I couldn’t catch my breath no matter how deeply I inhaled. But as soon as I saw opportunity, I clawed viciously at it.
I ran upon a low hanging tree and jumped at the sturdiest branch that I could reach. And once I took hold of it, I scrambled madly up into the tree.
After getting to safety, I spotted the runner a few yards away; it was no longer running. It was walking, hobbling even, towards the tree that I was sitting in. And, it looked tired.
How could it be tired? I thought aloud, staring down at its discolored face.
“I should probably put it out of its misery…”
I removed the rifle from my back and aimed slowly at its head.
Wait… Did he just speak to me?
“What did you say?” I asked, slowly lowering the rifle.
“Please--” he said again, “don’t shoot.”
“But you’re--you’re a zombie--” I said, choking on that hideous word.
“Then, what’s wrong with you?”
“Please, help me--”
He held his arms out and knelt on the ground. Remorseful, I hesitated, but soon found that I was slowly climbing out of the tree.
I backed away, sure to keep a good distance between the two of us in case he tried to attack me.
“Help you with what?”
“It’s inside of me--” he spat out. “My neck--!”
He was getting more and more tired; and, he couldn’t seem to catch his breath.
“Okay, your neck--”
“Get it out of me!” he yelled, jumping off of the ground.
Alarmed, I raised my rifle again.
“It’s too late!” he yelled, walking slowly towards me.
I continued to back away.
“Too late? Why? Why is it too late?”
He inhaled and grabbed his throat, struggling violently with the breath of air caught in his chest.
“C’mon,” I said nervously. “I can still help you--just tell me what to do--”
He went still. After a few moments of unease, I waved my hands in the air. And, he just stood there blankly staring at me.
“Hello? You okay?”
There once was someone in there… But, he was gone now. The man who I had been speaking with just seconds before was dead. But his body--his body lived.
It seemed even too heavy for him to carry anymore. He sluggishly dragged each foot through the dirt and dry leaves; he opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. There was only a deep, rugged
hiss followed by a few unintelligible grunts.
“I’m so sorry,” I whispered somberly, raising the barrel of the rifle.
Then, I aimed at his neck and fired.
* * *
“Is this where you last saw her?” James asked, jumping out of the car.
“Yes, yes, I’m sure of it--”
“Which way did she run?”
“Through there,” Jessica said, pointing through the low brush and wilted trees.
James, without hesitation, jumped down into the ditch and followed what he thought to be Cayleigh’s shoe prints.
No more than five minutes into his desperate search, he heard her rifle sound off.
* * *
He fell to the ground. His dark blood spilled over the dead leaves and gushed out in a trickling stream of carmine.
I immediately felt lightheaded… I had never seen so much blood before. I slowly walked over to his body and knelt down beside him.
I really thought that I could save him… Whatever was wrong with his neck, it sure didn’t make any difference to shoot at it. Maybe he was delirious, I thought.
“Poor bastard…” I said softly, turning him over.
I studied his face. He really looked quite normal after a moment… His mouth was parted slightly and his face was stained with black soil.
His forehead… It bulged slightly. Taken aback, I tapped the incongruous portion of his skull and it moved again.
I scrambled up from the ground and desperately reloaded my gun. I could see whatever it was bulging wildly in his head--. Then it quickly moved from his forehead to his neck--
Then it wriggled out of the gulf in his neck and squirmed across the ground to me.
I cocked the gun, fired, and missed. It was moving much too fast to shoot at such a close range.
I aimed one final time and right when I shot, it leapt from the ground and bit through my jeans and into my leg.
Anxious to get it off of me, I dropped the rifle and writhed around frantically, madly swatting at my legs with both hands. But it had a strong hold.
I stopped flailing around and tried to calm myself down. Then, after a second’s consideration, I decided to reach down and pull it off of me.
It wasn’t hanging from my jeans like I expected it to be--. I rolled up my pants leg and to my horror, it was burrowing into my skin.
I panicked. And in one desperate act to save myself from further infiltration, I opened my jacket and ripped the entire bottom half of my shirt. I took the remnants of the shirt and wrapped it
tightly around my leg.
I looked up frantically, hoping that my ears hadn’t begun to play tricks on me. Seeing nothing, I glanced back down and firmly tied the cloth into a secure knot.
“I’m going crazy,” I said in a gasp. “I’m infected… and now I’m going crazy!”
I wasn’t going crazy after all.
“Why didn’t you answer me?”
“I can’t believe it’s really you! I thought I was going crazy!”
“Why would you be going crazy--?”
He looked down at the body across from me and went still.
“Is it dead?” he asked, pulling me up and backing away from it.
“Did it bite you--scratch you anywhere?”
“No, not good--” I said, pulling up my pants leg and pointing at the bloodied cloth.
“I thought you said--”
“It wasn’t him,” I said somberly. “Something crawled out of him and nested in my leg..”
“Oh, shit… That means--”
“Those people weren’t zombies,” I replied. “They were hosts.”
James took me into his arms and carried me back to the intersection where the others were. Jessica looked at me, horrified that I had told James that she had actually deserted me. But, I hadn’t.
And, I didn’t plan to.
James climbed into the backseat, still holding me, and Arthur took my seat up front.
“You okay, hun?” Bootsie asked sincerely.
“Yes,” I began. “I think I’m fine--”
“She’s just a little exhausted from all the running,” James included. “I saw the runner she took down in the woods.”
“Did it attack her?”
“She shot it before it could.”
James was better at keeping his cool than I was. They were gonna find out sooner or later that I was infected… But if James could help it, he’d find a way to stop the progression of it first. I
leaned my head against his chest and closed my tired eyes.
* * *
© Copyright 2016 Jennifer Brighton. All rights reserved.