Authors: Brian Martinez
“There's an easy solution for that.”
The yellow-eyed man fires his gun. The bullet hits Cruz and pushes a sound of pain from his mouth. His eyes go wide before he falls to the dirt.
“With all this excitement, who knows what happened, right? By the way,” he aims the gun at me, “the name's-”
An explosion sounds. My body is ready, but no bullet comes from his gun. Instead his face changes and he falls to his knees, and in his place stands Terence with the mouth of his gun breathing smoke.
The man tries to lift his gun but Terence fires again, hitting him in the head. The insides cover the dirt.
Terence lowers his gun and steps around the body. “Still think I don't have the stomach for killing?”
I nod yes.
“Well, who listens to stomachs anyway?”
Terence checks the bullets in his gun, his face serious as a starving beast. “This letting Graham run wild has gone on for too long. He's been a slow-moving cancer to this group for years.”
“What do,” Child asks.
“I'm going after my brother. And when I find him, I plan to kill him.”
“What about us?”
“Follow your own advice- hide, and don't come out until the shooting stops. Hopefully by then everyone will be willing to talk.” He touches my arm with his glove. “Good luck. I mean that. You've been brave today.”
He leaves in the direction of the city, and we watch until he's gone.
Suddenly the sky fills with an awful, hissing scream- the voice of a Munie, not just one but many of them, too many to fight. They've been drawn in by explosions and fire, excited by the smell of blood on the air. This was the part of the plan that gave us the fear, and now it's become truth.
As Child and I run up the mountain they appear from the trees, their wide eyes and fast teeth running along-side us. We're strong and fast in the sun, and so they can't catch us. The real people, though, they're in real danger.
We come to the nervous man, his back against a large rock. Seeing us come toward him gives him the fear, and he fumbles for his gun telling us to stay away as he figures out how to use it.
“Follow us or meet the death,” I say, not slowing down.
“F-forget it, I'm n-not coming with you!”
We pass him without stopping. There isn't enough time to argue with him. The Munies won't wait for us so we won't wait for him.
“H-hold on, w-what do you mean,” he shouts after us. He doesn't even get to fire his gun before the Munies catch up and tear into him. The sound of it makes me wish I couldn't hear so well. But I can hear everything. Every bite, every snap.
The fire still burns strong in the moat, cutting us off from the safe place behind the fence. We have to figure out a way to stay alive, and since there are more of them than Child and I can fight, we need help.
The real people are spread through the wood fighting each other with a shout here and a gun voice there. The Munies scatter, seeking whoever they choose to hunt.
We pass a body on the ground and I recognize it as a woman from the hotel, the one who tried to run into the water and pull the reaching man out of the gator beast's teeth.
Rachel is by the fire near the fence opening. Jake, the man with the missing finger, is next to her kicking dirt onto the flames. He stops kicking and pulls out his long knife when he sees us, but his face changes when he sees what we bring with us.
Rachel keeps her back to the fire. “Friends of yours?”
I put mine to the fire, too. As much as I don't trust fire I trust munies even less. “You're our friends now.”
“Nothing has changed between us.”
The munies spread around, keeping distance. There are five of them, fire in their eyes as they scratch at the dirt and concrete and hiss hungry words at each other like Want and Eat. Child gets too close to the moat and flames touch her foot. She lets out a small cry that excites the munies. Their croak starts low at first but quickly builds, louder, stirred from their throats by the early day hunger.
I answer their croaks.
“You're making them angry,” Rachel warns. When I turn to face her she can see I'm angrier than them. She has nothing to say to this.
The munies attack.
As their feet and hands find the ground, time slows down. I see the eyes of each one running at me, the spit falling from their teeth, the gray veins in their lips like the roots of dead trees, the stringy muscles that hold the rags to their pink bodies.
Rachel fires her gun. It makes two of them stop and back away, crouched low to the ground holding their ears. The other three still come at us, and I meet the first with my claws.
Using the speed of its run I pull it past me and into the moat. It screams and burns and splashes in the gasoline and water. It breathes fire into its lungs, and its pink skin turns to black.
The second munie hits me from the side and pushes the air from me, almost knocking me into the moat with the screaming munie below, but I hold ground and attack back. It's a female, I notice, before I take apart her face with my teeth. The eyes of Rachel and Jake are on me as I do this, but as much as it bothers them they don't stop me.
I have the munie's blood in my eyes as I look up from her bubbling mouth. Through the red I can see Child is pinned down by the third of the charging munies. She beats and claws at his chest, and his throat makes a gagging, croaking, laughing sound.
The other two Munies fall on Jake and Rachel with all their anger, all their hunger. Jake's mask is knocked loose. His blood is, too, shouting into the bright sunlight.
Rachel's mask is pulled from her face as I jump up from the ground. The munie screams the good scream, the victory scream, but a bullet screams back and passes through his neck. Rachel's face is covered with him. Then another bullet impacts his chest and he falls free of her. She pushes away from him and spits his blood out.
Werner steps from the wood with his gun breathing smoke. “Stand back,” he tells me, seeing the last of them circling Child. She already gave the one who pinned her the death when my back was turned, and I'm proud of this.
I don't listen to Werner. Joining Child at her side we circle the munie, the two of us showing teeth and tongues. Child moves first. She runs at him and goes for the legs, but the Munie knocks her down with a hard impact of the fist.
I join their fight. We roll in the dirt and give each other pain. Werner comes close with his gun. He tells us to get away, to give him a clear shot, but to back away now would be a sign of weakness and get us bitten.
We haven't come this far for a thing like that, but I will give Werner his shot. The real people are a tool, and tools are a way to separate myself from the beasts.
When the time is right and the munie is on top, I push my claws up under his belly, grab what I find there and squeeze. His body rises up in shock and pain. Werner uses the chance to put a bullet in its head. Having found the death, the munie falls like a garbage bag to the ground.
Child has a few scratches on her but nothing that won't heal. Rachel kneels down at Jake's body with Werner's thick face standing over her.
“Sorry I didn't get here in time to save him,” he says.
She turns to see him. “We were friends once, weren't we?”
“Something like that.”
“I owe you my life.”
“I'd prefer a warm bed. Suppose yours will do.” Through the trees come the sounds of croaking and running, of gun voices and screaming. Werner takes the knife from Jake's still fingers. “So what'll it be- staying or going?”
“If you idiots hadn't used so much gasoline, the fire would have died down by now.”
“We can play this game all day, or we can go save our friends from the things that are trying to eat them.”
She takes the knife from him and points it at me. “I still don't like you,” she says, “but I see now which side you're fighting on.”
I put my fingers through Child's hair. “I'm on her side. I'll help anyone who can give her what she needs.”
She lowers the knife. “That's good enough for me.”
Werner says, “But if you could wipe at least half that blood off your face, we'd feel a lot better.”
More than a dozen real people are out there in the wood. From the scents and sounds in the air they're in one area, pushed together to keep alive. From the scents and sounds in the air, the munies are in that same place.
As the four of us run through the thick I can hear moving water in the distance, which happens in some places on the mountain and is always good for drinking. Child and I stay ahead of the other two because we're faster than them, and so we come to the clearing first, seeing the picture ahead.
Bastard water pours from a crack in the mountain. It runs down the curve of the earth between rocks covered in bright, bright green until it falls off further down. Boyd, Kate, Neil, Doc, Tommy, Vanessa and the others are huddled in with some of the larger rocks. Some of them are hurt, with blood on their masks, clothes torn and broken skin underneath. Their guns are pointed in all directions, aimed into the wood, and I can see why: munies watch them from behind the trees.
We splash into the shallow water to join them. I ignore the feeling of it on my feet, the terrible way it chokes the skin. Munies hiss at Child and I, traitors to the kind, and if I didn't hate them I would agree with them.
Boyd splashes himself with bastard water. “I'm really glad to see you guys.” To Rachel he says, “Even you.”
“Are you infected?”
“My mask was only off for a few seconds.” Behind him Kate sobs into her mask. “I'm okay. It's only a precaution.” Kate nods with a tight face.
Werner checks the bullets in his gun. “How long have they been waiting out there like that?”
“A couple minutes,” Neil says, “but they're getting impatient.”
Someone from the hotel group says, “No one asked you.”
“Don't forget if it wasn't for you I wouldn't be out here!”
“Hey, where have I heard that before?”
“Knock it off,” Rachel says. “We all have our reasons to be angry, but if we don't work together it's as good as committing suicide. Put the past in the past and make this what it's really about- humans and monsters.”
Someone points at me. “And them?”
“They're as human as we need them to be.”
One of the smaller munies comes to the edge of the water. He touches it and quickly backs away to the trees, and the others scream at him.
“This whole mess is their fault, I say we hand them over. Toss them like meat and run the other way.”
“That's the fear talking. In all the years I've known you you've never said anything like that.”
The real person turns away and says nothing else. I watch Child go to Boyd and pull on his shirt to get his attention. He picks her up and puts her on one of the green rocks, out of the bastard water.
Kate glances at me.
Doc rips pieces of cloth from peoples' legs and uses them to tie around their wounds. “We need to do something before they get any braver.” He points to the water's edge where two munies now try the water. “It's only a short time before the hunger wins out.”
“Is there a problem with just shooting them,” Werner asks.
“There is. Even if you manage to kill them all, which I doubt, you're only attracting more attention, bringing more of them out.”
“Yeah. And then I shoot
Doc shakes his head. “Simple math says your ammunition runs out before they do. Don't let your bravado kill us all.”
Five at the water. One with a foot in.
“I'll pull them away from you.” They all look at me. “I'll go that direction, you go the other, follow the water as far down as you can and go to the city. Hide in the tallest building you can find until the sun goes to sleep.”
“Are you insane,” Neil asks, “there's ten times as many in the city than there are up here. And how do you know they'd follow you? To their eyes you're more like them than us.”
“Because they can't resist a weak meal.” I drag my claws across my leg to bring out the blood. Child tries to jump after me but Boyd stops her. A reaction comes quickly from the water's edge, excitement and croaks. One of them says, “Blood” and the others repeat it.
Doc says, “It might work.”
I tell Child to go with them to the city. “I'll find you,” I say, but she fights me, saying no, she won't. “I'll survive this and I'll find you, I promise.” After a few seconds she finally agrees. “I need you to keep them from finding the death. They can't do this without us.”
“People weak,” she says.
I nod. “Yes. They are.”