CHAPTER 2- LOST AND FOUND
My first impulse is to run. What makes me hesitate is the fact that if a Kuru saw me, I would be hearing it by now.
Trying to move as little as possible, I stare hard into the building. The small storefront’s window is smashed inward, leaving an opening big enough for two or three Kurus.
The wind suddenly drops to nothing. In the sudden quiet, I hear several cans falling off a shelf. I quickly grab my pistol, struggling to stay still.
Adrenaline pumping and heart racing, my hand shakes. Nothing else moves. I hear only the heartbeat thrumming in my chest. I take a tentative step to one side.
The motion startled what had been hiding in the store. Despite the impossible distance, the shape leaps at me through the open window.
The first sign of movement causes me to stumble backwards, nearly dropping me onto the sidewalk.
One arm instinctively covers my face as a black shadow flashes over me. Before I can squeeze off a shot, my head turns to follow the crow. It caws angrily before banking once and disappears over a building.
I look from the gun to where the crow disappeared, and feel a rush of blood reach my cheeks. Putting the safety back on, I pocket the pistol to keep it dry.
Taking in a deep breath and shaking my head, I continue forward.
It’s bad enough being on edge all the time, but I can deal with being startled by a crow easier than being attacked by Kurus.
A few blocks pass before I regain composure. Paranoia is now another tool of survival. It has saved my life more than once.
Hurrying down the sidewalk, I try to remain unnoticed. I focus on walking quietly, and keeping as far from the buildings as possible.
The last thing I want is to be seen. A general outcry could bring dozens, if not hundreds out to hunt or protect their territory.
Passing an old bakery, my eyes are drawn to the window display. What might have once been a cake is now covered in mold. Its shape is sunken inward, in a disturbing mess of colors that I’d grown to associate with spoiled food.
The thought brought a bitter taste forming on the back of my throat. My stomach feels sour and empty.
Focusing on getting to the nearest hospital, I grit my teeth and hope I’m on the right track. It seems as though there are more streets blocked by abandoned vehicles than clear. If there is a faster way to get through, I’d have taken it, but I still haven’t found one.
Necessity forces me to walk through several ankle high pools of stagnant water in between each city block.
Hood pulled low, my jacket is the only thing keeping rain from soaking into my hair. It’s another five minutes before I finally catch sight of the nearest hospital.
The building is over a block away, but I can still make out its exterior. The sight makes me string together several random curses under my breath.
The building in front of me is too small to be the right hospital. Instead of the high-rise structure I expect, this building is only two stories.
I do my best to shrug off the setback, and continue forward. Little seemed to be going right during this trip. It would be irrational to assume finding the right hospital would be any different.
Only thinking about moving forward, I search for a dry place to pull out my map.
A bus stop ahead is the closest spot I could see that would work. It’s roofed, and would give me enough protection from the weather.
The solid steel benches look less than inviting, but it would be comfortable enough for what I had in mind.
I did a light jog to close the remaining distance. When I finally sit on the hard seats, they make me realize how much weight pressed down on my aching legs and feet.
The relief makes me want to find someplace to rest for the night. I hadn’t been sleeping well and the drive had only exhausted me further.
Only my promise to Simon and Tara, that I would return in a few days, keeps me on track.
Unfolding the map, I try to remember the name of the street where Rachael and Stephanie’s house had been. It would be a good place to try and back track from.
It had been nearly two years since we’d left the city. Trying to recall the names of old places I’d been to was harder than I thought. I hadn’t been thinking about street names, only trying to survive.
I keep my attention focused on the hospitals directly adjacent to the strip. Pouring over the small details of the map, it becomes clear that there are only two hospitals that are close enough to be possibilities. One’s several miles away to the East, while the other was only a few blocks opposite from my position.
I fold up the worn paper and slipped it into its Ziploc bag before standing back up on my sore feet.
Going around the hospital would add more time to my trip, so I decide to cut through its sprawling parking lot. Unlike most of the parking lots I’d seen, almost every parking spot was taken. It took a moment before I understood what had happened.
Anyone who actually made it to the hospital after the initial infection wouldn’t have left. Many had been parked haphazardly in their owner’s frantic attempt to reach medical aid.
As with everywhere else, I saw obvious signs of struggle and looting. A few of the cars had been set on fire, leaving only a charred blackened shell remaining.
Walking past the vehicles, I glance into the interior of a white Ford Torus. It didn’t appear vandalized, which might have something to do with the large amount of religious icons I could see.
A large cross on a beaded necklace hung on the rear view mirror. Below were several small figurines. Their colors had sun faded away from anything bright or warm to washed-out pastels.
A small Virgin Mary seemed to forlornly stare out from where it stood on dark colored vinyl.
Past the statuary were several suitcases and a small cardboard box. I was curious as to what was inside, but satisfying my curiosity wasn’t worth the noise braking a window would make.
I walk past a conversion van, when something on the ground catches my attention. Stepping back, I see a nightstick lying on the pavement, just past the rear bumper. The black ABS plastic clearly showed against the light gray pavement.
I have my pistol and sword, but a police baton might come in handy. It would be easier to break a window or skull, and less awkward than pulling out a sword. More than that, something about the nightstick jogs my memory.
The space between the conversion van and the black convertible next to it is narrow, but I should be able to squeeze past, even with my backpack.
Almost past the van, a sound makes me freeze in place. Heart constricting in my chest, my head quickly turns back and forth, in search of where it came from. The sound echoed on nearby buildings, which making it impossible to pinpoint.
When no further sounds came, I dismiss it as my imagination, or maybe another bird. It wouldn’t be the first time I imagined hearing something.
Just as I was about to turn back, I hear it repeat twice more.
It sounds like a dog barking, but I haven’t seen a dog roaming alone in months. There’d been several feral packs I’d come across, but those were only in smaller towns. Places with a high pre-epidemic population meant too many hungry Kurus for them to survive.
The sound came again, this time much closer, almost like it’s behind me. Turning sharply, my backpack hits a sports car’s passenger mirror.
Before I can register what had happened, the Acura’s alarm goes off.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is a rough draft of Chapter two. The final version of book three is currently going through edits.