The gunfire from my careless discharge was enough to make the zombies start on us with a new, undeniable zeal for our flesh and blood.
“Through the window!” Stan shouted as he elbowed out the glass and I helped Cara to her feet, “Now!”
“My leg’s broken!” Cara snarled pointedly, though, surprisingly, not at me.
“I got you,” I said as calmly as I could while firing off a quick, useless burst into the crowd coming at us, “you go through, Stan, I’ll need you to lift her through.”
Stan didn’t hesitate, practically leaping through the smashed window before I’d moved so much as a foot. Hell, I half expected him to have run off, but once I reached the window it became clear that that wasn’t the case.
“Look out!” Cara yelled in my ear, nearly bursting my eardrum and throwing my balance off to the point that I only just managed to shoot the zombie that had been running at me, slowing it down but not stopping it.
Stan took Cara without saying a word and got her clear of the broken glass on the linoleum floor just in time for me to basically roll through the waist-high window and fire off a few shots into the zombies.
“Office door,” Stan heaved out as he did his best to run for the back of the shop, “behind the counter.”
“Got it.” I replied through my teeth while shuffling backwards and firing out through the window, my frustration and anger making it difficult to aim straight and resulting in a whole lot of injuries but no incapacitations or kills.
For some reason my typical fight instinct was being clouded and hindered as the adrenaline that usually turned me into John Wick’s less talented cousin made me more like Military Extra Number Seven from Insert Zombie Movie.
“We’re going up the stairs!” Cara called over as she and Stan got further away, encouraging me to abandon my abysmal shooting and go scrambling after them, nearly tripping over the counter as I did so.
My breathing was ragged and unpredictable, my blinking erratic and near-blinding, and it wasn’t until I finally managed to clamber into the back office and throw up that I realized what was happening.
I was having an honest to God panic attack.
I can’t explain it accurately, and I couldn’t even tell you what had caused it.
It could’ve been the continued sense of betrayal I felt.
It could’ve been the zombies chomping at my heels.
Hell, it could’ve simply been that everything had finally come crashing down on me after a few hours of absolute crap.
The worst part about it was just how pathetic and useless I felt, regardless of how much I tried to rationalize that what was happening had nothing to do with me and that it was a completely normal reaction.
I wasn’t going to let a little thing like my brain trying to cave in on itself stop me though, and, despite no small amount of difficulty, I managed to burst through the door at the top of the stairs.
That relatively simple action proved to be more than I could handle though, shown through the fact that the second I was on the roof and Stan had slammed the door behind me I collapsed onto a stack of milk crates which Cara had been propped up against.
“I can’t see…” I muttered through weak breaths as my vision started to fill with stars and a sort of weird darkness closed around me, “Guys, I can’t see…”
My heart was thumping in my ears, so I didn’t know if they’d responded to what I’m sure sounded like random mumblings and heaving.
“Hello? Finn?” a voice whispered through the veil, “This is Mister Purple. Buddy, you need to calm down, your vitals are going all over the place.”
“I can’t calm down…” I growled through my teeth.
“Well you better figure out how to, fast, or I’m going to have to pull the plug, and I’d really rather not do that. I’m actually rooting for you in all this.”
I went to snarl something about that being very comforting, but then this sort of sharp tone started rippling through my brain, like an old dialup if it also electrocuted your brain.
“There we go,” Mister Purple whispered as I figured out what he’d done, “a little mental kicker to push you along. See that? I’ve given you an advantage. Now, get back into the game, and sort out that friend of yours. I don’t imagine I’m going to be able to stomach what he ends up doing.”
“-inn! Finn!” Cara pleaded, shaking me back to proper consciousness.
It was at that moment I realized I was screaming and stopped, earning me an entirely justifiable confused expression from Cara who was still shaking me a little.
It was all gone.
My heart was beating fast, sure, but I was breathing, my head was clear, and my hands had stopped trembling.
“Well,” I said as I slowly sat up and saw that Stan was struggling to keep the door shut, “that was an experience I’d not like to deal with again.”
Stan responded with a mixed expression of desperation, confusion, and panic as I got up to my feet and stretched out my legs.
“Try the bolts.” I said coolly, pointing to the two heavy latches at the top and bottom of the door before walking over, “They might not be a permanent solution, but I’m sure they’ll hold long enough for us to figure something else out.”
Stan still appeared to be confused, but did as I asked, sliding the two heavy bolts and locking the door while the zombies continued to try and slam it open.
I think Cara asked me something, I couldn’t hear her though, I was far too focused on trying to find something to pin the door, “There.” I breathed as I spotted a broken refrigerator on its side by the edge of the roof, “Cara, help me move that.”
“Are you alright?” Cara asked concernedly once I’d stood the fridge up, “You seem kind of… off.”
“I’ll be fine,” I replied coolly, “let’s just focus on blocking the door for now, we’ll get to me after.”
Truth was I had absolutely no intention of discussing what had happened to me, not least because I’d had contact with Mister Purple and I couldn’t exactly explain who he was or why that would be freaking me out.
None of that mattered though, I knew what I was doing, where I was going, what my ultimate goals were, and, with the kicker doing its work, I felt ready to do what was necessary.
Stan had to go.