Chapter 1: In the Beginning
An ear-splitting electronic wailing jolted me awake like a sharp knife to the brain. With a groan of pain, I sat up straight and tried to open my eyes, but it felt like my eyelids were stuck together.
Blindly, I reached for my nightstand to turn off my alarm clock, but my arm smacked into something hard.
Again, I tried to open my eyes, but couldn't.
"Mom?" I croaked.
Underneath the loud wailing, there was a muffled sound coming from somewhere nearby, a kind of scratching noise.
"Mom?" I called again.
No one answered, but now the scratching sound was followed by a growl.
Panicked, I jerked away from the sound, but something was holding me in place. Frantically, I rubbed at my eyes, trying to get rid of whatever was keeping them shut. However, even when I was finally able to crack my left eye open, I could only see shadows, weaving and lunging towards me.
"Shit!" I gasped, flinching away from the writhing shadow.
I looked around in confusion, my brain not able to process what was happening. However, my sense of hearing was clear. Grunting and growling came from the shape in front of me, which became more sinister the more I tried to focus my eyes on it. Dragging the sleeve of my jacket across my eyes, I rubbed harder to dislodge the crust that obscured my vision.
When my eyes were finally able to focus on what looked like burgundy flakes of blood dusting my hands, my heart leaped into my throat.
I was yanked out of my shock when I felt something grab hold of my leg.
Startled, I looked up at what had grabbed me. However, what I saw couldn't have been real.
Some thing was growling and thrashing in the front seat of my family's car.
With a cry, I cowered away from it as it tried to grab my leg again.
"No! Get away!" I cried out.
Panicked, my eyes darted around the car, looking for a way to get out only to realize when I looked down that I couldn't move because my seat belt was fastened.
At that moment, the thing in the front seat swiped at me, catching onto my jeans and giving a sharp tug.
I screamed miserably and fought harder to get away before realizing that I'd forgotten to unfasten my seat belt. With a sob of fear, I slammed my hand down on the buckle and threw open the door, falling out and slamming down on the pavement.
The sharp sting of gravel stabbing my knees and palms of my hands caused a burst of pain that took my breath away and brought everything into sharp focus.
I saw then that we'd been t-boned by another car in the middle of the intersection on Main street, directly across from the Green bridge that led to the high school.
I scrambled to my knees, expecting to see a car flying towards us as they often did on this road. But there was no one around, no cars, no people, nothing. Things were abnormally still.
However, as I began to climb to my feet, I noticed a low whirring sound coming from a distance and quickly approaching. I barely had the chance to recognize it as a helicopter before it zoomed by overhead closer to the ground than I'd ever seen before.
I dropped to the ground, covering my head with my hands for protection as I felt a current of wind following in the wake of the helicopter.
Looking up from my cowering position, I saw that it was a military helicopter from Camp Gagetown. At the sight, everything that happened in the last twenty-four hours snapped back to me.
Trucks full of soldiers and army helicopters had been passing through Hampton all morning, heading towards Saint John.
Mom had been calling Dad all day. At first, I didn't think anything of it. Dad worked too much at Point Lepreau and it drove Mom crazy. But instead of getting angry like she usually did, she started pacing the floor getting more and more anxious. This time something was different and I picked up on Mom's stress and started to worry too.
A few hours later as Mom and I stood on our front porch, we heard "pop, pop, pop" in the distance. At first, I couldn't quite figure out what the noise was, but I saw the look of terror in Mom's eyes and knew it wasn't good. When the popping noise got more frequent and louder, I realized in shock that the sound could be gunfire.
"Edward get Anna! We need to get your father," she shouted as she flew back into the house.
I bolted back inside too and up the stairs, bursting into my sister's room.
Without saying a word, I yanked her up into my arms from where she'd been playing with her Polly Pocket doll house.
"Eddie? What's going on?" she asked.
I clutched her tight to me, fear overwhelming me for a moment. Anna was small for her six years, which had always made me overprotective, so when I looked down and saw the terror in her eyes, I shoved my own fear aside to comfort her.
Stroking her long auburn hair, I cradled her to my chest more gently.
"It's okay, honey," I said, holding her close. "We're going to get Dad."
Clutching my neck tightly, she burrowed her head under my chin, not buying my fake calmness.
"Okay," she whimpered.
Mom and Dad worked a lot, so I was usually more like a parent to her than they were. Even though I was only fourteen, I didn't have a grudge against them for it because I adored my sister.
Hitching her higher in my arms, I hurried down the stairs and ran out of the house to the car where Mom was already waiting. Opening the back seat, I placed my sister in her car seat, buckling her in. She was sobbing now as our fear ratcheted up her own. When I tried to pull away from her so I could get in the front seat, she grabbed a hold of the sleeve of my coat and wouldn't let go.
"Okay, okay, honey. I'll get in back with you," I said, soothingly and went around to the other side and climbed in.
Mom drove quickly out of the neighborhood, kicking up dust in our wake. We'd only just reached the outskirts of Hampton when suddenly we were swarmed by people. Their bodies pressed up against the car as they fought to get inside. They were desperate, clawing and thumping against the car from all sides.
A shrill cry escaped Mom as she pressed on the gas and tried to drive forward, but more and more people were crowding against the car to the point that it was rocking on its wheels.
"Go away! Get off the car! Please! We need to go!" Mom screamed at the crowd. But they only got louder with what sounded like moaning. It was almost deafening.
Anna clenched her eyes shut and started to wail, so I leaned over and covered her ears with my hands. However, I couldn't block out the sights and sounds for myself.
One of the people was so desperate to get into the car that his face slammed against my window. I jerked back in shock and then horror when I saw that the man's cheek was ripped open down to the bone. As he pulled away, a smear of blood was left behind.
I let out a scream as the mangled man, slammed his face against the window again, his teeth snapping as if he were trying to bite me through the window. I looked around the car, looking desperately for an escape for us. That's when I saw that the others that were pressed against the car were equally torn up.
"Mom! Drive!" I shouted.
My sister Anna was shrieking now as the rocking of the car became more violent.
"Put your seatbelt on, Edward," Mom shouted as she slammed down on the gas even though she couldn't see through the windshield with so many people on the hood.
I'd barely fastened my seat belt in time before the car lurched forward and continued to accelerate. Mom jerked the steering wheel to the left and then the right in an attempt to knock the people off. However, while some of them were thrown off from the momentum, the others continued to groan and paw at the windshield.
With unnatural strength, an old woman with half her scalp missing was pulling herself up the hood of the car, blocking more of Mom's sight.
Suddenly, a concussion of grinding screeching metal erupted, and my body was flung to the right saved only by the seat belt. However, I didn't have time to protect my head as it snapped to the side and against the window, plunging me into darkness.
Breaking out of my memories, I jumped to my feet and scanned the area in a panic, but the streets were empty of the mob of people that had been attacking our car.
A loud bang came from behind me, causing me to whip back towards the car.
The monster inside was slamming itself against the window of the driver's seat.
I jumped back, but then froze when I recognized the bronze hair. It was the same as mine and Anna's. Fighting against my instinct to run, I edged towards the car, needing to see if it was either of them.
With a sob, I recognized my mom's bobbed hair cut and her glasses that now hung half off her face.
"Mom…" I whimpered, taking another step towards the car.
She was barely recognizable because her face was so bashed up. There were scrapes and gashes all over her face, but what stood out the most was the way her mouth hung open unnaturally wide as if her jaw had been dislocated. A red froth dripped down her chin as she tried to move her broken jaw.
I took a step even closer, worried that she was trying to say something. However, the closer I got the more changes I noticed. Her once ivory skin was now the color of ash and her eyes, which had been a deep green were now a milky gray as if a film had covered them.
I needed to get her to the hospital.
"Mom?" I asked in barely a whisper. I was terrified, but for her I would be brave enough to get her help.
However, when I reached out for the handle of her door, she lunged at me, slamming against the window, resulting in spider web cracks spreading across the glass.
I fell backwards, crying out in terror as Mom ferociously slammed herself against the window again and again growling loudly.
What do I do? was on repeat in my head. Do I look for help? Stay here? Open the door and check her wounds?
The thoughts were a confusing jumble in my head. My breaths came in gasps and I could feel my heartbeat slamming in my head now, driving white spots of light across my field of vision. I needed everything to slow down to something my brain and body could cope with.
Suddenly, like a bucket of ice water, Anna's face flashed in my head.
Leaping to my feet, I ran around to her side of the car, hoping she was still strapped in. However, to my horror I found the door had been pulled nearly off its hinges and her car seat was on the ground.
Ignoring my instinct to run, I hurried forward to check in the back to see if she was hiding. However, the only thing I found was blood sprayed across the beige interior.
"Oh please, no," I cried.
A sob escaped as black fear stole over my heart and tried to choke me.
"Anna? Anna?! Where are you?!" I shouted hoarsely, looking around for any sign of my sister. However, the only response I got was my mom jerking in her seat and snarling at me.
Suddenly, I remembered my cell phone. Frantically, I yanked it out of my pocket and dialed 911, but all I got was a busy signal no matter how many times I hit redial.
I looked despairingly at my mom for a moment before resolve settled in. Mom always told me that I had to look out for my sister, so I couldn't wait any longer. I had to find Anna.
"I'll be back Mom. I'll get you help too."
I waited a second for a response, but none came.
With another sob, I turned away from her and ran in the direction of my neighborhood because I knew that Anna would head for home if she were scared.
"Anna!" I continued to shout through panting breaths as I approached our street.
My normally well-kept neighborhood was in chaos. The streets were littered with debris and abandoned belongings as if people just dropped whatever was in their hands and left. Beyond that, though, everything on Kelsey Street was still and eerily quiet now that the helicopter had flown past.
I was only about three houses away from mine when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye coming from between two of my neighbors' homes. It could have been just a figment of my imagination, but I had to make sure that it wasn't my sister.
I hurried towards it and saw through the latticework of my neighbor's porch what looked like the auburn spark of my sister's hair.
Filled with relief, I shouted, "Anna!"
Bolting around the side of the building, I was suddenly thrown to the ground as a clothesline caught me across the neck. My eyes watered from the stinging sensation, but I ignored it as I scrambled to my feet.
White sheets on the clothesline swelled and billowed in the wind, hiding the way in front of me. However, I could sense that I wasn't alone. Hesitantly, I pushed my way through the sheets, wanting to call out for Anna, but suddenly terrified that it wasn't her.
With every sheet I pushed out of the way, I was hyperaware of my surroundings. Every sound seemed amplified- my heartbeat, my breaths, the sound of the sheets snapping in the wind. However, I also heard another slight sound from the other side of the last sheet blocking my sight. It could have been the wind, but in my gut I knew that it wasn't.
"It's okay, honey. It's me," I said, gently as I pulled the last sheet out of the way.
However, instead of my sister, a bloody creature stood in front of me. A creature that looked too much like her.
The thing that looked like my sister was slack-jawed with what looked like blood dripping from her chin, just like Mom's.
It couldn't be real. Anna was playing a trick on me, dressing up in a Halloween costume. It was the only thing my mind could logically make sense of. It was just one of her dress-up games.
I wanted to sigh in relief that I'd found her, but I couldn't breathe because my chest was so tight that it wouldn't let me take an indrawn breath.
Without thinking, I reached out for her.
"It's okay, Anna," I said. "Let's go home."
She came to me willingly, like she always did. However, I was shocked at the way her cold clammy hands squeezed and clawed at my arms.
"Anna, it's okay, honey," I tried to say soothingly, but my insides were churning in fear.
"Let's go home and I'll make you a grilled cheese sandwich."
She made a reedy whining sound in the back of her throat that broke my heart. Even though I was terrified, the sound called to me and I pulled her closer for a hug. However, instead of burrowing her head in my chest, like she'd always done, her hands reached up and clawed at my neck.
I tried to pull my head back and away from her grasping hands, but she grabbed hold of me and started to squeeze with a strength that she shouldn't have as she tried to pull my head down to her.
As she cut off my air, my terror-sharpened gaze cataloged her appearance, the matted blood in her hair, her beautiful green eyes obscured by a milky film, a large tear in her throat that exposed the tendons underneath.
My hands groped at her back, trying to feel for a zipper as a war raged inside of me- instinct to survive fighting against the love I had for her.
"Anna… please… stop…" I choked out as grey began to tinge the edges of my vision. However, she squeezed tighter as she practically climbed my body to get at my face.
Finally, with a strangled cry, instinct won out and I ripped her hands away from my neck and shoved her back.
"Anna," I whimpered, crying to the point that my eyes were blurring. "No… no…" I gasped, shaking my head. "This can't be happening… This can't be real…"
"Wake up! Wake up! WAKE UP!" I yelled, slamming the heel of my hand against my forehead as hard as I could.
But when I opened my eyes, Anna was stumbling towards me with her arms reaching out. I tried to see my baby sister in her eyes, but there didn't seem to be anything human left in them. They just looked hungry.
She was almost within arms' reach again, but as horrified as I was I couldn't bring myself to run away. She was my sister, my responsibility. I couldn't leave her behind, no matter what she was now.
I fell to my knees, my eyes slamming shut, not able to deal with what was happening. I covered my ears because I couldn't stand hearing the gurgling growl that was coming from her. I wanted my mom and dad. They'd know what to do. But my mom wasn't my mom anymore and Dad was nowhere to be found.
However, when I felt Anna grab a hold of my sleeve and try to pull me towards her, I shoved her away from me with a cry of despair. She was so little that she fell backwards onto her back and was having trouble getting up as she snarled and spit. Still, she wouldn't stop. When she finally got to her feet, she came at me again, snapping her teeth at the air.
Again, I pushed her away from me as I climbed to my feet.
Sobbing, I backed up a few steps.
"What do I do?" I whimpered and sobbed when she growled at me in response.
Then, I heard the sounds of rapid gunfire in the distance paired with the low hum of voices.
I looked in the direction of the shooting and then back to my sister who was stumbling towards me again.
"Anna… honey… are you in there?" I asked her, barely above a whisper. "Please, Anna. Show me you're still in there. Just show me that you're still my sister," I begged, but there was nothing, no reaction beyond hungry growls.
Still, I couldn't leave her. There was a chance that maybe she could be cured, so I had to get her to the hospital. Quickly, I grabbed one of the sheets and wound it up like a rope. Then, like a lasso, I looped it around her and tried to drag her behind me.
At first, I thought it was working. She seemed to come willingly with me, but then I felt the sheet get pulled taut. I slowed down to look behind me and saw that she was using the lasso to pull herself closer to me. Lunging forward, she grabbed a hold of my forearm. Her cold clammy skin on mine made me fumble and drop the sheet. I couldn't help thinking that she didn't feel alive.
"Shoot on sight. Don't take any chances. If something moves, shoot it!" Someone shouted from a short distance away.
With one last look at my sister, I realized I couldn't stay, so I ran. Like a coward, I left my little sister and mother behind and didn't look back.
The first night that I hid in our half-finished basement, the cries of people chased from their homes and hideouts echoed against the cement walls. The crunch of them running past on the gravel, whimpering and crying, caused me to cower in fear. Then, my fear turned to terror as the moans of the monsters soon followed.
I tried calling my dad over and over again, but for hours it was busy and then it rang and rang and no one ever picked up. It was the same with 911.
I was too terrified to sleep. I remained on my back, one hand tightly gripping my baseball bat. Despite being exhausted, I was afraid to even turn onto my side because I was terrified that when I'd face the window I'd see one of the monsters looking in at me.
For close to three weeks, I stayed in the basement, only going upstairs to use the bathroom when it was quiet outside. I thought about leaving, trying to get to Dad, but Point Lepreau was too far and I was too scared. After Anna, I was scared that the monsters that I would sometimes hear walking by my house would be people that I knew, like Mrs. Jennings from next door or even more horrifying my best friend Jeremy who only lived three houses down.
Then, a week ago, the power stopped working, which led to absolute silence- no hum of electricity or sound of cars. Only my breathing kept me company. That and my mother's books that had been packed for donation and left in the basement.
The only light that I had was from the small rectangular window that let in a shaft of sunlight on days that weren't overcast. I sat in that small amount of light and read the books that I'd found in a box under the stairs. I'd always liked reading, but usually I read horror or mystery novels. Now, I found that Mom's books helped me escape. A lot of them were romance novels, but a few were books she had read to me as a child like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I read it over and over again, trying to escape into the fantasy.
I was almost able to ignore the world around me until my food ran out. I'd finished off the last of my crackers with peanut butter and jam two days ago and I only had a few bottles of water left.
Then, the night before last I heard people upstairs. They clomped across the floor at a steady pace, calming my fear that the monsters had finally come for me. But just as I'd run to the bottom of the stairs to join them, I heard glass breaking and people yelling at each other as they fought over anything of value in my house. Then, I heard a gunshot followed by the clomping of feet as people ran from the house.
Once I was pretty sure that they were gone, I crept upstairs.
I tried not to look at what was sprawled on the floor in my kitchen, but the blood had begun to spread into the hall. With a whimper, I side stepped the pool of blood and rushed up to the second floor and to my parents room. Deep under a pile of his winter clothes in the walk-in closet, I found my dad's gun safe.
After a series of break-ins in our neighborhood a few years ago, Dad had purchased a handgun. Mom had been furious with him, especially once she found out that he'd told me the combination for the lock and shown me the basics on how to use it. He argued that I needed to know in case I had to protect the family from burglars. However, he promised to take me practice shooting, but was always too busy to do it.
Gingerly, I took it out of the gun safe and grabbed the boxes of bullets from the top shelf of the closet. Then, I quickly ran downstairs, terrified that at any moment the intruders would come back.
I placed both of them on a shelf and then stepped back. Even though my dad would never leave it loaded, there was a feeling of deadliness in the thing, like it was just waiting to kill me. I'd seen plenty of shotguns. I was from a small town, so everyone had a hunting license. However, a handgun seemed scarier for some reason.
From the way that I'd laid it on the shelf, the muzzle was facing me. One look into the black eye of its barrel caused me to hurry back and turn it so that the muzzle faced the wall.
That night I cried for the first time since Anna. I was terrified about the future. I knew that I was truly alone and there was no one coming to help me. I'd had the small sliver of hope that Dad would come looking for me, but after three weeks I knew it was hopeless.
It was time for me to leave.
It felt like I hadn't stopped running for weeks. Every day bled into each other.
It was hard to keep running, to never feel safe, to worry about where to sleep or even where to find scraps of food and water.
I saw other people, but I was too afraid to approach them. I didn't know what was going on, but what I did know was that it was every man for himself.
I learned this lesson the first time that I'd seen a family
I rushed towards them, happy and relieved.
"Help me," I gasped. "I need help."
I was so happy to see them that it took me a moment to realize that the man had raised a gun at me and pushed the rest of his family behind him.
"Stay back!" the man snarled. "I'll shoot you if you come any closer."
I stumbled in shock at the man's words and stopped moving forward. I couldn't understand what I'd done to make him feel threatened.
"I'm all alone…" I tried to explain.
The man didn't relax his hold on his gun and his face remained tense.
"What's it to me that you're alone?" he snapped. "I don't give a fuck."
I didn't know what to say. I'd just expected that a family would want to help, or at least call the police.
"Get the fuck out of here, kid. Go before I shoot your ass," he said, gesturing with the gun for me to leave.
I looked desperately at the man's wife who was crouched, clutching her two children to her. However, she wouldn't make eye contact with me.
Therefore, with a whimper of despair, I backed away from the family and then turned and ran.
Other survivors I saw also had weapons and would clutch them tightly when they saw me. Therefore, I started avoiding them and instead spent my time looking through stores and houses. However, most of them had been ransacked, as everyone just tried to survive.
For a while, I tried to convince myself that things weren't as bad as they seemed. That the streets were empty of living people because they'd all gathered in a safe house somewhere. All I had to do was find it. Then I'd be reunited with my father, mother and sister who were waiting for me.
The moment that broke through my denial for good was on a day that I'd just passed through what seemed like a ghost town. In my foolish denial of what the world had turned into, I'd thought the streets were empty just because things were quiet. Wandering down the middle of the street of a subdivision, I took my time checking for food and water in parked cars. However, as I turned down another street, I froze. In the middle of the street, I saw a woman and two men crouched on the ground, growling and snarling as they grabbed at something.
If they had looked up at that moment, I would have been totally visible to them.
Quickly I dashed behind a minivan on the side of the road.
Once out of sight, my first thought was to run. My muscles quivered with adrenaline as my heart beat thunderously in my chest. However, if I ran, they'd see me.
Carefully, I peeked around the side of the car.
I heaved a sigh of relief that none of them had noticed me. They were too preoccupied with whatever they were doing. I watched them in horrified fascination, not having had the chance to be this close to observe them before. The three of them pushed and snapped at each other as they fought to get at something on the ground. One of the men, who was larger than the other two, suddenly snarled loudly and dragged what they were fighting over away from the other two. My breath caught in my throat in a gasp when I saw that it was a man.
My stomach lurched in disgust and horror when I saw that the three of them were pulling bits of his guts out and eating them.
I knew then that I had to get away. Running away was less dangerous than trying to wait them out. They were absorbed in what they were doing now, so I knew that it might be my only chance.
However, before I could make my move, the three dead suddenly stood up, losing interest in their meal.
Terror filled me when I realized as they started moving that they were headed towards where I was hiding.
For a moment, my mind went blank and I couldn't move. The tide of panic threatened to wash over me, but I fought my way back to the surface.
With nowhere else to go, I slid around the side of the SUV where the back door had been ripped off its hinges. Then, I dove into the backseat and hunched as low as I could, praying that they wouldn't hear or see me.
As their guttural sounds and shuffling feet got closer, I held my breath.
I was sure that at any moment, one of them was going to grab me and it would be all over.
However, the three passed by without a glance in my direction.
Letting my breath out in a gust of relief, I peaked up over the dashboard to see if the coast was clear.
The street was empty except for the disemboweled body. With another sigh, I sat up and began to climb out of the vehicle. However, suddenly, the corpse began to twitch and squirm even though I knew that there was no way that he could have survived what had been done to him.
I dove down again, my teeth locked against a whimper.
For a second, just before I dropped, it seemed like the dead man and my eyes had locked.
I waited in abject terror for the monster to come after me. I counted the beats of my heart as it thumped loudly in my head, hoping that I'd get to hundred. For some reason, I felt that if a hundred beats passed and the monster hadn't attacked then I would somehow be safe.
"… 85… 86… 87… 88… 89… 90…" I counted out in my head.
It was boiling hot inside the vehicle. My t-shirt was plastered to my body as my whole body shook in fear.
"… 97… 98… 99… 100…"
A hundred beats passed, but I was still too afraid to look out the window.
It was at that moment that I had the scary realization of what was really happening.
Zombies were real.
Carefully, I crawled backwards out of the door and crept to the back of the car. Then I ran as quickly as I could, back the way I'd come.
However, my luck didn't hold. As I raced through an intersection, I saw five dead lumbering down the street towards me.
Those were the first dead that chased me. I ran as fast as I could, but they seemed to be tracking my scent. The five of them were soon joined by a sixth and then five more chased me through the streets.
It wasn't until I snuck into an abandoned store, that I'd finally been able to ditch them.
The store was quiet and dark, musty from lack of use over the last several months. I leaned against the wall, attempting to catch my breath. My heart was hammering so hard that it felt like it was bruising my ribcage. However, after a few minutes of deep breathing, my heart rate slowed and my mind cleared.
I scanned the store, looking for any signs of food, but it was clear that others had cleared it out of supplies already. My only hope was behind a closed door at the back of the store.
As I made my way towards the door, I was suddenly shoved to the side as something tumbled against me.
Slamming against the wall, I looked up and saw the large shape of what used to be a man. One of his arms was missing and strips of flesh were hanging from his body, but he was still mobile and strong. He lunged at me again, this time, almost able to grab me.
I backed away from the dead man, but I became wild with panic when I realized that I'd been backed into a corner.
Without a means to escape, I fumbled for the gun in my backpack. I'd been too afraid to clip it to my belt and now I was realizing my mistake.
The dead man shambled towards me again, taking a swipe at me with the only hand he had left. However, I dodged him again while at the same time yanking the gun out of my backpack.
With trembling hands, I took aim and squeezed the trigger. However, with the kickback my shot went wide and my hands, numbed by the gun blast, dropped it.
My ears rang with the reverberation of the gun blast in the closed room and the gun smoke that wafted into my face stung my eyes.
Frantically, I scanned the ground for the gun, but to my sickening horror, I saw that the dead man had kicked it beyond my reach as he continued towards me, unfazed by the blast.
It was then that I saw the bowie knife in one of the man's belt loops. I had one of my own at home that I used to clean fish that I caught in the river. I knew that if I wanted to make it out of this, I had to get the knife.
The next time the creature lunged at me, instead of trying to dodge I grabbed for the knife. Miraculously, I was able to yank it out of the belt loop, but just like the gun, I dropped it when the dead man lunged at me. Reaching down for it, I tried to brace my forearm against the creature's chest. However, he was too strong. The creature fell on top of me, bloody drool dripping from his mouth and onto my face and hair.
Crying out in fear, I tried to shove the creature off me, but couldn't because gravity had added to his weight. The creature kept lunging towards me, snapping at my face with blood-flecked teeth, getting closer and closer with each snap.
In mad desperation for survival, I shoved him with all of my might, rolling after him until I was on my knees.
With a roar of anguish, I began stabbing the creature over and over again, in the stomach, chest, even the neck but he just kept fighting me. Sobbing, I watched the flesh rip from the creature's bones as my stabbing reached his face. Finally, when I slammed the blade into his eye, he went limp, just like I'd flipped a switch.
Stumbling away from the corpse, I threw up what little I had in my stomach. Looking at what I'd done caused me to dry heave again because the man was a mangled ruin.
Falling back against the wall, I slid down it and sobbed hopelessly.
Once I was able to get control of myself, I wandered around the store looking for food, but it had been picked over by others, not all of whom had been as lucky as me. I saw the remains of what had been a person in a pile in a corner of the store. As I approached the corpse, I saw something lying on top of it. It took me a moment to recognize it as a crossbow. Gingerly, I reached out and grabbed it from the mess that had been a human. I didn't have a clue how to shoot a crossbow and this one looked much more complex and heavy-duty than any I'd seen before but I needed it. I had the gun, but unless I could learn to aim, it wasn't going to help me much. If I was going to survive, I couldn't only fight hand to hand. I barely survived against one zombie, what chance would I have against a swarm of them like the ones that I'd seen on the street. With disgust I grabbed the quiver with seven arrows out of the remains and crept towards one of the windows to see if the street was empty.
Seeing that the coast was clear, I slipped out of the store and down the street.
Even without finding food, I went back into the countryside. There seemed to be less dead on the outskirts of this town, maybe because there were fewer houses or because there were still people to eat in town so they hadn't had to venture any further yet.
Exhausted from my escape from the city, I climbed one of the large oak trees that I'd seen from the dirt road. I loved climbing trees and oak trees were the best because of their size. Now I used the interwoven branches and a rope that I'd grabbed from the store to secure myself to the tree by tying it around my waist. I needed to rest, and this was the only place I could find where the dead couldn't reach me. I let out a sigh of exhaustion. The night was quiet, nothing but the song of crickets and the droning of bull frogs from the nearby brook filling the air. The sky was clear, the stars bright in the sky. At any other time in my life, I would have loved it. I loved camping and fishing. I spent most of my summer sleeping under the stars rather than in my own bed. I took after my father in that way. It was the only time that we ever spent together.
In the middle of these memories, I fell asleep.
I woke up before sunrise, sweaty but shivering. I couldn't remember exactly what my dreams had been about, only that I'd been terrified.
I looked around feeling disoriented as I tried to shake off the dream that had put me in my bedroom. For a moment, I thought it was my mother who had woken me up.
"Mom," I mumbled in a daze.
However, instead of hearing her cheery voice, I heard the growls and hoarse moans of the dead.
Even though I hadn't seen them yet, the overwhelming stink of them was distinctive. It made me want to take only the shallowest breaths even though the fear was making me hyperventilate.
Below me, there were three dead that circled my tree.
What am I going to do now? I thought anxiously.
I couldn't wait them out. From what I'd seen, the dead never got tired and I knew that they were able to smell me. I could smell myself, having not had the chance to bathe in weeks. The only way out of this was to kill them.
I knew the gun was out of the question because the kickback would throw me out of the tree, so I reached behind me and grabbed the crossbow and quiver. It took me forever just to figure out how to notch the arrow. I wasn't even sure I'd be able to do it because it took so much effort to pull back the string itself, but panic fuelled my strength.
I tried to push away the anxiety. I told myself that I had seven arrows, which gave me a few chances to kill the three below. However, I'd never been good at pool or darts or anything requiring precise hand-eye coordination.
Looking below me again, I knew that if I couldn't do it, I was going to die.
Hanging my legs over the largest branch in order to get the right angle, I braced my back against a tree branch and took aim at the one closest to me. I took my time centering on the creature's forehead.
Letting out a slow breath, I released the taut string.
With a thunk, the dead thing was thrown off balance as the bolt struck its shoulder.
Six more bolts to go. Three dead things.
Again I shot, but this time my aim was totally off.
Trying to shove away the feeling of panic, I took a deep steadying breath and cleared my mind of everything. I tried to imagine that this was just a video game that I played with my best friend Jeremy. Looking at the thing shaped like a man that I'd been shooting at, I realized that it could easily be a creature from a video game.
This time when I pulled the trigger, the creature dropped to the ground as the bolt found its way into its skull.
The second one was easier as I let myself believe that what was happening around me wasn't real.
This is just a video game, I told myself.
I no longer needed to run at each small sound in the forest. I wasn't a scared rabbit anymore. I was a hunter, a killer. I'd learned so much from the video games that my mother told me were rotting my brain. She should see me now.
But even with my ability to kill the dead things, hunger gnawed incessantly at my stomach. If I turned my head too quickly, dizziness would take over and I frequently fell.
I found a brook and knew that eventually the brook would lead to a river, lake, or some body of water, so I continued to follow it. Along the way, I searched for food, but beyond a few summer berries I found nothing. I wasn't a good enough shot yet to kill anything as small as a bird or squirrel.
Finally, I was relieved to hear the sound of rushing water ahead of me because where there was rushing water, there would be fish. When I broke from the trees, I stumbled and fell to my knees as the undergrowth released me. I froze on my hands and knees staring at myself in the rippling reflection of the river. I didn't recognize who was looking back at me. My cheeks had hollowed out as I'd grown thinner and my eyes appeared sunken above my cheekbones.
I shook myself out of these thoughts as I began to look at myself critically. My hair was too long, getting in my eyes and obscuring my vision from any potential monsters. My clothes were hanging off of me, causing me to trip frequently. Along with food, I had to take care of these two things because they'd kill me just as much as starvation.
Sitting up, I looked out across the wide river and saw the ripples of fish swimming through the current.
Now all I need is fishing gear, I thought with a groan.
Later in the day, I came across several farm houses but none of them had anything useful because they'd been picked clean. However, as night approached I saw one in the distance with burnished light shining from its windows.
Creeping slowly up to the house, I heard the murmur of voices which caused me to freeze. I hadn't been around people for weeks and what I'd seen of the people pillaging houses didn't give me any reason to want to. So, I crept up to the house slowly and slid across the wall until I was able to peek through the window.
There was a woman in mismatched clothes tucking two small children into makeshift beds on the floor. Once they were settled, she stood up and walked to an armchair that contained a man who was fast asleep. After gently kissing the man's forehead, she stood up and stretched. She was just as gaunt and tired looking as I was. They must not have been having much luck with finding food too.
For a brief moment, I thought about knocking on the door. But the thought was gone before it really even had time to settle in my brain. It was every man for himself.
Without a backward glance, I snuck into their garage and took most of the small amount of canned goods and the fishing gear that were tucked into the back of the room. If they were stupid enough to leave their supplies out in the open, then they didn't deserve them anyway.
Slipping out of the garage, I practically laughed aloud in relief at the gold mine that I'd found.
Continuing along the river, I found a cabin that was tucked into a patch of fir trees.
It was pitch black inside which told me that no one alive occupied it anymore.
As quietly as possible, I broke a window and reached in to unlatch it. Cautiously, I slipped inside, watching carefully for any movement in the dark. Finally, when I sensed no movement, I clicked on the flashlight that I'd stolen from the farm house. Its single beam of light cast shadows on the walls that I watched warily because each one could contain one of the dead.
Room to room I searched the house, not finding anything until I entered a bedroom upstairs. As the door creaked open, I prepared myself for an attack. However, what I saw caused me to sigh in relief. On the bed were four bodies. Two larger ones and two smaller. A family… I mused.
With a shrug, I turned away and closed the door firmly behind me.
Finally, I had a place to call my own.