Ali searched for an escape route. There was a line of three small windows halfway between them and Rachel. Pity about the guns pointed at her. The room wasn’t very neat, not up to church standards. Old candelabras and brass vases were scattered about on the tabletop closest. A line of shelves filled with junk covered the far wal .
“Rachel went to see her dad,” Andy said, his voice breaking. “He was hanging around the section of the wall up by the railway yard, trying to get in. She didn’t understand … infected don’t …”
“You think she would want to live like this?” Ali clung onto her wounded arm.
“We can look after her. There’s no reason she can’t still have a good life.” Andy threw back his shoulders, stood tall. “We can do that for her.”
“We will do that for her,” Owen corrected. He spat a wad of bloody saliva onto the ground and Rachel snarled, yanking on the chain.
“People wil find out,” said Ali.
“People need to change their minds about infected. You’ll help with that.” Andy flicked off his flashlight and set it on a nearby table.
His gun trembled in his hand.
“We’ll turn you. Your men won’t let them hurt you. They’l have to let Rachel thtay too,” Owen supplied, a wary eye on the homicidal maniac leashed up in the corner. “It’ll work.”
“No, it won’t. My men will put a bullet in my head and give me a decent burial.” The two idiots dealt her dubious looks.
“Bullthit,” Owen growled and spat some more blood on the floor. “They would never kill you.”
“You're wrong,” she said. “They would never let me suffer, like you're letting Rachel. I guarantee it.”
“We can’t let you go. I guess that makes you dinner.” Andy swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple leaping in his scrawny neck, despite the tough words.
“You really think you can kill someone?” Ali asked. “It’s not like you imagine it would be, Andy. It’s not fast, no matter how quick they die. It stays with you. Plays over and over in your head til you think you’re gonna lose it.”
The boy’s eyelids went into overdrive, fluttering like a fan. His gun dipped, trembling.
She almost felt sorry for the idiot when he teared up.
“We love her,” the boy sobbed.
“Enough!” Owen jabbed the barrel of his gun into her head and pushed her backward, toward Rachel. “Think you’re tho fucking thmart.”
“How’s your tongue?” she enquired, her own voice cracking. Back they went. Her hold on her arm slipped and slid, her palms damp with sweat. “Cause you’re still sounding pretty shitty, Owen.”
Rachel growled and Owen repeated it.
Closer and closer.
“Can I just say, you are one sick fuck of an individual. How did it feel, killing Lindsay?”
The young man’s eyes fired with rage and his bloody teeth clenched.
“It was you, wasn’t it? Just because she called poor little Rachel names.”
“Sthe detherved it!”
“Right, course she did. You’re one sick puppy, Owen. Honest to goodness, deep down where it counts, you really are. You are all fucked up, my friend.”
She could almost feel Rachel’s stale, fetid breath on the back of her neck, hear her snapping and snarling next to her ear. Fear stiffened every hair on her body. Pain brought tears to her eyes. Fucked if she was dying here.
Being marched backward to her doom had only one positive. Ali kicked the prick in the balls with her bad leg. Gave it her al .
She didn’t want to die. But taking a bullet to the brain from Owen versus getting munched on by Rachel was a no brainer.
She’d take the bullet.
Owen howled and clutched at his junk, gun forgotten in his agony. Ali skipped aside and shoved the prick with all her might while he was still doubled over. Balance gone, Owen stumbled into the waiting clutches of his infected girlfriend.
Rachel fell upon him with malevolent glee. The infected woman had a good grip on her prey, fingers gouging into his flesh as she tore at the side of Owen’s neck with her teeth. Owen’s gun slid behind Rachel, out of Ali’s reach. The man screamed, and Andy ran toward the couple, caught in their morbid embrace.
The still sobbing boy started yelling something, but Ali didn’t stop to listen. Hel no. She made straight for the stairs. Her shoulder throbbed and her bruised leg dragged behind her in her haste.
Shards of wood hit her bare feet and the noise of Andy’s gun firing echoed through the concrete room, bouncing off the wall at top volume. The sound made her ears sing.
No stopping. Again and again, he fired wildly.
The top of the stairs was so close, if she could only reach the door. There were no footsteps behind her, only Rachel’s snarls and Owen’s wailing.
Andy didn’t follow her.
Ali hauled herself up onto the small landing, threw herself through the door and slammed it shut. There was no lock, and the heavy christening font would need two good arms to shift it. She had to keep going.
Down the red carpet and through the shadowy church. She bumped off the ends of pews like a pinball. Her choppy breathing and the muffled yel s from below were the only noise.
The side door was unlocked and she threw herself through it, emerging out into the open air.
Her body ached but she couldn’t stop yet. Ali hustled her ass into the pick-up, the key stil helpfully sitting in the ignition. It wasn’t like people stole cars anymore. She pushed in the clutch and shoved the gear stick into neutral, turned the key. Every movement was awkward and slow with her one good hand all over the place. The engine didn’t care, it roared to life.
Ali threw it into reverse and the pick-up truck shot backward like a rocket, taking out a panel of the wire fencing. A bullet cracked the front windscreen and her foot slipped.
The engine stal ed.
Andy started walking toward her, tear tracks lining his face.
She swore, threw it into first and turned the key, wincing at the stabbing pain and keeping her head down, lest Andy’s aim improved.
The truck took flight again and she was off. Bullets slammed into the side door as she careened past the little prick, almost clipping him along with another section of fencing. Her foot nearly slipped again when she jumped the curb but no, no way.
Ali roared down the quiet street.
Things were happening in her rearview mirror. People wandered out onto the footpaths, weapons in hand, alerted by the shooting.
Andy took off at a run, disappearing into the darkness behind her. She wasn’t alone. The little prick was not going to get to kill her.
Not today. A noise came from low in her throat, relief and anxiety and fear.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” Ali eased up on the pedal, turned the corner one-handed in a great arc of a circle and headed back toward Main Street.
The group on the corner had grown. There was help. The pick-up slowed to a crawl, seemingly of its own volition. Strength seemed to be seeping straight out of her as the adrenalin eased.
It was Santa who threw the truck door open, surprise and concern dragging at his face. His mouth hung open. “Ali? What the …”
“Finn’s shot. Back at the apartment.”
“What?” His bushy brows met. “Who?”
“Owen,” she said. The big man scrunched his face up at her and she lost it, yel ing at him. “Owen shot him and took me to the church.
He and Andy have got Rachel there, she’s infected. Do something for once, would you?”
“I’ll check on Finn.” Erin said from behind him and took off at a run.
“Good.” Ali rubbed gingerly at her shoulder, tried to catch her breath. “That’s good.”
Santa gave her a dubious sidelong glance and pulled a walkie-talkie from his belt, pushed the button. “Tom, anything happening at the front gate?”
“Nuh —” was all the man got out before the sound of more shots came from exactly that direction.
One. Two. Three shots. Then an almighty tempest of gunfire. Andy had lost it, too.
“Give me a gun.” She crawled out of the pick-up and shoved her good hand at Santa.
“You’re hurt. Stay out of the way.”
At the sound of shots, the people he had been standing with had started back down Main Street, running toward the gate. Santa followed at his heftier pace.
Ali followed the path Erin had taken and hobbled toward home, her arm nursed against her chest. Finn was propped against their downstairs front door, a gun in each hand. His skin was pasty and covered in streaks of blood.
Erin slipped out of the doorway beside him and sprinted toward the front gate.
Ali burst into violent tears, startling herself. They ran down her face unchecked while she crossed the distance between them. “You’re alive.”
“Course I’m alive. He only got me in the shoulder.” Finn gave her a lingering kiss, eyes squeezed tight. When they opened, he had his game face on. “Where’s Owen?”
“Dead, I think. And Andy’s at the front gate.”
“That’s where Dan headed to get help looking for you. What’s wrong with your arm?”
“Al,” Finn sighed. “Upstairs and stay there. Lock the door. Lock every damn door.”
“You just got shot!”
“I field-dressed it. Go on.” Finn turned and broke into a steady if slow jog.
A chorus of moaning rose in volume down the street. But it wasn’t enough to drown out the noise of the garbage truck serving as the settlement’s front gate chugging to life.
Andy was going to let in the infected. The whole settlement was dead.
Daniel had an aneurysm. He could feel it. Without a doubt it was going to pop if he didn’t find his girl right fucking now.
He jogged down Main Street, his small semblance of calm thinning with Finn’s blood on his hands. He rubbed his palm on his jeans, spread his fingers out and wiped off the blood in between them. His gun was slippery.