When I think back on it now, I realize a noise had brought me back. Had to be, otherwise there was no reason for me to come back at all, just stay gone. Let the sun go down and the UN-dead take the night, me, Cammy, Madison and whatever else they wanted. But it didn’t go that way.
A noise, a sliding foot, a pebble falling from above… I really don’t know. I know that this time I reacted fast. My rifle came up; my mind was clear. I focused; two of them dropping from the cliffs above… like cats… like dead, stinking, feral cats… dragging that stink of death with them. The stench of rotted flesh falling from the sky, enveloping me even as I fired into them.
I had a choice. I couldn’t get them both. One falling at me, one falling at Cammy where she sat with Madison cradled in her arms, oblivious to everything around her. My reaction chose for me. The rifle came straight up and spat short, little barks of noise and flame. The Zombie started to come apart before it hit me. A shower of cold, dead blood rained down on me, splattered against my face. The body hit the barrel of the rifle and took me down to the ground, clutching the rifle hard to keep from losing it as the full weight of the Zombie came down on it.
I kept it, but only by sheer determination. The Zombie had impaled herself onto the barrel. Her flesh so rotted that it had simply punched through her breast and out her back. I shoved her off as quickly as I could, one booted foot kicking against her chest, knocking her apart, pulling the barrel back through the soft flesh and hard bone.
I expected to see Cammy done for. I expected to see her dead or dying, but she had somehow ended up about twenty feet from where the Zombie had fallen. She looked herself, as if she had no real idea how that had happened, but when I raised my eyes and they took in the whole scene before them, I saw exactly how it had happened.
Madison must have still been awake. Laying there badly injured but not gone, taking the comfort from Cammy that she offered. When the Zombie fell, she saw it. She saw it and managed to push Cammy away from her and take the attack on herself.
The Zombie was no match for her, wounded though she was. She straddled the Zombie with a rock easily the size of her own head and brought it down hard: Once. Twice, and then I lost count, and the Zombie quit fighting. The undead, dead again. This time for good.
The silence came back hard. Like a curtain on the last act of a play, just when the audience isn’t expecting it. It crashed down.
Time did its elastic trick and then snapped back before I was ready for it. My senses were shot. At first I could not connect the dots of memory that I needed to connect to make sense of what my eyes were seeing.
Cammy rose to shaky legs and started toward Madison, sobbing once more. Madison’s eyes swiveled to me. A sick look in them, and pain riding there too. She slumped forward, one wrist flapping uselessly, and lunged for the rifle that Cammy had trained on me not so long ago. Time stopped its elastic trickery right around that time. I knew exactly what she intended to do before she did it.
Cammy stopped in mid stride and nearly fell backwards at the effort of stopping so quickly. I think she believed for a second that Madison intended to shoot her. I really believe she thought that. But that was not the plan, and I knew that was not the plan. Because the plan that had resurfaced in her mind was the one we had talked about, half seriously, half jokingly, for as long as we had been traveling together. Before she followed through on that plan, I heard her tell it to me in my mind once again, the way she had a week or so before, when she had been unmolested… whole… not about to join the ranks of the UN-dead herself.
America the Dead Podcast