Division Tennessee – Preview Chapter

by Stephanie Grey

 

Synopsis:

Three years have passed since the zombie outbreak almost destroyed the world. Humanity fought back and the Zombie Response Team was created, an organization that has numerous divisions throughout the United States that are dispatched to destroy the dwindling undead population.

Division Tennessee Team Leader Elisabeth Mayfair, an Abnormal who gained superhuman abilities after she was bitten, has noticed an unsettling pattern: an uprising of zombies in the small town of Pine Valley. Elisabeth and her team are tested to their limits as they face hordes that appear out of nowhere, a plot that will throw Pine Valley into chaos, and betrayal as they search for the cause of the outbreaks. Will they be able to discover the source in time or will the virus spread and be the downfall of humanity?

 

Chapter One

“Excuse me, ma’am, but there’s a zombie walking around the shoe department.”

“Thank you. I’ll take care of it right away.” Libby Porter sighed as the customer hastily walked out of the store. Those damn zombies would never go away. Three years after the war—battle, really—and you could still find them wandering around the world. Some poor creature would get bitten and wake up a week later as a zombie. Symptoms? Ha! Waking up as a zombie is a pretty good symptom pointing towards your new condition.

Libby flipped her long, dark hair over her shoulder and reached for the phone. She dialed 917.

“Zombie Hotline. How may we help you today?” quipped a crisp female voice.

“Hi, my name is Libby Porter. I work at Bella Couture and we have a zombie in the shoe department. Oh, no. Scratch that. He’s gone over to the purse department.”

“Are there people around?”

Libby snorted. “Of course there are.”

A pause. “Ma’am, why haven’t you cleared the area? Zombies are still dangerous, despite their slow state. You need to make an announcement immediately and clear the area. A team is already on their way.”

“Whatever, lady. Just get me some damn guns here, ok?” Libby hung up the phone. Who did that woman think she was? She wasn’t going to clear out the store because of one zombie. People could still browse and enjoy their shopping experience. A little bit of a stench and the small threat of a zombie’s quick lunge if you get too close wasn’t so bad. Just don’t be an idiot and get too close! The economy was still getting back on its feet, and she wasn’t about to lose her commission. Libby had her eye on the new turquoise necklace that had recently arrived, and she leaned over the counter to peer down into its sparkling beauty.

Lost in her thoughts, Libby didn’t notice the zombie had moved again. The smell of rot assaulted her and she wrinkled her nose in disgust. Looking up, she saw the zombie was now just across the counter and growling at her. “Oh, shove off you piece of decay.” Libby backed away from the counter and walked towards exit from her area and into the rest of the store, her four inch heels clicking against the floor. The zombie had already moved to block her way. “Son of a bitch!” she shouted. “Someone please help me!” She frantically looked around, but there wasn’t a customer in sight.

Libby reached out and grabbed a fist full of diamond bracelets dangling from their display and slid them over her knuckles. She cocked her arm back and, with all of her might, punched the zombie in the face.

Confused, the zombie staggered back and Libby bolted towards the main exit.

Men in battle gear charged through the entrance. “It’s about damn time!” Libby shouted. She shook off the bracelets and noticed a cut on her hand.

A tall woman with chestnut hair stepped into the store, her mouth moving rapidly as she gave orders through her throat mic. Finally, she noticed Libby standing nearby. “Libby Porter,” the woman said, her voice steady and not questioning to whom she was speaking.

Libby felt herself stand up straighter. “Yes.”

“You reported a zombie to dispatch seventeen minutes ago.”

Libby nodded. “I did. He’s…” Libby trailed off. She wasn’t sure where the zombie had gone.

The woman eyed Libby’s wounded hand and started reaching into her wrist cuff. “How did you get cut?”

“I punched the zombie in the face.”

“Did you have any protection?”

Libby pointed to the diamond bracelets on the floor. “Yes, I put those over my knuckles.”

The woman nodded and yanked a syringe out of her wrist cuff. “You’ve mixed blood with the infected. This will help.” She grabbed Libby’s arm and turned her wrist so that it was facing up. “This will sting a little,” she warned. Quickly, she plunged the needle into Libby’s soft flesh and Libby heard herself sigh for the second time that day. Her knees buckled and the chestnut-haired woman gently caught her and helped her to a comfortable sitting position on the floor. Libby leaned forward, her head resting on her hands until sleep overwhelmed her and she fell onto her side.

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Elisabeth Mayfair watched Libby Porter die peacefully. She pressed her fingers to Libby’s neck to be sure, then removed her gun from her holster and shot Libby between her eyes.

“Jesus, did you have to shoot her between the eyes?”

“Yes, I did, Rhys. You know the protocol.”

Rhys Corben frowned, his dark brown eyebrows knitting together.

“Was she even infected?”

Rhys and Elisabeth turned to face the voice that was, despite numerous throat lozenges, destined to be scratchy. “Yes,” Elisabeth replied.

Dallas Anderson stepped closer and put his left boot onto Libby’s wrist, rolling it so that he could see her knuckles. He inhaled sharply. “You determined she was infected without a field test? It isn’t possible to tell from a wound this small,” Dallas snapped. “You could’ve stabbed her through her brain stem so that it wouldn’t have marked her face for the funeral.”

Rhys snorted. “You’re wrong. You know Elisabeth is an Abnormal.”

Dallas narrowed his pale blue eyes. “Oh, yes, the lady in charge is in that role because she’s an Abnormal.”

“You’re on the cleanup team, Dallas. Dispose of this body properly. We’ll discuss your attitude when we get back.”

Amelia Stone slapped Dallas on his back. “Come on, cowboy. Tuck your tail between your legs and let’s clean up the mess.” She turned and winked at Elisabeth over her shoulder.

Elisabeth watched Amelia lead Dallas away to gather the cleanup supplies from their vehicle. Usually, there was a specific crew to take care of the bodies, but they were all out at other sites. A thought flickered briefly that there was a potential, unmentioned outbreak, but it was quickly dismissed. While the members of the Zombie Response Team, or ZRT, weren’t military by any means, she knew that information like that would be out in the open and never a secret. Secrets like that were too dangerous to the public. Half of the world’s population had been lost because the original government didn’t want to scare people. What they didn’t realize is that an unprepared population is unpredictable and, quite frankly, scared shitless when some walking undead thing comes charging into their living rooms during an episode of a late night talk show.

Her own team was strong, despite their occasional disputes. They had all signed up because they had lost people they loved and, now that the war was almost over, wanted to make sure another outbreak didn’t happen. When she had taken over almost a year ago, she had promised them transparency and that she’d die herself before she let anything happen to one of them.

Elisabeth spoke quietly with the manager of Bella Couture, apologizing for the mess she had created. She was grateful for his positive attitude and that he wasn’t upset. The manager shook her hand and thanked her once more for ZRT’s swift response before walking away, already on the phone trying to find a replacement for Libby Porter.

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The team had returned to The Creamery, the affectionate term given to the crematorium ZRT used as its headquarters. It had added a very comfortable office space with spacious, cushy offices for its team leaders. Having a crematorium onsite to dispose of the bodies was extremely convenient. It definitely beat the days when they had to bury each one. There were the cases where the family wanted the body for a funeral service, but some families didn’t want the negative stigma of a zombie in their bloodline and paid ZRT to dispose of them quietly.

“I want to know how in the hell a zombie made it to the mall without anyone noticing,” Rhys said, removing his black body armor.

“He was fairly fresh,” Dallas answered. He began breaking down his Ruger AR-556 to clean. “I suppose people saw him and just thought he was homeless. No one is going to stop a homeless guy from going into a mall.”

“What about the smell? You can notice the smell of a zombie. No, don’t look at me like that, Dallas. They all have a stench.”

“What all has a stench?” Elisabeth asked, joining the rest of her team in the locker room. She began to remove her own weapons and armor.

Rhys paused and eyed Elisabeth carefully. She was absently stroking the small hatchet she carried. He cleared his throat nervously. He wasn’t about to tell Elisabeth that, as an Abnormal, she had an odd scent that he couldn’t quite place. Fresh dirt, maybe?

“He’s talking about the zombie smell,” Amelia answered. She glanced quickly at Rhys as if she had done him a favor.

“Oh.” Elisabeth nodded in agreement. “They do. I know I must.” She watched as her team looked everywhere in the room but at her. “Guys, stop it. I know I smell. I just hope I don’t stink. Comes with the territory of everything else we get after being bitten.”

“I don’t care how they smell. I’m shooting them. Every single one,” Dallas said. His weapon was in pieces on the table in front him, his cleaning supplies lovingly laid out next to it.

Elisabeth’s head snapped in Dallas’ direction. “I thought you preferred to sever the brain stem and keep their faces intact,” she said coldly.

The rest of the team froze as Dallas reddened. “She’s got a family,” he said quietly.

“You can start doing that for the next Libby Porter,” Elisabeth replied. She gazed over her team. “Don’t question me again in the field when it comes to whether or not people are zombies. I can literally smell it on them, feel the virus coursing underneath their skin when I touch them. Do you understand?”

Dallas nodded.

“Get dressed. You have reports to turn in.”

When Elisabeth left the locker room, Rhys burped loudly. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “Awkwardness makes me gassy.”

Amelia laughed and slipped her cream silk blouse over her head. “Better out your mouth than your ass.”

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Elisabeth tapped her pen thoughtfully against her chin. Rhys had asked a good question earlier: how had that zombie made it the mall undetected? She had heard her team talking amongst themselves before they were aware of her presence. Eavesdropping hadn’t always been a habit of hers, but she had found it could be useful. As the war came to a close and society tried to piece itself back together, people climbing the ladder had a nasty habit of claiming they had plans to lead everyone else. The truth, she learned, was that they had an outline and they were basically all the same: eliminate the enemy, which, in this case, was the rest of the zombies. Elisabeth wasn’t sure if they’d ever actually get all of the zombies; the world was just too big with too many hiding places and too many areas that remained third world countries with few resources. With the United States unable to spare any extra soldiers, it couldn’t continue to be the world police and the rest of NATO had had to step up and become more active in solving the epidemic.

When the news of Abnormals hit, the military immediately tried to shut down the so-called “rumors”. People were desperate. People were stupid. They tried chaining up their loved ones or locking them in a room like Elisabeth herself had been in the hope that they somehow carried the gene that bonded with the virus. The odds of actually bonding were astronomical, and Elisabeth didn’t know anyone else like herself. Oh, they existed, that she was sure of. She wished she could meet them so that she could compare which abilities had been gained. Were they each different, or were they all of the same? Either way, Abnormals were commodities and usually placed as leaders for eradication teams. Zombie Response Team was all over the United States and Elisabeth couldn’t imagine it being an entity that ever vanished. She knew there were other companies throughout the world that were similar to ZRT, but they were smaller and less organized.

The zombie that had entered the mall had been fairly fresh. Its clothes weren’t tattered and its hair wasn’t too askew. It couldn’t have come from very far away. Sometimes, people took a trip somewhere remote where the certainty of clearance wasn’t one hundred percent and came back infected unknowingly. She’d had Research do some digging to unearth the zombie’s whereabouts. His name was Jasper Tonks, and he had been a financial advisor.

Elisabeth frowned. Libby Porter didn’t have to die. She supposed she didn’t have to shoot her in the head, but that was the most efficient way of ensuring that a future zombie stayed dead. She didn’t distrust the serum that she carried with her, but a bullet scrambling the brain helped her sleep better at night. Elisabeth had begged ZRT to have mandatory classes on how to handle the zombies if encountered, but they firmly told her “no”. Letting her anger get the best of her, Elisabeth had smashed her hand on the conference table and it broke in half, crumpling inward.

“Damnit, Ethan, the public needs to learn how not to be a bunch of idiots!”

Ethan Brown didn’t flinch. “The people aren’t ‘idiots’,” he replied calmly. “This war is fresh on their minds and they are well-aware of the consequences of getting too close to the infected. What we need to keep everything rolling smoothly is for the public to feel secure and safe in their daily lives the way they did pre-war.”

“What you’re saying translates to you want them to have a false sense of security so that, over time, they will become more complacent and unable to defend themselves. Jesus, Ethan, those gun rights activists are already starting to crawl out of the woodwork and we all know it was the ones with the guns that saved our asses in the first place. Call them rednecks if you will, but those men and women saved a lot of lives with their hidden arsenals.”

Ethan shook his head. “This discussion is over, Elisabeth.” He leaned closer and almost whispered to her. “I’d drop it if I were you. Just because you’re an Abnormal doesn’t mean you won’t get put down. You’re still technically infected with the virus and we don’t know if you can pass it on or not. Be lucky your kind haven’t been herded and turned into lab experiments.”

Elisabeth raised her chin defiantly. “Are you threatening me?”

The head of ZRT Division Tennessee simply stared evenly at the Abnormal until quickly turning on his heel and exiting the room. Over his shoulder, he said casually, “You owe us a new table.”

“I have our reports for you, ma’am,” Rhys said, pulling Elisabeth out of her reverie. He stepped into Elisabeth’s office and held out the proffered paperwork.

Elisabeth took them and skimmed over them. “These are fine. You can take them to Tammy for filing.”

Tammy Goodwin was the office manage and receptionist. She was also the source of Rhys’ affections, which were ignored.

Rhys smiled. “I wonder if she’s busy later.”

“I’m sure she is.”

“Maybe the fiftieth time is the charm.”

Elisabeth chuckled. “You won’t be able to wear her down, you know. Isn’t it a bit cliché to like the receptionist?”

Rhys’ mouth widened in mock shock. “Is it? I had no idea. I have only seen the films where it’s the boss and the secretary, not the colleague and the secretary.”

“Get out of here,” Elisabeth said, a grin on her face.

Rhys Corben left Elisabeth’s office, reports in hand. He liked the new team leader. The previous leader had transferred to Division Virginia. When his team was briefed that Elisabeth Mayfair was an Abnormal, he was stunned. Like most, he assumed they were a rumor, something to inspire hope amongst the dwindling population. Her red eyes were unsettling in the beginning, but he was used to them now. When new people met her, they were unnerved. While her Condition was meant to be a secret, she never bothered to hide them. People had been exposed to zombies, so why wouldn’t a person having red eyes be unbelievable?

He hummed quietly to himself as he made his way to Tammy Goodwin’s desk. He stepped into a cubicle and watched her for a moment, taking in her beauty. She had a soft brown pixie cut and brown eyes to match. Her skin was creamy and, while she was no scrawny woman, she was clearly strong and athletic. Rhys knew she had grown up on a farm and worked hard until it was lost, burned to the ground, during the war. Some of her family were still on the land trying to resurrect it to its former glory, but Tammy decided to move to the city instead and start over.

“Don’t quit your day job,” Tammy said. She was shuffling papers around on her desk, trying to organize them into the multiple stacking trays she had.

“You know you love my voice,” Rhys retorted. Tammy had a counter that surrounded her desk, reminding him of a bar, and he leaned over it casually.

“I love it when your voice stops talking.” Tammy didn’t even bother to look up. “Just leave the reports there and I’ll take care of them.”

Rhys sighed and looked around quickly. Lowering his voice, he said, “Tammy, I really do like you.”

Tammy paused and met his gaze with her own.

Rhys felt like his heart was skipping a beat and he waited for her to reply.

Instead, Tammy laughed. “Rhys! I almost believed you! Look, I know your type. You’re cute. You’re charming. You’re a little boyish and all of the ladies want you and you have them at will. I’ve seen those families that come in that want us to remove zombies quietly so as not to tarnish their good names. You woo the young women, flash those baby blues, get what you want, and you move onto the next poor victim.”

Rhys raised a finger. “I appreciate your compliment but, to be fair, the next victim is the wrong choice of words. Let’s be sensitive here. A victim is the person who got turned into a zombie. The casualties are the people who are left behind to pick up the pieces.”

Tammy’s lips were pursed. “You’re not helping your cause. Get out of my space.”

“Seems to be the consensus of the day,” Rhys replied, admitting defeat. To Tammy’s annoyance, he started humming again as he walked back to his cubicle.

Elisabeth left The Creamery long after everyone else on her team departed. There were other teams with whom they shared the office space, but their schedules overlapped to accommodate full twenty-four hour coverage.  She waved goodbye to the members of Team Aguilar. Some were still gathered in the kitchen getting their caffeine fix and merely mumbled in response. She didn’t mind; it was early morning for them.

Elisabeth pulled out her bicycle. Cars had just become available merely a year before once the refineries and deliveries were running again, but she seldom drove. She lived close to the office and there was a company SUV that they drove to assignments. She was a hypocrite, though. Had she known anyone else that rode a bike around after dark, she would chastise them immediately. It just wasn’t safe, despite what Ethan Brown and the other leaders of ZRT wanted people to believe. She was an Abnormal, though. Zombies didn’t attack her anyway.

The power for the streetlights was out again when she reached her suburb. That was becoming a more common occurrence as the electrical company worked out the kinks with the nearby dam. They had been warned it would happen, at least. Her neighborhood was adjacent to a small forest and, while Elisabeth didn’t worry about herself, she did worry about her neighbors. She’d rather look outside and be able to see potential threats than guess their presence.

Nearing her house, she passed a small group of three women in their mid-twenties—close to Elisabeth’s age—and waved. They waved back and smiled.

Parking her bike in her garage, she heard a scream. Alert, she stood rigid, listening to pinpoint the origin. Another scream followed and Elisabeth double-checked the Smith and Wesson 9mm she always holstered before darting towards the sound.

Quickly, she came upon the group of women she had passed moments ago and saw a large man holding one of their wrists. The other two were too terrified to move as they watched the attacker bring his face closer to their friend. Elisabeth ducked, one knee hitting the ground as she grabbed the man around his waist and tackled him. She scrambled and sat on his stomach, her knees splayed out for balance and her chest close to his. She weighed more than she looked, and the man grunted underneath the pressure of her body on top of his.

Already knowing the answer, Elisabeth leaned close and sniffed. “Motherfucker,” she breathed. He reached his arms around her as if to hug her, but she bucked upward, breaking his grip. She pressed her hands onto his sternum to pop herself up and, grabbing the back of his arm with her right hand, swung her left leg over his head. She was now in a T-shape next to him, legs over his chest, his right arm held close to her body. She lifted her hips and the man began to yell in pain. His elbow was bending backward, and Elisabeth was perfectly content to break it.

“Wait!” shouted one of the women.

Elisabeth didn’t listen and broke the man’s arm. The crack was sickening and one of the women immediately vomited.

“You bitch!” spat the man. “You broke my arm!”

Elisabeth stood and calmly brushed off her shirt. “You should get that checked out, sir. I would also suggest that you reconsider your decision to attack people in the future.”

“Joey!” cried the smallest woman, the one whose wrists he had been holding. She angrily glared at Elisabeth. “It was just a prank!” she cried.

“It was a stupid prank.”

“I can’t believe she broke your arm, baby,” sobbed the woman. “Come on, we’ll get it fixed.” She helped the man to his feet. Turning back to Elisabeth, she said, “You better watch your back, you crazy bitch. We were just having fun.”

Elisabeth glanced at the other women. They were still shaking; clearly, the world wasn’t ready for scary pranks. “Get serious, woman!” Elisabeth yelled. “Have you forgotten who you’re talking to now? I just broke his arm because I considered him a threat. Do you really think I’ll hesitate to harm you if I feel threatened?”

The woman cast her eyes downward and Elisabeth walked back towards her home.

“I see you’ve made some new friends.”

Elisabeth hung up her holster on the coat stand by her front door. “If you’re foolish enough to pull a stupid prank like that, you deserve to be punished. The war is all but over, but it’s still too soon to pretend to attack anyone and call it a prank. That wasn’t even acceptable pre-war.”

Margo Mayfair uncrossed her legs and rose from the oversized sage green chair. “He was a human, wasn’t he?” she asked.

Elisabeth knew the lecture was coming. She just nodded.

“You can’t do that and you know it. ZRT will have your ass for hurting civilians, whether they deserve it or not,” she scolded. “You knew damn good and well he was just a human. You probably knew when you laid eyes on him.”

“I did,” Elisabeth finally said. “They’ll think twice the next time they want to play a prank. Pranks are supposed to be funny, aren’t they? Why not put saran wrap under the toilet seat so the next person who uses it makes a big mess?”

Margo pretended to gag. “That’s disgusting, Lizzy.”

“Like you never did that to Jimmy after you found out he kissed Veronica underneath the bleachers.”

Margo’s face cracked into a wide grin. “Oh, I did do that, didn’t I? I wonder how those two are.”

“Zombies in Division Louisiana.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, that hurricane came through and uprooted a bunch of coffins. The vaults were wrenched open, the caskets exposed, and all of those people whose families thought they just buried someone indefinitely came back wanting to eat everyone. ZRT called in teams from all over the South to help put the genie back into the bottle.”

“But they were buried together?” Margo asked.

“Supposedly. Young love, world going to chaos, and parents thinking they were doing what was best for their kids.”

Aww, that’s sweet. Well, look at who’s a dead zombie now and who’s still human?” Margo twirled in place, her laugh reminding Elisabeth of gentle wind chimes. When was she done, she added, “By the way, Mom sent over some leftovers.”

Elisabeth’s stomach began to growl in response. She couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten. Opening the refrigerator, she was suddenly ravenous. “How is Mom?” she asked, pulling out a large casserole dish.

“She’s fine. She wants you to move back in with us. The new house is great. They build them now so that they’re fortified already and they have separate living quarters to accommodate growing families who still want to live under one roof.”

Elisabeth’s oven beeped its readiness and she popped in the casserole to reheat. “People in other countries have been sharing much smaller homes long before the war ever came along,” she pointed out.

Margo snorted. “This is America. Home of excess. Not so much anymore because of the war, but people will go back to their old ways within the next ten years. Look at how far we’ve come in just three short years.”

“Do you really think that’s the case? I think there was too much loss for people to return to the days where they practically worshipped families only famous because one of their daughters fucked some guy on a leaked porno.”

“I liked that show!” Margo exclaimed.

Dragging her casserole out of the oven, Elisabeth said, “Of course you did.”

“It was entertainment. You, on the other hand, wanted to watch Forensic Files all of the time.”

With her mouth full, Elisabeth replied, “You can learn from that show.”

“Don’t be gross, Lizzy,” Margo complained. “Besides, you can kill all you want now and no one will ever say a word to you. You don’t have to worry about evidence.”

“Those people are already dead.”

“Some aren’t even zombies yet and you still kill them.” Margo’s tone had turned serious.

Each twin stood opposite each other in the galley kitchen, staring at each other. Slowly, Elisabeth swallowed and put her plate on the counter. “It’s better that they’re dead before they wake up a week later as a zombie. They’re still doing research to see how infectious they are before the make the actual turn. I don’t just eliminate them, Margo. I eliminate the possibility of it spreading. If you haven’t noticed, we haven’t won the war yet. We’ll have won when all zombies are gone and so is the virus.”

“Lizzy, do you know what you’re saying?” Margo asked quietly. “They’re doing research on your kind to see if you’re infectious and if the virus has to die, then so do you.”

“They’re not doing research on Abnormals.”

“Now who’s being an idiot? What, did your director tell you that? He probably did just to pacify you. Don’t be so naïve. They’re not going to let a bunch of people with mutated genes wander around leading eradication teams and, for those who aren’t part of ZRT, just hang out with the general population without knowing something.”

Elisabeth was silent.

“Don’t you ever worry that one day, they’re going to take us both and research us because we’re identical twins? I would if I were them. One twin was exposed and became an Abnormal. Would the same happen to the other twin? Is it really in the genes like they assume? Or is it something special, as unique to us as our souls?”

“Margo, knock it off. They already know the virus bonds with a gene, which does mutate it. I’d be surprised if you got bitten and the same didn’t happen to you. Quit being like one of those people who believes in conspiracy theories.”

Margo bit the bottom of her lip. She was about to cry. “No, you knock it off! Those scientist don’t know for sure. Do you really think three years is enough to know? They just came out with the best, most logical explanation to sooth and reassure everyone. They even named the gene as proof, but I think that was mostly to back up their claims.”

Elisabeth put her hands on Margo’s shoulders. “Listen to me,” she said sternly. “You have to stop this line of conversation. Most people think Abnormals are a rumor anyway, so it doesn’t matter, does it? My own team was surprised to learn of my Condition because even they thought it wasn’t real. Most people think it was just something created to give them hope. You know better than anyone that the real Abnormals have been sworn to secrecy and so have their families. If any experiments were going to happen, they would have happened already. You’re right: research does take a long time. But genes were being identified so often and so easily pinpointed that there was less and less ‘junk DNA’ and uses for each were being discovered.” Elisabeth hugged her sister. “It’s okay. It will continue to be okay.”

Margo sniffed. “I just worry about you so much. Mom worries, too.” She sniffed again.

“Are you getting snot in my hair?”

“A little.”

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Jessica Lars angrily slammed the car door and huffed as she walked to the passenger side to let out Joey, her boyfriend of seven months. She couldn’t believe that her bitch neighbor had broken his arm! She always knew that woman had been a little weird. There was something about her, though, that made Jessica a little afraid and comforted by her presence at the same time.

Joey Stephens yawned, groggy from the drugs given to him at the hospital. They had lied and said they were robbed to avoid any possible issues. The nurse had clucked her tongue disapprovingly and said, “Don’t we have enough problems these days?” Jessica had just nodded in agreement as she snatched away the clipboard and began to fill out Joey’s information.

“Babe, that was a stupid idea. I don’t know why I wanted to scare your friends.” Joey slung his good arm around Jessica’s shoulders.

“It’s not just your fault. I thought it would be funny, too.” Jessica grunted under his weight as they walked towards the front door. She fumbled for her keys while trying to hold up her boyfriend.

“We’ll get her back.”

“Get who back, Joey?”

“The bitch who did this to me,” Joey said, his words slurred.

Jessica shoved the key into the lock and cranked it to the left. “Don’t be ridiculous, Joey,” she said, her voice firm. “You can talk all you want, but we can’t actually do anything to her. You saw her skills. We can’t match that.”

Joey let his girlfriend haul him to the sofa where he sat down heavily. She went back to lock the door behind her. “I don’t have to deal with her directly. I can shoot her.”

Silence.

“Did you hear me? I said I’d shoot the bitch! See, babe, no problem.” He grinned to himself.

“No, you can’t hurt her. She’s too important.”

“What did you say, Jessica? You taking her side now after what she did to me?”

A dark figure entered the living room. Joey squinted, trying to make out who it was. “What are you doing in my house?” he demanded.

Suddenly, his head jolted backward, his brains spraying the back of the couch, the wall, and part of the ceiling.

The figure stepped over Jessica’s body as it exited the home. She looked like she was sleeping except that her neck was at an impossible angle.

The figure paused, then closed the door behind it to shutter the neighbors against the horror inside.


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