Fading hope (Pt. 1)

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A lot has changed since the world went to shit. Life now is for only those with the mentality to keep existing in it. If you’re born into this part of history, buckle up cause human’s aren’t at the top of the food chain anymore. Survival means making tough decisions and they aren’t always the greatest nor will they leave you feeling good about yourself. There is still hope though. Even when the sun falls from the sky rousing the monsters that hunt you in the night.

It all started over thirty years ago. A virus of all stereotypical things swept across the world. Kind of like that one disease named after an alcoholic beverage no can find a fresh bottle of now. No scientist ever figured out where it came from. Every country with a voice blamed their neighbors. There are numerous theories as to what the real downfall of humanity was when the virus came.

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Any way it really happened; the main point is that we as a global society were not capable of stopping the virus from destroying our way of life. The virus is malicious and theorized to be manmade since its one and only target is humans. Any and all other life has been left untouched by it. It’s easy to get on that conspiracy boat. Theories didn’t matter in the end.

The way the virus spreads is by blood contact. Just like zombie viruses from old movies that foreshadowed humanity’s demise, or so this one old geezer told me. Once the virus enters the blood stream, it’s only a matter of time before it takes over. Turning completely depends on the host. There’s no real way to determine how the virus is going to react to each Infected.

Growing up in this world, you hear what happens to those freshly infected. First, aside from your painful wound, your body will feel like its burning as the virus travels through your veins. When it reaches your heart, you’ll feel like it’s trying to burst from your chest. From there you’re fucked. The virus will be in your brain soon enough and take control over you.

You’ll turn from the general term Infected into a Freaker. You’re primary focus shifts from survival to outright rage. Your friends and family become your next meal. They are worse than Stumblers. Freakers are more physically capable than before they got infected. Whatever inhibitors in your brain keep you from straining your body are shut down. The energy a Freaker has determines when they’ll become a Stumbler. Those are really just aged Freakers no longer capable of sustaining their animalistic pursuits given their failing bodies. Stumblers are still dangerous as they reserve their energy till prey is present.

This is all impertinent information. Contending with the Infected educated the next generation. Without what those learned before, what humans left alive would be ill equipped at knowing their enemy. Decades of study without labs were passed verbally between communities and passed down through the new generations. Modern society had to resort to seemingly archaic means of survival, but in truth it was exactly what we had been doing for millennia before the modern age.

 Speaking of the modern age, cities and territories changed completely. There was no point in holding onto the past when the future could be carved by the survivors. Communities rose and fell all across the world. The new territories were numerous back when communication was still available. By the time the signals across the world failed, there were but a few bastions of true civilized life left standing.

Those left alive with the memory of our location say we’re somewhere in the southern country of what was America. Before the American government disintegrated, there were various projects taking place across the country. One of which was to barricade cities behind large walls. Some were built to contain the infection like in the metropolitan areas while others were built to protect against them. Those were meant to be safe zones where the healthy could find refuge.

Nova was one of those safe zones. No one can remember the name of the city before, but it wasn’t writhe with Infected before or after the walls went up. With the aid of the Government, Nova was well provisioned and guarded like a true fortress. The city could have weathered long into the new world order if it weren’t for the stupidity of humans.

The city fell to the infection from the inside. Of course, no one alive knows how it happened. Could have been one of the refugees who’s infection was so small they didn’t notice it only to cause the deaths of thousands. Might also have been a soldier sneaking in refugees turned away at the gate without realizing what they were smuggling into Nova. Again, either way it happened; human error was to blame.

When Nova started to fall to the infection, those in charge destroyed every path in and out of the city. They completely cut Nova off from the rest of the world in an effort to contain the virus within and subsequently keep others from adding to the problem. It was pure chaos like the first days of the infection. The city was said to be like a mad house arena of life and death till new leaders took charge.

Since Nova fell, those who adapted to the city divided themselves into four separate communities. The infected ruled everything not behind the new walls within the ones the government built. Over two decades ago, these groups of people fought over everything. From food, water, weapons, even people. So much so that one of the communities was destroyed by the efforts of the other three. They are now what is the worst area to go to. Downtown

As Nova settled, society adopted a new normal. Each of the three communities offered something the other needed. One has fertile soil while another has access to fresh water. Those two are home to the majority of the civilian populous in Nova. The third community is multifunctional as it operates as a trade market and manufacturing center. 

A unity was formed between the communities to survive the city that failed them. It has been and still is a fragile cooperation that could spell the end for what’s left of Nova if it too were to fail. The most contributing factor to the alliance is the Scavenger Guild. They are the ones truely keeping everyone from killing each other over the last can of beans. Scavengers risk their lives everyday knowing there will be a day where they don’t come back.

A Scavenger is someone who likes to court death by going out beyond the new walls to acquire what resources they can find. It’s the best paying gig in Nova but also the one with the highest death rate. Not every person is cut out to be one. It takes skill both physically and mentally. Sure, anyone can come up with forgotten goods and turn them in for profit, but Scavengers are recognized as trustworthy. They are those who people rely upon to survive into the next season.

I grew up dreaming of being a Scavenger myself one day. If only my parents could have seen me accept the title and badge from the guild master. They would have been so proud of me. Obviously, I'm implying they died. See, I'm the only son of two well respected Scavengers. Our greatest asset is our judgement. When a Scavenger doesn't return from a job, we all assume they didn't think fast enough. That's the case with my parents. 

After they died, when I was sixteen, I made it my goal not to end up like them. It's every Scavenger’s intent to be smart, but some are always better than others. I worked hard to be greater than the average Scavenger. Sure, I can out smart Freakers and run faster than most, but I had to become more than that. I needed to be capable of reaching heights where others feared to go. Through many years of determination, I became one of the top Scavengers in Nova.

That is why I’m currently digging through some dead person’s kitchen cabinets in the worst part of Nova, Downtown. I had done my usual recon of the apartment building I’m scavenging and nearly finished with the apartment I’m in. The duffle bag on the counter behind me was just the right weight after tossing another can inside. Several items had to be left behind as this particular kitchen was more spoiled than others I’d rummaged through tonight. 

Grabbing the hefty duffle bag, I proceeded out of the apartment. In the gap of the stairwell, I had set up my most valuable tool, a DIY counter weight system. One of my own design, it consists of several pullies and a heavy weight to do the real job. This tool is my most valuable asset to my trade.

My method of scavenging is considered time consuming. The results of my efforts are part of the reason for my social standing in the Scavenger Guild and among various locals. I take the time to stake out the buildings I’m going to scavenge. Find out everything I can about it like how many Stumblers or Freakers slumber inside. I especially need to know if my target has a chrysalis nest somewhere inside.

The most important threat to be aware of are the Alphas. They were the first generation of viral mutations. Fast, feral, and consistently brutal. They're nocturnal but if they spot you, they'll chase you in broad daylight. Their only goal is to rip you apart and feast on your insides. Nothing to be afraid of, right? Things to consider as a Scavenger being as we are more likely to come into contact with these nightmares more often than most. 

After my target building had been staked out and fit for scavenging, I set up my counter weight wherever it would come in handy. The apartment complexes with gapped stairwells are quite advantageous. Having my tool inside rather than attached to the roof outside made things easier. Once my bags were stuffed, I'd attach as many as I could at the bottom of the stairs. Then I head up to the top, connect the counter weight and slowly, as quietly as possible, lower it to the ground. I'd load up as much as I could find into the bags I stashed the day prior and transport as much as I could carry to my closest den.

A Scavenger’s Den is like a safe spot. Designed to keep the Infected from getting you but not guaranteed to save your life. The best dens are well hidden and their locations held close to the chest of their dweller. Raiding a Scavenger’s Den could always bring out a decent pay day. We like to maintain a stash we deny keeping in case things ever go south…again. 

I don't let people know this but I actually transport my haul in stages. Some bags would have to be left in the buildings I went through and in the few dens I kept. My work wasn't done until I filled every one of the eight duffle bags I brought with me. Tedious work I know but like I said the effort pays off. 

At the bottom of the stairwell, I finished connecting multiple bags to the cord and proceeded up the five floors of the building. At the top I connected the weight I placed by the railing and lowered it down to the bottom. While my tool worked its magic and I tended to its control, I kept vigilant of any disturbances. The slightest rustle or sound made me freeze in place. Hold for a moment then continue. Once the bags were at the top, I retrieved them and walked as many as I could at a time through the stairway leading to roof access.

The ones I dropped up there would be transported when I left while the rest would stay where I could retrieve them during the day. Great thing about scavenging in Downtown is your stash is less likely to go missing. I could leave anything I couldn't take with me and not have to worry.

Grabbing the other cable, I worked to bring the counterweight back up. I had to be careful lowering the hook as it dangled about going down. Move too fast and the hook could clang against the railing. One fuck up could call for my death. This time, like plenty others, I succeeded in reversing the tool.

Heading back down the stairwell, I went to connect the last couple bags I couldn’t drag up with me. They were secured with a light click and I got up to repeat the last step. That’s when I froze. Every muscle in my body tensed and I could already feel my heart spreading the adrenaline building in my body. My hand reflexively went to the flashlight on my shoulder and covered it

On the other side of the stairwell, in the doorway of the entrance to the apartment building stood a frail grotesque figure illuminated by the moonlight. Light wiry hair frayed down past the creatures face accentuating the creepiness of the tattered clothing hanging from its body. The way it acted could have identified it as a Stumbler. It wasn’t twitching or breathing heavily. Just stood there swaying its gnarly hair in front of itself.

The Infected had noticed me yet. Keeping myself steady, I backed myself up towards the first set of stairs. The farther away I can get the safer I will be. Even though there were two exits to the apartment complex, the roofs were safer than running out into the streets littered with roaming Infected. My only option was to sneak back up the building and decide whether to risk retrieving the last few bags or abandon what I couldn’t take with me till the next day. I wouldn’t be able to retrieve my tool till at least the next night. Too dangerous in the daylight.

All of this was passing through my mind as I retreated from the threat in the room. Knowing I was close to the first step I turned to make sure I wasn’t going to stumble. That’s when I fucked up. Royally fucking myself, I didn’t check my footing and kicked something on one of the steps. It made a clanged and clunked itself onto the ground floor exposing my presence.

Fear joined the adrenaline flooding my muscles. The sound alerted the Infected and revealed just what it truly was. I heard the familiar intake of breath, long and sharp. Moronically, I just had to check to confirm my growing fears. I uncovered the light momentarily towards the Infected and saw just what the creature was.

A Banshee

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