FOR THREE DAYS, IT WAS DARK.
News reporters scrambled.
This was the biggest story to come along in weeks.
They called it a blackout.
The last one was in New York City in 2003, but this one was different, special, because the grids in six major cities across the country had been fried, kaput, see-you-next-Sunday. Everyone with some jurisdiction blamed each other, and when there was no one left to blame, terrorism rode in on its gallant steed.
It was the media’s fault. They were so busy stuffing fanatical Muslims with a penchant for Allah and decapitations down the American citizen’s throat, that they never saw it coming. I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on them.
They were partially right.
It was terror after all, but a whole new kind. And when the lights came back on, things had changed.
The dark had brought us visitors.
I felt like I was being reborn when I crawled out from the manhole.
The cool air caressed my mucky face. I wanted to scream, but I held onto it, not letting it pass my lips.
Rudy looked us over, guilt and relief waltzing across his face. He was shiny clean. No hermits had ventured up here. I wanted to use his untouched skin as a rag to clean myself. Then he would be dirty and I would be less dirty and maybe it would help me feel better. Maybe. It would probably turn him on, I thought, and that was where my musings ended.
My arm hurt so much that it didn’t hurt at all. It was as if my body couldn’t quite register that level of pain, so it gave up trying. No argument from me. The wound hadn’t stopped bleeding, though, and the thin strip I had wrapped around it was soaked through. With shaking hands, I cleared my sodden hair away from my face and grabbed a fistful of shirt. Cooper stepped up.
“Let me help,” he said.
I could hear again, though Cooper’s voice sounded distant, like I was underwater and he was safe on shore. I obliged and he peeled the wet fabric away. I winced.
“You were shot?” Cooper asked, shock on his face.
“Guess so,” I said. “The team’s already trying to get rid of me, huh?” I laughed. Cooper didn’t. He eyed the others. “You could have been killed.”
“Well, better by one of your own than, um...you know.” He did.
Cooper moved his face closer to the wound. “It doesn’t look so bad. Just a nick, no arteries.” I became worried that my wound might spit at him, like an angry camel. That would be embarrassing. I inched away.
“Stop fidgeting,” he said.
“Okay, I’ll try,” I said. “How are you? Are you okay?”
Cooper glanced up from my arm. “Fine. Got any bites?”
He asked this as casual as one would “Cream with coffee?,” “Biscuits with tea?,” “Change for that dollar?”
Got any bites with that bullet wound? It was the furthest thing from a casual question, and both he and I knew it.
“Sure. I mean no. Definitely not.” Cooper locked eyes with mine. “No,” I said, again.
Satisfied, Cooper went back to my wound, discarding the used fabric onto the forest floor and wrapping the clean, new strip around my arm several times. He made a knot at the end.
“That’ll do it. A couple stitches, you’ll be fine,” he said. “Good job down there.”
Cooper moved on to help the others. We all conceivably could have just been in a fight with a butcher, but none of us were bitten and thankfully most of the blood had come from the enemy. Topps had a laceration on his forehead that had brought down a sheet of blood over his face, like Satan pulled a curtain. It was starting to dry but looked no less grisly. Charlie’s lips were collagen implants gone wrong, and he casually mentioned twisting his ankle. I caught a glimpse of it, and the thing could have been the size of all the hunters’ ankles put together. Seven was seated on a fallen tree, running her hands down her ponytail. She was the cleanest (apart from Rudy), and when and if the time came that we were friends, I’d ask her how on earth she did it.
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