Authors: Jenny Allen
“Is that true?” Farren jammed the gun against her jaw, prodding her to answer. His eyes were fueled with a sudden manic that reminded her of a religious fanatic.
Lilith steeled herself, slowly opened her eyes and flat out lied. “No. I thought I knew where it was, but it was just random junk. I don’t know where it is.”
Farren’s lip curled as his patience came to an end. Lilith barely noticed he’d moved before the left side of her face exploded in pain as Farren slammed the gun down. She reeled and would have crumpled onto the ground if the guard at her back hadn’t been there to support her. The room spun as her eyes struggled to focus. The cold gun jammed back under her jaw so hard it made Lilith gag.
“Lilith! He’s not playing. You need to tell him the truth. It’s the only way out of this.” Cohen’s voice was bordering on hysterical as he struggled to meet her eyes.
“I know, Andrew. I’m telling the truth. I was wrong about the cipher.” Lilith took a deep steadying breath, bracing herself. Her eyes bored right into Farren’s, her lip curled in defiant disgust. “You might as well kill me. Even if I knew something, I would never tell you, you soulless demon.” She spat angrily in his face and truly enjoyed the slight life of surprise in his eyebrows.
Farren would kill them all anyway. They knew his little secret. Somehow she doubted the Council would be happy about him snatching the book up for himself. The least she could do was keep the cipher and Chance out of his evil clutches.
“Enough games.” Farren took a half step back, leveling the gun under Lilith’s chin, his finger ready on the trigger. Lilith closed her eyes, willing her body to stop shaking. All she could think of was the things she’d left undone. She should have called Gloria back, told the girls how much she missed them. She thought about how stupid she’d been to let a damn nightmare come between her and Chance. She should have kissed him before he left, told him she loved him.
She felt the gun pull away just before a blood curdling scream filled the room. Lilith’s eyes flew open in a sudden dread. Nicci, Timothy and Andrew were all still alive, but they were staring at the doorway in complete shock. With a new sense of horror, Lilith slowly swung her eyes to the doorway. What could possibly be worse than the nightmare she was already dealing with? At first, her brain couldn’t make sense of what her eyes were seeing. It wasn’t possible. It had to be a trick.
ne of Farren’s soldiers stumbled into the doorway from the hall. What was left of his mouth coughed up a hideous gurgling sound that made everyone cringe. His entire lower jaw was just gone leaving tatters of skin and muscle flopping uselessly. Blood gushed down the front of his black uniform as his eyes rolled wide in unimaginable pain. Everyone stared in paralyzing horror as the man collapsed with a loud thud, blood spilling over the hardwood.
Shuffling footsteps came from the hallway, grabbing everyone’s attention, even Farren’s. The same look of panicked terror pulled at the muscles of his usually calm yet menacing face. Maybe he hadn’t been behind the bodies in the morgue after all. If that was true, it meant there was another player in the game. Awesome.
Every single person in the room was frozen in place, staring at the door with a mixture of horror and sickened curiosity. It was like staring at the end of the train tracks, knowing a train was coming, but unable to move. Whatever monstrosity was in that hallway, it definitely didn’t want to cuddle. They should be running for every possible escape, but not one person took their eyes off the empty door frame. No one even dared to breathe. After all, it was all impossible. None of it could be real.
Suddenly, the entrance was filled with people pushing their way in like a rabid crowd, uncoordinated, bumping and jostling each other. The guards finally leapt into action, jumping in front of Farren, guns already cutting into the crowd. Lilith blinked hard, trying to understand what she was seeing. The mob fighting their way towards them weren’t falling down, no matter how many shots pummeled their bodies. Only the kinetic force of the hits caused them to stumble backwards.
The barrage of bullets sent bits of tissue and bodily fluids flying but the people didn’t cry out in pain, scream in rage or even flinch. They just kept moving with a singular, unstoppable purpose. Then Lilith noticed the other wounds, the slashed throat gaping open but not bleeding, the sliced wrists, the track marks, the half caved in head. Lilith’s heart sped up as she realized the gruesome, impossible truth. They were already dead.
Fear stabbed at her heart as she remembered the lab results. The dead human tissue, the grave dirt, the resurrection fern. It couldn’t be true. It had to be an illusion. It was the day before Halloween after all. Even Cohen said the walking dead was impossible. There had to be another explanation, one that didn’t defy every law of nature known to man.
The torrent of bullets weren’t going to save them. The dead mob just kept coming, trampling over their fallen companions. Horrific screams filled the air as the man with half his head caved in grabbed a guard’s gun hand and just ripped it off. Blood sprayed wildly like some sick anime come to life and then the true panic kicked in.
Peisinoe screamed, thankfully a normal scream, and shrunk back into the kitchen, crouching behind the island. Farren traded his pistol for one of the semi-automatics on the floor and started firing regardless of who he hit. Bodyguard, zombie, it didn’t matter. The doorway just became a writhing mass of blood, body parts and bullets.
That’s when the smell hit Lilith like a brick wall to the face. The overwhelming putrid stench of death doubled her over as she gagged on every breath. Someone grabbed her bound wrists and her heart stopped in pure panic. “Hold still.” Cohen’s voice whispered in her ear and he pulled her restraints off. “Get to the back room.”
“What about the book? Peisinoe has it!” Cohen grabbed her around the waist as Lilith started for the kitchen. “Do you have a damn death wish! The book won’t matter if we’re all dead!” Andrew shoved her back toward the room with the escape line. “Go!”
A young woman with deep track marks in her arms broke through the mob and raced for them. Lilith jumped out of the way and Cohen kicked at her decaying legs. The woman crumpled to the floor, her nails scratching gouges into the hardwood as she kept trying to get to Andrew. The sound sent chills right up Lilith’s spine but the contorted look of emptiness in her cloudy eyes was even more disturbing. Her mouth opened and closed in a whimpering growl as she fought to get closer.
Lilith kicked the dead woman in the head with all her strength and it flopped to the side with a sickening crack leaving the sightless eyes staring at the ceiling. The hands still clawed at the flooring but with far less coordination and power.
“What the fuck are these people?” Nicci was panting, bouncing on her heels, wild eyes unable to look away from the carnage while Cohen cut her restraints.
“I don’t intend to stick around to find out. You two get to the room, take the emergency line. I’ll get Timothy.” Cohen turned just in time to dodge Berman, the guard that executed Haverty. He reached out for Cohen with only one hand because his other arm was missing. Ragged bits of flesh hung from his shoulder joint.
Cohen danced away and Berman lost his balance, falling to the floor. Just as Cohen quickly disappeared behind the wall of bodies, three blood soaked corpses from the crowd leapt on Berman. Gut-wrenching screams filled the air and all Lilith could do was watch as blood and intestines spilled over the floor.
The rest of the vicious undead mob forced its way into the room and the screams just got louder as anonymous henchmen littered the place in pieces. There was no sign of Farren or Peisinoe. Hopefully they’d been torn into itty bitty pieces.
They had to move, fast. Soon the dead mob would run out of henchmen to tear apart and they’d be next on the menu. As if they’d read Lilith’s mind, two of the inhumanly strong corpses broke off from the mob and ran for them. Lilith and Nicci turned and sprinted for the back room with everything they had.
A hand snagged on Lilith’s jacket and pulled violently. She screamed as she desperately wiggled out of the suit coat. As soon as she was free, she ran blindly forward, tripping over a body on the ground and rolling onto her back.
Before she could catch her breath, a corpse riddled with holes stood above her, milky eyes staring down at her like a cold robot. In that split second, Lilith knew there was a puppet master pulling the strings somewhere. These weren’t people brought back to life. They were empty shells being pushed around. Lilith scrambled across the floor as fast as the bullet wound in shoulder would let her.
A strong hand clamped around her ankle like iron and Lilith’s heart tripped and pounded like a caged animal. She struggled and fought in desperation, kicking at the dead man’s legs but nothing worked. Any moment he’d yank his arm back and she would lose her leg. It was a living nightmare that Lilith just couldn’t wrap her mind around. Tears burned her eyes as she kept fighting like a cat on linoleum with its tail caught in the door. She couldn’t die like this!
Suddenly the hand released as a body slammed the corpse to the ground. Lilith scrambled backwards, her heart still pounding loudly in her ears. Timothy wrestled with the dead man as his eyes found hers. “Go! Hurry!” The corpse beneath him snarled and sunk it’s rotten teeth into Tim’s forearm. With a ferocious scream, Timothy slammed his fist into the dead guy’s face, crushing the bones, and he just kept hitting long after he freed his other arm.
Nicci grabbed Lilith and hauled her up to her feet but her eyes stayed fixed on Timothy. Blood gushed down his arm from the chunk of muscle missing. It was a deep, ragged, bloody mess that would leave one hell of a scar, assuming any of them lived long enough to get out of this apartment of death.
“Lilith!!!” Nicci tugged on her hard, snapping her out of her frozen terror. The two skidded around the doorway and were just about to slam the door closed when Cohen sprinted into the room. Nicci and Lilith shoved the door closed just in time. Hands clawed and pounded on the wood, rattling the door. Thankfully it wasn’t one of the cheap, hollow, interior doors. Haverty cared about protecting his equipment, not that it did him any good.
Haverty was slumped over his desk, a bullet hole just above his left eye. The sight made Lilith swallow hard as it immediately conjured up images of Gregor, shot in the same place. She had to snap out of this shock or they were all gonna die. If she lived, there would be plenty of time to mourn her father. First, they needed to get the hell out of there.
With sudden clarity, Lilith turned to Nicci. “Take the emergency line. We’ll follow you once the line is clear.”
Nicci nodded and sprinted forward to the window, throwing it open. She grabbed the coiled line and tossed it down. With one last look at Lilith and Cohen, she grabbed an actual carabineer off her keys and worked the rope around it. Lilith remembered the wall of photos in Nicci’s office and roughly half of them had been of rock climbing trips. Only an adventurer like Nicci would have a real climbing carabineer just hanging on her keychain. The cheap imitations that everyone seemed to have dangling from their keys wouldn’t hold a toddler, much less a full-fledged adult.
“See you at the bottom.” The tone of her voice actually said “I better see you at the bottom.” Without a second’s hesitation, Nicci bounced through the window. The fearlessness of an experienced climber combined with the deep seeded need to get the hell out of crazy town.
The door lurched forward almost knocking Lilith to the floor. Cohen rushed up and slammed his body weight against the door. “Go to the window. As soon as Nicci touches the ground, get your ass on that line. I mean it this time!”
With a snarl on his face, Cohen grabbed Lilith’s shoulder, thankfully the one that didn’t have a bullet in it, forcing her to meet his eyes. “He’s gone, Lilith. You have to get on that line, now! We don’t have much time and I don’t want Chance hunting me down because I let you get ripped apart by damn zombies!”
There was a serious weight in his eyes that Lilith rarely saw. It was surprising enough to cut through the massive haze in her brain. It wasn’t just the insanity on the other side of the door or even confronting the man who’d murdered her father. She’d taken three extremely hard hits to the head in less than half an hour. If things didn’t change, she’d wind up with permanent brain damage. Assuming it hadn’t already happened, that is.
Lilith nodded and ran for the line, searching the general vicinity for the carabineers. Haverty was very thorough. In the event of an emergency, he wouldn’t have time to climb down 11 stories. He had to have something to get down that rope fast. Thank god for obsessive paranoids.
In the top drawer of his elaborate desk, she finally found a clamp for the line. It would regulate the speed of descent so they wouldn’t go crashing into the ground, but of course there was only one. Haverty was a solitary type and even if an emergency occurred on the rare event that he had a guest in his place, she doubted he’d lose sleep over leaving them behind.
Her eyes flashed to Cohen who was shoving his entire body weight against the door, trying to wedge himself into the frame. The pounding and scratching was almost deafening, but beneath it all, Lilith heard something. It was the faintest whisper of a melody that she could almost hear. Maybe the neighbors were turning up the music to block out all the screaming.
She shut the drawer and turned toward Cohen, when a cold hand clamped onto her arm with a steel grip. A gurgling sigh came from Haverty’s open mouth. Lilith stared at the bullet hole in his forehead with blood caked around it. It felt just like her nightmare from last night. Her brain just refused to accept it as reality. It just couldn’t be real. It defied everything. It had to be a nightmare. They were just getting worse, more vivid. Now she just needed to wake the hell up.
Lilith tried to yank her arm away but Haverty’s grip felt like it could crush her bones at any second. Panic started to set in as she looked desperately for something that would help her, anything. Haverty’s corpse slowly stood up from his chair looking a little disorientated. Lilith kicked at his unsteady legs and pulled as hard as she could. Haverty’s nails raked deep, bloody furrows down her right arm, but Lilith bit back the scream in her throat and kept pulling. His fingers slid on the blood and finally fell away. Lilith stumbled backwards, her arms swinging wide trying to keep her balance.
For some reason, Haverty was slower than the other corpses in the main room, but still just as strong. She had no intention in finding out why right now. She just wanted to get the hell out of there.
“Stop playing with it and move your ass, Adams!” Cohen was struggling with the door, sweat beading across his forehead, muscles trembling with fatigue. Lilith had a split second of indecision and remembered Cohen’s comment in the stairwell.
Was she really willing to leave him to die just to save her own skin? Could she live with that? No matter what she thought of Cohen, when he had the chance to do the same thing, he gave it up to save her. She couldn’t justify leaving him behind anymore. Especially not after that look of pure horror and desperation on his face when Farren was about to kill her. Hopefully the anchor would hold them both.
With her mind made up, she ran up, snatching her gun off the ground. It may only have two bullets but it was better than nothing. She holstered it and shoved the door as it bounced in the frame.
“I only found one clamp. We have to go together. There’s no way you can climb down that rope before they cut it or pull you up. It’s the only way.” There was one frozen moment of complete surprise on Cohen’s face and it was the most genuine thing she had ever seen from him.