To Death: Book 1

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Take To Give

A/N: Because I’m a sucker for symbolism I’ll be leaving copious amounts of it in this chapter and the following ones. We have quite a few left. This one will be pivotal. A great loss already lined up with sights set on its victim. Enough of this note though. Enjoy!

Journeying along the river I looked at the map as I was in the lead. If we followed it the entire way, we’d be too far away from the border and miss meeting with the others. We’d have to cross in about a mile to hug the border as we were instructed to do so at the northernmost point.

“We’ll cross in a mile or so.” I told Jonas and Alisha, getting tired yeps.

The heat was starting to get to all of us; the horses included. We had slowed our pace and even stopped for an hour break so we could all collectively rest in the shade of a few trees. I liked the summer and heat, but even I was growing wary out here. Suddenly, Night turned to the left, going right to the river bank. I took hold of the reigns I let rest on her neck to try stopping her but she just waded into the water. I wasn’t sure how deep this portion was so needless to say I was panicking. We could be swept downriver.

Though once we waded to a certain point, the depth stopped growing as Night stood in the water drinking.

“I guess this means we’re taking another break.” I huffed, trapped on Night’s back unless I wanted boots full of water.

When Night had gotten her fill, she returned to the river bank as I slipped off her back. She and the other horses laid down in the shade while we occupied another tree for shade. I fanned myself off in a pitiful attempt to stay cool in the heat.

“Lunch? Well snacks?” Alisha asked, reaching into her bag. Jonas gave a tired grunt while Alisha gave out what snacks she had. They consisted of some chips, bottles of water, and a stick of beef-jerky for each of us.

I ate my jerky, giving Jonas my chips as I wasn’t a fan of potato chips. Drinking my water I finished up before everyone else, standing watch while they ate at a more leisurely pace. Jonas joined me while I let my attention wander to the slowly flowing river. Snagging me from my thoughts was Jonas’ arm wrapped around my shoulder.

“So I’m taking it we’re an item again?” He asked, looking down at me with a victorious smile.

“I suppose so.” I answered.

“I promise I won’t mess it up this time.” He vowed, leaning down and placing a kiss on the crown of my head.

“You better not.” I replied, feeling my heart flutter in my chest.

Maybe it wasn’t a bad idea? After all, I’d told Alisha and Daniel it was a good thing. Shouldn’t I be okay with allowing myself that happiness as well? Suddenly we heard whinnies coming from the horses as I spun in their direction.

There were two infected running at us, shrieks heard. I readied my bow, grasping at one of my two remaining arrows. Bracing for the pain, I lined up a quick shot, taking down one. Jonas ran ahead as my shoulder locked up, taking down the other one before it could make any more noise with his crowbar.

“Thanks for letting me continue eating.” Alisha said, amused.

I retrieved my arrow, taking advantage of the river being nearby to clean it. It was still in decent shape so I returned it to my quiver.

“We should go. They might have followed us from the falls.” Jonas proposed.

He had a point, and it would be smart to move on. The tweakers ruined our moment but now wasn’t the time and their showing up served as a reminder. However, our short moment of affection was enough to have my head in the clouds. Nonetheless, we mounted our horses, setting off again, Alisha in the lead this go around. Not long into our journey, the radio we had came to life, static coming across before it cleared up.

“We need you guys to hurry to the meet-up point. The Spencer’s ar-” The radio cutting out suddenly.

The signal must be bad.

“We have to hurry.” I told everyone, urging night into a canter, the others doing the same.

The marker for a mile came up quicker than expected so I came to a stop. The river was a tad bit deeper here. But still shallow enough for the horses to walk across. I went across first, Alisha following after. What I hadn’t expected was the oddly fast flow of the water. Night was pushed along as she trudged across. I crossed, making it to the bank as Alisha did the same. Jonas was almost on the other side when my heart dropped. Something lunged out of the water with a shriek, Jonas being thrown from his horse into the water. I jumped off of Night, tossing down my bow and grabbing an arrow.

Wasting no time I dove into danger as Jonas’ horse ran past me and onto the shore. Diving down I’d seen him struggling with an infected with its jaws clamped down on his calf, making my heart drop even more. Quickly I urged my body to move even faster. Stabbing the infected through the skull I took hold of Jonas by the shoulders, heaving him along with me as he seemed panicked and shocked. He helped me out after a bit, his leg unable to support him. Once on the shore, I unsheathed my sword, cutting away his jeans around the wound. Blood was pouring from the deep bite as he looked at me, eyes sad as he shook his head.

“Alisha! What should I do? How long does he have?” I shouted, feeling a surge of emotion.

But she was frozen in fear. Blood roaring in my ears and my heart pounding I made a split-second decision, placing his leg on a stone, analyzing how far up I’d need to aim. My logic might be flawed and this may kill him. But I’d have to take something to give him life.

“I’m not letting them take you!” I shouted.

Raising my sword, his eyes widened as he realized what I was going to do. In the blink of an eye it happened, I felt the familiar sensation of metal gliding through flesh and bone. There was an instant blood-curdling scream from Jonas as he writhed around, a new issue presenting itself. Blood pouring from his now amputated leg. I tore off my flannel, wrapping up his leg as I tried to put my weight on him to stop his squirming. I wrapped it as tightly as possible.

“Shit. Fuck.” Alisha cursed, coming up to help me, taking off her belt to help me secure the makeshift blood clot.

Jonas was growing pale as his breathing grew labored. Was I too late? Did what I did kill him? I got his leg right below the knee and well above the bite. Was the infection already taking him? It felt like the world was crashing down on me in that instant as I felt light-headed. Shuffling up I rested his head on my lap as his eyes were barely able to stay open.

“Stay with me Jo-Jo. I can’t lose you too. I can’t.” I pleaded, tears welling up in my eyes.

“I’ll call the others.” Alisha said, still in shock but doing something nonetheless.

“We need you all to meet us at the middle river point. Jonas is down.” Alisha stuttered, stumbling over her words.

There was an instant reply. Though I wasn’t focused on it enough to know what was exchanged. Jonas’s lips formed a weak smile as he gazed up at me.

“You really sliced my damn leg off.” He giggled, alarming me.

He was either going into shock or had lost too much blood. Taking off my bag, I set it under his head as I moved to tend to his leg.

“Stay with me Jo-Jo. I can’t lose you.” I said, trying to stay calm, my tears choking me up.

He was bleeding through my flannel quickly, blood soaking into the sand. I tightened Alisha’s belt a little more as I moved the severed portion of his leg out of sight as it chilled me. I wasn’t sure what I was doing but I needed to stop the bleeding in any way possible.

“Alisha give me your overshirt?” I asked, trying to stay calm. The last thing I needed was to be gripped by an anxiety attack.

She listened, taking it off as she went back to communicating back and forth with the other group. I stuffed it onto the wound alongside my flannel. My heart was beating so fast it made me lightheaded. Jonas winced, the pain of me messing around with his leg seeming to sober him up.

“Stay with me. Are you with me?” I asked. Moving up to look him over.

“Still here. Just tryin’ to hang on.” He groaned, pain running through him. It hurt seeing him like this. And hurt even more knowing I’d contributed to his current state.

Alisha ran to my side, elevating his leg a bit, getting a strangled scream from Jonas as he covered his own mouth.

“He should have turned or been showing more symptoms of infection by now. It’s been five minutes.” Alisha remarked, seeming shocked.

“Was your sword clean when you did it?” Alisha asked, tending to his wound.

“I sanitize and clean it between uses in case someone is accidentally cut by it. Luckily I hadn’t used it at all today.” I replied, confused.

“Your clean blade saved him.” She heaved, sounding so relieved.

“Am I out of the woods yet docs?” He asked.

“Just hang on and stay awake.” Alisha instructed, taking charge as she realized I was on the verge of crashing and burning.

“Just hang on for about 30 minutes. Ellis is currently driving here while the others are on their way.” Alisha explained.

That calmed me down a little. But I hadn’t known what to do with myself. I wanted to do something but I wanted to be here for Jonas.

“Watch our backs and calm down the horses.” Alisha instructed.

“O-Okay.” I stuttered, getting up, looking down at Jonas longingly as he met my gaze. I crouched down again, placing a kiss on his clammy forehead.

I fumbled for my bloodied sword as I saw an infected running for the horses. I took off, stopping it as it was drawn in from Jonas’ screams. I took two horses, moving them closer to Jonas and Alisha. Coming back for the last I did the same. Once they were all in order, they calmed down as I looked out. Jonas occasionally wincing and tell things to Alisha calmed my nerves as my thoughts finally slowed down. We’d dodged a bullet; for now at least. Jonas was still bleeding, though the risk of him turning seemed to be passed.

“What made you think to cut his leg off?” Alisha asked, sounding curious as she fussed over his leg.

In actuality, I thought of the bite like a snake bite. Though viruses could spread even if I cut off blood flow I’d have to remove it before it could spread.

“I thought of the bites being venomous. If I stopped it from spreading I could save him. I’m not sure if I saved him though.” I rambled, my thoughts racing as my chest began to feel tight again.

“He would have turned by now. All we have to do is slow or stop the bleeding until Ellis gets here.” Alisha assured me, being the stronger of the two of us right now.

I kept wanting to be by his side in his time of need. He seemed to flutter in and out of being totally here. Had I done the right thing? Was it selfish of me to take something like that from him without his consent? I made a life-changing decision for him in a split second. It had been to save his life. But was he fine with the virus taking him? He looked as if he were going to live out his final moments. But I stopped that with the swing of my sword, cutting off his lower leg. Had I just saved his life but for a few more moments for selfish reasons? His likelihood of survival was lower without that leg. He couldn’t run and would probably have to use crutches to get around for the rest of his life. Or he could die right here and now out in the desert. In pain and suffering all because of me.

“Issac look out!” Alisha shouted, calling my attention just as I was knocked to the ground by an infected, my sword flying from my hand.

It was quickly overpowering me as I tried grasping for my sword and keeping it from biting me. If I risked reaching for my sword it would sink its teeth into my throat and kill me. Heaving a sigh, I’d take a risk. Shoving my wrist forward, it bit down into me, the pain electric. Luckily my wristbands stopped the teeth from breaking skin. It created enough of a distraction for me to reach my sword, driving the blade into the skull of my attacker. With a mighty heave, I forced the now dead weight off of me.

“Did it bite you?” Alisha asked, splitting her focus between me and Jonas who was now tensed up in pain.

“No. Why the worry?” I panted.

“The virus or fungus can’t infect you. But secondary infection from a dirty mouth can lead to some nasty things.” She explained hastily, getting up and leaving Jonas to hand me her slingshot and bag of metal pellets.

She just as quickly went back to Jonas’ side as I resumed my watch, trying to force down my thoughts. If something got to Alisha and Jonas it would be more that I lose today. I couldn’t take any more. It left my heart aching and Jonas was still here for the moment. Reaching my wit’s end, I came to Jonas’ side. We’d just made things official only for this to happen.

“You need to watch over us.” Alisha fretted, seeming exasperated.

“I need to be with him Ali.” I pleaded, feeling like a total crybaby as more tears were welling up in my eyes.

She looked frustrated. But caved nonetheless as she got up, taking her slingshot from me.

“Keep his leg elevated. And don’t let him drift off or he might not wake up again.” She warned sternly.

I nodded, determined to keep him with me. Setting his head on my lap again, he gazed up at me, eyes lidded and tired looking.

“How are you feeling?” I asked softly, sweeping his sweat matted curls from his forehead, risking a glance down at his leg to see that the bleeding was starting to slow.

I assumed that could be one of two things. Either Alisha had slowed the bleeding or he was almost bled dry. Checking his pulse he seemed to croak out an answer.

“The pain is god fuckin’ awful. But I think you saved my life.” He replied, reaching up to cup my face in his hand.

He attempted to wipe away my tears with a thumb; still trying to comfort me when he was the one so close to the cold embrace of death. I loved him so much more than I’d originally thought. It hurt me so much to see him like this. So fragile; walking the tightrope of life and death. Grasping onto his hand I held it to my face as more tears began to fall.

“Don’t cry Bambi.” He soothed, his eyes flitting closed, shocking me to my core as a surge of adrenaline aroused me.

Smacking his face I got him to open his eyes again, that same look of exhaustion coming over his features again.

“Keep your eyes open. Don’t sleep. I know you’re tired but don’t sleep.” I pleaded, checking his pulse and slightly relieved at the generally steady heart rate.

“Alright, alright, I’ll stay awake.” He smirked, his state of mind seeming to slip again.

We were slowly losing him. And when I thought we were at the end of our road, I heard the sound of hooves thudding across the ground. The moment I looked up, Daniel’s father Jerry was running to our aid.

“Have you two managed to stop the bleeding? I heard what you had to do.” He fretted, firing questions at my shaken mind.

“I think they did. Lisha is pretty much a doctor.” Jonas explained, wincing.

“Okay well. Oscar and Danny, can you get the horses back to the main house? I can stay out here with them until help arrives.” Jerry explained.

Though with our group being as tight-knit as we’d become in our time traveling together, Oscar and Daniel came to see about Jonas first before they left.

“Will he be okay?” I asked, hoping so badly that the answer would be yes.

“I’m a veterinary surgeon. But you cut pretty cleanly and didn’t shatter bone.” He answered, observing the severed section of Jonas’ leg.

“But it’s a very delicate situation. We’d have to get him loaded into the truck without starting the bleeding again. If he loses any more we might lose him.” He elaborated.

“He’s also young. So his body is tough. If we’re careful and do this right he’ll be totally healed in a few months.” He smiled, offering me a pat of reassurance.

“All that shit while I’m right here.” Jonas remarked gruffly.

“Relax.” I told him sternly, feeling a little more at ease.

After Daniel and Oscar exchanged a few words with Jonas, they did as Jerry instructed, rallying up the horses before heading off into the scorching sands. By now Jonas’ lips had grown dry. I reached over to Alisha’s bag, grabbing my bottle of water, helping him drink as Jerry looked over the wound.

“Yeah that’s clean through the bone. We should have antibiotics for him to take back in the cache.” He explained, doing some alteration to Alisha and I’s attempts at stopping the bleeding, removing his own shirt to add to what we made work.

A familiar sound made my heart leap with optimism. Looking up I saw Jonas’ truck pull up to the other side of the river bank.

“Lisha, tell him it can make it through.” Jonas croaked, as Alisha did just that, wading through a more shallow part of the river.

Ellis re-positioned and ripped across the river in mere moments, coming to an abrupt halt right beside us before hopping out of the truck, bag in hand.

“Give me space. Every one but Issac.” He commanded, that puppy-dog demeanor gone.

“Are you still with us Jonas?” He asked.

“Here and in pain.” He gritted.

“This belt stopped the blood but it’s killing nerves now.” Ellis huffed, removing what we’d thought would stop the bleeding.

He then confidently moved on, reaching into his medical bag, taking out a set of already filled syringes. Inserting one through the make-shift gauze, he injected whatever it was into his bloodstream.

“For the pain.” He explained, shuffling around a little clumsily with his single arm.

Moving on he pulled yet another contraption from his bag, removing our method of stopping the bleeding. I couldn’t bear to look at what I caused, so I looked away while Ellis set to work.

“Give me a hand with the gauze Jerry.” I heard Ellis asked. And when I turned back around his leg was neatly wrapped in gauze.

“He’ll be okay now. I assure ya.” Ellis vowed, eyeing me with a promise.

“I’ll cauterize the wound when we get back to the main house. For now, he’s stable.” He explained, going to the bed of the truck, coming back dragging a folding cot.

I gently let Jonas’ head rest on Alisha’s bag, getting up to help Ellis.

“Your shoulder needs rest. You shouldn’t have went out today.” Ellis said, stopping me in my tracks.

“Don’t listen to him. You saved my life.” Jonas smiled goofily, high off pain medication.

“That he did. Give us a little help getting you on the cot?” Ellis asked as Alisha stepped in to help.

Now I just felt bad. I wasn’t sure if I did a good or bad thing and it was wreaking havoc on my thought process. My moral compass was something that had become foggy after all of this survival. There was a firm hand clasped around my shoulder. When I looked to the source it was Jerry.

“You did a good job out here. He had mere minutes and you made the best decision to save his life.” Jerry explained, seeming to read my troubled mind.

It was frustrating. Constantly building myself back up again, only to be broken again. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost him. What I’d become.

“You know. Little Darren will want to see his friend get better quickly. Do you think you could help us with that?” Jerry asked, catching my attention that was running away like flowing water.

“But what can we do?” I asked, knowing there were limits to how fast someone could get better.

“You can help look after Darren. The kid has been through a lot and Jonas had already started.” He explained, climbing into the truck after he handed me my bow and sword.

“Driving?” Alisha asked.

“I want to be with Jonas.” I mumbled, climbing into the bed while she shrugged and climbed into the driver’s seat. Ellis sat back here as well, looking over Jonas, seeming to double and triple check. everything.

Jonas however was seemingly dozing, alarming me.

“Is he okay?” I asked, my heart already wanting to race.

“Yeah. He’s stable. Just sleeping. He’s lost a lot of blood and was bordering going into shock.” Ellis explained.

I trusted Ellis. He knew what he was doing. It eased my mind a bit as I finally allowed myself to relax and think about other things. Darren had only been here for a day and he and Jonas were already so close. I could imagine the pain this would put the poor child through. It hurt me to think of his mental anguish. Though was I the best person for him to be around? I was full of such terrible flaws I wouldn’t want to wrongly influence a young mind. Hopefully, Jonas would be back up soon as he was the better match for looking after this child. We tore across the desert as Alisha drove with purpose. And in about 20 minutes we made it back to the main house, everyone waiting for our arrival.

I got out ahead of Ellis to make sure Jonas’s transfer was as easy and smooth as possible. Though with my messed up shoulder Ellis nudged me aside while he, Alisha, and Jerry lifted the cot up and out of the bed of the truck. Darren broke past the others, eyes worried. The sight stabbed more painfully than thought as I felt a wet and warm sensation dripping down my cheeks as he tried to follow after them. Jerry looked back at me, sharing a strange look that I knew the meaning of for some reason. Steeling myself I went to Darren’s aid, gently holding him back.

“He’ll be okay. We got him here in time.” I soothed, bracing myself as I crouched down as this was the most direct interaction I’d had with him in quite some time.

“He won’t die, will he? I like him. Please don’t let him die.” The young boy fretted, tears welling up in his eyes.

If only he knew the very same thoughts he was voicing were in my mind as well. But for him, I’d brush things under the rug. I wondered for a moment if this is what parenting was like. Loving someone so much you’d be willing to give everything you are just to see that someone happy.

“He’s going to be okay. I promise.” I sniffed, offering him the warmest smile I could muster.

“I like Jo-Jo. I don’t want him to end up like my parents.” He sniffed, wiping at his green eyes.

“He’s a tough man. He’ll probably be awake later today and we can both go and talk to him.” I said, not knowing if what I said would be true.

Unexpectedly I was hugged, small arms wrapping around me tightly. At first, I didn’t know what to do. But instinct kicked in and I hugged him back. We parted in a few moments, determination filling me. If Jonas didn’t make it, he’d want me to look after Darren. I’m almost sure of it. So for him, I’d do this.

“Issac. We also have something you might want to see.” Donna called, catching my attention.

Darren looked a little lost as I stood up, curious.

“Let’s go and see what it is then you can tell me all about your day.” I promised

“What is it?” I asked, beginning to follow her into the house.

“It’s better if I just show you.” She replied, not even looking back at me.

We made our way through the house, ending up in the living room. As if my eyes knew what was here they landed on what was to be shown to me. Shocked, I dropped everything I had been holding. Two faces I’d never think I’d see again were here. With two new little faces. I was choked for words as I felt a massive relieved smile etch its way onto my face. It was moments like this that kept me going.

“How are you baby?” My mother asked, a smile on her tired face.

“Where to start.” I huffed, a wave of catharsis washing over me.

A/N: Oof. I’m drained after writing this. I’d done so much setting up that the layers and details of symbolism were getting to be a lot. I’d hid the parents being alive reveal poorly though. I made go back and tweak to add some mystery for newer readers though! Nonetheless, I hope you all enjoyed it! Lots more to unfold and blossom before I’m done with this book!

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