She drops into an uncomfortable crouch as soon as she reaches the edge of the wheat field. The golden strands around her would go some way towards hiding her from the creatures, and she gladly sacrificed speed for the hope of stealth. The wheat moves around her like a living thing, and she enjoys the feel of it against her bare forearms, when she isn’t conscious of the moans and growls carried to her on the breeze. Her fingertips brush the stalks, and she rolls her wrist, attempting to relieve some of the baton’s weight.
The wheat peters out, and she is at the edge again, hiding behind the last few as she looks out into the cleared ground. The house is a few feet ahead of her, the nearest wall inviting her towards it with the promise of shelter and she considers breaking cover. The shed is closer, and she moves towards it with her shin-length boots scraping the earth.
She is facing the back of the house, advancing on the wall nearest to her, against which two hay bales, huge things even taller than her, are placed. The moans reach her at once, and she moves back into the wheat, desperate to control the throbbing of her heart in her breast.
From the front of the house, with its graceful looking veranda upon which she could easily imagine beautiful women sipping at iced lemonade combined with vodka, they come. A mass of dead flesh and worn clothes, which is all too easy for her to imagine, though their distance makes distinguishing individual features impossible. One is fat, she can see, and limps a little behind the rest as though it took extra effort to maintain the same shambling, apathetic pace. They group together as though desperate for companionship, none moving off in any different direction. Like they are possessed, they head towards the dirt track which lead up to the house and she waits until they have vanished from sight before moving again.
A horde, she thought they were called, thankful that she hadn’t seen one greater than a dozen. If that pack mentality was prevalent within these creatures, she wonders if they were capable of creating their own society, but she dismisses the idea. These were dead things, animated by some evil science, and there was no hope for a civilisation amongst their number.
The door to the storehouse opens at her touch, but stops dead as it hits something on the other side. She peers into the darkness but can see nothing, she can hear no moans and, for a moment, considers calling out in case any survivors were within. She puts her shoulder to the door and takes the baton in her left hand, raising it behind to allow and unobstructed swing as soon as the door opens.
The smell that hits her is foul and she gags, backing away from the darkness as though the foetid air was a physical blow. The sunlight streams in through the doorway, enough to see the weak barricade which had been erected there had tumbled beneath her weight. The air itself seems to carry minute amounts of rotting flesh and she forces herself to back away and to draw in a few gulps of the fresh summer breeze before stepping back up to the darkness.
The first creature appears with a desperate, throaty moan; the sound bubbles and she can see the ragged hole in its chest where something had pierced a lung. She didn’t know what had killed the creature, it didn’t matter; she just swings at its head. The tip of the baton catches its right eye, which burst on the impact, but the creature still shambles forwards. She draws her arm back to swing again and steps towards it, adding her slight momentum to the blow. The thing drops at her feet and she steps over its body and into the doorway.
The room is small, and half-light by the doorway, but she sees the slumped shapes against the far wall and freezes. It isn’t breathing but, rather, shifting its weight against the wall as though it was uncomfortable, and she lets the air out of her lungs in a slow expulsion. There is a box beside the resting thing, cardboard and thrown open and she can see the glint of metal within. A vicious swipe catches the thing in the side of the head and it slumps over the box like a marionette with its strings cut.
She tries not to look at the pallet bed she can see in the corner, but her eyes are drawn to it with the kind of fascinated horror the new world made necessary. There is still the vague shape of a body’s bloody imprint in the bed, the pallet is still compressed where the person had lain and the blanket has been kicked aside, but there was nobody there anymore. Instead, red lumps of glistening flesh occupy the space and she has to turn back to the wall to vomit helplessly. Her stomach complains at the lack of food to bring up, and her throat burns as bile is the only thing to emerge from her suddenly slack lips.
She wipes at her mouth with the back of her hand and turns back to the pallet, ignoring the meat on the bed that she might rummage through the boxes around it. There is a rucksack against the wall, larger than the one across her own back, but it is empty and when she lifts it the bottom is revealed to be one great hole, as though it had been torn by some desperately clawing creature as the owner fled. It was all too easy to imagine, in that bloody place.
Her fingers curl into the dead thing’s clothing and she heaves it away from the box. Her stomach recoils again at being so close to the thing and, for a few moments, she find herself staring into a pair of oddly human eyes, the yellow light which seemed to creep through the orbs vanishing with the final death.
The creature is heavy and, for a moment, she struggled to lift it, but it gives way suddenly and comes away from the wall at her straining. She kneels by the box and pulls the covering flaps aside. She sees tin cans glitter, and lifts one in her free hand. She drops the baton and switches on the walkie-talkie, still staring at the box.
‘Yeah? Are you alright?’ The panic in the voice almost makes Gabriella smile, but the stench hits her with renewed force as her lips part.
‘You like peaches? There’s quite a haul here.’
‘Not really,’ she sounds bleak, ‘bring them back anyway; I’m sure I’ll learn to love them.’ At that, Gabriella laughs, ignoring the bodies and the rotting meat for a few moments. She fills her back pack with the cans and starts as her hand brushes a second box within the first. It is too dark to read, and she opens it to find a half-empty box of bullets; squat, rounded things which resemble slugs more than the sleek image she attributes to ammunition.
They go into her pockets, rattling loosely against each other until she pulls at the zip. Not a bad find, she reasons, turning to leave with the backpack heavy on her shoulders. She grabs the baton and heads towards the door, stepping over the red stain on the cement gingerly. It is black and, in the half-light, seems to beckon at her as though it were some entrance to the void.
The sunlight is blinding for a few seconds, and she takes a two handed grip on the baton as though preparing to swing at a baseball. The moaning from the wheat field is louder now, and she fancies she can hear the sound of denim against the long stalks. She crosses the open space between the buildings and turns as she does so, taking in the field and the hay bales and the black humanoid shapes which make their slow procession towards her.