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*The time has come again to defend the Earth, for Pestilence has been unleashed.*
Enigma opened his eyes and looked around. "Is this why have you awakened me from my slumber?"
*You have been in a warrior's stasis for nearly a hundred years. It is time once again for you to fight. The Earth is in danger and all of its peoples with it. You must save those you can and destroy those you cannot.*
"I will do my duty for my people and the people of Earth."
*There is someone near, a human woman, who can help you keep our peace accord assured. Find her and Gift her with Sanctuary and you shall once again know glory.*
"I shall find her."
*Then go. And do not fail. The future of all worlds is at stake.*
"Is that the last of the canned goods?"
"Only one more box to go, Anna," Frank answered as he shoved a flat of canned corn into the back of the SUV.
"Ray, do you see anything?"
"Just a few stragglers wandering around a ways down the street, no one really aggressive."
"See, I told you they're weaker in the daylight. They don't even notice us just keep the gun pointed at them in case they actually come toward us."
"I only wish I'd known this two days ago when we started running low on food," he answered with a grin.
"Yeah, those vending machines at the church could only go so far with all of us," Liz supplied as she dropped off several boxes of dried cereal.
"Well, I wish that I'd had all of you to help me this past week. I didn't know just how much more work could be done," Anna laughed. "Come on, there's only an hour of daylight left. Let's get a move on." She hopped into the cab of the vehicle. "Everyone hang on tight and we'll get to the graveyard in a few minutes."
"At least we don't have to worry about stoplights," Frank chuckled.
"Yeah, but the traffic will be hell," Tawny quipped back.
And the traffic was hell. The roadway was full of wrecked and abandoned vehicles. Debris and litter dotted the ground like confetti, and a few bodies here and there slowed their progress considerably.
That so much chaos and damage had been done in such a short time was a shock to all of them, but Anna managed to maneuver the vehicle through the maze of debris with relative ease, hopping curbs and sidewalks whenever she could.
None of them dared to look at the dead and fallen victims too closely. No one wanted to chance seeing someone they had once known and cared for. It was an unspoken agreement amongst all of them that they not mention those they had lost. In desperate times such losses were felt keenly and it would do them no good to mourn just yet.
As they arrived at the graveyard where Anna had been staying they were so frazzled and nerve-racked from the drive, it was no surprise that they almost hit him. "Holy shit!" Anna swerved the SUV and hit several grave markers before coming to a skidding halt. "What was that?"
For a moment she was sure she'd seen a man but how could that be possible? Anna looked out her window in disbelief.
Indeed it was a man. And he was naked. Gloriously so.
Was he a zombie?
No, he looked whole and alive. The zombies looked like any Hollywood horror, with dead gray flesh and bloody wounds.
This man...looked good enough to eat.
Anna stamped down on her libido with gritted teeth. No way was the sight of a naked man going to get her all hot and bothered like some giddy schoolgirl. She jumped down from the cab and approached him cautiously."Hey, mister. Are you all right?"
"I am well. I am here to save the world."
His voice sounded like the ringing of a hundred iron bells.
It was difficult, but Anna managed to hold back her bark of laughter. "Were you planning on saving the world in your skivvies?"
He looked at her strangely.
"We have some extra clothes that might fit you, if you like."
"You are she," he said at last. He walked toward her so that she had to back up or be touched by him.
"Yeah, I'm she," she said sarcastically. "Look, as much as I hate to tell you to get dressed, you're going to have to or catch cold tonight. We'll be staying down in the crypt so we don't have to hear the zombies, and it's nearly freezing down there."
"I have no time for sleep," he said, cocking his head curiously, as if he thought she should know this. "And neither do you."
"Frank, will you bring me some pants and a shirt for this guy? Oh, and maybe a jacket, too. He seems a little dazed," Anna called out, never taking her eyes off the stranger.
"Maybe he's infected," Liz said.
"No," Anna answered. "If he were, he wouldn't be able to set foot on this blessed soil."
Frank brought her the clothes, while warily avoiding getting too close to the nude man. "I hope you're right about that, Anna."
"Oh, I am. You can count on that." She'd seen too many of the bastards go up in smoke when they dared to try and set foot inside the graveyard fence.
Dusk was swiftly approaching, the orange glow of the setting sun catching like fire in the stranger's shoulder-length, whitishblond hair.
Anna eyed him curiously. He looked normal enough nothing like the zombies. But...different somehow from any man she'd ever seen. She couldn't put her finger on it, but there was something truly alien about the man. Perhaps it was in the way he stood, so unashamed in his nudity. Or in the incredible width of his heavily muscled shoulders. Or perhaps it had to do with his height he was well over six feet tall, long of limb and torso and graceful in his height, which had to be a feat unto itself.
Or maybe it was in his sex. Long and thick and full, it was a sight that might have sent her swooning with lust in any other situation. Even unaroused, he was a stallion of a man. She wondered where he had come from. He looked capable enough to have survived the plague, but where had he been hiding all this time? Why had he come to the graveyard now, after hiding such a long time elsewhere?
"You are she," he reiterated. "I will need your help."
Anna frowned. "I'll help you, just put these on, okay?"
He took the clothes and looked at them as if they were foreign objects. "We have no time to waste," he told her after a few moments.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"I am Enigma."
Anna laughed, then choked her mirth back again. "Are you injured anywhere? Like your head, maybe?"
"I am not jesting with you, woman."
"Okay, Enigma. My name is Anna, not woman, and these are my friends. Get dressed and we'll talk about where you came from and how you managed to get here unhurt, all right?"
"An-na." He said the name softly, liltingly in that bell-toned voice of his. A soft shiver traced its way down her back, as if he'd trailed his finger down her naked flesh.
He put the clothes on, awkward in his movements where he had been nothing but graceful before. He didn't seem at all used to wearing clothing.
Maybe he was a nudist. Anna almost laughed out loud at the thought and she wasn't even sure why. Lots of odd things had seemed funny to her lately.
"We need to make up a shift, to take turns keeping an eye out for anything," she told her comrades.
"I thought the zombies couldn't come in here," Liz said in a high, frightened voice.
"We aren't looking out for the zombies. We looking out for other survivors," she clarified. "People like Enigma here."
"I hope we see some more," Tawny said.
"I don't. I'm not willing to capsize my little sailboat for the sake of goodwill," Anna said testily, not really meaning it, but liking how tough and capable it made her sound. A lot had changed in the past week, her perhaps most of all.
The plague had struck without warning, taking almost everyone with it in a matter of days. Before, Anna had been a peaceloving yoga nut. Now she was a survivor, and she meant to keep it that way no matter what. If that made her soulless, then so be it. She wasn't ready to die, and she sure as hell wasn't ready to become one of the living dead.
She'd seen her best friend and business partner become one of the zombies. Johanna had been bitten that first day and within hours she'd died. Anna had sat back and watched it all, not knowing what to do, racked with guilt and sorrow because she hadn't been able to save her friend.When Johanna rose from the dead, Anna had almost been too late to pull the trigger of her gun. If she'd waited half a second longer she, too, would have met the same fate as her friend.
Everyone Anna had known and loved was now dead. She almost hated herself for surviving, but she would do what she must to make it out of this living hell with her wits and her health intact. She would think of her many losses later, at her leisure.
As far as she was concerned it was every man and woman for themselves. But she'd still do her best to make sure her new acquaintances survived long enough to make it out to sea. How she could manage it was a conundrum, but then she'd never been one to back down from a challenge and she wasn't about to start now.
The marina was an hour's drive away. How they'd make it there without encountering some zombies, she wasn't willing to hazard a guess.
Better to face that inevitability when they came to it. Sanctuary copyright © 2004 by Sherri L. King