The Killing Days
A young woman in her late twenties reached for the top shelf. She stood on the tips of her combat boots in front of the many abandoned aisles at her local supermarket. The sheath of the machete strapped to her right hip knocked off packets of chips. The snacks joined other decaying perishables scattered across the dirty, blood-stained laminate floor. She cursed under her breath but managed to place her small solar-charged radio on the edge of the top shelf.
“Day 464. Okay, Rina, have we become suicidal? Maybe…” She swept her short muddied blonde hair back with a sigh then hit play: ‘I’m still standing’ by Taron Egerton played from a USB port plugged into her radio. The sound of the saxophone and piano traveled through the otherwise silent supermarket. “Let’s start the morning off with a blast, shall we?” She muttered to herself then picked up her fully loaded shotgun, which previously rested on top of her khaki hiking backpack. She sang along to the lyrics with strong conviction, like a mantra to champion herself through another day of killing. Katharina carried her Remington 870 with both hands. She frolicked to the song while she scavenged aisle after aisle for her weekly food supplies.
In front of the canned olives, she found herself cursing again. “Seriously? Did I already manage to eat the entire section of my favorite brand in less than three months? Can’t be…” She uttered, knowing fully well all other supermarkets in her vicinity were already running empty because she had looted, hoarded, and snacked away all of the Spanish black Hojiblanca olives she could find. Now there were only green ones left from the same brand. Katharina refused to lean into her disappointment. A highlight falling flat like this could ruin her entire day. There wasn’t much joy left in this world that had become the Republic of the Dead, as she called it. So, she labeled a misfortune like this as a straight murder of hope.
Katherina placed her shotgun on the floor and meticulously sorted through the canned section to scour for a possible misplaced glass of black olives. Nearing the last repeat of the chorus from the song, she was on all fours peeking beneath the shelf. “Yes!” She rejoiced. As she stretched her arm to grasp the glass by the tips of her fingers, the music distorted.
Her radio hung up and remained stuck on the same line of lyrics: “looking like a true Survivor, Suuurrrr-Surrrrr- Suurr-vive-iveeeee---oorrr,” Then the battery died for good after its ironic repeat: I’m still, still, staaaanding…”
“Great…” Katharina rolled her eyes skyward. She retrieved her arm with the glass in her grip when her spine chill activated at the penetrating smell of rotten flesh. Katherina focused her senses. The low approaching sound of deep growling moans she would otherwise not have noticed, had the song not stopped like a broken record, increased. Over the past year, she had familiarized herself intensely with the different noises the Dead made. Her survival depended on that knowledge. She quietly rose to her feet with pricked ears and counted one Walker, maybe another Runner creeping up from the shopping aisle to her left. “Shhhhiiiit.” She hissed once she realized she had left her backpack near the entrance of the supermarket. Katharina couldn’t carry the glass and properly support her shotgun for good aim all at once. Nor were the pockets of her filthy hip-long sandy brown jacket deep enough to stow a large glass. While she foolishly weighed her decision of either leaving her precious bounty behind or picking up her shotgun for immediate pump-action, the Runner scouting for fresh brains stepped into her lane.
The decaying, meager body frame of the Runner was covered with shreds from once upon a time female attire. It craned its neck after it took a whiff of air. The Dead’s glassed over eyes locked ferociously on Katharina’s lively green ones with a screeching snarl. “Fuck.” She cursed. Her explosive heartbeat slammed against her chest. The next quick breaths determined the fate of the attack as the Runner leaped for the hunt. It sprinted straight toward her with a release of anxious, hungry gnarls. Katherina let go of the glass in hand and dove for her firearm. She hit the floor just as the glass shattered into a million pieces behind her. Black olives rolled past her while she straightened her aim with a swift finger on the trigger. The Runner launched at her from above. She fired a slug while it was mid-air. The Runner got knocked back a few feet from the blow. Blood sprayed in all directions, but mostly coated Katharina’s face with dark red. Disgusted, she stared at the giant hole she left in the Runner’s chest while it arched its crooked back to stand on its flesh-torn feet again. It let out a pissed off roar. Katharina quickly reloaded whilst lying on the floor. She blasted its head off before it could lunge at her again. The hefty recoil made the back of the stock holt violently strike her chin as she slid across the floor. Alas, the undead corpse finally rested in peace for the second and final time around.
“Ow…” Katharina moaned in pain. She gaped widely; her jaw was tender to the touch. She took a moment to remain still on the floor with her shotgun hugged tightly to her well-endowed chest. “Lord, this piece of shit cost me two God damn slugs!” She ranted in between long breaths. “I thought you promised me a good day! You didn’t have to take ‘having a blast’ literally, o’ heavenly Father.” She mocked his grace ever so salty. Even though she held her monologues out loud to no one in particular, Katharina felt like she was connected to something beyond her lonely existence, caught in the devastating doom that was her reality. “Get up, Rina.” She told herself and followed what her instincts demanded. Her judgment call was confirmed just in the nick of time. The Walker she had uncovered through sound before, made an appearance. It crept around the same corner the Runner came from and arduously took its step into her direction.
Over the past year, she observed that once enough time had passed, Runners would turn into Walkers by default. By the looks of it, this one especially was nearing its expiration date. If it wasn’t the stench that gave it away, then it was the maggots crawling out its empty eye sockets. It sensed her through eco-locating until it felt a beating heart. Somehow the smell of sweat seemed to attract the Dead closer to the living too. Katherina threw her shotgun on top of the undead corpse she had downed before and grabbed the hilt of her machete. She wouldn’t lose another valuable slug and much rather gave use to her broad blade with limitless swings. Katharina wielded the machete with her left hand. She bounced on the balls of her feet and took a breath to adjust her grip while she waited for the Walker to lurch closer. She ended its miserable existence with one powerful blow to its head. The machete cracked its skull wide open. She retracted her blade with a forceful kick to the Walker’s gut. The pulp of brain it had left, oozed out as the corpse hit the floor, unmoving. Katherina returned the machete to its sheath and collected her shotgun in a sudden hurry. If the music didn’t do it before, she knew it was only a matter of time the gunfire would draw more unwanted guests to the scene.
Bathing in a pool of her pity, Katharina cursed the entire short trek back to her secured apartment building. She cursed the loss of her bounty, her two missing bullets, and the fact she would have to avoid one of the last well-stocked supermarkets on the East Side for a while after her stunt. The waiting around for her next supply run to avoid greater risks while her food stock was at an all-time low already, felt like dying in her mind. Not to mention that she must plan her attack to raid the local police station a few streets down, soon. The thought of remaining scarce on ammo terrified her more than the sun settling to allow darkness’s reign during nightfall. Too bad the place was infested by the undead corpses of previously panicked humans who had shared the same fear. Their failed mission to retrieve state-issued guns with zombies on the loose inside the station resulted in their deaths.
Once the first infected were publicly executed by the German military, panic spread among the populous, world-wide. Earth had already gone through an international lockdown after the first recorded case of the Corona Virus in Wuhan, China. So, when the second wave of a more lethal virus hit humanity a year later, the severity turned into an immediate DEFCON 1 situation. There was no way to defend humanity against a virus that could mutate this quickly. Not even the global crisis intervention consisting of the best medical specialists known to the planet, were knowledgeable enough to stop this disease from spreading. Nor could they heal any of the infected, which led to violent outbreaks on all political sides. A mass exodus in the major cities happened, against all regards for safety urged by the media.
It turned out that she was the only one in her apartment building who was willing to remain incarcerated within the confines of the walls at the start of the second and last pandemic. She survived the apocalypse while her block was one of the first to fall during its failed quarantine. Within a few weeks, the entire city she lived in belonged to the nation of the dead. It gave a new twist to the unusual midsummer madness that took place in Berlin that year. 464 days later and Katherina couldn’t recall the last time she had a real conversation with the living. Katharina Becker had become a lonesome stranger in the one place she had called home.