To my right Ryan stood, his eyes wide on the crowd, the haze of their stench rolling out before them. Beyond him the river bared to the left, sweeping in the perfect direction despite its narrowing, despite the water running fast, despite the surface white with foam like a big No Entry sign. To my left the water stretched out turning away from the village as it widened, as the banks fell gently either side, levelling with the calm flow, calling with its calm surface, calling from the wrong direction.
The choice was clear; the choice required now; the creatures stumbling down the bank, falling to their knees, head over heels, already rising to their feet unsteady with the flow. Still, we stood with the bank no longer visible for falling bodies, my head left and right, ignoring the pain as I twisted back and forth, turning left to safety, but away from the house, turning right to danger and the goal I couldn’t give up.
With no time to discuss, Ryan would make his choice, and determined not to look back, I turned to the crowd, their bodies stumbling, piling up to dam the edge of the river, but as a group, closing the distance each moment. I moved right, pushing through the growing flow, not looking back, not wanting to know his decision.
The water deepened with every step, but still I didn’t look around, didn’t want to see the creatures following me on the bank, didn’t want to see Ryan not following, heading the other way or overcome by the dead’s advance. Forcing on, the pressure against my legs gave me hope I couldn’t be followed by those without dexterity, the rising level my only concern. I edged toward the far bank now on my right; the mud rising higher than I could see over even if I stood out of the water. With my hand I grasped for roots I couldn’t find, something to hold as the flow grew with every step. I found nothing but the sheer walls of dense dirt. Breath pulled in as the water reached my crotch, the pain in my throat less than I’d expected as the air pulled in with the cold shock. I took the silver lining.
With the water reaching over my hips, I clawed the air for traction, white foam bubbling around my belly, my eyes fixed forward, searching out the banks in the darkness. My next footfall landed higher than I expected and tripped forward only to be drawn back by the current, swept the wrong direction against my will, my lungs pulling sharp at the air as I sank, the water above my shoulders. A firm grasp grabbed at the scruff of my jacket and I was high in the water again, cold wind washing across my soaked clothes, pulled close to Ryan and to my feet. I grabbed him around the waist and we trudged on, holding against each other as the banks slowly spread, lowering with every step, the flow calming, the water receding. Excess water cascaded down our bodies, the wet remains clinging tight, pushed firm by the chill in the air as we shivered for heat. About to pull to the left, I turned, stared down the river, surprised by the distance, surprised by the clear banks. We hadn’t been followed. The plan had worked.
With slow, considered steps, we stepped from the water and onto the grass, fixing to the spot each time the water gave any sound, glancing around, ready to climb back in at any moment. No milky white eyes stared back as we walked the grass through the last of the thinning trees and into the meadow at the edge of the village. We watched along the side of wood, my gaze constant reaching out the last house by the only road running through the settlement. We’d done it, we’d thrown them off the scent, the only price to pay was the constant vibration of each part of our body, the chills running deep into our core. We had to get out of these clothes, had to change and fast before hypothermia took away our choices.
Together we ran across the meadow peering through the trees, switching ahead every other moment, waiting for the time when we’d see the creatures and the timer would start before we had to run again. It wasn’t until we cleared the trees, rounding the wood on our side of the road, we realised we were on the wrong side of the fence and saw movement within its boundary, the olive drab vehicles crowded the other side, the house I was so desperate to avoid, the house I had no choice but to enter.
Steeling myself with a deep breath, my teething chattering so much I thought at any moment they would fall out, I jumped, catching the tall top of a fence panel, hanging from the edge as it swayed under my weight, until I felt Ryan’s hands so warm, so large, around my waist, lifting me until I had my arms resting on the top, my feet on his hands boosting me high. Precarious on the top of the fence it swayed with my movement, but the concrete at its feet stopped it from toppling. Twisting over the edge, I lowered too fast, keen to avoid the discarded bodies, my knees banged against the metal like a bass drum as I landed.
I couldn’t stay and wait for his climb, knew the drum would have called them near. Finding a pistol was easy. Pulling it from the holster soaked in blood was not when despite my best will, I couldn’t take my eyes from the empty cavity where its owners organs should have sat. Picking my way around the truck blocking my view, I ran toward the first house, ignoring it entirely, instead fixing my gaze on the wide open door to its side. I saw straight through to the garden and the place I’d run, my escape route after I’d killed the woman I once thought I loved. In the background I heard feet landing to the road, but soon a heavy tone in the air took my attention, a tone which could be only one thing, but I took longer than I should have to realise I’d been right as we’d first approached the village. There had been a reason the army penned the creatures in.
The sound grew louder as Ryan arrived at my back, soon turning, looking to the sky using his hand to shade his eyes from the sun. It was there even though it couldn’t be see it. It was there even though it would be too late for us when we did. But we had no choice. We had nowhere to run, so I carried on regardless and climbed the stairs thinking how Toni would have laughed if the bombs hit as I stood over the place where I’d taken her life.
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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.
Not read Season One? Here it is.