With the setting sun looming threateningly behind him, Will manoeuvred through the rusted bodies of the old cars still queued on the overpass, not bothering to peer through the cracked windows in the knowledge that they had all been looted long ago. The days were warmer now and he had overestimated the hours of sunlight, stepping out of the near-bare liqueur store, startled to see that the sky already held signs that dusk was fast approaching.
He'd been further from home than he thought too, wandering through an old high-street, trying his luck in each shop and finding barely enough supplies to get by on the sparse and dusty shelves. The prospect of tinned food, medicine and soap had pulled him further down the wide, barren pavement until the liqueur store had come into sight and he'd settled for bottle of whisky he found at the back.
Not surprisingly, when this all begun, alcohol had not been a top priority for the crowds of fearful people who swarmed and trampled one another in an attempt to gather enough to survive. The store was only emptied later, by survivors looking for way to dull the pain caused by the crumbling world around them.
A sickening cry rose from the grate beneath his feet and Will spurred himself faster still, hand gripping the gun at his belt. He wondered if a shot from his 9mm would have much of an impact on the demonic creatures that lurked underground and hoped he wouldn't have to find out.
With the fortified apartment block he called a home coming into site, he felt his terror fading. He pushed the creaking door to the foyer open just as the last slither of sun sunk from the sky and the grim screaming grew louder behind him. He did not slow his pace as he scaled the stairs, passing floor after floor until he reached the fifth and slammed the door of 5C shut behind him.
Winston, the scruffy mutt he'd found limping around the charred corpse of his previous master, greeted him with a desperate whine for food and attention. He was thin, yet better fed than Will himself, and frantic for being cooped up in such a small space. He was also the only companion Will had had in the last six years and the man didn't talk now that there was no one to listen.
Crouching in a silent greeting, he scratched his friend behind the ears and flipped his backpack open to reveal a dented tin of soup, a year past it's 'best by' date but edible as far as Will was concerned. Still, he sniffed it warily as he carved at the lid with his penknife and then got to his feet to find a pan to heat it in.
The three rooms he occupied had formerly belonged to a young woman as far as he could tell, and one that either did not cook for herself often or found it necessary to take her entire kitchen with her when she fled. Still, the one small saucepan she did leave was enough when Will rarely had a chance to eat anyway.
He collapsed onto a floor cushion near the little butane stove, lighting it with his zippo and resting his arm on his crossed legs to support the weight of the pan. The fire lit the otherwise dark room, the hissing of gas lit flames and the bubbling of the orange liquid went some way to block out the shrieking and the flapping of webbed limbs outside.
Winston hovered a few feet away, having learnt his lesson after his desperation for food had once cost him a burnt nose, until the soup was set aside to cool. Will ate his half, not caring that it scalded his tongue but also not wishing the same on the dog. It was supposedly tomato, though it tasted like bitter water and did not do much to stave off the constant hunger that nagged at the pit of Will's stomach.
He sighed, setting a chipped bowl down for Winston and wandering over to the boarded window to peer out through the slats.
The beasts were fighting amongst themselves, no doubt sharing in Will's hunger now that they had all but devoured mankind into extinction. It was too dark to see much, other than a suspended mess of translucent wings and pointed teeth and Will was thankful that their attention was focused on tearing at each other rather him.
After turning off the stove he did not dare light a candle or use his wind up torch to see, it could draw the creature's attention and then they would stop at nothing to get to him and his beloved pet. Instead he had mapped the apartment out in his mind, and kept the floors mostly bare so that he could navigate between the main living space, bedroom and bathroom without sight.
He had been use to complete darkness before the monsters took over, living so far out from the city that there wasn't a single street light nor any headlights from passing cars to shine through his window. His only neighbours had been the trees and he often thought that perhaps that was how he had lasted so long, practised as he was in isolation.
He undressed and climbed into bed, feeling the weight of Winston leaping up beside him. His sleep would be fitful, he was always burdened by nightmares even before he had to retire in the knowledge that he might wake between the jaws of a demon. He turned towards the furry warmth of his friend and drifted off to the sounds of teeth and claws tearing at thick skin.
He woke sweating and more exhausted than he had been the night before, Winston was whining beside him, nudging him with his damp nose. He didn't enter the bathroom, he found it hard to remember what it was like to always have running water on hand, it was hard to believe such a luxury had once been so bland a concept. Instead he dressed in dirty clothes, slipping his bent glasses onto the bridge of his nose and looped Winston's lead over the dogs head.
He'd set traps the previous morning, in the woods that lay a quarter of a days walk away. Winston needed the exercise and the ability to relieve himself somewhere other than the carpeted apartment flooring. There was black blood splattered on road but none of the flaps of grey skin that Winston sometimes relished. Will had been afraid of the effect the meat would have on the animal but when he'd survived had decided to cook some up himself. The taste was unlike anything, so vile that he was amazed Winston could stomach it at all. He hadn't tried to consume it again, even when his hunger drove him to briefly consider his only friend as food.
No sound escaped the grates now, the creatures wouldn't risk the painful blistering that the sun inflicted on them, they would be deep within the sewers and no risk to anyone above ground. The pair moved silently, back through the mess of abandoned vehicles and then past rows of houses that became more sparse until finally the forest was in view.
The first trap lay untouched, even the wildlife had been driven into hiding by the monsters. The second showed signs of a narrow escape, a tuft of fur caught in the tight snare and finally the third was looped tight around the neck of a white rabbit that had strangled itself in it's efforts to escape. That it was untouched was a miracle, more than half of Will's intended meals were often gobbled down by larger animals, thankful for the opportunity.
He cut the soft body free and avoided it's distant eyes, there was no room for guilt in the world Will had come to know. He walked on until the sound of rushing water brought him to his much loved stream. Now that the traps were all down Winston was free to roam, he never wandered far which was especially true today as Will set a small fire and began to skin the rabbit. The pelt made a revolting sound as he tore it from the flesh and muscle but he was use to it now, and moved on to efficiently gut it and impale it on a sharpened stick to roast above the flames.
He turned then to drink and wash himself and his clothing with the passing water. It was only deep enough to submerge his feet but he managed to cup enough in his hands to splash over his body and do away with the worst of the dried sweat. He had searched for deeper waters, following the stream as far as he could before nightfall, in the hopes of fishing but had had no luck. It was something he was skilled at and he doubted the creatures had managed to deplete the underwater population as they had everywhere else.
He stepped back onto dry ground, shrugging into still-damp clothes to turn the rabbit on the spit, the smell of cooked meat had brought Winston back from his wanderings and now he sat drooling a few feet away from the flames. Will smiled, moments like these weren't so bad. Food, water and the clean clothes had put him in a much better mood and he knelt beside his companion, flipping him onto his back to properly lather him with attention.
The dog panted happily beneath him, loudly enough that Will almost missed the sound of a snapping twig from behind a tight row of trees. He pulled his gun immediately, hoping to catch a glimpse of a deer. One particular stag had been elusive enough to escape every one of his attempts so far. When none emerged he turned back to the rabbit, cooked now, and began stripping the meat from the bones, flicking every other piece to Winston as he ate.
With warm food in his stomach he lay back, content to spend another hour in the sun before setting the traps again and heading back home. He must have dozed, because he woke later than expected, the sun in the centre of the sky with Winston nowhere to be seen. He got to his feet quickly, turning wildly and whistling in the hopes that his friend would return to him. What he drew from between the tree trunks was no dog.
“Toss all of your weapons over the stream and get on our knees,” The man demanded, gun raised, “and we wont harm your dog.”
Will abided, heart rate quickening at his first human contact in years. The man was roughly Will's height,with dark brown hair and beard. If it weren't for the promise of company, Will could probably have disarmed him and sought out Winston himself. However, the thought that someone else was hiding with his dog at their mercy forced Will's hand. He had to comply.
Once the gun and collection of knives lay on the other side of the stream, closer to the other man, Will raised his hands and sunk to his knees, visibly shaking. He wished he could appear stronger, more defiant, but the circumstance was overwhelming. To hear a voice, other than those from his nightmares, brought a tightness to his throat and he began to wonder if he could even remember how to reply.
“Good,” The man praised, though his tone was mocking. He scooped the weapons into his bag and pulled something else out, obscuring it quickly behind his back. Will felt the urge to run, but he had to be brave for Winston. He searched the trees behind the approaching man, frantically looking for a glimpse of muddy brown fur.
The branches behind him rustled and Will turned to see the cause of the noise. It all happened quickly then, a second man stepped out from behind him, gripping his hair and tugging his head aside to expose his neck and before he could even reach up to defend himself the first man had revealed a sharp syringe and pierced the needle deep into his neck.
He tugged himself free of them, stumbling to his feet as his vision blurred, still desperately searching for Winston. He whistled once before falling to his knees again, throwing his hands out catch himself before sinking into darkness.
When he came to it was dark and he felt a distant fear for some threat he couldn't quite place. His limbs felt heavy and it took a moment to realise they were dangling uselessly. He was suspended somehow, and felt nauseous. It didn't last long, he hit the ground with enough force to knock the air from his lungs but there was some comfort in feeling the sparse grass between his fingers and knowing he was concious and that a blindfold was the cause of darkness, not the night.
Screaming erupted around him, the frenzy of the creatures who had finally found him. That didn't fit, Will had seen the monsters hunt, they burnt their prey within seconds of descending on them. Only then did Will recall the men who had taken him and he recognised the noise surrounding him as the cheers and laughter of humans.
The material was tugged roughly from his eyes and he blinked, trying to make sense of the blurry surroundings without his glasses. He was enclosed in a circle of disorderly survivors and immediately he knew that their laughter was at his expense. They hadn't drugged him and then brought him here to join them after all. He sat up, drawing his knees towards himself and wishing he could see the features of the man before him clearly enough to read his intent. He knew it was the man who had tricked him when he started to speak. The voice was grating and smug.
“Look what I found,” He prodded Will's shoulder much to the amusement of their audience who clapped and cheered louder still.
Will wished he could get to his feet, defend himself from whatever pain they were planning to inflict on him but he was rooted to the spot. He peered up at the sky, it looked heavy and grey, promising rain, and making it difficult to know the time of day.
His attention was drawn back to the man before him as he grabbed his chin and shoved his own face too close. Will didn't look him in the eye, focussing on his pointed nose instead and tried to steady his breathing. The man's chest was puffed out with pride, clearly basking in the approval of those around him.
“Frederick!” A heavily accented voice in the distance put a stop to the display. The crowd silenced themselves and the man, Frederick, stepped aside to reveal the one that had spoken.
“Who is this?” This man was clearly in charge, he stood tall, not with pride but with authority. His face was blank, almost serene compared to the gleeful savagery of those around him.
Frederick didn't answer, stepping back further to allow the leader closer still. Will felt himself shrink back, the man had a chilling presence and in the sudden silence he could hear his own panicked breathing and dreaded how pathetic he must have appeared by comparison.
“Who are you?” The question was directed to Will this time, and he was dragged to his feet by two woman he had not heard approach. They pinned his arms back hard enough that it took all Will had not to whimper and cause himself further humiliation. He felt his mouth open but no words came out.
The man tilted his head, this close Will could make him out more clearly, he had an unusual sort of grace in his features, high cheek bones and thin lips and brown eyes that shone almost maroon at times. He shrank further into the women's grip only to be shoved forward, his arms pinned more tightly. This time he let out a feeble cry and lowered his eyes to the ground.
The man placed a hand under his chin then, gentler yet more sinister than Frederick's touch had been, and Will tried to speak again only to find that he had genuinely lost the ability at some point in the past six years.
“I suppose it doesn't matter,” The man said at last, and with those words Will's heart sank. His fate was clear. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut in preparation, but instead of the cold kiss of a knife or a blow to the head he was merely pushed forward as the crow began their merriment again.
By the time he opened his eyes both Frederick and the more menacing man had disappeared and the crowd had parted. He was marched through them, towards a house that could only be considered a mansion. It was run down but the windows were boarded and it looked secure enough that Will at least didn't fear the creatures would get to him. Inside he was discarded in a tiny, windowless room, perhaps a large closet, and the door was shut firmly behind him.
Will listened, in complete darkness once again, and heard a latch slide shut on the other side. He recoiled until his back hit a wall and then he sank down, shaking, and curled in on himself. He desperately wanted Winston at this side then, and wondered if the men who took him had even had his dog at all. Either way his only friend's chance of survival looked grim. Either they killed him to eat or the monsters would find him come nightfall.
He felt his eyes prick with tears and he silently admonished himself. Should his abductors come back, he would only appear weaker still. He took a deep breath in and tried to mentally prepare himself.
He had survived six years with the beasts, he would survive this too.