Jake cast one last glance over this shoulder to where his two friends clung to the branches of a pine tree over the swirling horde of undead, and then took in the new group just forming out of the mists, which cut off their escape route to the north. More moans to the east let him know that more zombies lurked in that direction as well.
“Come on,” Jake hissed through clenched teeth. “To the canyon, it’s our only chance.”
“What about Tal in that damn tree?” Flack whispered back.
“We can only help him if we’re alive. Let’s go!”
The zombies had spotted them and their groans increased in volume as they moved faster over the soaked forest. The four of them leapt over fallen logs and rushed through clusters of grey stone. The rain still hammered the wooded fields and hit them harder when they neared the edge of the canyon.
Rough stones rose on either side as they splashed into a ravine that led to the canyon. Two feet of water filled the ravine and disappeared into a waterfall landing a hundred yards below.
“Careful here,” Jake said. “One misstep and zombies won’t be your biggest problem.” They made it to where the cliffs of the canyon met the field. Jake led the way and took them toward the southern side of the ravine.
He turned to the others and watched the rain dripping from the ends of their hair and clothes, as he said, “We’re going to need to cling to this cliff face and we might as well head south so we’re closer to Tal. Once we reach the side of the canyon closest to him we’ll try to figure out a way for us all to survive through this.”
“Survive through this…” Tops said, while making wild gestures with his hands, “We’ll be lucky to survive this climb you want us to do?”
Jake moved in closer to the younger man. “Listen up. Our group has only survived because of the cliffs of this canyon. How do you think we have made it through the last year? How did I kill the original horde that followed us here? We’re the masters of this canyon, the Cliffhammers! If we can’t make this happen, we don’t deserve to survive.”
The two men eyed each other until Tops girlfriend, Scent, said, “We have to do something, they’re almost here.”
Jake was an accomplished climber, but the journey proved harder than he would have through. The steep cliffs remained covered in water and everything remained slick. They passed under several spots where the rushing water poured off the fields above in frigid waterfalls.
Once Scent slipped and would have fallen if Flack hadn’t grabbed the back of her jacket, she screamed as her staff when tumbling down the cliff and shattered on the rocks below.
“This is bullshit,” Tops spit past the rain running over his face. “You’re going to get us all killed.”
“What other choice is there?” Jake shouted back.
“We just climb down and head back to camp. Warn them and cut our losses.”
“And leave Tal there?” Flack demanded.
Jake spied an area that had some shelter from the storm and would provide as least a few feet of safety for them to stand on. “Over here is a ledge. Let’s stop there and figure it out.”
No one complained and they reached the ledge without mishap. Once they had all found safe footing, Jake said, “Stay here, I’m going to scout out what’s above us and see how close we are to Tal.”
Without waiting for an answer, he set off. It was a hard climb, but he’d seen worse. Three minutes later he had reached the upper edge of the cliff. Attempting to stay hidden, he peered over. He didn’t like what he saw.
He could see Tal, and it looked like Mooky clinging, to the wet tree branches, but even more zombies had arrived. Jake felt his pulse quicken as more and more undead poured into the clearing. Some town must have emptied out, he thought to himself. But as more and more walking corpses appeared, he wondered how he’d be able to get any of them out of this alive.
Come back next weekend and continue Jake’s dangerous journey into the second year of the Eternal Aftermath.