Back on ground level, I test my wheels before hitting a button on the end of the arm rest. With a metallic fwing, a half dozen blades protrude from both wheel hubs.
“Papa, you should stay in Leviathan.”
“Leo, you forget yourself.” I growl under my breath, loud enough to be heard over the creaking floorboards of Bertie’s general store. “I’m still in charge here. And I say we don’t do anything—“
“Unless we do it together.” They recite the chorus I’ve beat into them—an empty recitation. For five years I’ve relied on the dust zone to keep my family together. Through discipline and bitter survival I’ve ruled with an iron fist. But we all feel the same need. Whether forty years old or eleven, we need more reason to be together than just to be together. More to fight for than survival. But I don’t know what reason to give them, so I pound my chest and impose my will. It won’t be long though, before the whelps overpower the alpha.
“If Bertha’s still alive we’ve gotta’ find her. If twitchers are still in here, we gotta’ kill ‘em. Questions?”
They fan out, leaving the main walkway for me. Bertie’s is always crowded, but now shelves are tipped over and supplies scattered across the floor. Stealth is useless, so I crunch my way across grains of spilt rice mixed with dark blobs that look suspiciously like blood.
The generator, usually a constant droning at Bertie’s, is eerily quiet. With the windows long since replaced by metal sheeting, the store is blacked out, even at midday. Rolling further from the the front door, it becomes difficult to tell what my wheels are crushing beneath them, and difficult to discern which noises I and my sons are making and which ones we aren’t.
I hear the rhythmic whirring of Bertha’s windmill built into the back wall, the blades that power her generator still turning. Then why are the lights off? My wheels bump against something lying across my path, and the scent of rotting flesh swells in my nostrils.
Quickly I draw my short stick and flick both blades open, gripping it in the middle. A sudden crack disturbs the silence, followed by blood cry. Like a bursting damn the store reverberates with it as the shadows swarm. “Twitchers!”
A smudge against the blackness lunges from a nearby shelf, crashing into the tip of my lance. Rocking onto my back wheels with the impact, I retract the blade faster than the falling body can smother it and spin the opposite end with force enough to remove the twitcher’s head. Still spinning the lance over my head it slices two more twitchers before rebounding off a tipping shelf about to block my retreat.
I click the lance in place horizontally behind my head and whip the wheels in opposite directions. Spinning 180 degrees, I lunge forward in time to smash into the falling shelves and skitter sideways, barely clearing the blockage and managing an open space in the center of the store.
A shotgun roars from less than ten yards away, the flare of the powder revealing a shattered twitcher spraying blood foam. “Mik! Stay clear! Find the lights!” Shadows converge on the blast. Blood soaking the floorboards beneath me, I realize it’s time to get dizzy. A quick flick of my wrists and I start the spin. From the depths of my oily soul I dredge the layers of guilt and shame for the bedrock of rage, for the need to destroy everything and everyone who has ruined me, taken my Rosalyn, my Katerina. Anything that threatens the lives of my sons.
In that place, I find my blood cry. Shattering bones with my hate alone, I scream as twitchers seethe from the darkness. And I spin. Impacting twitchers erratically, I wrench my body in an ocean of movement, lurching onto a single wheel, before slamming back down onto two. Keep the spin. I surge every ounce of my poisonous strength into my grip on the wheels. I feel blood trickling down the back of my throat, rage ripping from my lungs. Spinning blades churn the air around me like a blender with my broken body caught in the middle. Keep the spin.
I bounce sideways with a sudden impact and lurch unsteadily up onto a single wheel—the attacker’s eyes close enough for me to see their pupil-less whites. I loop around once and catch the twitcher with a savage head butt before he can tip my chair the rest of the way over. With a yank, I bring the wheel down on his neck. With a second, I rip out his throat as I keep the spin.
But there are too many shattered bodies, mine about to be one of them. Finally the chair catches in a twitcher’s rib cage and pitches sideways. From the darkness a flying demon drives me the rest of the way to the floor, chomping at my throat with his teeth. It takes too long for me to shift my grip from the wheels to the throwing knives in my bandolier, my fingers refusing to unfurl. I count three beats of the twitcher’s heart, the veins of his neck throbbing faster than the pistons in an auto. He lunges forward to end me.