I awoke with a start, the pitch black of the night startling me into full consciousness. Living in a day-to-day nightmare, I didn't think it would be possible that my subconscious could still accomplish this. Giving my eyes several moments to adjust to the darkness and letting the dark Humvee come into focus, everything slowly came back to me.

Eleven months ago, the world went straight to hell. Nobody quite knew what to expect, until the first of the undead took a huge bite out of New York, no pun intended. We don't really know and (as far as I knew) still don't know what exactly caused it, but it took only a few weeks to turn a brimming planetary population to the brink of extinction.

Unless, of course, you were lucky enough to survive, like I was. I'd been on break from college when the outbreak happened. I'd woken up one day to find one of them in the house with me! I knew enough to aim for the head with the first thing I could reach and not stop until it no longer moved, then get out as quickly as possible, but it still didn't stop me from pissing myself for the first time since pre-school. I was on my own for the first couple of days, searching for my family; my Dad and brother had both gone missing and I still had no idea where they were, Mum was alone in North Carolina so I could only hope she was still alive.

Looking around the Humvee, I could only revel in my own good fortune. Austin Callahan, a stocky young man and good friend of mine, had found me wandering outside Petersburg equipped with a damaged fire poker and a handgun I'd raided from the abandoned State Police headquarters near where I lived. I cast the back of his shaved head a grateful look as he sat, snoring quietly, in the driver's seat.

My gaze found its way around the truck; Cristina, who was wide awake in the front seat, terrified and sleep-deprived from the night watch, had not noticed that I was awake. Callahan and I had found both her and Vince (a large, bearded guy who lay, fast asleep in the back, wrapped comfortably in his poncho) holed up in a Wendy's, which took an insane amount of luck and a suicidal mission to rescue them.

Finally, on the back bench with me and also asleep, sat Crystal and Mariah; Crystal was a bona fide badass, having survived two weeks, alone, on granola bars and a tire iron. Always prepared for the (seemingly) unlikely apocalypse, I couldn't help but be almost giddy with finding her alive. On our last trip through Dinwiddie, we'd found Mariah, tired and teary-eyed, but a country girl armed with a shotgun who had remained, determinedly alive, walking tensely down the road. Both slept like it had been weeks since they'd last been able to, Mariah breathing lightly, using my shoulder as a pillow, and Crystal sat propped against the window, her breath steaming the glass and her glasses askew.

I found myself smiling. Out of all the people in the world I could have gotten stuck with during the apocalypse and all of them were friends. There was no other word to describe it: luck.

A quiet, squeaky gasp invaded my ears and I reached instinctively for the rifle propped against my shoulder. Cristina was staring, wide-eyed but sheepishly at me, having finally noticed me conscious.

"Shiro-kun" she addressed me by a nickname I'd not heard since high school "is everything okay?"

"Yeah, it's fine Natsu-chan" I said in a calm whisper, reaffirming the old nicknames "I just couldn't sleep anymore. Have you heard anything?"

Cristina shook her blonde head, "Not a peep. I don't like how quiet it is tonight, Shiro-kun."

She wasn't wrong to feel that way. Silence in the night was a dangerous thing as the zombies quite literally became everywhere and anywhere. Being parked among a horde of abandoned cars but in a relatively open space, a herd could be on top of us and we wouldn't know it until it was too late.

Still, it was our safest bet. Tempers had been very high the previous day from several days of lack of sleep. Cristina had been unfortunate enough to draw the short stick and condemned to the night watch. I could see it on her face, worry lines of someone far older than her usual self were etched across her face and her eyes were red and puffy. Glancing down at a wristwatch we had all come to depend on, I couldn't blame her, especially not at 4:15 in the morning.

"Go ahead and get some sleep, Natsu-chan" I said with a smile, "I'll take watch from here."

"No, no, it's okay" said Cristina stubbornly, stretching as much as the claustrophobic space would allow "I can finish the watch."

"Don't push yourself" I replied firmly "You need sleep as much as the rest of us; I don't mind taking over."

Suddenly she looked as if I had told her that the apocalypse had abated and Christmas had come early. With a grateful look, she flipped onto her side and left me alone in the darkness. I turned my gaze out the window, observing any little movement with highest alert and not letting up until I was positive it was nothing serious. A quiet sigh escaped me.

Only eleven months in and already I was done with the whole situation: having to constantly hide like prey, of always being hungry, and especially my own naivety. I had always tried to prepare myself for this impossibility but I never really believed it; guess the joke was on me.

I clutched the gun, as the horrifying growl of hundreds of undead roared throughout the night; I took several deep breaths, trying to calm my jostled nerves. The growling was far enough away that I could relax. Far but too near for comfort. I gripped the rifle as though it was a teddy bear; another piece of my good fortune to run into Callahan: as a member of the military when the shit hit the fan, he'd managed to get away with a truck full of good stuff. The handgun I'd jacked was a fantastic little weapon but nothing felt more comforting than the weight and power of a military issue battle rifle (not to mention the variable arsenal in the back that Vince was presently using as a bed). Turning my focus back to the watch, I tried to content myself:

"You're armed, and in good company, you'll be fine." But with the darkness and reality fueling my pessimism, I was left to wonder the awful thought:

"But for how long?"

Morning came slowly but with reassuring brightness; however, it was also October and its rays only seemed to enhance the morning chill. I was most reluctant to leave the cozy warmth that my jacket provided as a blanket but we couldn't just stay in the Humvee. Taking hold of the rifle, I opened the door slowly, its metal hinges creaking; Crystal stirred but looked as though she'd rather go back to unconsciousness and did not move again.

The cold morning air was like electricity across my stiff muscles, shocking me back into totally awake Hunter. Pulling back the operating rod with a satisfying 'shik-shik', I shouldered the gun and took several paces before wheeling around. Vince, with a rather irritable expression, climbed out of the back, clutching the sheath of his weapons of choice.

"Are you crazy?" he hissed, punching me on the arm "Don't do rounds on your own!"

I gave a nod, rubbing the unwelcome soreness in my bicep, as he fastened the belt around his torso. With one hand, I watched with great impression as, he drew a pair of black bladed machetes, looking very much like an action movie hero.

With each of us ready, we took off with rehearsed precision: no further than ten feet apart, in a perimeter sweep of about twenty yards, and absolutely no shots unless devastatingly necessary. But from my angle, the park and the basketball and tennis courts were all still and quiet; Vince and I steered around, autumn leaves crunching under our feet and still found nothing around the abandoned church and the lake. Giving him the nod of approval, we set out back towards the truck where the others had finally begun to rouse. Callahan was stretching as we made our return and Crystal was chucking MRE's at everyone, mine missing my head by mere inches.

I picked mine up with a bit of trepidation; beef with a side of mushrooms. My culinary pallet had never been very impressive; however, in a situation like this, food would be difficult to come by and needed to be valued. Even I knew that, given the choice, between going hungry and learning to eat, I hastily ripped open the bag and began shoveling the revolting food down my throat.

We ate silently, allowing everyone to fully waken, though Vince gave a quick rundown of the morning rounds. Christina and I had to take turns reporting the night watch.

"How far off?" asked Crystal sharply, when I'd finished "Could you tell?"

"Not far," I replied, wracking my brain to remember the awful sound "Probably Wagner Road, that's only a couple of miles from here." This revelation was met with general sarcasm and derision

"So what do we do now?" asked Callahan through a mouthful of beef stew "We can't risk another day here, not with a number like that so close by."

"Well, what do you suggest?" asked Christina inquisitively "I mean, where else could we go?"

"That's fairly obvious" said Mariah "Remember the radio broadcasts, right before they cut out? They said that jails and prisons were being converted into safe zones for survivors. Our best bet would be to head for one of those."

"That's a good idea, but not really an option" said Vince, stroking his beard calmingly.

I caught myself nodding in agreement, the Petersburg Correctional Facilities fell a few days ago, having become little more than rubble and a variable zombie-fest. The Dinwiddie jail was a joke to even consider and the one in Colonial Heights was inaccessible from the sheer numbers. I put a finger to my lips, wracking the lump between my ears with all the knowledge my dad had drilled into it.

"The only other one that I can think of is the one in Goochland."

"Hunter, don't be crazy, that's over an hour away!" snapped Crystal

"Be-that-as-it-may, the wide open space is a huge advantage; any biter that would find the joint would have to be right on top of it."

"I agree" said Mariah "but that's still a lot of ground to cover!"

"True but it's getting colder, and if we have a winter like we had last year, we won't make it."

I had no idea why I was pushing this; I'd contribute an idea here and there or weigh in an opinion on most decisions. Hell, even I knew how crazy it sounded: drive an hour across zombie-infested Virginia to get to a haven that may or may not even be there. Not to mention there would have to be an insane amount of preparation to even make a trip like that.

Each member of the group exchanged distressed, contemplating looks; I could see each one of them finding the validation in my points and, judging from the serious gazes that Crystal and Vince were giving me, searching for even better reasons against them.

"I say we go for it" said Callahan, taking the spotlight off of me and earning a stunned and grateful grin "I mean, he's right, we're not going to make it much longer on our own, especially with winter coming."

"Yeah, I agree" said Mariah and Christina in unison

Vince looked around the group, his face a mixture of exasperation and amusement, "I still think its fucking nuts, but we don't have any better options, so what the hell?"

And, like that, all eyes fell on Crystal; not the eldest of our number but irrefutably the best survivor. We looked to her for guidance, even on some of the more ludicrous ideas. I felt bad putting a decision like this on her shoulders, but leader of an apocalypse survival crew or even just an everyday person: I trusted her judgments.

"Even if we do go" she said finally, her arms crossed "We won't make it on the amount of supplies that we have. If we try this, we're going to be ready for any outcome. Callahan; you, Hunter and Mariah, go back to the mini-mart across the road, see if there's anything we missed. Vince, you and Christina can get back to work siphoning fuel from these cars; we'll need everything we can get."

"What are you going to do?" asked Christina. We all watched as she moved around towards a pick-up truck the color of rust and smashed its drivers-side window with the butt of her own handgun. Wrenching open the door and brushing away the glass, she set to work attempting to hotwire the truck.

"Like I said," her voice was muffled from underneath the dash, "We're going to need more than what we've got. Food, water, medicines; we'll hit up Sycamore Street and Crater Road before we do anything else." The finality in her tone got us all to work without a second thought.

Strapping the rifle to my back, I pulled the tiny Ruger from the holster on my leg as the three of us crossed the street and entered the dark store. There was never much in here to begin with, nothing except a few collapsed shelves and a lot of blood. Fortunately, broken windows and daylight had made the claustrophobic box of hell much easier to manage. However, our previous adventure inside had only left behind a solitary bag of Dorito's, three mango-flavored sports drinks, and a single pack of Twizzler's. As Mariah pocketed the food, I moved behind the cashier's stand, finding several locked drawers but just as many, unused shotgun shells (unfortunately no shotgun or any sign of its user). Callahan, who'd ventured out back, had returned looking very pleased with himself sporting a coil of garden hose wrapped around his shoulder.

Exiting the store, we found Vince and Christina schlepping our newly-filled, makeshift gas cans back to the Humvee and Crystal's fervent attempts to start the pick-up. But then, something else reached us, an odd sound of a nearing roar. All of us froze, even Crystal had stopped. Mariah's sudden movement gained my attention only to find my ears assailed with the same sound from our side of the park as well. It wasn't just one either, multiples of the roars had cut across the silence accompanied by the drunken shouts and gunfire…and they were getting, gradually closer!

"RAIDERS, HIDE!"

Practically throwing myself under the nearest, largest vehicle that would accept me, I found myself holding my adrenaline filled breath. They came fast and loud!

The first passed way too close to us as a beer bottle shattered by our faces, causing Callahan to smack his head on the underside of the truck (I hit him once on the leg to keep him from crying out). My heart was pounding a deep hole into the ground as the second and third trucks passed us and joined the others. I couldn't tell how many there were but it couldn't have been too many as the cheering and loud automatic and shotgun blasts came and went in only a few minutes, their sudden roaring fading as quickly as it had come. Breathing a sigh of relief, we emerged from under our cover.

The Southside Raiders were a, otherwise unknown, gang from the tri-city area who came to (the appallingly bad joke they called) power shortly after the effects of the initial outbreak had settled. What they were, were a group of drunk, drugged out dumbasses that had large trucks and even larger egos. They found a large cache of guns after the fall of Fort Lee and, at first, they tried to monopolize their help for supplies and other 'luxuries.' After everyone either died or tried to run, they had nothing but a lot of time, booze, and bullets; stupid as they were, everybody knew better than to mess with them.

"Damn fools," I said, pushing myself back to my feet "They'll get us all killed!"

"What the hell are they doing?" asked Christina, brushing dirt off of her coat "They're heading right towards town!"

"Artillery like that, they'll draw every biter within two miles right to them!"

Suddenly, the irritation and anger quickly abated, leaving us all in a shocked stupor. The fullest effect of our words washing over us, realizing the huge advantage their idiocy could provide. The sound of an old starter turning over and spark plugs finally igniting the gas reached us; almost a metaphysical green light.

We moved in unison, Vince reaching the Humvee first and began passing out clips, tactical vests, and backpacks while Callahan and I hurriedly covered the truck in camouflage netting. The rest of us barely had a chance to jump in the bed of the pick-up before Crystal, who had jumped back into the truck, vest wide open, and floored the accelerator. It was not a long trip up the road (evident by the hastily pulled on tactical vests, resulting in the five of us accidently elbowing each other in the ribs several times) before Crystal slammed on the brakes, nearly sending us flying.

We were all silent, listening to the distant roar of the unfriendly engines and the sudden growling of a mass of zombies. Gunfire sang out in raucous chorus. Again, we all moved together, leaping out of the truck and moving quickly down the street. Back in her element, Crystal began calling out orders,

"You all know the drill! Christina, you're with Hunter, you guys get the pharmacy; Vince, with Mariah, you guys take the Fire House. I'll get the Save-a-Lots across the road, Callahan with me!"

Once again, the group broke apart as we passed the elementary school. Taking my rifle in hand, I led my toe-headed friend down the street as stealthily as I could down the street and across the empty parking lot. Moving quietly forward, I tugged on the door only to find it locked; with a sudden, spastic movement of my arm and the ringing clatter of shattering glass, the butt of my rifle gave us a quick way in.

Christina took point and slipped in the darkness, using my height for cover; the stillness inside was encouraging. I was immediately impressed by how much the pharmacy had remained intact, its walls still holding a fairly well stocked supply. I would have imagined the place to be picked clean but apparently Crater Road went so quickly that the pharmacy went largely ignored. Good news for us.

The two of us quickly began stuffing our pockets and packs with everything we could find. I shoveled everything I could grab into my pack, scoring: packets of iodine wipes, tetanus meds, everything labeled antibiotic, disinfectant alcohol, and long rolls of bandaging. Full to the brim, I took my rifle from the countertop but was suddenly stopped from the hand that quickly gripped my arm.

"Shiro-kun, do you hear that?" Christina's voice was devoid of its recent happiness and replaced with absolute fear. Straining my ears, I did indeed hear what she was talking about: the roaring of a truck engine and the growling of the undead…both were drawing close!

Sticking my head, cautiously, out the door, I saw a large black Silverado drive by (its contents looking bloodied and fearful) without a glance at me. Turning my head towards the main road, I saw them! Decayed and glassy-eyed, they came hurdling towards us in a brisk walk.

"Oh shit!" the words tumbled from my horrified gaze through my newly revived voice and quickly turned out of the door, thinking quickly. We were completely exposed in here, animals in a trap; when suddenly, my eyes landed on the blood-red light of the emergency exit! "Out the back, go; go, go, go, go!"

We burst through the door and into the bright sunlight, the noise of the zombies hot on our heels.

"What about the others?" panted Christina, trying to keep pace with my long strides.

Fear and adrenaline were clouding the pragmatism I was trying to keep alive; "They'll be safe if they stay put, we have to get somewhere safe!"

I could hear her footsteps fall quiet and I skidded to a halt, turning. To my horror, I found Christina with her back towards me and her handgun aloft in the direction of the undead.

"CHRISTINA NO!"

Her shot echoed throughout the area. Everything seemed to fall into slow motion, the zombies turning directly at us. Christina's shot had fallen a few yards too short and had slammed into the front fender of a dirty white sedan which, to my increased horror, began to blare its annoyingly loud alarm.

"Oh hell" I muttered as the whole herd of several dozen zombies came staggering towards us!

There was nothing for it, they knew we were here and the best plan that I could think of was to keep them on us! I didn't have to scream the word in my head, but I grabbed the blonde by the wrist and pulled her forward!

Heavy-set and flat-footed as I was, so many months on the run had put me in a much better condition to survive. Using the length of my long legs, I wasn't faster than they were, only better equipped to sprint. Leading them through the suburbs and away from the park, Christina and I moved like none of our former gym teachers could have ever dared to dream; sweat tearing down my forehead and my heart beating a violent tattoo against my chest.

The distant but distinct roar of a shotgun ripped across the air; Mariah and Vince were making a break for it. Another shotgun and the helpful BRATATATATATATATATAT of automatic fire suggested that Crystal and Callahan were following suit. Then:

DAKKADAKKADAKKADAKKA! DAKKADAKKADAKKADAKKA!

The revived truck engine, accompanied by a very large machinegun resounded throughout the sky. Those surviving Raiders either had a lot of guts or were stupider than I gave them credit for!

KABOOM!

The explosion took us both by surprise. I exchanged terrified looks with Christina as both the Raiders gunfire ceased, along with one of the two shotguns. I tried to push my mind back on surviving, to run as fast as I was capable, but I could not shake to urge to go back! They were my friends, I couldn't just leave them!

I gave myself a quick shake and snapped at myself "You go back, and the both of you die, just keep going!"

"Shiro-kun, this way!" said Christina, her movement suddenly snapping me out of my thoughts and barreling directly into a trash bin. Fortunately, the narrow alleyway was just enough to bottleneck the herd's progress and give us a second of good ground recovery. Racing around the corner and down the block, we ducked onto Sherwood Road.

"Here" she instructed, leading me towards a house with a tall and sturdily built wooden fence. As good of an idea as it was, neither of us could budge the locked gate and, even with my superior height, I wouldn't be able to climb it.

"You go," I said, ducking down "See if you can't open it."

Her lightweight pressing down on my shoulders, I pushed up with all of my strength and watched her as she leapt to the other side.

"There's nothing here!" she called, although the shifting sounds I could hear sounded like she was looking for anything. My neck turned to the frustrated growling that was shortly to be right on top of us. There was an option open to me, but it was crazy…suicidal. I knew better than to suggest it, but if I didn't, we were both dead!

"Go!"

"What?!"

"Get back to the park, Natsu-chan, I'll lead them away!" I raised my rifle, squeezing the trigger and feeling the surge of the kick to my shoulder as I capped the first zombie to finally manage through. And then the second; a third fell shortly after, and soon followed by a fourth.

"No, don't do it Hunter!" I absentmindedly registered the usage of my proper name, and the fear in Christina's voice. However, I began firing shots over her protests in attempt to keep her hidden.

"COME ON YOU SONS OF BITCHES!" I roared over the growling as the rest quickly found their way around. Switching my rifle for the lighter and speedier handgun, I squeezed the trigger twice and dropped as many targets. Pushing off with every ounce of strength left in my exhausted legs, I slapped boot to concrete and ran for it!

I'd lost track of where I was going; turning left off of Sherwood, I forced wheezy gasps into my lungs. They were still hot on my tail but I knew better than to turn and waste bullets. Something ahead of me rounded the corner; I raised my gun but did not fire. It was a familiar, pissed-off face of a brown-haired, bespectacled woman with assault rifle aloft. I had barely gotten past her when her assault began.

However, respite was short lived as she grabbed my heaving shoulder and forced me forward! We turned right onto the next street, Crystal leading me a few houses down, towards a chain-link fence. Despite being several inches shorter than me, she was in much better shape as she vaulted easily over; adrenaline and fear fueling my brain, I placed a hand on the fence and leapt. It wasn't a bad try, all things considered; even though my large foot caught on the chain and drove me face first back into the ground. I rolled into it, ignoring the stabbing pain in my leg and burning flowing from my nose, lifting my handgun cautiously. I pushed back up and found why Crystal had brought me here.

There was a magnolia tree, as magnificent as the one back home in Dinwiddie, standing tall and reaching for the clouds. But half way up, sitting placidly amongst the natural skyscraper was a small, wooden house. I hadn't climbed a tree since I was in middle school, but I still knew enough and had enough breath left to rhythmically exchange hand and foot, propelling myself upwards. Handing my rifle over to Crystal, I squeezed into the tiny treehouse.

I lay there, hands over my mouth and fingers clamped down on my bloody nose, practically shaking with the effort to juggle returning oxygen to my lungs and body and keeping silent. My leader was propped against the wall, her eyes trained out the makeshift window. I could hear the growling outside, some drifting away after several minutes but others lingering, their growls as fervent and hungry as ever. Crystal's eyes widened and turned to me,

"Your blood!" she mouthed; I gave her a confused return look, my nosebleed wasn't that serious. Following her gaze, the answer became very plain: the stabbing pains resurfaced at the sight of the dark red stain extending the length of my lower leg, blood seeping into the plywood boards below. If we weren't up shits creek before, we sure were now, especially if they could smell it!

A roaring engine cut across the remaining horde but the sound of flesh hitting metal plagued my ears. I looked up at Crystal and mouthed "What's going on?"

"Raiders" was the answer.

Having regained enough of my breath that I could prop myself up, I peeked out the window. The old truck was battered and bloodied, mostly from the rotting heap underneath; all of the windows had been broken, revealing only the driver, who subsequently leapt from his damaged ride and surveyed his work with an arrogant grin. He turned towards the treehouse, Crystal and I simultaneously retreating out of sight

"I know you're up there!" his deep voice called; we exchanged looks of caution and confusion. "Think you're so fuckin' slick, huh? Using me and my friends so that you can take our stuff?! Come on out of there you!"

"He doesn't know there's two of us" I mouthed, eyes wide and chest heaving. Crystal wore a contemplating look and surreptitiously handed me back my rifle. Before I could ask the question, she had taken her own rifle in hand and dropped quietly from the treehouse. She moved stealthily downward, though the Raider continued his pissed off rant.

Suddenly, the wail of automatic gunfire blared from down below followed closely by the roar of a large revolver. Taking my rifle in hand and pushing into a cramped crouch, sending stabbing pain into my injured leg, I placed the scope to my eye and trained every instinct on trying to steady the gun. I had him in my sight, but no shot other than the, one-in-a-million, top of his shaved head. However, I lowered the scope and prayed for the ballistic prowess of the rifle and squeezed the trigger. The bullet flew through the top of the truck and a scream told me I'd hit my mark; but, the revolver turned upward and a bloodied and angry body readied for the kill. I froze, trapped, with no defense…

BRATATATATATATATATAT!

The body convulsed and gore flew through the air before finally hitting the ground. Sighing in relief and easing my way out of the treehouse, I found Crystal waiting for me at the bottom.

"You missed" she said irritably, helping me to the ground and pulling an apron from her backpack.

"Sorry" I replied, ripping open an iodine packet with my teeth and pulling back my pant leg, revealing the gash. Long, dark, and wet but not deep. Gritting my teeth and sucking air, I dragged the wipe across the wound, sending the stinging burn of disinfection across my body with the subtlety of fire. Crystal had cut the canvas cloth into long shreds with her knife and began tightly binding my leg.

After swapping out the ammo cartridges for both of my guns, I had taken over tying the makeshift bandage, allowing Crystal to replace her own and stand in watch. It was then, that the thought struck me.

"Where's Callahan?"

Crystal's shoulders stiffened, her neck turned but stopped, apparently choosing not to look at me.

"The explosion," she explained with a choked voice "Those idiots brought propane tanks…" She did not say anymore, because she did not have to. My gaze fell to my boots, jaw slackened in disbelief.

Callahan…dead? I didn't want to believe it: one of my best friends…

My eyes burned with exhaustion and wetness but Crystal cleared her throat; I looked up reluctantly. She too was wearing the same bereaved look, but her eyes were intense with the plain truth that we were not done yet. Pushing myself up onto my less damaged leg and taking hold of my rifle, we moved, slowly and cautiously. The world having calmed and my bearings returning, I was able to instruct from the rear and we moved off of Brandon Ave. and back onto Glenroy, we found our way back to the boulevard and retraced our steps.

It took nearly twenty minutes to walk (or limp in my case) back to the park, where the abandoned cars and tennis courts seemed like a vague memory of normalcy, even from this morning. My arms twitched, nearly raising the rifle they cradled, but instantly relaxed at the sight of another girl, this one with soft brown hair and a familiar tired smile.

Mariah ran forward, as Vince rounded the corner (his machetes bloodied and tightly gripped), and grabbed us both around the neck in a tight, comforting hug.

"Thank God" she whispered, releasing us after a moment "You guys took so long we were beginning to get worried…good lord, Hunter, your leg!"

"It's fine" I said, panting "I'll need to take some meds later, though."

"What happened?" asked Vince, wiping his dirty face with his even dirtier hand.

"Had some trouble" said Crystal, though her deadpan tone made it impossible to tell if she was being sarcastic or not. She took several breaths before continuing with: "Austin's dead."

The shock had still not worn off one me, when I had to participate in telling two more of our number. However, my stomach lurched at the sorrowful expressions that the others shared with each other. My neck snapped around, looking desperately but finding the truth staring me down mercilessly.

"Christina too" said Vince, reading the look on my face "We saw her get overrun; there was nothing we could do."

"This is my fault," I managed to choke out, fighting past the nausea and lightheadedness "if I hadn't suggested Goochland, none of this would-". I was silenced by a sharp, biting clap that ripped across my face, knocking me to the ground. I looked up, with Crystal staring at me with vehement eyes.

"Don't you do that to yourself!" she hissed, her own eyes wet "Nobody is safe, and we all know what we face every day! We've been on runs that have gone to hell before, and this could have easily happened any of those times too! They knew the risks, same as us, and they still went."

My eyes fell to the ground and it took me several minutes, but I eventually managed a nod.

Taking Vince's offered hand and pulling back onto my feet, we made our way back to the Humvee. It was a gloomy busy, removing the camo netting and replacing our packs into the trunk (I wasn't listening to Crystal and Vince talk about what had been collected). I placed my rifle in the back and then climbed into the driver's seat…the one originally occupied by Callahan. I sat there, my shaking hands gripping the steering wheel tightly, trying to calm myself; a gentle hand on my arm drew my attention.

Mariah, someone who had been like a big sister to me, smiled comfortingly; I tried to return the smile but found memories of two friends keeping the sincerity at a minimum. Vince and Crystal slammed their doors shut, and three heads turned towards the bespectacled brunette.

"Goochland" was the only word that left her. I turned back and took a deep breath, turning the ignition and the massive, military vehicle roared to life. Pulling it into gear, I pulled out of the park and onto the road.

In that moment, I tried not to think about what we were leaving behind, both long-term and immediate and even the idea that I may never see any place resembling my home again. However, despite what we had lost, there was still hope for us, however faint and disguised by despair. We were moving forward; but to what future, none of us could imagine.

~-0-~

Authors Note: Hey guys, this is a zombie apocalypse short story I wrote a few years back and decided to repost. First of all, I'd like it to be established (since the was brought up to me in the past) basic zombie lore DOES exist in this world. Secondly, all of the cast were really people and I hope (if they end up reading this) I did them justice. So, I hope you all like it, so please: sit back and enjoy at your leisure.