Kind of a jarring jump from all the fantasy teasers since July and now you have something from Chasing Bedlam. Well, you know that poll from June? Cassidy and Lloyd each got a vote. I’m giving them a shared scene because they’re more fun to write as a team than separately. Enjoy.
“This is the worst day of my life!” Lloyd screams as they race down the abandoned streets of Mobile. Wearing a tight medical mask, he has trouble breathing and nearly trips over a heavily chewed femur. “What exactly did we drive into? It’s like a horror author’s wet dream. Pretty sure I know which one too.”
“Shut up and focus on running,” Cassidy gasps, wiping sweat from her brow. The summer heat makes her muscles ache, but she knows stopping will get her killed. “This is why I told you to keep driving and not stop to give that puppy a sno-cone. Didn’t you see that it was acting funny?”
“That explains the title,” he replies, glancing over his shoulder. Not seeing any of their pursuers, he is about to relax until his friend smacks him in the arm. “I know, I know. Have to keep running and find a place to hide. Why don’t we dive into the nearest building before they show up?”
“Because they can still follow our scent and I’ve yet to see a place without a broken window or missing door,” the mercenary says, skidding to a stop. At the sight of a stray dog in the distance, she leads the way down an alley and climbs up a fire escape. “Inside might be bad, but the roof could give us a breather. Not to mention a better look at the place. Always heard Mobile was one of the few cities to avoid destruction.”
At the sound of a hissing cat, Lloyd moves quicker and nearly shoves his partner onto the rooftop. “Considering the guard towers and wall, I’m surprised this place went down. What do you think happened?”
Walking to the edge of the building, Cassidy waves for him to join her. Billowing smoke from scattered fires can be seen in every direction and the only sounds are those of animals that remain out of sight. There are no birds in the sky even though there are feathers and droppings on the concrete eaves. Many buildings have been crashed into by vehicles, the facades threatening to crumble even more. The cars and trucks that managed to stay on the road have been abandoned, some with their doors left open and drag marks leading to the alleys. When the wind shifts, the travelers catch the scent of rotting garbage and rancid meat that have been made infinitely worse by heat exposure.
A howl drifts from the south before a pack of stray dogs wanders into an intersection, their sounds met by the territorial snarls of cats. Using her binoculars, Cassidy gets her first good look at the animals that have been chasing them for the last two hours. A few of them are missing patches of fur from recent fights, but they move like any normal beast. The only difference is that they are highly aggressive and appear to be on the verge of rampaging like they did when the ice cream truck’s music went off. Catching sight of a sleeping cat on the edge of a dumpster, she finds it hard to believe that these animals forced them to abandon their vehicle and run for their lives.
“I remember this being a problem in Maine when I went there with my mom,” Cassidy explains, lowering her binoculars. She walks around the rooftop to check for any threats that may be approaching from another side. “They’re called carrier beasts or, to be more colorful, the Pets of Typhoid Mary. Nobody is sure where they come from, but they are very aggressive toward humans. Even if you get away alive, a single bite can infect you with a disease that rarely has a cure. The virus or bacteria or whatever it is tends to differ by location too. Some may have a new type of flu while others are carrying an enhanced version of Ebola. As you can see, cities can get wiped out by a pack if they don’t react fast enough. A gathering this big would mean the survivors have gone into bunkers or abandoned the city.”
“I vote government conspiracy. Not sure which government though,” Lloyd says while keeping an eye on the pack. More cats are emerging from their hiding places, the felines surrounding the dogs while staying out of reach. “Be nice if they fight and give us a chance to escape. Are they typically dogs and cats?”
“From the stories I’ve heard, carrier beasts in urban areas are usually pet species and the more rural regions are plagued by wild animals like wolves and deer,” the mercenary answers, waving for Lloyd to join her at the far end of the roof. She points at the other building, which is only a narrow alley away. “If we had a river to wade through then we could lose the packs that way. Since we don’t have that option, I suggest jumping across and climbing down the other fire escape. We’ll go to the opposite street and take a car that still has gas. There can’t be more carrier beasts than the ones we’ve already seen, so crossing the bridge over there should take us away from the worst.”
“As long as the dogs and cats don’t work together.”
“Please tell me you’re referencing a movie.”
“Never saw that one, so no.”
“Jump and don’t look back.”