Never a dull night. Nick and I were called out to a distant corner of the preserve last night after an alarm went off. The moon was full, casting a silver pallor on the snowy ground so bright we didn't need our headlights. I always hated how the alarm system was built. When it went off, it meant we had 5 miles of fencing to inspect. Usually we found nothing more than a downed tree or, worse, a section of rust. But this time, the cut and twisted wires greeted us in plain sight. There's something about full moons.
Ditching the pick-up was our only option. The trail was impossible to see from it. Even with us following the trail on foot, it quickly disappeared into the powdered northern scrub. We tried to find it again, but tracking at night is never easy, particularly when the snow is loose and easily carried by the wind to cover footsteps.
"What was that?" Nick asked, turning. He pulled his rifle off his shoulder and crept into the underbrush. I followed suit. We crouched at the edge of a clearing and peered through pine needles.
""It's just old Jimbo," I said with relief. Jimbo is my name for him, the leader of the pack, the alpha. "Oh, and he brought some friends shuffling along, too. I didn't realize there were so few left."
"I'm sure the others are nearby, Simon. Shh! Over there." Nick pointed the muzzle of his rifle off to the side of the clearing. A small group of high-school kids stumbled in. Despite their attempts to keep quiet, they quickly attracted the attention of our endangered residents. A young man in a blazer giggled as he threw a can of cheap beer at Jimbo. Of course, cheap beer was always involved when kids came snooping.
"What are they doing?" Nick asked. The young man drew closer to Jimbo, taunting him. Another held up a smartphone to record the event. I put my hand on Nick's rifle to lower it.
"They're just being stupid. It's called 'zipping.' They try to see who can get closest without getting bitten."
"Shouldn't we stop them? Don't they know how dangerous this is?"
I nodded. "Of course. That's why they do it. Let's go, but, keep the shooting to a minimum." We got back to our feet and crunched through the snow just as Jimbo reached out for the intruder. "Hey! What're you kids doing?" I yelled in my most authoritative tone, like a parent scolding a toddler.
The startled kids stood in place like gazelle on high alert. Jimbo was slow – all of them were when they got as old as he was – but he still managed to grab the idiot's arm.
"Crap. Kid, move!" I yelled and ran towards them. I could only hope to get to the zombie before it bit him.
"Do I shoot it?" Nick asked breathlessly as he ran behind me.
"You can't. They're endangered! They're protected!" By the time I got to the kid, Jimbo was already on top of him. I pulled the zombie off of him and looked him over. No blood. "You alright, kid? That was one of the stupidest things I've ever seen someone do," I said as I helped him get back to his feet, but kept a firm grip on his shoulder. "You know it's illegal to trespass on government land." He nodded. Nick was doing a good job keeping the zombies at bay as I walked them all back towards the hole in the fence. "I can have you arrested. The Unnatural Preserve is here to keep the last of the zombie outbreak safe from punks like–"
A gun went off in the distance. Nick and I looked at each other for a moment, then rushed into action. "Get out of here, now. Or I will have you all arrested," I called out as we ran to the pick-up and jumped in. In moments we were speeding towards the sound of the gun.
"Poachers?" Nick asked.
"Probably. They like to take their teeth and fingers and sell them to rich people in China. Then there are those who want revenge for loved ones who died in the outbreak." The truck crashed through the trees to the scene of two men and a group of zombies. It was the rest of the herd. They'd been captured in a net. One of the poachers was hunched over the female zombie I call Sandy, his knife drawn. I knew that there couldn't be more than about 10 of the zombies left in the preserve, maybe the world, and now there would be one less.
The men looked up when they heard us barreling towards them. They pulled out their own rifles and began to open fire. Nick steered the car towards one while I jumped from it and struck the one with the knife. The world was a blur as we struggled over his gun next to Sandy's body. I felt a stabbing pain shoot up my spine as he kicked me hard in the shin, but it wasn't enough to stop me. As soon as I wrested the gun from his hands, the poacher pushed away from me and ran for the fence.
"Simon, are you OK?" Nick asked as he backed up. The other man, it seemed, made his escape as well.
"He got me in the shin pretty good. It might be broken. Take me to town," I told him and crawled into the back of the truck.
The truck bounced along as we headed back to the city. I inspected my leg. Of course. It was an infection. Sandy hadn't been killed after all, and now I was to be her next victim. By the time we get to town, I'm sure I'll have turned into one. But I'm glad, to be honest. There are a lot of people in town. Unprepared people. Jimbo won't be alone for long.