“I repeat, the entry to the south side of the garrison has been obstructed by a horde of infected. It’s possible the horde is being directed by a smart infected. Approach via the northern route to avoid the traps within the forest. Although you can be cured if you’re bit, there’s no cure for being eaten whole. We have the cure to the infection. Come to the garrison. …I repeat, the entry—”
Jen reached over and turned the radio’s volume knob. The repeating message cut out. It had been playing for probably several hours, mainly as a way to mask the sounds we were making. “Well,” Jen said and rolled back around on the bed to face me, “it looks like they took your warning seriously.”
“I suggested the chief tell the people coming to wait for a month for the herd to clear out or die on our fortifications. They barely listened at all.” I did what I could. I informed the chief of my suspicions, anymore and I’d be overstepping my bounds. I’m just a prison warden while the chief’s the genius who cured an infected. Besides, I only had a sneaking suspicion that the herd was being led by the smart infected; there wasn’t any proof. Sending people to clear out the traps to the north was already the chief showing me a lot of respect.
“It’s better than not saying anything,” Jen said. She stared into my eyes, unblinking. “Say, if I turned into an infected, what would you do?”
This question…, I feel like it has no good answer. “What do you mean?”
“You heard me,” Jen said. “If I was scratched by an infected and became infected myself, what would you do to me? Would you kill me?”
“I’d get the cure and cure you.”
Jen pinched my side. “Pretend the cure doesn’t exist.”
“Why are you asking me this? You know, questions like these are what people in stories ask before getting killed off. They’re part of a pretty cliché trope called death flags.”
“So, you’re saying you’d kill me?” Jen raised an eyebrow at me.
“That’s not what I said at all. Please listen to my words when I speak.” I don’t know why Jen’s asking me these questions. What am I supposed to say? Yes, I’ll kill you, my girlfriend, if you ever get infected despite a cure existing? That’s a surefire way to start an argument. But what kind of answer does she want? I’ll let you bite me and we can be infected together? That’s just dumb, and there’s no way in hell I’d actually do that. “Is this a but-if-you-loved-me-you’d-die-together-with-me kind of question?”
“…Maybe.” Jen pursed her lips. She ignored my sigh. “Well, would you?”
“What’s on your mind?” There’s no way Jen would ask questions like these unless something’s bothering her. She’s just not that type of person. Did the thought of the smart infected spook her? Our little group was doing pretty well until it came along and raided our RV with twenty infected. “Are you nervous?”
“A little,” Jen said and lowered her head, placing her forehead against my neck. “Usually, good things never happen to me: I was bullied and picked on throughout my childhood. My sister was my parents’ favorite. Every time I tried to do something, I failed at it. The first time I rode a public bus by myself, it got into an accident. It’s a miracle I even survived for this long, and that’s because I met you. Everything’s been going so well—yes, there were one or two or several setbacks with people dying—but compared to the beginning of the outbreak and where we are now, we’re in an amazing place. Someone even discovered the cure to the infection.” Jen took in a deep breath. Her body was trembling. “Everything’s going so well, I’m just afraid it’s time for it to all fall apart.”
“It won’t. As long as I’m here, everything will be alright.”
“You don’t know that,” Jen said. Her voice was a lot smaller than usual. “How can you?”
Before I could respond, a scream split the night. I jumped out of bed, grabbing the spear that was leaning against the wall. Jen got up as well and rummaged through the closet, tossing me my camouflage clothes. She put hers on while I donned mine. After we were fully dressed—in less than twenty seconds—Jen passed me my motorcycle helmet. The visor was a pain to use at night, but it was better than having my face eaten.
There was a second scream followed by shouting. Jen took the axe I offered her. “Those screams sounded far away.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I said while crouching down to grab the two bags we kept underneath our bed. They were filled with supplies and essentials, enough to last for two weeks. Everything else didn’t matter. “I told you nothing would happen to us as long as I’m here, right? If the herd somehow invades the garrison, we’re going to survive by running.”
Jen nodded at me. “Of course.” She grabbed one of the bags and put it on, fastening a belt around her waist. There wasn’t any trace of the scared girl who was trembling in my arm moments before. “Let’s go.”
When we left the room, the door next to ours opened. Sarah came out dressed in pajamas, completely unprepared. She flinched when she saw us and placed a hand against her chest. “Chris? Jen? Is that you?”
“You should get changed,” Jen said. “Just in case.”
Sarah rolled her eyes. “Are you two dumb?” A frown appeared on her face. “Wait, sorry. I forgot you two haven’t been here that long. You’ve never seen us defend against an infected horde before, have you?”
Jen and I looked at each other, but neither of us said anything. Unlike what I had expected, the garrison wasn’t bustling. No one was panicking. It’s true that the shouts and screams came from far away, most likely outside of the garrison, but for them to be this unprepared, were they that confident in the garrison’s defenses?
“First of all,” Sarah said, once she realized neither Jen nor I were going to say anything, “if the garrison was in any danger, the hunters on guard duty would sound the alarm. The alarm hasn’t sounded; that means, the screaming and shouting isn’t coming from anywhere close to the garrison. If anything, the scariest part about the screaming is you two dressing up in full combat gear in less than a minute and scaring the crap out of me when I opened the door.”
As Sarah finished speaking, the screams in the distance stopped. The three of us waited in silence. After a long moment, Sarah sighed. “It was probably a group caught by the infected herd.” She shook her head. “Even after the chief gave them a warning and told them to avoid the southern route too. Some people just don’t know how to listen.”
Jen took off her helmet, revealing her pale face. “But those screams came from the north.”
Wait a minute. “If it really is the smart infected, wouldn’t it be able to understand what we’re saying? It killed a group of people earlier. There’s no doubt they were coming to the garrison after hearing the message through their radio. What if the smart infected heard that the north side was safe for people to go through and took advantage of that?”