Chapter 1: Little Lost Lamb
"Promise me" The hand grips hers tightly almost painfully. Eyes wide, trying to prolong the inevitable. "Promise me you'll find her." Voice raspy, more a whisper than what was once a strong tone.
"I promise." She says and squeezes the hand in kind. And with that the hand gripping hers falls limp and the light dies in the eyes. She sighs and places the hand on the bed and looks out the window. It was an unusually sunny day, a good day to die.
She rises slowly and kisses the top of the head, a silent tear escapes her eye. She inhales deeply one last time, trying to memorise the distinct smell. Her hand gently brushes the cheeks and she releases the breath she had been holding.
"I love you." Her voice breaks as she pulls away. Her words far too late.
She gazes out of the window again and steadies her shaking hands. If she wants to find her then she's got to leave right now. She can't wait for the funeral, by then it would be too late. She turns and walks out the door and doesn't look back.
Screaming pierces through the woods and practically vibrates through her skull. Crouched down she snaps her head up in the direction it came from and listens. It stops for a moment and she's not sure whether that's a good sign or a bad sign. She slings her backpack over her left shoulder and grabs her handmade bow from where it lay resting against the tree trunk.
She knows she should start running in the opposite direction, for the screaming would certainly draw the dead. She scans the immediate area and knows her coast is clear for the moment. She stands and grips her bow until her knuckles turn white. She's about to turn tail and run when the screaming starts again.
Now that she's properly paying attention to it, she recognises it as a girl's. She doesn't hesitate. She launches herself past the trees, careful to avoid leaving any tracks. She's running at full speed, her already tired muscles protesting against the exertion. She ignores the pain as the screaming gets louder and more desperate. The girl is obviously running out of time.
She pushes herself harder, a foolish thing to do. She's not used to this heat and she should save some of her energy for when she truly needs it. She can't go back now though, not when she's so close. She launches herself through a bush and stops when she catches the sight in front of her.
There's a little girl with a dead man reaching for her. It is too close for her to shoot him down without risking hitting the girl. In a flash she drops her bow and draws her hunting knife from its sheath on her thigh. She tackles the dead man just as he's going in for the bite and slams him to the ground.
Thankfully he landed face down with her on top and she plunges the knife through his skull. He stops his wrangling instantly and she jumps off him. She's out of breath and her lungs burn with the desperate need for oxygen.
Slowly she turns to the girl and takes in her appearance. She's young, probably about twelve at the oldest. She clutches her doll tightly to her chest and her blue eyes stare up at her with fear and uncertainty. Her blonde hair all dirty and ragged barely touches her shoulders. But she sees no blood on the girl and that is the main thing.
The girl continues to stare at her and now she finds herself unsure of what to do. She wipes her knife on the torn cloth from the dead man before putting it back in its sheath. Then she turns from the girl and retraces her steps to retrieve her bow where she carelessly dropped it.
The girl whimpers and so she turns to face her again, drawing an arrow from her quiver and readying it. When she sees no other dead men approaching she frowns at the girl. She had thought that as soon as the girl had been saved she would promptly run in whichever direction she had been heading.
"Please don't leave me." The girl squeaks out and tears streak down her face. She looks about ready to start bawling her eyes out.
She moves quickly and kneels in front of the girl, lowering her bow and arrow she raises a finger to her lips. Then she points to the dead man on the floor before shaking her head slightly. The girl mimics her and places a finger on her own lips before nodding.
"You saved me." The girl whispers and smiles slightly clutching her doll with more enthusiasm.
She rolls her eyes but pats the girl on the shoulder before standing up again. She quickly scans the area and knows it won't be long before more infected turn up. She looks down at the girl again and frowns when she sees the girl taking in her appearance.
She wonders what she must look like to her. Her auburn hair is tied in a bun, her denim shirt and black jeans are filthy and her black boots have seen better days too. Her once pale porcelain skin is now slightly tanned and covered in dirt and sweat where she hasn't washed for days.
"Can you take me back to my mom?" She asks her voice shaking and the woman knows that her silence is starting to make the girl nervous.
Sighing about breaking her own rule of no talking until at camp. Not that she had anyone at camp to talk to. But still. "Where?" She whispers her voice sounding strange to her own ears. How long had it been since she last spoke to someone?
The girl points and says "Up there."
She glances up and knows it is the direction of the highway. There is no way she is going up there. "Too dangerous." She says and is surprised when the girl doesn't push it.
"There were a lot of them, we hid under cars. I moved too soon." The girl says and tears fall down her face but she isn't sobbing.
She does not know what to make of that so she says nothing only hums an agreement. It's time for them to go. So she gently taps the girl's shoulder and nods her head in a gesture for her to follow her. The girl seems uncertain but smiles slightly and does so.
"I'll take care of you. Get you back to your mum." She says and regrets it instantly. She practically just made a promise when she can't guarantee that she will return the girl to her mother.
"Your accent." The girl noticed that she said 'mum' not 'mom.' "Are you English?" Her voice is no longer a whisper but light with curiosity.
"Yes." She whispers but does not elaborate. She has no wish to divulge personal information. Her life before is her own precious memories. She does not wish to share them with others. But she notices the girl staring up at her with a dozen questions buzzing around her head. "I'm Clarissa." She finally says after a while.
"I'm Sophia." The girl says shyly and plays with the hem of her t-shirt.
Clarissa offers the girl an awkward smile and then slowly picks up the pace. There is a lot of ground to cover and not many hours of daylight left. There are a couple of houses she has scouted out and she has seen one derelict farm. If the girl's mother is alive then she will find her way to one of those locations.
They make their way through the woods in silence for which Clarissa is thankful for. Sophia for her part would simply stare up at her and think of all the questions she would ask when they settled in for the night. She may have been young but she could tell that Clarissa knew how to survive. The way she carried herself and had obviously crafted a homemade bow was impressive. She seemed to study the area with a scrutiny that she had only seen in one other person. So even though she had only met the young woman, she knew she would keep her safe.
As the sun finally began to set, Clarissa wasn't happy with the amount of progress they had made. Or lack thereof. Her sprint to save Sophia from a horrendous death had left her more drained than she initially thought. Plus the twelve year old did not have as much endurance and so they had to stop for a couple of breaks.
But as they sky turned a pink hue and then slowly black Clarissa found exactly what she was searching for. It was a huge oak tree standing out of place among the other small, thinner trees. It was harder to climb but it was well worth it for the dead could not scale it. It was alive with branches in all directions sprouting leaves that as one looked up you could not see the top.
The perfect hiding place.
As they approached Sophia couldn't hold back her questions anymore. "Why are we stopping here?"
"This will be our sleeping arrangement." Clarissa replied and she assessed Sophia's size. She was tiny, all skin and bones and there was no way her arms would be strong enough to lift her. Not that she had the arm length to reach between the branches. "I'll carry you up."
"Won't we fall out when we fall asleep?" Not that Sophia believed she could fall asleep on a tree branch.
A grin found its way across Clarissa's face. She dropped her backpack and opened it to reveal some rope. "That's why we tie ourselves in."
It wasn't easy but Clarissa had convinced Sophia to carry the backpack and quiver even though she could barely stand under the weight of it all. But all she had to do was climb onto Clarissa's back, who then tethered the girl to her so she couldn't lose her grip and fall to her death.
The strain on Clarissa was great but just about manageable. As she climbed and climbed she was all too aware that true darkness had nearly eclipsed the world. She didn't stop until she reached one of the highest branches that was still wide enough to support both their weights.
Carefully she released Sophia who placed her legs on either side of the branch. Clarissa turned round and rested her back against the trunk and removed the backpack and quiver from Sophia. When the girl turned round to press her back against Clarissa's chest she tied the rope over both their legs.
Confident that they wouldn't slip from where they were perched, Clarissa took a glance down to the ground and was satisfied when all she saw was branches and a canopy of leaves. She placed the backpack on Sophia's lap and rested the bow with a knotted arrow on top of it.
Sophia fell asleep almost immediately while Clarissa listened out for as long as she could until exhaustion consumed her and she too drifted off.