3 Months Later
They tracked the blood through the snow. It fell in smaller and smaller splashes, each one further from the last. Their quarry was weakening, their steps no longer frantic and widely spaced. The snow drifts were deeper but the steps shallower.
The doe was dying.
Lindsay Volk was not a hunter. She was barely a survivor. The gun she held in her hands felt heavy and unwieldy despite the instruction she’d been given. Her best friend, Katie Fox, had done her best to show her how to use it. Today they’d gone out so Lindsay could get her first deer.
They’d tracked the doe for hours, Katie using some kind of supernatural sense to know where one might be. When Lindsay felt she’d nearly frozen through, she’d seen the doe through the snow-laden brush.
Her first shot missed and despite the silenced rifle, the deer still spooked and ran. So for what felt like an eternity they tracked it again. And again. Until finally, Lindsay managed to line up the shot correctly.
Well, that’s what Katie said. She was a terrible liar, as terrible as Lindsay’s shooting. Katie thought she’d hidden her own shot by kneeling behind her and off to the side, but if Lindsay was good at anything, it was seeing things. The deception made her frustrated but the blood spurt from the deer wiped it away.
At first, it was replaced with horror. It stumbled and fell and kicked and then got to its feet before bounding away, blood splashing into the freshly fallen snow. Lindsay felt like crying for it. What had it done to them? Why did it deserve to die, just for trying to find a few berries to eat?
“Because we’re going to starve soon if we don’t,” Katie had told her. Lindsay knew that was only mostly true. The bunker they’d lived in for the past three months was stocked pretty good, even if she was getting tired of canned ravioli and green beans. It was better than being out here, with them.
With the zombies.
They’d swarmed the bunker for weeks, milling about and scratching at the door. They hissed and moaned and screeched. Lindsay remembered little of that time, her fever had taken weeks to break, but she remembered the hissing and screeching. It terrified her. They’d spent almost two weeks whispering and moving very slowly to avoid making noise until, eventually, they went away.
And so now, they hunted. Or tried to, as the case may be. Lindsay stumbled along behind Katie as they crunched through the snow and ice. Despite being late February, the winter only seemed to be getting worse.
Katie held out a hand and stopped her. She knelt and Lindsay followed suit, looking around as she did so. Katie must have heard something or seen something. Was it a zombie? An… infected, as Katie put it? Lindsay hoped not. Not out here, so far from the bunker.
It wasn’t. Not twenty yards ahead, Lindsay saw the doe. She was limping, its right foreleg held higher than the others. She stumbled and fell, rose very slowly before falling again. This time, she did not rise. Lindsay could see that she was breathing, mist spouted from her nose and her sides heaved. Her big, dark eyes seemed to find Lindsay’s. Suddenly, she felt a fresh wave of nausea and guilt. It was like the doe was looking right at her, pleading to live.
She caught Katie’s arm as her friend raised the rifle to her shoulder and gave a pull. Katie turned, frowning, her expression questioning. Lindsay felt stupid, but spoke her mind anyway.
“Maybe… maybe we should help it? Let it go? It might have little deer at home?”
She expected Katie to laugh at her, or grow frustrated and furious, but she didn’t. For a moment she looked confused but then her expression turned softer and she smiled.
“Don’t ever lose that,” Katie whispered and patted Lindsay on the hand. “But we have to. Now end her suffering, okay? It’s only right.”
Katie’s smile remained and she shrugged. “Just, you. Now, go on.”
“Yeah. You have to do it, just in case.”
“In case what?” Lindsay said, not understanding at all.
“In case I’m ever not here, or… dead.”
“Don’t fucking say that!” Lindsay said, far too loud for the delicate silence. Her voice echoed and carried. Instantly, Katie put a gloved hand against her mouth, her eyes searching the woods, listening.
Another fucking failure, Lindsay thought, feeling stupid and angry with herself. Why did she always mess up like this? She was always fucking things up. She got knocked unconscious when their car crashed and then she got shot by Jon Petersen and… hell she’d made Katie bring them in! Now the Petersens were gone. Just took their stupid drugs and ran away. Not that she was sad they were gone. That asshole had shot her.
There was a crunch, deep within the woods. Lindsay turned, escaping from Katie’s grip and staring in that direction, but the woods were too thick, too dark. It was impossible to see what had made that noise. Soon there was another, and another.
And with it, a low, unearthly moan.
“Oh, shit,” Katie said and rose to a crouch, her weapon held at the ready. She kept a hand out for Lindsay to keep down but she’d already half-risen herself.
The first zombie appeared a moment later. He lurched and prodded through the snow drifts in torn jeans and shredded t-shirt. His age was impossible to tell since a great deal of his face had been removed, exposing the muscle and sinew beneath.
The deer made a sound that was halfway between a croak and a cry. The zombie turned, his attention suddenly grabbed by the sound. Three more zombies appeared, two more men and a woman. They, too, were looking in the direction of the wounded animal.
“Oh my god,” Lindsay whispered. “Oh my god, Katie, shoot it. Shoot it fast!”
“I can’t,” Katie said, her voice sounding strained. “They’ll hear. We need to get out of here.”
“We can’t… she’s hurt… they’ll…”
“Go!” Katie whispered, urgently pushing her away while backing up herself. Lindsay let herself be guided but she couldn’t take her eyes off the deer. The zombies converged on it.
It began to squeal and scream. They fell on it like ants swarming a scrap of food. The deer kicked and thrashed but it was soon lost in the jumble of arms and legs and tearing teeth. Lindsay found herself crying, her eyes muddled with tears. Katie dragged her away with a strong grip on her arm.
They ran, quickly at first, but soon they were kicking their knees high over the drifts, their progress slowed. The bunker lay a mile or two… somewhere. Lindsay didn’t know but she was confident that Katie did.
How could they leave the poor thing to die out there? She’d done it. If she’d been faster! If she’d been quieter, better, less of a fuck up the deer would have died swiftly, painlessly. But no, those screams of pain and terror were because of her. It was her fault because she hesitated, because she lacked the confidence, the will.
The howl of the infected sounded behind them and Katie reach out to take her hand. Lindsay took it and soon she was being pulled, running faster and harder through the snow. Katie had always been the more athletic of the two, but Lindsay could keep up. They’d been doing this for months and she’d played sports in school. Sort of. She wasn’t sure how much band counted as sport.
Those zombies were coming, drawing closer. Any minute more would burst out of the woods ahead of them and then they’d be dead like that deer. Because of her! Because she just… she just wasn’t worth anything.
Oh just leave me here! She thought, almost willing herself to say it. How was she, Lindsay Volk, a nothing, skinny, stupid girl from Mount Hope going to survive this? She wasn’t like Katie. She wasn’t strong and couldn’t shoot a gun or fight!
No. She wasn’t going to survive this thing. Deep down, she knew it. Katie would, she was just the right kind of person. She always so perfect.
And that’s when she knew. She turned her head and saw the zombies coming from behind. They’d nearly caught up to them, the cold and snow hardly slowing them down. Well, she might not survive this in the end, but she would help Katie to survive, damn it. She would be useful.
Lindsay took a deep breath and prepared herself.
A great whine came from ahead of them. It sounded like a giant, metallic ringing that was growing louder. It almost sounded like a jet.
“Look!” Katie said, pointing above them. Overhead, a plane burst through the clouds. It was long and tube-shaped, with thick blocky wings and two big coffee can-shaped engines on its tail. A puff of smoke erupted from its nose and it sounded like the ground was being torn up by giant claws.
The sound of the giant gun on the fighter plane’s nose came a heartbeat after its bullets rained down on the zombie horde behind them. A second plane came right after, its gun going off the same way. Lindsay turned to see the horde chasing them practically disintegrate in their wake.
And just like that, the planes were gone. Like avenging, rage-filled angels they’d come down and saved them. Who were they? Where the hell had they come from? Did they see them?
Lindsay found Katie standing there, her eyes on piece of sky where the jets disappeared into. She looked as dumbfounded as Lindsay felt.
“What was that?” Lindsay said, hoping her friend might know something. Katie knew everything.
“I…I don’t know,” Katie said. Lindsay felt herself shiver.
“Why did they help us? Was that the army?”
“It’d be the Air Force,” Katie said but she wasn’t really answering her. She was talking almost to herself. “But we shouldn’t stand here. More could come. That was… really loud. They could draw hundreds, for miles.”
“Did they even see us?” Lindsay said.
“I don’t know, but we can’t stick around and find out.”
And they turned and ran for the bunker, praying their saviors hadn’t led more zombies right to them.