“What was that?” Rebecca asked as she grabbed my forearm.
“I didn’t hear anything. What was it?”
“I thought I heard a tinkling of glass downstairs.”
I grabbed the tomahawk that I’d picked up in the last town we visited and pressed Becca’s club into her hand. “Wait here, I’ll go check it out,” I said as I lifted the corner of the shade covering the office door’s window. “Lock the door behind me, ok?”
She rushed over to me and slid my mask down under my chin. “Be careful, Charles. Knock three times to and I’ll open the door,” she said before she kissed me on the mouth. I kissed her back and then situated the flimsy paper mask back over my face. I opened the door leading down to the warehouse floor carefully and eased my body outside. Rebecca closed the door behind me and I heard the deadbolt slide home.
Normal people knew that you didn’t break in anywhere at night. In today’s fucked-up post-apocalyptic world, doing anything at night automatically meant you were up to no good and the unofficial law of the land said that anything goes when you’re defending yourself at night. The metal stairs rattled a little as I stepped onto the landing. I lifted the axe beside my head so I could quickly strike out at one of the creatures, or worse one of the scavengers, and slowly crept down the stairs. Each step seemed to echo across the warehouse’s vast expanse. I tried to visualize where the two doors were and silently hoped that Becca had been hearing things. We’d taken the time to lean a couple of thin glass panes against each of the doors as a form of early warning if one of the doors was opened before we took up residence in the second floor office two days ago.
I stepped off the stairs and went into a low crouch. I still felt a little bit silly doing it, but I’d seen hundreds of movies where the hero did that to make themselves a smaller target, so maybe there was something to it. I did a quick 360 degree turn and didn’t see anything so I rushed over to the nearest wall and pressed my back against it for some protection. I slid my way along towards the exit that was closest to the office.
The moonlight shining through the small windows near the roofline cast eerie shadows across the warehouse floor. Every distorted shadow was a scavenger waiting until I’d passed by him to spring from his hiding place to bash my brains out. Even though it was probably in the forties inside the building, I was sweating freely from every pore on my filthy body.
It was hard to believe that less than six months ago I was a successful financial advisor worried about networking for new clients and showing off my wealth to my friends. Once the bombs exploded near my hometown of Chicago, all of that went out the window. Hell, looking back on it now, it really seemed trivial. Now, every day was literally a fight to survive in this hellhole that used to be called America.
The glass that Rebecca and I had placed on the nearest door was still in place so I continued to circle around the outside of the warehouse floor towards the other door. I crept as silently as I could while scanning the interior of the building for any movement. I stopped when a shadow detached itself from the far wall and headed towards the stairs to the office where Becca was hiding. I could clearly see the outline of a trench coat and the canisters of a gas mask.
Shit! I cursed silently to myself. It was a scavenger, not one of those radiation freaks. The freaks were easier to deal with than scavengers. Sure, the freaks would attack you and rip you into a thousand pieces because their brains were so fried from radiation, but they’d lost the ability to rationally think and act. To scheme the way humans do. The freaks acted just like zombies in the old movies, but scavengers…fuck, they were dangerous.
Normally the best thing to do when a scavenger was around was to hide and hope you’d hidden all traces of your existence well enough, but he was headed straight for the office. I snuck across the floor and stayed to the shadows as much as possible. Usually scavengers were alone, but it wasn’t unheard of that they’d be with others. If that’s the case, we may be screwed, I thought. I tiptoed silently after the scavenger, continuously looking back in the direction that he’d come from to see if he had a partner, but it seemed like he was alone.
He tentatively set a foot on the metal staircase and it creaked in protest. He froze and crouched just as I’d done earlier and I saw the glint of moonlight off of metal. He was either holding a knife, or if he was dumb, a gun of some kind. Most people who were alone outside of a settlement didn’t carry firearms because the sound of one going off only attracted more of the freaks or other scavengers looking to clean up after the creature was done. The settlements used them heavily in the defense of their perimeter, but out here, nobody smart carried one.
I slunk to the last crate in the shadows of the floor. The next move I made would take me out into the open. For the thousandth time I cursed that bastard Allan for kicking Rebecca and I out of Virden. If he hadn’t gotten the idea that every woman in town was his to do as he pleased, then we’d still be safe behind the settlement’s walls, not out here in the middle of nowhere. Well, I guess it was also Becca’s and my fault too because we told him to fuck off, we were a couple, but that’s beside the point, we should never have been put in that situation, that’s the shit they did in the bigger settlements, not small ones like Cahokia.
The scavenger was already about a third of the way up the stairs but he was looking up towards the office and the lenses on his mask would obstruct his periphery vision. I took a silent gulp of air and wiped my sweaty palm across my trousers and slipped the tomahawk’s leather strap over my wrist so I wouldn’t drop it if there was a struggle. This was it. Time to put up or shut up as they used to say.
I leapt from the shadows and rushed the few feet to the stairs. The metal steps rattled horribly loud as I bounded them two at a time. The scavenger whirled around, but it was too late, I brought the spiked side of my weapon down right between his neck and shoulder blade.
He let out a muffled scream from behind the mask as I wrenched the tip of the blade from his body. He weakly tried to slice me with the bowie knife he held, but the fight was already coming to an end as his lifeblood gushed freely from the wound in his neck. I smashed the axe into his forehead and he crumpled like an empty sack.
I made sure to finish the job before I explored the scavenger’s body for useful items. His gas mask would definitely come in handy since all Becca and I had were the old paper surgical masks. They kept the drifting ash out of our lungs fairly well, but nothing like a real mask would do. I took the heavy trench coat and his knife but his boots were too small for me, maybe Becca could use them, or we could trade them for something down the road. He also had a few scraps of meat, a couple worthless American dollars and an ash-smudged photo of some girl.
I prayed silently that I hadn’t just dispatched that woman’s only means of survival but rules were rules: No one leaves the safety of wherever they are at night.