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       Ravenous, p.1

           Erica Stevens
 
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Ravenous


  CHAPTER 1

  Frozen.

  Completely and utterly freaking frozen.

  One second the woman had been speaking. She had, in fact, been half way through the nice of have a nice day. Her mouth was still forming the ni of nice, the syllable was the last sound she’d uttered before she’d completely stopped moving. Her face had not gone slack, her hand had not dropped to her side, she had not fallen to the ground but simply become freaking frozen into this strange mannequin-like thing standing behind the counter. She stared unerringly at me, but it seemed as if she no longer saw me as I watched her unblinking, vacant brown eyes. Her eyes had never left me but I was certain she no longer saw anything anymore. I kept waiting for her to come back to life, to finish her sentence, to hand me my change, but as the seconds ticked into minutes I slowly began to realize that she was not going to move. Slowly began to realize that she was not playing some sort of sick, demented trick on me.

  She had in fact suddenly, instantaneously, been struck completely immobile.

  It was the oddest, most unnerving thing I had ever seen and all I could do was gape at her. I continued to stand there, not because I wanted to, no one in their right mind would want to keep standing there, but simply because I was shocked into immobility. I was not struck suddenly inert like the woman across from me, but I was entirely immobile with shock and horror as I gazed at her. I finally managed to close my mouth. Not because I was recovering from the astonishment that still gripped me so tightly, but because a little bit of drool had started to form at the corners of my mouth, and my jaw actually hurt from gawking at her for so long.

  Though I managed to make the small movement of closing my mouth, I could not make any others. I could not drop the arm that was extended across the counter. I could not close the open hand still waiting in expectation of my change clasped within the woman’s hand. I had absolutely no intention of touching the woman in order to retrieve it either.

  I didn’t care how scarce money was nowadays, I was not touching her. And I would have to touch her if I was going to get it back. I would actually have to pry open her clasped fingers in order to retrieve what was mine, because it was becoming painfully obvious that the woman was not going to move again.

  I shuddered in horror at the thought. I didn’t know what that hand felt like, it was probably still warm because she had only frozen minutes ago, but in my mind it was cold and clammy. Even though she was still on her feet, even though I didn’t know if she really was dead, in my mind her hand would feel as cold and clammy as a corpse’s.

  A small spasm jerked through my extended arm, causing it to jump slightly. It wasn’t the aching pain in my stiff arm that finally caused me to pull it back, but the fact that the small twitch had almost caused me to touch her. The thought was utterly repulsive to me. My arm fell limply back to my side, my mouth parted slightly again.

  For the first time in awhile, I blinked. Then, I closed my watering eyes, squeezing them tight as I prayed silently that everything would be normal when I opened them once more. It was not.

  Slowly I raised my hand and waved it in front of her unblinking, unseeing eyes. There was no response. I thought that perhaps I should hit her, maybe pinch her, but that brought me back to the having to touch her aspect. Throw something at her? I glanced at the gum stacked before the counter. It was a soft projectile but hard enough that it would get someone’s attention. Maybe it would wake her up, but I didn’t think it would work, and I couldn’t bring myself to heave something at the defenseless woman. It seemed horrendously wrong.

  I took a small step back, swallowing heavily as I looked slowly around the store. Though it had not been crowded, it was suddenly easy to pick out every person amongst the racks of souvenir clothes (clothes that didn’t sell much anymore, at least not to tourists as we had few of those now) and candy counters. Mainly because none of them were moving too. I doubted throwing something at them would work either.

  It was eerily quiet within the store. I didn’t hear any movement on the street outside either. Driving had been banned a month ago (I now realized why), but I didn’t even hear the hum of bicycle tires or the thumping footsteps and chatter of people. The soft murmur of conversations had vanished. The street sounded just as dead as the store now appeared. The hum of the store’s air conditioner was frighteningly loud in the unnerving hush.

  I turned slowly toward the door. The blinds were drawn over the window, blocking out the bright summer sunlight. It was impossible to see if the rest of the world had been as affected as the store. I wanted to believe that it hadn’t, that this store was an isolated incident, but I knew it wasn’t. A cold chill, that had nothing to do with the ac unit, raced down my spine. The hairs on my neck and arms stood on end, the room swam and blurred violently before me as fear threatened to choke me.

  The store was cool, I was sweating profusely. I could barely breathe; I was going to throw up. Nausea coiled through me, it burned its way up my throat. I could taste it, feel it, and yet I was somehow able to keep it down. This was the weirdest, creepiest, most terrifying thing I had experienced in years, but I could not throw up in this store. The act of doing so somehow seemed even more wrong and degrading than the situation surrounding me now.

  I was hyperventilating though. I knew that. I couldn’t breathe and yet the more I gasped for air, the less I was able to get into my lungs. I needed fresh air, I needed out of this store. My bag was still on the counter, but I didn’t want to grasp hold of it. I was sure my mom would forgive me for not bringing the milk home.

  My mom!

  My heart hammered painfully, my chest compressed tightly. Nausea swelled swiftly through me again. I managed to take a stumbling, awkward step back. Was my mom like these people? Was she one of them now, or was she like me? Was there anyone else like me? Was I the only one? And why was I still able to move while they couldn’t? What the hell had happened to them, would it happen to me?

  That thought caused fresh terror to pulse through me. My adrenaline was kicking so fiercely that I was shaking from the effects of it. I glanced over the people again. They remained frozen. Not a one of them had moved in the past five minutes. I hadn’t even seen them take a breath, but they had to be breathing, didn’t they? Were they dead? Would they ever move again?

  The questions rolled rapidly through my mind, making me dizzy with panic and confusion. They kept slamming through me, but I didn’t have answers to any of them. I couldn’t even begin to fathom the answers to any of them. Though I did not want to go anywhere near the woman again, I knew I had to grab that bag. If my mom wasn’t like this, then I suddenly had to deliver that milk to her. And if she was…

  I shut the thought down; it was too much to handle right now. This situation was awful enough without adding to it. Darting forward, I snagged hold of the bag and ripped it off the counter. The rustle of the plastic set my teeth on edge. It was far too loud in the eerie silence that suddenly enshrouded the earth. I ground my jaw, fighting back a scream of terror as I took a swift step back. The woman remained unmoving, her hand still extended with my change. Her warm brown eyes didn’t even flicker as I waved a hand slowly in front of her face. I wanted to check to see if she was still breathing, if she had a pulse, but try as I might I could not bring myself to touch her. I was ashamed of my cowardice but the thought was completely revolting.

  I edged toward the door, scared to take my eyes off of the human statues. I didn’t know what the hell they would be like if they came to life again. Images of every zombie movie I had ever seen flashed rapidly through my mind, I could almost see them coming to life and attacking me. I could picture them tearing me to shreds as they tried to get at my brains, and organs. I shuddered in disgust.

  Reaching the door, I pulled down on the blinds in
order to peek out at the seemingly peaceful day. The streets were still, no one moved upon them. People were frozen in midstride, or leaning against store fronts. Some were stopped in mid conversation with their hands in the air, or their heads tilted back to peer at the sky. A man and woman had been riding their bikes down the road when the strange freezing had occurred. They were now sprawled upon the street, their feet tangled awkwardly in the toppled bikes. The wheels were still spinning slowly; they were the only movement in the otherwise still day. Neither of them had made an attempt to break their fall, they had simply face planted into the asphalt. Blood was trickling slowly from the man’s nose; it dripped onto the pavement, forming a puddle beneath him. The woman’s face was obscured by her dark hair tumbling around her shoulders.

  It was a horrifying sight, one that I could not tear my eyes away from. Swallowing heavily I tried to gather my courage to step onto that deserted, desolate street. Was there no one else that could still move? I couldn’t be the only one. That thought was almost as terrifying as becoming one of the frozen people.

  If I was frozen at least I wouldn’t be alone, and perhaps I wouldn’t even know what had happened to me. Or perhaps, chillingly, I would.

  I removed my trembling hand from the blind. I could not stay here, I needed to move. I needed to get to my family, to see if they were safe. I needed someone to help me sort this all out. Slowly, I eased the door open. The small bell above it rang softly, a gentle sound that was piercingly sharp in the quiet day. I winced at the noise, scrunching up within myself as I waited for something to attack me. Everything remained quiet.

  Involuntarily my gaze went to the sky. A cold trickle of horror crept through me as I caught sight of the ship hovering over Boston. It was a good sixty miles away but its ominous presence was felt just as strongly. I shuddered at the reminder of it, shuddered at the realization that though they had spouted peace, they had finally revealed themselves to be anything but peaceful. Something I had suspected for a long time, though I had never suspected anything like this.

  Who could have?

  I slipped from the store, closing the door silently behind me. It took me a moment to realize that not even the birds were singing. I glanced sharply around, but I did not see animal bodies littered amongst the people in the streets. They may have been affected also, but I didn’t think so. There would at least be a few birds lying amongst the people if that was the case. Apparently the birds had even been scared off by the sudden pall that hung over the world.

  My heart was thumping loudly in my chest as I crept slowly through the still streets, trying hard not to burst into tears or flee screaming. I studied the alien ship wearily. It was not coming toward our town, it did not appear to be moving, but I knew it was only a matter of time before they appeared in the streets, before they came to take everyone. And somehow I knew that was exactly what they intended to do.

  It was what they were going to do with everyone after they came that frightened me the most.

  I slipped down another street, keeping my eye on the hovering craft in the distance. Bret had once told me he thought they had eyes everywhere, that they knew our every move. I could only pray that he had been wrong. Their technology was far superior then ours, that was an undisputed fact, but I had to cling to the hope that they hadn’t mastered the ability to know where every person was at all times.

  Please let that be true, I pleaded frantically. Please. I was nobody of importance, there was no reason they would monitor my movements.

  I turned another corner, slinking through the shadows as I moved toward the center of town. My heart was thudding so hard it hurt. I didn’t know if it was possible for the inside of a ribcage to become bruised, but I was almost certain that mine was.

  People were scattered about the streets in different positions and different situations. One couple was kissing and another was holding hands on a bench. A family was getting their picture taken by the old mill, and a group of children were frozen in the middle of a game of tag. I stopped for a moment to study the children. Goose pimples broke out on my flesh, even in the hot summer sun I was chilled by the sight of them. They were the creepiest things I had come across so far, so innocent yet eerie and unnerving in their immobility.

  I forced myself to turn away from them before I started screaming hysterically and didn’t stop until the aliens were drawn by my screams. I slipped into an alley, leaning against the cold wall as I struggled to catch my breath. The humidity of the day was not as oppressive as the terror clutching at me. I closed my eyes, trying hard not to fall apart, struggling not to completely freak out. It was still over a mile to my house. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

  I tilted my head back as I scanned over the roofs in search of cameras. I saw none, but that didn’t matter. For all I knew they didn’t even need cameras to spy on us. For all I knew, they were omniscient. That thought didn’t seem entirely farfetched, not anymore. They could apparently freeze people in an instant after all, why wouldn’t they know where we were at all times? Taking another deep breath I attempted to gather my waning courage.

  I pushed myself slowly away from the wall, feeling like a criminal as I crept stealthily down the alley. I glanced quickly away from the man leaning against the brick building. He had been in the act of relieving himself, there was a puddle of urine before him but thankfully there was no urine still coming out. Slipping onto another main road, I darted quickly down the sidewalk, dodging the obstacles the immobile people represented. I used the back of my arm to wipe the sweat from my forehead as it slid into one of my eyes.

  I slid into another alley, bending over as I was gripped by the sudden urge to curl up into a ball and let my sanity go. I thought the world might be a better place if I did. At least I wouldn’t be alone anymore. For a moment I was consumed by the urge to just give up, to wait here until they found me, but I had never quit before and I wasn’t about to start now. Not when I didn’t know what had become of my family, maybe after, if they were gone…

  I let the thought trail off; there was no use in dwelling on it. Not until I knew, and then I didn’t know what I would do.

  I pushed off the wall, breaking into a brisk jog as I hurried down the alley. Turning a corner, I began to move faster, nearly sprinting as I raced down the sidewalk. I was breathing so hard that I almost didn’t hear the distant rumbling noise until it was too late. As it was, it just barely caught my attention in time.

  I pressed flat to a wall, my eyes wide as the ground beneath my feet began to tremble slightly, my head bounced rapidly back and forth as I searched for the cause of the strange sensation and noise. I crept slowly forward, keeping my hand pressed against the glass window of a store. The noise grew louder, the quaking increased as the sidewalk beneath my feet began to tremble even more.

  I didn’t know where to go, what to do. My throat was clogged with fear, my body thrummed with tension. I continued to creep steadily forward, but I had to get off the street. I had to find a place to hide. My hand slipped into nothingness, I nearly fell sideways as someone grabbed hold of my arm. A startled cry started to escape me, but a hand slammed over my mouth as I was pulled against a hard chest, and drug into darkness.

  CHAPTER 2

  “Shh Bethany,” someone hissed in my ear.

  My struggles eased at the sound of my name, but I still wanted nothing more than to be free of the hold pinning me tight. The grip on me loosened, the hand fell away from my mouth. I turned slowly, my eyes widening in shock as I caught sight of the person that had grabbed me. Cade stared back at me, his midnight eyes intense, and his dark hair falling across his hard, handsome face. We’d gone to high school together, but those two words were the most I’d heard from him in over a year. Though, there were times I had caught him staring at me questioningly, or watching me with an intensity that never failed to steal my breath and cause my pulse to race.

  He was a year older than me, having just finished his senior year, but that was not the reason
that I had not talked to him in a long time. The main reason was that I had been too intimidated by his brooding nature, and dark good looks to approach him. To intimidated by the rumors and innuendo that ran rampant through the school about him. The gossip claimed that he was involved in everything from gangs to Satan worshipping and even the mob. I didn’t believe the rumors, but Cade did nothing to disprove them, and at times I thought he enjoyed letting them spin wildly out of control.

  He placed a long finger against my lips, gesturing for me to stay quiet as his hand slipped into mine. I stared at his long fingers, stunned by the way our hands seemed to fit seamlessly together. I was losing my freaking mind. The world was falling apart around me and I was marveling over the fact that our hands were a perfect fit, and the fact that he was actually holding my hand.

  He bent over me, pressing his full mouth close to my ear. A shiver raced down my spine. “This way.”

  My fingers clenched tighter around his, my heart hammered with fear, desire, and relief. I was not alone and judging by the tight set of Cade’s jaw, and the fierceness in his eyes, he had a plan which was much more than I had had just seconds ago. He tugged me down an alley, moving with a grace that was both stunning and captivating. I was nowhere near as graceful, a fact I was acutely aware of as I struggled to move as quietly as possible as I struggled not to trip over my own two left feet.

  I wanted to ask him where we were going but I remained silent as he led me down another street. The rumbling sound became distant, but I knew we would not escape it for long. It would find us, and I was terrified of the consequences of what would happen when it did. Cade held a hand behind him, halting me at the edge of an alley. He turned briefly back to me, holding up a finger as he peeked around the corner of the building. His fingers slowly unfolded from mine as he stepped out of the shadows.

  My heart momentarily kicked harder as he disappeared from sight. He was the only person I’d discovered, I couldn’t lose him now. I was getting ready to follow him when he reappeared. His eyes, black as onyx and hard as ice, flickered briefly over me. I felt the scorch of his gaze, thought perhaps I would see disapproval flicker over his features as he was calm, and a reassuring presence, and I was a trembling, terrified mess, but there was none.

 
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