It all started three years ago; of course, that seems like a lifetime now. My brother, Sam doesn’t know any different. But there was a time, a time when we didn’t have to stay inside and hide from the flesh-eating things that probably now rome the whole earth. We are clueless as to if there are any other humans left in the world aside from us here at the school.
“Nathan,” I hear my friend Gabriel’s voice address me with hesitation. “It’s time to go out.”
He knows I hate leaving Sam here even if I know the people here it doesn’t mean I trust them. Gabriel was one of the few I do. Probably because I knew he wouldn’t leave me behind even if things got hairy out there; I’d do the same for him and he knows it.
I rise slowly looking at Sam who is curled up on the ground in a sleeping bag with some other young children who have lasted this long. One of them is Gabriel’s little sister, Anna. She’s younger than Sam by two years. Sam is nearing nine. I and Gabriel are both nineteen.
I grab my bow and arrows. Funny thing, animals have invaded the city since the beginning of the apocalypse, as if taking back the land they once roamed. There are a lot fewer humans and that’s probably what makes the city so welcoming.
Gabriel like me has no clue as to whether his parents are alive or dead. Most of us at the school believe our families are dead but no matter what anybody ever said to Gabriel he’d fight to the death to say his parents were alive and out there unless given evidence that they were somehow dead. Gabriel was always unique in that he toke nobody’s word but mine and his own for the truth. He took Melody’s too, when she was alive.
Melody was my former girlfriend. I’d had to shoot her down after she was turned, after she begged me to do it so she wouldn’t kill anybody.
Michael, Hayden, Farren, Hale, and Dani soon join us by the school’s front doors. Hale and Dani are the only girls brave enough to venture outside with us. The rest are chickens. Even the teachers don’t venture out. They sit here well we risk our lives out there.
“Let’s go,” urged Gabriel.
We pull back the rusted and dented metal door just enough so we can slip through. The outside world is bright as the sun rises. The school parking lot is overgrown with wildlife. You can barely see the ash fault anymore.
We split off into three groups in three different directions and agree to meet back at the school in a few hours. If we are late, don’t wait is the motto.
Farren, Dani, and Hayden go south. Michael and Hale go east and we head north. The school is west. We scavenge the houses and stores for any food that isn’t passed its due date. We find a few cans amazingly enough after all our trips here in the past three years.
Some say that was how it started. Poisoned or infected food that people ate. Nobody really knows the truth, though, it’s doesn’t really matter what happened; what we need is a cure.
I wasn’t hell-bent on finding a cure like some of the teachers were. They spent hours locked in an old science lab testing things and themselves and we rarely ever saw any of them.
Isn’t there a point when you should stop trying and help the remaining people who are not infected? Why couldn’t they just accept that maybe there wasn’t a cure?
“Nathan. Nathan!” I hear Gabriel calling me but he seems far off. It’s coming; I can feel it, a vision. My head starts throbbing and I see flashes and hear voices off in the distance.
Gabriel always thought they were seizures and that’s what everyone else always thought, too. I’d never told anyone about my visions aside from Melody who kept her mouth shut about them.
I see a young brown-haired girl about my age. She’s bleeding from a bite but oddly she isn’t changing. I see Hayden and Dani watching as Farren holds the girl at gunpoint. I see the girl trying to protect herself with her hands. Farren looked calm and collected as if he wouldn’t regret killing her because he was putting her out of her misery.
The vision ends abruptly and Gabriel’s voice resurfaces. He’s sitting next to me, hand on my shoulder. I breathe slowly and then get up and stumble slightly.
“Careful,” he says holding his hands up to steady me. “Maybe we should go back to the school.”
He gives me a worried look as if I might faint and seizure again at any minute.
“I’m fine,” I say looking around. I take off looking for any sign of Dani, Hayden or Farren.
Farren had this dead look in his eyes and Dani and Hayden had looked scared. I don’t think they were afraid of the girl. I think they were afraid of Farren.
“Nathan, wait. Where are you going?” Gabriel yells after me.
I ignore him. I round the corner of a building and spot Hayden.
“Hayden,” I call after him.
“Nathan?” he calls in return.
I near the alley entrance way he’s standing by and see Dani and Farren with a black-haired girl.
“She’s bitten but not turning. We were wondering what to do with her,” says Hayden as Gabriel catches up to me out of breath.
“Maybe she’s immune,” I reply.
Gabriel looks down the alley and slowly rises from his heaved over position. He goes closer to the girl.
“Emily?” he asks nearing.
The girl looks up at Gabriel.
“Get away from her Gabriel,” says Farren as a precaution.
“Emily, is that you?” Gabriel asks.
The girl stays quiet but gives Gabriel a confused look.
“She hasn’t said a word since we found her,” says Dani.
Emily, Emily was a ‘friend’ of Gabriel’s till about three and a half, four years ago. It was in our second year of high school and Gabriel had this secret. It didn’t bother me but it had bothered Emily very much when he voiced it to her. Mostly because she believed he liked her. But the truth was he was gay and that broke her heart. Gabriel had tried to mend their friendship time and time again but she could just never seem to forgive him.
It was a secret of mine, too. I was unsure till after Melody died and realized how much I hadn’t acted like a boyfriend and more friend like. I hadn’t told anybody. I guess like with my visions I’d think people would judge me, even though Gabriel would have understood.
That’s when the throbbing starts again and I hear the distant voices again. I lean against the wall and I see me and Gabriel laying in a field hand in hand, smiling.
I shake my head. He was my friend and that was all he was, I think ponding my palm against my head to make the vision disappear.
I see Gabriel turn and he runs in my direction but it seems like slow motion. I’m still hitting my forehead trying to clear my head.
“Nathan, Nathan. Stop, you’ll hurt yourself,” he says grabbing my hands. “What’s wrong?”
I go silent. I wasn’t going to tell him, not here at least.
“I think we should go back, the food we gathered should last us about 3 days to a week,” says Hayden.
“Who wants to carry her?” Farren nods in Emily’s direction.
“You guys are a bunch of chickens. I’ll help her,” says Dani pushing through us.
Farren frowns at the word ‘chickens’. I and Gabriel just shrug and Hayden rolls his eyes. Dani always did have a way of getting under Farren’s skin.
We head back to the school to wait for Michael and Hale.
Dani is sitting near the door with Emily they’re speaking in whispers to each other and laughing. Farren and Hayden are in the middle of the parking lot arguing about how Farren reacted to Emily.
Hale and Michael appear after about an hour. Michael is limping and Hale has a scratch on her face.
“You okay, Nathan?” asks Gabriel.
I relive the vision of me and Gabriel in a field intentionally and think about what he said.
“Tell you later,” I remark.
I rise; Farren and Hayden finally break up their argument. Nobody says anything.
We pull the disfigured metal door back and slip inside to store the food we found in the teacher’s lounge fridge.
Michael, Dani, Hale, Farren, and Hayden head back to where the classrooms are with Emily but Gabriel and I sneak into the pitch black gym. We’d always liked the dark; we used to play laser tag a lot when we were younger.
“So, what’s up?” questions Gabriel.
I can’t see him in the darkness but I can feel him. I’m nervous.
“Come on, Nathan. I won’t tell anybody. I promise,” he says it with a hint of worry.
It wasn’t that I didn’t trust him. We have been friends for over a decade, a relationship like that doesn’t exist without some trust. It was more what he’d think of me after I told him.
“...I can tell the future... When I have seizures, I’m seeing the future...” I say and my voice echoes.
“So, you can predict the future? What did you see today?” he asks sounding mystified.
“Farren holding Emily at gunpoint,” I say automatically.
He’s my friend. I should have told him long ago but like everybody I feared society’s judgment.
“And in the alley?” he asks.
I peer into the darkness and I probably have this look of ‘Really?’ on my face but of course, Gabriel can’t see it.
“What?” he says as if he can see my face.
“You have something you want to tell me?” I ask.
That’s when I see flashings of me and Gabriel running towards the alley. But I then see Farren holding Emily at gunpoint.
“Why, did the future predict I would tell you something?” he asks it in all seriousness but it sounds like a joke.
“Depends if you want to tell me,” I leave his side and run to the end of the gym and stop just before I run into a wall because I see me clipping into the wall surrounded by darkness.
“Alright, I can read minds,” says Gabriel. “We even now?”
“Another secret, Gabriel,” I shout. “I’m gay.”
“What about Melody?” he asks.
“I was trying to blend in. Like Dani said, I’m a chicken,” I reply.
“You’re one of the bravest people I know,” I hear him say as he gets closer.
I back up into the gym’s wall. My head hits the wall and it feels like it’s on fire. The voices emerge and flashes cross my vision. Nothing clear can be seen but I can feel Gabriel experiencing it with me, seeing the blurry lights and feeling the pain.
I can hear Gabriel’s breathing when the vision ends.
“That was scary,” he breathes.
A flashlight breaks the darkness as well as a beam of light from the back door to the gym. I can see Sam and Anna standing side by side.
“Nathan?” I hear Sam call.
“Gabe?” I hear Anna call.
Shh, I think to Gabriel hoping they’ll go away.
“Come on, Anna,” says Sam. “I don’t think they’re here.”
“Okay,” she says.
They slowly close the door and we just start laughing for some random reason. We’re both sitting against the gym wall, side by side. I feel Gabriel’s hand touch mine.
“We haven’t laughed like that in a long time,” says Gabriel.
And it’s true.
“Yeah,” I reply.
I can tell he’s nervous. He’s probably scared I’m joking with him but I’m not.
“I’m serious, though. I’m... Gay,” I said staring off into the darkness but in the direction, I think his face is in.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks.
“It took you a while to come out, too. I was nervous and unsure...” I say quietly.
“And you had Melody and you didn’t want to upset her like I upset Emily,” he replies.
“That, too,” I comment.
“What were you going to do if she wanted to get married?” he asks.
“I was sixteen. I didn’t plan that far ahead, Gabriel. I figured we have a big fight and break it off but no. I had to kill her after she was bitten for it to end,” I say annoyed.
“Don’t blame yourself,” says Gabriel.
I feel him lean closer.
“Nathan! Gabriel!” I hear Rider one of the other students in the school shout from outside the gym doors. It spooks both me and Gabriel.
Both of us sigh. Rider was a seventeen-year-old who was loud and had just recently joined our team of adventurers who went outside. He’d been healing from the state we found him in a week ago. We were amazed he was still alive. He said he hadn’t eaten in about a week and had been running from zombies the last three days.
Gabriel goes out the back door and I go out the front door and spot Rider at the bottom of the stairs near the front office. I watch Gabriel sneak past and toward the classrooms.
“Hey, Nathan. Where you been?” I hear Rider call.
“Nowhere important. What did you want?” I reply.
“Well, Sam and Anna were wondering where you and Gabriel were and I promised I’d find you so. Do you know where Gabriel is?” he comments.
“No, I haven’t seen him in a while,” I reply.
He doesn’t know me well enough to know I’m lying. If he were any of the others they would have caught me in a lie. That was one thing about people who didn’t know me very well that I liked. You could say anything and unless they had good intuition they’d believe me.
“Well, if you see him can you pass the message along?” he says.
“Yeah, I will,” I reply.
“Great. See you later,” he comments and heads into the front office and disappears.
Gabriel comes sprinting through and goes back into the dark gym’s front doors. A few minutes later Emily appears.
“Hey, Nathan. You see Gabriel? I wanted to punch his lights out,” she comments rudely.
I see a flash of her slapping him across the face. I ignore it. The girl was heartbroken. You couldn’t blame her. It was evident that she hadn’t gotten over Gabriel in the last three and a half to four years either. Apparently, she hadn’t accepted what he told her either.
“Emily, it’s who he is. He can’t just change because you like him,” I reply.
“He made me think he liked me. When really it was him being insecure,” she says in a high-pitched whisper.
“But he didn’t do it intentionally. He was trying to blend in because he was afraid of what we’d think. Emily, he was worried about losing us. He hid his true self until he felt you should have known the truth and then told you. He faked it for so many years because he wanted us to stay friends with him even after he revealed who he was,” I plead with her to drop the incident. “Just give him a second chance, Em. He loves you as a friend and he didn’t mean to hurt you. You know that.”
“Nathan...” she says in anger, “Fine, but tell him if he comes too close I might still hit him.”
She walks off annoyed and I sigh.
Gabriel slowly opens the gym door.
“Is she gone?” he whispers.
“Yep,” I reply peeking back down the hall. “She’s really mad.”
“No kidding. You think she would have gotten over me in the last three years,” Gabriel replies.
“She probably regretted it well she was out there and now that you’re around she probably thinks releasing her rage on you will help her get over you,” I comment.
“I highly doubt that would help me if the person I liked turned out to like the opposite gender,” he replies.
“Well, everybody’s different,” I say smiling.
“Did you hear what Rider said?” I ask.
“Yeah, we should probably go find Sam and Anna,” he says sighing.
We make our way back to the classroom where the children sleep and live. Gabriel unlocks the door; it’s a precaution just in case any zombies manage to get into the school. Inside the lights are off but you can hear shuffling and giggling.
We step inside and shut the door. I look around at the boarded up windows and back door to the classroom. The tents made from desks and blankets. The sleeping bag near the door for the person who guards the children at night. It’s usually me, Gabriel, or Rider cause we are the only ones who can handle settling the children down and attending to their needs.
Rider’s younger brother, Connor, who is twelve, pokes his head out from behind one of the science benches at the other end of the classroom. He’s the oldest child here. There are about only fifteen kids under the age of fifteen who stay in this room. The teachers and adults all stay upstairs and the ones between 15 and 30 are spread out among the first-floor classrooms.
“It’s Nathan and Gabriel, Anna,” I hear Sam say although I don’t know where he is. Anna comes running into Gabriel and hugs him.
Gabriel bends down and returns her hug. For seven years old, Anna is short, about three foot two. Sam appears seconds later behind. He’s always watching Anna like a big brother. I smile, my parents had wanted a third child and were hoping for a girl, they'd be proud to know Sam was being protective of his friend. Sam towers over Anna at five foot one. I’m six foot one and Gabriel is six feet.
“How did it go out there?” Sam asks. He means how did venturing outside go.
“Fine,” replies Gabriel.
Sam eyes my silence and stares at me oddly before disappearing into the classroom’s back room.
“Gabriel, did you get hurt well you were outside?” Anna asks.
I sit down behind the teacher’s desk and watch them.
“No,” says Gabriel smiling.
I think the apocalypse had distance Sam from me and made Gabriel and Anna closer. I lay down on top of the sleeping bag behind the teacher’s desk. I turn my MP3 player on and block out the noise from the room and everything becomes like a music video. Linkin Park’s ‘Leave out All the Rest’ fits the scene somewhat.
“I dreamed I was missing,
You were so scared
But no one would listen
Cause no one else cared
After my dreaming
I woke with this fear
What am I leaving?
When I’m done here
So if you’re asking me I want you to know
When my time comes
Forget the wrong that I’ve done
Help me leave behind some reasons to be missed
And don’t resent me
And when you’re feeling empty
Keep me in your memory
Leave out all the rest
Leave out all the rest
Don’t be afraid
I’ve taken my beating
I’ve shared what I’ve made
I’m strong on the surface
Not all the way through
I’ve never been perfect
But neither have you
So if you’re asking me I want you to know-”
I get up and leave. For some reason, I just feel anger and jealousy toward Gabriel and Anna’s relationship. I know Gabriel will come looking for me soon. I grab my bow and arrows and carefully sneak down to the front door of the school. I pull back the metal and squeeze out. I make a break for the roof although it’s not zombies I’m worried about. It’s Gabriel. He knows I sneak out to the roof often even though I’m not supposed to. Gabriel will make too much noise in his attempt to follow me and probably get caught.
But sure enough, I hear the screeching of metal being pulled back and see Gabriel emerge from the school. I’m surprised he left Anna in such a hurry.
He clampers up the metal ladder and I’m just getting off the second when he reaches the lower roof.
“Nathan!” he calls after me but I continue to climb.
By now the MP3 player has switched songs to Here Comes Goodbye by Rascal Flatts.
“I can hear the truck tires coming up the gravel road
And it’s not like her to drive that slow
Nothing’s on the radio
Footsteps on the front porch
I hear my doorbell
She usually comes right in
Now I can tell
Here comes goodbye
Here comes the last time
Here comes the start of every sleepless night
The first of every tear I’m gonna cry
Here comes the pain
Here comes me wishing things had never changed
She was right here in my arms tonight
But here comes goodbye-” Gabriel pulls the earphones out and just stares at me in disbelief.
“You’re going to get yourself killed. And then who’s going to protect Sam? Who’s he going to look up to? How am I going to go and tell him that you’re dead?” he says pointing back towards the school door.
I know he’s not worried about Sam accepting my death he’s worried about living without me. The one person who understands him. And doesn’t hate him.
I don’t say anything. I don’t know what to say.
He comes close and I back away from him. I climb the third and final ladder to the highest spot. Gabriel follows behind me, weary of our distance.
I sit down on the edge and put the earphones back in. Blood on My Name by The Wright Brothers is playing.
“It’s a wrecking and coming
And burns beyond the grave
With lead inside my belly
Cause my soul has lost its way
Oh, Lazarus, how did your depts. get paid?
Oh, Lazarus, why you so afraid?
When the fires
When the fires have surrounded you
And the hounds of hell coming after you
I’ve got blood
I’ve got blood on my name-” Gabriel sits down beside and again pulls out my earphones. He steals the MP3 from my sweater pocket and turns it off and puts in his own pocket.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
I don’t answer but I see a flash and shake my head. He must not be reading my mind right now otherwise he would know what was going on. My head starts throbbing and I rock back and forth covering my ears. It hurts more than previous visions, maybe because it’s about me. I see Gabriel coming closer and kissing me. I shake my head telling my brain to shut up even though it has no control over what I see.
“Nathan,” Gabriel says putting his hands on my shoulders. “Calm down.”
That’s when I think he reads my mind to try and see what’s upsetting me. I close my eyes and I’m in darkness then. I didn’t want him to see and it stopped. I’d never been able to stop a vision before.
“What did you see?” asks Gabriel.
“Nothing you should worry about. It just hurt more than normal, “I reply.
“Liar,” Gabriel more than anybody can tell when I’m lying.
I don’t say anything again out of fear this time.
He hugs me.
“Please tell me. I won’t tell anybody. I promise,” he whispers still hugging me.
I point to my head and he nods.
I start slowly going through the vision of the field and us kissing and he just shakes his head at it all. I look away in embarrassment. He kisses me on the cheek and then smiles.
“I like that future,” he whispers in my ear.
He backs off in embarrassment and blushes. Maybe we're not friends but something more and I was just too blind to notice.