I moved away, staying underneath the conveyor and followed the sound of Stella’s crying. I’d walked a few yards across the factory when I spotted Stella. If I hadn’t been crouched down, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to see her.
There was another huge machine across from me, sitting only a few inches off the ground. That’s where Stella was, squished underneath. I’m not sure how she even had room to get under there. Even the teddy bear she always carried with her look smashed in the tight space.
I was about to crawl out from under the conveyor belt and let Stella know I was here, when I heard Bishop start making a retching sound. It was the inhuman coughing that I’d only heard zombies and movie monsters make before.
Bishop had had her back to me, but when she slowly turned around, there was no mistaking she was a zombie. Any consciousness or intelligence had been erased from her face. And she fixed her bloodshot eyes directly on me.
I did not want to fight. I wasn’t sure I could win. But when Bishop ran at me, I realized I had no choice.
I ran out the other side of the conveyor belt, so that would be between us. That didn’t really stop her, though. She dove at it, flying over the rolling metal, and landing on the floor. I kept running, looking for something to fight her with.
The factory was full of deadly machinery with sharp edges, but I had no idea how to use that against her. Bishop would be ridiculously strong and fast. It wasn’t like I could just grab her and hold her down against a rotary blade.
Sheets of metal hung down from the ceiling on thick, rusted chains. Farther down the line, the sheets of metal had been pressed into doors and sides of combines and tractors. They moved across the factory on heavy metal hooks.
Bishop was right on my tail, so I jumped up onto the conveyor belt. I stumbled quite a bit on the lineshaft rollers, so I ran on the side. Because it was like walking on a balance beam, I had to go slower than I would’ve liked.
But Bishop had gotten up on the conveyor behind me, and she was doing much worse than I had. She crawled along on her belly, grabbing at me with her outstretched hands, but I always managed to stay a step or so ahead of her.
When I was close enough, I leaped up and grabbed onto one of the hooks. The thrust of my jump propelled it along, sending me flying across the aisle. It stopped short above the top of a machine, and jerked me back, nearly giving me whiplash.
I dropped down on the machine, still hanging onto the chain, and the hook came down to my waist when I stood. I’m not sure what the machine below me was supposed to do, but the conveyor belt ran through it. The top was flat, and it was about ten feet off the ground.
Bishop had gotten off the conveyor belt and was running toward me. I knew I had to come up with a plan, but all I could do was struggle to catch my breath. My stomach screamed at me. When the chain had jerked me, I think I might have ripped out a few stitches.
With Bishop clamoring up the conveyor belt to get to me, all I could do was wait. I backed up as far from her as I could, so when she got up on the belt and her hands stretched out for me, she couldn’t grab my feet.
The surface was smooth metal, and it was hard for me to grip. I almost wanted to grab her hand and help her up, just so we could get this going. If I thought she wouldn’t have bit me, I probably would’ve done it.
Thanks to her impossible new zombie strength, she got up. She stood on the machine across from me, but before she could charge, I pulled the chain back, and then swung it at her as hard as I could.
The hook sunk into her side, tearing through her flesh. It actually worked out much better than I’d hoped, because it was caught under her ribs. The chain moved away, hanging over the floor with Bishop hanging from it at an angle.
Blood was dripping out of her side. As she screeched and babbled in her new zombie language, blood started coming out of her mouth. She never stopped flailing, though, and she kept reaching out for me, trying to grab me, even as she spun in a slow circle.
Then she threw her head back and let out a long howl, summoning other zombies. I’m not sure how close they were, but with a city nearby, there had to be other zombies. And I could not face them.
I jumped down off the machine and ran back to where Stella was hiding. Bishop was still alive, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that. I couldn’t even reach her where she was hanging, and part of me felt like she deserved it.
If she’d just gone off when we told her, if she’d actually done what was best for Stella instead of turning into a crazy kidnapping bitch, this wouldn’t have happened. So this is what she gets. Since zombies couldn’t really die, not unless their heads or hearts were damaged, she could be stuck hanging from that hook for a very long time.
“Stella!” I lay on the ground in front of her and reached my hand under the machine toward her. “Stella, come on. We gotta go.”
“When Bishop started getting sick, she told me to stay under here and not to come out for anyone,” Stella said.
So when she’d actually started turning, she’d had Stella hide. That was noble of her, except I don’t know what good that would’ve done. Stella would’ve just died underneath that machine or been ripped to shreds by Bishop if she ever came out.
“Well …” I glanced back to where Bishop was howling and hanging from the chain. “She changed her mind and says you need to get out of here.”
“Bishop said – ”
“Look, Stella, I need you to trust me,” I said. “I’ve never done anything to hurt you, and I never will. But we have to get out of here. Now.”
She extended her pudgy hand toward me, and I grabbed it. I pulled her out from under the machine, and I picked her up. She tried to look around, but I put my hand on her head and pushed her into my shoulder, so she couldn’t see Bishop.
I ran out the front door, and I kept running. I really had no idea how long I’d be able to go, especially carrying Stella, but I had to push myself as far as I could. Bishop was still calling zombies, and we couldn’t be anywhere near them when they arrived.
The snow was coming down hard, covering up the tracks I’d left behind. I could still see some of them, but the farther away we got from the factory, the more they were filled in. Soon, I’d just have to guess the way back to the farmhouse.
When I couldn’t carry her anymore, I put Stella down. I still hung onto her hand, and she walked as fast as her little legs could carry her. That was about as fast as I could go anyway. I was sweating profusely, and I felt dizzy.