Breathing hard, we pulled ourselves to a stop under the shade of the supermarket’s front door. John was nowhere to be seen, he’d vanished with a horde of the undead in tow not a minute earlier. He’d bought us the distraction we desperately needed- but at what cost?
Each breath felt as if a blade of ice were stabbing its way down into my lungs whilst the broken rib was a dagger twisting and ripping, and with every exhale came bolts of phlegm and spit and blood. We don’t have time to worry. Push on. I forced myself up straight, and looked across to my remaining friend. She was in better shape than I was- by miles.
“You ready?” I wheezed.
“Are you?” she returned.
I only nodded.
Inside the supermarket the lights were off, and the rare small windows were high, thin and dirty offering little illumination. The automatic doors weren’t functioning, but neither were they locked. Prying open the door with dirty and cracked nails, we slid inside.
The place had been ransacked; shelves lay overturned and ruined- anything of value already stolen. Every step echoed in the silence. Shadows jumped from every shadowy corner, and indistinguishable silhouettes lay clumped on the floors.
In her hand, the thin blade Harry gave her glinted in the dim lighting. She crept beside me, her footsteps making almost no sound, and her breath inaudible beside my wrecked wheeze. Slowly, my eyes adjusted to the dimness, and the indistinguishable figures were no longer indistinguishable.
They were bodies, bodies that had once been Human.
And they lay still.
As quietly as I could manage, I approached one. The ripped cheek and bloodied eye socket, broken teeth and everything twisted and mutated made it obvious she’d turned. Yet, she was still and silent.
All about her, similar figures dotted the ground.
Michaela sheathed the dagger and knelt beside the body of a man. “Jay...” she called, breaking the silence. “You might want to look at this.”
Following her suggestion, I left my discovered body and went to hers. He too, had obviously turned, but it was his face and head that commanded immediate attention. Split clean, in a diagonal cut from above his left ear, down to the right side of his lip. The cut was clearly from a long, well maintained blade, wielded by a strong hand.
For a second, I had the most awful feeling that we were intruding. Blinding pain tore up my side from where his boot connected with my already fractured ribs, white and red flashed in a black rimmed vision when another figure appeared in my vision.
She was tall, and lean with skin the colour of ebony. She pressed a cloth she held in her hand over my mouth and nose, with a bitter taste and the smell of alcohol.
When I woke, I was stripped from the belt up and my feet were bare. My hands were bound by leather, which in turn was attached to a rope that hung from the ceiling. My feet were on the ground enough so that they supported my weight, but the bindings had me stretched the point where I couldn’t move.
I was groggy, and pain ached across my body and head. It was a dull ache, as if I were separated from myself. My captor was silhouetted by golden beams of a near-dusk. I’d been out all day. She stepped forward, a bottle of clear liquid in her hand.
She lifted it to my lips, telling me to drink. My consent mattered little, in my position she could have forced the drink in my mouth and held my nose until I drank. Fortunately, it was only water. When she’d deemed I drank enough, she stepped back.
Already my head was clearing, and the pain coming more sharply.
“Where’s my friend?” I croaked.
The dark skinned woman across the room only smiled.
“I’ll ask the questions.” She told me. “Where are the rest of you?”
I paused, for a second. She stepped forward and delivered a punch directly into the purple target that was my ribs.
“Outside the town” I choked.
“-and why are you here?” She continued.
“For a boat-” I coughed back.
“Then why were you in our supermarket?”
“We needed supplies...”
“Stupid boy.” She snarled. “These are our supplies. Stealing is bad.”
She hit me again.
A girl screamed, muffled by a wall, from behind me. I recognised the voice.
The bitch just smiled.
“Mitch is having fun” she remarked.
I caught the verbal barrage before it escaped my mouth. No use getting myself beaten more, I figured.
Then, a blinding wave of afternoon sun flooded our small room. John stumbled in, panting from a run and an old metal broom handle in his hands. Both he and the bitch did a double take. John looked at me, and then slowly his gaze slipped back to her.
It was the same gaze he offered Augustin in the clearing.
He stepped forward powerfully, and with a powerful stroke knocked my captor to the floor. Wasting no time, he came to me and undid my bindings. It took a second, but when lose my feet were already holding my weight.
I grabbed took the knife from the bitches belt. When John knocked her down, she’d collided with a wall and table. I didn’t know if she was dead or alive, and I didn’t care.
Knife in hand, I motioned to the door behind where I’d hung. John took the message and stepped forward, bursting it open and striding into the room. I followed.
Inside, John had knocked the man to the ground. Michaela was suspended in a position similar to mine, but instead her feet were raised and she hung solely from her wrists. I went to her while John held the quaking ‘Mitch’ in his corner.
Once she was on her feet, I found the Machete that had slain the main in the supermarket. It was in its sheath, attached to a belt on the counter.
“I think I’ll keep this,” I told the man.
Our clothing and equipment lay in a messed pile on the table. We sorted it, and dressed silently. Beside it, were cans of food, and various travel packs were stored under the table.
Three hours later, the Catamaran lay at anchor in the night, slightly off shore by a beach lit by moonlight. To the side of this beach was a deep running inlet, which ran inland. If you were to follow this inlet, you find the remains of the camp were the group had awoken that morning.
Now, that camp deserted: the last of its equipment and members being loaded onto the stolen Catamaran. I watched as the last of us climbed aboard- and was struck with an overwhelming sadness and lethargy.
What had we come too?