Authors: Janette Osemwota
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright© 2013 Janette Osemwota
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
Cobblestone Press, LLC
To those who always knew I could.
Sitting at her desk, Lena hummed along with her iPod. Her head bobbed up and down as she studied her work, paying more attention to what she was listening to than what she was studying. She hesitated in her note-taking as the lights flickered in her room. She looked up and dropped her pencil. Anything was an excuse to get away from her work for a few minutes. Pulling the ear buds off, she looked around. The sun had gone down hours ago, so the darkness that came with the power outage made Lena more than a little nervous. Not only would she have to wait on finishing her term paper, she would have to scurry around the room until she found her matches.
“What now?” she grumbled as she blindly grabbed and lit the candle on her nightstand.
The flicker lit the room, casting her ghostly reflection on the walls.
Setting the candle down, she peeked out the window and saw that the whole block had lost power.
“Fantastic,” she said. A bump from outside her dorm room told her that other students were trying to get situated in the dark and she debated joining them. Deciding against it, she roughly fell onto the bed and opened her textbook. She replaced her ear buds, grateful that her iPod had been charged before the blackout.
Just as she was about to turn her music up, an ear-piercing scream filled the room, followed by a chorus of cries.
Lena jumped out of bed and ran to her door. She opened it, expecting to see the other girls of her dorm acting out or another boy trying to make his way inside. When she looked down the hall she saw the glow of a flashlight that had been dropped on the floor. One of the girls, someone Lena knew only in passing, was there.
“Becky?” Lena whispered the girl’s name, leaving her room slowly.
The girl sat on the floor, her back to Lena. As Lena slowly approached the lone figure, she wondered where everyone else had gone. Touching the younger girl’s shoulder, Lena cried out and jerked away from what she saw sitting on the floor. Between Becky’s legs lay a human arm that had clearly been torn from the socket. Becky sat there, chewing on the arm like it was a chicken wing.
As if noticing Lena for the first time, Becky turned on her and bared her bloodied teeth. Lena backed away quickly, tripping over her own feet as she raced down the hallway. Becky got up and bounded towards her, blood dripping from her mouth to the floor. Lena rushed to her room and shut the door, locking it as fast as she could. She pressed her back to the door, trying to block out what she had just seen.
Becky hit the door aggressively and Lena pressed her hands to her face, trying to block out the image of Becky eating a human arm.
What the hell was going on?
Wiping the sweat from her forehead, Lena continued to work in her garden, pruning and weeding as necessary. She quietly hummed as the sun continued to beat down on her covered head. Overhead she heard birds calling to each other as they found their way to her bird feeder. The summer was almost over and she looked forward to the coming showers of the fall. With the plumbing out, she had to deliver water to her small crops with a bucket until she could figure out how to successfully implement some kind of irrigation system from her well.
Pulling herself away from her gardening, she grabbed her basket of zucchinis and walked towards the house. It was a modest house, most of which she had renovated a few years ago. She had installed shutters that could be pulled over her windows, making the house feel more like a tomb than a home. A gate over the front door and large motion sensor lights were on every corner of the place. Even with all the cage-like features, she had planters at each windowsill, growing herbs and fruit. Every little bit of comfort she could add helped.
The mooing of her milk cow filtered through the wind reaching her ears. “I’m coming, Bertha,” she said, and smiled at her house. It had taken her a while to find the place, located miles from any other home, but not so secluded that she couldn’t easily take her truck into town if she needed anything. It was likely she would be making a trip to town today. She had just finished up another novel and needed to hit the library for more to read.
She squinted up at the sky and realized that she probably only had a few more hours of daylight left. If she got Bertha milked quickly, she could probably make town in the next hour. She didn’t want to get caught out of her house after dark.
Bertha’s repeated mooing broke her chain of thought. “I’m coming. You better be good, Bertha, else I’m gonna cook you for dinner!” Bertha mooed as if pleading to Lena. “Oh, hush, you old milk cow. No one’s gonna eat you while I’m still alive, so be quiet.”
After she had milked Bertha and stored the milk, Lena bolted the barn door, closing the shutters to protect the cow until she returned. As she made her way to the garage, a twinkle of light caught her attention and she froze instantly. Through the surrounding trees, a small light flickered through the bushes. Her heart froze in her chest. The sun was still high, so she felt safe, but something about the light was unsettling. It moved slowly through the tree line and, without thinking, she ran to her house and grabbed her 9-mm pistol. Rushing back into the yard, she readied it and took her gardening hat off her head so she would have a clearer shot. She was not that great a shot, but having the gun with her gave her the comfort of some kind of defense. She spent more time avoiding situations where she would need the gun than actually participating in them. Quickly she debated the likelihood of what the light meant. The possibility of it being something she couldn’t handle was slim as long as the sun was up, as far as she knew at least.
It’s probably another dog,
she thought, and remembered the last time she had seen something approaching in the surrounding woods, alerted by the reflection off a dog’s collar. An infected dog meant another bullet spent, another bullet she didn’t have to defend herself from infected people. She’d learned to control her fear since then. Now she slept through the night easily. Her renovations finally gave her a little less fear knowing she was safe in her home.
The light twinkled, reflecting off of something, and then disappeared as if it had never existed. She momentarily considered going into the woods but decided against it in favor of going to town. She did, however, decide to take her pistol to the library, just in case someone had decided to spend the night there.
But, crossing the yard towards her truck, she knew instantly that something was wrong. The back door had been tampered with. She knew because she rarely used the door, blocking anyone from entering while she was gone. Now, it was cracked open. An intense feeling filled her stomach as she scanned the surrounding woods. She took her pistol and approached the house quietly.
“Hello,” she yelled. “I’m not going to hurt you.” She bent down, scanning the room before she entered.
No one answered as she listened quietly for any sounds. She heard Bertha messing with the chickens, but nothing came from inside the house. Rising from her squatting position, she quickly walked through the house. She laughed at her paranoia when she finished her search, having found nothing. “I must be going crazy,” she said to herself. She had probably knocked the door open; simple enough. Shaking her head, she went back outside and checked over the barn, preparing the building for sunset.
After she finished with the barn, she grabbed the bag of books she’d left in her truck and decided to hold off on a trip to the library. She walked around the house, closing the shutters before going inside to lock them. Glancing over her shoulder, she checked the woods one last time before entering the house.
At the entrance, she grabbed her flashlight and lit it before pulling the gate over the door, locking and bolting it. With the shutters down, the house was dark. The light from her flashlight streaked through the house, giving her a direct view into the kitchen. Once there she turned on her battery-operated lantern and filled the room with light. She sighed as she made her rounds through the house, switching on flashlights and lamps, trying to brighten up the rooms.
Suddenly she was tackled to the floor.
A heavy body lay on top of her, pressing her face to the ground.
This was the end. One of the infected had at last found their way into her house, and she was going to die.
The pressure on her face and the weight on her body suffocated her. She felt smothered as she struggled to breathe. She quit fighting as foggy shapes floated in front of her face; her vision blurred as everything faded into darkness. This was it. The apocalypse had finally reached her door. This was the end.
* * * * *
Opening her eyes slowly, Lena tried to imagine the pain she felt was only a dream. She was lying in her room, snuggled up in her sheets like nothing had happened at all. Keeping her eyes closed, she quickly tried to remember going to bed the previous night. She glanced at her watch and sat up quickly, suddenly remembering what had happened. It was 10:45 pm and several hours since she had been “asleep”.
She started to panic when she heard shuffling in her kitchen. Somehow, something had gotten into her house and knocked her out. What she couldn’t figure out was how she had made it to her bed. In her limited experience with the
she had never seen normalcy, let alone compassion. The fact that she was still alive and in her own home meant either she had imagined the whole ordeal or, and she held her breath imagining the possibilities, someone else had survived.
She quickly weighed the possibilities of another normal person surviving and thought the chances were slim. She hadn’t seen a normal person in the five years since what she called the final days. She had moved to this remote location shortly after those days and hadn’t seen anyone besides the
. She had learned quickly to avoid them and had perfected the art of evasion, but somewhere in the back of her mind she wanted to believe that she was not the only one to survive. She wasn’t extraordinarily smart or savvy, yet she had managed to survive. Had anyone else? But if they had, why hadn’t she ever seen or heard them?
The shuffling got louder as she got out of bed silently. No use in taking any chances. She tiptoed to her closet, searching for the rifle she kept in her room. She felt around her small selection of coats for the gun but it wasn’t there. Its usual location was now empty; even the bullets she was sure she had put there were now gone. The shuffling had stopped and she froze where she stood, feeling in the darkness for anything she could use as a weapon. Although she had mastered avoiding situations like this, she was prepared to defend herself with any means necessary. She watched breathlessly as the door slowly opened. Light flooded in as a dark figure entered the room. She froze where she stood, not sure what to do. It was obvious that the figure knew she wasn’t in her bed anymore but only a fraction of the light from the door penetrated the darkness.
Grabbing the only thing she could, she took a work boot, one with a steel toe, and swung it at her intruder. She didn’t wait to see if he was down, she just ran for the door. If she could make it to the barn she could lock herself in and hold out until morning.
Her attacker didn’t flinch when hit with the boot. Instead he grabbed at her as she ran past him. He clutched her arm, knocking them both off balance. They fell to the ground, Lena struggling to get free of him, he trying to pin her down.
Finally he climbed on top of her, pinning her arms above her head with one hand, his thighs holding down her legs. She continued screaming and struggling until his words finally reached her.
“Who exactly are you calling for?”
She froze instantly, really looking at the man for the first time. He looked…normal.
“Wh-what did you say?” she asked cautiously, examining his face. His dark gaze penetrated her paler one. His smile was wide, his teeth strikingly white against his dark skin. He had a humorous, kind smile.
“Well,” he said, his eyes glistening at her. “I was just wondering who you are calling for. It isn’t like the neighbors are going to call for help.”
A laugh bubbled out of her mouth and she felt tears run down her cheeks.
Normal. He was normal.
He didn’t attack her. He didn’t try to eat her; his eyes were clear and his movements fluid.
Releasing her hands, he climbed off her and helped her to her feet. He didn’t give her a chance to get a better look at him before he turned to the kitchen to pour a glass of water. She sat in the doorway between her bedroom and the kitchen, watching his movements and thinking she must be dreaming.
He was tall, much taller than her stout five feet, six inches. His massive shoulders strained at the black t-shirt he wore and the very way he stood told you that he was a man filled with strength. His dreadlocks were wrapped in a kind of ponytail that hung down his back. Cargo pants covered his muscular thighs. He was commanding and confident as he stood there, devilishly handsome. Although she knew he must have been on the road, his clean, light look impressed her. He exuded masculinity and she felt herself instantly drawn to him.
Military. He had to be military. He was so muscular, his skin glistening in the glow of the lantern. She had so many questions for him but she remained silent as he handed her the glass of water. She took it as she watched him slide down to sit on the floor across from her, his back against the wall. He wore military boots that showed a great deal of wear. She wouldn’t expect him to stay in one place, not this man. He seemed dangerous and yet she felt at ease in his presence. His brown eyes matched his dark skin perfectly, his chin covered with a goatee. He was dangerously sexy.
She shook her head, pushing away the sudden thought of his strong hands on her body, and drank her water. She waited for him to ask the questions. He remained silent, studying her face.
“Well,” she said, trying to break the silence. She had been silent for so long. “Who are you and how did you find me?”
He laughed richly, knowing that he had as many questions as she had. “My name is Jasper, and I didn’t ‘find’ you. I saw your car in the town and followed you here.”
She never imagined his answer would be so easy, or the way his voice made her heart skip. She felt warm all over and broke their eye contact when she felt the heat rush to her cheeks. “I haven’t seen anyone else in so long,” she said, standing up out of nervousness. “I just don’t understand. Where did you come from?”
He smiled as he watched her go into the kitchen. He could see the tenseness in her eyes. She was like no one he had ever seen before, even in his old life. She gracefully made her way into the kitchen and began making coffee.
Suddenly something hit the house, shaking the walls slightly. Lena jumped but moved to the door before Jasper managed to reach for his gun. She reached for a switch on the wall.
“What does that do?” he asked, surprised by how calm she had become. He knew she was scared, could see her blue eyes darken, but she was instantly prepared to protect her home.
“It turns on the lights on the property and activates the alarm system. For some reason the loud noises from the alarms and the bright lights seem to spook them.” She didn’t look at him but instead peeked out at the barn, checking on her milk cow.
“I am amazed,” he whispered, his body close to hers now.
“Why?” She felt his presence but kept her back to him as she shut the curtains.
“I don’t know. I just never expected to meet someone like you.” He reached out to touch her but then withdrew his hand and turned back to the kitchen, tucking his gun into the back waistband of his pants.
She turned and watched him walk away, knowing what he felt. The desire to reach out to someone else, needing to finally find comfort with someone else, after being alone for so long. She sighed and continued to make the coffee. He sat down at her table and watched her work.
“So, are you going to tell me your name?”
She laughed and put a mug of coffee in front of him. “I’m Helena Matheson but most people call me Lena.” She paused. “Well, at least they used to.”
They drank in silence before she asked the question she figured they both were wondering. “Do you know what happened?”
He had expected the question. It should be obvious to anyone that at some point he had been associated with the military, and if anyone knew anything the military would. “I don’t know,” he said, his eyes guarded. He laughed at her stunned look. “I mean, I do know some things, but probably not much more than you do.”
“I doubt that,” she scoffed.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I don’t know much. One day I was a student, the next I was a survivor.” She pushed her hair out of her face, trying not to remember the night she found Becky. “Everyone was gone. Everyone except the…
.” She hesitated, wondering how much he knew about the
“Were you attacked?”
She was surprised by the concern in his face. “In the beginning,” she said, remembering. “But they were pretty uncoordinated and unpredictable back then.”
“I know what you mean.” He laughed nervously, remembering being attacked on the base where he was stationed. “Is that why you moved out here?”
“Yeah,” she said. “There seemed to be so many of them in bigger cities. There are a lot fewer of them out here and they don’t give me too much trouble. Sometimes they come at the house like they know I live here, but usually they are in the town where you saw my truck. The ones who live here tend to be fairly predictable. I have at least five living around here but, like I said, I mostly stay away from them. I try to avoid them as much as possible.”
Jasper found himself nodding when she spoke. He had seen the
that she talked about and had evaluated their territories before he had approached her. It somehow seemed less than accurate to call them humans now, and Lena’s term—the
—seemed to fit. What had surprised him was how she had managed to set up a permanent home and live with the unpredictability of the
. He had never trusted their “predictability” like she was doing. All it took was one day of unpredictability to lose your life. He chose a life of nomadic avoidance.
“Have you eaten?” she asked suddenly, making him smile. She didn’t wait for him to answer before she turned on her gas tank to boil some water. Having someone to share something as simple as a meal seemed more important than finding out what he knew. Right now, she just wanted to enjoy having someone here.
They laughed throughout dinner, enjoying each other’s company and avoiding any more talk about what had happened and what they had been through. Jasper thought her eyes sparkled, her skin glowing under the lamplight. She had remained so beautiful, even under such strain.
After cleaning up the quick meal she had thrown together Lena glanced down at her watch, shocked at the time. “I really need to get some sleep,” she said, reaching into her closet for some extra sheets. “Bertha needs to be taken care of pretty early, so…” She threw the sheets on the couch. “Are you going to be here in the morning?” she asked tentatively, afraid of the answer.
He smiled at her as he stood and took a few steps towards her. Without a word he reached down and stroked her cheek with a single finger, loving the feel of her soft skin under his hand. He watched her eyes as they darkened, heat rising to her cheeks. He felt his desire for her grow but lowered his hand from her face. “Of course,” he whispered as he stepped away.
She felt suddenly alone, more so than she had all night. She knew their desire was mutual but something had stopped him from kissing her. “Goodnight,” she whispered. Grabbing her gun to put it back in her closet, she turned and entered her room. She saw him still standing there, watching as she shut the door.