The playground is silent.
It always is now. Ever since the disease broke out.
No kids chase each other around the playset, screaming and laughing. No longer do they sit on the swings, swaying back and forth, the chains creaking as they go higher and higher. None dare climb to the top of the slide and call down to their friends, alerting everyone in the area to their position.
To do so now would be suicide.
You hurry past this place. If possible, you’d like to avoid the ghosts of the past, but this is the safest route into downtown.
You jump over the gate, managing not to stumble and fall. The store is right across the street. You slip through the wide broken window, careful not to step on any of the glass shards scattered beneath it. The front door is still intact, but so is the bell that rings as it’s opened. And best to make as little noise as possible.
Inside the shop, you search the shelves, trying to make out what you can in the dark. You notice there are more bare shelves than there were the other day, no doubt the work of looters. In fact, most are empty, save for spider webs and strange red stains that could be blood or jam; best not to look too close. But at the far end of the store, you see a few cans still there and snatch them up, not bothering to read the labels. A bottle of wine, unopened, catches your eye as well. A valuable find, one that both guards against them and provides your kind with pleasure. You remove the bag from your back and dump the finds from your plunder in it.
As you swing the bag around your back once more, you hear a ringing sound, and the door slams open. You duck behind the nearest aisle, knees pulled to your chest, and backpack pressed against the shelf. You reach for the stones you keep in your pocket, your hand clenching around one. Those who have survived encounters with them say stones will ward them off. But you can only keep them at bay for so long.
The footsteps grow closer. You peek around the edge of the shelf and see one headed down the back row, dragging its tail on the ground, passing all of the aisles as it comes closer to yours. Its ears are sharp and pointed, its skin gray and leathery.
It stops. Its eyes have met yours.
With a screech, it lunges. You jump to your feet and chuck the stone, taking off in a run before you can see if it was hit or not. Out the window, over the gate, through the playground.
You chance a look back and see it leap out the window, running on all fours, tail swishing back and forth.
You know you can’t outrun it.
You scramble to get the bag off your back as you run, pulling out the bottle of wine. The creature jumps, its mouth opening to reveal rows of sharp teeth. You raise the bottle to shield yourself and intercept the attack.
Its jaws crush the bottle, and red liquid sprays on its gums, cheeks, eyes. It shrieks, clawing at its face, and you take this chance to flee back to the cabin. A shame that you had to give up such a resource, but a necessary sacrifice.
You return to the cabin and lock the door before you set the bag down and empty the contents. Three cans, all beans. It’s less than usual, both in variety and quantity. But it’s better than nothing, and you’re safe now that you’re here.
Why they don’t leave the main section of town you don’t know. Maybe because they can’t, maybe because all the food is concentrated there. But one thing is certain as you pry open one of the cans with a sigh.
Tomorrow you will have to venture farther in.