Riley of the Dead - Part 2

Riley of the dead 2 image.jpg It's that time of year again.
Time to check in with the injury prone loft-dweller at long last, I suppose?

Happy Halloween folks!


 

“-malnourished, dehydration, probably delirious from blood-loss, a stab wound to her side and a gunshot wound to her shoulder obviously...”

My head throbbed hard and I went to move on whatever soft thing I’m apparently laying on.
Before I could really do more than scrunch up my eyes a little someone’s hand latched onto my wrist and squeezed hard in warning.

After a moment or twos pause to process what was happening I took that to mean I should stay still instead and happily went along with that idea considering how oddly heavy I feel at the moment.

“How long until we can move her to the hospital?”
Another warning squeeze to my wrist came at that question from a second, more boyish sounding, voice but I didn’t need reminding to stay still at this point.

“A day or two, maybe?... They have better kit over at the hospital but I really want to get her stable before taking her back out there again.”

“Fair enough, keep me posted. Don’t be surprised if Falkner drops in at some point to visit, poor guys taking this whole mess hard, I’m sure he’ll feel better if he can see that she’ll survive this...”
The hand on my wrist gave me one more, hopefully reassuring, squeeze before letting go completely as its owner stepped away from me a little.

“Fine, just make sure he remembers this is a medical area. I don’t want him marching in here covered in Ghoul blood again like last time!”

“I’ll tell him... thanks Gloria, I know we have our problems but-”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, just get back to your troopers Nick before one of them accidentally shoots himself and I’ve got to fix that up as well, huh?”

The male voice, apparently belonging to some guy called ‘Nick’, fell into a deep chuckle that reminded me vaguely of my Dad for a few seconds.
It trailed off pretty quickly though, being replaced by loud footsteps that moved away from us until finally the room fell silent with an almost deafening swish of heavy sounding fabric.

For a long, tense few seconds I laid as still as I could, waiting for something else to happen.
Luckily it did eventually as the female voice of ‘Gloria’ spoke out again followed by her own lighter footsteps a moment or two later as she moved closer to my side again.

“I know your awake dear, how are you feeling?”
Instead of answering I groaned to myself and tried to roll over slightly only to pause with a pained hiss as a sharp pain in my side made itself known.
“Ah, I wouldn’t move too much at the moment dear. You’re still not really in any shape to do anything that drastic, it’s amazing you’re alive at all honestly...”

“W-what happened?”
My voice sounded so soft and hoarse that it felt barely recognisable to me at first.

Just hearing another human voice at last, knowing I’m not the only one out here, that there are men with guns on walls, and ‘Nick’s, and ‘Gloria’s around was good enough for now though.
I’ve heard my own voice plenty lately, enough to last me a lifetime honestly.

“You were shot, not badly, more of a flesh wound then anything but along with the shallow stab wound to your chest and what appears to be weeks of starvation it was the last straw I’m afraid.”
She sighed heavily and I made an effort to open my eyes at last, failing miserably a few seconds later with a huff of my own.
“You’ve been unconscious for a few hours now, I’ve had you on a drip but that and soup are about the only things I have on hand to help at this point, we really need to get you back to the hospital soon but there are some things we need to discuss beforehand...”

It took more effort than feels right for some reason but after a few tense seconds of forceful thinking I managed to pull my eyes open, reflexively blinking and wincing them shut again almost instantly despite the low-light level in the big tent we’re apparently camped inside.

“The obvious questions like ‘where you came from?’, ‘where’s the rest of your group?’ or even your name can wait for now dear. I have a much more important and time sensitive problem to deal with first.”
My eyelids still felt heavy but eventually I managed to force them open again, just enough to finally catch a glimpse of ‘Gloria’ for a few seconds before they shut again leaving me feel unfairly tired afterwards.

“...You look like my Mum...”
She looks nice, I like nice...

“I really need you to focus for me honey, I’m sorry, I know you’re tired but this is important.”
She let off another huff of breath at the end of that sentence.
I’m starting to think it’s a nervous habit or something, like when Mum bites her nails and then tells me off for doing it too.
“I don’t know how much you’ve been told already but the world is a very different place now and it’s a very dangerous place for a... girl... like you?”

“M’a boy-”
Despite my best efforts to get the words out properly even my lips are fighting back against me now.
I’m not sure if she even understood me at all.

“Well... that makes this a whole lot more complicated...”
She sighed again. She keeps sighing, it’s kind of annoying?
“I’ll be honest with you; the militia we’re currently being hosted by aren’t nice people dear, the only reason you’re alive at the moment is that they think you’re a girl.”

Wh-what? Why is that-
Why would that m-matter?

“They’re survivors, strong, but they’re ruthless too. They have some kind of wider plan going on at the moment and from what I can tell, women and female children are part of that plan... while men, specifically certain types of men, and boys in general... aren’t?”
My eyes slowly peeked open as she kept speaking and even I could see the shudder that went through her body at that last word.
I don’t know what it really means but it looked bad from the expression on her face if nothing else.
“You’re lucky I was here, I don’t even want to think what could have happened if one of their field medics got to you first honey... and that leads to my big problem here...”

Her hands fidgeted nervously and she reached for a small brown leather bag that had been hidden in a pile of bandages on a table nearby from the looks of it.

“You won’t survive five minutes in the main hospital without some help dear.”
She sighed heavily and ran her fingers over the edge of the bag in her hands.
“Since you were recovered I’ve been scavenging what I can from a nearby pharmacy the militia cleared out a while ago and I think I can help... help make you at least look like a girl long enough for you to find someone who can move you on to somewhere safer at least, safer for someone like you...”

The bag fumbled slightly in her hands but eventually she got it open and pulled out a needle in some plastic packaging, causing me to lean away from her slightly in fright.

“I thought you... I thought you identified as a girl, from the way you were dressed when they brought you in... but now, knowing you still think of yourself as a boy, that’s going to make this even harder-”
Her fingers moved quickly as she took the needle out and pushed it into a little jar that also came from inside that little leather bag before turning back to me with worried eyes.
“-I’m sorry for this honey but it really is the only way to keep you alive. When you wake up, don’t panic and answer any questions the men have for you.”
Her fingers fumbled slightly again and she stared at me with worried eyes for a few seconds.
“Just do what they say and hopefully we’ll both get out of this alive, okay?”

Before I could answer, her arm moved with seemingly lightning-fast speed and she stabbed me with the needle in her hand.

I barely got out an almost silent scream of fear before the world started getting hazy.
My eyes were already reluctant to stay open in the first place but this time when they blinked closed they stayed that way and slowly the world disappeared around me into darkness.

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“-should be awake any time now.”

My eyes snapped open and I let off a frightened yelp, jerking away from the needle in my arm in the few moments of confusion that came from having woken up so suddenly.

That turned out to be a very bad idea because, when I rolled slightly, something pulled in my side leading to a sharp pain that made me want to cry out all over again.
In seconds a man was in front of me, his hands on my shoulders to help support me as I flailed uselessly against the pain and cried in fear.

Another sharp jab happened somewhere near my shoulder and slowly I could feel the panic going away, not really ‘gone’ but just feeling more muted and flat as time went on.

“It’s only a mild sedative. Don’t worry, she should be fine for your questions but I’ll probably have to restrain her if she’s going to wake up like that more often... until her wounds are stable enough for her to move so suddenly at least.”
My eyelids felt heavy for some reason and I slumped against the man as my body started sinking further down into the bed around me.

Eventually I seemed to stop moving at last, allowing me to let out a long breath that felt really nice for some reason.

“You with me kid? Let’s start with something simple, what’s your name?”
Out the corner of my eye I could see Gloria suddenly tense and pale slightly.
I tried to work out why she’d react like that to such a simple question but it was hard to focus on her and the man asked a question, not answering would be rude...

“Riley?”

That’s my name, my name’s Riley... right?
Why does Gloria look so relieved all of a sudden?

“That’s a pretty name, do you know where your parents a-”
My face scrunched up slightly as I tried to think but the man seemed to change his mind before I could answer, continuing on with a different question instead.
“-where’s your group Riley? The group you were with before you reached us, did you get separated maybe?”

Separated... Separated how? What ‘group’ is he going on about?
There’s just me, only me...
Me, on my own with the zombies... and no-one else, right?

No! There are people now too?!
Gloria, and Nick, and this guy whoever he is, and that guy who shot me, and-
“-are you all real?”

“Shit, how much of that junk did you pump into her Doc?”
Glora seemed to swell up like a big fluffy, bird as the man turned away from me to face her but she didn’t say anything properly in response and eventually he turned to face me again, looking more than a little bit angry.

Why isn’t anyone talking?
I miss the talking...

“Don’t give me that look Doc. We need to know where she’s from.”
The guy raised a hand and ran it nervously through his hair.
“People could be looking for her and I’ve seen too many panicked parents go out looking for their kids only to come back a few days later as Ghouls for me to just leave this all to chance.”

Huh?
What’s... tha’ mean?...

“I’m... was in m’house, Mum said to hid’... so I di’... bu’ then I-urnnn...”
The words stopped coming and my head dropped suddenly sideways as everything went dark again.

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“Riley... Riley wake up honey...”

“Jus’ five more minutes Mum”
She jabbed me lightly in the arm with her fingers in response but that was easy to ignore, she does it all the time when I’m a little late for school in the morning after all.

With a sigh I rolled over slightly to get more comfortable, only to jolt up, suddenly wide away as pain registered in my side where my arm was tucked under me.

For a few seconds I rolled around on the bed slightly, silently gasping as the pain returned.
That stopped pretty quickly when a woman who was definitely NOT my Mum grabbed my shoulders and held me down a few moments later though.

All I could do is stare up at her in confused horror as the world slowly started making a bit more sense again, piece by piece.

“W-where’s my Mum?”
The woman looked really sad for some reason, not that it helped me much obviously.

Slowly details started making sense again and recognition flared in my head.
Where I was, first from the hospital smells around us, then the tent roof above and finally settling on-
“-Gloria?”

She smiled at me in a strained way like Mum does whenever someone brings up Dad around her.

“I’m sorry Riley. I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to knock you out like that.”
A little smile perked up on her lips as she watched me stare at her in confusion.
“You’re a lot smaller then you should be for your age young lady, either that or I got your age wrong... how old are you by the way?”

“I’m ten”
Ten and a half really, last I checked, but Mum said it’s rude to tell people that bit...

“Oh my, you really are small for your age then, aren’t you?”

Um... maybe?
I don’t know.

I’ve not had much to eat lately, I guess?
I noticed my clothes were getting kind of baggy in the loft at some point.
I’m not sure when though; a lot of stuff that happened in the loft is all a blur for some reason.

I think I had a tea party at some point?... or maybe that was just my imagination...

“I’m sorry to wake you up like this honey but, against my better judgement, we’re moving out soon.”
Moving, moving where?... Why?

“I need to go home-”
My elbows tucked backwards slightly to push me up on the bed but failed making me slide back down with a groan a second or two later.
“-Mum could be there waiting for me, she said I had to wait for her and she’d come for me...”

Even before I’d finished speaking Gloria was giving me this really sad, understanding look and shaking her head a little.

“This position was never meant to be permanent Riley. The Militia Commander had us out here looking for supplies and searching basements for portable generators or fuel sources.”
Her hand came up to brush her hair back behind her ears and she glanced away from me before continuing.
“You’ve been asleep for almost two days now. The men are done searching everywhere reasonably within range and the Ghouls are getting riled up too much to keep the camp safe anymore...”

She shifted a little bit and slid onto the bed next to me, gently wrapping her arms around me like Mum used to do if I had a nightmare or something.

“I need to strap your side and shoulder up tight, then we’ll go get some food for you before the convoy moves out.”
Her hand came up to brush my hair back from my face too for a moment before she continued.
“I know you want to be near your home Riley but in a few hours it’s just not going to be safe here anymore... I can’t leave you alone here... please don’t make me do something like that?”

The hurt in her voice was upsetting on its own but with everything else that’s been happening lately and the hazy confusion I could still feel settling over me I found myself breaking down in tears no matter how much I tried to hold them back.

As much as I want to find Mum, I can’t go back to the loft again!
I know she’s coming for me because she said she would... but I can’t... I

I’m finally out, and there are people now, and Doctors, and food!

“...I w-want my Mum...”
It sounded stupid even to my ears.

It sounded like something a little baby would say but Gloria didn’t laugh at me for it and we ended up sitting there in a slightly painful hug for a while instead as I cried to myself far more then I can remember doing in such a long time.

“Don’t worry Riley. I’m sure she’s out there somewhere and she misses you. When we get back to base I’ll help you search for her, okay?”
My breath came in and out really shakily for some reason which wouldn’t stop, even when our eyes finally met once more.

We both stared into each other’s eyes for a few seconds as I tried to see if she really meant it or not.

“I promise Riley, I’ll do everything I can to find out what happe-”
She hesitated for a moment but then her eyes got softer again and she gave me another squeeze.
“-where your Mum is, okay dear?”

Slowly I nodded back, letting a long shaky breath out afterwards as a big smile came to her lips in response.

“Right then, little-miss, time we got you up and ready to move. This is going to hurt a bit but it’s for your own wellbeing, Doctor’s orders.”
I found myself nodding still despite how bad that sounded.

After a few seconds, what she’d actually said finally registered in my slow brain and I cocked my head to the side slightly in confusion as I stared back at her.

“I’m not a g-”
Before I could finish what I was going to say she brought a hand up to my mouth and gave me a worried look, turning her head around quickly as if searching to make sure there were no zombies nearby or something.

“I thought you understood by now... we, uh... we need to play a game for now Riley, okay?”
A game?... What kind of game is-

“Until I say if you win or not, you have to pretend that you’re a girl, okay?”
Her eyes were really tight despite the wide smile on her face as she carried on.
“All the time, you’ve got to pretend all the time that you’re a girl, or else you lose and... and you’ve got to, uh... clean all the Militia toilets with a toothbrush!”

She pulled a ‘grossed-out’ face before crossing her eyes somehow in a silly way that made me laugh automatically, even as I tried to get my head around this new ‘game’ of hers.

I’m not stupid!
The guy earlier who kept calling me a girl...
Whatever she did to me before, when she first explained about what they do to men and boys around here, to make me look more like one...

I’d kind of forgotten for a minute there
I’ve only just woken up and everything’s still a bit weird but... I remember it all now and this feels a lot less like any sort of a ‘game’ then I think either of us are able to pretend it is for some reason?

This is like the loft all over again!
I know what I need to do to survive, I know that doing otherwise could be REALLY bad now too.

Bad enough to even scare Gloria!
I learnt my lesson when I dropped the ladder in the loft, because I stupidly thought a z-zombie was my Mum coming home somehow and I’m NOT falling for that sort of thing again!

“Okay, I bet I’ll win!”
Gloria smiled widely at me and patted my head before moving over to a worryingly big pile of bandages she’s got sitting ready on the table near my bed.

“Okay then Princess, let’s get you ready to see the troops then, shall we?”

My face automatically tried to pull itself into a grimace at being called a ‘princess’ but I managed to hold it back enough that it eventually turned into a smile.
With one more glance over towards me Gloria gave me a smile in return a few moments later.

Girls like princesses and I’ve gotta be a girl now too... this is going to be harder than I thought!

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“...Oww...”
My spoon fell from my fingers as they twitched hard from the pain that came from my shoulder’s new bandages being so tight.

A splash of the tomato soup I’d been trying to eat landed on the new dress Gloria managed to find for me somewhere as it fell back into the bowl, much to my annoyance.

For a few seconds I stared sadly down at the front of the dress where a big red blob now ruined it’s otherwise kind of nice, really light yellow, color.
One of the soldiers near us laughed and said something about ‘girls’ getting ‘dirty’, making me blush heavily and slump forward to hide as best I could despite being the only kid in the room, let alone one of only two people not wearing a military looking uniform.

At least I didn’t get any soup on my Dad’s waistcoat.
Gloria tried to say I shouldn’t keep it but I managed to talk her around by showing her how useful the pockets on it could be.

I think that’s what convinced her at least?
It was either that or the fact that everyone seemed really twitchy when they saw me walking around with bandages all over my shoulder that the thin little straps of this dress really don’t do a good job of hiding at all sadly.

I don’t know why everyone would be twitchy about bandages, that’s Mummies not Zombies after all, but they were and everyone seems a lot calmer now that you can barely see any bandage sticking out of the way-too-big arm holes of my waistcoat instead.

Either way I got to keep it in the end, so everyone’s happy at least!

“How’s she doing Gloria?”
My head snapped up to stare with wide eyes at the man who’d approached us.
It’s that ‘Nick’ guy again, he looks a lot more relaxed and happy then he did the last time I saw him for some reason.

“She’ll survive, we might need her sitting on the carts with someone to carry her if you can spare a man but apart from that I’ve done everything I can for now.”

They both seemed to share some weird, silent, conversation over my head for a few seconds which I think Gloria won judging by the sigh Nick gave off in the end.

“I’ll get Falkner, poor guy’s not been too good with a gun since... the incident...”
Judging by the pretty obvious look he tried to shoot at me without my knowing it, I’m guessing ‘the incident’ means when I got shot?

Come to think of it, I think he said the guy who shot me was called ‘Falkner’ at some point, didn’t he?

I don’t know... everything’s a bit hazy still from when I first got here but I’m pretty sure that’s what he said at least!

“We’re leaving everything but the tents and useful equipment behind, be ready to leave in an hour or so Gloria. I’ve got some of my more careful guy’s packing up your kit to go on the cart with the truck flippers as we speak, so you just keep an eye on her and make sure you meet up with Falkner before we set off, ya hear?”

They had another silent conversation there for some reason but this time Gloria lost I think because Nick walked off without another word and after a short pause she sighed to herself instead of smiling or something that seemed more obviously ‘I won’-like, to me at least.

“Right... you heard the boss-man Riley, finish up your soup and I’ll go get some more for you in a flask, just in case you get hungry on the way... When you’re done we’ll go find Mr Falkner, okay?”
Her voice didn’t quite sound normal for some reason, although to be fair, a lot of voices don’t sound normal to me anymore after so long without hearing them so maybe it’s just me.

Either way, she took my curious staring as some kind of agreement apparently because she pushed herself up from her seat across from me and made her way over to the big pot-thingy full of soup that she got my bowl from originally instead of saying anything else.

With a slightly frustrated sigh I looked back down at my bowl with its fallen spoon once more.

A slight grimace spread across my face before I finally realised how stupid I was being and I leaned over slightly to switch hands, picking the spoon up with my left a little awkwardly but without the same horrible levels of pain I got when lifted it to my mouth using my right instead.

No need to waste it... even if it has gone a bit cold now, and I don’t really like this sort of tomato taste normally, food is food after all!

I only like tomato’s on pizza... I miss pizza.

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“Clear!”
“Clear!”
We shuffled on a bit more, the bumpy, dirt-covered road under us making the big cart-thingy we’re sitting on rock a little and making my head bounce into the arm of Mr Falkner beside me as we went.

“Clear!”
“Clear!”
We moved on a little more and I couldn’t hold it in anymore, despite my best efforts to just be quiet in general at the moment.

“Why do they keep saying ‘clear’ all the time?”

Mr Falkner turned his head down towards me slightly and a little smile showed on his lips for a few seconds before he looked back up, his hand on the far side from me twitched a little with the big knife he has clutched close to his leg without him seeming to really notice it.

“They’re scouting the streets as we go to make sure there are no Ghouls hanging around.”
He glanced down to me again and smiled a little more.
“If they spot one or two, they’ll call it out and some of the big guys at the front in the body-armor will go to deal with them. If they spot more than that they’ll raise their fists and we have to all be really-really quiet, okay Riley?”

I couldn’t help but gulp slightly at the idea of zombies being so near again, let alone more than one of them!

Eventually I nodded anyway, then fixed my eyes on the ‘scout’ guy nearest to us intensely, which Mr Falkner seemed to find funny for some reason judging by his laugh and the pat he gave to the top of my head.
I swear, he treats me like I’m some kind of well-behaved puppy sometimes...

“Clear!”
“Clear!”
We moved on a bit more.

There’s a lot more men around then I thought were in the ‘camp’ we just left honestly?
They have loads of them walking alongside the four big wagon things that they call ‘carts’ at least.
The carts are practically full with stuff, including the back one where Gloria is sitting with her Doctor kit and these massive rod-things with hoses coming out of them that Mr Falkner called the ‘truck flippers’ when I asked about them earlier.

How anything that big and thin can flip a truck I’ll never know!
He said it was something to do with Sea-owe-two and ‘drolic trolley jack’s on steer-oi-ds’... whatever THAT means?

“Clear!”
“Cl- Contact!”

Everyone seemed to freeze in fear for a moment before suddenly there was a lot of action happening all around us, seemingly out of nowhere.

In front of us the armor wearing men moved towards the right ‘scout’ guy who’d changed his call at the last second and I tensed in my seat nervously.

I couldn’t really see what was going on, although Mr Falkner didn’t help matters there by practically pulling me into his lap the moment the call went out, hugging me tight to himself while his knife-holding hand came up from his hip to rest protectively in front of us both as he scanned around almost as nervously as I felt.

I kind of wanted to struggle a little to get away from him because being hugged like this is kind of scary in itself, that’s not even mentioning the fact that he’s squeezing my chest and shoulder a little too tightly which is hurting me a little!

I didn’t say or do anything though.
In the end I just leaned back against him as hard as I could to release some of the pressure and put some more space between me and the slightly shaking blade in his hand as well.
I’m not STUPID after all!

The wait seemed to take forever after the men in big thick suits of black ‘body-armor’, like the kind you see cops on TV wear, disappeared around the corner.

Eventually they came back and some people moved over to clean off what I think might be blood that they had on them with water and rags, which kind of reminded me of my own experiences getting clean after my first zombie kill too... enough so that I ended up shuddering a little which only seemed to encourage Mr Falkner to hug me tighter for a bit longer sadly.

“Clear!”
“Clear!”
Just like that the calls went out again and the carts moved off at their painfully slow speed once more.

Mr Falkner loosened his grip on me at last but didn’t fully let go or slip me back onto the seat next to him, keeping me sat on his lap protectively instead like some big teddy bear or something.

“Clear!”
“Clear!”
As our cart finally rolled past the street where the scouts had found some zombies, I couldn’t help but stare at the three bodies crumpled to the floor in the middle of the street.

Pools of horrible dirty blood seemed to already bee forming around them, despite the fact that all the zombies I’ve seen so far didn’t seem to even HAVE that much blood left in them to start with?

“Don’t look Riley”
A bit too late, Mr Falkner brought his hand up to block my view and turned me slightly in his lap so I was facing away from the street again.

It confused me at first why he would try to protect me like that considering I’ve killed one with my own hands, and a really big knife, already... however much of a panicked and useless mess I was about it all at the time at least.

Then it finally clicked in my head that he not only thought I was a girl, but I’ve not really had a chance to share my ‘story’ with anyone in the militia yet, have I?

I’m not even sure if I would have if I’d had the chance to do just that honestly?
The militia are human and gave me food, while treating my wounds so they’re at least a step or three above the alternative, zombie, company I could have right now... but I don’t really trust them yet.

I get the feeling Gloria doesn’t trust them either, which really isn’t helping that bad first impression sadly.

I’m staying with them obviously, it’s not like I have many options at the moment anyway.
I’ll feel a lot better if I can get one of my knifes back or something similar soon though, just so I can defend myself if the worst happens, or they find out I’m a boy, or just anything that might leave me trying to survive out here alone at least!

“Clear!”
“Clear!”

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The scout on our right froze for a second and rose his fist up in the air making our whole slow moving group come to a near instant halt.

Everyone seemed to hold their breath for a few seconds to a point that, as far as I could see, Mr Falkner seemed to be the first person who actually moved again after that really worrying signal.

Instead of doing something ‘soldier-y’ like the men around us who slowly started moving themselves at last as they all shuffled forward to assess the situation up ahead.
He eased me off his lap and slid down from the cart while tucking his knife into his belt and reaching up to ease me down to ground-level again.

We quickly moved back along the line of carts as people moved past us going the opposite way to eventually meet up with Gloria near the back, who seemed to be getting more worried with every step we took towards her.

“Doc, can you carry Riley?... I’ve got a bad feeling about this and if things go wrong we need to be ready to move.”

My eyes shot wide open in fear as I turned to stare up at Gloria who visibly gulped before nodding her head and leaning down slightly to pick me up into her arms with a surprising amount of ease.
For a few seconds she jogged me up and down on her hip before glancing back at Mr Falkner with a tight-lipped smile and a nod to show she was ready.

“Good. We’re only a few streets out from the defensive perimeter, the nearest normal entrance is a thin alleyway with bright red paint splashed all over the walls, you can’t miss it, if anything happens to me just... just get Riley to safety, okay?”
I could feel her nod again by the way her hair brushed against my ear but I couldn’t look away from Mr Falkner’s worried face in my frightened state no matter how hard I tried.

He seemed to be psyching himself up for something as he took in a few deep breaths then he ducked down behind the cart, only to come back up clutching two guns in his shaking hands, a long black metal one that I think is a shotgun of some sort and a much smaller pistol, like the kind you see everyone using on TV in cop shows and movies.

He nodded this time and eased his way around the cart for a better view up towards the action ahead of us that’s caused all this panic in the first place.

Slowly he slid the pistol down the back of his shirt and took a solid, two-handed grasp on the shotgun instead as gunshots started ringing out from up ahead of us.

Apparently those gunshots shouldn’t have happened because everyone around us moved practically as one towards them; guns raised and ready to take out any zombies they could see!

Only one or two soldiers seemed to be of the same mind-set as Mr Falkner because, as we moved left and made our way carefully down the street, a few of them practically ran into us while they made their own way towards the same street Mr Falkner was aiming for.

They all shared a look between themselves before nodding and moving together like a well-oiled machine to surround me and Gloria on all sides with Mr Falkner in the lead.
The gunfire behind us got louder with shouts joining it a few moments later and that was enough to kick us up from a silent, light jog, to an outright run in seconds.

Every gunshot I heard made me flinch because I know what loud noises do to the zombies.
I’ve seen it happen enough times from my window in the loft.

Something as simple as a rather loud metal trashcan falling over can set them all off in a frenzy, with zombies seeming to appear from every shadow to join the mass that moved towards that noise for the horribly tense period of time it took for them all to disperse back towards their favorite haunts once more when they can’t find anything to hunt near where it happens.

I couldn’t help but scream and bury my face in Gloria’s shoulder when a horribly loud bang went off near me and, seemingly in response to that, everyone picked up their pace once more as they moved down the street together.

Despite my better judgement I lifted my head enough to check my surroundings again and found myself paling pretty badly as zombies in all their horrible shambling states of decay started appearing from the buildings around us.

The tell-tale, deafening ‘bangs’ of gunfire going off from the soldiers around us to keep them from getting too close while we kept moving down the middle of the street as fast as humanly possible made me shudder in fear almost as much as the falling bodies that followed them did moments later.

We came to a crossroads and paused, lining up against the wall near to the edge of our street so Mr Falkner could peer around it and check to see if the coast is clear.

Eventually he pulled himself back and turned to look at us all once more.
Judging by the expression on his face, it really wasn’t looking good down that way...

To my surprise he stepped away from the wall and closer to us, me and Gloria, as the men behind us fired again to take out a zombie which had gotten too close for comfort in our slight pause.

“Gloria... take my gun, give me Riley...”
It wasn’t a question, nor an order strangely.
Just a statement of what is going to happen, given voice.

His hands were shaking but his eyes were certain as he reached out to take me in his arms, which Gloria almost reflexively helped him do by sliding me off her hip.

He got me settled after a few seconds and even from here I could feel his heartbeat hammering away in his chest, despite his best efforts at looking calm and sure of himself for the others at the moment.

After a moment or two more he turned to the men with us and gave them all questioning glances, almost as one they all straightened up and snapped off a salute to him, the nervous looks a lot more obvious on their faces then his.

“I’m not going to lie, there’s a lot of them... but they’re slow, they’re disbursed and we have the element of surprise because the others are making so much noise at the moment.”
He sighed heavily and flinched slightly as one of the men in front of us let off another round taking out another zombie who’d gotten too close once more.

“I need a volunteer to get their attention. If someone goes out there making noise and moving around a lot on the far side of the street then the Ghouls should all bunch up and move towards them... when it’s clearer we’ll make a break for it, get the kid and the Doc to the alleyway, then provide covering fire to let the volunteer through for as long as we can...”
He sighed and ran his free hand through his hair in a way that reminded me a lot of ‘Nick’ back with the others behind us.
“So... who’s up for being the hero?”

There was an almost painful silence as none of the men put himself forward for the dangerous decoy job that even I could tell was practically suicidal just from the looks on their faces.
Finally someone coughed and stepped forward...

Unfortunately it was Gloria who did it.

What followed was a rather heated, if rushed, argument about priorities.
The rules about ‘self-sacrifice’, sexism in an apocalypse and quite a few more topics I couldn’t really follow due to interruptions from seemingly random gunfire too close to my ears but in the end Gloria won, much to my growing horror.

She didn’t waste any time once the decision was made.

With one last long look at me, her hand coming up to cup my cheek for a moment, she practically marched her way out from the cover of our wall and started to make a worrying amount of noise while sprinting towards the row of buildings furthest from us while Mr Falkner turned his body so he could watch her better and I couldn’t.

Apparently that movement was part of his plan at the time, judging by how he stopped my head when I tried to twist for a better view instead.

For a nerve-wracking count of seconds all I could do was watch the nervous soldiers behind his back and listen as Gloria made progressively more loud noises, mostly by screaming bloody-murder at the top of her lungs from the sound of it?

Finally after what felt like a lifetime of statue-like inaction we were moving so fast that it took me a few seconds to even work out what was going on as I bounced against Mr Falkner and he sprinted along the street.

As we went on, zombies started coming into my view range.

Their slow heads turning to follow us despite Gloria’s distraction which worryingly I could only just about catch a glimpse of from between them as she ran backwards with wide frightened eyes and the mob of zombies split between her and us.

Before the reality of what was going on had fully sunk into my stalled, fear-ridden mind, one of the soldiers who’d slowed down slightly to aim at a zombie ahead of us let out a loud yell as one managed to get behind him and sink it’s horrible rotting mouth full of teeth into his unprotected neck.

Mr Falkner didn’t even flinch at the sound, if anything he just ran faster a moment or two later.
The other men around us weren’t so sure of themselves apparently because they all seemed to freeze and hesitate for a few seconds, staring at the now dying man in shock.

Almost inevitably that lead to them being left behind as Mr Falkner charged on forwards and the zombies started to turn in on them all.

“Almost there. Almost there.”
I’m not sure if Mr Falkner even realised he was speaking at first but eventually he spoke again, proving that on at least some level he was talking to me.

“When we get to the mouth of the alleyway Riley I’m going to put you down, the moment your feet hit the ground I want you to run. Run as fast as you can down the alleyway and wave your arms around while shouting ‘uninfected’ as loud as you can, can you do that for me Riley?”

I didn’t even get a chance to answer before a shadow fell over us as we reached the alleyway he’d just mentioned and in one smooth motion that only slightly jolted my still hurting shoulder he set me on the ground before spinning away from me and pulled the pistol from the back of his shirt in one smooth motion.

At least five zombies were shambling towards the mouth of the alleyway as he turned and I couldn’t help but freeze in fear, flashes of my past interactions with these horrible monsters rooting my feet to the ground like they were made of solid brick or something.

A string of gunfire went off, not wildly like those we heard coming from the cart group a minute ago, but precise and spaced out single shots instead.
The five distinct shots timed almost perfectly with explosions of blood from the heads of the zombies in front of us as they echoed around the alleyway to a deafening degree.

“RILEY, RUN!”

My feet stumbled slightly as I took my first step backwards, my eyes not leaving the pile of now obviously dead zombies at the front of the alleyway at first until a few more gunshots rang out and a distinctive scream which could only have come from Gloria finally broke me out of it enough to turn on a heel and run as fast as I could away from the chaos outside.

More gunshots, more shouting and more horrible moans from the zombies followed after me but I didn’t stop to process them, couldn’t stop at this point I think.

I just ran on down the dark little alleyway as fast as I could, my eyes fixed in the middle distance where a speck of brighter light could be seen glinting invitingly towards me.

As I got closer to the light it finally sunk behind a barrier ahead of me that had previously been hidden by the near blinding effect the light had caused for my straining eyes and I practically skidded to a halt as yet again I found myself facing a giant pile of overturned vehicles.
This time it was complete with wooden spikes and panels placed around, looking a lot more ‘permanent’ then the wall I originally found back at the militia camp we left behind this morning but no less intimidating yet welcome at the same time.

The minute I came to a stop, there was a loud crash from behind the ‘wall’ and seconds later a rather tired looking older man with a scruffy beard wearing some kind of body-armor made out of, what I think might have once been, car-body parts jumped over the edge of the wall.

He came to rest in a ready crouch, still a short ways in front of me, with a sad look in his eyes despite his gritted teeth.

A few seconds later someone threw a really awkward looking spear over the wall which landed with a clatter between us and his eyes tightened down in determination that wasn’t hard for me to understand the meaning behind.

With a scream I threw my good arm up in the air like Mr Falkner told me to as best I could and yelled.
“I’m human!”

The words came out without me really realising it at first but apparently they were the right ones to say despite what Mr Falkner actually told me to say because the man’s spear lowered slightly and he slowly stood up out of his crouch as a load of noise started coming from behind the wall that I’m pretty sure could only be people shouting at each other.

“Help, please?! There’s zombies back there and Mr Falkner, and Gloria, and the others need HELP!”

My second desperate yell only seemed to make the arguing behind the wall get louder but it didn’t matter in the end because the old man in front of me didn’t hesitate in the slightest as he charged towards me, spear raised.

I screamed again and practically collapsed to the floor in fright, landing badly on my still injured side with a whimper.

Honestly I didn’t stop screaming for almost a solid ten seconds... until it finally clicked in my head that he’d not actually been trying to attack me but had, in fact run, straight past me as he charged down the alleyway to help the others instead.

A few seconds after I lifted my head up in surprise and relief there was more noise, some that sounded like pretty bad words in general, as several more men in similar makeshift-armor carrying spears, bows and even a few guns at hand all jumped over the wall in front of me.
With barely a pause to catch their breath from the landing they all sprinted away with almost equally terrified looks to the one I could feel on my face plastered on theirs, as they charged past me and off to the battle outside.

Slowly my breath evened out as the few moments of terrified panic subsided leaving me alone in the dark alleyway, shivering and still frightened but not in direct danger at least, from either the zombies or the equally scary men behind the wall either at this point.

“Kid? Hey, kid!”

My head snapped up to stare open mouthed as a man leaned out over the edge of the wall and waved his hands to get my attention.

“That’s it darlin’, over here! Come on!”

My legs were shaking for some reason but I forced them to move and with an almost chest-achingly big gasp of breath I practically launched myself towards him.

He only just managed to get a grip under my arms from how awkwardly he was leaning, his whole body practically over the edge of the wall to reach me at all.
Before I could say anything he clamped down hard around my chest and shouted out for someone to pull him back up, dragging me up the side of the wall as he went.

One of his big hands managed to squeeze my injured side so hard I was seeing spots from the sudden jolt of pain as his other almost, at the exact same time, managed to pull hard under my armpit, just under my injured shoulder.

Needless to say I screamed.
The pain was unbelievable, almost as bad as the loose feeling of unreal pain I felt when I got shot in the first place, but somehow so much WORSE at the same time!

He’d barely gotten his body back over the wall with help from the men I could now see standing behind him, holding onto his belt for dear life as they pulled him backwards, before he accidentally slammed my unsupported chest into the wall and with one more scream of unbridled pain I passed out completely in one big ban-

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Seemingly seconds later my eyes snapped open, then crinkled shut slightly in pain as my shoulder and especially my side protested the idea of moving at all anymore which I was more than happy to accept their advice on at this point.

Late afternoon sunlight was streaming in through the big windows to my left making me wince even more as the dull orange light managed to feel far too bright to me for comfort.

Slowly I shifted myself, pausing every few seconds to make sure I wasn’t going to hurt myself, until I was finally sitting up on the big hospital bed I was apparently sleeping on until now.

My eye’s caught on the strange pink and white gown that felt practically paper-thin someone must have changed me into at some point.
With another wince I reached down to pull it up enough that I could see my side properly.

Somewhere along the way I gained some underwear apparently.
Girl’s underwear if the way they laid so tightly across my worryingly flat crotch, along with their general appearance with little red strawberries dotted all over them like the ones I used to see dolls wearing in TV adverts when I was younger, but with a lot less ruffles and other girly stuff added on for no reason at least.

A thin little plastic tube was coming out of the left leg-hole of them for some reason but a twitch of pain as I moved my arms down slightly to check the pipe better reminded me of why I’d been doing this in the first place and finally I finished easing the weird paper-thin dress thing up enough that I could inspect my bandages again.

I was left staring at a really tiny looking bandage, when compared to the big wrap-around one I had before thanks to Gloria at least, which stuck directly to my skin across my side like a giant white, padded band-aid or something?

“Ah, awake are you?”
With a yelp I instinctively yanked the thin-dress down to cover myself again and turned my head sharply to stare at a pretty amused looking male Doctor standing by the doorway.
“You, young lady, are lucky to be alive.”

He took a step into the room and I tried to push myself further away from him, only to wince my eyes practically shut as the pain in my side increased a second later.

“Easy! I’m not a threat, just checking up on you before my shift ends.”
His shift?

“You took a pretty bad spill and we were kind of worried you wouldn’t wake up at all for a while there. You had the beginnings of an infection in that shoulder of yours and managed to open up the rushed repair job someone did to your side as well.”

‘Bad spill’, doesn’t that mean like... falling?
I didn’t fall from anything, did I?

“Just keep calm for now, okay? I’ll go give a shout for your nurse and she’ll check you over, since you’re obviously not comfortable with me at the moment.”

I opened my mouth to answer but he’d already turned and left the room.
Just the tail end of his long white coat being visible around the door before even that was gone again.

Slowly I leaned back into a better position on my bed as it became obvious that he wouldn’t be coming back any time soon.
My head struggled for a few more seconds to stay up before falling back the last few inches left before it could hit the pillows behind me and I let out a long, tired sigh.

Eventually, after a few long minutes at the very least if my sense of time is anything to go on anymore, a woman with short brown hair and a nice smile came into the room wearing a set of those blue ‘scrub’-thingies you see on hospital shows all the time.

She spoke in a really nice, gentle voice and assured me that everything was going to be alright.
She just needed to remove my ‘cat-it-er’ or something, now I’m awake again and able to get up on my own.

It wasn’t until her hands were literally hovering over my thighs that I realised where she was going and what she was reaching for, leading to me snapping my legs shut instinctively as I uselessly trying to wave her away despite only having one pain-free arm I was willing to move in any way at the moment.

She paused for a moment in surprise at my sudden movement before that same soft, reassuring smile came to her lips again and she stood up to take a step closer to my head-end as I shrunk away from her slightly in surprise.

“Don’t worry Sweetie, I’ve been your nurse since you got in, I was the one who fitted the catheter for you in the first place and I’m not telling anyone...”

I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind to be processing what she was saying anyway but the calm look of understanding and acceptance on her face wasn’t helping my confusion at all either.
She seemed to finally get that I wasn’t following her properly because, with a careful glance over at the door behind her, she stepped even closer and spoke once more in practically a whisper.

“I know you’re really a boy Sweetie, well, kind of at least.”
Oh...uh?...
“Don’t worry, I’ve got everyone convinced you remind me of my, non-existent, little sister by now and the rest of the nurses are letting me deal with your daily needs. You shouldn’t be exposed as long as you don’t do anything too stupid to give yourself away, okay?”

All I could do was nod dumbly at her as she smiled at me once more before moving back down towards my new underwear and started pulling them down so she could reach the cat-it-er easier.
“This is going to hurt a bit Sweetie but it will be over before you know it; then we can get you cleaned up and go find some food for you to make up for it.”

Despite her soft smile and gentle tone of voice I couldn’t help but wince down my eyes again in anticipation of more pain which sadly didn’t take long make its appearance.

Under the sound of my short, half-voiced protests and whimpering denials we ended with her dropping the gross end of the pipe into a little dish thing near my bed before turning to me again, an apologetic smile and loud sigh of relief leaving her a moment or two later.

“See, not so bad, right?”
I opened my mouth to protest but she didn’t even wait for an answer as she moved over to help me ease upwards into a real sitting position on the bed instead.
“Now, it’s time we got you washed up and all pretty...”

Without another word she reached down and picked me up, perching my still sore but now at least covered and pipe-free crotch against her hip easily while turning us towards a little door at the far end of the room that I assume leads to some kind of bathroom area judging by what she just said.

“While I wash your hair for you, how about you tell me about yourself?”
She eased the door open and tucked it behind herself to keep it open as she moved me into the now revealed bathroom inside.
“How you came to be here, where you’re from, your name and how you ended up with a really well done disguise as a precious little girl instead of a smell old boy, huh?”

I winced pretty badly at that last point.

I need to stop wincing... it’s bad...
Mum always said it would give her wrinkles early when she did it but that never seemed to stop her anyway so I don’t know what to do about it now I’ve started to do it too?

“Do you want a bath or a shower?”
I glanced up at her in surprise which she seemed to take to mean something, although I’m not quite sure what honestly.
“Don’t worry about the supply, the militia have our grid and pipes working at the moment, so it’s ‘use as much as you want’ time at last...”

My eyes lingered on the showerhead for a few seconds but there was no real question to it in the end and with a vaguely shy wave I indicated I’d like a bath to her instead which she smiled over for some strange reason as she set me down on my feet at last.
She leaned over, putting the plug in, as her other hand turned the tap making water start pouring out of it, much to my surprise.

It’s been so long since I’ve had a bath!
I’d practically forgotten that so much clean, inviting looking water could even EXIST anymore!

“Panties too! I know that look and you’re not in any state to go jumping head-first into the tub at the moment, let alone with clothes on still.”
Once more I found myself wincing although this time there was a blush to match it as well.

It’ll all be worth it if I can have a bath though!

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“-and this is the dayroom.”

My head perked up from the embarrassed huddle I’d settled into as the Nurse, Nurse Josie apparently, lead me through the hospitals hallways giving me ‘the tour’ much to everyone who saw us amusement apparently.

“On days when the lines are down and we’re stuck on backup power it’s mostly just board games and books in here but at the moment we’re all up-and-running so feel free to watch some movies with the other kids or even go on one of the computers if you can get on one.”

My eyes were already wide in surprise from just how many people there are in this hospital but they got even wider as I took in the big, childishly-decorated room full of mostly women and girls moving around, doing all the things Nurse Josie mentioned and more.

Practically one whole wall of the room was lined with TV’s, each one awkwardly fitted to the wall or sitting on a side-table as if they weren’t really meant to be there but someone had put them up there anyway.

Several of the younger girls were all sitting in the far corner watching some little-baby cartoon I remember seeing before but never watching myself.

The older women were all in chairs on the opposite side of the room chatting to each other while their TV showed nothing but static for some reason?

In-between, was a mix of people all perched awkwardly around each other, most wearing headphones as they watched their own shows and movies either alone or in pairs with a headphone each.

Aside from that there were a few older men with bandages on, hitting balls around on a big green table with long sticks of some kind that I vaguely remember seeing someone use in an old movie once.
‘Snoo-car’ or something, I think it’s called?

The rest of the room seemed to be taken up with girls between the two, TV watching, extremes reading, playing with toys or just talking while some of the teenagers appeared to be messing with each other’s hair and hands as they talked instead.

“I need to go check in at the front desk. Stay here for a little while and try to keep out of trouble, okay Sweetie?”

With a jerk I spun around to stare up at Nurse Josie in silent horror at the idea that she was just going to leave me here with all these people!

“Don’t give me that look, I promise I’ll be back really quick-”
She reached down and gave me a gentle hug as she continued speaking.
“-I just need to find out where they want to put you now you’re out of long-term care... no matter how short-term your visit with us turned out to be in the end.”

As she straightened up she reached down and tweaked my nose with a giggle which really wasn’t helping me stay focused much.

With one more little smile at me she turned and walking out of the room, leaving me standing there feeling very small and honestly pretty afraid in a room full of strangers!

After almost half a minute of slightly-panicked pause with my eyes locked on the door in the vague hope that Nurse Josie would come back, I glanced nervously around the room before quickly moving over to a corner near to the older women that were all sitting still with their static-filled TV.

I quickly tucked myself down with my back to the corner so I could keep an eye on everyone while partially hiding behind the biggest chair that sat in front of me where a rather large woman was saying something about how much her feet were hurting at the moment, from what I could gather at least.

My hands came to rest on my knees and I set my chin down on top of them slowly as I got ready to wait for Nurse Josie to return.

I’m good at waiting now, and creeping about silently or being ‘still’ in general too, I learnt how to do it in the loft just to keep the zombies downstairs quiet more than anything else.
Now I’m glad for it because people are leaving me alone at least!

After all this time of me desperately needing some actual humans to talk to... I’m...
I’m kind of scared of them all now?

There’s too many of them, and they’re all so loud and... and...
Slowly I slid my chin off my arms and set my forehead down on them instead.

I miss Gloria and Mr Falkner...
I miss my Mum...

I miss... of all things, I miss the loft too!

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“-Shhhh! Quiet, it’s starting...”

My head shot up at the sudden hissing sound from one of the seated women.
I slowly turned my head slightly to see them all better without moving too much and giving away my location to them, just in case they haven’t noticed me yet.

Judging by the lack of that slightly annoying hiss and the rather large crowd of interested adults that’s started forming around the TV now, I think it’s safe to say that it’s not just showing static anymore?

“Good evening everyone, this is the Commander speaking.”
Several of the bandaged men actually saluted to the TV... along with several of the women too surprisingly, although I barely took that in because I RECOGNISE that voice!

“We have a short update for you all today.”
My legs felt stiff but that didn’t stop me from shooting up anyway, pushing my way around the chair I’d been hiding behind much to the surprise of its still seated owner, so I could get a look at the screen itself while the speech went on in that same heart-stoppingly familiar voice.

“Sectors J-Four through B-Three are currently under curfew due to a Ghoul incident close to, but not within, the walls around them earlier this morning... All wall sentries are advised to be on alert for stragglers and to avoid gunfire when possible, either use the shadows to move them on or failing that send out a call for a team to clean them up in close quarters.”

The speakers voice was stern, a lot harsher and more clipped then I’ve ever heard it sound before but there was no mistaking it when I finally got a good look at the screen at last.

An army uniform full of medals, a weird but official looking ‘hat’, a small scar-like cut above her right eyebrow and her hair pulled back into a tight bun were all jarring of course but there was no doubt in my head when I finally saw the face to match that voice.

It just has to be...b-but how?!

“We currently have several troops considered ‘missing-in-action’ and a list will be circulated with images tomorrow. If any of them are found, dead or alive, document them and approach under standard protocols.”
Her head dipped down slightly, finally breaking the mesmerizingly serious gaze she’d held with the camera so far as she shuffled her papers over slightly to change sheets.
“On a more positive note, work on clearing and setting perimeters around several high priority food production locations are going smoothly, meanwhile the rooftop reclamation project across the downtown area and surrounding districts of importance are also progressing well.”

My good arm came up slightly without any conscious input from me, my hand outstretched as if trying to grasp her through the screen despite the distance and people between us.
The uselessness of the whole idea lost on me as I stared on in horrified hope.

“As always, I thank you all for your hard work. The end is not here yet but with us all working together we will regain our city, and then the world!”
The people around me cheered and smiled warmly to each other at that last statement as the screen suddenly cut to black for a few moments before going back to that annoying static once more.

I could feel my shoulders slump slightly as her face once more disappeared from my life all over again, the flash I’d had of her almost too painful for me to deal with in its teasingly short period of existence.

Slowly, while everyone else talked among themselves with excited or encouraging tones, I made my way back over to ‘my’ corner and huddled down in it tightly once more with my head down.

Tears slipped out at long last and I couldn’t stop them even if I tried.
All I could do was sit there and silently try to understand what I’d just seen.

“...Mum?...”

That WAS my Mum, wasn’t it?
Calling herself ‘the Commander’, wearing stupid clothes and acting all serious, but it just HAD to be her!

Wh-what’s going on?
Why is she- Why are they-...?

My tears eventually dried as I got lost in confusion trying to work out what I’d just witnessed.
The way everyone was watching her... the way she acted?

She’s not even part of the army!
She was a waitress or something, worked nights a lot, that sort of thing.

I don’t-... I don’t understand what’s going on and-

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“There you are, Riley Sweetie.”

My head shot up to stare at Nurse Josie as she finally showed up again.
She looked a bit flustered and nervous but also relieved to see me too which was a welcome break from that horribly serious stare of Mum’s I can’t seem to get out of my head anymore at least!

“Come on, I’ve got information on where we’ve got to g-”
Before she could even finish her sentence there was an almost groan-like whirring noise that seemed to come from the very walls around us, and suddenly all the lights went out at once.

Several people screamed.

I stayed huddled against the wall, my eyes open wide to try and take in as many details as I could from what little the dying sunlight would offer me.

My senses were on high alert for zombies without conscious thought from me, mostly because that’s the first place my mind went to naturally when something scary was happening around me at this point.

The dim light from the windows started getting even thinner as people stood up to stare out of them worriedly, only to push backwards with frightened yelps a few moments later.
Some of them even outright ran, sprinting from the room without a word to join the people outside in the now darkened hospital hallways for some reason.

As Nurse Josie finally made it over to my side and knelt down protectively over me the whispers started, building and building into outright panic as people started leaving the room in a crushing stampede that obviously hurt more than a few of the younger girls who initially got dragged along into the mess of it all.

When the surge of adults and teenagers had finally left, leaving only a few stragglers and the now very frightened younger girls behind, the lights around us dimly flickered back on and I slowly eased myself upright, making my way over to the window to see what had caused all the panic with a growing sense of dread in my chest.

As I stared down from the worryingly high windows of the hospital to the city spread out around us my eyes trailed in slight awe across the almost castle-like barricade that surrounded us.
It was made mostly from the surrounding buildings in a large square and had a lot those street-blocking barriers made of cars at every entrance, like the one I was pulled up earlier.

I took in every detail I could, desperately looking for some sign of danger or movement.

The first thing to catch my eye was a line of armor-wearing men making their way along the uneven rooftops around us.
They were running over rather flimsy looking wooden ‘bridges’ between the buildings when necessary which, now I’d spotted them, seemed to stretch out for miles away from us in pathways leading to other large buildings, both near and far away, which all looked almost equally as tall as the hospital apparently is while sporting just as many lights as we used to have a few minutes ago beaming out of them too.

I was staring out towards the bridges that led off towards the setting sun’s light and a tall, very wide, building which I think used to be some kind of bank at one point if I remember rightly, when Nurse Josie finally caught up with me and let out a gasp.

A glance over to her had me also shifting my gaze much lower to stare at the open area below us that sat between the building-barricades and the hospital itself.

It wasn’t hard to see what made her gasp from there or made the others all panic either.
Down below us, limping and lumbering around as they left bloody trails in their wake, was a horde of zombies in worryingly recognisable clothing.

I squinted slightly and from within the mob of near-identically dressed militia soldiers, one splash of color stood out with disturbing clarity... the light blue of medical scrubs, darkened with blood in places but still recognisable...

Not the kind of scrubs they use here.
Not the kind Nurse Josie is wearing.
The kind I saw last this morning before our sprint towards the alleyway, the kind Gloria was wearing!

With a shudder I pulled myself away from the windows and let out a long, harsh breath of fear.

It’s happening again!
It’s all happening again!

“Do you have a loft in this place?”
The words left my lips easily, not even a hint of the fear I could feel hammering away in my chest present, even though I KNEW it should be there.

“What?... We, uh...”

“People aren’t safe, I’ve seen it happen, all it takes is one person to make a mistake and then you’re all in danger again no matter how well defended your location is. We need to go, we need to go RIGHT now and we need to get somewhere safe that’s as far away from the people outside as possible.”

My hands stopped shaking at last and I let out one long tense breath before glaring up at Nurse Josie who seemed almost as taken aback by my words as she did my glare.

“We’re taking these kids with us and we’re going somewhere safe in the hospital, somewhere small that the adults can’t get to easily, somewhere like... like the loft...”

We paused in a long stare off as Nurse Josie seemed to finally catch up with reality at last and jolted slightly in surprise before glancing around us at all the younger girls who’d already started to come closer to us out of fear more than anything.

“There’s...there’s the air vent crawl space, maybe?... Each floor’s air vent system has a crawl space around it for cabling and maintenance that leads to a central ladder system in the walls you can only access from the roof or the basement normally...”
She seemed to take in a deep breath to try and calm herself but I don’t think even the little ones around us were convinced by it in the slightest.

“Good, you stay here with them-”
She opened her mouth to argue but I held up my hand to stall her which I’m pretty sure only worked because of how out-of-it she seems to be at the moment already.
“-do you have keys for the rooms on this floor?”

Slowly, painfully slowly, she nodded her head and reach back for a key-card she had hooked to her belt.

“I’m going to go out into the halls and I’ll lock the door as I go.”
She flinched visibly but didn’t interrupt me regardless.
“I’m small, I’m fast and I’ve got a plan. While I’m gone, get everything you can together from in here and make some kind of ladder or rope we can throw up to the air vent when I get back.”

“What are you going to do?”

A shaky little smile formed on my lips as I took a few steps backward, out of grabbing range, in case she decided to try and stop me which really isn’t an option if any of us are to survive at this point, before answering her as calmly as I can manage.

“I’m going to go lock every door I can while the zombies are still at ground level... then I’m going to find my way into the maintenance system, secure the roof or the basement, and get back here to rescue you all before they manage to make it up to this floor.”

She opened her mouth in horror to argue but with a nimble lunge of my good arm I snagged the key-card from her limp grasp and made a break for the doorway, slamming it shut and tapping the card against the lock to force it shut with a satisfying ‘thunk’ which I’m pretty sure means it won’t open again without some help or effort at the very least even if the electricity cuts out again.

As I scanned the dimly lit hallway around me full of mess, flickering lights and chaos... but thankfully deserted of people, for now.
I let out one last long breath then straightened up as best I could to start my jog along the hall.

Someone downstairs screamed and I kicked up the pace a little more into a full run with a wince to go with it, only pausing long enough to slap the key-card against each door I saw along the way as I followed a sign on the wall pointing me towards ‘Maintenance’ with help from a useful, if kind of hard to see in the low light, red line marked on the floor to go with it.

“What on earth am I doing? Mum said to stay away from zombies, to hide, and here I am running into danger!”
That momentary burst of self-pitying doubt didn’t hold up long as Mum’s latest words came back to haunt me inevitably, as if she’d spoken them only for me at the time despite all logic to the contrary.

“The end isn’t here yet but with us all working together we can regain our city, and then the world-”
As inspiring speeches go, it was pretty terrible really.

Just the sort of thing I’d expect from Mum if she was put on the spot and had to come up with something comforting to say, she always said she wasn’t the ‘speaker’ in the family after all.

That’s why it feels so reassuring to listen to it at the moment, I guess?
Of all the confusing things I just witnessed in her short TV appearance, at least that one thing was consistent between the woman I saw and the Mum that I know.

“-this is just like the loft all over again... It’s jump or die time Riley!”
Stop being a wuss and do what you’ve got to do!

“It’s not like your jumping off your zombie filled house into the neighbours garden or something stupid like that at least... just running into a zombie infested hospital while trying to be a hero, like an idiot, instead...”

Something in one of the rooms to my left made a noise.
With a shriek I slapped the key-card on it's lock, making it 'thunk' shut tight before whatever was inside could come after me.
I miss being alone!



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