“Momma, I’m hungry.”
“I know, baby. We all are.”
Kem held her five-year-old daughter tightly against her. Night had
fallen several hours ago, and Armand had yet to return. Although she
hadn’t voiced her worry, Teela did.
“When is Daddy coming back?”
“Soon, honey. Real soon.”
“Will he bring something to eat when he gets here?” The child
glanced up at her mother with hope in her eyes.
“That’s why he left, wasn’t it?”
Kem flashed her a smile.
A noise in the distance alerted
them both. Something was moving toward them, and from the sound of
it, it wasn’t being careful about being heard. Armand had left them
here, hiding inside what used to be a hair salon within a strip
mall. From where they knelt, light from the nearly-full moon came
through the shattered plate glass front windows, stopping a few feet
away. The chair they were hiding behind shielded them from being
seen from outside, but not if someone entered the building.
Teela whimpered but
pressed her lips tightly together as she’d been taught. Her
breathing quickened in rising fear. Kem clutched her daughter more
tightly and whispered in her ear.
“Be ready to run.”
Teela gave a quick nod. Kem felt the child tense in her embrace.
The movement came closer. Kem felt for the ax she’d leaned against
the cabinet beside her. Her fingers curled around the smooth handle,
and the feel of it gave her a sense of hope.
The infected shuffled past the window. With the moonlight behind it,
it loomed dark and menacing as it paused and looked around. It
wavered on its feet as it sniffed the cold air.
Teela moved her foot, a slight movement that seemed to echo inside
the abandoned building.
The infected opened its mouth and howled, bursting through the
remaining glass, unmindful of the deep gouges it made on its body.
It came straight toward the chair where Kem and Teela were hiding as
its nerve-shattering cries rose in volume.
“Teela, run!” Kem gave the girl a shove toward the rear of the
building and lifted the ax, swinging it in an arc in front of her.
The blade sank into the creature’s shoulder, knocking it off its
feet. She took advantage of the moment and dashed after her child.
Since killing one of the infected was difficult most times, it was
always a better strategy to try and hide from them. But as their
numbers grew, it was becoming almost impossible to avoid being
spotted and chased.
Which was why it was imperative Kem and Armand get themselves and
their daughter out of the city as soon as possible.
Teela was hiding behind a dumpster behind the shop. Kem grabbed the
girl’s hand on the run and together they dashed across the littered
Ahead, Kem noticed a partly-opened rear door to another shop. She
briefly debated whether or not to go inside. Normally it was safer
to remain out in the open where they could spot the infected and
avoid any confrontation. It wasn’t wise to be trapped inside a
building that would soon be surrounded by tens of those things. But
with winter upon them, that option was no longer viable. They needed
shelter from the storm she could smell approaching.
Reaching the shop, Kem paused, bracing her back to the wall, to
listen for any noise coming from within. Teela whimpered slightly as
she clutched her mother around the waist. Placing a hand on the
child’s shoulder, she gave it a pat, her signal to remain quiet
until she could determine whether or not it was okay to go inside.
Sniffing again, Kem was unable to detect the rotting scent of an
infected inside. She managed to squeeze through the narrow opening,
bringing her daughter inside with her.
They were in some sort of storage room. From the faint tang of
rubber and metal, Kem guessed it was an auto parts store. Taking the
slim cigarette lighter from her coat pocket, she thumbed the wheel
until a tiny flame appeared. Using the meager light to guide their
way, she cautiously made her way through the inventory room and into
the main servicing area.
“Momma.” Teela’s whisper caught her attention. She glanced down to
see the girl pointing to a door labeled LOUNGE. “Maybe they have
something we can eat in there.”
“Let’s find out.”
The staff lounge was small, but it did contain a vending machine.
Kem stared in surprise at the candy bars, chips, cupcakes, and
cookies still held inside the machine. There wasn’t much, but there
was enough to stave off starvation for another day.
“How are we going to get it out?” the little girl asked.
Closing the door behind her, she picked up a chair. “Stay back,” she
ordered and jammed the chair’s feet into the glass front. The
explosion was deafening. For several seconds the two of them paused,
their bodies tensing as they listened for the sound of something
coming to investigate the source of the noise. When a good minute
passed without results, Kem allowed herself to breathe again.
“Let me grab the stuff,” she told her daughter. “I don’t need you to
cut yourself on the glass. Take what I hand you and pile it up on
They made swift work of excavating the snack items, stopping when
they were done to eat a few of the treats.
“How are we gonna take this stuff
Kem smiled at the smear of chocolate at the corners of her
daughter’s mouth. “There’s bound to be something in this store we
can use. Hold on. I won’t be long.” Giving her child a kiss on the
forehead, she slipped out of the lounge to look for a carry-all. It
didn’t take her long before she came across a backpack inside what
appeared to be the manager’s office. Taking it back to the lounge,
she dumped the contents onto the floor, then they refilled it with
the remainder of their goodies.
The infusion of sweets gave her strength, but she also knew the
sugar high wouldn’t last long. “We have to find Daddy. Stay behind
me. You know the drill.” She hoisted the backpack over her shoulders
and led the girl out the way they’d entered.
Kem extinguished the light. When
her eyes finally adjusted to normal light, she surveyed the
exterior. Somewhere out there Armand was hunting for food. With
luck, she hoped he was successful. Teela huddled next to her mother
as they continued to wait for some sign of the man.
She felt a tug on her coat sleeve. Kem bent down to hear
Teela whisper, “How much longer?”
“Soon,” she promised, but it was an empty one. She had no idea where
he was, or even if he was still alive. There were no longer any
definites in this post-apocalyptic world. No more sureties. They
couldn’t even take another hour of life for granted.
Kem steeled herself. She’d give her husband until the moon
disappeared behind the buildings. If he hadn’t returned by then, she
and Teela would have to move on. They needed to get out of the city
where most of the infected were located.
By her guess, an hour passed with
no sign of her husband. Neither did she spot another infected. If
there was anything to be grateful for, it was the fact that the
infected tended not to be as active when the temperature dropped.
Neither were they as active during the night. There had to have been
some reason why that one lone creature had been roaming along the
front of the beauty shop, but it no longer mattered.
Teela fell into a restless sleep. Kem watched the moon as it began
its slow descent. As it moved nearer to dropping behind the
buildings, her heart also fell. Her warm tears quickly froze on her
cheeks and she picked them off with her fingernails.
At long last she realized he wasn’t coming back. It was time to move
on. Time to face another day. Another struggle to survive. Another
step closer to oblivion, regardless of what she and Teela did.
Slowly, painfully, she got to her feet and shook her daughter awake.
“Come. We need to go.”
“He didn’t make it, sweetie. He—” Her voice broke. She couldn’t
finish the sentence. Teela continued to stare up at her in hopeful
confusion. Sighing, Kem gave the child a little tug and moved to the
corner of the building.
Cautiously, she peered around the side of the building to see if it
was safe when an infected launched itself at her from the shadows.