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Leaps and Bounds

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      She wasn’t entirely sure what had caused it but the anger and rage had swollen through her chest faster than any bullet. Her fist struck against the rough bark sending a shudder through her arm up to her elbow. Was it the sudden surge of support from dozens of people she didn’t know? Most of it seemed fake, forced even. Slam. Ellie’s fist connected with the trunk again. How overly comfortable everyone seemed ignoring the world around them. Both hands were flying and this impact was hard enough to make her teeth rattle. “God. Fucking. Dammit.” She hissed pounding the tree over and over again. Some idiot had gotten bitten and died the entire town mourned for a few days but now it had just been pushed aside. It’s not like he had any direct family to mourn him, but surely she could have done something. Her hand smashed into the truck and a chunk of bark flew off. Does it even matter what happens? No one has any ounce of control but they always try to pretend, it was infuriating.

      The thrashing slowed as the pain of her knuckles finally started register. Ellie inhaled sharply and leaned forward resting her head on the tree she had just been abusing. She refused to cry. Not one tear was allowed to escape, no cry of pain, sorrow, whatever the hell this was. Her breathing was staggered as she tried forcing some amount of control over the wave that had overtaken her at such a disturbing rate. She finally glanced down at her hands numbly noting the torn knuckles and deep cuts. “Shit.” She spat trying to open and close her hands but only being met with immobilizing pain. “I’m so stupid!” She yelled kicking the base of the tree stubbing multiple toes at once. “Fuck!” Another immediately regretted decision.

      It had been weeks since they had made it back to the damn and she had thrown all of her energy towards building and expanding a wall around the little settlement. It allowed her to stay on the edge and avoid most people. It seemed like she was suddenly stuck in the middle of a crowd with little to no privacy. And nothing made you stick out more than being new. Nothing felt right it was just, aggravating. Everything just seemed too loud and there was never just a quiet corner.

      She ground her teeth cringing as she tried to pull out a piece of wood that had embedded itself between her first two knuckles. She moved it and was met with a spark of pain and a new trail of blood. Maybe she had truly messed up this time. Ellie glanced over her shoulder to find that there was still no one in sight. There’s no way she could handle this on her own. She delicately places her hands in the hoodie pockets and picked her way back to the main group.

      “There you are,” Jonah called out. “We were about to come looking for you. Find any good trees for us?” He joked looking directly at the thick forest that surrounded them. A handful of other guys were behind him spending more time goofing off then piecing together the wiring for the fence.

      “None of them look as stumpy as you.” That earned a few chuckles. Jonah turned and they were quickly silenced.

      “Not bad,” he grinned. “We’re probably going to finish up and get dinner pretty soon. Care to join?”

      “I’m not feeling great.” Ellie stepped to the side nervously. “I think I’m just going head home early today.”

      “No problem. Thanks for the help today.” He waved before turning back to the group.

      Ellie had entered the town sooner than she had hoped. She walked quickly with her head down trying not to attract any attention. Joel and her had ended up staying in Tommy’s house which was one of the original buildings. That also meant it was practically in the center of everything. A few people waved as she passed and Ellie just nodded a slight acknowledgment. She could feel blood starting to stick to the inside of her pockets and the stinging was numbing both of her hands. As much as she hated to admit it this was really a mess. Having also been one of the first things set up the hospital was pretty close to Tommy’s house. Ellie unenthusiastically continued on to the small building.

      Hospital was a strong word. It was a stripped down storage space for all of their medical supplies with a few rooms for people that were too sick to be trusted to stay home. She elbowed the door open and entered the sparse room. A younger guy was softly snoring on a couch and a dark haired women glanced up from the book she was reading. She halfway closed it with her hand keeping her place.

      “What’s up?” She asked casually. “You’re the new girl, Emily?” Her voice rose at the end knowing that wasn’t quite right.

      “It’s Ellie.” She responded flatly tired of the constant introductions.

      “Are you looking for work or, damn.” She stood as Ellie gingerly pulled her hands out of her pockets. “That’s no fun.” She sighed walking over to get a closer look. Before guiding Ellie back towards one of the rooms. The building was mostly empty at the moment except for a few people that seemed to be cleaning. “It’s Sarah by the way. You’re probably sick of learning names by now.” She said turning into a sectioned off room. She sat and urged Ellie to sit across from her. “Let’s get a better look at this shall we?” She turned on a bright lamp and gently checked Ellie’s outstretched hands. “Looks like you didn’t hit anything too major but that guys going to be a bit of a problem.” She notes checking the lump of wood that had made its way under her skin. She turned shouting down the hallway, “Hey Dina, come here! I’ve got something for you.”

      “What?” Another faint voice could be heard yelling back.

      “Just come here.” She shouted again

      A muffled groan. “Fine.”

      “She’ll get here eventually.” Sarah turned with a slight chuckle. “So how exactly did this happen?” She asked pulling open a drawer and digging through a variety of tools.

      “Uhhhh,” Ellie stalled trying to come up with a reasonable excuse. “Well, I was helping fix the wall with Jonah,”

      There was a clang as Sarah slammed a bottle on the counter. “Fucking Jonah. Every time he’s in charge someone shows up in here.” Sarah grumbled. “That’s what you get from a ‘professional snowboarder’.”

      “What do you want?” They turned to see Dina leaning in the doorway. “Oh, ouchie.” She was already focused on Ellie’s torn hands.

      As much as Ellie had been avoiding the town something about Dina’s face was familiar. A distinct memory of the first day back eventually peeked through..

***********

      ….“Well, there’s a few kids around here somewhere.” Tommy drawled out leading them through the somewhat confusing streets. The entire town was a mash of new buildings squeezed between pre-infection buildings. Ellie just absently nodded tired from the long trip back and still trying to work out what Joel had said. “I’m pretty sure there’s a couple that are right around your age too.”

      “Shit! She found it.” A shout came from behind as two boys shot past laughing. There was a clatter as they knocked over a post holding up someone’s laundry.

      “YOU DICKS!” A shrill voice cut through the air as a girl shot past wielding a stick that was nearly as tall as she was. Her eyes glowed with rage as she flew past. She tripped over the laundry but tucked into a neat roll saving herself from the fall. She shot up like nothing happened. The following shouted insults were barely out of earshot.

      Tommy shook his head with a deep sigh. “I don’t know what they did but they sure are going to regret it.”….

*******************

      “Oh, ouchie.” She walked over looking at the tweezers and small scissors Sarah had already pulled out. “Do you want me to take care of this one?”

      “Yep. You need the practice.” Sara winked turning to Ellie. “I hope you don’t mind being the practice.”

      “I don’t really care,” Ellie said. Although she wasn’t entirely happy about multiple people seeing what damage she had caused from her own outburst.

      “I’m pretty she knows what she’s doing,” Sarah said. “I’d hate to scar an innocent patient.”

      “Uh shut up? Your just making me do this so you can go hang out with your booy friend.” Dina spat trying to flick water at her mid hand wash.

      Sarah held up an arm in a weak block. “He is not my,”

      “Hey.” The sandy-haired guy from the couch stuck his head in. “Patrol finally checked in. They want you at the front gate for someone.” He held out a walkie-talkie.

      She shot Dina a glare daring her to say something. “Alright Charlie, grab the travel bag for me.” She stood grabbing the walkie firing off questions as she strode out of sight.

      “Wow,” Dina said flatly drying her hands off. “It’s almost as fun as Tuesday nights in here.”

      “What happens on Tuesdays?” Ellie asked genuinely confused.

      “I get to stay home.” She plopped down on the stool Sarah had just left began studying the slices crisscrossing Ellie’s knuckles. She lifted Ellie’s hand up with the slightest of touch. “Well, I’m glad you came in before this got infected. You would not believe how many people wait a month before doing that. Then again I can see how half a branch lodged in your hand could be a little irritating. Let’s see if we can’t get that lil guy out of here.” She spoke with a fluid cadence, hands always moving between words and work. “I’m going to take control for a bit. Just yell something if it hurts. That cool?” She asked putting on a pair of glasses with a blocky magnifying lens on one side.

      “Sure.” Ellie agreed amused with how informal Dina was compared to the other girl. She had taken Ellie’s hand and was now going through and picking out smaller splinters and workingtowards the bigger piece.

      After a few minutes of silent concentration Dina broke into a gurgling witches voice still looking down. “I can see your soul.”

      Ellie let out a surprised breath. “What!?”

      “You know,” Dina looked up pointing at the thick lens with a straight face. “I’ve got my laser eye on. So I can see, your soul.” She gave an encouraging nod trying to convince Ellie that she wasn’t completely insane. “Come on man, I’m trying to start some sort of conversation here.”

      “And that’s what you chose to go with?” She snorted again.

      “Well I wanted to say something along the lines of ‘looks like a real pine in the ass’ but all the splinters are a little too far north. But hey, It’s not like I know what your hobbies are.” For the first time in weeks, Ellie laughed. She only stopped when a sharp pain caused her to flinch. Dina sat inspecting the long piece of bark. “Beating up trees maybe.”

      “That’s not,” Ellie’s voice wavered as she unintentionally tried to hide her hands. “What happened.”

      Dina’s eyes narrowed with a hum watching the reaction. She chuckled lightly. “Yeah, that’s ridiculous. Working on the wall will give you plenty of random scrapes.” She tossed the bark into a small can behind her before motioning Ellie back. “Have you been able to watch any good movies?” She skillfully moved on.

      “Not really.” Ellie exhaled relaxing back into her seat.

      “We’ve got a pretty good collection going here. There’s usually a movie going Friday night and a couple of other working tv’s scattered around.” Dina had pulled off the glasses and was finishing by wrapping a thin strip of cloth across Ellie's knuckles. “You doing anything tomorrow?”

      “Probably not.” Ellie sighed glancing down slowly pulling her fingers back into a testing fist.

      “Well, come to my house. I’ve got a couple of classic series I bet you would like. In fact, I think it’s a crime for someone not to have watched The Last Airbender.”

      “The last what?”

      “Avatar,” Dina said with a flourish. “The greatest creation from this earth. Too bad the writers are probably dead. I heard there was a second series but it came out right before the whole shebang.”

      “That still explains nothing.”

      “There’s no way you can simply explain such an experience. But I won’t force you to go.” She pat Ellie’s leg before standing up with a stretch. “Tommy’s House is close enough, I can at least walk you home.”

      Ellie stood up to find she was a couple of inches shorter then Dina. A fact she should have expected but it didn’t mean she was any less disappointed by the reminder. They walked back Dina filling in the names of the few people they passed. “Well nice to finally meet you and see you later.” She nodded dropping Ellie off at the door.

      “Wait,” Ellie said after Dina had already ran back a few steps. “Where do you even live?”

      Dina skidded to a stop and turned with a grin. “One of the original houses, red brick about three blocks that-a-way.” She pointed down the road with a flair. After a breath, she nodded sharply remembering her original job. “Have a good one Ellie.” She shortly waved before scampering off.