Spoiler alert: This story follows on from the events in the novel Journal of the Living. It is best if that story is read first.
My group spread out as we approached the woods to make it easier to search for the missing people. Natasha and Pipa stayed in contact on their radios, letting me know their locations. Alice stayed with me in the middle. She had her axe ready for a zombie attack when we moved into the woods. I hated losing sight of my girlfriend and Natasha – but we couldn’t cover as much ground if we didn’t separate. Our plan was to go through the woods looking for anyone hiding.
“Uh – can I ask a dumb question?” Alice whispered.
“What?” I said.
“We’ve got weapons. Why not just shout out for people, telling them to come to us? Why are we creeping around looking for them?”
“Two reasons – zombies and Pure Bloods. This area has not been cleared. We don’t know what’s out here. We can’t go advertising our location.”
“But we might never find anyone. Do you know what you’re doing?”
“Yes,” I said. “I was trained by a girl called Maggie.”
“A girl trained you?” Alice said, shaking her head with disbelief. “That fills me with a load of confidence.”
Coming from a man her comment would have been sexist. “Yes,” I said. “A girl trained me. A great one called Maggie. Maggie was a Pure Blood – but she changed sides. She taught me how to track and hunt. Look down. The ground’s been disturbed by someone running that way. The distance between the footprints suggests it was an adult male. I’m going to follow the footprints. Just stay with me. Keep looking around and listening. Don’t talk unless it’s important.”
Alice gripped her axe’s handle tighter. “I don’t like it. It’s too quiet. I can’t even hear any birds in the trees. You know what that usually means, right? Zombies.”
Silence from wildlife was often a sign of the zombies infesting an area. Animals tended to shut up when they smelled or saw zombies because they were frightened of being eaten. With my sword unsheathed, I followed the trail of footprints into the semi-darkness. The footprints were heading in a roughly straight path towards the town on the other side of the woods. I found a piece of dark cloth on a snapped branch. The man had been running in the dark, leaving an obvious trail. The man’s trail ended at the far side of the woods where the ground hardened. Horton Bishop was in the valley below.
“Kris,” Natasha radioed. “I found someone. It’s not good. You need to come to my location now. Bring Pipa.”
Natasha was 150 metres north-west of us, still in the woods. I contacted Pipa to join us – then we met up with Natasha. She was standing over the dead body of a man in a suit. His face was buried in leaves and dirt.
“Natasha, did you …?”
“No, I did not kill him, Kris. He’s been dead for hours. I examined wound. He was shot in the back. It looks like he was running away from someone when he got wounded. He ran away after getting hit – but he died of blood loss.” Natasha bent down and turned the man over so his dirt-stained face visible. Ants were crawling over his lifeless eyes. Natasha stared at Alice. “You! Is this one of your friends?”
Alice glanced at the corpse – then looked away. “Yes. That’s Miles.”
I noticed one of his lapels was torn and matched the fabric I had found. Miles had fled one person with a gun only to encounter another. That was seriously bad luck. His fresh trail of blood and footprints was easy to follow towards the valley. “Miles must have gone into the town and fled back in this direction – running from someone shooting at him. Only one person among the missing had a gun – Eileen.”
“Eileen wouldn’t shoot Miles,” Alice said. “She’s a good woman.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I agree. Eileen didn’t kill him – so who did?”