It’s June 13th 2020, the day everything, and I mean everything, changed, the day the virus came. My stupid fifteen-year-old foster brother Liam walks behind me while I follow my foster parents down the supermarket aisle.
Jane, my foster mother, places biscuits in the trolley, and Doug, my foster father, is further down the aisle, out of earshot, when I feel something sting the back of my neck.
‘Ouch!’ I turn and glare at Liam as he quickly hides the hollow pen behind his back. I look down at the spit ball on the ground. ‘You’re a dick, Liam!’
‘Penny!’ Jane growls at me.
‘What? It’s the truth! He has a spit pen again and got me with it.’
Jane lowers herself to my height and waves her finger in my face, ‘Don’t you ever call your brother a dick again,’ she says as her dark coiled curls bounce above her shoulders.
Jane straightens herself up while I huff at her words, and she steps over to Liam, ‘And you better not have another spit pen. Your father warned you that you would be grounded the next time he finds you with one. Hand it over and apologise to your sister right now.’
Liam narrows his eyes at Jane, ‘Just because you and Dad wanted to foster Penny doesn’t make her my sister or your daughter,’ he argues.
Jane narrows her eyes at Liam, ‘Penny has been a part of our family for two years now, Liam. Your father and I have been considering adopting Penny to make her officially our daughter and your sister.’
I stiffen in surprise. I have been in foster care since I was a baby and have lived in countless foster homes. The Toughen family had taken me in when I was nine years old. Liam and I were instant enemies the moment we met. I thought Jane and Doug would have returned me to my social worker within a couple of weeks, but Doug and Jane had said it was typical for siblings to argue all the time, so it wasn’t a reason to return me. The social worker agreed and said a long-term home would be good for me and even help with my “supposed” hostile behaviour all the foster families complained about. Liam looks in as much shock as I do at the news.
I grab a packet of potato chips from the shelf, open them and start eating them. Jane shakes her head at me, ‘Could you not have waited till we at least paid for them first, Penny?’ she says, unsurprised by my actions.
I groan, ‘But I’m starving. I might die from hunger if I have to wait till we get back home,’ I reply.
Jane rolls here eyes at me, knowing I’m being melodramatic, but then I drop the chips as loud bangs and screams erupt from outside, making me jolt. The supermarket lights flicker, and the music through the speakers stops. Jane and I share a worried glance, and then a moment later, all the power goes out. The sunlight still beams through the windows giving us more than enough light to see our surroundings. Doug quickly approaches us, knowing something is wrong.
The commotion outside becomes louder, more people scream, and cars collide. Jane lets go of the trolley, taking my hand and Liam’s, and leads us to the front windows, where we are confronted with the horrors of a massacre.
People are running inside the supermarket, screaming. They have blood all over their faces and clothing. Everyone is dropping their bags of groceries, fruit and cans of food roll out, and trolleys full of food are left abandoned, the wind blowing them further down the road or into the parked cars.
Doug pulls his phone from his pocket, ‘I’ll call triple zero, stay here, and don’t go outside,’ he says.
He types in the number numerous times, but it doesn’t connect. He reaches for the telephone at the service desk and attempts to call, but again no connection. As he fiddles with all the telephones, I let go of Jane’s hand and step closer to the window.
I watch, mortified, as a man with bulging veins and a distorted face grabs another man and viciously bites into his neck. I freeze in shock as blood spurts from the man’s neck. He cries out in pain and tries pushing the rabid man off him. I didn’t notice Liam beside me. I jump, startled at his voice. ‘I-is that man eating that other man?’ he stutters.
I’m in shock and can’t reply. I subtly nod as I watch the violent man eating the victim’s intestines.
Jane screams as she stands directly behind us, now seeing what we are seeing. ‘Doug!’ she screams as she grabs our arms and pulls us away from the window. Doug runs to us as Jane tries to cover our eyes with her hands. ‘Look, Doug, they’re eating each other!’ she screams in horror.
‘What in the world…’ Doug says as he grabs his short dark hair with both hands, staring at the bloodshed outside the window. He assesses the situation further. ‘It’s like they have rabies or something? Why are they moving and walking like that? Are they drunk? Drugs may be?’
Doug continues talking to himself as he pushes his thick glasses closer to his eyes. I notice the rabid people snapping and snarling, approaching the supermarket doors. Everyone inside the store is shocked, unable to believe what they are witnessing. Only a few people are helping the injured that have entered.
I hear the clinking and clanging of keys from behind me. I turn my attention to the overweight manager as he approaches the doors, drenched in sweat. He shuts the doors and nervously grabs his keys from his belt; his hands shake as he finds the right key to lock the door.
A woman is on the other side, her body movements are strange and jittery, and she keeps opening and closing her mouth, snapping her teeth. The manager drops the keys as the doors open slightly. The woman reaches in and grabs the manager’s arm, pokes her head through the gap, and bites a chunk of flesh from his arm. The manager lets out a gargled scream as Doug rushes to help him.
Doug rips the fire extinguisher off the wall by the door and thrusts it into the woman’s face knocking her back, allowing the doors to close properly. I notice the woman’s nose has caved in from the blow. Doug uses all his strength to keep the doors closed as more rabid people approach. It dawns on me immediately that it’s crucial that the doors be locked. I race towards them, skid across the ground on my knees, snatch up the keys on the ground, and shove the key in the hole, swiftly locking the doors. Doug looks down at me with a sense of relief and pride. We slowly back away from the doors.
One of the bitten individuals who had fled inside the store suddenly falls into a seizure and begins frothing at the mouth. Doug acts quickly, laying her on her side and placing his jumper beneath her head. After a minute, the seizure ends, and her eyes open abruptly. However, they appear vacant and glazed over as the iris and sclera lose their colour, and darkness is absorbed from the pupil, turning the whole eye completely black.
I notice a bite mark on the woman’s arm. Her blood vessels in the area have become engorged and visible through the skin, and race up her arms and neck, covering her body like vines. The darken veins on her face add to her already ominous appearance with her darkened eyes.
The infected woman begins growling and snarling and lunges at Doug. The situation quickly turns violent, with the woman biting into Doug’s chest, shoulder, and arm, ripping out chunks of flesh as we scream in horror.
‘Doug!’ Jane and I scream.
‘Dad!’ Liam races towards him.
The crowd manages to restrain the woman, but she flails her arms and snaps her teeth, trying to bite anyone within reach. Suddenly, a gunshot rings out, and the woman falls limp. She is dead. Jane grabs Doug’s jumper and presses down on one of his wounds to stop the bleeding.
I turn to see it’s a policeman who has shot the woman. He makes eye contact with me and says, ‘They’re everywhere, in the streets, it’s all over the news and radio, they have infected most of my men and have turned into flesh-eating monsters. They said the breakout began at CureTech Laboratory, where scientists illegally experimented on homeless people. One of the experiments went very wrong and changed the person into one of these things,’ he says, pointing at the dead woman. ‘The person became erratic and began attacking the scientists. They all turned within twenty minutes of being bitten and became one of them. Once you’re bitten, it’s too late,’ he explains.
Jane turns, hearing the officer’s last few words. ‘But my husband has been bitten,’ Jane sobs.
‘I’m sorry, but he’s infected now. It’s only a matter of minutes before he turns. Because he is locked inside with us, I will have to shoot him, or we will all die.’
‘No,’ Jane and Liam cry out and lean over Doug, hugging him.
My eyes well up as I watch Doug stroke Jane’s brown skin, caressing her arm.
Doug always said Jane was a natural beauty with her dark coiled curls that are full and lush, framing her face with natural grace. Her hair always has a healthy shine, with natural highlights of deep chestnut that beautifully catch the light. Her face is defined by her thick lips, which have a plush and sensual quality to them. Her eyes are hazel, with a gentle and motherly expression. She always wears sophisticated and stylish clothes, with a preference for natural fibres and earthy colours that complement her natural beauty, and often wears chunky jewellery that accentuates her features. Her nails are well-manicured with a deep red polish. She exudes a striking and confident appearance reflecting her inner beauty and outward strength. Her dark, coiled curls, full lips, and gentle brown eyes are a beautiful reflection of her ethnicity, which adds to her unique spirit. I agree with Doug. My foster mother is flawless to gaze upon.
Doug looks at Liam and puts on a brave face. Liam looks a lot like his mother, with dark coiled curls and brown eyes, but with light tan skin. Jane’s father moved to Australia from Africa, where he met her mother, who was caucasian. They married and had Jane, but when Jane was nine, they died in a car accident. Jane was put into foster care and met Doug in high school. They got married when Jane turned twenty, and not long after, they had Liam. Instead of having more kids, they decided to foster, as Jane didn’t receive much love in the system, being thrown from one family to another every few months. She knew she had to foster me when she heard I had already lived with twelve different families. People are always staring at us together because we look so different.
I have pale white skin that is soft to the touch and prone to sunburn. My hair is blonde and falls in two pigtails on either side of my head. It’s fine and silky, with a natural wave that gives it a playful bounce when I move. Jane once described my blue eyes as bright and clear, with a glimmer of mischief. I suppose she was right since I’m always getting into trouble. My eyes are framed by long lashes that flutter when I blink. My lips are full and pouty and rosy in colour. I have a sprinkling of freckles on my cheeks and nose that seem to dance across my face like tiny stars. Many people have told me my subtle freckles are adorable and that I remind them of a porcelain doll.
Doug has a lean build and a somewhat nerdy appearance. His hair is a dark brown colour and is neatly trimmed. He wears thick, dark-rimmed glasses that accentuate his brown eyes, which are dark and expressive. His eyebrows are thick and arched, giving him a somewhat quizzical expression when he furrows them in thought.
Doug’s complexion is fair, like my skin tone, but he tans when sun burnt. He has a clean-shaven face and a small, slightly crooked smile that appears when he’s particularly amused by something. Doug’s clothing style is casual but neat, with a preference for button-up shirts and jeans. He often wears a watch on his left wrist and carries a small leather bag. He has a calm and collected demeanour, with a hint of dry humour that he uses to put people at ease. Overall, Doug has a sharp mind and dry wit. His glasses and thoughtful expression give him an air of intelligence and curiosity, while his easy smile and relaxed demeanour make him approachable and friendly. He’s a big nerd and always on the computer, working as a programmer. I once asked him what that was, but I was even more confused.
I glance at the officer’s name badge, ‘Officer Kip, what are they turning into exactly?’ I ask him.
‘I don’t know… it’s like they die, then come back to life, but they aren’t alive, if that makes sense?’
‘You mean like the undead, the infected, like a Zombie in comic books?’
‘Yeah, the undead, zombies, alive, but with no souls.’
I quiver at Officer Kip’s words. I turn my attention to Doug; he has become very pale and clammy, and his veins are bulging and darkening.
Doug clears his throat, ‘It’s going to be okay. You must take care of each other and find somewhere to hide and survive until help comes.’
Doug then waves me over. I take a few steps and fall to my knees by his side. ‘Penny, I was looking forward to the day we adopted you so that I could call you my daughter, but I’ve just realised the day you came into our lives, you had already become that,’ he smiles weakly.
‘Dad…’ I whisper.
He watches the tear roll down my cheek.
‘You’re the strongest, bravest kid I know, Penny. That’s why fate brought you into our family: you’re a Toughin like us, “Tough” little Penny,’ he laughs at his pun.
We are startled; another infected person nearby has fallen into a seizure, and a moment later, another person drops, convulsing.
‘Liam, you’re the man of the house now. You look after your mother and sister.’
‘I-I will, Dad,’ he cries.
‘Jane, you are the best wife I could have asked for. I love you so much.’
‘Don’t leave us, Doug. I love you,’ Jane cries and watches as he has a seizure.
Officer Kip reloads his gun and points it at the soulless approaching us. Bang, Bang, he shoots one dead. People scatter as the second soulless person manages to bite a man. Bang, he shoots her dead. The freshly bitten man holds his arm and runs away from us, knowing Officer Kip will shoot him as he is now infected. Bang, Bang, Bang. ‘Shit, I missed him. This is not good,’ he says, losing sight of the man.
Liam pulls Jane back before Doug can infect her, ‘Mum, we need to run. We need to go now!’
‘I don’t want to leave your father,’ she cries.
Liam grabs her shoulders and looks into her eyes, ‘I don’t want to leave him either, Mum, but that isn’t Dad anymore. Dad is dead, and if we don’t run, he will infect you, and I can’t lose you both,’ he sobs.
I can see the pain in Liam’s eyes. He is trying to be strong and brave for Jane. I’m used to seeing him being so immature and, well, always being a dick. This is the first time I‘ve ever seen this side of Liam.
Doug’s eyes glaze over and then darken to black. Froth and drool drip from his bottom lip. He stands on a slant, hunched over to one side, and unsteadily walks towards people running past him and swipes at them. Doug snarls and snaps his teeth repeatedly. We scream. Liam and Jane run as he approaches us, but I don’t move. Bang, Bang, Officer Kip shoots him in the chest, but it doesn’t stop him. Doug continues to sway towards us. Officer Kip reloads his gun. As he is about to aim it, he drops it as Doug grabs his arm and bites into his wrist. Officer Kip cries out in pain.
Jane and Liam are still running. I can see they are at the other end of the aisle now. My heart pounds as I am paralysed with terror, but then a surge of adrenaline courses through me, giving me the strength to move. I stare at the gun, race towards it, snatch it up, aim it at my dad’s temple, and pull the trigger. Bang, he falls back to the ground, lifeless.
Tears are streaming down my face, and my body is trembling. There is an emotional exchange between Officer Kip and me as I stare up at him. He just watched me, an eleven-year-old girl, shoot her father dead, and we both know it’s only a matter of time before he meets the same fate.
I stare at the bullet hole in the centre of my foster father’s forehead. Blood pools from his lifeless body. I have felt all kinds of sadness and pain in my life being placed into foster homes where I was mistreated and abused. Until I was placed with the Toughin family, where I have been showered in love and respect by Jane and Doug no matter how much I misbehaved or fought with their son. This ache inside me, staring at Doug, the father I always dreamed of, the father I just shot dead, makes me feel a pain I’ve never felt before, like something gnawing on my insides. It hurts beyond words. It hurts as if I took the bullet—the pain ricochets throughout my body.
I gasp. What will Jane and Liam think of me when they find out I shot him? I struggle to breathe at the thought until Officer Kip places a hand on my shoulder, kneels and pulls the gun I hold to his temple.
His shoulders are broad, and his chest is well-defined. He has thick but short hair, and his square jawline and defined cheekbones give his face a rugged and masculine appearance. I watch his lips set in a firm line, giving me a serious demeanour. Hs bright green eyes pierce intensely into mine.
‘I don’t want to turn. I don’t want to die as one of them… I need you to kill me.’
‘No,’ I say to him.
I try to step back, but he holds my hands firmly over the trigger.
‘Please, I beg you.’
Neither of us moves. We are both frightened. I want to help him, but I don’t want to kill him, but then I realise if I get bitten, I hope someone is kind enough to return the favour for me before I become soulless like them. Our hands tremble, holding the gun, and together we pull the trigger.