And here we are, right down to the wire yet again with February’s Flash Fiction Draw story. If you’ll recall (or if you don’t recall, you can go back and check the post), this month’s prompt called for a suspense set in a sewer containing a suitcase.
Suspense, sewer, suitcase. No, I did not plan the alliteration. This was totally random. A little bit like the story I wrote as a result.
This is a sequel of sorts to “Shufflers,” the Taylor Swift, Zombie Hunter story I wrote back in December. It centers on a different character, but don’t worry, she’ll need help from a certain singer songwriter before the story’s over.
Lastly, can I just say that a week is not a long time to write something? Hats off to everyone who attempts it. Also, this is pretty much unedited, which is not when I recommend showing anything to anyone, but do I follow my own advice? Oh, child.
Out of the Woods
Reine switched the suitcase to her other hand and looked behind her. The shufflers were getting closer. She faced forward and started running faster down the tunnel—
Sewer. Call it what it is. God knows I’m never getting this stink out of my nose.
It felt as if the funk of the place had seeped into her skin, even though the concrete floor beneath her was dry. There hadn’t been rain for weeks before… well, before. No rain since, either. She’d stayed indoors with all the doors locked, curtains drawn, windows already barred because her grandmother had always been a little paranoid. There was less and less of Nana “there” as the months drew themselves out, and before long Reine, the youngest grandchild and the one whose parents thought she needed “something to focus her attention,” was looking after a stranger.
Until the night before Nana passed, when she grabbed Reine’s wrist with surprising strength and caught her gaze with clarity.
“When I’m gone,” she said, “you need to get out of here.”
“Stop talking nonsense,” Reine said, “you’re not going anywhere. And neither am I.”
Nana’s grip remained insistent. “We both know that’s not true. And if you don’t leave,” she waved her other hand toward the window, “you won’t survive those things out there. They’ll find you in here. It’s only a matter of time. Do what the girl on the radio said. Head for the tunnels.”
The effort seemed to take the last of her energy out of her, and Nana sank back into the pillow and the blankets of her bed. It was the last thing she said to Reine. She died that night.
There’d been a young woman on the radio, saying that the best way to get out of the city was to use the underground sewers and utility tunnels. She didn’t say what to do after that, though. Her grandmother was right, though. Reine didn’t have much choice.
She wrapped her grandmother’s body in the bedsheets and pinned them tight to her. Reine didn’t know if that’s what you were supposed to do, but it seemed the best she could manage. She wouldn’t let the things outside have her, didn’t even know if they would come after her, but they wouldn’t get her. Reine saw to that before she left by lighting every candle in the living room, blowing out the pilot light on the stove, and then turning all the burners to full. If there was an explosion, she was too far away and too far underground by then to hear it.
The bag she brought with her wasn’t big enough to be called a suitcase, more of an overnight bag. She’d packed it without thinking, grabbing whatever was close at hand in the bathroom and pulling clothes at random from her dresser drawers. She dumped the contents of Nana’s jewelry box in as a final thought, and wished her grandmother had collected something like handguns or axes instead of earrings and necklaces that she never wore anyway.
Most of the journey was uneventful. She’d pried up a manhole cover on a side street and climbed down beneath the pavement. She used her phone’s GPS to keep from getting lost, and followed tunnels that matched up with streets overhead. She kept her screen’s brightness as low as possible, and turned it upside down when she passed beneath other manhole covers in the street above. Occasionally, she glanced up and saw feet moving across the ventilation holes in the manhole covers—this was when she was still in the heart of the city—and she held her breath as she went by.
Maybe the stench of this place was covering her own scent, if that was how they managed to find people.
After a few hours, she was exhausted, her feet hurt, and it was getting late. Sunlight no longer came down through the holes in the manhole covers, and she hadn’t seen any feet shuffling past for at least a mile or two.
She couldn’t stay down in the sewers forever. She had to at least go up and make sure she was where she thought she was.
[climbs up the ladder to the manhole, opens it as quietly as she can, drops her phone, yelps, a shuffler turns and begins to approach her.
They seemed to come from everywhere, separating from the shadows and shuffling out into the middle of the street. She ducked down and dragged the manhole cover as much as she could to cover the entrance—maybe it would do a little bit of good—and then she half climbed, half fell down the ladder to the bottom of the tunnel. She didn’t know where her phone had landed. She couldn’t see it. She ran.
She looked behind her. The shufflers had climbed down the ladder and were heading in her direction now. There was nothing but pitch black ahead. Reine switched the bag from her left hand to her right—her fingers were starting to cramp—before she finally let go.She abandoned the suitcase. It didn’t matter anymore, if it ever had.
She ran into the pitch black ahead, knowing she was probably wasting her time. They would catch her. They would… they would eat her.
That was when she ran into someone in front of her.
Reine shrieked. The echo of it was deafening even to her. Hands grabbed her arms, holding her in place. She braced for the feel of teeth against her neck.
“Hang on, you’re safe.”
She recognized the voice. It was the woman from the radio. A flashlight clicked on, and when Reine’s vision recovered from the temporary blindness, she saw the voice belonged to a woman dressed all in black, and at least nine inches taller than Reine, only three of which were the heels on her boots.
Something about her looked familiar, but Reine didn’t have time to figure it out. The woman in black pulled Reine behind her and raised an arm to point at the shufflers. Did she—was that a gun?
Reine stumbled, her hands hitting the filthy concrete floor of the sewer as the air above her exploded with gunfire. It sounded like heavy sandbags were hitting the floor behind her. The woman raised her other arm—this time Reine could see clearly what she held in that hand, some kind of crossbow—and she fired again. A whistling sound buzzed over her head and more sandbags fell behind her.
Then the woman was helping her up. “Are you okay? We have to move quickly. More of them might be coming.”
Reine recognized that voice. She looked up at the woman, her heart-shaped face framed by a black hood that had slipped back, revealing blonde hair. She smiled at her gently. “It’s going to be okay.”
She’d heard about the woman’s escape from Las Vegas, when so few had managed to get out. Her mad dash down the Strip to the airport, the way she’d made the helicopter that came to rescue her stop and retrieve another woman from the roof of a house. How she’d put an axe through a shuffler’s face.
The woman shook her head. “I’m just a survivor like you. Come on. I’ll take you to the others. We’re almost there.”
She held out her hand. Reine didn’t even think twice before taking it.