“Nero!” Cheng called into the boys’ wing. “You there?”
“I think he’s in his room,” said Red, peaking out of his own room. “Why?”
“I was talking with Antonio, and he has that book Nero was asking about.” Cheng walked over to Nero’s door, which was utterly plain save for the simple marking for his name. She knocked. Hearing no response, she went ahead and opened the door.
“Where is he?” she wondered as she returned to the common room. There, Giovani, Albus, and Violet stood waiting for her, each carrying a backpack.
“Not there?” asked Giovani.
“Well, we need to get going,” said Violet. “Storm’s coming in, and we need to be back before it hits.”
“Now, remember what we’re going there for?”
“Yes, Vi.” Cheng rolled her eyes. “You want jewelry, Albus wants a book, Gio wants food, and I want Space Marines 3.”
“Look, I’m just making sure we can get in and get out – nice and quick.”
They walked out of the common room, through the kitchen, and then outside. There was a high wind that blew through the girls’ hair, and the sky was grey with the approaching clouds.
The four of them raced down the hill, following the well-worn path they had made after living so long in the facility and so many visits from Antonio. As they hurried, they kept a wary eye about them; ever since the Peregrines had visited, the numbers of necroids had vastly increased in the area, as well as the numbers of a whole bunch of other nasties and monsters. This really perplexed some of the group, like Violet and Red, since they had killed most of the necroids in the area during the first year at the facility. Personally, though, Cheng didn’t worry herself with such things – she had her games to distract her.
They could see Antonio’s vehicle parked in the school parking lot, where he always stopped when he visited them. He was probably already inside, waiting for them. They reached the bottom of the hill and entered through one of the side doors on their side of the building, making their way through the halls to the main lobby. There was Antonio with his merchandise, half-unpacked around the lobby in display.
“No time to look around,” Violet told him. “We’re in a hurry.”
“The storm? Yeah. You kids might want to look out for necroids, too. Pretty sure I saw some on the way here.”
“Right,” said Cheng. “Do you have the goods?”
Antonio opened his mouth to respond, but a loud, seething, moan drowned out whatever he had been planning to say. They all turned around, only to see about a dozen necroids wandering toward them from the lobby entrance, having broken through the doors already – thanks to a particularly large specimen, about seven feet tall, marching rather quickly toward them.
“Hey, look, it’s Mr. Ugly,” Cheng taunted as she pulled down her backpack to take out the pistol she always kept with her. Around her, the other four were doing the same thing. She shot the big one in the head once, twice, three times. Three more shots and he was down.
The others began shooting the smaller necroids. These died much more quickly than Mr. Ugly – unfortunately, just as they were about finished with them, they heard more moans. Cheng looked around; the necroids were coming from all around them now. They must have broken in through several other entrances.
“Let’s go,” Violet commanded. “Antonio, come on. We need a better position.”
They left the lobby, racing down the halls while stopping occasionally to shoot down the necroids. But it seemed for every one they took down, another appeared in its place – and in a convenient spot blocking their escape. The worst part was, though, that they didn’t have extra clips with them, so they were quickly running out of bullets.
“Quick! In here,” said Violet, opening a classroom door. They dashed inside, where they began blocking the door with anything and everything they could find.
“Shoot,” groaned Cheng as they finished, looking out the window. It was raining. Now they were really stuck here. Trapped between necroids and radioactive rain. “I guess we’re stuck here.”
“Well, until the rain goes away,” replied Albus.
“And the necroids – which is more unlikely,” added Antonio. “But the rest of your group could rescue us, right?”
“Yeah, they could. We’d just need to radio them. Violet?”
“On it.” Violet pulled out a small radio from her backpack. “Now get comfortable – we’ll be here a while.”
They were indeed. The five of them scattered across the classroom: Violet at the teacher’s desk, speaking quietly to the radio; Antonio patient in a corner; Giovani furiously chewing a piece of gum; Albus napping against the wall; Cheng sat by the barricade, jumping a little every time the door rattled a bit, or when it shook, or when the handle turned. She curled herself up into a ball, arms around her legs and chin on her knees.
She stayed that way for hours, as the sun set and the rain continued through the dark. Her mind filled itself with the memories of her childhood and her terrors – her mother gnawing her father’s leg, her kindergarten teacher under half a dozen pint-sized necroids – memories she tried to suppress. As the night wore on, they changed ever so slightly. She was running with all her might from the necroids, but there was laughter somewhere in the distance, or all around her. She passed a cathedral illuminated by lightning; there was a building ahead of her, filled with candlelight, all orange and yellow …
Violet shook her awake. “The rain’s stopped. They’re coming.”
* * *
Red and Aurus strapped a whole assortment of weapons to themselves in the common room as Adrina watched them. Guns, swords, axes – you name it, they had it.
“I still don’t see why I can’t come with you,” Adrina complained.
“Because you’d slow us down,” Red replied. “Besides, someone has to watch the facility.”
“Just because I’m in a wheelchair doesn’t mean I can’t help.”
“Anyway,” said Red, pumping his shotgun. “We’ll be back soon. Don’t destroy everything!”
He and Aurus hurried out of the facility, weapons at the ready, leaving Adrina by herself.
Adrina turned around slowly, perplexed, only to see Nero standing in front of the boy’s wing.
“Where have you been?” she asked.
“I’ll show you,” he said. He walked over to her and helped push her into the boys’ wing, down to his room. They stopped right in front of his closed door. From there, he produced the black key and slid it into the lock. A click. Then he opened the door, and the hall was bathed in white light.
“Wait,” said Adrina, mouth wide in shock. “Is this…”
“Yes, it is. But unlike last time, it’s not a dream. Let me show you.”