Thursday, February 2, 2012

Trigger Finger

Brigit's Flame - February 2012, week 1 entry
Prompt:  Thank you
Title:  Trigger Finger
Wordcount:  ~1700, rated PG-13 for mild language and violent imagery
Author:  Graham Smith (chuck_the_plant)

My ears filled with thunder when she pulled the trigger.  She blinked involuntarily against the sound and her shoulders moved less than they did the last time, but all five cans still stood along the fencepost.  “You missed again,” I told her. 
Sasha spun to me with venom in her eyes.  “I know that!” she screamed.  “You don’t have to rub it in my face!” 
I felt my back straighten as I stared at the twelve-year-old.  “Look, do you want to learn to shoot or not?”  I asked her, my voice like iron.  “Because I don’t have to teach you, you know.”
“If you’re going to keep being an asshole about it, then no!” she screamed back.
I pressed my lips together in frustration and kneaded my hands together, trying to repress my own shouting.  I definitely was not being an asshole about it, but screaming at her wouldn't prove it.  Besides, she had already fired off three shots, and that, combined with her screaming, was going to bring the flesh-eaters from miles around in the next hour.  We had to move. 
“Pack your stuff.  Were leaving,” I told her, shouldering my backpack.  I held out my hand for the gun.  She glared hatefully at it for a second before handing the gun over.  Sasha then gathered her meager belongings, hoisted them on her back, and followed me out of the open field, where we had camped the night before. 
The zombie apocalypse hadn't been what the movies made it out to be.  It wasn’t an exciting slug-fest against the forces of the undead; it was everyone you’ve ever known and loved, suddenly losing their minds and becoming overwhelmed with the desire to eat living meat. 
The biological agent had hit a little over a year ago, as near as I could tell.  In under a week, the phrase “We are the ninety-nine percent” became redefined to describe those that contracted the agent.  I was lucky; I had been pretty much a loner my whole life, and my southern upbringing meant I already had a sizable stockpile of guns.  Even luckier, I was one of the one percent of Americans that seemed to be immune to the agent. 
Sasha hadn’t been so lucky.  Sure, she was immune, but because she was adopted, she was the only one in her family.  I found her when she was eleven years old, hiding in an upstairs closet in her family’s home, when I had gone inside scavenging for food and weapons.  The bodies of her family had been in the living room, where they apparently had ripped each other to shreds looking for their next meals.  I never asked Sasha if she had witnessed the grizzly scene, but judging from how little she talked about it, she had. 
She was a little too old to be my daughter and a little too young to be my sister, but regardless I had dedicated myself to protecting Sasha.  We quickly became friends and learned to depend on each other, but lately we had been fighting a lot.  Especially since food had become scarce.  Now both of us were almost constantly hungry, which made being on the move from the flesh-eaters very difficult. 
“Where are we going?” Sasha asked after we had walked a mile, south, in silence. 
“Wherever there’s food,” I said, “and ammunition.”
“Because I throw so much away every time I pick up the gun?” she accused.  “Because I’m such a terrible shot?”
I gritted my teeth.  “I didn’t say that.  We just need more.” 
“That’s what you meant, though!  If I’m such a waste of ammunition, why are you trying to teach me to shoot?”
Sasha’s bad attitude was getting on my nerves, and the growl in my stomach was doing nothing to help.  “Because you need to know how to defend yourself.  I might not always be around to protect you.” 
“So I’m just a defenseless little kid?  Something you have to constantly look after?  A burden?”
After traveling with a pre-teenager for over a year, I should have known not to get into a argument volley with her.  If I would have ignored her she would have gotten over it.  Pushing the subject was the worst thing I could have done; she was younger than me, and I would tire before she did.  “Well, just judging by how you handle the gun, I’d say yes!” 
I didn’t mean it.  She and I were both hungry, and I knew that our words were more based on empty stomachs than real emotions.  Not to mention that I was the adult and she was the child, and I had a responsibility to watch what I said. 
When Sasha replied, her voice was a husky whisper.  “I hate you." Then she sucked in a great breath of air and screamed, “If you don’t want me around so badly, why don’t you just feed me to the zombies?  Then you’d have all the food and bullets to yourself!”
We had to get at least five miles away from the gunshots to lose the flesh-eaters that would be attracted by the sound, and even further if we kept screaming.  “What food?” I screamed back at her.  “In case you haven’t noticed, we haven’t eaten in a day and a half!  Now how about we shut up and keep walking!” 
Sasha turned and started walking to the west, toward the setting sun.
“Where are you going?” I demanded. 
“Anywhere away from you!” she screamed back.  “I’ll be fine on my own!”
I glanced to the south and noticed a large barn a few miles away.  “Sasha, get back here.  Look, we’ll stop in that barn tonight, and when we wake up tomorrow we’ll both feel better.”
“No!” she screamed.  “I’m getting away from you!  You’ve done nothing but be mean to me since we met!  I hate you!”
After all I’ve done for her, that’s what she says to me?  Hunger filed the edges of my response into sharp blades.  “Fine!”  I screamed at her back.  “When I find food, I’m going to eat it all myself, for once!” 
Sasha didn’t respond, but kept walking west.  I huffed an exasperated breath out of my nose at the infuriating girl, then turned and trudged south, toward the barn. 
I didn’t find any food in the barn.
It looked like there had been some seed corn there, maybe a few months ago, but it had been scavenged.  Now only the bare wood remained.  As the sun set I climbed into the loft, dropping my bag of guns by the ladder in case I had to make a hasty exit.  As I spread out my sleeping bag I thought about Sasha, but when I looked out toward the horizon she was nowhere to be seen.  I thought about going out to look for her, but I had no idea where she had gone.  If I was lucky she’d remember that I said I was headed for the barn and she’d find me. 
After a few hours of moping and worrying, I put my small handgun by my side and slipped into my sleeping bag, feeling just like the asshole she claimed I was. 
It was still dark when my eyes snapped open to the nearly inaudible sound of feet creaking on the loft.  My instincts instantly surged at the thought that I was surrounded by flesh-eaters, but then I remembered that flesh-eaters couldn’t climb ladders, and I had left the loft’s ladder down in case Sasha tried to find me.  Even so, I slowly slid my hand out of my sleeping bag to my side, where I had laid my gun. 
It was gone.
And it was then that I heard the small, angry, muffled whimpers of a twelve-year-old girl, and the familiar click of the safety being switched off on my favorite gun.  
It was dark and I was laying on my stomach, so I had no idea where Sasha was.  But, wherever she was, I was completely at her mercy.
Fear and adrenaline flooded my senses as I realized what was happening, but I managed to keep them under control.  If I jumped up from my sleeping bag and tried to tackle her, she might panic and fire.  My breathing quickened, but I tried to still it.  She was twelve years old; if she knew I was panicking then she’d panic, too, which would increase my chances of being shot.  Even if she merely wounded me and didn’t kill me, there was no way I’d be able to get five miles away before the smell of my blood brought the flesh-eaters out of the woodwork.
I laid there, waiting for Sasha’s next move.  After what must have only been minutes but felt like an eternity, I heard her take a few steps toward me, click the safety back into place, and gently set the gun back where she had found it.  She fell to her knees beside me and her whimpers turned into full-blown sobs.
I had no idea what to do.  A little girl that I had basically adopted had nearly killed me in my sleep, and was now crying her eyes out.  But just as I was deciding whether or not to be furious, terrified, or pitying, Sasha stretched out onto the floor and curled into my side, desperately pressing herself against me. 
Even after what I had said to her, even after seeing her family butcher themselves, even after surviving in our living hell of a world for over a year with a relative stranger, even though she'd have twice as much food without me around ... Sasha still wanted to trust me.
I acted like I was stretching in my sleep and draped my arm over her.  The girl wriggled closer, and I pressed my face into the top of her head.  She stunk like little girl sweat, and I couldn’t imagine how badly I must have smelled, but we laid like that until her sobbing stopped and her breathing became heavy and steady. 
When I was sure Sasha was asleep, I whispered to her softly, “Thank you for not giving up on me.”