I can feel the inferno blazing on my back as we head in the other direction. I dare not look back; the images play in my mind like a movie, and I hear the crackling of the flames, the foundation collapsing. A ways away, we hear a crash, and I finally turn to rest my gaze on the distant blaze, seeing my house crumbling to the ground. A tear escapes and slips down my cheek, but I am not crying for the past.
I am weeping for the future.
Kaylee is silent, her footsteps surprisingly light. I take a glimpse at her, but she is not next to me - she is kneeling down a few yards back.
I jog to where she stands and notice the flyer in her hands. It’s dirty and crumpled, but relatively new, made with crude materials. It’s an advertisement for a sanctuary of some sort with a drawing of a peace sign underneath and some directions.
“There’s a sanctuary,” she croaks. “They might be there, your family.”
“Do you want to go?” I offer, regretting it after it leaves my mouth. If she says no, I’ll be alone again, but the sanctuary is probably bustling.
“Of course I want to go,” she states, and I relax. “Your family, if they’re anywhere, they’re probably there. I think I saw another one of these a while ago, but it was too damaged to read. We might as well try, right?”
I lug the bags I had put down onto my shoulders and follow Kaylee. She pulls a compass from her pocket and I see her trying to locate which way west would be. Pointing, she starts to lead us to the safe point.
THe day drags on and our arms and legs have bruises and sores all over them. They ache constantly, worsening with every step, and I can feel blisters forming on my heel and toes. We finally decide to settle for a while in the middle of a clearing in the woods.
It’s ideal, with a stream nearby and a few logs and tree stumps. The ground is swampy in some places and rocky in others, with layers of leaves on top of everything. It’s cool in the woods, but not enough to freeze us, making this clearing a great rest stop.
Kaylee helps me string a tarp over our belongings, in case of rain, and I don my leather gloves and wrap a scarf around my exposed neck, starting to work on the wiring. I wrap it around the first tree and bring it around the circumference of the clearing, keeping us in and the Infecteds out. I’m diligently working when I heard glass shattering. Looking over at Kaylee, I see a wine bottle that’s been broken in a small fire pit. She alights it, and a flame springs to life, growing bigger as she adds more and more kindling.
I turn back to my project and am met face-to-face with a graying human, eyes bloody and red, with scratches all over their face. Their hair is matted with clumps of mud and what looks to be thick, dry blood, and there is blood dribbling out of its mouth. It looks only vaguely humanoid, as if a new creature had evolved from us instead of destroying our race. Gasping and sputtering, I lunge backwards, leading it to get caught in the wiring. I unsheath my knife and stab the being cleanly through the temple.
I hear thudding footsteps behind me and a voice calls, “Ebony, you all right?”
Kaylee is next to me, and I breathe out, “I’m okay.” I start to string the wire again with shaking hands and fingers, but Kaylee takes it from me, giving me a concerned look, and continues with my work.
I walk down to the stream, wash off my gloves, and peel them off once they’re clean, making sure to get all of the blood off of them so as to prevent infection. I lay them down on a rock on the riverbed and head back to the tarp.
The flyer is on top of Kaylee’s bag, and I pick it up to examine it. The edges are frayed and ripped, and the entire paper is somewhat crumpled. It is yellowing and I can tell that the paper is extremely old. It looks as if something else was written on here, but I can’t make it out.
Suddenly, Kaylee cries out and moans are coming from her general direction. Turning, I see her backing away from another Infected; this one’s eyes aren’t bloodied yet, and it is disturbing to look at. I see some blood dripping from its mouth and then its eyes begin to swirl, filling with blood. Red tears flow down their face, and it bares its teeth viciously.
I unsheath my knife again but stop, remembering that my gloves are on the rocks. Rummaging through my bag, I grab my gun that I always carry with me, just in case, and place a silencer on the end. I miss the Infected, hitting a tree to the right of my target, and then I hit it in the head, falling to the ground with a thump.
Kaylee sighs, and I head over to check her. She managed to keep her distance and no blood is one her - not any I can see, anyway.
“What happened?” I inquire, and she breathes deeply.
“I was stringing the wire and it showed up. I don’t know why. Those things are scary, I’ve never seen them up close like that before.”
I think for a minute, wondering why we saw two of them here, now, when we’ve seen close to none on our walk here, and both of them came from the general direction that we came from. I head back over to the opening of the fence and am appalled.
There’s a horde of these creatures, all different sizes and shapes, ages, and stages of disease. Some look well enough to have been infected days ago, eyes still white, and some look like rotting corpses, moments from dying from the infection, with overflowing red eyes. There seems to be about 30 or so, and they’re all moving towards us at an alarming rate, the shuffling of their feet becoming louder and louder.
Kaylee shouts at me to run, but I can’t; it feels as if my feet became concrete, cemented into the ground below me. I am terrified, but also intrigued. I feel as though I would like to study these creatures, learn more about them, what happened to them. It’s fascinating, all while being insanely horrendous.
Finally I find the strength in me to run and I head over to the tarp, taking a few bags with me and trying to grab as much as I can. Remembering my gloves, I drop a few bags and run to the riverbed, slipping the gloves on as quickly as I can and sprinting back over.
I heave the bags over my shoulder and start running, trying to catch up to Kaylee. The wire will have to stay here, but we managed to grab the tarp and ball it up. I slip under the wire, as does Kaylee, and we begin sprinting, dodging trees and rocks and all other obstructions in our path expertly.
We soon reach a highway, and our hearts stop, then sink.
It, too, is overrun, with creatures teeming in masses of at least 40. They are spread out all over the roads, and most turn towards us as we approach.
Kaylee begins to run down the highway, following the barrier on the side of the road to our left. I drop a bag, one with clothes and probably some cans of food, but I cannot stop to pick it up, as some more creatures emerge from the woods behind me. Taking advantage of some weight lifted off of my shoulders, I reach for the gun in my pocket of my backpack and am able to wriggle it free. I begin to shoot at the creatures, only successfully hitting two or three. At least two begin screaming once they’re shot, a terrible, screechy scream that only indicates death. It overwhelms me, as I’ve never heard this before - it must be an extremely new case of infection.
At this, I lower my gun, continuing to run. We finally find a break in the barrier of the highway, but as Kaylee turns to head through it, an Infected comes out of the woods behind her. I scream her name, but it already is grasping at her, and I see some scratches starting to form on her olive skin.
I turn, searching for a way to run, some way to get out of this obstruction, but to no avail. All of the paths I see are blocked.
I used to always think I was used to hectic situations.
After school, I would have clubs and band periods, where I would play the saxophone until my hands blistered, and then I’d have to go home and take some kind of lessons until I had to shower and eat dinner. I always thought that was the worst pressure I could be under.
I loved to do clubs after school, and most of them seemed to appeal to me. Yearbook, newspaper, even chess club - I had always wanted to learn chess.
This made for a pretty busy schedule, but I was alright with that. It just meant more experience, and our teachers were always telling us that experience would look great on a college application.
Towards the end of each year, I remember I would always get stressed out studying for finals and going to all the clubs and maintaining good grades. It was difficult, but I always greeted it head-on and was able to contain it. It never seemed to prove to be too much of a challenge, as I did it every single year.
I don’t think I would have ever thought, back then, that things were to ever become more hectic. But if you gave me a choice between the stress of today and the stress of that time, I would take the past in a heartbeat.