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“He’s over…, oh.”

Just in case, I took another swing at the infected’s head. There was a squelching sound, and the bat sunk deep inside, blood spurting out. Usually, the first swing is enough to kill an infected, something about their bones being more brittle. But if they’re freshly turned, some more swings are required. The shin guard held well. It’s made of two layers of leather with stuffing in between, impossible for an infected to bite through, but soft enough for its teeth to sink in.

“You killed him, Chris.”

“Seems like it.” I placed the end of the bat against his temple and pushed down, pulling my leg away. There were teeth marks on the leather, but it wasn’t punctured. I stepped away and looked at Jen. There were two men behind her, wearing leather biking gear with bats in their hands. They were staring at me. “He was infected.”

“You killed a lot of infected before?” one of the men asked. He was wearing a motorcycle helmet, the visor pulled over his face.

Really? “Who hasn’t?”

The man shrugged. “You’d be surprised. The way the chief built this place, lots of people haven’t needed to fight. It seems like a waste, keeping a fighter here as a warden.”

“I’d want someone capable to watch over potential infected, wouldn’t you?”

The helmeted man paused before nodding. “You may be right. Seems like we weren’t even needed. Do you know the cleanup procedure?”

I shook my head.

“It’s real easy.” The helmeted man and his partner walked up to me, and I stepped aside. They crouched down, lifting the corpse by its arms and legs. “Don’t worry about the blood unless it’s black. Just flip that puddle over with a shovel.”

“I got it,” Jen said. “You go with them.”

Jen’s not very good with strangers. That’s not a fair assessment for me to make though; I don’t think anyone’s good with strangers in this climate: When a normal person can hide an injury and turn into an infected the next day. Or when a terrible person is no longer bound by the law. There’s plenty of reasons to avoid people, but even still, the chance of survival increases if you’re part of a group.

“As for the body,” the helmeted man said, backing towards the exit while holding the corpse’s arms, “we give it to the painters. Guess why they’re called the painters.”

“Because they paint things?”

“Yeah, but what?”

“They probably paint the fence with that.” I gestured towards the corpse. “I noticed the smell on the way in. Repels infected, right?”

“You’re a smart one,” the helmeted man said. “I think the chief would like you.”

“You don’t live long in this world by being dumb.”

The helmeted man chuckled. “Yeah, I think the chief would really like you.”

The two men didn’t walk very far, heading to the building beside the prison. It’s not really a prison since criminals aren’t locked up, only newcomers and people returning to the garrison, but yeah. The painters’ place was like a garage, with a giant open door facing the chain-link fence separating the garrison from the outside world.

“Delivery!”

Two people came out, wearing full white hazmat suits that had bloodstains on them. I wonder how they’re cleaned. If they aren’t cleaned, aren’t those people walking infections? They should probably be quarantined too after every job. It’s a shame no one knows exactly how the infection is spread. Some say it’s viral, only exchanging bodily fluids can transfer it. Others say its airborne and we’re all already infected, which is bullshit. I suppose the government knows, if they’re still around. There aren’t many methods of disseminating information. The internet basically powered down when major methods of generating energy died and the people maintaining everything started eating each other.

“Put it in the barrel,” one of the people in the hazmat suits, she sounded like a woman, said. There wasn’t much sunlight inside the garage, but I could still make out the barrels lining the wall. There was a dozen or so, but only three had their lids open. The men in biking gear walked over and unceremoniously dumped it inside one of the barrels, closing the lid.

“And that’s how it’s done. Anytime someone tells you to clean up an infected, just bring it here.”

“A newbie?” the woman in the hazmat suit asked. “I’m Sarah.” She placed a hand on the person in the other suit beside her. “This is Michael.” Michael grunted. “He has a strict policy of not making friends with anyone unless they’ve survived here for a month.”

“What happens in a month? I’m Chris, by the way.”

Sarah shrugged. “You can ask Michael.”

“Most people who die here, die in the first month,” Michael said. “I’d rather not make friends with someone who’s going to die the next day. It’s bad luck.”

Makes sense.

“Hey, warden,” the helmeted man said. He was standing outside the garage, looking past the fence. “Looks like you got a new shipment to watch over. The hunters are returning.”

Outside, there were three people dressed in full biking gear, with blood staining their clothes and helmets. They had bulging bags on their backs and metal bats in their hands. Behind them, there were a dozen or so stragglers dressed in rags, covered in injuries. The leader of the group, one of the armored bikers, raised a bat in greeting.

The helmeted man in front of the garage raised his hand back. “Smith! Large haul, huh?”

“In more ways than one,” the man called Smith said. “A settlement was overrun: The Log Cabins. Look at these poor bastards.” He gestured behind himself with the metal bat. “They all said the same thing. A herd of infected with spikes tied to their arms invaded at night. Burned it down to the ground.”

“Spikes tied to their arms?”

“Yeah,” Smith said. “Like some kind sick joke. Some twisted fuck must’ve thought it’d be funny to weaponize the infected. As if they weren’t pains in the ass already. I hope whoever did it turned into an infected himself, that bastard.”

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Virlyce

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