Sunday, October 4, 2009

Chapter Fifty

“Keep runnin’,” gasps the Dwarf. He readjusts the sleeping Cinderella across his shoulders and continues stumping up the cobblestone streets. At his heels, the Wolf forces himself to limp a little faster.

Though they've only been in the Lands Beyond for a few moments, already the Dwarf has come to hate it.

His people fled here? To this undefended maze of a city? What were they thinking?

Two dead children stumble into the street, blocking their way. The Dwarf lowers Cinderella to the ground - he winces as she falls upon the stones - and draws his polearm.

“Carry the girl!” he shouts to the Wolf, and rushes forward to attack the dead.

“I can’t!” snarls the Wolf. He pulls feebly at her apron, but his stitches throb too painfully.

“Then you’ll get us all killed,” scowls the Dwarf, and he swings angrily at the children. He pays no mind to what they once were.

“Come on,” he says roughly, and picks up Cinderella once more. He looks behind at the straggling bodies, then continues running.

Instinctively, the Dwarf heads toward a clock tower in the distance - it’s the only building in this city of glass that looks safe - but getting there, that’ll be the trick.

“Turn here,” wheezes the Wolf. He sniffs at the air. “Less of ‘em.”

“Less is still lots,” growls the Dwarf. Fightin' 'em off ain't hard, he’d admit, not when you have a weapon made to keep your distance and the enemy doesn’t know any tactics. But each moment fightin' is a moment not runnin'.

“Gotta be somewhere safe,” says the Wolf. He looks longingly at the ruined buildings, but each one has a broken door or a smashed window - an open invitation to the undead.

“Hmph. Not even a tree!” It’s difficult, but somehow the Dwarf finds the breath to complain.

Three more of the dead pick their way through the wreckage of a shop. Not a troubling number - he’d killed seven with one blow before - but the Dwarf’s mostly concerned with the ever-increasing horde following them. The corpses fall over the broken bricks, and the Dwarf decides it’s not worth it, best to keep running.

“Where now?” he asks.

“Doesn’t matter,” says the Wolf. The smell is everywhere. His eyes flit about for any sign of escape. “They’re all coming.”

“Damnation.” He slides Cinderella to the street and looks for the closest cluster. Each group, on its own, wouldn’t be nothin', but not all of them all at once. He doesn’t have time to strategize, especially with that damn barking. What’s the Wolf trying to do, alert the whole cursed city?

“Will you shut yer yap?” he shouts at the Wolf, who looks back at him in surprise.

“It ain’t me!” the Wolf shouts back. The two look at each other, then wildly about the neighborhood. Dead dogs don’t bark. They may howl, but they don’t bark.

Soon they see it - a large dog barking at them from a second-story window.

“Go!” says the Dwarf, but the Wolf is already hobbling in that direction.

The door to the house is nailed shut, but there’s a small broken window next to it. The Wolf, after smelling carefully, shimmies through the hole, and the Dwarf gingerly passes Cinderella through.

In a moment, they’re inside and the Dwarf surveys the interior. Not many windows on this floor, he decides, but not many is still too many.

There’s a lumbering step at the stairs, and they turn to see their barking savior: a large, mountainous dog wearing - of all things - a bonnet.

“It safe upstairs?”

The bonneted dog nods.

“This room ain’t worth defendin’,” decides the Dwarf. He picks up Cinderella and stomps up the stairs. “Maybe I can hold ‘em off from the stairway, pick ‘em off one at a time...”

And then he notices the sound of his own footsteps. The staircase rattles. It isn’t made of good, solid, unbreakable marble, but of a fancy wood. A fancy, delicate, flimsy wood.

Setting Cinderella on the second-floor landing, he takes a crowbar from his tool belt. Within seconds, he’s removed one of the stairs. He looks down - eleven more to destroy.

“This the only way up?” he asks the bonneted dog. She barks back a single affirmative.

“Good,” says the Dwarf, smiling joylessly as the undead beat upon the windows. He rushes downstairs, hoping he has enough time before they break into the house.

“This won’t be easy, but it’ll do,” he says to no one in particular. They’re the cheeriest words he’s ever spoken.