by Shane Migliavacca
The girl stared at the picture of her mother. She was only a baby in the photo. Her mom holding her tight and smiling. The girl was only one when the world ended. Her mom died then, in the ensuing chaos. She was fifteen now. Her father had escaped the city with her. Raised her out here in the middle of nowhere. They lived in a cabin, surrounded by beautiful trees. He taught her how to read, to hunt, to survive. She could hear the thunk of the ax outside. He was cutting some firewood. It was a comforting sound. They’d need that wood soon. Fall’s chill heavy was in the air. She loved of the smell of burning wood. Curling up by the fire and reading a book. Father had brought a bunch of books with him. He’d brought a few more back on a recent supply run. The girl hoped someday he’d let her come along on one. But, there was only the two of them. He told her that someone needed to guard the cabin and their stuff.
There were scavengers out there. People like them, but willing to hurt, kill others to get what they want. Worse then the scavengers were the dead. They were the ones that destroyed every thing. Dead bodies returned to life. They attacked the living, ate their flesh. One bite from them, even a scratch and you’d get sick and turn into one of them. That’s what happened to mom. She’d seen some pictures of them dad had shown her. Terrible looking things. A shiver ran down her spine just thinking about those pictures. There was always a risk those things could show up here.
The girl felt nervous. She got up from her chair and went over to the window. From here she could see her father working. Her dad brought down the ax, splitting a large piece of wood. His face was sweaty. He was starting to grow a beard. She didn’t like him with the beard, it hid his smile. He said it kept his face warm in the winter. Her dad looked up and saw her watching. He waved. The girl waved back, just seeing him, she felt reassured.
There wasn’t much to do right now. She’d washed the dishes from breakfast. It was to early to think about making lunch. They had a good garden going here, she’d gotten pretty good at gardening. Her dad had learned it from mom and later from mom’s books. The same books the girl read growing up. They along with the photo made her feel still connected to her mother. Dad didn’t talk much about her. It made him too sad. She could see it in his eyes.
Besides the garden they hunted the local wildlife for food. There were deer, turkey, rabbits and squirrels. She’d gone a few times, but as good as they tasted, she couldn’t bring herself to shoot one. Dad had been disappointed. Mainly he said, because he feared what would happen if he wasn’t around. This always led her to getting upset, so he dropped it. Now he went hunting by himself. She was better at setting traps for the smaller ones. At least she didn’t have to be there for those, when it happened. When they died. Her dad checked the traps once or twice a day. Mostly they just got squirrels. They made a good stew meat. Dad said they tasted a bit like pork. Something they didn’t have anymore around here. He said maybe someday they’d get lucky and find a wild pig.
There was some time before it would be lunch time. She didn’t really want to stay in the cabin all day. It was too nice outside. A little chilly maybe, but the morning sun was warming things up. Maybe she could convince Dad to let her go check the traps. It would a nice walk and a chance to get some fresh air. The cabin tended to get a little stuffy. If she was going to convince her father, she needed to be equipped.
The Girl went to over to the wall of weapons. That was her name for it anyway. On the gun rack sat their hunting rifle and a shotgun. Underneath on a table sat a bow and a bunch of arrows. Next to them was her pistol, sitting in it’s holster. If dad had his way, she’d wear the gun all the time. Even to bed.
The girl picked the holster up, taking the gun out and checking it. Loaded and ready to go. She took the belt with the holster and fastened the buckle. It felt tight against her waist. The girl took a sheath with a knife that was setting on the table. Couldn’t forget that. She tied it to her leg. Then she slid on her flannel jacket. Putting a handful of rounds in one pocket. Now all she needed to do was convince her father.
After promising her father about fifty times she’d be careful and keep to the route, the girl got to go. He offered to go with her, but after telling him she wanted to do it herself he relented. The girl wouldn’t have minded her dad’s company at all. But they spent so much time together at the cabin, it was nice to have some time all to herself. Besides, she was getting older, it was time she had more responsibility.
As she headed out the girl could still hear a few birds chirping away in the trees. There were some that hadn’t left yet. She hoped they’d be okay.
The brush crunched under her boots. The trees had started losing their leaves. They looked so beautiful this time of the year, with the orange and red leaves. It was a shame they couldn’t look that way all year round.
She heard a distant rumble in the sky. Looking up she saw the great bird far up in the clouds. Father told her about them. They soared through the skies. Letting out a great roar. Their bodies sparkled with lights, leaving a great trail of smoke behind them as they went. The girl stared up in awe. She followed after waving her arms and calling to it. Not that it could see or hear her way down on the ground as it flew through the heavens.
It reminded the girl of one of the dragons in the books she read. Tales of great warriors fighting mighty beasts. All for a fair princess. Then the warrior and the princess would go off together. Happily ever after. The stories always end with that. What was happily ever after? Sometimes the books had pictures. The girl would look at the pictures of the handsome warrior and feel odd. She dare not tell her father. The feelings made her feel embarrassed. Some times she dreamed about those warriors.
The ground gave way underneath her. The girl went tumbling down a hill, crashing through some brush. Leaves and branches scraped her face and hands as she rolled down the hill. Coming to a sudden stop in a small ditch.
The girl could feel blood trickle down her cheek. She stood, feeling dumb. She’d done what her father always warned her about. Lost focus. She’d been so caught up watching the great bird and daydreaming. The girl felt sore and had some cuts, but she was lucky to be alive. She turned looking up at the hill she’d just came down. It was quite steep. It was a miracle she didn’t break anything. More then the physical pain she felt ashamed. Ashamed she’d let her father’s faith in her down.
The girl started back up the hill, but the dirt was too lose. All she could manage was to get a little ways up before sliding back down. Finally giving up, she used a few of the words her father told her not to. She’d have to find another way back.
The girl looked around, A sliver of fear ran through her belly. She’d never been here before. She touched the gun at her side. Reassured by it’s cold surface and weight against her hip. There was nothing to fear if she remembered what her father had taught her. Keep her head and stay on the goal.
She started walking, looking for a way around. Or maybe an easier place to climb up. Her eyes scanning the terrain. As the girl made her way through the woods, a sound stopped her. It was a man’s voice. Gruff sounding, not at all like her dad’s. It sounded mean, violent.
“Keep your eyes open Dale.” It said, saying the name with anger.
The girl’s heart started to beat fast. That sliver of fear started to multiply.
Another voice, younger answered the man. “I am. I am!”
The girl crouched low and crept forward. She wanted to get a look at these intruders. Size them up. Did they know her and dad were here? Did they come to take their supplies?
She hid behind a large fallen tree. Long dead, it’s roots looked like the mouth of an angry monster. Peeking over the tree carcass she saw them. There were three of them. The gruff sounding one. He was the oldest. Then there was another male, about her age it looked. Then a boy, the one he called Dale. Maybe twelve or thirteen years old.
The girl eased along the dead tree as they moved forward. She needed to stay behind some cover. Slowly she drew her pistol. Taking the safety off with a click. Unless she ambushed them, they had the advantage with the rifles. They had the benefit of distance on their side. They’d have to come closer for her to get a good shot.
So, she waited. Breathing heavy. Sweat dripping down her forehead. Mixing with the blood from the scratches. The girl wiped her forehead leaving a greasy, bloody smear across it.
“You have to be careful with that rifle son.” The older man said, sounding a bit annoyed, yet fatherly. Were these his sons? “Out here you could hurt yourself or one of us. And there’s nobody to help.” It reminded her of her own training. Maybe they were good people. Maybe if she called out to them, approached them. They could be friends. No. She remembered what her father had told her about the others. They only wanted everything for themselves. Looking at the lanky older man she could believe it. He had a look about him. Something that told her to stay away. They’d most likely shoot her and go after her dad and their stuff.
She could just let them pass. Stay hidden. But, if they kept heading the way they were they’d find the cabin. There was every chance her dad might come looking for her. Stumble into these three. They might gun him down without a thought. The girl had to act. What would father do? She thought. How would he handle it if they’d switched places?
The girl didn’t want to kill them, especially the boy. They were just trying to survive like her. Maybe she could lead them away. Get them to chase her. Get them going in the other direction, away from their home.
Adrenaline started flowing through her veins as the girl got ready. Just let them get a little closer. Her body tensed with nervous energy. She had to protect her home, her father. A tingling feeling shot through her body.
Instinct took over as she bolted from her hiding place, squeezing off two controlled shots. Ripping though the calm, quiet morning. The first shot was a warning, to scare them. The second hit the older man in the arm. Grazing it. This shot was to get them to come after her.
“Down! Down!” The oldest son screamed.
“Daddy!” The younger boy called out. Terror filled his voice.
The girl crashed through the underbrush. The crack of a rifle, a bullet smashed into the tree she’d just passed. She pumped her legs, zigzagging between trees. Another rifle crack. This time nowhere close. Ten feet ahead of her was a slight rocky slope. The girl scrambled up it. The sharp rocks dug into her hands as she used them to pull herself up the slope. Somewhere behind her another rifle blast. This one zinging off a rock.
The girl ran. Ran then walked. Then ran again. After awhile the sun was lower in the sky. It was afternoon now. It was getting darker. Were they still following? Or had she lost them? The only thing she knew for sure was that she was lost. Lost and tired. She stopped, sitting down on a tree stump. The girl was thirsty. If she’d only taken a canteen with her. Lost, tired and thirsty. The girl started to weep. After a few minutes of crying she got frustrated with herself. Using her sleeve, she wiped the tears from her burning eyes.
She stood. Licking her lips for the moisture from the tears. The girl’s throat hurt from crying, making her even thirstier. Water…The stream! Yes! The one they used for their water. Dad had told her if she got lost, look for it. It would lead her home.
Just find the stream she thought.
The girl searched fruitlessly for the stream for an hour or more. She felt more lost now then earlier. It was hopeless. The woods were endless. She wasn’t even scared anymore. Just defeated. Defeated and tired. How long has it been since she ate anything? The girl yawned. Her head was spinning a bit. Maybe a little nap. Just to clear her head, recharge her energy. The girl sat, leaning her head against a tree. The air was getting cold as the sun went down. Hugging herself to keep warm, the girl’s eyes felt heavy. Just a quick nap she told herself. That’s all she needed. Closing her eyes she let sleep take her.
A beast roared through the woods. Startling the girl from her brief nap. What sort of animal made that kind of noise? Did those men bring it with them? Using it to hunt her down? Red, white and blue lights danced over the trees. Casting an unearthly glow look over the woods. Curious she got up, advancing through the trees ahead of her. Moving slowly. She gripped her pistol tight. Pushing past the group of trees and brush, she found herself on a long stretch of what was once a road. Father had told her about roads and cars. People used them to travel back and forth all the time. Before everything had ended.
There was nothing here. No beast, nothing. What had made that sound? Farther down the road she saw something moving, coming her way. Bright light was coming from it. White, red, blue. Swirling. Dancing. Same as before. She darted back into the cover of the trees as the thing drew closer. It made a high waling sound as it passed by. It was followed by two more. She caught brief glimpses of their insides as they sped by, there were people inside. Were these cars? Dad had told her there was no more gas to power them. How was this possible?
The girl waited. Until she was sure no more were coming. Before stepping out onto the road again. She stood at it’s center, looking one way, then the next. The last rays of sunlight were slowly fading away. It would be dark soon. The cold air on her skin woke her from her haze. The girl felt reinvigorated. She could do this.
Listening to the birds chirping away in the trees. Singing their song. There was another sound there under them. A familiar rhythm.
Without thinking she rushed to the other side of the road. There down at the bottom of a dirt embankment was a stream. Maybe the stream. If she followed it back, it might lead her home. Or she thought, looking down the road, where those things had come from. She could go there. Maybe there were more people there, good people. People that could help her get back to her dad.
The road or the stream.
After a few moments of thought, the girl headed down the embankment, towards the stream. She cupped her hands and gulped down some water. It was cold, but tasted good. The stream ran parallel to the road for a bit before curving off further into the woods. After all, could she really trust anyone else? No. She’d find her way home, to her father on her own.
Detective Jean Morrell watched the man through the two-way glass. Dr. Wong had been talking to him for a couple hours now. Wong was good. Morrell had never seen a smoother psychiatrist. She almost got the impression he cared about these nuts. Hell, maybe he did. They’d picked up the scruffy looking man after they’d got a call about a hunter and his two sons getting shot at by a wild girl in the woods. He’d been found not that far from the shooting by the search party . Surprisingly he’d went with them without incident. He was more worried about finding them finding the girl, his daughter. Morrell had listened as the man told the doctor about his family. A wife and daughter. Killed in a car crash by a teenage girl, asleep at the wheel. The driver being a teen got a light sentence. But the man had lost everything. Left his job, his house and became virtually homeless. Living out of his car. Until one day he came across the driver, now in her twenties. Living a normal life. This was too much for him. He followed her home. Stalking her with one thought in mind. Revenge. He killed the young woman. But he hadn’t counted on one thing, the woman had a six month old girl. He couldn’t just leave the little girl. Instead He took her, disappearing from the world. Raising her as the daughter he’d lost. Telling her about the “end of the world.” Teaching her to survive. Loving her like the daughter he’d lost.
Morrell shook her head as she listened. They’d never had known about this if it wasn’t for that father and his sons hunting. Happening across the girl. That girl, they had yet to find her.
She was still out there somewhere.
back to Horror