Climbing out from its hole, a rabbit emerges from the bramble, its brilliantly-white coat covered in dirt. Gazing around the grass with its bold, brown eyes, the rabbit prances away from its home, sights set on the scattered, chopped carrots in the nearby grass. As if concerned, the rabbit pans around the forest again, peering into the vast assortment of flora, and expecting to find someone lying in wait, eager to pounce on the chance to take advantage of its preoccupation.
Satisfied enough to proceed, the rabbit scurries toward the carrots, placing the sliced disk at the front of its teeth before a distant shot rings out, the bullet propelled through its tiny frame with ease from closeby. “Good rabbit” Jess mutters, climbing out from her cover directly behind the rabbit’s hole, her dinner for the evening secured with little issue.
With a dull knife and limited understanding of the process, Jess spends the afternoon hours struggling to shed the rabbit of its warm coat as the hot sun only grows warmer with time. Sweat trickling from her forehead, down the side of her face, and off the end of her chin, Jess slowly makes progress, eventually sliding her ineffective blade down the rabbit’s flesh well enough to serve.
Above a small fire, the rabbit begins to cook, slowly browning the longer Jess spends watching it, the thin branch it’s skewered upon manually spun by Jess’ fingers. The dry patch of dirt over her head starting to dampen with her sweat, Jess scoops her carrots into a metal can and sits down for her meal, satisfied with the colour of her dinner’s cooked flesh. Removing the rotisserie, Jess raises the meat to her teeth, suddenly stopping at the sound of distant footsteps.
On alert, Jess slides beneath the mound of dirt her back presses against, staying hidden from those that may approach from behind her. Wiping the drops of grease from her face, Jess reaches to her hip, the pistol housed there now taken into her hand, prepared to for may appear from behind the tall grass. Slowing her breathing to an inaudible hush, Jess listens beyond the low winds, her campsite darkened as clouds arrive just overhead.
Unable to discern what’s being said, Jess listens to the whispering of two men about fifty yards behind her, their faint voices growing closer as the seconds pass. Just as they had arrived, the men excitedly huddle toward the ground, ruffling leaves and small twigs as they settle. Pulling her legs close, Jess lays the rabbit in a bucket and prepares to take part in the waiting game, her knees pressing against her ribs as the first few raindrops begin to fall.
Continuing to talk amongst themselves for another few seconds, Jess listens in until their voices finally stop, an eerie silence emerging from her blindspot. Letting go of a deep breath, Jess readies her weapon, preparing to shoot as her eyes drift forward, falling upon the whitetail deer just past her makeshift slow-roast set. Coming to her realisation, Jess covers her ears, waiting out the seconds that remain before the gunmen behind her tear a bullet through the deer’s eye.
Still able to hear the gunshot rippling through the trees, Jess watches the buck collapse as she huddles back into her cover, her weapon readied again. “Come on” Jess whispers to herself, paying no attention to the incoming rainstorm as the men approach, ready to be rewarded for their kill. “When was the last time you snagged a buck?” one of the men asks, climbing over a downed tree to keep up with the other.
“It’s been a minute” the other man responds, leaping over a divot in the ground in route to their prized catch, yet to realise that Jess resides within that same crater, waiting for the right moment. “Minute or no minute, Jade’s not gonna have a problem with it either way” the first man replies, the sight of his feet whilst mid-jump affording Jess her moment.
“Guns down, hands up!” Jess orders, rotating her aim between the two men as they turn around, immediately giving into the instructions made. Able to look both men in the eyes, Jess holds her aim on the second man, his familiar face speaking to memories of a distant time. “Ameil?” Jess murmurs, her look of awe mirrored across the man’s face, influenced by the slim odds of their reunion.
“Jessica!” Ameil responds, noticing the fire by the woman’s side, “what are you doing here?” As the rain begins to fall harder, Jess lowers her aim, letting the gun hang beside her hip, their eyes yet to pull away from each other. “I could ask you the same thing” Jess responds, pressing her teeth together out of annoyance, completely unsure of how to reply past that.
= Rise is created by Zachary Serra, all rights to the series belong to Zachary Serra and the entity of Pacer1 from the start of Season 3 onwards =
Watching Lauren emerge from the forest beneath the early drizzle, Grace occupies the cabin’s wooden front steps with a cup of tea in her hand. “You’re late” Grace exclaims, calling out to her puzzled co-worker with a frown, Lauren’s focus placed on the dozens of electrical workers venturing throughout their incinerator’s tunnel.
“What’s all this?” Lauren replies, paying no mind to Grace’s earlier claim, “what are all these people doing here?” Allowing her own statement to be forgotten to time, Grace responds with a frown, her mug lifted to her lips mid-sentence. “The incinerator’s down. Something to-” Grace answers, her throat soothed by the brief pause it takes to pull down a swig of her warm beverage, “-do with the power grid.”
“Okay, well- did they tell you when it’ll start working again?” Lauren responds, answered with Grace’s casual head shake. Turning away, Lauren sets her sights on the first worker she can find, his yellow vest sticking out boldly from the green-coated landscape.
“Hi, I’m Lauren” the woman introduces herself, a smile as fake as her polite appearance. “Eddy” the man replies, taking her handshake on its offer. “I’m sure you already know what I came by to ask” Lauren responds, her hand finding a home on her hips. “If it’s about when your machine will be back up, I’m not sure yet” Eddy responds, walking back to the tunnel with Lauren following closely behind, the ground beneath them moistened enough to outline the bottom of their shoes.
“We installed the incinerator after the zombies showed up, and had to hook it up to the main grid manually” Eddy explains, “if I had to guess, there’s a good chance something underground went awry.” Understanding very little of the man’s response, Lauren simplifies her question, “is there a time frame we’re working with?” the woman counters, hiding the pain that her fake smile inflicts, “are we talking hours? Days?”
“More like weeks” Eddy responds, watching the plastic smile drop from Lauren’s face as easily as it had appeared, “Jade’s out of commission for the day, and this isn’t a small project. If I were you, I’d plan on it being down for a few weeks.” Freed from her responsibility of being hospitable, Lauren turns away without another word, walking back to Grace with a scowl on her face.
“Any progress?” the tea-drinking woman replies, immediately recognising Lauren’s disgusted look for what it is. Her walk slowing, Lauren stands in the middle of the open lot, thinking quietly to herself for a few moments before responding. “They’re waiting for Jade to answer them- they’ve got no idea yet” Lauren answers, turning back to return home the way she came.
“That’s it? You’re just gonna leave?” Grace calls out, her fingers wrapped around the rim of the mug as it hangs between her spread legs. “There’s no point in sticking around!” Lauren replies, back-tracking her way toward the entrance’s path, “lock up here when they’re done!” With her arms extended, Grace watches the woman walk away, no true intention of returning. “See you tomorrow, then!” Grace exclaims, her head shaking as Lauren holds her hand up, the only genuine ‘goodbye’ she can muster.
“Why do they give you so little?” Jack inquires, sat near the front of Rocky’s boat whilst Franklin sits in the rear, guiding his vessel and the nineteen others that follow. “If you give a little, you’ll get a little” Rocky responds, sat close to the middle, barely able to hear Jack over the sound of crashing waves, “it justifies giving us so little to work with. If we can’t produce the amount of weaponry they want because they short-change us, it justifies them short-changing us.”
“Doesn’t that hurt their bottom line?” Nessie interjects, sat directly opposite their recently-acquainted friend, “sure, you’ll be the one suffering. That said, they’ll be the ones with less ammunition.” With a chuckle, Rocky shakes his head as his eyes drift toward the seas ahead, his face splashed with droplets. “There are fewer dead to kill and fewer living to fight” Rocky replies, “whatever the other camps make is more important in the long run than my bullets.”
“And they don’t fear other settlements revolting?” Franklin interjects, one hand steering the vessel toward a distant island off Boston’s coastline. “Are you nuts? They fuck us over so much because it doesn’t make a difference to them” Rocky responds, never unamused by his guest’s cluelessness, “we get the scraps because the other settlements thrive. What’s one unhappy settlement if you’ve got dozens of others that love rolling in shit like pigs? I’ll tell you- they’re fucked.”
“It still doesn’t add up. There’s nothing Rockford does that other settlements don’t already have their hand in” Clint explains, his curiosity still looming, “why keep you around if they’d be fine with cutting you out entirely?” With a shrug, Rocky shakes his head, again looking toward the distant island reserve. “It’s pointless questioning why Nova Scotia does what it chooses to” Rocky replies, letting out a defeated sigh, “it doesn’t make us any less screwed.”
“No, but it could work in your favour” Clint quickly argues, adamant in his claim, “whatever it is that makes Rockford necessary for Nova Scotia- if you can figure out what that is, you can make a deal with them.” Hands wrapped around the back of his head, Jack takes Clint’s claim to heart, thinking the man’s statement over before concluding his own. “The ports” Jack mutters aloud, taking Rocky’s eyes toward him, “it’s the same reason they set up compounds at the start. For easy transport.”
“They’ve got other ports along the coastline, Pinky” Rocky responds, quick to dismiss the claim. “Yeah, and they had other compounds too. One in Concord to make travel from Nova Scotia to New York easier. Or New York itself, so they could get between Concord and Delaware easier” Jack replies, finding the pattern written in plain sight, “They need Rockford because it keeps them from needing to travel inland to deliver shipments.”
“You’re wasting your breath, kid- negotiations aren’t on the table” Rocky responds, quick to continue his dismissive reaction, “if Nova Scotia smells their strength starting to wane, they won’t hesitate to remind you why they’re the central power.” His response catching the eye of those in the boat with him, Rocky senses the need to explain himself, doing so before the opportunity can be given to him.
“We tried to produce oil ourselves to up the flow of goods we were making, and I told you Nova Scotia put a stop to that” Rocky recalls, his eyes dropping as the mood begins to fall, “they cut off our supplies, took half of our personal weaponry and sixty percent of our food. They told us to work or starve, and we haven’t stopped since- all because one of our packing stations got drowned out by a flood. We got behind schedule one time two years ago, and we’re still paying for it.”
The information they’re privy to beginning to unsettle them, Franklin and Jack look toward each other in silence, passing glances at Clint and Nessie to suggest a shared feeling of dread. “If Pinky hadn’t gnawed off his pinky like that, we would have shot you where you stood- we couldn’t afford people knowing where Rockford was” Rocky explains, not trying to hide his prior motivations, “but if the four of you can put this nightmare behind us, I will forever be in your debt.”
“We only want a ride to Nova Scotia” Jack replies, quick to voice the trade off, one that Rocky takes kindly to. “And if this place is stocked with supplies like you say it is, you’ll have it” Rocky responds, extending his right hand out to Jack, this time neither hand being bloodied by self-inflicted wounds, “I’m a man of my word when the people are right.”
Looking into Rocky’s eyes, Jack sees a genuine hope he hadn’t had upon their first encounter, a response that eases him into accepting the man’s offer. With the meeting of their hands, Rocky and Jack feel a bond in appreciation for the other’s past, as if their shared hope weren’t possible without the chances taken by the other.
“Is the rain a big deal?” Emilio inquires, more cautious in his step as he follows closely behind Jade, staring at every inch of ground they have yet to cover. “The small critters will run for cover, but we’re not hunting them” Jade replies, her rifle worn on a strap that rests around her neck, hands pressing against the same rocks she climbs over to venture further out. As the minutes pass, the rain begins to fall harder, crashing down with force.
“Does it ever get tiring?” Emilio inquires, his hands pressing against the wet assortment of rocks ahead, “being the leader of a ton of people, I mean. Does it ever get tiring?” Her lips pressed together, Jade shakes her head, aware of her answer before any depth is needed for it. “I think I’ve done it long enough to the point where all the exhaustion is gone” Jade responds, her lips coated in a shade of black lipstick, “it’s just second nature now.”
Nodding along to the answer, Emilio continues forward, following the woman to a clearing in the trees, their eyes finding the large body of water that lies ahead, its surface beaten by the droplets. “How about you?” Jade inquires, the question confusing the man that follows her lead, “did it ever get tiring being your last group’s leader?”
With a sigh, Emilio’s eyes begin to roll, his annoyance sparked with the question’s verbalisation. “How many times do I have to repeat myself?” Emilio responds, the only hint of emotion in his voice being that of the exhaustion he holds for having to answer, “I wasn’t the leader.” With a chuckle, Jade tries her best to hide the amusement she gets from the man’s answer, her efforts doing nothing to keep Emilio from overhearing the humour she takes from it.
“I’m sorry. I know you’ve convinced yourself that you weren’t, but you were” Jade replies, periodically peering at the man from over her shoulder, “and that’s not a bad thing. If I’m being honest, I don’t know why you think it is.” Rolling his eyes, Emilio continues to follow along, feeling his boots begin to sink into soft dirt, the banks of the woodland’s hidden pond resting at the tip of their shoes.
“It’s not like you were the leader against everyone else’s will. From what I could tell, they were all in favour of you” Jade continues, sensing the man’s reluctance to respond now that he stands beside her, “it’s not like it’d be infringing on your democratic code.” Gritting his teeth, Emilio takes his view toward the distance, watching the storm clouds reflect off the natural waters as he ponders Jade’s point.
“If you’d have met the people I’ve come across with that title, you’d understand my hesitation” Emilio responds, an answer Jade laughs off. “Who are we talking about? Tony? Dawson? Charlotte?” the woman replies, recalling the group’s vivid detail of their administrations, “or are we talking about John?”
Feeling himself scurrying in circles, Emilio turns away, preparing to return to the path he and Jade had travelled to reach their reflective destination. “Running away from the truth?” Jade calls back, watching the man cease his retreat, looking back at her with an unpleasant look, “or are you just walking away from the past?”
“I’m walking away from the conversation” Emilio quickly responds, watching the smile stretch across Jade’s face, her amusement knowing no boundaries. “No, you’re not” Jade replies, tucking her fingers into the denim pockets at her sides as the rain begins to pour worse, “you’re just walking away period.”
His face coated with drops of water, Emilio stares into Jade’s eyes for a few seconds, keeping his silent and unresponsive exterior worn like a mask. “Have you ever stopped to think about how you got here? Maybe think about the things you said to people on the way?” Jade persists, watching the man slowly return to her, bracing against the wet conditions, “maybe think about the things you did to people on the way?”
“What are you getting at?” Emilio cuts back, eager to hear the woman’s declaration from her own lips, not pleased with the game being played. Her tongue pressing against the corner of her lip, Jade hangs her head for a moment, thinking to herself as Emilio nears, his eyes staring a hole through her chest. “You hate the idea of having to be a leader, and it’s clear that your first-hand accounts through the years have made that true” Jade responds, “could some of that be John’s doing?”
Thunder beginning to roar at the mention of John’s name, Emilio takes a step back, forcing himself to create distance between the pair. “I’ve said it before- we had our reasons” Emilio replies, his defensive response guiding Jade toward his most vulnerable thoughts.
“And you can’t see for a moment why those reasons could have been misguided?- or even wrong?” Jade questions, the silence she’s initially met with only continuing. “Think about what you’ve done since this started. All the lives you’ve had to take to get this far” Jade explains, closing in on the man’s treasured beliefs, “you sent a plane crashing into a town of thousands, you led a misguided revolution, destroyed an entire democracy! Where does it end!?”
“I didn’t do those things- John did” Emilio replies, unknowingly biting into the same hook Jade cast out to catch him with. “And you followed John. Everything he did was something you condoned by following his lead” Jade responds, stepping forward to voluntarily close the distance Emilio had originally created. “We had-!” Emilio quickly interrupts, only for he, himself, to be interrupted by the same woman.
“-reasons, yeah- I’ve heard that once or twice” Jade interjects, leaving the man no room to retreat as she continues to approach, “from what I can gather, those reasons were wrong.” Confronted, Emilio pulls his face away, watching the sky’s flashing lights bounce off the foggy waters. “Look at me. I’ve been in charge of Cumberland since day one and we had no vote!” Jade exclaims, getting right back in Emilio’s face, “I’m the furthest thing from an elected official.”
“You’re different” Emilio retorts, feeling the truth’s he’s curated begin to crumble at his feet, impossibly weak beneath the woman’s persistence. “Why am I different? Because my city hasn’t been lit on fire yet? Because I’m not executing people in the street?” Jade asks, her own conclusion soon dawning near, a look of realisation finding her eyes, “or is it because I’m not morally conflicted?”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Emilio retorts, taking the jab at his expense for what it is, the thunder beginning to roar through the air as the woman replies. “It’s been nearly five years since the world ended. Have you ever taken a second to reflect on- fuck, anything? Jade inquires, taking Emilio by the bottom of the chin, his face guided toward her own, “have you ever stopped to think that maybe, just maybe- you’re the bad guy?”
Given no chance to answer, Jade and Emilio’s confrontation is put to a halt by the cruel gods above, the lightning bolt that crashes upon the water embracing them with a gust of heat. Their eyes taking toward the sound of the eruption-like crash, Jade and Emilio stare out at the water, the sights that emerge from behind the greenery across the shallow pond redirecting their attention.
“We need to get back to the truck” Jade remarks, watching the undead clump together as they approach the pond, taking attention from the people on the other side as their numbers continue to rise. “Is it a horde?” Emilio inquires, answered with little more than Jade’s hand wrapping around the collar of his shirt. “Let’s not stick around to find out” Jade shouts back, pulling the man in her direction as they retreat, the dead only continuing to grow.
“I’m home!” Grace shouts out, her voice bouncing off the walls of their large, spacious entrance foyer. Her bag being left by the side of the door as she shuts it, Grace glances back toward the spacious interior, waiting for a response that never arrives. “Donnie!?” Grace exclaims, again standing by for a response from the second level.
Only met with further silence, Grace proceeds into the kitchen, her shoes being slid from her rough-skinned heels and left at the entrance. Pulling open the refrigerator, Grace wraps her hands around the first glass pitcher she sees. Pouring herself a tall glass of pomegranate juice, Grace rests the pitcher back in the machine and closes the door, her feet carrying her to the kitchen’s island, where she occupies one of many seats.
Winding down for the evening, Grace gazes around the kitchen for a few minutes before the sound of a wooden pole toppling over rings throughout the home from the upper level. Startled by how close the noise seems, Grace peers back the way she came, nothing left in the foyer or walkway to suggest anyone would be present. “Hello!?” Grace inquires, waiting for a response that, again, never replies.
Left with no other option, Grace grabs her drink and proceeds toward the stairwell, its sloped, marble design leading her from ground level to the floor above. “Donnie!?” Grace calls out again, no longer waiting for a response, but hoping for one, “are you home!?” As unresponsive as it were when she had arrived, the home remains quiet, only the sound of heavy rainfall from beyond the windows and doors to answer her, the sunlight blocked out by dark, ominous rain clouds.
Cascaded in a shadowy grey, Grace watches the walls begin to talk, every other step allowing her to see beyond corners and into long stretches of darkness, the shadows that appear upon the white-coloured aisles giving her a clue into what lies ahead. “I’ve had a bad enough day as it is, don’t make it worse” Grace worriedly shouts, again given nothing in response, not even the outline of a figure to coax her into untravelled, hardwood-floored descents into uncertainty.
“Seriously, Donnie- this isn’t funny” Grace exclaims, her left hand trembling enough for the juice in her cup to nearly slip over the edge, offering the opportunity to slide down the glass’ side and to the floor. “You got out of work two hours ago, I know you’re home” Grace warns, convincing herself of fables she could only wish were as real as they’d been made out to believe in times of strife, “if you’re in here, I’m going to hurt you!”
Her heart beginning to race, Grace glances down the hall where their shared bedroom rests, its entire length hidden behind a sea of nothingness. Too scared to look away, Grace presses her shaky right hand against the wall, her palm fumbling around in search of the lightswitch she knows to be near. Grazing it with her fingers, Grace presses her hand into the switch, horrified by the uncertainty of what lies in the dark ahead, but somehow more afraid of what the darkness is bound to reveal.
Forcing herself to throw her hand upward, Grace cloaks the hall in fluorescent light, what lies beyond surprising her in the best way. With relief, Grace calms her unsteady breaths, feeling her heart begin to beat slower as her mind regains control of her motor functions. Laid out on the ground, the handle of a broom rests against the floor, the closet door from which it fell knocked open amidst its descent.
Laying her cup on the floor, Grace stumbles forward, still reeling from the suspense she’d been overcome by. Without issue, Grace lifts the pole and places it back into the bin it had fallen from, now able to close the door with a smile on her face. Feeling the locks set into place, the worry Grace had felt linger in her stomach before returning, the closing door blowing a small gust of wind back at her face.
As her loose hairs settle, Grace stares at the door’s handle, unsure of why she’d become so worried. Timidly retreating to what caused the feeling, Grace opens the door again, the handle pushed down a few inches before guiding the door closed again, letting the handle rest in its normal position. Still uncertain, Grace repeats the action a few more times before putting her worries aside, allowing them to fester as she begins toward her bedroom.
Empty handed, Grace flicks the lightswitch and closes her door, attempting to retreat to bed before the realisation suddenly dawns upon her. As if chased by a ghost, Grace throws her bedroom door open and dashes through the hall, kicking her glass of juice over as she scrambles toward the front exit. Pushing her feet into the first pair of shoes she can find, Grace dashes through the front door and hurries off into the distance, her spilled juice beginning to trickle down the stairs.
Racing through the forest, Grace returns to her workplace, the cabin locked and secured whilst the accompanying tunnel remains open, welcoming whatever may come upon it to a dark, miserable journey. Running through thick clumps of mud, Grace pries the incinerator’s tunnel doors from their restraints and seals the cavernous interior off from the world, the worried hole burning in her stomach being filled as she locks the gates up and prepares for her return home.
“What you’re saying doesn’t make sense” Jess responds, sat across the small campsite from her unarmed contemporaries, their rifles lying beside her hip. “You’ve said that three times now, and you’re no more clear than you were the first” Ameil retorts, sat on a rock just ahead of the woman, his hair drenched in rainwater, “what doesn’t make sense?”
“Why they’d consider you a ‘family of three’ and huddle you into an apartment” Jess replies, both hands pressed together beneath her chin, “if they’d put Emilio and the rest in a townhouse, it’d make sense to give you a single-family house. It doesn’t add up.”
“Well- it’s not like we plan on being there long-term” Ameil responds, Jess’ eyes pulling toward him at the slightest hint that she could be right. “When Cumberland families are pregnant, or have a kid under sixteen, they’re given an automatic ticket to the next Nova Scotia group” Ameil confesses, watching Jess’ eyes light up with a festering anger. “You were gonna take Amy to Nova Scotia?” Jess replies, her head pulling away from the coupled hands at her chin.
“You were gonna take my kid to Nova Scotia!?” Jess repeats, her voice beginning to raise to a shout, “you were gonna use my kid to get yourselves to Nova Scotia!?” His hands held out, Ameil watches Jess leave her seat, pleading a refusal to fight as she rushes at the chance to approach the man. “It wasn’t for us!” Ameil shouts, continuing to back away as Jess progresses, closing the small amount of space between them, “John wanted us to!”
Her pace stopping, Jess stares into Ameil’s eyes, the anger she feels only resting at the brink of the pot it simmers within. “That was the plan you’d been preaching since before we met- to find somewhere safe to settle into!” Ameil explains, desperately trying to defend himself, “we thought the two of you were dead, so we were trying to get Amy there with us- like you’d wanted!”
Able to understand the reasonable explanation, Jess struggles to settle down, gradually alleviating her anger through sheer will. “We truly thought you were all dead. If we knew you were alive, we would’ve come running once we saw the explosion” Ameil explains, watching the woman’s rage subside, “it’s not for us, I swear.”
Slowly walking backward, Jess’ curiosities only continue to build, the distant sound of thunder ripping through the skies serving as a backdrop to their conversation. “I want to see my daughter” Jess remarks, slicing a piece of the cooked rabbit’s flesh off with a greasy switchblade, the water that coats it not concerning her.
“Yeah- I’ll do my best” Ameil responds, again earning Jess’ disapproving side-eye. “You’ll do your best?” Jess replies, almost mocking the man’s response in a way, “what the fuck does that mean?” Cut off from speaking by the persistent sights of lightning flashes through the sky, Ameil waits for a moment, allowing the thunder to roar before answering. “I don’t know if Cumberland will allow it” Ameil responds, speaking through a disappointed muzzle, “I’m not sure how that process works.”
“You wont get her back” Ryan replies, chiming into the conversation unrequested, an audible dislike for Jess contained within his voice, “they won’t give her to a single mom.” The man’s comments taking her ear, Jess swallows the cooked flesh she’d ripped apart with her teeth before responding to the third, mostly unfamiliar, man.
“I’m Amy’s mother. They’ll either give her back to me, or I’ll burn the town down trying to take her” Jess responds, pointing the tip of her knife in the man’s direction. “Do you think threats are gonna make them change their minds?” Ryan counters, failing to see the reason within Jess’ thoughts, “if you were in their shoes, where would you leave a kid? In the hands of a single parent, or in a house with a mom and dad?”
“I’d give the kid back to their birth parents, that’s what I would do” Jess replies, slicing off another piece of her meal. “What if their parents were neglectful?” Ryan suddenly retorts, the answer he asks from the woman going unreturned, only a curious look given back to him. “What does that have to do with this?” Jess responds, noticing the jab subtly taken at her.
“Ryan, stop t-” Ameil interjects, both Jess and Ryan’s hand held toward him, both parties wishing for his silence. “I want to hear what the man has to say” Jess replies to Ameil, her focus given back to the man at the far side of the camp, tossing her skewed rabbit aside as she leaves her seat, approaching Ryan with her knife brandished, “what are you implying, Ryan?”
Aware of the threat, Ryan leaves his seat and begins to back away, retreating one step for every foot Jess advances. “I said what I said, and I won’t say it twice” Ryan responds, visibly shaken by Jess, who brushes off Ameil’s persistent concerns as the third man backs away. “Don’t interrupt me, Ameil. It won’t end well” Jess explains, continuing to place her attention on Ryan, his active dissertation playing into her hand, “what’s wrong, Ryan? Won’t open your mouth now that it’s not convenient?”
Adamant, Ryan continues to back away, his hands held at his chest in a show of surrender. “I’m not going to play this game, ma’am” Ryan replies, watching Ameil approach slowly from behind, making sure the conversation doesn’t end with blood being shed, “I said what I said, and I’d- Aaahhh!”
His scream measuring close to the level that curdles blood, Ryan collapses onto his back at the stinging sensation around his ankle, which wears the sharp teeth of a bear trap directly through his shin. “What the hell did you do!?” Ameil exclaims, bumping into Jess with his shoulder as he races up to Ryan’s side, only able to work off of what he sees. “He stepped into a bear trap, I didn’t do anything” Jess responds, lifting both hands into the air.
Tending to the wound, Ameil hears three distant gunshots ring through the air, his eyes widening as he looks out at Jess. “We need to go now!” Ameil shouts, reaching into the trap’s claws in an effort to pry its jaws apart. “Jess, I need your help!” Ameil exclaims, looking back to the woman with distressed eyes, her posture remaining unchanged from what it was before.
“Why are you standing there!? Help me!” Ameil exclaims, again trying to pull the jaws apart to no use, the few inches of separation nowhere near the leverage required for an escape. “Jess, get the fuck over here!” Ameil exclaims, again finding the woman where she last was, standing at the campsite with the knife by her side, unwilling to intervene. “He’s screwed either way” Jess replies calmly, unphased by Ryan’s torturous screams, her finger aimed in the distance.
“Aarrgghh!” a horde of roaming corpses groans in the near distance, their sights set solely upon the distressed men. “Oh god, Ameil! Hurry up!” Ryan shouts, unable to feel anything other than the soaring pain in his leg, its sensation making silence impossible. Attempting to pry the teeth off Ryan’s leg once more, Ameil’s third failure spells disaster ahead, time running too low for hope to prevail.
As the dead near closer, Ameil is taken by surprise at the size of the impending horde, the three-bullet signal already having called for him. “I’m sorry, Ryan” Ameil murmurs, reluctantly pulling away from the man with a grimace on his face, any extra minute spent trying to win an already-lost fight serving as a threat to his own survival. “Ameil, please! Please, help me!” Ryan exclaims, digging his fingers into the mud as he tries to crawl away, aware of the writing on the wall.
“PLEASE!” Ryan screams, reaching his hand out for Ameil as the dead finally close in, his friend’s back begrudgingly turned toward him. “Ameil!” Ryan screams once more, feeling the teeth sink into his calf as others begin to gnaw at his back, the rest digging into whatever they can reach. Listening to the guttural screams fade away, Ameil looks on in disbelief, hearing the man’s final gasps be taken, his own name the final thing spoken off the man’s tongue.
Backing away, Ameil is helpless to do anything other than watch, his head shaking as the noises begin to decrease, soon fading beneath the starved groans of the dead. Only a few steps back, Jess peers at her hand, a sudden thought wrapping around her mind and pressing down, guiding her forward with a scowl.
Storming forward, Jess presses her left hand upon Ameil’s shoulder whilst her right swings forward, plunging the blade into the man’s back with minimal effort. His shocked groans turned into a pain-ridden shriek, the sensation of the dagger being ripped from his lower back almost worse than the pain of it entering. Unable to process what’s happened, Ameil’s weak knees give out as his body spins around, the sight of Jess standing over him speaking all that he needs to know.
“I’m sorry- I need to get Amy back” Jess explains, her blood-covered knife readied for a second shot, “I can’t have you ruining that for me.” Yearning to finish what she’d started, Jess buries her knife into Ameil for a second time, this thrust piercing his jugular with lethal force. Regurgitating his own blood, Ameil collapses face-down in the mud, slowly left to bleed out in the rain as the dead approach, kneeling before the man and consuming what’s been left for them.
“It had to be done” Jess whimpers, wiping the snot from her nose as she backs away, the knife in her hand tossed into the vast forest. “It had to be done” Jess repeats, turning away from the dead and beginning her sprint toward safety, unable to focus on anything more than convincing herself that she’d done what was necessary, “it had to be done.”
Creating puddles with every step she takes, Jess sprints through the woodlands, her eyes set on the clearing in the trees as she leaves the scene of the crime, completely ignoring the act she’d just committed.
== Rise ==