The decrepit old hag is embarrassingly difficult to kill. Her crash-tackle dislodges the empty pistol from my hand and it cowardly clatters out of reach. I resort to fists and boots to kick and beat the women off. Luckily no ‘real’ people witness us rolling around on the ground, punching, kicking and screaming.
Admittedly it wasn’t my finest hour.
And I guess it was me doing all the screaming.
She lies still at last; her neck twisted at an unusual angle. Breathing hard in short, whistling screeches, I slowly remove my forearm from her neck, and then leap from the body and stand well back. After watching her closely for several moments I slide forward to nudge her arm with a steel-capped boot. She remains still.
My head spins from breathing the hot, recycled air inside the helmet, yet I dare not lift the visor. I unsnap a leg pocket fastener and slip out a short fighting knife. I fear it is totally useless in my hands for more than peeling fruit.
“You dead? Christ, you better not move lady... I’ll fucking well stab you!”
She’s a distastefully pitiful sight. Especially with all that grey, soupy liquid mixed with deep red blood dribbling from her mouth.
I close my eyes and eject a tear or two of self-pity. If I was less self-absorbed I’d almost admire the old bitch. She’d put up a mean fight despite the fact I’m well over a hundred kilos of muscle; well, fat and some muscle. It’s a certainty I only broke her neck by accident when I tried to get up and fell on her; otherwise we’d still be at it. Christ I was lucky she hadn’t gotten the upper hand...
Although it’s a pointless reflection I kick myself for hesitating each time I’m attacked. Children, geriatrics, half-naked blondes, I know they’ve all got to be treated the same. They are nothing but highly dangerous, cannibalistic, monster harbouring Zombies. Clinging to yesteryear's moralistic holdovers will be the death of me.
Right now I need to rest. I’m bloody hot and extremely ill. Ideally, unfit fat men such as myself shouldn’t run around in this summer heat wearing black leather, plastic armour and carrying a heavy weight strapped to their back. I’m sweating a river. I squelch when I walk.
Blood streaks the dead woman’s blank, wrinkled features but the gashes have stopped flowing. The rhythmic rising of her withered breasts also ceases. She is motionless for over a minute, yet I remain suspicious. I risk shifting my gaze from her face to worriedly scan the corner of the overgrown car park for more of them.
I should be gathering my weapons.
I should be reloading my guns.
But if I don’t rest soon I’ll fall in a heap. And that would be bad.
The blackly shadowed shopfronts at the back of the lot are the only cover I think I can reach. My burning eyes fake movements in their dusty windows but I trudge towards the shade anyway.
The sea of gently waving, high grown weeds all around me could hide an army. My neck develops an OCD as I walk; jerking and swivelling fast from a birdcall to a can clattering in the wind. I slap my cheeks hard to snap me from the growing panic. Spiralling down that fear crazed road will get me killed.
To quieten the dread further I stop and spend a long moment gazing around me in a full, deliberate circle. On one side are rows of houses, marking the edge of their sprawling suburb. This semi-industrial land they encroach on spreads out into isolated warehouses, and some crop land beyond.
All is quiet and still, allowing my anxiety to come off the boil. It will carry on simmering in readiness.
As I lower Paranoia’s defences it hatefully reminds me I’ll be attacked at random, from anywhere, at any time. In fact there’s probably someone behind me right this second.
I refuse to turn, though my skin crawls. I’m in a bad way. Apart from being very stoned and drunk not thirty minutes ago, I’ve completed a murderous marathon through an entire suburb in ill-fitting boots. I’m dehydrated, nauseous, have a thumping headache and a yet uncatalogued mass of pains, bruises and scrapes.
Absently I note today’s death toll as a personal record. Then I correct my self-accusation of murder. It’s an extermination of pests; and survival of the fittest.
Yes, the joke’s on me with that last thought.
The heat of exhaustion overtakes the last of Methadone’s cool suppression. Wobbly-kneed, I buckle, preventing a face first fall by gripping my thighs. Attempts to balance the weight of the huge backpack in this position is counter-productive. I use more energy than I can spare.
I’m so tired; even my bones feel weary.
I’m tired of struggling.
So tired of living.
I latch onto the chilling reminder of why I’m out here and bolster my strength with thoughts of getting home. Back to my quiet room where I can do what needs to be done.
My short, heavy breaths succeed in fogging the helmet’s visor. Throwing caution aside, I flip it up and breathe summer-cooked air. It is not refreshing. I'm melting inside this leather steam bath. The armour pinches where it has ridden up into my armpits during the granny grappling escapade. I’ll have to take all this crap off to put it right.
Before I can put together a plan to undress, I flap the visor up and down to circulate cooler air. I wipe a fingertip across the blood smears across my jacket and hope none of it is mine. My shoulders object mightily when I stand up straight again, resettling the backpack straps into their raw furrows, and the tight waist-strap sinks deeply into my heaving beer gut. I think about throwing up.
Each compounding discomfort is building a rage inside me, scattering thoughts already in disarray.
I must sit down for a few minutes; be calm; think.
Where’s my rifle? Fuck it, I’d dropped the bastard. Screw it. I’m not going back.
Never go back. Rule number four, or was it five? It’s definitely in the top ten somewhere.
I shake my head to regiment my thinking. The seriousness of the current situation is constantly being eroded by drifting reveries. The petered out drugs allow seconds of pure clarity to slip in, reminding me every moment I spend outdoors, in this emptied city full of Parasites and Hosts, puts me at risk of a violent dismemberment or possession.
My itching skin and hyperactive mind continue to play havoc with sights and sounds around me. I ignore the wraiths and fantasy since I’m swirling in for a crash landing. I’m about to pass out and if that happens I may never wake up.
Or worse; I will. As one of them.