I wasn't woken by any alarm clock this morning. Instead, what woke me was the heavy thud as my face planted into the carpeted floor.
"Good morning to you, too," I spoke, voice muffled, before turning my head up. Hailey was stood over me, a smirk on her face and her arm resting on my flipped mattress.
"Zac is up. I figured you should be too," she snapped back.
"What, and there wasn't a gentlier way to wake me?" I asked, pushing myself to my feet.
"Probably... but none half as fun for me," she said, giving me an overly fake grin before sweeping her way out of my room with a movie-star flick of her hair.
It seems high school never leaves some of us. Hailey Harris, 'Little Miss Popular', had hated me, 'Little Miss Grades', back then and she still hated me now. I never got it back then, why she honed in on me out of everyone, but I get it now. I have something she wants, something she believes she has an unwritten right to. The respect of everyone around us. They look up to me; look down on her... and it kills her.
I strode from my room, knowing Hailey would be long gone in the opposite direction, and turned left down the corridor, two doors from mine, until I found myself in Zac's room
"Giselle!" he exclaimed happily in that sweet, childish tone of his, his ten year old eyes looking up at me with pure delight.
"Hey sweetie, how you doing today?" I asked, sitting myself carefully on the bed beside him, trying to avoid his broken, bandaged leg.
"Hurts," he said, the smile turning into an adorable pout as he gave me the puppy dog eyes.
"Let's see what we can do about that," I replied with a smile of my own, standing and heading into the bathroom.
I searched the cupboards, riffling through the sparse amount of pain killers that could help the kid. Grabbing the best of the bad bunch and pouring out some water from the bottle by the sink, I took them back to him, watching as he swallowed them weakly but eagerly.
"There you go, kiddo," I said, ruffling his hair and kissing his forehead. "I've got some things to sort out this morning, but Alec will be in to keep you company soon. Try and get some rest, and I'll see you later."
Zac simply nodded and smiled softly at me. No crying or whining for me to stay, no typical behave of a ten year old with a broken leg. This little boy was so grown up, more so than a lot of the adults in our group. Old beyond his so few years... and I hated that a little.
Knowing he wouldn't be left alone for too long, I made my way down to the kitchen where everyone congregated of a morning. There were no meals, no sounds of cooking or eating though. Just Hailey, scrounging through the cupboards for what I imagined was something like the fifth time, still not finding a scrap she liked.
"We're out of food," she stated simply, slamming the cupboard closed.
"Yeah, we're running low on a lot of basic supplies," I said, more to the rest of the group than to her.
"Supply run then," Parker spoke from the table. Parker Araya, one of the few people I trusted absolutely.
"Supply run," I repeated as Parker and the rest of his little group immediately got to their feet. I called them back just as they reached the doorway, Parker turning to me at the sound of his name. "It might be best to go out in van 3. The number of Undead has almost doubled at the perimeter."
I've always loved horror films. I've watched pretty much every ghost story, slasher flick and zombie apocalypse movie going. And there was always that place in my mind, buried deep down in the darkest recesses. The place that holds all those thoughts you never want to admit to anyone. You even sometimes fool yourselves that they don't really exist. But in that place, I sometimes thought it would be interesting if I was stuck in one of these movies. If there was a way I could actually find out whether I would survive or not. I thought it, but I never truly believed it would happen. Not until it did, anyway.
It even played out the same as those films. Some big company we all trusted doing semi-illegal experiments in their underground labs. Told us they never meant it, they were just trying to do the right thing, to service mankind. Well, they really serviced mankind, didn't they!
This leads me here, surviving day by day like a character from my favourite horror movies. Only no one's shouting 'Cut!' and I don't get to go back to my swanky mansion. This is real life, whether I want it or not.
I watched from the balcony as the sun gradually began its decsent back into the horizon, the sky turning a darker shade with each hour I stand here. The building we now call home, at least for the moment, was at one point a high class hotel, the room behind me the penthouse suite. No one actually slept in this room, not even Little Miss I-Still-Need-The-Best. Even for her it was too big. Inside this hotel, we were all each other had. We chose to stay close.
I stayed in this hotel once, before all this happened, on my 18th birthday. My parents scrimped and saved to give me that special day, make me feel like a real somebody. Now, it's just another place to sleep, to keep away from all the craziness outside.
I angrily swipe away the single tear that leaks from my eyes, not wanting it, or the thoughts behind it, to be there. Because I miss them. Everyday I miss my family. The people in this hotel, they mean the world to me, I love them and would do anything not to lose them... but that doesn't stop the pain of those I have already lost. I had a mother, a father, big brother and baby sister... all gone. And now, stood up alone, so high, is the only time I will let myself give in, feel weak for a moment.
I keep my eye line straight, held high. I ignore the scratch and clatter against the fence, the moaning growls, just below my line of sight. Because maybe, just maybe, if I don't look down, I can forget. Even if just for a moment.
A chilling gust of October wind whips strands of black hair into my face, spidery tendrils taking over my vision. I turn away, finally blink, as I pull my hair into a loose, messy ponytail with the band round my wrist. The stretching movement awakens a deep ache in my neck muscles, one that seems to always be there now. I merely hold in a wince and tilt my neck, kneading at the tense muscles myself. It seems a day doesn't go by when some part of me doesn't ache, be it physically or mentally.
Soon, the hands massaging my neck are no longer my own. My small hands are pushed aside to be replaced by larger, stronger ones. Talented fingers circle the muscles of my shoulder blades, thumbs digging into the back of my neck with just the right force, and I feel the tension begin to slip away.
"You need to learn to take a break once in a while," his voice speaks into my ear. "You're exhausting yourself."
The hands leave, their owner moving to stand beside me, and I turn to find myself looking into gentle green eyes. They belong to Alec Kraft, number one on that list of people I truly trust. We have saved each other's lives now, in so many countless different ways, that he has earnt my trust ten times over. And I know he trusts me, even when he shouldn't.
Yes, I have helped him, healed him, time and time again. But for every moment of kindness, for every smile I have pulled from him, there are an equal number of times when I have hurt him, watched him break in front of me. He holds so much trust in me, just as much love as well, and I seem to keep finding new and interesting ways to chip that away bit by bit.
Not too long ago, I would have been over the moon that a guy like Alec could love me. Emerald green eyes, floppy brown hair, a face made to grace magazine covers even with the days worth of stubble... he's my ideal. But no, instead of trying my hardest to keep him, I seem to be trying my hardest to push him away.
"I can't take a break," I said, turning my eyes away from his. "Not with so many people depending on me."
"You're not the only one around here with the know how to take care of things," Alec said, edging closer to me. "Tonight, why don't you try sleeping for more than four hours."
"And how do you expect me to sleep, when all I'll be able to think about are all the terrible things that just might happen while I'm asleep," I replied back. Alec took a step even closer to me, his body pressed against mine as his arms wrapped round my shoulders, his chin resting against the top of my head.
"You take a lot of weight on these delicate shoulders of yours," Alec tells me in a soft whisper. For once, I resist that little voice telling me now is the time to pull away, and instead I relax back into his hold, my body sagging slightly against his.
"Everyone here... you're all the family I have," I told him.
"Even Hailey?" he asked with a cheeky grin, his arms moving to wrap around my waist.
"Yeah, even Hailey," I laughed back. "And I don't wanna risk losing any of you. So I stay up, I keep alert... and I try my hardest not to let that happen."
Alec's arms tightened around me, pulling me further back into him. He rests his head on my shoulder now, kissing the crook of my neck in that place he knows makes me shiver. We're having a moment, I can feel it, but before it can continue or I can find some way to mess it up, I hear the sound of approaching tyres.
"Looks like the supply group is back," I said, pullng out from within Alec's arms without looking at him, turning my back on him and leaving, knowing that if I turn, I'll see that usual look of rejection and disappointment in his eyes.
Cupboards now full of whatever Parker and his group could find from the already well looted stores, I leant against the counter as I watched everyone talk and laugh on now full stomachs. Even Hailey didn't seem to have that permanent scowl on her face... which could have something to do with the way she was draped across Nick, a new comer who she had already become quite attached to.
Zac had joined the group tonight. He had got to the point where boredom had overcome whatever pain he was in, and he was happily joking around with Alec and Parker. I smiled slightly myself as I watched him. When we found Zac, he had been trapped in his house, curled injured beside the dead bodies of his parents, while a pack of Undead had advanced on him.
It had taken so long for any of us to finally get him to speak when we brought him here, and I don't blame the kid. I was older then him when I lost my family, and I didn't feel like speaking for a long time. In the end, to everyone's surprise, it was the gruff Parker who finally got round him. No one knew much about Parker's life, he never spoke, but I found out one thing out of all this. Parker had a son. He had lost him, and Zac reminded him of his little boy. Two people who had lost all the family they had, had come together, and there was something truly beautiful about that in this broken world.
Now, in all this, Zac was like me. The people in this kitchen were the only people he had left in the world to look after him, to love him. And I do, I love that little boy like he was my own flesh and blood... which is another reason why I can't afford to let my guard down. For me, for that little boy, and for everyone else in the room.
As I consider moving to join the group, I hear the sound of scraping coming from the back entrance. Knowing that any intruder from outside the perimeter would have set off the alarm system, I jump down to take a look. On top of everything else, we've probably got ourselves another rat problem now. My hand reaches out to the door handle, but before I can open it, the door comes crashing into me, knocking me onto my back. Great, looks like the perimeter alarms are busted.
Like the well trained group we are, everyone moves into action. I scramble to my feet, rushing to Zac who is already reaching out for me. I pick him up on the run, sliding him into the hide-hole we have in every room.
"You know what to do, sweetie," I said to him. He nods bravely, scuttering away on hands and knees, and I watch him move down the hidden tunnel system for a second before I snap the door shut and locked behind him.
Turning back to the action, I scramble for the gun I have permanently strapped to my leg, glad that these things are such slow idiots. I know without looking that everyone around me is doing the same, so except for ducking the occasional bout of friendly fire, I know I don't need to worry about them. So I turn to the nearest Undead. Take aim. Fire. The shot hits dead centre in its head.
A shot at close range, the bullet leaves a large hole in its wake, unnaturally dark blood splattering against the stark white wall as the Undead slumps to the floor. As weird as it sounds, I have begun to see patterns in the blood splatter that appears after every Undead head explodes. Like those ink blot tests you get at a psychiatrist's office. In this one I see... a two headed snake, coiled to attack.
I can't stop to contemplate for long. Spinning, I aim to shoot again. This time, as my finger squeezes the trigger, a hand round my ankle pulls me down, sending the bullet off course, ricocheting off the metal units.
I look down, gun aimed, already knowing the owner of the hand. But instead of watching a bullet sail into the brain pan of the Undead, I hear the click as my gun jams. I try again, and again it jams. I throw the useless piece of metal at the creatures head, but it doesn't even phase it, jaws still open and heading for my leg. With no weapon to hand, the panic begins to slip in slightly as I kick out at its face, but it merely keeps coming, trying to crawl further up my body.
Before the panic can set in too deep, a gunshot rings out close above me, and the body collapses down on top of me, dead... for real. I push it away quickly, looking up to see Hailey stood over me, lowering her raised gun. She doesn't say anything, she simply tosses me the second gun in her free hand and turns back into the fray. We are not rivals right now, we are teammates.
Jumping to my feet, I take aim with my new gun, satisfied when I feel the typical kick of the gun as a bullet rockets out of the chamber and into the Undead in front of me. This bullet may not hit dead centre, but it is enough to knock it back long enough for me to take a second shot. The second shot does the trick.
At a cry of pain from a voice I recognise all too well, I snap my head in that direction. I see Alec surrounding by a group of the Undead, his weapon knocked from his hand as he now does everything to avoid the sets of snarling teeth.
With a move right out of some glossy film, I skid to the floor, sliding away from the outstretched arms of the creatures around me and firing at the same time. Another set of shots join mine, Parker also coming to the rescue as our combined ammo jolts through the bodies of the Undead, putting them down for good as they collapse to the ground around Alec. My slide lands close to him and I scramble the rest of the way to Alec's side as he struggles to stand, helping him.
"Are you OK? No bites, no scratches," I ask, letting the worry seep into my voice.
"No bites or scratches... but I think one of them almost dislocated my shoulder," Alec said, a soft smile on his lips, clearly pleased by the worry in my voice.
A sickening gurgle sound reaches my ears, and I turn to see a small group of Undead knelt by a body who's face I can't recognise anymore, sharp teeth tearing chucks of flesh.
"Almost makes you lucky," I brush him off, seeing his eyes dull a second before I look round for a quick escape for the rest of us as the number of Undead increases. In my search, my eyes land on the gas cooker.
"Parker!" I call out to him.
When he looks my way, I nod towards the cooker and he nods back, both of us on the same wave length. I race to the cooker, taking down one Undead and avoiding another. I hear Parker's commanding voice getting everyone out of the room, so I start clicking on every gas ring, the hissing sound rising in volume as more gas begins to fill the room.
"Giselle!" I hear both Alec and Parker call out to me.
I'm the last to leave the room and I bolt for the heavy metal doors. Parker is beside me, ever present lighter in hand. As I run towards him, I watch as he flicks and flicks unsuccessfully, no more than a small spark emitting from the lighter. As I pass him, I snatch the lighter from his hand, my nimble fingers clicking the flame to life in one go. I throw it behind me, Alec and Parker slamming the door shut moments before the heavy door is shaken by the contained explosion. An Undead had reached out, arm caught in the doorframe, the lifeless limb flopping to the floor with a wet squelch as the metal door severs it.
As I stop to finally catch my breath, I feel a gentle, warm hand against my arm. Turning, I come face to face with Alec, watching me with concern behind his eyes. I let a small smile grace my lips as I place my hand over his, the adrenaline slowly seeping from my body. I glance around at the rest of the remaining group, seeing the same tired, resigned looks on their faces.
"Giselle...." I hear Alec's voice begin, and I already know how that sentence will end, the kind of things he'll say. And I still don't think I'm ready to let myself hear it. So before he can really start, I shrug his hand off my arm, turning to head down the hallway. "Hey, we're are you going now?"
"To get Zac," I shout, not looking back. "And can someone please look into the perimeter alarms. I don't want this happening again."
I'm being tough, I can hear it in my voice, but it's the only way. It's my way. If I was to do what I really wanted to do, collapse against Alec and sob about how glad I am we're still alive, nothing would get done. The others can be soft, I need to be a leader.
Behind the closed door, I can hear the sound of flames licking higher against Undead skin, their hands and nails scrambling for escape as they burn. And while I used to think about the people that the Undead once were, about if they can still feel pain and how they never asked for such a life, all I can think now is... we need a new kitchen.
Later that night, I find myself sitting on the floor in the hallway, my back resting against the wall directly between mine and Alec's room. My knees are pulled tight to my chest and my head is buried in them, thoughts whizzing through my brain now I have time to sit and think.
I'm sat where I am after leaving Alec's room after a typical night for us. I came to check on him, letting my worry show. He was his utterly sweet and charming self... and I let myself feel for the night. We have sex, he tried to pull me in close afterwards, but I just leave. One last quick kiss to the cheek, and I'm dressed and out of the room. I should be asleep by now. I usually am after. I don't do cuddling, I do my own bed, alone. Yet I can't make myself walk into my room.
I was worried about him. Terrified even when I saw him surrounded by Undead the way he was. I've seen him in that situation countless times before, yet this time felt so different for some unknown reason. Because I don't do deep feelings. In the world we live in now, attachments are never a good thing. Me or anyone I care about could be dead tomorrow, could even end up being one of those creatures I have to kill. So I can't do attachments, I can't do real feelings.
I think back to tonight, to before the attack. Everyone was laughing and joking, all close together and one big, happy group. And I was sat off to the edge, on my own, like most nights. They were all making connections, they had no fear to get close. So why do I. I was never like this before. I had family, friends. I kept everyone close, made sure no one felt left out. Now I'm the one left out, but it's by my own doing.
I should be that girl again. I should want to be that girl again. I should want attachments, friends, people I can feel close to, emotionally and not just physically. And right now, it all starts with just a few small steps.
I pull myself to my feet and turn right into the first bedroom. Alec is almost asleep, relaxed but his breathing not deep and even enough. Before I can change my mind, I quickly but quietly remove my clothes and slip back into bed beside Alec. He shifts at the movement, eyes open and looking at me. I can see the mixture of shock and joy flashing in those pretty eyes, the strip of moonlight across his face letting me see his features.
"Don't think too much into this," I mutter softly, shuffling into his side and getting comfortable.
I feel Alec's arms wrap around me, pulling me even tighter into his body. I don't have to look up to know his lips are curved in a smug little smile. But so what, let him. Because I can feel a smile twisting up my own lips, the knowledge that this just might be a whole new start for me lulling me into what I hope is my first good night's sleep in months.