Dead Girl Walking
He fired a bullet into the brain of the nearest zombie and it hit the floor. When a second came at him, he pulled the trigger. The gun clicked on an empty barrel…
Carla joined the first group she came across, slipping silently into their rear ranks. The memory of the previous night was still raw and she didn’t feel ready to talk. People glanced at her, saw no threat and continued on through the woods. If they had a plan, somewhere to go, they didn’t share it with her. A girl slowed down and joined Carla at the back. She must’ve been around ten; it was hard to see through the dirt.
“What’s up?” the girl asked.
Carla looked away. “Was thinking there must be a princess under that muck.”
“You’re running from them.” She didn’t need to say who.
She watched as the zombie’s yellowed teeth tore into his flesh.
Carla checked behind. Shadows crept in as the sun sunk and evening drew close. Hunting time. She shivered. That was when they’d got Steve. They thought they were safe in the hills. Steve said they wouldn’t leave the cities with fresh meat on the menu. Didn’t reckon they’d abandon the cities once the meat ran out. Didn’t reckon they’d band together. One or two on their own you could handle, but when there were hundreds lumbering towards you, they’d wear you down.
He thrashed around as they ripped him open and fed. He looked up at her, eyes bulged in fear and pain…
“Are you a princess?” the girl asked.
Carla sighed. “Just Carla.” She looked ahead and the red of sunset sliced through the trees. There must’ve been twenty in the group and fair game when night fell. “Where we heading?”
The girl pointed ahead. Blood scabbed around a bite mark on her arm. It looked deep, but it didn’t seem to bother her. First sign of infection: lack of pain. How many of them had been infected? It wouldn’t be long before the girl’s mind finally went and she’d turn on them. She was probably dead already and didn’t know it.
“Keep up, Miss, they like to take out the ones at the back first.”
They came at her in the hundreds, swarming up across the hill at the scent of live meat. She reached out to him, but he’d turned already and pulled himself towards her…
“You got a name, princess?”
The girl nodded. “Rosie.”
“You better catch up with the others, Rosie,” Carla whispered. “I’ll keep an eye on the rear.”
“Okay.” Rosie stumbled away, glancing back at Carla.
Carla slowed until she was a few feet behind the group and slipped through the trees. She headed North, aware how fast the light faded. The groans of the undead drifted in from all directions, as though they woke for the coming dusk. Carla broke into a blind run. She didn’t get far before she tripped over and fell. Her fingers scrabbled around in the dirt as she dragged herself up and stumbled on. She regretted leaving the group and Rosie, but didn’t think they’d last long. Steve had said they should keep to a small group, so they could all watch out for each other. How could they have known one of them had been infected? Steve had to put a bullet straight through Jack’s head when he turned. He’d been halfway through eating his wife when they found him. The gunshot boomed through the hills and they froze, listening as it faded to silence. Then they came, drawn by the sound. A zombie horde. ‘Course, they didn’t see them until they were right on top of them.
She couldn’t leave him, not after all they had been through. He reached out and grabbed her leg. His mouth opened and closed, teeth snapping. The others groaned with hunger…
Night fell upon her again. She doubted she would survive on her own. An owl hooted in the distance and a twig snapped underfoot behind. Multiple shapes shifted through the trees and the sound of the dead marched towards her, groans carried on the wind. She’d been here before, wanted to cover her ears and curl into a ball. The woods closed in, but Carla ran, branches whipping into her face. It drew blood, but she felt no pain.
Carla looked behind. A shape stepped out from the gloom. “You followed me,” Carla whispered.
“Don’t be angry, Miss Carla,” Rosie said. “I’ve come to take you back. It’s safer in a group.”
Moans sounded all around. Teeth snapped hungrily as the shadows moved in on them. She counted five shuffling forms, arms stretched out to grab them. For a second she considered leaving Rosie who was good as dead, but a glimmer of the civilised person she had once been shone through and she grabbed Rosie’s hand. “You’ve got to run,” she told her. “Don’t look back. If you stop, they’ll be on you.”
They ran. The last of the sun vanished and they were plunged into a twilight world. The sound of the undead grew distant. They had managed to give them the slip. For now at least. They headed at a fast pace downhill and the trees thinned out until they stood at the edge of the woods, looking down a steep hill towards a lone farmhouse. A full moon rose high in the sky, throwing a path of silver light down the hill.
She ran away, through the lumbering horde of the dead. And she kept running until the sun rose and the dead gave up the chase…
“Think you can make it to the house?” Carla asked.
Rosie tightened her hand over Carla’s. “Is it safe?”
Carla shrugged. “I guess.” They ran down the hill, hand in hand. On the open fields they saw the undead spread around, swaying in the wind like leafless trees. They had the house surrounded, but there was no where left. When they arrived at the house, they were out of breath and exhausted. Carla pushed at the front door and it creaked open. She grabbed her knife and edged into the dark hall, closing the door behind. She was used to this drill. One room at a time. Clear out any zombies before moving onto the next.
They moved through the house. It was deserted, the occupants belongings hurriedly packed as they fled their home. They came to a bedroom and while the bed looked tempting, Carla wasn’t going to risk it. She shut the door and climbed under the bed, exhausted and Rosie joined her. It felt safer, hidden away in the dark.
“I’m so tired,” Rosie said. She yawned and snuggled up close to Carla. She’d had a daughter once, before the outbreak. Thinking of her own little girl, Carla stroked Rosie’s hair. Outside the dead groaned and Carla wondered how long until Rosie changed. When she did change, she’d do what had to be done. Carla drifted on the edge of sleep and fancied she heard the groans form words.
She closed her eyes and allowed herself to fall into a light sleep where she imagined her daughter had returned, staring at her with blank eyes. Behind her, she dragged her teddy, the arm hanging by threads and one eye missing. “It’s not so bad, mummy,” she whispered. “Don’t try and fight it.”
His teeth clamped around her lower leg and he bit down. She screamed out as she pulled her leg away, a chunk of flesh hanging in his mouth…
Carla snapped her eyes open. From her shadowy hiding place beneath the bed, she saw a booted pair of feet pace up and down the room. Clear out one room at a time. Repeat. “It’s all clear,” a man said.
Someone called back. “Check the cupboards: damn things like to hide in dark places.”
The boots crossed the room and a door swung open. “No monsters in this wardrobe.”
The pain from the bite in her leg faded and by the time morning came, she had forgotten about it. All she could think of was joining a group. A horde…
Carla dragged herself from under the bed, careful not to wake Rosie. She felt hunger, greater than she ever had. The man had his back to her, searching through the wardrobe. He didn’t have time to scream as Carla sunk her teeth into his neck and tore out his throat. Rosie stumbled over and they ate hungrily. Then they checked the next room and found the other man. Rosie attacked him as he checked under a bed.
When they were finished, Carla looked at the bite on her leg, Steve’s final kiss goodbye. “Which way?” She didn’t care. Her mind began to close down and the last of her memories left her. She didn't want to remember anymore.
Rosie pointed ahead. Together, they stumbled across the hills until they joined another horde, slipping silently into their rear ranks.