“Gotta stop the bleeding” I tell myself. “Gotta stop it or they’ll find me.” They can smell it. They can taste it in the air. “Gotta stop the bleeding.” I say again in a nervous whisper. It’s been two months, three days and “Shit, it’s almost evening already.” I say, looking at my watch thinking of how long it’s been. No one saw this coming and I definitely wasn’t an exception.
Making my way out the alley is the only way I can accomplish my task but my nerves haven’t let me move in an hour. Sitting here is only going to make things worse. I stand up, steeling myself for the journey ahead. A journey that would only be a fifteen minute walk had the Darkness not come. This I feel will take a life time. Peeking around the corner from the alleyway once again put my senses on high. It’s one of Them. About a block away, standing at the cross walk and waiting for the light. I dodge back into the corridor and vomit. The mornings ration of cat food coming up in an instant. “If you make too much damn noise…..they will hear you. And you will die.” Speaking again in a hushed whisper to the only living ears around. I take my time, making sure my gag reflex is in check. Time to put up or shut up. I have no weapon, no skill in combat. I’ve survived this time by staying low and in my apartment. Only stepping out when absolutely necessary, confining my ventures to the surrounding buildings. Now, low on food, I know that the only way I can stay alive is to scavenge outside of my comfort zone. It’s called being stuck between a rock and a hard place. If I stay, I will die of starvation. If I leave, they may kill me. Starving to death almost looks better.
I stand again, ready myself and take two steps from my cover. The corpse at the end of the street has crossed, now on my side but across from me. I find it remarkable that even after reanimation, they have tried to keep on with their lives. I remember a woman that I had seen from my third story apartment window. She was pushing a stroller. I had hoped that there wasn’t anything in it but what scared me the most, was the fact that she was humming. From so high it was hard to hear and it had sounded more like a gurgle than a hum. Either way, the experience had been horrific.
I turn right and make my way quietly to Saint Park St. Another right and I’m facing the sun and Bridge St. The litter along the pavement reminds me of the aftermath of a parade. Oh how long it has been since man kind could celebrate. How long will it be until we can again? If ever? My friends had always said I was too optimistic at times. I’m sure of what they would say had they been alive now.
Using the cover from stoops and cars on the street I get to the corner of Park and Bridge. My destination is across the river and two blocks west. My stomach lurches as I look down the street and see one of them. I can’t believe my eyes. It is, was, the control master for the bridge, he is in the booth. I step back beyond his sight. The only other way across is five miles east. Back the way I came and then some. I set about looking around for something, anything I could use. I spot it, inside the toy store I’m standing near. I remember the owners, they were an older couple. Very pleasant people and would always say Hi if you happened to walk by them. I feel bad as I step through the once solid window to the building. I grab my prize and step out quickly, it feels so wrong to steal. “I’ll pay them back.” I whisper.
Cranking up the wind I hold the toy as to not let it start prematurely. I peek around the corner. The control master is at the controls and is moving a lever back and forth. No movement coming from the bridge. I have no idea how it works but I am glad that it isn’t now. I look at my chosen path and release the toy in the opposite direction. It goes off like a racecar down the street, its little plastic wheels screaming furiously. I pull myself back into the toy store when I hear feet on asphalt. Boots actually, distinct by their heavy thudding sound. I peer out around the window frame as the control master comes running down the sidewalk. He won’t step into the street, knowing that at least at one time it would have been dangerous. Taking the deepest breath I can I make good my escape and work my way around the corner and up to the bridge. Looking back I see that my plan has not gone exactly as I had imagined. The control master has stopped just feet from the toy. Staring at it like it’s some new wonder, unsure what to make of it. I turn my head and set my sights on the other end of the bridge. “Just make it across.” I whisper, running straight on and not looking back.
I’m at full stride, the eerie feeling that someone is just behind me all the way. Taking a quick left off the ramp and down the side brings me to another alley. This one behind an old hardware store, surprisingly it isn’t as beaten as the other buildings around it. I stop. Listening and waiting for those pounding, heart stopping steps. Nothing. Silence. I have won the battle of the bridge. Smiling excitedly, I tip toe down the alley to Rushmore Ave. I peek out and look up and down the lonesome road. The only thing that moves is a flag off to my left, still held high even after the darkness. It reminds me that we as Americans have made it this far. It gives me hope. Maybe someday I will be able to enjoy a parade again, see friends and family again. My focus on the flag has taken me from my task at hand and I physically shake myself out of the momentary coma. Right and due west, I step out from the alleyway stopping a couple of feet the intersection of Bridge and Rushmore. I strain my eyes and try to see where the control master may have gone to. In only moments I spot him in the same spot he was before but now there is a small boy with him. The boy has gone into the street and picked up the toy. The sight makes me shiver. How could they have cognitive thought? They are….dead, aren’t they? I decide to waste no more time on them and set out to cross Bridge St, hoping they will be gone on my return.
The afternoon sun is lower now, giving me no warmth in this cold world. Walking is seeming to help though. Being cramped in apartment 223 since the Darkness came has taken its toll on my body as I had always been athletic and had regular exercise. I take some time to stretch and collect my thoughts behind a dumpster. The smell coming from the bakery next to it is horrid and almost turns my stomach again. I remember the fresh croissants I bought there before and my mouth begins to water. Never again will I be able to enjoy fresh baked breads, cold milk or even ice cream from the parlor across the water way. Leaving the cover and back on the street I march on breathing the fresh air in and exhaling the fumes from the bakery. The Pharmacy comes into my view just a few hundred yards from the dumpster. It has been a shorter walk than I really expected and I almost can’t believe my luck when something catches my eye. Is it really?! Yes, yes it is. A car, no. A Smart Car?! “What the hell?” I say a little too loudly. I dodge behind a fence to my right and peer on. My eyes have not deceived me at all. Someone is driving a Smart Car on the other side of the river. It can’t be. Are all of my nightmares over? Is there really someone else alive, here? The vehicle fades from view as I stare on. Emotions going wild, I can not believe what I saw. If there really is someone here then how is it that I have not known before. Then it hits me. Them. The man at the crosswalk. The lady with the stroller. Control Master and the little boy. It has to be. One of them must still be living out their life. But driving? The excitement of the last few minutes is more than my stomach can take and again I hurl. The pain in my stomach and the smell of my own life blood is more than enough to clear my head. “I can’t sit here hoping for the best. I need to stop the bleeding.” I say firmly, smacking my legs with the palms of my hands. I stand up. Resolute to finish this and get back to 223 before nightfall. “I will have plenty of time to think when I get home.” I whisper.
The Pharmacy door is open and the wall length windows to the front of the building stand as open as they were at the toy store. I enter. My palms have become sweaty and my entire body begins to shake. I stop at the once bright and busy register, scanning the isles for my five finger purchase. “Food First.” I say, agreeing with the pain in my stomach. I grab a couple of bags and a working flashlight from behind the counter. Isle five is stocked with a myriad of dried foods. I begin to loading the bags with soups, boxes of mashed potatoes and even some canned pineapple. My mouth begins to water with the thought of real food but turns sour and dry in an instant. A sound comes from the street and my body freezes in fear. I listen on, hoping it was just my imagination. Again I hear the sound and my heart leaps into my throat. Panic converges over my body and I drop the bags on the floor and run. The sound is coming closer as I dodge between the isles of the Pharmacy. Isle six, Isle seven, Isle eight. Up and down I run, finding anything to help make good my escape. I stop. The fear boils to a new degree and my eyes fill with salty moisture. Rolling towards me down the isle is a toy. The one from the store I had used to get by the Control Master. Looking up brings the most horrid face into my view. The Boy. He looks to be about six or seven and has the most grotesque look on his face. Congealed blood from ear to arm, yellow eyes and rotting teeth. I turn around to run the opposite direction. No good. There’s another person in front of me now. The Control Master? It’s too dark to tell. I hardly notice as the toy hits my ankle and stops. The windings energy spent, I suddenly feel as if I have been a toy as well. A toy to two mindless beings. “They must have smelled my blood and followed me.” I think to myself. I look up at the sign hanging above the Control Masters head. Irony begins to laugh in my face as I feel something hit my head. I fall backward. I feel something jab my thigh as I land. Grunts, moans and sounds of rage fill my ears. Loud crying converges in the mad cacophony of noise but I take no notice. Still looking up at the sign I can barely make the words out now as my eyes begin to close. Isle Fourteen – Feminine Hygiene. “Gotta stop the bleeding.” I mutter. The darkness takes me and all goes black.