Running. His life had devolved to running. Eric had finished his workout at the 24 hour latchkey gym when the shit hit the fan. It started with the other members walking towards him as he left. They were dressed in their workout clothing; short, tennis shoes and t-shirts, but their eyes.
I should have known from their eyes.Eric thought. The eyes of the people coming towards him were opaque white, a color he had always associated with cataracts in the elderly, unseeing and honestly, they freaked him out.
But I do fine with the living dead.He thought with a half grin. He was running through a field, going with the rows of furrows right now. Eric found it easier to run with the rows than to bust his way through the almost waist high soybeans. Every time his foot landed he readjusted his weight slightly in the loamy soil; he had almost twisted an ankle when he ran through the first field and had slowed his pace to a jog as caution overrode his desire to get away.
Those first zombies outside of the gym hadn’t walked past him, they had grappled with him as they sought to hold him down and bite him. Eric had gotten away, but had lost his gym bag in the process. In his gym bag were his keys and his wallet. The keys to his car and house and the wallet that had the mag-pass that allowed him to get into his office building. Not that the car keys mattered, the parking lot was filled with stalled vehicles and undead, even if he could get to his car it was doubtful that he could have left the lot. He had passed several people on his run out of the lot, without an exception they were all on their phones and as he ran by their looks of fear, for him, and for themselves, solidified into a chilling icicle of despair.
And not one of them opened their doors and said, “Hey, buddy! Come over here! Get in my car!”Eric wasn’t sure he would have let a random runner into his car either; he liked to think he would have at least made the offer. The gym he solicited was on the outskirts of town, it had two televisions and he had been watching one of those while running on the treadmill when the news of the rioting had been flashed on the screen. Eric had only paid attention half-heartedly; what did he care about what was happening on the coasts? Nothing like that ever happened in the middle of the country, the people were too sensible. Of course, then the screen went to an emergency broadcast and unlike the many other times in his life, this time the words on the screen were not a test, this was a real emergency. The governor had ordered everyone to stay in his or her home and not let anyone in, the ongoing riots with what the liberal media had dubbed ‘zombies’ had come to his hometown.
Liberal media saved my life, so far.Eric thought, If I hadn’t left when I did, knowing what I did, I might have been stuck in the gym for a long time, maybe forever. When he fled the gym, cutting his workout short by a good fifteen minutes he had thoughts of returning to his apartment and hunkering down. The zombies destroyed his plans as surely as they would destroy his life, if they got a hold of him. The damned things were not fast. Eric had outdistanced them easily as he ran along the state road that slowly evolved into a highway as he had run along it in the breakdown lane. No, the problem wasn’t the zombies speed, it was that there seemed to be so many of them. He had ran along the road until the smattering of houses and gas stations turned into farmhouses and open fields, which happened inside of three miles.
At that point, a half hour ago, he had been forced to make a decision. Ahead of him had lain a multi-car pileup and around it were zombies. They saw him and immediately turned towards him, with their slow, relentless stumbling. The pack behind him was trailing more than a mile behind and Eric found himself sandwiched between the two groups. His out and out sprint away from the gym had slowed to a decent paced jog, he had never ran a marathon before and the three miles had taken an embarrassing toll on him. I thought I was in better shape.
So with zombies in the front of him and zombies behind Eric crossed the wide ditch and got himself into a field of corn, the corn was chest high and the rows were parallel to the road, forcing him to push through them to make progress away from it. That had slowed him down considerably and the zombies took advantage of his lack of speed and their ability to head straight towards him to gain considerable ground. By the time he had reached the far end of the field Eric thought he gotten away. He couldn’t see over the field too clearly because it dipped towards the creek that was in front of him and it was only when he boosted himself up on a fallen tree to look back that he realized how close the zombies had come.
The bastards can see through the corn like it’s not there.It was true too, the corn stalks were moving, shaken as they were being pushed around by the zombies making a beeline towards him. The ones from the pile up had come within 20 meters of him and had broken out of the cornfield by the time Eric had scrambled down the muddy bank, through the creek and up the other side. He’d lost a shoe on the far side of the creek and had spent precious seconds retrieving it before bursting out into the cornfield on the other side.
That was when he decided to run with the corn rows. In his mind’s eye he thought he saw the zombies reaching for him as he rushed past them, but now he know the fuckers had probably been stymied by the high creek bank and his frantic, adrenaline fueled rush had probably been for nothing.
Eventually he had come to another road, this time a two-lane blacktop that cut through the fields like a band of obsidian. Across the road was a bean field, down the road to either side were zombies, not the original ones that had been chasing him, new ones. Eric realized he could outrun each zombie he found, but if he kept running into more of them he would eventually tire out, stop and be consumed.
Now, jogging through the bean fields he realized he needed to risk stopping at one of the many farms he had been passing along the way. I don’t know where all these zombies are coming from, but not everyone could have been turned yet. One of these farmhouses has to have people who can help me.
Up ahead he was coming to another road, it was easy to know that, even though he couldn’t see it from his position in the field. On his short journey through the countryside he’d discovered the roads had power lines and up ahead that’s what he saw. Red barn or white? He asked himself, Red. That’s traditional and country and what artists paint.
Veering right he started cutting towards the farm with the large red barn, machine shed, three silos and a farmhouse with a large wrap around porch. Eric didn’t see any zombies ahead, but the ones behind him were pacing him now. I’m about out and they move faster than I walk. The zombie shuffle was a bitch, about as fast as a slow jog, perhaps five kilometers an hour.
Eric reached the road and started down it, opting for the solid ground of the gravel instead of cutting time by heading straight through the field. His shirt was drenched with sweat, his headband was dripping into his face so much that every other step Eric had to brush his face to keep his vision clear. From the waist down he was speckled with mud and grit, mixed in were pieces of vegetation that had broken off and adhered to his sweaty skin, giving it a greenish cast.
Turning up the long driveway Eric slowed to a walk, bending over and resting his hands on his thighs, wheezing and trying to force more air into his overtaxed lungs. In this position he lurched up the driveway, the zombies had started to gain on him.
Looking at them sent a shiver of fear though him; they were a hundred meters back and closing. The fear didn’t send a spike of adrenaline into his body, what he had was used long ago. The best he could manage was to keep walking towards the house, trying to shout out for help. His voice came out as a hoarse cry, more of a croaking moan than a plea for aid.
“Help me!” Eric said over and over. He was still too far from the house, Who needs a driveway this long?
It was only when the two men appeared on the porch with rifles that he experienced his secondary jolt of fear. The guns were pointed at him. I look like a zombie, I can’t run, I can’t talk, I can barely…
The loud gunshot cut his thoughts off and sent him to the ground onto his belly, he continued to croak out, “Help me”, but his raspy voice sounded like so much gibberish, even to his own ears. More gunfire followed, interspaced with some talking that approached him from the farmhouse.
“You still alive, mister?” asked a kindly deep voice.
“Help me.” Was all that Eric could manage.
“That’s a yeah, then. Bobby, get him into the shed, out of the sun. Give him a little drink, not a lot, but just a little. Check him over for blood, bites and things.”
“What are you going to do, dad?”
“Put these ones down, just go. I can handle a half dozen of ‘em and your mom is back there with the rifle if I get into trouble.”
“Shouldn’t I bring him to the house?” Bobby asked.
“No! The shed! We don’t want him inside if he’s going to turn to one of them. Mister, can you get up?”
Eric feebly tried to push himself off of the gravel. A firm hand grasped his elbow and helped him the rest of the way up. A weathered, brown face stared into his own and nodded, “You look alright, just winded. Take him, Bobby.”
The younger man, more suspicious than his father, directed Eric towards a normal looking door in the side of the white, metal sided, building set at the back of the farm. The door was open and inside was a long work bench, tractors a couple of pickup trucks on blocks and, finally a large sink and bathroom. Eric didn’t need any prodding to head towards the sink. Once he reached it he turned it on full blast and splashed water over his face, using his hands to cup and slurp some of the liquid as cooled down.
“Slow down! You’ll get sick if you drink too fast! I saw the kids at school drink like you are after the track meet and they were vomiting it all back up just a minute later.”
Eric tried to slow down, but couldn’t help it, his throat felt raw and instinct overrode caution until, sure enough, he was vomiting the water he just drank back up and into the sink. Sometime between his first and fifth heave the father had come into the shed.
“I told you to have him drink slow.” The man admonished Bobby.
“I told him, he just didn’t listen!” Protested the youth.
“Mister, you okay?”
Eric took a long breath in and lowered himself to sit on an overturned bucket near the sink, nodding he said, “My name is Eric. Thank you.”
“Eric, it was my pleasure. Now I have to ask you, did you get bit? The news is all over with it, this spreads by biting and I won’t have you here if you’ve been bit by one of them. I have to look out for my family, you understand.”
Shaking his head this time Eric said, “No. No, I ran. They didn’t catch me.”
“Where you from, Eric?”
Eric told them where he started from and the man let out a long whistle, “That’s ten miles, even across the fields, like you said. You’re lucky you’re in decent shape or you wouldn’t have made it this far.”
“Yeah. Can I stay? At least to catch my breath?”
“Eric, you ain’t gonna wanna go home. Let’s get you cleaned up and when you stop sweating we’ll go into the house and you can see the news for yourself. My name’s Garth.” The man said holding out a meaty paw.
Eric took it and used it to get to his feet, “I’ll try a little more water now.”
“Yep, just a little now. There ain’t a shower there”, Garth said nodding towards the bathroom, “but we got some towels for washing the dust off of ya here at the sink.”
“Are the zombies still coming?” Eric asked.
“My wife’s watching for them, I got the ones that were after you. I saw more coming across the fields, when they reach the drive we’ll take care of them. You’re safe now, Eric. You’re safe here.”