“When I was a young boy I used to walk up and down these streets all the time,” smiled Aber.
“You lived here your whole life old man?” asked Mary.
“Born and raised,” he winked at her.
“I came in from Cleveland. But I was supposed to head to California that day. Damn I miss that sunshine,” I said dreamily.
“Canada has sunshine too,” Aber said.
“And brutal winters, can’t forget those. What are we gonna do when winter hits, huh?” asked Mary sarcastically.
“You can start by putting a coat on instead of wearing a bathing suit,” called Sevina from behind the group. Mary glared at her with red rimmed eyes.
“Hark, how much further do we have to walk? My feet hurt,” cried the one child, Luke. He was a little ways behind me and I called him over to me. Jenni gave me a look but I smiled and scooped Luke into my arms.
“How’s that?” I said tugging at his swinging foot.
“What about me?” cried Gabe. I gently rolled my eyes and allowed him to crawl on me too.
“You two are lucky I like you,” I said smiling and everyone in the group laughed.
But once the laughter died down, it was back to the quiet stillness and the memory that we were probably the only ones alive in the dead city of Hamilton. The sun was slowly setting and I knew I would start getting questions about shelter soon. Night time was the worst. Though the dead rarely came out at daylight, once the night came it made it nearly impossible to sleep. Once the disease hit, not many people were able to get out of the big cities. I was only able to get out because I was at the airport. I saw it first with my own eyes. I could remember feeling the tray of forgotten coffee slip from my fingers as I watched on in horror as people started to devour each other, ripping chunks of flesh from immobile bodies strewn across the bright white tile. A few of us got out on a plane to Canada. When we finally landed hoping to be escorted by military personal, nothing was left. Only loose newspapers greeted us from the streets full of loot and broken glass. Seemingly everyone had completely vanished, gone without a trace and when night came, they all came back hungrier than ever. And not human. Clara was with me then. But she was gone now. Maybe this apocalyptic purgatory was my punishment of infidelity, of ruining mine and others virtues. And I had failed to protect her like I had my true family. Plio and I married in 2004 and things went well at first. A few bumps and bruises along the way but we managed. And once we had Kelley it seemed even better. But Clara came into my life like a whirlwind and everything changed, became less safe and more dangerous, adventurous. That was where I messed up.
“Hark, look,” tapped Jenni breaking my thoughts. She had a worried look of fear on her face and she was pointed ahead.
Ahead of us in the middle of the street was a body. It wasn’t moving but that meant nothing. My heart thumped deeply in my chest but I kept my bravado strong and dropped the children down to my side. Jenni took charge and stood in front of them protectively, eyeing me for my next move. I could feel my mouth go dry and my mind begin to wander on darker things as I turned to the group. They all stared at me like little lost children, sunken bloodshot eyes and skinny wrists. Dirty grungy, ripped clothing hanging loosely on them as flies buzzed their heads for a nice place to land.
“Stay here,” I told the group and no one objected.
I could sense everyone’s fear like a collective heartbeat as we all looked at the body that seemed to take up the whole street like an ominous troll. What was it called when you were afraid of the dead? Necrophobia. Once upon a time, I would have laughed at such ridiculous phobias and fears and psychological mumbo-jumbo. I sobered up fast though, believing this wasn’t just a study of some poor saps anymore but rather something so physical you could touch it and it lived and bit and infected. I gripped my bat tightly as I walked forward. My breath was heavy as it always was and I tried to relax as I closed the gap between me and the dead body. A few flies buzzed around his head but he looked relatively healthy. His cheeks were still pink and fleshy, his brow was slightly damp and his chest was moving up and down in rhythmic time. There didn’t appear to be any wounds or bite marks, nor any scratches and I reached to check the pulse in his neck. I dropped my head in relief as I felt the steady thrum of his pulse against lukewarm flesh.
“He’s not one of them,” I called back and suddenly he gripped my wrist tight.
I dropped back, scrambling away from him as he stretched out his arms to me moaning. His eyes were dead, milky white with the veins of black and his jaw worked up and down as he crawled to me slowly. He let out a loud scream, a noise I had never heard come from the dead before and around us more calls were heard. I kicked him in the face hard with my steel toed boot and scrambled back to the group.
“We have to go. We have to get out of here,” I said.
As I said this a group of ten or fifteen undead shuffled out from behind the tallest building in front of us. The one lying in the street was having a difficult time getting up but as he looked up at us, the rest of them started running. We bolted, running for the nearest cover in an office building. I was never religious, and I could argue that I wasn’t still but in that moment, as we ran I prayed for the safety of all of us, praying to some almighty to give us some slack and pull us through this latest horror show. I carried Luke and Jenni scooped Gabe up as we shut the glass double doors behind us. Aber and Mary were already grabbing pieces of toppled furniture and staking them against the glass when the wave of undead struck like a tidal wave. I was in momentary shock, staring at the horde as it gnawed and chewed at the glass anticipating our juicy bodies. Some of the dead were more decomposed than others and others looked as fresh as we did, save for the milky eyes. Bones stuck out in places that should have been painful but the only look of pain in these dead faces was the raw hunger.
“Dammit, Hark you said he was alive,” called Cable as he rushed to place upturned tables against the door. Sevina was cowered in the corner clutching mass handfuls of hair in a fit of fear.
“I…I…he was. His chest was moving and everything. I even felt a pulse,” I said back.
“You what?” said Aber stopping in his tracks.
“He was alive. For the brief moment I touched him and then he turned just like that. L-like a switch. One minute he was human, the next he was…”
“Dead,” said Gabe chillingly from under Jenni’s arm.
“How is that possible? How is this still happening. What have we done to deserve this shit,” screamed Sevina from the corner, rocking on her heels. Cable went to her, holding her in his arms as she shivered.
“This is wrong, this is all wrong,” she mumbled under her breath.
“They’re learning to act human,” said Mary.
We all grew quiet at the unsettling notion of the dead learning the art of trickery, staring at one another with suspicion and worry. Sevina let out a massive sob. I flipped a wooden chair closest to me and broke the leg off. I felt unsafe without a weapon and the thought of my trusted metal bat outside among the horde made me feel useless. I concealed the bite wound with the sleeve of my shirt for now. I would have to tell the group at one point but now wasn’t the time. Mary reached to touch the elevator door buttons and I stayed her hand.
“No, we take the stairs,” I said.
. . . . .
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