by Walter J Attridge
Morning came on, clear and cool as Arnora set out, hopeful that the worst had passed her by the night before last. Passing the burned out remains of a village, she had encountered a large horde of walkers, mindless and shambling living corpses that fed on human flesh. In the confusion of the smoke she managed to slip by them without attracting attention. Her red hair still smelled like smoke, and the stench of burned meat hung in her nostrils.
She shouldered her cloak over her padded full body leather armor, that protected against poisoned bites and scratches. She pulled on her pack and took up her weapon, a seven foot spear with heavy broad steel head, and started out towards the Pena Duro camp. That was around the time that she heard a sobbing, whimpering call for help. Following the sound, she tracked it to a person who had fallen into a ditch and been caught in a heavy steel snare meant to trap large predators. Staring down from a hill, the snared man was most likely a villager. He had no gear to suggest he was a hunter and no visible supplies. The snare had caught his leg at the mid calf and from what Arnora could see it had already gone rotten, there was no visible fresh bleeding. He wasn't aware of her, and was staring off in the opposite direction calling out in weak exhausted whimpers.
There was a hard choice before Arnora.
Good sense told her to move on. The man had no visible gear or weapons that would be useful and he was too far gone as well. The leg would have to be removed at the hip to prevent the gangrene from spreading, and at that point there was no way to stop his bleeding or prevent new infection. He was dead no matter what. Whether by starvation sickness or random walker coming by and finishing him off. Most likely though, he would die of dehydration and exposure and then his death would take days...
Arnora made her way down to the snared man to try and end his suffering cleanly.
At first he didn't react as she came closer behind him. She let her steps rustle some loose stones and he tensed, probably half delirious and exhausted. He was laying on his belly and the snare was heavy and rooted to the ground to make movement difficult.
"W-w-who's there" he stammered. He shifted the snared leg and it made a sloshing tearing sound. He went still as there was probably still some feeling in it, enough to tell him he shouldn't be moving
"Just a traveler "Arnora began calmly not wanting to scare him anymore than he was. She had considered just hitting him in the back of the head and making it a clean end, but maybe he knew something useful and it seemed too cold to simply put him down.
"Oh thank god. Please, I was running from the fire and I got caught. I heard a few of the dead ones before so I tried to stay quiet but, but I'm so scared. Please it hurts so bad!"
" there's nothing I can do for you" Arnora said as she began to circle around to his front wanting to look in his eyes before she did it. "I m heading to pena duro at the southern end of this forest. Do you know it"
"Please it hurts so bad, and I'm so hungry. Help me."
"Is it still there? Did your village trade with them? Please, I need to know."
"The pain, I'm so scared, please help me.”
" I will" Arnora said her voice full of regret "I will help you. But please tell ..." The words caught in her throat as he looked up into her eyes.
The flesh around the face and neck was sagging and gray, mottled with yellow and red His eyes were sunken and starting to dry out, becoming crinkled, yellowed and milky. He'd been dead at least a few days. Exposed to the elements as he had been, decomposition had begun to advance quickly. For a moment he stared up trying to focus.
“P,P Please” he stammered licking drawn, thin cracked lips “Help me, I, I think I can still walk if you help me get to my feet” he suddenly crawled forward with a jerking start and again there was a wet tearing sound; only it continued as he began to pull himself forward ignoring the pain and tension. Arnora lowered the spear point towards him, and he stopped his eyes going wide with shock. “Why? I can help you, I know the camp, it's still there, we traded with it before the fire.” His voice became reedy and panicked “It hurts!! IT HURTS!!!” the sound echoed off the trees and into the forest it would be a miracle if none of the horde heard it.
“Shut up!” Arnora hissed trying not to yell. And make more noise. He began to quiet down, then looking back at his leg and pulling again. He hadn't realized what had happened. That he had died and by some remarkably bad stroke of luck had come back as a thinker zombie. This was a mercifully rare occurrence since thinkers were virtually unstoppable. They felt pain and could be slowed by injury; but only by reducing the corpse down to ash would stop it . Even worse was that thinkers retained their memories and ability to think, making them capable of strategy planning and trickery. This advantage faded though, the longer they went without feeding. Feeding upon human brains, which they craved with maniacal fury, made the relentless pain they felt from decomposition lessen and allowed them to regain their personality. Its confusion was her only advantage, and that would make it less aggressive.
Time was running out though. It could sense its precious food close enough to touch. The only option was to run, a fight against a thinker was a losing proposition unless you were well prepared. Which Arnora was not.
She turned to start back up the hill. That was when the problem started...
“Wait” It called “Please!” there was no reason to answer it. She kept moving up the hill
“Don't leave me!” Arnora could hear the panic. All too human panic.
“Help me!” Desperation now. She continued up, trying to climb as fast as safety allowed.
“I need you!” His voice was louder. She turned back, realizing that she had to shut the damned thing up before it called down the whole horde on her
“ I-NEED-YOUR- BRAINSSS!!!!!” The scream was ear splitting. Arnora turned and started back down. It would never stop screaming now. In one fluid motion, the former villager hauled its torso up with both hands planted its free leg and tried to propel itself forward, foam pouring from its mouth. With a thud it fell face first in the dirt when the trapped leg didn't tear away.
Arnora made it to the bottom of the hill and taking her spear went into a wide arcing swing. The thinker was tearing at its leg trying to rip it free of the trap. It was screaming incoherently. It turned back as it heard her coming and before it could scream again Arnora's spear came in on a full swing. With all of her momentum behind it the spear head sheared through the middle of the thinkers skull obliterating its ears and eyes cutting the scream into a gurgle. The body went wild, thrashing blindly and the leg began to rip away from the trap. It would get clear soon but it was blind and deaf and that was maybe enough.
Now Arnora continued at a faster pace. There was no telling how many walkers were pulled by the thinkers screams. Pena Duro was close though she knew that now. If the village had been trading with them, then it was most likely only a day or two at the most. Eventually night began to fall and Arnora resolved to slow down and make camp. Finding a hollowed out trunk she squeezed in and pulled her cloak over the entrance leaving a tiny crack opened to stare out. A few hours later came the sound she had dreaded, and soon enough she saw the thinker zombie. Half its head missing and hopping on one leg. It moved across her view, gurgling, but never noticed her and kept on its path.
Arnora waited the rest of the night until morning before heading out again. She didn't sleep.