Broken glass crunched under foot. Kinda made it hard to “sneak,” but Hunter, Oakley and Tap tried their best.
The store shelves were picked clean, of course. Nothing remained but the smell of spoiled milk. It was faint because the turned dairy products had been dumped a long time ago but that smell lasted longer than a fresh shipment of milk from the farm did.
Hunter pointed to a door off to the right, and she knew that had been the office. It was shut, but there were sounds coming from inside; scratching, moaning and thumping.
Creepers, knowing food was in the store with them.
Oakley and Tap nodded. Tap carried a baseball bat that had spikes affixed to the ends. It was terrifying, and if she didn’t know Tap was a big, goofy teddy bear she’d likely turn and run.
Hunter approached the door and turned the knob. It didn’t give. There was a key hole on this side, so it didn’t necessarily mean anyone locked themselves inside that room to die. Someone definitely could have locked them in there.
They backed up and Hunter kicked the door in. It bounced off someone on the opposite side. Oakley was glad for the head-mounted flashlight. She needed both hands as the first creeper rushed through the doorway and met her machete across the gut. He fell in two pieces, mouth still snapping mindlessly for meat.
She’d take care of the brain later. Tap took out two with one swing, heads giving way under that bat. Hunter made use of his hunting knife in a few skulls, randomly selecting one to pin firmly to the hilt and shove his way into the room, using the limp creeper as a shield.
“Hunter!” she snapped. “You idiot,” that was muttered lower as she separated another creeper’s head from her body.
“Go after him,” Tap shouted, his bat making another bloody plume of brain. “I got these ones. We don’t know what’s in there.”
Oakley nodded and bisected one more softening skull before rushing the dark room. Her flashlight showed her a desk, two chairs, a stand with a coffee maker long ignored, and Hunter heaving, staring down at whatever creeper he’d just rendered useless on the floor behind the desk. Then he turned his attention to Oakley.
She had to grin. She knew that look. He always got that look when he was cranked up on adrenalin and had just survived something dangerous.
She really liked that look.
He started stalking around the desk at her, and she lowered the machete. “Hunter,” she warned, hand out to stop him advancing. “We’re not alone, remember?”
Before he got to her, before he could grab her and deliver that kiss she could already taste, the storeroom door left of the desk popped open. Oakley jumped, and luckily Hunter was quicker to react. He had his knife at the ready, and Oakley was backing up to make room because this office was small. It would only take one or two creepers to overtake you in a space this size, and the more people in the room the more dangerous it was. They had to draw these things out to the store where they had space to swing and evade.
Oakley was turning to the door, seeing Tap finish off the creeper she’d dropped but left biting. Before she could call for help another creeper sprang up.
The machete came up, but something bizarre happened. Oakley would swear on her machete, her Harley, and a stack of bibles that the creeper actually smiled at her.
Then it’s rotting hand reached out, grabbed the door knob, and yanked it shut.
Oakley grabbed the knob, her brain trying to process how doorknobs worked. It held fast, Hunter hadn’t damaged the jamb or the lock when he kicked it in. How the hell was it locked, though? Unless it always locked once it shut, and the only way to unlock it was from the outside with a key once it was closed.
But that was stupid. She was staring at a button that was depressed to lock and popped out when it wasn’t locked. The button was out, the door should open.
Unless the lock was broken from the outside. Shit.
“Oakley!” Hunter shouted, bringing her attention back. She spun as a creeper came close, the machete slicing through the neck, head dropping with a wet thud.
“The lock’s broken!” she shouted, catching the next one in the skull. The blade stuck a bit, but she yanked it free easily because she was frantic.
As bodies fell and fluids flew against the walls, she was counting. That storage room held eight creepers. They had to come at them single file because there wasn’t much room between the doorway and the desk. One had gone the wrong way, getting confused in the corner behind the desk itself. She thought that one could be dealt with later.
Instead, the lost creeper crawled over the desk at her. Oakley was stunned, again, because this was not creeper behaviour. They meandered upright, mindlessly, and they would spend days wandering back and forth down hallways if the doors were closed but a window was open. They didn’t change positions like this.
But this one did. Oakley sliced her head in two anyway but … something was happening with the creepers, and it made her nervous.
The last one hit the ground, and for the first time in a while Oakley’s hands were shaking. She clenched her fists and shook her arms to get rid of it, but two different creepers had just exhibited some concerning developments.
Like they were getting smarter.
Hunter took one of her hands and squeezed it. “Babe, you okay?”
She looked up at that familiar, handsome face. “Did you see that?”
“That creeper crawled over the desk at me.”
Hunter inhaled. “Yeah, I saw that.”
“And another one shut the door on us, locking us in here.”
Now Hunter frowned. “What?”
“I was heading out to draw them out of this damn cattle chute and I turned, this creeper yanked the door closed.”
Hunter chewed the inside of his lip. “Did you hit your head?”
She punched his arm. “No. Bite me.”
He grinned, pulling her close with an arm around the small of her back. “Okay,” he muttered, and her heart did quiver just a little bit.
“You guys all right?” Tap shouted from the other side of the door.
Hunter pushed her behind him. “Yeah, you gotta kick the door in. Lock’s broken.”
“Stand back!” Tap yelled unnecessarily, then with a vicious boot the door swung inward. “You two all right? Little alone time while I risk my ass killing all these bastards?”
“One of these bastards shut us in,” Oakley informed him, sheathing the machete. “There were more hiding in the store room. It’s like they set a trap.” She left out the part about the creeper smiling at her. She wasn’t sure she even really saw it.
Tap stared at her for a good long moment, then he brought his hazel eyes up to Hunter’s. “Sounds like Boulder.”
Hunter’s face got serious. “Yeah, it does.”
Oakley frowned and waited to be filled in, but apparently she’d have to ask. “What happened in Boulder?”
No one was answering. Tap headed for the door, and Hunter just looked … preoccupied.
“Hunter,” she called out, shaking his arm. “What happened in Boulder?”
He swallowed, running both hands up her arms to look at her squarely. “I’ll tell you, okay? But not until we get these bodies out of here and everyone inside, safe and sound.”
Oakley searched his face, realizing she’d never seen a haunted look in his eyes before. Slowly, eventually, she nodded. “Okay babe,” she said softly.
He kissed her forehead then nodded to the bodies on the ground. “Grab an end, babe.”
POLL CLOSED – NEW CHAPTER SATURDAY!