Rhoda barked at him and the zombies, and then led the way off the road into the trees. The dog had good instincts. In the open fields to the right he’d be run down for sure. In the trees, he at least had a chance to lose them. He followed Rhoda’s paw prints through the snow. The pain in his leg was getting worse with every step. Behind him, he could hear the muffled stumbles of the undead.
The snow was getting deeper, so it was hard to tell if he was losing them or if the weather was hiding the sounds of their pursuit. Looking back, he could see them moving through the branches. One seemed to be caught in a bush, which gave him an idea. Calling out to Rhoda to get her attention, he started pushing his way through the thickest undergrowth he could find. She doubled back and followed him, wriggling through the snow and dirt.
It was slow going, so he wasn’t all the way through by the time the first zombie reached the brush. It snarled and grabbed for him, but floundered in the twisted branches. Twigs scratched his face and he closed his eyes as he pushed the last of the way through. Stepping off into empty air, his eyes snapped open and he saw himself tilting forward towards black water. Frantically reaching behind him, his fingers twisted into stalks and boughs, but they tore away as he fell.
The water knocked the air out of him as he belly flopped in. It was so cold it felt like liquid fire. His arms clawed for the surface, and as his head broke into the open air he spat out water and gulped oxygen. He could hear Rhoda’s frantic barking over the churning of the water. Paddling to the far shore, he coughed up more water before turning back to her.
“I’m alright, try to get around.”
Rhoda burst into motion, dashing along the bank and out of sight. His blood was thundering in his veins, but he knew he was in trouble. The water dripping off him was crunching underfoot seconds after it fell. Then he heard the crack of wood and a splash. In the time he’d spent in the water and shivering at the bank, one of the zombies had made it through.
The creature disappeared under the water, leaving only a small circle of bubbles that quickly disappeared. As the second one fell in, he breathed a sigh that quickly became a scream when he saw the head of the first zombie start to rise out of the water. Crashing through the woods, he moved as fast as his leg would allow. Stumbling, his shivering fingers picked up a fallen branch and he continued on.
Hearing noise off to the right, he readied his makeshift weapon. It was Rhoda who appeared out of the gloom. Apparently she’d found a relatively dry way to cross. She whined when she saw him. His body was shaking so much that he could barely speak through his clenched jaw.
“I could use a fire right about now.”