I waited a moment to see what his reaction would be, but he didn’t seem to have one. A zombie let out a long, low death groan, and I couldn’t wait anymore. I turned around and walked away.
Just when I thought I’d left Daniels behind, I heard his footsteps behind me. He caught up to me, but neither of us said anything. There was nothing more to say. He’d made a choice, and I thought it was the right one.
We hurried, so we reached the others quickly. Bishop was helping Max down the hill, holding his hand so he didn’t slip down a ridge. I took over and helped him until we got down on flatter land. Daniels did just fine without me.
When we reached smoother terrain, Boden fell back next to me. He normally led the group, but he let Bishop take the lead. Max was walking beside Daniels, talking to him about a weird blue bird he’d seen in a tree, and for a change, I wasn’t pissed or worried that the two of them were interacting.
“I take it that you’ve forgiven him then,” Boden said quietly and motioned toward Daniels.
“Honestly?” I shook my head. “I’m not sure there was ever anything to forgive.”
“Really?” Boden raised an eyebrow and stared down at me as if he didn’t believe me. “What about everything that happened? All the scars you have from him?”
“He didn’t do most of that, and the parts he was complicit in… well, I’m not sure I would’ve done anything different.”
Boden looked almost comically shocked at that. “You really think that?”
I shrugged. “Desperate times call for desperate measures, and nothing’s ever been as desperate as it is now.”
“Hmm,” Boden said thoughtfully. “Are you ever going to tell me what exactly happened to you at the quarantine?”
“Probably,” I said. “If we live long enough.”
“Ooo, a new reason to stay alive.” He smirked.
I laughed, for the first time in quite a long time, but it was cut short by the sound of a zombie howling right beside us.
Somehow, we’d missed it, and seven zombies were only a few feet away from us, standing between the trees. Maybe they hadn’t even been following us. It was entirely possible they’d just been standing there, and we walked into them. But either way, we were kinda screwed.
“Take Max and run!” I shouted at Daniels, but it was the only way I could think to protect my brother. I’d stay here and fight and send him out of harm’s way.
“Get the kids out of here!” Bishop yelled, apparently having the same idea I had.
Teddy was holding Stella, who’d begun to cry, and he ran off through the trees. Daniels did the same thing, hesitating a moment longer than I would’ve liked, then he was pulling my brother along as they raced through the forest.
That left Boden, Bishop, Serg, and me to try to fight off the zombies. At least it was an even fight.
Or it would’ve been, but right away, a zombie took off, running away from us. That ordinarily would’ve been a relief, but that meant it was going after Daniels or Teddy. It was going after the kids.
Boden had his gun, and he fired one shot, hitting a zombie right in the head. He’d killed it, but when he pulled the trigger again, nothing happened. He was out of ammunition.
Bishop had inherited Nolita’s gun, and she managed to get off three shots before running out. She killed one, but only maimed another that was charging at her.
Teddy had the other gun, so Serg and I were the only ones without weapons. Or at least we were at the start of the fight, since Boden and Bishop ran out so quickly. But at least Boden was using the gun to beat the zombies with.
I don’t know how Serg was fighting, and I didn’t really have time to think about it. I had my own zombie to deal with. I could maybe outrun it, but I didn’t want to accidentally lead it to Max or Stella, and I definitely didn’t want to try running back up the hill.
A fight seemed my best option, even though I’d just seen how well that worked out for Nolita.
When the zombie charged at me, I grabbed its arm and swung it around, slamming it into the trunk of a pine tree next to me. It felt a bit Wile E. Coyote to me, but the zombie was stunned for a moment.
I grabbed the back of its head – which was still surprisingly full of thick curls, so I got a good grip – then bashed the zombie’s face into the tree over and over until it stopped moving.
Serg was struggling with his own zombie. He had out a large hunting knife, which he was using to try to slash at the zombie in front of him. It kept the zombie back a bit, but it wouldn’t for long.
In fact, if Ripley hadn’t come out from behind a tree and pounced on the zombie, Serg probably would’ve been dead meat. Thankfully, there was nothing that cat loved more than killing zombies.
Boden was bashing a zombie with his gun, and it was still twitching, but I doubted it could hurt anybody. Bishop was fighting off another zombie, but Serg joined in to help her fight it off. The only zombie left unaccounted for was the one chasing the kids.
I figured between Bishop, Boden, Serg, and the lion, they could handle the last zombie, and I took off in the direction I’d seen the zombie go. I wasn’t sure where they went, other than north, but it wasn’t long before I heard Stella crying.
I ran toward the sound of her cries, and when I was closer, I heard another noise mixed in with it. A zombie tearing and eating flesh. It was a very specific sound, but one I knew all too well.
I slowed down when I approached, trying to get an idea of what the situation was before I ran headlong into it.
All I could see was the back of a zombie, bent over as he gnawed on something. He was shirtless and clearly male, but his skin had a greenish hue to it, and his spine protruded almost like spikes from his skin. He was starving.
Stella was still crying, but I didn’t see her at first. Then I looked up. She was sitting in the lower branches of a pine tree, clinging to it, and staring down as the zombie ate what I presumed to be Teddy.
I grabbed a thick stick from the ground and snapped it over my leg, creating a pointed edge. The zombie looked back when he heard it, but I hid behind a tree. I waited for a few seconds, then I heard the zombie start chewing away at Teddy again.
I crept out from the tree and walked up behind the zombie. It was too engrossed in eating to notice me. It was in the middle of biting into one of Teddy’s organs when I drove a stick through its back, jabbing it right through the heart.
The zombie slumped forward, in what ended up being a bit of a blessing. It fell over the hole it had ripped in Teddy’s back, sparing Stella from looking at it anymore. Though I suppose she’d already seen enough.