By the Shores of Time
The overhead lights flickered occasionally. The dimming atmosphere brought about a depressive mood that everyone subconsciously channeled. Everyone was together in the small second-floor room. The withered small bed and a radio station created a cluttered aesthetic. Alex tried frantically to reach out to the Sanctuary. Celeste cleaned Johnny’s wounds while he lay motionless. The wounds were light abrasions, barely deep enough to worry about with regular upkeep. His face was covered in sweat, and his pulse slowed gradually. Gabriel glanced over as her hands rested on her lap.
“This is… strange,” she uttered. “Infections like this don’t spread this fast.”
“Give him some meds and be done with,” Alex blurted. Celeste shrunk his sudden jerk rattled the table. “These fuckers aren’t answering—”
“Hey, Al…” Gabriel said. “Relax, will you? Go on, Celi.”
“None of the things we have can be used as antibiotics,” she said after holding her breath. Gabriel sighed and nodded along. “He might… Not have long.”
“Tch. A small little scratch?” Alex grunted while downing his flask.
“We need to get him back as soon as we can. But, I’m not sure how we’d go about it since he can barely stand.”
Gabriel observed the drunkard, seeing a miserable shadow of the man. Alex served 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 another swig.
“By the way,” he asked, meeting his blank gaze. “How long have these lights been doing this?”
“What’s it to you?” he muttered. “You don’t have to live in this shit—”
“We gotta make sure this place stays operational.”
“For who, exactly? Hm? Who the hell is going to be out there—With those things?”
“We can’t be the only ones that survived.”
“Pointless! All of it. It’s game over for us, man. Imagine each and every night hearing their moans and howls?”
“Enough,” Celeste intervened as a sigh left her lips. “You two don’t have to argue—”
“Why don’t you—” Alex panicked upon seeing Gabriel’s glare.
“Please go on,” he gestured. “Say it.”
“No, nevermind. Eh… You’re probably her toy for the mome—”
Gabriel punched him in the jaw. Celeste quickly restrained him, but 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.
“You hit a lot harder than before,” Alex commented.
“We need to talk about the lights,” Gabriel shifted the conversation.
The lights shut off. A brief silence between them followed. 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 over the slightest movement. Alex cleared his throat.
“Well,” Alex shrugged. “The lights keep them away, right? They hear him bitch and moan, then it’s a guarantee those things show up.”
“Drunk piece of shit,” Gabriel delivered his snide remark. “Fine, what do I need to do?”
“Those shitty panels need a few knocks. It should do the trick.”
“Seriously? You’ve been hitting them?”
“You wouldn’t have a safe house then.”
“Celeste,” Gabriel looked over his shoulder. “You’re gonna be okay?”
She nodded before seeing him off. She watched the door close quietly. Alex’s shallow breathing let out the wafting whiskey scent. She did her best to hide her disdain. Johnny’s hand gently held hers. His pulse had become much weaker. Sweat glazed his body and drenched the sheets beneath his body. The infections had spread throughout his body much faster than she could’ve imagined. Alex pulled his seat forward while she focused on trying to stabilize him. He tried to reach for her thigh in the midst of her actions.
“Long time, yeah?” he slurred.
“What are you doing?” Celeste shoved him away. She flinched when she saw his grimace.
“Hey, easy there! I just miss—”
“There’s a dying man next to us, and the first thing you think of—”
“Ah, there you go! Pretending like you give a shit. You never let up with your act, do you?”
“You had no problem dropping me after meeting up with the others.”
“You were manipulating people, you—”
“I was protecting you, you ungrateful bitch!”
She shriveled from his anger, watching him slump into his chair. Alex knew he had her in his grasp while clumsily leaning forward. His hand felt along her lap, noticing the slightest tremble. Despite her unease, his hand traveled further.
“Tsk. You haven’t really changed much,” he said. “You’ve lost a bit of weight, too.”
“Please—Stop,” she whispered while grabbing his hand. Her eyes watered, and her hand shook.
Celeste could only maintain eye contact for so long until it broke away. His presence gnawed at her. There wasn’t any way to hide it. Her ex-lover recalled her inner workings well. The young woman hoped for swift Gabriel’s return and an end to the tension. The longer time passed, the more powerless she felt. Her heart felt like it would pop out of her chest when he stammered onto his feet. He chuckled as his body wobbled.
“Oh, come on,” he smiled. “You don’t remember what we used to do? What you would do for even a little food?”
“That’s enough,” she interrupted, her voice shaken from her distress.
“Well, I’m not fucking done. It’s because of you I’m here!”
“Lower your voice…”
When she lowered her gaze, he tipped her chin up to find the swelling fear behind her eyes.
“I said… Stop, Alex. Whatever was there before isn’t here anymore.”
“You know, you always needed someone to vouch for you. If not for me, you’d be dead…”
Celeste kept her lips tight, quivering from her growing frustration.
“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. Do you feel empowered?”
“What are you talking about?” Her voice rattled when his thumb caressed her cheek.
“You seem a little more confident than you used to be. You’re not the scared little woman who hid behind me. What kind of lies has he been feeding you?”
Alex’s thumb reached into her mouth before suddenly slapped her face. She reflexively punched him in his face. He stumbled away before trying to strike 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 while he slowly stood up, massaging the back of his head.
“Well,” he grinned. “You have a little fight in you.”
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.
Alex watched in awe as she was losing her grip on 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.
“J—Johnny, please stop,” she whimpered upon meeting his empty eyes.
Tears blurred her sight, barely discerning his bloodied teeth. Thinking quickly, she used his body weight to throw him off balance. Johnny 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.
Her chest pounded when observing 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. The table caught his foot as he slammed face-first onto the ground. Without thinking, she ran toward the door to grab Gabriel’s bag.
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-butted him, stunning him briefly. A quick shove sent him stumbling as he broke through the table.
“F—fuck,” Celeste panicked as she shut the door upon leaving.
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.
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.
“A—Alex, what are you doing?” she whispered tearfully, seeing him through the side of her eye.
“Did he scratch you?” he asked.
“N—No, he didn’t.”
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.
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 pushed 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 his growls as her breathing grew frantic.
Her upper body weakened, quickly forcing itself upon her. Trembling uncontrollably, she felt for the knife near them. Using the last bit of energy she had, she clenched its smooth handle and drove it into the side of his head. His snarls ended abruptly, 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.
“I—I” she began to tear while gently setting him to the side. “I’m sorry.”
She looked at 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.
“What the hell are you doing?” Gabriel shouted at Alex. “Where’s Celeste?”
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.
“You wanna explain?” he asked while wiping his knife.
“Things, eh, got hairy,” the drunkard lied through his teeth as Gabriel approached him.
“And why is she all the way down there? Hm?”
“Gabriel, please, stop,” she begged.
“What happened?” he questioned, looking her in the eyes.
“Johnny, he turned—And we tried to get away. Johnny caught me when we tried to get out the window.”
“So, Alex continued running?” his eyes directed with the knife clenched. “Is that right?”
“Gabriel,” she clasped his trembling hands. “That’s—All that happened.”
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. Her lips quivered as she turned toward Alex. His flushed face expressed disbelief.
“You don’t develop a fever that quick unless it was something serious,” Gabriel sighed. “Never seen anyone turn that quick before.”
“Wait a sec,” Alex chimed in. “You telling me, you brought him in without checking what he had?”
“He’s not a stranger, Alex,” she reminded.
“Alright, c’mon,” he sighed after allowing the rain to wash the blood off his knife. “Staying out too long is dangerous and without light… Yeah.”
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.
“This place is—officially compromised,” he conceded.
“So, what now?” she stuck close to him as they descended.
“We can use the rain to drown out our footsteps. The clickers couldn’t pick up on me since their hearing was bombarded.”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Alex spoke, shivering from the gentle rain.
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 had happened. Celeste shied away from his intense gaze.
“Not gonna lie, but everything is fair game from here,” he responded coldly.
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