Memories are a strange thing. They’re like movies that you can watch in your head, on repeat. Watching them over and over again. But they can also betray you. Somehow, sometimes they aren’t exactly how you remember them. Little things change. Or you imagine things happening that didn’t actually happen the way you think they did.
It’s strange the sort of things that pop into your head as you’re running for your life, Joe thought. It was also strange how silent he was. He didn’t scream. That wouldn’t do him any good. There was no one he could scream for. The thing with psychopaths, it turns out, Joe realized as he concentrated on keeping his legs moving him forward, not stopping, is that you have no idea what you’ve done to tip the scales and then suddenly you have someone chasing after you trying to kill you.
He could hear Frank gasping for breath behind him, his shoes hitting the ground in a rhythmic slapping that was almost hypnotic.
“What did I do?” Joe said, taking breaths between words. “I don’t understand!”
“You. Fucking. Son. Of. A. Bitch!” Frank screamed behind him. At least that’s what Joe remembered him saying.
Joe really wished he had something more than just his small Swiss army knife at that moment. And that it wasn’t stuffed somewhere in his large backpack that was swaying uncomfortably with each stride he took.
He felt a bit ridiculous, but he had to know. “What?” he asked. “I don’t understand! What did I do? Why are you…chasing me?” He knew the answer to that, and he didn’t really want to hear it confirmed.
“I’m. Going. To. Kill. You.” Frank said, with long gaps between words. “You. Invaded. My. Personal. Space. And.” There was a longer pause as the terrain changed and began a slight incline. “You. Took. My. Notebook.”
“No,” Joe corrected, shouting over his shoulder. “I just borrowed your notebook. I just wanted to take a look. I was going to give it back.”
Joe had an idea. If he didn’t have anything more significant than a small knife, maybe he could use the environment to his advantage. And he had a destination in mind.
Keep moving, he willed his legs. People always made jokes about runners only running because they would be the ones who would be able to escape the zombies if the apocalypse ever became reality. And even though there were no real zombies, Joe was glad that he was a runner, and suddenly all those early morning runs he’d get up for that Char thought he was crazy to do, didn’t seem like that bad of an idea after all. Who would’ve thought that it’d be some crazy guy chasing after me with a giant knife? Never in a million years. Then again never in a million years did he think that things would turn out like this. That there would be such a thing as a deserted Pike Place Market. This is what I’ve been training for, Joe thought as he sprinted up the hill towards the park at the bottom of the Market. That’s one good thing about this apocalypse, he thought. It did get rid of some of the zombies, even if they weren’t the flesh eating zombies of popular culture. He was almost looking forward to seeing the park without the swarms of homeless, down and outs and drug addicts. If only it was another day, he mused, and he could admire the park for what it was, and the view across Puget Sound.
As he ran through a strangely empty marketplace, jumping over bodies that lay where they had fallen, he had an eerie sense of the new world with vendors stalls still filled with things but no one manning them, and no people browsing. This was the fastest he’d ever walked through Pike Place, he thought, without having to squeeze past hordes of people.
There was silence from Frank, and all Joe could hear was the squeak of his shoes on the tiled floor.
“I just wanted to see if you had anything in there that could help us,” Joe said, not risking a glance behind him and slowing down. “It’s not my fault I found out that you lied to us.”
“I didn’t lie to you!” Frank screamed, his voice sounding as if he spoke right in Joe’s ear.
Joe rounded the giant bronze pig at speed, his hip painfully bashing into the side as he underestimated how far away he was.
“You said you worked for the government.”
“I. do!” Frank yelled again, his voice becoming hoarse.
“But you didn’t mention the branch that you worked for, that was working on this patching up the hole in the ozone was based out of Flagstaff. And that even before the world started going to shit and everyone started dying that you were fired from your job.”
“I. Wasn’t.” Frank gasped which turned into a wracking cough. “Fired.”
There was a pause and then the next string of words to come from Frank weren’t punctuated by gaps. “I was temporarily dismissed from my duties.”
Joe risked a look behind him and saw that Frank had stopped and was holding onto one of the posts that held up the stalls. He looked like he was going to pass out. He had turned an unhealthy shade of tomato. He stopped himself. He needed to take a break. “That means fired in my book. And that’s why you were here in Seattle and not in Arizona. Because you’d been fired. Now, I know obviously we aren’t friends, otherwise you wouldn’t be trying to kill me. But since you are, could you at least tell me why you were fired? I think me and Melanie deserve to know who we’re trying to save the world with.”
Frank laughed, a noise that sounded like a cat was fighting its own shadow. “Trying to save the world.” He shook his head. “You don’t want to know why I was fi-, temporarily dismissed.”
“Was it because someone touched your stapler without asking?” Joe said sarcastically, sneering down the tiled corridor. Why was he taunting a madman with a knife? Another mark for his ‘things not to do to strangers’ list, he thought, mentally filing it away.
Frank smiled. It was a smile that nearly froze Joe to the spot, one that he would never want to see anyone do, and never wanted to see again. “If you must know, it was something along those lines,” Frank admitted.
Joe didn’t want to know what happened to the person that crossed the line with Frank, and he didn’t have time to think much more about it because Frank had got a second wind and had started to run again.
Joe did the same. “I take it people have told you you’re crazy?”
That elicited a laugh from Frank. “My whole life.”
It’s like a fox chasing a hare, Joe thought, and wondered vaguely where Melanie had disappeared to. When Frank had pulled the knife on Joe, at first Melanie had tried to interfere.
“Hey! What the hell?” she had shouted the words and had run up to Frank who had launched himself at Joe. Frank turned on her, swiping at her with the blade as if he were a wild animal with its claws out on the attack. She jumped back with a scream. That little distraction had given Joe the time he need to widen the distance between them, and give him a bit of breathing space. He also saw the look in Frank’s eyes. The pure animal look, where all humanity had left him temporarily and he was running on some kind of primal instinct, some kind of survival mechanism. If this was a horror movie, Joe thought, Frank would make a fantastic werewolf.
He saw the look on Frank’s face and yelled at Melanie to run, hide, get away. She hadn’t needed telling twice and headed away from them in a north western direction.
There was one or two times Joe thought he’d caught glimpses of Melanie’s purple hoodie in his peripheral vision but he didn’t really have any time to stop and take a closer look.
Joe ran towards the park, amazingly free of modern-day zombies, and to the top of the largest grassy knoll. He had a vague plan, and he hoped it worked. If it didn’t, well it was his army knife against an angry looking giant cleaver. Where had Frank even kept that knife? He stood on the hilltop, feeling strangely superior, as if he were an emperor surveying his kingdom below.
And then Frank burst out of the tunnel like a rabid dog, almost frothing at the mouth to reach Joe. Joe watched as Frank’s feet slid, trying to find purchase on the damp grass. And before he could reach the summit and meet up with Joe, Joe put his plan into action.
He threw himself down the hill towards Frank, letting the weight of his own body collide with Frank’s, catching him off guard. But Joe kept up the momentum, pushing forward towards the cement wall that wound around the park in a semicircle, protecting people from the water below. Joe slammed Frank into the wall as hard as he could. And realized too late that the momentum also slammed him into Frank with almost the same force. He gasped as the wind was knocked from him. His eyes watered and he coughed, trying to regain the breath back into his lungs.
For the moment he ignored the fact that his body was telling him it couldn’t breathe and he grabbed Frank’s arm, the one holding the knife, and tried to knock the knife out of his hand by smashing it against the wall. But Frank’s arm was too high above the wall and Joe wasn’t able to bend it that way.
Frank flicked his wrist so that the knife was pointed towards Joe’s chest. Joe grunted and pushed himself harder against Frank. Frank screamed but his knife inched ever closer.
If Joe didn’t follow through with this plan, that would be it. It would be the end of the road for Joseph McCandry. RIP to Seattle’s most mediocre radio station manager, he thought, and a small laugh bubbled out of him in spite of the circumstances.
“What’s. So. Funny?” Frank managed to squeeze out. He was still pressed up against the wall, with Joe pressed against him as if they were a couple slow dancing, holding each other tightly together.
Without reply Joe brought his knee up hard into Frank’s groin. The knife fell and hit the ground with a clatter before Frank even hit the ground. This was his one chance. Joe knew he couldn’t be Mister nice guy. Couldn’t give Frank the benefit of the doubt. He hoped he had it in him. He crouched down and lifted Frank, using the wall as support, and rolling him up it in an awkward and painful way. Frank’s arm flopped outwards and smacked Joe on the head, but he kept holding tight to Frank’s body, until he reached the top of the wall, and was about to give Frank the final push, the final heave-ho, over the edge, when a shout stopped him.
“Stop!” It was a female voice. The only female voice it could be. Melanie. He heard her running towards them, but couldn’t turn or risk dropping Frank. “What are you doing?”
“What do you mean what am I doing?” Joe asked, stunned. “Did you not see him come at me with a knife? Didn’t you hear him say he wanted to kill me. He almost killed you!”
“But-” Joe could hear the pleading in her voice.
Something small and timid inside him disappeared. The part of him that always listened to orders, and didn’t stand up for himself ran away into the darker part of him. No buts,” he said. His voice was deep, authoritative, and with one giant shove, he pushed Frank over the edge.
He heard Melanie scream as she rushed towards him, towards the wall, but it was too late. Frank was gone, falling. There was a splash below, but not the loud, satisfying splash that Joe was expecting. He hesitated a moment and then looked over the wall. He couldn’t see anything except the dark grey water. Strange, he thought. One moment someone could be here and then the next just…not.
“Wha-“ Melanie spluttered. “You actually…I can’t believe you actually killed him! Like, you killed the only other living person in the world!”
“You don’t know that,” Joe said. “The world is a big place, you know.”
“Don’t play semantics with me,” spat Melanie. “Not right now. Not when you’ve just killed an actual human being!”
“Well if I didn’t kill him, he would’ve killed me. Or maybe you.” He added, glancing at Melanie from the side. The two of them stood next to each other, against the cold stone wall.
“But he could’ve helped us!” Melanie almost whined. She looked over the wall again at the dark, frothing water below and shuddered.
“Let me repeat once more,” Joe said, speaking slowly as if she were a child. “Or he could’ve killed us. If not now, then probably at some point. He was, as you so aptly observed so long ago back at the radio station,” he swirled his hand in a circle at the side of his head. “Crazy with a capital C.”
Melanie was staring at him, staying strangely silent. “But, I…” Joe could see the struggle warring within her, morphing and changing her face. “You. Killed a person.” Her face hardened into a mask of disgust and revulsion.
“I can’t…” She turned away from him, moving quickly across the paved walkway of the park that curved around the water and back to Pike Street.
“Where are you going?” Joe started to follow her
“No!” Melanie shouted, stopping as she hit the sidewalk. “Don’t follow me. I can’t…I can’t deal with you.”
“But you just said that we’re the only people on the planet…” Joe started.
Melanie turned away from him, holding up her hand to stop him from coming any closer. “Please, just stop talking and leave me alone.” She moved away from him.
“But, where are you going?” Joe asked, confused, and suddenly at a loss.
“Don’t even-“ She held up her hand again. “I don’t ever want to see you again. Ever.” And with that, she began to jog away from him, down the middle of the road without fear of cars.
And suddenly, Joe realized with the familiar tingle of panic that rose up from your feet to the top of your head in an icy wave, that he was once more alone. But this time, he was more alone than that first time. Because back then, there were still people. There were still news reporters reporting on the tragedy of hundreds, then thousands, and eventually millions of people were getting sick and dying. And soon there weren’t even any news reporters left.
A blanket of utter abandonment settled over Joe and for the first time in his life he felt truly alone.
For a split second he wished that maybe he hadn’t thrown Frank into the ocean, just for the company. To have another human to talk to, even if it was a human who was bent on killing him just because he’d invaded the man’s privacy a little tiny bit.
But then reality came crashing down. When it boiled down to it, he was standing by himself in the middle of a deserted Seattle full of the dead.
Need to start the story from the beginning? Check out part 1 below. 0r if you want to keep reading, below is also part 7!