October 17th 2020
Leopards are solitary. They don't move in groups. They're fast and agile, skilled climbers, and have a tendency not to trust. They're smart like that. To a leopard, everything is either a threat or prey, and there's no in-between. They hunt fast and silent, practically a ghost among skeletons; where their bones rattle, the leopard remains silent.
Lions move in Prides. They rely on one another to survive. They're also fast and somewhat agile, and as well have trust issues when presented with things unfamiliar and unknown. They work as a team, helping one another, no one left behind; that's where their weaknesses lay. They're skeletons among listening ears.
I'm a leopard.
I've run into a Pride or two in my time so far and have learnt things about lions I'd much rather forget.
Lions can be savage and ruthless in all of the wrong ways. They're reapers. They'll take on anything presented to them, either resulting in their demise or that of their prey. Sometimes, their prey is no older than children, fawn.
I once watched a man put a bullet between a five-year-old girl's eyes simply because she'd taken an extra portion of bread. It had sickened me. It, sadly, wasn't the last time I'd see predators take on the weak and defenceless in the name of sport and warped morality.
Being a leopard comes easily to me. There's something sickeningly sweet about the simplicity laying alongside a leopards universal code 'trust no-one'. You don't have to watch your back around those you're supposed to trust in the night when you're a leopard. You don't have to worry about the lives you hold alongside your own when you're a leopard. You can't lose anyone when you're a leopard. You can't lose what you never have after all.
Alice growls gently as we move swiftly and silently through the long-pillaged store. Today we haven't found anything more than a single can of diced pineapples and an old pair of combat boots seemingly long-lost to the dust they were collecting in an attic we'd moved through earlier this morning.
"What is it, Alice?"
She lowers her body to the ground and creeps towards a utility closet door. Her ears are pressed against her head, and her teeth are bared, glinting in the bare light that's only just filtering through the frosted, cracked, and dusty store window, just barely crawling between the sloppy-fitted boards.
I move closer to the door and unsheathe my hunting blade from my belt, readying it for what's sure to be awaiting us behind it. I take the handle, silently open it, and then rip it open, jumping away from the door as Alice does letting the rotting, half-conscious body stumble towards me.
It takes nothing more than a single, clean movement to relieve the corpse of its 'life' and have it crumbling to the store floor.
"Good work, girl," I praise my best friend, patting her head as her tongue lulls to the side.
This leopard, over the last two years of existing within this world, has only ever made one exception to his solitude. That exception is Alice.
"You hungry?" She whimpers in response, her ears perking at the mention of food. "Well, then I suppose we should be getting back home. What do you say?"
Alice trots back towards the cleared store-front door and sits down, her tail wagging and kicking up the dust and dirt on the linoleum. She's a tough girl. I don't know how old she is, nor how long I've got left with her, but for her, I'd do anything. She's everything to me, and I know that in saying that, I'm contradicting everything I've stated just moments prior, but as I've said, she's this leopards exception.
I smile and shake my head before waltzing over to her and patting her once more and then opening the door discreetly to check the streets for Infects. There are none, just as we left it before entering the store, and so we leave home-bound.
The sun's setting by now and the gentle lull of heat that autumn graced us with today is sure to disappear with it. The nights are starting to get cooler as the days roll on, but the cold is a pleasant change from the relentless heat we had this summer just gone. Not only was the heat hard to work with, but the smell... oh god, the smell.
Alice trots gently at my heel, her tail wagging, and her ears perking. She's excited to get home for something to eat. I don't blame her either. We've both been moving for the last four days now. I lower my hand and let my fingers drag through her long, black and white fur, her tail picking up its pace and her tongue hanging from her slacked jaw.
Some might say there's no beauty within the New World, but at moments like this, when the sun's beginning to cast gold and the shadows are sweeping at the crunching leaf debris littering the streets as autumn begins to take over completely, I can confidently say they're wrong.
This New World is a thousand times over more beautiful than the Old World.
The Old World was nothing more than a government-run slaughterhouse built on tax-payers hard-earned money and word-induced slavery. This world is simple. This world holds the quiet, and the stillness that could never be found within the Old. Of course, it has its issues; that much is obvious, but there's a sickening simplicity I just can't help but adore about it.
There's no right or wrong anymore. There's no grey area. Everything is black-and-white, kill-or-be-killed, them-or-us... Maybe I sound sick for saying so, but I think given the option, I'd choose this world over that, especially after everything that world did to me.
We make our way cautiously towards the fence where the wire pulls away just enough to squeeze through, my bag hanging light against my back and Alice sniffing the air to determine that we're alone. With her given attitude I know we are, and so I pull back the wire mesh and let her crawl through before following her, replacing the wire, and continuing onward.
The town we were just in is commonly unfrequented which is strange given that it's set upon the only road leading from the city all the way to the south. It's probably due to all of the hazard signs and pad-locked gates bordering it. That particular town was closed up when most of this began I suppose, probably in hopes of keeping the unwanted out. I don't think they bet on the fact they were doing nothing short of locking themselves in with it. The first time Alice and I came through here the streets were littered with Infects. Over time, after long enough without anything to tear apart, they all just seemed to shrivel away. I killed a couple during one of my few visits where I'd be passing through, but nothing close to the amount that used to barricade the place off-limits.
All of the towns were like that for a little while, especially the city, and I suppose most still are, but here and there we'll stumble upon places like this one, the Old World seemingly stood in time. Whispers of civilisation still clinging to the fixtures, echoes of humanity ghosting the streets.
This particular town is sat within the middle of a dense and expansive woodland area. At this point, I don't even know what state we're in, just that it's old America. All the borders, the fences, the lines, they stopped mattering a long while ago. This forest stretches on for miles.
Between here and where the woods ends further south, there's another town, one that's completely and utterly infested with corpses. I make it a point to avoid that place as often as I can, which, I hate to say, is never often enough given how horrible that place is. It's untouched by survivors, and for good reason. That place went into lock-down as well, though the bodies still roam... and they're no small group.
Alice and I live between the two.
The two of us enter the forest following our methodically-memorised path. We don't take the road. Or, not yet anyhow. It's easier to lose anyone or thing that may be tailing you if you head through the trees first. There's been an occasion or two now where we've had to do exactly that as well.
The woodland area is dense, and only smatterings of sunlight seem able to creep their way through the canopy. The air and sounds of this place are shaded-blue and silent, the stillness cut off when we finally reach the thin, babbling creek holding water I don't trust enough to drink. Alice, though, stops and takes a nice long reach from the flow. She's earned it as well. She's done remarkably today.
When I first found her she was quiet, jittery, and cowering within a dark corner. Her fur was matted and filthy, and she was bone-skinny and exhausted. Back then I didn't have the heart to leave her behind, and in being that way, grew attached to her. I'm sure I'll come to regret that someday. If I were to find her now, I'd probably just put her down instead of dragging her around and wasting energy and resources trying to coax her back to life.
The New World changed me.
Sometimes I'll trap myself in thought wondering if said changes are of better or worse origins. I can never tell when I'm choosing between what's right and supposedly wrong nowadays. Though, in saying that, distinguishing the two, right and wrong, as the person I am now, has never seemed easier.
Right. Stay out of sight, unseen, unheard, unknown. Remain a spirit, a shadow, a ghost someone might go on to pretend was nothing more than imagination if they're to catch a glimpse.
Right. Kill the dead and avoid the living. Kill the living when given a reason. Reasons range... They attack, I attack. They're unjust, I'm unforgiving. They're murderous, dangerous, a threat, I become the shadow that takes said threat out.
Wrong. Kill for the sake of it. Never in my life have I ever killed without reason, and trust me when I say I've killed plenty of times, and I'm not talking about the reanimated dead.
Wrong. Getting comfortable.
Wrong. Letting your guard down.
Wrong. Dwelling on the past.
Wrong. Mess with lions.
Wrong... Have hope.
Hope's what gets most people killed. It'll always be the biggest killer among murderers. People when hopeful, let their guard drop, get comfortable, become forgiving, restless, confused, scared, terrified even, and eventually die.
Leopards don't hope. They survive.
I'm a leopard.