Tayler did not believe in Hell. Though in such an inferno it was hard not to. The flames engulfed nearly every visible structure and the smoke obscured even most of the flame. Breathing hard through the mask, she searched for many things at once. First for anyone that may still be drawing breath. Second for any load bearing structure that may be significantly weakened. And finally for any available escape that at the last second may be needed. She moved systematically through the upper floor. Testing each door before taking it down with the axe. Fire was a sly demon. Sly as the imagined devil her Southern Baptist parents had tried so hard to drill into her head as her life’s one true enemy.
They had been partially correct. The fires of Hell had indeed become the very enemy they had envisioned. Though no devil ruled the flames. The flames were chaos. A demon that always escaped its creator and ran wild from even the smallest spark.
And Tayler battled that demon head on. Rushing straight into it time and again. Had in fact felt that demon caress her flesh. Its lover’s finger having left a slender trail up her left flank like claw marks. This did not to dissuade her however. Instead it made her fiercer. And as her close friend Cassie had once said over drinks one night in Boston, “That which does not kill you… had better start running!”
Tayler had escaped the bitter childhood of her youth and the small town of Monticello for the greater sprawling mazes of city. She had not known her true course until she had made her way from the south into the high towers and never sleeping streets of New York. There she had seen the Two Towers come down. Had witnessed the horror and confusion as well as the strange bonding that had brought everyone together if only for a short time.
From those ashes a phoenix had emerged. Truly a bird of the fire. A girl whom was beautiful yes, but also powerfully strong and stubborn of will and determination. Nothing made her quit when she set her mind on a goal. And in the chaos that came with bitter destruction, she had realized her true calling. She was to become a Firewoman.
And that strength of will and dogged determination had won out over the adversity that came with seeking a career in a male dominated field. She was laughed at, teased and harassed but only at first. She ran faster than any of the men in her classes. Though smaller her strength was every bit equal to theirs. The watched in awe as she raced up the training tower, axe in one hand and one of her training mates draped over her shoulder. And just to make a point, she carried him all the way back down.
Not long after, the catcalls stopped. The jeering stopped. And when the last obstacle crossed her path, a particularly old fashioned minded Chief named Erickson, her entire training class stood behind her, and championed her as one of them.
She joined NYFD Station #15 not four months later and within another four months she had gained a reputation, not only for courage but also for a blatant lack of self preservation when other lives were at stake. Twice she had run into a building nobody else would enter. Twice she had saved multiple lives. Twice she had been disciplined for her actions and then almost within hours awarded medals of bravery and fortitude.
It was after this second award that she had been interviewed by MJ for the New York Times. MJ whose lips had glistened as she spoke. Whose lips she would caress and surrender to not five hours later after they met for drinks in Manhattan.
She had always suspected her heart would go to another of her own sex. Growing up where she had, such embraces had seemed impossible. And she had allowed a few boys to paw at her and fumble awkwardly at her. And it had been shallow and unfeeling. When MJ had invited her in and slipped Tayler out of her clothes and touched her, the caresses had been gently gliding waves of passion over her starving skin. And her deep and sensuous kisses had been like silken hands over her starving heart.
Here in this enormous city, far from her small town, she had at last found her place. She had found not only acceptance, but also compassion and a love that could not be defined with words.
MJ showed her every hidden jewel in the city of stone. She awakened in her every formally forbidden desire. And she unleashed the passion she had withheld from puberty to adulthood. MJ in turn had never been with anyone so hungry and so enthusiastic and searching. Tayler seemed to want every inch of her as someone thirsty finding a spring.
They moved in together to a converted warehouse loft. They spent every night enthralled and rioting in each other’s flesh when Tayler was not at the station or MJ was not out reporting. They went to rock and roll shows. Tayler eventually started her own band, once more defying her parents with surly southern flavored devilish rock and roll.
Then the demon had intervened. The flames she fought had embraced her as she was trapped in the building under collapsed stairs. Licking up her side with much the same passion as MJ.
The attending doctors had told her she was lucky. Though she would carry the bear claw looking scars all her life. Tayler had not feared much in life. She had however feared MJ’s reaction. And once more, she had been pleasantly surprised. She had refused to show MJ. Afraid that such scars would rob her of her sensuality. Months later in their shared bed, Tayler had finally dared to show herself. Feeling as nervous as she had the first time she had shown MJ her body.
MJ’s eyes had grown wide, but what Tayler had at first mistaken for horror was in fact exaggerated lust. And as MJ licked up her side, sliding her tongue over the scars, Tayler thought she would die from the overwhelming love she felt, mingling with the unquenchable lust she carried for her lover.
Now here she was, facing those flames once more. The demon her own mother had feared, personified. The Turtle Bay tenement building was a monster of a creature. A leviathan of brick rising a full forty stories over the cityscape.
And most of it was being embraced by demon fire. One of the greatest challenges was trying to navigate through it. The building was a towering maze, filled with smoke and flame, and she was wearing the respirator. As Tayler ran through the halls trying to find the living, the sound of her own breathing filled her ears. She was up twenty floors now. There were thirty-three altogether. Reaching the top of nineteen, the stairs under her had given way. Tayler threw the axe and grabbed for the lip of the stairs as they fell away. She managed to shoot one hand up and up, almost certain that her fingers would close on nothing.
They grasped the edge and she dangled for a moment. If she could have turned her head and looked down, her views on Hell might have changed. For she dangled over a deep abyss filled with flame. And her gloves did not provide a fabulous grip.
Tayler swung and threw her other hand up. She began to pull herself up when hands grabbed her. Reaching hands gripped her wrists and her jacket. They pulled and she felt herself slide over the edge to solid concrete. Oddly though, the hands kept gripping and pulling at her. Grateful though she was for the rescue, she waved them away and tried to stand. They kept pulling at her. Then there was pain, exploding across her arm. She looked and one of her rescuers was trying to bite her through the thick jacket.
Tayler shoved it back and when she was finally able to look up, she screamed the first adult scream of terror in her life. The group of about four of them was burned. There hair was gone and their skin was black and cracked open in several places. One of them didn’t even have eyes. Their lips were gone and so were most of their noses. And they were reaching for her and making screeching sounds.
Fear was almost a totally new emotion to Tayler and she was blind with it. She kicked out at the first of them, sending it over the lip of the stairs and tumbling into the fiery abyss.
“NO!” She screamed suddenly overwhelmed by what she had done. Guilt slammed into her chest. Then the hands were all over her again. Tayler felt them tugging and pulling at her. And they were trying to bite her. Over and over, pain flared up as they clamped down trying to bite through her jacket and gloves. Panicked for the first time in her life, Tayler through her arms around wildly. She bent, picked up the axe, and began swinging it back and forth to ward them away. Hands landed on her shoulders and she turned, coming face to face with three more that has entered the stairwell from the hall.
She shoved the first back with the axe handle and swung the axe in a wide arc. A hand flew out and over the edge. She was able to see it turn over and over for a moment. The man did not seem not notice.
Her mind raced with hysterical theories. That they were in shock. That they were from a drug den. That they were the dead risen like in the movies and TV shows her and MJ liked to watch but never seemed to be able to finish. They were all around her and closing in. Tayler’s back was to the wall.
Self-preservation finally took hold and she held the axe handle end to end and raced at the first group, shoving them back over the ledge. They went over as in a daisy chain. All of them still reaching for her.
Tayler spun and swung the axe at the group that had come from the hallway. The ledge of the stairwell suddenly lurched and began to give. Tayler heard metal groaning and knew what it meant. She brought the axe down on the leader’s head. A sickening sound like hitting a ripe melon went up her arms. She felt it more than heard it. Fire roared and bellowed but the screeching of these burnt things was somehow louder. The ledge listed further and further down. Tayler could feel her boots sliding in loose pebbly concrete. Time was up.
She raced at the group, driving them against the wall, and ran through the hall door half a second before the stairwell platform gave way. She heard the shrieking fall away as they plummeted behind her.
Tayler’s mind raced as she leaned against the hallway wall. Smoke was thick here but the flames had not yet reached. She tried to calm her mind, knowing that shock and panic were absolutely not acceptable. She had to calm herself and think logically. MJ’s face and eyes filled her mind. She calmed herself and slowed her breathing.
“Alright,” she breathed into the mask. “Alright, you are twenty floors up and have just lost one way out. The first 15 floors at least are aflame. A group of burnt people just tried to… what… bite you or something and they died. You still have a job to do. There may be people up here that are still ok. And you studied the plans of this building on the way. There is a fire escape on the south wall. Get moving.”
MJ sat in front of the television in their shared loft. Tayler had been gone for two days. Having to stay at the station due to the workload. Fires had increased dramatically. And now the news was on every channel. She missed the first of the alerts by the Emergency Broadcast System, having been in the shower. When she got out, she at first mistook the garbled news reports as being more reports from Surinam, Laos and Serbia. Reports of increased and unexplained non-military violence. Those reports grew as the violence spread. Now there were reports from all over the world and they were both eclectic and horrifying in nature. Something about an exploded probe from N.A.S.A. Another about some form of outbreak in the rural areas of Pennsylvania. Then there were more from Britain, Columbia, Pakistan and Iraq. Reports of soldiers seemingly still alive after having been mortally wounded.
Now as the warning alert came over the TV again, she sat glued to it. Reports of violence breaking out all over the city. Some horrifying thing about a jumper in a subway crawling out of the tunnel after having been cut in half. A rash of failed suicide attempts that had an after effect of violence. People fighting in the streets. A drive-by that ended not with the death of those shot, but with the victims attacking gang members and tearing them to pieces. And the most soul crushing report of all was the spread of fires. Increased reports of seeming arson and whole buildings aflame.
MJ stared with tears streaming down her face. They had tried to call her in to report. As professional as she was, she could not tear herself from the TV. There was too much happening. And her lover was right in the middle of it.
Now there were tales of violence right here in Manhattan. People just randomly attacking each other. Bizarre accounts of people walking with broken legs or even necks. All hospitals had become war zones. Police were everywhere and the National Guard was on the way.
MJ wondered if Tayler even knew. If her dearest love had any idea of what was happening. Her imagination ran wild. In her minds eye she saw Tayler and her team fighting crazed crowds bearing pipes and knives. Saw them fending off crowds of murderous New Yorkers with only fire hoses and maybe a few axes. She looked at the weapon in her lap again. The Colt Python had been for wicked fun as well as for home defense. They had gone out shooting together. Tayler knew about guns. Having grown up in the south where it seemed everyone had one. She had taken MJ to the shooting range. She remembered Tayler right up behind her. Hands around her arms, showing her how to hold the gun. That voice soft in her ear like a purring kitten as she taught MJ how to aim, how to shoot… how to kill.
She picked it up. Thinking of her lover’s hands on her. Thinking of the kick the big gun made. Thinking of her lover out there in a city slowly but steadily running mad and burning.
She wiped her face, took a deep breath, and stood up. She had decided. And she picked up her keys and left the apartment. As she closed the door, the picture of the two of them, laughing at Coney Island, fell over. No one would ever right that picture frame again.
Tayler raised the axe over her head as the door into the hallway exploded outward and forms lunged out. She actually began slicing it down when the forms yelled at her.
“NO! WAIT! Don’t kill us!” one of them yelled. “We are ok! Please help me!” It was a younger man. Short and stocky, and over his shoulder was a woman. Behind him came two others. A tall bald man and a short pretty girl with raven black hair.
“Fuck! Are you ok?” she asked.
“No, but we are alive. More than I can say for anyone else.”
“Is anyone left…” Tayler began, turning into the door from which they had come.
“DON’T!” the tall man yelled and Tayler froze. What she saw in the apartment almost made her vomit. Never had she seen so much blood. So much carnage.
“You… did you… what…” she stammered through her mask, backing away from them and raising the axe.
“No, you don’t understand! We… they just…” the pretty raven haired girl began. Then from behind them and explosion blasted three doors outward, colliding with the hallway wall. Flames shot out of them. Tayler pushed her questions about her new companions aside for the moment and her professionalism took full hold again.“Come on! The gases from the kitchens are catching!” Tayler yelled and herded them down the hallway towards the fire escape. Twenty feet from the turn in the hall a crowd came around the corner. Tayler gasped inside her mask. They were charred and mutilated, but standing. Just like the ones in the stairwell. And the faces made her heart nearly stop. No horror film had ever captured such expressions. She did not even have a word for them. Something crazed and desperate. Eyes that looked terrified, desperate and even lustful all at the same time. Faces missing jaws or ears or half gone. Yet they were coming at her and the small group.
The tall bald man ran at them. He was brandishing an oar of all things. And Tayler stared horrified as he began bringing it down over their heads. He was screaming and beating them one by one. The dark haired girl had joined him, swinging her own unlikely weapon. It was a long metal camera tripod. The shorter man put the girl over his shoulders down against the wall and looked at Tayler.
“Watch her!” he commanded. Then ran to join the others, pulling a wrench from a tool belt. Tayler stood, frozen for the moment at the spectacle of brutal murder displayed in front of her. She watched the three of the beat the small crowd of injured burn victims. Blood and brains and burnt flesh exploded like ripe charred melons, spraying the walls with gore.
When they were done and turned to her, she backed away, raising the axe. She would be damned if she let them do the same to her.
The girl laying against the wall stirred and the first man ran to her.
“Ravyn are you ok?” he asked.
“I just put a screwdriver through my girlfriend’s head… how would you be?” the girl against the wall groaned, holding her head.
The tall man reached for Tayler who drew back bringing the axe all the way up.
“No! It is ok!” said the dark haired girl. “What’s your name?”
“Tayler,” she said, backing up one more step.
“Tayler. Hello. My name is Laura. This is my man here. His name is Richard.” The tall man nodded to her in greeting. Then Laura beaconed to the others. “That is Dan and Ravyn. I know how all this looks but you don’t know what has been happening.”
Just then another explosion tore loose the door from the apartment they had come from. Then another. And a third.
“Explain later!” Tayler yelled through the mask, grabbing Laura and turning her. Dan helped Ravyn to her feet and they ran. Tayler glanced at Ravyn who ran beside her. Blood poured from the place her ear had only recently been.
They turned the corner and came to a skidding halt. The far end of the hallway leading to the fire escape was filled with more of them. Arms raised and beaconed the moment they came around the corner. They shrieked and groaned at her and her companions. There were so many that the hallway was choked with them. Some were burned like the others but Tayler could see more that seemed mostly whole. Though chunks were missing from arms, legs and faces. One was stumbling forward with a trail of intestines streaming out from her belly. One of the burnt ones stepped on it and it pulled the rest out. They landed with an audible splash to the dirty-carpeted floor. Tayler had seen all manner of carnage and been cool and professional throughout. This horror however was so unexpected. So unnatural that she could not stop herself. She tore the mask off and vomited. One of the others did as well though she did not see which. Hands were on her, pulling her up. It was Dan.
“There is no time. We have to go now!” He spoke urgently and yanked Tayler up. The mask lay forgotten where it fell.
They ran down the middle corridor, hoping to skirt the large group and come up undetected behind them so they could reach the fire escape. Half way down the corridor another crowd turned the corner. They turned and saw the first group, led by Mrs. intestines, had reached the hallway and were following them. There was nowhere go. They were trapped.
MJ had not made it far in the car. The streets were packed with panicked people. All around her were the sounds of chaos. Burglar alarms and fire alarms and sirens blared in a cacophony of breaking store windows, screams and gunfire. People were looting the stores. Some seemed to be setting fires. Others were fighting each other. Groups of armed kids and men in suits and hookers and cops all clustered together moved in tandem through crowds that seemed to attack without any provocation. The world around her and the city she loved and called home had gone completely and utterly insane. She screamed as she saw a huge dump truck suddenly tear through a crowd, scattering people and running several of them over.
People were abandoning their cars, running with children in their arms and colliding into each other. A man suddenly charged her. He was wielding what appeared to be a mannequin’s leg. MJ raised the Python and shot him in the face. The leg bounced off her arm came to rest atop her car. A cop ran at her and she dropped the Python to the ground and raised her hands in surrender, suddenly aware that she had just shot someone in public on the streets of New York. The cop ran right past her, not even looking in her direction. She stood for a moment watching him go. Somehow, this was the worst thing of all. She shot someone and he didn’t even take notice. This was the final affirmation. Everything was coming undone.
Nearly in shock she whispered without even thinking, the only thing that came to her mind. She had read her Yeats. And a single line came to her lips.
“The center does not hold… things fall apart…”
Tayler brought the axe down again and again. Wood splintered and eventually gave. The door to the maintenance tunnel finally gave. The hallway was exploding with a deep stench of death and smoke. They had made their way down on both sides, blocking the hall from wall to wall and blotting out the emergency lights on each side. Tayler herded the others through and then pulled what was left of the door closed. The shrieking people bottlenecked in it. She brought the axe down on them. On either side of her, Dan and Richard were doing the same.
“You are killing people!” her brain screamed at her. But something in Tayler spoke that this was not so. These people missing arms or parts of their faces, most burnt black, could not possibly still be alive. She remembered a movie that had come and gone last fall. War of the Zombies it had been called. Her and MJ had been like two teenagers in the back row of the Grindhouse Theater they had gone to. Once the popcorn was gone, they had turned to each other. Alone in the back row they had tested their own boldness, stripping off everything and quietly but hungrily devouring each other as zombies rampaged over a Caribbean island. These things were something like the zombies in that movie. Mindless and hungry and murderous, yet far more terrifying than the low budget Bollywood film had been able to produce. And the looks on their faces… No actor could hope to achieve them. Now as she brought the axe down onto the head of a woman reaching for her with only a stump for an arm, she allowed herself to at least believe that these people were dead. And she was merely putting them to rest.
The ones they had slain choked the doorway, holding the others back at least for the time being as they ran down the narrow maintenance hall. It was only wide enough for them to run single file. They ducked under pipes and valve wheels, leaped over vents and ducts, finally turning right and coming to a dead end. Shrieks filled the hallway. They had made it inside and were coming. Tayler looked at the small grille near the floor. It would be a tight squeeze but they could use the crawlspace.
She pried at the grille with the axe. It groaned but would not give. The shrieks were growing louder.
“Let me through!” Dan said and squeezed past. The hall was so narrow it took several moments. He dove down and pulled a long screwdriver from his tool belt.
“Make it fast!” Ravyn said looking over her shoulder. The smell of them pushed ahead and the sterile hallway filled with the reek. Dan worked furiously. Richard stood with the oar out in front of him guarding the others. There was no room to swing it but he thought he could at least hold them back when they came.
“I love you,” Laura whispered up to him.
“And I you wife,” he said not looking down but full of emotion.
The grille was almost off when they turned the corner. Richard drove the oar forward, knocking the first two back. He pushed it against the crowd, which grew heavier. They grasped at it and to his shocked eyes they bit at it! Teeth marks scoured the oar’s bloody surface. The grille came off and Dan shuffled into it followed by Ravyn.
“Come on!” Tayler yelled.
“GO!!” Richard thundered in response. Tayler stood another moment, appraising the narrowness of the hall and finally dove down to the grille. She had to lay on her back, slide inside and then stand and climb. She tucked the axe into the neck of the jacket like a sword and began shimmying up towards the rest. It was not a 90-degree incline but it was fairly close. The others were just above her.
“Laura Go!!” Richard yelled straining against the crowd that filled the hallway. He looked at her and tears streamed down her cheeks. His eyes and expression softened but he said nothing. Those eyes implored. She gave him a painful smile and then dove for the open shaft. Richard watched her go over his shoulder, saw her feet disappear up into the shaft and then counted to ten. He shoved hard one last time and the dropped the oar and ran, diving for the shaft. He slid inside, his head colliding with the shaft wall and then scrambled for his feet. Hands grabbed at his legs and pain blazed as they landed atop of them and began biting and tearing. Laura looked down in time to see him pulled out of the shaft. She looked up at Tayler and something passed between them.
Tayler understood. And as Laura slid back down the shaft and crawled out, she heard the sounds of furious fighting, followed shortly after by screams. They Crawled up and up and up through the narrow steep crawlspace.
Tayler fought the anxiety that came back to her from being trapped under the stairs in the fire. That feeling of being buried alive. The claustrophobia that came from PTSS, or at least what she believed to be such and fought with every fire since. She remembered the words of her father then. One of the things he had said that did stick.
“There is no shame in being afraid,” he had said when she was a mere seven years old and the pains of puberty had yet to shadow their relationship. “No shame in being afraid. Shame only comes when you let that fear stop you.”
Tayler fought that fear now. And let it pass through her mind like smoke through a grate. She would not let her fear stop her. Then the face of MJ filled her mind. MJ’s lips against hers. MJ’s tongue caressing hers. The fullness of her lips. That mouth that gave her so much pleasure. Those eyes that seemed to wrap warm hands around her heart. And in these thoughts she found a little more courage and strength. The feeling of being buried inside this massive tomb of concrete and fire momentarily wavered and she continued up and up. Finally they broke through to the roof.
Dan and Ravyn were already out. Ravyn was sitting against a jutting vent pipe holding her head in her hands. Dan raised the wrench for a moment and then ran to help Tayler out. She shooed him away and leaped out. Smoke had begun to float out behind her, and in it’s deep scent, the unpleasant smell of burning flesh pervaded. Their pursuers would not be coming for them that way.
Dan peered down into the darkness from which they had emerged and then turned to Tayler.
“What happened?” he asked. Tayler only looked at him and he nodded.
“Can you tell me what happened to you?” She asked him back.
Dan put a hand to his face and stroked the stubble there. He looked tired but concentrated. “Do we have time for such?” he asked her. Tayler walked to the edge and looked down. The building was a blaze far below but it did not appear to be either weakening or listing. The fire would gut this building but it was far from collapsing, at least for the time being. She cocked her head for a moment, hearing far away sounds of sirens and what sounded like gunshots and explosions. Things were going bad. Very bad.
“Yes,” she said at last. “I think time may be all we do have left.”
Dan sat next to Ravyn who appeared to have gone to sleep. Tears were coursing down her face even with her eyes closed. They had been celebrating that night. Dan and his friend Toby, Ravyn and her girlfriend whom everyone had nicknamed Harry, Richard, Laura and their friends Joanna and Heath. They were celebrating Ravyn and “Harry’s” new relationship. Ravyn had only come out two months before. Harry was not her first girlfriend but the first she had been public about. Her friends, proud of her and happy for her had thrown her a party. They had been watching a football game and listening to metal over it, splitting a case of beer when the knock on the door had come.
One of their neighbors claimed that some crazed folk had broken into their home. Rather than trying to steal anything however, they had attacked them. The wife had been bitten on both the neck and arm. The daughter on her calf. They had fought off the intruders as best they could and fled.
Dan looked up at Tayler looking grim. “They had knocked on several doors but apparently we were the only ones decent enough to let them in… Fucking good for us…” he looked at Ravyn. He head rolled onto his shoulder and he put a supporting arm around her. “They were not there longer than half an hour when the wife and daughter collapsed. Almost at the same time. Heath ran to one. Ravyn and Harry ran to the other. Joanna tried to dial emergency… I saw Harry try to begin CPR. He had his mouth on the wife’s mouth when she lurched up and…”
Dan looked down, straining to hold back tears. Tayler saw he was a tough guy. This story though was hard. And it would have no happy ending.
“Ravyn had tried to dislodge the wife from Harry. She let go and grabbed Ravyn. Bit her ear clean off her living head. The husband was screaming. Everyone was screaming. Heath got bitten by the daughter half a second later. Everything that happened after that is just a blur. Our friends died. Ravyn came close. And now there are only the two of…”
Dan’s words were cut off as Ravyn’s head suddenly snapped up and lunged at his shoulder. Dan screamed and swung his, punching her three times in rapid succession. Ravyn’s head knocked back taking a large piece of Dan’s shoulder with it. He rolled away and stood up clutching his shoulder. Blood poured out between his fingers and began spreading over his clothes. Ravyn stood and looked at them. Tayler saw her eyes. They had changed. And she was chewing on the piece of flesh she had taken. Those eyes regarded them both and then she shrieked and lunged at them.
Tayler swung the axe and Ravyn’s head flew up and over the edge of the building turning over and over till it disappeared.
Dan sat on the edge looking over. His lips drawn tight. He looked at Tayler and they both understood.
“Go,” he said at last. “Get away from me before I…” he sighed. “Before I try to hurt you.
“I can…” Tayler began but Dan raised his hand.
“No,” he said looking out over the city skyline. “This is my life. I will take every second of it I can. To my dying breath. And if I feel like I am changing somehow, then I will take one last step. Out and over and feel the wind on my face. Go Tayler. Thank you for trying to save us.”
Tayler was at a loss for words. She went to raise her hand. To put it on Dan’s shoulder. To try to help him. To carry him down to safety. Then he looked at her. And she noticed the color of his eyes had gone paler.
“Go.” He said calmly and turned away. Staring into the bright lights of New York City. Tayler turned and ran towards the fire escape.
MJ could see the building now and her heart sank. Even from several blocks down she could tell that if Tayler was really in their, her dear lover had little to no chance of getting out. So many buildings were on fire that MJ could not even be sure of which one her lover may be fighting. Though her heart told her it was the one ahead. And even if she did make it out, what then? Well she would join MJ in the chaos that she felt she was no longer walking through but almost swimming in. Everything was erupting and burning and crashing around her. She could not tell the screams of pain from the screams of murder.
Someone broke from a roaring crowd and ran at her. Its arms flailing and its body jerking in mad darts even as it closed the distance. The face was one of utter madness. Spittle flew from its mouth and she noticed to her horror that half of that face was missing. She raised the Python and fired. Nobody could miss at this range. It flew backward and landed on the ground with a huge hole in its chest.
MJ began to turn when the thing began to get up again. She put her hand to her mouth, sure she would vomit, and then fight or flight took over and MJ ran towards the burning building. Determined to make it through the chaos between her and it.
Then a hand closed over her ankle and she went down. The gun flying from her hand. She rolled over and saw the face moving in on her leg and screamed.
Tayler reached the side of the building and looked over the fire escape just in time to see the crowds of burnt things come piling up towards her like a swarm of dark ants. The raised a horrific cheer of the damned and she ran backwards away from the edge. They came spilling over it. Smoking and blackened. Their skins splitting as they moved towards her, revealing pink oozing flesh beneath.
Tayler screamed and brought the axe down on the head of the first one. She swung it and beheaded a second. A third reached and she took its arm off. They kept coming in a crowd. She turned and tried to run. One grabbed her fire jacked and yanked her backward. Tayler dropped the axe, grabbed at the front of the jacket and tore it off, momentarily thinking of how funny it would be to see a large “S” on the front of the uniform shirt she wore underneath. She bent, grabbed the axe and ran.
She reached the other side and looked across. There was no fire escape on this side. There was however another section of the building. About two stories down but a god ten yards away. Between it and her, the cursed architect had made a space that fell all the way to the pavement below. In the night and smoke, it looked like a chasm straight to Hell itself.
Tayler looked back and saw that the roof was full of them now. Hundreds of them. She closed her eyes for just a moment and gathered herself. Then she flung the axe down and over to the section of roof below.
She then ran as far back towards them as she dared and stopped. From the crowd approaching her, a few of fast moving ones tore loose and ran at her. She snarled and spun on her heels, bolting for the side of the building. She did not know if she could make it, but she would rather fall than be ripped to pieces. They ran snarling on her heels actually gaining on her. Then she leaped up on the edge and thrust herself over the side, leaping with all her strength and speed.
Tayler flew through the air, out and over the chasm. The fast running creatures followed, heedless of the drop. She plummeted and landed hard on the other side, ducking and rolling as she went to absorb the force of the landing. The others fell waving and growling into the architectural crevasse. In her mind’s eye she saw them shatter on the pavement far below.
She lay where she was for a moment, trying to recapture the breath that had been knocked out of her. She tested both legs. Neither had broken. When she was sure that she had not broken anything else, she rolled over and walked back to the side. Looking up she saw that the crowd reached the edge and to her horror she watched them pouring over it. Simply walking towards her and not even seeing the drop in front of them. Dozens of burnt and mindless people pouring over the side of a burning building. She turned away horrified. In front of her was a door back inside. She took a deep breath, picked up her axe once more, and made use of it.
MJ limped to the side of the building just in time to witness something so horrible her mind could barely conceive of it. People landing and exploding on the sidewalk like rain. They were piling up along the sides and some were even on fire. Falling from the sky like meteors. As they piled higher and higher a few of them crawled away. Some were even broken in half by the fall and crawled from the piles of bodies towards her. MJ could feel her mind giving way. This horror so close on the heels of the ones she had already seen… it was too much. She turned to just walk away. Feeling as though she was falling asleep. And when she turned she saw a man, his whole body engulfed in flame. And yet he did not seem to notice. He raised his arms out to her as if he wanted to give her a hug. MJ discovered she wanted to live after all. And in that clarifying moment she screamed and raised the python. Something blurred past her.
The flaming man flew backwards with a fireman’s axe buried to the handle in his face.
As the sun came up over Manhattan, incredibly huge pillars of smoke reaching for the sky greeted it. Most of the city was on fire. And it colored the rising sun a deep blood red.
Tayler held MJ tight to her chest. The two of them had managed to make it to a shipping yard and had taken shelter in the hold of one of the great empty ships that stood silent sentry in the Hudson.
When she had first come across MJ and had discovered her injury, Tayler had at first raged and screamed and nearly gone mad. This time however, it was her lover’s turn to do the saving. In the midst of chaotic Hell, which the streets had become, MJ consoled her and calmed her and took Tayler up in her arms. Now a strange and gentle if not fatalistic form of serenity had fallen over Tayler’s mind. She held MJ in her arms and knew that she would die. No sadness plagued her mind however, for she had decided. And to MJ’s surprise in the dirty hold of a derelict cargo ship, Tayler kissed her lover and began removing her clothes.
MJ forgot her pain as Tayler’s hands caressed her. She stripped her naked and ran kisses down her neck and chest. Her fingers slid between her legs and felt the warmth there. She stroked her and kissed her breasts. Unaware of the irony, she bit down gently on each hardened nipple. MJ could not speak. The relief from the horror that had gripped her over the previous night washed over her, as did her ecstasy as she climaxed over Tayler’s probing fingers. Then Tayler slid down her and kissed MJ where her fingers had been. She slid her tongue over her and into her, tasting MJ’s passion. It rolled over her tongue as MJ came again. She kissed her as deeply and as passionately as she had ever kissed her on the mouth.
MJ sat up and pushed Tayler onto her back. Tayler saw that her lover’s beautiful eyes had changed. She did not care however. She had decided. And in that decision she did not feel at all suicidal. She instead felt joy. Joy and the deepest love she could have ever imagined.
MJ Grabbed at her hips, more aggressively than she had ever done so before. Her movements were a little unsteady.
“MJ…” Tayler said and MJ looked at her.
“I love you,” they both said at the same time.
Then MJ was sliding her panties down and off, meaning to do for her what Tayler had just done. MJ slid her tongue into her lover, tasting the same sweet nectar. Tayler’s hands grabbed at the old tarp they lay upon, feeling her lover’s deep kisses between her legs. Waiting for what she knew would happen. Tayler came not only from the tongue sliding over her clit and into her, but also from the anticipation of what would surely happen next. And as that mouth which she had kissed a thousand times stopped caressing and started eating, she did not scream. Instead she came again. And the moan that reached into the dark hold of the cargo ship was not one of pain, but one of pleasure and joy. She would not lose MJ at all. The two of them would be together now, forever.
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