24 Mar Static
“Static”Written by Mick Dark Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 28 minutes
The sharp click of a switch and a whirr of static on an old multi-band radio saturated a small Floridian claustrophobic one-bedroom apartment with a loud audio gradience – crawling from low to high back to low pitches of frequency. In a knee-jerk reaction, the buzzing acoustic annoyance was reduced instantly in an effort to remain covert. The man’s cautious tap into the microphone receiver button was followed by a meek and cautious greeting.
“Hello?” whispered Elijah Jackson.
More static variations and the knob is twisted and then stops as a clear response is heard after a few seconds.
“Hello? Elijah? Is that you? How are you holding up?” responded Joe Cunningham.
“Joe, hello hello…. I’m okay. Damn hungry, but okay, what else is new? Not sleeping well which is probably worst but how are you doing?” Elijah finished his last question in a hushed tone.
“Same” Joe replied. Can’t walk well anymore. That gash from the fire escape never really healed and I’m out of the fresh dressing for it. Got no towels left. That’s never good. Not sure what I was thinking when I tried to get up there. I’ll do another roam around the building if I feel safe and strong enough but this wound isn’t healing well. It kinda stinks, to be honest. It’s a bullseye scent”
Joe had celebrated his 52nd birthday recently but lost track of time a long time ago. He rubbed his leg, over his partially healed wound while the static began its routine white noise, working to shut down their conversation momentarily before clearing up and allowing an open channel again.
“So, I’ll try to make a run in the morning…. Run…. Well…. a hobble I mean, across the parking lot to D block. I can see a window open but those curtains fluttering out of the window freak me out a bit. Hopefully, I’ll find something. Certainly, some towels or sheets….or some food. If I’m lucky, somebody left behind a bottle of whiskey or a gun, bullets at least. I need to scout around for a generator also. My gennie here is on its last legs” Joe finished.
“If I weren’t miles away, Joe, I’d help you” added Elijah. “You know I would, I’d keep an eye out. I’d watch your back, my friend. Be careful. That wound…. If it hasn’t healed ….you know. Hey man, I wish you’d reconsider. Give it some time and I can find a way to meet up with you. Two heads better than one and all that”
“Ahhh, Eli…Yeah, I know. I appreciate that brother. I’ll wrap up my leg. I gotta go, though. You know I do. Even if I risk them catching my scent. I’ll wrap the wound good. Joe exhales in a long-sustained breath.
“Ah, damned if I do, and damned if I don’t. It’s infected.”
“The longer it stays infected, the more chance that I’ll lose it soon or worse and I’m not much for cutting off a dead leg with a steak knife and watching myself slowly bleed to death. I need supplies, that’s all. Medicine and clean towels. Maybe some isopropyl or Jack Daniels. It’ll be fine. I’ll be careful. About 9 hours to first light. I’ll try to go then. Not now. Not in the dark. No way in…”
*A calamity of crashing into Joe’s distance, on his end of the radio*.
Joe stops speaking suddenly and listens.
*Silence for a moment, slight static arises and then clears*.
“Joe?” whispers Eli.
“Shhhh…one second, Eli,” Joe abruptly interrupts. Joe and Eli wait a moment for the ruckus to cease. Then continue in hushed tones.
Sorry, I thought I heard…it’s nothing”
With concern, Elijah interrupted, “What is it? You okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, fine, fine….probably just some of those bastards rummaging for scraps. A good deal away from here. It’s nothing to worry about…” Joe trails off.
Joe, momentarily silent again for one last listen. Silence beyond.
“Right… Okay, where were we? Have you heard anything from that lady, that mom and her kid?” Joe added, with some concern.
“I heard her for a moment earlier this morning. We made it through a good two or three minutes before I lost her. She said they were ok”. Elijah explained then with some concern, added “She sounded a bit erratic but then the damned white noise took over…she got cut off, I guess. I lost her. Tried to get her back but I wasn’t able. I hope she really is ok” Eli explained and continued.
“This guy, across the parking lot from me in the other compound in one of the top floor suites, Moses is his name. Used to see him in the mall sometimes. Seemed like a nice guy. I haven’t heard from him in a while. We exchanged messages for a short time, followed by a thumbs up to ensure we both weren’t alone. He finally scavenged himself a radio from the Circuits Store at the strip mall a few blocks away, he told me but we finally got to stay in touch. Said it saved his life” Elijah added. “For a long time, he was really helping me out with leaving food outside in a cooler. He had a big place and kept more than he could use. His lights are still on but I haven’t seen him. He’s a good guy. Came here with his wife years ago. She was lost some time ago. I don’t know. I’ve bumped into him a few times in the dog park and at the store, before all of this. I really hope he’s ok. I think he mentioned, during the last time we met, that his father was coming in from Kenya to stay with him but then Moses vanished from comms about a month ago” Elijah finished.
“Keep listening, Eli. Would be nice if we could find a way to combine our efforts for the run. I can’t do this by myself. I’ve been lucky so far but won’t be for much longer. I just don’t have the strength no more”. Joe lamented.
Well, I wish you were closer, Eli.” Joe concluded in a depressing tone. “Please remember my offer. We need to make a run for my boat. The “Bay Buccaneer” is still in the harbor. This boat is tough as nails and I know it’s still in good shape. I have a cabin full of canned goods, lots of bottled water and some beautiful whiskey. We can make a run for it, if you can somehow get to me. That big 30-footer sitting in the Quay 12C. It waits for us, Eli. Should have a day or two of fuel left in it. Enough to get us far from here and into the northern Island safe zone where they have tamped down on this” Joe explained.
“I know. How wonderful this would be” Elijah said weakly. “I don’t think it is crazy to think that we can someday bridge this gap and maybe if this thing ends or calms down, we can get together and look out for each other. Nobody else will.” Elijah agreed but cautioned… “may not have that time, Joe. We may need to take a chance and move sooner than later”
A shocking, sudden screech was then faintly heard in the distance beyond Joe’s radio presence. Audible enough to send their hearts racing.
“Jesus, Joe!!” Eli rushed into his microphone. “Was that close”
“Yeah, it sounded like it. That was a few blocks away, I think. Hey, man…. signing out now” Joe added.
“I need to start some silence for the evening, lock down and get some sleep. If I make the run alone tomorrow, I’ll let you know when I return. I’ll give you a shout”
“Please do. Take it easy Joe….get some rest” Elijah concluded while tapping on his equipment in a comforting gesture meant for his friend, afar.
“Sure thing. G’nite buddy and give a little hello to Tess for me…..OH AND ELI…..if something happens….”
“Stop it, Joe….nothing will happen…just be safe. For the love of God…just be cautious!!” Eli scorned.
“Well, just saying…you know where my boat is and where the keys are…if anything happens, get to it. It’s not getting better out there” Joe added before he whispered a goodbye to his old friend.
Elijah, a man of just over 60 years old, flips his radio two-way switch…. he has a mechanical scan across and around his dark little desk in his dark little room and grabs a scummy glass, pours a bit of cheap, newly acquired scotch, takes a sip and scowls from the horrible burn that you can only get from the the kind of paint that you’re forced to acquire and the fact it was left unopened and unrecognizable by name predicted a burning esophagus and the guarantee of some nausea. Elijah stands up slowly, with another toxic scotch utterance, and stretches out his sore back and walks over to a small cage on top of a dresser, taps it a couple of times, forcing an emitted, faint squeak. Eli lifts the towel covering the box. Within a pungent, dusk-lit little cage, a tiny grey-furred head pokes out of some wood shavings, sniffs and hides back in its little escape. This gerbil has outlived many of the beings on this current sphere.
“G’nite Tess. Let’s pretend that things will be better in the morning. Oh, and Joe says Hi.” Elijah spoke with much fatigue in his voice and slightly apologetic for having breathed that demon liquor vapor into her little face.
The old man walks, slouched, over to his single bed and sits on the end. It offers up a springy metal squeak that echoes in the silence, prompting the man to grab the bed with a fleeting white-knuckled reflex, knowing really, that it solved nothing. He takes off his boots, pushes them under the bed, lays down as slowly and quietly as possible and closes his eyes.
Elijah whispers to himself at a barely audible level “things will be better in the morning”
Another monstrous screech is heard far into the distance. Angry, but from where – hard to tell.
This trouble came just over 4 years ago. In a cold January, the first cases arose. Influenza was largely blamed at the outset but the symptoms rapidly distanced themselves from any condition known to have ever existed. The Center for Disease Control were disseminating warnings across social and broadcast media and seemed to be on top of it but it was a series of rapid-fire mutations from the initial condition at first or at least that’s what they thought. It was just a progression. An evolution. The original condition, characterized by organ deterioration or failure – mostly lungs, heart and brain – you know, the worrisome stuff. Widespread warnings from local authorities, on their individual accounts, echoing the same narrative, meant to not stir panic while stirring massive panic, all the same. Nobody wanted to expand on the overarching result from this disease – violent, frenzied, unmitigated madness. Apparently, body hair fell out immediately. This was, of course, a way of detecting the victims or should we say “offenders” from afar, unless you were already quite bald with no eyebrows. Then you wouldn’t be too popular.
He remembers that broadcast, as it was repeated every few minutes for months
“Stay in your homes. do not go outside. If you or your family begin showing symptoms such as slowed movement, slurred speech, or violent behaviors. Isolate them to a secure area of the house. Please stay tuned for more information on where to go… Stay in your homes and monitor your health. Alert us, immediately at 854-298-0101 if you feel that you are exhibiting any of the symptoms described” the CDC broadcast concluded.
They stopped when the situation became untenable, he supposed. For whatever reason, they just stopped. The known surrounding area lost electricity perhaps 16 months or so after that. When they say “that” they would mean when it became too dangerous to meet one another. To leave your home. Then they started to lose contact with each other completely. They knew that most of the known world became infected. It was the pathogen. It was brutal and swift. It immediately transmitted from the most benign and well-meaning origins – a cough, a touch, sweat. Then what we didn’t expect was that, in addition to the lung failure, renal failure, heart disease, brain tissue scarring and of course, ultimately – death – for many….it then evolved. Those that didn’t die began to exhibit characteristics of well, ghoulishness. It was the vaccine. Well, that was the theory. Nobody really knew for certain but as soon as Intrepid Bio began to administer the vaccines, in their government-mandated rush, without any real clinical trials, zero efficacy…. those that were vaccinated – millions – began changing.
Their skin became pale and those studied were stripped of any ability to tolerate vitamin D and although they could venture outdoors, the sun seemed to lick at their skin like salt on a wound. It was theorized that it was constant pain that made them mad and created the rageful violence within them so they became wildly aggressive. They ate anything that could be digested, including garbage, pets and cadavers. It didn’t seem to matter. These…. “things” …. were not fussed about whether or not it had a pulse or if it had been rotting for weeks. Besides the pain, rage and madness, they still had to eat and it was the aforementioned characteristics that alleviated any concern over what they ate and how they ate it. The condition was passed on through a pathogen in their saliva. They were batshit crazy but, again, it was the aggression that was most worrisome, as one would imagine. They feverishly wanted to rip you apart. They would kill fleeing mothers and snatch their babies out of their arms without pause. They would shred both without a thought. The rage was not always connected to any need to eat, as they occasionally scurried away from their victims, leaving them somewhat intact, but most often, they wasted nothing, all the same. If they didn’t finish their victims, the victims would either scurry away within their newly acquired insanity and rage-filled hunger or they would be finished off by others, eventually, if they didn’t reanimate.
They kept “strategic national stockpiles” of this dubious vaccine at each “safe zone” but they were soon overrun and 4 years later, it was every man or woman for themselves. They seemed to have stopped developing or evolving and their cycle of maturation seemed to end after a few months and with the exception of steadily growing paler and more sinewy, they have remained, largely, the same. Variations of themselves within their original human shells but mutated in horrendous packages. They preferred shadows and darkness. Even without any direct correlation to the nefarious monster cliché, they simply did not do well in the sun. The last bit of info that Eli was aware of, before it went dark, was from a news broadcast and a fat, gray talking head with a few PhDs explaining that they were dying because their cells were not regenerating. They believed that the sun and other elements destroyed cell tissue and that they, essentially, rot when exposed to sunlight. Scientists estimated that the rain, ultimately, was worse since their skin was not as impervious to being wet as our living tissue is. So, clear night was the setting for the killing zone. This is when you needed to be extra careful, extra silent and locked in. One of their other notable characteristics was their smell. Even without their desperate shrieks of rage, hunger, social mechanism…. you will know they are close by their stench. It was unbearable.
During one of Elijah’s more fortunate encounters on the radio with another survivor, a young man named Dennis had explained that his roommate was killed by one of these things and before that roommate was set upon and ravaged, Dennis remembers that his friend began to vomit from the stench of decay before the first chunks of flesh were ripped from him. It gave Dennis time to jump out a second-story bedroom window to a van’s roof and limp away with a sprained ankle. At night the uninfected world can smell them. Putrid breezes waft across the open land. Then they know they are close and they keep extra quiet.
About two years ago, Elijah met Joe. Elijah was rushing into his small one-bedroom apartment with some newly acquired supplies from a vacant apartment nearby. He heard static on his radio with a voice asking for someone to respond. It was Joe. They spoke for hours. They told jokes to one another, shared memories and even Joe played some guitar for Elijah as quietly as he could. It was nice for Elijah to hear music, even though Joe was no master. They had grown up in different parts of the country but Joe became Elijah’s closest friend. In a world where relationships didn’t exist or you just knew better than to get too close to someone that you come across – it was nice for them both to have a sort of audio pen pal. They kind of knew what each other looked like through a very awkward description session. It seemed necessary after some time. Then they came across new voices like Moses from Nairobi, then a Cuban immigrant mother Eva and her young daughter, Gloria, although Moses hasn’t been heard from for months now.
They would receive the odd transmission from obvious nutcases talking about a new vaccine and that they were operating from a safe zone in a swamp area near Tampa but they remembered, too clearly, what happened with the last vaccine and in no way, they weren’t making a trek 30 miles out of the city to meet strangers in some fictional safe zone. Elijah showed concern to Joe with his conspiracy of not being certain if they would be legitimate or just really, desperately hungry for some “long pig” on a Florida human bbq. They knew there were folks holed up at Dickenson Elementary School, nearby. They had one of the only functional automobiles in the city. One of their school buses was being used and those camped up at the school had a reserve of fuel. At least they were but they had no way of making contact. Hopefully, they remained safe. There were families in there and they had boarded up, he was aware. So many lost, however. So many making food and supply runs in the day. You see, they all used to think that the sun was their safeguard. They made the assumption that if they were to go out at high noon and remained cautious, they would all be ok. There were many of these white devils patrolling, to their pain, and while mostly occupying the shadows, you would never seem to see them coming. They watched from the shadows. They knew when you were fatigued, scared, hungry and if you had a weapon. There was no doubt that if you were out and they were aware of you before you were aware of them, they were sure to get you. You can be certain of that. So, when some did make the attempt, they often brandished something lethal and they did it in groups. Elijah lost any group that he had, long ago. The only companions that he had were voice only. Better than nothing but they made each had made singular attempts by themselves to get what they needed. There were no vehicles. Cars were rusted and useless, any fuel that existed was long gone. Bikes were rusted and deteriorated beyond any use, flattened tires and immovable chains. They always went on foot. Prepared, as possible. Elijah taped steak knives to a sawed-off hockey stick and under his clothes, he wrapped his arms and legs in duct tape to, at least, try to prevent any bites. He had been relatively lucky with the exception of a few close calls that set his heart on fire so badly that he didn’t make another attempt in months. It was a matter of time, he felt. He was certain. He knew that, individually, Joe and he and the others were growing weaker and being alone, were increasingly becoming less able to protect themselves. They were the vulnerables. They were not eating well, not sleeping well and all of this had taken its toll. They insisted that they needed to try to group with one another. They felt a need for that strength in numbers. With a nod to his favorite poem by T.S. Eliot – “This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper…..we could only whimper”. The distance would need to be risked, eventually.
Elijah awakens to a scream from a woman in the distance. He wipes the sleep from his eyes and raises himself from his bed. The floor is sticky. He hadn’t cleaned in months and the Florida humidity takes its toll on surfaces. Eli takes a deep breath and listens again. Realizes that it was the residual psychosis of a dream. This happened often. He stretches and walks to his washroom and relieves himself, washes his face with a small sliver of black-veined soap and hand-pumped water from a bucket of collected rain. Water in its piped form or commercial form was as extinct as law and order and that was as extinct as the rotary dial telephone. Luckily, Florida had an ample supply of rainfall. He was always fortunate to not be residing in Arizona. He often wondered how the other parts of the country and world were getting along.
Elijah was once a cop, in another lifetime. He was a detective for the Tampa Police Department. He never left the city after retirement. Got himself a nice little one-bedroom just a few miles from the ocean with the pension he was provided. There was a cluster of apartments around him. He had developed some friendships in the neighborhood which were welcome since his wife had passed away from the virus in its early days. Complete organ shut down. Pre-vaccines. Thank god. She was spared from turning into one of them.
He was left alone, bitter, sad and white-knuckled to a bottle of something or other as often as he could. He had a good heart, though and was well-liked, despite being characterized as a bit of a grumpy loner.
He had never developed symptoms, despite his constant care for her. His Deborah. He never wore a mask even when he knew it was the right thing to do, even when strongly advocated by her doctors. He didn’t want their last moments together to be invisible to one another. This coupled with the fact that he was happy leaving this life with her, if it were fate’s plan. They had been together for 24 years until her last labored breath, holding his hand. His cries drowning out the flat line on the ECG machine. He’s never cried before, or after.
Elijah walked into the main room of his apartment and took a peek through his heavy curtains and peeled back the cardboard peeking hole to have a look out onto the desolate parking lot, occupied only with rusted vehicles, glancing across the windows of the buildings opposite him for any movement. None. He then shuffled over to check his radio for any communications activity. Switched on and nothing but light white noise.
“Hello? Anyone out there? Joe? Anyone?”
Fifteen minutes of ambiance. Nothing.
“Joe Must have left”, he muttered to himself. “I hope he stays safe” he added.
Elijah then switched it off and sat in his tattered beige armchair and picked up a policing magazine that he had read 100 times before, wishing he could have a coffee again.
A child’s scream pierced the silence. It was coming from the parking lot below. This was close. Elijah rushed to the window, peeked out as covertly as possible. This was a result of smart thinking rather than any cowardice of which he had not a molecule of, in his grizzled old body.
Scanning the space, he noticed a female child of about 7 or 8 hanging from a balcony 3 floor up at the building next door to his. Somehow, this kid felt that screaming would have been a good thing to do, which in any other situation, may have been. Not these days. These were the days of hungry beasts and little soul. Elijah made another routine scan across the visible space and there was nothing but this kid continued to make an ungodly racket. She couldn’t be blamed. She had slipped from the balcony and was hanging on for dear life. At least for the concern of broken bones at best if she were to fall. Elijah carefully propped open his window, removing a row of tape holding the cardboard onto the panes.
Elijah, shyly, whispered to the child as loud as he could voice a whisper “Hey kid, you have to stop screaming. You have to stop now. Where is your mother or father?” Elijah assuming that this child was not alone at her age. She was on the bottom rung, clenched tightly onto that rung for dear life. Then, suddenly, smashing through the glass above her were a man and woman, pale and rageful. Screaming like banshees standing within the confines of the balcony searching around, as Elijah dipped his head out of sight, still peering through a slit in the cardboard, incredibly concerned for the safety of this child that obviously was trying to climb out to flee. Was this her parents?? She must have been hiding for a long time? A thousand thoughts rushing through Elijah’s mind. He peered again. The specters noticed the screaming child and furiously attempted to reach it, the male thing attempting to climb over. Elijah’s heart was racing. He could feel it painfully pumping throughout his entire body. He wanted, desperately, to help the child but was unable. Even if he could, he would never get there in time. By now, the screams of all actors involved in this drama would have lured more of the horde. The sinewy beast almost reached the little girl but ended up falling over the rail in his wretched clumsiness and plummeted to the ground landing on his head, providing the atmosphere of the empty parking lot with an echoed cracking sound that made Elijah’s stomach lurch, despite not feeling any sorrow for it.
This left the female who also tried to reach over but somehow mitigated its risk based on the near decapitation of its bony, recently re-deceased partner and tried to reach through the lowest rung to get to the child. That’s when, suddenly, Elijah saw a familiar face appear behind it! It was Moses, rushing onto it with a baseball bat and connecting the bat with the thing’s head with a swing that would have made Jim Thome blush. That crack, again Elijah’s stomach lurching. Not a bad swing. Home run. The thing crumpled to the floor of the balcony. Moses pushed it aside with his foot and reached down for the girl. She was hesitant but Elijah could hear him soothing her. “They’re gone. Give me your hand” he said. Elijah could hear her sobbing but her reluctance caved to self-preservation. He couldn’t help himself. Elijah called out as subdued as he could.
“Moses? You’re okay!” Elijah squeaked sheepishly, unsure from that distance if it was him or not.
“Eli!” Moses responded. “Yeah!” Elijah answered “Are you guys okay? Get inside and lock yourselves down, please.”
“Yes, we will” Moses shout-whispered back. The young girl continued to sob.
“Okay,” Elijah answered, wondering why Moses was there and where he had disappeared to.
Elijah took himself back in and allowed his heart beat to recover while he slumped into his recliner after having switched on his radio. He drifted off for a few moments, dreaming of his Deborah, as he always did. He was jolted up by sharp static followed by a male voice that had him racing to his seat in front of the wideband radio.
Pressing the transmitting button, Elijah said “hello, Moses? Joe”?
Nothing. Light white noise and then silence.
Suddenly a shrieking, high-pitched sentence. “FRENDDDD GAWWWWN! COMM FIND YOOOOO!”
Elijah, barely recuperated from his earlier trauma leapt out of his chair, covering his mouth that covered a near scream that ended up producing a forced whimper.
“GAHHH ….WE COMMM” then a snapped silence like the radio was unplugged.
“Hello! HELLO! WHO IS THIS!?” WHO IS THIS!?” Elijah demanded. He sat back down. This was Joe’s frequency. “How did they know me? Wait, my god…Joe!” Elijah whispered in a dribbled, terrified sentence. “Joe has my location, maps of the entire area but I was miles away from him, even if they had a map. Even if they could read a map.” He continued.
Although….getting around was not their issue. It was the issue of those uninfected.
Could they read maps? Could they understand anything? Elijah considered all of this. But they could speak, if that was truly one of them. He was trying to wrap his head around the proposition. Something that he never considered before. They were infamous for their rage and for their senseless malevolence. Nobody knew anything about their level of intelligence or capabilities.” He continued as he dropped into his chair. Looking around the room without any purpose. He knew that he needed a plan. If they were coming for him and knew where to find him – then they were far more intelligent than anyone had suspected and he needed to either fortify or run. Elijah decided to prepare.
Then, another run of static on the radio.
“Elijah, my friend, it’s Moses,” he said. “Oh, thank God you’re okay. What the fuck happened over there, and where have you been?” Elijah pressed.
Moses deeply exhaled and started, “Uhhh.. these things broke into my home while I was out searching for food. Destroyed my apartment. I was afraid they would come back so I took everything I could and while I was collecting my items, I heard them in the building. I hid and then ran as soon as I could hear some silence. In my rush, I left my radio behind and each time I tried to come back, I was afraid”. He continued. “This morning, I decided that I needed to get my radio, if I could. I needed to communicate. That is when I saw this child running across the parking lot, as I was entering the building. I was confused and didn’t know what was happening. Then I saw these two things chasing her. I was terrified for this little girl”
“Oh my God!” Elijah interjected.
“I froze and knew that if I tried to help her, I was in danger but my impulse was to help this poor little girl so I chased after them and raced up the stairs behind them and that’s when I got to an apartment and saw them trying to grab at her, so when I saw a baseball bat hanging on the wall, I grabbed it immediately and acted” he continued. “I’m just glad that neither one of us was hurt”.
“She is safe now and we are back at my old flat but we cannot stay for long, as you know so I am wrapping up my equipment and we have to find another place” he finished.
Elijah continued to explain to Moses his recent warning from whatever that was. He conveyed his sorrow at the thought that Joe may, in fact, be gone. He reinforced his concern that he was in danger and was afraid to take this on alone. Nobody ventures out. This is an unwritten rule. Nobody, not at night, not during the day. Only when the circumstance is so absolutely desperate. These abominations traveled in packs and were fast and deadly. They were somewhat intelligent. After the communications received that morning it was clear that they could speak, also. Moses didn’t care. He had already taken one chance and Eli was scared and alone. He would have to keep the little girl in tow, though. She couldn’t be left alone again. She was, most certainly, a liability to take along but it would benefit everyone to stay together. She wouldn’t survive alone.
They had a decision to make, however. If Elijah was in danger, he knew he should move and join Moses. That would be sensible. The concern was that Elijah had set up a fortress. It was reinforced as much as you could fortify a cheap apartment. He had hoarded enough food to last him months, maybe several weeks, at least, for 3 people. Cans of food. Nothing special but food, nonetheless. He had a water system set up. He had medical supplies and more. He couldn’t leave that behind. So, he decided to stay and fight if necessary. Hell, Moses took one out with a baseball bat, with no issues. Elijah had racked up a half dozen body count in the last two years, himself. Then, Elijah remembered the terrifying voice at the other end of that radio. If he stayed and the warning was valid then it could be a wave that he could have no protection from.
He had to go.
Elijah packed up as much crap as he could. Rucksacks full of cans weighing him down. Had forgotten the can opener. Bottles of water, six filled up. As much as he could carry. A knife and his bat. Couldn’t take the radio but made one last attempt on it. He tried for just over 20 minutes to reach Moses who finally responded. Moses and Elijah made a plan. Neither one could stay where they were. The block could be teeming with them soon. They both prepared and with the little girl now at Moses’s side where she couldn’t be pried from, they met in the lobby of Elijah’s building, in the security room behind the concierge desk. Quietly. Cautiously.
“What now?” whispered Moses. The young girl remained always silent – stared up at Moses and then Elijah anticipating his response.
“We move,” replied Elijah. “We get to the boat.”
Moses looked confused and froze as they all stopped short of their exchange and braced and listened. Indistinguishable noises in the distance. They rushed the conclusion to the chat. The neurosis was palpable. “what boat?” Moses asked.
“Joe has a boat. I know where it is. I know where he hides the key. We gotta go for the boat” Elijah explained. “When?” Moses responded. “Now, brother. We have to go. I have a bad feeling. I mean a bad, bad feeling. This voice. This voice on the radio. I don’t know but I think they know where I am and the voice sounded familiar but hard to tell” Elijah exclaimed, sweat trailing down his face.
“Okay, let me have a look. Let me check the parking lot” Moses replied in a whisper.
Moses opened the security room door slowly. He first checked the outer foyer. Nothing but broken glass. The area was clear. They felt that it was now time to make the move. It would be dark in a few hours. They could wait until morning but if Eli was telling the truth and it seemed that this was something that he took quite seriously, they wouldn’t be safe anymore in the apartment block. They had maybe two or three hours before it was dark. They had to make up time especially with the consideration that they could encounter unexpected delays with routinely keeping out of sight and moving cautiously.
They moved together, they got halfway through the foyer, their feet muting the crackling glass beneath them. Slowly.
Then, with a heart-stopping break in the silence – a sharp static coming from upstairs. Loud enough to have been heard through Elijah’s door as he knew that it was his radio. Elijah was paralyzed from fear. The sharp hiss of the radio was felt as much as heard and it was followed by a ghoulish scream enveloped in white noise……it was difficult to distill the word that followed for a number of reasons – the paralyzing fear felt by the trio numbed their senses but they knew what that word was, when it was repeated.
This was enough to encourage their movement. Elijah wasn’t sure who the message was directed at – the group or his fellow disciples of hell. Either way, those wobbly legs found their forward movement and they were off.
The squelching command was repeated again and again until it faded into the distance as they moved out of the parking lot.
The only hope was that they would make it to the boat before the sound alerted the hordes to a collective bounty on the heads of the fleeing team. Holding their weapons tight, albeit gripped with sweaty, shaking hands…they moved slowly between cars, around buildings, avoiding the open and desolate streets on their way to the quay.
Every few minutes, Eli would look up to the sky. The position of the sun was critical to his very existence. They made some distance and they had already gone too far to turn back. To hole up for the evening somewhere would be a terrifying premise as they were all unaware of the spaces that attracted activity and not being familiar with your overnight spot was an incredibly horrifying position to be in.
The young girl was unusually strong. She was quiet and silent. Eli and Moses were thankful for this. It could have been their end if she had been hysterical, even emotional to any degree. As the group scurried quietly through an alleyway between two buildings, the echo of the ocean bounced off the passageway. Above the calming hiss of the ocean’s tides, punctuated by the lack of the usual mob of seagulls, came an echoed series of demonic screams from a multitude of directions running along the stone walls of the passage. The cold grip of horror squeezed their chests and froze them gasping for air that didn’t come. The young girl’s fingernails dug into both hands and broke skin which made Moses and Eli both wince, simultaneously. They knew something was behind or in front of them but it was impossible to distinguish the direction or trajectory they needed to burst into. When they became unstuck, they glanced at each other, down to the young girl who only stared forward, hands shaking and maintained her grip, clawing into the hands of the two men. Moses, a massive mountain of a man, and tough as nails and veteran of damage from the ring let out a small squeal from the young girl’s sharp nails.
They were facing the direction of the ocean and the ocean they will seek. The boat needed to be found and the sky was showing signs of decline. Eli had guessed it to be nearing 6 pm and they needed to make some distance.
The end of the tunnel was shrouded in ambient light, sun facing them and in the blurriest of silhouettes passed a figure, not 30 feet in front of them. They instinctively gasped and hugged the walls with their backs, the young girl ducking behind a sun-bleached, putrid garbage bag. She felt like retching but moved back from it and covered her nose and mouth. Every step seemed to bring more threats and far more frequently. Eli suspected that, if they could evacuate the alley and get to the street ahead, they need only cross the park and into the quay. They would scramble to the boat. The key was under the icebox in the rear of the boat. Joe had made that clear a hundred times during their quiet chats. Eli ran through the discussions in his mind that he had with Joe. Those many, many conversations he had, entrenched in white noise most times had him realize that he had no idea what really happened to Joe. Where had he disappeared to?
What if he had taken the boat!?? Eli thought. He had lost touch. Eli had thought the worse but what if he hightailed it!? What if he decided to make a bolt for the boat? Eli hadn’t considered this and it struck him like a dropkick. He could be leading the group to their end. To a useless quay with an empty, watery parking spot where Joe’s boat would be.
“What’s the plan?” Moses said.
“We need to make it through the park. Across the baseball field, to the left is the dock….Joe’s boat is the last on the right…..we make it to the boat and we get out of here. I have enough food in this pack to last two weeks, at least and I know Joe has some provisions stocked away in the cabin below, if they haven’t been pilfered yet. We’ll be ok” Eli managed to lay out something positive.
The girl looked up and toward the two of them, slowly, one by one. Then, as they paused at the sidewalk, reaching the end of the passageway….they peered both ways. Even if they saw no movement, they envisioned shapes slinking in various directions within their mind. Eli continuously heard the static from his radio screaming that he was a target and that they were coming for him. It was his imagination but he was terrified. The boat had to be there. It had to be there. Joe couldn’t have known to get away before that threatening unearthly voice occupied his radio broadcast and even if Eli wishes he could have, it was better now if he didn’t.
Moses picked up the young girl who never uttered a name. His giant arms dragged her up to his shoulder and they all tore off towards the park. Eli was moving at half the speed. He was, after all, old. He had nearly no muscle mass left in his body. He had not exercised nor left his apartment for over a year. His legs were burning. Eli gasped for oxygen. Moses stopped to take him by the arm and they walked quickly while Eli recuperated as much as he could in this semi-speed walking gallop. He was ready to give up after a minute. Moses put the girl down and they shared a glance. She knew to stay close. Moses smiled at her.
“Let’s go, big boy. You can do this” Moses chimed within Eli’s hard, labored breathing. “you got this”….
Eli formed a pained smile and then turned his head slowly to see a torrent of ravenous, shrieking ghouls by the dozens at the edge of the park behind them, nearly 1000 feet away. They were distant but they seemed intent on getting to their newly targeted meals. The girl finally spoke “I’m scared” and started gulping air, fear choking her. Moses had to be their rock at this moment. He grabbed Eli by the underarm and dragged him with the girl close behind. He slung him onto his back like an old, panting rucksack. The girl followed behind and they jogged. The quay was close.
The group was finally in the open and the covert sneaking between cars and buildings was a commodity they no longer enjoyed. They were in the open, exposed and in danger. They were now being hunted.
Soon, they were onto the stairs down to the jetty and onto the wooden dock racing towards the boat with Eli’s instructions.
“let me down, Moses…I’m ok” Eli muttered with an exasperation of fear and fatigue.
Moses dropped him gently onto his feet. Eli led them to the boat. Moses stopped to scan their followers. They had grown. They were seething, spitting, salivating, screaming. Moses turned to follow Eli. The girl was at Eli’s feet moving fast and panting.
“The boat!?” Where is the boat!!?? Eli whispered as loudly and as angrily as one could between clenched teeth.
A space where Joe’s boat typically docked was empty.
“He’s…..he’s taken it. It’s gone,” Eli sobbed.
Suddenly, he noticed their salvation, The Bay Buccaneer. Joe’s boat floating a few yards behind another that had blocked their view.
“Run…there it is!! Jump! We have to swim!”…..
They all ran for the dock end and jumped, except Moses. He stood stock-still. He looked at the water. No amount of fear can teach you how to swim. Moses couldn’t swim. Moses turned back and saw the horde reaching the end of their dock, ravenous.
Eli and the young girl were swimming furiously towards the Bay Buccaneer. Eli turned to see Moses. He was just staring at the horde. Moses knew that he would sink immediately if he jumped. He didn’t expect to have to swim. He then made a choice. In an instant, he weighed the prospects of his slowly dying in the water, panicked or holding back the pack to keep his friend safe with some time, in case any of these bastards could even float to them. His choice was made in a flash and remarkably he chose their preservation over his own.
Moses ran a few feet away to a fishing boat as his eyes spied a barge pole on a set of hooks on the side of a towboat that was docked at the end of the pier. He pulled it off and positioned himself, firm-footed, on the edge of the dock.
Peering behind him at the other two reaching the boat and Eli pulling the girl up and onto the safety of the boat, they both looked towards Moses. He forced a smile and ran towards the mindless predators with the pole horizontal and with immense power, cross-sticked the pole into the group, flinging many onto other boats, some into the water and the rest to the floor of the dock. Moses then swung the pole like a samurai across every head he could connect with and screamed in rage. Despite the lack of hope that he held for himself, two things buoyed him – the knowledge that he was saving his friends and the scream that he had buried in him for years that finally got to come out. It felt good. It was therapeutic, while it lasted. Eventually, though, he fatigued and was tackled by the greasy mob. Now on his back, Moses’s head looked back at the boat and his friends from his upside-down vantage point, ensuring his friends were far from danger while he was ripped apart by dozens of rotten teeth. Eaten alive.
Eli wiped away the moistness of his sweat and navigated to the stern of the boat across a wet and slippery floor and found the large thermal storage bin at the back and hoisted it up. The key was there. It was taped to the floor. He made out the outline within the duct tape and snatched it up. He ran to the ignition and pulled the girl with him. He saw that many of these ghouls had taken to the water and made some effort to swim towards the boat, in their own ridiculous fashion but were making some progress.
As he sat down into the pilot’s seat…..a loud static.
Static shifting in different migrating frequencies.
It stopped his heart. The young girl looked bewildered. Her eyes squinted, trying to understand where this sound was coming from. It was coming from the cabin below. The cabin that kept the food, the bed, the emergency elements they would need. It was coming from the cabin below where Joe’s radio was kept. His boat emergency broadcast equipment.
Silence took over. Only the ocean. The waves on the hull of the boat.
The sounds of gargling demons in the water, mostly sinking to the bottom, having given up their aquatic pursuits.
“Fuck this!!” Eli uttered. Then pausing to apologize to the little girl for his language and smiled weakly.
Eli turned the ignition with aggression. Instant relief poured over him as the boat started up immediately. He pulled back the throttle and the boat jerked away pulling them both backwards. The girl grabbed his arm for steadiness as she jerked around on her unsteady legs. Eli looked back, teary-eyed. He felt that he really wanted Moses with him now. He wished he had Joe with him. He turned to the little girl with a labored but soothing smile to ask her, finally, what her name was, when in his peripheral vision, he saw movement.
The girl finally answered, sheepishly, with eyes welled up from hours of emotional turbulence. Eli wasn’t paying attention anymore and seeing that he was distracted, she looked more confused.
“May. May is my name, mister. Mister?”
Eli numbly, slowly and distractedly answered “ok, hi May” as shifted his attention to a slow-moving blur behind her. In his foggy peripheral, he saw that they were not alone and he moved her aside to clear her out of the way of his view. Then, Eli was shocked to be staring into the bloodshot, wild eyes of his old friend Joe, lumbering up from the cabin stairs. Salivating mouth, partially missing forehead, slowly widening, hysterical mouth of broken teeth, a wild tangle of hair, stiffened with what looked like dried blood framing a face of bloodthirsty madness.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableMick Dark Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
🔔 More stories from author: Mick DarkPublisher's Notes: N/A Author's Notes: N/A
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