Foul breath brushed my face as I woke. Somewhere close, a high-pitched voice of a child screamed a name I didn’t recognise. Warmth lapped at my cheek. Another distant call came high and frantic.
My eyes shot open to a slobbering dog, blood and sinew dripping from its jowls. I startled up, falling back as fire raged across my chest. Pushing away the hound, I realised it must be the same creature that saved my life, but it bore no resemblance to the crazed animal that fought the abomination intent on my neck. Blinking away my disbelief, wiping my wet face against the back of my hand, I saw a toddler. Dressed in pink, she swerved around the body of the rotting creature, not even glancing as she ran towards me. Chasing after her was a boy a few years older, scrambling to his feet, recovering from a fall.
What the hell was going on with the world?
I tried to stand again, but sank back, the pain in my ribs more than I could manage right now. As the girl arrived, she petted the dog’s head. He turned her way, closing his eyes as if in a heavenly place.
“Oh my god.”
I recognised Cassie’s voice. She was walking around the pair, not hiding her surprise that I was breathing.
“I thought,” she said looking between me and the dog enjoying the girl’s rough strokes. “I thought it was turning on you,” she said, falling to her knees, helping me to bend at the waist, then wrapping her arms around my chest. As she squeezed, stars burst across my vision.
“So did I,” I said, my voice strained. She pulled back and stood, her face falling.
“It’s not safe here,” she said and offered a hand. With her help, I stood, but uneasy at first.
“No it’s not,” I replied, and for the first time took in the small boy stood at the back of the girl, his hands on her shoulder as he towered above her. “Who are these two?”
Cassie turned away shaking her head, and looked at the pair, considering them as if she’d not noticed them either.
“Are you with anyone?” she said, looking back the way they’d come. The boy stood in silence and I could see he was trying to hide his concentration.
“It’s okay,” I said. “There’s a group of us. If you’ve got anyone else with you, they can come too.” He barely moved his head as it shook. He was hedging his bets. “You should come with us,” I said then turned to the dog still being patted by the little girl. “And you too,” I said tapping the dog on the head. “It’s not safe here.”
“The zombies,” the boy said with no emotion in his voice.
I paused for a moment, then nodded. Still, he looked unsure, but I couldn’t wait for a decision. We were all in danger and so were our friends. I hoped they were together, weren’t scattered, weren’t alone. I followed the boy’s eyes down to the gun and bent, nearly screaming as pain lit across chest, but broken ribs were okay. Doctors couldn’t do anything, but take away the pain. Letting the empty clip slip to the ground, I fished out the fresh magazine and slid the loaded gun into my pocket, the boy’s eyes following me all the while.
I walked, heading the way we’d been running. Cassie held back looking at the two kids. I heard the dog’s paws padding beside me and turned, the girl was following the dog. The boy set off after, with Cassie behind, her head, like mine, twitching to the tree line.
We walked at first, but movement in the bushes, or the sounds in my head, wouldn’t let me stay at that pace for long. I turned to Cassie and she understood. So did the boy and he went to pick up the girl, but Cassie moved her hands towards her, leaning down, but waited for his permission. He nodded and she took her in her arms. The pace picked up, the dog still trotting at my side.
As we ran, we soon came to the edge of the forest, the trees leaving our side. Scouring the horizon I spotted a figure running, then two. They were at the height of a hill a little way off in the distance. One in front of the other. Whoever it was, they were being chased. I ran faster, looking back to Cassie who’d slowed, urging the boy to stay back.
Ignoring the pain I ran. It was Nat.
I watched as she stumbled, disappearing over the brow of a hill, falling. What chased her had been a middle aged man, with balding hair and fat collecting around his middle, tattered clothes barely left to cover, but it pounced after her like an Olympic gymnast. The dog stayed at my side and trying my best to ignore the pull of the pain, I gave it everything. Taking the gun from my pocket I was minutes away, praying she could hold off long enough for me to do what I could.
I wasn’t too late as I arrived over the hill. Her hands around its throat, its mouth snapping forward. Déjà Vu, but from a different perspective.
I let a shot ring off into the air, hoping it would distract the crazed monster enough for Nat to get the upper hand. It didn’t flinch. Its humanity gone. The shot rang off and her grip gave way, the beast lurched forward and bit down on the side of her face.
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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One