I can’t help it, I turn my head and look even though I know I shouldn’t.
He’s a big, fat meaty zombie, his belly large and rounded over his stomach, and he’s pointing one huge hairy arm at us. Bloodstains are around his face and at various points on his green striped shirt. I don’t know what he’s been eating – exactly – but he’s still chewing as he moans at us, and it is one of the grossest things I’ve seen.
“Oh God,” I whisper, and then realizing noise levels don’t matter anymore, I shout – “Run!”
I turn my attention back to my running feet, and then I’m up the first part of the slope and then to the harder, slower part. I dig my hands and get a good hold, and find that Cassie’s just below me. The zombies are uncurling from their circle, and Big and Meaty is already headed over here in his slow, frightening fashion.
This is the first time I’ve climbed under any kind of pressure.
I turn back to the face. The slope is at a tighter angle than I’d like, and there are lots of little rocks that keep sliding downhill at the slightest touch. There isn’t a way to go straight up, instead I will need to go a bit to the left, and then a bit northeast, and then turn, and keep doing that until we zigzag our way up to the top. It’s doable.
I dig in and feel that peace that comes from concentrating, that I get from climbing or running. I reach out and a bit of the surface slides beneath my fingers. I think I have a hold, but I slide a tiny bit instead, my fingertips sweating in response, and my heart jumping. I grab a better hold, dig my feet into the side, and shift myself safely into the position I’d like. Then I do it again.
I’m maybe a fourth of the way from the top when Cassie screams.
I anchor myself on my side, and then watch in horror as she slides down the face. That would be fine, but Big and Meaty is trying to scramble up to her, his huge palms reaching for her.
If he gets her, I can’t reach her before he tears her apart.
“Dig your feet in, grab anything!” I shout at her. She’s panicking - I can see it in her eyes. “There - there’s a big rock coming up – grab it!”
“I can’t,” she cries.
“Yes, you can!” I shout in my baddest, roughest voice.
She reaches out, slides past the rock, and grabs the edge at the last moment. Big and Meaty jumps and swipes at her sneakers, but then falls back down the slope just as Cassie screams.
“Scrunch your feet up!”
She digs them into the slope beneath her.
“Good! Now take a deep breath, in and now out. Forget the zombies. Just think about the rocks. Think about where you’re going to go. If you slide, it’s okay, just look for another rock.”
I see her calm down. Cassie looks up at me, and her face is dirty with rock dust and tear tracks.
“It’s okay honey, it’s going to be okay. Just focus on finding your path.”
She’s still crying, but I see her focus on the rocks. She listens to me, and fights her fear, and slowly but surely she makes her way up the slope. By the time she slides over the top her whole body is shaking, but she still makes it over.
We lie on the blacktop, and Cassie throws an arm over her face, crying and laughing at the same time.