And so I did. I had to. I kissed her hard, kissed her long. Her tongue snaked against mine, hard and greedy. She was absent of everything I loved about Perry—her warmth, her softness, her vulnerability.
I heard Perry gasp, knowing she was watching this, but I had to keep going as long as Ambrosia commanded me to.
Finally she pulled away, her breath heavy, and I had to hold back a grimace. My face had to be blank, neutral, stupid. I felt like I’d just kissed a snake.
“Now,” she said slowly, “we’ll see what else you can do.” She started to undo her blouse until her bare breasts were showing. She shrugged off her cloak to the ground, the blouse falling away afterward. She was completely nude from the waist up.
Oh shit. Oh no. No, no. No, this wasn’t good. This I couldn’t do, I couldn’t do this to her, with her, and I couldn’t do this to Perry. I was trying to save our lives, but I had my limits. This was it. This would be something neither of us could walk away from. But if I didn’t comply, we wouldn’t be walking anyway.
She came forward and brushed her nipples against my chest. “If you’re truly my follower, you will do as I say, when I say it.”
I steadied my breath, trying not to freak out. I could feel the pain radiating off of Perry as she prepared for what she knew was going to happen. Ambrosia was going to make screw her, a display of her control.
“Stop it!” Perry cried out in agony. It broke my heart, but it made Ambrosia turn her head. “Stop it! If you’re going to kill me, then just kill me. I don’t need to see him like this, not like this.”
Ambrosia cocked her head and then eyed me up and down. “Perhaps I am being a little too cruel to your girlfriend, Declan. I can always use you later, when she’s gone. And speaking of…”
She flashed her smile at Perry. “I think your wish is my command this time. I will kill you. Well, Declan will. Won’t you?”
Though I wanted to breathe out the biggest sigh of relief over the fact that we just dodged a naked bullet, I stared forward, trying not to blink, to think, to give any sign of myself. Ambrosia stepped away, still shirtless, and picked up her candle. She began chanting.
I knew it was time. I had to think fast.
“Declan, go kill Perry. Eat her, finish her, destroy her.”
This was it.
I brought my eyes over to Perry who shook there, still held between the two slaves. She really thought this was it, that I was going to eat her alive, and not I the way she liked.
I staggered toward her, walking unsteadily but full of faked menace. Once I was out of the range of Ambrosia, once I knew she couldn’t read my eyes, I made sure that Perry could.
I was just feet away, coming toward her with my mouth open, hands bared, trying to convey to her everything I could with just a look. Everything I held, everything that was me was in my eyes. I hoped she knew who she was looking at.
I didn’t have to worry for long. Perry immediately recognized me, the terror disappearing from her face, her shoulders relaxing.
But that wasn’t good.
I heard Ambrosia make an irritated sound behind me. She saw Perry’s reaction. She already knew.
“Get him! Kill them!” She screamed.
I quickly lunged past Perry, to the knife stuck on the wall, and ripped it out of the chicken. Without even thinking, without even looking, I spun around and flung the knife across the room.
It landed square in Ambrosia’s bare chest.
The whole room seemed to dim with power, the lights and candles all flickering. It took me a few seconds to realize what had happened, that I threw a fucking knife at her and that I actually hit the target. The knifed bobbed out of her chest like she was a piece of meat at a butcher. She wheezed again, sputtering blood, put her hand around the handle, and feebly tried to pull it out.
She couldn’t. She gasped her last dying breath then collapsed to the floor, blood pooling around her.
There wasn’t much time to think about it. We could only act. I grabbed Perry and pulled her out of the zombies’ grasp. I guess Ambrosia’s death had stunned them and I hoped they were stunned enough that they’d be totally harmless.
But Perry and I only got as far as the door when we realized that they were still following her very last order.
To kill us.
The eight or so men in the room started running for us just as we leaped down the stairs, landing in the murky water. We didn’t have flashlights, we didn’t have weapons, we had nothing.
“Where did you park the boat?” I yelled as we slogged through the water, colder now than it had been before.
“I don’t know, I can’t see!” she cried out. It was pitch black everywhere, the moon hidden by passing grey clouds.
We didn’t have time to stand around and spot it. I could hear them following us, the porch creaking under their weight, the steps breaking beneath them. I didn’t want to turn around and look. I grabbed Perry’s hand and pulled her forward, deep into the bayou.
The water pulled back at us, thick with roots and weeds. Trees leaned over, trying to catch us by surprise. But we kept going, even though we could see the foliage coming further and further apart, the waterways taking over the landscape. As we splashed through, the water rose, first to our mid-thighs, then to our asses, then to our waists.
“You okay, baby?” I asked her, my grip tight around her forearm now.
She made a grunt, her way of telling me to shut up and just keep going. I knew that about her now, how we communicated when we were trying to escape from certain death. What Rose, dear Rose, had told me earlier came into my head again. She’d rather choose a life of more ghosts and demons than one without Maximus by her side. I’d have to say the same. The dead, the evil, the wicked, they would come after Perry and me whether we were together or not. But if we were together, fuck, at least we had each other.
I wanted to tell her that, but the middle of the swamp wasn’t the best place to do it. Or was it?
“Listen, Perry,” I said. Then the bottom beneath her feet dropped and her head went under. My head went under next.
We flopped to the surface in surprise, the brackish water coming into my throat. I coughed it out and looked around trying to keep her close to me. We could swim, but I had a feeling they could too. And if it wasn’t the zombies who’d get us, whom we could still hear splashing, hot on our trail, it would be the alligators. I was already imagining their rough tails brushing against my feet.
“The trees,” Perry said, jerking her head in their direction. The action made her go under again and I pulled her to me.
“Stay with me. Stay with me,” I said, spitting out the water, keeping my arm tight around her waist. “Remember what we had to do on D’Arcy Island?”
She coughed, but managed to nod. Over her shoulder, in the distance, I could see dark shapes coming closer.
“Grab hold of my neck and hold on tight,” I said. “I’ll bring us to that tree. We can at least get out of the water.”
She brought her arms around me, her legs wrapped around my waist, like she was piggybacking. I swam forward as quickly as I could.
“Are you sure you can handle me?” she asked.
I nodded. “No problem, baby.”
But there was a problem. Back in D’Arcy Island I struggled but I got the job done. I wasn’t much better now. My strength was still subdued thanks to the drugs Ambrosia gave me. My imagination was getting the better of me, the psychoactives kicking into high gear, and my limbs felt like lead. I couldn’t let her know that though, I’d just have to push through the strain.
We had almost made it to the nearest tree when my heart and lungs just decided to give up. It happened suddenly, both organs seizing up and putting me in a stranglehold. I don’t know if it was the strain of the events, the brutality my body had already endured, or the psychosis, but it was like I decided I’d died one too many times today.
My head went under, then Perry’s, my toes straining to find ground but finding none. She let go and swam to the surface. I kept sinking until she pulled me up enough to get air.
“Please, Dex,” she sputtered through the water. “Please, we’re almost there.”
I tried to use my arms, to doggy paddle forward, if not just tread water, and keep afloat. But they failed after a few attempts. Soon I was sinking under again.
Perry yanked me up one more time and I swore it would be our last. The zombies were closer now, I could hear their grunts, the water churning beneath their limbs. They obviously weren’t affected, but I was.
“I won’t let you die on me!” she yelled, her face coming up to mine. The moon chose that moment to poke its head out from behind the clouds. It illuminated the darkness of the water, the milky paleness of her skin, the fragility of her eyes. Oh God, I was lucky to have loved her. So, so lucky.
“Dex!” she yelled again, my eyes closing. “You are not leaving me! I cannot go on without you. You are my future, you are my everything!” She started crying and kissing my face. My head sunk under.
But she wouldn’t give up. She linked her arm under mine and pulled me along as far as she could.
My head fought for surface, fought for air, but every last strength in me was gone. I took in water. She stopped pulling me. The water churned beneath my feet, and I could see hungry eyes glowing in the dark.
In the distance, the roar of the zombies became greater. It shook the water, muddy vibrations, until I knew that even if I wasn’t drowning, she would die here with me. Together. It should have made me feel better not to have to go alone. But all I wanted was for both of us to live. With each other. Until we were old and grey.
The world was turning black and my lungs were now all water. My life flashed before my eyes, and most of it was of Perry. For her short duration in my life, she changed the way I knew how to live. And love.
We’re saved, her voice cut in. We’re going to be okay.
I didn’t know if that was her parting goodbye or what that was. In a way I did feel saved. I felt peace for knowing her.
Then the water got choppier, my limbs bobbing around, and the roar of the zombies filled my ears to the core. Something hard grazed the top of my head. The current tried to pull me away, but big, strong hands came down and planted a firm grip under my armpits.
I was yanked to the surface, my lungs gasping hard for air, but only taking in more water. I was still drowning.
“Shit,” someone murmured and I was pulled backward, my spine being scraped along something hard. I barely felt a thing.
Suddenly I was on my back, staring up at the moon and the two people peering over me.
“You’re going to have to give him CPR,” Maximus said to Perry as I continued to sputter.
Even in the moonlight, I could see her glare at him. She brought me upright and started pounding on my back, a rather crude version of mouth to mouth but it worked. The water flowed out of my lungs and onto the metallic flooring. I moved my head to look around. We were on a air boat driven by Maximus and in the opposite corner from me was a white-haired mound of limbs: Rose. Nearby the zombies were swimming for us, almost within reaching distance.
I couldn’t speak so I just pointed.