On Cate Mortensen’s seventeenth birthday, her family is scattered in a fight for survival, and she and her sister Melody are catapulted headfirst into a world where their phones are just hunks of plastic, they must scavenge for every bite, and they sleep with weapons in their hands. Traveling alone, and then not so alone, they follow the route their family planned to Alcatraz Island where the hope of safety and a real life awaits.
After more than a year on the road, Cate has found three things to be true. One: Zombies are a thing now. Two: Not all zombies are just zombies. Three (the game changer): Cate is immune to the infection.
Chapter One: Pay Attention
Where did these zombies come from, and how did I not notice them until now? This isn’t the worst we’ve faced, true, but zombies in general are dangerous and six at a time is not a number anybody should be comfortable with.
“Mel!” I call to my sister, keeping my eyes on the approaching zombies. “How’s it coming?”
Melody is a little way up the road from me, elbow-deep in the engine of a rusty old pickup that she said would be an easy fix. She was so confident, in fact, that we packed all our stuff and the dog into the truck. That was two hours ago.
“Fine,” she mumbles. “Getting there.”
“I don’t know—yeah, soon.” Clang! “Why?”
“Like, in the next thirty seconds?”
“We’ve got company.”
Mel growls and kicks the tire of the truck.
I yank the axe out of my belt loop just as three, four, eight, nine more come wandering out of the evergreens that surround the road.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Mel mutters. She whispers through the open window to the dog, “Chaz, down.”
Chaz settles on the front seat. A few of them may notice him if they get close enough, but they’ll always pick people given the option. He’ll be safe for now.
Safer than we are.
I swing my axe at the first one to approach, a clean hit to the back of the neck. The jaws continue to gnash after the body falls to the ground, but since that’s all that’s still moving, it’s not a threat anymore. The three fast approaching on my right and the one foot-dragger on the left, those are threats. I shove back the closest one, sending it sprawling, bury my axe into the second’s head, and work it free just in time to dodge the foot-dragger’s claws. The miss throws it off-balance and it falls to its exposed kneecaps. I split its skull before it has a chance to stand.
That’s one universally reliable factoid from zombie lore: head shot equals kill. The rest of it is a mixed bag of facts and fabrications.
By the time I dislodge my axe again, the one I shoved is in my face. I don’t even see another coming at me until it knocks the axe out of my hand.
“Damn it!” I fish my knife out of my jacket pocket and dispatch both of them. When I’m done, I bend down and pick up the axe.
I hear the thick squish of Mel’s little pocketknife penetrating rotten flesh and the subsequent dropping of one body, quickly followed by another, and the dull thud of her hammer and an exuberant ha! I turn to find her unscathed with three corpses at her feet. Go, Mel.
Before I can turn back around to assess my end, an especially rotten zombie takes my arm and pulls it toward its gaping maw. It bites down on the sleeve of my green canvas jacket, which I was wearing specifically for this reason. I let it think it has me while I split its skull. As the jaws go slack and the corpse collapses, I rub my forearm gingerly. Ouch. That’ll be a nasty bruise. But it serves me right for not paying attention. Again.
I turn to check on Mel just as a gigantic zombie in a leather jacket—and is that a motorcycle helmet?—lunges at her from behind, bowling her over like a house of cards. Her glasses go flying, and she hits the ground with an oomph, dropping her blade as the zombie chomps at her face uselessly through its helmet. Her knife skitters across the pavement and out of reach.
I run toward them, vaulting myself over the hood of a car, losing my axe for the second time as I do. She’s pinned, and although the teeth are no threat inside that helmet, it’s only a matter of time before the claws rip through her hoodie. She’s trying to push it off, but it’s one of the biggest bodies I’ve ever seen, alive or dead. Just massive. I shove my hand into my pocket but find it empty. Where the hell is my knife? No time. I grab the first tool my hand lands on, a big-ass wrench, rip the giant’s helmet off, and swing for all I’m worth until its head is obliterated.
Mel retrieves her glasses and sits up, panting. That would have been a horrible way to go. She wipes her forehead with the back of her hand, shaking her head in relief. But her face changes and she points over my shoulder.
“Cate, behind you!”
Two more are right in front of me, so close they could reach out and touch me, which of course they do. One grabs my upper arm while the other closes in for a bite on the other side. I yank backward, shed my jacket, and stumble away from the two man-eaters but trip over the giant. Mel steps over me like an action heroine with her miniature .22 handgun drawn and ready. She puts them both down and helps me up. Four left.
We run around them in opposite directions, positioning ourselves behind them. I manage to kill one before the next has time to turn around. As soon as it does, I cave its face in with the wrench. When I turn to check on Mel, she’s already wiping her knife clean and stepping—somewhat delicately—over the last two corpses.
“Dude, what happened?” she asks.
I know she’s pissed; I had it coming. I don’t apologize, though. The words sit stubbornly in my throat.
“Sun was in my eyes,” I mumble. The excuse sounds even more flimsy out loud. “You said the truck would be an easy fix.” I don’t know why I resort to blame-shifting instead of just fessing up.
“Okay, how about next time you fix the car and I’ll try to get us killed?” she snaps. “And you’d better clean the brains off my wrench!”
I silently retrieve my axe from where it fell and my knife from the eye I left it in, and wipe the brainy blade, then the wrench, then my axe, on the clothes of various fallen zombies.
That’s something I didn’t expect: there’s very little blood in zombie killing if you’re doing it right. The movies would have you believe that there are buckets of the stuff just flying around every time you whack one. But the thing is—and it makes sense once you think about it—their hearts aren’t actually beating, and no beating heart means no pumping blood and therefore no bleeding. What ends up on the weapon and sometimes your clothing after you put a zombie down is a thick sludge made of gray matter and coagulated blood. It’s still disgusting, especially the odor, but at least it doesn’t splatter.
“I’m sorry, okay?” I slide my axe back into my belt loop.
Mel holds stubbornly onto her last shred of anger, aggressively polishing her glasses with the hem of her shirt. Suddenly she’s on me, squeezing the life out of me with her skinny arms. “Just keep an eye out, okay?” She strokes my hair the way my mom used to. “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you too.”
“Deal,” I say, breaking the hug gently. I scan the area while Mel tosses her tools into the bed of the truck. “Those shots will bring more in. We’d better get a move on.”
Mel nods and pockets her gun. When she says his name, Chaz sits back up, tail wagging. She slams the hood of the truck. “Let’s go. I think I just barely managed to fix this heap before they got here. Moment of truth…” She twists a couple of wires together and pumps her fist into the air as the truck rumbles to life. “Yes! Life!”
It’s the best sound I’ve heard in a week. Mel and I have been traveling on our bikes since we had to ditch our last ride. The engine overheated, and while we were waiting for it to cool, a massive horde of zombies came wandering out of the forest by the highway. It was either fight and possibly die to save the car or get out quietly, take what we could, and run. We ran.
We did find a car the next day; drove it about five miles before we came upon a fallen tree that blocked the whole road. That didn’t even count as having a ride.
But thankfully, Mel is handy with cars. Very handy. So when we find a working or workable car, we keep it as long as it’s advantageous, and for the rest of the time, we have our bikes. It does limit what kind of vehicle we can use, since it has to have room for us, a seventy-pound dog, two bikes, and two packs, but it’s well worth it to keep the bikes.
Mel hops into the driver’s side and squeezes the wheel.
“I’ll drive first.”
I nod and slide into the passenger seat.
Chaz curls up between us with his torn-up tennis ball.
We pull away from the two cars that the truck was parked between, and we’re about to drive off when I jump in panic.
“Wait!” I fumble with my seat belt and throw open the door.
“Cate!” Mel slams on the brakes as I jump out. “Catherine! What are you doing?”
I run toward the zombies we just killed and jerk my jacket out from under two bodies, ignoring the zombie I didn’t fully kill that snaps at my hand as I do.
Mel glances at me sideways as we begin to pull away again, but she doesn’t say anything about my outburst. Instead, she just sighs and asks, “Back to the coast?”
Our trip through Medford was a bust. I glance at the map, staring at the lines I’ve long since memorized. If we’re lucky, we can be back on the marked route in a couple of hours. But luck is not abundant these days.
We both get discouraged and even a little irritable when a detour turns out to be fruitless. But I have to admit that we’ve had some really successful ones. We found better weapons and a fishing pole plus tackle in Hood River, and in mid-December, we found a house outside Newport in which to ride out a truly hellish winter. The previous owner was just another walking corpse when we found him, but he must have been a conspiracy nut or something because the entire basement was filled floor to ceiling with shelves of canned food and survival gear that we’re still using today. There were also boots that happened to fit Mel’s giant feet, thick jeans for me, those silvery space blankets, and loads of extra socks, which believe me, we needed. We even scored a bike trailer for the dog. So although the detours seem like unnecessary distractions from our ultimate destination, they are necessary. Every one.
We drive west, leaving a pile of twice-dead bodies behind.
Rose Flores has enjoyed writing since she learned how to string letters together. She grew up in the vast green Pacific Northwest of the United States, which with its dense forests, four seasons, and proximity to the ocean made a perfect setting forThe End. When she isn’t writing on her computer or in a notebook (though scraps of paper and the palm of her hand will do in a pinch), she works as a professional dog trainer and loves every part of it, even the copious amounts of drool. She believes everyone should be represented in literature and all other media.The End is her first novel.
Follow her on Twitter @writemod