Authors: Perrin Briar
Tags: #zombie series, #zombie apocalpyse, #zombie adventure, #zombie apocalyptic, #zombie adventure books, #zombie action zombie, #zombie apocalypse survival
by Perrin Briar
The wind howled like it was in pain, beating relentlessly on the island. The canopy high overhead, blown into a frenzy, rustling and groaning, rocking and swaying like the trees were playing limbo. The rain fell in thick sheets impenetrable to the eye, a waterfall from the heavens.
The cattle sat huddled under their thin sloped tin roof for protection, each cowering and afraid, pressing themselves against the concrete base of the treehouse behind them. Even the great bull Valiant was scared, though he covered it with a veneer of posturing and shows of his masculine strength.
A small figure stood in the window of the treehouse, looking down on the animals. Lightning flashed, revealing Francis Robinson, whose eyes widened at what it had illuminated; an island in the throes of a nightmare. Francis ran from the window and headed back inside, to the relative warmth of the fuzzy yellow light cast by half a dozen flickering candles.
A lapel of wood on the window frame flapped like the arm of a shirt hung on a washing line. Like an invisible master burglar the wind snapped it loose. The splinter of wood was thrown into the darkness of the storm. It skidded across the ground, caught up in the wind and the rain. It leapt up and balanced on its corner, before being dragged along the sand, carving a trail like a teenager’s nails tearing through a varnished floor in a horror movie. Then the slice of wood flipped up and spun around in pirouette, and darted into the dense and dark jungle.
It smacked into a tree, pushed flat against the bark and knocked like it wanted to be let in. Then the wind abated and the slat slipped down the tree and lay on the ground in a dirty puddle. The rain lashed it mercilessly. The wind picked it up and threw it into the wild, where it faded from existence, becoming part of the jungle.
At the base of a tree, where the slat of wood had lain, was a small hole. Lightning flashed, and, just within sight of the momentary illumination was a small black twitching nose and long whiskers. An ugly pink scar ran down one side of the rat’s snout, her eyes small, shining with intelligence.
They must survive.
Thunder rumbled, shaking the earth, and the rat flinched back. But once the violent sound had abated, the large female returned to her vigil, eyes fixed on the opening. She lay prostrate, the end of her tail flicking up at the slightest scent of other animals, and bore her long sharp yellow incisors.
She could smell a small group of creatures huddled together under a leafy bush to the right of her tunnel. She caught the scent of their dirty fur, and the unmolested blades of grass around their mouths. They were rabbits, the rat was sure. There were small ones with them, their sweet aroma almost overpowering to the female rat’s nose. Their reek of fear too was strong – stronger than usual. A rabbit was always scared. As a favoured item on many creatures’ menu it was to be expected. But the rat did not move, knowing better than to hunt during a storm.
There was movement out the corner of the rat’s eye. She hissed at herself in vexation at her distraction. The darkness moved again, and the rat focused on it.
The rain slicked the creature’s fur, the moonlight highlighting the wetness of its shaggy coat, a large shadow in the night. Its eyes were yellow and slitted, large and glaring. It stared into the hole, hissing low in the back of its throat. The rat performed the same growl, but it didn’t quite have the same effect. The female rat coiled her back legs, preparing to spring at the big cat at a moment’s notice. It would be almost certain death to take on something so large, but almost certain was not the same as certain.
The jaguar’s eyes glinted. It turned and glared in the direction of the rabbits under the bush. The lightning flashed again, and the jaguar flinched, hugging the ground. It looked up at the sky, too afraid to hunt in the storm. It turned, disappearing into the foliage, chased by the thunder at its heels.
The wind turned and spat in the rat’s face. She squinted against the stinging water, but did not back away. The water trickled between her feet, and down into the darkness of the tunnel behind her. For a long time she just stood there, watching, waiting. The rain tapped against the upturned broad leaves. It was mesmerising, and she began to drift to sleep. Then a smell wafted under her nose and she started awake.
Sometimes when there was no wind the stench of death seeped through the earth and infected the rat’s tunnel, a clinging, cloying stink that would wake her, startled by the fearsome and scary images it conjured up in her dreams, of eyeless creatures with vicious claws wandering the island, chasing her. Slow as they were, she could never outrun them, no matter how fast she ran or where she ran to, they were always there. And when they caught her, she would wake in a cold sweat, the beads hanging off the end of her thick black fur like dew on a chill spring morning. The creatures in her dreams had a sense of survival the rat had never seen in any species, bar her own.
There was something underneath the smell, something the rat could not define, but sensed, something pervading and encompassing, a foulness that wrinkled the nose and soured the soul.
The smell hadn’t always been there. It had come with the two-legged creatures, like apes but hairless. They had brought bulging sacks wrapped in leaves. They dug holes, dropped the packages inside, and then did the most bizarre thing. They stood over it, grunted a few words, and then covered the holes up again.
The she-rat sometimes buried food in the jungle too, and remembered with remarkable accuracy where she had placed each morsel come lean times. But the hairless apes never came back to reclaim their buried treasure, only leaving more. But then, she couldn’t blame them for that. She could smell the fetid blood inside the little packages they carried, could track the drops that had oozed from it across the jungle floor. She could smell the evilness within, corrupt and foul.
The two-legged creatures did not have the same stench. They smelled succulent, of the primest meat. The rat had at times dreamt about what the meat must taste like, the juices running over her tongue, and imagined herself gorging on it until her stomach burst. She had even gone to their den in the darkness, for a single taste of their flesh, but she had decided against it. It never paid to anger powerful creatures, no matter how stupid they looked. But there were other reasons not to attack them, reasons that grew larger every day.
They must survive.
The rat turned and headed down. It wasn’t a very long tunnel, but it was safe. At least, she had thought it was. As she shuffled her way to the round chamber at the end of the tunnel, the soil under her feet grew damp and clung between her toes, the rain having trickled down and amassed.
A worm wriggled its way up from the soil, no doubt sensing the rain drumming on the ground above. The rat took it in her mouth and ate it, never stopping in her descent. The deeper she went the wetter the soil became until she was traipsing through mud.
She met four small backs, their fur coming in nice and thick, their teeth and senses sharp. They bumped against one another, squashed in the narrow tunnel, squeaking and scratching for position. The mother rat growled in the back of her throat, and her offspring moved aside, letting her through. The mother rat squeezed past them and peered at the puddle of water that filled the main chamber. Animal bones and the torn remains of vegetables floated on the surface. Her children had climbed out of it, standing around the edges.
The mother rat noticed one of their number was missing. She cast around at her adolescent children and then saw a figure in the water, floating face down. She had been the smallest of the pack, and it wasn’t much of a surprise to find she had been the one who had drowned. The mother turned and led her children back up the tunnel, the young rats jostling for position. There is little room for mourning in a rat’s heart.
She lay at the entrance once again, in the shadows. The wind howled over the mawing tunnel entrance, the black-grey clouds roiling overhead. She knew by instinct that her life was nothing in the face of her children’s wellbeing. She would always do what was best for them. She needed to care for them for just a little longer before they could take care of themselves. They were squeaking now, hungry or thirsty, or both.
Her children played in the mud, rolling in it and mock-fighting with one another. They bit on their mother’s tail, their teeth coming through strong and straight. She swished them aside with her thick tail and caught them over the head when they bit hard enough to draw blood.
There was an almighty flash of white as something struck the ground just outside their hole and lit up the world, blinding the rats. The thunder was hot on its heels, and reverberated through the air, a deafening boom like a hundred trees falling at once. The female rat jumped, her muscles tightening.
There was another horrendous flash, and black spots danced in the rat’s vision. The thunder beat like a giant drum, shaking the earth and making the dirt drizzle down on the their heads. Then the hair on the rat’s body stood up on end. She felt cold. She shivered, shaking her body so the fur returned flat to her skin. She looked over at her children, finding them afraid, but unharmed.
A deathly silence ensued, draping over the entire world.
Specks of dirt vibrated on the ground. The rat could feel it through the soft skin of her feet. Outside, the soil erupted up from the earth, tall columns with grasping hands, tree roots snapping under upward pressure. The rat couldn’t see through the darkness and clouds of dust, but there was movement, and a noise like great swirling whirlwinds. Shadows danced through the dust like a hologram. Something moved past the rat hole, kicking earth up into the rat’s face. She backed away, but the figure and the sound were already gone.
The world was silent, like the entire jungle was watching something with curiosity, something that was right outside the rat hole. The mother was curious too and couldn’t resist shuffling her whiskers and edging toward the opening, taking one step back for every two steps forward.
She poked her head out of the hole and peered around. A light breeze stroked the rat’s fur, the dust beginning to settle. She edged out of her hole and looked at the long unnatural rows of sticks that stood upright in the dirt, a shorter stick crossing them near the top. Though they couldn’t all be seen, the rat knew there were more beyond the cloud of dust. They looked like monoliths to her. Many of them had been knocked over and-
The rat froze, one paw an inch off the surface. Her whiskers shivered, her nose having picked up the strong fetid stench of rotten flesh, so much stronger and more pungent than it had ever been before. And she was out in the open, exposed. She turned to run back into the safety of the tunnel.
Something struck her and sent her flying through the air. She squeaked and grunted when she hit the hard bark of a tree and flopped to the ground. She got up and ran, moving slower than usual, and immediately knew something was wrong.
She took refuge under a bush, panting with the exertion. Beside her were the quivering family of rabbits. They didn’t move a muscle. This time their fear reflected her own. She peered out at the forest of fallen crosses between two sprigs of leaves. The clearing was empty, her rat hole open and inviting. Whatever had struck her was now gone.
She took a step forward. Searing pain rose up her back legs and blossomed in her brain. She looked at her legs and found they were bent and twisted. They responded when she commanded, but answered with shrieking pain when she put pressure on them.
A figure appeared in front of her, reeking to the nose, an all-encompassing stench that filled her every sense. The rabbits ran. The figure paid them no attention. It crouched over her. The rat shied back in fear. The figure reached tentatively for her with thick wriggling worm-like appendages. Her nightmares had come true. The creatures in her dreams were real. But they were bigger, larger and scarier than she had ever imagined. But then the creature did something it had never done in her dreams: it pulled back, and disappeared into the foliage.
The rat turned to look at her rat hole. She took a step forward on her front paws, for those didn’t hurt, and dragged her back legs behind her, producing a stabbing pain like ice cream on a sore tooth.
She dragged herself along the ground, making slow but steady progress one paw after another. She gritted her teeth and for the first time in her life paid no attention to the danger that might surround her. The only thing that mattered was getting to her children, who she could hear squeaking from the tunnel opening, scared and alone in the world. She wanted to call to them, to tell them to be quiet, but knew it would have been a wasted breath. She curled her tail up to act as an extra leg, pushing her along. If there was anything a rat was, it was a survivalist.
She was almost at the hole when she paused. What if the creature was watching her now, knowing she was injured, and waited to see where she would lead? But she brushed the thought aside. Her children would almost certainly die without her for a little while longer, and if the creature came on them now it would be a welcome quick death compared to the drawn-out one of starvation.
She pulled herself into the hole and was embraced by the cloaked darkness of its confines. Her children welcomed her with their wet noses and purring growls. They sniffed at her legs, sensing something was wrong, licking them to make them better.
The mother rat looked at her children for what she knew would be the last time. It was not in a rat’s nature to linger if survival was not possible. With broken legs the mother could not provide for her children, could not hunt for food nor escape danger. But there was perhaps one sacrifice she could still make.