“We have to keep moving,” Orchid said. “The cult might be gone but there are other dangers.”
“Alright, I’m coming,” replied Kyle. “Don’t know what the rush is. The train is gone.”
“There may be another one.”
“No one said there was more than one. They said there was one steam-powered train running. One.”
“We should still go back to the station. If I know Cesar they’ll send it back for us.”
“Great, let’s just sit around at the train station like sitting ducks. What do we do about food? Water?”
“Kyle enough. I miss her too but Sam wouldn’t want us to just give up. She was ready to do whatever it took. She wanted to live. She wanted us to live.”
Kyle was silent. His eyes searched the ground. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. We’ll figure something out. You were a good scavenger before you came to us.”
“Sure, I’ll just raid a few houses. There’s always something.”
“In the morning when we have some light. Too dangerous right now.”
Footfalls got Orchid’s attention. She brought her hand across Kyle’s chest stopping him cold.
She hushed him. “Listen,” she whispered.
More steps sounded followed by chains rattling and weapons clinking.
“A street gang,” Kyle muttered.
Orchid nodded. “This way, out of the streets.”
They moved into an alley then to a playground by a run-down school. The grass was tall and overgrown. Chain-link fencing was infested with rust and moss. The swings in the playground were broken and wriggled in a new breeze.
Orchid gestured for Kyle to lie down in the grass and keep his head down.
In the distance, the intersection visible to Orchid from the school, she saw shadows moving. Firelight set the area aglow. The men were carrying torches with flickering flames. One of them turned to look in her direction.
Cesar let Justin stretch out in the seat with him, resting his head on his lap and stretching his feet to the windows. He looked over at Justin’s father Jack and shrugged.
“It’s okay by me,” Jack whispered. “I could use the break.”
“You and me both.” Cesar rubbed his chin and the side of the face. “I’m still reeling from that fight. Thank God for you Jack, we would all be dead now.”
“Nah, it’s nothing.”
“Everyone is looking up to you. Your power makes them feel safe.”
“Me? I’m the last person for that. I’m no leader. Never have been. My wife used to make all the decisions. I just want the rest of our people back. You and Morganna should lead for now.”
“We should lead together. In any event, when we reach the next station I’m gonna ask the conductor to make a run back. Orchid would come back to the station. If she was able to find Sam, then she and Kyle would head back there. We can’t leave her behind. I won’t leave her behind. Our fight isn’t over with that masked creature. I can feel it.”
“When will our fight ever be over?”
“Wish I knew, Jack. Wish I knew.”
She stumbled from street to street, panting, tongue flicking in and out of her mouth. Luana’s eyes were still adjusting, her new vision wasn’t as sharp as her old eyes. She took in various smells and sensations each time her tongue slid out of her month.
Where were her men? Why were they not with her? She needed the escort. She couldn’t get her clawed hands to operate her laser gun or her radio.
The streets were still dark but seemed brighter to her. Bonfires inside trash cans hurt her eyes. A man in rags, searching for food, took one look at her and ran off as if she were going to eat him alive.
Finally some familiar sights. A smoldering patch of earth. Puddles that seemed to boil. Shells of cars and trucks dotted the landscape. Discarded weapons, failed experiments and drained energy sources cluttered her path now.
Luana’s base loomed around the next corner. She stormed toward it, her clawed feet making it a bit hard to run. Was that the beginnings of a tail at the base of her spine? No… it can’t be… must cut this flesh out of me. Burn it off if I have to!
She pushed her way into the base. What was left of her soldiers jumped to attention. Their faces drained of all color. They cocked their weapons.
“Mutant! Mutant attack!” One of her men cried.
“Die dirty mutant!” another called.
“No! Wait!” Luana put up her clawed hands. “It’ssssssss me. Lua..annnnnnnna…”
“What is it saying?”
“I don’t know, it’s a freaking monster. Where is Luana? What has it done to Luana?”
“It’s meeeeee, you foolsssssss.” She stepped toward them and they opened fire. Guns exploded. Shots rattled the base. A hail of bullets screamed at her.
Luana twitched and buckled, her entire body filled with bullets and she crashed to the floor. She reached one arm up to them.
One of her men rushed over and kicked her out of the base. “Where the hell is Luana,” he barked. “It’s getting late.”
She tried to get to her feet but the darkness came and the cold swallowed her. It was so cold now and only getting colder….
Orchid and Kyle watched the men mill around. Orchid studied them closely, her heart beating faster now. Gooseflesh spread down her arms.
Kyle crawled over to her. “What are we doing?”
“I’m trying to avoid a fight and see where they’re going. I don’t want us to have to fight if we don’t need to.”
“They’re going to come this way.”
“Hush, they will if they hear you.”
Kyle looked around, behind them the school sat dark and silent.
Yes. Head for the school.
“Huh, Orchid did you say something?”
“No, now be quiet.”
Kyle listen to me, they won’t go near the school. They think it’s haunted. Tell Orchid to move now.
“Who…what are you?”
It’s me Sam. Now go.
Later. Tell Orchid now.
“Orchid, Sam says to duck into the school.”
“Kyle, I know how hard it is but you need to be…”
“I’m not kidding around. You have to trust me. She just told me to go there. They won’t go in there. Now, we have to go now.” He got up, still crouching and dashed for the school.
“For God’s sake.” Orchid turned and followed him.
Kyle reached the doors and took the handle. Way to go handsome. I’m right here with you. I’ll never leave. Not even a bunch of flesh-eaters can keep me from you.