They made it into the health-food store with nothing breaking under them and nobody insulting anyone else. The way the day had been going, Abby was going to take that as a victory.
The store had clearly been picked over, but there were still a few sports drinks and chewy meal-replacement bars on the shelves, as well as some smaller containers of protein powder. While they ate – first making sure Vic-starving got something into her stomach – Vic tried to explain things.
“I came here with an Abby. Not my Abby. I was running away from a Sandy, like I said, with a Liv. My Liv. We got separated in the middle of a mall, and I couldn’t get through the doors for a while. You’d think, stuck in one place, we would’ve been able to find each other, but this place, there were people wandering all the time. I bet my Liv attached to one of those groups. I hope she did, at least. I ended up with a group of three for a bit – an Abby, a Liv, and a Kevin.”
She raised her eyebrows at some expression one of them was having. “So you know you need more than one person to go through the doors. People die. You didn’t think you were the only group that collected, did you? Nobody’s special here, butterflies. We’re all just trying to survive.”
“Got it.” The girl had nearly died. Abby tried to keep that in mind and not start fighting with Vic. After all, fighting with Vic had gotten them into this mess in the first place.
“Yeah.” Vic-starving took a swig of her energy drink and considered her. “I think you do. You’re still alive. That’s a good start. But yeah. So I came in here with an Abby. And we thought, okay, abandoned mall, kinda freaky. Not the freakiest one we’d seen – I mean, until it got to the bodies. Weren’t so many of them then, but we were doing fine until we ran into a Liv. Well, I say ran into. We were several levels down.” She gestured vaguely. “So this Abby, she thought she recognized the Liv, and she tried to get her down. Look, I know it’s hard, looking at people you know, hanging like creepy pinatas, but at least a third of the bodies here, they’re traps. They grab onto you and then the next thing you know, *you’re* hanging where there was a trap.” This time, the sip of sports drink she took was long and slow. Abby looked away and gave her some space.
When she cleared her throat to start talking again, Abby almost jumped.
“I tried to get her down. Damnit, I tried. I tried hard. Everything I could think of. But the other bodies, to either side of her, they were grabbing at me and pulling at me, and then one just.” She gulped hard. “One did something to the rope around Abby’s neck. And she was gone. And then they had me. And Abby was dead, it hadn’t done a damn bit of good to try to help her, and even if I could’ve gotten down, alone, I couldn’t have made the damned doors work.”
Vic flapped both of her hands. Abby let her eyes slip back over to her face; she was staring off into nowhere. “I thought I was dead. I actually thought I was dead and gone to hell when I heard your fucking voices. But no. It’s more of us. More people for this damn meat grinder.” She looked straight at Abby. “You have to get out of her. I don’t care how. I don’t care if you dive off the roof. But if there are Abbies still in here, this thing will keep killing. And it will kill us. Vics and Sandies, Kevins and Livs. All of us. Just because it wants to hurt you.”