Meet me behind the wood pile
After a week of journeying Mona and Jasper finally saw another living person. They were coming up on a lumber yard, stacks of wood piled up to the sky. It was remote, a small office and the mill building the only structures in sight. A young black woman was crouched behind a stack of lumber, a piece of scrap steel in her hand, hiding from a group of a dozen or so zombies. A dozen was a lot to deal with, and there were no clear choke points in the lumber yard, just stacks and stacks of wood with wide spaces between them. Jasper moved in to help the stranger out. He didn’t think Mona was going to be much use, she was exhausted, and as she didn’t have a weapon, he expected her to stay back. Instead, she grabbed his crowbar as he headed down and following close behind. Snow could be counted on to disable at least one of them.
One of the creatures spotted Jasper as he closed, a big man dressed like a lumberjack, it started in his direction. He couldn’t see the woman anymore, but some of the zombies were still focused on her. About half of them followed the lumberjack. Coming for him. He tried to make it to a lumber pile so he could have his back to something, but they reached him well before he got there. The first one grabbed for him. Jasper swung his sword up in an underhand blow that took one of the zombies arms just at the elbow. Jasper followed it up with a push kick to its stomach. The zombie was too big, too heavy. It barely moved. Jasper managed to push it back just a little bit, enough to get the sword in position for a head shot. The blade cut deep, and the creature dropped. That left five, and they were in between him and the lumber pile, but he realised that the commotion had dragged the rest in. Meant he had to deal with all eleven.
Mona closed on one of the trailing zombies and spiked the back of its skull with a single efficient motion. The creature dropped like a stone. She moved on to the next and smashed it across the temple. Another hit, another kill. She had four down before one of them noticed her. As soon it turned towards her she ran the other way, moving fast for once. A couple peeled off to chase her. She moved in the direction of the lumber pile the black woman was hiding behind, keeping just ahead of them.
Snow grabbed one of them by the leg and wrestled it to the ground, jaws clamped around dead flesh. It started trying to bite him, but he was good at avoiding teeth, and the zombies weren’t smart. He had it locked up in seconds, lying on its stomach with his teeth in the back of its neck. Snow never let the zombie’s teeth get near him.
Jasper wished he had some form of armour. Four zombies were enough that if he couldn’t pick the ground it was hard, almost too much for him. They moved slowly, they were weak, but numbers are hard to account for. He started swinging the sword. Generally, that would make an opponent back up. This wasn’t a typical situation though. The zombies didn’t care if they took damage. His sword sliced through the zombie’s stomach, the creature didn’t even flinch. The zombies kept closing on him, not giving him room to move, to breathe. He managed to punch his sword straight up through one of the creature’s jaws and into its brain, but that meant his sword was trapped, pulling down out of his hand. He dropped it because he couldn’t get it free fast enough and slammed a slim girl in the chest. Luckily alive she hadn’t weighed very much, and dead weighed even less. She flew back and fell on her back, trying to stumble to her feet. He push kicked another one and it went back and down. The last one that was on him was pushing hard, but he was able to get his knife free from his belt. He swung a haymaker with the knife to the temple and felt the blade bite deep. The creature fell and he moved on to the small girl. He could just see Mona at the edge of the woodpile, moving fast. A piece of sharp metal flew into view, hitting one of the pursuing zombies square in the face. The zombie dropped like a stone, its own momentum adding force to the hit, destroying its head. Mona stopped and spun, swinging the pry bar at the end of her arm. It hit the zombie in the shoulder, a minor miscalculation of position. The creature was thrown off balance and hit the ground hard. The other woman slammed the big piece of metal down on the creature, hitting both arms at once. If it had been human that would have ended things, both arms broken, bones sticking through its forearms.
Jasper had to keep focus, stop being distracted by the other skirmish. He had enough to deal with. Rounding on the small girl, he kicked her down as she tried to get up. He didn’t feel safe taking the knife to her, so he just kicked down on her head, again and again. Finally, her skull cracked, and he kept going. The last one started to close on him. It looked like it had been one of the lumber yard employees. A big man in a hard hat and an orange vest. Jasper moved in on it, meeting it half way. He swung a low roundhouse kick to the creatures leading leg. It fell, leg knocked off the ground, and Jasper dropped on it, knife straight out. His blade bit into its jaw, breaking through the roof of its mouth and up into its brain. Mona smashed her pry bar down on her zombies head. Finally, it stopped. She moved over to where Snow was holding the last one down. She used the straight end of the pry bar to catch the final zombie in the temple. It went limp, and Snow anxious go.
The black woman was younger than she had looked from a distance. She was dirty, clothes torn and stained from life on the road, scratched up and bleeding from dozens of tiny cuts, but no visible bites and her clothing hadn’t been the most practical to start with, so it didn’t leave a whole lot of her body hidden. Her shoes were the most reasonable part, but they looked too big for her, so he was pretty sure the original shoes had matched the outfit, a pair of short shorts and a crop top, both very tight. Her hair was cut short, kind of a pixie cut.
“I’m Jasper. Nice to meet you.”
“Naomi, charmed. Lovely day what?” she replied in a very obviously fake, very chipper British accent. When she spoke, she seemed even younger. Jasper thought she was probably still in her teens.
Mona piped in, “Mona. Hi.” in her usual rapid mumbled monotone.
“We should probably get moving. That much noise might have attracted some attention,” Jasper said.
“Just let me grab my shit”. Naomi walked between the lumber piles and grabbed a small backpack.
“Hey, you know where we are?” Jasper asked. He had a vague idea, but it was very vague.
“I was staying at a building by the airport last few days, had to book out of there. Headed west. We should be close to Elmsdale right now. Easier to tell once night hits.”
“Elmsdale is good. I buy archery gear from a place near there… Would be good to see if it’s accessible. They have guns too, ammo, all of it. The town’s pretty small too, might not have that many zombies”.
“Okay, more or less North from here”.
Naomi had a watch on, she held her arm up and lined up the sun, then started walking. “You coming? Fuck. Keep up.”
Jasper liked her right away.
As they got into deeper brush, they relaxed a bit, talking as they went. “What do you do for a living Naomi? I’m a programmer, or I guess I was.”
“Waitress, at a Caribbean place. Auntie ran it. I was going back to school in the fall.”
“Didn’t work. Stayed home. Mostly got stoned. Surprise, zombies.”
“None of us are badass commandos then. I’m trained in survival, at least a bit. Did a bunch of martial arts too, so I’m not completely useless. Either of you any good with a bow? If we rely on my aim we spend most of our time trying to find the arrows I fire deep into the woods, far, far away from anything I’m trying to hit.”
“No, never shot no bow. ; the like a white girl? Where I gonna shoot arrows at?”
“Yes. Compound. That one’s too big for me. I’m a good shot. Those arrows are no good.”
Mona and Naomi kept giving each other sideways looks, staying a bit away from each other. The tension between them was thick, almost palpable. Jasper had revamped his initial appraisal of Mona. He had assumed that she started hiding when the zombies hit and that her survival was down to blind luck. Apparently, she could fight. Maybe he would have to find out more about her skills, not assume so much.
After talking for a while, he started to get a picture of each of them. Mona was still reticent to talk about herself, and it was hard to understand her when she did speak. The quiet mumble that was her standard mode of speech was difficult to make out. From what he could guess she had been in a trailer with a few other people. One of them had started to come down, but Mona was still flying and far from sleep. The sleeping girl had turned and then got up to start munching on Mona’s boyfriend. Mona smashed her into a pulp with an ashtray. By then her boyfriend had turned, and another one of the tweakers had turned as well, she didn’t see him get bitten or anything. He was eating the last girl who was with them, so Mona grabbed all the meth that was left and lit the curtains on fire. Then she took off and slammed the door behind her. Way, way tougher than Jasper had thought.
Naomi was heading for either Cape Breton or PEI. She was only 17. Jasper was impressed by Naomi. Her apparent intelligence and quick thinking at odds with her youth.
The light was starting to fade, pink tinges showing on the horizon, twilight stealing in, like a thief, taking their time from them. They needed to find secure shelter; the area was too exposed. Mona pointed out a small cluster of houses, barely visible through the trees. A group of McMansions, part of the recent urban sprawl. “Good call, probably not too many people,” Jasper said.
“Crazy houses. Never been anywhere that big.”
“I spent the first day after the zombies in a place like that, empty. It was alright, but not great. Ugly as hell though, for some reason they had parts of it painted bright pink. They aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Give me a house with some personality any day.”
“Better than a trailer.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
They staked out the closest house, an enormous boxy place with no architectural features, covered in brick facade. The kind of place Jasper’s neighbourhood was full of, on a larger scale. A quick look through all the ground floor windows didn’t reveal any movement inside, living or dead, and there was no vehicle in the driveway. The place wasn’t new construction though, just empty. There was a swimming pool, currently full of leaves and random bits of detritus. A small stream ran behind the property. The front door was unlocked.
They decided to chance it. The house still seemed to be empty. There was a dog dish with food still in it just inside the door; Snow went right to it. The water bowl next to it was half full, but the water was covered in a layer of scum. The sound of buzzing flies filled the house, and the smell permeated their senses, drowning out everything else. Not the smell of the dead, but the smell of rotting food, left long in the heat. They drew their weapons and entered the kitchen. The table had four places set. All the places had food, half eaten, covered in mould. The plates were writhing, layers of maggots wriggling and crawling under thick green fuzz.
“Let’s check the place,” Jasper said, “stick together, none of that horror movie shit. It’ll take way longer if one of us gets killed.”
One of the upstairs rooms had the door closed, and there was a steady thumping on the door. Jasper drew his sword while Naomi handled the door. It pushed inward, creaking slowly on dusty hinges. She opened it and then jumped back. A small figure shambled out towards them, A little girl, around four or five years old. They couldn’t see any wounds on her. Other than the grey skin and blank eyes she could have been just getting ready for pre-school. Too bright clothes, although stained now. There was some crusted blood around her mouth, but no apparent wound to account for it, it wasn’t hers.
Jasper took her head off with one swing. The angle was wrong thanks to her height, so half her shoulder came off with it. Her small bones barely slowed the blade, leaving her arm attached by a small strip of muscle and flesh after the blade was through. They went into the room, clearly a child’s room and stripped the bright pink sheets off the bed. They covered the little girl with her sheets and put her back in her bed.
The rest of the house was clear, light, warm and stinky, but clear. In the basement, they found a generator with a full gas tank, power for the night. They needed to cover the windows, use as little light as possible, the water would work though, they could take a shower, wash their clothes - unparalleled luxury. The house had some things they could use as well, A pop up five person tent, four sleeping bags, although only two of them were adult size, which was okay because Mona already had one, and two large camping packs. Various other camping gear was in the basement as well, high-end yuppie stuff. It wasn’t what Jasper would have purchased for himself, but that was mostly because he couldn’t afford it. It was all portable, the kind of gear you would take if you had to trek into the camp site, perfect for what they needed.
“Well, glad we picked this place,” Jasper said, “It’s funny, the next house down the road might have had none of this stuff, choosing this place might mean the difference between life and death. So, which rooms do you guys want?”
“Let’s stick together. The big bedroom. The bed looks amazing. So comfy.” Naomi said.
None of them was willing to sleep away from the group, just in case, but Naomi wasn’t used to snuggling close overnight, something Mona and Jasper had started doing out of necessity. The king size bed meant they could have some space and all be comfortable. The next morning they packed up the camping gear as best they could. There was even a small bit of trail food. Freeze dried meals and vacuum packed trail mix. Enough to last them several days with proper rationing. So far hunger had been a minor problem, and water had been easy. Shelter was their biggest issue, one that was now solved.
Once again Naomi was invaluable. Navigating through the woods like she was using a GPS. The going was slow, but by late that afternoon they came in sight of Elmsdale. It was a small town, not many people even when there wasn’t a zombie apocalypse going on. Most of the population seemed to be out on the street, shambling around and looking for neighbours to eat.
“We need to create a distraction,” Jasper said, “draw them out of town, get their numbers down enough that we can grab what we need. Even so, we will have to be quick about it.”
Naomi said, “You got a plan?”
“Yeah, I read a book one time where the characters set off a car alarm, pulled all the zombies to the car, gave them time to get what they needed. Figured we’d do something like that. The highway goes right past town, should be some cars on it. There are a lot of commuters there normally, at least a few of them should be in range.”
“Risky. Whoever sets off the alarm gonna have a shitload of zombies chasing them. Also, I just had a real conversation where I said that. This is too fucking weird.”
“Yeah, I think I should do it, I used to run every day, should be able to get away from the car before any zombies get too close.”
It took about two minutes for the plan to start to go wrong. Jasper found a car that was a decent fit, but the alarm wouldn’t trigger. Some checking and he realized it was a dead battery, the keys were in the ignition and the lights were on. He found another one, but the path wasn’t clear to the woods. He hit it anyway and booked as fast as he could as soon as the alarm started. He ran to the rendezvous point and joined the women. A few zombies seemed to be curious, but after a couple of minutes of the alarm going off they started to drift away, the noise didn’t seem to entice them at all.
Time for a new plan. They found sheltered spot to talk and started trying to come up with one. Jasper had one more idea, but it wasn’t one he liked. “So, I have a thought. Kind of wish I didn’t.”
Naomi turned to him. “What is it?”
“I start running, get them following me. Head out to the highway. There’s a spot I can jump off, get to safety that they can’t follow me. It’s high but manageable, and there’s guard rails, high enough to keep the zombies from following. It’s a bit of a risk, but not too bad.”
“Well, that’s a shit sandwich.”
“Yeah, but it needs to be done. We need weapons, the store has weapons.”
Mona, as usual, sat back and watched them discuss options. It was rare that she put her two cents in, seemingly content to go with the flow.
It was getting late, Jasper wanted as much daylight for his plan as possible, so they made camp for the night and went over last minute details. Getting to the store wasn’t going to be a problem, there weren’t a whole lot of roads in Enfield.
Morning came early. Jasper popped out of bed as soon as the light hit his eyes. He hadn’t slept much. “Well, nothing for it. Guess I’m playing bait now. Have fun ladies, do wait up...”
“We have this. Don’t die.” Mona said.
Jasper made his way into town. He left most of his gear with the women, even his sword. The process of jumping off the highway was going to take all of his skill, and any extra weight meant disaster. He felt vulnerable, almost naked. “Come on mother fuckers, dinners on!” He started yelling while running through the street. The zombies reached for him, their numbers increasing by the moment.
After a few blocks, he had a large following. There were hundreds and hundreds of them, reaching out for him, trying to grab him. A bunch had started to come together ahead of him, apparently blocking his way. He kicked off one of the walls, and then kicked off another one, gaining about ten feet of air, enough to sail over the heads of the zombies. He landed in a shoulder roll, coming out of it at a full run. The zombies turned and started following him. He had about half the population of Enfield chasing him. He was also out of town. Ahead of him, there were a few lone zombies, but the road was wide and he wasn’t really worried about them. He slowed to a casual run and started down the road.
There were cars, a fair number of them. The road would be impassable to anything larger than a motorbike, but it was all right for a pedestrian. At one point, however, there was a car that had spun across the road, the hood touching the side wall, the rear in the main line of cars. Jasper was worried about that one because he was still too close to town to lose the zombies, so he passed through the middle of the cars. A hand grabbed his ankle from under one of the cars, taking him off his feet. He reacted fast, going into a shoulder roll and right back to his feet, but slammed off the side of a minivan. Dazed for a moment, he let the lead zombie almost reach him, got it back together and started running again, faster this time, zig-zagging back through the cars until he was back on the clear area on the left shoulder of the road.
Jasper was starting to get winded. He was almost at the spot he had picked out, so he kept going. His lungs burned, and he had a stitch in his right side, not much of one but it was unpleasant. He kept pushing, kept running. Finally, he made it to his spot. It was higher than he thought, and the landing was anything but level. Didn’t matter, he was committed. It was either make the jump or get torn to shreds when he got too tired to stay ahead of the horde. He turned and launched himself up and over the wall. The ground below sloped up the further it was from the road, he tried to get as much horizontal distance as he could.
He got his legs under him and landed in an awkward uphill roll. He felt a hard smack against his head and a sharp pain in his left arm, then he was back on his feet. He started running back towards town, but his head began to swim, filling with dizziness and nausea, so he slowed to a walk.