The skin where her blood had dried on me itched.
They were behind me. I hadn’t seen them yet, but I knew it with a stark certainty. The feeling of being watched had intensified.
I was being hunted.
The fear that coursed through my veins pushed me to a new edge. I had both no control and full control. The no control pushed me through the park, the water bottles slamming against my back as the pack bounced with every step, my pace a whirlwind where everything blurred and I could barely see to make my way forward.
The fear, though. Everything was in overdrive. I couldn’t see properly through the speed and the dark, but I could leap over every ditch, duck for every branch.
The fear of what was behind me pushed me to make a clear path forward without even knowing I was doing it.
I skidded to a stop at the outer edge of the park, hidden under the deep shadow of the enormous trees. I couldn’t see them.
The sound around me was unnatural. The incessant hum of insects had all but faded away. There was a thick silence – no sounds of civilisation – but it was intermittently broken with something else.
Far enough away that I couldn’t make out what each noise was. The muffled sounds of movement. A crack here, a shuffle there?
These zombies weren’t as fast as me, but my race through the park had given them a path of noise to follow.
I was stuck at the edge of the park for a long moment. The adrenaline had ebbed away slowly, caving to nothing but the worrying kind of fear, the useless kind. The kind that left your entire body a quivering mess, stuck in the past and trapped in thoughts that only made the shuddering worse.
She’d looked so frail when she’d finally slumped to the ground.
Her scream had been the worst thing, though. The way it weaved between the inhuman call of what she was now and the familiar cry of a frightened child.
What she had been, a nasty thought hissed. She was nothing now.
I staggered to my knees and threw up in the grass.
I stood and pressed my forehead against a tree trunk. The bark scraped and bit at my skin, rough and unforgiving. There was no time for this.
The outer streets of town were just across the road. I was in a different spot to where we’d first entered the park so many nights ago. There were different cars parked here, dark and abandoned but not the same terrifying piece of hell as the one we’d been trapped in.
I ignored them. I checked the road as many times as I felt I had time for. Each check I felt safe for mere seconds after, then began to doubt myself. I’d been wrong before. I had no Jay to save me this time.
I checked again.
A noise behind me propelled me forward, silently weaving my way in between two shadowy cars. My feet had barely touched the ground here when I forced myself to keep going.
There were no convenient gaps in the fence, no unlocked gates. I scrambled over a chainlink fence, the noise bouncing down the street, into the park, a siren call to anyone or anything nearby.
I shrank into the shadows this new garden provided. It was too obvious to stay here. These things, however smart they were or weren’t, they had shown us they could follow noise.
I didn’t even look behind me. I pushed forward as close to the next fence line as I could, quietly running my fingers along the chainlink. It seemed intact. The only way through would be over.
I looked. Nothing but silence and darkness in the garden behind me. They hadn’t followed me here yet.
I slipped my pack off my shoulders and dropped it and my shovel over the side of the fence. I could take my time with this one. I stuck my toe into one of the wire diamonds in the fence and climbed.
Quietly – silently was impossible. The fence buckled and rattled under my weight.
With a soft thud on the grass, I landed beside my stuff. I slung the pack over one shoulder and backed into this new yard.
My heart thumped so loudly in my chest it felt like a radar in my ears. A beacon pulsing, letting everything know I was here. Surely they could hear it, sense it. It thudded, racing.
The yard beside me was empty for now.
I was too frightened to turn my back. I did an awkward sideways shuffle toward the dark house before me.
Once I could press my hand against the brick, I felt myself slowly turning toward the house, my back to the empty yards behind me.
This house looked to be in pretty good shape. The door looked scratched up but unopened, like someone had tried to break their way in but hadn’t managed it.
Or maybe they’d been interrupted.
I knew I didn’t have time to play locksmith. This house was next to a small side street – it was either get in here or keep moving further into town.
Nothing behind me yet. I knew they were close, though. I could just feel it. Something in the air was different, some feeling or noise.
I moved around the side of the house that ran parallel to the house beside it, in the yard I’d just come from. No open or broken windows.
I kept moving. The front of the house looked untouched as well, just overgrown. A vine was creeping its way up the bricks, toward the roof. Part of it had grown over the window. The window.
It was an old fashioned window, the kind you pushed up and locked into place. This one had been left open, but by such a small amount it hadn’t been noticeable until I was standing right in front of it.
I tried to push it up from underneath, my fingers just barely fitting under the opening. It creaked, almost moved, but remained firm.
I couldn’t fit my hand underneath it to try and knock the lock down.
If I broke the window, they would hear me. There was no quiet way to do it.
The rattle of a fence invaded my ears. Too soon.
The noise startled me into action. I snapped the vine across the window and tried it again, pushing harder, taking more of a risk. The timber frame of the window groaned under my pressure.
I didn’t have time to be so careful anymore. I shoved the window as much as I could manage with the tiny gap I had to work with. The lock shuddered and I heard it pop out, landing somewhere on the floor below.
The window slid up and open.
It was a tiny window. Before our days of hunger, I probably would never have fit. Even now it was a squeeze, but I dropped my pack and the shovel into the house and squirmed in after them.
I pushed the window back down behind me.
The house was cold and silent. It had a certain kind of stiffness to its atmosphere, it had clearly been untouched for quite some time.
I retrieved my stuff and cautiously edged my way into the house. Definitely abandoned, everything had a strange feeling to it. The dining table was half cleared away, maybe after someone’s lunch. A loaf of what was now just mould sagged in its packet on the table, a half empty glass of lumpy, sick looking milk beside it.
The downstairs floor was too open. The front windows had been small, but the side windows were huge, letting in impressive amounts of moonlight. I was bathed in the silvery glow of it, showcasing me for anything looking in.
I moved away from the dining room quickly, pausing with one foot on the stairs. Upstairs meant I could be trapped.
I didn’t have time for hesitation. I shook it off and pushed myself up the stairs. The windows up here had their drapes closed, the darkness almost absolute. I tripped over something – a rug? – that nearly sent me to my knees.
Scared by the noise my lack of vision had caused, I sat where I was, somewhere near the top of the stairs. I couldn’t see much up here, but the bottom of the staircase was illuminated in the silver of the moon.
I would see them coming, if I didn’t hear them first.
I dropped the pack behind me and gripped my shovel. It was time to wait.
To see if I had been followed this far.