Authors: T. W. Brown
Just as the sun was rising for what would, on the surface, be a bright, clear, warm and sunny day, the group all stood on the highest hill of Trashmore Park surveying the surroundings. Sirens and gunfire came from every direction. Cars raced by on the nearby expressway. Plumes of dark smoke rose in various locales. It seemed as if events were unfolding rapidly.
The EBS loop on all the radio stations was warning folks to stay indoors and not allow anyone inside. The current response was that the event currently happening was a virus or disease. Maybe it was. But not like anything the folks in charge would allow themselves to acknowledge.
The sonic roar of a flight of F-16s screamed overhead. In the big picture, they were just one small element of the total chaos. Who would think a global civilization could be dis-mantled so quickly by something that should have been just as quickly containable.
“We need to get out of the city,” Cary said to nobody in particular.
“Before the martial law crap is called for,” Kevin added.
They nodded as a group and headed for their cars. Each had a CB radio tuned to channel four. Single file, they wound their way to the Virginia Beach Expressway and headed west. Their ultimate destination was South Dakota. Kevin had given everybody a route map he printed up on his computer. There were waypoints in case anyone got separated. Outside of Hampton was a Walmart Superstore. Open or not, it would be their first stop. There was a U-Haul rental across the street. It was decided that, again, open or not, they would be acquiring a truck for Cary. He and Mike would handle that while Darrin and Kevin would ‘go shopping.’
As they exited the freeway, each felt a surge of adrenaline. The area was more deserted than they could have hoped for. Not a car passed them as they drove down Davis Boulevard. Both parking lots were more or less empty; the exceptions being a couple of lone zombies amidst the stray shopping carts in the Walmart lot. Mike and Cary peeled off, and Darrin led Kevin into the open concrete expanse in front of the store.
Cary had his door open before the El Camino came to a complete stop. A tool bag in hand, he ran to the glass entry door of the main office.
Opening the bag, he produced a glass-cutter. Where’d Kevin come up with this crap? It was as if he had spent his life preparing for some sort of apocalypse. Cary attached a suction cup fitted with a handle and cut a large square out of the bottom of the door. No sense busting glass and making a bunch of noise that might attract attention.
A few minutes later, he was in the reception area. Climbing over the counter, he looked at the wall of keys on hooks. Mike came up to the door, slightly out of breath, “One over by a few of the trucks and a couple heading this way from down the street.”
“Okay. What truck am I grabbing?”
“C-26,” Mike said.
Cary scanned the board, found the key he was looking for, and rushed to meet up with Mike in the parking lot. As they threaded their way to the truck, the smell of death teased their nostrils on the gentle morning breeze.
Jumping in the cab, Cary settled in, turned the ignition. A full tank! So far, so good. Mike was already sprinting back towards the El Camino. He was running in the street to avoid the possibility of something lunging out from between the rows of trucks. Meanwhile, Cary shifted into gear and edged up and over the concrete ridge that surrounded a poorly kept flower bed. The two headed for the front entry to Walmart where they would meet up with Darrin and Kevin.
With shopping carts brimming, the two ran down aisles scooping things from shelves into the big, blue, plastic baskets. Once a cart was full, they would push it to the entry foyer, grab another, and rush back into the heart of the store. Each had a list with a marked map.
Blankets. Camping gear. Non-perishable food. One cart alone had been filled with an assortment of beef jerky. At some point, Kevin chopped through a door with an axe from the Home and Garden Department.
“There’s more stuff than we could possibly find room for.” Darrin was breathing heavy, unused to any sort of extended physical exertion.
“Don’t have much time left anyways.” Kevin came to a halt with a flatbed push-cart designed to carry large purchase items like refrigerators or big-screen televisions.
“Alarm systems,” Kevin said as he waved his arms in the air like they were all around and in plain sight.
“Sure. Didn’t you see those panels with the flashing lights?”
“Well, I wouldn’t worry too much,” Kevin shrugged.
“We are stealing a truck load of stuff, an alarm has been going off for who knows how long, and I shouldn’t worry?”
“Cops are plenty busy, if any are still even on the job. Remember Katrina?”
“Yeah. Most of the local police force hauled ass. They’d decided that staring down a big-ass storm wasn’t in the job description.”
“You think a lot have bailed this soon?” Darrin asked.
“Some. More will follow. It should be a few hours before anybody gets around to martial law. By then, we are on the move and way the hell outta town.”
Darrin mulled this over as he ran for another cart. The reasoning all seemed sound. By the time he arrived at the doors, the truck was backing up with the cargo bay door already open. Kevin was attacking the outer doors with a sledgehammer. He had already broken open the first set that led to the giant sally-port entance that all these stores felt were necessary.
Once everything was loaded into the U-Haul (it sure looked like a lot less in that big, open space) the group headed out. The entrance to Walmart looked like an ugly, jagged, gaping maw. Already, a couple of zombies were wandering in.
The miles ticked away. Thalia was up on the seat beside me. Occasionally, she would whimper. Having been the young-est in my family, and never having experienced the joy of fatherhood firsthand, I had very little idea how to care for this child. I mean, I know some basic stuff; I think.
A few cars shared the road with me; none even glanced my direction. After a half an hour on the road, my radio had come back to life. From the sound, the dispatch office came under attack. Somehow, the mic was keyed open. I switched it off when Thalia began to stir. That would not be a good thing to wake up to. As far as the regular radio, that message loop continued to run. Either things were slowly getting back to normal, or everything was completely out of control.
I slowed down for a sign up ahead. A glance at my gas gauge decided things for me. I mean, I had enough gas to press on, but I was coming back to more populated areas, and if things were still crazy, a big city was the last place to fill up.
Chehalis. Hmm. I’ve probably driven past this dot on the map a thousand times. Suddenly, it loomed much more ominously. I picked up the gun, and then set it back down. I had come to grips with shooting that girl in a way. She was bitten. She’d turn soon. I saved her the slow, painful transformation. Plus, I did think maybe she was already turned.
Funny how your conscience can kick in.
As the truck slowed, Thalia sat up and rubbed her eyes. She looked around and her face spoke volumes, that deep hope that it had been a nightmare. We all have those; nowadays, more often than not.
“I must use the potty.”
Her voice held that same resignation I had just seen on her face. She scooted over to the passenger window before I had a chance to speak. She had forgotten. The window was darkened with the blood of the zombie I had crushed between the rocks and the truck. To her credit, she didn’t scream. She simply moved back up against me.
I came to a stop at the top of the off-ramp. A left turn would take us over the freeway. A gas station was perched on either side, but the one farthest from me had a big country store attached. I saw no movement in either direction. I turned left, coming to a stop in the middle of the overpass.
I climbed out to get a good look around. Not a single car in sight. I think that was the creepiest part. I took a deep breath. Nothing. Well, that didn’t mean any of those things weren’t near, just none close enough to smell. I took the time to walk all the way around the truck and get a look at the damage. The sky was overcast, but there was enough pre-dawn light to get a good eyeful.
Well, there was no way I would let Thalia see the passenger side of the truck. It was covered in dark stains. In some places there were clumps of who-knows-what dried in with the blood. I climbed back in the truck and drove to the gas station with the weather-beaten country store. Maybe I’d find something better to eat than the bags of junk food.
Keeping alert for any movement, I pulled up to the single island of pumps. I wasn’t about to shut off the engine. Climbing out, I did a full three-sixty.
Equally disquieting was the complete lack of movement from
the store. The lights were on. I just didn’t want to pull another snatch and run. Thalia broke my concentration, tugging on the sleeve of my shirt.
“Can I go to the potty?” she asked.
“Okay, but we need to make some rules first.” I knelt in front of the little girl, taking a risk by not having an open field of vision. “You hold my hand till we get to the bathroom. Then, I go in first and make sure it’s empty. You keep a lookout and scream if you see anybody.”
“Scream like last night?”
Whatever gets the point across I guess. So, leaving the driver’s door open, I made my way to the entrance of the market. I still hadn’t seen any movement, but I wanted to stay legal as long as possible.
I pulled the door, expecting it to be locked. It swung out! I was greeted with a cold blast of air conditioning. What did not greet us was the clerk...or that smell. One other thing happened that caught both of us off guard, made me jump, and made Thalia let out a little squeal. A bell rang as the door opened wider. So much for being stealthy.
We walked in the rest of the way and let the door close with a pneumatic hiss. A cooler just inside the door had a sign in bold black scrawl:
Another chest-style freezer right next to the one with the bait had a selection of ice creams. I noticed Thalia eyeballing the selection. What could it hurt?
“Go ahead and pick one.” It may be a while before she enjoyed such a simple luxury again.
She found what she wanted—some multi-colored Rocket Pop—handed it to me, and grabbed my hand. She led me to the sign that read:
“Okay, just like I said. Keep an eye on the door in the front of the store where outside is. Hold this door open while I look to make sure it’s empty.”
I held the gun up like I’d seen folks do in the cop shows. Taking a deep breath, I grabbed the handle and yanked the door open. A quick look, and I was relieved to see no windows and only one stall. This could be easy. I stayed close to the wall and came at the stall door from the side. Gun extended, I tapped the door with my foot.
That’s when I heard a noise; kinda like a whimper, but barely audible. Did zombies whimper? No, I was pretty sure they did not.
A noise like somebody gasping after holding their breath for a long time sounded, followed by a scramble of feet hitting the floor and the latch moving. I took a step back with the gun leveled at what I figured to be close to head level as the stall door opened.
“Thank God!” A young girl in her teens burst out, then froze when she saw the gun. Her eyes went wide when she saw the barrel pointed at her face. I quickly lowered my arm, backing towards the door where Thalia stood...looking in instead of out at the parking lot! I came out quickly and took a step towards the front of the store so I could get a look outside. Still nothing.
“Go ahead and use the bathroom, sweetie.” I patted Thalia on the head.
The teenager came out cautiously, glancing at me, the gun, Thalia, the door. It was as if her eyes couldn’t decide where to go.
I glanced back from the parking lot. I really had no idea how to handle the situation at this point. What do I say? I’m here to rescue you? Can I get a fill-up on pump two?
“Mister, what the hell is going on?”
“Umm...well...I have a theory, but it is a bit on the crazy side.” I kept my eyes on the store entrance.
“My boyfriend tried to eat Mrs. Jenkins last night,” the girl said.
“So, it’s possible you might be open to crazy. Well, best I can guess...it is like all those scary zombie movies...only this is for real.” I watched her eyes to see what sort of reaction I would get. She seemed to consider my words, then nodded. I figured she must be in some sort of post-traumatic shock. “Where is your boyfriend? Where is everybody for that matter?”
“He and Mrs. Jenkins are in the men’s bathroom. I locked the door so they couldn’t get out.”
“And everybody else in this town?”
“I saw some cars race out of here right about the time Pete showed up. After all that crazy stuff with him and Mrs. Jenkins, I tried to call the police, but nobody answered. Next thing I know, Pete and Mrs. Jenkins are chasing
! I was totally freaked. I mean, all that blood! They were missing pieces!”
I knew what sorts of things she was leaving out. There are simply some things that the mind does not want to process. I wasn’t going to press for details.