I had a dream a few weeks ago. One where I had built a treehouse during a Zombie Apocalypse. Except, in my dream…Daryl and Michon were in it. So, I had to omit them because yeah. But, this dream stuck with me and I was trying to figure out a story for it. So, here is the beginning of it. I’m not going to be working on it until Adina is done but I had to get this out because it was driving me insane. This is mind vomit, mind you. An unedited purging. So…here ya go.
It has been over a year since the outbreak spiraled out of control. WHO, CCD…they tried but were overcome before they even had the chance to succeed. All fingers pointed to a bad batch of Whooping Cough inoculations. A disease which had been silenced until parents started opting out of vaccinating their children. When the new strain of Whooping Cough started making the rounds, the old vaccine did nothing for it and a new one had to be produced. Sadly, that new one made things worse.
Up until a year ago, everything was normal. Well, as normal as life with a crazy mom could possibly be.
It was me…Jesse and my brother, James. Yes, Jesse James. I told you, my mom was nuts. And, very into Western Outlaws.
When other kids were off at Summer Camp, we were sent off to visit “extended family” who were survivalists living in the desert. There we had to learn how to ride, hunt and basically…survive. Every school break, James and I were shipped off to hone our skills until every instinct was sharp and alert. Until, no matter what sort of stress we were subjected to didn’t distract from our aim of the bullseye.
James was 19 and I was 17 when the outbreak started. Our mom handed us a map and sent us away. She promised to come get us when things settled down. We fought her, we didn’t want to leave her alone in the big house, her fate so uncertain. She was adamant that we leave, that whatever happened to her would be okay as long as she knew we would be okay. And, she knew we had both been trained to the point of being lethal weapons, exceeding anyone’s expectations in archery and swordsmanship. It was as if these skills were in our genetic makeup.
No one would ever mess with Jesse and James McFarland.
Unless they were Zombies and had no cognitive brain-function.
Which, is basically what the result of the outbreak was.
We called them Rots. Because that’s what they were. Rots…decomposing, walking corpses hungry for warm flesh. And the stench? Worse than rotting flesh.
Anyway. Our mother gave us this map of the government protected forest that our estate backed up against. On the map, an ‘X’, clearly marked in red Sharpie. It was a days walk from our backyard.
She had some gear packed up for us in packs and let us know that, when we got to our destination, we would have enough supplies to last us a year. And then, we’d have to take care of ourselves if this mess didn’t get cleaned up. Then, she took turns holding us tightly, turned and walked away.
James helped me with my pack before squeezing into his own. Inspecting the map, he nodded to me, letting me know we should hit it.
Crying, I followed him through our yard toward a path we had grown up playing on. A path we had only been allowed to follow until we came to a red ribbon tied onto a massive tree, our marker telling us to turn around and go home.
As we came to that worn red ribbon, I brushed my fingers along it, the familiarity bringing back memories of explorations in these woods. We had always wondered what lay beyond the ribbon. As we got older, we stopped playing in the forest until it became nothing but a distant memory, a curiosity never met. Until now.
The first step past the ribbon, I was filled with old anxiety. Fear of our mother finding out we had done something she had strictly forbidden. Shaking off this feeling, I followed James, keeping as close to him as I could, my hand searching for the reassurance of my sword. I knew if it was near, I was safe. James had his, along with his crossbow. Rots wouldn’t stand a chance if they ran into us. Luckily, they hadn’t made it into the woods yet, they had taken over larger cities and towns. But, not so slowly, they were stinking up smaller areas, wreaking havoc and destruction. And death. In their smelly wake.
In silence, we twisted and turned through the labyrinth of the unfamiliar parts of the forest. The sun was getting lower casting creepy shadows across the darkening forest. I kept following James, he was the leader and I was his trusty companion. Just like it used to be, only not the same. This wasn’t childhood games, this was what we had trained for our entire lives, leading us to believe the woman who raised us wasn’t as crazy as everyone thought.
I stopped and took a drink from my canteen causing James to stop and roll his eyes at me, “C’mon Jess. I’d like to find this place before it gets dark!”
“I’m thirsty, you jerk.” I was annoyed, scared and tired. On the map, our destination looked much closer than it obviously was. For all we knew, we passed it anyway. Because, we had no clue what we were looking for.
“Hurry up. Obviously, we’ll have a year for you to rest up and quench your thirst.” He sounded as annoyed, scared and tired as I was.
Capping my bottle, I started to walk, “Okay, let’s get a move on.”
He nodded at me and led the way, stopping to glance down at the map, every so often. He muttered a lot to himself as we walked, looking at the tree trunks for some sort of sign.
I just followed him. The little sister being blindly led by her big brother, whom she trusted wouldn’t lead her astray.
Jerking to a stop, I almost collided into him, “Jess, look.” He whispered, his voice filled with awe.
I had been walking with my head down, kicking branches and dead leaves as I marched. I looked at my brother who was looking up into a gargantuan tree. Following the direction of his gaze, I tilted my head up.
What I saw made my jaw drop.
High above us, sheltered by the tree tops, built into four trees…
Was the largest treehouse we had ever seen.
As we climbed the ladder to our new home, I prayed silently that our mother was right and there would be no way in Hell that Rots would be able to climb.
I also prayed that we’d be safe here from other, desperate humans.
At the rate humanity was sinking, I didn’t know which was going to be more dangerous.
Man. Or Rots.