It was walking towards me, slow staggering and jittery, just like the rest of them. Clothes barely still on its body, blood dripping from all parts of its face. This one had been in a few fights, with parts of its flesh ripped to the bone. It was limping, but most of them do that as they lose more muscular mass. It wasn’t long for the virus to eat away at its victim, but it also only took one piece of blood for it to be spread. You never wanted to be near one of them when you killed them – any molecule that found its way into your nasal cavity, and that was it. It was masks on at all times in close range – it was masks on most of the time. Luckily, it never was really airborne, it was just the spray, the spray of blood at close range.
I was the bait, which I didn’t really mind any more. I wasn’t a good shot, but that was the whole point of this. It was practice, a just in case things got worse, which they always did after a time. So I waited at a distance, watching the creature, looking out for others that might be lurking, and I sat. I listened, I felt the earth for any vibrations, and most of all I just allowed the wind to do what it did best – carry my scent.
You could always tell once they figured out you were there. Something in their eyes changed, it went from dead to desire. But that was it, that was the only thing we saw from these creatures. They were dead, and then they wanted nothing more than to eat. That’s why none of us felt bad. It was us or them, and frankly, I wasn’t going to die. It’s nostrils flared, as much as a rotting corpse can flair, and it sulked towards me. They couldn’t really do more than that, but when there was a lot of them, it made it hard to get away – they could surround you, slowly, if you weren’t paying attention.
I let it pull its legs a few more feet towards me, the right one jittering a little too much for it to stand up straight. Its arms stretched out, watching me with an unknowing stare. It was just like all the rest, hungry. I started walking back towards the campsite, up the hill, into the setting sun. It was hard to believe that the world had changed so much when you looked at the sky – it all looked the same, as if nothing ever happened. The world really does go on with or without you.
I checked behind me and it was still walking towards me, but slower, its eyes lowering losing the smell of me. Everyone thought that they could smell really well, but really they just wandered until they were within range to smell you. That’s what was so dangerous, they didn’t have a migratory path or a reason for where they went. They traveled at random, roamed the hills, the cities, until they either died or found someone to eat. But they all died eventually.
Scrambling up the hill, I caught sight of my dad. I nodded at him and he gave me a nod back, that meant I had gotten it into range. Now, it was target practice.
I moved up to the tower we had made from old car parts and sandbags, it wasn’t anything glorious but it gave us a good viewpoint of the bottom of the hill – where the highway used to be, now just a dead lot of cars. He moved aside and let me take the rifle from his hands, I looked through the viewfinder. Sure enough, it was in range alright.
“Now remember the kickback, be prepared, we don’t want you falling again.” My father braced himself behind me, just in case.
I watched it for a moment, waiting for the right time to get it directly in the head. Without shooting the brain, you were likely to leave it alive, a bear trap of sorts for any unknowing survivor. I saw it search the hillside one last time before moving back the way it came. It moved down the hill, then back up, then to the side. The sunlight caught something on its face, something I had never seen before.
“Dad?” He grunted in response. “I think it’s crying.” Wetness had swept across the creature’s face, nothing like this had ever happened before.
He snatched the rifle out of my hands and looked for himself. Without a moment’s pause there was a silenced pop of the rifle and I saw the body crumble to the ground, its head splitting open, spilling its pink, red, virus covered brain onto the pavement.
“Those are no tears, none that you and I ever feel. Get it right next time.” My father shoved the rifle back into my hands and jumped down off the tower. He marched away towards camp. I looked through the viewfinder one more time at the creature, its eyes open staring distantly away. I know there was no room for error in a world like this – but what if we had it all wrong?