I had always feared many things as a child. Monsters under my bed, break-ins, and often I had terrible dreams about being the last one on the earth. My worst fear up until now was being lost and alone. The fear that one day I’d wake up and everyone I loved would be gone, along with everyone else in the world. This fear paralyzed me and more than often, I would wake in the middle of the night with cold sweat beading on my forehead and the desperate need to see my parents. I would tip-toe into their room and would only be relieved when I saw them peacefully sunk into a deep slumber.
Then one night I woke up somewhere completely different. LED lights brightly illuminated above me, and my skin grew cold against the hard tiles. Shelves stood in isles stocked with various foods and tools. I was in a supermarket. I raised my hands looking at my arms. I stood knowing this was probably a dream. It had to be. There many reasons for why I couldn’t have slept walked to the supermarket. It was often closed at this time of night. I figured it was probably around midnight as usual. I walked around until I found the broad, sliding doors. My eyes widened though seeing it was day. I walked out into the cold winter breeze and looked around seeing no cars flooding the highway, no one walking around or shopping in nearby buildings.
Suddenly a man stumbled from the next door pet shop. He looked distraught and confused. He looked around and finally fell, knees clashing with the concrete. He threw his arms in the air with total impatience. I slowly walked to him.
“Hello? Sir?” I quietly said. He looked up. His face brightened and he seemed suddenly the happiest person I had ever seen. He jumped to his feet, putting cold hands on my shoulders.
“Ha! I’m not the only one in the world!” He started laughing maniacally and kicked the snow with his cold, bare feet. I looked down at mine as well noticing I didn’t have shoes either and we were both dressed in our regular pajamas. “What’s your name boy?” He smiled again and looked down at me.
“I’m Seth, and I’m twelve.” I looked around.
I pointed eagerly at a woman who appeared from a building a few stores down. The man, who yelled his name back at me, ran toward the woman. She jumped with excitement seeing him. Jim turned waving me over. The woman looked younger than him, maybe in her twenties.
“Oh, we got a young one?” she asked as I walked up. “Hello I’m Carrie, and you are?” She put a hand out to greet me.
“Seth.” I hesitantly shook it. I looked around waiting for the next person to show. Next was a man. He was different from us though. As soon as he emerged from the restaurant across the street, he fell to the ground, hands placed in front of him as he coughed and barfed everywhere. We all ran towards him trying to help him. Finally one more eruption of blood sprayed from his mouth, and he collapsed. Jim kneeled and put two fingers to his neck. He turned to Carrie and shook his head. I stood, air escaping my lungs, a panic attack suddenly taking over me. I couldn’t catch my breath. Carrie came over to me assuring me it was okay. It wasn’t though. When the panic attacks started I couldn’t stop them. I had asthma and we needed to find an inhaler quick. Suddenly, in my panicked mind, I remembered that I kept my inhaler in my pockets even in sleep. I didn’t like to keep it on my night stand because I often slept walk. I shoved a hand in my pocket and clasped my fingers around it. I took in a breath and sighed with relief.
Suddenly I heard a familiar voice yelling for help and yelling for anyone. It was my friend. My friend. I looked up, and saw Ben, he kneeled next to a teenage girl, who was coughing and puking like the man we had just tried to help. I ran towards him. This was not something the man adapted; this was some kind of sickness. I pulled Ben away. Suddenly as I looked around at our group and the fallen people I realized that all of us had the same fear. The fear of being the only ones left in the world and this was some kind of dream world. Jim must have realized it too because he spoke.
“This isn’t just some kind of coincidence. This is a fricken dream or alternate reality or something. Or someone’s playing games with us! These two people have some kind of sickness!” Jim pulled Ben away from the girl, not letting him touch her.
“You’ll get the plague boy, stay away from her.” It was then that Ben stood, shaking snow off his dampened sweatpants. He turned and saw me.
“Oh God man, I thought I wouldn’t find anyone I knew.” We did our quick handshake and looked around finding anyone else. Jim started cussing, yelling some crazy accusations at the blue, cloudless sky. Carrie pulled us away.
“Don’t trust him, boys, he might go crazy. Don’t trust many people. You can trust me, but only me,” she said. Jim suddenly broke out coughing from his yelling. Ben and I kept our distance and Carrie slowly walked toward him. He started up with his maniac laugh and waved his hands in the air. Blood poured from his mouth and he started to shake, biting his lip so hard, the skin tore. I felt sick, but I knew I didn’t have the plague, I was just disgusted. Jim suddenly fell to the concrete shaking uncontrollably. His mouth fizzed like a dog with rabies and he finally fell silent and motionless.
Now it was just Carrie, Ben and I. I was afraid the plaque would kill another one of us and I certainly didn’t want it to be me or Ben. Carrie led us across the street and we headed towards the mall hoping to see more people. I wondered why we were chosen to end up in this situation. I was sure many people had the same fear. We walked into the desolate mall and saw three other people seated in the food court, discussing the situation. They smiled anxiously and ran to greet us. We learned that there was a sixteen year old boy whose name was Austin, a thirty-two year old man whose name was Lia and a twenty-eight year old who greeted Carrie excitedly and explained he was her brother. His name was Paul. They explained how two others had died by the same symptoms and how they all woke up in different stores.
Finally we decided to eat something as we were all starved by the stressful, confusing scenario. I was somewhat depressed, not knowing if this was how it was going to be or if it was a dream world. I wanted to see my older sister, and my parents. I was glad I had Ben though. We ate and decided to go look for others. Carrie suggested that Ben, Austin, and I should stay behind, but we all insisted that we could help out. We left the mall and looked for others. After hours of finding no one we returned to the mall.
Paul glanced at his watch then at the sky. And eyebrow rose as he frantically switched glances between his watch and the sky. You could see the blue sky from the glass panels in the ceiling and he finally told us what he was thinking. “It’s 6:30 PM,” he said with a concerned tone.
“It can’t be, it’d already be dark by now,” Lia said, peeking over at his wrist. Her eyes widened and she suddenly jumped from her chair, and walked outside. Lia was the next to go. We saw her open the doors as she suddenly fell to the ground outside choking, and throwing up everywhere.
“I wish we knew how the sickness worked,” Austin spoke after a few minutes of complete silence. I nodded and no one said anything for the remainder of the hour. Paul stood, suggesting we all should go find some kind of store that has furniture and get some rest. Ben agreed, rubbing his eyes. When we found a Tempur-Pedic store, he jumped in a bed and fell asleep immediately. I stayed awake though. I couldn’t sleep because I kept thinking about all the death and how Jim went insane. After countless hours of thinking I slowly got out of bed and went to the café. I saw Austin. He sat, a cup of water in cradled between his too hands. He saw me and loosened his tense posture a little.
“Can’t sleep either?” I asked.
“Nope.” He shook his head. “Trying to piece together how this whole thing works.” We talked about possible causes for a while until a thought struck my mind and I stood, anxiously awakened.
“It’s the stress. The people who worry the most! The people who think too much of it and break first, die!” I yelled a little too loud. He stood, the cup of water falling over and water pouring from the table.
“You’re a genius! First it was the man in the ski store who kept repeating ‘the end’ and then the women who kept saying ‘alone forever’ and then...”
“And then the two from Olive Garden and Michael’s...” I thought for a second. “And Jim! He went crazy and then started coughing up a storm.” I chuckled a bit.
“Then there was Lia who kept worrying about how it wouldn’t turn night!” Austin and I pranced around like we’d discovered a new planet. Paul appeared from the Mattress store, rubbing his eyes.
“What’s all the racket and yelling?” he moaned. We explained and suddenly he was awake and happy as we were. Finally we got to explaining to everyone. The people who worried were the ones who died.
I looked happily at our group. Then I felt tired, the rush of exhaustion taking over. Paul fell to the ground and one by one everyone did. Then I fell, falling unconscious as I hit the tile.
“Seth!” I heard someone yell. Not just anyone, I heard my mom yell. I opened my eyes, yawning. I felt the heavy comforter weighing me down and after being awake for a moment, I was relieved by the sight of my room. My mom stood, a concerned expression plastered on her face.
“You were asleep until 1:00! We thought you had what was on the news!” she yelled. I moaned sitting up.
“What was on the news?” I put a warm hand to my forehead. A headache stormed in my brain.
“Come look.” She started to leave the room, ushering me to follow. I did and I sat on the couch and tuned in to the television.
“Six people have mysteriously died in their sleep. We believe it is some kind of sickness, and if you have a loved one who isn’t waking up, please inform us.” Horrified, I saw the faces of Jim, the man from the restaurant, the girl from Michael’s, Lia, and two other people on the screen.