After The Darkness Falls
Air tore violently from her lungs, gasping and painful. She wonders how she can keep her feet going, snapping through underbrush, sticks stabbing at her shins, rotting leaves making her slide across the forest floor. She stumbles through it, frozen tears of terror biting into her cheeks with the cold of the night, dead hands clawing at the air behind her trying to reach her as she slows, then renews her pace with abrupt spurts of fear-fuelled adrenaline before slowing again. Her feet are becoming slack, numb, stumbling more and more, sending her sprawling to her knees, and they crack hard against uneven ground and sharp rocks and discarded branches. Her fingernails fill painfully with dank earth as she struggles to find purchase, to find a way to lever herself back to a stand. Andrea is there like a whip, snatching sloppily at her arms and dragging her back to her feet, pushing her forward, keeping her in front of the walkers that pursue them endlessly.
Each bullet Andrea aims has deadly precision, catapulting into a dead and rotting brain and after each success, they are off and running again. Running for their lives. Unable to stop or they'd both be dead. Unable to catch their breath, stop pounding hearts and adrenaline rushes. Carol clutches at the large branch she took when first surrounded at the farm. It has managed to protect her, and she's even slammed the end of it into a few skulls, helping Andrea to pick off each one that comes for them, lunges for them, is desperate to consume them.
Hours pass, steps slow, time stands still and yet it doesn't end. She doesn't think she can run and breathe anymore—it's one or the other. She has to choose and yet if she doesn't run, there is no choice because breath will be ripped from her the second walkers tear out her throat. Andrea has run out of bullets and her own arms are beyond aching. She doesn't think there's a word for how exhausted she is, how much agony her body is in. How much every muscle revolts against its continued use. Andrea is down to smashing heads in with the butt of her gun, then her pocketknife, while Carol still tries to raise the branch higher than her waist, slug them around the hips then raise it just high enough to slam into their heads.
"I can't," she sobs, tripping once again into a blanket of leaves, feeling her face hit something sharp. Her blood just makes them ravenous.
"You can. You have to."
She's never seen Andrea so afraid. Not even after the herd on the Highway. She doesn't know how—never knew she had such force of will or instinct to survive—she drags her body up off the ground, screaming and jerking forward when one of them grabs at her boot and she kicks out wildly, sending it to the ground behind her. Andrea ploughs her knife into its temple then spins back to her, helping her to her feet, supporting her as they start running again.
"Run, run, run, run."
She's chanting it now in the hopes it will do something to her psyche, spark in her a determination to live. They've whittled the crowd down, there's only a few more. Just a few more. The numbers blur before her, sweat trickling into her eyes and making them sting. Andrea's squeezing her hand, pulling away abruptly to take one out as another comes too close and Carol swings the branch like a bat, a little lower this time, enough to knock against its legs. The trajectory is slow, weak and the walker doesn't hit the ground like the others before it. It is still stumbling forward and she's jerking back, fear clawing at her throat, distress driving needles of pain beneath her skin, fear slamming her heart against her chest and into her throat. It throbs there, and acid stings and makes her want to vomit, but the walker is there, in her face, it's disgusting teeth and rotting lips snapping against the branch that is holding it just above her face.
"Run. Run. Run."
She's saying it by rote now, wishing she could just shut it out of her mind because there is no running while she's flat on her back, the weight of this dead, destroyed thing pushing her further into the leaves. Into the earth. If anything she should be chanting for help, because this is the moment, right here, the one Jenner had been warning them about. This is her extinction event and there's nothing she can do as her elbows pop from the pressure, her forearms ache and her whole body is shaking from the terror, the finality, the uselessness of protecting herself, the fate of death in this world that is so full it reeks of it.
Its knees dig into her thighs, bony fingers still reaching for her, getting closer and closer as her hands, braced against the branch, are slowly pushed further into her body. Any minute now she knows those fingers are going to stab into her belly and rip out her insides like the other one did to Dale and still she's crying, run, run, run like she has any choice. Its drooling mouth presses closer and, as she's sobbing into the foul, decaying truth of it, she hears the singing in the air of a downswing and suddenly the head is gone, falling with a dull thud beside her arm and the rest of it collapses against her body, black blood splashing across her face and chest. The screams erupt from her like someone has thrust their fist into her throat and brutally ripped them out.
"Carol." Andrea, voice broken, expression shocked, slaps a hand across her mouth to try and muffle the alarming shrieks Carol can't seem to control and both of them look up, up at the hooded apparition that has just sliced the last of their immediate threat apart. Behind, two chained walkers, armless, mouths mutilated, sway as if they don't quite know what to do about the scent of life so close and yet no ability to seize the chance.
Her heart speeds up and squeezes brutally, the sudden drop of adrenaline freezing her body and as Carol looks wildly around herself, feels the cold, revolting blood that covers her, breathes in the repulsive stench, the rush of her own icy blood through her veins is overwhelming and just like that, her body decides she's had enough, quits on her and she passes out like a light.