I am, as they say in first person shooters, taking fire.
A bullet has just sailed inches past my body into the dirt behind me, failing to faze the female zombie on my heels but scaring the everloving bejeezus out of me. What’s more, my attacker is likely using a silenced gun – I heard the bullet but not the shot – which means I have no earthly idea where he is, and thus which opposite direction I should run in.
Instead, I break out the serpentine, sprinting in an unpredictable zigzag pattern towards the nearest treeline. Amazingly, it seems to confound both the shooter and the pursuing zed; the former doesn’t take another shot, and the latter gives up after I use a tiny hut to break line of sight. I maintain my evasive maneuvers (which admittedly look bloody stupid, like I’m trying to perform a downhill slalom on foot) for a solid half-kilometre, where the trees and hills of a lengthy valley provide shelter from any Elektro-based snipers. I think I’m in the clear.
Still, all that flat-out running has taken its toll: I’m both dehydrated and very, very hungry. A pond of refreshing, somehow totally clean water solves problem A, but food is an issue. I didn’t find much to munch on in the city, and out here? This is the sticks. I don’t yet have the tools for hunting animals, so my only hope is to find a town which hasn’t been picked clean. Resolving to put the bow crafting on hold while I try to avoid starving to death, I head inland on a road that I can only hope leads to the remnants of civilisation.
It’s a long road. Really long. I pass thick forests and vast reservoirs, but eons seem to pass before I find an actual building to search. It’s a small house, not far from the road but isolated enough that I have hope of finding something. And lord, do I need to – by the time I walk in the door, I’m literally starving. If I can’t ward off the hunger here, death may find me before I find the next village.
Once again, my life is narrowly saved, this time by a lone tin of spaghetti. I down the entire can, which improves my medical condition from critically malnourished to plain old painfully hungry. Best of all, this little tin of cold pasta keeps me going long enough to reach my next stop on the road, which turns out to be a smattering of sheds and a seemingly untouched tavern building. Score? Score.
After filling up on additional cans and abandoned courgettes – enough to sate my hunger entirely – I find a small hatchet in one of the sheds. This could be just what I need to start building a bow, provided the mini-axe is capable of chopping down trees. Not paying much mind to the fact that I’m now carrying three different bladed weapons, I start whacking the nearest flora to test my new toy’s cleaving capabilities.
The good news is that this hatchet can cut down trees. The bad news is that one, doing so has very badly damaged it, and two, that was the wrong type of tree. I need a long stick of bendy ashwood, not the brittle twigs of…whatever the tree I just murdered was. They might make for some useable arrows, but I still stuff them into my pack with a feeling of slight resentment.
Back on the lonesome road, the contents of a few odd houses keep my stomach topped up as I continue heading probably-north. If this is starting to sound dull, it kind of is – the only distinguishing feature of this part of Chernarus seems to be how few points of interest there are.
Or so I think. As I emerge from the edge of heavy woodland, the lengthy taupe walls of a barn come into view. The barn turns into a farm, and the farm turns into a village. It’s only a little one, but compared to the vast stretches of not-much-at-all I’ve just passed through, I’m happy to dive right in.
Soon, I’ve replaced the half-broken hatchet with a pristine splitting axe, and use it to attack a suspiciously ash-coloured tree. Sure enough, it produces an ashwood stick, which – finally – I combine with the rope I found to create a cute little improvised bow. It’s a bit smaller than the sporting recurve I use at the range, but I’m not complaining; with a convenient chicken hut providing feathers for arrows, I finally have a tool for both hunting and self-defence that I don’t need to enter zombie bite range to use. Not even the allure of a mint-condition SKS rifle, lying unassumedly in some family’s former home, can overcome the immense attachment I have to my new hand-built weapon. I take the gun and hide it in a nearby bush, safe from the hands of would-be bandits.
I now have a bow, arrows, a decent axe, a warm coat and a bag full of the village’s food. For the first time since starting this adventure, all is well.
Then, of course, zombies show up.
I’d been looting the village without anything even approaching stealth, so why its inhabitants waited this long to pop out of nowhere and attack is beyond me. No matter, as I have five arrows at the ready, and only two zeds are giving chase. Wait, make that three. Christ, how are they doing that? I lead them to open ground, spin around, and let loose the first shot.
I’m forced to retreat further, back onto the road I came in on, and shoot again once I’d cleared a few dozen yards. Another miss.
Three arrows, three zombies. If I miss again, it’s goodbye to at least a large percentage of my blood.
I stand my ground and spend an extra second taking aim – a second that, with the first screaming monstrosity closing the gap, feels like a month. Thwip.
The crudely sharpened twig rushes square into his chest, and he stumbles into a heap at the side of the road. The next one has already stepped over his deceased comrade’s corpses as I nock my second-to-last arrow, and is less than fifteen feet away when I send it flying into his head. Two for two – I’ve somehow become a better archer than I was pre-apocalypse.
The final zed is a bit further back, but I missed his friends twice when they were much closer. I draw my last arrow and wait for him to run, mouth foaming and arms outstretched, into a less risky range. He passes the bodies and I release; the arrow flies straight and true, landing at the base of his throat. He slows, collapses to his knees, then slumps over dead.
Gunfire dodged, starvation defeated, zombies killed with a bent stick. I have been alive for 99 minutes.