JUNE 12, 2012

Claire was dying.

Her five-year-old wails of pain cut piercingly through her mother's ears as the girl squeezed around her shoulders tightly, gripping as hard as she was able, and Jennifer's hold on her wasn't too gentle either. One hand clamped tightly around the torn bite wound at her neck, blood pumping out from underneath Jenny's fingers and staining them thickly as her other hand wrenched at the steering wheel, the truck slamming over someone's body with a nasty crunch that sent them jolting. She didn't bother checking – they'd hit a number of people already, and those that weren't dead of them soon would be, anyway.

Rain pounded down on the truck from the outside, thick, heavy sheets of it that roared loudly, but it still wasn't nearly enough to drown out the screams as the shambling creatures known as the undead lurched through the city, converging on people and tearing chunks out of them as best as they could see fit. The streets were a mess of jammed-up traffic, cars that had long since been evacuated when the drivers realised they wouldn't get away if they weren't on foot – which was why Claire's mother hugged the sidewalk, crunching over hydrants and skidding dangerously in the rain, all the while whispering to her girl that it was going to be fine, that she was okay. Like it mattered. Jenny knew Claire was going to die, and it was hard to keep her voice from cracking as she spoke to her.

The truck screeched to a halt and he looked out in dismay as a pile of the monsters converged on a body in front of him, tearing and snarling, too huge in number to be ploughed through or driven over by even her sizeable vehicle. Even while her head whipped around in panic for somewhere to go she could hear the wheeze in Claire's voice, her wails fading out.

"No, baby, hey, hold on!" She smoothed back Claire's hair, shrinking back in her seat a little as one of the creatures looked up from the body, grey skin flecked with blood and unfocused eyes staring widely at them. The creature was shunted out of the way by another and it snarled, pushing back and losing interest in Claire and Jennifer to go back to its' meal. It wouldn't be long before it was stripped of meat, though, and they'd look to the closest living thing.

Fucking Palmer! She ground her teeth in anger, fingers tightening their pressure on Claire's wound to try and keep the blood down, yanking out her cellphone and punching in a number. It rang only once before, with a deft click, a gratingly familiar voice crackled down the line.

"Jennifer, where the HELL are you?!" Her ex snarled.

"I'm in the CAR, you twat! Crawley Street, it's packed, there's no way through!"

Lazaro cursed on the other end. Claire let out another wail.

"Claire? Is that Claire?" He sounded alarmed. "Is she okay?"

Jennifer squeezed her eyes shut and curled her fingers tighter around the phone, not responding for a moment.

The silence on the other end of the phone was steely, and she could tell he knew. Or at least, he guessed.

"I'm coming." He stated. "Stay there and lock the doors. I'll get you out of here. I'll fix this."

Jennifer opened her mouth to respond, but he'd already hung up. She swore loudly and angrily, not really bothered if her daughter heard her at this point, and ditched the phone on the floor. The rain was getting louder, making it harder to see the carnage going on around them, but not to hear it. Jenny shrank down in her seat further, despairing, and slammed a finger down on the locks to shut them out, squeezing her eyes shut to try and rid herself of the sound, making a quick calculation in her head. They'd arranged to meet at Haversham Court, on the city outskirts. That meant if Lazaro was already there, he was moments away. They might still make it. The uprising hadn't reached the inner part of the sprawling metropolis yet, and wasn't likely to for another hour or so at most, he'd said, but the outskirts were already being overrun. They had to break through.

She didn't know what he'd do with Claire. This obsession with the undead of his was part of what made her leave him in the first place – along with character flaws too numerous to even consider at that point – but he'd been right all along. He wasn't insane. Just an asshole.

But if he wasn't crazy all along, then she knew what he had in store for these creatures, and it wasn't pretty.

It was that thought that broke Jennifer down, and she hugged Claire around the middle tightly, keeping her daughter close to her. If Lazaro didn't come soon, she'd be dead and get up again right there in the car. Jenny didn't want that. No way in hell. She couldn't handle it. She'd have to push her outside or something – this was Laz's field, not hers. Nothing to do with her.

Her daughter…

The car lurched violently to the left and she shrieked, almost toppling out of the seat sideways as the zombie snarled next to the window, rocking the car as hard as possible. She let out a choked sob, which got louder when she realised it wasn't being drowned out by Claire anymore. She could feel Claire's heart beating hard and fast against her front, through her blood-soaked shirt, and it killed her. She couldn't even focus on the fists and bodies slamming into the side of the truck, the roaring rain, the screams. There was nothing but her, Claire, and the stifling stink of blood.

Moments later, there was a quick flash of blue, and an animal groan. The rocking stopped. Jenny's head whipped up, face streaked with tears, and she reached over hurriedly and flicked up the lock. The door was flung open moments later and Lazaro reached for Claire, blue fire crackling at his fingertips and dying away. Without a word Jenny handed her over, as carefully as possible, and Lazaro hugged her to himself, the only sign of his concern the white-knuckled grip he stepped back from the car. Jennifer's eyes flicked around. The road was littered with the bodies of undead, some still groaning but unable to drag themselves to their feet, some still twitching and plumes of smoke rising from awful burns.

She didn't feel a thing for them.

"The way's clear now." He stated sharply, hefting Claire a little roughly. His expression was dark as her breath slowed against his neck, laboured. Not long now. "Drive."

Their eyes met for a moment. Not in an across-a-crowded-room sort of way, but at least in some mutual understanding. This was never meant to happen like this.

She reached out and slammed the car door shut, gripped the wheel in blood-soaked hands, and drove.