Chapter 1 - Entry 5
April 16th cont - April 17th
Storrs was a town dominated by the University of Connecticut and all those little stores and fast food joints that crop up to support students and faculty. It had become a smoking wreck by the time I drove through its broken streets. There was little evidence of vandalism but the earthquakes had taken their toll. Along with the infected. I made my way south out of Storrs through a residential district before turning south onto interstate I195.
The drive was less than pleasant despite the scenic surroundings as I wove through car accidents, fallen trees and clusters of the infected. One large group had converged on the highway outside of a church and made it impossible for me to move forward so I had to back up and take side roads around. Once back onto I195, I came to a stretch where fire had swept through the road and forests to either side. It left twisted metal wrecks and blackened trees in its wake. And no infected. The hollowed out shell of a smoldering hair salon seemed like a good place to stop so I pulled the truck around back and killed the engine.
There were changes happening inside my body and I could feel them. At least my mind thought I could. I was hungry again. Starving in fact. So I double checked the doors were locked and climbed in back to gorge on junk food. I ate until it felt like I’d puke, then ate some more. Exhaustion crept over me as adrenalin finally faded and my body worked hard to digest the food. With limbs that felt like lead, I laid down in a bed of candy wrappers and fell asleep.
Night had fallen when I woke with a start, ears straining to hear anything out of the ordinary. It should’ve been pitch black outside considering the dense ash-choked clouds overhead and lack of electricity. Instead there was a flickering glow visible from the passenger’s side window. I moved up to the driver’s seat, Glock ready, and watched as several houses burned behind a screen of trees not far away. A flat field of tall grass separated the salon’s backside from the tree line.
For a moment I sat there watching, smoking a cigarette and looking for signs of infected. Then the whip-crack report of a small caliber rifle echoed in the night. My senses strained as I scanned the darkness for its source. Another shot rang out and a dancing flashlight beam came into view, bobbing wildly at the field’s far edge. I could make out a trio of silhouettes back-lit against the blaze. One stopped and another rifle shot followed. A huge mob of shuffling figures emerged from the trees behind them as the trailing shooter turned to run.
I watched as they ran, the taller shadow pausing a few times to shoot at their pursuers. My elbow accidentally hit the truck’s horn and the trio’s course adjusted to my direction almost immediately. Swearing softly, I started the engine and leaned over to open the passenger’s door. A zombie stepped into the open space, then fell away with a hole in its forehead. The Glock’s barrel was warm against my thigh as I waited.
Details became clearer as they neared. The two smaller forms materialized into a pair of teens in black clothes with hoodies. The gun bearer was a tall man in his forties wearing sweat pants and a bloodstained tee-shirt. He paused and turned to fire on their infected pursuers with little effect while the other two jumped inside. I lit another cigarette and pulled back out onto the highway once he’d climbed in and shut the door, clutching the .22 rifle in a deathgrip against his chest. I hummed to myself as they panted loudly around me. “Soooo. How’s it going?” I asked with a grin. Nervous laughter followed.
I wove through abandoned cars and small groups of infected for another five minutes before the orange low-gas light started blinking instead of staying steadily lit. “We gotta stop. Almost out of gas.” I pulled behind a little strip mall a few miles north of Willimantic, then killed the lights and stepped outside. Four infected shuffled towards me from the road, heedless of the gun I had aimed at their heads. My finger squeezed, the gun bucked, and four bodies hit the ground one at a time.
A quick check showed me the area was clear for the time being so I ducked back inside. ‘Thanks lady,” The older man offered once my door was shut and locked. I nodded and lit another cigarette, then tossed him the pack. His hands were shaking as he got one going and coughed the newbie smoker’s cough during the first exhale. The girl grabbed my pack next and showed him how it was done, blowing smoke out of her nostrils as she leaned against the food rack in back.
“I’m Felix. These are my neighbors Thomas and Mary.” I lifted my chin in greeting and put my feet up on the dashboard with the steering wheel between my thighs.
“My name’s Jaeger.”
“That means hunter in German, right?” Mary asked as she exhaled smoke. I replied with a nod. “Cool. My Oma lived with us for a little while. Picked up a little German before she died.”
“Thomas and Mary were staying with me while their family was out of town. I noticed smoke coming from their house and tried calling 9-1-1 but the damned circuits were all busy so we had to bail after my house caught fire. Then those psychos started chasing us.” Felix struck me as a man who needed to talk. Needed to explain the reasons why he did everything. That always annoyed the shit out of me and for a moment I seriously considered shooting him.
“I can’t believe there are fucking zombies running around!” Mary added, earning a stern glare from Felix.
“There are no such things Mary. These people are obvious ill. Some sort of virus.”
I kept my mouth shut and stared out the window as they blathered on for awhile. At least the boy, Thomas, didn’t add to the noise. He sat quietly in back, likely suffering from shock. After awhile they petered themselves out and I saw Felix yawn. “Why don’t you climb in back and get some sleep. I’ll keep watch.” He nodded and moved to the back as Mary took his seat and another of my cigarettes.
I got a good look at her in the dashboard’s glow then. She was older than I first thought. Nineteen or twenty. Her face was narrow with a cute little nose and small chin. Wavy black hair in a pixie cut and thick eyebrows hinted at a Mediterranean heritage. So did the slight tan and obvious habit of speaking with her hands. She was shorter than me, around five-three, but curvier with bigger breasts, full hips and a little waist. There was a little goth girl trying to escape through the use of black eyeliner and nail polish. Black jeans, tee-shirt, hooded sweatshirt and Converse Hightops added to the impression. The naughty part of my brain realized she was yummy.
“What do you think they are Jaeger?” She asked.
“Beats the fuck outta me. Zombie’s a good a term as any I guess.”
Before another question or comment could follow, we heard a soft moan come from Thomas’s hooded form. Felix screamed a heartbeat later as teeth sank into the side of his face. “Tommy no!” Mary shrieked while trying to push my arm down as the pistol rose to take aim. “No!” I fired.
The boy’s form crumpled down while Felix scooted on his butt to sit between the front seats. I held onto Mary’s arm when she tried to head back there, shaking my head no in silent reply to her pleading expression.
“It spreads by bite and blood getting into wounds,” I offered softly, turning the gun to point at Felix’s head. His eyes grew huge and for a moment I thought he’d plead for his life. Instead he let out a long sigh and asked for another cigarette.
“How long do I have?”
“I don’t know. About five minutes after death. No clue if the bite isn’t fatal.”
He nodded as Mary cried, arms wrapped around knees drawn up to her chest. “Will you watch over Mary?”
I sighed and stared at the girl as she rocked back and forth in her seat, considering again the pros and cons of having another back I’d need to watch. “You know your parents are probably dead, right?” She nodded, not looking in my direction. “We’re not going to do any rescue mission road trip or shit like that. Wherever they are, if they’re alive then they’ll have to make do on their own. You got it?” Again she nodded and I noticed a flash of anger wash across her face. That was a good thing in my book. “You’ll do exactly what I say without question?” A final nod was my answer. My gaze flicked back to Felix, watching as tears rolled down his remaining cheek. “Alright.”
“Any idea where you’re going to go?” He asked, leaning his head against the seat. I could hear his breathing getting shallower with each passing second. Could see his skin getting dusky as blood ran between fingers holding half of his face on.
“Yup.” I didn’t feel like explaining things to a man who’d be dead soon. Thankfully he stayed quiet until a coughing fit doubled him over. His head fell back against the center console when he was done, eyes closed while the cigarette burned down to this fingertips. I glanced over to Mary, who was watching me with a look of horror on her face. Felix’s body jerked and spasmed, then lay still as the last breath rattled out of his chest.
I dragged him outside and stood over his body as cloudy eyes flickered open. They rolled around in their sockets for a moment, then lifted up towards me. Mary was watching from the driver’s seat. “Once they die, they stop being whoever they used to be.” I told her as I pressed my bare foot against his neck to keep him down. His teeth snapped at me and both hands lifted to grab my leg but I held him there easily enough. Leverage is a wonderful thing. “This isn’t Felix any more. All he wants to do is eat the meat off my bones. All he feels is hunger. Do you understand?” I saw her nod before turning away and moving back to the passenger’s seat. The gun barked in my hand and blood sprayed onto my shin.
“Head shots are the only thing that stops them,” I told her once I’d gotten back inside and lit a cigarette. She nodded again but remained silent while her body shuddered and tears ran freely. The dark gray sky grew a subtle shade lighter as morning slowly broke. I wondered if it would ever be blue again.