It was a Saturday, Poe remembers that vividly, he was twelve and Ben was nine, they were building a Lego fort in his room while his mom cooked dinner downstairs. Ben’s mom, Leia, was across the street, sitting on their lawn and reading like she normally did on sunny days and Ben’s dad, Han, was coming home from work, he helped out with the local scouts, a simple thing after everything he’d done in the war almost over ten years ago now. It was normal, at least it had been, Poe couldn’t even remember now if he’d heard of anything being off before everything fell apart; though he can’t imagine the military or any news channels reporting just what was going on before it got out of hand, the military probably thought they had it under control.
He remembers his mom rushing into the room, something in her eyes Poe hadn’t been able to translate as a child but knew now that it was unmeasurable fear. She’d rushed them to put something more practical on, easy to move in clothes but also jackets and their best sneakers, she’d handed them backpacks, told them to pack a couple pairs of trousers and more jackets, maybe a book and a few bottles of water she’d brought up afterwards. Ben had looked more scared than Poe knew how to feel, he was mostly confused, confused by what his mom wasn’t telling him and by what she was making them do. But he listened, because she was his mom and she always knew what to do, she always kept him safe.
Poe had been more confused when they’d been rushed outside and into Han’s jeep, Leia in the passenger seat with Poe’s mom jumping in after both him and Ben. All of the adults had told them to keep their heads down, cover their ears and don’t look out of the windows, Ben had grabbed his hand and if Poe hadn’t seen the boy’s wide, teary eyes he probably would have shaken his hand off instead of gripping back like he had. There were noises Poe hadn’t been able to decipher going off outside, now he’d recognise gunshots any day of the week (not that he knows what day of the week it is anymore), now he’d be able to understand that the groans meant the dead, the walking corpses that would and did give him nightmares consistently.
He doesn’t remember how long Han had been driving for before something slammed into the right side of the car and pulled both his and Ben’s attention away from the car’s foot wells. The adults tried to get them to look down again, his mom pressed a hand into the space between his shoulders, but the damage was done. Poe knew what the fear was then, Ben squeezed his hand, a choked wail escaping his throat as he curled into Poe’s side, tears running tracks down his cheeks; Poe hadn’t been able to tear his eyes away from the things outside (now he could pass thirty without sparing them a second glance). Han kept driving, but he and Ben had talked about those people enough to know that they’d both been scarred from that moment onwards.
The only way Poe could have described the people was disgusting if not terrifying. They were things out of nightmares, grey skin, missing chunks of skin, missing eyes, jaws, legs, arms, anything someone could lose, Poe saw some of the things dragging themselves along the ground, he saw actual people running away from them, jumping on cars or getting in cars. He saw people go down, hid Ben’s face in his shoulder when they caught the same woman being overwhelmed by those creatures, Poe only saw part of her get ripped to shreds before his mom covered his eyes.
He still doesn’t know when they got out of the city, Han and Leia were talking about going looking for Ben’s Uncle Luke but he was almost a week’s drive away teaching astrology at a university Poe never bothered to learn the name of. It had been decided that they would head that way, but only because military bases were that way too, they weren’t going to hope Luke was still alive when there was the major risk that he wasn’t. Poe knows Ben still likes to believe Luke is alive.
Han drove until he had to stop for gas. The area was quiet, cars already piled at the side of the road from people needing to get away from the monsters that Poe figures now must’ve pooled in from the woods close by. He and Ben were left in the car by themselves while both their parents went out to get gas from the nearby cars; they promised they hadn’t gone far, they promised they had kept the boys and the jeep in their sight so Ben had only opened the window a little bit to let air in before either of them panicked too much, it was the tiniest crack and they both could’ve sworn they couldn’t fit their fingers through the gap.
But something had to go wrong for them didn’t it? It wasn’t enough that all of this had already scared them enough that this day was so vividly etched into Poe’s brain like a scar that would never fade. No, they had to live something, it just so happened that what they had to live was the fear of near death and the fucking awful feel of their first kill. At twelve and nine fucking years old. One of those monsters had tucked its fingers through the gap in the window, easily broken flesh folding away to let the thing reach further in for them; Poe remembers screaming, he remembers Ben screaming, and he remembers the two of them tucking themselves as far away from the window as they could possibly get until the window shattered from the monster’s pull and it reached in for them further. It had been so close. Poe doesn’t remember if it grabbed his foot or Ben’s, but one of them screamed even louder, kicked out at it as it half fell into the car through the window, an eye hanging out of it’s face and making Poe throw up in his mouth. One of them had grabbed his mom’s bag, unzipped it in hopes of finding something to help, one of them had found a knife and he remembers their hands clasping around one another and the knife handle to drive the thing into the monster’s skull, the sickening sound of squishy flesh and nigh on nonexistent bone cracking under the pressure of two frightened children.
They’d scrambled out of the car, faces tear streaked, snotty, a splashed by dots of stale blood soon accompanied by vomit as Poe retched into the grass next to the car while Ben frantically tried to suck air into lungs that wouldn’t respond. That’s how their parents found them, Poe’s mom had almost had a panic attack herself, kneeling in front of Poe who’d sat on the ground next to his emptied stomach while Han and Leia stopped Ben from passing out. Neither of them could get back in the car, so Leia made the executive decision to change vehicles to a slightly smaller station wagon, all of their stuff fit and both he and Ben couldn’t visualise the monster coming through the window as well as they had when his mom tried to get them back in.
Ben had curled into Poe again, they clung to each other, taking up a small corner of the backseat as they drifted to sleep on that first, terrifying day of their new lives. They weren’t allowed to be children anymore. Even now he’s sure he knew that even then.
Luke had been teaching an extra class the day it happened. It was the class he held, unpaid, not registered, for many of his students who had bigger responsibilities than just university. One of his students, Isabella Tico, took this class and brought her young four year old, Paige, with her, both girls were lovely: Isabella paid attention, offered exceptional answers, was overall incredibly intelligent despite the rumours that had been perpetuated about her when she’d joined the university with a barely one year old baby girl. Paige was a delight, she was a rather quiet toddler, often spotted attacking a piece of paper with multicoloured crayons to try and recreate the images Luke would put up on the projector; he had quite a few of her scribbled drawings on his desk on the days she’s waddle up to him and slap them into his waiting hands. She reminded him a little of Ben, his nephew who he missed dearly, and having the girl there was a frequent delight to even some of the students who’d told him the first day Isabella brought her that they hated children.
If it had been any other day, a weekday where professors were sure they were there rather than a day where a class could be cancelled without Luke having to tell anybody but the students, they may have been warned; but if it was a weekday his students may not have had their children, and Luke still isn’t sure what he would've done if he had to take care of Isabella grieving her little girl. He can’t imagine it and frankly doesn’t want to. So, without warning, without anybody there to get them from their lecture hall, they were caught off guard. Luke lost a lot of students that day, some simply rank and he hadn’t seen them since but others took their last breaths in his classroom, staring at projections of stars.
Something had bumped into his door, he usually closed it for the sake of keeping the lighting low, the simple noise and whatever was there had set Paige off in a way she never usually cried before. Others in his classroom made faces of either fear and disgust and many stood up, inching or scrambling towards the back fire escape. He turned to the door as Isabella stood, her bag immediately going on her back as she tried to hush Paige; he almost didn’t want to believe what he was seeing when he looked, he thought he was hallucinating. Grey skin and visible bones was not normal for human beings.
One of the boys at the back of the class screamed, the fire escape door slamming open but another professor, alive, came running in. Luke noticed the limp right away, caught his coworker who must’ve been on campus somewhere, and helped him rest against his desk.
“You have to get out of here, you have to get these kids out, now, Luke,” the man choked, blood dribbling down his chin. He pressed something into Luke’s hand and it took him a second to realise it was a gun. A gun. He hadn’t used one since the war and at the time Luke remembers not being so sure he wanted to use one then. “Don’t let those fuckers bite you, they got me an hour ago and I’m going to drop soon, that door isn’t going to hold much longer and only so many of those things are going to come fore me. The others will be after you in a second, they can hear you I don’t know if they can't smell you or not, and even if you see one without eyes, it has ways of finding you. Now go!”
Luke nodded at his former friend firmly, the two of them clasping each other on the shoulders before Luke bounded up the stairs of his lecture hall as fast as a man his age could. His students followed after him, but there was a resounding crack as the door fell inwards and those creatures swarmed the room. Some of them got grabbed while the rest were fleeing, he saw so many scramble in the direction of the parking lot or their dorm rooms but Isabella stayed at his side, Paige still wailing in her arms as she tried to calm her, tears springing in her own eyes. With every turn Luke took he always looked back to make sure Isabella and Paige were no more than a couple of paces behind him, he had kept his focus on them and keeping them safe instead of being overtaken by the thoughts of what was happening to his family so far away from him. Back then he had two helpless individuals to look after with no idea were to go or what to do about the situation, but now, the level of helplessness has certainly lessened and he has more quiet time to think about his family; Ben would have been nine, he couldn’t imagine what he had thought, especially if something were to have happened to Poe - he can only hope all of them survived the initial chaos and are still surviving now.
He and Isabella had seen a horde of the monsters turn around the corner of another building, their groans and unsightly appearances sending her off course to avoid them; he’d followed, the two of them skidding under cars parallel to each other and holding their breaths. He watched Isabella like a hawk, keeping his finger pressed to his lips and switching eye contact between the woman and Paige, even for a toddler she seemed to understand the severity of the situation and used both her hands to cover her mouth, body pressed and almost completely hidden by her mother’s. What followed was the slowest ten minutes of Luke’s life, the creatures ambled past them, shoes of students he recognised scuffing along the ground, the smell was pungent, stale, but damp, he almost gagged but held the sensation down by his own damn force of will.
Part of him honestly isn’t quite sure what happened next, he thinks they stayed under those cars until it got dark or until they couldn’t hear the scrapes and the groans of the monsters anymore; maybe they hadn’t moved until Paige fell asleep under her mother’s watchful eye, but the memory of an old man wasn’t necessarily something completely reliable. He briefly remembers them fleeing off campus, forgoing a car in favour of attempting to sneak around behind walls, buildings and cars with a sleeping four year old in their care. They stopped short half way out of town, turning to hide in the brush of the road side woods, Isabella looked ready to drop so Luke took Paige into his arms, an overwhelming sense of protectiveness washing over him as the child unconsciously burrowed herself under his sweater.
The first night they spent out in the new world wasn’t particularly safe, he and Isabella took shifts every couple of hours until dawn, hiding under a small overhang of dirt, shielded by a grubby pond and overgrown weeds like a natural curtain. Paige never stirred, luckily, just hid herself amongst the fabrics of the clothes of whoever was holding her; Luke made the decision that day that while he couldn’t find his family, he was going to keep this one together until they were safe and in a place he knew they’d be protected in. Nothing was going to take these girls away from each other.
If only Luke back then what Luke knew now.