Chapter 16: Signs of Life

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Two more arrows zoom across the screen, hitting one Dandy in the eye and another in the leg. It doesn't stop them, merely slowing them down. But it's enough to give time to a few humans to avoid other Dandy attacks. Freckles watches in unison with Peter, knowing that as each moment passes, the tension grows.

Finally, she snaps. "You have a sister?"

"Yes," Peter waves his hand, as if the mere thought of her being surprised is a fly buzzing around his head and should be swatted away immediately. "Look, something's happening-" He leans closer to the monitor.

Freckles watches as the humans begin to scatter, running away from the scene. Peter's sister, Angelique, shouts orders they can't here, waving her arm frantically. Freckles takes a moment to really look at her. She's a muscular woman with a short frame and braids that cascade down her back in waves. Though she wouldn't have noticed it in passing, she can see now the resemblance between this woman and Peter: they share the same, large eyes and strong jawline.

"They're falling back," she mutters.

"Not all of them."

Some of the stragglers (the ones not bleeding out on the concrete) are being seized by Dandies. They struggle, kicking and screaming against the restraints, but soon, a pocket full of humans disappear from view, surrounded by undead. It's unclear if they still remain alive, but she doesn't get time to consider the possibilities because Peter is following his sister's image as she moves from camera to camera, leaping across cars, striving to set her counterparts free.

"What are you doing, Angie?" Peter frantically follows the screens. To their surprise, she begins to double back, away from the scene. "No. Don't go. Angie, don't-" One moment, she's on the monitor, and the next she's out of view. "Find her. We have to find her." He skims his eyes over the rows of displays. "Help me!"

Freckles takes one row, and Peter the next. Unsure of which side of the building the parking garage belongs on, they waste time searching the wrong screens. Eventually, Freckles realizes they won't find Angelique on any of the monitors in this room. "She's gone, Peter."

"Keep looking."

"Why?" She gives an exasperated sigh, running her fingers through her blood clotted hair. "There's no point."

Peter slams his hands down on the table, shaking the monitors. "I can't lose her!" He stares anxiously at the screen in front of him.

Freckles has never seen him so distraught - for a moment, she thinks he might be Raging, but then she reminds herself humans get angry. Hell, she's been a victim to her emotions more than a few times this last month. Instead of griping at him, like she wants to, she takes a step back and tries to see it from his perspective. What if that was her dad out there? Or her mom? Could she honestly say she would be in better condition? The answer, of course, is a resounding NO.

"Peter," She knows she isn't great with words. Whatever flies out of her mouth will do nothing but agitate the situation further; 'terrible bedside manner', her mother would say.

"You're right," he admits, his voice low and agitated. "Damn it." He kicks the leg of the table and winces - it's much sturdier than it looks. "Fuck!"

"Why didn't you mention having a sister?"

"Because I didn't think I did anymore. I thought she was dead. I mean, the rest of the world is, why should I think I would be lucky enough to have family still walking around on this forsaken planet?" He rubs his toes, struggling to focus.

"We can talk about this later," Freckles offers. "We should get back before a Dandy shows up and discovers us."

Peter gives a timid nod, scanning his eyes over the screens a final time, no doubt searching for his sister. "She made it out, yes? She had to have…"

"We can't see a body anywhere -we can only assume she's safe."

After retrieving his lance, Peter follows Freckles out of the second surveillance room, eyeing the third door at the end of the hall. There's a scanner beside the handle, just like the one at the elevator. "Do we try for it?" he asks. "This could be our only shot."

"Our only shot at what, exactly?"

"Of getting out."

"And if there are Dandies on the other side of it?" she replies, raising a cautious eyebrow. "Believe me, I'm just as curious as you are, but you're not thinking clearly right now." Grabbing him by the sleeve, Freckles drags Peter a few spaces away from the scanner, attempting to sway his temptation.

"We need to tell someone about this."

"I agree."

Peter stops her. "But not Meryl."

"What?" Freckles feels a prick of agitation climbing the back of her neck, and she eyes him with skepticism. She's hungry, exhausted, and just wants to go home and sleep all of this off. "First off, I never said I'd tell him. Secondly, what difference does it make if he knows?"

"You really think a guy like him can be trusted?"

"A guy like him?"

"You know what I mean."

"No, actually. I don't." She pokes her index finger into his chest. "So why don't you explain? Because-"

There's a movement out of the corner of her eye that causes her to taper off, unable to finish her sentence. The light at the end of the hall is only activated by movement, so when it flickers on, it draws both of their attentions. There, standing in front of the elevator, is the body of the beheaded Dandy, its form twitching as it takes one menacing step forward.

"Holy…" Peter brandishes his lance forward, though his knees quiver. "Is that even possible? It doesn't even have a head."

"Oh, it has one," Freckles mutters back. In the Dandy's left hand, it carries its severed head. Its teeth clack together as it stares, almost with shark-like menace, at the humans. To her horror, Freckles watches the elevator door close as the Dandy takes another step forward. "Shit, that's our ride."

"We can do this. I mean, it doesn't even have a weapon." Peter doesn't sound confident.

"So what's the plan? Rush it and hope we get an elevator before it-" The door behind them swings open with a low hinged creaaaaaak. Freckles heart accelerates another thirty beats per minute when she gets a good look at the ferocious Dandy in the doorway. Bulk and brawn, this Dandy fits in a suit two times too small. The sleeves of its blazer barely cover its discolored wrists, and the buttons of the white shirt beneath stretch tight against the blue-grey skin beneath. The most horrifying sight isn't the size, nor the way its head craters in on the left side like a half deflated soccer ball. No, it's that lethal battle axe it carries in its deteriorating claws at its side, swaying like a pendulum.

"New plan. Duck!" Peter grabs Freckles by the scruff of her shirt and yanks her forward just as the massive Dandy swings his powerful fist, axe soaring through the air. The metal hits the wall behind her with a thunk while Freckles weight falls against Peter's nimble frame and knocks them both off balance. They topple to the floor in a mess of limbs and fear. As the Dandy behind them jerks the axe out of the sheetrock and rears its arm back for another blow, Peter rolls over Freckles and thrusts his spear out horizontally. Luck is on his side as the axe swings down and collides with the pole, cutting into the shaft and halting its approach. Peter releases a sigh somewhere between victory and pissing himself just a little before thrusting his right leg up and into the Dandy's torso, attempting to knock it off balance. His foot collapses the rotting core, and it sinks inside. "Shit!"

Freckles lets her instincts take control, rolling out from under Peter while simultaneously swinging her knife in blind hope of striking something significant. It lands inside the Dandy's kneecap, puncturing cartilage and tendons alike. The Dandy sways off balance, and Peter forcefully knocks the weight of the Dandy back, his foot breaking free and spilling cold, coagulated guts onto both himself and Freckles.

"Go!" Peter shouts.

Freckles reaches back, jerks her knife out of the Dandy's leg, and wiggles across the floor, coated in wet entrails. She attempts to sit upright, but the slickened muck makes her hands slide across the floor like a stone on the surface of a frozen pond. Peter isn't much better off, but he has more traction, and he steadies his blood coated pole vertically, driving the arrow of the spear aimlessly into the Dandy's pectoral. Freckles peers her head back in time to see the undead monster lurch forward -the pole sinks into the meat of its chest and catches on bone, stopping it from barrelling into Peter. Its glossy eyes trail down to the axe, still lodged in the side of the spear, and the gears in its degenerate head begin to turn. It reaches for the wooden handle of the axe, jerking it from the pole.

Ahead of Freckles, the headless Dandy has crossed the majority of distance, its teeth still clattering inside its decapitated mouth. -Freckles doesn't name Dandies, but if she did, she would call this one the Headless Horseman. At least Ichabod Crane never saw the rotting corpse head carried under the arm of his foe. But how could someone stop a headless enemy without knowing its weakness? Apparently, decapitation wasn't an option of success in the long run.

A series of moments turn in slow motion; Peter's soiled hands slip from his weapon in a moment of weakness. The Dandy above him loses the tension of the pole. It falls forward, on top of Peter, axe in hand. A cry escapes Peter's lips.

Freckles doesn't have time to react - something tugs her hair back and jerks her upright. Bloated fingers tug at her black tresses, exposing her neck just before Headless Horseman's other hand clamps around her throat.

Frightened, she swings her dagger haphazardly up and drives it down into the Dandy's wrist. Headless Horseman shows no sign of pain, but there is a rip of tissue and tendon, and it releases her neck automatically. Freckles swings her leg forward, jutting the heel of her boot against the Dandy's femur. It gives away with a sickening crunch before sending the Dandy falling sideways into the wall. Desperately, Freckles wipes her hands down the small bits of unsoiled pant leg and uses the traction of her palms to pull herself upright. When she turns around, her heart skips a beat.

Peter sits on the torso of his Dandy, his arm up above his head; in his hands is the axe as he swings it forward and into the Dandy's head. Blood splatters his face. The Dandy twitches and then stills. Peter's chest heaves as he releases the handle. Though his body shakes, there's a familiarity in his gaze as it stares down at the unmoving corpse. Freckles has seen that look a thousand times in Meryl's eyes. Peter enjoyed the kill. And he knows it; the fear is palpable.

"Should slow it down," he mutters, turning his eyes on Freckles. The distance in them flickers out, replaced with a casual warmth. Just like that, he isn't the cold killer he was moments before; he's Peter again. He's safe. "You okay?"

Freckles nods. She isn't sure there's any other answer to give.

Peter spits on the Dandy's face and struggles to stand - he topples over and lands on his back, clutching his leg. "Ah!"

Rushing to his side, she immediately notices the swelling in his ankle. " It looks broken."

"You think?" he sneers.

"We need to get you to Detox. Can you stand?"

"If I could stand, I would."

Freckles rolls her eyes. "Quit being an asshat." With all her might, she pulls him to his feet and wraps on of his arms around her shoulders, balancing his weight. "I think if we…" Peter goes slack against her. It's only then she notices the trail of blood -not Dandy blood, but his - seeping out of his shoulder. An exposed bit of wood still protrudes from his skin: the end of the lance. "Peter? Peter!"

What happens next is a blur. Freckles barely remembers dragging his body across the floor. Her hand reaches for the scanner at the elevators automatically. Her entire body is numb as she pulls Peter into the lift and selects the Detox floor. As the doors shut, the scenery around her fades and flickers before enveloping completely in a welcoming darkness.

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— A.E. Taylor