Grasping the edge of the crumbling desk with her good hand, Emily hauled herself to her feet. The room wavered again, and a crackling noise filled her head, like the white noise on a stuck channel of an old television. It grew in volume, and it was only when she shook her head once, twice, that she realized it wasn’t the rattling of her own brain, but tires crunching over ice and gravel instead.
Forgetting about her arm, she flung herself to the ground next to Song. Something large parked right outside: she could see it through the crack in the door, out over the ruined shop floor and through the gaping glass that faced out on the driveway.
The chair was still shoved in place against the door, but it offered little comfort. Chin pressed uncomfortably to the cement floor, her fingers crept in the direction of her deflated backpack, seeking out the slickness of the zipper pull. Gritting her teeth, she tugged at it, inching it open just enough to push her hand in, and locate the gun.
The chamber was empty: it had been for weeks, her last bullet wasted on a shadow that turned out to be nothing more than a rotted tree stump. Still, there was comfort in the cold metal, the heft of the thing, that she wouldn’t have believed in her life before.
The crunch of footsteps traveled around the side of the building, drifted away, came back into sudden and amplified sound. They were careful, she noted, checking the vicinity, something she’d not had the wherewithal to do when she found the place. The sound moved closer, and she pulled up her shoulders, sank down along the wall and held her breath. There was the sound of a door creaking, then the crunch of boots on broken glass. For a heartbeat, then another, she allowed herself to hope they would go unnoticed, that whoever it was would see the ransacked place and move on. But then the handle moved, and the door shook under the impact of force.
“Don’t come in here!” Her voice was raw, high-pitched, nasal, but her clipped British accent and the sheer lack of anything to lose gave her a more threatening quality than she could have hoped for. “I’m armed.”
A second ticked by in silence, then another.
She actually jumped when a voice called out: “I’m sure you are.”
The gun shook in her hand. Swallowing the bile creeping up her throat again, she leaned closer to the door to look out the crack, at the dark patch the person made on the other side.
“I am too,” the voice announced; it was male, and there was some accent she couldn’t place, though her brain spun up and then clung to it, stupidly obsessive, trying to place it.
“I don’t want to shoot anyone,” he went on, inexplicably. “I’m guessing you don’t want to, either. I’m not here to hurt you.”
He tried the handle again, the chair held and Emily wheezed a sigh of relief, until a movement caught her eye. It was tilting further, slipped out from under the handle and then landed with a clatter on the concrete floor. Song stirred beside her; she clutched the gun harder, tried to hold it steady, but her eyes were blurring.
“Drop your gun.” She sounded silly, like a girl dressed in period clothes auditioning for a cop show, and, truly, the words were something she remembered from a movie, sometime, somewhere. “Or I’ll shoot.”
The door didn’t open, and she heard something click against the floor outside; she didn’t dare inch closer to the door again to look.
“Hands up,” she said, then, unblinking, eyes burning. She felt wild and delirious, suddenly powerful. “Say you have your hands up.”
She could hear a cough, but then he replied: “I got my hands up.”
Shifting onto her knees, she scuttled close to the door and reached for the knob. There was that sense again, the one that said they were about to die, but this one felt much more comfortable, more acceptable, than freezing to death. Was this really the person she’d become?
“Step away from the door, away from the gun.”
She heard the sound of boots again, heavy and slow, then closed her eyes, sent a silent thought back to Song, to Sullivan and pushed the door open.