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So, It Begins...

Novel By: Jennifer Brighton

Unlikely companions wander through a post-apocalyptic wasteland seeking refuge. View table of contents...


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Submitted:Jul 19, 2013    Reads: 3    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   

Chapter 7
Reign of Lead
James grinned at me from behind the concession stand. Jessica caught sight of our secret elation, and expressed her distaste with a brief scowl in my direction. But, I didn't care. I finally felt--safe. I didn't feel the loom of certain death as I had the months before.
We finally had an actual--for a lack of better words--home. Sure we'll have to change hideouts sooner or later, but for now, this place is ours.
"Hey! Look at this shit!" Arthur yelled with excitement, running towards us.
He stopped in the middle of the hallway and waved us over. Then with the same amount of excitement, he ran back down the hall.
The three of us--James, Jessica, and me--stared at each other confusedly. Then strangely enough, a wide grin crept across my frozen face. Somehow, Arthur's otherworldly enthusiasm excited me. I clenched my fists together and eagerly trotted towards the end of the hall.
I stopped in the doorway, gawking inside at Arthur and Bootsie.
"Guns?" I inquired aloud.
"Guns!" James shouted fervently, standing behind me in the doorway.
"Yea!" Bootsie yelled. "Now we can go on that food hunt in the city!"
"Let's go," Jessica said, finally catching up to us.
I shrank out of the doorway and leaned against a wall in the hallway. I didn't want to go… Sure, I felt better than before, but I wasn't ready for another encounter.
First, Arthur burst out of the room with a rather large machine gun.
"Best damn AK I've ever laid my eyes on," he boasted, making a beeline for the exit.
"Damn idiot," Bootsie said, coming out behind him.
She sat on the floor with three clips in her lap, loading two guns- one that looked terribly identical to Arthur's and another with a scope and a long snout.
Jessica came out with a small hand-gun, and James came out with--presumably--an AK as well. I was the only one who was empty handed. And if I could, I was gonna keep it that way.
"You're not gonna stock up, hun?" Bootsie asked as only she could.
"Why not?"
"I'm not really a--gun-person," I responded coolly.
"Arthur's not either," Bootsie said, getting on her feet. "Can't ya tell?"
I looked outside and watched Arthur aim and pretend to shoot at random specks of nothing wafting down through the air.
"Because he's eager to waste his first rounds on absolutely nothing?" I said after a moment of thought.
"I didn't think about that one!" Bootsie snickered. "And it's very likely that he will, but I could tell by his stance."
She pointed down at his feet and then traced an invisible line back up to his arms and neck.
"If he were to shoot into a horde standing like that, he would stagger back and lose his balance." She took my arms and placed the funny looking gun with the scope and long snout into my hands. "You look like a rifle person to me," she said with a confident smile.
"But, I never even--"
"But-nothing. You will use this because you hafta' protect yourself. Besides, it's the perfect gun for you."
"Ahem! Now," she said, holding my arms level, "you have to keep your body and the gun's weight vertical and directly over your feet--which should be further apart," she said, tugging on each leg. "And, your hips should be…"
Bootsie's voice sort of trailed off as she repositioned my body into--what she called--"the perfect shooting stance." When she was done, she stepped off to the side and examined me.
"I don't think I can do this-"
"Well, you're gonna have to, kiddo. And if it's any consolation, you do look ready to me. And, you look a damn-sight more capable than that excited id'git out there."
I smiled weakly and slowly lowered the nose of the gun. Bootsie grabbed a hold of my forearm and pushed the door open, dragging me outside behind her.
"Who's driving?" James asked, quietly walking behind us.
"Hell, I'll do it!" Arthur answered eagerly.
"-like hell you will," Bootsie retorted. "We need someone with actual common sense-someone who knows when to wait and when to pull off. And, you just don't fit that description."
"I will," Jessica volunteered. "I don't have much to carry; plus, I've got about seven years of driving skills under my belt."
"Well, I'm sold!" Bootsie said, hopping in the backseat.
Arthur, the poor defeated soul, followed directly behind her grumbling the entire way.
"I guess I'll be sitting with them," I said, turning to face James.
He shook his head and pointed up front. "You'll be sitting with her."
"But… we don't even get along," I argued. "Why does it make any difference where I sit anyway?"
"It makes a difference because the three of us in the back will be getting out and going inside of buildings. The two of you will fall behind us and wait somewhere near the car."
"Why do I have a gun if I'm just gonna be by the car anyway?" I responded, noticeably frustrated. "I'm not even getting close enough to hit anything!"
"That's not a close range firing gun," he responded, a slight smile creeping across his pallid face. "Why would Bootsie teach you all that shit about standing and aiming if you were gonna be standing close to one of those things? You wouldn't have time to do any of that if they swarmed you-"
"-yea, but-"
"Plus, you tend to freak out a lot more than the rest of us. And weren't you just telling Bootsie that you didn't even want to go with us-let alone use a gun?"
I bit my bottom lip. I felt like a fool. James was making a lot of sense, and I was arguing with him for no good reason at all.
"You're right," I said, gripping the rifle and readying to walk around to the passenger's side.
James, bat in one hand and a gun in the other, got into the backseat and closed the door.
* * *
We pulled up near a stop sign at an intersection. Directly to the right of us was a Super Mart; ahead of us and behind us were dilapidated, retail-chain stores.
I, surprisingly more curious than I thought I actually was, opened my car door and stepped out.
I was almost sure that it was Bootsie calling me… or maybe it was James. But, I was compelled to walk towards that Super Mart which was now directly in front of me. I needed to see--
"What do you think you're doing?" James yelled, taking me by the arm.
"I was just… looking at the windows."
"You don't have to walk towards the building to do that," he retorted whilst pulling me back towards the little, green vehicle.
"You can do it from the car."
Seeing so much destruction up close hurled me into a state of disarray. Yes, the town that I had known was destroyed… but just how far had this plague stretched? Were we actually the only survivors of this blight?
"Look," James began, taking me by the shoulders and sitting me down, "snap out of it or you're gonna get yourself killed."
I shook my head substantially, as if to rouse from my stupor.
"I'm sorry, I just--dunno what came over me."
"It's alright, just straighten up and fly right," he responded.
Arthur got out and Bootsie circled around to where he and James were standing.
"Is she gonna be able to keep her shit together?" Arthur snapped.
"Don't ask him about me when I'm sitting right in front of you. You should ask me. I'm right here for shit's sake--" I retorted.
"And, yes. I'm gonna be fine."
"Well, you heard that," Bootsie snickered. "Now, let's get this over with."
This was the plan: James, Bootsie, and Arthur would go left of the Super Mart, then they'd double around to the other side of the intersection and hit the Super Mart on their way back.
When they got their tactics down, the three of them went off into the same direction, soon disappearing behind the twisted, spiny, outstretched arms of a naked oak tree.
* * *
"Shouldn't they have come back by now?" Jessica asked, squatting over the road, dragging the barrel of her gun about surface of the chilled asphalt.
I sat in the sun on the cool hood of the car hoping to keep warm whilst staring out into the distance at the Super Mart's glowering, blank windows.
"Well?" Jessica began again. "Think we should go looking for them?"
"Don't be stupid…"
"So, you're seriously not worried about James--or any of them?"
"As far as I'm concerned, they're smart and strong enough to take care of themselves out there alone. And if either of them get separated from the other, they can survive and find their way back."
"What makes you think so?"
"Oh, maybe because we're sitting here and they're not? Take a look around, legs… We're the weakest link. We're the ones who were left behind."
Jessica pursed her lips together.
"That was a bit harsh."
"But true…"
"Like hell," she retorted, rising from the ground squeezing the handle of her gun. "You're the weak, whiney bitch in this equation."
"Excuse me?"
"You heard me… I called you a weak, whiney bitch," Jessica replied. "You freak out about the littlest things--like words. Oops… I mean one, measly, got-damn word."
"You don't understand--"
"And, you hang around James, hoping he'll keep you safe whenever things get a little hectic."
"That's not true--"
"If either of has to be the weakest link around here, it's definitely you."
Jessica, noticeably pissed off, inched towards me, and I raised the nose of my rifle in her direction.
"What… you're gonna shoot me now for speaking my mind?"
"To be honest, Jessica," I said, lowering my head to look through the scope, "I didn't think you had one ."
She held her arms out beside her head. The gun she carried dangled precariously from her index finger.
"Al-Alright, I take back everything I said--I didn't mean it--"
"That's a shame--" I responded, sliding down off of the hood. "I actually liked you better when you put what you thought of me out in the open."
"Can you put the gun down now?" she said, hesitating to move.
"Get the hell out of my way," I mumbled, pushing her aside with the nose of my gun.
They were coming… the infected. I spotted two coming creeping towards us from the left wing of the Super Mart. They must've heard Jessica's shouting…
I tried to remember what Bootsie had taught me. I closed my eyes and balanced my weight with the gun; and once I felt that my stance was right, I squinted through the scope and fired.
"Hot damn, I hit one…"
Jessica was a bit rattled. I don't know whether it was because she had previously thought I was going to shoot her or because we were in such close proximity to the infected.
"Let me give it a shot," Jessica said, stepping out in front of me and spreading her feet apart to balance.
"Have you ever shot a gun?"
"What in the hell does that matter," she retorted. "If you can fire that thing and hit your target, I'm sure it'll be a breeze for me."
She clasped her hands around the handle of the gun and put both fingers on the trigger. Then, she slowly stretched her arms far out in front of her and fired. She missed.
"It's okay. I'll shoot it--"
"Back off," she hissed. "I've got it."
She readied herself to shoot again and that's when I noticed another one of those things emerge from the left wing of the Super Mart.
"Jess… maybe we should--"
"Shhh! Not while I'm aiming!"
I raised my gun and aimed at the figure slowly creeping towards us. She fired for the second time, and she hit her target, square in the forehead.
"I hit it!"
"Alright! Good--" I said, still locked on my target. "I think we should go now--"
"We can take these bastards!" she exclaimed. "Don't chicken out on me now!"
I prepared to shoot the figure in the distance; and just as I fired, another one of those things emerged from the brush downside the massive oak tree that James, Bootsie, and Arthur disappeared behind nearly an hour ago.
"This is becoming a hot-zone, Jessica," I yelled, turning to aim at yet another hazy figure coming around the left wing of the Super Mart. "If the others stuck to the plan, then they're probably at the far right wing of the intersection by now and moving towards the Super Mart."
"Yea, so?" Jessica called back, firing at the thing in the brush.
"So, that means we should get the hell outta here and go get them," I rebutted, noticeably aggravated.
"Come on," she whined. "We've got this!"
I shrugged and walked towards the middle of the intersection, aiming steadily at the left flank of the Super Mart.
Another gunshot rang out; and the thud of another lifeless body resounded against the asphalt. There were more coming… And I began to think that maybe--just maybe, they were attracted to the sound of our gunfire.
A fairly dense cluster of figures emerged from the left flank of the store; the horde moved slowly but intently towards the two of us--and just when I readied myself to fire again, something unexpected happened… One of them started to run.
It burst through the slow-moving horde with intense determination; and although it was moving fairly slow itself, it was fast enough to pose a threat. That was it; I wasn't gonna play Jessica's game anymore.
"I'm getting in the car!"
I turned around to run and saw that Jessica had already made it to the car--I hurried to the door and pulled on the handle, but it was locked. I banged on the window and stared desperately in her direction; she shook her head solemnly; then after muttering something unintelligible, she started the car and began to pull off.
"Jessica, stop playing around!" I yelled, banging on the side of the car. "Wait!"


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