Despite the high levels of annoyance and danger the young men presented, Mitch slept with a greater sense of security than he had in a while. Rus’s rummaging hands hadn’t discovered his hammock and he wasn’t about to point it out to them, so he slept on the desert floor with the rest of them. In the distance the sounds of dry moaning was curried up to them by the winds.
Once, in the middle of the night’s darkest hour, a wounded animal screeched through the stillness. Whether a cougar or undead had made the kill was difficult to determine. Mitch saw Eric’s face wide eyed with fear. The youth looked at him for a moment then turned away.
The next day found Mitch surrounded by the three youths as he struggled to free the tangled mess his trip wires had become.
“Hurry up, old man.” Rus said.
“I wouldn’t have to do this at all if your clumsy fingers hadn’t made such a mess of my well stored gear.”
“I’ll do whatever the hell I want,” Rus started, “And right now I want to-”
“Quit your damn bickering,” Brad ordered. “You don’t need to have every damn wire free to show us how they work.”
Thinking that his nominal use to them would be at an end once they felt secure with their knowledge of his traps, he figured he should string them along. “You have quite a bit to learn about trapping. What you think I just put one trap out for that rat. No, I put out twenty to get just that one. You guys might have to put out sixty to get enough to live off. Each place is different. Each time you have to find the perfect place to set it. If you don’t know what you’re doing you could set a hundred and not get jack-”
A moaning interrupted him. A moment later at least six undead began to pour into the boulder filled camp.
Mitch leapt to his feet, grabbing up a club sized piece of firewood as stuffed some of his trip wires into his back pocket..
The two younger boys panicked and scrambled over the rocks. Brad however aimed his rifle and fired off a shot. The zombies head jerked back. He quickly slayed a second and then a third zombie. “Come back you cowards. Come on, we got this.”
“Idiot,” Mitch said as more savage words exploded under his breath. “You don’t go shooting, every zombie in five miles will be heading this way.”
“Screw you old… Hey! He’s trying to get away.”
And Mitch was. With the chaos of the fight and the approaching zombies, he figured this would be his best opportunity. Cactus and low bent trees passed by him in a blur as he raced downhill as fast as he could. Besides his club, he had almost no gear on him. But he did have a canteen attached to his belt along with a buck knife that always road in his back pocket.
He heard useless shouts for him to stop, but he hit a gully and just kept going. A few seconds later a rock exploded near his left side. They had started shooting at him.
“Oh, it’s going to be like that?” Mitch growled. “I guess we’ll see who wins I the end, mind, muscle, or teeth.”
Check in next weekend for the next part of Mitch’s journey into the beginning of the second year of the Eternal Aftermath.
Mitch Morrison didn’t hurry as he prepared the meal. Since he just cooked for himself, as he had for that last year, it was a low maintenance affair. He just tried to fix and eat everything as quickly as possible. The only excitement he ever felt was in the knowledge there was something to cook, for quite often there wasn’t.
He was high enough into the mountains that he had decided to risk a fire. The wind whistled through the sandstone boulders that he hoped would hide his small flame. It blew grit into his food, but he remained miles from caring about such things. As he took in a deep breath, he wondered what it was he might still care about.
Night had fallen and covered the hills of the Rincons in its dark embrace. In the distance a coyote let loose a mournful howl. Critters and insects chattered like the world wasn’t crawling with animated corpses. Not that too many of the walkers made it up this far. Between the hard climb and the difficulty finding food, Mitch saw zombies rarely this high up off the desert floor. That didn’t keep him from pitching his hammock ten feet up into the trees. Many a time he was woken up in the middle of the night by the sounds of growling undead reaching for him from below.
He flipped the desert rat over on the grill he’d made from a broken portable heater. He mostly ate little mammals he gathered from his traps these days. He had gotten pretty good at setting them. Rattlesnakes were a treat and with the small stream on the face of the mountain, he figured he might be one of the healthiest people living around Tucson.
“Smells good, pops,” a voice said just three seconds before the barrel of a rifle pointed straight as he head.
Mitch cursed himself for being so careless, but when two more figures joined the first, he realized there wasn’t much he could have done about it anyway.
He took in the three youths. Each looked to be barely more than teens, but they had grown up fast. Dirty scowling faces glared down at him from over tattered layers of mismatching clothing. Two had rifles, the youngest only a pistol. Backpacks and knives hung from them.
The second rifleman rushed forward and grabbed his rat off the grill and then promptly dropped it. “Shit, that’s hot.” He had knife cut his hair short and done a rather poor job of it. His round face’s eyes seemed too small for his head and he stared at Mitch while he blew on his fingers.
“Well, it was on a fire.”
“Watch your lip,” the big one said, while thrusting his rifle into Mitch’s personal space. The guy might had been just old enough to enter a liquor store, if there were still such things, and had the look of someone who thought things through.
“If I’m not mistaken, this is my camp.”
“Yeah, and these are our guns,” pig eyes said.
“Has the honor of the west fallen on such hard times?” Mitch eyed the boy with the pistol as he spoke. He had lowered his gun and just stared at the rat. “Would you like a piece?”
“He won’t get the first piece,” pig eyes said.
“I think it’s my choice who I give my food to.”
The big one moved in a grabbed Mitch by the front of his shirt. “Are you senile or something? The only choice going on around here will be whether we shoot you before or after we look through your gear.” Turning toward pig-eyes, he said. “Rus, start searching this guy’s pack.”
Mitch held up his hands. “You won’t find much. I don’t even own a firearm, much less have bullets.” It wasn’t completely true. Mitch had a few guns stashed in the cliffs, but without bullets there remained no reason to lug the heavy things around.
Rus pulled a fistful of tangled piano wire out of Mitch’s pack. “What the hell is this shit? You strangle zombies or something?”
“No, it’s for making traps, how do you think I got this rat, which is burning by the way.”
The big one let go of him, drew his knife, and then stabbed it into the cooking rat. He took a big bite out of it. Despite the heat, he said, “Doesn’t suck. I’m Brad.”
Rus laughed and said, “Brad the bad,” while upending Mitch’s bag and dumping all prized possessions into the sand. He pocketed things as he rummaged through the pile.
“You met Rus and the skinny guy over there is Eric.”
“Well can you give Eric a bite of that rat, please?”
“Why the fuck should you care?” Rus said, and he found half an energy bar. “Sweet, score.”
“Don’t eat that,” Mitch said and almost stood up, but then thought better of it.
“And why the hell not, old man?”
“Because that’s what I use to bait my traps. I can catch a hundred times that much food with that.”
“Oh really,” Brad said. “Maybe you just figured out a way to survive long enough to see the sunrise, pops.”
“Huh, why?” Rus asked.
Brad took another bite of the rat. “Because come sun up, this old puke is going to teach us all how to set up traps.”
You can explore more of the Eternal Aftermath here!
Mar rushed over to check on her unconscious brother. At first he didn’t respond, but then she began to shake him, while trying to block out the horrid sounds of the zombies feasting on the two men she had just killed below. As her brother’s eyes flicked open, she paused for a moment and contemplated how little it bothered her that she had just taken two lives.
Yes, they had drugged her brother, as well as Allen and Cindy, and then attempted to rape her, but in this world of death shouldn’t all lives be precious? Screw that, she thought to herself and shook Benny harder.
“Oh man, what? What?”
“We’re on the second floor of a mansion filled with zombies, that’s what.”
His hands slipped over the grimy debris littered floor as he tried to sit up. “But those guys destroyed the staircase. They can’t get up here right?”
Below them the zombie’s bloodlust had them going berserk. She heard mirrors breaking and doors coming off their hinges. “Unless they tear the whole house apart, which is what they sound like they’re trying to do. We need to get out of here now.”
“Wait, what about Cindy and Allen?” He had managed to lean his back up against a stained couch, which was once worth more than their mother would have made in a month.
“Screw them. They betrayed me. I’d rather never see them again.”
Benny looked like he might start to cry. “But they’re our friends. I feel safer with them around.”
“I know, but I can’t, I just can’t see their faces every day when I wake up in the morning.” She took his little trembling hand into hers. “I’m sorry Ben, but I just can’t and with them still drugged this might are best chance to escape from them.”
She looked around and didn’t see too much worth looting, but decided to give the area a once over. “You rest here for a moment and try to get that crap out of your system. Why are you awake before the others anyway?”
“Oh,” he tried to smile, but still looked sick. “That jam they gave me was pretty gross. I tried to eat a few bites, but then hid my plate under the sofa.”
“Well thank the Goddess,” Mar said and then set off to scavenge what she could. She grabbed a knife or two, but they just made her lament the loss of her pick. She laughed when she found a medieval ball and chain weapon, but happily tossed it into her backpack. Her big score was their stack of canned goods. They had about a dozen and she quickly scooped them into her pack.
Feeling better off that she had been in a while, she went back to Benny and helped him to his feet. “Are you sure you are good?”
“Yeah, I think I’m okay,” his dirty face grinned at her. “I’ll be careful. I’ll take it slow.”
She gave his shoulder a squeeze and then led the way to plank that stretched between the house and the tall wall between the zombie filled yard below and the neighbors next door. Below her the zombies crowded in thicker than before. Their fingers rose to try to reach her, but still stayed a foot lower than the eight inches of plank.
She tried to ignore the snapping teeth and glassy eyes that glared up at her from within their writhing masses. Mar was forced to raise her voice to be heard over their feverish moanings and growls. “I’m going to go over first, so I can stabilize it for you.”
Benny just nodded. The look on his face made her sick to her stomach, but she figured they should just get this behind them. The neighbor’s yard looked free of undead. If they could just make it that far…
The board creaked and shifted beneath her. She had imagines of flailing her arms as she crashed into the waiting undead below. Sweat poured off her in streams as she passed between the hungry throngs and the blazing stars above.
Somehow, she reached the other side. Quickly kneeling, as she braced her body on both the board and the wall, she called back. “I got it, come on!”
Benny took so long to get started, she thought she would have to go back, but he finally lowered himself out of the window onto the plank. Then there was the wait for him to move away from the house. Her heart stayed in her throat as she watched her brother’s slow progress.
He had almost made it across when a large zombie pushed another over. Whether intentional or by just blind luck, the tall zombie stepped onto the back of the fallen one. This gave him just enough height to reach the board.
His filthy fingers grabbed the board and for a moment Benny hung in air as he tried to maintain his balance. She thought he would do it right until he toppled into the waiting mouths below.
Mar’s eyes grew wide and she couldn’t even scream. She wanted to pull out her hair, to dive in after him and kill every zombie she could, but instead the tall zombie shook the board again. It jerked toward her, which sent her falling backwards into the other yard.
The act might have saved her life, for it forced her to move. Standing up she braced herself against the wall as tears streamed down her face. She was crying so hard she couldn’t breathe.
A lone zombie approached her and she grabbed up and rock and smashed it in the face. It fell over and she leapt on top of it smashing it in the head until nothing but a puddle of brains remained.
After a minute she stood up just to get away from the horrible sight. Her world spun. Why go on? Everything was over now. Her mother and everyone she had known were dead. Her boyfriend and best friend had betrayed her and now, Benny, fucking Benny.
She tore at her own mind and grasped for any thread, any reason to go on. She couldn’t think of one, not even revenge worked, what was she going to do, just kill zombies?
Wiping her sleeve across her tears, she sucked in a big breath. The only thing she could think of was that Benny wouldn’t want her to die. Her mother wouldn’t want her to give up. With a final tortured sob, she threw her heavy backpack over her shoulders and headed toward the foothills. She had left everything else behind.
Thank you for supporting Mar’s adventure into the second year of the Eternal Aftermath. Check in next weekend for the beginning of a new Cliff Hanging Tale.