“Are you coming in for another drink?” asked Haley, one of the waitresses.
I shook my head and wiped my sleeve across my face. “I’m just going to head home.”
“Let me call you a cab.”
I waved away her offer. “I’ll just walk.”
“In those boots?”
I shrugged. “Hey, Haley? Did anyone pay the tab?”
“Just catch me up tomorrow.”
I dug in my purse and pulled out a hundred dollars in twenties. “Here.”
“Shit, it wasn’t that much. I’ll go get you some change.”
“Don’t worry about it. Buy the staff a couple of rounds at closing time.” I started walking. “Someone may as well have a good time on my birthday.”
The tears slipped down my cheeks again. Happy birthday, Gabrielle. I snorted to myself. What the hell was so happy about it? I’d gotten dumped by my shitty boyfriend. Granted, I’d planned to dump him tomorrow, but that wasn’t the point. I’d knocked a girl on her ass in a bar. My chest tightened. I’d lost my best friend. How the hell had that happened? We’d been best friends for twenty-seven years. We did everything together… Well, almost everything together. In twenty-seven years, I’d never slept with him other than to sleep. Hell, I’d never even kissed him. Of course, I’d thought about it; the man had amazing lips. But he was Lane and he was my best friend. Twenty-seven years of perfect friendship wasn’t worth destroying because of one drunk impulse. Even if Michelle was right and we did feel more than friendship… things always changed when friends hooked up. What we had was perfect. Or so I’d thought.
I started to sweat from walking and swore at myself for wearing such heavy coat. If I’d been trying to be sexy and put on my little black coat, I wouldn’t be so freaking hot right now. I started to overheat and just unzipping the jacket wasn’t letting enough air in to cool me down. I slid it from my shoulders and frowned.
“What the hell?” I pulled my phone from my purse and touched the weather network app on it. Plus five. I stopped walking, pulled the battery from the back of it and rebooted it. When everything was back to normal, I checked the app again. Plus five. Of course, that was impossible. Just a couple of hours ago it had been minus thirty. I looked at the snow melting on the sidewalk. “This is messed up.”
I started walking again, faster this time. Something wasn’t right. Maybe I should phone for a cab. I looked down the street in front of me and noticed for the first time tonight that there was absolutely no traffic. A quick look at my phone told me it was ten o’clock on a Saturday night which meant it should have been packed with cars heading to bars and parties. There was movies letting out and the local hockey game was ending. Where in god’s name were all the cars?
I was about halfway home when I thought I heard something behind me. I spun around, trying to see who it was. Nothing. I pulled my cell phone out again. Enough was enough. I was calling a cab.
I screamed as something hit me in the back and I fell to the sidewalk, skidding on my knees and elbows. Whoever it was pressed a hand against the back of my head and started to squeeze. I screamed again and tried to roll to get away as the pressure increased. Realizing I had moments before I blacked out from the pain, I dug into my purse and snapped open my jackknife. I gripped it as hard as I could and swung it backwards. I heard a grunt and the hand released my head. Fighting the panic to keep slightly coherent, I bucked my attacker off of me and scrambled to my feet.
The woman facing me seemed normal enough. She was dressed for an evening out. The only thing about her that struck me as odd was her eyes. They were yellow; bright yellow, like the yellow on the vests that highway workers wore.
“La… lady? Are you ok? Do you need me to call an ambulance?” I took a step back as she took a step toward me. “I… I have my cell phone. I can get you some help.”
She rushed me which caused me to trip backwards. I fell on my back and the air left my lungs in a rush. She was on me in seconds, clawing at my face. I brought the knife around and stabbed it into her side. She fell off of me with a screech but came back just as determined as she’d been with the previous attack.
I yelled for help, hoping someone would hear. The knife was getting slippery with her blood and I jabbed it into her chest as hard as I could. This time, the wound was damaging and she fell off of me. I scrambled to my feet and started to run.
“Help!” I chanced a glance back and started to cry when I saw no one. Where the hell was everyone? My phone vibrated in my hand. Fresh tears slipped down my face at the caller ID. “Lane!”
“Thank god! Gabby, where are you?”
“On Marquis, almost at the curve.”
“I’ll be there in two minutes. I don’t know what the fuck is going on, but find somewhere to hide. There is some strange shit happening…”
I tuned out as two men started toward me from across the street. Even from this distance, I could see their strange, yellow eyes.
“Hang on, Gabs. One more minute.”
“I… I don’t have one more minute.” I dropped the phone and wiped my hands on my dress, trying to get the blood and sweat off of them.
“Gabby!” Lane’s voice sound small and far away as he yelled into his phone. Both men stopped and turned at the sound of tires squealing around the Marquis Road curve. The one ton’s headlights flashed to the side and jumped as Lane hit the curb then straightened. I realized he was on the walking path I was on and that he wasn’t slowing down. I ran back onto the street as fast as I could, turning just in time to see both men go under the truck with a hollow thump. Lane barely slowed to get back onto the street so that he faced back toward the curve. The driver’s side door opened and my knees went weak with relief at the sight of him.
“Gabby! Gabby! Please! Are you ok?” Lane’s arms pulled me to his chest and held me tight. “We have to go.” He was forced to carry me as my legs gave out.
Once in the truck, he gave me a once over.
He shook his head. “You’re bleeding.”
“It’s hers. She attacked me and I stabbed her with my jackknife. Oh my god, Lane, I think I killed her. I think I killed somebody.” My chest heaved and I tried to breathe through the sobs that raked through me.
“Sshhh. Come here.” He pulled me into the middle of the seat so he could put his arm around me while he drove.
“What’s happening?” My question was just a whisper.
“We don’t know.”
I jumped and screamed at the voice that came from behind me.
“Gabby! It’s ok. This is Rebecca. I saw her getting attacked while I was out looking for you.”
I looked back at the woman. Her grey hair was tied in a low ponytail though most of the hair was hanging limply by her face and her brown turtleneck was stained with blood.
“Are you ok?”
It seemed to be the question of the night. She nodded with a wince and touched her swollen left eye gingerly.
I settled back against Lane’s side, glad when he put his arm around me once again.
“From what the radio is saying, there’s a gang out there beating the crap out of whoever they find walking around.”
“But their eyes…” I shivered at the thought of those eyes.
“Some people are saying drugs of some sort.”
“She’s at her place.”
“She’ll be pissed you came to get me.”
Rebecca’s hand on our shoulders interrupted us. “If you turn left, you can drop me off at my house.”
Lane nodded and did as instructed. Rebecca stepped out of the truck and gave Lane a hug through the window.
“Just stay indoors until this blows over.”
We watched as she went into her house. Lane’s phone went off and he put it to his ear. He nodded.
Whoever he was talking to said something else and I felt him take a deep breath.
I looked up in time to see him cringe before he put the phone down.
“You can just drop me off, too. I’m sorry I caused you so many problems.” I stared straight ahead and we drove the rest of the way in silence. It was one of those heavy silences; the kind that would choke the life out of you if it could.
Lane pulled into the drive and helped me out of the truck before leading me into the house. He closed the door.
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
I stood by Iggy’s tank and nodded. “Sure. I mean, Iggy’s the best guard iguana out there.” I hated that my voice shook and killed our inside joke.
I shook my head and waved back to him before closing myself in the bathroom. I pulled the dress over my head, let it drop to the ground, and turned to the mirror. My gasp had Lane rushing into the room.
“I… I didn’t realize she’d scratched my face.” I forced myself to look again. I decided the shock I was in was responsible for the fact I wasn’t feeling any pain. The five scratches ran from my right ear to the corner of my mouth, but weren’t very deep. I let my gaze fall to my arms which were road rashed, as well as my knees and thighs where I’d skidded after my fall.
I started the shower. “I’m just going to clean up and go to bed.” I met his dark blue gaze then looked at the white and black tile floor. “Maybe we could talk tomorrow about what’s happening with us.”
He hesitated before turning and walking out of the bathroom. Though a shower had sounded like a good idea at the time, the hot water hitting my injuries was pure torture. I made sure to wash the scrapes and to pick out whatever stones I could find. Once I was clean, I leaned against the shower wall, letting the hot water run out, the stream washing away my tears as they flowed down my face. Out of tears and hot water, I stepped out of the shower and put bandaids on any cut that was still bleeding. Walking out into the living room in a towel, I frowned.
“I thought you might want a beer.” Lane handed me a bottle and took a sip of his. “How are you feeling?”
I took a sip of my beer and closed my eyes as the bubbles rolled down my throat. “I’m going to make some nachos. Do you want some?” I looked at the floor, scared he’s say no. Nachos was an after bar tradition.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“I’m ok. A bit rattled. Christ, I got jumped by a woman with glowing yellow eyes. Then you ran over two guys! Not to mention everything before that…” I headed to the oven and pulled out the cookie sheet so I could make some nachos.
Lane watched as I put everything on the sheet and placed it in the oven to melt. I looked at him sadly and asked the one question I was scared to ask.
“Why are you here?”
“I mean, Michelle’s going to tear you a new one when you get back. Why were you driving around?”
“When we got to her place, I turned the TV on. They were reporting on the news about the gang attacks. I just… I got worried cause I hadn’t driven you home and I know you like to walk when you’re upset. I phoned the bar, but Haley said you’d left just after I had. I phoned the house, but there was no answer. You didn’t answer your cell… She yelled at me to stay, but I couldn’t. I had to make sure you were ok.”
I smiled. “Well, I’m glad you did.”
He ran a hand through his dark hair. “Me, too.”
Heat washed over my face as I opened the oven to check on the nachos. Lane set out the pot holders and watched as I set them down. By the time I’d gotten some sweats and a tank top on, they were cool enough to eat. I noticed Lane had changed into a green t-shirt and the same old black sweat shorts he always wore to bed. He caught my glance and shrugged.
“I told her if she couldn’t handle my best friend being a girl that I couldn’t date her.”
“But at the bar…”
“I’m sorry. I was… frustrated. Can I stay?”
I tried to hide my grin as I raised an eyebrow at him. “You realize your name’s on the mortgage too, right? I can’t really kick you out if you don’t feel like going.”
“I’m just saying, what I said to you was out of line. It’s always been me and you and if others can’t get it, then it’s their loss. I’m not willing to give you up because some twenty-two year old can’t handle the sight of another woman walking around my house. I’m sorry, Gabby.”
I got up and hugged him tightly. “I’m sorry, too.”
“Punching your girlfriend.” I gazed up into his dark blue eyes and my mind flew back to the scene in the bar. Michelle screaming at me that he talked about me in his sleep, the terrified look on his face when I’d questioned him. My heart started to beat faster in my chest. What would he do if I stretched up and kissed him? And then what? Did I love him? Of course. He’d been a constant in my life for ages. Would taking things past the friend level ruin the great thing we had? “Lane?”
He frowned at my whisper.
“What she said in the bar…”
The deep blue irises slid behind a curtain of dark lashes and he took a deep breath.
A muffled scream made its way through the walls of the house and interrupted our moment. Both of us went to the window and looked out. Nothing. Lane turned on the TV while I closed the blinds.
“… again, we repeat. Authorities are urging people to stay indoors and to keep their doors locked. What was thought to be gang related assaults are now believed to be something else entirely.”
The picture cut to a scene in some city’s downtown area. Two men were being beaten and killed on a street corner. The reporter, a tall, blond fellow stood in view, his horror plain. The five men and two women who had been beating the other two turned towards him as one. The reporter said something that wasn’t picked up by the mike he’d dropped on the ground. Whoever was in charge of the camera dropped it and the reporter’s feet could be seen scrambling again. The yellow eyed gang advanced with amazing speed and a blood curdling scream ripped through the TV’s speakers.
The screen cut back to the reporter at the station who was staring, dazed, back at us, his face devoid of blood.
“Thomas? Tom? Can you hear us?” He stared past the camera. “Phone 911 and get someone over there! What the fuck is happening?”
I shivered as the newsman had a breakdown in front of millions of viewers. “What station is this?”
Lane hit the info button. “FOX.”
“So it’s not just here?” My heart was starting to pound its way out of my chest.
The reporter was being led off of the set and was replaced by a slightly calmer woman. She looked at her notes, took a deep breath, and looked at the camera.
“Though government and medical officials are denying any involvement, suggestions have been made this could be some sort of pandemic infection…”
I tuned out. “Pandemic? As in worldwide?”
“This is like one of those real shitty zombie movies you like to watch.”
I rubbed my hands over my face. “They’re not shitty. And besides, they didn’t say we were getting taken over by zombies.” I got up. “I’m getting dressed. I feel weird wearing my pajamas after watching that.”
After checking to make sure the bandaids were all still holding on, I put on a pair of blue jeans and a dark green tank top then tied my hair up in a ponytail. Lane was already in jeans and one of our company t-shirts. Something ticked against the window and the sound repeated itself.
Lane nodded and brushed the blinds aside to make sure. “Rain.”
I flicked channels until I stopped on the Weather Network.
“What’s it say?”
“Mother Nature knows it’s the middle of January, right?”
I forgot about the weather as a car alarm went off. “You can laugh at me if you want, but I’m going to get the guns.”
Lane was the picture perfect of serious as he followed me into the basement where we kept the hunting rifles locked up. Once all of the ammo we had was in a backpack, we headed back upstairs. I looked at my boots and shoes scattered at the entrance.
“What are you thinking?”
“Steel toes.” I grabbed my work boots and put them on then stood and slung my .270 Winchester across my back. Lane started to laugh.
“You look like one of the chicks in those zombie movies.”
“Oh, shut up. I highly doubt those are zombies out there, but I don’t give a rat’s ass if they’re sick or high on the newest drug; if they try to step foot in this house, they’re going to regret it.”
Lane gave a head tilt to show he agreed before lacing up his work boots and loading his rifle. The rain and wind had picked up and was joined by some of the brightest lightning I’d ever seen. The resulting impact shook the house and set off more car alarms, though these you could barely hear under the roll of the thunder. Lane’s cell phone vibrated and he answered by hitting the speaker mode.
“Lane?” Michelle’s voice was just a whisper.
“Michelle? What’s wrong?”
“I… someone just broke into the house.”
“Where are you?” Lane’s face dropped.
“I’m in the bathroom closet.
“Did you call the police?”
A crack of thunder drowned out her answer.
“Oh, my god, they’re getting closer.” Her voice went up an octave and for as much as I disliked the girl, I was starting to worry.
Lane picked up the phone as if that would help her situation. “Michelle, you have to run. Do you understand me? Did you watch any more of the news? They’re sick. Whoever is in your house will hurt you. Are you listening to me?”
“Jesus, Michelle! I’ll be right there, but you have to run!”
“Michelle, listen to him! Whatever these people have been infected with, they’re strong. I almost got killed by a lady on my way home from the bar. Run, Michelle!”
The line stayed silent except for the puffing of her breath.
“Ok. Now, can you hear them?” Lane was hiking the ammo filled back pack across his shoulder.
I looked at Lane who was peeking through the front door. I took the phone from him so he could go load the weapons into the truck.
“Michelle, I’m going to count to three, alright? On three, you run. Run as fast as you can, get out of the house, and stay on twenty-eighth street. Do not stop running until we get to you. We’ll be in the one ton.”
“Now’s not the time! Damn it, Michelle! These guys won’t just steal your jewelry and rape you then leave you be, do you understand? They will KILL you!”
I ran out to the truck and locked the door as I closed it. “Ok, Michelle. One… two… three!”
I heard her hit the wall and the front door of her house slam shut. Lane peeled out of the driveway backwards, screeched to a halt then squealed forward three blocks before skidding around the corner and heading down twenty-eighth street. The accelerator needle moved past the fifty kilometers per hour speed limit and kept rising.
“There!” I pointed up ahead to the woman running toward us. My heart dropped at the sight of three of the yellow eyed freaks a half a block behind her. “Stop! Stop!” I jerked forward as Lane slammed on the brakes and the truck skidded to a stop on the wet pavement. I pushed open the door and clambered into the box. Lane followed suit, already guessing what I’d thought. I pushed the safety off, loaded a bullet, and locked the lever down before bringing the rifle up to my shoulder.
“First shot.” Lane took aim though his scope, and fired. Michelle screamed, but had enough sense to keep running.
“Good.” I watched as his target fell to the ground then moved slightly so I saw the second closest of them. I held my breath to steady my aim and pulled back on the trigger. The shot rang in my ear.
“Nice.” Lane’s confirmation that my shot was a good one drowned out Michelle’s second scream. I let my breath go.
“Shit, he’s too close to her.” Lane grunted in frustration.
I put my hands to my mouth. “Michelle! Run faster!”
Lane sat poised, ready to take the shot.
“She’s not going to make it!” I jumped out of the box and ran toward the woman who hated me with every intention of saving her.
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