Suddenly I found myself back in the doorway to the kitchen of the house I grew up in. My grandmother was standing in front of the stove, still making pancakes. For several moments, I stood frozen in the doorway. I didn't know what was happening anymore everything looked so real.
Something brushed against my leg, breaking me out of my daze. I looked down and saw my cat, Lavender, leaning up against my leg and looking up at me with bright, yellow eyes. She was a young calico, only a little over a year old. My grandfather had come home with her one day and had given her to me as a gift. I crouched down and gently rubbed behind her ears. She purred loudly and put her front paws on my leg.
"I caught her playing with the toilet paper again," my grandmother said. "Try to remember to close the door when you leave."
I looked back up at her and instantly fell back. It was no longer my grandmother who looked down at me, but a zombie. It's skin was waxen and sickly looking. It's hair was white and was missing in places. It wore the same apron that I had given to my grandmother, but it was covered in blood. Its eyes were a milky gray and there was blood all around its mouth and down its front.
"What's the matter, Lauren?" The zombie spoke with my grandmother's voice. When its mouth opened I could see that it's teeth were also covered in blood. It took a step towards me and I scrambled back until my back hit a wall. I heard a loud hiss and saw that Lavender was snarling at the zombie, her back arched and her tail fluffed up to twice it's normal size. The zombie looked at her and lunged, the sound that came from it no longer sounded like my grandmother but like a wild animal.
Without thinking, I lunged forward and wrapped myself around Lavender. I closed my eyes as tightly as I could, waiting for the pain of the zombie sinking its teeth into my skin, but it never came. After a minute, I slowly opened my eyes again.
I wasn't in my house anymore, I wasn't anywhere for that matter. An impenetrable blackness surrounded me and yet I could see myself clearly as if there was light only on me. I sat up, but Lavender was no longer underneath me. It was as if she had just vanished. Slowly, I stood up looking around trying to something, anything in the darkness but there was nothing.
"Why didn't you save me?" a voice spoke. I whirled around and my grandmother stood several feet away from me looking healthy and alive once again.
"Why didn't you save me?" She said again.
I tried to answer, I wanted to say that I tried, that I wanted to save her, but no sound came out.
"You could have saved me," She said and as I watched she slowly started to rot, her eyes going milky and her skin turning waxy until she no longer looked anything like my grandmother.
At the same time, other forms started to come into view from around me, materializing from the darkness. I recognized the faces of every single person that surrounded me. To my left stood an older man, in a business suit, his head shiny and bald, that I had watched be torn apart by a zombie just a few days after Day Zero. I had been in a city, surrounded by chaos as people frantically ran trying to get out of the city. I had run into and alley and climbed up to the first platform of a fire-escape to try and keep from being trampled and to catch my breath. While I was sitting there the bald man in the suit had run into the alley closely followed by a zombie with a chunk of its neck bitten off. The alley had led to a dead end and I remember him hitting the back wall and turning around. He saw me sitting on the fire escape, made eye contact with me. He screamed at me to help him. While I was nowhere near as good a fighter then as I was now, I had a pistol with me then. I could have shot the zombie, I could have saved him, but I didn't have that many bullets and I wanted to use them for when I was in danger and at that time I wasn't. So I turned away from him and climbed higher up the ladder listening to his screams as he died.
Next to the bald man stood a young boy, maybe 12 or 13, and a skinny german shepherd that I had shot myself. I had found them just two years after Day Zero in an old abandoned house in the country. I had gone into loot and found them in a bedroom on the second floor. The boy had been lying on a bed had a large bite to his shoulder, covered in blood. The german shepherd had been standing at the foot of the bed with several large gashes to its body. It had tried to attack me when I came in, but I had downed it with my katana. Next to the dog, on the ground was a dead zombie covered in bites and gouges probably the work of the dog. After I had killed the dog the boy had started to cry. He was close to death himself if he hadn't turned first. So, without even blinking, I had taken my gun out and shot him right between the eyes then went about looting the rest of the house.
There were countless more faces around me, all of them dead because of what I did or didn't do. People I could have saved and chose not to, people I killed with my own hands out of mercy or for one reason or another. And they all said the same thing over and over.
"Why didn't you save us?" they all said, chanting it, surrounding me with it.
They started to crowd in around me each one rotting as they moved until I was surrounded by a mob of zombies, each one reaching out and gnashing their teeth. Their voices turned to groans ringing in my ears until it was too painful to handle. I clamped my hands over my ears, fell to my knees, screwing my eyes tightly shut and I screamed.
I bolted upright, my skin covered in sweat. For just a few moments, I was confused. I was surrounded by darkness. Slowly the world came into focus around me as my mind broke free from the clutches of the nightmare that had woken me up. I was in a large, open room. It was completely empty except for a large amount of leaves and garbage that must have been blown in over the years. The floor was covered in a thin, ratty carpet. Rain softly pattered against the roof of the building and against an unbroken window above me.
My head ached with a dull throbbing pain, but it didn't hurt anywhere nearly as bad as it had before. I reached up to touch the back of my head. There was still a large knot on the back of my skull but it was slightly smaller and when I removed my hand from it, my fingers were free of blood. I groaned and brought my knees up to my chest. A saw a bit of movement out of the corner of my eye and I quickly looked towards it.
Andy was leaning up against the wall on the opposite side of the room. Around him, scattered all over the ground, were a multitude of half-tear-drop shaped, black and orange pieces. Leaning against the wall next to him were about four arrows, each one with three of the black and orange pieces near the notch of the arrow. He held one of the arrows in one of his hands and a used bottle of superglue in the other.
He was watching me, not saying a word. The bottle of superglue was raised towards the arrow, but he wasn't moving it. I noticed that he had a small gash on his right cheek.
I didn't know what to say to him. What I should have done was apologized for lashing out, thanked him for helping my but I couldn't seem to get my mouth to form the words. For some reason, it didn't feel right. Thanking him would mean that I acknowledged that I had been wrong. That I did indeed need help and I just couldn't do it. So instead, I looked away.
Next to me, leaning against the wall, was my katana and my backpack.
I spoke then, not even looking back at Andy when I said it. "How long was I out?" I asked him.
"Almost two days," he replied.
I closed my eyes. I was ashamed of myself. Andy had saved me twice. I would be dead now if it wasn't for him and I still couldn't bring myself to admit it out loud or even thank him for it.
'If Andy wasn't here none of this would have happened,' a small voice in the back of my mind said. 'Who's to say you couldn't have killed that Runner in the gas station yourself? And if you hadn't met Andy you wouldn't have been on that fire escape when it gave out in the first place. If it weren't for Andy, you'd still be doing just fine.'
Even as I thought it, I knew I was just lying to myself. True, if I hadn't met Andy I wouldn't have fallen, but there was no way I could have said that I would have been fine without him. Everyone makes mistakes, out here though, a mistake can kill you. It was only a matter of time before I would have done something that would have killed me. Everyone is living on borrowed time. There's no such thing as a 'long and happy life' anymore.
I took a deep breath before I opened my eyes again. I balled my hands into fists in my lap tightly before just letting go and opening my hands so that my palms faced up. I thought about all the things my hands had done, all the people I had killed or hurt, how many lives I had ended. They were the hands of a killer.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry for being such a dick." I said out loud without looking up at Andy.
For a long time, he didn't say anything. The sound of raindrops hitting the building was the only sound in the darkness.
Then, he spoke, but his voice was different, sadder almost. "I had lied when I told you that I never found my sister," he said.
I looked back at him then. He was still watching me although he had set the bottle of superglue and the arrow aside. All the light had gone from his eyes. He looked defeated like he could no longer keep up whatever act he had been playing.
"I did find her," he continued, 'two weeks ago."
He dropped his gaze and gently picked up one of the orange pieces from the ground and began rolling it in between his fingers.
"I found her in an old playground that I used to take her to all the time. When I found her she had her back to me so I didn't know...I didn't know..."
He clenched his hand into a fist around the orange piece then dropped it into in his lap. "I called out to her and when she turned around it wasn't her... anymore. She ran at me, snarling like some... animal. I froze up then. I should have run, but I couldn't get my legs to move. By the time I finally was able to snap out of it, it was too late. She ran into me and we both went down. I panicked. I kicked her away, grabbed my shotgun, and I... I..." He bowed his head and I could see a single tear run down his cheek. "I shot her, dammit! I shot my goddam sister right in the face!"
I remembered the dream I had before. I remembered all the people I had watched die or had killed myself, all the people I could have saved, but didn't. I liked to tell myself that I did what I had to do, that if I hadn't done what I had, I wouldn't be alive, but I knew it really wasn't true. I didn't have to do some of the things I did, yet I did them all-the-same. I felt a mix of jealousy and pity for Andy. He was a good person and he didn't deserve what he had to go through. We all have our own crosses to bear out here, some more than others.
"What was her name?" I asked him.
"Abigail," he said, not raising his head.
"You didn't do it, you know," I said quietly, drawing my knees up to my chest. Doing so cause a small amount of pain in my ribs but I ignored it.
"You didn't kill your sister. She was already gone."
"Thank you," he said.
I gave a soft 'm'hmm,' in reply, watching the rain drum against the window.
"So where is the safe zone that you talked about?" I asked, looking back at him.
Andy took a deep breath and wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve. I couldn't help myself from staring at his arm as if I could see the bite beneath the fabric."To be honest, I don't really know exactly where it is. All I know is that it's somewhere in Texas."
"You do know how big Texas is, right?" I asked.
Andy nodded, as he talked a bit of the light returned to his eyes until he seemed to be almost back to his annoying overly-happy self. "Yeah, I do. But I heard that it was somewhere near the south-eastern coast so that narrows it down a bit"
"I'm assuming you've never been to Texas then, have you?"
He shook his head.
I sighed and winced slightly at the pain the it caused in my chest. "Figures," I said. "Well, the state line isn't too far away from here. It should only take us two or three days to walk it."
"Us? Does that mean you're still coming with me?"
I rolled my eyes. "I made a promise didn't I?"
Andy paused before he replied. "You've been all over the place here haven't you?"
"I've had nothing but time," I said. "We'll leave the first thing tomorrow morning."
"Are you sure you should rest for a day or two more?" Andy asked.
I shook my head. "The better we get out of here the better. Besides, I feel fine now." It was really only half a lie. My head and chest still hurt, but I didn't want to stay in one place any longer than I had to. Staying on one place for too long can make it harder to leave it you have to. It can also make it easier for Raiders to find.
There was a long silence between the two of us. After a minute, I reached back and grabbed my katana from the wall and set it in my lap. It gave me comfort just to hold it my hands. I ran my hand lightly over the smooth surface of the sheath before I pulled the blade from it. Slowly and methodically, I inspected the blade, looking for any nick in the metal when it had been knocked from my hand in the alley, but it was undamaged.
I ran my thumb over the sharpened blade and winced when I felt a sharp pain. I pulled my thumb away and watched as beads of blood welled up from the cut. Instead of wiping the blood away, I pinched the skin around the cut making the blood flow faster. It hurt, but I didn't really care about it. The pain was proof that I was still alive, that I was still me. After a minute, I brought my thumbs to my lips and licked the blood from it.
"Hey Lauren, can I ask you something?" Andy asked in a quiet voice.
I didn't look at him. I grabbed the sheath of my katana and started to re-sheath it. "What is it?"
"How many people have you killed?"
There was a sharp 'snap' as the sheath hit the metal guard at the end of the blade.
I bowed my head and stared down at the katana in my lap. There was a time when I might have been called shy. Before Day Zero, I was happy blending into the background and not drawing attention to myself. It's amazing how much someone can change in just 5 years.
"Too many," I finally said.
I set my katana on the floor beside me and my eyes fell on my pack pushed into the corner. I grabbed in and pulled it towards me, unzipping the smallest pouch at the very front. From inside, I pulled out a small, flat, oval-shaped rock. It was blue with small flecks of gold and it was polished smooth. On one side, it had an indent that was just big enough for a thumb to rest on.
The rock itself had been given to me by my grandfather when I was young. He had called it a worry stone and had told me that, if I ever felt sad or alone, all I had to do was hold the stone in my hand and it would protect me and give me strength. I couldn't remember the last time I had actually taken it out. I ran my thumb over the smooth surface of the stone before closing my hand around it tightly.
"I'm not a bad person," I thought to myself as I squeezed the stone tightly. "I'm not a bad person."
But no matter how many times I said the words, I knew they couldn't change all the things I had done, all the people I had killed. I slowly opened my fingers again and looked at the stone before I turned my hand over and let it fall to the ground. "Yes, you are."
I woke up early the next morning. The room was empty when I had first woken up and for a second I thought that Andy might have left. Then, I spotted him sitting in the doorway that led outside, leaning against the doorframe. He looked at me and gave me a small nod before looking back outside. I slung, first my katana, and then my pack, over my shoulders before I stood up and walked over towards Andy.
He let out a large sigh before getting to his feet and turning to face me. "How are you feeling?" he asked.
My ribs still ached and my head would throb painfully every once and a while but other than that. I felt the same as I always did.
"I'm fine, and if you ask me that one more time, I'm going to punch you." I said and I pushed past him.
Outside, the sun had just barely started to rise tinging the eastern horizon a light salmon color. Down the sidewalk to the right of me I noticed a dead zombie lying on the ground. Farther down was a second zombie that had an aluminum arrow sticking out of the back of its head that was slightly bent. Both of the zombies look freshly killed and I realized that the bent arrow looked exactly like the arrows Andy used. I didn't say anything about it, I just turned in the opposite direction and started walking.
I passed by shattered storefronts and abandoned cars. As I walked I saw quite a few more zombies lying dead on the street, each one with a fresh hole somewhere in their head. I knew that Andy had killed these zombies but for some reason, each one I saw made me angry although I didn't know why they did. After a while, the dead zombies were replaced with live ones although they were all slow and easy to avoid.
In one of the cars that I passed, there was still buckled into its seat. When we passed it, it moaned loudly and reached towards us banging against the window of the car.
We hadn't been walking for more than half an hour Andy when had suddenly stopped beside me. At first I hadn't even noticed that he was no longer next to me. As soon as I did, I turned around and saw him standing, frozen in place, staring at something across the road.
On the other side of the street, almost hidden behind a car, stood a zombie. It didn't look like it had been much older than six when the little girl it used to be, had turned into the creature it was now. It had long, straight, brown hair that was tangled and ratty, and it wore a pink polka dot nightgown that was spattered with dry blood. In one of its hands, hanging limp as it side, was a filthy teddy bear. I couldn't see its face because its head was bowed as if it was looking at something on the ground. Every once and a while, its body would twitch violently.
When the outbreak started the children had been some of the first to go. They would try to run to parents and relatives who had turned, not knowing any better and those who survived the initial chaos of the outbreak didn't last very long.
I walked back over to andy, moving carefully and keeping my eye on the zombie in case it noticed me.
"Andy." I said in a low voice, but he didn't show any sign that he had heard me. He just stood, not moving, staring at the zombie girl.
I tried again, speaking a little louder. "Andy, we have to go."
"She looks like her," he said, not even bothering to lower his voice. I shot a worried glance at the zombie, but it hadn't moved.
"Who?" I asked.
Although he had never actually spoken her name, I knew who Abigail was.
"Andy, Abigail is dead," I said. "We have to keep moving."
Before Andy could say anything else, a shot rang out from somewhere close by followed by a loud scream. In an instant, the zombie's head snapped up and turned towards the general direction that the scream had come from. Its face was absolutely grotesque. Its eyes were missing leaving only dark pits. It's cheeks had been slashed through, letting its jaw dangle down a bit and revealing a mouth that was mutilated and missing a tongue.
The zombie turned around sharply. Then it broke into a sprint, still clutching the teddy bear, heading away from us and letting out an inhuman wail.
"That wasn't far," I said keeping my eyes where the zombie had run. I reached down a grabbed my knife from my belt.
I turned back to Andy. "We have to go," I repeated to him.
He looked at me, but his eyes were filled with pain and haunted by memories.
"Come on," I said. I grabbed Andy's wrist and started pulling him behind me. After a few meters, he pulled from my grip and kept pace beside me.
We passed by several Runners and regular zombies that were all heading in the direction that the scream had come from. We were almost to the end of a street when I heard voices ahead of us. I stopped quickly and crouched low trying to find where the voices were coming from. They sounded like there were in a building across the street from us.
"Raiders?" Andy whispered from behind me.
I nodded and pointed to the building where I was sure the voices and come from. I watched it carefully looking for any movement inside. Loud, obnoxious laughter rang out just as I caught a glimpse of a flashlight beam in a window on the second floor.
I felt a tug on my sleeve. Andy quickly pointed behind him. The window of the building was shattered. I nodded at him before he turned around and quickly climbed over through the window. I glanced back once at the building where the voices had come from before I Rested my hands on the window sill and swung my body up and over it. Glass crunched under my feet when I landed and I froze when I heard a new set of voices speak up right outside. If we had hesitated only a second longer, we probably would have been caught.
"Hey did you hear that Todd finally killed that bitch that had been camping down by Park Street?"
"I sure as hell heard it, what happened?" said a second voice.
"Apparently Todd had found her base," the said the owner of the first voice.
"Really? Did she have anything good?"
"Dunno but Todd was bragging all morning that he was going to have a bit of fun with her before he decided whether to kill her or not."
"I hope he doesn't kill her. We could use a new girl around. I've tired of the old ones"
"Well, well, well. What do we have here?" said a deep voice. It came from somewhere right behind us. "A couple of lost souls trying to find their way?"
I froze, the blood in my veins turning to ice.
I turned around slowly and my eyes were met by the ugliest man I had ever seen. His face was heavily scarred with a spider web of lines, he had one brown eye and one milky white eye, and he had stringy blonde hair that reached his shoulders.
I tightened my grip around the knife that was still in my hand before I lunged at him. I saw the flash of movement come from beside me a fraction of a second too late before I felt I felt a blinding pain on my left temple and everything went dark.ns 220.127.116.11da2