Before I am able to get too close to the boy, I hear a loud noise that sounds like a door closing and turn. It’s the family again, heading away from the building - they must have seen the swarm of creatures heading their way.
I think that the girl is a killer, but doesn’t want to show her family that. She doesn’t want to scare her little brother, but she also doesn’t want to make her father angry. Otherwise, she would’ve chased after me and killed me, and she might have stayed to fight the swarm.
She starts to trot briskly through the woods and I follow her. Judging by the fading footsteps behind me, I believe the boy walked away, but he may still be following me or her.
I have to get to the girl. I cut through the trees while she stays usually out of the treelines and in the open. Every once in a while I’ll see her, her brother, or her father, just a glimpse of them zigzagging between the foliage.
We continue on like this for hours. Each time I catch a peek of one of the people, they become further and further apart, further away. They’re moving much faster than I am, but I managed to keep up somehow, for the most part. Now I’m losing them.
There are screams to my left, but they are loud, loud enough to mean that they’re closer than the family.
I involuntarily turn towards the screams, losing the family altogether, and head in their general direction.
Finding the source of the screams, I reach a young man who is one the ground, surrounded by two creatures. They are clawing at his face, scratching him raw, and he is screaming and kicking, trying to get them off of him. I kneel, scratching him without wanting to. I want him to run, but instead my arms are swinging crazily, teeth bared.
He is young-looking with longer hair. His clothes are tattered and very dirty, and I am not sure if that was from this encounter or something else previously. He looks incredibly tired and his hands are bloody. The knees of his jeans are also bloody, and there are splatters on the rest of his clothes. It looks like some of it’s dried, meaning that it was from before this experience.
Suddenly, one of the creatures next to me falls to the ground, blood leaking out of a hole in the side of its head. The other creature, to my right, falls in a similar manner, after a small bang rings out. It sounds like a gun with a silencer on it. I get up to follow the noise.
The shadow that was following me earlier, the hooded figure, is there, gun in hand. Stumbling to get closer, he backs up, wanting to lead me towards him. He looks as if he’s wearing a bit more gear, protecting any uncovered skin.
Even though I know he is trying to lead me, my body follows him, and I feel a growl in my throat, a moan. It scratches and burns the throat that I haven’t used in days.
I must have started to wander off, because the boy clicks and whistles. I turn to follow him again.
The boy trips over a protruding root and falls back, gasping and sputtering. He scrambles to his feet as I gain on him, but is able to right himself safely. It’s not like I could’ve hurt him - his gear looks thick.
He continues to lead me, clicking and whistling every once in a while. It takes a long time, but we make it back to a small house, a building that looks as if it’s about to collapse. It’s obviously very old but seems relatively sturdy, despite the cracks running up and down every wall.
The teenager backs into the door, groping for the handle, and turns it once his hands grasp it. He stumbles backwards into the house, which is made primarily of wood. It is relatively tiny, with room only for a bed, a chest of drawers, and a bathroom in the back. It’s quite useful - you could live here, if you had enough supplies, for a nice, long time. It’s in the woods, secluded, but not too far from civilization.
He is mumbling to himself, but I don’t know what he is saying. There are test tubes and beakers all over the place, a few of them bubbling, and there’s an acidic smell that permeates throughout the room.
He is writing furiously in a notebook. I can not see what it is he is writing but I know it is important. He holds it carefully, not setting it down anywhere that isn’t clean, and always wiping off anything when he’s finished erasing. It’s clear that he takes his notebook very seriously.
He keeps looking up at his beakers and test tubes, examining them before writing anything. He gets up once after knocking me over, kicking me in the leg, and adds something to a beaker on a burner, making it change from a greenish color to a light blue.
I am on the ground, trying to get to my feet. My leg hurts a bit, a dull pain, but I know that if I was back to my normal self, it would be a legitimate, sparking pain. My leg was twisted, most likely sprained or badly bruised.
He smiles and chuckles to himself, obviously pleased with his work. He seems smug and excited, like he’s just had a sort of breakthrough in his chemistry experiments.
The boy is holding tongs and I see him take a test tube off of a bunsen burner. I keep heading towards him, but he kicks me back, holding me off calmly. He takes an oven mitt with his free hand and grabs the tube with it, setting down the tongs with a clang.
All of a sudden he grabs me with his other gloved hand and throws me onto the small bed. He is pinning me down, and I can feel myself growling, biting, trying to scratch.
My arms are above my head, and he is holding both of my wrists with one hand, spread out to pin me to the bed. His left leg is on my thighs and he is turned away from me, bringing the test tube towards me. He is moving his arm slowly, so as not to shake it or drop it. He treats it with nearly as much care as he treats his notebook.
The boy then shakes his head, taking his test tube and putting it back over in a holder. I start to stand but he pushes me back down. He adds one more ingredient to the test tube, making it fizzle a bit, and then he brings it back over to me.
He sits on his knees and on my chest, taking off his mitt with his free hand and throwing it on the ground next to the bed. Then he pins down my hands and tilts the test tube into my opened, growling mouth.
It starts to slide down my throat, burning only a little, and he squeezes my right hand tightly, making me swallow the liquid.
He then jumps up from the bed excitedly, picking up his notebook. I glance at the cover before he opens it and see that it’s a dark blue color.
Then I cough.
I haven’t been able to cough since I started forgetting.
And then I start to remember.
The boy laughs, jumping up and down and saying, “It works!” Again, he scribbles in his notebook, this time not taking as much care, but still being cautious with it.
I can remember when my dad took me fishing when I was little. We were out on the lake, and I caught a rather large catfish which proceeded to jump into our boat. My dad became nervous and jumped up, tipping us both over. We went home to my mom soaking wet but laughing. It was one of the best days I’d had with my father.
I start to remember Christmas days, and Halloweens, and all sorts of holidays and holiday parties. I remember school - the school that the family was at, that was the high school I went to before everything ended.
And that family… I know I knew them. That memory is taking a while to resurface.
“Hello,” the boy offers finally. “How are you feeling?”
I cough in response, my entire body shaking and curling. It’s a rattling cough and hurts my throat, my lungs.
“It hurts,” I say honestly. My voice is shaky and rough, like sandpaper. I try to clear my throat, but it hurts a bit too much.
“Can you remember? Like, before this whole thing went down?” he inquires, and I nod.
“I remember… my family. And life, what it was like to live. It felt like I was dead, I couldn’t move… I could just sit in silence and watch myself torture others. It was awful.”
I feel something roll down my cheek and notice that I’m crying silently. My leg shoots up in pain, the shin throbbing, and I note that it must be from when he kicked me. My chest has bruises on it that I can feel, and my fingers are bruised and cut in a few places.
He sees me examining my fingers and hands, turning them over and rotating them around.
“I’ll take care of you until you’re a bit better. And sorry for being so rough with you earlier. Can’t risk being infected, my studies would cease.” I can’t tell if he’s joking or serious, so I give him a rattling, wheezing laugh.
“You’re okay now, though. You’ll be alright, as long as I can stay around, take care of you. Do you have any family left that you can remember?”
I shake my head. “No, they’re all gone. I know that my mom died, and when she was gone the rest of us got infected. I’m pretty sure they’re all dead too, my dad and my sister. Even if they aren’t, they will be soon.”
He nods grimly.
“Who’d you lose?” I question quietly.
“Mom and Dad. Plus our family dog. Ran away.” he whispers. “So,” he states a bit louder, “can you tell me your name yet?”
I furrow my brow, thinking hard, and it finally resurfaces.
I take a deep breath. “Miles Brooch."