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Flames surrounded and engrossed the area around Randle’s feet. Orange and red danced with the rubber soles of his shoes slightly warming his toes. The entire back wall of the convenience store was ablaze and the conflagration would most likely only grow to lay claim to the entirety of the building. He had misjudged the size of the explosion that the gas water heater would create and had almost been caught in it himself. Luckily he had no need for eyebrows.

“I hope the kids are safe,” he said with a long drawn out sigh as he took a careful and long look around him as death loomed in on him.

On each and every side of him, he could see them, the walking dead, those who had been unlucky enough to be infected. Their dead eyes resembled nothing of the humans they used to be. All they were were empty shells possessed by a devil commanding them to decimate anything that lay in their path. That same devil now decreed that he, Randle, would die.

Randle had a slight smirk on his face before he sighed. He shouldered his hunting rifle and rechecked the goodies that he had packed on his belt and in his bag quickly before surveying the burning landscape before him. Flames were encroaching on his position on all sides along with the zombies, although their bodies did not take the heat very well. They would walk in the flames for a couple of seconds before their limbs would begin to burn off rendering them useless.

He looked in the flames for an opening and when he found one he saddled up and ran to it saying, “Welp, better be off now.”

With a jump through the burning grass, Randle emerged with a couple of scorch marks on his jacket and a small flame biting into his knee which he quickly patted out. He found himself on the street that the convenience store was on, well where the convenience store used to be. Flames had moved from building to building rapidly and now it had become a raging inferno against the blue sky.

His blood curdled as uneasiness overcame him. Had he gone too far? Was his son ok? Were the girls ok? He almost took a compulsive step forward to search for them before he noticed the brown ponytail of Denise bobbing far off down the street. Next to her were two other figures, undoubtedly his son Rory, and Ferrah. Much to Randle’s reprieve, there were no zombies following them.

“Please stay safe son,” he whispered as a tear rolled down his cheek.

He yearned with all of his being to run with them, to stay with his son, to be there as his little boy grew into the man he was destined to be, but he could not do that. His situation had gone unnoticed to him because of his want to assure himself that the children were safe. All around him, the dead lumbered on unsteady footing towards him. They had all been alerted and drawn near to the massive explosion, the explosion he caused. If he tried to shoot his way through to his son, he’d only bring the hordes down on them. That didn’t mean he couldn’t lead them another direction.

Randle looked around him as the zombies encircled him leaving no room to escape. The closest was only ten feet away. Suddenly, the crowd of zombies bustled as one of them burst out in a tremendous sprint. Its eyes were crazed and its skin seemed as if it was peeling off. It closed the distance between itself and Randle at a sickening speed as he was barely able to react in time. When it lurched at him, he ducked to the left while butting it in the head with his rifle. While the zombie was momentarily stunted from the blow, he put his rifle to his shoulder, aimed down the scope, and fired.

With the enraged zombie no longer a problem, Randle took another good look around him to see the horde continuing to advance. With steady and calm hands, he unlatched one of the glass bottles with rags stuffed into them on his belt and took out his Zippo. He lit the rag before throwing the bottle in the direction he saw the children run, and before the Molotov cocktail even hit its mark, he had his rifle aimed in the opposite way.

The sound of the glass shattering and the wave of heat on his back was his queue as he began to open fire. His first five shots hit their marks as a small path opened up before him. The horde surrounding him seemed slightly confused because of the recent and abrupt noises which allowed Randle the time he needed to escape. He jumped over the bodies of the fallen zombies and exited the circle. By the time they had realized that their prey had escaped, he was already running down the street.

As Randle ran at a moderate speed down the black asphalt, he yelled, screamed, and chanted so that every zombie in the vicinity would be drawn towards him. Why he did this, not even he knew. He had completed his mission, his duty, to allow his son and the two girls to escape from the convenience store, yet he still hollered so that all the attention was on him. He didn’t know whether that explosion was heard far beyond or if there were still zombies going to its source. He didn’t know whether or not those zombies would run into the kids first. There was no possible way that he would risk that, so he gave them something to be attracted to.

Within minutes, the streets were alive with the dead. They scuttled towards him with their arms hanging limply at their sides. He had dropped his pace to a leisurely jog, so that he would not tire as quickly, and so that he had a better knowing of his surroundings. There was no telling when another one of the sprinting zombies would appear again, so he had to stay alert.

Randle retired to walking down the center of the street with zombies on either side of him. One or two of the enraged zombies had appeared which he dealt with quickly and aptly. He reloaded what he could as he walked and disposed of any other zombies that happened to be lingering in the streets before him. He hadn’t thought of a way out of this predicament that he forced himself into.

The scuffling of feet sounded out to his left as he lifted his rifle to his shoulder on instinct. A zombie with one arm that had been torn off was walking briskly at him at first and then at a full sprint. His finger was on the trigger and his crosshair was lined perfectly with its brain when his left ear twitched. Much to his dismay, the sound of a runner behind him entered his ears.

What was he to do? The zombie behind him sounded awfully close to him and seemed to be running faster than the one he had in his sights. Should he kill the one in front of him first or the one behind him? His hesitation would be his downfall.

Panicked, he pulled the trigger and without second thought brought himself to look into the savage eyes of the monstrosity that was behind him. It raised its menacing claws above its head, and instinctively, but quite unfortunately, Randle raised his left arm to defend himself. The disgusting claws dug into his bare arm and then the teeth penetrated his skin. With a slight yelp, he jumped backwards knocking the zombie off balance and then stuck his rifle underneath its jaw. If he was any lesser of a man, the recoil would’ve blown his arm out of socket.

Crimson blood trickled down the length of his forearm and dripped off each of his individual fingers. The wound on his arm was his mark, the mark that would outcast him from society, the mark that would take his life. He looked down to his heaving and panicked chest and knew that the wound on his arm was the same as if his chest was tattooed with the giant letter Z written in scarlet.

Randle walked with a perfunctory tone to his being. His body was on auto-pilot as he continued down the street. He didn’t even realize that he entered a now abandoned apartment building until he was propped against one of the walls of one of its rooms’ kitchens. His head lay low in defeat as the burly man was brought to his knees.

As he was making his way to the abandoned building, the only thing that ran through his mind was his son Rory. He wondered where he might be, whether he was safe or was in danger. Would Rory be strong without his father? Would he protect the girls?

His face was beat red and his forehead had begun sweating immensely. His wiped his brow multiple times with his sleeve, but the sweat seemed to immediately reappear. Coughs began to form in his throat, but he refused them passage, he refused to give in to the virus that would inevitably conquer his very being.

The sound of scratching and banging could be heard from the door that Randle didn’t even realize he had shut and barricaded. The zombies would soon invade the apartment. He took a good look around the kitchen and noticed that the oven was on and set to 450 degrees. It seemed that somebody left in a hurry and had forgotten to turn it off. He opened it slightly as the heat overtook him. His fever that would never break was added to by the scorching heat of the oven. While he was taking his shirt off to cool himself, he smirked slightly before rummaging through his bag.

The loving face of his long since deceased wife entered his slowly maddening brain. Her impervious charm and ethereal fragrance graced his dying person. She seemed to lift him up to heaven with her milky white hands. He had to look away from her in guilt as her familiar presence draped itself around his shoulders.

Randle still felt guilty of her dying. She had been in a freak accident as she was going to pick up her drunken husband from a bar. If he had been a better husband, a better father, she would still be alive.

He banged his hands on the tiled floor in agony as his heart lurched in his chest both physically and mentally. He yearned for her to be back by his side again, to watch as their child grew into a man. Why did he have to be drunk that night?

Rory was too young to remember anything about his mother when she died, but Randle told him stories often about his mother and how beautiful and strong willed she was. Randle decreed after that to stay away completely from alcohol and dedicated the entirety of his soul to raising his child.

The door burst open as at least a dozen zombies lumbered into the apartment searching for Randle. They went almost immediately into the kitchen where he was still sitting next to the oven barely conscious. The oven was continuing to emit an odorless yet very volatile gas. There was gunpowder all around him which he had previously loaded into a similar pipe bomb that he used to create a diversion at the convenience store. The zombies trudged forward kicking the powder into the air.

Randle hoped he had been a good father to his son, hoped that he taught him everything he needed to become a man.

“Please be safe son.”

Randle refused to allow the devil to take his body as a slave. He lifted his Zippo into the air and flicked open its cap. The zombies were now only a mere couple of inches from his face. Randle put his thumb on the flint wheel.

“Adios muchachos.”

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