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Not too long ago, yesterday afternoon, I lost my best friend, Patrick, to a herd of infected. It was truly a heartbreaking moment. I told him to get ready to run, but he didn’t run when I started to. There wasn’t anything I could do except escape and hope he held out long enough for me to make it back to the ranger station to get help. When I made it back, the walkie-talkie operators informed me of his death. Poor Pat, turned into an infected. His final words over the walkie-talkie consisted of grunts, sounds that only an infected could make—or so I’ve been told by the operators.

But today is a new day! The sun is rising, the morning dew is glistening, the birds are chirping. Well, birds learned to avoid chirping long ago, so they don’t chirp anymore, but they’re chirping figuratively in my head. Yes, not too long ago, I almost died with Patrick, but I didn’t. I survived, and what kind of survivor would I be if I didn’t celebrate life? It’s a shame Patrick couldn’t welcome this morning with me as a sane individual, but maybe he’s happily living as an infected.

“Morning. You’re up early.”

And someone’s awake before me. “Good morning, Bern. Checking on the meat?”

Bern’s an old guy, about sixty years old if I had to hazard a guess. But he’s in great shape, used to be a park ranger. He came to the station when the outbreak occurred, figuring it was the safest spot. Got everything set up for long-term survival: a well, a smoker shed, a little garden, but most importantly, traps for the infected. Are traps the most important thing for survival? Of course. Someone can survive three days without water, but if they’re bit, they’re fucked. There’s no coming back from a bite.

“Yes. It should be about ready to take inside.”

“Want some help?”

“That’d be welcome.”

I snubbed out my cigarette, put on my helmet, which is always close by, and slipped on my gloves. I grabbed a bat leaning against the wall and headed outside. It really was a nice day today. Not an infected in sight. The field of traps hadn’t caught any, which is a relief. The smell their blood gives off is unbelievably putrid. Even after being exposed to it so many times, it still makes me sick to my stomach. The smoker shed is attached to the back of the ranger station but can only be accessed from the outside. Bern figured if any infected showed up, they’d go for the meat first.

“Spence, you see that?”

“See what?”

Bern pointed at a tree. It was a bit hard to see through my smudged visor, so I raised it. Something, no, someone was up there. The person was wearing camouflage similar to mine. Was it a hunter from another camp? Or … is that Patrick?

Bern coughed. “My eyes aren’t as good as they used to be. What do you see? Because I see a person.”

“I see a person too.”

“Do you want to go over there and check it out?”

“By myself?”

“Do you want to go by yourself?” Bern exhaled and shook his head. “Let me get dressed.” He turned around and went back inside the ranger station. For some reason, I have a bad feeling about this. The way that person’s positioned in the tree, it reminds me too much of Patrick. And those clothes. It’s a bit too far to see, but I don’t think the person’s wearing a helmet at least. Maybe Patrick survived? Infected can’t climb trees. What if he tells everyone I abandoned him? They might cast me out of the group. But I didn’t have a choice!

“I’m ready.”

Alright, I have to calm down. I lowered my visor and turned around. Bern was wearing a motorcycle helmet and camouflage clothes. Like me, he was holding a bat, and there was a strap around his chest with a knife for easy access. “Okay. Watch your step.”

Bern snorted. “Who do you think set these traps?”

That’s a good point. From the ranger station to the woods, it’s an open clearing split by a dirt path. At first glance, it doesn’t seem that great for keeping infected away. But there’s tons of traps. Most of them are suited only for catching infected: tripwires with spikes placed in front of them, a few holes—not larger than my fist—with a spike placed inside of them, nothing fancy. However, there are a ton of caltrops scattered in the grass, and the points on those are more than enough to pierce through the soles of my boots. Thankfully, there aren’t many.

“I think I should make some more caltrops,” Bern muttered from behind me. “There’s not enough.”

“So, how do you think that person got stuck up there?”

“Let’s not talk in case there’re infected.”

But you started it. Never mind, he’s got a point. There shouldn’t be any infected this close to the camp. There’s tons of tree spring noose traps meant for catching small animals, but they’re surprisingly good at catching infected too. Not only that, there are dozens of pits with spikes inside of them. They’re baited with blood too, so the infected are more likely to fall in. Even that bow-wielding infected would’ve fallen prey to these traps. Though, have the traps been baited recently? I haven’t done it, but somebody else must have. But Bern’s right; it doesn’t hurt to be safe. One or two infected might slip through, like this one. Not like it can do anything to me with my helmet and…. Oh, shit.

Ting!

Bern’s bat crushed the infected’s skull, and it slumped to the ground like a ragdoll. “What’s the matter, Spence? Why’d you freeze?”

I forced down the fear building inside me with a deep breath. “Its hands. Look at its hands.”

“What’s wrong with…? Are these spikes?” Bern crouched down and grabbed the infected’s arm. A shadow moved between the trees behind him. Another one moved. Then another. The shadows were coming towards us.

“Run!”

“Run?” Bern’s voice came from behind me. “Why—”

It was hard to hear him over the sound of my footsteps. But I thought I heard him scream.

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Virlyce

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