Staring out at the wreckage on what used to be 1604, a highway that circled the city of San Antonio, Jamie heaved a sigh and pulled an arrow from her quiver. Most of these cars had succumbed to the rust that came with sitting idle for five years. Any gas they once may have held would have evaporated by now, leaving that resource something she wouldn’t be able to try and salvage.
“Heh,” she snorted at the thought of gasoline. “Gas is worth more than gold now.”
But still, she mused, she might be able to find some spare supplies, maybe a first-aid kit, or prescription pills. They may be expired, but they usually still worked.
Lowering her goggles over her eyes, she hopped up onto the hood of an old Cadillac with four flat tires. Her hunting bow in hand, she scanned the horizon for any signs of movement. She didn’t want to be surprised while looting by something like… that!
Some thirty yards away was an older one, sagging gray skin hanging loosely from its bones. It only had one arm, the other having either fallen off or torn off during the Darkness. She had stringy, dirty hair and deep brown stains over her white sundress. Jamie tried not to think about what those stains were. Instead, she nocked an arrow and sighted her target, aiming for the right temple of the ghoul, tracking it’s shuffling movements as it slowly weaved between cars.
The arrow flew almost faster than Jamie’s eyes could track, cracking into the side of the ghouls head with a spattering of rotten gray matter and black jelly that would have once been blood. The ghoul wavered where it stood before collapsing onto the hood of a Honda, twitching. That was normal; even once you took out their brains, the ghouls were still animate. It wasn’t like the pre-Darkness comic books or movies. Once you were Infected, you eventually became one of them, got a real hankering for human flesh. You were smart like a wolf, cunning enough to hunt in packs and share meals. This one obviously didn’t have a pack, probably too old to belong to one.
Jamie hopped down from the Cadillac and slowly padded her way up towards the Honda, peeking in vehicles as she went. Most of them had broken, or worse, lowered windows which allowed Jamie access to anything she wanted. She stopped by an overturned motorcycle, a near-skeletal biker pinned beneath the rusting machinery. She bent low and looked at the body.
No movement but that didn’t mean anything.
Reaching into a car, she picked up the first item she came across, an old wallet. Tossing it underhanded, it landed on the biker’s face, rousing him from a thrashing fit. He was blind, and mute from the looks of his gnashing teeth. He didn’t seem to have many of those left, and his throat was mostly rotted out. One arm, encased in rotting leather jacket, reached out plaintively as it groped the air, fighting to get itself out from under the weight of its former ride.
Pulling a survival knife from her boot, Jamie walked up, moving behind the thrashing ghoul, until she was close enough to smell the sickly-sweet scent of its rot. She lunged forward, stabbing it in the back of the neck, just below the hairline. The body fell limp as the spinal column was severed, the head still clacking its teeth together in a futile effort to find meat. Wiping her knife on the leather jacket, she checked it’s pockets, tossing aside the cash and credit cards in lieu of the Swiss Army Knife she found in an inner pocket. She finished her search with the discovery of a Ziploc baggy of blue pills. Judging by what she knew, they were probably Codeine or some other powerful pain-killer.
“That’s a win,” she whispered as she tucked the baggy into her jacket. Tucking a strand of black hair away from her face, Jamie adjusted her goggles and scratched idly at a jagged scar going across her right cheek. The coming weather change always made it itch, every year since her reanimated brother gave it to her.
He’d been her first kill, at the tender age of nine. Her father’s pistol, a heavy thing that she knew nothing about, had served as her method of dispatching her teenage brother. She wondered if he’d finally rotted to the point where he was simply dead and not just comatose on the carpet of their old apartment.
The Darkness had been a horrid two-week terror where the grid went down. Everywhere. Nobody knew if it was because of hackers, or a computer virus… but it also killed the phone lines, internet, TV… hell, the only thing it didn’t kill was the ghouls that started rising around that time. People didn’t know what to do without a government official telling them how to do things.
Sure, sheriffs and cops tried rallying people, and the military made a token effort before holing up in the Northwest, building a temporary wall around the state of Washington. The survivors she met (that didn’t try and kill her) often spoke of how they were headed North to try and get into the state, where they could finally relax.
Jamie didn’t see the point. She’d set up in an old Barnes & Nobles at a local high-end mall, with buckets hanging from the second-floor windows to collect the rain that would fall every few days. She had plenty of food from the game she’d hunt, ranging from squirrels to stray cats and rats, all of which had grown a lot larger and numerous. The ghouls weren’t fast enough to grab rats, and the cats could outrun any undead easily. The squirrels just climbed trees and leaped from branch to branch.
But they weren’t able to dodge Jamie’s arrows.
Between that and trading with the local “towns” that survivors had built she found herself with supplies aplenty, never having to miss a meal or grow cold during the winter.
And so Jamie thrived, living in the Apocalypse amidst the hungry dead; she knew them well enough to know how to avoid them more often than not, and she knew how to take on a pack of them with nothing but her knife.
Sure it was dangerous, but that was how she preferred her life these days. Her family was dead, and there was no sign that the world was going to recover from the rot and ruin that had struck it so hard during the Days of Darkness. Jamie figured it was just easier to not get her hopes up looking for some military-state when she was able to last out here easier than most.
Walking up to the female ghoul, which was still twitching from the massive trauma to its brain, Jamie grabbed onto the arrow shaft and gave it a tug yanking it through the gooey mess that was the ghouls ruined skull. The ghoul let out a low gurgle as Jamie flipped her over, checking for pockets. When she saw a diamond ring on her finger, she reached down and grabbed the arm, holding it still so she could liberate the former wedding ring from the ghoul’s hand.
Just as she pulled the ring free she heard the crunch of boots on cement. Moving fluidly, she spun while pulling her knife, coming face-to-face with a bull ghoul and two smaller ones, kids that’d been bitten recently if their puffy flesh was any indication. The bull was once a man, easily three hundred pounds of muscle; he was missing a large section of the neck, with a bit of spine showing through the bloodless wound. Dressed in a flannel shirt that was stained and sticky, the glassy eyes of the bull leered at Jamie as it shuffled around a truck to get a clear path to charge her from.
Jamie dropped her knife and pulled her bow, whipping out an arrow and lining up the shot as quickly as she could before firing into the behemoths mass, the arrow striking it in the neck, tearing away a good deal of rotted meat as it soared past him and off the highway. She nocked another arrow as the bull groaned and began running at her.
Lowering her bow, she leaped to the left at the last moment, allowing the bull to slam into the Honda and the woman Jamie had dispatched a few moments ago. Falling together in a tangle of limbs, the bull thrashed and growled eyes wide with untold rage. Jamie spun and let loose her nocked arrow, piercing the skull of one of the children, a young boy in a Spongebob Squarepants shirt with a gnawed arm. The other stumbled over his brother, falling to the ground, where Jamie lunged and stomped on his neck, snapping the tender spot with an audible crack.
Turning back to the bull, she shuddered as it did the rising-bonelessly thing that all ghouls seemed to be able to do, settling itself into an aggressive stance as it began stomping towards Jamie, arms outstretched. Reaching back to grab an arrow, she yelled out when she felt a hand clasp her arm, a low groan coming from behind her from the broken down truck. Spinning around despite the strong grip, she managed to snap the rotten wrist of an old woman who’d crawled to the window of her truck. Her matted gray hair and wrinkles hung heavy on her face, her misty green eyes full of hunger.
Yanking back hard, Jamie snap kicked the bull in the chest, pushing it back a couple feet while she pulled an ice pick from her hip, jamming it into the old woman’s eye once before stirring it around, sluicing the brain into a frothy mess that leaked out through her popped eyeball onto the pavement of the highway. Pulling her arm free, Jamie turned just in time to be slammed into the truck by the bull, her back screaming in agony as she crushed the skull of the ghoul hanging out of the truck with her scapula.
Pinning her left arm beneath the bull’s chin, Jamie was able to keep him from biting her, though unable to stop the brutal pummeling she was receiving from his fists. One lucky strike left her feeling dazed, but she couldn’t afford to be soft now. Reaching up and into his neck wound, Jamie winced as a fist slammed into her shoulder as she dug her fingers into the rotten meat towards the yellowed bone of the spine. Her arm almost giving way to the bull’s weight and strength, but she smiled when she curled her fingers around the spinal column, crying out as she yanked it hard. The bull’s body fell limp, toppling to the side as her elbow guided it, dropping it onto the remaining ghoul, which had been crawling to get at her legs.
Breathing heavily, Jamie listened for any more sounds that could mean danger. The bull was still growling, his head still in working order, and the pinned child ghoul was whimpering as it scrabbled on the pavement. She took a quick moment to scoop up her survival knife, delivering debilitating blows by sliding the blade through each ghoul’s temple, slicing the brain carefully enough to render them harmless should she need to pass by here again.
Looking around, she frowned at the dozen arrows that must have tumbled from her quiver when she was dealing with her first kill.
“Need to stop by the hunting good’s store and pick up a new one,” Jamie heaved, unable to catch her breath.
Righting herself, hands on her lower back, heaved a sigh and stared off into the distance. The sun would be setting in a few hours, and it would take her, at least, an hour’s drive march to reach a town.
Cleaning herself off as best she could, she raised the goggles off of her eyes and looked at the sun, the heavy clouds blocking it partially. “Just another day in the apocalypse, eh?”