Post-apocalyptic films Lyn watched as a kid made the world look like one huge desert, but reality was so much colder.
The building (if it could still be called such, seeing as it was little more than rubble) looked to have once been a mall.
Lyn stood at the foot of the long-broken escalator, pick in one hand and knife in the other. The black steps were white and pale grey from snow and ash. Vines rebelling against the new order by daring to grow looked as though they blocked the escalator off – as though to tell Lyn to turn back and find shelter elsewhere.
There was no elsewhere.
Not with night only a half-hour (at most) away.
Breathing air through the thick, black cloth that covered the lower half of her pale, moon-shaped face, Lyn slashed at the vines and started climbing. The steps were not as slippery as feared, but she still needed to move slowly. An injury could prove serious, especially with it being cold enough that Lyn may not notice the damage right away.
Lyn swallowed. Her throat was dry.
She’d met with a nomad a week back. He’d talked about there supposedly being a settlement somewhere between ten and forty kilometers southwest of what was once Toronto.
The nomad was gone now, his hunting knife now helping Lyn protect herself. She’d been heading towards this supposed settlement since then, having to find shelter during nights to avoid Crawlers.
Shelter meant possibly running into one avoiding sunlight, rather than sleeping underground, but it was better than out in the open. They were more likely to hunt in packs in the open.
The steps were steady as Lyn climbed. She moved slowly, being silent as possible. She didn’t want others that may be nearby finding where she was. She hadn’t seen anyone around, but she had to be careful. There was no one watching her back anymore.
The Crawlers had gotten Axel a little over a month ago, and Lyn’s heart still felt like lead at the bottom of her stomach.
Not now, she thought, keeping her grey eyes ahead. Keep going. No mourning. Just surviving.
The plastic of Lyn’s goggles cast everything in a slight orange light.
Soon, she reached the second floor, built to overlook the first. The glass was shattered, much of it littering the dirty tile. The rest was buried somewhere below. The metal railing was bent and dented in most places, twisted or broken in others.
There was metal grating in the entrances of half the shops, though most were either rusted or sawed-through.
Malls and stores like Wal-Mart or Costco had been the favorite looting places. Nowadays, they offered only shelter. In some once-major cities, survivors held an unwritten code, where they would leave any supplies they could spare in old safes, lock boxes, lockers, et cetera.
Then the Crawlers happened, and it was every man for himself.
A clothing store to the right of the escalator had half the grating rusted and torn away. Lyn ducked and walked sideways through, knife out. Her goggles transitioned at the change of light availability, allowing her to see.
Racks were overturned, hangers by them or the wall. Shelves had been torn from the wall, and everything was covered in a layer of dirt and ash.
Lyn saw no footprints. She was alone.
Exhaling in relief, she went into the corner left of the entrance, by a decapitated mannequin. The glass wall behind her was cracked, a hole in the top corner, and it was opaque from grime.
If anyone came in, she should be able to see them before they saw her.
She took off her backpack set it in the corner. She set her ice pick aside, sheathed her knife on her hip, and curled up on the ground, using her backpack as a pillow.
Sleep was instant and light. No dreams. Never dreams. Dreams were for the few still uninfected by the virus.
The sound of glass breaking and crunching roused Lyn from slumber.
Before her thoughts could catch up, she was on her feet, ice pick in one hand and knife in the other.
The area was much darker than before, Lyn’s goggles adjusting.
Tongue clicks from outside, followed by more steps.
Crawlers were near-blind, relying on their hearing to get around. They used echo location, but there was every possibility that it had already heard her move.
Crawlers used to left the Infected alone, but with unaffected human numbers having dwindled over the past half-century, Crawlers went after anyone and anything.
Blood of the Infected greatly weakened a Crawler, but they were too hungry now to care.
The Crawler was hunched, twiggy arms bent up and hands ready to grasp. Its fingers were long and knobby, reminding Lyn of the Evil Queen’s hag disguise in Disney’s Snow White.
Its claws were dark from blood, same as its long, jagged teeth. Crawlers had two rows of sharp teeth too long for their mouths to close, and their jaws had to dislocate for them to chomp down and feed on prey.
Their bite Turned uninfected humans and killed the Infected. Saliva tinted with bright yellow venom dripped from its grey-blue gums over its fangs.
It let out a long, low hiss, tongue snaking out to taste the air. There as a long, thick scar that went over one of its eyes, making it milky white in color. The other was pale green, pupil spiderwebed with threads of the large iris’s color.
It still had hair, telling Lyn it had Turned recently, maybe a few months ago – the hair was thin and much longer on one side than the other.
Lyn felt a growl rise from the base of her throat, and her thin lips curled back behind the covering of her ski mask. She had only one row of sharp teeth, but they were not nearly as long as the Crawler’s. Her eyes glowed from behind the goggles.
The Crawler dashed forward, and Lyn rolled away and stuck out her left hand to slash at the Crawler’s Achilles heel. She severed the tendon and sent the Crawler tumbling. She then rushed forward, the Crawler shoving itself onto its back as it hissed and spat.
Before it could rise, Lyn buried her pick between its eyes. She then sheathed her knife and unsheathed her machete. It was strapped to her back, hidden by her coat. She decapitated the Crawler with ease, killing it.
Sighing, Lyn went back to her corner and cleaned off her weapons before falling back to sleep. It would be hours before the sun rose, and Lyn needed rest before setting out to find the settlement.
Crawlers weren’t the only ones who had been left hungry.