Among Others: 17th Chapter

Enjoy Chapter 17 of Among Others, the coolest damn zombie e-book saga you’re able to read online AS IT’S BEING WRITTEN!

Another clouded sky meant better cover against getting caught. It was hard enough to hide oneself sneaking around in the dark by the light of streetlamps. It was something else entirely trying to do the same with four extra stumbling bodies. However, that was what Collins had to work with.

As late as it was, they had the streets to themselves when they fumbled out into the streets just outside her apartment complex. Where they were going, though, she did not know for certain.

South, she chose.
Everything Collins wanted or needed, her office, the University, grocery stores, was North of her complex. Having traveled south but a few times during random strolls, the likelihood of someone recognizing her diminished significantly. She knew the north end of town housed college students and poorer families. What Collins needed were homes occupied by wealthy families. Families with influence. Families that would matter if something unfortunate happened to them. Families that would make the news when they met their fate.

The fall air was crisp. Her eyes felt the chill. They watered. The rest of her face was protected by blankets of concealer and the unnecessary anti-bacterial mask. All five pairs of feet dragged loudly on the sidewalk. Looking around, no lights were on in any of the homes they walked past. They needed more than turned off lights though.

Proper breaking and entering in order to assault a family relied upon three variables Collins was keen to remember. First is the obvious darkness. Darkness suggests unsuspecting hosts, probably sleeping. It also might indicate a vacant home. This, for Collins, was unacceptable. Secondary and tertiary variables were less obvious.
Second was dependent on the first. Lights must be turned off, but there must also exist proof of occupation. A car in the driveway would do. The more expensive looking, the better. All other signs of suggested occupancy were little more than that: suggestions.
Third was the factor that ate at Collins’ slow pumping heart but she knew it was a necessary evil.
The end justifies the means, she kept reminding herself. If a state can justify war, assassination, and carpet bombing, I can certainly justify a handful of casualties. Strategic collateral damage, right Collins? I hope so.
The third variable required proof that young children resided in the house. Collins did not need reminding of the barbaric nature of what her mind had proposed and her body had decided to go along with.
Even honored soldiers of the American Revolution used guerrilla warfare to meet honorable objectives, Collins. Stay with it. How are my actions any different?
This question remained with her as they came upon the first house meeting all three criteria: lights out, shiny Volkswagen in the driveway, and a toddler’s bike designed for a boy lying on its side next to a life-sized doll house.
She held up her hands. They froze. She froze knowing what she was asking of herself and of the group.
“Ready,” she asked her group. From her belt loop she pulled a hammer, though her eyes stayed on the dark house. It stood tall, two and a half stories, brick and mortar, well-manicured front lawn.
“Remember,” she started again, finally peeling her eyes away from the upstairs windows of the house to look at her troops, “When we get inside, it is very important that you kill everyone in that house.” Everyone nodded except the woman with knotted red hair. Collins looked directly at her, “I mean everyone.”
The woman eventually nodded.
“Once everyone is dead, you can feast. Eat all you want. But not until everyone, everyone, is dead. Do you understand?”
All four nodded in unison this time.
Pointing to the fat man and the young man with the broken face, “You two will go for the adults. You have the best chance of overpowering them.”
They nodded.
“Everyone else follows me to the…other…room.” She could not trust the old man wearing overalls or the woman with knotted red hair to kill anything that was not attacking them outright let alone innocent children. Instead, she figured they would follow her and be of assistance when, and if, it became necessary. She hoped the children were sleeping elsewhere.
She handed the young man with the broken face a flashlight. It was small but served its purpose.
“On the count of three. One. Two. Three.”
They fumbled up the driveway beside the shiny Volkswagen to a side entrance. Collins pulled the screen door open and tried the wooden door beyond it. It, too, opened.
You’re kidding?
She put one finger to her well covered mouth as she turned to look at the rest of her party. “Probably on the second floor. Okay?”
Everyone nodded.
“One. Two. Three.”
They entered through the kitchen. It was a nice kitchen as far as Collins could see with the jittery light from her own flashlight. She noticed a set of keys on the counter.
Focus, Collins. Focus.
Her eyes panned their surroundings for doors. One, dull, opposite the one they entered. She assumed this went to a basement. Shuffling through the kitchen, no doors separated it from the dining room. A large china cabinet the length and height of the wall it stood in front of. Opposite the china cabinet wall were three windows where dim light from the driveway entered. The dining room opened to another, wide open room. Another door with light entering through a small pane of glass near its top: the front door.
Around the next wall appeared a dark stairwell. She turned to speak to her group who were following her every move. The young man with a broken face shone his flashlight into Collins’ eyes.
“Up here. Remember, you two go straight for the master bedroom. I’ll go first. You two follow me.”
Up the stairs they went single file. None of the stairs creaked until the fat man stomped on them. Collins bit her lip and tucked her hair behind her ear with her empty hand.
There’s no backing out now, Collins.
Either someone was going to hear them and get the upper hand, or not. Each step seemed to take Collins further away from her goal.
So close.
The stairwell opened directly to a large empty bathroom. Bearing left following the hallway as it hooked around, only two other doors remained. On the door closest to where she stood hung a small teddy bear with two names on it: Stacy and Marcus.
That’s not what I needed.
The door furthest away was plain, closed. Collins only waved the young man with the broken face and the fat man to pass her. As the fat man wobbled past her, she wondered if what she was doing was right. The young man with the broken face peered around the fat man to catch Collins’ eyes. His look let Collins know that he relished the idea of what he was about to do. Then he and the fat man disappeared behind the door as quiet a church mice in an abandoned chapel.
Thoughts rushed through her mind, but she shrugged them off as there was no time. The quiet was overtaken by ruffling coming from beyond the master bedroom door. She made her bed. It was time. She turned the knob on the door with the hanging teddy bear and crept inside.
Two small beds laid across from one another. Her flashlight beam danced along the walls. Princesses lined walls to her left, frogs and baseball paraphernalia lined those to her right. Straight ahead stood two dressers shoulder high.
She dropped her flashlight’s bright light at the base of the bed surrounding the Princess walls so as not to startle whoever slept in it.
No. I can’t do this.
A blood clotting scream pierced the air. It came from outside the children’s room. Then it happened again. With a third scream, the boy awoke and joined in the screaming from his mother. The old man wearing overalls shuffled over to the screaming boy who had already curled into a ball on his bed with his back against the wall his bed sat against.
“Mommy,” screamed a feminine voice from behind Collins who was watching the young boy. She turned. The girl pulled the covers over her head hiding from the night. Turning back around, the old man wearing overalls was getting slapped by the boy as he reached for the boy’s pajama shirt collar. The woman with knotted red hair was frozen in time, tears running down her plastered face.
Another scream echoed from outside the children’s room before stopping midway through. The fat man and the young man with the broken face finished their first duty. But the boy and girl still screamed for their mommy. Collins looked to her feet hoping to find an answer, or perhaps courage, or a trap door. None of which presented themselves.
There are two kinds of swimmers: those who need to get their feet wet first and ease into cold water and those who dive head first. Collins was the latter.
Her head numb, she pounced at the young girl. She cuddled behind the little girl as if to comfort her. When the girl tried to crawl away, Collins pulled her closer in a bear hug. They were both sitting facing the room’s center, Collins behind the little girl. She started to rock the girl trying to hush her screams and comfort her. She smelled the sweetness of the young girl’s hair and something else. Something deep inside Collins twitched and tickled her navel.
Just as the young girl started to calm, she grabbed the young girl under the chin with one hand. Her other hand reached around to the back of her head. Collins twisted her hands.
The pop vibrated in her chest. The little girl’s arms went limp and fell to her sides. Collins, unable to move, held the young girl. Too scared to let go of her head fearing the sound it might make as it slumped over, she pulled the young girl’s lifeless body closer to her and continued to rock her.

When the young man with the broken face and fat man entered the children’s room, the old man wearing overalls was pulling the young girl’s limp corpse away from Collins. The woman with knotted red hair still stood frozen, crying quietly. Once she could no longer hide behind her victim, Collins saw the messy faces of the young man and fat man.
The young man’s anti-bacterial mask drooped around his neck, the fat man’s missing altogether. Both their faces painted in blood. Not their blood. A string of something wet from the fat man’s lip glistened in the dull glow from the streetlamps just beyond the children’s bedroom window.
Before she knew it, the fat man and the young man with the broken face tore into the limp bodies of both children. Collins turned away choosing to look out their bedroom window at the city’s glow behind translucent curtains. The old man wearing overalls and the woman with knotted red hair watched their feet. Had she not been privy to these last few minutes, she would swear she was listening to dogs gnawing on rawhide. Rather than think of what she heard, she let her body go numb. Her ears rang loudly. She woke in a living nightmare she created.

They headed straight back to Collins’ studio apartment. They did not hit another house. They did not attack another family. Those who were going to eat were full. Those who were not going to eat, did not have the wherewithal to do much else.

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