“I wanna see your animal side
Let it all out
I wanna see the dirt
Under your skin
I need your broken promises”
-Fall Out Boy- Death Valley.
“Shit!” I said and let out a breath.
“What?” Pete asked.
“Everything Pete… and I left the gun at the house.”
We drove in silence and we watched the world change and the images sped by like a movie. A woman came running out with her child in her arms two of those things behind her. She waved with her hand only for her own child to bite into her neck.
“We have to help her!” shouted Bailey.
“No!” I snapped. “She is bitten, infected there would be no point in it.”
We were quiet then, Pete continued to drive, he gave constant quick glances in the rear view mirror to check if the girls where OK but I knew he was checking them out.
“Where are we going?” asked Claire. She had a point.
“To DT Attorneys,” I said softly.
“Are you stupid?” snapped Claire. “If things are this bad here in the residential area, going to the city would be walking into a death trap!” She had another point there. My heart raced in that instant.
“Ok, listen, drop me off close to the city, you guys can go wherever you want but I need to find someone.”
“Dude! You’re a nut job you know that?” Pete said.
“I know Pete but I have to find Him.”
Pete gave me a funny look.
“What’s with the collar, dude?” his eyes trailed from my face to my neck.
“It’s nothing,” I said and pulled the hoodie zipper up as far as it could go.
“You got buff dude.”
“Pete just let it go, ok and stop with the dude stuff!”
An awkward silence stretched between the four of us. Pete made it out of the neighborhood and into a deserted back road, for the first time I realized he was going in the wrong direction, away from the city.
“Pete what the fuck are you doing!” I slammed my hands on the dashboard.
“Saving you from yourself Kenny.”
“No. NO! You don’t get to decide that!” I glared at him. “You stop the car, you stop it right now!”
“And then what? Huh, Kenny? You gonna walk back through the town right up to the city like your some bad ass hero to save the day?”
“You don’t understand,” I huffed out a frustrated breath.
“You know what, your right I don’t and I don’t get this whole gay thing either but God Kenny you’re all I have dude.”
He had sadness in his voice.
It’s been two years since I came to America from South Africa and Pete was the first guy I met, he was my flat mate and we became close. He was an orphan and so was I. We both lost our parent’s just coming out of high school. We stuck together like brothers. He even went with me to the gay clubs, pretending to be my bodyguard. He had the same mind-set as most straight guys, that he could beat up any gay guy just because he was straight. Most of the guys I dated could give Pete one slap and his five foot three one hundred and sixty-five pound frame would shudder against the floor but no, he still stood up to them when they tried to make a move on me and he didn’t approve. He was the closest thing I had to family – God he was my family and I his.
“I know you’re just trying to look out for me Pete but I have to go.”
“Kenneth come on, it would be suicide and you don’t have any means of protection, like the girls said the city would be swarming with those things.”
“What if we take one of the quieter streets in to the city?” asked Claire.
“I don’t know. Hell you can’t be sure of anything. It could be a 50/50 situation. By the way, I’m Pete.”
“Hey Pete. I’m Claire, this is Bailey.”
They did their introductions and I actually gave notice to the people in the car with me. Funny I have always contemplated this if some crime happens and the police ask if you remember anything. How in the bloody hell would you remember anything if your only thoughts were to survive?
Claire was five feet tall, maybe shorter with short platinum blond hair – and by short I mean like tomboy short. She had green eyes, I check to make sure in the rear view mirror, medium-sized breasts but a small build. Bailey on the other hand was slightly taller and bustier with long slender legs, black hair and blue eyes. Kind of knew Pete would prefer Bailey over Claire. Pete on the other hand had sort black hair, brown eyes and brown skin. He really was my other brother from another mother as they say. Born and bred in New Orleans, however he didn’t have the accent. We often joked about going there someday on some road trip. Glancing back at the road in front of us it occurred to me we were on our own faith induced and unplanned road trip and I caught myself thinking, where are we going? Could I just leave Thor behind without knowing if he were alive or if he was one of those things… Cop girl, I left her without hesitation, the woman running with her child in her arms the same so what made his life seem more important than theirs? I questioned my humanity then in that moment.
“So Kenny what’s the plan?” asked Pete drawing me out of my thoughts.
“How much gas do you have?”
Unknowingly in that moment, I singled myself out as the leader of our group.
“About a quarter tank.”
“And the next town or city we will pass by would be?” I asked.
“Forth Atkinson,” said Claire.
So far, on this road, we haven’t seen any of those things and it seemed deserted.
“How long till we get there?” I asked
“More or less twenty minutes,” said Claire, yea walking Google maps was right in the back seat.
“I suggest we find some place to crash till morning, somewhere not close to the city,” I said.
“Ok, I think there should be a gas station up a head,” said Claire.
Yep, GPS and Google maps were with us in the car, thank God.
And so it was, a little gas station came up just ahead of us. Pete pulled in and immediately switched off the engine. We sat there for a couple of minutes as if waiting for one of those things to bust out of the door and rush towards us. The silence was eerie. One of us would have to get out and check it to be safe and it wasn’t going to be the girls. Someone had to stay with them while the other check out the small convenient shop.
“I’ll go,” I said not looking at any of them.
“No dude, I will,” said Pete and touched my shoulder.
“You sure Pete?”
He nodded hesitantly and slowly got out and moved to the trunk of his car. He opened the lid and retrieved something from it. A baseball bat. I couldn’t help but laugh then. We had played so many Zombie video games and watched zombie movies while living together that I should have expected that much. With the baseball bat in hand he stood ready.
“Hello?” he shouted and we waited, holding our breaths. When nothing but the wind responded he stepped cautiously closer a couple of feet and shouted again.
“Helllooo!” we held our breaths again and yet only the wind.
He repeated his action three more times, creeping ever closer. After no response to his calls of hello it occurred to me. What happened to cop-girl and plumber-guy, the way plumber guy was so transfixed on his kill that he didn’t bother to even go after me. The way that his meal was the only thing that mattered to him. What if there was one of those things in there gorging itself on something or someone, I mean the convenient shop had food inside it. So what if one or more of those things was having themselves a convenient shop buffet?
“Claire, can you drive?”
“Yes I can, why?”
“Come sit in the driver’s seat. I’m going with Pete, if something happens, anything, you start the car and you drive, if one of us gets bitten don’t even hesitate to leave us behind, ok?”
“What? Kenny no that’s crazy.”
“Listen,” I said not taking my eyes of Pete but sill speaking to her. “The quicker you accept this new life and the way it is now the better you will adapt, the better your chances are of surviving.”
She clasped my forearm tightly.
“I know what you’re trying to say but still I can’t just leave you here. I kind of figure you’re the stronger one mentally so how about you both just don’t get bitten in the first place?”
“Deal.” I said and was out the car.
“Pete!” I whispered.
“The fuck Kenny, get back in the car,” he whisper back at me.
“No, you don’t understand and I’m not gonna explain it now, just… Pete trust me will you?”
He hesitates for a slight second and mutters “fine” with a sigh.
We came up to the front door that said push. I gripped his hand when he stretched out to push the lever. I looked up at the corner of the door. Usually these places have a bell that clings when one opens them but I couldn’t see anything. The shop at the back was dark as if the lights were off and the shop never opened. It could be that the owner was either dead, bitten and become one of them or that when he saw what happened this morning, didn’t bother to come in. Honest I don’t even know when the world really did go to shit. I only stumbled on to it at 11:08 this morning. So it might have started last night or even in the early hours of the morning.
I let go of Pete’s hand and allowed him to push against the bar, the door opened. So now something else clogged my brain. What if there was someone in the shop hiding, ignoring our hello’s, afraid to share their little sanctuary of safety with any of us. In a zombie apocalypse there is not just zombies to be weary of but other humans as well. It’s not about saving the human race any more, it’s about saving your own ass. So another human with a gun might be a lot more dangerous than any of those things. Wouldn’t it be ironic if we had just survived the first outbreak only to have your brains blown out by another human?
Pete entered the shop with the bat ready. I kept my breath as low as possible trying to pick up any other sound I could and it felt like my ears were heightened in that instant but, your anxiety and fear can play ticks on you. A normal sound might seem very different and could be easily mistaken for the wrong thing, shadows moving can send your nerves into overdrive, adrenalin pumping overdoses in your blood and your fight or flight instinct at the ready.
The shop was small maybe fifty square feet and it was dead quiet. I was turning to see if I could make out any signs of someone being here before us, when I heard the click of a gun. I closed my eyes preparing for the shot to go off.
“Dude look what I found.” said Pete.
Relief flooded me and tears escaped my eyes.
“Pete I’m going to kill you!” I said a bit too loud and spun around, we both stood still, silent, holding our breaths. A couple of seconds passed and nothing. Now only, I realized Pete had found the light switch. I could see the shop clearly, the racks stacked ready for this morning so I was right on one of my theories, either the owner was one of them or didn’t bother to come in.
“I’m getting the girls,” he said when he saw the relief in me.
“No, not yet Pete. The store-room, always check the store-room.”
“Yea, sorry slipped my mind dude.”
Pete checked the store-room and I checked the rest room. Nothing. Now I was contemplating something else that had not occurred to me as we were driving. I did not see any other cars coming after us or passing by us from city. This is a zombie apocalypse and surely some people would have tried to drive away or we should have had someone pass us, or did the zombies moved too fast? Most zombies are depicted as slow-moving mindless goons but these things were fast, humanly fast.
When the girls entered the shop both ran for the bathroom. So Pete and I were left alone and I knew what was coming and I dreaded it.
“Who?” he asked, I could sense the anger in his voice.
“A guy Pete, just some dude that happened to tell me this morning he loved me more than I would ever know.”
“Why did you just disappear Kenneth? I was worried and kind of pissed that I needed to start paying the full rent and then when I called your job they said you resigned. The fuck Kenny you don’t just do that, I thought we were friends?”
“Pete I’m not going to get into details OK, you might throw up but just … I was happy for the first time in a long time. I was happy and I wanted to have some of it for myself before I shared it with you OK, yes I was an ass and you can think of me what you want but at least I was a happy ass.”
“Yea, sure bet you were some happy ass.” he choked and we both burst out laughing.
“So what now” asked Claire, when she and Bailey came out of the rest room.
“I think now we ask the question we all have been wondering… what happened?”
“Theoretically, I think someone fucked up,” said Pete
“Meaning,” asked Claire.
“Meaning some idiot at the CDC or government researched project fucked up … I mean there could be other possibilities like aliens, a virus mutation, viral warfare or supernatural like God forgot to keep the dead, dead. Who knows.” he responded.
“Aliens, you are some piece of work,” said Bailey and snatched a candy bar from one of the shelves and start eating.
I ignored them and wandered to the back of the checkout counter. I found the two things I was looking for, first a radio and second a radio scanner.
“Hey does anyone know how to work a radio scanner?”
“I do my dad’s a mechanic or he was anyway…” said Bailey and came around.
I switched on the radio and found static at first but turned till I heard a voice. I tuned the knob till the voice came clearer.
“There have been violent attacks throughout the city and the USA, including attacks coming in from London and Africa, China, Russia, Japan, Canada even in Australia. What the hell is going on? Sorry I’m not gonna pretend to be a radio DJ but this is it folks. The world has gone to shit! Yes you guessed it zombies. Now government officials are setting up safe zones in the following areas if you can make your way over there as soon as possible. I repeat again this is a recording …”
“Why did you switch it off?” Bailey asked.
Pete and I both gave her the same “bitch please” look.
“What?” she snapped.
“Here is how it will go down,” I said.
“First they’re gonna gather up people uninfected and bitten,” Pete said.
“Then somewhere along the line someone will turn,” I said.
“Because damn scientist wants to solve the mystery question and find a cure so of course they will let bitten people come into the safe zone,” Pete said.
“Before long the safe zones won’t be so safe any more,” I said.
“And then were would you rather be?” Pete asked.
“Huddled in a safe zone with no means of escape?” I asked.
“Or out here where at least we can make a run for it and try to stay alive?” Pete asked.
Both Claire and Bailey looked at us,
Pete turned to me, “Dude, I love you.”
“Love you to Pete,” I said and we bumped fists. Yep that’s me and Pete, we always discussed what would happen if the world went to shit and how would you know it did.
“Honestly thought nerds where more clever than this,” said Bailey.
“Bailey they’re right, think about it, someone will screw up no matter how careful they are,” she began a soft sob and her words seemed to hold a double meaning as she repeated, “someone always screws up.”
“Beside Bailey, why waste all the energy and risk getting to the safe zone when, and even if we survive getting there, just to be back out here again?” I asked.
She just shook her head and turned around and pulled Claire into her arms.
We sat the whole afternoon in that convenient shop waiting for something to happen, for someone to drive past, for one of those things to find us. So, I decided to switch the radio back on and try different stations. It was the same all across the world at some point some of the radio DJ’s started calling it an infection, one station caught my attention stating that the speed at which the infection was spreading was too fast to even try to get it under quarantine, four safe zones had all ready fallen before they even started and I knew some were going to follow soon if not in the next couple of weeks. It was getting dark and all four of us were tired.
“Guys we need a plan for the night,” I said, the three had been playing cards and eating snacks.
“So we take turns to keep watch?” asked Pete.
“No,” I responded.
“We sleep on the roof. At least then we can all get some rest. We all are in a bit of shock and trust me we need to rest our minds and bodies. We need to keep our mental state of mind healthy as well as our physical state.”
Ok so sleeping on the roof might have offered us safety but it didn’t do much for sleep, I think we sat there till two in the morning, watching the fires burn from the city and residential areas around us. All of us were quiet and no doubt they too had the bitter feeling in their gut that I had, that somewhere out there, in all that chaos was someone we love and we could do nothing to help them. I will never forget that feeling of helplessness the first night of the end of the world.
Bailey fell asleep first. Pete and Claire actually sat and whispered to one another and they too fell asleep eventually. Me on the other hand, I was looking at the map trying to organize a plan, any plan, to get to Thor. I needed to and to be honest at that point it wasn’t any more about saving him but more the fact that I had to know what happened to him. Now, thinking back, I would have never even considered it, it was a hopeless case. A thin strand of hope to find someone dead or alive in all this chaos but mentally I was preparing myself for the worst. His death I could handle if I did find him but not if he turned into one of them. The first rays of the sun had barely reached the sky when I heard a groan noise off somewhere in the field behind us. I held my breath and then listened closely, now not sounding like a groan but more like a growl from some kind of predator.
“Guys wake up. Damn it wake the fuck up,” I whispered a bit louder.
“What’s going on?” Bailey came awake and tilted her neck from side to side. She froze however when whatever it was growled again.
“What is that?”
“I don’t know,” I whispered back at her.
“Don’t stand up, get down damn it!” I snapped at her when she tried to get a better look.
“Guys we’re trying to snuggle here if you don’t mind,” Pete said a bit too loud for my liking.
“Pete wake up, wake the hell up. We have company.”
He was awake and aware instantly and kept low, like I knew he would, and crawled over to me and Bailey. I saw it then when the pale yellow grass rustled and it moved out of the field.
“Oh my god, is that a dog?” gasped Bailey.
“More like killer Chihuahua from outer space,” said Pete sarcastically.
Pete couldn’t have been more right. The dog’s small little head held only part of its skin, the bone could be seen clearly. It had been torn or eaten off on the left side and so too, the eye was missing. It still had its leash attached to it. An idea arose in me.
“Guys were there gloves in the store?”
“I think, what the fuck is that?” said Claire behind us loudly and zombie Chihuahua heard her. Yapping and growling faintly.
“Shsssshhhh,” I whispered to Claire.
“That wasn’t what I heard the first time though, it was deeper and louder.”
“No Kenny, shit you telling me there’s something else out there?” asked Pete.
“Maybe but I’m almost…”
All four of us watched in amusement and horror, a black fur dog leaped out and chopped little zombie Chihuahua in half, the head half still yapping on the ground .
“Shit just got a whole lot of weird,” Pete whispered.
He was right, zombie humans were bad enough, now domesticated animals too!
“Remind me never to go to the zoo again,” he whispered.
Pete raised the shot-gun, aiming at the dog.
I pulled it from him.
“Pete no, one shot and who know what else attention will be drawn to us, see what we’ve already learned.”
“What, you gone give us an observation lesson while that thing is down there,” Baily snapped.
“Hey back up Bailey, Kenny might be gay but hell he can draw some pretty accurate conclusions really quick,” Pete defended me.
“Guys not now, we have to get rid of our problem before it draws more attention,” said Claire.
She was right, however the dog which at first I could see no infection bite just stood there glaring at us, not growling and barking but just stood there. Then it started pacing back and forth and I could see the gashing wound in its hind leg. Chihuahua zombie was still yapping on the ground.
“So what do we do?” asked Bailey and my eye caught her move towards Claire and the dog stopped pacing and looked at us.
“I don’t believe it,” I said in a gasp.
“What?” Pete snapped.
“It’s observing us like we are observing it, watch,” I said and moved off a little to the side and what would you know it, the dog actually studied my behavior.
“Ok, ok, no way in hell that’s possible,” said Pete when I stepped back to them.
“Maybe, what if it is a virus, an intelligent virus that takes over the host cells and brain capacity after its dead?”
“Kenny you know what you’re suggesting is crazy and hell, shit scary. If they can learn to hunt they might be more dangerous than we can possibly ever imagine.” Pete didn’t have to say it because I was thinking the exact same thing.
“Yes but we can also use that to our advantage, if we can confuse him entirely then we might get the upper hand. Question is how do we kill it without making too much noise. Pete the bat its titanium right?”
“Fine, OK we have to do this quick and Pete you have to back me up, at last resort you blow its head off with the gun. I’ll go down.”
Pete didn’t say anything, survival never came without risks, we both knew that much.
“You are going down there to what, kill it? Are you fucking mad?” said Bailey distressed.
“Listen Bailey we got this, just watch,” Pete tried to reassure her.
“Pete distract it, all of you. I don’t want it to see I’m coming down.”
They did rather sarcastically.
“Here doggy, dog, doggy ”
“Here zombie dog.”
Lucky I was off the roof then, bat gripped ready and Pete still stood with the dog’s attention on him but his eyes were focused on me.
“Now!” He shouted and I was round the corner. It worked. The dog was so distracted by them it didn’t see me coming. With a loud cling the bat met its jaw so hard that it snapped backwards and rolled over. I brought the bat down not a second later on its skull and I heard it crack and hit it one more time for good measure. The brain matter oozed out. I turned around and finished off zombie Chihuahua dog as well.
“Get down and get in the shop, bring me the gloves and a container if you can find one.”
The girls hesitated but Pete came outside helping me pick up zombie Chihuahua remains. Inside now I laid the two pieces of the dog on the checkout counter.
“What in the name of God are you doing?” snapped Bailey, she was really starting to irritate me.
“You’re gone dissect it?” asked Claire.
“We’re going to try, we need to know what’s happening and also why, I’m no biologist but I know a couple of things.”
“Move, let me,” said Claire “I study medicine after school, was training for a nurse till… never mind where are the gloves?” she said stepping up to the counter.
“You people are fucking kidding me are you guys sick or something. It’s dead. It’s all that needs to matter,” Bailey’s face was bleak in the way her voice rose.
I gave Pete the face stating I’m getting pissed and he walked over to her taking her away from the Chihuahua corpse.
“So I’d say, the infection came from the bite to its head,” she said and pulled on the purple rubber glove.
I also pulled on the same gloves.
“Yeah and back at the house this one guy attacked a cop lady, he was gorging on her and when I tried to retrieve the gun it growled protectively over its kill, the same with the dog outside. I think it saw the Chihuahua as a threat to us … us being its next kill and honest that’s not zombie behavior.”
“No, its predatory instinct. Wait that’s why you went with Pete into the shop, because he didn’t know that some of them could have been in here eating something and they wouldn’t have bothered with responding to his calls.
“Exactly,” I responded.
“Pete’s not all brain but more of follow the plan kind of guy.”
“That’s weird,” she said when she removed some the pieces of shattered skull.
“The brain it’s … I know you smashed the living daylights out of it but look here.”
She took some of the brain matter and rubbed it between her gloved fingers. It was for one, almost transparent like gelatin and looked like it was dissolving. But between the dissolved matter was brown-orange like growths almost like little roots.
“Fungus?” I asked.
“I don’t know, maybe but it’s not something you would find in mammals.”
We went to work on the rest of the dogs small corpse and as we found more of the growth like roots the more puzzling it got, till we got to the small chest were there was a heart like root larger and a little harder than the others. The bones also caught my attention where the roots entangles around them and in to the muscle tissue.
“I’ve seen something similar before.”
“You have?” she asked while we placed the dog’s remains in the box and took off the gloves.
“Yes, I saw a documentary on Discovery channel a while back about sort of zombie ants, where a fungus latched on to their bodies and used them to grow and create new spores, so either this is an evolved parasitic fungus by nature or it is adapted and man-made.”
“Or aliens,” said Pete making both of us jump.
Claire brought her hand to her mouth and looked oddly pale all of a sudden; she immediately rushed to the bathroom and threw up.
“Guess she doesn’t have such a strong stomach after all, better go see if she is okay,” said Pete.
Yeah right. I’ve had my suspicions and this little event of hers is proving something to me. Claire is either ill and in need of medical attention or… she is pregnant.
“I said I’m fine. God can you just back off dude!’ Claire snapped at Pete.
I looked up from the map just then when Bailey came around the counter.
“Nothing, it’s dead there’s no signal, just static,” she said with a sigh.
She nodded her head and I got up.
“Okay guys, group discussion.”
Claire came over clutching her stomach, Pete not far behind her. He was either being very ignorant or trying to ignore the signs.
“We can’t stick around here for too much longer, we need to move. It’s about 8:02 now so Bailey you and Pete go out front and fill up the car. I saw some empty plastic canisters in the store-room, full them up as well. Pete you keep watch. Claire and I will gather whatever we can find that’s edible and won’t perish too quickly.”
Bailey gave me a worried look.
“Bailey focus, if anything moves out there you guys come back in here. You need to learn to be brave now; the world you knew yesterday morning is gone. The quicker you realize that the better you’re going to adapt and survive.” She began to sob softly at my words.
“I’m sorry I’m being harsh and most likely a big jerk but it’s the truth and I would much rather be a jerk and live then be a nice living dead guy.”
She nodded silently and wiped the tears from her cheek. I knew one of us was going to crack soon, it was just a matter of time.
Claire and I were in the shop. For a long time we didn’t speak much to one another but I was burning to ask her. I glanced back at Pete and Bailey; she seemed to have filled up the car and was now busy with the second five gallon container.
“Um …. You know I know right?”
“God I hate gay guys,” she responded and leaned on the rack with her forehead on her arms, her face buried in them.
“How far along are you?” I asked and continued putting some energy bars into a plastic bag.
“Not far,” she said as she stood up and handed me the bag full of soft drinks and one full of water bottles.
“Claire, how far?”
“God, I was so stupid! One night, one night you know and he said nothing will happen, nothing and now look at it, six weeks later and the world ended.”
“Hey listen I’m sorry, it’s bad but … and I have to know,” I came up to her and gripped her shoulders forcing her to look me in the eyes.
“Where you planning on keeping it?”
She hesitated and bit her bottom lip and her eyes filled with tears.
“No… me… Bailey and I were going to go to the abortion clinic yesterday morning. I even saved up for it.” She began to sob and I pulled her close to me. She spoke through her tears and into my chest.
“I guess it was a sign you know that the baby growing inside me is meant to be born.”
I gave a sigh.
“But I think it would be better if it’s not born, well not into this anyway,” she said.
“Claire! Hey listen to me, I might be cold and sound heartless but no, you’re keeping that baby. We will find a place somewhere safe and you will have your baby OK I promise you.”
She engulfed me with her arms and sobbed angrily and painfully in my embrace.
“You don’t really hate gay guys do you?”
She shook her head.
“My brother’s a drag but I love him to death,” she said and pulled away from me. Bailey and Pete walked in.
I could see on Pete’s face the stab of jealousy.
“We all set?” I asked avoiding his gaze.
“Yeah, so where we heading?” he asked sharply. Yes, he was pissed and jealous.
“I don’t know, north?” I asked.
Everyone nodded. In the back of my mind two things struck me, one this is good-bye Thor. I’m sorry but things have changed. If he was alive out there somewhere and we would meet again, then I would take it as fate but for now it was good-bye. I shed a single tear but none of them saw it and besides, number two was more important we need to find a safe haven for Claire so she can have her baby. We got in the car and Pete started to drive still looking pissed off.