The man in camouflage utilities walked slowly down the weed-ridden sidewalk. It was deserted for now, but undue noise had the potential to attract unwanted attention. He could walk quietly, even in his military-style boots, which might have been heavy and cumbersome to most, but years spent wearing such footwear had made them feel as light as sandals to him.
A black Jack Daniel’s bandana around his forehead kept the sweat out of his dark, onyx-colored eyes; it was summer, and even in the relatively mild climate of Chicago the temperature could soar above ninety degrees Fahrenheit. He carried a Smith & Wesson rifle that was painted in the same camo pattern as the man’s clothes, a pattern known as A-TACS. A .45 caliber, 1911 pistol was on his thigh in a tactical holster, and a large KA-BAR was sheathed behind him on his right side. He gave his shoulders a shrug, adjusting the green military ruck, filled with canned goods and water, on his back.
Behind the man walked a pretty, young girl. She was fourteen years old, and Abby was her name. Her hazelnut hair, a shade lighter than the man’s short, military style hair, was pulled back into a ponytail which poked out of the back of a raggedy baseball hat. Like the man, she also wore boots, but these were hiking boots and did not have steel toes like the man’s boots did. “Boots last longer, and they protect your ankles better,” was what the man had told Abby when she asked if she could wear her old shoes instead, and she did not argue with him.
The man was not her father, but he had always provided for and protected her like a father would. Abby had actually never known her real father, and her mother had been murdered in the early days of the outbreaks, or The Crisis as it was often called, so she was all alone when the man found her almost two years ago. She had made him a bracelet out of survival cord after living with him for a few weeks to show her appreciation, and he still wore it to this day.
She carried a backpack that was filled with things they had found on this scavenging trip into the abandoned city of Chicago: cans of food, a few bottles of water, ammunition, and some batteries. She also found an old People magazine which the man let her take. She enjoyed reading these old magazines, as they made her feel nostalgic about how things had been in the ‘Before Times’, which is what people generally called the time prior to The Crisis. She thought her pack was heavy, but she knew that the man’s ruck was far heavier, and so did not complain. She did not have a rifle, but she did have a 9mm Glock 17 tucked into the back of her olive-green cargo pants. A Gerber combat knife hung from her belt on her right side, and a slingshot was stuffed in her back pocket. This slingshot was one of her most prized possessions, since the man had made it for her years ago, just days after meeting her.
Abby’s bright grey eyes slowly swept from right to left, looking for any threats or useful items that they could take. The man had trained her to look from right to left when scanning her surroundings. “Years of reading from left to right makes your eyes lazy,” he’d told her, “so you’re likely to miss something unless you look from right to left”.
Suddenly, she stopped walking, reached out, and tapped the man in front of her twice, their signal to stop. He froze in place and cocked his good ear towards her (he was half deaf in his left ear, thanks to his many deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as an infantry Marine).
“Zach, I see one over there,” she whispered, pointing to the right. Zach, for that was the man’s name, looked across the street, and through the broken window of what used to be a souvenir shop, he could see it. It was a man who had probably been in his fifties when he was infected, judging by the large bald spot on the back of its head. It was not walking around, but swaying back and forth in place. Abby always thought that this meant they were asleep, if zombies ever slept.
Zach put a finger to his lips, and Abby nodded. They quickened their pace, but stayed quiet. “Never start a confrontation with those things, or you’ll bring down hordes of them,” Zach had always said. Their scavenging trip had gone without a hitch thus far, and he intended to keep it that way. Cities were always dangerous, not only because of the thousands of undead, but also due to the anarchic war-bands that roamed around their tiny empires, terrorizing innocent survivors.
Zach hated these people more than zombies. The zombies were just animals, and you can’t hate an animal for following its instincts to eat and survive. But people had no excuse for their behavior. And preying on the innocent, raping and murdering just because there is no one to punish you for your actions was despicable.
The pair kept walking for a few blocks until they finally returned to where they had parked their truck, a gunmetal-grey Ford F-150. Zach had found it in the garage of an abandoned house some months back, and though they didn’t drive it often because of the scarcity of fuel, it was nice to have, especially on these long trips. They kept it hidden when they were not using it, out in the farmland areas. They tossed their packs into the truck bed and then climbed into the cab. Zach turned the key and the big engine roared to life. He drove away quickly, knowing that the noise could be heard for miles around.
“So when are you going to let me drive?” Abby asked after a few minutes of silence, her subtle Southern twang lightly accenting that last word.
Zach chuckled and said, “Maybe when you can reach the pedals.”
“But I can! I’ve grown an inch this year, so I’m five foot three now. See?” she replied, stretching her feet to the floor. But Zach just smiled and shook his head, knowing Abby was just teasing him. She smiled back and said, “We did really well today, didn’t we?”
“We sure did. Hopefully we won’t have to resupply for a few weeks.”
“And we didn’t have any close calls like last time,” said Abby as she took her hat off and tossed it into the back seat. Zach just grunted in reply. He didn’t like having their last trip into the city brought up because a zombie had almost bit Abby. Just thinking about it now made him uncomfortable and so he started to whistle a tune to lighten his mood.
“What’s that song?” Abby asked.
“It’s the theme from ‘The Andy Griffith Show’,” Zach replied.
“Never heard of it,” Abby said.
“What, are you serious?” Zach asked, looking at Abby in disbelief.
“Uh, yeah. Why, was it a big deal or something?”
“A big deal or…” Zach said, shaking his head. “Yeah, it was a big deal! It was one of the first great comedies on TV, kid!”
“Okay, so it came out in like the 60’s then? That was like forty years before I was born, Zach. Well before my time.”
“Well yeah, but I mean they show re-runs on TV and there’s DVD sets and stuff. It came out a long time before I was born too, but I still watched it. It was a timeless classic!”
“Well, it obviously wasn’t that timeless,” Abby said with a smirk as she put her feet up on the dash.
“Oh, that’s terrible,” Zach muttered.
“You’re terrible,” Abby replied.
They then drove in silence again. After a while, Abby turned in her seat and watched Zach, studying his face. It had been a few days since he had last shaved, so a beard was starting to form on his cheeks and around his mouth. She liked when he had a beard, she thought it made him look ‘more dad-ish’, as she described it. The lines around his eyes were deep for a man in his mid-thirties, belying a hard life. He had taken off his bandana, so she could see the scars on Zach’s forehead. Puberty had not been kind to him, and he had been plagued with severe acne all the way through his teenage years. It was long gone, but the scars remained. She noticed that his dark eyes were fixed straight ahead, not searching left and right as usual. Something was bothering him.
“What’s wrong, Zach?” she asked.
“Huh? Nothing’s wrong, I’m just tired.”
“Don’t give me that. I can tell when you’re upset, so what is it?”
He kept quiet for a few moments, and then said, “Tomorrow is July 6th.”
Abby instantly recognized the date, and then felt bad for forgetting its significance to Zach. July 6th was the anniversary of when he had married the woman he loved. But only two years after his wedding, it became the anniversary of when his wife was infected and became one of them. Zach had been forced to shoot his own wife in the head to end her suffering. Abby couldn’t imagine doing that to someone she loved and hoped that she would never have to. To this day, Zach still kept his wife’s wedding ring on his dog tag chain around his neck.
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up,” Abby said, looking down at her hands in her lap.
“Don’t apologize, Bug. You did nothing wrong,” said Zach. ‘Bug’ was his nickname for Abby, ever since the first day he met her.
“Can I see her picture again?” Abby asked. Zach opened the velcro pocket on his shoulder and pulled out a folded-up photograph. He handed it to Abby, who took it in an almost reverential way. It was a picture of Zach with his wife on the day of their wedding. She wore a gorgeous, flowing white dress, and Zach looked very handsome in his Marine Corps dress blue uniform, his medals shining brightly. It wasn’t a professional picture, and it looked like a friend had captured this moment with a phone camera. Zach had one arm around his wife’s waist, holding her close, and was touching her nose with his right index finger. They were both smiling as they wordlessly shared an inside joke. They looked so happy. The picture was dated July 6th, 2014. It was just four years old.
“She’s so beautiful,” Abby said, still looking at the photograph.
Zach nodded and said, “You should have been there, that picture doesn’t even do her justice. When she walked through those church doors, my heart stopped beating for just a moment. She literally took my breath away. I told the preacher, ‘I can’t believe I’m about to marry that angel.’ I never could have imagined how it would all end.”
His voice trailed off, and he brought his left hand, curled up into a fist, up to his lips and softly bit his knuckle, a nervous habit of his that Abby had noticed a while ago. She got on her knees in her seat, leaned over, and kissed Zach on his cheek. “She must have known how lucky she was to have you,” Abby said, smiling. Zach managed a half-smile, but didn’t reply. Abby carefully slid the photograph back into his shoulder pocket, mussed up his hair, then sat back down.
“I thought that I’m the one who does that to your hair,” Zach said with a smile, smoothing his hair back out.
Abby laughed and said, “Not today.” She then leaned back in her seat and put her feet up on the dash once again and hummed a tune.
It was early in the afternoon, and the sun was still shining bright and hot in the clear blue summer sky when Zach and Abby returned to the hiding spot for their truck. It was a clever trick, in which Zach had crafted a kind of lean-to shelter inside a large pile of rubble using wooden boards and sheet metal, a space just large enough for the truck to pull into. The swinging door had broken planks and hay secured to the outside using survival cord, so that to the casual passerby it looked merely like the remains of the barn it once was.
Their home was a small cottage in the woods nearby, only about a mile from their truck. They trudged slowly through the trees, tired from a long day of scavenging and eager to get some rest. Rays of sunlight poked through the branches of the white oak trees around them, bestowing the area with tiny golden pillars that held up the green roof of leaves above them. Nearby, a Northern Cardinal alighted upon a branch that was not too high off the ground. He preened his feathers for a moment, and then cocked his head up as he heard something approach. Why, it was humans! Two of them! The bird did not see many humans these days, so to see two of them together was a rare treat. He flapped his wings a bit and then called out a friendly ‘hello’.
Abby heard a bird call nearby, so she turned to look for it. After a moment of scanning the branches, she finally saw the small, red bird with a black neck and face staring at her. She did not see very many birds these days, so to see such a pretty one was a rare treat. She gave a faint smile and lightly waved her fingers at the bird.
The Northern Cardinal was delighted that the human responded! He called out again, a little louder this time.
“Hey, look,” Abby said with a quiet chuckle, tapping Zach on the arm to get his attention. Zach stopped and followed Abby’s beaming gaze with his, almost immediately spotting the bird.
“Well, that’s as pretty a bird as I’ve ever seen,” Zach remarked, flashing his typical half-smile. He noticed Abby’s awestruck gaze and suddenly had an idea. He reached back to a pouch on his ruck and opened it, pulling out a small plastic bag filled with berries that he had collected. He took out two, handed them to Abby, and said, “See if you can feed him.”
“Okay,” Abby whispered. She carefully approached the bird with her hand out, holding the two berries in her palm. “Hey there, little guy,” she said.
The bird cocked his head to the side and watched the small human carefully. It did not look hostile and it even had food in its hand. It might be trying to trick him, but the bird decided that the prospect of two ripe berries was worth the risk. He flew towards the human and then landed softly on its open hand, making the human smile from ear to ear. He took a few bites out of one berry, getting some much needed sustenance, and then grabbed the other berry in his beak before flapping his wings and flying off, heading home to share his food. He was glad that he had met those humans. They were very nice.
“Did you see that?” Abby called to Zach as she turned back around, still grinning.
“I did. You’re like a bird whisperer,” Zach replied.
“Aw, he was so cute,” Abby said, glancing over her shoulder one more time, hoping to see the bird again, but he was gone for good.
When they arrived back home, Zach reached up to the roof and grabbed his iPod, which he had attached to his little solar charger and put up on the roof before leaving this morning. Once inside, he bolted the door with a solid wooden beam. They had never been attacked at their home, but complacency kills, as Zach always said.
Abby went to her room, which was nothing more than a curtained-off section of the cabin with a bed and a little chest for her clothes and other things. She dropped her backpack, unzipped it, and placed the People magazine on her bed for later reading. Then she brought the food and water over to the shelves next to the fireplace, and helped Zach in sorting everything. Once done with that, they then re-stuffed their bags with some food, water, and survival equipment and then staged these by their beds. These were their ‘bug-out bags’, so that they could always flee at a moment’s notice.
Zach had changed his long-sleeved shirt for a plain brown t-shirt, and with his arms revealed, you could now see his tattoos. On his right arm, from his elbow up to his shoulder, there was an image of a Marine in full combat gear, walking through the open gates of Heaven, and below this, wrapping around his forearm, was a verse from the Bible: greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. On his left arm, just below the shoulder, was what looked like three slashes in his skin, with red, white, and blue blood streaming down his bicep. All three colors came together to form an American flag at his elbow. On the inside of his bicep were the words ‘Full Blooded American’, and on the outside of his forearm was a Latin proverb: ‘dum spiro, spero’, which means ‘while I breathe, I hope’. He had one more tattoo that was over his heart. Like on his left arm, it appeared to be a large hole in his chest, and where his heart should be was the emblem of the United States Marine Corps: the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor.
When they had finished putting away everything they had scavenged from the city, Zach said to Abby, “How ‘bout a quick fighting lesson before we eat?”
“Yeah!” Abby exclaimed excitedly. She loved learning how to fight from Zach. He had done a lot of martial arts back in the ‘Before Times’, had a black belt in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program and was ranked as a Master in the International Krav Maga Federation, so he could teach her some cool stuff.
“Alright, let’s do it then,” Zach said. For the next hour, he gave Abby lessons on knife fighting and ground fighting, focusing on techniques for disentangling from an opponent on the ground and getting away. These may seem like some rather barbaric things to teach to a teenage girl, but the world was a dangerous place now, and everyone, even young girls, needed to know how to defend themselves.
Abby was a clever girl and could quickly memorize and perform the techniques that Zach taught her. At one point, Zach threw an attack at her which he had not yet taught her how to repel. Predictably, she failed to react well. But Zach showed her a counter maneuver, and within minutes she was performing it flawlessly. On top of being a quick learner, she had reflexes that would make a cat blush with jealousy. She was fast, her speed practically approaching the point of being supernatural.
After they were both exhausted from their training, Abby asked Zach if they could do a little dancing. Abby had done a few different types of dancing in the ‘Before Times’ and was very talented, especially at ballet. So while Zach would teach her to fight, she would teach Zach to dance. For the next half hour, until the sun went down, Abby was hard at work teaching Zach a folk dance, but he was rather clumsy on his feet and was slow to grasp what she was teaching. At one point, he stumbled and almost fell, but caught himself. “Shit,” he muttered.
“Hey, language,” Abby said disapprovingly.
“Sorry, Bug,” he replied. Whenever he swore Abby would remind him that she didn’t tolerate cursing in their home. He loved that about her, how she could still retain the innocence of childhood in such a bleak world. And so he tried his best to not curse, or at least not when she was within earshot.
Abby just grinned and shook her head and then resumed her dance lesson. She liked dancing with Zach. He enjoyed it, too. It reminded him that just because the world was a dangerous place in which even little girls needed to know such unsavory things as knife fighting, there was still a time and a place for dancing.
Once they were done, Abby went to her room to read her new magazine and wait for supper. She loved looking at the pictures in the magazines and reading about how people lived before the dead started walking the earth. She had still been a young child when the outbreaks started, and had moved around several times from Texas all the way up to Chicago during her childhood, and so did not know much about modern culture. There was an ad in the magazine for a special line of make-up, and Abby wished that she could try it. She wanted to look pretty like the lady shown in the ad.
Meanwhile, Zach was sitting in one of the chairs at their small wooden table, listening to some music from his iPod, lost in his thoughts…
The gunfight had been going on for almost half an hour now, and Sergeant Zach Davidson was running low on ammo. He was the squad leader for 2nd squad, 1st platoon, and today was supposed to be an easy day. They had been tasked with conducting a routine security patrol through this little, God-forsaken town in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. But one of the interpreters in his company was a mole, and had leaked information about this patrol to the local Taliban the day before it was scheduled to happen. Sergeant Davidson had protested several times against scheduling patrols so far in advance, even to his battalion commander’s face, but the lieutenant colonel had insisted upon it.
So now Sergeant Davidson and his boys, twelve other Marines plus one Navy Corpsman, had been ambushed by a much larger force. The sergeant didn’t know it, but the enemy had brought dozens of trained insurgents to bear against the American Marines, and that was not including the almost entirely hostile civilian presence in the town that the Taliban had taken the liberty of arming for this attack. As it was, the Marines were pinned down in the middle of the town’s market by an enemy force that numbered almost three hundred, and they were taking fire from all directions. Three Marines were already dead, and five were wounded, but two of those five could still fight.
Sergeant Davidson had been requesting mortar, artillery, and even air support since the very beginning, but the answer was always the same: too many civilians were in the area. “There are no civilians here! They’re all shooting at us!” he shouted back into the radio’s handset.
“Calm down, 1-2. QRF is still escorting the battalion commander’s convoy, but they should be at your position in about twenty minutes, over,” was the response from the company headquarters.
“What about the CASEVAC birds?”
“Still too hot, 1-2. Just sit tight and wait for QRF.”
“Tell them to hurry the fuck up!” Davidson shouted, and he shoved the handset back at his radio operator. A man with a rifle appeared on a rooftop down the street. Sergeant Davidson raised his M4 and fired two shots, both impacting the man in his chest.
“What’d they say?” shouted Lance Corporal Ferrier, one of his team leaders.
“QRF is still with the BC. ETA is twenty mikes!”
“Fuck! You’re shittin’ me!”
Sergeant Davidson just shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “RPG!” someone shouted. Everyone instinctively hit the deck and heard the WHOOOOOSH of the incoming rocket pass overhead. It exploded into a building behind the Marines, harming no one, but they could still feel the gut-punching concussion from the explosion.
Immediately following the rocket-propelled grenade came loud, repeating thumps, like the sound of a heavy sledgehammer hitting a thick plank of wood over and over. It was a DShK, the Russian cousin to America’s M-2 Browning .50 caliber machine gun. It was about one hundred meters away, hidden inside a small, one-story mud hut. Sergeant Davidson and his Marines got low to the ground as the huge incoming rounds tore up the marketplace.
“Adams! Prep the AT-4!” Davidson yelled to the Marine carrying an anti-tank rocket. “1-2! Increase your rates of fire! Conner, Ferrier, 203’s out, towards the DShK!” The Marines did as they were told as Davidson crawled forward a bit. “Russell, give me six seconds of the cyclic rate!” he shouted to his machine gunner, who was in the prone behind some cover, defending one of the avenues of approach single-handedly with the help of his M240B, a medium machine gun. His ammo man had been killed, so all of the extra ammo for the gun had just been set down next to him, but Davidson could see that all of the ammo cans were empty except for one.
“Rocket prepped!” Adams yelled as the Marines’ gunfire suddenly picked up significantly.
“Kill that fucker!” Davidson yelled as he motioned towards the DShK.
With the enemy momentarily suppressed, except for the well-covered DShK, Adams ran out into the middle of the road, taking a knee just behind his squad’s position so as to not hit any of his guys with the rocket’s back-blast. Bullets hissed past him as the DShK gunner tried to bring Adams down, but he held his composure, aimed down the sights, and then fired the rocket. It burst from its tube and tore through the air as Adams dove back towards cover.
There was a loud explosion, and the Marines gave a short but jubilant cheer as the entire building that the DShK had been hiding in was obliterated in a cloud of smoke and fire.
“Good shit, Adams!” Davidson yelled over his shoulder. He then turned back to his machine gunner and yelled, “Russell! Ammo count!”
“Seventy, at most!” Russell replied.
“Fuck me,” said the sergeant. That machine gun was the only thing keeping them alive for this long, and once it was down the enemy would probably overrun them. All of his men were almost out of ammo for their rifles. And on top of that, they’d now used all of their M203 grenade launcher rounds, fired their lone AT-4 rocket, and had thrown all their hand grenades.
Sergeant Davidson gave the command for his men to fix bayonets and then got on the radio again. “Lima Main, this is 1-2! It is fifty shades of fucked up out here! We need some goddamn support before we get into some World War I shit!” There was no response for a few seconds.
“1-2, Main. I need a ‘no bullshit’ situation report. Can you guys possibly last another fifteen mikes?”
“NEGATIVE! We are critically low on ammo and down to just half my men! We need support so we can get these casualties out!”
The net was silent for just a moment, but it felt like an hour. Then a voice came over the radio and said, “1-2, this is Captain Butler. The BC is still denying you support on account of the civilian populace…but fuck him and his dreams of picking up Colonel. We’ve got mortars on-station here so spin up a fire mission for me and you’ll get your support.”
“Roger, standby for that fire mission!” shouted Sergeant Davidson, who then gave the captain his ten-digit grid location, enemy strongpoints in the immediate vicinity, and recommended where he thought rounds would be best placed.
“1-2, be advised that these rounds are going to bring a whole new meaning to the term ‘danger close’.”
“I understand, sir!”
“Roger, guns will be hot in one mike. Standby and take cover.”
“Roger! 1-2 out!”
Davidson then yelled to his Marines, “One mike! We got 81’s inbound in one mike!” Bullets hissed past his head as he said this, and he turned to see a man dashing across the street about fifty meters away, spraying and praying with an AK-47 as he ran. Davidson lifted his rifle and fired a round at the man, but as soon as the bullet left the barrel, the bolt locked back; his magazine was empty. He took a knee behind some cover so he could reload.
He ejected the empty mag, but before he could grab a fresh one, an armed insurgent burst from an alleyway, no more than three feet in front of Davidson. The man looked wildly surprised to find himself face to face with the Americans, and he brought his gun up to shoot, but Davidson was already on him. The sergeant was not a huge man, being about average in both height and weight, but he was still more than a match for the young Afghan man in front of him.
He tackled the man to the ground and then mounted him. With his left hand, he shoved the man’s head sideways and down into the sand. As the man struggled to get the Marine off of him, Davidson used his other hand to draw his KA-BAR and slam it into the man’s chest. He cried out with pain, but Davidson pulled the knife free and stabbed the man again, this time in the throat, killing him almost instantly.
Davidson ran back to cover and retrieved his rifle. He slammed a fresh mag into the rifle and sent the bolt forward, chambering a round. “Last mag,” he reminded himself. They had to get out of there soon. He checked his watch: thirty seconds until mortars struck.
Davidson looked around at what was left of his squad. Most of these guys were not even twenty yet. They were just kids, and while their friends back home were somewhere at college, discussing war and America’s presence in the Middle East, these kids were on the other side of the world fighting that war. They were far from home, far from their loved ones, and thus far, three of Davidson’s men would not be returning to those loved ones. The others fought desperately for life, clinging to every last thread of hope and courage that they could find within their hearts.
They didn’t care about what the politicians did and what motivated them. They didn’t care about what the generals did and what motivated them. They cared only about what they themselves did, and what motivated them to serve in the toughest job of the nation’s toughest military branch. Most Marines, beneath their spirited, macho-man, warrior bravado, were idealists, and they wanted to help people; they wanted to change the world. And that’s why they were here, dying for what they believed in.
Suddenly, Davidson felt a fiery pain in his left shoulder, and he was knocked to the ground. He looked down and saw a hole in his shoulder with blood seeping out of it. He’d been shot, but oddly enough it didn’t hurt too much. He started to roll over to his side so that he could stand back up.
Ping! Davidson instantly recognized the sound of the spoon flying off of a hand grenade. He heard the thump from the grenade hitting the ground behind him, but he could not see where the lethal sphere of metal had rolled to. Any second now, it would explode and send red-hot shrapnel tearing through Davidson’s body. “Grenade!” someone shouted, and Davidson suddenly felt himself get tackled back to the ground. Lance Corporal Ferrier had knocked him down and put his body between the sergeant and the grenade, which had been less than ten feet away. Then the grenade detonated with a deafening WHUMP sound and Davidson felt like someone had hit him in the head with a sledgehammer, but otherwise he was unhurt. Ferrier however wasn’t moving.
“Ferrier! Corpsman up!” Sergeant Davidson yelled, though his own voice sounded far away and distant. He could feel himself losing consciousness. “Incoming!” someone yelled. The next instant saw 81mm mortar rounds impact all around the market. The whole earth seemed to shake as debris and dust and human bodies flew everywhere as if sucked up by a tornado. And that was the last thing that Davidson remembered before blacking out.
“Zach!” Abby said. She had called his name three times but he hadn’t heard her. Zach looked up suddenly to see Abby standing right next to him.
“Yeah, Bug? What’s up?” he replied as he pulled the headphones out of his ears.
“I was just thinking that, considering how smoothly things went today, we should celebrate.”
Zach smiled. “That’s a great idea,” he said, and he walked over to some shelves on the far wall. He retrieved a small wooden crate and carried it back to the table. He set it down in front of Abby and pulled the lid off to reveal a small assortment of pop cans, six in total. Every once in a while, when something really good happened, he and Abby would split a can of pop to commemorate the occasion.
“Which one should we drink?” he asked Abby.
She scanned the different cans for a moment, and then pulled out a can of Barq’s root beer. “This one!” she said.
“Good choice,” said Zach as Abby popped the top open. She took a sip and handed it to Zach, who also took a sip then passed it back to Abby. When the can was almost empty, Zach told Abby that she could have the rest.
“Alright, what do you say we eat now?” he asked Abby. He got up and moved to a set of shelves full of food and selected two cans of bean and bacon soup. “Would you get me a pot, please?”
“Yes, sir!” chirped Abby. She grabbed a medium sized pot that was sitting next to the fireplace and set it on the table. She started to open up the two cans and dump them into the pot while Zach went and got a fire going in the fireplace. Abby got a jug of water that sat next to the door and poured some of it into the pot. There was a small fresh-water stream nearby, and they always kept a couple of jugs full of that water for cooking or showering.
Once the fire was blazing hotly, Zach moved an iron grate over the flames and set the pot that Abby had prepared on top of it. He took a long handled wooden spoon from one of the shelves and stirred the soup as it heated up. After five minutes or so, when the soup was starting to boil, Zach lifted the pan from the fire and carried it over to the table. He poured it into the two bowls Abby had set out (giving her a little bit more than he gave himself, as usual) and then sat down at the table to eat with Abby.
They were quiet as they ate, as they usually were, save Abby’s remark that Zach should probably find a “Cooking for Dummies” book the next time they went into the city. He smirked and flicked her forehead playfully. They had finished eating and were in the process of clearing the table when Zach suddenly straightened up.
“What-“ Abby started to say, but Zach shushed her. He moved carefully over to the window. He had long ago fixed thick, cotton curtains over them so that they could have light at night without being seen, and wooden shutters that could be barred to keep people (and zombies) out. He pointed at the fire and Abby understood. She quickly went over to the fireplace and threw a small, heavy blanket over the little fire, extinguishing it instantly.
Now shrouded in darkness, Zach took one finger and gingerly pulled the curtain away from the window so that he could peek through the crack in between the wooden shutters, and what he saw made his heart sink: armed men advancing slowly towards the cottage, too many to count. He turned around and whispered, “We’re leaving.”
Both were still dressed, so all they had to do was grab their bags and go. Zach grabbed his rifle and his pistol, Abby grabbed her pistol and her slingshot, stuffing the latter into her pack, threw her hat on her head, and in less than ten ticks of the second hand, they were ready to leave.
In the back right corner of the cabin was a small trap door concealed by a false panel that could slide out. It was just barely big enough for Zach to squeeze through and it dropped down four feet into the ground. This opened up into a small underground tunnel that Zach and Abby had dug out long ago, when they had first found the cabin. It went thirty feet straight away from the cabin and opened up underneath a bush. Zach went first, and Abby followed close behind him, sliding the false panel back into place over her. Zach had to crawl on his stomach, dragging his pack behind him, but Abby could get by on her hands and knees.
At the end of the tunnel, Zach stood up and slowly lifted the concealed trapdoor that led to the woods outside. The branches of the bush only made a slight swishing sound as the wooden door pushed through them. Zach drew his pistol then carefully lifted his head and looked around them. No one was near. Over by the cottage however, the armed men had formed a semi-circle around the front of it. Zach counted at least twenty.
“All clear, stay quiet,” he whispered to Abby. He pulled himself out and then helped Abby out. The men by the house were shouting now, yelling at the occupants of the house to come out with their hands up. But they had no idea that the house was empty.
Zach started to move away quietly, but Abby lingered for a few moments longer, looking at what used to be their home. She didn’t want to leave the only home she’d known for almost two years.
Having gotten no response, the armed men now broke through the windows and, upon seeing the cabin abandoned, entered and started to loot the place. Abby could see them carrying all their food and water and other things out and dividing it amongst themselves. One man had the box of pop cans, and that made Abby sad. There was a sudden sound of breaking glass, and then a fire started to blaze inside the house. One of the armed men had thrown a Molotov cocktail into the now empty cabin, and they all were laughing as they watched it burn to the ground.
“Come on, Abby. We have to leave,” Zach whispered. She turned around and saw Zach walking back to her, crouching down to avoid being seen.
“Okay,” she whispered. She followed Zach closely as he led her into the dark night. Abby had to admit to herself that she was scared. That cabin had been her home for so long, a type of refuge for her, and now it was gone. She didn’t know where they would go or what they would do now. But she trusted Zach. He always knew what to do and he always provided for her. She took his hand in hers to reassure herself.