Mika gathered her things in a large knapsack she had found in the house. She had found inside a canteen which she filled at the water pump she found out back. She sat for an hour after she had finished packing, watching the sun move across the floor until it moved from the shed altogether. Wiping a tear from her cheek and stood. She was afraid. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of the dead that walked, and, the part of her that let loose that primal scream one day ago, was afraid to find living people and what they would think of her.
Mika stopped walking. She peeled the bag off her back and set it on the ground. She unzipped the dirty coveralls and pulled her arms from the garment. She then tied the arms around her waist. The hot sun, although lower than it had been when she started out was making her journey tiresome. She put her hands on her hips and breathed in deeply. Mika had been walking for many hours on the hot pavement, and although she had found shoes, her feet were sore from the running she had done previously. Sitting down, she pulled the canteen from her bag and took a big gulp. Conservation of the water was key where she did not know when she would come across it again. She had no idea where she was and if there were any fresh water lakes or streams, or even towns. Any road signs she came across had been painted over with number totals, either of the living, or dead. Crickets sang around her as well as cicada’s; the wind rustled through the trees and brush behind her. Closing her eyes she could almost block out what was happening around her, as if the world had not ended and it was all but a dream.
She was jolted awake by a hand grabbing her shoulder. Disoriented, she rolled forward, turning so that she could see who had grabbed her. A woman stood where she had just been sitting, her face oozing where it had been torn away. She was dressed in a simple blue dress that was covered in dried blood and human waste. She stood, staring a Mika, her arm still outstretched where she had grabbed Mika’s shoulder. Her breath came in slow, rattling gasps from the hole that was her mouth.
Mika was still crouched, still unsure of what to do. The woman was not attacking her like the others, but that might change if she made any sudden movements. This quiet exchange of looks continued for many minutes, so long that Mika’s legs began to cramp from lack of movement. Suddenly, the woman’s hand moved down to her side in one slow motion, and she turned, walking in the direction that Mika had come from.
She watched her go, walking in a slow shuffle, pausing every few steps as if she had to remember how to walk. Mika watched her until she went around the distant corner and could no longer be seen. Mika stood, wincing as blood rushed to her cramped limbs. She had wasted too much time. Dawdling. That’s what her father would say.
Collecting her belongings she moved on, walking in the opposite direction of that weird woman who did not try and eat her. She laughed out loud at this. Who would have thought that someone not trying to eat her would ever be deemed strange.
The laughter, however brief, seemed to lift Mika’s spirits. The sun, although hot, was comforting and Mika pretended that she was just out for a summer walk.
That fantasy continued until she reached the first town.
The supermarket sign banged against a car in the wind, creating the effect of distant gunfire. Mika had been annoyed by the sound when she had entered the town three days ago, but now it provided an odd comfort. She found no one living or dead in the cluster of twenty buildings and only a small portion of edible food. Whoever had lived here had cleared this place out, or it had been picked over by possible survivors.
Mika took up residence in the second floor above the convenience store. Someone had lived there so there was a bed and a few clothes that were too big but didn’t smell. One could not be picky.
The sun was high again, sizzling the pavement and creating mirages. Mika sat on the roof of the convenience store keeping lookout, but also staying cool in the shade and basking in the breeze. She was reading a novel she had found when she heard something. Looking up from her book, she craned her neck to the left and to the right, checking down both sides of the road that cut through the tiny town. About to give up after not finding anything, something got her eye. She strained her eyes in the direction that she herself had come a few days ago and saw movement. She froze. People. People were coming towards her. Ducking down below the edge of the roof, she allowed only the top of her head to peek up so she could watch them walk her way. It took them a while, they were being cautious. That, or they were dead. Once they came a bit closer, Mika cold hear them talking, something she hadn’t heard in a while. They kept their voices low, but it was most definitely human speech. She also saw that they carried guns.
The leader, a man, held a shot gun up and ready, looking each way as he walked, his eyes sharp. There were seven in total, three men and four women. Mika knew from historical accounts, that when things went to shit, the human character changed. She thought of mass rape and murder and wondered if these women were companions or captives. Her mind was changed when she saw one of the women holding a handgun.
Mika watched them for two hours as they scoured the town as she had. When they moved towards her building she stayed where she was, her crowbar was on the roof and there was no more sign of her living there than what she had discovered when she had found the apartment. It was almost dark by the time they had chosen to settle in. Apparently her apartment wasn’t suitable to their needs and they chose to set up camp in the doctor’s office across the street. This gave Mika a perfect opportunity to watch them even more. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for. She wasn’t even really sure why she hadn’t joined them yet. Fear. Fear that they might find out…Mika shook her head. She had crazy thoughts sometimes.
Mika watched as they set up a fire just outside the office and cooked what looked like a rabbit. Her mouth began to water and her stomach reminded her it had been a while since she had had anything other than canned goods. She quietly went back inside the apartment, her legs cramping from lack of use. Her mind raced with possibilities. What if they killed her? Raped her? But, what if they left her here alone. She didn’t like to be alone and knew she’d be safer in the company of others. It was this nagging feeling that was keeping her from waving her arms and screaming SOS. She could hear them laughing as they talked over their supper. Squeezing her eyes shut, a face flashed before her eyes. A girl with brown hair, laughing as she threw leaves at Mika.
“ Rebecca…” Mika started, her voice croaking. This memory of that girl, who had been a friend? It made her even more lonely. Standing up straight, she inhaled and exhaled deeply to steady herself. Going downstairs she went out the back door. Her last test was to listen to what these people were talking about. Just because they were laughing didn’t mean that they weren’t talking about that dead baby they had just skewered.
“…should move on in a few days” the man Mika assumed to be the leader as he had been at the front of the group when they had entered town and seemed to give out orders today when the group had been exploring.
“ Yeah,” one of the women agreed. “ There isn’t much here but it seems quiet enough, it should be nice to relax a bit.”
“ I’m telling you guys I heard something,” said a woman with red hair. She was polishing her gun.
“ Don’t worry, two of us will be on watch at all times. If there is someone here we will know,” the leader said again. She listened as they talked about food reserves and water sources.
It’s now or never. Stepping around the corner into view she said, “ There’s a pump behind the convenience store.” No one reacted for a moment, but quicker than she could blink, Mika suddenly had five guns pointed at her.
Raising her hands defensively, she slowly moved towards them. “ I’m sorry to-“
“ Who the hell are you!?” The red-headed woman yelled at her.
“ I-I;m Mika,” she stammered, her voice still dusty from lack of use.
“ Yeah, and what the hell are you doing here?” The leader asked. Mika was very aware that all guns were still pointed at her.
“ I’m not going to hurt you,” she started.
“ What were you doing out in the dark?” One of the men asked once they had all lowered their guns.
“ I was watching you, to make sure it was alright,” she paused again. Was it that unusual to be cautious? Apparently not.
The man smiled, “ I don’t blame you. These days if you aren’t eaten by zombies then you’re getting shot at by the living. I’m John.” He went around the group and named everyone, nods in her direction corresponded with titles. The red-headed woman, Jane, didn’t seem to buy her story.
“ You’ve been out here all by yourself this whole time?” She asked warily.
Mika sat where John motioned her to sit. “ Uh, no. I’ve just been alone for the past few days.” She hadn’t counted on meeting anyone and didn’t think it necessary to have a back up story.
“ Did your people die?” Asked Brian, a man with dark skin.
She nodded, “ Yes. We got separated.” They seemed satisfied by this.
“ It happens,” said John. “ We all were with our families before all of this. But, one thing or another happened and we ended up together. We’ve been walking for almost two weeks now, just trying to find shelter, food and people.” He smiled at her. “ It’s nice to meet someone who isn’t trying to eat you.”
Mika smiled weakly, “ Same here.” She felt a strange sensation looking at John, almost a recognition. A memory tried to push to the surface, “…I don’t have a pulse!…”
“Mika?” John was shaking her. “ Are you alright?”
She shook her head, the fire blinding her as she realized where she was again. “ Y-yeah,” she stammered.
“ Poor thing probably hasn’t eaten a proper meal in a while,” Carmine said. She was an older woman, in her mid-fifties. She reminded Mika of someone.
“ Here, hun, have some beans. It’s all we have left,” Carmine said, dishing out a brown sloppy substance from the cooking pot that was hanging over the fire. “Jane here caught a rabbit but we already ate it. You should have come over sooner!” The woman chuckled and touched her arm comfortingly.
They all chatted for a while, everyone telling Mika who they had been before all the death. They passed around a bottle of vodka they had found somewhere.
“ I was working the night shift at an art gallery when a swarm of them walked into town,” Ed, a man with black curly hair said. He shook his head, “ The screams are the worst. Everyone agreed. “ It’s like they enjoy the hunt, the attack and the vicious….” He stopped suddenly and stood, going to stand with his back to the group.
Carmine put a hand on Mika’s thigh, “ Ed just lost his partner a few days ago.” The older woman stood and went to put an arm around Ed, leading him inside the small building.
“ I think it’s time we all got some shut eye,” John said. “ Jane, you and I have first watch.” The red-headed woman nodded; she was to sit on the roof and survey the land for the undead.
“ I think I will head over to where I have been staying,” Mika said, still unsure of these strangers. They seemed nice enough, and were willing to share their food, but she still felt uneasy; there was still her secret…
“ That’s fine.” John pulled her aside as the other gathered up their things to move inside. “ I don’t blame you for being cautious” he said, reading her thoughts. “ We rise pretty early, so if you want to have breakfast, plan on getting up early.” He held out his hand. “ Thanks for stopping by” She shook his hand and smiled, as if they had just had a casual evening, like everything was normal.
Mika curled up in the acquired bed that night, unable to sleep, her mind buzzing. Should she just leave? These people wouldn’t miss her, she would just be another mouth to feed. But, it was nice to be around others, to talk, to feel safe. Safety, that’s the thought that calmed her and let her mind drift into sleep.