Just part of my novella that I have been working on for about four years
|Was I sad to see her go, knowing she meant to leave our temporary safe haven to get away from me? Did it really hurt to watch Carmen Littleton storm away from me in the corridor of the dark, malodorous building in which we were hiding? No, I finally decided. Sometimes Carmen forgot that we weren’t enemies- though, we most certainly were not friends. So, it was kind of like back in the 21st century when you removed an old classmate from your profile on some social network- no one really cared. The idea of using the internet for ‘friends’ is a far-fetched idea for my time anyway. The only thing we used that kind of thing for was contact while on scavenges or for keeping up with the latest technology to keep out Defuncts or looters. See in our world today, there are two things you could bet your ass on, the dead didn’t stay dead and you had to fight every single day to stay on this side of ‘living’, you know, complete pulse and all.
“Katherine, what the hell was that about?” Penelope Aster-Garrowman hissed at me. She, unlike myself, was Carmen’s friend. “Are you trying to get the thousands of Defuncts all around us on our asses or what?”
Most people would have bit their tongue and put up with ‘Princess’ Penelope’s bossiness, but not me. I didn’t give two craps that her father was probably the most powerful person alive today, being as he was the one who created not only the biggest safe haven left in the country, and quite possibly the world, but he also created most of the safety measures used in the modern world in most every safe haven in existence. That is of course if they could pay the prices he wants. God that guy, he really burns my ass you know. It’s like, dude, in a world being overrun and slaughtered by their fellow man, you think he would just help anyone. But no, not this guy. The only thing worse than a segregated world of who deserves to live and die is the douchebag calling the shots.
“And why does that always fall on my head,” I shot back at her. “You don’t think that your precious Carmen could possibly start the argument. Your born-with-a-golden-spoon-in-the-ass bullshit is getting old Aster. And you know it!”
Everything in my body screamed for me to punch this privileged brat in the face, but we really didn’t need that kind of commotion right now.
“You’re a hot head Katherine Wilder-Aster, and I don’t like you. But I don’t have to like you. I just have to keep your worthless ass alive and my defunct quota filled. You got that?” She spat every word at me.
I gritted my teeth, “Yeah be a good little girl puppet. Do everything your daddy tells you to do. And my name is Kittie Wilder, don’t ever soil my name with your last name bitch.”
She pulled her knife, ready to lunge at me. Thankfully, I had spent most of the breakout period as a child, on my own. I was quicker to the draw, and much more confident in the damage I could do. I simply pulled my machete from the sheath I had handcrafted from my dad’s favorite tool belt and held it to her throat, ready for the anything she thought she was going to do.
“Now, Penny-pie, I would like to think you would know better than to pull a knife on me. You have been sheltered by your mommy and daddy for your whole pathetic existence. I mean Christ, you learned how to kill zombies by shooting at chained up targets. That’s a lot of experience you don’t have and a lot of the load you don’t have to carry. Not me, marshmallow, I have always been alone, have kept myself alive. No one to hold me at night when the nightmares came, or to keep me warm when the snow began to fall. So please, be a good little girl and put your knife back.”
Her chocolate eyes were wide in fear, her strawberry lips trembled. She hesitantly put her knife away, my blade not leaving her throat and her eyes not leaving me. “You’re right,” she finally croaked. “We cannot do this right now. We have to just wait for Toby to get back and then we can go home.”
I sighed and put my machete back. “We have been waiting for three hours now, no contact. You really do hold on to some deep dreams there puppet.”
“He is coming back for us,” there was a deep desperation in her voice, seemingly making her a child again.
“I hope for your sake, that you are right,” I said going to sit on the stairs to the rotting apartment building. “For argument’s sake though,” I said leaning back on my elbows, my waist length fiery curls cascading around my shoulders, “what if he is dead. That pack was on him like rats on garbage.”
“Can you please,” she said, closing her eyes, rubbing her temples, “shut up for now.”
It wasn’t a question, I knew that. But damn, I loved to burst her bubble every chance I got. “No, I can’t. We have to have some kind of plan. So let’s make it now.”
I noticed an evacuation plan on the wall. I got up slowly, studying it over. Just then the door opened and Carmen entered the building, pale and wheezing.
“Guys, Toby showed up!” She didn’t seem as happy as I thought she would.
“See, I told you he would show up!” Penelope shot at me as she went to run out the door.
Carmen grabbed her arm, shaking her head, her short sandy hair falling in her eyes, “You don’t want to go out there.” Her eyes were filled with tears, and she was obviously holding back her sobs. “Something- he’s, he’s not,” she sputtered. “He was so close to me. He’s not okay.”
Silence hung thick in the air, but then was broken by the door creaking. “Carmen, did you happen to lock the door behind you?”
Her eyes widened and she looked at me. “Oh no.”
“Ah, effin-A! Carmen, you idiot!” I yelled at her as we began to run away from where we had sat.
We made our way down the west hall, Carmen apologizing profusely, and Penelope telling her to shut up. My flashlight was all we had to go by in this run-down apartment building somewhere near Ashburnham, Ontario.
I ran up the stairs to the second floor. Most of the apartments were infested with the bodies of those who couldn’t take the Breakout and had taken their own lives. It was the most horrid smell. At this point my stomach was lurching and my lungs were burning, but there was no way in hell we could go back down the stairs.
We finally found an apartment which seemed to have still been vacant. So into apartment 211 we went. We stood in the middle of the large one bedroom apartment and tried to plan escape route.
“Well, this is a dandy situation we are in, eh Princess?” I shot a look at Penelope.
“Fuck off, Katherine,” she shot back at me.
You see the problem with Freshies, yes that is the fresh dead, they remember things that they knew when alive. This is considerably dangerous for two reasons. Number one, they can emulate the living. Walking around just as they had before they died. This made it easy to play ‘spider and fly’. They walk right up to you and you’re all excited. Then ‘CHOMP’ they eat your ass. And number two, the situation we are in right now, if you have this really detailed plan for retrieval operations and one of you dies, they know your plans. It can really bite you in the ass since they no longer have their humanity. I mean the longer they decay and that, the slower they are, but still.
Around the last five years or so there were rules we had implemented so that there was only so much one would know without them being completely in the dark as to what we were doing. But honestly there is no real way to make sure that nothing is useful. We just had to try and always be one step ahead in these situations.
“I’m so sorry,” Carmen started to cry.
“Carmen, we have to remain quiet. So shut up! When we are out of this, we will deal with your incompetence. But right now, we have to think.” I was even angrier now than I was before, when she thought she could bark orders at me.
We all stood silent, holding even our heavy breathing. I looked at my two companions as the moaning and beating on doors came down the hall. My heart broken a little for Penelope, though I would never admit that out loud. Her husband was the bandleader of our new dead-undead welcoming party. And she truly loved her husband. It wasn’t a common occurrence in our time, the love those two had. In our time, two people were arranged to marry by their parents because people were dying and reanimating at an alarming rate. We were to marry and breed, that was pretty much it. But Toby and Penelope, that was a deep true love.
I wished I had gone into the field of science rather than that of a day laborer. We didn’t go out at night, it’s too risky. Those things are even harder to see, so ambushes are much more likely. But labor in itself, no matter what time, ran such high risks. Scientists were safe in highly secure buildings, never seeing the death, the pain. God, I could only wish to have ever take that job. They spent the first few years of the Breakout cutting up and probing Patient Zero, the first guy who had gotten sick with this parasite. Of course they never solved anything or anything near it. But they tried you know. They actually tried. How the hell were they supposed to know that nothing would ever come out of it but more and more death?
There wasn't a whole lot I could think of doing right now. I mean we were in the middle of royally screwed right now. The only option that seemed to exist anymore was putting a bullet in my own brain. Then again, I really fought hard to stay alive all this time. Dying now seemed- well pointless really. I could put up one damn good fight. Though, I was really tired. And fight was the last thing I could think I had the strength to do.
Okay, so I don’t know what you know about the human decomposition process, but it’s really an interesting thing! First thing is, you die. It’s tragic and all that jazz, but it happens to everyone so I don’t let myself dwell on it too much. The first stages of decomposition happen immediately! And before you ask, well if this is true to the real death, won’t rigor mortis set in? Generally, rigor would set about three to five hours after a body has been dead, give or take some time depending on the environment and such.
No, rigor wouldn’t set in, because the bodies are not lying on the ground three or four hours. They are moving around. Now, they could somehow get a type of rigor, which could account for them slowing down. But to get rid of rigor, morticians for ages would move the bodies, breaking the rigor and relaxing the body. And to repeat myself, they are up and moving immediately. So, in short, no they don’t really allow rigor to set in.
Anyway, during this time of “fresh decay” or initial decay as some call it. The corpse of the late great whoever it is looks exactly as it had when they were still alive. But within this little meat-bag, bacteria, protozoans and nematodes have begun the decomposition process. This is honestly the most dangerous part of dealing with Defuncts.
Unlike the countless zombie movies made in the 20th to 21st century, these things don’t change how they look immediately. The only way you know they have changed is if they have visible wounds. Otherwise, you could just think they are another human and be caught in their web, like a fly and spider kind of situation. And believe me, they are intelligent enough to trap you this way.
“Hey Katherine, why don’t you get your head out of your ass and help us out here,” Penelope’s voice interrupted my chain of thought.
“What do you want me to do?” I shot back at her. “I think Carmen has screwing us all under control!”
“I didn’t mean to!” Carmen really did look like she felt bad for what she did. And dammit, as much as I hate to admit it, it made me feel bad for what I had said.
“Did you see any fresh Defuncts within the group that Tobias had with him?” Penelope seemed to be formulating a plan very quickly.
“I saw a few, most of them were in Fermentation stage though.” Carmen tried to calm her voice as she recollected what she had seen. “Summer is here, so it’s coming quicker for now.”
“Which in a way is good for us,” I said quickly. “Then again, with summer comes bugs, and we don’t have our protective gear for bugs.”
We hadn’t really thought about removing all of our gear from the van when Tobias drove what horde had originally been on us way from us. This was a simple scavenger mission that simply went wrong. He was a really good guy, and I was really going to miss him.
“The smell up here is strong enough to throw a fermented defunct off our trail, but no fresh ones. And the fermented ones are still smart enough to know the follow the fresh ones.” Penelope carried on. “This isn’t going to be easy.”
“You guys go,” I finally spoke up. “Escape out the fire exit located in the south wing.” I remember reading the evacuation routes in the hallway. “I can hold off what Defuncts actually make it up here. And from there, I can find the exit through the elevators. I mean, looking at this place, nothing has worked here for about twenty years give or take, so this is gonna be risky, but we are smart enough to make it out of here.
They knew I was right. At least if we mostly split up, it gave us better odds. At least one of us would make it out instead of all of us dying at once.
“This is suicide,” Penelope finally spoke up. “I can’t let you do this alone.”
“I thought you didn’t like me,” I said folding my arms over my chest.
“I can’t stand you,” she retorted, “but, you are after all, my sister-in-law. I have to bring you back to my brother.”
The mere mention of Jackson made my body stiffen. I was only a teenager when he and I married. And he carried a special protectiveness over me. But over the years, I haven’t developed love for my husband like I have heard of women doing. It has merely become we have a mutual respect for one another. Though the law frowns upon it, most men and women in marriages these days pretty much tolerate one another, but find love in the bed of someone else.
As long as you are creating more humans to keep us alive, you are fine. I am pretty sure that five years after our marriage, and we haven’t consummated the relationship, he is definitely making a life with someone else. Which I mean didn't bother me in the traditional sense, yet it did all at the same time. It was something I kinda argued about with myself for a while now, but managed to avoid thinking about until he was brought up.
Suddenly, the moans and groans of at least twenty Defuncts echoed down the hall. I got the shivers, because frankly, I hate that sound. I have never gotten used to it. And I likely, if I live, never will. I drew the machete from my side before pulling the mask over my face. Oh, yes, see there are several ways that the parasite is contracted. First of all, there is the exchanging of liquids. Much like old movies, a bite can cause it. But it’s not exactly the actual bite; it’s the saliva or whatever other fluids are in their mouth at the time.
Even if a mosquito, lands on a defunct and feeds off of it, then it lands on a regular person and feeds, well boom, you just contracted the parasite. But here is the real kicker; it takes months to years for you to turn this way! The infection is so small that it takes a long time for you to even show symptoms. Also though, you become a carrier. And the first person you exchange bodily fluids with, they become infected.
Thankfully though, there is an inoculation that has in more recent years appeared, that if you have been bit by any type of bug, you can get. It only makes the parasite dormant unfortunately. This makes for natural cause zombies. Yes, these kinds make the initial decay stage dangerous. Hell, in our world everything was dangerous. But we stuck together best we could to survive. Like us three women now.
We all stood side by side, waiting for our fate to enter the door. And soon, the sounds of their fists pounding on the door to get at us did begin. But before we knew what was going on, gun shots could be heard coming up the hall. To be honest, I mostly relieved, but admittedly a tad bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be fighting today. Who am I kidding? I was 100% relieved!
“Penelope! Carmen!” I heard Jackson’s voice come up the hall. “Is Katherine with you?”
“Yes,” Carmen called out, tears still sliding down her cheeks.
“Are you girls alright?” That voice made me nervous. Milton Aster only went in the field if things were absolutely dire.
We all rushed to the door, fighting to open it. Penelope rushed to her father’s arms, sobbing. This wasn’t a side of Penelope that I saw often, and honestly, it kind of made me uncomfortable. Carmen rushed to her brother’s side. Robert Littleton held his sister tightly, whispering relief in her ear.
They were orphaned when Carmen was six. At the time, Jack was nineteen, and he took on the role of a father for her. It welled up my own orphaned past, and I fought to push it back down.
Jackson made his way to me, rubbing my face lightly, pushing a stray chin length onyx curl from my violet eyes. “I was so worried we had- I had lost you once Tobias contacted us. He was dying, but he wanted to keep you girls safe.”
I said nothing as I shivered, holding on to my husband. Sure, I didn’t love him, but I liked him enough and it was nice for someone to hold on to me.