“There’s a group coming up the other side,” he says. “They’re going to make their way around in a minute. We have to move or they’ll see us. We’ll get to one of those houses and lay low until the rain lets up. Ready?”
We get to our feet and curve around the fence. The sight at the opposite end of it is sickening. A group of infected converging, turning their heads searchingly. The ones who reach the fence first paw against the wood. They seem to know we’re around but not where. Cary gestures us forward and we are quiet but we are not invisible and I wish we were invisible. The houses across the street are invitations. Their doors are open, open mouths.
We need to run.
We just need to run for it.
We don’t. We tiptoe across that road, the rain silencing our footsteps. We go to the first house we see and hurry up the steps.
The door is locked.
Cary looks around and then jumps over the side of the porch and we follow him between two houses. I know what he’s thinking. Maybe there’s a back door, maybe there’s a back door. Maybe it’s open. Harrison sticks close to Cary. I’m next to Rhys. Trace hangs back.
We’ve almost cleared the house when the rain turns into glass. I feel it in my hair and against my face. Broken window. An infected has jumped from a window of the house beside us. It lands neatly between us and a scream rises in my throat but dies on my lips. Rhys pulls me back and we stumble into Trace. It’s a man. A dead man. Not long dead, I don’t think. His skin is gray, tinged purple, and his eyes see everything and nothing. There are gashes on his hand. His neck is wide open. He rasps air at us, momentarily confused to be surrounded by so many living. He turns slowly, his steps stilted.
He faces Cary.
Cary charges into the dead man and they both go flying into the ground. I raise my crowbar over my head to bring it down on the man before the first bite can happen when I realize it’s not Cary. It’s Harrison.
Harrison jumped in front of Cary.
I slam the crowbar into the man’s shoulder. It doesn’t stop him. The man grips Harrison’s shoulders, pulls him down, and bites into the first piece of flesh his mouth can find—Harrison’s cheek. I could fool myself into thinking it’s a kiss, but then the skin separates from Harrison’s face and it’s just red, a river of red dragging down his face, hanging flesh, and the dead man pulls at it with his teeth, annoyed it’s still attached to the person it belongs to.
Harrison screams and I’m terrible because the first thing I think is he’s going to draw attention, not that he’s doomed, that he’s going to die one way or the other. Rhys raises his bat. Blood spatters, brains everywhere. Like that, it’s over. I look behind us. Nothing else has come.
Rhys kicks the dead man off Harrison and Harrison lays on the ground making fish-out-of-water noises, twitching, shocked. We surround him. His mouth moves, open, closed, open, aggravating his wound, making the bleeding worse. He’s trying to say something but nothing is coming out. Cary bows his head as close as he can get it to Harrison’s mouth. Harrison’s eyes go wild and then he finally finds his voice.
“There,” he says.
Cary looks up at us. His face is wet. I don’t know if it’s just the rain.
“Get in the house,” he tells us.
“Get in the house!”
We crawl in through the broken window, leaving Harrison and Cary outside. I fall onto a cold kitchen floor and crawl across it, past an island, before getting to my feet. The house has an open layout, a kitchen that bleeds into a living room that opens down a hall. Stairs. I don’t see any dead but I see bloodstains everywhere. The TV screen-down on the floor. An overturned table with missing legs. Ripped couch.
I clutch the crowbar and step forward cautiously as Rhys and Trace fall in behind me. Rhys runs to the front door to make sure it’s locked. Trace makes his way upstairs. I make my way to the other side of the house, into what looks like an office. Empty. The windows are all shuttered. I meet Rhys in the hall. Trace pads halfway down the stairs.
“Is it clear?” Rhys asks him.
Trace nods and goes back upstairs and I realize he hasn’t said a word since we left. I move to follow him—I don’t know why—but Rhys grabs my arm and holds me back.
A clattering noise sounds from the kitchen. We go to it and find Cary on the floor, on his hands and knees. The baseball bat rolls in front of him. He has two book bags.
“Don’t say anything,” he says.
He stays like that for a long moment, trying to gather the will to get to his feet. It isn’t until Rhys makes his way to the window that Cary manages to stand.
“Don’t look out there,” Cary says. “I’ll cover it.”
My stomach turns. I watch Cary struggle to move the fridge in front of the window. Rhys and I offer to help but Cary refuses to let us. I wonder what he’s thinking, if he’s thinking of how it was supposed to be Harrison when we were first outside. How Harrison was so worried about doing nothing with his life but in the end, he gave it to Cary. Harrison, dead. I’m filled with pity for him but I can’t say I’m entirely sad. I move to the wrecked couch and shrug off my book bag. I sit down. I’m immediately aware of how cold and wet I am, how sore. I close my eyes and listen to the rain.
Harrison and Grace are dead.
The couch depresses. Someone sitting beside me. I can’t bring myself to open my eyes again. I keep them closed. The body in the bathroom. Mr. Baxter. Lily.
When I open my eyes, I feel time has passed. Rhys is on the opposite end of the couch, his face pressed into one of its pillows. I dig into my book bag and pull out one of the water bottles. I polish off half of it before I even think about conserving. I shove it back into my bag and look around. Cary is at the kitchen table. The baseball bat rests in front of him. He rolls it back and forth slowly. I make my way over.
“What’s it like outside?” I keep my voice low.
He shrugs. “They know we’re around. They’re on both sides of the street now. I can’t get to any of the cars. We’ll have to leave.”
“Do you have a plan?”
“Run. Hope for the best. I should tell Rhys to get it together.” He pauses. “And Trace. He’s upstairs. He won’t come down.”
“I’ll get him,” I say.
I linger there for a minute and instead of going straight for Trace, I sit down beside Cary and he moves away from me. I reach for his arm and he pulls it back. He doesn’t want anything I’m offering.
I leave the table and walk down the hall, climb the stairs. I search the halls for Trace. I find him in a bedroom. Someone’s bedroom. A dress hangs over a desk chair. A slew of family photos are pasted onto the wall and all seem to center around one young, blond girl. This must be her room.
Trace sits on the edge of her bed, looking out the window. The gun is in his hand. He runs his thumb along it. He turns to me and fear squeezes my heart until his expression softens, becomes something very sad, and then I’m not afraid anymore. It would kill her to see him like this. If she can see him like this now, it’s killing her.
“I’m sorry,” he tells me.
I sit down on the bed. He returns to the view of the street below. I follow his gaze and I see the infected walking slowly back and forth.
“It’s okay,” I say.
“Okay,” he says. He nods. “Good.”
He puts the gun under his chin and pulls the trigger.
Blood is in the air. It’s in my mouth.
I stumble away from Trace and then Rhys and Cary are at the door asking me what’s going on and then they see it and understand it immediately. Trace is dead. We’ve lost Grace, Harrison, and Trace. There are only three of us now. Only three.
Rhys grabs my arm and tries to haul me to my feet. “We have to go—” He pulls me away from Trace’s body but I dig my heels in because Grace wouldn’t want me to leave him like this. “Sloane, we have to leave—”
“No, we have to go now!”
I glimpse the view out the window. The infected are scrambling, trying to source the sound of the shot. I can hear a familiar thudding echoing through the house. Splintering wood. We rush downstairs and I am trying to explain how Trace died, he killed himself, even though they know. I run into the living room, grab my crowbar. I try to get my book bag, fumble to put it on but Rhys and Cary are screaming that there’s no time, no time. The fridge teeters forward and back, the dead trying to push it out of the way. They know we’re in here.
“We’re close,” Cary says as we follow him down the hall, “so just run!”
He pushes the door open. I know this, we’ve done this before, those first few days. The streets bustling with hungry dead, us against them, no time to think up a better plan than just run and hope and pray. I take the lead and I make them sprint for a house across the road—it’s Mrs. Crispell’s house. The backyard is fenced.
“We have to get past the fence—”
I’m hyperaware of the uneven footfalls behind us, the animal growls. We’ve lost the numbers game. We are going to die. Still, we press on, we reach the fence. The boys fight their way over it. I’m last to go, half over the side when one of the dead grabs my sneakers. It bites into the sole of my shoe. I scream and kick at it blindly until I connect with something soft and mushy and it finally lets go. I hit the ground, land on my side, the wind is knocked out of me. For a second the world wavers and I think I’ll black out. If I do that, I’ll die. Rhys and Cary are way ahead, they’re running ahead. They won’t stop for me, won’t help me up. They can’t. I have to do this on my own. Lily …
I force myself to my feet, staggering dizzily for a second before my head clears. The fence rattles behind me. I look back. A group of infected shake at it, try hard to push it down. They are so hungry, so desperate for us that they can’t make their bodies understand they need to climb.