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Bullets and Lemonade

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Rochelle goes down, breath knocked out of her lungs, and there’s a sharp pain in her side, but she has to get up, has to move, move, move. Ellis is down, pinned by a hunter, horrible hoarse screams filtering over to her—she’s shooting blindly, hoping she hits it, somehow, somehow.

And with the next breath, that’s the last of the wave down, the world around them eerily silent after the last of the gunshots stop reverberating off the buildings around them. For a moment, she just sits, gasping, adrenalin still pumping through her blood.

They’re all a mess. Nick is clutching his leg as Coach wraps bandages tight around it, a pitifully temporary measure for the blood soaking through. She staggers over to Ellis, saying, “Come on, Ellis, we gotta go, we gotta go,” and helping him up with a groan. Fuck, Ellis looks way too pale, she knows that much. His shirt’s hanging in ragged strips across his stomach, streaked with blood, and she’s hoping that it’s not all his own.

“Whoa—ergh—hey, Ro, you okay?” There’s something wet in Ellis’s voice that she really doesn’t like, but they don’t have time for this right now. All she knows is that they need to get to the nearest safe house, that they need to move.

“Ellis, don’t talk right now—yeah, I know that’s hard for you, but give it a try,” Rochelle says, slinging his arm over her shoulder, and Ellis gives a choked-off chuckle.

“Okay, okay,” he says, and doesn’t even launch into another story about yet another time his buddy Keith got grievously maimed. That’s got to be a sign something’s wrong, but he grasps his pistol in his free hand, the grip sticky with blood, bringing it up to level. It only shakes a little.

“Coach, we ready to move?” she shouts back, not too loud, not too loud. They can’t set off the horde again, because they’re going down if they have to face another wave, crippled and battered as they are.

“Just gimme a sec. There we go,” Coach says, giving Nick’s leg a perfunctory pat. Nick gives a short grunt of pain, glaring briefly, but waves off Coach’s arm when it’s offered. Coach shrugs. “Suit yourself.”

“Ha, this is like those three-legged races, you know, the ones you did on field days back in second grade? Man, I was always so bad at those,” Ellis says as they shuffle forward as quickly as they can, in an ungainly, awkward mess of limbs.

“I won a blue ribbon for that, I’ll have you know,” she says as they round a corner, slowly, guns first.

“Aw, man, I’m jealou—left! Your left!” Ellis cuts himself off with the sharp report of his pistol, a shambling infected in a suit going down with a squelching sound. She doesn’t even flinch at the sound of gunfire in her ear anymore—it’s all part of the scenery, at this point.

“Nice shot,” she says, hoisting him up a little higher on her shoulder.

“Oof. Thanks.”

Their little scraggling group makes her think, irrationally, of the old Napoleonic war movies that her roommate in university loved—of wounded ships limping across a hostile sea with their masts off, their sails adrift, trying to make it to dry port.

It’s always odd to suddenly remember little things like that. Little things that probably won’t happen again, because hey, who cares about movies when you’ve got your very own horror flick breaking down your door, or because the person in question might be dead, or simply because things could never go back to being exactly the same.

They make it to an old house, one with a porch and a wrought-iron railing, dry, crackling ivy curling around the wreckage.

Ellis slumps down, leaning on the wall, his easy smile gone tight. “That was a close ‘un.”

And there, on the porch, neat as you please—a pitcher of lemonade, with a few glasses beside it, and a plate of cookies. One of the cookies has a bite taken out of it, the scalloped edges of teeth curving in.

Of course, Ellis limps right up with a “Whoa, hey!” and pours himself a glass, gulping it down. Nick smacks the back of his head, making him splutter. “Honestly, didn’t your mother ever tell you not to put things in your mouth? Come to think of it, is there anything that you wouldn’t just put in your mouth?”

Ellis looks genuinely thoughtful at the question. “Well, ‘cept for this one time Keith and me walked into this Bath and Body place, an’ you know how them soaps smell real good—“

Nick waves off the impending story. “Well, now that you’ve gone and volunteered yourself as our taste-tester, is it still good?”

Ellis blinks. “Huh? Yeah, ‘s awesome! Almost as good as my ma’s,” he says with a smile.

Coach lowers himself down into one of the creaky rocking chair, groaning as he takes weight off his bum knee. “Well, don’t keep it all for yourself, boy. Pour us a glass, will ya?”

The porch creaks as Rochelle sits down as well, laying her shotgun across her legs. Ellis hands her a glass of lemonade, and it’s far from icy cold, but it’s sugary and tart as being a kid. They pass around the plate of cookies—ginger snaps, probably from a package, and a little stale. It’s possibly the most surreal moment she’s ever had: sweet crumbs dissolving on her tongue, a shotgun across her lap, blood drying stiff on her shirt, and cicadas singing, somewhere in the trees.