Scenes From A Mall: Don't Think of Yesterday
By Allison E. Lane
Metropolis was dark and, for the most part, quiet. Luda's sobs had long since dwindled away to silence, and the corner of the store where she was sharing the lone king-sized bed with Andre was still. Ana had curled up on a nearby bedding display, and at the foot of her miniaturized bed Michael had positioned a regular mattress, as if part of him still wanted to cling to the old belief of safety in numbers. Kenneth alone seemed comfortable with being apart from the group; he had taken up a post in a wingback chair at the front of the store, his shotgun propped across his lap. The faint drone of the security guards' television was almost enough to drown out the inhuman cries of the hellish mob gathering outside the mall.
It was several moments before Michael replied. "Yeah."
Ana had been staring aimlessly into space, and had only spoken in the hopes that mindless small talk would distract her from the animal growling filtering through the outer doors, but something about the sound of Michael's voice made her lift her head in concern. "Are you okay?"
In the darkness beyond her feet, she heard Michael shifting on the mattress. "Um," he murmured. "I think I wrenched my back. In the sporting goods store."
She remembered hearing the horrible noises of struggle coming from Reflex Sports and how they had nearly frozen her in fear, how Michael had practically staggered out to rejoin the group, the rasp of pain in his voice as he yelled for everyone to run to the elevators. In all the following excitement and the more immediate necessity of sewing up Kenneth's arm, she had forgotten. Ana automatically slipped into nurse mode. It was what she knew most about, what she was best at. Going through the familiar motions with Kenneth had helped to lessen the dread that the entire world was going insane… maybe it would help again. Take her mind off everything she had seen and witnessed.
"Let me see," she whispered, sitting up and pushing herself off the edge of the bed, adopting the clinical tone she used with her patients at the hospital. Michael hauled himself into a sitting position and put out a hand to make sure she didn't trip or accidentally sit on him. "Lift up your shirt a bit," she instructed, settling down behind him. "Where does it hurt?"
Michael awkwardly indicated the offending area. Ana began to poke and prod as gently as she dared, running through a mental checklist in her head: latissimus dorsi, teres major and minor, infraspinatus… vertebrae and ribcage… He hissed softly when she touched a particularly sore spot, and Ana sat back to reconsider. No torn or separated muscles, can't entirely rule out cracked ribs without an x-ray…
"I think you'll live," she said finally, patting Michael's back lightly to let him know he could pull his shirt back down and returning to her perch on the bed. "I can't know for sure without an x-ray, but I don't think you have any cracked ribs. No torn or separated muscles. It looks to me like you just pulled the muscles in your upper right back. If those stupid bastards hadn't locked us in, I'm sure we could find you some aspirin, but… just take it easy for a few days and you should be fine." Ana was all too aware of how ineffectually lame her words sounded, even as she felt her professional façade slipping away. Take it easy for a few days? After what they'd all just been through? It was more likely that none of them would ever get a chance to relax again. "Can… I ask what happened… in there?"
Michael laughed quietly, depreciatingly. In the gloom Ana could just barely see him running a hand through his already disarrayed hair. "I opened a door on one of those—things. It jumped me and pushed me over a counter. We landed kind of hard."
He didn't elaborate further. Ana drew her knees up under her chin and plucked at the hem of her pajama pants, waiting for… what? She didn't know. After a long moment of silence, Michael stretched back out on the mattress and blew out a long, low sigh.
"You were lucky," Ana said quietly, after several minutes of listening to the beating of her own heart. She didn't want to think, but could only imagine, of what Michael had faced there in the sports store. A brief image of a small, snarling face rushing at her flashed across her vision, and she pressed her eyes tightly into her knees. Anything to escape that memory.
Michael chuckled again. "Was I?"
Ana's heart jolted at the unexpected tone of uncertainty and underlying despair in his voice, and she looked back up. Right from the beginning she had been impressed by the calm, sure way in which Michael behaved, and the sudden hopeless she sensed in him shook her. "Yes," she whispered, past the rising lump in her throat. "You're alive, and that's all that matters now… right?"
Her heart felt as if it would beat its way right out of her chest. She couldn't suppress it anymore—Luis is dead, Luis is dead, Luis is dead… only he wasn't dead. What the hell had happened to him, to Vivian, to everyone? What had they all become? Was Luis still out there, somewhere—she couldn't bear to think it, but was unable to stop herself. Her last sight of him, her dead and bloodied husband viciously attacking one of their neighbors, receding away in her rearview mirror, was still seared across her memory. Luis is dead…
He'd attacked her. When just a few short hours before he'd kissed her so passionately, and traced his fingers so lightly across her stomach as they fell asleep together…
It hadn't been easy to make their marriage work. They'd only been together a year. His regular nine-to-five job coupled with her long hours at the hospital left them with little time to spend together, but they'd always made the most of it, and they'd loved each other… His loss had left a hole in Ana's heart that she didn't think would ever disappear, no matter how long she lived, be it ten days or ten years.
Her eyes were burning, they were on fire, and she felt as if she were drowning. Ana fiercely wiped away the tears and sucked in a ragged breath. She couldn't let herself cry. She couldn't let herself think—it would only paralyze her. The past was gone, lost to her forever… there was only the now, in this strange new world she had been catapulted into.
In the darkness, Michael shifted again. "I have to believe that the future matters," he said at last, and his voice was steady again with renewed conviction. "That there is a future. Otherwise, why bother fighting to survive?"
From the direction of the king-sized bed came the sound of a muffled cough, and it was clear that Andre, at least, was listening. Ana wasn't surprised. She didn't think any of them were going to find sleep easy in coming.
She sniffled again, still fighting the pain and turmoil. "But if there's nothing worth surviving for…"
Luis is dead… he isn't dead…
There was a rustling sound and Ana just caught the glint of Michael's eyes as he sat up and turned to face her. "Don't say that," he said in a low voice. "You don't believe that, do you? Isn't your humanity alone worth fighting for? Because those… things out there, they're not—human."
He was silent a moment, and Ana saw again in her mind Luis turning, bloodlust in his eyes, and leaping at her with horrifying speed. She blinked it away with an effort as Michael continued. "But you're here for a reason—we all are. Even CJ and the others. To help each other survive. That's what matters now."
He's dead… he's dead… and I don't want to die like that…
No more doubting, no more weakness. She would only be a detriment to the group if she let herself dwell on her grief and shock and fear. For the time being, for now, this was her home. These people were her family. And she would fight to protect them. It would give her a purpose, something to do, a way to remain human amongst the madness.
"Thank you," Ana whispered, and it was all she could say.