Chapter One – Welcome to the New World
There was a black and yellow caterpillar crawling up the brick wall and she stared at it as if she had never seen one before in her lifetime. In fact, she couldn't actually remember the last time she had seen one. She watched it, not wanting to blink in case this was some elaborate figment of her imagination. She remembered – just for a brief moment – a book her mom used to read to her and her sister when they were much younger; a book about a very hungry caterpillar and all of the food he ate before he blossomed into a butterfly. She stared at the caterpillar now, wondering what sort of butterfly it would turn into. Hopefully, it would have the chance to. Everything was always hungry – including the birds. This caterpillar would seem like a very satisfying morsel to snapping beaks.
A shuffle of feet from around the corner of the brick building instantly stole her attention away and her fingers naturally tightened around the handle of her gun, which hung at her side. It may have been daytime and this town seemed pretty much deserted but she wasn't one to take chances. Those who did never lasted long. When she saw that it was Jason, her grip loosened but she kept her gun drawn. Next time, it might not be him.
"It's clear," he informed her.
She nodded and then pointed towards the wall. "I found a caterpillar." She almost smiled.
Jason glanced towards the brick wall but then back at her. "We should hurry," was all he said and she nodded, giving one more look to the bug slowly crawling its way upwards. She almost wanted to take it with her but she knew she couldn't. There would be no purpose to it and it would either be killed or lost along the way.
She followed Jason from the alleyway. They walked silently and slipped in through the doors of the abandoned grocery store. The doors – once automatic – were partially opened and the front wall of the small store was made completely of glass-plate windows which provided them with light. There were boxes and cans and packages of food scattered amongst paper and plastic bags and overturned carts. It smelled of rotting food – eggs and milk that had long soured and meat that was rotting. It used to make her stomach roll but now, they were all scents she was accustomed to. She took a nearby cart and immediately began towards the canned food aisles. There was no longer electricity and anything frozen had long since melted and was useless for them to eat. Jason was silent next to her and set the shotgun he always carried down only to load cans into the cart. Their diets were mostly made up of preserved vegetables now. He inspected each can – checking the dates stamped to the top of them, making sure that they were still secure – and only loaded what he knew they could carry.
"You need tampons," he reminded her as he looked over a can of corn.
It had been three years since she had first met Jason. She had been away from her home for two days and there had been no more reason to stay. He had saved her from a White Walker and deciding that she needed protection – and what better protection than a six-foot-five tall Hawaiian warrior made of all muscle – she began following him. He only grunted but did not try to stop her. The first time he bluntly inquired about her menstrual cycles, she had blushed and didn't talk to him for two days after that. But the world was no longer a place one could hold grudges and after three years together, she trusted no one but him.
Now, she nodded her head and moved out of the aisle on light, soundless feet. She was mindful of the messes on the floor. Though Jason said they were alone, she still was careful to not make a sound. Dodging scattered potato chips, boxes of cereal and an overturned display of boxes of ice cream cones, it almost looked as if she was dancing. When she arrived at the aisle she needed, she poked her head around the corner to make sure that it was clear. She knew it was but there was no such thing as being too careful. She scanned the selection that was still stocked on the shelves as if a new shipment had just arrived that day and she took a box of the brand she used. She still had another week before her period was actually due but she and Jason never knew where they were going to be. They didn't even know where they were headed. East. Simply east.
She heard a crunch sound and her ears immediately pricked to attention. She slowly turned in the aisle towards the sound and lifting her arm, she pointed the gun, ready to aim and fire. Normally, the shot of a gun alerted other walkers that might be in the nearby vicinity but there was no better way to bring one down. One shot in the head and while the walker was on the ground, it was easier to approach and stab it in the back of the neck, severing the brain stem. Jason also carried a sword in a sheath strapped to his back and sometimes preferred to cut them down at the knees to render them immobile but she preferred a gunshot. The further she kept herself away from the walkers, the better she felt. She heard another crunch and then a grunt. Her heart immediately sped up. She knew that sound – all too well. She stood perfectly still, waiting, her heart pounding but her head steady as she kept her arm raised and her gun pointed.
The White Walker was shuffling past the aisle but as soon as the body picked up on her human scent, it stopped and just as it began turning its head towards her, she fired. The gun echoed in the empty store, ringing in her ears, but she did not miss and the bullet penetrated the walker in its neck, knocking it off its feet. It landed with a heavy thud. Jason seemed to arrive within an instant, skidding to a halt as he saw the walker on the floor, gurgling and choking on its rotted blood. She always carried a knife, strapped to her thigh, and she took it out now, slowly approaching the walker. She could feel Jason watching her but she made sure not to meet his eyes. She hated this part but she didn't want to ask him to do it for her. This was the world now and though she didn't know what she would do without him, she couldn't rely upon Jason for everything.
"Jules," he suddenly said and she finally looked at him. She actually wasn't sure the last time he had said her names. Three days? Maybe four? Sometimes, she whispered her name to herself so she wouldn't forget.
He was staring at her with eyes dark of concern. Jason was a tall man – well over six feet tall – with naturally bronzed skin and black hair that grew to his shoulders. He had scars on his face and tattoos on his arms and she knew he was a handsome man. She even supposed there was a small part of herself in love with him but it was something she never allowed herself to dwell on. Jason was the only man – the only person – she knew anymore. They never left one another's sides. She told herself that it was natural for herself to have feelings towards him. It didn't necessarily have to mean anything.
She shook her head. "I'm alright," she assured him and he stared at her closely for another moment before nodding slightly.
He took a step back as if giving her room and she slowly came around to stand at the head of the walker. She slowly slid her gun into her holster and then kneeled down, her fingers grasping the hilt of the knife. Although she had no open wounds on her body, she was still mindful of the blood coming from the walker's neck. It had turned black with its first death and almost looked like thick tar. The disease traveled through the blood and if she was to get any of the walker's blood into her own stream, Jason wouldn't allow her to leave the store.
She lifted the walker's head – it had once been a young man, probably even a teenager – and his hair had been thick and red. She tilted its head forward and with one quick movement, she plunged the blade into the back of the neck, severing the brain from the rest of the body. The walker almost immediately fell still and she extracted the knife before bringing the head gently down, resting it on the ground. She took a deep breath and then another. She could feel her chest start to ache and her throat tighten. She knew it was coming and she tried to fight it off. But it was too strong to stop and once the first tear fell down her cheek, others quickly brimmed out of her eyes to follow.
She moved her knees out from under her and sat down on the cold floor, sobbing, trying to stop. She heard Jason shift and then he was sitting next to her. He didn't offer her words of comfort and she didn't want any. They would be useless, empty words and would probably only make her cry harder. Instead, his arm found its way around her back and he sat with her. She wasn't sure what was wrong with her. This wasn't the first walker she had ever killed. This had been the world for three years now and there was no more reason to mourn.
Seven years ago, the plague spread across the globe like a wildfire and nothing had been able to stop it. Scientists and doctors struggled to find cures but millions of people were seemingly wiped out within just a few months. It was the second Black Plague. Those who survived began to build a new immunization against the silent, invisible killer and as the virus slowly died away, a new plague took its place. A foreign disease, one never seen on earth before, settled into the blood of those infected and the dead began to rise and with them, the new race was born. White Walkers. The world around them died as their numbers grew. The remaining humans scattered and lived as they did now. In tiny packs, foraging for food and shelter and killing any walker they saw. No one knew how many humans were left but the walkers were in the tens of thousands. One day, the humans would all be killed and turned and then, the walkers would have no more food.
This was how the world would end. Not with a world war or a nuclear explosion or meteor from space but with a whimper and complete loss of hope.
She shook her head at herself, wiping at her cheeks, leaning into Jason's firm side. They still did not speak but his arm remained heavily, protectively, around her back, holding her close. He didn't often show her affection. In three years, she had gotten him to smile a total of eight times. As they walked, he held her hand to help her with the sometimes rough terrain or when they trained, he stood behind her, covering her hands with his to help her with her aim – with either the gun or knife – but for the most part, it was almost as if he was avoiding contact at all costs. If he didn't touch anything, nothing could harm him. She understood – even if sometimes she truly just wanted him to hug her.
It was odd to sit there on the floor of a grocery store with his arm now around her. Even with the dead walker in front of them, she already felt better with Jason there next to her.
"There was a calendar in the bathroom at the gas station a couple of days ago," she said, wiping at her cheeks again but her crying had stopped now. "I think today's my birthday. I'm not sure but I think it is." Jason was quiet and she turned her head to look at him, their eyes locked together. "I just killed someone on my birthday," she whispered.
He shook his head. "It's not a person. It's not anyone," he reminded her.
"Look though. He was a person. He was someone. He had a name and a mom and a dad and a home and… he was tall. Maybe he played basketball." A fresh batch of tears began to sting her eyes and she looked away from his penetrating gaze. "It's my birthday," she said again, this time in a whisper, and then she paused to think. "I think I'm nineteen."
Jason lifted a hand and she was surprised when he brushed a loose black curl from her face that had fallen loose from her ponytail. He tucked it behind her ear and she looked at him, knowing her eyes showed her astonishment at his gesture. "Happy birthday," he told her and though there was still a weight pressing heavily upon her chest, she felt herself smiling at him nonetheless. "We should get going. It'll be dark soon and I don't want to stay in this town." She nodded and he stood up first. He held out a hand and she took it, letting him pull her to her feet. He took her knife and wiped the blood off on his jeans before he thrust it back into the sheath on her thigh.
"Jason," she said as he stood to his full height, towering over her. She was about 5'4" in comparison and she had to tilt her chin up to look into his face. She wasn't sure how to voice her thoughts though so instead, she remained silent and she slipped her arms around his waist, turning her head and resting her ear to his chest. She hugged him. She wasn't sure how long she stayed there, pressed against him, but eventually, she felt his own arms wrap around her shoulders. She closed her eyes, almost wanting to cry again. She can't remember the last time she had been hugged.
White Walkers were attracted to light found in darkness so Jules and Jason left town after loading on food and other supplies and they abandoned the road to cut through farm fields that had grown wild with weeds. The sun was setting and they wanted to set up their camp for the night before it became completely dark. Once it was night, they wouldn't light a fire or even turn on a flashlight or lantern. They needed their nights to rest and sleep after full days of walking; not to fight off unforeseen hordes of walkers.
Jason walked with long strides, leading the way, and she walked behind him, listening to the wind whistle through the dead stalks of corn. They were walking through what used to be New Mexico and the days were warm but the nights in the desert were becoming cold and they each had a rolled up sleeping bag hooked to the pack bags they had on their backs which held all of their food, supplies and worldly possessions. She remembered when she was younger. Her father had grown up on a farm and when they visited his parents, she and her sister would chase one another through the corn that grew past their heads, the stalks slapping them sharply in the face as they ran.
"Jules!" Erica called out. "You're too fast!"
Jules had only laughed though and continued to run, leaving her little sister behind.
She could hardly remember what her sister used to look like now. Her parents were faint memories now, too, faces that had slowly been disappearing with each passing month. There were fleeting memories – of her beautiful mother with her dark skin and black hair. Her father had been pale with light brown hair and green eyes that crinkled at the edges whenever he had smiled – which had been often. Her parents had loved one another dearly and had always been so affectionate, always kissing and hugging one another.
She looked at Jason's back as they walked. She had known and depended on him for three years now and she still knew nothing about him. How old he was, where he had lived, if he had had any family. Had the plague gotten them or had they become walkers? She only knew that he was Hawaiian and that's because she told him when she had first begun to follow him and had tried to pass the time with rambling that she was mixed – black and white – and he had grunted that he was originally from Hawaii. Erica and her mother had died from the sickness and her dad… the last time she saw his dad, he was trying to break through the door of her bedroom and she had crawled out of her window, cutting her right leg – a scar she still wore.
They didn't know why but the walkers stayed away from animals. Dogs had evolved into wild pack dogs, horses ran freely, the dairy cows had all died from not being pumped but the range cattle slowly moved across the land, chewing on grass and grazing as they once used to. The walkers weren't interested in their flesh and ignored them. When they stepped from the farm field, Jason stopped at the side of a dirt road, listening and looking. She stood next to him, pulling her compass from one of her jacket pockets that she had taken nearly two years before from a sporting store they had sifted through.
"The wind's changed direction," she said and then holding a hand above her eyes, shielding them, she looked towards the sky. "It's going to rain."
He nodded. "I feel it. We should find some trees to sleep under tonight."
It wasn't for the shelter. It was for the water that dripped from the leaves. No one trusted the water anymore. When the plague broke out, paranoia came with it and water – bottled or purified or even those sitting in the lakes and rivers – was not to be trusted. How could anyone be sure that the person handling the water in the factories hadn't been infected? The only water they trusted now was rain water and any time it rained, they made sure they were able to fill their canteens, rationing it, never knowing when it would rain again.
"We'll climb up there," he pointed towards a distant hill. "We'll get a better look at the land. We might sleep up there tonight." Walkers generally didn't like to climb uphill. It took too much effort and energy that the dead didn't possess. He looked at her. "Before the last radio went out, I remember hearing about a settlement on the eastern border of New Mexico. Maybe when we start to get closer, we'll start to see people."
There had been a few settlements of people that they had passed, staying the night in a couple. Towns surrounded with fencing and guards that stood with guns at all time. When they entered, everyone would stare at them and Jason would say that they were married. She knew why. In this new world, people had become obsessed with the human race surviving and some would go to far as to snatch women and make sure they could breed. No one dared even approach her when they saw her standing next to Jason. She hated the settlements. To her, they were almost as fearful as sleeping out in the open with walkers. Some people had truly gone mad with the way things had changed and had become as frightening as what they were supposed to band together against and fight.
As if reading her mind, Jason continued. "We can rest up there and maybe eat something else. We could have proper showers, too. We wouldn't stay long."
She nodded automatically. "I know."
"When we get there, I'll trade something and get you a birthday present," he told her.
That made her smile and she laughed softly. "And what do you have of value that you could trade for anything?" She teased.
He shrugged, looking forward again, to the hill in the distance. "I'll think of something." The wind felt colder against their skin and it was picking up in strength. "We need to go. I don't want to climb a muddy hill in the rain."
She nodded and this time, they walked side-by-side as they crossed the dirt road and the next field swallowed them up as they kept moving forward. Always forward.
A/N: If you read this entire chapter, please take the time to comment! I've never written anything like this before. Thank you!
- character pictures on my profile coming soon!