The Changed… That's what they call them. The ex-people who were nothing now but foul creatures that don't need rest or sustenance. They don't have a heart beating in their chest, they feel no pain and don't need limbs to move. They only use one sense; smell. They don't need anything else to get what they long for; to feast on living flesh. And everyone knows what happens if they get you; they devour you until you died or until the infection spread to your heart and then you were Changed, too.
The infection started two years ago; it had escaped a lab in Canada. The resources had started to run out world-wide and the pathogen was intended to allow humans to live without food and water. But something had gone wrong. It wasn't stable. And now it had spread throughout humanity. Sure, there were a few groups, like Tyler's, that had 'survived'. But how long could they remain survivors? How long until...?
Tyler raised his gun.
"I have to, Jamie. You know what'll happen if I leave it longer!" He looked at the twitching body on the leaf-littered ground.
"Sorry, mate." The sound of a gunshot echoed around the clearing and the body was still. "Let's go."
Jamie was sobbing, leaning against a fallen eucalyptus. Tyler approached her and offered his hand.
Tyler thought about how tough you had to be now, to stay alive. In this sick game of survival there was no room for kindness and love. Everything turned into a chase that tested you to your limits. You had to be tough. He had never seen Jamie this upset before. "But," he thought, "he was her brother."
A branch cracked nearby and they spun around, emotions gone in a second. They stood back-to-back, pointing weapons, poised and waiting. But no sound followed and, as routine, they picked up their packs and strode into the bush.
Jamie and her brother, Jack, had been with Tyler for six months. His brow creased in thought. Poor Jack…
Tyler shook his head and knocked a branch aside. They had been in the bush since their last town trip, where they'd gathered food, water and supplies. He was leading them to another town now, compass in one hand and his gun in the other. They always aimed for the smaller ones; it would be suicide to go near any of the cities nowadays.
At night, they slept under the stars and, using some of their remaining matches, they lit a fire. The days were boiling, but the nights were freezing. And, as Jamie remarked, it wasn't the flames that might bring some unwanted visitors, so they might as well be damn comfortable.
After they'd eaten dinner, there was a pause. Then, "Tyler… What are we going to do?" Jamie looked expectantly at Tyler's face, but all she saw were the shadows of the flames.
"About what?" he said slowly.
"Jack must've been bitten when we were last in town. Everyone I know, except you, has died. Is there ever going to be a cure? When does this end?" The fire crackled.
"I don't know, Jamie."
"Why not?" She demanded. "We go in, get food, barely get out and then do it all over again! What if-"
"Don't say it."
"But, what if, Tyler? What if they get us?"
"Don't think about it, Jamie."
"I have to think about it! I don't know why you don't!"
"Go to sleep, Jamie."
As she lay down, Tyler turned around, gun cocked, to face the night.
At sunrise they examined the map before leaving. The town they were heading for was close enough that they would see it by dusk. They trudged all day and by that night, they could see it ahead. They stopped; knowing that if the wind swung around the Changed would smell them. But the wind didn't turn, and at daybreak, no Changed had come.
"Are you ready to go?"
"We'll go in, try the stores first. I'd rather not loot the houses," said Tyler. He looked at Jamie, who was staring back at him. "Good luck." They grabbed their packs and set off.
An hour later they were creeping down the main street of the town.
"Do you feel like this isn't right?" asked Jamie.
"Well, we're skulking around a ghost town, hoping that we're not going to eaten alive. But, it's true; something definitely feels out of the ordinary."
"Why hasn't anything come out yet? I'm not complaining but -" She screamed.
Thousands of them.
They came from everywhere.
The two wheeled around and sprinted down the street, shooting The Changed out of their path as they went. Suddenly Tyler swerved into an IGA. He leapt through the door and fired one, two, three shots and the offending creatures collapsed onto the tiled floor.
Jamie ran in and shut the door and then sealed the windows.
"Tyler! This door isn't going to hold!"
"I know, I know!"
He darted to some large, metal canisters and piled them against the only entrance.
And their only exit.
"Come on, we need to get a better look."
They ran up the stairs and onto the rooftop of the building. It was chaos. They were surrounded, completely surrounded, by The Changed. And more were coming. The streets were filled and a rotten stench was rising to the place where Tyler and Jamie stood, stunned at their surroundings.
"But... Why? Why are there so many?" said Jamie as she stared around. Tyler pointed across the street, to a torn banner. Jamie read it aloud:
"Come to the Show! Saturday 7th March, 2016! But Tyler, that was..."
"A week after the infection broke from the cities. They all must have come here. And the infection must've come with them."
"We've seen worse."
They headed down the stairs again and looked at the door. It was starting to bend under the pressure from the other side.
"Tyler, that's really not going to hold."
"So what are we going to do?"
They both looked around and spotted the same thing. They made eye contact and Jamie nodded.
Tyler went to the metal canisters at the bowed door. He unscrewed the lids and a hissing sound filled the shop followed by an overpowering smell.
He and Jamie walked over to the wall opposite the door that was now almost at breaking point. They put their backs against it and slid down, to the cold, hard floor. Tyler put his arm around her.
"Do you want me to do it?"
She looked at him, hardly able to breathe through the heavy fumes.
"They killed my brother."
As the door burst off its hinges, Tyler closed his eyes while Jamie lit a match and their world ended around them.
As promised, the other short story that was assessed!
Will, hopefully!, get around to Mass Effect soon. Not feeling particularly creative at the moment. :/
Forgot to mention that I'm now on DeviantArt, too! Only one picture up there so far, but it'd be great if you could have a look!
Same username, just search it and you should find something of Miranda! :P
Hopefully you'll hear from me soon!