Dee hunched in the dark corner of the safe house in the basement of the apartment building. She carefully aimed her flashlight toward the wall as she wrote in her diary so as not to disturb Todd. He was curled up in the only sleeping bag left among the dwindling supplies, with only a shock of flyaway black hair poking out from his warm cocoon. The Infected stumbled and clawed outside the door, creating a constant reminder of the danger that lay ahead the next day. A witch shrieked in the distance and Todd grumbled something in his sleep. Dee hurried to finish her diary entry.
November 13, 2031
The nightly noise still bothers me. I should be used to it by now, I mean, it's been almost four months since the outbreak. I hardly ever sleep anyway. Could you, if you saw their rotting arms groping between the bars and their eerie eyes glinting in the beam of your flashlight? It's a kind of unnerving that I can't describe. I should really stop complaining, though.
We're still alive. That's more than I can say for the people who passed through here ahead of us. There was Boomer gunk all over the inside of this new safe house when we got to it. Todd found a chewed up arm lying on top of the ammo pile. I really don't think any of them made it… the supplies were untouched. It makes you wonder if there's anyone left out there or if we're just struggling on for no reason. The last supposed stronghold we got to was deserted. I really hope this isn't just some sick treasure hunt that leads up to nothing.
Todd moaned groggily and Dee clicked the flashlight off.
"You're still awake?" he slurred.
"Yeah," Dee replied guiltily as she slipped her diary into her medical pack, "sorry I woke you."
"You didn't, I was cold. C'mon, you'll never be in any shape to fight tomorrow if you insist on listening to them all night."
He unzipped the sleeping bag and opened it to her. She stood still and glanced at the Infected straining at the reinforced door. She couldn't see Todd in the dark, but judging by the sound he made she was almost certain he rolled his eyes. He fumbled for a pistol.
"If I say yes will you go to sleep?"
"Fine, just don't waste any bullets. We need to keep all we can."
Dee took the pistol, took a few steps closer, and squared her stance. She carefully picked off four Infected, but scores more waited behind the initial crowd. She sighed and handed the pistol back to Todd. He waved her down to the sleeping bag. She begrudgingly wiggled into it and zipped it up as far as she could. The worn sleeping bag was definitely meant for one person, but both of them were thin from small rations and the daily routine of running from the dead. They were able to lie back to back as per usual, even if it was a very tight squeeze.
Todd gave a tired wheeze of a sigh that had become endearingly familiar to Dee. That peculiar exhalation always managed to bring her back to when the world was normal. The wheeze had been there during backyard campouts, chats across the little alley between their houses that lasted hours, and, later, nightlong college cram sessions. Dee lost herself to the memories and fell asleep replaying one of their hundreds of window-to-window conversations.
Todd reclined against one side of the windowsill, one gangly leg swinging outside the window and one braced on his desk so he wouldn't lose his balance. He fidgeted with a scab on his elbow. Dee remembered the night clearly. It was an early fall evening and the two of them were up far later than either of their respective parents wittingly allowed. Todd had been uncharacteristically quiet for most of the night. Finally, once Dee had given up on prying conversation from him, he spoke.
"We never talk about girls," he said flatly, his thirteen year old voice cracking.
"So? Girls are stupid. They're dramatic."
"Boys are stupid, too, but you get to talk about them anyway."
"Okay… we'll talk about girls, then."
"Well, I was thinking… uh… maybe you could help me talk to one."
Dee, who had been lying on her bed, sat up and fixed him with a surprised look.
Todd focused even harder on the scab and picked at it until it bled. Blood started to heat his face.
"I don't wanna say."
"Why? I won't tell her."
"I won't. I promise!"
Todd's grey eyes flickered up at her and then back to the tiny remnant of scab that was left. He chewed his tongue and shook his head. Dee blew an exasperated sigh at him and flopped back on the bed.
"Fine. What do you want to say to her?"
"That I like her… and that I maybe want to go to homecoming with her."
"So, tell her that. Tell her like you told me."
"Naw, it sounds stupid that way."
He was redder than ever and the scab was completely gone. A dribble of blood plopped onto his shirt, but he kept on picking.
"Todd, you're bleeding."
He blinked and clapped a hand over his elbow. He shook his head quickly and looked up at Dee. His mouth quirked and he straightened up. It was his usual defense against embarrassment.
"But what about-"
"I'll catch you at the bus stop, okay?"
He quickly climbed off of his windowsill, closed the window, and snapped the curtains shut. Dee stared at the curtains for a few moments, wishing intently that he would have just said what she'd known for years. She waited a few more moments and then closed her own window.
There was a flurry of noise and pain. Dee felt herself rip through the sleeping bag and slam against the bars of the reinforced door. She couldn't breathe. Dirty nails raked her skin and her bones buckled under a slimy vice. There was a blast from a rifle and hot pain flashed down her arm. The Infected's tongue fell away limp and she scrambled as far as she could from the door. Another shot and putrid smoke streamed through the bars. There was a reason they called them Smokers. Dee clamped one hand against her arm and dragged her shirt up over her nose with the other, though the action sent new arcs of agony through her nerves. She sucked air through the material into her aching lungs. Todd hacked as he picked her up and carried her to the other end of the tiny safe house.
"Hold on, okay? I think I heard another one," and, with that, he disappeared into the smoke.
Dee peered down at her arm through the thinning smoke. Blood was pooling in the spaces between her fingers and running in thick droplets down her hand. She winced and removed her hand from the wound. A chunk of flesh was missing from her upper arm, and, to her increased anguish, bits of shrapnel were drowning in her freely flowing blood. She tore open a medical kit with her free hand and jammed a roll of gauze into her mouth without opening the packaging. She took a rudimentary pair of tweezers from the pack and began to fish the bits of buckshot out of her flesh. Her teeth clamped down on the gauze as she involuntarily snarled. The edges of her vision began to blur and dim. She spat out the package of gauze.
"Todd? I could use some help… hurry…"
She was unconscious before her head hit the floor.
Todd offed the other Smoker and turned just in time to see Dee's skull connect with the concrete. He rushed to her. Blood was pooling around her arm at an alarming rate and her breath was shallow. He quickly ripped open a package of gauze that lay near her and began to stop up the wound. He used another package from his own kit to secure the wad in place. It took only seconds for the blood to bloom crimson against the bandages.
"C'mon, Dee, stay with me," he begged, gently tapping her greying cheek with his hand in hopes to coax her back to consciousness.
She didn't respond. This was his own damn fault. If he'd just stayed calm enough to hold his breath before he shot, this wouldn't have happened. His mind raced, but his thoughts were buffeted by the moans of the Infected outside. Think. Think…
"Shut up and give me a minute!" he shouted at the hoard.
They didn't shut up. She was getting colder. Working on intuition and the tugging feeling that he was moving in the right direction, Todd lifted her off of the floor and wrapped her in what was left of the sleeping bag. Her breathing regulated a little, but she was still deathly pale and bleeding. He fumbled with the contents his medical kit and hoped for inspiration. No coagulants. No huge bandages. No do-it-yourself blood transfusion supplies. There was a piece of elastic, though.
He grabbed Dee's pen from her medical kit and used it and the piece of elastic to fashion a tourniquet. He refreshed her bandages. She was bleeding less, now. He sighed. She was still very cold. Shock, he guessed. He carefully secured the tourniquet with medical tape and a couple of rubber bands that he found on the floor, and then stripped down to his briefs. He studied her for a few short moments.
"Don't wake up until I put my clothes back on," he muttered and pressed his body against her inside the ruined sleeping bag.
For years he had imagined what it would be like to lie in bed with her and feel her cuddled beside him, but even his most creatively constructed scenarios never put him in this position. She was cold and her bones felt so close under her skin. She had gotten much thinner than he had realized; she was almost emaciated. He would have to get her to take bigger portions of their rations… well, if she ever woke up again.
The thought froze him more thoroughly than the cold concrete beneath them. She couldn't die. He wouldn't let her. She was his best friend. He huddled closer to her and rubbed his hands together before passing them over her. He'd rub his hands raw if he had to.
"Dee?" he levered himself up on one arm.
"What… what do you… want to tell her?"
Todd's gut clenched for a moment. Was this her subconscious telling him she was going to die?
She was silent.
"Dee, what did you say?"
"Tell her like you told me," she mumbled.
Todd blinked. That whack on the head must have shaken something loose. She wasn't making sense. He felt a strange sense of déjà vu, though. It didn't matter. He shook it off.
"Wake up, Dee. You need to wake up now," he shook her good arm gently.
Her eyes roved beneath their lids before slowly blinking open. She moaned and clutched her head with her good hand. Todd felt his face melt into a relieved smile. He cradled her head with one arm.
"Todd?" she asked somewhat groggily.
Her voice sharpened as her fuzzy thoughts came into focus. "You're in your underwear."