📅 Published on October 26, 2021


Written by Ashley Fontainne
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on 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


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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Chapter 1: Costly Mistakes

Saturday, December 27th – 5:45 a.m. – Rural Arkansas

Confusion swirled inside his mind while trying to open his eyes. The lids were stuck. Did he drink too much after work? Take a tumble down the front steps? He didn’t remember having any beers or shots of tequila so why the hell was he so sore?

Licking dry lips, he winced at the bitter taste. Copper. When did he bite his tongue? Why was he so disoriented?

A noise caught his attention.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

A weird moan startled him. It was too low and deep to be Collette. Maybe she caught a cold at the hospital? Snuck into bed to surprise him after her shift ended? Perhaps that’s why he was so sore. Did he spend the night bumping and grinding while half asleep and didn’t remember any of it?

What was the awful smell?


No response.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Eyes finally open, it took several seconds to adjust to the surrounding darkness.

He wasn’t at home in bed.

Collette wasn’t beside him.

He was upside down, tethered by the seatbelt cutting into his lap. Early streaks of the sun touched the remaining dark edges of the morning. Blood dripped from his chin in a steady stream.

The disgusting odor rose from the dead body inches away from his own.

A rush of memories flooded his mind.

 Vehicles clogging the roads; accidents; smoke, fires; glass, metal, and red—gobs and gobs of red—covering the ground. Hundreds of people screaming as they fled from things that simply could not be.

Collette whimpering while he dodged the bodies of the dead and the reanimated.

The bombs.

The destruction.

Mass chaos.

He puked, covering the ruined face of the corpse below him in a wet splash of hot gastric juices.

Panic tore through his chest. He tried hanging onto the suicide handle with his left arm, but his body weight was too much. Landing on top of her, instantly contacting the coagulated blood and hot vomit, he scrambled out of the busted driver’s window.

I touched her blood! Not good! The infection spreads through bodily fluids, too.

Despite the chilly air, he flung the coat onto the pavement.

Better to be chilly than a walking corpse.

Blood dripped into his eyes. Touching his forehead, he winced: a gash several inches long started in the hairline, spreading all the way down to the eyebrow. He needed something to use as cover before the scent of fresh, live blood cells alerted any dead lurking around.

Bending down, he looked through the broken glass into the interior of the SUV. A hint of blue and pink rested next to the dead woman’s outstretched hand.

His mouth went dry while recalling how it got inside the vehicle.

Collette, where the hell are you?

Flattening himself on the ground, he stretched his arm to its limit. Bile rose in the back of his throat. Ignoring the wave of disgust, he latched onto the soft material of the baby blanket, yanking it free.

No blood. Thank God.

After fastening it around his head, he snatched the Canik and holster, securing the gun onto his waistband. Looking around, he stiffened. No other vehicles; no corpses shambling about on reanimated, dead legs. He wanted to scream; kick; throw an epic fit; release the overwhelming sense of terror worming through his brain.

He knew better. Remaining quiet so they didn’t hear him was a must.

Calm down and think. What did we…oh, yes, the chick and the kid.

The memories of the young woman holding a toddler no older than sixteen months as she climbed into the back seat made his guts rumble.

Renee Cramer.

She’d run out of gas and had been walking for hours in the middle of the road, heading toward the nearest town to seek shelter and food.

Where was the child?


Why had Renee turned? Collette had gone over every inch of both mother and child, making sure there were no wounds.

Think, idiot. Think. What happened next? It’s crucial.

Renee downing an entire bottle of water; nursing the tyke; the smell of a dirty diaper; sounds of sniffling from the backseat.

He’d assumed she’d been crying.

The weird mewling noises.

Taking his gaze away from the road for a split second.

Collette’s piercing screams as he lost control and the vehicle went airborne.

Then, nothing but quiet darkness until a few minutes ago.

Studying her face, he noticed one shot above the left eye. Boom; splat. Brain shredded, body dead.

He checked the Canik: Full magazine. Collette or someone else put Renee down after the accident while he’d been out cold.

There was nothing around but woods and a two-lane road. No houses; no signs of life. He ruled out someone else putting a bullet into Renee’s head. It had to have been Collette.

Where are you, woman?

The SUV was toast. Walking over to the passenger side, he noted streaks of sticky blood covering the seat. The backpacks were still inside, each stuffed with food, water, extra ammo, batteries, and other essentials. He grabbed both. Removing a flashlight, he scanned the interior and around the outside of the door.

A piece of oddly shaped flesh on the ground about two feet away made his heart pound.

It was an earlobe.

He felt both ears, thrilled they were still intact.

Glancing back at Renee’s corpse, his guts knotted.

She still had both.

Oh, God. Is it Collette’s?

Acid burned up his esophagus. He had two choices: Venture out on foot or stay put and wait.

Hovering near the edge of a full meltdown, the words spoken to Collette during an argument when their first vehicle died and he procured another by deadly force, haunted him. The last interactions with Collette whizzed by in a blur.

Fleeing in the car after their hometown turned into a scene straight from an apocalyptic blockbuster, driving past strangers, friends, and neighbors, all screaming for help.

Collette’s grasp on sanity had snapped quickly. “Kevin! Stop! I can help them.”

“No way. Too dangerous. If I slow down, we’ll get swarmed!”

“How can you just turn a blind eye to their suffering? It’s wrong.”

“You’re stuck in the old world, not the new, horrible one. It’s us against everyone now. You help no one except me. I promise to do the same.”

She’d clammed up, crying softly for what seemed like hours.

Then their car died, and he killed a terrified couple changing a flat nearby and stole their SUV.

“Oh my God, Kevin…what have you done?”

“Stop crying. They were infected. Yeah, I shot them, but now they won’t be trapped inside a rotting corpse. I won’t let anything stop me until I get to my parents. If I end up walking, so be it. Your choices are simple: ride with me or die alone.”

Collette finally agreed and insisted on driving because he couldn’t stop shaking. His gut instincts said no, but his exhausted, broken mind agreed.

Big mistake.


While he slept, they came upon Renee and the kid. He woke up just as Collette pulled over.

He flipped out.

Collette stood firm. She’d opened the door, hand resting on the grip of the pistol on her hip. “I’m not leaving a child. Period. If you try and take off, I’ll shoot out the tires. Your turn to drive. I don’t trust you having both hands free.”

Now, her reckless decision left him standing in the middle of an empty road, alone and terrified, in a world gone mad.

The absence of any sounds of humanity was terrifying. No distant highway traffic; no voices; no radio or TV chatter; no hum from the electrical wires above his head.

Dead quiet.

Did the government destroy everything the walking corpses didn’t all over the United States, just as they’d done in Arkansas? The world?

Was the quest to find his parents foolhardy? Yes, but there was nothing he could do to change the decision.

Stay put or move. Should I wait in case Collette returns?

Anger ignited inside his gut. She left him alone inside the SUV. The nurse who claimed undying love and devotion didn’t even bind his wounds. All she cared about was some stupid kid she didn’t know, leaving him alone and unconscious with a dead woman inside a wrecked vehicle.

Anger won out—he’d move.

He wouldn’t wait around to see if she returned. She was on her own from yet another choice she made, not him.

Slinging the packs over each shoulder, he followed the faint yellow lines in the middle of the road. A green sign ahead confirmed he was on Highway 14, and Ridgedale, Missouri, was twenty-five miles away.

Dread thrummed in the back corners of his mind. He hoped Ridgedale was safe, but if full of rotting, hungry corpses, he’d steal a car or truck and keep going.

Bearings back in full swing, he picked up the pace. He could do this. His elderly parents needed him to remain strong. Images of them huddled in the basement of their house, terrified and hungry, urged him to put one foot in front of the other.

The rising sun provided enough light to keep an eye out for the dead. He grabbed a bottle of water and protein bar from one of the packs. After the third bite, a weird noise set his nerves on edge.

Swallowing the last mouthful, he scanned the area. Something red caught his gaze. He didn’t need to investigate.

It was blood.

Globs of still-steaming crimson.

Unholstering the Canik, he tried recalling all the training he’d taken over the years yet drew a blank. Spiking adrenaline levels, and the chilly air, made his arms shake.

The road curved left and up a small incline. Following the noise and trail of crimson, he steadied himself to take down what he’d secretly nicknamed “mad munchers.”

Topping the incline, he spotted a child’s shoe.

Oh, shit.

Less than ten yards away was a lump near the edge of the road.

He recognized the jacket and mounds of auburn curls.

Warm tears rolled down his cold cheeks.

Please be okay. Please don’t be a corpse. Please don’t make me have to kill again.

Her right arm was bent at an unnatural angle and turned in the wrong direction. Maintaining a good five feet of space between them, he stepped around to the front of Collette’s body.

A pitiful gasp burst from deep inside his soul. The horrid, ungodly mess seared a hole clean through the remaining thin tendril of sanity.

He didn’t take time to determine which gnawed on the other. The mass of gore and blood between them was indistinguishable.


Unhinged, he fired, and continued firing, until both reanimated heads were destroyed.

Crumpling to the ground, he threw up. He’d seen some crazy shit during the past weeks, but nothing as foul or disturbing. In that split second of time, he knew why Collette left.

She did care.

The toddler had been infected so she whisked the kid away.

Sweet Collette turned into a monster so Kevin could survive.

Crawling away on all fours, he curled up into a ball and sobbed. This is the end. Heart and soul—shattered. I’m all alone. I hope Mom and Dad are already dead. Not reanimated. Dead. They don’t need to live in this nightmare. I don’t either.

Fingers trembling, he raised the gun, ready to wipe away the horrors with one burst of hot lead. The barrel was warm as he placed it in his mouth, faintly registering the sound of a vehicle.

He pulled the trigger.


I’m out of ammo? Fuck you, Murphy, and your annoying law. I’ll win. I have more. Just need to reload.

“Hey, mister, put the gun down. Don’t let your life end on the side of the road by your own hands when salvation’s mere feet away.”

“Are you real or a figment of my broken mind?”

“You know, for a second, I wondered the same thing.” The man chuckled. “Guess we both have an answer. Am I real? Yes. You look hungry, tired, and at the end of a dangerous rope. I’ve got a place nearby. Don’t give up now. You’ll feel better after I patch up the wound.”

Hanging his head in shame, Kevin whispered. “I can’t…I won’t…the images of things I’ve seen and done….no, I can’t handle it.”

Gravel crunched.

A warm hand touched his shoulder.

“Memories fade over time. Let’s get off this road before the unfortunates are drawn to the sound of the car or us jabbering.”

Mentally drained, Kevin allowed the stranger to guide him. They walked over to a beat-up Chevy idling in the middle of the road. “What’s your name?”

“Jordan. Yours?”

“Kevin.” Once inside the warm interior he waited for his rescuer to slip behind the wheel. “Why do you call them unfortunates?”

“That’s what they are—unfortunate, reanimated shells. I think the term is much better than zombies. What could be more unfortunate than the Devil controlling your body and you’re helpless to do a thing about it?”

Staring out the window, Kevin sighed. “Those of us still alive are too—unfortunates witnessing the end of all we know.”

Chapter 2: Uncertain Future

Saturday, December 27th – 7:15 a.m. – Rural Arkansas

“After what little I saw back there, I’m sure you’ve got quite a story to tell. I’m a good listener.”

Refusing to look into the man’s luminous brown eyes, Kevin focused on the surroundings. Stained, peeling wallpaper; cheap laminate flooring; fancy coffee pot on the counter; ancient appliances. Overturned, empty boxes of sugary cereal littered the dirty tile, and a lone, frilly pink sock crushed into a tight ball next to his foot.

The only bright spot in the house was pictures of two smiling children on the refrigerator. Both kids had adorable oval faces with mounds of thick, curly, brown hair and large, sable-colored eyes.

A large patch of dark burgundy near the front door, along with handprints smeared on the walls, made his stomach roil. “Whose house is this?”

“This was my sister’s place.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“Don’t be. You didn’t know.”

“It feels weird to be inside someone’s place without their permission.”

“Anything is better than being outside in the cold battling unfortunates.”

A roach slithered across the toe of his boot. Kevin scowled. “The nightmare doesn’t end behind closed doors. It’s just a brief reprieve from the inevitable.”

“I disagree.” Jordan produced a first-aid kit. “It’s cold in here yet warmer than outside. Plus, the unfortunates haven’t recalled how to open doors or windows. Not that there are many around here since we’re in such a rural area, but when more head this direction as their food source dwindles, we’ll be somewhat safe. I think.”

Eyeing the wood-burning fireplace, small stack of logs, and old newspapers, Kevin offered, “I’ll start a fire.”

“No. The dead can see well enough to give chase, so it’s not too much of a stretch to think they can smell. Woah, that don’t sound right—the dead smelling and seeing. Saying that out loud makes me sound nuts.”

“Oh, I didn’t think about the smoke beckoning the dead. Sorry. My brain’s kinda on the fritz.”

After setting the first aid kit on the dining table, Jordan removed the blanket. “Once I patch you up and you eat, your brain will settle down. Hold still. This’ll sting. Nasty gash you’ve got there. Was that upside down red SUV yours?”

“Yeah. Smacked my head either on the steering wheel or windshield. Not exactly sure which.”

“Good that it ain’t a bite. This wound will heal.”

Silence fell between them while Jordan cleaned out the dirt and debris. Kevin zoned out.

Jordan cleared his throat. “George and Rita Greening.”


“My sister and brother-in-law. Kyle and Kayla were their children. Kids were straight-A students. They made the fourth-grade honor roll. We were so proud of them. George and I owned a restaurant in Ridgedale. Rita taught kindergarten.”

“Did they follow the government’s edict and go to the local school?”

“No. They didn’t leave.” Jordan nodded toward the back window.

Kevin stood, peering out to the yard. An empty swing set surrounded by a large sandbox; small concrete patio with a barbeque grill; outdoor table and chairs. A tall, wooden privacy fence encircled two acres of land. A doghouse designed to look like a replica of the main house sat, empty, under a pine tree in the far corner.

Tamped down dirt marked with what looked like unpainted spindles from a picket fence. He mentally counted five.

His throat locked up: they were graves.

Looking away, Kevin watched Jordan open a can of beans. “There’s too many to be just the Greenings.”


The thought of putting anything into his mouth made his guts rumble. He sat, ignoring the food, waiting for Jordan to continue.

He jumped when the pitiful howl of a dog filled the house.

Jordan stiffened.

“What’s wrong?” Kevin asked.

“Nothing. Just making sure the wail came from the snout of a living dog and not a hellhound.”

If Jordan just alluded to the fact animals turned too, Kevin’s brain would explode. “Sounds to me like I need to be the one listening to you talk, and not the other way around.”

“Yeah, guess I do. We realized things were getting worse, so me and the missus packed up what we could and headed here. I’m not a mechanic, so I can’t tell you what happened to our minivan. All I know for sure is it died. We argued about the best course of action. I wanted to grab what we could carry and make the rest of the trek here on foot; Claire wanted to stay put. She was so scared, and so was I. Instead of showing kindness, I snapped at her. The racket we made attracted unwanted attention.”

“Oh no.”

“Claire had stage 4 breast cancer. Found out two days before all this. The doctor told us she had maybe two months, but I think all the stress of what happened accelerated the illness. While I was outside peeking underneath the hood, she took her final breath. I didn’t know she’d passed on because I was busy fighting off three unfortunates that popped outta the woods. Once I got back inside and found her, I, umm, not sure what to call it. Went catatonic, I guess. Losing my precious wife, physically exhausted from the fight, sickened by all the blood, dealing with the fact I killed things once humans, short-circuited my brain. When George knocked on the glass, I thought my heart would explode.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your wife. Truly. So many lives lost in such a short blip of time. I can’t wrap my head around all this tragedy. We’re living in the worst movie—ever.”

Swiping at a lone tear, Jordan nodded. “George helped me carry Claire’s body here. They didn’t follow the government’s edict to head to the local school for shelter when things went south. They hid in the basement. George said the government never told the truth in the past when things were normal, so he doubted they’d switch gears in the middle of a worldwide crisis.”

“That assumption was right on target for sure.”

“We were planning a trip to Ridgedale to scavenge for supplies to add to what they already had stashed.”

Cocking his head in curiosity, hoping the comment meant he’d stumbled upon a residence packed with survival gear, Kevin ventured, “Sounds like they were preppers. Any firearms? Ammo? Gas? Food?”

“No, they weren’t preppers…just diligent about being ready for natural disasters. George grew up in Kansas and experienced numerous tornados when younger. I already checked the basement—no guns of any sort. There’s about one month’s worth of canned goods, extra clothing, bottled water, a gas-powered generator and other such things, though.”

“There’s a generator? Why in the world ain’t you using it? No gas?”

“There’s gas, yes. Not a lot, but enough to last a few weeks. The way I figured, if cold, I could always bundle up. In the dog days of summer, even walking around naked don’t help to keep cool. Saving the gas for air conditioning in the summer won out.”

Kevin pushed the cold beans around in the Styrofoam bowl, thinking about his parents. “Me and my gal, Collette, were on a foolhardy quest to play heroes to my parents in Hawthorneville. Ain’t such an easy undertaking like in the movies or TV. All it took was one wrong decision to help a stranger. It was a stupid, stupid mistake.”

“What happened?”

“We ran across a woman and kid. Collette insisted we help. Things didn’t end well. It was utter chaos.”

“I certainly understand chaos. I think everyone still alive does. Surviving another day means hands and hearts get sullied up. To continue on another day, I’ve done things I never dreamed possible.”

Thinking nothing could come close to what he’d experienced, Kevin asked, “Such as?”

“Buster, the family dog, turned into a rabid, frothy-mouthed beast. He bit all four of my loved ones before I shoved a blade into his skull. George helped me carry his corpse outside and we buried him near Claire. Rita stayed inside to patch up the wounds on the kids. Less than fifteen minutes later, I shot everyone in the head. Buster’s saliva infected them.”

“Son-of-a-bitch, you did mean that earlier—the disease crossed species?”


“I’m sorry you had to go through such a thing. Trust me, I know that pain.”

They exchanged commiserating glances.

Jordan took a deep breath. “Enough bad news. I suggest we try to get some rest before darkness falls. Nighttime is when we need to be vigilant. This area is rural and full of animals, er, well, what used to be animals. I ain’t rightly sure what to call them now.”

“Shit.” Kevin’s stomach dropped. “I can’t believe it. Are you sure that’s what happened? Maybe the dog had rabies?”

“Positive.” Jordan picked up a kerosene lantern from the coffee table. “Let’s discuss it later tonight while we struggle to keep our eyes open. We’re gonna be on permanent night shift. I don’t sleep up here. There are four cots in the basement. Grab a blanket and follow me.”

Kevin tried yet couldn’t find an appropriate response. Instead, he nodded in solemn agreement, hoping sleep would take his mind to happier times, giving his brain a rest from soul-crushing reality.

* * * * * *

Once inside the basement, Jordan lit several candles. Kevin used the time to visually inspect the area, stunned at the vast amount of emergency supplies. The worry over food, shelter, and water was gone—at least temporarily.

Eyeing several cases of Michelob beer discretely hidden in the far corner, he smiled. Next to them were six cartons of Marlboro Reds. He’d given up the nasty habit three years prior, yet just seeing the unopened packs made the old urge burst from his chest.

“Well, I’ll be damned.” Kevin grabbed a beer and pack of smokes. Extracting a slender cigarette, he held it under his nose. “Any chance you’ve seen a lighter or matches?”

Jordan produced one from his pocket, along with a half-empty pack of smokes. He lit up before passing the disposable lighter. “Like I said before, the Lord is watching out for me. He knew I couldn’t make it through this mess without my one vice—nicotine.”

Kevin took a huge puff, coughed, and then a long pull of beer. “Even saints become sinners in the apocalypse.”

Jordan settled into the makeshift bed. “Ain’t one of us in this world perfect. Besides, what’s the worst that can happen? Lung cancer? Stroke or heart attack? Enjoy the last ties to the old world…but not too fast. We gotta make the stash last. No telling how long it will be before we find more, if we find any at all. Ain’t like more’s gonna get made.”

Kevin nodded. Though his head throbbed, and his stomach felt as though he’d dumped a gallon of bleach down his gullet, the nicotine pulsing through his system helped. For now, he’d embrace the companionship and creature comforts of someone else’s home. But, if things continued to slide downhill, he had no qualms about blowing his head off.

None at all.

He’d enjoy being alive—at least until they ran out of beer and cigarettes.

Or bullets.

Chapter 3: Decisions in the Dark

Sunday, December 28th – 9:45 p.m.  – Arkansas

Kevin shifted positions, hoping to ease the stiffness in his back and legs. The pleasant buzz from the beers he’d consumed earlier was gone. He regretted eating the leftover beans. A full stomach negated the effects of alcohol.

They’d been upstairs for close to an hour, both bundled up in blankets and fresh sweats from the basement. Thankfully, George Greening was close to his size.

They hadn’t seen or heard a thing since coming upstairs, nor had they spoken a word to each other.

Kevin watched while Jordan performed strange stretching exercises by the light of the lone lantern. Some of the moves looked painful. Others were executed so fluidly they were beautiful. When Jordan finished the odd routine, he settled onto the couch, crouching like a silent cat ready to pounce.

Kevin cleared his throat. “I never woulda made it as a cop.”


“You know, sitting in a parked car waiting for bad guys to show up? Didn’t you ever watch any cop shows on TV?”

“Never had much use for what was offered as entertainment. Music and books are my jam.”

“I couldn’t do it—handle working a stakeout. Can’t keep still or quiet long enough. Add in being stuck inside a car for hours and I’d go nuts.”

“I feel ya.”

Kevin noticed the tremble in Jordan’s legs. “You did that while sleeping, too. Is that why you did all those funky moves?”

Jordan rolled his eyes “It’s called Tai Chi.”

“Is that some kind of martial art?”

“Yes. It’s an ancient Chinese way of helping with stress and anxiety. Some people call it meditation in motion.”

“Does it work?”

“Back in the old world, yes. Well, sometimes. It depended on why I was upset. The techniques worked fine for mundane, normal frustrations. Doesn’t do jack squat for major life events like the death of my wife, so it can’t touch an invasion of unfortunates. I’m doing it now more for keeping my body limber and in shape. Ain’t no gyms around. Gotta remain alert and ready for whatever comes next.”

“Running has always been my way of dealing with stress. I sure don’t plan on hitting the pavement unless fleeing the dead. My other favorite anxiety killer is in cans downstairs.”

“Best watch yourself. Fighting for your life will be difficult if inebriated. You might shoot and miss the target, which is a sure-fire death sentence these days.”

Kevin scowled.

“When Claire and I first got married, she complained about my shaky legs. Said it felt like a monster underneath the bed. I told her it was my way of rocking her to sleep. She said it drove her mad. Lord, how we argued about it those first years of marriage. She threatened to leave me a couple of times. I went to the doctor and found out I had restless leg syndrome. Started taking medication for it. Of course, I’m out of pills now, but she ain’t here to complain. Guess it’s a wash.”

Kevin raised an eyebrow. “Seems a bit harsh for something you can’t control. Leaving, I mean.”

“I don’t believe there was ever any real danger of divorce, but then again, who knows the mind of a sleep-deprived woman?”

Recalling how grouchy Collette would get when exhausted, Kevin chuckled. “No doubt.”

“It was just Claire’s way of getting me to see her point of view. She had a way with words. She could wield them like a sword, cutting deep with their harshness, or they’d be so sugary sweet you risked a diabetic coma. Lord, I miss her.”

“I used to regret not getting married but just couldn’t seem to make that kind of commitment to a woman, not even Collette.”

“Are you ready to tell me what happened to her?”

“No.” Kevin stiffened.  “What little I shared is enough. I don’t ever want to talk about the intimate details.”

“Understandable. Some things inside a man’s heart need to be left untouched.”

Kevin’s stomach gurgled. It was time to switch topics. “I noticed you brought bags upstairs earlier. Is that why you’ve been so quiet? Trying to find a nice way to tell me bye?”

Jordan stared out into the dark night for several minutes, legs bouncing faster. “We should never go anywhere without the bags. Safety precaution in case we need to bolt in a hurry.”

“At least one of us is a planner. My lack of thinking ahead irritated the fire out of Collette.”

“I wonder how many people survived. I’ve been holed up here, so I don’t know what it’s like in populated areas.”

“Based on what little signs of humanity we passed, the whole state’s one big ghost town. Probably the entire U.S. The government came in hot, guns blazing, bombs bursting. I hate to say it out loud, but I have serious doubts my parents are alive. The urge to find them isn’t as strong. Guess I’ve given up hope.”

“Never give up hope, Kevin. Without it, you’ll resort to doing something foolish like sticking a gun into your mouth. Next time you might have a bullet in the chamber.”

Kevin scowled. “Nice.”

“The last bit I heard on the news before everything went dark was something about a new, flu-like virus. You hear anything different?”

“Yeah. Collette was an ER nurse. She quit right in the middle of a shift, came home, and rambled on about some strange experiment by the government.”

“Say what?” Jordan gasped.

“Yep. The doctor used the word fungal. Bodies need to be burned, not buried. The disease can seep into the ground unless nothing but ashes. Burning a corpse is the only way to make sure it can’t contaminate anything else. She never got to the part about the government’s involvement because we had to flee. How this disaster happened doesn’t matter. It happened. Now, we deal with the fallout.”

Jordan stiffened while glancing over his shoulder toward the backyard. “Oh no. Guess a garden’s out. We’ll need to find an area that’s far enough away from the backyard but not too far from the house. Lord-a-mercy. What a nightmare.”

“I wish it was a nightmare because at some point, we’d wake up.”

“Did your girlfriend share anything else I need to know about? You know, something like we’re all infected and ticking time bombs?”

“No, we aren’t all harboring the infection. I do, uh, need to ask you a question. Please, don’t take offense.”


“Do you…uh…use drugs?”

Jordan frowned. “You automatically assume that because I’m black, I use illegal drugs? Wow.”

“No, it’s not that.” Heat flushed Kevin’s cheeks. “Please, I may be a pasty-faced white boy, but there ain’t a prejudice bone in my body. I swear. I told you not to take offense. It’s just…well…Collette shared one more thing. I don’t understand the medical jargon, but the gist is drugs were somehow contaminated with an unknown fungal infection. When mixed together and introduced into the body, the person dies, and the fungus somehow reanimates them. That’s why this mess spread so fast.”

Jordan’s eyes bugged out. “I don’t believe it. How in the…how could the doctor…how does he know for sure drugs caused all this?”

“The doctor took Collette to the hospital morgue. Showed her an autopsy of a patient she worked on who overdosed on heroin hours earlier. She said instead of a brain, the man’s skull housed all these weird blue noodle-type things—like someone took the tendrils of a jellyfish and stuffed them inside. Apparently, that’s why the skin of those infected looks like a road map. The fungus controls the body through all these funky noodles, breaking down the pieces of its host for food, which is why the dead keep eating and never stop.”

“Mother-fucking shitballs.”

Kevin burst out laughing so hard he farted.

“Are you seriously laughing at me? What about this amuses you?”

“I’m sorry, that’s an expression I’ve never heard yet fits this situation perfectly.”

“I, uh, need some time to comprehend all this and to answer the call of nature. Excuse me.”

Seconds later, Kevin heard him puke.

* * * * * *

Jordan returned, resuming his position on the couch. The two sat lost in their thoughts while staring out the window. Silvery beams of moonlight licked the top of the trees, filtering through to the expansive front yard. It was a beautiful winter’s night, yet Kevin couldn’t seem to enjoy the scenery. A heavy sense of unease made his skin prickle.

Besides the obvious, something else was wrong. It was like the view in front of him was a painting in a museum.

We’re in the sticks, and there ain’t bug one chirping. That’s it! Why is it so damned quiet?

Several minutes later, the silence was interrupted by a low, guttural chuffing noise.

The hairs on Kevin’s body shot up. “Did you hear that?”

Jordan nodded once, lips twitching.

More growls pierced the quiet evening. Moonbeams cast eerie shadows over the front yard. A few of the shadows moved. Three distinct, black shapes appeared, ambling toward the house.

“Dear Jesus, God in Heaven!” Jordan whispered. “Are those…bears?”

“Yep, but that don’t make any sense. Why aren’t they hibernating?”

Jordan sprinted toward bags in the corner. “I don’t plan on asking them why they ain’t in their dens. Do you?”

“What are you doing?”

“If those things woke up because they caught a whiff of us or the bodies out back, that thin glass and door ain’t gonna keep them from busting in. We need to get to the car. Now.”

The eerie grunts drew closer. Kevin glanced back out the window. The bears were less than fifteen yards away. “We could wait them out downstairs.”

“I ain’t gonna be trapped inside a basement while they stomp around above my head. No way.”

Kevin backed away from the window with slow, calculated steps. “Yeah, I don’t want to end up as what they shit in the woods. Where’s the car key?”

“In my pocket. Move.”

Hesitating for a brief second, Kevin wondered if the decision to leave the safety of the house was the right one. The doubts disappeared the second three sets of thick claws clacked across the porch steps, followed by the scariest chuffing-grunting sound he’d ever heard.

The glass cracked when a set of enormous paws pounded on them.

Kevin’s brain and body froze at the sight.

The bears snuffed and snorted, mouths agape, blood and orange-colored foam dripping from their jowls.

It was below freezing outside, yet no steam exited their muzzles, nor did their chests move from intakes of breath. “Holy shit…they’re dead!”

Jordan scrambled out the side door to the garage. The sound yanked Kevin from his stunned funk. Turning, he sprinted to catch up.

* * * * * *

Once inside the car, Jordan fumbled with the key. On the second try, the engine roared to life. Throwing it into reverse, he tromped on the gas. The old Chevy’s tire squalled as the heavy metal car burst through the garage door.

Jordan tore through the dry grass of the Greenings’ front yard. In seconds, they were back on Highway 14.

To settle his nerves as they wound their way through the curvy road, Kevin reached over, flicking on the radio out of habit. The dead static made his skin crawl.

“Surely you weren’t expecting to hear anything?” Jordan’s voice was tinged with bitterness.

“Old habits die hard.” Pilfering through the bag until latching onto a flashlight, Kevin clicked it on, scanning the interior. A black plastic box rested at his feet. After opening it, he smiled. “Well how about that? I wonder if they work?”

“Hallelujah! Some tunes!”

Kevin popped in the homemade cassette, curious as to which genre of music the Greenings liked to listen to, hoping it wasn’t rap. To his surprise, Sam & Dave’s “Hold On I’m Comin’” blared through the speakers.

Jordan beamed with excitement as his fingers tapped in time on the steering wheel. “Now that’s music!”

Kevin settled back in the worn seat, worries temporarily vanishing as they belted out the chorus.

* * * * * *

The car suddenly stopped.

“What’s wrong?” Kevin’s arms braced against the dashboard.

“We’ve got a problem.”

Raking a hand across his face, Kevin blinked twice while looking out through the dirty windshield. The road was blocked by at least ten vehicles mangled together about thirty yards away. “I don’t see anything moving.”

Jordan turned on the high beams, pointing left. He rolled down the window a crack. “Look closer. There’s somebody trapped underneath the tire of that silver SUV.”

“Shit. I can’t tell from here whether they’re alive or reanimated. Can you?”

“Do you hear that?” Jordan cocked his head. “Someone’s begging for help. Dead people don’t beg.”

“It doesn’t matter. There’s another car damn near on top of the SUV. Even with two jacks, we can’t move both vehicles. Even if we could, then what? We can’t cart them to a hospital. They’re on borrowed time.”

“That’s someone’s kin.”

“Collette decided we should play heroes. Worst decision ever. I ain’t doing it again.”

“Fine. I will.” Jordan rummaged around underneath the seat, extracting a bottle of water. “It’s not right to leave someone in misery. I wouldn’t want my loved one to be all alone during his or her last moments on earth.”


Jordan bolted out the door, holding an old revolver in front of him with one hand, the other clutching the water, legs pumping at full speed.

“I’ll be damned but the man’s got balls of steel. No, a brain full of rocks!”

Looking over at the empty driver’s seat, he contemplated sliding behind the wheel. Jordan was a stubborn fool—foolishness would end up getting him killed.

The selfish thought disappeared as Kevin studied Jordan’s interactions with the injured person. He offered a drink of water; touched the face with care. It took him a few seconds to realize Jordan laid hands on the forehead, gun resting at his feet, mouth moving a mile a minute.

“Now’s not the time for praying you fool!” Kevin grumbled while exiting the car. Several small snowflakes tickled his face and eyelashes.

Stopping inches away from the duo, he scanned the scene. It was full of broken glass, mangled metal, and streaks of dark, dried blood. He touched the hood of the closest car: Ice cold. Kevin guessed the accident scene was days old. How the lone survivor still clung to life was a mystery.

“I’m sorry we can’t get you outta here, Christopher. This here’s Kevin. He’ll help me keep watch over you.”

Coughing hard, blood dripped from the trapped kid’s mouth. Kevin took in the boy’s predicament. From what he could see, he was damn-near crushed in half.

“It’s okay. I know I ain’t got long. At least I won’t be alone when I go. I’ve been so scared waiting for one of those things to find me and eat me alive.”

“Fear no more, son. We’ll stay until the end.”

“Thank you, Jordan.” Another coughing spasm hit the kid. Hard. Once finished, he asked, “Why did God let this happen to me? To the world?”

“That’s a question for the Almighty to answer. My response would be conjecture.”

“Guess I’ll ask soon if I go up rather than down. I’ve…done things I ain’t proud of.”

“The past is the past, Christopher. Ain’t none of us worth a trip to Heaven. Works and actions don’t get us there. Only asking for forgiveness for our wayward ways from Jesus does, and you just did that minutes ago. It’s all about faith.”

“My meemaw used to say that. Wish I’da listened to her sooner. Do you think…will I see her again?”

“Sounds like your meemaw was a smart woman.” Jordan patted the boy’s thin shoulder. “Yes, you surely will.”

Kevin couldn’t take any more talk about religion or an afterlife. The kid was going to die and that was the end of it. “How long you been here?”

“A few days maybe? Guess I’m just too stubborn to die right away.”

“Between the wheel basically acting as a tourniquet and these near-freezing temps, you ain’t lost much blood.” Jordan shot him a dirty look. Kevin shrugged his shoulders. “So, where’re you from?”

“Hawthorneville. We left right when the bombing started.”

Kevin inched closer, stomach in knots at the news the city his parents lived in had been visited by the military. “You’re from Hawthorneville? What part?”

“Northwest side. About six blocks from the museum.”

Kevin’s heart rate spiked; vision blurring as waves of dizziness rolled over him. His parents’ house was less than a mile from the museum. “The city…?”

“Flattened. It’s why we left in such a hurry. We went to the school like the government ordered, but when we saw what was coming, bounced. Stole these cars and hightailed it outta there. Got stuck on this back road since the others are clogged. I took the curve too quick—the others were too close behind me and then bam—this happened. Payback for stealing I guess.”

Jordan scoured the wreckage. “I don’t see anyone inside the vehicles.”

“They left me.” Christopher let out a low whimper. “Said they were gonna get help and come back. They didn’t. I can’t feel any pain though, which is the only good thing.”

A coughing fit stopped him from uttering another word.

Jordan and Kevin exchanged glances. Sadness and compassion beamed from Jordan’s face. Kevin bit his lip when Jordan eased a large hunting knife from the back waistband of his sweats.

Scooting closer, Jordan placed his free hand on the boy’s head, gently stroking the matted hair.

Kevin guessed the kid was no more than sixteen. Knowing what Jordan was about to do made his chest heavy with disgust.

“You made your peace with the Lord moments ago, Christopher.” Jordan’s voice was low and soothing. “You know there isn’t anything we can do for you other than offer a quick, painless end.”

“I know.” Tears streamed down Chris’s dirty face. “How weird. Always thought I’d be afraid to die. Dying is easy part. What I fear is coming back.”

“I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“Wait,” Kevin interrupted. “Are you sure there’s nothing left in Hawthorneville? My parents lived there.”

“No one lives there anymore. Just the dead.”

Kevin’s heart broke.

“Any last things you want to get off your heart before you’re in His presence, Chris?”

“No, Jordan. Me and God—we’re cool. Thank you for staying.”

Tears ran down Jordan’s cheeks while turning the boy’s head away, exposing the right temple. “When you run into Claire Comstock, tell her I love her and will be there soon.”

“I will. Please, make it quick.”

Jordan’s fingers shook. In a smooth, clear voice, he sang one full chorus of “Amazing Grace” before burying the knife up to the hilt into Chris’s skull. When finished, he yanked the blade free before scrambling away on all fours. He made it a few feet away before vomiting.

Kevin closed the boy’s eyes. Swallowing his own tears, he walked over to Jordan. He didn’t have a clue what to say; there were no words for what he’d just witnessed. It was the bravest and kindest thing he’d ever witnessed.

Instead of letting his emotions run amuck, he opted for dark humor. “Well, this is sorta the opposite of our meeting yesterday.”

“I know you’re trying to make me feel better about killing in cold blood, but don’t waste your breath.” Jordan scowled. “Ain’t nothing you can say that will help. Give me a few minutes to regroup.”


Kevin walked back to the idling Chevy, his heart heavy. He’d known in the back of his mind all along his parents hadn’t survived. The odds were stacked against them. Yet knowing and feeling the loss were two different things. He felt empty. Like someone reached inside his chest and scooped out his heart.

Mom. Dad. I…I’m so sorry. I hope you both went fast.

* * * * * *

Several minutes later, Jordan returned to the car. Rather than get back inside, he stood by the door, lit a smoke, and stared up into the night sky. Kevin noticed his cheeks were damp; expression blank.

Grabbing a cigarette, he exited the car. “You okay now?”

“I’m hanging on. Barely, but hanging on. Sorry, I just needed to chat with the Lord. I asked Him to please not make me do that again. You?”

“I’m sorta numb. Lost. Unsure what to do next. I mean, rescuing my parents was what I’ve been focused on all this time. Since that’s no longer an option, I have no idea which way to go.”

Jordan stared at the blocked road. “It seems to me the answer’s right in front of us.”

“What do you mean?”

Jordan hot-boxed the smoke, tossing the butt to the ground. “When a stumbling block appears, you take a different route. We have the answer to the question about what’s left out there. Nothing. So, we head back. Find those bears and kill them. Take a stand.”

“You sure?”

“Yep.” Opening the driver’s door, Jordan slid over to the passenger side. “Anything’s better than sleeping in a vehicle. You remember how to get back there?”

“I think so.”

“Good. I ain’t up to the task.”

* * * * * *

Monday, December 29th – 2:45 a.m. Arkansas

“How much longer? I need to whizz. Don’t have the muscle control of my youth. It’d be a real shame to ride the rest of the way in wet, smelly sweats.”

Kevin laughed. “Yeah, it would be for both of us. Being stuffed inside this old car together without deodorant is bad enough. You stink already.”

“You saying you think you smell like fresh daisies on a summer day?”

“Maybe I am.”

“You smell like them all right—ones blooming on top of a pile of hot, steamy cow poop.”

The interior of the car filled with laughter.

Jordan squinted out the window. “Where are we? This don’t look familiar.”

“I think I made a wrong turn a few miles back, so not really sure.”

“Look, there’s a road. Pull in there, let me relieve myself, and then turn around.”

“Okay. Good eye.”

Pulling into what appeared to be an entrance to a park or hiking trails, Kevin shut the engine and headlights off. Three military Humvees were parked nearby. Fearing the worst, he grabbed the Canik. “You go first. I’ll keep watch and then you do the same for me. Roll down the window when ready. No talking, just in case we ain’t alone. Got it?”

Jordan nodded.

Each took turns scanning the darkness while the other relieved himself. Once finished, Kevin stared across the blacktop as a plan formed. “We should get their gas.”

“Say what?”

“Three gas guzzlers are only feet away.”

“Nope. No way. Now’s not the time to get caught stealing from the government. Besides, we ain’t got tubes or hoses to use as a siphon.”

“Military vehicles always carry extra gas cans.”

“And soldiers always carry guns.”

Kevin bit his lip. “We’re gonna be in a hurt locker when we run out. We can’t pass this opportunity up. It might be what saves us later.”

“Or what kills us now.”

Kevin folded his arms.

“Fine, but let’s be smart. Wait a few more minutes. Make sure ain’t nobody around. Deal?”


* * * * * *

Moonbeams filtered through the foggy windshield, illuminating Jordan’s dark skin. Kevin noticed a shimmer of tears. “You, uh, okay? Still thinking about Chris?”

“Sort of, but more about how none of us are close to what we used to be. We’re all just survivors, scratching and clawing our way through this nightmare to make it another day. We’ve taken, and will continue to take, things that don’t belong to us because their owners ain’t around. Every time I come across something that ain’t mine, it’s a stark reminder that someone else lost the battle. One day, my belongings will be all that’s left of me.”

“Yeah, I hear ya. Why do you think I stuck the gun in my mouth? Told you I didn’t want to live the rest of my life with the mental anguish of seeing and doing terrible things to live one more day or minute.”

Jordan raked a hand across his face as though wiping away the filth from his mind. “I lied before.”


“Why I helped you. I caught a glimpse of your face: you looked how I felt. Horrified. Lost. Stopping you from ending your life was just as much about me as it was you.”

“You thought about suicide too?”

“I did, and to be honest, still am. What happened with Chris is just too much for my mind to handle. The boy was alive when I shoved a blade into his skull. I committed murder. Cold, harsh, calculated murder.”

“Chris wasn’t gonna survive. You ensured he didn’t get eaten alive or die and come back as a walking corpse. The heat of the moment is over and now you’re rehashing words and actions, wondering if you did the right thing. Don’t. Stop beating yourself up.”

Jordan said nothing while staring at the dashboard.

“It’s been fifteen minutes. Nobody’s out there. Let’s get the gas. Okay?”


Stepping out into the cold air, they walked less than ten yards before the crackling of leaves made the hairs on Kevin’s arms stand erect. Scanning the woods and parking lot, he jumped as a raccoon scampered by.

Jordan snickered. “It’s just a black-and-white bandit searching for some grub.”

Attention back on the Humvee closest to them, Kevin grabbed Jordan’s arm. “Don’t move.”

“What’s wrong?”

“See those stickers? They’re from Los Almos military base in New Mexico. This place is remote; off the grid, so what are they doing here?”

“Does it matter? Ain’t nobody around anyhow. They’re probably dead. Let’s just get this over with. I’m cold.”

Frigid air whipped against their faces as Jordan opened the door.

A handheld radio sitting in the passenger seat crackled to life.

“Noah One to Noah Two. You copy?”

“Noah Two. Go.”

“The underground ark is up and ready. Dirty subjects prepped. Timetable on clean specimens?”

“Unknown. Still searching.”

“Copy that. Noah One out.”

“Any idea what the heck that meant?” Jordan whispered.

Fury burned through Kevin’s mind. Collette was right—the government’s somehow behind all this. Sounds like they plan on testing the healthy after they are attacked by the infected. I’ve got to stop them.

Yanking a knife from his waistband, Kevin buried the blade into a tire, smiling at the sound of the pop and hiss of air. Rage spurred his limbs. He repeated the process on all the tires, including the spares, stabbing and slicing in a mad frenzy.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Throwing a monkey wrench into their evil plans.”

“What about the gas?”

“Screw it. We’ll find more.”

“Agreed. We passed a lot of stalled vehicles earlier.”

Turning, the duo ran back toward the car.

“I’ve got so many questions…”

Jordan never finished the sentence. He stumbled forward after a bullet blew through his windpipe, knocking him to the ground.

It only took a split second for Kevin to react, but it was one second too many.

Jerking to the right, the bullet tore through his lower back. There was no pain—only a brief sensation of warmth. He couldn’t move his arms or legs. His visual trajectory changed.

He was on the ground next to Jordan.

They exchanged fearful glances.

Boom. Splat. Our journey ends.

As black spots appeared in his line of vision, the last thing Kevin Drexel heard was,

“Noah Two to Noah One, you copy?”

“Noah One, go.”

“Two acquired. Returning to ark before they expire.”

“No worries if they do. We can reanimate. Noah One out.”

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Ashley Fontainne
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Ashley Fontainne

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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