DAY 2 CHAPTER 4
He was woken up by a small tug at the bottom of his jeans. He noticed that while he had napped away, Bleu had taken this time to chew the bottom of his pant leg. “Stop goddamit” he hissed, already grumpy from the body aches. When he awoke he half-imagined himself in a cozy living room having a beer and watching Netflix previews since he could never decide what to watch. Instead, he quickly realized where he was and the gravity of the situation. The sun was beginning to set as hues of peach and purple bled into each other, he jumped to his feet quickly. Bryn grumbled as she was shaken from her slumber while the new member of the team seemed unbothered by little to no sleep as her tail wagged as if waiting for more denim to chew on.
The door to the gym had been pushed open when Bryn ran out and he was too busy catching up with his lost pup to realize how stupid he had been for not checking inside first. He squinted and took a hard look inside but could only make out dark silhouettes of what looked to be gym equipment and something else…The knot in his throat hardened as he stepped closer to the door and his gun at the ready. The harder he breathed the more he realized the dogs seemed to be unbothered. They ran inside the door before him, with a business as usual attitude, as he whispered “Shit! Hey! Come here” but to no avail, the two dogs were inside and joining the shadows. At this point there was nothing left to do but enter and deal with whatever or whoever was inside, and despite the unbothered attitudes of the dogs.. there lay a deep dread within him.
He entered the room and turned on the light. The element of surprise was long gone and with electricity still running he might as well use it to his advantage and see what he was dealing with. The lights flickered on and the gym shone to light, he was rushed with a wave of emotion and nostalgia as his eyes adjusted. Dusty dumbbells, barbells and plates had all be stacked neatly into a corner of the gym. Racks and miscellaneous lifting equipment had been covered in plastic tarps as the center of the gym looked like a giant blue tent. To his left, the sandbags that had once been carried and thrown around by his lifters had now been stacked against the bay door to ward off incoming water..or maybe those things. Dust neatly covered the corners of the gym but the tented area seemed to have been kept relatively neat. Directly ahead of him the bathroom door was open and seemed intact. Someone had been living here recently as he started to notice small items and what looked like a small living space that was adjacent to the bathroom. An orange bucket was turned upside down in front of a small gas stove you would use for camping trips. There was small plate and cups siting next to the bucket as you could see the man that lived here had a certain affinity for solitaire, as a full game was finished neatly opposite the utensils. Nothing elaborate or out of the ordinary as the gym seemed to have been lived in briefly and efficiently.
Memories rushed into him with absolute disregard for the length of his day. Although the gym had been rearranged and turned into a living quarter, he could recall when this place was another type of home. Laughing, training, and storytelling were now a thing of the past as he could still hear the barbells and dumbbells hitting the ground. He remembered his lifters, his family, his friends. He remembered all of their faces, their voices, their lives… so perfectly intertwined with his as this gym had become a lighthouse of hope for many of them during the earlier days of the illness. The smell of the rust and rubber mats still had their distinct musk that used to distinctly sting the nostrils as you walked in. He felt a lone tear run into the tip of a small and tired grin as he stood there enveloped by emotion. Here they once were, all together, as a family and now the world seemed upside down, so distant, so unknown. Seconds of memories felt like years as his body froze under the weight of so many souls he cared about… so many Memories in this home… so much hope. He let out a weighted breath that left him exhausted as he pulled himself back into reality noticing the dogs in the corner of his eyes.
Both dogs were now sitting outside the tent with ears slightly dropped and their tails no longer wagging. He turned his attention to the blue tarp that had used his former squat racks to hold itself up into a decent shelter within a shelter. It was now or never he thought to himself as he walked towards the tent. He slid the front of the tarp to one side with his left hand as his right hand held his gun tightly to his side. Inside was a small night stand and some books that sat neatly next to a sleeping bag.
“FUCK” he reeled back..the sleeping bag had someone in it. “HEY MAN!” He screamed, expecting the full rush of some invisible thing to come at him with unrelenting force. The day had left him rattled and on edge and despite not hearing a single sound or a growl from the dogs, his body was on full alert and his gun remained aimed at the bag.
“Hey!” He yelled, now fully expecting a secondary surprise attack as he kneeled starring at the mass within the sleeping bag. The tarp blocked out some the over head lights and it was hard to gauge whether the sleeping bag was moving or not as his eyes continued to play tricks on him. He slid forward, now desperate to know what was going on, and shoved his gun into the bottom of the sleeping bag. The barrel of his gun ran into something soft, fleshy that felt like.. feet?
“Listen man, I am going to shoot you if you don’t say something” he exclaimed, trying to cover his fear with forceful words, but was met with stillness and quiet. He quickly got out of the tarp and grabbed the edge of the tent.
“Hey man, I’m fucking serious here. Don’t fuck with me!” His voice was more panicked than forceful as he ripped apart the tarp and threw the mass of plastic aside. Both dogs startled by what was going on, quickly ran into the corner and watched him with eyes wide and ears tucked. “Thanks guys” he told the dogs, understanding that he was going in solo on this one. There was nothing standing between him and the mute sleeping bag. The size and length of the bag was holding someone or something. He was certain of it. He stared closely, looking for a subtle movement or a sign of breathing.
He knelt next to the bag, despite his instinct screeching within, and began to unzip the bag that was covering who was inside from head to toe. His hand shook, hesitated and unzipped. He fell back, as what he saw was worse than anything invisible. This was not a flesh hungry monster sheering with rage trying to destroy him; instead what stared back at him with eyes wide open, was a man. The mans mouth was wrenched apart as if it had been gasping for air or fighting for its life as dried drool and foam could be seen crusting at the corners of his mouth. The man was disheveled, as if unkept for a few days, as his scraggly beard was crusted by whatever bile had been forced out of him all the while. The mans eyes screamed of terror and despair as if whatever killed him had come without mercy and in the dead of night. Had he died in his sleep? Was he waiting for something? It made him nauseous to think about the loss of safety while sleeping. The remnants of this man reminded him of his own reflection he had caught a glimpse of earlier that day. He froze for a second, “how long had I been asleep? When was the last morning I remember” he muttered. Rattled, the eyes of the man burned a hole inside his mind as he quickly zipped up the sleeping bag and caught his breath. He heard small whimpers from the corner of the room as both dogs expressed their concern for their old roommate.
It was then that it hit him. This man had once been alive and well. Kind enough to take in or take care of Byrn and Bleu during this fucking mess. That despite the lack of food, he had shared his rations and government assigned home with his dog. Humanity had never left this man and he had never quit on something that needed his help. He didn’t know this “Mendoza” but he felt a kinship that draped over him as his shoulder sagged with the reality of the situation and the world. He placed his hand softly on the head of the sleeping bag and said “ Thank you for taking care of my girl, means a lot to me man.. means al..” he choked up and couldn’t say anymore. He slowly stood up with his knee crunching louder than ever. He took a longer look at the body and noticed one of the personal items by his side was a journal. A small, leather bound book that simply read “FORWARD” in cursive on the front cover. He picked it up and traced the letters with his fingers and smiled. He could feel the weight of the journal in his hands and looked down at the body hoping he could talk to him. When was the last time he spoke to anyone face to face?
He checked his phone… Nothing.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! NOOOOOOOO NOOOOOO!!” A scream came barreling down the street and pierced through the gym door. It was not far, maybe the next set of warehouses over as the screams were met with roars and screeches of those… things. He clutched the journal to his chest and yelled at the dogs “LETS GO!” Angry at himself for keeping the lights on during his talk with Mendoza. He raced out of the gym and noticed that dusk had quickly turned into night. He opened up the passenger door and before the dogs could jump up, they were being picked up and dumped on the seat. He raced to the drivers side as he heard more screams piercing through the air.
“PLEASE STOP… NOOOO!!! SHES MY…” and then nothing. The silence was only cut in half by what sounded like the chomps of teeth on meat and the joyous screeching of animals being fed. The bronco roared as she was ignited and was hastily sent into reverse. His hands were soaked in cold sweat as he slammed the pedal into the floor. The bronco groaned against the power being demanded of her as he drove as fast as he could to the main road. He was internally torn as he wondered about who was being attacked, if he could help, and if he SHOULD help. At the corner of the side as he began to turn right he saw them.. again. The cloud of lights, and reflections barely visible in the night sky as the distant lantern of the warehouses reflected off a group of what looked like a dozen of them. They moved in a savage unison spiraling after a man running at full speed towards his truck.
“HEYYY!! HELP HELP!! PLEASE GOD!!” The man could not be older than forty or so and was barely dressed as if he had just been woken up. He could see the mans flesh was straining with every step as his eyes were wide with absolute fear. His hands and fingers fixed hard as if tugging against invisible ropes at this side, wanting and pulling himself faster with each step as the sheer strain of his sprint was pulsating through the veins in his neck and forehead.
“PLEASE!! DONT GO! STOOO…” The man was tripped as if he had run into an invisible rope. He came crashing down with an immense flop as his limbs were strewn across the floor like a rag doll. He scraped hard against the asphalt and as the man fought to get to his feet he began to be thrown around. As if possessed or in the middle of a horrid exorcism, his body was floating in mid air being moved savagely from left to right as arms and legs were first stretched to their limit before being ripped off his body in a horrific scene of dark red and black fluid splashing against the air and on these reflective beings. The sight brought back visceral memories of the cat from earlier in the day as both man and animal seemed to float in a ghastly manner, defying gravity as they were ripped apart. The familiar sight of a violent kaleidoscope of lights moved around the man like an angered ant hill kicked by a child. The man screamed and screeched at the top of his lungs no longer speaking clearly but instead exuding pure pain and despair. His screams smothered only by the gargle of his blood-filled mouth and the crunching sound of these beings feeding endlessly. His limbs were now split at different corners of the reflective mass as foot and fingers disappeared by the second as teeth crushed bone after bone. Human shoulders, heads, and chests were now becoming visible as the mans blood and organs painted these monsters to light. Man, women, and child were now being splattered into sight as they devoured the man alive in mere seconds. Blood dripping off their body parts like wet paint made the individual of this invisible mass slowly start to appear, piece by horrific piece.
He screamed with anger, furious at what he was seeing but even more so at his feeble attempt to help. He cut the wheel hard from right to left and drove like a man possessed. The l.e.d. headlights pierced the night and shown down the gullet of the murderous scene in front of him. A unison of high pitched squeals and roars of pain exploded into the night as bloody hands and fingers shaded their faces where lidless eyes would be. He could see the mass of these invisible beings start to scramble as his head lights ignited the bloody scene without mercy. The truck barreled forward with fury into the pile of the blinded and murderous pack as the crunch of bone and sinew erupted under the heavy tires. The front of his hood echoed with thunderous thumps “BOOM BOOM BOOM!” As shadows and lights were thrown asunder as the bronco pummeled her way through the beings. Splatters of fresh dark blood sprayed and splashed onto his windows with incredible force as the sound of hundreds of little “thuds” smacking against the glass uniquely painted everything crimson.
“MOTHER FUCKERRRRRS!!!!” He screamed as rage seeped through his voice and into machine. Both dogs now cowered together on top of each other into the seat as he was forced to push the pedal harder as the tires met the mass and weight of whatever or who ever he was crushing. The steering wheel of the bronco fought hard from right to left like a ship caught in a hurricane. She weened and whirled causing him to grip the wheel harder than ever before, as both man and bronco fought for their lives and to stay on course.
“NOOOOOOOO!!!” He screamed as if he remembered everything that had occurred. He yelled louder thinking if everyone he knew was now just food for these monsters. He roared and raged as he crashed forward thinking of what was happening to everyone and everything. How could this day have the weight of years on his mind. He felt aged and in tatters as he drove away furiously, both man and machine redlining beyond their limits. He drove on turning left and right avoiding military outposts, tents and dark buildings. The night had come somewhat alive with some houses and street lights turning on only to reveal an eery loneliness. Some streets seemed abandoned, without a single light turned on while others had a few that burned bright. He wondered how many people would be awakened by these monsters. How many people would be ripped out of their homes or how many would simple die in their sleep like Mendoza. His head whirled with ideas as the realization that everything was spiraling downward didn’t let him see the end of the road.
“CRASHHHHH!” The bronco ran hard into a sidewalk median and crashed through wooden construction barriers causing wood and dirt to splinter in all directions. Man and dogs both howled with confusion as everyone and everything in the truck bounced around violently. He could feel the truck crushed over small dirt mounds as the wheels and frame of the bronco rattled with tremendous force. He slammed on the breaks hard as the tires slid and crunched against dirt. The wheel turned hard against his hands as the truck spun around leaving them facing in the same direction from where they crashed through the barriers. The bright lights of the truck were illuminating the dust floating around them, compounded with the bloodied windshield, making it impossible to see. He quickly turned off the lights as both dogs and man stood absolutely still, both very aware at the commotion they had caused.
The dust settled… Nothing.
He sat there breathing heavily, dumbfounded by the odds he managed to overcome in one day. He grinded his teeth in frustration as he sat in utter disbelief. This was a scene from a movie , not real life he thought. His body was exhausted as he flopped back into his chair but his mind did not stop racing. He let the weight of the day continue to drape over him as they all sat together quietly in what he realized was an abandoned “U-Pick” vegetable field. He looked over to his right and caught the four small eyes of his four legged friends and cracked a thin smile. Bryn was not shaking on her seat like she used to during car rides and instead was sitting up, very stiff and in a heightened sense of awareness. The half moon shone through the windshield and it was then that he finally noticed all the deep scars, cuts, and scrapes she had on her face and body. He reached over and traced each one with his hand as he distinctly remembered her not having any of these. He could see what had been done as scrapes from other animals now tattooed the white parts of her coat. Her right lip had a small chunk missing to match the small missing corner of her left ear. She had had to fight for her life it seemed and the innocent and emotional puppy she once knew was probably all but gone.
“What did you go through girl?” As he spoke, Bryn began to lick his hand endlessly as Bleu jumped across the center counsel and crashed into his face. “Godammit” he muttered as the smaller dog climbed all over him like a new toy. For a brief second the air in the Bronco felt calm and almost joyous as man and dogs shared licks, laughs and brief exchanges of “Can you believe this shit” looks. It was during this time that he noticed the journal that he had found in his gym, on the truck floor. He pushed the dogs back over to their seat as he nervously picked up the journal. The pages were worn and as he thumbed through most of them he could see there were dozens of entries. He opened the leather bound book and turned to the back of the front cover and read what was neatly written in blue ink.
Dr. Felipe Mendoza
Unit 87, Department F
He checked his phone..Nothing
He was outnumbered, low on ammunition, without light and far from anyone or anything he knew was safe. He was far beyond sleep and dreams as he thumbed to the the first page. The cloudless night allowed the moon to shine bright enough to illuminate inside the truck, as he feared turning on any sort of light on with these things… hunting.
He turned to the first page and felt his heart sink…