Sam Valencia let out a strained puff of air from his lungs as he wiped his dirt streaked arm across his sweaty brow.
He had been running for what felt like days, though in reality it had only been a few hours.
Leaning with his back up against a crumbling brick wall, Sam twisted the cap from his metal canteen and took a swig.
The tepid water within did little to quench his thirst, but it was better than nothing.
Replacing the cap on his canteen, Sam shoved it roughly into his moth-eaten backpack and leaned gingerly around the wall.
Sensing movement in the deserted street before him, Sam quickly ducked his head back in and glanced towards his travelling companion, Gabe Leuwick.
Gabe's brow furrowed above his steely blue eyes as he shook his very dusty blonde hair back away from his face.
"How many?" Gabe whispered, his voice barely making a sound as Sam tried to steady his breathing. It wouldn't do him any good to panic right now. He needed to be rational.
"Hard to say. I'd say definitely two, maybe more? Either way it's too many." Sam muttered back, subconsciously fingering the feathering on the arrow currently nestled within his crossbow.
"Christ." Gabe's expression was one of utter frustration as he chewed on the inside of his cheek, trying to think of what to do next.
Sam tapped his friend's arm as he nodded his head towards an alleyway located directly opposite them.
"We could try and make it to there. I know that street; it leads to an art gallery and a green grocers."
Gabe raised one eyebrow quizzically and glanced up at his much taller friend.
"Are you thinking we might distract them by catching their interest in some priceless art? Maybe a courgette or two? A lettuce?
" Even when his life was in danger, Gabe struggled to keep his dry wit to himself.
Sam made a fist with the hand closest to Gabe and thumped him violently in the arm.
"Alright, I'm sorry. Not the time for jokes." Gabe nodded, fixing his face with a serious expression, though the faint ghost of a smirk was playing across his thin lips.
"On my count we make a run for the alleyway and onwards to the gallery; full on sprinting, no looking back, no stopping if one of us trips up, agreed?
" Sam held his hand out towards Gabe in a handshake gesture.
Gabe nodded solemnly and took hold of Sam's hand, giving it one sharp rap before letting go.
"On three. One. Two. Thr-"
Before Sam could finish his count, a loud screech came from behind them, followed by a sound that could only be described as an tsunami of brick and glass.
"THREE" Gabe cried as he ran, hell for leather towards the narrow alleyway. He could feel his heartbeat in his throat, his eyes were streaming with stinging tears as the wind whipped over him.
The muscles in his calves felt as though they may have detached from his bones and his ribs ached with the effort of being pummeled by his overworked lungs.
Gabe was only partially aware that there was another presence behind him, right on his heels, pounding the pavement as they followed behind him.
Praying that the presence was Sam, Gabe didn't slow as he raced between the two walls before him, feeling his elbow scrape harshly against the brick as he ran.
A warm river of blood began to flow painfully down his arm and onto the cobbles below, but Gabe never faltered.
Finally he reached the end of the alleyway, took a quick glance at the surrounding street and continued onwards towards the gallery, blood rushing through his ears,
eyes swimming with salty sweat as he struggled to the door.
Pulling a heavy wrench out of his bag, Gabe hurtled it towards the edge of the window closest to the lock and smashed open the glass.
In one smooth movement, Gabe pushed his hand through, cutting his wrist badly on the jagged edges as he forced open the lock from the other side.
As as the door clicked open and Gabe rushed through into the cool dark of the gallery,
he heard something else crash into the door frame behind him; it was only then that Gabe dared to turn around.
Sam was panting intensely as he struggled through the door frame and slammed the door shut behind him.
Sliding down the door onto the concrete floor below, Sam coughed weakly, his eyes fluttering closed as his chest rose and fell violently.
Blood streaked down Sam's khaki jacket, all the way to the knee of his grey combat trousers.
Gabe could see slashes where something had clawed at Sam's body, ripping the skin down to the bone beneath.
A purple slimy substance was beginning to ooze from the injuries peppered across Sam's body.
"Sam-?" Gabe began, but Sam shook his head to silence him.
"I wasn't fast enough. But I managed to kill one,." Sam wheezed, uncapping his canteen and taking a shaky sip.
Pouring some of the water onto his wounds, Sam winced painfully, a slight hissing noise emanating from his skin as the cuts reacted to the water, forcing the purple slime to slop onto the floor.
"How bad is it?" Gabe asked, his voice catching slightly in his throat.
"Pretty bad; but I think I scared the other one off. They should leave us alone for a while." Sam replied as he closed his eyes and leaned his head back, resting it again the frame of the door.
Gabe nodded slowly, his eyes flickering over his friend's body, assessing the damage when Sam's eyes suddenly snapped open.
"No Gabe." Sam growled, his face contorted into a grimace.
"You were thinking it." Sam interrupted him. "I don't need your medical supplies. It would be a waste. Keep them for yourself."
"I said no." Sam's expression softened now and he shook his head at the younger male. "You and I both know that once you are infected by them, there is no turning back.
There is no cure, no way to slow the process down. No hope."
It was Gabe's turn to frown now as he folded his arm in annoyance.
"If you would let me stem the bleeding then I could make my way to the evacuation center up by the Old Mill, maybe get some hel-"
"No Gabe." Sam said again, much quieter this time. "There is no evacuation center; not anymore. It's been six weeks since the initial outbreak and we've had radio silence for over four.
No one is coming to rescue us. Not the army, not the navy, no one. You can't help me, Gabe."
Sam's dark brown eyes caught Gabe's as he glanced up at him.
"I appreciate the thought Pal, but you know I'm as good as dead. It would be easier if you would just accept it.
" Sam said softly, placing a forearm against the largest gash on his abdomen in an attempt to lessen the pain.
"And what if I can't?" Gabe muttered, leaning back against a pillar supporting the roof of the gallery.
Sam let out a guffaw in spite of himself, then winced at the shooting pain it brought.
"Then you're as good as dead too." Sam responded, a weak smile lifting the corner of his mouth, showing a dimple in the pit of his cheek.
"Don't be so dramatic." Gabe scolded, taking a swig of his own canteen.
"Says you, self appointed King of Dramatics." Sam chuckled, choking slightly on a small trickle of blood that had forced its way up his esophagus.
"So what do we do now?" Gabe asked, glancing over at the dark haired man on the floor.
"Well I'm going to sit here and slowly bleed to death, but you my friend are going to wait until nightfall and then hot foot it out of here. Stick to our original plan. Head for the mountains.
" Sam grinned, his teeth stained with a spattering of blood.
"I don't want to leave you here to die." Gabe muttered, lowering his head to keep his companion from seeing the tears that had formed in his eyes.
"But you will." Sam said sternly, gingerly unhooking his backpack from the arm that wasn't pressed against his body and sliding it towards Gabe with his foot.
"Take this, I've got some good supplies in there. Should keep you going long enough to make it to the mountains."
"Sam, what if the rumors aren't true? What if they can survive the cold? What if the mountains aren't safe?
" Gabe fretted, tightening his folded arms against his chest as though he had to physically hold himself together.
"Then you make a new plan and you keep on running until you are safe, or until they get you.
" Sam said bluntly, rummaging around in his jacket pocket until he managed to retrieve a cigarette and a lighter.
Placing the cigarette in his mouth, Sam lit it with a quick flick of the lighter and took a deep drag. Sam's lined face seemed a lot older than his 45 years in the glow of the cigarette light.
There was a few days worth of gray stubble lining his chin and his skin had taken on a pallid tone.
"That's a disgusting habit, you know." Gabe scolded, wrinkling his nose at the smell.
"Ah, I'm sure one won't kill me." Sam sniggered, reveling in the younger man's reproachful gaze.
Though the window behind Sam, Gabe could see the pink-orange glow of the setting sun disappearing over the horizon.
"It's getting dark." Gabe whispered.
"You best get on your way then." Sam replied, smiling, the cigarette resting in the corner of his mouth.
"I know." Gabe nodded, stooping to pick up Sam's backpack, and slinging it over his own back.
"I just want to do one thing before I go." Gabe murmured as he pulled an old graying t-shirt out of his bag and set about tearing off the arm and neck holes to make a large square.
Sam watched Gabe with a bemused expression as Gabe tied two corners of the square to a nearby broom and lay the material over a desk.
Leaning over the fabric, Gabe set about writing something, before standing upright and leaning the broom against the pillar.
'Samuel Valencia & Gabriel Leuwick - They did their best' the makeshift flag stated.
"Gosh, what an epitaph." Sam teased, though he was touched by the gesture.
"I want us to be the remembered ones. Just in case." Gabe replied sadly as he made his way to the back of the gallery.
"Safe travels, Gabe." Sam called, his voice husky and faltering.
"Safe travels, Sam." Gabe called back over his shoulder, not able to look back at his friend as he slipped quietly through the back door.