She was silent as she stalked through the large shopping mall, smoothly weaving in between the debris left behind by panicked citizens turned into hordes of Undead. She wasn’t quite sure why the military hadn’t contained the Outbreak yet. Killing these zombies was like shooting fish in a barrel. She smirked when she popped up behind an unsuspecting group clambering over one another to get into the local K-Mart.
Even in death they’re still looking for a bargain, she quipped to herself with a dorky snort, before drawing her twin Glocks and the air soon filled with gun shots. A large feral grin spread over her face as she counted how many she could hit right in the eye. Then got bored and decided on a little pattern: Left eye, right eye, in between the eyes. Rinse and repeat.
She was up to fifteen cycles when the final Undead dropped inside the shop and she entered seconds after, vigilantly scanning the department store.
There was only one thing that a horde like that would gather for and she soon found the frail little blonde sitting hunched in a corner, beneath a makeshift shelter of shelves. The girl’s head was down on her knees, hands over the earplugs of her headset that blared music loud enough that even she could hear it from where she stood.
She reached out a leg and gently kicked at the girl’s sneakered foot. In response, the young blonde promptly shrieked like death was upon her and started screaming and flaying her arms, striking wildly at the air. When frightened hazel eyes eventually opened upon realising she wasn’t being mauled by a zombie, they stared confusedly at the redhead looking on in amusement.
The girl then removed her headset and blinked up at her saviour.
“We need to start moving before more get here.” She smiled at the stunned blonde. “I’m Claire, and you are?”
Claire’s brows furrowed, knowing the girl was probably not deaf if she had been listening to music. And she wasn’t mute as she nearly burst Claire’s eardrums with her screams a moment ago. She could also be foreign or mentally challenged… But Claire was leaning more toward the girl just being in shock.
She quickly holstered her weapons in an attempt to appear less threatening.
“Okay… K-Mart.” She smirked and got a small uncertain smile in return. “I need to pick up a few things before we get swarmed again. Then I’ll take you somewhere safe okay?”
Claire reached out, offering her hand and was relieved when the teenager took it so that Claire could help her up.
After making sure that the silent blonde was following, Claire set about her task. She grabbed two duffle bags handing one to K-Mart who clearly had nothing on her save for the clothes she wore and her iPod.
“The most important thing you need during a zombie apocalypse is ammo.” Claire stated upon entering the gun shop. “Do you know how to shoot a gun, Kid?” She inquired, only looking up from gathering what she needed to see the blonde shaking her head no.
Claire sighed and picked up a small handgun and walked over to where K-Mart was awkwardly still standing at the entrance of the shop, empty bag slung haphazardly over her shoulder.
“Safety,” she pointed to the gun, “off and on.” Claire demonstrated. “Magazine,” she released the clip and slammed it back in, “aim; shoot.” She smirked then grabbed a shoulder holster and armed the young woman, throwing a box of clips into K-Mart’s bag.
“Second priority is tampons.” Claire said earnestly, which got her a little giggle from K-Mart. “I keep mine in a large baking tin. They’re compact and easy to store.” She explained, walking into a drug store and quickly finding the aisle she was searching for. Claire was pleased to find the blonde grabbing a few boxes of her own without prompting.
After adding a few toiletries, some bandages and disinfectants for her first aid kit, she was out the store again.
“Third, you’re gonna need a good supportive bra.” Claire grinned when K-Mart laughed light-heartedly and followed after her, the previous drag in her footsteps all but gone. “I always go with sports bras, they’re comfortable and provide enough support if you need to run. And you barely feel like you’re wearing one, which makes them easier to sleep in than regular bras.” Her brows drew together as she looked at K-Mart’s jeans and sneakers.
“You’re going to need other pants too.” Claire pointed at her own cargos. “I like these because they have pockets. Good for keeping ammo, snacks, my pocket knife and other shit. They don’t chafe as easily as jeans and they dry faster should you get wet.” She grinned at K-Mart who was avidly listening and nodding, then pointed at her combat boots. “These are sturdy to run in and comfortable to walk in, and should you step on some zombie guts it’s not gonna soak through the material. Have you ever had zombie goo squishing between your toes, Kid? It’s not a comforting feeling.”
K-Mart laughed again and followed Claire around a camping store as she was handed a whole new wardrobe.
After that, they wandered into a grocery shop and Claire grabbed a trolley, throwing both their bags inside and headed for the canned food aisle after grabbing a few boxes of protein bars.
“Obviously food is a necessity, and though you wanna grab everything in sight, you’re gonna have to go with things that won’t expire in a week and can be easily transported.”
Claire then started filling the trolley with various canned goods and headed for the health section.
“Nutritional supplements that you can mix with water tastes like crap but will help you stay healthy.” She distractedly murmured while reading a label on one of the tins she picked up after handing K-Mart two shakers.
A few minutes later, with a trolley filled to the brim, they headed outside and Claire could almost feel K-Mart’s apprehension setting in again and then the blonde stopped entirely. Claire worriedly turned, but then smirked at K-Mart gawking at the sight in front of them.
“And most importantly, right up there with a reliable weapon and ammo, is transport.” She proudly smiled and waved her hand at the giant, black Monster Truck the blonde was staring at. It had the body of a Hummer fitted on its large axils. It was broad and high, casting a massive shadow where it stood parked out on the street taking up quite a few parking spaces. “This is Xena.” Claire added with a flourish. “Xena meet K-Mart. We’ll be giving her a ride to safety today.”
Claire had to stretch up onto her tiptoes to pull down the chrome ladder at Xena’s tailgate and started the arduous task of loading her bounty into the various metal storage lockers she had in the back. Everything had its place: Pantry, Armoury and Dispensary. The redhead preferred keeping her clothes in a large duffle on the backseat.
“You named your truck Xena?”
“She speaks!” Claire grinned. “And she’s not a truck, Kid. She’s a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle.” She pointed at the machine gun turret on the roof. “You may call her a Humvee if anything.”
K-Mart nodded, mouth gaping, eyes stuck on the turret. “Is that a flamethrower?”
Claire laughed because that was exactly what she wanted to put on the roof but it didn’t seem feasible.
“Nah, since it’s about twenty feet in the air it would’ve wasted too much space building in a compressor capable of blasting a long enough range to be of any use. And adding a propane tank back here seemed like just asking for trouble. Besides, the heat would’ve ruined my paint job.” Claire smirked.
“So it’s yours?”
“Yep, built her from scratch. Well, I got the basic frame from a connection, but Xena is my baby.”
“Cool...” K-Mart breathed, still awestruck.
Claire discarded of the trolley and turned to the girl again.
“So where do you want me to take you, Kid? We can’t stay here much longer, the city’s crawling with Undead.”
K-Mart averted her gaze and stared at the ground and Claire wanted to slap her own forehead for being an idiot. The girl was alone in a zombie-infested mall, her family was either dead or she had no idea where they were. Obviously she didn’t have anywhere for Claire to take her.
“Come on, I wanna show you something.” Claire smiled in apology, showing K-Mart how to use the various strategically placed footholds and chrome handle bars to traverse the side of the Humvee and get inside.
Once settled in the front passenger seat, K-Mart was again left in awe, this time of the luxury interior. Xena’s windows were covered with grates for protection and the matted black paint created an illusion of a rugged exterior. Inside though, she was covered in soft grey leather, meticulously clean and stylish. The blonde sank into the comfortable seat, wondrous gaze eying the LCD screen and built in computer system on the humongous dashboard.
Claire quietly allowed the lengthy perusal; she’d completed her project just before the Outbreak and it was the first time that she’d had a chance to show Xena off to anybody alive.
“So what were you listening to when you thought you were going to die?” Claire curiously asked the blonde while she started up the massive engine and smoothly pulled away from the mall.
“Bohemian Rhapsody.” K-Mart shyly answered .
Claire nodded in approval. “Excellent choice.” She agreed and K-Mart beamed at her and started animatedly talking about her love of music. Claire then showed her how to work the computer and K-Mart fell into a sort of trance as she browsed through the extensive song selections.
Leaving the girl to have her fun - more than a little relieved that she seemed unharmed and settling into herself again - Claire drove until she reached a hilltop overlooking the town they just left. When she got out, K-Mart followed automatically and they stood side by side as the sun disappeared behind the faraway mountain tops.
Claire then pointed to a large structure in the distance handing K-Mart a pair of binoculars.
“You see that over there?”
“Yes, Mufasa. Everything the light touches is our kingdom. And I shouldn’t go over there to that shadowy place.” K-Mart smirked and Claire chuckled lightly in amusement.
“It’s a prison. The military have converted it to their base of operations in the county. You’ll find most of the survivors from the surrounding areas there. They provide safety and security, food and shelter… You might even run into a few people you know…”
K-Mart’s jaw clenched as she stared at the structure. “I’m not sure why we’re having this conversation. You could’ve just dropped me there.” She muttered, poorly attempting to hide her disappointment with anger.
“I’m providing you with options.” Claire spoke softly, not sure what she would do with a teenager who couldn’t even fire a gun, on the open - and often unpredictably dangerous - road.
Surely K-Mart would be safer in one of the military protected shelters?
“I’ve only heard one.” The blonde answered bitterly, shoulders already slumped in defeat as she resigned herself to her fate.
“We can get you a car; you can take to the road. Fewer zombies, more thugs to contend with...” Claire offered, having no intention of sending the girl off on her own.
But K-Mart just nodded as though she was seriously considering that idea over the safety of the prison.
“Have you ever been on your own?” Claire sighed, the responsibility of the blonde’s safety weighing heavily on her conscience.
“It’s been three weeks since the Outbreak. What do you think I’ve been doing? Hell, I practically raised myself. My mom worked three jobs; I hardly ever saw her.” K-Mart replied bitterly, poorly hiding how distressed she was becoming.
“At least your mother kept you.” Claire’s voice hardened dangerously for the first time since she found K-Mart at the K-Mart. “So maybe she couldn’t give you what you wanted, but it sounds like she worked really hard to give you what you needed.”
“I know.” K-Mart whispered, chin quivering and eyes watering. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
Claire gave her a sideways glance, shifting anxiously on her feet, her whole demeanour screamed uncomfortable. The conversation had fast gone in a direction neither of them had anticipated or wanted. She then lifted her arm and gave K-Mart a light punch on the shoulder.
“Suck it up Kid, or I won’t tell you your third option.” Claire meaningfully directed at the young blonde raising a brow.
Her shoulders sagged with relief when K-Mart’s face broke into a tremulous smile and expectantly stared back at her.
“So, I could take you to the shelter, get you a car, or you could come with me…”
“Where are we going?” K-Mart instantly asked, unable to hide the excitement in her voice.
Claire chuckled and started walking back to the Humvee.
“I’ve travelled around the world, but I’ve never seen the U.S, so we’ll be driving around and taking in the sights.”