A brunette of slim build, Alex, sprints across the pedestrian bridge from Newport to Cincinnati. Having been driven out of the wilderness by a wild fire, she is in desperate need of supplies. Carrying her weapons that she altered in her father’s shop, she’s well armed but lacking in experience when it comes to combating the nekrós. After all, she’d been very well hidden from most of the apocalypse. She’s pretty smart that way.
As a nekrós approaches, she swings her spiked softball bat, catching the fast undead in the ribs with a massive cracking sound. Using her Spartan SWAT shield, she swats the nekrós off the bat, and the nekrós stumbles away. The nekrós lunges again, it’s frail looking body covered in dried blood. The dark eyes of the nekrós glares at her as it smacks into her modified SWAT shield. Alex swings her bat again, this time catching the nekrós in the skull, killing it. She’s finally getting the hang of this.
Alex strides across the bridge and gazes at the decimated remains of Cincinnati. It’s amazing what a year can do. The once gorgeous skyline is torn and tattered and burned, reminding any survivors of the pandemic that swept the world no less than a year ago. Afraid to stay in one place for too long, Alex rips her thoughts away from the crumbling city and moves on.
As Alex rummages through an abandoned gas station, she hears the revving of an engine. She tumbles towards the window and pops up, peering out. There’s a tall, built latina cursing in Spanish at a smoking motorcycle. Her dark skin is covered with a leather jacket, a tank top, and tattered jeans. She peels off her jacket and starts angrily fanning the overheated bike with it. Alex notices two pistols holstered on the girl’s hips and struggles with wanting to help and knowing in her gut that doing so will likely lead to trouble. Against Alex’s better judgement, she walks out, shield and bat at the ready, her bullet proof vest strapped on tight.
“Do you need any help?” Alex calls out, her voice shaking. She hasn’t talked to another human being in over eight months, and this one is probably dangerous.
The biker girl’s head snaps up, her jacket drops, and she pulls out two pistols, all in less than two seconds. “Who’s asking,” she snaps, her Spanish accent thick.
“I just want to help out. I’m not here to start anything…” Alex asserts, her heart racing.
“¡Hijo de puta!” the girl swears as the motorcycle pops loudly. “ Do you know how to fix a bike?” she growls, tossing her hands in the air with her pistols still drawn.
Alex nods and puts her shield down next to the bike. She silently admires the craftsmanship of the latina’s motorcycle. It’s a custom mix between street and offroad that flows together beautifully. As Alex tinkers with the bike, she sneaks glances at the latina who’s scowling at her, guns still in hand.
“What’s your name, princesa?” the latina asks.
Alex shrugs, not wanting to reveal too much at first. The latina scoffs and starts tapping her left foot impatiently, tucking the guns back into the holsters.
The fix is taking longer than it should, but Alex can’t stop staring at this gorgeous girl’s tattoos. The latina has three that Alex can see. Two on her right arm, one being a bracelet with a blue eye symbol on the inside of her wrist. On the latina’s bicep, there are three bands of color. Alex recognizes the order immediately. It’s the bisexual pride flag. Alex smirks a little before averting her gaze to the family crest on the latina’s left shoulder. It’s green with a white stripe down the middle, a red griffin set firmly in the middle of the stripe. And at the bottom, there’s a name. Magno.
“How much longer, princesa?” the latina barks, looking more than impatient.
Alex snaps out of her stupor and gazes down at the bike. “Just a few more minutes, I suppose,” she whispers in reply.
The latina nods.
“I… I’m Alex.”
“Carolina,” the other girl responds, sticking out her hand.
Alex’s heart flutters. She hasn’t touched another human being in months. Instead of taking Carolina’s hand, Alex mumbles, “My hands are covered in grease.”
Carolina laughs and reaches down, grabbing her jacket. Alex blushes, realizing that Carolina’s gesture was not for her. Carolina snickers and then goes back to impatiently waiting on the bike repairs. Alex stands, her cancer zodiac talisman popping off her neck without her knowledge. Alex wipes off her hands with a rag from her bag.
Carolina smiles down at the burnette. “What do I owe you, princesa?” she asks, leaning up against the pump.
Alex gulps. Carolina’s dark eyes, hair, and skin have Alex completely transfixed. After a moment, Carolina waves her hand in front of Alex’s face.
“Oh, uh, um, you don’t owe me anything, Carolina,” Alex whispers shyly, saying Carolina’s name like a soft prayer.
Carolina smiles and responds kindly, “Gracias, princesa. You’ve really saved me here.”
Alex nods, puts on her bag, picks up her gear, and heads off down the road without another word. She can’t stand goodbyes, even if she’s only just met someone.
Alex skirts around the city at night, listening to the growling and shambling of the nekrós. The summer breeze caresses Alex’s face as she stares at the stars. Alex reaches for her cancer talisman. Her heart speeds up in panic as she realizes it isn’t there.
“No, no, no, no! Fuck!” Alex swears loudly, almost sobbing. After a few moments of frantic searching, Alex decides to go back to the gas station at first light. Maybe her necklace is there.
The next morning, Alex sets off at a dead sprint, not wanting to waste time. She needs supplies, but she also needs a reminder of home. Halfway there, not paying attention, Alex smacks shield first into a nekrós. She topples over, and the nekrós follows suit. The undead creature bounces up immediately. The gaunt, unidentifiable, shell of a human, launches at Alex before she can pick up either of her weapons. Knowing good and well that if the nekrós got ahold of her, she’d be dead, she dodges out of the way and scrambles toward her modified bat. Before Alex can reach her weapon, there’s a loud crack of a gun followed by the sickening crunch of a skull underfoot.
“I’ve got you princesa,” Carolina grunts, tucking her pistol back into her holster. “Come on before others show up.”
Alex scrambles to her feet and grabs her weapons. “I’ve got to get back to the gas station. My necklace is there. My mom gave it to me,” Alex pants.
“It’s not there princesa,” Carolina murmurs sympathetically.
“How would you know?” Alex snaps, almost in tears.
Carolina simply sighs, “Come on. The trip back to the compound takes about a day.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” Alex snaps. She had heard about the slave traders, and Alex has no intention of being priced, branded, and sold.
Carolina cocks her head in response. There’s a moment of silence and electricity between the two young women. Finally, Carolina cracks a smile. “You’ve got spunk. Let’s go. You’re going to meet my group, The Riders.”
Alex stares Carolina down, unsure of what to do. She hadn’t socialized in moths and isn’t sure if she can trust this new girl, let alone an entire group of people. Carolina beckons at Alex as she starts to walk away. “Come on, chica. My bike is just south of here, stashed in some rubble.”
Alex starts to follow her but stops herself. “Why?”
“¿Perdóname?” Carolina drawls slowly, looking Alex over.
“I asked you why. Why would you include me in your group?” Alex asks timidly.
Carolina scoffs and strides quickly toward Alex, drawing a pistol. Threatened, Alex puts up her shield and thanks the gods for her vest. Carolina lunges at Alex, and Alex panics and trips trying to scramble backwards. Carolina is on top of Alex in no time with her gun squarely in between Alex’s eyes.
Pinned and unable to move, Alex squirms under Carolina’s weight, her heart beating out of her chest. Carolina leans forward and whispers into Alex’s ear, “You need us to survive, and I’m feeling generous.”
Carolina climbs off of Alex after a moment and walks away again. “We need someone handy around the compound and you need to live. If you can’t even take me on, there’s no way in hell you can take on more than one nekrós. Let’s go princesa.”
Flustered but thoroughly convinced that Carolina isn’t going to kill her, at least not yet, Alex follows the latina girl willingly to her bike. Alex tucks her equipment into her backpack and then climbs onto the bike with Carolina. Alex sighs inwardly. Her father would not approve of her being on the back of a motorcycle with some girl she just met a day ago.
After a prolonged silence out on the road, Alex starts nodding off. The muggy summer air and the smell of flowers is so surreal to her, especially these days. She hasn’t felt this at peace in a year. Carolina notices that the smaller girl is dozing off in the back and pulls off into the woods, switching gears on her bike. Alex groggily asks why they’re stopping.
Carolina responds, kicking the stand into place, “You’re exhausted. Get some rest.”
Alex objects, insisting they continue. Carolina shakes her head and simply repeats herself. After a few moments of argument, Alex finally relents. “Wake me up when it’s my shift,” Alex grumbles. Carolina nods.
The next morning, Alex mumbles incoherently as she’s shaken awake.
“Buenos dias, princesa,” a soft voice whispers in her ear.
“Five more minutes,” Alex grunts as she rolls over.
“Nekrós!” the voice shouts.
Alex bolts up immediately, actually smacking heads with Carolina. There is lots of swearing and head rubbing as Alex begins to comprehend where she is and that there isn’t actually any undead shambling about.
“You were supposed to wake me up for my watch,” Alex snaps.
“You looked less uptight asleep,” Carolina laughs, shrugging.
Alex gawks up at Carolina. She suddenly isn’t as attracted to her as before. What has she gotten herself into? Carolina just wanders away, putting out what was left of a fire and kicking around leaves she’d arranged for a bed. Carolina hands Alex her pack as Alex stands.
“I hope you don’t mind. I went through it.”
Of course Alex minds, and she says so.
Carolina shrugs. “It’s the same as you checking out my tattoos.”
Alex mutters under her breath about how it isn’t and clambers onto the back of Carolina’s bike, pulling out a granola bar. Carolina snags a corner of the bar, popping it into her mouth before she hops on the front of the bike and takes off.
Alex tries to avoid conversation for a lot of the ride, but eventually Carolina manages to get her talking.
“Yeah, my mom gave me that necklace. She’s immensely into astrology and tarot and pendulums,” Alex says timidly.
“I get that. My mom was a very firm believer in santeria. Mal de Ojo, or evil eye, has always scared me, which is why I have that tattoo. The eye symbol keeps it away.”
“Can I see it again?” Alex asks.
“You… want me to take my hand off the handlebar?” Carolina snorts.
Alex blushes and starts stumbling over her words. Carolina laughs and takes both hands off the bars, using one to roll up her sleeve and show Alex her tattoo.
“Look, no hands!”
Alex grips Carolina’s waist and whimpers her approval. Carolina laughs as she puts her hands back on the handle bars.
Soon, the girls are talking about their pasts. Alex talks about how her dad was a mechanic and her mom a dog breeder, how she had a full ride for softball, and how she also did choir while managing to keep her grades up for her engineering major. Alex talked about her younger brothers Jason and Jordan and how they used to play toss in the back yard. Carolina talked about how her dad taught self defense classes and taught people how to shoot at gun ranges, while Carolina’s mom was a kindergarten teacher. Carolina talked about getting her psychology degree and her hopes of being a professional BMX racer.
Neither of them realized how long they’d been talking. They are both surprised at how short the trip seemed as they pull up to a large, wooden fence with barbed wire on top.
“What a welcoming place,” Alex murmurs. Carolina snorts.
“Amelia! Amelia, open up! Its Carolina!” Carolina shouts. There’s a long pause, and Carolina starts to look a little concerned. “Amelia?” Carolina calls out, louder this time.
Suddenly, two heads pop out of what seems to be a guard post window. A girl with long white hair and a girl with short blue hair wave down at the two girls on the motorcycle. “Sorry, Carolina, we were, uh, listening to music,” the one with blue hair yells.
Carolina rolls her eyes, turning to Alex. “They were making out, more than likely,” Carolina sighs. Alex smirks a little, glad to know that same sex relationships were more than okay here. Finally, the door opens. The girl with white hair is almost six feet tall and very muscular as well as tan. Alex gulps a little. This girl could snap Alex’s neck in no time flat. The other girl is about Carolina’s height and pretty slim. They’re both dark skinned, but she’s not nearly as dark as Carolina. The girls both seem friendly as they close the door. The whole space was covered in gardens and small shacks, with a few large hatches scattered about, which Alex assumes are bunkers. It’s a pretty sweet setup.
“Who’s this cutie?” the more muscular girl asks, coming up to Alex. She’s got on a black tank top, exposing a tribal sleeve on her right arm, and a strange mark on her left. It takes Alex a second, but she realizes that it’s a brand from one of the worst slave trading groups around. Alex jumps off the bike and grabs her bag, ripping out her bat and modified SWAT shield, finding herself in a total panic. “What’d I say?” the girl asks.
“Let me out,” Alex growls.
“Alex, what the hell?” Carolina murmurs as she gets off the bike and slowly approaches Alex.
“You’re slave traders! Don’t play dumb! I see her tattoo!” Alex shouts as the girl with blue hair slowly creeps toward Alex, ready to try and take her down.
The girl stops, and laughs, “Carolina, you didn’t tell her? No wonder you’re freaked out. We killed them all.”
Carolina huffs, “Amelia, that wasn’t tactful at all.”
“You… KILLED all of Craig’s traders?” Alex asks, utterly in shock.
“And Craig, cutie,” the white haired girl says with a shrug.
Carolina nods and sighs. Alex’s heart is racing as three boys and a girl come out of an underground hatch. “What’s going on, guys?” asks a carbon copy of the girl with white hair. “Are you okay, Minny?” he asks promptly after.
“I’m okay, Vinny,” the white haired girl answers. “Just a misunderstanding, right, cutie?”
Alex’s mind is racing. There are too many of them for her to take on all at once, and there isn’t anywhere to run. These teenagers took down Craig? She doesn’t buy it, not even a little.
“Alex,” Carolina pleads softly, “don’t do anything you’ll regret. Let me explain. Let us explain. Please.”
Alex glances around again. Besides Minny’s twin, there’s a more heavy set guy with blonde hair, a short girl with long, blonde hair, and a very tall, shirtless, ginger man who looks like he belongs in a Men’s Health magazine. From what she can tell, they all have Craig’s mark, two connected loops that look like a sideways cursive ‘E’ on their left forearm.
“Alex,” Carolina whispers, stepping closer.
“Carolina, don’t. Just put her down,” the heavy set guy says, whipping out a pistol from the back of his waistband.
“Harvey, no!” Carolina shouts. “She’s just confused. You would be too.”
Alex’s eyes are darting around, looking for an escape route. She spies a small open hatch, directly beside Carolina.
“Okay… I… I’ll give my weapons to Carolina and no one else,” Alex asserts, stepping towards Carolina. Alex has no intention of being caught and every intention of baseball sliding into the hatch, no matter where it goes. Except, at the last second, Carolina kicks the hatch closed, smirking slightly. Suddenly, Alex is left with no choice but to hand over her bat and shield.
“Ready to listen, princesa?” Carolina murmurs.
Alex nods. She has no other option now.
“Harvey, put that damn gun down and take my bike to the vehicle shed. Minny, go start on dinner. Amelia, go back to your look out post, por favor. Corbin, set up a bed for Alex in my bunker. Gwen, could you and Vinny stay here and help me explain ourselves to Alex,” Carolina barks. Everyone scatters to do as she says.
“I’m guessing you’re the boss,” Alex says dryly.
“Elected official,” Carolina retorts. “Come on, let’s go to the campfire.”