Sun, 7 June 2009 - 9:07 pm

The prey’s claws

Don’t go anywhere alone.

I should learn to take my own advice. I wasn’t paying attention – too busy making sure that everyone was where they should be and running through mental lists about what we need to do before we can get out of here, keeping busy through another day of continuous rain. Something occurred to me between the garage and the showroom, something I hadn’t thought about before today, and I diverted towards the office.

Suddenly, my way was blocked by Kirk and his grin. He wouldn’t let me past, so I turned to head back the way I came. He grabbed my arm and I stopped, glaring at him. Fingers bit into my arm.

“So, what’ll you give me to keep your secret?” he asked. I hated the way his gaze moved over me, the way he leaned in. I couldn’t help but wonder how long he’s waited for the opportunity to snag one of us alone.

“Secret? Nothing. Tell the world if you want.” I refused to look away from him; I wouldn’t give him even that tiny victory.

“Oh, I will. In detail. And then I’ll take it out on him.” He pulled me slowly towards him. “If you make this difficult. Come on, make it easy on all of us.”

He might be lean, but he has inches on me; I couldn’t hope to match his strength. I turned my head away when I was close enough to smell his breath. He put another hand on me. I knew what he wanted and my whole body was saying ‘no’. I thought my stomach would climb out of my mouth.

But a small part of my mind wondered if it was so much to give. It was just sex. Right? Give him what he wants and he’ll go away. I thought of Sally and the Pride. One sacrifice to save so much. I thought about how badly she moved afterwards. I thought about Masterson’s reaction. I thought about Ben and, for some reason, Matt.

Is it ever ‘just’ sex? I was kidding myself if I thought letting him have it would make him go away. His eyes were laughing at me as he leant in to lick my cheek. He’d never ‘go easy’ on any of us. I squeezed my eyes shut.

No. This wasn’t an answer, and it wasn’t going to happen. No.

 

I’ve never pulled a blade on someone before. Months ago, I was frightened enough to arm myself with a knife and it has lived in my pack or on my belt since. I’ve never used it. I’ve worn it for so long that I forgot it was there. Today, I remembered. Today, something in me gave way when my hand scrabbled over the wall behind me, looking for something, anything, and bumped against its sheath. My fingers closed around the hilt as if it was begging to be freed.

It’s not a big knife. It’s not even impressively barbed. But it was sharp enough to open up a line across Kirk’s cheek, from his jaw towards his nose. I think I was as shocked as he was, though it hurt me far less than it did him.

He touched his cheek to see if he was really bleeding – he was, a lot – and I took advantage of his stunned moment to pull away. I hoped he wouldn’t notice the awkward way I rearranged the knife in my hand, trying to find an intimidating way to hold it without dropping the damn thing. It’s harder than it looks. It’s difficult when your heart is racing; it felt like my pulse was going to vibrate the hilt right out of my fingers.

He swore at me, spat awful names that I can’t even remember. I was too focussed on the knife and the distance between us. He lunged and I swiped madly, back and forth, back and forth. I missed entirely but he got the message: this wasn’t going to go down easily.

I didn’t want to hurt him. I wasn’t going to attack him, but he didn’t know that. I was going to defend myself and he saw that in my face. He shouted at me, threatened me but I was concentrating on backing up without falling over or dropping the knife. There was blood streaming down his face, down his neck. I couldn’t quite believe I’d caused it.

“Just stay the hell away from me,” I told him. “Stay away from all of us.”

He gritted his teeth and lunged at me. I jerked backwards, slammed a shoulder against the wall, swiped again. He tried to avoid the blade and a foot slipped on the strewn paper leaking out of the office, sending him down to one knee. That was enough of a gap: I turned and ran.

 

I didn’t stop until I could put my back against the door of the storeroom us Seekers were holed up in. I ran right past the bemused Wolverines and even a few Seekers. None of them tried to stop me. I don’t know what I would have done if they had.

Thorpe was there and came over to frown at me, asking what was going on. I had no breath to tell him and no idea what to say even if I did. He gave me a strange look and I realised that I was still gripping the knife. I wanted to drop it, throw it away, never see it again, but my fingers wouldn’t let go. They trembled, but they wouldn’t unfold.

Matt came over, took one look at me, and asked, “Shamblers?”

I shook my head and fought for control of my tongue. “Kirk.” No point hiding it, not with that cut across his face. Stupid, Faith.

Matt went pale, while Thorpe flushed with anger. He reached to gently but firmly move me out of the way of the door. “I’m gonna shove his head up his ass.”

The notion that he would do that for me made my eyes prickle. I grabbed his arm – remembering to use the hand not holding the knife – and begged him not to. No more trouble, please. Leave it. Don’t make it worse. Please. He growled at me and shook me off, but he relented. Turning to stomp off, he muttered about it needing to be done. I wish I could argue with him.

I looked down at my hands and noticed the wetness on the blade. Blood. My stomach flipped over.

“Did he hurt you?” Matt was still standing there, staring at me with such heavily weighted eyes.

No. It didn’t get that far. He didn’t get the chance.

Then, suddenly, Matt was apologising, stumbling to say how sorry he was. It was my turn to stare and my eyes stung again, filling. He thought it was his fault because of the lie that had protected him. But I wouldn’t let him take the blame, not for this. If not for the lie, Kirk would have found another excuse. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been Conroy. If not me, another of our number.

He asked if I was all right, and I said no. I was a lot of things, but far from all right. He took the knife gently out of my hand and then we just held onto each other.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I know that next time, it’ll be much worse.

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