Word Count: 1,079
The blood-red moon cast its unholy glow upon the city, darkening shadows and dimming the perception of the humans attempting to survive the night. Judah did not struggle to see in the crimson light; Judah did not need light to see.
He walked in silence, listening carefully to the clatter and ruckus around him. The earthquakes still shook the ground but he had grown used to them. The crumbling of buildings was just background noise; it mingled with the shriek of car alarms, the whirring of abandoned engines, the wailing of sirens that had never been turned off.
The streets were practically deserted, if one wasn’t counting the casualties that covered the ground in a thick carpet of cloth and flesh and blood. A cold wind rattled the spider-webbed windows and doorways of businesses, whistling in the alleys.
It would rain within the night, Judah could smell it in the air; it took some time to pinpoint it among the other scents assaulting his nostrils. The putrid stench of decomposition, the tang of spilled blood, the lingering aroma of demonic power.
One voice stood out among the other sounds; like a rattling wind caught in an empty aluminum can – the sound was haunting and unnatural.
“Alice,” it was saying, and it was less than a mile away.
Judah started to run.
He pulled a compact crossbow from the inside of his jacket and extended two of the steel arrows. He loaded one and calmly brought his run to a halt as he came upon the daemon.
A young woman with dark hair was on her knees, and Judah didn’t need to ask why; her breathing was labored and slow, her heartbeat erratic with agony. The electric static of daemon energy buzzed in the night air; it left a sick taste like hairspray in the back of his throat.
“You Daemons are such cheaters,” he said, leveling the crossbow. He studied his opponent quickly; roughly six-foot-six, with unkempt black hair and eyes of a hellish orange. He did not recognize him, but that was not a surprise.
“This is not your concern, Dark Angel,” it responded, and the sound of its voice crackled through the air once again.
He pulled the trigger and watched the glimmer of steel pierce the night air; he did not have to converse with the daemon, he had the upper hand. It cut through the Daemon’s chest and he fell forward with a choked gasp, blood bubbles pushing through his lips. He hit the ground with a heavy thudding noise and Judah could hear the steel press further into organs, and then, with a pop, spine.
He retracted the crossbow and tucked it away into his jacket, snapping the backup arrow back into two pieces and pocketing them as well.
He moved to his knees beside the woman and lifted her into his arms.
He had learned quickly that hospitals were of no use to him. Occupied by gangs or daemons, they offered no healing services. He would have to care for her himself, as he had been doing with the others he came across. For now, she would sleep; he walked on in search of a store that had remained, at least mostly, in tact.
He had managed to find a grocery store no more than three miles away from where he had found the young woman. He had left her tucked away in the backseat of an abandoned Oldsmobile in the parking lot so he could check the building. Strangely, it was unoccupied; he checked everywhere just to be certain – but there wasn’t even a lingering stink of daemon to be found. He could smell traces of humans, probably looters – as he now was, but nothing else.
He brought her inside and laid her out on a few crates of cereal. She was a pretty thing; her dark hair was a nice contrast to her olive complexion. He took off his jacket and removed his weapons. He propped her head up on the jacket and slid the compact crossbow into a secondary holster at his hip.
It had been tedious at first, getting used to the needs of a human body, but he had caught on quickly. He was just beginning to enjoy the act of eating a meal.
He did a little scavenging while she slept and once he gathered his ingredients, he moved her to the small kitchen area in the prepared foods department. There were a few chairs and tables, most overturned; he brought a set back into the kitchen. It took a moment to set up, but he set her in the cushioned seat without waking her.
He prepped quickly, and by the time the aroma of cooking meat perforated the air, she began to stir. She rubbed at her eyes, sniffing the air discretely. Her voice was delicate in the stillness of the otherwise empty grocery store, “Where am I?”
He glanced up at her briefly before returning to his task. “Wegmans,” he answered.
“Who are you?” She was less hesitant, then, and he met her eyes once more. They were beautiful; large, and a deep, woodland brown.
“I am Judah,” he said, flipping the burgers. “Who are you?”
She paused, and he could feel her eyes studying him openly. “Alice,” she answered, finally, shifting in her seat and crossing her legs. “How did I get here?”
“I carried you.”
“I thought I was dead,” she whispered, and he thought he heard genuine fright in her voice.
“You probably would have been,” he said, “if I hadn’t heard the Daemon and come along.”
“You aren’t very modest, are you?”
He glanced up, blinking as if he didn’t quite understand the question. “I am honest,” he said, and shrugged. “Most modesty is artificial, anyway.”
She smiled then, as if he had amused her, and the lilt to her lips was charming. He took the burgers out of the pan and assembled them, handing her a paper plate when he finished.
She looked up at him, over the bun of the burger, and held his gaze for a long moment. She was wondering if she could trust him, he could see it in her eyes.
He said, “I have not made you stay, I will not make you eat.” He set the burger on the table between them and seated himself in the chair opposite from her, taking a bite from his own burger. Outside, it began to rain.