They stayed in the abandoned hotel for weeks, relishing in the safety and comfort that the walls provided. It was the one time for as long as they could remember where they were clean, full, and happy. They were even able to wash their clothes and find new ones in the hotel's laundry room. After a few days of sleeping in the lobby, they moved up to the first floor and stayed in one of the rooms with two double beds and jumped on the mattresses until they were laughing so hard that their ribs ached. Even Finn's coughing fits subsided for awhile; his immune system boosted by his full stomach.
I want to stay here forever, said Summer one night as she was falling asleep next to Finn.
Finn smiled and replied that they would stay for as long as she wanted.
Noah cast him a look from the other bed. Both men knew that they'd have to move on sooner or later, but at least for the time being, they didn't have to worry. It was an unusual feeling.
One morning when it was Noah's turn to gather breakfast from the kitchen storerooms, Finn and Summer climbed up the stairwell next to the broken-down elevators all the way up to the roof, and stared out over the empty city.
People made all of this? Summer asked in awe.
Yeah. Cool, isn't it?
What was it like when there were more people?
Um… it was light all the time, because there were always people who were awake, even in the middle of the night, and the streets were always packed with cars. You could always find music playing somewhere, in the park or at a club.
Have I ever been to a park?
Once, when you were a baby. We all camped out in a park for a couple nights.
Your mom and I, Rachel, and Tina.
Summer fell quiet, leaning on the edge of the roof and looking down at the crumbling buildings. I miss them, she said.
Finn gave her a smile and pulled her up onto his hip. She wrapped her arms around his neck and shivered in the cold breeze.
There's something I never told you, Daddy.
Yeah? What was it?
I found Rachel.
Finn stared at her for a moment. What do you mean?
When she disappeared and you, Mommy, and Tina went looking for her. I know I was supposed to stay by the fire, but I followed you and I saw Rachel. She was hurt and she couldn't walk. I wanted to help her but she told me to leave her there.
Finn sniffed and gave Summer a kiss on the cheek. It's okay, he said. I saw her too.
You don't have to protect me, Daddy.
Yeah, I do.
Summer's gaze abruptly turned back to the city sprawled out below them. What's that noise?
Finn put her down and leaned over the edge of the roof, listening with his ears cocked against the breeze. Far off in the distance was the growl of a massive engine, the rumbling belly of a monster crawling through the streets towards them.
Summer, go downstairs and stay with Noah.
What about you?
I'll keep a lookout.
What is it?
I'm not sure. Go on.
I want to stay with you.
Finn gripped her by the shoulders. I need to know that you're safe. Go downstairs. Now.
Summer spun and disappeared back through the maintenance door as Finn shielded his eyes against the almost-nonexistent sunlight, squinting into the distance. There were too many buildings in the way; he couldn't see the machine that was creating the awful rumbling, but several blocks away he could see a thin cloud of smoke wafting up from a street. He remained where he was until the source of the smoke finally crawled into sight several blocks away, belching black exhaust into the air. It was a heavy truck, with a snowplow fitted onto the front and a flatbed where Finn could make out several dirty figures hunched together, their legs hanging off the sides. There were also a few figures walking alongside the truck, as if they were scouting ahead. Finn squinted even further, trying to see them more clearly, and swore under his breath when he saw that each one of them was carrying a rifle twice the size of Noah's shotgun. And since Noah had lost the shotgun the night Tina died, they were left with only Finn's pistol and three bullets to defend themselves.
He didn't wait to see any more, rushing back down the stairwell and descending all fifteen stories in only a couple of minutes. He found Noah and Summer in the kitchen. We gotta go, he said.
Upstairs somewhere. There's a lot of people outside, and they don't look friendly.
Noah and Summer immediately followed Finn into the corridor and kept only a step behind him until they reached the stairwell.
Summer, I want you to go up to the third floor and find a room at the front of the building, okay? It's best if one of the windows are broken, so we can hear what's happening outside. Can you do that?
Summer nodded and scampered up the stairs as Finn turned his attention to Noah, taking the crutches and pulling one of Noah's arms around his shoulders, wrapping his own arm around Noah's middle and helping him slowly move from one step to the next.
We have to move faster, Noah.
Why don't you try chopping off your leg and then climbing two flights of stairs, huh?
Just focus, okay?
Finn's breath was beginning to hiss in his throat from the strain of nearly carrying the shorter but bulkier man up the stairs, and on the landing of the second floor several minutes later, they had to stop for a moment and wait for his coughing fit to subside. He hacked one last time into his hand and wiped the blood off his palm with his coat sleeve.
You okay? asked Noah, watching him warily.
I'm fine, Finn snapped, grabbing Noah around the middle again and shoving him towards the next flight of stairs.
They finally reached the third floor wheezing and panting, and Finn handed Noah back his crutches before leaning against the wall for a minute to breathe, the air straining through his lungs like a sieve.
Are you sure you're okay?
Quit worrying about me and start worrying about the men outside with shotguns.
Over here! called Summer from down the hall.
Finn straightened up, wincing, and followed a step behind Noah as he hobbled along the corridor. Inside the room, Noah sank onto the dusty bed and Finn peered out through the broken windowpane. Summer hugged his side, trembling slightly.
After a few slow minutes, a few shouts wafted up from the street below, and Finn tensed, swearing under his breath.
What is it? said Noah.
They're coming in.
Are they going to find us? Summer asked, looking up at Finn.
Finn shook his head. No, he said. Even if they come upstairs, they'll only go to the second floor and they won't search all the rooms. We're safe here.
But even as he spoke, Finn was pulling his pistol out of his belt and checking to make sure it was loaded before turning back to the window. Okay, he said a moment later. There's five guys in the building. The rest are staying with the truck.
We only have three bullets, Noah said.
Finn patted his jacket's inside pocket. We still have the hatchet.
Noah didn't bother to say that a small hatchet against two men with shotguns (and it would only be two if Finn hit his mark every single time) would never be a gamble in their favor – Finn knew it already, but there were straws to be grasped.
What are they looking for? Summer asked. Do they know we're here?
No, Noah said quickly. They're just looking for food.
We have lots of food – can't we give them some?
Finn shook his head, still looking down at the street. If we give them only some of it, then they'll kill us and take it all. Better to take the chance that they won't find it.
It's a hotel, Finn. There's only one place where food would be stocked, said Noah.
They remained where they were for what felt like hours, Finn finally stepping away from the window to sit in the dusty armchair by the bed, still keeping his gun at the ready. None of them spoke, constantly listening for any footsteps or voices in the hallway, but it was silent until all of a sudden, the engine of the massive truck roared awake again, and Finn peered back down at the road and breathed a sigh of relief. They're leaving, he said.
Can you see if they found the food?
Finn shook his head. I don't see anything. We'll wait until they've turned the corner, then we'll go down and look.
It took an achingly long time for the slow-moving truck to disappear from view five blocks away. Once it had, Finn helped Noah descend the stairs again, with Summer following behind and carrying Noah's crutches. At last, they reached the ground floor, set Noah back onto his crutches, and hurried to the kitchen, all three of them holding their breath. Finn opened the doors to the storerooms, his shoulders falling and his breath leaving his lungs in a choked hiss, though whether the sound was from sadness or an oncoming coughing fit, Noah couldn't tell.
Finn shut the doors again. They took it, he said. They took it all.
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