“Fuck. Fuck!” I slammed my fists against the chilled iron pipes of my cell. Sirens were blaring. People were running, trying to collect as much of their research--their evidence--as they could as they scrambled throughout the facility. Though I had little hope that any of these psychotic bastards would let me out, I had to try.
One of them halted near my cell, his uniform disheveled as if people had been grabbing at him while he was on the move. “Hey!” I shouted at the young soldier. He was one of the men with the keys and, at the moment, probably my last hope. “Let me out of here!” His eyes wild, he stared back at me as he caught his breath. I didn’t know much German, only what I had picked up on while I had been locked up. “Hilf mir!” I hissed.
Amidst the screaming and blaring of the horns, he gave a frantic glance in either direction before deciding to release me. Once I was out, I had no idea where I was going to go but it beat staying trapped behind bars. “Los! Los!” I ushered his shaking hands as he fumbled through a ring of keys that he pulled out of his pocket.
Then, echoing off the walls in the distant hallway, a growl slowly turned into a shriek and the man and I both turned our attention to the ungainly yet quick footsteps gaining speed towards us.
“Nein!” the keys were flung off to the distance when he held up his arms to defend himself as a rabid body collided with his and shoved him to the ground. I jumped back, all the color and blood and oxygen leaving my body as he was viciously split open in front of me. His cry was cut short with the tearing of his throat and warm crimson spilled from his open wounds and began to leak into my apparent safe haven.
Horrified beyond measure, I stumbled backward until my spine thudded against the concrete wall. With the Nazi dead at its feet, the flesh-eating monster snapped its head up at me and let out another shuddering growl. It looked human but its skin was putrid and bits of flesh fell from its body when it moved, revealing threads of muscle and flecks of bone. I clapped my hands over my mouth to keep from screaming and I wanted to close my eyes and pray that I was having a nightmare but I knew that, somehow, I had simply found myself in another circle of hell.
Fittingly, a demonic glow emanated from where its eyes should have been as it ferociously drove its arms through the barricade, reaching for me with degraded arms and bony fingers. Unable to touch me, it snarled and threw its body against the wall with sickening force. As I stared at the eviscerated remains of the man, I was happy to be stuck in the cell for the first time in who knows how long.
A loud bang followed by some shouting drew the monster’s attention and it sprinted off to the noise. Following its footsteps, a few more of the same creatures ran past, screaming various incoherent sounds with outreached arms and twisted legs. The distant volley of bullets and yells of battle were drowned out by the earsplitting sound of growls, snarls, and shuffling feet and the only thing I could feel was dread and hopelessness.
I was going to die here.
With the knife I ‘stole’ from the dead man who still lingered and deteriorated in front of my cell, I scratched another tick mark into the wall to keep track of the days. I was on day four...I think. Honestly, it was hard for me to tell because it was always dark. The power had gone out about a day or so after everyone was dead. Being downstairs, further from the warmth of the sun, didn’t help either.
Not expecting to even be alive still, I was starving and was beginning to run low on the bottle of water I had been able to reach from my cell. Aside from that, all I had were the clothes on my back and the gun that I had taken from the Nazi corpse. The gun only had one bullet, however, making it more of an option for a dignified death as opposed to a useful defense.
Thankfully, most of the creatures had wandered off to the brighter parts of the castle and, as long as I stayed quiet, only one or two of them would drag their feet in front of my cell throughout the day without noticing that they had left a living soul unmaimed. I had hoped that someone would have come to investigate a sudden abandonment of a German research facility but the world outside was quiet; deserted. Usually, I could hear the occasional car on the streets below or a plane buzzing by up above but now...nothing. Nothing but death and my own heartbeat.
Maybe there wasn’t anyone left.
Startled, my racing heart woke up to the distant and muffled sound of people--men--shouting and bullets spraying from loud, destructive guns. My dying spark of hope flickered into a diminutive flame and I sat up on my cot, my protective layer of cold dampened blankets sliding away from me. I listened carefully as there had been a handful of occasions as of late where I had woken up to my mind creating illusions of sounds meant to trick me into thinking I was saved. The commotion continued still and I stumbled to my feet. The ground was cold to the touch and I shivered both from a lack of dependable heat and a paucity of sustainable food.
It was close to the evening as the setting sun left me with an inappreciable light. Gun in hand, I gripped the bars of the cell and held my breath as I heard the rustling of listless feet making their way to quell the commotion upstairs.
“This place...disaster….tofen….” Someone was yelling --rather bitterly--over the gunfire. He sounded American. That was a good sign, right? A second voice replied but it was as clear as a waterlogged mumbled. I waited until it was quiet again, knowing that there’d be a snowball’s chance in hell of them hearing me if I started shouting for help now. “You said…..out…” The man’s tone was still stern but more conversational now that the danger seemed to subside, along with their defensive barrage of bullets.
There was a thick floor of stone between the upstairs and the downstairs cell that I had been trapped in. My throat was dry and sore from the few drops of water I allowed myself every day and the thought of shouting sounded excruciating but it couldn't have been worse than dying.
“Help!” I began to cough as soon as I ventured to raise my voice. “Please, help me!” I tried again with better results. For extra measure, I struck the handle of the gun against the iron pipes in hopes the sound would reverberate off the walls.
“You...that?” The first voice asked to whoever was with him.
“What?” His counterpart didn’t seem to notice.
“I’m downstairs!” My voice cracked and I realized my cries were probably incomprehensible. “Please!”
“That!” The American could hear me, at least. Then, like an answered prayer, the footsteps began to make their way to me and all I could do was hope that they weren’t with the people who had thrown me in here in the first place.
A blinding beam from a flashlight forced me to close my eyes and I had to peer down at my feet until they adjusted to the foreign brightness. “What the hell?” When I opened my eyes again, I was staring at two young men with guns readied in their hands and blood on their skin. The one that sounded like an American displayed some sort of horror at what he'd found.
Surely, I was an eyesore. My dark hair was a tangled mess, my clothes, ruined by cuts and tears, hadn't been changed in at least a few weeks, my skin was blemished with dirt and gore, and my appearance felt as drained and consumed as my bloodshot eyes.
“Please,” I whispered, too tired to think of anything else, “please, help me.” Remembering that the keys had been mocking me from where they were standing, I gestured to them. "The keys, they're over there, I think."
The man who donned the leather jacket shook his head and I frowned. “Get back,” he instructed, pointing a handgun at the one thing that kept me from my freedom. It took me a second to understand his intentions before I did as I was told, my arms wrapped around my chest to keep from shaking. I jumped when he pulled the trigger and deftly shot the lock on my cell door. “Doc, get me a blanket or something,” he didn't look at the dark haired man as his eyes were trained on me once he pushed the door open. “Come on out, you're alright, you can put the gun down.” He waved a gloved hand towards himself, trying to coax me out with a soft voice as if I was a lost kitten in a rainstorm. I didn’t need much convincing, though. As long as they weren’t those things, I didn’t care who they were.
I let the gun clatter to the cement floor in a metallic cacophony and stepped out to my freedom. The ‘Doc’ returned with a mound of fabric in his hands from somewhere and handed it to the man who had released me. Once I was in arms reach, he wrapped the blanket around my shoulders and the heat from his body felt like being caressed by the sun. “Thank you,” I breathed, “thank you.” I clutched the corners of the soft material and pulled it against my body.
He set the flashlight down on a table to provide enough light in the room for all of us to see. Then, he turned to his partner, his body tensed and his voice a low growl. “What the fuck kinda operation you running here, Doc?! Why you got a woman here?!” He had the man gripped by the collar of his blood-stained shirt, shaking him like a ragdoll.
While I flinched at the man’s scathing accusation, his counterpart appeared unphased, as if he was used to the occasional snap in temper. He held his hands up in indifferent acquiescence. “Bitte, none of this is mein doing. It was most likely Dr. Groph. He had a …obsession with American Frauen. ” He smirked when he was released and straightened his shirt back to how it was.
I picked up, all too quickly, on his German articulations and a spike of anger flooded my body like fever and forced me to speak up. “You friends with Groph?” Dr. Groph was the reason I was here to begin with. “You one of those Nazi bastards?”
He shook his head, “Nein. My name is Dr. Edward Richtofen and I assure you, I mean you no harm.” His accent was thick and his long face conveyed little emotion.
My narrowed side glance showed that I was unconvinced of his innocence. But, last time I checked, Americans and Germans weren’t on the same side of the fight so if they were working together, maybe he was telling the truth.
The man who had yet to introduce himself called for my attention once more, “What's your name, sweetheart?” He yielded more comfort when he wasn’t yelling through a gravelly bark of irritation.
It took me a moment to recall. “Margaret... Maggie's fine, though.” I stared at him, perplexed and he met my expression with knitted brows and a crinkled nose. He was oddly familiar but maybe I was losing my mind. “You...I know you. I've seen you before.” I tried to procure the image of his name. I'd seen it so many times, painted onto the metal of a capsule. “Dempsey, you're Dempsey...but you're…” It looked like him, I was certain of that, but the man in front of me was decades younger. And that...simply wasn’t possible. “Oh, God, I’m hallucinating. This isn’t real, you’re not really here.” I knew it was all too good to be true. I’d been exposed to that scientific element for too long. I was already starting to forget things and now I had been locked up so long, I was seeing things.
“Hey, uh, Maggie,” he kept his voice on a quieter volume as he clumsily spoke my name, “calm down, alright? Listen, I am Dempsey. You ain’t going crazy, we’re here.” His gloved hands gripped my shoulders to keep me from collapsing and his touch kept me grounded to reality. I nodded, shaken and panicked, my eyes flickering between him and his counterpart. “How long you been here, darling?”
His gruff voice drew my eyes to his face and I took note of his handsome features. In the dim light, I could see the long lasting impression of dirt and blood that painted his skin and I wondered where he had been before this.
It was a struggle for me to focus and the words stumbled and fell out of my mouth, “I don’t know...their experimental bullshit has fucked with my memory but it’s been six days...I think...since those things killed everyone.” I looked into his hardened blue eyes. “What are they?”
“Untoten,” the German answered, though it meant nothing to me as it wasn’t part of my small foreign vocabulary. Given my indifferent reaction, he clarified, smugly, “The undead. You Americans,” he nodded to the man and I, “call them Zombies.”
On the verge of hysteria, I began to laugh as I tried not to hyperventilate. “What? Are you--please tell me he’s kidding,” my voice raised an octave and Dempsey raised a brow and pursed his lips in sympathetic confirmation. “Oh,” I gave a slow nod, trying to let the truth sink in, “well isn't that just peachy.” Now, I wished I was hallucinating.
“That's one way to put it,” Dempsey muttered.
“Forgive me, Margaret," Edward hastily interrupted, "but you mentioned you've seen Dempsey before. I need to know where and when this happened.” His tone was quite serious and I was taken back by his urgency.
“Stow it, Richtofen!” The American was quick to cut him short. “We can deal with that tomorrow. She ain't in no shape to be helping you or anyone else.” His familiar accent was one that I hadn't heard in a long time and it was oddly comforting to listen to him yell at the German.
“Yes, of course, mein apologies,” he seemed to have more on his mind but quietly did as he was told with a hint of distaste that could be heard when he walked off, muttering to himself.
I stared after him, still agitated by his sheer presence. “Don't worry about him. He rubs everyone the wrong way.” Dempsey put a hand on my back and I looked up at him. He smiled, barely, but it was there and it was enough. “Come on, let's get you outta here. This place gives me the creeps.”
The room he led me to was crowded with havoc and wooden furniture. Ornate paintings decorated the walls and there were a few plush animals watching me from the bookshelves and the light, floral colors led me to believe that it used to belong to a small girl. I tried not to think about what might have happened to the child or why she was even here in the first place.
Regardless, there was a bed, an actual bed, sitting in front of me and that was enough to put a smile on my weary face. The blankets were tousled to match the rest of the room but they were calling my name in a voice of deceptive serenity.
“Hope this works, not much to choose from.” Dempsey stood behind me, his hand hovering over the door handle.
We hadn't talked much on the way here. He seemed to have the weight of the world pressing down on his shoulders and it kept his lips sealed in a thin line of intimidating pensiveness. I worried that he already saw me as a burden but he had taken it upon himself to find me a place to sleep before I tried to take care of it myself.
“No, this is great, I appreciate it,” I glanced over my shoulder at him when I spoke. An aged oil lamp flickered from the corner, creating shadows that moved in ways that sent chills down my back and channeled agitation through my veins.
His eyes were cast downward, using the toe of one boot to scrape the mud off the other. “Well, I'll let you get some sleep. We can talk more in the morning and get this shit figured out.” he had every intention of leaving but I stopped him, blinded by my own fear.
“Wait!” I took a step forward, ready to chase after him if need be. He stopped and faced me, an expectant yet annoyed look on his sculpted face as he shifted the weight of his gear from one foot to another. “Look, I know you don't know me and I know it's stupid of me to ask but,” I bit down on my lip, wincing ever so slightly, “I just...I can't sleep knowing those things could bust through the door and rip my guts out.”
“Spit it out, darling,” he was doing his best not to be snippy, his shoulders rigid beneath his bloodstained leather jacket.
“Could you...would you mind staying?” His still expression made me nervous and my voice faltered, “Just, just for tonight.”
He screwed up his face as if I’d ask him to do something so unspeakable that he’d be sent to the deepest circle of hell for doing it. There was absolutely nothing between us besides the fact that we were from the same country and that was really the only semblance of a bond that I’d had with anyone for some time. It was the only connection that allowed me to be brave enough to even ask.
“What do you want me to do? Read you a bedtime story?” He hooked his thumb under the strap running across his chest.
I scowled; briefly, “No, smartass, I was thinking more along the lines of shooting anything that tries to get in.” He did have two guns, after all.
He met my clouded expression and ground his teeth as he thought. He could just say no and leave it at that. He didn't have to stand there and act like I was torturing him.
Just as I was about to tell him to forget it, he let out an exhausted, burdened sigh and unhooked the strap and belt from his jacket and tossed them onto the stale, bloodied couch. “Just tonight. Tomorrow, I'm gonna teach you how to shoot a fucking gun so I don't have to babysit you.”
I ignored his passive aggressive comment. All that mattered was that I'd have a decent chance of not dying while I tried to get some sleep. “You can have the bed. I'll sleep on the couch.” It was the least I could do for somewhat ruining his evening.
As if he didn't hear me, or was simply ignoring me, he continued to unpack his gear next to the couch. “Better I don't get too comfortable,” he unzipped his jacket and peeled it off. I couldn't help but watch as he hissed the air through his teeth and revealed the cuts and bruises along the strength of his bare arms. There were probably more beneath his thick gray tee and I wanted to ask what the hell he had been through before he found me. “Can’t kill the monsters in the closet if I'm out like a fucking light.” Shucking his boots, he playfully smirked in my direction. Was he teasing me?
I forced down the heat that was creeping up my cheeks. “Fine, well, don't say I didn't offer.” I had to tear my gaze away so that I could lie down and pull a blanket over me and rest my head on the musty pillow. Aside from his loud, foul mouth and typical American militaristic personality, he was handsome; better looking than most.
Built with a tall frame, maybe just over six feet, he was strong and defined with a face that had been sculpted by hard work and a few bar fights. his short brown hair that he kept meticulously in place and blue eyes made him look particularly attractive to me.
A muffled laugh of sorts drifted from his direction as he settled into his bed for the night and I shook my head to free my mind of whatever opinions I was forming of him. They didn't matter. Soon, I hoped, we'd be parting ways and I'd be back home, living my life again.
If I still had a home, that is.
Still, I broke the silence, “Dempsey?”
He lifted his hand from his eyes. “What?” his voice like sandpaper over the lone word.
“Thanks,” I kept my conversation short and sweet. That seemed to be his thing.
When he spoke again, he was gentler, “Don’t thank me yet, sweetheart, let me get you outta this mess first.”