Alex couldn’t bear staying the night at that store, so he packed his gear into the car that had belonged to the poor woman who had died so gruesomely at the hands of that vile man. He fueled it up and decided to drive it as far as he could go with it.
He had to leave the road more than once avoiding wrecks and nearly got it stuck more than a few times. He knew that in the event of rain he would be screwed. Using a map he took from Fred’s store he made his way to Burlington. He was not in much of a hurry, knowing to speed on roads where people had spontaneously died while driving would be a hazardous endeavor at best. He took many back roads hoping to avoid major traffic blockages. It began raining early the next day so he parked and slept in the car in a Glen Raven strip mall. The wind blew eerily, howling as it rocked the old Buick. It frightened him out of his sleep.
He had the rifle in his hands before his eyes were fully open. The rain was pounding the car in sheets. He had no choice but to just sit there. There was no hope in traveling in this, with the roads blocked as they were. He smoked cigarette after cigarette, trying to keep his nerves calm. He tried to ignore the memories from the previous day as best he could.
On any other day the rain would have calmed his nerves, but he could see out in the street the vague shapes in the rain, iron monoliths in an asphalt landscape, housing the bones of the dead. He felt pity, sorrow, guilt, shame, hate, fear, pain, and he felt responsible. Hadn’t he always known something like this would happen? How many times did visions of vast wastelands strewn with the bodies of the dead, enter his head as he watched the evening news.
Then it occurred to him that he was being foolish. Who would have listened to me? The wonder mental patient says the world’s gonna end if we don’t hear him out. He could imagine the padded room he’d be put in. Then another haunting thought entered his head. He saw himself disease riddled dead in that same padded cell. When they realize you’re right, you still have to die, they deny you exist, cover you up with dirt and move on to the next problem they need to bury.
He felt he would go mad if this rain didn’t end soon, he needed to be moving. It’s the only thing that helps him now, as long as he is moving he can believe he is getting away from this mad place the world has become. He started drinking beer after beer in the hopes that he could pass out and sleep straight through till the next day.
He was running through a field holding a rifle, he noticed it was a soldiers uniform he wore. How he had gotten here he did not know. There were other soldiers around him, he knew this, but they were to his left and right, just out of sight. He couldn’t even spare a glance at his brothers in arms, the goal was straight ahead.
The smells in this place were nauseating, but he was immune, he had been here a long time, he knew not why, but he had a job to do. Soldiers don’t question orders; they just obey. He then thought and then they die. He can hear the footfalls of his allies all around him growing fainter and fewer as he went. There was no sound in this place other than the footsteps. He saw silent explosions all around him, tracer bullets whipping by him in all directions, some from behind, some from ahead, and from both flanks.
“What kind of hell am I in?” He asked silently.
The explosions of light began to trickle to nothing, and he noticed he could no longer hear the footfalls of his comrades. His rifle was warm and heavy in his hands, his muscles were tense, he began firing at shapes in the distance, this was his target the time was at hand, even if all the rest of his platoon was dead or running away he had a job to do.
He shot till he saw no more enemies in the darkness, he approached slowly ready for a reprisal, but none came. It felt as if he walked for days just to cover this little battlefield. He thought the area was vaguely familiar, but just couldn’t place it. The time came and finally he was upon his prey.
He knelt down beside the first body he came to, the man was on his stomach, the back of his head gone, he appeared fake somehow, Alex rolled him over and he screamed till he felt his throat would shred itself, but still it was silent in this place as he stared into his own dead eyes.
He heard footsteps approaching, from all around, he snapped out of his shock at seeing he had killed himself. He saw then these were not soldiers. They were just people, dead rotting people and they were all there for him. He saw himself brainless and dead rise from the ground and join the ranks of the undead encircling him. He no longer tried to scream, he had no strength left, they all moved as one to devour him.
He woke, a scream stuck in his throat, still drunk, he had not been asleep more than an hour. He was in a complete panic. The rain had not let up even a little in the hour, if anything it was coming down harder, he cranked the car sure the dead had followed him out of his dream. It was almost full dark now, visibility was no more than thirty feet. He came out of the parking lot sideways clipping a Pontiac that was stalled in the street, but he never slowed his pace. He was doing eighty when he went through the first intersection. Luckily it was not completely blocked. He threaded that needle with his twenty five hundred pound bullet like an old pro.
He made it three miles bouncing off cars, sometimes hitting the curbs to avoid pileups. The car was straining to keep up with his break neck pace through this rain soaked maze. Then finally he came upon a roadblock he just didn’t have room to navigate. He clipped the rear bumper of a large truck causing him to spin out of control. He slid sideways into a curb exploding both drivers side tires and causing him to smash the driver’s side window with his head, rendering him unconscious. The car did a complete 180 and struck the side of a building, where it came to an abrupt stop. He lay motionless mashed into the floor board. His blood flowed unchecked from a gash on his head.
He woke hours later, he couldn’t tell whether the pain in his head was from the wound, or if it was the beer he had drunk. His neck was stiff and he noticed he had broken three fingers on his left hand, these he taped together. He was afraid they may never work the same again without being properly set. He surveyed the wreck, astonished he himself wasn’t dead. The blood had clotted and although he lost a bit, he was fine, only mildly dizzy.
He was a tough man, and growing more so by the day. He left the car and all his things and began walking. It was dark, maybe three or four in the morning he wasn’t sure, he had lost his watch at some point. He found a used car dealership nearby broke the window to the office with a brick he found lining a little flower bed at the edge of the lot.
It took him a while to find the keys in the dark, the power was out here now, and would probably never be back on again he thought grimly. He took an old Ford Bronco, he knew that given the choice between it and one of those large full sized 4X4’s he’d always op for the Bronco.
A friend of his had one years ago, and had once told him they are hard to get stuck. So they got drunk and tried it. He wondered where his friends were and how they had died. He hoped that they had survived, but with each passing day his hope was fading and despair had set in. That feeling of despair was slowly changing into something else. He was beginning to fear loneliness as much as the thought of being attacked by an army of the dead.
“What’s happening to me?” He asked the darkness. “I executed a man yesterday, yeah he deserved it, but my God, who am I?” He added to his query.
He couldn’t understand how he couldn‘t feel the slightest bit remorseful for killing the old man. It bothered him so bad, because he was ok about it. He, who couldn’t even now, bring himself to litter. He thought of movies he had seen where someone with a random mental disorder was put in a crisis situation and ended up losing it and murdering people. He didn’t feel like a murderer. No, the man had been a murderer.
He remembered going to church as a child with his parents and learning the Ten Commandments. He had most definitely smashed one all to hell. He prayed aloud, “God please forgive me for what I did, but I don’t feel sorry.”
He went back to the crash, gathered his things from the battered vehicle and felt a lump rise in his chest when he saw the toys that had belonged to that beautiful little girl. What her name had been, he wondered. It suddenly became very important for him to know. He tore the car apart looking under the seats, several times hitting his injured hand, he ignored this. The pain seemed a faraway memory.
He had searched the car thoroughly but found only a piece of mail with what he assumed was the mother’s name. Sarah. He checked the trunk last and just when he was about to give up hope he found a children’s book. It was inside a little girls purse, the book appeared well read and worn. He opened it and inside it said:
To Keira, our sweet little angel, on her second birthday. Love Mommy and Daddy.
He saw where she had colored on some of the pages, not random scribbles as he first thought. She had been trying to copy the words. As he progressed page by page the words she had written became more and more legible. He cried silently as he read on. He had never heard of the author, but it was a sweet book about sharing, told through the eyes of little Sugar Gliders, the illustrations were top rate. After finishing the book he tucked it away into his bag. “Well Keira sweetie I hope you don’t mind, but I want to hold onto this a while.”
He found a nice place to park in the front lawn of an enormous house, which seemed out of place in this little town. He pulled under a weeping willow tree and slept soundly for over ten hours. He ached when he woke, “Bronco’s may be wonderful off road vehicles, but they make crappy bedrooms.” He said.
He noticed almost at once how bad he had begun to smell, he relieved himself behind a bush in this nice big yard, he felt silly hiding. Who would see him? But yet he hid all the same. He had brought toiletries from his house, he used bottled water to brush his teeth, but was desperately in need of a shower.
He tried the outside faucets then remembered the power was out. Then he walked around the house and saw this house had a swimming pool, it was covered still for the winter, he pulled the cover back and saw it was still filled and relatively clean. He ran back to the bronco grabbed his soap and shampoo, he knew it was gonna be cold, but figured the chlorine would be good for cleaning the gash on his head, painful yes, but still helpful.
He cleaned the gash as best as he could without starting it bleeding again, he soaked it in the chlorinated water, it was cold and his head ached, but it felt wonderful, he thought it was the best bath he’d ever had in his life.
He bandaged his head using the first aid kit from John’s camping supplies. He was amazed at how good he felt, the world was dead and he felt great. The old feelings of guilt started creeping in, and aloud he admonished himself. “Fuck that, you dick you’re not gonna feel bad for being alive.” At his command the guilt faded.
He wandered around Burlington, still looking for survivors, but still as before, had no luck. He was looking around thinking of all the places he liked to go with his parents. He remembered the little air field used for RC planes that was beside where the old Lowes had been. Then it popped into his head, just down the street from there was an armory.
He turned around haphazardly, well not so much anymore when there are no other drivers on the road. As long as he didn’t hit any parked cars and the rain didn’t come back it would be smooth sailing.
He found the armory just as he had remembered it, a large fenced parking lot with a large decommissioned artillery cannon in the front. The building was plain and aside from the cannon had no other remarkable attributes. The fence was locked, he attached the Bronco’s wench to the chain and threw it in reverse, and he was stuck in a game of tug of war with this big fence. It finally gave, not the chain or the lock, but the gate hinges gave way with a loud crash.
There were eleven different military vehicles here and a few passenger cars. He prayed the owners were not inside rotting for him to stumble across. He looked over one of the largest vehicles he saw, it was a six wheeled drive vehicle he had heard referred to as a five ton. This was what he wanted. He looked at the little Bronco and said, “sorry old girl, you have been out classed.”
He walked towards the building surveying the doors, there was a steel door solidly locked. Even with all his strength he couldn’t make it budge. He went back to the bronco and found a crow bar. It was rough going trying to pry the door, with his injured hand. After a half hour of cursing and a few scraped knuckles, he opted to try the bay doors. They too were solidly built and he couldn’t budge them. He was growing increasingly aggravated, he didn’t know what he expected to be inside, but he felt the need to check. He emptied his gear from the Bronco and slowly backed up to the door at an angled, trying to force the door in with the rear bumper.
He felt the door begin to give. He stopped pulled forward and got out to check his progress, the door was not giving, but he saw the block around it was cracking. This time he put the Bronco in four wheeled drive and hit the door at maybe 5 miles an hour, the thud jolted his entire body rattling his teeth. The block cracked a bit more. He looked and saw blackness through the left side of the door way, just a bit more, one or two more thumps ought to do it he thought.
He got back in and repeated this several times, cursing the fact he couldn’t get the door open. He had in fact made a large enough hole to get the wench cable through, he tried winching the door back out, twice the cable came free flying at the Bronco one attempt had cost him a headlight, another had caused the heavy steel hook at the end to smash the windshield. His progress was slow and he was on the verge of giving up when he remembered the heavy equipment rental place about two miles away. He drove there smashed out the glass in the office door and found the keys to a Caterpillar bulldozer, he smiled. “This is going to be fun.” He spoke to the collection of oversized Tonka Toys.
It took him a while to get the monster started, even longer to figure out what all the controls were and how they worked. He had once driven a much smaller version of one of these, so it wasn’t too long before he was plowing down the street at a nerve wracking five miles an hour. He slowly made his way back towards the armory. He drive right up to one of the large bay doors, the bull dozer tore through the metal like a hot knife through butter. He reversed out and shut down the behemoth.
He grabbed a flashlight and crept slowly inside. He first felt relief because the air stale as it was did not have the smell of death in it. Had he smelled anything he would not be able to go in for fear of getting infected by a corps.
He immediately saw why he wasn’t able to get in, they had barricaded the doors. Upon realizing this he began jerking the flashlight around the room to see if he were about to be killed for breaking into a government building. In the corner he saw a man in a white hazmat suit. Assault rifle by his side, he did not move or even acknowledge he had been found.
“Hey buddy you ok?” Asked Alex thinking maybe he was just asleep. Then dismissing that thought, only a deaf man could sleep through all the noise he’d just made.
There was no answer, Alex came closer, and saw through the face mask this man had died like all the others. At some point he had donned this suit and barricaded this place believing it would save him.
“I guess any hope is better than no hope at all.” Alex said to the dead man.
He looked around and saw why he couldn’t get the doors open, the dead man had driven several jeeps inside and had parked one just inside each of the doors. Alex continued through the building careful as he entered rooms, and turned corners. The dead man was the only body he found.
In a large plain room with shiny concrete floors he found what he had hoped he would. There were guns, lots and lots of guns. There were hundreds of cases of ammunition, crates of grenades, all sorts of things he didn’t know anything about. He spent the rest of the day loading one of the large trucks, with everything he could lift. He had enough to fight a small war if needed. He found cases of MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat) his buddies dad had bought these at the PX for camping trips when he was a kid, they weren’t gourmet, but they were actually pretty good. He made sure he got all of these, he wanted to be prepared.
He camped that night in the parking lot of the armory, built a nice fire and spent hours using the CB radio in the truck. Just before he logged off he was sure he heard a voice in the static, he was tired so he wasn’t sure if it were real or imagined. By the time sleep took him he was convinced he’d imagined it.