The woman crept up to the window, looking through grimy glass to the scene inside. Several people huddled together, surrounded by overturned tables and chairs, forming a barrier like circled wagons, though the tables were too short to be of any real use.
The building used to be a restaurant, a small café filled with the smells of cooking food and sounds of clinking glasses and idle chatter. She remembered how it used to look, with warm sunlight pouring into the windows, falling onto the soft navy blue walls and pale brown tables, glinting off the polished metal counter in the back and closed in glass cases with their assortment of sweets and breads.
Now, the glass was streaked with grime, so thick that some parts were black. Thick wooden boards covered the windows, leaving small grime covered spaces for the sun to force its way through, giving the café a dim lighting, like an old church or crypt. The counter was no longer polished, but scratched and dented, the glass cases cracked and filled with dried out crumbs. The only sounds were the soft frightened breathing and hushed conversation of the people in the center of the table and chair fort. The only smells were the sweet tang of their body odor. The woman breathed it in and let it hang on the back of her tongue, tasting the fear that came off each one of them in waves.
She moved closer to the small space of dirty glass between the boards and watched the group, their whispers clear in her ears as if they were being shouted.
There were four of them, two women, one man and a child, a little boy about the age of five. One woman had long light hair, with pale skin and pale clothing. The other had dark hair and dark clothing, possibly deep blue or black. It was hard to tell through the dim light and grime. The man had a ring of long unkempt hair around his head, the top smooth and barren, giving him the look of a candle that had started to melt at the top.
“We can’t stay here,” he said, his voice rising slightly but still staying a whisper. He clutched a dirty hat in his hands and twisted it around as he spoke. “It’s not safe.”
The pale haired woman shook her head. She had the small boy in her lap and stroked his hair absently. He leaned against her with his eyes closed, sleeping the peaceful sleep that adults were no longer capable of doing. Their sleep was always rushed, tiny slips of unconsciousness filled with movement and screams.
“We have nowhere else to go,” she said. “The roads are crawling with those things. We were lucky to make it here. There’s food in the kitchen and boards on the windows. We’ll be safe here for a few days, at least.”
“A few days?” the man roared in his whisper. “They’ll be all over us in a few days.” He removed one hand from his hat and waved it around the room. “Just look around. Where are the people who boarded up those windows? It wasn’t very safe for them.”
The pale haired woman frowned and kept stroking the hair of the young child. “Those windows are still boarded, aren’t they? If something happened to the people before, there would be signs of a struggle. This place is untouched. Hell, even the display case was still plugged in.”
“What about the counter?” the man asked. “It looked like someone used it for target practice! With their feet and fists.”
“I highly doubt a pack of those things rushed in, attacked the counter and rushed out again, leaving everything else untouched.” The pale haired woman looked over at the counter. “Vandals, most likely, dumb kids having a laugh before all this happened.”
“I still think we shouldn’t stay too long,” the man said. He stopped twisting the hat, but still clutched it tightly between his fingers. “Those things are bound to come here sooner or later.”
“And we’ll be gone before they do,” the pale haired woman said. “A few days to rest up and then we’ll head off again.”
“You guys are missing the most important point of all,” the dark haired woman suddenly said, the first words she had spoken all night. They both turned to look at her.
“What’s that?” the pale haired woman asked.
“That no matter where we go, they’ll find us,” she said. “Eventually, we’ll run out of places to run to. It doesn’t matter if we stay here for a night, a few days or a few years. They’ll get us in the end.”
The other two didn’t respond and the room grew silent, with only their frightened breathing filling the air. The woman outside smiled and backed away from the window. She crept around to the back of the café and pulled a small key from her pocket. The key fit into the back door and it opened silently on oiled hinges. She slipped into the kitchen and walked across the empty space and over to the door leading to the main room.
She took a deep breath and breathed in the scent of her prey, before bursting in on them with a wild cry. She easily leapt over the protective barrier and landed smoothly on the other side. The people stood up and shouted to each other, the pale haired woman still clutching the now sobbing child in her arms.
They man and dark haired woman rushed at her, swinging a baseball bat and thick piece of rusted pipe. The woman pulled both weapons from their hands and watched as they both stumbled, the sudden exertion causing their limbs to lock up. It didn’t her long to snap their necks or toss them out of the flimsy circle of tables and chairs. The pale haired woman was still standing, but the panic was sending her limbs into the same weakness as the other two. She went down on one knee and pushed herself away, clutching the boy with shaking arms that slowly fell down to her sides.
“Leave us alone,” she pleaded, her voice rising into a scream. “I don’t know if you can understand me, but please, at least spare my child.”
The woman laughed. “I can understand you perfectly,” she said, as she grabbed to small child. “And I will spare your child.” She sunk her teeth into the boy’s arm and tossed him aside, then kicked the woman in the head, collapsing her skull like an egg.
She left the wailing child on the floor and went about her business, picking up the chairs and tables and setting them back into position. Then she walked into the kitchen and unlocked a small trap door, revealing a stash of food. She pulled armfuls out and restocked the refrigerator, filling it with temping morsels of bread, meat and jars of condiments, each laced with special chemicals crafted to absorb into the bodies of those who ate it, gestating for hours before causing an allergic reaction like the toxin of a snake, their own pumping hearts locking their limbs and making them easier to kill.
She walked back into the main room and admired her handy work, smiling at her carefully set trap. She didn’t have to roam the roads or work in a pack like some sort of animal. Most of her kind didn’t. Those were distractions, scouts sent out to drive prey to carefully maintained traps. This was her duck blind, her tiger pit. The humans underestimated her kind, seeing them as mindless, feral animals. That made them easy prey.
The woman looked over at the boy, who had started to froth at the mouth, the virus inside her now coursing through his veins. In a few minutes, he would be like her, stronger, faster and smarter. She would share her meal with him and then teach him how to join in on the hunt, a new ally to help corral the wandering prey, carefully guided and maintained like deer in season, to fill her kind’s bellies for years to come.