Nightfallen First Chapter
"We've done this before," my dad whispers in my ear. "Your job is to test them, Lexy. When the men are in place step into the clearing."
I nod once, taking in the clearing in front of me. About ten men are gathered around a fire. Some are sicker than others with gray bubbles on their arms or faces. The clearing is clear of twigs and sticks, and it should be easy to stay on my feet once I step into the open. I grip my katana in one hand, and pull out one of my knives with the other.
Still my heart is pounding, it doesn't matter that I do this every week. A deep breath in, but the stench overwhelms me. It does nothing to calm my nerves. I want to be home in my room, chatting with Jason online. Not here.
There's a snap on the other side of the clearing, and the men sit up straighter looking around. Before I can ready myself, my dad pushes me forward, and I stumble into the clearing off balance. It takes all my self-control to stop myself before I land on my face.
I freeze as twenty pairs of eyes fix on me. Everyone's frozen waiting for someone to make the first move. I'll leave if no one attacks me, and we won't fight them. We only kill the undead once they begin attacking us. By then they've lost their free will, at least that's what my dad preaches.
"Are you lost?" One of the older men steps toward me. He doesn't have any gray bubbles, but there is a bite mark near his neck, and ugly red streaks going up his face.
I shake my head, my arms are trembling. I'm holding my breath, if I speak it could set them off.
"Then you'd better hurry. I can't guarantee that they'll leave you alone if you keep standing there." He turns back to the fire, shoulders slumped forward. Before he sits down, a younger one jumps up running at me with a knife in his hand.
I pull back ready to swing, when a scream pulls me up short. Across the clearing one the younger men in our group has stumbled out. He fires off a shot, but he has a shot gun, and needs to pump to reload. There are three guys stumbling toward him. Three against one isn't fair in a fight. I flip my knife across the clearing. It hits one of them in the back of the neck with satisfying thwack. He drops to the ground. I reach for another knife, but the whisper of a breeze whooshes by my face, and the tip of the knife traces a line across my cheek. For one second, it doesn't hurt.
Then my eye begins to water, and a tear slips over it making it sting. My focus shifts to the infected in front of me. He's a foot taller than me, and he bellows as he swings the knife towards me again. I twist out of his way, but his reach is better than mine, and he grabs my arm, and reels me in closer. My stomach clenches just from the smell.
My feet kick across the ground looking for a hold. The world is unsteady as he lurches, and I lurch with him. I pull my sword out and swing at his free hand. He blocks my swing with his knife, but it's enough to throw him off, and his grips loosens on me. I pull back and swing again. His head is too high for me to reach, so I lunge forward, stabbing into his stomach and pulling up. The blade comes out wet, and he clutches his stomach hunching forward. I use both hands to I swing at his neck. The blade slices through, and his head comes off.
Dennis rushes forward, grabbing me. He puts me in the truck and pulls out a compress soaked in alcohol and presses it to my check. My eye begins to water. The fear of infection makes my hands shake. The adrenaline should be leaving me now that the fight is over, but it is still zinging through me.
The rest of the men are in the clearing, cleaning up. The men are gathering the bodies, putting them in a pile. One lights a fire, while my dad begins chanting over them. It is a last ditched attempt to save their souls.
"We need to get you back to the infirmary and give you a booster shot," Dennis says. "Emma's not going to be happy about this."
I just nod. The cut is starting to throb more, and tears burn my eyes. I blink them away making sure my dad doesn't see me. Tears aren't worth the anger he will direct at me if he sees them.
Over the sound of the men in the clearing, a wolf howls. Suddenly it is silent. Everyone is frozen, when the sound is repeated back on the other side of the clearing. The echoing sound pushes people forward. The men stop what they are doing and pick up their weapons.
My father runs towards us, then we hear a third howl. My father starts the truck and begins pulling away before the door slams. Men are still in the clearing scrambling into the other truck. Smoke is rising from the fire we set, but no one is stopping to put it out. I'm dizzy, and my stomach lurches along with the truck.
"Travis, how did they find us?" Dennis asks. He is still dabbing at my cheek.
"I don't know." My father accelerates, twisting the wheel sharply to avoid hitting a tree.
Above the sound of the truck engine we hear it again. The wolves are howling. I look over Dennis's shoulder out the window; two wolves are keeping pace with the truck through the trees. It's the first time I've seen a wolf. One runs up next to the passenger's door. His fur is pitch black, and as he runs beside us, he looks through the window. His green eyes are human, intelligent. My breath catches in my throat. I can't break away from his gaze.
"These are the real wolves aren't they?" Something pounds in the bed of the truck.
"An abomination!" my dad yells.
I turn to stare out the back window. A brindle wolf is scrambling among the guns strewn in the back of the truck bed. The wolf growls low and long.
"He's in the truck," I yell.
My dad swerves hard to the right and then left but the wolf stays. I look out the window again and see the black wolf next to us. When I glance at the speedometer my dad is going forty miles an hour in attempt to outrun them. Then I hear another howl, I look ahead and there are another two wolves flanking the road. They begin running on either side of the truck as we pass them.
"What are we going to do Travis?" Dennis asks. His voice is shaking. He has gone grey. I've never seen Dennis scared before. He's second in command and he's calmer than my dad, taking everything in stride. "You know what they'll do if they catch us."
"Abominations. It goes against God to make changes to people this way. They are evil; you can see it in their eyes. They aren't like the unclean. The wolves know everything they are doing."
My cheek begins to sting again, and I reach up to touch it. That's when I realize tears are streaming down my face.
"We need to get Lexy to a medical facility or back to the compound," Dennis says. "She's got an open would and was near the infected. If she doesn't get an immunity booster, she'll have to go into quarantine."
"They can't have her," my dad growls under his breath.
We break out of the trees onto a paved road. My dad turns hard onto it, and the wolf in the truck yelps as he is thrown out onto the road with the turn. The wolves are still keeping pace as my dad accelerates. My eyes dart between the speedometer as it hits fifty, then sixty and seventy and the wolves as they stay next to the truck.
"They shouldn't be able to keep up with us. Not now."
Dennis hands me another compress, and I press it against my cheek. The even steady stride of the wolf is not breaking as my dad pushes the truck, which is groaning as it tries to climb a hill nearing a hundred miles an hour.
"Do you have a gun?" My dad asks Dennis.
Dennis looks around the cab of the truck, but there isn't a gun.
"What are we going to do?" I ask. Being this close to the wolves, I fully understand everything my dad has said. These wolves are totally aware of what they are doing. Their intelligence is obvious as another two join the chase as we pass them. Looking around I count eight wolves. The whining of the engine is drowned out by the barking and howling around us.
"I don't know," my dad says. It's first time I've ever heard him say that. "We can't lead them back to the compound."
"But we need to get Lexy a shot." Dennis hands me another compress, and I replace the one on my face. The old one is bright red. My bleeding isn't slowing down. I pull the black hood off my head and shake my hair loose. My head is starting to throb, but some of the pressure lessens as my head feels free again.
I look out the window again. The wolf looks at me, only this time I stare back into the green eyes. I put my free hand up to the glass. It's almost like he wants to tell me something. As I turn my head more to his, the cut on my face now reflects in a ghost image on the glass. Then he howls a long, low sound. He nods once and mysteriously turns off the road.
The howling stops. The wolves melt away into the woods around us.
"What happened?" I ask. But no one answers. Instead my dad accelerates, and he doesn't stop until we've reached the first of the compound gates.
I'm shivering as we go through each of the checkpoints. The other truck full of men pulls in behind us as I stumble out of the truck. Emma rushes towards me, but stops when she sees I'm cut. It's the first time it has happened in years.
"Lexy, are you okay?" Emma walks toward me hands outstretched. She's the closest thing I have to a mother. Her pale blue eyes are wide, and her usual smile is gone, but she still reaches out to me. Inside I begin to shake, the horror of the moment sinking in as the adrenaline seeps away.
"One of the infected cut me." My cheek begins to sting more. I look down at my shirt; blood is dripping onto it.
Emma slips her arm around, making me feel almost safe. "Maggie, Samantha, I'll need your help in the infirmary. Bring boiling water, and the disinfectant. "
Emma guides me to the infirmary. I sit on the exam table, the paper crinkling underneath me as I fidget. Emma has changed into a suit that covers her completely. She is wearing a face shield and a breathing mask. She pulls on her second set of gloves before she reaches out to touch my face.
Maggie comes in carrying a large steaming pot of water. She is also dressed to protect herself from me. I shudder, I would rather die than transform. Fear makes my breath come out in short gasps.
"You've got to calm down or you'll hyperventilate," Emma says. "It doesn't look like the cut on your face was contaminated. Maggie will sew it up while I clean you up. But we're going to give you an immunity booster today and again tomorrow."
Maggie makes me lay back against the table and cleans my cut with a liquid that makes it sting, and tears stream down my face making my nose run. She takes out a needle and thread and then works quickly. I try not to fight when I feel the gentle tug of the stitches as she pulls them up and ties them off. My eyes are closed to block out the sight of the needle going up and down so close to my eye.
After I change into new clothes, they bag up the old ones to burn and I get three shots to fight the virus and boost my immunity. And Emma leads me to the dining hall for dinner, even though I just want to go to bed. My cheek is beginning to throb again.
Dinner is noisier than normal. People are talking about the wolves. It takes the focus off the fact that I was cut. I strain to hear snatches of conversation. I want to understand what is going on.
I'm by myself in the corner. It's my designated table and every meal I sit alone. There is no one my age to eat dinner with in the compound. I am the only person under the age of twenty here. And it wasn't until a few weeks ago that there was anyone under the age of forty. The new recruits are gathered together around a table near me. They aren't very quiet.
"You scream like a girl," one of the recruits says to the one I saved in the clearing. He is still gray, obviously shaken.
"Just shut up okay." He stabs his fork into his potatoes.
"What the hell were you thinking going out into the clearing like that?"
"She did it. I figured if some girl could handle it then I could too."
"I've never seen anyone move the way she does. It's not natural. There's a reason Travis sends her in to do the dirty work."
"I can't believe the way Travis took off. It's the first sighting in years, and he just takes off. It would have been better to fight and wipe them out the way we do the infected."
"They're different from the infected. You could see it in the way they moved. It's like the could talk to each other. They're smart too."
"Travis seemed to know what they were after. Once he left in the truck, they left the rest of us alone."
The conversation shifted, but I wanted to know what the wolves were after. They were terrifying, huge, purposeful. My dad talked about the abomination that they were. A genetic mess brought on by the scientists that were meddling where they shouldn't. The infected are a result of the scientists’ experiments, with their mindless wanderings, and attacking each other and healthy humans. But the wolves don't lose their minds.
I glance at the clock. It's time to meet Jason. We met in a group chat session, but my dad cut off most of my communication with the group except for an hour once a week. He forbade me from talking to Jason, so we meet during dinner. Jason's set up a channel that can't be monitored.
I shut my door behind me, and scan my bedroom to make sure nothing has changed. My computer turns on, and I tap my fingers as I wait for everything to boot up. Jason's my only real friend. I tell him everything and I know he'll help me understand what happened today.
Jase- I heard you got cut today? Is the ever great Lexy finally showing that she's human.
Lexy-It happens. I'm worried about the scar. Six stitches.
Jase- Anything else happen?
Lexy- How did you hear about the cut?
Jase- Travis had a conference with the leaders here about the wolves. I just tapped into it and watched the whole thing.
Lexy-I've never seen him so scared.
Jase- The infected lose their minds. But the wolves are just evil. I can hear someone coming. Gotta go. Love ya.
The screen disappears, but the last words echo in my mind. Even though Jason and I haven't met in person, he's the one thing I look forward to every day. A few stolen minutes spent chatting helps me get through the long days alone out in the middle of nowhere.
As I get ready for bed, all I can think about are the green eyes of the wolf that ran beside us for so many miles. They scare me.