Fighting for a moment with herself, Jaime looked up as the bull clicked in a long series of trills and clacks, helping the new zombie to his feet after pawing at him. The new ghoul twitched every few moments, his body adapting to the new way it would interact with the world for the rest of its future. The older man was gone, now it was the blind dead with nesting bugs in his chest. Blood dribbled from his arm, slowly turning a dark brown. His neck had stopped draining, the infection taking hold there quite well; the flesh was already turning a rancid gray that was unnatural, unlike what you would see in someone who passed from natural means. Pallid and greasy, like they were perpetually damp from moisture in the air sticking to them, zombies were always disturbing to behold.
These plant-hybrids are just a new crop that were proving to be even more unsettling, that’s all, Jaime thought, raising her bow slightly, arrow still in hand. The three ghouls, plus the new one, would be a problem… but nowhere as near a nuisance as large as the bull, should it survive her initial attempt at saving the girl. Should I even be doing this? I have a mission here, and this kid is just going to weigh me down!
Jaime looked down at the girl and, without deciding, mouthed “stay silent, stay still, understand?”
The girl nodded minutely, breathing in small rapid bursts as she crossed her arms over her sweater. The chill in the air was enough to make Jaime almost see her own breath, and she knew that if that was the case than the ghouls would soon resort to tracking via scent. The cold messed with their sense of hearing somehow, especially when it froze. She had no idea why, but she’d encountered it a few times over the years. The post-Darkness years were colder than the those that came before them. Nights lasted longer and winters were a little meaner, every survivor could agree. Jaime could remember winters were there was never any snow, now she prayed for winters where there weren’t blizzards.
Okay, Jaime thought, if I can’t finish this mission I might get stuck here for a winter before I can wheedle my way free. Might as well get into someone’s good graces and save a life!
Jaime nocked her arrow and sighted the right temple of the bull, who was busy clicking away in the rapid-fire speech of the dead. When she loosed the arrow, she was almost surprised at how cleanly it pierced the monster’s skull, sliding through to break through on the other side with blackened gore. It continued “speaking” for two seconds before its jaw locked up and, with a panicked twitch, it fell over, forever locked in the prison of flesh as the body was ruined for the diseased beast to use.
The ghouls all began clicking at once, the three older ones louder than the fresh one, who still seemed groggy. Jaime pulled another arrow and fired it into the one with the wasp nest inhabiting its upper body. Piercing through the cranium with a crunch, the ghoul crumpled fell forward, prompting the three remaining ghouls to bolt in three different directions with a hurried snap of teeth.
Jaime remained standing still, not disturbing the various twigs and rocks around her feet, instead pivoting her torso as she drew another arrow and firing after the wood-roach zombie, a spray of the vitriolic beetles flying from its arm as the arrow pierced its neck. It clicked and wheezed. One hand reached up to wrap around the shaft as if exploring what had struck it, like a curious child would. Jaime fired another arrow at the ghoul, this time planting a shaft through the nasal passages and brain stem, sending it toppling backward over and out of the parking lot.
Eyes scanning the horizon, Jaime fought the urge to go and dispatch the five rotten that were feasting. Yes, they were making noise in this delicate situation. But were they worth revealing her location?
No, Jaime thought, pulling another homemade arrow, not at fucking all.
A low key clicking came from behind her, forcing Jaime to twist to look. Cursing inwardly, she saw that Centipede was leading two new rotten, weather beaten creatures bereft of clothes and skin, towards the parking lot. He was walking low, on all fours, with the rotten sloping around in a shambling sort of manner that showed off the flowering vegetation that’d taken hold of them in their upper cavities; roses, it looked like, that were thriving on the vine. Centipede swiveled its head back and forth and croaked out long and low, three centipedes crawling from its opened mouth and up its face into greasy hair or down into holes in its chest. The rotten clicked back and stepped around it, holding out arms as the began walking forward, clicking with every step, closing the gap slowly.
Shit, Jaime thought, they’re going to find me. This is what I get for playing hero!
Bursting from her spot, Jaime lashed out with one leg and kicked the rotten on the left ion the chest, sending it in a tumble of limbs and flower petals back onto Centipede, who practically roared in anger. The sound of five more rotten came from the bushes while the other rotten took an arrow to the head. Jaime dropped to the ground and checked over the girl, patting her down. Looking into her eyes, she gave her a serious look.
“No bites?” Jaime asked.
“No bites, they just hit me!” She replied with a sob, “grandpa… they killed him…”
“Shit, no time for this kid… can you run?” Jaime said as the girl began to weep.
Crying still, the girl looked up and nodded. Jaime looked over at Centipede, who was ripping the rotten to pieces with his bare hands. “He looks pissed,” Jaime said.
“Yeah,” the girl said, “we should move.”
“Okay, now I like you,” Jaime said, standing up, pulling a curved knife from her belt as she did so. Tossing it to the girl, she smiled, “what’s your name kid?”
“Kale,” she replied, handling the knife with well-trained hands, “
where are we headed?”
“We’re getting some supplies, then heading back to this place I’m staying. Just until things calm down for a while,” Jaime said.
Centipede howled, clicking through the screech that caused Jaime’s bones to shiver from the flint-like strikes of teeth sliding against each other.
“Okay,” Jaime said, taking off at a gentle trot, “time to go. Keep up Kale!”