Hearts and Minds

📅 Published on December 28, 2020

“Hearts and Minds”

Written by Liam Webb
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 23 minutes

Rating: 9.50/10. From 4 votes.
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Arnold Willis slowly opened his eyes, dreading what he would see.  The small alarm clock on the nightstand read a merciless 5:58 a.m.  The sterile hospital wall came into focus behind the clock, in sharp contrast to the brightly-colored balloons which floated at the edge of Arnold’s vision.

“Four hours till doomsday,” Arnold thought.

Turning, he sat up heavily in the uncomfortable hospital bed.  Swinging his feet over the side, he winced as they touched the cold linoleum, and his hips complained as he put his weight on his legs.  Crossing to the closet-sized bathroom at the far end of the room, he watched himself move forward in the thin mirror on the bathroom door.  A fifty-eight-year-old man in white and blue striped pajamas came closer in the mirror.  Overweight now, the image was once athletic, “but not obese yet,” Arnold protectively thought with a mixture of pride and resentment.  He noticed the beginnings of jowls on his face as he got closer, as well as the fact that his slightly receding hairline had retreated another quarter inch in the past few months.  A small loss, but noticeable.

“Sucks to get old,” he thought, entering the bathroom.  He stared at the tired face in the small mirror over the bathroom sink.  While he knew he couldn’t sleep anymore, he wished he could, and so debated whether or not to go through his morning routine.

“May as well get ready.  Goddamn stress.  Lousy freelancing rates,” he thought to himself as he sighed and turned on the water.  After shaving and washing and drying his face, he looked at himself again, his eyes slowly resting on the top of his chest which was exposed through the opening at the pajama top.

“Say good-bye, old friend, to that hunky chest,” he said.  “By one o’clock it’ll look like a cereal box top.”

“Mr. Willis…?  Are you okay?” asked a female voice outside the bathroom door.

Arnold opened the door slightly to reassure the nurse.  She was a pleasant overweight black woman, even if her hair was always just a bit out of sorts.

“As okay as I will be until Dr. Cut-‘em-up gets a hold of me for my bypass,”

Arnold told her with a half-hearted smile.  “ Why do you ask?”

The nurse was unnaturally serious.  “Please stay calm, sir.  There’s been an unavoidable delay.  Your double bypass cardiac surgery had to be rescheduled for tomorrow.  There’s been an outbreak of some sort of new flu strain, and we’ve had many new patients come in.  I’m sorry, but they’re in more danger than you at the moment.”

At that, Arnold left the bathroom to speak with her, and in preparation to make an excuse to leave the hospital.

“Okay by me.  I’ll go home and come back tomorrow.  What time?”

“Actually, because the patients came in last night, you can’t leave the hospital.  You may have been exposed to it overnight.  But, if it makes you feel any better, none of last night’s staff can go home either.”

“It doesn’t, actually,” Arnold said dryly.  “What else?” he added, noticing that she wasn’t done with what he now suspected was a spiel from the morning’s overuse with other patients.

“To keep from being infected,” the nurse said, “we need to keep your door closed and you can’t come out unless it is a true emergency.  You have a call button if you need us.  And we know this is a smaller room, but all the new patients mean we’ll have to bring someone in here to share space  — oh, don’t worry, the patient we’re bringing in, Mr. McNulty, has Alzheimer’s and not the new flu.”

“Terrific,” Arnold said, making his way back to the bed.

* * * * * *

The good news is that the new guy, McNulty, rested peacefully since he was brought in.  By 7:30 Arnold was watching the news for a while, as contentedly as he could be in his frustrating predicament, until his wife called.  Arnold picked up his cell phone and spoke in low tones in deference to his new roommate.

“I know, honey, I still can’t believe it either.  If they just did it, and got it over with, I’d be fine, it’s this waiting that’s the killer.  …  Ah hon, I’m sorry, really I am, I didn’t mean “killer”.  … It’s okay, Mary, I’m going to be fine,” he said with more confidence than he felt.  “ It’s a simple procedure,” he hoped.  “ How are you, do you have this flu?  It’s all over the news already.  …  Oh, okay, good.  You stay home today, don’t go out.  I’m fine, there’s nothing happening here, and I don’t want you to catch this bug.  … Better yet, get into the storm shelter.  …  Yes, I mean it, and take your pills with you.  Promise me?  … Good.  Okay, I love you.  Bye.”      Hands folded behind his head, Arnold relaxed in bed, addressing Mr.

McNulty in a whisper.

“Well, McNulty, old man, it’s just you and me for the duration.  I’m glad you don’t talk much.  Rest well.”

After dressing, reading half of a mediocre novel and watching a game show, around 12:30 Arnold was bored enough to simply pace around the room for something to do.  He was hopeful physical movement would snap him out of his boredom.  After an unsuccessful 25 minutes of this, a harried café worker came into the room, a tray in each hand.  The food on the trays was so carelessly slopped on that Arnold wondered for a moment if any of the cataract patients were kitchen volunteers.  Still, unappetizing as it may have looked, Arnold was grateful for the food and for the break in tedium the lunch signaled.  The café worker was an olive-skinned man, possibly Sicilian; he was in his 30s and stood only about five feet tall but was powerfully built.  He had a close-cropped haircut which reminded Arnold of state troopers, but most of Arnold’s concerned attention was attracted to the white mask over the man’s nose and mouth, especially as the man looked tired enough to possibly be sick.

“Okay, here ya go!” the man said.

“About time!  What’s happening out there, man?  I’ve called and called on the bell, and no one’s answering.  I was about to go out and find someone.”

“Oh no, you can’t do that!” the café man said.  “Didn’t anyone tell you?  The flu has spread in the hospital, only essential people like me can go from room to room.  You leave here, man, you’ll be quarantined with the sick ones!  And, brother, you don’t want that.  Besides,” the man added, “we’re so short-handed we’re asking all relatively healthy patients like yourself to help the sicker ones.  So if you could please feed your roommate, we would really appreciate it, and I’m sure he would,” the man said, pointing to the insensate Mr. McNulty.  Annoyed, but knowing it was his moral duty, Arnold took up a spoon, and shook McNulty’s shoulder gently to wake him.  Thankfully, Mr. McNulty was as placid when awake as he was asleep.

“Stay in here.  Really, it’s hell out there,” the café man said as he prepared to leave.  “This ain’t no flu, it’s a plague.  But don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about you.  Just stay calm, Mr. Willis, don’t strain your heart.”

After feeding Mr. McNulty and himself, Arnold turned on the television to, as his grandfather said, see what’s all the hubbub, bub.  Normally, the insipid talking heads on the news gave him a sense of ease, because nothing that important could be filled with the self-importance that most newscasters carried themselves with conveyed to the news.  Unnervingly, Arnold didn’t detect a trace of it today.

“ —disease spreading throughout the eastern United States.  People are warned to stay indoors.  The CDC has declared an official pandemic, while —”   Arnold tried another channel.

“ —toll is now in the thousands.  The National Guard has been ordered to quarantine whole areas of the infected.  While no group has claimed responsibility, terrorism has not been excluded as the sourc—” Arnold tried again.

“Ooh, I did shoot a putty-tat!” a cartoon bird said.

“You’re deteshtable!” said a cartoon cat, mildly on fire.

“Well,” Arnold said, “that’s better.”  When the show ended a half-hour later, Arnold sighed.  “Now back to the unreality.”  Arnold clicked again.

“ —president has accepted the Nobel Prize for Health, awarded for his blowing his nose in a tissue during his first five minutes in office.  In his acceptance speech, he told the world this current outbreak is nothing to worry about, and that ATMs could be responsible for the lack of health to go around.  Separately, the first animal infections of the new disease, now being called the ‘Neo-Black Plague’ have been reported this morning, showing it isn’t just a human disease.  When asked for comment the administration has no information and while has no clear response to this crisis, told us that they were sure things would be fine if we just hoped enough.”

Feeling queasy, and sure it wasn’t the earlier hospital food, Arnold clicked away.  This time he got a local news channel, remarkable for the fact that it was broadcasting at 4 and not 5 and that the anchors, an Asian woman and White man didn’t look very made up and showed signs of stress personally.

“We have received reports that flu victims are reviving after a state that looks like death,” the Asian woman said.  “People are warned to…to not call an ambulance if they believe a loved one has died, and merely wait up to four hours for a recovery.  … Hunter, can that be right?”

“Yes, Kimmie,” the White announcer said, “that is correct.  I checked it myself.”

“To hell with this!” Arnold yelled, snapping off the television and throwing down the remote, startling Mr. McNulty.  Grabbing his overnight bag from under the bed, Arnold changed into jeans and a flannel shirt and blessed his wife’s over-worrying heart when he saw she put his light jacket in the bag even though it was mid-June.  He wrapped the jacket around his neck.  It wasn’t a hospital germ mask, but it would have to do.  Looking over, he saw McNulty looking at him kindly.

“Okay, George, no one’s come for hours or answering the bell.  You stay here, hold down the fort.  I’m going to find someone; I’ll be back for you, pal.”  Affixing the jacket over his mouth and nose, Arnold opened the door, marched through, and closed the door firmly behind him, making sure it was locked to safeguard McNulty.  Arnold’s room was at the head of a T-intersection of the hospital hallways.  As he stood there, Arnold could see down all three hallways for some distance.  What he smelled and saw made his weary heart jump.

The smell was a pervading stench of rot and feces in the hallway.  Unfortunately, this was not like rotten food nor milk, and not like a regular bathroom interlude.  Rather, it was the stench of roadkill left in the sun, and of a similarly sunny horse stall uncleaned for a week mixed with soiled old folks home.  There wasn’t a lot of air movement in the halls, but when the air did move, Arnold almost wished it hadn’t.  Something was almost familiar about the decay, and it took a moment for Arnold’s brain to remember what it was.  It was the same smell, many more times powerful, that he smelled behind the camphor and formaldehyde at his uncle’s funeral six months ago.  His uncle, poor soul, was a bachelor and wasn’t found for a full day after he passed away.

“Son of a bitch.  ‘Flu’ my ass…” he thought, not daring yet to open his mouth.  Ahead of him, to the left, and the right, the halls were filled with…patients, if you could call them that.  Oh, a few were coughing, and fewer were lying deathly still, but the majority were alert and moving.  They were trying to walk or crawl away, insensible to the fact that they were strapped or chained to cots, or even chained to radiator pipes and door handles.  The worst were the ones chained to gurney legs because they made some progress, pathetic and circular though it may have been, because they might actually cause someone harm in the arc they were able to reach.

They were people of all shapes and sizes, but for all their differences were frighteningly similar.  They were awake but none were fully alert.  Their skins were an ashen pallor, most showing festering wounds in one or two places.  Most were slack-jawed and there wasn’t a shortage of drool on their clothes.  Some, Arnold noted (and though he didn’t need any more convincing, if he did this would be it), were missing limbs or had clawed their intestines out, but continued to ambulate as if they didn’t even notice.  But the worst of it all was their eyes.  Every last one of them, without exception, had a thick white glaze over their irises and pupils.  It looked as if they had full blinding cataracts, making sight impossible.  However, Arnold knew that when they turned their heads toward him in passing, he most definitely was seen by these eyes.  But that wasn’t the end of the fear.  Equally frightening, or possibly moreso, was the fact that Arnold could look back into these eyes and see that there wasn’t anything behind them.  If the poet was right and the eyes are the windows to the soul, these then were vacant houses indeed.

“…these are the undead!” Arnold thought.  Sloughing against the doorframe, Arnold massaged his chest with one hand, irrationally trying to slow his rapid heartbeat with his hand, while breathing through his mouth, slowly.

“Calm down, old boy, calm down,” he told his heart.  “That’s right,” he cooed to his heart as it slowed.

“Okay, then.  First things first,” he murmured to himself.  Looking down the hallway ahead of him, Arnold saw something he’d need.

Straightening up, Arnold moved down the hall directly ahead of him, as close to the plumb center of the hall as he could, and as evenly paced as possible to fool the noisome predators all around him.  Some of the zombies noticed him and feebly tried to reach him, but most did not take notice.  Reaching the mop and bucket he saw from his room doorway, Arnold grabbed the mop and pulled it away in a smooth motion.  Luckily the mop was almost dry.

“This will do, for now,” he thought.  A few paces later a thin zombie with a thin red beard and widow’s peak noticed Arnold and for no discernible reason lunged for Arnold.

“Nnrrgrrraa —!”

Moving swiftly, Arnold pulled the mop up and forward, using one arm as a fulcrum and the other to shove.  The mop caught the zombie full in the nose and mouth, pushing him back.

“Ah, shut up, you,” Arnold told it.  Reflexively, Arnold thought to himself that he was glad reality hadn’t hit him yet, and his mind then made a conscious effort to push reality away again, or else dissolve into a screaming mess who couldn’t move.

After the first couple of tries it became relatively easy for Arnold to whack tied-up zombies out of his way as he made his way down the halls.  After that, it almost became fun for Arnold.  He began to talk to the zombies that he had to deal with, adding insult to injury.

“Nice job, how much did they cost?” he asked one female zombie with big blonde hair, body rotting everywhere except her perfect, shining plasticky breasts.

“I pity the fool who gets in my way,” he told another one, a Black man who, with half his cranium gone, looked like he was sporting a Mohawk.

“And you shut up, and you, and you need to move it, and especially you, Meathead,” he called to two groaning zombies as he mopped them aside, then to one missing legs and another who reminded him of a young Rob Reiner for some reason he couldn’t put his finger on.  Then again, neither could the zombie, seeing as it no longer had any fingers.

By the time Arnold came into his fourth hall, he was feeling confident and even smiling a little.

“Piece of….cake?”  His last word trailed off, and with it, his confidence for, as he turned the corner into this new hall he saw two new zombies at the other end of the hall which were different than the others.  They were different because they were unchained.  The two zombies, both men, were once a security guard and nurse respectively, and one still clung to his taser and the other to surgical knives, even if their brains weren’t aware of that anymore.  What the zombies were aware of, however, was how hungry they were….and of Arnold.

Turning, Arnold ran for his life back down the hallway he just came from.  One quickly stolen glance over his shoulder confirmed Arnold’s worst fears: the two undead were definitely chasing him.  One saving grace from God, Arnold noticed in that split-second look, was that the zombies were able to lope along if they tried, but seemed unable to fully run.  “Must be the rigor mortis setting in,” a corner of Arnold’s brain noted to help keep his panic in check.  The security guard was in front of the nurse, “but that only stood to reason as the guard must have been more used to running in life,” noted this same cranial corner.  Arnold now used the mop as a hockey stick, shoving the tied up zombies out of his way like putrid hockey pucks.  His heart thundered against his chest.

Looking ahead, Arnold saw one of the tied-up zombies had managed to free himself of his chain (and the waist and legs that went with it) and had put himself in the center of the hall, right in Arnold’s way.  Desperate, Arnold turned the mop around to use the top of the handle like a sword and, hands midway up the shaft, he “sliced downward” while hoping that the zombie’s head was decayed enough to collapse under a hard, sharp blow.  Arnold was rewarded not only by the skull caving in but sinking the mop handle almost down to the zombie’s nose, making the former head look like a gory, miniature parting of the Red Sea, complete with the staff of Moses.  It was a moment before Arnold registered the heavy thud that told him his luckiest break, if not a true miracle, had indeed occurred behind him.  As Arnold arced the mop handle downward in front of him, the mop head behind him came up, catching the zombie security guard in the knees.  The speed with which the zombie was loping caused the mop head to push the guard back as it severed the zombie’s legs at the knees.  The legs went flying backward, and the zombie’s trunk fell straight down then fell backward on impact with the ground and mop head, landing the zombie on his back, just out of reach of Arnold.  Looking over his shoulder again, Arnold’s heart squeezed hard once then released as he appreciated what just happened.

Grabbing the closest gurney that, except for the zombie strapped firmly onto the bed, was void of other zombies, he twirled it around to block the hallway and the still pursuing orderly and then dropped to pull the gun away from the floundering security guard.

“Ha!” Arnold exclaimed as he worked the gun free, taking care to pull the index finger out of the trigger guard once he stood up again, not bothering to free the mop pinned under the legless zombie guard.  Noticing a door marked “exit” to his left, Arnold made for it.  Before he could reach it, he saw another zombie, a tall strong-looking zombie in overalls crossing the hall ahead of him.  Instantly he pushed into the nearest room to avoid detection.  Slamming the door, he waited a minute or more, and, when he was sure the zombie didn’t notice him and kept on going, breathed a sigh of relief.

“Hello,” said a voice behind him.

Arnold’s heart pounded through his ribs as he spun and nearly shot a man, a living human, who was sitting upright in a chair by the window in the room.

“Whoa, whoa, man!” the other man said, hands up like in an old Western,

“don’t shoot, I didn’t do it!”

“Oh, God!  You nearly scared the life out of me!” Arnold said.

“Yeah, guess so,” the sitting man said.  “But then again, from what I’ve seen out my window, these are crazy times.”    “Y-Yeah,” was all Arnold could say.

“I’m Mike,” the sitting man said.

“Arnold.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Mike said.  “How are things out there?”

“In-insane.  Unbelievable.  They —they’re the undead.  Zombies!  All — just all over,” Arnold replied, now shaking at the sound of what he was saying.

“Yeah,” said Mike, quietly, “I figured.”

“Well,” Arnold said, swallowing hard, “now that I’m here, do you want to come along?  With me I mean?  I’ve only got the one gun, but it can protect the both of us.”

“Afraid not, Arnold.”

“What?” Arnold said incredulously.  “Whyever not?”

“Apparently you’re not too observant,” Mike said, pointing to his wheelchair in the corner of the room.

“Oh….oh, God, I…I’m sorry, I don’t know what to do…” Arnold began.

“Oh, there’s not much to do,” Mike said in a peaceful calm.  “It’s fairly obvious.  I’ve thought it through these past few days.  You can’t take me with you.  I weigh 170.  I’m sure things are quite troubling enough for you.  I’d likely just ensure your death as I would my own if we tried it.”

“Then —then what —?” Arnold was confused.

“I had settled in to the idea of drinking enough water from the tap over there, if I could manage it.” Mike said.  “Little known but true fact: drinking too much water too fast can lead to death.  But now, my friend, I have been brought your intercession.  You have no idea how happy I am to see you,” Mike said, staring at Arnold’s gun.

Arnold finally understood.

“No…no.  It…it would be murder!”

“Not if you give the gun to me,” Mike said evenly.  “Please.”

“But…but it would still be —“

“Give me the fucking gun!” Mike screamed.  “I don’t want to die any slower than I have to, and certainly not by being eaten to death!!”

Shocked, Arnold walked over mechanically and tossed the gun into Mike’s lap.

“There,” Mike said, calmly again, “that wasn’t so hard.  I assure you, you’re doing me a merciful service.  Turn away and cover your ears, please.”     Arnold did as he was asked.

A moment later, ears ringing, Arnold picked up the gun again from where Mike had dropped it, trying not to look at the mess on the wall and window.  Still dazed, Arnold checked the hallway carefully, and quietly left the room.

* * * * * *

Making his way down the hall silently, Arnold went through the exit door he had seen earlier and came to a stairwell.  His shock wearing off, he began running down the steps.  He could tell his heart was slower now, but still faster than it should have been.  He began to pray silently as he made the second landing down.

“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven….”

On the fourth landing, Arnold chanced a door because, looking down the stairwell, he saw it terminated in dark concrete and not the exit he had hoped for.  If he had to get through the first floor, he might as well try this one, he reasoned, because who knew which floor was more vacant than others?  He couldn’t see any zombies through the door’s rectangular glass pane, and hoped that view was true.  Immediately upon walking into the fourth-floor hall, he wished he hadn’t.  What he couldn’t see through the door were the three zombies crouched on the floor, feasting on an unlucky patient.  The wet chomps, pulling noises and diffusion of blood made for a scene so horrifying, Arnold couldn’t turn from it.  Covered in the black gore of their infernal banquet was a little Japanese girl, no more than seven; a thin White man, still wearing the remains of glasses on his iris-less face, and the heavy Black nurse who spoke to Arnold that morning.  He was still praying aloud without knowing it, until he saw one of the zombies stop eating and wait…as if listening for something.

“ —Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our….death….”  Looking around quickly, Arnold noticed a  door just a few steps ahead of him, on the left side of the hallway.  Without thinking about it, he ran and ducked into the door, without even bothering to read the stenciled words on the frosted glass, just as the zombies were beginning to turn their heads towards him.

“Safe!” his mind cried out to him as, in reaction, his heart began to jackhammer, knowing it now had a moment’s rest where his body could react to the insanity around him.  Through the pain and the cold, Arnold kept sitting flush up against the inside of the door to keep quiet and to use his body as a door brace.  He kept his eyes locked on the frosted glass portion of the door, gun at the ready, for any signs of zombie shadow.  Once or twice he saw shadows pass, moving toward the stairway where the three zombies thought he was still in, and then again as they moved away and others shambled through.  Each time he saw a shadow move by his heart leapt again, causing Arnold to bite his tongue and lips lest he grunt or cry out in pain.  After a while there were no more shadows on the other side of the glass and his body finally began to relax.  His breathing became more ragged, gasping in air, as he felt his heart finally calm down.  First only a bit, then more…a bit more, a spike! in reaction to a sound, but then moving down, down..down….the……adrenaline…….line………into rest.  Slumping now, Arnold felt safe enough for a moment to even close his eyes, to both feel his resting body more and clear his mind of the horrors of the day.

Thmp!….Thmp!

Thmp! Thmp! Bam! Wham!

Arnold snapped his eyes open in shock, his pulse skyrocketing again, as he realized those noises were coming not from the hall but from inside the darkened room!  His eyes adjusted to the dusky room, he looked down the large room to see that after a few feet it was filled, on both left and right sides, with drawer after drawer of bodies.  He didn’t question the cold before now.  Arnold looked up at the frosted glass on the door and finally read the stenciled letters: EUGROM.

Morgue.

“Oh…God…” Arnold whispered.

Throwing open the door, Arnold made a mad dash across the hall to the next nearest door he could find.  In his terror, Arnold didn’t notice the floor was now empty of zombies, as he threw open the nearest door on the opposite side of the hall (not labeled with any words this time, Arnold noted) and slammed it behind him.  Miraculously, this office door had a lock on it that could be locked from the inside, something Arnold took immediate advantage of.  This time standing up against the door, heart hammering, Arnold alertly looked around this new room.  He saw it was an empty administrative office, so small it was for just one doctor.  There was a big desk on the far end of the room, a filing cabinet that stood in line with the door in the middle of the room, its side facing the door, and a coat tree diagonal the door with a few lab coats and a hat on its pegs.  Having made sure there was nothing in this room to be afraid of, Arnold gaze rested on the full-length mirror that was glued to the filing cabinet.

Arnold got a bit of a shock looking in the mirror, because for the first moment he didn’t recognize his own face.  Haggard, strained and pale with fright, Arnold took a moment to calm down again.  In those moments, his eyes were fixed on the mirror.

His legs, which carried him miles running after college when living in his first real apartment, were shaking and seemed so thin.

“So slow.  I—I’m just not fast anymore.”

His stomach, hovering over his legs like a deflated balloon, once followed up straight.  Where did all that weight come from?

“It’s just —how did —how did I let myself get this way?”  He tried to keep exercising once his career took off, but the more overtime he put in the less time he had.  That time became nothing after his kids were born.  He saw that every moment then was a nail in his coffin now.

His once-developed arms sloughed at the top before whittling down to forearms just better than padded sticks.  Those arms that had lifted so much weight in high school and now felt the weight of a simple gun.

“Weak.”

And again those jowls just now developing at his jaw taunted him again.

“Old.  ….Oh, Mary, I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry.”

How had it gone so wrong?  How did he let himself live so that he needed surgery at this age?  How did age do this to him without his seeing it?  Looking at the man who was running for his life, running slowly through the pulling tide of time and soft living, and remembering the man he had been was suddenly too much.  Slumping against the door now for support instead of defense, Arnold knew he could blame no one but himself.  His heartbeat slowed, and not from relaxation.

Arnold cleared his head suddenly and straightened up, heartbeat firm.  No time for regret now.  Now he had to get home to Mary; broken and old as he was, he still loved her, and that counted for something.  Going over to the office window, he looked out and down.  It was still a sunny day without a cloud in the sky, thankfully.  He was only three floors up (the last floor in the stairwell must have been to the basement, he thought) overlooking a small parking lot.  There was even a swathe of grass and a young tree almost directly below the window.  But he didn’t notice the tree at first, his attention taken instead by the dead man outstretched in the parking lot, disemboweled and clearly chewed on.

“Poor bastard….” Arnold thought.  His thoughts of the victim were cut off suddenly when Arnold caught a glint of sunlight at the top of the body next to a small dark shape.  Arnold’s eyes were still good enough to make out the car keys in the dead man’s hand. “Oh, please —!  Thank you, Lord Jesus, and have mercy on that man’s soul!” he thought, rapturously.  Putting the gun in the back of his waistband and taking the lab coats from the coat tree, Arnold made an impromptu rope, secured one end to the desk, after pulling the desk to the window as quietly as he could.  Making sure no one was around, Arnold shimmied down the rope, friction burning his hands and, strangely enough, halfway down the rope, flashing on the Adam West Batman show of his youth.  At the end of the lab coat rope,

Arnold had to drop about four feet to the ground.  He held his breath in preparation to let go; not so much in anticipation of the pain but to prevent him from making noise on landing and attracting any roaming undead.

With a muffled grunt, he landed on the grass.  Pulling out the gun again, Arnold ran to the dead body and snatched up the car keys.  He was seized with a moment of panic when he looked down the parking lot aisles to see it filled with cars until he remembered the car alarm remote on the keychain.  Looking around swiftly, Arnold knew he had to risk it.

Bee-boo!  Bee-boo!  Whooo-oop!  Whooo-oop!  Eegh!  Eegh! Egh! Egh!

The alarm sounded ridiculously loud in the quiet lot.  The car was only a third of the way down the aisle which was lucky for Arnold for, sure enough, the alarm also alerted two zombies to his presence; one who came up from the grass on the far side of the cars to Arnold’s right and the other between two cars on the far end of the parking lot.  Arnold ran for the car, his finger hitting the alarm button again to stop the noise lest more zombies appear to add to the two now loping directly towards him and at the two o’clock position from the grass.  Thankfully, the zombie in the grass, though closer to him, had trouble negotiating the parked cars.  Once freed of the cars it was a mere ten feet away from Arnold.  Thinking even he couldn’t miss, Arnold aimed and fired, hitting the zombie right in the head.  Recovering from the recoil and the sharp pain in his arms and shoulders, heart hammering, Arnold made it to the car and got in, slamming the door as the other zombie came into view in the car’s rearview mirror.  Painfully turning the key in the ignition, Arnold grabbed the shift and stabbed at the gas pedal, running over the second zombie in reverse.  Hitting the car directly behind him stopped Arnold’s reverse progress and, shifting once more (but not as painfully as the first time), Arnold drove for all he was worth.

Driving through town, Arnold saw that things were worse than he had first thought.  Stores were broken into, there were precious few on the streets and the people he saw were all panicked if not running away.  He didn’t know if it was the sound of the car doing that, but he didn’t think so.  Most streets were devoid of cars thankfully though he’d watched enough movies to not even bother risking the highway or even the main roads like Route 926.  Firmly sticking to town roads and side streets he made it home and only had to drive on the grass three or four times to get around abandoned cars.  He turned on to his street slowly, to lower the noise and also to search the area well for any random zombies.  Seeing a clear path all the way to his house, he accelerated quickly and made a fast turn into his drive and cut the engine.  Finally being home sent his heart leaping into his throat with relief and love that he had made it, and fear that he had a house to come home to, but no longer a home.  He sat listening a moment through the slightly opened windows, heard nothing, and cautiously got out.

He went up to the front door and tried the knob.  Thankfully it was still locked.  He saw the windows were boarded up and was about to open the door with his keys until he thought to check the back door as well.  No use in making it all this way just to walk in and be taken down by zombies in his living room who came through the back door.

As quietly and quickly as he could, he circled his house and up the three deck steps.  Crossing lightly lest there be a zombie under the deck (though even he thought he was being a bit paranoid now) he gently tried the back door.  Also locked.  Confidently opening the door, he stepped inside.  Not wanting to call out to his wife above speaking voice in fear of attracting attention, Arnold walked through every room.  The house was deserted.  He stopped the cold feeling in his mind by reminding himself of his own directions to Mary to get into the storm shelter.  Leaving the house after packing a briefcase, and taking care to lock the door, Arnold made it to the storm doors in the back yard unnoticed.  He tried twice to open the doors unsuccessfully and then, looking around nervously and licking his suddenly dry lips, he knew he had to call out to her.

“Mary!  Open up!  It’s me!”

A scrabbling sound followed by clicks and a dragging of chains inside alerted Arnold to stand back so his wife (or whoever was in there) could open the doors.  The doors flew open and Arnold’s heart almost stopped in relief to see his wife standing inside.

“Oh, Arnie!” she said as she began to cry.

Arnold came in quickly and resecured the door.  Then turning to his wife, he looked at her, just to see her again.  Her small lensed glasses were crooked on her face and she had a mark near her ear.  Her bun hairdo was disheveled but still loosely intact.  She was his age but not overweight at all due to her (to him) superior genetic make-up.  But at the moment she looked wan and on the edge of nervous exhaustion.

“Oh, I thought —I thought —” she began, crying again.

“There, there, everything’s okay.  I’m too stubborn to kill,” he said, taking her in his arms.  He knew then that no matter what happened outside, everything would be all right.

“You didn’t have the surgery?” she said dazedly after calming down.

“No.  Didn’t have the time, all of the zombies were ushered in first as patients,” he told her.  “Good thing too, in retrospect.  I mean, it would have been harder to run wheeling a couple of IVs and all,” he said with a tired smile.

“Did you meet anyone else?  Is the tide turning?” she asked.  Arnold stayed silent.

“But then…what if…” she said, almost crying again.

“Hey,” he mildly rebuked, “no ‘what if’.  I really think that takes a back seat to what’s going on out there.  We have to think in terms of tomorrow, day by day, not in terms of a ‘what if’.  We have three months’ food here, right?”  She nodded.  “But even if it does,” he continued, “then it does.  But even if so,” he continued opening the briefcase and showing her all of the medication and poisons he could find in the house, “I’ve already gotten it taken care of.”

* * * * * *

The snow in the Willis’ back yard was untouched.  Covering the ground in a smooth blanket, it seemed to wash away the horror of the summer months in cool sterility and enveloping silence.  Then, slowly, a rhythmic crunching was heard.  As it drew closer, three zombies entered the back yard, foraging for food and scarring the snow with each shaky step.  One zombie turned his head as he caught a scent.  It sniffed once, twice.

“Uuurrrr….” it called, catching the scent of food, bloody saliva dripping from its shredded mouth.  It slowly veered its shambling path to the right to get to the storm doors jutting out from the ground.  The other two followed the first.

The first one began banging on the doors, shaking the snow off in the effort.  Then the other two zombies joined in the assault, having also caught the scent until, after two hours’ work, they had punched in the doors completely, and the left side door fell off the hinge with an icy crack and shriek of metal.  The second zombie half-fell, half-climbed in followed by the others.

“Grraaa!”

Inside the storm cellar, a single bare bulb still burned.  The monsters saw two figures lying in the bed at the rear of the shelter, arms wrapped around each other for warmth.  The first zombie licked its teeth in anticipation, its lips having rotted away completely long ago.  Pushing the second zombie out of the way, he moved forward to be the first to feast on the prize it had discovered.  But, moving forward, its face fell, it’s hollow, iris-less eyes showing the despair of hunger unsatiated.   It sniffed again, for confirmation.  The other two did the same, and similar expressions of disappointment crossed their hellish faces.

Arnold and Mary lie there on a pile of bedding, pillows lining the crease where the two cots they pushed together met.  Wrapped in each other’s arms, they were peaceful in death, not even rotted much due to the cold, empty ration tins and pill bottles strewn everywhere.  But the monsters could now smell the poison that flooded the carcasses, something they couldn’t smell before.  With rage and what could be called sadness to the hungry beasts, they turned and shuffled away.

Rating: 9.50/10. From 4 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Liam Webb
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Liam Webb


Publisher's Notes: N/A

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