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A Midnight Trek

Jerry knows they're being followed.

He's sensed them for about ten minutes now, to be honest. It isn't hard for him to pick up on the subtle rustling of leaves and clothing, the shifting of branches, and the whispered words that signified that more than one person is tailing them.

The problem is that he doesn't know how many there are. The number could be anywhere from seven to ten. His ears, which are for whatever reason superior to that of his friends, are having difficulty discerning exactly what the number is. It's important, because it would tell them if they're outnumbered or not. It doesn't really help that it's nighttime, so he can't really see anything either.

The Latino is worried, for a lot of reasons. Then again, this is an apocalypse. You're constantly worried about everything; food, reliable shelter, defense against the undead that are slowly taking over the world, and caution against the living that want to prey on others. As the nine teenagers trek down the abandoned street somewhere within the ruins of southern Georgia, Jerry knows that the last one is their priority at the moment.

He wishes that that stupid scientist hadn't tried out that mutated strain of rabies on that poor dog. Then the animal wouldn't have bitten the man, and then the man wouldn't have escaped his lab and started biting people that lived around him, and the disease wouldn't have spread, and Kiara and Rudy wouldn't be dead, and… and… it's not fair.

He huffs quietly and shakes his head to get rid of the thought. People always told him that "life isn't fair." He knows that. He's so stupid. Here he is, griping about his and their losses, when there are people that are worse off than them. Namely, people that are dead.

Jerry studies his eight companions in an attempt to derail his train of thought.

They're walking in threes down the street, Jerry being at the back middle with his nun-chucks. The Latino's best friend Jack walks alongside him silently, wielding his bo staff beside him. The long-haired teen has become a stoic and apathetic shell of his former self as a result of the apocalypse. Then again, Jerry supposes being forced into a situation where you have to kill your family and karate instructor will do that to you.

On Jerry's other side is Ally, one of the four teens that the Wasabi Warriors had run into on their journey out of Florida. The girl is quiet, and doesn't really speak to any of the Warriors. Jerry's not sure if it's fear, shyness, mistrust, or a varied combination of the three. He suspects she was a very bubbly person Before. Even so, she and Eddie are the most accurate shooters in the group, and very much valued.

In front of them are Eddie, Dez, and Trish. The African-American teen can no longer be called chubby, having lost all of the extra squishiness. He had also lost his carefree attitude for the most part, though he could still crack a joke or two. He can also crack a zombie's head by putting a well-aimed bullet through it.

Dez and Trish are another two of the four that the Warriors had run into. The redhead is practically a child, somehow always being able to find something to smile about, despite the world that they've found themselves plunged into. He's a strange one. Jerry thinks he's the only person that could ever find anything like the bright red and purple ice pick axe that he holds so dear.

Unfortunately, Dez is also sick. No, he wasn't bitten, they know that for a fact, but he seems to have come down with a cold or the flu or something. The teens are hoping that he gets better soon.

Trish is a fiery tempered Latina girl that seems to take way too much pleasure from bashing zombies' heads in with her baseball bat. She's so violent that it's actually quite worrying. Jerry supposes it could be her way of coping with what's happened to the world. For some people, violence is always the answer, and it looks like Trish is one of those people.

The front row is made up of Austin, Kim, and Milton, Austin being the last one of the four they had run into. Before, Austin was apparently a pop singer. He carries his ukulele in a secure bag on his back, and whenever they reach a lull in activity, he'll bring it forth and play it. Sometimes he sings. Sometimes they all sing. Sometimes no one sings. Overall, it's a very comforting activity that Jerry loves to take part in.

Austin is also, (quite unexpectedly) is the group's medical person. It's apparently the result of having spent many summers working at the hospital his aunt manages. The katanas he uses as weapons belonged to his uncle, who just so happened to be a martial arts expert that passed on a bit of his knowledge to his nephew.

Kim, ever the fierce blonde, carries her crossbow like a lifeline. Strangely enough, her personality hadn't changed much as a result of the apocalypse like everyone else's seems to have done. She's still a feisty, sassy girl that won't take any crap, though she had sobered up a little bit compared to the way she was Before.

Finally, there's Milton. Jerry thinks that, out of all of them, the redhead had changed the most. Of course, he has has no prior knowledge of their newest friends' previous personalities. He had taken up the leadership role for the group (instead of Jack, which everyone that knew him expected). Gone was the awkward, naive, physically challenged boy that he was when he and Jerry had first met. In his place is a logical and level-headed leader (hmm. There's a term for that that he learned in Language Arts. An alliteration, or something?) that takes charge of a situation and diffuses the problem efficiently.

In Jerry's opinion, the gradual transformation is quite amazing. Who would have thought that the nerdy boy could have turned into an awesome bladed-gauntlet-wielding badass? Not that he wasn't awesome before. It's just that Jerry imagined Milton would be forever nerdy and he and Julie would grow up nerdy together and have nerdy little nerd babies. Hmm. Nerds. He really misses that candy—

'Focus, Jerry!' he snaps at himself. He shakes himself out of his twenty second reverie. He has to focus and get the message to the others that they're being followed. If their pursuers decide to attack and Jerry hasn't told his group, the guilt will eat at them for the rest of his life.

He coughs three times.

Eight other bodies tense in preparation for an attack. Jerry knows they got the message. Silence reigns once again, and Jerry waits for the question.

"Hey, Jerry, remember that time that you ate those ghost peppers?"

It's Ally. Of course, Jerry has no idea of such an event happening, because it never happened. But they have to communicate without letting their pursuers know that they've been found out, so a bit of creativity is needed.

"Oh yeah." Jerry forces a laugh. "Yeah, that wasn't fun."

"Oh my gosh, I remember that! How many of them did you eat again?" Eddie says. He's a much better actor than Jerry is.

There's the question. "I dunno," the Latino responds, heart pounding. "Somewhere between seven and ten."

It's been answered, but they have to keep the conversation going to avoid suspicion. "God, Jerry, that was the first time I've ever seen you cry," Kim says, giggling.

"You went through, like, three gallons of milk," Austin chuckles.

"And of course, it has to be the day that I leave to see my aunt's trial that all of this goes down," Dez comments, rolling his eyes. This makes all of them laugh for real, though it does sound a little strained. Jerry really respects the redhead's imagination.

They fall into silence again. Jerry ponders what might be going on in Milton's head, because the smart teen is obviously trying to think of a way out of their predicament. They're walking down an empty street. They're surrounded by trees on either side. Clearly, the people following them have the advantage here. So what are they going to do?

Then, Jack goes down.

Jerry heard the whoosh of the dart being fired, and even saw the thing for a brief moment as it sliced through the air and embedded itself in his best friend's neck. The long-haired teen had grunted, and his hand automatically reached up to the spot. He's only able to get out a confused "huh?" before he collapses against Jerry.

Surprised, the Latino almost shoves the other off, before his brain catches up to his muscles and kneeling down under the dead weight. By now, the others had stopped and adopted defensive postures, and figures surge out of the cover of trees on either side. Jerry quickly props the unconscious Jack against a tree before standing up to help defend himself and his friends from the people advancing on them.

Shots are fired. Screams are emitted. Injuries are obtained.

"STOP!"

Milton's commanding voice stops everyone in their tracks, but Jerry's nun-chucks continue on their path towards his adversary's gut. The short man's mouth makes an 'o' shape as all the air in his lungs escapes through his mouth. Jerry unfeelingly mutters an apology.

The Latino takes the time to look around at everyone's predicaments. Austin is locked in a standstill with an Asian-looking woman bearing a bo staff similar to Jack's, with both of his katanas pushing against her weapon. Dez is leaning against a tree, looking sickly with one hand clutching a bloody shoulder. A dark-haired woman stands in front of him armed with a gun. Jerry thinks he can see crimson on the end of Dez's ice pick axe. Ally has her gun aimed at a lanky teen in front of her, and he's mirroring her position. Trish has her baseball bat raised, ready to whack the bald man on the ground at her feet. There is a cut on her cheek with blood streaming down from it. It seems like Kim abandoned her crossbow in favor of hand-to-hand combat with a fierce looking woman who also abandoned her firearm. A large man has Eddie in a headlock. Milton is standing with the blade on one of his gauntlets aimed at the neck of another man. Eight people total.

"Why did you attack us?" the redhead asks lowly, eyes narrowed. He looks terrifying in Jerry's opinion.

The man chuckles. "Well, aren't you a ferocious group?" he says, stepping back a little and touching his finger to the point of Milton's blade. Milton glares at him. Jerry thinks the man is asking for death. "We simply wanted—"

"KI—"

All heads whip towards the source of the sound, but all that's seen is pale, flailing limbs being pulled into the bush. The voice was female, and it's now muffled. The girl is clearly struggling against the person holding her. Jerry can vaguely see the two forms in the darkness if he squints. Muttering can be heard probably coming from the one restraining her. After a moment, the girl stops. The person uncovers her mouth, but doesn't release her.

For a moment, Jerry lets himself believe that the girl was Grace, and that she was calling Kim's name. Then he dismisses the thought. Grace had gone to some sort of cheerleading competition the day the world went to crap. It couldn't be her.

No one moves towards her. Jerry knows he would have, but he's kinda stuck in another situation right now, so…

"I apologize on their behalf," the man being held at blade-point by Milton says. The expression on his face spells out annoyance. "Those two shouldn't even be here." He says the last part loudly, probably so the two could hear him.

"I'm not going to ask you again," Milton says coolly, reminding the man of how close to death he is. Jerry doesn't think the redhead would hesitate to push that blade forward, just a little more. "And call off your people."

"Hey, you don't have to be like that," the man says, smiling in a way that he probably thought would diffuse the situation a little bit. If anything, it made it worse, if Milton's clearly growing irritation isn't any indication. "We simply need supplies. And guys, leave them alone."

The opposing group members relent, albeit reluctantly. The man holding Eddie shakes his head.

"The little f*er shot my foot!" the bulky man exclaims.

"This little f*er's gonna bash your head in if you don't let him go," Trish threatens, raising her bat. The man talking to Milton, who seems to be the opposing leader, nods at Eddie's captor. The other huffs childishly and releases the teen, who rubs his neck.

Milton lowers his blade. His glare has been replaced by a calculating stare. Jerry doesn't know if the teen's angry face is even half as scary as this one. "You decided attacking a group of teenagers is the best way to obtain them?" he asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Look, we're desperate," the teen facing off with Ally says. "We need supplies. Two of our people have actually died of starvation. Another has an injury that's infected. She's gonna die soon, too, if we don't do something."

"And you couldn't just ask us if we could give you some?!" Kim exclaims, sounding incredulous. "You had to knock out one of our people and then attack us?! What's up with that, anyway?!"

"Yeah, sorry," the leader says, shrugging. "We thought we should eliminate the biggest threat."

Jerry feels himself pale. 'Eliminate?' Did they kill Jack? Apparently, Kim's mind goes to the same thing. Her face goes white before flushing red. She picks up her crossbow. "If he's dead, I swear, I will shoot an arrow so far up your ass that it comes out your—"

"Please don't finish that sentence," the man says, looking distinctly uncomfortable and a bit fearful of the blonde. Jerry feels a brief, stupid disappointment. He wanted to hear the rest of the threat.

The tall teenager facing off with Ally — Jerry's just gonna name him Alto — snickers. The man — Stefen — glares at him. "He's not dead, he's just unconscious. He'll be out for about twenty minutes."

Kim relaxes, but still holds her crossbow. She walks over to the tree that the unconscious teen rests against and sits down next to him, with one leg out and the other one pulled up against her. The hand holding the crossbow hangs off of the leg. Jerry can tell she's itching to touch the other, but something is holding her back.

"Kim's right," Jerry speaks up, frowning. "Why couldn't you guys have just asked us? We might have been willing to share." He knows that he would have been. There are other survivors out there, survivors that are in need of necessities like food and water.

"'Might' is the key term there. We probably wouldn't have gotten anything. " the fierce-looking woman — Mieda (why not?) — comments. Jerry can see a tube sticking out of her back pocket. She's probably the one that shot Jack with the dart. Jerry allows himself to ponder on that. If you're capable of creating something to knock someone out, then why not make a lot of it so you can knock out multiple people? Then again, it could be that they don't have what they need to make more.

"So?" Ally says. "If you steal from someone who's suffering from the same things that you are, then you're no better than the zombies. In fact, the zombies probably are better, because they're just acting on their instincts. You guys have choices."

"Look, don't go all sentimental on us, alright?" the large man — Chewbacca (this is actually pretty fun) — states. "We don't need your 'good moral' crap, b****."

"Talk to her like that again," Austin says, casually twirling a katana between his fingers and somehow managing to not cut himself. "I dare you."

Chewbacca narrows his eyes and falls silent.

"Please," the Asian woman that faced off with Austin (Mariposa. She kinda reminds Jerry of a butterfly) begs. "We have children." Hmmp. She didn't seem to be thinking about that when she ruthlessly attacked Austin. But then again, Jerry knows that mothers are willing to do anything for their children, and the woman seems like someone who has a kid.

"Yeah?" Eddie says, his voice sounding a little hoarse. "Well, technically, we are children."

"Children don't beat people with baseball bats," the man at Trish's feet (Gordo; the guy' pretty fat) states, filling the heavy-silence that had followed Eddie's statement and staring at the girl with said weapon. Jerry stifles a laugh as she flashes him a devilish grin, and Gordo scoots away from her.

"Whatever you guys think, you should hurry up and decide," the woman that cornered Dez (Tranquila) says calmly, "because your friend here isn't looking so hot." She's holding her arm (probably where Dez hit her) as she jerks her head in the teen's direction. He's slumped against the tree, limp. Austin flashes to his best friend's side in an instant to tend to him. Trish (showing a rare display of genuine concern) and Ally move over there as well, kneeling down and unintentionally blocking Jerry's view of Dez. The Latino wants to help, but decides that crowding around the redhead won't solve anything.

"Ok, let's just talk this out," Stefen says with a laugh that sounds forced. "Could we please have some of your supplies?"

"No," Trish and Kim immediately say.

"Hold on a second," Milton responds. He stares at Stefen for a moment. "What do you need for the injured person?"

"Antibiotics, a bandage, dressing… we have water."

Milton turns his head. "Austin, do we have any of that?"

Austin frowns, before removing his backpack and digging around inside of it. "No antibiotics, but we do have bandages and dressing."

Milton looks at the man again. "We'll give it to you… in exchange for something."

"What?!" Trish and Kim exclaim. "After they tried to kill us?!" Trish states.

"We're all people, believe it or not," Jerry says softly, thinking of the child he found that died and turned in his arms a few weeks back. Tears threaten to take over at the thought. He can still feel the small girl's body going still against his, only to be reanimated minutes later…

He turns to the man he had knocked down, mentally deeming him Rudy because the man was had similar stature to the sensei. The Latino holds his Hand out to the man. After a second of skepticism, Rudy accepts it and Jerry pulls him up.

"I think we should help 'em out," the Latino says. Rudy smiles at him. Jerry's filled with a sudden sense of longing for his deceased sensei. He misses the short, quirky man so much, as well as his family and other friends. Sometimes he feels like his heart is going to burst.

This is how it should be; helping other people when they can, because they're all on the same boat. People should be banding together to help fend off and possibly eliminate the growing threat of the zombies. If they can't eliminate it, at least they could build a community or something, where everyone's watching each other's back and helping to make life a little more bearable. But no. Jerry doesn't suppose there's anything that can make this more bearable. There's also not really anything that can make it worse. Unless, of course, one of his friends die.

He doesn't want to think about that.

"Jerry!" He turns and sees the girl from earlier running towards him (with another teenager behind her trying and failing to grab onto her arm), only this time he can see her face — Grace?! — and then suddenly she's tackling him in a hug. He wraps his arms around her waist to steady the both of them and pulls her closer. She kisses him and he can only stand there in shock for a couple of seconds because this is Grace. This is actually Grace. She's alive.

She's alive.

She's alive and her lips are on his.

Jerry kisses back after a brief delay due to his surprise, slotting his mouth against hers. Grace. Grace. She's alright. Jerry can't seem to get over the fact. She's not dead. He tightens his hold on her waist a little bit to confirm this, before reaching a hand up to her cheek and rubbing softly with the pad of his thumb. The girl he loved, loves, is here, in his arms. He thanks whatever deity is in the sky for her safety.

Maybe thinks can look up from here.



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