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As I raced up the embankment, using my hands to pull myself up quicker, he was right on my heels. He actually successfully managed to grab one of my feet once, but I got him off by kicking him in the face. He let out a low death groan after that, and I prayed he wasn’t calling more zombies.

I made it all the way to the top and looked around for anything to use to defend myself. Part of a rusted muffler sat on the shoulder of the highway, a leftover from a time when people were still driving around. It had a nice jagged edge from where it had snapped off the car.

I ran toward it, and just before I reached it, Blue knocked me to the ground. He hit my back, and I tumbled face down in the dirt. I rolled onto my back, and when he tried to dive on me, I lifted my legs and kicked him squarely in the chest, knocking him back.

With only seconds to reach it before Blue was on me again, I crawled on my belly over to the muffler. My fingers had just wrapped around it when I felt Blue’s hands on me, like claws digging into my thighs and butt.

I flipped back over, and Blue grabbed onto my thighs, pulling me closer to him. As soon as I was underneath him, I jammed the sharp end of the muffler right into his jugular. I rolled to the side, narrowly missing a spurt of his blood.

He was fairly new, so the blood hadn’t gotten as thick or green as it eventually would, but it still didn’t look like a human’s. He clawed at his throat, trying to pull it out, and let out a garbled howl.

I got to my feet and kicked him in the side, so he fell to the ground on his back, still trying to get it out of his throat. I didn’t know how long it would take him to bleed out, and honestly, I didn’t want him to suffer. Somewhere, buried way underneath the zombie mania, was my friend Blue, and he didn’t deserve to suffer any longer than he absolutely had to.

I grabbed the muffler and yanked it across his throat. I wasn’t strong enough to sever his spine, and based on how rusty the metal was, I doubted the muffler was either. But I’d torn through both his jugular and his windpipe.

His mouth opened and closed a few times, reminding me of a fish out of water trying to breathe. But then he was still, his hands at his throat, and his eyes wide open, looking at the blue sky above us.

“What the hell happened?” Boden asked, jogging across the highway to me.

He was shirtless, barefoot, and his blond hair was dripping water onto his shoulders. But he had a gun in his hand as he approached. Behind, I could see Bishop and Daniels standing at the top of the embankment, looking to see what was going on.

“Just a zombie,” I said as nonchalantly as I could. “But it was nothing I couldn’t handle.”

“I can see that,” Boden said. He stood next to me, staring down at the corpse at of one my closest friends, and he looked somewhat impressed that I’d taken out Blue myself. “Good job.”

“Thanks,” I said numbly and crossed my arms over my chest.

“You okay?” He looked over at me, and I realized dourly how little I was wearing.

He’d started out checking me out for wounds, but when he saw me, his expression changed. His forehead furrowed, and his eyes widened, and I knew exactly what he saw.

I was covered in marks. My inner arms were black and blue and loaded with track marks. My white shirt was soaked and nearly transparent, so all the scars across my belly were visible. I even had scars on my legs and shoulders from all sorts of other bizarre experiments. 

“What the hell happened to you?” Boden asked.

“They were trying to find a cure for the zombie virus,” I explained quickly. “They did whatever they thought they needed to do to find it. I was their test subject.”

He didn’t say anything for a moment, just nodded, and then looked around. “Did you hear any other zombies?”

“No.” I shook my head. “I didn’t see any either. He may have been alone.”

“Is everything okay?” Bishop asked, and she started walking across the highway toward us.

“Uh, yeah, everything’s fine!” I moved in front of Blue, blocking him from her view. “It was just one zombie, and I took care of him – er, it.”

Bishop stopped, and if I didn’t know any better, I’d say she looked suspicious of my hasty response. But maybe I was just paranoid.

“I think she’s right,” Boden said, turning toward Bishop. “It was just zombie, but we should get our stuff together and move on. We don’t want to run into any more zombies, and we should reach the compound before it gets dark.”

Bishop nodded, almost reluctantly, then turned and went back toward the other side of the bridge. Daniels asked her something, but I couldn’t hear what it was.

“Are you okay getting your stuff?” Boden asked, looking back at me. “Or do you want me to go with you?”

“I’ll be fine,” I insisted. He nodded, then followed Bishop to get his stuff.

I went back down the embankment the way I’d come. I knew I should be grateful. I’d gone up against a strong zombie, and I’d taken him out, despite my fears of being too weak to fight. All I had to show for it was some zombie blood on my hands.

But when I crouched down next to the river to wash the blood off my skin, I realized my hands were trembling. I wanted to cry and throw up, so I splashed cold water on my face and hoped it would pass.

It wasn’t just about seeing Blue as a zombie, although that was bad enough. He’d been a good guy and a good friend, and it was a horrible way to go out. As a mindless monster. He’d deserved far better than that.