It was all over except for the crying and there was no shortage of that as I huddled in the driver’s seat of an abandoned Honda Civic, wishing desperately that the sobs of the crying child in the back seat would stop. Neither Cal nor I could do anything to calm the boy, Marco. I reluctantly thought back to earlier in the day when his Grandmother had screamed his name, telling him to run even as a zombie tore at her leg and more swarmed over her, pulling her apart, piece by piece. Marco’s Grandfather could only stand frozen, horrified and watch her die while completely forgetting that his grandson was also seeing this horror show.
The old man must have snapped or simply lost hope of life being livable without his wife and decided to go down in death with her, consciously or not, leaving his grandson alone crying behind the meagre shelter of a tree. The man pushed his way through the monsters and grabbed hold of what was left of his wife taking up her screams that had ceased seconds earlier. The death of the old couple provided a gruesome distraction and allowed Cal to get to the tree and pick Marco up just as one of the creatures took an interest in the kids’ cries.
I saw all of this as I fought my way through a mini horde and found an ounce of respect for Cal as he made the dangerous decision to help the kid. Our people had scattered quickly without me realizing it until it was too late to try to regroup; Cal and Marco were the only two I kept track of during the hectic escape from the cave as the sun rose.
Dawn had never been more beautiful and terrible as it was when we walked from the cave into the aftermath of a night ravaged by zombies and their prey. Smoke still billowed in the west where the van fire had started, filling the air with the acrid scent of burning tires and metal and barely masking an underlain scent of blood and burnt flesh. I avoided looking at my immediate surroundings instead scanning the clear sky and blinking against the strengthening sun. I could almost believe that the world was normal again until I let my eyes drift down past the green of the trees and further down to the ground where reality came back in all its bloody vividness. The moisture on the forest floor wasn’t just from rain. The water had mingled with plenty of blood and covered the ground and bushes. I didn’t see any bodies, at least not whole bodies. An arm stuck out from the brush but I couldn’t tell if it was still attached to its owner. I felt Holly come up behind me, her breathing rapid. I turned from the lone arm coming back to myself and alert to the rest of the area and her terrified face.
“Louis!” Marla shouted and a shot exploded into the bushes where the arm lay.
The bullet narrowly missed my leg and smashed into the grey flesh reaching for my foot. My surprise wore off quickly and was replaced with a sickening dread. Marla knew she had done wrong, the realization showed all over her fear-stricken face. The moans were faint but I knew the woods around us were filled with zombies near and far and now they knew where we were. It was at that point that panic took over and we scattered, each of us thinking the others would follow their lead. Sadly, we were all in our own worlds and quickly lost sight of one another.
I’d been drawn to the cries and shouts of Marco and his Grandparents as had Cal however, none of the others followed the sounds, probably doing the smart thing and going away from the danger. I fended off the immediate assault, killing the zombie Marla had roused and two others that had been pulled from the nearby shadows. Turning from the corpses I scoped the area and didn’t see anyone else around other than Cal, Marco and the feast that the two old people had become. Cal took the boy in his arms and we ran away not even bothering to look for the others or consider where we were going. I felt a sick sense of fear for Marla, Hunter and Heidi but there was nothing I could do other than try to survive this latest attack. The creatures kept coming from all directions. Some of them were so badly mutilated by fire or their initial deaths that they posed, at best, a minimal threat. Others however, were fresh and moved with a deadly speed that wasn’t hindered by anything except the forest, our bullets and the scent of fresh flesh and blood saturating their inhuman instinct to feed on it.
I led the way, clearing a trail as well as I could for Cal who managed to shot while running and carrying Marco. I had no idea where we were going. There had been no real plan set up before we left the cave other than survival and flight from danger. I suppose the general thought would have been to continue heading north but by this point I had no clear idea of which direction that would be and having a plan or destination was completely out of my mind. I ran and shot, barreling through the zombies, slowing only to clumsily reload my gun before continuing forward. After fuck knows how long, Cal wheezed for me to stop. I almost shouted that we couldn’t but I was wrong, we could. I looked around as Cal sat Marco down on a rock in a small clearing that I didn’t even know we had walked into. The area was surrounded by a thin smattering of trees and behind the rock where Marco sat, a hill rose up through the trees and possibly out of the woods.
“Are you alright Louis, did any of those things get you?” Cal was slowly getting his breath back but still struggled to speak.
“No, I’m fine.”
I looked over my arms and legs even though I was fairly certain I hadn’t been injured by the creatures. Aside from hands red from gripping my gun and a slash across my chin from an errant branch, I was whole and unscathed. Marco had stopped sobbing at some point and huddled on the rock, his arms wrapped around his knees and his face red and wet from crying. From what I could tell he was physically unharmed and I didn’t think asking to examine him would be a good idea after everything that had happened. Mentally and emotionally the boy was damaged, just like the rest of us. I turned away from him and Cal and took a couple of steps back towards the woods searching and listening. A stupid part of me hoped that I would see or hear the others but it was useless. There was nothing to see except trees and only, thankfully, a faint shimmer of noise resembling the moans and growls of the zombies. Cal came up next me and did his own assessment of our new surroundings.
“Well, what do we do now Louis?”
I looked at Cal, not having anything to say to his question. Being a leader wasn’t agreeing me and clearly I had failed at it. People were dead and now our group had scattered in a forest filled with zombies. Fucking zombies. What a messed up thing to even be apart of my reality. Turning from Cal, I bit back what came to mind – how the fuck should I know – and instead pointed to the hill; lacking any plan this seemed like a reasonable direction to head. I didn’t know what was beyond that rise but we seemed to be out of any other options. As much as I wanted to head back into the woods and look for the others that would be a truly bad idea and likely, a fruitless pursuit. I didn’t want to think any more and just started walking toward the hill, not even stopping to tell Marco what was happening or halting when Cal said wait.
© 2015, Denise Pasutti