Chapter Twenty Eight
Gwen threw her weight into an infected and knocked it off balance, slamming her knife into its throat and driving it upwards into the skull. She watched as it dropped to the ground at her feet.
None of her prior thoughts about how the infected might have the person they once were inside of them plagued her, she didn’t think about who they were, didn’t think about how they were once people. She just ended their lives quickly, no second thoughts.
“Gwen! To your left!” Zeke called. She swung around, and found herself face to face with an infected, in the body of a man that may have once intimidated her. He was bigger than Nick, with his face twisted in a silent gruesome scream.
She tightened her grasp around the knife before taking a half step back to avoid his advances, and then she struck. She forced the blade into his chest and twisted it before ripping it out. Her arms shook with strain, but she ignored it, spinning on her heel as she heard the body hit the road with a thud that seemed to echo into her soul.
There weren’t many more infected left to deal with, but to her alarm, she couldn’t see as many people of her group that she should. Panic washed over her, and she wondered who was injured, or who was dead. She wondered who they would have to leave behind this time, with the words that had been spoken far too much.
The fight tapered off, and for a moment, Gwen waited and expected to hear Leigh call out for them, but her voice was absent, gone away with death. She hesitated, before she called out, her voice shaking slightly. “Everyone good?”
There were a few calls of affirmations, but there weren’t enough. “Who’s down?” Lukas asked, wiping sweat away from his forehead with his arm. The months were getting hotter now, and Gwen wasn’t looking forward to running in this kind of heat. She wasn’t looking forward to running for her life either.
“Oliver’s down.” Dave said solemnly, his hand pressed tightly against his shoulder, blood staining his hand, his face pale. “He won’t make it. He was just a kid.”
“Shit.” James said quietly. “Anyone else?”
“I’m injured, but I’ll be okay.” Ariana said, a gash bleeding sluggishly on her chin, and her arm pressed flush against her body.
“I’m injured too; I’m not sure how long I’ll last.” Dave hesitated. “I won’t make it with you guys, not to the end. We don’t have anything to disinfect a wound like this. I could go back, towards the other group. I could create a distraction long enough for you guys to get some distance.”
“No.” Zeke said almost immediately, echoed by Gwen, but the others didn’t say a word. She turned towards them, feeling furious.
“Haven’t we lost enough?” She growled, but Kel was quick to make his argument.
“It doesn’t work that way.” He argued. “Dave isn’t going to make it trying to run with us. If he doesn’t die from the wound being unclean, he’ll die from exhaustion, or something close to that. At least this way, he’d die an honourable death and he’ll buy us some time.”
“It’s not like we’re forcing him to go, Gwen.” Ariana said in a softer tone of voice. “He offered, and if he doesn’t want to do it, he doesn’t have to.”
“I don’t want to say goodbye to another person.” Zeke said, shaking his head. “I’m sick of saying goodbye.”
“One way or another, you will. That’s just the way it is.” James argued. “It fucking sucks, I know, but there’s an opportunity for us to get a head start.”
“Listen.” Lukas said, cutting into the argument. “A choice needs to be made now, and majority rules. The other group is catching up on us, so Dave if you want to go, then please go knowing that you have all of our respect, and if you don’t want to, run with us and we won’t think any lesser of you. We have to go. Now.”
“For them.” Dave said. “That’s what you guys have been saying right? Well now, I’m doing it for them, and I’m doing it for you.”
“Dave.” Zeke said quietly, looking like the words were stuck in his throat. He coughed and sighed, sounding broken. “Thank you.” He said finally.
Dave offered him a smile, a real smile that wasn’t like the broken ones that everyone had replaced their normal smiles with. Gwen bit her lip, swallowing and forcing back tears. She hardly even knew the guy; she didn’t know what to say to him.
“Farewell, my brother. I only hope the life following this is easier.” James said, stepping forward and grabbing the man, bringing him into a quick hug. “Be strong.” He whispered. “Do it for them.”
“For you.” Dave added and offered them one last smile before turning away, and Gwen watched him break into a run and he seemed unhindered by his injury.
In fact, he seemed fine.
“That son of a bitch.” Zeke said quietly, before turning away and breaking into a run the opposite way, the others copying the action, but Gwen paused for a moment, watching Dave for another few seconds before he blurred out of focus. She almost wanted to go after him, but shook her head.
And then she ran with the rest of them, with Dave in her mind as the man who had played off a minor injury to be something more severe, just to save them.
She thought that next time she saw him, she just might slap him.
“Do you think he regrets it?” Gwen asked, some hours later. Her knees were now trembling with the strain of standing, and she ached more than she thought was physically possible.
Dave’s sacrifice had been enough to by their group some time, and they had gained quite a fair bit of distance, no one wanting his sacrifice to be for nothing. They were all exhausted with how hard they were pushing themselves, but no one dared to stop.
“No.” Lukas said in a firm voice. “He was an honourable man, I could tell that even though I hardly knew him. He wouldn’t have regretted saving our lives, not in the slightest.”
“Do you think he’s dead or do you think that they took him back to the hospital?” James asked.
“As much as I hate to say it, I hope that they killed him on sight. He doesn’t deserve to go back to that hell.” Nick said.
“No one ever deserved to be in that hell.” Lukas said, and no one could disagree with that. Gwen hated that place, she would never be able to think of hospitals as places of healing anymore, would never be able to adjust to the fact that doctors wanted to help instead of destroy.
“Do you think they’re ever going to find a cure?” Ariana asked Lukas.
The man shrugged. “It’s possible. They found something that would repel the infection from healthy people, so they might be close to a breakthrough for a cure.”
“The City got that far too, the repelling of the sickness and they had started to make work towards a cure, but the side effects were too severe to ever be used.”
“They were confident in their latest batch of cures, and they tested it on Gwen because she was infected. How do you feel Gwen? Are you suddenly cured? Is the world monochrome to you again?”
She took a moment to evaluate herself, but shook her head. “Still infected and I still see the colour, the only thing that the cure did was make me really sore and tired.”
“Sounds like the opposite of what they were aiming for.” James muttered. “They were probably aiming to get a cure and then create their test subjects into superheroes.”
“Sounds like the plot to a crappy movie.” Zeke said, and Kel snorted.
“Our life is a crappy movie.”
“It’d probably be titled something really cheesy too.” Ariana said. “Any suggestions?”
“Probably ‘The Day I Got Infected by The Disease and Then Tried to Save the World’.” Lukas said, sounding quite pleased with the title.
“Too long.” Gwen said, frowning. “All the crappy movies had short titles. How about, ‘Infected: The Real Story’?”
“Be quiet.” Kel said suddenly, cutting off any chance for future conversation. He paused in his walking, and the others did too. Gwen strained her hearing and turned around, squinting into the darkness. She could very faintly see light.
“Shit. That’s them. They caught up quickly.” Lukas muttered. “They’ve also got light, and we don’t.”
“We need to run.” Gwen said, though she dreaded the idea of it. She didn’t want to run, she was tired and the only thing that was keeping her going was the thought of Chris and Ryan, of Dave and his sacrifice, of everything that she had lost.
“Don’t give up.” Zeke told her, sensing her exhaustion. “We’re all tired, but we’ll make it.”
“Make it to where?” She asked, suddenly desolate at the idea of them being so close, at the thought of having to run again even though she felt she could run no longer. “What if there isn’t anywhere to go and they just keep running after us until they corner us?”
“Don’t think like that.” James almost growled at her, grabbing her arm as he broke into a run, forcing her to either run with him or be dragged behind him. Her legs felt unsteady, like she had never used them before.
“For them.” Zeke reminded her, running at her side.
“For them.” She echoed tiredly, but forced herself to run that little bit faster. “For them.”
Running in the dark was never a good idea, bad things could happen when you were moving so fast in an environment when you can hardly see. Gwen should’ve expected it, should’ve seen it coming. One of them were bound to trip, though Gwen had always thought it’d be her.
Lukas had been the one to trip, hitting the ground heavily. Gwen turned to him, ready to offer him a hand, but he shook his head.
“Go.” He told her, his voice taking a no-nonsense tone. “If I don’t catch up, remember me as the kind hearted police man that was also really cool.”
“I don’t want to leave you behind.” She argued, her voice taking a hysterical edge. They had left far too many people behind, and she wasn’t about to leave behind the man that had gotten them out of that hell. She grabbed at his arm, but he pushed her away and struggled to his knees.
His knees had taken a lot of damage, and they were obviously too injured for him to go on. Despite that she went to grab for him again, but like before, he shoved her away.
“Go!” He snapped, throwing his head over his shoulder. The other group weren’t too far behind, almost invisible in the dark if it weren’t for the beam of light from their torches. “I can’t run on these legs.” He said, gesturing towards them. “I’m not young enough to keep up with you guys anymore. Let me be, let me go down in my blaze of glory.
She muffled a sob. By now, Kel had run back grabbing her elbow. “Leave him, Gwen.” He told her. “He’ll only slow us down otherwise.”
She nodded slowly, choking back tears. She took in a breath and reached for the man’s face, pulling his chin to look at her. “Thank you for everything.” She whispered, barely audible and almost lost in the night, but he heard it, and that was all that mattered.
“You’re welcome.” He said, offering a smile, not unlike Dave’s. Gwen steeled herself, and turned around, beginning to run again. She felt weighed down now, felt heavy and like she was trying to run through sucking mud that was determined to pull her down.
“We’ll make it.” Kel assured her, grabbing her wrist and running with her. “We’ll make it.”
“We’ll make it.” She repeated, and pretended that she couldn’t feel how cold his hand was in hers.