On the field ahead, Gale had shaken off most of her psychological numbness, the shock to her senses of the repeated exposures to terror. She had started talking again. Whereas it had been Deb’s strength which carried them over the mass grave, that unflowing river of corpses, and beyond the reach of the fire, Gale sensed that now Deb needed her help, her support. Gale kept herself talking, kept Deb listening, trying to keep Deb’s mind occupied to ward off despair.
“You know, this is gonna make your career,” Gale said. “You can choose what newspaper to work for, once you get home. And you can write a book on all this.”
Gale panted between comments as they trudged on. Since their escape, they had not seen a living creature, save the bugs that were everywhere, and their pursuers. Gale wondered if there was anything else left alive in this land.
“So what would be a good title? Have any ideas?”
A dull thunk sounded an instant before the report of a gunshot. Deb pitched forward, the mask bleeding sparks as lead struck steel. She fell hard onto her face.
“No!” Gale screamed as a second bullet sheared off a lock of her hair. She dropped to the ground, but the grasses here grew stubby and provided scant cover. A second later she sprang to her feet and ran for the cover of the coppice of trees ahead.
She didn’t make it.
Gale felt a stinging sensation as a blow like a sledgehammer struck her left thigh, knocking her legs out from under her. She slid to a stop in the grass, bitter dirt filling her mouth. She looked back to see if her leg was still there. With a cry of pain, she got back up, hobbling the last few feet into the cover of the thicket.
Behind a thick tree trunk, Gale slid to the ground. The bullet had passed through the muscle of her rear thigh, missing the bone and the major arteries. A painful wound and a debilitating one, but not fatal, provided she could staunch the bleeding and prevent shock or infection. Gale tore one of the sleeves off her shirt, tying it around her wound. Then she stood, looking for a means of escape. She realized then that she had none.