Authors: Joseph Talluto
Born in the Apocalypse
State of Ruin
Copyright 2016 by Joseph Talluto
“You gonna kill it or what?”
“You keep talking and you’ll bore it to death, I reckon.”
“You ‘reckon’? When did you start using that word? Oh, wait. You found another stash of western books, didn’t you?”
“I reckon so.”
“Very funny. Just do it already.”
I took out an arrow from my quiver and drew back on my bow. The limbs were set to over forty pounds, which was reaching the maximum for this bow. I’d grown into the draw weight over the last two years and would graduate to full power sometime soon. I sighted in on the infected person, who was still some fifty yards away, and let loose.
The arrow was little more than a black streak to anyone whose eye could follow it, and was impaling the skull of the Tripper who was trying his best to reach us and kill us. He dropped dead and I left the arrow where it was, rather than bothering to walk back and pick it out of his skull. I had more arrows, and I hated retracing my steps.
Kim and I were working the deep woods behind our houses, looking for larger game. The lighter woods, closer to home, were where we kept our trap lines. But the deep woods, the heavy stuff across Laraway Road, that was where we could find deer, coyotes, and a lot of wild turkeys. I was armed with my old bow, and Kim was toting her own recurve bow. On another trip to the little sporting goods store Trey and I had found, I did some serious searching and found the bow, along with a stash of ammunition tucked in a crate in the back.
Kim loved it and immediately began practicing in her backyard. I had to keep Judy out of the yard for a day while I shot the arrows back that had landed in
yard. Every one I sent back into her fence was followed by a “Sorry!” drifting over the middle ground. It took a while, but eventually she figured it out and became pretty good with her bow. She asked me to teach her, which I completely refused to do. I told her she needed to figure out how
shoots, not how to shoot like me.
“Nice shot,” Kim said.
“Thanks,” I replied. I looked at Kim and could see she was measuring the distance, figuring out if she could have made the shot or not. She was getting better, but she was still wobbly at longer distances. I waited for the inevitable question, which didn’t take long to follow.
“How do you make the long shots? I mean, I can hit anything within twenty yards, but longer than that and things just go all over the place,” Kim asked.
I stepped over a fallen tree and moved a branch out of my way before responding. The woods were full of young green leaves, yet they hadn’t achieved their full spread just yet. We could see a good deal ahead of us, but in a few weeks that would be cut in half.
“You just have to start shooting at longer targets and pay closer attention to where the arrow hits. Shoot at the same target the same way and you’ll learn how to make adjustments. Once you’re making adjustments without really thinking about it, move on to the further target. Figure out the killing range of your bow. Any time the arrow penetrates over six inches is a kill shot. You can probably expect to kill something every time at fifty yards with the power you have right there. Past that, it’s iffy. At a hundred or more, I’d say it would be more luck than anything else,” I said.
Kim was silent for a moment, long enough for me to look back at her. She faced me silently for a minute, then broke into a smile.
“What?” I asked, perplexed at her silence.
“Nothing. That’s just the longest I’ve ever heard you talk, Josh,” Kim said.
“Very funny,” I said, irritably. “You can find the deer then.”
“Don’t be a baby,” Kim said. “You’ll scare all the animals away with your…”
Kim stopped suddenly when I put a hand up to her mouth. Her eyes flashed with anger, then they got wider as she saw I was not playing around, I was deadly serious about needing silence.
I pulled my hand away and motioned to my ear, signaling that she needed to listen. There was a sound in the wind, a sound we both had heard so many times before. It was a low hum, deep with menace. It was an unnatural sound, something that wasn’t supposed to be found in nature, but thanks to a very nasty virus, it was the sound of death and misery.
The victims of the Tripp virus made the sound in their ruined throats, rushing air past damaged vocal chords. When they were attacking, the sound became a wheezing howl, as they rushed more air into their lungs. When they were at rest, the breathing was more measured and deep, resulting in the hum we were hearing now. The fact that we could hear it and not see where it was coming from told me there was a large group of them, and they were very near.
We were in a lot of danger. How we managed to get this deep into the woods walking and talking without rousing the Trippers was both a miracle and a curse. I wasn’t sure how we were going to get out of here without a fight, and if we ran, we’d just be leading them back to our homes.
“What do we do?” Kim mouthed at me. She was as scared as I was, although we both were trying to remain outwardly calm. If we panicked and the Trippers came after us, we were in for a long night of fighting.
I held a hand up and crouched down, walking forward as I did. I knew there was a depression in the land ahead of me, and I wanted to see what we were dealing with. I moved as silently as I could, which wasn’t easy given that the ground was covered in dead leaves, but I did pretty well. As I got closer to the depression, I could hear the sound getting louder. If I had to guess, there had to be fifty Trippers down there. Why they were just hanging out together was a mystery. If they all fell in there and had broken legs, so much the better.
I crawled forward and, using a small bush for cover, I peeked over the edge of the depression.
In truth, it was more like a large ditch with steep sides. At some point a long time ago, a creek ran through here, and this was its path. If you looked carefully, you could see a small depression that faded away to the north, where the old creek would have met with the current creek. Which one was older was a question for people smarter than me. The weird part was the ditch leveled out closer to the road, so anyone stuck in it would only have to walk north about a half mile and they would nearly be level with the rest of the forest floor.
I looked to the south and saw nothing but a leaf-covered area, hollowed out by floods and heavy rains a long time ago. Rocks were all over the bottom, and some of them were quite large, worn smooth by the caress of years of water. There were white streaks of old branches here and there, and in some spots, I could see where there were still pools of water from the rain we had a week ago.
Curious, I looked in the other direction and still saw nothing. Standing up slowly, I carefully looked over the edge and saw a pair of legs sticking out of the side of the ditch.
“That’s not right,” I said to myself as I stepped back from the edge and walked further along south. I waved to Kim that everything was all right and she stepped over me.
“What is it?” Kim whispered.
“Not sure,” I said. “I need to toss you in there and tell me what you see.”
” Kim squeaked.
“Kidding. I’m looking for a tree to hang on to, and I will hold on to your hand while you look over the edge,” I explained. “That way you can see the whole thing and we don’t need to go down if we don’t have to.”
Kim eyed me for a second before nodding. “All right. But if you drop me, I’ll fill you full of arrows,” she threatened.
“Given the way you shoot, I think I’m safe,” I said, ducking under her bow as she swung it at me. “Here we go,” I said, slapping a tree.
I stopped at a young tree that was about six inches in diameter. I hooked my arm around it and held out my other arm. Kim grabbed me around my waist, then leaned out with her left arm hooked in my right.
“See anything?” I asked.
“Looks like a Tripper all right. I think he broke his legs. His head is…oh my God!” Kim began to laugh.
“What?” I asked, starting to feel a little strain in my arm.
“His head in stuck in the side of the hill, and his wheezing is echoing. That’s why it sounded like there’s more of…Hey!” Kim’s cry was cut off as she hit the ground, her feet sinking a little in the soft soil.
“Ooof!” Her second cry was a little muted as the air rushed out of her lungs after I landed on top of her.
“Sorry!” I whispered as I scrambled off of her and quickly drew my knife. I rammed it into the back of the Tripper’s head and his noise ended immediately. I pulled a stunned Kim off the ground and dragged her to the side of the ravine. I put my finger on my lips and pointed upwards. I signaled that there were at least ten Trippers up there, and we needed to be very quiet. I didn’t know if they had seen us or heard us, but if they thought we had just disappeared, they might drift on.
We stood on either side of the dead Tripper and had our backs up against the wall. I could feel a small trickle of water starting to seep down my neck, and I knew my arrows were digging into the side of the ditch, collecting dirt on the fletching. Oh well, it was better than being beaten to death. One thing that Trippers were consistent with, they always tried to kill you. Lately, though, they were exhibiting some disturbing new behavior, and it wasn’t for the better.
As I leaned back against the wall, I felt a hand connect with mine. I looked over at Kim and I could see she was terrified. I was scared myself, but I tried to give her hand a reassuring squeeze. In my mind, though, I was trying to figure out a plan for getting out of here alive.
Kim was my neighbor and had been for the past two years. We’d hunted together, scouted together, and had become good friends. We lived next to each other in houses that were way too big for us, but I just couldn’t leave my home and Kim really didn’t want any roommates, especially a tall kid like me. I didn’t want any roommates either, so the worst we had done was connect our yards so the horses had more room to move.
Kim was riding Pumpkin these days, a gift from Trey’s father. Trey and his family decided to move out of the sticks and join a community, and in the space of a month of moving, my best friend of fourteen years was gone. They had moved to a place called Manhattan, which was supposed to be a good days’ ride from here, but somehow I always seemed to be too busy to get over that way.
I liked Kim, and I was pretty sure she liked me, but I never thought of her as anything other than my friend. She was much older than I was, being twenty-three, and that was a distance no horse could cover.
Her hand in mine stirred a feeling I hadn’t felt in a long time, and it was dusty when it surfaced. For the first time in a good while, I felt the need to protect someone.
The footsteps above my head brought me back to reality in a hurry, and I tried to flatten myself further against the wall. Kim saw me do that and she did the same, trying to be as quiet as she could.
Above us, there was a wheezing sound, joined by a few more. Leaves fell in front of me as Trippers got close to the edge. I looked over at Kim and she was standing there with her eyes closed, gripping her bow to her chest. A single tear slid down her cheek as she shook from the strain of not trying to scream and run. The hand that was gripping mine was squeezing for all it was worth. If the Trippers thought we were down here, or got a sign we were near, they would literally fall into the ditch to get us. They were predictably kind of stupid that way.
The wheezing and the shuffling continued for several minutes, then the noises started drifting towards the north. The horde seemed to be moving on, and we were going to do the same.
“Come on,” I whispered, pulling Kim away from the wall. We stepped carefully, trying to match our footsteps with those above us, taking ourselves deeper into the ditch, away from the crowd of Trippers. I had never been in this depression before, so I had no idea where it led, if anywhere. For all I knew, it was a dead end.
But we had to risk it. I had no idea how many Trippers were up there, and they would chase us all the way back to our houses. After that, it would be a siege, and I wasn’t sure we’d be able to keep it at bay.
We moved around a bend in the ditch, and my hopes were shot in an instant. In front of us was a jumbled pile of slick rocks, filling the ditch and creating an impassable stairway.
“Crap,” I said, mostly to myself. I looked back and saw the Trippers were still slowly headed north to the road, right where the ravine leveled out and became an entrance to where we were.
“What are we going to do?” Kim asked, glancing over my shoulder. She had to stand on her tiptoes to look over my shoulder. I had grown several inches in the last few years, arriving at a current height of six feet. The years had also put some muscle on my arms and shoulders, a result of my work around the houses and practice with the bow.
“Just keep cool. They will keep going unless one of them looks back, and if they start this way, they only have one way to attack. I have enough arrows for them if it comes to that,” I said, with more confidence than I felt.
“Speaking of which,” I said, more to myself than Kim. I moved to the left and pulled an arrow, drawing it back before I slowly angled myself out to the point where I could see the last Tripper in the line. I centered the sights on its back and sent an arrow through its heart. The Tripper stumbled forward a few steps, and then fell forward. It slid slowly down the ledge, then fell heavily to the floor of the ravine, landing with a loud, wet thump.
“Not what I was hoping for,” I said. I watched as three of the Trippers looked over the edge of the ditch, and then look back at Kim and I. Their mouths opened in wheezing cries and they tripped over themselves as they reversed course and headed our way.
not what I wanted,” I said. I turned back to Kim. “Get your bow working. Try to get the ones coming at us, I’ll get the ones on the outside.”
“Wait, you want
to kill these?” Kim squeaked at me, fumbling for her arrows.
“Please,” I said. “And the sooner the better.” I took aim at the ones still walking away and starting sending arrows streaking out of the ravine. I aimed at their backs, being the larger target, and managed to put down a few. I didn’t hit them perfectly all the time, at least three of them had arrows sticking out of their backs and they were still walking forward. A couple watched their comrades tumble down the ravine, and followed them in, giving Kim more targets to shoot at.
For her part, Kim was keeping it mostly together. I could hear her talking to herself under her breath, trying to get her nerves under control and making the best shots that she could. And she did manage to put down the closest two, which I was very thankful for. She was waiting for them to get closer, which increased her chances of a kill shot, which told me she was getting better as a tactician. Back in the bad days, she pretty much just ran from the Trippers. She didn’t have a dad like mine who spent as much time as he could preparing his child for the future.
Things were going well, until the second wave of Trippers showed up at the edge of the ditch and started tumbling over. As soon as they got their bearings, they were going to be a serious problem, one I didn’t have enough arrows for.
I looked at the rocks. “No way to go but up. Come on!” I started climbing the rocks, and when I had a secure enough footing, I reached down and helped Kim up onto the pile. We weren’t out of danger, as the Trippers could still reach us, so we had to climb higher.
I slipped and fell and grabbed and pulled and eventually managed to reach another level, and pulled Kim up after me. The first Trippers reached the bottom of the pile, and they looked up at us with rage-filed eyes. They tried to climb, but the slippery rocks were too much for their impaired balance. They fell time and again, bruising and bloodying themselves on the stones. I had to resist the urge to shoot arrows into their heads at point-blank range. Chances were, I would have slipped as I tried to aim.
I pushed Kim up and she managed to grab a small tree, pulling herself up and then reaching for me once she got herself braced. I took her hand and climbed up, getting out of the ditch altogether. I bent over and braced my hands on my knees, breathing heavily. Across the ravine, several Trippers were still coming towards us, and without any regard for gravity, they tumbled into the ditch, landing on their partners, causing a pile of arms and legs. Some of them hit their heads on the rocks with sickening cracks, killing them. They were eventually trampled into the mud at the bottom of the ditch.
“Well, that wasn’t what I had in mind, but it’ll do,” I said. I took Kim by the hand. “Come on,” I said, leading the way to the west. “We’ll head deeper into the woods and then head north.”
“What about the ones not in the ravine?” Kim asked. “Shouldn’t we deal with them? And what about the ones we didn’t kill? The ones that were headed north already?”
I stopped, holding a branch away from my face. I sighed. “You’re right. Better to kill them now than deal with them later.” I pulled my bow from off my back. “You ready for this?” I asked Kim.
Kim shrugged. “I have to be. You may not always be there to save me, which would be bad.”
Kim continued. “Or to land on me, which wouldn’t be
“Let’s get moving,” I said, mollified. “Let’s see how well you can move in the woods.”
Kim set her face in a grim look designed to show her determination, only all it did was make me laugh.
She smacked me on the arm as she passed me by, and I waited a few seconds before loading my bow and following her. I ran a hand over my quiver as we moved, and counted fifteen arrows left. After that, it was going to be interesting. We were about a mile from our houses and there was a chance we had another group of Trippers between us and safety.