Mondays are always the worst, but today, everything is going wrong. I’m sitting in gridlock when I realize that the clocks are still set for the wrong time. I always leave it to Blake to change them and he forgot, just like every other thing I ask him to do. I tried calling to make sure he knew he made me late to work, but his phone must be off or something since the calls went straight to voicemail every time. Figures. I toss the phone on the passenger seat, and then it begins to ring.
“Blake?” I answer the phone. “I was just trying to call you.”
“I’m stuck in Arlington Heights,” he tells me. “There’s a car accident at the railroad crossing or something.”
“I just heard about that on the radio during the traffic report.”
“Yeah,” he sighs. “I don’t think I am going anywhere very soon. I can’t get ahold of anyone at the office. The phone lines are messed up.”
“I know. I tried to call you, like ten times, but it wouldn’t go through.”
“I think I am just going to head back to the house as soon as I can figure out a way back there,” he tells me. “You should too. Call out today. Pick up Abby and meet me back at the house.”
“I’m sitting in a ton of traffic right now. I can see the light is out up at the intersection. Maybe it’ll clear up after that.”
“No,” he says. “Go home.”
I roll my eyes. It’s just like Blake to think I can skip work because it is too inconvenient today. He doesn’t understand these things because he has never had any real responsibility.
“I have to get to the school,” I explain to him. “Especially if something goes wrong today while all the kids are there.”
“Listen,” Blake says. “I’ll go get A-”
His voice cuts out and the phone goes silent.
“What?” I say. “Blake, I’m losing you, the phone is cutting out. Blake!”
The line goes dead and I look at my cell phone to see the call failed. I call him back but only get a message telling me the circuits are all busy due to high call volume. With a sigh, I toss the phone onto the passenger seat again and stare at the line of cars in front of me and turn up the radio. Instead of cracking jokes or making prank calls like usual, the morning disc jockeys voices sound urgent and terrified. They’re talking about riots and the national guard. My heart begins to race.
“What is happening?” I mumble to myself.
A driver blares his horn behind me and I hear people arguing on the street. I twist around in my seat to look out the back window at the line of cars behind me and I notice Abby’s jacket on the floor of the car. The sight of it makes me realize that Blake was right. I need to get Abby back home. That’s all that matters right now.
A loud bang startles me. I look up and notice a hole punched through the back window. Like someone threw a rock at my car or something. I have to get out of here. After I shift the car in reverse, I start to wheel around, but I stop when I feel a sharp pain in my abdomen. My hands reach down as I hit the brakes and I feel the blood rushing out of me.
Someone shot me. It takes a moment for my brain to even make sense of it. I have no idea why someone would want to shoot at me. My bloody hand finds my phone in the passenger seat and I clutch it. I try to call Blake again to tell him what is happening but I only manage to smear blood all over the display.
This can’t be happening.
I throw the car in park and open the door. Maybe getting out of the car is a bad idea, but I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want to stay there and get shot again. The pain really hits me as I climb out of the car. I double over in agony and collapse on the street.
Other people are getting out of their cars and scattering in all directions for cover. I hear sirens approaching. More gunshots. A woman screams at the top of her lungs.
“Help,” I gasp. My voice is barely audible and drown out by the sounds of chaos.
I crane my neck around toward the police sirens up the street where people are getting out of their cars. The driver of a black Camaro with red racing stripes spins his vehicle around in the road, clipping a cop that fires a few rounds through the windshield of the vehicle. Instead of stopping, the guy in the Chevy floors it and the cop stumbles to the ground. He howls in pain as the tires roll over his body. The car jerks toward the side and crashes into a towering oak along the road. The door opens and the driver spills out onto the grass, blood gushing from the bullet wounds in his chest. I watch in shock as his body goes still on the ground.
“Can you get up?”
My head twists around to find a man in a stylish leather jacket and sunglasses reaching for me.
“I’ve been shot,” I tell him. My voice cracks from my panic. “I don’t know.”
Instead of waiting for me to move, the guy just crouches down and grabs me roughly by the arm and pulls me over his shoulder. Before I know it, he is carrying me down the road. The pain surges in my lower back with every step and my vision begins to blur.
“Stop,” I gasp, but the words are hardly more than a whisper as I struggle to breathe. Then everything goes black for a moment and I start to feel nauseous from the motion. I lift my head up and spot a car speeding right at us. I try to yell and warn the man that is carrying me, but by the time he whirls around the vehicle is too close. The man darts for the shoulder of the road and the vehicle swerves slightly but clips the man and sends us both sprawling on the ground. My head bounces off the gravel along the road and everything spins and blurs.
I know if I lose consciousness I’m going to die here. I twist around and get to my hands and knees and crawl alongside the road. The man that had been carrying me groans as he sits up. After he gets to his feet, he hobbles over and grabs me and pulls me to my feet.
“We need to get off the streets,” he says as he drapes my arm over his shoulder and wraps his arm around my waist. We shuffle down the grass embankment and into the thick woods alongside the road. I trip over sticks and rocks every few feet and a couple times I drag him to the ground alongside me. Eventually we emerge into a backyard in a subdivision of mansions. The man helps me up to the back patio and sets me down on a patio chair beside the pool. A pair of scruffy terriers growl and bark at us through the glass of the french doors to the kitchen.
“You still with me?” the man asked me. He waves his fingers in front of my face to get me to focus on him.
Once my eyes focus on his face, the man tries to calm me with a pained smile.
“Can you tell me your name?” the man asks me.
“Amanda,” I gasp.
“Don’t try to move, Amanda” the man presses a hand to my chest to keep me still.
I can’t manage to say anything else, but I nod my head to let him know I understand.
“I have to go inside for a minute,” the man tells me. “See if I can find a first aid kit or something. You should be safe here while I’m gone, but if you see anybody, and I mean anybody, you call me. My name is Eric. Just yell as loud as you can.”
I nod again and watch as he scans the backyard before leaving my side. A moment later, I hear the sound of glass breaking and the terriers begin barking wildly inside. The man speaks softly to quietly the dogs. I stare up at the sky and try to ignore the throbbing pain in my abdomen. It seems like the man is gone for too long. The pain subsides enough for me to think clearly for a moment and I begin to panic at my situation. When my thoughts return to Abby at her school, I try to sit up but a crippling pain causes me to collapse back down on the lawn chair and start crying. It isn’t just the pain, but the feeling that my child needs me and I’m physically unable to do anything to help her, which drives me to tears.
I let out a wail of agony, and then the man emerges from the house and hurries over.
“Shhh,” he hisses as he scans the surroundings. “Easy, Amanda.”
His right hand rests on my chest and he brushes the hair out of my face with the other.
“I need to see the wound so I have to take off your top,” the man tells me as he begins to undo the buttons of my blouse.
I panic at the thought of this stranger undressing me in the open like this, but the excruciating pain is severe enough that I simply nod and let him undo my shirt buttons. He lowers the chair and rolls me over to check the entry wound on my lower back.
“Who are you?” I ask him.
“I told you. My name is Eric,” he tells me.
“No,” I roll my eyes. “I mean are you a doctor?”
“No ma’am,” he shakes. “Just a corpsman.”
I don’t know what in the world a corpsman might be, but it’s not like there is anyone else trying to help me and he seems to know what he is doing.
“There isn’t too much blood,” he says as he rolls me back again. He presses his fingers to my wrist as his eyes dart to the watch on his wrist. “But we have to get you to a hospital now.”
“I can’t,” I groan. “I need to get my daughter from her school.”
When I try to sit up he presses his hand firmly on my chest.
“What school is she at?” he asks me.
“Lyons,” I tell him. “I need to get there.”
“No,” he shakes his head. “I’m going to find us a ride and get you to a hospital. I promise I’ll look for your daughter when I can. Just lay still and I’ll be right back to get you. Can you do that?”
He waits until I nod before he stands up and limps back to the house. Even though he got hit by a car and has to be in plenty of pain himself, Eric put himself aside to help me. I don’t know too many people like that. Several minutes later he returns and helps me inside the house. The terriers bark and growl at us as we pass through the dining room. We move through the kitchen and a laundry room before we reach the garage door. Eric gets it open and helps me into an idling pickup truck in the garage.
“Buckle up,” he tells me before he races around to get behind the wheel.
He shifts the car in reverse and backs down the drive. I jerk forward when he slams on the brakes, and the seat belt digs into my wound and causes me to groan in pain. I close my eyes and dig my nails into the armrest.
“Damn it,” I curse.
“Sorry,” Eric says as he shifts the truck in drive. He slams on the gas and wheels the truck around causing another surge of pain in my gut.
When I open my eyes again, I see he isn’t just driving like a maniac through the subdivision to try and kill me. There are people in the road. Dozens of people. But something is all wrong about them. They stagger towards the car in bloodstained clothing with blank expressions on their faces.
“What’s wrong with them?” I ask Eric.
“I don’t know. They’re not right,” he mutters as he swerves to avoid a woman that is hunched over a body on the ground.
Once we pass her, I glance at the side mirror and see her face covered in blood. Her hands rip out another chunk of flesh and shove it into her mouth. For a second I wonder if I am losing my mind or if what I just saw had actually happened.
“Where are we going?” I ask him.
“Try not to talk,” he tells me. He reaches across the seat and puts his hand on top of mine and presses it harder against the wound. “Just keep pressure on it.”
We come to the end of the subdivision to a road that is clogged with traffic in both directions. Eric curses and slams on the brakes then reverses the truck and spins back around to drive in the opposite direction.
I begin to feel woozy, and the world begins to spin around me. My head rolls from side to side, and my eyes begin to close.
“Stay with me, Amanda,” I hear Eric say, but his voice sounds far off like he is not in the truck beside me.
The world around me begins to dim and then everything goes black.
When I open my eyes again, I am staring at the sunlight coming through the blinds in a quiet room. When I move, I notice an IV stuck in my arm. The wound to my stomach is bandaged, and I am cuffed to the bed. Fear strikes me suddenly. This isn’t a hospital. I’m in a house. I debate calling out for someone, but I decide against it. Someone cuffed me to a bed, so it wasn’t likely that it was someone I could trust. They certainly didn’t seem to trust me.
My entire body feels weak, and I can barely move anyway. I try to piece together the last memories before I lost consciousness. There was a handsome man helping me on the street. Eric. That was his name. Maybe this is his house.
I look down and realize my clothes are clean. Even my underwear. And they are my clothes, but not the ones I remember wearing last. If I went back home, I have no memory of it.
For a few minutes, I stare at the clock on the wall until I hear footsteps outside of the door. I hold my breath as I watch the handle turn to the side and the door creaks open. The smile of the young woman that enters the room calms my unease.
“You’re finally awake,” she sighs. “Eric will be excited to hear that. He has been coming by every few hours to check on you.”
I try to speak but my throat is so dry and hoarse that only a croak comes out. The woman grabs a bottle of water from beside the bed, opens the top, and pours it into a glass.
“Just small sips,” she orders me before she hands me the cup and watches as I take a small sip of the lukewarm water.
“How long was I unconscious?” I manage to ask her.
“Four days,” she tells me.
“Four days?” I gasp.
“You’re lucky to be alive at all,” she says. “You developed a pretty bad infection. I thought you were dead for sure.”
“What is this?” I say and jerk my arm to indicate the cuffs that confine me to the bed.
“It’s just a precaution,” the young woman explains. “In case you didn’t make it.”
“I have to get up,” I grunt as I try to sit up in the bed. I only manage to get halfway up before the pain in my abdomen becomes excruciating and I collapse back onto the pillow.
“Please,” I beg the young woman. “I have to look for my daughter and my husband.”
“Eric said to keep you cuffed to the bed no matter what,” she says. She brings her hands together and squeezes her fingers as if to keep them from doing something they shouldn’t. “I can’t take them off.”
“What?” I say. “What the hell is going on?”
She pinches her lips together and forces a smile like she wants to tell me something but she won’t.
“What is it?” I ask her.
“I shouldn’t even be talking to you,” she says. “Eric said not to.”
“No,” I beg her as she turns towards the door. “Miss, please tell me.”
She pauses in the doorway and looks back at me.
“My name is Lacey,” she says. “If you need anything just call for me. Eric should be home soon. I wish I could do more for you, but I’m actually just a dental hygienist.”
The door closes and I pull my arm against the restraints even though I know I am probably too weak to even walk across the room right now if I managed to free myself. I begin to cry because deep down inside I feel a sense of loss and I know it is because something terrible has happened and I dread finding out what it is.
A truck pulls up outside and I hear the loud engine shut off and a door slam shut. The sound of boots on the porch and then the front door opens and closes. I can almost make out the conversation on the floor below between Eric and Lacey. His deep raspy voice and her sweet delicate tone with a hint of southern roots go back and forth for several minutes before I hear footsteps coming up the stairs. The door opens and Eric smiles when he sees me awake and sitting up in the bed, even though I only scowl back at him. I can’t help but feel a little unnerved by waking up to find myself in these circumstances.
“Finally,” Eric says. “I was worried you’d never wake up.” He walks over to the side of the bed as he removes a key from his shirt pocket. I watch as he unlocks the handcuffs and releases me.
“How are you feeling?” he says. His eyes wander over my body as if to check if everything was where he expected it to be.
“I’m scared,” I roll my eyes. “I want to know what is going on.”
“Easy, Amanda,” he says. He reaches for my hand but I pull it away before he can touch me. Eric shakes his head and turns to pull a chair in the corner of the room closer to the bed. He yawns as he sits down and rubs his tired eyes. It looks like he has hardly slept for days. “Do you remember me?”
“Yes,” I tell him. “You saved me.”
“Right,” Eric says as he takes a seat. “So I’m not about to harm you now.” I wait for him to continue but he just stares at me for a long moment.
“Please just tell me what is going on, Eric,” I beg him.
“You remember anything from the morning when I found you?” he asks.
I scan my memories for a few seconds. Some of it is clear but I struggle to fill in the gaps.
“I remember people started acting crazy,” I say. “They were killing each other. Eating each other. It was like they were out of their minds. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“Those people,” Eric says. “They weren’t crazy. They were dead.”
“Dead?” I scoff. “They were walking around.”
“That’s exactly right. I still don’t know why this is happening,” Eric admits. “But it is.”
I feel lightheaded and numb, like I might pass out at any moment.
“Don’t worry, though,” Eric says. “You’re safe here now. It might be the only safe place left. It is worse out there than anyone could ever imagine. But this is still a peaceful town. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it stays that way.”
“Eric,” I interrupt him. “What about my family?”
His eyes lock with mine for a moment before he lowers them.
“Listen, Amanda,” he sighs. “After I brought you here, I went to the school. It was the most awful goddamn nightmare I’ve ever seen in my life. All those kids…” his voice trails off.
“What about Abby?” I plead.
“We managed to pull a handful of kids out of classroom, but none of them were your daughter,” he explains.
“No,” I shake my head. “I have to go look for myself. Take me there.”
“They’re all gone, Amanda,” he says. “You don’t ever want to see something like that.”
I know then that my gut was right. My daughter is gone. I cry into palm of my hand.
He reaches for my hand again and I let him take it this time. He gives me it a slight squeeze and offers a consoling smile.
“I also checked out your house,” he tells me. “Saw the address on your license and went to look for any sign of Blake… That’s his name, right? I saw it on some of the mail on the desk in the office.”
“Well, I checked the house but it doesn’t look like he ever made it home,” he says. “I’m sorry Amanda, I wish had better news for you.”
I shake my head. I was expecting the worst, but I still can’t accept what I am hearing. He must be telling the truth, but I still can’t believe that Blake is gone. If it wasn’t such a shock, I probably would have completely lost it right then and there.
“How could this happen?” I finally manage to say.
“No one knows,” Eric says. “But anyone that dies turns into one of those… things. It’s happening everywhere and no one knows how to stop it. So help won’t be coming either. We have to protect this town. It’s the only hope we got left.”
“How?” I say.
“I’m doing everything I can,” he says. “There are some good people here. They listen to me, I got them organized. And we have everything we need. We’re building walls and defenses. There’s only one road in or out of town. It took a few days but we managed to clear the dead. We’re okay here.”
A gunshot echoes on the streets outside. Eric swivels in his seat and looks outside.
As much as I want to believe it is safe here, I heard the apprehension in his voice. He knows we are never truly safe. Not anymore.
“Thank you,” I tell him. “I can never repay you for helping me.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he smiles. He releases my hand and stands up. “Just rest up. I’m going to need all the help I can get out there.”
“I’m just a teacher,” I tell him. “I’m not going to be much help.”
“There are still kids,” he says as he heads for the door. “Somebody needs to educate them.”
The door closes again and I shut my eyes and begin to sob for a long time. I still can’t accept that my daughter is gone. My baby. The thought ties my stomach into a knot. I want to believe that there is a possibility Blake managed to get to her in time, but I know it’s wrong. I know him and he would have brought her home. So, he must be gone too. The last time I talked to him, I didn’t even get to tell him I loved him. Even if I didn’t feel that way most of the time anymore. He was still my husband. I know I will regret not letting him know what he meant to me when I had the chance.
For the next few hours I work on getting out of bed. The pain from the wound is pretty bad if I stand too long or sit or lift anything. The only thing Lacey gives me to eat is some chicken broth for lunch to help my stomach get used to food again. Eric comes back again in the afternoon to check on the wound and hands me antibiotics and two different kinds of pain medication. By the time Lacey returns with dinner, the pills are starting to kick in and make me drowsy. I can only manage a few bites before I fall asleep.
I wake up half a dozen times during the night with my heart racing. I’m not used to the sound of gunfire. Whenever I hear it, I feel my body tense. As soon as I relax, someone will fire off a few more rounds to take out one of the dead outside. Even though Eric assures me this town is still safe, I can tell he just doesn’t want me to worry. The reality is no place is ever safe anymore.
By the time morning comes around, I’m mostly back on my feet and feeling restless. Lacey brings me a breakfast of eggs, crispy bacon and salty hash browns that I devour while she watches me with a smile.
“How can you smile with all this going on?” I ask her at one point.
“I don’t know,” she says. “I reckon I’m used to having bad stuff happening all around me. Frowning all the time won’t fix nothing. Plus, I was in the military. That helps, too.”
“You?” I say.
“I might be small, but I can take care of myself,” she snaps. “Not everyone is perfect like you.”
“I didn’t mean that,” I say. “You just seem very sweet.”
“I can see why he likes you,” Lacey says.
“Who?” I ask her.
“Eric,” she says. “I seen how he looks at you. I know that look.”
“I’m married,” I tell her, but then I remember my husband is probably gone. There was a time I secretly wished something might happen to Blake, and even welcome the attention of another man, but now I just wish he would hold me and kiss me one more time. I might not have been the best wife, but there is nothing I can do to make up for that now.
Lacey takes the cuffs off while I eat and tells me all about growing up in Arkansas. How she ended up in a foster home and being kicked out of school for fighting. Then she moved to Colorado and had her first kid at nineteen and the awful marriage she got stuck in. No wonder Lacey seems able to handle the end of the world better than me. She makes me realize just how good I had it all my life and never realized it. I married a millionaire. So even if I was a teacher, most people always thought of me as some trophy wife.
“How did you end up in Chicago?” I ask her.
“I fell in love,” Lacey confesses. “I moved out here to be with him. Had no idea what I was getting myself into. I done lots of stupid things for love. I just can’t help it. If I hadn’t done that—” she pauses.
“What?” I ask her.
“I’d be with my kids right now in Pueblo,” she says. “I sent them back home last month to stay with their dad and grandparents. I thought they’d be safer out there. I’ll never forgive myself if something happened to them.”
“Lacey—” I start to say but the sound of gunfire outside interrupts me. I’m about to start speaking again when more gunshots ring out. Moments later, people run passed the house shouting and screaming.
“I better check it out,” Lacey says as she grabs her handgun off the dresser and tucks it into her waistband. “Stay here.”
“No,” I insist. “I’m coming with you.”
“Eric will kill me if he catches you out there,” she groans. She takes a long look at me and realizes I’m going outside whether she likes it or not. “You stay right by me, you hear?”
I nod and follow her down the stairs and out to the street as a couple of men run by with hunting rifles and windbreakers.
“What’s going on?” Lacey asks them as we hurry down the sidewalk behind them.
“Some bikers just hit the south blockade,” the guy pants.
We reach the intersection of Hough and Main in the center of town and turn south but the sounds of gunfire are tapering off by now. There are bodies all along the road. I nearly trip over one in the darkness of the unlit street.
I feel a cramping pain in my abdomen and slow down. Lacey stops when she notices me struggling and turns to help me. She scowls when she sees the fresh blood on my shirt.
“You done ripped open your stitches,” Lacey says.
“I’m all right,” I tell her.
“Eric is gonna kill me for sure,” she says. “Shit!”
Lacey yanks my arm to move me to the side and steps over to the man I nearly tripped over on the ground. He groans as he pushes himself to his knees and turns his head in time to see Lacey fire off the round that punches through his forehead. The body collapses to the ground and Lacey reaches down and picks up his handgun. Lacey turns back toward me and brings up the gun again like she is going to shoot me. I drop to the ground as she fires the gun again. I collapse onto the sidewalk in agony and then a body crashes down on top of me.
“Get up,” Lacey barks as she hauls the body off me. “You’re fixing to get us killed out here.”
She helps me to my feet and we hurry down the road. Lacey spots another shape coming towards us from across the street and raises the gun and fires off a couple of quick rounds. Even with me hanging on her shoulder in near total darkness, this young girl manages to hit the thing on her first or second shot. With her focus on the other side of the road she doesn’t see the corpse that plows into us as we pass by a doorway.
The thing latches on to her and we both lose our footing and tumble to the sidewalk again. Lacey wrestles with the dead man on top of her and grabs his neck as he snaps his jaw inches from her face. She tries to feel around on the ground for the gun but she quickly moves both hands back to hold him off.
I slide a few feet away and watch in horror as she struggles. I twist around to run away and leave her to deal with him, but then my hand lands on the gun. I pick it up and point it at the thing and fire several times, missing wildly and hitting the shoulder before finally hitting it in the head. Lacey flinches when the blood splatters down on her face and shoves the limp body to the side.
“I’m sorry,” I say. I don’t know if she realized I was ready to run away.
“You’re fine,” she says as she gets to her feet. “Come on.”
She helps me up and we slowly climb the hill. The gunshots continue to dwindle and after another couple minutes the town is quiet again. At the top of the hill a large group of people gather in the middle of the road in the darkness. A couple hundred men carry flashlights or torches and it seems like everyone has a gun. Eric is standing in the middle of them on the bed of a pickup truck waiting for them to quiet down enough to speak. He spots me in the crowd and then glares at Lacey.
“Shit,” she mutters. “I’m dead.”
He returns his attention to the crowd and waves his arms to encourage everyone to settle down.
“Calm down, everyone, please,” he begins. “The situation is under control now. Go back to your homes.”
The crowd rumbles anxiously. Everyone is afraid now and no one is leaving.
“How do we know they won’t come back?” yells a voice from the middle of the crowd.
“Listen,” Eric continues. “It was just a matter of time before something like this happened. As much as I like to believe otherwise, I guarantee you this won’t be the last time.”
He pauses to scan the faces in the group surrounding him.
“We can’t afford to let our guard down. If we do, we die. It’s that simple. I have been saying the time will come when we need to fight to protect what we have here. We have to treat anyone outside this town as a hostile whether they are dead or alive. No exceptions.”
He stops again for a minute to let his words resonate.
“I need volunteers to clean up the bodies,” he says. “I want to double patrols on watch for the next 24 hours and we need to set up overwatch positions on the rooftops in town. Let’s get this mess cleaned up.”
He steps down off the bed of the truck as the crowd disperses. His eyes find me and Lacey and he heads for us.
“What are you doing out of bed?” he says to me. He shoots a sidelong glance at Lacey. “Maybe I wasn’t clear enough about that.”
“I wanted to know what was going on,” I tell him. “I want to help.”
His gaze lowers as he considers my words, but he catches sight of the blood on my shirt and shakes his head. He grabs me by the elbow and turns me around back toward town.
“Lacey, get her back and I’ll be by in a bit to look at those stitches,” he says to the young woman.
“Yes sir,” she answers like she is addressing some drill sergeant.
“I’m fine,” I insist, but I let Lacey take hold of my arm and lead me back down the road.
“Told you he’d be mad,” Lacey reminds me. “Now you done it and got me in trouble, too.”
I glance back over my shoulder to see Eric directing some men to pile bodies in the bed of a pickup nearby the road.
“I will talk with him,” I assure her. “I promise it’ll be fine.”
“I know him,” she tells me. “And I can promise you it won’t.”
We return to the house and I climb back into the bed and take off my shirt so Lacey can clean up the wound. Her hands tremble as she dabs the damp cloth against my skin.
“You’re really afraid, aren’t you?” I ask her.
She pauses to look up and meet my eyes.
“If you seen what I seen you’d be afraid too,” she says. She returns her focus to the cloth and the task of cleaning blood off my skin.
“Just yesterday I thought he seemed so nice,” I say.
“That’s what I thought at first, too,” Lacey says. “That’s why I fell in love with the bastard.”
“It wasn’t until later I found out just how cold he can be,” she says. She drops the cloth in the bowl of pink water and stands up to leave. “Trust me you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
After she closes the door, I sit in the silence of the bedroom for as the sun rises until I hear the sound of a truck pulling up to the house. Boots on the porch. The door downstairs opening and slamming shut.
“Lacey?” Eric barks into the quiet house.
There is no answer. Then I hear boots on the stairs. The door handle turns and Eric peers into the room from the darkened hallway.
“Where is Lacey?” he asks me.
“I don’t know,” I say, and can’t help but notice my voice is shaky. “She was just up here a few minutes ago.”
He grumbles quietly to himself as he approaches the bed. I clutch the sheet to my chest. He gives me an irritated look when he tries to pull them down and I don’t let go.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asks me. “I just need to take a look at the damn stitches again.”
“They’re fine,” I insist. “Lacey checked them already.”
“That so?” he says. His hand releases the sheet and he walks over to look out the window at the street. “Did I do something wrong?” he asks me.
I don’t know what to say so I just wait for him to continue.
“I’m just trying to understand why you look so afraid right now,” he says. “Did Lacey say something to you?”
I shake my head. I get the sense that telling him what I heard might be a very bad idea.
“I’m fine really,” I lie. “Just a little anxious after everything that happened.”
“Good,” he says as he swipes his palm over the stubble on his jaw.
“Why would Lacey say anything bad about you?” I ask. I regret it the minute I said it as his stare turns cold.
“Lacey,” he clears his throat. “Sorry, there is no nice way to say it. Lacey likes to make up stories. Especially when it comes to me.”
“She told me she came out here to be with you,” I say. “That she loved you.”
“Ha,” he laughs. “She did? Damn, that’s a new one.”
“What’s so funny?” I ask him.
“Lacey is my little sister, Amanda,” Eric tells me. “She might be the loon of the family, but she is still my family. She probably just feels a little threatened by you being here. Probably doesn’t help that she has been off her meds all day.”
I let out a sigh and rub my forehead with my fingers. I don’t know what to believe and now I feel afraid of everyone around me. I just want to leave, but I have no idea where I could possibly go.
“Just get some rest,” Eric says. “I’ll straighten Lacey out tomorrow. I’m really very sorry to put you through that.”
He bends down and gives me a kiss on the forehead. It would have been really sweet if I wasn’t still concerned that he was a total psychopath.
“Goodnight, Amanda,” he says as shut the door. I wait to hear the front door and the truck engine starting so I know that he is gone, but he doesn’t leave the house. I am not sure what I will do when he leaves, but my instincts keep telling me to get out of here as soon as I can. I’m too scared to move for hours until I am too tired to do anything but sleep.
By the time I wake up, the late afternoon sun is spilling warm light into the bedroom. I catch a faint scent of meat grilling through the open window and my stomach growls. When I look around the room I find Eric sitting in the chair flipping through pages of a photo album. After my eyes can focus again, I recognize it as my album with all the photos from modeling shoots I did when I was younger. It creeps me out to know he has been digging through my life.
“Good afternoon,” he smiles. “Thought you’d never get up.”
“I had trouble falling asleep,” I explain.
“No need to explain,” he said. He stands up and fills a glass of water from a pitcher on the dresser and brings it me in the bed. “I understand.”
“Where is Lacey?” I ask him.
“I’m not sure,” he says. “I was hoping you might be able to tell me. She never came back home last night. So I’ve been waiting here for you to get up because I hope maybe you might have some idea where she went.”
“No,” I shake my head.
“You sure she didn’t say anything?”
“Sorry,” I tell him. “If she had mentioned anything I can’t remember it.”
“I guess I will just wait around with you until she gets back then.”
Damn it. As if it wasn’t hard enough to figure out what was going on around here, now he seems suspicious of me, too. I reach up to grab the glass of water and find my hand is cuffed to the bed again.
“Sorry,” he smiles. He brings the cups to my lips and pours a bit in my mouth. “Since you decided to take off last night, I thought I’d better make sure you don’t hurt yourself again.”
“I’m not going anywhere, so I’d appreciate it if you’d take them off,” I say.
“Sure,” Eric says as he retrieves the key from his shirt pocket and releases me. “I’m just here to look out for you.”
He returns to the chair across the room and sits down and folds his hands in his lap and stares at me for a few minutes.
“I appreciate everything you’ve done for me,” I tell him. “But I think I’d like to leave.”
“Leave?” he laughs. “And go where exactly?”
“Anywhere,” I tell him. “I don’t feel safe here.”
“Well, that’s unfortunate,” he sighs. He scratches his forehead for several seconds while he considers how to respond. “I tell you what, as soon as you’re healed up we’ll set you up with some supplies and you’re free to go on your way.”
“Really?” I ask.
“I don’t want anyone here that doesn’t want to be here. That will only lead to trouble. I told you before. This is a peaceful town and I want it to stay like that.”
A truck pulls up outside and the doors slam shut. I hear the voices of several men approaching the house. Eric sits up in his chair to look through the window.
“This can’t be good,” he grunts as he gets to his feet. He walks over to the door and looks back at me on the bed. “Stay put,” he tells me then he closes the door.
Downstairs the men begin to argue. Eric tells them all to calm the fuck down and then starts explaining something at length. I don’t know what is going on, but this might be my chance to get the hell out of here while I still can. My feet touch the creaky wooden floors as lightly as I can manage as I cross the room to get my shoes and clothes. By the time I get dressed, the men are moving back out the front door. They hurry back to the truck and pile in. When they drive away, I hear boots on the stairs I hurry back the bed and cover myself with the sheet.
The door swings open and Eric barely notices me as he walks over to the closet.
“What’s going on?” I ask him.
He doesn’t seem to hear me as he tosses aside some clothes and retrieves a case.
“Eric?” I ask him louder.
“They spotted another group heading toward town,” he tells me as he begins attaching a large scope to a rifle. “Sounds like they have some serious firepower, too.”
“Maybe they aren’t looking for trouble,” I say. “Eric…”
“Listen,” he whispers. “I know you’re scared, but I need you to pay attention. This could get bad so I need you to promise me you will stay inside no matter what. Can you do that?”
“Okay, I promise” I say. I try to sound sincere even though I’m leaving the first chance I get.
“You have to trust me, Amanda,” he says. “I’d never let anyone hurt you.”
He turns to leave and shuts the door behind him. I listen as he heads outside and climbs inside his truck and fires up the engine. After I climb out of bed, I watch as Eric pulls onto the street but only drives a block away and parks outside of an old movie theater near the center of town. A few minutes later he appears on the rooftop and takes up a position behind the neon sign. The orange light of the setting sun fills the empty streets.
If I leave now, he would spot me on the street for sure. I have to wait until the shooting starts. That’s my best chance of getting out of here alive. I hear a faint gunshot in the distance and wait for a long time for more to follow as the sky continues to darken.
It’s almost dark when I see Eric shifting his body on the rooftop. He points the rifle down the adjacent road at someone out of sight. There is a sharp crack as he fires off a round. Eric reloads another round and fires off a second shot which is followed by the sound of shattering glass. A few quiet seconds go by and then the sound of an automatic rifle fills the streets. Bullets spark off the sign as Eric ducks and takes another shot. I turn and hurry down the stairs and out the front door. I pause in front of the house to glance at the movie theater just as there is an explosion on the top of the building.
“You messed with the wrong fucking hombre!” yells a man down the street.
This is my chance to escape. I turn away from the theater and start to run. Halfway down the block I turn and notice a pickup coming up fast behind me. I keep moving as fast as I can in spite of the terrible pain in my gut. I spot a handful of the dead up ahead moving in my direction. They moan as they spot me and start to converge around me. The truck speeds up and then veers off the road onto the lawn in front of me to cut me off and comes to a stop. I am shocked when I see Lacey behind the wheel.
“Don’t just stand there,” she says. “Get in.”
I look back toward town as other pickup trucks race down the street in search of the outsiders. Corpses begin to wander around the street, drawn here by the sounds of battle.
A peaceful town, my ass.
I limp around the truck and climb into the passenger seat and Lacey hits the gas, tearing up the grass as she skids onto the road. She races around the block and back up to Hough Street and heads south toward the edge of town.
“What about your brother?” I ask Lacey. “You’d really leave him like this?”
“Brother?” Lacey laughs. “I bet he done told you I was crazy or something, too.”
Originally Published in Reanimated Writers Undead Worlds