Authors: Rachel Aukes
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Post-Apocalyptic, #Teen & Young Adult, #Classics
2 of the Deadland Saga
The seven deadly sins, with a shambling twist
The Deadland Saga
100 Days in Deadland
Deadland Rising (coming late 2014)
Thank you f
or letting me read all the comic books I wanted.
I tried to open my eyes, but they were glued shut. I opened my mouth to respond, but my tongue was too parched and swollen. I couldn’t even move through the shivers that racked my dew-drenched body.
“Cash! Damn it, where are you, girl? Cash!”
I willed strength into my arms to push myself up, but could barely lift my head.
I wanted to tell whoever was calling to me to be quiet, that the herd had disappeared only a few hours earlier. Instead, I could barely force out a rough, garbled syllable. “
.” Trying to speak choked my sandpaper throat. Blood trickled from my cracked lips.
The voice was closer and louder now, echoed by other voices, each one calling my name. I pried my eyes open, but the world remained a cloudy blur.
“Up here,” I called out louder this time, though the words still came out as only a coarse whisper.
With the last of my strength, I rolled over the backpack that had been propping me up on the angled roof, and let myself roll down. As I picked up speed, I clawed at the shingles to slow my descent, but it did nothing but scrape the skin from my fingers. I fell off the edge and plummeted to the ground ten feet below. Agony shot through my abused body, and I collapsed, my head hitting the ground with a thud.
A pleasant numbness followed, and crystalline stars glittered through my vision. They were the first things in over a day that I could see sharply. As the stars faded, I could make out a man-like shape moving toward me.
A gunshot fired, and the shape collapsed. The acrid stench of plague and rot hit me.
Another shape approached, and I tried to kick away, but my limbs weighed a ton, my movements sluggish. Arms wrapped around me, holding me in a relentless grip. I whimpered as I waited for dull, broken teeth to shred my skin.
“Cash, I’ve got you. You’re safe now.”
Once the words sunk in, the tension in my muscles gave way, and I inhaled the fresh soapy smell of a man who’d recently bathed. Through my blurry vision, I could barely make out the blond clean-shaven soldier in full gear. “Tyler?”
“Yes, it’s me. I’ve got you. Everything’s going to be okay.”
I felt myself lifted off the ground and I held onto his shirt. My leg that had a gunshot through it throbbed with each sway of Captain Tyler Masden’s steps, but I welcomed the pain. It meant I was alive.
They found me!
It was hard to think, with black clouds drowning my happy thoughts as quickly as they came. I was jostled around and found myself laying on a cold hard surface. The rumble of a big engine starting reverberated through my body. My consciousness ebbed against the soothing engine vibration, but I didn’t mind. I was safe now.
“Holy shit, she’s alive.” I heard Griz’s familiar deep voice off to my left, sounding a million miles away.
“Here,” Tyler said, lifting my head. “Drink this.”
Something pressed against my lips. Cool liquid poured into my mouth and streamed over my tongue. I tried to gulp the water, but it burned, and I choked. I coughed out nearly everything I had drunk. When Tyler held the bottle to my mouth again, he only allowed a trickle of water to pass through. I took a tiny sip. Then another.
“You’ve been up on that roof for two days?” Tyler asked while I forced down the water my cramping stomach threatened to heave.
I tried to nod, but that sent more water dribbling down my chin and neck.
Tyler pulled the bottle away. “Whoa. That’s enough for now. You have to take it slow, or else you’ll get sick.”
“More,” I said, reaching for the water again.
Someone touched my calf, and I hissed. Pain from the gunshot wound burned up my leg, causing me to wince. Blackness tunneled my vision.
A whistle. “That’s a nasty infection. You’re damn lucky we found you when we did.”
“Hurts,” I muttered. I didn’t feel lucky. I felt like hell.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” Tyler said, rubbing my shoulder. “You’re safe now.”
safe. Doyle’s dead,” I said, finally able to get out more than one word just as I felt my body fade into a colorless place between day and night.
“I know. You did well,” Tyler said. “We drove through the area yesterday, but the place was still crawling with zeds.” A pause. “Damn. I’d just about given up on you, but Clutch was convinced you were still alive.”
My jumbled mind tried to process words that made no sense. Clutch couldn’t have said those words. It was impossible. That Clutch could’ve spoken
was impossible. A vision of when I’d last seen Clutch cut through the clouds in my head. “But Clutch…”
Tyler gripped my shoulder. “Clutch is alive. And he’s pissed—we’re all pissed—you went after the militia on your own.”
* * *
Thankfully, the next few weeks went by in a blur. When I remembered the flight over Doyle’s camp and my attack on his Dogs—the militia—the memories were so fresh that they seemed like yesterday. I could still smell the smoke from the grenade blast, and I could still hear the
never-ending moans of the zeds surrounding me as I waited on the roof. Had I waited up there to die? To be saved? Hell, to be honest, it was a bit of both.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to dwell
on such things for long. After three days of being confined to bed and on IVs, Doc had cleared me to return to my cabin. It took me another ten days before I’d been able to walk without using crutches, but that didn’t stop me from signing up for any tasks to keep busy.
Doc had said I’d gotten lucky that the bullet from the Dog’s rifle had been a through-and-through and that it hadn’t hit an artery or bone. I was even luckier that the bullet hadn’t been dipped in infected blood as the Dogs had become notorious for doing.
Several times a day, I’d rub my leg to remind myself that it hadn’t all been a just a bad dream. By some miracle, I’d gone into the pit of hell and came out alive.
Clutch hadn’t been so lucky. It had taken another two and a half weeks before Doc had cleared him to leave the infirmary. With the injuries he’d sustained during the Camp Fox attack, he had a long battle ahead of him. No one said anything when Clutch went through painkillers and booze a bit too quickly. He was angry most of the time and a muted version of himself the rest of the time. His injuries had pulled him into a dark place that I hadn’t yet been able to reach. But he was alive. That was what mattered most to me.
While we recuperated and worked on physical therapy, Fox scouts cleared out Doyle’s basement that I’d discovered after killing him. The large underground space chock full of military surplus, weapons, ammo, and food was exactly what Camp Fox’s morale needed. With those supplies and the militia no longer a threat, people finally felt like they had a shot at getting through the winter.
“You’re wasting daylight, Cash. C’mon, rise and shine!” Jase yelled before jogging out of the cabin the three of us shared, the creaky screen door slamming behind him. Our cabin was the most hidden of all cabins at Fox National Park, which was why Clutch had chosen it when we’d first arrived here. We’d been alone at that time. Now, it was nearly impossible to find a place where we could be alone since the park had become the temporary Camp Fox until the zeds evacuated the real Camp Fox National Guard Base nearly thirty miles southeast of here.
“Off duty,” I muttered as I stretched with a groan and rubbed my eyes. I sat up and swung my legs off the bed, and my still-healing calf protested by shooting a burning spike of pain up through my leg. Wincing, I reached for the bottle of water on the floor and took a long swig. God, I loved water. Couldn’t get enough of it ever since Tyler rescued me from Doyle’s militia camp. I’d been up on that roof for two days, and I wouldn’t have made it a third day.
With a sigh, I strapped on my gun belt, and came to my feet. Pink scar tissue tightened over my calf, and it took a moment for the tension to release. The bullet wound always hurt most in the mornings, but
I finally felt like I’d climbed out of hell. All the while, Clutch was stuck in hell’s deepest tar pits. I glanced at his cot pushed up next to mine. Unmade and empty. The blankets were tangled and draping off the bed after another night of nightmares.
Each night, when I’d move onto his bed to console him, he’d turn the other way. For the past twenty-two days, he’d tell me to leave. The first night I gave him his space, and his nightmares returned worse than ever. The second night I stayed despite his words. He turned away from me, and I draped my arm over him, spooning him. Even though he grumbled, he fell back to sleep and the nightmares stayed away. Every night he tried to push me away, to emotionally isolate himself, but I made sure he knew he wasn’t going through this alone. It wasn’t easy, and I doubted myself sometimes, but I kept doing it anyway.
I had convinced myself that what Clutch asked for wasn’t what he needed. He’d drawn so far into himself that he pushed others away. Jase and I watched as melancholy dulled his gaze. I loved Clutch’s intensity, and it broke my heart every time I saw that strength missing from his spirit.
The third morning he’d left before we woke, Jase and I made a vow to see him through his recovery together, no matter how much of an ass he could be. Clutch had saved both of our lives. It was our turn to bring him back from the hell he was stuck in. We were his family now. Of course, cheering someone up in the middle of the zombie apocalypse was easier said than done.
Just like every morning since he’d returned to our cabin, he’d left before sunrise for physical therapy. He was relentless with his exercises; as if the harder he worked, the faster he would heal.
And, just like every morning, I loosely made all three beds, grabbed my rifle and the long spear that sometimes doubled as a walking stick, and headed out the cabin door.
Several minutes later, I found Clutch at our usual spot by the stream. After every morning PT session, I’d find him sitting there, watching the sun rise and scanning the trees, always ready to kill any zed or bandit who made the mistake of stumbling into our small part of Fox National Park.
I rubbed his shoulder as I walked by him. “Morning, sunshine. How’d PT go?”
He took in a long breath, and his grip on his rifle loosened, but he still stared ahead. “It went.”
His short light hair with slivers of gray was still damp with sweat, and his scruffy face was pale. The veins on his arms stood out like they did every time after weightlifting.
I frowned. “You’re pushing yourself too hard. It’s only been a couple months. Doc says it’s a miracle you’re even alive.”
Clutch chortled. “Doc was a family doctor before the outbreak. He had no idea how badly I was injured. Hell, he got half of his diagnoses wrong.”
“Thank God he did,” I said all too quickly and then forced a weak smile. “Doc’s doing the best he can. He seemed to do a good job on your broken wrist and fractured leg. Yesterday, you even said yourself that your ribs weren’t bothering you as much.”
He shook his head. “The only thing Doc did was keep me on my back and drugged up so my body could heal itself with time. Just about any injury will heal in three months.”
, I thought to myself.
But not every injury.
His lips turned upward into a smile that wasn’t quite a smile. “The zeds aren’t going to wait around for me to get back into shape. We’ve been too lucky lately, with only groups of two or three coming across the park each day. Our luck is going to run out sometime.”
“That’s why we have scouts spread out across the park to keep watch. With that and my recon flights over the area, we’ll know if any herds are headed this direction.”
“I know. It’s just, when I’m not out there…” He rubbed his eyes with his forearm and clenched his fists. “Hell, I hate being useless.”
“Whoa,” I chuckled. “One thing you’ve never been is useless. You may be as stubborn as a mule but you’re not useless.”
He grunted, his tight features unchanged.
I sobered and knelt by him, placing my hands over his. “I’m serious. Do you think Tyler would have asked you to be his second-in-command if you were useless?”
Clutch didn’t respond.
I wanted to knock some sense into him, if only a simple smack to the head would work. Exasperation came into every conversation with Clutch lately. It wasn’t his fault. He was dealing with things the only way he knew how: by unhealthily shoving his feelings down, making his body a boiling volcano always close to exploding. I forced myself to breathe and not snap at him. “You could be tied down in bed and you’d still be far from useless. Tyler manages the day-to-day stuff around here, but you’re the reason Camp Fox still exists. Even though Tyler would never say it, he knows it, too. Everyone knows it. Thanks to you, everyone’s trained and prepared.” I paused, then frowned. “You know that, right?”
His lips tightened before he finally spoke. “I just hate sitting on my ass all day when there’s so much left to be done. Once winter hits, the same tasks are going to take twice as much work.”
I sighed. “We’ll get by. We always do. But you’ve got to give your body time to heal.”