Before leaving town, he drove from street to street beeping the horn blasting the stereo in the hopes someone would hear and come out. He didn’t care who may hear, as long as they were healthy. It was not to be, he was alone, painfully alone. This he couldn’t help feeling ashamed of. He had been diagnosed with agoraphobia ten years earlier. He thought, yeah bro the perfect world for me, but it’s not.
He drove past the courthouse and jail, oh yes he had spent a bit of time in there long ago. “I was a stupid kid.” Self-medicating himself for his depression and other problems hadn’t worked well for him.
He pulled around back of the gym at his old high school, he had other friends back then, but his agoraphobia and trouble with the law caused him to lose touch with all but a few over the years. He felt the guilt for things he should have done, and worse yet for things he did. The weight he felt on his heart was crushing. Had anyone passed by at that moment watching this guy crying like a baby staring at a block wall would have thought him mad.
This was the spot some of his favorite times had happened, he could see them all super imposed on the wall from his memories. All his friends, nothing more than children, shivering in the cold morning air, smoking their cigarettes to fast, causing them to heat up and burn their lips.
He figured letting it all out was the best thing, here was as good a place as an. He felt he would need his wits about him. He wiped the tears from his cheeks, cleared his throat and said aloud. “I will never forget any of you; I will avenge you all if I am able.”
As he pulled out onto HWY 62 leaving Yanceyville, he yelled at the sky, “Why spare me?”
The truck had a full tank, and he had no idea where he was going, he just wanted to find people. So he drove. He took every road he came to until he was totally lost, this didn’t seem to be getting him anywhere so he decided to stop and find a map. He found a small gas station, an old country store type you’re prone to see older farmers hanging out at in the summer evenings having a beer, always discreetly tucked in a little brown bag.
This is his home, this little area of the country, he is here still, yet misses it already. He thinks to himself, the world will never be the same again. This makes him think of all the things he will miss. He was never much of a couch potato, but he had liked some of the series that came on weeknights. He loved Pizza Hut, Subway, Olive Garden, Pepsi and Coke. He used to joke when people asked why he had both in the fridge; he’d smile and say, “I failed the Pepsi challenge.” He thought about how eventually all the cigarettes would go bad.
He knew from the news that people had come out in droves to buy up anything and everything they could get their hands on. How they wasted their last days hoarding supplies, the dead don’t eat. He wondered how many healthy people had gone out to buy food only to come home covered in death. They unwittingly carried out plans made years ago by people they’d never met. People they had never wronged, but nonetheless they died all the same.
He found himself yelling to the steering wheel, “You selfish, greedy, fucks killed yourselves. All they had to do was put out the roach poison. You merrily stomped through it like nothing had changed.”
His thoughts raced, he couldn’t calm himself, and he pounded his fists on the dashboard cracking the vinyl. Just as his fist was coming down the passenger side window exploded, glass flew into his face the bullet went into his headrest merely inches from his neck.
“What the fuck!” He screamed, he jerked the door handle up and fell out of the truck.
“You’re not poisoning me, you just try, and I’ll kill all you filthy gook bastards!” The voice chilled Alex to the core; he went from a complete manic state to that of pure terror.
“Stop shooting, I’m not trying to do anything to you man!” Alex’s plea was greeted with two more shots, one hit the front quarter panel of John’s pickup, and the other ricocheted off the front passenger side rim.
“I stopped the last three ya sent after me, I know your tricks from the Nam. You think I had forgotten eh?” This man was in another place and time seeing things Alex could only imagine.
Alex was hunkered down using the truck for cover, he was pulled in at an angle to the store front, he hadn’t pulled in front of the door because there was a car there, and it had appeared to be empty. He knew if this man came out he would die, his guns were in the truck.
He slid sideways careful not to raise his head to high, he still wasn’t exactly sure where the man was shooting from. Two more shots rang out both impacting the passenger’s side door one went clean through and into the seat. Alex lunged into the cab careful staying as low as possible, he got his fingers on the strap of the rifle he’d only shot once, but that shot would stick with him for the rest of his life.
He chambered a bullet and made sure the safety was off and got down on the ground. He was attempting to see where this guy was hiding. He saw now attempting to drive off would surely have been suicide. The man was in front of the door to the store hiding behind the car parked there. Jesus Christ he’s set up an ambush, he thought. The man had four rifles leaned against the front of the store, probably more Alex couldn’t tell he was on his belly so visibility was very limited.
“Look man I am not here to hurt you. I am out looking for other survivors.” Alex pleaded.
“Lies, the last ambush said they were here just for food, I know your tricks, that kid had bombs strapped to her. I will kill you all!” More shots struck the truck.
“What the hell are you talking about man, last ambush?” I just got here, I been alone for nearly a week.
“I found the guns, so I know, if I hadn’t killed that gook bitch and her demon spawn I’d of been blown to hell.” Not me, I did my time in the Nam; I’m not just some stupid old hick.” Bellowed the man and he began firing more rapidly.
Alex was desperately looking for a way out of this, all the while trying to keep tabs on this man, who was obviously ill. He was scanning the parking lot and slid towards the rear of the truck, that’s when he saw the woman and child. His heart sank, they were mother and daughter no doubt about it. It was the most horrific scene he had ever witnessed. The mother was lying there with her head half gone. She was maybe twenty eight, no more, the little girl was probably six, they had the same hair, same skin tone, and the same eyes and they both appeared to be looking at him.
Then the little girl blinked, had she really blinked, was it a hallucination. Dear God he prayed in his mind please let her be ok. For all the blood on them they appeared to have been perfectly healthy until stumbling across this madman, probably in search of food or gas. Just as he was convinced he’d imagined the girl blinking she blinked again. She was horribly pale, but thank God she was still alive.
The mother’s body obscured his view of the child, but she was bloody, he had to do something fast. He didn’t want to kill this man, but he would if he had to.
“Listen to me, I don’t want to hurt you but as God as my witness I will if you don’t put down your guns and come out into the open this instant. You killed a women and a little girl, this is not the fucking Nam this is Caswell County, and you’re in North Carolina God damn it!” Alex yelled.
The man started screaming obscenities and began firing again, Alex yelled. “You asked for this mother fucker” he took aim and shot the man just where the ankle and foot meet. He screamed and fell down dropping his weapon grabbing his ankle. Alex did not hesitate, he broke cover and ran around the other car and approached the man from the direction of his head. He got to the man before he realized what was happening. The man reached for another gun leaning nearby and Alex kicked him hard in the face. The man rendered unconscious was no longer a threat. Alex moved all the weapons out of his reach, he glanced into the car, and realized the weapons the crazed man had seen were children’s toys.
Alex then ran to the girl and her mother, the child’s entire right leg was gone, she saw him coming, and in a weak attempt tried to raise her hand to him. She died during the attempt. Alex could see now that neither she nor her mother had been infected. He felt what sanity he had left slipping out of reach. He needed to cry but found he was unable. The pain he had felt so deeply earlier was replaced with rage.
He walked to the side of the building where there was a faucet and turned on the water, he got on his hands and knees putting his head under the full force of the spray. He was going to kill this man, he was sure of it, “and God help me, I’m gonna enjoy it.” Alex spoke coldly. He turned off the faucet and as he was rising to his feet he saw a shoe around the corner of the store, he walked closer gun raised, round chambered, he froze, it was a boy not far beyond puberty. He had been coming to get gas and had gotten shot in the back with a twelve gauge for his trouble. Yes he was going to enjoy this.
He filled a bucket with water from the faucet and poured it on the man’s head, he wanted him awake, he wanted him to understand he was going to die, and why.
“What are you doing, dear God my foot, please help me.” The old man cried.
“What’s your name?” Alex asked passively.
“My names Fred, someone’s shot me good, please help me.” He was a creepy man, the kind of person you pass on the street and instantly feel the need to shower. The kind of figure you see in your mind when you hear someone speaking of child molesters and perverts. Alex didn’t know what all this man’s sins were; he just knew of three.
“Well Fred do you know where you are and what has happened here?” Asked Alex in a tone he himself had never heard issue from his own mouth.
“This is my store, been here twenty two years, my God the pain, who shot me?” He was bleeding quite a lot, to this Alex felt indifferently.
“I shot you, now shut up so we can get on with this.” His voice was calm and steady. “The news said that the death toll could be anywhere from ninety to ninety nine percent in heavily populated areas, and you Fred, at your store you‘ve had for twenty two years, just murdered three people who were not infected, what do you have to say for yourself?”
“I am not well, oh God, it’s not my fault, I am out of my meds, God It hurts, please,” He begged.
Alex turned his back to the man writhing in pain and surveyed the mother and child as they lay with their life’s blood congealing on the cracked asphalt. “Fred the way I see it, whether you are sick or healthy, I would trade ten of you for each of these three people you killed. It would seem you have incurred a debt you are not able to pay.”
“Please forgive me, I need help, I am gonna bleed to death.” The man was growing paler by the minute.
“Fred, tell me, do you know a way I can kill you thirty different times?” Alex thought a moment as the horror stricken man stared, his destroyed ankle forgotten for the moment. “Maybe I could drown you and revive you thirty times?” He asked with a smirk.
“That’s murder, you can’t kill a sick man, I didn’t know what I was doing. Please God.” Tears flowed freely.
“Fred you must see this from my perspective, if I kill you, then I never have to worry about you murdering someone else, because you’re out of meds. All the people who made them are dead friend. So aside from keeping you like a pet in a cage for the rest of your life, what do you have in mind?”
“I won’t do it again I swear, they were gonna get me sick, I know it, I had to shoot them.” The old man had shown his hand, and Alex caught it.
“Fred, all that gook shit was an act wasn’t it? Telling lies on your death bed has to be a sin.” Alex grinned, a menacing grin the old man began screaming and begging more fervently.
“Yes he cried, this is my store, my stuff, they were gonna steal it, and get me sick. Can’t you see I had to kill them?” He was blubbering.
Alex had met only one other person like this in his entire life, it was in jail and he couldn’t stand even thinking about the man, he was later executed in another state for things he had done to female runaways in the seventies. This guy and Fred could have been brothers.
“The old world is dead old man, you should have been willing to die for a chance to save those people, you have lived your life, you’ve had your adventures, and to kill those people in cold blood. Do you believe in God Fred?”
“Oh God No, please no,” He pleaded.
“Have some dignity. I will give you a chance to pray.” Alex saw with great pleasure Fred had wet himself. “Hush up that, now you’ve done what you’ve done, now it’s time be a man.”
“What gives you the right,” screamed Fred, “on what authority are you here to punish me.”
“Please Fred, authority was a concept stolen from God and used by man to their own ends. It was people in authority that caused all this, someone in charge decided to ignore our borders, while someone else in authority, somewhere else, decided to use our lack of security against us. It’s all a big circle you see. I am gonna kill you simply because it is the right thing to do, somehow you survived the virus, and I am positive you were meant to die. God doesn‘t make mistakes Fred. The virus missed you so he put you in my path.”
Resigned to his fate Fred whimpered, “You’re gonna let me pray?”
“Make it a good one Fred.” Alex answered.
“Our Father, who art…” Alex pulled the trigger on both barrels of the double barreled twelve-gauge Fred had used to murder these three innocent people.
He walked back around to the faucet; he washed the Fred off his face and threw his shirt on the ground. He found a shovel around back and dug two graves for the mother, child, and the boy he had found in back. It took him the rest of the day to get all three buried. He found some wood out back of the store and made three crosses, on each he wrote innocent, and rest in peace on each.
He drug Fred around to the side of the store and on the wall painted the words:
This man was a murderer, he killed three uninfected people on March 14th, (he guessed at the date) He attempted to kill me also, and you can see where he shot up my truck. One little girl about 6 and her mother about 28 years old, the boy was about 13. I gave them a Christian burial and prayed over them as good as I knew how. If you see these, pray over them also, in case I got it wrong. -Alex
He was crying again, all the coldness had left him as he dug; burying these people finally drove home what he knew but had not yet accepted. They are all dead, and still dying, this isn’t like the terrorists attacks we had before. People healed then, buildings were rebuilt, memorial services held. There is no one left to remember. “Dear God please help me.”
Despite the soundness of his sleep Jakobs woke in terrible agony. He could barely move. The first thing he noticed was how cool that car had gotten and realized it had finally run out of gas. Although he was no longer dealing with the intense heat he was sick with dehydration and suffering continuous spasms. The pain was nearly more than he could stand he tried to scream but his mouth was dry and his tongue had begun to swell.
He twisted and moaned but could not ease the spasms. He knew he would die if he couldn’t escape this heated tomb. Willing his convulsing muscles to obey he forced himself sideways on the rear seat. Through searing pain he began kicking the glass of the driver’s side rear door as hard as he were able. The shackles dug at his wrists and ankles. With every effort they dug deeper ripping his flesh.
He battled unconsciousness and nausea as he worked. How many times he had kicked it he did not know. He knew stopping wasn’t an option. He was losing blood and to quit would surely be the end. The muscles limbered as he mustered all the force he could into the tempered glass of the cruiser. After an arduous fifteen minute struggle, two sprained and bleeding ankles, two bloody wrists and a half dozen cuts on his feet the window gave.
The smashing glass echoed but was heard by no one but Jakobs and the buzzards which had discovered the unwatched body of the prison guard. The large carrion feeders did not fly they just kept on enjoying their grotesque banquet. Jakobs nearly lost consciousness as the cool air rushed into the cruiser; he choked on the coldness of it. He was briefly energized and remembered his bleeding hands and feet. With great effort he managed to climb out through the broken window. He fell hard on the broken glass cutting him many times and driving glass into his shoulder and thigh.
He got to his knees and pulled the driver’s side door open and removed the keys from the ignition. He removed the shackles which he had been wearing now for over twenty-four hours. It was morning again and cold, but after wrapping his feet and ankles with pieces ripped from his undershirt he collapsed and slept well into the afternoon on the snow covered asphalt of the prisoner loading dock.
Jakobs woke with a blinding headache. He hurt everywhere and was chilled to the bone. He tried using the cruiser to get himself up but was far too weak to stand. He slowly climbed into the driver’s seat. He looked around and shoved under the passenger seat was a lunch box. He snatched it open to find a warm coke and a spoiled two day old sandwich. He had to strain just to open the cap. Jakobs wondered if this was what being old was like. Everything taking more effort than it should. He slowly sipped the warm drink and cherished every drop.
Jakobs was in bad shape and he knew it. He leaned the seat back and tried to rest a bit longer unsure of his ability to drive. He dozed fitfully, every so often waking for a moment drinking more coke then immediately falling asleep.
He was fully awake three hours later. He needed to eat and find water. He noticed the dull throbbing of his wrists and ankles and decided to drive into the nearby town and find a place to dress his wounds and rest.
There was a gas pump there in the dock for refueling the vans and buses they normally entered and exited all hours of the day and night. With great effort he managed to roll the cruiser in neutral close enough to refuel it.
The cruiser no longer his prison was his way out. He slowly drove up the incline past the dead guard. The birds were still there but most of the guard wasn’t. Jakobs could not avert his eyes from the grizzly scene. He whispered aloud. “Whole new world buddy, it’s a whole new world.”
Jakobs noticed that the guard’s parking lot was just as full of cars as on any normal day. He had seen it on his trips to court and the day he had initially arrived. He had always viewed it as a testament to how corrupt the government was. “Look at all these fucking lazy bastards stealing my tax money.” He knew now that the former occupants of these vehicles were no longer stealing from him. They were now forever entombed inside the monolithic prison snuggled high in the hills out of sight from the public. He felt a chill as he had this thought.
The prison was on his left as he slowly rolled past. He could see where the death row inmates were housed segregated from the rest of the population. He saw a flash in one of the tiny windows. “I guess someone did survive.” He grinned. He knew the death row inmates received special treatment. They had televisions, computers, and books. Their rooms were more like college dorm rooms than housing for murderers. The only difference was the tiny window and steel door with a tiny slot for food. He had always thought this to be funny; the worst offenders were treated the best. “They also have a separate HVAC system.”
He counted the windows right to left and he knew who’s cell the flash had come from. It was the kid; he was sentenced to death by lethal injection for killing his entire family. Jakobs liked him, the kid had told him through the food slot why he had done it. Jakobs thought his thinking was sound. He had been sexually abused by someone in his family his whole life. Jakobs couldn’t remember who. Everyone knew and no one tried to help him.
Jakobs thought this was another testament to how wrecked the judicial system was. A child molester walks free after a handful of years; he had seen this quite a few times on the news. Many times they go on and do it again. If you kill them like the kid did, you get put to death? At this thought he blurted, “Fucking idiots.”
With this exertion he felt stabbing pain in his throat. His tongue was still swollen and when he spoke it was with a slight lisp. He needed rest and water. He knew he had to properly dress his wounds or risk infection. “No doctors he mumbled.”
By now he noticed the flash was repetitive. Then he saw similar flashes in other windows. “I can’t help ya just yet.” He croaked.
He continued on towards the small town. The road was long and winding and getting very slippery. He had seen the plow trucks from his window as they made regular trips up the old road to the prison when it snowed. The trucks had stopped right along with everything else it seemed. He was weak and took the drive very slow.
After a few slight skids and forty-five minutes he could see the edge of the small town through the trees. There were no lights in any of the houses he passed. Now that he saw the stores were equally dark he knew that the power was out. He needed to wash his wounds and find bandages. From his time listening to the news on the radio he knew to try and enter a store would surely be his undoing. He needed unspoiled supplies.
As the town grew closer he saw the first of the stalled cars. It wasn’t until he was right beside it did he realize the driver was still inside and would be forever. This was the first victim he had seen up close. The guard was a gruesome sight having been picked apart by scavengers, but this was somehow worse. “Somebody really screwed up this time.” He groaned.
He began passing more stalled cars as he neared the doctor’s office which he noticed was very much like the one where he had gotten the DNA test done. He didn’t feel remorse for the dead he saw. Some had just gotten out of their cars and had lain down as if to take a nap right on the sidewalk. “Them people aren’t sleeping buddy,” he mused as the chill renewed in him. This made him involuntarily shiver. It was like everyone in town tried to go to the doctor at once. It took him a while to navigate the main street which now resembled a parking lot.
There was a rundown hotel on the edge of town. It almost never had any occupants when he had passed it on the way to the interstate on his trips to court. This he deduced from the lack of cars in the parking lot. He hoped the water would work at least long enough for him to get cleaned up.
He pulled in close to the hotel. He removed the shotgun from the front and used it as a crutch to exit the cruiser. He slowly hobbled to the nearest room. He steadied himself raised the barrel and blew the lock off the door. He had been using guns his entire life but could never remember a shot being this loud before. The eeriness of the situation was not lost on him. He knew if anyone were alive they would have heard that at a great distance.
He lowered the shotgun again using it as a crutch. He stood a while listening for he knew not what. The chill was on him again. He ached from head to toe and was in bad shape, but he knew he’d be ok in a day or two. “Better than being dead,” he rasped.
With that he entered the vacant room using a flashlight he’d found in the cruiser to see. He went in the bathroom put the stopper in the tub and turned the faucet on. He was pleased when the water flowed heavy at first then slowly tapered off. He had enough as he had hoped.
Jakobs undressed and lowered himself slowly into the frigid water. He cleaned his wounds with the cheap hotel soap. He actually felt better when he exited the old porcelain basin. He thought this must have been a really nice place when it was new.
He figured the builder had been a fool thinking this town would sprout up and go somewhere. It was a town where the two major sources of income were welfare or a prison guard’s salary. The mine had shut down many years ago.
Even as these thoughts passed through his mind he still felt no remorse for all the dead guards. He felt they got better than they deserve. “God damn thieves,” he croaked, sending fresh waves of pain through his parched throat.
He filled two full styrofoam cups with water and one half full before the sink had given all it held. The water was a little brown but he didn’t care. He would have drank from the toilet had he no other option. He used ripped up sheets from the bed to dress his wounds. He didn’t put the prison jumpsuit back on he just crawled in the bed and wrapped himself tightly in the cheap blankets. He sipped water for the next two hours until he drank his store. Then he slept well into the next afternoon.