Come up with a mathematical formula to express something you know/believe. (Example: Long Saturday run + Frappucino = Happiness)
It was a simple enough formula. Constant movement + trust no one = survival. Kat had lived by this formula in the five years since society’s collapse and it had served her well. When you’re always on the move, the dead can’t find you, and when you don’t trust anyone, the living let you be.
So how was it she found herself face to face with another Pulser in the middle of a wooded copse in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere? “Well are you gonna shoot me or not?” The girl staring down Kat’s revolver rolled her chestnut eyes and dropped her hands from their position of surrender. Kat had not yet lowered her gun. “Look, I didn’t mean to startle you. I’ve just never run into another living, breathing human being out here.”
Kat narrowed her eyes but maintained her steady aim. “What are you doing out here?”
The girl shrugged. “Same as you, probably. Surviving.”
“Are you alone?”
Her laughter rang through the trees. “Lady, we’re all alone in this hellscape.”
Kat listened carefully for a moment, but she heard nothing aside from their breathing and she lowered her gun with a sigh. “Ain’t that the gospel truth,” she agreed.
The other girl grinned. “So where you headed?”
Kat holstered her revolver and turned to leave. “Nowhere in particular,” she said.
“Cool, me neither.” She took a step towards Kat and Kat produced a knife with lightning quickness.
“I don’t want company,” she said as she pointed the blade towards the girl’s throat. “Do not follow me.”
She glanced from the knife back to Kat’s face with a smirk. “Come on. It’ll be dark soon. Just for the night, and I’ll go my own way in the morning.” Kat hesitated as she pondered the girl’s motives. “Trust no one” was a major component of her formula for survival. “Look, I’m not looking for a handout. I’ve got my own supplies and all. It’d just be nice to have someone to enjoy a meal with for once.”
Kat hid the blade back in her sleeve. “I’m not getting rid of you, am I?”
Dark curls shook with the girl’s head. “I’d offer you a handshake but I don’t think you’d take it.” Her grin didn’t falter. “I’m Julia, by the way. Jules, if you prefer.”
Kat couldn’t care less. She moved to resume her search. She hoped to find an abandoned tree stand before night fell. These wooded copses always had tree stands or blinds left over from the days when men hunted for sport.
“Not one for conversation are you, Red?” Julia chuckled. Kat ignored her. “How do you not burn with skin as fair as yours? You can’t tell me you’ve been in these woods all these years.”
“Maybe I have,” she muttered.
“We would have crossed paths before, then.” Julia walked alongside her.
Kat sighed. “Ok, this isn’t gonna work if you’re not gonna shut up. It could draw attention.”
“Maybe,” Julia shrugged. “But I doubt it. The corpse hordes are miles away. There’s nothing of interest for them here.”
“We are,” Kat said softly, scanning the tree trunks. “They won’t stop until every last person with a pulse is one of them.”
“You think so?” Julia didn’t sound convinced.
Kat stopped to look at her. She couldn’t be more than seventeen. “Why do you think they swarm the cities? Where people gather, so do the wandering corpses.”
“I haven’t been to the cities,” she admitted. “But I saw signs for a community going up near the old mill the next town over. There were too many rotters for me to get a close look, but it seemed like they had a good handle on things.”
“Walls fall,” Kat said bitterly. “If the dead don’t break them down, other people will.”
Julia’s voice was sad when she replied, “You say that as if you know from experience.”
Kat marched forward without acknowledging her. The truth was she was far more frightened of people than she was of the dead. People had too many ideals, wants, and needs that often conflicted with each other. The corpses just wanted to make more corpses.
“We’re gonna need to get some shelter soon,” Julia announced. “Come on.” Kat furrowed her brow as the dark-eyed girl turned north and beckoned her to follow. “My dad and my brother used to hunt in these woods. There’s a small cabin just ahead.”
Kat stiffened and fingered the blade under her sleeve. “Are they meeting us there?”
Julia continued on with only the briefest hitch in her step. “No, they died back at the beginning.”
“I’m sorry.” She truly was. Julia didn’t say any more on the subject.
They arrived at the tiny hut shortly after. Inside, a small camp stove sat in the middle of the floor, and a chest sat between two cots along the back wall. Julia dropped her pack on the floor in front of the chest and began unloading cans of soup and beans and bottles of water into it. “I come out here once a week to leave supplies for anyone who might need refuge,” she explained.
“And do they?” Kat couldn’t hide the disbelief in her voice.
Julia shrugged. “Haven’t in a year. I never actually crossed paths with the handful who stayed before. Supplies just got used though, so I knew there had been people here.”
Julia stared at her for a long moment. Then she smiled. “Because I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t. It’s how I survive. The good will outweigh the bad in the end. I’m just helping it along.”
Kat heated her food and ate in silence. Julia seemed to have exhausted her voice as she ate peacefully too. They barred the door before turning in. “You could camp out here for a few days if you like,” Julia said quietly. “Get some rest. It must be difficult being constantly on the move.”
“It’s just how I survive,” Kat whispered. They said no more as they fell asleep. It was the deepest sleep Kat had had in months.
In the morning, Julia was gone. There was a note on the chest. “Thanks for the company! Feel free to take whatever supplies you need. Don’t forget to live while you’re busy surviving! –Jules”
Kat chuckled and folded the note into her pocket. There was no living in the world of the dead, but it was a nice sentiment. She replenished her canteens and supplemented her rations with a couple cans of beans. That should get her through another week before she’d need to scavenge again.
She exited the hunting hut and glanced up through the canopy. The sun was already well on its way into the sky. She dug out her hat to protect her face and then marched on.
Notes: Well, they can’t all be winners. I’m not sure how evident it is, but I didn’t really enjoy writing this one. I struggled to come up with formulas in the first place, which seems kind of ridiculous given my math background and which served to further frustrate me. At some point I just started thinking about formulas in the abstract (formula for success, formula for happiness, etc) and “formula for survival” resonated with me. I had a survival-style dream last night so it seemed like a good fit. I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead so I thought I might give a zombie apocalypse story a go. I might need to leave it to Kirkman and Darabont in the future.
Do you have any secret formulas for life? What sorts of formulas might define your characters or their worlds? First they put the alphabet in math and now they want us to put math in our writing. When does it end? Anyway, take a stab at it! May your muse be more mathematically inclined than mine!
Thursday’s prompt: Name one thing you have lied to yourself about. Why did you do this?
Now that’s a good prompt! I think I’ve got another Lara tale for that one for tomorrow. Until then!