Chapter 9: The Coming Storm
She stood before him, her stance rigid, tough, determined, but her face soft and vulnerable. She held a gun in her hands – some old looking revolver – but as he stepped closer her grip on the weapon loosened, and her hands dropped to her side.
“I don’t need you,” she was saying. “I don’t need anyone.”
His body was almost pressed up against hers now. They could feel each other’s breath. He reached out a hand, and placed it tenderly upon her cheek. “But it’s better with two,” he said softly. She smiled then, the most beautiful smile he had ever seen. Her whole face smiled with her lips, her eyes lighting up like Christmas lights. He leaned in a little closer... and she kicked his feet out from under him, sending him sprawling to his back, arms thrashing out in every direction.
“Eli, I swear to God, if you don’t get out of this bed right now I’m going to leave your worthless ass here to be eaten!”
“Amber?” he tried to say, but groggy and dizzy as he was it came out more like, “Murhguhl?”
“What?” she demanded, and gave him a few seconds to answer. He rolled around on the bed, still more than half asleep, trapped somewhere between dream and reality that left him far too confused to understand exactly what was happening. She kicked his feet again, harder this time, still trying to wake him up.
His eyes opened at last, but everything was blurry. He blinked, feeling the crustiness around his eyelids, and after a few moments could make out the general form of the woman standing at the end of his bed. “I knew you’d come,” he said, not really fully aware he was even talking.
Amber’s eyes went wide. She scoffed in annoyance and rolled her eyes. She kicked him in the feet again, still harder. “In your dreams, you perv. We’re being overrun. If we don’t leave, and I mean right now, we’re as good as dead. So get your ass out of this bed or I’m taking your keys and leaving you here as bait.”
Realization slowly dawned on Eli and his face flushed red. He rolled out of the bed and grabbed his bag off the floor. He must have been much more tired the previous night than he’d realized, as he was still fully clothed. He hadn’t even taken off his shoes. I must reek, he thought distantly. Actually, considering that there probably wasn’t running water anymore, everyone in the group probably smelled pretty awful. At least there was that, he figured.
Amber had already turned and was hurrying out of the room. He stumbled after her, drunkenly, his faculties not yet fully restored. “Hey, wait!” He called, reaching blindly for the door knob. His hand hit only air. Since the hotel was due for demolition, most of the rooms had their electronic locks removed. The rest didn’t even have doors. This room was one of the former, so he stuck his hand through the hole left by the missing door handle and pulled. “What do you mean, we’re overrun?”
Amber was already part way down the hall, but she stopped and turned around. She motioned with one hand to the window at the end of the hallway, just to Eli’s right, and said “See for yourself.”
His brow furrowed in confusion as his sleep addled brain tried to comprehend her meaning. He turned by sort of rolling himself along the wall until his head was positioned before the window. Immediately he was forced to slam his eyes shut against the unexpected brightness of morning. Slowly, he pried his eyes open, bit by bit, until he could make out some general shapes and blurred images. In order to get some degree of privacy, he had chosen a room on the second floor, all the way at the end of the hall. This should have afforded him a good view, but in the brightness of the early morning sun, he had trouble making anything out.
“See… what?” he asked. The image was clearing, but nothing was evident. Slowly, he began to notice that one of the blobs seemed to be wavering, as if being blown by the breeze. As he focused on it, the blob began to separate into multiple blobs, until he realized with a grim horror exactly what it was he was looking at.
He backed away from the window in shock, terror flitting like lightning bolts from one end of his body to another. “How…” he choked out, then “what?”
“Great, you saw it, now let’s go!” Amber snapped impatiently. Without waiting for his response, she turned and began running for the stairs. After a couple moments Eli snapped out of his shock and hurried after her.
“There must be thousands of them!” he protested, still unable to accept what he’d seen.
“That’s just the ones on the east side,” Amber called back over her shoulder, already halfway down the stairs before him.
Eli stumbled on a step, nearly losing his footing. “Just?” The word echoed in his mind, threatening to freeze his body in place. Somehow, he managed to find the strength to break free and launch himself forward, taking the steps three at a time, and then launching himself the final four at the bottom.
“Good, you’re here,” someone said as they rushed past him. “That makes for everyone. Let’s get out of here!” Eli followed the streak of motion, and noticed everyone seemed to be leaving out a side exit. Racking his brains produced a very modest layout of the general area that suggested this exit was closer to their cars than the front exit, so he trusted the group and followed behind. He had lost sight of Amber, but couldn’t imagine she was anywhere but already waiting at the car. He pushed his way through the mass of people headed out the door, realizing that with his car locked his group would be forced to wait around outside until he could get to them.
He burst through the doorway, and sure enough a group was standing around waiting by his car. He pounded the unlock button on his keychain until he saw the appropriate lights flash. He was so focused that he almost didn’t notice a woman had stopped right in front of him until he almost ran into her.
“What are you-!?” he demanded, but stopped himself when he noticed where she was looking.
“There’s someone up there!” she shouted, clearly trying to get everyone’s attention. One hand was cupped over her eyes and her head was tilted back. She was staring up at the roof of the building. Eli followed her gaze. The hotel was only six stories tall, and as such it was quite easy to see the figure standing on the roof, even hiding in the shadows as it was. It almost seemed as if… as if…
As if it was watching them.
“Is that one of… ours?” Eli asked, uncertain of what to call the group.
“Can’t be,” Marshall exclaimed, coming around the side of one of the SUVs. “Everyone is accounted for.”
“Another survivor?” he suggested instead.
Marshall shrugged, not knowing what to say.
“Hey up there,” the woman, whom Daniel had called Kelly the night before, shouted suddenly, making Eli jump. “There’s danger coming! Try and get to safety!”
The figure didn’t move or seem to respond in anyway. It simply stayed in place, watching them from the darkness.
“Well, we can’t afford to wait for them,” Marshall said gruffly, grabbing Kelly by the arm and hurrying her toward a vehicle. He looked over his shoulder at Eli. “You remember where the base is?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Eli responded dumbly.
“Try not to fall behind, just in case,” Marshall said. With that, he let go of Kelly and hurried to his own car. Eli stood motionless for a moment, while around him the last few stragglers climbed into their respective vehicles. Turning he glanced back up at the figure, but it had disappeared. Probably to go find somewhere to hide, he figured. He wished them the best of luck.
Turning, he made a quick dash for his car. He jumped into the driver’s seat and started the engine. He turned to say something to Amber, then stopped, seeing a man’s face staring back at him. For a moment he balked, then turned to stare into the back seat, and certainly enough discovered a completely different group staring back at him. “Who the hell are you people?” he demanded.
“I think there will be time for introductions later,” the guy in the passenger seat said, motioning to the other cars, which were already pulling away.
Eli grumbled his discontent, but threw the shift into drive and launched the car out of the parking lot after the others. He should have known, he realized. Why the hell would Amber want to stick with him? She had only been in the car with him before out of necessity.
He hit the road and turned west, quickly pulling up behind one of the other vehicles. The frequency of abandoned cars dotting the roads like musical notes was higher here than it had been on the roads getting them to the hotel, so they were forced to move slower and more carefully.
“Look!” the person behind the passenger seat said, and pointed out the window. They all followed his direction, looking out into the woods just off the road. At first Eli couldn’t see what the guy was getting at, but it quickly became obvious. Hundreds of the creatures could be seen wandering among the trees in that aimless, dazed motion of the undead.
“Over here, too,” the lady behind Eli said, He glanced to his left, to the buildings lining the streets. Certainly enough, hundreds more were pouring through the cracks and alleyways between buildings, slowly shambling their way toward the road. Amber hadn’t been joking when she had described the group Eli had seen as “only” the ones in that direction.
“Dios effin mio,” the man in the passenger seat said. “There’s a Goddamn million of them.”
“Just about,” Eli agreed, swinging his head from side to side to take in both of the groups.
“They’re stopping,” the woman noted. Once again, she was right. The creatures seemed to take note of the passing vehicles and stopped their march. They turned their cold, eerie gaze on the group. Hundreds of heads swiveled lifelessly in congress with the passing motion of the cars. “It’s like they’re watching us.”
“Why aren’t they following us?” Eli asked,
“You want them to follow us?” someone shot back, incredulously.
“Of course not! I just… Well, you guys have been living with this longer than I have. So you tell me: is this normal? Is it normal for them to just stop when you run away? They don’t keep coming after you? Are they not driven by some primal hunger to hunt us down and devour us?”
There was a moment of silence, where the only sound was the roar of the car engine. “No,” said one of the guys in the back seat, “it’s not normal.”
“Normal is for them to not stop until you stop them” said the woman behind Eli. “Or until you get far enough away that they can get distracted by something closer.”
“So what’s it mean that they’re changing their pattern?” asked Eli, but there was no response.
The implications of his words hung in the air over the group, leaving them in a depressive silence. A few uncomfortable glances were exchanged, but for a long, long time, nothing was said.
The car drove on.