I only waited a couple of minutes before I pulled myself up.
I stood uncertainly between their bodies, hugging myself. The enemy was no longer a nameless evil. They were a version of us.
Putting weight on my leg made me wince. My jeans were even more in tatters now. I reached down and felt my ankle, my hand coming away damp and sticky. I’d cut my ankle on the fence right where the zombie had clawed at me, and the wound was weeping steadily.
I wiped my hand on my jeans just as it started to rain. The drops were fat, splattering on my skin, leaving goosebumps in their wake. As quickly as it had started, it started thundering down, drowning out any chance I had of hearing anything approaching.
I grabbed my weapons and headed back to the fence, carefully stepping over the bodies. With more time to look around, I realised I could slide them under a gap in the fence.
Bracing myself, I started climbing, trying to take it easy on my injured ankle. Rain soaked into my jacket, through to my skin, and my fingers were cold and slippery on the wire.
I managed to scale to the top and lower myself back down the other side without further injury. I gasped at the jolt that shot up my ankle as I landed, but nothing could hear me.
The rain poured on, the drops hitting my face, my jeans heavy and uncomfortably sticking to my legs, my backpack tugging on my shoulders.
I picked the bike up and dropped my stuff back into the basket. The pedals were slippery and my foot slipped, the sharp grips biting into the wounds on my ankle.
“Fuck.” It felt good to say it, to express my frustration, with no concern for any of them hearing me.
Despite the cold numbness spreading over my body, I was grateful for the rain, for its noise and veil of cover under sheets of water.
With my ankle throbbing, protesting with every movement, I started pedalling. I was lost in these dark back streets, but I figured I could work out the general direction.
All I had to do now was stay hidden, get back to the house, and start heading out to Lakes to meet the others.
The rain continued as I rode. It was a slow trip with my ankle and the constant stopping to check my surroundings. Each time I stopped my ankle hurt more, as though it had slipped into resting mode and was fighting against having to move again.
Lightning had started to flash now, the sudden booming light throwing eerie shadows and movements around, painting predators where there were none.
Twice I nearly rode straight into parked cars with the lightning sparking movement behind me, movement I could find no trace or whisper of in the dark.
I was the kind of uncomfortably cold now that seeps into your bones, the kind that makes every movement a jarring snap that only makes you feel the cold more. I could feel shiver after shiver sliding down the backs of my arms and neck, chasing each other along my spine.
The streets lay empty in front of me, the wet casting a gloss over the bitumen.
I slowed my cycling, both to rest my ankle and because I felt I was close to the house. This street was a clean, empty reminder of the street I’d run to before.
Sure enough, even in the dark, I recognised the house. I stashed the bike in the front garden, choosing to keep the shovel with me, and crept towards the house.
I checked behind me, but I couldn’t see anyone in the few feet of visibility the rain allowed me. I had no choice but to assume safety.
I eased the window open and shoved my pack and shovel through, squeezing myself in after them. The house lay in front of me, silent and forbidding, as I made my way through to the kitchen.
There were still a few hours left of the night. With the bike, I could grab the supplies and at least start heading out to Lakes.
The rain was pelting the kitchen windows, sending phantom noises through the house. I could feel invisible fingers raking through my hair, tickling my scalp, the eyes of the unseen watching me.
I felt like prey.
I forced myself to shake the feeling off and started shoving tins of food into my pack. Surely nothing could have followed me here, tracking me through the rain and keeping up with the bike.
Remembering the three that had already kept up with the speed of the bike sent my shattered nerves to the edge.
My hands shaking, I zipped my bag up, the last of what I could fit now crammed into my pack. It was heavy, but I could make use of the basket on the front of the bike.
I thought I heard a noise from the front of the house – a distinct, sharp noise, not the muffled whispering of the weather.
But I’d shut the window, and none of them had yet possessed the coordinated movements to be able to quietly open it.
My heart felt sick, a pang of terror snaking down to my gut.
I couldn’t actually remember shutting the window behind me. I’d been stuck between hurrying and trying to avoid putting too much pressure on my ankle. I mentally retraced my steps – pushing the window open, dropping my gear, climbing through after it… Rushing to the kitchen…
I stood in front of the open pantry, listening hard. All I could hear was my panicked breathing as my chest heaved, and the rain outside.
I was alone. I struggled the pack onto my back and holding the shovel ready, left the kitchen, almost tripping over the rug as I came to a dead stop.
It was the girl from before. The one who had shown fear, had run from me after I’d killed her hunting companions. She must have followed me the whole way, managed to climb through the window I had left open after all.
She was one of the quick ones – she had to be, to keep up with the bike – but she moved slowly now, staring me down as she took a few careful steps forward. Her movements were disjointed, irregular, but confident, moving with a sort of strangely rigid ease.
I only had a handful of choices, and as she got closer, less time to make them. Instead of backing myself into the kitchen, I ran up the stairs, pausing at the top to look behind me.
She was following, moving up the stairs awkwardly. Her feet would hit the back of each step and she’d rigidly lift her knee, shoving her foot forward when it was high enough. One sickly arm gripped the railing, clawing its way up.
She looked up at me suddenly.
I backed up a few steps – she was only halfway up the stairs – but her muttering had me stuck, staring at her.
I staggered backwards. Her voice had been sharp, clear, as she spoke my name, and something clicked in my brain.
I knew her.
She knew me.
She was pale, gaunt, with the same mottled decaying skin they all had. She was near unrecognisable, but hearing her speak rattled something in my mind.
Her name was Lisa. She’d graduated with Jay and I, but we’d never really been friends. We hadn’t seen her since the end of school.
I hadn’t recognised her out in the street, but now that I’d heard her speak, it all clicked into place.
I knew her.
And somehow… Somehow, she still knew me.
I’d been holding the shovel ready but now it fell limp at my side. This was different.
I couldn’t do it this time.
I backed up the hallway, running into one of the bedrooms. We were on the second floor now and I couldn’t rely on jumping out any windows.
I couldn’t rely on her not being able to follow me.
I was in the room next to the dead couple.
I could hear Lisa’s approach, hear her dragging her feet slowly up the stairs and finally down the hallway towards me, gaining speed.
She was in the doorway now, paused, tilting her head as she looked at me. We could barely see one another in the dark in here, and I could hear her sniffing.
With no plan, I let adrenaline and instinct guide me. She started to move forward, into the room, only a few metres from me now.
Without thinking – unable to even try – I waited until she was completely in the room and rushed forward, diving under her outstretched arms. As she reacted and started to turn, I spun around, grabbing the door handle and slamming it shut between us.
There was no way to lock it from the outside.
I staggered backwards, tripping over my own feet. I couldn’t kill her.
I knew her. The thought droned on in my head, drowning me. Some part of her still knew me, remembered my name.
She was conscious of me, conscious enough to remember me and say my name, but I’d seen the hunger in her eyes. Seen the predatory way she had followed me.
I picked myself up from the floor, swallowing hard as I forgot my ankle and put too much weight on it. I backed up towards the stairs, my eyes locked on the unmoving door.
There was a sudden thud as she threw herself against it, trying to break free. My instinct had been right, then. She couldn’t open doors.
Shaken, I backed myself against the wall, looking down at the stairs. I was questioning everything, doubting myself. Could I really just leave her there?
My shaking breaths were slowing now as my adrenaline faded slowly. She was still throwing herself against the door, but she didn’t seem strong enough to break through.
I closed my eyes.
I had to leave her there. I knew I couldn’t kill her – I couldn’t – but it was still her or me.
She was slamming into the door now, really crashing into it, the sound thundering over even the constant drumming of the rain.
Thankful for the old, heavy doors in this house, I looked down the stairs, talking myself into leaving.
Instead I found myself on autopilot, sitting at the top of the stairs, dropping the shovel beside me.
She was calling my name now, the call more human than anything else. Pleading.
“Lisa?” I called back. Without realising, I was on my feet, heading back towards the door. I stopped about a metre away, listening to her slam into it, calling my name between each thud.
“Charlie.” Slam. “Charlie.”
“I can’t, Lisa.” I was whispering. She couldn’t hear me, but I kept whispering. “I’m sorry. I can’t do this. I can’t let you out. We can’t…”
The slamming stopped with her final shout, and the rain drowned our stillness out.
As I readied myself to leave, the door knob rattled.
Even as I watched, it started to turn.
She had figured it out.
Without knowing if her final shout had been a warning or a call of triumph, I ran down the stairs.