Sword and Crossbow Trilogy — Book One: Decadence

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/ YA/ h/ NA/ SF/ F/ R

Chapter One — 03:12:33:00

      According to my watch, the last piece of technology I own from the years before the world ended, it’s been 3 days, 12 hours, and 32, wait, 33 minutes since the last time I’ve eaten. I can’t even remember what it feels like to have something other than water pass my dry, cracked lips down into my empty stomach.

      I’ve been walking in these woods for days now, maybe longer. The lack of food makes my memory a bit fuzzy and it’s hard to concentrate on one thing at a time. If I don’t find something to eat soon I will die in a day or two, given I survive that long. It’s not that I’m a bad hunter or gatherer; I just can’t seem to find the energy to hunt. All of the animals seem to hear me coming and are long gone by the time I find their tracks.  Either that or there are bigger predators in the forest who have already picked off most of the game. The only other option is to eat another human being, which I don’t plan on doing any time soon. As for gathering, a person would have to be pretty brave, or stupid, to venture into the woods alone to pick something as meager as a few berries to satisfy their hunger. I’m still trying to figure out if I’m being brave or stupid by coming here alone.

     I need to try to keep up my strength otherwise I’ll be easy prey for those who, human and non-human, crave fresh meat; and right now, with the afternoon sun beating down on my weakened body and my mind slowly giving way to a fuzzy stupor, I’m a walking buffet. 

     A road runs through the middle of these woods but since I’m alone I’m staying as far away from it as I can. There’s no telling who, or what, might be using the road nowadays. It’s better to be on your own and starving than with people who might turn around and kill you for the little possessions you may have. In any case, it’s not material possessions people will kill you for; most of them would prefer to eat you.

     Kill or be killed; that’s the way of the world now. A person can’t afford to be weak or vulnerable. There’s no such thing as mercy; not anymore.

     It didn’t use to be like this. I remember a time, way back in the beginning after the old government had been overthrown, we all cared for each other. Everyone had someone to live for: a husband or wife, children, brothers and sisters, friends old and new; they had Love. Then food and water became scarce, material possessions ceased to have any value, and money became pointless; you couldn’t even bribe other people for the little food and water they may have had. 

     Before the virus destroyed most of the world the brilliant doctors and scientists had given it a horribly scientific name no one could pronounce. Most people I knew gave it their own nick name anyways in an attempt to better understand it: I passed by churches who had written on their walls calling it Judgment Day, news channels, chat rooms, and blogs popped up all over the television and internet calling it the Zombie Apocalypse; I just called it The End.

     I never did learn where the virus had come from, although many people had tried. Doctors thought it might’ve been in the air or it was here all along and our bodies just stopped being able to fight against it. Conspiracy theorists thought the government had created it and were going to use it as a bio-chemical weapon to start another World War. If the doctors had been right then the virus would have attacked those who were physically weak, like the old and the sick. If the conspiracy theorists had been right then the virus would have been used as a fear tactic on a large enough community to persuade the country that the only way to stop it would be to start a war.

     Nothing like that had ever happened, not from what I remember anyway. The virus, it seemed, had other plans and targeted the men and women in the army. In my opinion, if the government was behind this mess then they wouldn’t have destroyed the one thing meant to protect them, but who am I to judge?

     I remember the old government tried to contain the virus by building quarantine camps in remote areas. Interestingly enough, these remote areas were under the careful watch of the government itself and could only be accessed by government officials; it was obvious they were keeping something a secret but the general public never did find out what that secret was. A lot of theories circulated around on the internet and were whispered in hushed voices in the back of coffee shops but never went any further out of fear of being caught or questioned by those who worked for the government.

      The infected entered these camps and were never heard from or seen again. I heard the most awful rumours about these camps and what the government was doing to the poor men and women who were sick. People grew afraid; it soon became the law to report any and all infected people to the local authorities.

     I hated when the riots started; I thought for sure I would somehow get caught in the crossfire and be killed. When loved ones had lost all contact with those they loved in the quarantine camps they looked for answers from the government. The government turned them away saying ‘they have served their country well and should be satisfied they had the chance to do so.’ Groups of people who had friends or loved ones in these camps came together and stormed government offices. They didn’t kill anybody; not at first. But the more the government pushed them down the harder these people fought back. The government was incredibly outnumbered and it was only a matter of months before it fell and the people took the law into their own hands.

       If the government had been honest about these camps in the first place then it’s possible the virus would have been eradicated within a few months and the world would have continued on just as it always had; but it never happened. Regardless, I later found out the virus could be transferred in other ways to those who are immune and that’s when I really feared for my life.

      Over the years different species, or mutations, resulted from the original virus; the government tried to tell us it was because of a toxin released by “terrorists” that, when combined with the virus in our blood, created these mutations. This was a little far-fetched and not many people believed what the government was telling them, or not telling them, about the virus. 

      During my travels I learned the names of these different mutations. The first mutation are called Grunts because of the grunting noises they make when they walk. Their flesh and muscle rots quickly making them slow and easy to kill.  Grunts travel in packs and tend to stay away from the woods because it’s Misfit and Grimlock hunting territory. 

      Jackals, the second mutation, are tougher than Grunts with their wicked long teeth and claws perfect for tearing into soft flesh. Jackals can see well in the dark with their big eyes and can be found underground in the sewers where they prey upon smaller animals. Their pale, fragile skin doesn’t allow them to be out in daylight, but they are known to hunt at night if desperate enough. As a rule I make sure to stay away from cities altogether.

     My least favourite type to come across is the Mongrel mutation; they’re smart, hunt in packs, and have a tough, scale-like skin to protect them. Within the Mongrel species there are two distinct classes: the Alpha and the Betas. There is only ever one Alpha for each Mongrel pack, which never exceeds ten in number, and they control everything the Betas do. When a Mongrel signals a fresh kill, a high pitched shriek that can be heard for miles, a Grimlock is never far behind. I found the easiest way to kill a Mongrel is by taking off their heads – they have two – right at the neck where the skin is a little softer. 

     The last group – the one I never, ever, EVER, want to come across – are known as the Grimlocks. The best way to describe them is to imagine a cross between a human, a dog, some type of reptile, and a rat. They are huge and made entirely of muscle. Grimlock’s travel alone, unless they need to mate, as they are extremely aggressive and territorial.  They aren’t pretty and they don’t leave much behind after a kill.

     Mongrels and Grimlocks live and hunt in the woods and, again, I’m second guessing my decision to search the woods for food. If I don’t find anything soon I’ll have no choice but to use the road to find my way out of here. I only hope I won’t encounter anyone, or anything, before I have the chance to leave…alive.

     I stumble down a steep incline but manage to keep upright until I reach the bottom. The trip down the hill zaps my energy so I sit down, hard, on the grass and lean against the tree until the dizziness passes. From up ahead I hear the faint trickle of a nearby creek. At least I won’t go thirsty. My stomach growls in protest and I absently massage my belly. I use my sword to pull myself up and I cut my way through the thick cluster of trees and undergrowth to the creek.

      After the virus had spread and mutated, the Earth seemed to turn against us as if to cleanse itself of everything posing a threat to its survival. The weather became chaotic: first came the rain and freak lightning storms which would last for weeks. The temperature dropped into the negatives after these freak storms and you would have winter in July that would last for months. A lot of vegetation and wildlife died in these winters and, combined with the virus’s attack on humans, the death toll continued to rise. I took refuge from these storms in abandoned barns or other decrepit buildings I found along the way.

      One day the rain stopped. At first I was relieved the rain and freak lightning storms had stopped and the weather seemed to have returned to normal. One year passed without any rain. Then two years. Then five years. At the end of the seventh year things started to look hopeless. Food and water supplies had all but disappeared and people were desperate; I was desperate. We had begun all this with the best of intentions, but our love for others, and for ourselves, had pushed us past the breaking point. That’s when the killing started.

      At first, people killed for simple things like food and water. They killed to survive and never took a life unless absolutely necessary. I mostly stole the things I needed but never from people who needed it more; which explains how I came to be in my present situation . The lack of food and water made some people go mad. These people, I call them the Crazies, like to kill as their main source of entertainment. You never know who’s Crazy, and who isn’t, which is why I abide by my motto of ‘kill or be killed’; it was hard to follow through at first but I learned to deal with it a long time ago. It also helps to stick to areas where the people population is scarce or non-existent. It is better to be alone and trust only yourself. 

      I had just turned eighteen when this had all started and now I’m a young woman. I’ve been alone from the beginning so it’s not hard for me to make the adjustment to look out for myself. I met a few people along the way who tried to take me in but I always ended up leaving. It wasn’t their fault; I just didn’t feel connected to them. It’s not that I didn’t want to make friends, I do, but I always felt something was missing; yet I could never figure out what that something was.

      I taught myself how to survive. I learned to hunt and fish. I learned how to make and break camp in less than ten minutes if I ever needed to make a clean getaway. Most importantly I learned to travel light. I carry only the essentials: some food, a canister of water, and a couple personal items.

      About a decade later the weather returned to normal. It started raining again. Everywhere that was dry, hot, and dusty became lush and green. Rivers re-appeared where there used to be rock-strewn river beds. Trees no longer looked like skeletal centurions standing guard over a barren, dusty wasteland. Animals came out of hiding. Fruits and vegetables were plentiful once again. I could find more and better food and I also found it easier for me to find more isolated areas.

     The human population greatly suffered. Groups of people are hard to come by and if I do come across someone I risk being killed. The only thing remaining of the virus is the different mutations; but they are slowly becoming extinct as people reclaim the land. The Earth is giving itself a fresh start but there are still those who would seek to destroy it. I just want to survive.

     Walking in the woods, in Mongrel and Grimlock territory, I’m taking a great risk at being killed considering my current condition. Yet the direness of my situation, the intensity of my hunger, overrules any common sense my deteriorating mind can construct.

 

 

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