Chapter 1: Lost (Intro)
Branches cracked under the weight of your heavy boots. You were tired, really tired, and as it was starting to get dark you just hoped you would make it back to your den before the little sunlight you did have faded. Being out here in the dark wasn’t good. You knew that, hell it was common sense wasn’t it? How could you protect yourself if you couldn’t see what was in front of you? Or even creeping up behind you. Shaking the thought from your mind you carried on, gently touching each passing tree, using the muddy handprints you had pressed on them to guide you home.
Home. This was home now. Had been for a few days. You had no other choice, it was either camping out in the woods until they found you, with some degree of safety, or walking your way back to camp. Walking with little water, and even less food, plus the fact that you didn’t even know which direction camp was in from here.
The handprints came to a stop as you rounded the corner, finding your make-shift den exactly as you had left it earlier. You had hung your rainproof jacket from each tree, the back and sides surrounded by overgrown bushes, providing you with some form of protection. The open front wasn’t much of a problem, it gave you a good lookout to spot any oncoming walkers.
It was a different story at night however, and you had barely slept since the night you got lost. Every time you shut your eyes, they would shoot back open, instantly paranoid that something or someone was there in front of you.
Dropping to the ground with a loud thud, and pulling the half-empty bottle of water out of your now-ragged bag, you sighed, taking a small sip. You would have loved nothing more than to drink it all, four or five large gulps would do it, but you knew that this was all you had. And what you didn’t know was for how long that would be true.
Screwing the lid back on, and flinging it beside you, you sighed. Frustration filling your body as you growled out, banging your fists against your legs angrily. Where are they? They should have been here ages ago! Where the fuck are they! Collapsing onto the soft ground behind you, you stared up at your make-shift ceiling, tears welling up in your eyes. What if they’re not coming? I mean you can’t blame them, I’m nothing to them… They’re better off without me probably, better than risking their lives coming back out here looking, right? Be realistic, they’re not coming back for you, if they were you’d been gone by now…
The tears fell then, streaming down the sides of your cheeks as you lay there. Sobbing to yourself, feeling stupid for even thinking that they would come back to look for you. They never really cared about you anyways.
You don’t know how long you lay there, but by the time your tears had begun to slow, the sky was practically dark. Just a little sliver of orange sunlight left. And then you heard the sounds you dreaded every second of being out here. The soft rustle of the trees, loud snapping of branches and twigs under heavy feet, and then the groaning. Sitting up with a heavy breath, and pulling your beloved knife from your hip, you stood, wiping at your cheeks with your thick sleeve. You watched as the man shuffled clumsily over the uneven floor, arms reaching towards you as his groans got louder. Walking forwards without a second thought, and jamming your knife into the side of his head, you watched as his groans stopped instantly as he died all over again. Pulling your knife out with a grunt, he fell to the floor in front of you.
Slotting your knife back into place at your hip, you clutched onto his dead shoulders, dragging him to the other side of the tree line, away from your den. Pushing him against the small number of other now-dead walkers you had left there, you turned around and headed back to your spot only a few minutes away.
Laying down under the safety of your den, you sighed heavily. The sun had gone now, and you looked out to see a bright white moon shining right above you. Tomorrow, you thought. Tomorrow we leave this place. We don’t have another choice. You knew in your heart that even if you couldn’t find the way back to camp, you couldn’t stay here. Not for much longer anyways.
Chapter 2: Found
You woke up to the unmistakable sound of crunching leaves and sticks breaking as they were walked over. A sickly chill ran down your spine when you realised that whatever was making its way to you was more than just a wild cat or rabbit - hell did they even exist anymore? Your head spun instinctively to the left when you heard the similar crunching of steps coming from that direction, opposite to the others. There must be more than one? Shit!
One walker you could handle, but two? Two meant that you would be outnumbered. Outnumbered with only a small knife for a weapon, your only chance at protection. You knew it would be a useless fight, even if you would never have admitted it out loud. Then, a sound drew you instantly out of your mental panic about fighting walkers, and instantly flooded you with another kind of panic altogether.
“Hey Mikey, look at this aye?”
It was a man. You couldn’t see him yet, but he was close enough that you could hear his call, and hear his companions reply as he walked over to see what had been found.
“Fuck is that?” The second man, Mikey, replied, the confusion clear in his voice.
“Looks like a rabbit, dead one, you think one of the walkers did this or there someone out here?”
At that a shiver run through your body. They couldn’t find you, not out here alone. Two walkers you could have probably stood a chance with, outrun even, but two men on your own, when you had hardly eaten for days? Chances were slim. Very slim.
Making the quickest decision of your life to get the hell out of there, you got onto your knees as quietly as you could. Doing your best not to draw any more attention to yourself than the rabbit you had had for dinner yesterday had already done, you tried to keep yourself close to the ground.
“Hey what the— hey come look at this!” It was the first man again, calling out to the other, neither of which had noticed you yet.
“What the fuck is that supposed to be?” Came the reply from the other, Mikey. “Looks like a hand—“
“Yeah, looks like a handprint or some shit. You think I should call the boss?”
You paused then, the jacket you had used for cover now halfway stuffed into your ragged backpack. Your head turned in their direction when you heard the word, ‘boss’. That means they have a group, right?
“Fuck man, yeah, yeah call it in, this shit’s getting weird.”
You were stuck. You knew if they had seen your handprints then they were getting closer to your spot. In a few minutes they would be right behind you. But if they have a group, it might mean they have a place? Somewhere safe?
Scrambling the rest of your jacket into the bag, and pulling the straps closed as best you could, you decided a different option, a bit of a compromise with yourself. You’d stay, see who they were, who their ‘boss’ is, and if they seemed friendly you’d make yourself known. Good plan, unless they spot you first, dumbass!
Shaking away the negative thoughts, you pulled your backpack on, looking around for the thickest and most-climbable looking tree you could find. Deciding on one just a few feet away, you went as quick and as quietly over as you could, still aware of the two men still discussing your handprints on the trees.
As you came to stand at the bottom of the tree you looked up at the thick branches. You weren’t much of a climber when you were a kid, and the thought of getting up the side of the one in front of you was anything but optimistic. That was until another shout from one of the men, who had apparently split apart again now to search the forest, urged your feet forward, digging your roughened-up boots into the dirty old bark. Wood and dirt caking into your fingers as you made your way, albeit slowly, up the tree. You tried your hardest to listen as you did so, although most of your attention was focused on not falling backwards. From what you did hear though, their boss was also somewhere in the forest and was now on his way, and both men who had been seemingly so confident just moments ago were now worried that he wouldn’t like what they had found.
You sighed when you reached the first thick branch, willing yourself to get up onto it, reminding yourself constantly not to look down. Shuffling yourself over to the main trunk, you were gripping hold of it for your life, trying to get yourself around the other side so you were mostly hidden from view of the men. Still gripping on, you watched as the one man joined the other, both now back to studying your handprint on one of the smaller trees again.
Then you heard it. A whistling so shrill it almost made you lose your balance. A few seconds later a man appeared through the green, you could just about make out from the overhanging branches and leaves. He was still whistling a tune you couldn’t make out as he approached the two men, absentmindedly swinging something at his side, and then you noticed the entourage of men following behind him. Another chill ran through you when you noticed that they were all carrying guns, save for the whistling man in front, heavy-looking black guns strapped across their chests. You were beginning to rethink your plan then, realising that these people probably weren’t going to be as friendly as you had hoped. The whistling stopped as the man came to stand in front of the other two.
From your place up on the tree you couldn’t hear what they were saying, but all three seemed to be deeply interested in the handprint splashed onto the tree next to them. The two men pointed out the other handprints they had found then, the one walking over to kick at the dead rabbit skin too. The whistler looked back and forth between the pair of men, before leaning into the one next to him, wrapping an arm around his shoulder and patronisingly tapping his cheek. You could have sworn he was grinning. He turned then, pointing the brown stick in his hand, a baseball bat, at the people behind them. He leaned back as he addressed them, before each took off in separate directions, scoping the forest for the owner of the handprints.
Panic flooded through you as you gripped onto the bark. What could you do? Try and climb down and they would find you for sure. But how long could you stay up here? And would they really not see you if they came closer? Just one word came to mind as you sighed, repeating itself over and over as you desperately racked your brain for an idea – shit.
Chapter 3: Hiding
You were running. Had been for a few minutes now, as fast as you could get your legs could go. You shrugged your backpack off as you rounded another tree, deciding that the less weight you had on you the easier it would be to get away from them.
Them. You could hear them close behind you, hear them shouting to one another, hear the clunking of their guns as they ran. You had made the gut-churning decision to get out of their path just moments after they had all dispersed from where their leader stood.
That’s when the whistling had begun. Not just their leader this time, but all of them. A whistle coming from what felt like each inch of the forest – in that moment you knew you had to get out of there.
You had pulled your now-rugged backpack tighter, securing it against yourself as you slowly made your way back down the thick tree trunk. Trying your best to be as silent as you could be, mentally mapping out where each foot would go. It was working, and you mentally encouraged yourself to keep going, only a few feet now to the ground. And then you heard a shout, swinging your head up to see a man, not far away from you, staring right at you with his mouth agape. The two of you were frozen for what felt like hours, staring at one another with no clue what to do next. Then everything had hit fast-forward as he shouted your location to the rest of the group. You had jumped the rest of the way down the tree trunk, hearing the rush of the others coming your way. You had run, the panic hitting you full-force, and you hadn’t stopped since.
So that’s where you were now. Running for your life through the dense forest ground. Branches and leaves crunching underneath your feet as you spent all your concentration on not tripping up. You could still hear them from somewhere behind you, and though it felt like their numbers had doubled since you had first seen them, their shouts and whistles seemed to be getting further away now. These weren’t like others you had come across before while out on the road with your group, these people were not only armed and organised, but you knew they probably weren’t going to give up easily. You had to keep going. You had no choice really, it was either keep running or get caught.
Your panic started to rise even more when you realised you were coming to the end of the forest. The safety of the dense trees fading fast as you came to a clearing. Leaning onto the tree next to you as your breath came out in heavy pants, you stopped to look around at your next options. Still highly aware that you were still being chased you knew you needed to move, so you shoved yourself off the trunk, and headed out towards the road quietly, checking if you had company.
The road was empty except for a burnt-out car a few metres down. And you mentally screamed when you saw the now-run down gas station just a little further behind it. Making the swift decision to find some kind of hiding place inside the gas station, you ran the rest of the distance, rounding the now-unusable car. Ducking down behind the rough metal you looked over to the tree line, letting out a deep sigh when you saw that it was still empty.
Your relief was cut short when you felt a stinging pain run through your leg. Looking down to see a deep scratch down the side of your calf, blood pooling at the edges and quickly running down your leg, staining the ripped denim surrounding it. Cursing quietly to yourself you pulled your short scarf from around your neck, tying it as tight as you could around the wound, wincing when it stung even more. Realising that you needed to somehow bandage your calf properly you stood, drawing in a breath when you put pressure on the damaged leg. Trying your best to ignore the growing pain, you ran as fast as you could over to the gas station. Pausing to grab a hold of the knife you had tied onto your belt, you pushed open the stiff door with your other hand, nearly jumping out of your skin when the overhead bell sounded at your entrance.
It was dark, save for the small patches of light coming through the dirtied-up windows. Dust swirled around the air as the door slammed shut behind you, and despite the shelves being half empty you could tell no one had been here in a while. Used boxes and cans littered the floor, and even from where you were stood you could see a thick layer of dust covering just about everything in the shop. Part of you thought of searching the place, to look for any food or water that may have been left behind, when a sharp pain raced through your calf, reminding you of your current situation. So, with gritted teeth you limped your way over to the cashier’s desk at the side of the room, rounding the desk carefully and sitting yourself down in the dark and dirty corner. Looking down to see a dark red patch staining your makeshift bandage, you leant your head back with a long sigh, leaning back against the wall. You weren’t sure how long had passed as you sat there, exhaustion starting to creep in as the pain in your leg continued to grow. Your eyes were beginning to close themselves shut, your body finally giving up for the day, when a familiar sound made an electric shock flow through you, your eyes widening instantly - the door bell.