Murphy fucking hated that smell. Connor said he couldn't smell it anymore, but Murphy could. He sucked it in with every breath. That smell was everything that had gone wrong wrapped up into one foul odor. It was death, and the MacManus brothers lived with it every day.
Murphy opened the cigarette pack he found in the pocket of one of those things. There was only one left.
"We'll find more," Connor said. "Always fuckin' do."
Murphy sniffed and placed the pack back in his pocket. He could wait a little while longer.
"We should find somewhere to sleep before dark," he said. Connor pushed through a bit of brush and didn't answer. "The fuck do ya think we are anyway?"
"No shit," Murphy said. "The hell is your fuckin' problem today?"
"We can camp here." Connor started clearing sticks out of a small clearing in the woods. "I'll take first watch."
Murphy started to open his mouth, but a stick cracked nearby, echoing through the trees. Murphy drew the gun off of his hip and clicked the safety off. He turned toward the sound of swishing in the undergrowth.
He could see the eyes first, peeking out of the dark, glossed over with white. Then he heard the groaning. Connor's gun went off with a muted pop, and the thing fell right into a patch of poison ivy. Murphy hesitated, making sure the thing was alone, and then he holstered his gun again. He pulled on a pair of gloves and stepped forward. That smell grew stronger.
This one had been a woman. There was nothing in her pocket other than a long-dead cell phone. He swore and looked back for Connor. He found his brother standing right behind him, gloves on and pennies in his hand. Murphy took them and placed them over her eyes before digging his rosary out of his shirt.
"And shepherds we shall be..." They crossed themselves and had a small moment of silence for whoever the woman had been.
"Best leave her there," Connor said.
"That's fuckin' sick."
"Aye, but they seem to come around less when there's a dead one." He squeezed Murphy's shoulder—a small gesture, but given Connor's mood all day, it was a welcome one that seemed to say everything.
We're still brothers, and I still love you more than anything else in the fucking world even if it's fucking falling apart.
They put the tent up in silence, and Murphy crawled in. He pulled out the last cigarette and handed it to Connor.
"Smoke more than half of it, and I'll fuckin' kick your ass." He zipped the flap and crawled into a tattered sleeping bag, his gun in his hand. He fell asleep wrinkling his nose at the air.
It didn't seem like long before Connor shook him awake. Murphy wiped his eyes and got up, relinquishing the sleeping bag to his brother without a word.
He found the other half of the cigarette next to a half-eaten can of beans. He had to suck down the nicotine before he could even think about eating, and then he had to hate the part of himself that really wanted to stumble on a few of those things tomorrow so he could search them for smokes. He should be hoping for an empty car or an old gas station of something, not a group of...whatever the fuck they were.
The beans were cold and pasty, but he'd had worse. There'd been times in Ireland with nothing but weeks of potatoes grown on dad's farm, and prison food at the Hoag hadn't been all steak and greens. He finished the can quickly and fiddled with the rosary around his neck.
He waited, listening to the sounds of his brother's breathing behind him in the tent. He wished he could crawl in there with him, snuggle up like they used to when they were kids, but he didn't fancy waking up to some half-dead thing tearing them apart. He stood up and stretched, his shoulder muscles pulling taut under his stained black shirt.
A small rustle near the other side of the tent grabbed his attention. He stepped around the canvas slowly, but whatever it was skittered away back into the woods when it heard him coming. He sighed and sat back down near the front flap.
He wondered if things were better in Ireland, if his Ma had made it. Maybe she sat over there watching the news of what was going on in America, hoping her boys were alright. Or maybe shit was just as bad. After all, there weren't exactly planes flying overhead dropping little care packages and shit. He had to think that if the rest of the world was untouched, they'd be lending a hand, but what the fuck did he know?
He drew a knee up and rested on it until dawn.
It took them five minutes to break camp, and then they were trekking through the woods once more.
"I was thinking about Ireland again," Murphy said.
"She's fuckin' fine."
"How the fuck do you know?"
"Because she's our fuckin' Ma," Connor said. Things fell quiet save their footsteps.
"Ya think we're anywhere near Atlanta?" Murphy asked. "Think the CDC is even still there?"
"We were almost in Georgia when we lost the fuckin' car," Connor said. "Been going the right way."
"How do you know? Got a map you haven't told me 'bout?" Murphy asked. He tried to ruffle Connor's hair, but he pulled away and smacked Murphy on the arm.
"Fuck you. I know shit." Connor smiled for the first time in days...right before Murphy tackled him, sending them tumbling down a small hill.
Murphy had the upper hand at first while the two skidded through leaves. He pinned Connor down, laughing, but it didn't last long. Connor was on top of him, smacking him playfully.
"I've fuckin' got ya, ya little shit," Connor said. Murphy scrunched up his face. There was another playful tussle, and then the ground disappeared.
"Fuck!" Murphy looked down and found Connor's hands wrapped around his ankle. He looked up and found his own hands white-knuckling a tree root.
"Don't you fuckin' let go," Connor said.
"Wouldn't fuckin' dream of it." Murphy looked down again—and it was a long way down—to a tiny beach and a riverbed. He followed the river with his eyes.
"Fuck. I think there's someone down there," Murphy said. Even from here, he could see the person (Was it still a person?) breathing.
"Breathin'. But..." Murphy didn't have to finish. But that doesn't mean he's alive.
"Can you pull us back up, brother?"
"Fuck no. Think down's our best bet," Murphy said, and to his surprise, Connor started to laugh.
"Know what we could use right about now?" Connor asked, smirking.
"Don't ya fuckin' even-"
"Some fuckin' rope."
"Goddamn't. Just fuckin' see if you can find a way down. My fuckin' hands are tired."
"Alright, alright. Keep your fuckin' panties on." Connor let go of his ankles, and Murph's head snapped down, making sure...
Connor had hold of some more roots. He lowered himself down a bit more, found a foothold.
"See, not a fuckin' problem," Connor said, and then his foot slipped, and he fell the rest of the way down, his legs slamming into the dirt and buckling under him.
"CONNOR!" Murph scrambled down the side of the cliff, so fast he didn't even know how the fuck he'd done it.
"I'm fuckin' fine," Connor said.
"Been through worse, haven't I?" Connor let Murph help him to his feet.
"We should check on him. Send him on if he's one of them." Murphy jerked his head over toward the body. Connor nodded, his arm resting on Murph's shoulder.
They walked cautiously, knowing that if it was a dead thing, it would react as soon as it realized they were there. They stepped over a crossbow and got a good look at the man lying there in the dirt.
"What the fuck?"
"Holy mother..." Connor looked from the man on the ground to his brother and back to the man. "Christ."