Clarke remembers the beginning of the end of the world in the same way that she remembers her mistakes; clearly, brightly, vividly. She remembers the banging on her bedroom door, the growling from the other side, and the way, when she opened it, her father was standing there, flesh peeling from his skin and puss oozing from his eyes.
He’d been bitten by a homeless man, the night before, and then in the morning he had become a living dead, a walker that Clarke staggered away from, screaming. He had trudged into the room, arms lifting to reach for her, as she ducked out of the way, around him and slamming the door behind her. She had run for her mother, only to remember that she was across the country at a hospital benefit. Clarke didn’t know what was happening, but one click of the radio told her that it wasn’t her father playing a joke on her, it wasn’t a contained illness.
There was a breach, some sort of disease, those who died were coming back to life, bloodied and gory.
Clarke ran for the door, packing a backpack as she went. She jogged down the stairs to the cellar, ripping the key from its peg on the wall and unlocking the gun cabinet. She’d only used them once or twice in her life but she no longer cared – the end of the world was upon her and Clarke had played enough games and watched enough horror films to guess where it was going to go.
She packed her bag, climbed into the Jeep Wrangler that her parents had bought her the summer before, and drove through the streets, bodies attracted to the sound of the engine and clogging up the roads.
It had been seventy six days since the outbreak and every seat of her car was full. In the front seat was Raven – Clarke had found her about a month beforehand, holding down a pharmacy by herself, a bullet in the brain of her human-turned-walker boyfriend. Clarke traded a ride from Texas to Wisconsin for supplies.
When they reached Wisconsin they only found empty streets.
“It’s supposed to be safe here,” Raven had sighed. Clarke revved the engine and watched as the walkers crawled out of buildings and cars, hobbling over to the girls. No matter where the reports and rumours said the world was safe, it always wasn’t. Nowhere could be completely safe anymore.
In the back seats, Monty and Jasper, best friends since birth, sang along to the CD in the player. The girls had found them at the gas station about a week and a half after leaving Wisconsin. They’d been living there on their own, and asked to come along for the ride when it became evident that they wouldn’t last long otherwise. Luckily, the station had left over supplies that fit into the boot of the car just fine, and Jasper wasn’t too bad with a gun.
The last seat in the back was taken up by Wick, who’d joined only a few days before, with a gun and an array of dead bodies on the ground behind him, bullets through the brains, and blood down his clothes.
Clarke had never minded giving lifts to strangers, and she didn’t now, either. She was just more aware of the weapons that came with them.
“It’s gonna get dark soon,” Wick mentioned from the back.
“I know,” Clarke sighed. “We’ll have to find somewhere safe for the night.” Raven snorted from the passenger side and Clarke could almost hear her friends thought – safe. Yeah right. Nowhere was safe anymore.
“We’re heading into Polis, right?” Monty asked. Clarke nodded, flicking on the headlights.
“Yeah, we need some more supplies. I’m almost out of ammo.”
“We went there on a school trip once,” Jasper said. “They have this weapons stronghold – I think it’s something military.” Clarke and Raven exchanged a look.
“It’s probably been taken,” Raven mused. “There are really militant camps all over the place, I would bet they’ve got one there.”
“Don’t they recruit?” Wick asked.
“Well, couldn’t we join one? It’d be safe.” Clarke shrugged, lights flashing over the ‘Now Entering Polis’ sign on the left.
“I do better on my own,” she replied quietly. No one spoke after that, just let the music wash over them and the lights land on various bodies across the road. Clarke kept focused on driving – she never let her mind wander, never let herself forget about the gun in the holster at her side and the weapons in the boot of the car. She never let herself think about the past, about the wasted bodies and the blood that still stained her skin.
She needed a shower, Clarke decided, as she drove around. She doubted that many places had water anymore – but some of the abandoned houses might have supplies anyway. Clarke waited until they were far enough into the town, and when she hadn’t seen a trail of walkers in a while, she parked the car beside a house.
“We’ll try there,” she announced.
They each checked their guns before leaving the Jeep, Clarke locking it behind them as they staked out the area. It was quiet; the sky was dark above them and a few street lamps flickered. She couldn’t see any lights in the houses along the road, and ventured forwards to the one she’d parked by.
“Keep an eye out,” Clarke instructed quietly. They moved carefully to the door, where she tried the handle. At the shake of her head, Raven moved forward, lowering the gun to the ground as she crouched in front of the lock. Clarke kept Raven around for a lot of reasons – she was good with a gun, she used to be a mechanic, she was smart and strong, and she could pick locks like she was made for it.
They entered, and Clarke glanced around, flicking the light switch closest to her. Nothing happened, and she sighed before turning to the others.
“No electricity,” she told them. “Monty, Jasper, take upstairs. Wick, garden and garage. Raven, try the living room – I’ll go for kitchen and dining room. Shout if you need help.” Their faces were serious when they nodded, and Clarke watched the travellers disperse, moving cautiously with their guns raised and fingers on triggers. Clarke moved through the archway to her right, looking around the corner at the linoleum flooring and tiled walls. On the fridge, a few drawings were stuck, and a couple of the cupboards were open. Clarke moved slowly through the room, moving to the next and finding an empty dining room, a chair knocked over and a photo on the wall crooked.
“Clear!” She called, before trudging back to the kitchen to ransack the cupboards. To her dismay, they were empty; every can and packet taken. Clarke sighed, hearing Raven’s ‘all clear’ sound through the house, and the back door open and shut as Wick confirmed the emptiness.
Then there was a gunshot from upstairs.
Immediately, Clarke sprang into action. She ran out of the kitchen, bolting to the steps, Raven on her tail. She could hear Monty’s swearing, as she rounded the corner. There were at least four doors leading off the hallway, but only one was open – so she pushed for that one.
“Monty?” She called. On the floor, a walker bled out, stinking of rot with its flesh torn open. Jasper was breathing heavily on the bed and Monty stood, gun in his hand. “What happened?” Monty just turned to Jasper, eyeing him carefully before looking back.
“Nothing, nothing,” he replied hastily. “Just a walker – surprised us. We haven’t checked the attic yet.”
“I’ll do it,” Raven volunteered, turning and moving towards the loft. Clarke glanced at Jasper for a moment, staring at the walker, before shaking her head. She didn’t need to be thinking about the worst right now.
“There’s no food downstairs,” she told them. “But the place is empty – we can stay here for tonight.”
“And look for the stronghold tomorrow?” Wick asked from behind her. Clarke glanced around, shrugging. She didn’t want to be stuck at one of those places, but if Wick wanted to be, the least she could do was drop him off there. He had killed a walker that had cornered her when they first met.
“Sure, we can try,” she agreed. Clarke really just wanted a shower.
In the morning, they packed up their supplies, and anything they found in the house that would come in handy. Then they piled into the Jeep and Clarke pulled out onto the street. They passed walkers on the road, eating bodies or wandering about, some without limbs or eyes; others with their jaws ripped from their skulls.
Clarke kept her eyes directly forward, following the map that Monty read aloud from, next to her, in the direction of the stronghold. In the back, Jasper coughed; deep, awful coughing and Clarke cringed.
“Are you alright?” She asked, passing traffic lights that flickered all three colours at once.
“Yeah, yeah,” he replied wearily. “I think I’m just ill, is all.”
“We’ve got meds and stuff,” Raven suggested, and Jasper replied quickly.
“No, don’t worry about it – it might pass within the day. If it goes on for longer than that, I’ll take some.”
The music was off as they drove, so they could hear oncoming walkers, other cars or survivors in Polis. She doubted there would be many of the latter – survivors were rare to come by these days. The whole world had been taken out so quickly; people not realising that the bullet had to go through the brain to keep them down, others just dying naturally and coming back without being bitten at all. Those first few weeks of figuring out the disease were the worst; Clarke didn’t even know what was happening at the time. She just stayed by herself, finding information from survivors she passed until she’d collected enough to understand what she was facing.
The stronghold was called the Drop Ship, according to the sign crafted along the barbwire fences. Clarke parked on the road, at the main gate, and stepped out, cocking her gun as she did so. The fence was supposedly electrified, and she looked around, trying to find out if it was true.
Fortunately, she saw a walker – a woman with one arm and dark matted hair – trudging slowly towards them. Clarke wandered over, shrugging her jacket until it was comfortable and waiting for the walker to get close enough. She didn’t want to alert all of the zombies in the area, so she tucked the gun into the back of her jeans and pulled out a knife, stabbing it into the back of the walker’s head the second it got close enough. Clarke twisted it, turning around the walker as it howled, and shoved it in the direction of the fence.
When they reached it, she dislodged the weapon, and kicked the walker forwards.
Clarke watched the dead woman fry; skin burning against the metal riddled with electricity. It shuddered, trying to move back but just catching itself on the fence more. Clarke turned away, climbing back into the Jeep.
“They have electricity,” she said. “There are people in there.” The five of them looked to the gates, before each other.
“We could use the horn,” Monty suggested. “If they’re in there, they’ll hear us.”
“So will every walker within a mile,” Raven retorted. “We should drive around – see if there are any other entrances.”
“If they have patrols, they’ll find us eventually.” Wick leaned forward in the back. “But we don’t know how long they’ll be.” Clarke huffed; she became the defacto leader early on – it was her car, she was taking them places, she also had the most common sense. She would therefore have to make the decision.
“We’ll walk around – to the end of the fence that we can see. If we see someone, we’ll call them over, ask for entry. If not, we walk back. And someone stays by the car.”
“I can stay,” Wick suggested. Clarke glanced over to the back. Jasper was shivering in his seat, eyes barely open, curled up against the door.
“Stay with Jasper,” she instructed. “Monty, Raven, take the left – I’ll take the right. Just go up the corner, if you can’t see the car anymore, come back.” They all checked their ammo before going their separate ways – Wick into the front seat (without the key, seeing as Clarke didn’t trust him that much), and Monty and Raven heading off down the road.
Clarke wandered on her own for a while, checking back periodically to see if she could still spot the Jeep, and slicing the heads off of the walkers that dared approach her.
The sun was still low in the sky, and she was almost the entire way along the fence, when she saw the butterfly. It was on the other side of the fence, flitting along near the barbs; blue and black wings. Clarke hadn’t seen a butterfly in a very long time – too long. She watched for a while, walking along side it, until she saw the person.
Clarke stopped in her tracks.
A gun was pointed at her, and a woman stood on the other side of the fence, staring down the barrel of her shotgun. Clarke held her hands in the air, bloodied slightly with a knife.
“Hey,” she announced. “Is there a colony in there?” The woman frowned, stepping slightly closer. She must have known that the fence was electrified, and that she didn’t need the gun, but she held it up anyway.
“Who’s asking?” She called back. Her voice was pretty but hardened, and Clarke caught a glimpse of a perfect jawline through her cascading dark hair.
“My name’s Clarke – four others and I are hoping to come in? We’re looking for a safe place.” The woman lowered her gun, slowly, looking Clarke over. Her hair wasn’t really clean, and tied back, and she hadn’t been able to have a shower that didn’t involve the hose in the back garden – Clarke looked beaten and worn, while the woman looked clean and slightly bruised, but mostly okay.
“You want to stay here?” She asked. Clarke paused before shaking her head.
“Maybe the people I’m with do, but I’m alright out here.” The woman’s gun was lowered completely, and Clarke’s hands were back by her sides.
“I can’t let you in without talking to Kane,” she said. “He’s in charge around here.” Clarke nodded, understanding. “I’ll just-“ she held up a walkie talkie, that must have been in her pocket, before her eyes opened. “Behind you!”
Clarke spun, finding a walker, jaw open wide, eyes glazed over, reaching out from right behind her. How the woman hadn’t noticed before was beyond Clarke, but she didn’t care in the moment, slashing out her knife. The walker gripped onto her arm, pulling it towards its mouth, but Clarke was quicker. She kicked solidly at its knee, the walker collapsing, and Clarke yanking out the gun from the back of her jeans. She shot it in the head, the grip on her hand loosening before the walker fell to the ground.
“That was so bad ass!” The woman said from behind her. Clarke turned back, the stranger had a smile on her face and the gun by her side. “Are you alright?” Clarke nodded. “That was so cool! I’ve never killed a walker before – I’ve seen it happen so many times, but you just shot right into action!” Clarke smiled a little, nodding.
“I’ve had a lot of practice,” she replied begrudgingly. “Now, can you call someone about letting my team in?” The woman nodded happily.
“Of course! I’m Octavia by the way – I’ll walk back along with you.”