~ Chapter Seventeen ~

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Huffing and heavy breathing, accompanied running footsteps echoed in the night.

As they grew nearer, they became louder.

Everyone could hear the footsteps approaching and couldn't help but halt their shuffling to search for the source.

Suddenly a scream shattered the atmosphere.

The infected, they'd spotted as nothing more than a silhouette in the distance, was upon a survivor.

It lunged over some debris and grabbed an older man about his shoulders. The pair plummeted to the ground and the infected wasted no time as it sank its teeth into the nape of the man's neck.

Flesh tore and warm blood sprayed in all directions.

The closest group members reacted without a second thought.

Weapons were in hands before they had even fully turned around to face the assailant.

The infected only managed the initial bite and was not given the chance to gorge itself on fresh meat.

The armed survivors let machetes, axes, crowbars, and baseball bats come careening down onto the bloody infected.

Over and over they swung. Far past the necessary point of killing it.

Efficiency was key to success. To silencing the threat. To their very survival.

Again, that night time quiet became all too present. But, that was a good thing. It meant nothing else was on its way and the group could continue without additional trouble.

Most of the survivors were quick to get back to their shambling trek through the maze of vehicles.

Only one man remained with the member they'd lost in the attack. Someone had to make sure he was completely dead. To kill the brain so that he wouldn't rise again.

"I hate it when they to do that." Skeet whispered, looking over his shoulder at the man who had knelt beside the crimson coated body.

Perri trailed Skeet's line of sight and gave him a gentle nudge. "Don't watch."

Skeet heeded her advice and faced forward with a grim expression on his soft features.

"You know why we have to do it though, right?" She asked him.

He nodded gravely.

Perri sighed. "I don't like it—" She noticed Max's coughing worsening. "—either."

She kept watching him, but she wasn't the only one. Holloway was watching as well.

"Are you, all right?" Carter asked and gently touched Max's arm.

Max withdrew. "I'm fine." He growled before covering his mouth with his sleeve and coughing.

But, that time, the coughing didn't cease. His attempts to stifle it were futile.

Now everyone was gawking and most new enough about the symptoms of the infection to wisely give him a wide berth.

Then, his chest heaved, and a wretched sound escaped his lips as he vomited.

Max bent over, bracing his hands on his knees and threw up a mixture of blood and unidentifiable food chunks.

Many of the group began to murmur their disgust. Some were too busy suppressing their own need to spew just from the sight of Max up-heaving his guts.

When he stopped wrenching, he struggled to draw in a breath and began noisily trying to gulp down air. Then, his eyes rolled in his skull and Max fell to the ground. He started to convulse violently and choke on his own blood.

Several people couldn't resist the urge to run to his aid.

Before they reached his side, Holloway warned them, "Don't!"

They froze to glare at him.

"He's dying!" Spat one man.

"He's infected." Holloway responded calmly.

The others looked to Max's shuddering body as it became less aggressive.

"But, he wasn't bit." That same man stated.

"Well, we don't know that for sure." Claimed a woman.

Carter was nearest to Max and so it was his duty to put an end to his suffering. He took a knee beside Max's torso.

Carter unsheathed a blade and held Max's head still as he drove the knife into his skull.

"You?" Carter's attention was focused on Perri. His eyes: accusing.

Her heart sank. She tried to swallow but her mouth had run dry.

"When the two of you were scouting together. Did Max get bitten?" Carter asked as he stood. He wiped the blade of his knife on the outer-thigh of his trousers and stepped over Max's lifeless carcass.

"No." Perri replied.

Carter sighed deeply. Although, he accepted her answer, he didn't like it. Not one bit.

The rest of the group didn't know what to make of it and they began to argue amongst themselves. Completely forgetting about the 'whole keeping quiet to stay alive' thing.

Some argue that Max had to have been bitten and that they should search his body.

Others worry that the infection had evolved or adapted and that anyone of them could be next.

Yet, in all the commotion, there was one who remained unspoken. One who kept his wits about him. Who continued to observe Perri, studying her every motion.

Holloway.

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