In front of me stood not one of my friends, not a companion who’d died and come back as something else. Not someone I’d seen before. Still my finger wouldn’t commit on the trigger. I’d made too many mistakes in this life already.
She was mid-twenties with brunette hair tied high in a causal bun, the right of her face reflected perfection in the last of the moon light. A thin, straight eyebrow ran to a point after hours of preening. She wore an Arun jumper, to the left was a black hole hovering over her breast, dark, dried liquid radiating out. Somehow I knew it would look a different colour in the sun. Underneath was faultless skin, not the wide open wound I’d expected to stare back oozing with blood.
I returned to the details I’d skipped at first sight, my head refusing to acknowledge the dark sunken hole where her left eye should have looked out. Skin on the left of the her face was tight, desiccated, drawn over skeletal features. Her mouth hung wide. The wind drew her stench across my nostrils. I pulled the trigger and the gun exploded.
At first I thought my hand was on fire, the explosion ripping through my flesh, cutting me to ribbons as the gun back-fired. A result of the bullet fumbled in backwards in the dark. When she dropped to the floor, I looked at my hand still intact, the gun in one piece, just a ring of pain in my ear. My legs carried me forward and I hovered over her body. Now both her eyes were missing. Her mouth closed. At peace.
The rustle in the bushes grew to a fever, but I didn’t turn, didn’t wince as I looked up to the horizon. The sun was beautiful as its amber rays highlighted the curve of our little planet. Andrew joined at my side, I glanced left and saw another, then two more. Zoe, Nat, Cassidy, Ellie tucked up to her hip almost hidden. Each joined in the line and stared out. We shared that silent moment of hope as if today was the day when maybe the world would make sense again.
One of the girls was the first to pull in the sharp breath, hands reaching for mouths almost in unison as we saw a figure running towards us on the road, a dark outline against the growing light, but he wasn’t alone. Horde was the only word I could find to describe what we saw at the runner’s back. On the horizon, a writhing mass of figures with unnatural, stilted movement. Their speed less than the runner’s, but not slow enough for my liking.
“Go,” I said turning to the line. “Go,” I repeated. Cassidy and Ellie were the first to peel off, to break into a jog, then Zoe and Nat to the sound of sobbing for the shattered illusion of hope we’d just shared. Andrew stood held to the spot. “Go,” I shouted.
“Fuck off,” he replied, panting through a half hearted smile. Together we held our ground, the runner closing, the warm gun repositioned in my hand as a club, Andrew with a lighter in his hand, the stick of a giant star mottled firework in the other.
After a minute we saw Matt’s features, his roman nose appearing first as the light rose. Andrew and I swapped a glance, wide grins shared. I heard the rasp of a lighter at my side, the fizz of the fuse, my hand out grabbing at Matt’s outstretched. The rocket electrified the air, racing toward the approaching crowd, their gut wrenching stench already here. I had his palm and let my blood pressure relax at its warmth. We were already running, chasing away, making good ground towards our friends as the firework exploded at our backs. We almost clapped hands in a high five, turning to watched the middle of the pack halt and tried to ignore the surge of double dead bodies forming over the mound. Andrew couldn’t have been carrying enough fireworks to take the whole pack on, but we had pace, above all we had pace, although the girls were beginning to slow.
Still running I watched as first Zoe stopped, turning our way, then Nat too, despite my waving hands and shouts urging them on. Cassidy was next, Ellie tucked in. They’d turned and were jumping in the air, arms waving, screaming at the top of their voices, no longer worried about the horde of things running our way. Before I could slow, I heard the unmistakable sound of helicopter blades cutting through the air.
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