Authors: Donna Burgess
Notes from the End of the World
Published by E-Volve Books
Copyright ©2014 Donna Burgess
Cover illustration copyright © 2014 Donna Burgess
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Notes from the End of the World (a Novel)
My name is Cindy Scott. I’m sixteen years old and I’m going to tell you how the world ends.
Maybe I’m stupid for running, but what have I been doing for the last nine months, anyway? Running. I
to run. It’s the last thing I have left of my old life. Everything else has been taken—my parents, my friends, my school. My future.
It's warmer now, and my breaths come hot and damp. I found Dad's iPod in his office and now Springsteen blasts into my ears. I wouldn't have listened to Bruce before, but I do now because it reminds me of Dad and Mom. I’d better enjoy it. The battery is showing low.
Sometimes I wonder what happened to Bruce. And Zac Effron and the incredibly hot guy from
. Are they dead? Are they …changed? Are they running around a doomed neighborhood pretending life is still normal, too?
Common logic indicates that I need to be able to hear them coming. Shamblers are slow, but they can be surprising. Especially when they move in droves. But I know them by their smell. Death has this distinctive stink. It floats up like rancid garbage. It smells…feverish. And no matter how much I smell it, I never grow used to it.
During the brief hours when the Internet and electricity is on, Nick and I printed out a map of Sawgrass Flats from Google earth, and traced out running route. We then determined where we could strategically place weapons. Just in case.
Behind Mr. Law's house, we left a pair of hedge trimmers. A block over, we stood a short, sharp spade next to Mrs. Billings' garage. Another block farther along, we left one of my softball bats behind the rose bushes at Mr. David's and Mr. Howard's elegant cottage. David was meticulous over those roses. There’s nothing left but a tangle of thorny vines now. I’d heard that David had to kill Howard. After that, he vanished. I assumed he killed himself, too. He always said he couldn’t get along without Howard.
I’m quick enough to sprint between weapons, if necessary. I haven’t had to yet, but luck has this dumb way of running out, doesn’t it?
The morning sun is bright and dew glistens like shards of glass on forgotten lawns. A little dog peers at me from behind a thick oak tree. He trots along with me, keeping up but staying back, timid of humans now. When I turn, he darts away.
Farther ahead, I step over the remains of another little pooch that’s been dead for over a week. Every time I run, my eyes are drawn to it. Maybe on a subconscious level, I’m trying to see how it changes, how decay really works. It’s an amazing thing, really, rot. Does it work its way in from the outside or is it the other way around?
How I’ve always loved my neighborhood. It’s the only place I’ve ever known. The only place I’ve ever lived. I love the big oak trees that line the curving roads. Kids at school used to say I live in a "richy" neighborhood. Maybe so, but it no longer matters. Who’s rich now? The ones who have food? The ones who still have someone to love and to love them back?
The people in the Flats were like family, seeing each other every day, coming and going. A wave or a nod or a quick chat about school or track or soccer. The houses are nothing but caves now. Big, empty, brick caves. Normally, everyone would’ve had the lawns decorated for Halloween. Neat Halloween trees and Jack-o-lanterns. Mr. Graves (of all people) would’ve set up a mock cemetery in his front yard, complete with Styrofoam tombstones, creepy gauze cobwebs hanging from the trees and a couple of hands plunging upward from the earth.
By Halloween last year, the N-Virus was beginning to wrap its stinking fingers around the heart of Palm Dale. Mr. Graves had decorated anyway, but later at the community Christmas pow-wow, he mentioned how he regretted it. Mrs. Graves had turned by January and went to the Pastures soon after.
I pass the Jensen's place—the prettiest home in the Flats. Like many of the other homes, their front door sports a messy red spray-painted “CLEARED.” The windows above the porch are broken out. Someone else must be around, lying low. Maybe watching me as I pass. Switching off my music, I jog along, even more watchful now, because sometimes the living are worse than the dead. Guardsmen, police, soldiers and scavengers are a rare sight lately, but still, it’s best to take no chances. People you could trust a year ago are the ones you now have to avoid at all costs. They’re the ones with the guns, so they’re the ones with the power.
I stop, bend at the waist and suck clean, cool air. Another. And here it is—that smell. That stink I’ve come to know so well.
Straighten up, I slowly turn and look around. To the right, I spot the Shambler. He might’ve been somewhere around middle-aged, if he’d lived. He’s wearing stained pajama pants, no shirt and no shoes. His gray hair sticks out from his head like a frizzy halo. The bones of his chest glint through the rotten, moss-colored tatters of flesh.
I learned quickly I could determine how long a Shambler’s been a Shambler by the size of its smile. The dead have these perpetual smiles created by the lack of lips. Lips are the first things to go after the virus takes hold. The hunger grows so strong, they just eat them off.
I’ve seen it firsthand, that nightmarish, desperate hunger.
I dart to the left and double back toward the Jensen’s place. Despite the lack of decent food, I’m quick. But the Shamblers are quick, too, and this one is on me in an instant, the stink of his breath wafting up from behind. He grabs my ponytail, but his grip is no good because the pads of his fingers are gone. I slip away as his teeth click together loudly, a near miss at the side of my throat.
I’d left a short-handled pickaxe near the Jensen’s back patio, but it’s so far away. But I need to get there before Mr. Pajama Pants has me for lunch.
I leap over the little garden wagon, turn and shove it back toward the Shambler. He stumbles, growling loudly, but it only slows him down a step, maybe not even that.
“Shit,” I mutter. The pickaxe is there, ten feet away, but suddenly I’m like some dumbass chick from a horror movie and I fall on my face. Mr. Pajama Pants takes advantage of this and snatches at my flailing leg. Rolling over, I kick straight out, connecting with what was left of his face. It’s like kicking a cardboard box; there’s no weight there, nothing of substance. But the kick is good enough. As I mentioned, I was a soccer player before the end of the world and my kicks aren’t weak.
The Shambler’s head flies back, his neck cracking audibly. I might’ve cringed, but I’ve heard worse in the past year.
Either way, it gives me the time I need to get to that pickaxe.
I grab it up and spin back toward my friendly neighborhood Shambler. Steeling myself (isn’t that a comic book line), I raise the pickaxe, ready.
Mr. Pajama Pants lunges at me, his stupid mouth wide open, his teeth looking huge without lips to frame them. I wait for the exact instant and then plunge the pointed blade of the axe forward. It sinks into his eye—all the way in. The eyeball pops like an old tomato and splatters on my face and hands. I shove it harder and he stops moving altogether. The smell of rancid blood fills my nostrils and I turn my face away, searching for a clean breath.
If you’ve seen pretty much any zombie movie, you know you need to aim for the head. The brain has to be destroyed. That’s rule number one. If you can’t remember that one, you’re not going to get very far.
Pajama Pants thrusts his arms at me one last time and then sinks to his knees. He’s done and I’m done with him. I let go of the axe and plant my foot in his chest, shoving him backwards. Then I step over him, plug my earbuds back into my ears, and start running again. Nick’s usually with me, so of course, the day he’s not is the day I get a visit from a Shambler. Maybe it’ll be best to keep it to myself.