Jamie crouched behind the rusted shell of an old pick-up truck, pulling another arrow from her quiver. The rotten she’d downed was merely a sniffer for the main group of dead that controlled this area, and the pack had shown up to investigate the sudden death of their loyal hound.
She counted eleven in all, three more rotten with seven fresher ghouls, led by a bull. The rotten were just like the first, all skin and bone with dry vine-like muscles beneath papery skin, hairless with spots where the flesh ran so thin you could see yellowed bone beneath. The remaining three were walking in a wide perimeter around the group, clicking out a series of harsh noises with rotten tongues and chipped teeth, blind eyes rolling about madly in their sockets as they tried to use their primitive echolocation to find Jamie.
The ghouls, all puffy with bloodless wounds and crusty brown stains on their clothes from the meals they’d enjoyed, hissed and clicked between each other, crawling about on all fours like great apes on the prowl. Their hands had gnarled into vicious claws, stained pink from the gore they’d created from a kill made within the past few days. One was a younger child, maybe ten before he was turned. The sight of him made a twinge of regret pass through Jamie as she remembered the little boy with dreadlocks she’d lost not so long ago. He stood next to the largest of the zombies, a tower of muscle and bony growths.
Blind like all the of the skulking dead, bulls were the fastest and strongest because, in their previous lives, they’d been the biggest and the toughest. From bodybuilders to athletes, all the way down to just huge people in general, they’d risen as the bane of every survivors existence due to their ability to rip through barricades as if they were cardboard on a stormy day. The bull sneered as it tilted its head, black gums loaded with oozing maggots that drizzled from its mouth onto the butcher’s apron it wore, the wrigglers happily sticking to the spattered spray of crushed meat that decorated the creature’s broad chest. Heavily muscled arms, thick with corded sinew beneath dirty gray skin, hung at its side, a large piece of rebar hanging limply from its right fist.
Fuck! Jamie thought, frowning at the sight. It has a damn tool… they’re getting smarter the further I head up north.
Jamie had been crawling along the Pacific coast now for months, avoiding large cities and stopping in the smaller communities she found to trade for supplies. She always needed gasoline for her bike, or at least a safe place recharge the solar cells for several days without interruption. She would raid the wastes of expired medicine and wild marijuana strains to trade with towns desperate for contact with the outside world. Ever since she’d ridden in from Caliente, Nevada, she’d been finding fields of poppy plants towering nearly ten feet in height, and marijuana groves planted by desperate survivors in former settlements that’d fallen to the ravages of the dead over the years.
This town, some place called Sutter Rest, was probably once a thriving tourist trap. Now it was a wasteland of old buildings overgrown with ivy, trees growing through the pavement, and undead marching about in search of living prey. Jamie looked around at her feet where she was kneeling, and smiled in victory when she found one.
Picking it up, she weighed it in her hand, and judged how far she could toss it and, more importantly, how accurate? Watching as a sloped back ghoul paced in front of the bull, she decided to take her chance.
Standing up, she hurled the rock as best she could, remembering for a moment the days when she taught Zack how to throw a baseball, and her own days in her softball league as a child. The chunk of pavement sailed high and struck the bull in the left cheek, tearing open a new bloodless wound that allowed for more maggots to wriggle out of its infected maw.
Mentally crowing at her success, she watched as the bull swung the long piece of rusted rebar forward, caving in the sternum and spinal column of the ghoul passing too close, sending the howling creature tumbling back into one of the other ghouls, which hissed and pounded at the sudden “attack” with withered bony hands, rending flesh from the crippled zombie. The others all hissed and yowled like feral cats, some clicking while all descended on the chaos in the hope they’d discovered food.
Deciding now was the time to act, she took an arrow and lined up the shot, sinking it into the right eye socket of one of the rotten. As it hit the ground she dropped another rotten, leaving only one of the sniffers up as it was too close to the bull for her liking. The bull had thrown aside its brethren, stomping into the fray to lift the crippled corpse up and bite into it. The whimpering thing had merely hung limply in the giant hand gripping it shook it back and forth, the giant’s teeth tearing away a long strip of rot away to be chewed like sun-dried jerky.
Spitting it out, the bull clicked and growled, dropping the zombie to the ground. It crawled for a few moments before going still, as if the very force animating it had been pulled from the body. Jamie knew it was setting itself up as a trap, as she’d watched undead do this very act too many times to count. She made a mental note that the corpse was to be watched if she came back through this area, and crept further along the row of parked cars, traveling deeper into the city.
She could see the rotten was leading them towards her bike, but she wasn’t worried. Unless they found a person sitting on it, the thing would be safe.
Plus, she thought with a smirk as she patted her jacket pocket, I’ve got the keys. No zombie stealing my ride today!
To be continued…