“Why are they running away from us?” Vicky asked as she spun around. Felicia was somewhere in town and she was calling her zombie horde, but it was like they couldn’t even see Vicky and her friends.
Noah scratched his head with the claw of his hammer. “I don’t know.”
“Maybe they’re going after something else?” Lila suggested.
“Probably someone,” Noah said.
“And I’m going to stop them!” Vicky chased after the zombies, firing into them. Noah and Lila took off after her.
“Can’t we just consider this a win and let the zombies run away?” Noah asked as they chased after the horde. They turned a corner and noticed that zombies from every direction were flowing into an alley. They heard what sounded like a beastly bark and Vicky urged the others to move faster. They fired into the alleyway, each shot echoing against the brick walls and tearing through rotten flesh. They fought their way towards the sound of the ongoing barking, which seemed to be having an effect on the zombies. They were slowing down, some even stopped moving completely. Vicky kept firing into the seemingly frozen zombies, only stopping when she ran out of ammo.
“Reloading!” She called out but before she finished she was shocked to see the zombies were turning on each other. One of Felicia’s agonizing screams rang out from somewhere nearby and then from inside the alley, on the other side of the horde, came another mighty dog-like bark. All around her the zombies, which had been rushing to the alley after some unseen target, were now scratching and biting at each other.
“Guys,” she said, hesitant, “it’s a dog.” The number of zombies still on their feet was quickly dwindling, and she could see a German Shepard peering at her through the fray. His fur was coated in thick, rotten blood and his tongue was hanging out of the side of his mouth, but there was someone else there cowering behind the dog. “It’s got a kid with it!”
She took off running through the zombie battlefield and as she made it to the alley she felt her heart beat in over time. Hiding behind the dog was a familiar little girl.
“Vicky?” Cynthia lifted her head from her knees and looked up. As recognition pulled a smile across her little face, she climbed over the dog between them and wrapped her arms around Vicky’s legs.
“Cynthia?” Vicky asked, not wanting to believe her eyes. She picked up the girl and her grip was nearly too tight. “You’re alive.”
“The doggy saved me. He was with the monster and he saved me!” Cynthia smiled, pushing away from Vicky so she could look at the dog.
“Harley.” Vicky read the dog’s tag and smiled. “You must be one brave dog to protect a girl against these things.”
“Harley says thank you. Harley’s a good doggy!”
The dog panted, his lips curled back into a goofy dog smile.
“Didn’t this kid have like, a lisp or something?” Lila asked.
“She did...” Noah looked distinctly as if he was taking mental notes. “And the dog, he was keeping the zombies back? Even managed to make them fight each other?” He seemed excited now, rubbing his hands together. “Dr. Kent is really gonna love this.”
“What do you mean the dog stopped the zombies?”
“Well you heard that bark, didn’t you? Kind of like when Felicia screams. Maybe he’s like her. With two beasts vying for control, the zombies are confused and...” He gestured behind them at the zombies who were still busy tearing and biting at each other.
Vicky looked down at Harley. Although the dog was covered with gore from fighting off zombies, he didn’t look like a monster. He was sitting next to Cynthia, pressing his body against her. “So, what does any of that have to do with the doctor?”
“I can’t really talk much about it, just know that it’s important we get these two back to the tower as soon as possible.”
“No, I can’t.” Cynthia said, gazing intently at the dog.
“Can’t what, baby?” Vicky asked.
“Harley wants to run but I’m too sick.” Cynthia shook her head as Vicky reached out to feel her sweaty face. The girl had a high fever. She then turned to Harley as if listening to the dog and said, “No, Harley, I don’t wanna run anymore.”
“I think she’s hallucinating,” Vicky said to Noah, hoping he might have a suggestion. “It’s like she thinks the dog’s talking to her.”
“Vicky, she’s a kid.” Noah shook his head. “Kids sometimes think they’re talking to animals, toys, plants, things that we as adults logically know can’t answer them.”
“I know that! I do have a daughter--” Vicky’s voice trailed off as she recalled the smoldering remains of her mother’s house. “I... I know what kids are like, okay? But she’s got a wicked fever.”
Noah stared at Vicky with an unspoken warning in his eyes. They both knew what a high fever could lead to.
“Uh oh,” Cynthia said, going pale as Harley lowered his body to the ground. Cynthia climbed on Harley’s back and looked up at Vicky and Noah. “She’s here.” Without another word, the dog scampered over the dead bodies, heading back to the street.
“She’s here?” Vicky said and turned back towards the chain link fence that ran across the back entrance to the alley. First she saw a huge, black clawed hand emerge past the brick wall, followed by an arm covered in thick, twisted muscles as the beast slowly turned to face them. The monstrous lizard-beast rose up to stand on two feet and Vicky had to crane her neck to look up at its face as it opened its huge mouth, saliva dripping from its sharp, curved fangs.
The beast screamed at Vicky, bathing her face in hot, putrid breath. It leapt high over the fence, landing on the roof of the building to Vicky’s left. She heard wood splintering under the monster’s weight as it careened towards Harley and Cynthia. Vicky pushed past Noah and Lila in her attempt to get back to the street. She wasn’t going to let that thing get a hold of Cynthia again. She burst onto the street and noticed that Harley had... changed. The dog looked as much like a dog as Felicia looked like a person. He was six feet tall on all fours, most of his body was covered in tight black skin with only tufts of jagged looking fur around his head and neck. It opened its massive jaws and barked up at Felicia, who stood territorially over them all on the rooftop.
The beast leapt from the roof, landing on the road and cracking the pavement. It stood on all fours as it screeched, fuelling the nearby undead with its rage. Vicky shot at the beast, her bullets tearing into its shoulder. The thing glanced down at the bullet wounds and stared at her with its glowing green eyes. Vicky noticed the zombies had stopped fighting each other and were now running in her direction.
Felicia sprang forward on super powered legs and sailed through the air towards Vicky but Harley intercepted. The dog-beast collided with the woman-beast and they rolled off to the side. Vicky turned and shot at the thing but it struggled from Harley’s grasp and leapt back up onto the roof.
“I’m going after it!” she called.
“Zombies first!” Lila ordered.
Ignoring her, Vicky climbed over the dead bodies in the alley and made it to the fence at the other end. Through a combination of the fence and a drainpipe, she hoisted herself onto the second story roof. The beast immediately charged and she emptied a clip into it. Felicia seemed unfazed as the bullets sunk into her scaly flesh. It ducked behind a raised structure that appeared to lead to a roof access staircase. Vicky moved forward and pressed her back up against the wall, sliding slowly along it with the biggest of her guns at the ready. She tried to listen for Felicia, but the sounds of Lila’s guns and Harvey’s monstrous growls and barks below made it impossible for Vicky to hear much else.
“I don’t know what you want with that little girl!” Vicky said as she reached the corner. She lifted her gun and swung around to face the other side of the structure, prepared to shoot. Nothing was there. “But I’m not gonna let you have her this time!”
She flattened herself against the wall again and moved to the next corner. As she reached it she stopped for a breath and felt something wet and slimy land on her face. She rolled the saliva between her gloved fingers and knew she’d been played. Pointing her gaze towards the sky, she saw the monster’s face peering down at her from the top of the structure. Panic and rage boiled together inside her and she pointed her weapon towards the thing. Vicky shot up into the air as the beast jumped down on top of her, slamming her to the rooftop. She screamed and kicked at the thing but its weight was overwhelming. She pushed its face with both of her hands, trying not to let its huge teeth get close enough to bite her.
Its breath rolled out of its mouth and onto Vicky’s face and she knew it was over. She resigned herself to struggling against the thing as it killed her, not wanting to give it the satisfaction of an easy dinner. Before it could bite into her, gunfire rang through the air. The beast pulled away and slipped over the roof, back into the alley below.
“Are you okay?” Noah asked. “How many times do I have to tell you--don’t get too far ahead of the group! We can’t help if you’re not with us.”
“Shut up,” Vicky said, huffing as she stood to look down into the alley. As if her friend hadn’t said anything meaningful, she leapt down onto a large dumpster, then to the ground, sweeping the alley with her gun. The beast was nowhere to be seen.
She sprinted to the street and saw Lila, Harley and Cynthia. The last few zombies were moving slowly and clumsily again, bumping into each other and losing their balance as Lila took out her knives to finish them off. Harley had changed back into his friendly dog body and he was sitting protectively beside Cynthia once more.
“Where’d it go?”
“Where did what go?” Lila asked, casually slamming one of her knives into the temple of the closest undead straggler. “Felicia?”
Vicky sneered. She didn’t think the beast deserved a name. It wasn’t human anymore. “Yeah,” she muttered.
“She didn’t come out this way.” Lila swung her other knife up through the air, stabbing it hard under another zombie’s chin.
Vicky turned and dashed to the other side of the alley. She shook the chain-link fence and screamed in frustration. If the zombies were no longer running, the beast was gone. It would live another day, have another opportunity to kidnap Cynthia, although Vicky didn’t understand why it wanted the girl so bad.
“She’s gone.” Noah said as he struggled to drop down from the roof.
“I’m gonna kill it!” Vicky said, pacing back and forth across the alley now. “If I ever see that thing again, I’m gonna send it to hell, where it belongs.”
“Slow down.” Noah reached out and grabbed her arm. He spun her around and touched her face despite her struggles against him. “I know you’re mad, I know. But there’s nothing we can do now.”
“It was here, in our town! Charles told us everything was fine, he told us! Then we show up and everything’s destroyed and... and that thing is here!” Vicky trembled with sorrow and wrath, trying not to think of the different ways her daughter could have been killed. Was she eaten by a zombie? By that beast? Or was she just burned alive in the house before she could even get out? “Everyone’s dead and it’s all because of the beast!”
“We have to believe they’re all still alive. Alive and waiting for us to find them.” Noah looked into Vicky’s eyes.
“Guys,” Lila called down the alley, “Cynthia’s not doing so well.”
Vicky and Noah rushed from the alley. Cynthia was sitting on the pavement, shaking and sweating.
“We need to get her back to the city. Dr. Kent will know what to do.” Vicky said as she bent to pick up Cynthia. She was so hot and weak she could barely form words.
“What about the others?” Lila said, “We told Daryl’s group to meet us here before we head back to the city.”
“You don’t think she’s... you don’t think she’s turning, do you?”
“No,” Noah said. “Based on her new, clearer speech I’d say this is something else. From Dr. Kent’s notes, and from what I’ve seen firsthand, most people just show cold-like symptoms with a ridiculously high fever before they... you know, but some people, for what ever reason, over come their physical limitations and use the disease to their advantage. Like Felicia.”
“Then do we have time to wait for Daryl? Or should we get her to the doctor now?”
Noah looked down at the girl and shook his head. “I don’t know. It’s hard to say. I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with her.” Vicky saw the young girl lose consciousness, she fell limp against her body and she held her closer.
“You two wait then,” Vicky said, “I’m going to find a car and get her out of here.”
“You can’t keep running off on your own like this! Whether you like it or not, you need help. Hell, we all do. If we want to survive, we need to stick together.”
“I won’t be alone.” Vicky said, putting a hand on the dog’s head. “Harley will come with me.”
“You mean, the monster dog who can compete against Felicia for control of the undead? That seems like a smart idea.”
“I know you’re being sarcastic, but I think it is a good idea.” Vicky could see in her teammates eyes that they weren’t buying it. “I mean, he saved my life. Felicia was coming right at me and he tackled her. And, and, he made those zombies fight each other, kill each other! All to protect Cynthia! I think he’s on our side here.”
Noah looked down at the dog then up at Lila who shrugged. “I’m not her boss, I’m just her teacher. She can do what she wants,” Lila said, clearly not interested in being involved in this decision.
“Fine.” Noah put his hand to his forehead and said, “Find a car and get back to the tower as soon as possible. We’ll wait at my house for the others and head back whenever we can.”
“Will they find you there?” Vicky asked.
“I gave them the addresses for both our houses. When they see yours the way it is, I’m sure they’ll know to come to mine.”
Vicky nodded at Noah and took off with Cynthia in her arms. Harley moved a little faster and took up the lead, frequently smelling at the air with his keen snout. By the time Vicky found a car that wasn’t blocked into by a maze of vehicles, the sun was about ready to start its decent down the western half of the sky. Vicky lowered Cynthia to the ground beside Harley and smashed in the window with the butt of her gun. She unlocked the doors through the window and opened the back to lay Cynthia down on the seat. Harley hopped in too so he could stay close to the girl as they drove. Vicky climbed into the driver seat and was pleased to discover the keys had been left in the ignition. She started the car and laughed as the engine revved.
“Time to get the hell out of here,” Vicky said, checking on her passengers via the rear view mirror. Ignoring the speed limit signs as they flew past, she raced south towards the city. She drove in silence for a short while before Harley climbed up into the passenger side seat, looking at her with his tongue lolling from his mouth.
“What?” she asked. She’d never been a big dog fan, but this one was obviously no ordinary dog. “What do you want? Why are you staring at me?”
The dog just continued to stare and she didn’t understand why she expected a response. Perhaps the intelligence in his gaze made her forget she was talking to a dog for a moment.
“You talk to Cynthia?” It sounded ridiculous to Vicky as she said it. “I mean... you do talk to her, right?”
The dog merely panted.
“Great,” Vicky said. “I’m talking to a dog and expecting an answer?”
Vicky went silent again until she got to the edge of the city. She knew this was where the dicey part of the journey began. She climbed out of the car and picked Cynthia up out of the back. Harley jumped down onto the street and followed Vicky as she made her way around the abandoned cars. The sun began to set as they came close to the downtown core and Harley took the lead again, sniffing the air and leading Vicky down the clearest route possible. They were outside a collapsed building when she stopped walking and twisted her brow.
She stared, wide-eyed into the sky and whispered, “It should be there. I should be able to see it from here.” Vicky felt like she was saying this for Harley’s benefit, as if the dog would understand. They continued along through the city and Vicky felt her stomach clenching. She continued to stare at the blank spot in the sky where she knew the flashing red beacon should have been. She knew something was wrong and she picked up the pace. They came around a corner and she stumbled. Her mouth dropped and her heart sank as she stared at the huge mess of rubble and debris that was once the tower. It was gone. For the second time in one day, Vicky arrived home only to find smoldering rubble.