[personal profile] major_kerina

You Are Me

"You are me. Embrace me. Embrace us."

I willed myself not shiver at the sound. They wouldn't find me, I told myself. They were still just scanning, getting rid of the easy ones first. Digging into closets would be a last resort. I was sure of it.

"We will be one, together. There is no escape."

They spoke as a singular presence in a stereo of identical, womanly voices. Each word perfectly in sync. Before my buddy Ethan was one of them, he used the analogy of the Borg. Big Star Trek fan. He got assimilated too.

Shutting my eyes only helped me to hear them better and I didn't have the balls to try covering my ears. Too much of a chance I might noisily scuff something.

"You will be perfection. You will be one of us. You will be beautiful, always."

I tried to find a comfortable position where I was in the closet. Their icy-blue vision slipped into flashes behind my tired, twitching eyes.

Four days ago. At least. Maybe a week. Maybe longer. That was when it started. I didn't pay attention to the newscast. Something about a woman who was near death. They used a special technology to heal her. Some people I talked to since said it was stem cells. Another said nanosomething. Gene therapy another.

It healed her but it also made her like a machine. She replicated herself by pressing her hand into a victim. Ethan compared it to Agent Smith from the Matrix sequels. Can't fault Ethan there.

I've seen the conversions too many times to count. Some quick, some long.

I remembered this big black guy was running away and one of them leapt to catch him on the heel. He kept running even as his leg slowly shifted. He couldn't help but stumble, one leg thinner and shorter than the other. Somehow, he found a place to hide from them. It was already too late for him.

I saw people try to cut off their affected body parts, working on the logic from a zombie movie. But it would just grow back, like it did for those things.

I knew their form vividly now. About five-three and slight, but much stronger than they looked. Their same, long brunette hair flowed and curled like a stream near where I used to live that always spewed over its banks during a storm. They looked no older than the girls who went to my college.

All dressed in the same black sandals with no socks and the same narrow-sleeved V-neck dress down to their knees. No makeup but their lips looked so full and red, I first thought they had blood on them.

Pale, peachy skin and maybe freckles. Never wanted to get close enough to know. Their breasts were enough to distract and convert a couple guys I saw once.

While that black guy hid, I counted. It took him right around two minutes. The new addition left her hiding place and joined the rest. That was the longest one I saw through my shuttered window.

The shortest was a real douche I remember from my communications class. He was sacked quicker than a football quarterback holding onto the ball too long. He took fifteen seconds.

I never considered shooting myself, mostly because I saw someone who tried that. The horde just reanimated and converted her in less than a minute. I never considered shooting them either.

They just shrugged off the bullets, the injuries, and the explosions. A guy with a katana a couple halls over lasted longer than most. Still, they overwhelmed him.

At a point, I had a plan to meet up north with some friends. But they were soon overwhelmed too. Mom and dad never replied to any of my messages but I didn't give them precise info, just in case.

I stockpiled supplies in my dorm. My other roommates never returned from classes when everything went into lockdown, so I assumed the room was my responsibility. I didn't lock the doors because I knew that would just lure them. I did make sure the doorbell triggered automatically and I stayed near the deep closet. With several layers of clothes and junk, I could slip into the back and hide. Even if they dug around, unless they persisted and lifted all the stuff from around me, they would never find me. I hoped.

I listened around. They repeated their message. I took my slow breaths and tried not to think about how much my legs and bladder ached. I waited.

It took longer than usual but they made their way back to the door. I counted the beeps. Three coming in. Just two going out.

I tensed. They could have passed out of the dorm together or I just missed the third. But I couldn't put traps past them. I stayed and focused on any vibrations through the wood. A second story dorm floor would creak even with the lightest step.

I had no idea how long I waited. Time felt meaningless in the dark and the faint, strange sounds outside mingled with birds going about their business on a nearby tree.

Then, the chirping of the alarm, followed by the door creaking open. I had been right. One stayed to lay a trap. For a moment, in my dark paranoia, I wondered if another passed in while the door was open. But I reminded myself of the chime timing and resisted the urge to overthink it again.

After all presence of footsteps faded, I bent my numb legs out into old coats and boxes. I clenched my mouth through the waves of pins-and-needles as I tried to move my body. Gingerly, I made my way around the soft blankets and nudged open the end of the closet.

Daylight blasted me as I widened the crack. Once I was out, I made sure not to relax. I checked everything with the size to hide a whole person. I left nothing unchecked and didn't stand too close to the front door, where I could be ambushed. After I verified my safety, I took a long, but still tense pee with the bathroom door secured. Anything further was impossible with my clenched sphincter. Who can crap while the apocalypse is hunting for you just outside? Braver dudes than me.

I didn't flush yet and I splashed with face with a gentle trickle of water, which didn't trigger the loud thudding of the old pipes. After that, back to my room with a metal broom, my best improvised weapon. It was pretty useless with how strong they were. But I figured the sheer-ridiculousness of me wielding it might buy me a moment of confusion to escape.

I returned to the slit in the window drapes to look down at the courtyard. I'd seen everything from here and I'd seen no one get away from them.

I peered through the opening as a finger slid across the glass. The scuffing put every hair on my body on edge. The window had a small balcony and it opened at the latch. One of those that made you wonder where the safety regulations were when it was designed.

I resisted the urge to look till the clawing sounds were too much. As I looked, a feminine cheek turned towards me. I clutched the broom, heart thudding. But the voice through the window wasn't in the same, echoing tone. It was fearful and muffled by thick glass.

"Please please. Open. Please. Oh God please!"

I thought quickly, grabbed some paper, and jotted a note as she repeated her same words in a jumble of sobbing and stammering. I thought she might bang on the glass but all she could do was drag her fingers across it.

I wrote quickly, figuring they were following her. I pressed my first note to the glass through the shades.

CAN YOU MAKE IT TO THE FIRE ESCAPE? ACT LIKE YOU ARE NOT TALKING TO ME.

I heard only the rattling of the balcony. The rest was silence.

After a moment, she said, "It's far down. Might make it. So tired."

Some part of my ego wanted to rescue her off the balcony. But my rationality knew it was too risky. If any of them saw then they would relentlessly search my dorm until they found both of us.

I pressed the next paper to the glass.

TAKE THE FIRE DOOR. GO TO ROOM 235. KNOCK VERY SOFTLY 3 TIMES.

And that was all I told her. The rest was up to her. Eventually, I heard her step off the balcony in the direction of the fire escape. If they were swarming the hallway then she would have no chance. And I didn't know if they had any memory of those they absorbed. I thought about my escape no matter what. I held my broom in front of the door. I braced it and switched off the alarm.

The hall was deathly-silent. I tried a few normal breaths for the first time in a while.

I didn't hear footsteps before I heard the softest, most-hesitant little touch of my door. It sounded like a kitten trying to paw it. Broom at the ready, I opened the door.

Somehow, the girl from the balcony staggered into my dorm. I slid the door silently closed behind her and gingerly led her to my room. Her shoulder-length, dirty-blond hair looked physically dirty. It was tangled and askew. Her eyes were deeply-ringed dark. She had a long, dried cut on her cheek.

She was clothed in frayed jeans and an oversized school jacket with the sleeves curled up. Her narrow hand clutched mine like a vice. When I had the door to my room shut and latched, she looked to my bed and the large bag of candy bars I'd raided from my roommate's stash. I nodded and she leapt at one faster than the creatures outside leapt at their prey. Two bars were gone before her eyes fluttered shut and she slumped back against the bed.

I let her sleep off what was clearly exhaustion but I kept a careful guard in case she'd been followed.

She looked familiar. Something about her rounded, small face. I knew she wasn't one of my neighbors but I was certain she went to the college. I didn't remember her from any of my classes though. She wore a sturdy pair of boots, though it looked like they were a tight fit.

Ethan would have said, "She looks apocalypse hot." Even with all I had on my mind, I had to agree.

Being a true gentleman, I let her have the whole bed without concern (I still had Ethan's cot) and made my rounds of the dorm and the windows. No sign of a single one of them. That left me on edge. I checked everything again in five minutes. I even considered sealing the front door. I turned the door alarm back on as well. No stupid mistakes.

The courtyard was completely clear. The half-view of the senior parking lot was also serene. Only a few cars left. If I could find just one of them then I'd feel a hell of a lot better. No luck there.

I stopped by the mirror to check my reflection. I looked as greasy as I felt. I used a quiet trickle of water to rinse my face. At least the water was still running, even though the lighting was intermittent.

After checking back on the sleeping girl, I made my way into the closet. If she was going to stay here long then the hiding place would have to fit two. It was big enough but I would have to put my plans for a false wall on hold. I considered the other main closet but I'd already vetoed it as a secondary hiding place on my own.

As I worked, I heard a soft groan. I leaned out and peered at her. She held her head. It didn't take long for her to notice me and mutter, "Do you have some water?"

I passed her one of the water bottles I'd slowly filled from the tap. She sucked it down and panted, "Thanks. Thank you. I was sure I was a goner. Call me Myra." She leaned out her slender hand.

I shook it. "Call me Jacob. So what's your story?"

I listened as she told her tale. She was visiting a friend when it all this happened. She hid in one of the science labs and eventually made a break for the dorms. From there, she worked her way from room to room, trying to steal what she could from them to survive.

What I paid attention to when she spoke wasn't her words but her presence. Blame being alone for so many days and locked in closets but I was skeptical. Most people I saw don't survive out in the open for long. The lack of 'them' around concerned me too.

However, if she was one of them in disguise, she already had plenty of opportunities to get me. I had to consider the possibility she was just like me, just someone trying to survive. Still, I watched her.

Clearing her throat after her story, she asked for my situation. I told her the basic details of hiding out and watching and what I'd been able to accumulate.

Her next question was, "So what's your plan for getting out of here?"

"My main plan is protecting myself here. They've gone through not too long ago. Assuming they don't return…they probably won't make another sweep today."

She clenched her jaw and tried to brush at her matted hair, "I know. That's why I was out there. I was scared-shitless. And you don't know what they'll do. How could you?" Her voice rose a little above our mutual whispers but, before I could say anything, she hushed up on her own. "And the nights. I spent last night in the dark. And quiet. Only I could always hear something. Something somewhere… No sleep. Noooo sleep." Her chin trembled.

I sighed, "You can have the bed for the rest of the day. We can go in shifts. How's that?"

She stared at me. "I'll be up in the dark again…"

"Then I'll sleep first and I'll be up tonight."

"I can't sleep in the dark like this…"

"But I'll be watching. I'll be here."

She narrowed her eyes and looked me over. "What if you fall asleep at night too? I'll never wake up before...uh…and what do I do on guard watch?"

I stretched a little. "I can tell you my whole system. If it doesn't work for you, feel free to take some candy bars and you can make it on your own."

She listened with very little expression. When I was done, she said, "That's stupid. They'll get you. You gotta keep moving."

"It's worked just fine for me until now." But I would be the first to admit that my plan wasn't that great and it was finite, something to protect me until most of them moved on.

She shook her head. "It didn't last me a day. I've got a plan. I'm heading for somewhere fortified…like a prison or a military base. There's a big one in the hills. There might be panic rooms, like in movies. Nobody gets in. Bomb shelters are good too. But this place isn't safe at all."

She briefly mentioned hiding out in dumpsters. That helped to explain the condition of her hair. She didn't smell like a dumpster but then she didn't smell like roses either.

I listened and nodded, "It isn't safe but how do you propose to move from here to a fortified place?"

She rubbed at her eyes a little and massaged her wrists. "I was never able to get to the parking lot because they were always swarming there. But today I noticed it was a lot better."

I warned her that I didn't have a car on campus. She noted, "With an old car, all I'll need is a flathead screwdriver. Maybe a drill to be sure."

I raised my eyebrows but only said, "A drill would get their attention pretty quickly. And once a car started…if it did…we'd have very little time to make it away before they started slamming windows."

She wrapped her arms around in front of her. "I've seen how strong they are. I know." With a sigh, she stretched her back. "I really need a shower. But I assume showers are out the question."

I offered her a sponge and to slowly fill a bucket as soon as I made a spot for her in the closet. After a bit of thought, she nodded and I set the bucket under a trickle in the shower.

Meanwhile, she surveyed the two closets and came to the same conclusion I did.

I watched as she ducked around and tried to find spaces under the bed. But, in their great wisdom, the college had made the beds either too low to put anything under or so high that there was no protection at all. She mused a bit on making a hollowed bed but soon went back to looking around. I noticed that she seemed most comfortable sitting on the ground. I felt quite comfortable there as well, especially with my back against a wall near the closet.

I worked on the "for two" hiding space. It would be an even closer fit.

When I was done, I roused Myra from her spot resting on the floor and invited her to test out hiding. I still had my old stop-watch, but the first run was just for practice.

I went first because of my larger size but she soon followed me. I already knew my way to the back. She stumbled a little but noiselessly. Once we were in the back of the closet, I set the cover down in front of us and Myra helped to position it. I couldn't see as well on her side but I figured she would definitely take care of keeping herself fully-covered.

Myra sighed and she muttered, "I wish we could trade places."

I noted my reasoning but she quickly responded, "I understand why."

We tried a couple different arrangements. No matter what, being pressed against her wasn't particularly comfortable in an area that felt smaller than an old phone booth even without the junk. And her leg kept finding really sensitive places on me to hit. Not the least bit of a turn-on.

After just about bruising one another, we found an arrangement which worked. It was close and not painful. Plus, I could see how I might still lay in a false wall. I smiled for a moment.

Then the door chimed twice.

We pulled even closer. I felt but couldn't hear Myra's breath against my shoulder. I listened for footsteps. There were sounds but they seemed to come very quietly and smudged together so that I wasn't sure I was hearing some faint twitching of my own joints against the closet or them.

I waited for their announcement but it didn't come. Another change, like their absence from the courtyard. I had to wonder.

The first clear sound was the creak of a door. I thought I heard a whisper. They weren't likely to whisper. Even if the intruders were human, we weren't safe.

As they came into my room, I could tell they didn't move like the women did. Their footsteps were unequal. They were individuals. Clearly still human.

They stayed around the bed area, where I'd left a lot of my collected resources. I could feel Myra twitching against me. I braced her and waited.

Two people in a group would be helpful. Three perhaps as well. At four, certain issues arose. I remembered the three guys in the dorm across from me, four days ago.

I hadn't bothered to remember their names. They advanced most of the theories about the women. Back then, they were occasionally-spotted and the RAs had locked and braced all the doors. Plans were made to apportion resources. I was still hoping to find my family back then. I thought Ethan might even suddenly show up.

It wouldn't take long before we crumpled from within. Leadership didn't matter, just what you had and what you didn't want to share. Blood soon started to flow. By the time they came en-mass, our grand defense dissolved and they picked off dorm by dorm easily.

As I heard the two milling about, I wished I'd gone out to find a gun.

They stayed around, moving with care for long enough for my legs to go numb and for me to forget about Myra pressing into me.

If I were optimistic, I might try crying 'help me!' in the most manly voice I could manage. But I couldn't really tell how trigger happy these guys might be if they had guns on them. At least Myra wasn't making a move to cry out.

I was worried they might clear me out when one of them screamed. In all my concentration on them, I realized I'd just missed two more chimes at door.

After a string of expletives and a burst of gunfire, I heard them again.

"Despite your good struggle, you are one of us."

The gun sounded small but loud. Probably a handgun. A mirror scattered from a ricochet. I worried about them accidentally firing through a wall and into us but there was really nothing I could do about it now.

Even if the gun was something heavy, I doubted it would've done much. The screaming, firing guy was met by their footsteps soon after the mirror shattered. The other guy ran right through my room. He plowed right into my window with a thud and glass splintering. And he didn't even have the courtesy to make it through before footsteps met him.

I tightened my lips as their screams changed and quieted. Their coughing vanished. It didn't take very long for all resistance to be silenced. Then, they spoke in four stereo voices, "You are me. We are one. All together…forever."

They broadcast a few varieties of their chants. The resources must have made them suspicious for more. I had no idea if they could recall the memories of those converted but I really hoped they didn't put the scouting of the earlier three together with these two additions. If they waited us out then we were doomed.

But I hid any kind of reaction and so did Myra. They spoke a couple of times and moved around. I figured we were safe. Then they started opening things, storage areas especially. And all of them were a lot smaller than where we were. I felt a little tremble of Myra against me. I gave her a little pinch and the tremble relaxed.

I hoped against all hope that they wouldn't try this closet and if they did that I didn't have the barest spot showing of us. If they had some kind of heat vision then we were probably already doomed.

I took just a moment of imagining throwing something on them, even if that meant throwing Myra as a sacrifice. But the idea didn't work. Even if I knocked over one, they would convert Myra and there would still be three others to get me where I wasn't looking. And I had no idea what condition the converted bastard had left the window in.

Too many variables. No chance.

As I did everything to silence my own potential trembles, at least two of them positioned themselves right in front of the closet. No matter how much willing I did, I still heard it creak open with a muddled grayness tinting the darkness

The fact I couldn't see them was good. But I could smell them. They had amazing perfume. The kind a girl would put on when going somewhere special. It was strong and permeated them and everything. I'd caught a whiff of it after one of their passes but it overpowered me.

I could hear them pawing at the items in the closet. And they spoke, as though right next to my ear, "You are me. Embrace us. We will all be one, together. There is no other way."

This close, their perfect drone felt almost musical. Thankfully, they weren't Sirens. And I braced myself for their words. Myra was holding up too but I could feel her pressing against me to the point of it really hurting. I felt like I was her conjoined twin.

If you'd asked me over a week ago that my final moments would be with a pretty girl mashed against me, I would've given a smart-ass smile and thumbs up. But I just wanted it over.

And they were just a couple layers away from doing just that. They kept picking through, methodically. The trick of the closet being deeper than it looked wasn't helping. I could feel like Myra was shaking her head.

They were so close that I worried for a moment that I felt their hands brush against us. But they stopped. They didn't advance. The others joined with them.

For a moment, I worried it meant they were just waiting for more digging hands. But they closed the closet door and returned us to blackness. Still, I kept my guard up. Sure enough, the door swung open again. Dastardly. I thought I could still feel Myra moving a little. I nudged her as quietly as I could.

It stayed open for a while and they seemed to search around some more. I was sure they were trying to tempt us to go. Provide a seemingly-safe avenue of escape and then pounce. With her little motions, I thought I felt Myra ease up on her pressing but only for a moment. If she tried to make a break for it then my protection would be destroyed as well. I clenched her again as another message.

They tried their trick once more. They shut the door, after searching, only to open it again. It was getting peculiar to me that they didn't just dig for us. It seemed clear that they sensed something was here. Maybe it was some predatory instinct and they liked their prey to put up a fight.

That last time seemed to annoy them because they left soon after without bothering to linger. They left immediately through the door and even seemed to make sure we heard all four chimes of the alarm.

We stayed there, not daring to move until the silence was all-consuming. Slowly, we worked our way out of our fusing. I felt kinda sad to be free of Myra. Without the anxiety of conversion, her pressing wasn't that bad after all. Her leg felt nice despite the heat and sweat. Or maybe because of it.

We staggered in the light of the early evening and squinted. Once we were able to move again, we took stock. The room was a wreck. I only found a few candy bars. My window was damaged to the point that I feared any word spoken was broadcast to the entire courtyard. Its latch was split and barely held now. Salt-like glass was all over the floor. The rest of the dorm was similarly-thrashed. There was one good point. One of them had dropped a gun by the sink. The clip was half-empty but it was something.

After she had stretched, Myra stared me down and softly said, "We must get out of here…"

She didn't get any complaint from me now. I just nodded. As I looked the gun over, I even had the beginning of an idea for how to do it.

I smiled at Myra and told her, "We will…by burning the place down."

The gunpowder in the cartridges wouldn't be enough though. Fortunately, before things turned bad, I siphoned a bit of gasoline from one of the cars as an emergency source of fuel. There was no way we would have enough time to sit and fill an empty tank.

I considered fashioning some sort of bow and arrow but plain little malatov cocktails from Ethan's old bottles would be enough. The other dormitory was close enough I could easily get the roof burning.

It was a plan with flaws. It put us at as much of a disadvantage as it might put them. And it doomed whoever else was holed up in the area or in the same apartment. I resisted thinking that they could be part of the distraction as well.

Myra didn't have many complaints about my plan (she didn't like that we would be leaving after nightfall). She did look depressed that the two invaders had spilled out the bucket for her little bath. As I prepared my burning bombs with scraps of clothing and careful fills from the gas can, she waited on the drip of the faucet.

I ran through my thoughts. I knew a jump right from the window would be dangerous not only from the high, two-story fall (injuries were as bad as fatal injuries in this situation). Lowered escape mechanisms took too long. Burning wasn't particularly better but it would have to do.

I ran the plan through my mind. We would be on windows throwing the small bombs. The flame would draw them to our location so we would have to fire them off as quickly as possible. Last thing, I would pour gasoline all over my dorm and ignite it before leaving.

From there, we could take the same way Myra did to the fire escape. The fire stairs on the left side were right next to the parking lot with a window in the door. Perfect for looking out before attempting to make a run for a vehicle.

The broken window was better with a towel across it. I made sure it was the same color as the drapes. I scouted the parking lot. Before, I'd noticed an old van which looked a bit like the one from the old show 'A-Team'. It was certainly old enough and it looked pretty resilient as well.

I packed two bags with water and candy bars, neither heavy enough to weigh us down and nothing extra. I set my trusty metal broom with my bag along with a pair of flathead screwdrivers. I didn't find any drills in the stuff of my former roommates.

After running through my plan mentally a couple times, I stretched and had a candy bar. I could hear water quietly dipping into the bucket in the bathroom. I considered having a little bath or my own, but I sat against the wall in the main room and tried to quiet my mind while still keeping aware of the sounds around me.

In that quiet, I still thought back to Ethan. I remembered the time we first moved in at the beginning of the year. He brought an air popper but the top was stuck somewhere in his bags. We were all so hungry and it was late, so we went ahead and used it without. It became a game of catching the popcorn as it sailed through the air. I let myself have a little smile.

I remembered Ethan on his synthesizer as he took musical requests. It was a funny thing. I knew my family was gone but it didn't hit me. I knew the world was pretty much on its last legs and anyone I ever met was probably converted or, if they were lucky, long dead. And yet Ethan was the one I missed the most.

There were days I could sit and imagine him around still joking and flashing that cheesy grin. I let go a breath I didn't know I was holding.

He was gone and soon I was going to burn down this dorm we shared. It didn't match anymore, except to ensure our survival.

The bathroom door slowly opened and Myra stepped out with a towel in her hair. The water hadn't done much to fix the tangles but her hair looked a little better. She paused in the mirror and sighed quietly before saying, "I wish we could just go."

I glanced over and assured her, "Soon enough."

She sighed and muttered, "I just want out of here. I hate it here. Hate this kind of…survival. I hate me." Her hands pressed on her stomach like claws. I felt tempted to tell her all she had to do to change that was step outside and yell.

We sat in silence till the lights began to flicker. She amended, "I hate them and the darkness most of all…"

The evening continued with flickers and preparations until, just after the sun passed over the nearby hills, all the lights went out.

I used small LED lights so we could see well enough for our preparations. Myra didn't say much in the darkness but her breathing was easier to hear. I really hoped that they weren't set up for an ambush.

My bag felt heavier than I hoped but I couldn't remove anything else. After thoroughly soaking the room with what we had left of the gasoline, we prepped our bombs. Opening the window helped with all the fumes I made sure the air was clear and the bombs were lit away from the gasoline on the floor and furniture.

The burning wick at the end of the first bomb made my heart race. Giving my best throw with my protective gloves on, I chucked it into the darkness. I delivered the next faster, one after another. I heard roars and crashes but ignored them. My blood felt like it was burning too. I threw until I was empty. I didn't even pause to check my work. I ran back. Myra finished hers and joined me. With just the light of burning out the windows, we fumbled for the door.

I was glad I left off the alarm as the door opened. Behind me, I was sure I felt a shadow and heard a creak. I ignited the gas and shut the door. Flame curled under the door and blasted to the ceiling. The room across from my dorm was absolutely dark. I closed the door behind us and paused to listen.

The crackling of flame was subtle but rising. I could smell the gasoline with every breath. Myra flashed an LED around. There was no movement. We crept carefully around but still managed to stumble on every piece of furniture before finding the window. Naturally, it was locked tight.

Working on touch through our gloves and with my broom helping, we grabbed a small table and slammed it towards the window. The shattering of the window was thankfully muted by a sudden explosion from the other direction. Still, the noise kept me on edge.

Getting through the window was fine with how were dressed to protect ourselves from physical contact. Still, the metal sides of the windows stabbed into my hands. At least I wasn't bleeding. Myra went first onto the side. She looked into the next room but didn't use her LED. After a moment, she ushered me onward.

I thought I saw a shadow move in the darkness of the next dorm. I tried to keep still but no terrors burst out from it. I thought I could hear a voice somewhere in the darkness but I ignored it. It felt far away.

The journey on the ledge was long with my broom and pack on my back. My gloves were pretty well cut up by the end. Myra promised to scout ahead into the fire escape. I waited once she entered.

I counted and knew that if it took more than two minutes then I would have to make my way back to the fire escape on the opposite side.

As the seconds ran, I felt fear ripple through me like I'd never felt it in all my encounters. I could feel the fire. It was warm even this far out. I wasn't sure if there was enough safe area to make it to the other fire escape.

Just as the time came to the limit, the door creaked open and Myra ushered me onward. The stairwell had only a sliver of light at the bottom, the exit. Only one window. It was the perfect spot for an ambush.

I listened for a moment as I took the steps in the darkness. I could just hear the brushing of my steps. This was far too easy. It felt wrong. But I kept moving despite my worries and pulled my broom out from behind me.

At the bottom, I listened above me. The smoke was pungent and dense but I could only hear the growing flames. Through the window, I saw the dorm opposite was on flame. Our blind throws worked. There was enough light to see the parking lot. No cover for our run, of course.

Myra looked at me and muttered, "Let me get it started first."

That sounded strangely sacrificing of her but I nodded.

She slipped out the door quickly and quietly. I could barely see her on her way to the truck. I glanced up and bent my LED light up the stairs. It was a visible beam with all the smoke. I suppressed a cough and shined the light around.

Then, I heard an upper door slam open. Quickly, footsteps dashed down the stairs.

I ran through the door and into the parking lot. The buildings around were bright with flame. The dorm looked fully-consumed in the middle. My room was gone.

I didn't pause. I ran the distance to the parking lot and clung to the van.

Myra was already inside the driver's side. I pulled open the door as her screwdriver turned and the ignition started. Despite hearing a dozen horrible sounds behind me, I watched her. She looked strangely calm.

She turned and said, "I'll drive."

"No! Move over!"

She looked bothered but she moved aside on the front bench. I made sure my broom was set at my feet and locked the door. I slammed the van out of 'park', turned the headlights high, and drove with my foot to the floor.

I hit the edges of cars along the way but I jumped the curb out of the parking lot and onto the side street that cut through the college.

More than watching the road, I watched Myra. She didn't lock her door and she avoided looking behind her. The area behind the front bench was dark, especially with the electricity off in this area. I noticed the main road had some street lights still on.

I took a breath and swerved. Two feminine-shaped shadows rolled in the rearview mirror and caught a flash of streetlight. It was them.

Before I could yell, Myra stammered, "I'm sorry. No choice. I had to serve. Make a deal…cooperate." That was all she managed before I grit my teeth and slammed the van the other way. Those creatures were fast and strong but I hoped this would be a weak point.

Together, even their words flailing, they spoke, "You are us. We wanted you in our own way. How we desire. We deal for two."

Myra gasped and looked behind. I could see them dimly in the rearview mirror and swerved again. Myra screamed, "That not the deal! I give him up in my way. You get him. Only him! That's the deal. That's always the deal!

Despite the tight curve over and onto the curb, one of them lashed out at Myra. She fought with keeping her escape route of an unlocked door from opening and grabbing her broom to fend them off. But it was one thing too much.

One girl flailed to grab me by the head but I was already down. With my next swerve, her hand pressed right into Myra's face. A heavy bump kicked her back but Myra was frozen in terror and a rippling conversion of her features. Glaring her down, I raised my broom with one hand and hit her into the door. It was enough for her to tumble through the door and out into oblivion.

I could only think then that Ethan would've had the perfect thing to say. But I only indulged the thought a moment before I ducked down and reversed. The two tumbled dangerously forward and flailed at me again. I could feel the air disturbed by their grabs. Their fragrance was everywhere.

Just when it seemed they were right at my hairy arms, the van slammed into a heavy wall. I was jerked back and so were they. With a little flash through the rearview mirror, I could tell the back doors were broken. Tensing, I shifted into forward and burned my way down the street.

The motion was too much for them as they tumbled through the broken doors and out of the van. One of them clawed onto the back for a moment but I soon heard them fall off too.

As the streetlights flashed overhead and the passenger side door sealed, I glanced down at my right arm and yanked off my glove. They had gotten close to touching me. I couldn't quite tell for sure with the brief flashes but my arm didn't look quite as hairy as usual.

I took a deep breath and checked it between screeching around stopped cars in the road. I felt fine otherwise but I knew two minutes time would tell for sure.

As I sat there and drove into the unknown darkness beyond the streetlights, I felt my pounding heart slow. There was nothing I could do. Not for Ethan. Not for my family. Not for Myra. Maybe not even for me.

Slowing the van a little, I worked a candy bar out of one of the side pockets of my bag and bit deeply into it. It was one of Ethan's favorites.

It was delicious.

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major_kerina

December 2012

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