"Come on, Vicky!" Keagan shouted. "Grab my hand."
My ankle felt like it was on fire, but I knew I had to keep moving. I reached up, and Keagan's strong grip hauled me to my feet. Stupidly, I slowed a little to risk a glance back. Half a dozen figures were shambling toward us, only a couple yards away. This close, I could see the grey flesh peeling off their dead faces and the way their limbs jerked as if pulled by some invisible puppet-master. One of them caught my eye and lips twitched back in a tight motion that would have been a smile if it hadn't caused several of his teeth to fall out. I almost stumbled again and clung to Keagan for support.
"They're gaining on us!" I cried.
Keagan said nothing but he lengthened his stride to quicken our pace and all but dragged me along behind him. I don't know how far we ran, but it felt like miles. The whole way, I imagined I could feel the zombies breathing down our necks even though I knew the dead could no longer draw breath.
Finally, I saw a break in the trees and a glimmer no the ground that gave me real hope for the first time all night. A good-sized stream was winding its way swiftly through the forest. As we approached, I saw that the stream was littered with small boulders that could serve as stepping stones but would certainly be difficult for the zombies to navigate. The stream itself was too strong to be waded through.
"Look!" I panted, trying to communicate my discovery to Keagan but finding that I had hardly any breath left for words. He nodded, though, to show he understood.
When we reached the banks, I realized that the rocks were farter apart than I had thought. But it wasn't like there were any other options open. Letting go of Keagan's hand and drawing a sharp breath, I put my good leg forward and jumped for it.
I landed hard on the first boulder, but the impact made my ankle feel as though it was being stabbed through with multiple knives. But there was not time to think about that now. I lunged toward the next rock, swinging my arms to keep my balance. I had almost reached the opposite bank when I heard a loud splash behind me.
Keagan was still very close to the other shore, floundering in the water. He was trying desperately to swim through the rough current or grab onto the slippery rocks. The zombies hovered near the edge, waiting for him to be washed ashore while some of the more daring ones began to make their way into the water. Keagan stared at me with his blue eyes wild and wide open, pleading for help.
There was a time when I would have gone back for him, when I would have been disgusted at the idea of turning back around and running on. But if there was one thing that I had learned since the first night that the dead began to claw their way out of their graves it was that survival comes first. And the first rule of survival: you don't have to run fast—just faster than the guy behind you.
I'm sorry Keagan. I love you. But tonight, I'm glad you were slower.