All I could hear were the screams growing louder and louder. Desperate voices pleading for help as the air filled with the smell of blood and rotting flesh. Covering my ears, I squeezed my eyes shut, Everything will be fine. Everything will be fine. This is all a horrible dream. This isn’t really happening. But it was, and the screams continued and wails of pain hauntingly filled the air. It was living hell. After what seemed like an eternity the noise finally died down. Are they gone? Slowly removing my hands I let out a small sigh of relief.

Thud…thud…thud. I froze, fear gripping every single cell of my body. The footsteps drew closer slowly, step by step, bringing with it the stench of death. My heart lurched in my chest as the footsteps stopped outside the door and the smell of rotting flesh seeped in, suffocating me. I held my breath and stared intently at the closet door. Time slowed to stop. The door was yanked open, light flooding into the closet, and I was greeted with a disfigured face, pieces of flesh peeling off. I froze in place as sheer terror ran through my body. Desperately willing myself to move, I watched helplessly as its face drew closer and closer. Opening its rotting mouth, I could see bits of flesh and blood from the previous victim.

Jolting awake, I tightly gripped the knife in my hands. It was dead silent. Staring out into the night, the surroundings were devoid of signs of disturbance. I slowly relaxed my body drenched in sweat. Wiping my brow, I recalled the events over the past few years. It had been five years since the Covid-19 pandemic. We all thought it was just slightly more severe than the common viruses, but the virus first infected millions and, after the incubation period, infiltrated and mutated within the body. Humans started to turn into zombies and only a small percentage of humans were left.

They appeared slowly. There were a few sightings in one region and later more in another. Sightings were inconsistent and random. This had happened over the course of a month and by the end, they had appeared all around the world. There had been no way to predict where they would appear. The internet had blown up as everyone discussed the zombies and lashed out at the government for failing to provide a plan. Then, on the day the zombies appeared in the last region, the world had blacked out. Overnight, the whole world had changed. Animals and plants had mutated, zombies and humans obtained powers, and a crystal core had developed in our brains.

Roughly 20 percent of the remaining human population gained powers while 15 percent of zombies gained powers. The cores of those without abilities were a plain grey color while the cores of those with powers had different colors representing different powers. Red was fire, blue water, green nature, etc. Collecting cores would increase power levels, physical capabilities, and regeneration although collecting cores of the same power as yours would have a higher effect. Zombies absorbed cores to increase their level and intelligence. Higher level zombies could control lower level zombies and this had caused the weak bases to collapse from the hordes. Surviving bases were ruled by high level powers and ordinary people were reduced to labor in order to survive. 

Thinking back, it had been a miracle that I was able to awaken my wind power and survive until now. It wouldn’t be long until the nightmare would finally be over. I had previously met a higher-leveled zombie when I had been injured but strangely enough he had no desire for flesh. He had nursed me back to health and upon finding out my base was trying to find a cure, had told me of a fruit that erased his hunger. This time, I had been tasked to obtain that fruit for further research.

Pulling out my map, I used the moonlight to observe the trail and realized I was near. With my wind powers it would only take me another hour before reaching the forest to meet up with the zombie. It would be dawn in a few hours so I packed my bag, and decided to leave earlier.

I ran through the dim forest with my knife in hand in case I encountered any zombies. Along the way, I hunted level 4 animals and plants, killing them and harvesting their cores. I recently reached level 5 and I could use them as training to consolidate my powers. At one point, a cat-like beast caught my attention—probably a pet before the apocalypse—because it had mutated three times its original size. Its claws were protruding and gleaming like knives in the faint moonlight as it snuck up on me. Having sensed the danger right before it had pounced, I narrowly escaped by rolling to the side. Using our powers, we engaged in a battle of speed and I won with slight injuries because of the difference in our levels. I reflected on the battle while collecting its wind core. I hadn’t completely adjusted to my new level yet and if the beast had also been level 5 it would have won with its natural beastly instincts and powers. I still had to work harder and level up faster in order to protect myself.

Many organisms now had the upper hand in this world as they mutated into a larger more feral version, enhancing their natural instincts and physical capabilities. Humans were now situated at the bottom of the food chain, struggling to survive. Sighing, I thought about how fast the world had changed. Just years before we had been at the top of the world and now we were at the very bottom. But it would be useless to think about these now, it was crucial that I obtain the fruit for our base.

The surroundings became increasingly silent as I approached my destination. There were hardly any mutated plants or animals nearby. I hadn’t seen any in the past ten minutes. The zombie was near. I could sense the oppressive aura that scared the lower level organisms away. Speeding up, I hurried towards the silhouette at the front of the path. “You’re here.” His hoarse voice, grating from disuse rang through the silent night.

“Yes, I’ve arrived.” Nodding his head, he headed deeper into the forest. Swallowing my questions, I silently followed him. He stopped before a wide clearing. At the center was a leafy mass and the land around it was barren of any signs of life. The circle of dirt created a stark contrast to the sea of leaves bursting with vitality. Staring intently, I paled as I realized it must be a powerful mutated plant. It had sucked the vitality of everything around it and used it for its growth. As I watched, it shifted slightly and at the center, I caught a glimpse of red.

“Is that the fruit?”, I whispered. He nodded. 

“Do you have a plan?”

“When it’s dawn the plant will concentrate on absorbing the first rays of light. It’ll be distracted then.”

“So, what? We just sneak in, steal the fruit, and hope we can get away with it?” He nodded. Shaking my head, I glanced at the sky, it would be dawn in a few minutes.

“I’ll go in and take the fruit since I’m faster. You wait here and I’ll throw it over. If it starts attacking just try to keep it safe.” He hummed in agreement. I discarded my bag and tightly strapped the knife to my hands. Tensing my body, I started to circulate my power to the max, this would need to be the fastest I’ve ever moved. Crouching, I stared at the sky as the first light broke through the clouds. This was it. Bursting out into the field and summoning wind blades to carve out a path through what seemed to be vines, I was at the center in seconds. Grabbing the red fruit, I immediately backtracked, trying to exit through the path I had just created. But the moment I had grabbed the fruit, the plant had already reacted and started to close the path. It was angry, thrashing hundreds of its vines in the air. An opening appeared, I immediately threw the fruit in the direction I had come from, shooting it through the small gap with my power.

Thoroughly enraged, it sent half of its vines after the fruit while the remaining half attempted to crush me. I started dodging the vines one after the other. Rolling to the ground, I stepped to the right, slowing down slightly, a vine immediately tried to constrict my movements, wrapping itself around my leg. I hacked away at the vine with my knife and immediately summoned a wind blade to cut the approaching vines. Two more replaced it. Facing the wall of writhing vines, I summoned wind blades with a burst of energy, cutting down the approaching vines in all directions. In that brief moment, something glittered in the corner of my eye, squinting for a better look, I noticed a small bead. It shone a bright emerald green in the sunlight and it was embedded into a thick vine about four feet wide lying at the foot of the place where I had plucked the fruit. That must be the core!

Distracted, a vine had slithered up behind me and wrapped itself tightly around my right leg. Struggling, I summoned more wind blades and started cutting. More and more vines appeared, replacing the ones I cut. Facing the endless stream of vines, my blood ran cold as I despaired, they wrapped themselves around my torso disabling my movements. Running out of power, I could only watch helplessly as I was lifted into the air and was slammed into the ground. Disoriented and dizzy, I was lifted and slammed against the ground another time. I could feel the blood continuously flowing down my face as the side of my head burned with pain. It lifted me again and again, trying to knock me out once and for all. Slipping into unconsciousness and faintly wondering if this was the end, a bloodcurdling scream rang through the air.

An oppressive aura covered the forest and time slowed to a stop. Forcing my eyes open, I saw the wind core I had harvested from the cat beast in front of me, lying just centimeters away from my face and a foot further lay the emerald core. Mustering the last of my strength I swallowed the wind core. A burst of power ran through my body as my power rampaged and threatened to explode. Concentrating all my power into one large blade, I aimed at the vine containing the core and unleashed all of the power within me, obliterating the large vine. The plant shuddered and the vines around my legs and torso started constricting, painfully crushing my bones and squeezing my organs. Exhausted and unable to bear the pain, a dark figure appeared as I felt my vision getting dimmer and dimmer, until everything became dark.

Three months later…

A vaccine was finally created. The scientist, a famous biological researcher prior to the apocalypse, had finally been able to analyze the chemicals in the fruit and find a way to counter the virus. The leader of the base had decided that since I had contributed to the creation of the vaccine, I would be a part of the first batch getting vaccinated. Restless, I sat in the chair waiting for the doctor to get everything ready. It seemed like an eternity had passed before he finally started prepping my arm. Swallowing, I impatiently waited as the needle, glistening in the light, got closer and closer. Just as it was about to penetrate my skin, my head snapped to the left, the side of my head stinging.

“Wake up!” 

What’s going on!? Shaking my head, I glared at the perpetrator. “Why’d you do that for?” 

“I asked you a question, you weren’t responding.” Glaring at my brother, I rolled over in bed, trying to return to my dream. Maybe I would finally be able to get the vaccine. Tossing and turning for the next ten minutes, I gave up. Rolling out of bed I groaned at the thought of Zoom. It would be another day stuck in quarantine as the boredom ate away at me.

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