Their damn noise wakes me. Which means there’s a good chance they’ve woken something else.
I’m up and alert in less than a second, the human equivalent of nought-to-sixty in three-point-two. You have to be these days. If you want to survive.
The dead officer’s gun is in my hand quicker than you can say boo.
At the window I see them–climbing the back fence. Their gear comes first, a couple of military-style bags thrown over before them. Seems I’m not the only one who’s been looting the dead. Then he appears, scrambling to get on top, the old wooden fence swaying precariously beneath him. He shuffles awkwardly, turns, and reaches down, grabs a hand, pulls up a girl. Both are barely out of their teens, rumpled, bloodstained.
The weight of the two of them on top of the fence is too much. Thirty yards away, I hear the crack, see the awkward moment as the fence buckles and they hang, momentarily suspended, before they fall.
I am off and running before they hit the floor.
People fuck up. It’s an inescapable fact. All of human history we’ve made mistakes. Slavery, war, conflict. Untold misery. Might makes right. A bully’s wet dream. For sixty years, the world one button push from nuclear destruction. Cheating husbands, cheating wives. Trust broken, friendships left to rot, too locked inside our own heads to realize what we’re doing to others until it’s too late and the damage is done, irreparable.
How do you think we got in this mess in the first place?
I hear the first walker before I reach the entrance hall.
I’ve barricaded the flat block’s front door and it’s hard to shift. A small part of me is proud to have sealed myself in so tight, but now it’s a pain. I can hear the low, inhuman growl of the walkers outside, growing like a swelling chorus.
The girl screams. I grit my teeth. Doesn’t she know anything?
Make as little noise as possible. Travel by day. Hide at night. Don’t get bitten. As much the law as don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t drive without insurance were the laws of the old world, before things went wrong.
Yet she’s screaming, screaming, screaming.
Every shriek brings more of them down on the couple. Down on me.
I fling the last of the barricade, a broken bookcase devoid of literature, out of the way and throw the door open. The walkers have the couple surrounded, closing in slowly in their shambling way. I haven’t seen so many for weeks, since the virus first hit and crowds and crowds of the afflicted shuffled through the streets, hunting for prey.
I crouch on the lawn and take aim with the dead officer’s gun, both hands on the grip, lining up the iron sights. That one-handed bullshit is for posers, and all the posers are long dead.
The girl cowers, still screaming, and the boy swings a cricket bat, hitting a walker in the head. It goes down. Instead of finishing it off he backs up, eyes wild, trying to protect the girl. How they’re still alive I’ll never know.
I exhale and pull the trigger.
Walkers may look like people but they’re not. Not anymore. Shoot a real person and they’ll cry out, pass out, bleed out. Shoot a walker anywhere but the head and it just carries on. Shoot their bodies, break their jaws, hack their limbs off, they’ll keep on coming. Hell, I saw one run over and it just dragged itself onwards with its arms, legs crushed and broken, trailing entrails behind it, still growling and snapping its teeth.
I always aim for the head and I never miss. If I did, I’d be one of them.
Each pull of the trigger, each collapsing walker, is one less threat to my survival in this damned and broken world. The walkers are slow to react and I reload, take down more of them, the girl’s screams keeping their attention on her and the boy.
A gap opens up, paved with the dead. The girl spots it, shuts her damn face and pulls the madly-swinging boy along after her, their bags in her other hand.
The dead lurch after her.
I fall back to the door and the kids follow me in, leaping scattered bookcases and broken chairs. I order them to get the barricade back up and they do. We strain against the undead as they crash against it.
Soon, they give up, wander off. The dead have no memory.
The boy thanks me, holds a hand out, tells me his name is Steven and her name is Alison and asks what a little girl like me is doing out here, all alone. Patronising, like I haven’t just saved his worthless life.
I shoot him in the temple.
The look on Alison’s face is one of absolute and total collapse.
It doesn’t last long.
I check their bags, happy with what I find: cans, a knife, bottled water. I drag the two of them into the downstairs flat with the others. It takes a while.
At least they’ll stay dead. I’ve done them a favor.
People fuck up. It’s an inescapable fact. They’re all just walking liabilities, one mistake away from bringing the horde down upon you. One mistake and they’d have got us all killed.
Upstairs, drinking their water and eating their food, I look out of the window. The dead are dispersing, leaving their fallen to rot with no sign of mourning.
It’s a man-eat-man world out there and no mistake.
Brian Ennis is a teacher, writer, gamer and geek, not necessarily in that order. You can bother him on Twitter: @TheBrianEnnis
Image by thierry ehrmann