The air was hot, humid, stinking.
Or maybe it was just me.
Mud scored the pristine floor as I walked; squishing around in my shoes, my socks, my pants…
My feet? _Where are my feet?_ I panicked. I couldn’t feel them, but I could feel the mud. Crawling across every inch of my skin. Making me feel… unwhole.
The ringing was there too. _Oh, the fucking ringing._ It had been my only companion the nights when the fever had been at its worst, but I was getting fed up with it! I wanted it gone. Gone! Gon–
_There!_ I thought, in satisfaction.
A distal pain blossomed in my skull where I had smacked my face against a wall. It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. However, the ringing had stopped and that was all that mattered. I could focus now.
With a strained groan, I pushed myself off the wall. My arms swung wider than I had intended but I lurched with the motion, stopping myself just short of tipping over.
It was fine. I was fine. I could do this.
My belly squirmed. “Oooooraaaah.”
A septic stench filled my nostrils as stomach acid gargled up my throat and out my mouth. How long had it been since I had had anything to eat? Days? Weeks?… I… couldn’t remember.
I should eat.
I could eat, couldn’t I?
_Why should I eat?_
The vomiting gave way to dry retching, then heaves and finally, a painful cough.
_Oh great, the ringing has returned._
Fed up with it all, I leaned against the wall, a substance like hot tears making its way down my face.
When I came to, I was lying in a puddle of my own vomit. I would have been disgusted had I not lain in worse things these past few days. I was thirsty too. Thirsty enough, it seemed I might die. However, I also felt like I had a lot of energy to spare, even though I practically had one foot in death’s door. There was blood rushing through my ears, pulsing… straining… beating wildly…
I couldn’t give up here.
_Right,_ I decided. _Food, now. Think, later._
I forced myself to rise and continued my trek down the hallway. The corridor was thankfully empty, but the stench of death and decay hung around just about everywhere I went. There were tracks on the walls in places. _Graffiti?_ No, not that… _What even is graffiti?_
Fingerprints? _Yes, fingerprints!_ Maybe I had been through here before…
I could hear voices now too. Not the sound of blood in my ears, or the repeated echoing of bells in my head. I could hear… human voices! Voices of people just like me!
A flame of hope surged in my chest. Was I saved?
I could be, but I needed to figure out where did the voices had come from. I was all alone in the dark, dank corridor and hadn’t seen anyone in eons apart from the geezer who wandered across the aisle.
_The aisle_ … I remember the aisles. It had lots of shelving and bright lights, and customers wandering about in between them. Yet, I also remember leaving that place when the noises had become too loud bear.
However, where were the aisles? How could I return there?
_I… I don’t know,_ I realized.
My vision was growing dim, so I put one hand on the wall and let it guide me. The humans! I had to reach them no matter what! _Please, God, do not let them leave without me!_ I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t take one more second of this.
The wall felt cool beneath my palm and I followed it for what must have been an eternity. Sometimes, I stopped to retch. Other times, I just stared listlessly at the ceiling. However, the voices were getting clearer. I could make them out now.
Bright lights flooded my vision, forcing me to raise a hand to shield my face. The shout hadn’t come from me. It had come from further down, and I could feel it now… the wall had run its course.
More shouts reached my ears and I opened my eyes to see that I was now at the entrance to a large room. Tall shelves, as far as the eyes could see filled my vision.
I had found the aisles.
I hobbled into the room. Towards the voices. Towards my salvation and freedom.
“Yeaaaah. That’s it. That’s the spot.”
Guttural moans reached my ears along with a light, tapping sound.
The bright light bouncing off the lamps and tiles disoriented me but the shelves were sturdy, and I leaned against them as I walked forward towards the end of the room – towards the clamour.
A sudden surge of energy caught me and I quickened my pace.
“Oooooaaah,” I croaked, my legs nearly giving way beneath me.
“Oi! Did you hear that?” someone shouted. “Go check it out!”
“Shit, men. You go check it out,” another replied.
“You trying to talk smack to me? Really?”
“Dang, dude. Not now, please. I know I am supposed to be the watch, but I am almost there. *Please* .”
The guttural moan sounded again, followed by more tapping sounds.
“Fuck! You and your sick hobby! When we get back to the base, I am reporting you to Marie!”
I rounded the final aisle and stopped short. I had not expected this.
There was a man standing some distance away from me. I couldn’t make out his features, what with the bright light, but he had what looked like a… shovel… cradled in his hands? Behind him was an even larger man; this one with his pants hanging loose around his thighs. Splayed out on a counter in front of him was a third person, bound and gagged around the mouth. The man was grounding his hips fervently into this person, forcing the groans that had reached me earlier out of them.
“Ooooaaaah,” I gasped, trying to speak.
“Hoy, Jamie!” the man in front of me said. “Look what we have here!”
“Another one?” Jamie called, still thrusting.
“Yeah, but this one musta been dead for weeks. Jesus Christ! She stinks!”
The first speaker turned to Jaime. “Fuck the fact that she stinks? Or fuck the fact that you are getting your jollies off in dead meat?”
Jamie grunted. “You know I don’t just do any type. They gotta be fresh, fam.” He twisted his hips vigorously and the person beneath him spasmed. “Take this bitch for example. Cunt’s still pretty warm. Tight. Musta been turned only a few days ago. Man, it pains me to see women like this go bad. I would never have had a shot with her had she been alive.”
“Fuck, mate. Watching you is bad enough. I don’t want to listen to your shit too.” The first man walked up to me slowly, weapon at the ready. “Hey there, dead bitch. You just stand there and look nasty. Gonna make this real quick.”
I raised my hands in protest. _Wait…_
But my hands couldn’t move, and my mouth wouldn’t speak.
The shovel crashed against my skull, causing my thoughts to bounce around my head. Blood coloured my vision and it felt like the world had spun over.
“Shit! This bitch got brain matter all over me! You done there, Jaime?”
“Just a minute! Fuck! Think we can knock up the zombs?”
“There is no _we_ in this, dude.”
_God, what is this?_ I thought as I lay on the floor, gasping, for the second time, in a pool of my own fluids. I only wanted to ask for help. So, why did they beat me? Why did they try to kill me?
Boots thudded across my vision, stopping a safe distance away from my face. Wetness blossomed on my crown… the sound of someone spitting…
“Gotta make sure this thing’s dead.”
“Yeah. You do that,” Jaime was saying. “Remember those reports that a few of them get more dangerous the longer they take to feed?”
“Yeah. Yeah. A load of hogwash, that one. How many have we killed already? Hundred? Two hundred? Plus, this one is too weak, anyway. Skull caved in pretty easy.”
There was a sound. A sound like a weapon being scraped against the ground… then, nothing.
I knew what he was about to do. I couldn’t let that happen.
Screaming, I lunged for the boots and bit.