I’ve never witnessed something so bewildering before. I’d expected them to run for the hills the moment the words fell off my lips. Or perhaps they’d take a few steps back away from me, but no here they are once again surprising me when I thought I couldn’t be surprised no more.
“You?” Scotty chuckles.
“A monster?” Bunny giggles.
They look at each other with their mouths clasped tightly shut trying not to laugh. It doesn’t last long. After no less than three seconds they burst out laughing with booming laughter. After what seems like a little more than a minute they’re gasping for air.
“Why is that so funny?” Zippy asks with wide eyes.
“She can’t be a monster,” Bunny giggles. “She’s, well, she’s too human to be a monster.”
“If you were really a monster NoName you would have turned your back on us when we were trapped on top of that mini-van,” Scotty says sobering up and standing to his full height.
A guilty twinge hits me in straight in the heart. I never told them I was originally planning on leaving them when I first saw them.
“You wouldn’t have trained us or kept your promise to help us find our brother,” Bunny adds more reasons.
“You wouldn’t have taken those shoots back in the alley way for us,” Scotty says.
Bunny walks in front of me drawing my undivided attention down to her. She levels me with the most serious look I’ve ever seen her wear. Even with her size disadvantage she can hold an air of seriousness that commands the whole rooms attention. She may not know it now, but she has the natural traits to be a leader.
“You are no where near being a monster.”
Her spring green eyes keep my in a trance. Nothing but the up most seriousness can be found swimming in the depth of them. She only breaks eye contact with me when Casey, who has at some point sneaked quietly to one of the windows of the loft windows, speaks breaking the silence.
“Not to ruin your moment or anything, but we’ve got company.”
Her gaze is fixated through the loft window. By the way her head is declined I can only guess she’s looking down toward the ground.
Scotty makes his way to her side. He lets out a sound of disgust as he crosses his arms. That’s not a good sign, I guess they aren’t welcomed guest.
“Not these fools again.”
Bunny leaves from in front of me to stand by her brother’s side.
“Tell me it’s not who I think it is,” she pleads sarcastically.
“Its exactly who you think,” Casey throws over her shoulder at Bunny.
Before Zippy can join the rest of the group I grab him elbow. He looks at me warily, probably afraid of what I’ll say.
“Can I trust you to keep this safe?”
Surprise filters across his eyes briefly.
“Of course,” he nods passionately.
As I hand him the journal his posture straightens out. Its almost as if he’s determined to show me how serious he is.
“I’ll leave it in your possession then,” I tell him, “take good care of it for me.”
“No need to worry NoName, I’ll protect it well.”
Faint shock hits me as I realize that’s the first time I’ve heard him address me as NoName. He smiles at me reassuringly as he slips me journal inside his long trench coat. He quietly creeps to his sister’s side.
“That’s definitely them,” Zippy states crossing his arms. “They’re back again.
I’m the only clueless one here and no one has bothered to fill me in. I hate not being told about things.
“It’s a couple bandits they’ve had issues with lately,” Scotty explains.
All four of them nod not bothering to give a single glance in my direction.
“Why am I only just finding out about this now?”
“It’s not exactly the best way to open a conversation is it?” Casey says not turning toward me.
“Well care to explain it now?”
Scotty’s the only one to shake his head no. Casey scuffs before backing away from the window.
“We’ve had issues with these bandits long before we met you three. Last time we ran into them was when the four of us went out to scavenge food and you were still knocked out from the pain of your wounds. They saw our haul of food and demanded we give it to them.”
Scotty laughs turning away from the windows and says, “Let’s just say Casey can be scary as hell when threatened.”
“Oh? I lift an eyebrow at Casey.
“She revealed her hidden abilities,” Scotty smirks. “She could give you a run for your money in hand to hand combat NoName.”
“For once he isn’t lying,” Bunny says where she stands by the windows still.
“They’ve multiplied,” Zippy points out. “They’ve got eight instead of four this time.”
He points down out the window signaling for everyone to look. Walking to the windows I can see the skyline of broken, bomb-blasted sky scrapers in the fading sunlight. It’s a devastating picture. In the alleyway below are eight men sneaking slowly across the narrow passage way between the brick building parallel to us. They’re sneaking toward a door, a door that most likely leads up to our loft. Two men hold flame lit torches. The flame of the torches gives a little dome around the men. Every so often a stumbling corpse or two would stumble into their circle. One of the men carrying a long knife takes the corpses down without so much of a glimpse of hesitation. The men form a tight circle around the torch holders. The men not holding torches take turns pointing out corpses stumbling out of the dark corners of the alley.
“Wait,” I say suddenly as something dawns on me. “Is that the alley where I got shot?”
“It was,” Zippy states.
“Why the guns?”
He turns toward me.
“When Scotty tripped the wire, I’m taking it that it was two guys that shot me. So why guns? Why did you have a trap down there in the first place?”
“See the thin wires running up the side of the wall? They run up to the roof and connect to solar panels that give us light. If a Rotter or Infected gets tangled up in the cords or nick one of the wires I wouldn’t be able to find the same wires need to fit the solar panels.”
“So, you decided the best way to protect the wires were to rig a trap the shoots someone if they trip the wire?” Scotty scuff. “What a great way to make new friends.”
“Hey,” Casey snaps. “Before you guys came along no other people have wandered stupidly into the alleyway.”
“Then what about those Bandits?”
“We always met them outside away from the loft on scavenging trips. We made sure they weren’t following us before we made our way back home.”
“Guys,” Bunny says pulling the banter session that was about to start to an end. “They’ve reached the door.”
Looking downward you can see one man after the other slip into the building, our building to be exact.
“I thought you had traps up?” Bunny directs to Zippy.
“We took them down when she got shot,” Casey says instead of Zippy as a note or worry hits her voice. “There isn’t a defense mechanism anymore.”
“Just great,” Scotty mutters not so quietly.
A tense silence settles between all of us.
“Well!” Scotty explodes shattering the silence.
Scotty turns to face Casey, “Let’s go meet them instead of just sitting here like sitting ducks with a freaking target on our backs.”
“No!” Casey argues. “We have the best defenses here. It’ll take them a while to get up here. Not to mention we have the higher ground. If we go face them head on we lose.”
“If they reach the loft eight of them will over power the five of us! If we go face them, we at least have the chance to run and escape. If they get up here we’re trapped with no chance of escape! We’ll be trapped. Do the math Raven, use your brain!”
He taps the side of her head sparking her temper.
“I’ll use my brain alright, I’ll use it to come up with a plan about how to hide your body after I kill you,” she snarls slapping his hand away.
“Oh, really Raven? Bring it on.”
“Enough,” Bunny growls frustrated at their head-butting arguments.
She turns to me fixing me with a desperate look.
“What should we do NoName?”
All eyes turn to me. A weird feeling lands on me. Instead of growing nervous, I relax and know exactly what to do, like in the back of my mind my brain was already planning. It feels natural stepping into this leader role.
“We should stay here,” Scotty’s mouth opens to protest but I cut him off. “If we stay here we do have the higher ground, I have no doubt that Casey and Zippy have a few more traps and tricks in this loft that we can use. Like that thing above the door.”
“It’s a device that attracts metal, which is most weapons,” Zippy says nodding to the door. “It’s made from TV parts.”
“Bunny go turn it on and grab our weapons please,” I tell her.
She nods and does what I say with out any sign of hesitation.
“I still think we should go meet them,” Scotty argues.
“If we go out there and meet them we will die Scotty,” I confidently tell him.
His eyes widen, “Why?”
“We don’t know all the halls and stair wells that well. Casey and Zippy may, but we don’t. Going out there us three would end up getting lost. It’s a no Scotty. Drop it.”
He nods glumly, “Ok NoName.”
“Here you go,” Bunny says handing me my bow. “I flipped on the switch for the magnets.”
She hands Scotty his daggers and his roll of throwing knives. Casey receives her two long bladed swords. Zippy gets two small pocket knives and Bunny has her condensed bo-staff and two hatches. Once everyone is armed I give my orders.
“Bunny, Scotty,” they turn to me. “I want you two upstairs and out of sight, but when they enter I want you to have your throwing knives out and focused on their leader, every group has a leader. Look for the man who is talking the most and the other guys are staying close to, almost like in a protective way.”
They nod before climbing the spiral stairs.
“Zippy I want you stationed behind your work bench. Stay out of sight the whole time. If things go south, we’ll need you alive to patch us up.”
“But I want to help, I can be useful in some way.”
“You will help if you listen to her orders and stay out of sight,” Casey buts in. “We need a doctor or engineer more than we’ll need another fighter.”
I can’t tell if she’s saying this because she agrees with me or because she wants to protect him rather than us.
He nods slowly and then ducks out of sight.
Casey faces me waiting for her task.
“That brat (bitch) aughtta be up here somewhere,” a distant voice croaks out. “All the other floors are empty or blocked off.”
“Do you think they’ll shoot at first glance?” I ask her in a hushed whisper.
She shakes her head whispering, “They’re gun shy despite how tough they try to act.”
“Then stay on the couch facing the door and wait to greet them. Try and draw any information you can from them. I’ll be behind the couch.”
I jump over the back of the couch to emphasize my point.
“If you feel as if the situation is going south just put your arm over the back of the couch and I’ll be by your side in less than a second.”
“NoName,” she says sitting on the couch with her swords balancing across her lap.
“These people, (these bastards) threatened our family last time we saw them.”
“The moment you took that shot for them and fell into our care you became apart of Zippy and I’s family,” a passion burns in her eyes as she speaks. “We protect our own. We protect our family.”
A sudden respect blooms in my chest for her.
“We protect our own,” I repeat nodding.
“Tom,” a voice right outside the door rings out. “Looks like this is the place. There’s light under the door.”
I quickly crouch down. Looking up stairs I see the kids behind the bed already watching the two of us. Scotty nods showing a small smile. He heard what we said.
Family, he mouths. Bunny copies him.
I peek around the couch to get a final glimpse at Zippy to make sure he’s alright. He’s mirroring the kids.
Family, he mouths.
I always though since I have no memories of a family, I’d never get a chance to have one, but here they are.
They’re here surrounding me.
Willing to fight beside me.
Willing to fight for me.
My eyes narrow as I here the loft door being slid to the side.
“Well boys a rough thick throated voice belts out. “If it isn’t little miss spit fire.”
I haven’t heard metal hitting magnets, they must still be in the door way.
“To what do I owe this displeasure?” Casey calls out sarcastically.
“I figured it was time to pay back the pain you gave us and take the loot that originally belonged to us.”
She scoffs, “good luck with that.”
“Oh, we don’t need luck, we’ve got help this time.”
“And who in their messed-up minds would want to help you?”
“Your old friends.”
“What old friends? Last I checked I don’t have any.”
“Ouch,” the man fakes a tone of hurt in his voice. “Your friends from The Branch wouldn’t be very happy about that, now would they?”