Survival. Short Story.

Vincent walked through the scattered corpses, around them dying fires were smouldering, a thick haze filled the air. He didn’t pause or look at their faces, it was better not to know. When it had began all those long months before he had seen his first dead body, it haunted his dreams, but these bodies were nothing now, just part of the backdrop. It had been a teenage boy who was running just ahead of him when one of the monsters grabbed him. Vincent hadn’t paused, hadn’t stopped, he just kept running, it was the only thing he could do. He made it another twenty steps before something sailed over his head and landed in front of him with a heavy thud. It was the body of the boy, his head ripped from his shoulders, a gaping hole where his stomach should have been. Vincent had been sure he was next, kept expecting something to grab him but nothing did. That night the scene played over and over again in his dreams, the boys body crashing in front of him. When Vincent finally woke from his nightmare he’d just enough time to turn and vomit onto the ground beside him rather than over himself. How many people had he seen killed since? How many bodies? It was an endless parade of death and destruction. He’d seen people torn limb from limb, screaming all the while, he’d seen people killed in the blink of an eye, a giant stone falling from above and crushing them. He’d seen buildings collapse and burst into flames and somehow he’d managed to survive it all.

Vincent kept walking as the military moved in, this was the truly dangerous part. If they noticed him, noticed that he was broad shouldered, that he was still strong, he would face a seemingly simple choice, join the army or die. The truth of the matter was it would be a death sentence regardless of how he chose. The army had been throwing men at the things since it began and still they kept coming. It was all humanity could do to stay ahead of them. He ducked into a dark and half collapsed alleyway, two children, a boy and a girl, were picking through rubble, the girl glared at him as he past while the boy kept rummaging. Vincent kept them in sight until he rounded the corner, it was always better to have your guard up around the kids, they tended to move in packs and didn’t mind using the knives they liked to carry. He moved through an old apartment building, it was leaning drunkenly against its neighbour, looking as though it would collapse any moment. As he moved through what was once the lobby he could hear the noise of people above him, those too stupid or too poor to go anywhere else. Not him, so far the only thing keeping him alive was being on the move. He’d met plenty of people in the last city who told him it was safe, that he should stay, find somewhere and hunker down until it was all over. Three weeks ago it had been destroyed entirely, last he heard there was nothing left but a smoking crater. He picked his way over bits of concrete and rubbish, it looked like someone had attempted to move it all to the side but had given up partway through. Vincent paused at the front of the building, looking out at the rubble strewn street, people were already coming out to scavenge after the last attack, some were crying and shouting as they dug, but most worked silently, looking for food or anything valuable. At one end of the street stood a tall, gangly boy in a green, ill-fitting uniform, it looked as though he had borrowed the clothes from his father and the tightly gripped gun was almost comically oversized, he had wide, staring eyes that were starkly white against his grey, dust covered skin, Vincent guessed he couldn’t be older than thirteen. Vincent stepped from the building and headed off in the other direction keeping himself hunched over, the kid wasn’t exactly threatening but when dealing with someone that young, that untrained and that scared, you never really knew what you were getting into. Somewhere to his left there came a deep, throaty cry and Vincent froze, already people were beginning to scatter, someone ran past him, knocking him down as they went. Vincent scrambled to his feet and started running.

Vincent watched the city burn, people streamed past him in a steady flow, he could still make out people fleeing the city, dark shapes lit only by the leaping flames behind them. The gunfire had stopped, the army had abandoned they city around the time Vincent had made it to the outskirts. Vincent turned from the city and started walking again, he had lingered too long here, growing complacent, he needed to keep moving, needed to stay ahead of the things. Some people were talking, but most trudged forward with their heads down, many of them carried nothing having no time to grab any of their meagre belongings.

Vincent stopped and sat against some rocks. His feet were tired and sore, around him he could smell food cooking over the campfires that dotted the area, his stomach grumbled sullenly. He hadn’t eaten since the day before, but he had gone longer without food. He had been moving with the others from the city and they swarmed across the countryside, picking everything clean. He didn’t know where he was heading, he wasn’t sure if anyone really knew or if they were just following the signs to the next city. A small family huddled around a fire nearby, he watched as the mother passed food to her children, the mother looked up and caught his eye, he saw a flash of fear and she moved closer to her children, Vincent looked away. He wouldn’t take their food, he wasn’t a thief and he wasn’t that desperate, not yet. He stood from the rock and started walking again, ignoring the protesting pain in his feet. If he kept following like this he’d never get anywhere, he’d just be another desperate refugee, penned into a resettlement camp or conscripted. Besides, there was safety in numbers, but it could also attract the wrong kind of attention, all those people, weak and frightened, would make easy pickings for anyone or anything that decided to come along. Vincent spotted an apple on the ground, a glint of green that had mostly been buried in muck, he pulled it out of the mud and quickly wiped it down, the green skin was smooth and unbroken, though he knew he’d have eaten it even if it was half rotted. Vincent ate it quickly, trickles of juice running down the side of his mouth, already things were looking up.

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