In the darkness of night, a young girl was walking. Breathing deeply, listening to the wind, she was groping to a sturdy, concrete wall. This wall, she remembered it. Her fingers were exploring its surface, looking for its holes, looking for its flaws ; her hand found all of them and not even one more. This wall was part of her past ; it was just as cold, just as grey, just as hard as it had been. It will be part of her future.
When her hand left the wall, her eyes had to open. This new moon night wasn’t leaving much for her to see, but memories could not be kept away just as easily. About one mile to the east were her father, her brother and her mother. She found the first far away, as if asleep in his own car. She found the second bent under his school table, as if mourning or shameful of something. The third she never had to look for, for her mother fell right before her eyes. Her father was broken, his eyes dead, his voice forever silent. Her mother was still but not sleeping ; her hands grew cooler and cooler as she was crying near her, then eventually became just as cold as stone. Her brother was now quiet. It took her hours to find out about all of them. It took only minutes for the first horrible stains to appear. Death was even quicker ; for it took it only seconds to strike all and everyone in her world.
A dry wind was covering the sound of her steps as her feet were slowly taking her further from the wall. In olden times she played with it, climbed it, drew sketches on it. Now she only wanted to touch it, to feel something in it. Then to close her eyes and remember. She remembered her friend playing with her on this wall ; she remembered the parents of her friend, always panicked by their dubious little games in the garden ; she remembered the dog they had ; she even smiled with these memories. But hunger took her again away from these ; hunger always had to be cared for. She didn’t know why she cared so much about finding some food. She knew how to cook eggs, but eggs were no longer good. She knew how to warm up milk, but milk wasn’t better. So she was eating cereals. It took her days to move and escape, but as days passed and passed, looting cereals and water became her hobby.
She had a secret place deep in the forest where she was hiding all her treasuries. Ned the Bear was there with her. And ten-twelve-twenty cereal boxes along with plenty of water. One day a horrible thing came to her cache; but Ned made it flee and no more came. She then saw several of those things in a house, but she learnt to stay away from them. One day she heard a car ; she cautiously went out and saw four big men wearing red scarves. They were looting the houses just like her, but didn’t know that she already took the cereals ; she never came to them for they could have asked her about it. Some days after a chopper flew above her ; it was noisy and terrible. Some yellow papers rained under it, and she added three of them to her cache. The sketch of a fighting soldier was on them, and words of war and hope. It was beautiful and Ned liked to hold the papers before his eyes. But it wasn’t her mother or her father on the picture.
Tonight everything was quiet. She was walking near her wall and listening carefully to the wind. The wind was dry, and the wind was cold. No bird and no cricket were singing, but both seemed to have left this land forever. But she heard something other in it.
She managed to hide behind the concrete wall a long time before the vehicle came. Two men walked out of the jeep. They were holding torches and rifles in their hands. They explored the house. Usually people did not care about the garden - they plunder things in a house or two and then leave - but these ones did care. She saw the two men walking closer to her wall. Her wall would not betray her, her wall was eternal. But her wall wasn’t large enough. They saw Ned, then they saw her. Afraid at first, they shouted and even fired. She screamed and eventually the uproar stopped ; then the men captured her and took her to the house. They asked about many things ; they also asked about food. In only a minute they would learn about the boxes. Crying over and over, she eventually slipped out of their grasp then ran as fast as she could, blindly in the forest, as long as she could run.
Weariness made the child fall many times but as soon as she woke up she ran again, this time exploring the place she ended in. The sky was slowly lightening up as dawn was coming. The little girl was near a wall unknown to her. Pushed forward by hunger, she came closer to a house then saw that other vehicles and other men were nearby. Soldiers were running and tanks were moving quickly in the town, crushing rubble and rusty cars. All seemed to be in a hurry. Then air suddenly rang with gunfire. Light shined and people screamed with pain, light shined again and vehicles exploded in a huge blaze. In the moment of silence that followed, the child heard footsteps closing by. The girl walked back, trying to be as quiet as a mouse.
A… thing appeared before her eyes. It looked like both a man and a monster. Its skin was blue-green, its eyes black and red, and a huge monstrous sort of ball stood above its head. Facing her, the monster-man reached out a hand, and the hand was holding a handgun. The girl shrieked and ran, holding Ned against her chest, trying to flee this apocalypse.
Some minutes after she climbed an old tree and stayed in it. Her limbs were full of pain, she was tired and mourning. Her fear went so much beyond her hunger that she decided never to climb down.
It is there, among branches and leaves, a little mourning angel ; it is there that she was found.
She held her rifle as tightly as she could. The woman was running, but running quietly. The things she saw were too monstrous for her to remember them. Facing those again would tear her soul away. No, if she didn’t want to become completely insane, she had to run away from this town, from the things hidden in it, and even, from the last soldiers of her unit who were hopelessly fighting behind. She disciplined herself and continued to move on.
As soon as she reached a relatively secured place, she made a halt to clear her mind. The woman found herself a new mission : to be the one to survive this assault and report back to the Shelter. Her success would require stealth and discipline. That is the reason why as soon as she heard an innocent girl mourning somewhere, her first reaction was to be surprised, and her second, to ignore the weeping and flee from it.
But she could not persuade herself to do so. She was both a mother and a soldier, and the little girl was helpless. Was the child from another Shelter ? Discovering how she ended up here could be a critical information, and this would be plausible as a reason to rescue her in her debriefing report. With a sigh, she came back to the girl’s spot, and looked over to find her well hidden in the branches. She addressed her softly, both for stealth and for sweetness.
“Hey… hey… my little angel, calm down, I am here. Come. I know. I know what happened. I will protect you. I am here…”. She had to repeat it several times before the child seemed to react and to come down. But the girl was only halfway down when a scary gurgling nearby frightened and stopped her. Hearing movement in the surrounding bushes, the soldier jumped, grappled on to the tree, caught the girl in her arm then ran away from the place before the girl had the time to panic and shriek.
There began a terrifying race with unknown things after them. Putting the screaming girl on her shoulder, the woman took only a second to adjust her bags and weapons before running as fast as she could. Branches were striking her face, bushes were bruising her legs, but she ran, ran, ran for her life, ran for her sanity. She almost felt the beast that was hunting her, she almost felt its hot, venomous breath on her back, and its hunger for her. She didn’t know how long she could sprint this way in the dark with the girl burdening her, but there was nothing other to do, so she strengthened her will as she knew this was her only chance, hoping the beast would loose her track.
But it was still after her. And it was closing.
Her breath shortened, but in a desesperate cry, she managed to run even faster. She didn’t know how she managed to jump over branches she could not even see. But her luck suddenly vanished. Her foot stroke something hard, her eyes widened as she fell. She managed to roll over her shoulder and to get up quickly, her rifle pointing at her track. The girl was left on the ground, close to her, a little bruised by the fall.
The woman breathed strongly, trying not to panic. She heard movement before her, but also around her, and could not see a thing. Her leg was aching and she knew she could no longer flee. She stayed there, facing one direction then the other, her breath short and her eyes wide. Her mind filled up with images and sounds. She felt again the fight her companions and her had in the town. She could not keep herself from living through the assault again.
They began to heard odd things. “Ready…” shouted Captain Briggs as she soldiers took position and prepared their weapons. No one knew what to expect. Survivors from the Fall ? Rebels, plunderers, or other soldiers ? As the sounds were closing by, Old Rusty said “god save us, those things are not humans”. All soldiers gasped as they thought the same thing. “Ready !” insisted Captain Briggs.
Ready yourself… thought the woman to herself. The woman heard a slow movement in a bush to her left. She pushed the girl on the ground and watched out, her assault rifle ready to fire. She caught a glimpse of some gigantic dog that moved immediately to somewhere else. She tried to follow it with her eyes. What the hell s that...
“What the hell is this…” muttered Old Rusty near her. Something was crawling on the road before them. It looked like some unnatural pile of corpses, somehow hoarded up, and moving in their direction. It suddenly stood up on some sort of dead legs… and spat something. Big John was covered with a yellow, bile-looking liquid. “Darn”, he said humorously. Then he shrieked. His flesh smoked and blistered immediately, his face melted and he fell down, his arms striking his flesh mindlessly. Old Rusty ran to him and tried to clean the liquid from his body, but everything he used melted away and soon Old Rusty himself shrieked in pain. “FIRE ! FIRE AT WILL !” commanded their officer, thus breaking the hypnotic and horrific scene. Rifles roared out along with men themselves, and soon bullet holes filled the pile of corpses. Though bleeding, the creature spat again and again. “Grenade it !” shouted Captain Briggs. About half a dozen other monsters were coming from the other roads, just as the pile of corpses was spitting again. “TO THE LEFT !” yelled Captain Briggs as some gray-looking cadaver equipped with a shotgun fired at them from that direction. “TO THE RIGHT !” shouted their leader as another beast broke the window of a nearby building to fall on their group. The creature jumped right on their officer and with a single bite opened his throat. “Retreat, retreat ! Flee for your life !” yelled a panicked soldier. The woman ran.
But now she could no longer run. The girl near her sobbed. The woman held her breath. A cold wind swayed leaves and branches. Suddenly the creature jumped, and she barely managed to crouch and fire as the dog-like monster fell on her. Her assault rifle fired repeatedly, tearing its flesh apart, covering her with its hot blood, just as she felt it biting her again and again. When the beast was eventually shot down, she crawled half a meter away then fired at it again. Her weapon emptied, she sighed. Her legs and left shoulder were bleeding ; they had been bitten hard and deeply. Pulling herself with her valid arm, ignoring the intense pain, she managed to lean up against a tree. She made a halt there. Though her throat was dry, she tried to speak.
“Come, little girl, come to me.”
Finding some courage the woman guessed only hard life put in her, the girl came, tears on her face. She was holding some soft toy in her hand. “You are beautiful and courageous, yes” said the woman with a smile. Pain filled her eyes with tears. “My children were too. The Fall…”. She took some breath again. “The Fall took them. How come you are alive… a Shelter… your parents ?”…
“They are sleeping” answered the child.
“When ? The Fall ?”
“I was ill. Mommy said I had the.. I had the whooping cough. I felt a little better, but just as it rained, Mommy fell…”
The whooping cough… oh God, is it possible ? thought the woman. A mushroom acting as a retrovirus ? if only… oh if only… the woman remembered when she had to leave her children, being called to a secret atomic shelter with some other elite soldiers. Then she looked over to the girl again. She felt shadows darkening her eyesight.
“Listen… listen… run in that direction… run… beyond the forest, there will be a road. Stay there. Always stay there. People will come… before tomorrow… in a vehicle.” She closed her eyes, feeling very bad. “Come to them”, she sighed. “Come to them… and live.”
The child watched the woman as she fell asleep.
She stayed there a long time as her hands grew cooler and cooler.
Then she left, and ran.