I’d left the map at the farmhouse with Boden, but I’d looked at it enough to know that I was heading in the direction of the city. That made some sense. If Daniels was right about the virus calling out to the infected, the large zombie population of a city would be telling Bishop to join them.
If that happened, though, if Bishop met up with the zombies before I got to her, then this would no longer be a rescue mission. There’s no way a little girl like Stella could survive a mob of zombies. I was pretty sure that even I couldn’t do that.
My only hope was that Bishop wasn’t a zombie yet, and I’m pretty sure she’d taken Stella to protect her. In her mind, she was the only one who could do it, and as long as she still had some of her faculties in place, her goal would be keeping Stella safe.
I’d been trudging along for some time, and the snow was sticking more. It’d gotten cold enough that it could actually stay frozen on the ground instead of melting in to a slick mixture. That made Bishop’s tracks easier to follow, but that was the only good thing.
My legs were frozen from the knee down. The slush had been melting against my pants and shoes, soaking them, but now that it was colder, my jeans had literally frozen around my legs. Like my leg had become the clapper inside the solid bell of my pants.
My head and stomach still felt very hot, despite the cold snow blowing against them, and I knew that wasn’t a good sign. The incision had actually begun to throb the last few hours. I could feel it pulsating under my shirt. I hadn’t looked at in a few days, because I didn’t want to.
The infection was getting worse. It wasn’t the zombie virus, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t wreaking havoc on my body. The fever was growing, and I felt weaker. Between the cold, the infection, the borderline starvation … I was not doing so well.
I began to regret going after Stella. I didn’t know if I was strong enough to save her, assuming she was still in a condition where she could be saved. All I was doing was getting myself sicker, possibly killing myself, to rescue a child I barely knew, a child that probably couldn’t even be rescued.
I stopped walking, and for an awful minute, I seriously considered going back. For one moment, I considered leaving a child to die. I didn’t want to, and I felt guilty even considering it.
But would it be worth me dying to go on a futile mission for her? Was I willing to give up everything on the small chance that I could actually help her?
Then I heard Stella crying, and I had my answer.
The whole time I’d been walking, I hadn’t her cry, which had alarmed me. My only reasoning for it, other than her being dead, was that Bishop comforted her. Stella liked and trusted Bishop.
So if Stella was crying now, something had changed.
I was getting closer to the city. I could tell because more and more houses that were popping up around me. If the snow hadn’t been coming so hard, I might have been able to see the skyline of the city in the distance.
Instead, all I could see was a large concrete box off the side of a highway. It was an old factory, and based on the sign hanging from it, I wouldn’t have known for sure what they built. But from the rusted green combines parked in front, I guessed that they built farm equipment.
That was where Stella’s cries were coming from. An old factory full of sharp, monstrous machinery.
I ran toward it without hesitation. She was still alive. I could still save her. And nothing would stand in my way.
When I got closer to the factory, I slowed down. There were a few windows around the building. They were covered in dirt and muck, and I wiped it off so I could peek inside. The first window I looked in only showed me the inside of a ransacked office, which really wasn’t much help, so I moved on to the next one.
This one gave me a view of the inside of the factory, but there were large, dusty machines all around, so I couldn’t get a clear view of anything. I could see movement, flashes of fabric between two machines, and a hanging chain that swung back and forth, but I couldn’t really see anybody.
Stella was still crying, a plaintive mewling sound, but I couldn’t determine where it was coming from. I could hear someone else, someone who might have been Bishop, but the noise they were making sounded weird. It wasn’t a death groan or that bizarre retching thing zombies sometimes did.
It reminded me of the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes. It was a strange blathering of sounds that were completely unintelligible.
The windows were divided up into eight smaller panes, each one roughly two feet wide by three feet high. One of the bottom panes on the window had been broken with the top half complete missing.
Carefully, I grabbed the glass and pulled out the pane, trying to be as quiet as possible. Once the glass was free, I dropped it in the snow and hoisted myself up. I had to go on my side, sliding through the panes silently.
I almost tumbled to the floor headfirst, but I caught myself on the ledge. I pulled my legs through, and then dropped quietly onto the floor.
I’d landed behind a large machine with massive rotary blades. I’m not sure what it was for, but I was thankful that there was no electricity to turn it on. I didn’t want to see it in action.
I was still catching glimpse of movement, and the garbled noises were louder and rather panicked. I crouched down and crept around the machine.
I had to stay low, nearly crawling to get underneath a lineshaft roller conveyor belt. The bars above me kept me somewhat hidden, but I could actually see what was going on from that vantage point.
It was Bishop pacing and making all those weird sounds. Her head twitched, like she’d suddenly developed Tourette’s, and her movements were jerky. Her hands and arms moved sporadically beside her, not like they were flailing, but like a malfunctioning robot.
When she made the noises, the garbled cartoon grunt, spittle would fly out from her mouth. Her eyes were wild and crazy, but there was a hint of something in them, a consciousness that a zombie didn’t have. She was aware of what she was doing, but based on how terrified she appeared, I didn’t think she had any control over it.
I realized that I was seeing something I’d never seen before. She was turning into a zombie. I’d seen humans, and I’d seen them as zombies, but never the actual act of turning.
Stranger still, Bishop appeared to be trying to fight it. She couldn’t, of course, not any more than a person could will away AIDS or stop the common cold. It was a virus, and it would win.
As fascinating and painful as it was to watch Bishop transform, she wasn’t my priority. I needed to figure out where Stella was, so I could get her out of here, maybe without Bishop even noticing us escaping.