Lost Things & Forgotten Places: Season 1, Episode 6
There were two of them, directly in front of her. A beat, and Lauren heard a third drop down from the canopy behind her.
She took a long step sideways; pivoted on one heel so all three were in view, and thrust the katana out toward them. Creating as much distance as she was able between her body and theirs.
The two in front were male: tall and broad, built to similar dimensions as the headless body on the ground and studded top to toe in the same sharp, skin-splitting fragments of metal and glass. The third was different though: smaller and female, her shoulders slight and her features still delicate in spite of the peeling aggregations of scar tissue that framed them. Her skin was free of glass, though thin copper spikes that might have been construction nails had been pressed into the soft flesh at her upper arms and torso - almost artfully, Lauren thought. Deep whorl-like lesions, not fresh but unhealed, had been cut into her abdomen; her mouth was sliced open at both corners in a serrated Black Dahlia smile.
She saw Lauren seeing her, cataloguing her, and smiled for real, the caking of scabs at her lips cracking in response to the movement of her facial muscles. New blood oozed and trickled down the creases of her chin, and she licked them clean.
“Lauren,” she said, her voice unexpectedly human, low and seductive.
It was the first time Lauren had heard any one of the Unrotted speak. She’d assumed, before, that they didn’t; that they’d surrendered language in favor of gesture - or some other more animalistic model of communication - at the moment of infection.
And, if they could speak - how did this one know her name?
She took another step backward, expanding the scope of her peripheral vision. They were like pit vipers, she thought; you couldn’t let them out of your sight, not if you had any hope of getting away from them unscathed.
They didn’t move, or even try to close the gap, which was… unusual. The Unrotted she was used to - what had Matty called them, the lone wolves? They didn’t give an inch. When you moved, they moved - and quickly, all the better to claw at you with their fingers and snap at your throat with their teeth. There was nothing measured about the way they attacked; certainly nothing strategic.
“Lauren,” the Black Dahlia repeated, and this time it sounded like an admonishment; as if Lauren had disappointed her, had proven herself more stupid than the Black Dahlia had believed in even entertaining the possibility of escape.
Lauren tightened her hold on the base of the katana. If they advanced further, she figured, she could take at least one of the big guys out with a horizontal sweep of the blade. If she was really lucky, it’d go right through him.
Overhead, the sky dimmed, sudden and unheralded - opaque clouds the color of day-old bruises forming from nowhere in what had been, last she’d checked, a rich uncluttered blue.
A storm: not closing in but already arrived, pitching the street, the building - the Unrotted themselves - into a semi-darkness that had her wishing even a few of the stores on the block had found a way to keep the lights on.
She had excellent night vision; it had been a distinct advantage in her former line of work. But did they? Would the darkness work for her, or would it blind her to an onslaught she’d see coming in broad daylight?
The darkness thickened, obscuring everything but the closest of objects: her hands, and the katana clasped between them. The Unrotted were outlines, charcoal scratches sketched against a crepuscular canvas; a blur of curves and edges, beginning now to shift and tense in their pool of shadow.
Something she couldn’t see hissed at her through the shadows: low but insistent as the whistle of a kettle. She took another step sideways. Lost her footing.
She fell, the katana dropping from her hand.
Her kneecap was first to slam into the ground. She threw an arm out in front of her, hand balled, to shield her face from the full force of the concrete, and felt the skin scrape away from her wrist as it landed.
The clatter of their hardened feet and the rancour of their quickening breaths told her they were on the move; that they’d get to her, begin to prise her open with their bloody fingers before she could reclaim the sword, let alone spring up to standing.
Where were those fucking kids, anyway? Neither Matty nor her brother would be any great shakes against even one of the Unrotted, and Lauren would be deluding herself if she chose to believe otherwise. But their arrival on the scene would be enough of a distraction, maybe, to buy her a few extra seconds; enough to get in a little damage. And she wouldn’t say no to the beams of that SUV’s headlamps cutting a swathe through the dark.
“Lauren.” The Black Dahlia was very close now, a meter away or less; her words were a lullaby, a nightmare’s cradlesong. “Lauren, Lauren, Lauren.”
Lauren rolled onto her back, stomach tightened and fists guarding her head, her uninjured leg halfway extended - ready to kick out at whatever she could reach. If she was going down, then she was going down fighting - what other way was there?
The ground below her began to vibrate: to rumble, the juddering echo of it like a slow cascade of boulders passing through her bones.
An earthquake. A fucking earthquake.
She’d been in California long enough to know one when she felt it hit; had lived through plenty of them in the Bay Area before she’d ever seen LA, and felt more than a few rise up through the bedrock and into her recumbent body while she slept curled-up on the sidewalks of the Mission and the Tenderloin. A couple - both minor by comparison - had struck Venice since the advent of the Bone Rot, though neither had much discernible destruction in their wake.
Now, though? Now?
If she’d ever been swayed by an argument from design; ever had even a modicum of faith in the intelligence or reasoning capacity of the universe… she might have believed that universe was fucking with her, right about now.
She placed a splayed hand on the floor beside her head, brought the knee of the extended leg to her chest and prepared to kick out at whichever of the Unrotted came at her first.
The granite split, then cleaved under her palm.
She pulled the hand up and away from the bisected ground, as quickly as she’d withdraw it from a sizzling stovetop; rolled back onto her side and used the momentum to push herself up, onto her feet and into some semblance of a fighting stance.
She held her breath; peered out through the darkness, her eyes searching the storm clouded murk for the smudged-charcoal shapes of the Unrotted, wherever they now were.
Another, louder rumble reverberated along the street, this one like an outsize hammer splintering quartz, followed immediately thereafter by a hard, dry sucking - the sound, she’d remember later, of marbles slurped through the parched, gummy mouth of an elderly man - and the altogether fleshier sound of warm meat, ripped and squeezed in the teeth of a grinder.
Then silence all around her, as thick as the dark.
And finally, finally, the screaming of brakes and the crack of tire-rubber propelled over ruptured rock as the SUV and its headlamps careened into view.