Chapter Thirty Five

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"Hello there, Max," Joey spat, no longer smiling.

His eyes were like daggers.

"Joey, what are you even..." Max stuttered, not able to believe his eyes.

Joey was barely recognisable as he removed his hooded robes fully. There were chunks missing from his arms, legs and torso, and bite marks everywhere. You could see where clickers had sunk their teeth in and torn away his skin and flesh. Not an inch of his body had escaped pain; even the parts untouched by teeth were scratched and ripped to pieces. His face was disfigured, his left cheek significantly lower than the right. A large piece of it was missing and it looked to have been stitched up desperately.

His hair was patchy, and his scalp red from where the hair had been torn from its roots. Max wasn't sure he would have recognised this wreck of a man if it wasn't for the eyes. He had the same eyes; but where there used to be warmth, now lay hatred.

"Surprised to see me?!" Joey yelled, spit flying from the corners of his mouth.

"Of course I am! I'm fucking happy to see you too!" Max smiled, walking towards Joey with open arms.

"Happy to see me?" Joey screamed in a furious rage.

Max stopped in his tracks.

"You left me for dead! You called me a brother, and then you left me to slowly die, getting ripped apart. Alone!"

"Joey...I couldn't-" Max began to explain before Joey cut him off.

"Couldn't? Fucking couldn't?! I would have risked my life a thousand times for you man! I would have died for you, yet you wouldn't save me! Not couldn't! Wouldn't!" he cried.

"You were covered in them! I thought I was too late!" Max sobbed. "Joey I'm sorry!"

"Sorry? You think sorry makes up for all this?" Joey hissed, pointing at the bite marks and chunks missing from his flesh.

Max looked. He couldn't help but look. All of this was his fault; Joey was right.

"I shouldn't have left you, I'm sorry," Max said sincerely. "I thought you were gone, Joey. But I'm here now; why don't we go have a chat inside somewhere?" Max suggested.

"No Max, let's talk here! So all these people can hear what Max Dalton is really like. Let's talk about how you left me to die, swarmed by fucking clickers. Let's talk about how I had to punch and kick and squirm and crawl my way through teeth and razor sharp nails. Let's talk about how I had to cower alone, bleeding under our Ping-Pong table, using every bit of life I had left in me to kill those sick undead freaks one by one! Let's talk about how I had to crawl and climb up the stairs, alone, desperately trying not to pass out before I could find help!" Joey bawled.

Max didn't answer. He didn't know what to answer.

"What's the matter? Nothing to say for yourself? No excuses or bullshit?" Joey spat.

"How did you survive, Joey?" Max asked, he needed to take the focus off him, he couldn't handle this shame.

"I found real friends. Real brothers and real sisters! A man and his wife drove past me, bleeding out on the pavement outside our house. They stopped. They risked their lives for me. Complete strangers did something that you wouldn't!" Joey explained, voice seething with loathing.

"I thought you were gone, Joey! How many times can I fucking say it! I thought you were gone," Max shouted, which turned into a whimper.

Joey ignored Max's pleas and excuses.

"They took me to their camp; a doctor patched me up as best he could. I lost a lot of blood but I just about pulled through. On the plus side, looks like our immunity theory was right!" Joey yelled with a huge sarcastic grin.

"Why the fuck are you living here with these sick, twisted bastards? Come with me, it will be like old times!" Max pleaded.

"Live here?" Joey scoffed. "I run this place! This is my brainchild! And I've been looking for you ever since you left me that day," he added, his anger turning to hunger.

The look in his eyes terrified Max. It was a hunger for death; a hunger to cause Max as much pain as Max had caused him.

"Maybe we can..." Max began to ask.

"Enough!" Joey boomed. "They came here for a fight to the death and that's what they are going to get!" he screamed, arms outstretched to the crowd.

The audience roared in a chorus of anticipation.

Max gulped. How could he even win this? Even if he defeated Joey, they would surely kill him anyway. It didn't really matter in the scheme of things, he wasn't fearing his own death.

"What about the kid? You'll keep her alive right?" Max begged.

"Oh we'll keep her alive alright. What we'll do after that is another matter. She won't have long until the disease takes a hold of her brain, Max; then she'll fit right in here," Joey grinned.

Joey raised his hand and looked across at Patrick. A klaxon echoed through the pit and Joey turned back to face Max.

"Happy fighting," he winked.

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