Baby wasn’t sure how she and her friend had become separated from Postie and his wagon, there had been a blur of action as a large group of bandits had attacked. The resulting noise had attracted a large number of Dead and though they’d beaten back the bandits, they’d had to run from the Dead with the intention of swinging back to return for the wagons, filled as they were with deliveries for communities as far North as North went.
Barbra and Laura had managed to stick together, staying a few steps ahead of the Dead, and the pair knew to meet up with Postie and the rest of his guards at the town of Hope. Hope lay somewhere to the North; but in the darkness, direction lost all significance and in their flight from the Dead speed was a more important factor.
Reaching a point where they were far enough ahead of their shambling pursuers, Barbra grabbed Laura’s hand for a moment to bring her to a halt. She held up a finger as her breath heaved. Laura, similarly exhausted, grinned at her friend and nodded. The Dead continued to draw closer, but they had a significant lead. There was time to rest up for a moment before continuing at a slightly reduced, yet still rapid, pace.
Holding hands in the dark, they ran together; a gentle tug from one guiding the other in a desired direction, perhaps upon seeing a tree looming in the shadows or a patch of uneven ground briefly illuminated by the full moon shining through a hole in the semi-permanent cloud-cover. The knowledge that they were standing, running, on rotten wood broke through Baby’s consciousness at the exact moment that their combined weight broke through the roof that they’d ended stumbling onto.
When Baby came to her senses, choking on over a decade of dust that had been disturbed by their fall, she saw her companion being dragged away. She struggled to her feet a moment before something large and sweaty came at her head, then she knew nothing more.
Regaining consciousness a while later, she saw Laura across the room from her, barely two metres away. The sun had risen, its light peeking through the cracks in the walls. The green-haired young woman had her hands tied above her head, the rope old and frayed and slung over a hook. Barbra realised her own predicament was similar.
Laura had a grim grin on her blood- and sweat-streaked face. As Barbra was about to speak Laura shook her head tightly and motioned with her eyes for Baby to look down. Barbra did so and saw a pit full of Dead. Dead that had been there since the beginning. Old shamblers, bone peeking through their tattered clothing in places.
Only one sense remained to the oldest shamblers. Not only could they still hear, but they heard better than they ever could have in life. Barbra’s Aunt Moira had studied this phenomenon extensively and had come to the conclusion that when the flesh around the ear rotted away, the bone structures worked that much more effectively that the oldest shamblers, such as those below the unfortunate pair, very literally had superhuman hearing.
The angle of the morning sun bit into Barbra’s eyeballs, and she squinted to better see her friend. She looked down at the pit full of Dead, then back up to Laura, one eyebrow raised. Until the sunlight hit her eye again and the squint returned involuntarily. She very nearly cried out because of it.
Fuck. She thought. She looked down at the pit again. None of the Dead seemed to realise they were there. None were showing any signs of awareness, most simply stood passively, as if statues that occasionally groaned, sighed, or gnashed their teeth. All noises that they seemed comfortable with.
Baby, sparing a quick glance up at Laura’s bonds, saw that her ropes were indeed very frayed. As her friend struggled with them, in fact, Barbra saw that the rope was attached to what at first she thought was a large nail, but on closer inspection was a saw blade. Barbra reached out a foot to get her friends attention, then lifted her own hands in an attempt to show Laura the predicament that she assumed they were both in.
It seemed that their captors wanted them to struggle and fall into the pit that yawned between them.
She glanced about the room they were in: It had a door in one wall, the opposite side of the room was allowing sunlight through. There was enough of a floor around the room that someone could have carried each of them and hung them on their sawblades. A strong someone; Laura was very nearly two metres tall.
Barbra began slowly and methodically sawing away at her bonds, indicating that Laura should follow her example. Their predicament, though dire, was only mortal had they panicked. Barbra could see it clearly now, they were meant to panic and pull at their bonds, cutting through them in thoughtless terror and falling to their grisly demise.
A modicum of control in the sawing of the rope, however…?
She was free in a moment, rubbing her wrists as Laura cut herself similarly free. Her friend glared angrily and made a fist that she then, very quietly, punched into the palm of her other hand. Barbra nodded. They were indeed going to find those responsible and make them pay.
The door opened onto a hallway that the pair stalked silently along. Their weapons had been removed, so finding something suitable to clobber a fucker with was the order of the day, Barbra surmised. Until she could find her father’s katana, that was.
A door waited for them at the end of the corridor, a simple wooden door. No lock, just a single knob. Barbra reached out, grabbed hold, turned it. The door creaked slightly as she pulled it open. A single loud gnashing sound came from behind the pair as perhaps one, perhaps all, of the Dead in the pit became aware of their presence.
Inside the room was darkness. Barbra felt along the wall for a light switch, found one, flicked it. Predictably, nothing happened. This building’s power supply had gone dry seventeen years ago.
Within moments her eyes had adjusted to the minimal light. There was a door directly opposite them, and what looked to be furniture covered by dusty sheets in haphazard piles throughout the room itself. A reasonably large room, several metres across.
A sound then, voices. Coming from the door opposite. Laura looked questioningly at her companion. Barbra motioned to the piles of furniture, indicating that Laura should take one side, while she would take the other.
A key clattered in the locked door and Barbra quietly closed the door through which they’d entered the room, then quickly ducked behind her chosen piece of cover as the newly unlocked door swung inward.
“Yeah, I bet they’ve both fallen in by now,” One voice, gruff and low and somehow meaty, was saying. “That smaller one had a nice sword, you think we can sell it?”
Another voice, equally meaty but more feminine, came from a distance.
“I don’t know, Bruce,” It was a voice that echoed and bounced. Barbra thought that it might be a few rooms away. ‘Bruce’ was being rather loud, after all. “Pretty distinctive blade that one. Might want to just get rid of it!”
As ‘Bruce’ moved through the darkened room, muttering about the lack of light, Barbra motioned once again to Laura, indicating that she should swing her way around the furniture to the now-open door. A door which, Barbra had already noticed, still had the key sitting snugly in the lock.
Barbra knocked a piece of furniture in her haste to move and ‘Bruce’ turned towards the sound.
“Fucking rats,” he began. “Fucking hate fucking rats.” Then he moved into the corridor, swinging the outer door shut behind him.
Barbra looked into Laura’s wide, nearly panicked eyes, and nodded once, firmly. The pair ducked quickly through the door and Barbra shut it behind her, locking it and pocketing the key.
Something stank. Barbra looked to Laura and saw her wrinkle her nose in disgust, so she knew it wasn’t just her. As they drew ever farther away from the door behind which ‘Bruce’ was so far blissfully unaware that he was locked, the stench grew stronger.
Stronger, thicker. More rancid. Every room along the hallway that the door had opened onto was empty, though some were clearly inhabited. Though by what, Barbra was uncertain. The hall came to an end, turning left into a kitchen. This, they soon realised, was the source of the stench.
A ‘woman’, every bit as much as her companion, ‘Bruce’, was a ‘man’, turned a spit over a roaring fire, cackling quietly to herself. Upon the spit was one of the Dead, much fresher than those in the pit. It gnashed at its captor as she dangled her hand in front of its face, playing a game with the Dead. Discarded bones lay strewn throughout the kitchen.
It caught her, neatly nipping the end off one fingertip. She giggled like a schoolgirl and pressed the bloody stump into the Dead’s forehead, where it began to sizzle as the mildly acidic Ghoul blood bit into the Dead flesh.
Living on the flesh of the Dead, Ghouls somehow develop an immunity to the Dead’s pathogen. The cost is their sanity, their humanity, and some would argue, their souls.
Laura tapped Barbra on the shoulder, pointing across the room from the Ghoulish woman. There was a pile of assorted equipment just lying there, stacked almost as high as the ceiling. The pair had been at this a while, it seemed. She saw movement through a window coated in grime, first one shadow, then another. Then a third. More than just the pair, then. Shit.
Barbra pointed at Laura, then at the floor. Then again, emphatically. Her friend nodded, though her eyes were full of defiance. She would stay put, but they would have words about the younger girl giving orders later.
Barbra moved around the outside of the room, nearly choking on the stench of the smouldering Dead flesh. Once she reached the pile of equipment, she withdrew her sword first then silently moved behind the Ghoul.
So intent was she on her prey that she wasn’t paying attention to her surroundings, and she stepped on a rib, snapping it loudly. The Ghoul spun around, the tatters of her clothing fluttering in the firelight.
“Got out, did you? No matter, you’ll be one of them soon enough. Then we get to EAT YOU!” and she launched herself at Barbra, grimy taloned hands first.
Barbra didn’t even have to think about it. Her already raised sword sank through the Ghoul’s flesh killing her almost instantly. She then pushed the woman’s carcass off her blade and wiped the gore off with her rags.
A single shot rang out, outside. Than another. Barbra whistled for Laura to enter the room with her, and she did so.
Laura was followed immediately by an enraged Bruce, with splinters of door still stuck in his tattered clothing. His beard, matted by over a decade of gore, bristled as he raged towards the pair. Laura dropped, spinning around with an extended leg and Bruce flew over her, landing atop the now-burning Dead. His rags immediately caught fire and, as more gunshots erupted outside, Bruce began to howl in rage and agony.
A quick swipe of Barbra’s father’s blade cut off his howl, and his head.
More gunfire, bullets hitting the building. One window that, miraculously, actually still had glass remaining in its frame shattered as a stray round flew through it. A brief moment of silence. Silence apart from the crackling of the burning Dead, and dead Ghouls, and the snapping of the Dead’s jaws.
Barbra and Laura waited, holding their breath, for what seemed an eternity before the door to the outside world burst inwards as One-Ear kicked it in.
“There you two are!” She said in relief. Glancing around at the carnage, she grinned. It did horrific things to her face, yet Barbra and Laura grinned back at her. She turned to her companions, Toothless and Snarl. “Found them. You guys go back to Postie, we’ll be right behind you.”
Barbra and Laura then grabbed as much of the equipment from the pile as they could, to sort out at their leisure later. Some of it seemed more than useful, and some of it was food. According to Aunt Moira, once a Ghoul begins eating the flesh of the Dead that’s all they will eat. Nothing else.
Laden down with supplies, the trio trudged towards the town of Hope, and perhaps some answers as to the identity of the Cultist of One that had caused Baby to begin this journey in the first place.
About the Creator
Author and Creator of Anno Zombus, but don't let that worry you; I write more than just zombie stories.
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