Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice: Two
Title: Wither Part 18
Glen shifted his stance, adjusting his balance as he twisted his torso so he could poke his head around the corner and peer down the dark hallway in the interior of yet another house. The glow from his half-dead flashlight revealed walls decorated with framed photographs, the weak beam bouncing off their dusty glass coverings and distorting the images behind into caricatures that seemed to wear mocking grins.
He could feel Mac close behind him, the man’s body heat almost welcome in the freezing cold. The air in the house was fetid; a combination of rotting garbage and the sickening cloy of decomposition coming from the carcases of two small dogs they’d found in the kitchen. The abandoned animals were curled up next to empty food bowls, waiting for meals that never came. Thankfully, the cold temperature kept the smells from overpowering the house. Glen couldn’t imagine what the stench would be like come spring.
Mac leaned in, his chest nearly hitting Glen’s back as he attempted to see around the corner himself. Glen had to resist the urge to jam his elbow into the man’s sternum. Body heat be damned—the guy stank of sour sweat, and his breath could knock over a cow.
“What are you waiting for, Glen? An invitation? Come on. Let’s get this over with. This dump is giving me the creeps.”
Gritting his teeth to keep from giving a sarcastic reply, Glen skirted the corner slowly. At this point he was sure the house was empty, but past experience made him cautious, and Mac could damn well stay behind him and follow his lead. He wasn’t about to get himself hurt or worse because the other man couldn’t control his impulsivity and nerves.
Mac should know better anyway. One of the first houses they’d searched tonight had likewise ‘seemed’ deserted. As Glen had mounted the stairs to reach the second floor, an elderly man appeared out of nowhere and rammed the barrel of a shotgun straight at Glen’s abdomen. The experience wasn’t something Glen was in a hurry to repeat. The next person might not be as inclined as that gentleman had been to save his bullets.
Working in grudging tandem with Mac, they gave the three bedrooms a fast onceover and poked their heads into the two bathrooms. Assured the house was indeed uninhabited, Glen whistled softly, his signal to Mara waiting downstairs at the front entrance that it was safe to join them. He listened as her footsteps hit the stairs and smiled when she joined them in the hall.
That’s what he’d done every time they’d repeated this pattern. Grinned at her. Like an idiot. The desperation of their situation didn’t matter to his lovesick, whipped heart. Wisps of her hair, imbibed with static electricity, escaped her thick knit hat, sticking out in crazy spikes. Her nose was red and runny from the cold, the coat she wore two sizes too big swallowing her small frame, and still she was gorgeous.
He reached up to cup her face, his ungloved hand finding the icy slope of her cheekbone and cradling it briefly.
“Everything still quiet on the street?”
She nodded, turning her head slightly to kiss his palm. Her lips were as cold as her cheek but her breath was warm. He hoped she hadn’t seen the dead dogs in the kitchen. More than a few of the houses they’d already searched contained deceased house pets. She had a tender heart, the animals former suffering affecting her on a visceral level. Hell, he’d wanted to cry a time or two himself. Luckily, they hadn’t stumbled on any human remains...yet. Glen knew that couldn’t last.
She stepped back, breaking contact with his hand, though she gave him a small smile as consolation. A sudden image from two nights before swam to the forefront of his mind.
Firelight flickering and creating a warm glow across Mara’s lovely goose-bump covered skin as she gave herself a hasty sponge bath from a bucket of tepid water. He’d laid on the bed, watching, waiting, wanting.
He turned to focus on his surroundings, trying to avoid the memory of events following her makeshift bath when she’d joined him on the bed, shivering and sweet and every bit as greedy for him as he’d been for her.
He needed to get his head out of his ass. The last thing he needed was a hard-on. Right then, what he needed was a fucking miracle.
Three hours, nearly half a dozen houses, and not one damn bottle of antibiotics found. Glen had always known people to be veritable packrats, especially with pills of any kind. Readily available, prescriptions tended to be filled, consumed by half, then tucked into a medicine cabinet or cupboard, forgotten about the second symptoms disappeared.
He guessed in the months following the first outbreaks of UV Intolerance, people latched onto those forgotten medicines, hoping in vain that the illness could be stopped with some version of the ever-magical antibiotic.
Mara moved past him and into the first bedroom, breaking his chain of speculation. She instantly began to rummage through the bedside tables and dressers. She paused for a minute, staring down at a row of paper dolls, cut perfectly into a chain and leaning against a lamp. Glen took true notice of the room’s contents for the first time and saw it would’ve belonged to a young girl. Perhaps one close to Teddy’s age. Riots of pinks and pastels bloomed under the weak wash of the flashlight, chasing away the illusion of non-distinct grays the heavy dark lent to every object. Rows of stuffed animals rested on a shelf, their black plastic eyes gazing at them flatly. He wasn’t inclined to agree with Mac about much, but the man was right. This house was creepy.
He watched Mara gently touch the paper dolls. A superstitious part of him he never knew existed, wanted to storm into the room and snatch the things away, like they might be some kind of portent, full of bad energy. When her brief touch caused them to slip away from their resting spot to lay flat against the painted wood of the nightstand, he nearly breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t pick them back up, and he was doubly grateful, even as he called himself an ass for letting nonsense churn up his head. If ever there was a time he needed to be practical and sane, this was it.
His thoughts returned to reality and he studied Mara. No longer looking at her through a cloud of love-lust, he took note of the pinched tightness in her expression and the paleness of her skin. She kept biting her lower lip, anxiety rife in the action, worrying the flesh until it looked raw. She sighed once then resumed her search, her efforts a little more frantic, a little less careful.
Glen understood how she felt. Time kept ticking away, growing the apprehension until it felt like a physical weight resting on his tired shoulders. Teddy being sick and not having access to medical help was only half of it. The state of this house and the others they’d searched tonight drove home the fact that this town wasn’t going to be a good place to be come spring.
Food was scarce, cupboards picked clean. The supplies he and Mara had stored would see them through winter, but then what? The grocery stores and pharmacies were barren wastelands. There was no sign any of that would change. No trace of the military, and more alarming, no sign of the government men and their black vans. As much as Glen feared being found by them, of being dragged unwilling to some warehouse for UV Tolerant guinea pigs, there’d been something reassuring at knowing some level of government remained. Since the warning from Ben that had sent Glen into hiding with Mara, he hadn’t spotted even one.
It shouldn’t be surprising. People were dying at an alarming rate every day; of course government people would fall sick as well. Less than one percent of the world’s population were suspected to have any level of immunity. True immunity? Well, who knew? Less than half of the one percent? A quarter?
And deaths were going to increase as the winter sank its teeth deeper. The bone-deep cold would take its own toll on anyone who lacked the ability to provide for themselves. Public services and support from outside sources appeared to be gone for good. People were banding together, creating zones out of neighbourhoods, trying to survive all while growing hostile to anyone outside their zone. It was only going to get worse.
Glen left Mara to her search and followed Mac into the master bath. Worries continued to crowd his thoughts, not the least of which was the fact he didn’t trust Mac not to pocket something they could use in order to keep it for himself. He was trying to keep a close eye on the man. The added pressure increased the growing feeling that he was being stretched too thin.
Glen hadn’t wanted Mac with them in the first place. Conniving bastard had seen them walking down the road and invited himself along. He hadn’t even bothered to try and pretend true concern for his nephew, merely shrugging when Mara told him what they needed and hoped to find.
Keeping Mac close, Glen hurried his search through the remaining rooms, and ten minutes later they left the house empty-handed. Glen took Mara’s hand. She looked in the direction of her house, her feelings clear.
“Do you want to go back?” Glen offered. “I know you’re worried. You can stay with the boys. Mac and I will keep searching.” The truth was he wanted her to agree, but not for the boys. He was a selfish prick, and he wanted her warm and safe behind closed and locked doors. He didn’t want her out here, in the unknown and the pitch dark, surrounded by the dead and dying.
Mara turned to face him and he saw the way her shoulders came up, chin lifting as well. He knew she wasn’t going to agree.
“No,” she shook her stubborn head. Glen didn’t understand how her bravery and determination could drive him mad and fill him with admiration at the same time.
“We can get through houses faster with all three of us searching,” she told him. “The boys will be okay for a little while longer.”
Mac grinned. “That-a-girl. You tell him. No niece of mine is going to act like a wilting flower in the face of adversary. Time is wasting. Let’s go.” He sounded chipper. Glen wanted to punch him. Instead, he tightened his grip on Mara’s hand and they headed down the street in search of another viable house to search.
If someone had told him this would be his life a year ago, he would’ve laughed.
He wasn’t laughing now.
Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!
Aleea lives in her imagination most of the time. It's an interesting place to be... Occasionally she can be coaxed out to chat on Twitter, though she finds it akin to torture to stick to that absurd 140 character limit. (@Aleeab4u)