The apartment smelled of mildew. I could taste the dust on my tongue as it hung in the air like smog, casting a grey film over the room. I stood in the doorway, peering first up the wooden stairs, into the darkness of the upper level, then down the long, narrow corridor.
My first stop on the perilous adventure. There were never many wanderers on the outskirts of the city, which made for easier scavenging. Any dead either traveled inward, following their natural instinct toward sound, movement, and smell, or remained exactly where they died, either locked in their homes or slumped against buildings and cars. In a way, situations like these spoiled survivors. They’d let their guard down, taking silence and stillness for granted. It’s a terrible lesson to learn that silence doesn’t mean absence.
A living room took up a majority of the first floor, complete with a couch, recliner, mounted flat-screen television, and a large, dark red stain at the center of the brown carpet to pull it all together. It wouldn’t be our new reality without spilled blood somewhere.
I headed to the kitchen at the end of the hall. Cabinets were closed and counters were clear. Even the garbage can was empty. Not a single thing out of place. Either passing survivors cleaned up after scavenging, or the past tenants cleaned before hightailing it out, if they made it out. I hoped it was the latter. That’d mean I had a better chance at finding supplies and not wasting my time.
I maneuvered around the small center island to begin a process done dozens of times before: I opened the first set of cabinets. Nothing. I moved to the next set, then the next. Nothing. Lower cabinets. Nothing. Pantry. Nothing.
I slammed a first on the island’s granite countertop. “Come on!”
The first place you look never has anything. I should’ve known, but I wanted to be optimistic. Silly me.
I glimpsed the fridge from the corner of my eye. A note posted on the door piqued my interest. I walked over and pulled it from under the black canine paw print magnet—the only magnet on the fridge. The paper was dingy, but seemed untouched.
I don’t know where you are, but I can’t wait any longer. Something’s wrong. People are scared and the riots are getting worse. I pray you don’t see this because that would mean you came back here. I don’t know why I’m even writing this.
I’m sorry, but I need to leave. If you do come back—if you do read this—I’ll be at Sherry’s.
A faint thud came from upstairs. I looked at the ceiling. Another sound, more audible: feet shuffling across the floor. It made its way to the far end of the room where it must’ve bumped a table. Soft teetering thuds became a loud crash.
I put the note on the counter and rummaged through cabinets one last time, not in search of food but a weapon I could use in place of my pistol. It wasn’t the time nor place to fire a gun—in a world like this, they’re more of a liability. If you use a gun, you better have a way out; one shot rings the dinner bell.
A stainless steel frying pan became the weapon I needed—silent, light enough to carry without burden but heavy enough to do decent damage. I only hoped my antagonist wasn’t fresh. If it was, well, I prayed it wouldn’t block the exit.
I made my way back down the hall to the foot of the staircase and waited, listened. The shuffling drew nearer, each dragging step sounding like whatever it was would emerge from the darkness at any—
My body flew right before I could make sense of what tumbled down the stairs and slammed into the front door. Gasping for breath, heart racing, I clutched my weapon, watching the body rise with wobbling knees and crooked grace. Its jaw slackened, and it let out a low, longing groan.
“Crap,” I whispered, eyeing the feeble creature up and down. Its frail, angular hips barely held up its tattered jeans, and its dingy white blouse appeared two sizes too big on its emaciated torso. “Well, at least you’re old.” I slipped off my backpack and threw it to the recliner before facing the decrepit sack of walking bones. It focused on me with sunken eyes as it staggered into the living room, its lanky arms suspended in front of it.
I readied the frying pan. The creature lunged, and I struck its shoulder. It stumbled sideways. I whacked its head before it regained balance, sending it to the floor. It gargled a choking hiss as it tried to stand. I smashed it again, and again and again.
When its head was nothing more than splattered brain matter, I dropped the bloodied pan and collapsed on the couch, freeing a cloud of filth from the cushion. I coughed and looked around the room, catching my breath, gathering my thoughts, and ended on a framed photo on the table next to me. I swiped it and wiped the grime from the glass.
Two women, either with an arm around the other, stood grinning under a banner hung between the wall and staircase, in the same hall I crept down minutes earlier. I furrowed my brow at the words written on the banner: HAPPY BIRTHDAY.
It seemed like a foreign concept, even after just a couple of months. There wasn’t anything to celebrate anymore. Another day alive, another day to fight, another day to fear. The odds were stacked against you the moment the world fell apart. I didn’t know how many birthdays I had left, but I knew I’d never celebrate any of them again.
In the photo—a moment trapped in a not-so-far away time—both women looked so happy. They had a reason to celebrate back then. Like the rest of us during our final moments, these people had no idea that moment would be one of their last. The thought is enough to drive someone crazy. You start to regret, seek meaning, wish for those memories again so you can appreciate them harder, relish them longer, before never seeing them again. I tried not to think too much about the past. It was gone. I wasn’t getting it back. None of us would. The only thing you could do was fight for today so maybe you had a chance at seeing tomorrow.
My stare lingered on the photo, though, on their smiling faces, and I wondered which was Leslie and which was Krissy.
When my gaze shifted to the lifeless, now headless body sprawled on the carpet, I couldn’t help but wonder which of them I’d just killed.
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.