On the other side of the rolling curtain, tightly pegged into the floor of the mall corridor, Oakley could hear the grunting and panting of a herd of creepers. Her hand instinctively tightened around the handle of her machete and her blood seemed to even its pace as her eyesight grew sharper. Adrenalin made everything very clear and calm for her.
Tap, Hunter, and Sawyer were ahead of her. Sawyer had a cordless reciprocating saw, and she was cutting off the pegs at the bottom of the curtain. Two were gone, one more and they’d have a good-size opening to work with. The bottom was bowing out from the crush of creepers on the other side, so Hunter and Tap were leaning on it to make it easier for Sawyer to work.
The saw released the last peg, and Sawyer scooted out of the way. Hunter took a hammer to the locking mechanism which eventually gave way under his violent assault. Tap yanked the curtain back as far as he could get it and Oakley went in with three more of Hunter’s guys.
The creeper count was much lower here. It looked like less than a dozen had been trapped in the drugstore, which was good news. Her first take-down was a man who had lost a arm somewhere since dying. She sliced his head in half on an angle, the top of his skull hitting the ground before the rest of him. Her second and third were a two-for on a long side-swing, and the fourth was where shit got weird.
Oakley had her arm raised and was ready to spin with her next swing when something caught her by the wrist.
She gasped, startled because whatever had hold of her felt damp and cold, and when she looked down a greyish, moist hand had hold of her.
She made a sound of horrified disgust, shaking her arm like she had a bug on her. Another hand fell on her shoulder, and she had the cold moment of realization.
This was it. This is where she died.
But it wasn’t the creeper holding her hand that came for her, or the one that had her by the shoulder. They didn’t tear her to bits. Oakley looked up as her machete was yanked out of her hand, and a third creeper dropped it as he advanced on her.
Like the three of them were working together.
She didn’t dwell on it. She tried to be strong, but as the third creeper drew closer her courage flagged and Oakley started shouting.
It brought help. Someone picked up her machete and swing, taking the third creeper out at the neck. The arm holding her wrist was suddenly severed from its body, and she shook free of it and ducked under the hand holding her by the shoulders just as Tink took its head off as well.
Oakley had her hunting knife free, spun with an underhand grip and shoved upward. The blade sunk in deep and Oakley had a moment to watch the light and life, what there was of it, fade from the creeper’s eyes. She would have sworn that creeper looked relieved. With a loud grunt she pulled the blade free, then continued her completely girly freak out which consisted of shaking her arms and shoulders and saying “Ewww” repeatedly.
“Oakley,” Hunter was shouting over her shudders and urge to gag. “Jesus, cut it out. Are you okay?”
She pulled a face and stuck her tongue out. “Blah. I’m sorry. That one had me by my arm. I’m sorry. She touched skin.”
Hunter was grinning now, hands to each side of her neck, holding her in place. “Yeah, you’re fine.”
She just shook her head in reply, the adrenalin still coursing while she tried to calm down. “That was close. That was way too close, Hunter.” When she said his name he kissed her forehead. “And did you see what they did? They were holding me in place.”
Now he frowned and dropped his hands. “What?”
Tink handed back her machete by the handle. “It’s true. One had her arm so she couldn’t swing the machete, the other grabbed her shoulders, and I think this third one was suppose to debilitate her somehow so it’d be easier to take her down completely.”
“Have you ever really watched one, as it … dies?” Oakley asked. “I know they’re already dead, but there’s something in their eyes. And I watched it go out.” She kept it to herself how the expression in that creeper’s face and eyes showed some kind of peace at that moment. “I’m worried that they’re getting smarter, Hunter.”
His mouth pressed into a line, then he gave her a big smile. “Hey. Let’s raid this store, see what’s here. Huh?”
Oakley sighed, then nodded. She knew he agreed with her, but if they were saving that topic for later she’d deal.
“Oakley! Look what they have!” They both turned to Jess’s excited exclamation, and she was holding a handful of small, bright tubes. “Look at all the lip gloss!”
She had to laugh at that, then gave Hunter’s arm a squeeze to let him know she was fine.
“They got batteries!” she heard Ty-shouting from across the store, another cause for chuckles.
“See how lucky you are?” Hunter mumbled, leaning in close to her ear. “I don’t need batteries.”
She giggled, pushing him away and approaching Jess and her handfuls of Lip Smackers. “Any strawberry flavour?”