The sound of Ma Statler screaming awakened us followed by what sounded like a tank running through the kitchen wall at the farm.
I attempted to jump out of bed, as I put weight on my leg it gave way, dropping me to the floor. Jez ran to me, she wrapped her arm around my side lifting me to my feet.
The door flung wide, Maggie came in with her index finger pressed firmly against her lips indicating we needed to shut up. She raced over to my other side helping Jez get me moving.
They practically drug me down the hall to the wardrobe at the end. Maggie forced the door open. It wasn’t a closet at all. It was an old laundry shoot. Without anxiety or hesitation, she pushed me in head first followed by Jez. The shoot was almost completely vertical, and I was on the floor of the basement before I had a chance to tell her to wait. I scanned up just in time to see Jez flying towards me. I twisted to my left as she hit the ground next to me. Thank god whoever set this up thought it through and placed a mattress at the bottom.
I glanced over to Jez and saw her reaching up at Maggie in a silent scream.
I rolled under the shoot as Maggie screamed and blood burst over her body flooding the laundry shoot.
She was gone.
“What the hell is happening?” Jez asked.
“The aliens have invaded. They smelled Ma’s biscuits and gravy so they came here first.” I responded. The wrinkles on my face contorted into a million lines, each one dripping in sarcasm.
Her eyes opened so large I could almost follow her thoughts. Then her lips curled, exposing her teeth. And with my smart ass comment hanging in the air, I could see I was in trouble.
“BANG!” The crashing sound became so loud and violent, the house was shaking. The basement was built with stacked stones and even it was crumbling under the pressure of whatever was above us.
“How do we get out of here?” I spit out.
Jez never had a chance to expel her own snide reply before the door at the top of the stairs flew open. Pieces of the door jamb flung off the wall, bouncing to my feet. There was a coal-fired furnace in the middle of the room facing the stairs. Its secondary purpose was to burn large trash. The door was an ornate piece of cast iron, 2 feet by 2 feet. I grabbed Jez and pushed her towards the door as I fell to my knees and crawled. Jez helped me climb in. Once I was in, I turned to pull Jez inside. The group was approaching the bottom step. Was this the infected again? We hadn’t seen a pack for weeks. The groups were less than three usually. With the amount of destruction happening, there must be hundreds.
Jez looked my in the eyes and mouthed, “I love you.” She closed the door and rolled as far away from the furnace as she could before the men cleared the bottom step.
There were three figures, each one wore soiled clothes covered in blood and god only knows what else. Their smell entered the room long before they did. I couldn’t see Jez anymore. But from the attention they were focusing on the corner of the basement, I knew they had her in their line of sight. They all paused, their shoulders rising and falling with each breathe. They pounced like a lion on their prey. I moved to kick the door in an attempt to help her. But I realized she was already gone.
I can’t hold myself up and somehow I’m supposed to go on without the only thing that made me strong. “Jez…” I wept silently.
The wet sound of fleshing being split apart and ravaged, filled my ears.
With each snap of flesh flashes would blast my mind. The day we met in the hospital a lifetime ago.
Lena being born, Lj falling down the stairs.
My life with her by my side pouring through my brain as they gorged themselves on her. My soul disappearing with each heart stopping crunch of her bones.
The slow dismantling of her existence was over just as quickly as it began. I wanted to fall apart and lay here until my last breathe crossed my lips. But I knew that Jez would never forgive me if I did. I know she was better off now. If the infected had found us, at least she wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore.
I waited until I heard the men crawl back up the steps. Two of the pack mates walked on all fours like animals. I couldn’t see much out the hole in the door, but it appeared one of the Mens spine was protruding from his skin. The three men sounded like an entire army as they hit every surface on their way back up the steps.
“What the hell is this shit?” I asked myself. This was far worse than any encounter we experienced before. They were fast, organized, and focused. They didn’t seem to care about putting fear into their victims like the last group did.
I reached my palm out to open the door. The inside was smooth, no latch. My hand was too large to fit through the hole. I was stuck. And if the vigor they attacked Jez with was any indication, no one was left alive to let me out. That thought didn’t bother me. without Jez I had nothing to live for anymore. Lj became a man with his own army overnight. These monsters took Lena from me, and now Jez. I couldn’t even force my eyes to drop a tear. I had nothing left to give. No love, no fear, no pain. I was completely overcome by the burning fingers of the devil. I felt them pour over my flesh hypnotising each molecule in my body. Defeat is a word giving glory to the heavens compared to what I have become.
The inside of the furnace was just large enough for me to sit with my knees in my chest. Even time allowed, it would have been impossible for Jez and I to fit. My leg was throbbing, I was physically and mentally defeated. I held myself as I slowly fell asleep. I could feel deaths cloak gently draping itself over me. My time was near. I couldn’t draw a deep breathe and sucking the dust from the boiler into my lungs was making every inhalation harder. I saw spots and lights dancing in front of my eyes as I gradually passed out.
The scratching sound of metal on metal stirred into my dream beckoning me to open my eyes. An arm reached into the furnace grabbing my hair, yanking me out by my head. I flopped to the floor being expelled from the furnace like a baby being forced from the womb.
The person rolled me over and placed their hands on my face.
“Tom. Jesus Tom, don’t you die!” It was Doc.
“Doc.” I smiled, but it faded quickly as I remembered Jez.
“She’s dead. Those things tore her apart.” I closed my eyes and pointed to the corner of the room.
Doc helped me to my feet, and we went to where it happened. All that remained was a few scraps of stomach and a puddle of her blood.
“How did you make it through that?” I asked Doc.
“I heard Ma screaming, and I ran, climbing in the attic. I kept looking out the end vent until I saw those things skin out. I thought there were hundreds, but it was only five all together.”
“You saw them leaving? Did any of them walk on their hands and feet?” I asked.
“Yes, three of them did. They all looked like their backs were broken or something. Sparky came from across the field and they took him apart in seconds. I don’t remember ever seeing the infected move like that before.” Doc was speaking quickly with fear falling from every word.
“We need to search for anyone else that got away.” As the words escaped my mouth, I felt the weight of Jez’s death collapse over me. Vomit exploded from the deepest pits of my bowels.
After Lena died, I remember feeling like the world had killed all the good in me. I was beginning to glue my life together again, now this happens. “I have to get ahold of Lj.”
“Stay down here, I’m going to run up to my room and get my AR and a couple pistols.” Doc commanded.
She didn’t give me a chance to rebut before she was gone. I could hear her make her way through the main floor. I heard her pause at Mom’s room, then over to Ma Statler’s. Whatever happened in that room must have been atrocious because I heard her stop at the door and freeze in spot, followed by gagging. I heard her as she took the first three steps. The treads were loose and squeaked, but I fixed the other 9 steps so I lost her after that.
The front screen door creaked as it opened, then as if someone was trying to be silent, they deliberately closed it, not allowing it to slam shut. I heard footsteps slowly coming towards the basement.
“Shit.” I muttered under my breathe and limped my way back to the furnace. Before I got there, the person began quietly slumping down the steps.
Squeak. I heard Doc hit the bottom three stairs on her way back to me. The figure walked faster down in my direction.
“Doc! Hurry!” I yelled.
The person on the steps now ran toward me.
“Tom! How did you get out?”
My gut dropped, my knees gave way, and I collapsed once again. I fell to her knees and grabbed on to her, trying to climb inside of her.
“Jez, but how?”
Doc cleared the last step with her gun drawn, ready to fire and yelled, “Jez!”
“I’ll explain later. We need to get gone, now!” Her words pushed their way around her urge to cry.
Doc and Jez lifted me up once again as we laid tracks for the front door.
“I need my cane.” I could barely stand without it, much less walk.
Doc shot a glance at Jez, her eyes telling Jez to stay with me as Doc broke away to find my cane. Jez and I stopped, leaning against what used to be the livingroom wall. This room that once held the memories and stories of five generations of the Statler family love, was now just a den that even death would leave to rot. The air was thick and stung as it burrowed its way into the lungs of anyone unlucky enough to breath it in. The walls that once reflected the ideal image of an old-time farm were now covered in blood, vomit, and scratches. Bits of fingernails left in the plaster, dug in as whoever it was, made a final attempt to save themselves from being drug into the next pit of hell. My head turned against my will forcing me to look at every nook and dark hole. A part of me that wanted to see the monsters masquerading in the blackness, and I allowed that to take control. Every shadow grew eyes and laughed at me with the teeth chattering hiss that intertwined with the tainted demonic grins.
If this was a resurgence of the infected, we could fight them with the serum Doc and Jez had made. It worked on the few affected that wondered onto the farm. But I knew I was lying to myself. These were not the same. This was a new version. Something far darker and seeded deeper with hate than the world had ever seen.
Doc came around the corner with my cane in one hand and her rifle in the other. “Just like old times, eh?”
“I will get the truck and bring it to the porch. Wait here.” Doc, once again turned and disappeared before anyone could interject. Under a minute passed, and we were climbing in the cab of the pickup. We had no idea where to turn. When the virus first hit, it was easy to figure out. Get family, get to Barb at the CDC. Now we have no one to help us. “Let’s go to the Salt Lake people and see if they’ve seen anything like this yet. Hopefully, we will be able to get ahold of Lj and Ana when we make it there.” I said
The Salt lake community was only a couple hours drive from Filer. We never figured out the exact date again, but we were sure it was around mid-August. It was near 9:00am, but it was already 103 degrees, and the sun wasn’t even pushing yet. This old ford was a solid and dependable truck, but not having air conditioning was not going to make this a fun trip. As we approached the concrete blockade at the entrance to the farm, I saw a small figure playing with the shadows, half hidden but very much there.
“Is that one of them?” I said but found my face was frozen as the phrase built itself on my tongue. I was not ready to do this again. “God damn it, I can’t…” We had been awake for under an hour, and we had already lost an entire family, our new home.
Doc handed my her pistol, I took aim on the figure. “Mom?”
“You little shit! You were gonna shoot me. Put that damn thing down before you do!” Mom was still full of piss and vinegar. “Where are we going?” She asked as she crawled in the back seat.
At least we hadn’t lost everyone. Mom, Doc, Jez, and myself could make anything work. We sat in silence each of us playing out our new reality in our heads as we watched the miles pass. Images of Jez in the basement flooded my mind. I could easily deal with these new beasts. I will even be okay with losing everyone we did today, but I can’t imagine going on without Jez next to me.
“What the hell happened to you Jez? I saw them attack you.” I said, again my body was being controlled by the part of me that liked to see the darkness.
“After I shoved the door to the furnace closed, I rolled as far into the shadows as I could. I struck what I assumed was one of them. It felt like cold meat. I realized it was the pig that Maggie slaughtered last week. She wrapped it up, covered it in salt, and stuck it down in the basement because it was staying so cool down there. I pushed it as hard as I could as those things hit the bottom of the steps. I thought they saw me at first because they stood there grinding their teeth and staring into the darkness. Just when I thought it was all over for me, they jumped on it and destroyed it. I took a chance and ran like hell. I went upstairs to determine if anyone was still alive. Your room was empty and untouched,” She said looking at mom, “So I figured you must have been playing cards with Ma Statler when they showed up. There was so much blood in her room, I just thought…” She paused reflecting on the life given to her in that moment. “I rushed up to Doc’s room, but she was gone too. I raced outside to see if there was still a gun in the truck. As I came around the back side of the house, I saw them running like a mix between beat dogs and a tiger towards old Sparky. Jesus, they decimated him.”
Mom put her hand on Jez’s shoulder. “I was sittin on the shitter when they came in. I jumped out the window. Damn it, I never got a chance to wipe or nothin.” Mom burst out in laughter and we all followed suit.
The drive between Filer and Slat Lake was almost all sage brush. No trees to hide the blistering sun from licking our skin. Forcing itself inside every pour. We would need water, soon. We took highway 84 to highway 86 through Pocatello, following it to 15 South. As we approached The 84, 86 exchange I had a flash of saying goodbye to Jon and Rachelle. It seemed like a lifetime has passed though it was a mere 8 months ago. I miss Jon more than I realized.
Pocatello was in ruins. When I was here last, it was a lively town. Now it was just remnants of buildings. They were spread out over the vast emptiness that, like a snake eating a mouse, had swallowed the city whole.
“Pull off at the next gas station you see. We need water and we should check for food and fuel too.” I felt the old me coming back.
We took the exit and followed the sign leading us to the gas station. As we turned the corner we saw a silhouette of a gentleman cut into the skyline. He sat resting in a chair in the middle of the road. He was looking away from us with his attention focused on the destruction that veiled the wasted city. The sun scattered shadows of what remained of the town over him, making his shadow lay down 30 feet behind him like a path directing us to join him. As we got closer, he didn’t move an inch. He was a small man, no more than five and a half feet tall and 100 pounds soaking wet. The chair frame practically hid his limbs.
“Is he dead?” Jez had her brow furrowed in a perplexed stare.
Doc, using extreme caution, pulled the truck near the guy and with my cane in hand, I walked to the man.
He gave no acknowledgement to my summons. I heard Jez whisper for me to come back for a gun. The only smell in the air was the almost pleasant aroma of an extinguished campfire. I could tell he wasn’t one of them. Whether he was alive or dead, remained to be seen. He then drew a deep breathe.
“You got a smoke?” He asked like we were old friends.
“I used to live up on that hill.” He nodded out to the distance. “Raised my 3 sons up there. Spent my 40th wedding anniversary out on our porch watching the fireworks go off below. We were married on the 4th of July so we would always have fireworks on our big day. I buried my wife in the back yard this spring, and just yesterday I had to bury my 3 boys with her. What the hell happened?”
The man never changed eye line. I placed my hand on his shoulder. “I don’t know my friend…”
“My eldest boy woke up last week saying he felt off. By the weekend the other 2 followed him, yesterday the youngest started throwing up blood when my oldest grabbed a 2×4 and beat him to death. He was laughing the whole time. We stood together during the infestation. We all agreed, if any of us turned, we would finish them off and bury them. But none of us ever got sick. I tell you, this wasn’t like them damn monsters. My boys didn’t look different other than being sick. I pulled my sidearm and shot him square in the forehead. All of a sudden I felt like I would lose my lunch, but not because of my nerves or even a stomach bug. It was the smell. It hit me like a semi catching a bug to the windshield. I realized it was coming from behind me. It was my middle son. His back was arched backwards. It was the damnedest thing I have ever seen. I took him out too. None of them were my flesh and blood anymore. I did what I promised, been down here since…”
I gently squeezed as I spoke, “We are heading to Salt Lake, can we take you someplace?”
“I got nowhere and no one.” He said, finally connecting his eyes to mine. He was an old frail man. I watched his soul fighting with the darkness, but the black was winning.
“No sir, you have us now. And you couldn’t slow us down if you were a boat anchor. I’m broken, my wife Jez is my keeper. Then there’s Doc, she’s our bad ass. And Mom, she’s older than the mold on the first speck of dirt. Come with us.” The man smiled as I helped him out of his chair. “You can even throw your seat in the bed of the truck.” I said with a grin. After introductions, we had pavement rolling beneath us again.