Deep Into the Game
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15 chapter fifteen
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Deep Into the Game
Author :Saul_Tanpepper
© Webnovel

15 chapter fifteen

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Reg and Ash join our floating circle. Everyone's speaking all at once, asking questions, laughing, yammerinng, demanding where the hell we were and what took us so long. They don't realize anything terrifying happened down there.

Jake notices my missing goggles and asks about them. He seems more worried about them than he is about me, but that may just be me being oversensitive.

Neither Kelly nor I answer any of their questions. Kelly brusquely waves them off, growling that we need to get me to land. I'm grateful for his strength. I'm grateful that I don't have to say anything or even think. I wouldn't be able to string two coherent thoughts together, much less words.

My shaking has grown much worse, as if my body knows that safety is within reach.

Or knowing that I'll have to face that horrible experience again on our way back. I don't know if I'll be able to do it. Or how.

I'm faintly aware of Micah talking. He's telling us that the overpass where we've surfaced is too high to climb. It rises six feet over our heads. The wall extends to both sides, stretching about a hundred and fifty feet before turning back toward us. We spin around. The water reaches into the distance, fanning out wider and wider as it reaches the horizon.

Reggie points to a place where the chain-link fence has been pushed from its poles and now dangles into the water. It's only thirty feet away.

"We can climb that," he says.

He sounds as tired as I feel, and now I can see the fatigue on everyone else's face, the strain. And maybe a little disappointment, too. I don't know what they were all expecting—I know what I was before my underwater encounter: Pristine buildings, a preserved city. But all I see here is bleached out structures that look run down and dirty. The place is a ghost town. But, thankfully, it appears to be just as abandoned as Reggie had claimed it would be.

Or maybe that's why they're disappointed.

Kelly pulls me toward the fence. I let him. I can't seem to find the strength to move, so I just drift. Where does he find the energy? I look over at him and notice that he's straining his neck above the surface. He's scanning for any signs of trouble on land.

Despite having to tow me, Kelly's the first to reach the fence. He makes sure I'm holding onto it before he peels off his flippers and tosses them over. Then he climbs up. The fence sways and clangs, sounding too loud in the eerie quiet.

"Looks clear," he says, after a quick but thorough look around. The rest of the group begin to clamber up. Kelly reaches down and helps me. My arms are shaking so badly that I can barely hold on. I still have my flippers on. He practically has to drag me up.

I immediately sink to the ground. Everyone else is peeling off their equipment and unzipping the tops of their wetsuits. The sun is baking us, but I'm shivering.

Kelly doesn't bother with his equipment. He finds an abandoned car on the tunnel overpass and climbs up onto its roof. It's covered in dust and rust and tufts of grass. It creaks and rattles. He cups his hands around his eyes and scans the horizon. Reggie is the first to notice his odd behavior. He chuckles.


"Check out the brah! Already looking for IUs. I told you before there won't be any."

Kelly's eyes flash and he jumps off the car and rushes over. He slams Reggie in the chest and screams, "No zombies? Then what the fuck was that down there?" He points at the tunnel and everyone looks, confusion clouding their faces.

"Where?"

"In the goddamn tunnel, asshole! Where the hell were you?" Kelly turns to each of the others, glaring. "We were attacked by one down there! Jessie could've been…"

His eyes suddenly grow wide and he rushes over to me. "Were you bitten?"

I shake my head.

The others are watching all of this in shocked silence. Then Ashley leaps to her feet and points at Jake and Reggie. "I told you guys we should've told them!"

Kelly's eyes narrow. "Told us what?"

Reggie sweeps over and stands between them. "We didn't know, Ash! How could we have known it was a zombie? It was too far away. We still don't know!"

Ashley ignores him. She peers around Reggie to speak directly to Kelly. "We saw one. And don't tell me it wasn't a zom either, Reg, because I know what I saw! Back there. Damn it, I knew it was a zombie, but you said it was just some homeless guy who fell in the water!" She hits Reggie on the chest.

My head snaps up. "What?" My throat hurts and my voice croaks. "You saw a zombie and you didn't think to warn us? You didn't ask, Where the hell are Kelly and Jessie? Maybe they're in deep shit? You just left us back there!" My voice has risen to a screech. I'm nearly in tears by now. "What the hell were you thinking? I almost got bitten! I almost fucking drowned!"

Nobody says anything for a moment, then Jake says, "It wasn't in the tunnel."

As if that excuses why they left us behind.

Kelly whirls on him. He's shaking with rage and sputtering almost incoherently. Finally a single word explodes from his lips. The f-bomb shatters into a million pieces across the city. In the distance, a flock of pigeons lifts off the ground before settling back down again a moment later.

Jake is clearly shaking. "It was while we were waiting for you in the garage. When Micah took you back to get Jessie's medicine."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Kelly screams.

"Keep it down, guys," I say. But the words somehow dry up in my mouth and flutter away like dust.

"I told you," Ashley cries. She hurries over to where I'm kneeling on the hot asphalt. "I told you we should have told them what we saw." She points at Jake again, thrusting an accusing finger at him. "But you just kept agreeing with Reggie. Why the hell would they call in NCD for a homeless guy?"

NCD?

"They called in Necrotics?" I stammer. "Was it Eric?"

Jake backs away. Reggie glares around himself looking like he wants to punch someone. Then he suddenly bends and picks up a chunk of rock and heaves it far out over the water. The splash sounds clunky and doesn't even echo. "We didn't know for sure what we saw," he mutters. "And, no, Jess, your brother wasn't there. At least, we didn't see him."

"Now we know why the cops patrol down there by the tunnel opening," Kelly says. "They're checking for swimmers."

Reggie shakes his head. "No! You said it yourself, Kel. If they were so concerned about breaches, why wouldn't they just block the opening?"

Nobody speaks. It's a valid question, one we've all been wondering for days now. Why make it so easy for zombies to get through? For that matter, why make it easy for people, too?

"It wasn't a zom," Reggie concludes. "It couldn't have been."

"Then why call NCD?"

"Swimmers?" I ask, shaking my head. Logically, I know zombies can't swim. In the water they're just as helpless as logs, drifting with the currents. But the one that grabbed me sure felt like it had taken lessons.

Kelly waves his arms helplessly. "Well, what else are we going to call them?"

"Floaters," Ashley says.

"The one that attacked us wasn't floating. It was like it was waiting for us."

"It wasn't waiting for us, Jess," Kelly says, but even I can see the doubt in his eyes. "It just happened to be there, I think."

I swing my head to Ashley. My neck feels stiff and creaky. "You actually saw them pull one out? Before we left?"

"What we saw," Reggie quickly answers for her, "was a cop dragging a body out of the water. A dead body. It wasn't moving, so, no, I seriously doubt it was a zombie. Besides, even if it was a zombie, it was dead. Don't you get it? It was totally dead. We had no way of knowing there'd be more in there. Live ones."

"He used a hooked pole and dragged it out onto the walkway," Ashley mumbles. "We watched as he pinged someone on his Link. A couple minutes later, NCD came in a van and carted it away."

"They didn't even use gloves!" Jake insists.

"What the hell does that prove?" Kelly snaps. "That doesn't mean it wasn't a zombie!" He grabs Jake's tee shirt and pulls them together until their faces are inches from each other. My mind screams at Kelly to be careful, but all I can do is moan. Jake doesn't fight back. "Everyone knows it takes more than skin to skin contact to pass the infection! It takes a bite. Of course he didn't wear gloves!"

"But, water—" Jake begins to argue.

"Bullshit!" Kelly's eyes shift over to me. Everyone's looking at me now, wondering if I swallowed any water down there. They have to be thinking I might've been infected. "Wearing gloves doesn't mean shit, you idiot!"

Ash hugs me closer. "Don't worry," she whispers into my hair. "G-ma Junie was wrong about that. Water can't transmit the infection."

I know she's just trying to cheer me up, to help me get past the attack in the tunnel, but it doesn't help.

I push her away and lean over to one side. The remains of my breakfast cornflakes and all the river water I swallowed come pouring out of me. Ash jumps back, not wanting to get splashed. The others watch in horror, afraid to get too close to me.

When I'm done, I feel a lot better. I get weakly to my feet and say, "We're wasting time. It must've been a fluke. There aren't any more zombies here, obviously, so let's do what we came for and get the hell back home."

I've lost all my enthusiasm for this game. I'm not having fun anymore.

The rest glare at each other for several more seconds before finally nodding. They busy themselves finishing stripping off their gear and stowing it. Ash and I leave our wetsuits on, keeping them unzipped to the waist.

While they're distracted, I pull my inhaler out of my pack. I take a long, deep hit. Then a second.

Just to be sure.

And I pray to God that G-ma Junie was right about the disease not being spread by water.
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