Chapter 1: In the Beginning
"Sergeant, containment's been breached. It's spreading too fast."
"I want this under control, soldier. I want this stopped! Take all necessary measures!"
"Oh my god, Sergeant. They're eating people!"
"Soldier! Please repeat!"
"Sarge, they're eating people. The dead are eating people!"
A blaring sound hit me like a sharp knife through the brain, causing me to snap awake.
In annoyance, I sat up and tried to open my eyes, but I couldn't for some reason. It felt like my eyelids were stuck together.
"Mom?" I croaked.
Underneath the loud wailing of what sounded like a horn, there was a muffled sound coming from somewhere nearby, a kind of scratching noise.
"Mom?" I called again.
No one answered, but now the scratching sound was followed by a growl.
I jerked away from the sound, but couldn't move very far; something was holding me in place.
My breathing picked up as panic took hold of me.
Reaching up, I rubbed my hands against my eyes frantically, trying to get rid of whatever was keeping them glued shut.
Crusty flakes came off in my hands which looked like blood when I cracked my left eye open.
"What the fuck!" I gasped.
Extremely freaked out now, I looked around frantically.
At first, all I could see were shapes moving in front of my eyes, but my sense of hearing was crystal clear.
I jerked backwards again as the sound of growling and scratching got louder and it was coming from the moving shape in front of me.
Dragging the sleeve of my jacket across my eyes again, I rubbed the crust away and was finally able to see clearly, but what I saw couldn't have been real.
Some kind of thing shaped like a person was growling and thrashing in the front seat of my family's car.
With a whimper, I cowered away from the thing that was reaching out for me.
"No! Get away from me!" I cried out, jerking again in my seat.
Frantically looking around for a way to get out, I realized that I couldn't move because my seat belt was still fastened.
At that moment, the thing in the front seat lunged at me, its hand catching my jeans and tugging.
I screamed and thrashed harder before realizing that I'd forgotten to unfasten my seat belt.
With a sob of fear, I pushed down on the buckle and threw the door open, falling out of the car and slamming down on the pavement with a thump.
I stared around me frantically, scrambling to my knees looking for help.
There was no one around. No cars, no people, nothing. Things were abnormally still.
But suddenly a roar erupted above me, causing me to flatten myself to the ground, covering my head with my hands.
Looking up from my cowering position, I saw a helicopter fly overhead.
At the sight, everything that happened in the last twenty-four hours snapped back to me.
Trucks full of soldiers and army helicopters had been passing by our small town all morning.
Mom had been calling Dad all day. At first, I didn't think anything of it. Dad worked too much and it drove Mom crazy. He was the classic "absentee Dad." I was used to it, so it didn't bother me. But instead of getting angry like she usually did, Mom started pacing the floor getting more and more stressed. This time something was different and I picked up on Mom's stress and started to worry too.
Only a few hours later as Mom and I stood on our front porch, we heard the sound of "pop, pop, pop" in the distance. At first, I couldn't quite figure out what the noise was, but I saw the look of terror in Mom's eyes so I listened harder trying to figure out what the sound meant. When the popping noise got more frequent, I realized that the sound could be gunfire.
"Edward, get Anna! Hurry, we need to get your father," she shouted as she flew back into the house.
I bolted back inside and up the stairs. Bursting into my sister's room, I yanked her up into my arms from where she sat playing with her Polly Pocket doll house.
"Eddie? What's going on?" she asked.
I clutched her tight to me, fear overwhelming me. Anna was small for her five years which had always made me overprotective. But when I looked down and saw the terror in her eyes at my behavior, I shoved my own fear aside to comfort her.
Stroking her long auburn hair, I cradled her to my chest more gently now.
"It's okay, babycakes," I said, holding her close. "We're gonna go get Dad."
Clutching my neck tightly, she burrowed her head in my neck.
"Okay," she whimpered.
Mom and Dad worked a lot, so I was more like a parent to her than they were. Even though I was only fourteen, I didn't have a grudge against them for it. I loved my sister more than life itself.
I hurried down the stairs and ran out of the house to the car where Mom was already waiting.
Opening the back seat, I placed my sister in her car seat, buckling her in. She was sniffling and tears were filling her eyes as she picked up on our fear. She grabbed a hold of the sleeve of my coat and wouldn't let go.
"Okay, babycakes. I'll get in back with you," I said, soothingly and went around to the other side and climbed in.
Mom drove quickly out of the neighbourhood, kicking up dust in our wake. But we'd only just reached the outskirts of town when suddenly we were swarmed by people. Their bodies pressed up against the car as they fought to get inside. They were desperate, clawing and thumping against the car from all sides. A shrill cry escaped Mom as she pressed on the gas and tried to drive forward, but more and more people were pressing in against the car to the point that it was practically rocking on its wheels.
"Go away! Get off the car! Please! We need to go!" Mom screamed at the crowd.
But they only got louder with what sounded like moaning. It was almost deafening.
Anna started to wail, clenching her eyes shut, so I leaned over and covered her ears with my hands.
But I couldn't block out the sight and sound myself. One of the people's faces slammed against my window and with horror I saw that the man's cheek was ripped open down to the bone. As he pulled away, a smear of blood was left.
I let out a scream as the mangled man, slammed its face against the window again his teeth snapping as if he were trying to bite me through the windshield.
I looked around the car desperately, looking for an escape. That's when I saw that the others that were pressed against the car were equally mangled.
"Mom! Drive!" I shouted.
My sister Anna was shrieking now as the rocking of the car became more violent.
"Put your seatbelt on, Edward," Mom sobbed as she slammed down on the gas, but she couldn't see through the window with so many monsters on the hood.
I'd barely fastened my seat belt in time before the car lurched forward and continued to accelerate with the creatures still holding on to the hood. Mom jerked the steering wheel to the left and then the right as she drove, trying to knock off the creatures that were groaning and pawing at the windshield. But while some of them were thrown off, the remainder blocked our view of the road, causing us to crash with a concussion that plunged me into unconsciousness.
Jumping to my feet, I scanned the area frantically, looking for Mom and Anna.
A choked sob escaped me when I couldn't see them.
A loud bang came from behind me, causing me to whip back towards the car.
The monster inside was slamming itself against the window of the driver's seat.
I jumped back, but was then pulled up short when I recognized the distinctive color of the creature's hair. It was the same as mine and was shared by only my mom and Anna. With a cry, I realized that the creature was shaped like my Mom.
"Mom…" I moaned, taking a step towards the car.
But I froze before I got too close. My mother was twisted in her seat, imprisoned by a seat belt she could not understand, open-mouthed and drooling as her jaws snapped at me. Her face was deformed, the color of ash, her eyes a faded reflection of what they once were.
With a scream of horror, I fell to the ground again as she slammed against the window, leaving blood.
Suddenly, it hit me like a punch to the stomach that Anna could still be in the car.
Leaping to my feet, I ran around to the other side of the car only to find that the door had been pulled nearly off its hinges. Ignoring my instinct to run, I inched closer because I had to find Anna.
Ignoring the thing thrashing in the front seat, I stepped even closer. But when I saw that the car seat was sprayed with blood, I gasped and staggered backwards.
"Oh please, no," I whimpered. "Anna? Anna?! Where are you?!" I shouted, spinning around, but this just seemed to get the thing that used to be my mom riled up.
With another sob, I turned away from the sight and ran in the direction of my neighbourhood. I'd always taught Anna to run home if something happened.
"Anna!" I continued to shout through panting breaths as I approached our street.
I was only about three houses away from mine when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye coming from an alleyway between two of my neighbours' homes. It could have just been the fluttering of clothing on a clothes line, but it could also have been my sister.
I turned towards it and saw my sister's auburn highlights reflected in a window.
Filled with relief, I called out to her.
"Anna," I shouted, running to catch up.
When I bolted around the side of the building, I didn't see anyone at first.
But then I heard it, the familiar sound of moaning. My breath caught in my throat when I realized that one of the monsters was behind me.
Spinning around, I raised my fists, prepared to fight. But my arms dropped to my sides useless at what I saw.
I tried to gasp for air, but the sight of my little sister slack-jawed, blood dripping from her chin destroyed me.
"Anna," I whimpered, beginning to cry to the point that my eyes were blurring.
"No… no…" I gasped, shaking my head. "This can't be happening… This can't be real…" I babbled. "Wake up! Wake up! WAKE UP!" I yelled slapping my face as hard as I could.
But when I opened my eyes, Anna was still stumbling towards me with her arms reaching out.
Her eyes were so empty. I couldn't see anything of my sister anymore.
My brain couldn't handle what it was seeing, so it turned inwards towards memories.
"Edward, do you want to meet your little sister?" Mom asked, from her hospital bed.
I walked towards Mom, resentful that she was smiling at this little intruder.
Climbing onto her bed, I looked down at the bundle in her arms wrapped in a pink blanket.
The little pink, wrinkled person reached up towards me.
"She wants to hold your hand, Edward," My mom said with a smile.
Reaching out, I let her take my finger. I was amazed that something so little could have such a strong grip.
I looked up at my mother in amazement.
"Can I hold her?" I asked in excitement.
My vision snapped back into reality when the moaning was practically in my ear. Anna was almost within arms' reach now, but I couldn't leave.
I fell to my knees, my eyes slamming shut, not able to deal with what was happening. I'd practically been raising Anna since I was nine. She was my life.
Everyone I loved was gone.
My chin fell to my chest and my hands covered my face, shaking. I didn't want to live in a world where I was all alone.
But when I felt her grab a hold of my sleeve and try to pull me towards her, my survival instinct kicked in. Shoving her away from me, I jumped to my feet.
She was so little that she fell backwards onto her back and was having trouble getting up, snarling and spitting in hunger. But when she finally got to her feet, she came at me again.
Again, I pushed her away from me and she fell.
Sobbing, I backed up a few steps, but I couldn't leave. I couldn't leave my baby sister.
"What do I do, sweetheart?" I whimpered and started crying harder when she growled at me.
Then, I heard it, rapid gunfire from down the street and coming closer.
I looked in the direction of the shooting and then back to my sister who was stumbling towards me again.
"Anna, babycakes, are you still in there?" I asked her, barely above a whisper. "Please, Anna. Show me you're still in there. I won't leave you. Just show me that you're still my sister," I begged, but there was nothing, no reaction beyond the hunger in her eyes.
So with one last look, I bolted to my feet and ran back out of the alley and away from the machine gun fire.
The first night that I hid in our half-finished basement apartment, the cries of people in the street echoed against the cement walls. The crunch of them running past on the gravel, their panting as they ran, caused me to cower in fear. Then, my fear turned to terror as the moans of the dead soon followed.
I was too afraid to look out the small basement window. After my sister, I was scared that the monsters shambling gaits as they dragged themselves against the wall of my house belonged to someone I knew, like Mrs. Jennings from next door or even more horrifying my best friend Dimitri who only lived three houses down.
So I huddled amongst a nest of blankets that I'd dragged downstairs from my room, trying to sleep. For close to three weeks, I stayed in the basement. A week ago, the power stopped working. Then there was absolute silence. No hum of electricity or sound of cars. Only my breathing kept me company. That and my books.
The only light that I had was from the small rectangular window that let in a shaft of sunlight every day that wasn't overcast. I sat in that small amount of light and read the books that I found in a box under the stairs. I'd always liked reading, but usually I read horror novels. Now that horror was my reality, I found that Mom's books helped me escape. I struggled with Wuthering Heights, but once I got over the old-fashioned vocabulary, the storyline helped me escape for a while.
I was almost able to ignore the world around me until my food ran out. I'd finished off the last of my peanut butter and jam sandwiches two days ago and I only had a few bottles of water left. It was all that I'd eaten for three weeks.
Now I had to leave or starve. My parents weren't rich. We barely had enough food most days and the night before last I heard people upstairs. They clomped across the floor in a steady pace, calming my fear that the dead had finally come for me. But just as I'd decided to go upstairs to join the other survivors I heard the sound of glass breaking and things getting knocked over as they ramsacked my house in search of food I guessed. My last hope of staying disappearing as the last of my food was taken.
That night I cried for the first time since Anna. I was truly alone and there was no one coming to help me. I had the small sliver of hope that my Dad would come looking for me, but after three weeks I knew that it was hopeless.
I decided to leave the next morning.
I hadn't stopped running for days or maybe it was weeks. It was hard to keep running, to constantly be on alert for the dead, to worry about where to sleep even if it was only for five minutes, to have to look for even scraps of food and water every single day.
I saw other people, but I was too afraid to approach them. I didn't know what was going on, but what I did know was that it was every man for himself, made apparent when a few of the other survivors raised a gun at me as I'd approached them.
For a while, I was able to fool myself into thinking that things weren't as bad as they seemed. I was even after a time able to convince myself that I'd only dreamed about the death of my mother and my sister. I'd told myself that they were just visiting my aunt a few towns over and all I had to do was get to them. But every day I had to convince myself all over again because the nightmares of my sister covered in blood and biting into my flesh caused me to scream in the night.
The moment that broke through my denial for good was when on the outskirts of another small town, I saw two men, huddled over a third, pulling bits of his entrails out and eating them. It was one of the most horrifying sights that I'd ever seen and was the moment that I realized that the world as I'd known was gone forever.
Those were the first dead that chased me. When they'd heard or smelled me, the two of them stood up from their meal and staggered towards me. I ran, but they seemed to be tracking my scent. Not that much later, the two were joined by a third and then five more, chasing me through the woods and then into the town.
I'd finally been able to ditch them when I snuck into an abandoned store. The store had been quiet and dark, musty from lack of use over the last several months. With a sigh of relief, I leaned against the wall, attempting to catch my breath. But suddenly, I was shoved to the side as something tumbled against me. Jumping away, I saw the large shape of what used to be a man. One of its arms was missing and strips of flesh were hanging from its body, but it was still mobile and strong. It lunged at me again, this time, almost able to grab me. I backed away from it, wild with panic as I was backed into a corner. I'd never been this close to one before. It lumbered towards me again, attempting to grab me with its outstretched arms, but I dodged its grip. However, I was still unable to get past it. I pressed myself against the wall and looked desperately for a way to escape.
It was then that I saw the bowie knife in one of its belt loops. I had one of my own at home that I used to clean fish while camping with my father.
In order to survive, I had to get the knife.
The next time the creature lunged at me, I grabbed for the knife. I was able to yank it out of the belt loop, but then I fumbled, causing it to drop to the ground.
I reached down for it, while desperately trying to brace my forearm against the creature's chest, gasping in panic. But it was too strong. The creature fell on top of me, blood laced drool dripping from his mouth and onto my face and hair. Whimpering in fear, I tried to shove the creature off of me, but couldn't because gravity had added to its weight.
The creature kept lunging towards me, snapping at my face with blood flecked teeth, getting closer and closer with each snap.
In mad desperation for survival, I shoved it with all of my might, rolling after it until I was on my knees. During our struggle, the creature had grabbed a hold of my left arm and was using it to pull me towards it.
With a cry of fear, I began stabbing the creature over and over again, in the stomach, chest, even the neck but it just kept fighting me. Sobbing, I watched the flesh rip from the creature's bones as my stabbing reached the creature's face. I slammed the blade into its upturned chin, which suddenly caused it to go limp.
Stumbling away from the corpse, I threw up what little I had in my stomach. I looked back at what I'd done and dry heaved again. The dead man was a mangled ruin.
Staggering to the opposite side of the store, I fell in a heap and sobbed until I fell into unconsciousness.
When I'd awoken, I wandered around the store looking for food, but it had been picked over by others, not all of whom had been as lucky as me. I saw the remains of what had been a human in a pile in a corner of the store. As I approached the corpse, I saw something lying on top of it. As I got closer, I saw it was a crossbow. Gingerly, I reached out and grabbed it from the mess that had been a human. I didn't have a clue how to shoot a crossbow, but if I was going to survive, I couldn't only fight hand to hand. I barely survived against one, what chance would I have against a swarm of them like the ones that I'd seen on the street. With disgust I grabbed the quiver with five arrows and crept towards one of the windows to see if the street was empty.
Seeing that the coast was clear, I slipped out of the store and down the street.
Even without food, I ventured back into the countryside. There seemed to be less dead on the outskirts of this town, maybe because there were fewer houses or because there were still people to eat in town so they hadn't had to venture any further yet.
Exhausted from my escape from the city, I climbed one of the large redwood trees that I'd seen from the dirt road. I loved climbing trees and red wood trees were the best because of their size. Now I used the interwoven branches and a rope that I'd grabbed from the store to secure myself to the tree by tying it around my waist. I needed to sleep and this was the only place I could find.
I let out a sigh of exhaustion. The night was quiet, nothing but the song of tree frogs and the droning of bull frogs from the nearby brook. The sky was clear, the stars bright in the sky. At any other time in my life, I would have loved it. I loved camping and fishing. I spent most of my summer sleeping under the stars rather than in my own bed. I took after my father in that way. It was the only time that we ever spent together. We'd just started bringing Anna with us on our summer excursions. She wasn't quite sold on it, just like Mom.
In the middle of these memories, I fell asleep.
Sunlight woke me.
I looked around disoriented as I tried to shake off the dream that had put me in my bedroom.
"Mom," I mumbled in a daze. But then I heard it and the sound brought me back to reality. From below I heard the groans as the dead circled my tree.
Looking down, I saw that there were three of them.
What am I going to do now? I thought desperately.
I couldn't wait them out. The dead never got tired and I knew that they would be able to smell me. I could smell myself, having not had the chance to bathe in weeks.
I knew that the only way out of this was to kill them.
Reaching behind me, I grabbed the crossbow and quiver.
I'd never shot a gun or used a bow before and it took me forever just to figure out how to notch an arrow.
I tried to push away the anxiety. I had seven arrows which gave me a few chances to kill the three below. But I'd never been good at pool or darts or anything requiring precise hand-eye coordination.
Looking below me again, I realized that if I couldn't do it, I was going to die.
Hanging my legs over the largest branch in order to get the right angle, I took aim at the one closest to me. Using the sight, I took my time centering the target on the creature's forehead.
Letting out a slow breath, I pressed my finger on the trigger.
With a thunk, the dead thing was thrown off balance as the arrow struck its shoulder.
Six more arrows to go. Three dead things.
Again I shot, but this time my aim was totally off.
Trying to shove away the feeling of panic, I took a deep steadying breath and cleared my mind of everything. I tried to imagine that this was just a point and shoot video game that I played with my best friend Demetri. Looking at the thing shaped like a man that I'd been shooting at, I realized that I could easily imagine that this was a video game because the creatures really didn't look real, more like scary costumes.
This time when I released, the creature dropped to the ground as the arrow found its way into its skull.
The second one was easier as my conscious mind separated from the reality of what was happening around me.
This is just a video game, I told myself.
I no longer needed to run at each small sound in the forest. I wasn't a scared rabbit anymore. I was a hunter, a killer. I'd learned so much from video games that my mother told me were rotting my brain. I laughed under my breath. She should see me now.
But even with my ability to kill the dead things, hunger gnawed incessantly at my stomach. If I turned my head too quickly, dizziness would take over and I frequently fell.
I never stopped walking. I found a brook and knew that eventually the brook would lead to a river, lake, something. So, I continued to follow it. Along the way, I searched for food, but beyond a few summer berries I found nothing. I wasn't a good enough shot yet, to kill anything as small as a bird or squirrel.
Finally, I was relieved to hear the sound of rushing water ahead of me. Where there was rushing water, there would be fish. When I broke from the trees, I stumbled and fell to my knees as the undergrowth released me.
I froze on my hands and knees staring at myself in the rippling reflection of the river. I didn't recognize who was looking back at me. My cheeks had hollowed out as I'd grown thinner and my eyes appeared sunken above my cheekbones. The only things about me that were familiar were my bronze hair and green eyes. Their colour were the only things alive about me anymore.
I shook myself out of these thoughts as I began to look at myself critically. My hair was too long, getting in my eyes and obscuring my vision from any potential monsters. My clothes were hanging off of me, causing me to trip frequently. Along with food, I had to take care of these two things because they would kill me just as much as starvation.
Sitting up, I looked out across the wide river and saw the ripples of fish swimming through the current.
Now all I need is fishing gear, I thought with a groan.
Later in the day, I came across several farm houses but none of them had anything useful because they'd been picked clean.
However, as night approached I saw one in the distance with burnished light shining from its windows.
Creeping slowly up to the house, I heard the murmur of voices which caused me to freeze. I hadn't been around people for weeks and what I'd seen of the people pillaging houses didn't give me any reason to want to.
So I sidled up to the house slowly and slid across the wall until I was able to peek through the window.
There was a woman in mismatched clothes tucking two small children into makeshift beds on the floor.
Once they were settled, she stood up and walked to an armchair that contained a man who was fast asleep.
After gently kissing the man's forehead, she stood up and stretched. She was just as gaunt and tired looking as I was. They must not have been having much luck with finding food too.
For a brief moment, I thought about knocking on the door. But the thought was gone before it really even had time to settle in my brain. People die. It was every man for himself.
Without a backward glance, I snuck into their garage and took most of the canned goods and the fishing gear that was tucked into the back of the room. If they were stupid enough to leave it out in the open, then they didn't deserve it anyway.
Slipping out of the garage, I practically laughed out loud in relief at the gold mine that I'd found.
Continuing along the river, I found a cabin that was tucked into a patch of fir and redwood trees.
It was pitch black which made me think that no one lived there any more.
As quiet as possible, I broke a window and reached in to unlatch it so I could raise it.
Cautiously, I slipped inside, watching carefully for any movement in the dark.
Finally, when I sensed no movement, I clicked on the flashlight that I'd stolen from the farm house.
Its single beam of light cast shadows on the walls that I watched warily because each one could contain one of the dead.
Room to room I searched the house, not finding anything until I found a bedroom upstairs. As the door creaked open, I prepared myself for an attack.
But what I saw caused me to sigh in relief. On the bed were four bodies. Two larger ones and two smaller. A family… I mused.
With a shrug, I turned away and closed the door firmly behind me.
Finally, I had a place to call my own.
A:N/ So what do you think about my story? It's going to be quite different from A Brave New World, but I hope that you'll like it just as much. Drop me a line and let me know what you think.