The Echo Chronicles
Episode 1 – Awakening
by Jonas Hyde
Inhale. I tense my crouched body with every breath, tightening my skin. The cool morning fills my lungs completely. I savor the wetness of the air in my mouth. That fresh morning dew tastes fresh, pure, and new. It seems to have remained untouched by the decay of the world around me. I love it. Reminds me of a home I’ve almost completely forgotten.
Exhale. I release my breath, and watch the vapor of my soul stream into the forest. The thick condensation fills the air, much like the dew that filled my lungs. I am one with this morning… totally in sync. Just the way it should be. I revel in the moment, because I know it won’t last forever.
Grrrrr. And just like that, the silence of that brief second, the perfect serenity, is broken. I cover my stomach, trying to hush the hunger growls that seem to offer the only signs of life within the stillness of the trees. There is no wind, no chirping, and no movement. Only unmoving branches, me, and my stomach. And while the sound may not seem like much, its curse is two-fold. One, it’ll scare away any food that passes my way. Two, it’ll attract any Ferals in the area. Neither means anything good for me.
Ferals. Well, at least that’s what Ive heard them called by others in the past. They say Ferals are just humans that have lost their humanity. Primal hunters whose sole purpose is to feed and survive. Honestly though, short of the fucking, they aren’t that much different than anyone else I’ve come across since the Event. And that’s putting it nicely.
Not wanting to be caught by surprise, I turn around and take to the trees. I move up the coarse bark easily. I’ve been climbing most of my life, so now it’s like second-nature. I breath, I eat, I shit, I sleep, I hunt, and I climb. That seems to be my life. But there is safety up here. A solace I don’t get anywhere down there. It’s funny how twenty feet can make all the difference. It’s like I’m in a different place. One that’s safer… even though I know it’s just a selfish lie. Still, a girl will say anything to keep herself sane.
Once snuggled away, nestled up top in the branches, I pull out my recorder, flip the tape and begin. I start my confessional. I don’t know why I call it that. I’m not Christian. Hard to imagine anyone still is after what happened. I heard people say all the death meant it was the End of Times. Whatever that means.
“Echo, Echo. Still April, 2016,” I whisper soft into my recorder. I only half care if it actually picks up everything I’m saying. These words help me pass the time. I just have to be careful they don’t bring any attention to me. My stomach is loud enough. So I talk soft and slow. Its one of my rules.
“I’ve noticed a few Ferals in the area, but it doesn’t seem to be too heavily populated. There are signs that a herd had been here, but it looks almost abandoned now.” The fewer the animals around, the more likely there have been Ferals. In fact, if you see an animal running, you can pretty much guess what it’ll be running from.
“Let’s see, where did I leave off last time, Sis? That’s right, what new news on the Event have I found?” I pause as I think back to when everything changed. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but back when there was still organized news, they said a virus was spreading and the CDC could do nothing to stop it. Hell, up until then, I didn’t even know what the CDC was. Most everyone turned into Ferals. Those of us that didn’t had to hide or group together. We tried hiding. But after Kaya was taken, I realized I was much safer on my own. So here I am… a monkey in a tree.
“I didn’t find out much in New Boulder, though I didn’t stay around long enough to ask too many questions. Supplies were limited, and with an O-farm in Old Denver, I knew I wouldn’t be safe there for long. Sorry I don’t have more, but I wasn’t looking to be ‘traded’. And they didn’t have any answ…”
Just then, a rustling from about forty feet behind me breaks my concentration. I stop talking for a moment to try and get a better fix. Then, even softer than before, I whisper, “Gotta go. Love ya, Sis. Echo out.” With that, I slide the recorder into the tanned hide pouch hanging from my belt, and draw my bow from my back.
The one good thing Dad did for me was teaching me how to use a bow. Stereotypical, right? A Pomo Indian with a bow. But it helped me focus when I was a kid. Well, I guess by most people’s standards I’m still a kid. But in this new world, fifteen seems like two lifetimes. Besides, it’s my birthday soon. Sixteen ain’t so far away.
Growing up, before the world went to shit, everything seemed unconnected for me. I had trouble coping with life. Mom died when I was born, and Dad blamed me. He stopped working, lived off government checks, and tried to drink himself to death. I think he was happier than most when the End came. He finally got to be with Mom again.
But like I was saying, the one good thing he taught me was how to use a bow. He could hit a mark from forty-five yards in his sleep, and he taught me everything he knew. Patience was the key. That and breathing with the bow. Syncing yourself like I do with the morning air. It worked for him then, and it works for me now. Thanks Dad.
I grip the bow tight and ready myself. The rustling is coming closer and quicker. Just then, a white-tailed deer, probably no more than 110lbs goes sprinting by below me. It must be young. I can tell all this by its fresh, distinctive scent and soft movements as much as anything else. My first instinct is to follow it. But prudence prevails, and I give it just a moment.
Good thing I do too, because a few seconds later I hear the unmistakable commotion of two Ferals. They run almost like a human, but more erratic and with heavier steps. Their breath is hollow and quick, seemingly in pattern with each stride. But perhaps the most frightening sounds are their calls. Ferals don’t have a language like you and I, but they still communicate. They hunt like a pack of hyenas. Out for themselves, but realizing on a primal level that killing is that much more efficient in groups. They use a combination of shrills and screams to mark their prey and track their progress. And once marked, there is little chance of escaping.
They move quickly. Quicker than the deer. I know it’s only a matter of time before they catch up to it. But damn it, I’m hungry and I haven’t seen any real meat in this area for days. Two Ferals… ya, I think I can take them.
With that, I take off through the tree tops. My body moves out of habit now, even in an unfamiliar area like this. I click my tongue, partially to keep rhythm, as I move from branch to branch. The wood bends and then pushes me like a springboard. With the inertia I’ve got going laterally, only a small portion of my hundred-plus pounds seem to actually touch the branches. I swing between them, from tree to tree, tracking the Ferals that are tracking my deer.
I catch up to one in only a few seconds. It’s easy to find him between the shrieking and foul stench he is emitting. In one motion, I swing off a branch, draw back my bow, and fire a strike. The arrow pierces his head from behind and partially comes out the front of his right eye. He drops instantly. I make note of his location so I can come back and retrieve my arrow. Those things are like gold – I can’t waste ‘em.
I hear the second one continuing its screeching. Once it realizes it isn’t getting an answer in return, its sounds start to become louder and more erratic. I think I pissed it off.
I head over to it, tracking the sound and scent as I did the first one. On approach, I hear another noise. This time though, it’s clearly the sound of death. We all make it, human and animal alike, in the instant when pain and terror come together for one final moment. That’s the sound I hear while I approach, as the deer slams heavily into the ground.
It doesn’t surprise me that the deer was caught, Ferals are accomplished hunters. But you know what, so am I. So I pull out another arrow, draw it back, and with an exhale, release it right through the Feral’s throat. Its body goes limp instantly.
I stop and catch myself. The forest is still once more, the only movement is my own labored panting. I’m recycling the morning air quickly now, giving back equally for every breath I take. I carefully make my way down the tree, and once all is clear, head over to my prize.
This Feral is especially pungent, and makes me turn my head in disgust. I remove the cloth from around my eyes, and lower it, placing it over my nose and mouth. It helps filter out some of the stench.
I love this thing. It’s the only part of my mom I’ve ever had. Being born blind, I never got to see her. Sure, Kaya told me how beautiful she was. How her bright blue eyes were framed by her long, dark hair. How she was called Nightingale because of her beautiful voice. I missed all that. The only thing I had of hers was a bottle of her favorite perfume. I never knew the name, but it smelled like real roses. I always had trouble telling the difference. I loved that stuff so much; I would spray it on my pillow at night. It made me feel close to her. The bottle is long gone now, as is the scent, but when the world fell apart, I kept the pillow case. Ripped it up and tied it around my eyes. It lets people know I’m blind. That was Kaya’s idea. You’d be surprised how much pity still holds weight, even in a world like this.
The cloth doesn’t strain the stench completely, but it does help. I approach the Feral and search him. It’s rare, but sometimes they have valuables on them from before they turned. I’ve found some crazy things in pockets before. Figures though, this one was empty.
I grab my arrow. Pull it swiftly through the front of its throat so the arrowhead doesn’t get caught on the flesh. This only makes the smell worse. I wipe the arrow along the grass, place it in my quiver, and go back to the body. The son of a bitch is heavy. Real heavy. Though their skin becomes softer, almost tacky-like after they turn, their muscles become denser. It’s why they move faster and are stronger than their human counterparts. It just makes them a bitch to move around after you’ve killed one. It takes a good amount of my energy to move the body off my prize. This deer better be worth the trouble.
I place my hands on the animal, and feel out the wound. Bites and scratches from Ferals don’t turn you. The virus, or whatever it was, is airborne. By now, you’ve either got it or you don’t. But they are vile creatures. The amount of bacteria in their teeth and nails is enough to taint meat or get anyone sick, real quick. So you’ve got to move fast before it spreads and infects the meat completely. Tainted meat is better than starving, but you won’t feel very good after eating it, that’s for sure.
Reaching to my side, I draw out a small skinning knife. I don’t even remember where I got the thing, but it’s come in handy a few times. The plastic handle keeps it light; while the sharp, curved blade is perfect for cutting and skinning up the game I kill. I don’t think it would be all that great in a fight, but I’m hoping I never need to find out.
With care, I begin to cut about six inches around the exposed wound of the deer. It’s right on the belly, so other than being messy, the blade moves easily. Unfortunately, I am so focused on the task at hand that I don’t notice the trouble I’m in until a third Feral is already on top of me. Stupid. Just stupid. I broke another rule of mine… always keep one eye open behind you. Witty, right?
Violently, I am pushed to the ground as the Feral tackles me from the side. I place my arms up defensively, but it does little to protect me. My attacker bites down aggressively, ripping a chunk of flesh from my forearm. I scream out, half in pain, the other half with adrenaline as I plunge my blade into the Feral’s side. Blood starts to spew over both of us, mine and his, but neither of us slows down.
One time after another I stab into the Feral. With each blow I give, his attacks become weaker and weaker. After a few attempts, he is damaged enough that I can squirm out from under his side. With a flurry of motion, I spin around, rise to my feet and jump on his back. Then in one swift motion, I drag the skinning blade across the Feral’s neck, and finally, he falls to the ground in a heap. I quickly get up and turn around, looking for signs of any others. Blood covers me. I’m sure I look like a mess, and I know I must smell even worse. The stench of a Feral is strong and lasting.
I click my tongue as I turn my head in all directions. I found out long ago that doing this lets me ‘see’ the environment around me. Kind of like a bat. And even though my adrenaline is pumping and heart is racing, my clicks are telling me the coast is clear. Either way, I don’t want to stick around here for long. All this blood will soon attract any other Ferals in the area, and I don’t know how much more I can take.
First things first. I feel my wound and quickly realize he did quite a number on me. From my pouch, I break out a small propane torch. I hate having to use this thing because it hurts like hell. But it’s the quickest way to stop the infection from spreading. If left unattended, the bacteria from the Feral’s saliva will eat at human flesh. So it’s either lose some of the arm, or lose the entire arm. And I need both my arms.
I grab a stick from the ground and place it in my mouth. I start to bite down on it as I light up the torch. Propane, especially a portable canister like this one, is hard to come by, so I have to be quick. There is no time for hesitation.
I put the hot flame to my arm, and hear the sizzle of my flesh burning. The pain brings me to my knees as I bite down even harder on the stick between my teeth. Even through the cloth, the smell of my charred skin attacks my senses, however, the pain is so bad, everything else gets shut out.
Back and forth over the entirety of the wound I move the flame. In less than fifteen seconds, I feel like I got it all. Well, I hope I did at least as I fall to the ground. Laying on my side in a fetal position, my eyes are heavy and my head is pounding. Pounding so much in fact, I can’t make out anything except the sound of my own heart beat. I want so bad to pass out, but I can’t. Ferals will soon be here, and this time in a larger pack. I’d never wake up. Believe me, sometimes I think that may be for the best. This world sucks. But I need to find Kaya. Or at least find out what happened to her. So for her, I get to my feet.
Working quickly, I strap the net I usually keep wrapped around my body, and place it around the deer. Then I latch the ends of it over my shoulders. Luckily, I hadn’t seen many Ferals left in this area. If there had been, they would already have been on me. So without wasting anymore time, I dig my feet into the ground and start pulling on the deer. It’s heavy and I’m tired, but I’m also hungry. And today, hunger looks like it’s gonna win out. With one step after another, quickening in pace, I gain momentum and head off back into the forest. Camp, here I come.
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