Us Against All of Them.

Submitted into Contest #204 in response to: Write a story about someone seeking revenge for a past wrong.... view prompt

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Fiction Science Fiction Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

When the dead started rising, I never would have thought that my biggest problem would be the living. The fact that it is, is just a little bit funny. 

Thick bars stand between me and him. His disgusting, olive eyes staring right back at me as my blood boils like there’s a demon lighting a fire in my gut. I am weaponless. Powerless. Furious.

“Why are you here, Miss. Sanchez?” he growls, stepping closer to the bars.

“You captured me,” I reply with a small shrug. “Don’t you remember?”

His lips twitch into an amused smirk but he stifles his chuckle. “I have a lot of faith in my soldiers,” he begins, “but you … you are a scrappy little shit. You’ve been a pain in my ass, so I know that there’s no way in hell that they apprehended you as quick and easy as they bragged they did.”

“Five grown men on one teenage girl,” I say. “I never stood a chance.”

“I find that hard to believe, somehow.”

I just raise an eyebrow and walked around my cell. “Clearly you don’t have as much faith in them as you think.”

“It’s not them I don’t trust, Karmen, it’s you.”

I nod and turn to look at him, still walking around. “That’s smart. You shouldn’t trust me. I’m very wily.” He wraps his arms around two bars and leans forward, poking his head through the gap.

“I’ll ask you again: why are you here?”

I stop my walking, facing the wall with my back to him. Something he will never do is frighten me. After the things I’ve seen, the things I’ve done and the things I’ve lost, this man right here … he is nothing. He would appear as a yapping chihuahua in comparison to the wolves I’ve battled. “You know what else you shouldn’t do?”

He shrugs. “Do enlighten me.”

I turn around, meeting his eyes. “Underestimate me.”

“I don’t believe I do.”

“Oh, you do,” I say firmly, slowly walking towards him. He stays unmoving. “Because if you truly knew what I am capable of, you wouldn’t stand so close to me.” With those words, my hands rush forward, fast as a whip, grabbing his hair from both sides of his head and slamming it against the bar. Two men run at us to assist, but not before I swipe at his belt, taking his dagger and  swinging at his neck. To my disappointment, his men pulled him back, out of my arm’s reach. If I were taller, I’d have longer arms, and I’d have gotten him. 

Still, I back away, too. I’m keeping this dagger. 

He straightens, holding his bloody nose as the scarlet liquid drips to the steel gray floor and stains the side of his hand. My face is twisted into a scowl as he finally comes back to my gaze, holding it with a stare of fury. 

Giving his nose one last wipe with his hand, he exhales lingeringly and chuckles humorlessly. “I think you’re forgetting something, dear Karmen. This is my town. And I know where your family is. I’ll give you some time to think over your answer while I clean up my nose and keep up appearances. When I’m back, I want a genuine answer. I want the truth. Or you can watch me feed your sister to a chomper.” He begins to walk away, calling back to me as he goes, “Enjoy my dagger.” 

When I was eight, the world fell. All of it. First it was the population; The virus took over within days, and people were dying all around me, my parents included. Then it was the buildings, the foundations proving useless against the wrath of Mother Nature. Days, weeks, passed. Power Plants exploded. Stores were emptied. Military tanks were abandoned. Months, years passed. Things were falling from space. The world was slowly, slowly starting to heal.

The couple who’d rescued us the day of the flood, Michael and Nia, became something like parents to us. Their son Nate, our brother. Then, as suddenly as the virus came, Michael and Nia were taken. Nate and I were ten, Olivia was six, and we were devastated. 

Because then, it was humanity that fell. People started turning on people, and suddenly the reanimated monsters weren’t the ones we needed to fear anymore. They became somewhat … easy. It was the living, breathing monsters that were the danger. Our friends were killed by desperate people who would’ve done anything for food, and when we were twelve, Nate was kidnapped. I never saw him again. People becoming cold-blooded was the start of the fire that burned within me. Me and my sister against the dead, and against the dreaded living.

And Alistair Bowen was the worst of them.

I first met him when I was sixteen and brought into the community he lived in. Westhaven, they called it. “A half-truth”, I called it; we were indeed in the west. 

I could tell Alistair was hiding something from the minute I saw him. It didn’t matter how kindly he smiled at me and Olivia. It didn’t matter how she sang his praises. It didn’t matter that everybody in Westhaven adored him. There was something behind his eyes that made my gut scream and shout, so one day, I followed him when he left in the middle of the night.

I followed him to his hidden, underground base that used to be mines. It was cold and damp, gray as the polluted skies in our empty world. Long, narrow halls where men once dug for a living now held cages for children. Kids, not one of them older than eighteen, stood to attention when Alistair walked in, ready for orders like soldiers without a choice. Rage burned inside me as I stayed hidden and watched the way they bent to his every whim. They marched up the halls to a large outdoor arena with huge metal doors and seats placed like stadium rows. Alistair yelled orders, and they moved in perfect synchrony, swinging spears, throwing daggers. Then I saw Nate among them. Taller and bigger than the last time I saw him. Moving like a soulless robot, like everyone else.

When I told Liv about it that night, we knew we had to save him.

“Maybe we can confront Alistair and ask him why he has that place. Maybe he has a good reason,” Olivia suggested. 

I remember sighing and smiling with a mix of sympathy and frustration. Olivia was so many amazing, beautiful things – the kindest parts of our parents, but that made her naive and altruistic. It was both what I loved most about her and feared most for her. 

But I’ve survived far worse than power-hungry men. So that night, I got myself captured. I’d laid out the plans with my sister: I would let them take me to the underground dungeon and wait it out a few days.

Nate was a mix of ecstasy and fear when he saw me. He cursed me profusely when I told him I came here on purpose.

It only took a few weeks for the revolution to start.

I’ve made allies in almost every child down here. Some of them have been here since the start of the apocalypse: seven years. They had the misfortune of being here at Westhaven when things fell apart and Alistair lost his mind.

“He lost his daughter when a group of survivors came to steal their supplies. She was only nine,” explains Nate. “They tore into the building where they were taking shelter and demanded everything, including the medicine that his daughter needed. He tried to reason with them, but they killed her. He believes that if she was able to defend herself and fight, she would have gotten away. Claims it was one of the biggest downfalls of society before the apocalypse that nobody taught their kids how to survive. That’s why he trains us so hard. He wants us to be able to hold our own out there.”

Olivia comes to visit us every four days. She, with her frustrating friendliness, has been befriending Alistair since I’ve been down here to see what she can find out from him. 

“He told me about his daughter,” she says as we talk quietly through the barbed-wire gate of the outdoor arena. For twenty minutes, I can disable the security alarms, so for twenty minutes, we talk like prisoners and a visitor, knowing we can’t reach out and hug her and that in twenty minutes, we’ll have to go back to our cold cells while she goes home. I’m kept alive by the knowledge that one day, these walls will be crumbled, and Alistair’s empire will be fallen, and we’ll all be together again.

“It’s sad,” I admit, “but it doesn’t mean this is justified.” I gestured to the arena around me. Liv nods, avoiding eye contact with me. “What?” I ask.

She takes a while before she answers. “You’re going to kill him?”

“Yes.” He wouldn’t be the first person I’ve killed. Not that I enjoy it, I’ve just become somewhat numb to it. I’ve become guiltless about killing people who deserve it, who bring it on themselves. I won’t bat an eye when I kill him.

“What if there is a choice?” Liv looks up at me for the first time this evening. “What if I can convince him to let you all go?”

Nate scoffs. “Liv, I would love it to be that easy.”

“What if it can be?”

She’s starting to empathize with him. I realize it as I see the desperation in her eyes. A desperation to save him. The way she looks when we’re surrounded by zombies and I tell her to run, but she stays and she fights with me. That look when she doesn’t want to give up on something she cares about.

“Don’t,” I say suddenly. She blinks in surprise. “Don’t look for him tonight. He’s on a supply trip, you won’t make it by yourself.”

“I have to try.”

“No you don’t!” I snap, then quickly correct my volume. “We never had to help these kids. We owe them nothing. We should have just taken Nate and left when we had the chance.”

“Mom wouldn’t have wanted us to abandon people in need–”

“What would you know about Mom?”

She takes a quick inhale of air and I immediately regret my words. She sighs. “I remember enough. I remember her kindness. I remember you telling me that we keep our loved ones alive by standing for what they stood for.”

I exhale and rub my face as Nate says, “You’re right, Liv. But Karmen’s right about Alistair. Promise me you won’t go after him tonight.”

“But you’re starting the fight tomorrow.” 

“I know.” I weave my fingers through the wire fence and she wraps hers around them. “But it has to be done.”

She shakes her head. “I love you guys, but you’re both wrong. There’s another way.” She starts to stand up so we follow suit, hearts racing. “I’m going to talk to him. He likes me, okay?” I start protesting but she won’t hear it. “If he knows how you all feel, if I help him with alternate solutions, we can end this peacefully.”

“Peace doesn’t exist in a world like this.”

“Then we have to create it.”

“The journey is dangerous, Liv! There are zombie herds that way. Please don’t go, Liv. please. I’m begging you.”

“I’m sorry, Karmen. I just can’t watch any more people die.”

“No!” I yell as she runs away, disappearing into the darkness. 

“Olivia!” Nate shouts.

One minute left. One minute to get back. One minute to climb this fence and go after her. 

I grab the shark wire and start climbing as quickly as I can go, ignoring the blood escaping my palms and focusing on the climb. Then the alarm blares throughout the Californian desert and I hear the calls of angry men getting closer. Three firm hands grab my shirt and I’m falling back to the floor. Olivia is nowhere to be seen.

Our punishment is three chompers each. Nate just finished his turn, and now it’s mine. I have to fight one at a time, each zombie increasing in difficulty, and I have to do it without weapons. Alistair stands in the spectator box with his arms folded, an evil twinkle in his eyes. It’s been twelve hours since Liv ran away, and I know she won’t come back until we’re supposed to meet in four days, but I can’t help but worry as I bash in the head of my first zombie opponent. 

All the kids are required to watch punishments. It’s supposed to deter them from breaking a rule. But the thing about trying to control children is that they start to resent you so much, the punishments look like a dream compared to staying with you.

They all cheered my name when I floored the second, bigger zombie and stomped on its head until its brains sloshed under my boot. 

I’m not saying Alistair can control the unpredictable weather of the apocalypse, but I am saying that today being one of the hottest days of the year can’t be a coincidence. I’m wiping sweat and smearing discolored blood as I wait for the last zombie. Alistair stands and speaks into the microphone. 

“Everybody give it up for Ms. Sanchez!” 

The crowd goes wild for me. They chant encouragement.

“She’s doing amazing, isn’t she?” Alistair continues. “Two pretty huge chompers with just her bare hands. Incredible. You know what else is incredible about Karmen? She can sneak around, quiet as a mouse, sly as a fox. She has been sneaking around as of late, with many of you, hasn’t she?”

Slowly, the audience loses its vigor. Everybody’s eyes switch from me to Alistair repeatedly, but mine are stuck on him, a fire starting inside me, my hands balling into fists by my side. He knows. It doesn’t matter, I’ll still kill him for taking Nate.

“She has planned an entire revolution against me. All by herself. Isn’t that impressive? And she’s managed to get so many of you on board, too. Turned my own soldiers against me, can you believe it? Now, I should be mad that you’re planning to kill me, but actually … I’m proud. It’s unbelievable. However, I am … sad. It saddens me that you can’t see why I do what I do. My daughter was only nine-years-old when four men came and slit her throat. They grabbed her arms, dragged her from me, and held her helpless. She wasn’t strong. She couldn’t fight. So, they sliced her open right in front of me and I had no choice but to watch my little girl die in my arms while they robbed me. Children don’t know how to protect themselves instinctively, so they must be taught.

“That is why it saddens me that you have all gone against me. But, I am a reasonable man. I can forgive all of you – and I will – if Karmen kills this last zombie. You know the drill: the third one is the hardest to kill. But I believe in her.” 

He stands back and nods at his men. I watch the old locks click open on the big metal doors, and slowly, they start to open. Alistair looks down at his feet for a moment. Like he’s trying to hide his disappointment. Part of me wonders if I will bat an eye when I kill him. 

I shake my arms and crack my neck as the third zombie starts to stagger out from the darkness. The figure is smaller than I imagined. Short and skinny, actually. For a moment, I think they’ve released the wrong one. 

Then I understand. It’s exactly the one he intends. Because this isn’t my revenge story. 

It’s Alistair’s.

I hear Nate cry out in anguish, “No!”

Liv comes into the light. Her skin is rotten and her hair is falling out. Her eyes are gray and cloudy – gone is the light that used to shine in them. She snarls animalistically. She doesn’t recognize me. I’m just food to her. 

She gets too close to me with her venomous teeth. I see the bite mark on her ribs. I push her back, tears streaming down my cheeks. Shove her like I did when she wouldn’t stop pestering me when we were seven and three. What I wouldn’t do to hear her laugh like that again. She comes back, jaw snapping. She grabs my shoulders and I push her again. I sob her name. My heart shatters into countless pieces and Nate fights against adult soldiers to get to us. 

I back away from her, unable to look away from her even though the very sight of her kills me. I will not destroy her like the others, but she used to make me promise to put her down if she ever turned; the last thing she ever wanted was to hurt somebody. Moving like a dwindling flower losing its petals with every step, I take Alistair’s dagger from my belt. I grab Liv and look at her face as I slowly push the blade through the back of her skull. She goes limp. And so do I. We crash in a heap like a ship going down. I hold her body in my arms as I wail into her bloody clothes.

Nate breaks free and runs to us. He collapses beside us and holds her with me.

People are always their own demise – they always have been. People mistreated the planet, then she destroyed us all. We created our own demise. But I never truly predicted that Liv’s kind heart would be the death of her. Alistair Bowen just secured his demise. The next revenge story will be mine, and I will not bat an eye. 

June 24, 2023 20:55

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13 comments

10:11 Jul 08, 2023

Hi Molly, I got this story in critique circle so I've come to take a look and offer some feedback - I aim to be constructive - I hope this is helpful. I am a big horror fan so I love a good, dark tale, and this is one. You mark it as sci fi but I would have marked it as horror. The story has great action and tension and interesting characters. I like the way Olivia's personality is a combination of her parents' thats a nice touch. I like the way the bad guy brings her back as the hardest zombie to kill at the end - not hard to kill bec...

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Molly Kwest
14:33 Jul 09, 2023

Can I ask what you mean when you say you got this story in critique circle?

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15:56 Jul 09, 2023

Hi Molly, Reedsy will have emailed you about this - there are details in the FAQs at https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/faq/ under critique circle. You can opt out in your settings if you like.

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Molly Kwest
11:34 Jul 15, 2023

Hi Katharine, I realized that my reply in which I thanked you for this feedback has disappeared, and I just wanted you to know that I very much appreciate this. Thank you

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Lily Finch
23:00 Jul 03, 2023

Molly, I thought your tension was bang on. Enjoyed your descriptions. Too bad life happens like that - sad. Stellar twist. Nice foxtrot pace too! Well done. LF6

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Molly Kwest
06:23 Jul 04, 2023

Thank you, Lily i had really enjoyed your story too. Good luck :)

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Lily Finch
18:44 Jul 04, 2023

Thanks, but I am not sure it's going into any contest. I just want to get feedback. LF6

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Helen A Smith
10:54 Jul 03, 2023

Fast-paced tale that kept me wanting more. Very sad, but realistic ending. Alistair’s character is well- developed and it’s easy to see how his mind has become twisted.

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Molly Kwest
14:35 Jul 03, 2023

thank you, Helen. This short story is part of a larger novel I hope to write. If all goes well, you may be able to read more one day :)

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06:18 Jul 02, 2023

Great action packed story. Enjoyed the tension and very visceral prose of this.

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Molly Kwest
18:22 Jul 02, 2023

Thank you, Scott :)

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Ty Warmbrodt
17:29 Jul 01, 2023

Very well crafted. Loved the twist.

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Molly Kwest
18:21 Jul 02, 2023

Thank you so much!

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