Home > Reborn (Born #3)

Reborn (Born #3)
Author: Tara Brown

Chapter One

His lips biting at my sleeve is what wakes me. I try to push him back down on the bed but he bites again.

My eyes burst open, realizing he shouldn't be here, “Damn, Leo! When did you get here?”

I grab my bow and quiver and look around. He gives me a look. He’s judging me for how soft I’ve grown. He climbed right in the tent without waking me.

I nod, “I know, buddy.” I have to remember what we've been through, not where we are.

I climb out of the tent, keeping low to the ground. I have half a mind to grab Will from his tent too, but I don’t. Leo and me can handle whatever it is that’s picking his wolf ass. He ran a long way to tell me about it.

Not just that, but Will will only add drama and mean stares, or that desperate look he gets that annoys me. Seeing him weak like that does nothing for his cause. I know he's sorry, but every time I close my eyes, all I see is him kissing my sister, and me strapped to a table in the breeder farms.

The silence of the forest is calming and deceptive to anyone who doesn’t know about the song. But I know the song. I can hear it. A bird in the distance makes the warning noise and the others shoot it along the woods in an echo. One single sharp note. There are no other noises. No squirrels or rabbits or mice. Just the birds passing the message along the forest. If there is trouble it’s always the same, this song or total silence. Either way, it's bad news.

We run along the crest of a hill and down into the valley. I can see the guards aren’t in the trees. I give Leo a look. He whines almost silently and looks towards the bottom of the hill. His eyes are darting; he's looking for something.

I take my inhales slow, paced purposefully, to prevent me from gasping. “Shit,” I whisper and look around; it’s me and them and I have a bow. I can’t kill them as fast with a bow as I can with a gun. I’m about to run back up to the camp like a coward, when I remember…I’m immune.

I almost slap my own forehead. I casually walk down the hill.

Leo doesn’t get it. He tries to lead me off. I rub his ear, “It’s okay. You stay here.”

Their hunting party is large. I don’t even understand how it’s possible. Shouldn’t they be dying off by now?

I sigh, pulling my first arrow and sliding it between my fingers. One of them lifts his head from the ground, where the body they’re eating is laying dead. I can only assume it’s the guard who should be in this quadrant.

The infected snarl at me as they lift their heads. I lose my arrow into the brown, matted head of the first one. They jump up, moving faster than I remember them being able to, and come in a mangled group. I down four before they get to me, then I pull my knives from my boots. Their skin makes a disturbing squishing sound with the slicing of the blades. Their dirty, rotten blood fills the air around me.

One grabs my arm. I cut into him but another knocks me over into the brush. Leo jumps the one on top of me but is flung across the small clearing. I hear him whimper as he lands.

I panic when I see the green blood splattering. One of them is smothering me and I don’t really believe I’m immune, not totally. I’m pressing my mouth shut tight as the first set of teeth rip into my forearm. My lips come apart fast, tearing a scream across the silent forest. In amongst their high moans, my scream is so different. I feel a hand grab at my other arm as they cover me.

I struggle but a voice pulls me from it.

“Em, it’s okay, baby. I got you,” he whispers into my neck.

Tears are rolling down my cheeks when I open my eyes. I’m being smothered alright, but it’s by Will and my blankets.

I turn my face into his neck and let it out. I don’t want to. I want it to be him, not Will, comforting me. I want his fur to muffle the sobs like always as his paws wrap around me.

“I got you, Em. You’re safe,” he strokes my head.

I’m covered in sweat and the panic is still so intense, I swear I can feel the greasy, green blood on my lips.

I take a deep breath and he just holds me.

“Now that was a bad dream. You woke most of the camp with your screams,” Anna whispers and snickers her squeaky whistle of a laugh. “No more perimeter runs for you before bedtime.”

I feel for the greasy blood with my fingertips before I trust licking my lips. I’m cold and shaking, even in the heat of the night air.

I need Leo. Something is wrong. I have a feeling. Not a good one.

I lie back in my bed and curl around Will. I don’t want it to be him, but it is. I know it will take me a long time to fall back to sleep. I look back at Will as I settle down, “Something is wrong.”

His eyes open. He gives me a strange look and nods, “I’ve never seen you have a nightmare like that.”

I swallow, “I need Leo. We might have to make a trek to the cabin. Something is wrong.”

He kisses my nose, “Go to sleep. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”

I nod and pull away from him, “You can stay, but I don’t want you to touch me.”

He doesn’t leave. I’m glad he doesn’t, but I’m even more excited that it’s his choice. I don’t need him.

I close my eyes and fall back to sleep.

The next morning he’s gone. It’s light out and I’m alone in the tent. When I leave the tent, I see the eyes of the other people on me.

Star walks up smiling, “Rough night?”

I clench my jaw, “It was a bad dream.”

She nods, “After everything you’ve been through Emma, a bad dream is expected.”

I glanced around at the people giving me cautious looks, “Do they still think I’m a monster?”

She nods, “Yeah.”

My eyes circled back to her, “And yet, you get off scot-free?”

Her eyes gleam with something I assume is smugness, “It’s not so free being me.”

“Yeah well, you could try it my way sometime and see how different it is.” I walk away, gripping my quiver.

I spend the day keeping busy. I don’t want to see Will or the hateful people of the camp. I want to curl up with a good book or sit by the river with Leo. I don’t think I'll be able to meet Will's gaze today, not after being so needy and breaking down.

I walk past the group of ladies I saved from the farms. They smile and wave. The numbers are less than I imagined would have stayed. I glance around the camp for the bratty babies, but I don’t see them. Instead, I see the pile of dried meat is getting low. I know fresh meat is a daily thing but the dry meat is part of the stores. It’s the travel food and the stuff we will eat in the winter.

I'm about to make for the woods when I see Will talking with a man. I decide to take a nap and then hunt after supper.

I wake alone and sweaty in my tent but at least the bad dreams didn’t come. I grab my bow and make my way into the woods alone. Everything I do is alone. For me the camp isn’t much different than being with Leo at the cabin. Doesn’t matter if it's people or animals, they give me a wide birth. I wish I didn’t care anymore, but it sort of hurts like I don’t belong anywhere.

When I get out into the greenbelt, I miss the fur in my fingers. I love the greenery and the sounds surrounding me, but it isn’t the same without him.

My dreams start to make their way back into my mind. Being in the woods isn’t making the creepy feeling of being consumed by the infected go away.

I focus on the sound of the forest and slow my rapidly-beating heart. The song of the animals is like peace and quiet in its noisy sort of way. The sharp sound of the warning signal is nowhere to be heard.

The forest is still in the way I like. The animals carry on with their day. I wipe some of the sweat from my brow and close my eyes. There is fear inside of me that needs to be stilled. I force myself to be comfortable in the silence and listen for it. When I hear the hoof of something large breaking the branches it stands on, I open my eyes, pull back the arrow, and take my breath. On the exhale, I release and it’s the only sound I focus in on—the sound of the arrow slicing the wind.

I like that the forest moves around me. I am one with it, even with a weapon and a dying deer.

A smile crosses my lips, it's not because an animal is dead but because nature has allowed me to become part of its natural cycle. Like I’m not a threat to it, not like the rest of us. They let me be afraid, not like the people at the camp.

I trek down the hill to the dying deer. Her legs twitch but the arrow is perfectly positioned in her side. I pull my knife and stroke my hand along her forehead to her neck. It’s thick and pounding from her panicked heartbeat. I slide the knife across her throat, spilling the last of her life into the duff.

“Thank you,” I whisper as she leaves her body. I’m about to gut her when I’m interrupted.

“You can take the meat without gutting.”

I jump up, pulling my next arrow. An older man, with a nice smile and a twinkle in his green eyes, shrugs, “Or you can shoot my old ass.”

He has nice teeth but that doesn’t make me trust him. The ones with the nice teeth always fight for their survival.

I narrow my gaze, “The forest doesn’t change for you. They sound the same. They didn’t announce you sneaking up on me.”

He grins, “No. They accepted me as one of them a long time ago. Besides, I wasn’t sneaking, I just walk quietly now.”

It makes me smile. I don’t know why. Maybe because people with nice teeth don’t usually get accepted by the forest. I guess though that I have good teeth. Granny made me brush and floss all the time.

He points at the deer, “You got a good shot on you. Lung/heart shots are hard to do perfectly.”

I nod, “I know.”

“You been alone a long time?”

I nod again.

He grins, “Me too—well, before I stumbled upon the jokers I live with. I just found this camp too. Who knew so many of us were gathering and living together in peace. Now if you wanna take the meat without the nonsense of gutting that deer, I can show you how.”

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