Chapter Thirty Two

I didn’t stay down long, leaving Lane to get to his feet by himself while I ran. My shoulders flinched forward as another shot echoed through the trees, the bang followed by a chorus of vicious screams. A third shot exploded as I raced closer to the source and I heard the trample of feet running, Lane behind me, his face contorted with pain as he followed. A fourth split the air and I sped up, while fumbling for the gun, its cold, not quite metal, reassuring me little.

My first sighting was Zoe, tears streaming down her face. She was running, pushed at her back by Andrew, both heading my way, their faces alight, eyes wide. On seeing me, Andrew held his hand out to take mine, waving me from my course, trying to turn me as he saw my approach. Shaking off his hands, his worry, I pointed at a right angle.

“Go that way,” I said. Andrew understood, he’d heard the machine gun only moments earlier and missing with one last attempted grab at my jacket, he veered Zoe off the path and into the untracked route, darting around the trees. “No,” I shouted. “I’ll catch up. Get her safe. Take Lane.” I didn’t look back, didn’t check if they’d taken my advice. I had to keep running, had to get everyone safe.

Another shot sent me stumbling as my foot caught a root, the gun falling from my hands. Down on my knees I scratched around in the leaves. Before I was up Nat was running toward me, in her arms Ellie fought, whipping her body round to get free. I pointed the way I’d sent the others and was running again, the smoke of the campfire strengthening with every step, a first trace of rotten meat.

The camp came into view, as did the maelstrom of movement, the crowded expanse of bodies standing, clawing forward. I loosed off a round into the mass. A head shot. One went down. I had just enough time to see at first sight he looked almost like he was still all there, only his pallid, cold complexion told me there was no real life behind his clouded eyes. He was in the front line of the pack, my eyes adjusting to see the three and four body thick group squeezed between the trees, meandering forward, their pace cumbersome.

Cassie was to the side, on her back, face and hands bloodied, pushing a double dead body from her front. I couldn’t tell if she’d been hit and I shook away a thought flashing past, a thought I couldn’t bare to hold on to. I retrained my aim from her as she rolled the limp, dead body away.

How the hell did they get to the camp without being noticed?

She fired off a shot, shattering my thoughts and the fifth body lay dead, dead again, on the floor, face blown away. As she tried to get to her feet, the pack parted, split and out jumped a woman, once a woman, I could only guess from her shape. Her clothes were tattered, barely there, her skin darker, greyer than any I’d see. Her eyes clouded red, not white like the others. She launched herself to the ground where Cassie was scrambling.

Another shot went off, mine, although it felt like someone else was in control. I missed and Cassie had dropped her gun, was using all of her strength to grip the neck of the thing as it scraped at her hands, teeth snapping open and closed. Its face was long gone, hair missing, a ripped and blooded scalp only barely remaining. My second shot didn’t miss, but the attack still continued with a ferocity that was getting the better of Cassie. I ran, jumping the fire, pulling up a burning log as I did and threw it into the crowd, pushing the gun to the thing’s temple and let the bullet exploded its head. The creature went limp, I popped two wild shots into the crowd, some of which were on fire, their reaction not changed, seeing no need to put out the burning flames on their blooded clothes. I grabbed at Cassie’s scarlet hand, but my grip slid off, instead I clawed into her shoulder fabric, dragging her to her feet while emptying the rest of the clip into the crowd.

We ran, the smell of cooking flesh receding, our hands gripped into either other as tight as they could, pulling up, tightening further as one or the other of us slipped. We kept running, only slowing as we passed the helicopter’s victims, bursting into the open air and out from the woods, slowing just enough to twist around, figure out where we were, scour for danger and find our friends. We saw the crash site, smoke still rising, saw the road, but saw no one standing, anything running towards, didn’t see our friends, only then remembering I’d sent them a different way.

“Tell me you saw that?” Cassie said through fits of breath. I didn’t answer straight away. Still holding her hand I pulled her along the edge of the trees, hoping I was heading in the right direction.

“I saw it,” I said, only just able to get the words out.

“We didn’t hear it coming. It pounced out into the open, then stood there looking around. We were all just looking back. No one moved until it jumped at me, screaming like a demon from a horror film. Oh my god,” she said, her voice cracking, her hand at her mouth.

We jogged on, I couldn’t deal with this right now. I’d seen what I’d seen, but still I couldn’t think about when it meant. A animal call came from behind us, something was injured, screaming in pain. I remembered the gun was empty in my hand, remembered the clips two clips in my jacket pocket and undid the zip as I let go of Cassie.

“The noise you heard,” I said slowing so my fingers could get at the depths of my pocket. “Was it like that?”

“No,” she replied, matching my pace, turning to catch what I was doing. Her eyes widened, colour draining from her face as she looked past me. A shrill, demonic call ripped through the air.

I didn’t need her to say a word.


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