The smell hit them as soon as they walked through the door; a sinister, decaying atrocity that assaulted their senses. This all too familiar scent could mean only one thing; there were infected nearby. Regardless, food and medical supplies were running dangerously low, leaving Derek and Lisa no choice but to venture inside. With any luck, the infected would already be dead; after all, there weren’t many survivors left to sustain their violent hunger for human flesh.
“You know the drill. We get in; we get out.” Derek’s husky voice was barely a whisper as he signalled for Lisa to follow him into the building’s kitchen.
Lisa hated going indoors, the enclosed spaces and narrow corridors like vices closing in around her. She much preferred to be out in the open; fresh air in her lungs and at least a chance to flee should a group of the infected turn up. Derek did not feel the same way. Despite making a good vantage point for the infected, he knew that being out in the open also left you vulnerable to other survivors, most of whom would kill you in a heartbeat and loot your body for weapons and food without so much as a blink of the eye. He kept them constantly on the move, sticking to woodland as much as possible and raiding secluded buildings when they had the chance.
So far the derelict cabin showed no signs of life. A small stream of light seeped in through the mud smeared window, illuminating the counters just enough to show the long since discarded plates with the rotten remains of whatever meal the former residents had been enjoying when the virus hit. Drawers and cupboards sat open, cutlery, plastic cups and other miscellaneous items strewn across the floor; clearly they weren’t the first ones to plunder here. They just had to hope something useful had been overlooked in the usual rush of a supply run.
Lisa’s eyes scanned the room quickly, her instincts on high alert for anything worth taking with them. So far they had found nothing. Derek was already in the doorway to the next room. It always amazed her how silently he could weave through a building, moving like a shadow in spite of his large, muscular frame. With a fleeting glance back towards her, he crossed the threshold and was engulfed by darkness.
For a moment, Lisa gazed back at the door left ajar in the wake of their entry as her pulse continued to hammer against her temples. Knowing she could not leave Derek alone, she swallowed down the lump of fear that sat in her throat and returned her attention to the small kitchen. A packet of tissues lay in one of the drawers. Like clockwork, she grabbed hold of them, knelt to swing the backpack from her shoulders and tucked the bounty in the front pocket.
In seconds she too was making her way into the next room. The air was stagnant, still gripped by the hot reek of death. The windows had been boarded up, allowing pure and uninterrupted darkness to rule the space. Using the wall to feel her way to the next door, she turned the handle and held her breath as she pushed it open. It was a bathroom with enough light sneaking past the cracks in the wooden planks across the window to bring her surroundings back into focus. The tiles were stained with mould, the toilet pulled from the wall, but Lisa’s attention was stolen solely by the mirrored cabinet opposite her, the sight of her own face a rarity these days. Pale skin flecked with cuts both old and new and stained with fresh mud, all framed by a head of wild hair scraped back into a ponytail. She found she could not look for long.
Opening the cabinet she hoped to find some basic medical supplies but instead was greeted by nothing. With a sigh, she slammed it shut. As the mirror swung back to face her, she saw a figure looming in the open doorway over her shoulder.
Eyes wide, a gasp escaping her lips, Lisa spun round to see a young girl, barely seven years old, her crystal clear eyes full of fear revealing at once that she was, at the very least, not infected.
“Who are you?” breathed Lisa, her heart beating so violently it threatened to force its way past her ribcage.
Without a word, the girl turned to run. Lisa reached across the small room and grabbed her arm, turning her back to face her. She crouched to look into the girl’s face as her frail body trembled.
“It’s okay. I’m not gonna hurt you.” Lisa squeezed the girl’s shoulders lightly to try and comfort the youngster but as her grasp loosened, she once again made her escape, running from the room, shadows swallowing her whole.
“Wait!” she yelled after her. “We can help.”
By the time Lisa had plunged herself back into the darkness, the girl’s piercing screams tore through the cabin. Re-emerging in the kitchen, she found her trapped in Derek’s arms, kicking violently to try and break free.
“Quiet.” The anger in Derek’s voice was clear, even without rising to anything more than a gravelly murmur.
At once the girl was silenced, her pupils swelling to overwhelm her eyes.
“It’s okay,” said Lisa, moving to join them in the middle of the room. “Don’t be scared. We just want to help. Derek, let her go.”
Obliging, Derek’s arms opened and the girl fell to the floor. Lisa knelt down and placed her hand gently on her face. “My name’s Lisa. We didn’t mean to scare you. We were just looking for something to eat.”
The girl refused to speak but her muscles visibly relaxed somewhat.
“Lisa…” Derek had moved towards the door.
“Just wait,” said Lisa. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”
The girl searched Lisa’s face before answering. “Rebecca.”
“Well, hi Rebecca. Have you been staying here?”
Rebecca simply nodded.
This time she shook her head, dark hair brushing her shoulders.
“Lisa, now.” Derek’s voice was louder this time, his hands already gripping the door.
“Who else is here with you, Rebecca?” Lisa asked, not daring to tear her glance from the girl.
“Where is he, sweetheart?”
Rebecca glanced at Derek before moving her eyes back to Lisa. “Upstairs. He’s sick.”
Before she could answer Lisa felt Derek’s hand grip her arm and pull her away from the girl. Scrambling to her feet, Rebecca made for the other room, once again concealing herself in the blackness beyond.
“Lisa, get it together. We can’t.” Derek dragged her from the building, the blinding sun blurring their vision not enough to slow him as they made their way across the muddy courtyard.
Lisa tensed her body and pulled herself free from Derek’s grasp.
“What the hell is wrong with you? She’s just a kid.” The words, slathered with disdain, leapt from her mouth.
“What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you? You heard her, her dad is sick and we both know what that means.”
“We can’t just leave her.”
“Yes we can, because that’s what we always do.” Veins were bulging across Derek’s brow as beads of sweat rolled down his skin.
“Sure, we trusted Johnny and Marcus but they got sloppy and look what happened to them. I won’t let that happen to us.”
“But she wasn’t infected.”
“If she had even one drop of her dad’s blood on her…”
“Maybe she’s immune.”
“Maybe she is immune. Maybe you’re immune. Maybe I’m immune too, but that’s a hell of a lot of maybes Lisa and that’s not something I’m willing to risk my life for.”
Lisa placed her hands on Derek’s arms, the tension flowing through his body immediately relenting.
“It’s different this time. She’s a kid, Derek. We can’t leave her and you know it.” Lisa’s eyes burrowed into him.
“I trust you.” Lisa cut him off before he could argue any further. “I have done for these last six months and I don’t doubt that’s why I’m still alive. Now I’m asking you to trust me.” She reached up and brushed her lips across his.
“She’s coming with us.” said Lisa before smiling up at her partner.
A brief, strained smile flashed across Derek’s face as he nodded in submission but his eyes still burned with fear. As Lisa turned her back and began to head towards the cabin, Derek reached into his pocket and silently pulled out his knife; the only companion he had ever truly trusted throughout this nightmare.
This piece was written in response to the latest prompt over at Featured Fiction. Thanks for reading.