Sunday, November 1, 2009

New site:

We're now publishing on the (under construction) site That's our new web space that will soon include podcasts and blog posts in addition to new stories. So start heading to and stop coming here. Thanks, everyone.

Feel the wrath. Read more.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Purpose in Life, Part 2

Dec. 7 - Frenchtown, N.J.

At first I didn’t notice. Kate and I were so shut up in the apartment building that I didn’t notice the smell. It was the light that caught my attention. The flickering that danced even after the sunset. The town was burning.

I was not sure what to associate the fires with. There were two ways of looking at it. Well, three if you want to look at it literally. Literally, these fires were caused by one thing or another and went unchecked because there was no one to check them. No firefighters or rescue workers of any kind could be seen. Kate and I sat huddled in the apartment, worried at first about the flames reaching us. They wouldn’t, of course. We were separated by asphalt and water and grass. To be safe I went through to the utility room in the building and made sure the pilot lights were off on the boilers. Aside from that, the gas and electricity had fled like everything else. The only fire was coming from the matches I had left.

Again, I was left to wonder about the raging fires outside our shelter. There were two ways I was looking at it. Positively, these were the cleansing fires of the Lord coming to banish all the demons around us. Negatively, this was the final arrival of Hell. During the day, Kate and I would watch as different buildings collapsed and went ablaze. During the night, we would watch the shadows dance on the walls.

Three days went by and Kate was the one to have the frightful realization. She had been very quiet up until this point. The only times I heard her really speak were when I asked her direct questions or when she was pretending to talk to her parents on her phone. Please do not mention to her that I heard her doing this.

I do not know why I had blanked on this before, and I apologize to you about it. We never thought to think there would be other survivors trapped in those buildings. Well, that is not exactly true. We had thought of other survivors, but we were to upset to actually leave. On the second day of her staying with me, Kate had asked me not to leave the apartment to search. She also begged me never to ask her to go outside with me. We were shut-ins. This obviously could not last, but I stayed to keep her calm. And, to claim a bit of selfishness, I was still terrified of the outside. I am making small strides there.

Kate reminded me what I had told her on the first night we met. She reminded me of how I told her I was here to save people, to save the souls trapped out there. And she was right. That is what I am here to do.You are another example of that. I explained that we didn’t know exactly where anyone would be. I explained the danger. She told me we would be guided, somehow, like I was to her. Our faith became our courage. She said she was willing to come outside with me if it meant helping others.

It was this very morning, at the break of dawn. The dawn took longer than usual to break through the smoke. Breathing was a bit difficult, but we had to go. We went outside. I carried my bat. Kate carried a kitchen knife. We had no other ideas. I would lead and she would follow and we would simply go forward and see what we could do. We walked away from the apartments and across the parking lot and through the field and into the town. The destruction was, is, completely different up close. From the vantage of the apartment windows we could not notice all the ash. It was like a deathly snowfall. Everything was so untouched, to pristine in a haunting way. Kate walked closer to me.

She was the first to start coughing.

“Do you want to turn back?” I asked.

“No.” She coughed. “The air is just so thick. “She coughed again.

“This isn’t healthy,” I told her.

She gave me a smile. There was an angelic hint to it. “What type of saviors turn back at the first sign of trouble?”

“Well, just tell me if it gets worse.” I choked down my own cough. If Kate noticed, she didn’t mention it.

You know how cold it is right now, but this is not obvious in town. The heat from the fires and the embers of once-buildings is keeping it at a spring temperature. A comfortable Hell, perhaps. We walked through the destruction and avoided those buildings still being destroyed. We saw no sign of life, and no signs of the still moving dead. We saw none of it. The horrors of the past few weeks were being erased. Everything was being erased. There were no supplies to be found. There was no escape to be discovered. There was nothing.Three days of fire, going on four, and everything was disappearing. Perhaps the world will be uncreated in six days and we can all finally rest on the seventh.

Our lungs were burning and we were about the leave, to go back to our three-story tower of safety, when we heard you. You and your friends. Shouting for help in what would have been a vain attempt had Kate and I not been walking in that shell of a town at that very instant. God works in mysterious ways, but I think you already know that. We heard the calls and made our way to them.

The building all of you were in was one of the last remaining on the streets. The brick was washed with soot, but the flames had not found themselves to the actual structure yet. As I look out the window, I notice that they have made their way in now. The windows provided enough light for us to see inside. We could hear the cries but could not see where you were. Kate and I entered the building, not knowing what to expect.

I saw you first. Maybe you didn’t notice me at first, but I definitely saw you first. You looked so scared, trapped. The monster was near you, ignoring you some. It had a different target in mind. The person who had been keeping you alive, who had given up her life to make sure you kept yours, was dead when we arrived.Her humanity had left her at this point. From my experience, I can safely tell you that her soul was leaving her body and that body was being taken. The room now had two villains inside, keeping you and your friends trapped in those cages.

I heard Kate gasp. “Someone’s been in here this whole time. If we had come sooner, we could have saved her.”

You saw my rage. I was angry at the creature and angry at myself. My cowardice had let someone die. I let emotion get the best of me. Perhaps that is what I needed to take care of these two assailants. How else could I have saved you? I had no idea what would have happened if I left you there with them. Would you have become one? I do not want to think about it. I slammed my bat into the skull of the first creature and I felt the impact rattle my hands. The other, your former savior, caught me be surprise and took a swing. The bat was knocked from me. I was suddenly on the ground, with the remains of a woman trying to kill me.

I felt like I was alone and doomed. Had I forgotten Kate was with me? Part of me had. But part of me must have remembered. Why else would I have yelled?

“Kate! Save me!”

I will never forget what Kate did. Maybe you won’t, either. To see her, such a small woman, become so violent will always astound me. The way she tackled the creature. The way she yelled, cursed. The way she brought that knife so accurately into the creature’s eye. Do you think she knew that would kill it? I do not have the nerve to ask her yet. But I think there was more motivating her actions than just saving me.

So there we were, standing in front of you and all your friends. You were safe. God watches over all creatures, both great and small. I opened your cage first, as you remember. There was something about you that made me. You leapt out and licked me. No, I am not saying that in a bad way. I am saying it because it emphasized the point. I am glad that we were able to help all of your friends. And I’m sure they are glad, too.

Six dogs may seem like a lot, but I how could we just leave all of you to die in there? I am sure your friends had good reasons for running off. Just as I’m sure you had a good reason for staying by me. You may be making Kate jealous. Still, she did not complain when she helped me bring back those bags of food for you.

I think it’s your name that has struck us the most. Who names a dog Hope? Kate enjoys this greatly.

“I’m glad we found Hope.”

“I know, Kate.”

“Now we have Hope with us.”

“I know, Kate.”

“Hope is something we should always keep around.”

“I know Kate.”

Maybe I should get to the point. We saved you, Hope. You are another saved soul, along with your friends, wherever they went. I may be slow at this, but I am trying to save souls. And that brings me back to what I think the fires mean. I think they are a representation of Hell. I think they are Hell and that I am meant to walk through it to find those that need saving. They are Heavenly sent to tell me to get moving. And that is what I intend to do. With you by my side, and Kate, I am going to save more. Even if I have to walk through Hell itself to do so.

Feel the wrath. Read more.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Diminished Returns

Editor's Note: What follows is the "Wrath of the Damned" authors' first attempt at a Twitter-based short story. The entire short story is composed entirely of 140-character bursts that were posted to the @wrathofdamned Twitter account. You can follow the blog's Twitter updates, zombie survival tips, and our future short stories at

The rules of the story were these: Any of our five authors could add anything they wanted to the story at any time. But none of the authors could discuss what they were doing with each other or tell each other what they wanted them to do. In that way, each Twitter post acted as a prompt to everyone else.

Because of the premise, the story's a little...weird. It doesn't always hang together perfectly. Some posts are experimental. Some are truncated to meet the 140-character requirement.

However, we're proud of what came out from this experiment. The story, while a little bit all over the place, still stays true to the "Wrath of the Damned" style in most ways. And we're learning. And we plan to do more of these serialized stories.

Enough disclaiming. Enjoy "Diminished Returns."


Just got back from grocery store. Madhouse. All the canned food was gone. Radio says governor's concerned about hoarding.

Gas prices were up $3 everywhere I tried to go today. Decided to keep the car in the garage. Worried about thieves.

Despite what the news says, no sightings within 100 miles. Alan next door brought over a gas mask. Says guys at work think it’s airborne.

Spent the day checking my supplies. Dismal state. With the way things are going in Chicago, I feel I'm ill-prepared.

CDC: Two unconfirmed cases less than five miles from here. Victims unresponsive to stimuli, aggressive, slow-moving.

Stories coming out of cities don't make sense. NBC says victims attack others. Fox reports disease kills instantly. Transferred by fluids.

Day off today. Left the TV off. News offers nothing useful anyway. Haven't seen anyone on the street all day.

Called Alan. Grilled some burgers in the yard. All he talked about was Chicago. According to his nephew, Nat'l Guard is deploying there.

Back to work today. Jonas and Kathy are out sick. Alan looks twitchy as hell. He keeps turning on CNN, but the boss keeps bitching at him.

Six co-workers are out sick. Ordered Chinese for lunch, but the delivery guy never showed. Bribing the janitor for the vending machine key.

Power just kicked back on after almost two days. No work - nothing to run the computers on. Bringing Alan some beers, even though it's 1.

Alan's not doing so hot. He's been huddled over an a.m. emergency radio since the power went out. Official story: Infrastructure damage.

Alan's grateful for beer and company. "Spent yesterday at my parents'," he says. "They think this ... disease ... is an act of God."

"Act of God?" I ask as he tunes the radio to a new band. I raise an eyebrow. "I don't think the TV's giving us the truth anymore," he says.

"My parents are a little nuts when it comes to sinners," Alan explains. "Then again, it's been a while since we've seen a plague."

Heading home. Brain's buzzing. A plague. Hadn't thought of it like that. It kills people or makes them nuts. An act of God, Alan said.

Took the day off. So many people sick, figured nobody would notice. Spent the day watching Judge Judy. Rachel Ray taught me to make cookies.

Feel like I've been out of the world for days. Called off work again. Talked to Alan, who says half the staff was out of work today.

Caved and switched on the TV. Things are bad out there. Pundits keep saying "imminent state of emergency." Can hear a thunder storm brewing.

Standing on my deck, watching the rain, smoking. Getting dark. The lights from town are reflecting off the lake. Never seen it like that.

Flash of lightning. Saw a figure in the water, waist-deep. News in background: Mercy Hospital the site of attack. Ten dead, several missing.

Alan at the door. He's soaked through, clearly scared. "I need your car." Flash of lightning -- his car wrapped around a tree on the street.

"Where are we going?" I ask, grabbing a coat from the closet. Alan sees the driver Dad bought for me before he died, grabs it. I grab keys.

Toss the keys to Alan. With the driver in-hand, he's gone from terrified to singular in purposeful. Eyes are steely. Knuckles white.

"You know what I told you about this being an act of God?" His voice trembles a little. "It's not. It's not God."

"What happened to you?" I ask, noticing blood under his fingernails. "I need to get to my parents," he mutters. He says nothing else.

Know how in movies cars break down and are abandoned with just enough space to drive a car between them? Not true. Driving sucks.

Alan's parents live in butt fuck nowhere. With traffic, we've been driving for 2 days. Should've taken 4 hours. Slept in the car last night.

Alan didn't bring any food; guess he was in a rush. We've basically been eating Doritos and Power Bars. Wish I had made those cookies.

Got close today. Multi-car pile up blocking the freeway. Didn't see anyone, but Alan wanted to go around. Way around. Backseat bed again.

I don't know what the hell I'm doing here. Alan's a friend, not a great friend. We've seen a hundred cars out here, but not a goddamn soul.

It's like the highway just stopped. One car hits another, another hits that -- the artery clots. Like a heart attack. Where are the drivers?

That first night, the storm made driving impossible. The next day we saw emergency vehicles and traffic was god-awful. Today, we're alone.

Parked. With the lights off its like the dark will never end. Floods in like water, pressing. I see shadows swirling outside. Try to sleep.

Now I'm thinking about my good friends. Where are they? No one's called, but I guess I haven't either. Zero bars...fucking Sprint.

Day dreaming disrupted by screeching breaks. I brace myself on the dash - never wear a seatbelt. Couple assholes crossing the street. Jesus.

Alan's out of the car, driver in-hand. Moving fast. Following. The two guys don't seem scared. These are the first people we've seen.

One of the guys looks really bad. The other one is helping him along, one arm under his shoulder. Alan raises the driver. "Outta the way."

Alan's ready to bash skulls. "What are you doing, man?" I call. Run to catch up. He's motioning for the guy to get away from the hurt man.

"Fuck you, man, I'm bleeding!" says the bleeding guy. They've stopped walking. Alan: "Just -- just get out of the road!"

The other one's quiet...won't let go of his friend. "He's right, man," I say. "He looks pretty bad. Maybe we should help him."

The other one's quiet...won't let go of his friend. "He's right, man," I say. "He looks pretty bad. Maybe we should help him."

Alan doesn't even glance at me. Steps toward them, driver outstretched. Looks like he's gonna wind up -- "Alan, c'mon, man!" I shout –

Just when it looks like Alan's lost his shit, the quiet one drops his friend, grabs the driver from Alan and swings back. Alan's on his back

"If you want to come with us, get in the fucking car," says the bleeding one. Alan's skull is cracked; blood everywhere. Holy shit.

The unhurt one's still got the driver. Heads over to Alan. I can hear Alan trying to breathe. The guy swings the driver down hard, overhand.

I couldn't even make a sound. The guy hit Alan twice more. No more sounds. Turns back to me. His eyes are gray and flat. Mutter "oh god..."

Bloody: "He had to die. It was mercy. Now he won't be one of those things." Backing away from them; can't stop looking at Alan. "Things?"

They're climbing into Alan's car like it's just been pulled around by the valet. "What things?" I muster. No answer; they put it in drive.

"You comin'?" Bloody spits out the window. Once, when I was young, my friends rode bikes to the liquor store to steal some shit.

They got in so much trouble, but I always wished I had gone. Felt chickenshit. I don't know why I'm thinking about that now.

Guess it's keeping my mind off Alan. Alan's body. The car starts to roll, so without a word, I jog up and get in back. They're nonplussed.

I don't even know Alan's parents. I hardly know where I am. Now I'm three days from home with no car, no supplies...What choice do I have?

I'm not stupid. I saw the news -- riots of diseased people rampaging through buildings and streets. There's no one around for a reason.

In the back of my dead friend's car with his murderers; they're all I've seen of humanity. The sun drifts low. In this dark, it's a new day.

Every time I blink I think I hear something around me. I wonder if going crazy is the best way out of this.

"What happened to the police? The authorities?" I ask. Bloody turns back in his seat. His face shows pain. "I'm Brett. I'm a cop."

"This whole area was evacuated. Flooding from the storm. There was a huge accident. First responders go there and found a lot of bodies."

"Evacuation? Why didn't I hear anything about--" I spot Alan's tape deck. Suddenly I remember 37 replays of Meatloaf's "Bat Out of Hell."

Quiet swerves around some abandoned cars. A disheveled man with white hair sees us and jogs futilely after. Quiet hits the gas.

I decide it's best to not ask why we didn't stop to help. "But the bodies, see," Brett sighs. "They didn' stay that way. Not exactly."

"They tore those cops to shreds...with their TEETH. And their fingernails...most of 'em are slow, but them fucks don't go down."

He mistakes my blank stare for skepticism. "Don't believe me, ask Ronald here. Two days ago I couldn't get him to shut up."

I avert from his eyes -- see the gun strapped to his side. "Want it? It's fuckin' empty." He tosses it toward me. "Here, you can have it."

Brett: "These people with this disease, they're not rioting. It's so goddamn quiet. They're not sick. They died. They're dead."

"And it's not just sick people. The officer I was training, this panicked driver shot him. He bled out. Then he got up and killed the guy."

I think of a lifetime of pop culture ingestion...Romero, Shaun, FillintheBlank of the Dead, Max Brooks, even Boyle. "So, like...zombies?"

Brett smiles...smirks even, to one the side of his face. He turns around and stares out the window. I guess this conversation is over.

"Where are we going?" I ask. Brett: "Authorities are routing people to evacuatino points, like stadiums. We're going where the people are."

Look out the window, but all I see is Alan. In his last seconds the man wasn't making sense. Did they kill Alan in defense, or for this car?

Without turning, "Have you two killed a lot of people?" I see Ronald flinch. Brett turns back. "Only to stay alive." "Was it worth it?"

"We're still here, ain't we?" Brett offers. I counter: "Not exactly police protocol, though, is it? Killing those you're sworn to protect?"

To this, Brett says nothing. "What about Ronald? He a cop?" Brett: "No. Old golfing buddy. Hell of a swing, eh?"

I believe that was a joke at the expense of my dead friend. My blood is boiling. Wish this gun worked. Wish I had that golf club.

I lean up so I'm closer to Brett. "Why the hell did you bring me with you?" Brett: "We weren't just gonna leave you there."

Brett: "Look, I know what happened was insane, but this is about survival and crazy people--" He cuts off; Ron slows the car.

Between the seats, I see what Ron sees: a crowd. They're all facing east, marching down the road. Well, not marching -- stumbling. Lurching.

Brett: "They're headed away from us. What the hell are they doing?" Then: "They're following the evacuation."

Christina had seen "Shaun of the Dead" enough times with her deceased boyfriend, Pat. Fake it till you make it...through a crowd of zombies.

There were 8 of them. A couple of Pat's friends, a couple of her classmates, and a family from the convenience store. "Like this," she said.

"Ow, fuck!" Shhhhhh, was her immediate reaction. The dad of the family had broken character. In front of 50+ zombies. Then, the culprit...

He was on his knees...hit by a car from behind. A few of the zombies had turned at his yelp. The 3 assholes in the car didn't seem to care.

He just drove into them. What a fucking asshole. They're not zombies, clearly. Did they even hear that guy scream? What the fuck are they—

"Is he fucking crazy?" I shout. I'm gripping Brett's gun so tightly that I can feel blood pulsing in my hands.

Brett: "Shut the FUCK up, son, unless you want to get left. I am NOT going to play it safe and get fucking mauled out here by soccer moms."

"How many people need to die to secure your safety, Brett?"

Brett turns back. He would hit me right now if he could, but he's too banged up. "Shut your mouth! You have no idea what I've done."

Brett: "Those things aren't people, even the ones that are still alive. EVERYONE who dies becomes a monster."

Alan's face flashes in my mind. "Some of us already are monsters." In one motion I lean up and smash the gun into Brett's head.

Ron swerves as Brett's skull erupts with blood. Catches one of those shamblers, which bounces over the hood. Windshield cracks. Spinning.

Brett's side of the car slams into a telephone pole. Alan's car is totaled. Brett's not moving. I feel blood in my eyes. Kick the door open.

Flop out of the car. My legs scream. Look around: figures everywhere, bleeding in the sunlight. Ron's getting out.

Ron's face is twisted with rage, anguish. I can see in his eyes he'll kill me. He revels in it. Get up, palm the gun. He charges. I swing.

I miss hitting him but momentum carries me into his chest. I hit him with my shoulder. We fall. I scramble; they're all around us.

I'm flailing backward. Ron can't move that fast. They're falling on him. I grab his leg, try to pull him clear. Try to save him. But can't.

Dead people are tearing Ron apart. Brett's not moving. Figures are all around me. I killed them both. The dead come to judge me. And I run.

Had a choice: Run along the road, with the things, or off the road. Should have chosen the road. Ground is uneven, keep stumbling. Not good.

Trying to move as quickly as possible just inside the tree line. Attempting to be quiet. difficult. There are so many of them out there...

Sun's setting. Glancing deeper into the trees see a dim light. The road is thinning out with...them. I turn toward the light and move.

Faint crashing behind me. Something coming in after me. Now the only sound is my breathing & heartbeat loud in my ears: its getting closer.

It’s coming slower than I thought. I gain ground & run on. The light is brighter. A clearing. Alan's being bludgeoned in my mind’s eye...

I hesitate for a split second as I remember the killings. I no longer know what to expect of the world...I hear branches breaking behind me.

My mind clears at the sounds behind me and I run forward into the clearing...

At the precipice, I freeze. Something shaking in the high grass. Can't keep quiet: I'm winded. Breathing like a fat gym student on mile day.

The grass shakes again; bit closer now. Though I know it's empty, I grip the gun like it's my lifeline. Better than trying to run again.

See a pattern in the grass now, uneven steps. Need to be the aggressor: I level my gun and scream: "Who the fuck's there? I'm armed."

No answer. Few more uneven steps. I follow them, lead them. "I said who's there?" Close now. "Goddammit, I'll shoot--" I see him now.

A dog. Wounded back leg. Not a zombie dog, thank god. There are, at least for now, still limits. I release my grip and crouch. He whimpers.

Is it possible for animals to get infected? I wish there was a safe way to test this.

We stare at one another. He's afraid to come any closer. Or maybe he's trying to ask me for help. I yank at the bottom of my shirt.

Took some work, and the result is a frayed t-shirt, but I've got a black strip of cotton. I inch towards the dog: brown, medium length hair.

He lets me get close, but cringes when I get near his back right leg. I can see the blood. I'm careful, but slowly start to wrap him up.

What now? Leave him? Guess we'd both feel better not alone. Would love to get back to the road, but that's where I left those...things.

The woods, then. Didn't reach the Star rank in Boy Scouts for nothing. Though I was a few requirements short on my zombie merit badge.

No one's around. The only people I've seen are dead. I move slow to keep a pace the dog can match. The light is just beyond a stand of trees

It's dark among the trees. The dog limps along. It's like everything else in the world has died. I keep checking back; he's still following.

Stepping through the last of the trees. Hear nothing but our breathing. Other side, the light: a pole on a fence. With figures all around.

They're silent and milling, aimless. A few just slump. There are 15 at least. They haven't seen us. Can't tell if more are in the dark.

The dog's spooked. Backing away slowly. I crouch down beside him. Seems to calm him down. Don't touch him though. We don't have that trust.

Shit. There are more, just standing, among the trees. The dog spotted them. We're surrounded. Doesn't seem like they've seen us. Yet.

The dog makes a sound. Not quite a a growl and not quite a whimper. I cringe, hoping none of them notice.

I stand and take a few cautious steps backward. His shaggy brown hair is straight up, but he approves of my retreat. I hit something –

Wheel around. I bumped into the back of a dead guy. Upright. He turns slowly and the dog barks -- I shush him -- and the others take notice.

The one I bumped swipes at me; a fast swipe. I duck it, but barely. Didn't know they could move so fast. Looked like a twitch. Muscle memory

Before I remember the dog is injured, I'm dodging more twitches and am tearing my way through the trees. I hear a bark behind me and turn—

He's trotting not far behind me, somehow forgetting his pain. But the dead are close behind, moving faster than I thought possible.

A few even make a case to be described as runners. Pausing has cost me. A wirey willow a few trees away. Break for it; start to climb.

I'm halfway up before I remember dogs can't climb trees. I lower myself to grab his front paws and pull when I suddenly wonder: can they?

I swing him up -- fucking heavier than I expected -- and he land precariously on the branch beside my. The first runner takes a swipe –

-- but he overshoots it. Then there's two, three, six. The others are catching up. Another grabs. He has the dog; I kick as hard as I can.

The dog is going crazy now, barking so hard he can hardly keep his balance. Backs up the branch. Something grabs my sleeve from behind.

I pull without looking. My sleeve is gone. I'm up one branch; the next; the next. Dog follows suit as best he can. Help him up the last one.

High enough now. We're surrounded. Seems they can't climb, even the runners, though a few try. Dog in my lap...guess we wait.

I think I slept. The dog is barely moving, but I'm sure he isn't bleeding. We're still in the tree. They're still down there -- not leaving.

In the light from the fence, this is the first time I've had a chance to look at them. They're all mutilated, like a land mine blew them up.

Some are missing limbs, fingers, ears and noses. Their eyes are white and milky. The wander around, slack-jawed, dazed. Sometimes they fall.

The one closest to me still has earbuds in. He wears a college t-shirt, soaked in blood. He was someone's son. No he's some sort of monster.

The sky is growing lighter. They lost track of us. If we're going to get out of here, we need to do it before they can see us again.

Sun's rising. The one nearest us has his back turned. They forgot about us, seems like. The dog senses it too: Time to go.

Climb down carefully, dog half on my shoulder. We're not that high -- 10 feet -- but getting down is tough. Moving slow; can't make noise.

Touch the ground. The dog hasn't moved. There are 15 or so of them around, and none have noticed. If we can make the fence...

I don't put the dog down, but it means I'm slower. Step to the right, past a few trees, past the guy with earbuds. I can see the fence.

Almost to the fence. I drop the dog -- it yelps. I hate myself a little for hurting the dog.

I hate myself even more for alerting all those bastard creatures that are now coming for me.

I consider climbing a tree again. I snatch the dog up and run for the fence. I make it over the fence with the dog. It wasn't easy.

I put the dog down on the other side of the fence and we run. He struggles to keep up.

I look behind me to see if any of those monsters made it over the fence. One or two did.

When I look back to the side the dog was running on I see the dog is gone. Confused, I stop running and look.

In the darkness I can make out a hole in the ground. I run to it. The dog is dead, impaled by wooden stakes in the ground in the hole.

I look around, angry. I hear a sound and all of a sudden my right shoulder explodes in pain. I'm thrown backwards by the force of the gunshot.

I grab it instinctually. Fall to my knees. "AH, MO-THER FUCK!" My shirt's already bleeding through. "Shit, Sharon, that one's still alive!"

I look up to the trees. Can't focus, I'm all blurry. Maybe I see something moving? I look back to the fence, then forward -- SLAP!

Someone just slapped me in the god damn face. "Right here, soldier. Stay with me know. It's just a flesh wound, yer not gonna die."

All I see are camo and a beard. The army? Thank God. Two arms grab me from either side and I'm being dragged. Shots fire past me.

A few blurry, bloody moments later and I'm on my side in the dirt. I'm yanked up and someone's talking to me. Don't listen. Shoulder hurts.

That someone is tying off my shoulder, stopping the blood. Their words are coming into focus. "...we of those zombies." Young.

His face. He's no older than 14. A fucking cub scout. "Where's your..." I manage. "Where's your...officer?" "Officer? Oh. Dad's on his way."

14 tosses me a bottle of water. Gets me a chair. We're in a tiny camp. Too small for military. Three more in camo come around side a shed.

It's beard-and-camo: "You with me?" I nod. "Sorry about that. Saw the fence and...well, Sharon doesn't miss the head often. You're lucky."

See Sharon at his side. She's younger than 14. 11, 12 maybe. Flat chested. Holding her gun like a hot-steel baby doll. Shot by an effin kid.

"These are my sons, Robby and Namath. I'm Dean." "Namath like the football player?" "Yessir," kid says. "Know that's a last name, right?"

It's lost on them. "Where are the others?" I ask. "Others? We it," Dean explains. I look across his family. Gun-totting, camo-laden family.

Great. I'm in fucking “Red Dawn.”

Except communists don't eat people. At least I don't think...and there is no Swayze..."Hey." I'm brought back to reality.

Dean looks at me sternly and I wonder if any of his looks aren't stern. "How many of them are on the other side of the fence?"

"Uh I don...maybe 20 or more ...or less." The stern look continues - and continues. I'm finding it hard to concentrate.

Still more stern looks, and all I can think is: damn this guy is stern. And then: Hey, did they kill my dog?

I pass out. I dream about Swayze, which is what I posthumously named my dead dog.

Awake. The sun's high overhead. Lying on a wooden bench. Intense, dull ache in my shoulder. Sit up -- no one's around. I'm alone.

The fence stands 100 feet to my left. A few trees here and there, but mostly clear. To the right, a silent bulldozer. Construction site.

Two trucks parked sideways on a dirt mound just past the bulldozer. Alone and don't know where the fuck I am...considering Grand Theft Auto.

Sit up to go check out the trucks. Shitmotherpiss. Forgot about my shoulder. Don't they need to take the bullet out?

Walk to the Chevy, leave the Honda. Steal American. Nice, tan leather seats. Half-empty Mountain Dew in the cup holder. Flat, but amazing.

Strikes me now, as the warm sugar water trickles across the lining of my stomach, that I haven't eaten in at least a day. My stomach twists.

SLAM. The gate of the truck shakes. I duck, spin around - ah, shoulder! - peak out the back. It's Dean. And a dear carcass.

I make a cautious exit, but startle the girl. Her rifle's cocked and ready soon as the door slams. "Don't you ever put that thing down?!"

"Sharon, stand down!" Dean orders like a lieutenant to his soldier – not a father. "Just, uhh...napping," I lie. "That breakfast?"

"And lunch, and dinner," he adds. Sharon still eyes me sideways. "Where are the boys?" Trying to be casual. "Seems they're a bit shaken."

"Had 'em dig that trip in the ground a few days ago for the monsters. Looks like it did in Roscoe." Takes a minute to register.

"Ah. You mean Swayze." "Huh?" Dean huffs. Shake it off: "Can Do anything?" I hear the gun CLICK again – look...girl's cleaning it.

Dean: "You any good with a weapon, son?" Me: "I haven't fired a gun since I was 10." Dean: "Huh. How the hell did you get this far?"

"Sharon, go help your brothers," Dean says. The girl heads off without a word. Following orders.

"You can't stay here," Dean tells me, staring me in the face, when Sharon's out of earshot. "We can't carry you. I got the kids."

"I'm not worthless," I return. "I'll pull my weight. I won't be a burden."

Dean: "Prove it."

Asshole really put me on the spot. I marched away, acting like I was going to do something right then, but I had no idea. Now I'm spelunking.

Grabbing bits of root and jagged, knife-sharpened stakes down into the 8-foot hole that claimed Swayze. I'm a fucking mad man.

It's pretty gruesome...not sure I've ever seen a dead dog. Looks like he died instantly, though. Now the hard part: getting out.

With no regard for my only shirt, I march triumphantly back toward camp with Swayze draped over my shoulders. Leave him there.

Dig for probably 30 minutes. Go and call the family over. The boys come; Dean and Sharon are skeptical.

Even made a little cross out of sticks; we have ourselves a nice little service. The boys cry, but seem happier now. Dean nods his approval.

Now if we can please cook that fucking deer.

Dean sent me to walk the site's perimeter with Namath. Whole place is fenced in. Zombies sometimes shake the fences, sometimes flop over.

Namath's not a great shot, but at the fence, he just puts the barrel up to their heads. It's a mess and hard to watch. Calls me "pussy."

Me: "If I'm going to help clean up zombies, can I have a gun?" Dean: "You're not shooting. You're bait."

At the fence. "Do they get in much?" I ask. "We've only been here a couple days," Namath returns. "It's not as bad as in town."

Namath: "Don't move." I freeze. Suddenly a hand on my shoulder. Namath raises the gun, fires it just past my face. Thud as zombie falls.

"Nice work," Namath remarks. I'm shaking. "C'mon, there's two more down there."

"Here," Namath says, handing me the rifle. They're lurching toward us, 50 feet off. "Aim high. Try to focus on an eye or something small."

I raise the gun to my shoulder and squeeze the trigger. Explosion. The rifle hits me in the face. Namath can't stop laughing.

"Like this," Namath tells me, taking the gun out of my hand. I rub the goose egg on my forehead. He raises it, sets his feet, fires.

The first monster barely flinches as the slug plows through its upper chest, escaping with a spray of red. It continues toward them.

They're both still coming. Namath puts the rifle butt down between his feet and cocks out the trigger guard, raises it again.

I hear something behind us. Turn back -- a bloody construction worker, hunks of rebar sticking out of his gut. Almost on us.

Namath's totally defenseless. I can see he won't have time to react, the worker is too close. I have no weapon, so I use my shoulder.

We both go down. Feel the bars stabbing at my arm, chest. We're completely tangled and I can feel tearing fingers. Teeth not far behind.

A shot, right next to my head. I can feel the heat. Look up -- it's Dean, handgun pointed down at us. "Get the fuck up," he breathes.

Sharon is mopping up the others. Dean turns to Namath: "You can't even handle walking a perimeter? Get back and clean that deer."

Dean hauls me up. "You and me gotta talk." Walk away from Sharon. "You need to get your head outta your ass, son."

He shoves me up against a bulldozer. "I won't have some asshole putting my family in danger. You need us -- we don't need you."

"Get your fucking act together, yuppie," Dean finishes. He releases my collar. "Pull your weight or find somewhere else. This is my family."

A few hours have gone by. We're eating Dean's deer. They built a fire. I'm an outsider here. No one trusts me. I don't blame them.

Watching Dean with his kids, I can see how much he cares about them. He makes sure everyone has plenty. Waits till they're finished to eat.

The kids are heading to bed in the abandoned equipment. Dean and I stay at the fire, on watch. "Sorry I snapped," he remarks. Nothing else.

I open my eyes. I can feel myself with a cold sweat. The fire is dying and I don't see Dean anywhere around.

I start searching. Everyone else is here, asleep. When I look beyond our makeshift camp, I see Dean staggering back.

Dean is dragging one of his legs. His head is hung low. He utters some sort of grunt. Is this really happening?

I look for something to defend myself with. He is approaching me.

"Would you stop messing around and help me?" Dean has apparently twisted his ankle.

He explains that he went to get more wood for the fire and tripped. I feel myself calming down, even wanting to laugh from my reaction.

Sitting by the fire again, I tell myself I won't fall asleep this time.

Dean just keeps rubbing his ankle and staring off into the darkness. He's starting to creep me out.

"Go get more firewood," Dean tells me. "But it's still dark," I say. He gives me a look. "So?"

It's dark out here and I am completely terrified. How am I supposed to find anything?

I hear something. I definitely hear something.

I wonder what Dean's game is...but since his blow-up, I'm more afraid of his gun than a zombie's foot speed. Maybe I'll just kill time...

I round a few trees...pick up a few twigs, drop them again to start over. In another world, I would want sleep. Now I'm content with pacing.

After a couple more rounds of pick-up-sticks, I turn around a tree and nearly run into a fence post. Guess the fence goes pretty far.

Follow it, absently. Run my fingers across the cold chain-link. My world is my finger tips: bouncing, scraping, feeling.

I see them now, huddled together. They're inside the fence, which takes a moment to register. More pile on. From where?

Gaping hole in the fence. Torn down -- bent down. Quickly. With a few more steps I can see it -- They're huddled around the deer carcass.

Stay put. No sudden moves. It hits me: that bastard set a trap. He's trying to get me killed.

I debate whether I should warn the rest of camp. But that would mean confronting Dean. Of course, I should worry about myself first.

Step backward quietly, trying to avoid attention. I smile to myself knowing I just picked up all the twigs I could have stepped on.

Decide to take the long way back around - away from the broken fence - and come up at camp from behind. Should scare the piss out of Dean.

Taking my time, but alert; on my toes. Strangely calm...feel in control for the first time since I called in apocalypse to work.

About half way back. I think. An explosion. A gun shot. The kids jump into my mind and I break into a sprint, broken twigs be damned.

4, 6, 12 -- more coming. Guess there wasn't enough deer to go 'round. The boys have taken the high ground on separate mounds of dirt.

Hard to see. Too dark. I look for Sharon and Dean...see Dean. He's lying there. Can't tell if he's breathing. Don't see Sharon.

The boys are shooting, surprisingly calm. But they're not hitting much. I make a for the white truck.

Keys are still in it, just like before. Reverse it off the dirt mound, kick up dust -- mistake. But I get it between the two mounds.

High Beams. Zombies don't mind the light, but the boys can see them now. They hoop to one another and compete for head shots.

A scream. I pull myself from the car, momentary victory dashed. I see Sharon...crawling backward, still holding her rifle...away from Dad.

He's up, lumbering. This time, I know. Idiot didn't twist his ankle, got caught by his own trap.

For once, Sharon's sure hand can't pull the trigger.

I try to wrestle the weapon away from her. We lock eyes.

She releases the gun and I know what I have to do.

I take aim at Dean. I wish I could do this with my eyes closed.

Goodbye Dean.

There's still more and we need to get out of here.

I yell for Sharon and the boys to get into the car. Sharon seems dazed enough to listen.

The boys take some convincing, but they get in. Where do we go from here?

I throw the truck in gear with the boys in the bed and Sharon in the seat beside me. Roll past Dean, through the crowd, toward the fence.

Impossibly loud in here. The engine is actually rumbling. We plow through the fence, over some things that could have been people.

The adrenaline's seeping out of me as we roll onto the dirt road that cuts through the woods leading to the site. Have some time to think.

I have no idea where I'm going. The road meanders through trees and darkness. Headlights barely penetrate. Mist is rolling in.

The sun will be up soon, then whatever cover we have from the dark will be lost. Not that everything in the area can't hear us.

Highway out ahead of us. It's still deserted. Pull out onto the road. Guardrails and blacktop -- a bridge.

The truck rattles and I realize why Dean never tried to take his kids out in it. Oil light's blinking. Smoke pours into the cab.

I assume calling AAA is not an option at this point.

We stumble out of the car to avoid the smoke and take a look around. On the bright side, we appear to be alone.

Sharon and I jump out as smoke pours from doors. The boys hop down. Namath: "Where are we?" Me: "No idea."

I can't tell, but I don't think there's anyone around. We'll probably have to walk. We should wait for daylight, if we can.

The dawn is beginning to break and I think it's time for us to move. I don't feel comfortable sitting still anymore.

I start walking down the road, assuming they will follow me. I look back after a minute and notice they haven't.

Me: "What's going on?" Namath: "We're not going anywhere." Sharon's face is swollen from crying. All three stare at me. All three are armed.

Me: "We can't stay here." Namath: "We have to bury our dad."

It's dark, but growing lighter by the second. I see steel in the kids' eyes. They won't be reasoned with.

I realize how little I knew about Dean. Or about myself. He saved my life, then I thought he tried to end it. And then I saved his kids.

Maybe he wasn't setting a trap for me. Maybe he was. His biggest concern in the world was the care of these three. He wanted more for them.

Me: "Then we'll go back." The kids seem surprised. It's not much of a purpose, but it's something.

We march back down the bridge. We didn't get far in the truck. I think back at what I've done to survive -- I've hurt more than I've helped.

Namath jogs up beside me, away from the others. "This is our job. You don't have to come." I look into his eyes - how old is this kid, 15?

"You need me," I tell him. "Simple as that." Namath: "But this isn't your responsibility."

"You're right," I reply. Dean's face flashes through my mind. Alan's face. The two men I left to be torn apart. Swayze.

They might just be better off without me. Everybody who's helped me, who's even come into contact with me, has died. Even the dog.

Namath starts to lead the kids off. Sharon's reloading her weapon. They pass me and I start walking too. Namath looks back.

"What are you doing?" "Coming with you."

The kids don't say anything. We move on down the bridge as the sun spreads light over the vacant, empty cars and blank pavement.

It's eerie to be on a highway that's so quiet. But there's nothing -- nothing from people, no cars, no machinery, not even animals. Just us.

Cars lay empty and lifeless. They're like tombs, stretching out down the hill like gravestone.

Movement in a car. Sharon readies her rifle but we steer clear. Anyone alive doesn't need to go where we're going. Anyone dead can stay put.

Some cars have bodies spread around. More than a few are shot. Good to know we're not the only ones around. I still shudder at the sight.

Namath and the kids are steely, though. Their dad taught them well. They ignore the bodies and sometimes the boys stop to take a look.

Realize that's a good strategy when they check a body that makes a move for them. Namath takes it out with a revolver I didn't know he had.

Pass more bodies. I think we're nearing the construction site. Starting to see a few more figures stumbling around. The kids draw closer.

They're not noticing us. I'm starting to wonder if we shouldn't try to learn something from them -- how well they hear, how well they see...

No time -- Sharon's been spotted. I can see the dirt road that leads to the site. A couple of them are shambling toward the group.

Follow Namath up onto the flat bed of a truck. Sharon takes aim. "Wait! It'll bring more of them!" Namath cries.

Three of them are getting close now. I can smell them, despite all the bodies. Almost retch. Sharon hands me a two-by-four from the bed.

They're close, clawing at the sides of the truck, too dumb or weak to climb up. Up close, they're horrible. Raise the board, close my eyes.

Blood sprays as board crushes nose of nearest. This time I do throw up. Never had to bludgeon something to death before. Kids seem fine.

It's still coming. Namath pushes me out of the way and goes to work with a tire iron. I kick at another as it tries to grab his arm.

"We need to go," Sharon says. I see what she sees. We're drawing too much attention. Robby and Namath clear a path and start running.

Suddenly the road seems crowded. More and more shambling out of the woods. We hurry through the car graveyard toward the dirt road.

But already I can see this won't go well. If there are 15 or 20 here, there's at least double that at the site. More along the way.

I'm starting to worry. Nothing about this is going to work. How can we get to the site? How can we get Dean's body? How can we escape?

The day's growing brighter and the mist is starting to dissipate as we jog onto the dirt road, past the most of them. Trees between us/them.

We're alone again. It's lucky they move slow. The kids are close behind me, keeping their eyes open. Me: "We should head through the woods."

Take to the woods, moving quickly but quietly. Kids know the area well -- Namath leads. I'm watching out backs, carrying the tire iron.

Not many zombies around, if any. We're being pretty sneaky, I guess. Starting to see trees, landmarks that look familiar.

I see the fence. We're getting pretty lucky -- whatever followed us out of the construction site must have spread out or gone to the road.

We reach the fence. Still nothing around. I look to Namath. "Are you sure about this?"

Namath meets my eyes, and nod. Down on one knee and offer a hand to start boosting the kids over. Namath first, then Robbie. Sharon last.

Drop as quietly as possible into the site, behind the kids. It's fully light out by now. A few shamblers in sight, but not many.

Dean's body is about 100 yards ahead, among the equipment and a fair number of monsters. Should have asked the kids what their plan was.

Follow the kids as they take cover behind a lifeless bulldozer. Quick headcount: 14 zombies ahead. Four more to the left near the entrance.

Check that -- not 14, more like 34. They didn't follow the truck out. They're just milling around. From around the bulldozer, I can see Dean

No way we can deal with all these things. Too many to shoot, they'll surround us if we make noise, no convenient truck with which to escape

Turn to Namath: "This is a good way to get killed." He says nothing. Sharon, the oldest, looks at me: "You're right. It is a good way."

The kids look to me. I don't have any answers. What's important in a world like this? Is there any respect for the dead?

I think back on the things I've done. Is there any respect for the living?

Yes. There is. There must be. There are things that make us human.

"Wait here," I tell the kids. "When it's clear, take that wheelbarrow. Get your dad. I'll meet you back on the road somewhere."

Before they can say anything, I'm gone, running -- through the center of the site. Lower a shoulder and plow into the nearest of them.

Stumble, stay up. They've noticed -- nearly 50 of them. Sprint to where they're thinner, start shouting. Drawing them away from the kids.

Keep checking over my shoulder. Gotta remember they're all around me. Letting them shamble closer. Jesus there's a lot.

I've still got the pistol and the tire iron if things get hairy, but I should have thought this through. Where will I lead them?

Start walking backward, toward the back of the site.

Can't lead the zombies out of the site; there's only one entrance, and it'll just leave the kids in danger when they try to escape.

Hopefully I can draw some or all of them off and the kids can deal with any stragglers.

They're starting to cluster together. I'm pulling them back, behind the equipment and clutter, away from Dean's body.

Turn -- some were behind me. They're close. Zigzag clear, start to run. They're biting. Peripheral vision: the kids grab the wheelbarrow.

Can't see the kids anymore. Can't see much of anything except ghouls. Nearing the fence -- with a gaping hole. And more coming in.


They're tightly packed in front, surrounding me from the back. Heading in the other direction. Too far away to see the kids.

Pistol in left hand, tire iron in the right. Back's against the fence, but they're getting close. Really close. Trying to climb.

Halfway up the fence. It's not too sturdy. They're crowding around below me. Bash one in the face with the tire iron.

Wow they're close! One just tore my jeans with its teeth.

I'm just out of reach but I don't know how long I can stay here. Hands hurt. Almost dropped the pistol. Fence is shaking crazily.

Through the bodies I see Robby and Namath pulling their father's dead weight into the wheel barrel. Sharon stands guard: looks back, forth.

In that moment, one lunges at me from the right. I swing the iron -- in my left -- and hit, but the swing sets me off balance. I fall back.

The fence catches me, but the one I hit falls into another -- the two of them topple over. Our collective weight is too much for the pop-up.

My ears are assaulted with groaning metal; chain links desperate to pull apart, smash together.

I push myself into a sort of roll -- I can't let them land on top of me. I would never get up again.

The fence is flimsy enough to my left that I'm able to pull it up, doubled-over, folded on top of me. I can feel their icy fingertips.

I'm no use to attack any of them from this position, but it wouldn't matter. Most I can do is delay the inevitable. They're swiping, biting.

Rock back and forth, keep the chain link on top of me...try to keep them distracted long enough for the kids...I feel one on my ankle: kick.

One of the fallen is spewing his rotten breath into my gasps; I heave, but there's nothing left to puke up. Another one falls on me—

I can't hold him up. Can hardly move. This is it...this is what every moment in my life has led to...I hope those damn kids got away...

KA-BAM. KER-KRACK. Two shots. Two different guns. I close my eyes...try to breath. I know what that means...they're coming for me.

"SHARON!" I muster. "SHARON YOU TAKE YOUR BROTHERS AND GET OUT OF HERE." Over the groans and the gunfire, my muffled shouts are lost.

More gunfire. They'll never cut through them all. Not all the way to me. They're wasting their only chance to bury their father.

I scream again, this time for Namath. He looks me right in the eyes -- they can hear me. They just aren't listening.

The horde is starting to turn toward the kids.

Strain against the fence. There's still too much weight -- I can't get out of here. I can't help the kids. I can't stop the monsters.

All I can do is lie here and watch them die.

"Namath!" I scream. "Namath!" He looks right at me.

Meet his eyes. And stick my hand through one of the diamond holes in the fence. Pain sears through it immediately as one bites.

Shove the pistol through and press it against the temple of the one that's clamped down. Blow his skull apart.

Namath watched the whole thing. I'm back beneath the fence, and they're still piling on. "Get out of here now!" I scream.

Namath hesitates, but Sharon and Robby are already pulling him out of there. A second later, I can't see them anymore.

Press the pistol against another ghoul. Blow it away. It slumps off the fence. I'm trying to wriggle out the other side.

There's no point, not really. Namath knew -- he'd seen it. Bite means infection. Infection means death.

Still don't want to be torn apart lying under this fence.

I know there's not a lot of ammo in this pistol. Put the barrel in another monster's mouth. Another takes a bullet through its eye.

With each shot the weight lessens on the fence for a fraction of a second before each body is replaced. Slowly getting to the top.

The pistol clicks. I'm almost there. Put my hands up and get the fence up just a little -- enough to get a foot against it. Kick hard.

Free! Just barely slid out from under the chain link. Blood covers my hand and arm -- it's bad and it screams with pain -- but I can run.

Look back -- they're following me. Good. Time for a trip through the woods. One more thing to do: make sure they don't go after the kids.

Blood covers my arm. Wonder how long it'll take me to bleed to death. Or what it'll feel like. Already getting tired.

Decent space between me and the horde. They seem to be following me deeper into the woods. Pull my shirt off, wrap it around my arm.

Keep moving for a few more minutes. Keep an eye on the group -- they're still coming. Shout every once in a while. Drawing as many as I can.

Okay, now what...

There - a tree. Branches are fairly low. My arm burns and stings and flares, but I haul myself into the air. Climb into the tree. Shout some

They're slowly gathering beneath me. My voice hurts. My arm hurts. My head hurts. The world spins. I'm high enough now.

It feels good though. Like I can relax, finally. They can't get in the tree, I can't get down. The kids are gone. They can bury their dad.

Only one more person has to die. But I'll worry about that later. Right now, the woods are beautiful. Sunlight peeks through the thin trees.

Think it might be a good time for a nap.


Endnotes: We thought you might be interested in some statistics from this story.

"Diminished Returns" consists of:
8,478 words
45,175 characters
369 posts

The story began on June 2, 2009, and ran until Aug. 19, for a total of 79 days. It was completely made up on the fly by the authors.

The next story will be a little different. Writers' meetings are taking place now to determine several elements of the story and its arc, but the post-to-post updates will still happen in a vaccuum -- no discussion between authors. We're making a blueprint, then we're building it in separate rooms.

If you have ideas for the next Twitter of the Damned story -- including character ideas, settings, themes, and anything else you want the story to include -- leave it in the comments here.

We're listening.

Feel the wrath. Read more.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Defense of Self

8:09 a.m., Dec. 27 – Chicago, Ill.

It was all so quiet.

Rachel hits the ground hard, flat on her back, with snow and dirt flaring up around her. It catches the sunlight in shafts as it streams down between buildings and through trees that line the alley.

She struggles to refill her lungs. Rachel had toppled off the top of the ten-foot construction fence that divides the alley in half widthwise. It still shakes violently as gray, mangled hands push through the chain link and wooden planks that lined it, grabbing at her.

Winter air floods her chest and she presses it out into a scream, scrambling back from the fence. Blood pounds in her ears, her hands, and she shakes everywhere, still fighting to breathe. This is not her first close call with these monsters, these zombies, but she still can’t control how deeply her body quakes from the touch of their icy fingers.

No one else comes clamoring over the fence. There had been nine of them, but she can hear nothing except the slow, pained drags of air reflexively entering and escaping the dead lungs of the monsters that fill the other half of the alley. The wood blocks her view so that all she can see are hands clawing blindly for her. A new round of quakes wells up from her ankles and runs through her stomach. But no tears.

When she is sure there is no one else coming, and when she begins to realize those quiet gasps might be emanating from her former friends, Rachel turns away from the fence and jogs off, facing the city rising empty before her. Her own survival means postponement of her mourning.

An el train track casts a huge shadow over the street where it opens up at the edge of the buildings on either side of her. Buildings stand with windows broken and thick darkness stagnant behind them. A light wind rustles the intermittent plant life and kicks up snow that has never crowded these streets so completely. Cars cast long shadows over white; some broken, some abandoned after careening into telephone poles. One sedan is crumpled to half its normal size on the brown, metal strut holding up the spinal train track.

A convenience store with its huge front windows busted out yawns to her left, but no sunlight penetrates the cavity.

Rachel isn’t a Chicago native. She’s lived in the city only a few months. She really has no idea where she is. She’d lost the canvas bag with the three bricks in it she’d used as a weapon and she is without supplies, even water. If she’s going to get back to the clothing store the group uses as a safe house on Michigan Avenue, she is going to need more than she has.

With her heart rate slowing, she starts toward the convenience store. She can’t see much of anything inside the store: the bright sunlight bouncing off the snow-covered street makes the darkness impenetrable.

Carefully, Rachel lifts one leg, then the other, over the jagged rim of the store’s front window. She stands there a few long moments, letting her vision adjust, listening hard for anything in the darkness. As soon as she can begin to pick out cluttered aisles and tilted shelves, she starts into the store.

She passes a rack of canvas “green” reusable shopping bags and grabs two. She tracks down the food aisle, grabbing cans of peanuts and loaves of bread. She tears open plastic and cardboard packages of bottled water and yanks out half-frozen bottles, chilled by the winter intruding through the broken window. These all fall into the bag with the abrupt, unceremonious weight of necessity.

Immediate supplies dealt with, Rachel takes another moment to breathe. She fights back shaking as she thinks about the wretched hands pushing through the fence. Focus, she thinks. What’s next – a weapon.

Her eyes scan the aisles. Before her, the candy rack has tipped on its side and smashed against the shelf that held all the poorly made dollar toys and greeting cards. There’s stuff everywhere, and a dried, dark trail that could be blood. But nothing that looks solid enough to be used for defense.

She wanders toward the pharmacy, where she absently grabs a few bottles of pain killers. Nothing worthwhile here. The refrigerated compartments are next. There are a few cheap bottles of wine and beer, various sodas, gallons of milk. Still nothing she can use to fend off an attack.

She misses the figure because he is shorter than most, and crumpled strangely in a half-standing position in the aisle beside her. Her focus on keeping her emotions in check causes her to miss the creature as it lurches at her back and takes hold of her shoulders.

Rachel hears the gasp next, feels the putrid air flare from its chest and face, and she reacts as terror explodes through her. The strength of the thing is intense and frightening, its momentum and weight uncontrolled as they plow into her, and Rachel falls with it, turning, just barely avoiding the refrigerator case.

The motion sends the monster falling into the glass, shaking loose the whole case from its mooring on the floor. The creature’s clawing at the air finds purchase on the handle of the door, which tears open and shatters against the neighboring case as the creature topples backward.

Bottles of beer and wine bounce or shatter out of the case, spraying liquid everywhere. Rachel falls back against a shelf and lands on the ground. As she turns back toward the thing, its hand closes on her ankle, its bloodied, hellish teeth pulling toward her flesh.

Her hands, desperately searching the floor for anything to grab hold of, find the neck of a bottle. With a firm grip, she rips the bottle around and smashes it against the head of the monster. It flinches from the impact but barely reacts.

Rachel strikes again, this time bringing the bottle down as if it was a sword, smashing the base, where the glass is thickest, against the skull. She brings it down again. Again. Blood sprays and drips from the bottle as she crushes in the creature’s head. A second later, it goes still, its hand still clutching Rachel’s ankle tightly.

For the first time, Rachel gets a good look at what attacked her. Blue hooded sweatshirt. Dark brown hair. Thin, taught face. Deep, quiet eyes. Smooth skin.

The boy can’t be older than fifteen.

She pulls her ankle free of its grip, but not without a struggle. Slowly, Rachel rises to her feet. Her eyes don’t leave the body, but it’s clear she no longer has anything to fear. After a moment, she raises the bottle, still in her hand, and looks it.

A wave of horror strikes her and she drops the weapon. It feels sharp, almost electrified, and desperately cold – an instrument of murder.

That was what had happened, after all. She’d murdered a boy. The fact that he’d tried to kill her didn’t change the truth of it.

Rachel’s eyes drag over the boy. She recognizes his brand of jeans, the dirty, blurring logo of the rock band on his sweater. His eyes, a gray cloud over brown, give her the impression of a kindness now gone. He reminds her of Ian Downing from two blocks over, who she used to baby-sit a few years ago while she was in high school.

Something bulges in the boy’s back pocket. It’s brown and leather and sticks out almost three inches. Snow crowds the edges, but she can tell it isn’t a wallet.

With as much respect as she can manage, she reaches out and slides the object free of the pocket. She brings it back to her face. A journal with crisp, heavy pages inside and a string wrapped around to keep it closed tight.

Rachel pries it open, fighting the ice that binds the pages. It pulls apart on a page at random. The penmanship is messy and the ink blurred. She begins to read.

I’m glad Dad and Jim aren’t here for this. I’ve never felt so weak or worthless. I know what I’ll become and what I’ll do when I change. But I’m so goddamn scared to stop myself.

Keep turning over Dad’s watch in my hand. It’s been in his family for almost seventy years. I don’t think I deserve it anymore.

She looks up. The sun has moved, pushing the shadows deeper into the store. Looking down, she realizes she’s read through pages and pages of the journal.


She snaps up. A figure stands half in the broken window, silhouetted against the sunlight. Rachel recognizes him instantly despite the darkness.


Rachel leaps to her feet and races the length of the store, half-tackling Bill in an embrace as he steps into the store.

“I thought you were dead,” she blurts. She pulls back to look him in the face.

Bill smiles. “Glad I found you,” he said. “We were afraid you’d disappear after you fell.

“But we need to go. They’re piling up against that fence, and it’s one of those cheap construction put-ups. It won’t last. We can’t stay here.”

Rachel nods, then waits, watching Bill’s eyes intently.

“Caitlin, Epstein and Mark were able to climb a fire escape. They’re still okay.”

A touch of a smile flutters over Rachel’s face.

“Mark made it?”

No smile. His voice is solemn but shaky: “No one else.”

She nods again, adding this to the emotions she would have to work through later.

“Are you all right?” Bill asks, reaching out to wipe Rachel’s face gently, the way her father used to. His finger came back stained a deep scarlet.

Suddenly Rachel is again aware of the leather and paper of the journal against her fingers. The boy’s eyes, obscured by that dead gray, appear in her mind.

Are you all right?

“Let’s get going,” Bill said, taking her by the hand.

The sunlight is harsh, glaring over the el track that looms like a ruin above them. Bill leads her back to the alley, where the fence that divides it is now shaking violently.

“Wait a sec,” he tells her, heading closer to the fence. Above it on one side of the alley, on the far side of the fence, she can see a fire escape. The other three survivors – Mr. Epstein, the sixty-something owner of a bar down the street from Rachel’s apartment; Caitlin, a woman they’d found a few days ago trying and failing to hotwire a car; and Mark, who’s only a few years older than Rachel – are standing on the platform, just a few feet above the fence, but on the far side of it, with tens of the monsters milling about beneath them. They can’t reach the fence to get to safety.

“I gotta help them down from the landing,” Bill tells her, turning back as he starts to jog.

“What can I do?” Rachel calls after him.

He shakes his head. “I’m not willing to put any more weight on this fence than we have to. Just sit tight and keep your eyes open.”

Bill reaches the fence and starts to climb. It shakes and sways with his weight and hands pressing through the holes. It seems like there are hundreds of hands, all in different states of decay, tearing at him.

Rachel watches Bill swing a leg over the top of the fence, giving himself two footholds as he stands up at the top of the fence. Hands everywhere, gray and searching, remind her of the clutching hands of the boy from the convenience store.

Bill stretches out for Caitlin as she swings over the fire escape’s railing and reaches out for him, but Rachel sees the boy’s hand tearing at her ankle. He hadn’t always been that thing. He had once been a young man with a life unfolding ahead of him.

As she watches the rescue, passages of the journal unspool in her memory.

Thought I heard my brother today when I came downstairs. Turned out to be the last news report before they packed up the emergency station. Dad was watching it and drinking. He didn’t make any noise, but I’m sure he was crying.

Bill takes hold of Caitlin’s waist and helps boost her over to the fence. Rachel thinks they look like dancers, working together slowly and elegantly. Beneath them churns a tempest of flesh, relentlessly hungering for them.

The police came by again. I talked to them because Dad couldn’t. They’re worried about us, that was clear, but I could tell the officers just wanted to get the hell out. They were both weird about talking to me, like they thought I couldn’t handle it. Officer Brady left me a card and said to call him every day for an update.

Then he asked me to convince my dad that we should run instead of stay behind. I already knew how that would go, though. Even if Jim never comes back, we’re still going to wait for him.

Caitlin is down on the close side of the fence and now Bill is helping Mr. Epstein as he steps gingerly out into space. Rachel can see already that he isn’t prepared to do the mid-air maneuvers that Caitlin had been able to handle.

Mark is holding one of Mr. Epstein’s hands while Bill tries to guide his foot toward the fence. The whole thing is shaking as if in a hurricane. Mr. Epstein won’t make it if he doesn’t jump for the fence, Rachel can see. She can also see the fear on his face.

“C’mon, Jacob, you can do it!” Bill cheers the old man on. “A little further and you’re home!”

They surrounded us. Dad used the pry bar to bust open a door and then he pushed me through. Couldn’t get the door back open. Think something was wedged against it.

They were still outside an hour later. I could hear them. But I never heard Dad. I don’t think he wanted me to.

Mr. Epstein almost reaches the fence, but he’s totally unstable. Mark holds on still but it’s not helping much. Rachel watches, feeling helpless, just the way she did as she poured over the journal.

“Now!” Bill called and Mark releases Mr. Epstein’s hand. Bill pulls hard, yanking Mr. Epstein to him at the fence.

He’s gone now.

Mr. Epstein catches the fence, but the force of it is too much for the weak construction chain link. The whole thing shakes and waves. Bill loses his grip and Mr. Epstein topples into the decaying crowd.

The fence buckles under Bill. Their arms are pushing through the wires and planks and the whole thing heaves. Bill flops backward, toward Caitlin, who nearly catches him.

Suddenly, a tidal wave of death is pouring down the alley.

They took him. They took him and he let them, but he sacrificed himself for the wrong son.

Rachel sees Mark still on the landing, his face stricken with panic. She sees ten or so of the monsters swarming on the far side of the fence, bent down and tearing. A few are still caught in the fence, trapped in the snow. More are lurching for Bill, who was still on the ground with Caitlin, scrambling away.

The first of them reaches for Bill and Caitlin seconds after he hits the ground. In her panic, Caitlin claws at Bill, using him to get away, the way a struggling swimmer drowns a would-be rescuer.

Bill tries to scramble back, but Caitlin’s interference holds him up. The first of them takes him by the ankle, another by his shoulder, slowing him more. One bites down, then another, and Bill screams.

He’s one of those monsters now. Because I was too afraid to tell him. I’m a monster too.

Rachel can do nothing but watch as Bill dies, as dozens of ruined hands clutch at his flesh. Then Caitlin bolts past her at full bore. She doesn’t see Mark anymore. The rest of the creatures are lumbering toward her.

She runs.

Caitlin is gone, though, and Rachel still doesn’t know where she is. All she feels is cold and terror. As she nears the el track above, she turns sharply. The gaping cavern of the convenience store stands there. Rachel steps through and drives down the aisles toward the back of the store.

She turns toward the area from which she thought the boy had come at her. Rachel needs some place to hide. He’d been inside a room, the journal said, so maybe the room is here in the store. She could close it off when those things start climbing into the store after her.

She only has a few seconds.

Past the shelves, Rachel finds it – a unisex bathroom. There is thick brown blood on the door at the bottom. She wrenches it open and nearly falls through.

Rachel hears them entering the store. They fall over the jagged edge of the window, slumping, bouncing over the snowy tile with the sickening slap of meat on frozen linoleum. It sounds like a lot of them.

She locks the door. Rachel leans back against the far wall with a pair of stalls lining the wall to her left, listening, trying not to make a sound. Her breathing is heavy and she can feel it echoing throughout the room. The dark leather of the journal is warm and alive in her hand. She doesn’t take her eyes off the door.

Doesn’t feel right that one of those things should have Dad’s watch, so I’m hiding it here before I become like them. It’s on the shelf just outside the bathroom.

I don’t want to disgrace it.

Something hits the door to the bathroom and Rachel jumps. The journal drops out of her hand onto the freezing tile beneath. Rachel stares, but the banging doesn’t persist. Whatever is out there must have moved on.

In the cold, she thinks again of the boy. He’d sat here too, trapped with a swarm of monsters outside the door, putting his last moments as a human being down in the journal. Leaving it and the last remnant of his father, of his former life, behind – for someone to find.

And Rachel smashed his skull in with a wine bottle.

She can’t help but feel blood on her hands. She looks down at them, still pulsing with life, and can still feel the chill of his death on them.

Like the boy, she feels disgrace.

Something slams and rattles behind her and Rachel bolts from the wall, spinning in fear. There is a thin window there, sealed and half-frozen, that she hadn’t noticed before. As she watches, something dark crashes through it from the other side.

The glass shatters inward, spraying into the bathroom. Rachel turns away as she hides behind the wall of one of the stalls. There is nowhere to go if they see her and drop in through the window.


She steps out. It’s Mark, crouched low, sticking his face in through the window. Snow drifts down through the hole around him and sunlight glares into the darkened room.

“Mark!” She bolts for the window.

“I saw you go in from the fire escape,” Mark tells her, lying down on his chest and inching closer to the window. “It was pretty lucky – you took them all with you. I was able to climb down and find the back of the store without running into any of them.”

Lying half in the window, he stretches an arm down toward her.

“Climb up.”

Rachel moves closer and reaches up to take his hand. But as she approaches, his flesh turns gray, the veins black; the nails brittle and chipping away. Thick, dark blood, dried and flaking, is smeared over the fingers. The hand reaches for her ankle, takes hold, and she feels death there.

So she murders the boy, in defense of herself.

“I can’t,” Rachel says, stepping back from Mark. She took a deep breath to push the vision of the boy away.

“What do you mean? I’ll pull you up,” he returns, confusion clouding his features.

“I can’t leave,” she tells him, turning back toward the door. Before he can say anything, Rachel takes four long steps back to the bathroom door, unlocks it, and pulls it open carefully.

They are milling around on the other side, or standing still, or slumping against shelves or just motionless. She makes sure not to make any sound as she slips out the door. The area around the door is clear to a range of about ten feet – enough to make it to the shelf and back again. But they’re all around her. She’ll have to be fast.

None of them have noticed her yet, thank God. She figures it’s because of the relative darkness inside the shop. They don’t have the sharpest senses.

Rachel creeps forward toward the shelf to her left, where the journal described the watch. She can’t see it yet.

Across the room behind her, one of them sees her. It’s a woman wearing a track jacket and fuzzy earmuffs. A jogger, Rachel thinks, who probably had gone for a run before heading to work in the morning. She might have stopped for coffee. She might have planned her day before taking her morning run, blowing off steam before the real work started.

Heading home for a shower, she might have found a man collapsed on the sidewalk, struggling with a heart attack. She might have pulled her cell phone and called 9-1-1, staying with the man to make sure he was okay, cradling his head to reassure him. He might have breathed his last right there, and she’d have noticed gruesome, bleeding, black-lined wounds on the man’s shoulder and neck.

It might have happened so fast she couldn’t react, that the man would suddenly be alive in her hands and snarling, pulling her into an embrace that would end in the flesh of her throat ripping away, the life spraying out of her in bursts.

Days later, perhaps more, the jogging woman would stumble through the drifting snow and early morning light into an alley, where the el train track threw the shadow of a lost civilization over one of its lost citizens. She would feel only one need, for sustenance, and she would follow it into a tiny convenience store.

More are moving toward Rachel now. She sees business people and students and parents and children. They all had lives.

Rachel ignores them. She turns toward the shelf and sees it, glinting in the little light that fights its way in from the front window. The watch, silver, sticks out from a box of bandages. She snatches it and turns around just as fast.

They are quickly surrounding her. There’s enough debris scattered about the room from overturned shelves that most of them are having trouble, but she can see their desire for her pulsing through their clouded, white eyes.

Fear shoots through Rachel like lightning. She clings to the watch, her grip turning her hand white. She sees the jogger woman reaching for her. Rachel lowers her shoulder and drives her whole body into the creature.

Rachel and the woman topple, with the woman’s head dropping back and slamming the tile with a sickening but slight thwack like a melon dropping off a table. Rachel rolls off the woman and her eyes snap up, locating the bathroom door just a few feet off.

She can feel the air moving, growing icier, as their hands reach for her. Fingers brush her clothes and over her skin and through hair as she scrambles, fighting to get her feet under her, unwilling to look back and see all those things, those people, reduced to nothing more than these murderous monsters.

Rachel’s legs churn and she claws at the floor. She feels hands catching her ankles and reaching for her face as she pulls across the tile. She reaches for no weapon this time. Thoughts of the boy’s skull crushing under the strength of her anger and fear fly through her mind. She grips the watch and focuses – she thinks of nothing but getting it out, getting it back into the hands of the living. In the grip of death, her hand clutches at life.

They pull and claw, and she can hear them falling over one another to get to her. She refuses to look, but she can feel them all around – a frothing maelstrom of anger.

Rachel kicks back. She rakes her hands over the linoleum and takes hold of the shelf beside her, pulling free of the stiff grip of the hands behind them.

She gets her feet under her and suddenly lurches free of all of them. They are stumbling over the jogging woman, who can do little but reach from the bottom of the trampling pile toward her. Rachel hits the door, bleeding but not bitten, rattled but not frozen, and tears it open.

“Rachel!” Mark shouts. He hasn’t moved, and she realizes that despite the danger, despite her insane need to find the watch, he hasn’t left her. Mark’s hand reaches for Rachel.

She runs toward him as the door flings open and the creatures pour into the bathroom.

His hand closes on her wrist as she makes the wall. He pulls mightily and she kicks at the cinderblock walls with adrenaline-fueled vitality.

More hands close on her as Mark rolls clear of the window, winching her up. Rachel kicks and flails, ripping her hands through snow and grass, scraping her back on the cold metal window frame as together they pull her free of that tomb.

Gasping, Mark and Rachel collapse into the snowy morning. Sunlight in shafts sprays down over their heads as fat, heavy snowflakes settle quietly onto their heaving chests and throbbing foreheads.

Through deep, tearing breaths, Mark asks, “Why did you go back?”

She lets oxygen stream back into her lungs, staring up into the silent, skeletal city that rises like gravestones all around her.

With one hand she pulls the silver watch tight on her wrist, snapping it shut.

Smiling into the quiet winter morning, Rachel whispers, “Because we don’t leave each other behind.”

Feel the wrath. Read more.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Nov. 30 -- The Atlantic

It’s been two weeks; two fucking weeks, that we’ve been in this shitty little boat. I could shoot myself in the face for suggesting this god damned trip. We were supposed to go from Miami to Jamaica, to have fun, to bond. The storm came out of nowhere, and now we’re on this boat, our own little slice of hell.

My son and wife are dying. All he does is lay there; he doesn’t talk, he barely moves. And she… Well, I told her not to drink the ocean water. She’s been drinking it for two days now. I tried to stop her and she attacked me. The scratches she left across my face don’t bleed much, I’m dehydrated, but they pulse with pain every time my heart beats.

I got her back though. The side of her face is swollen from where my hand hit her. What did she expect though when she started talking about eating our son?

“He’s going to die, Bob, we know that. And we’ll die too if we don’t do something soon!” she had said. My mouth just hung open. “I love him more than anything in the world, but I love you too and there is no reason we all should die! If we just wait for him to die we might not be strong enough to do what we need to do!”

Without saying anything I had punched her. I feel terrible, but I had to stop that line of thought. That was yesterday. I hope it was just madness brought on by the salt water. I haven’t slept since.

My stomach hurts, my skin hurts, and any hopes of survival are dimmed by the knowledge that our marriage, and possibly our son, won’t survive this. My son moans and my wife is silent. Her eyes are wide open and her head is thrown back. She could be dead but I can’t bring myself to check. I look up into the night sky. I hope I die with my eyes open – at least then my body will have a decent view of the universe.

The rocking of the boat and my son’s moaning pull me down. I fight off sleep, I have to, but I am weak. It’s been a week since I’ve had any food. For a moment the salty smell of the air reminds me of pretzels. I fall asleep licking my lips, but all I taste is dried skin.

I awake to the sound of screaming; images slowly forming in my eyes against the blinding light of the morning. My wife is on top of my son in a carnal position kissing his neck and he is screaming. My mind stalls, my mouth drops and my wife pulls up her head and her chin is covered in blood. She is eating him alive.

For a second I want to join her; the hunger inside my swells and releases a sound of glee. I am disgusted with myself. I need to act.

“Bonnie, you fucking bitch, he’s still alive!” I scream shocked at the volume of my voice. “Get the fuck off my son!”

She stands up and looks at me. There is something wrong with her eyes. She lunges at me and the boat rocks with our confrontation. She is trying to bite me and my son’s blood is dripping of her face and on to my chest.

She is in the water. Somehow, I don’t know, I had managed to roll her off the boat without flipping the damn thing. I look over the edge, expecting to see her treading. Instead she sinks away, an ever increasing blue vastness separating us. She’s not kicking, or pulling the water with her hands, she’s just clawing at my face in the growing distance, her face curled in a hellish snarl.

Soon I can’t see her at all. Have I killed her? Have I killed my wife? I begin to whimper; it’s the only sound I can hear until my son’s screaming calls me back to him.

I rush to his side, nearly tipping the boat as I scoop him up in my arms. I press my hand to the gaping bleeding wound on his neck. I see deep scratch marks across his chest.

“It’ll be okay, Ray, Daddy’s here,” I say, not sure why I referred to myself as “Daddy” to my seventeen-year-old son. I begin to rock him. The wound on his neck is sticky and I can feel grains of salt in it. I think of making a tourniquet but can’t leave his side.

That fucking bitch!

Hours pass by and my son has lost the energy to cry. He makes gurgling sounds and I’m still rocking him, a dad rocking a crying child to silence. I smile. The gurgling becomes more guttural and my smile fades.

There is silence.

Time passes, I don’t know how much, while I stare at my son’s limp body. He is lying in a pool of his own blood and some water. For some reason it reminds me of when he was born; red fluids and a limp body. This makes me think of the woman that had brought him into the world. I feel empty. For a second moment, I consider eating his flesh.

I lay him down and move away. I don’t like these thoughts. I stare at my hand, it’s covered in my son’s blood. I gingerly lick the blood off my palm. Ashamed, I clean my palm and lick between my fingers. I begin to shudder. I know what I have to do.

I’m sorry. I press my mouth to the wound on his neck and begin to suck. I can’t bring myself to bite at the wound. His blood will do for now. It tastes like shame, and something else, something good.

He opens his eyes and grabs me. I don’t stop. I can’t stop.

He is snarling and scratching at my back. I’m sorry. I don’t stop. He wraps his arms around me, pulling me closer. I can’t stop. I bite into the wound. I’m sorry.

He holds me close with all his strength. I feel surging pain in my ear. He’s eating me. I can’t stop. I don’t stop. His teeth close around my neck and open a slowly bleeding hole.

We don’t stop. We can’t.

Feel the wrath. Read more.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

He Would Never Tell You That

Dec. 3 - Sydney

There was nowhere for anyone to go. He was afraid, but he would never tell you that. The city was in a complete chaos and there was absolutely nowhere for anyone to go. Rumors were that they had armed guards shooting anyone trying to leave, but he knew that wasn’t true. He knew this because he had gone to the edge of the city the day before, just to see if he could. Part of him really just wanted to get shot and get it over with, but he would never tell you that.

Where the disease started was the biggest question. Some blamed the United States, some blamed China, and a few radicals were even taking a stand to blame Australia. They said that it started in the Outback, and that’s why it went so long without being reported. He knew it was all ridiculous, that it didn’t even matter where it started. All that mattered was the world was falling apart and he felt trapped. He felt incredibly trapped, but he would never tell you that.

It was five in the morning when he heard the radio crackle the report. He wondered how long it had been playing. There was an actual plan being put together. He remembered all the days and plans prior to this. At first, the police and paramedics were able to handle the problems. There was occasional vagrant showing symptoms, or a few people in some random townhouse would be infected. All were small events, but there was a momentum he saw behind it. When getting the morning paper, people would mention how well things were being handled. He didn’t believe a word of it, but he would never tell you that. To him, the whole situation was destined to be the end. People showing signs of death, and then suddenly showing massive aggression and a high tolerance to pain . . . there was no positive ending to that. Still, he bit his tongue and smiled, not wanting to be a cynic or cause a panic.

As the days went on, he noticed more police presence, and then the occasional army truck rolling passed. He would go to work at the docks and notice the helicopters whirling over the harbor, loaded with soldiers and guns. He wondered how many people in the city had ever actually seen that much firepower outside of movies. He himself had been in the army before, and knew the soldiers were hearing something different than the civilians, but he would never tell you that. He just kept his eyes on his work and his mind off the stiffness in his back. He had no time for it.

Nights were his biggest worries. The sirens and soldiers and constant gossip were easy enough to ignore during the day, but at night he had nothing to keep his mind off of it. He would fall asleep with a bottle in his hand and a burning in his gut. He was never much of a drinker, and used it as a last resort, but he would never tell you that. When the morning sun would open his day, he was always bitter . . . especially on the last day.

There was nowhere for anyone to go. He was afraid, but he would never tell you that. The city was in complete chaos. There was absolutely nowhere for him to go. Or at least that was his first, second, and third thought. But the time number four whirled through his head the radio had given him an idea. The evacuation order had been given for the greater Sydney area. Anyone who wanted to be safely quarantined was to get to the Botanical Garden. There they would be allowed entry after being examined and would be kept safe until proper transportation could arrive.

He saw several problems in this for him. For one, he lived in Glebe. Since the roads were blocked up by the military barricades and wayward cars, he would have to walk. On a good day, he could usually make it in two and a half hours. On this day, he counted on more. He considered the value of his life before deciding he would go. He had obtained a gun nearly a decade ago, but he would never tell you that. He assumed that now was the best time to take it out. He pulled up the loose floorboard and removed the revolver wrapped in a cloth. He checked it and thought it would work. He wouldn’t know until he really needed to use it. The official statement was not to engage anyone showing signs of infection, but one could defend himself if necessary. He thought about putting himself in a few situations where he needed to defend himself, but he would never tell you that.

Six bullets were loaded into the awaiting chambers, and the rest were loaded into his pocket. He filled his knapsack with a couple bottles of water, some bread, and a flashlight. He never considered himself a survivalist, but he liked to plan. With the gun carefully hidden underneath his shirt, he stepped outside. Nothing had changed. He thought back to the movies he had seen, the ones with disasters and monsters in them. He thought that there should have been more. There should have been roaring sirens and fires and people running in screaming hordes. Instead he saw an empty street with empty houses and even a few empty cars. He took a few steps and decided his journey would begin.

The first ten minutes showed him nothing. He looked across the water at the other parts of the city, and still no signs of panic. Every few minutes a boat or helicopter would whiz by, but it was nothing startling. He didn’t think any of this was real. He walked in the middle of the open road for a minute. This just made him feel uncomfortable and he went back to the sidewalk. He still stopped to look both ways for cars, but nothing was ever coming. The biggest shock to him was the lack of people. He wanted to run into a group of others, to give at least the illusion of safety, but he would never tell you that. He assumed everyone else was not as slow to start up as he was. There was probably a mob down at the Gardens. That’s where he would find everyone. Already breathing heavily, he just trudged on.

Thirty minutes into his journey he had his first scare. At first he thought it was more people, survivors like him, marching for the safe zone. When he got closer, though, he noticed there was something wrong with each of them. Before this, he had never seen any of the infected except for a few quick images on television. Now there were three, hobbling along in the same direction as him. However, when he his footsteps became louder, they all stopped and turned their heads. Each of them was disgusting in a way. The unifying feature was the blood smeared around their mouths. His stomach sank at the sight of this, but he would never tell you that. He thought about the gun he had, and then thought again. In his fictional encounters cooked up previously in his mind, there was only one of them. Three was another story, and it had been years since he had fired a gun. And that was an Army rifle, and that was at still targets. No, this was not how it was supposed to be.

Luckily the things could only shuffle at a slow pace. He turned and went down another street, quickly, and when he came out the other side he saw no sign of the creatures. If they were following him, they were too far behind to be a danger. He continued on his way, passed Darling Harbor, looking back every few seconds. It was at the harbor that he found his first real group of people. There were four, three men and a woman. They were all white except for one Aboriginal. He had never thought highly of the Aboriginals, but he would never tell you that. He stared at the group as he approached them. They had blood on them, yes, but none near their mouths. They seemed safe enough. And if not, he still had the gun.

“Hey,” the Aboriginal called, “Hey old man, over here!” The Aboriginal waved him over, which he thought was a bit stupid.

He walked up close to them and got a better look. They were bloody, and they were holding bloody clubs. One had what could have been a table leg, while two had cricket bats. The woman had a long piece of pipe.

“Where you coming from?” the Aboriginal asked him.

“Glebe,” he answered.

“We came from there, too,” the woman said. “Did you see many?”

“Many what?” he asked.

One of the other men, the shorter one, looked cross. “Any of the deados?”

“Deados?” he repeated to the short man. Then it clicked. “Oh, yeah. I saw three of them a little bit ago. That’s all.”

“How’d you handle them?” the tall man asked. “You don’t look like you’ve seen a fight yet.”

“I just walked around them,” he answered.

“Great . . .” the short man muttered.

“Listen, old man,” the Aboriginal started, “you can come with us, but we need to know we can count on you in a fight.”

He smiled and lifted his shirt. They all saw the gun and gasped. He was desperate for them to let him follow them along, but he would never tell you that.

“Shit, we’ve waited long enough,” said the tall man. “We better get a move on.”

There was not discussion about it. They just continued walking. They introduced themselves. He paid no real attention to which names went with which person. There was at least a Declan and possibly a Raymond. The only one he could pin was the woman’s. Her name was Kate. This made him think of his daughter, but he would never tell you that.

As they drew into the city, the evidence of the situation became more apparent. Some blood dotted the streets and brick. A body would be sticking out from a doorway or alley. No one seemed to be alive. There were no shouts. There were no calls. There were only a few bodies and more blood than could fill them.

“I don’t like this at all,” Kate said. “I told you we should have left earlier.”

“We’ll be fine,” the Aboriginal told her, “As long as we don’t run into too many of those things. Just be glad the streets aren’t packed. Otherwise we could get stuck in some mob and wouldn’t know who was a deado and who was alive. We would be bit before we knew it.”

“Bit?” He let the voice escape him before he thought it through.

“Yeah, bit.” The Aboriginal was now looking at him. “No one wants to confirm it, but anyone who gets a bite from one dies. We saw it happen.” There was silence and everyone just looked ahead. “Oh, and just in case you didn’t know already, you need to hit them in the head. They don’t stop otherwise.”

He wished now that he had paid more attention to the news at this point. He realized how disconnected he was from the rest of the world, but he would never tell you that. He just decided to add that to a list of his regrets.

Block by block they walked, the bodies and the blood becoming a recurring theme. There were also abandoned cars with open doors and random items littered about. Clothes and mobiles and chairs and suitcases. Everyone had left in a hurry. He wondered if it was worth it for them, if they were any safer because of that.

They were less than ten blocks away from the Botanical Gardens when they noticed a large group of deados. The group was facing away from them, staggering towards the Gardens. It was easy to see how they were among the infected; he noticed the blood and the scratches and the overall deadness to them.

“No one make any loud sounds,” the Aboriginal whispered. “Maybe we can move around them.”

He agreed with this plan. There were too many deados to count, and he did not trust his gun. Even if it did fire, he had no confidence in his aim. With only six shots, because he assumed he would not be able to reload in time while avoiding them all, he was not sure he could make it out alive. His heart was pounding the hardest it had been all day, but he would never tell you that. His breathing was getting heavier as well. He just gripped the pistol under his shirt and followed the others. They were moving towards a shopping centre.

The building seemed abandoned, and one of the glass doors had been shattered out. They moved in a single file line. There was enough light streaming to feign safety. He was the last one in. He could not keep his thoughts straight as the panic came in. Suddenly, as if to break the tension or make it worse, a gun shot rang out. And then another, and another. Everyone looked around, trying to judge where it was coming from. Eyes fell to him, naturally, as he was the only one with a firearm. But soon they all realized it was coming from somewhere outside. It was most likely from the Garden, he guessed. Maybe the soldiers were getting restless.

The next sound that was heard, however, nearly made him wet himself, but he would never tell you that. From inside the building, there was the shuffling of feet. Not just one pair, but a growing number of feet, moving from what seemed like every direction.

“There’s one!” the short man, who may have been called Declan, called out.

“Three more coming from down there,” the tall man, Raymond, returned.

“I see more over there!” Kate yelled. “We’re buggered!”

“No,” the Aboriginal, who’d withheld his name, said. “We’ve come too far. Just stick together and don’t get bit. If we can get to that exit, we can make a run for the gate.”

And while this group of young and determined people rallied together, he did not believe they would make it. He believed that this was the end, and that going down fighting was the only option. This was not a final thought of bravery, but he would never tell you that. This was a thought based on giving up, on throwing in the towel, on simply accepting the end. The end or not, he drew his revolver and took aim at the deado that was nearest to him. He remembered to aim for the head. The first shot went wild. Where the bullet ended up, he did not know. Firing the gun, however, did jerk something back to life in him. His second shot connected. The deado nearest him fell with a thump.

The rest around him were drawn to the sound. He took a look around and saw the others fighting with their clubs. They were beating the deados out of their way. They were also much farther ahead of him. He charged forward, leaping over the bodies and rubbish in his way, ignoring the stiffness in his knees. He caught up to them, fired twice more, and began to clear a path. He fired the final rounds in the chamber and shouted, “Cover me while I reload.”

He laughed to himself as he pulled the bullets out of his pocket and crammed them into the gun. He remembered that when he left the Army, they said the training would never leave. Apparently that was true. With the gun reloaded he fired away, taking down anything in his path. Those behind him were now the ones keeping up with him. He felt young, he felt invigorated, he felt like he was breaking free. And in the literal sense, he was breaking free. With his help, and the use of the gun, the group was able to get to the other exit. They emerged on the other side of the door to see the city before them. They were a few short blocks away from the Gardens.

Unfortunately the streets were filled with deados. The deados, those poor infected souls, were everywhere. “This is it!” he shouted to the group. He was suddenly a leader. “Let’s make a run for it!” And so they did.

There was less concern now with clearing the creatures in their path and more of a concern of simply getting away. They clambered their way through, avoiding everything they could. His chest was pounding, but he would never tell you that. Creatures lunged and clawed at him. He felt them tug at his clothes and legs. His bag was pulled off him. He would not stop, though. Suddenly there was a scream behind him, and he saw Declan topple over. Before there was anything to do, he was under a pile of deados. The group just kept moving, trying not to break the momentum.

The Botanical Garden was now in sight. He knew they just had to get to the main gate and they would be fine. There was another scream and Kate disappeared from the group. Another Kate was gone from his life. Raymond called for her and stopped. Of course, he was not willing to stop. He was so close to staying alive, and he was not going to let anything slow him down. The tall man disappeared with his woman, and he thought it was a worthless gesture, but he would never tell you that.

They reached the gate. Bodies lay all around it. The gunfire started up again. His own pistol was empty. He just needed to make it to the gate. He and the Aboriginal came into view of the soldiers.

“Let us through!” he called to the nearest soldier.

The gunfire continued. The soldier looked at the pair and made a decision.

“Are either of you bitten?” he asked them over the sound of the guns.

“No!” they called back in unison.

The solider looked carefully at them and considered. “Are there any more of you?”

“Not anymore,” he told the soldier.

He then realized there was a chain link fence between him and the inside of the Gardens. Thankfully the guard motioned for them to go around. The rifles stopped sounding long enough for the two to get to the smaller, makeshift gate. They went through, and saw the crowd that was assembled inside. Soldiers were running back and forth, carrying weapons and ammunition and other various supplies. People were huddled together or standing alone. Faces were streaked with tears. Someone mentioned to them that they were just waiting for the proper ferries to be organized, and then they would all be shipped out of the city. He heard all of this, but none of it really sank in. The only thing he was thinking was that he was alive.

“Thanks,” the Aboriginal said to him. “I mean, I made it, and a lot of that had to do with you.”

“Yeah,” he answered, “same with you. Sorry about your friends.”

The Aboriginal just continued to look at him. “I reckon we’ll all lose someone during this.”

He just nodded in agreement, but really thought he was lucky. He lost everyone long before this happened, but he would never tell you that.

The two parted ways. He went to go find a place to sit down and be alone. He found a somewhat secluded tree and was able to look out onto the water. He could see boats out there, probably waiting to be piled up with heaps of people. He didn’t know where they would all be taken, but he didn’t really care either.
“Anywhere but here,” he said out loud to himself.

He reached down and rubbed part of his ankle that was feeling sore. He felt something wet. When he brought his hand back and noticed the blood. In his shock, he just laughed. He was bitten, and unfortunately for everyone who felt safe inside those gates, he would never tell you that.

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