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The Dead In Their Blankets

By Didi_Portia All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Horror

Chapter 1

Topeka Bay (a.k.a. The Island of the Living Impaired.)

Population: (used to be 900,000) Today, 30 or so, living.

Undead: too god-damned many!

Every day at dusk the same wretched-nightmare crept back into the world, beginning with the waning heat of the sun as it sank lower and lower in the sky, painting the downtown core in a deep, dark dread. The night—the savage, reliable gift of the dark Gods—had arrived like clock-work, ready to steal away the brilliant orange glow that had, as of late, become his escape to another place and time.

In the hour before darkness cloaked the city in terror he would cherish the sunlight as it splashed against the sides of skyscrapers off in the distance, those last remaining minutes of the day becoming a safe haven, complete with the tops of the trees glowing bright green. There was a strange, hypnotic beauty about them, as if they too were clinging to a dying hope.

Amidst the dying light he would be transported to another place and time up in his mind: a house in the suburbs where he could walk around in his bare feet, the feel of soft plush carpets leading him down a corridor of bright yellow walls to a fresh hot bath where bubbles and hot water would soothe over his tired aching muscles. A place where a comfortable sofa and fancy lamps called out to him, just waiting to light up his world with peace and harmony.

He went to a place where he could sleep on fresh sheets with clean-boxers every night of the week; a place with locked doors and neighbours he knew and trusted. A place where he would wake up to the smell of fresh coffee brewing and the sound of a baby crying in the next room. He thought of home. Of Lucia. Of Sunny. He could no longer remember their faces. His mind was clouded today.

Marco Ruez could barely remember that old home life. Mostly he didn’t want to remember. It had been too long, ages ago it seemed, and now it felt more like a dream—a figment of his imagination—than a memory that did in-fact, happen. And what would Lucia say to him about living on top of their garage two-miles away from home, with fencing for walls and a makeshift roof made with metal and fibreglass siding, living off scraps and locking himself inside a big red tool-chest night after night?

He knew what she would say. She would say, ’Marco, baby...you have to come home. That’s no way to live, all barricaded up like that, eating garbage. Look at you, you’re a mess! Eww...baby, you smell awful! Please, baby...come home. I forgive you. Sunny forgives you. We need you. I need you.’

And these days, almost ten years later, during the silence of the afternoons—when the infected were at their quietest—he could hear Sunny crying from somewhere nearby. Was it just his imagination? Was it the awful silence of the city toying with him, allowing his mind to lead him away from the sanity he clung to in these darkest days?

Or maybe she came to haunt him, telling him how bad of a daddy he was for choking the life out of her and for crushing the back of her skull in with a hammer. After all, how much of a threat was she at two years old? Who could she hurt? Maybe she came to be close to him, to watch out for him, to protect him with her light of innocence against the monsters that roamed the city night after night in their hunt for living flesh.

As the sun began to dip out of view it painted the sky in deep reds, heavy violets and radiant purples, sending forth its final warning of doom before opening the gates of Hell and unleashing fury and rage upon the city. With the coming darkness came the first of many heavy roars from some nearby gangly creature.

Most likely it was one of Big Guidos, the ones that are built like tanks that actually rip out things like ‘STOP’ signs or parking meters with huge chunks of asphalt still attached to the bottom, hauling them around like sledge-hammers just looking for someone to bash, break, pound and crush. They roar like that, deep and terrifying, announcing their presence.

It couldn’t be one of those Little Guidos, the ones that spit green toxic sludge at you to steal your breath away and keep you from dashing off, keep you choking and gasping loud so it can hone in on your panic in the pitch black. They don’t roar like that. No. Those ones scream, screech, shriek and squeal.

Or maybe it was one of those Ninja Guidos, the ones that climb and leap and can catch you almost anywhere. Those ones you really have to be on the look-out for. They don’t scream, don’t shriek—they don’t make a noise. They like to climb high places and watch from above, waiting for any sort of movement, or noise. The ‘Guidos’ aren’t your average run-of-the-mill Zombie. No. They’re advanced somehow. Larger, stronger, faster.

There it was again, roaring thick and deep, lungs gurgling, reverberating through the night like a lion! So close now! Coming closer still. Tonight, however, Marco Ruez was not afraid. He didn’t understand it. He did not question it either. He simply sat there on his red armchair breathing heavy, scratching his arm, his shotgun “loaded-for-bear” at his side. Any other night he would be crawling on all fours in the dark, peeking over the edge, listening intently, shotgun ready to deal out death at a moment’s notice.

Was he simply used to the sounds of the infected, screeching, growling and roaring into the night? No. That wasn’t it. No matter how long you lived and survived you could never get used to it. No. The brain—those inherent instincts that force you to run into the nearest house, school or office building—is driven by fear, by that natural need to survive another night, to live another day in the sunshine.

He was hungry. So very hungry now. But the dried trail-mix and the Beef Jerky—heck, the pork and beans (his favourite) wasn’t agreeing with him. Even the water, as fresh as it was, did not take. With the world itself against him this very evening he thought it somehow fitting that now that he had stumbled upon a perfect score—a pantry full of food and cases upon cases of water—he wasn’t able to eat or drink any of it.

Heck, he couldn’t even bring himself to haul up the untouched rolls of tissue or the guns and ammunition. He felt weak and tired. Out of breath. Cold. Hot. He was a mess. Something wasn’t right. A flu in the air. A bad one at that. He could feel the hot rush of a fever take hold as it began spreading through him. He couldn’t move. Didn’t want to move.

Chills coursed up his spine. He brought the blanket around good and snug, but that too did not suffice in keeping him warm, His nose began to run. On most nights, when his daily scavenging turned up meagre items: a can of pork and beans, a dried box of crackers and a maybe a fresh bottle of water (if he was lucky) he would be on the roof of the garage enjoying himself while Al Greene’s “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” played over and over on his music-player reminding him of hope, filling his heart with good thoughts.

Every night he would crack-open a beer (he had plenty of those,) light the lantern, charge his music-player, open the city map and set the next day’s route, crossing off street after street, making a slow dent of ‘looted’ addresses in the city. He made sure to scour the city, block by block, sometimes covering two or three in a day.

When his daily list was done he would open his laptop (one of many) and write in his journal of the day’s events. Sometimes a Log Entry would be filled with action: a chase that he narrowly escaped or blasting his way out of a tight corner. But mostly they were of scavenging and covering up rotting corpses—sometimes whole families—with their blankets.

While snacking on what little he could scrounge up—food and water, it seemed, was the most-scarce thing these days—he would either put on a movie or a video game to occupy his time. He had so far collected thousands of movies, magazines, books and video games. There was no way he was going to spend the rest of his days and nights consumed by boredom. Hell no!

Tonight, however, there was no beer, no lantern, no music, no map, no journal, no movies and no games. And especially no snacks. The smell of both beer and food disgusted him. The water tasted funny. If he moved too much he might throw up. So he just sat there watching the city before him slowly give into the inevitable night, the last few beams of the sun’s precious rays about to fall below the horizon once again.

As usual the garage was safe and secure with the doors locked good and tight with heavy chains and tough locks. Nobody was getting through. The ladder too was lifted and the roof-hatch he made certain, was locked. With a full perimeter check completed he was sure that the fence that surrounded the garage—and even the fencing on the roof—was running through with electricity. But instead of enjoying the view with a cold beer as the city gave way to night, he felt under the weather.

He was coming down with something. He felt it in his guts. Whatever it was, made them rumble. He kept the bucket close. Maybe it was the Jerky. Maybe the water wasn’t so fresh after all. Did water have an expiration date? He didn’t know. Didn’t care. Normally, with the sunlight glinting off the broken glass of downtown in the last minutes of daylight, shining through derelict offices, apartment buildings and fancy condos, it was as though the world was working with him—for him—lighting those dark corners with shimmering shafts of light that seemed to shine just for him.

Today was different somehow. Today the glitter was simply too bright. Annoying. It hurt his eyes. As well there was something strange in the air. Every now and again he thought he saw a flash in the corner of his eye as though a strange hunched-over phantom raced by and vanished into thin air. Maybe he was losing his mind. Maybe his solitude was finally breaking him. Maybe the flu that was taking hold of him was the culprit. Maybe it was making him see things. Hear things. Whatever it was, it was happening in real time. That much he was certain of.

As for this strange Phantom figure in the corner of his eye...it couldn’t hurt him. Nothing could hurt him. Not here above the garage. In ten years nothing had penetrated his little slice of heaven. In the basement of the garage was a secret of the ages: alternators and car batteries (with plenty of spares) that he kept in good working order year after year, hooked up to a series of inverters and back-up inverters. He never truly had to worry about power.

His worries were few. Among them, besides finding food, was keeping his mountain-bike in good working order, the chain greased and the pedals tight. That was his lifeline to the outside world. As for weapons—he didn’t have to worry about them. He was good. He had compiled quite the arsenal: assault rifles, shotguns, sub-machine guns, bows, arrows, machetes, grenades, and Lucia, his .44 Magnum Revolver. Vicious stopping power! And as of his new find—only this morning—he no longer had to worry about ammunition. His only worry now was this damned flu. And it was getting worse.

With the sun falling down and out of sight, the darkness seemed to reveal a strange mass of silhouettes, as if the skyscrapers in the distance had suddenly become limbering Titans, coming slowly this way. Today—despite a fantastic score—was not ending on a good note. His stomach growled up at him, screaming at him, calling him names. And it was right. He was wretched. He obsessed over loneliness. Always so lonely. Always with his movies and games, trying to forget the glimmer of hope that once was his life.

And today, just like every other God forsaken day of his life he wished he was dead. And if he wasn’t so afraid of dying too, he might just let himself fall head-first from the top of the Pinnacle Financial building. Might just take hold of the electric fence that surrounded the garage. But those were just thoughts. He could never really do it! Life wasn’t all that bad.

There were those lonely nights when the rain pounded on his roof like ants marching to war, that it had crossed his mind to die in battle against a horde of Guidos. But the moment they gave chase, he raced back inside, remembering that he would rather be alive.

He could out-maneuvre them in the daytime. At full speed, they didn’t stand a chance of catching him. It was at night that they seemed to become faster, stronger, more cunning. More blood-thirsty. Being chased, gripped by fear, it was amazing just how fast he could pedal and weave in and around vehicles and up onto high curbs.

It wasn’t so much that he was afraid of dying that kept him going (at least that is what he convinced himself as of late.) Instead he was afraid of what would be waiting for him on the other side. That place that happens when the body dies and goes into the ground; when the human soul becomes surrounded by ghosts. Monsters. Real life, gangly, blood-fiends just waiting for him to come on over. He knew that to be true. Somehow it had to be true. Heaven and Hell.

And he wasn’t saved. Wasn’t a Christian living life in God’s light. No. He didn’t think he could become saved either. Who would save him? Jesus? After all the terrible things he’d done? No way. He took lives! He had shot down other humans and watched as they swore to him they weren’t bitten! He had stabbed them through the chest in his bid for survival! Cut off their heads to keep them from coming back. Bad things he’d done. Nobody could forgive him.

Heck, he would not believe in God or Satan, or even the Bible were it not for the one thing that stood out most to him ever since this whole nightmare decimated the world just over ten years ago. It was from the Bible. How could he forget? Looking out at those soulless shells—those creatures that even now still resembled their once-human counterparts—he could not help but to be reminded of man’s sin and of the Lord’s wrath.

In those early days Lucia would tell him to pray to Jesus. Ask for forgiveness. She would say ‘now is the time to get straight with the Lord.’ She knew what was happening the moment it all began. Lucia showed him scripture, made him tattoo it on his forearm and every night and every day since then he read it. It was from the Old Testament. Zechariah 14:12 “And the LORD will send a plague on all the nations. People will become like walking corpses, their flesh rotting away. Their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. On that day they will be terrified, stricken by the LORD with great panic. They will fight their neighbors hand to hand.”

With that, another sinister quote from the “Book of Santeria” tattooed on his left arm read: “When there is no more room in hell, the dead shall walk the earth.” But it was those verses from the Bible that stayed with him. He had one around here too somewhere, a Bible. The hell he was going to get up and start looking for it. Too damned sick to move a muscle! But those questions came back to him even now, just as they always had, how could they know? How could they have foretold such things, those people who wrote the Bible? That was over two-and-a-half-thousand years ago?

If he got right down to it, it was that whole bit of dying and becoming a ghost in Hell—a plane rife with evil abominations—that terrified him most, especially now that the whole city was filled with flesh-eating Guidos. There was no safe place but here above the garage. Not even alone up in his mind was safe. The fear infected that place as well, filling his thoughts with recent memories of shadowy figures running full-out across the asphalt, coming right at him, that fresh scent of the living driving them on.

Some of them were fast. Fast but not smart. No. There was no driving intelligence to help them open doors or pick locks, or figure out how to lay traps for the living—or better yet, how to avoid the traps set by the living. Most were no stronger than him, but their numbers... Well, that’s how they get you.

But those few Guidos—a new type of enhanced Zombies—grew larger, faster and more vicious as the night turned pitch-black. As of late he had more of them creeping by night after night, roaring up at him, threatening, perhaps trying to figure out how to infiltrate his little piece of Heaven. They learned too not to touch the fence. They learned. And they applied their knowledge to keep from dying. The worst kind of Zombie is a Guido. Guido’s are smart enough to avoid traps and keep the hunt going.

Darkness had fallen over the city, the evening glow slowly turning to pitch black with terrifying shadows lurking off in the night. Again came that mad roaring of the damned followed closely by the sounds of some rabid menace scurrying by. Something was happening now! Inside his little slice of Heaven! Something was, this very second, scraping on the walls of the garage just below!

Impossible! The fence was still up! What could have gotten past the fence? Nothing had ever been able to break in. Not in ten years had that ever happened! But now...he was certain that something was inside. He could hear it breathing sickly. He could hear it panting. He could smell it rising up through the vent. Decay. Thick stench of old cheese, rotting eggs and maggots!

He stood up on shaky legs, the wind taken from his lungs. He reached for the shotgun with shaky hands. It fell to the floor, somehow losing its value, as if he no longer needed it now, as though, in his state of illness, he was somehow immune to the world around him. The figure of a man seemed to appear before him, leaning to one side, arms outstretched as if reaching out at him for support. It disappeared.

Another vicious roar leapt up at him, just below where he stood, coming from inside the garage. How the hell...? What the hell is going on? He reached down for the shotgun, taking it up in shaky hands. He had the shakes now. His mind whirled with possibilities! If something is down there... Shit, I better check it out. He wasn’t thinking rational. It was as though his mind had split up the middle and began arguing with itself. No! The best thing to do now is wait! Wait for daylight!

Are you kidding me? Ain’t nobody or nuthin gonna come up in here and get me! Kill first and ask questions later!

Please...be rational. Just think for a minute!

And, what! Be a fucking chicken shit motherfucker like you? Hell no! I’m going down there.

You’re not yourself Marco! Wait a minute! Stop talking a minute! Don’t you smell that?

Smell what?

He put his nose to the air, sniffing like a mad man in the darkness, talking to himself, “I smell...steak! Somebody is using my grill! Somebody is cooking my steaks! I’ve been looking for those steaks! Shit! Someone’s rummaging through my freezer!” His mouth felt funny, as though he were slobbering, a little vat of vomit escaping his lips. He wiped at it with his arm.

Again his own mind fought with him, intent on being heard, Marco! You’re gone completely mad! You don’t have a grill! You don’t have a freezer! And you don’t have fucking steaks! Snap out of it man! Wake the fuck up!

“Fuck you, you little shit! You’re just fucking scared!”

I am scared Marco! I’m scared of you! You’re not yourself!

“Shut up! You don’t know what’s best for me! You’re only worried about yourself! I’m going down there and there’s nothing you can say to stop me!” Again his lips would not move like he wanted them to. The fever was making him hallucinate! The figure of a man kept popping in and out of his vision like a phantom menace.

He fell to his knees, the shotgun falling away from his grip. He began fumbling with the latch. His coordination was not what it used to be. Bad food. He could feel it in his stomach, escaping his body through his rectum in a bubbly, liquid farting sound. Funny, it didn’t have a smell to it. And the relief...God, the relief! Amazing!

His tongue felt thick in his mouth and his hands and fingers seemed to forget the simple things like how to unlatch the hatch. And there it was again, that fierce howling right below the hatch, pounding on the ceiling, just beneath where he knelt. He reached for the shotgun and once again it fell from his hands. He simply couldn’t grip it. His hands were too sore.

Fuck the shotgun! I will use my bare hands to kill this fucking thing! And that smell! It’s been a long while since I had a good, fresh steak to sink my teeth into!

The hatch creaked open finally, a world of darkness and silence looking up at him. He fumbled for the ladder. He couldn’t figure out what it was there for. It was as though the ladder had lost its meaning. He didn’t need it. He simply let himself fall into the darkness, landing with a heavy crunch and a flash of brightness somewhere up in his brain as his head cracked wide open.

The pain...it made him groan. The flu...the fever...the chills...the damned air... Hard to breathe! He stood on shaky legs, stumbling toward the door. He had to get out of this place! Something was in here with him. He could smell it! Rotting! Stinking up the place! Had to open the door! Let it out! Let it free!

And there it was again...the smell of fresh steaks filling his nostrils! Blue-rare—bloody—just the way he liked it! Again his hands would not make it easy for him to open the door. Something held the chains firm. Something he could not break, could not negotiate, could not figure out. And those roars... Filling his ears now! Inside the room with him, exciting his mind with thoughts of fresh, bloody steaks! And then it happened...

Like a memory of yesteryear flooding through his mind with images of movement, images of fresh, beautiful skin—images of raw meat and bones. Something about them; the consistency maybe. Perhaps it was that they were chock-full of nutrition. Steaks! Fresh, juicy, delicious, tasty steaks! If I could only have a bite! Just one bite.

Then, a voice sounded through the night! It came in clear, though he could not quite understand what it meant, but somewhere in the back of his mind—holding onto the last vestige that told him he was once human—played through loud and clear.

“Hello! This is Raimy Brooks calling, one: Marco Ruez! Do you copy? Please...! Marco Ruez! Are you there! I picked up your radio broadcast recording yesterday. By sheer luck, really. I came from across the city! Please...if you’re there...answer me! I’m outside the gate! Marco! Do you read me? I’m not alone! My daughter is with me! Please...shut off your fence! Please...! Fuck! Fuck! If you’re there...”

And there it was...the most precious sound the world had ever allowed into its folds. Voices...screaming! Shrieking! Fear and terror! The mad-dash of footsteps urging him forth, driving him like a maniac against a door he could not budge. The voices, distancing themselves, came to a sudden stop! And so too did the smell of fresh steaks fade off in the night. No more noise but for that awful gurgling sound that now shared the garage with him.

He wanted out. Wanted out into the night! Something out there wanted him too. Something he could be a part of. A place where he would finally belong. And perhaps he would no longer be alone to live out the end of his days, if he could just open the damn door. But...quite simply...he could not.

All through the night he pounded on the door, his only thought...that he didn’t know what was going on or where he was, only that somewhere up in his mind, he would never forget that fresh scent of raw steak. With his limited ability to think, or to process life, to process that mouth-watering beautiful smell of fresh steaks, he would always be driven—by instinct—to go after it.

The night had come and gone with the sound of scratching, of thumping and pounding. And somewhere in this very room was a place called Hell. And maybe he deserved it for choking Sunny to death. With just a fraction of reason he might just remember how her little neck was unable to stand the pressure—snapping in his hands. He might just remember driving the hammer straight into the back of her tiny skull.

Back in those days he knew what love was. Knew what torment was. Knew that he was doing God’s work, putting her out of her little misery. It was never clear how she became infected, but he knew she had gone away somewhere, leaving behind the smallest, most terrifying little Zombie anyone could ever imagine. She tried to bite him. Her little mouth was full of blood. He knew right then.

Her little eyes—like little hazel-nuts—so beautiful and brown in the sunshine, had turned a cold icy-blue. With tiny baby-teeth she chewed off her little fingers. And that was when he knew what he had to do. It was Lucia the day before. He hit her in the head with a shovel. He just kept hitting her until she stopped growling. He buried them both in the back yard. Lucia. Sunny. He cried for days after that.

Eventually the days turned to nights. Nights turned to nightmares with those average Zombies stepping into a whole new kind of beast, becoming Guidos, big and small, fast and slow, spitters and slinkers, roaming the streets at night. Food-stores and fresh water ran out faster than he expected forcing him from his home. He never did go back. The city in those days was rife with survivors. Now...they’re all dead.

And today...as the morning light stabbed through the boarded-up windows, he too was dead. Alive, but dead. Somehow...animate. At home now, inside his little piece of Heaven, in a real life Hell from which there was no escape. The doors were locked—chained and bolted, meant to keep out Guidos and Zombies. Never in his wildest dreams did he ever imagine that they would one day hold one back—keeping it from killing anyone else, keeping him innocent of that, at least.

And the one thing he never thought of... The one thing that never occurred to him was that it was him all along…roaring into the night, and not some Guido inside his garage. There was no phantom menace haunting him and vanishing before his eyes, no. It was his own shadow becoming hunched-over with outstretched arms. That was why he was no longer afraid. Because somewhere up in his mind he knew he was one of them.

It was the infection—and not some terrible flu that had gone awry in his body. That was precisely why the beer and food didn’t take. That was why the scent of living humans smelled like fresh steaks. And the pounding on the floor just below where he knelt...why, that was him too: pounding, hammering, scraping at the floor. He just didn’t know. How could he?

He paced back and forth for days after, bound to his garage, the place he worked so hard for all his life. Moaning, groaning into the darkness, his hands reaching out, instinctively driven to simply wander in search of life-sustaining flesh, he truly did not understand his terrible plight. He did not understand the meaning behind every languid step or every broken fingernail.

He did not understand the chains, or the locks or the mesh fencing and the heavy boards covering the windows. He only understood those noises out there just beyond his reach: shuffling bodies, stinking figures wilting in the sunshine, vast-hunger, torture and suffering. He could never understand the meaning behind that soft patter that never stopped, that constant rotating of metal and copper that lie so very close behind a locked door. That constant hum was his only friend.

And without him to check up on it, it would be twelve months before his batteries and alternators and his back-up inverters would relent. By then he would truly be dead; starved without ever fulfilling his desire for raw steak, for human-flesh, for bones, marrow, lungs, hearts and brains. Still he pounded relentlessly, pacing back and forth, nowhere to go, nowhere to be, missing out on a life that others like himself lived just beyond the walls of Marco’s Autobody.

One year later...

The sound of a chain being snapped and falling to the ground just outside the door echoed through the garage. A few seconds passed before the door creaked open slowly, rays of sunlight invaded by the figure of a man, peering inside. He held a machete in both hands. Slowly he entered, listening intently. Nothing to hear.

Caution made him silent, his keen mind—that of a true survivor—learned to be wary of chained up, abandoned garages. More often than not, they were still inhabited, if not by someone, then by something. With the machete gripped tight, he stepped over the body of Marco Ruez, his brown eyes scanning over the car-lift, shelves, work benches and tool cabinets.

He wore his dark hair short beneath a heavily-stained riot-helmet. Riot gear stained in bits of blood and matter covered his entirety. His fists were laden with sharp blades: for punching Zombies in the face and the head. He carried three guns—a shotgun, a 9mm Beretta and a .357 Magnum, but no ammunition. “Careful Liz. Don’t trip on the body. Keep an eye on those corners.”

A woman, blond, blue-eyes and thin—perhaps in her late-twenties—followed slowly behind, her hands gripping a wooden bat with large spikes protruding this way and that way; a fierce-looking piece of destruction. Caution and experience guided her steps. She too was dressed in heavily-stained riot gear. Her guns too—a twelve-gauge shotgun and twin-Uzi’s—just like his, had no bullets. “God damn! This fucker stinks like shit!”

“Poor fuck, he turned inside here and never made it out!”

“Forget him.” With a tilt of her jaw she pointed her eyes at the ceiling where a heavy shaft of sunlight broke in. She whispered, “Rooney...take a look at that!”

“Gee, I wonder what’s up there?”

She waved him over, “Give me a boost.”

“Okay, but no fucking around up there. You see anything you just start swinging for the fences!”

“I know!”

“I mean...anything at all, you hear?”

“Will you relax? I got this.” He hoisted her up. Instantly she was distracted, her hands beginning to paw and rummage through a host of items: books, movies and video games. There was stacks of white-paper complete with pencils, pens, erasers and stationary. Holding up a slanted-roof were steel storage shelves jam-packed with tools and saws and drills of every shape and size.

She was looking at a wall criss-crossed with sticky notes that was covered over with maps and pictures of far-off places and better times. Weapons hung on racks. A small fridge was filled with beer. A huge red tool cabinet sat behind a red sofa and matching love-seat. The leather was tearing but they were fine. She couldn’t even imagine how one man could haul all this up.

“Hey! What’s taking you so long?”

“Rooney, get up here! You gotta see this!” She dropped the ladder down.

“It better be fucking good, Liz! Better be worth the climb.” Instantly he was lifted in his soul, his eyes dancing over an array of items from entertainment to home-protection to the simple things in life like playing-cards and board games. And then he saw Liz, her face pouring over a wall at the far end, “What is that?”

“It’s a map!”

“We don’t need a map, Liz. I have maps.”

“Not like this, you don’t.”

“Here let me see that.” He squeezed in beside her. The whole map, the wall itself, was filled with little notes, with X’s, Triangles and Squares.

“Read the little note.”

“Which one? It’s filled with a hundred little notes!”

With her finger, she pointed to an area north of their location. In the silence of the mid-afternoon, she began reading, “‘Twelve-oh-one-Arlington-Street...’” She looked up at him, her eyes brightening. She kept right on reading. The letters were small but neatly written, “‘Yes! Finally! A cache of guns and a food-store with so much food and fresh bottled water that I will need a hundred trips just to haul it all.’” She tore off her riot helmet and smiled, her eyes lit with hope and all good things.

Rooney’s eyes brightened, “Here, let me see that.” Written in clear, legible hand-writing, the letter went on to the next page, “Well, it’s about fucking time our luck has changed. But that’s not all. Listen to this...” Picking up the loaded shotgun he plopped himself down on the red armchair and began reading the note:

“‘To: which-ever lucky bastard (or bastard’s) who stumble across this little piece of Heaven after I’m gone... To the lucky motherfucker who manages to make it past the electric perimeter fence without killing themselves...kudos to you. Please...by all means...help yourselves to anything and everything. (I mean...if I’m no longer alive.)’”

“‘I was attacked in broad daylight yesterday just outside the fence. I managed to kill the bastard and get inside. Took its head clean off. The only way you can kill Guidos. It was like they were waiting for me. Usually they only come out at night. The thing is though...the fucking thing spit at me. I’m not sure if I’m infected or not. See, I was wearing my helmet but I thought I felt a little bit of its saliva hit my lips. I began spitting it out as soon as it happened, but...now I’m not so sure.’”

“‘In any case...I’ve survived long enough. If I do turn...well, shit...I guess there ain’t really much I can do about it, is there? Anyways...if you’re reading this...it means you were either very smart—smart enough to find a way past the fence, or…an entire year had passed. The fencing usually runs for about eleven or twelve months. Sorry to keep you waiting.’”

“‘If you are reading this...you will find in the basement the power control center that supplies all the fencing—both the perimeter fence and the one above the garage. It’s pretty simple to use. Just replace the alternator with a fresh one and change the battery, give it a few good cranks and you’re good to go. The fencing is grounded away from the garage, but don’t forget to KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF the fence! Or...YOU WILL DIE!’”

“‘When you’re down there, you will notice right off that the whole basement is jam-packed with shelves and stuff that may at first look like junk, but believe me...it’s not junk. No. It’s definitely not junk. You will find a full inventory, things like rope, cordage, nuts and bolts (boxes of em!) wires, survival equipment, every kind of tool you can imagine, saws, saw-blades, swords... Shit man, think of it like this: its ten years worth of shit I looted from thousands of homes in the city. I got everything organized from A - Z. Do not go messing it all up. It took me a long time, so please...show some respect.’”

“‘Also you will find a shitload of electronics. Shit, some are still in their boxes. Anyways...pretty much anything and everything down there. If you’re handy...well then...I’m sure you’ll make good use of all the schematics. There’s an entire book of schematics. I made it myself. Everything from short-wave radios to Frequency Transmitters to UV Light traps to...well, you get the point. Everything but the grub. That, you will have to figure out on your own. Sorry.’”

“‘As for entertainment...there’s roughly five-thousand or so movies, hundreds of working Laptops (some still in their boxes) and several video gaming systems (also some of which are still in their boxes.) There are head-phones so you’re not attracting all kinds of creepy-bastards. They’ll come anyways.’”

“‘Also there are virtual head-sets aplenty so you don’t need to be hauling up no big-ass teevee’s up here. It gets really hot in the summer up here but there are fans in the store room in the basement. It keeps out the cool air in the winter too. It takes a few hours to insulate it fully and there’s a little electric stove which pumps out pretty good heat. There are plenty of blankets as well. Sorry...no clean sheets though. I sleep in the big red tool chest. I welded four big ones together to make it. I lined it with that space-mattress foam. It will sleep two comfortably and is really warm.’”

“’I just began working on a Pantry today, in-fact. I found a massive store-room in a basement in the rich neighbourhood of Thornside a couple miles north of here. The address is written on the map. ‘1201 Arlington Street.’ One or two people could survive for maybe a couple years with all that stuff! I mean, seriously, it’s fucking El Dorado! Guns, tons of ammo, food, water... Free pickings! Anyway...if I’m dead by the time you get in here...the place is all yours. But please...keep it clean will you! Or else I will come back and haunt your ass! No, just kidding! But really, I mean it...it’s all yours. No hard feelings.’”

“‘Hmmm...let me see...what else is there...?’”

“‘Oh yeah, don’t worry about the fencing and the fibreglass roof. I made it myself about 10 years back. It took me a couple of months, but the fencing and the roof are completely sealed off and damned sturdy. Hell, you could park a damn truck up there. It won’t budge. Nothing has ever made it in here since I put it up. It does leak though, but the rain-catchers do their job pretty good. Shit, it’s been real dry lately though. But I’m sure you’ll manage.’”

“’Also there’s a hole in the far back room in the basement that spills down into the drainage pipe. Just dump your ‘shit and piss’ in there and the rain will wash it away. There’s an air-tight bucket I use. I found some kleenex too today back on Arlington Street. I swear to God its Heaven on my ass! A shitload of it! No ‘pun’ intended! I think that’s all friend.’”

“‘Ps. Good Luck! Live every day like it’s your last. It very well might be. Don’t forget that. Anyways...friend...be safe and take care.’”

“‘Oh...one more thing. Last one, I promise: Please...if you’re gonna dispose of my body...do be kind and wrap me up good and tight with a blanket and bury me out back. I hate the thought of my corpse rotting in the sunlight, looking like shit for flies. After all, how often are the living these days given the chance to make a final request? I mean, really, who cares anymore about the dead in their blankets?’”

“‘Yours Truly, Marco Ruez. Survivor of 10 years. Owner of Marco’s Autobody! Lover of life! But damned lonely at times! And maybe a bit crazy! See you on the flip-side!’”

“‘I hope to God that this is just a flu! Getting hot flashes. I gotta sit down. Goodbye friend.’”

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