Cinderella Dressed in White
Guns are scary, she thinks to herself as she drops the shotgun she's been carting around for two weeks onto the surprisingly clean carpet of the deserted suburban house she's decided to make her home for the night. It's kind of funny, actually. Before her friend's and family dropped dead and rose to their feet an hour later, she'd always thought of herself as kind of a badass. She'd sang at the talent show and knocked everyone dead when they were sure she'd choke, she'd earned herself a spot on the cheer team as cheer captain, and she'd ruled her school with an iron fist (mostly just for prom votes, but whatever.) She hadn't been afraid of anything.
Except that's not entirely true, is it? Because she's terrified now.
Anyway, she's scared of guns because they're unpredictable. They buck and pull and she can't seem to aim them just right, but it's all she's got left for comfort. She's been alone for two weeks. Her mommy was gone. Her best friend Bonnie was gone. Her boyfriend Matt was gone. She'd never see them again. She'd never kiss Matt or hug her mom or gossip with Bonnie again. The shotgun her mom had kept hanging above their fireplace from her glory days as a hunter was all she had left besides a few knickknacks she'd managed to scavenge from her home before the crazies in the street had detected her. She had pictures, Matt's sweatshirt, and a necklace Bonnie had given her for her fourteenth birthday. It was actually kind of sad but she'd been panicking and she'd grabbed the first things she had seen and shoved them into her backpack.
Methodically, she does the same four things she'd been doing since she'd started hunkering down in empty houses. She checks each room for those...things. She goes through the cupboards and dumps any canned foods or water bottles she can find into her backpack. She searches for anything of use. And finally, she searches for a companion.
Hollywood never gets it right, she thinks as she climbs the stairs of the home she's broken into. More often than not, Hollywood is wrong in thinking zombie apocalypses are anything but terrifying. She remembers watching those Resident Evil movies with Matt and thinking that Alice was totally badass, but that zombies in general were kind of unrealistic. Oh, the irony. Of course, she's not sure that the things that have killed her family and friends are zombies, exactly. They walk slow, they make that ridiculous moaning noise, and they seem to enjoy human flesh, but still, she's not sure.
See, she's from Texas, and Texas has a fucking huge population. It's kind of scary to think that her state is now home to a bunch of Texans who aren't starving for just beer and ribs anymore. No, now they were hungry for brains and it was just really gross. She'd never been particularly girly, but after watching her neighbors being eaten alive by zombies, she'd not really afraid to admit that blood and gore freak her out.
The shotgun rests heavy on her shoulder as she breathes out through her nose slowly, a hunting trick her mom had taught her. She listens quietly for any noises as she exhales, taking in the silence of the atmosphere. Her shoulders tense. Silence isn't good.
She spills from the stairs into a long hallway. The walls are painted a cheerful yellow and it's almost ironic. The floorboards creak as she ghosts down the hall. The first door on the right is open an inch, and she peers inside. It's a baby's room. Dolls and stuffed animals litter the floor, and her stomach lurches as she spies a drying pool of blood in the center of the room. So they've been here. She pushes the door open, swinging the shotgun off of her shoulder and into her hands. She wills her legs to stop shaking as she advances quickly into the room.
She breathes a heavy sigh of relief.
Suddenly, she's tired. She heaves herself onto the bed that looks like it belongs to a little girl, princess sheets and all. She doesn't really care that she hasn't checked the rest of the house, but a voice starts yelling in the back of her head and it says get up get up you stupid girl, you'll die. She doesn't get up. Across from the bed, a TV stand with a small pink TV on it is muted and playing static. She gets up slowly, ignoring the pool of blood as she searches the ground for the pink remote. She finds it, clicking a random button and she's met with the DVD menu of her favorite childhood movie Cinderella.
"Huh." she murmurs, pressing play and turning the volume up. The Disney castle flashes across the screen and for a moment she forgets she's in a post-apocalyptic world. She's half surprised the TV even works. Most of the houses she'd been in didn't even have running water. If this place has electricity, maybe she can make herself a microwave meal or something instead of the boring canned foods she's been eating for the past couple of days. Maybe she could even have a hot shower.
But she has to clear the house, first.
She's relieved when she finds that the house is empty and that they do, in fact, have running water. The first thing she does is lock the doors and windows, then she turns the shower up as high as it will go and sheds her clothing. She's been wearing the same wife beater, jeans, bra, underwear, socks, and combat boots for the past week. She scrubs herself raw in the shower. Her skin stings, but she doesn't really care. After an hour, the water runs cold. She climbs out, pulling the fluffy white bathrobe she'd found in the master bedroom around herself.
The little things bring the most joy, she thinks, quoting her mom. She enters the master bedroom again, hoping the mother of the child that had lived in the princess room had something she can wear. In all of her strategizing and planning, she'd never bothered to grab extra clothes. She opens the closet doors and grabs the first pair of women's jeans she sees. They're a little big, but she's got a belt and she's not complaining. She pulls on her old bra, her old tank top, then Matt's OSU sweatshirt. She ignores the sting in her heart as she catches a faint whiff of his cologne.
She goes back to the princess room after going through the cupboards and coming up with a bag of cookies and some chips. She hasn't had cookies in almost a week. She was starting to miss them. She watches Cinderella and The Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty and Snow White and Hercules and it's the best night she's had in weeks. She falls asleep to the sounds of Meg singing that she won't say she's in love.
Matt calls her first thing in the morning from Oregon. He's been attending college there for a semester, and her heart aches because Oregon is a long way from Texas.
She opens her phone, smiles brightly and says, "Hey!"
"Turn on the news." is his urgent reply.
Blinking rapidly, she does as she's told. "What's up?" she asks, a little worriedly. Matt never watches the news.
"Something's going on, Car." he says, and he sounds a little scared. She sits up straight on the couch as he continues, "We can't get in touch with Canada or Mexico, and the last string of reports we had from them were the videos from yesterday."
Yesterday at around noon, she had woken up from her first day of spring break to her mother shrieking. Figuring it was a spider or something, she'd climbed out of bed and marched downstairs. Her mom was sitting in front of the TV, eyes glued to the screen.
"What's going on?" she asks.
"Shh!" comes her mom's harsh whisper. She sits beside her on the couch, and her mom puts a hand on her shoulder but doesn't take her eyes from the TV.
It's a news report, and the lady dressed in a nice grey suit. She has a thick Spanish accent and she is standing in front of some sort of federal building and something that looks like a riot is going on behind her. She reads the headline running across the bottom of the screen. "News report coming live from Mexico City."
She tunes in, head cocked as she listens to the news caster shriek about how the citizens of Mexico are attacking each other. Behind the news caster, a man launches himself at a crying woman, and the others around him follow suit.
"Is this some kind of a joke?" she whispers as the news caster turns, lets out a scream, and begs the camera man to turn the camera off. The screen goes blank.
"We don't know." her mom answers. "But Canada broadcasted the same thing."
She shakes her head. No, the videos and what Matt is talking about couldn't be related. She thinks the videos are some kind of sick prank and she hopes whoever is responsible for scaring the hell out of America is arrested.
"I don't know for sure," Matt is saying, "but please don't go outside. I don't know how much longer the phone lines are going to be on, and I don't know if I'll be able to reach you in a couple of days."
"Matt..." she starts.
"No, just-just listen to me. I know this seems like some kind of trashy zombie movie, but something is going on, Car, and I don't want you to get hurt because you think you're badass. Stay indoors, and tell your mom the same thing."
She looks at the TV, and for the first time, she notices that the women of Good Morning America are crying and saying something about the end of the world.
It occurs to her that maybe this isn't a joke.
"Okay, Matt. Okay." she whispers, and he breathes a sigh of relief.
"I love you." he murmurs.
"I love you." she replies.
"Stay safe, I'll call you in a few hours." he hangs up.
He never calls.
Her name is Caroline Forbes. And she's completely alone in the world.
Caroline is sure that there are probably a few people still milling about, but if there are, she hasn't seen them. All she's seen as she moves from house to house in the dead of night or the early morning (whenthey are least likely to attack) is the corpses of the people that had lived in the houses around her only three short weeks before.
Caroline sits up, hand immediately flying to her shotgun. She keeps it under her pillow as she sleeps. Easy access.
Standing and stretching, she strides to the door, kicking stuffed animals and dolls out of her way. She feels a little bad, but then she reminds herself that the little princess who had lived here three weeks ago probably isn't a princess anymore. She kicks a few more stuffed animals for good measure. She can't be soft anymore. Not today. Not now. Not with what's happening.
The house is pretty much empty of anything she can use, but she does find some lighters, a pocket knife, a flashlight, and another bag of cookies. She crams the stuff she finds into her bag, along with Matt's sweatshirt. She slips the knife into her belt and hopes she won't have to use it until much, much later (if at all). She laces up her boots before lifting her wrist and checking the time. Nine in the morning. Three weeks ago, she wouldn't have even been awake at this time. Things change, she reminds herself briskly. She knows that the noise from the TV and the lights on in the house last night must have attracted at least a few of them, and if she doesn't take care of the few now, more and more will come and she really doesn't plan on dying today. The quicker she gets rid of them the better.
Caroline goes upstairs one more time before she leaves and slips some things from the master bathroom into her backpack (she's always been a sucker for vanilla perfume), then she goes to the princess room. With a sad sigh, she picks up a stuffed Simba. She had one from the Disney store when she was little and she remembers carting it around with her everywhere until her mom told her she was too old for stuffed animals. She puts Simba into her backpack and hopes the princess of this room can forgive her for stealing something that had obviously been precious to her.
Taking a deep breath and squaring her shoulders, Caroline checks the shotgun one last time to make sure the cartridges are in properly. She can't have problems like faulty ammo or a delayed shot with what she's about to do. She's standing in front of the front door, lips pursed. She looks out the small glass window in the center of the door, and it's just as she expected.
A woman wearing a pink nightie is standing in the yard, staring at the door while a mailman mills about behind her. The rest of the street looks empty, and she breathes a sigh of relief. She's only killed twelve times before this, and each time doesn't get any easier.
It's only when she's about to open the door that she notices it. The flash of a curtain moving in an upstairs window across the street. She jumps, a little scared, but then the curtain moves again.
This time, a boy appears in the window. He's got dark hair and light skin and she'd probably say he was beautiful if he wasn't one of those things. But then she takes a closer look. The boy has a gun, and he's sliding the window open. He lowers his head and flips the scope of his rifle up, and Caroline ducks under the window just as he takes a shot. Blood spatters the front door and the window she'd been looking out of. She gets up, peaking out of the small window. The woman wearing the nightie is gone. She's on the ground, a bloody mess. The boy in the window is wearing a satisfied smirk, and this time she's sure he's beautiful. He loads his gun again, and then it hits her.
There's a person. A living, breathing, human person just across the street from her. And he has a gun. And he's cute.
Caroline sinks back down, biting her lip. He probably doesn't even know she's across the street in the house he's shooting at. What if he wants to be left alone? What if—
Caroline shakes her head. Nobody wants to be alone these days. The shotgun is still in her hand, and it feels a little lighter. She stands up, ready to fling the door open when she sees that the boy in the window is gone. She bites her lip again, but quickly perks up as she sees him opening the front door of his own house, pistol in hand. She almost screams in joy when she realizes he's not alone. A pretty brunette girl is behind him, and she's got a butcher knife in her hands. She looks fierce, but Caroline doesn't care. She hasn't seen another girl (except for them) in weeks.
The boy and the girl cross the street quickly, and she flings the door open just as the mailman falls to the ground at the slim brunette's feet. She turns to the boy, smirking proudly and wiping her butcher knife on the mailman's uniform.
"Nice." the boy remarks, and his voice is husky and rough. She likes it.
The brunette looks up at her then, and her mouth drops open as she stares at Caroline. She elbows the boy in the side, and his head snaps up to see Caroline. The boy blinks at her, clearly surprised.
Without thinking (it's almost a habit), she swings the shotgun off of her shoulder and aims it at them. After all, she doesn't know for sure if they're human. They could have been bitten. She's not going to take any chances. She stands her ground as the boy sighs, lifting his own pistol and aiming it at her. It's almost as if he doesn't care that she's aiming a shotgun at him. The brunette girl licks her lips before saying, "Jesus, Damon, put the gun down. She's cute, and she's human." she elbows Damon and he glares at her.
"If she puts hers down." he says through his teeth, his eyes trained on her's.
"Is that really how you treat a lady?" the brunette smirks, and Damon rolls his eyes, lowering his pistol.
Caroline blinks at him. He's super cute, and if she didn't have Matt-
Caroline shakes her head quickly. Now isn't the time to think about your presumed dead boyfriend, she thinks to herself as she lowers her shotgun.
"I'm Caroline." she says. The brunette lifts her eyebrows.
"Occupation?" Damon asks, as if her job description matters.
"Head cheerleader, prom queen, and high school senior." she says, swinging her shotgun up onto her shoulder.
The brunette looks impressed while Damon snorts. The brunette rolls her eyes, "I'm Katherine, and this is Damon. He's an asshole, don't mind him."
"Bitch." Damon mutters before turning and walking back to his house.
"C'mon," Katherine says, "if you've got nowhere else to go, you can ride with us. We've got an SUV and I'm sure we can squeeze you in." Caroline blinks in surprise. She hasn't seen a car in days.
"Is it just you two?" she asks, following Katherine as she walks across the street.
Katherine shakes her head. "No, there are two more with us. Damon's brother and a kid we picked up last week."
Caroline is pleasantly surprised. "Where are you headed?"
"Virginia. We're looking for my sister Elena. She was visiting our mom and dad when the world got fucked." Katherine says, (something flashes in her eyes as she says 'mom and dad') opening the door of the house. She turns back to Caroline. "Don't mention Elena to Damon. She's his girlfriend, and-" she takes a breath, "and he thinks she's still alive, but if you knew my sister, you'd know that she couldn't even play a zombie video game without crying." Katherine looks down, "I don't think she's alive, and I think the most we'll find of her is a walking corpse." she bites her lip. "Just don't mention her, okay?"
Caroline nods, feeling a little sorry for both Katherine and Damon. "I won't say a word." she promises.
"Good." Katherine says, the ghost of a smile lighting her face as she holds her arm out in a sweeping gesture. "Welcome to our humble abode."
notes: edited and re-uploaded.