The Wall

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"Hey, Immune, you gonna help push this door or not?"

Glancing up, I nod, giving the metal door a hard shove. It drags in the mud, left over from the rain the night before. 

"Sometimes, you're useless, Muney," the man says, shaking his head at me when he sees the struggle that ensues as my boots slip in the mud. It's the traction. I've needed new boots for a while now. With resources so limited, though, these will have to do.

"Throw me out, then," I mutter, as the door finally shuts.

"I wish I could. But your father would send me out to get you. You're not worth that. Instead, I'll keep making your shifts more and more miserable."

I glare at the man as he walks away. I turn to climb up the ladder to the top of the wall.
I live in a place called Compound 4. We are one of ten different compounds placed at strategic locations around the US. It's been thirteen years since the virus overtook humanity, turning about ninety percent of us into zombies. I'm not sure how it started exactly; that's classified information, but I do know that in order to save what was left of the human race, the president at the time took a bunch of really smart people and kids and relocated them into new 'protected' cities. My father was one of those really smart people. I was only four at the time, but I knew what was happening.

My watch says 6:02, and the sun has just began to set, giving the grass a well-deserved orange bath. That means I have eleven hours and fifty-eight minutes until I am free to go. Five hours and fifty-eight minutes until I get a scheduled hour break.

On my fifteenth birthday, I was assigned the job of a Wall guard. The assignment letter was delivered to our door early that morning, minutes after the morning alarm had sounded.
It was a great honor to be a wall guard, my father had said.

"You protect the people of the compound. It's an essential job."

"Yes, Dad, but it's not what I want to do. I've spent forever training to be a scout. You cannot put me out on the wall. There's nowhere to go; nothing to do," I had said, whining from the kitchen table as the assignment paper sat in the middle.

He just put his hand up, turning his back on me.

That was the end of that conversation. It had to be. That didn't stop me from making a face at his back, rolling my eyes and crossing my arms. You didn't get your jobs changed. Once the committee had made their decision and stamped their mark on your papers, it was official, regardless of your history.

So, here I was, a few months later, playing Checkers with another night guard, under the dim yellow lights that line the outside of the wall.

"Your move, Muney," he says, leaning back in his plastic chair, the material creaking under his weight. I squint, hand on my chin, pretending to be thinking.

I hate Checkers. But, it's better than Solitaire, and I can't stand Chess either.

"Stop calling me that," I mutter, taking my move, which puts me in the lead.

"Just calling you what the captain does."

"And I've told him to stop too."

"Did it get you anywhere?"

A glare from me gives him his answer. The man, an older guy named Howard, takes his move, demolishing my lead and leaving me with two pieces on the board.

"I'm going to win again," he said, as his lips turn up, crinkling up the skin around his eyes. "That'll be ten to two. Do you ever give up?"

Shaking my head, I glance over the edge of the wall.

Nothing. Like always.

Howard clears the board, setting it up again. On a good day, he beats me by at least fifteen games.

"I'm bored," I say, spreading out the 'r' in a long groan. Standing to stretch, I lean over the railing, my long braid touching the barbed wire that dangles just below. The gun I've been given weighs on my back, following the path of gravity, seemingly wanting to fall to the ground. We are one and the same.

"If you fall, I won't go get you," Howard says, the long slow hissing of a soda can being opened filling the empty space.

"Please, don't," I say, sitting on the edge, "Knock, knock." I barely see Howard roll his eyes.

"Who's there?" he asks.

"Who."

"Who, who?"

"Did you hear that owl?"

Howard smirks, his laugh one short breath of air that comes out of his nose.

"You're an idiot." He shakes his head, and I just shrug, looking back over the wall.

As always, the night is thick. There's nothing around us for miles, but past that are abandoned suburbs, rows of houses, and then there's the city, Chattanooga. In the other direction are some mountains, and more emptiness before you get to another city, or the ruins of one anyway.

"Did you say something?" Howard says, sitting up in his seat. I shake my head. "I thought I heard something."

The both of us are quiet, neither even daring to breathe. Already, his hand is on the holster on his hip, poised like a cowboy in an old western movie. A moment passes, the two of us just stare at each other, listening to the sounds of the livestock in the fields right inside the wall, the bleating of sheep and the grinding of machinery.

Beneath it all, there's a low crying sound, almost like an injured dog. Howard is on his feet now, moving to the ladder. I move to the section of wall that juts out, a place where we can see over the wire, a clearer view. At first there is nothing but the low whimpering and the sound of Howard's keys on his belt as he walks towards the edge. The sound is gradually getting louder. It is coming from the North.

"Jaelyn, get over here!"

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