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Authors: Macaela Reeves

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BOOK: The Blood Bargain
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The angel pendant Dad had given her for their tenth wedding anniversary hung alone. Mom never was big on frills. Only woman I ever knew who would rather have a brand new vacuum than a bracelet. The diamond the angel was holding twinkled at me from its setting, like

an old welcoming friend.

Without a thought I put it on.

As it rested on my chest
I
looked into the mirror, at this moment I really did resemble my mother. She had worn her hair short at the end too, not because of choice but due to illness. In a way, so did I.

There was a rustle in the kitchen.

Shit, I hadn.t swept the house. Stupid
Stupid
...

Bringing my bow around I stalked toward the sound. Digging in the medical cabinet was a girl. A living one, decked out in military threads and combat boots. Her black hair in dreads and her skin was almost as dark as her hair. I opened my mouth to speak, say hello, nice to meet

you, lovely weather, anything.

She pulled a gun on me.

“Freeze princess.” She spoke without even turning to me, holding that gun on me while she looked through the bottles of old Tylenol.

“Who? Are you from the convoy?”

“I
ain

t
part of no convoy, cattle girl.” She turned to me. Lady had what I called ninth circle eyes. A strange side effect of those who had endured more than most souls should in one lifetime. Her eyes that had definitely been places that Dante only dreamed of.

“What?” I managed to spit out. There was only one group who used terms like that.
Scavs
. In the first years there were those who tried to go it their own, sifting through the infection,
sleeping on roofs, living minute to minute. None of them lived passed the first two years. Still, here was a person. A living breathing person pointing a gun in my face.

“How stupid can you be? Riding that loud ass thing up in here?” She reached over to the cabinet, stuffing
band-aids
in her bag with her free
hand.

“Come with us, we
’re from Junction, it’
s a colony.
We have food, water...”

“Sorry sweetie, I
ain

t
signin
up for slavery.”

“You

ll die out here.”
I blurted out. 
What was she thinking?

“Lasted this long.”

A shout echoed from outside. Followed by the rev of the motorcycle. What the hell? I snapped out of the standoff and dashed to the front window. Cole was speeding off down the street, I saw the tail end of the bike round the corner.

“Cole what the hell!” I shouted out loud and banged on the window pane. I hadn.t stopped to consider
where I was.

Or what was out there.

I really should think things through.

He was leaving for a reason. A parade worth of deadheads stood in the front yard, stretching more than two houses up. Slowly they lurched forward in the direction of the vanishing motorcycle. All of them except for the ones on the left of the street closest to my yard, who had turned their heads in the direction of my outburst. At the other end, the backdoor slammed shut.

Whoever that girl was, was already on her way out.

I backed up with my hands over my mouth, bumping butt first into the dining room table. It made a loud creak as I had pushed it across the wood floor by several inches. The curtains had politely closed when I dropped the thick fabric. I lost my view of outside, but I didn.t need it to

know what was coming. They saw me...those things had to have.

My eyes darted to the foyer, where I had left the front door wide open. Where decrepit fingers now gripped the edge of the wood as they entered my home. The hungry moans screaming out my position to the heard.

Shit
shit
shit
.

Running as fast as I could, I backed up through the kitchen and out the backdoor into the yard. It was fenced, but only at four feet. This was not safe, not at all.

I looked around desperately as the first wave started pouring out of
the back of my house. I couldn’
t go around the side yards; there were two on the gate side already. Fingers reaching
t
hrough and yanking at the chain link while they bit at the metal. I needed to get to get up
to higher
ground. Height was an advantage against death. Behind the burning bushes that had been planted along the back fence, I saw an option. The Scotts home behind ours was a two story. Perfect.

The branches whipped at my legs while I struggled to get my footing on the chain link. The closest deadhead tugged at my boot as I tried to swing my legs over the fence. I managed to kick him in the face.
The act dislodged
his grip from me, but at
the same time sent me to the ground
of my previous
neighbor’s
yard. I landed on my shoulder in their rock lined trim, quite painfully at that. Despite the searing pain that streamed through my body, I had to keep moving. It took two
a
ttempts to stand, with my good arm I brought my bow around. The back sliding door to the Scotts place was ajar.

Possible bad sign.

With nothing immediately threatening in the yard in front of me, I hurried inside. No sooner did my feet land on the tile my hands were at work to close the slider and flip the lock. Then the curtains, because you know the undead really respected privacy.

That gave me at least a ten minute interval before they crashed through the glass. Maybe longer.

With a deep
breath I thought back to my Dad’
s training. Step one; secure the immediate area.

The Scott

s house was typical suburban great room design. I had been over a time or two when I was younger, they had a daughter two years older than I.
Calli
and I used to play dolls before she hit the dreaded teen years. Not much had changed from my memories of the place. From where I stood I could see the sprawling sectional in the living room, the benches and table in the dining area, and stainless steel kitchen. All of which were completely unoccupied.

I started quietly down the hall that shot off between the dining area and the kitchen. No threats found in the half bath to the left aside from the too bright orange walls.

T
he mudroom just beyond the bath was littered with long abandoned piles of laundry. The only other room on the main floor was the office by the stairwell.

Something bad had happened in this room.  Bloody handprints were on the glass of the French doors. The furniture was a mess, pictures knocked off the walls. My eyes went to the framed family photo on the console table from a theme park. It had to have been when
Calli
was about eight. Three smiling faces in mouse hats from a lifetime ago stared back at me.

The slow methodical pounding against the sliding door got my legs working again. Up the stairs I went, two at a time. Rounding the corner into the purple and white bedroom I saw
Calli
. Or what was left of her. She was dead. Really dead, not the up and walking around kind. She was on her bed like a display piece, severely decomposed. Her hands folded neatly across her stomach.

A single bullet wound in the skull.

Mrs. Scott was the same in the room next door, stretched out on the master bed arranged as one would be found in their coffin. She also didn't show any wounds besides the bullet hole in her forehead, yet both bodies were so far returned to earth it was hard to tell. The clothes they wore were perfectly spotless. Each had been laid out in their Sunday best. Mr. Scott was nowhere to be found. Had he killed his family and hit the hills? What was with the blood downstairs?

There were
other pieces to this story. One’
s I would never know. Still, it cut at my heart no matter how I spun it in my head.

Walking out of the master bedroom en route to the guest room I heard the glass break downstairs. My prep time had expired and I hadn.t even finished searching this level let alone come up with a plan. I dashed across the hall into the guest room, thankful to find it unoccupied.

Shutting and locking the door gave me a few minutes to think. I checked the closet, no attic access panel. I looked out the window, aside from being a two story drop there was nothing good down there. The road was thick with them, every last
sloucher
wandering slowly in my direction.

Just wonderful.

The room itself was pretty bare, a twin bed in a nautical theme, a three drawer dresser and some wall art. I tested the dresser, even with my throbbing shoulder I was able to slide it over in front of the door.

With nowhere to go, all I could do was sit and wait.

It was the most surreal thing. For hours I sat in that little room. I memorized every pattern in the popcorn ceiling until the sun set and I could no longer see it in the dim moonlight. Every corner of the picture frames. The small dent in the wall to the left of the nightstand by the

bed. The butterfly print on the comforter. I sat with nothing to do but think. I clasped my mother's pendant till the pattern almost broke the skin of my palm.

I
thought of my Father. My M
other. My dead friends and my live ones. It was almost as though I was going through a mental flip book of my life. Preparing for the inevitable.

The banging on the door confirmed that. It did take them a bit to get upstairs. They found me though, I knew they would. I never expected this to be a permanent solution. It started with a slow scrape and a moan. Then there were more. Now it took the weight of my body to hold the chest against the wood frame against their blows.

The metal clasps holding this subdivision particle board in place were breaking, as was the cheap man-made wood of the door. They had whittled a small hole about waist level. Dead fingers were desperately trying to push through, leaving bits of torn flesh on the edges of the opening.

My time was coming. Soon. I had hours to tell myself how I should have listened to my father, to my friends, to every other soul in Junction who told me this was a graveyard. What did I really expect to do up here? Save the day? Come in guns-a-blazing and save the world? All I did was demonstrating my immaturity. I had made my choice, and now I would die with it.

My only hope was some of those things didn

t follow Cole back to town. I pictured Zoe and her happy little boys. I wished for them to be safe, to grow up in their protected town.

Funny, coming to terms with
one’s
end has a peace to it. One that's hard to explain. There was one thing I would change though.

I would not go out cowering in the corner.

Standing, I backed as far away from the door as I could and still get good light from the window. The particle board gave way, the dresser tipped. The undead poured into the room around it.

Today, as they say, was a good day to die.

As I readied myself for hand to hand combat, the window broke. Glass flew everywhere like a maelstrom, I quickly shielded my eyes with my forearm. The quick sickening sound of flesh being shredded echoed through the room. Again. And again.

I thought it would hurt. Must be in shock.

Time passed. I was still thinking. I was still breathing, my chest slowly going in and out absorbing the metallic
twinge
in the air.

I lowered my arms from my face slowly, my eyes registered I was still not alone in the room. In the light of the moon a man stood in the center of a pile of battered corpses.

Tall, maybe
six foot, with broad shoulders. In a black hoodie pulled up to cover his face and a pair of dark jeans, I couldn.t be seeing this...was I hallucinating?

“Have you been bitten?” His accent was so thick. Hungarian, maybe Russian. He turned around as he asked the question, giving me a look at his face.

Vampire.

Like the other two I had seen years ago he reminded me of a rogue model. This one was apparently on the lam from a street wear shoot. There was something in his face though, that kept him from being truly handsome. Harsh lines at his eyes, the tension in his jaw. His brows drawn into a scowl. Everything about his face read evil of the do-not-engage variety.

Not wanting to gawk, I shook my head quickly from side to side. The adrenaline overload caused my hands to shake and my breathing to short.

“It was foolish to come here. Do you have a death wish girl?” He chast
ised me, slightly rolling his r’
s.

“I picked up a distress call from the suburbs.” I mumbled. “Why are you here?”

“Your council implored Caius to save your life. So I come.” Oh hell...they knew what I had done. I thought of my Dad, just imagining the look on his face. This would not be a happy homecoming by any means. I wondered if Cole had made it back. Not because I worried for his safety, well I did. More so though I wanted him alive so I could punch him in the face. Repeatedly.

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