Kevin Adderly had crept up the steps to the townhouse, doing the best he could to still walk and conserve his strength. By the time he hit the top of the steps his thighs were burning again, but it was a different type of burning than the ache in his calves. Not for the second time he wished he had grabbed the painkiller spray from the first aid kit he’d abandoned at his apartment.
That was a word Kevin had never really taken stock of before. His stuff was likely as abandoned as the stuff he found in this empty townhouds. He fought back tears as he wondered if he’d ever see it again.
There had been reaction or response to his sturdy wrap on the frame of the door, which stood ajar, so he walked in.
Old Ashippun was a little seedy, especially by Sugar Island standards. The shops on the street level were not run-of-the-mill consumer and residential stuff. Instead, Old Ashippun was made up of swinger bars and oxygen discos.
Kevin shuttered as he stepped through the great door to the townhouse. Except for the door hanging open, nothing about the foyer or great room of the apartment seemed amiss. There was a data console on the far north wall; its screen flashing the same “network’s down, have a nice day” message that all the data consoles in the city were showing. They might have well as said, “The apocalypse is upon us. Kiss your ass goodbye.”
“And have a nice day,” Kevin sneered under his breath.
He tentatively stepped into the center of the room. It was homey and blue, mostly. Kevin snuffled back the urge to cry again — something about the empty-yet-lived-in quality of the room touched him. A soft throw rug over wooden floors centered the room, a coffee table in front of some basic furniture, end tables. He picked up a picture frame that stat on an end table. He pressed the backlight controls and tried to get the frame to do a soft reset, but got nowhere. It was as dead as the rest of the biotronics in the city.
He set the frame down where he found it, but having moved, the frame was no-longer balanced and it fell over with a bang. The bang made Kevin jump, but it was the hissing response from the next room next that made his skin crawl.
“Who’s there?” he barked, his voice cracking. He slipped his hand into his back pocket where he’d stashed the scupperer’s steal arm he’d picked up to use as a weapon. The hissing from the other room continued.
He grabbed the rounded end of the arm, where it had originally attached to the scupperer, and brandishing it like a curved sword, he casually stepped into a defensive posture.
“Speak! Now!” He said to the other room.
The hissing exploded into an angry moan, something like a growl, and a shaking, stooping man came around the corner, wobbling a bit on his legs. The man was wearing s spandex, skin-tight biker’s outfit, top and bottom matching. His helmet was askew on his head, which made the man look all the more deranged as he glared, slackjawed.
Kevin backed away slowly, watching the hissing moaning creature using the door frame to hold himself steady. The man creaked as he groaned, occasionally punctuating his moans with a twitchy snarl. Black fluid dripped down the man’s chin and neck, soiling the optic yellow of the spandex he wore.
“I’m sorry,” he stammered. “Sorry. You startled me,” Kevin blurted, dropping his weapon a bit. “Is this your house?”
Kevin kept back-pedaling toward the door. “I don’t want any trouble here,” he said as the man lunged at him, snarling and leaping. It was an all-or-nothing grab for Kevin, the creature flinging itself with all it’s weight at him, lurching with its arms outstretched in a grab for Kevin’s torso. Kevin leapt back, bringing the improvised sword up, holding the flat of the blade toward his attacker, blocking the attack.
But only for a second.
The deranged man reached around the sword and grabbed a fistful of Kevin’s hair and pulled Kevin toward the ground.
“I don’t want any trouble,” Kevin shouted through the pain of the full weight of his attacker hanging from a clump of his hair. Kevin grabbed the creature’s hand with his, trying to relieve the pressure on his scalp, and he bent with the fall of the man’s weight, keeping his scalp from tearing. He slapped the arm with the flat part of his blade. Still, the man or creature or whatever it was didn’t let go, grabbing for more hair with its other hand.
Kevin saw the second hand coming, and managed to step out of reach. The biker, creature, man, whatever, was pulling his head in toward his fetid mouth. The biker was salivating and its breath stunk of bio-programming fluid and rotting teeth. The biker pulled him nearer his wide-open jaw.
In a flash, Kevin saw in his mind’s eye the brutality of the fight he’d seen creatures like these engaged in the night before. Then he thought of the way Mara’s body had lurched after him in the foyer of his building. He thought of the creepy gargoyle thing in the park that had hissed at him, and his fear got the better of him. It dawned on him that they were all the same. They were all related.
And then he panicked.
He lashed out with his sword, cutting through the biker’s forearm that was attached to his head; the hand went limp and fell from Kevin’s hair, dangling by the few sinews that the strike with the improvised sword hadn’t cut.
The creature howled and grabbed at him with his good arm, connecting with his shoulder and pulling Kevin to the floor this time. Kevin rolled away from the creature, using his own momentum to put some space between himself and the attacker.
The creature followed him step-for-step with single-minded desperation.
Rolling on the floor, kicking and pulling at Kevin, the creature got the upper hand. It was now nearly on top of Kevin and it was he could do to keep his distance from the creature’s gaping maw. The creature snarled and snapped with his mouth, always pushing it toward Kevin as if it were a hand. If it could stretch its neck just a little farther, it would be able to take a good chunk out of Kevin, and that would be it. It would be all over, Kevin was sure of it.
The creature’s good hand remained clenched on Kevin’s shirt, and was punching and swatting at Kevin with the stump of the arm that Kevin had cut off. Dark red fluid, too thick to be just blood, spurted and sloshed everywhere, Kevin could feel rivulets of it rolling down his face and getting near his eyes. In desperation, Kevin swung his elbows, pushed the biker over and off him, and in one quick springing motion, he leapt toward the creature and struck the biker across the chest with his sword.
The blade cut half-way through, pushing a gasp out from the biker man’s lungs. Kevin pulled the blade out, and the yet biker continued to come at him. Kevin had the upper hand now. “I’m sorry,” he shouted. He swung the sword again, this time, right through the biker man’s jugular, cutting the man’s neck nearly off, but failing to slice fully through the skin and muscle that held the neck to the skull. “I’m so sorry,” he shouted again. And again. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
The body of the undead biker man went slack, falling silent, and crumpling like a pile of meat on the great-room carpet. Kevin stood over the body, holding his sword at the ready for a few minutes.
Shortly after he realized that the man wasn’t going to get back up this time, Kevin started to sob. Uncontrollably, his body wracked with sadness, snot ran down his face, and he fell to his knees. He slouched onto the floor next to the dead man. Still sobbing, he curled up into a ball on the floor, always holding firm to his weapon.
Without taking his eyes off the man’s corpse, he pushed his way back so he was sitting in front of the couch, watching as thick vital fluids from the headless, one-armed corpse slowly soaked into the blue carpeting, staining the paisleys in the pattern, and dying the pile black as the remaining bio fluid and coagulated blood drained from the dead biker man.
Even after he ran out of tears, Kevin sat there for quite some time.