Separate. Arms pumping. Chests heaving. Brandy has always beaten exercise. Oh, how Flannery regrets it now!
Stumble in the brush. Bruised knee. Blood drips down her thigh. Gust of wind. Alto’s hair whips in front of his eyes. He nearly crashes. Tree in the way. Continue on.
Up the steps. Panting now. Flushed cheeks. Eyes dart from pillars to floor. Dolly’s hand covers her mouth. Eyes squeezed shut. Seaweed leans against the wall, cigarette in hand. His gaze meets theirs. Hollow. Deep breaths. Stammer. Stop.
“A-a-are you okay?” asks Alto between great, heaving breaths. Dolly slides to the ground; she presses her face against her thighs. Her quivering lip peeks from between them. “Lemon?”
Dolly doesn’t reply. Flannery stares at the city hall’s doors, at the darkness behind the empty window frames, at its rusty doorknob, at the scrap of paper jammed between hinges. She narrows her eyes. “What did you two find?”
Seaweed shakes his head and takes another drag. Dolly’s knees knock. “If you won’t tell me,” snaps Flannery, “I’ll find it myself.”
“Don’t!” cries Seaweed. He covers his face with his hands, then with a shaky hand, holds his cigarette to his lip. His voice continues, choked, distraught. “Just listen to me for once, okay, Flan? Don’t go in there. Let’s just go back home, okay? You don’t need to see that. Nobody should.”
“I’m going in,” growls Flannery, raising her chin defiantly. Seaweed says nothing as she marches past him, and only takes another drag, frown sinking to his ankles, when Alto slips through the door behind her.
Broken glass cracks beneath Flannery’s boots. Through the darkness, she makes out the ornate, stately rug beneath her feet, and the strange, dark brown stains upon it. Dust puffs from its depths with each step she takes. Mice avoid her feet. Above her, a chandelier hangs from the ceiling. Spiderwebs adorn its fixtures. She breathes slowly, and a putrid and sickly sweet scent floods her nostrils. She nearly gags on it, but remembers Seaweed’s presence ten feet away. She swallows, hard. She pushes her shoulders back. A doorway stands to her left. The doors hang open, barely attached to their hinges. She turns to enter, when something brushes her hand.
Flannery’s shriek sends the mice fleeing for their mouseholes. Her hands fly to her face, and she is enveloped by a brief, nervous hug. “Hey, hey,” comes Alto’s hushed voice. He pulls himself away from her and meets her wide eyes. “I’m sorry. Shit, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to freak you out. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she lies. His hand finds hers, and their fingers intertwine. She takes a long, shuddering breath. “Let’s keep going.”
She turns the corner and freezes.
A flag, worn and moth-eaten, hangs across the far wall. On it, a tiger buries its teeth into a snake; its blood spurts across a snapped olive branch. A podium stands in front of the flag. A torn page dangles from a book on its surface. Weapons cases and supplies boxes line the walls. Dried food, read some, and antibiotics, read others. Another chandelier hangs from the ceiling.
On the floor lays hundreds of skeletons.
Some still wear clothes. Some still clutch their mother’s hand. Their rot’s leftover stench floods the room.
Flannery’s stomach heaves. She gags; the bile rises up her throat. Her coughs echo through the room. Alto’s hand falls limply to his side. His eyes meet hers for a brief moment, awed or horrified, until her stomach empties through her throat. Vomit splashes against a skull. The alarms go off.
“Run!” screams Flannery. She turns on her heel, and nearly trips over a thigh as she stumbles for the door. Her head pounds with the pulsing, high-pitched shriek of the alarm, and suddenly she’s vomiting again, dribble running down her chin, throat burning. Alto follows, silent, forehead covered in a thin sheen of sweat. He steps on a mouse as he whirls around the corner. It squeaks as it dies. The blood stains his shoes.
Sunlight on their faces. Vomit down her shirt. The paper between the door. Alto tucks it in his pocket as he flies past. Flannery grabs Dolly’s hand, yanks her to her feet, and then the four run, run, run to the car, run the engine, run to the city that never wakes, that insomniac, that frightened city.
Lorde – “Swingin’ Party”
A/N: I hope to have another chapter or two out before school starts, and will try to update as often as I can once I’m back in the classroom! It’ll be tough, though, because this is college application season, and while I’ve already applied to my first choice, I still plan on applying to a few more schools and will need to focus on school in order to keep acceptance and get MOAR SCHOLARSHIPS.
Anywho, thank you all for reading! I hope you’ve had a wonderful summer. 🙂