Everything had been fine.
One moment, they’d been content, tired, and worn out from days of battle. But they’d been rescued. Safe, or something like that. Nick had been stiff with distrust, of course – “if anyone had known what they were doing, we’d never have been in this mess in the first place!” Rochelle had been drifting off into slumber, despite an amazing amount of racket from the helicopter. Ellis was just dancing in his seat with giddiness (“A helicopter? Cool!”), and Coach had been settled and thanking God for mercy.
It had been a growl that had gotten Nick’s attention. Ellis had been gazing out the side with wide eyes at the forestry below, Coach’s eyes were closed, and Rochelle was too half-conscious to notice anything. Nick had looked towards the cockpit, eyes widening when he had seen their pilot clambering out of his seat with wild eyes and an equally wild grimace contorting his expression.
Ellis’ head had lifted at the sound of an Infected snarl growing closer, and he’d twisted in his seat to investigate, eyes wide and horrified. Coach’s eyes had snapped open and he’d grabbed Rochelle’s arm to rouse her. The helicopter had started swaying just as Nick had stood up, taken aim and killed the “zombie” without a second thought. Ellis had gaped at him, horrified – “Nick, you shot the pilot!”
The hillbilly had been about to unbuckle himself and get up as well, but Nick had snarled at him to stay put. Just then, the flying mechanism jerked violently. Nick had lost his footing, his head slamming into vibrating metal and the world spinning away into darkness.
The landing had been harsh, chopper blades snapping loudly and flying through trees as they spun and skidded to a stop, the wet ground soaked enough to keep the gasoline-filled tank beneath them from igniting. For a long moment, they sat in shaken silence. Ellis could practically feel Coach’s rattled nerves, he could almost hear Rochelle’s thundering heartbeat even though he wasn’t sitting next to her. He couldn’t even muster up his sense of humor to lighten the mood.
After taking a moment to regain his senses, he all but tore off the belts holding him in place and stumbled out of the chopper, blue eyes frantically searching the area. He could hear Rochelle and Coach fumbling around behind him, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that he wasn’t armed, Ellis would’ve gladly risked alerting all the nearby zombies by starting to caw for Nick.
Ellis had seen Nick’s head connect with the side of the helicopter moments before he’d lost his footing and fallen right out of the thing altogether. If the chopper hadn’t chosen that moment to start spinning in midair, Ellis would probably have thrown himself out after the conman. As it was, he’d just about yelled himself hoarse when he’d seen the guy fall. There was – even in his naturally optimistic mind – no way Nick could’ve survived that fall. They ‘d been flying above the trees, and it wasn’t likely they could count on there being a nicely sized, very durable trampoline to be conveniently placed right where Nick had landed. No way.
But still, Ellis couldn’t bring himself to imagine that Nick was dead.
Someone grabbed his arm roughly and turned him around, startling him out of his wits. Oh, right, he was still accompanied by two other survivors.
“We got to move,” Coach was no-nonsense, “We ain’t armed and that racket probably just attracted everythin’ in a hundred mile radius.”
Ellis’ lips parted, but no sound came out. He nodded mutely, swallowing hard as he suddenly remembered that, yes, they were in massive amounts of danger. Again. They paused for just a moment to scan the trees, looking for anything … lights, signs of previous life… anything to point them in the direction of shelter. There wasn’t anything, though. Rochelle glanced to the sky, looking for the direction of the setting sun.
After a few moments, she pointed into the dimming forest and hiccuped slightly around her words as she spoke. “West is that way,” she forced out, lowering her hand and smoothing out her shirt briefly, trying to keep herself calm after what’d just happened, “We go f-far enough that way, we’re bound to find something…”
Coach nodded, “Good enough for me,” he agreed, glancing at Ellis. The brunette nodded again, still wrapped up in his own thoughts. Nick? Dead? No, that… that couldn’t be right. He had half a mind to tell them they should head in the direction they’d flown from; maybe they could find the conman. Despite Coach’s reservations about traveling with someone like Nick, the lot of them had become pretty close. Sure, Nick was still a pessimist and never passed up an opportunity to tell Ellis to shut up, or to insult the Midnight Riders, or to flirt shamelessly with Rochelle in the worst of moments, but he was still one of them.
Losing him made Ellis feel impossibly mortal and he didn’t like it. He’d never been so painfully aware of the beating, fragile heart in his chest, or the lungs that could be filled with blood, or the bones that cracked all too easily, or the danger that surrounded his every living moment.
He suddenly realized that he couldn’t guarantee he was going to live, and if anything in this rotten world scared him, it was that particular piece of knowledge.
God only knew where he was in the world.
Actually, scratch that. God probably didn’t know either.
Despite falling out of a helicopter, Nick didn’t feel particularly injured. His throbbing head was currently the only part of him that hurt in any way. Perhaps he’d landed on a nicely sized, very durable trampoline that had been conveniently placed right where he’d landed. Not likely, but entirely possible. He sucked in a deep breath, slowly cracking his eyes open. It was dark, wherever he was, and quiet. He couldn’t see the sky, and upon closer inspection he discovered that he was actually under a roof.
He honestly had no interest in aggravating his headache, but he wanted to know where he was and what had happened. So, after a moment’s deliberation, he carefully began lifting himself up. Once in a seated position, he looked around the shelter and swallowed to wet his throat. It was too dark to really see anything, but he was able to pick out a few key objects – a relatively shredded sofa, a broken wood stove, a table with two chairs, the third smashed up in the corner of the room. Whoever had brought him here, they appeared to have tried to “tidy up” by shoving things into corners. But that person was nowhere in sight. Perhaps they’d gone scavenging or something.
Whatever the case may be, Nick didn’t like the deep claw marks he spotted on the walls. Almost like someone had been sharpening their claws on it, but way too large and high up to be the work of a cat. And he was pretty sure there weren’t any tigers in the area. At least, none that would rescue him from certain death.
He cleared his throat, testing the surroundings. Nothing around him stirred or started at the sound. He was alone, at least for now. Slowly, Nick swung his legs to the side, standing up from the musty, uncomfortable mattress-like object he’d been laying on. He worked his way over to the nearest window and peered outside. It was quiet out there, but way too dark for him to be traveling alone.
And unarmed, the conman reminded himself in mild frustration, patting his hip just to be sure. He was unarmed and alone. Unless whoever rescued him from certain death was willing to hand over a gun or two from wherever, he wouldn’t be able to even try finding that chopper. He had no idea if the others were alive, but he wasn’t about to risk his own life to try finding them when he had no idea which way that chopper had even gone and the woods around him were pretty much pitch black. He’d wait until morning. Surely by then that person would be back and they could have a calm discussion about the immediate future.
Nick muttered a curse to himself. If they had survived, they would probably assume he was dead and start working their way west without him. His chances of catching up were low, but perhaps they had also stopped for the night. If they had, though, it was going to take him time to catch up with them. What if they found a car, or got a ride from another chopper? He didn’t exactly like being stuck with three strangers, but he didn’t want to be left out in the apocalypse by himself either.
Clicking his tongue agitatedly, he stepped over to the uncomfortable mattress he’d woken up on. He wasn’t going to get much sleep tonight, but he could at least try. It’d do him no good to be tired the following day. After packing the moldy blankets against the wall, he leaned back into them and closed his eyes. He was anything but comfortable, but he wanted to be in a position to see anyone (or anything) that came into the one-room house.
Nick sat there for at least two hours, waiting, before he decided to abandon waiting up for his rescuer.
He shuddered at the thought and sank back against the smelly cushioning behind him. Once he’d decided not to wait, sleep found him easily. Nick didn’t wake through the night, and he couldn’t help but be thankful for that. At some point, he could’ve sworn he heard someone enter the house, but the sound didn’t fully wake him. He’d talk to the guy in the morning.