so, for those who might be reading this, I probably wont be able to upload the next chapter for a while.
Step Four: Kill, Laugh, Rise and Repeat
I can hear my heartbeat in my ears.
It's late at night and I'm making my way through a humongous forest. The twisted trees are surrounded by slinking shadows. Branches creak, leaves rustle and wind gasps all around me. The canopy looms high above like a black, distorted ceiling. There is enough space in here to hold a countless amount of secrets.
I clutch the three items I brought along with me until my hands quiver: my Polaroid camera, a photo of my dead friend holding a cheese sandwich, and a feather which belongs to a girl with wings.
Ever since humanity had succumbed to the infection, nature started to redeem itself wherever it could. This forest is a monstrous example. It surrounds the entire zombie-infested city of Kolumbia. Dammit, Jo, I think, as I try to keep my breathing steady. Why do you have to live out here? Why can't you live somewhere a teeny tiny bit more normal? Like a house, for example. A house sounds fabulous right now. I peer nervously at a wall of shadow far away between the trees. It's so dark it nearly seems solid. This is madness. This is a death-trap. Oh, I really wish I was somewhere else right now …
Jo is on my right side. Her hands are resting limply in the pockets of her black skinny-jeans while the collar of her jacket is turned up against the bitter cold. If she is worried, stressed, cautious or anything like that then she's definitely covered her emotion up flawlessly because to me she seems perfectly at ease. She's even chewing bubble gum. Guardian Reaper, I think as I stare at her jacket. It's hard to believe that a pair of elegant, feathered wings are hidden under there. Guardian of humans. Harvester of zombies. This girl is the only person I have left in the whole world – nothing can compare to that feeling. It's even more bizarre because I only met her just hours ago. Now she's guiding me through this forest and I have no choice but to follow.
Dammit, Jo, I think. Why can't I stop staring at you … ?
Kill them with one shot.
Kill them with one shot.
Kill them with one fucking shot.
I have one shot left.
There's a group of sixteen zombies waiting up ahead in the depths of the night; they are preparing to 'ambush' but even with the drug still lingering in my system I can sense them undoubtedly. I can smell them, hear them and taste them in the air – they can only pray that they'll escape me.
Before I entered this forest I had to empty out all of my ammunition. It was tainted. The zombies in the factory ruined it all while I was unconscious – only the two bullets in my Desert Eagles were left alone, one for each pistol. I've already used a bullet on the train-zombie; the other bullet sits in the pistol on my right-hand side. That's one shot awaiting sixteen zombies and I'm still under the influence.
Behind me, a little to my left, I hear the human girl's pattering footsteps. I'm unsure how I will explain to her that we are about to walk head-first into an ambush.
"Jo," she whines in her soft voice. "Jo …"
I stop. The human stops too, blinking at me in curiosity. Strands of her long, red-brown hair spiral behind her like streamers. Meghan, that's her name. I've noticed that Meghan lacks muscle tone whatsoever. I find this difficult to comprehend. Her arms and legs are very slender and appear fragile to me; how is this possible? She has creamy skin, a button nose, and lips like rose petals – Meghan's entire appearance reminds me of a doll I once found in a house on the edge of the city. Her cheeks flush pink as she watches me with large, brilliant, blue eyes that look like two twinkling sapphires.
The girl has been wearing an ash-covered, grey cardigan all this time with a yellow singlet beneath. It barely seems to fit across her chest – I begin wonder why she chose something that is so small. Accompanying that is a blue skirt, lacy white stockings and huge yellow boots. At least her footwear is practical, I note. Tears, shreds and broken threads cover all of her clothes. She stands there shivering with her knees together, her shoulders hunched, and her hands clasped under her chin.
"I don't like it here," she whimpers.
I say nothing and scan the indistinct shapes of tree trunks up ahead. The sensation of the zombies being somewhere close-by is growing stronger, it feels like static electricity prickling my body. But there's one problem: I'm drugged and I can't figure out where they are. I glare at the canopy above, watching the grey leaves shift across each other whilst my fingers brush lightly over my pistol. This drug, I think, clenching my teeth, is wearing me away.
"Jo, please talk to me," Meghan urges, her thin eyebrows wrinkling with concern. "What's wrong? Why have we stopped? I'm scared, I don't like it here at all. It's creepy and I'm cold and I think I stepped on something really gooey …"
"Shut up," I mutter; the suspicious sound of wet flesh squelching over a hard surface reaches me from somewhere distant … but I can't figure out which direction it comes from. Fortunately, I can feel the last moments of the drug as it begins to leave my body: Five.
"Excuse me?" blares the human girl, placing her hands on her hips. "Why are you so freakin' rude all the time? What's your prob—?"
"Shut up!" I hiss through my teeth for the second time. The sound had returned, this time louder and more distinguishable, but I still can't be sure of where it originates. It's hard to hear anything while this girl is complaining. Four.
"No!" snaps Meghan. She purses her lips and frowns in the dim light. "I'm not going to shut up! Do you have any idea what my life has come to? Do you know what kind of situation I'm in right now?"
I stare flatly at the trees behind her; their darkened trunks are furrowed like the ageing skin of an old man. Three.
"I have had barely any sleep and zero food. I'm exhausted. Everyone I know has been taken away from me, do you know how that feels? Has that ever happened to you before?"
"No," I lie. The fleshy noise has become even more apparent. This is horseshit, where's it coming from? I continue to watch the trees as confused shadows dance amongst the branches. Two.
Meghan drones on: "Of course it's never happened to you, you're a Guardian Reaper. I'm cold, Jo. Cold inside and out. I have nothing to hold onto anymore. I can't trust anyone but you and I still don't know who you are. You're just a stranger! Where's your family? Where did you come from? Why do you live out here in this creepy-ass forest, Jo?"
The drug is an anchor inside me, weighing me down as it comes to an end. I squint into the trees as the walls of shadow between them begin to shimmer like mirages. One.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to do. I don't know how or why I should trust you. Maybe I could have made it on my own in the apartment, yeah? Maybe I could've just boarded up the windows and lived on canned food for a few more months and watched television on a stupid key chain. Maybe I—"
Hooking my fingers around Meghan's cardigan, I yank her towards me. The rotting arms of the first zombie barely misses her by inches; its dirty fingers are spread wide. The human girl gasps, her blue eyes wide with shock, and then stumbles forward into my arms. Snarling, the zombie retreats quickly into the pool of shadow it came from and giggles:
"In the garden we are growing.
Many eyes that will be glowing.
If you want to be amazing.
See the flowers we've been raising."
It's like my senses have been cleansed. Suddenly everything becomes lucid and energy boils in my blood. I can feel Meghan breathing fast against my throat; her face has become pasty white and she refuses to blink. Fear has struck her like lightning. She quakes while I grip both her shoulders tightly, keeping the girl on her feet.
"I can see an angel," speaks the benevolent voice of a child secreted somewhere within the forest.
Thump; a large shadow has fallen from up above and hits the ground. It shudders before pulling itself up onto its feet like a puppet with strings. Here we go, I think.
"Hello, my name is Kyo." The zombie shuffles forward into the dim light. He's a teenager wearing a soiled apron decorated with leaves and broken twigs. "Hello, my name is Kyo." He has a shaggy mat of black hair and his luminous, green eyes are gleaming from within his rotting skull. "Hello, my name is Kyo." As he comes closer he begins to foam at the mouth. It's at this moment that I notice other members of the undead emerge from the crevices of the forest. Each one is covered in foliage and bits of vegetation as well. Their green eyes are unblinking as they all shuffle forward through the dry leaf litter; there are wide grins smeared across their faces. Most of them are giggling hysterically which exposes the raw, gory muscles on their necks. They all seem to be Kyo's age except for one: a little girl (maybe six or seven) with patched hair and a ragged dress.
Kyo pauses. His tongue flops out of his mouth like a piece of old salami. "Hello, my name is Kyo."
I shoot Meghan the sharpest look I can manage, catching her attention immediately. "Move," I hiss through my teeth.
Horrified, Meghan frantically looks between Kyo and me. "Wh-what?"
"Go up the trail and don't look back," I order, hoping she'll listen. "Now!"
The human girl hesitates at first, reluctant to go into the darkness all alone, until I start to shove her in the right direction so that she begins to run. Her long, silky hair brushes past me as she staggers up the track, panting loudly. Immediately afterwards, I spin around to face the zombies. They are nothing but a crowd of repugnant carcasses. Leaves are dangling from the scraps of skin still clinging to their yellowing bones. They continue to smile as they approach me with outstretched arms, like children receiving a present.
Chewing my gum slowly, I examine them all. "This better be interesting."
A girl-zombie steps forward – in her blood-streaked hair she wears a tiara made from rotting flower petals. "We will shove branches down your throat until the words won't come out," she says.
A boy with a green-tinged skeletal arm sniggers, "Let's shred her, slice her, grate her, mince her."
"Why does angel has human?" says another. His skull is shattered like an eggshell, held together with only weeds and vines. "Why does angel carry human with her?"
"It's a special human. It's a girl human."
"Angels can't take humans," laughs a girl, her eyeball dangles from its socket like a ping-pong ball on a string. "Angel's can only guard humans."
"I can do whatever the fuck I want," I say.
The zombies are cut silent for a moment, seemingly captivated by my voice. They twiddle their fingers and look between each other eagerly.
"Oh, oh, oh!" says Kyo with excitement. "So now she wants a game? A fun, little game?"
I raise one eyebrow. "You wanna play it like a game?"
The zombies erupt with giggles as they come closer. I can smell their putrid bodies. I can see the glistening gore over their skin. I can hear their squelching footsteps. They are only metres away.
Spitting out the remains of my chewing gum, I curl one side of my mouth into a smirk. "Come on then, let's play."
Don't die. Please don't die. Please don't let them kill you.
Running blind, running silent, running alone.
I catch the first zombie's neck and wrench it to the side; his bones split through his flesh as easily as a butter knife through jelly. Without waiting, I spin around to my left and throw my fist into the stomach of another. The impact causes ice-cold blood to splash all down my jeans. Score. I hear a third zombie charging at me from behind so I quickly duck, just as his rancid arm whizzes over my head in a blur. I come back with a sharp kick; my boot sinks into the side of his jaw with a satisfying crunch. He collapses to the ground and judders as if he was having a seizure. Of course, zombies don't have seizures, they just die.
I stand up straight, my chest heaving, and wipe away some of the gore that had splattered over my eye. "Don't stop now."
The girl with the dangling eyeball pounces at me in an instant. Her body slams against mine; it feels like I've collided with a concrete statue. She snarls, causing foam to swell from between her lips. I hold both her wrists, rattling her left and right. It takes a lot of effort to get her on the ground, but once I do, I stomp down on her head until her skull falls apart like a broken jigsaw puzzle.
Noticing a fallen branch which protrudes from the ground, I jerk it out, and then run towards a trio of zombies. They drool ravenously as I leap towards them, my body shoots forth with what seems like the speed of an arrow. I use the branch as a baseball bat, swinging it at all three zombies and demolishing their skulls.
Once their flaccid bodies all hit the ground, I spot Kyo only several metres away. The young chef-zombie is still shuffling towards me, his grin wider than a Cheshire Cat's. "Hello, my name is Kyo," he giggles. "Hello, my name is Kyo." He sounds like a broken record.
"Hello, fuckhead." I draw my Desert Eagle fast and point it directly at his face. "I was saving this especially for you." Bang. His head explodes and brains fly in every direction like mushy porridge.
Something is coming. Something is following. Closer. Closer. It grabs hold of me. Tearing me down. I'm still blind, it's too dark here …
I can't scream Jo's name, I can't say any word, I can't even breathe. Fingernails drag across my skin like broken glass as I'm hauled along the forest floor. Sticks stab me, leaves accumulate around me and I can't do anything about it.
Jo, don't leave me …
Corpses now litter the silent forest floor. The barrel of my Desert Eagle is still smoking when I return it to its holster. Those zombies that are still alive can barely move. One is dragging its legless body towards me but without success. Another has somehow become impaled on a leafless tree branch. It flails its arms uselessly in the air. I count them all.
Fourteen, I note, as I peer out into forest. Two are missing. I know one of them was the tiny girl with the ragged dress and patchy hair, but a zombie so young isn't a threat. That leaves one other that should be lying dead somewhere around me.
Meghan … I look up the path in the direction she ran. Overhanging branches curve around it, perfectly capable of hiding anything. Like an invisible trail, I can sense that the zombie went this way, pursuing Meghan.
Without a second thought I sprint along the forest path. Through two slits in my jacket, I extend my wings – each one is several metres long. I can see the bright luminosity my feathers make which washes away the darkness below me. The tattoo on my left arm matches the radiance, except its crimson in colour. I fluently press down with my wings, shooting myself into the high canopy. The wind whistle past my ears.
I glide between branches, calculating the area where the zombie is. It's not far. I pin-point the exact place before using a branch to thrust myself back towards the forest floor. To me, the darkness is no obstacle. Not while I'm free of the drug that recently was polluting my body. I break through dead branches and land on the ground, leaves and splinters shower down after me.
The zombie is stunned. He's powerless against me. I rip him off Meghan, who lies in the ground covered in leaves and twigs, before hurling him at nearby tree with all the strength I can muster. His body wraps around the wide trunk and his spine splits out of his back, completely obliterated. The zombie's body then rebounds back towards the ground, twitching like an insect.
I kneel down in front of the human girl. I go to touch her but hesitate when I can see, in the gentle light that signals the beginning of dawn, that my hands are doused in blood.
"Meghan?" I say.
She's lying on her back, staring blankly at the sky. There are fingernail marks striping her cheek and arms but it's nothing sinister. She seems fine, just shocked.
"Jo," she says, sounding remote. "You … You … killed them all?"
"Yeah," I reply, even though I'm very aware that I left the youngest zombie alive. I couldn't have killed her anyway, she disappeared before the fighting had started. "Did you doubt me or something?"
Meghan blinks at me. "A little … I mean, you are tripping balls at the moment, aren't you?"
I smirk. "Not anymore." Folding my wings back into my jacket, I take Meghan's wrist and help her to her feet. "The drug's all gone. And look …" I point towards a gigantic, rock face roughly a hundred feet ahead behind some saplings. Its height far extends that of the canopy and the limit of its width is barely within eyesight. Just as I predicted, we were right next to the opening. Twin, steel doors break the consistency of the stone.
"Yes," I interrupt, walking towards the doors. Meghan follows me, still clutching the three things she brought from her apartment: a large, strange gadget, a picture of someone holding a sandwich, and one of my feathers (which she has tried to hide inside her shirt but the end of it is blatantly poking out between her breasts). I try not to look at it, because it catches me by surprise. Why does she have one of my feathers? I wonder, scratching the back of my neck. And why has she put it there? Meh. She's happy now. That's all that matters I guess?
She skips around in circles, repeating the words "thank you" over and over again, although I'm not quite sure if she's talking to me so I don't say anything. Once I come to the steel doors, I slip one of my blood-stained hands into the pocket of my jeans and pull out a key. As I fit it in the lock, the doors automatically open and I step to the side, allowing Meghan to pass through first (which she does faster than a runaway train).
"Calm down," I say, as I step through and close the doors behind me – locking them securely.
Calming down seems to be the last thing on Meghan's mind. I've seen her horrified before, but never so blissfully shocked. The small human girl becomes lost in the scenery around her.
"Jo ..." she whispers to me. "You never told me ... "
"You never told me you lived in a place like this."
"You like it?" I can't help but smirk.
She watches me with her brilliant, glittering sapphire eyes and nods. "Yes. Yes, I do."
"This is nothing," I murmur. "I'll show you where you can stay. Follow me ..."