Long after I had outrun the horde, I was still on edge. Every gust of wind or crack of the earth beneath my boots made me jump. I was in the middle of nowhere, with only a handful of trees and shrubs in sight. It was just me, the road and the red dirt of the country. The sun bared down on me, the temperature heating up by the second, and it would only grow hotter as it neared midday. I felt my skin burning under the rays and sweat rolling down my back. I hoped to find some sign of civilization soon, I didn’t know how much longer I could walk. My body was already under duress after almost drowning and fighting the infection, and I could feel my legs shaking with each step I took. And with no end in sight, my hope was wearing thin.
Try as I might, it was hard to stay positive when my physical, mental and emotional strength was waining. Doubts swirled around my mind like a carousel, and I wondered if I was fooling myself to think I could make it to Sydney in the state I was in. I’d come so far, but I didn’t feel any closer to freedom. In fact, with nothing but barren wasteland around me, I felt further from it than ever before. Knowing I had to find a car, drive into the epicenter of the outbreak, and stay alive while waiting for rescue … It seemed a mammoth task that I wasn’t sure I could undertake. I let out a sad sigh, feeling like it was me against the world.
The tip of my boot caught in a small crevice in the dirt, tripping me up. I fell forward onto the ground, the force of the impact reverberating through my sore bones. I groaned in pain, my knees and palms scuffed and scratched. I knew I had to keep going, but I couldn’t muster the willpower to push myself back up. Resting my head on my arms, I began to cry. And once I started, I couldn’t stop. A river of tears flowed as the emotions I’d been bottling inside for so long finally burst through. I watched my tears fall onto the dry earth, and all I wanted to do was stay there until death found me.
I’d never felt so weak, so hopeless before – not even when my parents died. As distraught as I had been then, I had Jo. She was my rock, and as I lay there contemplating a lonely death, hers was the face I longed to see the most. During the toughest times of my life, Jo had always been by my side, cheering me on. But this time, I was alone – more alone than I’d ever been. For the first time in my life, I wanted to give up. And it frightened me; I’d never given up on anything, and suddenly there I was, ready to give up on everything. I was just so tired of it. Of everything. I was tired of being scared, of running, of fighting. It had beaten me. I lay there for what felt like an eternity, trying to decide my fate.
The sound of dirt being kicked around interrupted my sorrowful thoughts, and I looked up to see a zombie slowly coming towards me. My instincts told me to get up, to get to my feet, to fight or take flight. But I didn’t move. Instead I just lay there, watching as it came closer. It was a woman, her facial features too far gone to tell how old she might have been. Her hair was dark, she wore ripped jeans and a faded t-shirt, and she moved like she’d been walking for weeks, her body as broken and weary as mine felt.
I wondered if I was really that different from her. There we were, both stranded in the middle of nowhere, just trying to survive. I sat up on my knees, watching her as she began to close in on me, and asked myself if the only thing that separated me from her was a heartbeat. She moved closer, and soon she was reaching out for me. She clutched onto my shoulders, pushing me back as she growled, her jaw hanging open and ready to bite. I stared at her curiously, looking into her grey, clouded eyes, asking myself if this is how I wanted it to end.
But something about her eyes sparked in me a will to fight. It wasn’t the sickly dull color of her iris or the evil glare they gave, it was rather their lack of vibrancy, the absence of humanity. The vacancy in her eyes made me see that I was nothing like her. She was mindless. Heartless. Soulless.
Unlike her, I was still alive. And as long as I was alive, as long as I had a heartbeat, I had a chance. I thought of all the reasons I had to live, to survive. Too many people had risked their lives for me, and even more were depending on me. Priya had put all her trust and her most important legacy in my hands, and it had the power to change the world. And Jo, Wyatt and Ben were still out there; if I chose to keep going, I had faith that I would see them again. The rescue ship was coming, and if I just kept going, that ship would take me away from that place, my nightmare, forever. I couldn’t throw all that away in one moment of weakness.
Finding my strength, I wrapped a hand around the zombie’s rotting neck, holding her back while I reached for my hammer. I held it up and stared her in the eyes with a fierceness I didn’t know I had.
“You won’t beat me,” I said, poising the hammer. I gritted my teeth as I plunged it into the side of her head, watching her die at my hands. I threw her body backwards and stood over it. “You won’t beat me.”
And with that, I knew I wouldn’t give up – no matter how hard things got.
I would not be beaten.
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