No one visited the city anymore. There were no more shopping sprees at high-end, no more downtown pizza slices, no more tours of the space center. People weren’t strolling around museums admiring the work of artists now long-forgotten. They fled for their lives. Some even made it out. Like everywhere else in the world, Houston was strewn with blood and bodies, haunted by the screams of those who perished, seized by the beasts many of those people became. Most survivors stayed away from the city, terrified of the ravenous horde whose mass grew with every unfinished meal. If you dared enter, you better have had a good enough reason.
“Het-heta…” Lionel’s face twisted as he conjured a completely wrong pronunciation of my genetic condition. I knew what he was doing. Stalling was his most impressive talent—that and touching his nose with his tongue.
Not before chuckling did I step in. Could you blame me? It was the end of the world. Video games were a thing of the past, as were many things. I wasn’t going to find entertainment the way I used to. “Heterochromia,” I corrected, “and don’t change the subject.” I pulled the left side of the Kevlar vest to secure the Velcro.
The apocalypse introduced a type of fashion all its own: Kevlar, duct tape, and steel toe boots. Thin layers and exposed skin were risks I wasn’t willing to take, and luckily, Lionel understood. He wore whatever I asked him to. Had the vest been smaller, it would’ve been on him instead of me.
He handed me the tape, then squeezed his stuffed lion. “I’m not changing the subject.”
“You so are.” I ripped off a couple strips of tape and wrapped them around the ends of my pantlegs.
He frowned. “You don’t have to go, Chris. We can find food another way.” His wide, innocent eyes appeared larger behind his thick-rimmed glasses, his quivering lip enticing me to stay.
“This is the only way, Leo,” I replied, ripping off two more strips to wrap around my wrists. “There’s no food for miles.”
Lionel and I didn’t start this journey together. It used to be me and my sister. Before radios went silent, there were reports of a refuge in Stonewall, a small town somewhere between San Antonio and Austin. Survivors are welcome, was what the broadcast said. As long as nobody’s infected. I convinced my sister to leave the apartment. I convinced her we’d be okay, that we’d get there and start a new life. Had I not turned on the radio…
Had I not turned on the radio, Lionel would still be on his own, or worse.
I found him hiding in a closet a week after I lost my sister. He was starved and dirty, terrified and alone. His babysitter told him to wait for his parents, who were at work when things went, well, crazy. When I asked how long he’d been waiting, he didn’t have an answer. He was only seven, too young, too weak to fight the monsters of the world. I couldn’t leave him, not like that.
Stonewall was a few day’s walk from where we were. We were so close. But we didn’t have enough food or water to make it, so going into the city was the only choice, even if Lionel didn’t believe it.
“Alright.” I stood. “While I’m gone, what’re the rules?”
Lionel scrunched his nose, and in a well-rehearsed voice said, “Don’t go outside. Stay quiet. If I hear anything, hide.”
“Good.” I hooked the holster around my waist, sheathed my knife, and slipped my backpack over my shoulders. “I’ll be back soon,” I said, heading for the door.
“What do I do if you aren’t?” he mumbled.
I straightened, then turned around. “You’ve never asked me that before.”
He walked over to me and looked up, his eyes trembling. “You’ve never gone into the city before.”
I bit my lip. I hated leaving him, I did, but bringing him wasn’t an option. “I always come back, Leo. Always.”
I grinned and tousled his dirt-matted, overgrown hair, coaxing a small smile out of him. “Promise.”
If you’re looking to satisfy your hunger for zombie fiction, you’ve come to the right place, but when you’re done, I ask that you clean up after yourself. Blood stains are a hassle to remove.
When I'm not chasing things that go bump in the night, I'm writing about different ways the world could end.