The air was always dank these days. The constant smell of death, decay, and smoke; ever since Z-day, the remaining human population was always on the run. There were small settlements here and there, but even those were inevitably overrun with the undead. See, people are curious by nature. Car crashes on the side of the road, everyone wants to get a peek. Zeke doesn’t go down quite as easy as the others, maybe there’s something special about it. People bring it back, bring it in the walls, and before you know it, Zeke blood gets in just one body, and before you can blink one become two, two becomes four; you’ve seen movies. I remember that first week, we were all too busy telling ourselves it couldn’t happen; no way this is real. Week two, when the world’s population had shrunk by over a billion, that’s when it got real.
Me, my wife Emily, and our daughter Megan, we lucked out. My pilot’s license, and my father’s Cessna meant we were in the air on day ten. A little late, but, we at least got off the ground for a bit, and for four hours, we couldn’t be bit, and that was a nice feeling. ‘Course once we landed, we couldn’t refuel, but at least I got us to a nice open space where there was no Zeke. At least not yet there wasn’t. We wound up in what was left of Silver City, New Mexico. Close enough to the desert, that provided we stayed far enough out, we’d avoid contact with Zeke pretty easy. Unfortunately, people gotta eat, and when your daughter is immunocompromised, well, people need medicine too.
Megan Latrell was a living, breathing member of the human race, though one could hardly tell that by looking at her. Her skin was loose on her bones, her eyes bloodshot in their black sockets, and though she just turned fourteen, her hair was like short gray hay. Her complexion was pale as a ghost, and at five feet, three inches, she wasn’t the better part of ninety pounds. She may have been pretty, had she any features to go by. Her face was that of a skeleton, her lips covered by a sterile mask, and her body barely more than bones. Her days consisted entirely of consuming vitamins, water, whatever food she was allowed, and moving just enough to keep bedsores from forming. That she was alive at all was nothing short of a miracle, let alone in this impossible world.
Her mother and father were better off. Jack Latrell was a tall man, approaching six and a half feet. Had he decent access to shears and a mirror, his hair and beard would certainly be better kept, though neither were terribly ragged, thanks to his wife. Emily Latrell too was of average height, nearing five foot seven. Her body was modest, even for this time, and her hair kept similarly short as her husband’s; one less thing for a zombie to grab onto.
Together, the three of them lived in a small cave in the New Mexico desert. Far from the dead, yet close enough to go into town for supplies when they had to. None of them was ever more than arm’s reach from a weapon, and more often than not these past few years, they defended themselves from other humans more than Zombies. Thankfully, by some unheard of act of kindness and generosity, the government offered aid, even to those in hard-to-reach places, such as the mountains of New Mexico.
Jack was up early this morning, a shotgun slung over his shoulder. The living areas of their home were divided into three spaces: Megan’s room, Jack and Emily’s room, and the main room, which led to the entrance/exit. Jack paced back and forth at the mouth of the cave, the sand at his feet showing how often someone had done the same. His blue jeans were lightly covered in the finer sand of the desert, as was his short sleeve white shirt. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Jack stopped pacing and focused on a point in the distance. It was a vehicle; that he was certain of, whether or not it was a vehicle he knew was another issue altogether.
As it came closer, Jack’s tension was relieved. He smiled and stepped out of the cave and into the scorching sunlight. He waved his arms above his head and in just a few moments, the vehicle took the shape of a faded green Jeep he’d seen many times before. The driver was a man in military fatigues, wearing sunglasses and not a trace of facial hair. Jack stepped over to the side of the Jeep and offered his hand to the driver, which the driver accepted in a firm shake.
“Morning, Nigel,” Jack offered. “The usual?”
The driver handed Jack a small package, which Jack shook lightly, creating a sizzle of a sound. “Same as always, Jack,” he said. He removed his glasses and asked, “How’s Megan doing?”
Jack let out a sigh, “Not great. I was planning on taking a run into the city tonight, see if Cliff found us a couple more days worth of pills for her.”
“And after that?” Nigel asked.
Jack shook his head as he replied, “I don’t know. At least I can say that if she…” He paused for a moment. “…if she does go, it won’t be because I failed her as a father. It’s just this damn world.”
“Look, Jack; I’ll see what I can do.”
Jack grinned, “You know, four years ago, in a different world, I’da told you not to worry about it; I’ll figure it out.”
“And now?” Nigel chuckled as he started the Jeep again.
“I’ll take any help I can get,” Jack replied. “Take care, Nigel.”
“You too, Jack,” Nigel replied. “My best to Emily and Megan, and you be safe tonight. Things are quiet in the city these days, but you can never be too careful.”
“I will!” Jack called as the Jeep pulled away. With that, he looked down to the box and headed back inside the cave, and just two steps in, Emily greeted him.
His wife wore a red and blue flannel over a white t-shirt, and a small, loose pair of blue jeans. She stepped over to him and they met in an embrace, complete with a kiss. “Morning, you,” she said as they broke apart. “Nigel drop off our shipment?”
“Yep,” Jack replied. “Is Megan up yet?”
“Not yet,” Emily replied. “Are you sure you want to do this tonight?”
“We don't have much of a choice,” he said. “She’s on her last few doses, and without it, we know what happens.”
Emily leaned into her husband once again and he wrapped his arms around her. “I know,” she said. “I can’t believe how lucky we’ve been so far. Felt like that luck would never run out.”
“It ain’t out yet,” Jack replied with a smile.
Then, from the corner of the room, there was a third voice. A girl’s voice, though it was broken, dry, and quiet, barely even audible through her face mask. “I want to come tonight,” she said.
“Megan…” Jack said as he and Emily broke away from each other and quickly set off towards their daughter. She could barely hold herself up, let alone walk into town.
“Honey, you can’t,” Emily said.
“I know you want to help, but you know how dangerous it is,” Jack added.
Megan took a moment to answer as her parents helped support her weight, all the while guiding her back to her “room”. “It’s not right,” she finally said. “I should help, I’m a part of this family too!”
“Yes you are, but look at you, baby girl,” Jack said. “You can barely stand!”
There was no pause this time, Megan simply began crying, “I know I’m going to die, and because of that, I want to control how I die. ” Her words silenced both of her parents. “If I can die so that you can be safe, then that’s how I want it to be!” she pushed.
“Honey…” Emily began. “It’s not your job to die for us, sweetie; it’s ours to put our lives on the line for you.”
Megan erupted further in tears, and soon after, her mother joined in. She held her daughter close, and looked to her husband. Many emotions were exchanged in that telling glance, and finally, Jack spoke. “Fine.”
“What?” Emily said.
It was all too often that one of them fell into depression these past few years; today just happened to be Jack’s turn. Somehow, even though his subject was bleak, he never lost his sense of romance. “She’s not wrong, Em.”
“You know it just like I do; it’s a matter of time for all of us,” he interrupted. “One day Nigel is going to stop coming and when that happens, then what? We wait for the radiation to eat us up and we die horrible, painful deaths.”
“Jack-” she tried again, this time much firmer.
“Or maybe one day the goddamn Zeke just find us out here,” he interrupted again.
“That won’t happen!” Emily spat. “We’re careful, we’re prepared, we’re-”
“Lucky,” Jack finished for her, silencing her. “You said it yourself, Em; we’ve been lucky. Lucky we’ve been able to find Megan’s pills, lucky that Nigel still comes out here, and lucky that the Zeke haven’t found us. We’re lucky, but we’re not long for this world.” He chuckled, “This world isn’t long for this world.” He placed his hands on his wife’s tear-soaked cheek, and the other on his daughter’s frail face. “Megan wants to come for a walk, we’ll help her. We get stuck in some shit out there, we’ll protect her, and if one of us goes down, the rest of us just keep on goin’, ‘cause that’s what we’d all want for each other, right?”
“Right,” Megan said.
Nighttime came, and the walk into Silver City was well under way. The walk typically took an hour, but with Megan in tow, that hour was stretched to two. Every step was met with difficulty and time. Emily led the way; gun in hand, while Jack helped Megan along. “How you doin’, honey?” Jack asked.
“I’m okay,” she answered through her mask, even though it was the furthest thing from the truth. She was in fantastic pain, and her weak limbs were well past exhaustion. “It’s not much further, right?”
“Just another couple of minutes and we’ll be at Cliff’s place,” Jack replied.
“And Cliff can help me?”
“He’s always come through in the past,” Emily said from up front, turning to offer her daughter a smile.
“That’s good,” Megan replied.
“Just hang in there, okay, sweetie?” Jack said.
In the basement of what used to be the Silver City Clinic, Jack, Megan, and Emily came to a locked door. Fluorescent bulbs flickered all around them, and behind the doors of one of the rooms in this hallway, a generator roared keeping those lights lit, at least mostly. Jack passed Megan off to Emily and gave a knock at the door. “Cliff?” Jack called. “You in there?”
A few seconds passed and finally the door cracked open. Cliff was a small and wiry man, not all that dissimilar from Megan, though you could tell he wasn’t sick, just malnourished. His hair was greasy and matted and he seemed all kinds of nervous. “You okay, Cliff?” Jack asked.
“Yeah,” he answered. “Just not getting out much these days. Nigel see you this morning?”
“Yeah, he dropped off our doses for the month,” Emily replied.
“Good,” Cliff said, when he looked through the sliver of an opening to spot Megan. “Is that her?” he asked, wide-eyed.
Jack looked back to Megan, then to Cliff, “Megan, this here is Cliff Albertson. He’s the guy who’s been getting you your doses.”
“Nice to meet you,” Megan said with a weak smile.
“Oh Jack,” Cliff said.
Jack’s expression went from happy to concerned in a fraction of a second. “What, what’s wrong?”
“The Clinic in Albuquerque is empty, Jack,” Cliff said. “I asked around with the few doctors they have left, and…” He reached to a table within arm’s reach and retrieved a single syringe. “This is it,” he finished.
“A needle?” Jack asked.
“It’s not quite what she’s been getting. Many of the compounds are the same, but there are a few more designed for conditions more advanced than hers,” Cliff said.
“Will it work?” Emily piped up.
“It should; all of the doses are within similar tolerances, except for the additional compounds floating around in it.”
“But after this…” Jack asked, his question open ended.
Cliff shook his head, “I’m sorry, Jack. I’ve been in contact with a few other places, but the cocktail she was on, it’s hard to come by.”
Jack sighed and let his head fall in disappointment. He knew this was always a possibility, and they truly had been running on pure luck when it came to Megan’s medicine. He looked to Megan’s weak form, nearly dead where she sat, then looked back to Cliff and asked, “Do I give it to her, or do you want to?”
Cliff shut the door, undid the chain, and reopened the door. Without acknowledging Jack, he stepped out of the room and asked, “Can you make it in, Megan?”
She weakly nodded, and with Jack and Emily’s help, stepped through the door.
The walk out of Silver City was a somber one, and for obvious reasons. Jack was thinking a mile a minute trying to come up with a solution to the problem of finding medicine for Megan. He’d never give up, but struggling and coming up empty was still coming up empty. In front, Emily was crying once more, both Jack and Megan could tell that, but beside Jack, Megan was smiling.
“Look, Megan, I’m…” Her father kept it together quite well, all things considered, “I’m going to find a way to get you that medicine, I swear it.”
“My own terms, dad,” she said with that weak, but unfailing smile. “It’ll be on my own terms.”
Jack offered her a grin, and they continued to push on. What took two hours before, would undoubtedly take three now, judging by their current pace, and with rain now falling, it would be far messier, as well as much more dangerous. The rain fell on the cracked pavement, the sides of cement buildings, and on abandoned cars. It was a phenomenal amount of noise, the sort of thing that brought the dead out in droves. Finally, when it seemed they might make it out of the city in one piece, there they were: three shambling forms heading right for Jack, Megan and Emily.
“Jack!” Emily pushed a whisper.
“I see’em,” Jack quietly answered.
“What do we do?” Emily asked. As the words left her lips, Megan summoned all her strength and pushed away from Jack. “Megan!” Emily shouted.
“Megan!” Jack pushed, a little quieter than his wife.
Megan, however, she pushed both her legs, removed her mask, and let her voice go as hard and loud as she could. “Go!” she called to her parents as she stumbled towards the zombies. The rain saturated her clothes and hair, and as Jack tried to come after her, she screamed, “Come and get me!”
There was nothing for either parent to do. They couldn’t hit her or grab her; she was far too frail. All they could do was watch. Watch as she got closer and closer to the zombies. “Jack?” Emily called.
“Fuck it,” he answered. “Come on!”
They both charged past Megan, directly towards the Zombies. It was just three, and three on two wasn’t terrible odds, considering how disorienting the rain was for the dead. Jack took care of the first two quickly and quietly enough, using his shotgun as a makeshift club to smash their skulls. Emily was right behind him, taking out the third in similar fashion. However, just as they breathed a sigh of relief, a scream echoed behind them, and there it was; a zombie had gotten hold of Megan.
“Megan!” her parents roared in unison, but it was too late.
Just as quickly as it had sunk its teeth into her, the creature dropped its still breathing prey to the ground like a sack of meat, and headed towards Jack and Emily. This was a different variety of monster. They earned the nickname “Walkers” due to their substantial speed over the rest of the hoard, which lumbered about much slower. The walker was upon them quickly, and offered them no time or possibility to see if there was any chance for Megan, especially not when more Walkers emerged from the shadows. First two, then five, then ten, they just kept coming.
They were out of choices, and neither would simply lay down arms. “I love you, wife,” Jack said with a smile.
“Love you, Jack,” Emily said. “Last time for everything, just never thought it would be today.”
“We never do,” Jack said. He leaned to give his wife a kiss, and after the brief contact, he ordered, “Let’s do it.”
They opened fire and in less than a minute, the guns were empty, and while The Walkers were thinned out, there were still three Shamblers coming at them. Jack wrapped his arms around Emily, and she did the same for him. He looked out towards Megan’s limp body, just in time to see her begin to seize; it wouldn’t be long now. They squeezed each other ever so tightly, their eyes shut as they leaked tears, awaiting the inevitable.
Then, it happened. A scream like neither of them had ever heard. The scream of a girl, her voice layered with inhuman overtones and that’s when they saw her. Megan wasn’t just on her feet, but she was charging at an inhuman gallop. “Megan…” Emily broke before shutting her eyes.
However, the attack she expected never came. Instead, there were the groans of the dead. Groans as their frail and dying daughter, leapt onto the back of the nearest monster, and ripped a chunk out of its throat with nothing more than her teeth. The next two monsters fell to the ground in equally gruesome fashion, and finally, when the sounds of the chaos ceased, Emily’s eyes opened. Jack on the other hand had never looked away. He simply watched in awe as his daughter -his baby girl- propped on her hands and knees, leaned over the body of a monster, and gnawed away at its flesh.
“Megan?” Jack attempted as he stepped to his daughter. She said nothing, though, she simply continued chewing and grinding away at her meal; her meal of undead flesh, and wine of undead blood.
Closer and closer he got, stupidly close, dangerously close, until finally, Emily called with terror in her shaking words, “Jack?”
Still, Jack got closer and closer until finally, he placed a hand on Megan’s shoulder, at which point she finally spoke. “Hungry!” she said. “I’m so hungry!”
“Megan, stop it!” Jack said, his voice firm, yet still hesitant of what he was watching. He attempted to pull her away but it was almost as though she were nailed to the ground.
“So hungry!” she roared between chomps. “Soo… hungry…” she said, her bites slowing, and her words falling in volume and intensity. Finally, she fell forward onto the motionless body of their would-be attacker, completely unconscious.
Jack took a step back, and Emily approached, immediately awe struck at the sight. Megan’s face, her clothes, her hair, she was covered from head to toe in the monster’s blood, and the creature itself was ripped wide open. “What the hell…” was all Jack could muster, Emily was too shocked for words.
“Is she…?” Emily finally asked as Jack knelt down to check on her.
He placed a hand to his daughter’s throat, and turned to look back to Emily, the look of astonishment on his face, “Her heart is beating stronger than it ever has!”
“We need to go back to Cliff’s!” he shouted. “Quick, before anymore Zeke show up.” With that, he curled his lips and shut his mouth, then scooped his blood-soaked daughter into his arms. “Go!” he shouted. “Lead the way, I’m right behind you!”