It had taken the entirety of what was left of the armed forces, police, and every able-bodied person with a gun that could follow orders; but after five long years the dead were finally defeated. It had been bloody, horrifying, and costed many lives, and some would say it was all worth it. Oddly enough the revolution of the fall of the zombies began in the west, what used to be California. Small bands of people that had dared to own guns, despite the states laws, began to group together and started to clear out the state at the end of the first year of the apocalypse. It was a slow, arduous process, but it was continuing.
By the second year societal measures and pleasantries had all but died out, leaving the living with a survivalist mentality. Most people through the world had boiled down to the three types of survivors: The ones that created settlements, the ones that were loners, and the raiders. From what had been seen so far, with the effort of the restoration of the modern world, was that the raiders tended to outlive others. All of this was rhetoric at this point, none of the information was new to them, but they still had to remind themselves every now and again.
Dale had traveled so much of the country his head was unable to keep up. After he went to Florida to reunite with his family, and only meeting disappointment, he decided to continue his fight against the dead the best way he knew how: Violence. And he’d done a good job of it, racking up more kills than anyone in the “New Militia.” It had been tough to get everyone under the same roof and to fight for the same cause, but it was done. Old prejudices had tried to flare up anew, but they were quickly snuffed out. He stood in the frozen north, his new job was to find survivors. Luckily it was the middle of spring, nearly two years after he’d parted ways with that M kid, the last person he’d actually liked after all this began.
He wondered why he’d thought of the kid, but then remembered they’d come from that settlement a few hundred miles or so to the East, and they had talked about him with nothing but praise. Maybe they’d meet up again, maybe they would go back to protecting the world together. As he walked up the hill to this lone gas station in the middle of a high end neighborhood that was now awash in soldiers and gunfire, pillars of black smoke where the bodies were burning en masse.
Dale and a few other soldiers approached the small, boarded up establishment with caution, though nothing seemed out of place. Of course, that thought almost always precede some kind of tragedy. One of the soldier’s foot hit a tripwire, something above them in the canopy of the building made a ‘twang’ noise, and three arrows rained down upon the unknowing man. The first arrow missed his head by inches, the second buried itself in his bulletproof vest, the last one was the lucky one, it pierced his shin, going clean through. He screamed and clutched at the shaft, not sure what to do, screaming in pain. The rest of the crew paused, “We have an active trap situation!” The cry flew back in the ranks, the fifty or sixty soldiers behind Dale repeating it.
It took hours and three more injured soldiers to undo all the traps surrounding the tiny building. It put the entire party in a foul mood, Dale matched their dark outlook, and everyone was eager to get at the doors and take a look at who was inside. Crowbars pried off planks of wood, several windows at a time, and tear gas was thrown in. It was time to wait, again. After the billows of white had settled the team planned to enter, tossing in flash bangs before they kicked in the door. Cries of ‘Clear!’ Began to come from inside, then one of the senior crew stepped out, “Dale, you might want to come see this.” Confused, he checked to make sure his weapon was loaded and ready for use.
Inside the store it stunk, even past all the smoke and countermeasures that had been thrown in. Rotted meat, spoiled milk, molded bread, all their smells made the air thick with disgust. Dale walked in, grimaced at the overload to his senses, and followed the column of body armor and rifles to the back of the store. He was genuinely surprised when the room past the feces smeared door was pristinely clean. The manager’s office was almost perfectly cleaned out to make a shelter, a bed room, and even some kind of medical supplies were neatly stacked on a shelf. Now that the smell of the outside room was fading, it was being replaced by another smell: The dead.
In the tiny room there was no where to hide, even the rolled up sleeping bag was laid open, it’s bare interior open for inspection. But the door to the small bathroom was closed, a seal for whatever was behind it. Two men sidled the door and meticulously opened it, their weapons pointed at whatever, or whoever was inside once it had been flung aside. Dale watched their shoulders go lax and their weapons returned, and they parted to give Dale a look inside. It was probably the first time in a few years that he’d felt something, despair trickled down his body like cold rain drops. The corpse inside, still holding a blade was M’s.
Dale groaned softly as he approached the dead body, inspecting it. The young man’s muscles had withered, his thick chest now sunken, ribs protruding through the taught skin, his waist tiny, now. Dale kneeled before the shirtless cadaver that used to be his friend, looking up at his face through the waterfall of curled hair. The charming looks were gone, replaced by taught skin, sunken eyes, and all the color gone. In the hand opposite the knife there was a rolled up piece of paper, Dale took it with a quiet apology, “I’m sorry, buddy. I really am. Rest in peace, now.” Dale stood and addressed the men behind him without looking at them, “He gets a proper burial, you get me? He was a good guy. And whatever deity you believe in help you all if I find out anything otherwise happens.” A quiet respectful ‘Yes, sir.’ came from back.
Dale left the market, hearing the cause of death was starvation right before he hit the daylight again. Sentiment was the last thing he was good at, but he knew that kid deserved more, he belonged amongst the living. A curse blew the first plume of cigarette smoke out of Dale’s mouth. It had been the first time he’d smoked in more months than he cared to remember. The soldiers brought M out in a body bag, carefully, and set him aside for the burial. Dale could only shake his head as he unrolled the note that was in his friend’s hand. It was short, but it pained Dale worse than any other goodbye letter he’d read. He went over it twice and folded it up, then slipped it into his shirt pocket. Despite his loss he needed to get back to work. But those words haunted him, even after the world was fixed. It read:
“Dear Chelsea, I’m so sorry. I tried. But, it changed me, after all.”