NightCrawlers: Victims of a Parasite that turned into Nocturnal Cannibalistic Hunters whose only instincts are to kill and eat.
“Is it even worth it as this point? The constant fight to live, for what? Just so we can contine to struggle the next day?” Tybalt mumbled as he wrapped a bandage around Rowan’s bloodied forearm, his face flashing a somber look under the glow of the fire. Rowan huffed and turned away to gaze at Oliva, the young girl that had just joined the small pack. Their large black mutt—Lucifer— curled up next to Oliva, protecting her just as Rowan had asked.
“Who knows?” Rowan confessed, taking back her bandaged arm before moving to lay upon the log and gaze at the setting sun. The sky swirled with a cascade of soft embers, a rare moment of tranquility for the struggling group of survivors. “Maybe we are just delaying our own demise, but these people look up to us. We can’t afford to talk like that or else we will cause them to lose hope.”
“Why should we give them false hope?” Tybalt argued, voice low but stern as he slid in next to Rowan.
“We don’t know it’s false! Nobody knows anything about whats going to happen next.” Rowan fought back, scowled at the man she begrudgingly shared the role of leader with. “There is no use to agonzie about it, it won’t help us survive. Maybe we will find the perfect shelter tomorrow, or maybe we get attacked by NightCrawlers and die.”
“Are we going to die?” Oliva asked quietly, rubbing her eyes while holding onto the ragged stuffed bear that Lucifer had given her, along with a small satchel laid along her hip. Her voice held a sad tune that matched the dread that held strong to her tears. “Am I going to join my mommy and daddy?”
“Oh, Hunny,” Rowan widened her arms for Oliva to run into, hissing from the contact with her arm, but the pain was worth the warmth from the embrace. For a slight moment, Rowan had her dear Aiden back with her, a comforting embrace after a nightmare that sent him running to her.
“You can tell me, my mommy told me that I was becomming a woman. I can handle the scary stuff.” Rowan shot Tybalt a look that made him shrink down to his shoulders while Rowan ran her fingers through Oliva’s hair, the young girl pressing her face against her chest, Lucifer now curled up next to her thigh. With closed eyes, Rowan was back home when everything was perfect, even when she didn’t know it.
“Your mother was right, you are growing up into a strong woman,” Rowan hummed. “We won’t keep secrets from you. Tybalt is just scared of being out here, no body knows whats going on. I promise that we are going to do everything we can to keep you and everyone else safe.”
“It’s okay, Tybalt.” Oliva mumbled through the fabric of Rowan’s shift. “I have lots of extra courage that I can give you too. My daddy gave me lots of his so I could fight the nasty Crawlers.” She pulled a small dagger out of her satchel and showed it to Tybalt. “See! I can protect you, I know how to fight.”
“Thank you Oliva,” Tybalt begrudgingly spoke up after being jabbed in the side by Rowan’s elbow. “I feel a lot safer now knowing that you have my back.”
“Do you have my back as well? I saw you hunting with the spear, you still need some practice but I bet Rowan could teach you how to fight better.” Rowan couldn’t hold back a snort as Tybalt tried not to cuss out an eight-year-old, his face glowing a cherry red.
“You got that right, Oliva. How about the both of us help train him tomorrow.” Oliva pulled her face back and beamed at Rowan, her tears drying but her sadness far from being gone. “That means that you need to get some rest, little lady.” Oliva nodded and took place between Tybalt and Rowan.
“She better not think were a family now,” Tybalt muttered after Oliva passed out, the sight of her chest slowly rising and falling, bringing Rowan comfort. “No way am I playing house with you and that girl, I’d rather be eaten by a NightCrawler than anyone think that you’re my wife.”
“She has a name, and you don’t have to worry about them thinking that we are married. I’m clearly out of your league.” Tybalt shot Rowan a heated glare before turning his back to them and ending his side of the conversation. Rowan wrapped an arm around Oliva and welcomed Lucifer’s cuddles as she slipped into unconsciousness, The sun finally coming to full view, casting them all into a light of protection. A time where they could rest, just until the next threat.
“All clear! Let’s move out,” Rowan ordered, pointing on a path leading west. The sun was still at high noon, giving them enough time to pass through the woods and make camp before sunset. Rumour had spread through the radio network that one of their members contacted that there was an established camp at the mouth of the Anglenen river. Oliva had overheard the conversation and was now gleaming with joy for every conversation, asking different members if they have ever gone fishing in the ocean before.
“Oliva, stay in line.” Tybalt snapped, using the hilt of his spear to point her back. Oliva cowered and cringed harder at her stuffed bear. Lucifer growled at Tybalt’s weapon, placing himself between Oliva and the wooden end of the spear.
“It’s alright Oliva.” Rowan spoke softly, pushing away Tybalt’s weapon. “Tybalt just needs us to be extra careful while we travel down this part of the path, there could be lots of NightCrawlers, so we need to keep a sharp lookout. Can you do that for me?”
“I’m the best look out there is!” Oliva chirped, tucking the bear into her satchel and pulling out her dagger in its place. “Nothing will get past me, then we can go fishing together at the new base!”
“I love the enthusiasm, but lets keep the voice down. If there is any crawlers in these woods, we don’t want to wake them.” Rowan patted her back, Tybalt rolling his eyes as the pair continued to lead the group down the twisting dirt path. Oliva continued to whisper throughout the walk but honored the wish of staying quiet. It wasn’t common for the Crawlers to hide between the trees due to the varied coverage from the sun, but there was no playing by ear for survivors.
Halfway through the trek, the sun still holding strong, Tybalt held his hand up and halted the group. A dozen survivors stopped in their tracts, all listening to the wind through the leaves. Rowan was about to ask Tybalt why he stopped them, but then she heard it.
Beyond the bushes, small cracks of twigs, coming closer and closer, just until it stopped. Rowan took a grip of her baseball bat that she had adorned with long, slender nails. Subconsciously placing herself between Oliva and the bush, Rowan felt her heart race in her chest. With the fate of struggling survivors, the bushes rattled one last time.
“Ambush!” A herd of Crawlers pushed through the leaves, bones crackling as their wrinkled purple limbs propelled them forwards at a frightening speed. There were too many, more Crawlers than survivors holding weapons. Rowan could feel Oliva’s clinging fingers held tight on her hip.
Tybalt charged at the Crawler closest to him, spear held firm as he pierced through the neck, thick black blood oozing from the wound. The pack ran into battle, axes, pipes, and crowbars swinging wild. Rowan took her part, breaking free from Oliva’s grip to attack the one closest to the pair. Purple skin ripping from the sheer force of the nails of her bat. Soon after, Oliva broke free from her shock and lunged forward with her dagger held ahead, stabbing the Crawler Rowan had brought down, holding the dagger in the skin till the Crawler moved no more.
One by one, the Crawlers became nothing more than a pile of mutilated limbs and rotting purple flesh. Panting carried throughout the group, coming together to regroup. Rowan started to congratulate the group when she spotted it in the corner of her eye.
“No!” Rowan lunged forward to reach Oliva, but the teeth had already clamped down. By the time Rowan’s bat had knocked the Crawler down and killed it for good, there was already blood seeping from the bite in Oliva’s neck. The gasps from those around were nothing in comparison to Rowan’s scream of agony.
“It hurts, Rowan.” Oliva whispered as she dropped to the ground. Rowan dispiritedly clamped her hand around the gushing wound.
“It’s okay, your going to be okay!” Rowan pleaded, trying to stop the bleeding, but to no avail. Another survivor started to move forward with medical supplies, but Tybalt stopped them. He had seen this before, and there was only one outcome to a wound this bad. Children were never able to survive the transformation to a NightCrawler.
“Don’t cry Rowan, I know what’s going to happen,” Oliva mumbled faintly, her skin turning pale, causing the bright red blood to shine brighter. “I’m going to see my mommy and daddy again.” Her breaths became slower as Rowan continued to cling. “Thank you for protecting me.”
“I’m sorry my sweet girl,” Rowan could barely stand to watch Oliva’s eyes close and her last breath. Oliva was gone. Aiden was gone.
She had failed them both.
She was a terrible mother.
The members came around with tears in their eyes and gathered bits of the earth to cover Oliva’s body. Lucifer whined as they placed the stuffed bear on the grave. Rowan kneeled at the foot of the makeshift grave, bloodied hands holding the dagger Oliva had used so bravely. Tybalt kneeled down next to her, giving a single rub along her back.
“We have to keep moving if we are going to find a safe place to stay the night.” Tybalt spoke softly, offering Rowan a hand up. She placed the dagger alongside the stuffed bear before taking his hand. The two returned to the front of the group, continuing down the dirt path.
The sun won’t shine much longer.