Allison was walking home from another long day at work.
Can't wait to get home and get this damn thing off.
She was tempted to itch her face, as the cloth fabric would occasionally bother her, but she resisted. She was cautious. During these uncertain times, you had to be. She preferred to get inside her own home, wash her hands thoroughly, and then take it off her face, even if she'd just washed her hands prior to leaving work.
She took her usual route home, walking down Mulberry Lane, taking a shortcut through Redwood Trail, and ending up on Spruce Street where she lived with her roommate, Katie.
Almost there. Just up this hill, and then I'll finally be home.
Upon reaching the top of the hill at the end of the trail, Allison could see her cozy little home across the street, three houses down to the left.
The poppy-red front door made the cream-colored house stand out, especially in the daytime. As soon as her foot hit the cobblestone pathway leading up to the front door, she could feel something was off.
That's when she noticed a dark object, out of the corner of her left eye: A little black notebook lying on the front lawn.
Reaching down to grab the leather-bound notebook off the grass, an odd sensation trickled up her arm. A sensation that was sharp, freezing, and burning hot all at once.
Allison stared at the front of the little black notebook, which had the number "19" scratched deep into the cover.
Part of her wanted to open it, out of curiosity. Another part of her didn't, afraid of what might be written inside.
Allison decided to give in to her curiosity, as she carefully moved the black elastic closure to the right.
In a search for the owner, she peaked at the inside of the cover. But, under “In case of loss, please return to:” she found no name. The inner cover was empty, even under “As a reward $:”
However, the notebook seemed to be filled with names on all the lined pages, front and back. Most of them were crossed out, along with the address listed above each individual's name.
Allison quickly scrolled through the notebook, searching for her town. She saw the ribbon bookmarker attached at the top of the notebook and lifted the marker open to the current page. At the top center of the right-hand page read, "Redwood Valley.”
Allison’s eyes glossed over the first page when a familiar name and address caught her attention. It was her neighbor, Charles.
Charles Ansbro was the bitter old man that lived just a few houses down the street from Allison and Katie. He’d recently succumbed to “it.” The virus seemed to kill him as quickly as his symptoms set in. He passed in a matter of days.
And now, his name and address are crossed out in a mysterious notebook. A mysterious notebook without an owner. A mysterious notebook that is currently in her hands. Why was it left on her front lawn?
… Is my name in here?
Trembling, she looked for any Callahan, Allison under her town's name. A sigh of relief burst from her chest when she didn’t see it.
… What about hers?
Allison flipped through a couple more pages, and there it was. Her roommate, Katie, was listed. However, Katie’s was not crossed out like Charles’s was.
… Are their names crossed out after they die? What the hell is going on here?
Charles died a few days back, and as far as Allison knew, Katie was alive and well. She'd just seen her this morning, prior to both of them going to their respective jobs.
Allison reached into her handbag and grabbed her phone. She wanted to call Katie and make sure she was alright. She hit the first few numbers before something fowl drifted through the air. The stench of rotting flesh and decay made her stomach coil. She tried with all her might to resist the urge to throw up. That's when it appeared.
Pale, almost gray skin. Pitch black, greasy, choppy hair, with a dark blank stare in its eyes. Whatever this person, or thing, was, had on a charcoal black suit, but no shoes or socks.
Reaching out with its long fingers and sharp, brown nails, it said, "That's my notebook... My notebook nineteen." It looked Allison straight in the eyes, practically looking through her, as it posed a malicious grin. Its sharp teeth were just as gray as its skin, possibly even darker.
Its large feet and rotted, long toenails crept a couple steps towards her. She jumped back, clutching the notebook in her arms. "Hey, six feet! Six feet apart!"
It stopped. There was that malicious grin again, intensified ear-to-ear. "Pardon me, but I've been looking for my notebook. That very notebook you're holding."
It (or he?) was terrifying. Despite how scared she was, she was even more frightened at the thought of whoever owned this notebook continuing on down their list.
"I can't give this back to you. I'm sorry. Please get off my property, or I’ll call the police."
Its grin instantly turned into a scowl. A soul-peering scowl that made Allison's heart drop beneath her stomach. Her throat swelled shut as liquid bullets dripped down her forehead. She grabbed her house keys out of her handbag as she backed away towards the front door.
Once she was right by the front door, Allison turned, key ready in hand, and slipped it into the lock.
"You have two options," it said.
Allison stopped dead in her tracks.
"And the police isn't one of them," it continued.
Fearing she had no choice, Allison tearfully replied, "What are my two options?"
It snapped its right middle finger with its right thumb. A dirty old bag appeared on Allison's welcome mat, just in front of her feet.
"You can drop my notebook, in exchange for the bag. $20,000 for my precious notebook nineteen… or, you can hold onto it, and join us in our roles. You'll be recruited as one of us, and you'll become a thing similar to me."
A few tears fell from her eyes. She squeezed the notebook even tighter.
"Oh, God,” she gasped.
Her arms loosened and the notebook fell onto the ground as she closed her welled-up eyes. A couple more tears rolled down onto her mask before she opened them.
The notebook was gone, and so was it. And, as it promised, the money was still there.
Allison pulled off her mask and threw it on the ground.
Placing her flushed face in her hands, she wept.