The air was dusty, dry, and had a foul taste to it. It crept through Chris' nose, burning his nostrils and airway. His throat felt dry, cracked, and it burned as though there were some sort of creature clawing at his oesophagus. His tongue felt withered and thick, as though it were going to choke him. The air was putrid.
The heat made him feel as though his very insides were boiling alive; it felt as though he were being cooked, almost like a slice bacon. There was a layer of sweat on his skin, almost like a thin film, and he squirmed, it making him feel uncomfortable and clammy.
He thought it ironic that the very place where every creature, human or inhuman, was hostile, a lust for blood evident in their very eyes would be the place where the heat was unbearable, and the earth red, cracked and scorched. The phrase, "hotter than hell", seemed all but appropriate.
It occurred to Chris, after the umpteenth villager's face had split open, revealing a strange, four-segmented mouth filled with rows of dagger-like teeth just waiting to tear into the soft flesh on his bones, that the world would probably never be rid of such demons; the plagiarising kind, the creatures that turned people into monsters against their own will.
He knew that with every squeeze of the trigger, he took away another innocent life that had been condemned-the same as those that were once people at the Spencer Estate, but were unlucky victims of the body-ravaging virus.
He could not allow himself to dwell on it, on the innocent blood that covered his hands and clothing, because he also knew he had no other option. It was do or die. And Chris could not die. Not when there was a chance Jill was here somewhere, waiting for him to rescue her.
Chance. The word floated around in his mind. That was what he was going on. A chance. He was risking not only his own life, but the life of his newly acquainted "partner" as well. All for a chance.
He had no solid evidence that Jill was even alive; she could be dead, or worse, she could be like these villagers, a slave to whatever parasite riddled her body. His mind automatically shied away from those thoughts; she was alive, he told himself. She was alive, and this time he was going to save her.
"Chris, watch out!"
The loud, shrill yell of his partner snapped him into focus; he very narrowly dodged the double-bladed chainsaw as it swung around to meet him, wielded by a crazed man whose head was bulging out of the sack tied around it.
Chris managed to roll out of range of the chainsaw and kick the madman carrying it away, shooting an oncoming villager in the neck in the process. The blood squirted in all directions like a fountain, covering both Chris and the ground at his feet.
"You need to be careful!" The words carried over his partner's gun fire to his eardrums, and a sudden flash stunned his brain capacity for a few seconds.
"Be careful, lug head!" Half serious, half taunting, Jill's voice suddenly filled his ears. It was something she would often say to him when they were in the field together, or out on a mission and he came a little too close for comfort to danger.
Squinting from the dust and sunlight, he looked over at his partner who was struggling with a group of villagers. Her dark features had morphed into light skin, black hair becoming chocolate-brown.
He saw Jill in her stead.
Jill's voice carried over to him like smoke, and suddenly he was thrown back in time; when he struggled against the hordes of infected mutants with Jill by his side.
Like the image of an oasis to a person lost in the desert, he was hit with a wonderfully powerful feeling.
He heaved himself forward, ignoring the deadly numb feeling in his legs; they felt heavier than lead weights. But that did not matter, not when his partner-no-not when Jill was in danger.
He charged forward, ripping a villager who had latched onto her back free from her, tossing him aside and planting a bullet between his eyes. A gunshot from behind spun him around, and he turned to face the other demons who dared touch even a hair on their heads.
His new-filled rage at protecting Jill made him stronger, and he pulled his arm back and snapped it forward into the face of the closest villager. As his hand impacted with the villager's skull, he heard and felt a satisfying crack as the bone snapped with the force of his punch. Blood and teeth spewed from it's broken mouth.
The demon screamed and fell back, clutching it's broken face in agony. Chris had no time to stand triumphant over his powerful hit, because the onslaught of villagers continued. The sound of gunfire, howling and splitting flesh filled the air as the villagers were disposed of.
But it was not over.
The deafening roar of the chainsaw made an unwanted return, as the madman had recovered from the solid roundhouse Chris had landed into his stomach.
"Shit!" Chris cursed. His ammo supply was dwindling. He reckoned he did not have enough to finish off this crazed lunatic. He would have to retreat.
"Fall back! We need a plan!" He yelled at Jill. She nodded, and the two darted off to take refuge behind a cracked wall. They moved quickly; lucky for them, the chainsaw man did not. They successfully lost him, hiding behind a wall situated in the bottom floor of an old, creaky, unstable looking building.
Chris checked the magazine in his gun; five bullets. He only had one more magazine to spare, and a single grenade perched in his pocket. And since the chainsaw wielding madman had gotten up after a kick that would break a normal person's insides, Chris deducted that it definitely wasn't enough.
He glanced over at Jill; she was watching him, uncertainty in her eyes.
"I don't have enough." He admitted, a frown on his features.
"I only have one magazine left…" She told him, a horrified expression making its way onto her face.
Chris' breathing became jagged. He glanced around frantically, searching for anything that could be of any use.
The omnipresent sound of the chainsaw could be heard somewhere in the distance, getting closer.
'Don't panic' Chris demanded himself internally, 'Panic is a soldier's worst enemy.'
As if luck was with him, his eyes zeroed in on a red barrel across from them, not twelve feet away. Inspiration hit as adrenaline made his brain work faster. The madman was getting closer.
"The barrel. We lead him to that, then blow it up. That'll finish him for sure."
Jill looked at him dubiously.
"Are you sure that'll work?" His jaw mashed together.
"It has to."
With determination, Chris pushed himself up from his crouching position. He glanced at Jill.
"When I get that the attention of that sick fucker over there, you blast the barrel and waste him." Jill's eyes widened.
"But what about you?" He grinned egotistically.
"Please. I'll be fine." And with that he took off running, out from behind the wall and into the open.
"Hey you sick freak!" He yelled out, waving his arms, "Here I am!"
The sound of the chainsaw being ripped and a loud growl was heard, and Chris braced himself as the chainsaw man came charging out from some unseen place, lumbering towards him. Chris dived out of the way as the chainsaw was swung in his direction, and quickly pushed himself to his feet and made a beeline for the red explosive barrel.
As expected, the chainsaw man went after him, an animalistic roar escaping from him as he ran with malicious intent after Chris.
"Now!" Chris shouted, throwing himself out of the way as a bullet was fired into the barrel, causing it to explode. A roar of pain was heard in the aftermath of the explosion, and Chris moved his hands from his head-his feeble attempt to protect himself from the blast where he lay a few feet away on the dusted, cracked ground-and stood up, cautiously wandering over to where the chainsaw man lay writhing on the ground.
The chainsaw discarded, Chris saw the madman's face and front torso had been blown away-the sack torn from his head. Bulbous-like tumours covered what was left of his being, and Chris felt a small surge of pity as the man gurgled his last breath and died.
Soft, almost tentative footsteps behind him alerted his attention, and he half turned to see Jill approaching him slowly.
"Is it dead?" He nodded.
"Dead as dead. He's not getting back up this time."
"Oh, thank god."
"Great teamwork, Jill." Her face faltered suddenly, eyeing him with uncertainty.
"I'm sorry, what did you call me?" The voice that came from her mouth did not sound like Jill's. He frowned, confused, and blinked.
When he opened his eyes, Jill was gone. Instead a pair of deep, emerald eyes were watching him carefully from a face of dark features.
"Oh. Sorry, Sheva." He said lamely. He felt an odd mix of numbness and confusion. The entire time, it wasn't Jill. He had been convinced; it looked like her, sounded like her. But it was a ruse. It was not her.
Maybe it was a mirage from the unbearable heat and sun.
Or maybe he was just going crazy.
Or maybe, he truly was in hell, being tortured into seeing things that were not true, or real.