Tally didn’t care much for the Swarm.
She could avoid them easily enough, snaking through abandoned subway tunnels and tight-roping across the maze of makeshift bridges connecting the buildings.
Tally didn’t care much for the noise, or the ever-growing stench that plagued the streets. She didn’t care that her mother was among the Swarm, her now lifeless body still moving with the likeness of a rag doll. She didn’t care because if she did, she would lose her damn mind.
It had been nine hours since Tally’s last encounter with a Swarm member, and her mind was still reeling. The snapping teeth, the milky glaze of the eyes, the grey skin riddled with black veins and pock marks. She was still exhausted from it, but she was glad to be alive. She had barely escaped the alleyway where it had found her, and now she sat at the edge of a building, her legs dangling over the side.
As she watched the sunrise, Tally’s legs mindlessly bounced against the large, faded Burger King sign. She watched as the Swarm moved below her, the streets covered with a sea of grey. Tally stared down, hands gripping the side of the building for fear of falling headfirst and spat directly onto the Swarm.
They didn’t even notice.
They just kept moving, shuffling, and grunting their way towards a destination unknown. Tally had never been able to figure out the purpose of the Swarm, the way they moved in large groups and always seemed like they had places to be. But the dead didn’t have anywhere to be. They should be six feet under, Tally thought, but there they were. Surviving, consuming everything in their path and ready to make living humans the minority.
“Sod it.” Tally spat once more, then swung her feet back over onto solid ground. She had spent the night camped out on the Burger King roof, the summer breeze providing enough warmth to make her forget she hadn’t slept in a real bed for months.
Grabbing her backpack, she reached for two products that had saved her ass more times than anything else. Duct tape and beef jerky.
It didn’t take long to eat the jerky, and the salty aftertaste made her crave water. Instead, a flat soda that had been rationed out for three days just about sufficed. Tally gulped down the drink, the lack of bubbles leaving her feeling unsatisfied, and started working on the duct tape.
Tally wrapped the tape around her ankles and wrists, ensuring her socks were pulled up and her sleeves were pulled down. Any protection was better than no protection against the Swarm, and Tally was going back in.
For months, her radio had been silent. She had seen one or two people in passing, yet nobody stayed around long enough for Tally to get to know them. Groups of survivors were rare, and nobody trusted anyone out of fear. Those who were bit often lied, liars lead to death, and death made you one of the Swarm. Tally had thought it was better to be alone, until just twenty hours ago when the radio had come to life.
“Help– Is anyone there? –I need your help. The hospital.”
The call for help had come as a surprise. The static, and the overwhelming noise of the Swarm. The tight, panicked voice of an unknown person out there all alone. It had been a coincidence Tally had found the right frequency; she had been nervously twiddling with the radio just to say she had something to do. She had slept on it, knowing it would be dumb to leave for the hospital in the dead of night, and now it was time.
Slinging her backpack over her shoulder, she picked up her bow and arrow. She had found it in a derelict sports store only a week ago, and truth be told, she was only just getting the hang of it. But it made her feel safe, and her knife sat snuggly in the back pocket of her jeans.
She made her way from rooftop to rooftop, some connected by her homemade bridges, or some she simply made across by a single leap of faith.
The Swarm below was dense and hungry. Groans created a sickening lullaby as they all shuffled by. A block away Tally noticed a small group devouring an unknown animal. It’s four legs had been torn away from the body, and circles of the Swarm huddled around them.
Tally saw that as her opportunity. There was finally a clear slab of sidewalk, and no members of the Swarm would notice her. Their milky gazes were transfixed by the animal’s blood that dripped and oozed off their slimy, grey faces.
She slunk herself down an old fire-escape, careful to watch her footing, and began her journey.
In all of the chaos, in all of the groaning and shuffling, in all of the adrenaline-filled blood pumping through Tally’s veins, in all of her attempts to reach the hospital in the fastest time possible, Tally took too many wrong turns. She let too many arrows fly just slightly off-target. She barely passed by too many snapping, undead jaws. She ended up face to face with a pack of the Swarm, and they caught her scent in an instant.
“Nah.” Tally could barely talk. The group advanced on her then, with surprising speed. “Oh shit.” Her hands fumbled with her bow, trying to remember how many arrows she had left. It couldn’t have been many. Tally reached for her pocketknife too, knowing just how close she might have to get to one of these things. She braced herself, ready for a fight.
And that’s when Tally saw it.
Glimmering in the sun like a beacon, the heart-shaped locket still looked brand new. It looked beautiful, but the body it hung from stole the air form Tally’s lungs. Her mother, now a part of the Swarm for over two months, had finally found her again.
Her mother moved with a startling pace, one leg dragging behind the other, her work clothes hanging off her small frame as her body withered away until it was just bone and a thin layer of grey, decaying skin. She was a part of the pack that was moving ever closer, Tally’s scent making her teeth snap together and her hands grab at the air in front of her.
“No.” Tally held back a sob. The first member of the Swarm came at her, and Tally quickly disposed of him with a knife to the head. The blade slid in easily, and the body crumpled to the floor. Still, her mother was advancing. That damn heart-shaped necklace swinging as she moved. “Please, stop.”
Tally felt the first tear fall as another cadaver came at her. A large man with a blown-out belly and guts spilling everywhere. He bared his teeth, opened his mouth as if to take a bite; Tally nocked an arrow, and sent it flying straight into the man’s eye. He fell shortly behind the other corpse.
“You were always so stubborn.” In the heat of the moment, Tally was tempted to laugh. Her mother had always been a persistent woman, always getting things how she wanted. “I hate you.” Tally said, this time a laugh escaping her lips.
It wasn’t true. She loved her mother. But enough was enough, and as her mother grew ever closer there was only one thing she could do. The tears kept coming, but it didn’t matter anymore because Tally did care that her mother was a part of the Swarm, she cared a lot.
“I should have done this a long time ago.”
Tally swapped the bow and arrow for the knife. She let her mother get close, closer than any other member of the Swarm. She felt the cold hands grab at her hair. The snapping of teeth and the incomprehensible growling of a mother who used to sing lullabies. Tally held her still, knowing this is not how she wanted to hug her mother, and slid the knife into her skull. She collapsed then, her mother in her arms, and the knife still embedded in the corpse’s skull.
Tally sobbed, but not for long. The Swarm was still moving, their bodies being drawn to her cries. It wouldn’t be long until she was Swarmed. It was time to go.
She set her mother down, carefully removing the blade. She had once been a pretty woman, and now she was one of the many undead who had to die. Tally glanced down at her mother and unclasped the heart-shaped locket. It fell open in her hand. On the left, a small picture of young Tally smiled back at her. On the right, a picture of her mother. This locket was the only reminder of normal life before Doomsday had arrived.
Tally carefully placed the locket around her neck, and then she was off.
The hospital survivors awaited her arrival, and that day Tally made a promise to herself that they would all outlive the Swarm.
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