Three days ago, Christopher had pointed his truck towards the inside of the United States and driven it until it stopped, which was here. He had no idea how far he had gotten nor had he noted the state markers as he passed them. His location didn’t matter; his would be an unmarked grave wherever his body fell. He left the keys in the ignition and removed the shotgun from the back rack.
His ambling route had taken him through many of the towns that had been abandoned over the last few decades. Every year cities were being reclassified by the census bureau to “Uninhabited.” Living cities were being stretched to capacity with hoards of people fleeing their homes without giving much in the way of explanation.
Strangely, Christopher’s hometown was still a living city in which he could no longer live.
He refueled enough times to be truly lost – only purchasing gas if there was a working station nearby when the truck ran out. Coughing its last gasp of fuel here, the truck came to a standstill. There was no working anything, only carapaces of beautiful homes, some with their front doors standing wide open. In the middle of the eerily quiet residential street, Christopher reviewed the neighborhood and selected a house that vaguely resembled the county library from his hometown. He went in, leaving the doors open in the hope that his blood would attract a few of the animals.
Denza skittered across the rooftop watching him. She noted his aura was black along the edges, which made him perfect. She dislodged a tile on the roof, sending it crashing to the ground. Christopher’s head snapped around. He looked to the roof and saw nothing but a few more tiles getting ready to drop. With a deep breath, he lowered to the ground, resting on his knees. Opening his mouth, he brought the shotgun up. A wind passed behind him and suddenly, standing before him, was a girl.
“Jesus! What the… “ he yelled falling backwards. The shotgun slipped to the floor releasing an explosion of noise and smoke. “Shit!” he said rolling away from it and covering his ears.
He looked back at the girl who had neither moved nor spoken. She looked young, with blond hair framing her face in soft curls. Her skin was translucent and her watery blue eyes had irises that appeared to undulate. He grabbed the gun and held it close to him.
She held her hand out. Christopher stared at her.
They remained in this hypnotic standoff for almost a minute. Denza slowly brought her hand back to her side. Christopher slipped a finger onto the trigger.
“Give it to me,” she said.
Christopher stood up slowly. He anchored the gun’s butt into his armpit. A moment later, his eyes were blinded by white pain and his body slid down a wall. He reached back to feel for blood on his scalp where it had made impact with the wall. He no longer held the gun.
He looked at Denza, in the same spot she had been before, the gun in her hand at her side.
Christopher tried to get up.
“Stay,” Denza said.
“What do you want?” Christopher asked, not fully out of his daze yet.
“We can benefit each other,” Denza said calmly.
Christopher shook the last bits of stars out of his vision. He looked at the gun in her hand, then at Denza’s face and then back to the gun. Reading his intent, Denza’s grip tightened around the barrel. As he watched, the barrel of the gun began to glow orange, to smoke and then to melt. It pooled on the ground and the stock dropped into the molten metal.
“Come with me.” Denza said more tersely than before.
Christopher didn’t have time to reply.
Denza reached out and grabbed his arm. Her skin was an unnatural cold and he was unable to wrestle free from her grip. They were out the door and down the street before he could catch his breath. She took him to a small but well-kept home where, once inside, she threw Christopher into a chair and materialized in the kitchen. She filled a glass with water and walked over to him, holding the glass out.
Christopher jumped out of the chair and backed up against a wall, the burn of her cold hand like a tattoo on his upper arm.
Denza jerked her head and looked out the window, her eyes narrowed. Before Christopher could see what she was looking at, he was back in the chair, hitting it hard enough to lose some air from his lungs. Denza stood before him with the water.
“I don’t want it!” He yelled, knocking it from her hand.
Denza hissed and had another full glass before him; only this time she was grabbing his other wrist.
“Drink it.” she said.
He pushed her hand away again with the small amount of strength he had left. Denza jumped onto his lap and pried his mouth open with two fingers. She emptied the contents of the glass down his throat; he felt the water flow into his pores. She returned with another glass, this one he took without resistance. Four full glasses later, his senses started coming back to him; blinking no longer hurt as much.
After she handed him the final glass, Denza returned to the window.
Christopher’s gaze darted around the room, shooting back to Denza occasionally. The room appeared perfectly normal, which sat in direct contrast to everything happening to him. He felt something kick in, a slight fire in his belly; an instinct. When he looked at Denza, she was smiling; her expression almost familiar.
“No,” she said. “I do not intend on killing you. Not right now.”
“When?” he asked.
Her smile faded.
Christopher swallowed loudly. The dryness in his throat came back.
“Humans…” Denza sighed as she crossed the room.
“Humans?” he asked under his breath.
“I am not the only one who would have noted your arrival here.” Her voice was strong but not loud. her skin darkened as did her eyes. In an even tone, she continued, “I may not be able to protect you. Not for long. Shhh.” She said lifting a finger.
Christopher’s vision started to blur. He reached out to grab the water glass but sent it to the floor instead.
“Quiet!” she hissed.
He tried to stand but lurched forward and fell on the carpet where he remained prone despite his best efforts to move. He sensed Denza next to him but he could not open his eyes; his grip on consciousness was tenuous. What sounded like the front door being torn from its hinges was followed by the weight of Denza’s cold body laying atop him.
“NO!” She cried out. “He’s perfect.”
Christopher heard labored breathing. Something wet hit his hand.
“Did he agree?” a low, guttural voice asked.
“He will,” She said urgently. After a moment, she repeated it. “He will.”
“He’s too thin.” Christopher heard the other voice say sounding farther away. “He won’t want him.”
“Yes, he will; I am positive.”
Christopher heard a grunt and retreating footsteps. Denza stayed by his side. His mind clouded over as he lost his fight to stay awake. Just as he slipped away, he felt a cold hand petting his hair and Denza whispering in his ear, “you are perfect.”