Short story: Peachy Keen at the End of the World
No one wasted any time. Not if they wanted to live. Bodies threw themselves into the tight confines of the Hummer and slammed the doors shut behind them. Davey took off without waiting to see what was coming. When someone said “chomp”, you’d better be moving before they finished. There was no time to worry about friends or family either. It was flee or become an iron-flavoured protein shake.
The old movies had gotten it so wrong. Human mutants weren’t slow, lethargic or scared of the sun. They were fast, brutal and hunted as well during the day as they did at night. They didn’t have super-powers that made them unstoppable. They could die. You could escape.
If they didn’t overwhelm you first.
“Hey Boomer,” Kasey reached over and patted the skinny mongrel sitting in the front seat beside Davey. “Did you smell those nasties coming?”
Animals were the early warning system. They didn’t like Chompers any more than they did. Every camp kept their share of mutts, cats and whatever else could be trained. Still, it was a wonder that any were still alive nowadays. While most folk had been busy eating what was left of their pets, an ostracised few had hidden as many as they could. Just as well. Animals nowadays were revered as heroes. Some people would rather go without food and water themselves than let their pets starve and endanger the lives of the remaining Survivors.
At least someone had been thinking ahead.
“You get hold of any of the other camps?” Big Jim asked, already flipping the dials of the radio in the seat with them. When you had nowhere to go, you carried what you needed.
“Got hold of Sam. He’s prepping Yellow’s evac. Evie’s moving Green. Can’t reach Betty or Slim,” Davey answered, swinging the car over another rough patch of road.
“The tracks were from the South,” Kasey reminded them quietly.
Lira nodded. Betty and Slim’s camps were in the South. If everyone was dead, she hoped they’d died quick. Death didn’t upset her as much now, but two camps had never gone silent at once before. That drew a line of unease up her spine. The camps were small and apart so that it’d be easier to out-run the Chompers and pass on the warnings.
Why hadn’t anyone raised an alarm?
Boomer gave a low whine and jumped down to the floor in front of him, curling into a ball. Trouble must be closer than they thought. They each took a window of the Hummer as their lookout.
The Chompers burst out from behind crumbling buildings on Lira’s side. She’d never seen so many this close before. She tried to work moisture back into her mouth.
“There’s more this side,” Jim suddenly yelled.
“What?” Lira’s head whipped to look out Jim’s window. An equal number of Chompers were thundering over the decay toward them.
“Told you,” Davey bit out.
Chompers turned on each other when they got hungry. Groups that big shouldn’t be possible.
“Faster Davey,” Kasey yelped, squeezing into the front seat and briefly lay a comforting hand on Boomer’s head, as much for her own sake as his. She opened the glove compartment and pulled out Davey’s spare revolver and ammunition with shaky hands. Revolvers were more reliable in the tough desert conditions than the semis and automatics from the old days.
Downside was that every shot counted.
Chompers didn’t need guns or cars or shoes. They didn’t care what their bare feet ran over. A child’s toy. Broken glass. Bleached bones. They were just as persistent as locusts. Moving always. You knew one as soon as you saw it. Bony thin. Bloated stomach. Curling fingers. Jagged, broken teeth. Their veiny skin was littered with large, dark patches that might have been the colour they were before they took the Pill. Eyes made up of red, hunger, and a madness that was wholly man-made.
And all of that was focused on them as they made their escape in a rusted tin can.
“Davey!” Kasey screamed.
Lira barely had barely enough time to turn her head, before the world began to lurch at angles. The Hummer rolled off the road long-since eaten by the desert. Dust and sand clogged her lungs. She couldn’t breathe. The ground and sky wouldn’t stop moving. Something warm and soft hit her. She thought it might be someone’s hand.
An angry series of cracks ceased their side-ways motion, though to Lira, it felt like she was still on the move. The Hummer teetered on its roof, before it and the dust began to settle.
Lira knew they didn’t have the luxury of waiting for the numb to disappear. They needed to move. Now. Injured or not.
A whine in the front told her that at least someone else had survived. Boomer gave a little shake as he climbed out the broken window. Without looking back, he took off running, mostly unhurt.
He knew what was coming.
“Kasey. Davey. Joe?” Lira slurred.
Lira couldn’t tell if Kasey was alive. She was slumped on the roof with half of her body hidden from view. Davey was hanging down from his chair, held up by his seat-belt. The window was dark where Joe lay. They must have slammed into the only wall in the world that wasn’t falling apart.
Lira reached over and gently shook him. The corners of her eyes started to burn when there was no response. She blinked away the blur in her vision. She didn’t have time for it. Crawling forward, she pawed at the loaded revolver beside Kasey.
It wasn’t long before she saw the first bare feet approaching. She held the revolver with both hands. Hungry breathing joined more feet than she could count.
A small voice inside of her head worked its way past her ever-present denial. Maybe Tim was dead… and maybe she was about to join him.