Better off Undead

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Chapter 8: The Apocalypse

“Are you serious?” Daniel asked, incredulous. His eyebrows shot to the top of his forehead, the utter disbelief he felt as clear as a picture on his face. However, just as clear was the expectancy on Eli’s face. Daniel leaned forward, placing his hands on his knees as he studied the younger man. “How… how long have you known about this?”

Eli shook his head. “Just found out today, not thirty minutes before I ran into you guys.”

The older man’s jaw nearly hit the floor. “Are you…” he began, his brain now running so many circles it was difficult to keep his words straight. “Are you really telling me that you didn’t know anything about the outbreak this entire time?”

“Entire time?” Eli echoed. “Just how long has this been going on exactly?”

Daniel shot a helpless look at Daina, and felt some degree of relief that she seemed every bit as shocked and appalled as he did. “Well,” she said slowly, letting the word roll off her tongue as she considered the question. “I suppose it’s a little difficult to say. We haven’t exactly been counting the days. If I had to guess, I would say it’s been about a month by now.”

Eli sat bolt upright, his eyes full circles of shock. “A month?” he repeated, almost mechanically. “An entire month?”

Daniel was nodding his head before Eli even finished. “Probably a little longer than that, truth be told. The outbreak hit almost overnight, but it was about a week before everyone really began to understand what was going on. Then for about another week there was belief that the problem could still be contained. When everyone started losing cell phone reception, internet and power it was pretty much official. There was no fighting it anymore. I didn’t think there was a soul on Earth who was unaware of it by that point.”

“Except me, of course,” Eli muttered, sinking back into his seat, feeling defeated. He thought back to all those ways he had intentionally cut himself off from the world. No TV, no news outlets, and for the most part no people ever made their way into the microcosmic world of his apartment. This was his own fault. There was nobody to blame but himself. He really had slept through Armageddon.

“Were you… in… a coma, or something?” Daina asked, helpfully. He managed a weak smile in her direction. It was almost cute the way she tried to find the best in a person, even at a time like this.

“Something like that,” he answered cryptically, and offered no further explanation. Looking back to Daniel he added, “So what exactly did happen?”

Daniel let out a sigh and shook his head. He stared off into space above Eli’s head, as if looking for the answer somewhere across the room. “Truth be told, I’m not sure anyone really knows for sure. From what I can tell, it started at night, in a town not all that far from here. That’s where the first news reports I remember seeing about it came from, anyway. One day, I woke up to dozens of news reports of some new disease that was affecting a few nearby towns. We figured it was some new West Nile or Swine flu or something. The weird thing is that all the people with the sickness reported having been attacked the night before, on their way home from work. Every single one of them. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time. No one had put that together. At the time no one really knew what to make of it. Not until the infected started dying. It happened so fast it was frightening. Some died within hours, some took a day or two, but they all died.”

He paused for a moment, as a flood of emotion ran through him. He took a deep breath to steady himself. Distantly, he was aware that this was the first time he’d actually thought about any of these events since they had initially occurred. It had all been so overwhelming at the time. Life had been so much just about survival, there hadn’t been any time for thoughts like these.

“Even that didn’t mean all that much, honestly. It was when they started rising again that we knew something was horribly wrong. They didn’t learn right away. There were some rumors, but nothing really concrete. Most of the people being treated were shipped off somewhere before they… rose. As the death toll began to climb, the number of reported cases rose exponentially. We were assured that this was normal, that most of the cases were possibly just paranoia taking hold. There was no way, they said, that the disease was spreading as quickly as it seemed to be.”

Suddenly he let out a single, sharp “Ha!” He shook his head in disbelief. “It’s so ironic when you think about. It was the news, the people who were supposed to be telling us what was going on, that kept us from being aware enough to do anything in time. We spent so much time believing them when they said there wasn’t anything to worry about that we didn’t even notice the world falling apart around us. It’s not like the signs weren’t there, but it just seemed so ridiculous. So impossible. For a couple days it was like rumors, you know? It was like, some guy that your friend’s cousin’s roommate had heard about said he’d seen a guy die and then get back up again. By the end of the week, there wasn’t anyone that didn’t have a close friend or relative or co-worker they hadn’t personally seen rise. By then it was everywhere. By then, it was too late to do anything but run.”

Daina reached over and placed her hand on Daniel’s. He met her eyes, and something exchanged in the silence between them. After a moment, he turned and looked back at Eli. “Seriously, how did you miss all of this? Don’t you have… friends? Family? Anyone who would have contacted you when things went from bad to worse?”

The younger man’s jaw hardened. Truth be told, he hadn’t even had time to think about it yet. Everything since he’d left his apartment that afternoon had simply been about survival and trying to understand what had even happened. There in fact were a number of people he cared about, and he had not heard from even one of them. Minus the apocalypse occurring outside his door, not having heard from his friends or family for over two weeks wouldn’t have really been that abnormal. But once the dead started rising from the grave? Surely, at least one of them would have thought of him.

“They must…” he began, the words choking off in his throat, “they must have… died… too early…” His voice trailed off. He simply could not bring himself to finish the sentence.

Daina’s eyes went soft, and she reached over to place a gentle hand on Eli’s knee. Meeting his gaze, she said, “In some places, the phone lines went down almost immediately. It could just be they had no way to contact you.”

“Yeah, I bet that’s it,” Eli muttered under his breath, but he managed a weak smile, realizing she was just trying to be nice.

Suddenly Marshall was there, standing near them. He nodded to the couple and cast a glance in Eli’s direction as if he still wasn’t sure what to make of the younger man. “You guys should probably get some sleep,” he said. “We’re gonna try to get an early start to that military base Devin told us about.”

“Why?” Eli said. The three turned to stare at him, but seemed unsure how to respond. The young man shrugged his shoulders, not much less surprised than them that he’d uttered the word. “Well I mean, think about it. This place is pretty nice. It’s big, it’s empty, it’s fully furnished…” at this last part Eli patted the side of his armchair. “It’s defensible. It must have what, three, maybe four entrances? It’s got a kitchen and a workout room. It’s close to a bunch of stores for when we need supply runs. This is about as good as it’s gonna get. Why risk our necks travelling to some military base? We could just bunker down here and live out the rest of the end of days.”

Marshall’s mouth opened and closed a few times as he tried to think of a response. A couple times vague noises clicked forth from the back of his throat, but nothing more intelligible than that came for almost a minute. Finally, he steeled his jaw and shook his head. “Maybe. Maybe not. Most of us have gone to bed though. We’ll talk about it in the morning, first thing. That way, if we decide to leave we can still do it early.” He started to turn away, and then stopped. “So you guys should still probably find a room and get some sleep,” he added. Satisfied with that, he nodded, and hurried on to the next group of people.

“Well,” Daniel said, lifting himself out of his seat, “he has a point. It’s late, and I’m beat.”

Eli frowned. It couldn’t be that late. He probably hadn’t been up for more than half a day by this point. He doubted he’d be able to sleep. Still, his body was pretty weary from the extremely abnormal amount of exercise he’d put it through that day, so laying down on a nice, comfy bed did sound rather appealing. Also, being alone after an awkward day spent being around a large group of people he didn’t know also sounded pretty good. With a shrug, he rose to his feet. “Yeah,” he agreed aloud, “I suppose going to bed wouldn’t be the worst idea right now.”

To his surprise, Daniel let out a brief laugh. “Sorry,” the older man apologized, waving his hand dismissively in the air at Eli’s inquisitive glance. “It’s just more amazement at how little you’ve lived this nightmare. Sleep always seems like the last thing you want to do once the darkness comes and you realize what horrors can lie in wait around any corner.” He glanced to Daina and then back to Eli, and then shrugged. “Or maybe that’s just me.”

With that the couple turned and started walking away, leaving Eli standing alone with his face twisted by conflicting emotions. “Over dramatic much?” he mumbled to himself, trying to dismiss what Daniel had said, but the words seemed to hang in the air like a shroud.

Suddenly, a man with dark brown hair that Eli didn’t recognize came running into the room. He looked around frantically until his eyes settled on Marshall, who was standing over by Mi-cha. Marshall was talking to the young Asian girl, and seemed to be having a difficult time communicating with her given the amount of exaggerated hand motions he was making.

“Marshall!” the newcomer called, anxious. Turning, he ran over to the big man. “Marshall! Come quick! It’s Bernard and Connie!”

Eli watched this whole scene inquisitively, and then decided to follow along. He hurried down a hallway after the two men, and several others that had been waiting around in the lobby also came along as well. After a moment they heard a thundering boom, like a gunshot. Everyone picked up their pace.

A moment later, there was a second shot.

They hurried down the corridor until they came to a particular room. The frantic man opened the door and everyone pushed inside.

In the room, there were two people sitting on the bed: a man and a woman. They were an older couple, Eli guessed likely somewhere in their sixties. Above them, along the wall, were two giant sprays of blood. The woman held a gun in her still, limp hand.

“What the hell?” Eli asked. Nobody answered him.

“Oh, God,” Marshall moaned, shaking his head in horror. “Bernie, no. Why?”

Marshall hurried over and inspected the bodies. After a moment, he glanced at the brown haired man, the one who had come to alert them. His eyes were hard and still. Lifting up a sleeve on Bernard’s arm, he revealed a sickening, infected looking abscess. It was a sight Eli had never seen before that afternoon, but now knew it all too well.

It was a bite mark.

“Jesus!” The newcomer swore. “So he did get bit on that last supply run. Why was he trying to hide it?”

Marshall could only shake his head in reply.

“Did… did Connie?” the newcomer asked.

“No, Nelson, she didn’t,” Cotton responded.

Nelson, the newcomer, ran his hands through his unkempt brown hair. “God, I should have seen it. I should have seen it!”

Marshall stepped over to Nelson and placed a calming hand on the man’s shoulder. “Hey, it’s not your fault. There’s nothing you could have done.”

“What the hell just happened here?” Eli demanded.

Marshall turned his hardened gaze on Eli, frowning. “Isn’t it obvious?” He said quietly.

Eli started to responded, but closed his mouth. Actually, it was rather obvious. The man, Bernard, had been bitten on a “supply run,” as Nelson had called it. He had hid it for as long as he could, but then the woman, Connie, who most likely was Bernard’s wife, had found out.

“He knew he was going to die,” Eli mumbled, more to himself than anybody else.

Marshall stepped over to him and whispered, “You need to remember this above all else: a bite means death. It is guaranteed. Sometimes it takes a while, sometimes it is very quick, but it always, always means death.”

Eli nodded. As he had said earlier to Amber, this was general zombie rules. He knew what to expect. Bernard and Connie knew that he was going to die, and so they had chosen to end his life with a gun instead of letting the disease take him and have him become a monster. Then Connie, though not sick herself, had decided she did not want to live without Bernard, and had taken her own life as well.

Eli felt sick. He turned to leave and saw Daina and Daniel. Daina had her hands wrapped around Daniel’s arm, a look of sickening horror on her face. Daniel’s face, on the other hand, had a different look. His jaw was set firmly, and his eyes were cold and distant. Eli frowned, but said nothing as he stepped past them and out of the room.

It was definitely time for bed.

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