Andrew awoke and stretched lazily. The sun was shining brightly through the window. Unseen birds were singing in the trees. It had been a warm, late summer evening, and they had spent the night with the window open. His beautiful wife was still sleeping, smiling at some secret dream. I hope that we didn’t keep the neighbors up too late, he thought, smiling as well.
He got up from the bed, showered quickly, and began to shave. He had always disliked his facial hair, and since that first time as a teenager, he made certain to remove every one. People made fun of his obsession, but it was part of the methodical way he did everything. Deliberate, slow, with an eye to detail.
Andrew returned to the bedroom and quietly dressed. Winter was still sleeping. He went downstairs to the kitchen and started the coffee. He did not drink coffee, but Winter would like some when she got up. He began to put breakfast together. He liked making breakfast. They would go for their usual jog later. For now, just a lazy Sunday morning. It was a long, three day weekend for him. With so many people sick at work from the flu, he thought it best to take a vacation day and go to the doctor with Winter to get a shot tomorrow.
He put the bacon and sausage into a large frying pan. Andrew was a U.S. Army major, on detached duty, assigned to help a contractor design new military vehicles. He was also requested to help with training local National Guard and Army Reserve units. With the worsening political situation overseas, many units had had their training quietly increased. With that thought, he reached over and turned on the television. He was greeted with static. He changed the channel several times, all with the same result. Damn. He left it on, in case the signal came back.
Andrew looked out the breakfast nook window into the street. It was a very pleasant, up scale neighborhood. They could never have afforded the house on an Army officer’s salary, but his wife was from Old Money, and he had income from a number of patents he had developed. The houses were large, separated by good size lawns and a wide street. Only Mrs. Turner, an elderly widowed woman, had a wire fence to hold in her many small dogs.
Next door was a couple expecting their first child. All of the local ladies were making such a fuss over the baby. There were not that many children in the neighborhood. Winter talked about nothing else. Andrew wondered why they didn’t have any children. It’s not like they didn’t practice making them enough. No pets either, come to think of it.
He could hear the shower upstairs. Andrew put the bacon and sausage wrapped in a paper towel on the plates, along with the toast and jam bottles on the table. He cracked eggs, one at a time, into the same pan where the meat had been. They both liked them that way. He reached into the fridge and took out the milk and juice and put them on the table as well. The eggs were done and were added to the plates as well.
Looking out the window again, he saw Mr. Wilson from across the street, come out in his bathrobe to pick up his Sunday paper. Mr. Wilson had been in the Army a long time ago, and he loved to spend hours talking military stories. Andrew moved the plates to the table. The shower had stopped. He looked up through the window again and saw a man lumber into Mr. Wilson. They began to struggle. Mr. Wilson dropped his paper and called for help. Andrew raced out of the side door and up the driveway.
The man had his arms wrapped around Mr. Wilson, his face buried in his neck. Mr. Wilson was screaming. Andrew ran across the street and grabbed the man’s shoulder, spinning him around. The man’s face was covered in blood. Mr. Wilson fell to the ground, clutching his bleeding throat. Blood gurgled from his mouth as he tried to speak.
Andrew hit the man several times in the face. Hard. The man roared and they grappled each other, falling down. Andrew was shouting, hoping someone would hear. As they rolled on the ground, he saw Winter’s head appear in the open upstairs window. She was shouting something, but he could not hear. The man was trying to bite him. Andrew hit the man more times, and broke his grip. He jumped up and began kicking the bloodied man. Mr. Wilson had stopped making any sounds at all. He lay spread-eagled, staring into the sky, mouth open.
Andrew turned back towards the house, and saw Winter emerge from the side door, an automatic pistol in her hand. As she ran up the driveway, the neighbors, Robert and Donna, appeared in their yard. Both were covered in blood. Winter halted and stared at them, as they got closer. Their arms were outstretched towards her. Andrew’s mouth fell open as he saw Winter raise the gun and shoot each of them in the head! He was so stunned, that the man grabbed his legs and pulled him down. The man tried to climb up his legs. Andrew rolled over and struggled to hold the man off of him. His hand held the man’s throat, while the man pawed at his face. Andrew could smell the man’s fetid breath, and saw pieces of flesh stuck in his blood stained teeth. The man’s head exploded as a gun shot went off loudly near them. Andrew pushed the lifeless body off. Winter took him under the arm, helping him to his feet. He was too shocked to speak.
Suddenly, Mr. Wilson grabbed his leg, moaning and trying to bite. His eyes were strange, filled with hate. Winter fired again, a shot between the eyes. “Let’s go”, she said. Andrew stunned by recent events, meekly allowed her to lead him back home. As they crossed the driveway, he saw the bodies of Robert and Donna sprawled in the grass. Donna’s entire stomach was missing; her husband’s front covered in blood and gore. Both had neat holes in the forehead.
They entered the kitchen, Winter locking the door behind them. She went to the side cabinet, pulled out their other handguns, and began loading them all. Winter was an expert shot, years before she met her Army husband. Andrew stared at her in horror. He had just seen his wife murder four people; three of whom were some of her dearest friends. “Honey”, he said. She seemed to ignore him as she took out the extra boxes of ammunition. “Honey, what are you doing?” He had to be careful. She had the guns. Winter took the key from the sideboard and went to the gun cabinet. She opened the glass and started to remove the rifles and shotguns.
“Honey, what are you doing?” More forceful now. She pointed at the television, and returned to what she was doing. He saw that the signal had returned.
“… waves of mass homicide have been reported all over the world. We repeat, cases of mass murder are being reported from all countries of the globe. The scale of the crisis has overwhelmed local police and emergency services.”
Images of chaos filled the screen. “What the hell was this?” he thought. Winter continued to load the rifles and shotguns.
“Reports started coming in late last night. In some areas, telephone and television were interrupted or lost, delaying the coverage. Authorities are at a loss to explain the origin of this crisis. Speculation ranges from chemical spills, radiation, or even mass dementia.”
“They’re not demented, they’re dead”, Winter said. She did not look at him or the television. She continued to load the weapons. What struck Andrew was the clinical, matter of fact way that she said it.
“They are dead. All of those people are dead. That is why they are acting that way.”
“I don’t understand. How can they be dead?”
Winter turned to face him. “Donna’s whole stomach was eaten away.” She seemed to choke up for a minute. “Robert had eaten it and the baby. The man that attacked you had injuries from what looked like a car wreck. Mr. Wilson had his throat ripped out.” She sounded like a professor lecturing his unruly class.
Andrew was still dazed and confused. “I don’t understand”. Dead people walking; attacking people. None of it made sense. “How did Robert die?”
“He was sick with the flu. Very sick. He slept in the spare room so Donna would not catch it. He did not want to hurt the baby.” There was a hardening edge in her voice.
Andrew turned back to the television. More images of riots and fighting.
“Citizens are urged to stay where they are, and not try to get to family or loved ones. Traffic jams are already impeding the efforts of emergency personnel.”
“Dammit!” Andrew’s head snapped around as Winter cursed and slammed down the phone. “It’s dead. I can’t get through to my family.” Winter’s family all lived in Charleston, SC. His folks had been dead for the past few years. He could see that she was very angry. He would have to tread lightly.
“The president has declared a state of emergency in the entire United States and its territories. He has recalled the Congress to Washington DC to consider a package of initiatives to deal with this growing crisis.”
Andrew spoke to Winter again. He needed to keep her talking. She was almost finished loading all of their weapons. Whatever was happening, it seemed to be affecting her as well.
“Tell me that again, baby. You said that you thought they were dead.”
“Yes. They were all dead.” She sounded irritated.
“But, how could dead people move around?”
“I don’t know. Somehow, the dead are coming back to life and attacking people.”
“I don’t know. Maybe it was that flu that started it all.”
“If they’re dead, why did you shoot them in the head?”
“Everything dies when you shoot it in the head.”
She sounded so rational and confident; he did not know what to say.
She came over and handed him a semi-automatic rifle. She stuffed a pistol into her waistband.
“Let’s go. Robert wasn’t the only one in the neighborhood who was sick.” She looked him hard in the eyes. Winter turned, unlocked the side door, and went outside.
Andrew stood and looked at the rifle. He had a gun now. He could stop her. The television said that dementia was causing people to commit mass murder. She had already killed four people and had gone outside heavily armed. She would probably kill again. But, he couldn’t hurt her. She was the only love of his life. Somehow, he must try to help her. Andrew turned and went outside.
Winter was standing in the driveway, looking across the street. He turned to follow her gaze. Mrs. Turner was in her night gown, hair in rollers, chasing her dogs around the backyard. She trapped one against the fence. She lifted its struggling form to her mouth.
“If she were normal, do you think that Dawn would be eating her dogs?” Winter said, that hard edge still in her voice. She raised her rifle and fired a shot that caught Mrs. Turner right in the side of her head. She fell against the fence and dropped to the ground.
Five. Winter had killed five people already. Andrew had to do something. But, why had Mrs. Turner been eating her beloved dogs?
“She had the flu as well,” said Winter. “Look at that.”
She pointed to their right. A woman was stumbling down the road, weeping, her right hand clamped over the bleeding stump of her left arm. Blood gushed over her other hand. Two people were shambling behind her. The woman fell sprawling at the edge of Robert and Donna’s yard. The two people caught up with her. They dropped down together and began biting her flesh and clothing. Winter watched dispassionately.
“Still think that they are alive?” she said. Andrew did not respond. He was horrified at what he was seeing, yet unable to turn away.
One of the people was sitting on the woman’s back, biting at her neck and shoulders. The other was tearing at her legs. Winter raised her rifle and fired a shot through the chest of the person sitting on the woman’s back. He fell back over the other one, but got up and continued to eat again, apparently without concern for the gaping hole in his chest. It was obvious to Andrew that no one could have survived that shot. Perhaps Winter was right.
“Are you going to do anything about that?” Winter sounded like it was more of an accusation than a question.
She wants me to get involved; to be a partner in this. Well, he was an Army officer, and those two were killing a U.S. citizen. He raised his rifle.
“Don’t shoot Mrs. Harris.”
Presumably, Mrs. Harris was the one without the left hand. He wished that he had spent more time getting to know their neighbors. Andrew fired two quick shots, into the head of each of the attackers. Both fell and became still. Seven. He had now officially joined in the madness.
Winter walked over to the trio. None of them moved. She prodded Mrs. Harris with the end of the rifle.
“Think she’s dead?”
“Then we wait.”
Andrew looked at the torn and bloodied corpse of Mrs. Harris. Winter surveyed the neighborhood.
Minutes went by. What were they waiting for? For Mrs. Harris to come back? What if she were only unconscious? Should he try to help her?
Winter seemed to read his mind. “Don’t touch her. She might attack you. Like Mr. Wilson.” Andrew stopped in his tracks. She continued to scan the neighborhood.
More time went by. Still nothing. It was unnaturally quiet, even for a Sunday.
Winter was calling. Andrew looked up, and saw a man shambling up a side street. Winter shouted again. The man turned and saw them. He outstretched his arms and advanced towards them. Winter’s shot lifted him right off his feet and left him sprawled in the street. Eight.
Mrs. Harris shuddered from head to foot. It was so sudden that it startled him. Andrew and Winter stepped back as her eyes opened and looked wildly about. She fixed a hateful stare on the pair of them, and struggled to lift up her broken body. Her legs and back were too badly torn for her to stand. She crawled forward with her hand and stump. Winter walked over and pressed the barrel of the rifle into Mrs. Harris’ face. The gun roared, and the woman stopped moving. Nine. Nine people dead.
“Let’s close up the house”, said Winter, turning towards home. Andrew walked over to the nearest window, pulling across the steel hurricane shutter and locking it into place. This far inland, hurricane shutters were not necessary, but they had told the neighbors that Winter was always nervous after growing up on the coast. That was only partly true. The hurricane shutters had been added during an extensive overhaul of the house after they bought it, when Andrew had received this assignment. All of the doors had a steel core, and even the garage doors were steel. The hurricane shutters on the second story were on an automated track system. They did come in handy during really bad weather.
After they closed all of the windows, they reentered the kitchen and locked the door. It was dark inside, with all of the windows covered, so Andrew switched on the light. The television was static again, and Winter turned it off on the way to the telephone. She returned the phone to its cradle without dialing. It must still be dead. She looked like she was about to burst when she spotted the fully laden breakfast table.
“No need to let all of your hard work go to waste. Let’s eat.” Winter smiled at him, sat down, and spread jam on a piece of toast. Andrew sat down and began to eat as well. He felt that he had gone mad, sitting here chit chatting with his wife about his wonderful breakfast, while the world went to hell outside. After they were done, Winter cleared the table and started the dishwasher.
Winter turned around.
“Perhaps we should go upstairs and finish closing the windows.”
“All right.” Her face had hardened again. They picked up their rifles and went up the stairs. In each room, they pushed the button and watched the automatic shutters close the room into darkness. The last room was their own bedroom. The window was still open, and Andrew reached for the handles to shut it. He stood gaping out the window. Up the street was a sight to chill the blood. A crowd of people were shambling along, moving from house to house. There were at least thirty or forty of them. Andrew ducked down and peered out from the corner of the window. Winter joined him.
A young man came out of a house, running flat out and screaming for help. He saw the crowd and fled across the lawn in the opposite direction. He tripped over something unseen, and tumbled head over heels. It would have been comical, except that the crowd was upon him as he got to his knees. They held his arms out wide, all of them trying to bite him at once. It was like some bizarre crucifixion, biting off his fingers, tearing into arms, neck and head. His screams showed that he was still alive.
“Are you going to do anything?” Winter’s voice held that hard edge again.
“Dammit, Andrew. You’re a Army officer with combat experience. Do something!”
The look on her face snapped him back. This was real. He was not crazy or dreaming. And neither was she. He had to do something.
Andrew stood up, and fired a couple of shots. The young man stopped screaming. He saw a man behind him fall, and get back up again. Several others encircled the body, eating the warm flesh. Ten.
More figures began shambling out of various houses. Many were covered in blood. Christ, how many people had been sick? Andrew made a decision.
“We can’t stay here.”
“Why not? We have food and ammunition. The house is locked up tight. They can’t get in.”
“And we can’t go out there either. We have no idea how long this will last, or how many of those… those things are out there. We would be trapped. How long will our food and ammo last, or the fuel for the generator?”
Winter seemed to be mulling it over. She looked out the window again at the slowly approaching crowd.
“What do you have in mind?”
“We need to get somewhere bigger, with more supplies, with other people. People like us, I mean.”
Andrew looked out the window, hoping for inspiration. He found it.
Andrew pointed to the distance. “The mall.”
“Yes, the mall. It is full of supplies. It has shatter resistant windows. It has your favorite sporting goods store. Hopefully, the night crew is still there. And other people will come, especially if we can let them know we are there. In the worst case, we can come back here with more supplies.”
Winter looked out the window, her eyes focused on the distant building. She seemed to make up her mind.
“Let’s do it.”
With that seal of approval, the two of them quickly set about getting ready to leave. They started to change into other clothes, with heavy boots.
“You might want to wear your uniform.”
“Might come in handy. Authority figure.”
He saw that she was right, and put on one of his combat fatigue uniforms, with the heavy steel toed boots. She had on jeans, her favorite hunting shirt, and equally heavy boots.
They loaded some other favorite things into a couple of suitcases, and Winter headed downstairs.
Andrew took a last look out the window, closed the glass, and activated the shutters. He headed downstairs as well.
Winter was in the garage, loading their suitcases and weapons into their largest vehicle. She also took the food from the two freezers and placed it into the rear. After loading a few more tools, rope, etc. they were ready to go.
“You drive, I will open the door”, said Winter, as she approached the steel door.
Andrew climbed into the driver’s seat and started the motor. Winter crouched down, unlocked the door, and raised it up.
Andrew blinked as the sunlight flooded into the room. Winter turned off the garage light, and stepped outside as he drove forward. Winter closed and relocked the garage door. He waited for her to get into the car.
As Winter reached for the door, she looked over and saw the bodies of Robert and Donna. Winter let go of the door handle, and walked around in front of the vehicle. Andrew watched her through the windshield.
She drew out her hand gun, got into a two handed shooter’s stance, and began to fire at the approaching crowd. Slowly, deliberately, one shot at a time. Andrew did not take his eyes off of her. He did not have too.
The bolt finally locked back into place. She ejected the clip, placed it in her pocket, and inserted a fresh one. She charged the handle and placed the pistol back in her waistband. Winter came around, opened the door, and climbed inside. She put on her seatbelt and said, “Okay, let’s go.”
As Andrew turned the car out of the driveway, he decided that, from this point forward, he would stop counting bodies.