By the Shores of Time
He doesn’t miss an opportunity, Celeste thought after smelling the alcohol’s strong stench.
Alex poured a pint of vodka from a once sealed bottle, glimpsing her watchful eye. Her purple glint stood from the darkness she blended in with while sitting upon a worn barstool. Celeste watched the infected stumble from behind the large bar windows. The snarls and blind swings against objects reminded her they were still on a search for them. Even after a lengthy chase, she examined the strange oddities. Hatred, confusion, and emptiness were things evoked, somehow feeling pity for them.
Alex glanced in her direction every so often, a mixture of alcohol and her enticing presence. Had it not been for her he would’ve been killed by the hands of the mob outside. She appeared to be a much different woman he once remembered. Once timid and reserved, she took charge with a level head. Her expression reminded him of Gabriel’s scowl he’d make before recklessly setting off to do whatever he wanted.
“He really rubbed off on you,” he muttered loud enough to for her to hear.
“What do you mean?” she responded.
“Gabriel, I mean. You sure like to parrot off people you like.”
“You always try to be someone else, rather than who you really are.”
“Coming from someone that drinks their problem away, that’s novel.”
“Yeah,” he nodded before chugging his pint. “He’d respond like that too.”
“Sounds like you ‘re jealous.”
“Is that what you think? Man, you’re pretty bold, especially since no one’s here to vouch for you. Remember, what I’d do when we lived—”
“You sure like bringing up the past, don’t you?”
“I mean, you started it.”
“That’s enough,” she raised her voice. “We’re not going back and forth with this.”
The drunkard noted her trembling hands, although she did her best to hide her disdain. It amazed him how she insisted on maintaining her act, but he knew this was her natural progression to becoming a different person. A smirk crawled along his face, enthused by how he chipped away at her.
“Why did you side with him anyway?” he asked.
“Why are you asking this?” she winced.
“Because I find it funny, you ditched me for a guy you barely met. How long have we known each other? Like what, 6 years?”
“I don’t owe you a thing if that’s what you think.”
“So, you leave at the first opportunity? See we’ve got something in common—”
“We have nothing in common.”
“Oh really?” he chuckled. “It seems like we always hide behind something. You need someone to give you meaning and a place to hide. Me? I just need to get drunk off my ass. I guess you can say we both like to hide in the shadows.”
Her eyebrows furrowed, withholding her temptation to lash out. It’s what he wanted, it’s how he always won. He held his condescending smirk while pouring another pint. Although Gabriel may have enabled her to find herself, the journey was one of self-reflection. He chuckled, drawing her out of her thoughts.
“What’s so funny?” she asked.
“I—Remember when we first met,” he responded, glimpsing her soured reaction. “I remember how badly you needed papers, remember that?”
“You were just some aimless foreigner on her last legs trying to get a shot at the American dream. I remember how you courted me to get what you wanted. Hell, looking at you… How could I decline.”
“What are you getting at?”
“That bullshit image you push like you’re innocent when you asked for this. Is that how you ended up with Gabriel? There was something you wanted, right? Of course.”
“You’re still hung on that.”
“Ah, there it is. Your true colors!”
“If you’re going to keep insulting me—”
“You just don’t like to hear the truth. Of course, you play the victim when you’re no different from anyone here. You can drop the act.”
“Act?” she responded, clenching her fists. “You took advantage of me because I didn’t have papers. You treated me like shit. You—”
“I gave you everything, but you left me!” he yelled, shattering his glass along the floor.
The infected slammed against the glass, cracking it upon impact. Celeste leaned against the bar, hearing the frenzied crowd. Part of the window chipped away, setting her into swift action. She grabbed him by his arm, leading him into another room. Celeste glimpsed their vicious gaze before closing the door. She blocked off the door as soon as the glass shattered. The stampede of infected flooded the bar, spreading throughout the establishment.
Celeste looked toward the drunkard, seeing him struggling to stand. He wet himself as the infected attempted to break through the door. The room served as a small lounge with a fireplace at the end and a large window facing the near-empty lot. She rushed over to open the window as the first hinge broke off.
“Fuck!” he scowled.
“C’mon,” she helped him out the window while the blockade she set up came tumbling down.
He tripped over the ledge, falling face-first onto the concrete. The first infected squeezed through, charging at Celeste. She reached toward the iron prod by the fireplace, swinging it as soon as she gripped it. Her wide strike missed its head as it tackled her into the ground. The snarls and anguish became clearer as they began flooding the small room, sending a jolt of fear through her. She managed to shove it away after a brief tussle, glimpsing the several infected.
She threw herself out the window before they reached her. The broken glass cut into her flesh as she rolled into a vehicle. Her back arched in pain, but she quickly scrambled onto her feet. She sought Alex who was nowhere to be found. Celeste dashed away, seeing the infected’ silhouette disappear into the mist. They made their presence known through their collective primitive noises. Her speed faltered as she reached a gas station. She hid along the side of a tall icebox, hoping the approaching mob would deviate.
She felt a set of hands cover her mouth as she was pulled from behind. Her heart thumped while the person shushed her as clicks echoed from the fog. She eased her body after feeling a familiar warmth while watching silhouettes emerge from the other end. The clickers sped toward the other infected, slaughtering them upon contact. Flesh stripped, bones snapped, and the gurgling gasps from a collection of violent deaths filled her mind. Gabriel watched each moment as the infected recklessly charged to their death. The clickers used the sharp talons to tear through the crowd with ease. The infected let out blood-curdling cries, sending chills down her spine. Before long, the clickers moved on from the bloodied scene as blood trickled throughout all directions of the gas pumps.
“Easy there,” a familiar voice suggested.
His tone brought a sense of peace upon him letting go. She looked over her shoulder, seeing Gabriel’s tired smile. Her eyes watered as she struggled to speak. He wiped the tear rolling down her face before hugging her.
“I’m glad you made it,” he whispered.
“Me too,” she whimpered. “I thought those things got you.”
“You can say I had a bit of a guardian angel. Where were you coming from?”
“I lost Alex when we were chased at a bar down the road.”
“Alex?” he winced. “He was just with us before we were separated too.”
“You came across him?”
“I haven’t seen Ricardo or him for the past hour.”
“That—Doesn’t make any sense. I—I was just with him.”
He felt her trembling body as she held onto him. Her confusion was genuine as she looked away, trying to make sense of what’s going on. With the revelation of the time of passage, maybe there was a possibility she stumbled upon Alex. His lips tightened unsure of how to address it, but his impression didn’t go unnoticed.
“What’s going on?” she asked, finding his reluctance to answer.
“Well, according to Ricardo,” he complied. “We’ve been out for a few days.”
“It hasn’t even been a full day though.”
“I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t doubt you saw him.”
Although he sympathized with her confusion, something was amiss with his tone. The convenience of his sudden appearance was no different than Alex’s. Even the explanation held little sense as she felt along his bristled face. He noticed the change in eye color, saying nothing as she leaned away.
“We’ll probably meet them at the Sanctuary,” he acknowledged.
“How did you two get split up?” she asked after sensing uncertainty.
“Those hellhounds were on our tail the whole time. They cornered us, but they stopped without a reason. When we left where we were, infected lingered around the street—”
“Do you find it odd,” she interrupted. “That they attack so randomly?”
She took a few steps back, seeing dried blood along his clothing. She wondered what horrors he endured from their time apart. His level-headedness masked his concerns as he stepped forward into the blood-soaked gas station.
“We’re close at least,” he uttered. “I hope they made it.”
Celeste and Gabriel followed the electrical posts lined along the straight path forward. The power lines buzzed with low and high intervals of voltage coursing. Gabriel stopped suddenly, startling her when he noticed a strange humming noise in the distance. Gesturing silence, she looked over to find a peculiar light piercing faintly through the fog.
“What the hell is that?” he muttered.
“Is that—” she gasped while tugging his sleeve.
“Maybe it’s a search party?”
“Since when do we have flashlights like that?”
She pulled him into the tree line, taking cover behind the bushes. The light intensified, growing to the size of half the road. The buzzing anomaly attracted the ravenous infected wandering the forest. To the duo’s surprise, they came in great numbers, surrounding the orb. Electricity surged, unleashing bolts wrapping around it before emitting a blinding flash. They covered their eyes as the light pierced cover, silencing the growls and snarls of the infected.
A waft of burned flesh and sulfur lingered as she gagged from the repulsive stench. A cold sweat trailed down Gabriel’s face, witnessing the charred remains in the absence of the anomaly.
“What—The hell was that?” he gulped. “How did you know—”
“It’s called la luz mal,” she responded. “That’s what it looks like.”
“What do they do?”
“Some say they’re weather anomalies or they’re lost souls.”
Her explanation was met with a wary side glance. He nodded before proceeding along the tree line. It wasn’t long before they reached a bridge hanging high over a running river. They shivered to its fresh breeze while observing the ruined bridge. Although it was intact when they left, time had finally collapsed the frail structure. They carefully tread toward the river’s edge, looking toward its center to gauge its depth.
Celeste sensed a strange presence as he strained his eyes toward something in the mist. The woman in white appeared, striking terror in them. Gabriel kept Celeste behind him as they took a few steps back. The woman cried blood as it dripped along her pale face. Her body twitched as she hovered inches off the ground. Gabriel kept his cool, instantly recognizing what it was. The woman in white drew near with her contorted expression.
“Celeste,” his voice trembled. “I’m giving you a head start. The Sanctuary is right across this river.”
“How about you?” she questioned.
“So, she can chase both of us? No, I know the stories. Go!”
“I’m not leaving without—”
She glimpsed his regretful expression, uttering words of forgiveness. He looked over his shoulder as she fell into the deep water. Fear surged through her as she gravitated toward the river’s bottom. Her body tumbled through the depths of the river, keeping her under when she tried to reach the surface. Everywhere she looked she was engulfed in darkness unable to tell up from down. She closed her eyes, reflecting on life as she conceded to the whims of whatever outcome was.
Please be okay, she thought before blacking out.
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