Corrine awoke in a moment of panic. The straps held and she clutched at her rifle. It was a little after dawn, judging by the light and she forced herself to remain still.
She was eight feet above the ground, a fall like that would not have been a good start to the day. Strapped to the thickest branch meant that no one would stumble upon her with three belts arranged at her shins, thighs and around her chest. Her rifle, cradled in her arms with a round chambered.
The night had passed without incident and she remained still, taking in damp, chill breaths whilst her eyes adjusted to the gloom. A branch snapped and she turned, swung the rifle so that the butt sank into the perfect spot on her shoulder.
It was still wearing clothes, a pinstriped suit torn at the shoulders and it’s left cheek had been eaten, revealing a line of perfect even teeth. Black eyes stared out at nothing, and yet it raised it’s head. Her finger moved to the trigger and she took a breath, aimed down the front sight and slipped the bolt back slowly until it gave a solid click.
The shot blew out the back of it’s skull. lifted the scalp like a rug being shook out and it collapsed. She rested the rifle across her as she reached and began unbuckling each belt in turn. She reached for her backpack on the branches above and slipped it onto her shoulders then slung the rifle over her arm and began the careful, slow descent onto the ground. It was time consuming and fraught with danger, but it kept her relatively dry and the rats did not venture above ground. She resumed her walk.
After an hour, she heard a sigh, breathy and uncertain. She brought her rifle up and swept it around her. She knew that they did not breathe, but they somehow found the means to moan and rasp. This did not sound like them but she could never be sure.
She moved towards it, in careful strides, until she saw the woman’s body in the clearing.
The baby girl strapped to the chest, head turned to the side and looking at her. She waved a chubby hand,giving those breathy cries that could erupt into wails at any moment. She came forward, lowered the barrel of the rifle and looked at it. On the sling had been pinned a note, held at the corner with the safety pin. Corrine peered at it, upper case printed letters, in a careful hand.
HER NAME IS EVELYN, PLEASE TAKE CARE OF HER. I DON’T WANT TO HURT HER AND DIDN’T WANT TO LEAVE HER
Corrine’s eyes went to the blackened patch of skin on her forearm, bitemarks weeping with infection and the skin mottled with decay. She looked into the baby’s eyes, the ruddy pink skin and the wet, pink mouth opening and closing.
Evelyn reached out and gurgled. Corrine’s eyes filled with tears and she slung her rifle over her shoulder, swept the baby up into her arms. She was shocked by the frangible wriggling energy of an infant’s presence. She sobbed at the fresh wonder of the baby’s scent and she let it come. Weeping for people that were gone now. She had gone over to the school, watched her son press his face to the window and then torn away by grey hands and glistening teeth. Cary with Olivia trapped on the highway, penned in and waiting to the end to come.
She kissed the baby again. Shushed her and unzipped her jacket to bring her closer to her skin. Already she had began to think about what was needed, what she would be risking to get this little girl through another day.
‘It’s going to be okay, Evelyn, it’s going to be okay.’
She reached out a boot and placed the heel on the mother’s chest. She took an arm away from Evelyn and reached to the revolver on her hip. She looked down at the blank, beautiful face, pretty despite the decay and thanked her for her courage.
She showed her gratitude with two pulls of the trigger before she went on her way. She had a baby to feed. A mother’s work was never done.