|Zombies and Archers and Zombies—OH MY!|
The feral locked eyes with Stace Tomlinson and moved toward her across the forest clearing. Dark clouds threatened rain again, gray above leeching the autumn colors from the forest all around her. The thing’s ruined clothing and filthy pallor blended in perfectly, making her shot difficult. Watching its decrepit state and slow pace, Stace guessed that it had been around for a long time, maybe even going all the way back to just After. It was a big buck. Probably a well-muscled man once, by the looks of it. Stace and her father had tracked it up the hill after spotting its prints in the sodden earth of a deer trail. It was late afternoon and they had been heading back to town, but the patrol had been uneventful and the tracks fresh and easy to see.
“Remember,” her father whispered from just behind, “the arrow flies when you’re surprised. Deep breath now. . .”
Stace inhaled, filling her lungs with chill October air. Her left arm locked straight, holding an ashwood recurve bow, and her right held the fifty pound pull to her cheek as she focused on her target. The damned thing wasn’t making it easy.
Oblivious to everything but living prey, the feral advanced on stiffened legs. It moved like an animated length of chain. Each foot fall caused the body to follow in a stilted wave, the upper torso undulated back and forth and the head, the last link, tilted from shoulder to shoulder. The decay on this one was bad. At thirty paces, Stace could see bones pushing through the remains of its gray skin. Where not covered by tattered clothing, the feral’s hide hung off its frame, puddling around joints and jowls, swaying like wheat fronds as it staggered toward her. What hair it had left dangled in knotted tangles down to its exposed collarbone.
“Hold the string with your back and shoulder, not your arm,” Rob Tomlinson said. “Now . . . breathe out.”
She exhaled through pursed lips and slowly let her fingers relax, trying not to anticipate the moment when her muscles were no longer tense enough to hold the bowstring taut. The feral’s milky eyes stayed on her, its mouth twisted into a snarl. Stace used that as her focus, drawing a line up from the jaw to a spot just above the nose where the bone would be thinnest. She caught the rhythm of the thing’s swaying back and forth, as her father had taught her, allowing the bow to become an extension of her self, and the world shrank down to that one spot on the feral’s horrible face. She released the bowstring to thwack on the plastic guard protecting her left wrist. The bodkin-tipped arrow blurred through the space the feral’s head had just tilted past.
Teeth opening and closing, it snarled at her, a rasp that sounded like dry twigs being dropped down a pipe as it continued toward them through the knee-high grass and brambles.
Her father huffed at the miss.
“Again,” he said.
Stace held two more arrows in her right hand. With a quick, circular snap of the wrist, she swung a second shaft up, nocking it with index and middle finger while holding the third arrow ready with ring and pinky. She pulled the bowstring to her cheek, grunting with the effort, and sighted on a spot just above the feral’s forehead and released.
Much closer this time — she actually saw the thing’s dirty hair flutter as the arrow passed by — but a miss anyway. Failure.
Stace frowned and lowered her bow, grinding her teeth and trembling with all the lambent fury her sixteen-year-old body could muster. A single thought, a mantra, vibrated through her.
I don’t wanna be a farmer.
Ranger field trials were coming up the following week. To fail during Selection was to condemn her to a life of crops and crafts instead of running through the forests outside the security wall. Running was freedom. Running was as far from working the fields as one could get.
Not taking her eyes off the approaching feral, Stace heard the soft noises of her father nocking an arrow in his own massive bow. She realized he was preparing to drop the creature himself. Frustration flashed through her and tears began to build up at the corners of her eyes.
I do NOT wanna be a farmer.
|The author, Scott McGlasson consults his human helper.|
About the Author
Scott McGlasson is the author of NOCK – the winning entry in the Infected Books Year of the Zombie Pitch and Page competition.
A former member of the US Air Force, he spent nearly a decade as a rock radio personality before getting a “real” job in logistics. He spends what little free time he has herding cats managing the Space Opera and Space Opera: Writers groups on Facebook. Flash fiction contests for SO:W have been judged by such sci-fi luminaries as Neal Asher, David Farland, and Peter F Hamilton.
Scott currently lives in St Louis, Missouri USA with his wife, Monica, daughters Evelyn and Emily, and son, Trip.