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Rocky Road #24 (Part 2)

Author: winebabe
Title: Six Months in Hell (Part 2)
Story: Still TBD
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: 8,105
Summary: New York City falls fast; thank God they're (almost) all police officers.
Notes: Noel Reyes, Katharine Chastain, Leah Grant, Franklin Moeller, Laurent Marion. (I want to write, but lately I have no ideas. So here's the next part just so I don't go too stagnant on here.)

"Be careful," Noel says, tightening the straps on Leah's backpack.

Even though the blistering heat of summer has carried on into the beginning of September, Leah's got jeans and a heavy jacket on, a cheap effort to protect herself from zombie bites. It doesn't seem like it'll work, but Leah does feel better knowing that she's less exposed, and hopes that she'll be fast enough to make it through the horde with minimal contact.

"We've got your back from up here," Kat assures her, but she looks so nervous as Leah makes her way to the fire escape.

"You better. If I die, the blood's on your hands, and I'll come back as a ghost and haunt the shit out of you."

"I think that might even be worse than zombies," Noel says and Leah laughs.

"Wish me luck." Leah waits until they're in position, guns raised and ready to shoot. As soon as she gets to the bottom of the fire escape, she hears the gunfire begin; zombies drop in front of her, and Leah waits until there's enough of a path before dropping to the ground and breaking into a run, her axe swinging beside her in her right hand.

The infected grab at her and she dodges, the memory of the police precinct fresh in her mind. The bite mark in her arm is a scar now, a reminder that she will survive, but that she can’t be careless. Even if one bite won’t kill her, many could, and if something happens while her companions are on the roof, they won’t be able to save her.

One wrong move and she’s lunch for the horde. Noel and Kat will have to watch as she’s torn to bits in front of them.

Leah hacks into the infected as hard as she can, ignoring the growing pain in her right shoulder as she swings again and again. The bullets only do so much, and as Noel and Kat shoot at the zombies behind her, the ones she can’t see, Leah has to defend herself from the ones in front of her path. They can’t injure her as easily through the material of her jacket, but they still manage to grab her, holding onto her with surprising strength for decomposing bodies. Leah can feel the bruises already forming, the tender spots where their fingers dig in, but she’s comforted by the fact that they can’t draw blood. The more distance between herself and those monsters, even if it’s just a layer of canvas, the better.

She doesn't even bother trying the door; the axe shatters the window with one hard swing, and Leah crawls through the jagged glass easily. The sound of Noel shouting obnoxiously from the roof is just barely audible over the grunts and snarls of the infected, and Leah hacks into a few who follow her into the store. Noel's shouting does manage to distract enough of them that Leah feels she can confidently raid the store, but with every crunch and creak she's on high alert, axe raised and ready strike.

A few infected follow her into the store, spaced out enough that she doesn't get overwhelmed by them, but her arm quickly tires and grows sore. Gunfire on her end will only attract more attention, though, so she refrains from pulling the pistol from its holster, as much as she wants to. It would just take one wrong move to have the horde turn its attention onto her, and Leah doesn't have to try hard to imagine seeing dozens of bodies crawling through the opening she's made in the window.

There's enough water left to last them a few days, if they really conserve it, and even though most of the food is spoiled, there are some boxes of granola bars, cereal, and other shelf-stable items Leah can grab. It won't make a good meal, but it'll keep them alive, and that's enough. Leah dumps her findings into her bag, and just as she's about to zip it up, she hears a ragged, gurgling breath from behind her. As she staggers to her feet, just barely managing to grab ahold of her axe in time, Leah can feel the bile rising in her throat. She comes face to face with a hideous figure--skin sloughing off, green and bloated and positively grotesque--when she turns around, and there's a part of her that doesn't want to kill it, because she just knows it's going to splatter her with whatever disgusting shit those zombies secrete.

Leah stumbles backwards, away from the thing in front of her, until her back collides with the shelving behind her. The zombie is advancing slowly, dragging one of its legs, and she raises the axe in front of her face. She's disgusted more than she is scared, but she won't let the thing kill her because she's worried about getting a little gross, so she readies herself to swing the axe--

The tip of a large knife emerges through the gaping space where the zombie's nose once was and slices upwards, before lodging itself underneath the skull. The zombie drops to the floor, and Leah steps aside, just narrowly missing having the thing land on her feet. In its place, a man in full SWAT gear grins at her from behind the clear plastic of his helmet.

"Hey there!"

Stunned, Leah stands in silence, her back pressed against the metal shelving. The man pulls what looks like a damn machete out of the zombie's head, sticking it back into some sheath hanging off of his one shoulder. She watches him take his helmet off, and he's still beaming at her as he uses the front of his suit to wipe the viscera from his helmet.

"You alright?" he asks, and Leah nods.

"Yeah. You know, I was going to kill it."

"Could have fooled me," he says and tucks the helmet under one arm. He holds out a gloved hand to her. "I'm Frankie."

"Leah," she replies, shaking his hand. "This better not be your place, because I'm not giving back the stuff I took. My friends and I need it."

Frankie shakes his head no. "I've just been staying up above this place for a little while now. Everyone basically cleared out once the horde got too big...or they were eaten. So I didn't have too much competition, until now. You said you have friends? Where are they?"

"Roof across the street," she tells him, and she can still faintly hear Noel making noise over the sounds of the horde. "Because I ran track in high school, I was elected to sacrifice myself for supplies." She doesn't mean for it to come out so bitterly, but it does, and Frankie gives her a sympathetic smile.

"Sounds like you could use some help getting back," he says, and Leah regards him suspiciously, unsure of whether or not to trust him. He doesn't look like the type she's been warned about, the survivors just in it for themselves, the ones that rape and rob and murder, but she also knows better than to judge a book by it's cover. He might look sweet, with his faint freckles and wide smile, but that doesn't mean he is.

"I'm alright," she says finally. "My friends have me covered."

"Okay," Frankie replies, putting his helmet back on.

"Quick question before you go." Leah hoists her backpack back on and grabs her axe from the floor. "Are you really SWAT? Or, I guess I should say were you?"

"Nah," he answers, "but I was a cop, so I feel like I had rights to this stuff. It wasn't like anyone was using it."

"Oh yeah?" Leah pulls her badge out of her pocket and holds it out for him to see. "Me, too. 72nd Precinct. Same as my friends up there."

"No way!" Frankie's face lights up like a Christmas tree. "I was out here, 20th Precinct, smack dab in the middle of the city. Maybe it sounds stupid, but I didn't think I'd meet another cop in all this."

Maybe it's a gut feeling, or maybe it's just apprehension about diving back out into the zombie horde, but Leah looks straight up at Frankie and tells him, "Well, if you wanna come with me, you'll meet two more."

"I thought your friends had you covered," he says, but there's a teasing smile on his face. "Listen, I know my word doesn't mean much, but you can trust me. I want out as much as you do, and I think teamwork's the way to get there. I'm happy to come with, if you'll have me."

"Get me back to my friends in one piece, and it's a deal," Leah replies, and they clasp hands once more, just as another zombie finds its way through the window.

"I'm coming back!" Leah shouts, hoping Noel and Kat can hear her, before Frankie dives through the window ahead of her, machete in hand. She has her axe out, and while Frankie cuts through the air like butter, felling zombies with what looks like no effort at all, she has to really push herself to hack up the ones moving up behind the two of them. Her arm aches, and as much as she doesn't want to have to do it, she knows she's going to be taking some pain pills later to save her discomfort--especially if they decide they need to carry on that afternoon.

Noel and Kat do an excellent job of covering them as they move through the horde, but Leah can't believe she made it through the first time without Frankie's help. She can hear him grunting with the force of every swing, but none of the infected get close to biting, scratching, or otherwise attacking him. Even with his SWAT gear covering him up, she knows pushing through the horde is as good as a death wish, and she decides at that moment that Frankie has her trust.

He wouldn't go through all that effort, through all that danger just to turn on them later, she knows it. And when they get back to the ladder and Frankie insists she climb up first, his back to the wall so he can keep fighting off the horde, Leah feels an ounce of safety for the first time in months.

She makes it back to the roof and Frankie follows soon after, his SWAT helmet popping up over the edge, bloodstained and covered in muck.

"The hell is that?" Kat asks, and Leah just grins.

"That is Frankie. Former officer of the 20th Precinct and probably the reason I made it out of this alive."

Frankie pulls his helmet off and tucks it under one arm. "Nice to meet ya!" His bright smile is infectious, and Kat lets herself relax enough to smile right back.

"I'm Kat; nice to meet you, too."

"Thanks for covering our girl," Noel says and reaches out to shake Frankie's hand. "The name's Noel. Leah told you we're 72nd Precinct?"

"Yep, she did," Frankie confirmed. "You've got a good group--all cops."

"We do have a good group, but I wouldn't say that's the main reason why," Noel smirks. “How about you? On your own, or…?”

He nods. “Since day one. I just grabbed my stuff and went for it; everyone else was trying to evacuate and I knew that was going to be a shitstorm. Decided I’d make it on my own.”

“Smart plan,” Leah replies. “Evac centers were overrun pretty quickly. So many people in one place...problems are bound to arise.”

“My thinking as well. I wanted to survive, so I did what I had to do. Wasn’t gonna take the easy way out,” he says, still smiling. Leah looks over at him and he winks at her. “We’re the strong ones.”

“Hell yeah we are,” Noel agrees. “But, hey, if you feel like changing things up a bit, I’m sure none of us would mind having you as part of our group.”

Frankie's grin grows even wider. "Absolutely! I'm sick of holing out by myself, listening to other survivors try to make it through."

"Other survivors?" Kat echoes. "People still make it through here with that horde down there?"

His face immediately dims and he glances down at his helmet. "Operative word was 'try.'"

"Oh." They all take another look at the street below, where the infected have, in fact, remembered them and are pressed against the building below, trying in vain to reach them. Kat can't even begin to imagine being in the thick of it like Leah and Frankie were, and momentarily feels guilty for sending her friend down there.

"So, what's the plan, then?" Frankie asks, holding his helmet up and inspecting the front. "I'd guess you're not staying out here."

"Nope," Noel confirms. "We were gathering supplies so we could head for the suburbs. Get away from the hordes and all."

He smiles at the face of his helmet as he wipes off the plastic, the expression tight and not at all like his earlier bright grins. "It's not going to be much different out there than it is out here. Maybe there will be less of those things, and definitely not as many in one area--but the suburbs have their own set of dangers."

Noel glowers, angry that he's being challenged, and asks, "So, what would you suggest, then?"

"I'm not knocking your plan," Frankie insists, "but if I can make a suggestion, I think we should go north. head towards Maine, maybe even Canada and see if they'll let us in. I've heard people talking about how it's safer up there, that everyone had headed south."

"Are there Evac centers?" Kat asks, and he just shrugs.

"Don't know, and don't know what good they would do us, anyway; like you said, they've all been overrun out here. I doubt other places would have fared much better."

"Shit," Leah hisses under her breath. "So, what are our odds? If the Evac centers are a bust, and New York City has fallen, what hope do we have?"

"Canada," Frankie says. "I think that should be our goal."

They look to Noel, who closes his eyes in blatant frustration but nods. "Canada it is," he says and opens his eyes, looking straight at Frankie. "Don't make me regret trusting you."

His face breaks into another grin. "Wouldn't dream of it."

It takes a full week to make it back to the outer edges of the city, because Noel insists on scavenging for supplies every chance they get. Frankie takes a nasty fall from one of the rooftops they scale, and spends a full day and a half recuperating in their makeshift safe house, which takes more time, and by the time they do make it to the outer limits, they realize that none of them have any idea just how to get to Canada on foot in the first place.

"I'd guess nobody scavenged a map?" Frankie jokes as they stand atop a raised train bridge, surveying what appears to be their only option at that point--a congested highway teeming with the infected. Even if they'd had a car to use, they wouldn't have been able to get it out of the city with all the abandoned vehicles on the roads, and even outside of the city, it looks more like the world's population was zapped away and replaced with the dead.

"Where do you think all these people went?" Leah asks, trying to count the cars. "They couldn't all have..."

"Died? Probably," Noel says. "If there weren't infected wandering around out here when they were leaving, then they ran off into the wilderness, or the neighborhoods, or back into the city. They're probably long gone--or maybe they're the infected we're looking at right now."

"Loving the optimism, Noel," Kat grumbles, and Noel glances down.

"I'm trying to be realistic. Optimism isn't going to get us anywhere."

"Well, realistically," Frankie pipes up, "keeping our optimism will probably do more for us than being realistic. If our spirits are up, it's better for all of us. Just saying."

Noel doesn't respond; instead, he has his gun out, raised and pointed directly at the skull of the nearest zombie. "It's now or never. If we can make it to the neighborhood across the highway, we might be able to get some cover, at least. Let's go." Before he even finishes speaking, he pulls the trigger on his gun and the bullet rips through the zombie's face. The gunshot grabs the attention of the others, and Frankie hops off the bridge and onto the top of one of the abandoned semi trailers beneath it.

"Headin' out!" he announces, spinning around to slice into a zombie that had been coming up behind him.

While Frankie stars in his own slasher film, Noel climbs down from the bridge and helps both Kat and Leah make their way down as well. There are a lot of infected on the street below, but they're spread out enough that none of them feel like they're in too much danger. They don't move quickly, and even once they've set their sights on the group, Noel is usually able to pick them off with his pistol before they get too close.

Kat has traded in her metal pipe for a semi-automatic machine gun she found hidden in the closet of one of the apartments they had holed up in, and as they move forward on the deserted highway, she turns back to fell a group of four infected trailing behind them with a spray of bullets. "Fuck yeah," she whispers, "I can see why these are illegal."

"Don't get too attached to that thing," Noel warns. "You're going to run out of ammo one day and'll have to toss it. I'm not sure I'm ready to see a grown woman mourn an inanimate object."

"Oh, shut up," Kat says, whirling around and taking out the zombie Noel's got his gun trained on before he can pull the trigger. "If I'm going to have to keep killing these things, at least let me enjoy the experience, alright?"

"How long are we going to have to do this?" Leah asks, sighing. "I don't even know how far of a drive it is from here to the Canadian border."

"Almost 8 hours," Frankie supplies. "It'll take us weeks to walk there. It's a long journey."

"Weeks? Oh my God, what's the point of this, then? We could be dead in the time it takes us to get there."

"Would you relax?" Noel sighs. "It's going to take a long time, because we're not going to be walking all hours of the day. We'll have to stop and rest, and hole up for the night, but we'll make it. It's not a sprint, Leah, it's a marathon."

"Yeah, and I didn't do marathons," Leah grumbles. "I was a sprinter. We've been over this."

"It'll be fine," Frankie assures her. "The further away from the city we get, the less of these things we'll see, I'm sure of it. And besides, we don't know how far the infection has spread. Maybe it's not even bad outside of the city." He sounds so confident that they almost want to believe him.

"Maybe you're right," Leah says, shooting a zombie right between what was left of its eyes, and imagines walking into a town full of living, non-murderous people.

By nightfall, they’re trudging into a fenced-in neighborhood off the side of the highway. It has a gated entrance, but there are white boards on the ground where they would have stopped the cars; it’s apparent that someone either broke in or broke out, and the security they thought they would have had dissipates.

“It’s not good,” Noel says, surveying the damage with his arms folded across his chest, “but I wouldn’t say it’s bad, either. There’s a fence around most of it, so infected can only get in the one way, anyway. It’s a safer place than most to hide out for the night.”

Noel, at the front of the group, moves his flashlight across the road in slow, sweeping motions while the other three follow close behind, weapons raised and at the ready. There are a couple infected milling about, looking like they’ve given up and have chosen to just wait around in the hopes of letting their prey come to them. It’s all too easy to take them down with hand weapons alone, and the surrounding area is clear enough for them to split up and check the houses.

“Nothing with broken windows,” Frankie says, aiming a flashlight at a pile of broken glass on the ground, “at least not on the ground floor. If the door’s locked, we’re not breaking in. We want to be able to secure the building.”

“Locked,” Leah calls, after shoving her entire body weight against the closed door.

“Here, too,” Noel says.

Kat shines her flashlight across the front of one average-sized house; windows intact, no movement from inside. She circles around back, easily hopping the fence to the backyard, and finds a similar sight. “This one looks good!” she calls, crossing the fingers on her left hand as she grabs for the back door’s handle with the right. The door creaks open and she lets out an excited squeal. “I found one that’s open!”

The other three members of the group hop the fence to the backyard while Kat waits, shining her flashlight through the open doorway to make sure nothing comes ambling out to look for the cause of all the commotion. Nothing does, though, and a thorough sweep of the first floor doesn’t bring out anyone dead or alive inside.

“This place is perfect,” Noel says, heading towards the stairs with his flashlight in one hand and his bat in the other. “Just gotta check the upstairs and then I think we can start setting up camp for the night.”

“Maybe forever,” Leah whispers to Frankie, who just shakes his head at her.

“No such luck, sweetheart. We gotta keep moving. Gotta get to Canada.”

“How do you even know Canada’s safe? We should set up our own base, find somewhere we can fix up for just ourselves and hold out til this has all blown over.”

“Idealistic,” Frankie says with a smile. “We’ll do what we have to do, but we have to go for the best plan first. I’d say yours might be a Plan C...or D, maybe.”

“Why is it you men get to make all the big decisions?” Leah asks. “Kat and I are just as capable. Maybe even more.”

“I do not doubt that, but we’re going with my plan because I have at least some intel on the subject. It’s not a blind suggestion; I’ve heard people talking about Canada being clear of the infection--or at least they’ve got it under control.”

“Fine,” Leah says, because she can’t really argue with him. If it’s a good plan, then they’re safe. And if it’s not, they try something else. It’s the same stuff they’ve been doing since day one, fumbling around in the dark hoping they flip a switch that works.

At the top of the stairs, they split up to canvas the rooms, find little more than ransacked dresser drawers and clothes strewn across the floor. “Looks safe enough,” Noel announces, once they’ve all gathered back in the hallway. “Let’s make this place ours for the night.”

“What’s the watch schedule looking like?” Kat asks, and Noel grins.

“Okay, hear me out: I think that maybe we can forgo the watch, just for tonight. The bedrooms seem safe enough, and I think as long as we’re careful, we’ll all be able to get some rest.”

“Oh, thank God,” Leah sighs, positively beaming. “I might actually get a full night’s rest. What a crazy thought!”

“They have a fireplace,” Frankie says, “so we can cook some food, relax on some nice couches, pretend like the dead aren’t rising from their graves outside.”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to pretend that,” Leah grumbles, and Frankie wraps an arm around her shoulders.

“We’ll do our best,” he replies and gives her a gentle squeeze. “Now, c’mon, let’s pretend to be normal people while we still can.”

Leah brings blankets and pillows down from upstairs and passes them out to Kat, Noel, and Frankie, who are already sprawled out on the large sectional sofa in the living room. There’s a fire going in the fireplace, and even though it’s a little too warm to be wrapping themselves in the blankets, even at night, they all start spreading them out on the couches, making their own comfortable spaces.

“It’s going to take a lot of work,” Frankie says, scanning a box of pasta he found in the cabinet, “but I think I can make us spaghetti tonight! I just have to keep the pot above the fire for...8 to 10 minutes.”

“There’s gotta be something around here we can set it on,” Noel says. “A metal step stool or yard furniture?”

“Wanna help me look?” Frankie asks, and both men get up from their seats to go scour the house once more.

Leah climbs over the back of the couch and slides down next to Kat. “I don’t like this too much,” she admits, folding her arms over her chest.

“Don’t like what?” Kat tucks a strand of hair behind Leah’s ear in a motherly, affectionate gesture. “We finally get a break. That’s a good thing.”

“Yeah, it’s a good thing until we’re stuck on the road again, fighting off those monsters and sleeping on the ground in shifts… I want the world to go back to normal, Kat. I don’t want to have to make a new normal in a world that’s gone to shit.”

“I know.” Kat pulls her into a one-armed hug and rests her cheek against the top of Leah’s head. “I know, honey, but we have to take what we’re given right now. We don’t know that the world is going to go back to normal...but we don’t know that it isn’t either. We just have to make do, either way.”

“I’m not living like this is The Walking Dead,” Leah insists. “I would rather die. I would rather die than have to live alongside those things for the rest of my life.”

“No one says you have to. We don’t know that this is going to turn out like The Walking Dead, or Return of the Living Dead, or whatever point of reference you have on zombies, okay? There is no reason we can’t believe that the world will go back to normal, eventually.”

“If you say so,” she replies, sinking further down in her seat, pouting.

“At least we have each other,” Kat says, and Leah has to nod.

“Yeah. Thank God for that.”

Noel finally finds a small, metal stand in someone else’s yard that fits above the fire, and they use it to hold the pot of water above the flame. Frankie has to sit beside it and stir, constantly, so the pot doesn’t boil over, but soon they’re eating spaghetti with tomato sauce, curled up on the couch like it’s movie night and not just a brief escape from running from zombies.

“So,” Frankie says around a mouthful of pasta, “what’s the stupidest thing you miss from our former zombie-free world?”

“Running toilets,” Kat grumbles, and Leah pipes up immediately.

“That’s not stupid! Plumbing was invented for a reason.”

“I miss microwaves,” Noel says and laughs. “As much as I loved home cooked meals, I also loved not having to cook. And being able to eat things other than cereal and granola bars.”

“Amen,” Leah sighs. “I miss coffee. I miss coffee so much, I think I’d sacrifice myself to have one more cup.”

“Don’t talk like that,” Kat says and elbows her in the ribs.

“I’m not serious!” she protests. “Well, mostly not serious.”

“Alright,” Noel says, interrupting before Leah and Kat can take their argument any further, “what’s the stupidest thing you miss?”

Frankie lets his face split into a wide grin before he says, “Zombie video games.”

Leah lets out a loud groan, and Kat throws a pillow across the room at him.

“Yeah,” Noel laughs, “that is about the worst answer. You don’t deserve our hospitality, dude.”

“Hey, I think I have more than proven my worth these past few weeks,” Frankie argues, but he’s grinning. “You gotta admit, I won that one. And I do miss ‘em, too. It was a lot more fun taking out zombies when they can hurt your little character but not you.”

“So, what’d you play, then?” Noel asks. “Call of Duty had a zombie mode, and that one wasn’t too bad, but I never really got into that genre. I was partial to Grand Theft Auto, myself.”

“Reyes!” Kat laughs. “You played GTA? Good God, I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.”

“It was my favorite game as a teenager!” Noel says, laughing as well. “It was just fun, you know? Blowing up cop cars with rocket launchers, beating up prostitutes…”

You are a cop,” Leah reminds him, rolling her eyes. “You spent your childhood blowing up cops with rocket launchers and then you want to become one?”

“Shh, Leah, we’re in the middle of a conversation,” Noel says, waving his hand at her. He turns back to Frankie and grins. “So, what game did you play?”

“Alright, I know it was old at the time...but I loved Left 4 Dead 2. It was the best, and I can’t believe they didn’t end up making any more sequels. I mean, I know you can’t expand on perfection, but they probably could have tried.”

“Did you have a character you always played as?” Noel asks, and the women roll their eyes in disbelief at the whole conversation.

Frankie pauses, glancing down into his bowl. His cheeks have just the faintest hint of pink as he admits, “I was always Rochelle.”

“Seriously, dude?”

“Okay, hear me out!” Frankie says. “My brother and his friends used to play all the time, and I’d watch them because I had nothing better to do, and none of them would ever pick Rochelle, right? And as a kid, I had no concept of computer AI or whatever, so all I saw was how good Rochelle was, and I thought she was like, the best character. So when I started playing, I always chose her, thinking it would help me be good, too. By the time I realized that no, it was just the computer, I was too attached to her.”

“That’s hilarious,” Kat says, and that finally gets a smile out of Frankie. “You are too cute.”

“Oh, so it’s ridiculous that I liked to play Grand Theft Auto, but Frankie can have an identity crisis in Left 4 Dead 2 and it’s cute?” Noel snaps, and Kat leans over to gently bump shoulders with him.

“He’s purposely playing as a female character. You said you liked to beat up prostitutes. Yeah, he gets to be the cute one right now.”

“I didn’t mean it,” Noel protests.

“Too late. You’re already a sexist pig and I’m breaking up with you.”

“Wow, man, that’s harsh,” Frankie says, struggling to keep a straight face. “Broken up with in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Can your life get any worse?”

Noel whips a pillow at Frankie’s face, as hard as he can.

Even though they're comfortable in their beds, safely barricaded in the respective rooms they've chosen, no one sleeps well. Leah lies alone in a little girl's room, staring at the dim glow-in-the-dark star stickers on the ceiling, wondering what happened to the family that used to live inside the house. There was no sign that anyone had died in there, so she has to assume they left along with the millions of people who had been evacuated--or died trying. Things were missing, like they had packed up and left, which gives her a small sliver of hope. Every person who makes it out is one more reason for her to keep going, one more example that if she just pushes through, she can make it out alive as well.

Frankie takes the room that looks like it had belonged to a preteen boy, and spends some time looking through the collection of DVDs and video games stacked on a shelf underneath a small TV. Sure enough, the kid has a lot of older games, and among them is Left 4 Dead 2, the familiar characters on the jacket, with their axes and rifles. "This is nothing like the video games," he mutters under his breath, running his thumb across the plastic casing. "Thank God we don't have to deal with any special infected, though. I'd die if I came face to face with a goddamn Tank."

Kat and Noel choose the master bedroom so they can sleep together, and even though Noel tries to mess around, they end up lying with their arms wrapped around each other, staring off into the darkness.

"Noel?" Kat whispers, afraid he's already asleep, but he moves his head and makes a low humming noise in acknowledgment. "I'm scared."

"We're safe here," he says, and he sounds like he's close to falling asleep. Kat desperately wants to let him, but she can't stomach the thought of lying awake in the dark without him.

"I don't mean right now, I mean all the time. I'm scared there isn't an end to this. That we never get out."

"Kat..." Noel reaches up to pet her hair, clumsily tangling his fingers in the strands at the base of her neck. "Can't think like that. You just have to believe things are going to work out--until we die, and then you can think that we'll never get out. Alright?"

"You idiot," Kat says, but she's smiling and reaches out to cup his cheek with one hand, pressing a kiss to the skin beneath his eye. "I'm glad we're together. I wouldn't have made it this far without you."

"Me, either," he whispers. "I wouldn't have wanted to go on without you."

"Love in the time of zombies," she laughs. "When the world's back to normal, we should write a screenplay. Get famous."

"I'm holding you to that, Kitty," Noel says and pulls her close. He kisses her temple and whispers in her ear, "Get some sleep. I'll protect you."

"I know you will," Kat replies, and snuggles up against him.

3. October

Frankie's prediction is only somewhat correct--in the suburbs, there aren't any large hordes of infected, but there are more than enough to keep the group constantly on edge. Houses are no longer safe spaces; most have been looted several times over, not even furniture remaining, and as the weather gets cooler it seems like the infected are moving indoors as well. In the town they've found themselves in, every house they break into seems to have at least one zombie hidden away in one of the rooms, and they don't learn from the close calls until it's too late. Noel has to dive out of a second story window after finding himself trapped by an entire infected family and rolls his ankle so badly that Frankie has to carry him back to the building they've been hiding out in.

"You moron!" Kat shouts, unable to hold back once they've shut and barricaded the door behind them. There are infected outside, and she knows she should be quiet, but on the second floor they're safe enough and she's just too angry. "You absolute fucking idiot! You could have died, Noel! You could have died and then what happens to me, huh?"

"I said I was sorry," Noel mutters. He doesn't look good, gritting his teeth against the constant pain, and they've all slimmed down a little as the months passed. None of them had much weight to lose to begin with, and Noel looks frail in the fading sunlight.

"I don't care! You can say you're sorry every minute for the rest of your life and that won't change how pissed I am at you." Kat fixes him with the sharpest glare she can muster before the anger across her face breaks and the floodgates open. Noel's arms open when she begins sobbing, and she slowly lowers herself down to the floor beside him, allowing him to hold her to his chest and quietly shush her.

"Kat, honey, I'm sorry but I'm alive. I'm not going anywhere, it's going to be okay," he tells her.

"I have to get out of here," Frankie whispers to Leah, who just nods in agreement. If it was exhausting watching the couple in their lovey-dovey moments, it's only gotten worse as they've started fighting, and the two single members of the group commiserate through shared glances and eye rolls. They're all tired, ready to give up at any moment, waiting for a sign to keep going. Kat and Noel have each other, but Leah and Frankie search for other avenues, something more tangible.

"Do you want some company?" Leah asks, but she looks away, biting her nails.

Frankie doesn't have the heart to tell her he knows she doesn't want to go out anymore, so he just shakes his head. "I'll be fine, I'm not going far. There's a nicely boarded-up bar up the street I want to check out; alcohol would come in handy for a lot of things besides drinking."

"Okay," she says and manages a smile. "Be careful. Come back in one piece."

He glances down at the bandage wrapped tightly around his left arm. "I always do." Frankie grabs his backpack from the floor beside the doorway, picks up his rusting machete, and heads down the stairs without checking to see if Kat or Noel noticed his exit. They're too wrapped up in each other and have been since leaving the city; Frankie can barely stomach being around them anymore.

The infected outside must have heard Kat's screaming, because they're waiting around outside the entrance, their necks craned up towards the second floor. Frankie easily downs two of them with swift slashes of his machete and heads off towards the bar, unconcerned about the three infected down the street who have taken notice of him. When they're close enough, he'll take them out, too, but he's not wasting his energy going to them.

They're all the same: slow, determined, grotesque. In groups of three or more, they can be deadly, but if you know what you're doing they're not too hard to kill. It's laughable, almost, how he'd grown up expecting a real life zombie apocalypse to be an experience of constant fear. Instead, it's exhausting, with rare moments of terror when there are too many infected, or the ammo runs out, or there's nowhere to hide out.

There's no such thing as 'alerting the horde' and having to stand behind a spray of bullets while dozens of zombies rush you. There are no kindly strangers with boats or helicopters or cars to help you make it from one place to the next. It's isolating, it's draining, and Frankie thinks he'll die from the sheer effort of living before any zombie can kill him.

So, really, it's a lie when he says he wants to go find some alcohol for all of its useful properties. He wants to find some alcohol so that he can drink away his problems, for at least one night, and maybe wake up the next day more willing to go on. They have to be getting close to Canada by now, and maybe that one final push will get them to safety, to a place where the infection hasn't spread.

One of the trailing infected has managed to get close enough to Frankie that he figures it's about time he faces it head on, so he turns around and buries his machete deep in its face. The zombie gurgles impotently as it sinks to the ground, and Frankie yanks the blade from its flesh. "You guys want some of this?" he asks, arms outstretched as the two remaining infected stumble towards him. "You're gonna have to catch me...bastards."

It doesn't take long for Frankie to find a loose board on one of the bar windows, and he's able to easily pull it down to make a small opening for himself to climb in through. The inside of the bar is dark, and he pulls out his flashlight, skimming the light across the room until it settles, hesitantly, on a crumpled figure in the corner of the room. Frankie readies his machete, just in case it's a resting zombie--which he's seen, and still doesn't understand--but he thinks it has to be another casualty of fear. Too many suburban homes have contained, among other things, the bodies of people who chose to take their own lives rather than wait for something to take their lives from them. The bar would have been the perfect place, too; it could be the owner, who boarded the walls and drank himself to death. There's blood visible, though, on the man's sleeve and collar of his dingy button-down, and it's still red enough for it to be somewhat fresh. If he is dead, he hasn't been for long.

Frankie approaches carefully, just to check. He looks too human to be infected, but he knows better than to assume that just because the man doesn't look like a rotted corpse, it doesn't mean he's not one of them. He's never seen a person freshly turned, a new infected, and he wonders if they look just like normal, sick humans. Like the man on the floor, pale and thin and covered in blood and dirt.

The floor creaks beneath his feet, and the man's eyes open. Frankie jumps, both hands around his machete, expecting the man to clamber to his feet and rush him like the other infected have done. Instead, the man closes his eyes again, muttering, "If you're going to kill me, please, get it over with."

"W-what?" Frankie's so stunned he can barely move. He does have enough sense to drop the machete, embarrassed at coming off like a savage, and then crouches down in front of the man. "Hey. Hey, are you alright?"

"Do I look alright?" he rasps. "I was serious, too; might as well kill me."

"I don't kill people," Frankie says, and that gets the man to open his eyes once more.

"What do you think you've been doing this entire time?"

"Those things," Frankie tells him, "are not people."

The man just shrugs and goes to rest his head on his knees once more.

"Hey, come on, get up. You can't stay here, those things'll get you." Frankie puts a hand on the man's arm and prepares to help pull him to his feet, but the man wrenches his arm away, glaring at Frankie.

"Don't touch me," he spits.

"Jesus." Frankie takes a step back, holding up his hands. "Sorry, I'm just trying to help."

"I don't need your help." The man is adamant, and besides, he's too injured and hostile to justify bringing him into the group. He wouldn't be worth anything to them, and from the sound of it, he probably wouldn't think they're worth much to him, either. For some reason, though, instead of leaving him to his own devices, Frankie sits down on the floor across from him. "What the hell are you doing?" the man asks, his voice tired and unamused.

"I don't know," Frankie says, "but I really don't feel like going back to my group right now, so I might as well hang out here and make sure you're okay."

"Christ, that is so stupid," the man says.

Frankie just grins at him. "My name's Frankie."

There is silence while the man regards him, the expression of hostility on his face fading until he just looks exhausted. "Laurent."

"Where are you from, Laurent?" Frankie asks, and whether Laurent likes the question or not, he does answer.

"New York City. Hell of a lot of good that's been for me." He rubs a hand over his face and sighs. “Listen, kid, you should just go. There’s no point in sticking around here for--for me, if that’s what you’re doing.”

“I came to get some alcohol,” Frankie tells him, smiling, “not to pick up some injured puppy and take him home. But I’m not leaving you, it’s against my morals.”

“Ah, because a moral compass is so important at the end of the world.” Laurent’s head dips like he’s about to drop off, and the sudden pressure of Frankie’s hand back on his shoulder makes him jerk back up in surprise.

“I’m serious,” Frankie says quietly, “I’m not leaving you here to die, alone, in some abandoned bar while zombies claw down the boards to get to you.”

“Well, when you say it like that,” Laurent says, and the weak laugh he punctuates the sentence with comes out as more of a cough. “I’m fine, kid. Not your job.”

“To protect and serve,” Frankie says and grins at the baffled look on Laurent’s face. “I am--I was a police officer. It kind of is my job.”

“Hm,” Laurent hums.

“I worked Narcotics, mostly,” Frankie continues, “did some undercover stuff, you know.”

“The dark side of police work,” Laurent muses, smiling faintly. “Assistant District Attorney, formerly. I’ve met my fair share of your kind.”

“Ah, yes, because we all end up being drug addicts or criminals ourselves.”

“Not all of you. But some, yes.”

“I’d be insulted if I cared at all about your opinion of me.”

Laurent smiles. “Well, it’s a good thing that you don’t.”

They sit there in silence, listening to the faint sounds of the infected wandering outside the building. If Laurent is at all scared, Frankie can’t tell. The man looks resigned to his fate, worn out and broken in a way he hasn’t seen. They’ve all seen the dead, the people who chose to take their own lives rather than have them taken from them, and Laurent looks like they must have before they pulled the trigger. He looks like a dead man walking.

“What are you looking at,” Laurent grumbles, looking at Frankie from beneath heavy eyelids.

“More of a corpse than a person, I think,” he replies, and Laurent rolls his eyes.

“You said you weren’t looking for a lost puppy.” Laurent takes a deep, rattling breath and then exhales slowly. “I’m not trying to burden anyone. Just--grab your liquor, pretend like you never saw me.”

“Too late,” Frankie tells him with a lighthearted smile. “I already kinda care about what happens to you.”

“Well aren’t you screwed, then.”

Frankie pushes himself to his feet and brushes off the backside of his jeans with his hands. “You can think about it while I go find myself some liquor, but I’d highly recommend you agree to come with me. You don’t have to stick around, but at least let yourself heal up.”

Laurent nods. “Fair enough.”

Frankie casts one final glance back over his shoulder at Laurent as he walks away, and watches as he lets his head dip down to his chest once more. The sight is disheartening; when he and Noel go out, they go out fighting, working around sprained ankles and whatever other bodily injuries. “I hope I never get to that point,” he mutters under his breath, walking over to the bar and hopping over the counter in one fluid motion.

There’s not much left, which is unsurprising; at the end of the world, you’ll want liquor, he knows, and wonders how many people had headed straight over there once the news started coming out. A few bottles of cheap vodka, a bottle of rum, and a half-empty bottle of gin are all that remains, lying on their sides on the floor. Frankie twists open the top of the rum bottle and takes a gulp, just to test it, cringing as he screws the cap back on. It’ll do, though, and he sticks the bottles into his backpack, careful to make sure they won’t leak.

“Made up your mind yet?”

Laurent looks up at him from under heavily lidded eyes and sighs, shaking his head. “Fine. Let me come leech off of you.”


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 3rd, 2017 09:01 am (UTC)
It continues to be a gripping read! You have me very concerned about everyone (and the world generally)...
Jun. 13th, 2017 04:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm in such a slump lately though...I keep trying to write and then just...don't care enough about any of my characters/stories to do so. So who knows when I'll finally get the last part up, lol!
Jun. 15th, 2017 01:26 pm (UTC)
But you can't leave them (and me) at mercy of the zombies!

And, aw, that's a shame. I hope the muse comes back soon for you.
Jul. 22nd, 2017 12:54 am (UTC)
So they pick up a former police officer
and find more infected. They miss different
things (I agree with the coffee!). Will Frankie
and Laurent find the group again? Good stuff!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


Runaway Tales



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