A/N - Happy August. School starts again next week, I'm so not ready for summer break to be over! I've only visited two new places this summer! *cries*

For those wanting news of Rain before I'm ready to give it, of course that's probably all of you, I offer you the words of one of your fellow readers: "You are a cruel fanfiction mistress." Isn't she such a charming lady, telling me that?

Now, I present to you a piece that I edited after I decided to try my hand at fear... I'm afraid that it's just not my thing.


Chapter 32

So Hungry

Looping over and over again, the radio transmission said that there were survivors. For the dynamic duo, that had been more than enough to consult their tattered road map and navigate their way to the town in the message.

Around three in the afternoon, Buck pulled the reliable Jeep Grand Cherokee alongside a rusted semi trailer abandoned by the highway. His enhanced companion clambered through the open sunroof and leapt up to the trailer top. It wasn't much higher than their vehicle, but even the few extra feet could mean an extra mile of visibility, and any extra warning of danger was always a good thing. Anise's binoculars were panning the area as she crouched on the hot metal surface. Heat and humidity had her hair and clothes sticking to her body, and sweat rolling down her face, making everything itchy, irritating, and all-around unpleasant. As she scanned the area, she did her best to ignore it, focusing on what she could see and hear instead. Even though she was sure her skin was itching from more than the oppressive weather, nothing out of the ordinary caught her attention.

Before them was merely another dinky Kansas town that had seen better days. Possible hiding spots among the tall prairie grasses, dark alleyways, and broken storefronts worried her less than the advancing storm front. If they did not find shelter soon, they would be caught out in a violent spring thunderstorm. Anise could feel that the pressure was dropping and those green clouds were showing some rotation. The stiff breeze carried the scent of ozone, although rain wasn't falling yet. High winds, powerful thunder and lightning, possibility of tornadoes and hail, and of course, zombies had a tendency to pop up when people were at their most vulnerable. The incoming storm would most definitely leave them vulnerable.

Frowning, Anise wished for more time to scout the area out, check for traps or an ambush. She looked up at the looming clouds and scratched her neck, feeling like someone was watching her. Going in half-cocked, while interesting, generally meant bruises and bites. One more scan of the area and she jumped back to the SUV. Sliding into her seat, she briefed Buck on what she had seen.

"We're goin in, right?"

"Duh. Even if there wasn't that radio signal. We've gotta find shelter, preferably a storm cellar or basement."

"That bad?"

"Buck, this is Kansas in the fucking spring. Might be damn hot and pretending to be summer, but it's still spring. A tornado could drop down at any time, or baseball sized hail could crack open even your thick head."

"Cool. I've never seen a tornado."

Anise had to laugh. "Neither have I."

They shared mischievous smiles before Buck put the vehicle back in motion.


Outside of Prairie Smiles Daycare, Anise readjusted her clothing after slipping into her gear and readied the ax that she had acquired in New York. Her brother moved beside her, waiting for her signal, his eyes carefully studying their surroundings, body tensed and ready. Trash blew around them, tumbled by the light winds, soda cans and plastic oddments, a noisy shopping bag caught in the chain link fence of the daycare. The play area was full of tall weeds, those sturdy plants that her mother had complained about every year in her vegetable garden, that always popped back up, no matter how carefully she weeded, poisoned, or yelled obscenities at. Anise's lips pulled into a strange grin, and she started forward.

Past the shattered glass doors that had been reinforced with plywood and a sturdy desk that was only keeping one door firmly locked, Anise eyed the walls covered in hand prints. They were in every color, making a rainbow from red to violet, little kids' names scrawled over each one and a date under those. There wasn't any blood.

Anise shivered.

Buck's hands motioned a question, something they had both worked out after a library visit a couple hundred miles ago where he had found a book on American Sign Language and combined it with the silent way of doing things that Morrison had taught them.

She shrugged and gestured uncertainty, that she didn't hear anything. He nodded, and they continued down the hall, past an empty playroom where it seemed as if everything had been gathered in a hurry, a kitchen with clean, if dusty counters, and a storage closet with neatly arranged goods. There was no blood, no sounds except the wind, and no reason for her skin to be crawling, nor her heart to suddenly rev its engine. A bead of sweat rolled down her forehead, trailed across her nose, and paused for a moment before dripping onto her lips.

There was a door, closed, with cheerful children's artwork plastered across it and the walls surrounding. A handful of toys were scattered near, making them step carefully over, and both to frown at the silence they tried not to break. Anise glared at the door, unable to decide what emotion to settle on as her ears continued to tell her that the place was devoid of life. Her hands flexed around the weapon in them, and she chewed the insides of her cheek. Cold sweat snaked down her spine, giving her the shivers again. Anise looked to Buck, whose eyebrows lifted in question.

Unsure, she hissed out her next breath, the noise overly loud in the building's strange quiet.

"Is someone there?" A child's voice asked, sounding hoarse from thirst or crying or fear, Anise wasn't sure, but it was not accompanied by a heartbeat, and that had her own heart shifting into sixth gear, flooding her with adrenaline. Beside her, Buck's pulse raced to outrun her own, and his eyes went a little wild.

They both took steps back, one of them stepping on a toy that crunched loudly underfoot.

"Hello?" That cracked voice was pitched high and too sweet, too eager, twisted by a distinct... Anise shivered again, and it clicked... a distinct lack of fear, and was followed by slight movement growing closer to the door. A little boy or a girl could be the owner of that voice, yet Anise decided without hesitation that she didn't give a damn, and she sure as fuck was not going to stand around and wait to find out. Struggling not to run, the siblings fled as quietly as possible, sweat and fear pouring off them both. As they passed the open storage closet again, Anise had half a mind to stand her ground, kill whatever was scaring the piss out of them, and raid those yummy looking boxes of animal crackers.

"Please, don't go." The door's hinges squeaked a little.

Ah hell no! The enhanced woman picked up her pace, passing Buck only for a moment, until his stride caught up to her's, and then they were both pelting their way to the Jeep. Buck's hand was turning the ignition before his body was completely in the vehicle, and his foot slamming to the pedal when an angry, high-pitched shriek came from the daycare building.

"Come back!"

"Fuck no." Buck squeaked, thrust the Jeep into drive, and buried the gas pedal under his boot.

In the rear mirror, Anise saw a small shadow in the doorway, childlike in size, but it couldn't possibly be mistaken for a child, not with those long, very long arms and hands, claws.

The next horrible screech was almost drowned out by the squealing tires. "I'm hungry!"

They turned a corner, Anise's eyes locked on the shadow until her view was blocked.

Buck panted out a demand. "Is it coming after us?"

Buildings and abandoned cars rushed by in the mirror, and Anise jumped as Buck's door suddenly snapped shut by force of the wind. She reached out and closed her own. "I don't know."

"What the fuck was it, anyway?"
"I don't know." She repeated.

Down the country highway, along fields that once would have been filled with sprouting corn or soybeans, they sat quietly, each continuously checking the mirrors and windows, looking for any sign of the little shadow. Twenty miles and much darker skies later, if the shadow had followed them, it would be impossible to tell now. At least the creepy tingles didn't return as the two stopped in the drive of an old farmhouse that looked in really good condition. Around it was a sturdy ten foot chain link fence that looked like it surrounded a good deal of farmland too.

The gate was closed, a rusty chain and lock securing it. A snip of their bolt cutters later, and the Jeep was slipping past it. Anise closed the gate and dropped the long bar that would keep it shut, then looped the chain around that, thinking it would help keep out the infected that were slowly making their way toward her.

"There's probably someone alive in here."

"Must be, or there wouldn't be so many undead out there." Buck motioned to the half dozen zombies they could see pressing themselves along the fence. The gravel driveway crunched under the tires, and lightning streaked across the sky above them. Thunder barked, rumbling in the backs of their chests with its power.

"It's gonna be a good one." Anise commented on the approaching storm as she stepped out and looked around. Lightning created strange shadows in the copse of trees to her right. She jerked, lifting her ax, cold tendrils lancing through her until lightning flickered again, showing her a toppled birdbath and rosebushes. "Shit." She hissed.

Buck was shouldering a pack. "What?"

"I'm seeing things."

His face tightened. "That kid thing."

"Yea." Anise pulled her senses into check, quickly deciding that with the rustling leaves and groaning tree limbs, hearing anything more than fifty feet away was out of the question. Her eyes roamed the ground around the farmhouse, and she started walking around the perimeter.

"Where are you going?" Buck questioned.

"The house doesn't have a basement." She pointed at the base of the house, where the wood was almost flush with the ground, only a thin slab a cement keeping it off. "There's going to be a root cellar nearby."

"Oh. Cool. That'll be easier to deal with, we don't really have time to clear out a house before..." he continued on, but Anise had stopped listening.

Something was out there with them.

Buck took another few steps before stopping and looking back to see Anise's poised frame, his rifle immediately raising up and his body going into a prepared crouch. He didn't speak as he studied their surroundings, keeping her in his peripheral vision, waiting for her signal. Over the wind, Anise heard the crunching sound again, the shifting of gravel under something large. A kind of stupid relief washed over her, realizing that whatever it was, it wasn't that shadowy child. She motioned for them to keep moving to the storm cellar she could now see poking up out of the ground, its doors looking like they had been painted recently.

The wind picked up then, twisting the trees, shoving her and Buck sideways, and chilling the air temperature by several degrees. Above them, in the old cottonwood tree, rotten limbs cracked, and Anise was one to learn very quickly from past experience. She dove, pushing her and Buck out the way before a bug-riddled bough dropped to the ground. On the other side of the farmhouse, Anise definitely heard footsteps, big heavy footsteps, and she forwent the usual precaution of listening at the cellar door, quietly opening it, and patiently waiting for sounds of attack. Her hand latched on a handle, and she readied herself to fling it open.

"Buck." The one word had her sidekick on his feet, rifle pointed at the cellar, his head nodding in ready confirmation.

Anise yanked on the door. It didn't budge. "Oh come on! Can't anything fucking go right today?" She didn't bother keeping her voice down, the thing making the noises had rounded the corner of the building and was staring at them. "Open up down there!" Anise yelled at the door when she heard noises and the sound of a child's whimper.

Angrily, she shoved aside the memory of the twisted shadow, its screeching cries. For some reason, the occupants of the cellar were trusting enough of a living voice that she heard wood scraping, and one door opened up with the point of a gun sticking out. Maybe not so trusting. Anise smiled at the man behind the gun. "Hi."

"Oo, people." Buck grinned, happily oblivious to the horror just yards away.

"Have you been bitten?" The man asked.

The siblings looked at each other, shrugged, and looked back. "Not lately. Now, be a dear and take care of my brother for me." Anise pulled hard on Buck, bringing him to the lip of the cellar.

"Spice, what?" He argued.

Anise's eyes flicked to their undead audience, and so did the guys'. Hanging in clumps from what used to be a great king, was patchy fur the dried out color of dead grass. Around its neck, matted with caked blood, was a mane, half of which had been shorn off, revealing bone, straining muscle, discolored and made strange by the T-virus. It was enormous, far larger than what she remembered from trips to the zoo. Maybe it was the lack of reinforced glass and iron bars separating them; or maybe it was the milky, bloodless whites and blue irises that had Anise feeling like a rabbit, ears pressed to the body, quivering in the tall grass; or maybe it was how the jaw split in thirds, exposing rows and rows of teeth and a tongue that reminded Anise of Lickers.

"Lord Almighty, save us from this demon." The man moaned, his gun shaking in his trembling hands.

His prayer had a woman in the cellar calling up, her voice frightened, "What is it? What's going on up there?"

The lion leapt into sudden motion, running full-tilt toward its human prey.

Anise tore her attention from the dead, hungry gaze of the mutated creature, and without a second thought, she grabbed Buck, yanked hard, and sent him crashing into the man. Together, the men tumbled back into the dark, where several voices squeaked in surprise, anger, and Buck yelling above them all, "Don't you fucking dare, Spice!"

Anise met her brother's angry eyes despite the lion's fast approach, grinding out an order to him. "Stay. Here." Her own feet were running before the cellar door banged shut, the infected animal hot on her heels. She heard him start up the stairs when yet another chunk of tree dropped out of the sky, right onto the cellar door, effectively trapping and protecting those inside. The Jeep was right ahead, if she could get to it, she could lead the lion on a fun-filled goose chase, maybe get the thing sucked up by a tornado, or at the very least, find a nice open place to face off with it.

Then she remembered that Buck had the keys.

"Fucking hell." Anise complained, skidding in the gravel as she changed direction, aiming for an ancient barn that looked ready to crumble in on itself. Fat raindrops splashed into her eyes, and curses flew freely from her mouth until she reached the barn, darted inside, tripped over a rusty something, and almost skewered herself on a lovely patina covered scythe someone had left on the floor. The monster swiping at her her legs cut her cooing ooh, pretty sharp thing moment short, and she rolled away from the cracked, blackened claws. As the creature plowed after her, bumping into the walls, and ripping out the rotted door on the other side, Anise had hoped the barn would collapse on the damn creature. As usual, her horrible luck gave her a big middle finger, and told her to wish for unicorns and leprechauns while she was at it.

Cursing the whole time, Anise dodged, rolled, and jumped away from the lion's claws and teeth, tripping over more rusting farm equipment, slipping in mud from the fresh downpour, and trying to get her ax to chop off the snarling head. Between the beast's too fast movements, and its thick mane, landing a blow that did any damage was harder than getting a dense straight guy to take 'no, I'm gay' seriously instead of a challenge to prove that he could be the man to show her what she was missing out on. She blinked as her sudden barrage of old memories almost got her killed, slowed her enough that two claws left bleeding lines in her calf.

"DAMMIT! Ow! Ow! Ow!" Bitching, she turned a slip in the mud into a controlled roll, her ax blade swinging upward and catching in the palate of the lion's mouth. It bit down, forcing the blade deeper into its skull, and it jerked backward, roaring in frustration. "Fuck you too!" Anise yelled at it, watching it struggle to pull out the weapon, vaguely wondering if the thing felt pain, or annoyance that the ax was getting in the way of a meal. Her hand had her gun in it, training it on the bloody head, and firing before she came up with an answer.

One magazine emptied, and a few fresh holes in the lion later, the ax handle had been bitten off, the blade still lodged deep, but not deep enough. Reloading her gun, Anise grumbled about horrible weather and stupid hellish creatures that ruined perfectly axes. A satisfying 'click' later, barely heard over the noise of the storm, and Anise was running again, back to the barn where that scythe still was, hoping the thing wasn't too horribly rusted and useless.

The scythe's handle crumbled in her hands, long neglect and climate having turned it to soft rot. On the other hand, the blade and the metal that had kept it attached to the long wooden handle had withstood time's corrosive forces a little better. With slick ease, the blade designed for cutting through stalks of wheat, finished what her ax could not, biting into the lion's skull, slipping through its brain, and canceling its dinner order.

"Finally," was Anise's grunted cheer as she pushed the heavy weight of its head off her chest. She sat up, wiping gooey blood from her face, flicking it off her hands, and looking around for her gun. "Where the hell did I drop you?"

A flash of lightning glinted off the shiny metal. "Oh. There you are, you pain in the..."

"Hello." Beside the gun, mere inches from the handle, was the shadow of a small child. "I'm so glad that I found you again."

Anise's body froze, her breath stopped, and she twitched as her eyes slowly, agonizingly slowly, crawled up to the figure standing in the broken doorway. Breath spilled out of her in a whimpered cry. "You've gotta be kidding me."

"I'm so hungry." Glowing red orbs leered down at her, and shining points in a too large mouth curved into a smile.

The liquid gathering under Anise's ass was not from the cold rain.