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"So you pissed off your... people. And they infected you with a brain-eating parasite. Then they gave you a beating and tied you to a cross for good measure."
Dee filled in the rest silently. If she hadn't come along, he would have been slowly eaten alive... his body consumed by the birds, and his mind by the worms. It was impossible to say which would have eventually killed him. But he was free now. Free, pissed off.
"I guess I get it, now," Dee sighed. "Doesn't make me feel any better hanging out with you... but I get it. Is there a cure?"
The scarecrow started to speak, but he could not. He frowned, and jabbed a finger in a direction that meant nothing to Dee. It might have been the direction they'd been traveling on the Golden Road, but Dee was bad with directions. She had a compass... in the glove compartment of her SUV.
"Yes or no?"
"But if there IS, it isn't here, right? It's that way?" She pointed the same direction the scarecrow had indicated. "What's that way? A town?"
He picked up a leaf and held it up.
"Forest? Trees? What?"
He shook his head and pointed to the leaf. He stroked the surface with his finger.
He smiled, nodding vigorously.
The scarecrow gave her his hardest 'what kind of idiot ARE you?' look.
"I'm new to the planet, okay! I don't even know how we're speaking the same language!"
Now it was his turn to sigh. The leaf fell from his hand.
"Something green that way," said Dee. "Maybe it can fix your brain. I get it. Can these people... or whatever... tell me how to get home?"
He gave her a considering look, then shrugged.
"Will they try to kill me? Like your friends?"
He shook his head... but slowly. He was less than certain of the answer.
"How far is this 'green' place?"
He held up three fingers.
"Three days. Okay. Sounds like a plan. We'll head that way in the morning."
Dee treated the man's wounds while he ate. She applied bandages and antibiotics, but he refused any painkillers. After eating he got up and walked out of the camp. Dee waited for him to return, but he didn't.
She wondered where he was. She assumed he was out tracking the soldiers who were more than likely tracking her. But he might also have been getting a safe distance from the camp, in case he had an 'episode' in the middle of the night. The truth was probably a combination of both.
Dee sat on the ground and rested her back against the fallen log. Treach lay his head on her lap and started snoring.
"Glad YOU can sleep," she said. "Giant bug-women. Crazed soldiers and serial-killing zombies. I don't think I'll be sleeping this year.
Twenty minutes later, Dee was sleep.
The scarecrow returned to the camp several during the night. Treach woke at his approach, but he didn't come close enough to the fire to warrant a growl. He simply watched from a distance, and circled the camp to search for signs of other visitors before returning to the darkness.
Dee never saw him.
Her sleep was fitful and uncomfortable, but uninterrupted.
She awoke expecting to find herself home in bed, or sitting in her car at the side of the road. Or in the hospital. She was ready to attribute the strange vividness of her dream to stress... or a concussion. But the previous day hadn't been a dream.
The remnants of the campfire in front of her were real. The cold ground beneath her buttocks was real. Treach sniffing loudly around her backpack was real.
That meant the scarecrow, the creature in the ruins, and the knife-wielding soldiers had been real, too.
She stood up and stretched the stiffness from her limbs. Then she drank some water, refilled her canteen and empty water bottle, and used the rest to wash her face and torso using the travel soap she had tucked away in her bag.
The scarecrow appeared a few minutes later, looking very much the same as he had last night. He was wearing a different shirt... either that, or he'd found a way to wash the bloodstains out of the one he'd been wearing. Dee assumed he'd killed someone for it. She decided not to ask.
He pointed at Dee's backpack and then at the woods, indicating that she should gather her belongings and get moving. Oddly, he didn't point back along the path that Dee had followed to reach the camp, but instead at the unbroken wall of trees at 90 degrees to that path.
"What's over there?" She asked.
He gestured. Dee couldn't understand any of the details, but he apparently wanted her to walk through the woods to some kind of smaller path, which then follow it to... somewhere.
Considering the number of dead bodies that were likely littering the area, Dee decided that it was in her best interest to play along.
The scarecrow didn't follow her. Less than an hour after waking, Dee found herself pushing noisily through the undergrowth of a strange forest, alone. About an hour later, she literally stumbled onto a narrow path.
She followed it in the direction that her 'friend' had indicated.
Dee's admittedly flawed sense of direction told her that she was moving mostly parallel to the Golden Road, with occasional winding forays deeper into the woods. The soldiers were likely looking for her and her companion along the main road, so avoiding it made sense. Of course, they would also be searching for her along THIS path, as well.
There were no signs that she was being followed although, as before, she was certain that the scarecrow was there. There were occasional shouts in the distance as he cleared the path for her. Sometimes it was just one voice shouting in pain or surprise. Twice she heard several voices in what sounded like a combat.
The sounds never lasted long, and the silence that followed made her trek too much like walking through a cemetery.
The day went by just as quickly as the day before. Dee rationed their water, though there was less food to share between her and Treach. As the sun began to set, Dee detected the familiar scent of roasting meat. Minutes later, their small trail empted into large open area. It wasn't exactly a clearing, as there were a few young trees and older stumps dotting the area.
There was a campfire, with food and water.
The scarecrow sat on a stump nearby waiting for her.
He looked tired. And bloody.
His shirt was off, and he'd cut it into strips to bandage several wounds along his arms and torso. On an ordinary man, the wounds would require immediate attention. But for this one.... Dee decided she'd take a look after she ate.
"Long day at the office?" said Dee. She took a seat... not near the scarecrow... and took off her shoes. Two days of walking had made her feet hurt. She massaged them, found the blisters she'd been expecting, and made a mental note to treat them before she slept.
The scarecrow ignored her question, which he probably couldn't understand anyway. He pointed at the fire, where four bird-like animals roasted. They looked like chickens.... which meant they probably tasted like bacon cheeseburgers.
"Why are you doing this for me?" she asked.
He pointed at her, and then at himself.
"I helped you, you help me? That it?"
"Right. Look... worms or no worms, I'm not real big on the whole 'killing people' thing. So... maybe you can do a bit less of that? Like: none?"
He made a series of gestures, but then stopped when he realized that she didn't understand him. He didn't look angry or crazed... just tired. Maybe he'd had his fill of carnage for the day. Maybe he was just relaxing before carving Dee into lunchmeat while she slept. It was hard to tell.
Treach... who had wandered off to relieve himself and sniff EVERYTHING... started barking.
The scarecrow's head snapped around toward the sound. He got up and followed the dog.
Dee paused only to pull on her socks and shoes before doing the same.
The sun hadn't completely set, but it was dark enough to make finding the dog difficult if he hadn't been barking. The pit bull was near the edge of the clearing, barking at something just inside the tree line. There was a large tree there, but Dee neither heard nor saw anything moving. She walked up to Treach and reached for his collar.
"What the hell?"
It wasn't a tree.
The scarecrow stopped as well, but Treach continued barking angrily at the huge, hulking shape staring at them from the darkness beyond the trees.