Hug a Tree
By: Kate MacDonald-Dunbar

The woods are hauntingly beautiful at night. Perhaps it was foolhardy to be out alone in these dangerous times. Probably, but someone has to do something. Waiting and hoping that things would change altered nothing. My father had lost all hope when mum was turned, right at the start of this battle of living against non-living. We haven't learned a lot more about this huge threat to mankind since then; they're still deadly, un-dead, on auto-pilot, and liable to destroy every breathing remnant of mankind.

I'm not totally dumb however, although my present actions might seem to contradict that statement. I always told my sworn-to-secrecy best mate the area I was going to cover each time I sneaked out at night. Steve, of course, wanted to go with me. I had to point out how stupid that idea was. One person not where they should be, noticeable, two people not where they should be, doubly noticeable. Two people moving through the woods, doubly noisy, need I go on?

We knew how to kill them, one to one, but that was so dangerous for the few able-bodied people we have left in our enclave. We'd had to think of something else. One of the guys suggested flame throwers, definitely an improvement, but again there were drawbacks. To make it viable fuel-wise we had to corral as many Zombies as we could at one time. That was not easy. Zombies are even stupider than sheep. It was not advisable to try a lure, as that would have to be a human-type person. Also, a moot point, as we found volunteers hard to come by, as you can imagine.

I know the elders won't be happy when they learn where I've been. Nevertheless, my intel means they will know exactly where to do a sweep with the flame-throwers tomorrow. The sooner we rid ourselves of these disgusting creatures, the sooner we can leave the barricaded shopping mall and all return to our homes.

Which brings me back to this evening. Zombies move slowly, do a lot of moaning and groaning, and don't look up. So, I'm sitting in my favourite tree, high above their heads, watching to see where this group go next. They've come to a stop in a nearby clearing. I decided as it was almost sunrise, I could probably assume they wouldn't be moving again until sunset. As I've mentioned, we know very little about these people after they've been bitten. Only that their eyes are sensitive to light, they don't seem to remember their former lives or families and they have no language that we can discern apart from a couple of common sounds.

Sunrise was still a couple of hours away. The undead, however, seemed to have settled for the moment, so I thought I might head back earlier than usual. I was making my way down the tree, when the unthinkable happened. With an ear-splitting crack, the branch I had moved my weight to sheered away from the trunk. I plummeted through the air, landing badly on my backpack, and driving the air from my lungs. As one, every zombie's head turned towards me. I heard the skittering sound I'd heard a couple of times before. I could probably translate it now. "Food!"

Gasping for breath, I got to my feet. The horde were coming in a stumbling run, faster than I ever thought they could move. Then, everything slowed, just like in the movies. Like a blow to my chest, my heart stuttered. At the front of this sea of death, I saw the emaciated, much-loved face of my mother! For one fleeting, precious second, I swear there was a spark of recognition. I will always hold that as a dear memory, wishful thinking or not.

Simultaneously I felt an intense, searing heat pass close by me, and as I held my arms out to her, she was gone!

The scream of loss and heartbreak was caught in my throat as strong arms lifted me and I heard Steve shout, "Run." As we turned, from between the trees, the rest of the flamethrower team appeared. Steve had radioed them the second I fell. I could not stay to help. The agony of the loss of my mother was even more painful the second time, because it had happened right in front of me.

Back at base, while I waited for the Elders to decide just how much shit I was in, I could not stop hugging Steve. I was humbled and so grateful when I found out that he had followed me every night I broke curfew. He had even built a secret band of brothers ready to back us both if things went wrong.

The thought that I had put these wonderful, brave people in danger made me feel so selfish. I had placed my loss and pain above the safety of everyone else. Tonight, no matter what the Elders decided, I dedicated my future to working with what now felt closer than family.

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