Inhabitable | Invasion Survivor Book Two | Chapter Ten
As they slowly approached the city, Paige realized that nearly the same scenes greeted them as in New York. Smashed and abandoned cars littered the roads, and the people were scared and avoiding one another.
Paige noticed a lot of bloody dead people, but at the moment, no one was running around trying to bite someone. No one was shouting Seedling either, so that was a bonus.
The only difference from New York was that here, all the lights were off. The city had been plunged into darkness. It became almost completely dark as they approached the city, and the only light came from random fires throughout the city, but mostly from the spaceship. Its edges were lit all the way around with a bluish white light.
They moved past a smoldering car, and Paige could see a whole building ablaze in the distance, its black smoke rising high above. Even with all the destruction about, none of it could tarnish the perfect, clean appearance of the mothership.
Paige wasn’t looking forward to experiencing her first night on the streets. Angela noticed Paige walking close by with AJ, their hands casually brushing. She walked over and quickly pulled her away from him. She scowled at her daughter. “Paige!” she snapped, making Paige jerk in return. “Stay away from that Shadow!” Paige had had enough with that nonsense. “He’s not a Shadow!” Paige said, trying to defend AJ.
“And you,” her mother turned toward Dave. He was watching their exchange with an amused expression. “You are no boyfriend at all if you can’t protect her!”
Dave momentarily sobered. He wanted to say something, but Paige beat him to the punch.
“He is not my boyfriend,” Paige practically yelled back. “And I can do whatever I want.”
The rest of their group gathered around, and Paige started to turn red, hating that she was the center of attention. “They’re coming. They’ll be here soon!” Angela insisted, digging in her heels. “And he’s one of them, Paige.” She gave her the look that made Paige want to stomp her foot and act like a stubborn child.
She hated when her Mom treated her like this.
I survived this far. I don’t need her telling me what to do or who I can be with!
The notion might have been silly since they were in the middle of an alien invasion, but Paige couldn’t stop herself. She was too angry suddenly. Their fight kept the other people passing by, which was a small miracle because in her state, Paige didn’t want to rub elbows with anybody.
After that first bunch, they didn’t encounter another infected person, at least, not one that was still breathing.
It was dark, and people were mostly scared. Paige and her little group were armed. She couldn’t blame the others for walking by and trying to put distance between them. She wouldn’t approach her group either.
“We have to hide as soon as possible before they get to us,” Angela implored.
Without another word, she grabbed a hold of Paige and Willow’s hands and started running, practically dragging them behind her. AJ, Dave, Peter, Tilley, and the rest of them followed closely behind.
How did my mother become the leader? she thought as she, looked at where her mother gripped her hand. She was freakishly strong for a woman of her stature. With the darkness and state of ruin, the city looked unwelcoming. Paige was getting tired of running so much. Though her stamina held up fine, it was her mind that grew weary of it. It didn’t help that her last meal was a candy bar several hours ago.
Paige first felt relieved they’d arrived, but that soon disappeared. She very much wished they weren’t. Apart from the fires and destruction, wild dogs were everywhere. And at the moment, Paige was more afraid of them than of the affected people.
Slowly moving toward the center, they could see a pack of dogs tearing apart a dead body. They snapped at one another while fighting over a bigger piece.
The animals weren’t the only scary part. Paige could see people looting the powerless stores.
Nice opportunity to get stuff for free, she huffed in disgust, hoping that Dave wouldn’t follow their suggestion, once again.
Luckily, he didn’t.
There were a few looters who were struggling to get goods out of the stores.
“That’s mine!” One fought with the other.
“No, it’s mine!” The other insisted.
Two of the men looked like the robber characters from the first two Home Alone movies. Paige wanted to yell at both idiots because they were fighting over a flat-screen TV in the middle of an alien invasion in a city with no power while a deadly virus was devouring the streets. A gunshot rang out, and they all ducked instinctively. Paige once again reached for her sword that wasn’t there. She was ready to defend her pack but kept forgetting her weapon had been left behind. Instead, she grabbed her gun. Dave had his tire iron while Angela scowled at them due to her being weaponless. That was just the way Paige preferred her since she clearly couldn’t be trusted with one. She always wanted to shoot AJ.
Suddenly, echoing boom came forward by a blinding light came down from the center of the spaceship, and everyone leaped out of the stores in a panic. The looters dashed like scurrying rats into apartment blocks. The looters had the right idea. The gang needed to get away from there, too, so Paige followed the looters. She looked over her shoulder and noticed with dread that they were missing some members. She couldn’t see the pilots anywhere.
“We need a hiding place!” Dave shouted.
Paige agreed, but she had no idea where.
Everyone was shouting with the new turn of events. “They’re coming!” A random man ran past them holding a desk lamp in both his hands.
The group entered the first building that came into view. As far as Paige could tell, it was a residential building that had stores on the ground level. The gang ran up the stairs with Paige in the back. She was coming in last, making sure not to lose anyone else.
Once she reached the second floor, an infected man came at her from the hallway. It happened so fast, and he hit her with such force that she lost her grip on the gun. It fell to the floor and tumbled down a couple of steps.
Feeling pissed off at herself for instantly becoming weaponless, Paige decided to channel her emotions. She gripped the banister with both hands and kicked the man in the gut as hard as she could manage. He stumbled a little farther than she expected, returning to the hallway, but she followed him there. She ran at him and delivered another kick followed by a punch straight to the face. The man tried to charge at her, grab hold of her around the abdomen, but she spun out of the way and, grabbing hold of his pants, threw him against the wall. He looked stunned but kept coming, so Paige let him come a bit closer than she would like before hitting him in the face repeatedly.
Once he started staggering to the back, she spun and kicked him again. The man stumbled several feet backward and crashed through a window.
Once she was safe, she caught her breath and realized the man had only landed a single successful hit on her. The rest of the fight had been all her, and she felt proud of that. “Paige?”
She could hear AJ calling out to her.
“Coming!” she yelled back.
She quickly jogged back to get her gun before joining AJ. He looked at her with a raised eyebrow, but she shook her head.
“I’m fine,” she said instead of explaining what happened.
“Come on. We have to find a place to hide,” AJ said as they continued to climb.
Unfortunately, all their efforts were in vain. People had locked their doors, yelling at all of them to get away from the building.
“You’re not welcome here!”
An elderly woman even threatened them with her cane.
“Please! We need a place to hide,” Paige pleaded in return but to no avail. The whole experience was making her feel pretty desperate and a bit useless.
She understood fear, but how about compassion? Unfortunately, they didn’t encounter it.
“You don’t belong here!”
“Go, or I’ll shoot you.”
Some of them even tried to run them out of the apartment building by force. So, their group dashed out. Once they were back outside, everyone except Paige and AJ was trying to catch their breath. Dave’s shirt was soaked, and sweat rolled down his face.
“I hate running,” Dave grumbled under his breath.
It wasn’t safe for them outside. The white light from the spaceship was still shining down. It seemed that a lot of people had experienced the same fate trying to take refuge in the buildings, so they ran aimlessly down the streets.
Nowhere was safe.
“Mom!” Willow screamed suddenly, clinging to their mother and trying hard not to get lost in the crowd.
During all the commotion, Paige stood still and watched, horrified. The white lights from the spaceship began to change from bright white to a darker color. They looked like black shadows in the light.
Suddenly, all the pieces clicked together for Paige.
Oh, no... she thought.
Just as her mother had told them all those years ago, the Shadows were here.
Dave whistled next to her while AJ cursed.
All those years my mother had been warning us—there really were aliens. If she was right about that, then she was right about Brooke being alive as well. Paige couldn’t brush away the truth any longer. Willow had seen her. Even if Paige considered her mother to be crazy, Willow wasn’t, and Paige needed to believe her at the very least.
The spaceships opening and unleashing her worst nightmares down on them had made Paige change her opinions about her mother.
It only took a spaceship to come from outer space for me to realize my mom was the only sane one among us—well, sort of. Even she admitted to being a little crazy, but isn’t everyone in their own way?
Paige managed to break her gaze from the spaceship to look for Angela, and in horror she realized that she’d already made it across the street and was heading towards another apartment building. Angela was holding Willow’s and Tilley’s hands, and Willow held Peter’s. AJ, Dave, and Paige were still on the other side of the road, there were no traces of the rest.
AJ was still there. He hadn’t left her, despite her mother’s harsh words, and that comforted her. For a split second, Angela looked down to see she was holding Tilley’s hand. She panicked, realizing it was the wrong person, and shook her hand free of Tilley’s. She frantically looked around, trying to see where everyone else in the group was.
“Mom!” Paige yelled, trying to get her attention.
Willow spotted them first, pulling her mother by the arm.
“Paige!” Angela shouted as she finally caught a glimpse of them. “Run!” she yelled.
Angela started to make her way back across the road, but she abruptly had to stop, pulling Willow, Tilley, and Peter, behind her.
The lights from the spaceship suddenly turned jet black, as if they were filled with something. This plummeted them into complete darkness, though somehow Paige could still see clearly. Angela let out a wild, howling scream as she noticed the black mass as well.
A black mist and started to grow in front of their eyes, scaring the hell out of Paige.
“No!” Angela wailed.
Following her gaze, Paige understood her reaction. It was the Shadows Angela had been terrified of her whole life. The Shadows she’d protected Paige and her sisters from since they were small children.
“Paige!” Angela’s screams were ear-piercing. “Paige, hide!” Angela shouted, nodding toward the buildings. “You’ve got to hide! Quickly!”
She had taught Paige and Willow since they were little to hide from the Shadows. Paige was so used to it by now she could do it instinctively.
“Dave, go, now!” Angela urged, and with that she turned in the opposite direction, dragging Tilley, Willow, and Peter with her.
Dave nodded as if he, too, snapped back to reality. Taking Paige by the hand, he moved her in the direction of her mother, but AJ pulled them away.
“No!” he shouted in panic.
He’d stopped them from almost stepping into a black cloud that looked like tiny metal fillings joined together in one swirling mass.
Paige stepped back, and right in front of her eyes, the Shadows began to form.
* * *
This is batshit crazy, AJ thought, looking frantically for someplace for them to hide.
“There’s no place you can hide from me, AJ,” Francis warned.
“Eat poo, Francis,” AJ snapped back, not too subtly.
He had to get Paige off the streets. He couldn’t explain why that was so important to him, but the urge was overwhelming. As the Shadows formed, AJ forcefully pulled Paige away from them, afraid of what would happen if she touched them.
It’s better not to find out, he reminded himself.
The Shadows were every person’s nightmare come true. They were named quite appropriately because they looked like they were made from pure darkness that moved. There were hollow pits where their eyes should be, and a hollow black space for the mouth. AJ felt like a little kid who had encountered a monster underneath his bed. All he wanted to do was run and hide.
“Run, Paige! And don’t stop!” AJ shouted as he tightened his hold around her hand.
They ran together as fast as they could in the darkness. Strangely, he could still see everything. Not as well as before but enough to be aware of his surroundings and not bump into things or other panicked people. He was glad Dave and Paige were armed, even though a part of him doubted a mere bullet could do anything to those freakish beings.
“AJ, I am coming for you and Paige!” Francis’ voice dripped with venom.
AJ glanced over his shoulder before they turned down a side street and he saw the Shadows multiplying right before his eyes. They were now occupying the main street. AJ took a moment longer to watch them as they divided and multiplied. Each Shadow Man created an army of Shadows.
Oh, we are so fucked! Just as he had that thought, one of those Shadow Men turned and looked straight at AJ.
“Hello, AJ,” AJ heard the voice echo inside his head as well as out.
He looked at Paige and Dave, but they didn’t act like they’d heard anything. AJ felt goosebumps all over his body. He could still hear Francis inside his head, even though it seemed that particular Shadow was the one projecting those thoughts. It was creepy.
The Shadow staring at him with its hollow eyes let out a horrifying howl, and all the other Shadows turned to look right at AJ, Paige, and Dave. All of them started howling and screaming, and just like that, the night was filled with the horrific sounds.
Petrified, they were all unable to move. Paige shivered next to AJ, looking at the Shadow Men, who were looking back at them and screaming.
“I think this is our cue to bounce,” Dave said under his breath.
He took the gun from Paige and emptied the entire clip into them, but it was useless. The bullets passed through them as if they weren’t fully corporal because, in a way, they weren’t. They were made of shadows. “That didn’t go as planned,” Dave said dryly.
AJ pulled Paige into an apartment building, almost making her trip over something on the curb, but Dave ran closely behind and stopped her from falling on her ass.
“We need to hide as soon as possible,” AJ urged.
“If only we could get into one of these damn apartments!” Dave chipped in.
Despite their previous experience, they entered another building that looked nearly identical to the last one.
Desperately, they banged on the doors on the ground floor. “Open up, please! Help us!” they pleaded, frantic to find a place, but no one answered. They didn’t have much time to wait, so they started running up the stairs.
“Stop playing games, AJ. You know I will win!” Francis practically growled inside his head.
“You’ll have to catch me first!” AJ snapped back.
“Hurry!” AJ urged them.
The three of them banged on every door on their way, but sadly, no one let them in. Dave banged so hard against the doors, his fist became bloody and raw.
“Dave, you have to stop,” Paige pleaded, but he shook his head.
“I can’t. I’ve seen all the alien movies, Paige. They never come to Earth to be friends.”
“Ok. We’ll keep trying,” Paige replied.
But every door was the same. Closed to them. On some level, AJ understood why. People were terrified beyond imagination. AJ couldn’t blame them. In their place, he couldn’t say with absolute certainty what he would do.
Looking at Paige, he knew she would let everyone inside because that was just the kind of person she was. Kind and good to the point of insanity.
There was only one door left—the fire door to the roof.
“Help me,” Dave said, charging toward it.
Together, they pushed through and clambered onto the roof.
“And now we’re trapped,” Paige said, panting.
They were all down on their hopes. A full day of struggling to survive had finally had its toll on their bodies.
“If the Shadows can climb the stairs, then we’ll have nowhere to go!” Paige said practically.
AJ’s companions looked as worried as he was. He agreed with Paige, but part of him wondered why they couldn’t climb.
They have legs, sort of, and they didn’t look solely decorative, AJ mused.
“Did you change your mind?” Francis asked with humor in his voice. Somehow, he knew they were trapped.
“Find the first sewage system and drown in it!” AJ snapped back at his alien copilot.
“AJ, are you all right?” Paige asked him suddenly. She seemed worried.
He tried to smile, brushing her off. “I’m fine.”
“We can’t stay in the open like this,” Dave said.
They all started looking for a hiding place on the roof, but there wasn’t anything. It was just one big area. Great for parties, terrible for alien invasions.
No! No! No! AJ though in exasperation.
Paige neared one of the edges and looked down at the top of the other buildings close by. “It’s too far away to jump and land on,” she informed them, killing their only hope.
“Are you sure?” Dave pressed.
“Yes,” Paige snapped back. “This is the length of a limousine car we’re talking about. About thirty feet. No human can jump that far, not even professional athletes.”
Once again, they were forced to accept that they were trapped. AJ hadn’t wanted to admit defeat, but she was right as usual. There was nowhere for them to go. Still, he wanted to fight until the end, never surrender. And that gave him an idea.
“Francis, if I surrender to you willingly, will you let my friends go?” AJ offered.
AJ wasn’t a moron. He knew Francis didn’t care about him at all. All he ever wanted from the start was Paige, but AJ figured he could buy them a bit of time or confuse the alien at the very least.
There was a long pause, and he started to worry his alien companion had left him. Suddenly, one word echoed so loudly inside his head that he had to press his hands against his temples because the pain was insufferable.
“No!” Francis boomed while laughing.
* * *
Suddenly, AJ started groaning, and Paige turned just in time to see him bending down and holding his head like it could explode.
“AJ!” She panicked, rushing to his side. “AJ, what’s wrong?”
He was panting, his eyes tightly shut as he gritted his teeth.
“AJ,” Paige pleaded, too scared to even touch him.
“What’s wrong with him?” Dave wondered.
“I don’t know,” Paige snapped back.
Suddenly, AJ righted himself and reassured them after taking a few deep breaths. “I’m fine. It’s gone now.”
“What was that, man?” Dave asked.
“The mother of all headaches,” he tried to joke, but Paige was sure he was leaving something out. “But there’s no time to waste. We have to run and hide, just as your mother told us, Paige,” AJ said, quickly changing the subject.
Not knowing what else to do, Paige returned to the edge. She started doing calculations of the distance between this roof and the other buildings one more time, just to be sure. The longer she stared, the surer she became that the distance was farther than any long jump she had ever made in her entire life.
Bending down, she looked over the edge of their roof towards the ground and couldn’t help but gasp. Paige could see the Shadows moving—it was so dark, and they were dark as well, but she could still see clear movement down there. It scared her to no end.
Looking up, she saw more spaceships lined the horizon, too.
“How are we going to get away?” Paige wondered out loud. She was pretty sure the guys didn’t have the answer to that just like she didn’t.
The Shadows duplicated so fast there was barely any time left for thinking. AJ looked back and forth between the rooftops like he was planning something, and she didn’t like that one bit. Deep inside her mind, Paige knew they would have to attempt the jump sooner or later because it was the only way to get away from them. They couldn’t climb down the stairs because they would certainly get caught.
Dave stared at the gap with a determined expression. He looked like he was mentally preparing himself for the jump. Paige was somewhat glad they were all on the same page and would do anything they could to escape those monstrous creatures. Still, Paige held on to the hope that maybe the Shadows wouldn’t come up to the roof, and that they could hide there for a while.
The weather was understandably chilly now that the sun disappeared, and the wind was picking up, which was even more noticeable on a rooftop. Paige didn’t quite like the idea of having to spend the night in the open, but it beat the alternative: facing the Shadows.
She prayed once again for the Shadows not to come. They would have been here by now if they could, right? Paige asked herself. Maybe they really can’t. But that thought sounded hollow, even to her.
Paige’s mother always made them aware that the Shadows were very bad, and now Paige believed her wholeheartedly. She was right to hide she and her sisters away from them. Looking back, she would hide them away in the smallest hiding space she could find in their house. The smaller, the better, like the small basement or a wardrobe. They would stay inside for hours until the sun rose.
“AJ. Do you think the Shadows are scared of sunlight?” Paige asked abruptly while thinking about her childhood.
“What makes you ask that?” Dave interjected.
Paige shrugged. “Just remembering something.”
Dave chuckled. “I don’t think they’re vampires.”
Paige smiled a little at that in return. Despite the rising panic that was apparent in all of them, Dave still forced himself to be brave and even make jokes.
“Then why are we safe in the daytime? And why didn’t they come to Rosehill?” Paige countered, continuing with her theory.
“Well, Rosehill is one of the safest places in the world. Even a stray cat couldn’t get on the property without the correct passes, approval, and screening,” AJ replied.
Paige remembered that was the reason her mother had sent her there in the first place.
“And don’t forget the written exam,” AJ added, continuing the joke.
“I guess you’re right,” Paige said, appreciating the fact that they were trying to lighten the mood.
Paige hoped the Shadow Man had stopped looking for them. She stole a glance over the edge of the roof and saw only Shadows. They were everywhere. She played with her bracelet nervously. They couldn’t recognize her as a Seedling now that she had the bracelet on, but what about before? Did the Seedling glow only activate because of the virus? What stopped the Shadows from finding her before?
Maybe they couldn’t find me once Willow and I left our home to go to Rosehill, Paige Angela had calmed once she’d found them the school to go to. It looked like they wouldn’t have known where Paige was, like witness protection.
And Brooke? Did she know where I was all along? The sudden thought pained her since her sister never came to visit or got in touch with her in any way, even just to say she was alive and well.
Yes, her mother mentioned Brooke was a Space Cadet, training to be a Watcher. Maybe that was the reason she couldn’t come, since she was God knows where, trying to protect other planets. Still, even a letter, a couple of lines, would have done the trick and saved Paige a lot of grief.
So many questions swirled inside her mind, but Paige forced herself to concentrate right now and think about how to escape and only that.