Author: Aaron Meek
Content warning: This story contains descriptions of death, suicide and rape.
go The midday heavy rain thundered on the abandoned streets; the tearing eastern winds tossing light debris, and shifting decaying rubble from nearby bombed buildings. Julie had been on her feet for five days, limping along the cracked pavement, heavily favoring her right leg. Her shoes were falling apart and soaked; the insoles hooved up and torn, subtly rubbing on the soles of her cold, bleeding feet. Abundant tears in her tightly fitting jeans exposed an infected knee, with her scarred hand gripping it vigorously. She wore a snugly fitting black leather coat, which was torn at the crooks of the sleeves, the front collar, and the cuffs. The back of the coat was slashed open, which slanted across the lower back, exposing a cut of the same shape coated with dried blood and the handle of a rusted revolver stuffed between the waist of her jeans and her back. The front of the coat was splattered in old dried blood from the shoulders to the waist, so dried, in fact, that it appeared to be part of the design. The teeth on the zipper were ripped from the tape, leaving the pull-tab stuck below her chest. Blood and dirt flowed with the stream of rainwater from her long drenched black hair; extended locks lay glued across the cuts and bruises plastered on the left side of her oval face. A recently opened cut at the end of her arched brow bled over her scabbed cheek and chin. The base of her short, straight nose was red from having excessively rubbed it on her sleeve. Black and purple swelling hid her left eye, making vision nearly impossible in it. Her almond shaped crystal blue eyes looked cold and dead, filled with submission and terror. Behind those eyes, though, was a subtle glimpse of determination— a determination that kept her moving to her destination.
Julie was drenched, shivering uncontrollably, hungry, in excruciating pain, back and neck sore from leaning over her degrading knee for so long. It felt like pins and needles on her feet with every step she took, as she slowly sloshed through the ankle-deep flooding. Her visibility through the torrential rains extended no more than fifteen feet in front of her, lower with the water dripping from her lashes. Her mind was scrambled, shifting rapidly from violent stray thoughts, to memories that invoked tremendous remorse, regret, or fear, but she pushed through her suffering and continued to press forward, knowing it wasn’t too much further to her destination.
Following the street, she started to make out what looked to be a black traffic light in the middle of the road through the rain. As she approached the light, she tripped on a raised concrete road-divider that the flooding had hidden from her vision, and she crumbled. She put her hands in front of her to break her fall, and although successful, a shock of pain rippled through her already weakened body when her injured knee hit the ground. She grit her teeth and shuddered in pain, laying in the cold, river-like intersection, hoping the pain would decrease in intensity. Trying to collect herself, she looked up from the street and noticed on the building in front of her a formation of letters that spelled “osta,” which were placed on a fading maroon background. She didn’t need to complete the word to know that it was a Costa coffee shop.
“Of course the bloody Costa’s still standing,” she thought, snickering faintly, before looking back at the street.
Julie walked past the Costa every day to work before the outbreak, and although she never much liked their brand, a sense of relief flowed through her at the sight of it. Knowing she was in the right place, she started to press herself off the cold, damp asphalt, but she splashed back to the ground. Julie realized she needed help to get back to her feet, and fortunately she had fallen near the traffic light. She then slowed herself down, took a deep breath, and carefully began to crawl toward it. Although the pain had dimmed slightly, it still screamed at her with every movement she took, but she continued nevertheless. Once Julie was in arm’s reach of the traffic light, she gripped her hands around the pole and drug herself to it. She paused for a moment and took a deep breath. She then pushed herself onto her good knee, and with everything she had, reached for the pedestrian call box – which was sitting low on the pole – with both hands, found a favorable grip and slowly pulled herself to her feet. After a long, excruciating struggle, she had at last found herself standing again and was hugging the traffic light for dear life.
She was exhausted, but she had to keep going. After taking a few minutes to gather her strength, Julie then placed her hand back on her knee and started hobbling east from the three-way intersection onto the sidewalk. Her destination was only a short walk from where she fell, but the pain in her knee seemed to be worsening by the second. After having moved several feet, she was desperate to find a resting point. Fortunately for her, a signpost had just come into view in front of her. Without hesitation, she pushed through the pain and rushed to the signpost, nearly falling on it when she got to it. She then quickly propped herself up against the signpost, stretched her right leg out in front of her without bending it, and instinctively began massaging her knee with her shaking hand. She closed her eyes and took another deep breath.
“Just a bit farther. Just a bit farther,” she thought.
Julie exhaled quickly, then proceeded to limp away from the signpost. After a few short steps, she found herself at another three-way intersection. She grounded herself and pulled her hand off her knee to rub her eye and looked at a boarded-up building across the street. White letters with a brown background spelled, “Bill’s Breakfast Lunch Dinner.”
“Finally!” she thought.
Julie started tearing up. Her journey was finally coming to an end. She stumbled across the street to the place where she had waitressed for two years and approached the entrance. While she wasn’t surprised to find that the establishment had been broken into, it terrified her to think of how the intruders left the establishment. Her tears were now of worry. Upon entering, her worries faded, as she was met with tireless, glazed amber eyes, which felt to her as if they were boring directly into her soul. Though they had decayed significantly since she had last seen them, they were unmistakable. She turned back to the waiting area, shut the door, and barricaded it to the best of her ability. Julie then stumbled back to the dining room and was once more stared down by the same eyes.
“Hey Benny…it’s been a while,” she said in a soft, semi-cheerful, cockney accent.
Benny responded with a hungry snarl, leaning towards her against the binds holding him in a chair.
Julie walked over to the table and looked at the surprisingly intact note she had laid on the edge of it three years ago: Loot what you want, but don’t kill him. He’s all I have, it read in sloppy, but legible inked writing.
She then sat down in the chair across from him and looked at him with sorrow.
“I’ve been around, Benny. Stayed with a group, had…experiences,” she told Ben, trying to excuse her long absence from seeing him through this one-way conversation.
“Don’t look at me like that! I had to get away from this place!” she yelled. Julie sighed. “Fine! You want to know where I’ve been? I’ll tell you.”
She paused for a moment, and then opened up to Ben. “After I left, a nice family with a little girl took me in. They fed me, gave me shelter…fuck, they even washed my clothes, and before I knew it, it was three years later. There. Happy? What do you mean what did I do?”
She exhaled heavily and started to tear up. “Why do you always have to pry? I abandoned them, ok? Is that what you wanted to hear? We were attacked by some scummy people trying to steal from us or something, and I left before they could get to me…”
She inhaled forcefully and continued. “The little girl begged me to help her and I… I just watched her get dragged away.”
Julie sniffed, and then rubbed the tears from her eye.
“Then a little less than a month ago, I got attacked by some creep while I was sleeping, and he…he had his way with me before I smashed his face with a brick. It’s why I’m so hurt. I guess karma caught up with me…”
Ben snarled at her.
“Don’t judge me! I was scared! I didn’t want to…fuck what am I saying. Of course you can judge me. I left you to die, and then let you turn…”
She started to cry. “I’m a fucking coward, Benny…I…I wasn’t meant for this world…I don’t want to live like this anymore.”
She lifted up the back of her coat and shredded turtleneck and removed the revolver from between the waistbands of her undergarment and jeans, held the gun in front of her, and pulled the cylinder release. The cylinder rolled open after a few smacks on the right side of the gun, and within it, revealed two bullets resting in slots beside each other. She closed her eyes and breathed quietly for a moment, then opened them, snapped the cylinder back, and aimed the revolver at Ben’s head with both her shaking hands.
“I’m sorry, Benny…I’m sorry for leaving you to get bitten…for leaving you to turn…for leaving you alone…I’m sorry for everything,” she told him, the huffing from her bawling making it hard to understand.
She looked him in the eye one last time before pulling the trigger.
The shot sprayed his rotting brains all over the tables and the cracked windows behind him and thrust his head and neck over the top rail of the chair. He was gone.
“Goodbye, Benny,” she said, sniffling as she rubbed her tears away.
Julie then proceeded to press the revolver against her skull. She took a deep breath, then closed her eyes, and pulled the trigger.
But nothing happened.
She inhaled heavily, annoyed, and pulled the trigger again.
The results were the same.
Angry now, she forced down the release and ripped open the cylinder to check for ammo. There was. She then slammed the cylinder shut, returned the pistol to her head, and started to repeatedly pull the trigger again and again and again.
Over and over the weapon failed to fire.
Julie screamed and threw the gun across the room, then placed her hands on her face, breathing angrily into them. She then sat there for a moment to cool off her temper. After a few minutes, her breathing slowed to a controlled manner, and she pulled her hands away from her face. She then looked up at the ceiling as if it were the heavens.
“Fair enough,” she said.