Infection

Kelly is a thirteen year old with long straight brown hair that reaches down to her hips and green eyes. She is walking down the middle of a wide empty street alone. She has no idea where her parents are or why she is able to walk down the middle of every road that she comes across and that unnerves her.

At first she had been visiting houses to see if anyone answered, but quickly found that she got no responses no matter how much she knocked or the door she knocked upon.

It’s like the whole world has simply disappeared and now she is the only one left. She knows that isn’t true. She has seen people, and they all seem to act odd, but that was a few weeks. The last people she actually physically came across had tried to hurt her, so she had run off as fast and as far as her legs could manage. She doesn’t know why they’d wanted to hurt her, but they’d already bruised her check from a slap they delivered to her for apparently being insolent. She can still feel where the hit landed even though the mark has faded from view.

She hopes that she will find someone good and decent willing to help her find her parents before long as she passes abandoned cars, which she pays no mind to. At first she’d checked each and every one of them, but after the first few dozen it had become clear to her that she wasn’t going to find anyone inside them. She still isn’t sure if that’s a good thing or not. However, she has managed to scrounge some sugary sweets as a result of her initial curiosity. The printing on the package had said they were nearly at their sell by date and seeing as there is no one around she figured that no one else was going to stop them going to waste so she would. She just wishes she could get some real food. Sweets are great but they do nothing to fill me up, she thinks as she wonders down the white dividing line in the middle of the road.

As a young girl she’d been told that walking in the road was dangerous and that she should always stick to pavements and cross at crossings, but this is more fun she has to admit. She kicks at a small stone with her battered trainers. They’d been white once, but she can’t remember how long ago that was as she walks with her hands in her black jeans pockets, her loose fitting orange t-shirt hanging off her thin five foot tall frame.

Mom and dad will be so worried about me, Kelly thinks as she starts to hum to herself. She would never do such a thing if people were around her as she would feel too embarrassed, but she’s clearly alone. She isn’t sure how she feels about that. In some ways it’s the best thing ever as it means no one can tell her what to do, but on the flipside it means she has often found herself bored and lacking motivation. In fact, the only reason she keeps walking is in the hopes of finding someone. She would go home and at first that had been her goal, but she knows that the home she knew is not the one which her parents lived at when she awoke. They’d said not long after she went into hospital that they had moved closer to the hospital to make visiting her easier, but she’d never been allowed to see it. They promised that would change once she got better. Unfortunately, by the time she woke up everyone was gone.

Kelly had searched every inch of the hospital but had found no one. It had been really strange to find a place built to cater for sick people devoid of not just sick people, but people in general. Maybe everything had been cured she’d dared to hope at first, but she knew that had been stupid. That was Kelly clinging on to what remained of her childish tendencies. I’m thirteen now, I can’t think like that. I have to be mature. I am mature. I’m a teenager she’d told herself as she’d donned the clothes she is wearing now.

They aren’t the clothes she’d gone into the hospital with, but ones that she’d found neatly folded, and seeing as no one was using them and it was better than parading round in one of those light blue loose fitting hospital gowns she’d decided to claim them as her own. She still hopes no one will mind. Though it does make her wonder if anyone will even notice.

Still she wishes she had company, she thinks as she continues to hum a familiar melody, that she can’t remember the name of, to herself before suddenly getting the feeling that she is being watched. Kelly turns round and looks over her shoulder, but finds the road is empty. She is the only one out here. You’re being paranoid, she tells herself as she focuses on the asphalt stretching out ahead of her again.

She remembers when roads had been almost black in colour and pristine. There is no way you could say that about them now. Every single one of them that she has seen has been cracked, littered with potholes and faded to a light grey colour. She doesn’t know if the faded colour has been caused by the sun or not, but she decided that it is. After all, who is there to tell her she’s wrong? The answer is no one. That means I can never be wrong, she decides without a hint of irony as she smiles and giggles. She doesn’t really believe she can never be wrong, but it’s helps to pass the time at least.

She doesn’t know how much longer she will walk today as her legs are beginning to get tired. In fact, she has no idea how long she’s been walking in general or what sort of distance she has covered. She misses being able to look things up on the internet, but every phone she’s come across has been broken or has a flat battery. She’d even tried to start some of the cars to see if she could then charge a phone, but they’d all been dead too. It had made her wonder how long ago this all happened, but she knows nothing about cars or how long it takes for their batteries to die. Her specialist subjects are music and movies. She misses being able to listen to music, which is why she is humming so cheerfully to herself. It’s the only entertainment she has other than playing dull boring games like noughts and crosses or eye-spy. She find eye-spy especially dull as it is impossible to play when you are the only person there to both say that you spy something and guess what that something is. Kelly had tried it and after three rounds had given up.

At least her surroundings are pretty, Kelly thinks as she stares around at the tall green leafed trees lining either side of the road. They’re surrounded by lush two feet tall green grass that rustles in the breeze, as well as some overgrown shrubs that she thinks if she stood next to them would reach up to her ribs. But she has no plan to prove whether her assumption is correct or not.

Instead, Kelly looks straight up and smiles because there isn’t a single cloud in the sky, which is a beautiful blue colour. Blue is her favourite colour mainly because of all the pretty shades it has and how diverse it can be. However, she makes sure not to look directly at the sun off to her left as it continues to rise higher and higher into the sky. That means it’s still morning she says to herself.

Kelly is glad she doesn’t live in a hot country. If she did she would never be able to walk all day long as the heat would become unbearable during these summer months. Well, she thinks its summer. If it isn’t then she has never seen weather this fine during spring or autumn. She knows it can’t be winter as it is always cold and wet during winter. In fact, it’s often wet during the spring and autumn as well. The realisation of how often it rains makes her giggle as she hears the musical chirping of birds from somewhere high up in the branches. She can’t place where the bird song is coming from but it’s a great change of tune from the song she is humming. She still can’t remember the songs name and that bothers her a little, but she refuses to let such a thing dampen her otherwise good mood as she continues to put one foot in front of the other.

Adam can barely believe his eyes as he stands on the roof that serves as the community’s watchtower.

That’s a young girl! He says to himself in the moments before he shakes his head in disbelief and then peers back down the sight of the rifle in his hands.

He has to scan slightly round a little before he catches sight of her again, but there is no mistaking that there is a young girl, he’d guess she might be a teenager, walking down the middle of the road alone.

How can this be? He asks himself as he stands there frozen.

“What is it?” Nate asks realising Adam is acting differently. The youngest member of the new trio that has joined their community has been shadowing Adam so he gets used to life in the community.  Nate knows that it’s an arrangement that has been made between his adopted father, Lawrence, and Carl, but this is the first time he’s seen Adam act like this. It’s like the older man has seen a ghost.

“There’s a girl in the street.” Adam utters without thinking. Nate’s question registered subconsciously with Adam who answered it without even taking note that it is Nate asking it. In fact, he thinks he’s simply answering a question being put forward within his own mind.

“Yeah you get young infected sometimes.” Nate says dismissing Adam’s words before realising what he has said. When it dawns on him he curses himself. That was careless and he knows it. He just hopes Adam is too transfixed by this unremarkable event to have noticed. Otherwise, if he has noticed what Nate she said it could raise questions and Nate isn’t good at answering questions. That’s why he leaves it to his dad and Shawn. They know what to say. He just panics. He’s the muscle. Those two are the brains. It’s how the three of them have lasted this long. Nate just hopes he hasn’t made their lives more difficult as a result of his carelessness.

“Look.” Adam says offering the rifle to Nate so he can look down the scope. Inwardly Nate breathes a sigh of relief. It’s clear that his words haven’t registered with Adam and that’s a very good thing. Still he hesitates to take the rifle from the older smaller man. Should he? Nate asks himself. What’s the harm? A voice in his head offers calmly before Nate eventually takes the rifle presented to him and raises it. He decides there is no harm in just looking, but he plans to keep his finger far away from the trigger. He doesn’t want there to be any sort of accident he thinks as he peers down the scope and begins to scan in the direction Adam had the barrel pointed such a short time ago. But he has to admit he sees nothing. No girl, infected or otherwise. In fact, the road seems to be completely barren, beside the abandoned vehicles dotted about the place.

“I don’t see…” Nate begins but never finishes his statement as he catches sight of the girl. His eyes go wide as it becomes abundantly clear to him that the girl really isn’t infected and is walking down the street all on her own. He can barely believe his eyes. What is she doing? Nate thinks as he feels panic setting in. He knows he needs to calm down. His dad would get angry at him if he was here to see his reaction. But he isn’t, so what does it matter? The voice in his head questions without a care.

“We need to help her.” Adam declares as he rings a bell. It’s a new addition to the watchtower added in response to the discovery of Nate, Shawn and Lawrence. They’d found it buried in one of the store rooms and this is the first time they’ll have used it.

Adam has no clue where the bell came from or when the community acquired it, not that such a thing matters as the harsh chime tolls four times. It’s all he dares to do. After all, he doesn’t want to bring a horde of infected down on them. But as soon as the bell stops tolling he hears the groans of the infected in the house below his feet flare up. They are clearly irked by the sound and he can understand why. His own ears are still ringing, but that doesn’t matter now he decides as he begins to cross the metal ladders that connect this roof to the adjacent balcony. He’s forgotten about the rifle in Nate’s hands and the younger man himself as well. But Nate doesn’t seem to notice he’s been forgotten as he follows Adam.

Nate has worked out that Adam doesn’t like heights and he can’t blame him. However, it does surprise Nate seeing as Adam openly admits that he used to work as a bricklayer in the building industry before the end came. He would have thought that someone who would have to be off the ground for periods of time would be used to heights, but apparently he was wrong about that particular assumption.

Nate had worked stacking shelves before the infection came. He still isn’t sure how he managed to survive working in a supermarket filled with people and never come into contact with someone trying to bite him. He guesses that he just must have been lucky as he continues to follow Adam through the otherwise mainly empty studio apartment, down the stairs and out into the plus shaped courtyard.

Nate likes this place. It’s pretty and secure and the people are friendly here. He’s never been anywhere like it before. Sure, he, Lawrence and Shawn had been at other enclaves of survivors but none of them had ever been like this. This is the sort of community that has the chance of surviving. Lawrence and Shawn don’t feel the same however. They think the people are too friendly and helpful and that such things will get them all killed. Nate hopes not, but he knows he likely won’t be around to find out. In many ways that saddens him, he decides as he listens to the exchange silently, still holding Adam’s rifle carefully. But he won’t go against his brother and father. He can’t. They’ve done so much for him, so like it or not he’ll stick by them no matter what.

“What is it Adam?” Melissa asks. She knows it must be important if he’s risked ringing the new alert bell for the first time. Adam isn’t the type to jump to signal for an alert without cause, she knows that.

“There’s a girl in the street.” Adam announces.

“What?” Penny and Melissa exclaim in shock. Neither of the women can believe what Adam has just announced and are sure that it can’t be possible.

“What do you mean there’s a girl in the street?” Vince asks confused. There is no way a girl can be walking down the road, unless she’s infected that is. It crosses Vince’s mind that maybe Adam is going insane from being on watch so often. He knows Adam helps in many ways but he’s never quite been sure as to why the man always volunteers to be on watch. It’s always been a little unnerving to Vince, but Carl swears that Adam just wants to keep busy and that there’s nothing else to it. Now it’s starting to look like he’s wanted to be on watch to hide that he might be losing it. If he is then Adam is a real threat to their community and something will need to be done about it sooner rather than later. Vince has a few ideas.

“Exactly that. There’s a teenage girl walking down the middle of the main road, alone.” Adam explains in disbelief. He can barely believe the words coming out of his own mouth so isn’t surprised the others don’t believe it either.

Sure seeing other survivors isn’t impossible. Proof that it’s not impossible would be Nate, Lawrence and Shawn, but a young girl, alone. That should be impossible, he tells himself as countless questions whirl around in his head. None of which he has answers to.

“Are you sure?” Penny asks. She doesn’t doubt Adam but maybe he’s made a mistake. He’s been doing a lot recently and maybe it’s caught up with him. Or maybe after their recent addition his mind is playing tricks on him because he’s getting his hopes up. She wants to believe him, but what he’s saying just seems too fantastical.

“I saw her too.” Nate admits sheepishly. He doesn’t want to speak up, but has decided he needed to. He doesn’t want the others questioning Adam’s sanity. He isn’t insane. Though, he himself had thought he might be at first.

“We have to help her.” Adam proclaims as Carl, Lawrence and Shawn arrive.

“What’s going on?” Carl asks.

“Adam and Nate have seen a girl in the street.” Melissa informs.

“Claim to have seen.” Vince adds.

“If Nate says he saw a girl in the street then it’s true.” Shawn says glaring at Vince with a fire burning in his eyes. He doesn’t like Vince and refuses to have him question the truth of his adopted brothers’ words.

Vince doesn’t like these three new additions to the community. Something about them is wrong. He can’t put his finger on it yet, but he will in time. He is sure of that.

“Where is she?” Carl asks wanting to avoid any sort of argument. If Nate and Adam are right, and at this time he has no reason to doubt that they are, then helping this girl is more important than some petty disagreement between neighbours.

“A couple hundred yards down the main road. She’s heading this way.” Adam advises calmly.

“And we’re sure she isn’t infected?” Vince asks concerned. This doesn’t feel right. Something about all this is wrong. First Lawrence and his boys appear and now a random girl on her own. The world doesn’t work like this anymore and we can’t keep saving and giving shelter to every apparent person in need that comes by. If they do that the food and supplies they have won’t last however long they would have lasted before the new arrivals came.

Adam looks at Vince but says nothing. However that doesn’t stop him from thinking, of course she’s not infected Vince. I’m not stupid. I can tell the difference between infected and not. Stop looking for a fight. We can’t live like that. Things have changed.

“Adam, take Shawn and Penny. Go get that girl and bring her back here before the infected catch her scent.” Carl orders. He knows he has to end this conversation quickly for the sake of the young girl. The decision is made and Lawrence, who is stood at Carl’s side, nods to show he is in agreement with Carl. But Lawrence is not in agreement because he cares about this girl or her safety, but because it helps him stay in favour with Carl and the others. Unlike Vince, who is only helping to create a rift in the community between himself and the others. A rift which Lawrence can make use of, he thinks.

“Let’s go.” Adam orders as he turns to Nate who throws him his rifle before he races off after Penny and Shawn who are armed with a cricket and baseball bat respectively.

Shawn and Penny are both already over the wall by the time Adam reaches the ladder. He quickly scales it and then hauls it up into the air, his rifle slung over his shoulder. He makes sure to keep his balance as he hands the ladder to Penny and then jumps to the cracked asphalt of the pavement. His knees groan at the shock that judders up them. You could have used the ladder, a voice in his head chastises. Stop complaining, the pain will pass soon; he says to himself as Penny props the ladder against this side of the wall in preparation for their escape back to safety once they have the girl with them.

Penny can still barely believe that they have found another survivor. Let alone a teenage girl walking all by herself. She can’t imagine what existing in this world alone is like. She is sure she would never have managed it. She must be terrified the poor thing, Penny thinks.

“Shawn, you stay here. We’ll go ahead.” Adam orders. Shawn simply nods as Penny and Adam race off. He doesn’t like the idea of standing guard here and not going with Penny and Adam, but he knows better than to argue. We have to keep their trust, he thinks as his head rotates left and right. He knows how dangerous the infected can be and has no intention of relying simply on his hearing. That’s the kind of arrogance that’ll get you killed and he isn’t ready to die. Death will be on his terms, not that of the infected, he promises as he dares to look up at the roof that this community uses as a watchtower. He spies a couple people up there and that offers him an ounce of comfort, but little more. However, he has no idea who they are, but at least it means he isn’t completely alone. They’ll ring the bell if they see anything. That means that they’re taking no chances and haven’t become blasé, which is good.

“Hey!” Adam calls as he and Penny jog down the middle of the street. Adam still has his rifle slung over his shoulder and Penny has her cricket bat lowered. They don’t want to scare the girl who they can see ahead of them. But Kelly is oblivious to their presence as she continues to hum with her eyes closed. She can see a very different world in her head to the one that exists around her. It’s one that’s filled with people, all of whom are happy, singing and dancing without a care in the world. Then suddenly she hears a voice calling. At first she is sure the calls she can hear are in her head and part of her daydream, but as they continue she realises they are getting louder and if they’re in here head they shouldn’t be. Her brow furrows in frustration moments before the daydream evaporates. However, she can still hear the calls which now seem to be coming from two separate people. It is at this point that Kelly opens her eyes, which take a few short moments to adjust. But once they have she realises her view has changed as there are two people rushing towards her. She stops walking immediately as fear wells up inside her. She doesn’t know who these people are, but she knows they are real and not constructs of her mind and that scares her, especially as the last person she came across hurt her.

Kelly wonders if she should run, but she doubts she’ll be faster than the man and woman jogging toward her. Plus she’s been walking for hours and doesn’t know exactly how long, so reasons that she likely wouldn’t be able to keep up any decent pace for long. Instead she just stays motionless in the middle of the road and watches as this pair, who are both dressed in jeans and t-shirts, approach her. They don’t appear as though they mean her any harm, even if one is carrying a cricket bat and the other clearly has a rifle slung over his shoulder. She wonders if the weapon really is loaded. She hopes not, but can’t be sure.

“Hi.” Penny announces as she and Adam slow their pace before ultimately coming to a stop a short distance away from Penny.

Adam keeps a slightly greater distance between himself and the young girl. He doesn’t want to frighten her and thinks that Penny will come across less intimidating than he will. Not just because he’s male, but also because he is carrying a gun.

As the girl eyes the rifle over his shoulder periodically he decides that he’s made the right move in allowing Penny to take the lead, even if she is holding a cricket bat casually in her left hand. He knows she’s right handed, but the girl before them doesn’t. He just hopes that she doesn’t bolt in fear as he doesn’t fancy trying to chase her down. The infected surely won’t be far, but if she planned to do that she would have done that already, a voice in his head advises. He agrees, but still he has to be ready as people can be unpredictable at the best of times.

It’s not safe to be on the street, but it astounds him that this girl is out here. How has she survived alone? Is the biggest question he has looming in his mind. He doesn’t know. He hopes they’ll be able to find out. At some point, not necessarily right here and now though. But first they’ll have to convince the girl they pose no threat and that it’s safe to come with them. Could be a hard sell, the voice in his head adds.

“I’m Penny.” Penny says with a warm smile. She knows Adam is close by and that fills her with relief. His presence makes her feel safe, as does the rifle he has with him. She has no idea how many bullets he has on him, but she knows the gun is loaded.

“What’s your name?” Penny then asks the girl softly.

“Kelly.” Kelly answers honestly. She doesn’t know whether she should answer, but something tells her there is no harm in it. After all, it’s only my name. What harm can telling them my name do?

“Hi Kelly, it’s nice to meet you. This is Adam by the way.” Penny says introducing the man on her right who she notes flicks his gaze between the young girl before him and their surroundings. He’s nervous, Penny notes. She can’t blame him. It isn’t safe out here. Adam knows that. He used to go on raids in the early days. She hates to think what he might have seen along the way as a result.

“Are you alone?” Penny then asks the clearly nervous looking Kelly whose green eyes are darting between her and Adam but nowhere else. Penny marks that as odd. Most people react like Adam is, keeping a watchful eye on their surroundings, but Kelly isn’t.

Kelly simply nods in response. She wants to trust them but she’s risked such things before and people have hurt her as a result. And just like that she can feel a burning on her left cheek where the last person she dared to trust, a woman, hit her. She knows the mark is long gone, but that doesn’t change that fact that she still remembers just how it felt when it was there. It’s a mental reminder that people aren’t necessarily what they seem.

“Kelly you know it isn’t safe out on the street, right?” Penny asks worried. Something in Kelly’s eyes tells her that she’s conflicted and that saddens her. She cannot imagine what this young girl might have gone through and seen, but she has to realise that she and Adam are not like others she may have met. They’re here to help her and can offer her safety, shelter and food. Kelly looks like she could do with some food as she appears thinner than she should be and that concerns Penny.

“Of course I do. I’m thirteen.” Kelly announces bluntly as she folds her arms across her chest and scowls.

“Well we have a safe place. Nothing can hurt you there. Would you like to see it?” Penny queries calmly without paying any mind to Kelly’s outburst.

“My parents said I should never go with strangers.” Kelly replies. It’s true her parents had said that to her when she’d been younger, but she hadn’t abided by it when she’d woken up to find everyone gone. But Adam and Penny don’t know that, she thinks.

“Ok. Yeah that’s true. They’re right. But where are your parents Kelly?” Penny asks as carefully as she can.

“I don’t know.” Kelly admits with a shrug as he looks down at a section of faded cracked asphalt between her and Penny.

“We could help you find them.” Penny offers sympathetically. She didn’t mean to upset the teenage girl with long brown hair that reaches down to her hips and the fact that she clearly has weighs heavily on her. She just wants to help Kelly, but she knows they are running out of time. They can’t stay out on this street for much longer. In fact, Penny is surprised they’re luck has lasted this long. But the infected will come and when they do the three of them need to be gone, or they’ll all lose their lives.

“I don’t need help.” Kelly declares.

“C’mon Kelly we can’t stay out here. It’s not safe for any of us to be out on the street.” Adam urges. He didn’t want to butt in but he sees no choice. He understands that Penny is trying to gain her trust but right now they don’t have the luxury of time and he doesn’t think the teenager understands that.

Right then they all hear the groan of an infected. It’s just one, but Adam knows that it won’t be just one for long as it shambles out from between some trees. It’s a good distance from them, which means they still have time, but not much. They need to hurry this along as the husk that used to be a human wades through the dense shrubs. It pays no mind to what would be for any still living person, a painful route to take.

“Please Kelly, come with us. We have to go. They’ll be more soon.” Penny pleads as Kelly stares at the infected. She’s seen them before, from a distance, but doesn’t know why Adam and Penny are so scared by their presence. What she does know is that the presence of the shambling figure makes her shudder involuntarily as her fight or flight response kicks in. She knows she can’t fight them, so that means she has to run. She might not know or trust Penny and Adam but they’re offering her safety. She could try and run, but how far would she really get? She doesn’t know she realises as several more infected shamble into view from narrow pavements that grant access to the housing estates and the nearby park. Her heart leaps into her mouth. She knows that her best option, her only option really, is to go with Adam and Penny which is why she nods after a few seconds of thought.

“Penny, run. I’ll get Kelly.” Adam announces as he quickly covers the distance and lifts Kelly off her feet. She doesn’t resist as she is hauled into the air. She is too scared to resist as countless more infected shamble into view. She doesn’t like this. This is bad. How did they appear so fast? Kelly asks herself as Adam races back down the middle of the street toward the safety of their community.

Adam has never seen anything like this before. Sure, he’s seen hordes but they have always already been a giant mass. True, they pick up numbers as they shamble along, but this is different. He wonders if this is how hordes start. It could be. He doesn’t know. He has no way of finding out. No one does and even if they did what use would it serve? None, he tells himself as he continues to tear down the road as fast as his legs will carry him. Penny is still slightly ahead of him as more and more infected come into view. It’s like the entire housing estate is gathering, he thinks to himself as he tightens his grip around Kelly’s waist to make sure she doesn’t slip from his shoulder. He can tell that the teenager is terrified, but it’ll all be over soon.

He can just about see Shawn and a couple others gathered round the base of the ladder. He knows they’re not infected attacking, or maybe he just hopes they’re not as the groans and growls of the infected continue to multiply around them. He wonders how this will end. Can they breach our walls? A voice in his head queries suddenly. He curses it for asking such a question at a time like this, but is pretty sure that they can’t. They’ve weather hordes before. It’s why they chose to settle there. He just hopes they can make it inside before the horde can reach them. Of course we can, they can only shamble along, he tells himself. But he quickly notices that infected are appearing ahead of them now. He curses under his breath sure that he’s jinxed them.

“Can we make it?” Penny asks her voice filled with panic as she glances over to him. She doesn’t dare to look behind her.

“Just keep running. We’ll make it.” Adam assures her. He doesn’t know, truth-be-told, but he has to stay positive he tells himself as he checks on Kelly. The teenage girl has screwed her eyes shut and covered her ears with her hands. I wish that really could save us all, Adam thinks, but he knows that it can’t. He’s still amazed this girl she survived out here and wonders just how long she’s been alone. That doesn’t matter right now, the voice in his head screams chastising him as he looks up. Shawn is gone, but the ladder is still there along with Mike, Sally and Peter, by looks of things. He wonders where one of their new additions has disappeared to. Who cares? The voice shouts again as Penny trips. Adam’s eyes go wide as he races past her before he has a chance to react, but as soon as he does and turns to look over his shoulder he breathes a sigh of relief as she is right there with him again.

“Don’t do that again.” He exclaims.

He can feel his energy levels are getting low and his heavy legs feel like they’re made of iron. Just a little bit further, he tells himself as he dares to glance at the infected behind them. He physically jumps as it becomes apparent that he isn’t as far ahead of the horde as he thought. And they are definitely a horde now. They’re must be at least a hundred of them, but at least this last stretch is a slight decline toward the walls of their community.

Up until now the road has been a minor incline, but an incline nonetheless. Still doesn’t change the fact that the infected are right behind you, the voice in his head reminds. He nods in understanding as he hears the calls of Mike urging them to keep up their pace and not slow down. I have no intention of slowing down, Penny thinks to herself, but her legs aren’t quite as understanding. She can feel a burning sensation in them and it’s one that is starting to become painful. She isn’t used to running, not anymore. She used to go for runs every morning before the end of the world. But that feels like it was a lot longer than two years ago. It feels like it was part of a different lifetime. One she can still remember everything about, but one that she could almost say was never hers.

“Don’t intend to.” Penny answers. She knows Mike can’t hear her but she feels the need to say it anyway as she makes sure to breathe properly. The last thing I want to do is deprive myself of enough oxygen and then collapse as a result, especially when the end is in sight. Her goal, the walls of their community behind which they will be safe, have never looked as welcoming as they do now.

Adam notices Shawn has appeared again as he continues to race alongside Penny toward the ladder. Except that it is clear that Shawn too is on a ladder as his torso is visible from behind the wall. It takes a few brief moments for Adam to realise what Shawn is holding but when he does he screams for Shawn to stop. But it’s too late and a single shot rings out.

The bullet whizz’s past Penny’s head only to rip through the face of one of the infected that was heading straight for her, but it was nothing she couldn’t have avoided with a simple sidestep.

“Stop!” Adam bellows as he feels Kelly on his shoulder begin to quiver in fear.

But Shawn ignores his calls and fires a second shot and then a third. Adam can feel rage welling up inside him. Shawn isn’t helping. He might think he is but he isn’t. He’s only making it worse Adam thinks as more infected pour into the street ahead of them. It’s a direct and immediate reaction to the deafening bangs of the rifle having been fired. The infected are drawn to loud or continuous noises.

Adam curses to himself, but they’re very close now. The infected are too slow to have a chance at cutting them off. Or at least that is what he tells himself.

None of that guarantees that they won’t manage to swarm before they can reclaim the ladder and assure their safety though.

The horde will be enormous Penny thinks as she reaches Sally, Mike and Peter.

“Go. Quickly. We have to get inside.” Penny orders as Shawn helps Sally back behind the safety of the brick wall. Penny refuses to be the first to seek safety.

“What are you doing?” Adam roars as he lowers Kelly back to her feet.

“Are you ok?” Penny asks as she drops into a squat so she is on a similar level to the teenage girl, who simply nods furiously.

“Saving your asses.” Shawn spits annoyed at Adam’s outburst, while Mike covers them with the golf club in his hands, raised high. He’s ready to swing it as Peter disappears over the wall.

“You’re next Kelly. I’ll be right behind you.” Penny says trying to reassure the panicked girl who hesitates for a few moments before taking hold of the ladder and scaling it. Once she gets to the top of the wall she freezes, but Penny is behind her and climbs over the wall and then reaches out for Kelly.

Kelly decides that she trusts Penny and smiles briefly before taking the young woman’s hand.

Penny helps Kelly onto the ladder on the inside of the wall as Mike climbs the ladder on the outside.

“Time to go, hero.” Shawn announces. He doesn’t like Adam and debates whether he should strand him here. That isn’t the plan, the voice in his head reminds. And will only make things more difficult. They have to trust us. Shawn knows, but something about Adam rubs him the wrong way. He doesn’t know what. Maybe it’s the man’s superiority, or his belief that he should be listened to because of who he is. Shawn doesn’t know, but he has no idea what Nate sees in him. We’ll have to keep a more careful eye on Adam, Shawn notes as the man climbs the ladder. Adam’s the last. It would have been so easy to strand him. No one would know. Except anyone on that roof, the voice interjects. Shawn had forgotten about that and curses himself for letting his anger get the better of him. He can’t afford to do that. That’s Nate’s failing, not his. You’ve been around him too long, the voice then adds but Shawn ignores its words as Adam hauls the ladder off the floor just as the infected reach the space that it used to occupy.

Many of the infected reflexively reach for the ladder but Adam manages to raise it up high enough before any of them have a chance to get hold of it. However, he only just manages it. Millimetres came between success and failure, he knows as he drops to the ground now within the safety of the high walls. The infected on the other side continue to groan and growl even though they have been thwarted. The sounds they make meshing together to create a cacophony of noise, but Adam doesn’t care about that right now. He’s just relieved they’re all alive. He doesn’t know how they’ve managed it, but he’s overjoyed that they have. No thanks to Shawn, a voice in Adam’s head reminds. But Adam refuses to be riled up by the good meaning intentions of the man. He doesn’t know if he’d do the same if he’d been in Shawn’s shoes. Maybe he would. Maybe it had saved them. Adam knows that he will never know as he squats down in front of Kelly. Penny is at the girls’ side trying to calm her down. Her eyes are open now and she is no longer quivering. Adam smiles at the teenage girl.

“How do you feel Kelly?” Adam asks with genuine interest.

“Better now.” Kelly admits with a forced half-smile from between her long brown locks.

“What happened to you Kelly?” Adam then asks. He knows it might not be the time or the place, but he feels he needs to ask.

“I was in hospital. I woke up, but everyone was gone. So I went looking for my parents. I didn’t find them. I didn’t find anyone.” Kelly offers honestly. She has to admit she hasn’t felt this safe in a long time. In fact, the last time she felt this safe was when she last saw her parents. She doesn’t know how long ago that was, but something tells her it was a while ago.

“Were you trying to get home?” Penny then asks as Carl, Nate, Lawrence and Melissa join them.

“I was. But I don’t know where the house is. They moved while I was in hospital so they could be closer to me. I thought if I walked around I’d find them. But I’ve been walking a long time now and still not found them.” Kelly informs them and as she does she realises how stupid her plan actually sounds now that she has said it out loud.

“So you don’t know what happened to those people that were chasing us Kelly?” Adam questions.

“No.” Kelly says with a shake of her head. She’s seen people like them before. They act weird and lumber around like they are in daze, but Kelly has always made sure to keep her distance from them. And after being hurt by that woman she’s stayed away from everyone else as well, but she doesn’t know what happened to her. Kelly made sure to escape before they could do her anymore harm.

“They’re infected and very dangerous.” Penny advises. She doesn’t want to explain in too much detail to the girl because she doesn’t know how Kelly will take it. Plus there will be plenty of time to give her the back-story of what happened to the world.

“Why were you in hospital Kelly?” Melissa asks calmly. She has to know what medical history the teenager has, so she can as best as possible cater to her needs.

“I had brain cancer. I was very sick. Mom and dad were very worried about me.” Kelly admits.

“Pardon?” Melissa exclaims shocked. She doesn’t doubt the girl, but she doesn’t see how it can be possible. If the girl has no knowledge of the infection and how it spread then that would mean that she has been suffering for at the very least two years. She should be dead, or at best be in a coma. But she isn’t. In fact, as far as Melissa can tell from first glance Kelly looks perfectly healthy, if not a little malnourished.

“I’ll need to do an examination to see if you’re OK. Are you alright with that?” Melissa then asks only for Kelly to nod happily in response a short while later.

It’s like Kelly is somehow a teenager and child at the same time, Melissa notes. Maybe it’s because she’s been alone, a voice in her head reasons as Melissa offers her hand to the young girl who eagerly takes it in the moments before they depart.

“Bye.” Kelly calls back to the rest of the still assembled group with a wave. She smiles at Adam and Kelly specifically as she’s pleased to have met them and knows she’ll be safe here.

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