Pressing my fingers harshly into my eyes, I let out a weary sigh.
This. This was how I died. Mouth breathers swarming all around, my pack uselessly laying in the dirt hundreds of feet away halfway between me and the tree line, and my sorry ass chased up the only old lonely oak tree in the middle of a farm field. Fucking fantastic. I was gonna die up a fucking tree.
Below me, dead eyes were locked upward; a mass of the things seethed, decaying arms reaching for the sky as skeletal fingers clawed at the air, desperately trying to grab me. Gnashing teeth and horrible groans were the only sounds to be heard and it was the unwelcome accompanying symphony to my demise.
There was no way in hell I was getting out of this bunch of bullshit, not this time.
If I stayed up the tree much longer I was going to either die of dehydration or, more likely, tumble out of the thing to my death from sheer exhaustion. The undead didn't need to worry about things like hunger, or thirst, or the desperate need for sleep. All the undead had to do was wait, and eventually, I would succumb to gravity or desperation.
And they would be waiting.
There had to be at least a hundred of them now, all congregating under the base of my last stand. They circled out further than the branches of the tree reached, cutting off any hope of dropping outside of the mass somehow and fleeing, even if my fucked up knee didn't prohibit it. Even in the darkness, I could see the gleam of dead eyes and the shine of rotting teeth in gaping maws as the bastards peered up at me with those stupid blank looks, just waiting.
It had been two days.
Turning my gaze upward, I tried to get lost in the majesty that was the milky way and ignore the reality of my situation. The sky looked amazing without light pollution to ruin it all for me, and watching satellites still creep from horizon to horizon was slightly hypnotic. For a moment I let my mind wander to the ISS and I briefly wondered what happened to the astronauts that had been stationed up there when everything had gone to shit. Did they come home? Were they still there, trying to survive? Did they perish? I couldn't even begin to imagine what it had been like for them, but I truly doubted any of them were still alive. If there was an afterlife I figured I would find out one way or another, and if they had perished I'd buy them all a round at heaven's bar and they could fill me in on the gory details while we exchanged tales of horror.
A blaze of light suddenly streaked across the sky so bright it was momentarily blinding, bringing me out of my thoughts. Logically I knew it was nothing more than a piece of debris skipping across the atmosphere, and logically I knew that magical thinking was complete bullshit.
"Man, I wish I wasn't gonna die here," I muttered quietly to the lingering shimmer of the shooting star.
A sudden, brilliant blaze of red illuminated the darkness and I blinked at the sudden light, squinting to try and make sense of what I was seeing. When my eyes adjusted my heart suddenly leaped into my throat.
What I was seeing was the dark figure of a man in a dark poncho holding a lit flare aloft, the red glow casting eerie shadows over the scene when the entire horde turned towards the source of light in tandem. He was standing on a small road a few hundred yards away. All at once the horde started moving, and I expected the man to drop the flare and run for his life the moment he saw what kind of attention he was garnering, because the whole thing looked like an illuminated scene straight from hell. Instead, to my total shock, he held his ground.
"THAT'S RIGHT YOU SONS OF BITCHES!" He bellowed, his voice overly loud in the apocalyptic night, "COME AND GET ME! FRESH MEAT, RIGHT HERE!"
It was like a dream, watching the seething mass that had been my doom move away into the darkness. The madman in the poncho with the flare lured them away like the pied piper, whooping and hollering as he went. In a matter of minutes, he had lured them far enough away that I couldn't even hear them. Suddenly, I found myself alone in the darkness up a tree.
I bit my tongue to keep from screaming as my knee gave out when I hit the dirt, hitting the ground hard. The dirt below me was slick and gross with things I didn't want to think about as I forced myself back to my feet, trying to ignore the pain throbbing through my leg. This was my one and only chance to run, and I wasn't about to look a gift horse in the mouth as I hobbled to where my bag had been.
The tree line was now a matter of life and death, and not just because it offered me some protection from the horde. As much as I wanted to believe that some random guy had helped a fellow survivor out of the kindness of his heart, I didn't know that for sure. The reality was a lot more brutal than the innocent ideology of a "good Samaritan" in this world. Reality was the fact that women were not only now scarcer than ever, but that most men were total fucking bastards.
My bag was miraculously untrampled and exactly where I had thought that it was. I wasted no time in shrugging it on and slipping into the trees, trying to move as fast as my injury would allow. I needed to put as much distance between myself and the drawn off danger as possible, and there was no telling if the guy in the poncho had been alone.
The huge hand that suddenly clamped over the lower half of my face did a very good job of muffling my scream as I was suddenly pulled hard against a massive, solid body. I felt like I was peering up at the shadow-shrouded face of a giant as I recoiled away from his looming visage. All I could really make out in the darkness was the wet glitter of his eyes, but it was enough to make my stomach drop out as I realized that I was physically outmatched.
I didn't even get a chance to try to fight him. The huge man simply jerked me off my feet and bolted off into the darkness.