This is the beginning of a story inspired by Chuck Wendig’s “Choose Your Setting” challenge. It’s turning out to be longer than I thought it would be. Here’s part one.
Jackie looked around before creeping out of her shadowy hiding spot. The creatures hadn’t found her yet. Last she heard them, they were making a meal of someone or something in an alley just up the street. Taking to the fire escapes had been a good move. She made sure that no one was coming and that she had a good grip on her knife before she crossed the street. Refuge was just on the other side.
She broke into a run, her Vibram covered feet making no noise. The Starbucks was an acknowledged safe house and stockpile according to the graffiti code spray painted on its front. Travelers would put anything extra they had in places like this, no less than five percent of any good they carried that could be quantified. She got to the door and disabled the rather simple mechanism at the door’s top edge. The creatures didn’t have the manual dexterity to do it and they would end up getting a grenade to the face if they triggered it.
Once inside, she re-armed the booby trap. Only then did she breathe a sigh of relief. She slid the knife into its sheath and looked around. The only thing remaining here that harkened back to its original purpose was the coffee bar. Nearly anything else would have been used for scrap, from the espresso machine to the cash register. The fight against the creatures, she refused to call them zombies or vampires as some did, had been going on for five years and humanity was slowly losing ground. Cities were practically deserted, most opting to live in small enclaves in mountains or other terrain that was difficult for the creatures to navigate.
She walked to one of the plastic totes labeled “Water” and lifted the lid. Sure enough, there were bottles of varying sizes. She took one and spun the top off. It went done in one long pull. She smacked her lips and put the empty in her shoulder bag. She’d refill it at the next known good water spot she passed. Her hand came out of the bag with a handful of shotgun shells. She walked over to an ammo box and dropped them in. She didn’t have a gun, so there was no sense in keeping them.
She could get a little shuteye and resume her travels in the daylight. There would be less of a chance of being accosted. The creatures, former humans themselves, didn’t much care for the sun. It didn’t’ hurt them, but their eyes were sensitive. That would mean putting off getting to her goal. That could be the end of her. She had convinced herself that she could feel the nanites, or whatever it was that caused the change, working on her. She’d be one of them before much longer, if she didn’t make it to one of the CDC drop zones.
She didn’t even know for a fact that there’d be any Countermeasure-9 available for her to use. It was a chance she was willing to take. The thought of becoming a mindless cannibal didn’t appeal to her. Some people said that C-9 was just a suicide pill. Either way, her wait would be over in less than twenty four hours.
“Screw it. I deserve a break.” He voice echoed back to her. It shocked her. It sounded ragged to her own ears.
She started as she heard something scratching at the door. She drew her knife and cursed the fact that she didn’t have a gun or crossbow. She’d left her ranged arms with the group. it hadn’t been easy, but they all agreed it was for the best. “Be a cat. Be a cat. Be a cat.” For some reason humans and cats were the only ones affected by the nanites. Dogs could smell the oncoming change and responded viciously. If she had to face anything she’d rather it be a feline.
“I can’t manage the door. If there’s anyone in there, help me.”
The creatures eventually lost the ability to speak, but it wasn’t the first thing to go. She waited, debating whether or not to help. Finally, she gave in and opened the door.
The person waiting on the other side was small, but was definitely an adult. He held a gun that was likewise on the petite side, but he pointed it to the ground as soon as he saw her. “Thank goodness. It’s been too long since I’ve seen another person.”
She stepped aside and let him in. “I’m Jackie.”
The small man holstered his pistol and stuck out the hand that had been holding it. “I’m Leon.”
It was hard to make out details in the dark, but it seemed that his skin was darker than hers. “Good to meet you.”
He reached up and snapped on a headlamp. The light revealed that his skin was indeed dark brown. He walked over to the water bin and helped himself. “Odd to run into another person in this sector. This is my third time past here this month and this is the only time I’ve been able to get in.”
“Why in God’s name are you still around here?” The word sector seemed odd. He didn’t look military, but then again what did that mean?
“I could ask you the same question. Let’s just say that I’ve always been more of a city boy.” He moved to the ammo bin. “Yet another reason to carry a smaller pistol.” He held up a small box. “”People almost never donate the higher caliber stuff.” He tucked the box in a pouch on his jacket.
She thought about his answer and his unasked question. He was cagey, as anyone in their right mind was, but wasn’t without humor. That was a rare commodity in this world. “I’m a country gal, but I’m on something of a mission.”
He turned to her and raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know if I want to know the mission that would bring you into this hellhole.”
“Said the man who made the hellhole his home.” She smiled.
“Oh I’m crazier than a shithouse rat. You look pretty sane though. That means you’re either searching for someone or you need C-9.”
She took an involuntary step back.
“Well that answers that question.” His hand didn’t move towards his gun. “No need to be afraid. You don’t try and take a bite out of me and we’re all good.”
“How did you know?”
“I’ve run into a lot of folks like you, had that same look. I can smell desperation. I don’t think you’re going to have much luck. I’ll make you the same offer I made them. I’ll go with you, show you where the stockpile is, watch your back. If you make it, we’ll see what happens. If you don’t, I’ll put an end to your before you can hurt anyone.”
“How many people have taken you up on the offer?”
“Just one. He didn’t make it.”
She leaned back against the counter, strength gone from her legs. “I won’t lie to you, it’s a tempting offer. How far are we from the C-9?”
“About a twelve hour hike. Of course that’s with my legs.” He winked.
She couldn’t believe she’d run into someone that still had the will to joke. That it was so close was both a relief and a slight cause for alarm. She’d been told it was a little further away. “Do you know of a drop point other than the official one?”
“There are multiple drop points. I’m privy to most of them. The one you’re headed for is the one most people know about. There’s nothing there.”
“I’m lucky to have run into you then.” She had a bad feeling. If this guy was lying to her for some personal gain then she was well and truly screwed if she followed him. If she didn’t and he was telling the truth then she was equally screwed.
“I can sense your reluctance to trust me. I’ve got no way to convince you. It’s a matter of faith in humanity I guess. What have I got to gain from lying to you? If I wanted you dead I would have plugged you when I first stuck my head in here. There’s nothing in it for me if you wind up one of the stumblers.”
“What’s in it for you if I don’t?”
“Other than the obvious of keeping one on our side?” He shrugged. “You might live to show your gratitude in a useful way.”
Had many other folks said that, she would have been creeped out to the point of stabbing first and asking questions later.