There is only so long before silence is interrupted.
We were all used to the protocol, here - foreign noise? Start moving. It wasn't something worth questioning, we'd learned.
So, naturally, when we heard a muffled crash in the house we were occupying, we all bolted to our feet, took hold of our weapons and newly-stashed backpacks, and headed straight to the nearest exit. (Which was only 20 feet from where we were lounging.)
Also naturally, we didn't make it in time before five zombies toppled into the room.
"Move!" S said sharply - he'd never told us his real name, so we referred to him as S - as the two of us boosted Natalia out the window. Zoe easily propelled herself out against our shoulders, and Billy followed suit.
"S!" hissed Zoe, as she gripped my arm and yanked me through. I glanced behind wildly. No matter how many times we were caught, my heart still thundered whenever it happened.
S glanced backwards, and, with Billy's help, somersaulted through the window. He lifted his shotgun, and fired salt-coated bullets at the undead quintet. One went directly into a zombie's eye. It gave an ear-piercing screech and fell to the ground, while the others stumbled with missing limbs. "Let's go," he muttered, and we all ran out on to the street to the car Natalia had managed to hotwire for us.
Zoe, Billy and S piled into the backseat while Natalia gunned the car. I had just closed the passenger door before she revved up and sped down the lonely road.
It wasn't common for zombies to appear during daylight and survive, but if they did, they became even more rabid and wild from the pain. They would go on rampages, and we did our best to avoid that.
Natalia managed a sharp right turn. "Any other ideas?" she grunted, as we were all thrown to the side. I only just managed to buckle my seat belt before she spun us into another sharp turn.
"How about the President's?" S suggested sarcastically. He looked older than his seventeen years.
Zoe hummed. "Why not?"
Billy, S and I stared at her, incredulous. Natalia threw an amazed look at the rear-view mirror.
"You're joking, right?" Billy deadpanned, handing me his gun. I checked both of ours - both fully loaded.
"Well? What's so bad about it?" asked Zoe, pulling a harpoon out from her backpack and inspecting it.
S scoffed. "I wish Mary were here to shut you up."
We all ignored that, mostly because of how hurt he sounded.
We used to be eight people - S, Quinn, John, Billy, Natalia, Mary, Ayesha and I. Ayesha disappeared first - later, we met her again, except she was - well. Undead. (She was a bitch, anyway, to be honest. But still.)
Quinn was next, and John was crying hysterically when he affirmed it.
"No, no, no," he had wailed, burying his face into Quinn's bloodstained jumper. "Don't leave me."
Quinn had cried too, kissing his hair and lips and hugging him close, like that could save him from the poison already thrumming through his veins that would zombify him in only a matter of 12 hours.
"I'll never leave you," Quinn had promised brokenly, and John was still weeping in his arms when S shakily shot Quinn's heart.
John was bitten when we were burning Quinn's body - he was so weakened by despair, he hadn't been able to put much of a fight when the zombies came. We were all in tears then, because the grief of losing two of our most favourite people in the world was strickening.
S, tears falling absently from his eyes, insisted he shoot John. Mary was half-laughing, half-crying as she related a funny story about Quinn to John, who died with a smile on his face. We burned him too, and quickly drove off, stifling our sobs.
We came across Zoe, a couple weeks later - she was battling zombies ferociously before we came and dragged her off so we could tend to her wounds. Thankfully, none of the scratches were venomous - but a zombie had smelled us out and stole up to Mary and sank his teeth into her jugular.
S had screamed, wild and feral, and stabbed the zombie with his salted dagger till it died, but it did nothing to save Mary. This time, Billy was the one who shot Mary - straight in the head, so she died almost instantly in S's arms.
He had become subdued after that, quiet and lonely but vicious when the zombies came too close. We were his family, now, he told us, and he wouldn't let another of us get harmed.
It was a promise we all knew he couldn't keep.
"Shit!" Natalia shouted, snapping me out of my reverie. The car spun two 360 degree circles before slamming into a lamp post, hoodfirst. It smoked.
"Out!" I snapped, instantly taking motion, grabbing the guns and backpack before jumping out of there. The other four were on my heels, and we were a house's distance away before there was a soft poof, and the car was in flames.
"What the hell?" I yelled at Natalia. "Why'd you stop?"
"Jez!" she screamed, before I heard the combination of a snarl and groan right behind my neck. I spun a half-circle and fired my gun blindly, blowing back three zombies.
"Go, go!" howled S, slinging another gun onto my back before sprinting off. We followed suit, me running backwards, firing at any of the undead behind us. These were fast, pain-crazed zombies.
"Left!" Billy ordered, and we all followed, going diamond-formation with Natalia at the center as lookout. After a year of living in a post-zombie apocalypse, you generally learn these things.
"Zoe, your twelve o'clock!" S shouted, and Zoe fired a harpoon directly into the leaping figure, which fell back.
"We need to get inside," I said urgently. "Natalia, look for a good spot - Billy, boost her higher!"
I jumped into Billy's place, covering both our positions while he lifted her higher, giving her more view of the battered houses.
"The red one!" she cried. "S, to your four o'clock - "
And I felt it.
I lowered my gun and shot the zombie straight in the heart as it lay on the floor by my foot, hissing.
"Jez!" Zoe called to me as she shot another harpoon into a zombie.
"Red house, now!" I screamed, and we broke formation to run towards the aforementioned house.
It had big, brass doors, so Natalia, who was in the lead, threw her gun through the window. It crashed through the glass, and she bashed off shards before boosting us all through. S and Billy caught her arms and pulled her through aswell, before Zoe slammed a sofa in front of it.
She turned to me, eyes full of fire. "Jezebel."
I felt my breath quicken, wide-eyed, and I unclasped my hand from my ankle.
It came away with blood - tainted with grey liquid.
"No," I breathed.
It crashed down on me like the ocean. My stomach flipped, my head spun, and I suddenly felt like I had been doused in Arctic water. Vaguely, I felt Billy grab my hand.
"Fuck!" he cried, voice muffled through the buzz in my head. "No!"
I had never been scared of death - I believed in afterlife, that there wasn't nothing. But becoming a zombie - there couldn't be an afterlife for that.
Faintly, I heard Billy screaming and S shouting, and Zoe crying and Natalia kicking things. Black dots were dancing across my vision.
I had been bitten.
"Jez, Jez." The words were rasped straight into my ear, as a hand tucked my hair back. I felt someone bind a belt harshly above the wound - to slow the poison, I realized faintly. "Jezebel, you're gonna fight, alright? I am not letting you go, okay?"
"Billy?" I mumbled, and he shook my shoulders. The fog that was shrouding my vision drifted away, and his face was in sharp focus, eyes dark and shiny with tears.
"Okay?" he said, shaking my shoulders.
"Billy... I'm undead," I said numbly.
"No. No, you aren't. You're gonna be fine, okay?" he snapped.
My gaze drifted towards Zoe, who was staring at me with tears streaming down her cheeks. Natalia was flushed red.
We were close - closer than protocol required us to be. It was dangerous, making close friends when you might've had to kill them, but still.
"Now," I whispered. "I want it now."
Billy's expression grew confused, then furious. "No! We're not going to kill you now, okay?! We're never gonna have to fucking kill you."
I realized how hard I was crying - how scared I was. Would it be Limbo? Would it be Hell? Was I a horrible person? What if it was... All just black? What if it was actually nothing?
"No!" I screamed hysterically. "I don't want to live as a zombie! You have to kill me, understand!?" I beat his arms, flailing. "You can't let me become one of them! You can't! Please, kill me kill me kill me, please, I'm begging you, Billy! Don't let me lose my mind, I can't - " I tugged my hair, wild. " - I can't be undead! Don't let me become them, just kill me right fucking now!"
Zoe was sobbing, kneeling by my feet and hugging Natalia, who was staring at me, damp-eyed.
"Are you sure?" she asked, voice hitching.
"Don't let me lose my thoughts," I said, crying. "Don't let me go insane. Don't let the poison spread. Please, please, before it even starts. Kill me. Let me die."
There was a long while after that, where we were all buried in eachother, weeping. I thought of Quinn, and John, and Mary, and even Ayesha.
"Okay," S said finally, voice broken. "Okay."
Fear screaming at me, and my stomach was flipping like a fish above water, and I was sobbing hard. It was all too slow and too fast, all too much. I didn't want to die, and I didn't want to be a zombie.
"In the heart," I gasped, between sobs. "So I can f-feel it. So I k-know I'm-m dying and not becoming a-a z-z-zombie."
Billy was cradling me, I realized numbly, and it was strangely comforting.
"Yeah," S croaked. He nodded at Billy. "Yeah, okay."
Natalia kissed my forehead. "Love you."
"Love you, too," I whispered, hiccoughing.
Zoe fell into my arms, crying. She kissed my cheek wetly. "Never f-forget you," she promised, lingering before going to stand by S along with Natalia.
Billy rocked me back and forth, his arms around my waist, tears dampening my hair. "Don't leave," he whispered.
I managed a laugh. "You sound like John." It was the worst joke ever.
"Oh, yeah?" he said, fierce. "Didn't you everrealize I might've thought of you like John thought of Quinn?"
That wasn't possible.
"Don't you dare," I said in a whisper. "Don't you dare tell me that."
"Why not?" he sobbed. "It's the truth!"
"John and Quinn were eighteen, they were old enough to love!" I snapped, angry and still crying incessantly.
"We're old enough," he promised me, bundling me in his arms as he cried.
"No, we're not," I cried out. "It's not fair! You can't tell me you're in love with me right before I die!"
"I just wanted you to know," he rasped. "Don't say it back, please. Please, don't say anything back. I just needed you to know."
I nodded, weakly, burying myself in his warmth, feeling it soak into my bones and fall into my heart like a promise. Like all our promises.
They were weak, they were flimsy, but for now, they were enough.
"Bye, Jezebel," S said, voice cracking.
"I never want you to suffer. I love you," Billy murmured right into my ear, and there was a bang, and agony in my head, and then...