Authors: Edward Crae
“Thanks,” Dan said.
“Thank you, boss. Have a good one.”
Dan turned to leave just as the Indian guy yelled at the kid again. He stopped.
“Hey, buddy. Make up your mind and get the fuck out.”
Dan curled his lip in a crooked smile, waiting for the kid to retaliate. He didn’t. The kid turned, instead, and raised his head. Dan backed away when he saw the kid’s face. He was pale and deathly, almost green around the gills, as the expression goes. He stumbled forward, looking like he was going to speak, but blew chunks on the floor instead.
“Goddamnit!” the Indian guy cursed. “Get the fuck out of my store!”
He ran around the counter to grab the kid by the jacket, shoving him toward the door. The kid continued retching as Dan stepped out of the way. Then, the kid went wild. He screamed, thrashing his arms around, growling like a madman. One of his fists smashed the Indian guy in the face, and he broke free, turning to attack again.
As the Indian guy backed away, Dan grabbed a nearby bottle of wine—a nice, heavy one—and smashed it over the kid’s head. The kid turned, his eyes ablaze, and charged him. Dan kicked him in the gut, causing the kid to double over and puke again. After spilling his guts, he pushed through the door and disappeared outside.
“Jesus Christ!” Dan shouted.
“Thank you, boss. I’ll call the cops. Please get the fuck out so I can lock the door. Have a good day.”
Dan nodded and went out the door, looking from side to side for the renegade puker. He was nowhere in sight. Thank God. Dan got back in his car, fumbling for his keys. His hands were shaking again. Maybe it was the withdrawal, or maybe it was fear. Who knows?
Jerry was waiting.
Jerry and his fat, ugly wife lived in a shithole. They were stereotypical white trash, with a shit house, but nice TVs and a kickass stereo. Jerry was waiting for him at the door when he walked up.
“Jesus, man,” Jerry said, his face pale and pukey. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Dan replied. “Some guy at the liquor store lost his cookies on the floor. The clerk about shit his pants in the name of Shiva.”
Jerry chuckled, knowing exactly what clerk he was talking about. “That guy’s hilarious,” he said, holding the door open.
Jerry’s house was somewhat clean for once. There was much less dog shit on the floor than usual, and the familiar smell of rotting garbage was gone. Must be garbage day. Dan handed Jerry the rolling papers.
“Ah, bless you, sir,” he said, plopping down on the couch.
Dan sat down at the other—reluctantly. You never know what you were going to sit on at Jerry’s house. Jerry pulled out a fancy wooden tray covered with weed and began rolling a joint.
“Where’s Tracy?” Dan asked.
“Why? You wanna fuck her?”
Dan laughed. “No thanks. Just curious.”
Jerry shook his head. “She’s in the sack. Not feelin’ well, either. But she’s a pussy. Fuck her and her weak stomach. Hey, grab me a beer, would ya?”
“Yeah,” Dan said, going to the kitchen.
“Grab yourself one, too.”
The fridge was filthy. There were bowls of unidentifiable crap on every shelf, dried and stinking. There was little else to eat—not that he would want to eat anything at Jerry’s house anyway. There was a twelve pack of Natural Light on the top shelf. Dan grabbed a couple of cans and slammed the creaking door shut.
Jerry was done rolling by the time Dan returned, and was lighting his spleef. He puffed on it, took a big hit, and handed it to Dan, who shook his head.
“You still a pussy?” Jerry coughed. “Fuckin’ homo.”
Dan reached into his pocket, handing Jerry the change from the store. He counted it quickly and stuffed it in his pocket, reaching over to the drawer in the end table. After shuffling around, he handed Dan a handful of pills. Eight Vicodin and two smaller, gray pills.
“What are these?” he asked.
“Hydroxone, I think,” Jerry said. “It’s like Morphine or somethin’. Try ‘em and let me know what you think.”
“Sweet,” Dan said.
Jerry took another hit, and stamped out the joint in the ashtray. He cracked open the beer and took a huge swig, killing it. “Get me another one,” he said.
Dan chuckled, killing his own beer and going back into the kitchen. Jerry and Tracy’s bedroom was just off the kitchen, near the fridge. The door was cracked a few inches, and Dan could hear Tracy groaning. He peeked through the crack with one hand pulling the fridge open. Tracy was there on the edge of the bed, swaying and groaning. He grunted, pulling out the entire twelve pack, and went back into the living room.
“Is she okay?” Dan asked.
Jerry shrugged. “Who cares? Bitch’s got me all messed up. She’s fuckin’ crazy anyway. Fuck her.”
Dan said nothing, but sat down on the couch again, handing Jerry another beer and cracking one open for himself.
“What’s up with that fog?” Jerry asked. “Did you see it?”
“Yeah,” Dan said. “It’s fuckin’ weird. What do you think it is?”
Jerry laughed. “Do I look like fucking Al Roker?”
“A jolly black dude?” Dan joked. “Not really.”
Jerry shrugged. “Well, two out of three anyway.”
“The streets are kinda empty,” Dan added. “And there a bunch of cars stranded on 37.”
Jerry grunted, giving him a strange look. “Even more than usual?”
“Hmmmm,” Jerry said. “Listen, man. I’m feelin’ pretty shitty. You can have the rest of the beer. I need to crash for a while.”
“Cool. Thanks man.”
Jerry nodded wordlessly. Dan stood, dragging the six beers with him. He looked at Jerry for a minute, noticing the same froggy look the kid in the store had. He looked like shit; even more so than he usually did.
“You alright, man?” he asked.
Jerry nodded again, his eyes closed and drooping. “Yeah. I’ll catch ya later.”
Dan left, his mind racing.
What the fuck is going on?
Everybody was sick. Everybody but him, that is. But he got what he came for, and then some. Time to go home and veg out with some online games, beers, and a couple pills.
Ah, the good life.
The mist was getting thicker, Dan noticed. It was a brighter orange than it was before, and it was looking almost opaque, so much so that it was hard to see through. He turned on his lights, but saw that they just made things even worse. It was like a freakin’ tooty fruity snowstorm.
He drove slowly, keeping his eyes on the parked cars on the side of the road. Among them, there were people pushing their way through, waving their hands out in front of them as if they were swimming. Some of them, however, were stumbling around. They didn’t seem to care where they were going, only that they got there.
Dan switched the stereo on, ejecting the CD and pushing the FM button.
“…possibly caused by dust from nearby soy processing plants in neighboring states. Meteorologists say there is nothing to worry about, but we will keep you posted.”
“Soy dust, my ass,” Dan said as a commercial for a local mattress store assaulted his ears.
The salesman rattled on about how crazy he was for lowering his prices. Apparently there was a sale on Sunday, Sunday, Sunday, and Crazy Joe was even crazier than usual. But as the commercial ended, and another began, the radio went blank.
Nothing but static.
He sat at the red light, watching the shadowy forms of pedestrians moving around him. He wondered why, suddenly, there were more people on the street, and why they were stumbling around like a bunch of drunken losers.
Drunken losers, Dan thought. Just like me.
He reached for a beer, and fished the handful of pills from his pocket. He popped a Vicodin and washed it down. It looked like it might take a while to get out of town, and he was itching for a buzz. The Vicodin didn’t last long anyway. He might try one of the other pills later on, when it wore off.
His phone buzzed, and the text message chime went off. He reached for it, glaring at the screen and navigating to the messaging app. It was a text from Jerry.
Hey, asshole. Where’s my fkn beer?
Dan laughed. What a loser. He typed out a response, thought better of it, and switched off his phone, tossing it on the seat next to him.
“Come on, light,” he said, realizing that the red light still glared at him. “What the fuck?”
Dan was jolted as something slammed into the driver’s side window. He turned in shock, seeing a strangely hostile man pounding on the glass. His eyes were glazed, and his mouth was dripping with vomit. Dan stepped on the gas. Fuck the red light.
“Jesus Christ,” he said to himself, just as another person appeared out of the fog ahead of him.
He slammed on the brakes, skidding to a screeching halt. The pedestrian, the same woman with the giant tits, looked at him with a blank stare, turning to stagger in his direction.
The man who had slammed into his window was back, beating his head against the rear windshield. Dan throttled the gas again, narrowly missing
as he screeched ahead. This time, he kept his foot on the gas, speeding toward the intersection that led back to 37.
He didn’t bother stopping at the light. He swerved around the staggering idiots, honking his horn as he passed. He saw them turn in his direction as he looked in the rear view mirror.
he cursed as a pedestrian tumbled over his hood.
His ramming victim pressed his face against the windshield, his eyes wild and feral, and his tongue licking the glass. Dan slammed on the brakes, sending the stranger into the fog as the momentum broke him loose. Dan stepped on the gas, screeching around the corner onto 37. He heard and felt his tires roll over the man he had hit, but he didn’t look back.
His heart pounded as a massive panic attack came on. He was breathing heavily in shock. The world around him seemed to spin in some weird orange spiral. But he kept his eyes on the road, focusing on his surroundings. He ran every red light on the way, even the intersection at 46. There was no stopping now.
He raced out of town, ignoring everything around him, desperate to escape whatever George Romero nightmare he was living. He cracked open another beer, never taking his eyes off the road. The trees and shadowy fog raced by him as he sped north. His foot pressed harder on the gas, bringing him to nearly one hundred miles per hour.
He didn’t care.
Another text came through, but he ignored it. He had to get home. He had to get to safety; away from this nightmare and back to reality, whatever that was.
Ahead, a convoy of military vehicles was coming his way on the other side of the highway. There were five of them, heading south with a little bit too much enthusiasm. There were a few more ahead, on his side, and he switched lanes to pass them.
Then a group of men appeared from the fog ahead, right in his path. He slammed on the brakes, skidding to a stop as two soldiers, armed and hostile, mobbed his car. The one on the driver’s side pointed an M4A1 rifle right at his face.
“Roll down your window!” the soldier demanded.
Dan hesitated. Not that the glass would protect him from a 5.56 round in the face, but he was too afraid to comply.
the soldier shouted.
Dan scrambled to turn the crank. The soldier grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head out the window. Another shined a black light in his eyes, glaring at him with what seemed like a look of horror combined with rage. After a few seconds, the soldier let go, and the first soldier, still pointing his rifle at Dan’s face, spoke again.
“Where are you going?” he demanded.
“I’m just going home,” Dan stuttered.
“Where do you live?”
“Uh, just down the road, off 37.”
The soldier sniffed. “You been drinking, sir?”
“Fuck yes,” Dan answered immediately. “Wouldn’t you?”
The soldier hesitated briefly, lowering his weapon. “Do you have any weapons?”
“On me? No.”
“Yeah,” Dan said. “A few.”
The soldier stood straight, perching his rifle on his shoulder. “Move along,” he said. “Get home and stay there. Lock your doors and don’t talk to anyone, not even your neighbors.”
“What the fuck is going on?” Dan asked.
“Move along, sir. Be careful.”
Dan heard gun shots nearby. He looked in their direction, seeing some soldiers firing at shadowy figures in the distance. Dan’s eyes widened with horror.
“Move along, sir,” the soldier repeated, pointing his rifle at Dan’s face again.
Dan put the car in drive and sped away, his heart pounding.
“What the fuck?”
Dan slammed the front door shut, knocking several pictures off the wall. He dropped the remaining beers on the couch and raced to his bedroom. The old .308 his dad had given him was there, dusty and probably empty. He pulled it out, and then reached for the ammo box that sat next to it. The box was full, thank God, and Dan grabbed them both.
He went back to the living room, tossed the rifle and ammo box on the couch, and reached up over the fireplace for his shotgun. Remington 870. Chock full of
wrong house, mother fucker
. He ran to the window, drawing the shades down low enough to hide behind, and pulled a chair in front of it. He grabbed his rifle, the ammo box, and a beer, and sat himself at the window.
He glared out, his heart still pounding, and his eyes darting around for any movement. The fog was not so thick here, but it was still here. Across the street, Steve’s house was shrouded in orange, but there was no one outside. Everything was dead quiet, and only the sound of Dan’s heavy breathing broke the silence.
“What the fuck?” he repeated. “What. The. Fuck.”
With shaking hands, Dan loaded up the .308. It was old, but still functional. He admired the
logo as he slid the bolt closed, and laid the rifle across his lap. He checked the shotgun. It was fully loaded with plenty of rounds to spare.
After a few minutes, his breathing slowed, and his heartbeat settled back down to human speed. He was safe, for the moment. He cracked open a beer, chugged it, and crushed the can in his hand, tossing it behind him. He turned his eyes back to Steve’s house, checking the windows. He thought of Steve sitting at his window with a rifle, shotgun, and a couple beers, just like him. But Steve was somewhat of an optimist when it came to reality. He would never believe for a second that the world could go to shit. That only happened in the movies.
But there was one thing Dan could admit; there wouldn’t be hordes of crazy people out roaming the streets here. It was just too far into the boonies. That’s why Dan’s dad had bought this house to begin with. It was a quiet, gravel lane in the middle of nowhere, with few houses along its hilly, winding length. Steve was the only neighbor close by. Sure, there were a few others down the road, but they were at least a mile away.
He was pretty isolated. That was a good thing.
“Are you home, Steve?” he whispered. “Do you have any beer?”
He didn’t have Steve’s phone number. They weren’t even friends, really. The most socializing they had ever done is wave at each other as Steve rode around on his mower. Maybe a friendly word here and there as they checked their mail. Nothing major. He knew almost nothing about the guy, only that, like Dan, he was single. Possibly gay. Who knows?
Dan thought perhaps he should go check things out. Maybe Steve was asleep, or away. Or maybe he was dead. He should check. Setting the rifle down, he grabbed the shotgun and went to the door. The shotgun would be better, he thought. Better for close encounters, and not of the
It smelled musty outside. It was like a combination of mold and dog shit, with a pinch of vomit thrown in. It was familiar, like something he had scrubbed out of his hot tub after a long winter of neglect.
“Fuckin’ gross,” he said, locking his front door.
As he plodded across the street, the fog swirled around him like ghostly hands reaching out to grab him or push him along. He could almost feel it touching him, and it gave him the creeps. It was quiet as hell. He couldn’t even hear the distant sound of trucks on the highway. It was Monday, only a little after rush hour, so there should be some traffic. But, he figured, everything was pretty shitty right now, no reason for a Monday drive.
He made his way up the gravel driveway as quietly as possible, keeping his eyes open for anything that would pop out and scare the shit out of him. Steve didn’t have any dogs that he knew of. A couple cats, he thought, but no ankle biters. The crunching sound of his footsteps sounded like nuclear bombs in the silence. If there were any dogs around, they would surely bark it up.
Steve’s house appeared empty. The lights were off on the inside, and the front door was closed. Steve usually left the big door open, leaving only the screen door between him and the universe. But there was a gentle creaking around back, where the tool shed faced the back door. He saw that the screen door was hanging open, slowly moving in the almost non-existent breeze.
He stopped, peering into the fog. “Steve,” he whispered. “Are ya here, buddy?”
He continued on, passing around the corner. The shed door was closed and locked. The screen door creaked back into a closed position, tapping its frame gently. Dan crept toward it, his shotgun gripped like all hell in his shaking hands. He reached out to slide his fingers into the door’s gap, slowly pulling it open as he moved directly in front of it.
It was dark inside. Steve was one of those guys who always had every light in the house on. He didn’t give a shit about the bills. The asshole was some kind of consultant, and made shit tons of money without ever leaving the house.
The kitchen was clean; spotless, even. There were no dirty dishes in the sink, only a glass near the faucet. Probably for taking his morning “fuck you and your 9 to 5 job” pills. The floor, an offensive collage of broken tiles arranged in some Martha Stewart craziness, was spotless, too. Again, there was that smell.
“Steve,” he whispered again, a little louder this time. “Come on, you big gay bastard.”
He stopped, craning his ear into the silence. He could swear he heard breathing, but maybe it was his own. He held his breath for a moment. Nothing. Maybe it
his own. He crept toward the open archway that led into the living area. As he passed through it, he saw a handprint on the narrow jamb. It was a smeared print, as if something was covering the hand that made it. He wasn’t sure why, but he leaned in to sniff it.
It smelled like vomit.
He suddenly pictured the college kid at Haji Mart puking on the floor. “Shit,” he muttered.
The living room was an open concept layout. The doors to the other rooms all opened into it. There were three of them. Two bedrooms and a bathroom? Maybe.
The first door was open halfway. Dan peered through it, seeing a desk with a computer much better than his; perfectly arranged and spotless. The screen saver was a generic star field animation. He pushed the door open a little more, pointing his shotgun inside. On the other side of the room was a table with a printer, a filing cabinet, and—oh Jesus—some kind of treadmill.