We stopped a few hours after the car incident. Kerrianne forced us to stay off the road and stick to the trees the rest of the day. I didn’t mind, but Lina did. She stumbled and tripped over every root and rock in her path. I pitied her and gave her my arm after the first few nasty spills.
Now, we’re camped out in an old trailer park. Kerrianne walks the perimeter of the camp, her hawk-like eyes roving over every building and tree. Nothing will get past her.
Lina sits with her arms wrapped around her knees. She scoots closer to the small fire, shivering. Laying in a muddy ditch didn’t help keep any of us from freezing later on. Most of the mud on my clothes is still wet. I flick a couple half-dried pieces off my knee. Wish I had time to wash my clothes.
Most of the last three years has gone into scrambling around the country looking for Maddox Strange. Sightings and rumors pull us every which way all the time. People want the reward offered by the military. The food, ammo, and gasoline rations offered for info brings in a constant stream of lies. Wild and elaborate stories about running into him. Kerrianne goes to each location and interviews whoever sent in the sighting. Usually, she can tell within the first three questions if they were lying. Sometimes all she has to do is show up and the survivors immediately admit they made it up. Both Strange siblings are intimidating.
I take a swig from my canteen. Luke warm creek water isn’t the worst. Swishing the water in my mouth, my gaze flits from Kerrianne to Lina and back.
I don’t like lying to Lina about Strange. Well, I’m not technically lying. I know Kerrianne isn’t looking for Strange because he’s her brother. We both have orders—he’s got something no one else does. Exactly what that something is is the thing I don’t know. Doesn’t change the fact I’m hiding something from Lina. She doesn’t really need to know, does she? Her goal is different from ours—has nothing to do with it. She has a cure.
I glimpse the flash drive around her neck. She fiddles with it constantly. To make sure it’s there, remind herself to keep moving. Whenever I see it, it sends a jolt through me. A legitimate cure exists in the world. No more watching people die and come back as empty shells. No worrying about bites or scratches turning anyone. At least…I hope that’s what the cure will do. Like we don’t tell her much about our orders, she doesn’t tell us a whole lot about her flash drive. Why’d she leave the place she was at before? Was it overrun? If not, didn’t they have the resources to start making the cure? None of these questions are going to be asked unless I really need to at some point.
Kerrianne whips around at the sound of a birdcall. Her rifle’s up, eye to the scope and finger on the trigger. Lina scrambles closer and hides behind me and my gun. The next passing minutes are stiff. Nothing comes out to attack us. We lower the rifles but keep our hands on them.
“Birds…” Kerrianne mutters, but she doesn’t sound convinced. She’s always been as suspicious as a skittish cat. No changing that about her.
Lina twists to look around. “You think it was only birds?” she murmurs. Wide eyes stare out through her smudged lenses.
“It’s not a sound zombies make,” I murmur. Kerrianne and I raise our rifles at almost the same time.
Getting out her own pistol, Lina slinks closer to my back. “Yeah…you guys really seem to think it’s birds.”
There’s another bird call, closer this time. Our senses are heightened. Twigs snap to our right. We aim in that direction.
“At least three at the edge of the tree line,” Kerrianne says in a low voice. “Two more farther back. Leo—any flanking?”
I scan the trees and trailers. I catch sight of three more shadows moving across the back of one of the trailers. “Three on our left. Can’t see anyone else.”
The figures ahead step into our clearing. Two women and a man, dressed in dark browns and greens. Simple camouflage. Two more men step out behind them, three join from the left. All of them are heavily armed with guns, knives, bats—other hand-built weapons. The woman with shorn, black hair speaks first.
“Fatigues, hmm? Steal them from a military camp?” I see why she’s the leader: her harsh, grating voice reminds me of a few sergeants we’ve had. Her eyes travel over the rifles in our hands. “One close by?”
Kerrianne’s knuckles become a shade paler. Her spine is a steel rod as she stares down the woman and her friends. “No. The only military camp in this vicinity is right here.”
The woman raises her eyebrows at her. “Actual military? Explains the arrogance oozing from you.” She nods to us. “I think it’s time to relieve you from your duties—and your guns.”
“Pamelina, now would be the time for you to run or shoot,” Kerrianne says. She aims and takes out the woman by the trailers. The sniper rifle falls beneath the body. The fight’s started.
I take out the other man and woman with guns. The others have melee weapons—getting the guns out first is our best shot, even though each one probably has their own gun. We can have them down before they can draw them.
Lina fires off one shot at the blond man charging towards her. The bullet catches him in the thigh. I have to silence him with a shot to the head. Our guns have silencers, but his scream don’t.
Her gun lowers and points to the ground. “Leone—“
“There could be more of them out there. Zombies too,” I say as I topple one of the remaining men. “Can’t bring more to the party.”
Three left. I ram the butt of my rifle into a woman’s face before twisting the machete from her hand. She trips over her own feet, falls on her back.
The machete’s tip digs into the flesh of her throat. “Run now, or your head rolls.”
She wastes no time. Scrambling up, she heads for the woods. Two left.
I turn to where the rest of the fight is taking place behind me. Kerrianne’s gun is on the ground and blood coats her upper lip. With a snarl, she charges at one of the women with blood on her knuckles. Kerrianne takes out a slim dagger and thrusts it into soft part below her jaw.
Kerrianne doesn’t wait to make sure the dagger hit home. She removes it and stands. The dark-haired woman is the last one left. I keep my barrel trained on her as Kerrianne approaches.
“You shouldn’t’ve let her go,” she spits at me. “I have more people. She’ll bring them to hunt you down—“
“Bluff or not, we can handle them. Look around you,” Kerrianne interrupts. Her cool tone nearly raises the hairs on my nape. “Nothing has been much of a threat to us so far. Why would the likes of you be?”
The woman’s lip curls back in a sneering smile. “You don’t know who we are or what we are capable of. We will get our rev—“
Lina and I flinch as the shot goes off. The woman collapses on the ground with blank eyes and a hole between them.
I didn’t see Kerrianne draw the handgun from her belt. She tucks it back under her jacket. “I don’t care for drama.” She looks up from the corpse to us. “Doublecheck none of them are going to turn, then make certain you have everything. We leave in ten minutes.”
I follow her orders and start checking the bodies. Lina is rooted to the ground. She stares at Kerrianne with a mix of disgust and disbelief. “You didn’t have to fight them—or kill them. There’s—There’s a chance we could’ve talked to them, show them mercy—“
“This is showing them mercy, Mercado,” Kerrianne hisses, rounding on her. “I’m not letting them become mindless flesh eaters, am I? No. I am being merciful; believe it or not.” Kerrianne picks up her rifle and pack. “Nine minutes. We have more ground to cover now. I want to be out of this area before noon.”