Tears rose as I came to a stop, hand reaching for my mouth, lungs gasping, relief electrifying my nerves. I wasn’t going to die anytime soon. We weren’t going to die that terrible way. I watched the helicopter, a dot on the horizon, but still it was clear they were heading our way, following the road, couldn’t miss the horde who took no notice. They wouldn’t miss us. We were saved.
With the chopper approaching, I walked backwards; the stench reminding us these things were gaining, would still run us down if we didn’t pick up the pace and we needed to get away so the crew could land safely. Matt was moving slower, waving his hands, not moving much from his position, while the rest of us turned and hurried once again.
The beat of the rotors grew and with each step my legs felt lighter, my mind clearing, joy rising at the thought of a safe escape and answers to other those questions circling around my head. We’d lost two friends along the way, but hope surged that we’d see Leo, Daniel and Max on the other side.
The tone of the engines changed, but before I could look a jolt of rapid gunfire broke out. I slowed, the others did too. Ellie tucked back into her sister’s side. Nat and Zoe linking arms tight as we watched a line of fire rain from the side door of the camo green Merlin helicopter still heading our way, but side on, a helmeted figure on the door mounted gun, tracer bullets glowing red hot as they leapt away. A dark mist rose from the crowd.
Still, I took steps back, uncomfortable the horde was still advancing, despite their numbers diminishing before my eyes. The others followed, even Matt started to move as the gunfire paused and we watched the walking bodies still ignore their slaughter. After a moment of activity from the door, the gunfire took up again with a rampant fever, but soon fell as the numbers on the ground thinned. I slowed, gaps lengthening between the blasts as the crewman took his time, the crowd diminishing with each burst. We watched as a ball flew from the side door, an explosion tensing my shoulders, crunching forward, a spray of debris reaching up high in the air.
Backing off, the action gained ground, the helicopter crew circling, chasing individuals hobbling as they only now started to disperse. More grenades flew from the doorway, explosions rocking, my fingers jammed in my ears. We backed off further, Matt had too, but was still a few hundred metres away. I pulled my fingers from my ears, took a turn, breathing a sigh of relief, for the first time not retching at the foul smell. We were safe. They were dead. Again.
I hugged Andrew at my side, walked the few steps and met Zoe then Nat, taking them in my arms, letting the stress release with each squeeze, even sharing a smile with Cassidy, her sister hiding away. Turning, the sound of the chopper grew, the long machine gun relaxed on its hinges, pointing down. I took a few steps to Matt, stopped as the chopper grew nearer, flying over our heads, following the road. For one fear filled moment I thought they would race on along the highway, but I relaxed back again as it rose, sweeping to our side in a long arc, circling the field and heading our way, flying over their kills, nose first towards us.
I pushed my hands in the air, the others joining as we waved. We wouldn’t allow them to mistake us for people who didn’t want to be rescued. Andrew said something in my ear, but I missed the detail. Instead I watched as the helicopter twisted, turning through ninety degrees, the machine gun pivoting. My stomach contracted, fire rushing from the muzzle. Matt was falling, a mist following the bullets ripping into his shadow.
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