I was standing on a tightrope stretched between two buildings. The ground was hundreds of feet below me. Andy was standing on the roof of the building in front of me. I risked a glance behind me and had to pinwheel my arms to keep from falling off the rope, but I was able to see that the roof of the other building was filled with hundreds of zombies, more grotesque and monstrous in appearance than I had ever seen. Their eyes glowed red and their bodies were misshapen.
A strong gust of wind blew. I didn't have time to prepare and I was knocked off. I reached out blindly and managed to grab the rope with one hand.
Andy hadn't moved at all. He stood watching me, face blank. "Help me!" I yelled.
He shook his head and knelt down at the edge of the roof, where the rope was attached to the building. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his pocket knife before looking back up at me and giving me a small smile. Then he began sawing away at the rope.
"What the hell do you think you're doing!?" I screamed.
He didn't answer or even look up at me and the next thing I knew, I was falling.
I jolted awake. My skin was covered with sweat and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. "It's okay," I told myself, trying to calm my racing heart. "It was just a dream."
My dreams were often plagued with nightmares, ever since Day Zero, if I dreamed at all. I couldn't even remember the last time I had anything resembling a good dream. Some nights my nightmares would be so bad, I couldn't even sleep at all.
I sighed and rubbed at my eyes. The sun had just started to rise and the room was still mostly dark. Suddenly, a loud blast broke the silent calm of the morning. I was instantly on high alert. Reflexively, I jumped up and grabbed my katana. Someone had just fired a gun, someone very close by.
Andy was standing next to the broken stain glass window at the front of the building with his back pressed against the wall. He glanced over at me and did a double-take when he saw me standing. He quickly pressed his finger to his lips, before slowly leaning forward so that he could look out the window. He looked around a and leaned forward a bit more before stiffening and pulling back from the window. He crept over towards me, moving slowly and silently.
"What is it?" I asked him in a low whisper when he was close enough.
"Three people," he said. "Probably Raiders."
I clenched my jaw. Damn. Day Zero brought out the best in a lot of people and the worst in a lot of others. Raiders are the latter of the two. They're people who you absolutely don't want to come across. People who don't care about anyone but themselves and who will do anything to get what they want.
Another gunshot rang out. This time from somewhere farther away.
I flinched at the sound "There's more of them somewhere," I said. "We need to get out of here."
"You think?" Andy said.
"Okay, um... Is there a back exit in this place?"
Andy shook his head. "No."
"Just great. Alright, we'll have to sneak out the front then." I said. I sheathed my katana and swung my pack onto my shoulders.
"Where were the three that you saw?" I asked Andy.
"About three yards away, right in the middle of the street," he said. "But they were walking so they're probably farther away by now."
"That makes it a bit easier," I said. If they were moving then, it would be easier to sneak past them or avoid them altogether.
I took a deep breath. "Alright. We're going to have to move fast. Stay close to me. If you fall behind I'm leaving you behind, got it?"
I made my way over to the shattered window and crouched low so that I was hidden behind the small space of wall below the window.
I lifted myself up just enough to see outside and look around. The street looked empty. There was no sign of the three people that Andy had seen. In the middle of the road, about three yards away, was the fallen corpse of a freshly killed zombie with a hole right in the middle of its forehead.
It was risky to leave but it was even riskier to stay. If the people Andy had seen were indeed Raiders, then the town would be crawling with them. Raiders never worked in small groups, they would clear out entire towns of zombies before going back through and looting every building. Sometimes, if a town proved fruitful, they would decide to stay, forming a base of sorts until they used up all of the supplies. Then they would move onto the next town. If they found a survivor they would usually give them a choice, either join their group or die, that is if the survivor they found was, in their opinion, "fit" enough. In the Raider world, it's survival of the fittest. Depending on the group, those that were unable to pull their own weight were either kicked out or killed.
I placed my hands on the sill of the window and hoisted my body up and over. Andy followed right behind me.
"Which way did they go?" I asked him in a silent whisper.
He pointed in the direction we had come from yesterday. "They were heading that way but," he paused looking around. "I don't see them now."
Suddenly a loud crash came from one of the buildings across from us. The interior was dark, but I saw a brief flash of light from inside. I could hear the faint sound of voices from inside.
"Found them," I muttered to myself.
Andy was watching the building with wide eyes. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights.
"Andy," I said. He jumped and turned to me.
"Stay focused," I said.
"Yeah. Right, sorry."
"Come on." I said and I started heading in the opposite direction. I moved fast, keeping low for a few yards, then straightening and breaking out in a sprint. I never checked to see if Andy was keeping up. I hadn't lied when I told him I would leave him behind. I had no obligation or responsibility to his safety, and, to be honest, I didn't care. My only concern was getting myself out alive. If things went bad, I wouldn't hesitate to run without looking back.
I hadn't made it very far before I heard voices. They came from in front of us, somewhere on the road. I couldn't see who the voices came from, there was a car blocking my view. But if I couldn't see them, it was unlikely that they could see me. Either way, Andy and I were sitting ducks out in the open. I looked around for any form of cover, something to hide behind, and spotted an overturned FedEx truck on the sidewalk in front of us.
I quickly dove behind it. I didn't check to see if Andy followed, if he was smart he'd figure it out on his own, and sure enough, he was hot on my heels, ducking behind the truck right behind me.
A gunshot rang out, deafeningly loud.
"How the hell did you miss that one?" An unfamiliar male voice said.
By the sound of it, the owner of the voice was just on the other side of the FedEx truck. If we tried to move, we ran the risk of being seen. We were completely and utterly trapped.
"I don't know, my arm twitched at the last second." A second male voice said.
"Bullshit, you just can't aim."
There was a pause, and then the first guy spoke again. "Whoa, whoa, whoa, what makes you think you get another shot at it? You had your chance and missed so now it's my turn."
I took a deep breath, then I slowly inched forward until I could see around the side of the truck. I knew it was a risky move, but if we were going to get out of here alive, I had to know where the people were.
Standing in the middle of the street were two young men. They stood about 20, yards away from a zombie. From the looks of it, she had been a young girl before she died. She looked like a walking skeleton. She was nothing but rotting skin stretched tight over her bones. It was a heartbreaking sight. This girl probably came close to starving to death before she was bitten.
The younger -looking of the two men held a shotgun in his hands. The other guy held wicked-looking machete that was covered in a dark brown goo.
As I watched, the machete guy casually walked up to the zombie. She made a grab at him with her muscle-bare arms. He easily sidestepped the reaching hands and swung his machete at the zombie's legs. He managed to cut through both of her legs with one swing and the zombie fell to the ground.
Machete guy walked back to the guy with the shotgun, a smug look on his face. "Ha! Two legs in one swing! Beat that!" He said.
The shotgun guy looked unimpressed. He shifted his weight to one hip and swung his gun to his shoulder.
"Betcha I can shoot out its teeth without finishing it off."
The machete guy smiled revealing a mouthful of crooked and discolored teeth. "You're on!"
The shotgun guy walked over to the zombie, who had been attempting to drag itself over to them by its arms, and placed a booted foot on the side of its face. Its teeth worked and gnashed, biting at the air while its bony hands scratched feebly at the guy's leg. He raised his shotgun, took aim, and fired. The resounding boom was deafening. True to his word, he managed to blast the zombie's teeth out and shatter a majority of its jaw, but he didn't kill it. It continued to claw at his leg, though it didn't have a jaw to bite with anymore.
I couldn't watch anymore. I pulled myself back behind the truck. There was no doubt in my mind that those two men were raiders. It's one thing to kill zombies out of necessity, it's a whole other thing to turn killing them into a game. Every single zombie had once been a living person, with dreams and feeling and personalities. What those two were doing out there was equivalent to digging up a grave and taking a shit on the corpse.
I had seen Raider's do horrible things before but this was crossing the line. I clenched my fists. If Andy hadn't been with me, I would have killed those two right then and there.
"What's going on out there?" Andy whispered.
I shook my head, if I had to explain it out loud, I knew I would end up yelling. So instead, I just said, "We have to get out of here."
"How? They'll see us the moment we move." He whispered back.
"It's still slightly dark and they're rather focused on something else." As if to prove my point, another loud gunshot rang out followed by a cackle of laughter. "If we move fast and keep low we should be able to sneak right past them."
He glanced nervously in the direction of the voices. "Are you sure it'll work?"
"It's the only choice we have, unless you want to stay here until they find us."
He paused. "Alright."
"Let's go," I said.
I carefully peered around the truck again. The two still had their complete attention on the zombie. She was now missing an entire arm, the stump that remained was a splintered mass of shattered bone. I took a deep breath, and broke from our cover, moving as fast as I could while keeping low to the ground. At first, I listened carefully for any sign that the two raiders had seen me, but I didn't hear anything. After a while, I straightened up and started running. I glanced back once to make sure Andy was following. He was right behind me, keeping up step-for-step.
We were almost at an intersection of two major roads when another Raider came out from around the corner of the building in front of us. How he missed seeing us, I have no idea. I skidded to a stop and crouched low.
There was no way we'd be able to sneak around this guy. I'd have to take him out.
I turned toward Andy and pointed at the Raider, made a slicing motion at my throat, then pointed trying to explain without words what I was planning to do. He nodded and started to reach back for his bow. I shook my head and he stopped. I pointed to him and then at the ground, telling him to stay put. He nodded again and slowly dropped his hand.
Satisfied that Andy wasn't going to get in my way, I turned around and slowly started to creep towards the Raider. He had stopped walking at the side of the road.
I crept up until I was close enough to touch him, moving soundlessly across the pavement. Then, I sprang up quickly, wrapping my arms tightly around his throat. He struggled against me kicking and scratching, but I held on. After a while, his struggling slowed and finally stopped. I laid his limp body on the ground and waved Andy over. Then, we both took off running, leaving the town and the Raiders behind.
We ran on and on, following the main road out of town until we were well outside of the city limits. When we finally did stop I collapsed to the ground, rolling on my back and gasping for air like a fish out of water. My legs felt like they were made of rubber. I hadn't run that fast and that far in a very long time.
"That. Was a. Close one." Andy gasped out between heaving breaths. He stood next to me, hunched over with his hands on his knees.
I laughed and put my hand over my eyes to block out the sunlight. "Yeah, let's try to avoid that next time."
I sat still for a while, lying on my back. Masses of pebbles on the asphalt dug painfully into my back, but I didn't feel like moving. It felt good to lie down.
"What now?" Andy asked.
I uncovered my eyes and looked up. Andy was standing over me. He held a hand down to me.
I ignored it and pushed myself to my feet. I wasn't blatantly trying to be mean, I just didn't like taking help from people when I didn't need it.
When I was standing again I looked around. The highway was lined by a thick forest on either side.
I sighed. "We keep moving. The greater distance between the Raiders and us, the better."
I glared at him. I wanted to say something, but I just didn't have the energy to be angry. So instead, I just started walking again without saying a word.
We walked for several hours in complete silence. I glanced over at Andy walking beside me. He looked as tired as I felt and, with the sun close to setting, I was glad we would be stopping soon.
As I looked at him I felt something I hadn't felt in a long time. Trust. He pissed me off a lot, and he was cocky as hell, but he hadn't done anything that would make me distrust him.
So, against my better judgment, I decided to tell him what I had never told anyone before.
I told him my side of the story from Day Zero.
"Boston," I said.
"Huh?" He said, looking over at me in surprise.
"Boston, that's where I'm from." I kicked a rusted out can that lay on the road. The hollow metallic clunking sound it made as it skittered away from me was rather pleasant.
"O-kay? Why are you telling me this?"
"That's where I was the day the outbreak started," I continued. I risked a glance at him and saw his eyes were wide in surprise.
"At the time it was just my grandparents and I living in a small house in the city. I never knew my parents. My grandparents never talked about them and I never really asked. I really wasn't in town on the actual Day Zero, I was out on a camping trip by myself."
"When I came back I immediately knew something was wrong because there wasn't anyone around. Usually, the city is full of people, Boston was a fairly popular tourist spot, but that day, I didn't see a soul."
"I remember pulling into my driveway and seeing the door to my house swung wide open. My grandparents never left their door open. I almost didn't go in, I almost turned around and left, but I had to know if my grandparents were alright."
"When I walked inside the house the first thing I saw was the blood. It was everywhere, splattered on the walls, and the ceiling, and there was a smear of it leading into the living room. It looked like something had been dragged across the floor. I should have left right then, I should have turned around and walked out but I had to know what happened to my grandparents. I guess some part of me was hoping that they that they would be alright. That I would walk into the living room and my grandparents would be in there laughing at the prank they managed to pull on me, but it wasn't a prank. When I walked into the living room, beside the couch, I saw...I saw..." I couldn't seem to make myself say the next words. Images and scenes from that night flashed vividly in my mind I felt like I was there: back in that horrible nightmare of a day. It hurt to remember it, it hurt to remember what I had lost.
"You saw what?" Andy asked in a soft voice.
I shook my head and felt my eyes starting to burn with tears.
"It always helps to talk about it," he said.
I didn't say anything for a while. I was trying to build back up my inner wall that always helped me cope, that helped me block out my emotions. Without that inner wall I was sure I would have broken down by now, maybe even killed myself like that skeleton couple had. That wall had helped me survive.
When I finally spoke again my throat was tight and it felt like I had to force out each word. "Behind the couch I saw my grandmother. She was bent over my grandfather on the floor just tearing his insides out and chewing on them like some kind of deranged animal. When I saw it I thought I heard someone start screaming until I realized I realized it had been me. The next thing I knew my grandmother was coming towards me, her mouth and shirt were covered in my grandfather's blood. I ran from her, into the kitchen and... and I grabbed a knife. I don't know why. I guess, deep down, I had known that she wasn't my grandmother anymore and I was terrified. She followed me into the kitchen. I warned her to stay back, pleaded with her, but she just. wouldn't. listen."
"I had no choice. She was going to kill me. I drove that stupid fucking knife into her skull again and again and again until she stopped moving. After that I ran. Before I left town I stopped at the pawn shop in town that I knew sold weapons. All of the guns had already been taken, but there was still this." I motioned to my katana, "So I grabbed it, left the town, and never looked back."
When I stopped talking I realized that the tears I had been trying so hard to keep back had managed to escape. I wiped the tears angrily from my face.
Andy was silent for a few moments before he spoke, "Lauren, I had no idea. I'm-"
"No. Don't you dare say you're sorry for me. I don't need anyone's pity," I snapped.
He didn't say anything after that.
The sun was just starting to set "it's getting late," I said. "We should stop for the night."
We found a place off to the side of the road among the trees. Andy gathered dry wood while I got a fire going using the flint and steel I had. I considered it one of the most precious items I had gained over the years.
It took several tries to get the tinder going. Once one of the sparks caught, I gently blew on the ember until the tinder was fully ablaze.
Neither of us spoke the rest of the night. After a canned food dinner, I laid down next to the fire while Andy took up first watch. I was so exhausted that I fell asleep in minutes.ns 18.104.22.168da2