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Dylan and Wade exchanged glances and headed silently toward the noise. They walked close enough to see the horde, then knelt down on the ground to work out a plan.

Ten of the Sick were in front of them. Eight of them paced the forest. Six of those had at least a stiffened limb, if not actually clumsily dragging a leg along causing them to walk with a pull, hop kind of motion. The other two seemed to have little difficulty walking, but because of that, their potential for speed troubled Dylan.

All were layered in so much dirt, and who knew what else, that the color of their clothes could barely be discerned. The whites of their eyes seemed stark against their unrecognizable filthy faces, and their hair was a snarled mess.

The fortunate died quickly after contracting this disease, but some lingered. These were definitely of the later; it was clear they had been roaming for some time. The eight had red foaming drool that hung in wobbly ribbons from their lips, down the front of them and attached to various points on their bodies.

Staring at their eyes, Dylan tried to determine if there was still any thought or emotion left in them. If he could see anything, he thought, it was confusion. For the most part, though, their eyes seemed vacant, and he reckoned it was better that way.

The other two Sick, a man and a woman, were caught in some of the brush. They tugged their legs continuously without success unable to understand why they were trapped. Thin branches, weeds, and thorns had wrapped themselves around their legs becoming tighter with every pull.

Though these two were just as dirty as the other eight, their lips were clean of the bloody froth. Dylan felt sorry for them. It just meant they would suffer longer; the red spit was the end of the disease.

Dylan and Wade watched the Sick for a while assessing what they were capable of, and deciding what they should do with them. Through the trees, Dylan had seen the roof of a cabin, that was as good a place as any to hold them until they were able to get help moving them and the cows.

After making sure the cabin was empty, the men went toward the Sick. Some of them started limping toward the men, but others lingered, as if unwilling to move away from the fixed man and woman.

"It's okay," Wade said as they slowly worked their way back to the cabin, "This can work too."

Dylan and Wade stayed just in front of their shuffling followers, talking loudly to them as they led them to the cabin. The brothers took them through the front door and then walked out the back, leaving the ones who had followed inside. Relieved over the ease of their task, they went back for the others.

Six of them were left, four roaming and the two that were stuck. The roamers were next, and the men found these to be more limber then the three they'd already secured. They came at the men fast, faster then they had anticipated.

Dylan tensed as he scurried backward away from the horde. Wade turned and ran for the cabin, shouting as he went, to lure them after him. Three followed Wade, while one went after Dylan.

In Dylan's mad scramble, he'd lost his footing and went down hard, the air in his lungs expelling in a loud huff. He barely had time to haul in another breath when the biggest of the Sick was upon him, teeth snapping as he tried to rip at Dylan's skin. He instinctively pushed back at the sick man.

While most of the Sick smelled, the aroma emanating from this man made Dylan want to retch. It was not just the lack of any kind of hygiene, but the added smell of rotting flesh.

As the Sick's face got closer to Dylan's, he could see that in between its scummy, dripping teeth were decaying bits of skin and muscle.

Trying to hold his breath as he fought, he punched his attacker then quickly reached down for his knife. But the Sick was too fast for him. Before Dylan could get to it, he was forced to bring his hand up again to stave off the iron-like hands beating on him.

Dylan rolled from one side to the other as much as he could to miss the blows coming at him. The close quarters made it impossible to use either his bow or rifle. His only choice of a weapon was his knife, which sat at his hip, on his belt.

Taking the pounding, he held the Sick back as best he could with one arm while making another dash with his other hand for his weapon. His muscles strained, trying to keep the Sick away, and again he failed. He had accomplished nothing but allowing the chomping teeth to come closer to his face.

Dylan forgot his weapon, bringing up his other hand to get the thing away from him. Red spittle dripped toward him, and he quickly turned his head. He felt the slobbery wetness on the side of his neck and shivered. But it was better there than in his face.

A quick look back and the teeth snapped at him again, and again. Dylan gave an exasperated grunt. This guy had him pinned and had a lot more fight left in him than Dylan had anticipated. He needed to take him down.

Dylan pushed back on the Sick's slimy neck, doing his best to hang onto its spit-covered surface. Worried that its head would slip out of his hand and slam down on top of him, he tightened his grip further. With his other hand, he took the only move he had left. He slammed it into the side of his attacker. Once, twice, three times. But it didn't faze him.

He knew he had to get a better position, a better spot to hit or his knife to win this battle. He wasn't really sure how he was going to do any of that.

The diseased man brought one of his hands to Dylan's head, wrapping his fingers in his hair, to steady it as he brought his face closer. Dylan's stomach coiled tighter as he realized he was becoming more and more immobile.

He bucked and jerked in his effort to get away, but the big man held him fast, his gnashing jaws getting closer and closer. Dylan pushed hard at the Sick's neck, his tired arm shaking from the effort. He waited for that one moment that would make a difference to the outcome of this fight.

I may not be bigger than this one but I sure as blazes better be smarter.

The Sick raised his arm to wrap his other hand around Dylan's neck giving Dylan a small opportunity if he could just wait for it. Dylan waited for the feel of the fingers as they reached for his throat. Waited for the feel of the pressure as they tightened.

Dylan clenched his fist and brought it back as far as he was able. Using all his frustration, he slammed it into the man's armpit. The man let out a small cry and expelled a great repulsive breath. Dylan gagged, and the short moment almost cost him the fight.

Before Dylan could roll out of the way the man was at him again. Dylan threw up his left arm to protect his face and sent a hard punch with his right to the Sick's head. His attacker went down, stunned.

Dylan didn't allow himself a moment of relief but pulled his knife as he jumped away. This time, though, the man lay motionless. Dylan paced first one way then the other before blowing out a great huff of air.

Then he raised his head to look for his brother.

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