My laptop hummed to life, illuminating my pitch black bedroom. I couldn’t sleep; I had too much on my mind with Cross Country, school, and the story that blew up the news. All across the world, people had gotten mysteriously ill with a disease no one had seen before. No one knew anything about it. Riots were exploding in the streets of major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. I had even heard rumors about sick patients becoming...violent.
I dragged my cursor to my email and clicked on it. I scrolled through my inbox: Algebra stuff from Mrs. Hansen, some experiment information from Mrs. Dahir. Yay, dissection. Something caught my eye when I tried to close out of my email. A video was sent to me by Joel a few minutes ago.
Looks like he couldn’t sleep either, I thought.
I put in some headphones and played the video. The camera was shaky and it was hard to see. It looked like a mob of people were outside the Des Moines capitol building. Cops were trying to keep people behind a barricade that they had put up. Suddenly, the camera turned to a man who snuck through the barrier. Except, he didn’t look human at all. His skin was gray, and his eyes were yellow and puffy. A huge chunk of flesh was missing from his shoulder, and blood was dripping from his lips. I squinted at the man. His movements were jerky and stiff.
He grabbed someone’s arm from the crowd and sunk his teeth into it. The victim let out a cry that cut through all of the commotion. The cops drew their guns and ordered the man to let go of the victim. The man kept chewing and ripping apart the person’s arm. Finally, the police opened fire. I flinched from the gunshots. The cops must have put half a dozen bullets in the man’s chest. The man crumpled to the ground. I stared agape at what I saw. This couldn’t be real. This had to be fake. Joel was just pulling my chain.
Right when I was about to close the video, I saw the man struggle to his feet. I went completely numb; I couldn’t feel my fingers on my mouse. How was he alive? No one could survive that. The man stumbled over to the police, and they opened fire once more. I watched as the man’s chest was being torn apart by the bullets. Finally, I saw the man’s forehead split from the bullet and he collapsed. He didn’t get up.
The camera turned away from the scene, and everyone started hectically scattering away. The video ended. I stared at the blank screen for what seemed like hours when a notification saying that I had an email from Joel. I clicked on it.
Joel: Hey, did you see the video?
Evan: Yeah, I saw it. Thanks for that.
Joel: That’s some Walking Dead crap right there.
Evan: Do you think it could be connected to the disease? Like the patients turn into those…..zombies. Where did you even get that video?
Joel: It’s all over school. I even saw Mr. Renny watching it! And it could be connected. It’s the only explanation I can think of.
Evan: Do you think it’ll reach here? Do you think it’ll reach Avoca?
Joel: I don’t know. I don’t know how the disease is spreading. By the looks of it, it’s spreading fast. You’ve been stocking up in case something happens, right?
Evan: Yeah. I have a freezer full of beef and a lazy susan full of Ramen.
Joel: Nice. I’ve been to Casey’s like eight times to gather food with Nicholas.
Evan: Hopefully, it will blow over.
Joel: I gotta go. See you tomorrow.
I wondered what Joel need to do. His parting seemed sudden. I closed my laptop and went back to tossing and turning all night.
To my dismay, I had to get up and get ready for school. I dragged out each of my morning rituals until my mother screeched at me to hurry up. My mom worked at the school as a librarian and tech integrationist so we always had to be to school early. My older brother, Ryan, would have gone with us but he had to go lift weights at 6:30.
I bid my mom a groggy goodbye as I headed to the hallway that connected the elementary to the high school. The middle schoolers were mostly stationed in the high school but had a good chunk of our classes in trailers--I mean Portable Learning Centers--outside. I made my way to the gymnasium where middle school students were required to be before the 8:30 bell rang.
I pulled open one of the metal, blue doors and was immediately knocked on my butt. I looked up to see a boy much older than me. His skin was extremely pale and he struggled to stay on his feet.
“Are you okay, dude?” I asked as I got to my feet.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m fine. S-sorry,” he wobbled out of sight.
He oddly reminded me of the zombie I saw on the video. Maybe he was just tired, then again, he looked sickly. I adjusted my backpack on my shoulders and entered the gym. A few rows of bleachers were pulled out so people could sit on them. The girls always sat on the right side near the girl’s locker room and the boy sat on the left near the boy’s locker room. A few kids of each gender would mingle in the middle.
“Evan, get your butt over here!” yelled my friend, Jarret, as he slapped the empty spot next to him.
Jarret was a pretty strong guy who wasn’t afraid to put up a fight. We were polar opposites when it came to strength but we shared similar interests. I sat down next to him.
“I’ve already seen the video if you’re going to ask,” I said.
“That was freaky weird. That was a zombie!” Jarret exclaimed.
“Who else has a plan if the apocalypse happens?” Marshall plopped down in the row behind us.
Marshall was usually a quiet, respectful boy but often mixed things up with mischief. He had a mop of dark, brown hair and dark eyes.
“Grandma and Grandpa’s house,” I replied.
“I’m pretty far out into the country so I think I’m good.”
“I’ll probably go with Marshall,” Jarret nudged Marshall.
“Stop making fun of my voice! I can’t help that my voice cracks!” a voice said.
The cracking voice belonged to another friend of mine, Seth. Ever since his voice cracked in English, our classmates had constantly teased whenever he opened his mouth. He had dirty blond hair and deep, ocean blue eyes. Seth was known for a lot of things in our school, one was not being able to take a good school picture. Sometimes his hair would stick up or he would have the goofiest smile. Either way, he looked like a dingleberry.
Huffing, Seth marched over to us. He sat down next to me with a sigh.
“One time! It was one time!” Seth exclaimed, his voice cracking slightly.
“Just purposely talk in a really deep voice. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past few months,” I patted him on the shoulder.
A scream echoed from the hallway; I jumped. A few students rushed to the door to see what was going on but Mrs. Bladt, the monitor, stopped them. “Stay here. All of you!”
Mrs. Bladt hurried out the door and left us alone. It was quiet, absolutely no one spoke a word for what seemed like ages. A coin dropped from someone’s pocket. We all stared at the coin as it rolled away from its owner. The coin spun in a circle until it finally tipped over. Whispers spread like a wildfire. I immediately got onto my laptop and noticed I had an email from Joel. I narrowed my eyes at the two words he sent me. Help me.
“Help me?” I said aloud.
A group of kids started to gather around something on the floor. Confused about what was going on, I decided to check it out with the rest of my friends. I pushed through the crowd until I saw an older boy on the ground twitching. He was foaming and thrashing all around. He was pale and looked like the other high schooler that bumped into me. I was a Boy Scout, so I knew how to handle these things.
“Get back, you idiots!” I roared. “He’s having a seizure!”
Everyone immediately backed up. I rolled the boy on his side to prevent him from choking on his spit. He began to sputter out the foam in his mouth. He continued to twitch violently.
“Someone call 911!” I turned to my group of friends.
Marshall whipped out his phone and dialed the three digits. He grunted and took the phone away from his ear after waiting for a moment.
“Nobody’s answering,” he said.
“What?” Jarret said.
I looked to the boy having a seizure, he was limp. I shook him but he didn’t respond. I put my head to his chest to listen to his heart beat. There was none. I felt my body go cold. Did he just die? I raised my head from his chest.
“H-he, he’s dead,” I stammered.
A few of the seventh grade girls started crying while everybody talked about what to do. I felt myself lean back and fall on the ground. I sat there and stared at the dead boy. Was it common to die of seizures? Was he a special case or was something going on? I crawled over to the dead boy, wondering what could have cause it. A thought popped into my head. It made perfect sense. The high schooler I ran into and this boy were connected. They both were pale and looked to be on the verge of death.
“What the heck are you doing?” Seth asked as he crouched down next to me.
“I don’t think that was a seizure,” I replied.
“Come on, let’s go. Being next to him feels...weird. I don’t like it.”
“Check his arms for anything strange.”
“Just do it.”
“I really don’t want to, but okay,” Seth rolled up one of the boy’s sleeves.
“Neither do I,” I rolled up his left pant leg.
I didn’t find any marks that resembled the ones that belong to the creature on the video Joel showed me. Did this kid have the disease? Is this what happens to the patients? How did the disease pass? I rolled up the boy’s other pant leg. I saw a blood stained bandage around his shin. An image of the ‘zombie’ with a chunk of his flesh gone on the video flashed in my mind.
“Seth get away!” I shouted.
Suddenly, the boy I presumed dead grabbed Seth’s arm. My friend yelped and tried to pull away from the boy but he had a strong hold on him. The boy’s eyes were an ugly yellow filled with hunger. The zombie lunged at Seth, snapping his jaw at him. Seth screamed as he tried to push the boy away from his throat. I scrambled over to Seth and tackled the creature off of Seth which honestly wasn’t the best idea.
The zombie and I rolled over each other until the boy was on top and getting ready to sink his teeth into my shoulder. I thrashed around, trying to get him off me. Right when the zombie was going to rip my flesh off, he was flung off me by what looked to be Marshall. The kid was a wrestler after all. Then, I saw Jarret running out of the locker room with a baseball bat in hand. The zombie let out a hungry sob as it got to its feet. Jarret swung at the boy’s head. The boy’s head jerked violently to the side and he fell to the ground. I could see the dent in his skull. Jarret didn’t stop. He kept swinging and swinging until the boy stopped moving and he no longer had a head.
Everyone looked at Jarret like he was the monster and the zombie was just an innocent boy. Jarret huffed and looked down at his bloodied baseball bat and his red splattered shirt.
“That’s how you kill them,” he said aloud. “Destroy the brain. That’s how they killed them in the video.”
“Thanks, Jarret. You too Marshall,” I said as Marshall helped me to my feet.
“What do we do now?” Seth asked, shaken up as much as everyone else.
“I say we get out of here. Or at least find out what’s going on,” I said.
“But Mrs. Bladt told us to stay here,” A seventh grade girl spoke up.
“She’s not coming back,” Jarret growled.
A collection of haunting screams pierced the air. The lights started to flicker until they died out, leaving us in the dark. It was complete bedlam. Frantic shouts and scuffles rang in my ears. A kid pushed open one of the doors to try to escape only to be snatched up by a zombie. Dozens of zombies poured in and were on top of kids in seconds, chomping down on their flesh. I saw everything in slow motion: my classmates getting torn apart and running away in fear. I fumbled away from the chaos in the dark. I fell into a door and pushed it open, revealing a hallway with more death.
Teachers, students, all trying to eat the ones who were still living. Jarret and Seth weren’t far behind me. They were just as shocked.
“Where’s Marshall?” I asked.
“He made a break for a different door,” Seth said through multiple breaths.
“We can get through if we stick to the right side of the hall. If we can get to the main doors by the office, we’re home free,” I said hurriedly.
“Wait a minute, Evan!” Seth grabbed my arm when I tried to take off.
“We don’t have a minute. We need to go now!” I ripped my arm from his grip.
“We can’t leave! What about our friends? What about Marshall? What about our brothers? You’re just going to leave them?”
Seth had a little brother in the elementary school next to ours, same with Jarret. Both Jarret and I had older brothers in the high school. My mother was either in the high school or the elementary. We cared for all these people but the best thing to do was to get out.
“I’m sure they’re fine. And I don’t intend on leaving anyone. We have to get out of here and regroup if we want to search this place,” I turned my back to Seth. “You can leave if you want, but me and Jarret are going to get out before we make a move.”
“There’s no use in me leaving,” Seth sighed.
Luckily, the zombies had been focused on their meals and didn’t notice our little fight. We stuck to the right side of the hall, just I said. Jarret took a swing at zombie that noticed us. The light from the huge, glass windows by the mains door shown through. We were going to make it!
Jarret barreled through the doors and Seth wasn’t far behind him. I was almost out the doors when I felt something grab ahold of my shirt. It pulled me back into the chaotic slaughterhouse which was once my school. I was thrown in front a pair of zombies. I looked back to my attacker. He was a robust football player with his blood stained school jersey.
“Better you than me!” he shouted as he escaped.
A zombie made a grab for my leg but I kicked its hand away. I scrambled to my feet and darted away from the main doors. I made it to the back door which was used for loading food into the kitchen that was right next to it and yanked it open only to see a dozen bloody thirsty creatures. I cursed and slammed the door shut. I was surrounded; zombies were closing in on me from all sides.
Frantically looking for any escape option, I pulled open the kitchen door and locked it behind me. I breathed heavily, trying to calm myself. The zombies pounded away at the door, eager to rip me apart. I couldn’t handle it. Tears exploded from my eyes and my legs gave away. Why was this happening? I didn’t know if my family was alive. I didn’t know if my friends were alive and I didn’t if I was going live. I laid against a wall in the dark room.
“Oh god, oh god, oh god,” I said repeatedly through my shaky voice.
My world as I knew it was ripped away from me and there was nothing I could do.
Joel made a mad dash for the stairs while his brother swung madly at him, hunger for flesh having overtaken him. Joel scooped up his tiny dog, Banks, and rocketed up the stairs. He couldn’t believe his older brother, Jay, had turned into one of those things he saw in the video. He turned left into his game room which held his prized PS4. He shut the door behind him and locked it. He even pushed a desk in front of it to be safe. He tried to calm the yipping Banks as he whipped out his phone. Neither of his parents answered. He roared with rage and threw his phone on the ground.
He blinked back the tears and got onto his laptop. Maybe his friends could help. He got onto his laptop and sent out an email to his friends. Two words were all the time he had for. Help me.
Clayton ran across the school lawn, keeping his grip on Emma’s hand. He weaved through trees and cars, making sure to not get close to the creatures that attacked his school and killed some of his friends. Finally, they were on an empty street heading downtown. Emma drug her heels so that Clayton would stop his frantic running.
“Where are we going?” Emma flipped her short brown hair she despised.
“Away from there,” Clayton jerked a thumb towards the school filled with the living dead.
“But where? We don’t know if more of those monsters are roaming around!”
“The police, or army, or whatever are going to handle this. We just need to get away from there. How about your house?” Clayton said.
Emma seemed so distant. She had withdrawn into herself the second she saw a monster sink its teeth into her friend Baylee. She couldn’t believe this was happening and she wanted things to go back to normal. She wanted to hang out with her friends and go home to her mom everyday like she did everyday, but she couldn’t. You can’t undo something as serious as this.
“Emma,” Clayton snapped his fingers, “look at me Emma. How about we go to your house?”
“Yeah sure,” Emma nodded with misty eyes.
Main street was worse than the school, maybe even more so. Store fronts and cars were on fire while the dead creatures feasted on the bodies of people. A few people were fighting back against the monsters but there were just too many. Clayton wanted to collapse, but he had to stay strong for Emma.
“Stay right next to me,” Clayton gently nudged Emma’s arm.
They made their made way through empty lots and back alleys of Main Street. Easily eluding any zombies that might have been a threat. They made it out of the death filled street and were approaching the empty lot that used to be the old school. It was torn down a few years ago. An overturned car rested on the street. Clayton passed the driver’s window when a pale hand lacking skin grabbed his leg.
Clayton yelped as the hand pulled him to the ground. Emma was too shocked, too scared to move. A pair of teeth sunk into Clayton’s ankle. Clayton screamed in agony as the creature ate away at his leg.
“Run! Run! Go!” Clayton shouted at Emma. She stared at him with a horrified look on her face.
“Leave me! Your house is close! Just leave!” he shouted as a hot pain ripped through his leg.
Emma obeyed Clayton and took off towards her house only a block or two away. Clayton ripped his leg away from the creature’s grasp and crawled towards the empty lot full of weeds and grass. He let his face drop into the bed of soft grass. He wasn’t going to make it. He knew it as well. He was losing blood fast, and the pain was too much. Emma was safe and that was all that mattered.
“Emma,” he said. His final thoughts were of her.
Clayton closed his eyes for the last time. A man stood several feet away from him, his hands in his jacket pocket. His black hair swayed in the wind. He wore a sick grin on his face, like this was all just a game he was winning. He shook his head and sighed.
“Heh, that’s disappointing. That boy had a lot in him. The way he sacrificed himself for the girl! Was it love? Instinct? The classic hero card? I love humans! So complex but also simple. Guess I’ll have to find another player that doesn’t die as quickly. But where to start? Should it be a woman? A man? Maybe another child? The younger generation have always been more fun. Stick to what you know, I suppose.”
He let a giddy laugh, like he just got the punchline to a long awaited joke. A car zoomed past him only to come to a halt. It was a police car. A Police Officer got out of the car and turned to the man.
“Sir, do you have a working telephone or vehicle I can use? My tank is about out and-” the officer froze at the handgun the strange man had pointed at him.
“Booooorrrrrrring!” he grinned and squeezed the trigger.
A bullet slammed into the Police Officer’s heart before he could draw his own weapon. The man let out another laugh as he twirled his gun around his finger. He took one look at the dead boy and the soon to be dead Police Officer. He smiled with a shrug.“The game goes on,” the man walked off in the direction of the high school with an ecstatic look on his face.