soon, she felt she’d pass out. She was running on empty, her body exhausted and ebbing with pain.

Dejah looked around. She regarded the landscape, searched every pocket of shadow for movement. She heard distant groaning, smelled the vague scent of rot from up on the highway, drifting to her on a cold wind. Her shirt and pants were bloody ruins. She shivered.

She needed necessities: food and clothes. More importantly she needed to know Selah was safe from this madness. Selah was what was keeping her alive now, what was pressing her onward through the very pits of Hell. She had to get to Greenville.

She wasn’t sure what time it was. It should be Friday morning — that is if she’d slept —
been dead
— for only one night.

Don’t think about last night. It’s crazy. It makes no sense. Just call Selah
— her brain screamed. She frantically checked her pocket for her phone.

The pocket was torn away, only a gaping hole remained in the blood-saturated fabric. 
Oh God, my phone’s gone
! Panic threatened to consume her as Dejah pawed her jeans. She leaned over, breathing hard as if she’d just finished running.
Get a grip on yourself!
She straightened up and studied her surroundings again.

From where she stood, she could see the Quickie Q Convenience Store. Aware of the potential danger she was in, she willed herself to run. It hurt.  Her head swam. She barely made it before falling over, tumbling into a heap.

When she pulled open the heavy glass and metal door, she saw the store was deserted.  The air smelled like stale sweat and Pine Sol. Food and cheap Texas souvenirs were scattered over the floor along with muddy footprints. Dejah scanned the counter and the area behind it. Phone. All she wanted was a phone. Spotting the black phone hanging on the wall beside the cigarettes, she ran around the counter and seized the receiver. Fingers trembling, she punched the numbers on the keypad, calling Thomas at her in-laws’ house.

The busy signal she reached bombarded her ears.

“No!”

She hung up the phone, then picked up the receiver again and dialed Thomas’s cell phone. His phone went straight to voice message. She hung up, lightly tapping her forehead against the phone, fighting the anguish that was rising from her gut. She called her father-in-law’s cell phone. Voice message again. Tears spilled over her cheeks. She didn’t even bother to replace the receiver, instead dropping it, letting it dangle from the dirty cord. Back against the glass cigarette shelves, she slid to the ground, crying.

Wiping her face on the back of her hands, she looked toward the milk aisle and saw a pair of black boots, presumably connected to a pair of legs, lying on the ground. Slowly, she crept toward the aisle, peering between crumpled lunch-sized bags of Doritos and canisters of meat sticks. The boots belonged to the store clerk, who was dead. Dejah sighed and noticed the keys hanging on his belt.

With a deft movement, she snatched the keys from his belt loop and ran to lock the front door. She fumbled with the keys until the correct one fit, and then turned it with a click, bolting it. Then she ran through the store, through a narrow storage room, and found the back delivery door, locking it as well.

Safe inside of the store for the time being, Dejah knew she needed to use this time to get herself together. Formulate a plan of action.

Eat
.

She popped open the bag on a pink sugarcoated marshmallow cake and thrust one in her mouth. Crossing the store, she opened one of the glass refrigerator units and pulled out a soda. Gulping the bubbly liquid, her mind raced with all that she needed to do.

Find a weapon.

She knew there must be a gun or bat or something behind the counter near the register. No self-respecting convenience store owner in Texas opened shop without a gun of some kind. She pushed aside stacks of worn nudie magazines and a secret ashtray and found it: a Ruger, .32-caliber revolver. Thomas might not know his way around a gun, but fortunately for her, she came from a gun-totin’, freedom-to-bear-arms family. It had been a long time since she shot a revolver, but instinct told her it was just like riding a bike. Once you learn, you never forget.

She opened the cylinder. It was loaded. Rummaging around on the dusty, ash-peppered shelf where she’d found the Ruger, she also located a box of bullets — there were four left in the box. She stuck the gun into the front of her pants. She dropped the extra bullets in her pocket.

In the automotive section of the store she found a black duffel bag with a beer logo. She ripped off the plastic ring securing the zipper. Next to the duffle bags were four or five t-shirts. She shook off the tattered remains of her shirt, and pulled a fresh t-shirt over her head. She wadded the others and shoved them into the bag.

Flashlights, batteries, matches, bandages, first aid kit, meat sticks, and a pocketknife all found their place in the bag. She put as many bottles of water as she could carry into the duffle bag as well, and then slung the strap over her shoulder to test the weight. Satisfied she could transport the bag a good distance, she lugged it onto the counter and decided to eat something more substantial than the handfuls of sugared snacks she’d been shoving in her mouth.

A small carton of milk was still cool in the fridge. She found some cans of beanie wienies and was proceeding to the microwave when she heard a low moan. Dejah froze. A series of grunts followed.

The sound was coming from
inside
the convenience store.

I locked all the doors
!

Dejah knocked a stack of toilet paper packages to the side in order to see the front entrance. Locked. Her eyes scanned the store looking for entryways other than the back delivery door, which she locked — she looked across the store and noticed the black boots of the store clerk were absent from the end of the aisle.

Damn
.

The moaning turned into a spitting, snarling sound coming from the corridor leading to the storage room in back.

The bathroom door burst open, banging against the wall with a thunderous boom. A metal display rack of tree-shaped air fresheners fell to the floor with a reverberating metal clang. The clerk moved from the dingy bathroom in jerky motions, his face screwed up in a pained expression, saliva dribbling from the corners of his mouth.

“Geeetttt ouuuutttt…” he moaned, shambling coming toward her.

Dejah was still standing in the same place, her legs solid lumps of clay that refused to budge. Her mind reeled.

The gun.

She tightened her fingers around the grip of the revolver in her pants and yanked it free of her waistband. Her other hand instinctively clamped over the one already on the gun, and her finger flew onto the trigger.

She pulled it three times, her body recoiling at the blast and kick of the gun. The clerk’s upper torso flinched in a backward movement with each bullet impact.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
The third one found its mark and went straight through the man’s heart, exploding out the back in a spray of blood. The clerk went limp and dropped like an old boxer’s punching bag suddenly cut loose. He fell face-forward onto the cement floor directly into the pile of evergreen scented air fresheners.

Dejah dropped her gun hand, the gun still grasped in her palm. Her shoulders relaxed, but her heart was pounding. She breathed slower as seconds passed and she knew the clerk wasn’t getting up again. Looking at the gun in her hand, she frowned. “Damn. Three bullets!” Her short supply had just grown even shorter, but at least she knew these infected people could be stopped. Could be killed.

“Oh, my god! I just
killed
him!” Dejah let the thought bounce around in her mind as she contemplated her future as a wanted criminal. Wanted for murder. Would she be tried for this?  Would she have to prove self-defense? Would they seek the death penalty?  Should she call the police now? Report this?  Would they lock her up until—?

“No! No! No!” she screamed. She refused to let anyone separate her from her child. She had to get to Selah. She had to get to Greenville. She’d face the consequences of …
this
, later. Right now, god only knew what was happening to her baby — what horrible things might be hurting her.

Dejah felt rage erupt within her. She began to scream.

The first scream sounded hoarse and unsure, but the volley of curses and shouts that followed flowed from her soul like a gushing well. She kicked and punched and threw anything within reach. The shelves wobbled and shook from the barrage of abuse she hurled at them. The aisles of the store were even more littered with trash than they were when she first came in.

Panting, at last her anger subsided, and she bent over, holding her side, exhaling and inhaling, trying to calm herself. Lying on the floor was a demolished cardboard Rand McNally display rack. Maps of Texas and various cities were strewn about, some mangled and some imprinted with her dirty shoe print. Big green letters on a map lying half way under a shelf of Pringles proclaimed: Hunt County.

She went over and snatched it from the ground. Breathing deep, she unfolded the paper and spread it flat on top of the counter near the register. On one side was a map of Hunt County. On the other side was a wider view map of the metroplex, including Tarrant, Dallas, Rockwall and the outskirts of Hunt County.
Everything between here and there.
She turned the multi-county side of the map facing her and leaned both hands on the counter, the revolver still tight in one of them.

Nearby stood a wood rack of neon-hued highlighters connected to key rings. She seized a bright yellow one and drew a line along the route she needed to take through East Arlington, to Grand Prairie, and beyond to Greenville.
That
was where she was going. She poked a finger on top of the small star on the map marking Greenville.

A rack of automotive supplies near the register caught her eye — she grabbed a cheapo car dash compass and tested it to ensure that it actually worked.  She knew where north was from here, but traveling in the night with no landmarks, through undeveloped territory, she’d need guidance. So she had supplies, a map, and a plan. Now eat and then sleep until nightfall. It would be better to travel under the cloak of darkness. It was too risky walking in the daylight.

She stared out through the tinted glass wall of the front of the store. It was afternoon. She gathered all of the fabric items she could find, including some extra employee shirts, and someone’s forgotten coat, and made a makeshift bed behind the counter on the floor. Pushing her duffle bag in beside her, she lay on the pile of clothing and willed herself to sleep.

Some time later, shadowy light blanketed her as she awoke from her slumber. The sun was down outside, leaving only the artificial glow of the florescent bulbs overhead. Rubbing her face, she looked toward the wall with the clock and noted the time: 8 pm. As much as she would like to hole up in the safety of the store, she knew she couldn’t. She had to get to Selah. She had a long journey ahead and the longer she sat pondering everything, the more moonlight she was burning.

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