#SampleSunday – After The Virus, Chapter 12:
Over the next 12 weeks I will be sharing a chapter of my novel After The Virus each sunday. Warning: for coarse language and brutal content. This is a post-apocalyptic love story. I hope you enjoy getting a peek. Feedback is welcomed and appreciated. If you are so inclined, purchase links can be found on the side bar. – Meghan
He didn’t have a leash, so he tied a tensor bandage around B.B.’s collar. Together, they silently shifted until they had eyes on Snickers.
Snickers seemed to be scrutinizing a Vanity Fair cover, then, coming to some sort of decision, she turned as if to bring him the magazine. She’d only taken a step when she spotted him and B.B. partway down the aisle. There was chocolate smeared across one of her cheeks.
Then the army-jacketed guy grabbed her, and twisted her into a football tuck as he ripped the magazine from her little hands.
B.B. didn’t even twitch when he decided against the tensor leash — all her muscle was honed on her prey.
“Who’s this, kid? Who’s the pretty on the cover?” Army cajoled, and then slammed Snickers on his shoulder to knock her breath and fight out of her.
B.B. took him out at the knees before Army saw what hit him.
He managed to catch Snickers before she hit the linoleum face first and still stop Army from bludgeoning B.B. with his gun.
Snickers wasn’t happy to be placed to the side and he heard her pump the shotgun a split second before she got it in Army’s snarling face. He yanked the barrel up and to the side as Snickers pulled the trigger and the redirected shot took out an entire window with spray.
Army body slammed into his chest and knocked him back. He further wrenched the shotgun from Snickers’s hands as he fell, and then lost it underneath some of the shelves.
They wrestled, their footing insecure in the fallen magazines. If not for B.B. clamped to Army‘s leg, he’d be seriously outmatched. At the edge of his vision, he could see Snickers burrowing under the shelving to retrieve her gun.
Rhiannon burst through the back door like some avenging angel. Her entrance seriously distracted Army. ‘Course, he felt that way every time her saw her, so it didn’t come as a surprise to him.
He grabbed Snickers and rolled as Rhiannon spun to crack the side of Army’s skull with the butt of her gun.
Snickers scrambled from his arms to stare down at Army, who was out cold but breathing. B.B.‘s lingering snarls summed up his own feelings nicely.
“Move Will,” Rhiannon urged as she wrapped her hand around B.B.’s collar and pulled the dog away. ”There’s no way they’d miss shotgun fire.”
“They?” he groaned as he got up and followed Rhiannon out the alley door.
“Two more and one of — them — The Infected,” she warned as she soothingly smoothed Snickers’s hair and then gave the child her secondary gun.
“We get to the truck and go,” he directed, but Rhiannon just smiled, almost sweetly. “No Rhiannon, not with Snickers here,” he cautioned.
That momentarily stalled Rhiannon, but they didn’t have time for another plan before they heard footsteps, crunching glass and loud cursing coming from inside the drugstore.
“Rhiannon, you take Snickers and hide, somewhere with a big, locked door between you and them. I’ll lead them out of town,” he ordered.
“Oh, yeah? Hide the useless females?” Rhiannon growled, but he cut her off.
“No. You don’t hesitate or compromise. You’re the gunslinger here.”
She wasn’t that easily convinced.
”I need you to do this Rhiannon. Snickers will be safe with you.”
So she scooped Snickers up and was gone.
She left. Just like that. No goodbye — Christ, get your head in the game! You begged. She did. So, heart in his throat, he turned back into the store.
He almost made it to the truck before he saw it — The Infected. It was lumbering up the far sidewalk towards him. It sniffed the air in his direction and then bellowed.
He was happy he hadn’t eaten, because, despite frozen limbs, he was pretty sure he could and would throw up. It dragged two broken chains.
Two guys, one missing an ear, sprinted from around the side of the drug store after it. They shouted and actually gestured at him to flee.
Why didn’t he just climb in the Ford and drive off? Because he was an absolute, goddamn, going-to-hell idiot.
He ran; it was faster.
It didn’t care he used to be an All-Star quarterback.
It didn’t care track & field had been his yearly charity gig.
It. Wanted. His. Blood.
He didn’t know the town footprint. He made a wrong turn, but was actually able to leap the fence that blocked his way. It just tore through.
Then it had him pinned.
He noted, as he was choke-pressed against a brick building that he thought might have been the bank, that it still had a couple of fence boards on its arm.
It bit his shoulder.
He screamed. He couldn’t help it.
Then they were there, yanking at its chains, the one-eared guy cursed up a firestorm, but he couldn’t hear him for the pain of being eaten alive.
Seeing the missing ear triggered his deadened brain and he fumbled for his knife, conveniently strapped to his thigh in homage to Rhiannon, and thrust it in its ear. The blade slid in easier than he’d expected and the force of the blow dented the side of its head.
It didn’t like that, but it did drop him.
“Don’t kill it,” One Ear yelled and proved he was insane.
It cat-batted the jutting knife and got it loose along with a chunk of its brain. The mushed brain matter squelched under the knife as it hit ground. They all, including it, just stared, dumbfounded, at the goopy pile.
The pain in his shoulder focused him quicker than the others. He got the chain looped around its neck seconds before its blood lust rewoke.
He had to climb onto its back to keep the chain tight, but he soon figured out that cutting off its airway had little effect.
One Ear got its attention with a blood pack.
His buddy grabbed for the chain.
It slathered the blood.
They got it, minimally, controlled.
Soon as he stepped back, One Ear had a gun to his head.
“Hurting our pal back there was unnecessary; we only have questions.”
“Army attacked. I responded,” he grimaced and glanced at the burning brand that currently was his shoulder. It wasn’t as mangled as it felt.
“Bite won’t infect you, doesn’t work like that, case you cared,” One Ear offered, as apologetic as someone could be with a gun to your head.
“Doesn’t mean it won’t kill me,” he made a sympathy play, but there was little to be had.
”Drug Mart looked well-stocked. But before you patch yourself up, like I said, we got questions. Answer nice and we won’t let our friend here have another taste,” One Ear bargained.
“This piece of real estate we’re looking for was sighted heading this way about 2 weeks ago; she’s on foot — with a dog,” One Ear’s buddy elaborated.
“Haven’t seen anyone except you-“ he started in denial, but ended in a scream, as One Ear whacked his gun, hard, across his shoulder wound.
He might have blacked out for a bit, because, when he came aware, he was on his hands and knees staring at his bile mixed with its brains.
“We’ve been gone way long,” One Ear rambled, “I’m real tried of walking ‘cause we got to drag it with us, and we’re super-low on pre-packs.”
He really didn’t feel like engaging in woe-is-me conversation so he kept quiet and listened for a way out, but One Ear wasn’t forthcoming on that topic.
“Point is, it needs feeding and, excepting your blood immunity, you’re no value to us,” One Ear finished with an almost friendly toe nudge.
He didn’t doubt the truth of those few words, but he’d never heard his self-worth laid out so precisely and with such doom saying before. One man could repopulate the earth with enough fertile women. He wasn’t that man. ‘Course, in a generation, inbreeding would be a problem. He continued to keep quiet.
It didn’t seem to be doing well without its missing brain chunk. The right side of its face was running down into its neck.
“Shit, this guy don’t know,” the buddy winged.
“Of the two of you fools, why Hal had to be the one to get his head bashed in,” One Ear griped. “He doesn’t ask questions, not about us, who we’re looking for, or it, means he knows or has heard about The Infected, about us,” One Ear explained.
“Right,” despite his agreement, Buddy didn’t get the drift.
As he hunkered down beside him, One Ear twirled his gun, once, like his wrist ached.
“You’re going to want to bind that bite, before you lose so much blood — ,” One Ear got his gun grabbed as punishment for his near friendliness. He twisted One Ear’s wrist to the breaking point, got his own finger also over the trigger and the barrel up One Ear’s rather wide nostril. One Ear was more angry than scared. It bothered him that, even with the upper hand, he just pissed people off. At least Buddy freaked out.
It, done with the packed blood, sniffed the air and started pawing the ground in his direction. One Ear smirked, ”It takes two of us to hold it.”
“How do you know, with me and my bloody wound so near, it won’t take a bite of you by mistake? It don’t seem to hold its relationships too close.”
One Ear looked uneasy at that line of reasoning and they slowly negotiated a standing position that placed One Ear’s back to it and Buddy.
“I’m just passing through, you’re just passing through,” he suggested, “we continue on, forget we met and, you two, try to not get eaten.”
“You don’t get it, Cowboy,” One Ear nasally explained. ”The Boss don’t accept no empty hands or, worse, excuses,” he indicated his lack of ear.
“Listen,” he countered, getting frustrated, “I think we — “
“They aren’t going to listen to your negotiations, Will.” Rhiannon, armed and dangerous, stepped into the alley.
It groaned and strained at its neck chain enough that Buddy’s feet slipped a bit in the packed dirt.
He felt his blood pressure spike, but not in a good way, at Rhiannon’s appearance.
“Hello, dolly! Remember me?” One Ear practically beamed.
“Sure do,” Rhiannon answered and then, leveling her shotgun, blew Its head off.
The close range blast destroyed what was left of its brain.
Buddy, shrieking, dropped the now useless chain and pawed at the splatter of brain remnants on his face.
One Ear’s mouth hung limp even as his eyes bulged. He shoved the gun away from his nose, and, still staring at it on the ground, let out a keening moan.
In a step, Rhiannon had Buddy knocked down with her foot on his chest.
“Will, have you got the asshole covered or not?” she demanded.
One Ear had fallen to his knees by it and seemed to be having some sort of breakdown. He began wailing and practically foaming at the mouth.
“Jesus, oh, Jesus, oh Jesus,” Buddy, completely terrified of One Ear’s behavior, blubbered. He didn’t get what the hell was going on either.
Even Rhiannon was thrown and, characteristically, she responded with anger, ”Fuck, asshole. It was already dead. I did it a fucking favor.”
One Ear shut up. He just stopped — wailing, moving, everything. Even the echo of his howls abandoned the alley. Then, finally, One Ear turned his red, deadened eyes to Rhiannon. She met his gaze.
“It was my brother,” he said, “you killed my brother.”
“You chained him, it, made it eat people, prolonged its unnatural and painful existence, and you call yourself brother?” Rhiannon retorted.
“I’ll have you, bitch. Own you. Boss or no Boss, not to kill, no, but you’ll beg for a bullet every time I rip you-,“ One Ear snarled.
“That’s enough!” he shouted. “You attack? You better expect people to defend! Now, get your asses out of town before I regret letting you.”
“Watch it, Cowboy,” One Ear sneered, “you’ll find there’s lots of people willing to kill for her.”
“And die, it seems,” Rhiannon, rather inappropriately, retorted.
He watched, for what he was aware was the second time, as morally challenged men left town. The difference was he was pretty sure these guys would be back, bigger and stronger. He figured it was better they assumed they’d settled in this place, but there was no way he’d let them lay eyes on Snickers.
They didn’t take Army with them, and, while he figured that was a good deal for Army, he was aware of what it said about One Ear and his Buddy and how far they’d go to get hands on Rhiannon.