You Taste So Sweet
by Erin M. Leaf
eBook ISBN: 9781771306973
When an exploding meteor infects the world with a zombie virus, Lark knows survival will be tough. Her roommate and best friend insists that her father and his friend will come and save them, but Lark isn’t sure if she wants to put her life into the hands of strangers.
Evernight Publishing ‖ ARe ‖ Bookstrand ‖ Kindle
“Olivia, they’re coming up the outside walls!” Lark yelled, gripping the bat in her right hand so tightly she couldn’t feel her fingertips anymore. Her heart beat so hard her head swam, but she refused to let the adrenaline rushing through her system freak her out. She couldn’t afford to let her guard down. Maybe if she lived through this she could have a good cry later, but for now… She glanced out the window, pressing her lips together as the zombies literally climbed up the sheer brick face of the dorm. “Shit! Get the hairspray. We need to burn them.”
Olivia was directly behind her in the room and her best friend was breathing way too fast. If Olivia kept it up, she’d hyperventilate. That would be bad. Lark couldn’t handle the zombies by herself. “Where’s the lighter?” she asked, hoping to distract her roommate enough to calm her down. “Grab it for me, too. No, wait, it’s in my pocket.” She fumbled it out, willing herself to be calm. If she dropped it now, she’d have to duck down to pick it up. She did not want to do that. The zombie below her bared his jagged teeth and she fought down a shudder of revulsion.
“I don’t know where the hairspray is! I can’t find it.”
Lark listened to Olivia rummaging around in the nightstand. “Hurry,” she urged, staring at the rotting face only a floor below her. He sniffed and she swallowed hard. He could smell her. Not good.
Olivia cursed. “We don’t have enough hairspray to do any good. It’s our last bottle. Forget it, just shut the window,” she said, frantic. “We can’t risk it. My dad is coming—”
“Olivia, I swear to God, get the damn hairspray. We don’t have time to argue about this.” Lark held out a hand, not even looking to make sure Olivia listened. She couldn’t take her eyes off the creatures directly below them. They were hideous: grey faces under scraggly hair, chunks of skin missing. Every time she remembered that they were once human, and that some of them might have been her friends, she wanted to vomit.
Focus, Lark. No time to think of that now! she told herself, not for the first time. She adjusted her grip on the bat, making sure she had a good hold. When Olivia slipped the cool bottle of hairspray into her free palm, she tucked the bat under her arm and flicked her lighter on in one smooth motion. “Stand back,” she warned, then leaned out the window, lighting the aerosol. A tongue of flame shot down, catching the last bits of ivy still clinging to the brick. It also caught the three zombies clawing their way up. Their bodies flared, heat rising so fast Lark had to duck back inside before she could tell if she’d got them all. She slammed the window shut, hands shaking.
“Are you okay?” Olivia asked.
“Jesus, Olivia. That was close,” Lark replied, slumping down. “Why didn’t you give me the can sooner?”
“My dad is coming,” Olivia insisted again. “He’ll save us.”
Lark didn’t know what that had to do with anything. She still had to keep the damn zombies from getting in now—they’d almost come up to their freaking window! She eyed her friend tiredly: Olivia’s light brown hair was haphazardly tied back and her fading summer tan didn’t disguise the exhaustion in her face. Her red-rimmed green eyes glanced away apologetically when she saw Lark glaring at her. Lark was fairly certain she looked just as bad. She sighed. Olivia couldn’t change who she was just because the world was ending. She depended on her dad. Lark’s parents were dead so she was a lot more used to taking care of herself than Olivia.
“Even if he’s coming, that doesn’t mean I want to get eaten before he gets here,” Lark offered, shifted the bat back into her hands. No telling how soon she’d need it again.
Olivia gave her a shaky smile. “Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.” She ran a shaky hand over her hair. “I’m just so tired. We haven’t slept in two days.”
Lark rolled her shoulders, trying to relieve the muscle ache from using the bat. “Doesn’t matter. If we want to live, we stay awake.”
“I don’t know if I want to live anymore,” came the soft answer.
Anger rushed through her and Lark shot to her feet. “Shut up! Just… No. We are going to live. What would your dad say if he could hear you? Your Uncle Dillon?” She’d never met Olivia’s dad and his best friend, but from what Olivia had told her, they sounded like good people. “How can you even say that?”
Olivia had turned away. “I dunno. My mom’s gone already, and now I think it’s a blessing. It sucked at the time, you know. Her dying.” She glanced over her shoulder at Lark.
Lark did know. Her parents had died in a freak carbon monoxide accident three years ago when she was nineteen. She’d missed a year of college trying to deal with everything. “Yeah, I know, but that doesn’t mean you should just give up, Olivia.”
Olivia lifted a shoulder. “It sure would be easier.” She moved to the window and peered out. “The ivy is still burning.”
Lark bit her lip, trying to figure out what to say. Olivia had always been like this: fine one moment, depressed the next. She’d taken her mother’s death from cancer hard. Even so, Lark didn’t understand why Olivia found it so easy to just let herself disappear. She’d done it before—forgetting to eat. Not getting out of bed. Even after all Lark had been through, she didn’t react like that. Sometimes it made it hard to be Olivia’s friend.
“I hope the building doesn’t catch fire,” Olivia murmured. She was leaning against the windowsill now, as if zombies hadn’t just tried to climb in that very spot.
“Stop it, Olivia. You drive me crazy,” Lark said, using the only weapon she had left to cheer up her friend. She poked her until Olivia laughed.
“Okay, okay. I’ll be good. Give me some of that chocolate,” Olivia said.
Lark dug under the mattress and pulled out their last bar. “This is it, you know.”
Olivia nodded solemnly. “Well, if you hadn’t barricaded the floor, we’d be able to check the vending machines downstairs.
“Oh please, this again? We would’ve died if we hadn’t closed off the doors. We were lucky the dorm was mostly empty because of the football game or we would never have been able to lock ourselves in here.” Lark absently broke the candy bar in half as she remembered dragging heavy furniture out of the lounge to put in front of the stairwell doors. They’d kept themselves alive for four days now. She wasn’t sure how much longer they could last without doing something drastic. She offered Olivia some of the candy and then flopped down on the bed.
“Yeah. Lucky,” Olivia said flatly, nibbling on the chocolate.
Lark rolled her eyes. She wasn’t sure if it was because she was a little older— because twenty-two is so old, she thought sarcastically—or if it was because she’d been fending for herself for so long, but she wasn’t as fatalistic about life as Olivia. She wanted to live. She’d worked her ass off after high school, after her parents died, saving for college. She was older than most of the rest of the students in her year, but she didn’t care. Her parents would have wanted her to do everything she could to have a life. She knew it.
“When was the last time you heard from your dad?” she asked Olivia, trying to distract her friend with something positive.
“Two days ago.”
“Two days ago. Okay,” Lark repeated. “So, he’ll be here really soon. The meteor fell, what, a couple weeks ago?”
“Yeah. If he’s still alive,” Olivia said, predictably.
“You can’t think like that, Olivia. We know a few things: the meteor was as big as the one that hit Russia last year. It broke apart in the atmosphere and managed to infect a large part of the population with…” Here she paused, trying to think of a way to put it. “With something that turns people into zombies, as ridiculous as that sounds.”
“It was ridiculous until it started spreading,” Olivia muttered. “And they started eating people. Then it went from ridiculous to horrible.”
Lark ignored her and kept talking. “Your dad got in touch with you before we lost the phones, and that was only a few days ago. Don’t forget, he’s coming from where? Outside Philadelphia?”
Olivia nodded. “There is no way he’s going to make it. We’re on the other side of the state from there. If he was going to make it, he’d be here already,” she said, contradicting what she’d said just a few minutes ago.
Lark drew breath to sigh again, loud and dramatic so that Olivia would know how aggravated she was, but a loud boom from the hall made her flinch.
“What was that?” Olivia asked, her voice rising. “Oh my God, what was that?” She stood up and wrapped her arms around herself, eyes wide. The chocolate she’d been holding fell to the floor.
Lark pushed herself up from the bed, stuffing the last of the chocolate into her mouth. “I’ll go see,” she mumbled through the sweet treat.
“Oh, God. Be careful, Lark,” Olivia said, going with her to the door. The boom sounded again.
“I think someone’s knocking on the stairwell door,” Lark said, opening their door and peering into the hall. It was dark; only the emergency lighting still worked. The audio-visual armoire she’d dragged in front of the metal door was still secure.
“I’m going to bang on it,” she said, edging into the hall. She checked both ways, still paranoid that something might have gotten in, but there was no sign of anything. She took a deep breath and walked down to the armoire. It wasn’t far from their door because the floor’s lounge was only a few rooms down from them. When she got to the door, she lifted her bat and banged on the top part, barely visible behind the furniture.
When another boom-boom-boom came from the door, she jumped. She could hear some muffled shouting. “Is anyone there?” she yelled.
“Olivia?” a man’s voice called through the thick metal door.
“Oh my God, I think it’s your dad,” she called to her friend. Her heart had started banging against her ribs again. Zombies didn’t talk. Even if it wasn’t Olivia’s dad, he was human. She had to let him in. “I’m going to move the armoire.”
“Are you sure?” Olivia came out into the hall.
“No, don’t come out here! Stay in the room. Seriously, Olivia. We can’t risk both of us and if it isn’t your dad…” she trailed off, knowing Olivia would understand all the things she didn’t say. Things like: At least you have family and If I die, no one will miss me.
The boom sounded again, a little louder. “Jesus, hold your damn horses,” she muttered under her breath, putting her back against the heavy armoire. She heaved with all her strength. Another boom and then she had the door exposed. She tapped on it with her bat. The returning boom was slightly less frantic. “I’m going to open the door!” she yelled, hoping they could hear her. “Stand back or you’ll get a whack in the head.” She wondered if they’d take her seriously, but it didn’t matter. She couldn’t afford to be weak. If they were zombies, or infected, she’d push them down the stairs with her bat and re-barricade the door, with no regrets.
“Is it them?” Olivia called anxiously.
“I don’t know yet.” Lark put her right foot on the handle, balancing so she would have both hands free if she needed them. This way she could lunge forward and put her weight behind her movement. “Okay, let’s do this,” she murmured. Heart in her throat, she counted to five under her breath. “Stay in the room with the door shut, ok?” she told Olivia. It wasn’t until she heard the door click that she shoved down on the handle, then kicked the stairwell door open. The moment she set eyes on the men in the dim space, she knew they weren’t zombies.
Benedict Greene, Ben to his friends, stared at the ridiculously beautiful woman holding the bat over her head. She had light blond hair cut in funky chunks so that it slid over her shoulders as she moved. Her light grey eyes snapped with bravado and he could tell by the way she held the bat that she wasn’t afraid to use it. The fact that she was tiny didn’t seem to faze her at all. Good lord, she barely comes up to my shoulder, he thought, smiling tentatively at her. She wasn’t a zombie, thank God, but she also she wasn’t his daughter. “Are you Lark?” he asked, knowing his daughter’s roommate had holed up with her. In fact, he was pretty certain the only reason Olivia was still alive was because her roommate had an innate instinct for survival. He’d figured that out after numerous phone conversations with Olivia.
She slowly lowered the bat. “Mr. Greene?”
Benedict stared at her, trying to think. He was so damn tired, and the woman in front of him was so freaking beautiful.
“Mr. Greene is a little formal for the zombie apocalypse, don’t you think?” his best friend Dillon said from behind him, saving him from being a total idiot, like usual.
The woman’s eyes snapped to his best friend and she lifted her eyebrows. “You must be ‘Uncle Dillon,’” she said, the fingers on her bat twitching as if she wanted to use air quotes to emphasize her statement. She refused to let go of the weapon, though. He liked that. She was plucky.
“Call me Ben,” he said, scraping his wits off the ground.
“I’m Lark. Lark Stone, Olivia’s roommate,” she said, stepping back. She looked around, then studied him and Dillon closely.
She must be checking we aren’t infected, Ben thought approvingly.
The moment they’d stepped through the door, she began shoving at a huge entertainment center, trying to get it back across the entrance. She looked like David fighting Goliath. He couldn’t believe she’d managed to move the thing all by herself.
“Leave it off,” he said. “We’ll be heading out again soon enough. Is Olivia okay?” He’d managed to keep it together all through the hellish ride here, but now he wanted to see his daughter. He might have been way too young to have a kid when she was born, and he might not have been able to see her as often as he’d liked when she was growing up because of her mom, but he loved her, regardless. He needed to know Olivia was okay.
She narrowed her eyes at him, but left off shoving at the furniture. “She’s fine. This way.” She pivoted and led the way down the hall.
Ben glanced at Dillon and caught his friend looking at her ass. He shoved at him, giving him a look.
Dillon shrugged, smiling, then turned to scan the hall behind them. Ben was having a hard enough time dealing with his sudden and completely unwanted attraction to his daughter’s friend himself. The last thing he needed was for Dillon to be just as stupid.
She stopped in front of a door and knocked three times. When nothing happened, she frowned. “Shit,” she said under her breath. “Olivia?” she called, louder. Still no response. “Jesus Christ, she was just standing there a minute ago.” Lark’s voice was strained as she reached for the knob.
“Fuck,” Ben said, shoving her aside and opening the door. What he saw in the room made his blood run cold.
Lark darted past Olivia’s dad, swinging her bat at the creature latched onto her roommate’s arm. She didn’t cry out, or curse, or do anything except concentrate on obliterating the zombie’s head. The thing was half-burned, and only had one good arm, but his teeth, his fucking teeth were intact and sunk deep into Olivia’s forearm. Lark couldn’t hear anything, couldn’t see anything except the fucker’s mouth stuck to her best friend. The best friend she’d ever had in her entire life, even with the moodiness. She would not let this nightmare creature have Olivia.
“Die motherfucker,” she muttered, swinging again and again. She banged at its face grimly, pointlessly, and then a blade came out of nowhere and sliced through its neck like magic. The zombie’s eyes went white-hot, and then the entire thing vaporized in a flash, leaving the acrid smell of ozone to linger in the room like a shroud. “Fuck,” she said hoarsely.
Olivia fell down, clutching her arm to her chest. Lark dropped her bat and went to her knees next to her. She grabbed her friend’s hand and looked up, tears screwing with her vision. Olivia’s hand was already cold, dammit. Dillon, Olivia’s dad’s best friend held a machete over them, panting. His face was white and he swallowed, hard, as though he needed desperately to throw up.
“Fuck,” Lark said again as reality crashed back into her. She tossed the bat out of the way and leaned over Olivia, ripping at the sheet on her bed. She tied it around Olivia’s upper arm, tourniqueting the wound. In the back of her mind, she knew it was too late, but she couldn’t accept that Olivia was already gone. She just couldn’t.
“Dad,” Olivia said quietly, voice thick.
Lark’s let go of the sheet as her heart broke. She looked at her best friend’s face. Fuck. Olivia knew she was dead. “Olivia, don’t talk. We’ll get you out of here,” she found herself saying, uselessly.
“Dad, I love you,” Olivia said, looking past Lark. Her eyes shifted. “You too, Uncle Dillon.” She gritted her teeth and looked at Lark. “You’re the sister I never had.”
Lark’s face was wet, and she couldn’t see right. She felt Olivia’s dad near her, his body large and warm and she had to stifle the urge not to lean back to feel how alive he was. “You too, Olivia. You too,” she said instead, clutching her friend’s hand. It felt wrong. Cold and corpse-like. The stupid zombie virus worked so fucking fast.
“Dad,” Olivia said again, and then he was even closer to Lark on the floor.
Lark stared at him, trying to decipher the look on his face, then gave up. Nothing could be as horrible as losing a child, she realized.
He reached out, hand shaking, and touched her face. “It’s okay, little Olivia,” he said, and Lark didn’t know how he did it, but he smiled at his daughter. “It’s okay. You go to sleep now.”
Lark sucked in a horrible breath as she realized what he meant. She had a moment to think, oh no, and then she understood. His green eyes, so like Olivia’s, glittered with unshed tears.
“We love you, Olivia,” Dillon said, still standing. He looked behind him quickly, then dropped down and kissed Olivia quickly on the forehead before standing back up.
“Dad, take care of Lark,” Olivia managed, but her skin was already changing.
“No, no, no,” Lark said, gripping Olivia’s hand more tightly. “No—”
“Promise—” Olivia said, eyes filming over. “Dillon, promise—”
Lark looked at him just as he glanced at her. She wasn’t sure she’d ever seen such devastation in a man’s eyes, but it didn’t scare her. She understood. She’d felt the same way when her parents died. She felt the same way now, with Olivia on the floor of their dorm, no longer laughing and alive. Above them, Dillon stood sentinel, his face carved from granite. He was just as wrecked as Mr. Greene— no, he said to call him Ben, Lark thought idiotically. She forced herself to let go of Olivia’s hand and back up.
“I promise,” Ben said, voice breaking.
“We promise,” Dillon said, hands clenching on the machete so hard his knuckles went white.
Lark looked back at Olivia. Her friend smiled faintly, then her head lolled to the side. “Oh, no. No,” she murmured as her best friend’s eyes flashed white, then settled into dead grey. She blinked, and faster than she could comprehend, Ben snatched the machete from Dillon’s hands and chopped her head off with one horrible swipe. Olivia’s body flared white-hot, then vanished with a crackle of electricity that had Lark choking. She staggered up, barely making it to the bathroom before she vomited all the chocolate she’d just eaten into the toilet.
Evernight Publishing ‖ ARe ‖ Bookstrand ‖ Kindle