Chapter 12 – Bryan Wick
“Somebody hit it! Get it out!” The man in the suit looked up at Carter. “Shoot it,” he yelled.
The asshole screaming on the floor needed to shut the fuck up. Bryan put his fingertips to his forehead and pulled them away to check if he was still bleeding. Yup. During the battle, one of the Empty People broke one of the boards of the window he was guarding in half. It had swung out and made a clean connection to his head. Since then, he’d had a splitting headache.
“Shoot it! Shoot it!”
And this guy wasn’t helping.
“Calm down,” Frank said as he squatted next to the man. “It’s just Eliza. My wife. She isn’t like those things. She won’t hurt you.” He looked up at the rest of the group who had instinctively gone back a couple of steps. “Any of you,” he added, trying to mask the offense he’d taken.
“I believe you, Frank,” Michael said.
There was a “but” coming on, and Bryan couldn’t tell if it was needed. Eliza had been the one stationed next to him as the Empty People attacked. She had bashed more than one of the monsters she blinked into and was probably one of the reasons Bryan hadn’t been sucked out of his window like the driver. Still, it freaked him out that she kept flickering in and out. He was anxious to hear whatever weird, fucked-up explanation that wouldn’t make sense anywhere else in the world.
“But, I think we all could use some more clarification about what is wrong with her, and what the Empty People are.”
Frank looked at Michael and the rest of the group, and his shoulders slumped. He stood up and walked over to sit with Eliza who kept her gaze on the floor.
“It’s like I said before,” he said as he draped an arm over his wife, “the air outside is poisonous. If you spend too much time out there—no more than a couple of hours—you’ll turn into one of the Empty People. Eliza has already breathed too much of it in, and she probably only has about five or so minutes more out there before she turns completely. But, as long as you hold your breath when you go outside and make sure to not breathe the air in, then you’ll be okay. Eliza’s been this way for years, and we’ve been very careful about holding our breath whenever we go outside. We go from our room in the motel to the office building in the middle of the complex; we catch our breath for a couple of minutes; then we come to the diner for food. We do the same thing on the way back and we haven’t had any problems for a while now. I promise you all: she will not change into one of the Empty People.”
Nobody talked. Everyone seemed to be thinking about what Frank had said, most of them not looking very convinced. Bryan didn’t know how he felt about the whole thing. Being a creative writing student, he’d written some pretty bizarre stories, but this? This was some seriously freaky shit.
From behind him, he heard footsteps and turned around. The woman in the blue skirt suit had returned with her niece, both of them with red, puffy eyes. The woman stared at the group, obviously confused by the silence. Finally, Michael spoke up.
“Frank,” he started and paused, his eyes giving away his hesitancy to ask the question. “When she… blinks into one of the Empty People, does she change at all?
“No,” Frank replied as he stared hard at Michael. “You don’t lose yourself until you change completely.” Bryan believed that much. Eliza had been blinking consistently since they saw her, and she didn’t get violent once—at least not until she was bashing the Empty People with the butt of her shotgun. There was another awkward silence before Michael answered.
“Well, I guess that’s good enough for me,” he said as he walked over to Eliza and held out a hand to help her up. She looked up at him and smiled before accepting.
“There’s still more that needs answering,” Carter said, his arms still folded over his chest. “Why isn’t that poisonous air in here? Where is all of this electricity coming from? Do you have any form of communication with the outside world? How have you been able to survive here for almost thirty years?”
Frank had been shaking his head since the second question. He stood and held up his hands. “Please, please. I know you all have a lot of questions. But, right now, I’m sure everyone is as tired and exhausted from the fight as I am. Why don’t we all just get some sleep and meet back up tomorrow? I promise I’ll show you everything and answer any questions you still have.”
Carter huffed but didn’t protest. But the stuck-up girl did.
“How can we sleep with those things out there?”
“They won’t attack for a while. There’s usually weeks between.”
Everybody kept quiet, but no one looked relieved. Frank’s “usually-s” didn’t have a good track record so far.
“Good,” he said. “There should be enough rooms in the motel for everyone. Now, if you’ll all follow me to the office building, I can give you your keys.” Everyone seemed to tense up at the mention of going outside, but Frank continued. “Remember, just hold your breath. Also, don’t try to run; you’ll just make it harder to keep the air in. It’s only about twenty yards away. You can do it.”
The group started to line up at the door. Bryan stood behind the man in the suit—who had, thankfully, calmed down—and looked back at Tara. She was still curled on the floor, her mother trying to coax her up.
Why did it hurt him so much to see her cry? True: he wasn’t a dick and could feel sympathy for someone who had just lost a loved one. But, the level that her tears were affecting him didn’t make any sense. Why did he want to comfort her so badly? Why was the sound of her sobbing breaking his heart?
A pretty girl had smiled at him, and now he wanted to save her from the world.
“Ok, everybody,” Frank called out. “Let’s go.”