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No matter how strong you were dealing with the walking dead was never a simple proposition. I fought, the way I always had, but I was tired. Being tired was what had killed my companions, and I wasn’t going to join them. Killing all of them, which might not even be possible, wasn’t something I needed to do, but creating myself a path was. With every kill I took another step forward, another step out of the pack I’d found myself trapped in the middle of. I felt like I was going to get out, at least until some of the fallen stood again. Of course they did. Right when I was close to freedom. For a moment, I’ll admit, I thought about giving up, but I couldn’t. I had to keep going.

A sound from outside the hoard caught my attention. I looked over at where it came from, hoping, even though it didn’t normally happen, that someone had come to my aid. Most people would do the sensible thing. Running from a pack was something I’d done before. Normally I wouldn’t if there was someone trapped within it, because I wasn’t capable of walking away. I had to help. I had to do something if I knew any still living person was in danger. We were becoming more rare as time passed, while the numbers of the walking dead was growing. Everyone who died became one of them. I’d seen it happen to friends, family, enemies, allies, and my plan, like so many others, was to find a way to bring an end to whatever it was that had caused the dead to rise. Most said it was a spell and I was beginning to think they might be right. That was the only explanation for the fallen dead rising once more to continue fighting.

There were too many of them for me to see if someone was fighting in to help me. All I could do was keep going, keep fighting, and believe that I was going to get out of the pack. I was almost out when someone grabbed hold of my arm and dragged me the rest of the way. “Now, we run.”

I didn’t reply. When it came to escaping the dead the best thing you could do was hold onto all your breath for running. I’d done it a hundred times before and I didn’t doubt my future would hold the same thing. As I ran, my feet moving faster than I’d thought possible before the world changed, he, my saviour, didn’t let go of my arm. That did make it harder to run, but it kept us together. With the pack racing after us, almost as fast as we were, I didn’t argue. Part of me wanted to. I didn’t know him. I didn’t have any idea where he might be taking me, and the walking dead weren’t the only thing I’d had to deal with. Survivors could be just as dangerous, if not more so, depending on who you were unlucky enough to come across, and all I could do was keep going.

Unexpectedly he turned. I went with him, because I didn’t have any other option. A gate opened in front of us and we were going in. Somehow we were far enough ahead that none of the dead managed to follow us when it closed behind us. That didn’t mean he stopped. He kept running, going through a second gate, which also closed behind us. I didn’t like that at all, but it was too late for me to do anything. I was in someone’s sanctuary and there was no way out with the dead at the gate. Sooner or later they’d get bored, and go to find a more interesting prey, but, for then at least, I had to stay where I was. Slowly, as I worked to regain my breath, I turned to look at my saviour, who was smiling at me. I didn’t smile back. Instead I took a couple of steps away from him, studying him, my sword still in my hand in case I needed to use it.

“You think I’m your enemy, even after I saved your life.”

“People can be very strange.” I shrugged. “I don’t know who you are, why you saved me, or where I am.” I glanced around, wondering if there were other people watching us. Somehow I managed to hide my shudder. “Telling me any one of those things will help to put my mind at ease, at least a little.”

He held his hand out. “Name’s Chris. This is my little sanctuary, and you got lucky. I happened to be out when I noticed the pack. Unlike most people who find themselves in that sort of position you seemed to be holding your own, so I made the decision, even though there are plenty who wouldn’t have, to get you out. I think you’re going to be an asset to this group.”

Raising an eyebrow I took his hand. “Lucy, and you’re assuming that I’m going to want to stay.”

“Most people who are on their own don’t make the decision to go back out. You’re safe here.”

“Safer. Nowhere is truly safe, Chris, and you should know that.”

“Unexpected deaths are rare.”

“Rare, but not unheard of.” I knew that from experience. “Thank you for helping. I do appreciate that, but I don’t think I’m going to be staying.”

Being trapped in a place where there were two gates to get out if something went wrong didn’t sound like a good idea to me. Leaving did. Having to deal with the dead out there was far simpler, at least as long as you didn’t make the wrong move, which was something I had done. My mind was elsewhere. I hadn’t been paying enough attention, and I’d walked into something I shouldn’t have done. Fortunately I got lucky. It didn’t often happen and I knew I couldn’t rely on my luck holding out in the future. I was going to have to be more careful. I couldn’t be stupid again.

“What are you thinking, Lucy?”

“Nothing I’m comfortable sharing.”

“Just because something bad happened before doesn’t mean it will happen again.”

“No, it doesn’t.” I looked at the gates. “It doesn’t mean it won’t either.”

“How about I show you around before you make a decision? I’m not going to force you to stay, although I’d prefer it. There really is no reason for you to be worried that something will go wrong. We have mechanisms in place to make certain that everyone who calls this place home will be safe.”

“Anything can go wrong.”

“You’re not even going to give me a chance.”

“Have those mechanisms been put to the test?”

Chris was silent for a long time, and that really was the only answer I needed. “We’ve been lucky. Probably more lucky that any one place has the right to be, if I’m honest. That doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be safe here.”

“Is there another way out?”

“There are three. None of them are anywhere near as difficult to get through as the gates. I can show you them first if you want.”

“You don’t need to. I’m leaving.”

“Lucy…”

“Nothing you can say, nothing you can show me, will convince me to stay here a moment longer than I have to.”

“At the very least you should eat something. I can’t imagine you’ve had many hot meals while you’ve been out there.” He studied me. “I’m not going to force you to stay, if you’re that determined to leave, and I don’t expect anything in return for my hospitality. I know that can happen out there.”

“No, thank you.” I sheathed my sword. “Show me the way out.”

I shouldn’t have sheathed it. Someone came up from behind me, and covered the bottom half of my face with a rag. The last thing I wanted to do was breathe in it, but, unfortunately, my body needed to breathe. I held my breath for as long I could, until it gave in to the urge. Moments later the world was going dark, the person behind me was cradling me to make sure I didn’t drop to the floor, and I was certain I saw a shadow that had to be Chris coming towards the two of us. If either of them said anything I have no idea what it was. What I do remember, even though I knew I was losing consciousness, was someone picking me up. They had to have carried me into the sanctuary, as I noticed some lights on the ceiling. As I stayed with it for longer than I expected I hoped they hadn’t used enough, and then I felt myself falling into darkness, even though it was the last thing I wanted to do. Like always the last thing I saw was a man I wished I didn’t have to keep seeing.

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The Many Worlds of K. A. Webb

July 2017

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