On their way back Nick saw the male zombie who was still trying to get into the bar. Instead of running against the door he now used a brick which he smashed against it again and again. Nick stopped at that sight and turned to Ellis.
"You see that?"
"Yah. Looks like they're learning!" Nick nodded.
"I assumed they were close to brain-dead but it seems like there's still some kind of intelligence left in them," He watched how the zombie started to aim for the lock. "And I really don't know whether this is a good or a bad thing."
"I know what you mean," said Ellis and poked around in a trash heap with his axe. "It either means that there's a chance for them to get healed or that our chances of surviving decreased… again." He looked up from under his cap. The mechanic kept a neutral face but his eyes were looking for something in Nick's. Hope maybe.
Knowing that Ellis would not find whatever he was looking for, Nick turned away. He bit his lip and inhaled.
"Well they're not learning fast so I don't think we have to worry. After all we still got guns and they don't," He turned around again, forcing a smile. "Right?"
Ellis' watched a plastic bag being carried away by the wind. "Right," he said looking as lost as Nick felt.
"Come on. The wind is gettin' stronger. We should hurry."
A few minutes later they arrived at the CD store. The sky was now getting darker and darker and the wind whirled old newspapers and leaves around.
This time Nick covered Ellis while the mechanic made sure that there was no one – or better, nothing – else in the store.
"You remember what Ro wanted?" Nick asked Ellis.
"Gary Numan," came the quick reply. Nick perked his eyebrows up.
"You actually remember?" He was impressed.
"Sure. If you don't listen to what a woman tells you it can get you into deep trouble. I thought you of all people would know that. Didn't you mention a wife?"
"Ex-wife… and I guess now we know why," Ellis laughter filled the small store and made Nick chuckle. Finally the boy was back to his cheerful and carefree nature. His eyes were shining like they did when he was telling one of his stories. Nick had not noticed that he was staring at the young man until Ellis looked at him and stopped laughing.
"Oh shit. I'm sorry Nick. I shouldn't have laughed. I mean you loved her and everything … probably still do."
Nick remembered that everyone always told him how serious he looked when he was thinking. Ellis must have thought that he hurt Nick with his reaction.
Nick smiled and said, "Don't worry. She's a bitch!" Ellis smiled back, placed his weapons on the counter and headed for the back of the store.
"Should be here somewhere," he called over his shoulder and started to browse through the CDs.
Outside it had started to rain and Nick could see a lightning bold in the distance. There was no way that they would make it back to the flat dry but Nick clearly did not want to be outside when I got worse. He laid his weapons next to Ellis' and helped the younger man search.
"We should probably just forget about the CD and go back," the gambler said watching Ellis from the corner of his eyes. The storm was now getting so loud that he almost had to scream.
"Probably," Ellis replied. "We could come back tomorrow or… GOT IT!" He waved a Gary Numan CD in front of Nicks face and grinned from ear to ear.
"Great!" Nick smiled at him. "Let's go then."
He was about to turn around and leave the store when Ellis suddenly grabbed his arm. The young man's face was as white as a sheet.
"Nick!" he whispered alarming. Hardly loud enough to hear it over the rain. Then he pointed at something behind his back. Very slowly Nick turned around.
"SHIT!" he hissed between clenched teeth.
Only meters away from them sat a witch crying on the floor. She was blocking the only way out of the store and on top of that their weapons were now out of their reach because they were still lying on the counter. The counter right behind the witch.
"Goddammit! This really isn't our day, kid!" he whispered to Ellis who was now standing next to him.
"What're we gonna do?" Ellis looked around, obviously searching for some kind of weapon. "There's nothing here but CDs and I doubt that we can kill her with them."
"How could she come so close without us noticing her in the first place?" asked Nick.
"The storm. It has gotten really loud. Damn! We should have stayed home!" replied Ellis angrily. Nick could see how he got more and more nervous.
"Alright, calm down!" He grabbed Ellis's arm and pulled him to the corner in the back - carefully trying not to step on one of the jewel cases on the floor - where they were covered by a big shelf filled with music magazines. Ellis looked at him with big worried eyes. "Okay, listen up! Here's what we're gonna do. We'll stay here and try to be as quiet as possible. We'll call for Coach and Rochelle with the walkie-talkie and they're gonna get us out of here. Understood?"
Ellis nodded and swallowed. Nick noticed that he was still clutching Ellis arm and let go off it. He exhaled and sat down on the floor leaning his back against the cold white wall. Ellis sat down next to him while he detached the walkie-talkie from his belt. He pressed the call button two times and then waited for a few seconds before he laid his finger on the talk button.
"Coach? Ro? You hear me?" Every second he had to wait for a response made him feel more uneasy. He was about to press the talk button again and try it a second time when a crackle came from the speaker.
"Nick? That you? What's wrong?" he heard Coach's voice ask. He closed his eyes for a second and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Yah, it's me. Listen, we're in trouble. You need to get us out of here."
"What trouble? Where are you?"
"The CD store at the corner. We got a witch here and we can't get to our weapons. Way out is blocked too."
"Shit! Okay… try to hide. We're on our way!"
"Okay, we'll try not to die in the meantime!" He laid the walkie-talkie in his lap and ran his fingers through his hair. Ellis watched him. Then the young man got on his knees and peeked from behind the shelf.
"She's coming closer, Nick!" he whispered panicked.
"Don't worry. Coach and Rochelle will be here soon."
"No, you don't understand!" The mechanic turned around, his face full of fear. "She's right behind the shelf!" His voice trembled. Nick looked at him in disbelief. Then he slowly crawled over to Ellis and took a quick look.
Ellis was right. There was no way Coach and Rochelle would arrive in time. They pressed themselves against the wall again when suddenly they could hear the witch's claws scratching over the floor. Their shoulders were touching and Nick could feel how Ellis' breathing quickened.
"We need to get out of here," Nick whispered. "Yes, she's sitting right behind the shelf, I know. But that means that the main aisle is free now. We're gonna sneak out. You go first and I keep an eye on her and try to distract her in case she notices you. Okay?" Ellis just looked at him and then slowly nodded. "When you see that I'm halfway out I want you to activate the pipe bomb! Got that?" Ellis was about to reply when again they heard the witch's scratching.
"GO!" he hissed at the young man. Ellis got up and hid behind another shelf on the other side of the aisle. He looked at Nick and nodded as if he was saying, "See you outside then!" Then he very slowly and carefully started to sneak to the exit, frequently glancing at the witch. Nick took a deep breath and then quietly walked over to the shelf Ellis had been hiding behind a few seconds ago. From here he could see the witch. She was sitting in front of the other shelf, head buried in her hands. Sobbing. This was very good. There was no way she was going to notice them sneaking out like this. Ellis was now nearly at the door. He was quite quick and still he did not make a single noise. When he reached the exit he turned around and signaled Nick to follow and that he would have a look at the witch.
Sneaking out was not as hard as Nick had thought it would be. All he had to do was carefully placing his feet between the jewel cases that lay around. There was only one time when he nearly lost his balance and thought it was over but then he managed to catch himself. He was now only three meters away from the door and watched how Ellis pushed the small button on the pipe bomb. The small red light started to blink but the usual beeping couldn't be heard over the loud storm. Nick signaled Ellis to place it next to the door.
Two and a half meters left. Nick knew that they would make it and he could not stop himself from smiling at Ellis. Ellis smiled back and gave him a thumbs up.
Two meters left. The first thing he would do was celebrating with a bottle of whiskey. He could almost feel it running down his throat.
One and a half meters left. He started to walk quicker now. What if he miscalculated and the pipe bomb would go off right when he walked through the door? When he was about to place his foot between AC/DC and Nickelback the walkie-talkie made a cracking sound.
"Yo, Nick! We're as good as there!"
Shocked by the sudden noise Nick tripped and stepped on the Nickelback CD. There was a loud crack. If the walkie-talkie had not startled the witch this clearly had. But there was a minimal chance that she did not hear it since even the pipe bombs beeping was swallowed by the storm. Nick looked up at Ellis. The young man was not moving and just stared at the witch behind him with big eyes. Nick turned around. The witch had gotten to her feet and was looking directly at them. Nick tried not to move. He did not even breathe. Maybe she would lose interest in him in a few seconds. But then it dawned on him…
The pipe bomb.
He turned around and screamed, "RUN, ELLIS!" Behind him he heard the witch screaming as he ran through the door. It rained so heavily that Ellis who was only a few meters in front of him was only a yellow splash of color. He tried to run faster but the wet street was so slippery that he fell and had to catch himself with his hands. He tried to get up again as fast as he could but it was not fast enough. He could feel how the long claws cut open the flesh on his back and a scream escaped his lips but he kept on running. He was still in the reach of the pipe bombs detonation and the adrenaline seemed to make the pain endurable.
He could see the yellow splash of color growing bigger. Was Ellis running back? He heard him scream over the storm, "NICK, WHERE ARE YOU?"
"NO! RUN ELLIS! DON'T COME HERE! RUN!" But it seemed that the mechanic did not hear him. He was now only a few meters away. Again the feeling of claws on his back made Nick scream in pain. This time they had cut deeper. He could feel the warm blood running down his back.
Right when he reached Ellis the pipe bomb went off.
At first it was just the heat he could feel on his neck but then he saw a bright light from the corner of his eyes. There was a deafening noise right when he dragged Ellis to the ground and something hit his back. He could see the witch running of, screaming. Blood was dripping from her head and one of her arms was on fire. The sight made him smile. Then he felt the pain on his back…
and blacked out…
Ellis was drowning.
He knew that swimming in the lake with an arm in plaster was not a good idea. But Keith had somehow managed to convince him and now here he was. Drowning in a three meter deep lake with a plastic bag around his arm. He could see the surface but no matter how hard he tried he could not get up there. His lungs were about to burst and his eyes burnt. Why was no one helping him? He tried to scream but that only made him swallow more water.
Suddenly a hand grasped his wrist and pulled him up. When his head broke through the surface he coughed and gasped for air. He was pulled to the shore. A face looked down on him.
"That was pretty close. Almost got ya killed. Sorry, El!" Keith said and panted.
Ellis laughed. "Don't worry, man. I'm fine."
"So you're sure you didn't get bitten?" asked Nick.
"Yah, I'm fine!"
Wait… Why was Keith suddenly Nick? And where was the lake?
"Come on, kid. We gotta go!" Nick held out his hand for him. Ellis wanted to take it but when their hands touched Nick turned into dust and vanished. Before Ellis could even try to get up he suddenly felt something wrapping around his neck. He gasped and tried to free himself but it only got worse and now he felt a pressure on his chest which got stronger and stronger.
Suddenly it all came back to him.
The CD store. The witch. The pipe bomb. Nick screaming in pain. How he had been running back to search for him. How Nick had screamed that he should not. He remembered how he had struggled with himself because he wanted to do what Nick told him but he also wanted to help him. He remembered how he had heard Nick scream again and how he had been running in the direction of the white spot.
And then something heavy had hit him, he had fallen to the ground and all the air had been pressed out of his lungs.
He noticed the raindrops that were continuously falling on his face. The weight on his chest. His eyelids were heavy and his head felt like he had not slept for a year.
He pushed the weight from his chest to the side and inhaled deeply. Then he opened his eyes and used his hand to protect them from the rain. He sat up and looked around.
Debris lay around and the CD store was burning. The flames were fighting against the rain but would soon be extinguished. He searched his body for injuries but it seemed like he was unharmed. Then he look to his side to identify whatever had been lying on his chest.
It was Nick…
He was lying on his stomach his face turned into Ellis' direction. His eyes were closed and there was blood dripping from his mouth. Ellis gasped.
Nick's former white suit was now red because of all the blood. There were several deep cuts on his back and a metal shard was sticking in it. Ellis shivered. He was just sitting there not believing what he was seeing. Then he realized that he had to do something. He took off his T-shirt and tried to wring as much water as possible out of it. Then he pressed it on the deepest cuts. He did not know what to do about the metal shard but the wound was not bleeding as much as the others and he knew pulling it out would most likely make things even worse. So he left it like it was.
"Nick?" he screamed. "Come on, wake up!" He sniffed. "Nick!"
The rain had made it hard for him to realize that he was crying. He wanted to shake Nick, wanted to make him wake up but he was afraid of reducing the pressure on the bleeding wounds. So he tried not to move and stayed like was.
Bent over Nick's death-like body with tears streaming down his face and mixing with the rain. Trying to save him, trying to prevent him from dying with nothing but a yellow T-shirt.
"Nick?" Still no response. No sign of life. He wanted to check Nick's pulse and breathing but the wounds…
The yellow T-shirt was now soaked in blood. So much blood.
"ELLIS! NICK! WHERE ARE YOU?"
He looked up. That had clearly been Rochelle's voice.
"HERE!" he screamed back, "WE'RE HERE ROCHELLE!"
Now he could see two figures running towards him through the rain.
"Hang in there, Nick," he whispered.
Rochelle reached him first. She came to an abrupt halt when she saw Nick lying on the ground.
"Oh shit!" She sat down next to his head and checked his breathing and pulse. "You okay, Ellis?" Coach arrived. After a few seconds he understood the situation and took a blanket out of the bag he was carrying.
"You can let go now, Ellis," he said. Ellis pulled his hands away and looked at them. Coach removed the blood soaked T-shirt and replaced it with the blanket.
Ellis's fingers and his palms were stained with blood. Nick's blood…
"Ellis, did you hear me? Are you okay?" Rochelle asked. Ellis looked at her. "Ellis?"
He looked at his hands again. Then at Nick.
Suddenly he was grabbed by the shoulders and someone shook him.
"Ellis!" He opened his mouth… but there were no words coming out.