Darkness encompasses everything and my ears are ringing from a phantom alarm. My head is throbbing, even before I can open my eyes. My body is aching, as if it has gone through multiple walls.
But I’m breathing.
Something beside me moves, its closeness rubbing my already wrecked nerves raw. I contemplate opening my eyes, but a large part of me wonders if it would be better to die in the darkness of my mind. A groan from whatever is beside me makes the decision for me and I open my eyes, but immediately close them again as a sharp pain cracks into my skull.
“You okay?” A familiar voice asks me. “What the hell was that?”
And with that, everything comes back to me. The blackout. The panic. The blood. Those...people.
It makes no sense though, I think cautiously, we should be dead.
“My head feels like it’s been smashed,” the girl mumbles once again. I can feel her moving, but she suddenly freezes. “Oh my God.”
I move my limbs carefully, making sure that nothing is broken. The fall must have been a good seven plus feet high. But then, I realize, the only reason we’re alive is because we’ve landed on something on the concrete floor. I let myself sink further into the slightly pointy and uncomfortable surface under me, my aching body molding easily with the despite the disconcerting texture.
“Oh my God,” the girl repeats, prompting me to re-open my eyes, despite the jarring pain in my head. Her face is slightly bloodied from a long, deep gash on her cheek, and her eyes are wide with fear. “We need to get off here.”
I press a palm to my eyes as the girl nearly jumps from whatever we’ve landed on, but quickly pull it away when I see that there’s drying blood on it.
Not my blood.
My breathing gets heavier as I look at the frazzled girl, now eyeing me nervously... and with disgust? I swallow the lump in my throat as I finally look at whatever is under me.
“Ah,” I let out a strangled yelp as I slide down the multiple bodies that cradled me from the iciness of the cement floor. I land painfully on my tailbone, but ignore the pain in my panic to get away. I fight back the vile creeping up my throat and wipe away tears that are now falling down my face with the back of my palm. “What the fuck?”
The girl and I exchange a glance. Her lips are trembling and her blue eyes are widened with fear.
“Tho-those people,” I stutter, “they did thi-this?”
The girl looks around us at the multiple piles of bodies and at the few random ones, bloodied and torn apart around us. She looks me straight in the eye and starts to nod, whimpering with each nod. I clench up my fists, both holding me up in a leaning sitting position. Why aren’t we dead? I look back at the girl to ask her this, but she’s turned her back on me and is currently bent over at the waist, losing whatever she’d eaten earlier today... or yesterday... or... how long had we been out for?
Watching her throw-up, my stomach gurgles, considering a similar outcome, but I again fight back the nausea. If those people did this, then they are probably still somewhere around here. This place might even be their... buffet or something.
“Listen, we gotta go,” I say, my voice hoarse from the pain in my chest. There’s a little boy in the pile we’d landed on. His pale and forever unseeing eyes promising to haunt me for the rest of my life, no matter how much longer I’ve got left. “This place is...”
“Why didn’t they kill us?” The girl finally says, now facing me. Her eyes are bloodshot now and she’s wiping her mouth with shaky hands. She walks around the bodies unsteadily, until she’s beside me. Her twitching hand appears in my line of vision and I grab it thankfully. We’re both standing now, looking over the scene. A gaping hole where the doors to the mall used to be shows us that it is now night outside, and a few cars on fire indicate that the disaster isn’t just contained in the mall. Whatever happened in here, came from out there. “Why are we alive?”
The girl’s voice brings me back to our current situation and I force a smile, despite everything around us. “What matters is that we are, okay?”
She looks at me like she’s never seen me before and I sigh.
“If you want to stay alive, we’re going to have to go,” I plead her to listen with my eyes, widening them as much as possible. “This is beyond major suckage, but we gotta move.”
“My parents... friends...” she moans and I grab her shaking shoulders, giving her a forceful jerk.
“Listen to me, I’ve lost people too,” I think fleetingly of my mom, my friends... Alex, but I keep my attention on her, “but they can’t help us now. We are all we’ve got left, okay?”
We’re silent for a moment, exchanging looks, hers are full of confusion, dread, and finally acceptance. “Okay, yeah, you’re right.”
I let out a breath and look down, slowly letting go of her shoulders.
“I’m Naddie,” the girl says in a very low whisper.
I nod, and smile a true smile. “Chloe.”
Something falls in the ruined Chapters to our left and both Naddie and I look towards the darkness that starts with ripped books and seems to go on forever.
“What was that?” Naddie asks, taking a step back.
“I don’t know,” I take a tentative look around us, but look directly into the darkness when I see no one else near us.
“Do you think it’s one of them?”
“I don’t know,” I repeat, my mind going a million miles per hour. Those people I remember seeing back before we fell didn’t look right. They were gross and... wrong. Could they still be around here? Could they be hunting us?
“Chloe,” Naddie’s voice has gone very, very quiet and I look up and forcibly escape my thoughts as I see someone shuffling out of the darkness. I’m about to ask the person if he’s okay when he finally steps into the dim emergency lighting that casts shadows around us. Naddie whimpers behind me and I hold back a scream, pushing us both against the wall and as far away as possible from the broken person in front of us.
The left side of his face is gone, seemingly ripped from every inch of whatever is left. One eye watches us hungrily, while the remaining part of his mouth moves soundlessly. His t-shirt is bloodied and his pants are torn, revealing bite-sized wounds. I watch in horror as the... person stops a few feet from the first pile of bodies, watching us as if taunting us.
The rustling of clothes suddenly sounds, sending goosebumps all over my body. The bodies. Those dead bodies. They all begin to move, crunch, and moan as if one monstrous being. Naddie is holding my arm so tightly that it’s losing circulation, but my mind is more preoccupied with the dozens of bodies that are now standing up, one by one.
Even worse? They’re all facing us and something tells me that they are hungry motherfuckers.