I didn’t flinch back, didn’t turn, but still our speed had slowed to barely a jog.
“Run,” I said, keeping my voice calm, knowing if I let the panic in it would take control. I needed to slide the magazine, not let it fumble to the ground. “Run,” I repeated as the gun gave a gentle snap, my palm driving the store of bullets home. Still she hadn’t sped, her eyes fixed over my shoulder, her complexion drained. “Run,” I shouted, letting my voice have the full volume it needed, my hands pulling back the pistol’s slide. Cassie looked at the gun and turned forward, her speed building as I fought against my instincts, slowing to a stop, circling to point the gun out as far as I could.
My arms wavered as a length of football pitch away I saw what appeared to be an animal running on two legs, its back hunched, arms out, fingers hooked like claws. Even from the distance I could see it was once a human and wore the remains of clothes, but all that was left were tattered, dark stained rags dragging in the air as it raced toward me. Unlike what I’d seen attack Cassie, this had a face, he was once a young man, now a beast with gaunt, tight skin, grey features curled up, snarling, running at the pace of a leopard on the plain, its bared teeth snapping open and shut.
Holding my nerve, going against all instincts, I kept my finger from pulling, from emptying all the lead into whatever was charging. I was thinking ahead, if there were three of these things, there could be more. I had one gun and two magazines, with no idea how many each held. We would need all the brass we could muster if we would ever get to the other side of the exclusion zone.
The thing had already covered half the distance and still I held my nerve, my finger twitching against the trigger, my heart pounding so hard, I thought at any moment it would get too much and I’d be on the floor in a heap. I knew my best chance would be to wait until it was at least half the distance closer. Time was going too fast, with so much running through my head and now I could hear something in the tree-line, something else racing me down, but I dared not turn my attention away. Whatever it was it couldn’t be bigger or scarier, or run faster than this hungry-eyed beast who would try its best to eat me alive.
I shook, unable to take back control. Those things we’d first seen yesterday were slow and easy to outrun. You could smell them a mile off and were simple to out-fox, but still frightening as hell, their existence incompatible with how the world worked. Then came this beast running towards me, it was almost at the point where I’d see if I’d made the right decision. It was like the king of these creatures and threw the rule book out the window, then leapt after it, ripping pages, eating the words and savouring every mouthful.
I let the first shot fly from the muzzle earlier than I’d planned, proving me right as it flew harmless into the air. Resetting my arm, I relaxed my stance, closed my left eye and pulled again, but as I did, the creature jumped high in the air, leaping like a gorilla on speed, clawing its fingers as it sailed towards me. I shot again, but with each bullet I knew the angle of my arms hadn’t caught up as it punched through the air. Again and again I pulled back the trigger, the gun exploding each time, rearing back in my hand. One shot hit, its body deflected, sending it spinning to the right as I caught its shoulder, but there was nothing going to stop it falling on me with its full weight. Still, I fired and fired again, its body, a projectile itself, crashed against my torso, sending me sprawling to the ground, crushing against my chest.
As my back hit the ground, I caught sight of a dark, hunched shape lunging out from the woods, leaping just like this creature had. My head hit hard against what felt like a rock, stars burst across my darkening vision, the weight on my chest no longer noticeable as I felt powerless to stop my eyes closing.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One