(Part Six: "Savage Instincts")
From the moment I stepped through the jagged shards of glass and into the store on the other side of that broken window, I began feeling even more uneasy than I was just a few moments ago. I know that I was being a bit apprehensive about the whole thing...but I live in a world where randomly throwing caution to the wind can get you killed! I wasn't looking forward to dealing with the kind of trouble that we might face being all exposed like this. Even this early in the morning.
If it hadn't been for Jordan's smile...I wouldn't have followed them in here at all.
The crackle of broken glass under my feet was a bit unsettling, but I didn't really let it get to me too much. I mean, we had already broken in to the place, right? At least the 'noise' of shattering the front window was over and done with.
The store was a total mess. It was like one of those little knick knack places that couldn't really decide on what it wanted to be, as far as neighborhood stores go. It sold some minor electronics, cheap clothes, dollar store toys and off-brand snacks. They had a rack for batteries, but I guess people had grabbed them all long ago. Disposable cameras, greeting cards, scented candles...I even saw a few 'wigs' behind the front counter. What the hell kind of clientele was this store hoping to attract with all of this scatterbrained garbage?
"Apocs probably took all of the good stuff already." Ricky said, knocking some stuff off of a shelf and letting it come crashing down to the floor.
"Shhhh! Jesus, Ricky!" I said.
"The ruckus, dude! It's bad enough that we're so far into town. Don't draw attention."
He sneered at me. "Psh! Whatever. There's nobody out here. This whole streets been drained of anything of real value. Mellow out."
Milo found himself a small bag of plastic army men. "I'm keeping these! I called it first!" As though we were really going to argue with him about it.
Jordan was messing around in one corner of the store, and I was naturally drawn to him over the activities of every body else. I made my way over to where he was standing, still imagining the taste of his kiss on my lips, and when he looked over his shoulder to see me approaching...he smiled warmly. "Check it out. Chicago snow globe. Hehehe..." He shook it up and let the Winter flakes swirl around for a moment before handing it to me. "You want it?"
The fact that Jordan Chadwick had touched it at all made it almost priceless. Hell YES, I wanted it! "Thanks..." I mumbled softly.
Our eyes met for an extended moment...
I was fascinated by the darkening blush in his cheeks. We wanted to kiss each other soooooo badly! Imagine what would happen between us when we get the opportunity to be alone.
"Hey! Check me out!" Ricky shouted, spoiling our quiet connection. I turned to see him wearing a stringy blond wig, with a couple of rolled up sweatpants under his shirt to look like a pair of obscenely large boobs. "Oh yeah! Come get this ass! I know you want some!" He said, swishing his hips back and forth and making faces until the rest of us started to giggle from his spontaneous entertainment. "Come here, Milo! Give me some sausage, baby boy!" He started to hump Milo violently from the back until the poor kid was almost knocked over.
"QUIT IT!!!" Milo squealed, wiggling away from him.
"Ah, you liked it, fag boy! I know it."
Not even Milo and Ricky's bickering could completely break the spell that Jordan had casted upon me at this point. It was the revelation that changed me, inside and out...and I'd never be the same again. I knew that I was infatuated with him the second I laid eyes on him. But the rational part of my brain was constantly telling me that this was something to be put into the 'fantasy' category of my reality. It was never meant to be anything more than jack off material between actual moments of seeing his addictive smile in person. But now? Now he's taken the initiative to kiss me. A feat that I would NEVER have the courage to perform on my own! And that has escalated things to a level that I never thought I'd be able to reach.
I can feel my heart beating against my ear drums as I look him in the eye, and the love inside was so overpowering that I found it hard stand up straight, my head swimming with the promises of a forbidden attraction actually being noticed...and embraced.
I needed to get him alone again. I don't know if it was because I wanted to talk about this and figure out if our hopes and dreams were in sync somehow...or if I just wanted to mash my lips up against his again and enjoy the confusing bliss of being with the ONE boy that I actually wanted for my very own. All I knew was...the new reality that I desperately wanted to created only had a population of two. Me...and my Jordan. Together. To live as freely and spontaneously as our love would allow.
What would it be like to kiss those lips right now and not care about who was watching? What would life be like if I followed my heart...instead of my insecure duty to those who might not understand? I had never gotten a glimpse of that alien world before. Not until now.
"You guys...maybe we should get going." I said, my lungs feeling as though they were shrinking to half their size.
"What's the big rush?" Ricky asked, trying on a pair of plastic sunglasses and staring at himself in a nearby mirror.
"I've just got a bad feeling about being out here, that's all. We need to head back." I gave Jordan a little smirk when I said it, and he definitely caught the hint. Because, while I really was a bit nervous about being this close to the empty city without any real 'protection' from any renegades that might be running around in the streets looking for supplies...my main reason for wanting to go back was Jordan. There were houses in our little civilian area that were completely empty. Abandoned. Places that we could easily sneak off to. Places where we could be alone.
To hug. To kiss. Heh...maybe even more...if he'll let me.
It was at that time that my ears perked up. It was faint, it was distant, but I could have sworn that I heard a 'whistle' from outside. Not just random whistling either. It almost sounded like some sort of coded signal from one person to another. Maybe even...a bunch of others.
I held back a gasp as a cold shower of fear washed over me. I was almost hoping that it was figment of my own screwed up imagination. But...seeing the sudden change in Jordan's once joyful expression let me know that he had heard it too.
Trying to minimize the scuffle I was making across the debris on the floor, I rushed over to Ricky and Milo to tell them to shut the hell up! Jordan was right behind me, and suddenly, we were all afraid to breathe. We could hear the sound of footsteps in the street outside, and even though it would be easy to see the giant hole in the store front window, we panicked, and suddenly scrambled to find a place to hid nearby, hopefully without making any noise that could be heard from the outside.
I couldn't quite see where Jordan had hurried off to, but he was silent, and practically invisible. I was hiding behind a nearby shelf, making sure that my legs were pulled in, knees close to the chest. Not far from me, I could see Milo doing the same behind the end of the counter by the register. Milo was already shivering with terror, sniffling as he whispered to himself, "I KNEW it! I knew this was a bad idea! Please, God...please, God..." I sternly thrust my finger up to my lips to tell him to shut the hell up before somebody heard him! He tried holding his breath, but I could see him lifting his glasses up to wipe the frightened tears from his eyes.
As I heard the footsteps outside begin to slow down as they approached the broken window...I felt myself getting so fucking ANGRY at Ricky for even taking us through the center of town like this! He KNOWS that there are still looters and renegades and psychopaths lurking in every dark corner that the city of Chicago had to offer! Like deadly scorpions in your sleeping bag, just waiting for the right disturbance to set them off so they can strike and end our lives with a single venomous sting.
I swear to God...if I've FINALLY found love with the most gorgeous boy on Earth and Ricky's bullshit ego gets us killed today, I'm going to give him *HELL* in the afterlife!
We remained silent.
Collectively holding our breaths.
The footsteps could barely be heard now as they slowed down to a cautious creep. Only the sound of the crackle of broken glass under their shoes could alert us to their position. Then...as they reached the broken store window, they stopped.
They know somebody is in here.
I've heard stories about lunatics who go out and make examples of anybody they find lurking around their turf. Stories of vicious beatings, rape, even outright 'enslavement' if they figure they have good use for you. In the heart of the city, every unfamiliar shadow was a boogeyman in itself. And now...they here...
I saw Milo wipe his eyes again, his bottom lip quivering slightly. I was afraid that he'd sniffle out loud and give us all away, but he did his best not to make any noise.
Where was Jordan? My mind began to wonder if he was actually safe. What if they found him? What then? Would I have the courage to jump up and fight for him. For us? It's a question you're almost never prepared to ask yourself. At least, not until it's almost too late.
I heard the footsteps starting up again, and they quietly stepped through the hole in the broken window. First a single set of footsteps, then followed by too more. The fear inside me got worse. I tried to mentally 'will' my heart to stop beating so hard and so fast for fear that the erratic pounding would be enough to alert the others to our presence.
My hands were holding onto my ankles so tightly that my knuckles had turned white. The people in the store weren't saying anything to one another, they just kept creeping closer with every step. I started to look for another place to run too if they came my way, but the store wouldn't provide enough hiding places for four people. And it was too trashy on the floor to really move around undetected. Knowing this, I thought that it might be better to look for some kind of 'weapon'. Something that I could reach for at a moment's notice and do some real damage with before losing the element of surprise. Maybe a loose board, or a shard of glass...maybe a few nails or screws that I could hold in my hand. As long as I go for the eyes or the throat, it'll give me enough of an opportunity to deliver a few potentially lethal blows before the shock wears off.
I never killed anybody before. I wonder what it'll feel like...
I could hear the footsteps spreading out slightly as they moved through the store. I'm guessing there was at least three of them. I'm not very good at guessing, but that's what it sounded like. I looked back over at Milo, and he was covering his mouth with both hands now. Tears rolling over the back of his knuckles. I could see his chest heaving and prayed to God that he wouldn't force himself into having an asthma attack. That would accelerate things beyond belief! Once they heard him wheezing for breath, I'd have to jump up and try to rush at whoever went to investigate it first. I wouldn't be able to coordinate any kind of attack with Ricky or Jordan because I didn't know where Jordan was hiding, and I wouldn't be able to communicate with them if I did. Not without being found out, that is. Shit...this is scary. Living like this is so scary...
As I heard some more movement coming closer, I looked up at the rack of sunglasses that Ricky was looking at earlier...hoping the tiny reflection would give me a hint as to what I was dealing with here.
What I saw...sort of sent a creepy chill down my spine.
It was just a kid. Younger than us. Even Milo. He looked like he might have been eleven years old, and that was giving him the benefit of the doubt. He had a thick mass of curly brown hair, and stood, at best, at five feet tall. I think. I'm bad with figuring out that sort of thing from a distance. But what disturbed me most was his 'face'. This kid had his face completely painted white, with some sinister details thrown in, all drawn in black. I couldn't really tell if he was going for a hardcore skull and bones look, or if he was trying to paint himself up as some sort of demonic clown from Hell. Either way...the make-up was highly unusual, and only made me believe that he was much more unstable than your average preteen boy. I mean...what are his friends like? What if he turns out to be the 'sane' one?
Oh God...they're getting closer...
I kept looking around me for something that I could use to defend myself. Something within reach. I picked up a few rocks, but they were too small for me to do much damage with them. I tried to peer around the shelf I was hiding behind to see if there was anything useful. Matches, lighters...a couple of scented candles in glass bottles. That might work. Those glass bottles were pretty heavy, being full of wax and all. I'd have to hit him pretty hard though. And why would a kid that age be out here by himself? What if the other two Apocs were adults? Shouldn't I be worrying about taking one of them out instead? FUCK...I wish I had more time to plan for something like this!
Closer. And closer. What do I do? Shit...
I grabbed one of the heavy candles from the bottom shelf. It had Saint Peter on it, strangely enough. And I weighed it in my hand a few times, trying to make sure that I had a good grip on it. My fingers couldn't wrap all the way around it, but if I got ONE good strike to the noggin with this thing, the painted face kid would be down for the count. Let's just hope the others back me up when it comes to dealing with the other two. Otherwise, I'm on my own. And if they have actual guns on them...I'm a goner.
I felt my breath getting super heavy. Shit...ok...this is it.
A part of me looked at the kid's small stature, and was already flooding my brain with feelings of guilt and remorse. Am I really going to have to do this? I wanted to maybe take a moment to give him a chance to explain himself. To maybe scream out, 'WHOAH!!! I come in peace! Please, don't hurt me!' But...if I hesitate...will that cost me my life and the life of my friends?
This apocalyptic, 'Apoc', world...makes irrational savages of us all.
Ok. I'm just going to wait until he passes me...hopefully he won't see me behind the shelf...and before he gets the chance to turn around...I'll take this heavy candle glass bottle to his skull. It'll have to be super hard though! I need to knock him out. Or at least incapacitate him for a few minutes while we make a mad dash towards the other two. Oh God, please forgive me. I'm going to feel so BAD, doing this to a kid.
I was super careful to get up on my feet again, my shoulders still pressed against the shelf...and I waited for the footsteps to get right beside me. I could see his curly hair in my peripheral, and slowly raised the candle high in the air to make my first strike count for all it was worth.
Dammit!!! Milo saw me getting ready to hit him over the head and his asthma started acting up at the last minute. BUSTED!
The clown faced boy quickly turned his head towards the noise and saw me standing in the shadows with my arm raised. FUCK! It's either now or never!
Our eyes only connected for a second...and I think we both paused briefly in an attempt to quickly assess this potentially VIOLENT situation! My panic won out over everything else, and I yelled out loud, rushing towards him with the candle in the glass bottle! I was hoping to hit him from behind, but it was too late for that! It's all in fate's hands now!
Much to my surprise, the boy thrust his forearm upwards to block me from making contact, and without even thinking, his other fist shot out from his side to punch me in the stomach so hard that my fingers got weak and I dropped the candle at his feet! With blinding speed, he kicked me in both knees, and then spun around to connect his heel with the side of my face...knocking me to the floor before I even felt the pain from the assault!
"Ahhhhhhh!!!!!!!" Ricky shouted out, running at the kid with some sort of shiny metal pole that he found somewhere. But the kid was quick, and dispatched Ricky of his weapon and his footing just as fast, if not faster as he did to me.
At this point, Jordan rushed out from his hiding place, inside a rack of clothes where nobody could see him...and he knocked the kid over by driving his shoulder deep into his stomach and nearly knocking him halfway across the room!
At this point, the other two people he was with jumped to attention, and both of them had loaded crossbows in their possession. They drew them on us, and were unfortunately too far away from us to run at them without catching an arrow straight through the heart!
Milo took a hit off of his inhaler, and slowly rose from his position to put his hands in the air. Ricky was nursing a rather nasty bruise on the side of his abdomen, but was quick to follow suit in signaling his surrender.
I felt like crying at that moment. I didn't know what this meant or where it was going to take us...but Jordan jumped into the fray to fight for me. I think that I was just amazed by that, even in these dire moments...when I wasn't certain that we'd ever make it home again.
Looking at the other two people in the store with us...I noticed that they were rather young themselves. Hell, they were our age! Both boys were about 15 or 16 years old, but they handled those crossbows like a couple of pros. And our painted up youngster obviously didn't have any trouble handling himself when it came to a one on one fist fight. Who WERE they? And what the heck were they going to do with us next?
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