They settle themselves around the compound without really asking, but you suppose you wouldn't have kicked them out anyway. What's one of you to so many of them? They have no wounded among them, not that you can tell, but all of them look so very tired. Their muscles are wound taut like they're tugged along on invisible strings, and the hardness of their faces is reflected with every sharp turn of their pronounced bones and the way they grip their makeshift weapons like they're the only lifeline they've ever known. The blood on their clothing has dried black.
Mercedes sees you watching them so warily, like one of them would come and sink their knives in you, too, (sharp like the teeth of your sister-no, stop, it's too soon) and she sighs, dragging a chair beside you. Her exhale is exhausted when she sits and you wonder how long they've been ghosts of themselves.
"The world's gone to hell." She says plainly with her chin in her palm. Your eyes float to her naturally - she has an aura about her, almost as commanding as the Shadow's from where she cleans her knife across the room.
Your silence allows her to continue. "People are dying by the millions, whole cities have been abandoned, we're starving 'cause everybody stole each other's food when the pandemic broke out. You can try and reach the government, sure, but who's to say they didn't start this whole mess? We've been doing fine on our own."
In the deeper reaches of the hospital you can hear their voices, lightened without the heavy load of survival on their backs. They seem almost child-like in their delight, calling out rooms that they claim and their curiosity palpable as they search through what you have done to this place. Your brow furrows slightly, and you tilt your head towards her.
She looks at you then, assessing the seriousness of your statement. When your face remains blank, her eyebrows shoot up so high you think you'll never see them again. "You don't know 'bout the zombies?"
Again the laughter threatens to bubble up, but the flat tone of her voice quells it. "You were serious?"
She throws her hands up by her head. "What the hell did you think those things were outside? Or in here? Hell, how'd you not get eaten?"
You scratch the side of your head in thought. "I dunno... the man never really liked me. He touched my boobs a few times, but I think that was just because he'd never seen them before. My sister tried to lick me, but she was all cold and smelled bad so I just avoided her whenever she tried."
"And neither of them bit you?"
Your hand almost clamps itself around the tender split of your arm, and you catch yourself at the last second in order not to give anything away. The warning in her words tells you that if you said yes, the result would be less than favourable. More than ever you feel yourself start to panic under so many watchful eyes.
"No... were they supposed to?"
Mercedes snorts and shakes her head again, turning to view the hallway into which her companions have disappeared. "You're some kind of special, Britt. Only you would find a friendly zombie."
You're not sure whether it was a compliment, so instead you smile and bare it when the drone of voices invades you from further down the compound, the buzzing of a thousand flies that still sit in the rotting mouth of the dead man in the morgue. After so much silence their presence is jarring, throwing you off the fragile axis that you had created out of nothing more than the silver threads of your sanity, prompting a stabbing pain in your temple that you thought you had released weeks ago. They run and holler and blanch at your work, how you had so painstakingly placed the bodies of the dead where they belonged; their greedy fingers dip into the pockets of the deceased and search for supplies, the dead to aid the living at something they themselves failed to do.
From a distance you hear their words. "How can somebody live like this?" One asks, closing the door to yet another room full of rot.
"I don't know," responds another, "but it stinks in here. It's worse than that bus we found on the highway."
"You kidding? It's worse than anything we've seen."
Your teeth grit. They want to be ungrateful? You could always open the door and let your friends flood the room, let them hunger after the tough flesh they so seem to desperately want. You could lose yourself in the pulse of cold bodies until you became nothing more than a faceless blur in a land of monsters. Isn't that what you've wanted from the start? To disappear? A hand touches your knuckles and you start, flinching with a gasp until you register Mercedes watching you with a concerned frown.
"Sorry," you mutter, "I do that sometimes. My head's broken."
"Yes, broken!" You snap, drawing away. "They broke this place and they took me with it! They thought I was bad and they put a hole in me, but I'm not! At least, I don't think I am. Not like some of the bad men here."
They talk to you sometimes with unmoving mouths; their stories are the tales of their existence when they were still around to live it - how they did horrible things in the name of pleasure and the people they harmed came back to haunt them with hungry mouths and lifeless eyes. You sit in their rooms of rot and listen until the clamour of their voices overwhelm you, and you drag yourself into the hallway, weak and afraid, but you can't stop.
"Tina can look at your hole, if you want?" Mercedes offers kindly. "She's the resident medic around here. Girl has magic hands, I swear it."
She points to a shorter girl with long, dark hair, leaning into the side of the boy with a kind smile. They fit together as two things should, linking into the hollows left behind. Her hands are long and graceful, and you decide you like them, but you don't trust them. Yet.
"No," you say with a crooked grin, showing hints of blunt teeth, "that's okay. Maybe later. I think it's stopping now."
Your legs jump with unending energy and you push yourself off your seat, doing a few quick twirls where you stand. You think you were a dancer, before. It makes sense that your feet certainly aren't the prettiest-dancers sometimes push themselves beyond what their bones can take. At almost every movement you unconsciously put a flourish on it, gliding through the hallways on limbs that remember what your mind has forgotten.
(Just another reason to trust the body and not the brains. The body knows and doesn't try and trick you with false-truths and shattered memories. It just is.)
"Do you want a tour?" Your head turns to her with your eyebrows raised. It feels strange, pulling expression onto your face again. "It'll be less scary that way if you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I did that once and tripped over a head. He wasn't very happy with me."
Mercedes grimaces and nods her consent, getting up on weary legs. "Won't hurt. Satan, you coming?"
Shadow looks up for a second and studies you intensely before getting up with a massive sigh. Her joints creak and you can hear them from where you stand. She looks exhausted-they all do. Little bodies with big sorrows hanging heavily from the curve of their shoulders.
"Told you not to call me that, Wheezy."
"With that scowl on your face it's exactly what you look like, girl. We're safe for once. Relax a bit."
Her hand, still clutching her knife, sweeps about the hallways. "If we don't get eaten from whatever surprise is behind door number one, we'll die of disease or some shit. Have you lost your sense of smell recently?"
Mercedes turns to face her more completely. "We smell exactly the same. Now, if you don't get your head out your ass, I swear I will-"
"I have showers."
It scares you a little how their faces suddenly turn feral, both sets of eyes locking onto you with an animal intent. Though you're taller, surely, you suddenly feel very small.
"Um, down this hallway, to the left."
They speed away with an almost visible dust cloud trailing behind them. You blink, lips quirking up at one side as the two battle to see who can get through the doorway the fastest. Though both have obviously put on muscle in the time they've had to fend for themselves, Mercedes grunts and plows her way through with an audible cry of triumph. Moments later you hear the hiss of the shower beginning and the steam that will undoubtedly roll out and fill the entire compound with a heavy, humid mist.
Once again, you are alone. You tilt your head to the side and listen to the rustle as they spread out among your home, settling down with the clink of their weapons and the quiet murmur of their voices. It unnerves you, creates an itch so far down into your skin that no amount of scratching can quell. Your agitated footsteps sound loud in your ears as you find the room you avoided for hours upon hours, eyes wide and tired in the descending dark.
(They have watches. Ways to bleed meaning into the time that passes by as everything else does in this place: invisibly.)
The sweet smell of spilt blood is what creeps into your nose when you shoulder quietly into the silent space. All you can see are humps of deeper dark lining the walls, covered in ghostly sheets and shifted after they were frisked for belongings. You can see where they gave up-the bodies are still straight. Evidently, the reward was not worth the pain it caused. You meticulously go about re-aligning them with their beloved, hands placed in hands and hair smoothed down into some semblance of order. The familiar stench of death clings to you not long after you start your rounds, but you find yourself unable to care.
Yet, as always, your eyes quickly adjust to your surroundings until you can see them in detail, the split of their fingernails and the grossly distorted bodies now simply a cycle of life. They are the same as the man in the morgue and yet so very, very different... perhaps they have the eyes that stare and the breath that rots, but their maliciousness comforts you in some way. He elicits such a sense of wrongness-you have flashes of his face in another life; laughing, crying, begging to die-that you flinch and shy away.
You run out of distractions. Tentatively, you step forward, stopping only when your bare foot falls into a puddle of congealed black.
"Velma?" Though your voice is soft, it travels in a distortion of what it was.
Through the white noise of the ones scattered about, nothing but silence comes back to you.
You know you shouldn't, you know it'll hurt that much more, but you crouch down regardless, your knees sinking into the cold puddle that spreads a halo from her head. Her eyes are clouded to the point where you can recognize little from within them, but the diseased blue still peeks out from the very reaches of her. One of your hands shake as you push back strands of her greasy hair, exposing the killing blow.
A nasty indent has shattered her skull and left bare the grey matter underneath, the jagged edges of the knife shredding as they retracted. Your fingers touch the broken shards scattered about, caught in the tangled snare of her hair, wet with blood and brain.
"I'm so sorry, Velma." You whisper quietly, slipping your arms under her to cradle her body as one would a child. "I never should have told them where you were."
The irony that you wish to forget even as you ache to remember is blinding, and you carefully lift her up from the stinking ground, placing her body next to all the others so she might find some semblance of companionship. You worm in after her, one arm slung about her emancipated body, head buried into the ridge of her still shoulder. Everything is so loud outside-after so long of staying with the restless dead you can hear the heartbeats of the others, the endless throb of life through them such an intrusive sound, and you bury yourself deeper in an attempt to forget the noise.
You sleep among the dead, their cold embrace wrapping you so tight you think they'll never let go.
"What do you think they're doing?"
It's a common topic now, always thrown about in whispers and simmering in half-truths. They come to you for answers but you have none, simply as clueless as they are, confined to waiting and watching and wanting. Always the wanting. A better idea, a better day, a better life.
This isn't fun anymore.
"I dunno, but I wish they'd let us out."
You sit in a circle with food trays on your knees, talking about whatever comes in through these white-washed doors. These days, news is scarce, and the group often distorts it beyond recognition. The five people around you have blurred faces, unknown to you, but their voices are familiar as they reach your ears. You all have something in common, something important... why don't you remember?
"Yeah. It's obviously not doing anything." One of them glances around suspiciously, looking for white coats, before leaning it to whisper to the group. "I hear they took Jake early today."
A wave of hushed murmurs flow up from the group, and they all turn to you.
"Is that true, Britt?"
You pause mid-bite, glancing around at each and every one of these faces you know you can call friends, before thinking back to the empty bed across the room from you and the hastily thrown pyjamas, crumpled to the floor. Here, without natural light, your sleep is often troubled and unkind-how he managed to slip past you in the middle of the night you don't know.
"Yeah, now that I think about it. He wasn't there when I woke up."
Another explosion of furious whispering. It hurts your head, and you flinch slightly as you bring one hand up to cradle your temple. The boy next to you (Antonio! screams your mind) touches your knee, his face still hidden from you, but you remember big brown eyes and curly hair where only a smear is now. "You okay?" Usually any contact of his skin against yours, even indirectly, causes you to turn the worst shade of red, but today you're as pale as a ghost.
"I'm fine... it must've been from this morning."
His brow wrinkles in sympathy.
"They got you too, huh?"
You never see Jake again.
Talking wakes you from your fractured memories. You forget for a moment that you have willingly let others into your home and tell Velma good morning, praising her for finally using words, before the last day rushes up to you and you grimace in what could be physical pain, sitting up and detaching yourself from her body. There is a tiny sliver of natural daylight floating from the boards of the windows and it illuminates the bloated face of a child, disfigured in death, and you pull yourself to your feet before staggering to the door and flinging it open. They all stare as if they had seen a ghost, and it's only now do you realize you're once more covered in blackened blood.
But are you the ghost, or are they?
You silently pass them by and duck into the bathroom, tugging the clothes from you as you go. Now that you're aware there's a laundry room somewhere in this complex, it'll make cleaning them much easier. The dial is cranked to burning and you let the steam swell and fill your lungs as you carefully unwind your bandage and step into the spray, gasping out of reflex as it scalds your skin and sears away the rest of you.
It's the first time in what must be weeks now that you can use your left arm, and you extend your elbow with care as one would carry a fragile cup. Though the area is still a knotted mess, there is no longer the sickly glint of bone shining through, tendrils of newly formed flesh snaking over and binding themselves together, sewing up the skin like poorly done stitches. It is ugly, most certainly, but it no longer looks gruesome. Concerning rather than severe. Heat does not radiate from the depths of you and the hidden pockets of your cleaved carapace.
As time passes, so too do other things change. Though the seams of you are mending over, zipping up and leaving nothing but thick lines in their wake, the continued lack of food is wrecking havoc on your overall health. The cut of your hipbones are razor-sharp, ridged, steep and grooved. Each rib is a bony finger reaching back from your spine, the line of the cage clearly visible when you inhale and it presses outwards from you. For a moment you imagine splitting yourself back open to move them further downwards, but you shake away the thought and the phantom feeling of foreign hands rifling in your workings. It feels much too real for a moment and yet another spike of memory threatens to overwhelm you before you shove it away. (Sometimes, it hurts too much to remember.)
Tapping feet sound upon the floor, and you barely have time to turn in such a way that your arm is hidden before prying eyes are upon you; you freeze as you're met with eyes so dark they are black to you peering in curiously from the other side.
"Britt?" She asks, and though she was the one to deliver death to your family, you hold no true animosity towards her. This place turned her into something she wasn't supposed to be, too.
"We're going to have a meeting soon in the front room, if you want to join in." She shrugs like it's no big deal, but you know it means they aren't trying to shut you out. It makes a warmth, different from the burning rain, settle in your chest.
"Yeah?" You hum quietly, almost a question.
Shadow scuffs her foot on the tiles and glares at the ground, arms crossing tightly over her chest. You sense a wounded animal within her. "Yeah. It was Wheezy's idea. We gotta figure out what we're doing... and if we even can stay here for that long. Seriously, have you noticed the smell?"
"No, not really." You used to, all the time to the point where it made you sick, but now it's nothing more than a background to your daily life. "I kind of smelled like it for a while, so I got used to it. You should try it. One day, it might make good camouflage."
She nods slowly and sucks air through her teeth, starting to back up before she halts. "Hey... are you..." she hesitates here, scrunching up her nose like it pains her to say the words, "are you okay?"
"Sure!" You reply maybe a bit too loudly. She can only see your neck and above, though a slight portion of your side peeks out from the part in the shower stall. Where you have pressed your left arm against the tiles starts to throb accusingly. "I'm just hungry, I guess. I miss food."
A snort comes from her, and the first smile as her lips twist up at the corners. "Don't we all." She eyes you then, and you flinch away under her stare. "You're pretty thin."
"Antonio used to say that all the time." The words come from your mouth before you realize you've said them, and your brow furrows.
"Who's Antonio?" She asks it humorously, but you see her hand unconsciously floating to her weapon. "Another one of your zombie buddies?"
His name echoes in your head, like other lifetimes just out of reach.
"I... I don't know."
Seeing your face become upset again, Shadow raises her hands up and backs slowly from the room. "So uh, meeting soon. Yeah. Be there if you want to." With that, she turns on her heel and almost sprints from the room.
For a long time you spread your hands against the tiled wall and stare blankly at the rivulets that run into the cracking grout, mind open but nothing falling out. Antonio. You chase it through the slivers of memory, the mere fractions you find in dream. But his features remain nothing but a blurred image, what you imagine to be a smile is a scintillating smear upon the darkened canvas of a face. His voice is that which chases you in the dead of night, coaxing you to put together the shards of what you have been given. But they cut your fingers so, and you drop them back into the abyss, losing what once was held. By now, you think putting everything together would kill you. (What isn't already dead.)
Why couldn't they just have broken your body? You could have dealt with that - flesh heals given time, evidenced by the arm that slowly resembles a part of your body once again. Your hand curls angrily over the wound by your temple that refuses to close, resisting all impulses to drive your fingers deep until it forces all of the things you've lost back to the surface.
"Why did you have to do this to me?" You hiss to the unknown, curling your good hand into a fist and rhythmically battering your temple until the pain spikes through your entire head and almost knocks you off balance. "Why did you have to ruin me like this?" Again, again - flesh thuds against flesh and you can scarcely think through the assault, eyes squeezing shut and forehead leaning against the tiles long since gone cool.
One good thump sends you crashing to the ground, cradling the hammer that has taken up residence inside of your skull. It hurts to even open your eyes. You groan, long and low, the sound eerily like the one your strange man used to make. It rattles up through your chest even as you curl into a little ball and wish the world away.
It takes the water finally turning cold for you to force yourself from the floor.
Your whole body shivers, skin so bitterly cold to the touch you remember the bathtub from your first nights here, shakily dressing yourself and rewinding your bandage before hiding it under the sleeve of yet another shirt. Medicine is so rare that you don't risk taking one of the ibuprofen calling seductively from the (emptier) medicine cabinet across from you. Instead, you take slow, sluggish steps towards where you can hear the whisper of voices from far over in the compound, tracing by memory now until you emerge out into the hallway and almost all activity stops.
Mercedes smiles, beckoning you over. "There you are! I thought that you weren't coming!"
"I fell asleep."
She raises an eyebrow. "In the shower?"
"Sure." Your face remains completely blank, and she gives up on reading you.
"Right. Well, we've already started, but it's been useless bitching up to now. We can't decide on our next course of action, because some people," she turns her glare to a small girl, whose voice you recognize from across the door, "don't want to agree with anything we say."
"When you say we, Mercedes, you mean you," she says primly with a frown, legs neatly crossed, one over the other. "We have reached a general consensus within the group that there is no decided route to take, nor is there a predetermined goal that we aim to set. Honestly, we are all lucky to have survived this far."
Murmurs of agreement. Shadow speaks up with an obvious sardonic twist to her lips. "Whoa now, Rachel. It might have been your idea to come to this pit, but let's not remember that if it wasn't for Britts here, we'd all be zombie chow on her front porch. Don't get a big ego."
"She always has a big ego. Just like her nose." Another chimes in - she snorts and wordlessly high-fives the boy with the mohawk - Puck? - and settles back down.
Rachel huffs and leans into the side of the boy you dislike out of principle. "If anybody has a big ego here, Santana, it wouldn't be me. Who was it that decided that you are, and I quote, 'the hottest thing to grace this shitstorm of a planet?'"
Shadow quirks a brow. "That would be me, and it's also the truth."
Laughter erupts from the group, and a previously unseen character steps into the front. Through the shaggy cut of her short hair and the delicate curve of her features, you can see the hardness that makes her posture rigid and her eyes sharp. When she stands up they take notice, but only truly quiet down when she all abruptly tells them to shut up. You eye the pistol strapped to her thigh with obvious caution, the ghost of a barrel pressing to your temple making you tense up briskly.
"It's nice to know that we can all laugh together, but we really need to get things done." Her voice is like the chimes on the unseen wind that blows outside this building, mesmerizing in an entirely different way than the Shadow's. Despite the soft quality, her words are firm. "We're running out of food, running out of clothes, and running out of bullets. We're all half-insane from lack of sleep and comfort. We don't have any direction." She looks around the room. "Does any of this sound like a problem to you?"
"What should we do about it, fearless leader?" Puck asks her. "You got any food you can pull out of your ass? Hell, does Blondie over there have any food she could pull out of whatever holes her brain has?"
You look around at them as they all turn to you, but Rachel quickly pipes up.
"Noah, look at the state she's in. You can see her bones. Do you really believe she has a cache of food just lying around this compound ready to eat?"
While true, her interjection stings.
"I could be anorexic." You mumble under your breath, not knowing that she heard you. Her eyes focus upon you with startling suddenness, and you see her chest swell as she inhales a breath of air. You hurriedly cut her off before she can start.
"But I'm not. Anorexic. Or hiding food." A wistful sigh. "I miss food."
Shadow nods in agreement from your previous conversation.
"Okay, so, let's review the facts." She takes charge with a grace that makes you think she does this often, her eyes warning anybody who dare interrupt. (They linger in challenge on Rachel before they slide away, triumphant.) Mercedes whispers that her name is Quinn. "We're... what, twelve? Twelve teenagers with no communication to the outside world."
"Don't forget Mr. Schue." Pipes up the tall, mean boy, his eyes floating to the man across the hallway you hadn't noticed leaning against the wall. A moment of awkward silence until he smiles stiffly, and Quinn slowly nods in agreement.
"Fine. Twelve teenagers and one adult," you hear how her voice strains on the word, "stuck in a city that we know nothing about save for television shows and Rachel's obsessive Google tendencies. We eat a lot of fucking food, and because some of us are trigger-happy, use a lot of bullets."
"Hey!" The boy-Finn, fills in Mercedes-brightens, looking to you. "You've been, uh... living... here, right? You must know something about the city!"
Your mouth opens for a moment, but it closes again as they all turns to you again. Finally, "What city are we in?"
Rachel's eyebrows must go past her hairline. "We're in New York, Brittany! The Big Apple? Where people go to make their fortune with talent such as mine-ours-or fail and fall into the shadows of greatness? Where Broadway was born, the king of all theatre? How have you been here for so long yet not gone out to see it?"
Quinn snorts. "It hasn't been a great time for sight seeing. Might get a glimpse of a few dead stars, if you look close enough."
It horrifies Rachel enough to continue on.
"If you didn't remember, Finn, the doors were locked shut when we first got here. There's no way anybody's gotten in or out of here in ages."
"Which reminds me," Tina pipes up this time, "if we're going to make this our base, we really need to get rid of these bodies. So much decaying flesh in an enclosed space is really not healthy for any of us."
"Nobody said anything about staying."
"Where else are we going to go?" She asks forcefully, but not unkindly. "We're exhausted, we've got no car, and we're not in the direct heart of the city. If we fortify this place it could be a really good shelter for us."
Puck looks at her doubtfully. "I dunno, man... will these rooms ever be clean? Even if we move the corpses it's gonna stink, and it might make us sick."
"Brittany's been here forever and she isn't sick."
The still silence that engulfs the group for a moment suggests that some of them think otherwise. You place one palm flat against your temple and curl into a small ball; the ridges of your spine show from underneath your shirt.
"We can all agree that for now, here is our best bet?" Nodding heads. Mercedes turns to you. "If you would let us stay, 'course."
You look at them all from tired eyes; young faces, foreign places. What other choice do you have? It's not like you can force them out simply because they disturb the restless dead. No, they'd become the ones that haunt you after that. And besides, they'd be more likely to ignore you and continue on their way.
So instead you shrug and pointedly avoid their curious eyes. "It's not really my place anyway, it's theirs. You can move them, but they're going to be angry that you haul them outside. They yelled at me and I was just moving them into different rooms." Their silent voices echo in pointed memory.
But they won't believe you. Who talks to the dead?
Something sparks within them, and purpose gives them movement; they all seem to mobilize at once in a wall of endless noise that they are able to weave through as easily as they breathe. It speaks of a group bound together through something greater than circumstance; not for the first time, you wonder where they came from and where they've been. Perhaps you can use their memories to patch the empty ones inside your head.
The man that was leaning against the wall tries to get their attention, but it's obvious they are far more attuned to each other. Mercedes calls some of the group to her and others are with Quinn - the boy that Tina is seen with all the time (Mike, she calls him sweetly)leads a few with a quiet handand Tina oversees the procedure with careful eyes. Shadow is quick to gravitate to Quinn, the two falling into place with an old friendship that speaks its volume in silence. You seem to have said as much to the open air, as Mercedes looks at you strangely.
"Why don't you call her Santana?"
A name implies an identity, a place. You hear more than see the darkness in the undertones of her voice, the angry flashes in her eyes that flicker like the flames of a wildfire. Santana isn't... enough to describe her, not yet. Not until she fills herself out as more than the vengeful ghost you see in every inch of her movement. (You know you're a dancer now; every twitch tells a story, every flinch a tragedy.)
But your mouth fails you once again and you simply shrug, the words cracking somewhere in the broken hold of your brain on the way out. "She made a shadow of my sister, so that's what she is until she lets the light in again."
Mercedes studies you for a moment before shaking her head slowly and wandering away. You don't blame her. This place will make phantoms out of all of you eventually.
They sort themselves into some semblance of order before long. You're taken to help with the removal of the bodies - not because you're strong, but because you're the only one that doesn't mind touching their falling flesh and stroking your fingers over their face to close their engorged eyes. Ever so slowly you roll them, one by one, into the large sheet, whispering apologies and lining them up outside the hallway. They mutter their discontent and let it be known on stinking exhales that make the pale boy gag, Mike goes still and quiet as more and more of them are dragged out into the harsh light that pours out from the flickering sets in the ceiling. Eventually you've emptied one room, and you have to watch your step lest you crush a ruined hand under your bare feet.
"Where are we going to put them?" The smaller boy asks (you like him, he sounds like your sanity feels), eyes tracking over the dead. "There's just so many."
Mike scratches his head, flinching away after he remembers what he's been handling. "There was a compound out back, wasn't there, Kurt? We could put them there. Have one or two people carrying while the rest are on guard."
It comes down to the conclusion that Mike and Finn will do the honours of transporting the dead, while Puck, Kurt and yourself stand on watch. You frown when Finn gingerly picks up only one side of the sheet; the body tumbles awkwardly to the floor when they attempt to lift it.
You crouch by his side. "You have to be careful!" You hiss to him, re-arranging the splayed limbs and murmuring soft sorrys under your breath as you roll him back onto his makeshift stretcher. "How would you like it if somebody dropped you onto the tiles?"
He huffs out a stressed breath from between his pursed lips - you see the shine of sweat beading across his brow, stark in the light. "If I was alive I wouldn't enjoy it, but he's obviously not. We could drag him out by the ankles for all I care."
Your hands cup the man's ears lest he hear his angry woods. You shoot Finn a dirty look, but he's already crouched down to attempt another lift. This time it goes smoother, and the first of the dead begins his slow pilgrimage into the world beyond. The five of you weave through the crowded halls, catching glimpses of the others sorting whatever supplies you may have, dragging soft objects into one room to fashion a sort of bed. There's a single cot swinging longingly in the corner underneath the boarded window, and you know their muscles ache just thinking about it. There's going to be bloodshed dealing out that privilege.
The keys jingle as you prepare to open the locks still holding strong upon the front doors, but they take an unexpected right and it sends you scrambling to catch up to them. They seem unworried, grunting as they shoulder through a doorway and pause at another - its wood is dull and chewed through by pestilence, the light seeping through the cracks sickly at best. You freeze even as they look at you impatiently.
"You going to open the door, Blondie?" Puck asks, hands clutching at the fire axe he found the night before.
"I..." Your eyes are glued to that rusted handle, the lock brown with disuse. "Why are we going down there?"
"We can't go out through the main door." Mike explains, his brow wet from the nervous sweat of handling such gruesome cargo. "There's another door that leads out into a kind of courtyard, and it'll be mostly safe to put them there. But we have to go through the basement in order to find it."
There is an animal fear within you, breaking the skin of your palms as your nails bite through the thick flesh, a blind beast that shrieks its discontent even as your hand slowly finds the right key. The basement is wrong and you don't know why, don't know how, but it rises up until you shake so violently Kurt has to put a steadying hand on your back, starting when you flinch away from his touch. The lock scrapes and howls and the door is one of the moaning dead when it swings open, its gaping maw revealing the rickety staircase leading to the shadows.
Through your waking hours there have been two types of dark: the superficial shadow that you can walk through without problems, and the thick, smothering blackness that brings such terror you cease to function. This is worse than that; the smell is musty and brings back stilted conversation and the clang of rusted metal and the screams of suffering children. It smells like death.
Your breath hisses out from between your clenched teeth as you follow them down ever so slowly, their clumsy steps loud against the silence. Their heartbeats are a frenzy against your fragile ears, bang bang bang, and you fear this place will shatter with the sound. Your eyes swivel from corner to corner, scoping out the monsters that lurk sightlessly in the dark. Puck swears as something hits his face, but it's only the pull-cord for the lights.
It takes an age for them to flicker on, the angry generator churning loudly to life, the buzz from above the swarm of a million insects removed from their homes. A dull room comes into sight. You can't see much for the lights have blown out on the other side to leave it simply shapes of shadow; endless possibilities for nightmares to come, the shape of a hand or the glitter of unearthly eyes from just around the bend. The place reeks of cold sweat as you shuffle your way through the dirty floor, hands fumbling with the keys until you find the one you need - it slides into the lock and you shriek as a spider skitters over your hand.
You pull back for a moment, pulse pounding in the delicate hollow of your throat. Once you realize it has nothing with which it can hurt you, your body allows your fingers to turn the lock and the chains slither to the ground, exposing the world beyond.
Sunlight sears you.
With a cry of pain you pull back into the foreboding darkness, the palms of your shaking hands grinding hard into your sockets to chase away the daggers that have embedded themselves into your skull. The others flinch and grimace, too, but they seem not to be affected like you are - even after a long time of adjustment it still hurts to look directly into the horizon, where the blue sky and puffy white clouds roll past lazily, completely uncaring of the apocalypse they now flank. Trees bloom full-blooded and majestically green, their leaves reaching up to the giving sun; they are the only things unaffected by this madness, for buildings crumble and streets are rubble, the skeletons of gutted cars haunting the broken streets. Scraps of wood and metal scatter about upon the healthy grass, pieces twisted into gruesome shapes within the bodies lain upon the ground without care. Some move, some do not.
For the first time you can watch how they stumble without the constant uncomfortable feeling of being out of place-you lurk in the shadow of the doorway and see how their heads swivel ever so methodically, and how their sightless eyes scan the surroundings until they focus in on the group hastily depositing the first of many upon the ground. One call goes up until it is echoed, rebounding across the empty alleyways of this city; it strikes something within you and its sound is familiar, the same broken noise you made the very first time you woke up and found your world spinning hastily out of control.
Puck strides up, his face set into savage lines, and sinks the axe deep into the closest man's face. You muffle a cry as he goes down, the metal swinging to cut through another without care; Puck goes on and on, his blade a dark whir as bodies hit the floor, and eventually Mike and Finn join him until nothing moves save for them. A small mountain lay at their feet. He is covered in black blood, the muscles of his back rippling as he heaves.
For a moment you see that same anger that Shadow holds, stark and unkind, but it dissipates as soon as it has arrived. Puck hoists it upon his shoulder, a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth, eyebrows raising. "Come on out, Britt! We have some bodies to drag!"
By the time you're finished, you're beginning to wonder if you're the only one that's broken.