Sorry for the eleven emails in your in-box right now, telling you eleven new chapters are up of a two year-old story. I revamped this bitch!
I would recommend reading this story from the beginning, if you haven't got that note already. Zoey's character has undergone some significant changes, as well as chapters ten and eleven (this one). Small fixits have been applied where needed throughout the story.
As in the spirit of disowning: I do not own VALVe or any of its affiliates. Consider this a disclaimer to the characters/themes/what have you presented in this story.
Zoey skidded to a halt in front of the weapons storage, jiggling the handle frantically. The door was locked as it was before. She still held the makeshift pipe in her hand, and she started to beat in the glass, hoping she could crawl through the window like she had her own door to escape Frank.
She heard rapid footsteps nearing her from further down the hall, and she looked up to see if it was Frank approaching her. Her eyes widened just before they collided, and she flew off her feet and leaving her winded. She landed heavily on her back, and before she could collect herself, Frank was on top of her, swatting at her face and neck.
"You left me!" he shrieked. "You left me you left me you left me!"
"Get off me!" she shouted, trying to stop his flails. When it became apparent she wouldn't be able to fight him off in her position, she quickly searched the floor with her right hand for the pipe she dropped when he knocked her off her feet. Her fingers brushed its edge, and she took it in her grasp before she brutally swung it against Frank's temple.
Frank slid off of her like a rag doll, and she abruptly stood up and made for the door again. She hammered on the window, both hands wrapped around the pipe, grunting with each strike. She kept Frank in the corner of her eye, watching him weakly writhe on the floor. She hoped she could break the window in before he regained consciousness and pinned her down for good.
The window finally cracked, and she earnestly beat it in until it the pieces ripped away from the frame and the majority of the window shattered. Zoey picked away the sharp edges again, then tossed the pipe inside the room before she made to crawl inside the closet.
She landed on both her hands and shimmied her feet inside before landing in a crouch. It was pitch black inside the closet, but from the light filtering inside she could see a lighter sitting next to a bottle of gasoline.
She swept up the lighter in her hand and snapped it on. A smile lit her face once she saw the racks of assault rifles, SMGs, handguns, hand axes and baseball bats. Weapons, she thought with a flood of morbid relief.
Frank was at the door with incredible speed, stretching his arm as far as he could go to try and reach Zoey. She staggered back, even though she was already out of his reach, and placed a hand on the bottle of gas.
"You know what this is, don't you, Frank?" she said threateningly.
"Fire!" he shouted in a strangled cry. "FIRE!" He didn't seem to let up in his desperate attempt to swat at her.
"I'm not afraid to use it on you if you don't back off," Zoey warned again, lifting up the bottle to the lighter. She actually had no intention of throwing a Molotov cocktail in Frank's face, especially at this close range; she would trap herself in the closet and be killed in the process. But she was hoping the memory of being set on fire would stab Frank with a cold jolt of fear. He only seemed more feverish to get his hands on her than ever, though.
Satisfied that he wouldn't be able to get into the room while she was there, Zoey began collecting her weapons. She placed the lighter back on the table with the Molotov cocktail before she stuck a pistol in the back waistband of her pants, slipped a hunting knife in the leg brace on her left thigh, and took a sniper rifle into her hands from the racks. Stuffing as much ammo in her pockets as she possibly could, she readied to threaten Frank away from the door so that she could leave and start to search for her friends.
When she turned around, she saw the door to the closet was wide open, and Frank stood there in the middle of the floor.
Zoey gasped sharply and spun around to aim the gun at Frank. She had been so surprised that she barely gave herself time to think, so surprised that she didn't pause to register that he was just standing there, holding the lit lighter lovingly, a mesmerized glaze to his eyes. Just before she pulled the trigger, he quietly whispered, "Fire."
Zoey also didn't give herself time to aim. The first spray of bullets pierced the wall just over Frank's head. She tumbled backwards from the force of the recoil, nearly flailing her gun in the process. Bullets went everywhere—one grazed Frank's right shoulder before shooting into the wall, causing him to drop the lighter. Just before Zoey let go of the trigger, one of the bullets shattered the bottle of gasoline that stood right next to Frank.
What happened next seemed to occur in slow motion. Her eyes widened and her pupils dilated as the lighter set fire to the flecks of gasoline that flew through the air before splashing on Frank's clothes. Within seconds, he went up in a tower of flame. The fire ripped the air as it swallowed him whole; it seemed like the loudest noise in the world before Frank let out a shriek of sheer agony.
Zoey scrambled backwards, her mouth gaping in shock and her eyes bugging wide. Frank flailed around helplessly, his scream running daggers through her mind. She covered her ears and screamed incoherently back out of fright. Frank fell over in the doorway, trying to roll around to put the fire out, but there was too much—it nearly covered every inch of him.
Frank squirmed out into the hall and disappeared from view. A few things had caught fire from Frank, but they were candlelight compared to the forest fire that engulfed him. His scream was still terribly loud, however, and it was as if the bright flames were still in the room with her.
The door frame had caught fire, and she didn't notice until it was too late that she wouldn't be able to get out without catching fire herself.
She tried to scream, but Frank's trumped her own, echoing in the hallways with a shrill shriek.
"God—dammit, open—up!" he growled with each kick. After the eighth try, the door swung open, and Bill staggered into the empty hallway. There was shrill screaming in the distance, coming from the front. Bill grimaced and started to run towards it—that's where the weapons closet was, and that's where he was going to go, dammit.
He knew he'd find only soldiers there—he'd even more likely come face to face with the infected first—but that was where the weapons closet was. Even if he couldn't break into the room to get his trusted weapon back, Bill considered himself a tough son of a bitch. He'd seen enough blood getting here, and he'd see more going out, that was for damn sure.
Bill rushed around the curve of the hallway to the front, then stopped abruptly.
There was a man flailing around the hallway, roaring like a banshee. The only thing that wasn't on fire was his face, which was contorted in such a way that he was more terrifying than any infected Bill had ever seen.
"Shit," Bill muttered weakly, stepping back. The flaming man got to his feet and ran at the wall, colliding with it and nearly falling over again. Bill watched in abject horror as the man reached out for him, kicking and screaming and writhing.
"FIRE!" the man shouted. "FI—IRE!"
He somehow got to his feet again, and ran at the opposite wall, as if charging into things would put out the fire. Bill was stunned motionless, watching the man throw himself around wildly until the sparklers from above suddenly went off, followed by the fire alarm.
A blaring noise filled the hallway. Bill covered his ears and looked around frantically. Shit, he thought. Loud noises were never a good omen for non-infected individuals.
The thought of the infected reminded Bill of why he had run down the hall in the first place. The door to the weapons closet was just around the corner. He rushed past the flaming man who flailed helplessly on the ground, his screams mixing with the blare of the fire alarm. When he rounded the wall to the door, he leapt back in surprise; the door frame was on fire, as well as a few random objects just inside the room.
"Dammit!" Bill growled, dancing subtly on his feet as he considered his options. The infected would be inside the stadium at any minute, sweeping the halls like locusts. He had to get inside to arm himself, but he was starting to doubt whether or not it was worth it.
Then part of the wall inside went up in flame; he heard the fire roar as it swept across the room. From underneath the rip-roar, he thought he heard a scream—Bill paused and held his breath, searching for the sound again amidst all the noise. "Zoey?" he muttered to himself, hoping he was wrong.
He heard someone cuss from inside, and then he knew without a doubt that it was Zoey trapped in the weapons closet.
Bill quickly threw his coat off his shoulders and pulled it over his head. He ducked low and darted through the doorway, hoping he wouldn't catch on fire. He collided thickly with the table immediately across from the door, bumping a few flaming objects to the ground. Zoey shouted out in surprise, and Bill peeked out at her from under his jacket to see her training a hunting rifle on him. "Are you injured?" Bill shouted over the fire.
"No!" Zoey called back after a hesitant pause.
"Then get up! We gotta get the fuck outta Dodge!"
Zoey scrambled up to her feet and made to grab for some weapons in the room. Bill swept his coat off his head and followed her example, stuffing guns and blunt objects under his arms and slipping grenades and Molotovs into his pockets as fast he could. When both were sure they couldn't carry any more, Bill motioned to Zoey and clumsily slipped the jacket over his head again. Zoey ducked underneath it with him. If they stayed a minute longer, they would be on fire themselves.
"We need to take this fast," Bill said. Zoey nodded rapidly, eyeing the doorway with a mixture of surprise and fear. She was like a kid thrown into war. Bill felt a momentary tug at his heart strings as he realized again that that was exactly who she was. Too young.
"On three," he growled. "Three!"
Zoey let out a war cry as the two of them darted through the door clumsily, their arms occupied with weapons and their heads bowed underneath a flimsy jacket that was to protect them from the fire. When they cleared the door, Zoey hit the deck and Bill dropped his weapons, yanking the jacket off his head and flailing it about, making sure it was free of fire. The sprinklers from above soaked him instantly, and whatever fire may have been there was put out. Zoey pulled off her sweater and covered the guns on the floor, trying to keep the gunpowder from getting wet.
The flaming man he had run past earlier seemed to give one last strangled cry from around the corner, and Zoey gasped, jumping to her feet and swiping a bat from the floor around her. She jogged forward, pointing her bat outward, ready to take a swing.
"Zoey!" Bill called out, trying to stop her. But she was determined to see whatever it is she wanted to see. From the curve of the hallway, Bill couldn't see the burnt man, but he could see Zoey standing there, looking him over. First her eyes fell, then her shoulders, her arms. She let the bat go and it clattered on the ground. Her jaw hung open agape. Zoey had seen many people die—infected, anyway—and her reaction was something he would have expected of her the first time she killed one. Not now.
"He didn't deserve it, Bill," she said, clenching her fists. She bowed her head and turned it away, making sure he wouldn't see her. It continued to rain down on her, and her shirt stuck to her skin, her hair dripped with wet, her body shivered under the cold. She clenched her fists and shook her head. "They did this to him."
She didn't need to know what Bill had heard to know that. But the flaming man seemed to have attacked her—the window was smashed in, the closet was on fire, she was trapped in a corner, and it was deducible she'd been herded there by him. To see her grieve over him... Bill felt he didn't hear the entire story from the scientist. She'd grown attached. Maybe what they were planning wasn't rape after all.
A howl travelled down to them from up the hall. Both of them snapped to attention; they dived for their respective pile of weapons, each opting for a melee weapon to arm themselves with. They watched the curve of the hallway carefully, waiting for the onslaught of the horde to hit them.
"Ready?" Bill asked.
"Ready as I'll ever be," she replied bravely.
"Hey, you guys!"
Bill and Zoey looked over their shoulders to see Louis waving at them with Francis and a soldier trailing, a knife in her hand and heat in her eyes. As they approached, Francis gave Zoey a once over with a double-take. She eyed him strangely and he quickly looked away to Bill.
"You made it!" Louis declared happily.
"One more day," Bill grunted, glaring up at Francis. "'Bout time you showed up. You ass."
"Save it, old-timer," Francis shot back. "You're nothin' without Fancy Francis."
Bill gave a ghost of a grin and cocked his head toward the pile of weapons. "Better grab somethin' you can smack with; guns won't work too well in the rain."
"Righ'," Francis said, passing by Zoey (while pointedly avoiding looking at her) and rummaging through the pile with Louis. Bill and Zoey turned their attention to the woman wearing the commando gear and the heavy-duty face mask.
"Don't say a word," she growled. "I'm pissed off as it is that you four are staging a coup."
"This ain't no coup, lady," Bill said. "We don't want your stinkin' government."
"Especially if poisoning people is your way of keeping us safe," Zoey added with venom. Before she could add more, a distinct sound caught her ears. She twisted around on the spot and cried: "Incoming!"
They were approaching—she could hear them just outside the stadium. They were charging the place from all sides: the field, the parking lot, the road. They were surrounded, and those things would keep coming for miles. Zoey held her bat like a sword and stood valiantly like a Valkyrie. She hadn't a shred of fear in her; that bat would hold her out until the swarm was dead, God dammit.
Francis and Louis backed up into line with Bill and Zoey, and the soldier stepped up behind her. Each of them branded a blade or bludgeon defensively, readied for the onslaught that approached. The first of them that turned was the soldier; she spun around and shouted in surprise as a mob raced towards them.
Zoey could almost see them in slow motion—over her shoulder, the infected stampeded through the curved hall, their jaws slack and their tongues flailing—in front of her, another horde approached, led by the shrieking doctor who had put her in her predicament in the first place. She stepped forward as the others formed a haphazard circle to guard from either side. Bill pulled a pipe bomb from his deep pockets, calling, "Fire in the hole!" and threw it underhand in a soaring arc over the group behind them.
The infected veered in their path and struggled against each other to get at the flashing red light and the high-pitched squeal coming from the explosive. The horde opposite began to charge for the bomb as well, but the few infected that were headed straight for Zoey kept charging forward towards her. The infected doctor drew back his clawed hand to swipe at Zoey as he came within a few feet of her. She bared her teeth momentarily before winding back her baseball bat and smacking him across his temple. He spun around once before falling to the ground with dead weight. Before he even his the floor, Zoey raised the bat over her head and brought it down over a woman's crown.
The five of them punched, slashed and smashed at the infected that swarmed them. They were spaced enough that not one of them was overwhelmed at any time—it helped to have a fifth hand on deck to keep the bastards at bay. Blood began to pool at their feet, mixing with the water spurting out from the sprinklers above. The bodies were piling up around them, too, and they were forced to spread out further, widening the gaps between them in order to make room for more corpses. Just as Zoey's bat was starting to crack and snap, the onslaught thinned to a trickle. Zoey stepped into her last swing and struck the last infected in sight right across the nose. He went airborne for a moment before landing in the pile of dead at her feet. She drew her wrist across her forehead, wiping away the water, sweat and blood that collected on her face, and panted to catch her breath.
"Let's get a move on," Bill ordered, dropping his axe and crouching over his covered pile of weapons. Zoey rushed over to her pile as well, throwing aside her sweater and rummaging trough the guns. She tossed an SMG towards Louis and a shotgun up at Francis, who fumbled and nearly dropped the weapon. Zoey threw him an impatient look as she reclaimed her hunting rifle.
"I've got extra ammo in my pockets," she said, picking up her soaking wet sweater and handing it to Francis. He snatched it from her without so much as looking at her and jammed his hand into her pockets for the shells. Once he had them, he handed the sweater back to her.
"There. Now put this thing back on before your shirt dissolves."
Zoey gave him a cross look before glancing down at her very wet, very see-through tank top. Without a word, she pulled the sweater on quickly and turned away from Francis, fuming with anger and embarrassment.
"Hey, got any clips for me?" Louis asked. Zoey automatically dug into her pockets and withdrew some ammo for him, avoiding eye contact with him as well.
"Well, blessed-be the one who pulled the fire alarm, that's all I gotta say," Francis said, readying his own gun while being sure to keep it away fro the sprinklers. Zoey flinched and cast her eyes downward. "This is gonna be the best fuckin' thing to happen around here since roast beef sandwiches."
"What the fuck is wrong with you people?" the woman cried, looking at them all incredulously. "There's an army of infected storming this place, and you're having a goddamn celebration?"
"Hey," Louis said looking at her lamely, "I'd rather picnic with them than you. Just sayin'."
"You're all fucking insane," she said, her voice trembling. "You're all gonna die, along with everyone else here."
"Fuck you, lady," Francis said reproachfully, cocking the shotgun with extra emphasis. "Your big scientist pals wanted to screw with our lives like nobody's business, 'kay? Far as I'm concerned, getting outta here is like finally checking out of the Hotel California."
"Do you realize what you're doing? This isn't just about you. There are other people here who are unarmed and unprotected! You're jeopardizing the safety of everyone else here!"
"And you weren't?" he retorted. "As far as I'm concerned, me and my pals here are Father Christmas, and we're here to give everyone a fair chance for their lives, which is more than you can say, believe me." He swept an SMG off the pile of guns and handed it to the soldier, who glared back at him evenly.
"You put us through a lotta hell in here, you know," Francis said.
"It isn't just about you," she repeated evenly, then grabbed the pistol. "Or me. It's about a collective, and you've ruined it."
Zoey's heart began to hammer in her chest, and her anger boiled dangerously under her skin. "If rebuilding humanity means breaking each individual down to nothing, then count me out." She held out a magazine for the soldier, her eyes ablaze. "If you're gonna come with us, then shut that hole in your face, or I'll shut it for you." Zoey snapped at the woman. "They tried to destroy me completely, and that's something less than human."
The soldier still glared back, but something in her face had been stolen by Zoey's words. It seemed she stopped breathing, or a part of the life had just disappeared from her eyes. There was a loud roar and a boom from outside, and all five of them turned toward the sound.
"We'll deal with this later," the soldier said quietly. "Right now I think we should leave."
"Lady's got a point," Bill said. "Move out!"
The five of them jogged down the hallway towards the front doors of the diamond. As they rounded the slope towards the entrance to the parking lot, another reverberating boom shook the walls and threw the five off balance. Zoey stumbled and straightened, her body instantly becoming alert. The wall shook again, and Zoey hopped back a step, preparing to run.
"Run and shoot!" she hollered just before the wall broke in, dust and debris flying everywhere as the hulk-like infected tumbled into the hall. As she passed her old pile of guns, she threw the strap to the hunting rifle over her shoulder and flipped it onto her back to grab hold of two pistols. Blindly hoping there were rounds inside them already, she switched off the safety and twisted on the spot, firing behind her as she ran.
"Up through the stands! I'll hang back!" the soldier shouted as she fired a round off at the juggernaut. The infected seemed disoriented; it hobbled off track like a drunk as it tried to chase after the five of them. More soldiers poured in from the hole in the wall, firing off rounds at its back.
No one wanted to argue: they bolted up the wrought iron stairs after Francis before the infected reached them. It staggered sideways into the stairs, snapping the bottom half as if it were made from tin foil. They all stumbled on the stairs, and Francis lurched onto the platform in front of the doors, making sure Louis and Bill got up behind him. Zoey leapt up the last of the steps as the monstrosity below tore the stairs down from the wall.
Louis burst through the double doors, the others following. The stands and the field were filled with infected and survivors alike. It was a swarm of rage. Bill stepped up next to Louis as an infected came charging them. He threw an upper cut with the butt end of his rifle, knocking her against and over the railing.
"Six o'clock!" Zoey called. They all spun around, glancing up the slope of the stands towards the top, from where an infected was perched. With a screeching cry, it leapt down towards Louis, its claws outstretched. Four different rapports exploded around them as each of them fired into the infected's face. It flopped backward onto the cement floor in front of the double doors, its head a bloody void.
"Why do they always go for me?" Louis said, ejecting his clip and swapping it for a fresh one. "She's the one wearing the red jacket. I thought all feral things went for the bright red stuff."
"Maybe they think you're cute," Zoey said, lowering her rifle and throwing Louis a smirk. "Loosened tie, untucked shirt—they're all over it."
"Yeah, yeah. Always the black man," Louis grumbled.
"Sorry to butt in, kids, but we gotta hustle," Bill interjected, heading for the stand steps. The three of them trailed, each keeping their eyes on the massacre below. Just about all of the barricaded wall was now a pile of rubble at the edge of the field, and swarms of infected kept coming from the dark wilderness for what seemed like miles. They had to find a way to stop the sirens from blaring, or find a way to get the infected to fuck off.
A wave of people—infected and healthy—stormed up the steps towards their aisle, and each of them took their respective targets—Bill always got the caboose, Francis, the leader—and they operated like a hive-mind, reading each others' thoughts and killing the targets that were unclaimed. When they got to the end of the aisle and found the stairs in the middle, Bill led them down, heading for the bottom. A man ran by, and Bill stopped him awkwardly, shoving a pistol in his hands.
"So, Sergeant Overbeck," Francis called over the din, "what's the plan of action?"
"Make a distraction!" he called, knocking the teeth out of an infected with the butt end of his rifle.
"You mean something more distracting than the fire alarm?" Francis shouted back.
"I was thinking something along the lines of a real fire, myself," Bill shouted back. "Anyone got anymore Molotov's?"
"I left that in my other pants' pocket," Zoey shouted sarcastically.
"Well, the only way out of Hell is though it," Bill declared. They all glanced at the field, simply teeming with infected, and they all nodded, heading for the railing.
They jumped over the railing, landing heavily on the blood-splattered grass, and continued onward through the haze of battle between man and disease. "Reloading!" could be heard every few seconds from any given point on the field, including their small group. As soon as it seemed they were making good headway, Francis's body snapped back as a long, pink, vile smelling tongue wrapped around him, pulling him back across the field towards the stands
"Up there!" Zoey shouted as they opened fire. Francis was yelling the entire time the thing dragged him across the field; Zoey herself had never been embraced by one of those smoking infected, but Bill had told her it was the most unpleasant feeling, like being prepared for dinner.
One of their shots finally clipped the infected, and its head blew up in a puff of blood and smoke. Francis dropped to the ground, squirming and kicking to get the tongue off of him. When he was free, he got up to chase after his shotgun, which he had dropped, and the other three continued taking down the hordes of infected that raced after them from the broken barricades. It was as if there was an infinite amount of infected, and the four of them were up against all odds. Well, against all odds for anyone else, he supposed.
As Francis dove for his shotgun, a few infected closed in on him, and he spun to face them, pulling his hatchet from his belt. He slashed the first in the chin, then slapped another in the face with the flat end before cleaving its head in two. Another tried to tackle him, but he stood fast, pushing it back and swiping at it with the hatchet.
When he picked up his shotgun again, he shot the fourth infected square in the gut, the recoil absorbed completely through his tall, thick frame. Smirking to himself, he chased after his team, shotgun in one hand, hatchet in the other.
The other three had been preoccupied keeping a loud, leaping infected at bay while warding off the others. As Francis rejoined them, he punched the closest infected in the nose, hearing a satisfying snap before it hit the ground. He shook his hand out from the sting, but he was smiling all the same.
The building behind them seemed to groan loudly as something from within hit the inner wall thickly. All four of them turned toward the stands to see soldiers streaming out the hole in the wall where the beast had charged in.
"Oh, fuck, no," Francis muttered weakly.
The thing roared as it galloped into the field from the hole, seemingly recovered from whatever had disoriented it earlier. As they panned out in different directions, Bill shouted: "Look for something to set it on fire with!"
Zoey felt she'd rather preoccupy her time pelting the thing with bullets first, but she found herself frantically searching the field for something—anything that was flammable. But before she could even conceive of what it was she should be looking for, she could see the hulk change direction and head directly for her.
"Zoey, just fucking run!" Louis shouted, and she obliged. Dropping her aim, Zoey turned and ran through the field, weaving her way through the bodies on the ground and other infected charging her. A few soldiers and survivors alike had emerged with weapons in hand, shooting at the tank of a beast as it chased the young woman down, but to no avail.
Note to self, Zoey thought in her light-headed daze, find yourself a blue sweater instead.She could feel its fists pound into the ground as it chased her like an ape, and as it got closer, she knew she was in trouble. Turning in her step, she lifted her pistols again, preparing to go down fighting. The infected turned his giants arm back, preparing to swing at her, when an ear-splitting boom went off behind it and she was shaken to the ground.
She looked up to see the infected charging in the other direction, its back blazing with flame. Across the field a small group of soldiers were handling a flame thrower and preparing to take off in the other direction. They had risked firing a high-powered weapon at the monster while she was standing right next to it!
Zoey checked herself to make sure that she was not in fact injured or on fire before taking off to rejoin her group. As the group of soldiers dispersed, Zoey watched as the woman soldier stayed behind—the very one she had confronted in the facility—and aimed a heavy looking weapon at the infected as it approached. Her eyes widened—the monster propelled into the air, lifting a thick arm poised to strike, as the soldier fired into its face.
The other infected and soldiers who were nearby flew into the air briefly like rag dolls as a ball of fire erupted from between the soldier and the infected. Zoey shielded her eyes and crouched down instinctively, wrapping her arms across her face. When she opened her eyes and looked back, half the field was on fire, the infected was dead, and the soldier lay thirty feet away from where she had crouched before, crumpled, burning and still.
What she saw next unnerved her. She did not consider herself a weak person, but over the last week, she had had her moments. But this sight was something she hadn't come across yet in all of her struggles. The infected rushed towards the fire—all in a yelping, slobbering mess—and fought over each other to get into the flames. They flailed like mad and waddled through the inferno, and something in the sight made Zoey believe that they were happy to be there. It didn't make her feel sad... but she was crying. She was crying because of how horrifyingly sick it was. They used to be human. But something had been taken from them. It was as if it had been robbed of her, too.
She hugged her arms. I am still whole, aren't I? She stared, dumbstruck and paralyzed, feeling as if her hope were slipping away from her like sand through her fingers. They all danced manically in the fire, and it grew. Somewhere far off she heard her name, but it didn't register with her.
"Come on, girl!" Louis said, snatching her up by her arm. The infected streamed in only by a trickle now; the fire alarm was still blaring, but it only lured them there. The fire summoned them and swallowed them whole. Purgatory, she thought.
Zoey found herself running along behind Louis, Francis and Bill, each of them sporting some sort of hunch or limp. A cat-like infected crawled out of the shadows, growling ferociously at them as they ran. Francis drew his hatchet and hurled it at the monster's head. It didn't impale his skull, rather it made a sizable crater on its crown. It shivered before falling over on its side like a frozen statue.
Zoey looked back over her shoulder one more time. The entire front of the field was ablaze, and it was catching on the plastic chairs in the front stands. The woman's body was absorbed by the fire, and what was left of the horde was dancing in the flames, slowly dropping dead like flies. All the military equipment had been strewn aside as if it were merely a collection of children's toys.
Once they were over the threshold of the wall, they passed a couple of soldiers, spattered with blood and teeming with wounds. They only stared back at the fleeing survivors; everyone else who had been in that crowd had died or was on the way. Zoey watched them, waiting for them to either turn or try to detain them. But they never made a move.
Zoey turned forward and never looked back. They ran along silently, none of them willing to slow until the flaming ball diamond was far behind them.
They sat on a picnic table, looking over their weapons and supplies. They were not too far from the coast, but they weren't certain that was where they wanted to go. After leaving the stadium behind them, they had navigated through the trees along the highway, and deemed the park a safe and secure place to stay while they collected their thoughts. But for the past fifteen minutes each of them was silent. Then Zoey finally broke it like hot iron on ice.
"That woman died saving me," she said bluntly. "She fired a grenade at close range to kill that bastard, and blew herself up in the process."
"You know, I... I didn't really follow your advice, Bill," Francis admitted after a brief silence. Zoey bowed her head, staying quiet. "I tried to be all neutral ground with them, but I got pretty pissed with them at the drop of a dime."
"Me, too," Louis added.
"I really didn't practice what I preached, either," Bill admitted. "I woulda killed any of those assholes without much hesitation if... if Zoey weren't around. But when we were leaving, I thought, 'God, you ain't any better than they are.' A lot of people died back there. And there I was, puttin' them all into the same damn folder, when the entire time it was that good for nothing asshole doctor who was running the show.
"There weren't many bad people there. Just scared ones. All of us were scared."
"A lot of those people were innocent," Zoey said. "Those survivors, some of the soldiers... Frank..."
"Dr. Peters is probably dead. You know?" Francis asked Louis. He nodded. "That was a guy who didn't deserve to die."
"It just doesn't work like that, I guess," Louis said. "Doesn't matter if you're a 'good guy' or a 'bad guy', because with all those infected running around out there, 'good guys' and 'bad guys' don't exist."
"I just..." Zoey stalled. "I've always wanted to say I was a good person. Everyone does. But after all that... we're too narrow-minded to really understand what it means to be truly good or bad. Even... even Dr. Ford had his good intentions. We're all trying to fix things, but we're doing it in a different way."
"Yeah. Hitler was trying to do good things, too," Francis said scathingly. "Those guys made me look like a saint."
Zoey turned her head away from all of them. "I shot at Frank."
She let it hang in the air, wanting to continue but not confident that she could. She lowered her head again and stared at the ground as she spoke. "Something was wrong with him. He was coming after me, and... he surprised me, in the weapons closet. I took a shot at him and set him on fire. That's why the alarm went off. All those people... they died because of what I did."
"Zoey," Bill said, turning towards her in the dark. "Can't call a man safe until he's dead."
They were quiet. "In other words, don't count your eggs before they hatch?" Francis asked.
"That sounds a little more optimistic," Louis agreed.
"Weeell done, Francis!" Bill said, clapping his hands on his knees. "You've finally managed to pull your head clear from your ass and think with it!"
"Stop it!" Zoey yelled, slamming her fist into the picnic table and staring at them all. They fell silent quickly. "I killed a man! Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"I know I'm usually the glass half full guy," Louis said, "but girl... you've been spendin' the last three weeks killin' people."
"You're telling me that those people dying doesn't matter?" Zoey bit back, lifting her hands as if blood covered them. "You're telling me its okay to do what I want, as long as I look out for myself?"
Bill turned to her. "I'm saying that you can't keep psychoanalyzing everything that happens in your life as a moral judgment. I went through two tours in 'Nam, and I killed a lot of people. I don't think it was pretty, and if I could give those people back their lives, I would. But there are things you can't undo, and the only thing you can do is accept what's happened and move on, try to improve yourself, or some sorta bright bullshit like that."
He pulled out a match (from which a book was conveniently tucked in the inside of one of the packages of cigarettes Zoey had given him) and struck it against the picnic table, lighting his smoke. He took a long drag on it, then pulled it back, sighing gratefully as a plume of smoke coiled from his lips. Zoey nodded and looked away, sighing lightly. He was always as gentle as sandpaper, but she knew he was right.
"So... what do you guys say we do now?" Louis asked. "Dr. Peters mentioned the other evac zone up north. You guys wanna go there?"
All three of them let out a snort and an identical: "No."
"Okay, well... what do you want to do?"
Zoey looked at her hands, then sighed. "We should just disappear."
Bill fiddled with his cigarette, deciding whether or not to speak, then said: "You want to take a trip up to Norwich?"
Zoey perked her head, looking in the distance as she contemplated his words.
"Norwich?" Francis cried, making sure to keep his voice low as to not attract any undesired attention. "Why the hell would we wanna drag our sorry asses up there?"
"I think I'd want that," Zoey said softly. "I think I need that."
Louis and Francis exchanged knowing glances in the dark, and Bill stuffed his cigarette into his mouth again. "All right."
As dawn crept up over the Eastern horizon, the four of them began their trek north, moving with one another like they'd been doing it their whole lives. And no matter what she found back home, no matter when the world brought itself back to its feet, Zoey knew she would always be moving with them, she knew they would always be an inseparable part of her life. A smile came to her lips, and she looked over to Bill, who glanced back at her with a grin of his own.
"I think you were wrong about one thing," Zoey muttered as they crept through the trees.
"I think you can call us happy before we're left for dead."
He laughed heartily, then nodded. "I guess you're right."
As they crossed the road, Francis called hoarsely: "Three o'clock!" and they all turned to fire.