The Walk By: Danelle Tylinski

He once again awoke to the sounds of the dead. They shuffled and groaned outside the barred-up windows of the broken down shack that was his shelter for the past two days. Everywhere he went the noises followed him like a never-ending lullaby, singing him to sleep with nightmares and waking him with death. The smell of putrid, rotting flesh was stronger this morning than it had been yesterday, a sure sign that the dead were congregating and that it was time to move on.

His pattern was two days: two days to walk, two days to rest; two days in the wild, two days with a roof, four days in constant peril. It always took them two days to find you; the third you were dead. His two days of walking would take him away from one danger and straight into another, as the dead were unavoidable, the only remaining constant in the world.

The shack he was currently vacating was about as run down as a roof and four walls could be. Its many broken windows were secured with random bits of furniture and shelving that someone else had seen fit to affix there, and the wooden floor boards peeled up at indiscriminate intervals. Mice, rats, moths and other creatures had taken to its nooks and crannies long ago and assisted in decomposing whatever bodies stumbled inside. The shack had the distinct smell of musk and rotten wood to it, but the only odor truly prevalent was the stench of death. The far corner held the putrefying, maggot ridden bodies of whatever unfortunate souls spent more than two nights here, and the long-since-dried pools of blood painted a dramatic picture of the monster that devoured them. It was a story he’d seen played out too many times to count, and the gory details had long since lost their effect on him.

An unlucky earlier attack had left him with a nasty limp, so the walking was painful and the progress slow, as he made his way from the dilapidated shack. He knew his leg should have been the death of him long ago, but so far in this journey his luck had held out. His slow movement meant he was quiet, and quiet meant he could skirt around the hoards of the decaying former-humans with more ease than his frightened counterparts. He had also learned to control his fear. He swore they could smell it.
The terrain was difficult crossing for a man with such a limp. The forest that should have been bursting in autumn beauty was instead infested with bodies. Flies oozed out of every surface and clung to him to the point that shrugging off the insufferable pests was no longer possible. Every few minutes he would come across another grisly scene: a half-eaten corpse, a legless torso crawling its way towards him, its eyes milky white, mouth salivating with hunger, or a man with a gun in his mouth, brain matter dripping slowly from the trees behind him. It smelled as if the whole world was rotting, baking in the ever constant heat of the unrelenting sun. The hopeful sound of rustling trees brought with it no fresh breeze, only the repugnant stench of the thousands rotting miles and miles away.

He was driven by an instinct that seemed impossible to suppress. His never-ending quest for untarnished food was only delayed by the discovery of a safe place to rest. He had carried on for years this way, going from place to place, searching for the signs of other human life that he never seemed to find, other than the bodies they left behind. It seemed as if he had been walking forever, never getting anywhere, as the bodies and the miles passed him by.

He heard them long before he smelled them, and he smelled them long before he saw them; A beautiful sight, a group of people, cooking a blood-red animal over an open fire. The smell of food wafted in his nostrils and his too long-starved belly and a deep lust for sustenance took over. A few women and children screamed with surprise as he lunged clumsily towards the fire and started ripping and devouring their meat, leaving only the animal untouched to burn over the open fire.