“You should call your uncle and have him come get you,” I said, rubbing my best friend Keisha’s back, as she sat slumped onto the cafeteria table.
“I’ll be all right, I just need to lay my head down for a second,” Keisha said with a slight slur to her voice.
“No, you aren’t. You have whatever this bug is that’s going around. Alley has it as well. Hell, half the school has it. I’m surprised they haven’t canceled classes for the rest of the week.”
My little sister had woken sick that morning, but I hadn’t thought much about it until I got to school and saw how empty the place was.
“It’s not that bad, is it?” she asked, not opening her eyes to look at me.
“Pretty bad. Rumor has it that half the island is sick.”
“Nope. Mom and dad aren’t either, just Alley. I feel great, actually.”
“Don’t rub it in.”
“Seriously, if you feel this bad, go home. Look around. This place is deserted. I doubt we’ll be doing much the rest of the afternoon.”
She didn’t lift her head, but I gave the cafeteria a once over. The place was only a quarter full, and half those that were there didn’t look well. The sight made me a little nervous. I don’t think I’d ever seen our school look so empty.
We’d had outbreaks from time to time, due to contaminated water or bad food, but nothing like this. Every so often something from the old world seeped into the water or the ground, and we had an epidemic on our hands, but the farther away we got from the devastation brought on by the meteors, the more immune we were to things and the clearer our air, water, and soil became.
Nothing this big had ever happened before. There hadn’t been anything about it on the morning news Dad was watching before I left for school. Alley had woken up with diarrhea though, and Mom had said a few of her co-workers were out sick yesterday. Half the student body hadn’t been here either, and even fewer were here today.
My stomach turned with worry.
“We’ve got that Chem test tomorrow. I want to get the rest of the notes,” Keisha said, breaking through my thoughts.
“Mr. Patterson won’t be giving that test if over half the class is out. Besides, you can always get the notes from me later and make up the test. You’ll be fine.”
“I don’t wanna move.”
“I know you don’t, but you need to be in bed.” I brushed some hair away from her face to get a good look at her. As my hand crossed her forehead, I jerked back. “You’re burning up. I’m going to get the nurse.”
“Okay,” was all she said.
I started toward the double doors that led to the hall, but before I made it, Principal Ortega entered, followed by V.P. Yee and Nurse Conner.
“Listen up, Ladies and Gentleman,” Principal Ortega said. “We’re releasing you all early today. Those of you who are feeling fine are welcome to go ahead and go. The rest stay put, and we’ll call your parents. We’ve also canceled classes for tomorrow. We’ll keep you posted about Monday. Hopefully, by then this bug will have run its course.”
“We’ll be going around to take the names of those who can’t drive themselves,” V.P. Yee said, as the three spread out into the room.
I went back to Keisha and waited. My cell was in my locker, so I couldn’t call Mom and Keisha’s Uncle Jason to let them know what was going on at that moment. When I asked Keisha if she had hers, she only grunted at me. Before I could start digging through her things, Nurse Conner came to our table.
“How do you feel Kayla?” the woman asked me, as she watched Keisha sleep.
“I’m fine, but Keisha is burning up. I can take her home if that’s all right. If her Uncle Jason is at Shore Haven, he might not get your call.”
“That’s fine. We’ll still call Keisha’s uncle to let him know. The quicker she’s in her own bed, the better. How’s everyone at your house?” she asked, as I packed up Keisha’s and my things.
“Alley was sick this morning, but Mom, Dad, and I are fine.”
“Good. Keep your sister and Keisha hydrated as much as possible, and if you can avoid going outside once you’re home, do so.”
“I will. Thank you.”
I strapped Keisha’s backpack to mine, pulled both of our purses over my neck, and touched the top of her head lightly.
“Keisha, can you wake up? I’m taking you home.”
She mumbled something but didn’t move.
“Keisha. Wake up. They’re letting us out of school early. I’ll take you home.”
My friend looked up at me with a blank expression on her face.
I reached under her arm and pulled her to a seated position.
"Okay," she said as if she were just then hearing my words.
“Do you have her?” Nurse Conner asked, watching us, but not making a move to help me. That annoyed me some, but at the same time, I could understand if she was worried about catching the illness.
“Yeah. We’ll be fine,” I said and led Keisha out of the cafeteria. I went straight to my car, not once thinking about my phone, which was something highly unusual for me.
I had a little trouble getting my friend into the car and buckled in, but once I’d done so, she seemed to perk up a bit.
“Thank you for taking me home,” she said, as I got behind the wheel.
“You’re welcome. Did you hear what the principal said about school tomorrow?”
“No.” She had her head back against the headrest, and her eyes closed, but she sounded more awake than she was earlier.
“Canceled. They’ll let us know about Monday.”
“I hope to God I feel better by then,” she said. “I feel like I’m dying.”
“I’m sorry. Nurse Conner said to drink lots of water.”
The rest of the drive to her house was quiet. I kept cutting my eyes to her, but she never looked at me. I didn't think she was asleep, but I couldn't be sure.
“Do you need me to help you into the house?” I asked when I pulled into her driveway.
“No. I think I’m good. I think I’m just going to go to bed. Uncle Jason is here. I’ll get him to get me water or food when I need them.”
“All right. Call me when you feel better.”
We didn’t hug as we usually did, but Keisha gave me a big smile before grabbing her things. The smile didn’t reassure me, but I was glad to see it.
I watched her cross the street, climb the stairs, and enter her house before I pulled out of the driveway.
I didn’t live too far from her, and it wasn’t until I was alone that I noticed how empty the streets were. A lot of people on Liberty walked or rode bicycles. I drove to and from school because Keisha and I lived on the other side of the island. There were other schools we could attend, but not many, and Northside High offered more music classes for me to take. Having said that, there still should have been more vehicles on the road in the middle of the day.
When I pulled into the drive, I noticed that my dad's car was in the garage. My vehicle was technically Mom's, but since her job and Alley’s school were within walking distance, I got the car throughout the week.
The sight of his car worried me. Had Alley gotten worse? Mom had stayed home with her, so he wouldn't need to be there unless she needed to go to the doctor or hospital.
“Don’t jump to conclusions,” I chided myself. If Dad’s office was as empty as my school, his boss could have closed the office for the next few days.
I took a few deep calming breaths, grabbed my purse and backpack, and exited the car. I went into the house through the garage. The place was eerily quiet when I entered. Everything in me wanted to scream out my parents’ names, but I calmly set my stuff on the kitchen table and went in search of my family.
All of the lights in the house were out. The sun shining in through the curtains was the only thing illuminating the rooms I passed through. None of the televisions were on nor was anyone listening to music.
No one was in the living room, family room, or laundry room. All the bedroom doors down the hall were closed. The entire house was eerily quiet, making me feel as if I were alone, but I couldn’t be. Dad’s car was in the drive, and I’d just arrived in our only other vehicle. They could have gone to the hospital via an ambulance, but I think only one person was allowed to ride with a patient, so someone would have still had to drive Dad’s car.
My bedroom was the first door on the left. I opened it to find no one in there. I hadn’t expected anyone to be in my room, but I wasn’t leaving any room unchecked. The bathroom I shared with Alley was the next door on the right. No light showed under the door, but I checked it anyway. Empty.
Alley’s bedroom was the next one on the left. I was sure I’d find her asleep in her bed but didn’t. I stood in the middle of her room, dumbfounded. She’d been sick that morning. Mom would have made sure she spent the day in bed. Her bed was unmade, so she had been in it during the day. Where was she now?
I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard my parents’ door open at the end of the hall. I spun to see my dad closing it behind him.
“Shh,” he said, putting his index finger to his lips and nodding down the hall toward the living room.
I followed, leaving Alley’s door open behind me.
“Why are you home?” I asked in a low voice once we were in the living room.
“Your mom called about an hour ago and asked me to come home,” he said, taking a seat in his recliner. “She has what your sister does. So do half the people at work, so no one complained when I left early. I take it the school canceled afternoon classes.”
“And tomorrow. We don’t know about Monday yet. Will they be all right?” I asked curling into the sofa.
“I think so. I don’t know anyone who’s died from this bug yet. I’m sure some might if they don’t have anyone to care for them, but as long as we keep your mom and sister hydrated and keep a little food in them, I think they’ll be all right. I put them both in our room because it has the bathroom attached to it. I also put Grandma Rose’s potty seat in there, but I think most of the diarrhea has stopped for your sister. We won’t know for sure until she tries to eat something. Right now, they’re both sleeping.”
“Keisha is sick. I took her home before I came home. She had a high fever during lunch.”
“How do you feel?”
“How long do you think this bug will last?”
“Not sure. Hopefully, it’s just a twenty-four to forty-eight-hour thing, but who knows.”
“Is there anything on the news about it?” I asked.
“Not as of the last time I saw anything,” he said, picking up the remote to turn on the television.
We sat quietly for a while, flipping through channels, looking for something useful. One station listed school and business closings. One said it was just a stomach bug and that most people should be over it by Sunday, Monday at the latest. They said we should drink as much water, clear sodas, and anything with electrolytes as we could, and they said to eat.
After a while, I fell asleep. At one point, I think my dad came over to me and felt my forehead to see if I was getting sick too. I wasn’t. I was just tired. I stayed up too late most nights talking to Keisha and doing the mountain of homework I had. I knew I was forming a bad habit, but couldn’t seem to stop myself. With Mom, Alley, and Keisha sick and no schoolwork to catch up on, I decided I’d spend the weekend catching up on my beauty sleep if possible.
I slept for maybe two hours. When I woke, Dad wasn’t in his recliner. I won’t lie. I panicked a little until I heard water running in one of the bathrooms. I followed the sound to my parents’ room where I found Mom and Alley asleep in the king-sized bed and Dad coming out of the attached bathroom carrying a newly clean bucket…the one that came out of the potty seat.
“Your mom has been throwing up. Luckily, she’s been able to make it to the potty seat. Will you pull the trash from the bathroom and carry it out?” he asked, as he cleaned the seat and put it back together.
The trashcan was full of adult diapers. He must be putting them on Mom and Alley in case they couldn’t make it to the bathroom. I was glad he thought of it because Mom also tended to pee when she vomited. I pulled the bag, tied it off, replaced it, and left the room.
Dad had balked when Mom had insisted we keep some of Grandma Rose’s medical stuff, like the potty seat and the large, unopened pack of diapers. Mom and Dad’s sisters, along with a couple of nurses, had rotated caring for Grandma Rose during the last few years of her life. She’d suffered from Alzheimer’s, and in the end, relied on others for her every need.
Dad had thought the items were a waste of space in our garage, but Mom had argued that they would come in handy if any of us got sick or if one of her parents got down to where they needed someone to care for them. Dad had argued that their insurance would pay for most of it, and it would, but some of the items hadn’t gotten to Grandma Rose right away, and Mom wanted them to have the supplies as soon as they needed them.
I’d only helped Mom with Grandma Rose a few times, but I got her point. The three days before Grandma Rose got her potty seat were not fun, and the two weeks between the time her therapist ordered her a Hoyer Lift and the time she got it were backbreaking. If we could make Nana and Pop’s life a bit easier when they were sick, I was all for it.
With all of that on my mind, as I was coming back into the house via the garage, I looked through the totes for anything else we might need. I found a few linen savers, a few vomit bags, two bottles of the no-rinse body wash, and some other odds and ends that may or may not have been helpful. I carried it all to my parents’ room and laid them out on their dresser.
“Good thinking,” Dad said, looking over my shoulder. “Do you know where the bottle of air cleaner is? This room is starting to stink.”
“I think it’s in the laundry room. I’ll go check.”
“Thank you. Be thinking about what you want for dinner too.”
I nodded and left the room.
I brought the bottle to him once I’d found it then went to the kitchen to see what looked interesting. I laid out the fixings for spaghetti for Dad and me before searching for something Mom and Alley might be able to stomach.
When Dad found me a bit later, I had chicken bouillon cubes cooking on the stove.
“I didn’t know what else to feed them,” I said.
“Good idea. After supper, I’ll run down to the grocery store to see if I can get them some bottled water and something to soothe their stomachs.”
“Want me to go instead?” I asked, trying not to show my shock over his willingness to spend so much money.
It’d been nearly a hundred years, and we’d rebuilt well, but some things cost too much to make and ship, soft drinks being one of them, that most places didn’t carry them or if they did, their prices were high, but I guess if you really thought you needed something you’d pay for it.
“No. I don’t want you leaving this house until this bug has run its course.”
I thought that odd at first. I was already exposed. If I were going to catch it, I would. It wasn’t until later that night while we were watching the news that I started to understand his point. Some people were taking advantage of closed businesses to rob them. There wasn’t too much of that right that second, but if the sickness lasted for too long or if people started dying, things would get worse.
Mom and Alley didn’t drink much of the broth I made for them, and after cleaning them both up a few times, I didn’t eat much of my supper either.
The next morning after breakfast, Dad asked for my help in bathing them and changing the bed sheets. I was happy to oblige. Both of them desperately needed the bath.
After that, he and I sat in the living room watching television and listening for my mom and sister. I used Dad’s phone to call and message Keisha a few times, but she never replied. I worried about her, but I worried about my family more.
Saturday went about the same as Friday, and Sunday wasn’t much different. Each day my mom and sister got weaker. Eventually, they stopped peeing, having bowel movements, and vomiting. We did our best to keep them hydrated, but they slept so much and spit out a lot of what we tried to get in them, that it wasn’t helping.
Dad wanted to carry them to the hospital on Sunday morning, but the news channels were talking about how patients were being turned away. The news still insisted it was just a bug and needed to run its course. The hospitals couldn’t do anything more than what people were doing at home.
“They could give your mom and sister I.V. bags,” Dad said, but never made the decision to load them in the car and carry them anywhere.
All we could do was wait it out. I felt helpless, useless, and like I was doing my family a disservice, but there didn’t seem to be anything I could do.
When I woke Monday morning, I’d made the decision that despite what the television said, if my sister and mom were still sick, I was taking them to a hospital or clinic or a doctor’s office. They wouldn’t live much longer if I didn’t.
Just as the last two mornings had been, the house was quiet as I exited my bedroom and walked softly to the hall bathroom. Dad had been sleeping on the sofa with a baby monitor by his head. I’d offered to take it so that he could get a solid night’s sleep, but he’d refused.
In the bathroom, I peed, brushed my teeth, and contemplated showering, but figured it might be a fruitless endeavor if Mom and Alley were still sick. I pulled my hair back, though. I’d learned my lesson about letting it hang loose to dangle in the bucket of vomit.
Back in my room, I changed clothes and used Alley’s cell phone to leave Keisha yet another message. I was just about to flip through some of my social media pages to see if the school was going to be open today—either way I wasn’t going, of course. Dad needed me here to help care for my mom and sister—when I heard a loud thump come from my parents’ room.
The sound scared me, and I dropped the phone onto my bed. Dad didn’t come rushing down the hall to see what had happened. My heartbeat went into overdrive.
Another sound came from my parents’ room. That one was muffled but sounded almost like a scream.
I rushed to the hall but froze before I could reach the door handle. Something wasn’t right. I didn’t know how I knew that, but I knew there was no way I was stepping a toe inside that room without my daddy. Turning quickly, I rushed down the hall and to the living room.
Dad was sound asleep with the television on low. At first, I only gave the screen a brief glance before moving to squat down by my father, but once my brain registered what it had seen, I turned back to the images the news channel was showing.
Forgetting my dad was asleep on the sofa behind me, I grabbed the remote to turn the volume up. A louder thud came from the back bedroom. Dad made a noise behind me. I tuned all that out and listened to what the newswoman was saying.
She had to be joking. The video playing while she spoke assured me that she wasn’t, but she had to be.
“What’s going on?” Dad asked in a sleepy voice behind me.
“I…I don’t know,” I said, moving out of his line of sight to the television. “They’re saying people are…are…”
I couldn’t say it aloud.
“They’re saying what?” Dad asked, sitting up and rubbing his face.
“Listen.” I turned the volume up a bit more.
He lifted his head and stared at the screen.
As the woman on television was explaining how all over the island sick people were turning on their loved ones and eating them, another loud thud came from the room Mom and Alley were inside.
Dad’s head jerked in that direction, and he started to rise.
I grabbed his arm to stop him.
“Kayla, didn’t you hear that? Your mom and sister…”
“I heard it. What if they…” I pointed my finger at the T.V. without finishing my sentence.
He focused on the news anchor for a few seconds before looking toward the back of the house. Scuffling noises were coming from the room now.
“Your mom and sister wouldn’t hurt us,” he said, but he made no move to go to them.
“They wouldn’t before, but what if they changed like those other people?” I asked.
“Surely not.” He didn’t sound convinced.
“But what if?”
“They could have, and the woman said the only way to stop them is to shoot them in the head.”
“I’m not shooting your mom and sister. They’re just sick. If they’re violent, we’ll find some way to sedate them until this bug blows over.”
“We aren’t having this conversation, Kayla. I don’t care what that reporter says. I’m not killing anyone. We will wait this out.” He turned from me and headed down the hall.
I rushed into the family room and over to Dad’s desk. I knew where he kept his gun and the bullets to it. When I’d turned sixteen, my parents had shown me the weapon, schooled me on gun safety, and taught me how to use it. They also swore me to secrecy. I wasn’t to tell anyone, not even Alley, that my parents owned a gun. It wasn’t against the law to own one. They had bought it legally and had all the permits for it. They just didn’t want it known there was a gun in our house.
The gun was a 9mm, and my parents had tucked it into the bottom drawer of Dad’s desk under a bunch of paperwork. The bullets were on a shelf above the desk, inside an old jewelry box of Grandma Rose’s. I removed the gun and bullets, loaded it, and rushed to the hall to find Dad opening the bedroom door.
He’d had plenty of time to enter while I’d fetched the gun, but he’d been scared and cautious.
I said nothing about the gun as I stepped up beside him.
The site before us was unreal. Alley sat on the bed, eating one of Mom’s arms. Mom was on the floor, unmoving. Blood covered the bed and colored the wall behind Alley.
My sister looked up at us for a second. Her mouth was still chewing. A piece of flesh was stuck to her chin.
“Al…” was all Dad got out before my sister leaped from the bed and rushed toward us.
I fired one shot into her right leg. She went down for a brief second, but in no time, she was on all fours and standing. She made a sound somewhere between a growl and a moan before coming at us again.
I shot her in the other leg. She dropped again and didn’t get back up.
I knew what the reports said, but at that moment, I didn’t have it in me to kill my sister. Vomit was trying to rise to my throat over merely shooting her in the leg.
Dad stood next to me, frozen to the spot.
Alley flopped over onto her stomach and began to drag herself toward us.
“Shit,” I said, not knowing what to do.
“In the head,” was all Dad said.
I did as he ordered.
As her brains shot out the back of her skull, I threw up on the floor in front of me.
Once I was done, I wiped my mouth on my shirt and stood up. Dad still hadn’t moved from his position. I wanted to ask him what we did now, but couldn’t form the words. We had to call someone. Who? Would I go to jail for murder?
A million things started running through my head, and they didn’t stop until Mom made a noise. Her whisper of a moan snapped Dad out of his frozen state, and he rushed to her.
With all the blood everywhere, I’d been sure she was dead, so I hadn’t thought about going to her.
A voice in my head told me that she was dead. That wasn’t a moan from a living being.
I believed the voice and had the gun ready the second Dad turned over my mom’s body.
The first thing I noticed was that her eyes had gone solid white. Her skin ash grey.
Dad must have seen it too, but he didn’t move away from her.
The second she raised her remaining arm and opened her mouth, preparing to lunge for my dad, I shot her.
He went to his knees beside her, and I threw up again.
“What do we do now?” I asked, wiping my face with my clean sleeve.
“I don’t know,” Dad said, shaking his head.
“Should I call someone?”
“I don’t know.”
I watched him looking down at my mom for a long time before leaving the room. I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and take off my dirty shirt, giving myself a few moments to process what I’d just done.
Dad wasn’t in the living room when I entered after donning a clean shirt. I didn’t check to see if he was still in the room with Mom and Alley. Instead, I found his cell phone and started calling police departments, hospitals, ambulance services, coroners, and anyone else whom it seemed I might need to notify.
Either I got busy signals or “your call can’t be completed at this time” messages. With Dad’s phone, I searched what to do in case I missed something, but I hadn’t. I watched the television to see if one of the news channels had instructions, but it didn’t. All I got from that end was to stay in my home and shoot anyone who’d turned in the head.
Swearing under my breath, I tossed Dad’s cell onto the sofa and stood in the living room for a long moment, trying to figure out what we should do next. It occurred to me then that none of our neighbors had come running when they heard the shots. No one had called the police, or if they had, they hadn’t been able to get through just as I hadn’t. Someone should have come to investigate out of pure curiosity.
I tentatively opened our front door and looked out at the street. I saw no one. I heard nothing.
I stepped onto the porch in time to see someone run between two houses up the road. They moved so quickly that I couldn’t tell who they were, if they were injured or if they had turned into what Mom and Alley had.
I took the first step off the porch and heard a loud crash come from the house next door. I didn’t rush over to investigate. I backpedaled into the house and locked the door. Whatever was happening was occurring all over the island just as the news anchor had said.
I ran through the house locking doors and windows. I didn’t know how long that would protect us, but hopefully long enough for whatever was happening to pass.
Once I was done, I sat on the edge of my bed, panting. Dad still hadn’t come out of his room. He couldn’t stay in there forever with those bodies. For that matter, the bodies couldn’t stay in there. They’d begin to stink after a while. So would the mess.
I changed into something I could throw away, went to the utility room to gather all the cleaning supplies I could, and forced myself to enter my parents' bedroom.
Dad was where I’d left him, sitting beside my mother and looking down at her. I deciphered the expression on his face, so I left him alone for the moment. I pulled the comforter off my parents’ bed, spread it out on the floor, and rolled my sister, who still had my mom’s arm in her hand, up in it. I straightened her on the rug she lay on, grabbed both of its corners, and began to drag it from the room.
Maneuvering her wasn’t easy, but I pulled her down the hall, through the living room, kitchen, and laundry out into the garage where I left her lying in front of Dad’s car on the cold concrete. With the wet mop, I cleaned the trail of blood I’d made through the house. Back in my parents’ room, I cleaned the blood off the wall, floor, and bed frame the best I could.
Through it all, Dad didn’t move.
“Daddy,” I said, squatting down beside him, trying not to look at my mother.
When he didn't answer, I put my hand on his arm and repeated his name. That time, he looked at me.
“We can’t leave her here,” I said, nodding down at Mom.
“Is the coroner coming to get her or the funeral home?” he asked.
“No. No one is coming. All the lines are tied up. The news keeps replaying the same thing over and over again. I think what happened to Mom and Alley is happening to a lot of people.”
“What are we going to do then?”
“I put Alley in the garage,” I said.
He jerked his head in the direction of where my sister had been half an hour ago.
“I think we should put Mom out there too. Maybe in a day or two, this sickness will blow over, and someone will come for them then. They can’t stay in the house though.”
He nodded but didn’t make a move to get up.
I pulled the rest of the blankets off the bed and rolled Mom up in them just as I had Alley. I didn’t have a rug, and with Mom being bigger than Alley, I had a harder time dragging her through the house. Dad didn’t help.
When I returned to my parents’ room, Dad had moved from the floor. He was in their bathroom with the door shut. I didn’t disturb him. I went about cleaning the room the best I could.
Pretty much everything came clean with bleach, except the mattress. Mom’s blood from where Alley had torn off her arm had seeped deep into it. I scrubbed it the best I could, but in the end, I had to leave it. I did throw towels over it so Dad wouldn’t see it when he came out of the bathroom.
In my bathroom, I stripped, throwing my stained clothes in the trash, and got in the shower. I stood under the hot water for what felt like forever, crying.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around what I’d done. I’d killed my sister and my mother. And I’d cleaned up the mess as if it were something I did every day. What kind of person could do that? My father hadn't been able to do anything more than stand there watching my sister eat my mom. He didn't even flinch when my mom started to attack him. That's the typical reaction, right? When seeing something so utterly impossible, most people would freeze, but I hadn't. Something was wrong with me. It had to be.
The water had turned cold by the time my sobs had slowed. I quickly washed and got out, shivering, but not caring. Avoiding the large mirror that stretched across one wall of the bathroom, I rushed out of the room and into my bedroom.
After dressing in thick sweats, I curled up on my bed with Alley’s phone and tried calling everyone in her contact’s list. Mostly I got the same as I did earlier when I tried calling hospitals and the like: busy signals and calls that couldn’t be completed.
Next, I scrolled through my social media accounts again. That time, I did find posts and photos showing what was happening across the island. I couldn’t believe what I saw, even after what I'd done. A friend of a friend posted a photo of a man eating an elderly woman on the sidewalk in front of a boutique shop. Another picture was of a street lined with dead bodies. A video showed the posters’ mom dying and transforming. The person videoing cried through the entire thing. Thankfully, he’d turned the camera away when he shot her.
Keisha’s pages were silent. She hadn’t been on since Wednesday the week before. Alley had posted a photo of her and Mom in the bed sick together. They looked pitiful, but they were both smiling. Our school’s website had a banner running across the top stating that the school was closed until further notice.
I kept telling myself to get off the phone, to go check on my dad, but I couldn’t take my eyes away from what I was seeing.
This couldn’t be happening. I’d seen old world horror movies about people coming back from the dead and eating people, but that was fiction. That wasn’t real. Couldn’t be real.
After what happened to our world barely a hundred years ago, you’d think I’d never be able to say something couldn’t be real, but this—the existence of zombies—was far more unrealistic than meteors destroying our planet, but here we were. There had to be some other explanation. There just had to be.
“Kayla.” My dad’s voice calling to me from out in the hall scared the shit out of me.
“Yeah,” I said, getting up and opening the door.
“Are you hungry,” he asked. He looked beaten, tired, and a little sickly, but I told myself that was from witnessing what I’d done that morning.
“Yeah,” I said and followed him to the kitchen where a spread of breakfast food sat even though it was already late afternoon. While I’d been immersed in social media, he’d been cooking.
“Looks good,” I said, scooping scrambled eggs onto a plate.
“Your mom’s a better cook than me, but I think it’s all edible. We should eat what’s in the fridge and freezer and save the canned stuff for later,” he said, taking me off guard.
I couldn’t reply. Surely, this wouldn’t last long enough for us to run out of food. Dad didn’t seem so sure.
We ate in silence for a while before Dad said, “I’m sorry you had to do that.”
“Daddy…” was all I could say. Tears slid down my cheeks, but I didn’t burst into tears.
“You shouldn’t have had to do any of it. I’m sorry. When I saw your sister, something in me broke. I froze. If you hadn’t been there, I would have died. I promise that it won’t happen again. I’m the adult. I’m your father. I’ll take care of you. I’ll protect you.”
I rushed around the table and threw my arms around him. We held each other and cried for a long time.
Tuesday morning, Dad woke up sick. In the back of my mind the day before, I’d thought he looked drained, paler than usual, and not himself, but I chalked it up to losing my mom and sister. I’d felt run down, raw, and numb myself.
Dad had slept on the sofa again. That time I understood why he wouldn’t sleep in Alley’s room, and of course, he couldn’t sleep on his own bed. I did offer him mine, but he adamantly refused. Since I couldn’t make him take my bed, I stopped insisting after about the hundredth time of asking him.
Not that it mattered. It wasn’t as if either one of us got much sleep that night. Our neighborhood usually shut down around seven or eight during the week. Everyone was home from work, fed, and relaxing. Sometimes you could hear the sounds of kids playing, but mostly all that filtered through was the occasional car driving by. Curiosity had me itching to find the nearest window so I could watch what was happening, but fear of one of the creatures spotting me and trying to get into the house kept me away.
That night and on into the morning was chaos. Glass broke, people screamed, and sirens blared in-between the sounds of gunshots. The news stations played the same images and videos it had most of the day. Occasionally we’d get something new, but I got the feeling most of it was on repeat. The radio was the same.
When some unknown person had banged on our door for half a second, screaming for us to let him or her in, Dad and I started barricading the doors and windows the best we could.
At first, when Dad hadn’t woken when I called, I’d assumed he was just exhausted from the day before. I could sympathize, and if it hadn’t been for fear of what the day would bring, I’d have probably slept in as well.
Not until I had to shake him awake, which was never the case with Dad, did I realize something was wrong. He was paler than usual and running a fever.
He mumbled something when I shook him, and he rolled his eyes in my direction, but I could tell that he didn’t see me.
“Shit,” I said, thankful he wouldn’t be aware of my cursing in his presence.
“Dad. Daddy,” I said, shaking him a little harder.
“Yeah,” he replied.
“I’m all right. Just tired. Let me sleep a bit longer.”
“I’m going to get you a fever reducer and some water. I need you to wake up and take it.”
“Okay,” he said, but immediately rolled his head away from me and went to sleep.
“Fuck,” I said to no one. What was I going to do? Take care of him, of course. But what if he died?
I got the potty seat out of my parents’ room and set up it next to the sofa. I got water, meds, and some wet wipes and set them on the coffee table. I looked down at my dad for a long moment, wondering what else I needed.
The gun. Get the gun. If Dad turned like Mom and Alley, I’d have to shoot him.
I only vaguely remembered placing the gun on top of my parents’ dresser the day before. I fetched it, reloaded it, made sure the safety was on, and tucked it into the back of my jeans. I didn’t know if that was a good idea, but I’d seen people do it in movies, and besides, I didn’t have a holster, so there wasn’t much else I could do with it. I refused to leave it within Dad’s reach. He might do something stupid.
Nothing we’d seen or heard suggested that every person who got sick turned. Yeah, it appeared that most did, but we couldn’t know that all would. And I couldn’t know if dad had the same thing everyone else had.
I felt fine, or at least not sick. That had to mean that the virus wasn’t contagious. I’d been in close contact with Keisha, Mom, and Alley. If I were going to get sick, I would have by now. Dad’s symptoms could have more to do with fatigue, shock, and depression.
Then why did you bring the potty seat, linen savers, and diapers into the living room? a voice in the back of my head asked.
They were just a precaution. People got diarrhea from stress and anxiety. If he started pooping like that, it didn’t mean he had what Mom and Alley had.
I was lying to myself, and I knew it.
I understood what was going on, but I let myself live in denial for as long as I could because it meant that there was a possibility that I wouldn’t be an orphan by the end of the week.
There was no way that I could survive without my parents. I was just a kid. I was just a little kid who needed her parents to take care of her.
The lie that Dad would be all right stayed with me until late that Tuesday afternoon. When he started vomiting and having diarrhea at the same time, I knew. His fever was so high that he didn’t know what was going on, though, which was a good thing.
Cleaning Mom and Alley after they were sick had been easy. I’d seen them both naked hundreds of times, and whereas touching their private parts, even with gloves on and layers of toilet paper and wet wipes between our bare skin, had been awkward, I’d done it with no problems.
Taking care of Dad that way, on the other hand, hadn’t been easy. I’d never seen a naked man this close before. Some of the kids my age had already had sex, but I’d only kissed one boy, and that had been all we’d done.
As I wiped him down, I cursed whoever had created the sickness. A daughter should never have to clean her father. He was too out of it to be embarrassed, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t indignant on his behalf. I’d never seen my father in just his boxers, let alone fully naked. If he came too, I would never tell him what I had to do. He’d know I had to have been the one to do it, but I’d never bring it up.
By late Wednesday afternoon, he’d stopped getting sick, stopped peeing, and stopped ingesting anything. He barely moved in his sleep, and rarely woke. He was dying, just like Mom and Alley. I was watching him go, and I was pissed beyond words that I couldn’t do anything about it.
I wanted to sleep in the living room to watch him. To be with him when he finally passed, but fear that he would change and attack me while I slept had me cowering in my bedroom with the door locked and my trunk pushed against it. The gun never left my side.
To my surprise, when I woke Thursday morning, he was still alive. I’d tried to make as little noise as possible exiting my bedroom and creeping down the hall to peek in at him. He hadn’t moved from the sofa. His skin hadn’t gone that bone-white that Alley’s had, and I could see him breathing.
I slipped into the bathroom, thanking God for my good luck. Maybe dad was getting better. Perhaps he wouldn't turn.
I did my business, checked on him again a third time before getting dressed and slipping into the kitchen to make breakfast. I made oatmeal. I thought that was something he might be able to swallow and possibly keep down if his stomach still felt queasy.
Feeling a little guilty about doing it, but knowing he would insist, I ate my bowl first before approaching him with this.
“Daddy,” I said, shaking him slightly. “Can you wake up and eat something. I have water too.”
He did the mumbling thing at first, but he woke easier than he had the last few times I’d tried to get him up.
“Kayla?” he asked.
“Yeah, Daddy, it’s me. I have something to drink for you and food. Are you hungry?”
“Not so much.”
“Can you drink anything?”
“No baby, I can’t.”
“You have to if you’re going to get better.”
“I’m not getting better, sweetie.”
“But you already are. You’re awake and talking to me. You haven’t done that in two days.”
“This is just the calm before the storm. Do you remember how Grandma Rose seemed to perk up right before she died?”
“I’m pretty sure that’s what I’m doing.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do. I can feel it inside of me. I’m not going to be alive much longer.”
“What do you feel?”
“I can’t explain it. I just know it’s going to happen.”
“What do I do? You can’t leave me alone. I can’t take care of myself.”
“You have to go to Shore Haven. Keisha’s great uncle Jasper will be there. He’ll take care of you.”
“What? I can’t go. I can’t leave you.”
“You can, and you must. I won’t have you shooting me. I shouldn’t have let you kill your mom and sister. I should have done it for you.”
“No buts. You have to go…soon.”
“Kayla, I’m not arguing with you about this. You go to Shore Haven. Jasper will take you in. There’s no safer place on this island than that compound. Promise me.”
“Okay. If you die, I’ll go.”
“No, you’ll go now. Go pack a bag. Hurry.” He nearly came off the sofa at his last words. The action scared me into motion.
I rushed to my room, packed my backpack with as much needed stuff as possible. I tried stalling, but Dad called my name from the hallway, demanding I hurry.
He met me at the end of the hall and directed me toward the front door. We moved the heavy table we’d leaned against it, all the while I begged him not to make me leave.
He opened the door, looked around outside, and pushed me onto the porch.
“Kayla. I need you to do this for me.”
“But Shore Haven is all the way across the island. I’ll never make it.”
“You will. Stick to the shadows. Stay quiet.”
He placed a long knife in my hand.
“The gun will be loud. It’ll draw attention to you. Stab them in the head. Human or creature. Anyone who tries to do you harm. Okay?”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
He pushed me further across the porch before rushing back inside and locking the door.
I stood rooted to the spot.
A minute later, a gunshot came from the direction of the garage, causing me to jump. I had to clamp my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming. My dad had killed himself. Tears streamed down my face. I nearly threw up.
The sound of a moan coming from the strip of yard between our house and our neighbors sobered me, and I took off across the grass toward the road in the direction of Shore Haven.
Two blocks from the house, I wondered if I should have taken Mom’s car. It wasn’t inside the garage, so I wouldn’t have had to see my family’s bodies or drawn attention to myself when the door opened. The engine would have made noise though, I guess. I couldn’t even remember where I’d put the keys, either.
I’d seen a few zombies since leaving the house, but most were too preoccupied with eating a human to notice me.
I tried to keep close to buildings in case I needed to hide inside one. The thought that doing so might trap me with one of them never occurred to me.
Almost the instant I left my neighborhood and entered the main part of the island, I came face to face with a zombie. Oddly enough, I think he was more shocked to see me than I was him because I was able to react first. Without thinking about it, I plunged my knife into his temple. He dropped to the ground, taking my knife with him.
For a second, I thought about leaving the blade where it was but then told myself that if I had enough guts to stab him, I had enough to pull out the knife.
Tentatively, I bent down, placed one hand on his cheek to hold his head steady, and with the other grabbed the handle. The knife didn’t slip from him easily, but it came out all the same. I wiped it clean on his dirty shirt.
A second zombie came around a corner at that moment. I ran. I tried to stay to back alleys that ran the outskirts of the island center. The outbreak was everywhere, but most of the creatures had congregated where the most significant part of the island's population was.
A woman that reminded me too much of my mother grabbed me as I was passing by a shadowed doorway of an apartment complex. At first, I thought she was still alive and was trying to help, but when she continued to pull me toward her face, I stabbed her in the arm that held me. Her grip with that hand loosened, and she reached for me with her other, but it was broken and didn’t move the way she wanted. I slammed my blade through her cheek and into her brain.
If it hadn’t been for a group of scared college students distracting a horde, I would have died a few minutes later when I circled the next building and nearly ran into a mass of undead. The students had swarmed out of a third building, screaming. The horde pounced. I ran.
The upper half of an Asian girl of about ten tried to grab my leg. I kicked her in the head.
A zombie that someone had set on fire nearly toppled me over.
I bypassed another horde swarming a side entrance to Brakerville Hospital. They could smell and see live humans inside and were seconds away from breaking the glass and getting inside.
I kept running. I wasn’t athletic at all, and a time or two I had to stop to throw up or rest. I couldn’t afford the rest breaks, but I also couldn’t keep up the running. My side hurt. I could barely breathe. I only had a vague idea that I was running in the right direction.
During one of my stops, I watched a house go up in flames. On another, I watched five mounted police officers disappear into a horde. At my third, I killed a woman trying to eat a baby. I should have killed the baby too since the woman had been able to take a bite out of its leg, but I left it in its car seat wailing.
Eventually, the vast compound of Shore Haven came into sight. For a second, I wondered if I shouldn't have gone to Keisha's first to see if they were home. Shore Haven wasn’t open to the public yet, so there was a high chance that no one was there.
The point was moot now, though. Keisha lived on my side of the island. I’d come too far to turn back. If no one was at Shore Haven, then I’d try to get to Keisha’s house. I didn’t have any other family on the island. If she wasn’t at Shore Haven or at home, I didn’t know where else to go but back to my house.
The closer I got to Shore Haven, the more zombies I saw. Luckily, most were already preoccupied with their current victim. A few spotted me. Most I was able to dodge. Some stopped chasing me when they spotted easier prey. I was one of the few people on the island who wasn’t sick, so I wasn’t easy prey for those who had turned.
That didn’t mean I didn’t have to kill a teenage boy nearly double my size who was determined to take me down. He almost got me too, but I managed to get my knife in his gut, in his hip, and to take off a few fingers. I’d discovered quickly that if you could mangle their bodies enough, they weakened, making them easier to kill.
Next was an old man whom I’d tripped over coming out of an alley. One of his legs didn’t move, but the rest of him was a bit on the strong side. I stabbed the working leg and punched him in the jaw before stabbing him.
By the time I reached one of the entrances to Shore Haven, I was exhausted and bloody. I reached up to ring the doorbell and to start pounding on the door, but when I saw my blood-covered hand, I lowered it.
I couldn’t approach Jasper looking the way I did. He would think I was one of those creatures or at the very least think that I’d been exposed to the virus, which I had been. He wouldn’t let me inside.
Jasper was a paranoid middle-aged man. He’d built Shore Haven with the idea that a second apocalyptic event was headed our way. He was right. Anyone else might see me standing outside their door and know that I needed help. They would understand that I’d just barely escaped the creatures and needed sanctuary.
Jasper would not. He would see me as a liability. If Keisha was inside and alive, she could beg and plead for days, and he still wouldn’t let me inside. Most likely, though, she hadn’t survived, which made my chances of getting inside even slimmer.
I had extra clothes in my backpack, but I still needed to clean myself up a bit.
I scanned the area and found a small corner grocery store about a block away. The streets around Shore Haven were clear. I guessed that was because the compound was empty and the zombies could probably sense that.
The small shop was empty aside from a few dead bodies. The bathroom was tiny but was suitable for what I needed. I shut and locked the door behind me, stripped, and used the water from the sink to clean my body the best I could.
I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I couldn’t look into the eyes of the person who’d let my dad shoot himself, who had killed my mother, my sister, and countless others in the last few hours. I didn’t want to see the person the outbreak had turned me into. I couldn’t know that I might be more of a monster than those creatures out there.
After dressing, I used the facilities. I’d thrown up a few times during my journey, and apparently, my bowels wanted in on the action. I didn’t have what my parents and sister had, but it still hadn’t been pleasant.
Once I was done, I slipped from the bathroom and the store. With no one in sight, I ran back to Shore Haven. I rang the bell. I pounded on the door. I prayed no one or thing followed the noise I was making. I rang the bell some more and pounded harder.
Someone had to be there. They just had to be.