The Last Dance – Chapter One – Sarah

“Damn it!”

Sarah tossed the walkie-talkie on the floor, then immediately sucked in her breath as the back cover flew off and the batteries, drained of their life, went in every direction. She picked it up and carefully examined the casing. She had no real clue how these things worked, unlike Nathan, but it looked undamaged. She gathered up all the batteries and put them back in, replaced the cover and turned the knob in a vain attempt to resurrect the depleted device. The only sound she heard was the click of the volume knob as it turned to the “ON” position.

She thought about the last thing Nathan had said to her before she lost his voice to the ever more quiescent airwaves. “I’ve decided we’re going to come for you first, since you’re closer. No sense in going all the way to Hannah’s Mill first, then backtracking to you.”

“But aren’t you worried about them?” she asked, concern for his parents clearly ringing in her voice.

“The last I heard from Dad, he and Mom were doing just fine in the safe room, and he keeps that thing stocked to the ceiling. They could survive a nuclear winter in there!” It was hard to tell over the radio’s scratchy reception, but it sounded like he was much more worried than he was letting on.

“What about Patrick’s parents?” She asked.

“What? Honey, you’re breaking up. If you can hear this, we’re coming for you as soon as the sun comes up. Stay put and keep away from … and windo…” As his voice faded she frantically turned the squelch and volume knobs to no avail. The batteries had finally given out.

Trust had been an issue for Sarah in the past few years. She had never really gotten over her parents’ divorce so long ago; her father simply disappeared and she hadn’t heard from him since. The death of her mother four years later nearly destroyed her. It was in Nathan that she found some stability; for the first time in her life she felt like she wasn’t going to be abandoned or left behind. Still, she felt her characteristic pessimism clawing its way to the surface of her consciousness, bringing the wisps of fear and doubt it always carried. That was the last thing she needed now!

“Screw this sitting around and waiting, I’m going to restock,” she whispered to herself, and started towards the corner of the living room where her rifle stood, blued finish blending in with the dark wallpaper. Like Nathan, she had only seen one group of them a couple of weeks ago, and she had little difficulty picking them off with the .243 deer rifle left behind by her last boyfriend when he was taken to jail for dealing drugs. She shouldered the harness and peered out her apartment door’s peephole, the fish-eye lens giving her a view of nearly eight feet of hallway on either side of the door. It was getting dark outside but there might still be enough sunlight to make it to the gas station down the street and back.

She eased the door open and peeked around the frame; nothing on the left. As she looked past the door to the right she jumped and just barely suppressed a squeal of fear. The glowing eyes she saw staring back at her belonged to a cat, not the ghostly face of a doomed neighbor as she first imagined.

Slowly she walked around the cat, willing it to stay quiet and not meow at her. To her relief the creature settled down on its haunches and began purring and grooming itself. She had seen it around the building before the Event, and was pretty sure it belonged to a family one floor up from her. They must have left it behind when they were evacuated by the military.

As she crept down the two flights of stairs leading to the ground floor, she recalled the harrowing days after the toxin was released. Watching the families piling into the Army personnel transports made her decision for her: She knew she should stay behind and wait for Nathan instead of taking room that might otherwise go to a child or grandmother. She felt she was strong enough, smart enough, to handle whatever came her way. Besides, she had been sure the reports of spontaneous cannibalism by exposed victims were gross exaggerations. The media was always blowing things out of proportion. So, when the soldiers came to her building and started breaking down doors she calmly unlocked and opened hers, then hid in the cubbyhole between her bedroom closet and the kitchen pantry until they decided no one was home. She had discovered that hiding place years ago when she was dating Kevin. He would come over drunk or high, looking for more than just the dinner and movie they would normally share before she sent him home with a platonic hug, and rather than fight him and risk being date-raped she would hide until he left.

It wasn’t until two nights after evacuation that she saw first hand how serious it really was. She had heard a frantic screaming, and rushed to the window just in time to see a man knocked to the ground by three other people, one of them just a child. All three were disheveled, their clothes bloody and torn, and even though the scene was lit only by a streetlight she could see the boils and lumps on their skin. As the child began to chew into the man’s throat the screaming changed to an abrupt gurgle, then stopped altogether. She reached for her rifle and almost sobbed as she brought the little girl’s forehead into the cross hairs of the Bushnell scope. Just a gentle squeeze on the trigger and the monstrous face that had once been someone’s daughter snapped back with the force of the round. The back of her head exploded in a messy pattern on the edge of the circle of unnatural light cast by the lone streetlight.

The other two ghouls were quick to locate the source of the thunderous shot, but Sarah was quicker with the rifle bolt. She snapped another round into place with a quick lift-pull-push-drop and fired again. This time she got the larger of the two adult males through one eye, and before his body hit the ground another round was flying through the air towards the third monster’s temple.

She had watched a lot of zombie movies as a kid, and she was pretty sure the poor guy in the jogging suit would soon rise to seek flesh too. The only problem was, he was angled so that his head was obscured by the rest of his body. She would have to go down there to finish him off…

A movement out of the corner of her eye snapped her back to the present. As she made her way across the parking lot towards the street, she realized it was just the wind picking up and blowing leaves across the pavement. Only two hundred feet to the corner store, but it seemed like miles to her unnerved mind. She stopped moving when she realized where she stood; it was two weeks ago to the day when she had stood in this very spot and put a bullet in the head of an already dead man. The blood stains were faint but still visible; animals or something else had carried off what was left of the man. The sun, of course, had taken care of the bodies of the three creatures she had destroyed. Piles of bones were all that was left of their carcasses.

As she approached the store, she slowed and strained her ears, hoping all she would hear was the wind in the alley between the storefront and the laundromat. Nothing was there, so she crept up to the store window and slowly peeped inside. The sun was nearing the horizon now and she could just barely see the shelves and a beer cooler. She knew this was a small store and the only way in without a key was by breaking the glass in the door or windows, so she felt confident the building hadn’t been breached. Still, she was nervous as she slid the key into the deadbolt and slowly turned it, gritting her teeth at the loud click of the bolt snapping home. She eased the door open and quickly scanned the little store while locking the door. It appeared as undisturbed as she had left it sixteen days ago when she first raided it for food and supplies. She had seen the owner evacuate with everyone else, and after the military vehicles were long gone she had found to her surprise it had been left unlocked. Even better was finding the owner’s spare key under the cash register. She now felt it would be a safe haven as long as the cannibals didn’t figure out that it was easy to break into with something as simple as a brick.

She took a plastic hand basket from the stack on the wall and began filling it with boxes of crackers, bags of corn chips and beef jerky, and cans of Vienna sausages. Not really a vegetarian diet, but that went out the window when the world ended, she thought to herself as she scoped out the coolers, avoiding the dairy section and its disgusting aroma of spoiled milk and curdled cream. In the fading light it was difficult to read the labels but she was familiar with the bottle shapes. Settling on a few IBC Root Beers and as much bottled water as she could fit in a second basket, she turned towards the front of the store and froze.

The sun was almost completely down, but there was just enough light to see the hollow eyes of the four figures staring back at her through the storefront glass.

To Be Continued


© 2011 Morgan Johnson