I looked up from the boxes in the trunk of the car. The sound of footsteps crushing dried leaves came from around the tall, vine-covered wall surrounding the yard. My hand moved to the cold iron barrel of the air rifle by my side and I glanced anxiously at the ten-year-old boy I hardly knew, standing near the door to the house behind me. He looked as nervous as I was, both hands pressing a scarf to his mouth as if he were trying to suffocate himself. I turned back to the gate –or what was left of it– just as the figure shuffled into view.
Man. I recognized him. My friend, Stevie. Everyone just called him Man. But the Man standing in front of me was not the Man I knew. I had feared the worst when an entire day passed after he’d left.
“Fuuuck…” I murmured through gritted teeth. The thing that was once my friend stared at me through grey, lifeless eyes. He was the last friend I had. I glanced again at the boy behind me. His eyes were wide now, the terror and shock on his face was evident. “Go inside. Now.” I said and turned towards the staggering figure in front of me, lifting the air rifle to nestle against my shoulder. The kid slowly stepped backwards into the house, his hand gripping the door handle, but not closing it entirely. I didn’t say anything; he was smart enough to slam it shut the moment he sensed any ounce of danger heading his way. Instead, I gritted my teeth and steadied my aim as I concentrated on the shambling figure approaching us. Man had started shuffling towards me now, his mouth opening and closing slightly as he dragged his feet across the cement.
He was a Walker now, alright. His eyes were sunken; his skin a pale, sickly grey. There was an open wound on his shoulder, his shirt caked in dried blood. He’d been bitten. By his girlfriend, probably. Did he try to hug her or something? That fucking idiot. He’d gone to fetch her when she’d called us the day before, hysterical that her car had broken down a mile away from our hide-out. I’d stayed behind to watch his little brother and pack our things for our next destination. I guess he failed…and now he’s back, leaving me in a stand off against this monstrosity with nothing but a toy rifle and a single lead pellet. My brother used to use something like this to kill birds for fun all the time, but it probably wouldn’t even leave a dent against a human skull.
It can’t hurt to try though.
Aiming for the left eye, a squeeze of the trigger and POP! The pellet embedded itself into his cheek. I never was a good shot. His head jerked slightly, but he didn’t seem to feel it at all. A low growl was my only warning as he broke his slow trudge, coming at me faster now. No. No, no, no.
I suddenly felt breathless. All I had been doing was back-stepping to maintain my distance from him; the increased urgency made me realize that I had been holding my breath the whole time. Shaking my head slightly to convince myself that there was no other way, the same string of thoughts began running through my mind again. How did things go so wrong? Why did this have to happen? Is there really no other way? Questions without answers, and yet the questions continued burning in my mind even as I turned the rifle to grip it by the barrel. There was no hope in a hopeless situation, and wishes never came true anyway.
The gun was heavy enough, decently crafted with an iron and wood stock. Pressing my lips together, I gritted my teeth and stepped forward, then swung the rifle’s stock down as hard as I could at Man’s head. A sickeningly loud CRACK! resounded off the walls as he crumpled to the ground. Lifting the rifle, I readied myself to strike again even as my hands shook from the feeling of the impact and my stomach roiled with nausea at the sight of the gash indented into his face. His head rolled from the side to stare blankly up at me. Rasping, the undead corpse of my friend lifted his arms to grab at me, rolling around like a turtle on its back. A surge of anger and fear shot through me. “Dammit Man, why did you go and do that?” I cried. Damn it, why had he gone to get her? Why hadn’t he listened and stayed? We could’ve gotten away together…There was hope in the group of us traveling together, and now it’s just me and this damned kid that I don’t even know.
With a grunt, my arms swung down as I delivered the finishing blow to his face again.
And again, until the ground ran dark with his blood and he moved no more.
The silence seemed deafening as I stood there, trying to catch my breath. Something stirred in the corner of my eye and I snapped my head towards it, stepping back. It was just the kid, face wet with tears. I spat on the ground beside me, a weak attempt to rid my mouth of the foul taste of…of what? Murder? Despair? Anger?…or hopelessness?
“I’m sorry.” I said dryly. I didn’t know what else to say. I’d only met him two days ago when we’d escaped from the city. He didn’t reply, but just clutched his scarf tightly and stared at his big brother’s corpse. I averted my eyes to look over at the entrance where the gate to the yard used to be, making sure that the coast was clear. I didn’t want to see his tears.
A cold breeze rustled the leaves on the ground, but there was no sign of any more of them.
My legs gave way and I collapsed against the wall behind me, dropping the rifle at my feet with a hollow thump. Hot tears welled up in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks, and I sobbed, clutching at my face with shaking hands.
For what seemed like the longest time, the boy and I mourned the death of the last person we were closest to in this mad, mad world.
I had never felt so alone.