“Mommy.” The word sounded so faint that she almost ignored it, but then that faint sound became a roar breaking through the wind. “MOMMY!” Her head shot up above the tall green grass surrounding her. She looked from side to side until her eyes finally found him. He was standing on the hilltop, his little hands cupping his mouth as he fought to scream against the wind. “MOMMY!”
The screams were pulling her to her feet, her eyes took the sight of him in. She could see the sweat running down his neck, she could see the dirt that covered his jeans and the blood that stained his face. “Jordan?” she said softly as she finally got to her feet. “JORDAN!” she screamed. Every muscle in her body tightened as she got ready to race toward her son, but before she could take her first step, she felt a cool hand run along her bare shoulder.
“He’s all right, Cat. Just playing games.” She stood in the soft summer breeze still staring at her son; screaming as if he were sending every bit of breath out to deliver his message, but as the cool hand slowly made its way from her sun-kissed shoulders to the spot where her neck and her jaw line met, the cries of the little boy began to fade back into the wind as she closed her eyes. “Boys will be boys, he’s fine.” His voice was so relaxing, it caused the waves of emotions running through her to become still. She felt him lean into her, and her eyes closed as he softly whispered, “Catherine.”
Catherine’s eyes opened with a smile, but it dropped as she saw the tears in her son’s eyes. The little boy’s mouth was open wide, and he cried out a word that was far clearer than any word she had heard in years, “RUN!” Before her mind could react, she felt that once sweet hand, pull her down into the tall grass. Catherine watched as the monster she once called a husband hovered over her. His golden, brown skin was now a dark, grayish black. His white eyes scanned over her, and for a second, she swore he was smiling. At that moment, hands ripped free from the dirt, shooting up and grabbing hold of Catherine’s body. Fingers with snake like grips wrapped around her arms, her legs and her neck. Nails and jagged bones tore into her skin, exposing blood and warm, fresh meat. Her lips parted and her jaw dropped, but no words came out, she repeated the motion over and over, but no sound lift her lips.
Catherine continued to silently scream like a broken ventriloquist dummy as the ground crumbled beneath her and she was pulled into the darkness of the earth. Then the zombie with her husband’s face leaned down and softly said, “Run, Catherine!”
Catherine shot up screaming. She was kicking and punching, but as her eyes took in the rundown bedroom and the sheets that had been kicked to the floor, she knew it was all a dream. She grew still letting her racing heart calm itself. Catherine’s eyes slowly moved around the room until they landed on the curtains dancing in the cool night’s breeze. “Fuck.” The word softly slipped from her lips. She pulled the window down quickly, but carefully enough to avoid slamming it closed. She avoided loud sounds these days; loud sounds brought attention, and attention was sure to get you killed. She stood gazing out into the darkness of the night. Her hair was pulled back into a short ponytail. Her body was toned, her skin far darker than its normal caramel brown, and she was covered with cuts and bruises from her new found life on the bottom of the food chain.
Catherine's eyes closed as she rested her head on the cool glass window. She sighed before turning around and grabbing hold of the shotgun that rested on her bed. The double barrel beauty was the only object she held dear to her in this new world, well that and the double edge knife she kept in her boot. She walked through the doorway and down the dark hall of the old home. It had been days since she saw another living person, but she was torn about it. On one hand, she was free to travel without worry. She didn’t have to care for anyone's needs or wonder if they’ll make it through the night. Thinking about others took up too much brain power, and she needed all of hers to make it through the coming days. Sadly, there was something to be said about having someone around. Someone that could share in the pain, someone that could pull you out of the darkness from time to time.
Catherine was alone in the madness and quickly getting used to it. Her footsteps echoed throughout the house as she made her way down the staircase with her shotgun in hand. She was performing the normal nightly checks before turning in. Walking into the kitchen, she looked over everything; the boarded up windows, the boxes of supplies on the counter, and the shotgun shells sitting next to her escape bag on the kitchen table. She ran her hand softly over the wood. It was a simple action, but it kept her safe. She smiled for a moment, but her peace of mind rapidly faded as she heard a pounding on the front door. Her head spun around quickly, she stood there, listening to the frantic pounding coming from beyond the wood.
"Hello, is anyone in there? Oh God! Someone please!" The young girl screamed out as she slammed her hands into the wooden door. She turned her head quickly to look over her shoulder. The girl’s heart was pounding louder than her hands. A mix of sweat and tears covered her rose pink face as she parted her lips to scream out once again. "PLEASE! OPEN THE DOOR! GOD! PLEASE!" With the butt of her shotgun tightly pushed into her shoulder, Catherine slowly made her way over towards the door. Her heart wasn’t racing, she wasn’t panicking, she was working on a battle plan.
The screaming and pounding was drawing them near. She could walk away and ignore it all, but then there would be no telling how many would be outside in the morning. She could open the door now and put an end to the screams with one fast pull of a trigger, but what would that make her? Catherine was planning a battle on the inside as she took her hand off the pump-action shotgun and placed it on one of the locks of the door. She could have done a number of things, but there was only one thing she could do that she could live with in the morning. She shouted, "Who are you?"
The young girl on the outside stopped her pounding, and her tear-filled eyes came up from the ground and cast upon the door in front of her. She had given up, she was coming to terms with the end. In her head she had said goodbye to about a thousand people before the voice came through the door. "Who am I?” The young girl paused then pounded at the door harder, as if she were trying to break it in with her bare hands as she screamed out, “Who fucking cares?! Just open the damn door!" Her head spun back around when she heard a loud splash, as a bucket fell into the dark waters of a nearby well. Two figures slowly moved in the distance, making their way through the darkness toward the old farmhouse. The young girl once again pounded and kicked at the door, her wrist bloodied from the small layer of skin that tore off as she slammed her hands into that door for dear life. "Please! PLEASE!” The cries overpowered the sounds of the night. They filled Catherine’s head, and she surprised herself when she turned the lock on the door. She pulled it open, and the young girl ran right past her.
Catherine didn’t know what it was that compelled her to open the door. Maybe it was the tears or the fear of never forgiving herself if she didn’t, but something in her pulled that door open and made both the women’s problems become one. Now it was them against the monsters. Staring into the darkness, Catherine could see the figures making their way slowly through the high blades of the lawn. They were twisted and broken; one had no lips, just blood-stained teeth that chomped as he dragged his left leg along the grass. While the broken-legged man seemed to have been infected for some time now, the other looked newly infected. His clothing wasn’t as dirty, his face looked the same as any other normal person, aside from his gray, pale skin and his grayish white eyes. He wasn’t slow-moving, he walked at a brisk pace compared to the other. They moaned as they made their way toward the house.
"What are you waiting for? Close it!" The young girl screamed out from behind her reluctant hero. Another scream filled the air, causing the two being's heads to snap up. Their gray eyes focused on the women in the doorway. The newly infected zombie’s walk turned into a sprint as both zombies cut through the high grass. The other dragged his leg along so fast and with such force, it seemed as if it would rip off. "Fuck this!" the girl shouted as her hand grabbed a hold of the door. Black combat boots kicked into the door, forcing it out of the girl’s grasp.
"You touch that door and I'll blow your damn head off!" Catherine quickly let the words fall from her lips, her cold, carefree tone caused the young girl to take two steps back. Her eyes raced back and forth between the figures moving through the night and the crazy woman standing in the doorway with her shotgun at the ready. Catherine didn’t turn around to reassure her of their safety; no, she didn’t break her focus from the oncoming threat that was breaking through the darkness into the moonlight. The women watched as the zombies quickly approached the front steps. She cocked back the pump handle of her shotgun, sending a large red shell into the barrel. She kept her eyes locked on the figures as they rushed toward her. She pulled the trigger back, sending a shock into her shoulder. Her ears rang from the barrel releasing a booming blast. The newly infected zombie flew back, his body landing on the floor like an old rag doll. However, just as fast as he hit the floor, he shot back up toward the steps. Catherine pumped back the rifle again, sending an empty shell flying towards the ground and a new one leaping into the barrel. She took aim once again. She pulled the trigger back and another roaring blast was heard. The young girl covered her ears.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" the girl screamed as the blast took off the broken-legged man's head. Pumping once again, Catherine sent a shell flying, but this time, no shell filled the barrel. She was out. The sound of the click sent a chill down her spine, as the last man still ran toward her. Her eyes widened and her hand went to her pockets, but came up with nothing except lost hope.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" Catherine spun her head back to look at the young girl as she continued, "I need bullets! Hurry up!" The young girl dashed toward the living room. Catherine noticed from the corner of her eye, so she shouted, "No! The red box in the kitchen!" Catherine watched the man making his way closer and closer to the steps of the house. She saw the blood dripping off his teeth. He was just like the others, a mindless killing machine whose only concern was where his next bite came from. Catherine had no plans of dying any time soon, but fate and Catherine were never on the same page. The young woman doubled back around, her eyes glancing through the open door. She could see the ugly figure racing toward Catherine. Everything felt slow in that moment, and for the first time she could see what she was running from. It wasn’t just a photo on the internet, it wasn’t some grainy video on the tv, or sounds coming from beyond a locked door. It was real, and it was moments away from ending her life. She bolted into the kitchen and pulled open cabinet doors. She raced around the room until her eyes rested on a small red box on the table. She grabbed it and dashed toward the doorway once again. She tossed the box at the woman, who snatched it out of the air. Catherine's fingers dug into the box and pulled out a red shell. She dropped the box to the ground and reloaded. She quickly raised the shotgun, pressing her cheek against the butt-stock, her eyes were locked in a stare down with the monster, it was looking right at her with those dead gray eyes. There was no blinking, no moving, just her staring at the monster and it staring right into her soul. Her fingers were sweating as they pressed hard against the metal. A cool wind blew and caused the door to smack into the wall, with that one sound the being took a leap forward, landing him at the top of the house steps. She pumped the handle and the shell leaped into the barrel. She pulled the trigger. Cold blood flew through the night and onto her face as she tightly closed her eyes and mouth. The headless body fell to the floor and the young girl stood there looking at the sight.
"Nasty." the girl said softly.
"Damn it. I hope I didn't get any in my eyes!" Catherine pulled up her shirt and started cleaning off her face. Walking past the young girl, Catherine made her way up the steps as she sharply let out, "Close the door!"
The young girl slammed the door shut, and her fingers quickly twisted the metal to lock the door. She rested her forehead on the chipped paint of the door. She was alive, and she was safe. Two things she never thought she would be just a few short minutes ago. The girl turned around slowly, her head hanging low as she forced herself to look up at her hero and mumble the words, "Thank you."
Catherine came to a full stop on the staircase. She didn't turn around, she didn’t show any signs of addressing the young woman, "For what?"
"For saving me," the girl replied.
A deep eye roll was the knee jerk response that Catherine’s body came up with. She turned around and smiled, having rubbed most of the blood from her face and into her white torn tee-shirt, the young girl could see clearly that Catherine was one wrong word from tossing her back into the apocalypse. Catherine stood in the middle of the staircase with her black bra, tightly strapped to her chest like a plate of armor, she held her shotgun in her hands. Taking a few slow steps down the stair case, "You make it sound like I had a choice in the matter.” The shotgun rested on her shoulder and Catherine pointed at the blood soaked door, “If they would have gotten you, then you would have turned, and there would have been one extra freak to put down.”
The young woman nodded as she walked toward the steps. "Yeah, but still, I－"
She was quickly cut off when Catherine pointed the shotgun at her. The woman became completely still, like a tombstone on a cool summer day, the only thing that moved were her eyes as she stared down the shotgun barrel that was aimed squarely in her face. The young girl’s eyes fixed on the dark hole that lead into the barrel of the shotgun, her hands slowly moving up. They trembled in the air just above her shoulders. That feeling of her heart leaping out of her chest was back again, but this time, she wasn’t running from the infected, that was before, and this time she thought she was safe. "Don't come any closer,” a blood-stained Catherine sharply demanded, causing the young woman to take a step back. She survived all of that madness only to be unlucky enough to lock herself in an old house with a crazy person.
The young woman swallowed hard, trying to get the dryness out of her mouth. "What the hell, lady?" She wanted to sound unafraid. She wanted to seem stronger than she was moments ago, but her eyes burned with tears and she knew that all Catherine saw was a weak intruder who almost got them both killed. The young woman slowly retreated back as Catherine walked down the steps, never lowering her shotgun from the middle of the woman’s face. The door pressed up against the woman’s back and that was it, no more retreating. There was nowhere to run, so she stared back into the darkness of the shotgun barrel. It was an odd thing to go from feeling like you’re going to die, to being saved, to be right back at death's door once again. An odd feeling that she wouldn’t wish on her worst enemies.
"You stay down here,” Catherine said softly as she pulled back the forend of the shotgun one more time, sending a red shell flying through the air once again. She drove her point home by pushing the hot barrel into the bare-skinned shoulder of the girl as she continued, “and you leave in the morning." Questioning a crazy person was never a good idea, even before the world went to hell. It could lead to yelling, fighting, shit being thrown at your face, but with the world coming to an end and everyone grabbing every form of firearms they could get their hands on, questioning a crazy person now could only lead to one outcome: death. Even with that thought in mind, the shock of being cast out into the madness in the morning once again prevented the girl from holding her tongue.
The young woman’s eyebrows quickly went up and her hands dropped, pushing the shotgun away from her shoulder. "What’s your deal, lady? It's not like I'm one of those damn things out there! I'm human!" the girl shouted into Catherine’s face.
Catherine nodded as she leaned over with her shotgun to pick up the box of ammo. She casually reloaded the weapon as she said, "Yeah, well, that's just as bad in my book." She held the weapon in one hand, and with one sharp, swift motion, she jerked the shotgun reloading it with one hand. She turned around and continued back up the steps. The young woman shook her head and watched as Catherine made her way up the stairs.
When she turned the corner of the staircase and her last step was out of view, the woman’s hands flew to her face trying to push her tears back into her eyes. She bit down on her lip as she placed her hand over her chest, trying to keep it at ease. The whole house was dark, she could hardly see in front of her. The light of the moon came through the cracks and spaces of the boarded up windows. The girl moved toward the staircase and peeked her head as far as she could without putting her foot on the steps. When she thought she was in the clear, she took a step back and looked around her new surroundings. She started toward one of the gaps between the boards that let in a peaceful, bright glow of moonlight and placed her eye against it. She felt the cool air from the outside run along her cheek. She could see the dark path that she ran from the woods towards the house, her legs were still burning from the deadly foot race. The young girl turned away from the window, she wanted to leave the outside where it was, even if it was just for the night. She strolled around the living room, her hand lightly ran along the fireplace and she pulled it back. Her fingers were covered in dust, and a long spider's web had wrapped itself around her hand. She shook her hand frantically. The girl let out a childlike whine and ran her hand up and down on her blue jean shorts. Spiders, shotguns, and zombies made their way to the top five list of things she hated, right next to her ex-boyfriend and circus clowns.
She sighed as she looked down at the fireplace, she got down to her knees on the dusty floor and started to move the logs about, causing black soot to kick up into the air. She waved her hand back and forth and coughed. "Someone needs some cleaning lessons." she softly sang. Pulling out a lighter from her front pocket, she held it to the dark wood and some balled up paper that had been sitting there forever, most likely left by another poor soul who just wanted to see through the darkness of the world. Odds were that soul got shot for walking up the stairs. The thought of that soul losing their life like that was heartbreaking, but oddly funny to the girl, who let out a small laugh. Soon a small fire started that slowly lit up the room. She sat there looking at it, letting the flames fill up her eyes. She was safe now, safe as she could ever be in this new world.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" The voice came from behind the woman, causing her to shoot up, banging her head into the dusty fireplace mantle.
The woman’s hand went over the top of her head and shouted, “Damn it!” The woman stood up, rubbing her head as she turned fully around to face the Catherine. "I was just..." The woman's hand fell to her side. She looked around and said softly, "There are no lights in this place, I can’t see a thing." Catherine had a towel around her neck and a new black tight sleeveless shirt on, well worn and with some rips, but far newer than the balled up, mess up blood she once had. She started towards the fireplace. Her hair was wet and sticking to the back of her neck.
“That’s the point,” Catherine said the words gently and slowly as if she were speaking to a child.
The woman's hand went to her head once again and slowly came down; there wasn’t any blood just a lumpy sore spot. She folded her arms and with a roll of her eyes she let out, “Being blind is the point?” Walking past her towards the fire, Catherine's eyes watched as the flames popped and danced along the wood.
"No, it’s dark because they come running when they see the light. It's like a bug zapper to them, and I don't have enough bullets to be zapping," Catherine said.
The young woman never thought about that, she never thought about a lot of things. All she focused on for the past few days was running. She didn’t put much time into wondering what was chasing her, why they were chasing her, or even how to make them stop. The only thought in her mind was ‘keep running’. Long gone were the times when she could sit and plot out her next move, or decide how to deal with the monsters next door or down the street. She knew as she stood there in the glow of the fireplace that all that was left was running and surviving. The young girl nodded as Catherine started to stomp the fire out with her black boots. Turning around slowly, Catherine gave the girl a good once over; she was blonde and thin, her hair hung down her slender back and somewhat rested on the bright red cheeks of her face. She wasn't too tall, from what Catherine could see, they were the same height. She had shorts that were cut too low, and a tight white tee shirt. The sight caused a smile to grow on Catherine's face, and that grew into a small laugh.
"You're just a happy meal on the run, aren't you?" Catherine said.
The woman leaned back on the fireplace with her arms crossed, turning her head quickly toward Catherine. The girl could make out her smile through the smoke and the moonlight mixture in the room. She put her hands on her hips and said, "What does that mean?"
Catherine dropped back in one of the dusty seats with a smile on her face and said, "You’re showing a lot of skin, given that you're running from things that love to eat people."
The young woman looked down at herself then back over at Catherine. With a roll of her eyes and her best attempt at mocking Catherine she said, "Forgive me for not covering up, Mom! I didn't have much time. Just like you didn't have enough time to clean up for your guest!"
Looking around, Catherine closed her eyes for a moment, partly because she was tired and partly to hide the fact that she was rolling them. Dumb statements were her kryptonite, both in the old world and this new hell they called life. As she let the statement slowly fade from her thoughts, she smiled and said, "This isn't my house, I found it a few days ago, just like you did."
The girl looked around and softly asked, "You got chased here too?"
Catherine sighed and slowly opened up her eyes, "No, I'm looking for someone, two someones really. I’m just holding up here until I get a better idea of what to do, I guess." The girl nodded as her eyes slowly moved toward the shotgun that was leaning by the staircase. She had one small thought that was growing in her head, getting that shotgun in her hands. She could have darted for the weapon and made a power play for the house, but that thought was shot dead by a picture of Catherine beating what was left of the young girl’s life out of her. She stood there staring at the weapon before Catherine’s head slowly turned towards the weapon as well. Catherine smirked and looked back at the girl, “Don’t get any ideas,” she said.
The girl’s head turned toward Catherine and she did her best to flash a smile, "I don't think there are any good ideas left. It comes down to run or fight from what I see…" the young girl said. Catherine leaned forward letting her fingers dance along her boot laces, as if she was tying her shoes. She wasn’t worried about taking the girl on in a fair fight, but if she got to that shotgun, fair would go out the window. Catherine didn’t want to gamble her life on who was faster; if the girl moved forward she would stab, no questions asked. Catherine’s heart beat a little faster as her fingers slowly pulled up her pants leg. The young woman looked down at the floor and softly continued, "I'm too weak to fight, and too slow to run." Catherine laughed dropping back in her seat relieved. The young woman looked over at Catherine and softly said, “Something funny?”
"I’m sorry, I thought you were making a joke," Catherine said.
The young woman shook her head at the statement. Her whole tone changed as she grimly said, "There’s nothing funny about what’s going on. There’s nothing funny about people dying." She slowly started to take a seat on the floor near the wall, she pulled her knees to her chest, until they were pressed against her. "There damn sure isn't anything funny about them coming back," she added. Her blue eyes gazed down at her dirty white shoes. She rubbed one toe over the other trying to dust it off, but the dirt remained. She was trying to avoid continuing their conversation because she wasn’t sure if she wanted to open up Pandora’s box with the question that was dancing along the tip of her tongue. There wasn’t gonna be a happy story, no one had those anymore. Everyone has lost or is looking for someone, but nobody ever finds anyone. That’s what the girl was slowly learning these days; that this new world was full of loss and no one was coming to terms with that truth. The era of small talk was dead now, everyone was right to the point these days. The young woman let the words fall from her lips ever so carefully as she asked, "So, umm. Who are you looking for?"
Catherine leaned forward in her seat to stare at the young woman. The bright glow of the moon had made its way through the cracks and gaps in the boarded up windows. She could make out the outline of the young woman’s thin body and even the light yellow color of her hair. She didn’t know the girl and didn’t plan on getting to know her. She was a passerby, someone to beat the night with, but not to count on, no one to trust. That’s what Catherine kept playing in her head, it was her against the world, no one could be trusted, not anymore, not after last time. Catherine smiled and asked, "What does it matter?" With a raised eyebrow.
The young woman crossed her arms over her chest and sorely said, “You’re fucking rude, you know that?”
Catherine laughed and gave the young woman a small nod before leaning back in her seat and continuing. "What I mean is you're leaving in the morning, and I might not even be alive next week. I don’t see the point of the conversation." Catherine rested her head back on the dusty fabric of the chair and stared at the broken ceiling fan that was hovering over them. It was a hopeless thing, that seemed to be hanging on by some old rusty nail. She sighed as her eyes came down from the nails to meet the young girl’s blue eyes. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter.”
The young woman nodded and slowly uncrossed her arms as she jammed her thumbs back into her small hip pockets. "You don't talk to many people, do you?" the woman asked Catherine.
Catherine laughed. "Not any that were alive, not lately anyways."
The young woman closed her eyes and ran her hands over her face. She kept them there for a moment and let out a loud sigh into her palms before slapping her hands down onto her thighs and softly saying, "I'm just trying to stay alive, I don't really have a plan or anything." The woman stopped to look down at the blood and dirt that had stained her white sneakers. She put her thumb down and tried to rub it off as hard as she could, but it wasn’t something that could wash away, just like the monsters outside, all the blood, and all the bodies were here to stay. She looked up from her shoes and continued, "I had to leave, there was nothing back there for me. I woke up in the middle of the night and－" Catherine shot up out of her seat and walked into the darkness of the hallway where the shotgun sat. The girl stopped as her eyes followed Catherine, watching each footstep move as if it were in slow motion. She was sure this was it, that shotgun was coming out for the final time, but then Catherine walked passed the rifle, and the young woman sat there staring at it. When Catherine stepped fully into the darkness, the young woman got to her feet. Her heart beat faster now, she looked around the room, searching for something, anything she could use. Then her eyes found a fire poker resting by the fireplace. Before she knew it, she was standing by the fireplace, her hand was going out towards the poker. She called out, "Where are you going?" There was no answer only the sound of cabinets opening and closing. The young woman’s heartbeat picked up pace as the thought of the shotgun raced through her mind. Her fingers wrapped around the handle of the poker.
"You sounded like you're gonna break into a some sob story, and I need a drink or two so I can at least pretend that I care." The young woman's jaw dropped, she couldn't believe the words that came from the darkness.
"I guess all the good people got eaten!"
Catherine laughed as she shouted back, "Well you’re still here, so what does that say about you?" The girl looked down at her fingers that were tightly wrapped around the fire poker. She didn’t break her stare until she heard Catherine’s footsteps once again. She dropped the poker back into its rack and waited for Catherine, who returned with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. Catherine dropped back into her seat, sending dust flying into the air. She placed the glasses on the end table next to the chair and poured the brown liquid into the clear glasses. The young woman’s eyes were fixed on the liquid as it slowly danced along the clear glass, building up a small wave of freedom inside it. As much as she wanted to be released from the hell she was living for just a moment, she could only find herself wishing it was water filling up that glass instead of alcohol.
Catherine leaned forward to hand the young woman the glass, but she just stared at Catherine’s hand before shaking her head. Leaning on the fireplace, the young woman said, "I don't drink."
Raising her eyebrow, Catherine laughed and asked, "You're kidding me, right? You know the world ended? Now’s the best time to become a drinker." The girl shook her head again, and Catherine leaned back, "More for me. So, when did your world end?"
The young woman looked away and a small smile found its way to her lips as she softly said, "Why does it matter?" Her head turned back toward Catherine, who took a sip of the whiskey and laughed.
“Touché,” she said before leaning forward, resting her arms on her knees and cupping the glass in both her hands. “When?” Catherine asked once again without looking up from the still brown water that set fire to her empty stomach.
The young woman ran her chipped pink fingernails through her hair before faintly saying, "I guess the same time as everyone else. I heard about it on the news, but for a while, I just thought it was something happening somewhere else, like with the war. It’s sad and all, but it’s not on your doorstep.”
Catherine smiled at the woman’s words as she started pulling something from under her tank top. When the sliver chain dropped free of her fingers the young woman could see two metal tags shining in the moonlight, “My doorstep is a lot closer than yours, sweetheart,” Catherine said.
The woman’s face turned pink for a short moment before it went full red. She placed her hands over her face and shook her head before dropping them and continuing. “I didn’t mean...What I was trying to say was-”
Catherine laughed and leaned back in her seat. “Keep the story going, Happy Meal.”
The young woman’s eyebrow went up then a smile slowly grew on her face, it was a feeling she hadn’t felt for a while. Not since she left the complex, not since she left them. She smiled looking down at the floor and then softly said, “My name’s Sue.”
Catherine took a sip of her drink and then smiled. “Keep the story going, Sue.”
Sue nodded and ran her fingers through her hair before starting once again, “I remember thinking that it would never happen in America, like we could stop it somehow. But we didn’t know what it was.” Sue paused for a moment as she looked up from her dirty white shoes to Catherine, who was leaning back in the seat and twirling her drink around in her glass. Sue wasn’t sure if she was putting on an act, pretending to be jaded by the past. It was something people in this new world liked to do, act as if yesterday was so long ago, as if today were all that mattered. Sue wasn’t sure if Catherine was putting on an act like the rest or if she just wasn’t paying attention, but as she stared at her, Sue could see she was miles away in her mind. Sue leaned on the boarded up window, “Then they were in D.C, then in Atlanta, then before I knew it, they were down the street.”
Catherine nodded as she stared at the brown waves in her glass. “Down the street, up the block, next door...” Catherine downed her glass and placed it on the end table. “And in your house?”
Sue nodded. She folded her arms over her chest, looked at Catherine and said, “I woke up to some loud banging in the middle of the night. I remember looking outside my window, I could see them pushing their way into the house. There was moaning. No words, just moaning. I remember hearing my friends shouting. I remember seeing their blood.” A small tear pushed its way out of Sue’s left eye, her hand went up to meet it, but before she could whip it away, it was accompanied by a stream of new tears. “Oh God," she softly said. Catherine wanted to tell her it was okay, she wanted to say that everything was going to be fine. But she knew that was a lie. She knew whatever horror story Sue was replaying in her head would be stuck on replay for the rest of her life. It wouldn’t fade away, it was just going to get longer and bloodier as time went by. "They broke through the front door, there must have been 20 of them. Smashing things, moaning, and smelling like, like," Sue closed her eyes hoping to lock the word away and never be forced to say it, ever.
Catherine knew the smell all too well. She leaned forward and softly spoke, as if to whisper to herself, "Death."
Sue cleared her tears away again as she nodded and continued, "Yeah, my friends Samantha and Dean, they…” Sue paused once more as her eyes dropped down to the floor.
Catherine shook her head and stood up, “I’m sorry about that. You got any family?” Sue shook her head at the question. She had a mother in Alabama, but it wasn’t a relationship worth crossing a zombie-covered state for. She merely assumed her mother was eaten by the zombies or died years ago from alcohol poisoning. "Do you have a car?" Catherine asked.
Sue was pulled back into the real world by that question. She brushed the rest of the tears from her face as she shook her head once again. "It ran out of gas about two or three miles down the road," Sue said.
Catharine rolled her eyes and dropped back into her seat, knocking over the glass on the end table. "Shit! Can I not get a fucking break? Jesus."
A weak laugh filled the empty room and then it grew, Catherine's eyes went toward Sue. The young woman put her hand up and fought to stop laughing. "That's what I said word for word when it stopped moving," Sue said. Catherine shook her head, but before she knew it, she was laughing along. It was odd, neither of them really knew what they were laughing about. The fact that they were fighting their way through a world of death on foot really wasn’t a laughing matter, but there they were. Until Sue began crying once again. Catherine grabbed the second empty glass and filled it up with the whiskey. Sue quickly got to her feet, and through the haze her tears created, she could see the brown waves of the glass coming closer. She stared at it and then said, “I told you I don’t drink.”
Catherine nodded and grabbed Sue’s hand, placing the glass in it. “You do now. All that crying is gonna get you killed or drive you to kill yourself.” Catherine turned back around and walked to the staircase. She leaned over before her foot hit the bottom step and picked up the shotgun. “Drink up, you’ll sleep better.” Catherine said as she started to walk up the steps.
"Wait!" Sue called out into the darkness, Catherine turned around to see the young woman standing in the doorway. “When did your world go to hell?”
Catherine looked at the outline of Sue in the doorway and sighed as she rested her shotgun over her shoulder. “You’re really not gonna let it go, huh? What does it matter?" Catherine said.
Sue groaned at the question, and Catherine could see her shadowy figure storming back into the moonlight of the living room. "Whatever," Sue said as she turned her back on the subject.
Sue only got two steps before she heard Catherine’s words fill up the dimly lit room. "I didn't make it home for dinner." Sue's head turned back toward the staircase. Catherine stood at the top; her eyes were fixed on Sue, but her mind was fading back to that fateful day as the words left her lips. "All that craziness was going on, and I told them I'd be home. I told them to lock up because mommy was coming home for dinner." Catherine’s body slowly crumbled down onto the staircase. She sat there with the shotgun resting on her lap. Catherine’s eyes went up from the black barrel to Sue, who was standing at the bottom of the steps staring at her. "The highway was packed as shit. There were fires, overturned cars, and those freaks running about everywhere. There were tons of them, just making their way down the highway as if they owned the city. I did my best to drive through them, to just keep pushing home, but they started to pile on the car," Catherine added.
Sue leaned on the railing and shook her head as she said, "I would have been scared out my mind."
Catherine looked down at her and softly said, "I was, I still am. Someone told me they smell fear, that's how they know where you are.” Catherine smiled for a moment as her fingers ran along the metal barrel of the shotgun. “I guess they'll always know where I am.” Catherine stared down at the black, cool metal of the shotgun, trying to fight back tears. Sue understood that feeling too well. She went to move closer, in some sad attempt to comfort her. Yet, when her foot hit the step, Catherine’s head shot up to stare at her. The two women locked eyes for what felt like forever, both of them hiding rivers of tears behind their gaze. Catherine slowly moved the shotgun from off her lap and stood it up on the buttstock. She held onto the barrel and rested her head on it slightly as she softly said, “I called my husband, I told him I loved him, that I would always love him and to kiss Jordan for me. I couldn't go forward, so I backed the car up as far as I could." The tone in Catherine’s voice caused Sue to slowly sit down on the bottom step. She rested her back on the railing and stared up at Catherine, lost in the words she was hearing, lost in the emotion of it all.
Sue gently asked, “What did you do?”
"I slammed on the gas, racing the car and those dead fucking hitchhikers right off into the river." Catherine laughed.
Sue smiled, "Bullshit!"
Catherine shook her head. "It was the only thing I could think of," she said. Sue's eyes went wide.
"Well, damn! I could have thought of a million other things," Sue said with a smile, then turned her head to the side, looking back into the moonlight of the living room before adding, “But then again, most of those things would have gotten me killed.” She grinned.
Catherine chimed in, “Or send you running through the woods in the middle of the night.”
Sue laughed and nodded. “Very true. So then what happened?” she asked.
"They can't swim all that well. I found that out, so I waited until a couple of them followed me in, and I took off toward land. I started my way on foot to the house. I had to lose the heels because it was a few miles down the way. I’m still broken up about that," she said with a small smile. She shook her head as she got back to her feet saying, "Anyway, mommy was late for dinner. I got there and the door was open. The lights were on, but no one was home."
Catherine started back up the stairs as Sue asked into the darkness, "Are they-"
Catherine turned around and shook her head. "No, my boys are too smart to end up on some zombie’s menu. They’re somewhere, I just need to find them. I helped myself to a car and headed south towards Savannah. My mother-in-law lives there, I'm guessing that's where they’re at."
Sue nodded at Catherine’s words and looked back down at the floor and asked quietly, “Savannah?”
Catherine nodded and said, "Yeah, I ran into some people at a Walmart, loaded up with supplies. Nothing too crazy, water, guns, knives, a shit load of tuna.” Catherine laughed, “Jordan hates tuna.” Sue nodded at her words, not daring to face the woman as she continued once again. “They said they would help me get to Savannah, but when I woke up they were gone, took my car and my supplies. They left me there to die. I took what I could carry on my back and hoped I'd run into another car. Never did. I saw a few drive past, but they didn't stop. I can't say I blame them."
Sue's head finally turned toward Catherine. Her eyes filled with tears, and she was rushing to clear them away. She didn’t want to explain them, she just hoped the darkness of the room hid them from Catherine’s view. Sue stood up on the bottom step and pushed to put on a smile and hoped her voice didn’t give away the pain and confusion she held inside. "Well, we can use my car, it’s only a few miles down the road."
Catherine put the shotgun on her shoulder as she added, “And out of gas.”
Sue closed her eyes and sighed as she remembered the large fact that caused her to run through the woods in the first place. “Right,” She stared down at the ground for a moment then looked back up with a small smile once again. “There was a sign down the road for a gas station. We can go there. Get some gas and then hit the road.”
Peering into the darkness, Catherine rolled her eyes and started walking down toward Sue. "I passed that place, and there are tons of zombies running around. Besides, I'm going to Savannah…Alone."
Sue nodded, trying to keep up her weak smile as she stepped up to meet Catherine. The two women were just two steps away from each other now. "Yeah, I know, but we’re safer together. You don’t know what Savannah’s like right now. You might need help. I can go with you and－" Sue jumped a little as her words were cut off by Catherine’s laughter coming from the darkness.
Catherine took another step down and leaned forward, looking Sue in her light blue eyes as she said, "I've heard this before. I walked for days before I found this place because someone wanted to help.” She stood leering at Sue with the shotgun held tightly in her right hand. She put it up between the two of them for a moment before letting the forend of the shotgun fall into her left hand. “Story time's over." Catherine turned back around and started back up the steps. She was halfway up when she noticed Sue’s footsteps following her. She spun around and said, “You got the memory of a fucking goldfish or something? You didn't hear me the first time? You stay down here!" Catherine glared at Sue, she was waiting for the girl to back her way down the steps, but instead she stood there with her arms over her chest.
"So what’s your plan? To just sit here, get drunk and crawl your way to Savannah?" Sue asked as she ran her fingers through her blonde hair. "Like it or not, I can help you and you can help me. We need each other."
Catherine pulled back the forend of the shotgun, and the loud metallic sound of a round being loaded filled the house. Sue was sweating, not from the Georgia summer night, but from the force of her heart pounding in her chest. She put her hands up and started slowly walking back down the steps. With a smile Catherine said, "If you hear a moan, just scream." Sue stood there at the bottom of the steps watching as Catherine walked up the steps and finally out of her view.
Sue heard a door slam, and she dropped her arms. "What a bitch, no wonder no one’s looking for you," she said quietly into the darkness. Sue started back over towards the fireplace, she sat down in the dusty old chair and glanced over at the whiskey bottle and the glass she had left on the table. She didn’t want to tell or hear any more stories about dead people. All she wanted to do was stay alive, and the crazy woman upstairs was her best bet at that. Sue pulled her legs into the seat and grabbed the glass of whiskey. She stared at it for a moment and then downed it like a shot. She shook her head and stuck out her tongue before she finally rested her head on the arm of the chair and closed her eyes. She couldn't stop herself from thinking about the woman’s story, and how she was so strong, brave, and dead inside. She treated kindness as if it were a weakness. Sue tossed and turned as she thought about the woman's husband, Jordan, and Savannah. They were the little bit of hope that woman was holding onto, and it didn’t seem fair to take that away from her. It didn’t seem right to tell her Savannah was lost. That was the part of the story conveniently left out. She needed the woman strong, not broken and hopeless.
Before Sue knew it, she was fast asleep. She was dreaming of better days, partying with her friends, drinking and having fun like any other college student. Then the lights went out, and the dream turned dark. She was running from another one of those zombies. She could smell him right behind her as she raced through the woods, just like before. But this time there was no house, no crazy woman to save her. This time Sue fell. When she rolled over she felt the zombie grab her by the arms. He shook her back and forth. She felt him tearing into her skin. Then as he leaned in with his bloody jagged teeth aimed for her neck, Sue’s eyes shot open and she screamed It was daytime, and Catherine was standing over her.