The sun was shining brightly, bathing the day in its golden rays of light and warmth. All around the small cafe’s patio the world was alive, buzzing and humming with the sounds of a city truly alive. Yet, it felt wrong, as if seen through a murky glass, a reflection of something that was not. Makiah stared out at them, the people, with a flutter in her heart. Their skin, pale, and spiderwebbed with black as if the very flesh itself had cracked. Not unlike her own, she noticed with a start. The hard covering over her hands and forearms crackled as she stared at her hand, watching her fingers move, watching the dull orange glow between the crevices of her new skin. The people were watching too.
Kia reeled back, standing suddenly. Everybody had stopped moving, a still hush had fallen over them as they stared with their lifeless eyes, hundreds of shadowy pools focused on her. She whirled around her, even the waiters and the other patrons had stopped, staring at her with the same lifeless stare. Kia leaned against the short railing bordering the outside area, her meal long forgotten as her heart tried to rip its way from her chest as it hammered against her ribs. A cold hand wrapped itself around her arm, and without hesitating she screamed and jerked away, but it held her fast. Other hands joined in seizing hold of her, ignoring her shrills cries as they dragged her over the railing and into.. Darkness.
She floated there, wordlessly and filled to the brim with fear. Her legs knocked against something, and she looked down to find herself standing on a stretch of carpet. When she looked up again, she was standing in a hallway. It was dark, with flickering fluorescent lights that swung freely from the ceiling, or lay against the ground. Twisting forms of metal pierced the walls, their iron guts spilled out into the hallway and creating a hazardous path that Kia found herself walking through. She hadn’t noticed she was walking, she felt as if she was on autopilot as she stepped around broken walls and rended iron, pebbles and glass cracking beneath her bare feet.
She felt compelled, drawn to the end of the dim hall with its failing light, where the space gave away into an ocean of all-consuming darkness. A veil so thick it seemed she would walk directly into and find her progress obstructed. Yet, as she drew nearer, she could see tens of hundreds of stars, twinkling in the darkness, blinking in and out of existence. She stopped, her toes dangling off the edge of the path, hovering over the abyss. Somehow she felt that if she fell, she would never return. Instead, her eyes wandered out into that sea of shadow, at the tiny pinpricks of lights so far off in the distance.
A small form broke away from the darkness, or rather, it seemed to turn around. Kia sucked in a breath through her teeth. A small, raven haired girl stood before her, with eyes so bright they mimicked the stars. Kiah felt her mouth moving, ”Who are you?”, but heard no sound. The silence pressed in all around her as the girl moved forward, the stars growing bigger and brighter as she did until the small figure had to crane her neck up to see the taller woman’s face.
”Key it’s time to go..” The small girl said, her eyes glimmering as she looked up. The small girl looked lost, and sad, as if she were on the verge of tears. But smiled, the shadows on her face grew darker, giving her a haunted look. ”It’s time to go Key!” The girl shouted in Natalie’s voice. Kiah reeled back as the girl lunged for her, stumbling and falling hard against the surface of the floor.
Makiah shot upright, gasping for air as the fear of the unknown squeezed her heart. Her eyes searched frantically around her, trying to make out the dangers in the darkness as she slowly adjusted. Natalie’s face swung into view, and suddenly Makiah remembered where she was at. The office, with the others feeling the.. The horror of—She blinked, remembering that the danger was still out there, still lurking.
”Key, we’ve gotta go,” Natalie voiced quietly, taking her sister’s hands and pulling her to feet. Natalie had flinched. Barely, but when their hands had met, her slick, cool fingers grasping the hard, rough surface of Makiah’s. Kiah smiled softly, straightening her rumpled clothes. A hollow, thunderous boom echoed out from below, sending small vibrations through the office complex.
”What was..?” She asked, looking at her sister sideways as she gathered the few things she’d need from her purse.
”The military or something are outside, stirring up the.. the..”
“Ferals,” A man standing next to the window finished. Makiah looked at him, suspenders holding up his pants and a shaggy mane of hair stuffed beneath a knit cap, “..and I think that’s Marine Corp down there, them boys were stationed in the city waiting for redeployment I think, when everything happened.”
”Key, that’s Dumont-”
”Ery’one jus calls me Monte.”
Makiah shot a glance at her sister, ”Always nice to make new friends, consdering..” she let the statement hang and instead motioned around her with both of her arms.
”Ay, agreed man, friends are gonna be lackin’ something awful in the days to come.”
”Alright if we’re done with the formalities, I say it’s high time we left.”
”Agreed, there’s a storm running through them streets, I dun wanna be ‘ere when it decides to pay us a visit, ya’ know?”
Makiah tossed down her purse, and the largely useless items it still held—Cosmetic stuff mostly. Pocketing her necessities, she stepped around the broken pots and dying plants carefully to stand next to Monte. They were right. Down below a heavy convoy was rolling through the street, complete with armed soldiers and ,what Makiah figured from all those war movies, were some type of APC, or tank. Maybe a mix of both, she never really kept up on military tech. Ferals were pouring out of every nook and cranny, forming a seemingly unbreakable wave as they charged from both ends, but when they got close the vehicles, the two of them, would fire and blow huge holes through the crowd.
”C’mon, it’s not a fucking movie,” Nat commanded, pulling Makiah away from the window. Monte glanced at her, offering her a sympathetic smile as they moved out into the work area. Makiah found it hard to believe that not even twenty-four hours ago, this place had been filled with busybodies trying to climb the corporate ladder. Now.. now it was full of haggard faces in dirty clothes, crying children, the injured, and a few others like.. Well, like herself.
They made their way through the hopeless, the people sitting or crying who had no more will to move, those who could no longer face the world outside. Makiah felt a pang of sadness in her heart, those people would probably be sitting there when the creatures outside found them. At the far end of the area, a silent crowd had gathered with a rather large man at the forefront. A construction worker, probably, seeing as he was wearing a hard hat. The guy was giving soft instructions, perhaps he was a manager of some sort, and his new, haphazard crew seemed eager to follow his lead. Nat nodded her head, motioning forward as she pulled Makiah into the fringes of the crowd.
“..If we go up, we’ll get stuck.. So we gotta go down and we gotta be real quiet about it.” The foreman was saying, his hands out with the palms down to emphasize the need for silence.
“Down?! Down there with those monsters?!” A frantic voice exclaimed, a wiry, jittery man at the front of the crowd. “We’ll die out there!” He said none-too-softly.
“And where are you going to go when you’re stuck on the roof and those.. them things come for you?!”
”Ferals,” Monte added, earning him a withering stare from the would-be leader.
“If we go out the back, quietly, we can make it.. I say we head for the tunnels,” Hard-Hat said, motioning with his hands as if he was half pleading, half commanding.
“Fuck that!” Another shouted, a red-haired bulbous man who was sweating far too much, “There’s only death down there! Get out of my way! I’m going up! There will be choppers looking for us! There’s always choppers!” The stocky man pushed forward, urgued by the murmurs of agreement behind him.
“I’m telling you,” Hard-Hat began before some of the crowd pushed past him, “Fine, fuck ‘em then, let's go.”
Nat looked back at her two companions, shrugging and following the crowd downwards. It was slow progress, but Natalie had to give it to the some thirty-odd people for being relatively quiet. There wasn’t much more than a cough here, a sniffle there, all of which were followed by the hasty sounds of somebody being hushed. The stairwell was dark, and even with everybody’s current composure, every soft footfall sounded ominously loud. Within the confining walls the sounds of the battle raging outside had become quite muffled, excluding the plaster-loosening blasts of the armored vehicles.
The crowd filed out into the lobby. Being on the ground level seemed to heighten the group’s frayed nerves, Makiah could feel them trembling as she slithered through them—Or was that herself shaking? Monte snaked his way forward, rather gracefully, tapping Nat’s shoulder for her attention and nodding his head towards the rear of the building. As they turned to make their way through the milling bodies awaiting guidance a hail of gunfire erupted from outside, sounding far to close to comfort. A stream of shadowy figures passed before the lobby’s doors and windows, a tide of blurred bodies running through the darkness.
An explosion rocked the group, blowing the glass inwards and showering the gathering of anxious people in a spray glass and slick wetness. Makiah flinched back, nausea welling up inside her. The downed creatures outside, those that could still run, hobble, or crawl.
“Oh fuck man we’re gonna fucking die,” Somebody said, the voice was too far for Makiah to see who it had been. A second explosion smashed into the ferals, scattering limb and beast alike. Shadowy figures hurled into the darkness, crashing into the crowd or sliding across the rubble strewn floor. Not even half a second later a woman screamed, bringing the ferals that could still move back into a frenzy. More screams and yells joined the chaos, pulling the attention of many of those still picking themselves up outside, recovering from the blast.
Makiah could vaguely hear somebody out there shouting, orders perhaps, but that was quickly forgotten as Natalie all but dragged her across the floor towards the back. They rounded a corner, and now away from the initial panic, they make quick work charging down the hallway. Other survivors were close behind them, seeing no other way out than to follow the two women. Natalie, in the lead, raced past the other doors lining the hall and threw herself full-bodied against the rear exit, as if expecting some sort of resistance. The push-bar clicked and the door flung itself open, slamming against the outer wall.
Makiah was right behind her, something Nat made certain of with a quick over-the-shoulder glance before turning down the alley—Opposite of where she expected the ferals to be streaming from. Makiah turned out into the alleyway, the smell of which seemed to pass over her like a physical barrier, and turned after her sister. ”N-Nat!” Kia wheezed, trying to garner her sister's attention.
Natalie stopped, turning towards the distant sound of Makiah’s voice, and found herself surprised that she was nearly already at the end of the alleyway. Unbeknownst to her, she had been sort of phasing in and out of using the power she was only vaguely aware of. Nat turned, jogging the last few paces to the mouth of the narrow space between the buildings to survey the street. Thank god the streetlights were on, she had a pretty decent view of the road in both directions. A minute later Makiah came up, sucking in breaths of cold air and bracing her hands on her knees in a slouch.
”Look, over there,” Nat started, motioning for Makiah to look off to their right, ”They’re still fighting up that way.. I say we keep to the alleys.”
”Phew,” Monte began in a whisper, standing at the forefront of the faster runners crowding behind them, ”What I wouldn’t give to have what you have.. Just blurring up the way here in hops ‘an skips.”
”I think you’re right,” Kiah agreed with Nat, looking out into the road beyond. The street was well lit, but still had a scattering of abandoned cars and other debris; metal balconies, toppled trees, doors and wall fragments. The area past the intersection on the left side was obstructed by a pileup, a box truck and a few smaller vehicles.
“If we hang a left ‘round that corner there,” A voice said, pointing with a flannel-covered arm, “We’ll hit the metro tunnels. Can’t be any worse than up ‘ere eh?”
The three looked back to find that Hard-Hat had caught up with them, and was still determined to see his plan through. ”Honestly, that’s not a terrible idea.”
”I wouldn’t mind getting away from this madness for a bit,” Monte added with a shrug.
”And what if those..”
”Ferals,” Monte finished.
”Right, those Ferals are down there?”
“Well, the tunnels are basically a labyrinth. There are side rooms and maintenance ways, protected by some pretty thick metal doors, I’ve done work down there.”
“Fuck this, I’m not waiting around any longer!” A squeaky voice exclaimed in a harsh whisper, pushing his way to the forefront and moving towards the presumed metro entrance. Natalie watched the people streaming past as hard-hat popped up before her, “C’mon lass, can’t be any worse than up here.” He didn’t wait for a reply however, and joined the others in making their way carefully through the dim street.
”I can think of a hundred ways it could be..” Natalie grumbled softly with a shrug, motioning for Makiah and Monte towards the other survivors weaving their way across the road. Another resounding explosion served to hasten their step, and before they knew it the three of them were staring down at the backs of people from every walk of life as they descended a flight of stairs into the Manhattan subway tunnels.
”At least the lights still work,” Makiah added chipperly.