With the caravan resting to refill its tankers at the bubbling gas lake, everyone takes the chance to stretch their legs. The sun is in the middle of the sky, but they all know it can drop below the horizon at any moment. Those with weapons sit on top of the metal vehicles, which are covered in dents from previous attacks. Farmers tend to the livestock that are kept in the central tanker, the animals refusing to step outside. A small party is sent out to find fruits and vegetables, but the hungry people doubt they will have any luck. Even the children remember the disaster at the last stop when the gathering party tried to pick wild carrots that dragged them into the dirt. No matter how cautious they are, the surviving humans scattered about the planet find that they are still at the whim of the battling monsters who turned their world into an endless landscape of death. Only the children too young to understand what is going on manage to laugh and play while the adults force themselves to smile.
Staring out over the desolate landscape, Kara Stein does her best to hold her pistol like she knows what she is doing. Having turned ten a week ago, the adults decided she is now old enough to help guard the caravan. Her dirt-covered face is covered by the cowl of her tattered cloak, which still smells of her dead mother. Kara puts down her gun to move her satchel to her other shoulder, which is still tender from a bad sunburn. After spending her entire life on the run, the little girl can only be comfortable when she is prepared to run. Even when she can smell her own odor, she has to be forced to bathe due to a fear of being attacked in the water. Out of fear and defiance, she has shaved her head to avoid having to use the sweet-smelling shampoo that the caravan uses. Taking a stick of gum out of her shorts’ pocket, she looks around to make sure nobody sees her put it in her mouth. She freezes at the sight of her friends playing nearby with a ball that is composed mostly of leather patches. A pang of jealousy rises in her gut and she considers leaving her post until she spots the caravan leader climbing out of the tank that acts as their lead vehicle.
Cheers rise from the front as the gathering team emerges from a clump of forest where all of the trees are strung with Christmas lights. Kara is about to join the rushing mob when one of the other guards clears his throat. With a pout, the girl chews her bland gum and watches as the other children are given candy canes plucked from the wilderness. She sighs at the rare find and wonders why any junk food found growing naturally is always safe. Apples and potatoes can turn out to be explosive while a bush made of chicken nuggets has yet to turn on any people she has seen over the last ten years. Taking out a notebook, Kara jots down the questions that come to her mind. Her actions catch the adults by surprise since they were under the impression that none of the children knew how to read or write. She smiles with pride and holds back the tears as she remembers the lessons her father drilled into her. Having lost both of her parents only three years ago, the pain and sense of loneliness is still fresh in her mind. Putting all of her belongings away and adjusting her satchel, the girl focuses on watching for signs of danger or anything that is bizarre even for their chaotic world.
It is a distant roar of an engine that causes Kara to tense and grip the gun to the point where it almost goes off. Turning to the other guards, she sees that they heard the noise as well and are calling for everyone to get into the armored vehicles. With so many having gone to greet the gatherers, only a few of them make it back before the sun abruptly drops below the horizon and the area is plunged into darkness. Appearing on clusters, the stars appear to show that there are lumbering forms emerging from the nearby hills. People scream as they run for the caravan, the children gradually falling behind as the adults try to get themselves to safety. Kara considers heading out to save her friends, but the well-honed desire to survive causes her to stay at her post. Hearing a muttered curse to her right, she turns in time to see one of the men jump off the armored vehicle and pull a large sled out of a side compartment. The muscular guard charges towards the last place that he saw the kids before the stars shifted to only shine on the heavily defended caravan. Nobody reacts when his scream erupts from the shadows and the mangled sled crashes into the side of one of the vans. Those on the impact side of the armored vehicle run when they see sparks, which ignite the recently filled gas tanks. With deafening blast, the transport is sent flying into the nearby lake and causes the foul-smelling liquid to become a blazing wall of flames.
No longer caring about saving anyone else, Kara tosses her gun into her satchel and jumps to the ground. She can hear growls coming from every direction and sees that others are sealing themselves in the vehicles. Knowing that she will not be let inside, the girl sprints for the rear vehicle and scrambles underneath. The ground shakes as something large approaches the caravan, but she ignores the screams as she pulls a small packet out of the undercarriage. Kara puts the nose plugs in before unfolding a portable shovel and digs into the soft earth. She does not bother going very deep and crawls into the hole once the attacking creature rams into the vehicle above her head. Putting her cloak over her body and holding a straw in her mouth, the girl quickly buries herself and remains still. The voice of her parents teaching her how to survive repeats in her mind, the mental trick helping to keep her calm.
With dirt in her ears, she can barely hear the sounds of the massacre and anxiously prays that she survives. Even when the armored van is sent rolling away and her hiding place is exposed, Kara refuses to move and only sucks in a slow breath when she is on the verge of passing out. She can feel bugs crawl into her clothes, but she ignores the sliminess and occasional bites. A foot stomps an inch from her head and the dirt over one eye is cleared to show her that a claw is arching over her body. Unable to move, she hopes that the filthiness of her skin is enough to make her blend in with the ground. She holds her breath when a wet nose taps at the straw and snorts at the suspicious piece of plastic. The beast is about to grab it with its gnarled teeth when movement to its left causes it to rush after a woman who could no longer stay in her hiding place. Refusing to let her body relax, Kara stays vigilant through the night, which is consumed by the sun after he final scream stops echoing off landscape. As soon as she feels that enough time has passed, the girl crawls out of the dirt and goes about gathering enough supplies to continue her journey alone.