I had to be alone. I had to clear my head. Everything was backwards and I didn't know what to believe any more. I ran down the first alley I saw and pressed my back against the wall. My mind was a swirling hurricane of emotions. Anger, confusion, grief. It was overwhelming. I had spent so many days alone, I had forgotten how it felt to feel. I felt tears stinging in my eyes and furiously blinked them away.
I pushed off from the wall and looked around me in the alley. There was an old, rusted dumpster against the wall across from me. I ran over to it and climbed on top. From there, I dug my fingers into the small cracks and ledges that adorned the side of the building and started to climb. It was slow work, trying to find large enough hand and foot holds to support my weight. At one point, my hand slipped and the rough stone of the wall scraped the skin from my palm. I barely noticed the pain and kept climbing, leaving bloody marks on the wall each time I placed down my hand.
I reached the top and stood up, closing my eyes and feeling the wind on my face. I felt like screaming, but I kept quiet. I kept my emotions inside me.
I knew why Andy had chosen not to tell me about the bite, but it didn't make it any easier to know that he had lied to me. It wasn't that I felt betrayed, it was the fact that I had finally let myself trust anyone besides myself only to have it come around and bite me in the end that made it so difficult.
My fist thought was to run. Run from all of the emotions, run from everything, and run I did.
I started sprinting the length of the rooftop, the wind whipping at my face. When I reached the edge, I planted one foot firmly, and jumped. My body soared over the gap between one building and the next.
I landed on the other roof and softened my impact by tucking my body into a roll. Without giving myself anytime to think, I straightened back up and began running again, gravel crunching under my feet.
I jumped between two more rooftops before coming to a halt at the edge of the final building. The next roof was a good fifteen feet away, separated by a road. There was no way I would be able to jump a length like that so I backed up from the edge.
My heart was pounding in my chest and and I was slightly out of breath, but I was still feeling. I reached back and slowly pulled out my katana, bringing it in front of me and examining it closely.
The blade itself was about three and a half feet long and ever so slightly curved upwards. The hilt of the sword was wrapped in black leather and the blade was as sharp as a razor without a single nick on the edge of the metal.
I lifted it and slashed it down and to the left. The blade was met with little to no resistance as it cut through the air with a soft whoosh. Then, I brought it up so that it was just above my eyes and parallel to the ground. I widened my stance, placing my feet farther apart. In one quick motion, I twisted the blade so that hilt and the tip switched sides, and slashed from side to side. For the next few hours, I practiced with my katana, performing move after move, each one slightly more complex than the one before.
I only stopped when the sun began to set. My shirt was soaked in sweat but I didn't care. As I had practiced I was able to sort through my emotions, pushing them into some deep recess of my mind and shutting them inside. I was in control of myself once again. I reached back, re-sheathed my katana and took a deep breath. I was ready to go back and confront Andy. I needed answers and I was going to get them one way or another.
I walked over to the side of the building away from the street and looked down. built into the wall was a very rusty ladder, that lead down into the alley floor, three stories below me. It didn't look very stable but it was the easiest and fastest way down from where I was.
I knelt down and grabbed the top wrung, slowly and carefully placing my full weight onto the ladder. The metal groaned in complaint and I froze in place, waiting to see if the ladder would give out. When nothing happened, I slowly began descending down the ladder.
I didn't get very far before a loud, grating screech tore through the air. I didn't have any time to react and the next thing I knew, I was falling the last sixteen feet or so, to the ground.
I landed hard on my back, my head cracking painfully on the floor. All the air was knocked out of my lungs. The towel I had folded up against the back wall of my pack, saved me from any further injury when I landed on it.
I tried to suck in a breath but my lungs didn't seem to want to cooperate. Above me, the rusted ladder had torn away from the brick wall and had bent almost at a ninety degree angle.
I stayed on my back, unable to move. Back spots danced in my vision as I desperately tried to get air back into my lungs. Just as I had finally managed to suck in a small breath of air, a soft moan sounded through the air. Pure panic flared up inside of me as I tried to see where it had come from. Through blurry eyes, I saw that two zombies stood at the entrance of the alley.
Without thinking, I clumsily scrambled to my feet and pulled out my katana. As I brought the blade in front of me, a terrible pain ripped through my side and I almost dropped it.
I couldn't focus my eyes, the world was spinning around me. I could barely make out the first zombie as it came charging at me. I swung my katana blindly at where I thought it's neck was.
Out of sheer dumb luck I managed to hit my mark and the zombie went down but the mix of pain and dizziness was almost too much and I fell to one knee. As I fought to remain conscience, the second zombie ran into me and we both fell backwards. My katana fell from my hand and clattered across the stone pavement. A rush of adrenaline broke through my foggy mind and I rolled to the side, kicking out blindly. My foot made contact and pushed the zombie away, buying me a few seconds. Without taking my eyes off the the zombie, I slid my hand slid over the pavement around me, looking for something to use as a weapon. My fingers brushed over a loose brick and I snatched it up, lunging forward just as the zombie had started getting back to its feet.
I smashed the brick into its face and it fell sideways, landing on its back. I smashed the brick into the zombie's head again and again and again. I didn't stop until its head was nothing but a pulverized pile of rotten goo.
I stepped away from the zombie, breathing hard, my heart pounding in my ears. I looked back down at the zombie in horror, the brick rolling from my fingers. I had gone too far. I had kept going even after I knew it had been dead. What I just done was something a Raider would do.
The dizziness came back worse than before and I stumbled on my feet. I turned away, bile rising up in my throat. My foot hit something and I tripped, falling onto my hands and knees. My stomach lurched and I wretched, throwing up everything that was in my stomach onto the floor of the alleyway. My arms collapsed under me and I fell to the side, my head pounding. I tried to get up, I knew I had to get up, it was too dangerous to stay out in the open, but my body felt like it was made of lead. Black spots swam in my vision, getting larger and larger.
"This is it," I thought. "This is where I'm going to die." For some reason, though, I wasn't scared of the thought. The urge to fight the darkness seemed more and more pointless until I finally just gave up and allowed myself to embrace the darkness.
The sound of chirping birds woke me up. I opened my eyes slowly and stared up at a smooth white ceiling. I smiled at the sight, it was familiar, comforting. I slowly gained consciousness of the rest of my body bit by bit. I was laying on something soft. When I looked down, I saw a familiar brown comforter draped over-top of me.
I smiled and closed my eyes again, snuggling up against my pillow, I was in my room again, everything was all right. Then, with a jolt, everything came flooding back. The outbreak, five years of pain and suffering, everything.
My eyes flew open and I bolted upright. I was still in my room, everything was clean and, normal. It all looked exactly like I remembered it to be. The white walls and brown accented furniture, my closet full of clothes, even the bookshelf that was literally overflowing with books.
I jumped out of the bed and ran to the mirror that hung on my door. I hardly recognized the girl I saw reflected back at me. It was me, but it was a me I had almost forgotten about. A girl with long black hair, and bright, eyes, free from the hollowed look of misery, wearing the oversized t-shirt that I used to always wear to bed. Frantically, I inspected my arms and legs. The skin was smooth and unblemished, completely free of the lattice work of scars that I had gained over the years.
I backed away from the mirror, almost tripping as the back of my knees hit the foot of my bed. I sat down hard my hands shaking. "It has to be a dream," I thought. "This isn't real. It can't be real."
I scanned my room, looking for something sharp. There was a small, silver pair of scissors on my dresser. I jumped up from the bed and snatched them up in one hand.
I vaguely remembered someone telling me once that you couldn't feel pain in dreams. "I have to be sure," I thought. I put my left hand palm down on the dresser top and lifted the scissors up in my right. "I have to be sure."
Just as I was about to plunge the scissors into my hand, a familiar voice called out. "Lauren, breakfast is ready!"
My breath caught in my throat and the scissors clattered to the floor. I ran to the door and flung it open, I didn't even notice anything else around me as I ran down through the house I had grown up in until I reached the kitchen. I skidded to a halt in the doorway.
There she was, standing in front of the stainless steel stove, flipping a pancake. She looked exactly as I remembered, curly white hair cut short and styled up, light red lipstick on her thin lips, and wearing a simple blue shirt and tan capris and fluffy pink slippers. She even had on the apron I had given her one year for her birthday that said, 'loves to cook' in loopy letters.
She flipped the pancake she was cooking onto a stack of already made pancakes and looked up as she noticed me in the doorway. Her blue eyes caught mine and she smiled. "There you are," she said in her beautifully familiar voice. "I was starting to think you had decided to skip breakfast."
Memories flashed in my mind. Of her, crouched in the dark living room like a wild animal, smeared across her face and spattered all over her clothes and in her hair. My vision went slightly blurry as tears filled them.
I ran forwards and hugged her tightly. She seemed surprised hesitating only a moment before hugging me back. "Lauren what is it? What's wrong?"
I just shook my head and hugged her tighter. "Nothing, I... I just missed you so much."
She laughed and pulled back, holding me at arms length with a hand on each of my shoulders. "It's only been a few hours."
I laughed slightly too and wiped the tears from my eyes. "I know... I just, I love you."
She smiled. "I love you too sweetie."
Suddenly, her grip on my shoulders tightened and she began to shake me, still keeping the the sweet smile on her face.
"What are you doing?" I asked. I tried to break away but her grip was too strong.
She began to say my name over and over shaking me the whole while. "I'm right here grandma, please stop!" I said but she just kept smiling sweetly. Then she reached up a hand slapped me across the face.
My eyes flew open. Someone leaned over me, hands grasping my shoulders, but it wasn't my grandmother. Panic flared inside of me and my hand flashed down to the knife at my belt. I seized it and slashed out wildly. The person drew back with a cry of pain and I scrambled backward until my back hit a wall. I held my knife up defensively in a shaky hand. Night had fallen, bathing everything in darkness but the full moon provided just enough light to see. I realized, suddenly, that I knew the person in front of me.
"Andy?" I said, lowering my knife. " What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing." He said. He had a cut on his cheek that trailed fresh blood but he ignored it. "When you didn't show up I went looking for you. What the hell happened here?"
For a second I couldn't remember where I was or why I was there. Then, I saw the zombie on the ground behind Andy, its head looked like it had gone through a blender. Memories began seeping back into my mind, one by one.
I groaned and rubbed my temples where a sharp, throbbing pain had just started to form. My chest hurt with each breath I took.
"Nothing happened," I told him. "I was attacked by a couple of zombies. I took care of it."
Andy sat back on his heels. "You took care of it, huh? Then why did I find you passed out next to a couple of dead zombies?" His eyes widened suddenly. "You weren't bitten were you?"
I stopped rubbing my temples and shot Andy a nasty glare. "I wasn't bitten."
"Then what happened? Why were you unconscious?"
I opened my mouth to answer him, to explain but I quickly closed it again. Why did I have to tell him anything? What had happened to me was my problem.
So, instead of answering his question I stood up. As soon as I was standing I was hit with a wave of dizziness and my head felt like it was splitting open. I stumbled and almost fell back down, a fuzzy haze clouding my vision. I leaned heavily against the wall just to stay upright.
"Not good." I thought. "Really not good." My vision began to clear the dark haze receiving from my field of view. The world still spun around me and my head still pulsed with an intense pain.
For the past 5 years I had read every medical book I had found as I was looting. When you're surviving alone, you can't exactly afford to be injured without knowing exactly what to do. I frantically searched my memory, sifting through my memories until I finally found what I was looking for.
"Concussion." The word forced it's way into my thoughts. "I have a concussion." And suddenly I remembered my head slamming into the floor of the alley when I had fallen from the ladder.
I slowly lifted my hand to feel the back of my head. My fingers brushed over a large knot on the back of my head and I winced at the sharp stab of pain that raced through my head when I touched it.
When I brought I brought my hand back in front of me, my fingers were covered in blood.
"Shit." I said out loud. At that moment, the dizziness became too much and I slid back down to the ground.
"Lauren?" Andy said. He sprang forward and reached out to touch my shoulder.
I shoved him away roughly. "Don't fucking touch me" I shouted at him. The act of it caused my throb painfully again and I shut my eyes tightly trying to subdue the pain, even a little.
I couldn't see what Andy did after that but he didn't try to touch me again. After a few seconds of silence, he spoke up again in a soft voice.
"Look, I know you're probably still really pissed at me." He began. "But look at yourself, Lauren. You can't even stand up on your own. Could you please tell me what happened to you so I can help?"
"I don't need your help." I said, not opening my eyes. It seemed to help with the pain a bit.
I knew it was a lie. I knew that, if my suspicions were correct and I did have a concussion, the fact that I had actually passed out meant that this was serious. Even though I knew all of this, I refused to accept the fact that I needed help from anyone, especially from Andy.
Andy sighed heavily. "That's bullshit and you know it." he said.
I gritted my teeth. I wanted to punch him, I wanted to prove just how much I hated him, but I knew I couldn't, not in the state I was in.
The next thing I knew I was being lifted from the ground. My eyes flew open. Andy had picked me up. I struggled against him, my head feeling like some one was stabbing it repeatedly with an ice pick. But I didn't have my full strength and no matter how much I struggled I couldn't break free. Black spots once again began to crowd my vision again. With the last bit I strength had, curled my hand into a fist and punched blindly out at him. I felt my hand connect with something hard but by that time, the darkness had taken over my vision so much that I couldn't see where I had hit.
The last thing I remembered was Andy letting out a loud curse before I drifted away into blackness once more.ns 22.214.171.124da2