The ATV skids as they make a sharp turn and narrow miss getting hit by a trio of beer bottles. Checking over her shoulder, Dawn sees that the enormous mob is still following them and seems to have grown. She hears Kara cough behind her and reaches back to touch the girl’s side, which is covered in blood from a stab wound. Cursing at her reckless escape, she is about to suggest finding a place to hide when a bullet strikes the ground to their left. Picking up a flare gun that had been left on the ATV, Dawn stretches her arm and blindly fires in the hopes of hitting the shooter. The blast of fire is bigger than she ever imagined, but the entranced people continue rushing through the flames. Spotting another turn in the road, she decides to go over the small hill and take her chances traveling along the rocky coastline. Another shot rings out and a hole is punched in a birch that they are passing, the damage being at the same height as Kara’s head. Veering from side to side, Dawn struggles to avoid the rocks and trees that are packed just tight enough to make it a harrowing experience. Looking back, she can see the mob flowing into the forest, but only the ones on motorcycles and their own ATVs are able to move quickly through the wilderness. To her relief, they show very little concern with their own safety and several of them crash.
“Drop me off and escape,” Kara whispers as she presses a cloth to her wound. She frowns when her friend puts a lighter in her hands, the thought of burning the gash closed filling her with frustration. “You know this won’t work, right? Even if I stop bleeding, that knife went in deep enough to hit organs. I know you love me and I love you too, but there’s no sense in both of us getting killed. Just leave me with the flare gun. There’s two more shots and I can make them count. You’re the haven, so you have to-”
“I refuse to let the game end this way,” Dawn snaps before she turns to come out on a dirt road. Seeing a tank at the far end, she drives over the path and back into the woods as a deafening blast goes off. “Where the hell did they get one of those? You said something about a border that the monsters wouldn’t cross. That doesn’t seem to be working. Explain what you think happened and take your mind off the cut.”
“It’s a seeping gash,” the girl retorts, knowing that she will not win the argument. Giving in to the fact that she will not be left behind, she pulls a pistol out of her satchel and turns around to watch their back. “There was half a mile around the camp that was safe. No traps or threat of attack unless Ian was on a rampage. That never got very far and we would have enough of a warning to get inside. We thought there was something you did to block them, but I guess they were playing by a rule that doesn’t exist anymore. Doesn’t matter what that was about since we can’t bring it back. Keeping to the coast because there’s a dock not much further way. Only one boat there, so we have to be first.”
“How do you-” the woman is about to ask when she is jolted by a memory. The surprise nearly causes her to slam into a tree, but she swerves out of the way and skids onto an abandoned road. “I told you about it a year ago? This memory is harder to hold onto than the others. What is it about this place that is now so familiar? I feel like I’m at the end of a long journey, but there’s fog everywhere. There’s one piece that I can’t find at all. What in all the world am I missing this time around?”
As they come out of a short tunnel and turn onto a beach, the pair are tackled off the ATV by someone waiting behind a boulder. Dawn tries to roll with their attacker in the opposite direction of Kara, but the girl is gripped tightly by the arm. Hearing her friend cry out in pain, she straddles their lithe figure and stops when she sees that it is Melissa. Driven into an unbreakable insanity, the scarred woman is foaming at the mouth and trying to pull a knife out of its sheathe. Using her knee to pin her enemy’s other arm, Dawn focuses more on freeing Kara than fighting back. Pressing on Melissa’s wrist with her nails, she violently shakes the limb until the girl wriggles out of her shirt and crawls away. Enraged by the escape, the enchanted human leans forward and bites deep into the other woman’s thigh. The shock of pain is enough to drive her away and allow both of them to stand. Shouts arise from the distance, which distract Dawn enough to allow Melissa to draw her weapon. Catching the glint of metal out of the corner of her eye, she manages to catch her former friend by the wrist and they wrestle over the knife that is already covered in blood. Unsure of how she knows, the brown-haired woman can tell that the blade is the same one that stabbed Kara, who she can hear groaning not far away. With a rough kick, Dawn knocks her enemy back and scrambles towards a pointy branch that she can wield like a gnarled club. Before she can swing, a loud shot goes off and Melissa is struck in the eye by a flare. As if the foam on her chin is made of oil, her head bursts into flames and she screams while continuing to wave her knife. Meeting the blind charge, Dawn jabs the branch forward to stab the other woman in the chest. She falls back to avoid the swinging blade and braces her own weapon against her stomach. The pivot lifts Melissa into the air and she sinks further along the twisted tree limb. With a final shriek, her fiery skull falls off and lands an inch from Dawn’s head. A violent spasm is the final movement of the body before it goes limp and finishes sliding down the branch.
“Get to the boat,” Kara orders before pointing at a small canoe bobbing on the shore. She holds her side as she gets onto the ATV and leans over the handlebars. “You said that this has been going on for centuries, which means it’s more important that you survive. Get away and find a way to stop the monsters. It doesn’t matter if Earth returns to what it was or not. Just as long as those two are gone for good. You can help the remaining humans survive. So, get moving while I stop that mob.”
“What kind of kid talks like that?” Dawn asks while staring at Melissa’s body. The roar of the ATV snaps her out of her trance and she turns to watch the girl driving it into the mouth of the tunnel. “It’s you! Every time I’ve done this, I’ve been alone. There were a few times I ran into Melissa and the Grand Caravan too. All of the monsters, traps, and people have been a part of this game . . . Except you. I have no memory of you, Kara. That means-”
“Absolutely nothing!” she screams, the sudden rage causing her wound to squirt. Her fingers shake as she loads the final shot into the flare gun and she watches as a few figures appear at the far end of the tunnel. “Maybe I’m a new addition to your story or a kid that you never noticed before. None of that matters now that we know you’re the haven and the key to stopping all of this madness. Please stop wasting time and go. Wouldn’t it be worse for you to get hung up on this and we both die? At least if you escape, you can end this and maybe even revive everyone who has died.”
“I want to ask you a question.”
“I’ll only answer when you’re on the boat.”
“What’s your hair color?”
Kara is about to answer when she covers her mouth and waves for Dawn to head for the canoe. Seeing that the mob is halfway through the tunnel, the woman gives her friend a final hug around the shoulders to avoid the stab wound. A gradual warmth and stickiness touches her stomach and she realizes that blood from the gash is seeping through her shirt. She gives the girl a kiss on the top of the head and considers trying to carry her to the boat. Knowing that even a small scuffle could lead to a quicker death, she finally gives up and ends the embrace. Sprinting for the canoe, she kicks the stake out of the ground before hitting the icy water. She hoists herself into the boat and holds up the only oar without looking back at the shore. A sudden pop is followed by an explosion that sends a wave of heat across the beach and over the ocean. Stricken with fear, Dawn whirls around to see that the tunnel is filled with flames that have been blasted into the approaching mob. Walking to the water, Kara is still holding onto the flare gun until she can sit in the shallows. Throwing the useless object away, she kicks her legs and enjoys her first time being in the ocean.
“My hair is brown!” she yells an instant before a wall of fog consumes the coast.