By Ashley Fair
The voices were loud. Deafening. Even though her hands were over her ears to block out the creatures, Lena could still hear the screams of the ones she held dear to her heart, trying to escape their doom. It had already been too late for her boyfriend Greg, but the others…if it hadn't been for her, everyone would still be alive. If only she'd made it home sooner… Samira, her mother and her little sister would be with her. She laughed bitterly to herself as she remembered all of the old horror films she'd watched with her father. The whole situation was right out of "Night of the Living Dead." If her father had still been alive when everything started, he wouldn't have believed it. Lena was still struggling with the shock.
She was alone and injured. With the hungry bastards waiting right outside the steel storm bunker her father had built, Lena knew it was only a matter of time before she died by their hands or complications from her wound. To escape…well, that was a feat in itself. The anchorman on the news a few months earlier said they were almost indestructible. Almost. The samurai sword her father had been given as a present from a member of the Japanese Yakuza when he was stationed in Japan during his service in the Army was her only defense against the flesh-hungry zombies that had her surrounded. Killing a few on the way to the bunker had given her some satisfaction, as if getting revenge for what they had stolen from her. After the first one, Lena had almost vomited, but knew she had no time to stop. After a while, it became easier. They weren't human anymore. They were monsters.
"Everyone I've ever loved is one of them now. Screw you, assholes! I'll kill myself before I let you eat me!"
Her shout was acknowledged with a communal groan and dead hands slapping against the steel barrier that separated true life from living death.
In the distance, Lena heard more screaming. A man, somewhere to the north, probably running through the corn fields, was begging for help.
"Help me! Please, for God's sake, I nee—"
His voice cut off abruptly, and Lena knew it was over for him. If they didn't tear the poor man apart, he was destined to become a flesh-eater as well.
It all began when a terrorist stole one of the only surviving cultures of smallpox from the CDC. He'd been working there—and planning an attack for fifteen years and no one would have suspected him. Or so the papers said. Someone must have been helping him, because to pull off an attack of that magnitude was not a one-man job. The idiot decided to genetically modify the smallpox. How he did it, Lena had no idea. She wasn't a scientist. When he released it on the public six months before—through water supply facilities across the nation— it somehow messed with the DNA of the afflicted and mutated the genes—slowly, at first. As the virus adapted itself to the human body, it transformed its victims rapidly. It only took a few minutes for the body to become completely overrun. Fortunately, Lena's family lived on a farm and drank water from the local river that trickled behind the house. No, her family hadn't died from the water, but from being bitten by the beasts.
"Mom, we have to leave now! If we stay, they'll get us!"
"I don't want to leave our home, Lena. This is all we've got in the world. We leave, we're penniless."
"We don't leave Dianne, and we're dead." Greg spoke, his voice somber.
"Mom, Greg is right. We can't stay. I can hear them coming…they'll be here in less than an hour. We have to get in the truck and go."
"There's got to be some place where they take people like us. Have you listened to the radio lately?"
"It's all static." Samira snapped. "There's no one left alive that's broadcasting from anywhere near here. I just hope it hasn't reached Europe yet. Right now, that's our only hope, and we're at least two days from Canada. If we could make it there and find a boat, we'd be all right."
A voice, coming from down the hall, startled the group.
"Caroline, what are you doing up? I thought I told you to go to bed."
"I couldn't sleep. I heard screaming."
Lena looked at her mother, her boyfriend, and her friend Samira, cringing as she, too, heard the screams in the distance.
"I'm sorry, honey. Why don't you come and sit on my lap?"
"Mom, she shouldn't be here while we talk about…"
"I'm not making her stay in that room all by herself. She's frightened, Lena."
Lena sighed. "We need a plan."
"Here's the plan, babe. We get in the damn truck and lead-foot it outta here."
"I don't think we have a lot of gas left, Greg. I used the truck a month ago, and I haven't left since then…I think…I only had half a tank of gas."
"Shit!" Samira spat.
"Don't panic. That'll get us at least fifty miles out of town if we don't floor it. I know a gas station that's off-road about thirty miles out…maybe we can make it."
"I am not leaving this house in a car with only half a tank of gas, Gregory. You know as well as I do that if we encounter any road blocks or complications, we'll all die. I am not taking that risk."
"Mom, you heard Samira! They are coming. If we don't leave, they will rip this house apart!"
"Nooo! I don't want them to come here, Mommy!" Caroline wailed.
Dianne slapped her hand over the small child's mouth.
"Keep quiet, Caroline!"
With a heaving sigh, Dianne focused on Lena.
"I want you and Greg to go and find a gas station, Lena. Hurry—as fast as you can. When you get here, honk the horn and Samira, Car and I will get in. Go around the back…we'll be in the storm shelter."
"Mom, I can't leave you. I won't."
"Go. Now! We'll be fine until you get back."
"We'll be fine." Samira said, soothingly.
After nearly ten more minutes of arguing, Lena and Greg finally gave in to her mother's wishes and took the truck to get gas. Taking the road was their best bet, and when they finally turned from the rocky, uneven country road to the black asphalt paved city road, they gasped at the horrors that filled their line of vision.
Bodies were strewn across the side of the road, and Lena was thankful the windows of the truck were rolled tightly up. The flesh was rotting; she could see it in the brief flash the headlights gave. The stench would have been awful.
"Greg, all those people…"
He interrupted her suddenly, his voice gravelly.
"Don't look, Lena. Just close your eyes, honey. Do it now."
Before she got an answer, the headlights hit three figures crouched low to the ground slightly to the side of the truck. They were going to fast for her to get a clear view, but out of the corner of her eyes, Lena could see three of the creatures feasting on what was left of...someone. They looked up briefly, their eyes glinting eerily silver in the harsh headlights. One of them hissed.
"Oh my God, Greg!"
"Honey, I told you not to look. I didn't want you to see that."
She was frozen in horror and disgust.
"I didn't think…it wasn't like hearing about it. To see it…"
"It's unthinkable, Len. You can't dwell on it. You'll never become one of them. I promise."
Lena cleared her throat and wiped the tears that threatened to spill onto her cheeks.
"How far are we from the gas station?"
"About twenty miles. Now, listen to me. I've got the pistol in the glove compartment. When we get there, the lights will be off, so I'm going to leave the truck on while I fill it up. It's not that much of a risk—I've done it before. Just don't open the doors or anything. Leave the window rolled down just enough to where you can get the pistol out to shoot if you need to."
"Greg, I don't think I can shoot one of those things!"
He turned to her for a brief moment, afraid to take his eyes from the pavement.
"I meant for me."
"If they come for me, I want you to shoot me dead, Len. I don't want to be one of them."
She trembled with fear and apprehension.
"No. I won't do it. Let's just go home, okay? They've got to send rescue sometime!"
"There isn't any coming. The UN decided on a clear plan. I heard it on foreign radio the other day…"
"How can you get that? I thought all the radio stations weren't working. How can you get a foreign station?"
He ignored her question.
"The point is that the UN and other nations have decided to blockade the United States and prevent any survivors from leaving. Ships are waiting at every port; helicopters are patrolling the skies across every major airport in the nation. If anyone tries to leave, they're killing them. We don't matter anymore."
"It doesn't matter how far we run. Soon, the other nations will either bomb us or the virus will get every human and then the other nations will bomb us. They want to prevent exposure to their home countries."
"But…there are innocent people here!"
"They don't care. To preserve the rest of the world…"
"Why are we leaving, then? What chance do we have? We're going to die either way!"
"Calm down, Lena! There are still places that haven't been touched by…them. Canada is taking in survivors, from the North and their borders are heavily patrolled. If we can make it there, things might be okay."
Lena burst into tears then, and Greg was unable to comfort her. The rest of the drive was spent in silence. When they arrived at the gas station, it was just as Greg had said it would be. The darkness was a thick, inky black. The blinding headlights illuminated the mini mart in front of them, creating eerily dancing shadows as the trees that lined the sidewalk next to the building swayed in the gentle breeze that chilled the air. It seemed as if the branches were arms, reaching out to grab whatever they could find, and Lena was next.
"I'm getting out now. I want you to have that pistol ready."
"But…I don't want to shoot…"
The look Greg shot at Lena shut her mouth. There would be no arguing. She would either shoot him or watch him turn. He knew which she would choose.
He hopped out of the truck and rushed to fill the tank.
It wasn't long before she spotted something coming out of the shadows. It was a little girl wearing a muddied and torn pink dress, clutching a stuffed animal in her hands.
"Greg!" Lena whispered harshly.
He turned his attention to the girl, staggering out of the darkness towards them.
She seemed disoriented, and tears stained her ruddy cheeks.
"Is she one of them?"
Greg concentrated for a moment, and shook his head.
"She looks human." He moved slightly towards the child, not making any sudden moves. She was about twenty feet from the truck, emerging from the trees.
As the little girl moved closer, Lena realized that what she had originally thought was mud had been blood that dried and turned a disgusting dark brown. Fresh blood was on the stuffed animal and dripped onto the pavement.
"Greg…" she whispered. He couldn't hear her, and she was afraid to speak any louder, for fear of attracting the creatures.
All at once, the girl collapsed onto the ground, shivering violently, and then seizing. Lena recognized all of the signs…she and Samira had worked as nurses in the local hospital when the epidemic first began. They were the lucky ones…no patient of theirs had contracted the illness, and both had been spared from being infected.
The child was turning into one of them. Blood poured out of her open mouth, and a garbled moan rattled from her throat as she writhed in agony.
'Screw it,' Lena thought. She wasn't about to keep her silence and let Greg die. If they came, they came.
"Greg! Get away from her! She's turning!"
He turned to her, a look of horror on his face; he was in shock. And then it all seemed to happen at once.
The girl stopped moving, and Greg turned to face the body, slowly backing away.
He broke into a run once she sat up and cocked her head, drooling blood while her silver eyes studied him curiously.
For a newly turned zombie, it was unbelievably fast. It descended upon Greg with amazing speed like a cat pouncing into the air, about to capture its prey. He was five feet from the truck. When the thing sunk its teeth into his neck and pulled a chunk of flesh, Lena screamed in anger.
Jumping from the truck and completely ignoring Greg's "orders", she aimed the gun at the thing's head and fired off two shots. The zombie was momentarily stunned and fell from him, tumbling to the ground with a sickening thud. Greg stumbled towards Lena, his hand outstretched.
"I'm…sorry…" he uttered with difficulty as blood spurted from the large wound in his neck.
She shot him in the head at point-blank range, not even giving a moment's thought. It would only take minutes for him to turn, and he would remember nothing about her. The bullets wouldn't kill him, but it might delay his turning long enough for her to leave. She ran and removed the pump from the gas tank, screwing the lid on tightly. In less than a minute, Lena had left the gas station and was headed back home. Tears threatened to blind her, but she held them back, knowing if she stopped paying attention for one second, it was likely she would hit a body and crash. Then she would never make it home.
Racing down the road, she felt her heart burst with anguish at losing Greg. It wasn't fair. God, if he had just listened and never gone near her! If only she had yelled in the beginning…instead of being a coward!
It wasn't long before Lena reached the farm, and she saw the things ambling slowly towards the house. In a rush of anger, she barreled off of the road and into the fields. The first body she hit cracked the windshield and splattered blood in all directions, before flying over the roof and disappearing in the corn stalks. The others turned and looked her way in anticipation. They stuck their arms out, as Greg had, waiting for her to come to them. She slammed her foot on the gas pedal, reaching a blurring speed, and the bodies began to fly. When she finally stopped, the entire windshield was caked with blood and other things…but she had made it to the house. Looking out the window of her door, Lena could see that nothing had reached the house yet, and she opened the door quickly, hearing it shut angrily behind her. When she opened the front door, sobbing could be heard from the kitchen.
"Mom? Samira? Caroline?"
She rushed into the kitchen, and found her mother rocking Caroline slowly.
"She's sick, Lena. I think she has a stomach illness…something she ate yesterday must have been contaminated. We have to leave soon…"
A confused look crossed Dianne's face as she realized Lena was alone.
"Where's Greg? Is he still in the truck?"
"No, Mom…he didn't make it."
"One of them got to him…"
Lena nodded, a wretched sob escaping her chapped lips.
"Oh God, Lena… I'm so sorry." Samira grabbed her in a bear hug.
"We have to go, now. I saw them getting closer, and I hit some in the fields on the way back.
Her mother grabbed Caroline and stood, ready to run.
"I have to get one thing. I want Dad's samurai sword. I heard on the news that if you cut their heads off, they die."
That was the last time things were even remotely calm. As they made their way to the truck, the group was ambushed by at least ten creatures that had been hiding behind the barn. Lena felt odd for a moment as she realized that they had actually been waiting for someone to come. As if they knew…were conscious of their surroundings. One of them grinned evilly and nodded to a companion as they formed a circle around the group. As they approached Lena, she swung her sword out to hit flesh and disconnected more than a few heads. A piercing scream cut through the annoyed moans and grunts of the dead as Dianne cried out in pain and Caroline fell from her mother's arms to the ground, unmoving and bleeding from the head. Dianne had been bitten, and Caroline had struck her head on a rock in the fall. Samira grabbed a nearby shovel, planning to hit anything that came near her, but within seconds, more of them had gathered, and there was no other option but to flee. They couldn't even stop for her mother or sister…to know they would die was unbearable, but Lena knew she had to keep going. Samira was close behind, and they were almost to the bunker when Samira tripped and bumped into Lena, causing them both to fall. A loud crunching noise was heard, and the instantaneous pain that shot from her foot to her ankle told Lena that something was broken. She screeched in agony, but knowing that to stop would mean death, she forced herself to stand.
"Let me help you…we can make it to the bunker, okay?"
"No…if you try, you'll fall behind too, and they'll get both of us. Someone has to make it through this."
"Lena, I'm not…I'm not going to make it through."
"What are you talking about? That's insane. Of course you will! There's enough food in that thing to last you weeks, and…"
"It wouldn't matter if the entire bunker was stocked, Lena. We have to hurry, or I won't be able to help you anymore. I only have a few minutes and we're at least a minute away."
Without waiting for Lena to comment, Samira dragged her quickly to the entrance of the bunker.
"I don't get it…how could you have been bitten? I saw everything!"
"When you were cutting off the heads…" Samira paused, wincing in pain as the transformation began. "…I went to help your mom and sister, but they were already gone. I wasn't watching, and one of them bit me on my leg."
Sure enough, in the pale moonlight, Lena could make out a large wound on Samira's left calf, and it was oozing black blood.
"Get in there before it's too laaaate!" She screeched.
"This can't be happening."
Yet, she opened the bunker door, numb with fear and loss, and locked it as she heard Samira's screams grow stronger and more painful.
In a moment, there was only silence.
Then, the creatures had smelled the blood trail leading to the bunker, and their pursuit of fresh flesh had begun once again.
It had been that way for five days, as she passed in and out of consciousness from her broken bones. The voices that she'd originally thought had been the memories of her family were actually the creatures, speaking to one another. They were communicating.
"The virus has mutated again...!" She groaned, trying to understand how it could have gotten so sophisticated and complex within a period of months.
A sharp jolt snapped her from her thoughts.
The pain from her leg was becoming too much to bear, and without medicine, it would only get worse.
She could hear the banging on the door to the bunker getting louder, and it was becoming dented with the attempts to get inside by the creatures. Soon, they would break in, and Lena only hoped she was dead by then.
Dark spots swam across her vision, and she blissfully fell into oblivion once more.
She was warm. Though her eyes weren't open, Lena could hear garbled, rasping voices rising and fading in the background. That was odd…the last time she was alone, she was in the bunker. Was it all a dream?
The sudden, throbbing pain in her leg told her otherwise.
"…think she will wake up soon?"
"Yes. She could be useful…"
"How long will it take?"
"A minute, at most."
Lena tried unsuccessfully to open her eyes. Furious as to why she was unable to see who was speaking, she realized that her eyes were being held shut with gauze and surgical tape. The feel annoyed her immediately, and she whipped her hands up and removed the patches quickly.
Her eyes wouldn't focus at first. Everything was a bright haze; a blur of colors.
The first thing they focused on was a needle of a thick black liquid…?
"What…is that…?" She managed to sputter, before she took a good look at who was holding the needle.
A putrescent face with cold silver eyes stared back at her and a stench entered Lena's nostrils that made her stomach lurch.
"Samira? Is…that you?"
It smiled, lips peeling back to reveal a set of gums with rotting teeth. The teeth that had once belonged to her friend.
Two hands came from out of nowhere to grab her shoulders as she attempted to sit up, and she was forced back down to the bed. The needle, oozing the black substance with a similar, sickening stench, approached her neck, and she hollered in fear.
"Now, now, there's no need for that. Just relax…it'll only take a minute."