My arms ache. My back is stiff. My legs are burning. And still we swim on.
If not for Kelly's hand on my arm, I don't know how I'd make it, since I can barely steer with just my feet. Even with him guiding me, I feel like I'm fighting against some invisible force that wants to turn me around. I'm moving as much sideways as forward. I try to correct my trajectory by twisting my body, but it doesn't help much, just makes me all the more exhausted.
The yellow and blue glow sticks pull away from us, begin to fade in the distance and the murk. I kick harder. My breathing grows ragged. My body's not used to this particular kind of exercise.
I can hear Kelly beginning to strain, too. Then, without warning, he jerks me to the side. His hand slips off of me and I'm bathed in blackness as the beam from his flashlight winks out.
I twist, but all around me is nothing but black ink and midnight loneliness. I strain my eyes through the goggles. They leak. I push them hard against my face.
But then the beam from his flashlight flickers on. It's way off to one side. It swings around, jerks, then sinks down to the floor. I wonder if the tether somehow came unattached from his belt.
I spin around, kicking to get myself turned, and my flipper connects with something that feels like it has some give to it. I cringe, thinking I've just kicked my boyfriend in the face. But when I extend my legs, there's nothing there.
The light below me changes. I see the faint outline of a figure holding it. The beam swings up and stabs at me. I swing my feet around and once again I feel a momentary resistance behind me.
A bubble of air escapes from my mouth. Water squirts into my goggles.
The light catches me square in the eyes. But then I feel a firm hand on my leg. I realize one of the others has come back, and I relax and wait for whoever it is to come alongside me. Without my hands, without my flashlight, I feel helpless.
The grips tightens, begins squeezing. I grunt when it starts to become uncomfortable. A second hand grabs my other leg.
Kelly's flashlight jerks back and forth below me, coming closer. He's swimming back up. I reach behind me to push the person off—guessing that it's Reggie by his strength—but when I turn to look, it isn't Reg. It's nobody I recognize.
The man's hair floats wildly about his pale face, and his eyes are gaping black holes. His mouth yawns at me and his teeth are yellow and ragged. He pulls himself toward my body. A tongue lolls out. It takes my mind a moment to process that he isn't wearing a wetsuit or a mask or goggles. That's not possible, I think, before realizing I'm in the grip of one of the Undead.
Air slips from my mouth and nose. My body contracts. The movement draws the thing even closer to me. The grip has hardened. It feels like a vise. It burns my skin as I kick desperately at it.
One hand lets go, reaches forward. I kick and scream inside my throat, but the hand finds my upper calf. The second hand releases me and somehow manages to grab me just above my knee. I slap at them with the goggles and kick. The zombie leans in to bite me.
But the grip slips on the slick material of the wetsuit, and it slides down my legs. For a moment I think I'm free. But then the hands catch on my flippers. Icy cold fingers wrap around my bare skin and begin marching back up my legs. I can hear the monster's teeth clacking together as it extends its rotting neck and mouth toward me once again, desperate to feed.
Then, suddenly, the thing jerks to the side. The motion pulls me along with it. I see a flash of silver and the weight on one of my ankles falls away. The hand is still gripping me, but it's no longer attached to an arm. I kick wildly, sobbing. Slowly the grip weakens and eventually the hand falls off. The blood seeping from it is thick and oily, staining the water black.
But this only seems to make the zombie angrier. It bats its oozing, jagged stump at me and begins to pull again. There's another thump from the side, another flash of silver, and I see Kelly's knife embeds itself deep into the zombie's neck. He wrenches it free and the wound tears open, revealing a tangled mass of atrophied muscle and veins and the thick cord of the monster's blackened gullet before the water clouds up with its gore. But still it doesn't stop coming.
By now I'm flailing my entire body in a panic. The goggles are gone. I'm kicking and it's not making any difference. I barely manage to remember to bite down and breathe through my mouth into the cartridge. It feels empty.
I remember the knife in my belt. I reach down and pull on the handle, but it won't come free! More air leaks from my mouth. The monster's stump hammers at my flipper.
No! No, no no nononono!
Somehow, my fingers find the snap holding the blade. They flick it open. I pull the knife free and try to bend over. Now the zombie is behind me, just out of reach. I twist desperately and hack blindly at the space near my foot.
More air escapes out of me. I'm feeling it in my lungs now, the lack of air. I'm feeling it in my throat. I'm feeling it behind my eyes and in my head and it screams for me to breathe, to open my mouth and take in a huge breath of air.
Blackness pushes against the edges of my vision.
The knife! Use the knife!
A pinprick of light forms in front of me. Grows. It's warm and whispering comforting things at me: Breathe now, it'll be all right.
I'm dimly aware that I'm still hacking, but my movements feel weak and pitiful. The blade connects with something rigid, jarring my arm, rousing me momentarily.
The monster twists and clacks. The knife is nearly wrenched from my hand. I feel the grip on my ankle loosen for a fraction of a moment before tightening again. I've hurt it!
I yank the knife free and hack again. There's more resistance, then the weight drops away.
I let the knife go and kick to get away from the body of the monster I can't see, the remaining hand still attached. Blinded by darkness and oxygen deprivation, my eyes burning from the filthy water, I reach down to pull it away.
The fingers are like plastic bands. I pry desperately at them. My stomach revolts, but to be sick now would be fatal. I finally manage to loosen the hand just as a bright light begins to fill my vision. Kelly, my mind prays, but deep down I know it's not him. The whiteness is in the space behind my eyes. It's my brain shutting down. The whispers grow loud inside my head.
I feel something caress my face. I open my mouth and water flows in. I cough, sputter, and open it again. I inhale just as another balloon of air envelops me. Kelly forces the mask into my mouth and holds it there, pinching my nose, willing me to breathe into my canister.
After a few minutes, I open my eyes. He holds me like that for several more minutes, until the black light inside me and the whispers fade away.
When I'm ready, he points the beam of his flashlight down into the darkness below us. I can't see much without the goggles. I don't know if he's showing me the zombie; I kick to get away, but he holds me until I stop struggling.
Once more he points the light down, then at his face, then at me. He means that we need to go down and find my goggles.
Still shaking from the encounter, still weak from lack of oxygen, I try to follow. He goes slowly, waiting for me.
When we reach the floor, he begins to search, sweeping his light back and forth. The floor is littered with objects washed in over the years. It all just looks blurry and shapeless to me.
I begin to think it's hopeless when his light reflects off something shiny. Kel dives down and comes up with my knife. He pushes it back into my sheath. Then he goes back down.
After a few more minutes of searching, he returns, shaking his head. He points to his own goggles, offering them to me. I tell him no and gesture that we need to go. We're completely alone. There's no sign of the other four. They haven't even noticed we're not with them anymore.
Kel grabs my hand and together we rise toward the ceiling. If the current wasn't pushing at us, forcing us back toward Manhattan, it'd be easy to mistake which direction we need to go. We angle toward the nearer end of the tunnel, not sure if maybe we aren't making a mistake anyway.
Within minutes, a point of light appears in the darkness ahead. It swings around like a strobe and grows quickly stronger until it fills the tunnel. I shield my eyes. A second beam joins the first. We swim hard for them. Finally, I see two yellow glow sticks dangling just below the light beams. Micah and Jake pull up beside us, gesturing frantically. Micah holds up his Link.
I reach down and pull mine up to my face, holding it close to my eyes to read. There's an old message there from Micah and it reads:
<< WHR R U? >>
I delete it and a second message pops up from a minute or so later:
<< ANSR PLZ! >>
Micah quickly types in a new message:
<< FASTR! >>
Anger fills me. There's no wondering whether we're okay. No asking what held us up. No apology for leaving us behind. I was attacked by a fucking zombie! I could have been bitten!
Excitement flashes in his eyes. He jabs his thumbs once more at his screen. My Link receives his post:
<< NRLY THR >>
I want to cry. I want to scream and kick and hurt someone, but I'm suddenly exhausted. Numbness overwhelms me. Kelly gently prods me forward and I follow. I can feel myself drifting into shock.
Sometime later—seconds? hours? I have no idea—I sense the blackness of the tunnel begin to weaken. I start to see the faintest details: seams in the walls, objects lying on the floor below. Even without goggles and a light I can see. We've reached the end of the tunnel. It begins to arch upwards and light breaks over us in ever stronger waves. We've done it. We've officially broken into LI.
And yet I'm too shaken to celebrate.
A moment later, we pop up out of the water. At a minute before eleven in the morning I get my first glimpse of a city that was abandoned to the Undead.
Please go to https://www.wuxiaworldapp.net/
install our App to read the latest chapters for free