In the small spot of light, Ken tilted his head up and down, side to side, squinting in the dim glow at the labels on one of the cans in front of him. He'd dropped his glasses in a grapple with one of the undead, during his escape from school. He wasn't exactly happy about it, but he tried to think of it as a relatively small price to pay for his life.
By the time the first case was reported, the authorities took action, and the schools were contacted and an evacuation ordered, the undead were already milling about in the streets by the dozens. The students had all tried to flee at once, and he couldn't be sure if more people had been bitten or trampled in the ensuing chaos.
If not for Ryan, he'd have been one of them.
It took him a moment to realize he'd been sidetracked, and with a quick mental shake of the head trying in vain clear the gruesome images from his mind, he focused once again on the task at hand. He tilted the can and his glasses this way and that, swiveling his head around until a name came into focus.
"Ravioli," he spoke under his breath, a little tingle of triumph rolling through him. "Sweet."
He grabbed all of the similarly colored cans he could find, leaving whether or not he was actually grabbing the right cans to a mixture of intuition and blind luck.
"Ten minute check-up," Ryan's voice, crackling and distorted, called from Ken's hip. He went to grab the walkie at his hip as he waited for the others to chime in, his hand grazing the cold steel of the pistol at his side. It slipped from of its holster, seeing as how it was meant for a much larger gun, and his little pea shooter bounced and clattered along the tilled floor. He gave a quiet curse as he bent to pick it up, the voices on the walkie never ceasing.
"No sightings," Amber reported, her tense manner of speaking betraying her anxiety. "I think I've grabbed all the water bottles we're going to find on the second floor."
"I killed one of 'em," a boy answered. Ken couldn't seem to remember his name. "I checked out all of the doors and locked them as good as I could. But there's nothing I can do about the windows at the front of all of the stores."
Raising the little black box closer to his mouth, thumb over the talk button, Ken took his place as the third and last member of their little scouting team. "I haven't seen any zombies. The bag's about half way full, but it's getting too heavy to carry."
Hefted the gym bag off the floor, testing his own statement one more time. It was about as full as he could load it and still be able to run if he needed to.
"All right, you all did a good job. Come on back to food court and we'll scrounge up some dinner," Ryan instructed in a somewhat upbeat tone. Probably the closest any of them could push themselves towards 'happy' between the exhaustion and the adrenaline pumping through them, not even taking into consideration the horrible images they couldn't get out of their head.
Somehow Ryan was able to push most of that aside with nothing more than willpower, and Ken had to think that that was probably why he was still able to think clearly.
How else could he have realized that in the event of a second infection, everyone would know to avoid densely occupied areas, like the mall, and that if they went their they'd probably find it mostly deserted? Sure, there'd been a few undead here and there, but for the most part the place was deserted.
The food, water, clothing, all left abandoned. Not to mention the fact that the place could be locked up fairly secure, and shelter in this situation was every bit as important, if not more so, than food.
It was this state of contemplation that allowed a dark shape in his peripheral vision to go unnoticed.
He'd long since gotten used to the smell of decay that seemed to fill every corner of every room, so it wasn't until he noticed the creature's guttural moans that Ken realized its presence. He jumped, shrieking in quite a non-masculine way as the small beam of light his flashlight put out danced across the dark stands and storefronts until he could focus in on the zombies face.
He hesitated reaching for his gun, before finally tugging it free, index finger wrapped around the trigger as he thumbed the safety off. He was, as he'd only just learned recently, a horrible, horrible shot.
From somewhere in the recesses of his mind, the line "Wait until you see the whites of their eyes!" ran through his head.
He waited until the zombie was nearly close enough for him to count its remaining teeth before he pointed the end of the barrel at its broad forehead, and pulled the trigger.
He blinked. He'd expected a flash, a bang, recoil, any and all of the things associated with a bullet being fired. Yet there were none of them.
He tried again. But there was nothing. He didn't know why, or how, and these reasons didn't really matter at the moment. He pulled the trigger frantically as the zombie drew nearer, its maw opened wide as if to invite him inside.
The gun click click clicked as he took a shaky, retreating step, only to trip over his own feet, falling back on his rear.
And then, with one final pull of the trigger, the burst of light and sound overtook his senses. The zombie, suddenly with a hole in its forehead and far fewer braincell trapped inside its cranium, fell in a heap to the floor like a marionette with its strings cut.
Only, it hadn't been his gun. Ryan stood by his side, barrel still trained on the zombies fallen form. And of all the thoughts that could've been running through Ken's head, all the things he could've said, the first question to be voiced was "How did you know?"
Satisfied that the zombie wouldn't be coming back from the dead once again, Ryan lowered the barrel, scanning the area for any other movement. "I heard you scream like a little girl," he said, flashing an amused look. "Figured you either needed help or you'd seen a spider."
Getting back to his feet, feeling a tint of embarrassment over his dying surges of adrenaline, Ken realized a few cans had rolled out of the bag when he'd fallen and quickly went to gather them up. "My gun wouldn't fire," Ken muttered after a moment, the last of the cans placed safely in the gym bag. "The safety was off, and there were definitely bullets left in the magazine, but nothing happened."
"I'll check it out once we get back," Ryan answered, ejecting the spent shells from the shotgun and sliding in some replacements. "I have Hank boarding up a bookstore. I imagine we'll probably be here for a while, so it seemed like as good a choice as any."
The two began the trek to the said book store, Ryan taking the lead.
"How long do you think it'll take this time?" Ken asked absently.
"How long will what take?" Ryan asked.
"For help to come. I mean, they have plans for this kind of thing now, right? They fought the zombies off once."
Ryan laughed, scanning the area with his flashlight before proceeding on. "The fact that the zombies are back means the military already failed."
"Then, how long do you think we can last in here?" Ken once again voiced the first question that came to mind.
"A few weeks, a month maybe. Then we'll have to find somewhere else to stay."
Ryan was silent for a moment, before answering in a much more subdued tone. "Lets cross that bridge when we come to it."