The First Wave
Author: Hollie Leanne

Chapter 4
Chapter Four

“Stop!”

The earth fleeted by me in my haste. My lungs began to burn, my breathing coming in pants. My backpack was weighing me down, and I soon discarded it. I was almost blinded by the fog, barely able to make out where I was going, but I sprinted like it was the last thing I would ever do. It probably would be. 

I don’t think I got far. Something smacked my head so hard I yelped, falling painfully. I scrambled like a wounded cat, desperate to get elsewhere, but a firm hand grasped my ankle. 

“Let go!” I howled, and without reasoning I pulled back my free leg and launched, kicking the stranger just below the throat. He swore loudly, taken aback and coughing into his mask; I scrambled to my feet and bolted. 

The knife was still in my hand, but I knew it would be no use. I clung to it like no tomorrow and sprinted down the winding streets that held the ghosts of the past. Small, lean, and light, I thought I could weave and wind with the expertise of a whippet. 

I leapt over abandoned and destroyed cars and raced down intertwined alleys before I came to a standstill. Feeling I had surely lost him, I faced an empty flat on the ground floor, the door slightly ajar. Silently I crept inside, and like a child, I ran for the bedroom. 

Hiding under a bed had been something I did when I was little. I had done it in the middle of the night, when my mother would wail for a man long gone. For an eight-year-old, it seemed safer to hide and cover my ears, wishing for the cries to go away. I had never feared monsters. It felt as if I was the monster, so what a rightful place should I have been other than beneath the bed?

I was petrified at that moment. My body ached from running, my mind racing to some awful conclusions. In the days before, I could big up being seventeen all I wanted. I knew I had been a handful up until this point, thinking that I was bigger and better than anything around me. But I knew now that I was only a teenager in a vast, scary world. I wasn’t strong. I didn’t have any special talent with a weapon or in martial arts. I was just me. 

I covered my ears, closed my eyes, and waited. 

***

He wasn’t stupid. The first thing I understood was that he was tall, which meant he had speed. He knew exactly where I had gone. Perhaps my footprints gave me away, or maybe he’d kept me in a line of sight; I didn’t know. But he’d found me. 

The next thing I learned was that he was strong. Before I could react, he grabbed my elbow and yanked, dragging me out from under the bed and through the dust before launching me back up, like I was nothing more than an oversized rag doll. I wrestled and strained against him, but he was having none of it. My back came slamming against a wall, my stomach twisting with nausea. My head hit the wall hard, swiftly knocking everything out of focus. I felt my body relax against my will, dead weight, and the tips of my shoes barely kissed the wooden flooring. 

He had the front of my jacket fisted in his hands, his face very close to mine as he sneered down at me; the mask had gone. He was older, with creases around his eyes, a thin mouth moulded into a grimace, and he smelled like he hadn’t showered in weeks. 

I whined, helpless and frightened, before I heard him make a noise that resembled a chuckle. “Fast, for such a small lass.” 

His voice was thick and hoarse, like the ash affected him, too. As he came into focus, I glared furiously at him, clawing at his hands pitifully. I felt a boldness I hadn’t felt in a long time, igniting a fire in me I had forgotten was there. I hadn’t spoken a word in weeks, but I felt the venom on my tongue, my fear turning into anger. Robin had always told me that my anger and stubbornness would get me into trouble, and I was about to find out if she was right. 

“Why are you here?” he demanded, shaking me a little, pulling me out of my panic. I didn’t think; I spat at him, right in the face, but he made sure I came to regret it. 

He threw me to the ground in anger, and as I began to crawl away his foot came crashing down on the middle of my back, nestled between my shoulder blades. I cried out, suddenly short of breath, before he slowly began to push. 

“P-please…” I rasped, my nails scratching the floor as I tried to pull away.

“Don’t spit at people, then. That shit’s disgusting.” He let up a little, allowing oxygen into my lungs. “Now answer my question.” 

I struggled for breath before I whispered, “Home.” It hurt to speak, the word coming out as more of a wheeze. I imagined him killing me there and then; all he had to do was aim his weight into his foot on my back, and oxygen would soon abandon me. I would suffocate, and he would go about his day without so much as using a weapon.

Never had I felt so weak.  

“What?”

Home.” I winced, gasping for air that barely made it to my lungs. 

“Piss off.” He growled, and he kicked me in the ribs. I rolled onto my back, gasping. I moaned, clutching my ribcage. He towered over me, his eyes glowing cruelly, glinting with hate. I wanted to cower, to fold in on myself, but instead I glared as the tears pricked my eyes. Who was he? Why was he here? What did he want?

“It is!” I coughed, but it sounded like I was begging with him somehow. “I was born here.” 

“Then how come every other poor bastard here is dead but not you?” he demanded. “How long has it been? Six weeks?”

“Eight.” I whispered, averting his eyes. “Eight weeks.”

He laughed at me, but didn’t stop my attempt to clamber to my hands and knees. I coughed from somewhere deep inside me, and suddenly I tasted blood. I spat at the ground, ridding myself of copper-like taste. He let me kneel there, panting for a moment, like he was contemplating what his next move would be. He looked as wary as I felt, which only bothered me further. 

“Why would they spare you, ay?” he asked, almost to himself. “Why kill everyone but you? What are you, like, fourteen?” 

“You should really judge yourself for beating a fourteen-year-old.” I sneered. “If you must know, I’m seventeen.” Another moment passed, which was enough time for him to crack a sinister smile. 

“Cute.” He chuckled. I hesitantly got to my feet, my palms up defensively. “Well, home or not, you’d best get moving.”

“I’d rather die.”

“And you will. They’re sweeping the nation, taking anyone they find alive. The world’s gone to shit.” 

“I’m aware,” I said, eying him, “but no thank you. I’m staying. Take what you want and leave.”

He eyed me curiously, like he couldn’t comprehend what I was saying. His eyes were brown, but not warm. For someone young, no older than twenty-five, he looked like a soldier who had gone to hell and back. He looked worn and tired, his face cluttered with dried cuts. His eyes were ringed with dark shadows that only seemed to sharpen his cheekbones beneath ashen skin. He was dressed in everyday clothes; boots, jeans, a t-shirt and a leather jacket tied around his waist, and they looked new. 

He brushed brown clumps of hair out of his cold eyes. 

“You’re mad.” 

“This is my home.” I replied, watching him carefully. “I have nothing beyond Haddon.”

“Save your little sob story.” He told me bitterly. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. The least you can do is tell me where all the decent shit is.”

I shrugged as I watched him like a mouse watches a cat. I didn’t trust him. Something about him was incredibly off. He looked like a man whose mind was always thinking and plotting, and the way he looked at me made me feel very uneasy. There was no kindness in his face, no warmth. I knew damn well he didn’t care about what happened to me, which made me even more curious why he told me to leave for safety. Better yet, why hadn’t he killed me already and done with it?

I didn’t quiz him. I wanted nothing to do with him. Night was falling, and I needed somewhere to lie low. I wasn’t the only person here anymore, and suddenly I missed the loneliness. It was safer to be alone. 

I crept past him, my gaze never leaving his, watching for any calculated move. He smirked, amused by my caution, but he let me pass. I got halfway down the hallway towards the door I had entered through before he spoke. 

“Hiding under a bed won’t save you next time, sweetheart. Trust me.” He said calmly. “I’m a domestic dog compared to the big, bad wolves out there.”

I turned, and he was leaning against the doorframe as he gazed at me. My knife was in his hand, and he was teasing the point with his teeth. I must have dropped it in my panic. I swallowed, frozen for a moment, taking in his words. But I didn’t reply. I left, running down the alleyway I had come from, refusing to glance back. Quickly, I felt like I was in a much darker, scarier place. 

 

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