Part 1

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I felt David lean over me from behind, his breath brushing my ear as he whispered.

“How many and where?”

I was laying in the grass, looking down at the abandoned mall below us. I clinched my teeth at the urge to speak. No, I couldn't; I should never speak. Instead, I reached back and took his hand. I tapped the Morse code he'd taught me on his palm.

Just on otherside; less than-

I stopped, stunned by what I was sensing. The rotters in the mall were dying. Dropping like flies as each one's presence disappeared from my mind in quick succession.

There are none. All killed. Fighters? I finished.

David stood up and helped me to my feet. He stood taller than me, about as tall as my dad had been.

“Let's go down. They might want to trade,” David said. He pulled the camper's backpack on and handed me mine. It was a monk's style bag that I kept my few belongings in. I had tried taking the larger bag a few times when we'd first teamed up three winters ago, but he always made me give it back.

I followed him down the hill and we made quick time crossing the parking lot. We had to. Open spaces were both a blessing and a curse. Good because you could easily see what was near you; bad because anything hiding could easily see you too. We made it to the over grown shrubbery that bordered the mall. I headed towards where I had sensed the last rotter, David following a pace behind. The padding of feet hit my ears before David's and I grabbed his hand, forcing him to stop.

Feet. Toward us. Over 10. I tapped into his palm and then let my hand fall to my side.

We stood still, waiting for whoever would turn the corner and find us. This always made me nervous. You never knew which of the survivors were more prone to the 'shoot first, ask later' mentality.

The dark clothing was what I noticed first, and that they were all men. There were 13 of them, and all of them were armed.

“Hey!” one called out. He stood out in front of the rest, his hair still clipped short in military fashion. He was the leader.

“Hello,” David said and I stepped back, putting on the show of submissiveness. No need for them to know I was more dangerous than I seemed, yet.

“Where y'all from?” the leader asked, shifting his weapon.

“We're drifters, just looking for a good place to settle away from the rotters. I'm David, and this is my daughter, Zoë.”

The lie rolled off his tongue as easily as if it were the truth, and we were lucky enough to look somewhat alike. Our dark hair was just a little off, but the fact that his was graying a little at the temples let us off the hook. Any differences people called attention to, we blamed on my dead mother.

The leader looked us over, a cautious look on his face. “I'm Scott, we're from a compound east of here. Do you have items for trade?”

David nodded. “I have some sewing materials and I can also fix things. Zoë is a musician. I'd ask her to play for you, but out here it might draw them out.”

I started to pull the flute's case from my bag but stopped. Every nerve in my body quivered, making the hair on my neck to stand at attention. I sent out a thought with power, into the empty shops and buildings around us. The sheer number of them in my mind made me clutch at my head.

“Zoë?” I heard David's voice, but I couldn't see him. The vision of the rotters was more powerful. It was the office building to the left, a block over. They were pouring out of it.

I looked up at David and took his hand, tapping as quickly as I could.

“What's she doing? What's wrong with her?” Scott asked, an edge of authority taking over his voice.

“She can't speak; it's like sign language.” David said over his shoulder, then turned back to me. “Zoë, slow down, I can't understand.”

It was too late. They were surrounding us. I threw off my bag and pulled out the small knife I fought with. David understood that, even if the others didn't. Scott's men took a step back from us, but David was already dropping his bag.

“Rotters!” He said.

“What?” Scott looked at us like we were crazy. “We just cleared this area-”

He stopped as he looked to see where I was pointing. A rotter stumbled out of an ally way, quickly followed by another and another. Scott turned, staring at me with that horrified awe that I'd come to recognize.

“How in the...” He began.

I shrugged, and ran through the men to attack the closest rotter. I used the knife as a decoy, my other hand finding its way to its greasy head. I spoke then, my voice barely audible to my own ears over the sound of fighting. The rotter's head exploded like an over ripe pumpkin. The body dropped as I moved on to the next one, repeating the process over and over until I was left standing alone.

Scott and the other surviving men were staring at me. I turned away from them. I felt like a monster; cover in blood and guts, my chest heaving as if I was about to have some sort of fit, my own voice a ticking bomb.

I turned and went back to David, he stood next to our bags arguing in hushed whispers with Scott. I'd just killed an army of rotters, almost single handed. It was an amazing feat, no matter how I had done it, but...

There was always a 'but'.

I picked up my bag and slung it over my shoulder. I touched David's arm, interrupting his heated discussion.

Fuck'em. Let's keep walking.

I wasn't a rotter but I wasn't human either. I was something else entirely, and most humans had an issue with that. Hell, I had an issue with that.

I stalked off, not waiting to see if David was following me. I knew he would. He wasn't afraid of me like others were. Maybe it was because Jesse was with me when we first him. 

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