Chapter 2:

Hollow Lies

By the Shores of Time

The electric current flowed through the dimming lights while Gabriel stood above Celeste. The cluttered second-floor room contained a small bed, and a radio set they set up. Johnny laid on the bed, developing a fever, confirming the worst. Celeste blocked him, seeing the knife clenched in his hand.cBookmark here

“Gabriel,” she uttered. "You can't do this."Bookmark here

“Infections don’t spread this fast,” he noted. "He's going to turn and he's going to give you a hard time."Bookmark here

“Give him some meds and be done with,” Alex scoffed, drawing their attention.Bookmark here

“We need to get him back as soon as we can,” Celeste insisted, ignoring his comment.Bookmark here

"It's not going to stop it," Gabriel sighed while massaging his head. "Look, if he turns, it's on you."Bookmark here

Celeste was reluctant to respond as she continued to monitor Johnny's deteriorating condition. He glanced toward the drunkard, seeing a miserable shadow of the man. Serving as a local politician months ago, he was forced into temporary exile after an altercation got out of hand. His heavy eyes never reared to him, feeling an equal sense of disdain before taking a swig from his flask.Bookmark here

“How long have these lights been doing this?” he asked, meeting his blank gaze.Bookmark here

“What’s it to you?” he muttered. “You don’t have to live in this shit—”Bookmark here

“I’m not here to argue with you. We gotta make sure this place stays operational.”Bookmark here

“For who exactly? Hm? Who the hell is going to be out there—With those things?”Bookmark here

“We can’t be the only ones that survived.”Bookmark here

“Pointless! All of it. It’s game over for us.”Bookmark here

“Alright,” Celeste intervened as a sigh left her lips. “You two don’t have to argue—”Bookmark here

“Why don’t you—” Alex panicked upon seeing Gabriel’s glare.Bookmark here

“Please go on,” he insisted. “Say it.”Bookmark here

“No, nevermind. You’re probably her toy for the mome—”Bookmark here

Gabriel punched the drunkard in the jaw. She restrained him, although a single punch was all he needed to get his point across. Alex spat out blood, followed by his unnerving chuckle. She averted from his lingering gaze, returning her attention to Johnny.Bookmark here

“You hit a lot harder than before,” he commented.Bookmark here

“We need to talk about the lights,” Gabriel shifted the conversation.Bookmark here

The lights shut off, following by a brief silence. Rain gently tapped against the flimsy roofing allowing water to drip into the attic. Alex lit a small lamp on the table, casting its light ominously against his puffy face. They turned to Johnny who agonized to the slightest move, seeing his face covered in sweat.Bookmark here

“Well,” Alex cleared his throat. “The lights keep them away, right? They hear him bitch and moan, then it’s a guarantee those things show up.”Bookmark here

“Drunk piece of shit,” Gabriel delivered his snide remark. “Fine, what do I need to do?”Bookmark here

“Those shitty panels need a few knocks. It should do the trick.”Bookmark here

“Seriously? You’ve been hitting them?”Bookmark here

“You wouldn’t have a safe house, otherwise.”Bookmark here

“Celeste,” Gabriel looked over his shoulder. “You’re gonna be okay?”Bookmark here

She nodded before seeing him off as the door closed quietly. Alex’s shallow breathing let out the wafting whiskey scent. She did her best to hide her disdain for the repulsive scent. Her hands found a weak Johnny’s hand, finding a weak pulse. Sweat glazed his skin as his increasing fever, leaving her baffled by his deterioration. Alex pulled his seat forward while she focused on trying to stabilize him.Bookmark here

“Long time, yeah?” he slurred as he reached for her thigh.Bookmark here

“What are you doing?” she shoved him away.Bookmark here

“Hey, easy there! I just miss—”Bookmark here

“There’s a dying man next to us and the first thing you think of—”Bookmark here

“Ah, there you go! Pretending like you care. You never let up with your act, do you?”Bookmark here

“A—Act?”Bookmark here

“You had no problem dropping me after meeting up with the others.”Bookmark here

“You were manipulating people, you—”Bookmark here

“I was protecting you, you ungrateful bitch!”Bookmark here

She withdrew from his anger, watching him slump into his chair. He knew he had her in his grasp while clumsily leaning forward. His hand felt along her lap, noticing the slightest quiver.Bookmark here

“Tsk. You haven’t really changed much,” he noted, guiding his hand further. “You’ve lost a bit of weight too.”Bookmark here

“Please—Stop,” she whispered, grabbing his hand.Bookmark here

Although his presence unraveled her as she tried to repress her fear. Yet her ex-lover recalled her inner working quite well, as she broke eye contact with him. The young woman hoped for Gabriel’s return, ending the tension. The longer time passed the more powerless she felt. Her heart felt like it would pop out of her chest when he stood over her.Bookmark here

“Oh, come on,” he chuckled. “You don’t remember what we used to do? What you would do for even a little food?”Bookmark here

“That’s enough,” she interrupted, her voice shaken from her distress. “What there was between us, it’s not there anymore.”Bookmark here

“No? You sure seem bothered. You always needed someone to vouch for you. If not for me, you’d be dead…”Bookmark here

Celeste kept her lips tight, quivering from her frustration.Bookmark here

“It’s just you and me right now,” he continued. “But I can tell you have things to say. Even though you have a new boy toy.”Bookmark here

“It’s—It’s not like that!” she raised her voice.Bookmark here

Alex playfully slapped her cheek, prompting her reflexive punch to his face. He stumbled about before trying to punch back. The drunkard fell over, knocking her over while still seated. Celeste pushed him to the side with the use of her elbow when he tried to pin her down. His head slammed against the bed frame, giving her time to crawl away. He chuckled as he slowly stood up, massaging the back of his head.Bookmark here

“Well,” he grinned. “You have a little fight in you.”Bookmark here

Johnny sat up, turning slowly toward the drunkard. Celeste gasped, seeing a strange orange tinge in his eyes. Somehow, Alex ignored Celeste’s horrified expression as she quickly reached for the baseball bat in Gabriel’s bag. She pushed Alex out of the way before Johnny could attack. The bat held him off as he tried to bite at her neck. His foaming mouth, black molded eyes, and pale skin painted a nightmarish depiction which nearly made her lose her grip.Bookmark here

Alex watched in awe as she was losing her grip from his overwhelming force. She glimpsed her ex flee the room without looking back. Her breathing trembled, hoping he’d come back to help, but such thoughts remained wishful thinking. The infected forced her against the table, knocking everything over. His teeth chomped against her loose hair, tearing some strands away as the bat inched lowered.Bookmark here

“J—Johnny, please stop,” she whimpered upon meeting his empty eyes.Bookmark here

Tears blurred her sight, glimpsing only the bloodied teeth. Thinking quickly, she used his body weight to throw him off balance as he crashed onto the radio equipment. She flipped the small table atop him, granting a moment of clarity in the sudden chaos. She slung her backpack over her shoulder before attempting to swing at the recovering infected.Bookmark here

Her chest pounded to his sporadic movements. She wanted it to be over, hoping it to be a nightmare. He growled while they circled the minor obstruction. Celeste clutched the grip, trying to remain calm before he leaped over. His foot was caught along the table as he slammed face-first onto the ground. Without thinking, she ran toward the door to grab Gabriel’s bag.Bookmark here

Johnny slammed her against the wall, forcing the bat out of her hand. She held him off the backpack’s cushion when his teeth shredded through its padding. She saw hatred lingering in his eyes with his animalistic growl sending chills down her spine. He slammed her against the wall, nearly loosening her grip, lunging further against her neck. Seeing there was little she could do, she head-butts him, stunning him briefly. A quick shove sent him stumbling as he broke through the table.Bookmark here

“F—fuck,” Celeste panicked as she shut the door upon leaving.Bookmark here

She looked toward the stairs, seeing light cast from the fog outside. A cool breeze passed throughout along with audible raindrops tapping against metal. She backed against the wall when the newly infected slammed into the door. Celeste tried to put her mind at ease, taking deep breaths. She watched the violently shaken door before seeing the open door to the other end of the narrow hall.Bookmark here

The young woman ignored the background noise, following the pleasant breeze. It was an empty room with an open window, letting in droplets of rain. Upon entering, she felt a cold blade gently press against her side.Bookmark here

“A—Alex, what are you doing?” she whispered tearfully, seeing him through the side of her eye.Bookmark here

“Did he scratch you?” he asked.Bookmark here

“N—No, he didn’t.”Bookmark here

The door’s first hinge loosened before the infected broke it down. Johnny slid out precariously as several splinters lodged into his body. The knife slashed against Celeste when she ran toward the window. Alex shoved her away from the window as her head hit against the windowpane. She heard the knife clatter upon impact while the drunkard’s panting became muddled in the downpour.Bookmark here

Johnny charged at her before she could recover. Her pleas went unheard as he pressed against her, trying to bite her. She believed his snarls and clanking teeth would be the last things she’d hear, imagining her flesh being ripped out. Celeste’s fear became her strength as she managed to push him off her. Before she could stand, he nearly bit her as she held his neck off with her forearm. Her whimpers were met with her growls as her breathing grew frantic.Bookmark here

Her upper body began to weaken, quickly forcing itself upon her. While her arm trembled, she felt for the knife near them. Using the last bit of energy she had, she clenched its smooth handle before driving it into the side of his head. His snarls ended, and his eyes were devoid of the rage that gave him life. Blood seeped along her hand, feeling its warmth continue down her forearm. A sudden gasp followed, realizing what she’d done.Bookmark here

“I—I” she began to tear while gently setting him to the side. “I’m sorry.”Bookmark here

She looked upon his dead body as blood pooled against her knees. Alex’s sudden panic alerted her, sending her out the window in a scramble. She glimpsed the upper floor, finding the paralyzed drunkard.Bookmark here

“What the hell are you doing?” Gabriel shouted at Alex. “Where’s Celeste?”Bookmark here

He threw the clicker’s limp body off the roof, watching it plunge to the bottom. Its head crushed against the concrete patio, splattering brain matter along the puddles. Gabriel glimpsed her when he looked down the fire escape, noting the blood along the side of her waist. She ran up the stairs as fast as she could after seeing his cold eyes.Bookmark here

“You wanna explain,” he asked while wiping his knife.Bookmark here

“Things, eh, got hairy,” the drunkard lied through his teeth as Gabriel approached him.Bookmark here

“And why is she all the way down there? Hm?”Bookmark here

“W—well—”Bookmark here

“Gabriel, please, stop,” she begged.Bookmark here

“What happened?” he questioned, looking her in the eyes.Bookmark here

“Johnny, he turned—And we tried to get away. Johnny caught me when we tried to get out the window.”Bookmark here

“So, Alex continued running?” his eyes directed with the knife clenched. “Is that right?”Bookmark here

“Gabriel,” she clasped his trembling hands. “That’s—All that happened.”Bookmark here

His side glance spoke in his silence, gently nudging his hands from hers. Gabriel knew she was lying when she broke her eye contact. He wanted to tell her how bad of a liar she was, but she knew what he thought. Her lips quivered when she turned toward Alex, finding disbelief expressed along his flushed face.Bookmark here

“I warned you,” he reminded.Bookmark here

“I thought—" she responded at a loss for words.Bookmark here

“Alright, c’mon,” he sighed after allowing the rain to wash the blood off his knife. “Staying out too long is dangerous without light.”Bookmark here

Gabriel pointed at the miserable state of the solar panels. She glimpsed the solar panels, finding a set of chewed wires. There was no way to fix it without the proper equipment, especially since they didn’t have it on site. Next to the solar panels were two dead clickers. His disappointment in Alex was immeasurable.Bookmark here

“This place is—officially compromised,” he conceded.Bookmark here

“So, what now?” she stuck close to him as they descended.Bookmark here

“We can use the rain to drown out our footsteps. The clickers couldn’t pick up on me since their hearing was bombarded.”Bookmark here

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Alex spoke, shivering from the gentle rain.Bookmark here

Gabriel stopped at the window, turning toward them with a grave expression. It was rare to see the laid-back man seem so bothered by what she imagined being normal circumstances to him. He carried out everything in a collected manner, doing so questioning everything that happened. Celeste shied away from his intense gaze.Bookmark here

“Not gonna lie, but everything is fair game from here,” he responded coldly.

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