Well today's definitely off to a wonderful start, Cameron thought, actually very irritated by it so far. He really didn't like just hanging around that deserted road just waiting for trouble to find them, but they didn't have much of a choice. But Anderson just had to get sick that morning, forcing him to back down from the mission, so the other team had to stay behind to find somebody else.
"I hate waiting," Phil breathed, leaning against the car.
"Tell me about it," Cameron agreed.
Phil just rolled his eyes at Cameron and turned away. Douche. That was another thing: Phil was on his team. Normally Cameron would show just as much disdain for him, but seeing as they had to watch each other's backs now he had to make some effort to build bridges. He wasn't trying very hard, though.
"C'mon!" Andrea started to yell jubilantly. "C'mon, you decrepit sonuvabitch, I'm right here. You almost got me!"
"I don't think so!" Cole said loudly, clapping his hand as he walked backwards. "Mine's got yours beat!"
"Bullshit!" she said, looking back down at her zombie. "Move it!"
"I dunno, this one looks pretty fucking hungry!"
"Not as hungry as mine!"
The both of them kept on screaming and hollering at the two legless zombies crawling with all their might towards them. The things moaned (almost as if in irritation) as they inched closer to their potential meals. Andrea was even reckless enough to stick her hand out dangerously close to her zombie, and pulled back just as it raised a hand to take a swipe. Cole's zombie was right on the other's dangling entrails.
Cole and Andrea kept on hooting at their respective zombies, backing up more and more. Until finally Andrea's zombie jutted its hand forward, causing it to cross the designated finish line. Andrea jumped up and down in victory as Cole just shook his head in disappointment, driving the heel of his boot through his zombie's skull. After she stopped celebrating, Andrea did the same.
"Luck," was all Cole had to say.
"Yeah right, I just know how to pick 'em," she said with satisfaction. "You know the deal."
"I know, I'll take your shifts for the next week," he conceded.
"You probably just attracted every last zombie and hostile to this area, y'know," Phil admonished.
"Hey, we're here looking for a fight either way," replied Andrea. "I say bring it."
"Aren't you gonna do anything about it, team leader," Phil said sarcastically to Cameron.
"There's no way those bandits are camped near enough to the road that they heard us," Cameron explained indifferently.
"Some lieutenant," he muttered under his breath.
Hearing that, Cameron just smiled, and said, "It's a pleasure working with you too, Phil."
For some reason that really irked Phil, causing to spread his arms out in dramatic fashion, and say, "You got something to say to me, Marsh, just say it!"
Cameron gave him a look. "Uh…oh I know! Stop hitting on my fiancé."
"Christ, out here in enemy territory and that's all you can think about," Phil sighed. "I can't believe I have to follow your orders."
"Oh god, Phil, please—please refuse to follow my orders out here," Cameron begged in mock fashion. "Because I if you run around like a headless chicken and get killed by bandits, then I won't have to get in trouble for killing you myself."
"We wouldn't have such animosity if you'd simply stop hit—"
"Fine, I get it!"
"So you'll stop—?" Phil scoffed loudly and turned away, which obviously mean no. And so unit cohesion degrades even further…
"Cam," Andrea spoke up, pointing down the road. "They finally joined the party."
Thank god. It took them long enough to find a replacement. It was back to business, all their weapons went from being slung around their backs to the low ready. After the other car parked behind the first, Wesley, the squad leader, got out of the driver's seat, and Paula, the other team leader, got out the passenger.
The two back doors opened as well, and Cameron just started to wonder who they got as a replacement, when Sarah stepped out of the car! "What the fuck, Wes!" Cameron hollered at him, immediately getting into his face.
"What?" Wesley asked, confused.
"What the hell is she doing here?" Cameron asked, jabbing his finger in Sarah's direction.
"I told you," Paula mumbled out of the corner of her mouth, averting her eyes.
"What do you mean why am I here?" Sarah asked, taken back by his hostility. "I'm part of the militia, aren't I?"
"No, you're only seventeen, the most you're supposed to do is zombie killing," he told her before going back to Wesley. "Why did you get her of all people?"
"Because she was on the on call list," Wesley said as if it were obvious.
"Send—her—back!" Cameron demanded.
"Can we please not do this," he asked tiredly.
"She's too inexperienced for this, Wes."
"Look," Wesley said firmly, "I know she's your girl's sister, but—"
"Damn straight! Becky would fucking murder me if anything happened to her!"
"Hey!" Sarah interjected angrily. "I think I'm old enough that I don't need you or my sister to hold my hand!"
"You aren't experienced enough yet!"
"Correct me if I'm wrong," she said, giving him a look, "but haven't I been using an rifle longer than you when you went and killed your first bandit?"
His response died away, knowing that what she said was true. "I was eighteen."
"Ooh, a year older, big whoop."
Cameron grit his teeth and hissed, "Go home."
"No," she answered simply, turning her back on him.
"Get over it," Wesley said aggressively. "Marsh, we aren't going to waste time by going all the way back to find somebody else. We have a mission to complete."
"I don't care!"
"Marsh," Wesley said angrily, stepping up closer so that he was face to face with Cameron, "We have a mission. If you refuse to move with us, I'll strip you of your rank and restrain you for obstruction! Now ask yourself: would you rather be out there where Sarah will be anyway, or handcuffed in the back of the car?"
The two of them stared each other down for the longest time. "I want Sarah on my team. I'll trade for Phil."
"Why the hell not?" Cameron raged.
"You're the flanking team," he explained. "Are seriously telling me that you've trained her for that?"
"Plus you'll be too protective of her—which will be counterproductive!" Wesley cut in. "End of discussion. Everyone gather around!"
It was with extreme contempt that Cameron and everybody else huddled around the hood of one of the cars as they poured over a map. Right in front of them was the entrance to a dirt road that they were going to follow, which would hopefully lead them to the group of bandits that performed a hit and run a few days ago. It wasn't simply for revenge, but to stamp out any possible hostile settlements at its infancy anywhere near Yuba's territory.
On the map Wesley pointed out different spots on the road, how they would maneuver at those spots if contact were made, and all evacuation routes and rally points. But Cameron was barely paying any attention. As team leader he knew all that stuff beforehand and had to commit it to memory.
Once the meeting was done, body armor was taken out of the trunks of the cars. As Cameron was strapping his on, Paula walked over. "Look, Cam, when the shit hits the fan I'll make sure she's okay," she said reassuringly.
"Thanks," he said. "Did you make sure her body armor fits properly?"
"Yup, all taken care of." Seeing how concerned he still looked, she allowed herself a grin and said, "Y'know, I've never seen someone so concerned over an in-law."
"Just stick with her," Cameron replied. "Otherwise you'll be in Becky's sights right along next to me…. Andrea, Cole, Phil, on me!"
The squad all stood at the start of the dirt road, where they all screwed on silencers to their rifles. Once ready, Paula took point and started walking forward down the center of the road. When Paula was a few meters ahead, Sarah and Marshall went so that they were on either side of her. The last person on the team waited until those two were far enough ahead, and then started walking on the left side of the road. A few seconds later, Wesley also started walking.
That was the cue for Cameron and his team. Cameron started walking with his rifle at the low ready, and the rest of the team fell in behind him in the same manner as Paula's, except that Cole was off to Cameron's far right.
Just focus, Cameron told himself as they started the patrol. Paula worked with Sarah before, they know each other, and Paula knows how to handle things. Everything will be fine.
But all wasn't fine. They were intentionally putting themselves in harms way. For god's sake, the purpose of their formation was to spread them out and minimize possible casualties if a grenade or machinegun fire got them. Normally he didn't think about that because he was used to this kind of thing, but at the moment he had his rookie future sister-in-law in harm's way.
The farther they walked, the more Cameron hoped that they didn't make any contact. They'd just try another day when Sarah wasn't part of the squad. Luckily it was starting to seem that way. The only contact they were having were zombies that occasionally stumbled out of the wood line.
"What was that?" Andrea called out. The squad came to a halt as Andrea aimed her rifle at the trees.
"What's up?" asked Cameron.
"I just saw some movement," she informed him, not lowering the rifle. Wesley gave the sign and they all got on their knees with their rifles at the ready, everyone facing their respective field of fire. Taking the opportunity, Cameron looked over at Sarah, who looked to be out of breath but her face was determined.
After a few minutes, Wesley asked, "Anyone see anything?" They all shook their heads, so he had had them all stand back up again. "Move out, and keep your eyes peeled."
None of them needed to be told twice. An outsider might have commented that Andrea was probably seeing things, but nobody spoke or even thought that. Catching the slightest movement out of the corner of your eye probably saved more lives than anything else. If you're anywhere but home you should always assume that there is danger right around the corner.
They walked for about another mile or so, when from somewhere within the woods the sound of gunfire erupted. As if in slow motion, Cameron saw the dirt get kicked up, making a trail that crossed Paula's path. One of the rounds went right into her chest, and before she even fell to the ground, Cameron found himself yelling, "CONTACT—THREE O'CLOCK!"
His feet then automatically hustled to the nearest tree, where he took cover. The rest of the squad did the same, although Cameron noticed Sarah briefly hesitate, and got behind a tree only when she saw everyone else was doing it. Son of a bitch, he thought woefully.
But he couldn't focus on that right now. Somewhere beyond them in those woods was an enemy that had to be put down. "Marshall! Julio!" Wesley was shouting as fire continued to rain in on them. "On my signal go get Paula!"
"You got it!"
"Suppressors off!" All were taken off. "Covering fire!" Wesley shouted at the top of his lungs. Everyone aimed their rifles around their tree, aimed to where the sound of gunfire was coming from, and opened fire. The point was to make a lot of noise so the enemy knew they were being fired at, rather an actually trying to hit them. The enemy fire ceased, and Marshall and Julio immediately ran over to Paula, who was lying on the ground wheezing and clutching her chest. They each grabbed an arm and pulled towards safety.
Julio ripped open her shirt. "She's hurt but the plates saved her," he informed Wesley.
"Marsh," Wesley said. "I gotta take charge here, but you know what you gotta do!" Nodding, Cameron and his team stood up as Wesley yelled again, "Covering fire!"
Cameron's team filed in behind him, and once they were clear they hustled down the dirt road back the way they came. Shit! Just when it looked like they weren't going to get any action. Not only that, but the sun was starting to go down and it would soon be dark.
Bang! Phil lowered his rifle after taking out a zombie. And all the noise they were making was going to attract a shit ton of zombies. Zombies and night were never a good combination.
Half a mile later, Cameron figured that they had gone far enough and plunged into the trees so that they could try and flank the enemy. But they didn't get very far before he heard a voice shout, "CAM!"
You've gotta be fucking kidding me, he thought dreadfully. Telling his team to stay put, Cameron ran back onto the road where he saw Sarah run up to him. As she caught her breath, Cameron yelled, "What the hell!"
"I thought you wanted me on your team," she quickly said.
"Not now! Wes already had to take Paula's place, and now that you're here they're a man down!" he told her angrily.
"Oh I'm sorry!" Sarah blurted out busting into tears. "I thought I could handle it—but—but then I saw—and—and…oh god."
"Why did you even come here?"
"I panicked okay," she explained, still crying. "I—I just didn't…" Sarah hung her head in shame and sniffed. "I figured it'd be safer with you."
"We're the flanking team—do you have any idea what that even means?"
"Then why did—"
"I'm sorry, I'm not Becky, okay!" Sarah squealed.
That comment flabbergasted Cameron. "Who the hell said you were?"
"Everyone just expects me to live up to what she's done," Sarah told him anxiously.
Cameron groaned while running his hand down his face in frustration. "We'll talk about whatever inferiority complex you have later!" he snarled, roughly grabbing her shoulder and dragging her with him. "We've got a job to do. Stay close!"
Back with the rest of the team, Cole started, "What the—?" but Cameron gave him a look that clearly told him to shut up, and they continued the flanking maneuver. They upped the pace because the light was getting scarce already, and nobody wanted to hunker down for the night in the middle of a firefight.
The team kept on running, ducking under branches, stepping over logs, and it went without saying that they had to watch for zombies too. All the while Cameron had to take a look back to make sure that Sarah wasn't falling out.
The path that they were following led up a steady incline, making the walk a bit more difficult. Eventually the sounds of gunfire returned, so they spread out and got behind trees, lining up from left to right as best they could. Cameron gave the signal and they moved onward ready to shoot anything that posed a threat.
Bounding forward tree to tree, things were going good so far. Cameron was in the middle, to his immediate left was Sarah (though he'd have preferred Cole, who was on her other side), and to his right were Phil and Andrea. The machinegun fire was getting louder. Soon enough the bastards would be in sight, and by the time they figured out—
More bullets erupted from their right. "MOTHERFUCKER!" yelled Phil, dropping to the ground.
"CONTACT!" Andrea hollered, taking cover.
"Shit!" Cameron raged, getting behind a tree. These bastards were guarding the other bastards' flank. Cameron's worst nightmare: bandits with actual intelligence. He couldn't dwell on that, though. "Everyone get as close as you can to Phil!"
When there was the slightest pause in the enemy fire, Cameron dashed out of cover keeping his head low. He managed to reach Phil, and pulled him behind the closest tree that offered enough protection. It was not a pretty sight: Phil's right leg was in bad shape and was bleeding pretty bad—he'd be lucky to walk properly again…if they made it out alive.
As the rest of the team returned fire, Cameron got down, took out a tourniquet from a pouch he had strapped to his side, and tightened it a few inches above the wound. Phil made renewed sounds of pain.
"I need two of you to get the hell out and warn the other team!" he ordered, standing back up with his back against the tree. Aiming around the trunk, Cameron pinpointed the enemy's location and started firing. The covering fire he provided was sufficient enough to allow two to high tail it out of there. Figures, the one time they didn't have radios!
"What do we do now, Cam?"
Cameron stopped firing and looked sideways in disbelief. Sarah was the one that stayed behind. He had forgotten all about her, otherwise Cameron would have told her to go back to the other team. Son of a bitch!
In his mind he couldn't help but go over every possible choice he had in front of him. He couldn't let Sarah go back by herself, much less leave Cameron with a wounded Phil. He didn't think she had the aim or fortitude to cover Cameron as he carried Phil. And there was no way she had it in her to carry Phil herself. No choice, option two had to do.
"I need you to cover me as I help Phil out of here," Cameron told her. "Can you handle that?" Sarah gulped but nodded. Grabbing Phil's left arm, he asked, "Think you can hop?"
"Yeah," he said, screwing his face up in pain as he got up on his good leg with Cameron's help. Sarah had to be burdened with Phil's rifle, since they couldn't just leave it and the ammo in it behind. Cameron's rifle went behind his own back, and took out his pistol. As awkward as it would be to use it in his current position Cameron wasn't about to go around without a weapon in hand.
"Alright, Sarah, shoot at them."
"But I can't see them!" she said nervously.
"They're near those bushes over there—just shoot, god dammit!"
Her aim was true enough that it got their aggressors to momentarily stop firing, giving Cameron and Phil the chance to break cover. It was slow going from the get go. Phil was no lightweight, and Cameron was far from Mr. Universe.
At first Sarah was hovering around them and aiming her rifle around randomly, until Cameron yelled at her to always stay behind some kind of cover; otherwise she'd be a nice, juicy target.
We are going to die, Cameron kept on saying to himself. He hated himself for thinking that, for actually believing it, but there was just no use. Whenever they went too fast, Phil would always wobble dangerously causing them to stop so he could regain balance. Sarah did the best she could to cover them from the bandits that they knew were now following them.
Then there were the zombies. Sarah tried to take care of them too, but Cameron said she needed to focus on the approaching bandits. Phil had a pistol in the hand he wasn't using to hold onto Cameron, and was able to take care of the things. All the noise was starting to draw them in from all over.
Somehow they made it back to the road—which was not a good thing. There was nobody to be found there, and they were now totally exposed. As much as he wanted to head back to where they started, there was no way in hell they were going to make it. So they had no other choice but to dive into the woods on the other side of the road, and try to find the squad at one of the rendezvous points—one of several potential ones.
Back in the woods fatigue was starting to settle in. He had gotten used to running for his life, but not with two hundred pounds of extra weight hanging onto him. Finally it happened. A root got the best of them, causing the both Cameron and Phil to topple to the ground.
"Fuck!" Phil groaned, gripping his leg. "Just leave me her, I'll try to hold them off."
"No way," Cameron said, about to try and help him up again.
"Why?" he asked, looking up at him with a slightly puzzled look. "Thought you'd be happier with me outta the picture."
"Am I scared that Becky might one day leave me? Hell yes!" Cameron responded truthfully. "Am I worried that she'll leave me for you? In your fucking dreams!" he said, hauling him back up. "I don't care how big of a dickbag you are, Phil—I don't leave my people behind!"
The noise level rose as bullets started whizzing past them, forcing them behind cover again. Sarah aimed around a tree and returned fire. Cursing when she came up empty, she swapped her rifle for Phil's. She started to fire again, but after a few rounds Sarah suddenly stopped, her face became flushed as she gagged a little, and she fell to her knees.
"What's wrong?" Cameron yelled at her.
"I…I hit one of them—I killed him," she gasped, looking even sicker and possibly wanting to throw up.
"That's a good thing!" Cameron and Phil both screamed. Forget everything that happened before—it was that moment that made it crystal clear that Sarah had no business being out here. Like some of the residents, she got way too complacent in Yuba's walls, and forgot that it was kill or be killed. No ifs, ands, or buts.
Any other time Cameron might have tried to talk to her and say everything will be okay, but now was obviously not one of those times. "SARAH, YOU ARE THE ONLY THING KEEPING THOSE FUCKERS AT A DISTANCE! SHOOT BACK!"
Taking a huge gulp, Sarah regained some of her composure, aimed the rifle, and shot back. During a brief moment of relative safety, Cameron and Phil took off again with Sarah in tow. Unfortunately as they went they quickly ran out of ammunition, even with the extra that Cameron had on him. Sarah wanted to toss the rifles, but Cameron squashed her wish flat. They would need them for whenever they met back up with the squad and got more.
The rendezvous point was a neighborhood that wasn't far from their location. When the woods ended where the backyard to a house began, they picked up their pace because their foes weren't far behind. The backdoor was locked, so Cameron wasted no time in shooting the lock and using his and Phil's combined weight to bust it open.
"Hello!" Cameron cried, desperately hoping the squad was there. They'd have been smart and used the front entrance, so as to not make it obvious to the bandits where they were hiding. But nothing came. They were in that house alone.
"Damn," Phil sighed with resignation. "I'd be all for making a last stand, but with that ammo?"
But Cameron wasn't paying attention. His gaze fell on the refrigerator, where there were aged photos of a happy family stuck on with magnets. "I'm gonna kill as many of these fucks as it takes so I can see my daughter again," Cameron said quietly. He caught Phil off guard as he started to look through the house, ready to react to any zombie that might be lurking.
As he expected there was nothing useful for them. The only reliable weapon Cameron had on him was a knife. Well if that's all he had, so be it. He led them upstairs, down the hallway, and to the room at the end. Looking out the back window Cameron saw the bandits emerge from the woods in the last bit of sunlight that was left.
A shoddy plan formed in his head, but it was a plan nonetheless. Cameron had them put all the useless weapons they had in the middle of the room in plain view from the door. Phil and Sarah questioned this, but he took the edge of his hand and slit the air in front of his throat to signal them to shut up.
Then he took Phil and put him in the closet.
"What do I do?" asked Sarah.
"Get in there with him."
"But—" She stopped when they heard sounds coming from downstairs.
"Go," Cameron ordered her.
Sarah looked completely torn. She looked from the Cameron to the closet and back to Cameron, as if she was waging a war in her mind. Sarah took a step towards the closet, but then turned back, grabbed Cameron's shirt, and roughly pulled him in so that she could plant her lips onto his!
Cameron was so stunned by this that it took a while for it to register, until he finally pushed her off.
"Sorry," Sarah said apologetically, entering the closet before he could say anything. "But Becky wasn't the only one who had a crush on you after you saved us." He caught a glimpse of Phil's shocked and envious expression before the door was closed. There was going to be hell to pay for that when Becky found out (there was no way he was going to risk keeping it a secret), but no use in thinking about it now.
Still a bit dumbfounded, Cameron shook his head and focused on the task at hand. Taking out his knife, Cameron opened the door wider and hid behind it, pressing himself against the wall.
As he stood there, Cameron gripped the knife in his hand tightly, praying that his plan would work. Then he heard it: footsteps coming up the stairs. Listening closely, his heart leapt a bit when he heard that it was only one person coming up. If it were two or more of them then he would have been screwed. Slowly the footsteps drew closer and closer to the room he was in. The bandit seemed to be checking each room one by one.
Finally the footsteps stopped right outside the room. Please be retarded, Cameron thought over and over again. Please be retarded!
He was retarded! Ever so slowly he heard as the bandit walked into the room, no doubt getting a closer look at the weapons visible by the bit of moonlight shining through the window. As soon as the bandit cleared the door, Cameron silently stepped out of his hiding spot, amazed at how soft he could make his footsteps.
The man was wearing a ratty leather jacket, jeans, and had long, greasy hair. Once Cameron was close enough, he leapt forward, and in one swift motion he covered the bandit's mouth with one hand and with the other he plunged the knife into his neck. The carotid artery was severed, blood gushed out, and the bandit let his rifle fall to the ground as he reached up to grasp at his neck.
The rifle made a clattering sound that would no doubt be heard downstairs. Wasting no more time with him, Cameron tossed the bandit aside, knife still embedded in the neck. The man was making awful gurgling noises as he thrashed around experiencing a very agonizing death. Blood just kept on pumping out, getting all over the floor.
Cameron didn't stop to react to that, though. He automatically scooped up the rifle in his hands and went out into the hallway, just as another one of them yelled, "What's going on up there?" One of them ran up the stairs, and no sooner did he reach the landing than Cameron placed two rounds right into the man's chest, causing him to tumble back down.
And so ended his plan…. Now what? Cameron asked himself.
"What the hell is going on up there?" a third yelled frantically.
"Take a wild guess, dumb fuck!" Cameron shouted, keeping the rifle aimed at the stairs.
"Give yourselves up! You're outnumbered and we have this place surrounded!"
"Not gonna happen!" As far as Cameron could tell, his only hope was to stay keep things the way they were for a couple of days until a search party finally found the predicament they were in…. Something told him that wasn't how things were going to play out.
All of a sudden a retching sound came from within the room, and a minute later Sarah walked out looking flushed in the little bit of light there was. She supported herself on the doorframe, her legs were wobbly, and she was wiping her mouth. Oh yeah, she threw up. "Still got that crush on me?" he asked in exasperation.
"Shut up," she heaved, spitting on the floor.
"Is that the girl up there?" the bandit from downstairs asked with relish. "Yeah, I caught a glimpse of her on the way here. I'm gonna have some fun with her!"
"As if I'd let that happen, asshole!" Cameron snarled.
The next hour or so Cameron didn't way a single word. He had to put the rifle down a bit since his arms were getting tired, but it was ready to be brought back up at a moment's notice. In the meanwhile the bandits downstairs were discussing what to do. The only answer they could come up with was rush upstairs all at once, but nobody volunteered to be the first on up, knowing they'd get shot down the second they reached the landing.
All the while Sarah sat in a corner of the hallway with her knees to her chest. Cameron kept telling her to get back in the closet, but she refused to listen. Her eyes would always wander over to the corpse, and she'd instantly look away. Cameron knew that while it was easy to do away with a zombie, doing the same to a person whose heart was still beating was a different story entirely. Odds were that she didn't like the reminder that there was another side to the guy that she thought she knew—friend, brother-in-law to be, shooting instructor, and now taker of lives.
"We're gonna die, aren't we?" she asked sullenly.
"No," Cameron said flatly.
"How can you be so sure?"
"Cause I have a daughter back home, Sarah. And as much as I like Dennis, he isn't the one she'll be calling dad."
Nodding, Sarah looked back at the body, and then quickly turned away again. Exhaling, Cameron let his expression soften and he searched for a change of subject. "Why didn't you do anything about it?"
"The crush. You said you had one on me, so how come you didn't say anything before."
For the first time since getting into trouble she smiled slightly. "Cam, the first week after the rescue, I saw you staring at the ass of a woman that had to be ten years older than you. Shannon Gavers, on the other hand, who's good looking and only a year younger, you completely ignored even though it was obvious she wanted to fuck you. I knew I didn't stand a chance, so I just stood back as Becky went full force."
Smirking and shaking his head, Cameron just said, "Thanks for that." He didn't have to mention how awkward it would have been to turn her down.
They fell back into silence as the meeting of the minds downstairs continued. Then one of them suggested, "Set fire to the house." Cameron felt as if his insides disappeared. His knees buckled and he slid against the wall as sounds of agreement issued from downstairs. They finally figured out a way to get them out.
"Cam," Sarah whispered in fear.
They were going to die! There was absolutely no way out. Even if the rest of the squad found them in the nick of time, Cameron didn't think they'd have enough ammo to take out the bandits. More dread washed upon him when he heard one of them say they found a lighter. The bastards didn't even try to keep their voices down as he heard them talk about setting some of the furniture on fire, knowing that their prey was trapped.
"Cam," Sarah repeated, kneeling down in front of him.
Looking up at her, Cameron saw that Sarah had the same clear blue eyes that Becky had, only at the moment they were full of fear. He sniffed and held back tears, now thinking of Chloe—he wasn't going to be around for any of her firsts, to see her grow up.
"You know I already consider you family, right?" Cameron said to Sarah, trying not to cry. "Becky, you…your aunt," he added tersely. He smiled sadly. "I was expecting to make you an aunt one day, too y'know."
Sarah didn't say anything and just helped him stand up as one of the bandits announced he found some fluid that would make things catch fire easier. Soon they could hear the crackling of the fire, and the smell of smoke was in the air. "What do we do, Cam?"
Sighing, he said, "C'mon." Cameron led them into the room and he opened the closet to reveal Phil.
"So what's going on?" he asked nervously.
"Well we got a choice to make," Cameron told him and Sarah. "The place is on fire. We can either stay here and burn, go out and face them, or…" Cameron grimaced and didn't meet their eyes.
"No," said Sarah, shaking her head. "I'm not doing that. I'd rather just face them."
"I know," she interrupted.
"I'm with her," agreed Phil.
"Alright, let's do it then," sighed Cameron. He could tell the fire was spreading rapidly. Before leaving, Cameron went to the corpse and removed the knife still embedded in the neck. Once the blood was quickly wiped off Cameron handed it to Sarah, who was hesitant but he forced it into her hands. If and when those fuckers tried anything with her she'd be ready.
Picking Phil back up, the three of them took off as fast as they could. The smoke was so thick that they put their sleeves over their noses, and the heat was almost too much to bear. The front door would have been the fastest way out, but it was blocked by flaming debris. Instead they headed towards the back door.
In the kitchen something exploded right before they entered. Smoldering debris littered the floor making Phil's hopping more difficult. The refrigerator, Cameron noticed, was engulfed in flames and pictures that were on it were completely gone—along with might be the last bit of proof that that family ever existed at all.
The backdoor was wide open, as if waiting for them to come through. The reason for that was painfully obvious: once they crossed the threshold the people gathered around started laughing.
Keeping their faces set, the three of them moved towards them. There was no escape.
"Well, well, well," said the one that seemed to be the leader. He was twirling a pistol gleefully in his hand as they approached. "You chase us across an entire state, and now you're the ones being hunted. Oh how the tables have turned."
Cameron and Phil exchanged confused looks. What was he talking about?
"First thing's first. C'mere, sweetness, we got big plans for you," he said to Sarah, grinning horribly and licking his lips.
"Go fuck yourself," she replied.
"I won't have to anymore," he chortled. "You two get on the ground." Again, no other choice, Cameron carefully set Phil on the grass before getting on his knees. "Let's get this over with," the bandit said lazily, approaching them.
"Word of advice," Cameron said to him, "let her go."
"And why would I do that?"
"Because there's gonna be a search party when we don't go back home, and among them will be her sister. And if she finds you before she finds her, you're all royally fucked."
The filth just smirked and raised his gun—then there was a far off popping sound, immediately followed by the bandit keeling over, rolling in pain. He barely noticed as more popping sounds went off, and the rest of the bandits began toppling over. Although he didn't know what was going on, Cameron quickly stood up and grabbed the pistol that the bandit dropped.
The fire behind him was spreading, flooding the backyard with orange light. Raising the pistol, he swept it left and right. He spotted two of the bandits making attempts to reclaim their weapons, but Cameron swiftly went over to kick them away.
"You fucker," the head shitbag groaned. "What did you do?"
"Wish I knew." Cameron aimed the pistol down at him. "But it doesn't matter. Try anything funny and it's over for you."
"I'd rather you not," a voice called. It came from the woods, and Cameron's jaw dropped as he saw four people with rifles casually stroll out of the trees. "And will you put that down, please?"
"Who the hell are you people?" Cameron demanded, positioning himself in front of Sarah and Phil.
"The ones who saved your asses," the leader answered obviously. The man said to his guys, "Get to work." To Cameron, Phil, and Sarah's bewilderment the newcomers took zip ties out of their pockets, and began restraining the hands and feet of the fallen bandits.
The man in charge held up a finger, raising a radio to his mouth. "Status."
"We got six over here."
"Awesome. What about the distraction?"
"Safe and sound. Want us to link up with you?"
"See you in a bit, then. Out."
"Your friends are all okay," the man said to Cameron in a satisfied manner, hooking the radio to his belt. "Including these four, we've got ten in total," he announced to his people. "Good haul today, guys!" All of them cheered in semi-enthusiastic fashion as they piled the struggling bandits together.
Many things were going through Cameron's mind, so he decided on asking, "Distraction?"
"Hey, we didn't force you to poke the bee's nest," the man said defensively. "We've been chasing these bastards since Minnesota, and when we spotted you guys earlier we decided to take the opportunity to finally wrangle these guys in."
None of them spoke for a few seconds, until Phil asked, "And, uh, why were you chasing them?"
The man just smiled. "You guys from some town or whatever that banded together, right?" They nodded. "Fuck that! I'd go nuts cooped up in once place! Nah, the closest thing we have to a home is this client that pays in supplies if we bring bandits to them."
"Manual labor," he answered quickly.
"How did you take these guys down, then?"
"Rubber bullets," the man told him, patting his rifle affectionately. "They work wonders."
No doubt, Cameron thought, remembering being shot by one the previous year.
"Hey, not to be rude, but as soon as my other guys get here with your people we're outta here."
Cameron wanted to know a bit more, but he figured that it didn't matter. Shrugging, he just smiled and stuck out his hand, saying, "Thanks."
Less than ten minutes ago Cameron thought for certain that they were going to die. And now he watched as four vehicles pulled into the driveway of the burning house. Two of them were vans that belonged to the bandit hunters, who loaded up their bounty with the rest of the filth. It was a testament to how much Cameron hated bandits that he didn't care that they'd be forced into servitude. Without ever even giving them his name, the man simply waved goodbye and they were gone as quickly as they came.
In the other cars, Phil was laid across the back seat of one of them. They tried to get Paula to do the same in the other car, but she refused because that would mean they'd have to leave some behind and make two trips.
On the ride back Cameron was reflecting on what must have been his thousandth near death experience. Sooner or later his luck would have to run out. But then he noticed that Sarah was staring out the window, looking as if she had a lot on her mind.
"Anything wrong?" he asked.
Sarah gave him a look, shifted her gaze, and stared back out the window. "No."
"Listen," he began in an understanding tone, "I don't like doing what I do—but I do it because it's necessary for us to get home."
"It's not that," she sighed.
"Becky's gonna kill me when she finds out what I did."