PURPOSE (Competition Entry)

All that remained was darkness. However, to only experience darkness was a blessing in disguise. For a more treacherous colour coated the world: red.

To see red, to see crimson, was sure to end in death- or worse, infection.


(Winner of Best Cover in the ZA Competition)

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1. 113 Days

 

Purpose (A Short Story/Prequel)

 

The world had once been decorated in vibrant swatches of colour. Grass so green, that the sight alone infiltrated your senses, a sky so blue that it was impossible to decipher the point in which the ocean ended and the sky began, and sunsets so wonderfully radiant, that veils of warmth and renewal cascaded over the world. But that world was long lost.

The sunrise no longer eluded a sense of hope and opportunity, it warned of the futility of living, the dangers which were sure to be found in every corner of the world. All that remained was darkness. However, to only experience darkness was a blessing in disguise. For a more treacherous colour coated the world: red.

To see red, to see crimson, was sure to end in death-or worse, infection.

What once was thought to be a harmless outbreak of disease had turned the world upside down and stolen the very essence it possessed. It could be controlled they said, the world was not to worry they said, this was not the end they said. They were wrong. They lied.

As for the untainted individuals who still scoured the world, they were abandoned to lives of survival. Nothing else mattered anymore. There was no time for living, only the fate of a life consumed by running and fighting. For there was no use in hiding from reality, it soon caught up with those who persisted on rejecting its cruelty.

I had long forgotten what life was like before the world decided to lose its shit. But what did it matter now? Memories of talking pictures, of social gatherings and family meals couldn’t save me now. Only I could save myself.

It had been precisely 113 days since I’d been travelling alone, since my family had perished to the disease. They had become walking bodies, little more than rotting flesh and bone. And it had hurt like hell, but I had come to accept what had happened to them, where that had left me, and what I had to do from now on.

The road I walked along had once between overcrowded by row after row of cars. And now? Well the road was overcome with stains of blood and littered with abandoned cars that were sure to be ridden with the bodies of those who hadn’t gotten out in time.

As I wondered the lifeless road, I couldn’t help but wonder what my life’s purpose was anymore.

Purpose: a two syllable word that holds the power to overcome the mind, invade the senses and ultimately, drive a person mad. It’s as if that one word dictates an individual’s life: how they act, what they wear, whom they speak to and how they think. But what does someone do when they have no purpose? When there is no clear answer? Simply breathe for the rest of eternity? I think not.

I had made it my life’s ambition to find a purpose of some description, a purpose for Scarlett Jones. It might take me months, it might take me years. But I refused to believe that I was destined to walk the earth alone in hope of a cure. I wasn’t naïve enough to believe that an answer to my problems would magically appear one day; I couldn’t afford to think like that. Instead, acceptance of the new world was priority, you couldn’t change the world- you could only mould yourself into a being of survival.

Looking at my tattered clothing, I traced the edges of the blades hinged at either side of my waist. 113 days alone had taught me how to fend for myself, how to kill. If it weren’t for my hours of practices a and relentlessness with a blade, I would surely be dead.

An ear-splitting screech sliced through my thoughts. Immediately my hands clutched the hilts of my blades. From the right side of the road, I heard the familiarity of choked screams and shouting. Dense trees obscured my vision but I knew what was happening. The infected were here, they were everywhere, and they had found their latest meal.

I stopped in my tracks, debating my next move. Having always ignored the screams of terror and moved on, I thought to do no different this time. But I couldn’t move onwards.

One word infiltrated my thoughts and pushed further and further into my mind until it pierced my very core: PURPOSE.

My legs were moving before I could process what I was doing. I was clambering over the road barrier and descending into the foliage of trees. My heart clattered against my insides as though it were trying to escape the confinements of my rib cage. At least my organs were smart; I had never attempted to help other survivors for a reason- it was the epitome of stupid.

Brushing away the branches in front of me, I surveyed the scene.

A little boy of no older than 10 years old sat whimpering behind a tent whilst four other survivors stood defending him, surrounded by the infected. They were slashing their knives, firing their guns and yet they were outnumbered. There were 4 of them and at least 20 infected. I shot into action, unleashing my blades from their hilts and slashing my way through flesh and bone until I reached the circle of survivors. Momentarily their eyes flickered to me, and just as quickly, they acknowledged me to be a non-threat and returned their attention towards the masses of infected who happened to be hell-bent on tearing them to shreds. I suppose a teenage girl soaked in blood with a couple of blades didn’t really elicit the same sort of reaction that it used to.

Feeling the adrenaline coarse through my veins like molten lava, blood dripped from my blades in torrents as I decapitated heads, tore limbs from bodies and sliced the broken bodies into pieces. I ignored the puss erupting from skin, the blood drooling from breathless mouths and the stench of death. They weren’t human anymore, they were remnants of everything that used to be and that infuriated me.

As an ice-cold hand grasped my ankle, I raised my booted foot and stomped it down fiercely upon the creature's face. I cursed at the stain of blood that now engulfed my boot. I didn’t care if it was the bloody Zombie Armageddon- a girl valued her shoes.

Turning towards the little boy, I gasped and let out a cry, “GET DOWN.”

Sending one of my blades whirring through the air, it landed straight in the chest of one of the shoe-wrecking bastards. The boy stared at the body inches from his back and began to shake in shock. I saw the fear and pain in his eyes and an emotion of helplessness unfurled within me. No one could protect this boy from the brutality of the world.

The fighting had stopped. Everyone was alive and drenched in crimson. As my lungs roared at me, I looked towards the others. They glanced at me with wonder and scepticism as they tried to control their breathing.

One of them, a tall middle-aged man approached me and grasped my arm tightly, “What do you want?”

Ripping my arm out of his grasp, I glared at him, “What, no thank you for saving your asses? You’re welcome by the way.”

From the way the others were standing behind the blonde giant, I presumed he was the ‘leader’ of the group. His stance certainly screamed ‘I’m better than you’.

A short girl around my age with close-cropped fiery hair came forward, “Look, we’re grateful for your help but if you’re looking for supplies, you’re not getting any.”

Rolling my eyes, I tried to maintain my composure, “I heard shouting, and I came to help. I don’t want any bloody supplies. I assure you that I’m more than capable of providing for myself and I certainly don’t camp in the middle of nowhere like a bunch of frickin’ idiots.”

The girl set her gaze on me for a few seconds before a smirk overcame her features. She leaned in to whisper to the blonde giant.

The pair behind them, stood watching me, had their arms crossed and were ready to pounce as if they suspected I were a snake moving into strike position. One of them was a tall man, not much older than myself, who bore a scar that ran across the entirety of his face. The other, was a woman who had to have been at least 60 years old but who held the stance of a 30-year-old athlete. She made her way towards the whimpering boy, not letting her eyes drift away from me for even a second.

The blonde giant cleared his throat and eyed me warily, “We’d like to offer you a proposition to join us.”

“Not interested.” I snapped.

Crinkling her brow in confusion, the redhead took a step in my direction, “But you’re all alone.”

Attempting not to flinch, I raised my chin defiantly, “Your point being? I’ve managed this long by myself.”

“And what purpose do you have?” she questioned.

I closed my eyes and did my best to act unaffected by the question I had asked myself time after time before, “None. That’s why I’ve survived this long.”

The old woman interjected, “What if we told you we knew a way to stop all this,” she crouched next to the boy and gestured to him, “what if I told you this boy held the cure?”

Confusion seeped its way into my brain and resulted in my body being wracked by hysterical laughter, “Are you kidding me right now? That little boy is the answer to all of our problems? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, you’re all insane!”

No one laughed with me; they only stared at me with solemn seriousness. Great. The one time I try to be a decent human being and help some people out, and they turn out the be complete lunatics.

I shook my head, “Look, I’m no-“

The man that had been silent up until that point cut off my protests, “He’s immune.”

My thoughts came to a complete standstill. No one was immune. That didn’t happen. That couldn’t happen.

Seeing my silence as encouragement, he forged on, “His blood and his DNA are the answer to all of this. He’s been bitten- twice. Left him with nothing more than bite marks. We’re trying to get him to London- there’s a scientific conservatory there that’s still functional.”

I racked my brain for a rational explanation, “Well maybe he’s just taking a little longer to turn.”

“6 months late?” the little boy quipped.

I turned towards him and scrutinised his face. He seemed so insignificant, so quiet and so, so normal. But if what they were saying was true, then he was so much more than I could even begin to comprehend.

Remembering how far I’d come by relying on my own terms, I asked the same question to both myself, and the group of strangers, “Why should I help you?”

The leader of the group stared me down, “Because from the looks of it, you need something to believe in just as much as we need some extra hands.”

I contemplated his words and found myself agreeing with them. I needed something to believe in, something to strive for, and something that would provide purpose. There was little point in continuing to simply survive. I wanted to thrive and find some sense of justice in the world again.

I didn’t know whether they were right about the boy, whether there was a chance at redemption for the world. But if I didn’t try, I’d never know for sure.

I’d come to realise hell was no longer a land for the dead; it was a place for the living. And I was going to fight my way through it with every breath I possessed.

I smiled, “Count me in.”

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