Ben jumped up to his feet, he flicked the cigarette to the ground
and stomped on it with his foot, "Well, it's relatively safe here
so I suggest you try get some sleep" he yawned and stretched his
arms over his head, "I know I will." He pulled a tattered
sleeping bag form a tent and crawled into it, shutting his eyes
and practically snoring straight away.
Mike grabbed another sleeping bag and handed it to Kacee, "It's not five star but it beats lying on rocks..."
Kacee took it from him, Mike took off his own coat and wrapped it around himself, using a t shirt as a pillow, "Wait, you take this. It's hardly fair I waltz in and steal your bed." She began to push the sleeping bag back into Mike's hands.
"Nah, it's ok... You look like you could use a comfortable night." He linked his hands behind his head and stared into the sky, "It's the only thing that hasn't changed," he murmured.
"Huh?" Kacee asked as she pulled the sleeping bag around her delighted he did not accept her offer.
"The sky, the stars... They're the only thing that's stayed the same through all this... It's the only thing they couldn't destroy... It's nice to just look up, try get some normality..."
Kacee lay on her back and began to look up at the cluster of stars above her and realised he was right. She had never just looked up in the stars before, she was always just trying to keep and eye out for people or threats. She never took a moment to really relax, she couldn't allow herself. She was too full of guilt, heartache and pain and she did not seem like she deserved it, she didn't think she deserved to feel any semblance of happiness or peace.
"Back before all this..." Mike's voice was a hushed whisper and Kacee could not tell if he was speaking to her or to himself, "I wasted so much, I was so pissed off at myself. University drop out, no goal no aspiration I was just plain unhappy. But I used to go home, back home and take my brother camping because he loved it so much. We didn't have a lot, growing up and the folks were always busy. Just trying to survive I suppose... So I'd go back and I'd pull up in my crappy second hand Colt, music blaring and I'd just blow the horn. Out he'd come, he'd have his tent all rolled up and balanced on his back pack... God that smile on his face... He'd come bounding like a puppy, run straight to the car and hop in... The parents, they'd be there by the window, peering out at me... They wouldn't come out though... I suppose maybe I was lucky they let me see him at all..." He let out a sort of exasperated laugh. "But we'd head out to this forest and we'd get all set up... There was this little lake and every time, we would take out fishing rods and just sit with our feet in the water... You know I don't think there was even fish in that lake... It didn't matter though... Then at night, we'd light this huge fire and we'd talk... Just talk crap, about his school, his football team, things he liked, girls I teased him that he liked... And we'd lie down, just like this," He pointed at the three of them lying there now, "And we'd stare at the stars. And he'd ask me to tell him stories about the stars... I'd make up all sorts of crap, that they were up there to look after us, that this mighty hero was the brightest star and he was always watching us, protecting us. And I'd tell him that in the morning when the stars were gone it was because the sun was their head quarters... Silly I know... And this one night... Just a few weeks before this crap he asked me what happened when people died... I think his friend's grandmother had passed away but talk about timing..." He shook his head, his eyes locked on the stars, it was dark but Kacee could just make out the glisten on his eyes. His voice remained steady, "I told him that when people passed on they became super heroes too. I told them that everyone has to become a superhero one day but that it was ok to be sad but to always remember they would be up there, looking after them... And he asked me, would I ever become a super hero... I remember I told him I would... Some day, but I told him that I would, I had to answer my destiny, but I'd be his personal super hero and that I'd be the most bad ass super hero that there ever was..." Mike stopped and silence fell. His eyes did not move from the sky, Kacee didn't know what to do. She was useless in these situations, whether to speak, to stay quiet, to rub his back... Luckily he didn't give her a chance to decide, 'He asked me then, he said 'Mike, will you promise you won't become a super hero for a long, long time?' I wasn't sure what to say down but I promised him... Oh well..." He seemed to brush away the pain and turned to the side, his back to Kacee.
She just lay there, everyone did have a story. Everyone, who ever was left, they had their own pain and suffering they had to carry now. They all had unresolved moments and regret and it was just a reminder of how horrific this had all truly been. The fire's glow had grown faint but it highlighted Ben as he lay, his mouth open and drool dripping out at the corners. It was the first time Kacee had actually really taken him in, his hair was shaggy and a sandy colour. She thought his eyes were brown but she couldn't really remember that detail. He was tall and slim and was probably about twenty three or twenty four. He reminded her of those typical stoner dudes from college. Totally aloof and didn't give a shit but without any badness. Just one of those loud funny times probably, she imagined he was the type of guy who bonded easily with guys and girls, he was cute but not really overly handsome but she was sure his confidence and attitude was the winning formula.
She then studied Mike's back as it rose and fell with each breath. She couldn't tell if he was actually asleep or not, he was gripping his coat blanket around his waist. He looked different to Ben. He was much broader, muscular and Kacee imagined the man had probably played sport. She figured he was about twenty five maybe, he seemed the oldest of the group, not because he looked particularly older but there was a maturity about him, especially in comparison to Ben. His dark hair was growing out a bit too and dark hair covered his jaw. His eyes were a sharp but kind blue, she remembered them because they reminded her of a wolf's eyes and the intensity had struck her. Both men where in bad need of a good bath and a shave but she was no better and could only imagine how scruffy she must seem.
Her long brown hair had been speckled with natural highlights from the sun, it was tangled and filthy and she tried tie it up as much as she could to keep it out of her way. Her face she knew was filthy, her lips chapped and eyebrows in bad need of a tweezers. She had always been a slim girl but now she had developed muscle from the miles of trekking and lack of food combined.
She shut her eyes and let out a long breath but she knew she wouldn't sleep, even with a full belly for the first time in what felt like forever. She opened her eyes again and looked at the stars, tears pooled uncontrollable from her eyes, she didn't sob but the tears rolled down her cheeks. She was so frustrated, all she wanted was to sleep, it was driving her crazy. She was exhausted, her body was and her mind but she knew what would happen as soon and her green eyes closed and she just didn't want to see it, she did not want to go back again, it was too much. The faces, the eyes, the pleads, the begging, the chaos, the blood and then those creatures. People, probably parents, children, guys just like these two, girls like her... All ravaged, all becoming monsters. Pulling people apart, knowing on their skin... The only thing she could be thankful for was that she never saw her mother or her sister change, she was never forced to see that. She knew how hard it was, she had had to see her father. And now she would plead with her conscience to offer up a memory of her father and he would be there for a moment, smiling but then it would change and the man she once knew would turn into that thing and lunge for her. The only saving grace was the worn photo she still carried in the pocket of her combats. She had pulled out that photo on many sleepless nights, touched it, touched each face of her family. She had often wondering why she was still here, she had considered on many a dark day to just end it. It seemed like such a good idea that she would sit down and meticulously plan it all out, there was nothing left to lose, no one left to hurt. But she was a fighter and when it came down to it there was some kind of faith in the pit of her stomach, there was some nagging feeling that told her to just wait and see... One more day, one more day, one more day...
She felt her eyelids grow heavy and droop, she tried to fight it but for once she just could not...
One Year earlier
Kacee slammed the steering wheel of the car, "No no no!" It had been acting up for the past few miles and she had not seen another deserted petrol station or car to stifle in ages. She turned the key again, willing the engine to kick it but it refused. She didn't have a clue where was. Further back she had been filling up the car at a rest stop, she had ventured inside to grab some water and was heading out again when she spotted the blood next to the cash register. In a ball behind the counter was the worker, barely recognizable as anything at all. She gagged at the sight and smell of the dismember body. It's fingers had been chewed to the bone, it's neck torn and she could see the jaw bone, its mouth was ripped to the skull which was gaping open. Remaining brains and entrails were dotted around among the splattered blood.
A tingle rose in her spine, she could sense it, it was still here. She heard a low gargle and hissing and moved her eyes further along the floor. Lying on it's inflated stomach was one of those zombies, it's black eyes glared at her and it began to drag it's full body along the floor, lazily but viciously reached out at her as it pulled itself, leaving a trail of blood. Blood coated it's large gaping mouth and mixed with the foam that it drooled. And animalistic screech escaped it's lips that caused Kacee to snap out of shock and run, she darted from the building, water in her hands. She flung the bottle into the back seat and it was instantly coated in the blood left behind by the little girl. She fumbled to get her keys from her pocket, dropping them on the ground. The zombie was outside now too, it had managed to get to it's feet but it's bulging stomach slowed it down and Kacee gave a silent thank you to the cashier that he or she had managed to help her in some sick way. She frantically grabbed her keys again and hopped into the car, trying to shove the key into the car but not keep her eyes off the threat. It had picked up it's pace now and she felt fear encompass her body as the car refused to comply with the first turn of the key, "Oh fuck no, come on please..." Next time the car gave a grunt but the engine refused to turn on, the creature loomed closer, it's arms outstretched as it fumbled towards her, it's feet tripping and catching on rubbish and stones but it refused to stop it.
She felt sweat pool down her forehead and she prayed for the car to start, turning the key, nothing, turning again, nothing. She checked the zombie's status again, it was within a few feet, it shrieked and growled. Then she spotted the petrol hose hanging limply, she grabbed the doctor's lighter and threw open the glove box grabbing any papers she could. She lit the paper and begged the car one more time, the engine finally kicked in, the zombie was slapping the back window with it's bloody hands, trying to bite through the glass. She let the window down a few inches, just enough and flung the paper out, she spun her tyres, gravel kicked up and the momentum forced the zombie off the car. She watched in her mirror as the petrol took flame and began to catch onto the creature. It continued to attempt to chase her, engulfed in flame now and slowly disappearing from her view.
She had kept driving but could feel the explosion of the petrol station behind her.
Hours passed, there were creatures every where and she made the decision to get off the road, it wasn't safe. She had turned onto an old dirt road and had felt the car bump over the uneven ground. She had continued as the sky turned day, turning on her low lights not wanted to draw attention to herself. Hours passed, then she hit something on the track. She lost control of the car, she tried desperately, grabbing the wheel and trying to fight against the crash but it was hopeless. The car skidded down a bank and slammed into a tree. She had scrambled out of the car first, scared it could explode, it didn't. She crawled back in and started turning the key but it was useless.
She sat there, her hands red from punching the steering wheel in a fit of rage. Now what? She locked the doors and curled up in a ball, taking some crackers and chewing them mindlessly. She didn't know what to do, where she was. She had no way of knowing what lurked out there, she opened the window an inch to get some air and that was when she heard it.
A low humming noise above her, it was a plane! She hopped out of the car not knowing what her next move would be. She needed to create some kind of flare, get their attention somehow. The hum turned into a rumbling noise as the craft came nearer above her, it sounded low. It also sounded like there was more than one.
She peered into the black sky and could see lights in the sky coming toward her. There were easily three maybe four planes. She grabbed the baseball bat and used a spare hair tie to crudely attach paper to the end of it, she ran to the side of the car and pulled off the petrol cap, pushing the papers into the tip and trying to soak some of the fuel onto the paper. She then lit the papers and help the make shirt torch above her head, disregarding the possible threats she may have been inviting.
The planes thundered above her and she could make out the size, they were huge and they were low. She frantically waved her free arm in the air, willing them to see her, careful not to scream out to them. But they kept flying, they did not see her. The continued on in the direction she had come from. She let the torch drop, the flames had started to die away and she was returned to darkness. 'No...' she sighed, collapsing to her knees in a heap. Her shoulders hunched over, her face dropped to her hands, 'No...'
She had no way of knowing where they were going or where she was. But she felt there was a good chance they were heading back to her town, a rescue mission and she had missed it. She was miles from that town, miles. But she couldn't let it end, not like that.
She picked herself up and throwing caution to the wind and adrenaline fuelled she ran in the darkness back to the dirt track. She guessed the direction and starting racing back towards where she believed the road was. She tripped and fell a few times in her haste but she could not be stopped. Her foot caught in tree roots and she felt her ankle twist but she was resilient to the pain, oblivious. She kept going, pumping her arms, soaked in sweat. The sun had started to rise and offered some light. She spotted a vantage point and decided to climb up, try get her bearings, see if she could spot the planes, keep following. She made her way up the small hill, pulling herself up, digging her hands into the dirt.
Finally she made it. She placed her hand to her eyes and peered out in every direction, trying to get her eyes to focus. After searching each inch of the sky she finally spotted in the distance the planes. They were higher now, she could see the road. They were, they were heading to her town. She began to lower herself to climb back down when she heard it, a loud whistling type sound that boomed in the atmosphere. Then the light.
The entire sky was lit up in a golden haze. She pulled herself back up and saw it. A huge cloud of smoke surrounded the explosion. More whistling, more bombs were dropped and then the planes moved off. The entire town and sections of the road ahead were destroyed. They had dropped bombs on her town, her home was gone. If she had ever had any doubt about the fate of her mother, her sister, those doubts were gone now.
She wanted to collapse again onto the ground but she refused to give in to her body, she had fallen too often. The glow continued to bath the environment around her, smoke continued to rise from the horizon. Kacee continued to stare. Then she head the sound of helicopter blades rotating ahead, she peered up and spotted it, the lights from the explosion reflecting off it.
She watching in silence as what looked like a ladder dropped to the ground. She could tell it was hovering just over the main road she had escaped. She watched as ant sized bodies began to drop down the ladder. She couldn't see clearly, she was too far away but from the glow of the explosion she thought she could make out that the bodies were wearing large hazard type suits. She hunkered down, wanting to stay out of vision, something inside her was telling her to not be seen. This was too strange. The glanced back at the chopper and thought she could make out some kind of government or army stamp on the side but she wasn't sure.
Then a fresh illumination, this time on the road, fire. A spray of fire was sent out from the suited bodies, they were using flame throwers. The moved slowly, the flame burning bright.
She could make out a snap shot each time the flame lit, she could see a figure, a zombie, chasing towards the suit then a blaze of fire. She squinted, there was bodies, normal bodies running. She could tell these were not zombies, they way they ran, their voices echoed to her ears. She was sure she heard them call out 'help'. And then one of the suits turned toward them and the flames rose towards the people, she could hear tortured scream, she could see the inflamed bodies running, falling. But the suits just kept moving on...