Authors: Ryan King
Driving fast, much too fast. Sam heard loud moaning noises, but couldn't figure out where it was coming from. He could hardly drive for Molly sitting in his lap licking his face. Sam finally let his foot off the gas and just let the jeep coast until it stopped in the middle of the road. Tears were streaming down his face.
"Oh God, what happened to us?" Sam asked. "Why is it all gone and why am I still here? If it's the freaking apocalypse you forgot something!" he screamed into the sky. "You forgot to take me! Do it! Take me!"
Sam hung on the wheel and sobbed. Molly's insistent licking in his ear would not be denied. He grabbed the dog by the neck angry, but ended up hugging her close caressing and drawing comfort. He eventually got himself under control, wiped his eyes and looked up. Rachael, his dead wife, was standing there in front of the jeep, smiling and lovely, her long dark hair still in the breeze.
"Not now, honey," whispered Sam and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, she was gone.
The math was irrefutable
, yet still not borne out by practical observation. Even if the plague had been 99.99% fatal to all those infected, making it by far the most deadly pathogen even seen, there should still be thirty-five thousand survivors in the United States alone and sixty million survivors worldwide presuming a 100% exposure rate. But where were they?
The East Coast was the most densely populated region of the United States. If there were survivors, then some of them should be here. Sam had gone up and down the entire coastline a half dozen times and seen no evidence of other survivors. Could he really be the only
one left alive? Wouldn't it be more likely that all of this was some sort of delusion? Maybe he was dying too, or in a coma from a car crash, or dead already and this was hell.
If he were the only survivor, what had made him different, he asked himself. He hadn't just survived infection; he had never even gotten sick. No one knew what the disease was and in the end they called it The Plague, which was as apt a name as any. The signs of the disease were high fever, painful sores, and delirium, but what made it truly deadly was the fact that an infected person was a carrier for nearly a week before showing any real signs of infection. In months The Plague had swept the globe.
Sam suspected that the suddenness of the disease, and the total lack of immunity by humans, indicated the disease was manmade. The fact that all animals were immune strengthened this hypothesis. Someone must have screwed up royally, he thought.
A blood test to confirm infection was quickly developed, however it only served to ignite chaos and panic once it showed nearly everyone carried the disease and would die in a matter of days. Those days were a nightmare to Sam.
Parents killing their children to prevent suffering. Roving gangs of madmen wandering the streets killing, maiming, and raping with abandon. At first there was a pathetic effort to dispose of the bodies. Mass graves soon led to giant furnaces which turned into whole fields piled high with bodies hosed down with gasoline from fire department pump trucks before going up in a giant fireball of ineffective cremation. Eventually, even the thin veneer of civilization collapsed. Police, soldiers, doctors, firemen, government leaders all evaporated into the futility of wasted life and the certainty of impending death.
Sam never bothered to even get the test, just assumed he was infected like everyone else and would die soon. He'd been away on business, unable to get home or even call. Mass transportation came to a standstill and the roads and highways were thin ribbons of clogged hellish brutality in a vast landscape of death and rot.
He supposed the only thing that kept him from killing himself like so many others was the thought of getting home to his wife and daughter before the end. Countless occasions he almost died anyway due to near accidents, wanton violence, or sheer chance.
As everyone around him died off and the world became more still, Sam let himself feel some hope for his family. Maybe he was alive because of something genetic, so Rachel and Barbara could be immune too. They might be alive and holding on in their house in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Getting home consumed his being. He had long ago tried to blot out that journey. It was a voyage over a dead landscape covered in bodies where the rats and roaches had quickly multiplied by the trillions to consume the rotting stinking flesh. Giant plumes of smoke lifted into the air in every direction and on some days dirty ash fell from the sky like snow. Sam learned to avoid habitation and highways, traveling mostly cross country and only entering buildings out of great necessity.
Williamsburg lay on a peninsula cut lengthwise by only one
real interstate and this road had become more of a killing zone that most. Sam remembered this highway was frequently packed bumper to bumper each weekend in normal times and at the end, millions had clogged this already ineffective escape route. Sam had no other choice but to travel down this highway. The surrounding land was narrow, swampy, and thickly wooded, so I-64 was the only real option.
He spent most of the time walking over the hoods and roofs of cars, trucks, and vans covered in others' belongings, some clearly necessary for survival, others pure vanity or delusion. At night he would stay in one of the many recreational vehicles on the highway after dragging the dead inhabitants outside with as much respect and tenderness as he could summon. He would eat what was stocked in the vehicle's kitchen heated by propane tanks and he could usually even get a shower.
It took over a week to cover the sixty miles in this manner. When he finally made it to his neighborhood, it looked almost normal. Bodies were few and only a couple of the houses had burned down. Sam made his way to his house and family with trepidation.
He began running when he saw his home and started yelling for them. His cries startled a flock of crows and
his cries echoed back to him unanswered. Dead windows everywhere greeted and watched him.
Rachel had loved this home, they both had. It wasn't too big and in a nice area with a beautiful view. They had bought it with the intention of growing old in it together and of it being the last house they ever owned. They had been happy and content here, Sam realized as he stood at the front door. An envelope was taped to the green surface with 'Samuel' written in Rachel's beautiful looping cursive.
Sam reached out and took the envelope with shaking fingers and pulled out a folded letter filled with more of Rachel's writing. 'Samuel, my love,' it began. 'I pray you find this letter and are well. Barbara and I have the plague and know what that means. At least we have each other. I hope you are not alone at the end. If you get home soon and are not infected, please, if you love me, do not enter! There is nothing you can do for us and we want you to go on, even if that means without us for as long as you can. Your love and the life we have lived together has been more than I ever even hoped to dream for. Farewell my love, you will see me again I promise. Rachel and Barbara.'
He dropped the letter with shaking hands and a photograph tumbled out of the envelope. Sam reached down and picked it up. It was a picture of the three of them that summer on the beach. One of those wonderful moments that they had taken for granted, back when they had believed happy days would stretch out before them without end.
Sam put his hand on the door knob and found it locked. He got ready to knock down the door but was racked with sobs. He could imagine them lying in there together in bed, loving and comforting each other until the end, but dead and decaying now. His brain couldn't stand the thought, and he knew if he saw them like that right now it might drive him insane.
Instead he turned and walked away from his home and his family, but not for the last time.
Tanner the old spaniel died not long after they crossed into Georgia. Sam dug a small grave and buried the old dog determined not to cry and cried anyway. The rest of The Pack seemed to also mourn and share the sense of loss. Tanner had been the first member of The Pack, finding Sam in the early days when he wasn't sure if he wanted to live or not. To say that the dog probably saved his life wasn't an overstatement.
Sam had learned that when he was down or depressed, he needed something to change his attitude and later that same day found what he was looking for. He'd always disliked bowling but didn't hesitate to pull into the nearly deserted parking lot of the Plainsview Bowl a'Rama. Sam forced the door open with a small crowbar from his tool bag and opened the doors wide to allow in as much light as possible. The building hadn't been ransacked like most others and looters likely overlooked the bowling alley as an end of the world target of rampage.
He started to walk down the lanes, all of which had their pins in neat pyramid order, before he saw the concession stand. Sam pulled the flashlight out of his pocket and saw the kegs of beer hooked to electric dispensers. It was likely warm and flat, but what the hell. He popped the automatic tap off the top and found a hand pump to put on. After several minutes of fiddling with a contraption he hadn't had much interaction with since college, he was pumping warm foamless beer into a clear plastic cup.
He stood up and admired the beer in the dim light. The dogs had already grown bored with him and were exploring the far reaches of the bowling alley, probably munching on old popcorn or a stale hotdog bun. Sam slowly put the cup to his lips and sipped. He was careful to moderate his expectations and expected the beer to taste like old socks or stale mouse turds. It was delightful. He drank down the first cup in several long swallows, belched, and pumped another.
carbs my body's reacting to," he said to the dogs who didn't contradict him. He killed the second beer, pumped another and headed towards the bowling lanes feeling pleasantly tipsy.
Sam's father had watched bowling on the television with an intense concentration Sam could never understand. He supposed that was one reason he had never really enjoyed the game. Still, he'd had his share of dates and knew how to bowl.
He set the beer down on a table near the first lane and found a good sixteen pound ball that fit his long fingers. He considered going to look for bowling shoes, but the idea of sticking his feet in shoes that hundreds of others had worn had never appealed to him even before the end of the world. Who knew what type of super mutant athletes' foot had flourished in those shoes since. Hiking boots it would be and hopefully no one would hold the poor score against him.
Sam walked up to the arrows and tried to remember everything he could about the proper form. He looked over the ball at the pins far down the dark lane concentrating. Swinging his arm back in a smooth arc he stepped forward bringing the ball even with his body and then out in front releasing in one fluid motion. He thought he'd put too much spin on it, the ball teetering on the edge of the gutter for a long second, before it pulled back towards the center and struck the front pin off center. Sam couldn't believe it, a strike.
"Holy shit," he said as he stepped one lane to the right and heaved another ball down the lane. Another strike. "You've got to be kidding me," he said to the dim cavernous room.
Sam stepped one more lane to the right. There wasn't a
sixteen pound ball nearby, so he made due with a fourteen. It didn't make a difference, another strike.
"Are you guys seeing this?" Sam yelled out to the dogs. Molly and Raven lifted their heads to look at him, and uninterested went back to their much more fascinating doggy diversions.
Pure luck, he thought. He'd never been that good a bowler. Not once in his life had he gotten two strikes in a row, much less three. Maybe there was something to the beer. He'd made fun of calling any activity that involved consuming large amounts of beer and pizza a sport. Now he thought maybe he had been a little too hasty.
Sam finished the beer, got more and picked out another ball. He carefully and deliberately threw another strike. Man, if I'd known the secret of beer before I would have been
the freaking world-class bowling champion of the universe, he thought.
He got a little cocky on the next lane and only knocked down eight pins, but got the spare on the next throw. Of the fifteen lanes he ended up getting nine strikes, five spares, and left only one pin standing in the entire building.
Sam realized with a start that he was at the very far edge of the bowling alley furthest from the front door. Not only was it dark this far in, but it looked like it was close to nighttime outside.
"Shouldn't be getting dark yet," he said out loud, "far too early." He whistled for the dogs and jogged to the entrance. Outside the sky was menacing and pregnant with heavy impending rain. Worse, the wind was picking up and Sam saw a bolt of lightning in the distance a few seconds before a loud thunderclap scared both him and the dogs.
He ran over to the jeep with the dogs following and began putting the plastic sides and cover on. Sam had only done this a couple of times so his hands were clumsy and uncertain, especially with the beer in his system. Finally the cover was on and he got in behind the wheel relieved. He counted the dogs cowering with him, practically in his lap whining. Only three.
"What the hell?" he yelled in frustration seeing Raven wasn't with them. He whistled and after scanning the surroundings saw the dog cowering in the bowling alley, looking out at him with fear and even a bit of guilt.