Happy Holidays everyone!
I wanted to write a little something for you all for the season, but when I started a Christmas/Holiday fic I remembered how much I hate writing holiday themed fanfiction. I don't mind reading it, but the Christmas prompt (or any holiday for that matter) tends to completely stump me. That being said, I still wanted to write you all something, so I thought I'd try out a genre that everyone seems to be pretty okay with. What is it? Well, read on to find out.
I'm trying out shorter chapters with this one in hopes that I can post a chapter every day this week. I've already got six or seven finished so you know you'll have a steady flow for at least a few days. I might even be able to finish it this weekend. :O
Anyway, I hope everyone has a good break. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and if you don't celebrate any of the holidays, have a great end of the year!
Day one-hundred eighty-five.
The cold had started masking the smell of them for the most part. That putrid, metallic sweetness had faded as the days grew shorter. Only when you sliced them with a knife or bludgeoned them up close did it touch your nostrils. What had not changed was the sound. That dry wheeze, that clicking of teeth as they shuffled by was as bad as ever. The older ones were decayed enough that they had taken to scooting, or pulling themselves along on broken hands or stumps of shoulders. The scratch of bones on concrete had become like the sounds of traffic outside a city window.
Sanji crouched at the corner of what had once been a city market, facing east with his back to the cement wall. Shops stood empty and dark as far as he could see. Windows were broken, signs hung limp with letters fading. Nothing lived here now, nothing but ghosts and the memories of a civilization.
Glancing to his left, Sanji nodded to his partner who had taken position across the street. Law nodded in return, his dark eyes flashing just beneath a thick, wool cap. He twisted his body, leaned out into the street, and whistled—three short twitters—a simple bird call.
Dry, lifeless heads turned and milky eyes rolled in Law's direction. Fingerless hands reached out and bones scraped as the Deadies clicked and creaked and started shambling or pulling themselves in Law's direction. Law stood and backed away slowly, giving his pursuers time to get a little closer.
Sanji watched. He waited. He checked his grip on the knife in his palm and slowly counted to ten. He breathed in, let it out, and stood. The Deadies nearest to him snapped their jaws; reached for him wildly, but Sanji was calm and his body moved with confidence.
He brought the knife up under the first Deadie's jaw, severing the spinal cord and almost taking its head clear off. The second practically walked right into it. Blood and mucus ran down the thing's face as Sanji found what was left if its brain through its eye socket. Three more like that, and then on to the group that was following Law. An arrow found the back of a hairless skull, and Sanji waved a thank you over his shoulder to Usopp, who was situated on the roof of what used to be a Starbucks. Two more dropped as arrows hit, the solid thunk and the clatter of a body falling to the ground was music to Sanji's ears.
Law continued to wave his arms and back away down the street. Not slow enough for any of the Deadies to get close, but not fast enough to get away either. Sanji followed, dropping one after the other with his knife. Usopp supported from above, hit after perfect hit.
There had been twenty-three of them walking when they started, and the whole thing had taken maybe four minutes. Sanji and his team had killed hundreds in the last few months, this was nothing.
"You all right?" Law asked, his mouth turned up in a grimace as he wiped his blade clean.
"Cool," Law stepped over the bodies, making his way back towards him, "Let's see if we can't find something to eat." He unclipped the walkie from his belt and spoke softly into the receiver. "Usopp, are we clear?"
The walkie crackled and Usopp's voice came through. "Yeah, unless they start coming up from the subway, you're good."
"Roger." Law turned to Sanji and grinned, "Let's go."
Deadies tended to mass together in large groups, clumping around closed doors of supermarkets and down in the subway tunnels as if waiting for the trains that no longer ran. No one was sure if it was because those places had once been highly traveled and still held a lingering smell of the living, or if maybe the Deadies were following some sort of inherent muscle memory to familiar things. Sanji didn't think it was either, especially now since it was so cold, and if the Deadies really had any muscle memory at all, they would have seen at least a few return to their homes.
No, the swarming was more than likely mindless and the groups just happened to bunch up in places they couldn't find a way out of. Like now, the few they had just put down had been stuck in an ally, shambling in circles, not realizing the way out was behind them towards the open street.
"Sanji, you coming?"
None of that mattered now. Things like psychology and philosophy were useless in regards to the risen dead. Life now was kill or be killed; pray about it later.
Moving into the ally, Sanji retrieved a crowbar from Law's duffle and pried open the door to what they hoped was dry storage for the restaurant around front. Entry from that direction had been impossible after the bombings, but this side of the structure was still intact. Sanji went in first, his knife at the ready, and Law followed close behind.
It was not what he saw that made Sanji's heart ache, but more the memories that were awoken at the sight of such familiarity. A full kitchen untouched by the horrors of the outside world surrounded him, tidy, with only a thin layer of dust upon the metal surfaces. Pots hung above the wide prep table, knives hung gleaming from a magnetic strip on the wall. Bins of flower and rice sat beneath long counters, and containers of spices sat organized on a rack in the center of the space.
Such care and attention to organization, such a love for the craft, it was only a memory now. Only a ghost.
"Sanji?" Law's voice pulled him from his thoughts.
Not wanting to appear weak or overly sentimental, Sanji quickly pulled his eyes away from his first love and headed towards the back area of offices to what he was sure was storage. The door opened easily with the crowbar and what they found inside was nothing short of a miracle.
"Damn," Law whistled, "Dead Day must have happened like, the day after a delivery huh?"
Sanji nodded. The shelves were stocked with canned goods: tomatoes, hominy, peaches, and cherries. The racks below held unopened bags of wheat and rice. Sanji moved to one of the bags and tore it open, checking for weevils or other signs of decay or contamination.
"Holy shit, there's ketchup," Law had started to pull things off the shelves, filling his duffle with whatever he could get his hands on. "Jesus… mustard, sauerkraut, salt and pepper! Sanji you're a fucking genius!"
Sanji's lips pulled up into a half smile at that and he unhooked the empty duffle from his shoulders. He located all the salt he could find, and took all the boxes of tea and dehydrated milk. Cans of beans, tomatoes, and tuna filled most of the bag, and he managed to cram a few containers of peaches in as well. Happy with his load, Sanji moved to close the duffle, but from the bottom shelf, tucked back behind cans of olives, a bottle of chocolate syrup caught his eye. He happened to know someone who would appreciate that more than ketchup or salt, so he quickly slipped it into the bag before he closed the flaps and tied it shut.
Law was practically vibrating as he held up a container of coffee for Sanji to see. "Do you have any idea how great this is? This is better than gold."
Rolling his eyes, Sanji hoisted the duffle over his shoulders and hooked the chest strap. It was heavy, but it would be worth it to get it back to camp.
The walkie at Law's belt crackled. Law froze to listen, but Usopp relayed no message. He looked at Sanji, "You good?"
Sanji nodded and started for the door. The walkie crackled again, this time longer. Sanji turned and watched as Law unclipped the device and held it up.
"Usopp, what's going on?" he waited a moment, nothing.
"Usopp? Are you okay?"
Another crackling but no distinct words came through. Sanji motioned with his head and moved back out into the kitchen. Law followed, speaking into the receiver.
"Usopp, we're coming back out. We'll be there in a few seconds."
Crackling answered, and this time Sanji could make out Usopp's frantic voice. What he was saying, however, was still garbled. Law shook the walkie; hit it against his palm once. "Reception?"
Sanji shrugged and motioned for Law to follow him for the door but as he reached for the handle, Sanji froze as Usopp's voice finally came through the receiver. It was muffled and the static was harsh, but his words were clear.
"They're right on you guys! I can't take them all! What the hell are you still doing in there!"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Law growled back.
Sanji pulled a stool out from underneath a prep table and dragged it over to one of the high windows. He climbed up and peered out over the sill. At least thirty Deadies had found their way into the ally and were blocking the door.
"I've been calling for you guys for like ten minutes!" Usopp whispered frantically through the walkie, "They came up from the subway all at once. I don't know what set them off!"
Law groaned and removed his cap to scratch at his forehead. "Can you get them clear? You can lead them down Third and we can go around to Birch and meet you at the corner."
"I got it."
"See you in a few," Law re-clipped the walkie to his belt and slid his cap back over his dark hair. "This is gonna be a bitch to run with," he said, readjusting the duffle on his shoulders.
Sanji agreed, circling around and meeting back up at the corner of Birch and Third meant that both of them were going to have to sprint several blocks. Sanji was okay with that, however. Whatever it took, he would get this food back to their friends at camp. This was his mission, his responsibility.
An arrow struck the left temple of a Deadie standing directly outside the window. As it fell, several others turned and started shambling away, down the street. Usopp was more than just a good shot, he was a quick thinker and a fast runner. He would be fine until Sanji and Law caught up with him.
"Good man, Usopp," Law murmured as the terrible clicking sounds moved out of the ally.
Sanji jumped to the floor and put his hand on the door. He glanced at Law, waited for his nod, and opened it.
Out on the street, a few Deadies had lagged behind and turned around at the sound of the door hinges. Sanji was ready with his knife, as was Law, and the two of them quickly dispatched the stragglers before they turned and headed towards Birch Street. A mass of cars were clumped together at the corner, some stacked precariously like a barricade. Slipping between the remnants of an old Chevy and a crushed Toyota, Sanji turned the corner and almost collided with a large, putrid body.
"Fuck!" Law cursed behind him.
There were at least fifteen Deadies on Birch between them and the intersection with Third. The one standing before them had to have been at least three hundred pounds in life, possibly more. Rolls of sick, rotting flesh hung out over sagging pants. Slimy, bloody jowls flapped as yellow and black teeth clicked in Sanji's direction.
They had seconds. Law tossed Sanji his crowbar and Sanji took out the Deadie's legs. It fell to the ground with a heavy, wet sound, but neither Sanji nor Law wasted any time taking out the brain. They ran. They weaved their way through the group of wandering dead, taking out one or two as they passed. As they neared the corner, Usopp came into view. His camouflage jacket and his mass of dreadlocks a welcome and terrifying sight. He turned his head, eyes wide, and his finger on the trigger of his crossbow.
"We're screwed you guys!" Usopp cried, "I don't know where they all came from!"
Sanji skidded to a stop beside his friend. Usopp was right, there were no longer thirty or so heading their way. There were at least fifty now, mostly Newdead, blood still rust-brown on their mouths and bodies mostly intact.
Law grabbed Sanji's shoulder and pushed him onward, "We gotta move!"
They had no options. Behind them, Third had been blocked by a barrier of cars and other debris, and the rest of Birch was now a mass of creaking bones and gaping mouths. They had to continue down to where Birch turned into Express and look for a way to get up on high ground. Deadies didn't climb, so drainpipes and scaffolding were ideals for escape. It was a gamble, but it was either take this chance or die.
Sanji grabbed Usopp's collar and pulled the smaller man along with him as he ran.
"Ack! Sanji! Wait, where are we going?"
"We're going the direction the Deadies aren't!" Law shouted, "Shut up and run!"
The duffle bag's weight pulled painfully at Sanji's shoulders, but he would not give it up. He would get this food back even if it got him killed.
Buildings on either side of the street loomed dark and menacing as the three tried to make space between them and the advancing swarm. Demolished cars and overturned garbage bins forced them to run through a zigzag path. Broken down military vehicles and piles of trash slowed them down, keeping the Deadies only meters behind them. Sanji scanned the walls looking for anything they could use to climb, but so far he saw nothing.
"I'm out!" Usopp screamed as he shot his last arrow. He slung his crossbow over his shoulders and turned to fully focus on fleeing.
Express was blocked at the intersection and there was still no way to get to high ground. There were fire escapes on the buildings on the north side, but the lowest levels had been torn completely off. There was no way they could reach them. Sanji turned right and started to head up the cross-street, but slowed at what he saw before him.
Law skidded to a halt as well, "Aw shit…" he murmured.
Usopp nearly tripped over Sanji and let out a small whimper when he realized why his friends had stopped.
"Oh, please God, no…"
Deadies lined the street for at least the next three blocks. Yellowed eyes rolled wildly in their direction. Mouths with blackened, cracked teeth snapped, eager to tear into warm flesh. They were completely surrounded. There was absolutely no way out.
"Oh God… oh God… oh God…" Usopp clutched at Sanji's sleeve, his hand trembled violently.
"This… this is not fucking happening," Law growled.
Sanji turned, watching as the pursuing swarm turned the corner, a wall of decay and death heading straight for them.
This was it. He was finally going to die.