Reads: 162

The store was as quite other than Dogg’s panting as he followed Page through the aisles. At two am it was also pitch black and the only light came from the headlight she was wearing. She had not been able to sleep the last couple of nights in the store, so she took to roaming the store looking for anything they could have over looked to take with them.

Her sat shook and she sighed unclipping it. ‘Gallagher.’ She answered

‘I didn’t wake you did I?’ Mouth asked worried. He sounded like he just crawled out of bed himself.

‘No, couldn’t sleep.’ She sighed ‘what’s up?’

‘One of my people just picked up a faint transmission from your area.’ Mouth said worried. ‘We have a couple trapped in an apartment building. They are out of food and water and the building they are trapped in is infested. I know you can get yourself past rippers, how are you at getting others past them.’ Page sighed shaking her head.

‘I have never tired.’ She admitted ‘How close are they?’

‘Maybe two miles from your position.’ He told her. ‘Closer to the city.’

‘Okay, give me directions.’ She listened close and repeated them. Once she was sure she had it memorized, she went back to camp and put her braces on. Figuring out how to tie them without help had been a bit of a challenge. Once she had her bag and bow, she left her group a note telling them what happened. She left Ty her sat phone and ham. She didn't want to draw any unwanted attention to herself. Page left through one of the back doors letting it close behind her.

Keeping down and careful of her every move, she headed in the direction of the address Mouth had given her. Page's head was pounding from the pressure of the rippers inside the city. A light in one of the distant buildings showed her right where the couple were hiding. She shook her head confused. How had they gotten this close to the city and not been killed.

Judging by the ripper stench in the area, there was a massive swarm in this area. If there had not been someone in need, not even she would have risked coming into this place. The building the couple were in was a five story apartment building made of brick. The front door was wide open and the stench from inside was close to over whelming. There were not a lot of rippers inside the building its self. She had seen, and could feel a lot outside on the streets. The little monsters were hunting for their next meal.

Page was thankful the stairway was empty and climbed the five flights keeping a look out for movement. At the top she found a note on the door pleading for help. Putting her ear to the door, Page could make out low voices. She glanced down the dark stairway, but it was still empty. Page tapped the door trying to be heard by those inside and not by the rippers. The voices inside had gone quiet and she saw shadows move through the light under the door.

‘Hello? She whispered ‘We got your message.’ There was a click and the door opened a crack. The woman who opened the door grinned seeing her. She opened it wider and Page slipped inside. The woman closed the door softly and locked it.

Page frowned deeply. The woman was grossly thin and her cloths were hanging off her. The man was not in much better shape. There little camp was set up in a short hallway. Page shook her head and set her bow down. She took off her pack and pulled out a jar of beef stew and two bottles of water.

‘Who are you?’ The man asked looking scared ‘How did you get here?’

‘I walked’ Page replied ‘Eat and drink. Tell me how the hell you two got trapped up here?’ He motioned her to follow and led her to their makeshift camp. Once the three were seated and the two were eating, the woman was the one to say,

‘I’m Maloney, this is my husband John. We were on 90 looking for the settlement we heard about. Some asshole started shooting in the fields north of the interstate.’ Maloney paled shaking her head. ‘There were so many rippers every where. We just ran to try to get away. They chased us in here a month ago and we have been trapped since.’

‘We have been radioing for help,’ John sighed ‘I have to be honest, I never thought anyone would come.’

‘Mouth’s people heard you this morning.’ Page told them. ‘You have no idea how lucky you are that he did. We were set to move out this morning.’ She looked the the watch she had found back at the store. It was a little like the one she lost, but it was a wind up. ‘Once you eat, you need to pack your things and we have to leave.’ John’s eyes widened.

‘But the rippers are out now.’ He said ‘wont it be safer in the day?’

‘As soon as the sun comes up,’ Page told them ‘the rippers will pile back into this building. There will be no way to get past them. I found a spot we can wait out the rest of the night. When the sun comes up, we will make our way back to my camp.’ Both looked scared but nodded.

Page got up and went to the small window she had spotted the light through. Hundreds of small white bodies moved through the streets below. All were in good sized packs. The SUV with tinted windows sitting before the building would be a good hiding spot. She just needed to cause a big enough distraction in the back of the building to get these two there.

Page pushed on the window and was pleased it opened with no problem. After grabbing her bow she returned to the window and drew out an arrow from the store. She had started carrying arrows she didn't mind losing for just this reason.

Taking careful aim, she fired the arrow and hit the lead ripper of the nearest pack. It screamed it's rage, and then it's companions fell on it ripping it to shreds. Other packs rushed the group and Page fired another arrow killing the leader of that group.

‘What are you doing?’ Maloney asked joining her.

‘Making us a distraction.’ Page replied ‘You need to get your things together.’ She nodded and Page killed another ripper. By the time the two were ready, there was a feeding frenzy in the street behind the building. Page looked to the two.

‘Stay close to me at all times.’ She warned them ‘You will see rippers. They will be very close to us. Do not, under any circumstances run. You move slow, keep low. If I walk, you walk. If I freeze, you freeze. Understood?’ They nodded ‘Good. No more talking once we leave this hall. Any questions?’ The two glanced at each other and looked back to her.

‘Who are you?’ John asked. Page sighed half temped to tell them a false name.

‘Page.’ she said and then cracked the door open peeking out. The hallway was quiet and there were no sign of the rippers. She could not feel any more in the building ether. Opening the door, she led the two out and down the stairs. She stopped them when she felt a group running toward their building from the front. They continued past however and joined the fight in the back. Page continued down the stairs to the ground floor, glancing back from time to time to check on her charges.

Both John and Maloney looked ready to bolt, but to their credit, they followed her rules to the tee. She was a little impressed with how quiet they were. After being stuck in a building full of rippers for a month, she imagined they had to learn to be quiet. Peeking out through the open front door, Page did not just scan for rippers but anything that could get in their way to the SUV. There was nothing they could not easily avoid in their path.

The three were half way to the black SUV when Page froze. Something was wrong. Those in the back of the building were starting to scatter. A big group of them were heading around the building. She wanted to scream but kept it in. Not stopping, she moved the last few feet to the SUV and opened the back door. Motioning the two to hurry. She climbed in behind them closing the door a little faster than she meant too. Page watched the building worried about the rippers she felt running in every direction. What could have scared them all enough to abandon food.

The first group of rippers ran from behind the building and right into the apartment they had just left. They were followed by second group who fled into the building across the street. Page winced as the pressure in her head built. She hoped these rippers did not all pile into the two buildings. All she needed now was a migraine while she was stuck out here. The pain increased and she rubbed her temple to try to ease it. Page froze realizing the last time she had felt this burning pressure.

‘Shit.’ She whispered peering out at the streets.

‘What is it?’ John whispered worried.

‘Stalkers.’ She replied and not even a second later, the dark green monsters came from around the building. The leader was big and carrying a severed ripper arm. It was a big group but moved into the apartment building before Page could count them all.

The three were silent keeping as still as they could for the next hour. The stalkers came back out of the building an hour later. All of them were dragging ripper bodies behind them. The big one had a body on its shoulder, and was dragging another on the ground.

Her blood ran cold when the stalker stopped and looked right at the SUV. He narrowed his eyes peering at it confused. What felt like hours later, he turned and joined the others. They vanished around the corner.

‘We can’t stay here.’ Page said looking to the two. ‘They know we are in here and may come back.’ She looked to her watch and sighed. ‘We still have an hour until sun rise,’ the return of the burning pressure stopped her and she looked out the back of the truck. She could see a second group of stalkers down the street chasing after more rippers. There was no way she could take these two out in this.

Then she saw something that turned her stomach. She motioned the two to stay put and slipped out of the truck. Keeping down she moved back to the apartment building and down the street toward the stalkers. She motioned to the tiny figure limping down the street to her. The halfling was having trouble, so Page moved forward and picked it up cuddling it to her chest. A quick check of the streets told her the stalkers were going into another building. They had not spotted her yet. She moved back to the truck and went back in.

‘What th,’ John said startled.

‘Shh.’ Page hissed. She looked to the little halfling who was stiff in her arms and had tears in its eyes. ‘It’s okay.’ Page soothed. ‘Once the stalkers are gone, we will check where you’re hurt and fix you up.’ The halfling nodded but was watching out the window terrified. Thirty minutes later the second group of stalkers ran past the truck dragging ripper bodies.

As soon as the stalkers were out of the area, the rippers poured out of the buildings they were hiding in and ran right into the building the stalkers had been in. Page assumed they were going to eat the stalker’s scraps. The thought made her sick to her stomach.

She shrugged out of her pack and pulled out her first aid kit. Being as gentle as she could, she checked the little halfling over. It looked like a stalker had nearly gotten him. Three deep gashes were on the outside of his thigh. She looked to the halfling.

‘I need to clean this out.’ She warned ‘it’s going to hurt but it will stop it from getting infected. I need you to stay as quiet as you can okay?’ He nodded and she pulled out a jar of the antibiotic wash Sara from treetop made her. Page poured it onto the gashes and the halfling whimpered stiffening. ‘I know, I know.’ Page said sympathetic. She had felt the burn more than once and did not wish it on anyone. ‘There we go. All done.’ She added some first aid cream and then bandaged it. ‘My friend is a doctor. I would like to take you to him so he can fix your leg. Is that okay?’ He nodded with big eyes.

‘Gggaalllaagghhaar.’ He whispered ‘Ggooooddd.’ Page smiled.

‘I try little one. We don’t have long until the sun comes up.’ she assured him. ‘As soon as it’s high enough to keep the rippers inside, we will head to safety. For now, we need to be still and quiet.’ He nodded and looked back out the window. Page followed his gaze.

The streets were full once again of pale bodies. This time however, there were no hunting packs. Apparently, the arrival of the stalkers had unnerved them as much as it had her. As soon as the sun peeked over the buildings, every ripper ran for cover. A few lingered sniffing for scraps, but did not wait around long. Page put her pack back on, and then opened the door of the truck looking behind the vehicle for any sign of the rippers or stalkers. Other than several dozen abandoned cars and litter, the streets were clear. The tiny halfling clung to her as they moved through the empty streets.

Page was on edge the entire time. She could feel the stalkers clearer the closer farther they got from the neighborhood. They were nested just west of Tiny’s store. If the burning pressure in her head was to be trusted, it was a big colony of stalkers. The fact did not surprise her. They had plenty of rippers in the area to eat and the few stalkers she had seen on the streets were plump and in good shape.

To her surprise, the garden center was empty. The blue building was packed again, but there were no windows facing the road and they were able to get past it without a problem. She could see movement on the roof of the store where they had made camp. Tiny was waving them to go around to the back. Page led the two around to the back of the building. She smiled seeing Ty holding the loading dock door open.

‘We need Theo.’ She said as soon as they were safe inside. ‘This little one needs medical attention.’ Ty nodded frowning worried.

‘When we found your note, we set up a medical area just in case.’ He told them. ‘Mouth wasn’t sure if the people calling for help would be wounded or not.’ Page nodded and the group followed Ty to the house. The living room furniture had been moved aside and there were two camping cots set up surrounded with first aid supplies. Theo frowned worried.

‘Sit.’ He ordered John and Maloney. Maloney shook her head.

‘We aren’t hurt,’ She said ‘but this little one is.’ Theo flinched when his eyes fell on the halfling in Page’s arms.

‘Is that a,’ Theo started as he looked to Page

‘Yes.’ Page told him ‘A stalker got his leg. I washed it out already and bandaged it, but I think he needs stitches.’

‘A stalker?’ Tazhi said entering the room. She was carrying a tray with two plates full of food. ‘We have stalkers in the area?’

‘Yes.’ Page sighed easing the halfling down. She did not want to answer questions. Her head was pounding and she was still sick to her stomach from being around so many rippers. ‘They are nested off to the west somewhere.’ She sat down on an armchair rubbing her forehead.

‘Questions later.’ Theo said in a tone not to be questioned. ‘I will help the halfling and then everyone is getting a checkup. Ty, please get Page a towel.’ The big man nodded frowning before he left the room. He returned a moment later and handed her a brown towel.

‘Your nose is bleeding again.’ He told her kneeling beside her. She gave him a tired smile before putting the towel to her nose. ‘You look beat. How about a hot shower, some food, and some sleep?’ Page sighed wanting all of those things.

‘That stalker nest is new Ty.’ She told him. ‘They were not here when we first got here. You saw how well they climb and they know we are in the area. We need to get out of dodge before they figure out we are in this building.’ Ty sighed but nodded his agreement.

‘Relax a little. I will go grab Kidd and get the wagon ready.’ He said running his fingers through her hair.

‘Where is he?’ Page asked a little surprised he had not met her at the door.

‘Sulking.’ Ty sighed. ‘He is a little mad at you for not wakening him before you left. He wanted to go with you.’ Page shook her head.

‘I just barely got these two out of there undetected.’ She said a little annoyed ‘There was no way I was going to risk taking him with me.’ Ty nodded his agreement.

‘I know.’ He told her ‘He knows that too.’ He glanced to see where Tazhi was and then said in a low voice. ‘I think he needs a break from the girls.’ Page smiled amused.

Kidd was nothing like a normal nine year old. He had seen far too much since the fall to ever reclaim the innocents of childhood. Nastas and Shiye had been sheltered from the harness outside. Nastas thought she had a new playmate with Kidd. The boy however had wanted nothing to do with the little girl’s idea of play. Dressing up and playing with dolls was just not the boy’s idea of fun.

Odd enough, he got along a little better with Shiye. They had the same taste in music and sat listening to Page’s mp3 player until it was time to work. That was where they differed. Kidd was always ready to get the job done. Shiye had no interest in getting her hands dirty and Kidd was just confused by her attitude.

The boy himself came into the house scowling and looking ready to yet at her. He froze and his eyes widened when he got a good look at her. Kidd went to her and she smiled as he hugged her tight. The hug was better than a hot shower, meal, and sleep.

‘I am sorry I didn’t wake you little man.’ She told him rubbing his back. ‘I knew you would just wait up worried and we have a long day today. You needed the rest.’ He pulled away looking to her.

‘It’s okay mom.’ He assured her. ‘As bad as you smell, I’m kind of happy I didn’t go.’ Page laughed shaking her head.

‘And on that note, maybe I will take a hot shower before we hit the road.’ She chuckled standing. ‘Tazhi, do you mind?’ The woman shook her head.

‘No go on Page.’ She told her ‘There is plenty of water for all of you.’ Page nodded and headed for the showers.

Submitted: August 04, 2016

© Copyright 2021 CJones. All rights reserved.


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