The scent of burning rot wafted in through the cracks around the wooden door. Eight year old Raiden huddled in the empty tank that used to house a python and watched as the metal door handle jiggled from the other side. Don’t cough, don’t cough, don’t cough. She lifted the collar of her purple t-shirt over the lower half of her face and scrunched her eyes shut.
She pictured her mom’s long, black hair that had shone in the sun just a day before when she led Rai’s class through the zoo to her reptile room. While walking backwards towards the building, her mom had spouted facts and smiled at the kids. For a little while, Rai had forgotten about the ship in the sky, and the war that raged all over the world. The first bombs had already hit by then, but Rai’s family had no idea. Not until those who had been outside when the fallout cloud washed over their town melted.
The door burst open, and she barely managed to suppress a shriek at the monsters that stumbled in. She hadn’t had to see them up close since her mother hid her. Bits of hair clung to the dripping strings of flesh that hung off of their faces and limbs. Their burned flesh reeked of rot, ten times stronger than when they were on the other side of the door. Tears stung her eyes, but she glanced to her left to where her mother’s body lay, now bloodied and still. Her final words had been a mixture of the desperate command to stay hidden and I love you. The stench hit her again and she gagged before stopping herself. All four of the melting monsters turned at the sound and covered the distance within moments. Their gory hands pounded against the tall glass and the tank shuddered.
Bam bam bam.
She hugged her knees to her chest as hard as she could, but the sobs were fighting to break free.
Bam bam bam.
Something wasn’t right. Something was off…
Rai’s eyes snapped open and zeroed in on the door at the other end of the dusty room. She hated how hard her heart raced from the memory dream. She knew it had been so long ago, but it felt so real again. She reached down and withdrew the long knife from the sheath along her calf. Another loud bang sounded down the hall. With a steadying breath she rolled to her feet and quickly gathered her blanket and water bottle before she stuffed them into her ratty backpack and pulled it on.
Her knife clattered to the ground and her eyes widened in horror at the sound. She scooped it up and lifted the window. Rot wafted in and she gagged before hurriedly closing the window again. Shit. Stupid faceless jerks. She turned and stalked through the mostly barren room to the bathroom door. Her fingers flexed around the hilt of her knife, and she slowly turned the handle. The bathroom was much darker without any windows, but the night before she had found a gallon of purified water stashed under the sink, along with an entire med kit. What was left of the water sloshed in the storage bottles in her bag now. She had memorized the layout over the last three days of camping out here, so slipping through the dark room was easy. She paused with an ear to the door that led to the hall and waited. Her breathing was too loud, too ragged from being startled, so she held it for thirty seconds and just listened.
I think they’re on the far side of the house now. Kitchen maybe? I should have blocked off this hall better. She wrapped her fingers around the handle and turned it as slow as possible. When there was no resistance, she gently pulled it open enough to peek her face through.
Rot hung heavily to the building now, and she tried to keep her breathing quiet. They can’t see you. Just stay quiet. The hall remained empty for a count of 120, so she slipped out and closed the door behind her. She’d grown attached to the little room, she didn’t want it to stink.
The front door of the house was barricaded by too much to be a safe exit, she’d have to go through the back. She slid the knife back into its sheath then only made it fourteen steps before she heard the fleshies. Rai didn’t wait, she just ran.
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