It all started in the middle of June, a hot summer that made sweat pearl up on your cheeks and your clothes stick to your skin. Quietly though. Not that you’d expect a zombie apocalypse to ring your doorbell and say, “Hello.” But it still came as something of a surprise to them when the world went pear-shaped (again).
Of course, if they’d been paying attention, it might not have been such a shock. But between Elena becoming a vampire, Stefan going on the lam again; Klaus sticking around in Mystic Falls to make everyone’s life miserable in Tyler’s body of all things, Rebekah in tow; Bonnie inexplicably angry, brutal, with the flash of something dangerous and dark in her eyes, and Elena, and everything else—a rash of strange, vicious deaths that went beyond the usual trumped up animal killings, with curious missing brains and intestines and then a flurry of disappearing corpses, all rated low on their collective radar.
So, they’re basically vampires?
No. They’re like vampires… just not as smart and they eat brains and stuff. Not as pretty either.
And last I heard vampires don’t eat brains for breakfast. We don’t right?
You dated a vampire and almost dated his brother, sort of—I think you know the answer to that.
Just checking—I’m still getting the hang of this. Besides, I’m pretty sure Stefan has eaten brains once or twice.
Stefan also eats squirrels and rips people into little doll parts, so he doesn’t really count as an example of a regular vampire.
At least we lucked out, they can’t kill us.
Yeah, immortality’s good for something, I guess.
Okay, would the dead folks in the room shut up already? You’re loud enough for crazy monsters in the next county to hear, jeez.
Is it just me, or are you crabbier than usual today, Bonnie Bennett?
Bonnie always drove.
They argued about it at first. Well, Bonnie and Caroline argued while Elena played middle-man. Or rather she sat in the back, staring dead-eyed at the window while they worked it out with each other. They finally settled on Bonnie behind the wheel and Caroline as the most obnoxious shotgun driver ever with Elena counting the miles in the backseat (she hated driving anyway).
Day time was for eating up the road and getting as far away from Mystic Falls as possible. Until it became apparent that this problem wasn’t exclusive to Mystic Falls—it was state-wide, national, bigger even.
It was an “apocalypse” after all.
They ended up stealing a car.
It was only when they passed the state lines and saw dozens and dozens of cars, doors flung open, dripping with old blood, belly-up in the middle of highways, and dead bodies strewn all the way through—that they figured out no one was going to give a damn how they got that car.
No, I’m not punching it.
Punch it in the face, Care!
No, last time I punched one of these suckers, I came off with half its face on my hand and do you have any idea how much that shit smells?
They were camping out in a motel—a cliché.
The receptionist had greeted them with a mud-caked, blood-splattered grin and dead eyes screaming for brains less than five hours ago—not a cliché.
For a zombie, she was pretty strong and had Bonnie up against the wall by her neck, legs flapping as she tried to choke out a spell and keep those snapping death-jaws away from her face.
Caroline screamed, and fumbled awkwardly for the makeshift stake she’d broken off of a chair leg (not that it would do much help here).
Bonnie was writhing now, grimacing as the blackened teeth drew nearer to her eyes, and choked out a disgruntled, “Guys—help?!”
And then with terrifying efficiency, Elena sliced the rotting receptionist lady’s neck right through with the swing of an ornamental axe that hung beneath the glossy eyes of a frozen deer on the wall beside the front desk. Bits of blood sprayed all over Bonnie’s face.
Breathing heavily, sharp canines extended, eyes dark as night with the rush of adrenaline, she stepped passed the still swaying corpse to touch Bonnie’s face as if to reassure herself that she was all right. “You okay?” she said, and her fingers smudged some of the tar-coloured gore across her cheek. Bonnie swallowed thick and hard, and covered the wet hand with her own until their fingers locked.
“Yeah, thanks.” Caroline drew closer, her cool fingers rested in Bonnie’s hair. And they stood there, a grisly tableau, Elena’s axe dripping black onto the floor.
I’m never touching your hand again.
Nope, you smell like a dead person.
Very funny, guys, I hate you.
They slept curled around each other.
As the least violent sleeper and the warmest of the three, Bonnie often found herself stuck in the middle. Her arms wrapped around her two friends as if they were all three drowning, and by sheer force of will, she might be able to keep them afloat with the strength of her arms. Caroline was a snuggler. She burrowed into any crevice she could find. Her favourite spot was Bonnie’s shoulder, right near where her pulse thrummed with the sweet scent of blood; it reminded her vaguely of pop tarts. Elena was a clinger. She clutched Bonnie’s hand in a claw-like grip that didn’t let up even in the deepest parts of the night, almost as though she was afraid they’d all disappear. Sometimes it hurt, made Bonnie grunt, “Ow, vampire strength, ‘Lena,” and she loosened her tight-wound fingers—but not by much.
Caroline Forbes, you know how to shoot a gun?
What—my mom WAS the Sheriff.
Yes, but you’re Caroline.
Soon enough, all the killing-to-live blurred together—one zombie was as good as the next. They weren’t exactly sentient creatures with discernible personalities after all (it was all, ‘I want to suck your brain juice,’ in the form of grunts and moans and gnashing of dirty teeth).
But some kills stayed with them.
Caroline had killed her own mother on a cool morning in August with a sharp blow to the head.
Elena killed Matt two weeks later at the Grill with his sharpened teeth, oozing slime. She cut his head off with the cleaver they used to hack at prime steaks every morning.
Bonnie killed Jeremy. She set him on fire. Held Elena’s shaking body as they all watched her baby brother burn. Jeremy’s corpse ran wildly across the front lawn like a mad, dancing flame, screaming so loud it drowned out even Elena’s cries. Bonnie remembers the smell of it most though—like rotting eggs, and blood, and charred leather.
They didn’t talk about these kills often, if at all.
Since when was Terrorist Explosives 101 part of Alaric’s training?
It wasn’t. But this is chemistry—remember that one time Mr. Hill taught us how to make Molotov cocktails?
(They’re all mostly glad that this apocalypse came before they could flunk out of Mystic Falls High anyways)
Once, they took a risk and drove through a town in the dark of night. It was stupid, they knew but Bonnie’s stomach had been growling continuously through three towns, and even Caroline had mumbled something about pop tarts in her sleep.
Bonnie and Elena took lookout; and Caroline was the snatcher. It was always a quick in-and-out job: leave the engine running, a flash of blond hair, and faster than you can blink—a back seat full of non-perishables, water, batteries and toilet paper (because you can never have enough toilet paper).
Of course it didn’t always go that easy.
That time, Caroline walked away with a gash in the stomach from being thrown against a trolley and a blunt, bleeding wound to the head from a vicious bite. Bonnie got a nosebleed from summoning enough magic to kill twenty walking corpses by ripping their bodies to pieces in a split-second.
That time, Elena drove them away.
You have to do this, Care.
No, I can wait—just; I can wait until we stop in the next town or until I find a squirrel or something.
No waiting, just do it.
Later that night, Bonnie and Caroline sat in the back seat. Caroline was sprawled gracelessly across her lap, her eyes feverish. Her head hadn’t healed well enough and was half-sticky with oozing blood. Bonnie filled her lungs with air and exhaled through the nose, lifted her wrist to the pale lips, made a strange cooing sound, like a mother with her young. Nervous, she said, “Drink.”
Teeth sharp, Caroline sank into her skin.
Bonnie winced at it—fuck, it hurt. She drew back from the pain of it, the door handle digging between her shoulder blades and the hand she had tangled in Caroline’s hair gripped tight. Soon, her arm started to feel weightless, while she listened to the slurp and gulp, the moan deep in her friend’s throat.
Caroline pulled out minutes later and the pallor on her cheeks was less pronounced. She smiled, her mouth red and wet, and traced a damp thank you into her palm.
Elena watched them quietly through the rear view mirror. Bonnie could feel her gaze; the hunger in it, the way she ran her tongue over her gums and didn’t blink, not even once.
We can’t take him.
We can’t just leave him here either!
Oh come on, have you ever watched a horror movie? The first rule is like—don’t pick up hitchhikers because they could eat you while you’re sleeping.
Okay, let’s vote on it then.
They met people along the road to nowhere.
(They’d long decided once they got to Detroit that they had no fucking idea where they were going or if there was really any point in running anymore. They had driven through whole towns that were as silent as graves and teeming with dead people walking.
But they just kept on.)
The first person was a kid in Bellville, Illinois. His name was Jack; he had a nose ring in the shape of a skull and a neon-pink Mohawk growing out in dull, brown patches. He was nice enough; told a slew of dirty jokes that ended with sex and/or drugs as a punch line; and he seemed to have something of a crush on Caroline.
They lost him, however, somewhere near Topeka. He took a dumb risk, one night, decided to go and explore an abandoned punk club for reasons no one knew. When they found him, he was lurching towards the car with glowing red eyes and brackish drool, the skull-shaped nose-ring glistening and the pink ends of his hair spiked wetly in every direction.
Caroline sliced his head off and it rolled a few feet along the asphalt, his body stood there for a long moment before falling in a lump.
I didn’t even get to make out with him, jeez.
You weren’t ever going to make out with him.
Well no, I’m not that desperate—but the flirting was fun.
There were others—perhaps a dozen others. Pauline in Alamogordo, New Mexico; Roger, a real-life cowboy with a shotgun in Lubbock; Mike, a kid from Roswell with glasses bigger than the size of his face who claimed he’d been abducted by aliens once, and shared his last joint with them three hours before he got himself killed.
They wondered why these companions never lasted long. If perhaps they didn’t quite fit in their little circle of three.
Elena thought it was a carry-over from their days in Mystic Falls. Back when they’d wrestled crazy vampires and deranged hybrids bent on taking over the world—or at least their little patch of it. Back then, they’d made rules for themselves with little concern for others. As long as they kept each other safe, who cared about anything else? Their hands weren’t big enough to hold more than that, so they’d held close to each other tighter each time they lost (Jenna, Grams, Bill, Alaric, Abby—).
They’d been selfish then and it worked well enough for them now that survival of the fittest really was the only game to be played.
When she shared this theory on a warm night in Santa Fe while Caroline dozed in the front seat and she stared listlessly out the window, Bonnie had listened, the muscle in her jaw pulsing tensely.
“You know, Katherine always used to say this thing—‘better you die, than I.’” Elena murmured, “I think maybe she was right. At least we’re here—and we’ve got each other, that’s all that matters.”
Not even Bonnie could refute that logic.
When they got to Peoria, Arizona—and met a lawyer named Ryan who was hiding out in a motel off Route 27—they started getting a little smarter.
We can’t live like this anymore.
Squirrels were cool but now there are no squirrels, or birds, or even—I don’t know—frigging coyotes out here.
We don’t have to kill him—we could just... keep him.
The old Bonnie would have been horrified. She might have lectured, or threatened, gone out of her way to play hero for this stranger. She might have felt driven to do the right thing (because it’s what she did, then).
This Bonnie did nothing but grimace faintly and look away each time one of them took a bite out of breakfast.
Breakfast happened to be Ryan, the lawyer. He had a fading fake tan, the kind that skeezy small-town lawyers always seemed to have, and very white teeth. His eyes were the glazed-over windows of the compelled and when Elena sank her fangs into his neck, he did nothing but tilt his head sideways, and smile vacantly into the distance.
They dumped his body just outside of Sloan, Nevada.
There were others like him, all the way up the west coast from Santa Clarita to Seattle. Sometimes they made a game of it. Stopped the car alongside and offered them a ride. Caroline smiled prettily from her seat. Elena gave them that sympathetic stare she was always so good at as a human, as if she could see right to the middle of you and genuinely care. Bonnie would fold her lips in the ghost of a smile, uneasy.
“Oh god, I didn’t know there was anyone still out here,” they’d say, relieved, grateful.
Elena smiled from her place in the backseat.
“Just how have three little ladies like you survived this long anyway?” There was always a patronising tone hidden in there somewhere.
Caroline tossed her hair and looked like the cheerleader she once was, a sparkling grin. “We’re just really good at it.”
Do you think it’s wrong, what we’re doing?
Basically doing the zombies a favour like this?
I don’t know. You—none of us—have a choice.
No. I guess we don’t.
They were sitting in another motel room—who knew the name. Caroline was flipping idly through channel after channel of grainy static (they were lucky these days to even find a place with working electricity). The light was switched off so as not to draw any attention and there was nothing but that odd luminescent glow coming off the screen. Bonnie was gorging herself on half-stale crackers they’d found in the mini-fridge. Elena scribbled on the notepad she found lying on the bedside table, a makeshift diary with the gold-and-blue insignia of the hotel inked out on the front.
Dylan—a guy they picked up in Portland—was sitting slumped on a chair, his eyes gazing fixedly at the blank television as if it was the most absorbing thing he’d ever watched.
There was something routine about this tableau now, familiar, rote.
“Ugh,” Caroline huffed from her spot at the foot of the bed, “Zombie apocalypses are boring.”
Ugh, I miss sex.
Well, I never actually got to have sex—but I miss it in theory.
“Do a spell, Bonnie.”
Bonnie was cross-legged in the middle of the bed and it reminded them of other times, better times. She hadn’t done a spell since they left California, and she missed it, her fingers twitched reflexively.
Impulsively, Elena grabbed a pillow and ripped it open, the feathers floated to the mattress and she smiled—a smile that only Bonnie caught because she remembered the first time she'd done this. When she made the wispy plumes dance on the air, the three of them twirled around the room, arms flying, holding hands and it was the most they’d laughed in a long while.
Dylan sat still in his corner and watched them blankly.
They landed on the bed in a tangle of limbs, Elena in the middle. She’d decided to give up wearing bras all together somewhere in Oregon, and Bonnie’s tongue drew a line down the centre of her chest, while Caroline’s teeth scraped right up against the jugular.
This had come easy—surprisingly. Or perhaps not surprising at all.
When she slipped her hand beneath the waist band of Bonnie’s jeans, fingered the lacy edge of her underwear before running her mouth along it. And Caroline nipped at her shoulder as she watched the two of them with a lazy grin, she thought that when it came down to it, this was her family.
Why are we even bothering?
Carrying on like this. We’re all gonna die anyway—everyone’s dying or dead. So what’s the point?
Because it’s what we do.