Slipping past a few withering rotten that barely inclined their stalk-like heads in her direction, Jamie crept deeper into the town towards the one place she’d be able to find medication that would still have something worth looting. Walking along a path flanked by tall grass and unkempt trees, Jaime did her best to be light of foot. She didn’t want to alert her position to anything by accident…
“In a town as rural as this, guaranteed one of these buildings are an old feed store,” she muttered, bow lowered with an arrow nocked and ready She stopped by an overgrown fountain, plants growing from the much that’d gathered in the cement pool from years of rain. A worn statue in the middle sat posed in a refined station, as if he (or she) were someone of great importance. The fact that all features and writing had been worn away by the harsh rain and salty sea air did little to help Jamie understand what the statue could have been at one point, but as she looked at the pedestal it sat upon, she frowned.
A tarnished plaque, covered in a thick coating of slime and moss, sat beneath the feet of the statue. Looking at the pool and around her, at the silent town, Jamie wondered what it was like when the living dominated the world. What would this statue have looked like then, when people cared enough about it to maintain it? Shaking her head, she was about to lean over the pool to use her arrow to pull away the layer of muck covering the nameplate, when she noticed it again.
The town was silent.
No clicking. No moaning. Nothing.
“Shit,” she muttered, backing away from the water as she saw the shimmer of something stir beneath the pea green soup.
Rising slowly with the low rasp of pressure being released from a filled container, congealed blood and tissue poured from the mouth of a ghoul that had become more gelatin than bone. Skin sloughed off as it rolled its head forward, the slits where the bone for the nose whistling as it sniffed the air. Limp arms hung from the skeletal creature, the mud-caked skin held together with plant fibers over polished bone and strings of taut muscle, curling the fingers of the ruined hands into doughy fists as they sloshed noisily.
Jaime felt the bile rise in her throat and did her best to swallow the vomit rising in her throat, hoping she wasn’t making a significant noise while doing so. The hollow sockets of the zombie spilled water as the head turned, the slurping clicks slowly creaking from the hollowed-out throat.
No! Jamie thought, choosing to take a chance. Raising the bow and unleashing the arrow point blank into the corpses skull, piercing the weakened forehead enough to scramble what little it had left in the form of brains. It wobbled shakily on its knees before shuffling back.
It was only then that Jamie realized her mistake.
The loud splash of rancid fountain water seemed like a peal of thunder cracking across the abandoned town, echoing down every alleyway and across every open expanse of cement. Turning, Jamie’s eyes widened in horror as she stared at the pair of rotten she’d passed earlier.
“Shit!” Jamie cursed as the two putrid alarms began to rattle and shake, their cries soon joined by stronger, more vibrant clicks from all around her. Jamie now knew the town wasn’t as abandoned as she’d thought… the people hadn’t ever left at all, in fact. They’d just settled in in a far more permanent manner than she’d expected.
The snapping of vines and roots tore through the air as the tall grass shook violently, zombies rising from the weeds with bloodless sores and eroded hides marred with waterlogged pock-marks that seemed to hold infestations of small crabs, roaches, and slugs. Many had barnacles growing from their narrow bones, with some even holding nests for hornets, which angrily buzzed around the zombies lolling heads as they blinked back ages worth of grime over their puffy, white eyes. Blind to the world, they all began clicking and groaning, different pitches and volumes, the sounds coming from every direction.
“Fuck this,” Jamie said and bolted past the fountain deeper into town. While they may be ghouls (rotten were too far gone to play host to parasites so those were most definitely the more mobile breed of zombie) they were hardly fast enough to keep up with her while still trying to triangulate her position. She woke them all from hibernation, something she’d only heard of some survivors doing before.
Stopping at the bottom of a cracked road, Jamie, looked up and down the street. A smashed in electronics store held three rotten that were crawling like sickened hounds from the rubble while an old liquor store had a lone ghoul wandering out, one arm severed from the body but held to the other by a set of handcuffs, the dusty tissue of the frayed limb dragging in the gravel as the ghouls clicked.
“Okay, I walked into a total nightmare,” Jamie said. Turning, she nearly screamed as she was tackled by a heavy body, the stench rolling off of it palpable enough to be a solid force as it struck her in the face. It pushed her back and into a wall, knocking the air from her lungs. Twirling her bow around she brought it down hard along her attacker’s back, whipping the cord across the broad back of the undead creature, causing it to howl in fury as it bodily picked her up.
Panicking, she kicked at what-must-be a bull’s stomach, her heavy shoes sinking into the tender flesh with satisfying results. She fell to the pavement with a grunt and a hiss of pain, one of her arrows sliding free from the quiver and piercing her in the lower back near an old scar she’d received from another bull. Looking up, she rolled to the side to dodge the inevitable slam the bull would attempt on her now that it had her down.
But no such blow came, instead a dirty glove held up a hand in peace as the thick-framed bull gasped. “Wait, j-just wait… we need to get off the streets… you woke them up, and that means he’ll be awake soon. We can’t be around for that!”
Jamie looked up into the smudged face of a young man, his hair marred with dirt and tar, his overalls and long sleeves soaked in brine and sweat. Looking around at the clicking horde as they closed in on the two of them, Jamie reached back and pulled the arrow free with a wince before accepting his hand up.
“Lead the way sailor!” She whispered, pushing him along.
To be continued…