Except a part of her strongly disagreed. Nick wouldn’t be stomping and yelling because he’d be too scared for her. He’d be beside himself. No matter the time of day, he’d follow her. She knew it. He would come after her to find her and protect her. No matter the danger to himself he would follow her out into the night.
A chill spilled through her.
She stood by the roadside, frozen in place. Terrified at what might happen next. Disaster waited around every corner and one wrong step could cost lives. Her life, and maybe Nick’s life too.
What if she did go back to the school? Because if she was brutally honest she had to admit that she’d be sitting there waiting for him. Waiting for them to sort this out and come to some sort of agreement where she wouldn’t be torn in two.
She needed to talk to him. They needed to sit down and work this out. What she was doing standing by the roadside as dusk closed in? She didn’t even know anymore. Running away wasn’t the answer. As her father had said more than once, cowards and pussies left things unresolved. Go Dad. Double shit. She had to talk to Nick.
Roslyn about-faced and headed back up the drive, swearing constantly. Badmouthing him and herself and the whole fucked up world. Not to forget this bitch of a situation. Of all the times to have unresolved feelings for a guy. How fucking old was she? Fifteen? God the drama, it sucked. The first star winked into existence on the horizon. It peeked out from behind the limbs of swaying gum trees, taunting her. The storm clouds were moving north. Her lips felt chapped from the cold, or maybe that had more to do with beard rash. Her poor pained feet were frozen.
The first moan came from a green tin shed, tucked back from the driveway. A second answered it from a nearby cabin. The door stood open. Something was inside there—an infected.
What the fuck had she done?
She pushed herself faster and something dug into her foot. A piercing pain shot up her leg. Hopping in place, she tried to keep her balance. A shard of rock had punctured the sole of her foot. Blood dripped from between her toes. With a tug and a wince she pulled it out. Damn, it hurt.
The next moan sounded closer. It came from a straggle of bushes beside the drive. The driveway hadn’t seemed this far when she’d been running away. Like an optical illusion, the distance seemed to have lengthened and warped. She ignored the pain in her foot and pressed onward. Movement from the darkened doorway of the first cabin caught her eye. A monster shuffled out into the early night. Its white sundress had been stained in patches. Dirty, crusty scratches covered its arms and legs. Sickly, bloodshot eyes took up half its face above a gaping mouth.
Roslyn’s stomach felt weighted, heavy with dread.
Another groaned behind her. A thick and heavy man. Or it once had been. Its bald head shone in the low light and its bloody mouth hung open, blackened tongue wiggling.
Roslyn sprinted, toes slick with blood and sore muscles straining. Climbing trees and aggressively fucking within a twenty-four hour period wasn’t good for her. Not when she wasn’t used to it.
Another infected stepped in front of her. It stumbled out from beside a parked car, a fancy new sedan. They were cutting her off. Closing in on her.
The knife—she still had the Swiss Army knife in her back pocket. Her hands trembled, slipping over the metal. It slid from her hands, useless anyway. Who was she kidding? She needed something that packed a punch. There weren’t a hell of a lot of choices.
In the garden bed to her right a steel picket was tied to the remains of a long-dead plant. Perfect.
She limped over and grabbed the rusted metal with damp hands, wrestling with it. The dirt had softened from the rain; it had to give. The stupid thing was her only chance. She could hear them coming, the constant moaning and wheezy, overexcited breathing. Her arms strained, tugging at the rusted length of metal. Shoulders ached from the stupid fucking tree climbing. But there wasn’t any giving up. They weren’t getting her. She threw her weight against it, once, twice, and it gave, wobbling in its widened hole.
She pulled it free and swung wild, spinning around and gunning for whatever was nearest. And screaming at the top of her lungs while she did it. “NICK!”
The long piece of metal knocked the bitch in the white dress down. Caught it at head height and sent it reeling. The infected stumbled back and lost its balance, landing on its back. Its ear seemed to be hanging off and there was sort of gunk on the end of Roslyn’s weapon. Flesh and skin and whatever.
Next came the big fat guy with the combover gone wrong. It snarled and spit dangled off its chin. This one probably wouldn’t fall as easily as the white-dress bitch. And that one was stirring, slowly trying to climb back up onto its feet. Its head remained at a funny angle, like it was nursed by her shoulder. Like her neck had been snapped. Why wasn’t it dead if it was that badly damaged?
“Nick!” she screamed again for the fun of it. Her throat felt stripped raw. “Nick!”
Nothing. No sign of him. Oh man, she was going to die, messily and alone. What the hell had she been thinking, coming out so late in the day?
The third one encroached, sneaking up on her side. More were emerging, coming out of the woods to join in the fun. Dark figures stumbled out of the shadows. In front of her the big bastard’s teeth chomped.
Snap. Snap. Snap.
She needed Nick.
A sweater hung in tatters from its chubby arms. Its filthy claw-like hands were outstretched and grasping for her. The tips of its fingers were just centimeters away.
She’d been on the girls’ softball team one lone semester, aged fourteen. Sports had never been her thing. But she’d stayed just long enough to pick up the basics. Steady your feet. Draw back. Eye on the target. Line it up. Put your all into it and step into the swing.
It turned its head at the last moment, catching the length of metal in its mouth. The sound of teeth shattering and its jawbone breaking … she’d never heard anything like it. Gray eyes rolled back into its head and it dropped at her feet.
Roslyn skipped back a few steps, straight into a prickly bush. The big bastard was down for the moment, but the white-dress woman reached for her. Three more infected gathered close.
She swung again with the steel picket, catching the bitch in the shoulder and sending it sprawling over the bastard at her feet. But Roslyn’s hands were too sweaty. The metal bar flew out of her grasp and landed on the driveway a couple of meters away. Past the big bastard, who was slowly coming to. Beyond the bitch in the dirty white dress. Prickly bushes at her back and infected at her front.
A gathering crowd of mindless killing machines staggered toward her. Five now, she could see five. One was a child still clutching a toy truck.
The bitch clutched at her bare foot and Roslyn shook it off. She was out of time.
“Oh, I’m so fucked,” she sobbed, took a deep breath and hollered his name one more time. Really put everything into it. “NICK!”
Then she fell to her knees and scrabbled beneath the bushes. Bare branches caught at her clothes and sticks and pebbles scored her hands. Tore at her skin and stung like shit. And tears of fear and pain fell from her face in a constant stream, which didn’t help at all.
Growling came from close behind. So fucking close that it sounded almost on top of her. Something grabbed at her ankle and she kicked back, trying to dislodge it.
Boom. A gunshot. Could only be a gunshot. The noise echoed down the valley. Boom.
“Roslyn!” Nick yelled. “Where are you?”
“In here!” she yelled back.
The infected tugged on the leg of her jeans, trying to drag her back. It was surprisingly strong and very determined. One bite to one of her bare feet and she was dead. She kicked back and it pulled again at the same time. Her balance went to shit and she landed on her belly, winded, coughing and choking. Fingers dug into her legs through the denim and a long hungry growl crept over her. She’d have screamed, but her lungs had shrunk, making it hard to breathe.
Oh, his voice. He’d come for her.
Suddenly the bitch grabbing at her vanished. Boom.
Nick carefully pulled Roslyn back, extricating her from the tangle of bushes. His face was set and his rifle hung from one shoulder. Hurriedly, he looked her over, checking her for injuries.
“I’m okay,” she said.
With a nod he took her hand, holding on tight. Her grip was tighter. The scrapes from crawling through the garden stung in protest, but no way would she ease up. She clung onto him, wiping away tears with the back of her free hand.
“Come on, there’s more coming,” he said.
Together they jogged back up the drive toward the cabin. She limped, mostly, due to her foot. Moaning came from behind them and the buildings to their left. A couple of sheds and what must have once been the office and caretaker’s house. Where the hell had they all come from? She hadn’t seen a single one when they’d gone jogging. All the noise from the gun and her yelling must have drawn them out of hiding.
Ahead, the cabin came into view, light flickering within. Much more light then there should have been.
“No. No!” Nick dropped her hand and shot forward.
From within the cabin an infected shambled out, backlit by the fire raging within. The zombie must have gotten in across the boards and knocked over the candles. Its clothes were alight.
Nick stood ahead of her, fists clenching and unclenching in the dwindling light. The set of his shoulders made it clear he was furious. Absolutely livid. He tore the rifle off his shoulder and aimed. Boom. The infected toppled onto the walkway, gone for good.
The wooden cabin was ablaze with light, well beyond hope of saving. She had to shield her eyes from the heat and the light. Nick gave her one quick, filthy look, nostrils flaring angrily.
No. Not her fault. There had been extenuating circumstances.
“Get in the truck,” he said. He didn’t look back at her.
Nick strode to the driver’s side door, wrenched it open and threw himself in. She hobbled to the passenger side and climbed in as he gunned the engine, revving the life out of it. Tension lined his face, clearly visible thanks to the fire blazing in front of them.