As I ran to catch up with my group I had to force myself to not think about what had just happened. Dwelling on it would be a distraction that I couldn’t afford as I moved through the dark woods. It didn’t take long for me to pick up their trail and I stopped for a moment with the intent to disguise it to throw off any more trackers, but there was just too much disturbance to hide. The kids, like so many teenagers seemed to do, drug their heels on the ground every step forward they took and this was leaving a trail that Helen Keller could have followed. Making a mental note to spend a little time instructing them how to walk in the forest I set back off at a fast jog, heavy pack bouncing on my back.
A few minutes later I rounded a curve in the valley which opened up in front of me. What had been a fairly narrow valley now widened dramatically, the floor of the valley spreading out to be almost a quarter of a mile wide. The small creek, Wallace Creek I believe Betty had called it, joined with a much larger creek and formed a small river. The sides of the valley were still manageable if we had to climb, but they were much steeper than they had been and more heavily forested. I could hear a low roar from ahead that I couldn’t identify, but as I moved further into this new valley I recognized the sound as a waterfall. Pausing where I was I brought the rifle up, scanned ahead and cursed. Five infected were moving down the valley ahead of me, apparently tracking the group. Turning I checked my rear and was relieved to not see any threats. Back to the front I sighted in on each of the infected and identified all of them as females. Oh shit!
Were they going to be the more dangerous variety I had just encountered? Obviously I’d just fought two females that were able to think well enough to set up and execute an ambush. I had gotten used to the predictability of the infected. If they saw you, they were attacking and were coming straight at you. They didn’t try to hide and surprise you and they didn’t work together. If this was happening with all of the females the level of danger they presented had just increased exponentially. Putting my musing aside I stepped off and started stalking the hunters.
Dropping the pack again I quickly exchanged the empty magazines in my vest for loaded ones then left the pack in the brush near the river. Moving deeper into the valley I started following two of the females who appeared to be moving together. They were walking quietly through the forest, only the occasional tick to their movements giving away the fact they were infected. If I hadn’t seen a few thousand of them before I probably wouldn’t have realized they were infected until I was right in front of them. Males are easy to spot as they move like someone who’s just left the bar after about ten too many drinks, but the females were even more agile once infected than they had been before.
Ten yards behind the two females, I stopped and checked on the other three through the scope. One was thirty yards farther down the valley and 100 yards to my right. The remaining two were on the other side of the river, several hundred yards away. Back to the two I was stalking I moved closer, careful to keep my steps either on soft dirt or rocky outcroppings so I wouldn’t make any noise and alert them to my presence. They were close together as they moved, close enough to touch each other if they wanted, and I decided to take them out as quietly as possible. Lowering the rifle I drew the blade, gripped it tightly and leaned forward as I burst into a sprint.
I was a yard behind them when they heard me. Both spun at the same time, the one on the right opening her mouth to scream but the scream never left her throat because I covered that yard in one fast step and sliced through her neck, nearly cutting her head off her body. The Kukri lodged in her vertebrae and I didn’t waste time trying to pull it free, releasing it to remain stuck in the female’s neck as she crumpled dead to the ground. I was in a full sprint and used my momentum to my advantage, lowering my shoulder and ramming into the chest of the female on my left. I heard the breath whoosh out of her lungs from the impact and she flew backwards, landing on her back in the dirt. Following through I fell on top of her, bringing my knee down with all my weight into her stomach and locking my left hand on her throat.
Even with the wind knocked out of her and a 230 pound pile driver to the stomach she was still able to fight and started twisting her body and slashing with her hands to try and throw me off. I kept the pressure on and leaned my weight into her throat with my right hand on the ground for balance. When I touched the ground my hand was on top of a softball sized stone, nicely rounded by eons of river water flooding through the valley. Grasping the stone I raised it in the air and brought it down on the infected’s forehead, both hearing and feeling her skull crack and cave in. She instantly went still and the animal light in her eyes blinked out.
Standing up I slipped the stone into my pocket before bending and retrieving the Kukri where it had lodged in the other female’s neck. Blade sheathed I brought the rifle around and checked the other three. The one closest had stopped and was looking around like she may have heard something, but the two on the far side of the river were still moving forward and were now angling slightly toward the water. Trusting there was enough distance to safely use the suppressed rifle I sighted in on the closest female and dropped her with a shot to the head, then quickly looked for the two across the river. Both were still moving at the same pace and hadn’t heard anything. Taking a moment to check my rear again, which was still clear, I ran forward and angled towards the river.
I knew my group was on this side of the valley and the two females would have to cross the river to get to them. What I didn’t know was if the river was shallow and slow enough for the females to be able to ford it. I hoped it was over their heads and running swiftly as it came up to the waterfall, but I couldn’t count on it. My plan at the moment was to keep them in sight and when and if they tried to cross over they would be easy targets. No reason to make it more difficult than it had to be.
Another couple of hundred yards and the females were stalking along the far side of the river which was now close to 40 feet wide. The waterfall sounds were masking all other noises in the environment and I knew it couldn’t be far away. Taking a few moments I scanned behind me, all clear, then ahead of me looking for my group but I still couldn’t see them. That didn’t concern me because I was still finding signs of their passing and I was close enough that the footprints they were leaving in the moist soil of the valley floor hadn’t even had time to fill up with water. They weren’t more than five minutes ahead of me.
The two females came all the way to the water’s edge and stopped, looking across the river at an angle that was ahead of my position. I was reasonably sure they were looking at my group. Watching them I was tempted to take the shots, but the reaction time of the female earlier concerned me. I didn’t want to shoot and get one of them and leave one running around that was alerted to my presence. I’d much rather be the one doing the stalking than the one being stalked. The females didn’t stand still for long before they continued down the river bank. I started moving with them, keeping them in sight.
A few minutes later I could tell we were just upstream from the waterfall. Mist created by the water dropping into the pool at the bottom of the falls hung in the air and the foliage, heavy and green from the extra water was the thickest I had encountered so far. It was so thick I was having trouble pushing through to the edge of the river to maintain my watch on the females. When I finally got there I could see them crouched on the far bank. The river had narrowed as it reached the falls and where it spilled over it was no more than 20 feet across. Large rocks thrust up out of the water and dotted the surface, the river swirling around them as it picked up speed to rush over the edge. I had no idea what time it was, other than probably early morning, but the moon had finally made it directly overhead. It was only a half moon, but there was plenty of light to see and I didn’t like what I saw. There were six large boulders in the swirling river and while they weren’t lined up they still created a path across the 20 feet of water that could be used if one could jump from boulder to boulder. I knew from experience that infected females were very good jumpers.
I was hearing sounds from my side of the river that were mostly masked by the roar of the waterfall, but sounded like screams. The group was in trouble and my first instinct was to charge in to help, but I had no doubt these two females were about to cross the water and I didn’t like the idea of them coming in behind me. Even as these thoughts went through my head one of the females sprang from a crouched position onto the rock closest to her side of the river. A moment later she leapt to the next rock, slipping slightly on the wet surface but regained her balance and quickly leapt to the next one. Now the second one jumped and landed on all fours on the first rock, using her hands to control her landing and grip much like a monkey.
Raising the rifle I sighted on the one in the rear hoping the other wouldn’t notice when she went down. The female was just preparing to jump to the second rock when my bullet blasted through her head. The body tumbled off the rock and was quickly carried over the top of the falls by the river. I shifted aim to the first female and gladly noted she hadn’t seen or heard anything. She was leaping to another rock and as she landed and caught her balance I shot her. Just like the other she slipped off the rock into the swirling water and half a second later was gone over the edge. Slinging the rifle I drew the Kukri to help me move through the heavy brush faster, slashing vines and young trees to open enough of a path for me to push through. I wasn’t being quiet, but I was still hearing screams and was more worried about speed than stealth at the moment.