Too Old for this Nonsense
Lloyd was sitting on the living room sofa reading an article in last month's "Outdoor Life" magazine about rabbit hunting, or more specifically about the best dogs to run rabbits with. He shook his head. This knucklehead writer was saying that whippets and wheatons were far better rabbit dogs than the commonly used beagle. "Idjit ought to have his head examined," Lloyd muttered as he came to the end of the article. There were few moments finer in a hunter's life than a crisp winter morning, just after dawn, walking through the tall grass and brush, a thin coat of ice encasing the individual leaves crunching with each step. Add two or three good beagles catching the scent of a rabbit and letting out the ruckus as they charge after it baying, taking off and circling the rabbit back. There was nothing like it, Lloyd thought. It had been one of his favorite past times as a younger man, bringing home eight or ten rabbits for Clara to fry up. No one fried rabbit like Clara.
But that was a long time ago. Lloyd didn't have a pack of beagles anymore, just old Molly who was spending the afternoon sprawled out acrss the couch. Her gray muzzle lay against his hip as she she snored softly. Both he and Molly were really too old to go hunting anymore. Likely he'd have tried it anyway if it wasn't for the arthritis. About five years ago, it started getting really bad, mostly in his lower back and knees. He could still get around fine, but walking for more than an hour was just out of the question. Besides, Clara'd passed away three winters ago and there really wasn't any point in shooting rabbits if she wasn't around to fry them up.
He closed the magazine and laid it on his lap for a minute, carefully removed his reading glasses and tucked them into the pocket of his shirt. It was one of the last clean shirts he had and one one of the oldest. It was a gray and blue plaid flannel shirt with a hole worn in the left elbow. He really didn't want to wash clothes by hand, but that's the way his mother had done it way back in the day, so he was sure he could manage it if it became necessary. He never imagined that this whole mess would have lasted long enough for him to start to run out of clean clothes. He laid the magazine on the coffee table gently and slowly creaked to his feet. It was hard to tell how long it would be before there was another issue, if there ever was one.
After standing up, the first few steps were always the hardest, but when things loosened up a little, it was easier to get around. He made his way out into the kitchen and got a can of peaches out of the cupboard. He shook his head, he was almost out of canned food, too. The can opener was lying on the counter from the last time that he'd opened a can, so he didn't have to get it out of the drawer. Molly came trudging into the room, wagging her tail slowly. She looked up at him expectantly as he slurped a mouthful of thick, sweet peach juice out of the can. "I'm sorry girly, you'll have to eat your own food."
They always tell you not to feed dogs people food. The last time he took Molly to the vet, he was told she was too fat. But it was just hard to say no. It wasn't that she didn't get fed, her food bowl was still half full. She just preferred the stuff Lloyd was eating. When he realized that all the food he had was what was in the cupboard, he stopped sharing with her. Besides, it wasn't as though she was running out of food. He had three quarters of a fifty pound bag, so she would be good to go for quite a while. It was more likely that he was going to run out of food first and he really wasn't looking to end up eating dog chow. It was a gnawing worry in the back of his mind. What would he do when food ran out?
He was starting to doubt that help going to come. It had only been about two weeks since the whole mess started, but the neighborhood was completely deserted. He hadn't seen any of his neighbors for days. Well, any of them who were still normal. Last Thursday he'd heard on the police scanner that there was some kind of mob up north in Frederick and they were sending police to the scene to try and control the situation. There had been a lot of yelling and it wasn't long before they started pulling the police back from the area. For about six hours, they were reporting that the "hostile individuals" were not cooperating, and various other things about injured officers and bystanders. More cars were dispatched, and some ambulances, a fire truck at one point, too.
Lloyd wasn't really a big fan of the television, but he turned on the news. Programming continued pretty much as normal, with a line of text running across the bottom with updates. It was about 7:00 in the evening when the power went off. He checked the breakers, but a glance out the window confirmed that all the houses on the street had black windows, too. He really regretted not buying the battery powered police scanner, then. Fall was coming and by 8:00 it was pitch black outside, so Lloyd went to bed early.
In the morning, the power was still turned off. His next door neighbor Nate was packing suitcases and grocery bags full of food into the back of their funny little electric car. Lloyd picked up his cane off the old brass coat rack by the door on his way out. He liked to take his cane with him whenever he left the house. It seemed to help him keep his balance when his back and knees really started acting up. He was glad he had it as he walked across the dew soaked grass.
"Good mornin'," Lloyd called.
Nate stumbled with the armload of blankets he was carrying and glanced up at Lloyd. His face was pale and he looked anxious. "You scared the hell out of me!" Nate said, relaxing slightly.
"Ah, didn't mean to," Lloyd replied. Nate was a young guy, late twenties, tall and thin. He wore oval shaped glasses with black wire frames that he pushed up frequently. It was as often out of necessity as it was out of habit. His glasses had slid down his nose as he stuffed his load of blankets into the car, and so he pushed them up. He was fond of Nate and his wife Lily. They had sort of adopted him after Clara died and would frequently drop off meals or groceries. They were nice kids, even if they were a little strange. They'd had him over for Thanksgiving a few times and they always served some kind of fake turkey stuff they called tofurkey. It was possibly the worst thing that Lloyd had ever eaten. When Lily packed him a bag of leftovers to take home, he'd tried to feed the tofurkey to Molly and she wouldn't even touch it.
"Hey, look I was going to come talk to you later, but we're going to get out of here. You ought to see what people are saying on the internet about these riots." He dug his cellular phone out of his pocket and started tapping across the screen with his pointer finger. He'd tried to convince Lloyd several times that he really should get one for himself, but Lloyd had just laughed as he tried to explain how his smart cell phone worked. Nate turned the phone toward him and showed him a picture of a man's forearm with a mean looking bite, "This guy says that some random guy bit a chunk out of his arm," he turned the phone back toward himself and continued sliding his fingers back and forth across the screen. "A girl in Detroit says that her boyfriend tried to kill her, again with the biting. She apparently locked him in the closet to get away. Here's one in Pittsburgh, some teenager saw a couple of guys eating, EATING, a homeless person!" He stuffed his phone back in his pocket, "Something big is happening."
Lloyd felt sick to his stomach, "People are crazy."
"Yeah, but they don't normally go around trying to bite people!"
"You think there's anything to those stories?"
Nate pushed his glasses up, "I'm not willing to bet my life that there's not. Or Lily's either. We're going to try and get out to here parent's house. They live over in West Virginia, out in the country, that's about the best place I know to go."
Lloyd swallowed. He wanted to laugh about this craziness, but Nate was clearly scared. He was not the type to get all wound up over a bunch of hype. When the end of 2012 came and went and the world kept spinning, they both laughed at the people hiding out in their basements hoarding toilet paper. "Everywhere you mentioned is a pretty good distance from here, though."
Nate shook his head, "No, Frederick is what, an hour north of here, maybe less? I bet you those mobs are the same thing going on up there, and it's only a matter of time before it spreads down here. All this stuff is happening in the cities, and let's face it, we're forty-five minutes from DC."
Lily came through the storm door, letting it slam shut behind her. The loud banging startled both of the men. She was holding three coffee cups and handed one to each of them. "It's instant and it's lukewarm, but it's still got caffeine." She was not the kind of woman Lloyd would have described as "pretty". It seemed too delicate a word. He would have called her a handsome woman, but nowadays women didn't like to be called handsome, it was just too manly of a description. It suited her appearance though, with auburn hair that she wore short just above her shoulders and a long narrow nose. This morning it was twisted up and held up in a short little ponytail.
They drank their coffee in silence, watching other people from the neighborhood. Some of them went about their business like normal. Lloyd drank his mostly just to be polite. He loved a good cup of coffee, but this wasn't really all that great. Normally instant coffee tasted somewhat like regular coffee, but this stuff kind of tasted like mud. "I don't think I've ever had this kind of coffee before." He commented, taking a big gulp of it to get it down faster.
Lily nodded and smiled, "It's organic. I got it at this cool little farmer's market last month. I think it's got a really unusual flavor!"
Lloyd smiled, "It does." One more mouthful and it was gone. He handed the coffee cup to her and said, "Thanks, appreciated."
"Do you want another cup? I've got plenty!" She asked, taking the cup from his hand.
"No, no, that's fine. I shouldn't have much caffeine anyway, messes with my blood pressure medicine," Lloyd replied.
Nate finished off his own cup and handed it back to Lily. She said, "I still have more food on the shelves I've got to get together," and headed for the house.
Molly sniffed at the tire of Nate's little car. Both men watched her for a moment, "Look, you and Molly should come with us. It'll probably only be for a few days, might be good, you know? Like a vacation? Her parents have a farm, lots a space you could probably go hunting squirrels or something . . ."
Lloyd laughed, "I hate to break it to you, but it's nowhere near squirrel season." Molly turned around and sat down on the grass, panting happily and staring down the street. "We'll be fine. Like you said, it'll all probably blow over in a few days." Nate didn't look convinced, but he didn't push the subject. Lloyd had been around too long to be easily convinced once he made up his mind. This was the house that he and Clara bought when they got married. They'd lived here forty five years together and if things were about to get bad, like Nate was so convinced they would, there was nowhere else he'd rather be.
A few hours later, Nate came over to Lloyd's house and gave him a glass bowl full of salad with plastic wrap over it. Lily had put it together, saying that all the food in the fridge would spoil soon anyway. Nate shook his held out his and took Lloyd's in a two-handed handshake. He pressed a key into Lloyd's hand. "Look, I know you've got your mind all made up, but if something changes, this is a key to the house. In my office, in my desk drawer, I'm leaving a map and direction on how to get to Lily's parent's house. I'm also going to put the car keys for the Lily's Fusion in the drawer. We can't take two cars, and I know you don't have one. If anything changes, just take her car and come up. It's got over a half a tank of gas, more than enough to get you there."
Lloyd gave a little smile, "I'll give the key back when you two come home again."
Nate returned a half-hearted smile, "I hope you're right, man." With a little wave he turned and headed back across the lawn separating their two houses and climbed into their well-packed little car. Lily waved from the passenger seat as they pulled out of the driveway and headed down the street.
It had been nine days since then, and things hadn't gotten any better. Truthfully, they'd only gotten worse. People started leaving the neighborhood. Every day another family would load up the car and head out somewhere, anywhere else. By the end of the first week, there was hardly anyone left on the street.
Then, those sick people started showing up, wandering around aimlessly on the street, day and night, rain or shine. The stories Nate had been looking at the day he left stuck in Lloyd's head and he was careful that none of them saw him. They were definitely people, he even thought he recognized one or two of them, but they just didn't act right. They would just kind of stand around until they heard a noise and then they'd go wandering off in that direction. If someone wasn't sick, they'd follow them until they got out of sight, sometimes they'd even try to grab or attack people. If they came across another one like themselves, though they'd just kind of lose interest or not even the presence of another person. They looked like something out of a horror movie, too, like those old black and white Romero movies where the dead just got up and started wandering around, usually trying to eat people. Lloyd figured they probably weren't dead, since dead people don't often do much wandering around, but they definitely weren't acting normal and his gut told him that it was best that he stay hidden from sight.
After he finished the can of peaches off and threw the empty can in the garbage, he made his way out into the living room again and peered outside. Three of those people were in the yard across the street. One of them was a teenage boy whom Lloyd recognized as the kid who liked to shoot his house, and occasionally poor Molly, with a paintball gun. He was plastered against the window of the house across the street running his hands and face across the glass. It was a pretty pathetic sight. Lloyd didn't particularly like the kid, but he was clearly sick and it made him feel like he ought to do something. What exactly it was that he should do, he wasn't entirely sure. He eased into the rocking chair and continued to watch. The two other people, a middle aged man and a woman in her mid sixties, were clawing and pounding at the door. What on earth would have them so interested in that house?
It was then that Lloyd noticed a small face in the living room window, which seemed to make the trio outside even more excited and determined to get into the house. With a sinking feeling, Lloyd realized that he was seeing the little boy who lived across the street, and by the way those weirdos in the yard were acting, he wasn't one of them. "Oh, hell," Lloyd muttered. He was going to have to do something to help that kid out. Whatever it was that they wanted with that kid, he knew it was bad news. Molly cocked her head to the side and looked at him questioningly. "We're too old for this nonsense, girly," he told her and went to the mud room to get his shoes.