I inhaled in a deep breath of clean cold air; the scent of pine filled my nostrils. The woods below me were old and undisturbed, one of the few truly untouched forests in America. It looked like a blanket of green, red, and yellow, all spread out far past the horizon.
“The human race is a plague, don’t ya’ agree?” Karen asked.
I looked over my shoulder and raised my eyebrows questioningly at her, “Well, considering most humans now are infected with a plague, that’s kind of a trick question,” I replied, moving back from the cliff and leaning against the hood of our truck.
“I meant before that,” Karen said shaking her head, the motion making her short brown hair dance around. When she turned toward me, her face showed that she was clearly upset. “We’ve always been a plague: everywhere we go. We destroy everything that’s beautiful and pure. We never deserved this planet.”
I grimaced at her, surprised by her sudden change in mood. “Yeah, most people. But there are some people who can create without destroying.” I smiled at her, “Remember that garden we built? Now that was beauty.”
She ignored my comment and continued on, “I’m glad the human race is almost done for; I hope this plague kills us all.”
Her words sent a shot of hurt through me. “So even me and you? You want us to die after everything we’ve been through to stay alive?” I asked, my voice turning low and harsh.
My tone made her flinch. “I didn’t mean it like that Violet-“
I cut her off, “What did you mean then? I can’t speak for everyone, but this plague has killed good people too. Innocent people who didn’t deserve to starve to death or worse, be consumed by the virus you now suddenly glorify for cleaning up the gutters of human filth.”
Karen stared at me, her green eyes squinted with thought. I could tell she regretted what she had said; but I was still upset by her words.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, “I got a little crazy there.”
Shaking my head, I gave her a small smile. “I get it, you’re just overwhelmed. We’ll both feel better once we get some food in us.”
Karen outstretched her arms towards me. I didn’t want to hug her, but I knew it would help her feel better. Wrapping my arms around her waist, I gave her a tight squeeze and after a few seconds pulled away.
“So, what do we have to eat?” I asked.
Karen frowned, a much too common expression her face made when it came to talking about food.
“Not much, but I’ll check again.”
She strode around to the back of the truck, and I heard the familiar clatter of items being pushed around as she searched the boxes of gear we had. Sighing, I focused on relaxing. We were safe here, at least for now. We were parked on the side of the road and have the cliff to our backs, so we would have a good line of sight if anything approached us. As Karen shuffled through the boxes I walked to the side of the truck and set about tying my long black hair into a bun. The ritual I’d done almost daily for as long as I could recall relaxed me. Finished, I crouched and inspected my hair in the side mirror: my bangs ended right above my thin brows, and in front of each ear a long strand of silver hair framed my cheeks. Two violet colored eyes stared back at me from the mirror: my eye color always surprised me; it’d surprised my parents so much they had decided to name me after it.
“What a beautiful mutation you are, Vie, but watch out you don’t get lost in those eyes of yours,” Karen said, referring to me by my nickname.
I felt embarrassed to be caught staring at myself. Standing, I gazed curiously at the box in Karen’s arms.
“So what do we have left?”
She glanced down at the contents of the box and tilted the side of it down so I could see.
“Even less than I thought we had,” she said, her voice flat and void of any emotion, and I could see why - all that remained were a few cans of tuna fish, a jar of old peanut butter, and an un-opened bottle of Knob Creek’s whiskey.
She lifted the bottle gingerly, “We could always get super drunk and watch the sun set.”
I stroked my chin while I considered her offer. “What year is it?”
She glanced at the date on the bottle, “Two thousand and six.”
“Mm a nice ten years.” The temptation to just lay back and lose all ambition as the world continued to fall away was compelling, but I had a feeling my empty stomach wasn’t in the mood for alcoholic nourishment. “You can have some if you want but I’d rather keep my guard up; besides that tuna is looking mighty tasty. Not to mention I haven’t drunken straight whiskey since I was like twenty.”
Karen laughed softly as she put the whiskey back in the box. “Vie, you were twenty just last year! And I remember you tricking that bartender, all for what? The two sips you managed to get down before your tongue couldn’t take anymore?”
“I didn’t see you stopping me,” I retorted, enjoying the reminder of better times.
She laughed more, “I wanted to see the look on your face when you tasted it.”
I stuck my tongue at her, “Well now you can see the look on my face when I have plain, no mayo tuna.”
Lifting a can out of the box, I popped open the tab, the fishy aroma filled the air instantly. My stomach growled in anticipation of the long awaited meal. Staring at the chunks of tuna and undoubtedly fishy flavored water it was surrounded by, I opened my mouth and brought the cold can to my lips. Slurping down the water, I felt the strong fish taste grab hold of my tongue. Hastily, I chewed the remaining tuna; my mind conjuring up the memory of a beautiful, freshly made tuna sandwich on whole wheat bread, and with a nice thick pickle on the side. Finally, once I was done eating, I noticed the amused smile on Karen’s face. Giving her a mischievous grin, I blew a breath of fishy air her way.
“Gross, Vie, just gross!” she said laughing while she placed the box on the ground and leaned against the truck with me.
“Why do you drink the water in the can?” she asked. “You know we have a full canteen.”
I licked the remaining specs of tuna off the inside of the can before saying, “Water is water; I’m not going to waste perfectly healthy aqua just because it doesn’t taste good.” I wiped my mouth on my sleeve and tossed the empty can back into the box of our remaining food. Karen would get all crazy if I just left the can on the side of the road.
“I guess. Watching you drink it made me lose my appetite though.”
I looked at the box of food, “You just don’t want to eat non dolphin safe tuna. You’re a hippie even to the bitter end,” I said, softly. Standing, I lifted the box, “C’mon, I’m sure there’s a gas station store somewhere on this road. Maybe I can find you some ecofriendly food there.”
She smiled at me appreciably, and I placed the box back in the trunk as she got in the driver’s seat. If we didn’t find any earth conscious food I would make her eat the tuna; pride was no reason to starve. I’d long ago lost all ambition when it came to food - if it wasn’t rotten I’d eat it.
Climbing into the passenger seat, I buckled myself in. “Alright, let’s see if we can find somewhere close to spend the night also.”
Karen nodded and started the car. I laid back in my seat as she drove down the winding empty road. Closing my eyes, I tried to get a few minutes rest but Karen’s words quickly woke me up.
“Do you ever think we’ll find a place we can actually stay?” she asked.
I kept my eyes closed, “Maybe. Right now we need to just gather up as many supplies as we can and bide our time until spring gets here.”
“What if we run out of gas?”
I could hear the worry in her tone. It felt like recently Karen was depending more and more on me for emotional support and guidance on what we should do. Instead of getting used to the way things had to work now, she seemed to be withdrawing herself into a shell of worry and what ifs.
“If we run out of gas then I’ll convert the engine to wood power.”
“You don’t know how to do that,” she said, doubtfully.
“I saw it done on a TV show. People in resource low countries do it to power their cars and homes.”
“You’ll just end up blowing up the car or us,” she sighed, “but I guess if it’s the latter we won’t have to worry about getting around.”
I opened my eyes and looked at her worriedly; this made the second time today she mentioned us dying. Her expression was blank as she drove though, no hint of depression. If she wanted us to die she could easily just drive us off the cliff: the thought of that made my stomach churn.
Pursing my lips, I asked, “Karen are you feeling-“
“Hey look, there’s a gas station!” Karen said, cutting me off.
She pulled the truck into an empty parking spot in the small lot. My mind switched to focusing on our surroundings, making me look around us suspiciously, checking for signs of humans, but there was no one in sight.
“Looks clean but the station could have a few stuck inside. Wait here while I check things out, ok?” As I spoke I kept my eyes open and alert for any sign of motion.
She smiled at me as I grabbed my machete off the floor of the vehicle and opened my door.
“Wait, take your jacket and pack too,” she pointed down at my stuff. “Ya’know, just in case you have to get out of there fast, I don’t want you getting bitten.”
“Um, alright.” Following as she said, I pulled on my leather biker jacket and zippered it up all the way to my neck, next pulling on my mostly empty backpack. It was my bug out bag. Now, since we were short on supplies, all it held were the few keep sakes I had managed to grab when fleeing my home.
“You look like a total badass with that jacket on! You’re all decked out in leather,” Karen said as she observed my leather pants and adjoining jacket.
All I was missing was a lit cigarette and I’d look like one of those sexy spies from the Bond movies.
“Go kick some zombie ass, Vie.” We high fived and I closed my door.
Holding my machete tight in my right hand, I scanned over the gas station: the power was out and a few empty cars littered the small parking lot next to the store. I sniffed the air, checking for any smell of nearby rotting corpses, but I couldn’t smell anything beyond the odor of gasoline. Karen waved at me through the windshield as I made my way slowly to the store. A small bell rang over my head as I pushed the glass door open, making me freeze in my step and wait. The interior of the store stayed noiseless and I stepped inside after a few more seconds of listening. The windows in the front of the store provided just enough light for me to see the aisles clearly: most were bare but a few were stocked with your average junk food and easy prep meals. I sniffed the air again but the only scent I was able to detect was rotting food from the back coolers. Sliding my backpack off my shoulder, I began pushing random food items into the open pack with my machete, not caring what items I got. I was pleased as I scooped the last item into my bag - it was filled to the brim. Zipping it shut, I slung it back over my shoulder and adjusted to the new weight. My heart skipped a beat as I turned and saw a long box peeking out from behind the front register. I recognized the label immediately.
“Sweet preservative packed meat, my mouth has missed your delicious flavor,” I said, my mouth already salivating.
My stomach growled at the sight of the jerky sticks. Led by hunger I reached out for the box with my machete free hand. Just as I grasped the edge of it, a large pale hand took hold of my wrist. Surprised, I tried to step back, but my boot lost its footing on a wrapper and I slipped onto my back. The muscles in my arm screamed as the infected human holding onto my wrist was pulled up from behind the checkout stand and across the counter by my fall.
“Fuck,” I gasped as I felt my shoulder bone dislocate. Pain shot through me like someone had shoved a knife into my arm, “Fuck fuck fuck!”
I was torn away from my line of curses by the tormented face staring at me from the counter. His eyes were sunken and blood shot, his thin lips revealing the stained teeth he undoubtedly wanted to sink into me. I glared angrily up at the infected who was still holding the bare skin of my wrist. Without hesitation I closed my eyes and brought my blade down through his arm, immediately feeling the hot splash of blood speckle my face. The muscles in my arm calmed as his hand fell from my wrist, but the ache of my shoulder still swelled through me. Opening my eyes, I saw him pull himself off the counter with his still remaining arm. His stocky body made a loud thud as he hit the ground in front of me. I noticed his legs were missing, perhaps chewed off by whoever had infected him; making him into the zombie that now wanted so dearly to infect me. I pressed the toe of my boot against his bald head as his arm struggled to grasp my leg. He was slow and his stare was lazy, his teeth grinded eerily against the store floor.
“You caught me by surprise that’s for sure,” I glared at him and gritted my teeth as I spoke. “That isn’t something I soon forgive.”
Raising my blade once more, I slammed it down hard through his skull: the bone gave an audible crunch as it split open. His teeth stopped grinding the floor as a puddle of blood started to form around his head.
I scooted away from the blood and slowly got to my feet, still glaring at the zombies body. The wound where I’d severed his arm was pink and raw, but no more blood was seeping out of it. The strength of the virus his body held in him amazed me. Even with all the times I had seen it happen before, watching their ability to stop bleeding reminded me of just how hard they were to kill. I was lucky that I had managed to get to his head and kill him, but I knew all too well that wasn’t always easy.
“Heal from this.” I gave his still split skull a hard kick.
©Copyright 2014-2017 Property of Julia R. Y.
To read onto the next chapter click below!