Amber didn’t miss her arm when it fell off; she’d already been missing the hand attached to it since birth. What worried her was her legs because without them she couldn’t make the leap. She eyed the divide, the claw mark in the earth that split the end of the world from a thriving oasis. Amber had seen vehicles driving across the divide about a week back, when disaster had already crept up but had yet to take hold with a grip so hard everything crumpled. That’s how she knew the Havoc hadn’t touched down there yet – the Empty couldn’t drive. Birthed from the Havoc’s bite, once human, the Empty were only hosts for the Rot, eating away at themselves and others until there was nothing left. Amber was one of them, a fresh one, fresh as a walking corpse could be, and she hoped for a recovery before she broke down, lost her mind and all else keeping her together.
Rummaging through her bag once more, making a mental check that she had everything she needed, Amber took a breath.
She heard a buzz and swatted like her life depended on it, because it did. She couldn’t survive another bite. No one could.
“You’re not getting me again,” she swore aloud.
Despite the heat, she shrouded her bare skin with gauze she’d smuggled from a drugstore, knowing the slumped and rotten store owner wouldn’t miss it. The Havoc couldn’t bite through fabric . . . yet. An ever-evolving threat in a package the size of a mosquito, the Havoc were nothing to underestimate.
Shaking, she backed enough to give herself a running start. She gave each quivering leg a light slap and willed them to hang in there, not to give in to the Rot just yet.
“Here goes nothing,” Amber whispered to herself. Later shaking her head, “No, here goes everything.”
She ran. Wind prickling her deteriorating skin. She had one chance, one. With the rush of air going past her ears sound was dead to her, but she couldn’t miss the blur of black clouds in her periphery. With a glance, her feet almost faltered, her heart almost stopped. Thousands of the Havoc swarmed on either side of her, converging in front of her, attempting to block her path. Amber accelerated.
She was going to make it. She had to. Her mother had wanted Amber and her sister to before she disappeared, likely now lying broken and forgotten by the grocery store she’d been headed to; her sister had wanted her to, begged Amber to, just last night while Amber used her only hand to clutch hers. Her sister’s skin had grayed, one eye had popped from its socket, but her other eye carried hope until the spark escaped, leaving her Empty, her whole essence trapped and fleeing in a tear that trailed down her face. Amber had even failed in catching and wiping it away before it hit the ground and dried. She could only be thankful that her family members hadn’t gone on the Eating Spree, chewing on anything and everything that moved until their teeth were lost, their gums worn, save they had the means to keep crawling before the Rot sunk in. Not everyone went on the Spree. Perhaps it was from a different strain of the Havoc’s infection, or a symptom of what happened when the brain got the Rot first.
Her sister’s death was when everything ended, far as Amber was concerned. Everything here ended, Amber reminded herself, legs striving. But the other side. The other side!
Amber’s steps faltered as a ripping sound almost took the air out of her. One of her legs was giving, but with a scuttle-hop, she attempted the jump regardless. Sailing through air, the Havoc fell away and Amber hit the ground with a thud, rolling to watch the bugs retreat. She was right; this side was free. There must be some kind of force field or repellent pheromone keeping the Havoc at bay.
“Good riddance,” she said, falling onto her back, smile spreading on her face, though her lips quivered, hesitant to make such an expression or just out of practice.
She’d made it. Her hand clutched the dirt beside her, fingers digging in and feeling heat despite that her senses were numb. She’d made it, but it wasn’t over.
On legs that threatened to break away from her at any second, Amber stumbled into a street and collapsed. With effort, Amber turned her head, ignoring the sting of the pavement scraping her face and blinked through tearing eyes. Nothing was coming. No cars. She hadn’t seen or heard a soul. Buildings just as ransacked and abandoned as the ones she’d left behind grinned and winked at her with jagged window blinds, or screamed jagged-toothed with the help of broken glass.
When the Havoc fled, were they threatened, or scared?
A weak and humorless laugh bubbled out of Amber as she laid her head back down. Her vision was blackening, her skin starting to give off that dead smell that every food and waste seemed to carry. Weary, she couldn’t tell if she was hearing a horn blaring or if the sound was just noise in her head. Little was clear anymore as her vision clouded and darkness poured in from the fringes.
Perhaps it was a buzz, a larger, more threatening buzz.
Sierra is a University of Florida graduate, writer, and poet. Her fiction has appeared most recently in ARTPOST magazine, Wagonbridge Publishing’s Lost & Found anthology, and Patchwork Raven’s Zodiac Tales. She is a 2016 Silver Pen Write Well Award winner and a Charter Member Frequent Contributor of Songs of Eretz Poetry Review. She blogs at talestotellinpassing.blogspot.com.