Authors: William D. Carl
A gunshot rang out, followed by two more. This time, there was no mistaking the noise. Rick grabbed Chesya and shoved her to the rough sidewalk, covering her with his own body. She looked up at him as he scanned the streets, his five o’clock shadow sandy brown, like his hair.
“You see anything?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No. It wasn’t very far away, though. Just a couple of blocks. I didn’t even think about all the wack jobs with guns who’ll be shooting at everything that moves. Probably forming posses right now.”
“Maybe it was something that deserved to be shot at.”
He got off of her and sat down beside her. With his weight suddenly gone, she felt cool air rush between them. She missed his weight over her, holding her. It was comforting somehow, a soft edge to a tough guy, the brush of human flesh against her skin. Moving back, she leaned against the brick wall of the bank, crossing her long legs in front of herself.
Rick said, “I don’t know. You see any of those things out here?”
“No. Looks like just a few people, lotta dead folks.”
“Right. It looks like they’re sleeping in the daylight, hiding out somewhere.”
“Rick, you’re creeping me out.”
“Or maybe, holy shit, maybe they’re really like werewolves, and they only turn under the full moon. There was a full moon last night. I remember seeing it through the blinds just as we started robbing the bank. What if they really work that way?”
“Werewolves? For real?”
“You saw those things. They were all over the goddamn bank.”
“What did I tell you about taking the name of the Lord in vain?”
“You’re that religious? Damn, Chesya, I think that sometimes situations call for a little harsh fucking language, and this is one of those motherfucking, son-of-a-bitching, goddamn times.”
She shook her head, and when she spoke, her voice was suffused with a growing sadness. “Yeah, Rick. I am that religious, and I’ve heard bad language before. Used it myself sometimes, but I firmly believe in my God. You want me by your side, and I don’t think we should separate right now, so you better put a halt to the profanity. I look around, and I see people hiding, afraid of their shadows. I don’t think you want to ally yourself with any of them. I’m a strong black woman who’s still got all her senses. I’d think you’d want someone like me around.”
“I do.” He sounded chastened, but she didn’t believe it yet.
“Then lose the profane use of my Lord’s name. I’ll stick by you if you do.”
“You’re kidding me, right? You’d actually leave me if I use the name …”
He could tell by her somber expression she wasn’t joking, so he sighed and stood up. Holding out his hand, he grasped her forearm and raised her to her feet. Her palms were sweating, and that delectable anger burned in her eyes again.
“Out of all the women I could end up locked in a vault with … I had to find myself a righteous church lady.”
“Damn skippy,” she said, brushing off her slacks.
He sighed. “All right. I’ll try, but if something scares me or surprises me, something might just slip out. I don’t know if I can always control it. Never had to before now.”
“I think in extreme situations, even God can forgive such a trespass.”
“Well then,” he said, “let’s get moving. A couple of those weird people have been eyeballing us for a few minutes. I suggest we see if we can find anyone else who survived the night with their sanity intact.”
“Which way do we go?”
“Looks pretty bad in either direction, but that bus crash has nearly cut off the sidewalks on the east side, so … let’s head west.” He pointed toward the Marriott hotel, which seemed to teeter toward them. “I don’t like the looks of that building, either. The sooner we can get past it, the better, in my opinion. That thing looks like it could fall at any minute.”
Chesya nodded, and they began walking up Sixth Street, heading west. The journey was slow going, as the obstacles seemed to accumulate the farther they traveled. Cars had been smashed into street lamps or driven onto sidewalks and parked there, the doors left open, as though people had fled from them. A few of the buildings were on fire, and they crossed the streets to avoid getting too close to them. Sometimes this entailed crawling over the hoods of abandoned cars.
As they lifted themselves over the turtled Brink’s truck,
Chesya peered inside but saw no bodies. Only a few specks of dried blood. She saw Rick unconsciously look for scattered cash in the back of the truck. When he realized he was caught, he shrugged and gave her one of his endearing grins.
At one point, they heard a loud explosion from the river, followed by a loud splash. Immediately, a second blast echoed through the buildings, and Rick thought he could feel the ground trembling beneath his feet.
Most of the wild-eyed people who wandered the streets avoided them, scuttling like beetles into dark places, but one man approached. Rick pushed Chesya behind him as the pitiful creature rushed forward. His eyes were red-rimmed, his motions birdlike and excited. He wore filthy rags and he smelled of BO.
“Did you see them?” he asked. “Did you see them? They were beautiful … so very beautiful.”
Rick didn’t want to encourage the man, but he was curious, so he asked, “What did you see? We didn’t see anything.”
“The beasts … they were all over the streets. Big and sleek and powerful. They ran the streets, biting and snapping at the ones who didn’t turn, people like me. There weren’t a lot of us, people who didn’t turn. They tried to take us all.”
“How’d you get away?”
“Jesus saved me,” the man said, and he reached out for Rick, clutching at his shirt. “Jesus is God, and He saved me. He saved me. He’s inside me now.”
Chesya rolled her eyes and unhooked the vagrant’s butterfly hands from Rick. “Come on,” she said. “He’s crazy.”
As they walked away from the man, he began shouting after them. “Jesus could save you too! You need to accept Him into your heart and pray you never suffer the mark of the Beast. That’s why they all turned. Because they had the mark on them. Just like Cain. Just like Judas. Just like Larry Talbot.”
“I don’t think he was sane before last night,” Rick said. “Looked and smelled like a homeless person to me. Like he’d been on the streets a long time.” He glanced over at her. “I’m surprised, in a way, that you don’t agree with him.”
“What? ’Cause I’m religious? That doesn’t make me a nutcase. I think something bad happened, but I’m not about to blame it on the Bible, so you can relax. This whole mess reeks of biological warfare, and that’s no part of my God.”
“I was thinking about that too. Seems kinda weird that this disease—if it
a disease—just sprung up outta nowhere. I think it’s government—”
“Oh my sweet Lord,” Chesya whispered, stopping near the interstate. She pointed, and Rick followed her finger.
The road was covered in car wrecks and bodies, worse than the city streets because of the speed at which the vehicles had been traveling. A blackened swath of earth stretched back to the Greater Cincinnati Airport, the same airport that had greeted Rick when he had flown in from Florida a week earlier. The landscape around the airport was dotted with large dark forms, the wreckage of what appeared to be several planes that had crashed into the fields surrounding the runways. The bridge across the river was jammed with cars packed together so tightly nobody could walk between them.
“All those people,” she muttered.
“Nobody could still be alive in there,” he said, staring slack-jawed into the eye of the inferno, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the blaze.
“Hey, do you hear that?”
“What?” Rick asked, still stunned.
“I hear voices, from over there.”
She pointed north.
Rick strained his ears, listening. He could indeed hear voices, dim and far away.
“Come on,” he said, pulling Chesya forward by the hand. They raced up the hill, dodging sinkholes, corpses, and the spidery people in the shadows. The sound grew louder, until they had sprinted five blocks.
They could also hear a loud mechanical sound, and they headed east for another block. The noise issued from the Lone Wolf Café, a small diner and corner bar. This area didn’t seem to be as thoroughly ravaged as Sixth Street. Automobiles were parked in the street,
instead of crashed into each other. None had hopped the curb and been totaled along the sidewalk. No buildings seemed ready to fall on them, and the fire damage was minimal.
Pressing the door open, Rick heard the sounds grow louder, and he recognized the mechanical puttering. “It’s a generator,” he shouted, stepping into the café. Chesya followed cautiously. A bell announced their entry, tinkling softly over the sound of a man’s voice. She locked the door behind her.
“A television,” she said, taking a seat at the lunch counter.
Above the cooking area was a thirty-two-inch TV, and an announcer sat at the news desk of Channel Five. Rick scanned the room and saw nobody, so he cautiously moved down the aisle. The counter and stools were on his right-hand side, and booths lined the opposite flank near large, unbroken windows. The tinny voice of the news anchor followed him.
“The generator must be back this way,” he said, pushing aside a curtain at the end of the café. “Yeah, there’s a room back here. Looks like the owner has an apartment …”
He stopped suddenly, the sound of the generator very loud in his ears and the stench of burning gasoline filling his nostrils. On the floor before him lay a dead man, a gun in his hand, his legs twisted over each other, his brains decorating the white sofa behind him. A few feet away, slumped in a chair, was a middle-aged woman, the left side of her face missing where the man had shot her.
Fighting the urge to vomit, Rick backed out of the little apartment. He could almost taste the stifling death in the room.
Chesya had found her way around the counter and had opened a walk-in freezer.
“Hey,” she said. “You find the owners?”
“They’re dead.” He took a seat at the counter, turning his face toward the TV set. “Killed themselves rather than face each other in the daylight.”
“Oh, Rick, I’m sorry. You saw them?”
“. . . until further details arrive, we are trying to piece together what occurred last night …,” the talking head on the television said.
Chesya pulled food from the freezer: slices of ham, a carton of eggs, milk. Setting them on the counter, she turned on the grill. “I can make us some food as soon as this heats up. Are you hungry?”
He hadn’t thought about it, but he hadn’t eaten in nearly a day. As if on cue, his stomach rumbled. He nodded at her, still thinking about the owners, who had wanted to die before they saw anything else.
“Eggs and ham all right?”
“Yeah.” His voice seemed hollow, smaller, lacking all of the bravado he’d been managing to fake.
“You’ll feel a little better when you get something in your stomach,” she said, holding her hand over the warming grill. “That was always my mama’s philosophy. Then we can sit and think this out, watch the news, and see what’s actually going on out there.”
He nodded, hungry and salivating over the faint smell of food. Taking a stool at the counter, he placed his Glock next to the salt and pepper shakers, comforted a bit by its proximity. There were still, what, eight shots remaining in the clip?
Their eyes moved to the anchorman, who sat behind a desk, in a white shirt, circles of perspiration around his armpits and across his chest. He had not waited to have his hair or makeup completed, and he seemed waxy and pale under the studio lights.
SEPTEMBER 17, 10:45 A.M.
|Emergency Bulletin … Channel 5 News …|
|… alternating emergency shelters as added by authorities …|
|Good morning. Fred Mikelson, Channel Five News. Channel Five will continue its emergency coverage of what has been christened Lycanthrope Syndrome by authorities everywhere. News is still sparse, but we will strive to keep you informed of any new discoveries and relate any safety precautions you should take. On the banner below, you’ll find the names of hospitals or shelters where you can find medical attention, food, and clean water. You’ll have to excuse us. We’re working with a skeleton crew here at the station, but we will do everything we can to keep you informed.|
| ||To recap, as night fell yesterday, most of the human beings in the tricounty area mutated into werewolf-like creatures, leaving only a few|
people unchanged. There was no indication of what caused this sudden transformation in over ninety-five percent of the population, but it has resulted in terrible chaos and loss of life.
| ||It’s difficult to believe that this has happened, but we have exclusive Channel Five footage from a surveillance camera outside Fountain Square.|
(Cue footage—roll tape)
Black-and-white, shaky, silent footage shows heavy traffic in the streets stopping, several cars bumping into each other. One car veers wildly to the left, running over a couple holding hands and slamming into a wall. There is movement within the cars, shadowy and indistinct. A few doors open, and people stumble out of their automobiles, tearing at their clothes as more traffic piles up around them.
|As a warning to our viewers, some of this footage is shocking and graphic, and if small children are watching, we advise that you send them to another room. As you can plainly see, the transformation seems to have occurred in everyone at roughly the same time.|
A man falls on the hood of a car, ripping off his shirt, exposing his naked back. Odd shifts in his skeletal structure are clearly seen, as is the sprouting of thick fur along his bare skin. He seems to be struggling with the transformation, shuddering as though caught in an epileptic fit.