The only sound I can hear is my heart, pumping faster and faster. It vibrates in my ears, my eyes, my fingers, as I turn around and around, waiting for an exit, some kind of way out.
I try to tune myself back, bring myself back to Earth, and am immediately greeted by moaning, groaning, and screaming. Kaylee is on the ground, face being scratched by two or three Infecteds surrounding her.
I put down one of my bags and take out a couple scarves and articles of clothing. Ripping off sleeves, pant legs, and any scraps I can find, I cover myself with them, making sure that any exposed skin is covered with at least a thin layer of fabric.
My hand brushes against something cold and metallic and I pull it out carefully. There’s a sheath with my old knives, ranging in sizes. Most of them started to rust, so I usually only use my favorite one.
I take one knife in my hand, a short, stout knife with a smooth blade. I spin it around, take aim, and throw it directly towards the Infected’s head above Kaylee.
It begins to scream, falling to the ground. I throw another short knife with a serrated blade and it hits the other one with a profound thump, but this one doesn’t scream. It simply falls to the ground, eyes bloody.
I kick a few of the approaching creatures, knocking them back, and run over to where Kaylee is lying.
She has scratches all over her face and some are bleeding. There are small drops of blood all over her face, arms, and torso; her pants and ripped up and her legs are bleeding.
“You’re okay,” I tell her, trying to give her a reassuring smile. I knew she wasn’t alright; if she didn’t die from the disease in a few days or from an infection of one of the cuts, I would have to put her down.
“Find… Find your family,” she wheezes, and then her eyes roll back in her head. She just blacked out, but when she comes to she might not remember me.
I drag her to the barrier, safe from other Infecteds, and start shooting the ones blocking the highway. I am able to create a temporary opening and quickly arrange my bags so I am able to carry kaylee away. I then check my coverings, making sure that my skin is fully covered, before picking up her limp body.
She’s surprisingly light, and I’m able to kick the approaching Infecteds away. I look back and see one of Kaylee’s bags laying on the ground, but some Infecteds are swarmed around it - it probably had some food inside.
I hobble-run up the highway, not looking at signs but looking next to me and behind me for the Infecteds.
Thinking about the swarm, I noticed that the ones that screamed when I killed them didn’t have bloodied eyes. They just looked gravely ill, not yet like some alien or a walking corpse. The ones with red eyes were just shells - aliens that forgot everything about their past. Graying, vaguely human creatures that have somehow been on this Earth for a long time. The ones without bloody eyes must be still ‘alive’, in a sense - able to feel, but with no emotions. No ability to truly feel anything, but they can sense pain. I don’t know if they still can feel pain, or if they scream because they can still remember what pain was. The bloodied creatures are devoid of emotion, feeling, memories, everything. They are the final stage of disease, of you can even call it a stage anymore. That stage means that they’re gone, all gone, and are basically dead already. There may be some way to save the plain Infecteds, but saving the Reds - that might be a stretch.
I feel Kaylee start to stir a bit and I slow my hobble-run. Eventually, I feel safe enough to stop and I put her down next to the highway, on a small patch of grass. I slap her face lightly, wanting to get her awake, but to no avail.
I take out my canteen that’s about half full. Opening it, I pour a little bit onto her face and I hear her inhale. I step back, trying to examine her.
She coughs shallowly and I step towards her. “What’s your name?” I ask, as just a precautionary measure.
“Kaylee,” she mutters. “Kaylee Garrison.”
“What’s my name?”
“Ebony Wilson,” she responds.
“Okay, one more - when’s your birthday?”
She sighs. “January 12th.”
She seemed pretty confident in her answer, and I approach her. “How are you feeling?”
“Uh, I feel pretty beaten up. Like my skin’s on fire. But I’m okay, I can keep going.”
She starts to sit up, but I can’t stop her. Touching her could be dangerous, and I don’t want to hurt her any more than she already is.
It takes her a little while, but she is able to get on her wobbly feet and start to limp down the highway. I grab the bags, unable to stop her.
We continue down the highway and I track the sun. We seem to be heading west because it starts to set in the direction that we are walking. The sky starts to fade to a nice orange and pink, and everything is peaceful for a moment.
Then I hear a thud.
In almost slow motion, I turn to see her fall, collapse to the ground. She starts seizing and I run over to turn her on her side, trying to wait it out. Eventually she stops seizing and her eyelids flutter open.
“It’s okay,” I tell her, not even trying to hide the fear in my eyes. “You’ll be alright. We should probably set up camp somewhere near here. I’m going to go scope the place out, you just hang tight, okay?”
She nods weakly and I head out into the woods, trying to find a small area with some even terrain. A clearing like the one earlier would be nice, but we’re way too far to go back and it might be difficult to find somewhere like that again.
I quickly find an area that’s good enough to stay at for a few days and place a colorful scarf on a rock there. I head back to the highway.
“I can walk. I’m okay.” Kaylee tells me, and I shake my head, but she stands still. I walk over and put my hand under her arm, assisting her and propping her up a bit.
I see the colorful scarf I set down and help Kaylee sit on the rock. I then drop the bags on my back and start to set up the wire. I only wire a small area, as we probably won’t be here for long, but I might as well be safe.
Kaylee is breathing heavily and the area around her eyes are red. I know she has a fever, but just in case I go up to her and lay the back of my hand on her forehead. She is burning up.
I sigh and grab her a canteen from her small bag. It’s pretty full and she chugs it, drinking heavily. I know she’s in pain, and she probably feels awful. I want to help her, but I don’t know how. She’s pretty much gone already.
I was never a really girly girl. I didn’t like dresses or makeup, I never was flirty with boys or anything like that. I’m glad I can keep that reputation now. It’s not that I never would do anything remotely girly - I did have my moments.
We had school dances and I would always buy a dress and boots and matching leggings. If it was a formal, I’d get some earrings and a necklace to go with it. I’d curl my hair and my mom would help me with my makeup, which was some of the only bonding time I ever truly got with her.
In that perspective, I miss those times more than ever now.
I never kissed any boys behind the bleachers or had a boyfriend that everybody talked about. All the girls in our school were getting boyfriends while Leah and I were just sitting and talking to each other, hanging out, playing games. I never took any interest in doing what the other girls were into - I’d rather run than play field hockey, for example. I was so different, and Leah was just like me.
The dances weren’t up Leah’s alley, but I liked to be able to feel like a princess for that one day, for those couple hours. Getting all dolled up, shopping, this was the only time that it really appealed to me, but I loved it.
Now it’s an opportunity to start over. I get to be whatever I’d like to at this point - I can show that I’m a tomboy, instead of pretending to be girly or someone I’m not. It’s one of the perks of the apocalypse - changing our image of ourselves, molding our own personalities to fit what we would like.
At this point, a survivor is a survivor. If they’re nice enough to take you in, you go with them and stay together. Being alone in this epidemic is one of the worst things that can happen, and if you can find a partner, you stay with them.
I am so sympathetic for the people who lost their family and friends, especially those who lost them in the beginning. I have a feeling that Ted and Dad are out there somewhere, surviving somehow, and I’ll find them. I have to find them.
For now, though, I have to take care of Kaylee. Losing her would be devastating - she’s helped me more than I could have ever imagined she could, especially in this short period of time. She is incredible, and has one of the biggest but toughest hearts I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. And I need to save her.
I will save her.