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The rumbling was light, distant. Definitely a truck and sounded a lot like a diesel engine on its last legs. It was slow; based on the sound from afar, but certainly headed in this direction.
Peering through the small slits between the boards nailed to the windows in his house, Matt squinted, panning to the left and right looking for the rumbling. He could see the brightness of the sun, causing him to squint further and his pupils to shrink down to tiny pinholes.
The sunlight and the thick air made his vision hazy, causing him to blink several times and wet his eyes.
“Nothing,” he said in a whisper.
As he continued to peer through the slits, he took note of the houses across the street from him. There was Mr. Bay’s house, which use to a be bright yellow with a perfectly manicured front lawn and half-sized white picket fences his wife made him put up. To the right of Ms. Bay’s house was Josh’s house, brown-brick, with dark green shutters; looked a lot like one of those restaurants that one would always see on television.
To the left was Jim’s home. Single father of 3, widowed at an early age. Nice 2 story home with a soft blue color, 2 car garage, overall a well maintained home. Lot’s of neighborhood parties held at Jim’s house, front yard and back.
And that’s when Matt saw it. On the second floor, 2nd window from the right, he thought he saw a glint, like someone with a mirror flashing and bouncing the sunlight at him. Matt looked again, hoping to see it again and as he cocked his head to the left and then to the right, the glint had gone.
Matt let out a deep sigh, then breathed in just as deeply.
Now all three houses were looking worn, garbage strewn everywhere, the wind moving the trash from one house to the next. The lawns were all dead, cars layered in thick dust, mailboxes rusting away.
3 years. 3 very long years. That’s how long he had holed himself up in his house. No electricity, no running water, no food.
Initial reports of the “plague” surfaced in Ukraine. CNN had a small byline at the bottom of the screen, but that was the extent of it. Over the week from the initial report, the “disease” had spread to Italy, France, Germany, Norway, Britain, then headed east, towards Russia and China. By the end of the week, reports were nearly non-stop, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“Stay in your home!” barked the newscaster. “Reports indicate the viral infection moving quickly. Doctors and scientists recommend that you stay in your home and do not travel.”
By the second week, the “infection” had finally hit North America, surfacing in Mexico, then into Texas and straight up into Canada. News reports showed retail stores across America with barren shelves, empty and void from any food and water.
News reports showed the outcome of having this plague. People stopped being people. That is, they looked normal at first. But then you looked closer, it was obvious; the greyish skin, sunken eyes, and a very mechanical, robotic nature to their walk. And these infected never spoke; they just walked, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, towards any people that were not infected. No violent motive, no weapons, no blood, just drawn to uninfected people.
Matt and his wife Sarah had ran out to the nearest Home Depot upon hearing the first reports. They stayed together because they knew in a small town where they were from, things could get nasty. They purchased as many boards as their Ford pick up truck could hold and before getting home, stopped at one of their 3 local grocery stores to stock up on food and water.
Upon returning home and unloading the boards, Sarah decided to make one more trip to the grocery store and buy as much as she could, while Matt stayed behind and began to board the house up. As Matt was finishing up the front of the house, he couldn’t help but look around, to stop and breathe for a moment. He noticed how his neighbors were still mulling about, gossiping about the plague, kids running across the lawns over the sprinklers. He observed what he had worked his entire life to achieve; the American dream.
The honking of the horn broke his dreamlike stance and Matt looked over to see that Sarah had returned from the store, the bed of the pick up truck filled with food and water. He quickly set aside his hammer and began to immediately unload the truck, taking in as many of the items as his arms could hold, Sarah in close pursuit.
After all the items were loaded, Matt continued boarding up the house, climbing up the ladder towards the 2nd floor. He felt as if someone was watching him.
“Hey, uh, Matt, do you have a moment?” asked Jim asked.
“Yeah Jim, what’s going on?” Matt responded hesitantly as he looked down from the ladder.
“Look, well, do you think that infection is going to get to us?”
“Jim, think about this for a second. It’s crossed an entire continent AND an ocean. There’s no reason to think for a minute that it WON’T come to us. I just want to be safe.”
“Okay. Well, uh, Matt, I’m not asking for hand out or anything, but I wanted to know if I could ask you a favor,” Jim asked meekly.
Matt looked down at Jim from his ladder and saw what he was afraid to see; Jim, a hulking man, single father, about to beg for his children’s safety.
Without allowing Jim to utter a word, Matt replied, “If it gets here, bring your kids quickly, don’t think, just run over to the house.”
Jim looked up at Matt and took a deep breath and nodded and Matt went back to hammering the boards.
Perhaps it was in Matt’s good nature, the need to do the right thing, as Mr. Bay and Josh asked the same thing shortly after Jim’s request. Of course, Matt responded the same – he couldn’t let people die.
That evening, the news reports were all that were left on the television; all other airings and shows canceled. In fact, the local Fox station was the only channel working. The virus was moving swiftly and based on the maps, would be in Oregon and the rest of the West Coast probably by morning. Rivergrove was closer to the West Coast but at the speed the virus was moving, would be in the town before anyone knew.
Matt grabbed Sarah as she curled up closer to him, a knit blanket over her, and both nodded off on the couch.
The screeching of tires and a loud crash is what startled Matt and Sarah awake.
“Christ! What the hell was that??!!” as Matt leapt off the couch and ran to the front window. Through the slits, he could see that a truck had plowed through Mr. Bay’s perfect little fence and into the family room his house.
“Holy SHIT! Sarah, you’re not going to believe this. Turn on the lights” yelled Matt.
Sarah stumbled around, still groggy, heart racing and flipped on the switch for the living room. Nothing. She grabbed the remote to the television and jammed the on/off button repeatedly. Nothing. The same happened, again and again, kitchen lights, refrigerator, microwave, computer.
The power was gone.
Sarah ran to the kitchen faucet and turned on the water, the glass she was holding trembling from the overwhelming anxiety running through her bones.
Water was out.
She screamed to Matt letting him know that the power and water was out, that nothing in the house was working.
It was here.
Matt’s heart raced faster as he grabbed his baseball bat and flung open the front door and immediately looked around, up and down the street. It was completely silent.
“Where’s the driver of that truck,” Matt mumbled to himself, cautiously looking at the Bay’s home. Matt took a step off the porch and began a slow walk to the Bay home.
“No! No! No! Get away! Step back!” shrieked a female voice.
Matt, now in full sprint, ran to the Bay home. He peered inside the large, gaping hole left by the truck and found a pool of blood underneath it. Matt looked over to the side and felt sick to his stomach. Mr. Bay, in his ever vigilant manner, stayed in the kitchen the night before while his wife slept. The man driving the truck had no idea Mr. Bay was there and that was exactly where Mr. Bay had been sitting when the truck flew into the house. Struck in his back with full force of the truck where he was apparently sitting, the truck crushed the chair and Mr. Bay’s head had violently flung off from the impact. He never knew what hit him.
Matt found Josie screaming, using a mop handle to keep her distance between herself and the “thing” or “man” or whatever you want to call it. It kept reaching out to her, wanting to grab her, flicking his tongue out, trying to taste her. Matt leapt towards the two and held his bat in a swinging stance.
“Hey you! Hey! Stop, right now! Turn around and stop right now so help me God I will swing at you so hard that I will take you down! Stop right now!” Matt yelled, as affirmatively as possible.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t stopping. It kept going and with that, with his heart beating rapidly, filled with adrenaline, Matt swung.
The bat landed squarely on the shoulder of the man, causing him to tumble to the ground. While on the ground, it moaned and began to straighten himself up right, but this time, grasping at Matt. Matt knew, based on the new reports, that he CANNOT allow it to touch him. No blood transfer or bite needed to get infected with this “virus.” This wasn’t some kind of zombie thing that one would find in the movies or television shows.
This was real.
And all it took was a touch. Or rather a dermal transfer. An infected would only need to touch you long enough for the viral infection to transfer. These “things” never tried to kill anyone. To the contrary; they’re sole goal was to only infect. Skin on skin contact. Tear your clothes off, or any place where there might be skin, and firmly place a grip on you.
It was reported that when one of these things touched skin, there was an ice cold, sub-zero type of feel to the area of one’s skin. Approximately 1 minute after the first touch, if one felt a searing sensation, like a thousand needles being jammed into you in an one square inch piece of your skin, then you knew with affirmation that you had been infected. Only a red, sun-burned mark left behind.
Matt swung again and again and again. The thing stopped moving. He grabbed Josie’s arm and forcefully dragged her back to the house. Shortly thereafter, Jim arrived with his 3 children in tow. Josh was a few minutes behind with his wife and two children.
11 people in the house. 11 people in a 3 bedroom house. Waiting.
The days went by slowly. With no electricity, all Matt had was a hand-crank radio that only rang with the irritating “emergency” signal.
Matt was able to catch something that he never shared with anybody in the house. One morning, shortly after everyone took shelter, Matt saw a neighborhood woman, an elderly woman, walking down the sidewalk, clutching a bag and her cat. She was covered in blood and moving at a pace that was beyond slow. How she got as far as she did was unbelievable; she lived 5 blocks down and didn’t drive. Some said she had dementia. Her husband was nowhere near.
As she walked down the sidewalk, 3 or 4 of the “things” had taken notice and began to walk towards her, in the strange, mechanical, robotic movement. As they drew closer, another 5 or 6 came out from by Josh’s house, making their way to her. When the first set finally got to her, it was horrifying. Each thing grabbed a piece of skin, arm, leg, whatever was exposed. One even went as far as almost “hugging” her, trying to cover his body over hers. Then the other 5 or 6 reached her and they were pulling at her, surrounding the other things while trying to get to her.
Before Matt knew it, he saw the entire pile just fall over, right on top of her. He shook his head and sighed.
What he saw next astonished him even more. As the things began to get off the ground, he saw the little old lady stand right up, 2 or 3 ribs exposed on her right, jaw off set to the left, snapping up and down, her right arm completely torn off, her clavicle protruding from the top of her chest. She was moving around, looking to infect her own victim.
Matt knew he couldn’t run. One touch from these things and his and Sarah’s life would be over.
313 million people in America. Who knew how many were left.
Days continued to go by. By the end of the first year, most of the food was gone. Josh and Jim had each done “missions” of running back to their homes to procure more food and water and about 2 months prior too, Josh returned to the house, a seared-looking red mark about the size of a mans palm on his right forearm. Matt took him to their backyard, sat him down and waited for the infection to take affect and upon doing so, proceeded to push him down and immediately stomp his face in, while swinging the bat for good measure.
Rebecca never looked at Matt the same way again.
The second year was worse. Leaving the house was getting dangerous. Way too many of the infected began to hover around the house. Josie, in her need for food, ran out one evening and returned with canned goods – how she obtained them, no one knew. She also came back with a large red handprint on her upper arm. She was dispatched, to the horror of everyone in the house, with a swift bash of a knife block to the back of her head. The blood soaked wooden knife block, which took about 5 strong cracks to the back of Josie’s skull before causing her skull to splinter and cause a boney protrusion to stick out from her head, was thrown into the fireplace during the winter to keep everyone warm.
As the second year was winding down, the remaining survivors were getting desperate. Arguments grew between Matt, Sarah, Jim, and Rebecca. The 5 kids were starving. The adults were starving. Water was down to a few gallons. Rationing wasn’t an option anymore. The winter was brutal, everything in the house that could burn was burned. The things outside grew increasing in number, at any given time Matt would stop counting after 700.
They thought of everything trying to figure out how to get out, how to survive.
Then they finally thought of Matt's truck.
Jim needed to protect his kids, Rebecca hated Matt for the way he killed Josh, and Sarah….Sarah knew they would all die if they didn’t move. Only Matt refused.
Jim, alongside Rebecca and Sarah, had made a plan to make a run for the truck, which was parked right outside. It hadn’t been started in over 2 years, but it was a newer model Ford and Sarah was confident the tank was nearly full when she drove it last.
The plan was simple. Jim would put on enough clothes to cover himself, wrapped in jeans, button down full length shirt, his Timberlands, a ski mask, and a pair of gloves. He was to cause a diversion and lead the things away from the truck, while Rebecca and Sarah would run and get into the truck, kids in tow (the truck was a super-cab so it would have no problem fitting everyone inside). Once they were inside, they would drive over to Jim and let him in.
Matt begged Sarah not to do this. It was risky. It was dangerous. And as apparently slow as these things were, they were brutal; engrossing, developing, swallowing people to the point of death.
“Sarah, there’s not even enough supplies. We have about 7 days worth of food and 3 days of water.” Matt cried.
“It doesn’t matter Matt – what we have isn’t enough. We can’t die here. Not like this. No one is coming to help because there’s no one left. We have to make a run, we have to move. Please come with us!” Sarah begged.
“I can’t. This is stupid. Sarah, I love you, but we can’t make it. Please stay and we can come up with a different plan.” said Matt.
Sarah looked at Matt, a quiet sadness in her eyes. She knew that she was going and she knew that Matt was not.
Jim, in his full garb, was ready to go. The kids were packed up, holding whatever food they could. Rebecca and Sarah had their pipes and bats, ready to swing. Matt stood silently, staring, aching, begging with his heart for Sarah to change her mind.
The front door flew open and Jim ran towards the truck, then past the truck, whooping and yelling trying to draw as much attention as possible, which he did. The things began towards them, like giant robots, craning in his direction. Sarah watched Jim running around, getting further and further away while looking at the crowd of things when she saw it…an opening!
“NOW!” screamed Sarah.
Sarah ran out, followed by the 5 children, and Rebecca covering the rear. Most of the things had begun following Jim, but many now switched direction and were heading directly towards the truck.
One came dangerously close and Rebecca swung her bent pipe causing a large gash to open up on the face of the thing. Sarah, in her panic, couldn’t get the keys into the door. Breathing hard, she realized the key fob had an unlock button, which she depressed rapidly several times. The door unlocked.
But also set off the car alarm.
Jim heard the commotion and began making his way back to the truck. Rebecca was swinging away as more of the things had come towards the truck, inching closer. Sarah was loading the kids into the truck, 1, 2, 3, 4…..when she heard a loud shriek.
One of Rebecca’s children was gripped by an infected. Rebecca, breathing heavily and arms tired from swinging at anything close to her, turned around to see her 6 year old daughter in a head lock. 3 more perilously close to her baby. Rebecca ran directly at them, knocking her daughter and the infected over, but it never let go of the grip. Her daughter screaming, Rebecca tried in vain, with every bit of muscle to get the infected off of her, to loosen the grip long enough to let her daughter go. In her effort, the other 3 of the infected had made their way to them, one grabbing and pulling on the little girls legs, while the two others gripping Rebecca by the arms and throat. Both were screaming as the infected wouldn’t let go.
Sarah stepped out of the truck with her bat to run to Rebecca’s aid when she heard another scream. She turned around to find Jim swallowed by the infected. Unable to move, with only his head poking out from the pile, Jim was screaming for help. His mouth filled with the fingers of the infected, slowing gripping his mouth open wide.
The skin on his face slowing tearing off, a hollow, muffled scream, eeking out from Jim’s throat. The things pulled slowly, peeling back his face like taffy. The screaming stopped.
Sarah, trying to swallow the vomit that came up from the back of her throat, ran towards Rebecca and her daughter, only to find it was too late. Rebecca’s 9 year old son, who heard his mother and sister’s screams, leapt from the truck to help.
All three were gripped by the infected. Rebecca’s daughter had long stopped screaming. Her face was completely blue; suffocated, eyes rolled back, tongue hanging out from the side of her mouth. Rebecca, in the time trying to help her daughter, turned and became infected herself.
That would be the only explanation as to why she was pulling on her own son’s arm like the other 4 infected.
As Rebecca’s son was pulling back, trying with all his might to break the grip of the 5 infected, he was reaching out with this free hand to hold onto something that could give him some leverage. He felt a minor sigh of relief when he saw that his sister was pulling on his other hand.
He just didn’t know it wasn’t his sister anymore.
That was his last thought before his mother ripped his arm out of the socket, hugging it like a prize, while his sister pulled his other arm out, gleefully, robotically, walking away.
Rebecca’s son collapsed, smothered by the remaining 4 infected. Sarah couldn’t watch anymore, running back to the truck, sobbing, trembling.
She slammed the door shut, reaching for the key to start the truck. Her hand shaking, she forced the key into the keyhole when she heard a door open. She look at her side of the car but no door was open. She turned back to find the passenger side door open in the rear, with one infected pulling out one of Jim’s children.
Sarah reached back as quickly as she could to grasp the 10 year old boy, but the infected had slid him out of the car.
“Not again. No! Damn it! No!” screamed Sarah.
She was not going to let another child die. She opened her side of the car, bat in hand, and screamed for Matt’s help. She glanced back to the front door of the house, but Matt never came out.
Sarah ran to other side, swinging her bat left and right, up and down. She could hear the whimpering of the two other boys in the truck while the 3rd was kicking and screaming fighting as hard as he could.
Sarah felt her head being pulled back, being led by hair. An infected grabbed her arm with the bat, while the others were ripping at her clothes and trying to grip her face. One grabbed her earring, pulling on it before it tore off. She screamed in pain, but that only invited others to join. She was finally pulled backwards and fell to the ground, head staring at the direction of the house and truck.
A bloody haze came over her eyes, causing her to blink repeatedly. The last thing she saw were the two 5-year old twins, crying, trying to reach out for her. And a hand covering her eyes.
Fast-forward 3 years again. 3 long years. Matt had been in his prison, for 3 horrible years. But he was determined to live.
Watching his friends die, children die, his own wife die, he knew that there was no running. He ran out of food 4 months ago. He’s been had been drinking from the toilet, the last bit of water that was left in the house.
Matt stepped away from the window, the rumbling from the truck long gone, the infected wandering aimlessly around the neighborhood.
His stomach growled, the hunger pangs so loud and painful. He was trembling, shaking, but he was alive.
Matt walked into the restroom and looked at the mirror. His face drawn out, skin as pale as sheets. He could hardly focus, leaning to one side. He looked at his left arm, blood streaming down, maggots crawling over his wound.
He mustered up some energy and walked over to the dining room table.
In place was a dirty knife and fork which hadn’t been washed since forever.
He placed his left arm on the table, grabbed the knife, and proceeded to cut a small square of skin off. He grabbed the fork and jabbed the rubbery flesh and placed it accordingly in his mouth and began to chew.