“Darkness closes in. Will you stand against it or lead this world to its bitter end?” – Morrigan, Dragon Age Inquisition
The phone buzzed again and again, but Katie couldn’t will her right arm to bend. She clicked the answer button and thumbed the setting to put it on speaker. She hoped it would be enough.
“Dad!” she said, shouting above the wind and rain.
The phone was cutting out and she couldn’t see how good her signal was. Beside her, Lindsay was flagging, her legs stumbling more often than walking. They tripped, going to their knees and the phone fell from Katie’s hand, skittering across the road. She cried out and nearly dropped Lindsay in her haste to retrieve it. Hoping her dad was still on the line, she pulled it to her ear with her left hand.
“Dad! Dad can you hear me?”
“Katherine? Can you hear me?”
“Thank God, where are you?”
“We’re on Twenty-Eight!”
There was a brief pause and Katie feared the connection had been cut. “Dad?”
She swallowed, her heart pounding in her chest. “Yes.”
“Katherine, listen very carefully. How far away from Mount Hope are you?”
She coughed, trying to ignore the freezing rain that threatened to turn her hands to ice. Turning her head back the way they came and forward again, she searched for a good landmark. There was only forest on both sides, but in the distance she could make out faint light flickering in the darkness. She figured if she’d been three miles from Mount Hope when she’d been dropped off, they’d come roughly a mile in Lindsay’s car. The lights looked about two miles away, so she supposed they hadn’t gotten turned around.
“About two miles? Call 911, there’s someone injured back by our car. There was a crash—”
“911 isn’t going to help,” he said in a tone that brooked no argument. “Who is with you?”
“Lindsay. Dad, we’re both hurt.”
“How badly? Can you move?”
She turned her attention to Lindsay. She was still breathing, but her shivering was becoming alarming. When she shook her, Lindsay barely responded.
“I… I don’t know… Dad I don’t think we can move,” she said and once more bit back tears. Her arm throbbed and she began to worry about the dark stain that was growing on her jacket around the wound. How much was she bleeding? She was feeling a little light headed.
“Okay, damn it. Do not go into Mount Hope, do you understand? I’ll come and get you.”
“Dad… we hit someone… Lindsay called him… called him Mister Turner?”
There was another small bit of silence.
“How did he look?” her dad said, speaking slowly and clearly.
“Huh?” she said. Her head was feeling fuzzy. She knew that wasn’t a good sign. Either she had a concussion too or blood loss was becoming a real problem. She had to do something, clear her head somehow.
“Have you been bitten?”
“Katherine, I need you to listen very carefully. Have you been bitten by anyone?”
“Good. Was Lindsay bitten?””
Katie frowned. She didn’t understand why he was so insistent but turned her attention on Lindsay. The effort made her dizzy, but she managed to check Lindsay for further injuries and found none. Her friend’s eyes were closed and no matter how much shaking she did, Lindsay wasn’t opening them again. Panic began to seize her.
“No but dad, she’s not waking up!”
“I’m coming. Can you get out of sight until you see my truck?”
“I don’t know, I… I can barely move!”
“Katherine. Katie. Listen to me very carefully. You have to try. Do not approach anyone but me. Do you understand? I don’t care who it is.”
“O-Okay,” she said. She shook Lindsay to wake her but nothing happened. The storm was getting worse again, but she was soaked so thoroughly that she hardly noticed.
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” he said and the line went dead.
Katie shoved the phone into her jacket pocket. She felt so tired, like she’d just run a hundred miles. Her mind felt fuzzy and her vision was swimming. I have to get out of the rain. That single thought put her into motion, going to her knees first and then to her feet. The wound in her shoulder throbbed as the adrenaline began to drain from her system. It was all she could do not to collapse again.
“Lindsay… Lindsay please get up,” she said, leaning over to grab hold of the back of her friend’s coat. Could she really drag her ten feet into the woods with one hand? Katie was strong and Lindsay was very petite but she was hurt and only had one hand to leverage. Have to try.
Through pain and dizziness, she began to drag Lindsay off the road. Several times, she nearly collapsed, her voice a shrill screech in the still night. That ten feet felt like a thousand, with each step full of agony. Focus on what I can do right now, she told herself over and over. One step. Another. Another. Lindsay was dead weight and the exertion made sweat break out to mix with the freezing rain. She felt warm for the first time since she arrived.
By the time they reached the tree line, Katie was so tired that she collapsed into a bank of snow. The shock of pain through her shoulder nearly made her black out and no matter how much she wanted to, she couldn’t pull Lindsay any further. The canopy of thick firs blocked some of the storm and she could only hope it was enough. Closing her eyes, she willed her father to drive faster. He would make everything all right. He would know what to do.
She woke suddenly, her heart racing. I fell asleep! Did I miss dad? Momentarily forgetting her injury, she sat bolt upright. The searing pain was so intense that she opened her mouth to scream but the sound stuck in her throat. Tears stung her eyes and began to slide, warm and thick down her cheeks.
It felt like an eternity before the pain subsided. She glanced down at her wound. The piece of glass still protruded but her jacket looked no more soaked with blood than it was before. She decided that was a good sign.
Her friend lay nearby, unconscious but breathing regularly. She leaned close and felt her breath against her cheek. It was strong, also a good sign.
A sound caught her attention and she thought for a moment that her father was arriving. She crawled to the edge of the tree line and looked both ways.
Coming towards her from the north was not a car, but people. They were moving slowly, as if in a daze. A collective groan came from a dozen throats. Through the storm it was hard to make out faces. What are they doing out in this?
A girl, looking no older than Katie was, paused. Her head swung side to side drunkenly and she was sniffing the air. Pale hands reached up before her, as if they were trying to find an invisible wall.
Then she turned and looked straight at Katie.
The sound that came from the girl’s throat was not human. It was halfway between a scream and retch. What was worse were how the others all made the same sound, as if answering her.
“What the hell is this?” she whispered and shifted her weight to move back into the trees. She didn’t know what was wrong with these people but it wasn’t good.
Too late. The girl began to run towards her. Almost immediately the rest followed, lurching into motion on stumbling feet. Some slipped and crashed to the ground only to scramble up again.
“Oh my God,” she whispered and tried to rise, using a tree for leverage. She barely made it to her knees..
The girl leaped across the ditch and landed heavily against her, knocking them both to the ground. Katie landed on her right arm and screamed. Her vision darkened. Don’t black out, don’t black out, she told herself. If she did, she’d die. She wasn’t sure why, but she knew it was true.
“Katie?” Lindsay’s voice came from nearby.
“Lindsay! Lindsay get away!”
The girl was on her then. Katie spun and threw up her arm, her elbow connecting with the girl’s throat. It didn’t even slow her down. In an instant she was on her again, teeth snapping, fingers clawing for Katie’s face. She heard Lindsay scream but couldn’t look back. It was all she could to do to keep her arm against her attacker’s neck, preventing slavering, clicking teeth from digging into her face.
Have you been bitten? Her father’s question rang loud in her mind. It was the only thing that made sense to her in that moment. It was a goal, an objective. Don’t get bitten.
The sound of a roaring engine and squealing tires preceded the crunch of flesh and bone. Dad! It had to be him. It had to be!
“Dad!” she cried out and kicked at the girl on top of her. Her boots connected but the girl was strong and heavy on top of her. She couldn’t budge her, couldn’t move her.
Lindsay screamed again just before the sound of a shotgun erupted just a few feet away. Katie’s ears rang and she nearly let her defenses drop in shock. Those teeth were inches from her face, snapping, hissing. She turned her head away in desperation. The shotgun went off again and again and again.
Another sound thundered nearby and the girl went limp. Pistol, Katie thought. In another instant, the weight was lifted off of her and she sucked in a deep breath. A hand went around her arm and lifted her to her feet. Her right shoulder was numb. She barely felt it as she stumbled against a warm, solid body. She screamed again and began to thrash.
“Katie! Katie it’s me!”
Her eyes opened and she turned to look into the pale, blue eyes of her father. For a moment, she could do nothing, could say nothing. The relief that flooded through her made her catatonic.
Her father shook her. “Katie, snap out of it. Were you bit?”
“What? Huh? Uh… no, no!”
“Get in the car, go!” He turned her around and gave her a gentle shove towards the waiting SUV. She stumbled towards it, focusing on this new objective. Get to the car. Get to the car. She didn’t even remember Lindsay until she pulled the door open and turned to get in.
Her father was carrying her in his arms, her face turned against his chest. Katie never knew just how small her friend was until that moment. Like a doll, she thought, numb.
But Katie was seeing the girl now, as if for the first time. She knew her. It was Samantha Evans. They’d had freshman biology together. Katie borrowed her hair tie for gym. Now she lay in a pool of black blood, a bullet having ripped her skull apart.
Her father rounded the car and Katie heard a door open. Somewhere ahead of them, the screeching she heard was eerily familiar.
With one last look at Samantha’s corpse, Katie pulled herself into the SUV and slammed the door shut.