The office supplies store was just another dead-quiet business in the strip-mall by the highway, which passed through a dead-quiet town. The strip-mall was nearly undisturbed by the living, but stirred ever so slowly with the undead. Daria made her way as cautiously as possible, her current weapon of choice, a roofing shovel, at the ready. She carried a small caliber automatic in a shoulder-holster for when she was desperate enough to use it, with a spare magazine in her pocket. Her backpack, with its camping gear, was a break-away model, just in case she had to run for it, or was grabbed from behind. Her Fannie pack held the bare essentials; another spare mag, water purification tablets, steel wool and a few batteries, a small bottle of peroxide, needle and thread.
Daria paused to take a swig of her canteen and reflected that all this stuff weighed a ton.
She glanced at the store and felt a certain longing common to her rather geeky tribe, for paper and pens; something to write with and on. Not a laptop; no more power, no more internet. No more people. But she felt the need to... images poured across her mind's eye and were gone again, and she stood, shaken and shaking. Then slowly she made her way to the door.
There was an undead employee who, Daria mused to herself, had come to see if she needed anything; all of her humor was so very dark these days. She thanked him profusely with the shovel and helped him to lie down quiet for good. Daria spaded the top of his skull off for good measure and crept around the place, wondering just why she was doing this.
She found what she was looking for, first pens and then, after looking around some more, the aisle with the journals. The professional ones, the travel journals with the band and and the pocket to tuck things into, the girly ones with glitter or silly mottoes and phrases. Not the spiral-bound; she hated the way they caught on other things in a book bag. The composition notebooks, including the sugarcane fiber ones that she had liked over the others, and the more mature of the 'girly' ones, with 'Notes' and 'Plans' and 'Thoughts'. She picked up the last leather-bound journal with the poem 'Footprints in the Sand'.
That was when Daria heard footsteps coming down the aisle. A fellow customer, her throat ripped out, just looking... She didn't seem to notice Daria at first, and then that very curious thing happened. The zombie sniffed. The walking dead don't breathe, their hearts have stopped pumping blood, and respiration is pointless. But she pulled a little air in through her nostrils, caught the scent of living flesh, and groaned-
Daria dropped her notebook, lifted the shovel and thrust the business end through the zombies' throat, decapitating her. Then she gathered up her haul and exited the store.
Daria survived the rest of the day and bedded down, alone still, but secure for the night. There was light, from a lantern and the windows were blacked-out. She was on the third floor, blockaded and behind a locked door. In the morning she would climb down the fire-escape if the coast was clear. And if not, she would find some other way. She was alive and she was supremely confident that she was going to stay that way.
She opened the journal and read the poem again. It had been her mother's favorite. She thought about her family, but not about that night. She had spent a few days with a man she knew, her piano teacher. That night had been a recital and then things had... she shied away, likewise, from that, for it involved her family also, and what had happened to everybody else whom she had loved.
She tried not to think about God just yet.
The next little bit was an education in pain and misery; in human squalor. She opened the journal and wrote for twenty-two pages, and very little of it had to do with the walking dead. She and her teacher had been taken in, and separated, and then... the images played across her minds' eye and onto the paper. She looked at the words and saw the phrase, 'I'm gonna get me some pie...' Daria jumped up quickly and threw up in the bucket that she was using for a toilet.
There was an emptiness, deep down where the dull ache had been. The bruises were gone, and she didn't bleed anymore, and those men... some of them were dead. And so was her teacher, but not before they had forced him to prove himself, to them. Later that night he had freed her, had shoved what provisions he could at her. He had not been able to look at her, but he had apologized.
"This is expiation, the cleansing of sin. I can't go with you; I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so very sorry..." he had been crying, and he had shied away from her touch. Suddenly he had stood up. "They're coming. Go!"
The rest of that still made very little sense to her, but was splashed red in her memory with bright blood. She had run and run, and then run some more; she was still running away. Until now, Daria thought, looking down at the empty twenty-third page. She wrote, in big letters, "I'm alive! I Am Alive!" And below that, she wrote out the words to the 23rd Psalm from heart.
23rd Psalm- The LORD Is My Shepherd
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.
Footprints in the Sand
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,
“You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”
-Mary Stevenson, 1936