Afterward: Chapter 2

She whistled to herself while she walked the final steps towards the decrepit gas station. Highways weren't as dangerous since you could see anything coming for a long way. Making noise here wouldn't be much of a problem.

She looked back and forth when she got to the door, double checking that nothing was around, then she hoisted the heavy piece of metal and smashed the front window with her bolt cutters. That took care of the front door, she thought as she unlocked the door. She continued whistling as she sauntered inside. She focused on her goal of cigarettes, ignoring the food that as she moved behind the counter. The trick to these, she had figured out, was to cut the lock right off. Sure, if you were skilled at it like Simon she knew you could pick the locks, but it was seldom worth it.

She balanced the bolt cutters on the lock, excited that no one had beaten her to it, and made sure that the cutters were balanced. She didn't have the strength to use them normally so she had to hoist herself up so her entire weight was pushing one of the arms down while the other pressed against the counter. After a tense moment she heard the groan of the metal as it started to give way, culminating with a pop as the lock shot off and clattered across the tile floor loudly. Those were the breaks of using a tool for a job that it wasn't designed for.

She wrenched the display open and saw her prize. There were plenty of cigarettes here. Three cartons was a goldmine, she would be able to hide these and trade away extras and those disgusting menthols over the next few months. That should make the winter more bearable. She began to shovel the cigarette packages into her backpack when she heard the stomach dropping crinkle of broken glass being stepped on.

"Fuck."

She dropped down, zipping the backpack as quietly as she could, securing the cartons she had already grabbed in case she needed to make a run for it. Maybe it was just a looky-loo, or a wild dog. She could outsmart either of those. If it was a couple of people or something worse, she'd need to make a decision between hiding and running for it. Once the backpack was zipped, she eased herself back until she was leaning against the counter. Cover secured, and her breath catching in her throat, she listened for some sort of sound. The sound of purposeful sniffing ruled out all but the strangest of people wandering around. She wasn't pleased with this result.

She was going to have to get eyes on it to see what it was. Knowing that she was unlikely to be able to beat whatever her guest was in a straight-out run if it came to it, she weighed her options for getting back across the highway to the houses and apartment buildings that were nearby where she could climb a tree or a building if she had to. Easing her way along the counter to get closer to the front windows, she knew that her options weren't good. It would be difficult to get across eight lanes; four on either side of a concrete divider, without being caught up to. Her nostrils flared and her jaw clenched when she saw what was now rummaging through the gas station.

They didn't have agreed upon names for these things yet; it was hard to determine specific species for any sort of classification. They were usually referred to as wendigo, based on some old myth she had never bothered to understand, she just knew it had something to do with their habit of of eating human flesh. It padded along on four large paws, the front pair of which rested on heavy knuckles, supporting a chest the size of a beer keg that her father had once had for a celebration years ago, its nose near the ground to try to track her: she was lucky that their sense of smell wasn't stellar. Its front legs were far more muscular than the back and, at a distance, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a funny looking dog. That forgiveness, however, would largely be the result of your friends believing it to be wrong to think ill of the dead. It was covered in short shaggy hair that was the colour of concrete.

She made a quick calculation and knew that she as going to have to say good-bye to one of her tools. She tensed herself and threw herself forward with her bolt cutters just ahead of her, shattering the window. She ran as fast as she could in a straight line, dropping the heavy piece of metal that had broken the window to her side as she ran, hoping that this particular wendigo was not able to climb well. Hearing the snarl of alarm that went up behind her she felt the wash of adrenaline move through her system as she hurtled over the median of the highway. She didn't trust herself to look back and, instead, scanned the buildings nearby for somewhere to climb.

There was no thought of "There," or anything like that. She just saw an opportunity and angled towards it. There was a tree that she was pretty sure she could grab and start climbing. Going from there she would be able to leap to the balcony for an apartment on the second floor. Hopefully this wendigo couldn't climb. She should be able to get away from this.

The sound of her boots pounding on pavement and a number of bestial sounds were a soundtrack for her flight, her headphones had fallen out and trailed behind her. She got closer and closer to the tree, knowing that she had only one shot at this she leapt, swung from the branch and crashed into the balcony railing. Scrambling with her hands she grabbed the metal bars, ignoring the shooting pain from her knees and elbows. She tried to pull herself up, bracing for the feeling of claws tearing through her pants, tearing into her legs. It never came though as she pulled herself up with mere moments to spare and threw herself over the top of the balcony railing, jarring hard into the concrete floor and the window.

Lying on the cold surface, she finally took a moment to feel pain, and started shaking. She was familiar with this feeling, but that didn't make it any more pleasant. It was adrenaline leaving her system as she had finally reached what was a modicum of safety. That was alright. She heard the continued growls and snorts of the creature below. It couldn't climb. That was good. She could settle for now and figure out next steps.

Keeping low, she hoped that the creature would eventually grow frustrated enough by its lack of prey to move on, she inched over to the balcony door. She had learned long ago from moving into and out of these abandoned buildings that they tended to be very simple in their designs; many of the apartments would be copies or mirror images. She could, at the least, find somewhere to bed down for the night if the wendigo didn't wander off. Having to deal with the scolding she would assuredly get in the morning wasn't something she looked forward to, but better to be yelled at than to be dead.

She quietly opened the door leading from the balcony into the apartment. It was, as she predicted, like many places had been abandoned. Too many people had looted their place for things they thought irreplaceable, and didn't take enough that was practical. This had been a harsh lesson that had been drilled into her throughout her life. It did, however, mean that these places usually had canned food left. Avoiding the fridge, people often left things in there that time had not been kind to, she checked the cupboards. A cursory glance revealed that there were at least some canned goods left behind, and not too many moldy potatoes. Good. That was breakfast sorted. The last traces of adrenaline still pumped through her system as she did a quick survey of the apartment while keeping an ear and an eye on the open door from the balcony. So could hear the wendigo was still outside and trying to find a way in, but remained unsuccessful.

The apartment was a small, one bedroom affair. The door was locked, check. She tested the lock a few times to make sure that it would slide open quickly and easily in case she had to make a sudden escape. The bathroom was unremarkable except for a burgeoning silverfish population. She wrinkled her nose, she thought the bugs to be gross, but not worth finding a new place to sleep over. She checked the bedroom last, making sure that there were no bedbugs. Silverfish she could handle, but bedbugs could give you a bunch of nasty bites that had a slim, but not nonexistant, chance of getting infected. Plus, the thought of them crawling over her while she slept was too much. Thankfully, there didn't appear to be any bedbugs after her check. Having completed her mental checklist, she started to yawn in spite of herself. The excitement having worn off and the wendigo wandered away sometime during her investigation of the bedroom. She closed the balcony door and wedged an end-table into the track so it couldn't be opened. Someone would have to smash their way in and that would wake her.

Secure, and comfortable with the level of fauna that was inhabiting the place, Cait settled down under the blankets that someone had left behind, another bizarre thing that people never thought to take, and fell asleep.