It was a bitterly cold evening on the verge of night. Murky darkness fell over the desolate city. Light from the few buildings that still had electricity, was reflecting on snowflakes as they danced to the ground.
In the cold and gloom a young girl shuffled down the street, her bare feet slapping against the frigid pavement. Silence in the street filled her with a dichotomy of comfort and dread. She was alone.
Boxes of strike-anywhere matches mingled with small sticks of dynamite and flares deep in the pockets of her Daddy’s hoodie. The garment hung down to her mid calves with the weight of her cargo. She ran her thumb over the coarse strip on a match box. A single tear forged a path down her grimy cheek. Memories of her family gathered around a blazing camp fire, seared the edges of her young heart.
If it had been a week ago her pockets would have been empty. She would be heading back to share her days profits. Her Mom would be waiting by the door, ready with an Army issued blanket. Dad, stoking a fire with care, beaming in pride and a touch of sadness. This New year’s Eve no one approached her to purchase her commodities. So she padded along, with her head down and her listening ears on. A lone miserable soul with an empty heart and frost nipped cheeks
She wanted to go home. There was no home anymore. The shed that her and her family had holed up in did not come close to passing for a house, much less a home. Now she could not go back there. Ever. Not with what had happened that night. Grandma…she could not think of her grandmother, not yet.
A shudder wracked her body, she drew a too big hood over her head. Her finger snagged in her hair. What had once been a full head of honey colored curls was now a tangled mess dotted with splotches of drying blood. She walked as her body trembled, kept moving though her hips and knees threatened to freeze. Her determination to get somewhere, anywhere safe drove her forward. She fell. A gust of wind scattered a sheen of snow across her tiny form. To a passer by she would have appeared dead, frozen. What would find her now would know better.
She thought about just laying there, she could have drifted away from the misery. Then grlaargh. The tell tale moan. It reminded her of a cow’s bellow, mixed with the gurgling lamentation of death. She was not going to lay there and risk becoming one of them. Her family had fought too hard to survive just to have her lay down to that fate. The passion of a young soul pushed aside the onset of hypothermia. She ran.
Her shadow blended into the narrow alley. With legs curled underneath her body, she leaned against an iron gate. She worked quickly as the feeling left her naked feet. The snow was just deep enough that the flares could stand. She grasped an M-80 to add to the semi circle of incendiaries but refrained, set it in her lap. With the barricade set she waited.
The moaning grew louder accompanied by dragging feet. Her ears told her there was only one, and it was injured. Thump-drag, thump-drag-groan. The zombie caught her scent. He paused, turned toward her, then picked up his pace. Rrratch. The girl held the lit match to the first flare. A blaze of red erupted. The undead flinched, but did not slow. Ptthhh. She lit another, this one blue, then a white. At that he slowed, cocked his head at an unhealthy angle.
For a moment she saw him in his current form. His hair was matted flat with blood. The flesh around his mouth had decayed thoroughly. She could see immaculate molars peaking through. Her vision distorted and he changed. His spine straightened, gore smoothed to skin. He wore the smock of a dentist. The girl moved slowly now. Out of instinct she threw true. The blade struck the zombie in the neck. He crumpled to the ground, sludge oozed from the gash in his throat.
She let out a pathetic puff of breath in relief. Her reprieve did not last long. A second beast stumbled into the alley. Another male. Her body convulsed as the form became clear. No Daddy. Through a steady spout of phosphorescent glow she saw her father, not her last gruesome memory of him, as she wanted to remember him. Arms held wide, ready to hold and protect her. She sobbed openly, tears freezing to her face as she did. She loosed her second and last knife with her eyes closed.
There was no time to mourn her father’s second death. Another figure crawled toward her. This one hissed her name. A fresh turn, one that knew her. Not enough dexterity was left in her hands to light a match. She crumpled to the ground and strained to hold the explosive to open flame.
As she stared into the sky a shimmering orb fell down from heaven. She smiled as her Grandmother’s beautiful face appeared through the flame. The child had been taught that a shooting star signaled a soul ascending. The wick sizzled lower, she held it to her chest. As her grandmother took her into her arms and lifted her from the earth, detonation lifted them both into the sky.
If anyone living passed the scene they would think, that poor little girl. So innocent. So helpless. They would not have imagined how hard she fought. No one would ever believe she was the only untainted soul to make to the last New Year.