Prize: A Young Couple’s Strife

“Natalia, wake up. We need to go.” Tommy had been awake for hours. He’d been on watch. He was always on watch. We’d been hiding out in this house for over a week. It was a nice house and shaded from the intense August heat.

“Ok, I’m awake.” I didn’t wake up easily, but now it was important to snap to and be alert. “I don’t know how you can sleep so late everyday.”

“I need my sleep or I’ll be grumpy. You don’t want that, do you?”

“No, of course not. It’s just that you go to sleep early and don’t get up until late.” Tommy only needed a few hours of sleep a day. He was amazing that way. I wasn’t a morning person.

“Why did you wake me? I was having a nice dream about cool weather.”

“They were prowling around all last night.” He meant the hunters, the monsters, the survivors of the illness who eat people, the wolves.

“Are they moving into this area?”

“I think so. That’s why we have to go.”

“Where are we going now?” I was getting tired of moving around. It was a lot of effort to drudge around the streets only to pick up and move again a few days later.

“We can try the neighborhood with nicer houses about half a mile away.” We’d already ransacked every house in this area anyway. Not many had any food, and what they did have was either spoiled or needed cooking. We couldn’t cook. The gas, water, and electric had been off for weeks.

“Do we have any water left? I need to use the bathroom.”

“I left some upstairs so you could get ready.” I missed having a working shower and running water. I missed water more than anything. Power was a luxury. Water was a necessity. I never even thought about that before the world came crumbling down.

“Can you make it quick? I don’t want to get caught out in the open by those creatures. You remember what happened last time.” Tommy almost got it when we were surprised by two of them last week. They jumped out of nowhere, and he emptied a clip into one before the monster stopped moving. The second one took off. It was close.

Tommy was being held in the county lockup when the world ended. I thought I’d never see him again once they took him away. I’d just dated him to piss off my father. Tommy was one of the lucky ones who didn’t get sick. They released him to work in the hospital, and he escaped to find me. I didn’t get sick either and was the only one who survived in my family. My mother, sisters, and father were dead. Well, he wasn’t my real father. If he was, I’d be dead too. I was lost in a house filled with rotting dead people-no food, water, electricity or hope-just waiting to die when he came to rescue me. We’d been on the run ever since, moving from house to house, neighborhood to neighborhood, trying to stay ahead of those red-eyed bastards.

It was mid-morning by the time I was ready to go. The mornings were the safest time to be outside. Night was the worst. The wolves would be out hunting by then. We left the house and were walking through the deserted neighborhood. Trash of all sorts littered the once clean streets. I tried to make conversation to improve Tommy’s sullen mood.

“Maybe we can find a car with some gas and get out of here.” I was the optimist.

“Cars are worthless. We can’t go more than a few blocks without running into a traffic jam. Let’s forget about cars once and for all.” He was dismissive.

“How about a big SUV with giant tires? We could run over anything.” I tried to be cheerful.

“Com’on! Get serious for once.” Tommy was getting irked again.

“How about a bike? We could get through traffic on one of those.” I loved motorcycles.

“The only bikes I’ve seen have been wrecked. We’re going to have to walk.” He said it with finality.

“Okay, okay. God, I hate walking.” It was so hot out, and the humidity was way up this time of year. Walking made it worse. Tommy’s pack was heavy with ammo, guns, and water. He said we could always find food and clothing. My pack was rubbing on my back uncomfortably. He laughed at me when I loaded my bag with toothpaste, shampoo, and clean panties.

The temperature was already in the 90’s by the time we got going. It was no longer safe here, and we had to move or be caught. Once the monsters knew you were around, it was just a matter of time before they caught you.

A few blocks further on, the houses started to get bigger and nicer. Garbage and debris littered the streets. Lawns that would have been impeccably manicured were overgrown and filled with weeds. It was amazing how fast nature took over once the maintenance stopped. We looked for houses with cars. That was usually a sign that dead people were inside. Dead people in the house meant they didn’t try and leave and had food and other supplies.

Tommy had a lot of experience breaking into houses before the world ended. He’d just kick the door down. We broke into several that were empty before hitting one that had what we needed. The entire family down to the dogs were dead inside. They were all in one bedroom, together. It looked like the dogs had been eating them before dying themselves. Probably from no water. Another horrible day. So what?

We wrapped the bodies in sheets and weighted them down with garden bricks, tossing them into their pool. They wouldn’t raise a stink there and give us away to the wolves. We closed off the room that stank, and the house started to smell ok within a few hours.

This house had recently been restored. It would have been nice before. A big pantry and several water heaters would supply us for another week or two. They had a really fancy car in the garage, too. The keys were in it, and it had plenty of gas. I begged Tommy to let me just sit in the thing and run the air conditioning, but he said that would make us stand out. Would fifteen minutes kill us? Really? It would have been worth the risk to be cool and comfortable for just a short time.

We enjoyed canned tuna and potato chips for dinner. This house was really stocked. They didn’t have time to eat anything before they fell to the illness. A pity for them. They weren’t alone. Most everyone was dead by now. We hadn’t seen any actual people for weeks. It was incredibly lucky that both Tommy and I were immune.

All we ever did now was argue and have sex. Nothing else to do. No TV, internet, or radio. It was all dead. Tommy was great in the sack, but I was getting tired of smelling him all over me. He sweat so much during sex. I worried about getting pregnant, too. I ran out of protection in the first week. I was two weeks late and probably pregnant already. How would we deal with a baby? The thought was horrible. Tommy was a great guy, but a father, in this mess? Forget it.

Tommy spotted wolves again after the third day. They were on to us for sure. They needed food just like everyone else, and we were their food. They didn’t forage in the houses like we did, and the only way they could eat was by catching living things, like us, roaming around. Most creatures would be able to outrun them, but another slow human? That’s why they were eating people, not because they preferred them. That’s Tommy’s idea anyway.

We were in the living room of this fine house, sitting on their fabulous sofa that must have cost more than our family car. Tommy wasn’t comfortable and was sitting on the edge of the cushion, his knees hitting the exquisite coffee table as he fidgeted.

“We have to leave this area.”

“Wouldn’t it be safer just to stay? The wolves are everywhere.” I asked in a quiet voice.

“We’re going to have to leave the city. I can’t fight them here. There are too many. Less people means less wolves.” He answered sounding pretty sure of himself.

“You mean walk out?” That sounded absolutely impossible. I couldn’t walk thirty miles.

“There is no other way. We have to walk.” He could walk to the moon if he had to.

“I don’t think I can do it.” I felt tired just thinking of walking all day.

“You can. I know you can. You have to.” Tommy said it with force. He thinks he can will me into submission.

“If the wolves find us, we’ll be in the open.” I wanted to say his plan was stupid but that wouldn’t help.

“We have to leave or die. What choice do we have?” He had made up his mind.

“I’m pregnant.” I didn’t know for sure, but I wanted to test his reaction.

“That’s perfect.” He was not happy.

“What do you think happens when we have sex all the time?” It was his fault.

“I know. I know. We’ll deal with that later. More reason to get the heck out of here.”

“Are you ready to be a father? Don’t just blow me off.” I stood up and got in his face.

“I’m ready to leave here; you’re not going to have a baby today, right?” He didn’t back down.

“How can you say such a thing?” I turned my back to him and pretended to cry.

“Look, we’ve never talked about it before. Can it just wait until we’re settled again?” He stood up and put his hands on my shoulders, in an attempt to console me.

“Ok. Not going away you know.” I wasn’t going to let him off easy.

“Honey, you know I love you dearly. I’m happy you’re going to have a baby.” I think he was lying. He didn’t want a baby.

I turned to face him. “You didn’t sound all that happy.”

He hugged me and said “It was a surprise. Please, I’m sorry to have snapped at you.”

“You do it all the time. Are you tired of me?” Testing him…

“Of course not. I really love you. You know that. Can we please go now?” Still on that silly track.

There was no point in arguing with Tommy. He had made his mind up and he was in charge. I had to follow him.

“How much do I have to carry?” I sat back down on the couch. It enveloped me in luxury. I would miss this house.  

“I’ll carry everything. You just have to keep up.” He started packing things up.

“You’ll carry my stuff?” I asked in my baby voice.

“Yes, everything. Just don’t go overboard. Take only what you really need.”

We packed up our stuff, and I was already tired. I never had enough food or water, and that made me tired and grumpy.

“When do you want to go?” I didn’t want to leave here but I had to go.

“Now. This minute. It’s clear.” He was standing by the door.

I got off the couch, gave it one last loving glance and walked away from comfort. The next place we stayed in was likely to be a dump. The houses turned into trailers towards where Tommy wanted to go. “Okay, if I have no choice, then I’m ready. I don’t like it, though.”

“There’s nothing to like. It’s go or die. Would you rather die?” He raised his voice.

“I don’t like it when you talk to me that way.” I sort of sobbed for effect.

“I’m sorry, I’m just scared.” Uh oh. Tommy was never scared.

There was no sign of wolves when we left. Tommy tried to give me a gun this time, and I refused it. I’d never shot a gun before and didn’t want to deal with them. That was Tommy’s job.

We didn’t make it a mile before seeing signs of wolves: a dead survivor of the illness with her throat ripped out. Survivors looked like wolves, but they were smaller and behaved more like deer. They scared easily and ran like crazy if they were yelled at. The wolves had trapped her between two houses by the fence. Tommy thought several had been involved because of the way she was torn apart. She had been fed on right here, and she had been killed today. Poor girl. She might have been pretty before. Now she was just a pile of dead meat.

“We’re getting close to the hospital. If we can make it to the other side, we should be able to find a house and get through the night. Tomorrow we can go north and get out of the populated areas.” We were wading through a traffic jam leading to the hospital. Dead cars and dead people. I felt like vomiting from the smell. It was too intense.

“That girl seemed like she had just been killed. I’m scared.”

“Me too. We have to be quiet.” We moved as silently as we could. “Look straight ahead, on the roof of the car. Do you see him?” Tommy had seen something.

“Oh God, it’s a wolf. They’ve found us.”

“We have to make a run for it. Follow me.” Tommy dropped his pack and turned us back the way we came, out of the traffic, away from the wolf. I was right behind him. I couldn’t run very far before I was done.

“We have to stop. I can’t go any further.” That was it.

“You have to. They’ll get us.” Tommy could run forever.

“Leave me. Go. Save yourself.” He would never leave me.

“I’ll help you. Let’s go.” He helped me along the best he could. I could feel his breathing, it was heavy and deep. He was just about worn out too.

“I hear something. What is that?” It sounded like angry animals. It was hard to tell where it was coming from, somewhere in the traffic jam, among the dead cars and dried husks of what used to be people. They were close, very close. We were trapped. They had set us up.

“They’re all around us.” Tommy stopped. I kept moving toward the open road slowly, backward, away from Tommy. I didn’t see any of them, but they were here for sure. Hidden. Tommy had his gun drawn and was spinning around in near panic when two monsters sprang from behind the cars, one on each side with Tommy between them. Tommy shot at one and managed to get him, but the other hit him from behind. Tommy shrieked as the monster dug those black claws deep into Tommy’s back. I watched in horror as the man who saved me, the father of my child, died, screaming in agony. The monster dropped Tommy and turned toward me. Two more were behind him. I didn’t see them come up. Three of them had their eyes on me now. I turned and ran for my life with all I had left. I managed to make it to the open street before they caught me and knocked me to the ground.

I lay there and watched as they circled me and started fighting among themselves. Two more joined them, and now there were five. A bigger one, the first monster from the car roof, came out from among the cars, and the rest stopped fighting and parted for him. He was going to kill me, I was sure of it. Instead, he grabbed me by the hair and started dragging me away. I saw them pick up Tommy’s dead body and the wolf he killed. Then they began to follow us. I was so scared, but I didn’t cry.

They led me to their camp, a long walk from where they killed Tommy, near the edge of the city. It was horrible. I saw piles of bones, human bones, and more of these killers. Hundreds of them. The smell of death and burned meat was heavy and indescribable. I could see fires in the distance. Tommy said they didn’t use fire. He was wrong.

The big one led me into a circle of stones where I was surrounded by a dozen or more bigger ones that had been fighting around me before. He snarled at them and left the ring. They roared at me, and I stood tall. I was done being scared. Go ahead and kill me.

They started fighting, trying to push each other out of the way to get to me. It was a battle of strength. They knocked me around quite a bit and ripped my clothes again and again. This went on until finally, the strongest of them ended it by throwing the last one out of the ring. He turned to me, grabbed my arm, and we made eye contact. I knew that look. It wasn’t hunger or murderous rage. It was lust. I realized at that moment, I wasn’t going to be killed and eaten.

The monsters were men, or were at one time. They still had their manly needs, and one of the most primal needs for most men was a woman. I didn’t know what the future held. It might be horrible. It might be ghastly, but I could see, it wasn’t going to be death.

I was his prize.

The story continues with Prize 2.