I was not allowed at the wall, and I’d been kicked out of the infirmary. There was really only one other place I wanted to be: the roof. It was the only place on this plantation that offered a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view for miles.
The only way to get up there was through my room on the third floor. I stepped onto my window sill and grabbed the rope ladder that Will built for us. It was an easy climb if you didn’t mind the height. I didn’t. The view was breathtaking from up here. The western horizon had gone all fiery orange and pink in the setting sun, but my focus was on the north wall where my dad, Will and about a dozen other fighters were crouched at the ready.
There were no monsters yet, and that wasn’t good. They couldn’t be far, but fighting them at night was very dangerous.
The power went out for good years ago. There weren’t even batteries for flashlights anymore. Our firelight only reached so far. This meant they would be fighting much closer to the wall than any of us were comfortable with. Our walls were high and very sturdy, but we’d learned never to underestimate the monsters. They would do whatever they had to do to get to you.
We built these walls when I was little, after the monsters swarmed the plantation. I remember that day very clearly. The monsters were at least five deep at every entrance. They broke the windows and were pushing against the doors. Will and I were up on the roof, taking down as many as we could. The bodies were piling up and the monsters just kept climbing on top of each other to get at the people inside the house. The second-floor windows weren’t barricaded like the ones on the first floor, and if we didn’t do something quick, they were going to get into the house one way or another.
Will got the stupid idea that we could push the pile of monsters over by opening the front door. I told him he was crazy. He told me it would work.
The door wouldn’t budge; there were too many monsters piled up on the other side. I watched as a monster got an arm through the slats covering the window and pulled a lady toward it. I still don’t know why she was so close to that window in the first place. She screamed and fought, but it was too late. The monster sunk its teeth into her neck and she turned. I had to take her out with an arrow through her forehead.
We were getting desperate. My dad told everyone inside to make as much racket as possible on the other side of the house. The monsters were stupid enough to take the bait. We took out dozens more as they were circling the house. Our fighters ambushed the rest. We killed seventy-two monsters that day.
I guess my dad decided enough was enough. The very next day, we started construction on our walls. They’re nine feet tall and four feet thick of solid concrete, brick, and rebar. They will hold against a monster attack, but they’ve never been tested against more than just a few at a time. We would be fighting at least forty tonight, and the odds were that they will have attracted more on their way here.
We had gotten by on stealth this past month, while they were sleeping, but that vacation was over now. Thanks to those idiots in town, there were going to be a lot of monsters headed our way very soon. The fighters down on the wall had better be ready. We couldn’t afford to waste arrows.
I could see Dad, Grace and Will from my perch on the roof. They were all excellent shots. Gary was decent, and so were Hunter and Trish, but Kyle and Ryan – the twins from Mississippi – were better with spears and swords than bows and arrows. I hoped they could handle this.
I should be down there.
I slammed my hands down on the shingles in frustration, earning a dirty look from Will. I flipped him off and he blew me a kiss. I hated him so much sometimes. It was his stupid idea that got me in trouble in the first place, but because I was only sixteen and Will was eighteen, he practically got a free pass. Grace smacked Will on the back of the head and signaled for him to focus. I bet he loved the fact that he got fight beside her. I scowled at the back of their heads and resisted the urge to throw things at them.
All of a sudden, they all tensed up and pulled their bow strings tight. My eyes shot to the tree line. There they were, at last. I could see about ten monsters so far. They were pretty spread out and should be easy pickings once they got into range. I always hated the way they moved; all hunched over like their heads were too heavy. These were skinnier than normal. Must not have eaten in a while.
Poor monsters, I thought sarcastically.
A bunch more had just cleared the tree line. The fighters were spreading out along the wall to get clear shots at the monsters. They were still not quite in range of the archers and the wait was excruciating, but the monsters were attracted to the torch lights and had quickened their pace. If I was down on the wall, I would be able to hear that awful noise the monsters made when they knew they were closing in on a kill. It sounded like they were choking on their own tongues.
“Nice shot, Dad,” I whispered. He took down the first monster with a kill shot between the eyes. Everyone down there was going to have to take the monsters out the same way if they wanted to keep them back from the wall.
I put a fist in the air as Will got another monster between the eyes. The arrows were flying now and the monsters were dropping all over the place. But they were letting the monsters get too close. There were too many of them.
“Come on,” I said quietly. “Shoot better, guys.” This was so frustrating. I could be helping right now. There had to be at least fifty monsters still alive. There were too many misses. They were wasting too many arrows. I could see at least ten more monsters that had just cleared the trees, moving quickly toward the wall. I squinted in the darkness to try to see the fighters’ ammo supplies. It looked like they were getting low.
Will had already run out of bolts for his crossbow. I watched him throw it down in frustration and grab a spare bow. This wasn’t good. He didn’t like using a regular bow. He knew he was not as good a shot with it. I watched him miss a monster twice before finally taking it down. He roared in frustration. I could hear it from here. I couldn’t just sit back and watch any longer. I’d deal with the consequences of disobeying my father after we secured the plantation.
Or maybe there wouldn’t be any consequences after all. Will was gesturing for me to get down there.
I rushed down into my room and grabbed my bow and a quiver full of arrows. I was just about to close the door behind me when I remembered that Will left a bag full of bolts for his crossbow under my bed for emergencies. This qualified as an emergency. I grabbed the bag and bolted out the door.
“Ella!” I called as I was running through the house. “Ella!”
“Jordan, what’s going on?” She was in the kitchen. I should have known.
“I’m going to the wall to help fight off the monsters,” I told her. “Keep everyone inside and away from the doors and windows just in case. And keep quiet.” Ella gave me a brief hug and I was out the door.
I tossed Will’s bag up on the wall and climbed the ladder.
“Thank God, Jordan,” Will said appreciatively, unzipping the bag of bolts. “You saved my hide.” He was already fitting bolts into his crossbow and clicked one into place. “I suck with that stupid bow,” he said handing it to me. I already had my own, but I took it from him anyway.
“Where do you want me?” I asked, grabbing an arrow from the quiver on my back.
“Right next to me, Jordan,” Will said with an odd tone in his voice that I couldn’t place. “I don’t want you out of my sight, you hear me?”
I nodded and turned my attention to the monsters. There were still about forty monsters alive that I could see. I aimed at one directly in front of me and fired. The arrow pierced the monster’s forehead and it went down like a sack of potatoes. I grabbed another arrow and quickly took aim at another one. My arrow went through its mouth. I aimed at another one, but Will took it down with a bolt through the eye.
“Too slow, Twerp,” Will teased.
“Says the guy that took three shots to take down one monster,” I mumbled under my breath. Another monster went down with my arrow in its forehead.
We were making progress.
“I heard that,” Will said. “You probably couldn’t take down half as many as I do with my crossbow,” he said, shooting a monster through the eye.
“Is that a challenge?” I asked, hoping it was. This would be fun.
“Oh, you bet your big butt it is,” he said and clicked another bolt into place.
“Will you two shut up,” Grace whispered from Will’s other side.
I rolled my eyes at Will and he laughed.
“Count starts now,” I whispered to Will. “Go,” I said, as I took down another monster.
It was easy pickings, and I never missed. The monsters were dangerously close to the wall, but their numbers were dwindling and no more had come through the trees. There couldn’t have been more than twenty left now.
“HELP!” someone screamed from the far end of the wall. “It’s got my foot!” I could see from here that a monster had managed to grab a hold of Rachel’s ankle and was trying to pull her down. My dad was already there. He grabbed Rachel’s arms and planted his feet. Gary leaned down and sliced off the monster’s arm. Rachel kicked wildly and the severed hand went flying into the night. My dad set Rachel down and looked down at the other side of the wall. I didn’t know what he was seeing, but it couldn’t be good.
Rachel was safe and unharmed, so I turned my attention back to the monsters that were still coming. There weren’t many.
I took down the final monster, bringing my tally up to twelve.
“How many?” I asked Will, knowing he would exaggerate.
“Seventeen,” he said proudly.
“You can’t count the ones you took down before I got here, that’s not fair,” I said.
“I didn’t,” he said indignantly.
“So, when they go down there and pull the bolts out of the monsters’ eyeballs, they’re going to bring you back seventeen?” I asked and he didn’t answer. I looked into his bag. “I count twenty two bolts still in the bag. That means you only killed eight since I’ve been here.” I raised an eyebrow at him.
“Fine,” he said with a huff. “How many did you take down?”
“Twelve,” I said with a smile. He rolled his eyes and held out his fist. I bumped it with my own and turned to find out what happened with Dad and Rachel.
Will followed me over to where my dad and Rachel were still standing.
“They should have gone down before they got this close,” my dad said to Rachel as I came to stand next to him. “Target practice every day this week to improve your aim.”
“Yes, sir,” she said, her eyes downcast.
I grabbed Will’s arm for balance and leaned over to see what all the fuss was about. The handless monster was lying in a heap on top of three other monsters. Apparently, the handless one had climbed over other monsters to get to Rachel up on the wall and he had almost succeeded. If it wasn’t for my dad and Gary, Rachel would be dead right now.
I straightened back up and let go of Will’s arm. I felt bad for Rachel, but I hoped she listened to my dad’s instructions and practiced. She should never have let that many monsters get all the way to the wall.
“Will, Jordan,” my dad said turning to face us. “I need you both on this wall tonight. You take out any monsters that come within fifty feet of the wall.” We both nodded and bumped fists. “Kyle. Ryan,” my dad called to the twins next. I could see their fiery red hair pop up behind Gary.
“Yes, sir,” they said in unison, earning a chuckle from Gary.
“Get down on the other side and pull these bodies into the clearing. We’ll burn them in the morning. Check our perimeter, then get back here. Do you have your swords?” he asked. They pulled their swords from over their shoulders in answer. My dad nodded. “Be silent, and be quick. Now, go.”
They nodded and descended the ladder into the blackness below the wall.
“Jordan,” my dad whispered to me. “Follow the twins along the wall. Watch their backs and get back here as quick as you can.”
“Sure thing,” I said, giving him a quick hug. I slapped Will on the back and grabbed a torch to give the twins some light while they pulled the monsters back from the wall.
“Will and I will be here when you get back,” Dad said.
The run around the wall was uneventful. We didn’t leave any monsters alive. I took the last turn at a walk, following the twins’ progress on the ground. They were giggling to each other and passing something between them. I didn’t know what it was and I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. The twins were very strange guys; we didn’t ask a whole lot of questions. We just let them kill monsters. It was what they enjoyed and that was fine by us.
I remembered when my dad brought the twins back to the plantation. They were scary. Totally wild. It took almost a year before they finally started acting like human beings again.
My dad and Gary and a few other people who have moved on since then, were on a scouting trip to a new town to gather supplies. They came up on a crowd of monsters with the twins against a wall. They were totally surrounded and about to be eaten. My dad ordered everyone to take out the monsters, but before anyone could even fire a shot, the twins started slashing away with their swords. My dad said they were laughing the whole time. Apparently, they backed themselves into a corner on purpose to make it more fun. That’s the twins for you.
I don’t know why they decided to come back to the plantation. They seemed perfectly happy out there on their own. I was glad they did stay. We got along great. It annoyed my dad like you wouldn’t believe, but they taught me some cool tricks with a sword. In return, I taught them how to use a slingshot. They thought it was hilarious at first, until I embedded a sharpened rock two inches into a tree. They stopped laughing after that.
“All clear, Dad,” I said when we reached them. “No other monsters along the perimeter.”
“Well done,” my dad said. He tilted his head toward the twins. “What’s with them?” They were standing on the wall with their heads together, looking at something.
I shrugged my shoulders. “I didn’t ask.” Dad chuckled and shook his head.
“You and Will keep a sharp eye out tonight. I’ll send Simon up in the morning.”
“Sure thing, Dad,” I said at the same time that Will said, “Yes, sir.” He winked at me and smiled.
My dad gave me another hug and shook Will’s hand. “Take good care of her,” he said quietly to Will, then lead the rest of the fighters back into the plantation house. He would give everyone inside the all clear. It would be just Will and I on this section of the wall for the rest of the night.
“Think we’ll see any more monsters tonight?” Will asked, taking a seat. He dangled his feet over the wall, something that my dad would never approve of.
“Hope they eat your feet,” I said, sitting down next to him.
He wiggled his feet. “Come and get ‘em,” he called, quietly. “Fresh human legs. Mm, mm good.”
I bumped his shoulder with mine and laughed.
“I’ll take the first watch,” Will said, “if you want to get a little shut eye.”
I shook my head. “I’m good, but you must be exhausted,” I said.
“Why would I be exhausted?”
“You missed so many times. I bet you did twice as much work as the rest of us,” I teased.
“Oh, you think you’re so funny, don’t you Twerp.”
“A bit,” I said proudly. Will smacked me on the back of the head and rolled his eyes.
“Maybe I should do some target practice with Rachel tomorrow,” Will admitted. “I hate the stupid bow.”
“I could teach you how to use a sling shot?” I suggested. He could be good at it. He was pretty strong and had great aim. Even I had to admit that he was excellent with the crossbow.
Will laughed at me. “That’s a toy, Jordan,” he said rolling his eyes.
“This toy,” I said, taking the slingshot out of my back pocket, “has saved a bunch of people’s lives over the years, including your own. So, don’t make fun of the sling shot, dude.”
Will laughed and held up his hands in surrender. “I’ll never be able to forget that,” he said.
You see, Will was originally from Arkansas, but he had family in Florida. His mom and two brothers were killed less than a year after the monsters came. Will doesn’t talk about that. He was seven years old and completely alone. Miraculously, he made it to his aunt’s house in Mississippi relatively unscathed. She had a large amount of property down by the Alabama border, so they were relatively safe. He stayed with her and a few other survivors for about two years before they all decided to move on. His aunt wanted to seek out their family in Florida and the rest of the group agreed to accompany her. Their group passed through the plantation for the first time when I was eight. Will was ten. He was a tough boy even then. He had to be to survive for over four months completely on his own before finding his aunt’s house. Will and his aunt only stayed at the plantation for a few days to gather supplies and rest up for the long trip to Tallahassee. While they were here, we were attacked by monsters. There were only about ten of them traveling in a group, but Will let one get too close and it had its hands around Will’s throat. I saw it just in time. I took it down with a sharpened rock through the ear. My slingshot saved his life that day.
I didn’t see him again until I was almost ten. His aunt had been killed by monsters on the way back to the plantation. He told me later that they didn’t find their family in Florida. I guess they had either been killed, or had already moved on before they got there. Will was alone again. He had nowhere else to go, so he decided to stay at the plantation for good.
I couldn’t even imagine what it must have been like for Will to have lost every member of his family. And to have been left to travel alone not once, but twice before he was even a teenager.
There were so, so many people just like him out there now. My family, as big and intact as it was, was extremely rare. I lost my mom and all of my extended family, but I still had my dad and sisters. Not many people were that lucky.
“You were thinking about it, weren’t you?” Will asked. I blinked a few times to clear the blur and rubbed my eyes.
“You were, too,” I said, though I wasn’t so sure.
“I owe you my life, Jordan,” Will said seriously, putting his hand on my knee. I frowned down at it and he removed it quickly. He stood up suddenly and wiped his hands down the sides of his pants. What was that all about?
“Still don’t want to learn how to use a slingshot?” I asked, trying to ease the sudden awkwardness I felt.
Will took the sling shot from me and pulled the rubber band tight. He let it go with a snap and shrugged. “Doesn’t seem that hard to me,” he said. “Got any rocks?”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a sharpened rock. I handed it to him and watched as he fitted it into the sling. He pulled the rubber band tight and aimed down at the ground. He didn’t shoot. Instead, he slackened the rubber band slowly and handed the rock and slingshot back to me.
“You’re great with a crossbow, you would probably be good with this too,” I said putting the slingshot back in my pocket.
“Great, huh?” Will asked, raising an eyebrow at me. Guess he was back to normal.
“You heard me,” I said, with a half-smile.
Join Jordan and Will again next week to find out what they plan to do about the new gang in town. Will they retaliate for waking the monsters and threatening the lives of everyone at the plantation?