“Ergh.” The man wiped his eyes, wincing slightly. He felt as if he had been driving for days. The man owned a shop in the city but had to drive across state to pick up a special order for a preferred customer. He normally wouldn’t allow such a thing, but this customer was damn near keeping him afloat by himself. He pulled off into Emmy’s diner on the outskirts of town, for a quick cup of coffee and a bite to eat. “I need gas anyways.” The diner sat on the same property as a “Taxago” gas station, so he swung in there first. Fueling the car, he looked at his watch. “Four...fucking...thirty.” He had left around 7 that morning. It was about a three hour drive but, due to a shipping mix up, his package was lost and couldn’t be found until about 2 o’ clock. He was pretty pissed off that he had to close up shop for the entire day to go and do this but, Tuesdays were almost always slow, anyways. His store was in a pretty large town and the big chain stores were nearly putting him out of business, save the regulars.
He finished fueling and walked into the diner. Emmy stood at the counter with a half-hearted smile, as always, and he took a seat in front of her. He was kind of a regular of sorts as of late; he had been making several trips to neighboring towns for special orders, just to keep afloat. His stops at the diner had become more and more frequent. “Coffee and toast...wheat, right?” Emmy said, trying hard to remember his name.
“White, please.” He replied.
She snapped her fingers knowingly and nodded, walking towards the coffee. The man cupped his forehead in his hands and slowly wiped his face, down to his neck, leaning his whole body weight against the counter. He was a large man, clearing six feet tall by a few inches and heavy to boot. “Ya look like hell, hun. What’s gotcha so beat?” Emmy asked. The man had seen himself in the mirror behind her and realized how spent he looked. His white t-shirt had turned yellow from sweat; his black suspenders were misaligned on either side, jeans worn on the knees and the bandage on his forearm hadn’t been changed since he put it on this morning. “And what in the sam hell happened there?!” She exclaimed, pointing at the bandage. She moseyed back to the counter with a pot of coffee and began filling his cup.
“Oh, that? Got into a fight.”
“Seems like there’s been a lot of that going around...” her eyes wandered to the only other person in the diner, a man in a corner booth, and she gently nodded in his direction. The shop owner looked, and recognized the man.
“Tony?” He said.
“You know him?”
“Yeah, he owns ‘Tony’s Kitchen’; it’s next door to my shop. He uh...he come in a lot?”
“No, not usually...he just kinda wandered in and said he was real tired...passed out in the corner a hour ago, looked pretty whipped. He owns a kitchen?”
“Yeah...that’s why I asked if he’s in here often.” Tony groaned a little and stirred slightly. He was drenched in sweat and looked to be in rough shape. “I’m gonna go see if he’s okay.”
“Your toast is ready, sweetie, hold on.” Emmy gestured to the window and walked over to get it. Setting it down, she continued “He ain’t goin’ nowhere, might just as well eat first.”
“Yeah.” The shop owner said without breaking eye contact with Tony. His focus shifted to the toast in front of him. He ate quickly, still worried about Tony. He sipped down the remainder of his coffee and stood up, grabbing his keys off the counter and hooking them to his belt loop. He began walking towards Tony, slowing his approach, as he got closer, as to not startle him. He stopped about three feet away and just stood there, unsure of how to get his attention. He wasn’t exactly ‘friends’ with Tony, he had just seen him in passing and had bits and pieces of conversation with him. He leaned in and reached his hand out, nearly touching his shoulder and opened his mouth to speak. He whispered, “To-“
“Uhckk.” Tony interrupted with a wet sounding snore.
This startled the shop owner a little and his hand jumped back to his chest. He stood up straight and slowly walked away, leaving a ten dollar bill on the counter for Emmy and quietly saying “He’s asleep, I don’t want to bother him. See ya.” He walked from the diner and got into his vehicle, trying to shake the cobwebs off for his drive back into town.
He started his Jeep and began the trek back into town.
"Lot of hitchhikers out tonight." He thought. The country road seemed to stretch infinitely in the heat of the night. He began to drift off momentarily, but regained his composure when he saw a figure on the side of the road that he was headed right for. "Shit!" he swerved around the person and continued towards town, slapping himself a couple of times and cranking the air conditioning to stay awake. He turned on the radio and began scanning stations. "All I want is my music." He whined, under his breath.
"Police say, the man was excessively viole-" He turned the radio off.
"I swear, the only time I want my damn music, they want to do the news." He thought, shaking his head a little.
He passed a sign that said he was only five miles from the city limits and his heart jumped momentarily. He was doing his best to stay awake but, driving on a road surrounded by trees in a hilly area wasn't helping any. The ups and downs were rocking him to sleep and the trees were blocking out any possible moonlight.
“One mile.” he mumbled to himself. The city limits were only a mile off, which was good because he was groggy as hell and absolutely exhausted. The hunger was almost unbearable and he began chastising himself for not ordering more than toast at the diner. He had to get home, get some food and get some rest. He had had a long day. The flashing lights of police cruisers filled the void of darkness ahead. He turned down a side street to avoid any traffic and continuously wiped his eyes to keep himself from falling asleep at the wheel. “Almost there, stay awake.” He mumbled some more. He pulled into his garage and went inside. Stumbling up the stairs, he used the railing to its fullest capacity, leaning on it heavily as he went. He was realizing how hot he was now. He made it to the platform and turned right to go up the second set of stairs. "Why is it so hot in here?" He had glanced at the thermostat on the way up, it read 64 degrees, but it sure as hell didn't feel like it. Walking into his bedroom, he reached for a strap on his suspenders, but stopped. He had just realized that his wife wasn’t home; this was strange for a Tuesday night. “Oh well. She probably had some book club meeting or somethin’.” He thought to himself. "She's a big girl, she can take care of herself." He honestly didn't have the energy to care that much and realized, instead, the benefits. "Cookies." He whispered. He wandered downstairs to assure himself that he was in fact alone, before he grabbed something to eat. Shoving cookies into his mouth, he began walking upstairs. That’s when he noticed the mess. There was a trail of dirt going through the house, from the front door to the back, as if someone had worn a path through the house. He began investigating other rooms.
He walked into his den and immediately noticed a glaring absence. All of his weapons were gone. Every last one of them were gone. “What the fuck?” he said under his breath. He inspected every room to see if anything else had been taken, but the only other thing missing was his wife's car. He checked the bedroom closet, behind a piece of plywood, for his emergency shotgun. “At least they didn’t get this.” He thought, as he retrieved it, and the shotgun shells from behind the object. He loaded the weapon and hurried back to his vehicle. The thought had now crossed his mind that, in an emergency, he had told his wife to grab all of the weapons and meet him at the shop. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” He repeated to himself as he squealed the tires of his Jeep, en route to the shop.
Goddamn, he felt terrible. He was still hungry; he was still tired; all he wanted to do was sleep. In his mind, his whole day had just been dealing with problem after problem. Now something serious was going on, and he couldn’t seem to focus at all because he was just so unbelievably drained. More red and blue lights lit the darkness a couple blocks up. He took notice and turned down another street. Having been in business in this town for so many years, he knew all the ways around roadblocks. Weaving his way through neighborhoods at speed, he hit downtown and realized: it was chaos.
“Holy shit.” He said out loud, staring as he drove through the streets. There were bodies on top of bodies on the sidewalks, stacked haphazardly in front of sandbags. His hands were clammy and a shiver went up and down his spine. He convulsed a little in the seat and began chewing his nails. Just then, there was the sound of gunfire in front of him. He focused on the road and recognized some officers shooting down an alleyway on the right, directly across from his shop. He turned left and pulled in front, not bothering to park legally. He fumbled for the correct key before he realized the door was already open. He rushed inside to find his shop had already been looted. He ran behind the counter and found several expelled shell casings lying on the floor.
“.22 caliber.” He thought. Looking up, he was able to trace a faint trail of blood leading out the back door. Setting the shotgun down on the counter, he opened the safe under it and removed his pistol and emergency bullets. Loading it, he set the bullets down on the way out the backdoor.
He opened the door cautiously and proceeded down the alleyway a bit. There was moaning around the corner and he intended to find the source. The ground shook and he felt an explosion nearby. He took cover beside a dumpster momentarily. Normally, this would have rattled him to the core, but under the circumstances, he figured he should probably expect it. He looked around and, figuring it was the police he saw firing down the alley, he proceeded.
He aimed his weapon around the corner and saw...something. “The fuck is that?” He thought. In the dimly lit alleyway, it appeared to be a homeless person. They were staggering and moaning in the alleyway and, when they heard him come around the corner, began staggering in his direction. "Maybe he needs help?" The thought had crossed his mind, but he was quite certain now that what he was looking at wasn't a homeless person. If it was, he was in really bad shape. The silhouette of the creature was hard for him to wrap his brain around. It looked like a human but, with wings?
The creature was stumbling toward him, unable to keep its footing for longer than a couple steps. He backed up around the corner again, and when the creature finally made its way around it as well, he could better make out just what he was looking at. Its arms outstretched, skin and muscle hanging from them to its waist and the sound of sinew tearing with every step. He gasped and took several steps back. Raising his weapon, he hesitated. "No, this isn't human." He fired three shots. Two landed squarely in its chest and the third missed over its right shoulder. The thing kept coming “Are you fucking kidding me?!” He yelled at it. Unphased, the corpse only broke its stride momentarily. He fired one more shot, catching it squarely in the forehead. It stumbled back two steps before falling awkwardly into the wall beside it. He approached it with caution and knelt down beside it with hesitance.
The “creature”, as his mind kept referring to it, appeared to be dead. Not dead because he just shot it in the head, but as if it were dead before. He just couldn't fathom something that looked like this being alive. Upon investigating further, his fears were confirmed, it was a walking corpse. It took a few moments for this to set in. He stood up and began pacing. "Zombies?" He thought. "Just like in the movies?" He hopped a little as he paced and felt like he was losing his mind. Wiping his face vigorously, he thought, "What in the fuck is happening in this town?!" He finally collected himself enough to inspect further. The creature’s stomach was ripped open, spilling its entrails onto the concrete. Its face was torn from its left ear down to the jawline, the flesh peeled back in a jagged pattern, exposing its teeth which appeared to be stained quite horrendously. He had spotted what appeared to be a finger amongst the intestines. He reached his hand out slowly. He wasn't squeamish by any means, but the thought of sticking his hands into undead intestines didn't exactly appeal to him, either. He retrieved a somewhat mangled finger. He picked it up momentarily but dropped it when the creature’s body readjusted itself on the alley wall. He looked up at the creature and recognized what was left of the face. “You're...you're the guy who tried to steal my Jeep this morning." He thought, his attention returning to the finger.
He fumbled around for it, standing up to see where it landed. He found it behind him. The finger was hardly recognizable as one, but he had noticed a certain shine that caught his attention.
He wept a little as he realized what it was that he saw. He was shaking violently now. He couldn’t control his muscles for several seconds, but finally mustered the strength to put his thumb and forefinger around his wife’s wedding ring to remove it from her severed finger.
He began sobbing uncontrollably.
He collapsed next to the creature, trying to catch his breath. His heart and mind alike, were racing. He looked again at the zombie.
“This sonovabitch bit me this morning.” He thought, looking down at the bandage on his forearm. "If it's anything like the movies..." His mind didn't need to go any further. He knew what it meant. Truth be known, the man was more devastated by the loss of his wife than the loss of his own life. In fact, he felt in that moment, the zombie may have done him a favor. He took some time to recover from this. Sitting next to the zombie in that alley, he reflected for several minutes.
Standing up slowly, he had decided his course of action; he screamed “Fuck you!” Placing his hands against the wall and standing directly over the creature, he began kicking the zombie in its head with all of his strength. Each blow releasing the stress and anger of the day, its head was nearly crushed, and his shirt was a mess of spattered blood.
He grabbed his weapon and pocketed his wife’s ring. Opening the back door to the store, he stumbled in and leaned against the counter.
He composed himself after a few moments and, putting his pistol in the back of his pants, he looked around.
“They cleaned the whole fucking place out.” He thought, as he looked around the gun store. Every weapon in the shop had been taken, aside from his pistol. Although, with the extent of looting that clearly occurred, he was surprised they didn’t just take the safe.
Just then, the front door opened, and a figure stepped through. Raising his shotgun, the shop owner yelled “FREEZE!” The figure stopped. He cocked his shotgun. He recognized this wasn't a zombie. This was a young man, dressed in blue, with the letters "R.C.P.D." proudly displayed across his torso. “Who are ya, what’re ya doin’ here?!” He continued.
The young man replied “Hold your fire, I’m a human!”