Drake and the Fliers

By: Allison Maruska

Chapter One



Drake glanced over his shoulder and entered the office tower through the broken window. Dirt and glass crunched under his shoes, and he stole another look behind him when he reached the stairwell.

No one followed.

He adjusted his backpack, exhaled, and clicked on his flashlight as he took the first step to the twenty-eighth floor.

It was as good a place to live as any. Though after the power quit, and leaving the building required hiking down and back up three hundred ninety-two steps, he’d considered finding a home closer to the ground. He stayed on the upper floor because no one knew he lived there.

Plus, it was the last place he and Kelsey had been together.

He hustled up the switchback staircase, pausing on the west landings, each one brightened by the sun shining through a small window. Pointing his flashlight up the stairs towards each east landing, he prayed the beam would fall on an empty space. The possibility of finding someone hiding there made his heart race at every turn.

When Drake neared the tenth floor, a bang echoed from the base of the stairwell.

He froze, then clicked off the flashlight, leaned over the rail, and strained to see anything in the dark half of the stairs. Motionless, he held his breath and listened.

Silence.

Must not have shut the door all the way.

He exhaled and continued up the stairs. The soles of his Converse sneakers made a soft scraping sound, frustrating his attempt to listen for more unusual noises.

He reached his floor and entered the office, bright from the late afternoon sun shining through the large windows. After he opened a bottle of water from his backpack and took a drink, he tossed the rest of the bottles into the closet where he kept his rations. He scowled at the mess and spent a few minutes organizing it. Satisfied with his work, he grabbed a packet of beef jerky, shut the door, and turned around.

“Hey, Ponytail.”

Drake yelled and fell back against the door.

The black-haired guy stood before him, flanked by the skinny blonde girl and the pimply brown-haired guy. “I knew we’d find you eventually.”

Drake’s heart pounded, but he stood taller. “What the hell do you want?” The shakiness in his voice betrayed the confidence he tried to fake.

“What kind of greeting is that? Didn’t your mom teach you any manners?”

The other two laughed.

How did they sneak up on him? He’d watched out for them since they terrorized a girl on the street a few days ago. They must have stationed themselves near the building and waited for him to return.

To Drake’s surprise, the guy held out a hand. “I’m Zeke.” His collared shirt and neat hair made him look like the leader of his school’s chess club, not the leader of a street gang.

Drake glanced at Zeke’s hand and stepped forward to cut through the group.

Zeke blocked his path. “Come on, man. Why hang out here by yourself? You’re not the only survivor.” His proximity and tone reminded Drake of that jerk in ninth grade who’d tried to pressure him into sharing test answers.

“I know that.” Drake stepped sideways to walk around the group again.

Zeke nodded, and the other two grabbed Drake’s arms. Drake pulled against them, giving more force to the girl’s side, thinking he could pull free. Pain shot up his neck when she squeezed a nerve near his elbow.

“You should hang with us now,” Zeke said.

“What for?”

Zeke walked to the desk and crouched behind it. Moments later, he popped up holding a computer tower.

“You’re stealing that? It’s useless.”

“I’m not stealing it.” Zeke lifted the tower over his head, walked to the window, and threw it.

The glass shattered, and Drake held his breath. Weren’t these high rise windows supposed to be unbreakable?

Zeke stomped towards Drake. “How about now?”

“How is breaking my stuff supposed to convince me to go with you?”

“Your stuff?” Zeke grabbed the leather chair from behind the desk and grunted as he heaved it through another floor-length pane. Jagged shards of glass remained in the top of the frame. “We’re just offering easy access.”

“Easy access to what?” Drake tried to swallow the lump in his throat.

The other two thugs laughed again. Maybe Zeke kept them around for this purpose.

“I tried being friendly, but you didn’t want to play it that way, Ponytail.” Zeke looked at the broken pane before he approached Drake and leaned in; his gross Cheeto breath wafted over Drake’s face. “The world’s started over, and someone needs to take charge. Might as well be us.” He plucked a marble paper weight from the desk and tossed it in his hand like a baseball. “You changed yet?”

“Changed?” Drake scowled. He didn’t survive the virus to be bossed around by this jerk. “Screw you.”

Zeke hurled the weight through the next window. Drake hoped he would run out of ammo before breaking all fifteen windows in the corner office.

The pimply guy planted a fist in Drake’s gut, sending a bolt of pain through him. Drake doubled over and coughed, unable to pull in an adequate breath, as the trio took his things and broke more windows.

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