Playing With Fire

Chapter Five

Harlow

I wiped my sweaty palms against my jeans as I crouched on the pavement, leaning back against the bumper of the beat up pick-up truck. The handle of my knife still felt slippery in my hand as I watched the herd of walkers pass me by. I lost count, but there had to be at least over two dozen of them. I always thought it was so strange how they moved in packs like that, like wild animals. In a way, I guess they were. Always on the hunt for their next meal. Which sure as hell wasn't going to be me.

I should've known it was a bad idea to come this far into the city. Even the outskirts were infested, though not nearly as bad as downtown areas. For some reason, the government had decided it was a good idea to cram everyone into one place to keep safe. Obviously, it backfired on them. All it took was one person getting bit and then the infection was spreading like wildfire. Everyone knew you didn't go into cities unless you were desperate. I wasn't desperate. I was just stupid. At least I was aware of that.

I was passing through on my way south. Didn't really have anywhere specific to go but it was never safe to stay in one place for too long, so I was always moving. I should've went right by Atlanta and stayed on the back roads. But I couldn't stop thinking about my brother. Austin's last apartment had been here before he had gotten deployed. He lived in a high rise on the lower East end and had sub-leased the place to friend while he was stationed in Japan. I couldn't stop myself from wanting to go to his apartment. I knew I wouldn't find anything there. He was gone, still overseas. Dead or alive, I had no way of knowing. The idea of seeing anything that belonged to him, though, was all I could think about.

I never made it there, needless to say. I hadn't gotten very far into the city before I realized what a bad idea it was. The walkers ended up turning me right back around. I had never seen so many of them in one place before. They were packed into the streets almost shoulder to shoulder. Just standing around and waiting. It sent chills down my spine. You never got used to those things walking around. No matter how many times you saw them.

So now here I was, squeezed in between two bumpers of two parked cars waiting to make my grand escape. It was so stupid. I wasted half a day trying to get somewhere that I knew I wouldn't be able to. I shook my head, annoyed with myself. I watched as the last of the walkers trudged past me, dragging their feet. I waited an extra minute longer in case there were any stragglers. When I was finally sure the coast was clear, I booked it. I ran as fast as I could, leaving the dirty, infested streets and crumbling skyscrapers behind me. I didn't stop until I was finally out on the open highway among the graveyard of abandoned cars.

I made my way over to the rusted pick-up parked carefully in the long line of cars. It seemed like as good a place as anything to hide my ride. Right in plain view, but still hidden. Most people stayed away from the highway. Not only because it wasn't safe (herds seemed to like traveling the highways for whatever reason) but because most of the cars had already been syphoned and ransacked back in the early days of the outbreak. Of course, I highly doubted anyone came this close to the city anymore. I hadn't seen anyone for….Wait, I had almost forgotten about that jackass I'd nearly pumped full of bullets the other day. Damn, he was the first face I'd seen in I don't know how long.

I fished the truck keys out of my back pocket before climbing in the cab and starting the engine right up. I carefully pulled out onto the road and pressed down on the pedal, putting as much space between me and that damn city as fast as I could. My mind wandered back to that one handed idiot. He was a perfectly good example of why I chose to stay away from other people. They were reckless and rude. Especially the man. It was like as soon as the world fucking ended, women's right went right along with it. I would say chivalry went with it too, but now that I thought about it, that shit was gone long before the end of the world.

That stump of his had looked pretty bad, though. I hadn't gotten a close look, but I could tell from the black scab that stretched over it that he had cauterized it himself. Wouldn't really help all that much. Sure, it'd stop the bleeding but he probably had already lost too much blood. And if anything, he was going to get infection anyways with it not being bandaged up or anything. Fucking idiot. He was probably dead within the next week. I wrinkled my nose, shaking my head. I'd seen some fucked up shit and I was adding that to the last. You would think having spent the last couple of years as a paramedic that I'd seen everything, but nope. Nothing they teach you there prepares you to watch someone eat another person's intestines. Gross.

I drove until the sun sank and the sky was pitch black, and even then I kept going a while longer. Most people thought it wasn't safe to travel at night, but I thought that was bullshit. The walkers didn't care what time of day it was. They'd eat you the same at midnight as they would at two in the afternoon. For Christ's sake they were zombies, not vampires. I liked night better anyways. It was easier to go unnoticed. It was probably pretty late by the time I finally decided to stop for the night. I pulled my truck over onto the side of the road, hoping the trees would provide enough cover to go unnoticed. I planned on being out of here before the sun rose completely anyways. I didn't need much sleep to function. Being on your own, you had to learn to sleep with one eye open.

So I crashed for what I knew would only be a short while. When I finally got up, it was dark still but I could tell from the purple-ish hue of the sky that it wouldn't be that way for long. Pretty soon, the sun would be coming up and I'd be sweating my ass off. Damn Georgia heat. Too bad it didn't bother the walkers. All it did was make them smell pretty ripe. I ate a few handfuls of really dry Frosted Flakes before heading back out on the row. Not for the first, I wanted milk really badly. Which was weird, because before all of this I never ate cereal and I never even liked milk. I supposed that was me adapting or something like that. That's what they would say on the Discovery channel at least.

I had been driving for at least an hour when I spotted a car in the road up ahead and had to slow down. "Really?" I mumbled quietly to myself. Some jackass just had to abandon his car in the middle of the road? Of course. Even in an apocalypse people still couldn't be considerate. I was debating if there was enough room for me to go around without getting stuck in the muddy ditch when something in the back of my mind was triggered. I think it was the two tone paint of the car, or maybe the dice hanging from the rearview mirror. This looked a hell of a lot like the car that jackass was trying to steal back in the city. Looked like he hadn't gotten very far. My eyes slid over to the still ajar driver's side door. It was just hanging open. Something about it set me on edge.

"Son of a bitch." I let out a sigh. All I could picture in my head was this guy finally feeling the effects of all that blood he lost and crawling off into the woods to die. It wasn't my problem though. I knew I should just drive around the car and keep going. Not something for me to worry about. I didn't move, though. I still sat there staring at the open car door. A defeated groan finally escaped out of me. Why did I have to care? Why the fuck did I feel the need to be a god damn hero? I wasn't a paramedic anymore. It wasn't my job to save people. Still, that thought didn't stop me from putting my truck in park, shouldering my backpack, and hopping out.



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