Roman Duran ran a step behind Jared and saw the moment the other man faltered on his
wounded leg, careening into a chain link fence. Without missing a step, he ducked under Jared’s
arm and forced him forward. The pack of infecteds was only two or, at the most, three blocks
“Here,” Pollard Datsik, the third member of their trio, hissed, slipping around a block
wall and sprinting up a set of exterior stairs to an apartment above a liquor store. Roman dragged
Jared behind him.
While Roman helped Jared to a sagging sofa, Pollard shut the door with a quiet click and
peered through the window, his breath a puff in the silence.
“Are they following?” Roman whispered. “Are they swarming the stairs?”
Pollard stretched his neck to see further, and then soft-stepped to the next window and
stared at the street below.
“I’m fine,” Jared murmured unnecessarily. “I tripped. It won’t happen again.” He shoved
Roman away. “I just need a couple minutes.”
Roman didn’t buy it. The injury in question was a jagged slash above Jared’s knee he’d
earned climbing a fence the night before. Though they’d stopped running long enough to wrap it,
Jared wasn’t as energetic as he’d been before the wound.
Separating from Jared, Roman peered through a broken windowpane, blinking away the
exhaustion that had dogged him for the past couple of days. Without enjoyment, he chewed one
of their last handfuls of goldfish crackers, the food dry and pasty in his mouth. Water was about
to become a serious issue.
“I’m so thirsty,” he complained in a whisper. “And dirty.” What he wouldn’t do for a
clean, clear stream of fresh water.
Roman glanced at his companions, noting their equally stained and stinking uniforms.
Maybe volunteering to leave Washington, DC had been a crappy decision all around. Maybe the
veep should have sent older, more experienced survivors on her search and rescue mission.
Maybe his eighteen years on the earth weren’t enough for this kind of mission.
A pack of infecteds had caught their scent in Raleigh and hadn’t let go. Forty-eight hours
without sleep or rest. Two days of running, of hiding, of trying to lose the predators. And now,
they were out of food and water.
“What if we climb on the roof?” Roman whispered. “We could wait them out.”
Pollard took the bag of crackers from him and crammed a handful into his mouth.
“We’re out of water,” Jared reminded them. “What if they trap us for days? No.” He
shook his head at the room’s closed door. “We could end up a lot worse than we are now. I say
we keep running.”
“Forever?” Pollard scoffed. “There has to be a point where we say we can’t continue like
this. A point where we circle around the pack and head home.”
Roman wouldn’t call Washington, DC home. But then he’d never called anywhere home.
An orphan kicked into the system after his mother abandoned him, none of the dozen foster and
group homes he’d lived in had ever been his home. And DC was no different. It was a way
station to somewhere else, no matter whether he had an apartment or a job or a purpose. It still
Roman had yet to find his real home.
Swallowing dry crackers, Roman double-checked the number of rounds for his M-16.
When they’d left the safety of DC’s walls, they each carried forty rounds for their personal
firearms. It had sounded like a lot at the time, but he was down to nineteen rounds. The other two
men had less.
For an entire day, Jared had fired warning shots at their pursuers—a mistake, Roman
realized now—but the only result had been bringing even more infecteds into the pack, as nearby
stragglers were attracted by the noise.
His ears perking up, Roman rushed to the far window and scanned for movement. Was he
crazy, or did he hear a car engine?
Roman had left DC wanting to help people, both infecteds and survivors. After running
into people, one worse than the last, his companions were nearly to the point of abandoning the
mission. But Roman hadn’t given up. Even though they hadn’t helped a single person.
Between two rooftops, he caught a glimpse of a fast-moving white Range Rover driving
in a westerly direction. A part of him wanted to catch up to the driver, but another part of him, a
starving and sleep deprived part, wanted the vehicle to pass them by and disappear.
The sound of the Range Rover’s engine quieted as it drove out of sight.
“Let’s try the distraction method again,” Roman suggested. The last time they’d thrown
empty cans near the zombies, they’d been curious enough for Roman and the other two men to
escape. “It worked before.”
Their rescue mission to Myrtle Beach could still be salvaged once they shook this pack.
Unhindered by the starving horde of infecteds, the three men could scavenge for food and water,
sleep safely in shifts, and cover ground at an easy pace. This running for their lives, though,
couldn’t go on forever. Without water and more substantial food than goldfish crackers, he
wasn’t going to survive much longer.
“I’ll open fire,” Pollard said, as if Roman hadn’t spoken, “and you two run for the cell
tower at the end of the street. I’ll meet you there.”
“Good plan,” Jared said, “except you’re a horrible shot. I’ll do the shooting, thanks.” He
stood, trying to hide a wince of pain and failing.
Pollard clenched his jaw at the insult. “Fine.” He grabbed Roman by the sleeve and
dragged him toward the door.
“You sure about this?” Roman asked, still thinking his idea would work better than
wasting more bullets and hoping to find each other under a tower.
“Just run fast,” Pollard said.