Worth the Risk
“They are dead, girl,” I said vehemently to the dark-skinned stranger as I held her by the shoulders. Her cheeks were wet and her dark eyes shined bright with tears. I saw her take a breath to sob again, but I took a hand off her shoulder and brought it to cover her mouth. It helped undoubtedly, but they were quick and their ears seemed to have advanced since they had Turned. They could pick up the faintest of sounds from the furthest of distances. So I had to think fast of a way to shut her up. Without hurting her, I told myself. I thought back to when we were running down the hallway of the house and into the daughter’s bedroom. Her father had shouted her name before being mauled to death. And her dead mother had sat against a wall of the master bedroom, holding a locket with the same name engraved on it. I looked back to the girl. She was about to sob again.
“Christina,” I whispered. It was so light, I was surprised she had even heard me. But she did and recognition of her own name showed blatantly on her face. She looked up and made eye contact with me. I hesitantly took my hand away from her mouth and raised a finger to my lips. She nodded after a second and swallowed back a sob. Her face went eerily calm and I worried for a moment that she would into shock from losing both of her parents in such a short time. I started talking to her. I needed to keep her from freezing up like her mother had only minutes ago, which had ultimately led to her imminent death.
“Christina, grab something to carry a couple of things in. A bag of some kind,” I instructed her. She nodded but waited for me to move first. I looked around the room for the first time. It seemed to belong to her. It was all in black and white and a mirror on her vanity caught my eye for the first time. I looked at my reflection for what seemed like forever. It had been a long while since I had seem myself. When the world was normal, it didn’t seem like such a big deal, but I guess you don’t realize how much you need something until it’s taken away from you. I swallowed and forced myself to look away from the glass. Christina was in her closet throwing clothes into a duffelbag. I looked down at her bare feet and told her to pack her sneakers.
“I don’t own any,” she told me. I stared at her. “I never had any use for them.” I sighed at her uselessness, but nodded anyway. We’d just have to find a new pair for her. “What kind of shoes do you have?” I asked her. Maybe she had boots that I could break the heels off of. In this case, even sandals would do for the time being.
“Well, I-“ She’s cut off by the sudden banging on the door. She jumped and my head whipped around to the doorway. I hadn’t locked it. It flew open, but I was already sliding the black wooden dresser over the entrance. I knew it wouldn’t hold long, so we had to move. I looked around the room another time and realized nothing was heavy enough for what I was about to do. I groaned and grabbed one of the drawers from the dresser. That took away some of the weight and the dresser budged a little more. I could hear the moans and screeches from them. It still gave me chills. I shuddered a breath. I emptied the drawer of clothes and arms started grabbing through the doorway. I stepped toward the only window in the room. I took a deep breath and hurled the drawer at the glass with strength that would impress Will and the others. I would have to tell them later.
The glass shattered, unsurprisingly. I kicked out the extra shards and looked out onto the lawn fifteen feet below. I could make the drop, no doubt. I was more concerned with how Christina would fare. Best case scenario, she would be fine, but I knew that was too much to hope for. The dresser screeched against the wooden floors again as it moved another couple inches. There had to be more than a few trying to get in the room. And I had left my pistol in the van. I silently cursed Caleb for making me leave it.
Another screech of wood on wood brought me back from damning him to hell. I reassessed the situation with a fresh mind. The plan is to jump and hope Will is back from scavenging the other houses in the neighborhood. If not, we go to Plan B, which has yet to be developed.
I look back to Christina, who has started crying again. I seriously consider leaving her. No, can’t do that. I push my hair back and grab her wrist. I pull her over to the window and take her bag. I throw it out and almost cringe when it hits the grass outside. It’s September and the ground is starting to freeze over from the cold. I hope she doesn’t realize that as I push her closer. “You have to jump.” I tell her. I look back to the door, where I see a face of one of them. I accidentally make eye contact. I avert my eyes as fast as I can, but it’s too late. They push harder on the door. “Shit,” I whisper. I just shaved a valuable thirty seconds off of our clock.
“You have to jump,” I urge her again. I can’t jump first for fear that she might not be able to after me. She hesitates. Eye contact.
I can actually see the determination in her eyes gather and the fear dissolve as she gets up on the ledge. She jumps and I knew in that moment that I was glad I hadn’t left her. She had a natural ability to swallow fear and an undeniable will. She would be valuable. I knew it.
I didn’t look as she hit the ground. Instead, I got up on the ledge and crouched. I could faintly hear her feminine whimper, but I block that out. I pause in this position for only a second before the monsters break through the furniture and run at me.
I had always loved the feel of free falling, but in this instance, I hated it. You understand. I hit the ground hard, but managed to roll it out. I stopped in a crouch and grabbed Christina after the world came into focus. Thankfully, she already had a grip on the duffelbag. We took off in a run and I tried to resist cringing as I heard the sound of them falling from the window. The screeches and moans of them all. The crack of bone and the tear of rotten flesh. The fall would have broken their legs to the point where they wouldn’t be able to run anymore. But there would be others in the neighborhood. The fallen residents of the once affluent community. But money doesn’t matter when it’s life and death. What matters is the will and skill to survive.
I was practically dragging Christina through the yard by the wrist. We just had to get to the street in the front. Will would be there. Will should be there. If he wasn’t…
We got to the fence, where there was a lock. A code had to be entered. Christina reached for it to enter the code, but I slapped her hand away.
“We don’t have time,” I said. They could crawl fast on their hands. I looked back at them. Most of them had already covered half of our distance. “Cover your face,” I told her. She obeyed without hesitance. I stepped back and inhaled. With one kick, I broke the lock and the plank of wood it had been attached to. Splinters flew everywhere and I looked away to avoid being hit.
“Come on,” I said. I moved stealthily into the front yard with the young girl right behind me. Not that I turned to check or anything. Because I didn’t. We moved quietly, but still quickly. I knew we wouldn’t stand a chance if we ran into Runners. On a plain, straight stretch of road, they would kill us before we could run a quarter mile. Not that we wouldn’t have made it that far with her condition. And I wasn’t planning on leaving her.
We stayed close to her house. I peaked around the corner. I froze. They were everywhere. I pulled my head back to the cover of the wall. I ran through my options. They were limited.
On the one hand, we could run… and we wouldn’t make it to the next house thirty yards away.
On the other hand, we could wait for Will to show up. And we couldn’t do that either with the Limps just behind the gate.
I turned to Christina once again. “Here’s the plan,” I whispered and cleared my throat. “Don’t argue. I’m gonna go out there and yell for my people. I’ll distract them and you’re gonna run over to your neighbor’s house over there.” I point to the house closest to us. I pray it’s empty. “You’ll wait there, lock the doors, okay? Wait there until you hear gunshots. Then look if it’s clear. You’ll see one of my people, okay? Their names are Will and Caleb. They’re my cousin and brother. If – when they find you, tell them Tris had found you, but she had to leave, okay?”
She nods in understanding. I know she’s confused. She doesn’t know how I get out of this alive. I don’t tell her I won’t. She doesn’t need that on her conscience. We stand to go, but I turn to her one more time. “Oh, and Christina,” I say. She looks at me expectantly. “Just… let them know I loved them.” I smiled at her. It was the most comforting thing I could do at the moment. She nodded once again. At least she could follow orders. I hug her and turn once again to run.
In all my years on this Earth, people had always made it seem like a big thing to die. It was something people would cry over, but the truth was, it was inevitable. Someone is always carrying a bullet for you, unknowingly. The goal is to avoid that person, that bullet, until you’ve died of another cause, but even then, you’re still dead. Death still found you. In a way, I knew I would die like this. Ever since the world went to shit, I knew I would die like this. I guess I just didn’t know it would be this sudden. At least Christina had the chance of living. And the others would remember me.
So it wasn’t that difficult to run into the street and yell for Will. I saw the Runners heads pop up as they heard me too. I saw Christina running for her life in the direction of the empty house. I hoped she would make it.
“Will!” I shouted. “Caleb! Guys! I’m here!!”I even cupped my hands to make it louder. But there was no need for that. I turned as the familiar sputter of a van starting nearby. My eyes locked onto the neutral black van parked only a few yards from my position. The side door slid open and Caleb hopped out with an M-16, fully loaded apparently, because he started firing into the crowd of Runners, whose attention had been caught from the very first noise they had heard.
I heard Will shout at me from the driver’s seat. “Get in the van, Priors!” he shouted. I had to stop myself from smiling. This was not a time for that. I almost got in, but stopped when I remembered Christina. The girl I had basically sent to death.
I held up a finger. “Christina!” I shouted into the neighborhood. She would hear me, but I just hoped she would obey me one more time. “Christina, come out here! Our ride’s here!” I cupped my hands to project louder. The door of the house opened a crack and she hesitantly stepped out. I was glad she had made it. The plan would have worked if Will and Caleb hadn’t shown up.
“We haven’t got all day, Tris,” Caleb shouted to me. “I’m running out.” I nodded to him and got in the van. He followed close behind me, still spraying bullets into the horde of bodies.
I waved my hands at Christina. “Come on!” She didn’t hesitate anymore. She did a full sprint towards the van and threw the bag in. I caught it and kept it from knocking Caleb out. Will started driving as I had instructed. We couldn’t wait for Christina to be safely in. We had to start accelerating. Apparently, this didn’t click for her. Her eyes widened and her feet sped up.
“You’re gonna have to jump in at twenty miles per hour,” I told her. It wasn’t even that much, but I could tell she hadn’t done it before. “You can do it. You have to do it.” I felt bad saying this after making her jump out of the window and hurting her ankle or foot, or whatever. But life was hard. Especially this one.
I locked my arms with hers and Caleb helped me lift her into the van. When she was finally safely in, he picked up the M-16 and started shooting again. I slid the door shut again and pulled chain above me to turn the light bulb on. It shined bright in the dark van. The windows were all tinted and there was a partition separating the front from the back.
I handed Christina her bag and smiled a sad smile. “I’m sorry about your parents, Christina,” I apologized. “I’m sure you’d like some alone time.” I looked to Caleb, who had since closed the back doors after we had picked up enough speed to lose the Runners.
I addressed him. “Caleb, leave her alone, but if she needs anything, tell me,” I told him. He nodded and reloaded his weapon. I gave him a pointed look. He set it down and cleared his throat.
I touched Christina’s shoulder once more. “I’ll be up front.”
I moved over and slid open the partition. I crawled through and into the passenger seat. I didn’t bother with the seatbelt. It had been broken by the time Will and I had found and hotwired it.
Will glanced over at me for a second but I stared forward. He was driving towards the exit of the gated community. We hadn’t been here before, but he and Caleb had managed to get a layout of the entire housing area. That was the last section we were sectioned. By now, everything had been looted or too infected to try. We would have to move camp now. The others wouldn’t be happy to hear that.
“Hmm,” Will said. “I was expecting Caleb.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” I replied sassily. I was craving our humorous banter from before. Things had been too serious as of late. That was understandable, though. No one person was to blame. Just the entire population of Earth.
Will smiled at my response. “Where to, Captain?” he asked me.
“Where else?” I replied.
No one spoke for the rest of the hour-long drive.