Authors: A. R. Wise
By A. R. Wise
Copyright 2011 Aaron Wise
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CHAPTER ONE - SACRIFICE
They ate my husband as I watched.
I pulled our oldest daughter, Kim, to me and buried her face in my side. She tried to see her father's final moments, but I wouldn't let that happen. I clutched the back of her head as she pounded on my chest and screamed out for her Daddy. We stood in the back of the boat while David gave his life to save ours.
Our second daughter, three-year-old Annie, didn't understand what had happened. She stared up at us and tried to assure me it would all be okay.
David did everything he could to keep the horde away from the boat. He grabbed one of them by the ankle, pulled it down, and then toward him where it gladly accepted the easy prey. He screamed out, but his cries weren't from the pain. My husband roared in anger so they wouldn't mistake him for dead. He slammed the creatures against the wooden dock beside him as they tore at his body. He shouted out in sacrifice, but would it be enough?
There was a good chance it wouldn't be.
I had to do something to save my girls.
I glanced around the boat for a weapon to use for protection and saw a baseball bat beside the supplies we'd brought. I held onto Kim's head and forced her to look up at me. Her brown eyes were bloodshot and her cheeks were streaked tears. She wailed in despair as I begged her to listen to me.
"You need to stay with Annie," I said.
"No!" Kim's shrill plea carried across the bay. She understood what I was going to do.
My voice was tortured by heartbreak as I tried to stay calm. "You have to take care of Annie."
I let her go, but she clung to my waist as I tried to reach for the bat. I could hear David's cries weaken. The infected would turn their attention on us any moment. "Get this boat moving," I said to Billy.
I didn't have any other choice than to push Kim down so I could get the bat. She fell hard and glared up at me as if I'd purposefully hurt her. The pain evident on her face devastated my already broken heart. Kim curled up against the corner of the boat and pulled Annie into her lap. My girls wrapped their arms around each other as they watched me leave them.
"I love you both, so much. So much," I said as I stepped onto the edge of the boat.
The bat shook in my hands as I prepared to face off with the horde. Their teeth were crimson with the blood of my dying husband. They swarmed over him and their hands dug into his flesh to pull forth a grisly meal.
I was ready to die with him if it gave our girls a chance to live. I would do anything for them. I stepped onto the dock and raised the bat over my shoulder in a stance I hadn't made since high school softball. My legs trembled beneath me and my heart pounded painfully in my chest. It felt like my throat was closing up as the fear and despair tried to take over me. I had to move as far from the boat as possible to make sure none of the creatures pushed past me, but my legs wouldn't cooperate. I was too scared.
David struggled beneath the creatures. There was no hope of surviving this and, as I inched forward, I knew I was committing suicide. We would die so that they could live. I glanced back at the girls to find the strength I needed to move forward, but fear mounted inside me and I couldn't force myself to go. I wanted to walk, to run, down the dock and join David in his fight to save our girls, but all I could do was stagger toward the fight. Every foot forward was a miraculous accomplishment as my body quaked with dread.
One of the creatures saw me and pushed itself into a crouched position over David. It was a woman, about my age, with brown hair darkened by my husband's fresh blood. She had striking blue eyes that would've been gorgeous on a living girl, but was terrifying on a dead one. Her right hand was inside of David's stomach and she pulled out a handful of his intestines to chew on as she watched me. His entrails dangled from her teeth as she grinded them between her molars and pulled them apart. She kept her eyes on me as if mocking my despair.
I'd moved only a few feet away from the boat and forced myself to take another step. David had found the strength to sacrifice himself for our daughters and I needed to do the same. I wanted to do everything in my power to keep them safe, but I was too scared. I froze.
The dead girl stood in a predatory crouch and roared. Blood cascaded out of her mouth and splashed against the dock as she moved toward me. Her face was beaten, her body sliced, and there was nothing left of the woman she once was except the vague phantom of beauty now shrouded by horror. She would consume me.
The boat's motor sputtered to life.
My arms trembled as the bat shook beside me. The zombie girl's feet rumbled the dock beneath us as she charged. Every ounce of strength in my body dissipated to leave me helpless and vulnerable. I wanted to jump in the boat, but then nothing would stop the creature from jumping in behind me. The natural instinct of fight or flight demanded that I stay and fight to keep my girls safe, but my body revolted and refused to do anything but let me die. At least my death might save Kim and Annie. I closed my eyes and prepared for the inevitable end.
Billy grabbed the bat out of my hand and used it to attack the creature. He caught her beneath the chin. Momentum flipped her feet over her head as she collided with the side of the dock and then slid off. Her pretty blue eyeball plopped down beside me.
He threw the bat into the boat and then turned to me. He said something, but the boat's motor drowned out his words and fear had dazed me. Billy grabbed my waist and picked me up, over his shoulder, then jumped a foot over the water into the moving boat. We fell to the floor and I cracked my head against the wooden seat. The pain jolted me back to reality and I raced to the edge to see the last moments of my husband's life.
David's head was pressed against the dock as the creatures swarmed over him. They tore at his body, but I focused on his eyes, which stared back at me. In the last moment of his life, he saw us pull away from the dock, and he smiled at me.
He smiled at me.
The sorrow crushed me all at once and I collapsed under the weight of it. I buried my face in my hands and shook uncontrollably as we rumbled our way into the middle of Hailey Bay. I kept saying, "I love you, David. I love you so much. I'm so sorry. I love you so much."
Annie's tiny hand slid over my shoulder. I turned and saw she had stopped crying. Her curly red hair and freckled cheeks framed her bright, blue eyes as she looked at me in concern. Then she smiled and said, "It's okay, mommy."
I clasped my little angel and pulled her to me. I squeezed her against my chest as my body quaked in sorrow. Her thin arms wrapped around my neck and she kissed my cheek. I thanked her, genuinely, and kissed her over and over until she started to giggle.
Kim was still curled up in the corner and glared at me as she wept. She hadn't forgiven me for pushing her down. I put an arm out to welcome her into our embrace, but she refused. "Kim, please, I'm sorry I pushed you."
"You were going to leave us," she said. "Why would you leave us?"
I got up and went to sit beside her. "I was trying to protect you, honey. I would never leave you unless I had to."
Kim's tough exterior broke down. She wrapped her arms around me and pleaded, "Don't leave me again."
"I won't, sweetie. I promise." I ran my fingers through her hair and rested my cheek on the top of her head. Annie stood beside us and watched for a few moments before she turned her attention to the side of the boat. The edge was too high for her to climb so she stood on her tiptoes and peered at the dock as it drifted away.
"Annie, don't look at that. Come here." I pulled at the back of her shirt to drag her over to us. She smiled and plopped into my lap. I wrapped my right arm around Annie and my left around Kim as I drew them in for a tight hug. "I love you girls."
Annie rested her head against me and asked, "Is Daddy going to meet us at home?"
CHAPTER TWO - OVERBOARD
"I'm sorry about your husband," said Billy.
"He did what he had to. Same as your dad."
I had joined Billy up front after getting the girls into a pair of life vests. The cabin of The Casper was plastered with pictures of Billy that his father had taped up. Some of them were from a decade ago, when Billy was a child, and every one of them featured the same goofy grin. There were pictures of him holding fish that dangled by a line, and others at an amusement park. It took me a while to find one with his father in it. It looked older than the rest, with Billy flanked by his father and a pretty woman with her long hair up in a bun and a wide smile.
"Is this your mom?" I pointed at the picture taped above our heads.
Billy looked at it and smiled. "Yeah, before the divorce. I don't really remember those days that well."
"Where's your mom live now?"
"In the city. I used to live with her, but I moved back in with Pop to help him get the salvage business up and running. That, and he needed my help keeping this bucket of bolts floating." He slapped the side of The Casper's steering column. "This old bitch likes to fall apart. A lot."
"That's reassuring," I said. "Have you talked to your mom since all this started?"
"I've been trying to call her, but no luck." He pointed at his cell phone on the dash.
"I haven't had much luck on my phone either." I'd tried calling friends and family the entire time the girls and I were trapped on our roof, but I couldn't get any of my calls to go through. "That reminds me, is there an outlet where I can plug in my phone to charge it?"
"Yeah, right over there. The TV's plugged into it."
"Does the TV work?" I asked.
"Sure. Just the local channels. You know, the free ones. But we could probably check out what they're saying on the news."
I turned on the old, black and white set. The picture popped to life in a way I hadn't seen a television do since I was a kid. It started out pure white and faded until shapes began to appear, but the screaming blared to life immediately. I scrambled to turn the volume down as we tried to see what was happening.
A reporter stood on a roof above a chaotic city street. The noise around him drowned out everything but the bass of his voice and I was about to change the channel when it cut back to the newsroom.
The newscaster shook his head in shock. "We seem to be having trouble with Mike's audio. Although, as you can see, people have started to riot and we're getting reports of looting all across the city."
"Channel Five is asking that our viewers stay inside their homes," said the female co-anchor. "The military has been mobilized, and we should have more information about what is happening within the hour."
"What city was that?" asked Billy as we both strained to see the tiny television.
"New York. It looks like they switched from local to national news. This must be happening everywhere."
"Check to see if you can find a channel that's talking about what's happening around here."
I started to click around the dial when we heard a small boat motor behind us. A family of three in a fishing boat bounced through our wake to come up beside The Casper. A young woman stood at the front and waved her arms at us in a panic as she screamed something we couldn't hear. A man, somewhat older than the woman, sat at the back and guided the motor's handle. A young boy hid in the shallow spot between the seats.
Billy slowed our boat down and I left the cabin to speak with them. I waved down as they steered along and scraped against The Casper's side.
"Here," said the woman standing at the front of the boat as she tossed a nylon rope over our side. I wrapped it around a metal loop on the lip of The Casper and pulled it taut as our two boats slowed to a stop. "Oh thank God," she said after I secured them to us.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"We're almost out of gas. And we didn't have time to grab the oars before we had to leave. They were everywhere."
"The zombies?" I asked.
"I guess so. If that's what we're calling them."
"Not much else you can call 'em," said Billy as he walked up behind me. He reached down and helped the woman pass her son onto our boat. The boy looked to be about Kim's age, with a bowl haircut and wide brown eyes. His lips were pursed shut and he glanced around the boat nervously as if afraid a zombie would be waiting there to grab him. He looked frail and sickly as he shivered beside me.
Billy helped the mother up as her husband shut off their motor. The boy clenched her waist once she was beside him again. She was a young woman, probably in her mid twenties, and very pretty. Her hazel eyes and high, strong cheekbones gave her a striking beauty that was accentuated by her short, light blonde hair.
"Thank you so much for stopping," she said. "I was scared we were going to be left drifting out there. So many people just sailed past us, even when we yelled out for help."
"I thought tragedies like this were supposed to bring out the best in people," I said.
"Me too, but I guess not. People can be real assholes sometimes." She covered her mouth when she saw Kim and Annie seated nearby. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't see your girls there. I shouldn't cuss."
I laughed. "Believe me, they've heard a whole lot fucking worse. I'm Laura, by the way."
She reached out to accept my handshake. "I'm Gwen. And this is Toby." She ruffled her son's hair. "And that's Jacob."
Billy helped Jacob onto the boat. He was older than his wife by at least ten years. He had a polo shirt tucked into a pair of khaki shorts and wore black flip-flops. He smiled and shook my hand as he thanked us for stopping.
Billy introduced himself to them and I called Kim and Annie over. "Come meet Toby, girls."
Annie raced over, but Kim stayed in her corner with her head tucked between her knees. "She just lost her Dad," I said to our guests.
"Oh my God," said Gwen. "I'm so sorry. You're husband?"
I nodded. The despair of losing David had been temporarily forgotten, but now it rushed back in. Billy saw that I was having trouble and took over the conversation for me.
"Where are you guys headed?" he asked.
I started to cry and turned away from them. I stared out across Hailey Bay in the direction of the dock we had left far behind.
"We didn't really have a plan," said Jacob. "We were at the marina when all hell broke loose. I thought it would be safer on the water, so we headed out here, but that's as far as my plan got us."
"Did you bring any food?" asked Billy.
"No," said Gwen. "We didn't have time. We barely made it to the boat."
"Do you guys have a plan? Or are you just drifting like us?" asked Jacob.
I left the conversation to check on my daughter. She bristled at my touch as I knelt beside her. "Honey? Please talk to me." I slid my hand up and down her back. "I know how hard this must be for you."
"Daddy." That was the only word she could say through her sobs.
"I know, Kim. He saved our lives. Your Dad's a hero, honey. If it weren't for him…"
"They would have eaten us too."
What a horrible thing for a five-year-old to have to comprehend. I don't think even Atticus Finch would've known the right thing to say to help her with that one. I held her until she relented and accepted my embrace. I kissed the side of her head and smelled the grape shampoo that I'd washed her hair with that morning. It was a brief, treasured reminder of a life we'd left far behind.
"What do you think, Laura?" asked Billy.
"What? I'm sorry, I didn't hear what you guys were talking about." I joined the conversation again.
"I'm going to head up to the north side of the city," said Billy. "My mom's up there, and I want to make sure she's safe. We were thinking that I'd take their boat, and you could all head out into the bay to wait for me."
"You're going into the city?"
Billy smirked. "It's not the best thought out plan ever, but yeah, that's the plan."
I ran my hand through my hair in a gesture my husband would have recognized as one of frustration. I didn't like the plan at all, and normally I would have retreated from the disagreement and accepted whatever decision the others made, but the survival of my family required me to avoid acquiescence. I couldn't let myself freeze up and give in like I had on the dock. I had to fight for what I knew would be best for my children. "We were just talking about how this ship falls apart all the time," I said. "I sure as hell wouldn't know how to fix this thing if something happened. Would you guys?"
Jacob and Gwen shook their heads. I felt like I was being forced to be the bad guy, but I had to stand my ground to make sure my girls were as safe as possible. Floating through the water in a broken ship didn't sound like a good way to stay alive.
"I'd say we could all take the little boat and let Billy take this one," said Jacob. "But I doubt we'd all fit in that thing."
"I'd rather stay with you, Billy." I said. "If you're going to take the boat up the bay, to the north side, you're going to have to park it somewhere. I'll just stay with you until then."
"There's no way I'm going back to the city," said Jacob. "We just came from there. It's a mess. You don't want to go there." He tried to reason with us, but his tone turned angry. "With all due respect, Billy, if you've got family in the city that you want to get to, they're probably dead by now. And even if they're not, do you really think you have a chance in hell of finding them?"
Billy didn't answer so Jacob continued to badger him. "The best thing for all of us to do right now is head out into the bay and wait for the military to get here. I understand you want to go help your mom, I get that, but that's just not the smartest thing to do right now. You know? Billy?"
"Huh?" asked Billy. He had ignored most of what Jacob said. "No. I'm going to the city. Only question is whose boat I'm taking. Yours or mine?"
"Well, pardon my language, but that's pretty fucking stupid," said Jacob.
Billy shrugged and walked back into the cabin at the front of the boat. "Figure out the plan. I'm steering north," he said before he closed the door behind him. I was furious with him for leaving me alone to fight this argument.
"Well that's just fucking great," said Jacob. He kicked a plastic tackle box over and the lures spilled out across the floor.
"Honey, calm down." Gwen turned to me and apologized, "I'm sorry to be so much trouble."
"No, it's okay," I said. "I understand. You're just trying to do the right thing, and so are we. Let's all calm down. There's probably a good solution that we just haven't thought of yet."
"You've got to agree with me though." Jacob was far from calm. "Heading back to the city is suicide. If you get in sight of shore you're going to have people, tons of them, swimming out to you. Not to mention the whole place is crawling with zombies, for fuck's sake."
"Well, Billy just watched his Dad get eaten by those, those things," I said. "I can understand that he wants to do everything he can to save his mom. I understand that completely."
"So you're willing to risk your kid's life because he needs his mommy?" asked Jacob.
"Watch it." I looked to the back of the boat where my girls and Toby sat. "They're all I've got."
"He didn't mean it," said Gwen.
"Oh I meant it. Taking this boat back to the city is going to get you and those girls killed. Plain and simple."
"That's enough," I said.
"Look, you stupid bitch, if you and your boy toy can't think straight then I'll be happy to do the thinking for you. We need to take this boat out into the bay and wait for this to sort itself out." He gesticulated madly and shouted at the top of his cracking voice. The veins in his neck stood out as he lost his temper. "Let that dumb fuck in there take the small boat and head back to the city if he wants to, but taking this whole thing out there is just plain dumb."
"Then get off our boat," I said, but he didn't hear me.
"You're going to use up a ton of gas too. Why take this whole ship all the way there when you could just take our boat. We could even wait here for him for a day or two. But sending us off in that tin can is bullshit and you know it. You can't be dumb enough not to see that I'm right."
"Please stop," said Gwen.
"I said, get off our boat. If you can't calm down and talk about this like an adult then you need to leave."
"I'm the only one acting like an adult here." He pointed at the cabin where Billy had retreated, "I'm telling you, that kid's idea is shit. Everyone in the city is dead or dying, and taking this perfectly good, big boat up there is a waste. It's a waste of lives and resources. Plain and simple."
"It's his boat," I said. "He gets to make the decisions." I picked up the tackle box he had kicked over and started to put lures back in. Then I grabbed the baseball bat in a motion that looked as if I were still cleaning up. The dead girl's black blood still wet the tip.
"Bullshit," said Jacob. "It's as much our boat as it is his now. I'm in it to survive, little lady, and I'll do it anyway I have to. If that means chucking the lot of you overboard and stealing the boat then fine, I'll do it. But there's no way this boat's going back to the city as long as I'm here."