“But mommy, please! Everybody at school is gonna have one..”
“No sweetie, we can’t afford it, if only you knew how much it was costing me to even have you at that school. It’s costing me a fortune, and that new Arkham gadget is not gonna help us pay the bills.”
“Enough, Patience.. I don’t want to hear anymore about it.”
“Hope! Mamacita, Come look at this dress, they have it marked down 60% off! And in my favorite color too bitch!”
“Girl, I’ll be right there!” She turned back to me, with that same stern tight mouthed look I’d seen a million times, I knew there was no cracking her. “Patience I don’t want to hear another word about it, when you grow up, finish your graduate degree, and get a job making your own money, you can buy whatever you want! Now stay put while I wrestle this dress from Sophia, she knows damn well it’ll look ten times better on me..”
With that she scurried off down the aisle without another look back, yes, my mom always had bit of a shopping problem. She liked to call it Retail Therapy, but she probably needed REAL therapy from a professional, but who could blame her, tomorrow will be the anniversary of her brother’s death, my uncle Peace.. after he died several years ago, this was always a hard time of the year for us. My birthday was the same day, so my special day was tainted and bittersweet, I couldn’t even be happy I was turning thirteen.
Most people thought I was eight or nine when they looked at me, never even bothering to ask, just assuming. It wasn’t the same for Yesenia, all the boys seemed to be so excited by her growing chest, she got so much attention, and couldn’t wait to throw it in my face she was wearing a training bra now. First she had the pretty light brown eyes, then the silky light chestnut curls, now she had the tits.
No, wait, mom told me about words like that, I need to watch my mouth.
“Look over there, Pat, it’s that boy, the one that goes to public school, he keeping looking over here..” Yesenia said, pointing to a handsome brown skin boy with flashy sneakers, his school clearly didn’t require the drab uniforms we were forced to wear. “I think he’s looking at me.. I’m gonna go talk to him, keep a look out!”
“My mom said ‘if you drive your body fast, the police pull you over and give you a baby’!” I called out behind her, but she ignored me, like she always did.
The softly tanned Puerto Rican girl had been my friend almost as long as we lived here, she used to be more quiet when they first moved down the block, but I think she was just worried about her English. Now, she wouldn’t stop talking if you dumped a packet of sázon in her mouth, she’d keep going without missing a beat. I watched as she walked up to him, playing with her hair, imitating what she’d seen her mother do with the countless boyfriends and ‘uncles’ that came over to their house. My mother was a bit more discreet, never bringing anyone home or even entertaining the attentions of men in front of me.
I watched my best friend with a jealous feeling I’d never felt before, it had to be the tits.. Oops I mean breast, I think.
I was the cute one before this, but we were older now, cute was for babies! I wanted to grow into myself like the other girls.. Mom just always says..
‘you’re just a slow grower, your uncle was a slow grower and he was special, so it just means the same thing for you.. Look at me, nothing special about me but the good looks nana and papa gave me, You take your time and you’ll shine when you’re ready.’
I’m ready to shine now though! Where was my glow up? Where are my womanly curves? Where we’re my tatas? Yesenia used to look like a string bean, now she she was thickening up, still slender but the rounder shape of an older girl. There was a melodic bell tone, it broke me from my thoughts, and a perky young woman’s voice came out over the speakers.
“– Good Evening Shoppers, I’m sorry to inform you that it’s 9:50pm and our stores will be closing in ten minutes, please finalize your purchases and have a safe trip home, hope to see you again soon! –”
I decided to stop hating and take a walk to clear my mind, making sure not to stray too far, I still had to keep a look out so Yesenia wouldn’t get caught. I needed to find a way to make a Quick Coin, as uncle Peace like to call it, I need something that would make me stand out amongst the other girls in school.
The colorfully lit sign of a game store caught my attention, outside was a display for the newest karaoke crazy sensation, it was supposed to be the game of the year. It was named ‘Eureka!’, and was supposed to give a holographic display custom to the vocalist performing, the commercial showed beginners with a decent light show and fireworks, the more skilled singers getting amazing arena style effects.
I’d guess my voice was decent, uncle Peace used to love my singing, but mommy didn’t like to hear me sing anymore. It was like after he died, we went into hiding..
All the singing, all the dancing, all the joy in those times in the presence of Peace, she wanted to run away and forget all of that. He was the one that let me know singing was in our blood, in our souls, a gift no one could take away from us, even in death.
“Umm.. Hello.” I greeted, as the instructions requested, it felt silly talking to a machine like it was one of us.
“Hi little girl, my name is Euri, what is yours?” Replied the machine, in a cold odd voice that clearly wasn’t human, as the holographic head of a black cat with jade eyes appeared before me.
“Nice to meet you, my scanners compute you are of a size considered consistent with a child of eight years, is this correct?”
“The recommended difficulty level for ages 0-14 is.. Beginner.”
“I want the highest level possible, I’m no Noob!”
“Please note, on higher difficulties the actual voice of the user is graded, all points tall..”
“I don’t care, I accept the challenge.”
“Okay, I’ll make the change, please step onto the platform, thank you.”
I hop on the stage, and took the footing spaces behind the mic stand, people were casually walking by, many glancing my way to see one of Arkham inc.’s newest contraptions in action. I looked through the playlist nervously, unable to decide on a song, the hands free interface worked effortlessly, tracking my gaze to gage which selection I was currently interested in. Most of the songs were from before I was born, and while my Uncle played old music all the time, I didn’t necessarily recognize the titles. I finally just picked the Kamikaze Karaoke option, leaving my fate in the hands of Euri. The cat just smiled lifelessly, and disappeared with a laugh, soon the title and artist materialized before me.
“Ohmygawd! This is kinda familiar, my uncle used to love this song!”
“Glad you like the selection, please wait.. Now downloading.. ‘How Will I Know’.. Artist: Houston, Whitney.. Program will commence in THREE.. TWO..”
“Wait a minute, what’s the key?! You didn’t tell me the key!”
“You’re the Expert aren’t you?.. ONE, begin.” Euri replied in this sarcastic, and for once, an all too human tone of voice that sent a shiver through me, I barely had time to gather my nerve before the intro music started, my eyes darted around at the faces of the people who’ve gathered about.
~ ☆ ”There’s a boy I know, he’s the one I dream of.. He Looks into.. my eyes, an’e takes me to the clouds above, mmhmm.. OooOh I lose.. control! I just CAN’T seem to get enough, uh huh! When I WAKE.. from dreaming, tell me, is what I’m feelin really love, OoooHooo..” ~
The crowd started to clap in time with the song, helping me remember the rhythm, the flashes of color swirling around made several of them ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’. I could tell the machine wasn’t as impressed as the crowd, evident by the meager display of graphics, I knew I needed to turn this up after I finish up the first chorus.
~ ☆ “FALLING in love is so bittersweet.. This love is strong, why do I feel weak! OooOh, Wake me.. I’m shaking, an I wish I had you near me now, uh huh.. Said there’s NO.. No mistaking, what I feel is really love, Ooo, tell me! how will I know! I can’t trust my feelings.. HOW will I know… OooOh, HOW WILL I KNOW! Love can be deceiving.. How will I knoooooow!” ~
As I finally hit my stride, grooving into the next chorus, the machine rewarded me with fireworks and sparkling stars. People were singing along and the crowd was growing, even the boy that was with Yesenia now had his attention on me, much to her dismay. She scowled and pouted for a moment before joining in with the infectious clapping and cheering of the crowd.
~ ☆ “If he loves meh, if he loves me not, oooooOOh! If you LOVE me, I know ya love me, I KNOW YA DOooo! I know ya love, jus say ya love me, I know ya DO!.. OOOOOOH, HOW will I KNOW!.. Hey hey hey, How will I KNOW..” ~
Oh dang it.. There goes mom, she doesn’t look happy, she did clearly say no singing, especially not in public. But I had to try this out, she just didn’t understand, uncle Peace understood.
He always understood me…
~ ☆ “How will I know if he really loves me.. I say a PRAYER with every heart beat.. I fall in love whenever we meet. I’m asking you ’cause you know about these things.. How will I know if HE’S thinking of MEEEE.. I try to phone, but I’m TOO shy.. can’t speak.. FALLING in love is so BITTER SWEET, This love is STRONG why do I feel WEAK!” ~
My eyes were closed as I relished in the moment, there was cheering, there was screaming, someone was screaming my name, so I sung louder.. Loud as my little lungs could. I was a diva, meant to be a star, my uncle Peace said we were here for a purpose. No God would give us all this talent, for no good reason except to heal people with song and heal the world with music.
The karaoke machine was finally giving me the respect I deserved, there were all types of colorful shadow dancers around me, flashing lights.. I was really putting it through its paces, and the screaming crowd clearly enjoyed the show. Whatever punishment mommy gives me, will be well worth all this, well worth this fleeting moment of bliss.
~ ☆ “HOW Will I Know! How will I know! How will I knooow.. How will I know! OooHOooo! How will I know.. HOW will I KNOooowW!” ~
When I finished I held my arms up as tall and gracefully as possible, in the typical diva pose, the one you gave when you know you clinched a performance, uncle Peace had me practice all the time. There was screaming, but no applause, that’s when I notice it was REAL screaming, the bloodcurdling kind, the screaming only heard in your worst of nightmares.
It was mom, she was running, everyone was running, people were screaming and crying. A blaring wail that sounded like the fire alarm went off, people were fighting, was this a riot? No, I’d seen the scenes in Ferguson and Baltimore years back, no one was being bothered with the merchandise. I tried to run to my mother, but was blocked by a small woman launching herself onto a big burly security guard twice her size, she took him down to the floor and looked to be kissing him really hard. He screamed, and I soon joined him, as I watch her tear his lower lip away with her teeth. Blood gushed from his mouth and I ran the other way as she bent down for seconds.
An old man fell in front of me, I would have stopped to help because mom said always to respect your elders, but I was too afraid, leaping clear over him like a gazelle. I heard my name called again, it was Yesenia, her and the boy were running towards the ‘Footlocker‘, one of the attendants was pulling down the security gate. I ran that way looking around for mommy, but it was hard to see what was going on in all the chaos.
I was almost to the door but I suddenly hit the floor, I could feel myself being dragged backward. I screamed and kicked with my other foot, as a blonde woman with blood in her hair and a torn shredded throat gnaw at me with her bared teeth.
*She should be dead.. She WAS dead.. I’m about to be dead!*
There was a moment of being frozen in place, and I was unable to will myself to move, that’s when a pair of yellow Supremes went flying by my face. THE boy had drop kicked her, sending the woman sliding across the floor. Her head hit a nearby bench at an odd angle, causing her neck to snap.
“Holy shit, I think I killed her..” He swore, and I couldn’t blame him, he just killed someone.. an adult, at that.
“Patience, Tariq! Come on you guys, ándale!” Yesenia yelled, fear in her eyes, as well as worry, I could tell she was looking for our moms amongst the havoc.
When we cleared the door, the attendant quickly pulled down the gate, a couple with a small boy didn’t make it in time. They begged for him to open up, but he looked too scared to dare unlock it, the mother cried for him to just take the little boy yet no one could will themselves to open it, by the tenth ‘please‘, and about a pint of tears, he moved to go open. Once again, time didn’t favor their side, as another family, ironically a couple and child, descended upon them, savagely tearing into them.
“There’s a back door! We can escape through that end..” Someone yelled, and most of the people in the store started to line up at the doors, me and the boy were about to follow but I realized Yesenia had lagged behind.
There was another girl around our age, crying on the floor behind the counter, Yesenia was kneeling down next to her stroking her auburn curls to comfort her. There was a banging at the gate, those savages were trying to break through, I grabbed the girl’s arm, and told the boy grab the other, we didn’t have time for this, I had to find my mother. We went through the back door, which lead to a hallway, yet just as we were about to follow the corridor to the end, there was more screaming and the distinct sounds of running footsteps.
After running back into the store we locked the door behind us, too afraid to open it, no matter how much the voices behind it pleaded. We were just kids, I was barely even a teenager, the tears that fell from my eyes seem to have no end, my body trembled and my hands were shaking.
“We have to get out of this room, look for any other exits!” Tariq yelled, he looked as afraid as the rest of us, but I was glad he could snap us back to reality, we needed a leader.
“Over there, the stairs..” Yesenia pointed out, with her quick brown eyes.
The staircase only lead up one flight, but that was fine by us, as long as we could get the hell out of there. We entered a storage warehouse, it seem to be connected to all the merchant shops in the mall, we just had to decide which one.
“The food court is the widest open space, I say we go that way.” Tariq said, but he was soon interrupted by the pale girl, who spoke for the first time.
“No.. That’s where they took my mommy, we can’t go that way.” She cried, crouching down again, bursting into a fit of tears.
“What about the ‘Nordstrom Rack‘?” Yesenia asked, pointing to the sign, it was the last place we saw our own mothers so it was worth a cosign.
Tariq didn’t argue, so as we pulled the other girl from the floor, we all moved to the freight elevator, after pressing the button it creaked and groaned to life. Tariq made all of us stand behind him as the car came to a stop on our floor, we braced ourselves for the worst but gave audible sighs of relief when we found it empty. Once the group shuffled in, he pressed the button for the ground floor, and we tried to ignore the anarchy that could be heard as we passed the floor we had just escaped from.
I wiped away tears as I thought how unlikely it was that I was gonna find my mom, Yesenia seem to be able to read my thoughts because she scooted closer and put one of her slender arms around me. We were all dead silent as the elevator car slowed to a stop, the sharp ding of a bell tone was heard as the door parted.
There was a police officer standing there, facing away from us, the girls constant sniffling caught his attention and he spun around to face us. His eyes grew wide with hunger as he began to sprint towards us, I press the door close button frantically, our cries willing it to close faster. Just when it was about to, he reached his arm in and clawed at us, somehow snatching hold of the curly haired girl, pulling her close enough to the door that it reopened.
Tariq jumped on the man’s back, attempting a chokehold, that was ultimately not enough to take him down. Yesenia reached to his waist and pulled at his taser gun, she pointed the gun at him yet he didn’t cease, so she pulled the trigger sending a jolt of electricity through him.
Tariq and the girl felt a stun as well, both visibly affected, the officer on the other hand was barely fazed. He didn’t look like he was one of them, but was as rabid as any of the angry people, but this was a cop, we couldn’t just kill him. I screamed as he grab hold of the girl once more, putting his hands in her mouth, she gurgled, screamed, and choked on her own blood as he ripped her jaw away.
He bent down to feast on the pieces of flesh and bone in his hands, and Tariq scrambled across the floor, unbridled fear in his eyes. I helped him up just as the fiend turned towards us again, he immediately crouched like a wild predator, and pounced in our direction, but the ear stinging blast of a shotgun cut him off. I looked to see another officer, this one younger and of Asian descent, holding the smoking barrel. My soul nearly left my body when I saw my mom, and Yesenia’s mother Sophia, step out from behind him.
“MOMMY!!!!!!” I screamed, running towards her, burying my face in the crook of her neck.
“I’m here baby, oh my baby, my baby.. Mama’s here now, it’s gonna be okay.” She cried, hugging me to her so tight it hurt, but I didn’t care.
“Adios mio! I prayed we’ d find you girls.. God is so good to bring us back together, I prayed to mother Mary and she answered!” Sophia claimed as she held her own baby girl tight, going off into a Spanish laced tangent that was illegible to me.
“We should be moving.. now! I have my car outside, you mentioned you all lived on the island, is it close by?” The officer asked, putting a comforting hand on Tariq’s shoulder, my mom nodded as she was too choked up to speak. “We have to hope we can get to your apartment complex, bunker it down, and wait till the National Guard moves in.. I don’t know why the mayor hasn’t issued a state of emergency yet! This is utter chaos..”
We pulled ourselves together and followed his lead, as he shuffled us out of the nearest exit, it left us on a side street but his patrol car wasn’t parked too far away. Mom held my hand tight as we all ran behind him, getting so close to his car but someone came bursting out of another side door. A screaming kid in a ‘Subway’ uniform was getting swarmed by six or seven of the crazy mad men, one stray close enough to grab hold of the cops arm, knocking the gun so the blast spray to the side.
The crazed man claw at the officer’s throat, gouging a chunk of flesh, splattering blood across the side of the white and blue cruiser. Sophia picked up the gun, and let off two rounds into the attackers back. Mom ran over and searched the officers body for his keys, once found she moved to the driver’s side, and unlocked the doors. Sophia cocked the shotgun and hop in the passenger seat, while the three of us kids jumped in the back.
The ride was like something out of ‘Fast and Furious 11’, I didn’t think mom had it in her.. heck, I didn’t even know she could drive. We squealed in terror and joy as we were tossed around in our seats, the dynamics better than anything a amusement park roller coaster had to offer. Yesenia’s mother found the switch for the siren, and we went blaring down the street bathed in blue lights. There was loud helicopters overhead, and small fires breaking out all over the place. People littered the street running, packing their things into cars, police trying to add some kind of order to the chaos. Mom swerved left, nearly hitting an oncoming car to avoid a woman with a stroller, who sadly, was struck by an ambulance turning into the intersection sharply.
Sure it was late at night, but the ambulance driver should have seen her, it looked like he didn’t even slow down. I decided I was done looking out the windows, I couldn’t take it anymore, what was happening?! The world was falling apart..
“Patience, come on, we have to go!” Yesenia cried out to me, I look up at her with wide eyes, I hadn’t even realized we stopped.
“Sophia, do you have your keycard? I lost my purse.. all I have is my house keys.” Mom asked her, as she still searched her pockets frantically for her own.
“No girl, I lost mine weeks ago, Bruno was supposed give me a new one, why you think I been calling your buzzer lately.. Puta Mierda! What do we do?!”
“What about Mr Bazaar?” I asked Mom, reminding her that he was home, no doubt getting dressed for a night out on the town.
“His name is Balthazar, I told you that was a rude nickname..” She admonished, and I just pouted at her.
“I know, I know..”
“But you are right baby.. I remember him coming over to ask for some basil and an egg not long before we left.” She said, ignoring my whining and pressing the buttons as fast she could, it rang three times before he picked up.
“Hallooooo, whew is it?!” He singsong through the speaker, a throwback Mariah Carey song blasting the background, did he have any idea of what the hell was going on out here?
“Tzar, bitch it’s me and Sophia, open the damn door! There are crazy people out here trying to kill us!”
“Oh, hey girl, wait till I tell you how my day went, can you believe..”
“Tzar, open the fuckin door!” Sophia screamed, cutting him off, but it was the worst thing she could have done to Mr Bazaar.
“Now I’m gonna need a pretty please with that request.”
My eyes roamed to the end of the street, there was a man shuffling, he had on a grey sweater and khaki pants. He seem to be coming from the direction of the more affluent neighborhoods up the street, the closer he got the more detail I noticed, he was clutching his arm, blood was soaking thru the material, his pants leg was just as wet with the life liquid. I nudged mommy and could feel her shiver when she saw him, they were coming.
“Pretty please dammit!” Mom screamed into the intercom, the man was starting to shake like he was having a seizure, but he didn’t fall to the ground.
“I didn’t like the tone of that one, less excitement, more of a groveling type of sound.. I’m feeling like royalty today darling.” He replied dramatically, taking up more time than we had to spare, because the man was starting to run, growling as he sprint at full speed.
“Please Tzar, this isn’t a joke! Ay dios mio! Just open the door!” Sophia screamed, finally getting the man to understand our dire straits.
“Oh shit, you guys are serious, what the hell is going on?!” He asked, worry in his voice for the first time, for good measure because now six other people joined the man in the grey sweater, all seven of them resembling a pack of carnivorous wolves.
“Please please pretty please, Mr Bazaar!!!” I screamed, pushing mom out of the way, the angry people were almost to us. “Open the door, PLEASE!!!”
There was a long piercing tone, signaling the latch had opened, and the five of us scrambled inside. We all ran into the waiting elevator, Yesenia pressing the button for our floor as hard as she could. It was then that I remembered how the lobby door took awhile to close, the hinges needed oiling, so it had a delay. The elevator doors began to shut, just as the pack of crazies burst into the lobby, there was a loud banging below us as we began to rise to the upper floors.
“Mom.. I’m scared.” I said lowly, almost ashamed to admit it in front of my peers, but I couldn’t stop the tears anyway so I might as well admit it.
“Me too.” Yesenia chimed in surprisingly, as she cuddled close to her mother, Sophia cocked the barrel of the shotgun as if to tell her baby girl it will all be alright.
“Heck, me three..” Tariq murmured, and my mom pulled me and him into a tight sweeping hug.
“We’re all afraid, but we’ve shown how strong we are, we made it.. We made it home.” She told us, her measured and unwavering voice an anchor to hold onto, as I sobbed quietly.
The lights flickered as we came to a stop, and the doors dinged as they opened, Sophia and her shotgun led the way out. The hall was empty and dead silent, as we tiptoed toward our apartment. It wasn’t until mom pulled out her keys, that one of the doors opened, trap music fill the hallway as Mr Bazaar came rushing out amongst a thick cloud of skunky smelling smoke.
“Oh lord, Hope, y’all scerd the living daylights outta me.. What the hell is wrong? You would think the world was ending child..”
“It very well could be!” Mom warned him, he had no idea what was going on, clearly.
“Well.. If that’s the case, let me check on Miss Bernadine, you know she watches nothing but the news all day.”
He went to his next door neighbor, the noisiest old lady on our floor, Miss Bernadine, I couldn’t stand her but mom said I had to be especially nice because she was in a wheelchair. She was so crabby, and had a weird fascination with Dolphins, they were garishly decorated all over her home. Tzar banged on the door like he lived there, or was the dang police or something, but there was no answer.
Mom told him we needed to get into our apartments and barricade the doors, while she fiddled with the lock to where we lived, yet Mr Bazaar was stubborn. He turned her door knob, and upon finding it open he proceeded to walk in, mom told Sophia to follow him, but the moment she stepped in, she came running out with Tzar right behind her screaming.
A naked Miss Bernadine came crawling out the door, her chair dragging with her, because her left leg was twisted and tangled with it, fortunately the chair kept her stuck in the doorway. There was a loud bang, that’s when our neighbors, a middle aged polish couple that didn’t speak much English, came bolting through the door of their apartment. The wife clawed for Tariq, her once gentle smile torn away to the gums, he dodged and ran back towards the elevator only to find himself trapped. The husband came toward us but Sophia blast him in the chest, sending him flying into his wife, she followed up with two more.
“Tariq, come back this way! Hurry!” My mother screamed, but Miss Bernadine was still screeching and groaning as she crawled ever closer, Sophia seem reluctant to shoot the old woman.
“Kill her first man.. She’s one of them!” The boy replied, ready to take the elevator down, and try his chances on his own.
The polish woman rolled out from under her husband, and launched herself toward him, he quickly pressed the button for the doors to close. They prove too slow, as she was able to force them back open, Sophia ran to help him but she had already sunk her teeth into the flesh of his cheek. Yesenia and I screamed in terror, as mom tried to cover our eyes, it was too late for that.
Sophia blasted two rounds into the woman’s face, to put her down for good. Yet there was still the sound of cries and groans, it was Tariq, he was still alive. Sophia look up at us with a sad look in her eye, while mom pushed us towards Mr Bazaar’s apartment to usher us inside. I was rushing to go inside, and I think if I wasn’t so urgent I would have saw her sooner.
“Moooooooom! Watch out!”
It was Miss Bernadine.. She had pulled her knotted legs free and was able to sneak up on my mother, close enough to bite her leg. She screamed, we all screamed, Mr Bazaar kicking the old woman in the face, Sophia blasting her away afterward, but the damage was already done. I reached out for my mother, but she pushed me into Mr Bazaars apartment, locking Yesenia and I in from the outside.
“Stay in here until we come back for you, okay? I promise you.. Mommy loves you, we will come back. Just don’t open this door for anyone but us..”
“But mom!?!.. MOMMY!???!!”
She didn’t answer me, but I could hear her talking to Mr Bazaar and Sophia in hushed tones as they entered Miss Bernadine’s apartment, it sounded like they dragged her corpse from the floor before closing her inside. Then I continued to listen as mom unlocked the door to our apartment, and the voices ceased as the door shut. I looked at Yesenia, and she looked as clueless as I did, what were the adults hiding from us? Something was wrong.. I just knew it, and somehow this was all my fault.
We waited, I don’t know for how long, it seemed like forever. I looked around Mr Bazaar’s apartment, impressed with how romantic and rustic the decor was, it proved you didn’t need a house to feel like it was home, a crappy cramped New York City slum apartment would do just fine with the right tender touches. All in all, you could still tell it was a bachelor pad, the smokey skunk smell was being covered by a potent burning incense, and no photos of any family, just of him and a bevy of friends.
On past occasion he’d name drop persons of interest but I rarely knew who he spoke of, most likely some celebrity or politician, he seem to know everybody. My thoughts were interrupted by the buzzing of the intercom, I looked to Yesenia, but she only motioned for me to answer. I let it ring a few times, hoping whomever it was would give up, but they were incessant.
“Hello.. who is it?” I asked timidly, unsure of what to expect, the voice on the other end was soft, yet hard enough I could tell it was a man.
“…No mister, I’m Patience Rosén, I live next door.”
“I’m Loki, the cousin of the guy that lives there, so I’m not a stranger. Patience sweetie, do you know how to open the downstairs door?” He asked, talking to me in this comforting voice, kind of like an older brother would have.
“Oh! I’ve heard Mr BaZaar talk about you, you’re the Sour Bitch!” I exclaimed excitedly, I could recall the name being mentioned while mom and Mr B. were conversing over drinks, for some reason she told me to mind my business that night.
“Oooh! You said a bad word!” Yesenia said, giggling with delight.
“What did he ..?!” The man started to get upset, but he paused getting quiet, I look to Yesenia thinking something happened to him, he came back sounding calm again. “Patience sweetie, do you know how to open the downstairs door?”
“Yeah.. but the angry people are in the hallways, you don’t wanna run into them, they hurt my mommy.” I replied, ashamed that I sounded on the verge of crying. “Mr BaZaar is at my house with Yesenia’s mom, taking care of her.. they sent us in here and locked the door.”
“Well me and my friend are here to help, we’re gonna see if we can help your mommy, I’m sort of a doctor.” He replied, causing my eyes to light up, he could help mom, I quickly pressed the button to buzz them in.
Some time had passed, and we still hadn’t heard anything in the hallway, my throat was so dry I decided to check the fridge for anything to drink. Yesenia came with me, because she seem to ignorantly think all black people kept their fridges stocked with Kool-Aid, using the one time my mom had made a grape drink for us as a quick fix, now the girl was hooked. When I open the fridge, I groaned when I saw the giant glass pitcher filled with bright red liquid, Yesenia started clapping happily as she grabbed a cup from the cabinet. She was thoughtful enough to grab one for me, and I carefully filled our cups, I was never a fan of the sugary drink so I only had half a glass.
“Oh my god, this burns worse than Pepsi, ahhkk.. My throat!” I blanched, nearly spitting it out, but I’d swallowed too fast. “Somethin’ ain’t right wit the Kool-Aid..”
“I don’t know mama, after a few sips it doesn’t taste so bad, and the burn goes away. I like it!”
“Here you can have the rest of mine, I’ll just have some water.”
I grabbed one of the bottles, and shut the door, I took a few swigs as I got settled on the couch in the living room, looking around, it was clear Mr Bazar had good taste in just about everything, plus he was really good looking, I just loved his strong defined eyebrows. I wonder briefly why mommy never dated him, they hung out together all the time.
That’s when I remembered mommies explanation, men like Mr Bazaar were okay to fall in love with, because they were the only kind that could truly and unconditionally love us back, yet you could never BE in love with each other, strictly platonic but everlastingly true. Maybe that’s why I loved my uncle so, he was one of those type of men, the kind you could fall in love with, mom and I were both smitten. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so alone, I just wish mom was here, with her arms around me, telling me it will all be okay.. cause I don’t think I believed when she said it earlier.
There was a loud commotion, and I could hear yelling, then the loud bang of the shotgun. Yesenia ran into the kitchen to throw up in the sink as the yelling and screaming got closer. Soon there was loud pounding on the door, and several voices were hollering for us to unlock it. When I opened it, a man you could only describe as beautiful burst thru the door, he had Hershey brown skin and long magnificent dreadlocks, he reminded me of some fairytale prince. Behind him was an equally handsome white guy, his hair was dark and messy and his face was scruffy with a goatee, he stood a tall six foot two, with this dark dangerous look about him, I found myself being spooked by his eerie blue eyes.
Mr Bazaar and Sophia came running in as well, the snarls and growls of the crazy angry people could be heard in the corridor. The dark Adonis I assumed was Loki, grabbed me up in his strong arms, he called for Yesenia but she ran for her mother, No, she had to come back! I could see the blood gushing from Sophia’s shoulder, it was a bite, there was something about those bites.. couldn’t she see it?!
The handsome dangerous looking one grabbed Sophia, he pushed her hard, sending her flying through the doorway, throwing the shotgun out behind her, as if it would help any. Yesenia wailed and cried in Mr Bazaar’s arms, kicking and scratching to get to her mother, but it was a lost cause, all was lost, even our mothers. I wept as well, just more softly and reserved, more accepting of the reality even though it all felt like some sadistic nightmare.
“Why did you hurt my mommy?! I need to help her, let me go! Move!” Yesenia screamed, as she tugged away from Mr Bazaar, could she not hear the screams of horror on the other side of the doors? It was too late, it was all too late.
She ran toward the door, but the tall man grabbed her, pulling her up and hugging her to him. She beat his chest, as she kicked and screamed, crying for her mother. Soon I couldn’t help but get choked up, and that only agitated the crazy people.
No, these were Monsters…
The way they were pounding, it was only a matter of time before they broke through. After the man put Yesenia down, she curled into a ball on the floor. He went and opened the window, looked out, there was a fire escape and the alley below was clear. The beautiful man that held me comfortingly told Mr Bazaar to grab anything irreplaceable to him, cause we were leaving the city now. I looked up into those honest warm brown eyes, seeking the truth, the truth would be my only comfort.
“Where’s MY mommy? Is she okay? Did your friend hurt her too?” I asked, through salty tears.
“Your mommy wasn’t your mommy anymore, I tried everything I could to help her..I’m sorry, but she’s gone.” He replied, hugging me to his chest, tearing up as well. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you, we will survive this, I promise.”
“We have to go now.” Said the dangerous one, with those hard eyes, looking at the door.
More of them had come, they were beating relentlessly against the door, it was starting to buckle. Mr Bazaar came from the back carrying a backpack, he knelt down and picked the crying Yesenia up from the floor. I was being led to the window and passed to the man with the hard eyes, the only thing that kept me moving was the Adonis following behind. The other two were supposed to go next, when suddenly Yesenia freaked out and ran towards the door, they screamed for her to stop, but she kept on towards the door.
That’s when the top hinge broke, the door was starting to yield. She stopped when Sophia’s head peeked around the sides. She was snarling, her teeth stained black and her arms reached through, accompanied by countless others. Yesenia started back toward us when the door fell, I screamed for her, and she came running. I held my hand out for my friend, and she was able to reach me, that was when I saw her, it was my own mother amongst the pack.
“Mommy!?” I cried out, but she only growled and ran toward us savagely, no.. this wasn’t my mother.
Hope was gone…
“OhmafuckingGawd! Let’s go!” Mr Bazaar screamed, starting down the stairs.
Loki let me go to follow his cousin, while the other guy tried to help me with Yesenia, but that’s when I saw her.. Mom or at least what used to be her, move so fast, snatching Yesenia back so the others were able to grab hold. I looked into my mother’s blood caked eyes, knowing the woman that I had loved, and that had loved me was gone.
My ears were drowning in Yesenia screams, piercing so loud it shattered what was left of my broken heart, all that I knew was gone..
Dead and gone.
I had woken up screaming again, it was becoming a habit, one I couldn’t afford. Even now as I peer down from the high branch I had climb and fasten myself to, I could see that three of the Risen Dead had gather below, they were older so they were slower, a good thing. I unlatch myself, and wipe away the stray tears that leak down my face, I didn’t have much water left so I couldn’t spare to lose the nutrients, watching two seasons of ‘Survivor Man’ seem to pay off for now, why test fate?
I tried to ignore the hissing and groaning from the three monsters below because more of them would come soon, unlatching my fastenings, I tucked everything into Loki’s backpack. It stank of weed but I was happy I was able to find some edibles in the side pockets, no doubt for his munchie fits. The sun was rising in the east as I head west, this would mark the sixth day I was alone in the wilderness, six days since I’d seen any friends or familiar faces, six days since.. my world ended all over again. I thought of everyone I’d lost, some forever, but I had to move on, I had to LIVE.. if not for me then for them.
I didn’t stand up, but I stretched as far as I could to the next branch, they were as sturdy as they looked, only, I was heavier than I thought. The sound of them creak and groan as some of limbs splintered on the inside, was clear warning to move swiftly, making my way to the next tree. Once I felt far enough away, I jumped down and tucked into a roll, immediately rising to a furious sprint.
Gone before the creatures even knew it, I had become adept at dashing through bushes and shrubbery, concealing myself with what nature provided. The horde that had been chasing us had thinned thanks to Caiden, Husk, and Loki’s efforts. Unfortunately they had also adapted into packs, most small like the group behind me, but I ran into a group of seven the day before, and they were the freshest I’d come across but even they had about a week’s decay to their bodies. It was hell losing them, and I had to use Loki’s gun on two of the most persistent.
The Desert Eagle, as I’d heard him call it, the thing hurt my hands when I used it, making it extremely hard to aim, yet that didn’t seem to matter because one bullet was enough to dismantle them both. It was loud, no doubt catching the attention of more than the dead, if they were listening for me.
So I had to keep moving, and I couldn’t stop until I found her, she would save me, she will be my salvation..
As long as I keep going, there’s a chance for me.
She’s here! Just like he promised..
It was Betty.
Exactly where we left her, hidden off road and stealthily hidden in a place only two other people knew of. Loki had brought Sera and I here, like he knew we would need to know where to find his most precious treasure. I was hoping the warm hearted woman would have been here when I arrived, there was no way she would have left without me.
I hadn’t known her for long, but Granny told me I could trust her, so I did. More tears shed as I thought of the old woman, I had come to love her like a true grandmother and she had many times told me how she wished she’d had a grandchild like me. Granny had a way of making me feel special, like I was a beautiful princess, no, she told me I was descent from great and mighty Queens. She made me feel beautiful, she made me feel strong, she made me feel brave.
I missed her.. I missed them all..
It had taken nearly two weeks to find the Betty, so many days in the wilderness had left a film of grime on me, I thought it might clog the drain in the shower but it didn’t. I came out of the bathroom, and sat on the couch, looking idly around a room that held countless memories.
After awhile, I found the secret stash of food storage we couldn’t carry, there was some dried jerky that I decided to fry in a pan like bacon and I added it to a heated can of beans. It was a decent meal, thou meager, a far cry from anything Mr Bazaar would have pulled together. I cleaned up after myself and went to lay in one of the cubbies, the simple mattress a thousand times more comfortable than what I was sorely getting used to.
I sang a low soft tune to myself, curling up in a tight ball, feeling cold despite the thick blanket I was using. Loneliness cut through me like sharp cold steel, and the tears that started to fall, burned their way down my cheeks as I tried to sniffle them away.
There was no comfort in survival, it would have to be its own salvation for now..
I awoke the next morning unsure of what to do with myself, I cleaned up the cabin, though it wasn’t all that dirty to start with. I started in the front and worked my way to the back, anything of Loki’s I found I put in his closet amongst his bags, when sweeping the floor and rug, I found a leather notebook bound tightly closed behind the side bar, it looked familiar but I couldn’t place where or who it belonged to so I just sat it on the table to look at later.
In the bathroom I came across a pearl encrusted hair pin, it was Granny’s, I’d seen her use it to put her hair up millions of times, it was a keepsake from her mother. I stuck it into my own hair for safe keeping, wiping away a stray tear, I was not gonna cry.. not today, this wasn’t going to be one of those days.
There was too much to do, and I had to decide how long I was going to wait for my friends, or if I dare to go back for them. Going back.. It sounded crazy, I know, but these people were the only family I had left. Caiden, Serafi, Kahlil, Buster, Loki.. Hunter..
I still hadn’t reconcile his reemergence, and nightmarish fate to walk this hell scorched Earth as some mutated abomination, a man like him didn’t deserve such a tortured existence. He was our protection, and our strength, for the longest time, so it was like a bomb went off in our lives, one more vast than that to take the city of New York. His loss devastated the group for the longest time, none of us were the same after, especially Loki. Days after, his eyes were dead, more inanimate than those that now inherit the world, looking in the mirror now my own hershey orbs appear just as morose and lifeless.
We all had turned harder, colder, more calculated as the dangers of reality became ever more clear. Rummaging around, I found some twine and decided to put it to use, spending the rest of the day using it to build the alarm system Caiden had taught me, after it showed its efficiency back when we were at Granny’s house. I used two empty cans but I didn’t want to make them clang, I preferred a silent alarm, silence was my greatest defense.
As the sun began to sink lower into the horizon, I knew it was getting late in the evening, I washed the day’s work away in the shower, deciding to snuggle in early. I sang to myself again, but this time I didn’t cry, but sleep didn’t come any easier. Good thing, because I never would have noticed the moving cans, my heart beat fast, thumping hard in my chest.
I crawled stealthily out of the cubby, making my way to the back. I grabbed the gun, and made sure it was fully loaded, the weight of it in my hands steadied them from trembling. I peer through the back curtain and could make out dozens of shadow forms, sickly moaning and groaning as they shuffle around the Betty.
While there weren’t as many as the Horde, there were enough of them that they could probably flip the RV over if the lot of them get riled up. So I sat in silence, occasionally peeking out into the night as the figures rummaged around. They had a mindless curiosity about them, not coming too close to the concealed RV but neither leaving the immediate area, like they could sense or smell there was a meal in this vicinity.
There were three sudden gunshots in the distance, a pause that was soon filled with a familiar howl, then the risen took off running. My heartbeat started to settle as the rustling and shuffling of the forest ceased, then there was the howl again, this time it was unmistakably that of Sera’s dog Buster. That meant they were alive, they were looking for the Betty, maybe they were even looking for me..
I stood up and crept toward the door, I opened it slowly, peeking out of the shallow aperture. I listened closely for sign of anything, soon stepping out when I felt it was clear, two more gunshots rang out sounding slightly farther away this time. It sounded like they were fleeing..
No, they were going the wrong way! Or maybe they had no other choice?
Maybe there was a wall of undead in their way?
If there wasn’t, there was now, and there was no way to warn them. I turn around to return to the Betty, only to find two large dogs sniffing around the ground, startled, I sucked in a quick breath that seemed to catch their rapt attention. Their large muzzles lifted, and the heightened danger of the moment caused me to nearly wet myself, these weren’t mere dogs.. they were wolves.
And if that were all, then I might’ve had a spare chance, but I quickly noticed their thick coats were matted with blood, one sporting a rib baring gash to his left side, the other missing an eye, that loosely dangled from the socket. They were quick to growl deeply, revealing massive sharp teeth and black bloody gums, saliva dripping from their mouths as they tasted my scent in the air.
I knew survival wasn’t going to be easy, and salvation had its upkeep, but I willing to fight for both.
The one with the missing eye raised its head, giving off a haunting echoing howl that pierced my eardrums, while the other took off running towards me, before launching itself high in the air. My mind froze but my body moved on instinct, I raised the heavy pistol and pulled the trigger, bracing myself for the big BANG that would follow.