As far as the apocalypse could go, Jamie mused as she sucked in a lungful of smoke, holding it in to allow the soothing qualities of the herbal mix, this could be a lot worse.
It’d been twenty-seven years since the Darkness fell, when modern infrastructure fell as most modern technology failed. Major computers simply turned off all at once, closing international trade and communication. Satellites stopped sustaining the veiny network for cell phones, silencing most emergency services and local communication. And the precautions at thousands of private laboratories gave like cracked dams after a major rain storm, refrigerated samples of toxic viruses escaping and spreading through the world like ripples in a pond, one wave striking the populace after another with devastating effects.
This led to some biological weapons that at least the American government had been keeping under wraps. She’d met physicians and scientists who called it various labels, but the common man referred to it as the Lazarus sickness. It was like a nightmare torn straight from Romero’s most disturbed thoughts, with added features that could only come from the demented or mentally ill.
Leaning back against her motorcycle while sitting on the pavement in front of what had once been at the outskirts of a small town in what had once been northern California, a nameless place that might’ve boasted a friendly population that hosted local festivals perhaps. Maybe they’d had a state fairs, or beauty pageants? Puffing on her hand-rolled joint, the crinkly paper torn from a Gideon edition she’d liberated from a motel a few hundred miles back serving as best it could to house the marijuana that seemed to grow everywhere across the former American nation.
Coughing as she let the smoke leave her lungs, she crossed her arms under her bosom and pulled down her goggles from atop her head. The area had the salty breeze of the Pacific rolling in, and the air stung her eyes if she left herself exposed for too long. Pulling a “modern” spyglass from her belt, she held the ramshackle tool up to her eye and stared out at the roads leading into town, rusted out skeletons clogging the streets like dried out corpses laid out to be picked clean by the vultures of the post-Darkness era.
The vultures of today, scavengers in the most literal of senses, were people who left the small communities that had sprung up in nearly every major city to harvest goods from the wastes of the fallen civilization, like barbarians picking through the ruins of Rome years after it’d been sacked.
This particular Rome had been stripped early on, leaving the bare bones of cars and tractors, long since rusted out by the salty sea air. Frowning, she knew she wouldn’t find any gasoline this far out of town, and that her only chance would be to venture deeper within.
But she had no choice; her beat up motorcycle, a Frankenstein in the truest sense as it didn’t have an original part from the model it’d started as, now composed from, at the very least, fourteen different old choppers and cars. Jamie’s old girlfriend, when she was alive, had outfitted a solar panel in the side of the bike and rigged it up with a battery from a Tesla car from sometime when the years were counted by calendars and not seasons. This had made her abomination of a vehicle live long without gasoline, but its inevitable thirst begged for the source of its addiction.
“God, I hate towns,” Jamie muttered to herself. Flicking the stub of her joint away, she stood up and stretched, her leather jacket baggy around her thin frame. Ever since she’d hit the road, leaving the South to flee from the pain of her lost loved ones, she’d found her appetite had waned. Now she mostly lived on canned vegetables and meats and rainwater she gathered in buckets when she broke camp.
Slinging her compound bow over her shoulder, she counted her remaining arrows. “Twenty-seven,” she muttered, “need to gather some old soda cans to make arrowheads.”
Walking down the dirt path, flanked by old power lines and turned over mechanical fossils, Jamie slid her bow into her hands and pulled an arrow from her quiver. Listening for the telltale signs of a Child of Lazarus, she strained her ears.
Sure enough, she heard the clicking being carried on the warm breeze wafting through the littered road. Stopping, she scanned for movement, hoping against hope that the Child was alone. When a Child turned into Children, they all grew more cunning. Enough of them together and their lack of eyesight was no longer a disability, but an advantage as each of the shuffling dead could use each other as echolocation points to triangulate the position of their prey.
Namely Jamie, in this instance.
Jamie winced as she saw the undead shuffle into view, heaving a sigh of relief when she noted its physique.
Emaciated with wiry limbs and thin cords acting as muscles, this corpse held its head back, tilted towards the sky as it sent out a trill of clicks every few seconds. Dressed in worn jeans and the tattered remains of a tee shirt with a long-forgotten logo, the cadaver’s eyes rolled lazily in the skull blindly, the few stray hairs still attached to its scalp fluttering in the breeze. It sported numerous broken bones, but they didn’t seem to hamper its movement. She could see how the left knee rolled as the leg shook and quivered beneath the weight, however slight, that weighed down on the limb as the zombie slinked across the automotive graveyard.
Pulling back her drawstring, Jamie took careful aim and waited with bated breath for the rotten to stop, to take in the various scents around it.
The bow launched its missile faster than the eye could track, the handmade arrow piercing the soft skull of the dead, entering through one of the gray eyes and breaking through the back of the skull. The ghoul wavered for a moment, a gurgled cluck stuck mid death rattle. The zombie slipped down to the ground, falling listlessly to the ground with a slight thud.
Jamie smiled to herself, and almost took a step forward until she heard it.
Several other rattling breaths came from further in the graveyard, these clicks sounding stronger, healthier, than the rotten she’d just handled. They were close enough that they would all be aware of each other, and that the remaining dead knew something had happened to their kin.
And she knew that they would come running to find whatever had severed the mental connection, appetites roused at the thought of a meal after going for so long without.
To be continued…