Letting Life Lead
There was no place left to run and the hiding place in the basement had no room for one more body. At least, that is what the woman in the blue t-shirt — the Star Wars logo still new — told them. She shut the door against the protests. The shrieking from outside grew ever closer. The front door banged and splintered; a heavy thump shook the debris from the floor boards above.
A face appeared in the small glass window centered on the door. The mouth moved, but she couldn’t hear. She smiled and shook her head to reassure the wild eyes. The previous owner had built a mini soundproof room in the cellar for recording music. The ripped out equipment she packed in front of the door to hide it. He was dead upstairs. Lesley. Death by meat cleaver. It had been more difficult to dispatch someone that way than expected.
Crashing. Thumping. Breaking dishes.
Her heart raced.
Lesley with an “ey” — neighbor and casual friend. How often had they joked about never dating because she was Leslie with an “ie” and that would be too ridiculous? Middle names were out since that coincidence defied all laws of probability. It didn’t matter now. Her favorite jacket lay next to him soaked in blood and she could still feel the dried bits of him flecked on her face. It wasn’t murder when a crazed man tried to rip you apart, she reminded herself. A lanky, sedentary dude with asthma should have been the least of her worries.
And it had been three days since the cleaver.
Three days since she’d had a shower or decent meal not scavenged cold from a can. Three days since the meteor shower and the red dust that turned the air crimson. Dust still hung thick — suspended like brick powder— but had begun to settle out and coat everything in a rusty hue. Three days since the angry, raised rash around her wrist, neck, and temples appeared and spread along her spine.
The shouts and growls from upstairs grew more frenetic. Two voices.
The reinforced cellar door bulged under the weight of repeated blows with a shoulder or makeshift battering ram. She finished piling up old office chairs to bar the little room. Not so much that those inside — aging women and children — couldn’t get out. Not that she was a spring chicken. Forty wasn’t old, but younger than sixty.
The nails began to give way from the hastily attached planks. The two-by-four kick guard helped, but the rickety stairs wouldn’t hold the pressure for long.
Leslie held an empty shot gun barrel to use as a club, but switched to a small crowbar. She looped a cord through the hanging hole and tied it over the rags around her wrist. She’d lost a weapon to a weak grip more than once.
They’d all gone mad. The men. They attacked young women first — out of the blue and en masse. Not all, exactly. Boys under twelve and a few immune men here and there — one was in the little room. He had a rash too. Everyone in the room had one. Not as extensive as hers, though. That can’t be a coincidence; we’re marked.
She had been watching the news reports on the red cloud. The silver-haired anchor had leaped from his seat and struck his female co-anchor. Screams had erupted outside. Uncountable deaths; so fast.
A man’s body broke through the door and the force tumbled him down the stairs end over end. He fell on the concrete floor head first and Leslie heard the muffled snap of bone. One less.
She stopped wondering who the dead might have been.
His roving buddy frothed at the mouth upstairs. Though he came down three and four stairs at a time, he made it and stepped on his companion. He barreled towards her — sunken eyes bloodshot and shriveled skin hanging from dehydration.
Leslie’s rash tingled and grew hot; the man was unmarked.
In the last moment, he twisted short. The crowbar missed and struck the wall. He threw himself against a beam, stared dazed — drool dripping down his chin — and blinked. Leslie prepared to bludgeon. He stopped growling, sniffed the air, dropped his shoulders, and clambered up the stairs. His footsteps pounded above; his screams were swallowed by the brawl outside.
Leslie collapsed on a vintage curvy couch because there were no chairs left.
Three days; still alive.
playing by my own rules
We take the heat 'cause we gotta eat.
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