There is no feeling worse than that of losing your parents.
Joe Hartness knew all about this. The crippling, suffocating grief that consumed you whole, the pit of black despair that you could never get yourself out of… It was an endless abyss of nightmares and pain. No child should ever lose their parents, but unfortunately for Joe, he did.
He was fifteen when the apocalypse hit. It hit like a domino effect, and pretty soon the virus had gone global. People died, and then came back to life. Except they weren’t the same, they weren’t even human. They were ravenous corpses existing only to cut humanity down to dwindling numbers by feeding on their flesh and tearing them apart. Survivors were few and far between, some banded together held by a mutual desire to live and to regain their home from these abominations of nature, others chose to go solo, finding that they coped better on their own. Joe was one of the latter.
After his parents lost their lives at the rapacious hands of the dead, Joe packed up a small rucksack full of necessities and headed out into the open, leaving the monsters that had taken on his parents appearance locked up in chains in the basement.
Within the first day it became plainly obvious to him he wasn’t going to survive this way. He had managed to evade a few hordes, ducking under cars and travelling on rooftops of buildings, but not once had he ever physically killed one.
That was until he saw Laura Ramona. To Joe, Laura Ramona was the epitome of perfection. She was beautiful and funny and popular and completely forbidden to him. She was dating Harry Acker, the guy responsible for Joe’s years of torment and abuse. For five years Joe had been picked on, slapped around and plagued with suffering from Harry. Laura was nothing like her boyfriend, but Joe was more than smart enough to know that making an advance on Laura would be suicide. Harry would end him. None of this mattered though when the world went to shit. Harry was never seen or heard from again and Laura’s family had packed up and headed down to the coast. How she had ended up back in her hometown was beyond him.
Humans are naturally social creatures; no matter how much someone tries to isolate themselves, they will always secretly crave communication. The length of time that Joe had gone without seeing another person was beginning to take its toll on him; he had resorted to talking to himself, sometimes out loud and other times in his head. He wasn’t stupid though; he kept to the dark shadows and if he spotted one of them he would hide quickly.
He was shambling along the pavement one night, feeling very much like one of the zombies himself, completely tired and fed up when he got the distinct impression he wasn’t alone. Automatically, he crouched low and pressed himself against the wall behind one of the abandoned cars, fully alert. His ears tried to pick up any sounds of movement around him while his eyes scanned his surroundings.
Not too far away, a stray zombie was shuffling along the road, head bowed, arms swinging loosely by its side. Joe could spot dark liquid falling from its mouth.
He waited, not daring to move, not daring to breathe. No matter how many he saw, he could never get over how disgusting and vile they were. Joe had read all the zombie fiction, seen all the movies, but nothing could ever prepare him for something like this.
Joe’s legs were beginning to cramp and without thinking he stretched one of them out, not noticing the metal can until it was too late. It rattled loudly and Joe cursed. The zombie stopped walking, lifting its head. Joe’s sharp intake of breath seemed to announce his position more than the can had, but he couldn’t stop himself. Dirty blonde hair, dishevelled and littered with mud and streaks of blood hung past a pale, bruised face. A large wound in its neck answered how it had turned, but Joe wasn’t concentrating on this. Even in death, he would recognize Laura Ramona. Right now though, she was heading for him, snarling venomously and dragging one leg behind her.
Joe could not move, he was frozen to the spot.