Circling The Edge
A/N: This chapter will have the typical action though I’ll also be dropping more hints in addition to painting a more ominous atmosphere. The chapter name is a hint as well. If you can piece together the hints in the last chapter and now you’ll know how this book ends and how the next will begin.
“Music to my ears.” I sang, stepping outside alongside everyone else.
An aggressive song to aid me in being more aggressive. I would need this lethal tempo of sorts to give me the drive I needed for what I was about to do. I was instructed to climb to the top of the truck and take out any infected nearby. There were quite a few and I hoped my aim would improve or come back.
“How many?” Ellis asked.
“Five.” I replied.
“Careful up there kid.” Oscar warned.
I drew back my bow, an arrow notched and ready. I aimed at the one furthest back. I wasn’t sure how they reacted to dying near one another and I didn’t want to find out in such a delicate situation. Looking down the sights, I sized up the distance and the wind. On an exhale, I let the arrow fly, sighing as I hit its neck instead of the head.
Quickly readying another arrow I drew it back with intent.
“For Alisha.” I whispered.
Taking aim at my next target I released the arrow before I could talk myself out of firing. This time it was a deadly shot to the head, dropping the infected instantly.
“That is so badass.” Daniel cheered.
“Shhh.” I hushed him, drawing back another arrow and trying to concentrate.
This one was moving, making the shot more difficult as the wind was blowing as well. I couldn’t gauge how fast it was blowing so I’d go for an immobilizing shot. Releasing the arrow it landed where intended.
Taking down the next was much easier. But the final one had spotted us, or whatever sense it used to find us. And it came running with a screech.
“Shoot it down quick.” Jonas commanded as I lined up the shot.
Releasing the arrow I missed, firing too short and hitting the ground. Panic began filling me as I grasped for another arrow. Just as I notched the arrow on the bowstring I dropped it. The infected leaping up towards the truck with the might of an Olympian. As time slowed as I braced myself for impact. But that moment never came as a shot rang out, deafening me as I slipped and fell off the truck.
Daniel had managed to catch me as Jonas said something I didn’t quite hear.
“Get in the truck, we have to go.” He said again, my hearing returning.
“Sorry. I lost my cool and panicked.” I explained as I climbed into the truck.
Once everyone was inside, Jonas tore off leaving me pinned to my seat.
“Once we get into downtown we may have to get out and clear areas.” Ellis explained.
“How so? Surely people would have survived.” I asked.
“Me and Jin saw chaos. People running through the streets. Stores being broken into.” Ellis began.
“So you’re thinking it may have devolved quickly and a lot of people will have gotten infected?” Oscar proposed.
“Exactly.” Ellis replied.
“Or we could go around through the suburbs.” Jonas offered, coming to a stop at the campus exit.
Jonas was all for getting to Alisha quickly, so I found it odd that he was wanting to take a long way.
“The longer we stay out the more dangerous for us.” Ellis countered.
“Ugh,” Jonas huffed. “Okay. Through downtown.” He sighed.
He seemed afraid. But for some reason, I couldn’t pinpoint why exactly. I’d have to ask him the very next moment I got alone with him. Jonas took off, speeding and weaving through the abandoned cars. From where I sat in the back, I leaned forward up to the front to stare out of the windshield. Just as we passed a small storefront I saw what looked like someone being attacked by an infected.
“Stop the truck.” I told Jonas, reaching back for my bow and an arrow.
“What the hell Bambi. What for?” He complained.
“Stop the damn truck.” I asserted, just before we got in range.
He slammed on the brakes, pitching me forward a bit as I braced myself. I opened the sunroof, passing my body through it alongside my bow. I took aim at the screams coming from whoever was being attacked almost distracting me. Lining up the shot, I took down the infected with a precise shot to the head, telling Jonas he could go. I was about to lower myself back into the truck but the woman who was being attacked looked at me with terrified eyes.
“Stay safe. Get inside.” I shouted to her, saluting her as we passed.
I lowered myself back into the truck with a sigh.
“That was risky. What if more came?” Ellis questioned.
“I’ve been pondering for quite a bit what it would take to survive a world like this.” I began, returning to my seat between Oscar and Daniel.
“And I think losing an important human trait called empathy will kill you in the end.” I finished.
“Well said.” Oscar added.
The truck was silent, only the sound of the road and hitting the occasional bump breaking the absence of sound. The playlist I had put together had reached some rather forlorn sounding instrumentals. Not sad, but something like a distant glimmer of hope that was growing darker and darker. Entering downtown took my breath away. Buildings were burned, some were downed even. There were dead bodies dotting the concrete landscape. I wondered exactly how all of this damage was done so fast. Were infected that unstoppable?
“No.” I whispered softly.
I got up again, climbing through the sunroof again to get a better look. Has humanity lost already? How could this be? It looked as if a war was raged here.
“They’re doing everything they can to contain this. But it’s in pockets all over the country.” Ellis explained from below me.
I couldn’t hold back the tears that managed to escape from me. Where the hell did this come from? So many hopes and dreams were dashed, discarded into the wind, and burned away as this atrocity struck us. It made me angry that something like this could happen. I wasn’t religious per-say but I always believed there was something looking after us. Jonas slowed to a stop just outside a dark underpass. It was our way through; we had no other choice as effectively we were blocked in, backing out being more difficult than proceeding.
“Bambi, come back down. We need to check that out somehow.” Jonas said, giving my wrist a tug.
Everyone exited the truck, stillness, and fear evident in everyone. Jonas handed Oscar and Daniel guns as he went to the back of his truck to prepare something else. The city around us was eerily silent, the occasional piece of discarded paper blowing across our paths. There was a tap on my shoulder as I fought desperately to keep my cool; to suffocate the rage I felt. It all just felt so wrong. I turned to see Jonas with an arrow with something tied to it.
“Take the arrow rest off. You don’t want to mess that up.” He instructed, guiding my shaking hands along as he helped me.
Once removed, he took it into his hands.
“When I light this, fire it into the tunnel so we can get a quick look around.” He said softly as if I were a fragile sheet of glass.
“Okay.” I sighed, taking a steadying breath as I readied the arrow.
The moment he lit the small firework, I shot into the darkness. It hit what I assumed was a car judging by the sound it made. Though in the empty city it rang out loud. Luckily the tunnel was empty save for the car I hit.
“We should go. I wasn’t expecting to hit anything.” I said but was cut off by shrieks.
Everyone readied their guns, but I signaled for them to lower them. This would be the perfect way to let off some steam before I exploded.
“This,” I began, readying an arrow as I walked past them. “Is personal.” I finished, firing an arrow and making a clean shot at an infected that came twitching into sight.
Quickly I readied another arrow from my quiver, firing a shot that missed its mark. My work was sloppy but the power this bow held could break a bone.
“Why the hell are you here?!” I shouted loudly, feeling wild and feral in that moment of reckless abandon.
Drawing back my bow once more, I fired again, killing the one I hit previously.
“I don’t understand why!” I shouted again, preparing to fire another shot but I was stopped and restrained.
“Woah bro chill.” Daniel attempted to soothe as I broke down more and more, dropping my bow.
“Shit,” Jonas said, looking around us as a massive crowd of infected sized us up.
I looked at our path of escape, seeing it was blocked as well.
“Up onto the truck.” Ellis commanded.
I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. If I had kept my emotions in check this wouldn’t have happened. Scooping up my bow I was clumsily hoisted up onto the truck, I prepared for battle again.
“Shoot to injure. Headshots will take too much time.” Ellis said to everyone.
“Issac will shoot to kill. But he needs to conserve arrows.” He added as he helped Daniel up beside me. Jonas stood on the hood of his truck while Oscar stood over the bed.
Readying an arrow I was intent on redemption. No mistake could be made as if we messed up we would die right here. I almost released an arrow as a shot was fired right next to me by Daniel who looked terrified. I took a series of deep breaths. Strength, I needed strength. Picking out my targets as ones being closest to us I fired my first arrow taking one down.
“If we take down enough at the front the others behind them may trip and fall.” I suggested, the loud sound of gunfire going off again all around me.
It wore on for what felt like years of carefully firing arrows while the gunfire had my ears ringing. It seems the hoard was endless as they were grasping at us from below Jonas’ truck.
“This is hopeless.” Jonas scoffed, as he resorted to gun-butting them down.
I turned back to survey our surroundings, seeing the hoard growing more and more as more infected piled in. I was about to fire a shot into the sea of rabid people but chose to let it go, my single arrow being meaningless. Being moved aside, Jonas gave me a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
He had a fireworks cannon of sorts, planting it on his truck as he moved everyone clear of it.
“Maybe just maybe it will draw them away. When I give the signal hold on for dear life.” He told everyone, his eyes burning into my own.
He lit the last resort, stepping back as it launched into the air over some buildings as he shushed us. Moments later there was a resounding boom, a vibrant display of lights filling the space he shot it into. And as if anything Jonas said became truth, the infected ceased, streaming around the truck like water around a stone in a stream. Jonas had a triumphant and relieved smile on his face as they slowly filled out of the city block with snarls and growls.
I couldn’t help but sigh as the block was almost how it was when we entered it; albeit with more dead infected. I hopped down from the truck when we were in the clear, retrieving some arrows from the bodies of infected I shot.
“Hey. You okay?” Jonas asked as he came from behind me.
I looked around seeing everyone taking a breather.
“I’m fine.” I huffed, feeling drained now.
“You just snapped back there. You had me worried.” Jonas insisted.
“It’s just been a lot. I just want to get to my family; preferably without seeing another one of those things.” I explained, carefully wiping the blood off of my arrows.
“Okay, we need to go soon.” Jonas explained, getting ready to walk away.
I caught him by the shoulder, stopping him.
“About you wanting to avoid the city. Is it because of the owls?” I asked.
“If they find me here. They will take me with them and away from you and Lisha.” Jonas huffed, seeming antsy.
“Okay, well let’s go.” I replied, returning my arrows back to their quiver.
We walked back to his truck hand in hand, Jonas beckoning Ellis over.
“You’re driving. He needs a nap.” He explained.
“What,” I began, being shushed.
“You need to rest. That wasn’t like you Bambi.” Jonas asserted.
“Okay.” Ellis said simply, getting into the driver’s seat.
“And Daniel is pretty shaken up. I don’t think the kid’s shot a gun before.” Jonas whispered to me.
He knew me well. He knew that I would put all of my emotions aside if I knew someone wasn’t doing well. But it was important we all stayed in a positive headspace. Heaving a sigh I walked up to Daniel. I’d check in on him anyway despite this being an obvious distraction from Jonas.
“Hey.” I began, tapping his shoulder, his eyes wide in shock as he stared blankly at the ground.
“Are you alright?” I asked softly, finally capturing his attention.
“You got scary as hell man. Like you were on an episode of snapped.” He replied shakily.
I recoiled a bit. I lost my cool that was true. And if that kept happening I’d have to have someone do something about me as dealing with that on my own would be near impossible.
“I got angry.” I began honestly, leaning against Jonas’ truck beside him.
“Angry at the fact that children and other people won’t be able to live life as it normally was.” I continued.
“Angry and upset that hopes and dreams could be forever ruined because of all of this.” I finished.
“And angry that your life was ruined too?” Daniel asked.
I thought for a moment, nodding in agreement after a while.
“That won’t happen again though. It’s all out of my system I think.” I sighed with a small smile.
“I feel the same way too.” Daniel admitted with a sheepish smile.
“I think some level of anger is okay when it’s justified. So long as it doesn’t consume you.” I replied.
“C’mon, guys we gotta go.” Jonas said, climbing into the truck beside me.
“Let’s go. We need to make it there before nightfall.” I asserted softly, giving Daniel a gentle nudge.
He nodded with a sigh before going around to climb into the truck as well. When I made my way to climb into the truck, Jonas offered me a hand, hoisting me up into the truck beside him. I rolled my eyes as I set my bow down, closing the door and relaxing into the seat.
“All accounted for?” Ellis asked.
I looked around seeing everyone was here, a bit more shaken up but here nonetheless.
“Yeah.” I replied.
I just relaxed into Jonas who played with the curls of my hair. It was moments like this that made me forget about everything. It was like we were on a road trip somewhere. I tried to grasp onto that feeling for as long as possible; focusing solely on Jonas. I found little details that pulled me further and further into a state of relaxation. The gentle rise and fall of his chest. His signature scent, the feeling of his fingers working their way through my hair and the warmth of his body against mine.
“Have you been stressing lately? I see a few more silver hairs.” Jonas commented, lifting me out of the fog I was putting myself into.
“My mom says we grey early. I’ve been fine.” I replied drowsily, my eyelids growing heavier and heavier.
It was a losing battle that I eventually surrendered to, sleep, and bliss overtaking me as I drifted away. My dreams weren’t peaceful, nothing but reenactments of things that would have killed me. Though in these instances, I was torn into relentlessly; my luck all but gone in gruesome detail. It was one of those nightmares you were aware of, yet couldn’t seem to wake yourself. I was surrounded by snarling bodies, phantom pains tearing at my body as I slept. It gradually got louder and louder as I just hoped I could die in this dream and wake up.
Being thrown off and into a fog, my senses returned as my body was pitched forward as the truck came to a stop. I blinked, adjusting to my surroundings. The sun had just begun to set, the towering buildings around us dimly lit in some places while displaying a vibrant sunset on other sections of their glass panes.
“Alright we’re in everyone. Be respectful. Find me or Jin if anyone gives you trouble.” Ellis explained, hopping out of the truck.
I nearly tumbled out of the truck when the door beside me was suddenly opened.
“We’re gonna need your truck. The weapons in it threaten our policy.” A gun-totting man huffed, speaking to Jonas who glared back.
He was about to say something but Ellis spoke up.
“He keeps his truck. They’re good people.” Ellis defended sternly.
“People will do anything to survive.” The man countered.
“He had the opportunity to leave me behind. Yet he didn’t. He’s saved my life from infected a few times too.” Ellis replied, that last part being a lie; I’d have to thank him for that later.
“Fine! It will be under watch though. You’re up for a perimeter patrol kid.” The burly man growled, stalking off into the compound.
There were quite a few military vehicles around, ranging from tanks to helicopters parked neatly in rows on either side of the small stretch of road that lead into a parking garage. The urge to find my family was so strong. Being this close had sobered me up from the fog of sleep instantly.
“My family. Where are they?” I asked Ellis who was about to hover off somewhere.
“They should be in or around the lab. Where every other scientist is.” Ellis shrugged, giving me no help as I rolled my eyes out of utter annoyance.
“There are signs everywhere in the building. Just follow the directory.” He explained, hurrying off.
There was a hand on my shoulder as I felt a presence beside me.
“Let’s go find them so you can finally relax.” Jonas suggested.
I nodded in agreement as we left everyone else and headed into the building. There were a few of what I assumed were military personnel roaming the building. I’d have asked them where to go, but they seemed gruff and on edge. The last thing I needed was the emotional intensity of any negative kind. Jonas had a keen eye spotting the signs overhead leading to the lab. My body was fatigued and exhausted; my mental state matching it. Some much needed rest was something I looked forward to. Only after I found my family could I rest.
My body had other plans as it faltered and I fell to my knees, dropping my bow. Jonas stumbled to catch me, helping me to my feet yet again.
“Slow it down Bambi.” He replied, steadying me.
Taking a deep breath I did just as he said, calming down. And then seeing a white lab-coat disappear behind a glass sliding door it all crumbled away in an instant as I tore myself free from his hold and jogged ahead with all I had, almost tripping a few times. Just as I broke into the hall way my heart lit up light a display of fireworks when sitting right outside of the lab were my parents. Our eyes met as my step-father got up from his chair, a bright smile on his face probably matching the one I wore. I was hoisted up into a hug, and spun around in the air.
“Ouch, ouch. I’m not in tip-top shape.” I replied, pulling away.
My mom approached much more slowly as she was far along into expecting. I was so happy they were okay. The feeling was unlike any other.
“Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Boe” Jonas greeted as he caught up to me.
“Thank you kid for looking after this damsel.” My dad chuckled, pulling Jonas into a hug.
To my parents Jonas was flawless. They loved him and supported our relationship with a fire hotter than the sun. It was a little annoying at times but I couldn’t blame them; he could charm anyone given enough time. And bringing up how bad our relationship was was drama I didn’t want to stir up. So they only saw the good he did.
“Where is Alisha?” I asked, looking around for her.
“She’s finishing up some things in the lab. She hasn’t slept since she’s gotten here.” My mother sighed, rolling her eyes in the direction of the futuristic lab.
Moments of waiting, the girl in question came out of the lab, messy locks of curly hair being shaken aside. Her eyes were ringed in dark circles as they landed on us all.
“You tough bastard.” Alisha laughed as she came up to me embracing me in a tight hug.
“I know, I’m pretty unstoppable.” I joked.
“Any news to come out of that lab?” Jonas asked, Alisha lighting up even more if that were even possible.
“No cure yet. But it’s a sloppy thing indeed.” She explained briefly, looking around cautiously.
“I’m not supposed to say anything yet but we’re at the end of our research I feel.” She whispered, gesturing for all of us to follow her.
She lead us through the building, waving at who I assumed were other scientists. Eventually we were in an old office, the room re-purposed into a dormitory of sorts.
It was silent as she closed the door, turning to us, her smile faltering.
“So bad things or good things first?” She asked as we all settled down.
“Let’s go with the bad.” My mother replied, getting nods of agreement from us all.
“Well, it is a virus that had infected a new-to-us species of cordyceps fungus. The virus is what causes rage and anger in hosts.” She began.
“So a mushroom is killing us?” Jonas asked.
“It’s unusual for such a combination to occur in nature. Sure viruses can infect a host of things, fungi included.” She reasoned.
“The virus seems to weaken the body once the fungus has entered it so it can spread easier through all bodily fluids.” She elaborated.
“But it’s as if the fungus is aware of this and it’s like an all-out war in the body which results in fevers, hemorrhaging, and a nasty cough in experiments conducted on mice.” She replied.
“I have a question I’ve been wondering since this all started. Are they alive?” I asked.
Alisha looked uneasy at the question, her gaze falling to the floor.
“Yes and no.” She began, everyone seeming to turn to her with a questioning stare.
“Bodily functions are still carried out as normal; with little regard to severe organ damage. Infected still need to eat; though they become strictly carnivorous, getting their water from blood of their food when infected by the virus.” She explained, a shiver running through her as she crossed her arms.
“So infection comes from bodily fluids and what else?” My father asked.
“That’s the thing. Infection rates aren’t steady. Some mice took mere minutes. While others could fight off critical infection for as long as a day. If the fungus takes over the bodies are eventually immobilized by a large colorful stalk of cordyceps.” She added.
“I had seen that on the campus, in the stairwells.” I gasped
“They isolate themselves when under the influence of the fungus. And go someplace dark to bloom and spread again.” She replied.
I wondered if I should tell her what happened when some blood of the infected got into my mouth. Was there still potential for me to die? Afterall I did have a rather uncharacteristic moment on the way here today. I knew enough about biology to know that not every symptom had to be expressed; and some were asymptomatic. Though for now I decided I’d remain silent. I’d just have to keep an eye on myself for any of the mentioned symptoms.
“When the virus is in control is when interesting things happen to the host.” She said, yet another shiver running through me.
“They hold onto most of their intelligence; maybe even having it improve in some instances. Though aggression skyrockets along with that.” She shrugged.
“But cures. Has anything been learned about that?” Jonas questioned.
“It’s too aggressive in either infection type. The most we can do for people dealing with symptoms is to ease them and hope they pull through. Though the mortality rate is 98 percent at the moment.” She sighed.
“And it changes too frequently and there are too many variables. And in addition to that, the virus hides out in healthy immune cells so it’s hard to eliminate with even the most brutal of treatments I think.” She added.
“That’s grim.” My dad huffed.
“Our only hope as of now is to find someone immune to the virus. The fungus is much easier to tackle, though treatment is lengthy.” She explained.
“And how are you all going about that?” I asked.
“We’ve been collecting blood samples of everyone here to see how the immune system fights against the virus in simulations.” She replied, getting up and straightening her clothing.
“Any good news with that?” My mother asked, concern in her voice.
“I got so desperate that I drew a sample from myself. Turns out I’d last only about three minutes after being bitten or exposed to spores for too long.” She huffed, a small smile on her lips.
“So I also want to ask for samples from everyone coming in today as none of the samples on file preformed well. The best was eight hours of resistance.” She informed us as I froze in place a bit.
I had a lasting phobia of needles and small knives from the darkest times in my depression. I self-harmed and it almost cost me my life in an accident. And then being rushed to the hospital in that headspace had me terrified to be touched, yet i.v’s were inserted anyway to save my life. It was a secret I had sat on for a few years before I slipped up and almost killed myself; revealing everything I had been hiding.
Jonas was pissed at me for a while. My step-father urged me to see someone. My mother beat herself up for a while thinking she failed me. While my sister tried her best to forget about it. Overall, it was something that only got better with time; save for my aversion of needles and knives of the sort. And what if I were infected? I’d out myself and i’m not sure I wanted that attention.
I’d have to buy some time. Having something in mind that would buy a bit of time I got up.
“I’ll go find the others while you get your equipment?” I proposed.
“Oh. Sure thing. Meet me back at the lab with everyone once you’ve found them.” My sister replied, seeming grateful.
Though I knew she was tired and needed to rest. But I knew why she was working away. It was an internal conflict but I said what was on my mind anyway before I left the room.
“Get some rest Alisha. We do have tomorrow; I know that much.” I sighed, slipping out of the room and leaving everyone.
A/N: So yet another chapter ends. It’s been quite the rollercoaster so far. And I plan on the descent into darker waters being unpredictable. Something that swallows in an instant and releases just as fast. But anyway, until next time!