Silence blanketed the forest, but anticipation of the next sudden ear-splitting crash made the sound of their rapid breaths deafening. Metal and rubble was twisted everywhere around Denise, but light from the sun still managed to filter through onto her face. She stared out this opening completely frozen, waiting to feel the surging pain from something that must’ve happened to her body when they crashed. But her breaths continued to come and go, and her heart continued to thump in and out, without so much as some aches at her right hip and leg and a cut on her left arm. Swallowing to soothe her dry throat, she finally allowed herself to relax a little bit an pull herself out of the wreckage.
“Tina?” That was the first name she called, then, “Ferrah? …Rory?” She tried not to get too worried, but she couldn’t help it when her tone cracked just the slightest bit at the end of Rory’s name. She heard movement from under a piece of twisted metal, which she reacted to immediately. Denise rushed over and proceeded to shove what used to be the side door of the helicopter out of the way, exposing Rory and Tina both, the boy wrapping a protective arm around the younger girl.
“Denise!” Tina leaped out and embraced her tightly, pressing her face against Denise’s shirt to hide her watery eyes. Rory offered a relieved smile as he clambered out at a more cautious pace.
“Are you okay? Where’s Ferrah?” Rory asked. Tina had hardly a scratch on her, but that was only because Rory clamped her in a bear-hug and acted as her meat shield. Rory, on the other hand, suffered slightly worse scratches and scrapes than Denise did.
Denise was just glad to see them both alive, but even that relief vanished when he brought up Ferrah. “She was steering the helicopter…”
Tina released Denise to run to the front of the wrecked air vehicle. “Ferrah! Ferrraah!” She cried, vainly trying to peer through the cracked, shattered glass, hardly holding itself up along the frame. She leaned forward to try and push some glass out of the way, but Rory grabbed her by the waist and pulled the little girl back, allowing Denise to step forward and find a way back in. Agitating the glass until it collapsed down was a bad idea—what if Ferrah was suddenly underneath that dangerous shower? She slipped through the doorway Tina and Rory exited from and began to search.
Although the helicopter was an utter mess, she could tell where the cockpit was, and soon found Ferrah thrown from her chair onto the floor, still dazed from the crash. Rubble surrounded her, and she was physically the worst off of them all—cuts littered her skin, and parts of her clothes were ripped where the sharp edges of metal scraped by. Denise realized she was conscious when a quiet moan emanated from her throat.
Denise bit her lip and began to push aside the rubble and debris, trying to help Ferrah out. “Are you okay?”
With the heavy debris out of the way, Ferrah inhaled sharply through her nose and pushed herself to a stand, subtly leaning against her chair. “Yeah, I’m all good. Is everyone else okay?”
Denise nodded, aware that the girl was not very well off but failing to realize she needed something to lean against to stand straight. “You look the worst out of all of us.”
“Stupid helicopter. I’m fine, just pissed. Can I lean against you?” Ferrah made her question sound as casual as possible.
“Of course! Here.” Denise and Ferrah were soon stepping out of the helicopter, Ferrah with an arm linked around the back of Denise’s neck.
Ferrah ground her teeth and looked away suddenly, but turned back with a smirk on her face. “Was your faith in me really that small? I’m disappointed in you, squirt (or whatever nickname Ferrah tends to call her, if at all). You can’t get rid of me that easily.”
Tina blinked, then cracked into a laugh, instantly making the tears shed around her face look as if they originated from happiness. “Y–you’re right!” So relieved it delighted her, she flung her arms around Ferrah even tighter.
“Okay!” Ferrah suddenly shouted, using the exclamation as a vent for her cry of pain. “It’s getting late. I think we should stop by a place for the night.”
Denise looked out to the tops of the trees and beginning of the skies. True to her word, the oblivious atmosphere had darkened to an ominous blue.
“Alrighty, let’s move then!” Rory clapped his hands together and started to walk in a direction only briefly considered, Tina happily trailing behind him.
“Assist me, slave!” Ferrah mocked, refusing to push off of Denise.
Denise rolled her eyes playfully. “Yes, my queen.” Playing along, she continued to support Ferrah, and together they followed Rory and Tina. As they walked along, they noticed how the sound of the forest–its animals, its trees, and its insects–were considerably louder than Denise had expected. Hoots echoed from the darkness, from their feet scuttled un-named insects, and the leaves rustled against each other from what seemed like everywhere. It was bound to happen, anyways; with the human population essentially dying out, other creatures have had more room to thrive. But in the darkness, they heard something that sounded neither natural nor human–a deep throated moan.
“Zombie.” Rory breathed the word, the instant recognition almost second nature now. Then realizing he wasn’t loud enough to warn the others, he bellowed, “Zombies! They’re here!”
Tina stiffened, then cried out and started to run.
“Come on, Ferrah!” Denise was almost immediately at a run, and pushed her off in favor of leading her by the hand.
Ferrah could not keep up. She stumbled and heard the ragged footsteps of the near zombie advancing towards her. She could not help it–she screamed, and fell to the forest floor. At this point she knew it was inevitable, but it still horrified her. She felt the rotting bones of one of the zombies sink its teeth into her ankle, and she let loose another scream. She frantically kicked away despite the pain shooting up her leg, and managed to scramble up when Rory was suddenly at her side.
Hardly giving him a nod, Ferrah tore off after Denise and Tina, while Rory lagged behind a bit to hold the zombies off. Soon, a small abandoned shelter came into view from the trees. They hastened into it after finding the door ajar, and found no zombies inside. As soon as Rory stepped in, all of the entrances and exits were barricaded shut.
Hard panting was the only thing heard for little shorter than a minute. “Is everyone okay?” Denise asked, relief already tied in her voice. She received a nod from Rory, but Tina gave a different reaction.
Slowly, she lifted up her finger and pointed at Ferrah’s ankle. “Ferrah…?” Having been bitten herself, Tina recognized the semi-circle shape the serrated teeth made when they pierced flesh.
Ferrah slid one leg behind the other in a fast attempt to hide her wound. “Yeah, Tina?”
It was too late. Both Denise and Rory followed Tina’s finger, and even if Ferrah was too fast, they could infer what happened to her knowing what happened in the woods.
“…Ferrah, were you bitten?” Rory was the first to speak up, after staring in incomprehension.
Ferrah made a tight smile. “Course not! Like I said, I’m not that easy to get rid of.” She spoke at a slightly rushed pace.
Denise swallowed and opened her mouth, then closed it, unable to choke up any words.
Rory pressed on, in a colder tone. “If we open those doors, the zombies could fill in. We can’t have you trying to kill us in our sleep—we need to get rid of her now.”
Denise found her voice. “No!” Upon release of that command, tears suddenly flowed out of her eyes and down her face. “I don’t want her to die! I don’t want to kill her!” Her voice sounded broken. “T—Tina’s immune! Maybe Ferrah is too, who knows?!”
The tense, sad atmosphere rolled together was too much for Tina, and she began to completely burst into tears. “I dunno what to do! I don’t wanna to kill Ferrah, I don’t wanna die, I just want everyone to be okay!”
Although Ferrah normally towered over them, approached them with such pride and bluntness, now she sank to her knees, whimpering and trembling. She had no idea what to suggest, what to say, not even what to think.
Rory’s head throbbed, and he struggled not to shed a tear or two of his own. “Shut up!” He hissed the command, and was lucky to have the room fall silent. “I don’t want to kill her either…but I still don’t trust her.” He sighed and shrugged before continuing, “maybe we can tie her up with something strong and see tomorrow morning if she turns.”
The suggestion was met at first with silence, then slow nods. It was probably the best course of action. After searching a bit, Denise found nice long hemp rope and a big roll of cords. Ferrah made no resistance as Denise and Rory together tied the girl up, her fiery red hair drooping unnaturally weakly over her face. She was set off and enclosed in a different room, for safety’s sake.
Tina smothered her face in her sleeve when she curled up on the floor next to Denise, trying to hide more tears. Denise’s heart too was heavy, and Rory was burdened with the duty of keeping an ear out for Ferrah. Feeling less safe than they had ever been before, they slowly drifted off into an uneasy sleep.