Alex clasped his hands together and splashed the cool water over his face, pausing to let the beads of water drip off. The refreshing water was much needed after yet another uncomfortable rest. His back ached, his neck ached, his legs were still spent from the constant traveling. Another splash to his face was enough as he traveled a few yards away from the river to where Beans was rummaging through one of their ruck sacks. The expression on her face was all that was needed to put Alex’s stomach into knots. He knew what she was thinking. As he walked through the green grass Beans looked up, and it broke Alex’s heart.
She put her head down again, staring into the ruck sack. “We’re out of food,” she meekly stated. Alex knew this; they had been traveling for quite some time now. More times than not they had to stay in the trees to avoid those creatures. It had been close to two weeks now and Alex and Beans had not even left the outskirts of the city yet. Every time they thought they caught a break some feral zombies would stumble along. Alex tried to fight them off once but they seemed near invincible, and were very strong for how decomposed their bodies were. Refusing to kill them and take whatever life they had now, Alex and Beans ran, and continued to run away from the dead. It was all they could do. Alex had apologized, apologized time and time again for not wanting to or being able to kill them. Beans had just looked at him and said “it’s okay, I can’t either.”
So the two had been running ever since, and they were tired. But now, with no food, they had to do something, and quick. “We’ve traveled down this river before, right?” Alex questioned. Beans, startled by the question, looked up at Alex with confusion.
“Yeah, we have,” she claimed after a short silence.
“Well I remember we went pretty far last time, much further than this, of course we had bikes back then. But I don’t remember it being much further down until we came to houses on the banks of the river. Maybe they’ll have some food, or even a place to stay.”
Beans looked towards the river and down the path they had been taking. She smiled, remembering that day that seemed like ages ago. Or had it been ages ago, she couldn’t recall ever since life flipped everything on top of its head. But she remembered it just as well. Retrieving confidence from somewhere deep down inside she turned back to Alex with a stern face and nodded. “No, it wasn’t too much further. I remember it too.” She smiled sweetly at Alex who returned the gesture. With no time to spare they set off underneath the forest canopy, truly not realizing the change of color in the leaves.
After a few hours of consistent walking they finally arrived to the houses they had once biked past. Ivy was rampant on the outer walls of the buildings, and some houses looked as though they had already been broken in to. Windows were smashed and outside furniture had been strewn all over the porches and back yards. Alex, knowing it could have also just as easily been years of neglect and the weather, moved on with a rock in his hand. The rock was smooth all around but large, which it needed to be due to the large size of Alex. Beans traveled close behind, clenching tightly to the straps of her ruck sack. Naturally, they turned to the white picket fence of the first house they came across. The paint was chipping off and the gate was leaning on its side, being held by only the bottom hinge. They both silently walked into the overgrown back yard.
Traveling up the wooden steps, letting their boots softly clomp on the old wood, Alex and Beans got ready for whatever was next. Beans went and placed her hand on the door knob, slowly turning until she couldn’t turn anymore. She pushed the door frame forward, making the hinges plead for oil as the entrance shifted open ever so slowly. The sun sent streaks of light in through the cobwebbed windows, illuminating the dust particles that danced in the air. The house looked immaculate, as if it hadn’t been touched, except by the dust and spiders of course. The only sign of outside contamination was from a small break in the window to the left, next to the light blue couch. There were some dried leaves that had made their way in but the break was too small for any person to have fit through. As Alex shifted his weight inside the door frame Beans followed, curious as to what the house held within. That’s when her eyes lit up.
“Food,” she whispered as she ran past Alex into the kitchen. Alex put his hand out as if to stop her but she was already traveling ahead of him, mind set on one goal. Letting the excitement of food get the best of him as well, he followed in suite. As her ruck sack bounced back and forth, she turned into the poorly lit kitchen and ran for the first cabinet. She went to reach for the handle as Alex opened up the fridge. She turned up her nose as she saw that there were only dishes behind the door, but that’s not what made her cringe. Turning behind her towards Alex she covered her nose as tears began to stream out of her slanted eyes. “Close it,” she ordered louder than she should have.
Alex did just that, returning the rancid stink back to the place of origin. The rotten meat and molded cheese was enough to send tears to his eyes as well, and he promised himself he’d never open another fridge up again. He was leaning on the door handle of the refrigerator, trying to grab some fresh air. He turned back to Beans, who still had her hands clamped down hard over her nose. “Oh come on,” he joked, “it wasn’t that bad.” They both smiled and laughed at the humor. It was good to know even in the face of death and decay they could still both laugh. However, as they abandoned their silent tactics, they truly did not know yet how deadly this new world could be.
Raiding the kitchen for everything and anything edible, they plopped down on the tile floor and popped the top off a can of corn, ravishingly eating the yellow delicacy within. After thirty seconds the inside of the can was empty, and Alex tossed the tin cylinder behind him. It clinked off the tile and he heard it roll away. As they went to open another can the sound of metal being crunched was heard. Shocked, the pair quickly turned behind them to see a horror they had recently forgotten about. His hair was still intact and the color was brown. His green jacket had been torn and his pants were stained with red hand prints. His jaw looked as though it was dislocated and his eyes, it was his eyes that gave him away. They were red.
The fresh zombie screeched at the two sitting on the tile floor and came in for a charge. He was fast, but Alex knew that he would be. He must have recently turned, and the U.S. Military had taught the survivors in Philadelphia the anatomy of zombies and how to tell when a person was no longer human. This man here hadn’t been a zombie for more than a few months by now, and the nimbleness of the creature sent fear shivering through his spine. Alex got up just in time to stop the monster’s attack, grabbing it by the shirt and picking him up. The zombie chomped at him as he did so. That’s when Beans screamed. Alex risked a quick view behind him to see that Beans was doing the same, fighting off an elderly lady. Alex quickly moved and threw the man into the refrigerator. With a thud the zombie landed into the door, leaving a large dent.
Alex then ran to Bean’s aid, but was relieved when she saw that she had beaten the woman to the ground, using one hand to hold the woman’s wrist behind her back and the other hand to hold the woman’s chomping head to the ground. The sound of windows shattering and the moans of infected let the two know they weren’t going to win this fight. Alex grabbed both ruck sacks as Beans jumped off the old woman. They went to leave, glancing behind to see the woman and man clumsily getting back up to their feet.
Rushing into what used to be the family room they realized how bad their situation truly was. The whole room was full of infected individuals, hissing and howling, desperate for a bite of human flesh. Alex looked to their only exit, the stairs, which were unfortunately blocked by a scrawny, poor looking zombie. It had been dead so long and decomposed so much that Alex couldn’t even tell if it had once been a boy or girl. Alex felt sorry for it as he charged the creature.
It gave a guttural growl as Alex shouldered into the zombie, knocking the infected down and sending him flying into the wooden railings. As the wood broke and the zombie tumbled a cloud of dust plumed from the wreckage. Up the carpeted stairs and down the hallway the living two now went, scrambling for an exit. They made a left into the bathroom and locked the door. As the pair caught their ragged breaths they had just enough time to stare into each other’s eyes. The only thing they both saw was fear. The infected began to bang on the door, sending them both jumping and throwing them back into the nightmare they were currently living. With death quite literally at their doorstep Alex took the smooth rock he had put into his ruck sack and threw it into the window, sending glass shattering outwards. Bean moved to support the door while Alex wrapped a towel around his hand. He began to punch the remaining shards of glass and make a path through the window. Sticking his head out he saw only one way to go, the roof.
“We can climb onto the roof from here, that’s are only bet. That or a two story drop.”
“Anytime now,” Beans cried out. Alex turned to see the bathroom door itself was actually cracking. He quickly switched spots with Beans.
“Go, now!” Alex screamed.
“No, no, no!” Beans replied. “I’m not leaving you!”
“We don’t have time, I’ll be right behind you.” The door began to split even more. There were tears in her eyes.
“Promise?” Beans asked through a choked voice.
“Promise,” Alex replied, not fully knowing if that would be lie or not. She climbed through the window and onto the roof. Alex took a deep breath and let go of the door. He threw both ruck sacks up into Beans hands and began to wiggle through the window himself. Being much taller than Beans it was a challenge, but the sound of the door breaking was enough resolve to keep Alex moving. He climbed up onto the roof and was just nearly out of the window when something grabbed his foot. With brute force it tried to pull him back. Alex cried out and if Beans hadn’t jumped to his aid Alex would have been gone. Beans pulled with all her might and Alex kicked back and forth, struggling to get away from the inhuman grip of the dead. Before the creature lost his prey Alex felt a crushing pressure on his foot and knew what had just happened.
Rolling onto the rooftop Alex barely caught his breath before jumping up out of concern. “What’s wrong!?” Beans anxiously questioned, still sitting on the roof recovering from helping Alex.
“I was bit!” Alex cried. In this moment it felt as though all his emotions came together at once and flooded through him. Tears rolled down his cheek as in his head Alex apologized for any errors he had ever made in his short life and pleaded with a higher power over and over again. He looked down at his foot to see what the infected had done. There were teeth marks, that was for sure, but there was no blood. The zombie had bit down on his shoe, leaving marks on the brown rubber of his boots.
“Where were you bit!?” Beans cried out. “Oh god no! Talk to me. Where? Where!?” She was frantically sobbing now as Alex’s face turned a shade of red.
“It,” Alex started with but stopped, too embarrassed to continue. “It bit my shoe,” Alex claimed with his head down. Beans gave a perplexed look and then saw the bite marks in the rubber. She stomped over towards Alex and smacked him across the face. “You’re an idiot,” she claimed as she then held a kiss with him. Alex broke away from the warm embrace, looking down into Bean’s eyes. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. She hugged him and whispered, “It’s okay.”
“What do we do now?” Alex questioned.
“I don’t know,” Beans replied overwhelmed. They looked in all directions and saw nothing but other rooftops. They then looked over the side of the building to see a swarm of dead heads surging into the house. Alex looked out towards the river. There was no way they could jump into the water from here. They’d never even make it. Then, he saw the only opening they had.
“I got an idea, but you’re not going to like it.”
“I think anything’s better than this Alex,” Beans said with a snarky reply.
“See that tree?” Alex continued, ignoring her remark and pointing out towards the tree in the back yard.
“Okay,” Beans replied with. “Maybe I was wrong.”
Again Alex ignored her. “Well make a jump for it and grabbed one of the branches. There’s a rope connected to the one of the limbs. We both use the rope and swing ourselves into the river.”
“Yeah, okay I was honestly wrong. Maybe we can just stay here.”
For a third time Alex ignored her. “We’ll let the river take us down until we think it’s safe. You ready?” Alex turned to see the terrified look on Bean’s face. “Come on, it will be fun.” Beans shook her head over and over again until Alex had already set her up for the run. The tree truly wasn’t far away, but the difficult part would be grabbing onto the branches. After an abate debate Beans finally realized this truly was their only way out. “I should slap you again,” Beans nervously laughed, trying to hide the fear on her face.
“You can when we’re both out of this mess,” Alex smiled back. She nodded her head and then ran into a full sprint. Right before the roof ended and turned into nothing but air Beans jumped and threw herself into the tree. She hit hard, shaking branches and sending red and yellow leaves falling to the ground, but she made it. Alex went right after, hurling his body through the air. He hit the trunk and reached for a branch. SNAP! The branch couldn’t support the force and broke free. Panic ran through him as Alex began to reaching for anything he could grab onto. He flailed his arms as he went tumbling down to the ground. What felt like a lifetime went by before he got hold of a branch with both hands. Climbing back up he realized his palms were scrapped and cut open, but that didn’t worry him now. He bit the inside of his cheek as he climbed back up to Beans, ignoring the pain. The sound had attracted unwanted attention.
By the time Alex had gotten back up to Beans the unwanted visitors had surrounded the tree, biting up into the autumn air, wanting nothing more than the prey that hid in the oak. Beans already had the rope untied from the branch and held it out for Alex. “You ready,” she asked softly, terrified of so many things at once. Alex meekly nodded his head, fearful of everything as well. They grabbed the rope together and counted aloud. “3, 2, 1,…” and they were off. The cool air made their faces numb as they soared over land and zombie alike. They let go while mid air over the body of water and came down forcefully with a splash. The rocks on the river bed gnashed and scraped at the two as they rolled with the current. The river was cold, much colder than Alex had anticipated, and both he and Beans raced to the surface of the water. Big gulps of air were taken as the current took them down stream, away from the dead on the banks of the shore.