Kathy Li did not kill. Not sapient beings. She could fight them, she could hurt them, she could incapacitate them, she could ruin their whole day, but she could not, would not kill.
The ex that wandered through the streets of Los Angeles these days was not Kathy Li, however, no matter whose face it wore. Kathy was dead and the ex had inherited none of her memories, her morals, or her mandates. All it had was an unending hunger that drove it to wander all over Los Angeles in search of something to eat.
Well. Someone to eat.
Pickings on the ground were fewer these days. Most people had holed up in places, cowering behind barricades or climbing up high where peeling fingers couldn't reach. Those who hadn't had long-since fallen prey to the millions of hungry dead that shuffled about, either devoured entirely so there was nothing to reanimate, or eventually standing back up to join the rest. Los Angeles was gone; it belonged to the dead now.
But even the most protected survivors needed to leave their hidey-holes from time to time. It had been three months since the collapse of civilization--no more food delivered right to the door, no more running water to drink or bathe, no more electricity to keep the dark at bay. Even with strict and careful rationing, squirreled food was eaten, hoarded water was drunk, prized flashlights burned out. And so, survivors around the city needed to make an important decision: scavenge or starve. Unsurprisingly, most chose to scavenge. But that meant coming out.
Where the dead things were.
Elijah had holed up in the basement of his family's synagogue, along with his baby sister Rebekah and thirteen other people, few of whom he knew besides the rabbi who had let them all in. The synagogue had been converted from some old building from the 50s, which his mother had always complained about. She'd hated the thick walls made of painted cinderblocks and the small windows that let in little light or air. It was a squat, ugly, box-shaped building that had been meant to withstand bombs (or The Bomb, he supposed) and every year, she'd talked about maybe finally putting together a fundraiser to buy a different property, one with huge windows and high ceilings, and plenty of open space. A place kind of like their home, which had depended on the guard at the community's gateway and their state-of-the-art security system guaranteed to alert the police, fire department, and/or ambulance within thirty seconds of being activated.
Turns out that guards and promises of police didn't do anything to stop a slew of undead. And all full-sized windows and open floorplans did was give the exes plenty of ways to get in and room to mill about once the screaming had stopped. Eli, with a grand total of two driver's ed lessons and forty minutes of driving with an instructor, had grabbed little Becky and ran to the garage, nearly crashing his mother's SUV into the mailbox before he got it under control. Most of the exes in the neighborhood (including the security guard) had been more interested in his mother's shrieking than the silver luxury crossover vehicle that had gone hurtling down the street at the highest speed Eli felt comfortable driving at: a grand forty-five miles an hour.
The SUV had barely gotten them to downtown proper, Eli panicked and driving aimlessly, trying to remember how to get to their aunt's house in Pasadena, before they had been carjacked by ten people in green bandannas. Members of the Seventeens, a gang his dad complained about over breakfast reading the paper and his mom gossiped about with her society friends. Well, they had done those things. Not so much anymore. Anyway, it was enough for Eli to know to not fight or argue, just reach over and unbuckle the crying little Becky and slip quietly out of the vehicle. The gangbangers had gotten in and peeled away without another word. Eli had been left trying to figure out where to go next. Luckily for him, he'd recognized one of the storefronts, even under the grime and gore that covered it, and had used his phone's GPS to get them to the synagogue. Even luckier, his mother's plans had remained only that--plans--and the temple was as ugly and defensible as ever.
That had been...some number of weeks ago. Eli's phone was dead and the calendar was upstairs, definitely not a priority for anyone who was hiding downstairs. But they'd just about run out of food and last night, everyone had agreed that it was time to start trying to find more supplies. Eli was one of the three people who'd picked the short straw. Rabbi Levy had protested, but Eli'd pointed out that he was almost sixteen and had been on the track team both freshman and sophomore years. The exes were slow, their only saving grace; he could outrun any he saw, so long as he had room to maneuver. Little Becky had cried herself to sleep last night, afraid for him, but he promised to bring home a candy bar for her if she were a good girl for the rabbi and Mrs. Kurofuji, who'd been a teacher at the preschool down the street.
Eli had snuck out of the synagogue a few hours after dawn and headed towards a small bodega that Rabbi Levy had told him about. The major chains were almost certainly picked over by now, with scavengers regularly making inroads there and exes drawn to the activity. But the mom-and-pop stores on the streets were probably in better shape, since only the people nearby really knew where and what they were. He'd been lucky; the meat and dairy sections had thoroughly rotted, which had kept most people away, but the canned section was nearly untouched. He'd filled his backpack with plenty of food and water, and had remembered to grab a handful of Twix bars from next to the cash register. They were little Becky's favorite and would more than make up for the few hours he'd been gone. He was feeling pretty good as he left the store. The sun was warm, but the air wasn't as thick and stifling as it got down in the basement, he had a good haul to perk everyone's spirits up, and maybe it would make Keisha smile at him. Sure, she was like eight years older than he was, but she was pretty and--
He spotted the ex turning the corner about a block away from him. An Asian girl sporting a long black braid and a bloodstained karate uniform with a rainbow trim. Turning, he glanced back towards the store making sure he'd closed the door firmly. The last thing he wanted was for the ex to wander inside there while he made his getaway. A noise made him spin back around the ex was right in front of him, close enough for him to look into its cloudy gray eyes.
It lunged and he barely got his weapon up in time, a wooden curtain rod with one end crudely sharpened. "How did you get here that fast?" he cried, bringing up the blunt end of his makeshift spear by accident and knocking the ex over. It spun, twisted, and was back on its feet, scrabbling at him once again. He brought the rod up again, this time to block, and the creature bit down on the shaft instead of his arm while it lashed at him. Eli thought of horror movies and the twisted things that moved too fast. "Get--get away from me!" he yelled, voice going shrill with fear. His bladder loosened, the smell acrid in the air, and Eli didn't even notice. Who cared whether Keisha thought he was just some dumb kid or if little Becky made fun of him for being a baby who wet himself? Surviving this would be enough for him!
Eli gave a hard shove and pushed the ex back a few feet, its teeth leaving gouges in the wood. It caught its balance again and came for him. He held out the rod to trip it as it stalked towards him; the wooden shaft slipped between the dead girl's knees and he gave it a sharp yank to the left. The ex stumbled, caught its balance, and took another step towards him. "You're not supposed to be able to do that!" he informed it, voice quavering. He took a few paces back and reached forward again to trip it, batting the ex's foot away as it took another step. The ex swayed for an instant before it swung the foot back and lunged again, even more quickly this time.
Yeah, Eli'd had enough. He abandoned the curtain rod, throwing it at the ex to foul its lunge, and flung himself backwards, turning on his heel and dashing down the street at top speed. He'd been a sprinter back when high schools existed, running a respectable 7 minute mile. The synagogue wasn't even quite that far; he figured that he could probably get there in six minutes, maybe less. Just six minutes (and maybe less!) until he was free, until he was safe, until he could hug little Becky again and promise not to leave her, and sit in pee-stained pants while they gorged themselves on Twix. Just six minutes. Maybe less.
Too bad that wasn't nearly fast enough.
Barely thirty seconds had elapsed before her felt the weight slam into his back. He went sprawling onto the pavement, the knees of his jeans shredding, his palms on fire as he left skin and blood behind. For a second, he wasn't entirely sure what had happened. Had he gotten hit by a car? Did someone shoot him by accident? What? Then, as the shadow fell over him, he heard the distinctive clack clack clack of chattering teeth. Blearily, he peered up at the Asian girl he'd left back at the store, several hundred yards away easily. "...the fuck?" he rasped out, trying to scramble to his feet even though his body felt like it was on fire. "You can't. I'm fast." An ex shouldn't be able to keep up with him at a brisk walk, never mind an all-out run.
It clacked back at him, the chattering his only answer, and tried to swipe at him.
He feinted left, then dove right. The ex followed, changing direction in mid-air and tackled him again. It latched on to his backpack and tried to bite through the canvas. Eli unsnapped the straps, letting bag and ex fall. He'd lose the food, but it didn't matter, nothing mattered, he had to get away, that was all, he could come back or send someone else or something, but he couldn't stay here, he needed to outrun this crazy ex and get back to the group, get back to little Becky!
Eli had run a few hundred yards the first time. This time, he barely got fifty before the ex was on him again. "No," he begged. "You don't understand. I have a little sister, she needs me..."
He was right. The ex didn't understand. All the ex understood was hunger. It craned its head and bit into Eli's neck, pulling away a mouthful of skin and flesh and blood. He screamed, a high-pitched sound like a rabbit in a snare, but the ex didn't care. It only cared about the hunger. Another bite, fresh blood forming new stains on the white gi. The bites came faster as the scream gurgled to an abrupt stop and the ex hunkered over the body, holding it fast even after its struggles ceased. Soon it was joined by others of its kind, summoned by the commotion. Eventually, the ex was shoved away from the body entirely. It didn't care, yanking off a long strip of flesh off the boy's back and letting it hand down her chin as it sucked it up, bit by bit, turning to once again wander down the street, past a battered green backpack filled with life-sustaining supplies that would never reach its intended recipients. The ex paid no mind to that, either. The last bloody mouthful of meat was gone and it was hungry once again.
It was always hungry these days.
[NFB, NFI, OOC is biter-hungry love. Some minor descriptions taken from Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines. Zombie-typical violence and death under the cut.]