The boy moved slowly. His legs were sore and tired and begging him to stop, which of course, he couldn’t. He was wandering around the end of the building and heading toward the alley. The sun was bright, and it hurt his eyes. He used to have a cap. It was a Red Sox cap, and it was his favorite. Now it was gone. It had been lost somewhere between the mini-mart and the high school. He had tried to pick it up, but they were gaining on him, so he had to leave it. The boy hoped one of them didn’t take it. The cap was his. On anyone else, it would be wrong. A violation.
He came to the alley and stopped. The boy glanced down toward the end to see if they were there. Not seeing anything or anyone, he slowly made his way toward a dumpster resting near a door he hoped would be open.
He carefully walked down the alley, making sure to stay in the shadows that mercifully hung out as if they knew he needed their help. The boy thought he heard something behind him, but when he turned, there was nothing. Just the various debris, which flitted about like tumbleweeds in so many of the Western movies he had once watched.
The dumpster grew closer, and he was starting to feel better. He would reach the door, it would be open, and inside he would find safety. They would not be in there. Maybe there would be help. Maybe there would be someone he knew. A friendly face? Maybe. Maybe it would be empty. Just like everywhere else. Still, he had to try. Keep trying.
His legs were screaming. He was tired, and his head ached. At the moment he reached the dumpster, he heard them. They were close. He could hear the noises they made. The grunting. Low, guttural growls like a dog makes when you reach too close to the bowl while it’s eating. Sometimes there was an attempt at speaking. Sometimes, he could almost understand a form of language. Mostly, it was just sounds. The boy hated the sounds. The boy hated them. He couldn’t be sure if they hated him as well. He only knew that he had to keep going. Trying to find someone who could help him. Who would help him.
He reached the door as they turned down the end of the alley. Sensing him, they began to growl louder. Their pace quickened. As quick as their pace could allow for anyway.
The boy grabbed the handle and turned. At first it seemed frozen. Certain doom waited if he could not get it to turn and open. He glanced back and immediately wished he hadn’t. They were closer. Slowly approaching, arms extended, and their sounds becoming more frenzied.
The boy turned his attention again to the doorknob. Giving it all the strength he could muster, he yanked down and turned it again. The knob completed its destiny: latches clicked, tumblers tumbled, and the door swung open.
Stepping in and slamming the door behind him, he fumbled for the lock, only to discover that it required a key, which unfortunately he wasn’t in possession of. He searched for something to block the entrance and keep them out. Finding an old metal chair, he shoved it under the doorknob and kicked it as hard as he could so it would find a purchase underneath. Satisfied that it would hold at least temporarily, he found a stairwell and started up. It stank of old, rotted meat, and there were bits of who knows what all along the walls and on the floor as well. He could hear the door booming behind him. As he made his way up the stairs, the faint sound of a doorknob rattling echoed behind him.
The boy finally reached the top floor and surveyed the situation. No sign of them in sight. The hallway appeared empty, except for fleeting ghosts of a time past. This used to be an office with cubicles, alive as fingers hammered keyboards and the smell of coffee and doughnuts and a thousand different colognes and perfumes filled the air. Workers had scurried from printer to copier, taking breaks to talk about their next family vacation or the latest illness at home.
The boy felt sad for a moment as he missed such normalcy, like trading this office for a classroom. Same long day, and similar situations, just no paycheck. He knew he could not stand around and wallow for long. They would eventually get in. They would smell him. For they were what was commonly referred to as zombies. The boy, whose name was Ed, knew this all too well.
He was a zombie too.