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Rocky Road #24

Title: Six Months in Hell (Part 1 of 3)
Story: TBD--Whatever I wanna call pieces focused around my detective group
Rating: R (violence, supernatural gore, language)
Flavor(s): Rocky Road #24: on the roof
Extra(s)/Topping(s): Malt [Truth or Dare Game, courtesy of lost_spook: “Supernatural AU” which of course to me means zombies.]
Word Count: 6,870
Summary: New York City falls fast; thank God they're all police officers.
Notes: Noel Reyes, Katharine Chastain, Leah Grant, Charles Meyer. (Okay, so this was initially going to be all in one go, but I’m happy with the first part and not so happy with the rest, so I figured I’d post this while I rewrite the other crap. Also, I blame this on drunken hours wasted playing Left 4 Dead 2, and my former obsession with The Walking Dead.)

1. August

It's surreal, watching the news reports. It looks like something out of a horror movie, and Noel constantly checks his phone to make sure it's not April 1st, that this isn't some kind of insane promotion for a new show, movie, or video game. It's the first week of August, and as far as he can tell, everything he hears on the news and reads on the internet is real. People are getting sick, people are dying, and people are coming back from the dead to kill the living.

That first week, he has to beat his deceased neighbor in the head with a baseball bat until he stops writhing on the floor. The apartment building clears out quickly, everyone hoping to make it to the Evac centers before they can come into contact with the infected. Noel hides out, texting Kat and Leah periodically to make sure they're okay, giving them instructions on what to do. He's seen enough zombie movies to know they have a very short window of time to prepare themselves, and that Evac centers are little more than first class buffets for the living dead. They aren't going to be milling about in some line, wasting their time going through security checkpoints, scanned and poked and prodded by medical technicians searching for signs of infection. The Evac centers are a death wish, and Noel has no intention of dying.

The second week, Noel takes what he figures will be his final real shower before the water is shut off, and sends a text out to Kat and Leah, telling them to stay put--he's coming for them.

Noel reaches Kat's apartment first, and spots her sitting out on her balcony, watching the infected stumbling around on the streets below. She gives him a quick wave when he spots her, and then points behind him to a zombie that's getting a little too close. Noel knocks the zombie's head off with one powerful swing of his bat, and decides on climbing the fire escape instead of risking the close-quarters battlefield that might be the inside of Kat's apartment.

"Took you long enough," Kat replies, helping to pull him up and over the railing of her balcony. "The electricity finally went out over here yesterday. My only entertainment has been watching crazy people like you fighting the dead in the streets."

"See anyone get eaten?" he asks, very seriously, and Kat shakes her head.

"Everyone has been victorious so far. Nice swing earlier, by the way. Should have gone to the Major Leagues instead of the Police Academy."

"But then I wouldn't have met you," Noel replies and leans in to kiss Kat. When she throws her arms around his neck, he grabs her by the waist and pulls her up against him, holding her close, thanking God he made it to her in time.

Kat finally puts her hands on his shoulders and pushes him away. "Hey, we've got to get going. What about Leah?"

"I bet Leah's doing even better than you were," he teases, grinning, and she smacks him on the arm. "You got supplies? A melee weapon? Don't waste your bullets just yet."

"A melee weapon?" Kat echoes, making a face at him. "What is this, Left 4 Dead 2? Maybe I should just wait until we happen upon a pile of ammo and completely loaded shotguns on the road."

"C'mon, Kat, I'm being serious. You need something that isn't going to become useless when you run out of ammo. What else am I supposed to call it?"

She doesn't respond, and Noel watches through the open balcony door as she walks through her small, one bedroom apartment, gathering up last minute things and stuffing them into a purple backpack. "Let me pee first," she tells Noel as she hands him her backpack, and he just laughs.

"Yeah, everybody better go now because I'm not stopping this car once it's on the road."

"I hope you're not joking about that," Kat calls through the open bathroom door. "We're gonna need a car if we're going to get out of here."

"We'll get one," Noel says, glancing down at the street. There are a few stragglers shuffling around, apparently not observant enough to notice the fresh meat up on the balcony, but he's not complaining. The air is filled with the sound of snarling, though--a thick, gurgling growl that he's never heard before in his life, and he knows the city must be filled with those things. Eventually, it'll become a horde. When the people still hiding out in their apartments start to come out, the infected will be more active, seeking out the new survivors with a vengeance. He hopes to be out of the city by that time, while the attention is still focused on large groups of people, like at the Evac centers.

"I'm ready," Kat announces, stepping through the doorway with her backpack on, her gun holstered at her side, and a long metal pole in her right hand. "This is the best I could find. I don't think my apartment is going to be needing it anymore."

"Good girl," Noel says, and reaches down to give her free hand a squeeze. "Get read to bash some zombie brains."

The metal pipe splatters Kat's face and body with black blood and other zombie goop; it falls, dead, at her feet and she raises her arms with a loud whoop. "Fuck yeah!"

"You're a regular killing machine, Kitty Kat!" Noel shouts back, taking a carefully-aimed swing and caving in the head of the zombie ambling towards him.

"I mean, this is absolutely disgusting," Kat says, "but it feels kinda good, you know?"

"A woman after my own heart," he replies as he walks back over to her. "I'm glad you're not the weepy type. There's no time for crying at the end of the world."

Leah, however, is hiding in her bathroom when they reach her apartment, and after mowing down all the zombies in their path, Noel breaks down the door to get to her. She's sitting in the corner of the room, halfway underneath her sink, sobbing into her hands. Noel and Kat exchange a look, and Noel excuses himself to go guard the hall while Kat crouches down in front of her friend.

"Hey, it's okay. We're here. We came for you."

Leah looks up, her eyes filled with tears, and shakes her head. "This is fucked. This whole thing is fucked. I don't want to go out there, I don't want to live in this."

"Honey," Kat says, and reaches out to tuck some hair behind Leah's ear, "we're going to be okay. This isn't going to be like a horror movie--not completely like a horror movie, okay? The government won't let it get that bad. It's impossible."

"You know what else we thought was impossible? Zombies," Leah counters, furiously wiping her cheeks with her hands. "Fuck, Kat, I'm not doing this. I'm not. I can't."

"What do you want us to do?" Noel barks from the other room. "Just leave you here to die?"

"He doesn't mean it," Kat assures her as Leah starts to cry again. "As far as we've heard, it's only hit the East Coast. Doesn't mean it's across the country, doesn't mean everywhere has fallen. There are safe places out there, and we're going to get to one, and we're going to watch New York rebuild. The world isn't ending."

"There are dead people walking around, Kat, trying to kill us. The world has already ended."

"Not while you and I are still alive, it hasn't," Kat grins. "Now, come on. I've never known you to be a quitter. Get up, Leah. We're not leaving you here."

Leah sniffles and wipes her damp hands on her jeans, but she does allow Kat to pull her to her feet. "Promise me," she whispers, "if anything bad happens...you'll kill me first. Don't let me go out like that. Don't let them get me."

Kat can't imagine putting a gun to her friend's head, but these are different times, and she finds herself nodding. "No way. I promise, I'll never let that happen to you, Leah."

She nods back, wiping up the last of her tears. "Let me get my stuff," she says, and disappears into her back bedroom.

Kat gives her her space, and rejoins Noel in the doorway. "See anything?" she asks, and he shakes his head.

"We must have gotten them all. God, I really meant it when I said I was glad you weren't the weepy type. I don't think I can handle much more of that."

"Noel," Kat says, resting a hand on his upper arm and leaning into him, "not everyone can go into survival mode at the flip of a switch. Give her time."

"You didn't need any time," he argues, and when she smiles he gives her a look. "What?"

"I had the time, before you came to get me. It wasn't easy for me, either; I had to put in a lot of effort to buck up." She stands up on her tiptoes to press a kiss to Noel's ear. "I don't think you just woke up on the dawn of the apocalypse ready to go, either."

Noel just blinks, hoping she doesn't press him for any type of confirmation. He doesn't want to admit that he didn't have to mourn the lost, or convince himself that the people he was killing weren't really people anymore. All he did was pick up his bat and begin swinging; there was no need to remind himself that it was him or them, he already knew that.

"Gross," Leah says, standing just inside the room with a drawstring Nike bag dangling from one hand, "are you two going to be all lovey-dovey the entire time? I'm not ready for Love in the Time of the Zombie Apocalypse or whatever this shit would be called."

"Glad to hear your sense of humor is back," Noel comments dryly, looking her over. "Where's your weapon?"

Leah motions to the gun on her hip, and Noel shakes his head. "What? That's my weapon."

"He means a melee weapon," Kat says, a teasing edge to her voice. "You need something that doesn't need ammo, Leah. Guns are for special circumstances."

Leah's eyes widen and she shakes her head vigorously. "No. No. You are not telling me I have to get up close and personal with those monsters. No!"

"It's either that or you waste all your bullets, and then you're left with nothing," Noel replies. He swings his bat around in a circle a few times, demonstrating its ease to her, and then holds his hands out in a "what now?" gesture. "You're a cop, Leah. Don't go soft on me now."

Leah stares at him for a long time before finally turning and heading back into her bedroom. When she emerges, she's carrying her own bat in one hand and has her bag on her back. "Let's just go. I give up. I'm done fighting with you both."

"That's the spirit," Noel grumbles, raising his bat and stepping back out into the hallway.

The third week, Kat's sick of eating canned food and granola bars, Noel has a nasty gash on one leg from a fence-hopping incident, and Leah's baseball bat is lying in the street somewhere, splintered and unusable after a mob of infected caught them at the wrong time. They're sitting up on an apartment building's balcony, watching the infected make their way through the streets, while they try to figure out their next move.

They've seen other survivors, on occasion, but Noel is wary of letting anyone join them, so even the solitary wanderers who look like they could use a group are sent on their way. Leah doesn't feel good about it, but Kat won't speak up against Noel; he's in charge and she trusts him. He just wants to keep them safe, and he's right when he says they can't trust anyone else. At the very least, it's reassuring to know there are others out there like them, alive and well in the midst of all this chaos.

"We need to get you a new weapon," Noel tells Leah, who just makes a low humming noise in response. "We should go to the precinct, see if there's anything left of it."

"I don't think that's such a good idea, Noel," Kat replies. The last thing she wants is another reminder of what she's lost, how much the world has changed. If they go to the precinct, she can't pretend that this is a bad dream, or that her former life was a dream, or that maybe things aren't as bad as they seem. "What if it's overrun? Think about all the people in holding...that's a lot of potential zombies to deal with."

"Not if they're still in holding," Noel reasons. "There are weapons there. All the stuff we've confiscated over the years, not to mention the precinct's own supply. If it hasn't been looted already, there's a real potential for us to arm ourselves with some good weaponry. Protection, too--bulletproof vests, SWAT helmets, whatever."

"And if we're walking straight into a trap?" Leah questions.

Noel shrugs. "We fight our way out, like we always have."

Kat's assumption turns out to be correct; there are zombies in nearly all the holding cells, along with a few bodies slumped on the ground in the corners. Infected mill about in the atrium and it doesn't take all that long for the survivors to pick them off, except for the moment Leah comes face to face with a zombie in a uniform, wearing a familiar name tag. He--it--manages to swipe at her before Noel caves its skull in with his bat.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" he hisses, grabbing her arm to check out the fresh blood beading on her skin.

"That was Vaughn," she whispers, and Noel's face finally falls into an expression of remorse.

"Oh." He glances down, but there's not much left of the former officer; his face holds no remnants of the Vaughn they'd known, and he knows he wouldn't have recognized him had Leah not seen the name tag. "You're right, it was Vaughn. Not anymore."

"No," she agrees quietly, tugging her sleeve down to absorb some of the blood. "Come on, let's get out of here. I don't want to risk seeing anyone else we knew."

"Kat," Noel calls, and she turns around from her position opposite the holding cell bars, where some infected are inside, waving their arms outside the bars and trying fruitlessly to grab at her. "Come on, we should make this quick. I forgot that...uh, there might be people we knew in here."

Kat brings her pipe down on one of the zombie's hands hard enough to knock it clean off. "Right. You know, I wonder how they're doing up at the jail? It's pretty good protection, but I guess protection means jack shit if there's some virus floating around in the air."

"I'd rather not be stuck in a cell anywhere," Leah disagrees as they head further into the precinct. "I don't care how safe it is, I'd be so damn claustrophobic."

"It's not like you'd last that long, anyway," Noel replies. "What happens once there's no longer anyone to bring you food? You'd die out in your cell regardless."

"Cheerful," Kat quips.

"I bet there's some first aid kits in here somewhere," Noel says, glancing down at the bloodstain seeping into Leah's sleeve. "We need to clean that up. Who knows what kind of nasty shit zombies got on 'em?"

Leah scrunches up her face and lets out a low whine. "Fuck, Noel, am I gonna turn? Is that how it's spread? Shit, oh shit."

"No," Kat interjects, casting a quick glance over her shoulder at Leah. "You have to get sick, or you have to die. If it was a virus that turned all these people, you'd have to get the virus, right?"

"I don't know. I mean, we saw that guy yesterday with the bite wound on his shoulder, and he was fine. Maybe there's something to that--or immunity?" Noel scratches his head and shrugs. "I'm not saying we should test fate, but I'm just saying, there might be a reason we're all still alive."

"So, then all we have to do is not die," Kat says. "I can deal with that."

"In here." Noel pushes open a door, and they all raise their weapons, ready to strike. The room is empty, though, and Noel sticks his bat back into the back pocket of his jeans and flips on his flashlight. "Take anything that might be remotely useful, and keep your eyes open for antiseptic, bandages, medicine--anything we might need for a makeshift pharmacy."

"Standing guard?" Kat asks and Noel responds with a sharp nod. "Alright, come on, Leah, let's be quick."

There isn't much left inside--one first aid kid with some antiseptic, some bandages, a few other assorted medical items, and Kat uses one antiseptic pad to wipe down the cut on Leah's arm. They continue through the precinct, stopping in offices and storage rooms to check for useful items while Noel stands guard outside. By the time they've made it all the way down the hall, they have one more first aid kit, an open box of granola bars swiped from someone's desk, and Leah has acquired an axe from one of those "break in case of emergency" boxes. It isn't much, but with Leah patched up and armed again, the group feels somewhat safer.

"One last place to check," Noel announces, leading them off to a familiar section of the precinct. "I know Captain kept a ton of useful shit in his office--alcohol, knives, other--" He stops in his tracks, just outside of the captain's office door, and immediately begins waving the women off. "Never mind, let's head back. It's probably already been looted."

"What the hell, Noel?" Kat asks. "It looks perfectly fine in--"

Leah doesn't even bother speaking up. She's already spotted the blood spatter on the wall, and as she inches closer to the glass, she can see their captain slumped over in his chair, the left side of his head caked in dark, dried blood.

Kat screams, the sound shifting into an anguished wail, and Noel reaches out for her. Leah, trembling but alert, spins around to make sure they haven't attracted any unwanted attention. Her eyes fill up with tears, but she's so stunned she can't make a sound. Behind her, Kat continues wailing, muffled into Noel's shirt as he tries to calm her down.

"Stop screaming," he says, and his voice is stern but not harsh as he presses her face into his chest. "You can cry, but shit, Kat, please stop screaming."

She nods against him, taking shallow, hitching breaths as she tries to calm herself.

"This is a good thing," he says, and then repeats it for emphasis. "This is good. He went out on his own terms. It's what he would have wanted."

"That's bullshit," Leah says, raising her axe. "Why is he allowed to die and not me?" From around the corner, a snarling zombie staggers towards them, and Leah brings the axe down directly in the center of its face. "Fuck you, Noel."

"He's allowed to die because he's already dead, Leah! I couldn't stop him, but I could stop you, and that's why it's different. What's the use of wasting our time mourning someone we couldn't possibly have saved?" Noel strokes a hand down the back of Kat's head and asks Leah, "Do you really want to die?"

Leah glares down at the blood on the head of her axe. "No. I don't."

"Good, then stop complaining. I'm getting you girls out of here alive. Let's go." He holds onto Kat by her shoulders and raises one hand to wipe the tears from her cheek with his thumb. "Head in the game, baby. I'm not losing you. Pull yourself together."

Kat takes a deep, shuddering breath and nods. "Fine. I'm fine."

"Get your weapons out," he commands, stepping up next to Leah. "I think we're gonna have company."

Outside the precinct doors, a group of infected has gathered, clawing at the building and smearing the glass with streaks of blood, mud, and decomp liquids. They haven’t encountered that many up to that point, and Leah takes a step back, gripping the handle of her axe with white knuckles.

“How the fuck are were going to get past that?”

“Same way we’ve gotten past everything else,” Noel says. “We kill ‘em.” He pulls his gun from its holster, and when both women shoot him questioning glances, he simply motions to the glass. “There’s too many. You two take down the closest ones, I’ll take out the others. There’s no point in standing around and trying to pick them off as they get close enough.”

“Fine.” Kat holds her pipe in one hand, waiting for one of them to make a move. They all seem frozen, staring at the growing mob of infected outside the precinct doors, trying fruitlessly to claw their way inside.

“I’m going to throw open the door,” Noel says, “and then you two attack.”

“Attack?” Leah questions, her voice shrill. “You want us to just throw ourselves in there or something? Like hell I will, Noel.”

“Leah,” he reasons, “the last thing we want is to be trapped in here with a growing mass of zombies, alright? This is our only option, unless you want to try to break a window and escape that way.”

“Ready or not,” Kat says and flings the door open, “here we go.” The infected rush them, just like Noel feared, and Kat takes a hard swing at the nearest body. The zombie’s head caves inward, spraying her with brain matter, and she wipes her face with the back of her hand, swinging blindly with the other.

Leah takes a deep breath and runs in beside Kat, burying her axe in the neck of a zombie trying to take a bite out of Kat’s arm. When she yanks the axe back, it slices through so much of the neck that the zombie’s head flops to the side, onto its shoulder, before it drops to the ground. “Gross!” Leah whines.

“Better than getting splattered with zombie brains!” Kat shouts, whirling around to knock another zombie’s head clean off.

Noel aims his gun and shoots clean through the skull of a zombie on the outskirts of the mob, and Leah whips around to glare at him.

“How about taking out the ones near us?” she shouts, stumbling backwards, away from two infected who are grabbing at her, their fingers grazing her shoulder.

“I don’t want to risk shooting you or Kat!” Noel shouts back, picking off another zombie. “You’re all over the place! If you’d just stand still--”

“Fucking how, Noel?!” Leah dodges another zombie, chopping at it with her axe. The head connects with the zombie’s chest, but that doesn’t stop it from advancing, and she uses her foot to kick the zombie back while she yanks out her axe. “We will die!”

“No one is dying,” he insists, carefully aiming his gun. There’s a zombie advancing on Kat, just out of her line of sight, and he wants to shoot it before it has a chance to do any damage. Leah is already scratched and bleeding, which only seems to excite the mob in front of them. With the zombie’s head in line with his gun, he pulls the trigger and shoots it in the forehead, watching as it crumples to the ground.

They don’t know what draws them. They don’t know what makes the infected tick, only that they seem to be attracted to movement and noise, because they’re attracted to people. Unlike the zombie movies like The Return of the Living Dead, which Noel remembers watching as a child even though it was old by that point, released in the 1980s, the zombies don’t care about brains. They want flesh. They want anything they can sink their teeth into, and that makes them more dangerous.

“Noel!” Leah shrieks, and suddenly, she’s on the ground, the infected piling themselves on top of her. She’s gone in less than a minute; Noel and Kat can’t see her through all the bodies.

“Do something!” Kat shouts, whacking another zombie in the face with her pipe.

“I can’t just shoot blindly!” Noel cries, fumbling with his gun. The baseball bat is still in his back pocket, but he doesn’t know where to put his gun, and suddenly Kat is taking it out of his hands and stepping up behind the writhing mass of bodies.

She presses the gun to the back of one infected’s heads, pulls trigger, and shoves the motionless corpse out of the way. Again and again, she kills them off, execution style, and Noel pulls the bat out of his pocket and starts bashing skulls.

Through the infected, they can see Leah on the ground kicking and flailing her arms, trying to keep them off of her. She’s alive at least, fighting as hard as she can, and as the crowd thins she’s able to get to her feet.

There’s blood all over her right arm, and the first thing Noel sees is the bite mark embedded in the soft flesh beneath her sleeve. If Leah knows about it, she chooses to ignore it, grabbing her axe from the ground and lunging at the remaining infected with wide, forceful two-handed swings.

“Leah,” Kat says, staring at her arm in shock, and Leah ignores her.

“Are you going to help me kill these things or not?” she asks, not bothering to mask the hostile edge to her voice. She grits her teeth and takes another swing, slicing the jaw off one of the infected in front of her.

Noel takes his gun from Kat’s hand. “Grab your pipe,” he tells her, and puts the gun back into its holster. “Leah, baby, watch out.” He raises his baseball bat and knocks the head off an infected with a resounding ‘crack.’

Back at the apartment they’ve been hiding out in, Noel douses Leah’s arm in rubbing alcohol and bandages it up. She grits her teeth and squeezes her eyes shut in pain, but doesn’t say anything; since they’ve gotten back, all she’s done is stare down at her arm, watching the blood running from the teeth marks.

“You’re going to be fine,” Noel tells her, and Leah finally raises her head to look at him.

“And how do you know that? How do you know I’m not turning into one of them right now?”

He pauses for a moment, and then carefully lifts up the cuff of his jeans to reveal a partially-healed bite mark on his calf. “Because I haven’t.”

Kat emerges from the kitchen holding a water bottle, and it slips from her hands when she catches sight of Noel’s injury. “What--when did that--?”

“Before I came to get you,” Noel admits. “My neighbor was infected, before I knew everything that was going on, and I ran into him in the hallway. He was on the ground and I--” He lets out a heavy sigh. “I tried to help him. I thought something was wrong, and I mean, something was, but anyway, he bit me. So I bashed his head in with my bat and hid out in my apartment until the building cleared out. That’s when I went to get you, and I’ve been fine since! Nothing happened!”

“Like that guy we saw earlier,” Kat says, and he nods. “Could immunity be real? Can you be immune from...what, zombification?”

“Has to be real,” Noel replies. “Otherwise, how do you explain me not turning? And the man we ran into on the street? And Leah, because she’s not going to turn, either. We’re immune, like I said before. The only thing we have to worry about is dying, not zombie saliva or whatever.”

“You don’t know I’m not going to turn,” Leah insists, covering her bandaged arm with one hand. “You don’t know I’m immune, Noel. I could turn tonight, while you and Kat are sleeping, and I could kill you both.”

“Don’t talk like that,” Kat says.

“I mean, as much as I hate to admit it,” Noel begins, “we have to be cautious. We don’t know for sure she’s not immune, as much as I truly believe we all have to be at this point.”

“So, what then?” Kat folds her arms across her chest and glares at him. There is the slightest hint of fear in her eyes, and she purposely avoids looking down at Leah. “What do we do?”

“Lock me in the bathroom,” Leah says, and she sounds so tired. They both turn to look at her, and she gives them a weak smile. “Barricade me in there overnight. If I haven’t turned by morning...then, maybe I won’t. I don’t want to hurt you.”

“It’s the best plan we’ve got,” Noel says.

“It’s inhumane,” Kat argues. “We can’t lock our friend up like an animal.”

“You can when she’s nursing a zombie bite that probably went straight into her bloodstream,” Leah grumbles. “I’m tired, okay? Just give me some blankets, a pillow, and lock me up. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“It’s not the worst thing we could do,” Noel says, and walks over to the couch where they’ve been keeping all their stolen goods. He grabs a blanket and pillow and walk them back over to Leah, who is slowly getting to her feet. “Leah, listen, if anything does happen--”

Leah reaches out to gently cover his mouth with her hand. “We don’t need to do this. No goodbyes, nothing. I’m choosing to believe you, that nothing is going to happen, okay? No regrets.”

Noel nods. “Whatever you say, Leah. We’ll see you in the morning.”

She smiles and hugs the pillow to her chest. “Goodnight, you two.”

Kat and Noel push a heavy bookshelf in front of the bathroom door once Leah is inside, and they stand there for a long time, staring at the bookshelf and the door, wondering just what the hell they’ve done.

“If she turns,” Kat whispers, and Noel shakes his head.

“She won’t.”

“But if she does, Noel, we have to kill her. And we have to give her a proper burial somewhere. I’m not letting her live out the rest of her fucked-up life as one of those creatures, okay? One of those monsters…”

Noel nods and thinks back to their captain, slumped over in his chair with his brains and blood spattered across the wall behind him. He took the only way out he could, to avoid becoming one of the infected, and it makes Noel sick to wonder if maybe he had been immune, too. If he and Kat are, and if Leah is, and if those survivors they had seen weeks earlier had been, too, there wasn’t anything to say that Captain Meyer hadn’t been immune as well. There wasn’t anything to say that any person they loved and cared about couldn’t be immune. Only seeing them walking the streets with the other infected could shake Noel of the fantasy.

“I’m serious,” Kat whispers.

“I know. It’s just not going to have to come to that.”

Leah tries to set herself up a little bed in the bathtub, but she knows there’s no way she’ll be getting any sleep that night. Her arm throbs where the zombie bit into her flesh, and the bandages wound around her are stained with red. She tries hard to feel for anything different about her--but there’s no fever, nothing to suggest that changes are going on within her body.

In the few movies she’s seen, people get sick. They become violently ill, they die, and they come back. It’s been hours since the zombie got her; she should be feeling something, right? If she is going to turn, she should feel something wrong, she thinks, but all she feels is the pain in her arm, and the knots in her stomach from worrying.

“Maybe Noel’s right,” she whispers, cradling her injured arm. “Maybe he’s right, and I’m going to be fine.” She can only hope, and lays her head back against the back of the tub. It’s pitch black in the bathroom, and she can’t see a thing in the darkness; that must be what death looks like, she thinks. Pure and utter blackness.

In the morning, Kat stands with her pipe at the ready while Noel pushes the bookcase aside. It scratches its way across the floor, loud enough to let Leah know, human or not, that they’re coming for her. They can’t hear anything from inside the bathroom, and Kat and Noel share a worried look before they finally throw open the bathroom door.

Leah is sitting on the edge of the bathtub and raises her head to look at them, sporting a triumphant grin. “You guys miss me?”

2. September

They survive the first month without any major catastrophes. Running around the city has given them ample opportunity to scavenge for supplies, and even without electricity, without fridges and ovens, they've managed to go the entire month without skipping more than a few meals here and there. Shelf-stable food is everywhere they look, and even though some of the stuff is garbage, and they're sick of eating cans of Spaghetti-O’s heated up over open fire, or syrupy-sweet fruit chunks, they can't complain about the gnawing ache of hunger being one more of their problems.

As August turns into September, though, and the shrill buzz of cicadas amps up as the summer ends, they have to admit that things aren't getting any easier.

Their run-ins with other survivors have been few and far between. The ones they have met have been short with them, panicked, or just plain hostile. No one has heard anything about the rest of the East Coast, or the rest of the country for that matter, and not a single person can point them in the direction of a safe place to chart a course towards. They're still on the outer limits of the city, too, and the only thing they manage to learn from the passing survivors is that it's bad in the center. "Horde" is the word of choice, spat like a warning, and one gruff older man in biker attire looks Leah straight in the eye as he tells them, "They'll be headin' yer way soon enough. Godspeed, kids."

"What in the hell does that mean?" Kat hisses, one hand protectively resting on Leah's arm as they watch the man walk off down the street.

"It means the city's fucked, which we already knew. I don't like the sound of it any more than you do, but we should be heading out to the suburbs. Less concentrated population means less infected. Which might mean 'safer.'" Noel twirls his bat around in his hand and sighs.

"It also means less supplies, less safe places to hide out, and longer walks, Noel," Kat argues. "If we head out to the suburbs, we're going to be stuck on highways with no means of cover, and I don't know how long it'll take us to find a place where we can hole up for the night."

"We've been laying low so far," Leah says, "and that's the only reason we haven't attracted attention. We're low on supplies, and it's not going to get any easier. Either way you look at it, we're fucked. If we go into the center of the city to scavenge for supplies, we run the risk of hitting the horde. But if we head out to the suburbs in the state we're in, we'll be dead before the week's end. Flip a coin, guys, because heads and tails both point straight to death."

"I guess we don't have much of a choice," Noel sighs. "Now's the time to put all our experience to the test. Surviving this far couldn't have just been dumb luck, right?"

Leah caresses the head of her axe with one hand. "Guess we're gonna find that out."

By the time the group reaches the city's center, they're stuck scaling buildings and hopping from roof to roof where proximity allows. They can't even see the street through all the infected below. It only sort of makes sense that the infected have congregated in the area; as highly populated as that section of the city is, it appears that the dead are moving inwards, not outwards. They're coming towards the center of the city.

"What the hell?" Kat has her pipe in an iron grip; Noel and Leah have exchanged their weapons several times already, but Kat's pipe is holding strong. "They're everywhere. They're literally everywhere."

"You think there's still people here?" Leah asks. "Is that why they're lingering?"

"I don't see how anyone could have survived out here," Noel replies, shaking his head. "They'd be massacred. It's too dangerous."

"How does that make the situation any different for us?" Kat replies, her voice sharp. "We haven't been everywhere in the city. I bet we could have stuck to the outer edge and still found enough supplies to make do."

"Trust me, we need what's here." Noel motions down to a gun shop beneath them, just two roofs away.

"How do you know that place hasn't been decimated like every other shop we've found?" Kat crosses her arms over her chest and sighs. "I think it's useless, Noel. We're not going to find anywhere that hasn't already been picked over."

"Doesn't hurt to look," he insists, pulling a bottle and lighter from his back pocket. With the flick of his thumb, a flame shoots to life atop the lighter, and he holds it underneath the rag just long enough to set the tip ablaze. "Now the fun begins," he announces and launches the molotov into the infected horde below.

The nearest zombies go up in flames, and slowly the blaze spreads from body to body as they watch from the rooftop.

"So, zombies are incredibly flammable," Leah remarks, watching with wide eyes.

"Decomp gasses?" Kat suggests. "Maybe?"

"Whatever it is, thank God for it. Come on, we can't waste our shot." Noel gives Kat's wrist a quick tug as he leads them off across the rooftops. The infected are so distracted by the growing fire that they don't notice Noel jump down onto the nearby fire escape and crash through the second floor window of the gun shop. Inside, broken glass, guns, and ammo litters the floor, but there's enough inside for him to feel satisfied that his plan was a success. "Load up, ladies," he says, already stuffing boxes of ammo into his backpack, grabbing whatever guns are nearby.

Through the large, first floor windows, the flames grow nearer and cast eerie, warm light across the storefront. Leah watches, transfixed, as the zombies stumble past without even noticing them. "That was a good plan, Noel," she whispers, and he gives her a thumbs-up.

"Next, we need to find some food. And water. We're not gonna make it very far, even with all the ammo in the world, if we're dehydrated and starving," Kat tells them. She's carefully stuffing guns into her backpack, arranging them just so to make sure she has the maximum amount of room filled.

"Yep, that's true." Noel zips up his backpack and sets one final gun down on the counter, fiddling with a box of ammo. "I think it's about time we break out the guns," he says as he loads his. "We don't want to get up close and personal with the horde."

"Don't really have much of a choice," Leah grumbles. "Unless we stay up on the roof the entire time, we're gonna be up close and personal at some point."

"We are going to stay on the roof," Noel says, and casts a glance over in Kat's direction before continuing. "You're going to get down on the street and break into a store."

"Me?" Leah hisses, incredulous. "Why me?"

"Because you're the track star," Kat says, and she looks almost apologetic as she says it. "You can outrun both of us and it only makes sense to have you go in. We'd slow you down, and this way we can cover you from the roof. It'll be safer."

"Safer for you, maybe!" Leah shouts. As angry as she is, though, she has to admit it's a good plan. She's a fast runner, and if Noel and Kat can really cover her from the roof, it might be a doable mission. The thought of getting on the ground with all those zombies, though--her skin crawls at the vision of it. "I just want you to know," she says, "I hate this, and by extension, I hate you. Let's get it over with. Where's the store?"


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 29th, 2017 07:38 pm (UTC)
Ah, this gripping! I'd kind of vaguely thought a supernatural au might be less downbeat, but clearly not. ;-p This is excellent, though - can't wait to see what happens next!
Apr. 29th, 2017 09:36 pm (UTC)
If anyone can make something downbeat, it's me! hahaha. But thank you! It's been really fun to write...I've never tried my hand at this kind of thing before so it's an adventure for me!
Apr. 30th, 2017 01:38 pm (UTC)
Not that I'm complaining, I'm running an apocalyptic writing bingo comm even as we speak... lol.
May. 9th, 2017 01:34 am (UTC)
See, this is why I prefer vampires! But
this is great! I can't wait to see what
happens next!
May. 9th, 2017 03:06 am (UTC)
Thank you! :) And I too like vampires...I just have never written about them. That might be a fun AU for the future!
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


Runaway Tales



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