“Trail in the Snow”
a short story by Jeremy C Kester
It is tough to move in the damn snow. Cold only made it worse. Cold and wet, not that we feel much of it. You’re breathing heavy, probably from fear, but more likely from the injury. Blood was slowly trailing behind us leaving that goddamn red guide to where we were going. It didn’t matter much though. Both of us would be dead soon, we’re certain, try as we might to run away from it.
It was my damned fault that we got into this mess to begin with. I misread the directions to the next safe haven after our own homes were destroyed. Not really sure who to blame for that part really. Could be the fucking zombies or some of the other monsters out there: other humans. Sure, we’re all trying to fight for survival in this terrible shit-storm of a world right now, but do we have to make it worse?
You laugh. I try to ignore it, pulling you along while dealing with the fact that I am also fucked is tough enough.
“What’s so funny?” I ask. I am annoyed, but I try not to show it through my tone. I fail, of course.
You snort, trying to stifle the laugh. You know as well as I do that it isn’t a good time to laugh. “Sorry. Just remembering a joke my wife used to tell me,” you say.
Fuck. She was alive only a few hours ago, before you realized that you couldn’t save her. Or your kids. Or my own. We watched them all die, unable to help. Your screaming was deafening. I had to pull you away after of course I had found my own family being eaten, already dead.
Eventually, we ran, when we knew that we were the only ones left alive.
Running into the snow, into the dark, wasn’t a good idea without any supplies. Only a few rifles, some ammunition, and what little we had in our pockets was all that we carried. I guess screwing up the directions on us wasn’t the worst thing.
Once you stop laughing, you groan. “C’mon,” I say, pulling at you to move. “We shouldn’t have that long to go.”
By the markers, I could tell that we had gotten back on the path, back out of the unknown of animals and the monsters. Although you’d been bitten, I believed that we would be alright.
“Just go on without me,” you tell me. “I’m as good as dead anyway.”
Blood comes up as you cough. Infection probably got into your lungs already. Those bites were nasty. If you’re lucky, like most, you just die, eaten alive from the inside by the virus; if you aren’t… then you become one of those things.
“No no,” I insisted. “We’re both going to make it through.” Really it was just me thinking that saving you was going to reverse that I couldn’t save them. Any of them. Only you. My children now rested in the guts of those monsters as did your own. I winced as I thought about it. Moving, the fear and the adrenaline, were the only things keeping those thoughts out of my head. Survival now was all that was left.
Moonlight was casting shadows around the area. I scanned the road trying to see if there was anywhere safe that we could stop. “Let’s just find a place to rest,” I tell you.
You sigh, following it up with a sputtered cough. “You dumb shit,” you say. “Save yourself. This thing is killing me. I hurt all over. Let me die here, as close as I can be to my family.”
As you speak, the world goes quiet. That’s how it always gets. All that ambient noise of forests and woods — nature goes quiet when those abominations are around. As gently as I can, I set you down and prep my rifle. Then I level my sight on one of those things. Then two. Then more than that.
They are all walking straight at us. No lumbering or crawling, they just walk. Like normal fucking people. That’s the worst thing about them too: they behave just like us, only shells of us.
I fire a shot hitting one. It stumbles, but keeps moving. I have to hit them in the head or the legs, to kill them or stop their movement. I was never a good shot though.
“Go!” you yell. “I can’t walk good. You can get away without me.”
“I will get us out of here,” I say. “Trust me.”
You only laugh — and cough. “Fucking idiot,” you tell me.
I’m pissed. Pissed at you, pissed at them, pissed at the goddamn world that brought them on us, those fucking bastards screwing around with things they didn’t know how to control. Now we all are suffering for it.
I fire another shot and see, even in the darkness, the blood splatter across the snow as the body drops. It was a lucky shot, I am sure. I fire another into a puff of snow. Indeed.
By now I am shaking. I put the rifle back on my shoulder and try to pull you up. I am shocked when you swipe at me with a knife. When did you get that?
“Go, you damned fool!” you yell. Then you slit your own throat.
I stand — stunned. Dark fluid pours out of the front of you as you glare at me, holding that last bit of anger, that last bit of insistence that I leave. Damn, it was cold. Why did that even come into my mind?
As the last bit of your life fades out, you laugh — I think. You must’ve thought about the same thing you had moments ago. At least that is the hope. We can only hope to laugh as we die.
Story is copyright 2020 Jeremy C Kester. Please do not duplicate without written permission. Linking is permitted.