I ran to the front door and swallowed with effort. I was going to have to walk around the head to get out of my yard.
I inched the door open, almost wishing it wouldn’t be there anymore, but quickly realizing how stupid that would be – since it would mean the canners were here right at this very second, moving severed heads around like chess pieces.
It was still there. Looking at me. Blaming me for its current situation.
I slowly inched out the door, shutting it behind me as quietly as I could. I ducked down, using the bushes to hide my form as much as I could. I looked out and tried to see if there was any movement coming from the houses or yards around me, pulling my gun out of my waistband and taking the safety off as my eyes scanned back and forth. I almost felt sorry for anyone dumb enough to show his face to me right now. I wasn’t going to hesitate – my new rule was to shoot first and ask questions later. Or just not ask any questions at all.
After confirming as best I could that I was alone, I snuck two doors down to the cop’s house. The front door was wide open and had a big brown X on its inside surface, which had me freaking out all over again. But even the canners had to have enemies – other canners – so I figured if they were here, the door would be shut. I didn’t even want to guess what that X meant. I made my way quietly through the kitchen that was in front of the house to the door leading into the garage.
The bike was hanging from hooks in the ceiling. I crept over and grabbed a folding chair on my way; it was too high up for me to reach otherwise. I had to put my gun back in my pants to get the bike down, and panicked the entire time that someone was going to come in while I had that heavy weight in my hand with no way to go for my gun.
As soon as the bike was on the ground, I took my gun out again. I put my two hands on the handlebars, trying to balance the weapon on top. I practiced a few times, moving my first finger from the top of the handlebar to the gun’s trigger, seeing if I could do it fast enough to shoot if I were surprised by someone. Once I felt confident that I would be able to, I started wheeling the bike out of the garage and through the house.
I got halfway through the kitchen when I smelled something. Within a split second, my brain processed how very wrong that odor was – wrong because it smelled good, and not like rotting bodies. It was like something from the past. A cookout.
I propped the bike on the edge of the kitchen counter and tiptoed over to the sliding glass doors that led out to the pool area of the house. I could see that the cop had one of those big, stainless steel gas bar-b-cue grills set up in his yard, with a big table and bench seats nearby. It was next to the pool that had several cushioned lounge chairs around it.
The first thing I noticed were the bodies – sleeping ones on the lounge chairs. There were five that I could count, all guys.
The next thing I noticed was the food on the table. It was charred and broken into several pieces, much of it just bones … but even so, I could see what it was. Or rather, who it had been. I was now willing to bet that the kid with a .357 bullet in his chest was no longer on the side of my house.
I backed away from the glass, trying to keep the bile from rising up into my throat, when I butted up against something. Something warm.
“Well, hello there,” said a deep, gravelly voice. I recognized it instantly as the one that had been outside my window the night before.
I swung around, but not in time to keep the guy from taking my gun out of my waistband.
“Going somewhere?” he asked, smiling, holding up the gun and aiming it at my chest.
His teeth were dark yellow with flecks of black things in between, and his hair hadn’t been washed in months. A long time ago he might have been handsome, but not anymore. His eyes were way too bright, his skin red and scaley-looking with patches of acne breaking out all over it. And the dried blood all over the front of his clothes told me who had been in charge of the canners’ bar-b-cue last night.
“You stay the hell away from me, you friggin canner.”
“Sorry, but that’s not going to be possible. You’re being cordially invited to join us for … breakfast.” His smile disappeared and he raised the gun up to my face, turning his hand sideways like some kind of thug gangster did in the movies. “Go outside.” He gestured towards the sliding back door with his chin.
My brain did a quick calculation. There were six of them and one of me. I could take this guy, I knew it, but not all of them at once. They’d been eating a lot of protein and I hadn’t had much at all in months, except for the few beans I’d eaten. My bodyweight was at an all-time low, and I’d foolishly let my training regimen get too lax.
I was on the balls of my feet, my hands raising of their own accord, my years of training and discipline taking over. My father’s voice was in my head now, coaching me as my eyes took in the subtle clues that told me what my enemy was going to do the split second he’d made his decision to do it.
He stepped towards me and I met him quickly and forcefully, giving him no chance to react, kicking my foot out sharply to catch him in the knee. It twisted sideways, just as I had intended, throwing him off balance and hopefully giving him an intense amount of pain. He grunted, loud enough to wake his friends, so I knew I only had a few seconds to end this game.
before he could get fully upright, I kicked the gun out of his hand, sending it across the room. It hit the wall with a loud thud.
He tried to swing out at me with a sloppy punch, but his knee put him off balance and he lacked all but the most primitive fighting skills, making him an easy take-down. I gave him a harsh jab to the larynx, collapsing his throat and causing him to reach up to try and help himself breathe. I took the opportunity to kick him square in the balls as hard as I could. Practitioners of krav maga know one thing: you do what you need to do to win. Nothing is tabu and there is no mercy for the enemy.
He fell down right where he stood, completely immobilized and unable to breathe. I kicked him hard in the temple to send him into temporary oblivion so he wouldn’t be able to call out to his friends any more than he already had. I stopped short of killing him because I wasn’t comfortable with it when he hadn’t actually tried to kill me yet. I was okay with murder in self-defense, but right now, it didn’t feel right to go that far. I looked up quickly on my way to retrieve my gun to check on the status of the other canners and saw that they were all still sleeping. For the first time I also noticed that there were empty liquor bottles and beer cans all over the place. The idiots were sleeping off a drunken night of partying and friend-eating.
Good. Gives me time to get the hell out of here. I looked down at the guy I’d knocked out, deciding that he might not be immobilized long enough with a ball shot and a kick to the temple. I ran over to the television and grabbed the cord that was plugged into the wall and two other cords that hooked the DVR to the TV and some other device. Leaning over, I felt my dad’s ring hit me in the chin. It made me feel stronger, less a victim.
I used one set of cords to tie his hands, one for his feet and one for his mouth, which I secured after shoving one of his dirty socks in first. I nearly gagged at the smell of it, but didn’t doubt for one second that I was doing the right thing. This guy would have raped me and possibly eaten me if he could have. The fact that he’d eaten one of his own friends told me he was no longer human. “A bunch of friggin zombies is what you guys are,” I said to the unconscious scumbag.
After I tested the knots and decided they were tight enough, I left, grabbing the bike and running it out of there as fast as I could without tripping. I didn’t bother checking for onlookers or people spying, only worried about getting the hell out of this neighborhood now overrun with cannibals.
I kicked the disgusting head out of the way and burst through the front door, sending Buster into fits of barking. I dropping to my knees gathering him in my arms, whispering, “Shhhhhh, you idiot! It’s just me!”
Peter came over quickly, saying, “I got the bike to the edge, but I can’t lift it!”
“Come on,” I said loudly, grabbing his elbow as I jumped up to run to the back of the house.
“What happened?” he asked, already out of breath from me rushing him out on his bike retrieval mission.
“The canners are at the cop’s house, and they ate that guy you shot. We have to get the hell out of here now.”
“What?!” yelled Peter.
I swung around and frowned at him, whispering, “Shut up, you idiot! Do you want them to hear you?”
Peter clamped his hand over his mouth, shaking his head silently.
I grabbed the top of the fence and vaulted myself over it, giving hardly any thought to the nearly super-human strength I’d just displayed. I grabbed the bike that was waiting on the other side and threw it over the fence in the spot I prayed Peter wasn’t standing. Then I launched myself back over one more time.
“Holy crap, Bryn. Are you Wonder Woman now, too?”
“Adrenaline. It’s not going to last forever. Come on, let’s go!”
I grabbed the bike and ran it into the house, its wheels barely touching the ground.
I fast-packed our backpacks with Peter working as my assistant. I shouted out items and he handed them to me, rushing around the room to grab things as fast as he could. I had both backpacks done in less than three minutes.
“Try it on,” I said.
Peter couldn’t even get it on his back himself. I stood behind him and lifted it up, waiting for him to get the straps over before letting go. He nearly collapsed under its weight.
“Try this one instead,” I said.
I’d thought they were the same weight but for some reason this second pack didn’t have the same effect on him. It was mine, and made for long distance hiking.
“It’s better,” he assured me. “I’ll take this one. After I put on more weight, we can switch.”
“Don’t worry about it, Lancelot,” I said. “Just get your bike and let’s go.”
“But what about Buster?” he asked.
We both looked down at the fuzzy pink thing who was looking up at us with the happiest face a dog could possibly have. He’d just heard his name, and apparently to Buster, that always meant good things. His tail was wagging like mad, making his whole butt wiggle.
“Hold on,” I said, letting a frustrated sigh escape me. I rushed to my bedroom and rummaged around in an old toy box my dad had bought for me when I was five. I grabbed the bag that was in there and came out, dropping down to squat near Buster.
“A Hello Kitty backpack?”
“Shut up. It’s old. It’s all I have.”
“You’re going to carry Buster around in a Hello Kitty backpack,” he said. “Why can’t I have a camera for things like this?” he asked the air around him.
I shoved Buster into the bag when he refused to go willingly. He poked his head out of the top as I buckled it down and strapped it to the front of me. Buster took the opportunity while my hands were busy to lick my lips.
“Buster, no lip licking!” I growled as I wiped his dog saliva off with the back of my hand. “Gross.”
“He’s kissing you … awwww, that’s so sweet! He likes Hello Kitty as much as you do.”
I gave Peter the stink-eye. “Keep it up and you’re going to be the Hello Kitty commando, got it?”
“Yes, Sir!” he saluted. “I mean, Ma’am!”
I grabbed the heavier backpack and put it on, grunting with the weight, fearing I wasn’t going to get very far with this thing on. It’s a good thing we only planned to move a few hours a day.
“Ready?” asked Peter.
I looked around at my family room, taking in all the things around me. My eye landed on the photo of me and my dad in the Everglades. I walked over and slammed the frame down on the edge of the table, breaking the glass. I pulled the picture out and folded it up, sticking it in the pocket of my jeans.READ MORE >>