These Darkest of Days - A Series of Nine Zombie Paint Edits With a Story
By Nicholas Leitkam
(Warning: Do Not Read If You Cannot Handle Anything Dealing With Blood)
Chapter 1 - Terror
It was a normal day. Children were playing, dogs were barking, traffic was jammed up, and adults were complaining about work. It was a normal day. And then it all went to hell. It was nothing like the experts predicted: no nuclear holocaust, no running out of fuel, no new ice age, and no dying sun. Hell, even the doomsday preppers never stood a chance against the real end of the world. Nothing can prepare you for the day the dead begin to walk... begin to eat the living… The day it happened, I woke up to an empty home, my wife and children nowhere to be found. It was summer, so the kids weren't in school, and my wife always left a note if she was going out before I woke up, either by herself or with the kids. There was no note, but when I looked at the front door, I was shocked to see that the security chain had been ripped off of the frame. After I got changed into a fresh pair of clothes, I headed outside hoping to find some clue as to the whereabouts of my family. Big mistake. I was immediately greeted by the sight of walking corpses, one of which was kneeling over and feasting upon a body no more than ten feet away from me. I struggled not to vomit as the ravenous thing looked up at me from its gory meal. At first I just stood there, frozen by my terror. Then I ran. And I kept running.
Chapter 2 - Crawler
When I finally could no longer run, I looked around and found myself in a grassy field. It seemed safe enough, so I sat down on the ground to get a breather. After so much running, I was exhausted and sore, and drifted into a deep sleep. I dreamed of my wife and kids, but my dreams quickly turned to nightmares of those corpses eating them, and even worse, my own family becoming those flesh-eating monsters. I don't know what woke me up, but whatever it was, I'm glad it did, because when I awoke, I saw a half decomposed corpse a few feet away dragging itself toward me, mouth gaping, intestines trailing behind it like some kind of grotesque leash, as if it were a lost dog coming home to its master, hungry and tired from its journey. I quickly jumped to my feet and, after giving my options a brief consideration, proceeded to stomp on its head until it ceased to move. I waited for about ten minutes, waiting to see if the creature would renew its efforts to capture and consume me, risen from its second death, if you can consider the thing to have been alive in the first place, like a phoenix from ashes, powered by some unnatural and decidedly terrifying force. When the corpse did not begin crawling again, I decided I had extinguished whatever inner fire it was that had driven it. This meant they could be killed. With this new knowledge, I decided to head to the city in search of some type of weapon.
Chapter 3 - The Dead At The Door
I arrived at a city reminiscent of the very depths of Hell, as if the Devil himself had come to the surface and rebuilt the city to be his new home. Those things were everywhere: shambling through the streets, feasting on dead bodies, strapped into cars, grouping outside of shops. You name the place, they were there. After scanning the immediate area, I hurried to a small shop across the street that was not surrounded by the walking dead and hoping none of them would notice, slipped inside and quietly shut and barricaded the door. Unfortunately, some of them did notice, and as night fell the shop window was lined by a grotesque wall of the dead, desperately trying to claw and pound their way in so as to feast upon my flesh, their incessant scratching sounding less like former humans than like some kind of nightmarish rats scurrying through a tunnel, and their heavy strikes sounding less like fists beating on a door than like thunder in the sky.
Chapter 4 - In The Woods
Luckily the barricade held until morning, and through the act of maintaining silence and patience, I was able to trick the living corpses into leaving, feeling that their potential meal was gone. I headed out a back door I discovered while searching for something to eat and walked until I found a large stretch of woods. I headed into the trees hoping for safer travel and access to further areas of the city. For a few hours I walked along a deer path, occasionally being lucky enough to stumble upon a raspberry or blackberry bush and getting a quick snack. At one such bush I heard a noise behind me. My heart froze and I dropped the berries I had gathered. As I turned around, I was grabbed by one of the living corpses, which had apparently been somewhere out of sight when I walked up to the bush. It immediately began biting and tearing strips of flesh from my neck and face, and as my vision blurred and turned to a red haze of my own blood, I thought to myself how stupid I had been for traveling through the woods. Limited vision, lots of places for those creatures to hide, and I still chose to go through that virtual death trap of a travel route. As my own screams began to fade with my life, the creature began feasting upon my flesh even further, silencing me forever.
Chapter 5 - Dread
I woke up screaming. Nothing more than a nightmare, I was still alive. I found myself outside of a factory, though with no recollection of how I arrived there. The area was still secure, so I searched for a guard booth, found one, and inside found a set of keys and a thermal imaging unit that I suppose was used by the guards to scan the shadows at night. I unlocked the nearest door of the factory and headed inside. It was pitch black within the building, and I had to maneuver through the darkness through the process of trial and error, pressing forward and walking around objects if I crashed into them. At one point I heard a noise, so I turned on the thermal imaging unit and scanned the room I was in. It was a massive room, probably a warehouse to store various consumer goods, and it took a few sweeps before I noticed a heat signature on the screen. At first I thought it was another survivor due to the heat signature (and partially due to my hope that I wasn't the only human left alive), as one of the creatures surely couldn't radiate heat, after all, they were nothing more than walking corpses, but then I saw the way that it moved, a rather disturbingly stiff and awkward movement of limbs, and realized it was indeed one of the monsters. I then saw why the impossibility of the corpse having a heat signature was possible: there was a crumpled mass at its feet giving off a heat signature, the disconcertingly fresh body of one of the guards or a factory worker, and the heat that the creature was giving off was fresh blood from its meal.
Chapter 6 - Feast
I hurried through the darkness and, in a reckless but necessary manner, ran back the way I had come when first entering the room, crashing into stuff along the way, cursing loudly each time I did so and growing more and more certain that the next time would be the last, that when I next crashed into an object I would be grabbed from behind and serve as more food for the walking corpse, and then I was suddenly back outside. I turned to the door behind me and quickly slammed it shut and locked it. I ran from the factory and headed back to the main city, suddenly feeling that I would be safer in that concrete jungle than in these more isolated areas on the outskirts of the city. I stopped at a house I found along the way, saw no cars in the driveway (luckily there was no garage to search), got no reply when I knocked on the front door, and found the door unlocked when I turned the knob, so I decided to spend the night there, where I would be relatively safe compared to if I spent the night on the streets or tucked into an alley. When I awoke the next morning, I headed to a local market in the hopes of picking up some food and water, as it had been hours since I'd had either of those now luxurious things. I arrived at the market, found it corpse-free surprisingly, and went about my task. After I stocked up on both food and water, ate a quick meal, and drank a bottle of water, I headed back outside. It was then that I noticed an alley between the building and the fence marking the divide between this property and the next. I remembered from a short period in which I had been employed by the market that this alley led to the back of the building, where the butchering room was located. Deciding I needed weapons (or more precisely a weapon), and thinking I could probably find either a knife or a meat cleaver, or possibly even meat hooks, I headed through the alley and around the corner of the building. Then I stopped dead in my tracks, horrified by the sight that lay before me. Three of those walking corpses were huddled around a pig that they had apparently dragged out from the butchering room, messily devouring its flesh. I prayed to God that they had not seen me. My prayers were answered as they continued to feast and take no notice of me. I hurriedly headed back to the house I had spent the night in, but not before I noticed that one of the corpses feasting on the pig was the very butcher that would have prepared it for sale if things were still normal. This only served to remind me that nothing was normal, that I still had my missing family to find (though I realized now that the chances were getting greater that I would find them either dead or as these creatures), and when I got to the house I began thinking, with newly-increased urgency, about how to find my family, in whatever condition they may be in.
Chapter 7 - The Horde
After about three hours of deep thinking, I finally decided that the best thing to do would be to head underground, into the subway tunnels, as I felt that the tunnels would be fairly likely to have none, or at least fewer, of those creatures roaming through them. I found a backpack in one of the rooms of the house as well as some clean clothes, so I packed my water, food, and some of the clothes into the backpack and headed for the subway station. I amazingly encountered no walking corpses along the way, and when I arrived, I saw no creatures roaming on the surface, so I headed below, to the main platform of the station. When I stepped onto the platform, I found myself in the midst of a massive horde of the walking corpses, with only a gate separating them from me. Terrified that the gate would not be enough to hold them back should they begin coming toward me, I quickly turned to run back the way I had come, but more of the corpses were now blocking the entrance, apparently following me after having been hidden from view in my earlier sweep. Having no other choice but to press forward, I picked out a section of the horde less condensed than the rest of it, pushed through it fast enough to avoid being grabbed or bitten, and ran deeper into the tunnels.
Chapter 8 - The Tunnels
After gaining some distance between myself and the horde, I slowed my pace to conserve energy, as I did not want to put myself into a state of exhaustion and be unable to escape again should I encounter more creatures. As I walked through the tunnels I stumbled upon a flashlight that a maintenance worker must have dropped. I switched it on, saw a bright beam of light quickly push the shadows away, and began further exploring the tunnels, aided, but not comforted, by the light. I was expecting more of the flesh-eating creatures to be waiting for me around every twist and turn, but each turn I made was free of any monsters. I remained untouched and relatively safe as I walked. Eventually I arrived at a large chamber with a flickering light overhead and a subway car on the tracks. I figured maybe I could find something useful within the car, or at the very least possibly use it to travel through the tunnels faster if it still had power (and if I could figure out how to operate it). The lights within the car were not turned on, or perhaps were burnt out or broken, and I could not see inside the car very well with the overhead light's illumination either, as due to it flickering rather than staying on continuously, it ended up creating more shadows than it took away, and as I approached with my flashlight, I nearly dropped it when a hand slammed against one of the windows of the car. At least a dozen of the dead stared out at me from behind the subway car's windows, beginning to claw at the glass, trying, without success, to escape the confines of the car and feast on my flesh. To my left I saw another tunnel, this one leading to a well-lit area.
Chapter 9 - The Red Veil
I ran to the end of this new tunnel and into a massive room lit by spotlights. I remember reading in the paper that the city was starting to build a new expansion tunnel, and that was where I appeared to be standing. All around me those creatures stood watching, waiting; their dead eyes blank, yet somehow filled with hunger. They began to move towards me, reaching out with their seemingly clawed hands, trying desperately to grab me and pull me into a deadly embrace. Then I saw them. My family. They stood before me, rather like a twisted mirage. My wife and children were at the head of the hoard, covered in gore, bloody mouths opened wide in haunting moans of hunger that chilled me to my bones. The only thing that gave me any reason to go on, to have tried to survive this whole time, was the possibility that my family was still alive. That possibility was now dead and gone, just like my family (though sadly they were not gone in the full meaning of the word, as that would have been better than what they had been turned into). Devastated, I made a decision (one that I too late realized was a mistake) at that moment. I dropped my bag to the floor and ran straight into the arms of my family, or rather the wretched things that they had become, deciding that I would rather die than live in this cold, dead world without the warmth and love of my family accompanying me. As I felt their teeth tear into my body, tearing chunks of flesh off of me, as my vision became distorted by a veil of red, a veil of my own blood, as I faintly saw the faces of the other corpses struggling to get closer so that they could too could feast on my flesh, I realized my mistake. I heard a faint cry behind me, and using the last of my strength, I managed to turn just enough to see my family, my real family, standing at the entrance to the room with looks of terror and devastation on their faces, saw them turn and run away, and then I faced forward again to see the woman and children who I had thought were my family. What I saw now looked nothing like my family. My hope and my fear had twisted my vision, caused my perception to become distorted, and now my family, very much alive, was likely to die, to be torn apart by this new world, by the creatures that thrived in it. At the very least, they would have to suffer through living without me, through having witnessed my final moments. And with those thoughts, I passed.