Around midnight, we ventured into the back of Pizza Hut to check for water and food. We hoped that the staff hadn’t cleared out the walk-in freezer prior to the evacuation, and that the product inside it would still be edible. David had visions of pepperoni slices sandwiched between more pepperoni slices; I was hoping that the hamburger meat they used was raw and not the pre-cooked, flash frozen variety.
David found a gallon jug of spring water on top of the pizza oven. The cap was still sealed. We drained half of it, then tucked it away for later. Until the water hit my tongue, I hadn’t realized how thirsty I’d been.
We sloshed on to the freezer. I was in the lead with the flashlight while David stayed close behind me with the gun, keeping a hand on my shoulder. The flashlight threw crazy shadows everywhere; by the time I put a hand on the freezer door, I’d spotted the man-shark crouching on top of a rack of pizza pans, inside the pizza oven, and beside a shelving unit full of keep-warm delivery pouches.
The door was ajar. There was also a sadly familiar smell radiating from inside the freezer. I knew what was inside, but I forced open the door anyway, and sighed when David squeezed my shoulder.
“Safer than the roof, huh?” I said.
We’d found Marco the Man-Shark’s food cache. He’d stashed the torn remnants of the clowns from the pharmacy, and the two cryptozoologists on the freezer’s shelves. The boxes of pizza dough and meat products that had been on the shelves now bobbed in the water.
BJ the firefighter and Evan Jarrett were missing. He’d eaten them already, I guessed.
“We need to get out of here,” David whispered.
“We can’t go outside,” I said. “He knows we’re in here.”
“We can’t stay, Elizabeth.”
I rubbed my eyes. “I feel safer inside. Let’s stick to the plan and make it to morning.”
We made it back to the front counter. The water had receded a little; by the time morning came, the tabletops in the dining area would be visible.
We hopped up on the counter and sat back-to-back. David took the first watch over my protests, but I was asleep a few minutes after griping.
- – – – – – – – – -
Meanwhile, Bobby Beggs, having checked that his place was relatively undamaged, made his way to first David’s house and then mine. Finding us at neither residence, he decided that maybe, just maybe, we really were still on-duty, although in Bridge City and not Riverside.
He drove to Bridge City, a trip that took almost two hours. He reached the collection of RVs, canopies, and tents that housed the first responders assigned to the town, along with a few news crews, around three in the morning. They were spread out across the high school baseball field; it was one of the higher areas in the town. The rest of Bridge City was underwater.
Beggs spent another hour looking for us, and eventually discovered we weren’t there, that we had never been there, but there was a male and female deputy duo from Orange County with a TCNN crew. In a rare moment of clarity, he deduced there had been a mix-up, and that we might be in trouble.
- – – – – – – – – -
Around the time Beggs found the ball field, I came to and found I was inside the freezer, holding some guy’s arm.
I started, uttered something that sounded like “Gurrk!” and dropped the arm into the water. Ker-splash.
I backed out of the freezer, desperately trying to decide if the taste in my mouth was from sleeping or from scavenging. I had never had the urge to snack on a corpse before, but I had also never gone so long without eating, and what were those rib-eyes and pork chops I enjoyed so much but corpses of animals, really, when you came down to it?
“Not the same thing,” I muttered. I tried to spit, but my mouth was too dry. I thought about poking a finger down my throat, but then I heard David call my name. He sounded scared.
I splashed back to him, found him crouched on the counter, the gun and flashlight pointed at the empty buffet table. The water had dropped down a bit more. I climbed on the counter next to him.
“He’s here,” David whispered.
“I saw his fin. Right over there. I don’t know how he got in here, I’ve been watching the front.”
We watched the salad bar for a few minutes. Nothing. Finally, David said, “Where did you go? You never told me.”
“I . . . I think I was sleepwalking. I just woke up in the freezer.”
“The freezer? What were you doing–“
Saved by the man-shark. He chose that moment to pop out of the water in front of David, like Jaws in that old Universal Studios ride. David flung himself backward, which saved his face, but put him into the water. I managed to grab Marco’s arm, but wound up in the water too.
I bounced to my feet; the water barely reached my chest now. I couldn’t see shit in the water. The windows in the restaurant let a little light in, but the water was black.
Something bumped my leg.
“Elizabeth!” David had climbed atop the counter again.
Another bump against the other leg.
Enough of this.
I snarled, dropped under the water, grabbed where I thought the man-shark might be. My fingers touched something rough that was vaguely arm-shaped, and wrapped around it, squeezed hard.
Marco thrashed and sank his teeth into my shoulder, but I held on, managed to stand and haul him out of the water.
“Shoot!” I screamed at David. “Shoot!”
“You’re in the way!” he yelled back.
I tried to shift the man-shark around and got a chunk torn out of my shoulder. I punched him in the jaw and got my knuckles scraped down nearly to bone.
The white membranes on his eyes blinked back, revealing those human brown eyes. “You hit hard,” he whispered.
I swung again. He ducked. I lost my grip on his arm. He stayed low and tackled me, went for my stomach while we both went down into the drink.
I felt his teeth press against my belly, and I went for his eyes. My right thumb punched through his left eye.
He let me go, and I clumsily backed away and broke the surface. My back hit the counter. I saw his fin head for the front of the restaurant and then disappear.