Read Ex-Purgatory: A Novel Online

Authors: Peter Clines

Ex-Purgatory: A Novel (29 page)

BOOK: Ex-Purgatory: A Novel
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“No, there is,” she insisted. “We’re not supposed to be here. In our world, there was a virus that—”

Stealth held up a hand. “I am aware of the timeline,” she said. “However, there is no other world. We are in our world now, but your perceptions and memories have been altered so you do not register it.”

“What? No, my memories are fine. I mean, they’re fine for me.”

Stealth looked at Madelyn. “You are familiar with the writer-director named George Romero?”

She smirked. “Yeah, of course.”

“What were the monsters called in his movies?”


“It’s important,” St. George said. “It’s a test, sort of.”

“I … I don’t know. They’re just dead things, right?”

Stealth shook her head. “There is another name for them.”

Madelyn shrugged. “No idea.”

Kathy peeked out from behind her laptop. “They were zombies, right?”

St. George and Stealth both looked at her. “That is correct,” said Stealth.

Kathy smiled.

“Ex-humans,” said Danielle. She dragged the word off her tongue.

Madelyn scowled.

“Do you trust us?” St. George asked her.

She looked at him, then at Freedom. “Yeah, of course I do.”

“Then that’s all that matters for now. Pack anything you might need and let’s get going.”

Madelyn spun her chair around, pulled opened a drawer, and grabbed a pair of jeans. “Ummmm …” She looked up at Freedom and St. George. “Would you guys mind waiting in the hall for a few minutes?”

St. George glanced at Kathy, then at Stealth and Danielle. “Will you be okay in here?”

Stealth nodded.

“If it’s all the same,” said Danielle, “I’ll wait outside with you guys.”

They shuffled outside. The dorm hallway was empty, although the echoes of voices and footsteps came from either end. St. George could hear a shower running somewhere, too.

Freedom stood with his back to the door. Danielle pressed herself against the wall near a fire extinguisher. “A wheelchair’s going to cause problems,” she said. “If we have another shift we could be trapped somewhere.”

“Technically we’re already trapped somewhere,” Freedom said. “The shift should make it easier because we’ll actually be able to see where we are and what’s around us.”

“And if we have another shift,” added St. George, “she shouldn’t need it anymore, anyway.”

Danielle shrugged and looked down the hallway. A young man in a towel strolled out of a bathroom and across the hall to a room. The clunk of his door echoed in the hallway.

“Worst-case scenario, I can carry her,” said Freedom. “Or she could just ride piggyback.”

the worst-case scenario,” Danielle muttered. “We’re running for our lives and we’re almost helpless.”

Madelyn hauled herself back onto the bed and pushed the sweatpants down her legs. She tried not to think about getting naked in front of a woman who was a thousand times more attractive than her, but it was kind of tough when she was forced to wrestle with her jeans. It reminded her that her thighs were kind of fat for her height and Karen Quilt’s were perfect.

“If you want it,” she said, “there’s a black hoodie in the closet. It’s a little too big for me. You can have it.”

Karen—no, Madelyn thought, Stealth. We always call her Stealth—arched an eyebrow. “I am warm enough, thank you.”

“No, I didn’t think you were cold. I just meant, if you wanted it because—”

“I am aware of what you meant. Thank you, but no. Do you require assistance?”

“It’s okay. I’ve gotten pretty good at it.” Her fingers hooked into the belt loops and pulled the jeans up. She dropped onto her back and the jeans slid over her hips. “Everyone tells me I got really sick when I was nine, that’s why I’m in the chair, but I don’t remember it. You think I’ll be able to walk again once we’re out of here?”

“It would seem once we each consciously realized Smith was
affecting our perceptions, we began to find ways around the blocks he has created. As our minds create these new pathways and associations, our memories and abilities have begun to return.”

“But I’ve had my memories all along,” she said. “So why do I need the chair?”

Stealth looked at the other side of the room. “I am not sure,” she admitted. “It is reasonable to assume the unique nature of your mind has allowed you to remember certain elements of the actual world. It is unclear, then, why certain aspects of the illusionary world appear to be locked in your conscious mind.”

Madelyn twisted her lips. “So this might be permanent?” She shifted her legs over the edge of the bed and slid back down into the wheelchair. She landed hard and winced.

“Again,” said Stealth, “I am not sure. There are too many inconsistent facts.” She looked at the far side of the room again.

“What do you mean?”

Stealth said nothing. She just stared at Kathy. The other girl traded looks with Madelyn and shrunk down a little more behind her laptop.

Freedom pushed Madelyn’s wheelchair down the hall. Danielle hovered behind him. St. George and Stealth brought up the rear.

“Returning to the hotel should be our new priority,” she said.

He glanced at her. “Why?”

“Barry will be arriving there within the hour and will be unprotected. Also, my father always insists on traveling with certain items. There are weapons there which we can use.”

“Are there?” asked St. George. “I mean, it’s just going to be an empty hotel room, right? Most of the hotels and motels in the city were pretty well looted in that first year. Hell, we looted half of them.”

She took in a small breath through her nose.

He looked at her. “What?”

“There may be more to these perceptual illusions than we first believed.”

“What do you mean?”

“My initial hypothesis of our situation, based on our knowledge of Agent Smith’s abilities, may be flawed.”

“What makes you think so?”

“You did not tell me Banzai was Madelyn’s roommate.”

“Well, I didn’t know it was her until fifteen minutes ago,” he said. “And, I mean, it’s not really her, right? The real Kathy’s still wandering somewhere around in … what, West Hollywood last time we saw her?”

“It is,” said Stealth. “Madelyn never met Banzai while she was alive, and has never encountered her as an ex-human. Neither has Captain Freedom. Banzai died nineteen days before Cerberus was deployed to Los Angeles, so Danielle has only known her as an ex.”


The corner of Stealth’s eye tightened. She was frustrated with him. He was missing something.

“George,” she said, “how could they be seeing and hearing an actual person they have never met? The illusion cannot be based on memories they do not have.”

He glanced back up the stairwell, toward the dorm room. “Maybe Smith planted the memories the same way he plants suggestions.”

“Smith has also never met Banzai. How would he know so many precise details of her appearance, voice, and personality?”

“Maybe it’s a perception thing,” he said. “Maybe what we’re seeing isn’t what the others are seeing.”

Stealth shook her head. “There are too many common references for us to not all be seeing the same things.”

They stepped out into the sunlight. The sounds of the campus washed over them. There was a faint breeze from the west. St. George’s street sign lay in the freshly mown grass by the door with Stealth’s broomstick crossed over it.

“So, you mean … this really is another world?”

Stealth’s eyes tightened again, harder this time. “I do not
know,” she said. “Either conclusion is inconsistent with the evidence.”

“Which means what?”

“Which means there is a third conclusion which is consistent with all the evidence. Unfortunately, at the moment I do not know what it is. Even our clothing is inconsistent. Ours and Danielle’s remain the same in both worlds, yet Freedom’s uniform changes.”

“Yeah, I noticed that.” He picked up the improvised weapons and handed the wooden stick to Stealth. “Are you okay?”

“Of course.”

“I just ask because I know illogical things drive you nuts.”

She took in a short breath. “It is … frustrating,” she admitted. “I appreciate your understanding.”

“Hey,” shouted Madelyn. Freedom had already pushed her a dozen yards down the sidewalk. “Come on! We’ve got to go be superheroes.”


a lot easier if we had a car,” said Danielle. “Or got a cab. Or just took the bus.”

“Until we switched over,” said Freedom, “and realize we’ve been standing in a derelict bus with twenty or thirty exes.”

They’d made their way back to the recruitment office and were headed up the steep climb into Beverly Hills. St. George had the lead, while Stealth had fallen back to bring up the rear. Freedom had Madelyn’s wheelchair.

They’d been walking for twenty minutes when squealing brakes echoed across Wilshire. Half a block ahead of them, a car whipped across from the eastbound lane, cutting off half a dozen vehicles in the process. It pulled up alongside them, double-parked, and revved its engine. Then it honked its horn twice. St. George glanced over. It was a Hyundai, just like his. The driver was …

There was no driver.

The horn went off again. The passenger’s-side door popped open.

“That is your car,” Stealth said to St. George.

Two cars slowed down to veer around the Hyundai. The third didn’t slow at all, but its horn blared as it went past them. The next lane wasn’t slowing, and more cars started to honk. A few brakes screeched. The Hyundai’s hazard lights popped on.

“No,” said Danielle. Her eyes widened. “It’s Cesar.”

The horn let out three long angry blasts.

She smirked. “I am not calling you ‘the Driver.’ ”

St. George looked at Stealth. “What do you think?”

“I do not know,” she said. “I am unsure why Cesar retains his powers while the rest of us are still limited.”

“I meant, do we risk getting in?”

“I am aware of your question, George. I do not know.”

“I do,” said Danielle. “I’m tired and my feet hurt.” She glanced over at Freedom. “I’m guessing you’re going to want shotgun?”

He smiled. “I’d prefer to drive, but it’s not my car.”

Danielle flipped the seat forward and crawled into the back. Freedom and Madelyn looked at St. George, then at Stealth. “Are we doing this?” Madelyn asked.

“There is no room for our weapons,” Stealth said.

St. George tossed the signpost on the sidewalk. “At the worst,” he said, “twenty minutes from now we’re sitting right here in an abandoned car. At the best, we’re at the hotel.”

“At the worst,” corrected Stealth, “we abandon our weapons, switch, and find four exes in the car with us.”

Another car honked at them as it drove by.

“There’s no exes,” shouted the voice on the radio. “I’m clean, ma’am.”

“As far as you know,” said Stealth. She tossed her broomstick away.

The captain helped Madelyn out of her wheelchair, then crouched to set her into the back of the Hyundai. Danielle helped her in. Stealth slipped in next to them while St. George folded the wheelchair and stashed it in the trunk. The suspension squealed as Freedom squeezed himself into the passenger seat and pushed the seat back. It still left his knees against the dashboard.

St. George stepped around the Hyundai and watched the cars whip past him. He could smell exhaust and feel the wind as they passed. He picked little details off each one—chipped paint, flyers trapped under windshield wipers, one driver talking on his cell, another plucking at her hair.

If it was an illusion, it was an amazing one.

There was a lull in the traffic. He stepped over and pulled the door open. The moment he closed it, the Hyundai leaped back into traffic. The steering wheel moved on its own.

“Missed you guys!” said the radio. “The past few weeks have been really weird, y’know?”

“Kind of, yeah,” said St. George.

“Where we headed? Want me to take us back to the Mount?”

“First to the Four Seasons on Doheny,” said Stealth. “Has it been weeks? We are unsure how long it has been since we fell under Smith’s influence.”

“Think so,” said Cesar. “I mean, it’s tough to tell in here, y’know?”

BOOK: Ex-Purgatory: A Novel
3.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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