Crossing T's Dotting I's
A/N: We’re slowly but surely making progress to where our lovely cast will end up. I’m sorry that I did the typical writer thing where I kill off the parents because I’m too lazy to keep up with that many characters. But anyway, enjoy this chapter! I’ll make it up to you guys I swear. Triggering and graphic content ahead!
I had actually managed to style Alisha’s hair while we were tearing across the desert back to the highway. It was simple. But it would stop an infected from grabbing her hair easily as she had quite a lot of it. When the highway of abandoned cars came into sight we saw about a hundred infected lulling around the stretch of cement.
“Looks like we’re gonna get our hands dirty.” Daniel sighed, hopping out of the driver’s seat.
We all got out, sharing looks of nervousness. If we didn’t take this chance, and get to the road for gas, we’d be stranded out here.
“They’ll have to come in between the cars. That means only a few at a time will be able to make it through.” I proposed.
“If we rotate out we can outlast them.” I finished, catching everyone’s attention.
Alisha was highly intelligent when it came to her field. But my knowledge of strategy actually came from playing copious amounts of strategy-based video games over the years.
“That sounds risky.” Adanna warned.
“I’ll add a blanket of safety.” I proposed, tugging everyone’s minds back to the positive.
“Anyone who is too afraid can get on top of some of the SUV’s right there.” I began.
“If I see too many while I’m up there too. I’ll run across the tops of the cars to draw them back and away so we can reset.” I concluded.
The idea was wild. But high risk, high reward is how you had to play difficult situations like these.
“I’m in.” Jonas agreed, probably trying to get this over with.
“We’re a pretty capable group.” Blake smiled, extending his fist out to me.
“Then it’s decided?” I asked, connecting with him, looking back at everyone with me.
“Excuse my language. But let’s fuck some shit up.” Alisha cheered, seeming fired up.
She too understood why I planned this. She understood the reward was us making it to the ranch. And the risk was dying to the desert or the infected. We quietly trekked across the scorching sands up onto the highway. We kept quiet, Alisha quickly killing off an infected with a pocket knife Daniel had found for her. We paused, looking around as she held the body up to prevent it from falling clumsily. Once in the clear, I gave her a nod to set it down. And with that, I climbed atop the SUV’s alongside Blair and Madison.
I looked back at everyone just as they got into a line, spaced out just enough to duck out of the way to take a breather. I mouthed to the silently to ask if they were ready, getting nods as an assortment of what would usually be tools turned into weapons. I only needed to make a small sound, I didn’t want to draw any others from further up the highway. Tapping my sword on the hood of the old SUV, it instantly caught the attention of the infected which came snarling and running our way. It was like a conveyor belt as they dropped at our line of defense. All the while I’d tap my sword on the roof of the SUV.
I noticed a few stragglers breaking off from the highway, probably to come at us from a different angle. It was scary how they had problem-solving skills still. I’d have to study that when I had the time. I readied an arrow, lining up a shot. Releasing the arrow I dropped the tweaker running off into the desert to flank us. I readied another, picking off another deviant.
“There’s too many of them at once.” Alisha alerted me as she swapped out with Ellis.
I had considered this variable, getting ready to launch my body into action. I set my bow down on the roof of the SUV, gripping my sword tighter as I leaped from the roof to the trunk of a sedan in front of me. I landed a bit clumsily, forcing myself up and out of the reach of the infected that were grasping at my legs. I did a quick spin, catching my bearings before taking off, leaping from car to car.
“Come and get me!” I shouted, catching their attention just as I expected as well.
I was slowly becoming more and more athletic as this wore on. So I was able to keep it up for quite a ways. I managed to put some distance between me and the infected. I saw the crowd had split, some following me, the others rushing for everyone else. I hopped to my left, scrambling up atop an SUV. I needed their attention on me. If they rushed back with the other infected they’d be overwhelmed again. I hopped down from the SUV onto the sand below, calling for the infected with a yell.
It was about thirty. If I tired now, I’d die. So I dug deep, casting aside the sheath of my sword. If I ran back to them I’d break the formation. I could die here. My heart was racing along with my thoughts as an infected came leaping at me. I spun, slicing straight through its head as it launched at me. I had no idea how to use this sword, but I forged on, subduing the anxiety bubbling in the pit of my stomach. One mistake is all it would take. I stepped back to distance myself as three more came at me. I swung the deathly sharp blade, cutting them all down neater than expected. I backed up some more, risking a quick glance behind me.
That same predatory sensation I had before came back as I cut down more and more. I would have expected to be exhausted by now but I forged on until my wrists began to hurt. A spin here, a slash there, the beige sand was stained in dark red blood as I cut down infected after infected as they came. Suddenly my streak was ruined as I lost my footing, falling back. My luck was the worst as an infected dived down after me. But the snarling abruptly ended as a bolt pierced its skull, the body falling short of me. I looked in the direction it came from to see Blake saluting me with a crossbow in hand. I recovered, hopping up off the sand to finish off the few infected that remained. I took the aggressive, lunging for them and dispatching them as they came for me.
When it was all said and done, I was left panting, hands holding me up as I hunched over in an attempt to catch my breath. I heard a soft whistle from the others as I couldn’t bring myself to look at all the dead bodies I had cut down. Flicking the blood from my blade I scooped up my sheath as I retrieved Blake’s crossbow bolt. I quickly made my way back to them as Jonas finished off the last infected.
“Any bites?” I asked, still trying to catch my breath.
“It all worked out.” Madison informed me.
“You’re so badass.” Blake commented, giving me a small round of applause.
“Crazy is more like it.” My sister huffed, making her way through the small crowd of us.
“You could have died.” She scolded.
“High risk, higher reward.” I said simply, gesturing to the now clear highway.
I retrieved my bow and Jonas discussed with everyone what cars to look for as we were all collaborating for the time being. I went around to the back of his truck, rummaging through my bag for something to clean my sword with before the blood dried. I busied myself doing that while everyone set to work around me. I knew cars pretty well. It would be easier finding fuel for Blake’s group as their vehicle ran off of gasoline. Jonas’ truck ran off of diesel fuel; which was harder to find. After I cleaned my weapon, I inspected it, seeing that it held up nicely to all the abuse I had just put it through. Perhaps it could help me save on arrows if I learned to use it more effectively. Though it limited me to open spaces. Anything tight I’d have to get more hands-on. Hopping off of the tailgate of the truck, I closed it behind me, setting off the highway, surveying cars, stepping over the occasional dead infected.
Everyone else was doing the same, a bit of chatting going on as we went about our task. I examined the cars closely, seeing that some seemed to show signs of simply being left as keys were just left in the ignition. There was one in particular that caught my attention. Big enough for all of us and our things should we choose to take it. Though deep down I knew that was out of question. Jonas had a connection to that truck and I don’t think he’d like the idea of leaving it behind for something else. It was more effective to swap. But a compromise could be made, so I’d make it.
Plus it had its benefits. It could traverse many different types of terrain. It could pull a lot. And it had a range extension due to modifications Jonas made to it over the years. I tugged myself from my thoughts and pulled on the handle of the SUV I was inspecting. Surprisingly it opened, the heat seeming to amplify a fragrant air freshener. I unlocked the rest of the doors of the abandoned car. It was relatively new. So perhaps it would have had a medical kit of some sort in the trunk. I nearly froze in my tracks as I saw splashes and drops of blood telling a story. A small dried up trail grew and grew the further along the SUV I walked. Once at the trunk there was a large puddle of dried blood, signs of struggle seen in the form of bloodied hands attempting to open the trunk. Opening it, I saw just what I was looking for instantly.
I closed the trunk after I took out the medical kit that seemed to sit perfectly atop suitcases. Walking back around to the driver’s seat, I climbed inside. The heat was almost unbearable. But I grasped for the ignition, heaving a sigh of relief as it was there. I twisted it, just enough to see the fuel level. Even better it was a little over half full. Blake and his friends could probably fill up off of this. Just when I was about to get out, I heard a sound. Nearly jumping out of my skin and cutting down whatever was coming for me I saw it was just who I was thinking about.
“You shouldn’t just sneak up on people in times like this.” I sighed, placing a hand over my rapidly beating heart.
“You just looked like a forensics investigator or whatever they’re called.” He smirked, leaning against the open door.
“Thanks for saving me back there.” I told him, as it came to mind.
“You were on a roll. Had to keep you going anyway I could.” He shrugged.
“Well. This one is nearly full. It should fill you guys up.” I told him, hopping out of the SUV.
“Thanks man. We’ll stay behind and help you guys find that coveted diesel for the help. All of the cars so far have been left on until they burnt out of fuel.” He said, sounding relieved.
“Yeah, I noticed that.” I sighed, shifting from foot to foot, feeling just slightly uncomfortable in his presence now.
“Err, I’ll leave you be for now? We’ll catch up later.” Blake said, seeming to catch on, giving me a wave as he turned and made his way back down the highway.
Once alone I felt my mind crumbling for some reason. Small nagging thoughts in the back of my mind murmuring softly. I knew what this was. I hadn’t had to experience it full on for quite some time though. A distraction; I needed a distraction. If this overtook me I might do something stupid. Re-sheathing my sword, I set off down the highway, checking cars. I put as much effort and concentration into this task as I could. Because if I kept my mind on any of these thoughts for a moment too long they would drag me down into a darkness I couldn’t survive. I recalled the name and approximate year of the vehicle. I could identify just about any car, so it was working.
“H-help...me p-please.” I heard a ragged voice splutter from somewhere.
Looking around wildly, I had seen that I was super far from everyone else. Their bodies little dots on the horizon. I had truly gotten distracted. A gurgle caught my attention again. I made my way through the cars to a space between two of them. There was a man slumped up against one, clutching tightly at his neck. I instantly rushed to his side, patting myself down for anything that could save him. Though he shakily reached out, grasping my wrist, staring at me sternly.
“I-I....bit.” He struggled, blood spraying from his mouth as he coughed harshly.
“Let me try to help you.” I tried, my throat growing tight as I grew frantic.
“Stay...” He said simply, falling forward onto me. I thought he had just died, though he turned around to look up at me from my lap.
He already knew of his fate; to be this comfortable with a complete stranger. He was middle-aged, hair graying. A face that looked as if it had been plagued by smiles due to the smile lines he had. His hand slipped from his neck as he just stared up at me, eyelids seeming to grow heavy. I could tell he was freshly bitten.
“D-do you think I’ll see my wife and kids again?” He asked, his voice strained as he tried to make it as clear as possible.
I didn’t believe in an afterlife. But I did think people should pass in peace. I’d do what I could for this stranger in his final moments.
“Of course. You’ll see them.” I said simply with a smile as I felt tears welling up in my eyes.
“I sure hope so.” He mused softly, coughing aggressively.
“Pardon my bad manners. I don’t want you to get sick like them.” He smiled faintly, displaying some pearly white teeth.
“I’m immune. So you’re okay.” I assured him, gently running my hands through his hair.
He was hot; hotter than the hot air around us. He didn’t have much longer.
“Well lucky you.” He chuckled, rolling his eyes dramatically.
“I don’t think so.” I sighed, wiping away some tears that were rolling down my cheeks.
“You remind me of my oldest son.” He sighed wistfully, his eyes fluttering closed.
I gently smacked him on the face to rouse him, his eyes opening again.
“Stay with me.” I said softly, somehow not ready to let him slip away. I wondered if what me and everyone else did caused this?
“C-can you do me a favor kid?” He struggled, gripping me by the collar of my shirt with his cleanest hand, still showing manners. I still nodded yes nonetheless.
“I don’t want to become one of those things.” He coughed, wincing as his lungs seemed to be full of fluid.
A cold shock ran through me as I grew rigid. He wanted me to kill him? I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t want to. I don’t like how doing that warped me. I wanted so badly to hold onto my humanity. I couldn’t bear the thought of ending a life.
“I can’t do that to you.” I pleaded, shaking my head.
“I don’t want to be one of those things. They’re monsters.” He asserted, hazy blue eyes pleading with me.
I felt a rush of emotion that made me dizzy as I looked around, surveying our surroundings, seeing an infected wandering ever so closer. I told myself over and over that this was something he wanted. I couldn’t help him and keep him alive. And I had no idea what it was like to be an infected. What if it was hell on Earth for them? The most ethical thing I could do was take his life quickly and suddenly.
“O-okay. I’ll do it.” I sniffed, wiping my eyes.
“Thank you. So much.” He sighed, seeming at peace despite the pain he was clearly in.
“I’ll make it quick. You shouldn’t feel a thing.” I assured him, keeping my tone calm and reassuring.
Though the instant I decided to do this, I had already removed an arrow from my bow’s quiver and had it poised right at the nape of his neck. If he knew he might panic last second.
“One last thing. What’s your name?” He asked, his eyes flitting closed.
“I’m Isaac.” I said simply, brushing his sweat matted hair from his forehead.
“Jorge. I’m Jorge.” He grunted, offering me a smile, seeming to already know what I was about to do.
I drove the arrow into the back of his skull, his body falling limp instantly. Though he was finally at peace. And his lifeless face was frozen in a contented smile. That’s when the tears flowed from my eyes like a waterfall. Though my moment of emotion was ruined when the infected I had spotted earlier lumbered into sight. Then the rage came. Usually I was capable of being quite tepid. But all of this had been getting the best of me. Anger coming out in small outbursts. So far I had managed to keep them under wraps when in the company of the others. But this time was different. I gently laid the man to rest. Unsheathing my sword I stalked forward.
Preparing for a blow, I spun quickly the moment it limped into range, lopping off its head. I was fuming; so angry I was dizzy. I leaned against a nearby car as I took deep breaths in an attempt to calm myself. To no avail though. A distraction. I needed a distraction. Something to make me feel grounded. An arrow falling from my quiver caught my attention as a shiver ran through me. I bent down to pick it up, marveling at the brutally sharp head; an arrow for taking down heavy game. Jonas didn’t buy practice tips and must have thought these were cooler. They made my shots devastating though. So I tried to retrieve any arrows I shot when possible. I instinctively moved to slash my wrist as a distraction with pain. Then I thought about how angry Jonas would be with me if he saw that. The last thing I needed right now was an argument in the state of mind I was in.
I lifted up my shirt, my breath hitching. The side opposite of my tattoo on my ribs was a blank canvas. I had plans on getting another quote tattooed there in the future. Though that never came. I debated whether I could deface my body with more scars. Jonas would surely see them. And that would once again be something I wouldn’t want to talk about. I was falling apart just trying to cope with the lives I’d taken so far. The most I could do was remember them.
“Three.” I whispered to myself.
“Three lives taken.” I sighed.
As I knew this pain was temporary. It was time to pack everything away. Forcing it all into a tidy box to be picked apart later. I’d avoided carving into myself for now. But I was relapsing so quickly. Setting down my bow and bloodied sword, I went over to Jorge’s body. With all my might I hoisted him up into my arms, careful to not get drenched in blood. I couldn’t just leave him out in the open like this. I found a nearby pickup truck, somehow getting the larger man into its bed.
“Rest well. Jorge.” I said, paying respects to him. I cleaned my sword, my eyes landing on something that made my heart flutter.
A dark brown delivery truck. I took off running to it, my heart racing with hope. I felt so emotional as I swung open the door, climbing inside a bit recklessly. The key like many of the other vehicles was left in the ignition. Starting the truck, I let out a chuckle of disbelief. The tank was full. And this held much more fuel than Jonas’ truck. So maybe we could take extra. I turned it off and took the keys with me. I took off sprinting back to everyone else to cover ground as quickly as possible. Perhaps things would actually be okay? The ranch was a couple days journey away by now. Everyone looked up as I came running back. Ellis instantly assumed the worst, readying his rifle.
“I found a UPS truck.” I panted, coming to a halt.
“Well shit.” Jonas remarked, a toothy grin glowing on his face.
“And even better. The tank is full.” I tacked on, brandishing the keys.
“He’s literally so fuckin’ lucky.” Blake exclaimed.
“Not really but we can finally hit the road again.” I huffed, feeling relieved.
“Where are you guys headed anyway.” Blake asked, leaning against a nearby car.
I looked to Daniel before answering to get his say. After all, this was his family’s land. He gave a tiny nod that I barely spotted. Turning back to Blake I organized my thoughts before speaking.
“We’re headed west.” I answered vaguely.
“What if we all went together.” Blake proposed bluntly.
Strength in numbers. It would help to have more eyes. That meant more rest. But ultimately that was Daniel’s decision. As even we were guests.
“It’s my parent’s property. If you guys can find the place. You’re welcome to stay. But I can’t take in a ton of people.” Daniel replied thoughtfully.
If I weren’t so damn exhausted I’d cheer him on. He answered well, and everyone in our group seemed to realize that. Daniel could be ditzy and goofy. But he wasn’t unintelligent by any stretch of imagination.
“Fair point. We don’t wanna intrude then.” Blake smiled.
“We’re gonna head north.” He tacked on as he and his friends turned to leave, our time together coming to an end.
“Travel safe.” I called after him.
“Until next time.” He called back, looking over his shoulder with a grin.
It took them but a few moments to load into their vehicle, the bright blue SUV driving off into the desert.
“I rocked that!” Daniel cheered, fist pumping.
“I’m just glad it went well.” Ellis sighed, seeming to finally let his guard down.
“Same here.” Jonas huffed.
“They didn’t have it in them to do anything shady. I don’t think they’ve had a ton of exposure to the infected. They welcomed us to that pool too pretty easily.” I explained, feeling as if other people were hanging onto their humanity as well.
It was comforting to know that things could still be good. That people could still be kind to one another. I felt that if we all stuck together in the face of this adversity we could all survive and rebuild the world; hopefully this time into something beautiful and fair.
A/N: Yet another chapter reaches its conclusion. Our gang is almost at their destination. At this point, it’s full steam ahead! The next chapter will be pretty chill as well. I’m also so damn happy you all like this story. I’ve poured countless hours of time into this. So much research and fact-checking. I’m gonna cry lol.