As she pressed her youthful body against the moss-covered tree log, rough bark plates nibbled her skin through her T-shirt. Her heart was acting like a powerful and sweaty drummer solo. She moved eyes moved back and forth, as she listened.
She had felt psyched this morning. As she had stretched the sleep out of her limbs, with sun caressing her freckled face, there had been just one thought in her head – today she would meet her little brother. This positive mind set had now taken an abrupt turn to the worse and now she was afraid that she would never see him again. She banned herself and the little reckon expedition of hers that she set out do, two days ago.
She swallowed and breathed with her mouth open. With each breath, her body became more relaxed. It was dead silent now. Besides her anxious breathing, all she could hear was the faint rustle from the treetops. She must have escaped, she thought, and a wave of relief washed over her. So far so good, she thought, raised her head and let her scared eyes look over the tree.
The sight of a pair of blood shoot eyes, staring back at her, hit her like a rock in the forehead. With a shriek, she shot backwards, landing on her back on the forest’s soft carpet. She watched in horror as the zombie scrambled over the tree. Like a baby who had just learned to walk, the zombie’s movements were clumsy, lacking any kind of rhythm and human grace.
Her legs shake as she rose to her feet. She looked around the small glade, but she didn’t discover any more zombies. This one most have strayed away from the rest of its herd, she guessed and brushed the moss and pine needles off her dirty jeans.
The zombie made it over the tree and now its lifeless gaze was aiming for her. He come at her with a crouch-like walk, with its head moving like a slow pendulum, accompanied by groaning sounds. She took a few steps backwards as she watched the zombie moving towards her. Its clothes were filthy and torn and they did just hang onto the body, much like the flesh on its face.
The mess of fabric could once have been a fancy suit, she reflected. Perhaps he had been a banker or a corporate hotshot, she speculated. She smiled a little as she imagined the zombie, driving around in a shiny new muscle car, attending high-class charity events, throwing money around him, with his grunting moans.
It had been her mother’s idea, to come up with funny stories about them undead, making them less scary and intimidating. That worked like a charm, as long as you didn’t let your mind drown in the imagination, forgetting your surroundings, that is.
The unmistaken smell of decayed flesh hit her nose as the zombie approached her. She backed up a few feet and buried her foot into the ground. Then, she set off against it and like a heated hockey player; she jumped up and gave him an excellent tackle, she brought him groaning to the ground.
She landed like a graceful cat and turned around. Seeing the zombie, struggling on its back like an upturned beetle, she giggled. It felt refreshing, she thought, and soon her rippling giggles expanded into full-blown laughter, making her stomach flex so hard it almost hurt.
It had been a long time since she’d have this much fun she thought as tears of joy ran down her cheeks. Then she thought of her little brother and the laugher subsided as she realized that she wouldn’t get back to him today.
She wiped the tears from her face while a sense of compassion rolled over her. She felt sorry for the zombie. Once, it had been full of life, with its own hopes, dreams and free will. Now, it was nothing else than a mindless mumbling flesh-eating abomination. Somehow, it all felt so unnecessary, like if God made a terrible mistake and instead of fixing it, it was like if he just shrugged and decided to looked the other way.
She reached back and pulled out a small, yet sturdy, gun from the leather belt, which went double lap around her waist. She looked how the gun fitted in her hand, almost as it was for lost girls, she thought. A slanted smile grew on her lips while memories flashed before her eyes.
She remembered little from the crash, but she remembered that it felt as she sat in a roller coaster jumping out of its tracks, plunging to the ground.
She shuddered as she remembered that horrible sound of wailing metal, just before the plane broke in two pieces. Before she understood what was happening, she was in the cockpit, and everything spun around her. The last thing she remembered was the harsh warning signal from the instrument panel, which flickered like an overcharged Christmas tree. After that, it all became dark.
She remembered the pilot though. His eyes were the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes again. She noticed something warm flickering in his eyes, which made her feel safe, despite their dire situation.
The crash had twisted his legs in a horrible way, almost ripped his nose off, and he had deep scars running through his forehead. It was a gut turning sight. Despite his injuries, he smiled at her, told her how happy he was that she was alive and that she didn’t need to worry.
The increasing moans from the zombie, before her, made her snap back to reality. It was still struggling on its back, unable to understand how it would do to get back up again.
“I’m so sorry!” She whispered, aimed the gun at its head, and closed her eyes hard.
The recoil almost made her threw the gun over her head, and she felt a sharp, numbing sound ringing inside her ears. She glanced at the body, avoiding looking at the head, making sure that it had stopped moving. It had, it was dead again, for good this time.
He had grimaced of pain as he pulled out his gun from the waistband of his dark-blue pilot trousers and handed it to her.
“The noise from the crash will attract them like a moth to the flame,” he said with a strained and mucus filled voice, “They’re probably here soon. Make sure you’re always quiet. Now, run child!”
These were the last words, the pilot had said to her, after that she ran crying into the dark woods. She reckoned that he must have been one of those rare unselfish people, like a true hero, and she was glad that he showed up in her life when he did. Maybe that was how it all worked, she thought, when you need it the most; the answer will appear right in front of you, not a second too early or a second too late.
Her eyes looked around, examined every tree trunk, moss-covered stone, bush and fallen log. She couldn’t spot anything that would like to rip her to pieces.
So far so good, she thought.
She looked at the sky, nibbling her lower lip. The dusk had started to crawl over it, and she realized that she could not make it back to her brother before night would conquer the woods. She needed to find a safe place before the darkness of the night would engulf forest.
As she ran deeper into the forest, she wondered if God would ever start to care about hers and the whole world’s whereabouts again, or realize that this wasn’t an appropriate spot for a young girl.
She stopped, to catch her breath, and looked up in the sky, to see if maybe God would give her a sign. She didn’t ask for anything big, just something trivial that would whisper that things were about to turn for the better any second now and that all she needed to do, was to hang in there just a bit longer.
She cast an eye up to the sky, but the only thing she saw, were a couple of thin clouds, sliding over its dark-blue texture, which wasn’t the type of sign she expected. She huffed and looked around.
Although she was deep in the forest of nowhere, finding a suitable tree wasn’t as easy as one could imagine, she thought with a scornful smile. It couldn’t be too small or too large, and it must have thick, rigid branches, which must be easy to reach. That was not something that the trees in the vicinity could offer, so she continued deeper into the forest.
The sound of branches snapping made her heart freeze on the fly, holding her breath and listening. The only thing she heard was a gentle breeze, rattling through the crowns, and a bird, chirping in the distance. It could be anything but a zombie. She tried to convince herself that it could as well be a deer, a rabbit or rodent, than an undead out to get a chunk of her flesh.
She inhaled and looked behind her, expecting to see a horde of grunting zombies, limping at her, with their arms swinging, yellow teeth chattering, ready to chomp their way through her skin. The thought sent shivers from her spine out to her limbs.
All that she could see was the forest, staring back at her with a tedious look saying, “What should you do now?” Almost as it knew, she was in trouble.
It started to get chilly. She peered around, while rubbing her bare arms, feeling the goose bumps on her skin. Her jaw dropped when she saw it. There, it was almost at the edge of a glade, maybe about 100 yards ahead – a perfect tree.
She started jogging toward it, and when she reached it, she threw her arms around the trunk and pushed her cheek against the harsh bark, embracing the vast mass of her savior.
The dusk was close now; sucking away all the colors of the surroundings, making everything appears as if it were drawn with a dark grey palette. She thought that perhaps this was how everything looked like when you die – gray, cold and without any emotions or warmness.
After taking few steps back, she ran up against the tree, and leapt towards its branches. Her hands clamped around the bottom branch, and with a dexterous move, she swung her slender body upon it. She swayed a little, as she stood on the branch, reaching for the next one.
After a while, she had climbed high enough, she thought and straddled a thick, rigid branch. With a sigh and looked down and her head span a little as she saw how high she had climbed.
She loosened her belt and pulled it through the belt loops on her jeans. Then she made it into a loop, by inserting the belt through the brass knuckle. Stuck her hand inside it, clamped her hands around the trunk, and used her teeth to tighten the belt around them.
A bit worrisome, she leaned backwards to examine the sustainability of her mere fastening device. The leather belt gave off a creaking sound, but it seemed rigid enough. She moved her body closer to the trunk, leaned her head against the tree, feeling the rough bark against her soft cheek.
While the chilly breeze caressed her body, she took a couple of deep breaths, closed her eyes, and relaxed. Soon she felt how her mind drifted off on the dark and gentle ocean of unconsciousness.
She was standing outside the cafeteria at school. It was so bright that it almost hurt her eyes. The sunbeams landing on her skin felt warm and nurturing. She saw her friends; all dressed in white, sitting outside the cafeteria at school, laughing and gossiping. Their voices sounded muffled, it was as if she had cotton in her ears, so she couldn’t hear what they were saying. Seeing her cheerful friends, made her feel a lukewarm joy sweeping through her body.
From a distant, she heard a familiar voice calling her. She turned around and noticed that she now was outside her home. Her mother was on the porch, waving at her with a warm smile on her face, welcoming her home.
She started to run against her, while imagining the feeling of her warm and soft body pressing against hers, offering the protection and shelter that she needed so badly.
As she came closer, her mother’s warm smile tightened up, and she put her hands up over her mouth, as if something had shocked her. She ignored it and kept on running towards her mother.
As she came closer, the bliss in her mother’s face sank like a sinker in a lake, her body tightened up, and she moved her hands over her mouth. She didn’t understand why her mother looked like that. Instead, she kept on running towards her.
Her mother turned her head and yelled something that she was unable to hear. She stopped running and confused she tried to call out to her mother, asking what was wrong, but not a sound came over her lips.
The door swung open. A hideous smile grew in her mother’s face while her father marched out with a shotgun in front of him. In his stern look, she saw no love, just hatred mixed with sadness.
As her father raised the shotgun, aiming at her, she felt in her heart that something wasn’t right.
“Daddy, what’s wrong? What are you doing!” she cried, “It’s me, your little pumpkin head!”
He did not flinch at her words; it was as his face was set in stone.
Just as she turned around, with one thought in her head – to get out of there – she heard a loud bang. A monstrous pain hit her back, and her body fell forward, hitting the ground face first. She screamed.
She woke up with a twitch, with her heart racing, and hugged the tree. She swallowed and looked around in the total darkness surrounding her, wondering where she was.
It took her a while, and it wasn’t until she heard those familiar groaning sounds beneath her, she remembered where she was. They’re here, she thought. By the groans and the vibrations from the trunk, she knew that they were stumbling around in the darkness, filled with an extreme hunger for flesh.
As she got more awake, she noticed how her own hunger was grinding like two millstones in her stomach, and she wished that she had gathered some berries, before she went up the tree. When she felt how her bladder was pounding as well, it was as if everything just collapsed onto her shoulders.
Her lips pressed together, the corners of her mouth went down, and she felt how her eyes started to fill with tears. When the first tear left her eye, she whispered, “Mommy, I really miss you right now,” and looked up in the dark sky.
Through the branches, she could discern a couple of stars, looking like little silver pearls. Their shiny glittering offered her some sort of comfort. She wanted to believe that maybe they were watching over her. She stared at them until her eyelids forced themselves down over her tearful eyes, and soon the veil of dreams wrapped itself around her again.
The morning sun teased her slumberous eyes, until she opened them with a big yawn. For microsecond, she felt happy, at peace. It was as if she didn’t know feelings such as worries, distresses and fear. She stretched her body and was just about to call out for her mother, when she noticed that she was tied to a tree. Something she found a bit strange, at first.
She snorted as her senses came up with reality, and she understood that she wasn’t in her bed and that her mother wouldn’t come into her room. She swallowed several times and fought against the tears. “Not again,” she said to herself, “No more stupid tears, be strong now!”
She looked down at the ground, and a relieving feeling bubbled up inside her as the only thing she saw was the glittering dew on the ground and nothing else. Nothing was moving. She couldn’t even see a little bumble bee or some small critter, it was as time had stopped, she thought.
Then she heard the sound of a woodpecker boring into a tree, in the distant. He must be an early riser, just like me, she thought, with a soft giggle leaving her lips. She loosened the belt around the trunk and began to shuffle and climb down the tree. Her eyes acted as a pair of searchlights, scanning the vicinity, all the way to the last branch.
As she was about to jump down, she heard a faint rumble, coming from a shrubbery nearby. She didn’t dare to breathe, and while she had her gaze fixed on the origin of the sounds, she thought that her little heart was going to break out of her rib cage.
A rabbit burst out of the shrubbery, twigs and leaves swirling, with a fox on its tail. She uttered a piercing cry, lost her balance, and plunged to the ground. The air escaped her lungs as her body crashed onto the damp soil. The pain felt like an iron corset tightening around her body, preventing her from screaming.
All she could do was to lie there, like a fish washed up on shore. This wasn’t fair, she thought, she didn’t belong here, she belonged with her mommy, daddy and younger brother. She wished that everything would be normal again. Why it could not be, she thought. When she thought that the pain would never go away, it loosened a little. With a drawn-out moan, she rolled into a little ball and begun to cry.
After a while, the waves of pain faded away, and she could breathe normally again. Like a scared dog, she crawled up on all fours, then on her knees, before she used the tree for support to stand up.
As she stood there, wobbly like a 90-year-old missing her walker, gathering her thoughts, her bladder screamed for attention. She looked around the opening and decided that the same shrubbery, which caused her pain, would do all right as a toilet. It had it coming, she thought.
When she dashed to the bushes, she saw her gun on the ground. I must have dropped it in the fall, she thought. Like a baseball player, she scooped it up, as she ran by it. Inpatient, she wiggled down her jeans, something that was a bit tricky with the gun in her hand. She backed into the thick twigs, took a couple of deep breaths and relaxed. It felt like heaven, easing the tension inside her. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the moment.
A few seconds passed, before she noticed the harrowing growl, originated behind her. Even then, she didn’t react to it. It wasn’t before the smell hit her nose and she felt a brief touch on her shoulder, she reacted.
In a swift move, she pulled up her jeans with her free hand, and like a spring, she jumped out from the bushes. As she turned around, she lost her balance, fell on her back and saw the gun flying in a wide arc over her head. Sitting on her buttocks, she used her legs, trying to push herself away from the groaning sound.
When she saw the zombie, staggering out from the bushes, her face turned into a grimace and she just stopped moving. She stared into its hollow and empty gaze, hiding under its frizzy dark hair. It was as if it had a depressing daydream, preventing it to be present in the moment.
Its decomposing body was tall, with long and slender limbs, covered in a classical shaped one-shoulder dress, ripped and stained with unspeakable smudge. Once that dress must have been blood-orange or light orange, she thought, it must have looked fierce in it. Perhaps, before the spread, this could have been a glamorous model or a movie star, she speculated.
When she thought of all what that this horrible decease must have taken away from her, not that unlike herself, she felt sorry for it.
Before she could react, the zombie came over her like a fallen tree. The stench hit the insides of her nose like a red-hot iron bar. She turned her head and started to throw up air and bile, amazed at how she could be such a klutz, letting a zombie surprise her. As she heard its chattering coming closer to her ears, she felt an adrenaline rush and grabbed the zombie by its throat.
Its skin felt like a strange mix of dry leather and a sponge, and as she tried to push it away, her fingers sunk into its cold, rotten flesh. Despite her efforts, the zombie continued to push itself toward her face, like a relentless glacier. As she saw how its yellow teeth came closer, she closed her eyes and tried to pull her head away.
She wondered, is this it, and should it all come to an end here? Was this God’s plan? Her whole life felt unnecessary, in a bizarre kind of way.
It couldn’t end here, she had to see her friends again, watching them laugh and gossiping in the sun, and her family, at least once more. Something must be wrong, she thought, this must not end here, not now.
“No! No! No!” Like the sounds of a hammer hitting the anvil, her screams echoed out into the Woods.
· Copyright © 2015 by Ken Bergman All Rights Reserved ·