The Ungrateful Dead

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          “Dammit,” Evie–known as “E” by anyone who fancied their hide in one piece–yanked her foot out of a swampy spot in the ground for the umpteenth time.
          It made a sucking noise that sent a shudder down her spine. That was the same noise Chett made when she put him down. Had to waste a bullet, too; she just couldn’t pry it out of his skull. Any other tweaker and she’d have done it, but not Chett. If he told her about the cut, it might not have happened. She heard of a man who poured 100 proof vodka on a cut that got infected by one of the stumblers and kept his leg and his life. If he told her instead of limping around saying he sprained his ankle, maybe they could have stopped the spread before his pupils shrank down and he started to shake and slobber. She shook her head. It was no good thinking about Chett. He was dead. And dead was better than being a stumbling tweaker.
          “Maybe better than running from ’em, too,” E muttered.
          She hitched her jeans up around her hips, checking the knotted string that served as a belt. Jeans that would have been tight three months ago now sagged on her already small frame. E shifted her pack, trying to ease sore shoulders. Sweat dripped off the end of her nose; the humid swamp air was so thick that the added moisture made little difference. Her thin cotton t-shirt was soaked from the continued missteps in the swamp. She wondered if any inch of skin left wasn’t covered with scratches or insect bites. She glanced at the compass hanging off her pack as she set off through the murky green light again, adjusting her course and trying stay on solid earth. The swamp was full of noises, the millions of insect inhabitants and the strange sounds of the water that permeated the ground. E tested the next spot of dirt gingerly with one foot before putting her weight on it. She couldn’t use a walking stick because she needed both hands in case a tweaker crept up on her.
          Tweaker, stumbler—they meant the same thing. The synthetic drugs they couldn’t wait to snort, shoot, or smoke decimated their brains and left them staggering in search of the next fix. Unfortunately, it seemed the biggest high they could get now was roaming around and looking for anything with a pulse.
          E remembered the news reports that had grown steadily more frantic until they ceased altogether. She’d been ready long before the major cities were overrun. But then, she’d been on the run for years, so adding a few extra supplies to her cache was easy. Especially since no one cared about looters. She scavenged as much ammo as she could find along with a stock of hunting knives. She knew how to shoot, but bullets wouldn’t last forever and the knives were better at close range. Growing up, her daddy taught her how to take down and skin a deer in minutes. Since the tweakers lost all ability to take care of themselves, they were slow and sick. The drugs that fried their brains didn’t do much good for their immune systems. E shuddered. She had friends back home who got their hands on the stuff when it first flooded the streets. One hit was enough to have them begging for more. One hit was enough to corrode their brains, turning them into the shambling tweakers that had no memory of friends or lives before.
          The ground leveled out and she broke into a trot, trying to breathe through her nose so she wouldn’t swallow a swarm of midges if she ran through one. Her favorite knife slapped against her thigh as she jogged across the open space, constantly searching for signs of tweakers or uninfected. Without Chett, E was completely on her own if they came on a pack of other uninfected–the real danger. Tweakers only wanted something to eat and had limited ways of getting it. The uninfected still had their brains, and with the downfall of government and the law, there was nothing around to remind them about little things like morals. At least Chett finally learned to stop trying to sneak into her sleeping bag. She punched him in the nose the first time and felt the cartilage snap under her knuckles. Her daddy taught her how to take a punch, and she eventually learned how to throw one. The second time her knife was between his legs before he could get close enough to touch her, a little pressure and he was whimpering. The third time, she threw the knife while he was halfway across the campsite still and the hole in his jeans on his inner thigh finally convinced him that she meant business. After that, they got along pretty well until Chett somehow got tweaker blood in a cut on his leg. Just a scratch from one of them and you’d probably be okay, but if any of their blood got in contact with yours, you were done.
          “Lucky for me, there are plenty of Chetts around,” E muttered to herself.
          A grunt to her left gave her the moment she needed to pull her pistol from the side pocket in her pack and take down the first stumbler. The shot hit right between his bleary eyes and he fell like a sack of rotting meat. The others lumbered forward faster when he went down. She momentarily hoped they would gorge themselves on him, but the lure of healthy meat was too much. She jogged backwards slightly as they came forward taking out the ones in the front so they would trip the ones in the back. They fell but more kept coming, they were too close for the gun. She pulled out her long hunting knife but kept the gun in her other hand.
          For the first time, she actually missed Chett.

For more of the story, see Stings and Vegas is the Meanest Town

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16 thoughts on “The Ungrateful Dead

  1. Pingback: Flight | Vers Les Etoiles

  2. Fun story, Wanderer. I like the metaphor of the tweakers and their appetite/addiction. Your description of the swamp was great, I was sticky and hot, and could hear the bugs buzzing in my ears. Well done.
    “She had much ammo as…” “…got a tweaker blood…” I think you meant something else here. I got your back–won’t let a friend go all day with their fly down without saying something. ; )
    I’m gonna check out some more of your work.
    ~Chris

    • Thanks so much for the edits, Chris—sharp eye! That’s what happens when you trim and don’t re-read enough.

      I’m glad you like the story—it’s an ongoing one so there’s plenty to read! It’s really different from what I usually write and it’s been a fun project so far.

      • You can NEVER get all your typo. An author cannot rely on him/herself to copy edit, because we “see” what we mean to read not what is actually there. I have found typos months after I thought I had eradicated them. Frustrating but taught that I just gotta throw the dough at a pro.
        ~C

      • So true! I know when I’m ready to get something published I’ll need to shell out some money to an editor. After reading several self published works and seeing all the typos that were missed…it’s definitely worth the dough!

      • It’s hard to imagine doing that to my work–going through all the agony of writing the piece and then just hurl it out there without making it as polished as can be. Boggles the mind!

      • I know what you mean—I’m always a little embarrassed when there are obvious typos that it takes a while to catch, but luckily in a blog you can fix it quickly and easily. I know I notice typos in other people’s works very easily, so I would definitely want my own to be as perfect as possible.

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