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Bishop had gotten off the conveyor belt and was running toward me. I knew I had to come up with a plan, but all I could do was struggle to catch my breath. My stomach screamed at me. When the chain had jerked me, I think I might have ripped out a few stitches.

With Bishop clamoring up the conveyor belt to get to me, all I could do was wait. I backed up as far from her as I could, so when she got up on the belt and her hands stretched out for me, she couldn’t grab my feet.

The surface was smooth metal, and it was hard for me to grip. I almost wanted to grab her hand and help her up, just so we could get this going. If I thought she wouldn’t have bit me, I probably would’ve done it.

Thanks to her impossible new zombie strength, she got up. She stood on the machine across from me, but before she could charge, I pulled the chain back, and then swung it at her as hard as I could.

The hook sunk into her side, tearing through her flesh. It actually worked out much better than I’d hoped, because it was caught under her ribs. The chain moved away, hanging over the floor with Bishop hanging from it at an angle.

Blood was dripping out of her side. As she screeched and babbled in her new zombie language, blood started coming out of her mouth. She never stopped flailing, though, and she kept reaching out for me, trying to grab me, even as she spun in a slow circle.

Then she threw her head back and let out a long howl, summoning other zombies. I’m not sure how close they were, but with a city nearby, there had to be other zombies. And I could not face them.

I jumped down off the machine and ran back to where Stella was hiding. Bishop was still alive, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that. I couldn’t even reach her where she was hanging, and part of me felt like she deserved it.

If she’d just gone off when we told her, if she’d actually done what was best for Stella instead of turning into a crazy kidnapping bitch, this wouldn’t have happened. So this is what she gets. Since zombies couldn’t really die, not unless their heads or hearts were damaged, she could be stuck hanging from that hook for a very long time.

“Stella!” I lay on the ground in front of her and reached my hand under the machine toward her. “Stella, come on. We gotta go.”

“When Bishop started getting sick, she told me to stay under here and not to come out for anyone,” Stella said.

So when she’d actually started turning, she’d had Stella hide. That was noble of her, except I don’t know what good that would’ve done. Stella would’ve just died underneath that machine or been ripped to shreds by Bishop if she ever came out.

“Well …” I glanced back to where Bishop was howling and hanging from the chain. “She changed her mind and says you need to get out of here.”

“Bishop said – ”

“Look, Stella, I need you to trust me,” I said. “I’ve never done anything to hurt you, and I never will. But we have to get out of here. Now.”

She extended her pudgy hand toward me, and I grabbed it. I pulled her out from under the machine, and I picked her up. She tried to look around, but I put my hand on her head and pushed her into my shoulder, so she couldn’t see Bishop.

I ran out the front door, and I kept running. I really had no idea how long I’d be able to go, especially carrying Stella, but I had to push myself as far as I could. Bishop was still calling zombies, and we couldn’t be anywhere near them when they arrived.

The snow was coming down hard, covering up the tracks I’d left behind. I could still see some of them, but the farther away we got from the factory, the more they were filled in. Soon, I’d just have to guess the way back to the farmhouse.

When I couldn’t carry her anymore, I put Stella down. I still hung onto her hand, and she walked as fast as her little legs could carry her. That was about as fast as I could go anyway. I was sweating profusely, and I felt dizzy.

At first, when I saw the figure waving its arms over its head, I thought I was hallucinating. Then Stella pointed to it and asked who that man was. He was in front of us, off to the right of where we were heading.

My first instinct was to give him a wider berth, pass by him without interacting with him if at all possible. But I was starting to think that I might not be able to make it back to the farmhouse, and I didn’t want to leave Stella alone out here to freeze to death.

Besides that, I’d been worried about Serg, and he’d turned out okay. He’d helped us a lot, and maybe this guy would be the same. I had to learn to trust my fellow man, because I really couldn’t do this on my own.

“Are you zombies?” the man shouted when we got closer.

“No,” I said. “Are you?”

“No.” He laughed and started jogging toward us.

Stella had been walking beside me, but I picked her up. I held her on my hip, and her boot accidentally kicked my incision. I nearly threw up when she did that, but I swallowed it back.

The man coming over to us appeared to be in his early fifties, with gray hair kept short and neat. He had on an army-green trench coat, with a uniform underneath, the beige suit kind decorated with all sorts of pins and patches. It was in surprisingly good shape, unlike Boden’s and Nolita’s uniforms, which were worn to the nub.

“I’m so glad to see you.” He grinned broadly at us. “It’s been too long since I’ve seen other people. I got separated from my group after we left the quarantine, and I’ve been wandering alone.”

“You were at the quarantine?” I asked.