In the end all there was left to do was sit and watch. Most people had given up before the end even started. When the bombs started hitting, people just sighed as if they’d been waiting for it all along and many probably were. The last few months of the world as we know it just melted away under the personal sorrow of it all. The bombs were dirty, people started getting sick almost immediately. It was a long hard illness, quick to incapacitate, but slow to kill. For its purpose the disease worked effectively, making our military power insignificant, then the war started, but by then few were left to fight. Illnesses aren’t fans of nationalism, they hitch rides on planes and immigrate to different places, they aren’t picky. They don’t just want to kill Americans; they find others just as tasty. A few people became zombies. They reacted badly to the illness, losing all higher brain function and turning into wild animals... aggressive wild animals. It’s not all understood, there weren't enough scientists and doctors left to study the disease by then. Within three months the majority people were dead, or dead for the most part. A few wandered as the zombies, eating anything that moved. Of course some people were naturally immune, not many though. Many of them took their own lives, or others took care of their lives for them, some were eaten by the should be dead, and many sat in their homes, barricaded. Waiting for some sort of imaginary help.
Eight people met in the deserts of California. It was suffocatingly hot, but well away from the stench of the rotting city. None of them knew how the others came to be there, but they could all guess that their stories had a similar player.
A pretty brunette leans against a van, she sighs and looks at the piece of technology in her hand. A radar, if you were to look closely at the machine it would outline the former United States, on it are blips. As she watches, one of the blips disappears.
"Another one down" she states.
The others sigh and start to get in the van, the brunette climbs into the driver’s seat. The last one in is just a boy really, he wouldn’t consider himself one though, especially after surviving the past few months. He looks around warily before he gets in the passenger seat, but sees nothing but white hot sun bouncing off sand.
In the van the air conditioner is going full blast. It’s one of the few luxury’s left, and the people in the van are thankful. Five boys, three girls. The youngest just turned 18 and the oldest is 40, they are all able bodied. "Fresno California" says the brunette, and starts driving. In the second row sits the oldest of the group, Adrian. His carroty red hair is falling over his eyes, he shudders at the mention of Fresno. It is the last place he wants to go. "Does it have to be Fresno Elizabeth, really?" his voice is pleading.
The rest of the passengers understand his hesitation. They assume that some sort of trauma befell him there. Everyone in the van has their own demons, and they aren’t about to ask about his. They all sit back for the six hour drive. Not many cars are left on the roads even in the city.
Out here in the aptly named Death Valley no cars are in sight. Just bleached sand and silence. No one tries to make small talk. They know each other’s names, but not much else, they had only met the night before. They had camped in the desert; no one asked questions. At this point most of them were just glad to see people who were alive and sane.
Six hours later they are up 41 into Fresno.
Adrian avoids looking out the windows, but memories creep up on him anyway. Flames and screams, the things that fill all of his dreams." I guess I just follow the blip". Elizabeth is confused, frustrated, full of despair. This amazing radar doesn’t give verbal step by step directions, but it has gotten them here just the same. She doesn’t understand the machine, and it scares her.
Just as Adrian fears she turns left on Clinton Ave. Don’t let her turn right on Glenn he thinks to himself, please. A right on Glenn. Another fear realized. Left on east brown, he sees his old home, or what’s left of it. Elizabeth stops the van. They all get out, even Adrian, although his mind wants him to refuse. In front of the house is a man, a familiar man. The one who sent Adrian to the others. He’s a good looking guy, but average, forgettable, he leans against a blackened wall with his arms crossed, he seems at ease in his concert tee.
“All of you have suffered some horror, something that you barely survived. That’s why you are still alive through all of this. I want you to get to know each other", and with that the world began to shimmer.
The group already knows that the man is sadistic, and probably not a man at all. Adrian believes that he is a demon, perhaps the devil himself, but it’s not like God had come to their aid. Given that information he listened with an open mind.
With no warning they all fell, not their bodies, some part of them went to a warm southern California day. It was like being a ghost. They could all see the duplex, not yet burned. Without talking they walked through the front door. "Nifty" says a handsome blond man, looking at his translucent hands. Adrian isn’t a ghost like the rest of them, no he is himself on that day. He is sitting lazily on his couch, knowing he should be cleaning but enjoying his only day off of the week. The doorbell rings. Adrian is angry that his sons won’t answer it. They are too busy being lazy. The landlord starts berating him about his lawn the second he opens the door. He sends him away by promising to mow it immediately. He’s had enough of the twins laziness. He works his ass off to give them everything, and they just don’t care. He storms down the hall to their room. The group follows him in ghostly form. They can all sense that something bad is coming, but they can’t stop it or look away. Well, they could look away, but humans seldom close their eyes to tragedy, instead they hunger for it.
Adrian shoves open the door to their room without knocking, they both look up at him. Kevin, whose bed is farthest from the door is watching TV, remote in hand. Kyle is on the phone, grinning stupidly, it must be a girl. At 15 the boys are a little small for their age, their mother was a small woman, and Adrian is on the short side too. They have their mom’s looks, dark hair, brown eyes, and olive skin. They have delicate features for boys, but they never had trouble finding girls.
"Geez Dad, what’s the problem" Kyle says with his hand over the receiver.
“The problem is that I said that one of you two needed to mow the yard 2 weeks ago and neither of you did it."
Adrian can feel his temper rising, but he can do nothing to stop himself.
"Which one of you is going to do it now, and I mean NOW"
The twins glanced at each other, and a glint of rebellion shined in their eyes.
"It’s not like you're busy Dad" Kevin says
"Yeah, we are busy, you do it" Kyle echoes.
Adrian remembers hating them a little right then, just a little, but he will never forgive himself. They were both kind boys, but 15 is always an obnoxious age.
"Fine, 2 weeks in your room, both of you" Adrian is tired of working 60 hours a week for these ingrates.
"Whatever Dad, have fun mowing"
"Yeah, don’t forget your sunscreen" remarks Kyle.
Adrian is screaming at himself, don’t leave, make them do it. Tell them they have to. Don’t give in. He walks to the back door and goes to the shed. He remembers the smell of the air that day, a strange smell, gasoline and something sharp, he couldn’t tell so he blew it off. While he is pulling the mower out of the shed he realizes that he did forget the sunscreen. His pale skin is prone to blister, but his pride won’t let him go get it. He decides to keep his shirt on despite the heat. When his wife had died 6 years ago he had promised himself that he would be a good father, the best, but he always seemed to let the twins have their way.
He was deep in thought when the explosion knocked him backwards. His head hit the ground and bounced. He couldn’t feel the physical pain as a passenger of his own brain, but he definitely felt the emotional pain. My house exploded, his shocked self finally registered that it wasn’t his house, no it was the duplex next to his, next to the twins room.
The others already want out of this memory, they don’t want to see the next part, but some unknown force makes them follow and watch.
Adrian picks himself up and rushes through the door as neighbors come out to watch. Inside the house it smells like smoke, but that other smell is there too, like the inside of a closed shed, gasoline and an acrid stench. He gags and tries to ignore the sickly smell. He can hear surreal screams as he approaches the twins room, part of him wants to run away. Hurry! He urges himself, maybe we can change it. Adrian knows better.
The doorknob blisters his hand as he turns it, but he feels no pain. The room is on fire, the screams are louder and more desperate. He finds both the boys crumpled against the smoldering wall across from their beds. He rips off the shirt he is now thankful to have and smothers the flames on Kyle. To his horror his shirt sticks to Kyle’s skin, and he only screams louder. He leaves Kyle in a panic to smother the flames engulfing Kevin. He uses the comforter on the floor to chase away the flames. Kevin is silent on the floor, the melted remote still in his hand. His skin is blackened. His eyes are open in a grotesque stare, the usually bright color milky, dead. Adrian rushes back to Kyle and carries him out of the house. The boy’s screams are heart wrenching, and even the hardest of the group cries. The sirens are still far away when Adrian lays the now silent Kyle on the half-mowed lawn. Neighbors who have come to help gasp at the sight of his burned baby. Adrian starts CPR on Kyle, but succeeds only in tearing his burned skin. Clear fluid leaks from the torn skin on his arms. As he lays on the ground next to Kyle he realizes that he is badly burned. He catches snippets of conversation as the paramedics finally arrive.
"It was a meth lab I think". The paramedic says,
"Where’s the other boy?" That was the nice lady neighbor across the street, she is sobbing.
"This guy is burned pretty bad, the boy is dead." The medic sounds shook up, his partner has been silent.
In the ambulance Adrian thankfully loses consciousness. The group watches the next few days like a tape in fast forward. Cleanings and rehab for the 2nd and 3rd degree burns all over Adrian’s chest and down his forearms and hands. The nurses think he is a hero, even though in the end he saved no one. He only needed one minor reconstructive surgery. He didn’t get to attend the funeral. The week before he was set to leave the hospital the world began its ending. Adrian found himself reveling in the end, but when he didn’t die his despair came back. He left the empty hospital 3 days later and went home. His kind neighbor lady took him in, her name was Kelly. She had liked him for a long time, and she offered him comfort, but he just couldn’t bring himself to sleep with her. She got sick about a month and a half after he moved in. He shot her a week later when he caught her eating her dog. He traveled for the next month until he met the man who would bring them together. He was standing next to a speed limit sign on the I-5. Adrian hadn’t seen anyone normal in about 3 weeks, so he stopped. The man in a Stones tee directed him to Death Valley. He said Adrian would find other people. He resisted for a while, but a week later he went. He camped there a week before the others arrived.
Now only 5 months since the death of his children he was forced to relive it with an audience. He doesn’t know how to feel.
Soon the group wakes up in the front yard, once again the house is just a burned out shell.
Yes, the man must be the devil himself.