Everything is white, like a pure white blanket that's covered the city. It almost seems pretty. It seems so long since it happened, the infestation, the so called end of the world. Well guess what, it wasn't the end. Humans survived again. Thirty five years have passed and it's still not clear what happened, what was the cause. I was born after it happened and humans still struggle to survive, between bandits and these rotters it's hard. Humans now live in packs, scavanging for food, supplies, hunting. In so many years you'd think they would settle down, grow their own food but that's not possible. Staying in one place is a death sentence, rotters find you. They hunt you and sooner or later a whole hoard might stumble on whatever settlement the humans try to build. That was one lesson people learned the hard way so now these caravans never stay too long in one place. i am part of one such caravan. We are now traversing a city in hopes of finding things to help us survive. It's winter, everything is covered in snow. The pure white undisturbed blanket of snow shows that this place isn't overrun by rotters. Animal footprints mean that there is game to hunt. It is still strange how the rotters don't attack animals, they only hunt humans. We call them rotters because of how they appear, their flesh rotten, their skeleton showing in places and yet they still move, they still hunt. You'd think in so many years these rotters would have all rotten enough to be unable to move but while it's true for the oldest of them there are still those that persist. Perhaps some of their body functions are still working keeping them from rotting completely or perhaps they just refresh their number by infecting the humans they find.
This is the world i've been born into. A world where survival isn't guaranteed, a world where one mistake might mean your end.
"Hey, come on, shoot it already" my friend nudges me, we're here, in this city, scavanging for food and supplies. In our search we stubled upon a deer, a feast these days.
"Hold your horses, i have to aim properly if i miss we lose it" i say trying to keep my bow steady.
"Don't let it get away, oh yea we're having deer tonight" As excitable as always. Jack and me, we're partners, hunters. We always scout together and hunt together, inseparable since birth. Our caravan has been roaming since before i was born. The young on foot, the only in carriages, we camp for only a few days in one place.
"Steady now, steady" I aim my arrow at the deer's head, my hands are so cold it makes it hard to hold the bow steady. I let the arrow loose, with great speed it flies toward the deer piercing it right below the antlers and it falls dead.
"Yohoo, you got it" my friend Jack got up and ran towards the deer. We were in the city, what looked like a pretty wide street, i was a bit worried, there were too many hiding places where rotters could be skulking in but there were only animal footprints in the snow and it had not snowed in over a week. That meant that at least we were safe for now. I followed Jack draggin our sleigh with me.
"It's pretty big" i said, "It should last for a few days if we ration it properly."
"Yea, we better get it back to the caravan" Jack said while checking to see if it was dead. "We are grateful for your sacrifice" he mumbled, Jack always did that, a good luck charm he called it.
"Come on, help me load it on the sleigh" i grabbed it by the antlers. Jack helped me and we made our way to the caravan. There weren't many of us, no more than thirty people. Nine families, we were all close depending on each other to survive. It was a hard life but we made the best of it.
By the time we reached the caravan it was almost dark. Winter meant night was coming faster and being in the dark at night wasn't a good idea. When we reached the caravan we were greeted by two people. Rick, a burly man with a big red beard and an axe strapped to his back, he was our wood worker and Maria she was Rick's wife and she was in charge of fixing the clothes we wore. They both greeted us with a worried look on their face.
"Hey Alex, did you by any chance run into Kevin out there?" Rick asked me before i could say anything.
"Did he go exploring again? I guess at his age his curiosity makes him do stupid shit" Jack said, im sure the kid reminded him of himself.
"We haven't seen any signs of rotters but it's still dangerous at night" i said "How long has he been gone?"
"We don't really know" Maria answered, her voice sounded worried. "We thought he was playing with the other kids"
"You two are nimble and fast, do you think you can go look for him?" Rick said. He wasn't a fighter, he was big, slow and it would have been more dangerous for him to to look for the kid.
"You owe us though, i want a new bow" Jack said, this guy, always trying to gain something from people.
"Yea yea, you've been hounding me for that for the last month" Rick sighed. "Just find him, ok? I'll make you new bows"
"I'll go and get the other girls and we'll go about carving that deer, i think Mason will be thrilled to cook deer again" Maria said heading to the back of the caravan.
"We get the best part's ok?" Jack said, this guy, i thought to myself and sighed.
"Yes yes, let me lug it back" Rick took the sleigh and went on his way.
I was left with Jack pondering about what to do, looking for Kevin right now was a problem as nights in the city were dangerous, you never knew where the rotters might jump you from and not to mention all the predators that prowled the night. I checked my bow and looked if i had enough arrows, the machete that was hung around my waist seemed to be in good order as well.
"Let's look around a bit" I said, "We should be able to find his tracks and follow him"
"Man, this kid is so much trouble" Jack sighed.
"Not like you were any different at his age" I said, Jack was an even bigger trouble at fourteen years old than Kevin.
"Heh like you weren't always right next to me."
"True. Let's hurry, we need to find him fast. Surroad the caravan and look for his footprints. I'll go this way." i said. The caravan was camped on the outskirts of the city.
"Ok, shout if you find anything" Jack said heading in the other direction and waving.
I went looking for his footprints, the snow around the caravan seemed undisturbed other than near the caravan itself, blowing air in my hands to warm up i continued searching for any sign of Kevin. It was already getting dark, i had to find a sign soon or it would just get more difficult. On top of one of the caravans Moris, a tall man, he was about two meters high and scrawnier than an unfed chicken. He was our lookout, he could see further than a eagle, or so he insisted and his height made it perfect for him to spot any incoming hordes or other dangers.
"Hey Moris" i shouted "Did you see anybody leave the caravan?"
"Oh hey Alex, just you but i wasn't up here till just about a hour ago."
"Is the perimeter already set around the caravan?" I asked, to keep our caravan safe at night traps were rigged around it at enough distance to be noticed to give us enough time to escape in case of a hoarde stumbling our way. The traps themselves were simply meant to be noticed and attract the hoards attention for as much as possible. Usually consisting for contraptions rigged to shoot off very simple fireworks, they kept our caravan one step ahead of any hoards that tried to hunt us.
"Everything is already set up, i did notice some tracks on the west side leading into the city, i just thought one of you or Jack took a detour" Moris answered.
"Ok thanks" I started rushing to the west side of the caravan.
"Careful you don't trip any of the traps" Moris shouted.
Heading towards the west side at first i didn't notice any footprints, one thing attracted my attention, the snow seemed to have been disturbed, The kid tried to cover his tracks i thought to myself. I proceeded with following the disturbed snow until i reached one of the traps, careful not to accidentally activate it and i saw the tracks just a bit from where the trap was. Yes it was definitely heading in the direction of the city.
"Hey Jack" i shouted "Over here".
"I'm coming, i'm coming" seems he was already quite close to the place. He made his way to me.
"Oh the little bugger covered his tracks, no wonder i didn't see anything when i looked near the caravan." Jack said while smiling. "He's get even more precocious, he needs a good spanking."
"Let's follow them, who knows how long he's been gone" I said checking my backpack to see if i have a flash light and a torch.
"Well, lead the way."
We started following the tracks, in the distance we could hear wolves howling at the moon. Unless we wanted to become their next meal we had best hurry.
Our search led us to one of the toy stores in the city, thankfully he hadn't bothered to hide his tracks anymore. The place was still in good shape and the front door was locked and the metal grate protecting the store was still doing it's job. Since it was a toy store i guess looters weren't particularly interested in it. As i was studying it, Jack called me from a small alley way on the side of the building.
"Hey, over here" I headed to where he was as i reached he pointed at a small window with broken glass. It seemed to lead to the basement of the building, shards of glass were visible in the snow.
"It seems to be fresh, the glass isn't covered by snow" i said examining the window.
"Yea, the little bugger probably got in through here." Jack said.
"It looks big enough for us to squeez through" It looked like the margins of the window had been cleaned of the glass, something red glistened in one of the corners.
"The stupid kid cut himself" Jack sighed.
"Doesn't seem to be a lot of blood so the cut shouldn't be too big." I said. We took out our flashlights, these were still in good condition, we had to trade quite a lot to get them because they were hand powered so there was no need for any batteries. I powered the flashlight and shined it's light in the basement sticking my head through the window to see what was there. It looked slightly flooded, a few shelves collapsed, some wood floating on the water, electricity was long since gone so there was no danger of getting electrocuted. Some plastic, probably, toys were floating on the water as well, most were quite rotten, I saw toys, masks even some other things like roller blades, skateboards bicicles and so on, i guess the basement was used like a depozit. Looking carefully in every corner i catched sight of the staircase that went up and no rotters in sight, there were some bigger shelves that obstructed my view though.
"I don't see any rotters" i said "Still, keep your machete handy."
"Any sign of that brat?" Jack asked
"Yes, i see water on the staircase."
"Water? It's warm enough in there for the snow to melt?" Jack sounded happy "Great, i'm freezing out here."
"No, the basement is flooded" i said pulling back from the window.
"What? Oh fuck." His voice went sour as fast as it went happy before. "Man, that's gonna sting."
"You wanna go first?" I asked
"Yea yea, i'm better with a machete anyway." Jack got ready to jump in the freezing water.
"Yea right, dream on." I said smiling.
"Here goes nothing." He jumped in the basement with his machete in hand, as he landed in the water i heard him swear.
"You ok in there? Do you sense any rotters?" I asked
"Fuck, i can't even feel my feet anymore and these boots are waterproof" he wined. "Don't see or hear any rotters so get your ass in here."
I dropped down as well with my weapon in hand. The water was indeed very cold, not even a minute after i jumped in my feet were already in pain. Looking around a bit i saw Jack fiddling with one of the toys, an action figure it was called in the past, well it looked more like a doll to me but say that out loud and Jack would have my head, "Action figures are not dolls!" he'd scream. Surveying my surroundings a bit i didn't see or sense anything living in the basement and then i made my way to the staircase. There i saw a trails of water leading up as well as drops of blood, the poor kid was injured.
"Jack!" i said "Drop that thing and come on." Instead of dropping it he put it in his backpack, seeing that i let out a sigh.
"You know i collect these things so don't get on my case" Jack probably noticed me sigh.
"Yes yes just hurry up." After packing the doll, excuse me action figure Jack came to the staircase. "He went up" i said, "the blood hasn't been here for too long so he's probably still in the building."
"Ok let's go up, think we should call his name? It's already dark outside we might attract unwanted attention" Jack said.
"Just don't shout too loud. He might come out if he's hiding." The kid was probably scared since night caught him away from the camp.
We proceeded up the stairs following the trail of water and blood, the flashlights our only source of light. The first floor was filled with shelves upon shelves of toys and all sort of other things children could entertain themselves with. The place was completely dark as there were no windows where the moonlight could get through. Carefully proceeding through the rows of shelves we followed the trail of our little troublemaker. The whole place in good shape considering it was left unattended for so many years but while the inside was spared from the weather, nature still found was to affect it, withered grass could be seen to have invaded from cracks in the walls and floor, toys had signs of being chewed, probably by rats or other creatures looking for something to eat and in some places you could see the remains of insects that had invaded. Following the trail we went to the second floor where a similar scene awaited us. In the corner of the second floor sat a big wardrobe and the trail lead to it.
"Kevin" i say in a low voice being greeting only by silence, shouting in the dead silence of night was not a very good idea.
"Nothing " said Jack, "maybe he passed out."
"The blood leads to that wardrobe so he's probably in there." I said hurring there.