Double The Alpha Page 2
In response to what Norm had said, Tom just studied him for a long moment before asking a question. “How many people do you folks have here?”
Tom said fifty-four, but I shook my head.
“Fifty-three now. We lost an older gentleman last week. He and I and two young men from our group set out on foot to gather apples from a group of trees not far from here, and we were attacked by a group of Creepers on our way back. The two young men and I were able to fight them off and get back here to the gym, but the Creepers got Clarence along the way.”
Everyone seemed to have a different name for the bloodthirsty, otherworldly creatures that had invaded earth over a year earlier, but the term Creepers seemed to be universally understood. The shifter groups even called them Creepers, Norm had told me.
Their arrival had ushered in what most people called The Chaos. First, the night sky had glowed red with mysterious fireballs, from which things seemed to be falling. Later, most people guessed that the falling objects were Creepers, dropping to earth by the millions. These Creepers, which were about the size of human men, although covered in dark green scales, soon proved to have a taste for human flesh, killing millions of Americans within the first few days of The Chaos. News reports indicated that all countries on earth had been affected.
All branches of the military were called out to try to deal with the Creepers, although they were mostly unsuccessful, despite the fact that they used bombs and chemical weapons in the hardest-hit areas. People barricaded themselves in their homes. After witnessing the Creepers kill their friends, family members, and neighbors, some people killed themselves.
Soon came the Virus, which was a flu-like condition that seemed to affect only women and girls. Millions more died. Barricaded in my apartment, alone, with only a mild fever, I survived.
A few weeks into the Chaos, it became clear that the chemical weapons used by the military had had an unintended effect. They had turned many human men into half-animal, half-human hybrids that people began referring to as shifters. Most of these shifters, at least in my area, were wolf shifters.
These wolf shifters soon proved to be much more adept than the military at killing Creepers. While global civilization disintegrated, with power grids failing and bodies being piled up in the streets, the wolf shifters in my home state of Michigan formed militias, killing Creepers and driving them away with their sharp teeth, which easily pierced the Creepers’ hard green scales.
It was the wolf shifters who had allowed me to finally flee my apartment after several weeks, temporarily clearing the hallways of Creepers so that we survivors could flee the building in search of someplace that hadn’t yet been overrun. It was at this point that I’d met Norm, who’d lived in an apartment two floors above me.
Back in the present, Tom said that he was sorry to hear that I’d lost a member of my group while out on the apple run, adding that it was fortunate that I, and the two young men with me, had survived. I agreed, and Tom then asked me how old the two young men were.
Slightly embarrassed, I responded by saying that they were maybe closer to “older boys” than “young men.”
“They’re twins, named Blake and Devin…and they just turned fourteen about two weeks ago.”
Across the little table, Tom frowned at me. “And they’re the ‘muscle’ you take out on food-gathering runs?”
Further embarrassed, yet feeling a little bristly at the same time, I said yes. “They’re both brave and strong, and they’re the only males in our group older than twelve and younger than seventy. Since we all fled here to the gymnasium just over a year ago, they’ve both stepped up into adult roles, and they’ve both acted very heroically. In fact, I don’t think our group would have survived as long as we have without Blake and Devin.”
Looking incredulous, Tom snorted. “Frankly, I can’t believe that any of you have survived as long as you have, let alone an entire cohesive group.”
Going from “a little bristly” to “outright offended,” I snorted in return. “Well, we may not be wolf shifters, but it’s pretty amazing what strong humans can do when they all band together.”
Tom conceded that it was, then just studied my face quietly for a long moment before speaking again. “Please tell me the story of how your group all came together, Ellie, if you don’t mind.”
A bit proud of how my group had all come together, yet at the same time not really wanting to think about those dark early days of the Chaos, I hesitated before responding. “All of us lived in the same apartment building here in the town of Brackson. It was a building about three miles east of here. It was owned by a private charity that assisted grandparents raising grandchildren by offering them reduced rental rates; so, all of the tenants were older folks with children living with them…I guess except me, anyway.
Before the Chaos, I was a struggling artist, so I worked at the front desk at the apartment building to pay the bills. I collected rent, took phone calls, scheduled maintenance work, and things like that…and, as part of my salary, I got to live in one of the apartments in the building rent-free. So, that’s where I was when all of the Chaos started. We were all in our apartments. We watched from the windows while Creepers fell from the sky and took over the streets.”
Tom looked at me expectantly, as if waiting for me to continue. When I didn’t after a moment or two, he spoke. “Then what happened?”
Once again, I hesitated in responding. “Well, we all survived barricaded in the building for a few weeks. Norm didn’t live in the building but was a part-time maintenance worker when everything happened, and he and I reinforced the doors and ground-level windows with two-by-fours and steel beams that we found in the basement. It maybe wasn’t the best security job, but it was enough to keep the Creepers out, at least at first.
But then, after a few days, the phone calls from local government telling us all to just stay put stopped coming. Then, the phone lines went out altogether, and all the TV and radio broadcasts stopped. Then, a few weeks later, just as everyone was running out of food anyway, the Creepers broke through our barricades. One of you wolf shifter groups soon cleared them out of the building, thank God, and that’s when Norm and I decided that it was probably time that we take everyone to a safer place.”
Tom asked if that was when we’d come to the gymnasium, and I said yes.
“Norm went out scouting and found that while most of the high school was just a pile of rubble from the government dropping bombs on the Creepers, the gymnasium was still intact…so, he came back to the apartment building and began ferrying us all here in his maintenance truck. Then, once everyone was inside, we started building fortifications like at the building, but this time, even stronger. For defense, we set up armed guard posts, too, to keep the Creepers away, using a cache of shotguns that Norm had at his house.”
Tom gave me a dubious sort of look. “And who’s been manning the guard posts?”
“Well, Norm, here, and several grandfathers from our group, although many of them have glaucoma or cataracts, so they’re sometimes not able to see the Creepers very well. But we also have Blake and Devin working guard patrol, too, along with a woman named Maryanne. She may be a seventy-nine-year-old great-grandmother, but she grew up on a farm, and she sure knows how to use a shotgun. She’s even teaching her eleven-year-old great-granddaughter, Sadie, how to fight off the Creepers too. Sadie’s actually becoming one of our best patrol guards.”
Tom gave me a look that I couldn’t quite read. “Jesus.”
A little offended again, although I wasn’t even quite sure why, I snorted. “‘Jesus,’ what?”
Tom once again gave his head a little shake. “I just really don’t understand how your group has survived this long.”
Thoroughly irritated by his dubiousness, I folded my arms across my chest. “Like I said, we might be a group made up of older folks and children, but we’re strong. We’ve all pulled together to defend our lives and our community. We’ve had to, because none of you wolf shifter groups that we know of in the area have given us any help. You folks just look out for your own, right?”