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A single forlorn wail echoes through the mesa, and she stops in her tracks. The evening is warm, but something about the night is wrong. Perhaps it is because it's a windless night, or maybe it's the rusted blue pickup parked outside that definitely isn't her father's. Most of all, the air feels heavy. A wail comes from the deceivingly welcoming glow of the adobe house. As she draws near, another wail drifts from the open window of the portable home, followed by a mournful question, "What have you done?" A single gunshot, followed by a sickening thud. And that's when she knows what she needs to do.

The smell of damp earth fills my lungs as a take a shaky breath in. I open my eyes. I can see the stars through the gaps in the tree branches above. The branches rustle unnaturally, as if urging me to rise. Up, up, up, they seem to whisper. 

I sit up, and the chill of the night air sends a shiver down my spine. My head throbs. I try to think back to the last thing I remember. The barn. There are walkers inside. I'm on watch. I pause, blood boiling. Shane. The memories come flooding back.

I wriggle out of some loosely tied bindings on my wrists. He must have known I was going to be conscious for awhile. Shouldn't have let him come near me, I scold myself.

I feel like I'm in a dream, not quite awake but not quite asleep. I can feel that the air is cold, by my body is in a sort of neutral state where I exist sovereignly, unaffected by the elements around me. A breeze that is not quite cold and not quite warm stalks through the trees, bringing with it a feeling of discomfort and anxiety. The sounds of the forest are muted, and all I can hear clearly is my own breathing.

The sound of someone walking nearby breaks through the mental fog, startling me. I press myself flat against the tree trunk as the unknown person shuffles past. I wonder if it's maybe someone from the group, looking for me. A groan and the smell of rotting flesh quickly signify otherwise.

I shift my weight and a twig beneath me snaps, catching the dead woman's attention. Her cloudy blue eyes catch the starlight as she advances toward me at an alarming speed. I dodge her, shoving her into the gnarled tree trunk behind me. She impales herself on a protruding root, and I cringe as I kneel on top of her and use the opportunity to smash her face into the trunk, again and again. Blood from her abdomen soaks through the knees of my pants. I whimper as I repeatedly drive her soft skull into the bark, the cracking of bone and the squelch of flesh filling my ears. Spatters of blood and bone pelt my in the face and I hold my breath. I stop when she's gone limp, but pick up a jagged rock nearby and force it into the base of her skull to be sure. A spurt of blood spatters my shirt, dripping like syrup down my chest. My face and upper body is drenched in what I can only assume is cerebrospinal fluid and blood, and I can already feel whatever is on my face coagulating and settling into the corners of my mouth and nose.

Gunshots ring out in the night, and the hairs on my arms stand up. The anxious feeling in the air grows thicker, threatening to smother me. I start toward the noise, but flinch when someone bumps into me from behind. Instead of snarling or lunging at me, a walker looks me dead in the eyes and growls lowly, pushing past me toward the sound of gunshots. He completely ignores me and limps forward. I ready myself when another appears out of the trees, but this one doesn't even look at me.

Maybe I'm dreaming. I continue to stand very still as walkers continue to pass me by, each barely even noticing me. One pauses near me, sniffing the air intently. He lets out a low growl before hobbling on.

I sniff the air, wondering what he was on the trail of, and nearly gag when the smell of blood and rotten flesh hits me. I look down at my gore covered body. The smell. I quietly realize.

CHEROKEE ROSE (D. DIXON)Where stories live. Discover now