It had been five years since the outbreak, Day Zero as people called it, when the dead started making meals of the living. Five years and things still hadn't gotten better. No one knew how it started. Some said it was a government experiment gone wrong or a mutated strain of rabies. Others claim it was God's wrath punishing us for all of our wrongdoings. As for me, I never really cared how it all started, all I cared about was staying alive.
I slowly peered out from my hiding spot behind the counter of the rundown gas station I was in. I had come in here with the hope of finding a bit of food or medicine, but the place had already been picked clean. I was giving the place a final look in case I had missed anything when something had knocked over an old display stand at the front of the building. I had quickly ducked behind the counter as soon as I heard it, not wasting time to see what had caused the sound.
Three figures slowly shuffled about the empty shelves, kicking the garbage that was strewn on the floor. At a quick glance, they almost looked human, but I knew better. They walked without a clear destination, occasionally bumping into a shelf or a wall. Their gaits were slow and blundering, like a toddler just learning how to walk. No, they weren't human, they were zombies.
The closest one was about four meters away, standing next to the fallen display stand. He was grotesque, with discolored skin that was rotting off in several places. He was missing the bottom of his jaw. It looked like someone had shot it off. What remained of the jaw was nothing but a few strings of rotten muscle and bone. Chunks of his hair and scalp were missing showing the skull underneath. He wore a bloodstained plaid shirt and tan pants that were shred to ribbons.
The next zombie looked more human than the one with the plaid shirt. It wasn't as rotten as the other zombie. It was, or had been, a girl and there was a bite mark clearly visible, on her left arm, right below the elbow. She had short, scraggly, brown hair and she wore a black tank-top and jeans that were covered in dirt and blood. Her eyes were cloudy white and they stared straight ahead, not focusing on any specific thing. She couldn't have been a zombie more than a week or so. Her skin was just beginning to discolor. Soon she would be just as rotted as the other zombie. It was always sad to see recently turned zombies this long after Day zero. The human population, once totaling over three billion, had little over 3 million left world-wide, and that number was dropping every day. I couldn't imagine what this girl had to go through, struggling to survive for five years only to have her life ripped away with a single bite, a single mistake.
'No, don't think like that,' I thought to myself. These things weren't people anymore. Whatever used to make them human was long gone, leaving nothing but masses of decaying flesh that had no other thought than to devour everything in sight. Hundreds of people had died because they allowed themselves to believe otherwise. It's hard enough accepting the death of a loved one, it's even harder to believe they're truly gone if they stand up and walk around after they die. I had seen so many people torn to pieces by a zombie that was once someone they loved.
I forced myself to look away from the girl and focus my attention to the last zombie, a massive brute of pure decomposition and muscle. He wore a tattered military uniform. Bullet holes were scattered across his chest.
"Great, just great." I whispered to myself. "How am I going to handle you?" If it had only been the two zombies I could have gotten out without much trouble, but bigger zombie complicated things. Somehow only strength seemed to pass through the process of becoming a zombie. The bigger and stronger a person was in life, the bigger and stronger a person would be in death.
I pulled myself back behind the counter. In my backpack was a pistol that I always kept on me. I weighed the idea of using it, but common sense won out. I might have been able to take out all three without any problems, but a loud gunshot would attract every single zombie nearby.
That left only one option, I needed to take them out one by one without making too much noise. I took a deep, shaky breath and slowly reached a hand up behind me and drew my katana out of its sheath nestled between my shoulder blades. I moved slowly and carefully, making sure that the metal of the blade didn't clang against anything. I needed the element of surprise to pull this off. Any noise from myself might alert the zombies. When I had fully drawn my blade I stood up very slowly and turned to face the zombies.
All three of them had their backs to me. I smiled. Slowly, very slowly I crept out from behind the counter. I placed each foot carefully, avoiding the piles of trash on the floor. I slowly crept up to the closest zombie, the stench coming from it was horrible and I had to fight back a gag. When I was close enough, I lifted my katana up so that the tip of the blade was positioned at a spot on his neck right the base of his skull.
I paused. When I severed the connection to the brain the zombie would be dead forever. I never knew if the people the zombies had once been were still in there, trapped inside of a body they could no longer control. There was a time when I avoided killing zombies, tried to avoid them rather than fight them. But those days were long gone. Everything I had seen and experienced told me that a zombie is a zombie, nothing more, nothing less. It's either kill or be killed out here, it didn't matter whether it was a zombie or a human being.
I took a deep breath and forced my mind to go blank, emotions are nothing but weaknesses, that I learned a long time ago. I sharply thrust my katana into the base of the zombie's skull. It's body stiffened for just a moment before going limp and falling to the ground with a soft thump.
I pulled my katana out of its neck and wiped the brownish goo that covered the tip on the fabric of the dead zombie's shirt.
A soft, raspy growl broke the silence that filled the gas station. I stiffened. 'Shit.' I thought.
I must have misjudged how much noise the first zombie had made when it fell to the floor. I turned around and, sure enough, the other two zombies were coming directly at me.
"Son of a bitch." I said. I backed up a few steps to put some distance between myself and the zombies and held my katana up sideways in front of me in a defensive position. I instantly regretted not having my gun. With any chance of surprise gone my katana wouldn't be very effective. I didn't have time to think of a better strategy. The girl got to me first and reaching out a gray, decomposing, arm to grab me. I slashed at her arms. My sword cut cleanly through the rotting tissue and bone and her arm fell to the ground with the signature slap of flesh smacking onto the linoleum.
The stump that remained of her arm didn't bleed and the zombie didn't even seem to notice that she had just lost an arm. She kept stumbling forward. This wasn't going to work. I could hack pieces off of her all day and it wouldn't make a difference. I switched tactics, dropping into a crouch and swinging my leg around to knock out her knees. Her legs buckled, and she fell to the ground. I sprung to my feet, swung my katana up, and brought it down hard on her head.
I whirled around, ready to face the third zombie. My heart was pounding in my chest. I couldn't see him. A bad feeling settled in my gut. A zombie you can't see can be the most dangerous zombie there is. Before I could do anything, cold, dead, hands grabbed me from behind. I twisted sharply to the side breaking free of the grip. As I turned I could hear the clack of teeth as the zombie bit down on empty air where my shoulder had been just a second before.
I ran forward a few steps before twirling around to face the monster. He stood there for a few moments, staring at me and swaying from side to side with a strange twitching motion. Then, he let out a screeching moan, that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and starting sprinting towards me with inhuman speed.
"Not a Runner!" I groaned. For the longest time, zombies were all the same, lumbering around slowly and mindlessly. Then, about a year ago, new ones started popping up. Able to run faster than most humans, they wiped out hundreds of survivors, reducing the already small number of humans left on earth by almost half. Those who remained called them Runners. They were rare, but deadly.
I acted instinctively, diving to the side into a roll. I felt a brief stab of pain in my left shoulder as I rolled but it quickly faded. I sprung to my feet I took up my defensive position again. The zombie crashed into one of the shelves. Without missing a beat, it turned and started running at me again.
A loud growling ripping from his throat. I took a step back at his approach my confidence faltering slightly at the speed with which he ran. I had never really faced a runner indoors before. There wasn't enough space to fight. As I watched the zombie barrel toward me it occurred to me that I might die here.
'Stop it.' I scolded myself. 'Cut the tendons in his legs then take him out.' I adjusted my grip so that I could slice at his legs when he neared me. I would have to act fast. If I was even a second too slow it would all be over.
My muscles tightened in anticipation of his attack. He was only a second away from colliding with me, reaching out a hand and opening his mouth wide in a snarl.
Just before he reached me a deafening boom rang out through the air and the zombie's head exploded in a shower of rotten flesh and goo. It kept moving forward for half a step before falling forward.
I stood frozen, staring down at the dead zombie, unable to comprehend what had just happened. My brain was going in circles, trying to process everything.
I heard the soft rustle of fabric on fabric and I snapped my head up to look the source. Standing in the doorway to the gas station was a brown-haired boy. He held a sawed-off shotgun that was still aimed at where the zombie had been a moment earlier. He lowered it with a small smile.
"You're welcome." He said.ns 126.96.36.199da2