Her shoes gripped the pavement as her muscles worked in overdrive. She could hear them behind her. She wanted to turn and look back. She wanted to see the distance growing between them. She wanted to be somewhere else.
The slightest misstep would cause her to falter, to fall, to die. Her running was the only thing keeping her alive. Her heart thumped in her chest, and she could feel her ribs working hard to keep her heart from exploding. She choked back her breathing for a moment to listen.
The sounds of groaning, gurgling cries and scuffling feet were thick in the air. They weren’t far behind her; they were gaining, and that meant she was living on bought time. She wanted to scream for help, but she knew that there was nobody around to hear. She was the last of the living.
Lost in her thoughts, she felt a tug on one of her legs. She glanced down and saw she was in the process of tripping over her shoelaces. She landed on her side and skid along the floor, scraping the palms of her outstretched hands. She fought off the daze that tried to wrap itself around her vision. Shaking her head, she tried to stand and realized that her ankle throbbed the moment she put weight on it.
Now she screamed.
She looked down the hall, and she could see them coming for her and the distance between them quickly vanished. She wanted to scream in horror at her impending death, but in her last moments, she decided that it would be best if she prayed.
“Our Father, who art in heaven,” she took a deep breath and closed her eyes at the thought of being torn limb from limb.
She could sense them closing in on her, the looming essence of death washing around her. But what should feel like biting turned into a sudden rush of heat washing over her delicate, flawless skin.
She opened her eyes in thin slits to see the mysterious man from earlier. In his hands, he held a can of hairspray and a Zippo. His makeshift flamethrower were keeping the hordes at bay. He passed the hairspray back and forth, the light reflecting off the beads of sweat glistening on his exposed chest.
“You came back for me,” she mumbled.
The flames danced around him and made his face shine as he turned to look at her. “Of course I came back for you.”
The look of admiration consumed her face as she watched him toss the can to his other hand and spray an undead on-comer in the face with liquid flame.
“Not only is your blood the cure to this epidemic,” he lowered his sunglasses so his eyes could meet hers, “but I love you.”
Laughter filled the air, followed by, “You can’t be serious.”
The small coffee shop fell silent as everybody looked up from reading their manuscripts. The sound of the espresso machine filled the silence as wave after wave of Irish blend coffee filled the nostrils of its patrons.
A small woman with thick-rimmed black glasses looked up from her pile of papers obviously annoyed at the heckler. The eclectic group of women and a single man were staring back at her, the disbelief written across their slack-jawed faces as they waited for her retort to the laughing woman.
The author took off her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose, making sure the room noticed her deliberate pause. When she put the glasses back on, she leaned forward. “I would have you know that my publisher thinks that this is gold.”
All the eyes slowly moved across the table to a dark red-haired woman who was finding it difficult to not start laughing again. The eyebrow ring was quivering; a telltale sign that doom was hanging in the air. Each person could feel the icy chill fill the coffee shop as they gripped their coffee for comfort.
“Which part of that was gold? The part where your weak-willed woman needs a man to save her? The part where your undead friends skip down the hallway to kill her? Or the part where a wall of fire produced by hairspray and a Zippo save the day?”
The petite woman was about to reply, but the red-haired woman held up her hand to silence her and then continued. “Her blood is the cure? The cure to what? Death? Cause I’m sorry, once you’re dead, you’re just dead. Coming back to life isn’t really an option. The dead are dead!”
The little woman jumped out of her chair knocking over her liquid motivation and started to growl while she tried to think past her rage.
The red hair woman leaned over. “And since when do zombies move at a snail’s pace? The smelly bastards run.”
The group of onlookers started whispering amongst themselves. One of the women was pointing to the red-haired vixen as she whispered to her neighbor whose eyes grew wider and wider. The slack-jawed group of writers were becoming agitated and obviously excited from the red haired woman.
“Who the hell do you think you are? I’m about to have this published, and this is my writing group,” the woman hissed, obviously satisfied with her establishment of expertise.
“I know your kind. You refer to yourself as the Zombie Romancer on your website. I had to come see it for myself. I cannot believe the drivel that you’re writing. And God help them,” she waved her arm to the seven other members of the writing group. “Are you really being cruel enough to force these people to read it?”
The little woman hissed, “Who the hell are you?”
The red-haired woman grabbed her messenger bag and ripped it open with an over dramatic flair. “Let me see, who am I?”
“She’s going to do it,” one woman said out loud, her face, a look of sheer delight.
“Zombie’s on the Loose,” she slammed a book down, “Zombies: A theoretical guide,” she slammed down another volume, “Zombies: A not so theoretical guide,” another, “My personal favorite, ‘The Everyday Guide to Killing the Dead,” she smiled as she turned the sack upside down and another dozen books fell out.
“What?” the little woman asked in disbelief.
“Oh,” the red hair woman said pulling out a bound manuscript, “and soon to be author of, ‘Your Zombie Book Sucks,’ part of a three-volume expose looking into shitty zombie writers.”
The man in the back tried to bite back his smile as he whispered, “Bitch just got served.”
The red-haired woman turned to her fan and smiled. “Yes the bitch did.”
The thick-rimmed glasses dropped as she lifted one of the books and looked at the name on the spine, “Cadence Winters.”
The woman’s eyes slowly grew wider as the reality of the situation began to sink in. She fell back in her seat as her mind started to figure out the puzzle in front of her. She felt short of breath and suddenly, she slid from her chair to her knees, her hands clasped in front. “Please forgive me, I didn’t recognize you.” She looked at the flaming locks of red, “your last photo had you as a blond.”
The man in the back snickered while leaning over to his equally amused companion. “Do you think she’s really in awe or just scared that Cadence Winters might have a gun hidden on her?”
“Shhh,” the woman replied smacking her friend, “if we’re lucky maybe she’ll pistol whip her.”
Another young lady leaned in over his shoulder with a perplexed look, “What did I miss here? Who is Cadence Winters?”
The bohemian looking woman turned away, horrified by the question, confused and when she saw the origin she grinned. “You’re new to this Zombie Inspirations Writing Group,” she stated. Turning in her seat, she whispered loudly, “Cadence Winters has written over a dozen successful zombie field guides and at least as many horror novels. I didn’t join the fan group until a year after she started producing work, but today, magazines refer to her as the ‘The Zombie Queen.’ She is the expert on all things zombie.”
The younger girl’s perplexed look only intensified. “How can she be an expert on zombies? It’s not like they’re real.”
The gasps were audible, and every person’s head turned slowly to look at the young naïve girl. Nobody dared to say anything, the animosity was too strong, and the tension grew until Cadence stepped away from the worshipping b-list writer. “You do realize what you just said right?”
The young girl straightened her back. “Yeah,” she reiterated, “They’re not real.”
“Anybody know what this means,” Cadence asked to the group of eager writers.
Without hesitation, the guy shouted with obvious glee, “She’d be the first one eaten if zombies appear.”
Cadence nodded her head, and the young girl grabbed her laptop and notebook in a fluster and walked away. “I think you’re all crazy. This isn’t a writing group; it’s a cult.”
Cadence could see the man and woman looking at her, and she flashed a quick smile while raising the edge of her skirt. They both gasped and giggled like groupies as they saw the glint of metal from the leg holster. Cadence took a quick bow and stepped back. “I’m sorry I can’t stay,” she looked at the group leader, “my own mysterious man has arrived.”
Cadence walked out of the Starbucks with her bag slung over her shoulder and her venti skinny mocha with no whip cream in hand. She walked down the ramp to the waiting black Firebird. The door opened, and she looked inside at her mysterious man. Xander, her crazy man with a real flame thrower.
“Are you done getting your jollies?” he asked giving her a dirty look.
“You have shooting guns to unwind; I have groupies that need a bit of worshipping to help me end a rough work week. Besides, they all loved it,” she paused, “but nobody cried this time. I’m thinking I might have to start pulling the gun like I used to.”
Xander tapped his head against the steering wheel. “Remember a long time ago when you were an art major, when you would bleed to express yourself.”
She wrapped her arm around his and leaned against him. “Why should I bleed? I can make other people do that. Art will always be my first passion, but you have to admit, zombies novels,” she did air quotes with her fingers, “make a pretty sweet profit.”
“Okay, maybe you don’t bleed anymore,” he laughed, “but you are pretty damned sadistic writing your memoirs into a bestselling horror novel. Only you Cadi, only you.”
“Speaking of sadistic,” she looked at her cell phone, “did you by chance get Olivia’s text message?”
“Yeah,” he said with a sense of dread.
“You don’t sound excited.”
“Why should I? It’s a dedication for a place where everybody either got eaten or burned alive. Yay,” he feigned enthusiasm, “let’s reunite and maybe it’ll all be like the glory days of undead scarfing down our teachers.”
“I know,” Cadence said without hesitation, “if a sequel was ever going to happen, this would be the perfect opportunity.”
“I’ll need bigger guns for this,” he looked at his partner in crime, “Candice Winter’s newest novel, ‘Zombie High Reunion.’ This is going to be fun.”