“Get them to the basement!” Cooper yells over the increasing noise. Lori can’t tell if the high volume is because of increased proximity or number of creatures. She hopes like hell its not both.
“What? Screw that, we need to get them out of here or they are going to get themselves killed! Simon can open the trap door just long enough for them to get away.”
There is another stomach turning scream behind them, and Lori hears Grace grunt, followed by a dense thud and after a moment a series of ratatata and boom-boom-boom-boom. Lori just keeps running.
“Aisle 11!” she hears Cooper yell, and Lori feels something pull at the back of her shirt. She shrieks—who is that?—as Grace grabs hold of both her and Nathan and almost tosses them into the aisle to their left. They both roll to the floor, and Lori scrambles to get her back against the shelves of motley crap. Grace, her hammer holstered for the moment in a makeshift harness on her back, starts grabbing boxes while Cooper flicks on a small penlight and kneels in front of a large combination safe, spinning the wheel rapidly through the series of numbers.
“We already used the trap door once tonight. Guaranteed they’re looking for it now. We can’t risk a breach.” The safe pops open, and Cooper tears around the packing cardboard to pull out a large drum magazine that he slams onto the bottom of his gun. He pulls back the cocking mechanism and looks down at Lori and Nathan, who has now joined Lori against the shelves. “Sorry guys, but I think you’re in for the night.”
“Fine!” Grace says, ripping the lid off of a bottle of Drano without bothering to squeeze and turn. “But if they die, they will only have you to blame!”
“You’re not gonna let that go are you?”
Grace kneels down in front of Lori and Nathan, her eyes burning brown and, as much as it shocks her, Lori can see beads of sweat gathering at Grace’s temples.
“Stay low, and don’t move unless we tell you. Got it?”
Lori nods. Grace steps in closer and lowers her voice. Lori recognizes this voice. This is Grace’s Very Serious Voice.
“And when we tell you to go…you run like hell.”
They nod again. Grace begins to stand, but pauses as she passes Lori.
“And you…you watch out for him.” Grace looks to Nathan, who looks at once both terrified and thoughtful. “You have no idea what he’s been through already.”
Lori tilts her head. Somehow this feels like more than just a precaution. This feels like Grace is…imparting wisdom. A lesson learned the hard way. But why?
“I promise.” Lori whispers.
There is another round of bellowing quick action blasts as Cooper opens fire against a Banshee. Lori can see the lurching silhouette of another bulky Leech looming in the distance. Grace turns and hurls the Drano bottle at the bulky monster, who gives a gurgly howl as its faceless head melts into a reddish brown mass of goo. She unsheathes her hammer and races past Cooper into the melee, running into a leap and sinking her hammer deep into the now free flowing head.
Lori digs through her bag and pulls out her key ring, complete with a surprisingly effective keychain flashlight. Once her eyes adjust to the dim illumination, Lori takes a look around Aisle 11 with new eyes. Nail guns. Saws and axes. Butcher blocks full of knives big and small. Baseball bats and golf clubs. Pliable sheets of metal that could be used for armor. An array of (highly flammable) aerosols like oven cleaners, bug sprays and adhesives. Packs of Bic lighters. Fire extinguishers. Duct tape of every color. Advil. Band aids. Power Bars. Bottled water.
“Suddenly this aisle makes a lot more sense.” Lori says to Nathan, but when she turns to look at him she sees his attention is pinned to the battle at the end of the aisle.
“Lori…I have an idea. I think there’s something we can do. Can you get me some stuff?”
Lori watches Grace hold off the grasping claws of a Banshee by grasping the long staff of her hammer with two hands in front of her like a brace. Cooper fires several rounds through the reverse-pin-cushion mouth of a Leech. She turns back to Nathan.
“What do you need?”
Nathan rattles off a list, and Lori does some shopping. Dish detergent. A screwdriver. Rubber dish gloves. A few other odds and ends.
“Now…hand me a beer.”
She complies. Nathan’s hands are nimble even inside the cumbersome gloves, and he begins to assemble his creation as Lori watches, holding the flashlight and attempting to take mental notes whenever he slows down enough for her to understand what he is doing.
“That gun of Cooper’s,” Nathan says as he pours strong smelling green liquid through the puncture hole he has made in the side of a beer can. “Do you think that’s an actual AA-12?”
“It’s an automatic shotgun. That’s military grade weaponry. But where the hell would he have gotten it?”
“How do you know that?”
Nathan seals the puncture hole with duct tape. “How do you think I know any of this stuff?”
Lori nods. They’ve been over all that before, and anyway it’s not really relevant right now. She refocuses on the task at hand.
“Is it ready?”
“Almost…” Nathan shakes the can and it begins to foam around the duct tape. “Done!” He passes it to Lori. “Toss it between them. You have the best aim.”
Lori is surprised to find herself blushing at the compliment. “Okay.”
She stands up, shaking the can herself a couple times for good measure. She winds up and lets it fly.
“INCOMING!” Nathan yells as the can soars through the air, trailing a soapy golden arc behind it. It lands right at the feet of the Banshee bearing down on Grace when it explodes in an impressive burst of white foam.
“Dammit—what the hell was that?! Ugh, it’s in my mouth!” Grace screams, wiping soap and beer off her chin. “When I said don’t move, I meant—”
“Grace!” Cooper’s shout grabs her attention and she turns back to see the last of their enemies writhing on the ground, with only pools of flesh-colored goop where their feet and shins were.
Grace and Cooper look at each other, then back at Nathan and Lori. Nathan looks proud and relieved, while Lori looks absolutely elated at the success of their plan.
“I figured…if they don’t like Drano, then they wouldn’t like…that.”
Cooper looks back at Grace, who shrugs in reluctant approval. Turning to their now prostrate foes, each deliver their coup de gras, Grace with her hammer and Cooper with a single blast. Both leave only a large smear of monster-shaped gore on the white linoleum floor.
No sooner had they finished dispatching the current foes when a large, rapid thumping begins in the front corner of the store.
“Son of a bitch,” Cooper mutters, ripping the empty magazine from his gun and plunging his hand into the safe for a reload and a couple spares that he shoves into his messenger bag.
“Basement time! Go!” Grace runs at Nathan and Lori, who don’t have to be told twice. “Cooper, let’s move!”
“Right behind you!” Lori hears the safe slam close and the tumblers spin, followed by Cooper’s footfalls sprinting to catch up with them.
“Where the hell is the portal?” Cooper yells up to Grace as they race toward the back of the store.
“Last I heard Simon was zeroing in on it in the first quadrant. Over by women’s clothing.”
“That’s the fourth time in six weeks! They must really like the new fall colors.”
“Oh my God, you’re an idiot.”
“I’m the idiot? Why didn’t you close the damn thing?”
“I was going to! That’s when I saw this guy about to become a human juice box!”
Lori can’t see Grace’s pointed glare at the back of Nathan’s head, but she knows it’s there.
“It’s unstable anyway, it will collapse on its own soon. We just have to wait…and deal with the ones that make it through!””
The thumping gets louder and louder as they clear the aisles and head toward the closest door to the back room. Above them in a large round security mirror, Lori can see three more Leeches, hulking several feet taller than the shelves and dragging themselves through the aisles, moving like giant ships through oddly parallel rivers.
And beyond that, near the front of the store, is what appears to be a smear of purple thunderstorm clouds, lit from behind by a jet black sun. Pulsing and swirling, it hangs like a wet towel in the midair, convulsing like a newborn baby taking its first screaming breaths. It contracts, then expands, and Lori watches in horror as a long, lumpy leg of a Leech begins to protrude from the center of the hellish door.
“The portal!” Lori cries. Grace and Cooper follow her gaze to the security mirror. The portal begins to spasm erratically, stretching itself into a gaping, stuttering yawn before it snaps back down into nothing, splitting the half-emerged Leech in two as it disappears.
“Thank God!” Grace sighs, increasing her pace with renewed vigor. “It’s all over now…”
“…except for the screaming!” Cooper quips as he jets past his compatriots to the closest stockroom door, where he leans down to scan his name tag at the security lock. There is a buzz and he slams the door open, bracing it with his arm and leg as Lori, Nathan and Grace all rush past him. Once they are clear he follows suit, closing the door behind them. On the other side of the door is a large metal wheel that Cooper turns with great effort. Three metal braces extend across the door, their picketed ends puncturing the concrete edge of the opposite wall as far as Cooper’s arm strength will let them.