Known Name: James Meakins Age: Early-thirties Height: 6' 3" Misc Features: Blue eyes, blond hair, slim physique Current Attire: Steel capped boots, jeans, thick jacket, backpack Known Injuries: Injured knee, bruised torso, bruised jaw Current Inventory: M4 Carbine w/ 4x optical scope, forward handgrip and sound suppressor kit - 2x full magazines - 1 w/ 8 bullets, 6" knife, flashlight w/ red filter (broken). Backpack: first aid kit, misc fiction book, notepad & pen, map of the city, sewing kit, 1 litre of water, fire striker, crowbar, 6' nylon rope, 2 fiber bars, 2 road flares, 2 parachute flares.
'Location Unknown' Members:
Known Name: Christopher Djamoski Age: Roughly mid forties Height: 6' 2" Misc Features: Brown hair pulled into bun at the nape, full beard, unwavering cobalt eyes. Noticeable burns along side of neck and scar on top lip. Current Attire: Jeans, multilayered shirts, aviator jacket, backpack Known Injuries: Previous war injury to his spine makes certain tasks near impossible, bullet wound in leg (bullet removed). Current Inventory: SA-80 + 39 bullets. Flashlight. An a battery. Mirror. 3 cans of food. One bottle of water. Combat knife. Eleven assorted magazines. Zippo. Firecrackers.
Known Name: Arvo Age: Late-twenties Height: 6' 1" Misc Features: Green eyes, black straggly hair, unkempt beard, slim physique Current Attire: Boots, jeans, sweater Known Injuries: Multiple self-inflicted cuts along the right arm (only scars now), three Stalker inflicted cuts along the right arm (bandaged), severely cut left hand (bandaged) Current Inventory: Glock G43 - empty, 6" knife, half-a-roll of bandages, map of the city, nearly empty wallet, flashlight (working), sewing kit. Backpack (still in theatre): three tins of assorted food, 2 litres of water. Duffel bag (still in theatre): several pieces of clothing, sleeping bag, fire striker, medical kit, torch with batteries
Known Name: Juno Age: Late teens Height: 4' 11" Misc Features: Light Brown eyes, dark kinky hair fashioned into a French braid, beauty mark below left eye Current Attire: Boots, jeans, Parker, Backpack Known Injuries: Healing brandmark, clipped ear (mended) Current Inventory: Remington Hunting Knife, Notebook, Wallet-sized vanity mirror, .45 Colt + 6 bullets. One bottle of water, 3 cans of food. A pair of scissors, glue, 3 feet of tapestry. 1.3 fluid ounces of concentrated multipurpose cleaner. Video camera. Makeshift hook [rebar + tapestry].
Currently Known Zombie Types:
Name(s): Roamer, zombie, biters, lurkers. Average Speed: 2-3 MPH/3-5 KPH. Stamina: Low. Intelligence: Low. Misc Info: These are you're bread and butter undead. They are slow, shuffling, decaying pieces of meat who alone are no great concern to an aware person. However they tend to migrate in herds and attack en masse. Be wary of all buildings, vehicles and generally anywhere; these have a habit of being anywhere and everywhere.
Name(s): Sprinter. Average Speed: 8-10 MPH/13-16 KPH. Stamina: Average. Intelligence: Low. Misc Info: Fresher and more acrobatic as a result. When people first turn, they are likely to be akin to these more able undead. Speed is their only main difference to the previous category, so if there is a herd do keep in mind that some will move much faster than their shuffling brethren.
Name(s): Stalkers. Average Speed: 6-8 MPH/9-13 KPH Stamina: High. Intelligence: High. Misc Info: As yet, these are the most persistent and aggressive undead to come across. They have an inert ability to seek out food and their heightened sound and smell make up for a below average sight. If you are being hunted by one, take it out quickly. Although they travel alone often, a few of these chasing you and you are in a very large amount of trouble. They are highly mutated infected, with clawed hands and a thicker skull. As present, killing one without a firearm is unheard of.
Name(s): Wheezers. Average Speed: 2-3 MPH/3-5 KPH Stamina: Low. Intelligence: Average. Misc Info: They gain their name from the nerve-gas like emission caused by an over-active stomach. Whilst it's speed is so low, it cripples it's prey - the living - by expelling a gas similar in fashion to nerve-gas. Thus gas causes nerve spasms, dizziness, headaches, shortness of breaths whilst it also permeates clothing, meaning you should strip off to some fresh clothes if you encounter one - or at least wash them. With such a weapon at hand, it's also advisable not to shoot one in the stomach. Though not tested, theoretically it could explode.
Name(s): Siafu. Average Speed: 7-8 MPH/11-13 KPH. Stamina: Average. Intelligence: Average. Misc Info: Always found in groups of eight or more, 'Siafu' - given from the African driver ant known for its large colonies - is the name given to a throng of children once they have turned. Known for more athletic, jinking movement given their young and sprightly age, they are considered by some to be shy and withdrawn. Some people say they use this child-like hiding to draw in prey who believe they are approaching innocent lost children. Overpowering by pure numbers, they do have small sharp talons and their skin can be caustic at times. The visible perforated hernia is the only assumed weakpoint.
Name(s): Loggers/Flotsam. Average Speed: 6-8 MPH/9-13 KPH. Stamina: Average. Intelligence: High. Misc Info: Typically dwellers of the sewers - where they earned their unfortunate name of loggers - these hive-mind-esque infected are known for their incredible fits of rage and being possessive of the territory they inhabit. Typically seen in groups no bigger than five, they aren't seen during the day though it is not known if they spend it in some kind of hibernation or simply retreat to the dark shadows beneath the city. They sense of smell and knowledge of orientation make up for a lake of sight - make sure you bring some caustic materials with you to distract them. A good dismemberment can't hurt either.
Name(s): Streps/Necros. Average Speed: 2-3 MPH/3-5 KPH. Stamina: High. Intelligence: Above-Average. Misc Info: Due to a high rate of decay, streps are one of the more fatality inducing undead - even if they don't move at a particularly quick speed like sprinters or have long claws like a stalker. A word of care; Do. Not. Touch. Them. Given their advanced state of decay, contact with these hellish ghouls exposes the victim to skin-eating bacteria which bolsters a typical fatality rate from 30/40% up to 50/60%. Thankfully they are not you're typical urban-dweller, preferring wooded areas, grassland or subterranean terrain with the loggers. Should you encounter one then do take note of the soft plate in their chest.
Name(s): Tumblers/Arachnids/Gears. Average Speed: 7-8 MPH/11-13 KPH. Stamina: Low. Intelligence: Low. Misc Info: A rather terrifying if strange infected, tumblers are named after the tumbling spider which cartwheels to get away from predators. Although this creature doesn't perform acrobatics with a neat dismount at the end, it is very fast. It's limbs are barely connected to it's body, and through an unknown but assumed chain of brain chemistry, it manages to fling it's appendages in the direction it wishes to move, the bones grinding and clicking like gears as it throws itself at it's prey in a short but quick burst of energy. It should be noted that if you can put enough obstacles or distance between you and it, then you will escape as it's attack requires so much energy it cannot be kept up for long. Be hesitant - it often lies dormant in buildings where it could be mistaken for just another body.
Chapter 1 - Loneliness
- Arvo meets Juno and Christopher outside a cafe, convinces them not to kill him in exchange for leading them back to his home, which he shares with four others, on the deal that they split whatever supplies they find evenly, upon arrival, all of Arvo's group is found dead, one remains a living roamer, killed by Juno, some supplies are found [several cans, bottles of water] - The store is attacked by a herd of roamers and the group takes refuge in the reading room, Christopher helps them to escape, Arvo retrieved a duffel bag of misc supplies and informs the duo of a secondary base located in the near movie theatre, Juno and Christopher join Arvo at the theatre and Arvo leaves to reapply bandages whilst the duo sleep a few hours before the theatre is invaded by a patrol group of known bandits - In attempting to escape this group, Arvo and Juno are discovered and fight two of the group, Arvo kills one after a brief struggle by gunshot to the head and steals his gun, Juno injures a man with a shot in the shoulder named Riot, as yet unknown link to her past, both escape but it is unknown if Christopher did - Arvo and Juno leave the theatre and make their way to a crashed plane in town, taking refuge in the cockpit as ordered by Christopher who's situation is unknown - Juno and Arvo wait in the downed plane for Christopher to arrive, sleeping through several days as they wait for him, Arvo reveals he had a wife and son who died to military bombing in the early days of the outbreak and Juno reveals how she was kept as a prisoner in a camp - the same one thats houses Riot and fellow bandits - Whilst they are about to leave, having decided to make for the nearby dam as a means of safety and prosperity, Juno and Arvo are attacked by a Stalker which injures Arvo and knocks out Juno, though is paralysed when Arvo cuts it's spinal cord - Arvo is cut during the fight with the Stalker, his right arm heavily cut open, though he manages to carry Juno to a Church where they spend the night, Arvo locking her in a room as it is unsure if he is infected, Christopher is revealed to have survived the attack at the theatre with a bullet wound - Whilst the duo rest a day away, Arvo loses his temper repeatedly and makes a sexual advance at Juno though it leads to nothing - Juno & Arvo continue in a tense semi-friendship which is put to the test when a stranger arrives at the Church begging to be let in for safety, Juno dislikes how Arvo seemingly distrusts her - The stranger is somewhat interrogated by Juno and is revealed to be bitten and also a member of Joaquin's group, he is subdued by Arvo in the bell tower so that they can concoct a plan for what to do though Arvo hopes to just let him turn into an infected - Juno leads Arvo into the basement where there is a cistern, it is found locked but a crowbar is found in the room at the end of the hallway, inside however are roughly seventy bodies and the Deacon - Arvo, perhaps recklessly, creates a noise which alerts the infected, only ten of the seventy inside are shown to be undead, and whilst sharing the task of killing them with Juno, the Deacon rises up revealing himself to be a Wheezer - Both Juno and Arvo are affected by the Deacon's nerve-gas, though Arvo does manage to drag Juno to safety in the hallway and block the Deacon in the room by baring the door, though he passes out shortly after - Though initially safe, the Deacon breaks free of the prayer room and at length combusts in an impressive explosion which brings down several walls on him - Juno dragging the unconscious Arvo into the cistern to shield them - Waking up at length, Arvo goes to retrieve their possessions whilst Juno fixes the pump, however she attempts to drown herself in one of the pools - Arvo returns and resuscitates Juno, bringing her back from dying, only after having spoken to the scout previously captured and locked in the bell tower - Once the pump is on, the duo move to the shower room where Arvo cuts his hair and beard before showering, Juno joining him in a stall several down from his - Arvo professes to having feelings for Juno though she discovers his wound is worse and he reveals that the cut is akin to a bite and he has a day or so to live - Juno resolves to learn more about the infection from the scout in the bell tower, learning as much as she can about him before finally killing him out of mercy - With his life forfeit, death imminent, Juno lays with Arvo to bring him some comfort, however the short lived peace is broken as Joaquin breaks into the Church with his men - Having hunted down Juno and Arvo, the former lights the church ablaze and makes her way to the back garden, vaulting over the wall as the Church explodes and Juno falls into a dumpster, fate unknown..
End of Chapter 1
Chapter 2 - Monster
- Christopher is alive and has managed to escape to the outskirts of the town, taking refuge in a small rustic shack whilst he rests - James is a scout for Joaquin and has been clearing a few small apartment blocks build near to one of the main town exits roads - Seeing a girl out in the cold of the night, Christopher takes pity and brings her into the shack, helping to feed her and allowing her to rest as he keeps guard - James manages to escape a herd of zombies, injuring his knee dropping from a rooftop to another, though manages to hobble his way towards Joaquins base - However when rain starts to lash down he is forced to seek shelter and unfortunately chooses where Christopher and his guest stay, where he is taken by surprise and knocked unconscious - Tied to a chair, James awakens to see a man before him, holding his belongings as he interrogates him for information on Juno, having learned James works for Joaquin - After some talk, James reveals to Christopher who his guest is, Samantha, a former 'girl' of Riot who fled after killing one of his other whores in jealousy - Ambushed by streps, Christopher makes his escape leaving Samantha and James to luckily fend off the attackers and take off in pursuit, catching up with him at an abandoned mill - James enters and after a short fight with Christopher, in which he loses, it is revealed that he was tortured by Joaquin for Juno escaping under his guard - Taking pity, perhaps, Christopher enlists James' help to get back to the town and with some annoyance brings along Samantha and they descend into the tunnel under the mill - Within the sewers leading into the city, the trio's path is blocked by a nest of Streps and in trying to escape, Samantha begins to bleed, drawing them upon herself - Christopher and James make a dash down the tunnel, the Streps catching up only to be stopped by a wandering Logger that comes charging from a separate tunnel - Out of the sewer, James takes Christopher to a nearby house used as a home for the night many weeks before - Christopher leaves before nightfall informing James he is going out to scavenge for supplies, though come morning James finds himself alone - Resigned to his life, James leaves the house to begin his way back to Joaquin's stronghold, and back to continue 'living' - Despondent and alone, James reflects over his degradation in the apocalypse, reflecting on Christopher's words and finding his life has been spent poorly - Atop a car, resting, an undead Juno is seen passing by, catching sight of James and approaching - Forlornly regretting the treatment he put her through, James decides to succumb to the girl's new cannibalistic tendencies, intending to let her bite him - there is a shot
[center [b Chapter 1: A Bond Formed By Desperation]]
The noise. That's what always brought him out of his daze and made his heart sink after those cherished few seconds of morning when he could falsely believe it was just a nightmare. It was becoming easier to attune himself to the general eerie silence of the world. Slowly adapt to listening to nothing but the wind. But letting the truth always brought him back down. Tentative fingers reached up to the windowsill and he hauled his fatigued frame up into a seated position.
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes he rolled onto his knees and peered out the streaked pane and onto the residential neighborhood he had claimed as home for a night. Things were as they had been since the moment he came in though now covered in mildew and a light layer of mist. Even from here he could see the three roamers he had put down when he arrived. A streak of black on the tarmac marked where they had struck the ground and remained and his lips curled tentatively at the thought of his triumph.
At length his eyes refocused on the glass he stared into and his hand reached out to clean off some dirt and dust with a squeak. Looking at his appearance sullenly he pulled at the oily straggles of black hair and the unkempt beard to match. He was gaunt and he pinched his cheek to see a small amount of colour return to his ashen skin. His eyes were sunken, his lean figure covered by a film of grime. He had hoped for it to rain or to find a pool he could clean in but for a week now it had been dry and every pool either empty or contained several roamers who had fallen into it's inescapable clutches.
Smacking his lips together at the thought of water, his tongue felt a little thick and swollen and he reached out for his canteen, taking a swig and swirling it around his mouth before swallowing. Easing onto his feet his knees shook from the effort and he remained bent double just getting them to wake up. However he was quickly up and moving about and he walked off to take a leak.
With his belongings packed up in a shoulder bag he left the house quietly and walked to the middle of the street. The wind rustled the trees lining either side of the road and he took a moment to turn this way and that in expectation of anything. The mist had cleared by now and from one end of the street to the other he saw nothing stir bar litter in the breeze. Heading down towards a car crash at the nearest intersection he watched his footsteps so he didn't slip on the oil that had leaked from the engines. A small look inside them bore no fruit and with a resigned sigh he set off into the town proper.
As he wandered down the street he kept a hand at his loose-fitting belt, the knife tucked in close to hand. The signs of the stores he passed didn't help too much. Starbucks. [i He'd sell his first born for a large cup of steaming coffee.] Subway. [i Little pieces of chicken covered in helpful squirts of mayonnaise.] i-Hop. [i The bacon. Oh god the bacon.] He closed his eyes as the thought too over him. His stomach grumbled and he took a deep breath in through his nose, hoping to try and get that God of Gods smell of roasting pig. But all he received was a gush of wind carrying the unmistakable stench of decay.
After a little resistance he leaned on a car hood and retched several times till a pool of his last meal lay at his feet. A few small jars of baby food. Pea mostly. He gave a few dry heaves as nothing else was forthcoming and moved away quickly, a hand on his head as it began to throb and he ducking inside a cafe to take a seat. After giving the seating area a brief glance, satisfied there were no roamers there, he sat and pulled the bag off his shoulder.
A few minutes later he was rubbing his temple, staring at a street map of the small town and finishing off the last of his water. A look outside gave him the name of the street and he ran his fingers across the paper before drawing a line through that particular one. He'd done searching his designated area this part of town. All he had to do now was wait for the others to meet up with him and they could head back to their small settlement half a days walk away.
It would be good to see if anyone else had found food and drink. Having found only a few batteries and household amenities, he felt like a failure and knew others would think the same. It was frustrating to fail so badly that others were upset with him. He sat back with a sigh and closed his eyes a moment, to ease the strain on his body and just relax a moment. Though without much effort he drifted to a light slumber.
Juno had been prepared. Education had come easily, considering in youth – the bright-eyed curiosity couldn’t be completely sated by teachers, or conquered even by self. Years of enriching the mind with the developments of the scientific community cultivated her awareness of the macrocosm’s prospects; she dug - deep and with the naïve belief that knowledge is a free enterprise to those who wish to possess it – to the root, where truth was not slanted in scarce shades. Borne to five generations of Roman Catholic sheep farmers, the current iteration of Wolfe family comprised of an assortment of five children, four of whose ambition exceeded little more than marrying well and beginning their own family; she, had been different.
The world beyond Germany fascinated her; she learned English well, excelled in her mother-tongue, could read a little French. Technology sprang to life in her hands, as the culture of the internet. Her blossoming into puberty saw the obedient child rebelling each time she kissed her mother’s cheek with the same lips she used to bury between her girlfriend’s thighs. Her chosen career took her to Cambridge University, where she learned to breathe new life into obsolete technology, traveling multiple countries for symposiums and conventions.
The narrative digresses:
The fog of the previous night was a heavy heat, a thankful reprieve from the winds that chilled the morning before. In dreams there is little escape, in waking rotations there was nothing. In months, civilization crumbled; it is a lonely thing now, a facing of mortality and only finding desolation no matter the corner of earth that is traveled. When Christopher, the middle-aged Marine who found her camping in a canopy created by fallen skyline – a temporary reprieve from the violent storm beyond - just weeks before, had grasped his shoulder and woke her to the grey dawn—they silently packed belongings, stifled the fire stroked tender by wind in the night, and rose to begin the day anew. It would not be so different than before. Any tired faces met would be regarded suspiciously rather than auspiciously.
With little more than an exhausted glance, Juno nodded, and they departed. Most days when they scavenged for supplies, she kept green eyes watchful for pilfering shadows. She would twist her hand so that it cupped the bottom of the backpack and muted superfluous noise, or while Christopher readily regaled her with a story of the recent past, a crude weapon would find its beginnings by shared hands. It took over a week, but she decided traveling with the older male was a beneficial arrangement—one could lose the touchstone of their humanity living in such a barren world.
In all their time together, she has seen men look upon their children with bitter eyes, showing no love for the inevitable that would come; some would gather close the frail ones, tuck a knife in their hands, and press them into the soft canvas of flesh. It was believed to spare them of inhumane suffering, though, it did nothing but free them from the last vestiges of moral obligation. [b “A man that can kill a child has no hope, does he?”] The question fell loosely from lips, a statement in its bleak reality. Juno didn’t expect Christopher to struggle an answer for her sake, but it existed between them all the same, volleying in thoughts, heralding a finality that hope keeps at comfortable length. Questions such as these were guidelines of her morality, a standard set for the type of woman to would forge herself into. If she was faced with a decision to kill or be killed, would she seek diplomacy or find survival to be the savage truth of her nature? Their lives were desolate, far from the harmonious days where the democratic government spurned prosperity. Now there was only a wasteland of existence those surviving the decimation of mankind was subjected to.
“Here, come here,” Christopher mutters. He bends to a knee with her, keeping his head low. His finger traces the path for her eyes to follow the single pair of footsteps trekking North towards the muncipal, freshly laid in mud. “If it’s one, we can avoid him. The town is big enough for us to both savage for supplies. Stay low, stay hidden.”
He tapped at his side, where a small vanity had been tucked in his cargo pockets. She did the same. They used to mirror to communicate from across distances – a sort of SOS to express the state of the environment: three rapid bursts translated to help, one meant safety, two meant to be cautious of roaming enemies. Juno memorized them in hours, kept account of the mirror as religiously as her bible during confirmation, and never took foolish chances. She listened well; with a small tug of a black cap, she prepares by tucking away her telling French plait, and securing the Remington at her hip. [b “Ready,”] she utters in German. Christopher watches her critically, knowing his training has served them well thus far, then they begin the slow sidle forward.
Eyes fluttered hesitantly before he pushed himself up quickly and stood to look around him. His idiocy of sleeping in the open cut at him and he cursed himself for sleeping so readily when he should have been awake and waiting for his friends to return. Snatching at his bag he folded the map haphazardly and stuffed it inside along with his empty bottle; something he may be able to refill later if things went well. His eyes scanned over the store he had fallen asleep in and he walked around a few tables just casually gazing at things.
Deciding it was now best he should leave he paused on his way out, walking over and tucking his chair in. One of his little compulsive acts that still bested him despite the fear that some roamer could jump out and eat him soon. In the months since this had gone down he had managed to overcome a great deal of them but now and then the voice in his head would win over reason and he'd find himself opening a door seven times or cleaning one side of his knife fifty-six times exactly with strokes away from the handle and stopping every eight swipes to turn it over twice. It was perhaps a god-send that this apocalypse had begun and he had found a way to break free.
Leaving the store, the door unable to shut fully due to a broken hinge, he peered around and then strode into the middle of the street with his hand hovering cautiously over his knife. He couldn't see a sign of anyone or that anything had even passed by. His shoulders slumped in defeat as he stared down the road. He raised his hands and interlocked the fingers before resting them on the top of his head. He couldn't really think of what to do right now and it was perhaps due to this deep inner thought process with himself that he didn't hear the glass break and barely heard the voice.
[i "Keep your hands on your head and no moving."] It was gruff and raspy but it held authority and he was left shivering slightly as he stood still. Eyes darted about him but his head remained thoroughly fixed forward as ordered. He could have gone for the knife but he didn't know exactly what he was up against. The best he could do at that time was hope for diplomatic ties to play to his strong suit. He was good at talking more so than a fight.
[b "I haven't got anything. The best I have is an empty bottle, err, a map? My knife is about it."] He offered up everything he had and disregarding sensibility his hand drifted from his head, slipping loose of the bag to hand it over. A breath was all it took before the butt of some weapon struck him in the middle of his shoulder blades and he fell forward, turning to land on his side. He could only let a grunt out before he rolled swiftly onto his back, holding a pleading hand up as a gun was pointed at him.[b "No! You don't have to. I have nothing. All you'll do is attract roamers. And waste a bullet! Yeah! You'll waste a bullet on someone as pathetic as me! Don't do that. Keep them. Save them. You may need them later-"]
[i "Shut up and throw your knife over here."] The man looked as tough as nails and there was little complaint as the knife was pulled out slowly and placed down on the road before being slid across to the man who placed a boot atop it. He kept the gun trained on him whilst retrieving a piece of mirror and raising it. He moved it back and forth slightly a few times and then placed it back into his pocket. The two men remained in silence for a minute or so, perhaps each not sure how this was going to play out. But not too long later and a woman joined the duo. [b "Oh god.. how many of you are there?"] He mumbled as he looked at the woman and the knife she held quite expertly in her hand. There was no choice to trying to fight back and he sat there a moment looking between the pair. However to just sit in silence was worse than fighting back. They may just kill him there and then and he had to plead some case for his life to there would-be executioners.
[b "Look, you're probably here for food and supplies and stuff right?"] He looked between them, not sure whom was the leader thought he directed his attentions now to the woman. She may have some shred of humanity left.[b "I've got a map in my bag. I'm scouting this around out. I've been doing so for the last five days. The map I have shows where I've been and what I've found but the few cans I've found I had to eat just to keep going, so my group isn't going-"] [i "Group? What group? How many of you are there?"] The man had perked up and his head was on a swivel now looking around them. He stepped forward and placed a foot to the downed stranger, pushing his back against the asphalt as he trained the gun down on him.[i "Where are they?"] [b "No! No don't! My group split up to scavenge! We were meant to meet up again three days ago. But I haven't seen them at all. I swear!"] He kept his hands beside his head, trying to shrink back as much as he could from the dark tunnel he was staring down.[b "There was five of us. I took this part of town as there's less stores to search and they split off. Two people each. I can show you on the map. But.. but I think they're dead.."] That little realisation seemed to hit him as soon as he said it and he stared past the gun to the man now, staring into his eyes.[b "Look.. just look here, I can take you to where we were sleeping before we split up. If they couldn't get here, maybe they went there. There might be some food and water for you two. Just let me lead you there, okay?"] The man looked down then back towards the woman, though his boot remained firmly planted onto his chest.
[b "Arvo!"] It was blurted out like a war cry and he licked his lips nervously.[b "I'm Arvo. My name.. is Arvo that is. Please, just let me take you two back. We can help one another.. whether or not my group is still alive.."] His voice quietened and he closed his eyes for a few seconds, his chest rising frequently as he tried to control his breath now.
Tucked low, shoulders no higher than the headlights of a rusted Ford-150, her head bobs from beneath the hood, chary eyes watching Christopher stalk through the broken sidewalks. Behind her, the interstate division denoting their location, had been snapped in half, its green faceplate long eroded from its endless days of being drowned. For two weeks, a torrent of rain stretched the world, prompted by the erupting of a volcano long thought dormant—she had spent most of that time drenched, carting around pneumonia in her chest like the black plague, and quickly found herself comparing the state of her life to that worn, long-forgotten sign. Of all things present, melancholy and compunction posed the greatest threaten to those that survived The Feast—these are infirm sentiments she parts with by day.
The grumble of a protesting stomach shatters the stark silence – the whistle of wind follows, and the footsteps that she had painfully listened to soften, could no longer been discerned. The haversacks they carried had been empty of supplies near three days while they trekked across abandoned streets, searching for some indication (if there was any to be had) they had not be left to the whims of starvation. “Dehydration would kill us first,” he informed her, then graciously educated her on how to distill the toxins from her urine and sheave water from the leaves of plants. They ate what they could find: the dried remains of wasps and bees swept in the corner of a former art studio, the unripe crab apples that hung from the backyards of an apartment edifice (silently enduring the severe cramps that wrung their bowels), the leaves of a Fragrant Spring Tree (this, learned by her grandfather) which they gashed and were grateful for its smoked garlic flavor and carried what they could not.
The problem presented itself when their foraging of a closed-community suburb yielded no provisions. The opportunity presented itself when they discovered the fresh footsteps. Time acquaintance them enough with the scruples of the other, and so with little more than a look, the means of acquiring it had been a simple question of how. The solution offered was simple: [i “We flank him.”] She presented her judgment in the clear facts: a single pair of footsteps, left in plain sight, sounded like little more than an ambush waiting to happen; so, she hung back, flitting from one car to the other, some 300 yards behind Christopher, with a pair of binoculars.
Juno is patient. She keeps her head low, keeps her hand protectively cupped against the objective lenses to reduce the prospect of scouts detecting its glare, and watches. She kept count of the creeping minutes, by using a stick to track the sun’s arc; it was nearly an hour before she spotted his signal. [i One.] His first flash said. [i Alive. Alone.] Hunkering down, a quick fisherman’s knot secures the binoculars beneath the fold of the haversack’s latch, and a unfolding of the windbreaker at her waist, jostles the shorty tied inside.
[+red “Oh god…how many of you are there?”]
She arrives in three minutes, though her gaze settles everywhere but on the gaunt male laid between them. But he sees her; the air is chilly, digs through the barethread fabric beneath her attire. They are loose around her thin frame, still barely developing its curves. Slender enough that the bones in her wrist were no wider than a small child. Her brown arms and legs are braided in muscle and where she does not carry sheer force is compensated by legerdemain and cunning. Dark hair, frizzy from the humidity, and curled from the rain, peek from the beneath the cap where eyes the color of whiskey, finally satisfied by her canvasing, turn to look at him. She is tiny, weighing barely 120lbs at five feet, but it provides an advantage. [+red "Look, you're probably here for food and supplies and stuff right?"] He looks to her, a condemned man seeking pardon. [+red "I've got a map in my bag. I'm scouting this around out. I've been doing so for the last five days. The map I have shows where I've been and what I've found but the few cans I've found I had to eat just to keep going, so my group isn't going-"]
[i "Group? What group? How many of you are there? Where are they?"]
The adrenaline surges through her system like the Slow burn of a cigarette to virgin lungs. The memory is fresh in mind, when just a fortnight past, they huddled together in the awning of a school, where a crushed pack of Pyramids had been left atop the garage. They laughed at the irony of it all, and smoked together for a while. Her knife is at the ready.
Christopher explodes but the stranger is quick, placating with irreverent information. They exchange a look. Hers heavy-lidded scowl is an open book: a unapologetic suspicion, His: A potential Asset. She concedes and yanks "Arvo" to his feet, knife pointed deliberately against his spine.
[b "We have no interest in your group. We scavenge together, we split the supplies, we go separate ways. Nothing more, nothing less."] Despite her acquiantance with English, the vestiges of the accent is unmistakable. She stepped back, casting another lengthy gaze over each shadow and corner, and sheathed the weapon. She would stay close to him and try to anticipate his motivations; it was without saying, Christopher would put him down like a dog if he tried anything.
Arvo's breaths came out in shallow rasps as the woman seemed to consider his proposal with her accomplice, exchanging silent signals with glares. When a life was on the line it was somewhat worrying that it would be decided on a particular glint in the eye. He wondered how he would be killed or if they would just knock him unconscious to leave him there. Tie him to something so that he would be no longer a threat to them. He must have thought of a dozen ways they would kill him before he was grasped by his shirt and hauled up by the woman.
Arvo wanted to thank her but his arm was twisted behind his back and he fought to control a whimper of pain escaping his lips. Listening to what she had decided and feeling the slight stabbing sensation in his back he nodded his head quickly to show his understanding.[b "Okay. This part of town is bone dry for food and drink. Only mechanical parts and gasoline left. We should go to my groups home and then we can head on to the other side of town."] He made the suggestions as he rubbed his shoulder and made sure to look to each of them as he spoke. He knew to isolate one could lead the other to attack him, feeling slighted perhaps.
With his arm free he pulled his jacket on his tighter and walked over to a car, a hand reaching into his inside jacket pocket. The knife pressed tighter to his back and he groaned as he pulled his hand out quickly, the map he had mentioned earlier now in between his fingers.[b "Just checking the direction is all."] He said calmly and the knife pulled back a little.
Unfolding it like one would shake out a blanket, he refolded it back on itself until it showed just the immediate area and where he needed to go. It was a moment to regain his composure and he briefly looked out the corner of his eye back to see the male, rifle in hand, Arvo's bag over one shoulder where he hoped his knife would be. He didn't wish to cause harm to these two, he just prayed at the end of this they would give it him back so he had a way to defend himself at least. Nodding his head he raised the map a touch to show the woman rather than try to turn around. Already Arvo was seeing sense in playing the dutiful prisoner and acting responsible.
Leading them down the road he kept a quick pace. Over time it had become his regular speed and his stamina increased the length of time he could keep it up without a rest. It played well to his survival needs to be able to keep a quickened pace to outrun roamers so they had little time to come barging out at him. The route they were taking was safe enough. The number of bodies littering the ground showed how Arvo's group had cleared the road and path ahead and he didn't have many concerns about being caught out.
Once or twice the woman had grabbed his shoulder to slow him down, keeping Arvo within about three paces of herself. He obeyed but slowly the speed would pick back up again. Before she could step up to grab him once more he turned sharply around a car and jogged up to a book store doorway. Flicking back the latch on the door he swung the door in quickly, catching it before it could slam against the wall and stepping inside.[b "Jeremy! Amanda!"] Like a boy back from school vacation he ran through to the back of the store and disappeared from sight. There was silence for a few seconds before he reappeared with a frown on his face.[b "Keith.. Sarah?"] He brushed past the duo to the staircase the was almost immediately after the front door.
Taking the stairs two at a time he climbed up and onto the second floor where they would sleep, curtains dividing make-shift bedrooms for the group. The area had been a kid's reading zone, and the balcony that overlooked the counter and computer area down-stairs had been cut away for firewood. Again there was silence upstairs. No names to be called. No yell of anger that there was no sign of them or wail of grief at finding bodies. There was nothing.
But then there was a thud. And a second thud. There were several quieter banging noises before an expelled grunt and a body flew off the open balcony, groaning as it fell the fifteen or so feet and crashed onto the floor. A snap signalled at least one arm breaking as the roamer pushed itself up with it's only functional one and growled at the man and woman below, limp hand swaying back and forth in a feeble attempt to grab at them. Arvo returned at where the creature had appeared, panting and speckled down his front in fresh crimson droplets. In his hand, fingers curled tightly around a shard of glass which was beginning to form a pool of crimson on the floor by his feet.[b "Found them all.."] He muttered as he stared down at what used to be Jeremy, still attempting to get at the others.
It is not apathy that keeps Christopher or Juno from parting general platitudes for his loss but the opposite. The girl, with the knife burrowed securely in his back, has not lived quite as long as her pundit, but there are certain truths that are institutive felt, even if they’ve only developed recently in duress of this world- state. At the bottom of her haversack, tucked in an embroidered handkerchief, is a small notebook that she’s kept as a physical account for her sanity. The first page is marked as follows:
There are three things one must employ to survive post-apocalyptic life: (1 ) An acceptance of things that which cannot be changed. (2) A general understanding of the strengths and limitations that make up one’s character (3) An adherence to the scruples that have governed them thus far.
Although Juno stands at his back, her own eyes volleying from the stripped interior of the bookstore, assessing the value of the scattered supplies. She tramples over hardbacks with spines ripped and the assorted pages used for kindling, digs behind the curved wood oak of the register and taps against the bookshelves for hidden caches. Christopher keeps the frame of the gun tucked against his chest, the wooden fore end held snugly in the event of hostiles while he steps around the fallen debris in the stairwell. Twin thuds echo in the open loft upstairs. The two still scavenging the lobby exchange looks before he pries the curtain aside and begins ascending the stairs.
The half seconds between breaths and blinks, a roamer came soaring over the balcony, splintering the balustrade. The front of her thin legs are festooned by orts of brain matter, though this is a matter of simple luck considering she had been passing beneath it just moments before. The smoldering, hard stare she raises to Arvo is not quite a glower but it does not invite friendly conversation either. She, instead, kicks the roamer’s arm from beneath him, and ensconces the knife to its hilt in its skull.
“How many were in your group?” He hadn’t previously mentioned this detail and considering they’ve stumbled into a potential hive, they needed to understand the parameters of their dilemma. Christopher clears the landing, securing the hallway and the storage room beyond. “You’re bleeding,” he mentions off-handedly, quickly determining whether his small fracas resulted in him being bitten. There were no obvious lacerations, save the cut sliced across his palm, but he gestures towards him the muzzle of the gun.
Juno, still carefully searching the atrium, hunkers down by the window display stands, rummaging through the drawers. She finds a pair of scissors, glue, and soft red tapestry that would be suitable enough for bindings if she could strip them right. By the next three sets, she’s further added 1.3 fluid ounces of a concentrated multipurpose cleaner and a small silver key marked SUPPLY CLOSET in Gigi font. Behind her and beyond the customer service counter, was the reading floor and she suspects, beyond that, was the room the key unlocked.
[b “I take high, you take low?”] The question floated up through the dust motes and was received as an affirmation when Christopher joined her side. She victoriously dangled the key above his open hand, earning a small smile, before he hands her Arvo’s backpack and she bounds up the stairs.
The silence is comforting and familiar: the calm before the storm. She huffs a sigh to steady herself and hands the newcomer his belongings; after finding Jeremy, it was certain that he would face off against his former companions and a shard of glass was not nearly enough to defend himself with. [b “To be prepared is only half the battle,”] she tells him, though the finality of the statement speaks beyond the present. She takes point, digs out a small necklet from beneath her shirt –it glows an eerie color, and sends shadows dancing in the immediate area around them. A look similar to empathetic passes her face like a dark shroud before it is hidden again behind an indifferent façade.
Arvo stared down at the frail Jeremy who had dared to reach for Juno. In his minds eye, it was still the careful and deep planning man he had left a few days ago. He was smiling. He was laughing. He had thoughts and memories and a past and a future. But there he was. Just a corpse of his former self - quite literally. The skin was grey and there was still fresh signs of blood around his mouth where he had feasted on the others. The thought of the man eating the others, turning and attacking friends, it made Arvo's stomach churn.
Seeing her casually dispatch of the man made him flinch and his body shook slightly as he continued to stare down. The duo moved around him and spoke and went searching but he remained fixated upon the body. The realisation that his group, his friends, the best description of family perhaps, that they were all gone was numbing to him. Especially as these two strangers would now take half the supplies left and leave him alone. He shook his head slowly and before the man descended to his partner, his voice crackled into life once more.[b "Only five of us.. just me now.."] The quiver was audible and he swallowed tightly. He hadn't heard the other comment, his mind tunnelling once more.
Only when they swapped and the woman headed up the stairs did he pull from his daze, head turning slowly to look at the bag she placed beside him. His bag. His belongings and naught much more. Her words though, they were so cold and so factual. She had no emotion or empathy behind them. They were just like stating fact and nothing else. A casual saying you would say and walk off from. He turned to face her, the hand he held the glass in clenching tighter so that a slow trickle of blood now ran down it's clear surface.[b "Is this.. all, you are now?"] He asked her quietly, voice breaking in places.[b "Are you and him just--just--just fucking heartless? Be prepared. Battle. This is some.. just some fucking game to you? Some war? A conflict of one fucking team against another fucking team. Because if it is, who's winning the damn thing? Who? Tell me?!"]
The glass finally gave way and the snapping broke Arvo's concentration. He looked down at his hand and released the pieces, hand trembling now that it had nothing to hold and control. He stared at the bloody extremity then held it up, palm forward towards Juno.[b "This.. this is what you are.. blood. And skin. And muscle. And bone. And a mind. You're supposed to be fucking human. That's what is supposed to make you human.. but you two act like robots.. like--like these fucking things!"] His voice had risen a decibel or two and he walked over, ripping down the covers that had once acted as walls. With them now torn out of the way, the three other bodies of his group were revealed. Two had stab marks in their foreheads, roughly torn cuts of skin sucking at the piece of glass that had punctured their skulls. The other one, the male it seemed, had only half a head to begin with. A large hole had been cut through and the resulting brain matter from inside splashed up against the wall behind him, a shotgun laying to one side where it must have been knocked by the feasting trio of undead who had ripped at his chest and spilled the man's insides across the floor.
Arvo had looked for a few seconds, the light that now spilled in only making the sight that much more grisly for him.[b "Is that what you two are? Blank. Emotionless. Empty."] He turned back, the sheets in his hand dropping to the floor. Arvo stared at her. Truly seemed to stare right into her very being. It was blank as if the eyes had glazed over and he was just another roamer ready to be taken care of. But slowly he seemed to come back, his body trembling slightly before it shuddered with a few pathetic sobs. His hands balled up again and he took several deep breaths. The injured hand reached up and brushed a path through his hair, a streak of crimson now left a wet streak through his hair, a few lines of life running a bloody path down his cheek.
He didn't seem to notice too much as he turned on his heels and stepped over the downed covers towards the bodies.[b "Look.. food."] He muttered though it was as quiet as the squeak of a mouse. He stooped and grabbed the can, lifting it up to look at it before turning, still crouched, and throwing it before the feel of Juno.[b "You're supplies, right? As agreed?"] He turned back and another few cans soon clattered their way along the floor to stop near to her feet.[b "What's food without some drink too?"] He called out and turned, standing up and walking a few feet before pressing the blood smeared bottle of water into her chest.[b "Isn't that part of winning the battle? To--to--to have supplies? With food and drink and weapons, what do you two need to worry about? Eh?"]
He stared down at her, his height advantage not significant but enough to embolden him some.[b "Don't need me any more. I've served my duty.. I've completed my orders.. my friends gave their lives to your battle no?"] The mockery was thick in his voice and he leaned slightly closer to her.[b "Then I hope you enjoy the.. spoils, of your war."] He shuffled past the woman, his shoulder hitting hers but his body gave way. She was a strong woman after all. He seated himself in a wooden chair not far from the top of the stairs in silence. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before his head fell forward into his hands.
A few seconds later, his body shook gently and he wept quietly to himself.
It is a question that often returns to her present thoughts, a dark shadow on her brain that will surely become a tumor. It is cancerous, spreading like wildfire through all the tentative bridges of hope she had left. She’s found herself in this position more than once, with nothing but an ankle-deep river of thick ichor-of their blood worn like warpaint on her skin, now, and it made her nauseous to even remember the infinitesimal moment when she realized it was kill or be killed –to witness her weeping.
In time, she thought details of their face would fade, but the memory dug in and would not be forgotten. She hoped, for his sake, that he would be spared such cruelty. Benumbed, her nimble fingers deftly swing the bag from her shoulder, recovering the supplies that he tosses towards her in a fit. One bottle of water lands sharply, its top imploded inwards so water trickled out. She might have tried to recover it were it not soiled by the blood of his comrades. It’s become easier to let her thoughts lift up and out of her, to focus wholly on her task. Every minute squandered becomes the divisible line between life and death. He is right, it is a war – a battle against the disease that takes the most precious of things and leaves the worst. From all his dribble, he certainly touched upon a few touchstones – and for one, she could say he hadn’t [i truly] stared into the abyss; she’s seen what stares back and shed blood for it.
But she didn’t owe him anything – not her life story, certainly not the right to take her power and belief. When he shoulder checks her, she holds fast and roots herself. [b “I didn’t do this,”] she tells him, by means of summarizing that loss is the ties that bind them. But she realizes that anger won’t make it any easier for him to swallow his grief. What would she have needed to hear to swallow her grief, to remember that she wanted to live—that she [i could]? Juno does not make the illusion that this moment will forge any bond but it may still save a life; she approaches him hesitantly, keeping enough distance to evade him should he attempt to grapple her. [b “But if you forfeit your life, no one else will know who they were.”] [i And it will be like they never existed.] [b “Pay your respects while you can.”]
She returns his previous gestures, dropping three cans and two bottles of water at his feet; they land softly against his backpack. Her chest is trembling by the time her feet return to the lobby and she has to keep her profile facing the storefront or else risk losing her composure. It is not so much that his accusation stung as the wild implication did – that she were a monster, incapable of feeling, incapable of compassion. His loss was not hers but she experienced pain no less. Juno joined Christopher, quickly compartmentalizing what little they could still use in silence. One look at her and he could tell she wouldn’t talk about what ate at her, but given enough time, she’d unfurl like an orchid at dawn. Soon enough they were quietly debating how best to move forward and whether to bring Arvo into their folds. It became less a matter of what was [I inherently right] and more of a matter of [i trust.] Could they trust his judgment would not risk lives?
They made quick work of it, even pausing long enough for her to pocket a small book. When they made for the exit, Arvo had just begun coming down the stairs, face taunt as though ready to spew another emotional discourse. Juno tensed, far less amiable than before when a horde began pounding against the glass windows, rattling them in the frames. “To the ba—” no sooner had the words rushed from his mouth did the thin panes shatter and infected came falling over themselves. The girl is the first to make a mad dash for the reading floor, her extremities but a blur as her gaze arcs from corner wall to the other. Christopher is the last inside, using his weight to lock the door. Of a like mind, him and the girl move to the nearest low bookshelf, and clear a row so they could place it in front of the door. He shouts “pressed desk” at her and her previous squat turned into her standing and him grabbing at its bottom. The strain is relieved and they move it clumsily to barricade the door; the zombies trudge inside, aimlessly packed like sardines save one who snarls viciously beyond the door.
The former marine he uses two fingers to signal for them to advance further into the room. At its center, he taps against the arm of his bomber, pointing upward to indicate their escape route would be via the awning windows above the wall-length shelves. Nodding her understanding, she grasps Arvo’s bicep and draw his attention to their new endeavor—[i keeping him focused was the only way he was going to survive this.]
As the largest, Christopher has to rotated the strap of his weapon to scale – normally Juno is the first up, but they must secure the immediate area outside first and he is more efficient than she is with multiple targets at close range. He props open the window, studies the area, and holds his hand out to assist Arvo up. Juno is close behind just as the force of the herd begins inching the bookshelf away from the door. They duck out before the first arm claws its way through the crack.
Arvo remained in his seat, his body curling in on himself as he did his best to stifle his pitiful cries. Her footsteps and her words made him catch his next sob. He kept his head hung low into his hands as his mind swayed from jovial memories of the past to fear of the future and hatred of the present. His mind ticked over, the clockwork gears inside barely rotating as he slowed down and seemed to seek the obstruction that stemmed the cogs movements. Although he wanted to do as she said, to pay some respects to those great people, his body refused. All on a few crudely construed words she had seemed to pluck from the book of 'How to Help the Grieving'.
As she had put it, if he died then who would speak of them again. Who indeed would give a fuck about any of them any more? Civilisation was gone and along with it was remembering people for longer than their last breath. Story telling was now just reminiscing of times when traffic was the bane of many lives. When children, marriage and secure employment were goals in life. And deciding whether to order food or cook themselves was the hardest choice they had to make. Now the bane of life was roamers. Goals in life were finding shelter, finding safety, finding a bed for at least that night. Food was the choice of eating rodents or going without. And it was then that the cogs and gears began to move a bit more freely, finally beginning to turn as intended and he pulled his hands back to stare at the food at his feet.
She wasn't right. Not wholly. To survive, you had to learn to grieve on the move. That she was correct about. However to survive, you also had to remember what life could be like. Remember that there was something better than surviving from one day to the next. Have that long goal in mind. And losing these people today had broken his sight of that often forgotten finish line.
Arvo quickly threw the food and water into his bag, his hand reaching in and drawing out his knife. The plastic grip was quickly doused in still fresh blood, but it wasn't loose in his grip. Throwing his bag on his back he began to walk down the stairs, the knife tight in his grasp at his side but down at his side, unseen. Staring at the woman with unbridled anger and rage churning up inside he couldn't see he had crossed the invisible line. To kill a roamer was one thing. It was dead inside. There was nothing behind lifeless eyes and a guttural groan and desire to consume. But a living being, even someone like Juno, still had a working mind. Still had some semblance of a human being inside them.
Barely had his foot touched the bottom step than the horde were upon them. The door had been closed but not properly latched and he instinctively jumped forward, throwing his whole weight behind his shoulder as he hit it. Knife in hand, convenient given what could have happened, he turned his head from the glass smashing and slashed his knife into the first head he saw. His hand followed it some, collapsing the weak skull beneath before he pulled back quickly. Seeing Juno had already taken her leave he followed suit though his legs moved without order and of the burning need to just live out this moment.
Without a role to play once they were into the reading room, Arvo kept his back fully against the door, closing his eyes as he tried to play out a way of escape in his minds eye. He knew the building in detail but concentration was broken when they hauled over a toppled book-case to act as a blockade. With the immediate threat over he closed his eyes and muttered to himself as he ran through what direction to take, where they could go next, how they could possibly fight their way out perhaps. Only when his forearm was grabbed and he was jostled into position did he grasp the simple idea of taking the window. He nodded repeatedly to show he understood and tucked his knife into his belt again as he accepted the man's hand and climbed up and out.
Turning back he held out his injured hand, though there was no grimace of pain when Juno grabbed it and they had both helped pull her out. It was as if the cut wasn't there or he had become accustom to it. Once she was out he stopped to pull the window over closed behind them.[b "They're smarter than we give them credit."] He commented as he walked quickly to the corner of the loading bay they had come out in. The doors into the building were locked. The keys had never been found so there wasn't a chance to go back in. Not immediately running to escape the area, Arvo instead stopped beside the dumpsters they were passing by. He lifted up the first lid quickly, letting it squeak back closed when it was the wrong one. On the second one he nodded and lifted himself up so his feet dangled outside and he could lean into it.
With a grunt of exertion he came back out holding a duffel bag in his possession and closed the lid over once more. Pulling the new bag onto his back he looked over to Christopher.[b "I don't think I owe you two anything else given our original deal."] His gaze flicked to Juno but quickly returned to the marine.[b "But there's a--a--a movie theatre, just--just a few streets over. We cleared it a few weeks ago and secured the front doors, on the off chance this happened. I'll leave you two to quickly decide on whether you wish to join me there but I would hurry if I were you. Good luck."] He stepped backwards a few times before turning and setting off into a jog, soon ducking out onto the street and out of their view.
The journey was made all the more easier given how the horde had drawn many of the surrounding zombies into it's growing mass. Moving like a hive they were quite a sight to observe. But when they had broken in, it had been a far too close affair. Leaving the duo to their own decision he ran down the street and cut off at the next junction to head through an alleyway. He was within a few minutes at the movie theatre and followed the red arrows he had personally sprayed on the wall to the back alley. Once there he went to the door they had left slightly ajar and paused at the entrance. Crouching down, he regained his breath as he reached behind the door and pulled out a small paper tube. Checking inside he saw the three marbles he'd placed leaning on the door. It was a small way to know if someone had been in; or a roamer had found it's way in. They would have spilled the marbles and even if they had tried to reset it, it was highly unlikely they would have gotten the colour order correct.
Stepping inside he momentarily considered shutting the door but ignored the urge. Instead he went through the next fire door which led to the foyer of the building. There were a few bags of different candies left, but after they had gorged themselves for a few days on the sugary treats, it was best left there for the future. Aside from those few savoury sensations there was not a drop of water or ounce of food left in the place. At least edible, considering how the hot-dogs were now looking in their unheated casing. As the fatigue finally caught up to him, he stopped and sat down around the burnt paper basket they had used for a fireplace when they stayed there.
The duffel bag off his back was kept at his side and he opened a side zip to pull out a roll of bandages. Finally seeing to his wound he just wrapped it up tightly and haphazardly before stuffing the remainder of the roll back into the bag. For now he would have to wait, and see if the duo decided to join him. Only then could he truly plan his next few steps ahead of him. However it did give him time to wonder at how close he'd come to it; how lucky it had possibly been for Juno that the roamers had shown up.
The sentence had been churning around the girl’s mind but hadn’t quite come to fruition as an honest introspection until now. The zombies at their backs were far too preoccupied with breaking down the door into an empty room than to meandering in the parking lot of the loading bay. The two quietly sprinted a hundred yards West, keeping themselves pressed flush to abandoned cars that peppered their way. Her confession comes once they’ve cleared the open plain, where two crawlers were groaning hungrily amongst theirselves, and returned to the main thoroughfare.
“On what?” His reply is easy, a fatherly tone that’s stirred the dust on her feelings. His hands are busy fumbling with the broken hose of the vacuum he recovered from the supply closet, but his low eyes are on her: the reluctant dragging of her feet and pendulum swing of her arms, both indicative of the thoughts that’s festering in her mind. Christopher is considerate, letting minutes lapse by in the conversation – neither pressing nor discouraging her apprehension – so she mull the right words about. He has had the occasion to observe her many times, learning the idiosyncrasies that she would not voice: how, for example, her English was well enough that she could speak without much of an accent, but he’d easily picked up that she was born in Germany when she could not pronounce [i squirrel] (which had given him quite a laugh); he’d learned her favorite fruit was pineapple when he’d seen her premature excitement at finding a boarded up fruit stand and stood watch while she zoomed up and down aisle for her coveted conifer but she settled for a pickle; that despite her outward appearance, she was much younger than the begrudged “eighteen” she told him. Hardy, suspicious and reliable if he had a daughter he would have only hoped she would’ve exhibited these traits.
[b “The boy…I should’ve –I was cruel.”]
He snorts. “That’s hard to believe.” Juno is not the one who normally carries the conversation and their dynamic is often defined in terms of what is and isn’t. “But I’m listening. What did you do?”
They branch the two sides of the street, ducking in and out of houses, keeping their scavenging under three minutes. They’ve no success by means of finding anything edible – and her stomach is in knots by this point – but it gives her more time to consider the topic she broached. There was no great design at work that propelled meeting Arvo, just as she rationalizes that it was perchance, a draw of favor that led Christopher to duck into her crudely constructed shelter against the storm – but, the encounter branded her with its consequences nonetheless.
[b “It’s what I didn’t do.”]
“Kiddo, listen,” and he preambles this discussion by sitting on the truck of a Prius, opening his bag for the video camera he uses to capture these moments. She stifles an exasperated groan and humors him while he zooms in and out on her scrunched face. “You’re old enough to have heard this but not old enough to know what it means. Looking at the world in terms of black and white is going to do nothing but wind you in a lot of heartache, if it doesn’t kill you first.” He sets the camera down, hops off, and presses his knee to the ground so he is staring her in the eye. His hands come to rest reassuringly against her tiny shoulders. “You’ll face difficult odds and make difficult choices after me. Sometimes there is no [I right choice], just what must be done—and you’ll know what that is.”
More static to fill their silence. The words sink in but they don’t help. [b “And what if I don’t?”]
Christopher stands, giving her half a chortle. “You will, Juno. You always do.” He turns the camera off, goes to put it in his bag, and hands it off to her. It is the playful moments like this that gives her the clarity she needs to dispel her doubts. Without need for voicing it, they stumble their way to the movie theatre that Arvo told them about. It was a large cinema with worn exterior paints in the varying colors of confetti. Annabelle and the Hunger Games had been the two blockbuster featured before everything went to hell. Outside on the concrete, they observed blood trails and the trampled bones of who rested there. It almost sent a shiver up her spine. Once they made their way inside, it wasn’t difficult to determine where Arvo would make his nest.
She announced their arrival with a trilling of her tongue, emitting a sound similar to a bird’s whistle. The door opens and they are rushed inside. The projection room is cozy, warm despite the months since its use. With only two points of entry, he could barricade himself in for a while, knot a makeshift rope in case things get hairy. She neglects to suggest this, instead awkwardly handing him the book she took from the store. How could she explain to him feigning indifference was the only way she could process the horror they encounter every day? How could she tell him that she could not express what she felt- freely- unless it in privacy, from a crippling fear? Even Christopher hadn’t heard how she wound up where she was and she fiercely guarded the narrative.
[b “I’m sorry for you loss.”] Juno found the book peeking from between the pillow and mattress beneath the still body of one of his friends- blond and green-eyed, she had been a pretty sight before her death. She figured if she had nothing else to remember them by, at least he could carry the last words one would have carried with her. Once this was done, she would put to bed these insecurities and put this city in the rearview of her life. [b “Words will never help but sometimes the silence between company does.”] She hesitated again when he did nothing more than stare at the book in her hand, a corner still smeared with blood. It had been fresh when split – red, soaking the blue exterior and each page. [b “I just wanted to say –[i we] just wanted to say—you’re welcome to join us until you’re ready to be on your own again. If not…we’ll be on our way.”]
Arvo shuffled his back to the wall from where the projector had once ejected from. Now it was broken down in the seating area of the showroom. The cold of the building, having sat dormant for so long now, was noticeable as the hairs on his arms stood on end and he caught his teeth chattering without his doing. He again reached into the duffel bag that he had brought with him and retrieving a fire striker. It was well worn from multiple nights of being used incorrectly until they had finally mastered it. Using his knife Arvo cut strips of wood off a chair leg. He then pinned it down and running the knife up and down began to fray the fibres and begin to make some tinder.
He had built up a little pile by the time they arrived, their bird call bringing only further derision from the mentally exhausted man. It was just another militaristic trick that showed how far those two had delved into from the norm. The man could be forgiven somewhat. He looked like a solder, acted like one, had the equipment of one. Arvo had never really seen a rifle like that up close. But the woman, she was barely an adult yet had the stature and mindset of a hardened veteran. Even as they walked into the projection room, he could see their methodical eyes running over escape routes and possible areas of weakness.
A few sparks struck out and as they seemed to settle, a flicker of flame caught and held. He blew on it gently and fed in more tinder, small pieces of chair and splinters until it was finally going some. The smoke wasn't too much a bother as it generally fanned straight out into the viewing area and therefore left them a small warm space with clean air. When Juno had approached him with the book he froze in place, staring at the bloody pages of the tome like she was showing him the hand of the woman who had written it. It wasn't a memento, an heirloom to savour so he wouldn't forget them. The blood soaked pages and stained cover was a reminder of what was lost. She was trying to make an effort, but unfortunately her last words were poorly chosen and he snatched at the book.
Opening it he quickly tore out page after page and fed it into the fire, eventually just throwing the remainder of the book into the embers and flames and they caught quickly.[b "You aren't sorry."] He was quiet, like he had been when he berated her earlier. Using his knife he leaned back against his bag and began to make more tinder and split the wood into smaller pieces. It didn't take much to keep the place warm.[b "You're saying what you think you need to say."] He looked up, making sure he looked into her eyes.[b "I see no remorse in your eyes. I see no.. genuine, sorrow. I don't know if it's tactical or a ruse or a way to lull me into getting me to just leave rather than forcing me to. But it's not a true apology."] He didn't look away from her, still staring at her though his eyes took that vacant glare again, looking through her perhaps.
[b "I expect it from him. He looks like a soldier. Right?"] Cold eyes travel over to the man who nods modestly, not wishing to say much at that moment though perhaps as he had nothing truly to say.[b "Soldiers are like that. They have to be. Their job requires it and that training sticks I guess. You just.. aren't a soldier. Or rather you weren't. Now you are."] He pushed the wood aside and grabbed his knife, standing up with a grunt as his injured hand spasm a little. He tucked the knife into his waist and rubbed a hand over his face, sticky with the flood he had smeared over it during his sobbing earlier.[b "You stuck a knife in my back, forced me to lead you back to my home. Not him. The non-soldier of you two was the more threatening and demanding. And now follow me to here and I'm the one that has the honour to join you two?"] The laugh was short and crisp and he would have said more had the man stood behind her not shook his head slowly, his glare more deadly than the rifle in his hands at that moment.
[b "My name, Arvo, it's Finnish for value. For worth. My parents named me well. And they brought me up right I like to think. So I won't say anything else."] He stepped around her now and left the room, stopping at Christopher to tell him he would be checking the windows and to make themselves at home, then closing the door over behind him. He did check the windows at the front, making sure they were not only secured with anything they could find but that the black-out curtain from the viewing areas still covered them. It meant roamers couldn't see inside. Kept them that little bit more safe. Once he was done, he headed towards the managers office. He had taken a roll of bandage with him and drew his knife as he closed the door behind him.
[i Hands trembled, pained from the sharp bits of bark rubbed between them. Each staccato breath was a ghostly presence, company and owed to each that had sacrificed so she might have it. Hunched and shivering, the damp mass kept a consistent pace, the raw rub back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, blowing wet breaths around soggy kindling. A curse, half a plead, makes the lungs hurt. Dead wood recovered from the along the river – most burned in military attempt to destroy the fire- makes for dead girl. She’s done this before, three years back, hunting with her father in the forest surrounding Schürensöhlen where you can hear the deer baying to one another; the air had been more frigid, thinner, when they hiked into the mountain and set up camp. The youngest of a brood, she learned patience early, cultivated it through the years until her anticipation could be likened to the slow, serpentine crawl of ophidians.]
[i The wind howls; it claws at the tarp above her, secured down by nylon rope to cinderblocks. In a shelter no larger than twenty feet across, a small opening existed for the girl to crouch into, to begin her frantic strokes for fire. It is a gamble – unattended, can trap her in a poorly ventilated area and suffocate her, the tarp can catch on fire and burn her into blackened bones. The smell of roasting nuts can draw hostile humans – the whipping of the tarp above the storm can draw roamers.]
[i A savage cough rips from her chest, spraying her curled fist with droplets of bright blood. The weight in her chest felt like Death seated upon it. It takes some effort to bite back the wheezes but the spasms of her diaphragm is another issue. But in the midst of this maelstrom, something comes together for her – the bible that beats against her leg, in the makeshift pocket of a black band hoodie, given to her by her mother on her seventh birthday, finds itself in her hand. Blood stains the right corner page like a poorly construed cosmic joke. The black leather cover smells like tobacco, sugar beets, and sheep dung. It is her only reminder of where she comes from, of who loved her. Her fingers trace the fine gilded letters of the surname, fat tears carve hot paths into her cheeks. It the warmest she’s felt in days; she shivers when the wind catches the moisture so that each crystal is frozen along her jaw.]
[i But this is what must be.]
[i She wipes her bloodied hand across the cover, set it down, and watches as sparks catch easily to the lightweight biblepaper. The leather curls upon itself. She watches it until her eyes burn. Sleep comes easily when it anchored to exhaustion.]
A sharp snore has Juno blinking back the memory, arms curled around drawn up knees, the perspiration on the skin of bare cinnamon arms reflecting the fire. An assortment of cuts and bruises mar the flesh, find its nomenclature as an artwork of cruelty the girl has suffered at the hands of others. Christopher hadn’t seen the burn in the delicate area just below her collarbone, branding her as property to the first group she landed in after the reckoning.
[i [+red You aren’t sorry…You’re just saying what you need to say. I see no remorse in your eyes…I see no genuine sorrow.]]
[#0041C2 [i Kiddo, listen. Looking at the world in terms of black and white is going to do nothing but wind you in a lot of heartache, if it doesn’t kill you first.]]
She dips her finger in the bottle cap, rubbing the water against the puckered, red scab. The skin beneath is still unhealed and pink, extremely irritated around the edges where the shirt and parker jacket rubs against it. Very little antibiotic ointment remained in the tube but the oily residue will be even spread by its dilution. It will have to do.
Christopher lays asleep a few feet away, hands curled around his butt of his gun like one would caress the underside of a lover. The comfort it presents to him must be as familiar.
Her hawkish eyes are staring at blankly at the projection screen, bringing to the forefront a memory of her family in the German theatre that survived two wars and still stood as the pride in their city. It is easy to recall the senses, the wonder that thrilled her girlish sentiments and rounded her edges. But those days were long past – there is only the now.
Nursing the wound resumes with her gingerly prodding where part of the scab has fallen away. A clanking from downstairs brings her head snapping up and she is on her feet, taking cover behind the clothe trim video window. Minutes pass. Below, creeping along the aisle are two men, dressed in similar fashion: black khakis tucked into steel-toed boots with the hammer and sickle insignia on their armband. Her heart begins thundering against her chest, recognizing one of the men currently sweeping the aisle: Riot, the bastard that lured her into their hellish encampment.
If they find Arvo or Christopher, it’s kill on sight.
Ducking her head, she violently shakes Christopher. He comes awake quickly, gun immediately pointed towards the door. “What is it?” He asks, red eyes wildly sweeping the enclosed space.
[b “Scavengers,”] and for one, fear is bruising her tone in shades of vermillion. The eyes that stare back at him is not the hardy girl he’s come to begrudgingly admire. They swim with concern. [b “We’ve got to get out of here.”]
The marine nods, mission objective clear in his mind. “I’ll draw them away. Get Arvo and get out of here.”
[b [i “No,”]] more than her fear of [i them] is her fear of losing [i him]. It is inevitable fact that she will eventually come to terms with, but not so soon. Not yet. [b “We have a better chance together.”]
His hand comes to rest on her shoulder again as it has of late. Juno cannot ever remember her own father expressing his affection so openly. “Listen, we can’t just leave that kid down there and none of us is in a state to engage them. This is our best option. Remember that down plane we saw on Tenth Avenue? Hide in the cabin, I’ll meet you there.”
She can hear their conversation below echoing through the rafters and know there is not enough time to argue him down. The mission is suicide if they catch him. But she nods resolutely, slides her haversack across her shoulder and drapes her jacket through the straps. There’s only a few places in this cinema that he could have secluded himself in – her guess, the employee lunchroom or manager office – and fewer with two means of escape. With bated breaths, she slowly descends the stairs and enters the lobby, where two more are searching the restroom area.
Juno quietly circumnavigates behind the concession stand, pressing her body flush to the ground. Movement will be restricted and dawdling but visibility is next to nil and her only option. A putrefied gobstopper sticks the floor in front of her. With some spit and strength she’s able to pry it up and toss it near the entrance to distract the pair. To her left is a raise security desk and behind is the manager’s office. She twists the handle and finds it locked. Maybe he wasn’t inside? She presses her ear against the door and after a few passing moments, hears the sound of knife slicing through cloth.
[b “Arvo,”] her voice is a muted hiss through the door. [b “Open up, it’s an emergency.”] An open palm slaps against the door as firmly and quietly as she can manage. A peek past the rounded edge of the desk confirmed her fear: the men, maybe 100 yards away at best, find nothing of interest and turn to resume their search. How quick before they discovered her crouched in this terrible vantage point?
Arvo sluggishly fell into the managers seat behind the desk and his shoulders slumped forward. He placed the knife aside the roll of bandage and closed his eyes, just running through how the day had gone. It was his first true moment of peace to do so and his mind began to unravel slowly. The process of ordering things and committing them to a half baked idea of what the future held, began to strain him further and he leaned back into the seat. He had started so care-free. His only worry was getting back home and seeing whether his group had returned. Instead he had been almost killed by two militia and returned to a scene of violence and death then chased off before he could give them any final respect or even acknowledge them.
His hands gingerly reached out and grabbed the knife and bandage as he wondered about the duo. They no doubt were good people if you had to be so blunt and separate them into two groups so simply. They hadn't hurt him. Hadn't forced him to do anything undue. Arvo had been the one to suggest going back to his home and to the cinema next. But this realisation was always fought alongside the fact he saw them as just two special roamers. They consumed, they moved from place to place without a direction, they didn't even seem to bond together. It was like they were put together and accepted it for it's benefits strategically than how it would help them mentally aswell. Because in Arvo's world, keeping his mind together and keeping the drive to continue going. If he had nothing to keep him going then he was unsure how he would react. Which is why he was in such a state at the moment.
Carefully unwinding the bandage on his hand he looked at the cut across his hand. He inspected it for any shards still left inside and felt a piece that was grading against the bone. There was a great resilience not to whimper as he fished it out, though the nerves in that whole arm were very much dead from about the elbow downwards. It was probably a reason why he was coping so well with it all. With the wound cleaned out of debris he used the same bandage and took his time to wind it carefully around and secure it tightly. It would only hinder a little in his movement of his digits and he tested it out for a few seconds.
He was in the room for some time by himself, not wanting to rest just yet and knowing if he didn't go back they would eventually come looking. He couldn't be trusted as much as he could trust them. After all he didn't even know their names. It was just a mutual understanding of survival between them that kept anything as drastic as what had almost occurred at the book store from happening again. Arvo would have liked to believe he couldn't have gone through with it. But he had been only steps away from her and it was with a bit of thanks the roamers had come up on them.
After a few hours, once the light had began to fall below it's zenith and only the orange hue of days end was left, there was a faint knocking at the door and Juno's whispered voice. An exasperated sigh escaped and he knew he had to come out. If anything they may have had food on the go. He finished cutting the the bandage off and wrapped it securely around his arm. Pulling his sleeve back down and shrugging on his jacket he tucked the remainder into his pocket and went to the door. Pulling back the bolt he swung the door open, looking down to see her knelt close to the ground. Frowning at what she was trying to do he wanted to ask if she were playing secret spy now instead of soldier girl, but she grabbed his wrist and pulled him down to her level.
The training that marine had imparted on her was shining now as she signalled there were two guys looking around the foyer area. He poked his head past her, looking out and letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. He saw nothing and was close to admonishing her when the two silhouettes were illuminated by the sparks of a match being struck. They seemed to be lighting cigarettes and Arvo swallowed hard when he saw the gun in one man's hand. He had wished he'd grabbed the shotgun from the store now but wishes were going wanting these days.
Nodding to her he tugged her arm a little to follow him down the corridor that would lead into the viewing area. It would then be possible to lift her up into the projection room to help Christopher lower down their supplies as the other door to the room led to a stairwell right down to where the two men were standing. It would be too risky for that route. So leading her down into the theatre itself he slid inside and crouched down behind the very back row of seats. The two men she had seen before had split up. One was now walking down the rows, a flashlight in hand, looking around for perhaps anything useful left on the floor. Though if mouldy popcorn and sticky, syrup soaked carpets were his niche he was in luck.
The door closed a bit too sharply as they came in and it thudded shut. Pushing Juno by her arm, she fell behind the seats the other side of the aisle they were on just before the flashlight slid it's gaze their way. Keeping down behind the seat he closed his eyes as he sought to hear the man's movements. He was cautious. Then he called out. Someone's name perhaps? Riot is what is sounded like, but it didn't make all too sense to Arvo and he just wished the man would ignore it and leave. Not their luck it seemed. The man was walking over. The sticky texture of the carpet playing to their advantage as it gave away where he was in relation.
When the man was closing in on them, the flashlight beam becoming more intense, Arvo took a deep breath and stood up. He charged forward at the man who froze in puzzlement at who the stranger was. It wasn't a roamer for sure. He sucked in a breath to shout before Arvo crashed into him, driving the air out of his lungs as he landed hard on his back. Wheezing as he tried to regain his breath Arvo pushed up and threw a fist into the side of his head, connecting quite well and dazing the intruder.[b "Don't say a word, please."] He almost seemed to be requesting it of the man who was coughing now. His eyes were rolling and his breath still ragged.
But he didn't listen. Instead the man threw his own punch, catching Arvo square in the face and throwing him aside before swinging over to straddle the others chest. He got in a few hits before Arvo could get him off and he pushed himself up onto his elbow, bandaged hand holding his eye. His eye felt like it was close to coming out of it's socket and he momentarily forgot about the other man. Again the other man quickly got the upper hand, hand grasping around Arvo's throat tightly and he grinned as he saw he had him beaten. But Arvo was looking up at him with pleading eyes for a different reason.[b "Stop.. stop.."] He managed to choke out as his hand fought to pry his off him.
The man gave no sign he would stop and there was a sharp bang which left Arvo's ears ringing. The man fell backwards, the bullet taking him in the side of the temple and Arvo rolled onto his side, holding his throat as he gasped repeatedly. The pistol remained in his right hand and he lay there regaining his breath when Juno arrived at his side. She seemed keen to get him on his feet and he took her assistance in standing up. The door to the theatre was pushed open and Arvo didn't think, just fired in that general direction.[b "Go. Fire escape."] He croaked out as he fired in the vicinity of the two men who had been in the foyer. He pushed her back, firing as he went which caused them to duck back behind the doors.
Arvo didn't have any of his belongings and looked up to where the projector had been, wondering what would happen to Christopher. He had to duck and feebly covered his head with his hands as the pistol clicked empty and took off after Juno. Following her outside he fell against the far wall of the alley they had come out onto. He pushed himself off and slammed the door shut, running around to the nearby dumpster and heaving it forward and blocking off the door. Leaning against it he looked at Juno.[b "Where do we go? What happened to the soldier guy? Who--who the fuck were those guys?"] His eyes was beginning to swell already and his neck was red from where the hands had grabbed him. Arvo was flustered again and like at the book store he was watching her for guidance.
[b “We’ll have to come back and hope our supplies are still there,”] was her immediate argument, feeling the knots in her stomach coil tighter at Arvo’s course of action. To her knowledge, Christopher was still in the one working theatre, drawing enemy fire so that she and he could circumnavigate and rendezvous at a discreet location. It was a solid plan with a clear objective, drawing her into a conflict between intuition and loyalty. The supplies in the projection chamber was essential for their survival, the vestiges of anything salvageable in the city- and it wasn’t much at that, but it would tide them over until the next major highway veered off. Rushing back require a stealth, finesse, and a keen perception that the gaunt male had yet to exhibit. The men inside were crafty, ruthless, and sadistic.
He doesn’t listen, laying out an ambiguous disposition that begs for good favor – the whispered debate is cut short, when the second pair begin smoking and talking amongst themselves. Had there been more time, logic would have persuaded him to see how meager the chances of their success were: with two armed at their front and two at their back, they’d be outmanned and outgunned if Christopher already got out. But he’s already pressing an advance, tugging her behind him. They sidled through the ingress, the sole of her shoe sticking in the sticky residue of concession before she could turn and ease the door closed. It thudded close in the quiet theater. Quick reflexes had her prying the shoe up sharply and Arvo’s push offered extra momentum to hide between the rows of seats, quickly creeping to the far aisle.
The second member of the patrol swept his flashlight slowly across each row of seats – thoroughly checking its stalls and its undersides. There is no foreseeable way for her to avoid tangling with Riot. At 6’ 3”, balancing somewhere in the mid-range of two hundred pounds, the male was burly and quick for his stature, able to cripple her with little more than a malicious squeeze of a large hand.
[b “Legerdemain and cunning,”] she repeats to herself, a soft mantra to school her rampant heartbeat.
Her opportunity, a window of thirteen seconds in which she would have to stagger, disarm, and evade Riot came when her companion was discovered; she gripped the flat cylinder of a tuna can in her hand and made a mad dash when his profile turned and he advanced upon the contending men. Using her small body as a projectile, she manages to bash the base of his skull with its lifted edge, and when he immediately raised his hand to the injury, turning to face his assailant, Juno was crouched, driving the Remington right above his kneecap, and yanking down. Riot goes down like a bag of laundry but not without firing two rounds, a projectile skimming her cheek and clipping her auricle. His bubbling screams are cries of fury.
His handgun clatters noisily to the next row and she vaults the plush back, stumbling on the landing. The discharge of the bullet sent a blow to her equilibrium and impedes hearing. Still, she is quick. She swoops the gun up and crosses into the middle section when Riot’s hand closes around her ankle and another set of shots ring out. These too miss her by a centimeter although her mouth hits the floor and the metallic taste of blood slicks across her tongue. Her whiskey eyes, dark in the theater, are upon his eyes – and in the quick flash of the muzzle fire – he sees, there is little regret when she pulls the trigger and hits his shoulder.
It is no easy task winding up the aisle to hunker down and determine whether Arvo was injured but she manages. He comes to his feet with a little assistance. Timing was of the essence. Half of their forces were eliminated but at least one carried an AK-47 and would punch through the seats with ease. [+red “Go. Fire escape.”] They closed the distance quickly, him lingering behind long enough to empty his clip and duck out behind her.
[b “We’ve got to block the door,”] she instructs, pointing towards the dumpster behind them. The exhausted male charges from the wall and obstructs the exit. Adrenaline has made him strong and efficient.
Exasperate, the male swung towards her, eye beginning to swell shut. [+red “Where do we go? What happened to the soldier guy? Who-who the fuck were those guys?”]
A broken tooth, bruised mouth and clipped ear are the only wounds Juno emerges with, but each smart and serve as a reminder for how easily things fall apart. With this admission comes the malicious scorch of her anger, as though a gift inherited through marrow. The plan had been simple, straight-forward, with little to no risk of being discovered; secondly, now that they were separated from Christopher (who by now, surely is being active hunted by the remaining parties and soon their entire company once word travels) who would –no doubt- have gathered what supplied he could in the interim, and worse, Riot now knows who she travels with and would report this back to Joaquin. Nowhere in the city would be safe come dawn. If she didn’t grit her teeth and put some distance between the two, the girl would, undoubtedly, be tempted to exercise the extent of her anger towards Arvo’s short-sightedness. [i It’s no wonder his group died…] fitted darkly in her head, might have shown in her livid gaze had she not been anxious to find her most cherished friend.
She laved her tongue across bloodied teeth, spat, and turned back South dutifully avoided his questions. Answering them would result in the expectation of full disclosure – and this, is not a topic that she owed remittance to anyone for. Still, until she found Christopher again, ignoring him antagonize the palpable tension alright existing between the two.
[b “Let’s get one thing straight,”] she rounds on him, trembling with barely controlled rage. [b “You don’t know me – you have no right making assumptions about the integrity of my character. I [i survive] and make no apologies for it because [i this] is the way of the world now. They,”] she points towards the barred door as though righteous fury alone might smite them, [b “are the Reapers, the Horsemen that we didn’t see coming and it is because of them …”] her voice falters, gaze swimming with the tears that brim them. She stubborn erases their existence with the back of her hand and shakes her head. [b “You keep moving until you’re out of the city, don’t let them corner you. It’ll be worse if they find you alive.”] On the dark horizon, the very real possibility that Christopher had been captured, lurks like a beast in her heart.
Arvo was surprised when she turned on him and he flinched back from miniature woman, the blood dribbling from a corner of her mouth giving her a frenzied look. Just the look in her eye was enough to quicken his heartbeat even after what had just happened inside. She berated him for how he had reacted earlier in the day and he turned his gaze away, staring at the floor intensely as he hoped she would calm and leave the scathing for later and perhaps a more opportune time. Clearly what he had said before had hit a deep running nerve that had shattered her mind once it reached this zenith of excitement in the day. Now he was like a child, taking his punishment from an angered parent for breaking the proverbial cookie jar when he had been told not to touch it for such a reason.
Arvo nodded quickly at what she was saying and he took a deep breath despite feeling like his lungs were on fire and about ready to give up on him. He didn't see her moment of weakness in wiping aside tears.[b "Look, maybe I--I got caught up in it. Okay? Blamed you and that guy for something out of your control. But is now really the time for it? You just said so yourself, these guys are--are like--like the devil. We shouldn't be arguing here whilst your friend is still not here."] He could see how she was right about how he had acted before but he would not apologise. Arvo saw no reason for him to do so. He owed her one as much as she owed him one for the frank and brutal way she had swept his friends lives aside like a mosquito draining your life. Yet her next words left him a touch confused.
[+maroon [i "You keep moving until you’re out of the city, don’t let them corner you. It’ll be worse if they find you alive."]]
Arvo was left in two minds now over what to do with himself. She knew the people inside, the people who had come up on them and who she had seemed explicit in hiding and running away from rather than confronting. The cut on her ear showed perhaps a hint of her insight into why they should have sought the darkness and hugged it's shadowy embrace.
However, it sounded like she wanted him to just leave. To Arvo, this was her telling him to run away. To get away from her and the city itself. To escape whomever was left in the theatre, and this not a few hours after saying she offered him to join the duo till he felt he could survive alone. How fickle ones views could change. Though it wasn't so fickle when it was a stranger you were sending away. They hadn't bonded, hadn't sought to close the gap of uncertainty about one another. Indeed Arvo had stretched this gap by leaving them at first chance to be alone and separating himself from the issue. The woman's name was still a mystery for heavens sake. Her words made yet more sense.
His head sunk down a little.[b "Okay--"] He whispered quietly into his heaving chest, though he was gradually beginning to control his breathing once again. His hand gingerly ran over his swollen eye though it was slowly worsening. He looked down the alleyway, over her head, before looking the other way and seeking some way of escape.
[b "I'll head this way."] Arvo commented, the bandaged hand with the pistol pointing away from the street and towards the rear of the theatre. He turned back to her as he adjusted his jacket around him, brushing the exterior. His hand brushed over some of his remaining supplies and he reached inside and pulled out the bandages along with the map, looking at them before he raised it a little in her view.[b "Should help. You know.. with the ear, and getting out of the city."] Arvo hesitantly held it out to her but when his hand shook he quickly put it down atop the dumpster beside them.
Staring downwards he gazed on the weapon he currently held. The pistol in hand felt heavy and he wondered why he still held onto it with it's lack of bullets and therefore uselessness. But he was grateful for it just being there. The sight of it gave him a hint of safety. A sense that he had a weapon of some sorts. He grasped it that much harder as slowly his sight began to close on him and his perception of depth left him With the blood from earlier coating half his face and the swollen eye now, he looked quite the disgusting sight. Looking back up at her as best he could, seemingly already further away now, he shrugged.[b "I'll try to keep them back. Might help your friend getting out.. somehow."] He said and began to step backwards and away from her.[b "Good luck out there."] He added and turned away, heading up to the corner of the building to the entrance they had all entered from. It would be his best chance to catch them coming out and surprise them rather than go into a situation where he didn't know where they may have been. Arvo's shadowy figure ducked around the corner without a further glance back and he crouched as he made his way over towards the door, heart racing as his mind wondered at the sanity of this plan.
Here again, she is offered a choice that sets her in the divide of crossroads and flounders at making a sound pronouncement of intent. Words of solidarity were infrequent and when they were materialized, rarely did actions coincide favorably. For her, this moment sets a tentative foundation for her foster concern for the wellbeing of another person under the simple datum that he was [i decent] –a trait almost as much of an uncommon commodity as nourishment was. Having company to endure the days with wouldn’t ensure survival but it did make bearing this reckoning much easier. To find cruelty in her heart required sacrificing what made her innately [i her] – and this is not an act she can commit to.
[+red [i “I’ll try to keep them back. Might help your friend getting out…somehow.]] He pauses, rewarding her enough time to recant on her anger and join him – but the words don’t come. [+red [i “Good luck out there.”]] The offer sends a minute flicker of hope, and this dangerous incitement seals her mind about the matter – settles the reason that her conscience wouldn’t let her rest until she sought him out again; a swollen eye and the scent of blood would make him easy quarry for newly turned infected to hunt and devour, if the pair inside the theater didn’t put a bullet in him first.
Torn between scoffing at his naivety that luck bares any large factor into survival and berating him on his half-formulated [i suicidal] plans, neither is accomplished when the first heave forces the dumpster to clang. With the surrounding plains, the poignant sound would draw walkers within half a mile radius if not further; when they nose South, keeping to the concealment provided by the lorries, they might just be able to slip past without trouble.
Juno quietly trails him, hand pressing lightly against his shoulder. [b “The Devil has the good courtesy of pretending he doesn’t exist. They aren’t as kind.”] A melancholy gaze is focused on the shadows they must contend with: the awning of the theater marquee, either burnt out or stripped of its bulbs in the first weeks, extended past the sidewalk into the street. Strangely, the silence reigned saved for the intermittent lunge at the barred door: no groaning bones or shuffle of dragging feet to signify the dead. There had been so many earlier in the day. It’s been some time since her furlough occurred by night but memory serves hordes migrated together, the greater causalities resulting from nocturnal activities in which a small group were herded and cornered. But she could only surmise since the city had been scavenged on most yields, their food supply followed.
They followed a set course, hunkering down at the same car – so close, they shared the same fogged breath. The humidity of night would make them perspire and the popular theory between Christopher and her stood that some chemical in their musk must indicate whether they were apposite hosts for the virus to reproduce. So, the entire while they ambled across broken streets, she worried of the hordes that might descend upon them.
The Boeing jet, departing from Nigeria and arriving to California, had encountered some error – mechanical or human – and crashed hours from its destinations, landing in an ice-cream parlor, fabled for its decadent Chocolate Pistachio-Praline Cobbler. Most of the latter’s structure – excluding the large pink confetti ice-cream spectacle that sat, rotating, at one point, on the steel flag rod – had been destroyed in the crash. The ¾ of the wings, wheels, and undercarriage of the jet was wrecked and rained as shrapnel across three cities, but the cabin remained intact, only accessible through by climbing the roof of Howie’s Velvet Delights, and balancing across the sheet of aluminum held steady by its carbon fiber frame inside.
Maneuvering themselves through the debris, they found a few bodies littering the booths and table, in various states of decompositions. Some appeared recently feasted upon while others were clothed bones. [i You can't even bury your dead.] Juno exchanged an edgy side glance to Arvo, suckering up her uneasiness in a rickety inhale. There was not much of a back area left – the large freezer had been mangled and smell strongly of putrid dairy products – and the loft ladder that provided roof access no longer could be pulled down as the cord had been singed off in fire. After a little exploration she laid her plan out: in the women’s bathroom, the dropped ceiling paneling had come undone, and she could barely make out, a duct large enough for her to crawl through. The vent traveled directly to the room with the ladder, although abruptly fell away a few feet from the scuttle hole. With a little imagination, they took steel rebar and used tapestry to bind the split end of a scooper to fashion themselves a hook to catch the inlet.
While he hadn’t voiced any disbelief in the plan, he certainly hadn’t looked enthused that he’d have to boost her up on his shoulders, but she was light enough, and made quick work of her task. Hues of rose and violet painted the skies in soft pastels by the time her small head emerged from the dark of the scuttle, but a soft, triumph grin, steeped in exhaustion had been his sight when she released the catch on the ladder. No more words were exchanged by this time: she beckoned for him to join her in the cockpit, where she slowly unraveled the bandages on his hand – tsking at the sloppy job, knowing it couldn’t be helped. Her hands were gentle and compassionate, experienced in healing and drifting around tender edges. Proper conversation would have had divulging of the summer she spent volunteering for the Red Cross in the Haiti disaster or an informal (as it had yet to be complete) training as a CNA at Miller’s Merry Manor, but she kept her eyes on his hands, feeling his eyes on her.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat Arvo sighed with a heavy heart as he eyed that entrance into the theatre. His ears were filled with silence and the quickened beat of said heart, which was pleading with him to save himself and doing it's utmost to push twitching legs into life and away from the danger. The biggest danger, as he crouched in the shadows embrace, was the threat of a wandering roamer coming up on him and to feel it's teeth sinking into his neck with a hungry snarl. So when Juno placed her hand on his shoulder he fell against the wall with a whimper, having suppressed the yell that bubbled in his throat.
Looking at her with his only working eye, he didn't really hear her full sentence, though given his knowledge of her it would either be a very cold and unforgiving sentiment or a cryptic analogy of something profound that he would not understand. A faint tug and he gladly followed after her, assisting where he could on the way towards their, as yet to him unknown, destination. With only one functioning eye for sight he was forced to make each footfall steady and precise. There was no chance of him kicking a can or tripping over something and given he couldn't see most things on his left side, he was even more useless than he had been before and a few times had scuttled to a stop before he could knock into Juno.
Following her through the night wasn't his idea of safety, and he wished the soldier guy had been there with his rifle, but she was tough as nails and would keep him relatively safe at the very least. She had a vested interest in him being alive for a short time as she requested him to help her climb up into a buildings vent system. He hadn't really been paying too much attention, his head throbbing and his body moving only to keep up with her shadowy presence. Once in the building and helping her up, he nodded slowly and watched her create a hook to grab the ladder. She'd been learning from the other man for some time in the way she could build. It was ingenuity that Arvo didn't know and he envied her resourcefulness.
A very rare smile greeted his gaze as the ladder came down and in the faint glimmer of the approaching morning he found himself inside the aircraft he had yet to scavenge. It had been part of Jeremy's section to search, and perhaps he had searched it already. The thought of his old group darkened his mood so that as he sat down in the cabin, he didn't fuss over her unravelling his bandage. He felt he had re-wrapped it correctly back in the theatre but with the brief respite they now had he decided to argue would be pointless. They both wanted the soldier to show up, to poke his head in and calm their nerves. For Arvo it would have been good to have someone other than her, other than the woman whom he still felt an urge to strike out at burning from somewhere deep in the back of his mind. She was his scapegoat for what had happened over the months, but with great self-control --which hardly showed on his impassive gaze at her-- he kept to himself.
The rest they were getting began to fatigue him more as his muscles relaxed and his body began to lose the extra burst of testosterone that had been pumped into him during the escape. Now his eyes, or rather singular eye, was closing over a little more and he let his gaze fall aside to the seats beside them, a smear of dark crimson showing where the pilots had presumably been some time ago. Where they were was not of his concern now. But as he felt her hand move to his wrist, perhaps to roll down the sleeve and tie off the bandage better, the hand she had been working on tensed and wrapped around her own wrist securely.[b "It's okay."] He croaked out, his throat still sore form being throttled. It may have been an innocent attempt to help him further, but if she had seen the other bandages, questions would arise about his mental state even further than they already had. Whilst they had this status quo, Arvo was keen to keep from surprising her and breaking what little bonded the duo together.
He let go of her after they had shared a brief look of mutual dislike and he looked to where she had, seeing he had dropped the gun to one side and now held his knife, shaking ever so slightly in his fatigued fingers. It had been done without thought and he wondered if he would have gone further. He [i knew] he would have. And it sickened him a little to think he would resort to killing so swiftly. Quickly thinking he turned it around deftly and held out the handle towards her.[b "I need you to cut the swelling. I need to be able to see if I'm to be any use to you, even as roamer bait."] He held the knife out to her and turned his head to one side, presenting her with the wound. It was a simple concept. The swelling was just where blood had pooled under the skin. However as it pooled it would put strain on the eye which was secure in the eye socket. It wasn't likely to cause too much damage, but in a world where doctors were not exactly common place and 'Googling' any symptom and remedy was as easy as attaining a cup of coffee, it was better to be on the side of caution.
Large, whiskey eyes blinked slow at his words, an image synonymous with a curious owl, hand hovering over the sleeve of his sweater. In occasion such as these, memory – rather than active thought – guides her hand, applying pressure here and avoiding it there, so, she had only wanted to assess the extent of his wounds, only to find him tense, his tone gentle as he subtly voiced his uneasiness. [+red [i “It’s okay.”]] Her own was bellied momentarily, wondering whether – before they stumbled upon him or after his scuffle with his former friend – he was bitten. It would explain his complete aversion to Chris and her presence, but that could readily been explained as mutual distrust of intentions. Instead, she nodded, and retracted her wrist abruptly, biting back the urge to make a snarky remark, gaze falling to the space between his leg, the seat, and the console. The handgun – it’s make she was unsure of though it had the slim frame of a .9mm – had fallen from his numb fingers, but he still gripped the knife pithily in his hands, enough that his knuckles washed white from the grasp. Then, he turned it’s hilt towards her, as much of a brokered compromise as either of them would proposition. [+red [i “I need you to cut the swelling. I need to be able to see if I’m to be any use to you, even as roamer bait.”]]
Whatever foolish sentiment might have inspired the idea of bringing Christopher into the fold is dispelled. The girl is again, all tension and lines. [b “Obviously you haven’t been paying attention.”] considering there’s been ample opportunity for her to do just that: in the theater, she could have easily disobeyed the marine’s instructions, drew the scavengers to Arvo (after all, it wasn’t a hard door to beat down with brute force) and been spared the indignation and misery of wondering if he had made it out alive. Twice now Juno has made obvious efforts at decorum and extended the olive branch, and twice she has been astounded to find it spat back as tasteless. There wouldn’t be a third time. She grasp the knife firmly, balancing the heavy weight in her right hand, and gave him a keen look. [b “I’ve never done this before, depressurizing the eye.”] But she imagined it was no different than lancing any other wound and milking out the infection. Still, she watched him, waiting for any indication that he didn’t want to proceed. Other than giving a hefty sigh, he kept his profile angled so that the emerging light fell across his features.
Up close, his cheeks were more concave, sharply jutting through the thin parchment of insipid skin and his mouth looked like cellophane, clearly dehydrated. Green eyes with veins of gold, like the dark jasper rocks that lined the sturdy roots of the Montpelier Maples on her daddy’s farm, kept as clear of a sight on her as they could manage. She cuts the skin just where the sleepless nights were apparent, certain that dispute her best intentions will scar, and presses the rough texture of a gauze, letting it absorb the discolored pus. [b “Keep pressure on it,”] she instructs, standing and moving quietly out of the cockpit. They hadn’t a chance to explore the interior, to establish whether it was even safe to settle down and sleep.
With the knife still held tensely in her grip, she clears the immediate hallway and bathroom, before falling to her knees in the attendant’s hollow, searching through the broken shards of alcohol bottles. Some remain intact, having stayed secured in the food cart. Juno gathered the empty bottles, and tries the faucet. The valve is rusted but after a patient spell, water comes spitting out in a small trickle, the spicket clogged by minerals. She washes her hands, fills four 1.7 ounce bottles and returns to Arvo, setting them on the ledge of the flight console. His knife is set gingerly next to it before she departs again. When she returns, she informs him there are no infected aboard ([b “and if they were, they were blown out the back when the tail broke off”]) and he’ll find more space to stretch out in the cabin. She sat in the co-pilot’s seat, drew her legs to her chest, and stared out at the sun on the horizon, trying to find appreciation in the moments that reminded her that she was alive.
If Christopher were here, they’d have a conversation of all the things they missed most. For him: it was sunrises and morning jogs along the beach with his German Shepard, the smell of coffee brewing in his Keurig, the rain pattering against the tiles of his Californian home. For her: it was the experience of food-of bananas and mangos and avocado and papayas, of standing in the low tide fishing barefoot, and sleeping in late while the farm woke around her before her mother would finally creep in the room with a cup of tea and freshly made blueberry streusel. It was hard to deny the grief –in truth, it was the only thing they carried at all times – but they made do with present company, learning how to survive their memory. But they never spoke of his wife who was spared the horrors of seeing the end or the undisclosed fate of her family in Germany. The philosophy of [i que sera sera] that guided her free-spirit now grounded it as a truth of life. [i Whatever will be, will be.]
Juno hoped with every flicker of shadow and jumpstart of her heart, that she’d see the flash of the mirror in the distance instead of searching for the meaning, the rightness of death and all it snatched. But dawn came and went and with the afternoon came overcast skies that poured for hours. She watched for him under the bridge and coming up the main thoroughfare as they had and studied every cloud formation as though answers laid in the heavens. She watched until her senses failed her and the exhaustion ran its gambit against her stubbornness, she watched until the rains subsided and the sun found its way across the sky again. She watched until her skin felt like it was crawling and the second between a blink had her sleeping. And even in her sleep, rest was easy because her body and mind had been solely focused on waiting – because even she could face that she was afraid to be alone.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat Arvo sucks in a breath as her cold hand braces against his face, fingers pressing down around his eye as she warns him of the dangers that this holds. He knows it's risky, and even if she had the experience he would have felt a worry at her doing it. It could not be said that the thought of her taking the knife, thrusting it without remorse through his eye, just killing him quickly there and then, it crossed his mind as sure as the sun beginning to rise in the east. But she was quick and the slight pain of the cut was underscored by the release of the pressure on his eye. The give was much sweeter than the take.
She thrust some gauze at the wound and his hand clamped over it, nodding at her instructions and faintly gazing at her as she steps aside to clear out the cabin. Though he felt it was rather clear on their way in, he understands the caution she practices and though he wished to join her, knew she would only chastise him for doing so. He grasped the roll of bandage she had dropped off to one side and hastily wrapped it around his head, this one not having to be quite as secure or precise as the job she had done on his hand. She was a dab-hand at the doctor's role but he had to hold on to some semblance of independence and being able to look after himself. Even if it was just the image of doing so.
Her suggestion of stretching out in the cabin brought an approving nod of his head and Arvo shimmied his way up onto his weary feet, leaning against the console of the cabin for a moment as he struggled to clear an ever clouding mind. Although his hand wavered over his knife, the fingers twitching with the need for it's protection and defence it gave him, he clenched the fingers shut tightly and left it be. At some point, one of them had to give and show a weakness. He had been trying to play up to her level, to show he was just as strong as her and could do what she did. Such was the reasoning behind his suicidal plan earlier at the theatre. Such bravado was best left to those who actually could back it up.
Seeing that they were going to be thrown together for at least a little longer, showing her he even a small hint that he could be trusted further than he could be thrown would perhaps go a long way. Leaving her in the cockpit without another unnecessary word or rudely coloured language, Arvo stooped to collect a few discarded sweaters and collapsed onto a few of the nearest seats, his booted feet sticking out into the aisle as his body gave a final heave and he fell to sleep fairly soon. The restless nature of searching and running and then the brief faux respites in between had left him close to breaking entirely and just collapsing into a ball of aching muscles and festering wounds.
The sleep was fitful. At times it was nightmares that had begun as innocent dreams, memories. Running as a young miscreant through the woods, kicking up fresh snow and chuckling jovially at the most recent prank he and his comrades in arms had concocted. Mrs. Kivi screaming murder at the trio of vandals who had scrawled crude curses on the side of her barn as Mr. Kivi had grabbed his scythe to chase after them. Though his farm had closed years ago, the worsening weather to blame, it had struck Arvo as odd that the man still kept the tools of his trade honed to almost perfection, as if they would soon be needed come spring - or whatever counted for spring in the tundras.
Arvo and friends would stop beside a hunting cabin, giggling as they recounted their story like an old fable, already beginning to blur lies into the truth. Arvo and Mikki had left Timo to go into the cabin as they unbuckled their belts and took turns to write names or draw a set of genitalia in the pristine snow. Childish things. Boyish things. Except the pair had been interrupted as Timo cried out and there was the sound of thrashing within the cabin. They thought he might have found a spiders nest or perhaps a nesting badger. Quite territorial when their young were concerned, as any creature was.
Arvo pushed Mikki away as he milked the last drops out and his friend chuckled, walking towards the cabin door as he tied off his belt. Arvo soon followed behind and not long after he had turned the corner did he see the undead man, his teeth tearing through Mikki's arm as he stood there ashen faced. He had turned to look at him. His face was hard to describe. Confusion? Pain? Hysteria? It was unsure. But Arvo hardly paid attention, his eyes on the man eating away at his friend. With Mikki and Timo tasted, he lifted his head to look at Arvo, blood poured from the chunk of flesh he chewed slowly between rotting teeth. As Mikki finally regained himself and let out the most ear-shattering scream imaginable, Jeremy made his way towards Arvo.
Sitting up in the plane he kicked out needlessly at the thin air, his heart racing as he tried to get away from Jeremy. From the clawing hands and chomping teeth. As his mind began to finally come back to him, the reality of what was around him finally settling his heart, he pushed himself away from the seat he was in and looked up and down the cabin. There seemed nothing all toward different. Even Juno was sat in the cockpit, the faint light of the day giving him a silhouette of her foot which twitched a little. Walking up, he passed by his knife without a word and sat down in the co-pilots seat, rubbing at his bandaged eye a little and scratching his neck idly.
He had slept through the entire day, judging from the sun that was now setting out west as best he could tell. She was resting herself, and he felt a moment of luck had fallen on them that nothing had come in after them. However he left her be, only staring out the window at a few roamers than drifted around, shuffling through doorways and down alleys with some unknown cause to fulfil besides hunger. Arvo must have sat alone, just watching the world, for at least another two hours by his reckoning before she broke free of his dreams and came awake with a start.
Letting her adjust for a few minutes without saying a word again, he finally took in a sharp breath and kicked her foot gently with his own to gain her attention.[b "You know I still don't know you're name.. or that man's name.."] He said to her with a faint nod, though didn't give her enough time to speak up before he continued, his eye gazing out at the brilliant flame colours than ran across the sky, though with each minute it was fading.[b "Did you know that, in Finland, we have not only days where we get no sunlight whatsoever, but also days where the sun still shines at night. I remember, when we still lived there, in our town we call it the Midnight Sun."] He laughed quietly, his voice still nothing more than the rasps of faint noise it had been earlier.[b "My parents, they would send us to bed as children, at eight or nine o'clock at night. But it would be quite bright out. And we would complain, 'mama, why do you send us to bed when the sun is still out?'. Heh. She would always roll her eyes at us when we said that."] He shook his head, fingers picking at his jeans to scratch away some caked on blood as the vivid memory replayed in his minds eye.
[center [div(style="font-family: French Script MT; font-size: 30px; text-shadow: 3px 0px 2px #ccc;") Love is a terrible thing.]]
It parades as being magnificent force, spreading sentiments of warmth and belonging. It comes innocuously, diffusing through air and into lungs until they swell from it; the blood, red, vigorously, unfurling in violent displays through the canvas of body, nourishes this disease from cell to cell. It feigns the ability to provide substance. A host of chemicals comes spilling from the brain: phenylethylamine, dopamine, endorphins until every stimulated sense is lighting up like a galaxy in the skin. It comes worn and harsh and mostly sweet – as if it’s lived its life on the butts of cigarettes and finds itself swathe in honey, shortly before it greets you. It promises to be yours forever. The entire world flowers, and its wrongness comes hidden under canopies mistletoe and roses.
But when it does, it ruptures your lungs. It bleeds you dry and watches without a blink. You shouldn’t have been such a fool, so hungry to have something of your own. Your greatest shame comes when it returns in shambles, needing a warm place to rest its head. It comes with those luminous eyes and sinful lips, and tells you how much it’d missed you. It gives you purpose again, seduces you with thoughts of how it could be so much different with the memory of an absent lover so fresh. And you let it. It whispers its desires into the adipose tissue of your heart, burns itself into your blood, and breaks you each time.
Even the sanctity of dreams is not spared:
[i Twenty minutes of awkwardly standing against the perspiring walls of a frat house, had her tugging at the hem of the red muslin dress, staring at the seashells embroidering the throng of white sandals, and slurping the fruit-flavored alcohol in third SoHo cup of the night. Intoxication made her skin burn like fever, though still could not dispel the nervous air that hung around. The music screams lyrics over the harsh trashing metal and a sea of gyrating bodies keep her sutured to the corner where she has endeavored to emulate a fly.]
[i Only, when her gaze gamboled across spastic limbs, everything drew to a quiet hum – and she discovered Eden in the dim lights of a mosh-pit. With flattering grey eyes and hair soft as finely spun silk, she parceled the crowd by merely standing it in. It should have seemed obvious to Juno then, when the saliva in her mouth had evaporated quicker than she could replenish it, that the excited pattering of her heart would peter back into nihility if she did not recognize this defining moment for what it was; quickly, she discovered flayed nerves and intoxication were not favorable circumstances in which she could close the distance but by then, she’d lost sight of Eden and was delimited to the pitiful endeavor of being a faceless individual.]
[i [#086A87 You wanna dance? ] The inquiry promenades gleefully through her conscience, as burgundy as the lips that whispered them. She smells of cigarette smoke and vodka but tastes like the first tart bite into a plum.]
A tear climbs down the corner of her eye, eager to make itself known.
She wakes in tentative stages: the surface to consciousness, her eyes roaming about the shortening shadows of the city, and is taken beneath again; the second, is when she is aware of the muscles of her body requiring an indulgent stretch; the third tides into paranoia, where the hairs on her arms raise as if hidden creatures of the Earth considering his oblivious state an inviting delicacy. Since she could remember there’s been no peace found in sleep, only a dreamless void or nightmares and her return to reality comes with a start.
Disoriented, she blinks the fading rays of sun out of her eyes and feels a nudge against her foot. [+red “You know I still don’t know your name…or that man’s name.”] Belatedly, she realizes he is right – that she and Christopher hadn’t bothered with something as trivial as names when they were meant to part before night fell. But she listens with half an ear to his conversation attempts, not yet determine to correct the err. The city beyond the cockpit windshield is bathe in gold. [+red “Did you know that, in Finland, we have not only days where we get no sunlight whatsoever, but also days where the sun still shines at night. I remember, when we still lived there, in our town we called it the Midnight Sun.”] He laughs, as it sounds like wind stirring through the hollow of bone. She supposed the strongest emotional imprint from his story was joy – and the force of habit grew like a divide between them. [+red “My parents, they would send us to bed as children, at eight or nine o’clock at night. But it would be quite bright out. And we would complain, ‘mama, why do you send us to bed when the sun is still out?’. Heh. She would always roll her eyes at us when we said that.”]
Juno’s eyebrows rose, almost comically, disappearing into frizzy bangs. Twelve hours ago, he made it exceptionally clear that she, exclusively, offended his sensibilities and snubbed every cordial gesture carelessly. She felt neither justified nor vindictive nor indifferent at ignoring him– just the cold of futility. The Reckoning had only left her feeling this: adrift, naively trying to salvage hope in a turbulent briny – lost to the woman she might have been. Speaking of mothers and midnight suns would never change what’s gone now.
[i Eden had come to her in sealace – a shroud draped across naked shoulders. Freckles ghosted galaxies from the bare skin of her shoulder blades and fluttered to a close near her spine. The wind must have brought her wandering soul for the conversation but she stayed for the company – what Juno could mutter when not staring sheepishly at the gleaming Madonna she could be the archetype for. The ocean crashed around them in pale green tides, kissing the tips of toes dangling over the pier into small white-capped waves; seaweed always found its way curled around her big toe and ankle. That night, the gravitational bulge of moon and wafture of tides had been the only witness to – Eden’s throat thrown back and the shaking laughter that made her blush to her breasts - their consummation. This is what she thinks of when she hears midnight sun.]
She opens her mouth to reciprocate but nothing comes; not the many mornings she’s woken before even the sun and went into the chicken coup to gather all the eggs, singing “Richtig Scheibe” and her father, mortified his little [i leben] would [i know] such a thing, had made her kneel – bare knees- into uncooked rice, or that she knew how to jar her own honey and jam, or that she couldn’t stomach the smell of boiled eggs after her brother – suffering from some intestinal infection – burped right in her face and made her vomit. She was five.
Fifteen minutes must have passed with him sitting by her side, absorbing the quiet. He moves only to relief the emission collecting beneath his eye again and she does not more than [i breathe, blink] in that order. [b “His name is Christopher Djamoski – a Sergeant Major of United States Marines – and probably [i the] greatest man alive.”] Aside from tuck an errant curl behind her ear, Juno doesn’t stir from her vigil, and doesn’t make the pretense of comfort, but she finally does turn her head – and the soft gaze is reflective. [b “My name is Juno.”]
[i Arvo]…his name meant worth, or so he claimed. She wondered if, like hers, his hinted at a destiny that might never be fulfilled.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat [+red "Probably the greatest man alive.”] That had made him hide a sheepish grin of insanity at the phrase. To proclaim a soldier as a great being was rather jumping the gun. Perhaps to her, perhaps in this new world, he was the greatest man alive. But Arvo did not have enough fingers to count the people he judged to be more worthy of this title. However he has smothered the grin in behind his hand and yawns silently as he shrugs his shoulders gently.[b "Juno hmm? I guess the accent was a give away you were a fellow foreigner."] He commented with a degree of surprise.
Their brief moment of conversation was just that, a short expulsion of a memory and exchange of names. The silence hit once more and Arvo could not find a solid enough foundation to build from and continue with her. She was quite cold and inverted into herself without that man around. Perhaps her worry for him was pre-occupying her mind. Again he found himself in wonder that she may be planning on killing him or wounding him to leave to the roamers that still mingled around outside. He was a distrustful person and Arvo admitted it to himself that he would not associate with her or Christopher if he had any say in the matter. But the world didn't conform to wishes and wants. Now it just was.
The silence however was too much for him. They had spent over a day just resting in this metallic cradle of safety and shared barely a dozen words. He wanted to make a new group with her and Christopher and he did wish it had gotten off to more favourable beginnings. However the animosity and indifference he felt for the pair, and the fact he neither cared not hoped the man would return, didn't look good for any lasting bond. To speak of the past would be met with silence again. To discuss what they may have in common, to discuss favourite foods and drinks and their dreams before this had begun; it would have been beaten down by this woman who was holding some kind of vigil for her friend.
A brief moment's thought cut through his mind that she would be feeling his grief now. Feeling how it felt to lose people you cared about even though you hadn't known them long. They weren't relatives and before the outbreak, wouldn't even have been someone you associated with. Yet now you depended on them so greatly, to lose them was a fresh wave of loss that hurt more - it was worse than losing people in the beginning because these were friends built on survival. You both had common goals and to lose someone who understood how you were feeling at that moment wasn't exactly sunshine and raindrops. With them, you could share things and open up and find some form of comfort in mutual loss.
Arvo stepped upon something there, and he lifted his backside up off the chair, fishing into his back pocket and tugging out a wallet. It was very well worn and cracked leather and his fingers brushed along it's outside edge for a moment. His foot kicked out again, a bit harder this time so that she would look at him with that fiery gaze, those whiskey eyes burning with a look of hatred that Christopher wasn't there and this imbecile was. He merely flicked open the wallet and gingerly pulled out a picture.[b "I've been thinking. It's all I have now, my thoughts, and I've wondered what might break the hostility we share for one another."] His emerald eyes stared down at the photograph and traced over the faces of those inside.[b "We could sit here, talk about our lives, talk about hopes and wants and what plan we have for the future. The typical, survival conversation talk."] Arvo lifted up the picture, securing it between fore-and-middle finger and raising his arm towards her, offering it to her.
[b "But that still makes us both robotic. Both of us machines fighting those roamers, those things of destruction outside. So here, it is best I show you I am a person; or that at least I used to have the semblance of one."] When she eventually took the photo off him he nodded gently, letting her gaze at the beautiful woman upon it who sat with a little boy on her lap. They were both covered in layers of clothing from the snow behind them and both wore joyful grins across their faces as they looked into the camera. Her long blonde hair tied into a braid hung over her shoulder, his chubby cheeks rosy red from the cold and the broken toothed smile was almost infectious. The green eyes were a strong likeness for Arvo, though the picture was worn and looked years old.[b "Her name was Martha. If Christopher is the greatest man alive, she would easily be the greatest woman to have lived."] Arvo's eyes have watered fractionally but he doesn't go to wipe them away.[b "My son--"] He paused as his voice rose an octave.[b "I named him after my father, Jani. He was such a happy boy. Always asking--always inquisitive. Just like his mother. He was two in that picture; should have turned five last week."] His eyes fell to his empty wallet, playing with the sleeves of the leather.[b "I lost them in the first few days. Got stuck at some fucking conference in the next state. The roads were packed. I had to abandon the car just to get some distance towards them. Our town, it was one of the first to be severely hit. You know? When the military thought they could contain it?"] He scoffed derisively and allowed a few tears to stream down.
Licking dry lips he cleared his throat quietly and continued.[b "I tried to break through. I had to get to them, didn't I?"] A rhetorical question but asked as if he sought her approval.[b "I must have got about a hundred yards before they got me. Put me on the ground. Tied off my hands and feet. Left me with others who had tried to get through like we were criminals awaiting trial."] He shook his head disapprovingly as he remembered the feeling of the restrains cutting into his skin.[b "We were forced to watch the jets come in. It's like a car crash, you just can't help but watch it. Watch the fire. The glowing flames. The sound was so loud too. Even the heat reached us, and we were a couple miles back, it was like standing too close to the Christmas bonfire."] His chest shuddered as he sucked in a breath and he bit his lip in the vain hope of keeping himself together as he finished.[b "Jeremy, the guy from the book store, he was a part of that group of prisoners. He was with me when we had to watch everyone die like some sick show. And of course it was all for naught, remember? It did nothing but kill thousands of innocent people. Didn't even give them the chance at surviving, at living, at getting out."]
Arvo's head swivelled and he looked over at her, staring at the photo.[b "I'm telling you because I wanted you to know that I used to be a human being at least. I'm sorry I blame you two for things, blame you like you could have done anything. But you seemed as cold and robotic as those men that night. They were safe, their family was safe, so what did it matter than others had to suffer, right?"] Again he doesn't want an answer, just wants to get across how incredulous he felt at those authoritative people.[b "I saw you, just so youthful, and small, and spritely. And him, so brash and straight forward, and authority in just a look. I just don't want to think that you could become like him. Without emotions. Without a sense of feeling. Just-- just like a robot."] He lay his head back against the chair, sinking into the soft cushioning and cupping his hands over his face as he took deep breaths, wiped away his tears and regained his composure.
[#086A87 “I’ve been thinking,”] he sighed after a while, [#086A87 “it’s all I have now, my thoughts, and I’ve wondered what might break the hostility we share for one another. We could sit here, talk about our lives, talk about hopes and wants and what plan we have for the future. The typical, survival conversation talk.”] He pulls a photograph from an old wallet and gingerly hands it to her. [#086A87 “But that still makes us both robotic. Both of us machines fighting those roamers, those things of destruction outside. So here, it is best I show you I am a person; or that at least I used to have the semblance of one.”]
Those words struck a chord in the girl, enough for her to drag her eyes away and meet his watery gaze. The photograph was glossy, rich in color when gazed at under the fading sunlight. A woman seated on a log and garbed in white, winter attire grasped a boy in her lap; both harbored infectious, red-cheeked smiles, gazing at the camera with a laughing love reserved for a single soul. They were beautiful.
White creases marred the landscape, cutting across overcast skies and large, Christmas-like Spruce trees. This is the first time she has ever seen a photograph of Finland, not that she sought out images of the places she had never visited, but by mere circumstance it never occurred; she did, however, learn in passing, that peatland was primary element of its landscape and it was a mostly forest. These facts came from her father, who three years before, imported a Spruce of their own; it took days to drape the strands and ornaments across its large boughs but when it was finished, he gathered his many children and wife into his arms, and said: [#4B088A [b “This is the tree of the Wolfe family. When I am gone, I will be buried here, to watch the land you will inherit. This is your home, all my children.”]] How beautiful the memories were, even when they inflict suffering.
Only, as she traces the infectious smile of the young child, she is reminded that the only memento of her roots, went up in flames – willingly, by her hand, in order to survive. In her mind, the bible is vivid, as is the scent of its pages, as is the gilded cursive of [size8 WOLFE] embossed on the cover. It’s all gone. At least he has this, can hold onto their faces in the way memory cannot.
Head bowed, her hold on the photograph is revered, careful that the oils of her fingers won’t deteriorate it, but not yet willing to part with the token. [b “When I first met Chris,”] there is nothing robotic about the melancholy whisper, nothing of the disciplined girl, [b “I had just escaped Joaquin’s encampment.”]
[i Wheezing.] [i For a mile, she’d crashed through the slim birch trees, its branches leaving an assortment of cuts at any bare skin it whipped across. A hot stream of blood warmed her benumbed cheek, while she paused to greedily suck in breath. Every muscle was a lit with fire, groaning and unwilling to go another step.] [i She’d managed to carry off with few provisions: a bottle of water, two granola bars, a kitchen knife, her bible – the things she could fit into the pocket of her hoodie, while she stole under the cover of night. In the distance, like the lonely call of the wild, the howl of a wolf proceeded the immediate bark of dogs.]
[b “And Riot, the second in command, took a group of dogs to hunt me down.”]
[i It was the dogs that found her first. Weakened from starvation and surrounded by the two canines, she feigned surrender and bided her time. Before long, Riot arrived, appearing far larger emerging from between the dark throng of pale trees. The Mohawk normally styled to stand, had been slicked back, damp from perspiration. The grin behind the scruff of his beard was maniacal. A simple whistle turned snarling dogs into playful watch dogs, who biting after one another, bounded a few feet away.] [i [+red “Well,”] he said, putting aside his hunting rifle and unsheathing a Remington knife instead. He advanced slowly, palming his groin and tugging his tongue wickedly between his teeth. [+red “Looky at what I found- Joaquin’s play thing.”] He pouted his lips, stopping just short of reach. [+red “He’ll be so displease to hear you escaped, unless I tell him otherwise…”]]
[b “I was…Joaquin’s favorite, mostly spared from Riot’s perverseness, as long as I was obedient. There was no room for anything else, not if you wanted to survive….”]
[i She raised her chin, not quite convinced that he would spare he- he was known as the Butcher of Kenosha and wielded the title proudly. “What do you want?”]
[i [+red “Just a little of what he’s got a taste for,”] he said lightly, pushing her with enough force to knock the wind out of her when her back met forest floor. She closed her eyes and held the smell of the forest firmly in mind: the trickle of a nearby brook, the waterlogged leaves that haloed her head, the single root that broke ground and dug into her spine while he tossed her shoes off her and pressed the knife against her throat.]
[i Then she milked his desire for everything it was worth:]
[i “Okay,” she relented, pressing his hands off her and keeping them within clear sight. Just beyond him, three zombies shuffled around, sunken eyes staring listlessly with hunger into his back. She trailed her fingers down the denim of his thigh and tugged at the waistband of the pants, and she waited until the dogs begin to growl low in their throats. By then, the hunting rifle was no longer in reach and he couldn’t keep her helpless on her back without risking his own.] [i As soon as he rose, she trapped his foot between her thigh, and off-balanced, he toppled over her head, smashing his temple against the gnarled roots of a tree. Juno scrambled to her feet, managing to grab a single shoe that she used to stun the approaching roamer. The dogs no longer posed a threat, with two roamers having fallen upon it and feasted, while the second had yelped towards the hills.]
[i She picked up his knife and barreled ahead into the dark.]
[b “He caught up to me in the forest, but I lost him with the roamers found us…at least for a while.”]
[i The forest broke into the river, where it’s rushing current sounded like thunder in the silence. She paused at the riparian, assessing how likely she would survive in its freezing temperature when the ground before her feet was ripped up by a 5.56 mm bullet.] [i [+red “You move an inch, the next one’s in your spine. You wouldn’t be able to run then you little cunt.”] She slowly raised her hands and turned to face Riot, who covered in the gray ichor of the undead, managed to look gleeful with the butt of the rifle snug against his shoulder. [+red “You’re a clever little girl, you know, using the dogs to draw them.”] He wiped his gaze on his left shoulder, stepping closer. [+red “But fun’s over now. Put the knife down and come here.”]]
[i Juno’s heart clenched painfully in her chest, staring at the unfeeling metal nose trained upon her. The gun was styled after a German Jaeger rifle, who’s original design was short, heavy-barreled and of large caliber, which gradually evolved in the long, slender-barrel colloquially referred to as the Pennsylvania rifle. The proof mark would be located on the barrel. It was a single shot and he hadn’t reloaded.]
[i “I rather die right here than be his property.”]
[i Riot grinned and shrugged, looking through the iron sights. [+red “As you wish.”]]
[i The click of the hammer was audible – as was the curse when the realization he hadn’t reloaded sunk in. He tossed the gun to the side but it was too late. She rotated on her bare heels and dived into the water. For the second time, her breath had been stolen right from her lungs as she bounced, adrift, in its sweeping tide.]
[b “He tracked me to a river but by then I was too late. I had already dove in and was swept away. Eventually the current petered and spat me on the shore but for the first day I was too weak to do much but sleep. The next day, I gathered my strength and began fishing for my meal.s I followed the river for almost a week before it turned into a watershed for the city. Somewhere along the way I developed pneumonia, so the hunt began for antibiotics.”] She pauses, her eyes squinting out and into the dark for anything to save her from this sentimental diatribe. [b “Of course, everything had been cleaned out and the rains started. I was forced to make a shelter from a tarp I’d found and some cement blocks, trying to wait it out….That’s when he found me.”] A low hum, an unconscious gesture, in the back of her throat keeps the emotions from overflowing. This, too, is recent and far too refresh for her to share. She swallows and lets out a deep breath. [b “Anyway, he nurtured me back to health and taught me what he knew–how to survive.”] She remember what made her believe him – he’d kept his distance and just talked to her: about his home, about his travels, about his family. He needed the connection just as much as she did. He saw how they had nearly broken her. They couldn't, but he had and once she was left a mess of the former child she was, he built her anew. Now, when she sees a man and a man sees her, when he gets it into his mind that he'd like to pry her legs apart and unburden himself with the world for a while, she's not afraid. Not anymore. [b “He [i saved] me. I’ve been traveling with him ever since. ”]
She delicately places the photograph between them, a gesture symbolic alone in closing the topic, and return her arms to the former perch around her knees. [b “For what it’s worth, I [i am] sorry for you loss – all of them. I’m sorry for this whole damn world and I don’t know if it [i means] something – that they are spared from it and we’re not. I don’t know if that makes us bad people or just…unlucky, but all you can do is hang on to what’s left. Carry your home in yourself and maybe, just maybe, one day, it will matter.”]
Juno stood, needing to put distance between them again, and raised her hand as though to place it on his cheek. [i What was it like,] she wanted to know, [i to be in love?] She hadn’t the chance, not fully, but she supposed asking would be more torture for them both than anything satisfactory. Nothing was these days. She dropped her hand and nodded her head – an unspoken [i thank you] that couldn’t be voiced past her own lack of composure.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat Arvo could only really sit there as she recounted her recent history like it was some epic tale; and judging from what she chose to share, it was quite something. It was something that made him turn inwards more and his gaze drifted slowly into his lap, staring at the weathered fingers that stroked the leather wallet with missed love. The thoughts were their usual dark nature and he nodded slowly to show her he was still listening to her quiet voice.
To understand she had gone through all that made him feel remorseful for how he acted out. His grief was emotional and very much only about him. Hers had been physical torment and he was momentarily grateful she had spared him any true detail, only revealing the very outer core of the story she held deep within herself, his prying eyes not privy to her very being. It was a mutual thing to Arvo. He had given her information about why he was who he was, she had done so aswell. But neither seemed all too keen to relive overly strong pasts. Who would? It wasn't a good practice than Arvo had settled into, wondering what else he could have done.
However, Juno's experience did help in a sickly sense. He felt relieved that his wife hadn't had to experience what she had. To be subjected to the most primal of attacks against ones virtue was something he was thankful he'd been spared. It would have been only the more painful to him though as no doubt they would have made him witness it. By her voice alone he could tell just how sick these men had been. Using the devastated world as a means to fuck people against their wills and to use people as a commodity was a deep seated reason behind his hostility of new people. Jeremy had forced him to accept the others that had made up their group, saying to him how they had to protect others to make sure they didn't get into the hands of such thugs.
Yet despite the small amount of relief at knowing his wife wouldn't have suffered, despite the knowledge that his son had been in loving hands till the end, it didn't make it at all better. Looking at the picture that sat on a part of the console between them, he couldn't help seeing their smiling faces and warm gazes. The little puffer jacket he had bought Jani when they had visited his parents in Finland. The wonder on his face as he had watched wildlife not native to America, frolicking so carefree and close to the house it was a struggle to hold the squirming child and stop him running off in a fit of giggling despite his tender years. Arvo could remember having to placate him with chocolate and swearing him to secrecy not to tell his mother. The memory curled the corners of his lips a little though not for long.
It felt even more ridiculous then that he envied her relationship with Christopher. She could trust him like a friend, like a sibling who wouldn't judge and just did their best to help. There was someone Juno could put her belief in and know they came from a good place. Despite their little moment of weakness here, despite sharing their mutual suffering, Arvo still had nothing for them to truly bond on. It was still a lonely world and he nodded at her sentimental final words.[b "Or maybe it's for a reason we're here. Maybe there's a point to why we're here suffering."] He spoke to himself and a shaking hand, barely under control, took up the picture, raising it to his lips as his eye closed back over and he let a few feeble sobs wrack his body.[b "I had Jeremy to keep me in line. He focused my mind away from it. But maybe I should have just given up those months ago."] His voice was barely above a squeak now and he pulled the picture back.
Again his finger traced around her cheek.[b "I want you back. I need you here. I'm trying Martha, I'm doing my best, but I need you and Jani."] Tucking the picture away into the wallet and throwing it into her empty seat, he took a deep breath and stood up, brushing the back of his hand across his eye and stepping next to her.[b "I couldn't even get a call through, couldn't say goodbye."] A tentative hand rose up and hovered near to her shoulder, a forced smile across his trembling lips.[b "Thank's for saving me so often."] Arvo nodded slowly and then the hand rose slowly to her ear, hesitant as he made sure not to actually make contact.
He knew it wouldn't be all that comfortable for anyone to be touching her given what had happened and observed the cut.[b "If you have any thread I can stitch it up for you. If not, I'm sure I could bandage it. I promise I'll do better than I had on my hand."] He offered the faint joke to ease their tension, though it was something that would sit with them for some time now. Some facts you learn about a person do nothing to create a friendship or feeling of trust. Some, like what they had just shared, only gave him a sense of respect for her plight, for why she missed Christopher so much, for why she was so cold to a stranger and a man at that.
Water drops cling to the faucet, sporadically filling the silence of the small lavatory, creating ripples in the filled sink. Juno pressed her hands to either side of the marble counter and drew a steading breath. The black beanie had been pressed to her head for the better part of two weeks, filthy from dust and the blood splatter from Riot’s shoulder, and been ripped from her head and thrown in the corner by the outlet. She hadn’t know what other destructive act could express her anger without endangering the pergola.
[i [#086A87 “Thanks for saving me so often.”] His hand hovered above her shoulder, close enough she could feel the warmth of it, like a predator using echolocation to discover the vibration of its quarry. Her ears burned and rung as though suffering its final swan song. [#086A87 “If you have any thread I can stitch it up for you. If not, I’m sure I could bandage it. I promise I’ll do better than I had on my hand.”]]
[i The intimacy of sharing past horrors wound her tightly, and when it moved closer to her clipped ear, she flinched. It had been unintentional but she sheepishly kept her gaze directed towards the door. [b “It still hurts,”] she lied, referring to the ear. After the first day, the smarting cooled to a dull throb that she hadn’t noticed, until she jostled it against the seat. She gave him an encouraging nod but couldn’t quite dispel the bob in her throat. [b “Just let me clean up first.”]]
[i He’d only intended to help, but when she left the cockpit, she looked to the barred door of the emergency exit and considered leaving. It wouldn’t be difficult for her to cover ground alone, after all she had no present injuries that inhibited her chances of survival, and at the root of her reasons, his effectiveness was not among them. It would be irrational to duck out and leave him alone because she was afraid of what coming close to him might mean – and, she felt, her presence poised a greater danger to him should any members of the encampment discover them together. Besides this, Christopher was still out in the wet night, making his way to her like True North.]
[b “You are not a coward,”] the words were meant to fortify but felt empty. There was no conviction behind the statement, no vim in her steady gaze. It took saying them out loud in a stall, to herself, to see what Arvo meant. [i [#086A87 “I saw you, just so youthful, and small, and spritely. And him, so brash and straight forward, and authority in just a look. I just don’t want to think that you could become like him. Without emotions. Without a sense of feeling. Just—just like a robot.”]] But what other choice did she have? Facing her humanity meant each insecurity darkening her doorstep like an old jilted companion. It meant dwelling on the betrayals of men who promised to protect only to take the smallest pieces of individuality left. [b “You’re a survivor. You do what you must. Legerdemain and cunning. Legerdemain and cunning.”]
The drip of water echoes again, a poignant distortion of sound that’s soothing. Juno unravels the French braid, so that her oleaginous curls spring free, brushing just above the small of her back. Delicately, she washed the blood from her ear, finding it split into a V formation and extremely tender to the touch. The rest of the washing is quick and efficient once she finds the antibacterial soap. Her clothes are scrubbed last and hung to dry. Of her exploration, she donned a pair of black cargo pants, which were far too long for her and forced her to fold thrice before tucking into her boots, and a matching tank-top with black zip-up Northface Jacket.
She braced herself and returned to the cockpit, to find the supplies already laid across the flight panel and Arvo staring out into the darkness. She knew what she searched for out there but what did he? Her thoughts turned back to what he shared. As a matter of respect, she cleared her throat, sat in the unoccupied seat, and mulled her thoughts around. [b “If Chris doesn’t come back, we’ll need to gather supplies. Everything you had was left in the theater, right?”] It would be too dangerous to try and return, assuming, of course, that his supplies weren’t taken and roamers weren’t currently shuffling up and down the theater aisles. Between them, they had enough food for three days if they portioned the cans and ate once a day and a bottle of water, minus a capful.
Finding a backpack would be of no issue; there were plenty of carry-ons with folded clothes, travel-sized hygienic supplies, and the occasional electronic with batteries. After eight months, most of the food had been freezer burnt and past its expiration date – though, the drawers too had a few packets of crushed chips, stale pretzels, and molded muffins. He also had a map to the city, which would prove useful in marking cache and uninhabited areas. Leaving the aircraft was the last thing she wanted to do but it was the best course of action.
[#0041C2 [i “You’ll face difficult odds and make difficult choices after me. Sometimes there is no [I right choice], just what must be done—and you’ll know what that is.”]]
While he cut the bandage into strips, she dug around the bottom of her backpack and retrieved Arvo's map. [b “What's this circled point here - Belle Isle - for?”] Everything else had been marked accordingly, except for an area stretching roughly five miles. It sat between Detroit River and St. Clair Lake; a prime location for a dam, ergo, electricity, if one existed in Michigan. [b “Arvo,”] she breathed in mild excitemnt, [b “you said you were from Finland, but I assume you're not [i here] by mistake. Do you know the city well? Enough to get us here?”] She asked, needing knowledge the area in order to plot the best avenues of navigating.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat Arvo nodded at her request and his hand quickly folded into the other, hastily beating a retreat back to the cockpit and seeing the familiarity it gave him. It was partially warmer for him and the heat he felt enveloped his being. It reminded him of the long car journeys his family took when he was a child, where their body heat and confined space would provide a cosy atmosphere to spite the buffeting blizzard that usually kicked up around them.
Her words didn't make all too much sense to him, and he felt he had a good grasp of English to know what people were saying.[+red "Legerdemain."] She had said it like it was scripture and he found his cheeks flushing at the annoyance of it's cryptic nature. The woman was all but a mystery to him, her thoughts something he couldn't comprehend. Where one moment he thought she would kill him, she would take his wrist and pull him to safety in a reading room. The next she helping him fight off a pair of villainous cretins and after that she berates him for not understanding her. It was quite easy to see how he was so clueless to her true being when she hid it so well.
But he wanted to know more. Arvo wanted to break open the hard exterior and know more. In a simpler time people would have took it for lustful wanting of her body. He had caught his eye wandering once or twice without his say so. Seeing her was certainly not wearing on the eyes, or rather the eye at the present moment. But he didn't see her in a sexual manner. He saw her as a very peculiar being. Arvo was more curious to find out what she was truly like as a person. He wanted to know the Juno from before the atrocities she had been privy to.
Himself, he hadn't changed all too much. He kept his lip quiet often and bit on his tongue to save any further grief, but when he was at his peak he could spit venom and knew how to seek out the precise point that would cause the greatest harm. It wasn't something to be proud of. It was just him. And he was grateful to hear her footsteps coming up behind him so that he didn't go into another spiral of self-deprecating put downs.[b "Everything is ready."] He said to her, his gaze fixed on the darkness outside as he half-heartedly rubbed at his arm. It didn't hurt. The nerves were long dead. But it itched madly, as it always did after the deed.
Turning back to her at her question he nodded with a shrug of little care.[b "It is, but with at least three guys, one with a big gun, and maybe with Christophers gear.."] He let the implied difficulty hang before them, though also wished to steer away from discussion on the soldier. He still didn't know the pair and couldn't just assume he was with them now they were slowly co-operating with one another. Watching her fetch out the map he stepped out into the cabin and returned with a torch from the emergency crew supplies box tucked near the trash receptacle. Flicking it on he handed it over to her whilst grabbing up a few blankets and tucking them into the window frames of the cockpit. The last thing they would need would be someone seeing the light and coming to look - undead or murderous living alike.
Arvo cut the bandage into long strips and looked at her as she stared at his map which he had done his best to update with any useful information. She was half stood with the map and he pressed a hand to her forearm, pushing her to seat herself down fully. Taking the torch from her he tucked it into the nape of his neck, able to angle it so her ear was visible but she could read the map. Grabbing the needle and thread he'd taken from a passengers sewing kit, he gripped his hands tightly to rid himself of any final nerves. It didn't help that he was doing it half blind but Arvo knew it had to be sewn up now or risk further chance of infection. Nodding at her words he glanced at the map quickly.[b "Belle Isle is the site of a dam they built about two years ago. Fed power to the whole city and a few further over."]
Letting her run through ideas and thoughts he places hands hesitantly on either side of her head, turning it towards him.[b "Keep still little one."] The words slip out without thinking and he blushes at his terminology, though not for long before he pushed the needle through, pulling the thread with it.[b "Of course I'm not here for sightseeing. I have a masters degree in Civil Engineering with Geographical Information Science and Seismic Design."] He had turned the needle, pulling it back through when he laughed lightly at her silence.[b "I grew up in a small town with pretty much naught but a dam in it. If you didn't learn something practical to do with it, you ended up an alcoholic or dead before thirty. Doesn't Finland sound magical?"] He shook his head lightly and had to readjust the torch to fix it back in place.[b "I basically make sure they are built correctly and that the environment, including earthquakes, cannot harm the structure or cause failures. Safety man."] Pulling the thread taught he took a moment to take a deep breath and wiped off the end of the bloody needle to clean the point.
A final small nod and he went back to work on the next two stitches that would close it up good.[b "I didn't live here, but I worked at the dam. You take the express way north and take exit four. Take the first left and follow it about a mile and then you hit the entrance road to the dam."] He was less nervous now and finished off the final stitches with ease. Tying it off he cut the extra thread and brushed a droplet of blood off her neck before perching himself on the armrest of his seat.[b "Why? What are you thinking?"] He asked her with a small sense of excitement, feeding on her energy a little.
[#086A87 “Belle Isle is the site of a dam they built about two years ago. Fed power to the whole city and a few further over.”] The girl hums low in the back of her throat, pressing the nail of her thumb between her teeth in thought. Any hopes of obtaining electrical power lied in the power plant, which, considering they were in Michigan would be more apt to use a hydroelectric engine rather than diesel or nuclear, though coal was not outside of the question. Beyond [i starting] it, they’d have to redirected its alternating current from the city and maintain it.
Her head tilts, trying to assess the different highway routes and backroads that might safely divert them. Gingerly, she feels his hands framing her head, pressing wet curls back against her cheek. [#086A87 “Keep still little one.”] Her eyes seek his over the flames, finding the suddenly reticent male is as uncertain and timorous as she about touch. Needle breaking through skin had her ramrod straight and despite her best efforts, squirming to alleviate the spasms pain immediately shot to her bladder.
Listening to him was almost distracting enough- though, she did shoot him a look of surprise passed her face at the revelation of his former occupation refusing the believe that the caprice of a moment could turn to be so fortuitous. Juno gritted her teeth as he made the knot that would suture the wound close. Blood still dribbled from the auricle but it was a few drops that squeezed past his hands.
They were somewhere near Melvindale, more or less on the outskirts of local boundaries. If they backtracked, they could meet with Interstate 94 in two days which eventually converged with I-75 and would deposit them a couple hundred miles from the shoreline. From there, it’d be a straight shot – with plenty of fresh water, vegetation and small game to conserve their strength.
[b “We’ll be hunted in the city,”] she began, trying to layout the foundations of a solid plan. Many of the main thoroughfares of the city were far too dangerous to follow, Riot’s crew was bound to dispatch two and three man covert operations to detain any human vagrants. Two would walk the streets, with a third “in the sky” providing cover fire. It was more of an aggressor tactic than safety procedure. [b “Here and here will be impossible to cross by day – and by night, this entire area is flooded with infected.”] Each county was pointed to, leaving only a thin avenue of backroad near Country Rd 155 that stretched vegetable fields. They might find a farmhouse or two along the way – and if they were lucky, a few wild chickens lingering around.
[#086A87 “I didn’t live here, but I worked at the dam. You take the expressway North and take exit four. Take the first left and follow it about a mile and then you hit the entrance road to the dam.”]
Her finger followed the path his words laid out, finding the most direct path would take them through an area she was unfamiliar with. Riot and men could be lying in wait and they probably wouldn’t know it until it was too late.
With a sigh, she turned her body fully into the light, squinting over the various roads and intersections as though a more clear course might emerge. But an idea was inspired: [b “We can travel through the pipelines – they’d eventually wind to the dam, no?”] Even if there were grates keeping them from passing, they return to the surface long enough to find another manhole.
[#086A87 “Why? What are you thinking?”]
[b “Food is becoming more and more scarce,”] she rested her forearms on her thigh, leaning close as she confided her thoughts. The space between them diminished and her grasp on finding something more substantial to bond them began. [b “Soon, they’ll be nothing but the dead here. But if we can make it to the dam – we’ll have the means to not [i just] survive, but to thrive.”] In the midst of such a hollowness, it sounded like a pipe dream from the bygone world. If they used only the minimum power required to keep the generators going, they could slowly begin to cultivate the surrounding land for livestock and vegetation. The waterfront would keep the dead from spreading the infection further and with a little imagination, they would be able to secure the immediate area surrounding the dam. Arvo would be a hard sell. [b “I was thirteen when I received my admittance letters. MIT had been my first choice but they’d just launched a collaborative program with Alma University – which my parents would have been happier if it was Catholic than Presbyterian –and I was elected to participate. There, I took various undergraduate course for my degree in Computer Engineering.”] The corner of her mouth jumped with amusement at his own astonishment. He knew as well as she did looks were deceiving. [b “Among them, was Terrascope – an in-depth study of the Earth, and Disciplinary Foundation, which combined computer science with engineering courses. If you can get the weir started, we can keep it running…[i together].”]
The words lingered between them heavily, waning like shadows in the light of the torch.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat Arvo understood. Of course he did, he wasn't a high school drop out who spoke in grunts and dragged his knuckles. He still felt the little woman was dumbing down much of her speech so he could understand and the small trickle of anger at it was quickly washed away as he realised she was just trying to simplify the plan. It was a good one, yet it was part of Arvo's job before this all began to object and to throw doubts into peoples plans. His job meant safety, and if he didn't question it from time to time people tended to get hurt.
Shrugging his shoulders he began to pack away the sowing kit for the future. It was something he had forgot to put in his pack for such occasions as this.[b "But electricity is like gold now. It's the only real commodity aside from food and drink. People, not just Riot and his group, will be seeking it out aswell. There's two of us and.. I dunno, lets say a dozen of them. And they have bullets - alot of them."] He sighed and scratched at his unshaven chin. He needed to find a new razor or sharpen his knife and get rid of the stubble. It felt odd for the usually well groomed male. She brought him back though.
[+red "If you can get the weir started, we can keep it running…together."] He felt a moment of envy at how easy she made it sound. Smiling fractionally he stared down into his lap, not wishing to catch her eye as he had before.[b "You remind me of Martha. She always liked to see the sunny side to things."] His comment brought a small pang of reality that his wife wasn't there. It paid well to just keep her as far from thought and topic as possible.[b "So, lets say we do it, we get to the dam. We get there and we're locked out. Or we get there and someone else has already made it home. Or we get there and.. I mean, God forbid it, but what if we leave and Christopher turns up here?"] He looked up then, not wanting to be the one to bring up the man who was missing here and would have a third mind to throw into the collective brew.
Even Arvo was beginning to miss the man. The sense of protection and certainty was missing and the two that remained were on opposite ends of the survival spectrum. If he had been there, he could shoot down Arvo's concerns without a second though, thats what Arvo believed. As he wasn't though, Arvo gave a great sigh, chest heaving as he pushed off the edge of the chair and crouched down beside her chair. He looked up at her in the chair, fingers brushing over her arm for her to look at him. Whenever he had to touch her, his body seemed to recoil some. Again, she was attractive and whatever, but he knew what those other men had done. No doubt Christopher would have had to tip-toe around her a bit. His gender had given a poor excuse of themselves and he knew the wrong touch at the wrong time would have her burying a knife in his throat - reactionary more than deliberate but death awaited nevertheless.
[b "I guess if I was going to just give up I would have done it a long time ago. I don't really have it in me I guess, even when I feel as shit as I do."] His eyes wandered and he stared down at where his wedding band had sat. It was in the wallet now, secure behind the zipper in the coin slot. But he still saw the slight tan line where it had sat.[b "But you're a smart woman. Not just education wise. You seem like some survival expert to me, even if you probably think otherwise."] He gave her a hesitant smile, looking up back into her rich earthen eyes.[b "I'll trust you on this Juno."] Arvo lifted a hand to pat hers but it just hovered a moment before he pulled away and walked into the cabin of the plane, looking for another backpack to begin throwing in some blankets and anything else he deemed necessary.
His eye stung a little, his arm felt dead, his throat still rasping though much better than a few days prior. He was exhausted. His muscles ached. His legs felt ready to give out whenever he stood still for too long. But he put on a brave face. He'd put on a brave face for the last eight or so months. Arvo had stuck through quite a few awful situations. Without a platform of normalcy to build on, he felt lost the last several days. But now he had a semblance of agreement with Juno, and he knew he could work his way forward from that. She was his wall to have his back to and now he could deal with things ahead of them more easily. He could only wonder though at what went on in that brilliant mind of hers. He only wondered what she truly was thinking of him and this situation. Arvo couldn't know, and kept his own mind busy with packing.
[#086A87 “You remind me of Martha. She always like to see the sunny side to things.”] There had been a lengthy pause as they allowed his comment to gestate. Strangely, she recognized that it was meant as a compliment to her character but it seems to give him no great comfort. Why would it? Anything that is of resemblance pales in comparison to the memory of the woman he lost. [#086A87 “So, let’s say we do it, we get to the dam. We get there and we’re locked out. Or we get there and someone else has already made it home. Or we get there and…I mean, God forbid it, but what if we leave and Christopher turns up here?”]
Arvo raised judicious arguments, none of which she could solidly combat, considering all were circumstances that would be out of either’s hands. At best, they might [i very] well be locked out of the dam, unable to draw even the slightest of power to demagnetize the locks – but an amplified force field might disable it long enough to see them past. If someone else was there, it wouldn’t be outside of reason they could [i convince] them of their worth – after all, how many Civil Engineers would have lingered after the militant quarantines failed? –and build a new, surviving on the land as endless generations of did before her. And if it were Riot, then she’d rather go down defending her rights and her home, than be tossed back into the pit of stripped, fattened prisoners—but that was a choice she could not make for him.
[b “I’d never leave my own behind,”] and beneath the soft alto octave is the first brim of fire. No, Juno would never let the thought cross her mind to abandon the soldier who resurrected and gave new life from the bones of her incarnation. He had, in many ways, become her father – her trust and loyalty was resilient and unwavering.
[#086A87 “I guess if I was going to just give up I would have done it a long time ago. I don’t really have it in me I guess, even when I feel as shit as I do.”] Hunkered down in front of her, the discrepancy of height is made negated and she is able to perceive the near desperation mirrored in her gaze – or so, she chooses to believe. He has made himself vulnerable in her presence, even if it is for the sake of maintaining the only thing that [i makes] and [i keeps] them human. [#086A87 “But you’re a smart woman. Not just education wise. You seem like some survival expert to me, even if you probably think otherwise….I’ll trust you on this Juno.”]
There they were: are return to words that had weight and worth. Again, his hand hovered over hers and she considers, for a moment, for his perspective, that the act is more symbolic than it is a physical need to connect. [i You are safe with me,] he insinuated by the act, [i you are safe to be [b with] me without facing perfidies.] But the moment, as all others, can be determined and fruitful by her will, and she mutely, allows it to extinguish as rapidly as the torch’s light begins to fade. This is the firm tenet she holds on to, to still her rampant heart and clenching abdominal muscles; it is all she can do to will her body from its parasympathetic responses. With little more than a nod to himself, he closes the cockpit door behind him and lets her contemplate in the entrenching dark.
Thunder rumbled through the metal interior of the airplane before hail begin pelting down. [i Glad I’m not out there,] she mused lightly, struggling to keep her mind from straying from the objective and plying imaginative circumstances that kept Chris from meeting them. What if, during a tussle with one of the men, his prior war injury was jostled and he was paralyzed, left alive and helpless against the shuffling herd sure to fall upon him and feast? Or, worse yet, what if he did manage to slip from their grips, though with a debilitating injury such as a bullet to the chest, or a bite wound? Knowing him, he’d rather her hold onto the last memory of him – the brave marine who willingly gave his life for two others – than anything he might become. There could be no other explanation.
A soft whirr emits from her haversack, drawing her attention. She fishes through the contents to find the video camera Chris handed to her days before. A blinking red light fills the darkness, bathing her in its light. She fiddles with its buttons before a video of the marine springs to life.
[center [b — CHRISTOPHER —]]
[i There are many things I carried through during the war.] [i My love of music kept the company in higher spirits trudging through the swamps and hard loam of forests; we sang tunes we crafted for our austere conditions and named our rifles after the most loved thing we possessed. Most nights, we braved the chill but sometimes the opportunity came to huddle among my brothers around a fire. Those nights, letters were passed around from one man to another. We described the women we left behind and discussed just how faithful and patient their fickle hearts could be. No man would be left without his memory carried by those who survived.]
[i When the weather turned it chilled the marrow of bones of our bones, drenched in us in downpours but still we held tight and sang our battle-cries proudly when we could. What ambushes were mustered were savage but amateur in rights; we killed more men than we lost and thanked the Lord. I once carried my religion on a chain, blessed by the Pope in commendation for service. He hoped it would guide our hands to the door the Lord’s work but most days it felt like the Devil’s.]
[i I carried my weapon as did others—with the spare breath to divide life and death. Those milliseconds between the two were slight and feared, revered and detested. Those who fought the hardest, regretted the most. They sinned passionately and holstered bibles in the uniforms, strapped against a thigh or leg, carried it as a weight to remind them Death still comes, that fear was natural and right.] [i But most of all, I carried the weight of my wife and her memory. Up the mountains and in the base of wet earth, her patient eyes were talismans against the nape of neck; they were gray and still as an ocean's facade, vibrant and turbulent in the late slants of moonlight. I carried her questions of immortality, of attending temple to pray for her womb to swell with the children I couldn’t give her. We fought about this often. Every time we managed to tear open those wounds, she’d look to me like the children of enemies – not quite understanding [b why]. So, I carried the guilt of peering into her most intimate of prisons—]
[center [b —JUNO—]]
The camera gives two short [i beeps] before shutting off. There was more, no doubt, words of the man she truly only knew in passing, by context – taking prematurely from her. She pressed buttons frantically, trying to bid the image to return, to comfort her with the familiarity of his voice, but the electronic was lifeless, incapable of salving her grief.
[i [#0041C2 “Keep calm, carry on.”] He told her the first time the food ran out, taken by a group who managed to ambush them. They were a skittish couple, dark of skin and eyes, and far more starved than them. Juno had been scouting a block when she stumbled upon the scene – she had crept behind the slender female, ready to bash a brick against the side of her head when Chris stopped her with a steely look.]
[i “Give us the food!” The male yelled, sweat beading across the sunburnt forehead and course hairline of his hair. He held a Colt Defender sideways in his hand, thrusting it forcibly towards the Marine. Hands held high and SA-80 hanging from his back, he was unarmed and being threatened.] [i [#0041C2 “Sure,”] he quietly agreed, movements slow to not startle the male. He tossed the duffle bag between them. [#0041C2 “It’s not much, but it’ll last you a few days.”]]
[i The man didn’t offer any gesture of gratitude. He kept his eyes and gun trained on Chris while he blindly searched for the straps. Once it was snug around his wrist, he held his hand out of his lover, and they took off between the stacked houses. She joined him, not understanding why he let their supplies go without confrontation.]
[I [b “Why?”] She begged to understand, hot tears of frustration clustering behind her eyes. [b “That was ALL we had.”]] [i He trained his cobalt eyes on her, calmly wiping the thin stream of blood at his temple. She’d all but been ballistic that he’d be pistol-whipped and still did nothing. [#0041C2 “Juno, you never know how far you’ll be driven to protect your own. You’ll find yourself doing unsavory things [u only] when necessary-then, you keep calm and carry on.”] The sun had been warm above them – warmer than she could remember for months. [#0041C2 “The woman that was with him, she was pregnant. They’re walking around with bare feet and moldy clothes – they needed it more than we did.”] Then, he checked his pockets for the mirror and spare ammo – and their trawl began anew.]
[b “You better make it,”] Juno muttered to no one in particular; she just sniffled, and clutched the camera tight to her chest.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat Arvo had searched through a number of bags to find suitable attire that would fit him and also things to throw into his newly acquired backpack. It was a small shopping trip to re-stock on some essentials. It was good to be in clean clothing, the warmth it brought almost as good as the lack of an odour. He hadn't been able to find such clothing in the last few weeks. All the houses had clothing sure, but it was the wrong gender, wrong size and often moth-ridden. It was like these people didn't understand differing sizes or the proper way to store clothing.
It made him shake his head in amusement at how he was now focused on clothing suitability rather than the fact he was about to embark on a journey through a sea of dead. And those that weren't dead, still wanted him dead. There was little for him to look at and see positivity from. Even Juno exuded bare tolerance of him. They were slightly more bonded together now, though to entwine their destiny's at that moment was a premature evaluation of how far they had come. From a moment where murder had almost occurred, to open hostility between them and now mutual understanding. They had certainly started from nothing and built a considerable amount, despite the animosity that remained.
Through the bags he didn't flinch at seeing pictures of families or memento's they had taken back with them or gifts bought for their friends and family they were likely to see. He had no attachment to them and therefore no feeling of sadness that they were now gone - some still sat in the seats where they had died. He was simply efficient. Arvo was a step further towards the cold heart he had once accused his accomplice of. But it was right to do so. It was necessary to set aside emotions and feelings and just do things with the regiment of getting in and out quickly. And he saw the benefits when he stepped back, a small sweat building up across his forehead as he observed his prizes.
Luckily for them, someone either coming back or going to a hiking trip had been unlucky enough to be on the flight. But their items would be useful. A bottle of insect repellent, purification tablets - a whole box of the life saving tablets - a fresh first aid kit and even a plastic set of bowls with cutlery. The last item was something so simple but even Arvo had to admit to times where eating out of a can or trying to awkwardly hold a hot piece of meat and eat it would have been much easier in a bowl. A small pile of batteries and blanket had been the best he'd found in the other bags. Had electricity not been a concern, there was a multitude of laptops, smartphones, tablets and the like that he would have liked to take just to see if there was a working internet still, a way to get information about the world, even some films to watch and take him away for a few hours into a world where he was relaxed and safe at the same time instead of either or.
Zipping up his backpack he made his way down the plane a little to change behind some dis-lodged seating. Standing bare he looked at his body for a moment, noticing how his ribs were fairly prominent and his legs quite toned - it was a marked improvement on the slightly hefty man he had been before. A click of the door and he looked up over the seats, seeing Juno step out of the cockpit. He swore under his breath, quickly pulling the sweater he'd taken over his head to keep his arm hidden. He didn't really know why he was worried of her seeing. Perhaps if she knew so soon after he had shown a bit of back-bone, it would undo his work.
[b "Probably best you keep an eye out of the window for a minute."] He called out to her as he reached over, hiding his manhood behind one hand as he grabbed the underwear. Once covered he stepped out, grabbing the jeans and rest of his clothing as he did so and proceeded towards their exit.[b "So whats the plan of action?"] He asked her as he threaded his legs into their sleeves and quickly threw on socks and shoes, seating himself to tie the laces, though he wanted a moment to breathe and adjust his bandages back into place.
The gilded light of the torch petered out slowly, the darkness creeping like a cloister around her, settling the cold in. Arvo had, wisely, set blankets across the windshield while he stitched her ear, of which there was no present use for. She folded the first into the haversack and grasped the hem of the second when something shifted in the shadows just beyond the ruins of Howie’s Velvet Delights. Squinting, Juno leaned forward, trying to adjust to the umbrage the bellied out plane cast in the moonlight. For seconds, there was nothing but her breath fogging the window over the quite city and the tight coils of tension in her stomach. [i It must have been some trick of light and reflection,] she thought – until, again, a slender figure begins ambling quickly across the debris.
There was far too little light from this vantage point, and the topography of its body was ambiguous at best; the abnormal height and gangly arms appeared indicative of a male. It made little sound. [i This isn’t Christopher,] she determined, and before she could retreat, the figure appeared to raise its head and stared at her. Or rather, it appeared to, when it’s lean body drew to a sudden stop, curling its clawed hands heavenward. She held still with bated breaths, hoping that it might attribute her face –if it could even [i recognize] a human by anything other than scent – to background scenery. Minutes must have passed with her crouched over the flight console, squinting into the dark, before it sniffed the air and hobbled out of view, head rotating erratically.
Juno was on her feet, slinging the haversack across her shoulders, grabbing the second blanket and closing the cockpit behind her. [#086A87 “Probably best you keep an eye out of the window for a minute.”] She heard, but the troubled girl was far too distracted to call back yet. A rummage through the cabinets produced a can of spoiled peaches, its black syrup emitting a foul, nauseating smell. She was on her knees, using the broken end of a bottle to smear a message across the sheet.
[center [pic http://i59.tinypic.com/2m834af.png]]
Then, she used the topple end of the cart to tie the ends from the bathroom and flight deck. Pivoting on her heels, she swiftly navigated through the gridlocked aisles, face drawn with clear concern. She was just climbing over the seat, albeit awkwardly, by time he clasped the button of his jeans when he spoke again. [#086A87 “So, what’s the plan of action?”]
Her foot caught on the headrest, sending her tumbling into his shoulder, knocking them both off balance. His slender frame bolstered her fall, allowing her to recover quick enough to draw up body up his and clasp her hand over his mouth. The proximity was disquieting. [b “There’s something outside,”] she whispered against his ear before he could protest her lack of finesse. [b “Something I’ve never seen before.”] Juno drew back, lifting both hands in a gesture that she hadn’t meant anything malicious in the unintended assault, before standing and offering a hand – eyes wildly volleying the congested cabin.
The windows were sealed for safety measurements, incapable of being opened from the inside. While they hadn’t tried to operate anything electrical, it was almost certain to bed dead. She wished she’d retrieved the flight recorder to see what caused it’s crash. If lightning struck them or the engines had failed, there was at least the feasible idea that they could re-direct power, and disengage the locks – if they needed to make a rapid escape by shimming down its side and landing on the tattered remains of the wing.
[b “Did you find any mirrors?”] She asked him quickly, needing to assess the situation. She’d have to give a crash course on signal flashes, in case they wound up separated. If anything were to find its way inside, which she attempted to reassured herself was highly unlikely, they should be able to wait it out in the cockpit.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat When she collapsed onto him Arvo felt the wind driven out of his lungs and wheezed accordingly, faint gasps for air like a hapless fish on land. His hands had caught her without issue, wrapping their way around her fair waist and holding her greedily to his body. The feel of her lithe frame against his was momentarily distracting and yet when he wished to speak up about it, her hand enclosed upon his mouth and he stared up in silence. The understanding that she held control here was complete and he could only spare a moment to what she was saying. Given their current closeness, it took alot of mental willpower to not become aroused at her. The heat she emitted was like a small furnace and the feel of her soft skin, despite the barrier of clothing between his wanting fingers, was one he hadn't felt in a very long time.
[+red "There's something outside."]
That was enough to have him worried, but the look of concern on a woman he thought who wasn't easily fazed by anything was more concerning. It meant whatever she saw was something to be feared at the very least. Nodding as he accepted her hand he quickly pressed his forehead against a window to gaze out on a lacklustre night. A few roamers, but nothing special to be seen. He had thought about ignoring her. It was dark. She may have mistaken a mangled corpse for something special. But he had a slight chill on the back of his neck that made him believe her. He had seen things before. Things you look at and wonder how it came to be.
The smell of the peaches wasn't the best, and he had eaten rotten fish happily as a child. Even if they had been fresh and off the tree he would have turned away from their sickly odour. But this smell was borderline hazardous to a persons health.[b "Mirrors? I don't know. I think there's some--some purses over there--oh god that stinks."] He gagged a little and walked away. Arvo stopped by the entrance to the plane and took in a few lungfuls of fresher air. Feeling his breathing begin to ease and the pungent fruit smell was further away at least. Closing his eyes for a few seconds he knew they would have to get going soon to make use of the night and not be spotted by Riot's thugs. It made best tactical sense, and a faint smile grabbed him at the realisation he was beginning to think a bit more like his accomplice now.
As he was about to stand and turn back to Juno, there was a click from below in the store. He frowned. It was a very distinct click. Not like something shifting out of place or the building going through it's usual groan of complaint at the planes weight. It was deliberate. And it came again. At least three more times, always louder, always closer. Arvo reached into his jackets pocket and fumbled to get the flashlight out that he'd found earlier, the clicks coming closer now with a faint shuffle to follow. Flicking it on he smacked it against the palm of his hand and the shaft of light broke the mystery of the room below. The duo's eyes met. One pair blue, undead and clouded over. The other green, alive and very much fearful.[b "Juno get to ca-"] He had half turned and shouted when the Stalker had sprung forward with a cry like that of a screeching cat. It clicked furiously to keep it's knowledge of the area as accurate as it could and a blood dripping claw caught Arvo in the chest throwing him back.
Catching an arm on a chair back he managed to use it to keep his footing and stepped backwards from the infected as he coughed, breath taken from him by the hit.[b "Juno--get in the cabin. Get--get my knife."] His gaze flicked back to her briefly, the one eye that was visible beseeching her to not argue with his demand. The clicking creature came on and he continued to move backwards, grabbing any case that came to hand and throwing it with effort at it's head. But it was like trying to stab someone with a banana; pretty fucking futile. Tripping over a discarded duffel bag, one he had no-doubt thrown aside. Arvo threw up his arm as it slashed down at him and it cut quite easily through his clothing and even the thick bandage he had applied a few nights ago. Sucking in breath he had no time to cry out and kicked his foot out, catching it's chest and forcing it backwards. Pulling himself upwards he staggered back as Juno came back out.
Ignoring the look she would probably have given him, his testosterone still pumping through his veins, he snatched his knife out of her hand. He did look up though, his gaze now tunnelling as his body fought to pump the right hormones into him and trying to suppress the pain that throbbed from open and healing wounds. It was clear he didn't know how this was going to go; this was something new to him as much as her, despite his limited knowledge about the Stalker. Moving forward he grabbed a black briefcase and swung it wildly. There was a form of parrying between the two parties as one sought an opening on the other. But with Arvo's arm failing him, the briefcase became unwieldy and he threw it with the last of his dying strength before charging forward. It was his only logical course of action and the few blows he'd scored against the creatures head had only sunk in an inch or two before meeting very solid bone.
Colliding with it still dazed from batting at the thrown briefcase, they both went forwards, Arvo sub-consciously wrapping his arms around it as if there would be some comfort from the landing to be within this things embrace. Without his knowledge, it had caused his knife to press to the creatures spine and when they hit the ground the knife had sawn a path through the skin and severed the spinal column. Arvo just pulled away as soon as he had the strength to do so, but the Stalker lay there, clicking furiously as it's jaw snapped open and shut. But nothing else on it moved. Arvo scurried back a few before laying flat, clutching his arm to his chest like a mother holds her newborn.[b "Fucking.. Stalkers.."] He grumbled between laboured breaths, his head turned fractionally to keep some form of visual on the stricken being.
[#086A87 “Mirrors? I don’t know. I think there’s some-some purses over there – oh god that stinks.”] Pressing down on her haunches, the trinket hanging from around her neck glows its eerie green, casting gamboling shadows of her hands while she searches, almost desperately, through the upturned purses near the propped bins of first class. At last, her hands finds a travel vanity, that with a few tugs, the mirror is removed from its cover – and pockets it. Then, she swings the haversack from across her shoulders, grasps the hilt of her own knife firmly in her hands, and tugs the straps back, standing in the doorway of the flight deck nearest the foul smell.
The rotten treacle had purpose aside from leaving a crudely written message for Chris; she hoped, by whatever senses the undead use to maneuver and hunt, that it would mask their smell, long enough to identify the likeliness of killing or maiming the misshapen creature. She, however, wasn’t immune to its nauseating effects and dry heaved twice; trying to find her bearing, she couldn’t insist that he arm himself in cause things went south before they did.
[#086A87 “Juno get to ca—”] It had been the only warning. Her floor-fallen gaze had been busy searching for bottles to use for a distraction when the cry ripped from his throat and caught her attention. Clawed appendages swung wildly in his direction, broad overhand and wide sideways swipes, clearing an easy distance of five feet in front of him. The aisle behind his scrambling had been congested with bags in the turbulence and inhibited from putting more than a few feet of distance between the two. All it would take was one of its central clawed fingers to snag his clothes, eliminate the distance he is so desperately trying to field, and satiate its hunger. Now that he had Arvo within his sights, nothing short of launching an attack to its exposed back would draw him away. But her legs were frozen and her mind reeling. [#086A87 “Juno—get in the cabin. Get – get my knife.”]
[center [i Fear is only in the head; Fear will get you dead.]]
There would no ledgermain and cunning this time. Only instinct.
Luggage after luggage rebounded off its snarling face, hitting its mark, though doing nothing but stunning it mid-step before it recovered and pressed forward anew. It was entirely too tall for the cabin, having to duck its head severely in order to detect Arvo, but its limbs looked pulled taunt and stout for its malnourished frame.
In the time it’d take for her to duck beneath the sheet sprayed across the cockpit door, and hunt for it in the dark, the creature might already have closed the distance to his quarry – the image came unbidden in her mind of his mangled body, crushed and torn apart, while he asphyxiated on his blood. The sound of wheezing was so vivid in her ears, that she mistook the rushing blood for his garbled plea.
With no other present alternative, she bombrushed it, launching herself only high enough to wrap her arms around its torso; the knife of the Remington dug into the walls of its stomach, jaggedly angled to and fro to maximize its damage. A distinct rasp of a roar escapes its parchment thin lips and it begins bucking violently, trying to toss her off. She held tight, using the hilt of the knife as a clutch but the ichor of its stagnant blood reduced the friction and her hands were surely slipping. So, Juno dug the heels of her boots against its thigh muscles, pried the blade from its body and holding it out for Arvo to grab an inst before an unexpected jerk sent her body flying forward to the partition separating business and first class. A flash of light burst through the back of her eyes and there was an audible crack and her body slumped on its side.
The minutes of Arvo’s desperate fight, she lost. Her swim back to consciousness was unpleasant; a ringing in her ears and splitting pain in her skull kept her from being of springing to her feet. There was silence. Stark, unkind, unforgiving – she halted her breath, straining to listen for – is that a wet sound, the savage slurping of intestines and organs greedily lifted to mouths and devoured? No. There was her heart trudging its frightened start in her chest and the failed ability to stand – more than trying to still the world spinning from behind closed eyelids, she’d hoped – no, that was a lie. She laid, slumped, fingers twitching and half-conscious, hyperaware of everything and nothing, [i praying fervently] that Arvo had managed to get away – that one person, this one person, she hadn’t managed to fail. But the concerns of the waking world faded once it draw again to an unwilling close.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat Arvo remained where he lay for a few minutes, faintly listening to the creature snarl at it's frozen state. It was good that it wasn't likely to get up soon and he sighed as he sat up, grabbing at a discarded shirt nearby and wrapping it around his arm. Thankfully for the Finnish gentleman, it bled slowly and primarily had hit the scarred skin and therefore hit not much deeper than Arvo himself had hit. It was a small piece of luck given the situation and how it could have gone for them and the thought of Juno had him hastening to see how she had faired.
The suicidal lunge onto the creature had impressed on him how strong of mind she was. Perhaps it had been the same sense he'd had that there was nothing else to do but go on the attack, but considering it was taller than Arvo, it would have towered over her. She was one tough little woman, that was the main answer he got from it.
Back into the plane, Arvo gazed at the stricken creature for a moment and saw Juno laying further on. With his body no longer acting only on survival, he ducked into the cabin quickly and with his still functioning flashlight in hand, he quickly found his knife where it had been lain. The pistol was also retrieved as he left, thrown into the bag he had packed just before their guest had arrived. With a weary gaze at the chomping beast he tossed Juno's bag over it and only after a few tentative kicks at it, just on the off chance it was faking the injury, he put his boot into it's neck and grabbed one of it's clawed hands, pulling it up and grabbing the knife he'd left embedded into the back. It took a bit of prying before it came loose, a gush of sickly, clotted blood flowing out with it that was almost on a par with the peaches.
Still mindful of the snapping teeth, he used the chairs to climb his way over and around it, moving a bit quicker now he was free from the worry it might rise back up. Over at Juno's side now, he lifted her hand up and pressed his fingers across her wrist. Not being very efficient at checking pulses, he lowered his head to her chest, pressing her ear against her as he listened. Once he discounted his own laboured breaths and erratic heart rhythm, he was sure he heard another beat and felt her chest rise against him ever so faintly. It was good enough for him and although he tried for a moment to shake her awake, patting her cheek ever so gently, he decided it was best for them to get away now.
If they stayed in the plane, they were bound to be encompassed by the undead who would naturally come to investigate the noise from the fight. The Stalker was still clicking and snarling aswell, and Arvo didn't wish to waste time trying to figure out how best to kill it off. It wasn't much a threat any more. It was best that Juno stay, but they may manage to get into the plane, and then into the cabin, and that was one death he no longer wanted on his hands.
Arvo swiftly set about readying himself then. With her knife cleaned off and slid into her back, he replaced his own knife at his waist and pulled her backpack on. It was a tight fit for him, but it fit well under his own back which he pulled on and layered atop it. A few moments were spent adjusting it to the right position, securing the shirt more tightly around his arm and also resting his legs even just for a few minutes, on the off chance she would wake up. But his luck had been spent on staying relatively injury free and felling the Stalker.
He hesitated as he went to pick her up, seeing a cross laying to one side. Arvo wasn't at all religious. Indeed he felt that everything that was going on now only went to prove his beliefs. But in that moment he wanted any charm, spell, prayer, lucky rabbits foot and more, to just ease his ever fraying nerves. Snatching at the metallic cross he held it to his lips, whispering a quiet prayer to whomever was listening that they make it safely to wherever they could. Pressing his lips to the cold surface he pushed it into his pocket and looked down at Juno. She was small and light, which in of itself was a God sent gift. Lifting her up he toyed with the idea of carrying her in a firemans lift but with one arm injured in such a way that it stung to touch it, carrying her that way would just put him into shock. So he thought of the only other way to carry someone; like he had his son.
Once they were down onto the street level, he threw her arms over his shoulders. Resting her head against his chest his hand looped around her backside and the other curled around her back, hugging her against him as he turned from one way to the next - being blind in one eye was beginning to have it's issues and he quickly reached up to throw the bandage away. It afforded him a better view to an extent. Shapes were blurred and slightly obscured but it still afforded him a better view regardless. And once he had a decent bearing for the dam, having remembered the direction to a Church that lay near the edge of the city, he carefully began to carry Juno towards somewhere much safer.
[i A swaying wind.] [i She can feel it in the rock of her air, freely combing through the curls as they tapped against her arm. It smells like salt in the air. A fishing trip to Lake Müritz in Röbel: pushing the wood dinghy out from the shore, with the beating sun overhead turning her skin a shade of walnut, and a perspiring cooler of beer tucked in between them. Beams refracted on the rocking azure waters, enough that while Juno ran her tongue along the thin vellum jointpaper, it was difficult to keep her gaze from volleying off and squinting to view the distance horizon.]
[i [#086A87 “You ever think,”] Eden started, mouth close enough to the neck of the beer bottle that it whistled, [#086A87 “that it could stay like this?”] Stretched out with a polka-dot blue and white monokini, long legs stretched over the stern, toes painted red and wiggling towards the sun.]
[i Hair plied in a messy bun atop her head, her bare shoulders are slumped forward, the inner most flesh of arm seared from brushing against the hot button of the denim vest covering her own swimsuit, Juno perches the tip of the spiff in her mouth, and swings her eyes round. Whiskey meets grey, both made more so by the refraction of the waters below. [b “Like what?”]]
[i [#086A87 “Close your eyes.”] Eden flutters her lashes, the corners of her lips curving just so with a mischievous curve. She sets the drink down, climbs across the wood slants and shares the same breath with her– “Like this,” she murmurs softly, plucking the joint from between Juno’s lips and – mouths slanting across one another, fingers abandon all tasks to fumble thin Lycra straps, each time one tongue flickers the other draws like a bow across strings. And the birds, how they cry as they skim over, and how two bodies curved together can sigh.]
[i They drank and smoke and fished, yielding pounds of fish they’d eat for days: Geräucherte Forelle, a recipe for smoked trout, pan seared with lemon, horseradish and sour cream; the made gumbo and ate it on rolls; they flayed it fresh and garnished salads with it. Her father made soup from the heads. As far as Juno could see, swaying on that lake, there had been nothing safer. ]
An insistent drip sound, carried by the room’s acoustics, has her eyes fluttering open. The slow return to reality is a disorienting journey and her head feels as though stuffed by wool and beaten on concrete. A soft groan proceeds her waking. Something warm and firm lies beneath her – a cautious peek around finds her in a peculiar circumstance: Head tucked beneath his chin, weight supported by a limp arms resting just at the small of her back and across knees strewn apart, Arvo’s soft breathing is only interrupted by the leak that woke her. There are pews and stained glass, which has moonlight white washing its mosaic colors, patterning it, across the altar and crest-bearing floor. Up close, she can see the bob of his Adam’s apple, feel the coarseness of his unshaven beard against her tepid skin, the pores of his cheek.
Last thing she remembers is the serrated blade of her hunting knife slipping out of her hand – or maybe Arvo had managed to avoid the wild swings of the creature and grabbed it from her – a second before she felt weightless. She knew she was done once the light burst her eyes and the world had fallen mute, and for all she imagined, it wasn’t this: her curled against him, burrowing against his chest for warmth despite the blanket haphazardly draped across them both. He must have doubled-back and carried them both somewhere safe – at least safer than where they were.
At least they hadn’t left without leaving a trail of Chris. A splintering throb assaulted the back of her skull.
Hair wet from the roof leak, she stirred fully, cautiously untangling herself from him as best as she could manage. He came to with a start, glaring emptily at her while he recovered from the brief snatches of sleep, eyes red from exhaustion and – knees pressed to the ground at his side, she fingered the eye she previously bandaged, checking its healing. He must have removed it in order to navigate the dark streets – now, in the washed out light, it had swollen itself again, full of pus and no doubt uncomfortable.
[b “I thought we were done for sure.”] She told him lightly, pressing her hand against his shoulder, bracing him from getting up though the act is not done without her wincing. [b “Rest. We’re in no condition to travel tonight. I’ll be right back.”]
Brushing the damp curl away from her face, she gives him her best – watery- smile in assurance, and tucks the blanket behind his shoulders. The pain in her head wouldn’t alleviate without rest, hydration, and some natural remedy; scouring the kitchen pantry and basement storeroom should yield some tea bags – once steeped, was said to assuage some pains. Between them both, there was bound to be some sore joints.
It is a slow process but she fields the papal alone, checking every crevice and nook for anything that might attack. There are still cleaners, nonperishables and candles littering the Church interior but her immediate concern is patching them both up. When she returns, her hands are not quite as steady and she’s constantly having to wipe her eyes to focus them again.
He mutters something along the lines of her being abnormally resilient – but his head rocks side to side, so she cannot be entirely sure.
[i [#086A87 “I saw you, just so youthful, and small, and spritely. And him, so brash and straight forward, and authority in just a look. I just don’t want to think that you could become like him. Without emotions. Without a sense of feeling. Just—just like a robot.”]]
[i Christopher, with his hands held up in surrender, while he kept low in a crouch and crept forward. The gun had been left untouched on the ground, as anything else he carried. [#0041C2 “It’s ok. I won’t hurt you.”]]
[i She remained frozen, unconvinced, knife held at the ready. [b “They hurt girls everywhere.”]]
Eyes downcast while she presses alcohol against the thin strip of tapestry and begins pressing gently on the eye skin until its scab ruptures. [b “I might be resilient, but I was once just a girl, too.”] Not able to linger for long, her motions are tired and dizzy. The back of her hand numbly hits the floorboards and trying to retain her equilibrium, she leans forward, resting her face against his chest again. The thump of his heart rushes through her ear. [b “You saved me,”] comes almost dreamily from her mouth. [b “However you did it…thank you.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat Arvo had taken a direct route for the Church. There wasn't exactly lee-way for taking alleys and going through buildings when he was carrying Juno like precious cargo. Once or twice he had almost fumbled her and had to unceremoniously haul her up his body to keep them moving and a firm hold on her. The precious time between leaving one safety for an as yet unknown outcome at the Church felt like only a few minutes to the labouring male, his breaths short and rasping. At times he thought he may be making too much noise, or breathing too heavily, and a stop of a few minutes have him brief respites from the journey.
She had moved once, when he had stopped to fix his grip and give the injured arm to send blood to numbed fingers. There was a faint whisper, something in German he assumed, though it was the lustful way it was said that threw his concentration. Arvo had sighed lightly. A weary hand brushed along her matted straggles of hair to try and soothe any restlessness, cooing quietly into her ear, whispering in an upbeat tone to ease her dreams.[b "It's okay little one, keep quiet now, almost there. everything's going to be okay."] It was primarily to keep his morale high, to keep his hopes that they would close the final distance unscathed any further.
And so it was that they reached the church, just as the rain that had been threatening all day began to fall gently. Arvo had paused at the door to lay her down, quickly opening it and casting his flash light over the pews and aisles. It was dark and brooding but it held much more safety than outside and he greedily took to it's apparent refuge, Juno carried swiftly inside. Laying her across a pew for a few moments he turned to securing the door, pressing a locking bar down. As Arvo could remember, it had been a predominantly African-American area in the fifties and sixties, and no doubt this was as a means of both protecting the congregation from any racial attacks and also as a means of protecting the Father from personal attacks by anyone with a hint of a grudge. An avid reader, he knew at least one man of the church had died within the echoing sanctum and he gave a mouthed prayer to a nearby statue of Jesus that he look over them whilst they inhabited the building.
With the door secure he had made a quick scan through the building and settled on the room set aside for the Priest, as their makeshift home. Throwing the bags down he retrieved Juno and brought her into the room with him, sitting down and leaning back fractionally so that her weight was on his chest. With her still out, he tugged a blanket out of his bag, throwing it around them and hugging her tightly. Despite the injuries and despite the numbing pain that ran through his legs, his arm, his eye and hand, he eased himself down, arms around her back as he sought the most warmth without fire that he could. The heat they shared under the blanket was a touch too comforting, and despite the will to stay awake his eyes gave way and he soon fell asleep.
Waking with a start he had sat up a little quickly, Juno pressing a hand on his shoulder as he rubbed furiously at his eyes.[b "Wha--wha is it?"] Arvo turned a little though his gaze came back to her quite swiftly, nodding at her as her fingers ran along the cut at his eye. He couldn't hide the flinch nor his eyes shutting involuntarily. Her soothing words of safety eased him some but he inwardly chastised himself for the moment of self-weakness in falling asleep so readily.
She left him be a few minutes and he sat up fully, tucking his feet underneath him and head lolling down onto his chest. He sighed and brushed his eyes again. Arvo turned to his bag and grabbed the second blanket he'd stashed inside. He had a moment to unfurl it before she returned. Seeing her moving around on her feet after a hit, he grinned hesitantly and regarded how strong and resilient she was in comparison with himself. Shaking his head lightly he disregards that she could ever have been a shy and timid girl. She gave the aura of a woman who had always been in control and known what she wanted, how she would achieve it, how she would conquer the goal and move on to the next. The alcohol brought a hiss from his lips and he shuddered from her gentle touch a moment. Feeling her fall forward his good arm lifted up and wrapped around her waist securely, his cheek resting atop her head.
[b "I still owe you."] He replied to her quietly and rolled her slowly, laying her atop the new blanket and cupping her head gingerly. Pushing her bag under her head with his foot, he pulled his hand away and grabbed the warm cover they had shared refuge beneath, throwing it over her body and tucking it around her. Rolling away from her, now that she was covered, he stared down at the arm that had caused him trouble getting them here. The bleeding had ceased, now just vivid red streaks across his arm, the three claw marks mingling in with self made marks. The fingers were numb when he ran his opposing hand across them, testing them as he tried to flex. He could barely curl them into a half fist and tested picking up his knife with it, only for it to slide back into his lap.
Pulling away from Juno he grabbed the tapestry and with a degree of difficultly managed to tie it over his wounded eye. It still prickled at his nerves, but his vision was left uncovered so it was a good compromise to him. Standing up he grabbed a key off a hook by the door, and taking his leave of the room, Arvo closed the door over behind him, locking it before sliding the door under the gap beneath. He shuffled his way into a pew, seating himself a few back from the front row as he drew his knife and placed it atop the pew before him. Gazing down at his arm he wondered if his worry was try. The Stalker was something he'd not encountered up close before and his mind loved a good moment to panic and fret over anything.
If he was infected, if his arm was tainted by the infection and he was slowly losing himself to it, at least the locked door would give her warning when he came knocking. And if he could, if he held some kind of control, his knife was waiting for a final use. Taking a fresh bible from beneath his seat, he turned on his flash light, placed it on the armrest and began to read quietly.
In the second return to reality, there was far less disorientation and less of a dreamlike quality. The details in the newest unraveling chapter finds her cocooned in a blanket, where in most circumstances the girl might spend a moment indulging in its warm, but the consistent throb pressuring the back of her skull sends her sluggish senses spinning still, and frequent flashes of fever making her blood hot. Best case scenario, she’s just sick from having slept very little in her vigil for Chris. Worst case, she’s suffering the mild results of a concussion, effectively forcing them to play an already tight hand even tighter. Besides, exhaustion forced her eyes to feel puffy, heavy, and the protests of her body would not be denied repose from something as simple as sitting up.
After some time, the spinning stops – as the nausea, and her blurry gaze struggles to make out the room. The interior is gray, absent of any mementos save for the open bible resting atop a drapery of lace at the bedside. A window, not even large enough for a child, sits high to the North wall, in which, if it were daylight, would spill across the foot of the bed. The bed, had she seen it, would have been properly turned down, with the pillow freshly fluffed. His closet is empty but for three white shirts, moth eaten, the amice, a violet vestment, worn at lent and advent, and a chasuble – both, of which, are untouched by elements, and who’s linen texture felt soft beneath her hand. There is little else in the room to tell of the man, even the sheets still smell faintly of his cologne, who once worshipped and attended its grounds.
The door refuses exit when it knob turns beneath her hand; her weight pressing against the wood a few times before she bends, trying to access whether the lock has been engaged or if something has obstructed the room; her answer comes when the tip of her boot brushes the key and Juno exits the room, following the twisting stairwell to its landing in the congregation. Arvo, with eyes closed, has a bible folded across his lap and reads quietly to himself- even still, the acoustics carry his voice and the melodic words.
She leaves him to it, for now, quietly sidling past the altar and through the portico into the kitchen. There are mason jars filled with loose tea leaves, though none are marked with names to indicate flavors, so she is forced to rely on olfactory senses to make the best selection. Soon, two porcelain mugs, newly ordered and still in the originally packing material, were wafting its delectable perfume.
When she joins him, his eyes are still closed – and this, is alright. She sits beside him, setting his cup beside him. [b “Something warm for your hands,”] she tells him by way of absolving him any obligation to drink, her own cup held like a bowl, letting the quiet of the sanctuary settle any lingering awkwardness either might feel. The curling vapor of the tea titillates sinuses, opening them like every memory that’s unfolded since he’s joined her. [b “I was raised under Islamic tenements, in great part to my mother, though, when I was seven, this practice had to make room to be confirmed in the Catholic faith as my brothers before me. That was the first time I set foot in a Church. Even then, I did not see it as a sanctuary or a place of worship. Just somber faces: miserable people, shamed for all sins – regardless if it was direct or indirectly committed.”]
She takes a slow, considerate sip – testing the flavor against taste buds and after finding it favorable – allows it seep down, finding places long chilled from reality. When his attention had turned to her, an audible sift as his body seemed to unconsciously seek her warmth, she closed her eyes and began her tale as thus:
On Sunday mornings, they’d wake when the clouds had already defaced the sky, and the sun had not yet risen. Sleepily, the Wolfe children would trudge themselves from the warm embrace of their bedsheets, and dress in the dark of cool, foggy mornings. The children woke in descending order, starting from the oldest, the twins - Klaus and Benjamin, both of who were blonde with eyes that appeared more less blue than their father, but certainly not inherited by their deceased mother, Roswatin. A woman of thick bones and hot blood, they took after her height and build, making them far larger than the younger siblings. Laurenz, born just after Roswatin’s death, took more after their father – not quite the towering six feet of the eldest, he sat comfortably at 5’ 7”, dark of hair and eyes, though his most telling feature, had been the dimples and cleft chin, seen as an inseparable characteristic of the lively male; finally Sabine, far more delicate than the Juno, with whom she shared the same mother – though, did not receive neither the blue nor whiskey gaze of either parents, but rather a milk-chocolate brown. She did, however, keep her hair cropped short and preferred to wear the long black [i buibui] dress and the traditional [i hijabu] the Swahili’s Islamic religion required.
Their mother, Margret, who was dark as midnight, preferred to wear the bright drabs of the Swahili, had been found by their father, Gottlieb, hiding as stowaway on a chartered boat. “I ran away because I did not love the man I was to marry.” She had been fifteen, carrying a child – not hers- as the mother who made the journey with her had fallen ill to tuberculosis; the girl, a boy, survived an additional twelve days in Margret’s inexperience care before succumbing to the illness that took his mother. In the first years, the two girls were allowed to attend [i Madrassa] – a religious class where they were to study the Koran and learn the Arabic language – and spoke Swahili to their mother, so they might “learn their culture”.
Sabine and she, were told, they were born spiritually into the sacrament of Baptism, of which allowed them to share in the divine life of the Trinity. This confused them, as God, had been singular, and named Allah rather than Yahweh. “At this early stage in our spiritual life, like the life of a child, is largely self-centered – preoccupied with the needs of one’s own soul with the effort of ‘being good.’” It was small differences, as this, that forged a divide between the self and the soul; soon, this gulf ostracized her more from her siblings, who feared disappointing Gottlieb. Once the university letter arrived, she’d been the last to leave home – though it was not without many tears and meaningful promises to keep to flock.
[b “I meant it,”] she says, though her voice is much softer and farther away than her body, [b “my promise. I attended Mass faithfully, and if I wasn’t studying, most often I could be found among the Presbyterian students attending Christ College. But I wasn’t happy –it felt like I was moving in a false shadow, catching only the faintest shimmers of light if I looked too closely. Soon, I concede that this shadow had been the duty to my family – their religion- I felt obligated to hold to, and the light had been my self- my own desires- slowly coming to surface. I struggled – still struggle with it, especially now…”] Juno features darken at this, and the sharp throbbing in her head feels as far away as Germany. [b “I loved my family but for so long I’ve resented the idea that faith and righteousness binds us greater than our blood. Now, I wish I could take it all back. I wish I could tell them how much I love them. But it’s too late and I’ll never know what happened to them after the Reckoning.”]
It is a fluke in itself, that she does not shed tears for what is lost forever. Fingers pressed against the bridge of her nose, she pinches, trying to alleviate the pressure that’s building throughout her skull. [b “So many things remind me of them – this place, it’s smell, even tea. And it’s so strange, more so than when I felt like a ghost living my life. There’s a constant fog over the world for me – where everything is dead but still so tangible – and that doesn’t make it more real to me It’s still….”] A world, empty, devoid of everything and everyone she’s ever loved. It comes full circle again: what was loss before this hell?
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat Arvo had been reading for several hours in relative silence, it was only when she had emerged that the constant drone of the last few hours stopped and he knew he had been speaking aloud to himself. Leaving her to whatever it was she was doing he closed his eyes, the bible limp in hand as he did his best in just trying to banish the pain that was throbbing in the injured appendage. It was as if the veins themselves were convulsing sporadically and little thorns would prickle his nerves as they expanded, latching on and pulling painfully as they contorted.
Whilst she went about her work he quietly retrieved his knife, tucking it back at his waist and pulling his feet down from where they had rested on the pew before him. With the warm drink on one side and herself on the other, his body slid ever so slightly towards the latter as if yearning that warm embrace from the previous night. He jerked his head aside, heaving his body back upright and though he had shifted around to face her slightly, he still kept his eyes closed. His attention drifted in and out of her speech, picking up small details but filtering out alot of what was being said. Had it been the same man from several days ago, she would have been asked to keep her tongue still that he may get some rest. But there was a small bond between them now and he warranted her the time to speak of her past.
She finished quietly, a minute or so spent in silence to judge what she had said, Arvo nodded hesitantly and allowed their shuddering breaths to be all that was viable to hear in this cavernous house of worship. Shifting himself upright once more, his eyes opened slowly, though only fractionally, allowing a little light to seep in rather than blind himself. His hand swung out to group the cup of cooling tea. Though his hand, his right hand, was still numb and the fingers fought his command, only succeeding in knocking the cup clean from where she had placed it and fracturing on the wooden floor boards, the warm beverage now spreading and seeping into the woods pores. Arvo sighed and leaned forward, the bible in his lap sliding between his legs and folding closed onto the floor.
Rubbing his functioning hand over his eyes he remained leant forward, head hanging from his shoulders.[b "There is about as much chance of there being a God as there is a cure for the infection. And we both know how fucking slim those chances are."] His throat rasped and he wished he had the drink to ease the coarseness.[b "My father tried to bring me up Protestant. Rather, he would tell me everything I questioned him about. Any question I had, he'd tell me how Christians saw it. Let me choose on my own whether to follow or not. Never pressured me."] He wheezed a little, his chest fluttering from a series of quick breaths. Once he was over the small spasm, he turned his head side-on to look at her.
[b "But for every story of forgiveness, of faith triumphing over doubt-- those stories that tried to prove how God is supposedly better for you than no God, it just pushed me further away. Because I saw it from untainted eyes. It wasn't being forced to believe what others do simply to continue the status quo. And the more I challenged it, all of it, the more I was pushed further from wanting any connection to the heathen who calls themselves a God."] The seat groaned under his backside as he leaned back, still watching her closely.[b "He wants you to believe in free will, but forces you to adhere to his laws and stipulations. There is no free will when he asks for your soul in return. And he wants you to believe he does his best for us, but allows diseases and famine and my--my wife and son, to be killed, for what? A test? To do what he did to Job? Is that all I am, a more modern day Job?"] He extended his good arm out to his side, chest puffing out to show how weak and feeble his frame was.
He shuddered from a gust of wind and his eyes darted to the door, his face one of worry for a moment before he began to laugh quietly, building into a roar of cackling so that he was only stopped when his breath gave out and he bent over, coughing and thumping upon his chest to clear his lungs.[b "Look at me. I have lost all my possessions in life. I have lost my only, beautiful, precious son, my doting, perfect wife, maybe every loved one and family member I had in Finland. And now, I have been struck down with injury!"] His arm raised up, the ashen skin around the cuts somewhat hidden under a smear of dried blood as the fingers hung loose in their sockets.[b "If you truly believe that this-- all of this now, is from some Rapture, or Reckoning, then what does that say about us?"] His back fell against the pew and he closed his eyes, chin sinking onto his chest.[b "It says we--me, you, Christopher-- we are no better than Riot and his thugs. And if I can't go to [i "heaven'] because I didn't wish to give my soul to anyone but my wife.. then fuck him. I'd rather stay here in Hell."] He pulled the limp limb over his lap, his bandaged hand laying across the wound gingerly and he retreated back into his silence.
She found her distant gaze traveling across the empty pews, lapsing into a considerable silence. The words shared between them were filled with collective hurt, touched at tender nerves with cruel fingers, and ripped over the flayed underside. She wondered, too, if the most innocent of things transported him to a memory so vivid, he could weep at its terse beauty. It would nothing but empty words to persuade him of their mutual cause, of the companionship they presently shared when it could never surpass the etch mourning his family left riveted in his soul. The tentative bond they’ve developed would never present more than an anchor into the familiar that one begrudged accepts, and she didn’t have much capacity to compete with the ghosts in his head.
“Look at me. I have lost all my possession in life. I have lost my only, beautiful, precious son, my doting, perfect wife, maybe every loved one and family member I had in Finland. And now, I’ve been struck down with injury!”
Juno’s eyes flickered to the shredded remains of his long-sleeve, remembering in startling clarity the putrid smell of the creature’s respirations, the feel of its skin: leathery in most places, and rotten beneath in others, so the right weapon would pierce the skin like thin canvas. Much of the brute of its fury (and hunger) had been directed to Arvo, though, she hadn’t the opportunity to ask or assess his injury before the mild concussion had her slipping from the world. Still, there was a welled feeling that assaulted her chest when she saw the deep claw marks nearly brushing bone – it would be weeks before the muscle began to recover and even longer for strength to return, especially if it were his dominant arm. She’s seen muscle atrophy from less. When her eyes rose to meet his, something unfamiliar had been swimming in its depths, and the worst came to the forefront of her mind – he’d saved her life, and in the process, became infected.
“If you truly believe that this—all of this now, is from some Rapture, or Reckoning, then what does that say about us?” The inquiry felt like a physical injure – her body recoiled accordingly. “It says we—me, you, Christopher—we are no better than Riot and his thugs. And if I can’t go to [ heaven] because I didn’t wish to give my soul to anyone but my wife, then fuck him. I’d rather stay here in Hell.”
Suddenly she felt quite foolish, postponing the plan Chris and her laid out to clear the city, in some misguided sense of retouching the keystone of humanity – compassion in reserved strength. [b “This might be hell, but at least you got to be loved. More of a lot than some of us.”] she murmured, stiffly rising from the pew. She bends long enough to gathered the plethora of porcelain shards dispersed between them, careful to avoid nicking herself on its sharp edges. A feeling of nausea washed over her, forcing her to steady herself on the back of the pew and draw in breath sharply through her nose.
Even as the flustered words leave her mouth – there is guilt. How can she measure her loss against his, as though one were greater than the other?
Floating from place to place, person to person, a wander with no roots, no more home – it was exhausting. What did comfort her was the unbiased seduction of music – and it’s absence often grew more poignant than others– previously serving as an escape from the pitfalls of her emotions. She’s a blur of colors, were his eyes inclined to watch her affronted retreat, mulling over the newly surfaces possibility of being alone, again, in this world.
[center [b —CHRISTOPHER—]]
Condensed breaths come to the rhythmic patter of rain, fogged the shattered glass of the paltering warehouse. Inside, chains dangled gently to the sway of wind, long rusted so that the drops of water that drips from the curved ass of the hook is discolored copper. Outside, the groans of the undead are water-washed, footsteps are wet shuffles through mud, as they circle the perimeter. If lights were on, the conductors would cause them to flicker.
The air inside was stale: the tart of turpentine, moth balls – the faint trace of diesel lingers. Near the loading bay was a workbench, polished with a water repellant finish and bits of innocuous items – a forgotten coffee cup bearing the logo of a local bank; an unfinished book, with a bookmark sticking from between thick, yellow pages; a green water can, titled precariously, on its side, numerous silverfish bugs slipping through its sprout. Beneath, is a tool box, hidden beneath the tarp that must have fallen from one of the trucks. Only, when he limps his way over and recovers it, there is a pair of needle-point pliers inside, the teeth worn down and its grip also oxidized.
Through his exertion, there is a sigh of relief when he finally seats himself – respirations strained despite his body’s military conditioning. Then, he fishes the zippo from the pocket of his jeans and sits, running it along the plier nose; the bullet lodged in the sinew of his left smarted, and the nociceptors of his body lit up like Christmas morning and pain flood his system in new, consistent waves: the position heating the pliers required his hand to be twisted awkwardly and began cramping accordingly; the sensation of hard steel digging itself further and further into his body rocketed through his hips and towards the spinal injury he sustained many years ago in Afghanistan, shielding comrades against shrapnel when their Humvee rolled at the edge of landmine.
Had Juno , with her steady medical hands, had still been with him, she’d curse him, chide him, and bandage him in the same breathe. He tried to follow the path along the main thoroughfares, keeping to the shadows of the vehicles just as he showed her, but there were far too many of the Shufflers, mobbed together and bemoaning over the gunfire that drew them. Wounded, it forced him to double-back, losing precious time, and bore the danger of cutting through buildings in the five mile stretch. He couldn’t risk hobbling around in daylight when the danger of scavengers were far more imposing than the undead – and so, it has been five days since they last parted. Had they fared well navigating the overcrowded streets, or would he come across her mangled body, half eaten mouth snarling hungrily at him? It chilled his blood.
His hand shook – exhaustion, dehydration, hemorrhaging, any of these likely – when he fished the bullet out and cauterized it. The smell of burning flesh filled the area quickly, and would draw the infected; sure enough, the pitiful groans loomed ever closer and bodies fell clumsily through the window. At his feet, a slow push against the wall to support him while he tested his weight, got him standing and shambling though an unmarked red door to his left.
Chris could have sworn he heard the wind sigh his name, but concluded it must be an illusion of the steel door slicing through air.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat Arvo took her words and his tongue wanted to send back a barb of poison at her. He had to slow his mind and focus elsewhere as he could see how insulting her, or insinuating what she had was in any way better than what he had once possessed, would lead to further division between them. With his arm all but indisposed of he was feeling ever the more reliant upon the diminutive woman to care for him, and so remained silent as she cleaned up the broken cup. It was somewhat peculiar to him; why continue to clean in a world without social ethics? But perhaps it was so ingrained into their psyche that it was just natural to do so.
She left him there, walking off perhaps to where she had brought the cups from and with only a brief hesitation, wanting only to be alone to himself at that moment though reason over-ruled that he should seek her out, he pushed himself up from the pew to shuffle his way after her. Finding her leaning against the counter top in the small kitchenette area, a few discarded tea bags and used spoon to show her earlier work, he stayed beside the doorway to block any retreat. There was little to say. In fact, nothing was said. He just stood there soaking in the presence of another with relish. It was something he hadn't considered before, simply being in the vicinity of living beings, how it was quite a luxury in this world.
After a few minutes of them just being there, simply resting and mulling over previous actions and words, he stepped forward towards her. A tentative hand raised up and shaking ever so slightly, the war between knowing what was right and what he wanted raging on, he placed it on her shoulder.[b "Just-- just come here a moment."] Hushed words as if he were giving a confessional to the wanting ear of a Priest. His hand slid around her back and half eased her forward toward him as he closed the distance, pressing themselves together in a makeshift one sided embrace. His injured arm remained dangling at his side, though he had stood in such a way it remained from both their sight.
Holding the plucky woman to his chest he instinctively moved his hand around her back, a soft swirling motion to ease her tension and relax her some. It had worked on friends and loved ones in the past and he hoped it did here. Licking his lips to free them of the dryness he swallowed hard.[b "We've made it this far. Only a few days, but enough shit to write a couple best sellers."] His throat rasped all the more and he continued to chastise himself for dropping the cup.[b "But here's how it is. We're safe for the time being, and things will be better Christopher decides it is time to come back. As far as I could judge him he was a tough old bastard."] He laughed cautiously, careful not to start another coughing fit or hit her head with his reverberating chest.
Once Arvo felt he had regained himself, he continued.[b "So we're safe. But you probably have a concussion, and I hate to say but I think I got like a paper cut or something back on the plane."] He allowed a smile to break his lips at such a poor joke, though before this had began he had loved such awful jokes and was quite good at producing them on cue. Always inappropriate, insane or plain idiotic.[b "Well, not quite a paper cut maybe. Not looking all too good for me."] Arvo fractionally pulled her tighter to him, hand still rolling soothingly across her back. At least he surely hoped he was being soothing, and it wasn't just a very creepy moment.
[b "But Juno, I'm not going to go into a big emotional appeal. Never was my way. Anyway, I know bites can turn you in under a day, but what that Stalker did I have no idea of. How about we stick here at least another night? Just see how it goes. And if I do begin to turn it'll be a hell of a lot easier to put me down here than dragging my ass around out there."] He sighed lightly, pulling back from her slowly.[b "I think I found a few chocolate bars on the plane in one of the serving trolleys, just stuffed them in my bag. Will you split one with me and keep me company?"] Pleading emerald eyes looked down at the girl, hoping she would agree to his request. It wasn't so much that Arvo knew he had contracted the infection, he was seeking out a friendly face after so long fighting everyone. His body and mind were too fractured to fight back now.
The teacup flung out of her hand, clattering in the sink as an expression of her stifled scream of frustration, breaking against the corner of the restaurant depth sink. Head bowed, Juno focused on her breathing, willing the anger to dissipate as readily as it had come, but it rooted itself deep down in her belly and made home. Nothing he said had been directed negatively against her but the smoldering beast had reared its ugly head, and words were propelled heatedly out of her mouth; he’d only been venting, bemoaning of his loss, and her own scars – to be carried in her visceral organs like a cancer- had been ripped open afresh. Of most sentiments she’s been comforted with, anger had been familiar – and all that had been bottled inside, trapped beneath the glass ceiling of “keep calm and carry on” as if it didn’t exist, didn’t claw her from the inside every time something dredged the memory up. He’d been there, something physical and tangible to expend it on before it made her collapse in on herself.
Arvo had been there; caught in the throes of anger’s inciting aversion to being in service to another’s feelings, and finding a suitable proxy. She’d been that, just a week before, and now that the palpable tension ebbed into background noise, oil had been ladled over the dying embers. She clenched the sink counter, rocking on her heels, worrying the bottom lip between her teeth, so the lower vermillion of them were swollen and incarnadined.
He joined her – keeping distance in the doorway, where, if she had a penchant for the dramatics, there would be no chance of storming out – though said nothing. He stared and his gaze was still foreign enough that his reason for following after was indiscernible. Minutes pass, with her stoically refusing to acknowledging him, and him patiently giving her time to simmer down. It was a poignant reminder that he’s done this before, and his very presence ceased to incite her anger any further. It grew stagnant, aimlessly held onto and coiled up, waiting for purpose. But there was nothing- not anymore. No burn in her heart or blind blistering ire.
Finally, the molten sentiment wore down her edges, and she could swallow past the lump in her throat. His hand, large enough to comfortable balance a cantaloupe, cups her shoulder warmly. [#086A87 “Just—just come here.”] The baritone of his voice is very soft, not quite a whisper for it articulates and reaches ears perfectly, but it is an internal desire for comfort that is mutually held. He maneuvers her, as if she were untouched clay molding to his hands, until her left cheek is flush against his chest. If hearts could speak, his would spill of its undying affection for his beloved wife and son, would tell in tempos of bittersweet gentleness that its pains were not unbearable torments – or she chose to believe. Telling him sorry was of minute difference, even if she never meant anything more.
She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been held; Gottlieb resolved that gestures of affection often spoiled the child, and though each of his five children lived without having ever felt their father’s arms encircle them, they never doubted his love of them. The siblings, however, grew independent of one another – save the twins – and the varying interests kept proper bonds from forming. Klaus and Benjamin, Laurenz and Sabine had been her family; they chortled loudly, ate together, slept in the same bedroom, but in retrospect, they were merely flat- mates with analogous features.
He must’ve hugged often, and smiled more, for the corners of his eyes were inconspicuously framed by laugh lines, and the elated smile his son, Jani, flashed at the camera must have been inherited by this man. [i “What it must have been like, to look into the eyes of the life you’ve created, and felt nothing but the tender stirrings of love moving you….”] But these words were meant to be lost in the creases of his shirt being clutched between her fingers. He smelled like soap and musk but in Finland, he’d smell like chocolate and Spruce trees and shaving cream, and his eyes would never miss a thing.
His hand rubbed small, slow circles into the dip of her back – her body tensed of its own accord, remembering the cruelty visited upon it. [#086A87 “We’ve made it this far. Only a few days, but enough shit to write a couple best sellers. But here’s how it is. We’re safe for the time being, and things will be better once Christopher decides it is time to come back. As far as I could judge him, he was a tough old bastard.”] Before the outbreak, she had been just a child – still. [#086A87 “So, we’re safe. But you probably have a concussion, and I hate to say, but I think I got like a paper cut or something back on the plane.”] She snorts at his joke, conceals it with a barking cough. [#086A87 “Well, not quite a paper cut maybe. Not looking at all too good for me.”] A small gesture of pulling her tighter is made, although not followed through.
Juno knows that the battle of what is suitable and not has waged between the unlikely companions and for as often as he’s sought physical connection as a tether, he’s left himself vulnerable to her refutation. At ever overture of this symphony, he has respectfully submitted himself to her judgment. She relaxes, minutely, before letting her arms wrap around him fully, eliminating any space left between them. The feel of him is foreign; he is much taller than her and underweight from scarce supplies, but he is warm – and the gentle respirations of his breathing is almost as soothing as crashing waves. For once, in her life, she is struck by a foreign notion: safety.
[i This is what it’s like to be held…]
[#086A87 “But Juno, I’m not going to go into a big emotional appeal. Never was my way. Anyway, I know bites can turn you in under a day, but what that Stalker did I have no idea of…How about we stick around here, at least another night? Just see how it goes…And if I do begin to turn, it’ll be a hell of a lot easier to put me down here than dragging my ass around out there.”] He pulled back, hands pressed against her arms. [#086A87 “I think I found a few chocolate bars on the plane in one of the serving trolleys, just stuffed them in my bag. Will you split one with me and keep me company?”]
Her lips part to speak, the adhesion between them still evident, but no sound escapes her. After saving her from the Stalker, not only did he manage to get them to safety in the church, but he did so with the knowledge that his wounds were more or less fatal. Her heart skipped for a reason uncertain to her and lodged itself in her throat. A false smile tugged at the corners of her lips, fading into the ghost that remained like a scowl. If he didn’t do emotional appeals, neither would she. Damn the spread rate of the infection, she’d stay until he – her [i friend] was no longer himself. With a nod, she concedes, letting her gaze brush at his feet – meeting his gaze meant admitting a truth that had yet to make itself known. [b “Only if you drink some tea and let me take a look at it.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat Arvo smiled with quite genuine affection for the plucky woman before him. Although he wished she would meet his eyes, he couldn't entirely blame her. The situation was dire for him and there was scant consolation to be found in hoping for the best for him. But the stubborn attitude that she gave him, wanting to care for him, it was endearing to a man who had passed his point. As he had mentioned to her in the plane, if he had been likely to give up it would have been months ago. Now he had someone to keep safe and until Christopher returned he had a reason to keep fighting back.
He had released her and stepped away to lean against the wall whilst she turned quickly away, busying her nimble fingers with tea bags and cups and hot water. This inner monologue of self-awareness was something that crashed over him in a sudden wave. As if seeing everything from the perspective of the proverbial outsider he found himself feeling a multitude of emotions to the young carer.
She had dragged him through his tantrum and kept him alive. Whilst he broke down over people dying and drifted from berating her to accusing everyone but himself for his short comings and losses, she had been that wall for him to place his back against and not continue on a retreat. Seeing how strong she'd been when separated from a tough figure like Christopher and thrown against what she had perhaps once been gave him a sense that perhaps he was capable of it too. He pushed himself off the wall when she was done, taking the lead through the hall to the priests chambers where he had left her the night before. It was only with the light from a high up window that he saw the bed and he lingered in the doorway a moment to chastise himself.[b "A bed huh? Sorry Juno. If I'd seen the bed I'd have put you on it last night."] He laughed hesitantly, body swaying a moment though he caught himself on the door frame.
The lack of sleep, drink, food and more was a torment upon him and he closed his eyes to rest for a few seconds as she swept by with the beverage in hand.[b "You know-"] He moved off the door, floor-boards creaking under his feet as he made his way to wards the bed. Seating himself on the edge he let out a deep breath.[b "When this began, a couple weeks in, we found a mattress store. I never believed the hype, but those memory foam things were so comfortable."] Arvo went to lean back on the bed, to press his back against the wall, but paused long enough to shrug off his jacket and hook a hand under the torn shirt, pulling it over his head and throwing it into a corner.
Having been under clothing for several weeks his torso was rather clean but very pale. From the elbow down it was a mixture of dirt, blood, bandages, cuts and scrapes and the slashes of the Stalker only stood out more. He was skinny, but his skin was still rather taught and toned from movement. Had he not been active perhaps he would have looked more dilapidated from sagging skin, ribs protruding from his chest and hip bone shadows stark on such a pale backdrop. He shuffled along the bed to allow her space to sit but also set out anything from the first aid kits she seemed so efficient at finding in their travels. A pillow propped up his back and he lay his arm out gingerly to his side for her, his injured but fully functioning hand holding the cup of hot tea gratefully and bringing it to his lips for a small moment of respite from so many troubles and a chance to sink back against the pillow's comfort.[b "So Doc.. give it to me straight. Hows it look?"] He said as he placed the cup on the bed-side table and looked across to her, a comforting smile easing itself onto his lips.
Sunset turned Cumulonimbus clouds into a sea of red, accompanied by a strange sounds that sung through the atmosphere and for minutes , the crimson canvas outside appearing like a heralding than natural event. Juno watched it a while from her perch on the edge of the bed, thoughts a million miles away when Arvo’s voice – like the tires on gravel by now – cut through the white noise. [#086A87 “So Doc…give it to me straight. How’s it look?”]
The look she flashes him feigns annoyance, but the crooked curve of her lips belied the camaraderie shared on the smile of his own. [b “In another life, maybe,”] she mutters, although with her head bowed to gingerly to lift the flayed flaps of skin, it sounds more of comfortable German than English. The church didn’t offer much in terms of instruments for her to really be able to determine whether there was infection present, and the rate that it spread.
In the early hours of the infection, charter Red Crosses were set up across the campus, hoping to quarantine it before it spread too rapidly. The Dean of Chapel determined that if any students were able and capable, they would aid the nurses in their testing, and so, volunteers where briefly educated on how to efficiently produce results. Most saliva testing was performed using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assat, or ELISA, to detect specific molecules, fiber optic-based detection of this sort required processing at a remote laboratory. The procedure they used instead had been simple: they’d swab the mucous membrane of the inner cheek, before dipping it into a sodium solutions and monitoring the color change for a positive or negative result. It, however, could skew the results of immunassays due to the cotton-base collection material. By then, most of the members of Terrascope found a more direct means of identifying the infected: the inside of their cheek would be heavily damaged by an unintended mastication, and the mutilation would eventually result in a nerve damage to the eye. Most who were undergoing the parasitic effects began exhibiting light sensitivity, unable to make out define features in bright sunlight and developed an abnormally ruddy complexion.
Washing her hands becomes a ritual of sorts, an unconscious act to keep her mind on task. Each finger is soaped, every nail scored, any crevice or cut paid special attention to. Her administrations are gentle, cold fingers juxtaposing against the feverish quality of her skin, and done quickly. By her judgement, he didn’t display the most common signs of infection, but this was judging against the pathogen introduced by a bite mark, rather than an indirect wound. Juno, worked sedulously, using the excess water she boiled for tea to fumigate hands, soaked the tapestry in alcohol in lieu of gauze, and inspected every strained muscle, every congealed blood clot and globe of gray matter before tightly wrapping his arm. Then, she wiped at the beads of perspiration with her forearm and began washing her bloodied hands, not quite able to chase her forlorn expression away.
[b “It’s a good thing you came to a Church,”] she tells him, offering him the vague beginnings of a coquettish smile. [b “I can make an antibiotic oil from the herbs in the garden [i and],”] she pauses for dramatic effect, even going so far as to toss long strands over her shoulder, [b “we can shower.”] Juno sits back on her haunches, watching him attentively. The darkening light fell across face, washing out the fatigued that so boldly settled at the corners of his mouth. It could not erase the kind way his eyes fell upon her and hers dropped in response – unaccustomed to coveting such a response. She cleared her throat to dispel her discomfiture. [b “From what I could gather from the news before the blackout, this pathogen isn’t airborne and I doubt it’s had time to mutate. As long as you avoid being bitten, I think you’ll—[i we]”], she corrected, [b “will be fine.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat Arvo felt a soft warmth in his chest as she observed his wound. It was a long time since someone had been considerate of his health With his old group, now dead, there was only one concern; if you were bit you had to leave. Broken bones, dislocated joints - of which Arvo had previously dealt with a knee popping from its socket - cuts and scrapes were nothing for anyone to care about. They had only been together for safety. Their numbers afforded better chances of survival. But feeling the small hands running across his arm made him realise how he had missed the caring nature of humans.
At times he turned his head away, biting down onto his tongue and chewing on his lower lip until a metallic taste ran across taste buds. It was most painful when she used the water to clean away at points and his hand shook in spasm several times when she would touch a nerve that had yet to die off. Though she hadn't divulged whether she was a nurse or other health professional, it was a comfort to him that she wrapped a bandage around his arm securely and turned away to clean his blood from her hands. Without modern medicine or a trained surgeon on hand, just having her wrap the bandage on the wound spoke volumes. She was wise enough not to waste it if he was only going to turn later.
The mention of a shower has his gaze drop away from her, falsely focusing in on his constrained arm that he has dragged over into his lap. Arvo quite naturally falls back into his old tongue, the Finnish words slipping like a wriggling salmon.[b "When you say [i we] can shower--"] His cheeks flush partially though in the growing darkness it is quite easy to miss, further so when he turns away from her for a moment. When he does turn back however it is as if there is a different woman sat to one side of him and he can't help but his eyes to wander ever so little.
The faint almost false smile is small comfort for him though, his eyes watching her closely after retrieving the luke-warm drink off the night stand to steady nervous fingers. He can see the awkwardness of her words, the clunky way they roll off her tongue as she tries her earnest to give him an uplifting feeling. But he can see she doesn't want to meet his gaze and he pulls it away from her, pushing himself forward from the wall until booted feet touch the rug on the floor. Sitting perched on the edge, he lets the silence hang a little, permeated at times by small sips of the drink.
Clearing his throat though, he sees that something has to be said if they are to continue on a somewhat even keel.[b "Do I make you nervous Juno?"] It is loud enough for her to hear easily though his voice quivers and tails off at the end. Not leaving her long enough to answer, he continued on.[b "I mean, considering everything those guys did, those deplorable acts of savagery, is it somehow.. off putting, being here with me?"] The cup is empty now and he puts it aside, hand visibly showing his distress before he can smother it by wrapping it across his chest. Turning to face her he shuffles across the bed a little, his hand now coming to rest on her leg, just a fraction above her knee as the other lands upon her hand on the bed, enclosing itself around her.
[b "You can see I'm a good man right?"] Arvo doesn't have the privilege of before, of seeing how he truly looked at that moment from someone else's perspective. A shirtless older man sitting besides a young and small girl on a bed. The slightly drunken and confused look in his weary and bloodshot eyes. Hands placed so inappropriately on her being.[b "I'm not like them Juno, you see that right? I--I saved you remember?"] His hand tightens on her leg, the one on her hand now around her wrist as his body leans closer to her, the smell of tea in his staggered breath as his head dips, trying to get her to lift hers and look at him, a puppy seeking the attention of it's owner.
The dark was coming, falling upon the quaint time like a wheezing demon in flight. It makes the task of gathering the scattered supplies more difficult, but with a little bit of working memory and nimble fingers, most of the items are neatly placed on the nightstand. She is unsure whether she should be more or less worried that Arvo is beginning to use the arm without any noticeable pain, that is to say, he's not biting his tongue so that she would quit mother-henning him. He was a man, so she'd expect some time in his adolescent years that he did dumb shit and paid for it with blood and broken bones. The claw marks were deep and they sliced through muscle, but he still had feeling it in and was inflamed, signifying [i living] skin. But it was still too early to know. So little information was available about the methods of infection that the symptoms may be so sleight.
[#086A87 “When you say [i we] can shower—”]
The quiet answers better than any words that come to mind. The hair on her arms raise and the very air seems to depolarize. Juno meets her eyes at this point, watching each of his movements like a concerto. The girl is mentally recounting the features of the room just earlier, how the sun fell across the bible on the cluttered bedside, and against the wall on the mahogany desk. Two steps to the left is the door, still ajar so they could hear if anything in the congregation was amiss. She realizes very suddenly that if she doesn't calm herself and look at the situation objectively, misreading these next critical moments might change the progressing friendship. So, she swallowed the lump in her throat and heaved a deep exhale, giving a nervous laugh.
[#086A87 “Do I make you nervous Juno?”] The spike that enters her heart is a flood of adrenaline. The surge makes her extremities grow cold, pliant to grapple with. [#086A87 “I mean, considering everything those guys did, those deplorable acts of savagery, is it somehow...off putting, being here with me?”] The teacup is probably the only distinguishable item in the room and it shakes in his hand. The mattress dips beneath his weight, and when he crawls closer, there is no hesitation this time when his hands finds where she is rooted to the bed.
[tab][tab][tab][tab][tab][tab] When his men first discovered her, she'd only just stumbled out of the dormitory where she took refuge by hiding on the top shelf of her closet, the stacked storage containers acting as a column to support her weight. For hours, the screams continue to bounce across the campus until night had fallen and it was eerily quiet. The occasional groan and shuffle of clothing would be heard. Somehow, exhaustion won out against her fear and she slept in minute intervals, holding her breath every-time she startled awake. After thirty six hours of being trapped in a small space, the hunger turned to nausea which only made her make disoriented. [tab][tab][tab][tab][tab][tab] The door was locked, but there was splinters in the door where bodies had been thrown against it. The fluorescent hallway light was always on. She dropped to the floor quickly, seeing there was no one lingering outside, and climbed to her feet. First thing first, she needed to dump her one-shoulder bookbag and go for the demure two shoulder that survived high school. Barefoot, she opted for the mattress to climb the desk and reach the nonperishable items she kept above. A few Lipton tea bottles, a box of almond packets, a half-eaten box of Chocolate Mints, and two cans of soup. She had enough room to pack a flashlight, a change of clothes, and her cellphone charger. [tab][tab][tab][tab][tab][tab] Mid-zip, a pounding at the door alerted her. She waited, hoping with bated breaths that it was someone to help her. The pounding came again, a fearsome thrashing at the door, and the splintered wood began to warp inward. The savage scream that tore through was enough to get her moving. The University had windows with levels that only extended so far, and in an effort to safeguard against suicides plated the windows with plexiglass. The only way out was through that door and one of them wasn't making it out of there alive. She thought the next half hour after that would be the worst thing she'd ever experience in her life but there was never more carnage, never more truth about the human nature than when she was held prisoner in Joaquin's encampment.
[b “You have no idea what those guys did,”] she said with a tone of finality, her right hand curling into a fist by her side. Whereas he previously asked for permission in his hesitation, in his earnest desire to curb her distrust, this felt predatory. Joaquin's eyes had been on her enough that she knew the look. Her hand fell to his hands, trying to calm her rapid breathing. [b “Arvo, can y-can you take your hands off of me please?”] The words came out from thin lips.
There is a heartbeat that passes. [#086A87 “You can see I'm a good man right?”] His face is close in the half-light, enough that she can see the spread of every individual lash of his left eye. His hands are warm and his breath fans her damp cheek. [#086A87 “I'm not like them Juno, y-you see that right? I –I saved you remember?”] His hand tightens on her leg, as his other sidles up her wrist, and pins her to the spot. When he leans in, she jumps like a jackrabbit, yanking her thigh away from him – it allows her to put another foot of space between them but her wrist stays.
[b “Yes, of course, I remember,”] she says this evenly, trying to keep her voice steady to avoid a confrontation. If he dove for her, she'd break his nose and not feel a second of regret. Her chary eyes sought to make out his face in the murkiness of the room. [b “Arvo,”] and she says his name very soft as if disclosing a secret. [b “It's time to batten down the hatches.”] She jerks her wrist, trying to subtly draw away. [b “I-I need you to let go now.”] The rush of blood in her ears is like crashing tsunamis, knocking her thundering heart into her ribcage.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat Her reaction is, less than pleasing to Arvo. When she pulls from him, the look of concern on her face is clearly one for her own safety and not one about him. Her hand, the one he has no control over, clenches at her side and he blinks repeatedly to try and clear the fog that has swept over his mind and allowed only the irate and primal urges of a man to step forward.[b "Juno, no--no it isn't like that--"] His grip on her wrist isn't vice-like and as she tugs to set herself free he cannot hold on, though he would have hoped to.
[i She playfully swings her fist into his arm and pumped the air in elation with the other.[+red "And that! That right there is three games in a row Arvo! Man do you suck!"] The joy is plain to see and she takes delight in mocking him. The apartment is warm, the fireplace crackling happily. Despite the gloating woman beside him, he reached across to the table in front of them, picking up his beer bottle and taking several generous mouthfuls.
He plays the role of disgruntled boyfriend quite well. Her laughter resonates around the small room they reside in, it's walls littered with family pictures and heartfelt mementos; his first football scarf, a pair of yellow and pink dotted skates, three ornate pictures of cats playing musical instruments that were so vital to the room that she would have broken up with him on the spot if he didn't buy them.
Replacing the cold bottle on the glass table, he wipes his mouth with the sleeve of his thick sweater.[b "Okay, so you're good at Mortal Kombat."] There is a brief pause to adjust the glasses, scratch at his freshly shaven chin and brush at his leg.[b "But computer games aren't everything."] His voice drops an octave, turning and raising an eyebrow of hope in her direction to which she only laughs even more, leaning over towards him and running a dainty hand through his hair lovingly.[+red "Arvo sweetie.. nice try.."] She presses her lips to his cheek and pulls back, folding her legs beneath her backside as she clicks in the controller.[+red "But I'm on a roll dear and I'm going to beat your ass into the ground!"]
Arvo only shakes his head in amusement, watching her for a few moments as she rolls her shoulders, stretches her back, rubs her neck. It is a routine she gets into when they play their games like this and he cannot help but to lean over, hand cupping her cheek before pressing a kiss to her lips.[b "You're beautiful."] He commented, though she only smiled a moment and shoved him back playfully.[+red "Stop stalling and prepare to lose a fifth time loser!"]]
His face cringes, as if he were the one who had been advanced upon by Juno and had sought refuge from her. Though Arvo attempts to keep himself upright his arm had used up all his remaining strength trying to hold onto her and he collapses onto the bed, a faint groan as he folds atop the bandaged appendage. He eases himself up, pushing his back up against the wall, face dropping back into the shadows that darken with each passing minute.[b "I just-- I thought with how you were talking-- I'm not like them Juno. You know I'm better. I'm so much better than they are.."] His voice is more steely than before but, despite losing the rasping effect, it is still quiet and devoid of much tone. Arvo keeps to the shadows, eyes occasionally looking over to her though only to see if she will react
Each nasal inhale sounded like a shudder, her head nodding in agreement to Arvo's words. [#086A87 “Juno, no-no, it isn't like that—”] The solid grip he had of her wrist slackened before his injured arm gives out from beneath him, unable to support his full weight. It is a few seconds before he rolls away, and is able to push himself upright against the wall. [#086A87 “I just—I thought with how you were talking – I'm not like them Juno. You know I'm better. I'm so much better than they are...”] In the past few hours, they broke the stagnant current of their unlikely alliance and mutually agreed to strive to make things work. If she was going to give her word then she'd need to make the effort to follow through and not jump to unfounded assumptions about his intentions.
[i [+red “You are very good with your hands,”] Joaquin remarked from the doorway, arms folded across his chest while he watched her work. Having set his community near a few miles from the Port, they were far enough into the country that most of the Roamers tended to avoid the grasslands. Scouting parties were sent out in teams of two to three every four hours, effectively covering more ground for materials, weapons, and survivors. Of the three, survivors where the second highest commodity – at least in his eyes. Where most men saw mouths to feed, he saw those too feeble to fend for themselves as feed for mouths.]
[i Juno had been seated on an overturned paint gallon, its gray grip facing up and splattered with the white paint once store inside. Dressed in a floral skirt that brushed her bare ankles and a long-sleeved white shirt, she hunkered over a barrel of peeled Yams, working dutifully through her assignment. Upon hearing Joaquin, she tensed, mid-stroke and began to wipe the blade on the apron draped across her lap. [b “I'm glad it pleases you,”] and though her voice is demure and without much intonation, her downcast eyes give way the ruse.]
[i [+red “Is that so?”] He remarked, his footsteps shuffling along the tiled floor. The main building within the Port was the Reception Hall, where most business was conducted; within was a large conference room and dining hall for an assortment of guest. Naturally the kitchen had been built to accommodate serving a large number of guest. Rows upon rows of mobile baking shelves lined across from the Industrial sinks. Much of the South wall of the kitchen had been dedicate to a dual walk-in cooler and freezer for catered items prepared the previous day. Her small den was half-circled by the racks baring large restaurant-style cans of Cheddar Cheese, Green Beans, and Collard Greens, and positioned directly in front of the door. The distance between them closed quickly, and all she could do was sit there, with a partially peeled sweet potato in her hand and knife in the other. Joaquin, however, brushes his eyes across the knife nonchalantly and dismisses it in the same instance, squatting down so he was eye level with her. A strand of hair dangled from her plait, swaying in the wind of her breath. He curled his fingers around it. [+red “...You're a very special girl Juno, I can just see it.”] When she says nothing, the space between them begins to detract. [+red “And very beautiful. How old are you?”]]
[i [b “Fourteen,”] she lies, eyes boring into his.]
[i [+red “Fourteen, and already in college? I guess that makes you something of a prodigy, no?”]]
[i She keeps her head dipped low, listening to him as though a student in lecture. He allows his callous hands to stroke the slope of her cheek before he threaded his large hand through her hair, and yanked her forward. Her grip on the knife loosened and fumbled into his awaiting hands. With a malicious smile, he presses the tip of the paring knife just beneath her left eye, his nose buried in her hair. He takes a deep inhale. [+red “I remember when I first saw you, bound and bloodied from some hellish fight...oh, something about it made my blood hot. So, I watched you tip-toe around camp, time the guard changes and select your allies and bide your time, flying beneath the radar. For the life of me, I couldn't put a finger on what it was...No, not until you crept to Ryan's bed and dressed his bed with poison ivy in its sheets.”] He jerks her head roughly, the sensation tugging at the sensitive roots, and the tip presses deeper into her skin. [+red “I enjoyed your tenacity, your cleverness, your spirit in the midst of such dark days, and this enjoyment begot admiration.”] He runs his tongue along the bone of her eye, tasting her skin. In the span of a second, he slammed her body into the ground, knife held at the ready against her eye. [+red “BUT IF YOU EVER FUCKING LIE TO ME, I'LL CUT YOUR FUCKING EYE OUT. You understand?”]]
[i [b “Y-Yes!”] The word shuttered out in panic, dissolving into a watery inhale. He drew his hand from her hand, stroking it away form her temple while her body racked with sobs.]
[i [+red “Good,”] his voice is soft and hovers hotly just above her ear, [+red “I'm glad we understand each other.”]]
Juno perches at the edge of the bed, body withdrawn as to make for the door, but she straightens her spine instead. Leaving the situation unresolved would do nothing but create additional obstacles in the ever present fight to openly trust one another. Though her heart continues to patter in her throat, she reaches her hand out and lets her thumb skin the back of his knuckles, once. [b “I know,”] the concession sounded hollow considering how clammy her skin had become, but she pushed away the adverse reaction, focusing on keeping the tentative friendship from being halted and caught on fire. How could she explain to him that her body has memories too, memories like the fingertips of every hand that's ever touched her, and that it was a reaction so deeply embedded in her conscious, it became the second nature response to physical stimulation from a man? How could she explain why her body temperature would suddenly plummet and it would feel like her entire stomach bottomed out?
Gritting her teeth, she squares her shoulders and twiddles her thumbs. With every failed attempt to answer, she felt him retreating further and further away. [b “To answer your question...yes, it is difficult – but it was and [i is] the same with -”] she couldn't even bring herself to utter his name again and suddenly she is unsure of what to say. Juno mulls her thoughts around, before settling on her dialogue. [b “It's not something I mean but it's going to take some time before the trauma becomes distant enough I can move past it. I'm [i trying],”] she grounded out, squeezing his hands reassuringly. [b “–And I didn't mean to insinuate that you were anything like those men. You're my only friend in this whole world right now so I rather you on my side.”] Doe eyes would bore into his were the lights appropriate enough. This is the closest she will venture to speaking about the abuse and how it's effected her. Unsure of what more could or should be said, she retracts her hand, settles back into her original seat as a gesture of solidarity and tucks hair behind her ear thoughtfully. [b “Besides, I was promised chocolate out of this.”]
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat [+red "I know."] His head shakes at her words, eyes closing for a moment of self ridicule. Broken out of his state of lustful wanting he can see how fool hardy he had been with her. It had barely touched on a week of time since they had met. Only three or so days since they had bonded only slightly over mutual loss and shared their personal lives to one another. If she had given him pain medication, perhaps he could blame such actions on a light headed nature and find an excuse for his actions.
But he had taken nothing and all that could be pointed at was himself, his very being giving over for a few moments. As people say, it takes a lifetime to make a friend, only seconds to lose one. His eyes broke open at her touch and he looked over to her. It was a moment meant to draw him out again, bring him from within himself and to listen to her closely. He feels she can barely touch him without feeling her skin crawling, the memories of what those men had done to her coming back.
[+red “Besides, I was promised chocolate out of this.”] It was the type of jovial comment that was needed to bring both of them away from the moment, and he nodded slowly before pushing forward to the edge of the bed once more. Grabbing his bag he drags it before him and his hands routes around inside, his head bowed low though a shaft of light across his face belies the calmness he is trying to show to her. Arvo took a moment to retrieve a new jumper he had packed back on the plane before a final delve inside, a rustle as his hand attempts to grab the food, and the chocolate is pulled out.
Turning to her he holds the bar out, allowing her to take the other end of the wrapper. Though his hand holds the other end, not letting go.[b "I didn't mean to make you feel worried."] The innocent look on her face is something he has not truly come to feel fine with. When he sees it, he feels like a monster and a guardian in the same moment.[b "I just wanted--"] He bites on his tongue, turning his head to the side.[b "I didn't want anything from you. I just mistook what you said. I read a hidden message that wasn't there."] His hand lets the bar go, pulling it back as he fetches the new jumper.
With his back to her now, somehow he feels ashamed to be bare chested in her presence despite being in such a state for some time now. He pulls it over himself, one arm and his head in before he has to help guide his newly bandaged arm into place. Letting out a deep breath his knees shake from the exertion of standing and he leans on the table beside his cup.[b "I think.. I just wanted you to know, I'm not like them. I don't expect payment. I don't expect you to put out simply because you're a woman and I'm a man."] The words are clunky, blocky, they sounds raw on his tongue and rubs his jaw as if he can ease himself into speaking better.
[b "Perhaps talking is the problem."] He grunts and pushed away from the table, the cup swept into his hand as he shuffles to the door.[b "I'll make sure we're all locked up out there, but perhaps best you lock the door behind me."] Not wanting to admit it is because he doesn't trust himself, he quickly finds another excuse.[b "You know, just in case we're wrong about my arm."] He pauses in the doorway, the light from the window throwing a band over his eyes. The emerald orbs are dull, the whites look almost grey.[b "Sleep well Juno."] Arvo looks at her one final time before patting the door and closing it over shut behind him, his feet creaking along floorboards as he walks out to check out the front door. He would retrieve himself a drink and keep watch for the night, though his eyes were growing heavy and he wondered how long he could keep awake.
The sly joke must have broken the half-drunk spell Arvo seemed under before he scooted to the edge of the bed, digging around for the aforementioned chocolate bar. His blind search rewarded him in seconds before he turned and offered her the bar. Between the two, his fingers grow white from how he held it. [#086A87 “I didn't mean to make you feel worried. I just wanted—”] his words break off and he turns his head as though he can see her eyes shining back at him in the dark. [#086A87 “I didn't want anything from you. I just mistook what you said. I read a hidden message that wasn't there.”] The bar falls slack in her hand when he lets go, slapping against her knuckles.
The bed dips beneath their collective weight and squeaks in the heavy silence. A zipper sounds and though it is far too dark to make out defined features, her eyes has seen enough of his lean torso to know there was a constellation of dusty freckles across the shoulders of his back. In his prime, there would be sharp muscles at his shoulders and his hips at a distinct slant. Still, her eyes fell upon the bar as though to afford him privacy.
[#086A87 “I think...I just wanted you to know, I'm not like them. I don't expect payment. I don't expect you to put out simply because you're a woman and I'm a man.”] Juno could almost appreciate the bluntness of his statement if it hadn't been so crudely phrased.
Her lips numbly repeated his ridiculous phrasing: [b “Put out.”] There is a pause, as ever, in which if she could manage to find the right words, the awkwardness might melt away with a few shared chuckles. The wrapper of the bar crinkled from the fist her hand makes. But for this, there were enough phantoms existing in her head without adding another. [b “But you wouldn't mind?”]
[#086A87 “Perhaps talking is the problem.”] He grunts and when he pushes away from the small end table near the bed, the cup clatters once before he swoops it up. [#086A87 “I'll make sure we're all locked up out there, but perhaps best you lock the door behind me. You know, just in case we're wrong about my arm.”] When he pauses in the doorway, lingering enough to turn and look at her, resting on her knees with her face turned to the wall, she does not see just how sorry he appears. [#086A87 “Sleep well Juno.”] The words were gentle enough, a return to the unusual man she'd first encountered in the bookstore. He closes the door behind him and she sits there in the dark with a single slant of light cutting across the door, listening to the floorboards beneath groan to his weight.
Pulling herself from the bed, she paused outside of the door, her forehead resting against the mahogany wood. The concrete walls of the room was an instance transport back to the dormitory, a room not much bigger than this, where she spent 36 hours tilting between fitful minutes of sleep and terrified wakefulness. Things stopped being real; the shadows breathed with her, an entity that ensconced her in its arms, to the backdrop of sporadic screams that resounded through the campus.
[i Mid-zip, a pounding at the door alerted her. She waited, hoping with bated breaths that it was someone to help her. The pounding came again, a fearsome thrashing at the door, and the splintered wood began to warp inward. The savage scream that tore through was enough to get her moving. The University had windows with levels that only extended so far, and in an effort to safeguard against suicides plated the windows with plexiglass. The only way out was through that door and one of them wasn't making it out of there alive. A single red eye glared at her beyond the wood, bloodshot and hyphemic.]
[i The sound of fracturing wood had her dragging the desk chair towards the sink, hoping the sound wood would be enough to break the ceramic. It didn't. Only the thin footrest came spinning off and clattering noisily to the ground. It seemed to infuriate the infected clawing at her door further, for his savage screams because blood-thirsty roars. Revising her plan, she set the seat portion beneath the base, climbed onto the sink and began jumping up and down. The pipes in the walls yawned in the walls, though through her frustrated grunts remained steadfast. By then, an arm had come through the paperback sized whole, reaching desperately for her, and grasping only air.]
[i Panic gave to desperation, sending another flood of adrenaline flushing through. Juno has enough time to grab the chair high over her head before the door is beaten down and the infected comes barreling through. Spittle flies through the air, handing in fat mucous climbs across her cover before its head swivels towards her. With a snarl, it dove forward and she brought the chair down with all her might, knocking its head into the sink. The ceramic cracks and gives out beneath her feet.]
Squeezing her eyes shut did nothing to carve out the images that rose unbidden to her mind but it did remind her that escape, no matter how temporary, was possible. Juno deftly turned the key in the door, and set it evenly beneath the door gap, bit facing outward in the event of an emergency.
The trick of the shadows made her want nothing more than to make peace with Arvo under the guise of safety in numbers but he hadn't even give her the courtesy of fully speaking his peace before retreating like a wounded dog. Each time, the attempt to be cordial, [i human] bottomed out, she sought him out and extended the olive branch. She would not always chase after him, resolving to let him be for the rest of the night as here was no need to add more salt to either of their wounds.
The internal war would not abate; she curled upon on top of the duvet, uneaten chocolate bar by her side, staring at the wall most of the night.
[google-font http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat] [Montserrat Arvo stood staring into the darkness of the hall. The pews were draped in darkness as the moon shone only on the front of the Church. From where he stood, a side step to the altar, it looked like row upon row of coffins awaiting final rites and a blessing or two from the Father. Dry, flaking fingers reach up to rub the weariness from his vision, praying quietly that things would improve for them. He felt he had tried most everything else, though the pains that ran through him in alternating spasms was more than enough evidence of how he had failed.
He watched his footsteps, careful of their placement as he made his way towards the front doors of the house of worship. The constant feeling of being watched and listened for had over months become but a second nature. When at times all he had wished was to yell until his larynx swelled and lungs gave out, or to cry out in agony at any number of injury he'd had. The dome of silence around him, only punctured at times by a stray groan of hunger both undead and living, it at times was the worst thing of losing the living world.
Arvo retrieved his pistol, left close to the tea stained floor boards and upturned bible from the night previous and he allowed a coy smile to tug at his lips. Time moved as it had before. Some days would pass by with little done but before you could notice it was over. And yet others would drag on and the silence dragged on with it. Though the weapon was empty and gave little to no safety, the cold steel gave him a brief feeling of comfort that he sought. Strolling down the central aisle he eased himself against the wall beside the barred door, it's rough surface grazing against his skin.
There again, rising like bile within his being, is the thought of running away. To abscond from the church and leave Juno to her own devices is a tempting prospect and his hand quivers a moment to search for the locking bar and break out. Arvo finds no concern for Juno in surviving. She fought her way out of Joaquin's abode. From what she told him she could survive worse than being on her own again. His only real concern was for himself. He had been in a group of some fashion or other since it had began. To fend for himself longer than a few days wasn't a skill he had yet to trouble himself with, which given the situation of the world made him feel foolish for not trying.
Not for the first time that night he thinks of Christopher. He could have taught him enough. Indeed give him a fighting chance. But also take Juno back under his wing, back into his care. He had proven how inept he was at such a task, though to be said she cared for him more. This inner doubt of his merit and whether he could keep going is what troubles him most and keeps him from pulling the doors open. Instead Arvo presses a hungry eye to a gap in the frame, searching out information of the world around them.
For a few hours he walks slowly around the building, looking where he could to see how the area around them progressed. There were a few roamers just making their way to a fresh hunting ground, once or twice he would see one of them pick up pace as it smelt food on the horizon, though they would simmer down and return to the flock of shambling corpses. His knife had become slick once or twice when they had approached the front door and their pitiful attempts to get in had caused concern that more would arrive. Arvo had nicked his thumb and smeared a line of blood along the weather beaten door, their baited tongues lapping at the dark liquid as they looked for any sustenance. Thrusting through the gap between the doors, he had left three in a pile before his body threatened him with giving out.
He found himself a place between several of the pews, the air was warmest here and it afforded him a good view of the door if he sat upright. If he could have, his eyes would have remained open and he would have kept his vigil at the door, though the few hours he had the night before was not enough and he curled up with his back too the footrest, drawing all the warmth he could as his mind drifted to nightmares and future fears.
Rest came fitfully, clammy body squirming atop the bedsheets in the semblance of a dying worm. The nightmares that passed through thin eyelids made her flush hot despite the cold the walls emitted, and in the disoriented minutes her eyes blinked open, the mouth of darkness seemed to swallow her whole. The stark fatigue coupled with a mild concussion should have had her oblivious to the concerns of the waking world, but her mind – sharp and malicious as a tack – refused to spare her the indignation of another sleepless night.
Juno kept her eyes to the strip of light hovering above the door, becoming accustomed to the sounds of the Church: an untrimmed tree scrapes against the windows, the ghostly whistle of the wind against the Messiah shaped lightning rod atop the steeple, the reverberating drip of leaking water somewhere in the basement, the chilling howl in the distance, her own staccato breathing fanning against the back of her knuckles; soon, she began wondering if the measurement of her life had been gauged by emotions before sounds. In example, she recalls vividly, the sound of the forest looming around her when Riot had pushed her into the dirt, and the cadence of the waves when Eden and she transmuted the lines of innocence but not the emotion she felt. Just as readily, she remembering the unzipping of Joaquin’s clothing like a terrible chorus in her head and now, and now, Arvo’s raspy breathing just at the lobe of her ear – silently entreating her to turn her head the fraction it’d take for eyes, nose, lips to brush.
The thought makes her shiver, though, and not entirely from revulsion, and rather it is not a reflection on him or as a man. If she had turned into him like wet clay molding to the sculpting hands, there was no doubt in her mind that he would have slanted his mouth over hers, tasting like licorice and ginger root and oranges. The sound of his breathing, greedily sucking air from betwixt her lips, would imprint in her mind when it shifted to earlobe and her supple body writhe beneath him on the bed. He would be gentle, hands slipping across slick flesh in serpentine formation, cupping and kneading before he closed his eyes, and buried himself in the electric currents of dopamine. There would be no pretense of sweet nothings whispered in her ear, no empty promises of forever while he explored and marked her womb, no earth-shattering revelation that she had surrendered and been claimed by someone. Just the stolen minutes of the familiar bloodflow of lust - seconds where her dark tresses and eyes became blond and bright. Indeed, even as her mind pieces fractured images of coitus, he is not like Joaquin or Riot.
Juno squirmed some more, feeling the helm of her panties grow unusually damp. Her romance had been a budding endeavor before the epidemic, leaving little room to explore her sexual appetite further than a few sloppily placed laves against the cloister of hidden nerves—the gesture wasn’t reciprocated, so outside her unsavory [i experiences] post-apocalyptic, she wasn’t even sure how she liked to be [i touched]. Is that what it came to—being touched and becoming lost in the best facets of emote? If so, she couldn’t blame him, couldn’t push him in the corner where all her monsters are kept, because the truth was, she got lonely too. Even if she couldn’t satiated his base instincts, there was some comfort in feeling the warmth of a body in the besides of a bed, sharing the same intimate sphere.
Pert, her fingers crept beneath the elastic of her underclothing, hooked beneath her hooded treasured and drew as if her body transmuted into a percussion instrument. Her shuddering ushered stars like a constellation had draped a curtain on her skin. Then, for the first time in some days, she fell soundly asleep.
Birds chirped, whistling gay tunes above . Blurry eyes make out the polished oak finish of the desk, a warm rectangle of sunlight stretching across her feet and floor, and how the filtered beams transfer the room into a quaint sanctuary itself. There is still weariness curling in her blood but when she yawns and stretches, her limbs fell as though settling a new in her body.
She padded quietly into the sanctuary, finding Arvo slumped in a pew, curled around the Glock and made the short return to the bedroom to fetch a blanket for him. When Juno draped it over him, there was a moment of infinitesimal melancholy at imagining how often he might have done the same for Jani – how often she did the same for Sabine, curled up on the couch, slobbering on the remote – before her mind is emptied of thoughts again and she makes her rounds.
With all ingresses battened down and a high-wall surrounding the courtyard garden, she didn’t have the stringent concern of being ambushed by prowlers. It felt wonderful to hunker down in the garden, taking her time to identify the various herbs, to sort through rotten vegetation for seeds to bear fruitful harvest, to enjoy the balmy afternoon beneath the shade of the catty-corner lemon tree. For fleeting moments, the world had been reset and there was nothing ugly to be found in such a glorious day.
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