A/N: It’s like a poison. Filling him up to the brim. Stick around and gather closer to the campfire. Lots of scary stories to tell that only get darker and darker. I’ve done pretty good up to this point by not holding back. But I’ve done some digging and figured out ways to make it darker and hopefully get some pulses to rise!
I woke with a start, my eyes flying open as I awoke from a strange dream where details were already melting away from my memory. Looking around I saw light filtering in from the glass ceiling out in the hall of the mall. I guessed my panic had put me to sleep and I slept for quite some time. In that moment another wave of anxiety ran through me. I’d told Jonas and Darren I’d talk to them in an hour. But it was likely the next morning. Getting up my body was rigid and sore as the cold and unforgiving surface I had fallen asleep on reminded me of my poor choices. Getting up, I bumped my head on a glass shelf overhead. Rubbing the soreness into submission I turned around, seeing just what I had come in search of, a pang of sadness washing through me as my eyes landed on the teen I’d accidentally killed yesterday. Heaving a sigh I secured the bottles to me, turning to the metal gate. Some of the children had been embraced by colorful stalks, others idling in the shadows as light shone brightly overhead.
Grabbing my sword, I squatted down, filled with a cold calculation at the moment. I grabbed a cloth I used to clean my sword. Scrubbing and wiping It was clean of blood, it also needed a polish and sharpening. Formulating a plan I had been filled with the drive to finish my business and hurry back to the ranch. The longer I stayed out here the more chance there was for me to break again. In the state of mind I was in now I realized that. I slipped the gate up slowly and gingerly, reaching over with a leg slowly but surely and nudging over a plastic container of protein powder. Once the gate rested on it I slipped quietly underneath it, keeping my eyes glued on the idling infected. I quietly made my way over to the escalator, keeping my eyes trained on the lurker children. Though unexpectedly my foot hit a can, the metallic sound ringing through the air.
“Fuck me gently with a chainsaw.” I cursed, the infected activating, charging me.
I ran over to the escalator, readying my pistol, taking aim and shooting one of the rods, aiming at the next, pleased with my aim. I jumped on it, crouching down as it slid down rapidly ad infected chased me. Though when I landed it was far too fast to be graceful as I was practically thrown across the ground. When I came to I saw infected coming from another angle, rushing up the escalator from the floor below. I rolled to my feet, slicing down what I could and dodging the others. I practically crashed through the glass door, covering my face and shutting my eyes. Once out I was confronted by even more infected, my gunshots seeming to have drawn them here. Tearing off my poncho I had resorted to fighting until I couldn’t anymore. The first spin driven slash cut an infected clean in half.
I jabbed my blade into the next, firing a shot through its skull while I held it still. The horde was growing rapidly as more left the mall. My confidence began flickering and faltering like a dying light. I turned on my heels, going to give out speeding them a try. I took off with all my might, leaping up into the air, practically running through an infected that stepped in my way. Unhooking my spiked knee pads from his torso I got up, taking off for the parking garage. Once free and clear I took off with reckless abandon. The tweakers were keeping pace while the lurkers lagged behind. Pushing more and more I ran so fast I was sure my legs would exceed their limits and cause me to fall. Any infected in the parking garage I encountered I slashed down with deathly efficiency.
I had a man that loved me and a child that depended on me being alive waiting back home for me. Unlike before in a situation like this, I didn’t tire. And eventually, I left the infected behind, their shrieks dying down as I left their line of perception. I came to an abrupt halt when I reached the top floor, seeing a man blocking my way. He looked to be healthy, though his bloodshot eyes and a bite mark on his neck told me he was infected. A primal shout bellowed from his chest, shaking me to my core.
“C’mon with your final boss looking ass.” I shouted back, charging him.
In an unexpected manner, he swatted his bear-paw like hands at me. He tagged me by the shoulder, knocking me to my knees as he lunged down at me, jaws parted. I dove to the side, collecting myself, shoulder stinging. Creating some space I set my sword down, circling him as his posture seemed calculated and predatory. It was like they were granted unnatural power and speed as it seemed like he closed the distance as I blinked. I was slammed into a car behind me, knocked winded. I recovered quickly though, forcing myself into wakefulness. I jabbed my knee into his abdomen, hooking myself to him as I reached for my pistol. Keeping his chomping jaws at bay with a forearm pressed to his throat I almost had him, but his flailing knocked it from my hands.
With a massive heave, I forced him back with everything I had, grabbing my sword. I ran for my pistol being caught by the ankle, falling clumsily. I spun around before he could make his way up my body, kicking him in the face. I got up and ran, almost enraged as he was still blocking the way to my way out. It was almost as if he knew I could get away. I ran at him jumping up and my actions influenced by my taekwondo sparring sessions throughout my teen years. I twisted my body delivering a stunning kick to the side of his head. It did just as intended as I ducked behind him, climbing atop his back, using my sword to hook myself to him as I dug my knees into his back. Sinking my sword into his throat, he ignored it as if he didn’t feel pain, grasping at me as I placed my pistol to the back of his head, firing with reckless abandon.
His body went limp, falling to the ground underneath me but I kept firing until I was certain he was done. Though I didn’t have time to catch my breath as I heard shrieks and screams coming from below. I ran for the jeep after I made sure I had my sword and pistol, climbing into it after I removed the arrow I had placed there as a bit of insurance. Backing up the moment I started up the car, I saw a puddle of blood that was right next to the door of the jeep. It wasn’t there before so he must have been trying to steal my car while he was infected and was taken over by the virus. I tore down the parking garage, almost crashing a few times trying to avoid rabid infected.
I was out in moments, tearing out into the parking lot and away from the infected, I left the town and ventured off into the desert a little ways to collect myself. Coming to a stop, I ran a shaky hand through my messy hair. I actually did it. I survived something so impossible on my own. Catching my breath I did the first thing that came to mind, looking at the clock on the dashboard. I hoped it was right; they wouldn’t have been worrying long. I reached over to the glove box, pulling out the radio, calling.
“Hey.” I called over the line.
The line was silent for a moment, the crackling of static telling me a reply was coming across.
“What happened to you. We were about to head out to look for you.” Oscar replied over the line, others chatting in the background.
“I got held up in a store. Had to wait it out so I could leave safely.” I explained, leaving out the severity of it to a degree.
“Alright. I’ll give this to Jonas. Glad you’re okay kid.” He sighed, the line going quiet.
There was a moment of silence, before there was a raspy voice greeting me.
“Hey there.” Jonas said, a cough greeting my ears and making me worry.
“What happened are you okay?” I asked fervently, getting out of the jeep, making my way up to the roof so I could look out over my surroundings.
“I could ask you the same thing Bambi.” He chuckled, a sigh of relief audible.
“I got stuck in a store. And had to wait before I could make it out safely.” I explained yet again.
“Ahh. I snuck out to go and look for you. Didn’t make it far before I had to turn back when I thought clearly.” He chuckled.
“It’s chilly out. And you need to be eating and resting.” I fretted.
“I’ll be back sometime tomorrow. I don’t want to be out for much longer.” I sighed, reality reeling me in.
“Got everything?” He asked.
“Almost. There’s one more thing I need to take care of.” I replied.
“Always a perfectionist.” He chuckled.
“Well, I’ll let you go. Be safe.” He said, his final words serious as death itself.
“I’ll be careful. I’ve been cautious so far.” I assured him, assuring myself at the same time.
I could be going into a battle I wouldn’t win. But for Darren it was a risk I was willing to take. All I had to do now was find the area we found Darren and his deceased parents in. His revelation of what went down angered me even more for how shady it all was. Two parents just doing everything they could to make sure their child was okay. Only to be betrayed and stabbed in the back. Hopping down from the roof of the jeep I grabbed my bow, walking around to the trunk. I’d kill the man that did this to Darren. There didn’t feel like any other way. I couldn’t save all the children from this; I knew that.
But what I could do was give Darren the moon and stars. Ease his pain until it’s gone and forgotten. I went through the toolkit I had borrowed from Jonas, adjusting the draw weight of my bow to its maximum setting. He’d suffer just as this poor boy had. A scar was left that wouldn’t be forgotten or cease in aching. And in turn, my heart was left hurting for him. I had to tell myself this was the right thing to do. It felt right so it had to be right.
Finishing up, I surveyed all of my weapons, deciding to reload the pistol after I finished up with my bow. My sword was next, cleaning it yet again, I began sharpening it. I wanted to be prepared. If I didn’t come back Darren would suffer more. But this was something I didn’t know I’d come back from. The man in question was likely still here as Darren said he and his family stayed in an old hardware store here before the man accompanying them betrayed them. He was on his own, unlikely to travel far as there was an abundance of resources here. All I had to do was find him. Once found I’d gather as much as I could before attacking. If all went off without a hitch, I’d kill him without issue.
I had a rough idea in mind. It was simple in theory. But it would require some planning. I needed to find him first. Once I found him I needed to figure out when he’d leave his base of operations. Once I find a window, I sneak in, and kill him while his guard was down. It made me dislike my mind and how quickly it fell to the dark side of things. It felt right though, so I’d move forward with my plan. Once I did this I could move on to making at least one child happy. Climbing into the jeep, I checked my fuel, needing to wrap this up as it was dwindling. I drove alongside the road of the desert, keeping the buildings in sight. The land sloped upward into a hill of sandy and rocky terrain. I came to a stop, stepping out into a chilling breeze as I was sweating from all the activity I’d just been through. The town was small; a pocket of civilization. So It didn’t take me long to ride along to the point of where we found Darren.
He’d said his parents left to go outside to talk to the man about something. Darren being afraid to be left alone went after them. And when he found them, his parents were dead. The man then attacked Darren, almost killing him. I took out my binoculars, climbing atop the jeep for safety to look out over the little side of town. It was already run down. But I had a clear view of the street in question and set up my stake-out spot. I had my bow ready should he come into sight. If I could take him out from range that would be ideal. I watched and watched with nothing but the sighting of infected drifting around occasionally. Sighing I hopped down from the jeep, turning right into a tweaker that managed to sneak up on me. I had the itch to just shoot it as I tussled with it. But the last thing I wanted to do was shoot so close to my target if he was in the area.
Tussling with it I pinned it down, taking an arrow from my quiver as I had a knee placed to the back of its neck. Jabbing the sharp tip into the nape of its neck its struggling stopped instantly. Then, I had a twisted idea. I hadn’t seen this theory tested but it was something I was always cautious of. I should count on taking him out from range. But also this arrow could be an insurance policy. If it was covered in the blood of an infected, would it infect him if it pierced him? I left the arrow notched to my bow, so I’d know to use it. I got into the jeep, starting it up and driving it further into the desert to conceal it. I’d want to be as close as possible for an effective shot. Getting out I set off on foot, stalking down to the town, pausing in cover to check my surroundings.
I’d never hunted with my archery skills. But I knew the arrow tips I had were designed for hunting big game. They’d cause heavy bleeding, leaving a trail for me to follow. I’d try to aim for something non-vital initially. But once shot my mark would be placed. Taking my red bandanna from my forehead I tied it around the lower half of my face. I stalked closer and closer to the rear of the buildings. Spotting a dumpster I climbed atop it, leaping for a ladder that was drawn up. Catching it I hauled myself up, climbing up.
I reached the top of a building that looked out over the little strip of shops. I spotted the automotive store a little ways off, orienting myself. The strip ended abruptly, ending off in a stretch of desert, neighborhoods of houses visible in the distance. The other direction was where I came from. I hadn’t run into him over there and I shot my pistol quite a few times as well. It was likely he was coming from the other direction. I set my sights out about a 180-degree area from which I sat in wait. It was chilly, but the sun beaming down on me was starting to heat me up.
Sitting poised and waiting, I grew weary, my eyelids growing heavy as I felt myself dozing off. Smacking myself in the face I managed to sober up a little. Though out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar color, stoking the flame again. I was alert in an instant, the green bandanna catching my eye as I watched him walk with a bag slung over his shoulder. His movements were cautious as he hugged the walls of the buildings. I readied my bow, drawing back without hesitation, aiming for a shoulder shot. He was moving steadily but I kept my aim flexible and moving. He paused for a moment right at the mouth of an alley. And at that moment I took my shot, arrow whistling off through the air. It struck him hard, pinning him to the wall behind him as I almost missed my mark, my shot probably having just barely missed his left lung.
He let out a strangled scream as he looked around wildly. I ducked for cover, stalking over to the ladder gliding down, and stalking across from where I shot him. He was gone, as expected my arrow was discarded on the ground in a large puddle of blood. I ran across the street, deciding to go with a primitive hunting strategy. I’d strike fear into my prey, so when I found him I had the edge. Whistling an ominous tune I set off after him, following a growing trail of blood. The arrow had done the trick in making him bleed. I just didn’t want him dying before I got to him. So I sauntered through the alleyways with purpose. I eventually caught up, behind him as he staggered away. I’d duck out of sight only to whistle again when he’d turn back around. He was terrified and I found that to be a good thing.
“Leave me the fuck alone!” He shouted.
My only response was slowing the whistle tune to something slower and darker as I drew nearer. I wanted him to feel safe for a moment. I wanted him to then feel every ounce of pain Darren had been through and will carry with him. He threw open the back door of the automotive store, staggering inside. All the while I was right behind him, sword drawn. I opened the door, the puddle of blood stopping abruptly. When reality dawned on me I’d responded too slowly in blocking a wooden table being thrown at me with my sword and forearm. I was knocked to the ground, my bow falling from my shoulder. I’d barely had enough time to react as I saw a booted foot flying for my abdomen. I drew my bow to me, its body blocking the blunt force of the blow and sending me rolling across the ground. There was a nasty snap and cracking sound and as I came to I saw my bow had been snapped in half from the kick and lay in pieces before me.
Not paying attention I was grabbed by my hair and thrown into a bookshelf brutally, knocked dizzy yet again.
“Why the hell are ya here?!” He growled in my face.
Though little did he know I had the advantage still. Taking my spurred kneecaps I drove one into his abdomen, headbutting him in the nose and knocking myself dizzy once more. He staggered away from me, clutching at his face.
“You don’t have long to live now. But I want you to feel the pain you inflicted upon someone else.” I barked, losing my cool, stalking up to him and punching him in the jaw with all I had.
“You left a child for dead in the streets after you had killed his parents!” I shouted, kneeing him in the chest as he clutched at his various injuries.
Before I could speak again I was gripped by the chest and hoisted into the air. And in a horrific moment I was brought down brutally onto a metal table so hard it knocked me senseless, the table breaking underneath my weight and the impact. When my vision cleared I saw a booted foot coming down for my head. I rolled out of the way, quickly getting up and grabbing my sword I’d dropped. My head was pounding and my body was aching but I pressed on. My head was swimming and my vision was dancing around and making me dizzy. I’d barely seen it coming but a metal rod had been swung at my chest. I blocked it with the side of my sword clumsily, missing and the rod tagging me in the ribs painfully.
“They were weak and I was doin’ them a favor. They ate up all my shit! They were afraid of everything!” He shouted back as he sent me flying with a kick to the chest and into a shelf of various items.
He was on me before I could recover, hoisting me up by my throat as I fought to free myself, accidentally dropping my sword yet again.
“You’re weak just like ’em.” He growled menacingly, his eyes already showing signs of infection.
He’d only get stronger if I let this drag on. I had to do something. My planning came to a halt when I was thrown yet again, this time into a glass display case. It shattered around me, glass digging into a few spots in my back painfully. He was fast despite having lost a lot of blood and he was hovering over me in moments with my sword in hand. He raised it into the air as I’d been too stunned to react quickly. For Darren, I chanted repeatedly. For his sake. I gripped a large shard of glass in my hand, the sharp surface slashing my palm open mercilessly. As he came down on me I rose up to meet him. My sword plunged past my waist as time seemed to slow. It didn’t impale me but grazed me pretty badly. Ignoring my pain I slashed with the shard of glass, cutting across his eyes and blinding him as he instantly let out a blood-curdling scream. I butted him with my shoulder, knocking him back as I collected myself. I reclaimed my sword that was drenched in my blood, stalking over to him silently as he scooted away from the sound of my footsteps.
“I wish you could live longer. To feel more of what you put him through. Left him for dead in those streets after killing his mom and dad right in front of him.” I growled.
“Children are precious. Life is precious. And you ruined three of them.” I went on heatedly, kicking him in the ribs getting a satisfying whimper.
“Y-you’re a monster.” He stuttered, trying to back away.
“Maybe so. But I’m killing a monster even darker.” I reasoned, climbing atop him, digging my spiked knee pads into his ribs securing myself to him as he squirmed and swung his hands out wildly in defense.
I raised my sword, about to plunge it into his skull to end his life and I came up with something darker. He’d turn anyway. He was almost there actually. Thinking back to when I killed those two men yesterday I’d just kill him and let the infection run its course. I tossed my sword aside, not wanting to sully it with his blood. Wrapping my hands around his throat I clamped down with all my might, his hands moving to try stopping me. But my vision was filled with red as I sank down harder and harder with more strength than I knew I had.
“You have to die. You’ve done something terrible.” I growled as he fought with everything he had.
Eventually, his fighting began to slow and weaken as I had his blood and air supply cut off. And as his life began to fade I filled his remaining sense with the sound of the tune I whistled before. And with that, it was over, his body growing lifeless and his pulse ceasing underneath me. Shakily I got up, my hand shooting to the stinging in my ribs where he’d cut into me. Staggering over to my sword I picked it up, collecting the sheath that lay discarded as well.
I heard a gurgling snarl float from his body as I made my way over to my broken bow, picking up the pieces as I staggered out the door just as I heard him running for me. I’d done it. I’d killed the man that caused a precious child pain. If I couldn’t save them all and make them all happy. I could give Darren everything I had to make him happy now with this thought off my mind. There were infected coming, their shrieks audible in the distance. They must have heard his screams. Limping away, I crossed the street, clutching at my profusely bleeding wound. It’d definitely need stitches and cleaning. But I was a days journey away from the ranch. Limping into the desert my head was still spinning and I paused and threw up the contents of my rather empty stomach. I’d not eaten since being out, having been so focused on getting everything done.
I pressed on, stumbling and falling a few times as my body told me just how hurt I really was. But I got back up, another thought on my mind. I had two boys back home that wanted me in their lives. I’d make it back, I had to. The jeep had come into sight, an infected running from around it. Instinctively reaching for my bow, I then remembered it was hanging from my shoulder by its strings in pieces. Readying my sword I raised it, bringing the handle down into the skull of the infected and stunning it. I then crushed its skull under my booted foot. My body was on autopilot, defending itself almost. I’d usually never dispatch of an infected that way. Making it to the jeep I reached into my pocket for the keys, fishing them out shakily with my uncoordinated left hand. Unlocking it I threw my stuff into it. Making my way around to the trunk. I swung it open, sitting on the tailgate and leaning over for the medkit.
Lifting up my shirt I saw the severity of the slash wound. It was deep and bleeding profusely. Gingerly and probably foolishly I parted the severed flesh, seeing a glint of bone in the depths.
“Okay, hand first. Then slash wound.” I sighed, steeling myself for the pain. Opening the medkit with my unslashed hand, I took out the gauze and rubbing alcohol. I opened it, flushing the wound with the burning solution.
To say it hurt like hell was an understatement as it almost left me crying out in pain. Though I stifled the scream of pain as I was in no shape to take on an infected. Gingerly I wrapped it in gauze tightly, tying it off. Heaving a sigh this next part would be difficult. I’d known how to sew up cuts in fabric. Perhaps it would be similar to stitching up this slash wound? I went through the kit, a sigh of relief as luck shone down on me. Dissolving stitching thread and a needle. Threading the needle first, I cleaned my hands with some extra water, running the needle through an alcohol-soaked cotton swab. I flushed the wound clean, the pain searing and making me double over. I stood up, taking off my shirt, tossing it aside I settled down, hands shaking.
“To stop the bleeding.” I told myself softly, slowly driving the threaded needle into the edge of the wound.
It hurt like hell and had my heart racing. I drove it through the other side, pulling it taut, the pain like a sucker punch for such an isolated area. I bit down into my forearm to distract from the pain of sewing myself shut. It continued on until I felt I would blackout. But I was also almost certain I had a concussion from being thrown around so violently. So I couldn’t sleep yet. I drove the needle into my flesh for the final time, sealing it. I tied off the string, snipping it off with a pair of tweezers in the kit and placing a bandage over the sealed wound. I tidied up a bit, grabbing another shirt from my bag. It hurt to breathe so I was sure I wasn’t out of the woods yet. But it was likely some bruising or an injury I got during the scuffle.
I just needed to rest now. Holing myself up somewhere would be hard being in town. The last thing I needed was for infected to show up; or even worse, people. Opening up the map as I cleared the driver’s seat, I found a portion of the river connected to the falls in a nature reserve. It was a little ways north of here. I’d relax before heading back to the ranch. I needed to organize my thoughts anyway as there was the typical conflict I felt when taking a life. I was more broken than I thought as conflicting whispers of thoughts tugged and snagged at my mind; pulling it into other directions. I had to keep reminding myself that there were people who cared about me, forcing it all to the back of my mind. I couldn’t keep going on like this. It had become exceedingly easy to take life without much thought under the reasoning of protecting myself or others.
I wanted to feel the assuring warmth of redemption but I didn’t know if I was worthy anymore. I let myself be driven by this. It was incredibly reckless when I looked back on even coming out here. I was giddy and emotionally charged; giving into impulse. I saw that now and began regretting what I’d done. Though life seemed to be testing my strength at all times. I heard an infected right behind me before I could grab something to respond. My body wanted to kill my attacker quickly. Though my mind was conflicted, I squirmed around, facing my attacker; a woman. I forced her back, my hand reaching for my pistol. Her body was marked up from a multitude of bites that made my heart hurt and quiver. Her death was painful and nightmarish.
“I don’t want to hurt you.” I pleaded, trying to reason with her.
Though she ignored me, pinning me to the jeep as I held her back. I wanted to save myself from her snapping jaws but I couldn’t bring myself to hurt her right now. Forcing her back, I climbed into the jeep, closing the door and locking her out as she beat on the window with bloodied hands. I started up the car, tearing off and leaving her behind me as I turned around, heading north. Maybe I could be saved. If I tried hard enough?
A/N: I will say I’ve been drawing some inspiration from quite a few places for Issac’s development in more recent chapters. A character from a story I read many years ago had a similar mental collapse. She’d have moments of being okay, seeming like her old self for moments. Only to run into a trigger and be set back into darkness. She had a final moment of clarity before her death and did the right thing. I’m basically channeling her into Issac had she lived on past that moment of clarity.