Arlene surveyed the damage. A lot of people had died, but not enough. Todd had managed to kill several of the bikers, it was a pity he had not been able to get them all. Maybe it would have avoided the necessity to kill everyone now. But as she watched them all working together, bonding, it became apparent the rest of the patrons were complicit. Mr. Behrendt sweeping up broken glass with a baldheaded biker with a long, brown goatee. Sherry nailing tables onto a window opening with two others. Even Dr. Forbes who’d been suffering from dementia had come out of it enough to help treat the wounded; at this moment, he was setting the broken upper arm of one of the bikers. Whatever force outside that was trying to get inside, the rest of them surely would meet their deaths if left to their own devices. If anything, Arlene would be doing them a mercy.
It had been difficult to get near what remained of the kitchen. The walls bulged out, scorch marks lined their edges. The majority of the dead were concentrated inside. Including Gladys, the poor old woman had never wakened. Shame, but Arlene wouldn’t waste any tears. One of the bikers had stumbled out of the kitchen, mumbling something about the ‘cooked old woman’ who’d still been alive before barely being able to get control of himself again. Arlene didn’t know why, but she was particularly relieved to know Gladys was dead. There was something about her—something about her and Dusty as a matter of fact—that worried Arlene. Not that she was afraid of them. No, she knew she was smart enough to handle anything that could be thrown at her. But whatever it was about the two of them made Arlene apprehensive. That maybe they could make things difficult. Or at least one of them. She turned and looked at Dusty.
The sooner Arlene killed her, the better. As a matter of fact, she figured on getting herself a knife from the kitchen now to take care of that problem.
Arlene finished with bandaging Mr. Jones’s arm. It was nice and neat, just like she’d learned in her candystriping days. He moaned something she didn’t care to understand and she rose, pushing his hands away. Arlene made a straight line toward the kitchen, stopping in front of one of the bikers, blocking the way. He had been ushering people along who wandered his way, trying to take a look inside. Mostly everyone was still in shock to some degree and it was only natural they wanted to see who had been hurt.
“Move along,” he said to Arlene, barely looking at her. He had flat, past-shock eyes. Like he had seen his fill of whatever was inside and then been force-fed seconds.
“I need some more bandages for Mr. Jones,” she said, batting her eyes at him. He didn’t notice and that stung. Men always noticed her, no matter what. But this man seemed on autopilot. Hesitantly, she raised a hand and rested it on his arm. The shock between them was immediate. She felt his heart quicken, hers too, as they quickly began matching pace. She could feel a portion of herself coursing through him, infiltrating every fiber of his being.
Arlene had him.
“I need to get in the kitchen to get bandages for Mr. Jones,” she repeated. He stepped aside, his eyes locked on her. Now he noticed. Now he could see. Good boy. She smiled and walked behind the tattered counter and through the double doors, which had strangely remained intact.
The kitchen was carnage. The grill itself was bent in the middle like a giant pair of hands had picked it up and folded it in the middle and then dropped it. Those same hands might have picked up the entire kitchen and dropped it. Everything wore a coat of foam, no doubt from being sprayed with the fire extinguisher. There were several charred bodies on the floor. Arlene couldn’t tell how many, they weren’t all whole. There was a torso a few feet from the grill and by its length she guessed it was Todd. The head was turned to the side, the mouth peeled back, white teeth bared in a horrible smile. The burnt, greasy smell in here was even stronger than outside of the kitchen and for the first time she realized some of that grease was human. Two men came into the kitchen carrying a makeshift gurney.
“Yeah, sister,” the shorter one said, “it’s that bad.”
She realized she must have looked as green as she felt and struggled to keep her legs from buckling. She tried to slow her breathing, but it was like her lungs were starving for oxygen. It was all she could do to keep from hyperventilating.
I need to get out of this room, she thought, forcing her feet into motion. Arlene went to where the utensil drawer had been, but it had been blown out of the cabinet.
“It’s a wonder this building is even still standing,” the taller one said. Arlene looked around for anything else she might be able to use to kill Dusty.
Finally, she spotted a pair of knives that were stuck in the far wall. Arlene tried to yank one free but it was really stuck in there.
“I need a break,” one of the two men said. He stood, turned and looked at Arlene. “Hey, cutie,” he said, “what are you doing over there?”
“I, uh, I need this knife.” Arlene twirled her fingers in her hair, looking at him with big doe eyes, trying to hold back the wave of desperation. The man gave her a half smile and sauntered over. He wrapped a meaty fist around the handle of one of the knives, gave it a yank, and pulled it free. He rested the knife in his palms, like a gift being presented. Arlene thanked him and took it, quickly turning to go.
“Not so fast, cutie pie.” That big palm rested on her shoulder, turning her roughly. “We’re gonna be in this for who knows how much longer. It might help to be a little friendly with each other.” Arlene cast an eye over her shoulder at him. She reached up, wrapping her hand around one of those big, meaty fingers. Whatever it was that coursed through her surged into him and bounced back. They both snatched their hands away from each other in pain. Feedback. Apparently, it didn’t work with everybody.
They looked at each other, but said nothing. The man opened his mouth to put his finger in, but seemed to think better of it and dropped the hand to his side. He let Arlene pass as she headed for the kitchen’s rear exit. But on her way out she heard something over where the cooler was, where they were storing the bodies. The electricity still worked and she heard it, whatever it was, over the electric, guttural hum. Her curiosity got the better of her and she turned, heading in that direction. The closer she got, the more she realized what it was. Chewing sounds. Somebody or something was eating in there. But her first thought wasn’t cannibalism. There was food in there after all, albeit frozen. Maybe someone was just that hungry for all she knew. It would be awhile before they had anything cooked to eat. If anybody got out of here alive, that was.
The door was slightly ajar and Arlene placed her hand on it, pulling gently. The door squealed open and she peered into the dark. She couldn’t make out anything, but someone was definitely eating. She was tempted to flick the light switch, but the light was probably still out and she didn’t want to tip whoever it was that she was there.
The person stood and she could make out a silhouette in the dark. Arlene pulled back, but the figure blurred past, shoving her aside and disappearing into Fred’s office.
“You okay?” someone asked. It was one of the men who had been carrying remains on the gurney, the one who hadn’t propositioned her. Panic caught up to her as she realized how close she’d come to dying. When she’d been watching the figure in the dark, it was like she’d been numbed to the danger. Perhaps he would have reached out and snapped her neck had the two men not been a few steps away.
Arlene pointed. “Someone… someone’s in Fred’s office.”
They must have read the look of terror in her eyes, dropped the gurney and ran up to her, one of them pulling a gun out of his belt.
“Where?” the man asked, but it was obvious. There was only the short hallway leading to the small private employee washroom, a janitor’s closet where their lockers also were, Fred’s office, and the rear exit. His door was closed and Fred never closed his door.
The shorter biker had a grim look on his face, looked over his shoulder at the taller man, then ahead again. Something big thumped the floor and they all jumped.
“Go get somebody,” the shorter biker said. The taller one turned to go, but the short one grabbed him by his jacket sleeve. He looked at Arlene. “You, honey.”
Arlene nodded and ran through the kitchen, negotiating the obstacle course of human bits and broken kitchen equipment. She pushed through the double doors and planted her hands on the counter.
“I need somebody,” she said. No one noticed at first and she raised her voice. “I need somebody! There’s something in Fred’s office!” A few heads popped up from whatever they’d been doing. Then people tapped shoulders, getting other people’s attention.
“What’s in my office?” Fred asked. His head was wrapped in a bandage made from his strips of his stained chef’s jacket. Arlene shook his head.
Then one of the two bikers screamed.
About five people rushed forward, but halted when several gunshots went off. They looked at each other until the man screamed again, this time long and agonizing. He seemed to be trying to say something, but was in so much agony was unable to fully form the words.
“Eees, od, stoooo—” he yelled.
By the time the small crowd had rushed through the kitchen and into the tiny hall, dragging Arlene with them the whole way, it was over. The tall man lay on his back, his throat sliced all the way to the vertebra, eyes wide and blank, the shorter one half in Fred’s office, one of his boots steadily drumming on the floor.
Two men cautiously moved forward, stepping over the first man and playing peek-a-boo at the door until they saw nothing that alarmed them. Or at least, nothing about to kill them.
“Oh my Christ,” one of them said, looking down at the shorter man on the floor. “What… what happened to his face?”
The other man responded by throwing up on the body at his feet.