Waking Up to Nothing (Part 2)
A World on Its Own
As I slept, I had a funny dream that slowly started turning into a repressed memory. I was in my car with my boyfriend, Jack, in the middle of traffic on our way to the beach when the entire earth shook so hard we thought we were in the middle of a devastating earthquake. There was a pregnant pause before we saw people spring from their cars, running along the highway setting smashed by other cars, or lept from the overpass to their deaths. The earth rocked again and we knew this was no earthquake but a bomb. Smoke surrounded the area and more people started running toward us.
We watched the scene unfold before us with wonder. We weren’t sure what to do, and we exchanged terrified glances with the people around us who were also in their cars, paralyzed to their seats by fear. That fear only intensified as chaos began to run its course all around us. We couldn’t see anymore because so many people were running on top of each other and climbing on cars to get away. Someone climbed on the front end of our car to make it over the roof causing the crowd around him to do the same. Jack tried pushing on his door to open it, but there were too many people.
Then out of nowhere, a huge chunk of flesh flew onto the windshield. Blood splattered everywhere and I screamed. My hands shook violently and I vaguely felt Jack grab me.
I turned to him in sheer panic. “What do we do? We can’t leave!”
We heard something inhuman like a growling sound. It wasn’t like a tiger or a bear type of growl, but wet and raspy. It was disgusting and with that sound, it was accompanied by several more. For a quick moment, there was a gap and Jack was able to stick his head out of the window to see what was going on further up the freeway.
“Oh, fuck!” he yelled.
His reaction made my stomach turn and my body break out in a cold sweat. “What is it?”
I felt myself on the cusp of hyperventilating, the shrillness in my voice would not settle. Jack jumped back into the car just as another wave of people blew by. He was gasping, eyes wide. “I don’t even know how to explain what I saw.”
My fear was making me impatient and I snapped at him. “Well, fucking try!”
Just then the road sank in and our whole car jolted forward. I screamed again, grabbing the dashboard as if it would level out and save me. Jack stuck his head out the window once more to see we hadn’t sunk as much as it felt. The sweat around his hairline and brow was profuse. I could tell whatever he saw was physically stressing him out.
“I love you,” he said suddenly.
I shook my head, my vision already blurring with tears. “No, don’t say it like that. What did you see, Jack?”
He closed his eyes tight with his jaw clenched and let it go in one sigh. “There are these…things…up there that are eating people. It’s like it’s straight out of a movie, but they looked like zombies.”
I leaned away from him. “What…?”
“It’s fucking nuts, I know, but I’m telling you that’s what I saw. There are too many of them we can’t fight them off. They’ll be on our side of the road soon…”
Crowds of people were still blowing by us and climbing over each other to get to safety. A few gunshots went off with negative repercussions. It made them more frightened, violent. And those things Jack saw started to move faster because of the sound.
“What do we do?” I asked quietly. “Are we going to die?”
The thought of dying at twenty-five wasn’t something I was planning on doing, yet here I was trying to accept it for what it was.
A man leaned in our car through the window trying to push me out of the way to hop in the car. I freaked out and Jack reached behind him in the backseat, pulling out a gun.
“Back up, asshole!”
Jack grabbed me onto his side of the car, pulling me into his lap and the man held up his hands in defense.
“Please, you’ve got to let me in!”
I was already shaking my head no before he could finish. Jack pushed the gun further, this time pulling the hammer back in warning. When the man ignored Jack and reached for my legs instead, Jack pulled the trigger and the man’s head exploded. I was in complete shock, my body felt numb and my ears rang from the powerful pop of the gun. Skull fragments, blood, and brain matter covered us and the inside of the car.
I looked back to Jack's quiet demeanor as he held me closer. He kept his face impassive, but I could feel the unsteadiness of his hands, the erratic thrumming of his heart.
It was just like he said. It took no time for the monsters to get on our side of the freeway. There were just as many of them as there were us, if not more. It was like they were coming out of every crevice of the planet to feast on our bodies. There were so many of them that the pressure broke the windows on the passengers side and they fell into the car to eat the man Jack had shot. I watched them dine on him like a holiday meal as my insides melted.
Jack did his best to roll up the windows, but he only got them up so far. He fought the zombies that made it too close to us, causing their ugly faces to distort even more. Then, he stopped to kiss me hard. I was about to shout at him for it because we were in so much danger when he hit me in the head with the butt of the gun. I blinked several times, my vision going in and out. Jack smeared blood on his face and jumped out of the car. Weakly, I reached for him and I could hear him saying he loved me once more just over the snarling sounds before my world went dark.
I woke with a start. My heart pounded recklessly in my ribcage and my eyes blindly searched around my room. I put a hand over my heart to calm the frantic muscle. My toes tingled as my chest heaved and my head started to throb with rhythmic pound. Now breathing slowly, I commanded my brain to shut off from the too-real dream. I had to call it a dream because I wasn’t ready to call it a memory. I couldn’t accept Jack was gone. I had no idea if he made it out alive or if he somehow met up with my family or his own. I had to find him so we could get through this mess together because I couldn't do this without him.
Placing my bare feet carefully on the cool wooden floor, I managed to reset and ground myself to the earth. I heard the undertones of voices moving around the house. I noted how much of it was still standing, though I had noticed the neighborhoods we’d run through were still fairly put together. That meant there weren’t as many zombies in this area…for now. I slipped on my shoes and stretched before opening the door. I nodded my head to a few that had walked by as I prepared to walk downstairs. I heard hushed voices talking about me.
“Why are you so against her?” That one sounded like Constance.
“She’s scared just like the rest of us.” That was Shaina.
“When she turns on us and one of us ends up dead, do you want me to put the bullet in her head, or would you like the honors?” That was definitely Carmelo.
My hand clenched around the banister. If I wasn’t careful, Carmelo would have this whole house against me and I really would end up dead.
“No one is killing anyone!” Shaina again. “Yes, she’s weak but we can train her and teach her how to face the Zs. We shouldn’t throw her out because of her lack of fighting abilities.”
There was a pause then Carmelo spoke. “She’s the type who will flee before she saves, pushes you into danger to save herself. She will turn on us. And one of us is going to pay the price.”
I continued to walk down the stairs as if I hadn’t heard them discussing me. It was hard to look any of them in the eye even the ones who defended me. I was a burden and I was beginning to wonder why Shaina and her sisters rescued me if their group never had a real meeting about how they allow others into their family. Upon seeing me, some coughed and others left the room completely. It didn’t bother me because I didn’t plan on staying long, but it was a major risk to suddenly leave. Walking away from this house meant no shelter and constantly being on the defense.
“Good morning, Perris,” Shaina greeted.
I smiled meekly with a slight nod. It felt mechanical and awkward.
I was hoping Carmelo would leave once Shaina started talking to me, but he hung around to hear the entire conversation all the way up to the moment when she paired Grace and I together. She wanted her to give me a layout of the grounds. He almost instantly objected and Grace had to be the one to tell him she could handle herself if any harm came her way. I was strung up and too nervous to go back out into the danger zone so soon, but I didn’t have a choice. I had to put all my faith in Grace in her ability to protect us.
I followed Grace out the front door. Carmelo was on our heels, checking to make sure we’d made it out safely. He kissed her softly, cupping her face then turned to me with hardened eyes. I dropped my gaze and thankfully Grace had us moving as soon as possible. We trudged down the vacant road, my eyes peeled for any sudden movement or sound. We could hear machine guns firing in the distance and the occasional bomb with subtle aftershocks. The further we walked, the more my skin felt like crawling off my body from being so open and unprotected. My only weapon was a knife Shaina gave me, and I knew the only way I’d be useful is if I got up close and personal with the Zs. I knew I wasn’t ready for that.
The further we walked the more dead bodies we encountered. Some were fresh while others were in the beginning stages of rotting. Some were piled upon one another while others were spread out in pieces in pools of their own blood. Sometimes I stepped on decayed flesh and instantly felt my stomach turn from the squelching sound of my shoe making contact. I couldn’t take the smell and holding my breath could only work for so long. I hurled, feeling no relief from the sickness I felt inside. I looked for the man from yesterday who was burning bodies, though his stone-faced figure was nowhere to be found.
“You all right?” Grace asked after I started dry heaving.
I coughed a couple of times and spit to the side. “I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to the smell.”
Grace frowned. “You will. I’ve been at it for three weeks and already I can handle it.”
I gathered myself together and followed behind Grace. She led me to what used to be a park. It was a depressing sight. This place where children used to play was filled with bodies of families. The graphic images of children in shreds, and the few remaining Zs who continued to eat them was enough to make a surviving parent commit suicide. The whole place echoed with emptiness and I was about to ask Grace why she brought me here when she abruptly turned to me.
“I’m going to teach you how to fight them.” Her eyes were strong, her words giving me a slight confidence boost.
I swallowed. “Can I have a gun first?”
All I could think about was the distance I’d have.
She shook her head. “No, all you’re going to do is waste bullets and then you’ll have to use the knife anyway.”
We slowly approached one that was quietly feasting on an adult arm, stopping several feet behind without startling it. It was crouched down, growling and hissing as it ate. Grace motioned for me to stay put while she crept ahead. She pulled out her dagger and grabbed the Z by the shoulder, ramming her knife into the crown of its head seconds later. It all happened so fast when the blood splattered on my cheek I was stunned. With a little force, she snatched her knife out of its skull and wiped the dark blood on a cloth she kept around her waist.
“That one was easy, but the gist of it is to get it in the head.”
I know it wasn’t human anymore and it wouldn’t be able to register pain, but it still made me ill to think I’d be shoving a knife into a human skull. “What if the head isn’t reachable?”
“The heart would be the next bet, though it won’t kill it, only immobilize it.”
Like most living things, the brain was the power source. Frankly, I wasn’t keen on being required to get so close just to kill it. I knew there weren’t always going to be circumstances where their backs would be turned to me. What would I do if one was charging for me head-on? Grace walked some more, leading me down a trail I could see led to another part of the park several meters away. It was hidden behind some trees with one of them holding an vacant treehouse.
The wind swayed and the leaves rustled together ominously. The quiet sound awakened several Zs from their slumber and they slowly walked into our pathway. I didn’t need to count there were three of them, but it gave me great comfort to know. Grace walked up to one, reaching for its shoulder, and quickly stuck her knife in its head. It fell with a thunk and the other two continued to walk toward us with their snarls.
“Do you think you can handle it?” Grace taunted.
Her attitude was making me edgy. I rolled my shoulders before taking a few deep breaths and bracing myself. I decided to go for the one on the right only because it seemed slightly farther away than the one to the left. My distressed heart was a jittery muscle trapped in my body with nowhere to escape. My shallow breaths made my hands quiver and I couldn’t stop blinking.
The Z snarled and twisted its body in my direction, its skin not as rotted as some of the others I’d encountered. This one must have been newly made maybe only a few weeks old. His clothes were in shambles, swaying side to side as he shuffled to me on a moan. I lifted my chin in hopes of psyching myself into controlling my fear. My hand raised then dropped when my mind flew into a tizzy of thoughts. I couldn’t bring myself to stop imagining my death at the hands of this gnarly being. I kept envisioning my blood splashing out of my body, the Z easily ripping me apart to feast upon my flesh. It was only a few feet from me, and Grace’s normally gentle voice, now a rampant drum, was a faraway sound against my own blood rushing through my veins.
The Z lunged at me.
Instinct took over and my arm extended as my hand came down with a harsh slash against its face, knife lodging into its eye. Instantly, my hand was showered in the thick, black sludge that was its blood. Decayed hands wrapped steel fingers around my wrist, the monster caterwauling into the space causing the other to turn in our direction. Using my other hand to grip him by the neck to hold him off, I used the opposing force of our bodies to snatch the knife from the soft muscle. I went again for round two this time shoving the blade through the skull, feeling the disgusting sensation of the blade slicing through layers of decayed flesh, bone and brain.
The Z was still baring its yellow-stained teeth at me, so with more confidence and strength, I slammed the knife further into its head. The knife made a gut-wrenching sound like a suction when I took the blade out. I stabbed at it again, allowing the knife to travel deeper until it finally went limp in my hold. My hand was covered in blood and vibrated so harshly that I dropped the knife on the Z's body. I stared at the corpse, amazed I’d been the one to finish it off. The sound of Grace’s heavy breathing brought my attention to her kicking the other one as it lie dead with a wound in its head.
She cleaned the knife off with her shirt and walked to pick up my knife, cautiously handing the weapon back to me. Worry etched on her face, her skin stretching out against the sharpness of her cheekbones. “You all right?”
It wasn’t until I was able to decipher the strange feeling bubbling in my gut as adrenaline did I finally speak. My voice was hollow, distracted. “I’m more than all right at the moment, Grace. But thank you for asking me.”
I wasn’t even aware of what I was saying really. It all felt very robotic, though on the inside I was still riding my high. Grace stood proudly with a hand on her hip when she noticed I wasn’t afraid.
“You did well,” she started, skirting around one of the bodies where the arm was bent in the wrong direction. “You’ll learn the density of the skull depends on how old or new the Z is, but eventually you get used to them all. I’ll have to show you some quick points on how to actually make the blows more effective so you don’t have to make several hits.”
“That wasn’t as scary as I imagined.”
Grace turned on me, her brown eyes flashing heat. “It’s always scary. Every situation can turn dangerous. It’s the simplest ones that lead to deaths.”
I let the words sink into my core not needing to be reminded again as I’ve seen enough dead bodies for a lifetime to convince me. “Yeah, you’re right. I’ll keep that in mind.”
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