"It's burning, you know." She sat out on the balcony - though now, of course, it was less a balcony and far more an eroded platform.
"Is it?" He asked absently, still rifling through a drawer and looking for a lighter, or a set of matches, or something.
"Yes." She said succinctly. "It's just that you don't see it, 'cause you don't look. You move too fast." He gave a quiet grunt, glancing to her. She was sat crosslegged in the centre of the old tile, looking up at the almost full moon. Her form was half in shadow, and the most he could see of her was her thick hair and the red leather of her jacket.
He'd long since given up on finding batteries: now he prayed to whatever sadistic Gods that were left that he would find the means to make fire. Night was too dangerous to stay in the dark now. There were things that came out, things he hadn't thought existent until he'd see them laughing and screaming and tearing people apart in the streets he'd known so well as a child.
"The faeries like it." She said, voice growing softer and a little more thoughtful. He knew that dreamy tone very well by now. "They like to dance in it, dance with the flames. The monsters don't touch them, then. I think it's too bright for them. They don't like fire."
"I know!" He growled, the bite clear in his voice. "Will you help?"
"There are no lighters here." She said simply. She did not turn around, but continued to look up at the moon. "Matches in the oak cabinet, at the back. Old fashioned flints in the desk drawer, but those're in a glass box so I don't know if they'll work."
"Thank you." He ran for the matches first, carefully picking the box out and counting the six within. He didn't know how she did it. She talked about faeries most of the time: he didn't want to ask for fear of the answer he'd get. She'd worked in an office before the Apocalypse had happened - he would have expected her to be a little more down to Earth.
It was still strange to call it that, though. There was something weird, something surreal, about using the word. "Apocalypse". He never thought the end of the world would come, let alone that anyone would be left around after the fact. She had started humming to herself, drawing himself out of his thoughts. He looked to her. She rhythmically bobbed her head to music he could not hear.
"You don't listen. You should." She advised. "If you did, the monsters wouldn't pay you such heed." He gave a dismissive grunt, pulling the top off the case from the drawer and carefully admiring the flints inside. He knocked them together quickly, delighting in the sparks they threw off. Brilliant.
"We should go. It'll be dark soon, and this place just isn't defensible."
He could almost hear the roll of her eyes as she gave a small sigh. "I suppose." She said, sounding fairly resigned as she stood. She shifted on her feet, doing a strange little shimmy that she'd explained before as being good for bringing her sleeping limbs back to life.
"C'mon then!" She never ran like he did. She favoured a slow, comfortable amble, as though the world hadn't ended around them and there weren't more demons in the street than men. She always told him "It's not them you should worry about." when he brought that up. He didn't understand that, but at least he wasn't surviving alone.
Her name was Sonita. She was twenty seven, and she'd worked in one of the offices in the centre of the city, doing admin work for a telephone company. They'd sort of met by accident - he'd found her when she was bathing in the river. She'd been that sort of strangely dreamy from the start - she'd shown no trace of modesty and left the water to dress with no compunction about his seeing her body.
She'd sort of fallen into step with him, and though her pace was comparatively slow, he could never bring himself to run and leave her behind. He accommodated. After all, they'd not been attacked yet. She was nice, he supposed. Her head was in the clouds, but she was nice, and kind enough. Just a little bit odd.
He couldn't believe in the faeries she went on about so much. He'd seen demons dismember people where they stood on the streets - surges of shadow and black cloud that were solid enough to become splattered with blood and gore. Those were real. They were so definitely real. But faeries? Little people with wings that danced in the moon? No. They couldn't possibly be real.
She agreed to whatever he suggested, even though he could tell that she often thought his decisions were wrong. She was quiet for the most part, insisting that he make all decisions.
Sonita was more interested in the broken world around them than making idle chit-chat with him. "Ryan!" She called, offering a bright beam. "They're dancing!"
"Uh-huh." He nodded, turning back to the fire. She gave a little sigh, wandering right back off.
He put a can over the fire, eating the spaghetti from it. She often went off like this. In the forests, under the cover of trees, they'd found that the demons were not around. There was less prey, after all.
She didn't each much of the canned food, nor even the trail mixes and nuts he collected when he could. She would occasionally take a small piece of a cookie or something similar, but for the most part she lived off the land.
She would come with red smeared on her lips from berries - wild strawberries had come in, she'd told him excitedly a few days ago - and mushrooms or wild garlic, and a dozen other things he'd never thought of eating.
She'd taken a hand made torch one day, returning with a messily filled jar of honey and comb. It had been nice, to have something sweet and fresh like that. He'd thanked her profusely and she'd just beamed.
She returned, settling by the fire and carefully beginning to eat something sticky. Sonita carefully licked her fingers, making sure she didn't get any of it on her jacket. She was very particular about her clothes.
In her bag she had three pairs of black trousers and a few plain T-shirts. She wore those and the leather jacket, as well as some black boots.
Two months after the end of the world and she'd look completely normal walking down the old highstreet. All the same, the clothes were practical. They were warm, and the boots would allow her to run easily, if she ever needed to.
Ryan's own clothes were pilfered from sports shops - walking boots and trousers, light weight coat and shirts. He had spares in his rucksack.
He leaned back, letting his eyes close. He was ready to sleep, he really was. He'd grown to be a very light sleeper, and it was safe enough in the clearing they'd found.
His dreams were strange. His dreams had grown so much odder now.
He opened his eyes to a strange haze in the air, and knew right away that he was dreaming. Sonita was dancing. It was a flowing dance, light and airy and repetitive. The light of the moon shone down through the trees, illuminating her skin.
She was beautiful. The trees above made her skin seem shadowed, making her dark skin seem even more so. He could feel some thrum in the air, could hear strange music unlike any he'd heard before.
One thousand voices sung a hundred melodies, the song reverbrating in the clearing. He could feel it in his chest, could feel the air hot and clinging to his skin with some new found humidity.
The dance was so very fluid, and Sonita seemed to be in the air itself, hovering several metres above the ground. The music grew louder and the air further hazy. She was a blur in the air now, hair taken by something like static so that every strand was in the air.
As he drifted further, the green tinged air almost seemed to hold other figures. Faeries. Not that he could see them - they were merely coloured clouds in the air. He tried to cling onto the dream, but he was gone.
The music stopped and it all faded to a heavy black. He'd forgotten most of the dream by the time he'd awoke. It was gone completely by the time he'd eaten a quick breakfast of three digestive biscuits.
They continued for a fair while, him and Sonita. They travelled around, regularly heading to the city during the day amd taking food. He wanted to get a car, but all petrol had been used, it seemed, even if the treks back and forth were long.
One day, Sonita came from from a walk with a pouch of fur in her hand at her side. She settled next to the fire, reaching for one of their knives.
From a distance, it had looked like a cuddly toy. From here, he saw that was not the case. She began to skin the rabbit, and he stared, giving a small, anxious swallow.
"I thought you were- how did you ca- what is that?"
"It's a rabbit." Sonita said lightly, Scottish lilt all kinds of casual. "I caught it in a trap."
"But it's a /rabbit/." She looked up, wide eyed and suddenly apologetic.
"Sorry, are you a vegetarian?"
"Well, no. It's just, well, it's a rabbit. I can't believe you killed it." She looked perplexed.
"I grew up on a farm with chickens. It wasn't anybody's pet, Ryan, it was wild. And you've just been eating canned stuff, so I thought fresh meat would be good." Sonita seemed confused but apologetic. She carefully looked back to skinning it, prepping to cook it over the fire.
"Uh, yeah, I suppose." He felt ridiculous after she'd gone to all the effort. "Look, sorry. Let's eat it." She offered a tentative smile.
They ate quietly that evening. He'd sort of assumed she was a vegetarian before, but she really did seem to enjoy the meat.
Later, she shot him a nervous look. "I- uh- I wanted to ask something." He looked up, catching her eye.
"Could we maybe go back into the city? Soon?" Ryan frowned a little, watching her with a concerned expression. He gave the slowest of looks, perplexed. Normally she wanted to avoid the city at all costs, and yet now she sounded so anxious to get into it.
"I- My apartment is in the city centre." She whispered. "My old apartment. I never thought, before, I thought it would be only a few weeks away. There are photo albums there, and some jewellery, my mother's." She continued, earnest in her speech and plainly very nervous about the answer he'd give. "I want to go, I want to see if I can get it before it's too late. Last time we were in the city the building was standing mostly untouched."
Ryan waited a moment, a little taken aback by the sudden emotional confession. "We'll go tomorrow morning." He said simply. Sonita's smile was small and a little weak, but it was there.
For once, she was asleep before he was.
They set out just before dawn, so that the sun would be rising just as they left the safer, wooded areas for unhidden roads.
Roads were surreal, now. He remembered these ones bustling with cars and bikes and buses, the stink of exhaust, the cacophony of car horns and muffled music. Now, there were only a few cars on the roads. Most everyone had driven as far as they could as soon as they could. He never found out whether that worked for them. After all, it wasn't like there was news coverage.
They stayed mostly to the middle of the roads. Demons didn't much like the light - they were alright at night, as the streetlights had all long since stopped working. They would remain inside, in the darkness, but buildings that were all windows or were missing walls were fine.
That is to say, they were less risky. Demons could still be hiding in a cupboard like a Boggart, or around the corner where a shelf cast a convenient shadow.
They dipped into a few old stores. Most had been ransacked entirely, but they still got lucky. There weren't very many humans that still came into the cities. That, or all the rest were dead, but he didn't much like to think about that.
They drew closer and closer to the city centre, and he got a little more anxious with each step. She'd slipped back to her usual self, keeping more a waltz than a proper walk.
Finally, they reached an apartment building which was tall, not too far from a museum. He stared up at it, looking at the windows and worrying. Not as light inside as he'd like.
"Wait here." She said quietly. He nodded easily, not wanting to go into the building even if he knew that really he should have gone with her. "Look for the faeries and you'll be fine." Sonita added, watching him with expressive eyes. "They'll save you if you get into trouble."
"Right." He nodded, pretending to take her advice to heart. He thought he heard her giggle as she dashed through the half smashed doors.
As he waited for her, there were sounds in the air, unnerving sounds. Screams in the distance, but those weren't new, not in the city. They were always there. Clatters of bin lids and car windows but that too was common – there were too many strays in the city, looking for food. Dogs, cats. He had a vague, sudden wonder about what had happened to all the zoo animals. He nearly laughed.
Sonita came out of the building at that very moment, grinning brightly with a drawstring bag hung over her shoulder along with her satchel. "Let's go!" She said, beaming.
They began moving through the town again. It had grown clouded overhead, and the streets suddenly seemed more hostile. They certainly seemed darker, and in the centre of the city where demon population was through the roof, that could not end well. There was a shift of movement to the side of them, in a darkened alleyway, and Sonita and Ryan shared a look.
They started to run, making quick turns through the lightest bystreets possible. They got to a square within a few minutes, and Sonita grabbed Ryan and pulled him to the centre, where no shadows were cast and no demons could possibly come into the open. Even under the clouded sky, it was bright enough in the centre near the flat-disc monument placed there.
Ryan slowly sat on the disc, looking to her with a slight frown. "We wait a half hour and see if it gets a little lighter before risking it." He said quietly. She nodded, handing him the drawbag as she looked around. He opened it slowly, removing the only thing within – a battered photo album.
"Just look at them all. Beautiful." She murmured under her breath, doing a little twirl on her feet. He ignored her, opening the leather cover. He looked from page to page, a soft smile on his face as he saw her among family. Most of the pictures were of her as a child – dancing in a garden, laughing in a children's pool, playing with a terrier. It was at the later pictures that he frowned a little. She wore glasses in the photos, but he'd never seen her in glasses. He looked up, opening his mouth to ask, but she was already watching him.
He stared at her. She had her arms crossed over her chest, eyebrows raised. With the dreamy expressions he had grown so used to, the smirk was unsettling.
"You know, you really should have listened." The Scottish became less of a lilt, came stronger in her voice. "I did tell you. Time and time again. You know, had you listened, you'd have been fine." Something thick and cold clawed at his heart as he swallowed, staring at her. There was something off about the shine of her eyes, and he felt himself go stiff as though someone had walked over his grave.
This was wrong.
"You are awfully slow." She said simply, shaking her head. "But really. These little things could have saved you, if you'd let them." She plucked at the air, at nothing, but when he stared at her hand he noticed the small figure struggling in the grip of her finger and thumb. She held the little thing's wing tightly, and it shrieked to be let go. His mouth dropped open.
"But no. No, no, no. You were just too into your ideas." She snorted. "I needed time, of course. You know, you've grown very attached to me, even if you haven't quite noticed how much. That's helpful for a thing like me." Sonita shifted her grasp on the faerie, taking it in her fist and crushing it with a disgusting wet crunch of sound.
She opened her fingers and two drops of blood dripped to the floor as golden dust faded in the air. "They would have saved you. From me."
"What do you mean?" He asked, swallowing again as he stared at her, wide-eyed. Ryan tensed, readying himself to run. She laughed, a horrible sound, so very far from the titter or giggle he'd heard before.
"I told you right at the start. You should never have worried about those demons in the streets, Ryan." She grinned, and it was too much teeth and red lips. "They're bottom of the pecking order. Can't even form a corporeal form in this dimension."
"No." He whispered. She gave a laugh that was more a cackle.
"Oh, yes. Honey, you should have been running from me all along." He moved to scramble from the bench, but something tripped him, something unbelievably strong that he couldn't see. She stepped forwards, leaning and grabbing at the back of his jacket, pulling him up with an inhuman ease. "Sonita, dear, is in a bin a few miles east. I can take you to see her real body if you like, but I imagine by now it's a bit rotted."
He wanted to be sick. He tried to struggle in her grip, heart beating a mile a minute, but she just smirked and met his eye. He could see hers properly now, see that iris and pupil and white had disappeared to leave an intense black with a fire burning within.
"It's the end of you, mate." She purred. She clawed at the air, and he heard screams, felt wind whipping at his hair as something opened in mid-air. A door, a portal, whatever it was, to another place. He whimpered. Laughing, she threw him through before following after him – the tear across the space sewing itself shut behind her.
The city was silent. Completely silent.
His screams, now in another world, another dimension, a Hell, could not be heard.