clarita at morquefile.com
The Red Zone
I held my little sister’s hand and stared up at the sign that a few years ago meant a warning to watch out for school kids. Today, it signified the red zone. I clutched her hand tighter as I thought of my own days in high school, cut short my junior year. The night they had invaded. Nausea lined my stomach as we inched forward, careful for the signs, ready to run at a moment’s notice. Marley was only four and all that I had left of my family. I glanced down at her dirt-streaked face and remember the pigtails Mom used to fasten in her hair. Those luxuries were gone. Dusted to a world gone mad.
I heard voices near the corner of the school and pulled Marley to a standstill. With a finger pressed to my lips, I peered around the building, dread settling in my stomach at the sight of twilight. Their time. I gasped as my own limp locks were pulled and I found myself dangling in the air. Marley cried out beside me and shook with fear, frozen to the spot she stood in.
“You, Jackie?” my attacker said.
“Well, Jackie, there’s ways we do things around here. First off, you want to look around a corner, you better be prepared for what you find. Second off, welcome to the dead zone. Third,” he indicated Marley. “Cut your dead weight.”
“N-no, sir. She’s all I have left.”
“She’ll slow you down. Make it easier for the Moonlighters to claw your guts out.”
I shook my head. “I won’t leave her.”
He spit. “Then, get this, you fall behind, you’re on your own.”
His thick, motorcycle jacket made me think of the own threadbare clothes we wore. We hadn’t been able to take anything from home. Not even food. All we’d survived on was rummaging through less-fortunate people’s houses who’d long since rose to join the walking dead.
“Name’s Luthor. Let’s go.”
He didn’t bother introducing his companions. No time could be spared.
I took Marley’s hand back and we followed.
She stared up at me, her big brown eyes full of trust.
I thought of all those that would throw her in the way of the creatures to avoid their own deaths. Trembling, I held to her that much tighter. She was mine. I wouldn’t leave her.
We followed the gym to its end and Luthor brought up a nightstick he’d no doubt taken off some deceased policeman. His friends, a man and a woman, carried a club and a knife. I swallowed. What weapons did I have? My legs.
“We cross here,” Luthor said.
I stared at the open field and shivered. The night had thickened.
Too much ground. Too many areas to get caught in. Only a shed stood in the distance.
Beside me, Marley stifled a moan.
Even she knew the stakes.
We started out at a fast walk.
They were on us before we got halfway out.
There were no moans or rattle of chains, not even a hiss to alert us of their presence. Just silence and the rake of fingernails, ragged and black with disease. The small shed caught my view and picking up Marley, I ran for it. When I looked back I saw Luthor and his friends surrounded by an army of corpses. I grimaced as a strip of flesh was peeled from the woman’s body and devoured. Luthor went down under a flurry of Moonlighters. Frantically, I searched for a way out. All I saw was the shed. I tried the door and it opened. Tears bright, Marley and I snuck in. We bolted it shut.
Several long minutes later, we heard pounding on the door.
I set Marley down and shoved some boxes in front.
Not much but maybe the bolt would hold.
Marley buried her head in my lap and sobbed.
I hugged her tight. “Shh, baby. Shh.”
As the long night wore on, she slept in my arms.
Once, I thought for sure the bolt broke. I struggled from my sleep, looking for something, anything to hold them at bay. I found a crowbar. Lifting it, I readied to take a stand. But the boxes stayed shoved before the door and the sounds of fists slamming against it ceased. I grew hungry and thirsty and knew Marley would as well. With a sigh, I opened one of the boxes. Old, mildewed school books lodged inside. Same with the next and the next. When the shoves against the shed remained silent, I pulled back the boxes one by one and used the crowbar to pry them open.
Inside the first lay a treasure store of canned food. The kind with the peel-up lids. They must have been part of some drive for the needy. My shout woke Marley and she stumbled forth, rubbing her eyes, to see what I had found. She began to jump and clap at the sight of breakfast.
I found a jug of drinking water in the back beside an old tarp and a heavy, winter’s coat someone had left. I wrapped it around Marley and sat her down to a quick meal. Tearing strips from the tarp, I fashioned a knapsack for transporting the cans of food. With a quick draw of breath and motioning Marley to stay back, I pushed the door open. It was daylight outside. Just as I thought. They wouldn’t come back till tonight. But when they did, it would be in stronger numbers.
I took the empty jug to the school water fountain, filled it, and put it in with the other things.
“Jackie,” Marley called from the shed.
I hurried back to her.
Tears streaked her eyes. “Are we all that’s left in the whole world?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. But let’s not stick around here to find out.”
I loaded us up and we set off.
We welcomed the sunlight. For only in it, could we find peace and freedom from our night terrors. I watched Marley skip ahead to pick a wildflower. I nodded to myself. Yes, some might call her dead weight. But she was my dead weight. And I’d carry her through as long as I was able.
©Copyright Dec. 4, 2010, tlc.