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Texas Hold 'Em

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Despite having been at this for over a week now, Jane still had not adapted to anything.

She had not adapted to the smatterings of blood on the walls, covering the pavement, staining everything a sick sticky crimson and reminding her of MMOs played by the glow of a screen in her room. In her room, where she would shout “Jake look OUT!” and it wouldn’t really matter if he didn’t turn quick enough to shoot the common infected in the leg- that was nothing like this. Here, if she managed to choke out a warning, it was the difference between life and …

This.

This stumbling, depraved existence, moaning and hostile and dead inside, dead outside, dead in all the places it counted and alive in the few it didn’t; Jane hated to think of what it would turn her friends into, what Dirk’s amber eyes would dull to, what Roxy’s stumbling would launch her at, what Jake’s exclamations would sound like muffled by a ghastly gurgle as he choked on bile and his own tongue.

So she tried not to think of these things, but she was still not adapted to the new life that the four kids had made for themselves in hot, sticky Texas, overcast like you read about the apocalypse being, clouds dark and sky death red, angry red that surged and bubbled and boiled like the sun itself.

When Roxy draped an arm over her shoulder, she jumped and held her gun tight against her chest, and she heard Dirk laugh a little from behind her. They walked in formation, they always did, with Jake leading the way, Roxy by Jane’s side, and then Dirk in the back. Jane didn’t have the heart to be offended by the ‘protection’ that they were apparently getting, since it did seem like the best way to cover all sides of their moving pack, and she was the most fragile of them all in this whole thing. Even she would admit that to herself.

“Janey,” Roxy whispered, long ago sober, so long ago less silly and friendly and fun. Jane didn’t expect anything less. “Pick off that one in the distance over there. C’mon, it’s good practice.”

Roxy was only trying to help, really, but Jane’s stomach still churned at the idea of killing another human being. That was her problem, Dirk kept saying- she thought of them as still human, even if they had limbs missing or skin ripped from their face, even if they came running at her with incoherent screams and flailing fists, she saw a mother or a daughter or an uncle, and couldn’t shoot.  She hated to feel useless, but essentially, she was. She didn’t attack anything that wasn’t already wailing on her when her friends were overwhelmed, and it was becoming detrimental to their first aid supply.

Which, surprisingly, Jake was most irate about. He kept chiding her, telling her to be more careful and aggressive with ‘dangerous beasts’ that dared attack. He wasn’t being unkind, simply- stating the facts, warning her of what she was costing them. She knew, oh she knew, and she was trying her best to come up with good ideas and volunteer to do things, but it was so hard for her.

Jane rejected the offer to ‘practice’ on a zombie who did not seem to particularly care for attack- some were stagnant, simply sitting or standing, existing and waiting to die in the humid mosquito-laden air. When they arrived at a gas station for the fourth time in their journey, they stocked up on what was left there- and to Roxy’s delight, bug repellant was still in supply.

Reapplying sunscreen and chomping down on granola bars, the team rested up for a while longer, reminiscing about simpler times when they knew nothing but cat macros and junk food binges,  late nights on skype talking about nothing and long hours spent in silence on Pesterchum just basking in the glow of one another’s company. Within an hour they were back out in the streets, picking off the zombies that approached them with ease and almost…a casual air.

It was not until the next city was hit that they were swarmed with things to do again. They reloaded guns and shouted out as they did, and as usual, Jane trembled and shook as she was forced to hit things back with the butt of her gun and watch as her friends pushed bullets into the stumbling bodies she sent their way.

As she did this, she began to notice that little by little, they were drifting apart; Jake would take a step to the right to advance on his prey as he picked through them from every direction, while Roxy sort of left-stepped as to redirect their attention toward her instead of Jane, and Dirk kept pushing forward as he shot through skulls in an orderly queue.

Jane noticed soon that they were no longer anywhere near each other – at least, not as close as they always were- and it worried her, but she was not in any position to say so, since she wasn’t killing anything, and so she stayed quiet.

But the horde grew and multiplied even as the survivors made headway. For every one they killed, four seemed to stumble forward from all directions to meet the challenge. Jane had to use the entire side of her gun in order to push lines of zombies away, and Roxy was screaming something about bullets over the shrieks of former women. The three began to engage in talk that Jane could barely hear, and so she tried looking to them every few minutes to understand what was being said.  Eventually, she found that there was a thick wall of charred and bubbling flesh separating her from Jake and Roxy, and one slowly building between her and Dirk. The zombies were unintentionally separating them, and Jane was panicking harder than ever.

She tried her best to let her voice be heard above the din, but nothing was to be done about it. She was becoming as overwhelmed as the others, and she felt claustrophobic in a cluster of sickness and disease. The smell of sweat and rotting flesh, bile and blood, covered the air in a thick blanket, and she wanted to throw up.

Something clawed at her arm, she shrieked with all her might, and she remembered only pulling a trigger. She did not aim, she did not look, she fired again and again and prayed she did not injure anything human left in anyone present.

She ran out of bullets, and found her body a trembling, aching mess, previously tense muscles relaxing as she wore herself out. She dropped to her knees, gave up, waited for the mass of zombies to cave in on her and end it all.

She squeezed her eyes shut as she felt a hand on her shoulder, and then one in her hair, and – wait. Those were warm hands, those were soft hands…and small. Smaller than an adult’s, so-

“Whoa, Jane.”

What?

She opened her eyes slowly, but found she could only see blood. She pulled her glasses off, and wiped them on her shirt, before putting them back on and looking up to see everyone tinged in pink. Roxy, Jake and Dirk were standing there in a tiny circle around her, staring in shock and almost reverence. She was confused- there had been so many infected, what had happened to make them vanish? She surely didn’t get many---

She got to her knees, still shaking, and looked past their shoulders.

Dozens upon dozens of decomposing corpses lay in every angle around them, and it occurred to her then that she had done it. She had killed a huge portion of the horde- she looked down at herself, her clothes just as covered in blood as everyone else’s, possibly more. She felt tears sting her eyes, she felt her hand cover her mouth and she bent over, promptly vomiting into a crack in the pavement.

Above her, Roxy rubbed her back in slow circles, while Jake took out a water bottle and Dirk helped her to sit up when she had stopped. Her shoulders vibrated and water rippled from her eyes and streamed down her cheeks, as sobs wracked her torso and her hands clenched into fists against her chest.

The three of them stood and comforted Jane, as she came to grips with her slaughter of a once-human race.