A Dark the Sun Loved – Part One
Mila carried a baby in her arms. The street on which she limped down shrouded in the pitch of night. A cold breeze blew in and attacked her face, fingered her hair. She held the baby tighter to her chest. Cars still being eaten by flames from the inside out cast a weak orange glow that lit her way. Mila heard the sound of a legion of groans and moans following in her wake. Those sounds amplified the closer they came. She turned to look behind her. So many undead whose faces were warped in dying flesh, disfigured by the rot. Though they moved without any sense of urgency, lumbering and dragging their feet, still they neared.
Then she saw flashes of gunfire accompanied by a distinct thunderous blast, like fireworks going off in the distance. Undead began to drop, truly dead when their heads were removed or ripped to shreds. Mila kept her pace. The baby started to cry. A shrill wail that traveled down the street.
“Don’t worry, Caia. Mommy’s got you,” whispered Mila. “Mommy’s got you.” Guns continued their volleys as she turned into some close gathering of pine trees. Their leaves pricked her skin. And as the night grew, she waited.
Vines choked the abandoned house. Green moss grew along the floorboards and up the walls; water leaked in large drips from the ceiling. There was a pervasive darkness despite the afternoon light outside. Some of that light snuck in through cracks. Dust swirled in the air. Mila raised her pistol and moved forward, the wood beneath creaking and groaning at the slightest shift in weight. A girl crept behind her, shotgun brought to eye level. The girl was shorter and smaller and had a sickly sheen about her. Both wore packs strapped to their backs. The shirt and pants they donned were old, thick with dirt.
A loud metallic sound, like a can hitting the ground, stopped them in their tracks. Their breaths came fast and heavy. They crouched low behind a broken desk. Mila peeked through some holes. She saw a figure shuffle, its decomposed head twitching and jerking, heard it sniff the air. Then it shrieked. It looked in their direction, leapt at its prey as it snarled. The girl was the first to react as she fired her weapon and winced at the resounding boom, taken aback by the kick registered in her shoulder. The figure’s head blew clean off, blood and gore spouting from its severed neck like a fountain.
The girl lowered the shotgun, her breathing labored and rasped.
“Caia, sweetheart,” exclaimed Mila, “Look at me, baby. Where’s your inhaler?”
Caia grabbed at the pockets of her jeans. Mila rifled through them, her hands shaking.
“Baby, which pocket?” she yelled. “Which one, baby? You gotta tell me!”
“L-left,” came Caia’s breathless reply.
Mila found the inhaler, placed the mouthpiece to Caia’s lips and pressed down on the canister to administer the medicine. She rubbed her back. “There we go, baby girl. That’s it. Breathe.”
Slowly Caia gathered herself again, the attack subdued, her lungs a steady, rhythmic expand and contract. She held the shotgun, weighted by the chilled metal in her hand and what she had to do with it. Mila led the way, over the rotted corpse and the pooling blood, to a door blocked by large wood panels. Caia wallowed, quiet, dejected, as her mother moved the panels, dirt and dust billowing, and kicked down the door to let in the sun.
A wave of heat rolled over them as they moved outside. Wild grasses and weeds spread out in an effort to consume rusted chain-link fences and worn-down, hollowed-out buildings. There was a palpable silence, save for a breeze stirring from the east. A pack of emaciated dogs glanced up from their meal, a carcass that had been long dead, its insides spilled and a collection of flies buzzing above.
It was a shared field for two empty apartment complexes to their left and right, structures several stories high overlooking their cautious walk. Mila slowed to give Caia a chance to draw alongside. The girl kept her gaze downward, her grasp on the butt of her shotgun loose and causing it to dangle as she strode. The dogs scattered at their approach. They whined and whimpered.
“Caia, hold your gun properly,” said Mila. Caia sighed an elongated breath and leveled the sight of her gun to her eyes. They reached the end of the field, surveying in alternate directions to provide cover. A steep drop introduced itself which sloped into the shore of a shimmering lake.
Mila swore. She glanced to her left, noticed the heaps of trash littered in the alleyways juxtaposed to the apartments, and, half-pulling Caia along, moved in that direction. She let go of Caia when they reached the mouth of the alley, rats scurrying, a few starving cats gazing at them with their wide eyes, yellow and green and blue unblinking. One of the creatures hollered. A trash bin fell over with a loud clang. The sound echoed down the alley and out the other side, chasing. Mila kept her gun up, sweeping slow and methodical as she and Caia crept down the narrow passage.
She looked up, studying the broken and cracked windows made ancient with dust and time. Nature began to reclaim its territory in the plant life that broke through the brick blocks, squeezing between the mortar. Every noise, small or otherwise, caused her to jump. Caia did not react, maintaining her placid expression and following her mother implicitly.
A sound like a mixture of a growl and a grunt came from beyond the wood fence in front of them. But whatever was behind it was being guarded by a mountain of cardboard boxes. Black plastic bags weighed the boxes down. Mila holstered her pistol in the waist of her pants. The growling and grunting grew louder, more insistent. She tossed the mountain aside, saw the source of that unusual noise. Caia shrieked.
An undead on the other side of the fence had a rusted steel chain slipped around its neck. Its jaw snapped, and when it saw Mila and Caia, it turned toward them, trying to bite them through the slits in the wooden panels.
“Don’t worry. It can’t hurt us. See? The fence is blocking the way,” assured Mila. She knelt down and peered at the undead. “This was a person once, Caia. Now it’s trapped here and left to starve. It’s up to us to put it out of its misery.”
“Why?” asked Caia. She inched closer.
“Because no one deserves to die that way. Not even zombies.”
She pulled a blade from its sheath strapped to her belt loop at the hip. She stabbed between the panels and into the undead’s eye. It ceased its gnawing the second she pried the knife loose from its slimy corpse.
“Mercy is important, Caia. Kindness will be in short supply in this world.” She rotated to face her daughter. “Do you understand?”
Caia nodded. Mila smiled a small, gentle smile and returned to the mouth of the alley.