5 years later
Frankie scrunched up her nose in disgust, the stench of burning meat filling her nostrils and creeping into her mouth, leaving a horrid taste on her tongue. She pulled her dinner off the makeshift cooking wrack and turned it slowly in front of her. The charred animal looked about as appetising cooked as it did when she'd caught it.
Before sense could talk her out of her only meal in days she took a bite from the thing's stomach, screwing up her face as she forced herself to chew the rubbery mess in her mouth.
She shivered as she swallowed it, and immediately took another bite before she changed her mind. It wouldn't silence the hunger pains but it would quiet them and that was all she needed. Just enough peace to sleep would be nice.
When she was finished and sure she wasn't going to be sick, Frankie put out the fire, making sure no embers were left burning before she dug through her torn up duffel bag. She pulled out a canteen of drinking water and took a swig before screwing the lid back on and put it back in her bag among her clothes and a small collection of tools and weapons. The only things she had left in the world, the only
things she needed.
She rearranged her duffel bag underneath herself until the hard tools and canteen were on the bottom and her soft clothing was on the top before she lay her head on it with a sigh. Sticking an arm behind her head she stared up at the ceiling of the abandoned office building she was taking refuge in. This was the first time in days she had been able to relax, after non-stop travelling through abandoned towns looking for food and only finding rats.
Frankie thought back to her near encounter with a group of infected, the shrieking they had emitted making her fidget. She had been lucky enough to sneak past them but the fear was still there. Having to slowly creep past them while they screamed and beat each other, that one guy who was eating a woman's leg while she hit another with her bloodied fists.
The memory sent a chill down her spine and she rolled over to try and get comfortable. Hopefully, she could get a few hours of sleep before she had to get up and move again. She was sure there was an old supermarket nearby, and she made a note to try to find it on her way out of the town in the morning. Maybe she'd be lucky and find something useful. Not food. Never food. It had been too long since the factories collapsed for anything in a can to still be good. But maybe some tools, possibly some clothing or something Frankie could use as a weapon in the future.
Over her years travelling on her own, she had acquired the arsenal that had been enough to keep her alive in the chaos. Rusted mismatched tools, two hunting knives and a few smaller kitchen knives for back up, were the things that got her out of some sticky situations. Her trusted crowbar had been a godsend when it came to getting into some places for shelter or scavenging, not to mention having to bash the occasion infected off her.
As she thought back to the many times her little collection had saved her skin, her eyelids became heavy as she started to drift off to sleep. It didn't take long for her to slip into a deep sleep, as screams and gunshots ravished her dreams.
A loud shriek, a flash of gunfire, a mass of red hair being dragged away, Frankie's hands reaching out desperately, but never quite reaching the red as it disappeared into the darkness, screams echoing into the night. She clawed at the dirt underneath herself, her mouth open but no sound coming out. Trees whipped past her as she darted through them, her eyes wide as she searched for her. From her left a branch snapped, she turned but was met with darkness. Behind her, she heard someone call her name, the strangled call growing faint. Frankie turned on her heel and threw herself after the noise as a flash of red cut across her vision. She reached out, her fingers cutting into the red in front of her, sending it into puffs of smoke.
She had to find her. She had to get her back.
Frankie was suddenly surrounded by the red smoke, as it swirled and shifted around her. The sound of more screaming came from above her this time, and she snapped her head up towards the sky. Frankie's heart leapt into her throat as she saw her, her red hair wet from sweat and tears and sticking to her face and neck. Her usually green eyes were now black, blood seeping from her tear ducts as she called Frankie's name, countless decaying hands pulling at her hair and neck, dragging her into the blackness.
"Cassie!" Frankie threw herself forward, her body soaked in sweat, her long brown hair sticking her face, her dirty clothes clinging on for dear life. It took her a second to realise she was no longer dreaming and was awake. She pulled her knees up and rested her head on them, feeling her muscles ache from the nightmare. This was nothing new, she had been plagued by those dreams for years. She wasn't even sure she knew how many years it had been.
She knew she'd been lucky, in a sense, that a group of infected had gotten her separated from that pricks crew of monsters that day, lucky that she wasn't being used for the sole purpose of birthing that sick fucks "future" but she still wondered occasionally if she should have just stayed and let him kill her or worse.
After all, where had running gotten her? Every day she was just surviving for the sake of it, never actually having any reason to wake up beside to keep moving and finding somewhere else to try and sleep for a few short hours. Frankie had avoided other people, for the most part, only interacting with the occasional person when needed. Not that she had come across many people since she'd went off on her own.
She wondered how different things might have been if she hadn't lost her at the same time. Maybe they would have found a nice settlement to hold up in, Frankie could have helped with supply runs while Cassie had stayed back and helped with farming or teaching. She had always been good at getting people to pay attention to her, not that it was hard with how striking she looked, her hair like fire and her eyes so bright they could guide you through the darkest building. Frankie wiped away the stray tear that fell from her lashes and stared at the charred remains of her campfire, willing the pain in her chest to go away and let her carry on with her feeble existence.
She leaned back and dug her yellowed atlas out from her bag. It was slightly inaccurate, due to everything being made digital before the infection and people not bothering to publish updated physical maps but it was still more helpful than running around blind. With shaking hands, she turned to the section that covered where she was and searched for the supermarket. In her head she planned out a safe-looking route to the store, avoiding wide open spaces and dead ends before she shoved the atlas back into her bag and zipped it closed.
Once her hands had stopped shaking, Frankie checked around to make sure she had all her things and headed for the fire exit she'd come in a few hours before. She dug in her back for her hunting knife and turned it over in her hand a few times before sticking it into the side of her boot as she got up. She knew she wasn't going to get any more rest after that nightmare, so she decided to make a head start on getting out of this place.
As she made her way down the empty hallway, passing by discarded chairs and work trolleys, long since rusted and forgotten about, Frankie repeated her route in her head. If she left the office building and headed left, and stuck close to the surrounding buildings, making a right at a junction, she should be able to make it to the supermarket without any problems. Hopefully.
Once out in the street, darkness was still covering the buildings and walkways, thick grey clouds rumbling up above her, Frankie took in a deep breath. The air was quiet and wet in her throat but no wind and the cool chill was a welcome feeling after her sweat-inducing dreams. It looked like it was going to rain at some point but when she had no idea. She made her way towards the supermarket, her senses on high alert for any noises that shouldn't be there, but luckily for Frankie, there was nothing but the sound of her own muffled footfalls and her light breathing.
It didn't take her long to reach the large building but by the time she did the sky had turned a faint pink colour through the clouds as the sun tried to rise somewhere behind the houses around her. The parking lot was littered with abandoned cars and overturned shopping trolleys, weeds and grass sprouting from cracks in the concrete, the signs of nature trying to take back what humans had given up on.
As she made her way across the uneven parking lot, Frankie peered into the windows of the cars she passed, most of them broken as other people had ransacked them years ago, broken glass crunching under her combat boots. Each one was empty. She had figured as much but there was no harm in looking.
Frankie kicked a rock in front of her as she reached another car, the clacking noises dying quickly. The back door was hanging open, the metal almost ripped from its hinges. As she drew closer she could see a dark brown patch on the ground by the door, streaks of more brown dragging off into the parking lot. It wasn't an uncommon sight in previously populated areas, where Sanity had hit hard and fast. Frankie had only been a child when it had all started and even though she couldn't even really remember how it started, her first memory was her father throwing her in the trunk of his car to hide her from looters.
Sometimes she could still hear the sounds of him trying to fight them off, the loud thuds as they beat him down, the final crack as they smashed his head open with a baseball bat. The looters had been in such a hurry to steal supplies from the back-seat of the car they hadn't stopped to open the boot. It wasn't until her neighbour, who had witnessed everything from her garage window, had run across the street and helped little Frankie out and carried her silent body across the road.
The poor neighbour, who was barely older than a teenager, had tried to cover poor five-year-old Frankie's eyes to shield her from seeing her father lying in their driveway, his body crumpled in horrific angles, his head smashed wide open, his brain pouring onto the tarmac, his blood running down the drive and into the street, but she had seen it anyway and occasionally the image would creep back into her mind, reminding her that he had died to keep her safe and she should keep going if only to honour his sacrifice.
Now though, Frankie was too busy leaning into the car with the open door to think about her dead father. Her empty stomach rolled at the sight in front of her and she felt a wave of sadness wash over her.
A child's car-seat lay crooked in the back, the once pink fabric now stained brown, a small pink blanket lay crumpled on the floor of the vehicle, streaks of brown sprayed up the inside of the car, coating the back of the front seat and coating the ceiling above her. Frankie could figure out what had happened here but she didn't want to think too much on it and make herself vomit. She didn't think she would enjoy the taste of cooked rat twice. She moved on in silence, taking care not to think back to what she had just seen as her stomach settled.
After finding nothing in any of the cars around her, Frankie made her way to the entrance of the store, which she found to be blocked from the inside with piles of shopping trolleys. She groaned to herself and threw her head back in annoyance. She'd have to go all the way around the back to get in now.
As she headed for the back of the building, she searched her bag for her crowbar, just in case she needed to pry open the fire exit or a window to get in.
Carefully listening for any sounds of movement around the corner, Frankie stopped and leaned around the edge of the building, her crowbar at the ready. She scanned the open area in front of her and was relieved to see nothing but trash and a large green dumpster on its side.
When she found the fire exit door it was barely hanging onto the door frame, its metal bent and broken from someone using something to break into it, brown rust creeping over the metal of the hinges and the handle. No doubt the damage had been done during the riots that broke out not long after Sanity was confirmed over the media. Even people who weren't infected had gone mad after that, looting every store they could find eventually resorting to looting peoples homes and as much as she hated the people who murdered her father over some toilet paper and a few loaves of bread that he'd just picked up from the store, she couldn't blame them. The entire world was falling apart, it was only natural for them to panic and for all she knew, those men had been in early stages of infection and hadn't been in complete control. Or maybe they had just been horrible people, to begin with, and were just waiting on an opportunity to showcase it.
After poking her head around the door frame, straining her ears for any sounds coming from inside the empty supermarket and only being met with dead silence, Frankie entered the building, her crowbar gripped tightly in her hand.
The place, like everywhere else, was a mess. The floor was hidden underneath a sea of empty food packages and boxes, shelves pushed over and lying at crooked angles atop the mass of discarded food packets and shopping trolleys.
Frankie didn't even bother checking the main part of the building, knowing fine well this place had been picked clean years ago. Instead, she headed towards the staff room, where maybe she could find something left over in the staff lockers or something. As she pushed open the door labelled "Staff Only" she wondered to herself where she would go next.
She had a few options, she could go north towards what the atlas had labelled as farmland, maybe find an old barn to sleep in. Or she could go south, towards the train station, maybe follow the tracks for a while. She'd had enough of towns recently, almost all of them proving to be useless when it came to supplies. Maybe having a walk in the natural wilderness would help take her mind off of the nightmares for a while.
The Staff Room had proven a bust and by the time Frankie had emerged from the room again she was disappointed and annoyed. She had gotten her hopes up when she'd found an unopened locker and pried it open to find a pile of neatly folded clothes, only to be instantly hit with the smell of mould when she touched them. Disgusted, she'd wiped her hand on her torn jeans and slammed the locker door shut in frustration.
Standing with her hands on her hips, her crowbar still clutched in her left hand, she scanned the sea of chaos in front of her. She could try and find something useful, or she could cut her loses and head on her way.
She pondered for a moment to herself and decided that as long as she was here, she might as well have a look for something the looters from a nearly two decades ago had missed. With a sigh, she dropped her hands from her hips and made her way along one of the less littered aisles.
Frankie had to kick empty boxes and plastic packages out of her way so she could walk around the edge of the store, her eyes flicking over the mess to try and figure out where was best to start looking for something useful. Eventually, the tiled floor beneath her boots was completely replaced with trash and she struggled to keep her balance as she climbed over the heaps. As she jumped over an overturned shelf unit, she spotted a sign still clinging to the chains attaching it to the ceiling saying "DIY".
"That could be helpful," Frankie said out-loud to herself, purely to break the buzzing in her ears from the silence.
Making her way through the disaster towards the aisle underneath the sign, Frankie found herself having to filter through less trash until she found her boots meeting solid tile again. She wandered casually between the shelves and looked around the scattered tools at her feet.
Not a lot was left, and what was left she already had most of it. Her eyes fell across a small box of knives and she almost cheered with excitement as she bent down to pick them up. She opened the box and was extremely happy to see that every space in the box had a knife in its place, some slightly rusted but nothing that would affect them being useful.
As she stuffed the box into her bag she looked further down the aisle and spotted a large hammer. She needed one of those. The more she looked around, the more things she spotted she could make use of. She bagged the hammer, replaced on of her screwdrivers and even found an extra hunting knife. She could never have too many hunting knives in this day and age. Frankie couldn't help the bubble of happiness that rose in her chest at the amount of new stuff she had found.
She left the supermarket a while later, her bag considerably heavier and her mindset a little bit brighter. Frankie now considered the supermarket a worthwhile trip as she headed south towards the train station, a small smile on her face despite the state of the world. In these kind of times, it was the small things that mattered.