The kayakers slapped their paddles into the water and pushed, dragging them off the shore. The strokes were frantic, filled with power and noise; the craft sped from the shore while the sound of the paddles bounced around the silent lake. The front kayaker’s paddle was going deeper on one side and skimming the surface on the other. With one stroke he missed the water and his oar swung, unimpeded, into the side of the boat. The drum like sound of metal on hollow plastic froze the men in place.
Leo scolded himself and swore in his head, now they were given away. He waited for viral to start swarming every inch of shore line and construct a decomposing bridge to them. He waited for gunfire at the back of the boat when Bones figured out that they had deserted. He waited for the lake monster, angry that its sleep was disturbed, to emerge from the depths and grind them to pieces. Leo waited for a response to his action his eyes closing, maybe he would get shot in the head, then he could go back to sleep. Leo floated across the water, his body gliding effortlessly over the calm. Leo turned around to see James powering the flight of the passenger in the front. First the noise, then not helping paddle to escape, Leo let himself wallow in self hatred for a moment before realizing he still was not helping to power the boat.
The men sat near the middle of the lake. The next decision was where to go. Leo had hoped to make the choice while still on dry land but they were past that point now, the night sky gave little hint as to the shape of the landscape. The boat was covered in darkness for the time being, but once the sun came up there was no telling who or what would be watching from shore. Right across from the original location was thick forest, Leo remembered that much, otherwise it had all looked the same.
“Perhaps the best place is the house furthest away from where everyone else is,” said Leo.
“I agree. Do you have any idea where said house might be, my night vision is a little hazy,” said James.
“I remember where the forest was, and I have a pretty good idea of where the houses started.”
Leo indicated with his hand. The two pressed their fatigued muscles to paddle.
The first time Leo indicated toward a point on the shore James remembered it and tried to keep the plastic vessel on a straight course, but it always drifted right. Trying to compensate made the boat swing the other direction and the whole time Leo would stop paddling and make motions about where they were really supposed to be going. The front passenger continued to make gestures James knew were unnecessary, so the man in the back reminded the front paddler of his competence by smacking Leo in the back of the head with his paddle. Leo turned around and held the back of his head. Without any trees overhead the moon provided enough light for Leo to see James mouth ‘shut up’. The man in the front stuck out his tongue. James waited until Leo was done then indicated towards the shore they were headed for.
The short argument break had helped James’s muscles recover and the boat was now sliding over the surface. The goal was a couple hundred yards away. James thought a fast approach would be best. If they landed on a beach or other gradual surface Leo could get right onto land and pull the boat up until his partner could get out. They would not have to splash around in the water. If the shore was steep, or rocky, the boat would bounces off with a bang, but then they would have to deal with the water anyway so the noise made by the crash would be unimportant. James began to paddle faster.
The two were a half dozen kayak lengths from shore when they began to speed up. Neither knew how little effort it took to get a kayak up to speed, after a second they had a good speed. Leo rested his paddle in front of him as he steadied himself, preparing to jump out. James was pushing his whole body into every stroke, faster, faster, land. The boat hit a solid object, but they still had six feet until shore. The kayakers were not prepared for a submerged rock. The boat tipped onto its side, dumping James into the shallows. The kayak righted itself and drifted sideways towards the bank, Leo holding on for dear life. The dry escapee grabbed his paddle and turned to help his friend, but by the time the boat was around James was only in water up to his chest, he was coughing, but safe.
When James fell he splashed water all over his relatively dry partner. The satchel that had been sitting behind James was still dry, and Leo rubbed his temple not wanting to think what would happen if their food and weapons had fallen into the water with James. Leo chuckled to himself as he watched James raise his arms out of the cold water and make his way towards shore. James responded with a firm middle finger but raised his face to meet Leo’s with a smile. The men locked eyes smiling and laughing under their breath for a single second. Before the moment had passed the sound of leaves being crushed reached Leo’s ears and he turned as he saw James lose his smile and point towards the shore where they had just landed.
A body flew at a full sprint out of the woods and fell off the shore mid stride, the boat flipped over, Leo, the satchel, and a viral all tumbled into the water, the two creatures wrestled under the surface while the bag sunk to the dark rocks below.
Too early. The sun was just coming into Max’s room and already someone was demanding he be awake. Leo had already gotten out of bed and he had let Max sleep, the person on the other side of the door was in for a verbal beat down. Max pulled himself to his feet and rubbed the sleep to the corners of his eyes.
“It’s too early for this,” Max stopped, apparently someone in the next room was having the same thoughts he was. The knocking was not on Max’s room, he was just hearing someone try to wake up Bones. Getting up was the right choice, trying to get back to sleep never worked so Max stretched his arms and walked to the hallway. He slipped his SW1911, a .45 caliber pistol into the back of his pants. Max then opened his door, and when he did the pounding stopped. In the hall was a woman in a torn blouse and jeans, she had cuts on bruises on her arms and stomach, and her face had the telltale red spots of broken blood vessels. Max stepped back into his room and slammed the door as the woman ran towards him and thrust her body towards the entrance. There were more footsteps outside.
“Don’t come out of your rooms,” He yelled, “Viral,” the pounding on Max’s door nearly tripled in power and frequency after the announcement.
“How many are out there?” Mouse’s question was almost drowned out by the pounding.
“Two or three, I don’t know, but they’re all on my door and its cracking.”
A loud slam from the hallway moved all the viral away from where Max was trying to hold out. “If we keep changing them between doors we can buy ourselves some extra time,” Mouse shouted.
“Well what’s your plan then?” Max held his spear that he had crafted and waited by the door. The violent pounding continued from across the hall as Max waited for the idea Mouse had yet to think of.
“Where is Leo?” Max’s words hung in the air, “Where is James?”
“He was the second guard, why the hell didn’t he wake us up or something?” Bones added.
“Bones you have to slam your door, mines getting busted down,” Mouse said.
“He should have just called out or something to get our attention.”
Max said, “Bones he’s dead, we have to figure what we’re going to do now.”
“I really need a distraction now,” As soon as Mouse finished Max heard a loud wooden crack followed by a string of curses from Mouse. “They’re half way through someone please…” Mouse was cut off by Max opening and closing his door, more cursing came from Mouse. Nothing happened to the newly slammed door. The blast of gunpowder made Max jump back just before a bullet came through the base of his door and hit the ground several feet behind him. Max jumped behind his bed before the second, third, and fourth shots were fired. Two of the three passed through the closed door where Max had been standing a moment before.
“What was that shit?” Mouse’s voice was closer now, in the hallway.
Max opened his own door, “I don’t know that…that doesn’t make any sense.”
“No, I’m talking about that,” Mouse said his finger pointing towards Bones and Edgar as they walked out of their room. Edgar held his hands out in front of himself and shook his head, he pointed one finger towards Bones. The now double accused did not acknowledge the two men prosecuting him with hand gestures; he examined the three bodies draped around Mouse’s door. The men stood their ground for a moment more before Christi drew all the attention onto herself, emerging from her room gun drawn, fatigue in her face.
“What happened?” Christi lowered her gun.
Max started walking towards the stairs, “We have to go.”
“We would have to leave our weapons and food here,” Bones said
“Will someone tell me what happened?”
“We could take some stuff with us,” said Edgar, “We don’t know what happened, but Leo and James are gone, they might be…” Edgar drifted off, “Everyone get downstairs, they might be turning now.”
The group followed Edgar’s order and scanned the lower level for their dead or infected friends. One window in the main room was already smashed and Leo and James were gone or otherwise well hidden. The sound of glass cracking underfoot grabbed the attention of the silent search. The four survivors stayed still, the glass crunching continued. Bones snapped to get the attention of the group, then he led them back up the stairs.
Mouse stepped over the three viral into his room. His bag was meant to be some sort of travel luggage, it was small and could be worn over one shoulder. Mouse grabbed the bag and jumped back into the hall. No one remained in the hall, Mouse opened each door in turn. Behind the last door on the right, where Christi had been sleeping, Mouse saw her sitting on the bed talking to Bones. Edgar and Max were looking in all the hidden spots the room had to offer.
“…think that it seems like the…”
Mouse cut Christi off, “I’ve got plenty of food in this,” Mouse brandished his luggage, “Now let’s get out of here.”
“Bones wants to stay here,” Christi’s eyes were wide.
“But we can’t, that’s…”
“I know, he just…”
“Shut up,” Bones had his arms crossed, “We have to stay here. After we deal with these viral we can board up the house and make it safe.”
“Bones, we can’t do that, there will be to many of them,” Mouse tried to keep his voice down.
“Where are James and Leo?” Mouse was not prepared for Bones’s question, “We are also missing two guns and some food. Those two left us and they brought the viral here. When we leave and take the monsters with us James and Leo will return and claim everything we left behind. We can’t give in.” Footsteps were making their way up the stairs, “We can reclaim human territory, we don’t have to be on the run.” The creature was now in the hallway, more muffled sounds came from the first floor. “We have to make a stronghold sometime,” Bones walked into the hall, pistol drawn, “Why not now?” The viral had a limp, one foot was twisted and the run was slow, Bones raised his 9mm and shot once. The two men in the room had stopped searching and were now drawing their own weapons, but no one moved out of the room. Mouse looked around the room for answers, he felt too queasy to stand. The rummaging downstairs had turned into a focused effort as feet pounded up the only staircase.
The first cartridge Bones fired at the new viral hit one in the upper chest, but the attacker slowed down enough that the second shot caught him below the left eye. The next two viral were close behind. Bones took aim at the second and with a, *click*… not the sound Bones wanted to hear, “Defend me,” his voice echoed into the room containing four other armed survivors. Bones made a long chop with his arm using the butt of his gun to smash the first viral on the top of the head. The viral fell, but wrapped its arms around his legs. Max blew open the other viral’s head and the other survivors followed him into the hall as more viral poured up the stairs. Edgar took a few steps forward and grabbed the viral’s hair that was still holding tight to Bones’s legs. Pistols and a rifle fired above the heads of the two humans on the ground. Edgar retrieved his weapon and put the barrel against the head embedded on the knee of its victim, and fired.
“I’m out,” Christi shouted.
Now that Bones was safe Edgar could focus on the fight. He pointed his gun at the staircase as four viral emerged in rapid succession. Edgar stood up, into the lane of fire. A shot from Max’s gun caught Edgar at the top of the shoulder. The wounded survivor stumbled forward and was tackled by a pair of viral. Bones and Christi had reloaded and their gunfire killed the two viral coming off the stairs. Max rushed forward to destroy the two still clinging to Edgar.
“Oh shit,” Max searched up and down Edgar’s wounded body, his eyes watered, “I’m sorry, oh god, I’m sorry.”
“Get the hell off me,” Edgar pushed Max and stood to his feet, “None of this is too bad, stings like a bitch though.” His body had scratches from fingernails, but the only wounds not already clotted were two shallow bite marks on his arms and the bullet hole in his back. “Get yourselves ready,” Edgar disappeared into his room for a moment before reemerging with a long thin knife, holding both in the air he said, “I can handle them for a while.”
When Edgar was down the stairs Mouse spoke, “We have to get out of here.”
“Don’t you dare,” Bones was still on the ground but his voice was strong.
“You’re not thinking straight, this place is done for,” Mouse noticed that the viral had taken a large chunk of flesh from above Bones’s knee, it was bleeding freely. Mouse grabbed Christi’s arm and said, “Let’s go, grab a bag.” Christi obeyed and went back into her room.
“And you would take everything from me,” Bones was still facing the stairs, not looking at the man who was pulling apart his imagined future.
“I’m sorry,” Mouse said, looking down at the former leader.
Max and Mouse walked passed Bones, Christi bent down to him, “I’m sorry Rob.”
Bones smiled, “And now Mouse is too.”
Bones extended his arm and squeezed the trigger, a shot rang out. Christi jumped back at the unexpected sound. Bones fired again. Max whipped around, his gun drawn as the second shot was fired, he put one bullet below Bones’s nose. The lead destroyed his brain stem, Bones was dead as the bullet left his skull.
Both of Bones’s shots had landed in Mouse, one in the back of his left arm, and the other into his ribcage on the left side. More gunfire boomed through the house from downstairs. Mouse fell forward and landed hard on his right arm. Christi covered her mouth while staring at the dead body, and began to cry. Max got under one of Mouse’s shoulders, with a push off the ground the dazed man was back on his feet.
“We have to keep going,” Max said, Christi stayed on the ground, “Come on girl, he’s gonna faint, come on.” Christi looked through her tears at Mouse before pushing herself up underneath his arm. The humans on either side of Mouse supported most of his weight down the stairs. Two viral were laying motionless on the ground on the bottom floor, Edgar stood in the middle of the room, a fresh bite mark on his lower arm.
When the remaining three came downstairs he said, “What happened?”
“Bones shot Mouse,” Max said as he dragged the unresponsive survivor toward the back door.
“You’ll need more help than I can give,” Edgar’s body shook and he clasped his arms over his stomach, “But I’ll stay with you until I turn.”
Edgar regained his composure with a grimace on his face and Max grabbed his shoulder, “Thank you.”
“Let’s get out of here.”
Behind the house the group was beginning to shamble through the forest as best they could when Christi saw something on the water.
“Guys, guys wait,” Christi stopped their momentum, “Go towards the water.”
“Mouse is in no condition to swim,” Max said.
“What’s that?” Christi pointed to a long floating piece of yellow one hundred yards from shore.
“I don’t know, why did we stop?”
“It’s a boat,” She said, “I think we should find one of our own.”