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Dane Foster met his first intelligent Infected at the age of twenty-two.
His first clue that it wasn’t a normal Infected was that it hesitated. It stopped when it saw him, and its eyes went from the pistol in Dane’s hand to the alley entrance. It knew Dane could kill it, and it was more interested in surviving than eating.
If it weren’t for the wounds, he might’ve mistaken it for human. There was an uneven hole in its side, and several of its fingers were missing. Shotgun injuries, Dane recognized. Both were recent and neither were bleeding.
The sentience in its eyes sent chills down Dane’s spine. Unlike all the others, it knew exactly what it was – a blood-thirsty monster – and exactly what it wanted: prey.
Dane leveled his pistol at the Infected’s head and fired.
The gunshot was like thunder in the empty city. The Infected ducked as soon as he began aiming, catching the bullet in its shoulder instead of its skull. “Shit!!” Dane said, scrambling back, but it was too late. Quick as a flash, the Infected barreled into him.
They say your life flashes before your eyes in situations like these. For Dane, it didn’t. There was no unearthly calm, no inhuman focus; there was only his heart thundering in his ears as he gripped the Infected by its neck, fighting to keep its teeth from his skin.
Distantly, someone shouted. Dane didn’t notice. All he could think was ‘can’t let it bite me’ and ‘god, I made it so far’ . But the Infected heard the shout, and the Infected lifted its head. Dane followed its gaze. Wide-eyed, they both stared down the alley.
There, silhouetted against the setting sun, stood a man with a shotgun.
The Infected leapt up and took off in the opposite direction. Or at least, it would have, had it been able; Dane had a death grip on its neck. And just as he’d been terrified moments before, Dane was filled with an awful, all-consuming hate for the creature in his hold. He held tighter, and it choked, clawing at his hands.
It was only moments before the man reached them and fired. A revolting mixture of liquid and bone splattered on Dane’s face. Dane winced.
The man stood there, panting. He looked at the shotgun like he had no idea what it was. He dropped it, throwing up his hands. “Oh my god,” he said, scrambling to check on Dane. “Oh my god! Are you alright?”
Dane was cold. His mind was numb. The man, whom Dane had never seen before in his life, shook him. “Stop that,” Dane snapped, slapping away the hands. But his arms were shaking badly, and he missed. Belatedly, Dane realized he might be freaking out a little.
The stranger hauled him upright. “It didn’t bite you, did it?” the stranger said. “I mean, I saw it scratch you, but – ”
“I’m fine,” Dane said. “Just give me a minute.”
He shoved himself away from the stranger. He sat down and curled up, fighting to breathe evenly. When he felt like he could think without screaming, he stood up. Fist shaking, he kicked the headless corpse as hard as he could.
“Fuck. Fuck!” He kicked it again. He stood still, panting, hyper aware of the stranger watching him. “Okay. Okay.” Dane took a deep breath. He blew it out. “I’m okay.”
“You sure?” the stranger asked tentatively.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m good.” Dane looked at the stranger sharply.
“Hey now,” the stranger said, raising his palms. “Infected’s dead. I’m a friend.” Then, sounding curious, he added, “You out here alone?”