“Kris!” Sky screamed. She heard the air rush out of his lungs as his massive frame slammed against the roof. She reached for him, but he had already slipped, falling into a dumpster twenty feet below.
Arthur didn’t hesitate. “I’ll cover ya!” he cried, planting a boot on the roof’s raised edge, his rifle already up. A shot blasted through the morning air, and Sky saw the head of zombie no more than fifteen feet from Kris’s body explode, casting chunks of brain and rotting flesh against the sidewalk.
A fire escape, twenty feet south. She sprinted for it and ran down the steps three at a time. Two flights from the ground she hopped the rail, hit the ground, and rolled. Every second counted.
Her knife. She still had her knife. The undead were shuffling toward their prize, a catch big enough to fill them all. She wouldn’t give them the opportunity. She pulled the blade from her sheath.
“Eyes and temples!” Arthur screamed down from above.
Eyes and temples. She could do that. How hard could it be to take down a shambling corpse?
She beat the first one to the dumpster by seconds. It had a hardhat, a beer gut, and pupil-less eyes. She had to be quick. Gritting her teeth, Sky held her knife in a stabbing position and brought her fist down, plunging the razor-sharp steel through the construction worker’s soft eyeball and into its brain. The zombie made a sickening gurgling noise as it went down.
“Now the temple!” Arthur called. He fired again, and one of the undead only yards away dropped, a massive hole where the top of its skull should be.
“I already killed him!” Sky called back as she prepared herself for the next zombie.
“Do it!” Arthur commanded.
Sky crouched and stabbed the construction worker in the temple. She tasted bile as blood erupted from the wound.
“Good! Do that to every one!” Another shot.
Sky funneled the zombies into the alley, taking them down one by one. She was too quick for their rotten limbs to grab. After downing three of them, their bodies piled before the dumpster, Sky turned to Kris, hoping he wasn’t dead.
“Wake up!” she yelled, slapping him across the face.
He stirred, mumbled something. His eyes fluttered, then closed. Sky slapped him again. “Kris! Get up!” she cried.
Kris’s eyes snapped open. He sucked in his breath and looked around, groggy. “Wha’?” he moaned, holding his head in his hand.
“You fell,” Sky explained. Another zombie neared. She turned, thrust her blade into the side of its head, and let it drop before stabbing it in the eye. “We gotta go. Now.”
Kris had sunk halfway into trash, his legs splayed over the edge of the dumpster. Sky shoved his feet inside so he could orientate himself and climb out. Two shots rang out, and two bodies only inches behind Sky fell to the concrete. She gave Arthur a thankful nod.
Kris tumbled out of the dumpster, still dazed from his fall. Sky helped him to his feet, and they made their way back to the fire escape. “Can you climb?” she asked. The bottom rung was six feet off the ground. Kris looked unsure. “I’ll help you. Just like last time.”
She sheathed her knife and laced her fingers, but Kris grabbed her arm. “No time.” Sky turned. The zombies were flooding into the alley now. Kris gave her a tug and they were off.
They made their way behind the building, jumping over waterlogged pallets and tipped trashcans. The horde was slow. Sky and Kris could easily outrun them, but they had to find a way up to Arthur sooner rather than later.
Sky saw Arthur jump gaps between buildings as he ran along the rooftops above her, his rifle in his hand. Occasionally he’d stop, turn, and fire before continuing on, dropping a zombie that acted as a trip hazard for the horde, slowing it even more. Sky noticed he hadn’t missed a shot yet.
“A-a ladder!” Kris said, pointing ahead. Sky saw it. Kris stopped underneath and ushered her up, following close behind.
Up top, Sky collapsed, her stamina drained. Kris didn’t fare any better. He fell to the ground, panting for air. Arthur emerged from behind a generator seconds later. “Any damage?” he said.
Sky looked at Kris, saw how weak and scared he was, and stood. She turned and shoved Art in the chest. “What the fuck were you thinking?”
Arthur steadied himself and slung the sniper back over his shoulder. He pulled a Winston from his lips and blew smoke into Sky’s face. “I’m not here to babysit,” he said loud enough for Kris to hear.
“No one’s asking you to, you old cook!” Sky cried. She shoved him again. Art only grunted, taking a step back to steady himself. Sky stood closer and whispered, “He could’ve died, all because you didn’t wanna use the fucking ladder.”
“I-it’s okay,” Kris said. Sky turned and saw him sitting cross-legged. “Mr. Caldwell’s right. I shouldn’t use the ladder.”
“When are you two gonna get it in your heads? It’s Arthur. Ar-thur. Not Art, not Mr. Caldwell. And of course you shouldn’t use the ladder. Learn to depend on a tool and you’re useless without it.”
Sky put her hands on her hips and leaned forward. “Hm. You mean a tool like your sniper rifle?”
“That’s different. She’s a part of me, no different than an arm or a leg.” Art pet the rifle as if it were a loyal dog.
“Jesus.” Sky walked away. She could see Gander Mountain in the distance, its cabin-like front awning vacant under the giant, unilluminated, white sign bearing the store’s name. “Well, let’s get going!” she said, sounding less angry than she felt.
Arthur walked past Kris without so much as looking at him and joined Sky at the edge. Kris struggled to his feet, grabbed his bags, and followed along.
The next gap was smaller. Arthur and Sky went first. She turned to Kris and waved him on. “This time, don’t close your eyes!” she instructed.
She watched as Kris readied himself and sprinted toward the edge. She said a silent prayer as he leapt and soared through the air, his eyes locked on hers. Kris’s feet hit the rooftop and he fell forward, rolling.
“You did it!” she cried, helping him to his feet.
“Yeah,” Kris muttered with a weak smile. He pushed his glasses farther onto his face and wiped the debris from his knees.
“See?” Arthur said. “Who needs a ladder?”
Sky flipped him off when no one was looking.
Kris got better at jumping, and the rest of their journey to Gander Mountain went smoothly. They stood across the street, bags, gear, and weapons intact, staring at the building, trying to come up with a game plan. Looking below, they saw the streets swarmed with infected, their quivering masses shambling into one another.
“Uh, how are we gonna get through that?” Kris asked.
“With this,” Arthur said, holding up his pistol.
“You wanna just walk through that, shooting anything that gets to close?” Sky asked in disbelief.
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch, sweetheart. We’ve got a knife and bat, too.” He looked at her, saw her concern, and made a face. “What? You got a better idea?”
Sky sighed. “No.”
“Then let’s not waste anymore time. Kris, you’re on point.”
“You heard me. You’ve already been bit, and you’re still ticking. That means a few more cuts and scrapes won’t put you down.”
“We don’t know that,” Sky interjected.
“We’re about to find out,” Arthur said. He held the gun up to Kris’s face. “Here’s the trigger, here’s the safety. Make sure it’s off. Press this to drop a clip, like this,” Arthur said, demonstrating, “and shove a fresh mag in when you don’t hear any more bullets coming out. You got eighteen shots total; make ‘em count.”
Kris started mumbling questions after Arthur shoved the gun into his hands. The veteran picked up the bloody bat and made for the building’s fire escape.
“Is that all the training you’re giving him?” Sky said, flabbergasted.
“That’s all he needs. Oh!” He stopped walking and called back to Kris, “Make sure you shoot them in the head, kiddo! It’s the only place that counts!”
Kris nodded, his mouth agape, as he shuffled after them, the gun lost between the two ham-like fists that gripped it.
“You,” Arthur said, pointing at Sky with the bat. “If Kris takes one down nearby, make sure you give it a stab right between the eyes.” He pressed his index finger to his forehead to demonstrate. “Ya ready?”
“No,” Sky and Kris said together.
“Oorah! Let’s go.” Arthur ran down the fire escape, stopped on the last level, aimed his sniper, and took a shot. Sky’s ears rang as she ran past him, Kris right behind her. She dropped to the ground and unsheathed her knife.
Kris crashed down behind her, stood, and held his gun up, his hands trembling. “Uh, a-am I really doin’ this?” he asked. He winced as Arthur took another shot into the horde. Sky could see he was trying a clear a path to the store’s entrance.
“You’ll be okay. I’m right here,” Sky assured him.
Kris hesitated. A shout from Arthur spurred him forward. He held the gun level and started moving. Sky put her hand on her back to let him know she was close by. With her other hand, she held the blade close to her face, ready to attack anything that came within reaching distance. A second later, she heard Arthur coming up behind her.
Kris took a shot. A zombie twenty feet to the group’s left dropped, a bullet in its brain.
“Nice shot, sport!” Arthur called from behind as he turned to bury his bat deep into another infected’s skull.
“Uh, I wasn’t aiming for that one!” Kris admitted.
“Least you know what to do now!” Arthur said. “Do it again!”
He did. Kris fired three more times—cold, calculated shots aimed at zombies no more than ten feet away. Only one dropped; the other two marched forward, unharmed, leaving Sky and Arthur to stab and bash them to pulp.
Kris looked back. “I’m sorry! A-are you guys okay?”
“Yes,” Arthur said. “Shut up, eyes forward, and keep shooting. We’re almost there.”
It was true. They were halfway across the street now. In just a few feet they’d be safely inside. Sky clutched Kris’s shirt, her palms sweaty.
The horde got thicker. A line of the undead moved in front of the group, blocking them from Gander Mountain.
“Mow ‘em down!” Arthur yelled.
Kris stopped, aimed, fired. He emptied his whole clip, and one by one, the zombies fell, their gurgled moans and groans silenced forever.
“Run for it!” Arthur said when the smoke cleared.
The trio sprinted forward, vaulted the fresh kills, and burst through the retail store’s front entrance. Together, they tipped a vending machine over, blocking the doors. Sky leaned against a nearby wall and slid to the ground, her breath short and rapid. Kris dropped the pistol and supported himself on his knees.
Arthur rested his rifle on his shoulder and smirked. “Piece o’ cake.”