Shelley lined up the shot. She regulated her breathing and made sure her footing was solid. She ignored the sounds and other distractions around her. It was just her and her lucky 5-iron.
She pictured the shot and took it. The ankle-biter was torn free of Hugo's pant leg and flew squealing in fury through the air. Even though it was dark, Shelley shaded her eyes and squinted, watching until the little beast was gone.
"Jesus Christ, Shelley!" Hugo screamed. "Did you have to take that long?" He was already crouched down and inspecting his leg for damage.
"Yes," Shelley said simply. She twirled her 5-iron and propped it casually on her shoulder. "You just can't take a shot that isn't right."
Hugo tried tucking his pants into his boots for the umpteenth time but they were too shredded to stay. "I fucking hate those things," he muttered.
"It's a good thing you got me and Daisy, then." Shelley grinned.
Hugo glowered at her and stood back up. They'd argued more than once over why they were together. Never once did they come up with anything other than they'd both be dead without a partner.
Apocalypses just aren't something you can go it alone on.
"We should get going," Hugo said. "Where there's one, there's bound to be others."
"Right." Shelley sobered up quick and spun in a full circle, searching the ruins-littered street for more of the ankle-biters.
Hugo took point, sliding around the corner of the brick bank and hurrying as quietly as he could down the sidewalk. Shelley followed a few steps behind. She had Daisy, her trusty 5-iron, while Hugo had the gun and a crowbar.
When Hugo came to a sudden halt, Shelley was quick to stop as well. The two had done this sneaking around bit enough times to understand how best it went.
Hugo held up a hand and Shelley listened. Hugo left a single finger up before slowly motioning around the corner in front of him: in through the front doors.
He took a few steps back and turned around to whisper to Shelley. "We've got a chum inside. How it managed, I don't know. But we've got to get it out before we can go in."
Shooting it was out of the picture: it had to be lured out. A gunshot would attract every face-eating son of a bitch within a mile or two. It would be no different than letting the chum make a commotion.
They had to deal with it, though. They had to get into the bank.
"We should find out how it got inside first," Shelley whispered. "That's probably going to be the best way to get it out."
Hugo nodded and pointed past Shelley. She flattened herself against the wall and he slipped past her. One behind the other, they circled around the building. They stayed away from the old burned-out dumpsters in the back. That's usually where the ankle-biters came from—or worse, if they weren't lucky.
As they made their way down the rutted alley, Hugo again came to a stop. Shelley immediately turned her back to him and kept an eye out.
"Shelley," he hissed.
"We can't go this way."
"What do you…" Shelley trailed off as she looked over her shoulder and past Hugo. There was a collection of nearly pristine bottles of booze gathered together in the middle of the road.
"Shit," Shelley swore. Immediately she looked up, scanning the edges of roofs all around them.
"Lead us out of here, girl," Hugo said in as calm of a tone as he could manage.
"I am all over that." Shelley crept forward, every step low and deliberate. She tightened her grip on Daisy and watched above them just as much as she did ahead of them.
"Shit," Hugo said behind her.
"What?" Shelley whispered. She didn't dare look back.
Before he could even answer, she heard the many voices of the ankle-biters whispering. They were getting closer—fast.
"Run!" Hugo screamed.
Shelley did just that. She may have been a golfer at heart but she had learned how to run pretty quick when the apocalypse came about. Just when her feet were about to hit pavement, something tightened around her and the road fell away beneath her.
Hugo had broken her quick of the habit of screaming. However, the squeak of surprise and fear was inevitable.
Shelley's back scraped against the roof's edge as she was hauled up on top of the building behind the bank. The wind was knocked out of her when she landed.
A hunched old angler loomed over her. Shelley had never seen one before but she knew this was, without a doubt, one of them. She'd heard stories from Hugo and seen the bodies they left behind.
The angler looked like a man, old and crusted with dirt and long-dry blood. Its gray hair was tangled and frizzy and it had very little clothing on. Wringing its hands nervously together and unable to stay standing in the same place for more than a second, it circled around Shelley.
She didn't want to alert anything else to the problem and knew Hugo was already aware. So she laid there quietly, struggling against the twisted and knotted garbage bag net she'd been caught with.
The angler went to a pile of shredded black garbage bags and muttered incoherently to itself as it grabbed some pieces and tossed others aside. When it was satisfied with what it found, it got back to Shelley and started wrapping her up like a spider did a fly.
Shelley struggled but the angler was too strong and its reflexes were too quick. It was able to easily compensate for any movement she made.
The angler muttered and twitched and shifted nervously. Shelley could occasionally make out what she thought was a word here and there, but she couldn't be sure. It sounded almost like it was saying "Drink, need a drink" over and over again.
Shelley did her best not to panic. The bloody bottles and cans and buckets and trash cans that littered the rooftop were ominous but she trusted Hugo would get her out of the situation.
She was fully cocooned by the time she saw Hugo crawl up onto the other end of the roof, beyond the angler. Just in case the thing was smarter than it looked, Shelley watched it instead of her friend.
Hugo was already on top of it by the time the angler noticed. As it paused its ministrations and started to swivel to look behind it, Hugo's crowbar embedded itself in the thing's skull.
It squinted one eye, the other one bulging out, and its mouth opened in a silent scream. Then, like a dying bug, it flailed wildly before collapsing to the ground.
Hugo watched it go down and waited until it stopped moving. He hit it a few more times for good measure, Shelley turning her face away from the spattering blood.
"Sorry about that, girl," Hugo said quietly. He pulled out his knife and started cutting the plastic off her. "It was a pain in the ass to get up here."
Shelley's terror started to get the best of her and she started shaking uncontrollably. When Hugo helped her to her feet, she clung to him. He patted her on the back a few times.
"We gotta go. There's a bank that needs robbing."
Shelley didn't move for a good solid minute. Then, finally, she peeled herself off her friend and got control of herself again.
"Sorry." She looked around at all the bloody receptacles again. "I'm just not keen on getting bled out."
"I don't think anyone is. Come on. Help me with this." Hugo started dragging the angler over toward the ledge Shelley had been pulled over.
"What are you doing?" she demanded.
"Just come on. We need it for the chum."
Shelley helped though she wasn't happy about it. The sound of it hitting the ground below was gross but both of them had heard far worse lately.
They then went back to where Hugo had come up onto the roof. There was a fire escape ladder which, with the right precautions, allowed a silent descent to the streets.
Hugo led Shelley back to the alley where they retrieved Daisy. They spent a good minute or two listening and heard no sign of the swarm of ankle-biters. The alley appeared as safe as it could be considering they were in the middle of an apocalypse.
They headed straight through and Hugo snagged one of the booze bottles as they passed them, Shelley grabbing another. Just because an angler had been using them for bait didn't mean the alcohol wasn't any good.
Shelley gave the angler's corpse a look as they passed it by and took a sip of whiskey.
"We need to know how it got inside first before we lay out bait," Hugo told her.
"Right." She'd heard about chums but never how to deal with them other than killing them. The last few people she'd run around with weren't exactly tactful. That's probably why they resided in the past tense now.
The window the chum had gotten into the bank through was depressingly small. There must have been something really good inside to keep its attention long enough for it to get in. The things were ungainly and didn't like risking their plunder.
Hugo pushed Shelley back into the alley behind the bank.
"Okay. You good to run still?"
Shelley nodded, took another sip of whiskey, and handed the bottle to Hugo. "I'm fine other than a few scrapes." She looked over the 5-iron. "Daisy's good to go, too."
"Perfect. Alright. Just follow my lead. This is going to be simple." Hugo swigged down some whiskey before putting the booze in the mesh water bottle sleeves of his backpack. He then pulled out his knife again and starting cutting fingers and toes off the angler.
"What are…" Shelley's face was screwed up in disgust.
"It's all part of the plan, baby girl," Hugo reassured her. When he was done, he led the way back to the window, dropping fingers and toes like bread crumbs leading to the body.
"Okay," Hugo said. "Now hurry around and wait out front until you hear the chum scream. Then run in there, get the money, and we'll meet back at the ATM. Got it?"
Shelley plotted out the route in her head then nodded. "You're going to be okay?"
"I'm gonna be more than okay. This is going to be a blast." Hugo's grin alluded to more than a smidgen of insanity.
Shelley nodded again and hurried to her place out front. She focused on her breathing, keeping her eyes open and listening for the queue. It felt like it had to be half an hour before something that sounded like the love child of a whale and a tornado siren pierced the quiet neighborhood.
Adrenaline kicked in instantly and Shelley burst in through the front doors of the bank. It was dark inside. Too dark. She could barely make out the different shades of shadows that differentiated counters and chairs and the open vault door.
Shelley ran straight for the vault and was instantly immersed in pitch blackness when she stepped inside. She knew it was safe so she pulled out her little red LED light that was saved for special occasions. Clicking it on, she frantically looked around.
Most of the safety deposit boxes had already been pried open and there were some dry leaves and scattered bills on the floor. Frantically Shelley searched through the boxes that were open and tested those that weren't. All of them were empty and not a single locked door budged.
There was, however, one box that was partially pried open.
"Sorry, baby," Shelley muttered, kissing her 5-iron. She jammed the handle into the deformed lip of the deposit box and wrenched with all her might. When it finally gave, Daisy, Shelley, and the LED went sprawling across the safe.
Shelley froze where she lay and listened. The howl of the chum outside could still be heard even from inside the vault so it was a safe bet that nothing else heard the ruckus she'd made. She got up then, giving no more than a hiss of pain as she rubbed the sore spot on the back of her head. She collected Daisy and her eyes widened in horror as the eerie red glow revealed heart-rending reality.
Daisy had been bent.
"I'm so sorry, baby," Shelley mouthed, petting her trusty 5-iron. It was a worthy battle wound, though. Daisy took one for the team and would keep on fighting the good fight.
Shelley hurried over to the box she'd forced open, grabbing the flashlight along the way, and grinned when she shined the light in. There were fat stacks of bills stuffed in there.
Pulling her empty backpack off, she made it not so empty and threw it back on. Mission complete, she turned off her light and took off. She didn't stop moving until she was next to the rendezvous point. Hugo was already there.
"You got it?" he asked.
"You doubt me?" she countered with a cocky grin.
It looked like Hugo was going to say something but he thought better of it. Instead, the pair turned in unison and started jogging back to Big Brother's.
* * *
"We got it," Shelley said as she tossed the backpack at Big Brother's feet.
Big Brother nodded to one of his men, who quickly scooped up the bag and looked inside. He nodded and held up a bundle of bills.
"Perfect. Bring 'em here." Big Brother accompanied the order with a motion of his hand. When his man handed him the backpack, he grabbed one of the bundles. He enjoyed himself too much as he flipped through the bills, smelling them. "Perfect…"
"What about our end of the deal?" Hugo demanded. "We got what you wanted."
"Patience, my children," Big Brother said with a lazy grin. "Donny." He snapped his fingers at another one of his men. That one tossed another bag, not unlike Shelley's, at her feet. It was much fuller.
Hugo got to it before Shelley did and looked inside. He counted the contents.
"It's all here," he reported.
"Great," Shelley said. "Then we can get out of here?"
Big Brother grinned and pulled out a few bills from the bundle then motioned at one of his men. Something was slipped into his hand.
"I'm pleased to have done business with you, folks," Big Brother said. "But remember, I'm not one to just hand out food. It would be in everyone's best interests if you didn't come back here."
Hugo nodded and as the two turned to leave with their bag full of MREs, Big Brother struck a match and lit the end of the bills he was holding. Then, with a big, pleased grin, he sat back with a fresh cigar that he lit with crisp hundred dollar bills.
"I always wanted to do that," he said.
Sometimes apocalypses weren't just about surviving. They were about living.