Gretel thought they should keep going. Felix wanted to stay. They argued in hushed whispers upstairs while Bree stayed in her basement sanctuary.
“She’s nuts,” said Gretel.
“Didn’t you say we’re all nuts?” he replied.
“Yes, but she’s a special kind of nuts. She’s going to kill us if we stick around. I was worried about you killing me, and you’re stable. But she’s strange. And I don’t trust her.”
“You’re saying you trust me then?”
She didn’t answer that question. “This lady is out of her head, and if you think I’m going to stick around, waiting for her to stab me in my sleep, then you’re more nuts than she is.”
“We need her to survive the worms.”
“We already know how to cope with that. We eat the string beans and corn.”
“There might be more to it than that.”
“So we ask her to give us the lowdown before we move on.”
“What if she wants to come with us?” he asked.
“We tell her no. Shouldn’t be a problem.” Gretel smiled. “Unless you think she’s dangerous.”
The conversation would loop around to the beginning, and they would argue the same points again. The words might change, but it kept coming back to whether or not they could trust Bree. Gretel didn’t. Felix didn’t either. It was why he had trouble winning the debate. He more or less agreed with every reason she had.
At the end of the fourth round of their circular argument, he stopped trying to be logical.
“We found her for a reason. I’m not leaving her behind.”
Gretel sighed. “Felix, I like you, man. I really do. I’m pretty sure you’re not going to shoot me in the back, and even if you tried, I’m absolutely positive you’d screw it up and I could kill you easily enough. But you’ve got to get this Everything Happens for a Reason bullshit out of your head.”
“I never said Everything. I don’t think much of this has a reason behind it. But some of it does. And I think finding each other is one of those things.”
He put a hand on her shoulder. Actually, he only considered it because he wasn’t at all certain she wouldn’t punch him at any attempt at contact. That was the problem. As much as he wanted to argue with her, he still had the gnawing instinct that they were more of a danger to each other than any of the doomsdays they faced. Doomsdays had rules.
People were unpredictable.
She said, “All right. We’ll stick around for a day. Two at most. Then I’m leaving. I’m going to find that wall. With or without you. I still think you’re out of your mind though.”
He smiled. “Thanks.”
“But if she shoots us tomorrow . . . . ”
Gretel didn’t smile, but he liked to imagine that maybe she thought about smiling. “I’ll hold you to that, Champ.”
The rest of the day with Bree wasn’t very interesting. They watched the zombies milling around on the street. There wasn’t much in the way of conversation because conversation was extraordinarily difficult with no past to talk about..
In movies, Felix’s only frame of reference, people could usually trade stories about where they grew up, their family, or something weird that happened to them in college. Anything, really. But with no life before these doomsdays, they had no amusing or interesting tales to share.
He tried talking to Gretel and Bree anyway, but neither of them was interested in exchanging more than a few words. He decided he was the well-adjusted one among this group, and that frightened the hell out of him.
This was why Felix preferred fiction. The boring parts were edited out, and if his life were a film, the writer would jump to the next interesting part.
There was no such convenience for him. He had to wait out the hours. He found an empty apartment on the second floor and spent most of the night sitting with the cat, waiting for the reset. He didn’t know where Gretel or Bree spent their night. Truthfully, he was happy for the time alone.
It was just so much pressure to keep holding things together, and frustrating because he wasn’t sure what he was holding together or why he kept trying, other than he thought he should. Other than knowing the alternative was to be alone again.
“Doomsday sucks,” he told the cat.
Felix didn’t make it to bed. He fell asleep on the couch, and awoke to the sounds of terrible shrieking.
The cat hissed, darting behind the couch. He went to the window and took a peek.
Great flying reptiles filled the skies. They came in a thousand shapes and sizes. Bulky beasts with glittering red scales and great leather wings, like something out of a fairy tale. Long and serpentine and swimming through the air as if it were water like the Asian varieties. Some were no bigger than dogs. One landed atop a thirty story building and howled. It looked more like a science fiction alien version of a dragon than a traditional mythic variety. Its body was covered in black quills, and instead of jaws, its mouths was a whirling Cuisinart from a nightmare.
Felix ran downstairs. He tried Bree’s basement door, but it was locked. He pounded on it until she answered. She opened it only a fraction of an inch.
“There are dragons!” he said.
“Yes. What’s the problem? You ate your ration, didn’t you?”
He leaned against the door, forcing it open a little wider. “You said your thing was worms.”
“Wyrms from the Old English as in a great serpent.” The tone in Bree’s voice made clear she thought he was the stupid one.
“Why would you call them wyrms when they’re dragons?” he asked.
Bree kept her tone. “I like the sound of it better. Why do you care?”
Gretel came downstairs. “There’s a swarm of dragons out there. She didn’t say anything about dragons.”
“It’s Old English–” Felix stopped himself. “ . . . . never mind.”
Bree opened the door wide. “If you ate your green beans and corn, everything will be fine. So wait a second. You thought I was talking about worms. Little squiggly things that come out after it rains?”
Again, she used that voice that made him feel like an idiot.
He said, “I assumed they were giant or poisonous or something.”
“Nope. Big flying lizards. Some of them do breathe poison though. Or acid. Or lightning. Probably other stuff as well, though I haven’t catalogued it all. They stay up there and I stay down here.”
Felix watched from the window. There were hundreds of the creatures, and he had no doubt that if they descended to the streets, they’d tear through the city with ease.
“They never come down here?” he asked.
“Usually one or two will stray lower, do some sniffing around, but the beans and corn mask my scent. Or something.”
“How’d you figure that out?”
“I don’t remember, but it works.”
He hadn’t expected an answer.
Bree opened the basement door. “Well, you better get down here.”
“I thought you said they’d leave us alone,” said Gretel.
“They do. Usually. Doesn’t hurt to play it safe.”
Gretel hesitated. “If those things attack, we could all end up trapped in there.”
“It’s your decision,” said Bree. “How about you, Felix?”
He was torn, but this was her doomsday. She should know how to survive it.
A shriek rattled the windows. Felix and Gretel moved over to take a look as two dragons descended from the sky. They were a mismatched pair. One was long, lean, and green with feathery wings. The other was round, red, and had large black wings. They soared downward, bumping into each other, snapping and snarling, like the Laurel and Hardy of mythological monsters.
They hit the street a few blocks away from the building. The round one bounced a few times.
“I thought you said they wouldn’t detect us,” said Gretel.
Bree took one step out the basement door. ““They don’t. Usually. You both ate your corn and beans?”
The thin dragon warbled.
“Are you lying to me?”
“For the last time, we ate it all,” said Gretel. “Every drop of creamed corn. Every disgusting bean. I fucking hate string beans, but I ate the stuff.”
The dragons moved closer. The round one sniffed the concrete, and his partner followed after him as they drew closer.
“The cat,” said Felix. “We didn’t make it eat.”
He couldn’t believe he’d overlooked it. It just seemed like such a silly thing to do, but he hadn’t even thought about it.
Felix started upstairs to the second story apartment he’d picked out. Gretel grabbed his arm. “Don’t be stupid, Felix.”
“It’ll be fine,” said Bree. “Now get in the basement. Last chance.”
“I can’t. Not without the cat.”
He bolted upstairs. Even as he did it, he knew how stupid it was. But the cat needed him in a way that nothing else in this city did. He couldn’t abandon it to be devoured by dragons.
He shouted for the cat, wishing he’d given it a name now. He checked behind the couch, under the bed, and any other nook and cranny. It was nowhere to be found.
A shadow passed over the windows. The dragons shrieked.
“You’re going to die for a stupid cat?” asked Gretel from the doorway. “Are you a goddamn moron?”
“Either help me find it or go hide with Bree.”
The dragons thudded against the wall, knocking pictures down and cracking the drywall.
“Here, kitty, kitty,” whispered Felix through clenched teeth. He lay flat on the floor, glancing around. “Here, you ungrateful fleabag.”
Gretel crawled alongside him. “This is ridiculous. I can’t believe I’m doing this.”
Sticking low to the floor, they scoured the apartment as the terrible lizards lurked just outside, more curious than aggressive at the moment.
“This is what happens when you feed a cat too much,” said Gretel. “They start taking you for granted.”
“Not the right time for a lecture,” he replied.
She wasn’t wrong. Why the hell should the cat worry about robots, dragons, or zombies? Not while good ol’ Felix was around to keep those problems at bay.
The duffel bag sat beside the couch. Felix crawled across the floor to pick it up. He’d need it when he finally found the presumptuous feline.
The dragons roared as the thin, green one smashed a window and stuck its long arm into the apartment. Gretel jumped out of the way as it felt around blindly. Its claws pierced the couch, and it dragged it across the room. Felix scrambled away with the duffel as the dragon shredded the furniture and bashed it over and over again in an attempt to squeeze it through the window.
The cat stuck its head out of the duffel bag.
“How long have you been in there?”
It offered forth a condescending meow before ducking back in the bag.
“Yeah, I’m the asshole.”
He zipped up the bag, and they slunk toward the exit. Each step, he debated whether it would be wiser to creep or run, but as long as the dragons were playing with the couch, he saw no reason to draw their attention.
With a furious howl, the couch flew across the room. The green dragon pushed its head halfway through the window. Its long, narrow snout snorted. Its jaws smacked, and it ran its pink tongue across the floor.
Felix and Gretel hurried downstairs. Not walking. Not running. The round red dragon fluttered past a window in the hallway. He was proud of how calm he was, but there was no reason he shouldn’t be. This was his life. He’d gotten used to it.
Bree had barred her basement door.
He knocked. “Hey, let us in.”
“It’s too late for that,” she said from the other side. “You made your choice.”
“Shit.” He tried avoiding eye contact with Gretel, but he could still feel her staring him down.
“Your goddamn cat is about to get us killed,” she said.
The building’s front door smashed to splinters and the skinny serpent tried to squeeze through. Its wings got in the way. It couldn’t reach with its snapping jaws, but it was only a matter of time before the wall gave way.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Gretel shoved him aside and pounded on the door. “I am not going to die for a goddamn cat! Open this door, you crazy bitch!”
“That might not win her over.”
She kicked the door three times then drew her gun and fired the entire clip at the dragon’s face. Howling, it withdrew. Splotches of bright emerald blood stained the carpeting. Felix dared hope the monster took the hint, but it renewed the assault. Every blow threatened to knock the wall in.
He nudged Gretel aside and spoke to the door in his calmest voice. With all the noise, Bree wouldn’t hear him unless she was right on the other side, but if she wasn’t, she’d already decided she wasn’t going to open the door.
“Open the door,” he said. “Please, Bree.”
He thought of everything he could add, but it came down to whether she had it in her to allow two people to die out here. He didn’t know her well enough to guess.
Bree door opened. “Quick. Before I change my mind.”
Once inside, she barred the door again. Felix didn’t have much faith in their basement shelter. The dragons could dig them out in maybe an hour. Maybe less.
“So now we’re going to die down here,” grumbled Gretel. “You should’ve left the cat outside.”
“It’s not the cat,” said Bree. “The wyrms don’t give a damn about cats. Did you eat your rations?”
“We’re not idiots,” said Felix. “We followed your rules.”
A loud crash rattled the building. The wall must’ve finally fallen in. They were all deathly quiet, listening for the sound of monsters at the basement door. A low growl and snort told them the dragons had found them.
Bree grabbed Felix by the collar. “Did you eat your rations? Don’t lie to me.”
“Yes, two cans of string beans, one can of creamed corn!” he shouted back.
The dragon scraped the heavy metal door with their claws.
She turned on Gretel. Both drew their pistols and pointed them at each other.
“Whoa whoa!” said Felix. “Everybody needs to stay calm.”
“You need to stay calm.” Bree’s gasmask made her words a growl. “I’m calm, and I know that one of you bastards didn’t eat your ration. And if it’s not you, it’s got to be her then.”
“I’m telling you, it’s the cat,” said Gretel. “Give them the cat, and we’ll be safe.”
“And I’m telling you, they don’t give a damn about cats. They smell one of you.”
Gretel nodded toward Felix. “How do you know it’s not him?”
“Because you’re the one with the gun pointed at me,” replied Bree.
“You pointed your gun at me first.”
A blow from outside dented the door, but it held for now.
Felix stepped between Gretel and Bree.
“We aren’t doing this. We aren’t turning on each other. It’s a stupid cliché, and I’m not going to die because you two aren’t willing to trust each other.”
Bree and Gretel lowered their guns with far more reluctance than was reasonable.
“I ate the corn and the string beans,” said Gretel.
“All of them?” asked Bree.
“All of them?” asked Felix.
“Most of them. There might have been a few beans left in the can. Not many.” She shrugged. “Maybe a sixth.”
The door’s top hinge broke. The dragons’ snorted loudly.
“You can’t blame me.” Gretel’s face twisted into a scowl. “String beans are disgusting.”
With the precision of a military operative, Bree grabbed a can off the shelf, opened it, and handed it to Gretel, along with a fork.
“Eat the beans,” said Bree.
Gretel eyed the door like she was considering making a run for it.
She stabbed her fork into the beans and shoveled them down, swallowing without chewing, suppressing her gag reflex. By the sixth bite, the dragons quieted. By the fifteenth, their rapid, hungry breaths calmed. Halfway through the can, they lost interest. Felix, Gretel, and Bree waited an hour before checking, but when they did dare open the door, the dragons were gone.
“I can’t believe you almost died because you don’t like string beans,” said Felix.
“Says the guy who was willing to die to save a cat,” said Gretel.
The cat wandered past her and rubbed against Felix’s legs. It was only hungry, but he liked to believe it cared for him as much as he for it.
“Anyway, I don’t dislike string beans, champ.” She smacked her lips and stuck out her tongue. “I fucking hate the things.”