Amelia and I have always been inseparable. From my earliest memory, there have always been two. Two baby carriages- one in which I lay and one for her, kicking and babbling as our mothers strolled us through the park, chatting happily. Two identical party hats at all her birthdays. Two spare mattresses at her house because I spent more time there than at my own home. She never let anyone else into our special bond, nor did I, so it was never three, or four, or six. It was always two.
Now, there are only two people left. Amelia and I. Just the two of us.
Six days ago, the first one appeared. Took the form of an old woman. Brutally murdered sixteen, heavily injured twenty-four. It took ten tranquilizer darts to bring her to her knees, and six more to sedate her.
"We don't know the exact threat we're looking at here or where it came from," the chief of police said in his famous speech to what used to be the state of Arkansas, "But we do know that it isn't human. The blood running through the veins of that woman was not the blood of a human being. We are doing our best to figure things out, but as of now, all we can tell you is to stay safe and stay indoors, as we don't know if there are more of her kind roaming the streets."
It took twenty-three hours for a team of scientists to make the lazy classification that they were looking at "blood-thirsty shapeshifters from hell". It was reported on live TV. A national panic ensued. Ten more cases were reported in my area, then fifteen, then twenty, until it reached three hundred in the US alone. People started using "hell-shifters" as a streetname for whatever the fuck these things were, because "blood-thirsty shapeshifters from hell" was way too long and unnecessary, and it made those who used it seem as cowardly as the scientists who first coined the term.
Three days later, a video surfaced on YouTube.
Hell-Shifter Sighting (Italy)
It was a 40-second long shakycam video of one of the beasts shifting in and out of the form of a middle-aged man, shrieking hideously as onlookers and victims screamed bloody murder in Italian. It wasn't a cinematic masterpiece, far from it actually, but it was so horrifyingly real that even the most stuck-up science freaks became afraid. And because of that video, we were given a sense of what the hell-shifters looked like. Tall, fleshy, spindly creatures. Sunken eyes. Jaws that seemed to hang onto their skulls by a few threads of tissue. And, of course, rows of razor-sharp, human-devouring teeth.
People rarely left their houses at this point. Schools, stores, and businesses closed. Hospitals remained open for the sole purpose of tending to the mutilated survivors of the increasingly common hell-shifter attacks. Civilians locked their doors and glued themselves to the television to watch the news, which was updating every few minutes. Death counts went up and up. Popular cities became barren wastelands.
The world, as it seemed, was ending.
Naturally, as soon as planet earth started panicking, I went straight to Amelia. No use staying with my alcoholic father- he was on his deathbed anyway. I ran to Amelia's house. I needed it to be us again- not us and the rest of the world, not us and the news reporters, not us and the hell-shifters. Just us. Just two.
She was outside already, crying hard, clinging to the railing of her porch for support. The pink backpack she'd had since age six was strapped on her back. I flew to her and she collapsed into my arms, sobbing, talking nonsense. I couldn't make out anything except for a few words. "Mom," "Dead," "Work," "Attack."
I held her in my arms and let her cry. I'd already known her mom was dead, because I'd heard news of the brutal attack at her company. I'd seen her name on the fatalities list. BREAKING NEWS: Forty Killed, Hundreds Injured After Hell-Shifter Attack on Jones Inc. "The predator fled the scene before it could be sedated," The newsman had said curtly, "It's still out there. It's taken the form of a 17-year-old girl, police reports say. Stay safe, stay locked, and be alert."
Amelia's body was limp and trembling as I helped her stand up. "Please," She spoke in a broken voice, "Please, let's leave. Let's go far away. Please. Anywhere but here. We have to go. I want us to be okay. I want to be with you."
I stared at her for a second before nodding in agreement, giving her a few more comforting strokes on her shoulder. She told me her father's motorcycle was in the garage, along with some dry goods and water. She threw some essentials in an empty pillowcase while I got the old piece of trash started. There was only one helmet, so I gave it to Amelia, who was too tired to argue about it. She tied the pillowcase to the back of the motorcycle before getting on behind me and wrapping her arms around my chest. I could still feel her shaking hard- unnaturally hard, but I didn't say anything about it. All I could think about was two, two, two. Just us, like she said.
Driving down the highway was surreal, to say the least. There were no cars, motorcycles, bikes, or walkers whatsoever. The only noise being made was the excessively loud rumbling of our motorcycle's engine. Looking over the side of the highway, I could see the remains of what used to be Little Rock. It looked like the classic, stereotypical post-apocalyptic wasteland I'd read about in countless sci-fi books. Thick, black smoke billowed into the air from the skyline, probably from a fruitless effort to burn one of the creatures to death. I tore my eyes away from the skyline and back to the highway, which, to my surprise, had ended. Now I was driving on a gravelly road that seemed to lead nowhere.
No more than three minutes later, a huge jolt almost threw the two of us off the motorcycle. Amelia yelped. I put my foot to the side to stop us from falling as our ride sputtered to death. A few exhaust clouds left the engine. Amelia tumbled to the ground as I stood up. It took a second for me to register what had happened- we were in the middle of nowhere, probably the remains of what used to be some big Arkansas city. There were no intact buildings in my line of sight. I turned towards the scrap metal- which was supposed to be my way to save Amelia- and sighed.
"We're going to have to walk," Amelia's small voice shook me out of my daze. She pointed towards Little Rock. "We can find more food there. A place to stay. Maybe some old car that can be fixed up to drive."
I turned towards her. Her eyes were wide and glassy, as if she already knew her delusions weren't going to come true. We would get to Little Rock and find nothing but death and destruction and more hell-shifters. But that didn't matter to her- if she were to die, it would be by my side, and it would mean she was going to see her mother again. I took a deep breath and nodded once more, slung our pillowcase over one shoulder and her arm over the other, and began the trek towards the fallen city.
We made a little small talk along the way. Amelia asked if my dad was okay, to which I had no reply. I knew he was probably dead, either from drunkenness or from having his heart ripped out of his chest by a rogue hell-shifter disguised as my late mother. She noticed my silence and quickly apologized. But it was okay- I didn't need to worry about anyone else, because this was two. It was never three. Always two. I said exactly that to Amelia, and she smiled at me for the first time in what seemed like a century. We kept walking in a content silence.
As stars began to speckle the darkening sky and my legs were close to caving from the length of the journey, Amelia tapped me on the shoulder. Looking up, I saw the sign.
Welcome to Little Rock!
And a warm welcome it was, indeed. Just past the sign, I saw what looked to be a severed human leg, in the process of decomposition. Amelia followed my gaze and I felt her tense up, but she didn't scream. Strange. She'd always been a screamer.
Being frozen in horror had given my legs a bit of a rest, and I had enough strength to walk past the sign and into what used to be a bustling city. Amelia walked slightly behind me. It was so disgustingly quiet, I wanted to either throw up or scream 'till my vocal chords ripped. There was something so unsettling about being surrounded by huge buildings that housed absolutely no one.
We kept walking until we were in the heart of the city. I'd found a large shard of broken glass and secured it in my belt, just in case any hell-shifters were roaming around. There was another equally big one nearby, so I naturally offered it to Amelia, but she shook her head hard. She wouldn't tell me why she didn't want to defend herself. I didn't mind- I only pulled her closer to me so I could defend the both of us.
But we didn't find any hell-shifters. We didn't find any extra food, or safe empty houses, or struggling survivors. We didn't find a broken car that I could fix with my limited abilities. We didn't find any of the shit that Amelia wanted us to find. I was ashamed that I couldn't make her happy, even though I knew it wasn't my fault that almost nothing was left. I couldn't do anything about it. But that didn't stop me from sinking to my knees, right there in the middle of the road littered with glass and bits of flesh and blood and tears. "Fuck," I cried, slamming my fist onto the street, "FUCK!"
Amelia sat down in front of me. My hand was bleeding. She took it between her own fragile hands and squeezed.
"It doesn't matter, remember?"
I glanced up at her.
"It doesn't matter. It's always been two. Just two. There's no one else here... but us two. Not three.."
"Not four," I said breathlessly.
"Not six, or ten, or twenty. Just two. And that's all I need. That's all I've ever needed. Just... just two."
I met her eyes. There was a look on her face so intense that I couldn't make out the exact emotion she was feeling. She put her free hand on the side of my face and stroked it.
"Just two," I whispered.
Slowly but surely, she began leaning into me. I didn't know what to do. Was she about to kiss me? She'd never made a move on me, but today's events had left her almost unrecognizable. She was probably craving touch, craving love, desperate for anything that would make her feel again. I began to lean in as well, until our lips were inches apart.
But instead of tasting the sweetness of her favorite peach-mango Chapstick, I tasted the metallic flavor of my own blood. An overwhelming pain ripped through my jaw as she sank her teeth into my lips- not blunt, humane teeth, but teeth that were so razor-sharp they could cut glass. I let out a cry and pulled away fast, feeling my bottom lip tear away from my face. More blood gushed from the ripped skin, hitting the dirty pavement below us. I looked up at her in shock.
She spit out the chunk of flesh and lunged at me before I had the chance to speak. I hastily grabbed the glass shard from my belt and blindly waved it in front of me. I felt it drag through her skin, and she let out a shriek so inhumane, it was hard to believe it came from within her frail body. She crashed to the ground, convulsing, and that's when it clicked.
It wasn't Amelia.
Amelia had gone into work with her mother that day.
Amelia was dead.
The creature in front of me hissed violently as it began to fade in and out of Amelia's form. Her brunette hair appeared and disappeared in front of me, as did her dark eyes. The fleshy, pale orange color of hell-shifter skin began to overpower the paleness of Amelia's. I dropped the glass shard and stumbled away from the thing as fast as my tired body would let me.
But it wasn't dead yet. And it was still faster than me. It launched itself at me, a horrifying hell-shifter-Amelia mixture, and tackled me to the ground. Clawing and biting and scraping the skin off of every crevice of mine it could get its hands on. The pain was something I can't even put into words. Every fiber in my body was writhing violently, begging for some form of relief. I yelled and thrashed under the hell-shifter's grip, praying to God for all those workouts to come into effect at this very moment. But no matter how strong I was, the hell-shifter would bite back with three times the strength. I reached for the shard one last time.
It sank its teeth deep into my neck, so far that I could feel the nerves ripping, the tissue splitting, and the monstrous teeth hitting the top of my spine, shattering it instantly.
I choked on the blood that filled my throat as the creature sprinted off into the wasteland, leaving me for the maggots and vultures. That's how it ends. That's how it always ends in hell-shifter attacks. I should've seen this coming.
I turned my fluttering eyes towards the sky and took in the stars as I felt myself slip away, far away, to finally join Amelia again, and it would be just like she wanted. Just the two of us.