Second Dead

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Chapter 6: Outside again

Daybreak found us in the foyer. We wore layered clothes, oversized, which provided adequate protection against bites. The outfits were bulky and not conducive to running. That did not matter so much today. Today, we would fight. Hell, there was no place left to run.

Susan, dressed light and in camo, peered through the sidelight window. Speed, more than protection, served her needs. She turned away from the window; bloodshot eyes showed that she’d been crying. Mom stood at the other window, pulled down her ski mask and told us to get ready.

Chris and Susan nodded. I checked the safety on my pistol and returned it to the holster. Susan and I put arrows to our bowstrings.

Theo pushed away from the wall. Tense and alert, he no longer carried his infuriating air of bored indifference. It unsettled me how he could change so drastically in an instant, very much like switching off a light.

Dad said, “Remember to--”

“Stay in formation,” Chris finished the sentence.

“And Anna--”

“Don’t use the gun unless it’s absolutely necessary,” I completed the sentence this time.

“Good,” Dad grunted. He used the same words, to deliver the same speech, every time we ventured outside.

Dad unholstered the only other pistol we possessed. He would not be outside with us. He and the twins had another job to perform. Chris went out the door, followed by Mom and Theo.

I hesitated and fought against the terror that always welled up in me before a clearing. I gulped and forced my body out the door. The fear never left of course, but I’d mastered it again. With Susan close behind, I hopped off the step and onto the porch.

Dad closed the door. I moved past the moaner tied to the tree and couldn’t help but think he’d seen better days. He wasn’t looking quite himself.

Memories of Calvin, the man, washed over me. This feeling, a fire deep inside, burned in me whenever we prepared to take on moaners. The realization that for every beast we offed today we could save someone’s life made going after them easier.

Two moaners stood in our driveway. Adrenaline burned through my veins. My heart pounded. A wild fever displaced my fear. Grim exhilaration gripped me. Why not? Here I stood in the morning light with the wind in my clean hair. I was free, I was strong, and against all odds, still very much alive. My gaze alighted on a moaner near Calvin’s house.

“Happy birthday,” Susan whispered. She let loose an arrow and took down the moaner.

Fuck, I’m seventeen.

“Woo hoo,” I hissed and rushed toward the driveway to fall in behind the others.

We formed up and went after the two moaners on the driveway. Theo struck first. He crashed his modified bat down onto the moaner closest him. The beast’s skull caved in and the moaner crumpled to the ground. Theo lifted his bat and drove down with the end cap. The bat, his weapon of choice for moaner hunting, had a four-inch long nail in the head.

Chris thrust his rebar spear through his victim and kicked the limp body from his weapon long before gravity pulled the gruesome corpse to the ground. Ten stiffs later, we were in the backyard.

“It’s clear,” Susan said and sprinted toward her tree.

Our fighting formation was Dad’s brainchild. He wanted five people to make up the battle group. Available fighters lacked so we made do with four. The sniper, which happened to be me, directed the squad to its target. I took my guidance from Susan, high up on her perch. The sniper thinned the herd on approach if that proved to be necessary.

Left, center, right, the pokers stayed in formation and did not attempt to take down moaners not in front of their assigned position. The last thing we needed would be to injure someone with a misplaced strike. Should one poker have more than they could handle, the sniper stepped in and lent a hand. Do your job and trust the rest to do theirs; this we trained for daily.

Even without the fifth person, we could take down groups of up to six moaners without serious trouble. Top priority was to prevent herding. Engage the beasts in small numbers and the job proved relatively easy, if unpleasant.

“That’s it,” Chris said.

I gazed around. I eyed Susan in the tree house. She had her back to us. A good sign.

“What a mess,” Theo marveled.

Fence fragments lay all about. Few sections remained intact. The posts still stood at least. Select stretches of fence, which survived the destruction, stood like silent sentinels over the wreckage.

“One more time,” Mom said. She led us down the hill and between our house and Calvin’s.

We did a thorough sweep back into our front yard with its still erect enclosure. Dad peered between the cracks of the boarded up front window. I flashed thumbs up when I walked by.

Susan signaled us. She pointed and dipped three fingers down to indicate there were three targets on the other side of the fence. We caught them unaware and dispatched the moaners without trouble. Susan flashed the all clear. There were moaners up the hill toward the gas station but they seemed to have remained oblivious to our presence.

Secure for the moment, we walked back to Susan’s tree. She asked, “You guys okay?”

“Just another day at the office,” Theo said after he gave Chris a pinkie punch.

“I’m headed up.” Susan stepped onto the tree house rail and pulled herself onto the roof.

“All right, let’s get Dad.” I walked toward the house.

Dad and the twins came out when he saw us walk with our weapons down. All three held plastic bags, full of Christmas lights, electronic cables, and rope.

Dad led us into the back yard and whistled. “Sure did some damage.” His eyes took in the devastation.

He examined the siding, crushed in the mud and said, “Can’t do anything about that. It’s too cold to glue, and I’m sure not going to nail anything.”

Moaners couldn’t see very well or very far, for that matter. Their capacity to smell proved limited, but man could they hear.

Dad began to repair the fences. The twins unwound Christmas lights which he cut into pieces and used to lash sections together. Chris and Theo scrounged up bits of fence that he reattached with wire the best he could contrive. Several sections remained fence free from lack of material. He tied rope and wire between the fence posts to make the sturdiest barrier he could.

While they worked on the fence, Mom and I took up positions on opposite sides of the yard and kept watch. When necessary, we reassembled and scurried off in whatever direction Susan pointed. No more than a few moaners at a time, it wasn’t hard work, just constant. Never before had we attempted to take on so many in a single day. Hours passed. Dad made slow but steady progress.

Finding myself alone with my father, I said, “Dad--”

“Hang on, Anna,” he said while he secured a section of fence.

The twins and Chris strung Christmas lights between the two fence posts that would close the last section of open barrier. Theo took individual planks and weaved them between the wires. When they finished, Dad tied blankets over the wire.

“Not bad. It’ll hold. Not much, but it’ll hold,” he muttered.

“Dad,” I tried again, but nothing followed.

He gazed at me and waited.

I continued in one long rush, “I want you to know I’m not mad at you. About Kenny. You know?” Pausing to collect my thoughts, I continued, “I know you just did what you had to do.”

“Oh, Anna,” he groaned.

“I really wasn’t mad at you,” I continued, determined to set things right. “It’s just-- Everything. This messed up world. The moaners. Kenny not shutting up. Susan blaming me for not keeping him quiet, and then when you. Did it. I--”

“I know, Anna,” he whispered, his eyes tinged with sadness.

“It didn’t seem fair. Everything I had was gone. And then to lose my dog too? It was--” I searched for the right words.

“More than you could handle?”

“Yeah,” I muttered and hung my head.

Dad put both hands on my shoulders. “I want you to know, killing your dog was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”

He dropped his hands and walked toward Susan’s tree. I sensed someone behind me but hardly noticed. I kept my gaze on his back.

I should’ve known. Forced by an unwanted epiphany to acknowledge the truth, I did know. I had known all along. All the sins he’d committed, people he’d let die, people he had-- I couldn’t bear it. With all that on his conscience, killing his little girl’s dog was what hurt him the most. God, what a bitch I’ve been.

I felt so small, very much the little girl my father saw when he looked at me. I fought back my tears. Shame washed over me. How could I be so cruel? I had taken out my fears and insecurities on others: Dad, Susan, even Theo.

I turned away from my family. Theo stood behind me, ever the loyal outdoors buddy. Without thought, without intent, I fell into his arms. I buried my face against his neck and cried. He put his arms around me. After a moment, how long I don’t know, it seemed forever, I realized what I had done. I pushed him away with more force than necessary.

This is how I repay an act of compassion. I couldn’t think. I wouldn’t think. I couldn’t take this anymore. All my confusion, the anger and resentful spite boiled over. So I ran. Against the rules, I knew but no longer cared. Across the brick promenade and into the house, I did not stop until I reached my room. I put my back to the wall, slid down, and hugged my knees in the darkness.

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