A girl, a gun, and the wastelands.


* * *


Caramia's been walking about ten miles now, according to the markers on the side of I-90, and the wristwatch above her scrawny, itchy-triggered hand is still running backwards. The rifle strap over her shoulder is digging in, chafing, the stock is bumping restlessly against her back. Licking her lips, she can taste the chafing and the dust, and the acrid sweat. With each step, the bayonet from Kufr in her boot rubs against her leg.

It's midday, the sun is high, and she's wanted to piss for the past mile or so. The last time she stopped during day, though, she had to shoot one of the growlers while shitting off the edge of the exit. There's nothing more miserable than wiping your ass and handling a hot gun at the same time. If it weren't for the slowly depleting munitions in her backpack, she would have shot it twice.

Her head hurts, and it doesn't do much to think about the growler, though. Then again, she hasn't done much in the past ten miles since she woke up with a headache and a gun and started walking. Thinking of the rotting teeth and the screams of the creature makes her want to vomit again, makes her head hurt worse with the thought of more of them running around after dark when she can't see the margins of I-90 too well, even with the light from the rusting poles on either side.

She licks her lips again, ignoring the cracking pain. "Caramia." she says, croaking a bit. She'll need water. There's a river ahead, somewhere outside of the rusting skeletons of industrial parks.

There's a river.

She fastens this like concrete shoes in her mite-ridden mind and shoves Kufr's strap back up, readjusts the barrel. There is a river with water, and it will wet her parched lips and her dry, fear-tasting mouth.

Far ahead, on the horizon of the empty freeway, she sights a faint shimmering of heat over black asphalt.


* * *


Bit more than a few miles down the road by the markers. Caramia's lost track of how many there've been, and she's not tracking too well. Kufr's rubbing welts into her shoulder, there's an itch tracking down her spine, and her head hurts worse in the sun. Standing over the quickly-rotting corpse of the moaner, she lets the rifle cool, listens to the sounds of metal cooling. The shoulder hurts worse now, it's not just the strap, it's the recoil into her skinny, bony limbs.

Not much left to lick her lips with, but she can still taste the gunpowder and the acrid, bitter fear, and the scent of the monster at her feet decaying. Her boots make loud thumping noises as she crosses the metal plates set in this section of I-90, and Kufr seems to jerk with each clumping steps.

Caramia's thirsty. There's a river ahead.


* * *


She hates the screamers the most. They're small, the size and shape of children, but vicious, with teeth and screams that make her head hurt worse. They rush at her, howling, more often than not, and she has to be quick with Kufr. They've never laid a tooth on her yet, but she knows plenty of the corpses scenting the wind out of Gary and Chicagotown are from them.

One got close enough to wrap arms around her knees, just enough to bring her down if another'd hit, and she just kept shooting and shooting until it let go and she could get the other two. Fast screamers, even with those stubby little legs and the wide, gaping holes where their faces seem to have melted in. They're all smooth skin and tattered clothing, except for the teeth. Nothing but teeth, them.

No, nothing.

Sun's setting, and she hopes she gets to the river before it meets the line of the land.


* * *


Her radio starts picking up static first, and it hasn't for miles, but now it's skipping from station to station, not locking in long enough to give more than a strange motley of prerecorded ads and music and prayers from preachers long gone to rot and a serious lust for brains and strange girls on the highway. The watch, too, has started running forwards again, but it's not that reliable: the second hand is bouncing in irregular increments around the cracked face, jittering like there's more than a few gears loose and cogs out of place. It starts keeping time with the radio.

She wants some water, wants to be to safety soon: the lights have gone out on I-90, and the smoking corpses of crows hang upside down from the sagging electrical wires, buzzing in time with zombie signals on the airways.

Britney Spears gives way to Johnny Cash gives way to Revelations before she makes it to the river and the checkpoint there.

Blinding light comes on over I-90, spotting the bridge in incandescent glory for a moment. Her eyes, dried and beginning to crust, vaguely see the outlines of soldiers, sees a perimeter, sees the shining expanse of the city rising like a phoenix over the monster-eaten wasteland that's been born out of Mid-America. The faces of the guards look strange, twisting, and for a moment, all she can see are gaping, sharp-toothed maws and rotting limbs. Her radio crescendos, howling on down to a brilliant point, the raving of a preacher somewhere high in the cities, preaching down the end of the world and the judgment of God.

She lifts her arms as if to greet them, and before the rounds find her body, all that remains in her half-rotten, dehydrating mind, is that she's very, very thirsty.

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