Ellie used her crowbar to pry off the bottom plank of wood blocking the doorway and then paused, listening hard. No doubt there were infected in other parts of the abandoned apartment building, but over the last hour or so she’d managed to clear out almost three entire floors. She’d noticed a generator on the roof and had decided that the chance at electricity and a warm bed for a night was worth calling it quits a little early. After getting the generator purring again, she’d followed the electrical cables to apartment 509, clearing out all the infected along the way. For good measure she’d cleared the rest of the floor and the one below it, although there were a few places she’d been unable to reach due to the general disrepair of the building. She was confident that as long as she didn’t throw any crazy parties or decide to take up tap dancing, the infected that remained on the floor below her would have no incentive to seek out a way of reaching her.
Once she was certain that the noise she’d made with her crowbar had not alerted any unwanted visitors, she shoved her backpack through the narrow space she’d created, flattened herself on her belly on the floor, and crawled under after it. The apartment was completely dark and covered with dust. Whoever had set this place up had clearly, for one reason or another, made a deliberate decision to abandon it. There was no sign of a struggle and nothing left out of place, and the previous resident had even decided to board it up before leaving, as though they were hoping to one day return. In the old days Ellie would have tried to maintain optimism that the resident was still alive somewhere, but as a wiser-than-her-years 21-year-old she was able to admit to herself that this was unlikely. The place had been empty for a long time. If the owner was still able to come home, he probably would have already done so by now.
She spent a few minutes looking around, turning on lights as she went, rummaging through drawers and examining all the old world crap that had been left behind. There were a lot of those figurines of fantasy creatures that Joel had once told her people used to play table-top role playing games. Actually, the word he’d used was “nerds.” Nerds used them to play games. Ellie smiled as she remembered trying to convince Joel that they were actually pretty cool, and she’d even secretly swiped one of the figurines - a black dragon that was simply too nifty to let sit unappreciated in an abandoned QZ home. She’d kept it for a long time, sometimes annoying Joel with it at night when they were camped out. Somewhere along the line she’d lost the dragon, although she couldn’t be sure where. There were too many opportunities for things to fall out of her pockets in those days. All she knew was that one night she’d checked for it and it wasn’t there. One more loss in a lifetime of losses. Now she looked closely at all the figurines in her temporary home, but another of the black dragons was not among them.
In the kitchen she found a can of ravioli and a can opener. She’d noticed a hot plate in the living room so she started to head back that way, but when she turned something caught her eye. A bottle of whiskey was tucked away on the opposite side of the kitchen island. “Nice,” she mumbled as she picked it up and inspected the label. It was a quality malt, a real treat. “Thank you, kind stranger. Don’t mind if I do. Don’t worry, I’ll leave some for you, too, in case you ever come back.”
There were some fancy glasses in a cupboard, but she decided to take a coffee mug instead because it reminded her of Joel. Dina had suggested that she make an effort to do more things that reminded her of him. She hadn’t been pleased that Ellie had decided not to take her guitar from the old house, despite the fact that it would be much harder to play with only three fingers on her left hand. “You let Abby take too much from you, El,” Dina had said. “She took him from you once, but you can’t let her keep taking him for the rest of your life. You need to remember him. Otherwise what was the point of all this?”
What, indeed? Ellie plopped herself down on the couch, turned on the hot plate and set the can on top of it. Then she cracked open the whiskey and poured herself a drink. She kicked off her boots and propped her feet up on the table, cradling the mug as she leaned back and stretched her neck, finally allowing herself to relax. Closing her eyes, she let her head fall against the couch and mentally counted to sixty twice, trying not to focus too much on her rumbling stomach. At the end of the two minutes, she wrapped her damaged left hand up in a cloth and reached out to grab the hot can. With her right hand she took out her switchblade and began stabbing the raviolis with the blade, shoveling the food into her mouth as slowly as she could force herself to do it, which was still probably too fast. Food had been relatively scarce on the road - certainly more scarce than it had been during her time back in Jackson.
With her belly now full of food she set the empty can down on the table and used the cloth around her hand to clean off her knife. The shiny metal glinted in the dim light from the dust-covered lamp on the end table beside her, and she turned it a few times in her palm, remembering…
The ocean was cold around her lower body, the waves lapping against her unnoticed. The sound of Abby’s motorboat faded until it could barely be heard over the ringing in her ears. Her mind was centered around one singular thought: I let her live.
I let her live. I let her live. I let her live I let her live I let her live.
Something primal was rebelling against her own body’s inaction. It screamed for her to get in her boat and chase her prey, the quarry she’d been stalking for what felt like forever.
But she was so… So… Tired.
She could no longer hear the boat. Even if she wanted to, the chance to chase Abby was gone. It would be as futile as chasing the wind or the waves that lapped all around her. She closed her eyes, tears slipping down her cheeks. Joel’s mangled face flashed against the back of her eyelids, and that primal voice inside her roared. She killed my person. She killed Joel. Why does she get to live while he had to die?
Ellie wanted to die, too. She was in such pain. She was so… damaged. Her hand felt on fire from the salt of the ocean and there was an odd feeling of imbalance on it - she realized again with a sinking feeling that two of her fingers were gone forever. Energy and life were flowing out of her with every heartbeat. She didn’t think she could move. She didn’t think she wanted to.
Something brushed against her knee and she forced her eyes open again, banishing that horrible image of Joel. With a great effort, she reached under the water with her uninjured right hand and closed it around the handle of her switchblade. A foggy memory of the fight came back to her, of Abby knocking the knife into the ocean. But now here it was, returned to her even though its intended target had evaporated into the unknown distance.
She flipped it open, examining the flashing of light on the blade. How much of her life had been spent with this knife in her hand? How many different people had she cut with it? How many infected?
The wind shifted, carrying the sounds of the fighting in the rattler compound behind her. The prisoners were fighting for their freedom. The rattlers were fighting for… what? Their right to commit cruel atrocities? Why, when the world was already so fucked, did people have to fight each other? Wasn’t the cordyceps enough? Even Ellie, with her immunity, was constantly at risk from the violence of the infected. That was the real enemy. If it wasn’t for the outbreak, none of this would have happened.
And she could have ended it, if it wasn’t for Joel.
Guilt flooded over her like the ocean around her. Guilt for her immunity, for surviving even as Riley and countless others died. Guilt for failing to save humanity from this plague. Guilt for loving Joel, who had prevented salvation. And, with a sharp pang she suddenly understood that there was guilt for her hatred of Abby, who had every right to be angry with Joel.
Immediately after, she felt guilt over her understanding of the monster who had tortured and murdered Joel, the person in the world who had loved her the most.
She was so confused and so lost and so damaged. And still so very tired.
But… The primal thing inside her grew quiet, and she found she was able to lift herself up out of the waves and onto her feet. She staggered towards the remaining motorboat and tumbled head-first over the side. Aching with pain, she pulled the ripcord and got the motor started.
And when she sailed away from the coastline, it was astonishingly easy to go the opposite direction from where she’d seen Abby and her companion go.
Ellie closed the blade and squeezed it tight in her hand before placing it back in her pocket. Since that day over eighteen months ago she’d not used the blade or any other weapon on any non-infected humans. It hadn’t been easy, and she knew a lot of it was dumb luck, but she’d been careful not to kill anyone she’d come across. At first it had been difficult to resist that savage part of her that wanted to pay back what she was given. Plenty of people had attacked her for trespassing through their territory or for the chance to steal her gear, and her instincts still cried for blood to pay for blood. But every time she was tempted she thought of that day in the ocean, of the sound of Abby’s motorboat fading away, of the pain and exhaustion… And of her sudden understanding for Abby’s rage.
It was hard, and she didn’t want to think of it, but it was the only way. It was the only way to keep that primal thing inside her quiet so she could hear her own rational mind through the din. Control. The key was to stay in control. She didn’t want to go back to that place that had made her lose everything. Dina. JJ. Jesse. Jackson. All of it was gone, all because Ellie couldn’t control the part of herself that roared for blood and vengeance. In the long trip from Santa Barbara back to Jackson, Ellie had tried to convince herself that she could go home again. That she could fit herself back into that life with the woman she loved. That she could be a part of a family again and move on from the war she’d been fighting since she was fourteen years old. It had been the same war the entire time, except until recently she’d been confused about who her enemies were.
Things changed as she got closer. The landmarks she passed became more familiar, and they caused her pain. She returned to the home she’d shared with Dina and JJ, unsurprised to find it empty but for her own personal items. It had been just as easy to leave it all behind as it had been to let Abby go. By the time she passed the Baldwin place, where Joel had been murdered, she knew there was no going home again.
The first thing she did when the astonished Rob and Jim, who were standing guard at the Jackson gate, had opened the doors for her was ask about Dina. That’s when she learned that Dina had been true to her word and moved on. They told her she was probably at her house on the south side, where she lived with JJ and Tucker. “Tucker?” Ellie had asked. She knew him well, had patrolled with him many times. He was a good guy, although not a particularly good shot.
“Yeah,” Jim had said, looking uncomfortable. “They’re like… You know. An item.”
More pain. It seemed the pain was truly going to be the only constant companion she’d ever have in this life.
“Ah,” she’d said simply, feeling numbness come over her like a welcome anesthetic. “The south side, you said?”
As Ellie turned to leave, Rob asked, “You want us to let Tommy know you’re back?”
“Uh,” said Ellie distractedly, “yeah, sure. Tell him I’ll be by at some point.” She took a few steps away, then paused and added, “Tell him not to come looking for me.”
“You think he’ll listen?”
“No, but tell him anyway.”
“You got it, Ellie. And, uh… Welcome back.”
People turned to look as she passed them by. She supposed it was just as well she’d told Rob to let Tommy know she was back. He’d surely have found out anyway. In fact she’d be surprised if Rob got to him first.
She hadn't been given the exact location of Dina’s residence, but she knew it when she saw it. There was a beautiful garden out front, and a playset had been built for JJ on the lawn. The place radiated with Dina’s warmth and levity. Ellie allowed herself a moment to mourn the loss of her family, but only a moment. Then she squared her shoulders and headed up the walkway. She paused in front of the doorway, listening. There was music and laughter inside. She recognized Dina and JJ’s laughter, but she did not recognize the song. Taking a deep breath, she raised her fist and pounded on the door.
It opened a second later to reveal Tucker, still smiling from whatever family moment they had been sharing. But the smile fell off his face when he saw Ellie standing there. “Holy shit,” he said. “Ellie.”
Ellie looked past him to where Dina stood in the middle of the warmly-lit family room, holding JJ in her arms. He was so much bigger now, and Ellie’s heart ached for all the time she’d missed with him. And Dina was… Radiant as always. She stared in disbelief at Ellie in the doorway, stunned into total stillness.
“Hey,” said Ellie.
“When did you get back?” asked Tucker.
“Uh, just now.” Ellie had not looked away from Dina for even one second. All three of them seemed to be frozen solid, unsure what to do or say.
It was JJ who broke the ice. He turned in Dina’s arms and saw Ellie, and he immediately began to fuss and reach for her. Dina looked at her son and smiled. “That’s right, sweetie, it’s Ellie,” she cooed. “Wanna go say hi?”
Recovering from his shock, Tucker stepped back from the doorway. “I’m sorry, I’m being so rude. Come in, come in.”
Ellie came inside and Tucker shut the door behind her. She went over to Dina, who passed JJ over to her. Feeling him in her arms again was the sweetest sensation that Ellie had experienced in a long, long time. “Hey, my little Potato buddy,” she said around the lump in her throat. “I missed you so much.” She hugged him close and breathed him in, then blew a raspberry into his cheek, causing him to fill the room with the sound of his giggles. “You still like that, huh? How about this?” She held him up in the air and then spun around and he shrieked with joy. Grunting with effort, Ellie lowered him back down to her chest. “Won’t be able to do that much longer, huh?” she commented to Dina. “He’s getting so big.”
“I swear, just yesterday he was the size of a peanut,” said Dina fondly. “He looks like his daddy, don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” Ellie agreed. “But I can see you in there too.” She ran her finger along the side of his face. “He has your jawline. Probably means he’ll be just as stubborn as you.”
“He already is.” Looking over at Tucker, she said, “Hun, will you…?”
Snapping into action, Tucker came over and Ellie let him take JJ from her. “Yeah, I’ll just go put him down so you two can catch up. I’ll, uh… I’ll be upstairs if you need anything.”
Once he had gone, Ellie felt extremely awkward. She scratched her right arm with her damaged left hand, which drew Dina’s eyes to the injury. “Shit, El,” she said, stepping closer and taking her hand. She inspected it for a moment, then looked up to meet Ellie’s eyes. “I guess you probably have some stories, huh?”
“Just a few.”
They came to a wordless agreement and both went outside to sit on the porch. “Are you okay?” Dina asked.
Ellie shrugged. “I guess. It looks like you’re doing pretty good, though.”
“Ellie, you didn’t expect me to wait around for you, did you? I told you-”
“No,” interjected Ellie. “I didn’t expect that at all. I knew when I left that it was over. I’m… I’m glad you’re not alone. Tucker is a good guy.”
Relaxing a little, Dina chuckled. “He is. Can’t shoot for shit, though.”
For the first time in what felt like years, Ellie laughed. “Damn, I thought he’d have improved by now.”
“Nope. Not even a little.” Silence fell again, the night air permeated by the chirping of crickets. “Do you wanna tell me what happened?”
“No,” said Ellie. Then: “Yes. I don’t know. It wasn’t… It didn’t turn out like I expected.”
“Did you find her?” asked Dina quietly.
“I found her. She was right where Tommy said she’d be. But…”
She trailed off, and Dina finished the thought: “You didn’t kill her.”
Ellie shook her head.
“So it’s not over,” said Dina.
“It’s over,” Ellie said firmly.
Dina crossed her arms over her chest and looked away. “Yeah, like I’d believe that again.”
“It’s the truth.” Ellie stood and leaned on the porch railing. “You should know better than anyone that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t over.”
“Hm,” was all Dina said in reply.
Turning to face her, Ellie said, “Look, don’t tell Tommy that I didn’t… That she’s still out there, okay? I don’t want him doing anything stupid. And he needs it, you know? He needs the closure, I think.”
“Yeah, sure. It’s not really my place to tell, anyway.” She stood and joined Ellie at the railing. “What are you gonna do, lie to him about it?”
“That’s the plan, yes,” said Ellie.
“What, you don’t approve?”
“It’s none of my business.”
Ellie swallowed and looked away. It used to be your business, she thought. She straightened up from where she’d been leaning against the rail. “Well, I’m gonna get going, I guess.”
“Okay,” said Dina. She followed Ellie to the edge of the porch and watched her head down the walkway. “See you around?”
“Yeah, see you,” replied Ellie without turning back. She waited until she was around the corner to reach up and wipe the tears from her face.
She stayed in Jackson for four days, and each day she went to see Dina at night, talking with her about inconsequential things, about daily life in Jackson, about her travels, about her visit to the farm house. To everyone else it looked like Ellie was settling back into the swing of things, but Ellie could tell that Dina knew better.
When she showed up at her house on the forth night, she knew Tucker was out on patrol so she let herself in without knocking and dropped her pack on the ground by the door. Dina came out from the kitchen with JJ in her arms, and her eyes immediately fell to the pack, knowing what it meant. She took a deep, steadying breath and said, “I was just about to put him down.”
Ellie stepped forward and reached out for the sleepy boy, who in turn reached out towards her. “May I?”
Dina nodded and let Ellie take him. She carried the boy to his room, absorbing the way he clung to her so tightly. Gently, she placed him down in his bassinet, leaning over to lay a long, loving kiss on his forehead. “Bye, little spud. I love you. Please live a long, happy life, okay? For me,” she whispered, running her fingers through his hair.
She straightened up and turned to see Dina leaning on the doorway watching her. “I would have been happy, you know?” she said quietly. “To see this for the rest of my life.”
“I know,” replied Ellie.
They went to the sitting room and sat on opposite ends of the couch. “Where will you go?” asked Dina.
“Tommy told me about some travelers from the east that passed through a few months back. He said they heard rumors that the Fireflies are regrouping.”
“Um, well… California, actually,” said Ellie awkwardly.
“California,” Dina repeated flatly.
“Where Abby is.”
“It’s not about that, I swear. It’s just a coincidence. I don’t give a shit about her anymore. I’m done with that. Besides, I don’t even know if she’s still there. She could be long gone by now.”
“Never stopped you before.”
Ellie turned towards her, putting one leg up on the couch. “Dina, I’m telling you the truth.” Seeing that she was still unconvinced, Ellie decided that she had to be honest with her. She couldn’t leave things between them on bad terms again, not when they were never going to see each other again. “Look, there’s something I never told you about Joel. Only Tommy knows this, so I need you to keep it to yourself, okay?”
Studying her intently, Dina nodded. “Okay.”
“When I discovered I was immune, Joel was supposed to bring me to the Fireflies. And he did. And when we got there, the doctors ran some tests, and they determined that… That they could make a vaccine. From me.”
“What?” breathed Dina.
“But… But it would have killed me. And when Joel heard that, he wouldn’t let them do it. He killed them, Dina. He killed them all.”
“Fuck, El!” Dina stood up and began pacing the room.
“That’s why Abby and the others wanted him dead. If it wasn’t for Joel, we could have been saved. All of us.”
Dina continued to pace, so Ellie kept talking.
“He lied to me at first. For a few years, he told me there was no cure. I was unconscious for the whole thing so I didn’t know what happened.”
“And you believed him?”
“No,” Ellie admitted. “I mean, I always had my suspicions. Eventually I got the truth out of him, though. It changed things between us. I always wanted my immunity to mean something, you know? And he took that from me.”
Finally Dina stopped pacing and stood in the middle of the room looking at her. “And now you want to go to the Fireflies, so you can make it right.”
“Essentially. I found a recording at the hospital where this all went down where one of the Fireflies claimed there was no other doctor in the world but the one that Joel killed who could make the vaccine. But I have to try, don’t I? How can I sit here and die of old age in Jackson when there’s even the slightest possibility that I could end this nightmare?” She gestured to the room where she had just put JJ to bed. “How could I live with myself if I didn’t try to make a world where he could grow old in safety? No. I’ll do whatever it takes. This fight against the infected, this is my fight. I can’t keep hiding from it.”
Nodding her understanding, Dina reached up and wiped away the tears that had started to fall. “Okay,” she said, her voice breaking. “Okay.”
After several minutes of silence, Ellie stood and went to the door. She picked up her pack and put it on, then turned back to Dina. “I should go,” she said.
Dina crossed the room and threw her arms around her shoulders, holding her tightly. “I never stopped loving you, Ellie. You know that, right?”
“I know. And I’ll always love you, Dina. And JJ, too. Leaving you was probably the stupidest thing I ever did.” Ellie pulled back and put her hands on either side of Dina’s face, drinking in the last look she’d ever get. “Die of old age, okay? Both of you. You promise?”
“I promise,” whispered Dina, her breath catching in her throat, knowing now that she could not ask the same promise of Ellie.
Ellie stepped back and slipped the bracelet off her wrist, placed it in Dina’s hands and closed her fingers around it. Then, overwhelmed and wanting very badly to stay, she turned and left the house, closing the door behind her.
A loud bang from the floor below her jolted Ellie out of her memories. She could hear the infected making their pained groanings, and it made her heart race with alarm. But she’d been thorough in her inspection of the building and she was confident that none would be able to reach her, and these rational thoughts served to calm her. She resumed sipping her whiskey, and soon enough the infected had settled down again. By the time she went to bed she was enjoying a pleasant buzz, and she drifted off to sleep thinking of Dina.
Morning found her refreshed and ready to move on. She left a note for the previous resident of the apartment thanking him for his hospitality and wishing him good luck, then she climbed back up to the roof and shut off the generator. Then she started the climb down the fire escape to the street below. She’d noticed a cafe a few blocks away the day before that she wanted to check for supplies, and to maybe find some coffee beans because they reminded her of Joel.
She wasn’t far from Catalina Island now, and she was expecting to start running into Fireflies within the next day or two. She had already seen signs of their presence - graffiti on the walls, random stores of supplies, notes from members left for their comrades - although she thought they were probably more like straggling road signs than proof of actual organized Firefly activity. She was still over fifty miles from the coast, according to her map. It seemed unlikely that they would routinely come this far inland. Why would they bother?
Los Angeles was easily her favorite city she’d ever visited. She liked the sunny weather, and the remains of the old world were the best she’d seen since the museum that Joel had taken her to. She wished Joel could have seen Los Angeles. About a week ago she’d turned a corner and found herself in what could only be a collection of movie studios. A dozen different warehouses were packed together in close vicinity, each one housing different wonders of the pre-outbreak world. Rather than press forward immediately she had lingered for two whole days exploring the entire place.
There had been a movie set of an old western town, another set designed to look like it was underwater, one that was nothing but walls and structures completely covered in green screen, and even one that looked like the inside of a spaceship that she had spent more time in than she cared to admit. Another of the warehouses had been filled with endless rows of props, shelves filled with wardrobes and fake weaponry and rubber body parts and furniture and even huge, lifelike plastic animals. She had spent a pleasurable few hours imagining what she would bring for the folks back in Jackson, if she could. For Tommy, a full set of cowboy clothes, boots and sheriff badge and all. For JJ, a brand new bicycle that rode easier than any that Ellie had ever come across before. For Dina, a mint-condition drum set and actual drumsticks she could use. It brought back the amusing memory of the music shop in Seattle. But thinking of Seattle caused a sour taste in her mouth, and despite the fact that the whole game was imaginary, she picked out a new pretend gift for Dina anyway - an uncomfortably realistic naked rubber man.
But that area of the city was long gone by now, just another stepping stone on Ellie’s long journey. The part of Los Angeles she was walking through now contained more typical city fare - apartments, shops, and office buildings, although none of them scraped the sky the way they did in other cities. She’d spent a day traveling with an older gentleman who was headed in the same general direction as her for a while to reach the highway and go south (Ellie didn’t ask him why he was going that direction because typically travelers didn’t trust people who asked too many personal questions), and he had told her that in the old world they’d been concerned about earthquakes in this part of the country, so they never built their buildings very high. He’d said the area had suffered a massive quake a few years back, which was why so many of the buildings and roads were so torn up. When Ellie asked if that was still a danger he’d said it was, but that there tended to be about a hundred years or so between quakes of that magnitude.
“Well that’s good,” Ellie had said grimly. “I think we’ve got plenty to worry about for the next hundred years already, don’t you?”
As though summoned by her idle recollections, in a very surreal moment, Ellie felt the ground itself shift beneath her feet. At first it was so slight she was sure she’d imagined it because of what she’d just been thinking about. But as she paused in the street it became more powerful, and Ellie put a hand on a nearby car to keep her balance, her heart pounding in her ears. A sudden sharp jolt threw her sideways, and she landed hard on the pavement with a grunt of pain.
It seemed to go on for hours, although in reality she knew it was probably only a few seconds. The noise of it was unbelievable, the air filled with the sounds of metal clanking and rocks grinding against each other. The movement of the earth kicked up dust in the air, and windows all along the streets shattered as the buildings swayed. Ellie shut her eyes tight, curling up in a ball with her hands over her head to protect herself from debris falling off a rooftop above her, unable to scramble away due to the violence of the earthquake.
And then it ended abruptly, and Ellie stood up on shaky legs, breathing hard. “Glad that’s over,” she panted to herself. She brushed off her jeans and looked around. “That fucking guy lied to me, though.” With the event over, Ellie was just about to start walking again when the unmistakable shriek of infected ripped through the eerie post-earthquake silence in the city around her. “Oh, fuck,” said Ellie, turning to see a huge herd of the fuckers running down the street. The earthquake had stirred all the infected in the city into a frenzy, and their cries were coming from all around her. “Oh, FUCK!” she said again, and she took off running as fast as she could, her sheer terror lending her speed. As she ran she could hear the mob behind her, could hear all the infected they passed along their way joining the ranks of the horde.
Ellie took a sharp pivot into a back alley, overturning a large garbage can in the hopes of slowing the herd down. She leapt over some wooden crates and kept going, and a few seconds later she heard the crates smash as the infected trampled right through them as though they didn’t even exist. The alleyway opened up onto a larger street, and she could see still more infected climbing out of windows, spilling out onto the streets at the sound of their ilk’s stampede. “Fuck!” Ellie yelled, pulling out her gun and firing wildly as she ran, killing any infected that got in her way. “Fuck fuck fuck fuck!”
Her luck ran out as she passed a convenience store. Two runners leapt out and flanked her, and a third appeared out of nowhere to throw itself to the ground in front of her. Ellie jumped, but it wasn’t soon enough and her foot impacted its side, sending her tumbling to the ground. Panicked, Ellie rolled to her back and held her gun out in front of her, shooting into the oncoming mob, but she was soon overcome and they fell upon her. She brought her hands up to protect her face as one landed heavily on top of her, and she felt teeth sink into her left shoulder.
They began clawing at her clothes and pounding on her body, trying to get their nails into her and rip her apart. Ellie could feel herself blacking out, the life seeping out of her from all her wounds.
But just like the earthquake, the attack stopped abruptly. Something down the street had caught the infected’s attention, and they stood to charge towards it, instead. Ellie used the opportunity to scoot her body backwards and sit up against a car, lifting her gun to start shooting again. The sounds of gunfire filled the air, and it took the confused and injured Ellie a second to realize it wasn’t coming from her own gun because she was out of bullets. Wiping blood away from her eyes, she leaned forward to look around the edge of the car to see a group of four people wearing army fatigues coming down the street. One was pushing a cart with a mounted machine gun along the road towards the infected, and another was sitting behind the gun spraying non-stop bullets into the crowd of infected. The third soldier was liberally throwing molotov cocktails, and the fourth was expertly using a traditional hand-held machine gun with impressive accuracy.
Ellie leaned back against the car and took a deep breath, knowing she was saved but struggling to maintain consciousness. Everything hurt, and she could tell the bite mark on her shoulder was flowing blood freely. She closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing.
A voice came to her as though she was underwater. Someone was running down the street towards her, although Ellie couldn’t muster the strength to turn her head and look. In fact she couldn’t even open her eyes. “Hey,” the voice said, and Ellie could hear that the soldier was coming around the car towards her. “Hey, you still with us?” Then the footsteps skidded to a stop, and the voice said: “Holy shit.”
Ellie forced her eyes open to confirm what she had already realized was true.
It was Abby.
“It’s you,” said Abby breathlessly in a bizarre moment of deja vu.
Ellie closed her eyes again and burst into helpless laughter, which only stopped when she could no longer fight back the enclosing darkness of blessed unconsciousness.