My legs are weak. The hot Texas sun is showing no mercy today. It looks at us from far away, beats us down with its heat. I wrap my cardigan around my head. I'm thirsty. I look over at Felix. His shirt's off and he's holding it behind his back, looking down as he walks.
"We need water." I say, looking out at the hazy road ahead. It stretches for miles with no sign of relenting.
"I know." He answers back. Felix, a man of few words.
My mouth is parched. I run my tongue across my lips but it doesn't have the desired effect. There is no moisture left in my mouth. A headache is starting to build. I feel it pulse.
"I need to sit down for a bit" I don't ask, I'm just stating it. I walk towards a tall pine tree and sit down by its roots. The shade immediately comforts by throbbing head.
"We can't stay still. We don't know what's in those woods." He says, as his eyes scan the line of trees behind me. They're all lined up perfectly, creating corridors of tall pine. A plantation.
"You may not know what's in those woods, but I do." I say, and realise how nasty it came out.
"I know what you're trying to say, Charlie." He rests his hands on his hip. He frowns. "Zombies. Don't. Exist. It has to be something else."
"Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth" I answer, quoting one of my favourite authors.
"What's that suppose to mean? And zombies are impossible," he snorts, shoving his hands back in his pockets. I can't resist sneaking a peak at his bare chest.
"Nobody ever disproved zombie existence, Felix. And don't tell me you didn't aim for the head the moment you knew it was you or her?" Ouf, another harsh stab. I look away.
"Actually I didn't. I -"
"You know what, It's my turn to cut you off." I jump to my feet and brush the grass that stuck to my pants. "If you don't start accepting what is happening, we will never make it out alive. Is that what you want?"
"What are you so desperate to live for? There's no one left. We don't even have a fucking clue what is going on out there." He looks desperate, still has that sad shadow looming over him. Its overwhelming.
I decide right then and there to blurt it all out. "My parents have something to do with this. David had found something before all of this happened. I was going over at his place when I was attacked. I had to get to Grams. David is probably dead right now. Or walking. or both." I sneak a glance over at Felix. He grins when I mention the last part. "They were doing illegal experiments on animals in several parts of the world. My parents wanted to branch off from pharmaceuticals and go into finding cures. They tested NF on thousands of animals. Everyone knew that. But a couple of months ago, they signed a deal with Drake Foods..."
"NF... as in..." He says. I can see he is struggling to remember where he heard that before.
"NF as in Necrotizing Fasciitis. Commonly known as flesh-eating disease." I answer. And then I see the lightbulb go off. Felix's aunt had suffered through NF for several years before taking her own life. It wasn't something I should have brought up. Not now. But I go on. "The weird part is that this giant deal was never publicized. Not on the news, not in the newspaper, nowhere. I found the article by chance on the internet."
Felix ponders over what I just told him. Pieces the puzzles togheter, tries to fit them in with my previous bullshit story I fed him. He probably doesn't understand what I'm trying to suggest.
"What are you suggesting, exactly?" he mutters.
"Drake Foods is all over the world. Olsen Pharmaceuticals is all over the world. Flesh-eating disease. From the fact that radios aren't working and every town bordering the busiest highway in the Southern States is dead and walking, i'm kinda inclined to say that the zombies are all over the world. What else could have ignited this fire so quickly but the two largest companies on Earth?"
I'm fueled with excitement right now but Felix doesn't react the same. How is it that I got over everything so quickly but he didn't? Right, I didn't murd- kil- I didn't do what he did that night.
"You and your theories. Charlie, you can- HOLY FUCK!"
My heart jumps into my throat as I spin around. No. Can't be. Several whatever-you-want-to-call-them are emerging from the wood at different paces. The one on the left is the quickest and he's on me in seconds.
"FEELIX!" I struggle with the decaying thing, his superior strenght breaking my will every second. I succumb and fall to the ground. It's drooling black puss all over me and I can barely keep its bony hands off me. It snaps at me, jerks its head. I hear feet smacking ground and a boot hitting the walking corpse's ribs. It rolls off me and I hear several gunshots. Instinctively I close my eyes. Someone grabs my arm and lifts me.
I expect a man, someone rugged. But it's not. It's a girl. All in black, shorts and tank. She's roughed up. Somewhere beneath the crusted dirt and bloodstains is a girl. A girl my age.
"What are you doing out here without guns?" She says, her voice smooth. Didn't expect that. I look pass her at Felix and then behind me at the dozen corpses strewing the forest floor.
"We ran out of gas a while back." I answer, out of breath. I smell the burnt gun powder. "I'm Charlotte, that's Felix."
I point and he waves. We look pathetic compared to her. Decked out with weapons. A knife in her booth, a gun in her waistband, another tucked away in a thigh holster. A genuine Lara Croft. I could see Felix checking her out. She is pretty; slender, tall, blonde hair, and blue eyes. Everything I'm not, basically.
"Aleksandra. But just call me Aleks."
Felix eventually joins us and for some reason he returns to his old self and does what he did best: break the tension.
"Now i'll be travelling with two chicks with guy names. Charlie and Aleks. Classic!"
Aleks rolls her eyes. "It's better then Felix. That's a cat's name."
She starts walking back towards the road. I laugh and Felix and I exchange a glance.
"I like her." I say and run to catch up to our new ally. She's walking in the direction we just came from.
"We're heading to Houston, actually. My aunt's there. I think -" I stop speaking. Something caught Aleks' eye. She stops.
Raises her arm.
Aleks has a pistol and it's aimed towards the woods. Goosebumps invade my arms and neck, raising the short brown hairs along the way. She shoots. I look at Felix, we both seemed puzzled.
"You haven't been around them long enough," she looks from me to Felix, "You don't smell them. Hear them. Feal them. I just shot one. Would have came right at you. And we are not going to Houston." She turns. Yeah, just turns her back to me and continues walking back down the long winding road, back to the car, back to Romero, back home.
I don't know what fueled me, but something deep awakened. Maybe my primal instincts, that burning fire inside that bursts to life when threatened, questioned, confused. "I beg your fucking pardon?" Something about her shifts. I don't feel so comfortable around her so much.
"Houston's dead. Last I heard, they sealed off San Francisco. To survive, we have to head there." She doesn't look back, nor does she stop walking.
Felix walks up to me and we both look at our new friend with a certain apprehension. He actually voices it first though.
"She'll feed us to them if she needs to, right?"
"Oh yeah. Most definitely." I answer and we start walking again.
Walking. We so need a car...