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"Don't touch me!"

"I thought." 

"No you didn't." Lani watched the pain shoot up Neddy's arm and into his face. She let go of her palm grip on him and rolled up onto her feet. 

"Guess you're not interested." He sighed, hugging his injured hand. "I'm not going to be much of a shooter with a crippled hand." She smiled happily and struck his shoulder with the flat edge of her hand numbing it with the blow. "Feeling will come back in a couple of minutes. I just hope yours don't. I'm not a party girl."

She'd allowed him to lead the way deeper into the building. He'd taken her into one of the hotel rooms and in the darkness, made his advances. She sat back down on the bed as she heard him move to the other one. Coming here was a good plan although done on impulse. 

Hunting two people in the maze of hundreds of rooms at night would take forever as long as the two of them were careful. Of course, there was the problem of food. For the moment, though, they were safe as they were going to get unless the fire got out of control.

"Why'd you do it?" Neddy asked.

"You're insurance."

"For what?" He was curious.

"I want time ... and you're going to give that to me. I want out of here, but I'm not ready yet." 

The thought intrigued him. He hadn't thought of there being anything other than the organization, and look what had happened to it. He didn't feel ashamed of falling apart there on the balcony nor of what he'd wanted here in the darkness. What was left? It was dreams that got you killed. Still, he was curious.

"What do you want me to do?"

"Just do what you do best, Neddy."

They were quiet then, each going deep in themselves, cuddled inside the darkness. It didn't pay to think about life before the collapse. It was enough to be warm and have a full belly. If you were lucky, you thought about where the cache of food and meager supplies was hidden and wondered if anyone would find it before you did.

"You hear it?"

"Yeah, I'm awake."

"Let's go."

The mob had dogs and torches. The rats in the building were slowing them down and making the dogs noisy. Neddy felt dizzy. It seemed like he'd barely fallen asleep. "We going into the air shaft?" He'd heard Lani preparing the escape route just before he'd slumbered.

"Unless you have a better idea." She sounded irritated. He handed up their supplies and followed them up as the men and dogs came into their hallway. He heard the sound of one of them kicking a dog in the side before it could chase after another rat. Things were not going well at all for chaos. Neddy helped Lani move the panel back into place and they both waited.

With nothing else to do, they took turns sleeping until the thin rays of sunlight broke through the grill. It would make it harder getting away. It seemed like the entire mob of foragers were taking up residence inside the hotel. Lani turned and began crawling through the airspace past the wail of infants and mothers. She was on edge, wondering if she'd made the right decision after all.

This time the rats squealed on them, literally. Neddy had moved ahead as they struggled past the elevator shaft. Armed guards were checking the outlet or Lani had planned on moving down a few levels. 

Their knees and hands were cut and bruised from crawling through the steel passage ways. Neddy had turned a corner and there was a nest. He couldn't back out fast enough but once he turned the corner Lani was in the way and the elevator shaft just behind them.

The squealing of the enraged rats, inflamed by the scent of blood, echoed down to where the hunters were. 

"Go tell Cheeta' We got them!" 

Lani dropped down almost on top of one of their heads, immediately swinging a powerful kick against his chest. The man struggled to catch his breath as he raised an old fashioned machete to protect himself. The other guard had taken the hint and was racing down the long corridor screaming his head off.

"Let him go." Neddy nodded at the man facing Lani as he landed down beside her with a rat still clinging to his arm. Using the stock of his rifle like a club, he swung it up against the downward racing machete and Lani stepped in to snap the man's neck with a quick twist of her hands.

Neddy picked up the machete and butchered the still clinging rat. 

"It's nothing. Let's go." He wrapped his torn shirt sleeve tightly around the swollen bite, keeping the dead rat for a future quickly cooked meal. 

The sound of racing footsteps was coming from both ends of the hall. They looked at each other and grinned. "Time for another dead man's bluff." Neddy nodded. They hoisted the corpse up and tossed it down the elevator shaft waiting for the sound of bullets.

"Nothing. Let's go." 

"You first..." Neddy griped his bad arm and wondered if he'd be able to hold on to the cabling. In spite of wrapping it, his arm and hand was sticky with blood. 

"We're going down all the way."

He nodded and followed her, not daring to look down. He wrapped his legs around the inch thick cable and used his boots for brakes to keep from striking Lani as they slid noiselessly down past level after level until they finally landed on top of the elevator itself in the basement.

They looked up just in time to see the vague outline of hunters highlighted several floors above. It was too dark where Neddy and Lani were to be seen.

"Can you get it?" Neddy whispered in the gloom as Lani tugged with her bare hands at the top of the elevator emergency latch.

"It's frozen. Help me." She moved aside to let the big man reach down between her arms with one powerful hand and together they yanked.

Dust flew up as the emergency door came loose. They were both down inside staring at the closed elevator doors that kept them imprisoned in the box. Bullets were winging down and richoting above them. Once again, Neddy used his muscle to pry the doors sullenly open with the end of his barrel. Lani slipped through, dragging the supplies she'd managed to carry with her. Desperately she searched and found an old hat rack and wedged it in the doorway as Neddy pushed underneath it into freedom.

"Where are we?"

"I don't know, but we're alone."

Neddy turned back and kicked the hat rack away as Lani looked around them.

"See anything?" 

"No. Shhhh... Listen." 

Water was moving somewhere around them. A lot of water. Neddy leaned back against the cold cement wall as Lani fought open one of the bags and dug out matches. The tiny light flared up creating instant shadows.
"Give me you shirt." Neddy whispered. 

"You would think of that, brave man." But she complied, taking off her shirt and balling it along with his around the end of Neddy's rifle barrel for a makeshift torch. Several old trucks were parked in well kept rows next to a dock. The water swirled waist high as they slipped down into it. It was cold but they barely felt the current. With the makeshift torch overhead, Lani led the way, following the current, whispering against her bare midriff. 

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Shades of Fantasy

Revised: March 6, 1999
Copyright ©1999. All rights reserved