“There.” I nodded at a dark spot on the horizon. I had been seeing it for a while, but we were close enough now where I could be certain it was something.
“What?” She perked up a bit and squinted in the distance. “Are those houses?”
“I think it’s a town.”
The sun was setting by the time we reached the new development on the edge of town. Several houses were in the middle of being built when construction stopped. Backhoes and equipment lay discarded in half-dug basements. Wooden skeletons of houses jutted out from rocks and sand.
We went into the first finished-looking house we came to, but the inside had barely been completed. It didn’t even have fixtures yet. The next few houses were in a nearly identical state. I decided to venture past the newer construction until we saw a cul-de-sac that looked finished. We finally found a giant McMansion with all the signs of life, including blood on the open front door.
I slowly pushed the door open. Pictures of smiling people hung on the wall in the entryway. I stepped in a bit more to find slightly mauled art deco furniture and blood splatters on the floor. Harlow pushed past me and darted inside.
“Somebody lived here!” Harlow squealed
“Harlow, wait! We don’t know if anything’s here!” I said but didn’t stop her. The blood looked old, and if we didn’t get something to drink soon, we were all in trouble.
Harlow had already thrown open the fridge when I got to the kitchen. We needed bottled water. Tap water tended to be a hit or a miss and had the possibility of being contaminated.
Harlow yanked out several bottles of Fiji water, and I grabbed one. They were warm, and the fridge reeked of spoiled food, but I didn’t care. I opened the bottle and drank from it greedily.
We both finished a whole bottle of water before I realized that the lion had to be even thirstier than we were. She’d been following us around the development, and I heard her chain dragging as she wandered around the house.
“Kitty, kitty!” I shouted, and Harlow gave me an odd look. “Here kitty, kitty! Ripley!”
“Ripley?” Harlow furrowed her brow.
“Yeah, I figured if she’s gonna be following us around, we ought to give her a name.”
“But Ripley?” She raised an eyebrow.
“She’s badass,” I shrugged. “You saw what she did to those zombies. So she needed a badass name. Like Sigourney Weaver in those Alien movies.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Harlow shook her head
“The woman’s name was Ripley, and she killed everything,” I tried to explain. “She was the toughest chick I’ve ever seen.”
“Alright. Whatever.” She was already wandering away. “I’m gonna go see if I can find anything else I need.”
“Ripley!” I yelled again. “Here kitty kitty!”
Harlow screamed and dropped her bottles of water as the lion ran past with the massive chain clattering behind her, and then dove on the marble kitchen island. It scared the hell out of me, too, but I tried not to show it. Ripley flicked her tail and stared down at me.
“Stupid cat.” Harlow collected her water and headed off to scout out the rest of the house.
I rummaged through the cupboards and found a metal baking bowl. I set it on the kitchen counter across from the island and started filling it with water.
Ripley jumped from the island to the counter and began drinking before I’d finished. She started purring as she lapped it up, and I didn’t even know lions could purr.
“Yeah, you like the name Ripley, don’t you?” She kept purring, and I nodded as if she’d actually agreed with me.
While Ripley drank her water and Harlow explored the rest of the house, I went to the pantry to look for food. I found a couple cans of salmon, tuna, SPAM, and baked beans, and that was about it for things we could actually eat. A lot of stuff had gone bad or been broken.
The whole house had been ransacked by something else, and by the random, bloody state of everything, I’d say it was a zombie.
I set all the edible food on the counter and decided I needed to hit a bedroom for some new clothes. The clothes I was wearing were ratty and covered in blood, and the few extra I had in my messenger bag weren’t much better.
I’d made it halfway up the grand, winding staircase in the foyer when I heard Ripley growling. Then there was a loud clatter, followed by a gun going off, and Harlow screaming.
– 4 –
I leapt over the banister, landing on the floor in a way that sent a searing pain through my ankle, but I ignored it and ran into the living room. Once I got there, I realized that the gunshot had come from the living room, but Harlow’s scream came from upstairs. She had screamed because she heard the gun.
While I had been making my way upstairs, two guys had come in through the patio doors off the living room, and Ripley caught them. Her chain clattered, they got frightened, and from the bullet hole in the wall way, way above Ripley’s head, I assumed they were terrible shots.
Ripley stood in the middle of the living room, looking pissed off and confused.
“Whoa! Whoa!” I ran in front of Ripley, blocking her from hurting them and them from hurting her, and belatedly realized how dumb that was.
I didn’t know if I could prevent Ripley from attacking anything, and she might lunge at me if she was scared. Two guys were here, and one of them held a gun, which was now pointed at me since I had stepped in front of it.
I stood between a lion and a gunman, and both of them might kill me just for the hell of it.
“What’s going on?” Harlow yelled from the top of the stairs.
“Stay upstairs!” I shouted.
“Put the gun down!” That was the gun-less young man, talking to his friend. He was the taller of the two, with sandy blond hair and reassuring gray eyes.
“No way,” the gunman said. The hand holding the shotgun quivered, and black hair kept falling into his eyes, so he couldn’t even take aim properly. He gestured at Ripley with the gun. “Is that thing safe?”
“She’s a lion, and uh, yeah, she is,” I said. I actually had no idea if she was, but I liked it better when I didn’t have a gun pointed at me, so I lied.
“Just put down the gun,” his friend said, putting his hand on the barrel to gently push it down. He was the older of the two, and he seemed much calmer.
“It’s a fricking lion!” The gunman completely lowered his weapon, but he was still freaked.
Once I could clearly see his face, he looked incredibly familiar. I squinted, as if that would make me place him better. He was attractive, with dark eyes, and tattoos decorating both arms. He looked closer to my age, but I couldn’t figure out where I knew him from.