Novella: the Blighted, II

The Blighted
Part II
To be Released:  Q1 2014

Buy the Blighted, Part I HERE



Liam
Somewhere in the Pacific
“I’m certain, see for yourself,” Parris said, handing the binoculars to Liam.
Pressing them against his face, he stared out across the blue water towards the east.  If he strained hard and squinted his eyes just so, he could make out the rocky spine rising up out of the water.
“How did you see that?” Liam asked.
“What?” he said with a grin, “I’ve got sailor’s eyes.”
“And a mouth to match…”
“I can’t say that I blame ‘em – talkin’ like they do…” Parris replied, “Stuck out on the water like this, it’s enough to drive a man mad.  Even if the islands are full of blights, I won’t miss this boat.”
Liam laughed, “It’s hardly been two weeks.  Imagine how it was in the past – being out on the seas for months, without any of the luxuries we have, at the mercy of the winds…”
“Past?” Parris retorted, “Give it a year, that’s how it’ll be again.”
His words were sharp, cutting through the façade of pleasantry that they’d managed for most of the voyage.  The past couple of weeks had allowed them to push back the fear that’d dogged them while they’d held out in Fiji.  The blood that had been spilt on the deck was long since gone.  The bodies of the fallen were but memories, having been offered up to the sea. 
Once they stepped off the trawler, though, the false reality they’d fashioned for themselves would be gone.  The truths that governed the new world would return.  Death waited ‘round every corner, or staggered forth without growing weary.  Suspicion reigned like a tyrant.  No stranger, no place – nothing could be trusted.  
If only we could stay out here forever, Liam thought to himself.
Instead, he said, “I’ll go tell the others.  We should probably double the watch; there could be trouble about.  You mind readying the inflatable?”
Parris nodded before departing.
Liam pulled the binoculars back up to his face and gazed at the summit again.  It was larger now, it’s presence undeniable.  Well here we are, at our journey’s end, and never have I felt so reluctant.  I’m already a prison to this place, and I haven’t even set foot on shore.  What good can come of this?  But if I say such a thing, then our hope is lost.  So we’ll just push forward, and lose more good men, until there’s no one left.  If despair is a place, then it’s on my horizon.   
***
Emma awoke, as always, to Rikki curled up on her chest.  His low purr was calming, or maybe it was the weight.  Like a heavy blanket on a winter’s night, it made her feel safe.  She’d almost forgot what it felt like – not to be afraid of what the new day held, or even the next moment.    
As she watched him sleep, she mused, Are you really the key?  You’d better be, otherwise you’ve caused a whole lot of trouble.  But you’d like that, wouldn’t you?
…But what does that even mean, ‘the key?’  Maybe, in a few generations, at the Mongoose Institute for the Study of Infectious Diseases, people realize just how you were.  Not in my lifetime, though.  Even if you really hold the cure somewhere inside you, nothing changes for us.  Humanity is still a bloody stump.  There’re still billions of dead people wandering about aimlessly.  And you and me?  We’ll still live in fear for the rest of our lives…  I’m just sayin’, I hope all this is worth it…
Hidden by the darkened room, she saw Liam’s face first.  He pressed it gingerly against the threshold and peered inside.  Fighting back a smile, but only barely, she closed her eyes and lay perfectly still.  She could feel her chest grow hot as she imagined him leaning over her.  Instead, he took a seat beside the bed and waited in silence. 
Emma had always found herself drawn to him, but the last couple of weeks had only made her more certain of it.  And why shouldn’t she feel this way?  He was the closest thing they had to a leader and was probably the only reason they’d made it thus far.  He was strong, able to draw out the best in those around him.  And yet, he was gentle with her.  She thought it cliché to consider him one of a kind, but in this new world, maybe he was.  
But the smirk was stubborn.  Finally, it forced itself across her face.  She’d been had, and that only made her smile wider.
“Either you’re playin’ me, or that’s some dream.”
She opened an eye and looked his way before blinking.  “You wouldn’t believe,” she replied.
“I probably wouldn’t,” he agreed, “I haven’t woke up smiling in a long while...”
His voice trailed off as reality rushed back in like a chill breeze, harsh and biting.  Never was it far away. 
“…but I come bearing good news,” he added, “at least, I think.”
“Oh?”
“We’ve spotted land, finally.”
“Just when I was getting used to this?” she replied, only in half jest.
“Yeah, I feel the same way.  It hasn’t been that bad, all things considered.”
Staring up at him, a weak smile flashed through again for a moment, but she didn’t reply.  They both knew it; it wasn’t good news at all.  Soon enough, another long nightmare would start.
“…Well,” he offered, “I just thought I’d let you know,” before standing.  “I should probably be going.”
“Thank you.”
He nodded before starting towards the door.  Pausing, he turned and said, “It’ll be alright, Emma.  We’ll be alright…”
His voice was confident – certain.  It felt good in her ears, but she knew better. 
“Don’t make promised you can’t keep,” she replied.
“You’re right.  I’m sorry.”
***
Back on deck, a small crowd had gathered.  Ratu and several others took turns with the field glasses, marveling at the island as if it was a thing foreign to them.  The ridge had grown in size since Liam had left.  Now, they were quite formidable. 
Towards the stern, Parris had deputized Speck.  Together the pair readied the inflatable skiff. 
“Almost ready,” Parris announced.
Liam grunted in affirmation while looking on.  After several moments, he added, “How do you two feel about going ashore with me?”
Casually, Parris replied, “Got to do it sooner or later.”
Liam nodded.  “Good.”
“Anybody else?”
“Probably Ratu, but no more than him.  Don’t want to leave the boat vulnerable.  We could be gone a while.”
“You don’t have to convince me,” Parris said, “The smaller our group, the less apt we are to be noticed.  I’m not hurtin’ for a fight.”
“That’s right,” Liam replied, “Food, fuel, water – ammo if we’re lucky.  In and out.”
A commotion near the bow interrupted their conversation.  Liam made for the front, while Parris and Speck continued with their task. 
“What’s going on?” he asked as he reached Ratu.
The strong Gurkha, taller than any other he’d ever met, continued to gaze through the binoculars, ignoring him.  Victor, a short, stout soldier, answered, “There’s someone out there.”
“There’s more than one,” Ratu added, handing off the glasses, “but they’re not men – not anymore.”
Every man on deck knew better than to expect otherwise, but they’d been taken for fools.  They’d never said it aloud, but everyone aboard had held out that perhaps it would be different – or over – when they finally got to Hawaii.  But hope was a harsh mistress, and she was sneering at them all.
Victor took the binoculars and studied the wights as they meandered about.  Staring past them, he said, “There’re buildings in the distance – tall ones; condos… or hotels.  This looks to be one of the bigger islands.  Probably a lot of dead tourists.”
“Yeah, not the best place for us to start,” Liam replied, “Let’s follow along the coast until we spot more land – try to determine where we are.  Anybody familiar with the islands’ layout?”
“Somewhat,” said Victor, “We’ll want to find Lana’i or Moloka’i.  They are inhabited, but not heavily, so there should be supplies.  Maybe even enough for us to restock and then leave without risking it on one of the big islands.”
“Alright then,” Liam said, “get us to those islands.”
Victor nodded and turned to address the others.  Liam placed a hand on Ratu’s shoulder and said, “I’d like to have some muscle once we’re on land, just in case.  You game?”
“I’m game.”
***
The cliffs of Lana’i were shear and rose up like titans, unlike the rocky shores of the other island.  And there were no buildings or sightings of the undead, either.  In fact, they’d seen nothing so far as to indicate that man had ever braved the place. 
The blue water beat itself against the grey-brown bluffs without mercy, yet it changed nothing.  It foamed white and swirled about in a rage, but the crags were unmoved.  Are we like those waves, Liam mused, surging forward blindly, without ever a chance of making a difference?  Would we meet our end with the same, futile violence?
No.  He fought back the thoughts.  Without hope, they would surely die.  They had a purpose yet.  They were still alive, and there was work yet to be done.  If not them, then who?  Someone had to fight.
Speck and another soldier scanned the cliffs with the aid of their rifle scopes, searching for something that would betray the island’s serenity. 
“Anything yet?” Liam asked.
“Nothin’,” Speck replied. 
“Soon as we find a beach where we can get ashore, we’ll take a look around.  Until then, keep it up.” 
“Will do.”
Liam arose and walked to the stern.
“Any signs of trouble?”
“No, sir,” Victor replied, “No one out here but us.” 
“Keep your guard up.  I doubt we’re the only boat on these waters.”
Ever since the encounter at the port in Suva, pirates had plagued Liam’s thoughts.  Though, over the course of the entire voyage, they’d chanced sightings of only a few other vessels.  All of them had been sailboats and within a hundred miles of Fiji.  Never was contact initiated or received.  Apparently, neither side was willing to take the risk.
But could anyone be blamed?  Every brush with an outsider had brought misery.  Strangers only took from them – their resources, their friends, their hope.  And those were all scarce commodities.
Losing Noah was hard on everyone, especially Liam.  They were friends, willing to lay down their lives for each other, and Noah had proven that.  He shouldn’t’ve had to die the way he did.  He’d deserved better.
  Speck’s voice interrupted his thoughts. 
“Liam!  We’ve got something up here!”
Before making for the bow, he said, “Keep an eye to the horizon, Victor,”
“We’ve got you covered; go.”
Reaching the front of the boat, he took the binoculars that had been thrust at him.  A smile inched across his face.
“We were due some good luck, weren’t we?” Speck said, grinning.
“That we were.  Let’s hope it holds.”

Blaine
Mississippi River
Baton Rouge, LA
“I can’t believe it,” Blaine said at little more than a whisper, “Baton Rouge may’ve got it worse than New Orleans.”
“What if everywhere is like this?” Taylor asked.
“There’s somewhere out there – somewhere safe.  And we’ll find it.”
…I hope, he added, but saved that portion of the thought for himself. 
The scene was hellish, and growing bleaker by the minute.  The roar of the boat’s engine was drawing the dead to the banks of the Mississippi.  What had started as only a few walkers had quickly grown to… so many he’d rather not count.  They stumbled after the boat along the levee and shuffled down to the water’s edge.  They knew better than to risk wading out into the river, though – a decision that was not lost on Blaine.  The wights weren’t mindless, not completely.
He thought back to the camp in Lakeshore and how some of the undead would blindly chase after his canoe.  Thrashing about, they eventually sank out of sight.  Here, not a single corpse braved the water.  If they get much smarter, nowhere’ll be safe, he mused.
A shiver started at the base of his neck and snaked down his spine.  Perhaps it was the chilling thoughts, but most likely it was the combination of the harsh temperatures and the open water.  It was cold, too cold for this far south.  As if they didn’t have problems enough.  Blaine pulled at the drawstrings on his hood until it was tight around his head. 
In the distance, the city’s landmarks were coming into view.  The steel trusses of the Wilkinson Bridge loomed high as they approached.  Past it on the east bank, the Capitol Building, City Hall and the River Center were visible.  For a moment, he thought he caught a glimpse of the university’s bell tower in what remained of his periphery, but he couldn’t be sure.
They weren’t like he remembered them, though.  Everything seemed so menacing now.  Windows were shattered, assumedly where people had jumped to their deaths to avoid being taken by the dead.  And nothing had been saved form the black scars of the fires, it seemed.  At least the smoke and ash wasn’t thick in the air, like in New Orleans.  Looking back, he was thankful for the rain that’d plagued them over the past few days. 
“Over there – look!” Colt, the younger of the two brothers that they’d rescued, exclaimed.
A gasp rolled across the boat.  Blaine stared at the void left by the missing section of the Wilkinson, and then down at the barge that was still pinned under the collapsed portion of the bridge deck.  How had he not seen it?  He silently scolded himself for not being more aware of his surroundings.   He couldn’t allow his mind to wander again.  In the new world, even the smallest mistake could kill. 
“Do you think it was intentional?” Taylor asked.
Blaine looked out over the west bank.  Aside from the top of a water tower and a handful of industrial leviathans, the levee masked most of what was beyond.  He knew what it hid from him though.   Port Allen was a small town of only a few thousand.  It was ringed by factories, rail spurs and tank fields that hugged the Mississippi.  Just west of the borough, the remnants of greater Baton Rouge quickly gave way to farmland.  And beyond the narrow belt of fields that had likely fallen fallow, the land grew thick with moss-draped swamps and cypress-knot bayous.
“Without a bridge, the worst of the plague would’ve been reserved for the east side.”  Blaine motioned to the west and added, “If I lived over in Port Allen, there’s no doubt I would’ve found a way to take it out.”
They craned their heads up and gazed warily at the gaping concrete maw wrought by the collision.  Mangled steel and rebar blundered out into the sky from either side, like claws blindly reaching for each other.  A murder of crows matched their stares as they passed underneath, before returning their attention to the scattering of corpses that policed the bridge deck. 
After some time, Taylor said, “Maybe we should check out Port Allen.  We’ve only a few gallons of fuel left.”
He shook his head and replied, “No, it’s too close to the city.  As soon as we’re past-”
He was interrupted by a harsh sputter from the motor.  He eased off the throttle, but the sound only worsened.  Smoke began to roll out from under the hood until finally, the roar of the engine stopped completely.  Blaine turned the wheel so that their momentum guided them towards the west bank.  Drifting towards the shore, he hung his head.
***
With a crunch, the hull cut into the muddy banks.  Colt leapt from the boat to a section of driftwood, before bounding on to drier ground.  Taylor and Kaylee trained their rifles over the hill while he lashed the bow line to a fallen cypress.  
Jumping back aboard, he whispered, “What do you thinks wrong?”
Ignoring the boy, Blaine continued to prod the motor’s viscera.  
The group looked on in silence, waiting for a report, while keeping a cautious eye on the levee’s crest.  Finally, defeated, he let out a deep breath and replied, “I haven’t a clue.”
“You mean – you can’t fix it?” Colt stammered.
Staring up at the overcast sky, Blaine replied with a sigh, “No, kid.  Not even if I had the parts, if it even needs parts.  I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“We can’t go back out there!”
“I don’t think we have a choice,” Blaine replied, “…and keep your voice down, we don’t know what’s over that hill.”
Attempting to diffuse the situation, Kaylee leaned in and spoke softly to the boy.  “We’ll be alright.  Blaine has brought us this far – he saved us from those men and got us out of New Orleans.  This isn’t his fault.”
Somewhere over the levee, a garbled moan was followed by the sounds of snapping twigs.  A hush rolled over the boat.  With slow but determined movements, the group readied their weapons. 
“Blake…”
Without removing the rifle from his shoulder, he craned his head back to acknowledge Blaine. 
“Be ready to cut that line and set us adrift.”
Blake nodded and withdrew his knife from its sheath.  He eased forward until he was an arm’s length from the rope.  Meanwhile, the sounds of the corpse grew louder.
As it crested the hill, its milky eyes settled on them.  The low groan was replaced by a snarl.  Quickening its pace, it outstretched its arms and aimed for the boat. 
“Got it,” Taylor said, claiming the kill.  The trigger’s pull was light and crisp, no doubt perfected by its previous owner.  A moment after she’d expelled the air from her lungs, the rifle’s hammer slammed into the rim of the round.  The homemade suppressor fastened to the muzzle all but muted the diminutive .22.  A faint clap and the cycling of the action was all that could be heard. 
The well-placed shot connected squarely with the infected’s forehead.  With crossed eyes and buckling knees, it toppled forward and slid several feet down the slope.  Breathless, the group listened for others.
Opening the dry well, Blaine spoke with as calm a voice as he could muster.  “Grab your packs, we’ve got to move.  The next one over the hill might have a dozen of its friends in tow.”
They immediately complied.
“Don’t overload yourselves,” he added, “We don’t know how long we’ll be on foot, and we’ll need to be able to move quickly.  Make sure you have a coat, knife and a couple mags of ammo.  Bring only enough food and water for a day or so.  We’ll scavenge as we go.”
As they rifled through the boats provisions, the sound of the city’s former residents drifted across the river.  Their endless droning was like a swarm of bees, searching for their next target.  Blaine tried to ignore them, but it was unnerving – to be looked upon as prey. 
Colt was the last in the group to pull his ruck onto his back.  Blaine felt sorry for the boy.  He was only fourteen, and had only begun to experience life.  It would be hard for him to grow up surrounded by death and retain his humanity. 
Making his way to the bow, Blaine asked, “Ready?” though it was hardly a question. 
The nodded and followed him.
Stepping off the boat, he turned and gave her a final glance.  She wasn’t much, and had offered little in the way of protection from the elements over the past several nights, but she’d kept them alive.  Now, what would they do?
After kissing Taylor’s forehead, he said, “Let’s go.”  It was scarcely more than a whisper.
Cresting the hill, they were greeted by a troop of battered walkers a couple dozen yards away.  Deep gashes were apparent on their skin.  No doubt, they’d died resisting, but they’d died nonetheless.  Taylor shouldered her rifle, but Blaine batted it back down.
“No,” he said, “Not unless we have to.  It’s best we keep moving.”
The corpse’s eyes followed the group as they fled, but it took their bodies another moment or two to react.  Turning mid-stride, they teetered on the precipice of toppling over, but managed to right themselves.  With a quick clack of their teeth and a hungry snarl, they sounded the alarm for any other infected in the area. 
A stretch of narrow pavement dutifully followed the toe of the levee.  The cracked surface felt good under the group’s feet.  It was solid, unlike the boat, and offered a mild consolation.  To the south lay Port Allen, hidden by a stand of trees.   
Up ahead, rust-tinged stacks towered over white product tanks as yet another refinery languished on the banks of the Mississippi.  They were relics, immediately rendered obsolete by the new age.  No more would the black lifeblood of civilization course through the steel veins of these places.  Blaine was reminded of something he’d heard long ago: 
It’s easy for some folks to scorn us,
And we’re blamed for more than our lot.
But you think they’ve ever considered –
The day the last oiler’s turned off?
It needed no considering anymore, he lamented to himself, for that day had long since passed.
A stretch of abandoned farmland, given over to weeds, acted as a buffer between the quiet, cross-river suburb and the commanding industrial complex.  An occasional wind row or a cluster of oaks interrupted the expanse, but save for them and the water tower, it was barren.
Blaine guided the group north, away from the undead.  He hoped the refinery would be safer than the town.   They needed to establish a haven before venturing too far out. 
“Just keep a steady pace,” he said, “we can outpace the walkers easy.”
Nearing a small thicket, the brush began to quiver as something moved through it.  Suddenly, a band of wights emerged.  Three runners, faster than any they’d encountered before, tore away from the pack and bore down on the living.
Taylor and Kaylee each dropped to one knee, while Blaine remained standing.  Pushing back his fears, he took charge of his breathing.  Though the first shot sailed wide, but the second met its mark.  The runner’s momentum carried it forward for several yards, before it finally collapsed and slid to a stop.  Turning to engage the others, he was pleased to see they’d already been downed.  The girls’ consistent marksmanship never ceased to impress him. 
“I’m glad y’all are here.”
Taylor flashed him a smile, but it was weak.  More undead were appearing by the minute.  Soon, they would be surrounded. 
“We can’t keep to the road,” Kaylee said, still kneeling. 
“She’s right,” Taylor concurred.
“I don’t guess we have much choice,” Blaine replied, “This way, then.” 
Together, they abandoned the open black top for the tall grass of the field.  The ground was soft, sucking at their every footfall.  It was a feeling quite unsettling to Blaine.  The recurring dream of the fence and the bog flashed to the forefront of his mind.  To be overtaken by the hordes was a paralyzing thought. 
Pull it together, he told himself, this ain’t the time.
It was much harder to maneuver the field than it had seemed from the road.  The dead grass was tall – knee-high in most places.  But there could be no turning back.  The ravenours fanned out behind them, slowing pushing through the muck.
Colt squawked before suddenly disappearing from sight. 
Blaine began, “Blake, help him to his fee-” but was cut off by a raspy snarl.  Again, the boy cried out. 
“They’re here – all around us!” Kaylee shrieked as dozens of the undead rose to their feet. 
Blaine turned and raced back to Colt, but Blake reached him first.  Blaine arrived just in time to see the butt of Blake’s rifle shatter the corpse’s skull.  Begrudgingly, the putrid hand released the boy’s ankle.  Blaine crouched low and helped him back onto his feet.  His face was white – full of terror. 
“It’s okay,” he whispered, “Your brother got him.  Are you hurt?”
The boy shook his head.
“Then go,” he replied, before turning to Taylor and adding, “All of you, go!”
“But where?” She called back, tears in her eyes. 
“The tower!  Head for the water tower!”
Taylor and Kaylee grabbed Colt by his arms and fled for the stronghold.  Meanwhile, the departed continued to close in.  Blaine squeezed the trigger as fast as he could acquire a target.  Only after several moments did he realize Blake was standing beside him, doing the same.
“I told you to go!” He shouted.
But Blake ignored him.
Fine!” Blaine growled, both angered and relieved, “We drop this first wave then fall back, understood?”
Without breaking the perfect rhythm of his rifle, Blake nodded.
The rounds tore through the soft flesh, downing the snarling wights.  Slowly, the pair bought the others time to escape, but there was no pushing back the tide.  The horde only grew closer with every second.  With his rifle empty, Blaine slung it over his shoulder and produced his machete, before shouting, “Go!”
He swung the blade wildly, slicing through meat and bone alike.  With his free hand, he retrieved his knife and buried it in a walker’s skull, before hacking the last of the nearest infected.  Having earned a small victory, he withdrew.
***
Panicked, Kaylee cried, “It’s locked!”
“This gate might be,” Taylor said, “but there’s a way in – I know it.  We’re not the first ones to use this place.  Search the fence!”
They spread out, searching for a break in the barrier.  After several minutes, Colt called out, “Over here!”
“Everybody in!” Taylor shouted, immediately falling into the role of leader. 
A pair of corpses met them at the base of the tower, most likely the remnants of those who had last sought refuge there.  Kaylee downed them with two quick shots, before reaching the ladder.  Colt was immediately behind her and the first to ascend.
Kaylee turned back and eyed her sister.  “Are you still afraid of heights?”
Taylor bit her lip and nodded.
“Here, you go first.  I’ll be right behind you, okay?”
“I don’t know if I can.”
“You don’t have a choice, Sis.  Blake and Blaine need us up there to cover them.  We’ve got to hurry.”
Terrified, she closed her eyes, thought of Blaine and gripped the rungs.
“That’s it,” Kaylee, “just keep going; one at a time.  I love you.”
“I love you too,” she managed with a shaky voice.
By the time they’d reach the top, Blake was halfway to the tower.  Colt was laying prone with his rifle pulled snugly against his shoulder, watching Blaine wade into the midst of the dead.
Taylor pulled herself over the ledge and crawled to the back of the platform, still unwilling to even glance down.
Kaylee smiled and said, “You did good, Sis.”
Right,” a pause, and then, “Where’s Blaine?”
After shrugging out of her pack and lying prone, she replied, “He’s fine.  He’s got Colt and I watching over him.”
“And Blake?”
“He’ll be up any minute now.  Just relax.”  Leaning over, Kaylee said to the boy, “You’ll want to aim a little high…”
“I know,” he replied.
“…And don’t fire until Blaine retreats, unless you have to.  We don’t want to risk hitting him.”
“I know,” he repeated, even more agitated the second time.
“Sor—ry,” She replied exaggeratively,Just makin’ sure.” 
They lay in silence for several moments, their rifles resting on their rucks and their feet sprawled out behind them.  Watching her from the corner of his eye, Colt shifted his position to match hers.  Together, they looked on as Blaine spilled the thick, black blood of the ravenours.
Come on, Blaine, she screamed in her head, you can’t kill ‘em all.  But she knew his mind was in the thick of the fight, and it was a difficult task to wrest it free.  Just don’t get killed…
“Where’d you learn it?”
“…What?” she asked, confused.
“Guns… shooting… you and Taylor are really good.  And you’re girls.”
Oh,” she laughed softly, “Well… our father was a military man – a real hard ass.  Oops… so, don’t say ass, okay?”
Eager to her the story, he nodded and said, “Okay.”
“Good.  So anyway, he wanted a couple of boys that he could whip into shape, but he got us instead.”
“Was he mean?”
Mean?  No, but he was tough.  I didn’t always like the way he treated us, though.  Sometimes I felt like I was being cheated.”
“Cheated?”
“Well,” she said, “girls like to be princesses – at least sometimes.  But not us.  No, the closest we got was pink bows and BDUs.  I know now that he was just lovin’ us the only way he knew how.  Looking back, I’m glad he did what he did.  We’re alive now because of it.”
“Did the virus get him – you’re dad?”
“No dear, he died a couple years ago.  I’m glad he didn’t have to see all of this.”
Colt was silent for a time, before adding, “I bet the virus got my dad…”
“She put a hand on the boy’s shoulder and said, “Oh, Honey… I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.  He wasn’t a good dad.  He used to hit us.  Blake would try to protect me, but sometimes he still got to me.  That’s why Mom moved us here,” he paused for several moments, before adding, “I hope it got him…”
“Honey, he might’ve been a horrible dad, but you shouldn’t say things like that.”
“Well I did, and I meant it.  I hope it killed him.”
Unsure of what else to say to the boy, Kaylee breathed a sigh of relief when Blaine finally sheathed his machete and turned to flee. 
“See that runner coming in from the side?” She asked.
“Mmm hmm.”
“You got it?”
“Yeah,” he whispered as he squeezed the trigger.  The round connected low, piercing the corpse’s torso.  Undaunted, it continued forward.
“Try again,” she said.
Again he fired and again he missed his mark. 
“Here, watch me.”  Leaning in, she continued, “You want to aim higher – higher than you’d think; we’re pretty far off.  Now, he’s moving fast, so you have to lead him by a bit, but not much though.  Then, just bring that trigger on home and…”
The muffled shot was hardly audible, its sound lost before it reached the ground.  Moments later, the runner’s head knocked back slightly, and then it was tangled in its own feet.  It went down hard, and never rose again.
“Whoah!”
Nothin’ to it, kid,” she said with a grin, “Now, what do you say we get in some practice, and give Blaine some breathing room, too, eh?”
“Yeah!”
Smiling, she resumed her instructions, dropping the undead until Blaine was safely on the ladder.  When he reached the top, he pushed off his ruck and lay on his back.  Breathless, he stared at the gray sky.  As he did so, the sounds of the infected grew louder, until a great clamor of death echoed up from beneath them.  Dozens hungrily rattled the fence and circled the structure.  Meanwhile, hundreds could be seen moving in from the nearby countryside. 
“Umm, Blaine,” Kaylee said.
“Yeah?”
“You do have a plan to get us down from here, right?”


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