Jace hitched his pants back up and buckled his belt, then reached into his pocket and pulled out some meat jerky wrapped in a cloth.

“Here,” he said, “you earned it, again.” He threw it down next to where Fran was still trying to get her clothes back in order.

Fran glared up at him, resentful at the truth of the statement as well as the necessity of it. Still, a girl had to eat.

She grabbed the meat and opened it quickly. She was so hungry, she almost forgot to fake her orgasm at the end of the tryst.

“Slow down, you’ll choke,” Jace said, then he got a lascivious gleam in his eye. “I mean, if you *want* to choke on something. . .”

He unfastened his belt again. “I got more meat right here, if you want to do me again.” She glared at him again, mid-chew.

It wasn’t a bad thought, frankly. It would trick her belly into thinking it had more food, and she’d have something for the morning.

Just as Fran was about to agree, something moved behind Jace, and she froze in fear. How did it get to be that late?!

In their distraction and under the cover of the abandoned lean-to, they’d missed the sunset. The gates would be locked now.

The monsters were coming.

As the sun disappeared behind the horizon, they came from over the ridge seemingly out of nothing. They always started out of sight.

No one knew where the monsters were during the day, just that they “weren’t there”, and then when no one was looking, they appeared.

The whacks were almost on them already. Fran screamed just as Jace got wise and started to turn around.

The shuffling remains of some poor sod moaned pathetically as it took a swipe a Jace, its skin pasty grey, its eyes cloudy white.

He fell out of the way, stumbling on the debris in the abandoned tent. The whack followed him, trying vainly to grab him.

Three or four more were immediately behind the first, and they fell in a clumsy pile on him, pinning him against the rocks.

Fran scrambled up and away from Jace and the whacks. “What the hell!” he screamed at her. “You filthy wh*re, get back here!”

Self-preservation is always more compelling than keeping a john, no matter how steady, and she backed away quickly.

Any fool in the Wastes can tell a body that backing up anywhere, not looking where you’re going, is beyond stupid.

Fran bumped into the shamble of whacks, and if her wits had been about her, she would have lurched forward instead of freezing.

Fear is a strange thing, though, and sometimes it pulls out the wrong response to a clear and present threat.

One, three, seven or eight hands were on her then, pulling at her shirt, grabbing her hair, the mass of them still pressing forward.

Three more whacks started on Jace, tearing at the soft flesh they could reach with fingers and stones; his screams intensified.

The whacks clawing at Fran had already broken skin, and she found her own screams stuck in her throat, only a bare whisper.

In her frenzied panic, she wrested herself away from them and stumbled forward, but her skirt caught around her legs and she fell.

Like a wave of waxy drooling bodies, without regard to one another, the shamble fell on her, unwilling to be denied their meal.

Fran fought like mad, trying to escape her skirt, kicking and clawing away from them, but the crush of their weight was too much.

She was pushed over to her back and talon-like nails dug into the soft of her belly, the whacks desperate for access to her innards.

As though that weren’t enough, another landed near her head and dug a dirty finger into her eye socket. Whacks did love eyes.

Fran found her voice, but it was too late. A purely objective part of her said that she was too far gone, that she was going to die.

The primal part of her rejected that thought, redoubled her struggle. If she could get them out of her guts, if she could get homeā€¦

There were lots of kings in the world, after all, lots of people with only one eye, testament that this was not a death sentence.

She pulled an arm free and cast it about for a rock or branch or anything hard. She found a stone, good sized, a little sharp.

Without thinking too much about it, she brought that stone up hard against the sloven face of the whack trying to bite her face.

Maybe the whack was older, more worn out. There was a sick crunch sound, and its skin tore like paper, a thick white ochre emerging.

Fran’s one working eye widened and she screamed in sheer terror as the ooze dripped onto her face, into her wounds, into her eye.

The throbbing and burning of her torn socket, of her rended skin, quietly but surely stopped. The pain slipped away.

She paused, confused. She listened and heard the whacks still smacking and chewing on Jace, but they seemed miles away.

The strange analgesic effect started spreading. The pinch of hands holding her down, the sharp pain in her belly melted into nothing.

Around the time the sensation reached her legs, she realized that the whacks had stopped their attack on her. They sat up and waited.

Two of them started pushing her intestines back inside her cavity, and another one spit on the wound, making a puckered half-scar.

Fran would have been in a state of sheer wonderment if she hadn’t also been inwardly panicking and also without control of her limbs.

In her head, she screamed, trying to move her hands or feet. *This is it,* she thought. *I’m dead, and whacks don’t eat the dead.*

If she was dead, there should have been a light, though, right? Isn’t that what the vicar said? White lights and angels or something?

The anesthesia spread to her thinking as well then, and a strange pressure, not uncomfortable, pushed into her head.

This was a different kind of death, a different kind of passing. That vicar was definitely full of shit. She always knew he was.

Something started to make her body move. She was having a hard time seeing out of her remaining eye, like looking through fog.

She felt like she was falling backwards slowly, maybe stepping back willingly, to the new awareness, the new thing driving her body.

She thought about Jace, and the newness looked over in that direction for her. It wasn’t cruel or mean but rather accommodating.

The whacks were still eating Jace, their hands and faces smeared with his offal. His lifeless eyes stared up at the canvas.

Why wasn’t he moving? Why hadn’t he joined the ranks of the whacks like she had?

That wasn’t important, she realized. The newness assured her of this. It was grateful to her, it was going to show her things.

Fran no longer cared if it was she or the newness that directed her body. For the first time in her life, she was in no pain.

Through the fog of her eye, past the vision she had before, she and the newness looked out across the Wastes.

Rich life flourished in that land, shimmering beyond the veil of anything she’d imagined before. She was safe there. She was home.