My backpack thumped against my back with each step, but the weight of it was comforting to me. It was like it was holding me down to the Earth.
I quickened my pace, wanting to reach my destination before I was frozen into a solid block of ice. Finally, the library loomed into view, but the windows were dark and uninviting. Lampposts were strewn here and there, casting dull light and ghostly shadows over the lawn.
You need to get this done, I thought to myself as my hand reached out and closed over the door handle. A few hours and you’ll be done and then you can go home. And maybe even get some sleep!
I didn’t need to worry about Kyle, my fiancé, calling in and worrying about me; he was staying at his dad’s for the week. It wasn’t because we were fighting or anything. It was just part of a long-running family tradition: one week before the man was to be wed, he would spend time at the father’s house with the other living men in the family. It was basically a week long bachelor party.
The door hinges squealed a little when I tugged the door open. Every other light in the main entry way was lit, dark splotches dominating every few feet. I kept my head down, nodding to the night security guard as I made my way up the steps to the computer lab one floor up.
It didn’t matter how many times I did this; the place always managed to creep me out at night, even though the computer lab was usually teeming with energy and laughter. Hell, some nights it was hard to find an open computer.
When the door swung inward, I was met by more darkness. The only things lighting the area were the unused desktops. The room was warm, more heat pouring through the vents in the ceiling.
I twisted my way through the sea of empty computers, passing a kid sleeping on one of the couches. A text book was propped open on his lap, another nestled under his cheek, soft snores escaping his open mouth.
Shaking my head, I took a seat at one of the computers in the far back of the room. The chair had wheels on the bottom, so I rolled away from the computer slightly before I grabbed onto the desk and pulled myself back.
I typed in my username and password and waited for the computer to turn on. My fingers tapped a random rhythm and the boy’s snores drifted over to me.
I soon lost myself in my homework; most of the noises in the room faded into the background. It was the usual last-minute scramble to do all of the assignments I was pretending didn’t exist. Around fifteen minutes into working, the snoring stopped, only to be replaced by coughing. After a minute or so, I decided to get up and see if he needed help. The thought ran through my mind that maybe he was choking on his own spit, but then I figured he may just have been sick.
As soon as my butt left the chair, he stopped his incessant hacking. I sat back down and focused my attention back on my monitor.
Digging into my backpack, I unearthed my head phones. I jammed the buds into my ears and turned on some music; the sudden, eerie silence was more distracting than the music. The beat pulsed in my ears and my mind zeroed in again on my homework.
Two hours later, I was completely done and signed out of all of my student accounts. The other person hadn’t made a sound since their coughing fit, but I didn’t see anyone from where the sound came from. Once the screen flickered back to the login window, I pushed my chair back, slung my backpack over my shoulders, and stood up.
Pins and needles ran down my legs in waves. I shook and rubbed them out as best as I could and gave a few tentative steps forward. Once I knew I wasn’t going to fall flat on my face, I maneuvered through a sea of computers and chairs towards the glowing EXIT sign situated above the only door.
I used the light from the unused desktops to see my way across the room. Halfway to the door, I caught faint movement out of the corner of my eye. Looking over, I saw that guy from before struggling to get up off of the couch he was dozing on by the plethora of windows.
Finals week will be the death of all college students, I thought to myself. The textbook fell from his lap and hit the floor with a thud. I would’ve passed out too if I had to read a text book all night. Hell, I drool in class when my professors drone on and on about nothing.
He stumbled forward, tripping over one of the low, shin-high coffee tables.
“Dude, are you okay?” I asked, taking a few steps towards him.
The guy didn’t say anything; he just kept walking towards me, arms slightly outstretched, a faint moan escaping his lips.
He’s got to be drunk. Or just way too tired to care about where he’s walking.
I laughed and turned away, wanting to get out of there and get home to my warm, comfy bed. Just as my hand closed around the bar that opened the door, the drunk’s hand closed around my shoulder, pulling me back.
“What the fuck, dude?” I yelled, spinning around.
Through the dim light, a mixture of the full moon and the computer monitors, I could see that something was seriously wrong with this guy. His hand tightened around my shoulder, trying to pull me closer to him. His mouth opened up wide, almost as if he was going to bite me. He was one of those people I had seen several times in between my classes but to whom I had never spoken a word.
“Whoa, dude,” I said, trying to pry his fingers off me. “Back the fuck off.”
His grip only tightened on me, so I placed my hands, palm out, in the middle of his chest and shoved him away from me. The backs of his knees hit a table and he tumbled backward; his head hit a table, then the carpet with a thud, and air rushed from his lungs in a whoosh. A lamp toppled over and the bulb shattered, littering the floor and making the floor glitter in the moonlight.
He tried to get back up, moaning with the effort. His hands were grasping at thin air, trying to find some sort of leverage to pull himself up. Honestly, he looked like a turtle trying to get up off of his back.
Yep, definitely drunk.
I shook my head and turned away from him. I just wanted to get out of there, go home, and sleep for at least a few hours.
The drunk found his footing again, a loud moan escaping from his lips. I turned back around, only to see him lumbering over to me with more purpose. I stepped backward until I hit the wall behind me. He stepped into a chink of moonlight falling across the room and I couldn’t help but scream.
His skin was as white as paper, eyes the color of rotten egg yolks and piss. Blood and saliva dribbled over his bottom lip and down his chin in ropes. He gnashed his teeth at me, one of his front teeth falling out, his bottom two chipping away. Bloody hands reached for my throat, fingers tipped with cracked and bloody nails.
I was speechless. Whoever this guy was before was long gone now.
Zombie. It was the only thing to cross my mind that actually made sense to me.
All my life I had an obsession with anything dealing with the end of the world as we know it. Every aspect of my life had some sort of relations with what I, and other people like me, call dystopia. Each and every book I read, every videogame I played, and most movies I watched, all had some sort of apocalypse feel to them. Some even had a zombie or two thrown in the mix somewhere.
But NONE of that could prepare me for ultimately the real thing. I ducked beneath his outstretched arms and left that library as fast as I could, slamming the door behind me. But no amount of miles could truly get me far away enough from that monster.
The next day, I made a run to the grocery store. I feared that I would run into more of those things, if there even where any, and wanted to do everything in town that I needed to do while I still could.
I went to the nearest grocery store, which was about twelve miles away in one direction. The roads were completely deserted, save for a few wrecked and some abandoned cars here and there.
There was a feeling deep inside my heart that kept telling my brain things were about to get really bad, so I wanted to get things I could use a year, maybe even two, down the road. But really, anything’s better than nothing, right?
I finally pulled my car into the rather small parking lot, trying to avoid the parked cars. Stray advertisements littered the blacktop. Some of them were stuck to the pavement, several others drifting lazily in the breeze. Bright red letters were blazoned across the front: DON’T MISS OUR ANNUAL TWO DAY SALE!
Not surprisingly, most of the cars were occupying the spots closest to the doors. Some of them were parked haphazardly, taking up two, even three spots. All thought to organized parking went out the window when they pulled in, but that’s usually how it goes anyway.
I parked my Subaru neatly into a spot near the other cars. My car hummed silently in the space I had chosen between a large, black SUV and an old red truck. I reached over automatically, my fingers curling around the smooth, cool handle of the wooden baseball bat I grabbed before leaving.
I turned the ignition off, pocketed the keys, and opened the door. Planting my feet firmly on the ground, I pushed myself up and out of the car, pausing only to shut and lock the door behind me; when bad things happen, people tend to bring the worst out in themselves, and I didn’t want to find my car gone.
An advertisement fluttered past me on a sudden, bone-chilling breeze, nicking my arm as it went by. The wind kicked it up into the air and I watched as it flew away, a small white speck against the cloudless blue sky.
Stuffing my hands, now numb from the chill in the air, into the pockets of my coat, I began walking towards the front door. My bat was looped through my arm, the crook of my elbow holding it securely in place. My pockets weren’t much warmer than the air surrounding me, offering my fingers only slight relief. The fingers on my left hand were clutched around the wad of cash I always had on me. I wasn’t sure if it was going to do me any good today, but the weight of the money was comforting as I stepped up to the automatic door. Everything was too quiet out here, and everything looked dead inside the store. No pun intended.
It slid apart with a whoosh of air, blowing my hair back away from my face. I stepped through the door and reached out for a cart, only to see the last three left shoved against the furthest wall in the cart bay. My feet echoed against the rough tile floor, only adding to the eeriness of the situation. Usually people were yelling at their kids or laughing about some joke I didn’t catch.
Where were the happy cashiers whose registers beeped every time they scanned something?
I pushed the cart onward through the second set of doors and could see right away that most of the fresh stuff was already gone, the shelves and bins of fruit and vegetables void of anything. I threw the bat into the child seat on the cart and pushed my way towards the soup and pasta aisle.
Turning the cart into the mouth of the aisle, I found that some of the stuff was already gone, but no one was around fighting over what was there for the taking.
There were dozens of bags and boxes of pasta just sitting there on the shelves. People are dumb, I thought to myself as I threw bag and box after bag and box into the basket of the cart. I tried to leave some for anyone else that may come along, but it was hard because there was so much food, and I wasn’t sure when I would be able to get more.
The next aisle housed so many cans it was ridiculous. I grabbed any and everything: corn, various soups, green beans, baked beans, potatoes, peas. Anything that would keep me on my feet when everyone else is either dead or dead.
There had to be at least two hundred and fifty or so cans in my cart when I was done in that aisle. I hefted the cart around the corner into the water and juice aisle, pushing hard enough for sweat to start dripping down my back.
Not much to choose from; nearly everything had gone out the door already. There were a couple gallon jugs left and two thirty-two packs of bottles. I took five jugs and the two packs of bottles, placing the packs on the bottom rack of the cart and the jugs on top of the cans.
I managed to scrounge up a few sacks of sugar, flour, red beans, and rice. Not those scrawny five pounders; I’m talking those huge, twenty-five pound sacks that no one ever wants because “they’ll never use all of it before it spoils.” They really just don’t want to bend down and pick them up off the bottom shelf. Lazy bastards.
If the world really was coming to an end, then I wanted to be one of the few that came out on top.
The lights started flickering on and off. My head snapped upward, watching the fluorescent lights flash. The one directly over my head gave a loud pop and went out completely. Soon, the others in the ceiling followed, plunging everything in semi-darkness. The heat in the store built up, making me sweat even more.
I didn’t want to be in this place any longer, so I hefted the cart up to the checkout counters. The clerk looked at me and then to my cart and back again. A man, I assumed it was her manager, came out and whispered something in her ear.
“Don’t worry about the money,” she said, glancing down at my cart. The man retreated back through the door he came through, shutting it quietly behind him. “If you want, you can go back and get everything else.”
I didn’t know what to say to her. I wanted to simultaneously hug and kiss her, although that would have been a little awkward, and dance around. I left the cart by her register and got the only one I could see without leaving through the doors, which was lounging by the front door.
Going back through the aisles, I got everything I could use, piling everything high in the cart. I even swept what was left of the pasta in the basket. The girl was waiting by the door with my first cart, hands curled tightly around the handle.
We pushed both carts outside to my car, and she even went as far as to help me load up the trunk.
I got a good look around once the girl retreated back inside. There were a few people lumbering towards the store, using the same mannerisms the guy last night did: reaching arms, clacking jaw, feet dragging. They didn’t bother me as much as the fact that every single car was still in the same place as when I went in.
Then it dawned on me: there was no one else in the store with me.
There was no use in trying to call Kyle; he had left his phone with me, certain that he would see me when I walked down the aisle towards him. Instead, I tried to call my best friend, Allyson. Surely, she would know what to do in a situation like this. She always knew what to do.
It just rang and rang. I didn’t think she was going to pick up and just started thinking the worst when the ringing suddenly stopped.
“Allyson!” I screamed into the phone. I could barely make out what she was trying to say to me through all the static filling the earpiece on my cell. “Allyson, can you hear me?!?!?”
“- Sorry – I – wait – fuck – nothing’s – what – damn – real – fake – set up –”
I thought my battery might have been dying, but it was fully charged. The signal bars were maxed out, so I couldn’t blame it on shitty reception. What the hell was going on?
Frustrated, I threw my phone across the room, watching as it slid across the wood floor and bumped into the wall with a clatter. The battery popped out, lying in the pool of light emanating from a lamp on the side table by the couch.
I jerked my laptop towards me, placing it on my knees and flipped the top open. As I waited for it to boot up, I tapped my fingers on the keys. My desktop screen finally met my eyes, and I realized I really needed to organize everything. You could barely see the picture I had as the background: Allyson and me standing on the beach in North Carolina.
The bars that indicated my internet signal was full and showing that it was connected, so I double clicked on the Firefox icon.
When the window popped up, a warning message was splayed across the screen: “Server not found. Firefox can’t find the server at google.com. Please try again.”
I refreshed the page over and over and over, but my computer refused to cooperate properly.
“Fucking piece of shit,” I said, slamming the screen down and throwing the laptop on the couch beside me. “The world really is coming to a fucking end.”
My hands wound their way through my hair, balling the strands in my palms. I started rocking back and forth, pulling my head down to my knees and back up repeatedly. Tears streamed down my face in a silent wail. I had no idea what I was going to do now.
Then I remembered something: my life came to an end two years ago. When my parents died unexpectedly, and I was left alone.
“I’m so sorry,” the doctor at the hospital had said, leading me into a vacant room just down the hall from the room my parents were in. “There was nothing we could do. But they died peacefully in their sleep.”
All I can remember from that day is walking out of the hospital into the glaring sunshine. People were walking down the street in front of the hulking building, laughing at some joke that was just told, enjoying their day, not even thinking about death.
They had no idea my world was crashing down around me. And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.
Shaking my head to clear my thoughts, I pulled out an old radio that was probably older than me. I tried to listen to any radio stations that may have been saying something about what’s going on, but all I could hear was static.
A few stations, however, were getting through somewhat. From what I could gather, scientists were working frantically to come up with a cure, but the virus (the thing causing all of this) was figuring out the treatments and mutating faster than the scientists could blink.
Most of what was pouring out of the tiny speakers was hurriedly muttered words in languages I could not speak, let alone understand. I deciphered only two English-speaking men in the jumble and paused my moving of the dial.
“. . . Reports indicate mass death top worldwide . . . CDC reports influenza affecting the entire country . . . local authorities urging residents to stay where they are . . . no traffic in or out of towns, states, and even the country, quarantines are in effect for the entire listening area . . .”
With the flick of a finger, I turned off the radio. The more I listened, the sadder I became. I had no idea what was going to become of this, but whatever it was, I needed to keep myself from slipping into another depression.