by Anastasia Towe
They were screaming, but the moaning was louder. He wanted to close his eyes to the world. He wanted to run and never look back. But he could do neither. He stared out of the crack in the wood in front of him, the loose board in the basement wall that had concealed this hiding spot since he had discovered it during a childhood game of hide-and-seek. He was sure the moaners would smell his fear or hear his breathing, and come for him next. But he couldn’t move. He had no choice. All he could do was watch. And listen to the screaming.
Dorien sat up so quickly that the edges of his vision began to darken as the blood rushed from his head. He had awoken from the same nightmare for the past month, and always at the same moment. His mother’s scream as they grabbed her arms with their rotten hands, and brought them up to their decayed faces.
He had collapsed onto the hard floor then. Now he was in a soft bed in a warm house, feeling safe for the first time since that night. He sighed with relief and collapsed back onto the bed, wondering how he was ever going to thank the Turners for saving him.
When he mentioned his gratitude to Rob and his feelings of indebtedness, Rob pointed out that the best way he could thank them was by being helpful. So when they cooked, Dorien brought in water from the pump and cleaned the dishes after they ate. Doing laundry without running water or electricity was more time-consuming than he was used to, but he quickly took over the job of hanging the clothes up to dry.
He tried talking to Mel to ease her suspicions of him, but she remained guarded despite his best efforts, and Rob merely continued to assure him that she would come around.
“She’s never been the best about opening up to people, and we’ve been alone up here for long enough that she’s kind of gotten used to it. Here, take this.” He handed Dorien a shotgun and took hold of a rifle in his other hand. Their first couple of hunting trips had been uneventful and unsuccessful, but Rob had shown Dorien how to shoot, and this would be his first time taking his own gun.
“I just wish there was something I could do or say to reassure her, you know? To let her know how sincerely grateful I am.” The weight of the gun was still unfamiliar in Dorien’s hand, but he knew enough to keep it pointed at the ground.
“You just keep doin’ what you’re doin’, she appreciates it more than you know. And, above all else...”
“Try not to shoot me with that gun.” Rob chuckled and walked off into the snow. Dorien shook his head and followed.
They trekked into the woods, Rob cheerfully leading the way despite the great possibility that they would once again be coming out empty-handed. Dorien tried to be as quiet as possible, not wanting to scare off what little game there might be, but his footsteps sounded like a stampede in the silence, even with the snow cushioning the ground. He wondered at the way that Rob moved silently through the trees despite his size.
“Dorien, you really don’t have to try so hard to be silent. The animals are used to a little noise. You only have to worry about that when we’re actually close to somethin’, if that ever happens.”
“Oh, ah, okay. Sorry. Still getting used to this, I guess.”
“It’s too bad your father never took you on any huntin’ trips. I use to love goin’ out with my dad.”
“Well, my father wasn’t really around when I was growing up. It was just... my mom and my little sister.” Dorien swallowed hard. He hadn’t talked about his family, and he wasn’t sure that he wanted to.
Rob slowed his pace to walk beside him. “You don’t have to talk about it. I understand how painful it must be.” He turned his head to look Dorien in the eye, “We’ve all lost so much during this terrible time, I don’t want to cause you any unnecessary pain.”
“Thanks. I’m just not ready to bring back those memories. I might not ever be.” Dorien broke his gaze to look around them. They were surrounded by bare trees, but he could see a clearing up ahead, where the sun shone down and reflected off of the snow.
“Wow,” he unconsciously quickened his pace, “that is just... beautiful.”
They stepped through the trees, Rob just behind Dorien, and began to make their way across the clearing. It reminded him of the great expanse of lawn that stretched out in front of the largest building on his college campus. It had looked just like this mid-winter the year before.
“I was supposed to be leaving to go back to school, you know. When it started. It was going to be my senior year in college and I was so ready to graduate.” Dorien looked at Rob. “It’s weird, I haven’t thought about that in months.”
Rob nodded. “The moaners take over anythin’ else that seemed important in life before. You can’t help that your every action, even most of your thoughts, begin to revolve around ’em. Once you see your first attack, you watch someone you know turn into a monster, that’s all there is anymore.”
“The old man who lived across the street was the first one I saw. I didn’t even know his name, but I saw him almost every day. He shouldn’t even have been outside that day; we had been warned to stay locked up in our houses and not to go anywhere alone.”
They stepped through a particularly deep pile of snow, and Dorien had already slipped and fallen before they realized that they had been walking on snow-covered ice.
“Dorien! You alright?” Rob reached out to pull him up from the ground.
“Yeah, I’m fine, just slipped. I’m fine.” Dorien reached up to take Rob’s hand, but as he grasped it he heard the ice cracking. And then Rob fell through.
Dorien’s first instinct was to back away from the hole in the ice as quickly as possible so that he wouldn’t fall in too. He watched as Rob broke the surface of the water, sputtering and coughing and trying to pull himself out. The ice kept breaking away under his hands.
“Dorien! You’ve got to help me get out of here!”
“What should I do? I can’t pull you out!” Dorien started to move towards Rob again, but he stopped him with a shout.
“No! I’ve got... rope in my pack if I could just... get to it...” He had already been in the water for almost a minute and was visibly shaking. He struggled to take his pack off of his shoulders and keep his head above the surface at the same time. He was finally able to pull out the rope, and began to tie it around his chest, under his arms. His freezing fingers fumbled with it, but he couldn’t tighten the knot. He threw the rope to Dorien.
Dorien grabbed the rope up off the ice and tied one end into a loop. He tossed that end back to Rob, who then slipped the loop over his upper body until it was under his arms. His breathing was becoming more rapid and labored, and he could no longer talk.
Dorien began to pull on the rope, backing away as Rob kicked his legs. When his entire body was free from the water, he rolled away from the hole. Dorien pulled him onto his feet, trying to support his weight.
“Let’s get you out of here.” Dorien half-dragged Rob out of the clearing and back through the woods. He knew he needed to get him back to the cabin as quickly as possible, but neither of them could support his weight alone. He struggled through the trees and was nearly sapped of all of his strength by the time they came in sight of the cabin.
“Come on Rob, we’re almost there. Come on.” Dorien took a step into a snow drift that was deeper than he expected and stumbled, sending both of them crashing to the ground. But he could see the cabin, so he ran, shouting for Mel as he went.
She came running out of the back door with a panicked expression, and Dorien nearly knocked her over as he bolted inside.
“Dorien? Where’s Rob? What’s going on, has something happened? Dorien!”
Dorien grabbed the quilt from his bed and ran back out. He paused for a second at the back door.
“Blankets. Now. Follow me.”
Mel’s eyes widened and she wasted no time in racing to their bedroom and pulling the covers and blankets off of the bed. She chased Dorien out of the door, too out of breath to keep asking him what had happened to her husband. She reached Rob just as Dorien was trying to get him to sit up.
They threw the blankets over his shoulders and wrapped them around his torso, and then lifted him from the ground and made their way back to the cabin, supporting his semi-conscious weight.
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Copyright © 2012 by Anastasia Towe