I, Francis

Warm-blooded creatures have a tendency to feel dominant over all other beings, and in particular, those descended from apes will use this instinct to justify their actions, no matter what ends they're trying to meet. Be their intentions good or evil, humans will pursue their desires, and they won't yield to those who oppose them. They're naturally vicious, vengeful, and power-hungry. Those who aren't strong enough to lead revolutions will follow them. Those not strong enough to follow will be sacrificed.

So fuck the ones too weak to crawl. What's that old shit that Darwin spewed? Survival of the fittest. I'm standing right here, gunning down all the rest, and I'm loving life, for the most part. See if I give a shit about the rest of these sore losers. I'll stomp their faces into the mud, and they can lick the shit off of my boots.

***

Bill lights up a cigarette in his corner of the safe room, and I watch him from mine, the light hitting his face for one red-yellow second and then dying down, glowing at the tip. He puts his lighter away. I can smell the tobacco burning from over here, and although I don't mind it, I know Louis does, but he's not gonna say shit about it. He likes Bill too much to ask him to put his stupid cigarette out. I do, too, to be perfectly honest. Like Bill too much to tell him not to smoke, I mean. If I didn't like him, I'd yell at him to put it out anyway, even though I don't care either way that he's smoking.

Zoey is curled up in her corner, facing the wall, and she taps the barrel of her pistol against the cement. I know it's her, even though I can't see shit in the darkness save Bill's cigarette, 'cause she's done that before, in other safe rooms we've stayed in. Even the ones we didn't have to sleep in. She'd tap that fucking pistol on the ground, or against the wall, and I'd look over at her and she'd be chewing her lip or just looking nervous as all hell. I have no sympathy for that kind of bullshit. Nervousness is what gets you, in situations like this, where your life is on the line. Bill understands that, and that's why I like him. He treats Zoey way too delicately, though. She isn't some glass sculpture, or something. She can shoot a gun. She's come further than most people.

She taps her gun again. I can tell she's trying to do it quietly so that she won't bother us, but I think she also knows how fucking pointless that is. We're all still awake, and it's obvious. Louis keeps rolling over and grunting to himself, and I don't think I've slept at all since the outbreak first went public. Bill's supposed to be keeping guard first. Setting up shifts had seemed like the best thing to do, at the time. Now it just seems pointless.

Zoey taps that fucking pistol again.

"Goddamnit, Zoey, would you cut that shit out?" I snarl, and my voice is loud in the darkness, startling her into silence. I hear Louis roll over again, then sit up in the corner next to mine. He's looking at me, probably. Whatever. Zoey is, too. She throws her pistol, and it hits the wall once before it smacks against the floor, clacking loudly and making me flinch when it skids into my knee.

"What's that, Francis?" she asks bitterly once it's come to a stop. I glare in her direction.

"You dumb bitch, the safety is off, isn't it?!"

"Of course it isn't...Christ, you think I'd throw it if it was?"

"This is real cute and all, but I'd shut up if I were either of you," Bill murmurs past his cigarette, smoke billowing out of his mouth like some kind of goddamn dragon. Zoey and I look over at him. "...Listen." All of us do. I don't hear anything, and I open my mouth to say so when he takes a deep drag on his cigarette and stares over at me, knowing. I shut my mouth and listen again. Faint scratching and snarling noises are coming from just past one of the bolted doors.

I hear Louis grab his pistol. "...Hunter?" he asks us all quietly.

"Sounds like it," Bill mutters. He, unlike the rest of us, is cradling an Uzi in his lap, pointed toward the door that the sounds are drifting through. We all know that there's no way in Hell that thing can get through the door, but a chill runs down all of our spines, anyway, I'm sure. Zoey's probably regretting throwing her gun, and I benevolently kick it back in her direction, my mind half-focused on the Hunter's growling, now. Zoey's too distracted to get pissed at me about her pistol. Good riddance. I don't want to fight with her right now, anyway.

Louis swallows audibly. It's gonna be a long night.

***

This is madness.

Even a couple of weeks ago, I could never have even dreamed something like this up. I turn my head and feel myself hack into my shoulder as I'm hauling ass through a cloud of smoke, the soles of my shoes barely touching the floor with each step. I rev the chainsaw I've been carrying for hours, my stiff muscles flexing as I pull it back and slam the thing forward with all of my strength, slicing through that thick, ropelike tongue and tumor-spotted face and forearms. Black blood and smoke gush up around me, and Louis pulls himself free from the Smoker's tongue, always surprisingly quick to get back on his feet and thank me breathlessly. He coughs into his forearm, and I yell over the roar of the chainsaw for him to follow me back down the hall, where Bill and Zoey are bracing themselves against a fresh wave of Infected.

I throw my weight into the saw and fuck shit up, grinding my teeth as the blade groans through bone and muscle. My clothes are soaked with blood by now, as are everyone else's, and it's just something you learn to ignore, along with the smell of dead and rotting carcasses, and the silence, and the ache of muscles underneath the adrenaline rushes.

Louis and Bill spray the oncoming wave with shots from their M16s, the sound echoing down the hall alongside the roar of the chainsaw, but nothing stands out like the deafening boom of Zoey's shotgun, and the subsequent explosions of blood and skull fragments that follow each pull of the trigger. I glance over at her while she's firing off rounds, and I catch a glimpse of her eyes: that madness that seems to follow Bill everywhere is glinting in the backs of her pupils, and it's fucking creepy, because I know what that means. She pauses to reload, and Louis covers her. The last of the rush hits us, and they drop like flies as they come around the corner, leaving us all panting and sweating and soaked with dark blood.

Bill does a headcount, like he always does, and he laughs hoarsely when he sees that we're all still alive, lowering his gun for one brief, valuable moment. Bill may be old and a little nuts, but he knows what he's doing, more so than the rest of us. "Good work, team," he chuckles, grinning at us all. Zoey points her shotgun at the floor, and I can hear in the way that she's breathing that she's shaken up. I don't look at her, 'cause I know I'll just get pissed if I do. God, she's sniffling. Louis claps a hand on her back awkwardly. God damn girls. Zoey's…what…nineteen? God damn. I forget how young she is, sometimes. I forget how young she is, when she's blasting bloodthirsty cannibals in the head with an auto-shottie.

I shift my weight and take a step back, disgusted by the pile of corpses at my feet. "I'm getting sick of this shit," I mutter, and Louis mumbles an agreement as Bill takes this rare moment to pull out a cigarette and light up. Zoey sobs once, then there's nothing, and she's pulling herself together like no woman I've ever seen before. I let myself look at her again once she's calmed down. Her hair is hanging in her blood-streaked face, and she looks like one of those crazy Amazonian warrior-women, trained to kill to keep her tribe safe from toddlerhood. Her eyes meet mine for all of three seconds, and I forget how young she is, again.

Bill whips his gun back around into his arms and growls for us to get going, again, his cigarette squeezed tight between his front teeth.

***

Bill asks me for the millionth time if I want a cigarette, and it's only after we've killed a Tank that I turn to him, wide-eyed and grinding my teeth, and accept it. He gives me a look while he's lighting it for me: he's old enough to be my father, and he knows it, but he treats me more like one of his war buddies than anything else. He nods toward my shoulder.

"You're all tore up," he mutters. I glance at it. Oh, shit, he's right. Blood is trailing down my arm, adding color to fading tattoos, but I can't even feel it, really. My heart is pounding in my chest as he moves me back against the wall and sits me down, calling for Zoey and Louis. "Either one of you have a health pack?!" he shouts in his rough, wet voice. God, I haven't smoked in years. It feels almost good to do it now, as the pain is slowly pooling in my shoulder. It's a nice, hot distraction.

Zoey kneels by me with her health kit out, popping it open and rummaging through it for antiseptic and bandages. She looks so fucking serious, doing this, and in a way it kind of pisses me off: she patches Louis up all the time, and they crack jokes together and mess around. It's never quiet time just because Lou needs a band-aid. I don't get why it has to be different, for me, and that fucking frustrates me. I'm glaring at her when she looks up at me, and I guess I don't realize that I am, because she hesitates, staring at me.

"…What?!" she asks indignantly, and it's only then that I realize that I'm scowling at her. I force a laugh.

"Why so grim, Zoe?" I ask. She stares at me for another few seconds before she sneers and shoves the health kit toward me, popping up like a bird taking flight and stomping back off to go talk to Louis like she was before. Her little blood-soaked hands are clenched into fists at her sides, and I wonder why in all hell she's pissed at me, when all I did was ask her to be a little more lighthearted about all this bullshit.

This cigarette is good.

***

I think Louis and I are the only two not living in some kind of fucked up dream world. Bill's an ex-green beret, and I know damn well what that means. Nam was awful, I'm sure of it, and this crazy shit can only be sending Bill back in time. I can tell it is, sometimes: the way he talks to us, and the way he acts is so coordinated, he's gotta be thinking he's back on the front lines. Not that that's exactly a problem—he's a damn good soldier—but it's unsettling, to say the least.

And Zoey…well, she said herself that she spent way too much of her teenage life watching horror movies about the apocalypse. Kind of fucked that she's living through it, now. Sometimes—just sometimes—I catch myself worrying about her, like maybe she's like Bill a little bit, where she'll get confused and think this is one of her stupid movies, just like he thinks he's still plowing through the mucky swamps of southeast Asia. In movies, there's always one chick that makes it out alive. And I worry that she figures that since she's the only chick, she's guaranteed to live. I've put myself in the line of attack more often than once 'cause I was afraid she was gonna get killed. I've got scarring wounds all over my chest and back from ten too many Witches and Hunters, and the whole left side of my face is bruised and swollen from a Tank fist.

We sit in the safe room, and I smoke and Bill smokes and Louis tells a story about the shitty job he used to have, and Zoey's kind of half-leaning against my sore arm, staring at Louis while he talks animatedly. I lift my arm up to put it around her when it aches too much to stay like that, and she just gets up and moves away, not saying anything. My ribs are sore when she pulls back from me, and I grimace. Louis offers me some pain pills.

***

When I was a kid, I never thought I'd grow up to be anything like I am now. To be honest, I can't really remember what I thought I was gonna be when I grew up, but no way in Hell was it anything close to what I turned into. I remember being really happy, as a kid. I guess the older and more cynical you get, the more fucked in the head you become.

I remember being Zoey's age. I was big, even then. God, I was stupid, though. If she and I switched ages, I don't think I'd make it through this. I have to admire her, for that reason. Dumb as it is to admire a teenage girl. I think, in a way, she knows how tough she is, but at the same time, she's still got that big chunk of self-doubt that all kids have, and it's eating away at her, the more time we spend here, trying to get out. I guess I should try to be nicer to her…but it's that kind of softness that trips people up. I've seen men go from stone-cold to softer than microwaved Jell-O, and I don't want to be one of those jackasses.

It's always the fault of women, y'know.

Fuck.

***

It gets cold when the lights are out.

Bill and Zoey and Louis are finally getting some sleep, and it's my turn to keep watch, my shotgun in my lap, knees curled up, back against the wall, eyes trained on the door. I can't hear anything outside, but I'm straining just in case. If I strain much more, I'm gonna start hallucinating, I know, but it's driving me crazy not to hear anything but silence.

I run my fingertips over the barrel of the gun. The metal's cold to the touch, just like everything else in this room: I'm covered in cold sweat, making me feel even dirtier than I actually am underneath week-old clothes and old, bloodied bandages. I would kill for a shower. I have killed. So where's my goddamn shower?

Zoey shifts in her corner, and it's almost a relief to hear movement. She gets up and walks over to me, no shame, no nothing, and she looks down at me in the darkness. I can't really see anything but her eyes. "…It's so fucking cold," she whispers, and I nod, leaning away and lifting my arm up. She sits beside me and presses against me, unafraid when it's so dark and quiet. Her hair smells like blood and bile, and I'm immune to it, by now. It feels good to put my arm around somebody, for once. She presses her face into my chest, giving about as much of a shit about the smell as I do. All four of us are fucking filthy.

"How much longer, do you think?" she asks me softly, after a few minutes of ongoing quiet. I shrug.

"I don't know. Day or two. Maybe. Hopefully."

She hums. I feel her throat vibrate against me, and because she lets me, I push her hair behind her ear. It's crusty from dried sludge, and I feel my fingertips touch the side of her face, and all the blood and shit that's caked on there. She's a pretty girl, even when she looks like this. I feel the urge to tell her that, then decide against it. Something about that feels way too sentimental…it's a sign of that softness that I refuse to succumb to. Even in times like this, when I know we both get the feeling that what's said here stays here in this moment, saying things just to be nice is parallel to showing weakness.

And I, Francis, am too goddamn mighty for that.