I didn’t stop until I heard Harlow yelling my name. Even then, I only slowed down.
“Remy!” Harlow yelled. “Remy! Wait!”
Reluctantly, I stopped and turned around. I gasped for breath, but I liked that better. I liked it when my body hurt so bad I couldn’t feel anything else. It was almost freeing.
In the moonlight, I saw Harlow and Sommer trailing behind. Way off in the distance, I could see the quarantine. I’d run much farther than I thought.
The only reason I could still see the school was because it was on fire. To contain the infection, they'd burned it to the ground, and burned up any survivors who might still be in there.
I was so mesmerized by the fire and trying not to think about Beck that I didn’t notice the shadow creeping up behind Harlow and Sommer. We were all breathing too loud to hear anything.
I didn’t see anything until the zombie dove at Sommer, and she started to scream.
– 2 –
By the time I raised my gun, he was already on her.
Sommer tumbled to the ground with the monster clinging to her back. His claws raked down her arms, and his frothy drool spilled over her. Just before his teeth sunk into the soft flesh of her neck, I fired at him.
Gelatinous blood sprayed out from the wound, and his head tilted back. He slumped down, drooling and bleeding all over Sommer’s fresh cuts. She was still screaming when she scrambled out from underneath him.
But it was already too late.
“Sommer, you’re okay!” Harlow ran to her aide.
Harlow’d been standing off to the side, stricken and shocked while the zombie attacked, with her gun forgotten in her hand. As soon as my gun had gone off, she burst into motion. She dropped her gun and rushed over to Sommer.
Harlow put her hands on her shoulders, mindful of the scratches, and tried to snap Sommer out of it. When Sommer finally stopped screaming, she just stared vacantly, and I’m not sure how much better that was.
The zombie made a hollow breathing sound, so I walked over to make sure it was dead. I had blown off half its face, thanks to the close range, and it stood no chance of getting up again. It kept breathing. Part of me really wanted to shoot it again, but I couldn’t waste the bullets.
I stepped back and scanned the darkness. The land around us was barren, save a few shrubs and rocks. The whole world felt more deserted than ever before, and the vegetation seemed happy to accommodate.
The flames from the quarantine billowed higher, making it easier to see that nothing was coming. Most of the zombies had been in a hurry to get there. The one that had gone after Sommer had been a straggler, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
“Are more coming?” Sommer asked.
“I think they’re all at the barbecue,” I said and lowered my gun.
Harlow had let go of Sommer, and she wiped her hands on her skirt, getting the blood off. Sommer looked around to make sure we weren’t surrounded. She didn’t realize the bigger issue at hand.
“Do you have any cuts on your hands?” I asked Harlow quietly. It occurred to her what I was asking, so she started wiping her hands more roughly.
“No, I don’t,” she shook her head but kept her eyes locked on Sommer, the sadness setting in.
“Come on. We have to keep moving.” I started walking away. Harlow shot a confused look between me and Sommer, then picked up the revolver and followed me.
“Where are we going?” Sommer jogged after us, but I stopped. Swallowing, I turned back to face her.
“No,” I said softly. “You can’t come with us.”
I motioned to the scratches on her arm. The way the zombie had drooled and bled all over her, she had to be infected.
“What?” Sommer didn’t understand at first, then frantically wiped at her arm, as if she could clean out the infection. “No. It’s just a scratch. I’ll be fine.”
“Maybe,” I said. “But I can’t take the risk.”
“You can’t just leave me out in the middle of the desert!” Sommer cried, tears streaming down her cheeks.
She was a small, fragile girl, and she’d just been injured. I didn’t want to leave her out here, but I had only two options in this situation, and she would like the second one even less.
“I’m sorry.” I turned away from her, but she kept following us.
“What if more zombies come?” Sommer asked.
“I’m sorry,” I repeated. Fighting back tears, I kept my voice even. I still had the shotgun in my hand, and when she kept approaching, I aimed at her. “You can’t come with us.”
“But what if I’m not infected?” Sommer pled with me, and I felt Harlow watching me.
“I have to get to my brother, and I can’t do that if you turn into a zombie and kill us. I don’t want to kill you, so I’d rather leave you here now, with a chance of survival.”
“But…” Sommer didn’t have an argument for that, and her whole body slacked.
She stared helplessly at me, and I wished I had something better to offer her. I knew she wouldn’t try to follow us this time, so I turned my back on her and kept walking north.
“I’m sorry, Sommer,” Harlow said, waiting behind me a moment longer. “I’ll never forget you.”
Sommer didn’t say anything, but I don’t know how anybody could respond to that. We’d just left her in the desert to die.
I’d just created another vessel to spread the damn virus. I made the zombie problem worse, but I couldn’t bring myself to kill her. Not when she was still a person, with rational thought and emotions. I wouldn’t hesitate once she was a zombie, though, and I hoped I didn’t run into her then.
Harlow hurried to meet my pace, and neither of us said anything for a while. I glanced over at her, and I could see the moon glinting off her silent tears. I tried to think of something comforting to say, but I had nothing.
I hadn’t even shed a tear over Beck, and as soon as I realized that, I pushed it from my mind. I didn’t want to cry for him or anyone else.
“Maybe I should’ve left her my gun,” Harlow said at length. She still held it, so I took it from her and clicked on the safety. The last thing I needed was for her to shoot off her foot or something.
“You need it more,” I reminded her. I handed the gun back to her. Harlow shoved it in the waist of her skirt, and it looked weird and bulky in her outfit.
Harlow wore a lace trimmed skirt and a matching camisole, with a loose cardigan hanging over it. She had a messenger bag covered in glitter, overflowing with her belongings.