Hannah and The Harpies
From a self-assigned writing prompt on Facebook: everyone who commented got a story about them. This is for my friend Hannah.
Of course I had heard about the Harpies before, but only over firelight in whatever bombed-out shell of a city we had camped in for the night. They were a story, something to keep the men’s morale up. One company would describe them as shrieking warrior women that would ride in out of nowhere to save the hides of poor saps who needed saving, another as beautiful maidens who could heal the most life-threatening of wounds.
I even heard one guy say he woke up one morning to see a bridge built over a tactically necessary ravine where none existed the night before, with only an “H” scrawled on the side.
The war had drained us of everything that made us human, and stories like the Harpies were one of the few things left that helped us remember we weren’t the shambling, rotten freaks in the endless zombie horde. I may not have believed them, but god damn it, I knew the men needed them. I certainly did.
But it was somewhere on PA-65 between Pittsburgh and Beaver Falls that I was finally made a believer. Our encampment in the Chippewa Home Depot had been overrun two days prior — a bitten refugee hadn’t been totally honest in his screening, and yet another foothold in humanity’s war against oblivion had been eroded away by kindness. We had to leave half the civilians there and left with half our ammo and supplies, and had been on the run for 50 straight hours.
I thought we had put enough time between ourselves and the ceaseless hordes, and called to make camp. We put up a nightwatch and barely had enough energy to open our protein bars before collapsing from exhaustion.
Well, seems the nightwatch felt the same way, because I only woke up when I heard my lieutenant’s gurgling shrieks next to me. A rotter was digging into his throat with whatever shards remained of his left arm.
I jumped up and barely had enough time to reach my sidearm before a rotter was on me, too. He was a big one, didn’t much take care of himself in his previous life, and all of his bulk came down on me like so many sacks of oozing, ravenous potatoes. It was all I could do to get my left arm up in time — and right into his mouth.
I felt what teeth were left in his maw dig through my skin, tearing away my meat like a dog with a fresh roast. I was done for. I looked to my left to see a woman holding her child and backing against a wall while two rotters closed in on them. We were done.
We were *done*.
And then I heard it, like a banshee screeching into the night. Like a pack of shrieking, vengeful lionesses pouncing upon their pathetic, hapless prey. Over that same wall came the god damn motherfucking Harpies, two dozen unstoppable warwomen hardened by years of patriarchal bullshit and let loose by an apocalypse. Lipstick turned to warpaint, catcalls turned to *fuel*.
If the zombies had brains, they would have counted themselves lucky for not having working bowels anymore.
And then I saw her on the wall: Hannah Harpie herself. Baby on her back and a machete in each hand. I thought she was a myth, something boys told each other to prove their manhood. She effortlessly cut through the two rotters before they could get to the mother and child, jumped down, and chopped my left arm off in one fell swoop.
“Quit screaming, I just saved your life. Try pushing out a kid.”
I’ve been an Army man my entire life, as my father and his father were before me, but I’d never seen such ruthless, efficient brutality on the battlefield as those Harpies displayed that day. I think I actually heard them *laughing* as they saved the skins of an entire company of soldiers and survivors by slicing through the front of the horde like it was butter. I was in awe.
Thanks to them, we were able to gather our wounded and supplies and get back to their settlement before the horde could overwhelm us — a three story parking deck with ample viewpoints, barricades, and generators (and, if I’m being totally honest, quite tastefully decorated). It was as I was sipping tea and having my left stump bandaged up that I realized what we had been missing all along — why the men needed stories like the Harpies to begin with.
I looked around this recovery bay and saw hand-knit blankets and candles. I smelled a delicious stew wafting from the cooking tent and suddenly remembered how much I *hate* the taste of protein bars. Notes plucked from a nearby guitar floated through the camp and I recognized it from my daughter’s Lilith Fair CD.
We had been so focused on surviving that we had forgotten about living.
Hannah Harpie and her husband, Dalraj (quite the looker himself, sporting an impressive apocalypse beard), approached my bed. She passed their child to him, took my hand, and said, “Welcome back to reality. Let’s figure out how we can take those rotten bastards down.”
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