Cover Image for Rotting Apples: Chapter 3 - One Bad Apple

You know, for him to be the next in line for the title of ‘man of the house’, my brother Brett was certainly being a total bitch about the bite in his neck.

Don’t get me wrong, it looked like it hurt…a LOT! But I can’t help but to feel that it serves him right. Sorry, but it’s true. After all the lunk-headed sexist bullshit he’s spewed out of his mouth within the walls of this household about bitches not being worth more than a few orgasms each and only being nice to them so he could get some pussy…I was GLAD that some girl came along and made a ‘pussy’ out of him for a change.

Sure, his hyper level Testosterone would somehow meld with my dad’s and they’d find a way to mysteriously ‘bond’ over this whole sick ordeal…a bond that I was never invited to be a part of on a count that I was…different…but for now? I’m GLAD he’s hurting. I’m happy to hear his helpless whimpers of agony from behind that bedroom door. Good. GOOD! Now he knows what it’s like to suffer all alone, forced to embrace a pain that NOBODY can take away from him, no matter how macho he appears to be.

For once, all of that muscle and arrogant confidence has been put in its proper place. A place where it simply doesn’t do him any good at all. The same place where I’ve been shoving my brains and emotions since Mom went away.

Brett moaned and groaned, shivering and shaking and acting like he was on the verge of actually having his heart stop. God! What a baby! I went to my room and shut the door, turning my music up as my father tried to tend to him. He even set a half full glass of Jim Beam next to Brett’s bed, hoping that the alcohol could somehow take a bit of the edge off and help him deal with the pain of having an entire mouthful of flesh, muscle, and fat, torn right out of the side of his neck as if it was cotton candy. Let him suffer. Who cares? I offered to drive my brother to the hospital myself, and my father scoffed at me and told me we didn’t have the money for that shit. So why should I even bother to offer my help anymore? I’ve got other things to worry about. Better things than listening to him whine and complain for the rest of the night.

I put my headphones on and played some music.

Nothing too upbeat, but energetic enough to tune out the noise going on in rest of the house. It was a lame substitute for actual peace and quiet…but it was better than the alternative. Fighting cockroaches for the last scraps of garbage in the fridge while trying to watch a few minutes worth of TV before my dad takes the remote away and goes looking for another fifteen hour binge of sports followed by people talking about the sports that just ended. I swear, it’s the only thing he cares about. I doubt he’d even care about Brett as much as he does if it wasn’t for high school football. Whatever. A little music is all I need. Which is a good thing…because it’s really all I have.

I forget why I kept a picture of my mother next to my bed. It’s not in a frame or anything. Just a single pic that was printed out in physical form. It was taken when I was barely 13 years old and we were standing together, arm in arm…out by Lake Michigan during the Taste of Chicago. Why did I look so happy in that picture? What was it that existed behind the gleaming eyes of the teen boy in this picture…that had somehow vanished over the last four years? It was gone. Dead. I look at the photo now and it seems so foreign to me that I barely feel any connection to it at all. It might as well be a cheerful ‘Back To School’ ad in the Sunday paper. Who is that kid? And somebody please remind me why I should care.

I lay back on my mattress and close my eyes. A warm buzz washing over me as I think back to Stephen’s awkwardness as he tried to get out of my car. Why did that have such a profound effect on me. He was a stuttering idiot the whole time. Stupid blushes and dumb giggles. Was that supposed to be cute? Endearing? Was I supposed to care? I felt a little tingle of…whatever the hell that was that I felt! But so what? It wasn’t love. It was another trick. You make friends, you have sex, you start letting your brain fool you into thinking that people care about you. That they won’t abandon you at the drop of a hat. You start allowing yourself to actually believe that life owes you anything more than oxygen and a steady heartbeat. And even THAT shit is temporary! It all goes away in the end. All of it. You lose it and feel stupid for ever cherishing something so stupid in the first place.

I’m just…I’m done being a sucker. That’s all. The further I keep people away from me, the better. That includes Stephen and his adorable antics and tenderhearted comments.

I could feel the wall in my bedroom vibrating as my brother began knocking against it. It was harder than usual, but I figured he was just doing it to annoy me. He does that sometimes. Fuck him.

“SHUT UP!!! Fuck off!!!” I screamed, pounding back on the wall, hoping he’d get the message. Then I turned my music up as loud as the volume would allow…and I tried my best to doze off to sleep. Even with lingering thoughts of Stephen in my mind.

He likes me a lot. That’s what he said. He just…fuck, he ruined the whole effect of having a neighborhood boy around to suck me off whenever I got hot for some boyish attention. What the hell am I going to do now? If I let him get to me, I’m going to turn into a full blown faggot. I can’t have that. Not in this town. Not in this family. That’s a death sentence just waiting to happen. The best I could hope for is the torture of lifelong humiliation. Doesn’t seem like much of a consolation prize, does it?

So I put his soft blond hair, his bright eyes, his flawless skin, and the sweetness of his young breath, out of my mind. It made me hard to think about him, but jacking off would only make it worse. My thoughts would automatically glide over to visions of holding his naked body close to me, kissing him, snuggling him…making it more than just ‘sex’.

I was ashamed. And that shame made me angry. Angry at HIM for forcing me to go through this. Enough is enough. I’ll see him tomorrow, get one last ‘splatterfest’ out of those expert tongue and lips of his…and then tell him that we need a break. Maybe even a long break. actually, it would be easier if we just ‘broke’ altogether. This is uncomfortable. I don’t like this anymore. I feel…infected somehow. There’s an illness that comes with fooling around with boys like Stephen, and distance is the only vaccine that I have to defend against it.

That’s it. We’re done. ONE more time…and I’ll let him go.

Good.

Done deal.

I think I’m starting to feel better already.

Did it help me to sleep better? No. Not really. To be honest, I don’t know why the somewhat ‘girly’ boy from down the block stayed on my mind with such persistence…but when I woke up the next morning, I still had the courage to let him go. It’s not that I didn’t like the kid! It’s just…I mean, he was no good for me. For my life. It was no different than someone making the choice to quit drinking, or smoking, or…cutting himself with a razor blade in order to feel alive. I don’t WANT to feel alive. Not for a few short minutes at a time. I know what my life is, and I’m ready to stop fantasizing about how things could be so I can embrace the situation at hand and learn to deal with it. I mean, that’s the only way to merge my dreams with reality, isn’t it? Seems logical to me.

When I woke up the following morning, a bit groggy and sore from a thin and lumpy mattress, I was surprised to still have Stephen on my mind. Ugh! I hate his dumb, goofy, FACE! And his neat and pretty blond hair, and his perfect…everything! I’m gonna do it. I’m getting rid of him. Trust me. One more sexy rendezvous between us today, and that’ll be the end of it. Letting him suck me off first will soften the blow, I think. There aren’t a lot of boys around here that’ll do that for him. I could at least use that as my way of saying ‘thanks for everything’, I suppose.

A shower and a few extended minutes in the mirror to comb my curls out as best as I could got me ready for our last time together. When I called him up, he picked up the phone so fast and sounded so happy that I became emboldened to end this as quickly as possible. He was attached. I never meant for him to get attached. “Stephen? I thought…maybe we could get together for a little bit today. Just before sunset? We need to talk. K?”

I don’t know if he took that as a good thing or a bad thing. But he giggled sweetly to himself when he heard me say that. So stupid. What the fuck is he giggling for? He’s such a….DORK! “M’kay. Hehehe, ummm…around six o’clock, then?” He asked.

“Fine. Whatever.” I said. But it didn’t seem like enough to me. I was compelled to add, “Don’t be late. Sometimes you’re late, and I have to sit out there feeling like an idiot. So…be on time.” Why the negativity? Why did I feel the need to say that? Did it help to make me feel less vulnerable? Did I do it with some lame idea that being mean would somehow bounce the ball of ‘control’ back to my side of the court, making me feel better for laying down the rules instead of surrendering to the fact that he could make me feel so helpless inside sometimes? Who knows? What’s done is done. Let me get this over with. The sooner the better.

I walked past Brett’s bedroom door and was surprised to hear nothing but silence. It was strange. I knew that he wasn’t feeling well and probably sleeping in today, but normally my brother’s snoring is loud enough to be heard over a factory siren at quitting time. But today? Nothing but quiet. Dead quiet.

I didn’t pay too much attention to the oddity of it, though. My father was taking up residence in the living room easy chair as usual. Right in front of the TV. The predictability of the mundane routine itself was enough to twist my stomach in a knot. But maybe it was a blessing today. I didn’t bother to look for anything to eat, nor did I ask for my dad’s permission to borrow the truck. I just used the distracted opportunity to snatch the keys off the table in the hallway by the front door and quickly walk out the back door before he had a chance to call me back. Not that I would have come back anyway. I just revved up the truck and took off to spend the rest of the day elsewhere. The further I am from that house, the more confident I feel that one day, I’ll put that whole life in my rearview mirror and never come back.

There’s no freedom like knowing you don’t have to go home if you don’t want to.

There’s this little burger joint just on the edge of the neighborhood that makes a pretty tasty lunch for cheap. I could fill my belly easily for about five bucks, but every dollar spent was money taken away from my runaway fund. I always have to keep things balanced. “Sup, Wally?” I said as I walked up to the window.

“Well, if it ain’t Donovan Marshall, back for another unhealthy breakfast.” Wally grinned from behind the counter. I guess I do make it a rather obsessive habit of coming here when I’m hungry. “What’s happening, man? I would have thought your old man would have made you fluffy pancakes and scrambled eggs this morning.”

“Psh! Whatever. I’d be lucky if he shared a beer with me, much less cook breakfast.” I replied. “Let me get a double and a vanilla shake, will ya?”

“You got it, kid.” He said, and walked back to throw a few thin patties on the grill for me, but when he walked back to the counter, his smile faded…his eyes glancing over my shoulder. “Shit, Donovan. Tell me you didn’t go getting yourself into trouble again.”

I turned around to see a police car pulling into the parking lot. But it didn’t park in one of the spaces. Instead, it turned sideways and parked right behind my father’s truck. I wasn’t even mildly surprised when I saw sheriff Rainey’s fat, sweaty, ass spilling out of the driver’s seat. The car tires seemingly taking a deep breath as they were given a break from the burden of carrying his weight all morning long. The sunlight glared off of his balding head, a duo of moist pit stains under each of his arms.

“I didn’t do nothin’…” I told Wally.

“He recognizes your daddy’s truck anywhere. It’s probably the only reason he turned in here.”

Disgusted, I frowned up and said, “This has nothing to do with me. That porky bastard is just holding a grudge against my dad because they went to school together. He harasses the shit out of me, and he harasses the shit out of my brother, and I’m going to be dealing with this garbage for the rest of my life.” I watched Rainey walk over to the truck, look in the back and inspect the driver’s area. “One of these days, Wally, that man is gonna get a goddamn hobby and learn to leave me the fuck alone.”

But as Sheriff Rainey looked in the window of the burger joint, saw me, and beckoned for me to come outside, Wally patted me on the shoulder and said, “Doesn’t look like today’s gonna be that day, bud. Go on. I’ll keep the burgers warm for ya until you get back.”

With a sigh, I tried to calm myself down and answer his pig-knuckle call. It was merely an annoyance to have him keep doing this to me time and time again, I mean it’s not like he had any cause to actually arrest me. But the fact that he kept looking, hoping to eventually find a way to use me as a way to punish my father for whatever horrendous bullying he put him through back in his high school days…made every run in with him a mind numbingly dull experience.

“If you’re looking for the dead hooker’s body, I dumped it in the river hours ago.” I said as I walked over to the truck.

“Are you trying to be a smartass? Or do you actually think you’re funny?” He asked me.

“I don’t know. Which one will get through this pointless harassment quicker?”

“No harassment here.” Rainey said. Then he looked over at his partner, “You see any harassment going on here, Larry?”

“No sir, Sheriff. Not that I can see.” He smirked, walking over to the passenger side of the truck to look in the window.

I rolled my eyes, already reaching my limits as far as this bullshit is concerned. “Good to know you’ve got your partner well ‘trained’ over here. Say, did ol’ Rainey here tell you why he decided to drive through this particular lot, at this particular time, and pick out this particular truck? Did he? Expired license plate? Outstanding tickets? Hit n’ run, maybe? Are you guys chasing the ghost of Gacy?”

Rainey purposely bumped my shoulder as he walked by. He looked in the back of the truck, seeing an old tire, some buckets of paint, and a some dirty old tarps. Maybe a small box of tools. Whatever my dad used to work around the neighborhood, fixing up houses and such on the side. “So what are up to out here, Marshall?” He snarled.

“I’m minding my business. How about you?”

“That mouth is going to get you into real trouble some day, boy.” He said.

“I’ve been staying out of trouble. This is a burger joint, I came for a burger. That’s all there is to it.”

“Uh huh…sure…” He said, and reached into the back to lift up some of the tarps. “What are these then? You mind telling me what you’re doing riding around with these in the back of your truck.”

“They’re road flares, Rainey.”

“You mean, ‘they’re road flares’, sheriff. And the last time I checked, you had to be 18 and older to be in possession of something like this.”

For crying out loud. “Really? Is that the best you can do?” I grunted. “I’m not in possession of anything. It’s my father’s truck. It’s allowed to have emergency road flares in it.” Fed up with Rainey’s bothersome bullshit as well as getting my fill of his sweaty stench, I just opened the door to the truck, getting ready to leave. “Why don’t you guys go find yourselves a nice donut shop to shake down? I’ve got a life to tend to.”

I climbed into the driver’s seat, but Rainey kept me from closing the door, angrily grabbing it and putting his foot up so his knee would block me from shutting his fingers up. He turned to his partner and said, “I’ll bet you can’t guess how many times I’ve had this brat in the backseat of my squad car. How many times I’ve had to haul him into the precinct and babysit him until his mommy and daddy had to come and try to work out a way to get him home.” A disgusting smile crossed his lips, and I refused to look him in the face. I swear, I’d punch him right in the mouth if I so much as glanced at that smug expression. “This boy’s been a problem since he was 12 years old. Shoplifting, breaking windows, ditching school, fighting in the streets…and let’s not even talk about the vandalism. Oh yes…Donovan here is quite the artist, didn’t you know? A few cans of spray paint, and he’ll turn an ordinary wall into a canvas of beautiful garbage.” He leaned closer, the smell of stale morning coffee wafting through the air. “That’s your tag isn’t it? ‘D-Dot Massive’? I saw it pop up in the alley behind the new library not long ago. Paint looks pretty fresh. But you wouldn’t know anything about that…would you kid?” I gritted my teeth, tightly gripping the steering wheel and staring out of the front windshield. “You’re not all that different from your brother, you know that? Had to run him in a few times too. Same bullshit. Just like your father. Both of you.” That’s when Rainey crossed the line. “Then again…I can’t give your dear old dad all the credit. From what I remember back in our high school days…your mama was no angel either. Maybe you got more from her genes than those pretty curls of yours.”

My head snapped in his direction, my lips pressed tight, my eyes burning a hole right through his fucking skull. But that’s what he wanted, wasn’t it? He wanted to get me to lose it so I’d sock him one and he could run me back into the system. I had to swallow it all. Suppress the rage. It took a moment, but then I remembered that a punch in the face wasn’t the only way to give him the pummeling he deserved. I looked at his partner and smirked instead. “Hey! Deputy Dipshit! Did sheriff Rainey ever tell you how much of a wuss he was in high school? I mean, while you guys are driving around fighting evil…does he ever tell you about the many times my dad beat the living SNOT out of him? Because it happened, you know? A LOT!” I saw Rainey’s face morph into such a psychotic frown that I could have sworn that I was looking into a mirror. Sucks to be on the other end of things, doesn’t it, asshole? “That’s why he became a cop in the first place. It wasn’t to fight the good fight. He wants to carry a gun and a badge and force his authority on people to somehow protect that scared little boy inside who used to get his ass knocked out on a weekly basis. He probably didn’t tell you about that, huh? Yeah. My dad actually knocked him OUT! Dead on the floor! The nurse had to wake him up with smelling salts. Funniest high school story he ever told me.” I knew that I had crossed the line too. But fuck him…he crossed it first. Looking him in the eye, I said, “I know that some people refer to it as a fight…but I hear that it was more like you getting cold cocked right there in a crowded gym. In front of everybody. And knowing my dad the way I do…he probably just did it for kicks. Wild, ain’t it?” I think it was my widening smile that caused him to snap. He expected me to lose it…and ended up losing it first.

He suddenly reached into the truck and VIOLENTLY grabbed me by the back of my neck, fucking snatching me out of the driver’s seat. “You want to play it this way, do ya? Huh??? You think your smart? That’s it? HUH! Fucking PUNK!!!”

Seeing this happening right before his eyes, even his partner said, “sheriff…? I don’t think…”

“Shut up!” Rainey barked at him. He dragged me to the back of the truck and shouted, “Get on your knees!”

“What the fuck are you…?”

“FUCK YOU!!! On your knees! NOW!!!” He screamed, and he physically shoved me down to my knees, right there in the parking lot next to a public street. With people in traffic passing by, some waiting at the light, all looking at me being forced down to the concrete by this jerk police officer…and probably thinking that I must have done something to deserve it. I didn’t see him undo the safety clip that kept his gun secured on his belt…but I heard it. “Not so smart now, are you?” He said. “With your record…I can put a bullet in you right now, and nobody would miss you. Nobody! They might even sleep easier knowing that you were gone.”

I felt a few tears roll down my cheeks, but it wasn’t from sadness. It wasn’t from fear either. It was the hatred I felt from being so defenseless. I HATE feeling helpless! I *HATE* IT!!!

Leaning in to speak softly in my ear, Rainey said, “Face it, Donovan…you’re trash. Your brother, Brett? He’s trash too. You Marshall boys can’t help it. You come from bad stock. Your whole family is just one bad apple after another, falling from the same fucked up tree. I’m sick of having it in MY backyard! You hear me!”

“I haven’t done anything wrong…” I said quietly.

“You did something wrong by being born, you little piece of shit.” Then he gave the hair on the back of my neck a yank. “You’re trash! SAY IT!” More tears ran out of my eyes, but I didn’t say a word. “SAY IT!!! You mother fucker, I swear to God…”

Just then, Wally came out of the restaurant with a freshly cooked burger in a paper bag, and my vanilla shake. He hurried over and set it down beside me. Then he looked at Rainey and asked, “Trouble, Sheriff?”

“Get back inside. This is police business.”

“Right. Right. You’re absolutely right…” Wally said. “This Donovan…he can be a handful, huh? He’s a tricky one. That’s why I called 9-1-1…I thought you might need some…backup.” Sweet! God, Wally…you kick ass. I glanced over at him, and Wally nodded towards me as if to let me know that he was there to help.

Rainey knew what he was doing was 50 Shades of Fucking ILLEGAL…and if other police officers arrived on the scene to see him harassing a teenage boy with no discernible reason…it’d be his ass! So…reluctantly, he let me go and pulled me back up to my feet. “Get the fuck out of here. Don’t let me catch you in the streets, boy.”

I wiped my eyes and straightened out my clothes. “Chicago’s finest…doing what they do best. Keep on protecting and serving, you guys. You’re doing a great job. you’ve got the statistics to prove it, right? I mean…right?” I grabbed my burger off of the ground and my shake and got back into the truck. I kept up a brave front, but my heart was still beating like mad. I was almost short of breath from the chaotic pulse of it.

“I’m gonna be watching you, Donovan…” He sneered.

“I’ll be sure to keep my pants off then. Because I want you to feel welcome to kiss my ass any time you like, Rainey. Oops…I mean…’Sheriff’.” And with that, I started up the truck and put as much distance between me and that walking sack of excrement that I possibly could. I doubt I’d be able to avoid another run in with him for more than a week or two…but for now, it’s over. For now.

I didn’t want anyone to find the truck. I didn’t want to be seen on the street. I just pulled into this small strip mall parking lot and parked way off to the side. Almost back to where the trash was compacted and suppliers made deliveries. I ate my burger. I drank my milkshake. And then I just…waited. Waited for the fury inside to dissolve. Waiting for the embarrassment of having to be ‘saved’ by someone else while I was being forced down on my knees in public. Waiting to deny my true feelings and break this boy’s heart simply because acknowledging the emotions he brings out of me are too strange and too unpredictable for me to handle.

I guess…just waiting for answers to questions that I was too afraid to ask.

Maybe even answers that I hadn’t earned yet.

I’m not really ‘trash’, am I? I try not to be. I try really HARD not to be…

And my graffiti tag is ‘D-Dot MAXIMUS‘, thank you very much. Can he not read?

I saw the sun setting, the daylight fading…and I kept checking the time to make sure that I wasn’t late, meeting up with Stephen tonight. I couldn’t believe that was I getting that jittery nervous feeling in my chest again. Just…knowing that he’d be close to me soon. Smiling. Giggling. Babbling incoherently about things that I couldn’t care less about…but listened to anyway. The smoothness of his skin, the glow of those eager eyes, the prim and proper style of his silky blond hair. It wasn’t even a sexual need that I was entertaining at the moment. It was more like…like…

No. Screw that. I just needed to get off. Especially after Rainey’s assault. I wanted to feel some control again. I wanted to relieve some stress. I wanted to have Stephen look at me as though there was nothing ‘wrong’ with me. As though I was worth something. Living in a world where everyone thinks the worst of me at first glance…Stephen’s positive attention was the most potent drug on the market.

What can I say? He relaxes me.

An hour passes, and having stuffed my face with food, I could feel my fullness lulling me to sleep with the fading light of the day and the repetition of old hits on the radio as an accomplice. I know that I still had an hour or two before I had to go get Stephen, but I didn’t dare go back to wait it out at home. My dad would never let me steal the truck twice in the same day. I figured as long as I was undercover and not bothering anybody, I could just stay away from home until I was finished. I allowed my eyes to close and my mind to scramble as I drifted off for a short nap. Nothing serious. Just a break from thinking too much. That’s all.

Then…a bump.

I felt the truck move from the impact and opened my eyes to see that the sky had gotten a lot darker. The street lights were on, and I realized that I must have been out for at least an hour or more. I hadn’t meant for that to happen. Stupid mattress at home never lets me get the best night’s sleep. I always end up making up for lost sleep later.

I rubbed my eyes to feel another bump on the side of the truck. What the heck was that? I looked at the side view mirror and saw some random guy walking, chest first, into the side of the truck. Bouncing off of it with a thud…only to walk back up and do it again. And again. And again.

I leaned out the window and said, “What the fuck are you doing?” It was like the guy didn’t hear me. Just kept running himself into the vehicle. “Hey, asshole? You wanna knock it off?” I heard his feet stop on the concrete. Then….he turned to face me. His eyes…I don’t think I’ve ever seen a stare like that. So empty. So dead. At first, I thought he had dirt all over his face. Some crazy homeless guy who probably just woke up in the gutter a few minutes ago. But as he turned his attention to me and started slowly shuffling toward my open window…I thought…it looked more like ‘oil’ or something. Then, on closer inspection…it looked more like blood.

My mind told me to close the window. Hurry up! CLOSE THE WINDOW! I rolled it all the way to the top just as the blood covered stranger came to press his hands against the glass. He looked at me. An intensity in his glare…and I watched him as he mashed his entire face against the window and began ‘biting’ at it with his teeth. Between the psychotic look in his eyes and the vision of his bleeding lips being spread out to reveal his gnashing teeth nearly made me sick with the unsettling feeling it gave me. My first instinct was to slide over in the front seat to lean as far away from him as possible. His hands, smeared with blood, were slowly paring at the window. Leaving a blurry trail of red slime on the gas. This wasn’t just some junkie looking for a fix…this guy looked like he just crawled out of Hell with no intentions of going back.

I lay there in shock for a moment, unable to force myself to come back to my senses and get the fuck out of that alley. It wasn’t until I heard two cop cars tearing down the street with their sirens blazing that I woke up out of my daze and decided to do something.

I quickly sat up in the driver’s seat and reached for the keys in the ignition. I felt my body shaking with involuntary shivers as I realized that only that thing sheet of glass stood between me and that…that thing outside. His clawing arms and biting teeth became more frantic as having me sit up in the seat brought me closer to him. Almost face to face.

I turned the key, but the truck wouldn’t start. The engine struggled to turnover, and I pumped the brakes, then the gas. Turned it off, then on again. The radio flickered a little bit. Had I left it on while I was asleep? When was the last time my dad put a battery in this death trap???

The bleeding monster at my window began to get desperate, now pounding his fists on the glass…while screaming. It didn’t sound like any human scream that I had ever heard. It was almost as if his windpipe was straining to make the sound. As if it hurt. But he screamed as loud as his voice would allow anyway.

Come on, you piece of shit! START!!! START!!!

After a few more frantic turns of the key, I finally heard the old truck giving me that old college try, and the engine revved up!

The monster at the window screamed even louder, this time nearly tearing its own vocal chords…a thick river of blood spilling over its bottom lip and soiling his shirt. His fist slammed into the window, cracking the glass…and shattering the bones in his hand until they were poking through the skin.

I didn’t waste another minute! I put the truck in gear and tore out of that alley like a charging bull! Leaving that horrific creature in my dust.

I don’t know what happened in the last hour or so, but something had gone completely bonkers in the streets around me while I was asleep. I’m not just talking about the increase of overhead helicopter fly-bys in the area…or the distant symphony of police sirens sounding off in giant clusters…but there seemed to be a swelling army of disheveled ‘people’ stumbling around the city blocks as though they were in some kind of a drunken daze. On the sidewalks, in the middle of the street, on the rooftops. What the fuck was happening out here???

It was just like it was last night out by the forest preserve…but worse. There were more of them. Wandering aimlessly. Dirty. Wounded. Casually swaying from side to side, almost as if they were dancing. I kept driving through the darkened city, but had to be careful as some of these brain dead figures had absolutely no problem with walking right out in front of my moving car. Some of them even turned towards it, each with their own disgusting disfigurement. Each staring at me as though they wanted nothing more than to pull me out of this truck and disfigure me as well. I attempted to swerve around them, even running up on the curb a couple of times…but every time I avoided one of those things, I ran into three more. They were everywhere. And they didn’t seem to give a shit whether I hit them or not.

As if the hordes of living monsters weren’t enough, I had to be extra cautious at every single intersection that I came to! Police cars were screaming through town as if they had lost their fucking minds! I nearly avoided three collisions before getting close to my neighborhood again. Another helicopter tore through the skies up above, and staring at it took my focus off of the road for a split second…JUST as I heard the loud honking horn of an ambulance as it raced through the red light at top speed! I slammed on the brakes and watched in horror as the ambulance swerved to avoid me and ended up running two or three of those things over without even slowing down. It fought for control, weaving back and forth for a half block…and then the balance of the ambulance was lost, and it flipped over onto it’s side…sliding down the concrete and mowing down even more creepers before coming to a halt.

You never expect to see something like this in real life. It felt like a waking nightmare to me, too surreal for my brain to truly comprehend all at once. But as I saw more of those shadowed figures heading my way, I stopped thinking about it and pressed the gas pedal to the floor again to get me out of there.

I think this was the first time in forever that I found myself relieved to be pulling into my driveway at home. And even when I took the key out of the ignition and climbed out of the truck, I managed to see more lumbering silhouettes milling about the neighborhood. Many of them heading in my direction. Attracted like moths to a flame by my movements. Maybe even by my fear.

Lucky for me, they were extremely slow, or my hesitation might have given them the chance to surround me.

I only fumbled with the house key for a few seconds before opening the door and rushing inside. The first thing I noticed was the loud buzz of the living room TV. Turned waaaaay up, almost at full volume, with the same nauseating ‘ERRNNN!!! ERRNNN!!! ERRNNN!!!’ alarm of the Emergency Broadcast System from before. I hadn’t paid any attention to it before now, but the sheer volume of the television forced me to take notice as I lifted the shade to look out the front window.

“We repeat…this is NOT a test! The CDC has declared a state of emergency. We advise all citizens in the following areas to please remain indoors. Do not open the doors for anyone. Do not make contact with friends, family, or neighbors, at this time. Lock your doors, your windows, and get to a place of safety until instructed otherwise. Again…this is NOT a test…”

I saw more of those things slowly advancing on our house, and whispered, “No fucking way. This is NOT happening right now.”

The annoying screech of the emergency message began to get on my nerves, so I picked up the remote and turned the television off. It was then that I heard a steady bumping noise coming from upstairs. Thump…thump…thump. the same noise that my brother was making last night after Eve had bitten him, only it was louder now. It almost vibrated through every wall in the house. Like…he was banging his head against the plaster or something. Had he been doing that for all the hours since I’ve been gone?

Cautiously moving out to the bottom of the steps…I looked upwards and listened to the steady thump, thump, thump, of Brett’s banging. The house was silent except for that.

I only went up two or three steps before calling out, “Hello? Brett? Dad?”

Immediately…the thumping stopped.

Silence.

Deafening silence.

I held my breath for a moment…but my pounding heart refused to keep quiet.

I’m not sure how long I stood motionless on that staircase, but I eventually began to carefully climb my way to the top. I cringed with every creek in the steps. Every last one. But when I made it to the top, I saw Brett’s bedroom door still closed. But in the hallway outside…I noticed that the hall mirror was broken. My father’s belt had been tossed to the floor, and a broken liquor bottle as well as wasted tray of food littered the carpet in front of me. The place was even more of a mess than it usually was.

“Dad?” I called out again. “Are…are you there?”

This time, the absolute silence was filled with the sounds of heavy breathing…coming from the other side of my brother’s bedroom door. Ragged breathing. Like some kind of wild animal. I crept closer…

Then JUMPED when I heard the sound of two fists pounding on the door!

It was just once, but it was enough to nearly make me piss myself. I’m sure Brett would never let me live THAT down.

Then…silence again.

“Brett?” I said. “If this is a joke, it’s not funny, asshole…” I whimpered.

I looked down at the bottom of the door. Just under the crack, I saw the bedroom light flick on. Then off. Then on again. Then loud clicks as he appeared to angrily flicker the lights on and off for a few seconds before the light bulb blew out…and the room remained dark.

Then…breathing. Followed by silence.

I don’t know why I moved closer to the door, but I did. My body was so tense that it felt like my nerves were ready to snap like a refrigerated rubber band. I think I almost wanted Brett’s stupid prank to be over with so I could scream out loud, satisfy his sick urge to torment me, and then get back to normal.

So I carefully put my hand on the doorknob…and I gave it a twist.

The door creeks a bit as I open it up and peek inside. “Hello?” I ask.

I see nothing but Brett’s shadow in front of his bedroom window. He’s facing me, but I can’t see his face. He doesn’t speak. But I can hear him breathing. I can see the rise and fall of his shoulders as he stares at me. And I can hear a slight wheezing as though mucous was rattling around in his lungs.

“Brett? Dude, what’s going on?” I ask, but I get no reply. I flick the light switch, but, of course, the bulb is blown so it does me no good. “Are you seeing what’s happening outside?” Still no answer. So I open the door a little bit wider. “Are you alright? What’s with you?”

Suddenly, with a wobble, he takes a step in my direction. Then another. Then another. And as I open the door some more, I feel it hit something inside his room. Something was blocking me. Something that I didn’t recognize until the light from the hallway flooded the room.

Looking down…I saw a body lying on the floor, just inside the door. My father’s body. Covered in a thick syrup of blood and gore…bites taken out of his flesh without any mercy at all. And Brett’s shadow kept moving closer. His face now illuminated, his eyes blank, his face covered in plasma, his teeth full of torn skin and muscle. His advancement was relentless, and with a sudden scream, I grabbed the door handle and pulled the door shut!

Brett yanked and twisted and pulled violently at the door…but I put one foot against the wall and held on to the doorknob with both hands! This drove him insane, and he started banging on the door with his head and both fists, trying his best to get out, leaving me screaming in the hallway! I could feel the knob twisting to the left and right, even though I was holding on as hard as I could. A few times, he managed to pull the door open a bit, but not enough to do more than peek through the crack and flood the hallway with a demonic hiss. No matter how hard he struggled, I didn’t dare let go! He was one of THEM! Dear God, he was one of them!

I tried to hold on, but suddenly felt one of my feet slide from under me and I fell to one knee! I looked down to see my father’s blood pooling beneath me, creating a slick surface for me to stand on…even on the carpet. My fall allowed Brett to pull the door open even wider and worm his arm through the opening to roughly grab a hold of my dark curls and pull! He was nearly ripping my hair out by the roots!

I cried out in agony, but when I felt him opening the door even wider, I focused all of my energy towards NOT allowing him to pull me into the darkness. Even with my feet still slipping and sliding, I pulled the door closed on my brother’s arm, slamming it again and again and again…until he finally let me go and I was able to pull it all the way shut.

Out of breath and unsure of what to do, I suddenly got up on my hands and knees and crawled back to the stairs. I heard Brett furiously pounding on his bedroom door and I nearly rolled right down the steps trying to get my ass out of there! Screams. That’s what I could hear from him. Screams.

When I opened the front door and hurried out into the driveway, I noticed that the number of these zombie like creatures had almost doubled in number from what I had seen just moments ago when I drove up. They were on every corner, at every house…and slow and steady as they may be…they never stopped coming. Not ever.

Seeing some of them turn to follow me, I took advantage of my speed and brain power to maneuver my way right past them. They reached out for me with damaged hands, their powerful jaws and snapping teeth anxious to sink into whatever part of me they could get their hands on. I moved right around them, making sure to keep my peripheral vision as active as humanly possible for fear that one of the surrounding monsters would catch me off guard and take a bite out of me.

I was operating on pure adrenaline at this point. Nothing else. And by the time I got back to the truck, I was totally exhausted from the constant expenditure. It took me a few tries to get it started again, but the engine graced me with a loyal turnover much quicker than last time. From there I took off…leaving the only home I’ve ever really known behind in the rearview mirror. As I once fantasized…never to return.

My brother…a monster. My father…gone forever. Am I…alone?

The task of not running these things over in the street was the only thing that kept me from breaking down thinking about it. My entire world had come crashing down around me in a matter of hours, and I had NO fucking idea what to do about it!

Maybe it was some nonsensical malfunction of the brain, or perhaps a desperate need to save the one thing in this hellish fantasy that seemed familiar to me…but the moment I drove away from my house, my first thought was to head over to Stephen’s house and make sure he was ok. I had to give myself an immediate goal. A purpose. Until my mind was given a chance to process what was going on here.

However, when I got to his house, I saw the front window broken…and the house was dark.

No! No no no no no no no!

I saw a few wandering souls on his front lawn and a few more in the street, but I parked the truck in a somewhat ‘safe’ area and hopped out. I knew they were sluggish and unable to really grab hold of me as long as I stayed away from them…so I raced up to Stephen’s front door and pounded loudly at it to see if he was home. I really laid in on his doorbell, and backed up to shout up at his open window. But I got no response. No reply.

I looked down at his front porch, and noticed some small metal casings littering the ground. A few bullet holes in the side of his house. Something had definitely happened here. Something big.

The sky, now completely dark, was briefly illuminated by the searchlights of a military duo of helicopters flying overhead. The police sirens were still a ways off, but as I looked at Stephen’s front lawn and saw muddy tire tracks and more bullet shells…it looked like the cavalry had already been through this part of the neighborhood. Had Stephen and his family been saved? Was he ok? Oh God, please let him be ok!

As the slow moving bodies approached the porch, I knew that I only had a few moments left before they had me cornered again. I wouldn’t be able to avoid all of them…not in these numbers. So I tried to collect myself, and I jumped over the railing of his front porch to head back to the truck. A few zig zagged lines, a few hurried steps…navigating my way past these things wasn’t difficult, but it was nerve-wracking just the same. There were sooooo many of them. So many.

I hopped in the truck and turned the key…but the engine refused to start again. It strained and it chugged and it made all sorts of weird noises…noises that brought on more attention from the walking horrors that were closing in on me…but it wouldn’t start.

I had a choice to make in the next couple of seconds. Do I keep trying to get this busted old truck moving so I can catch up with whatever search and rescue team came here to pick Stephen up before I got here? Or do I just abandon it here and make a run for it? Because those things are surrounding me FAST, and after another minute or two…slow moving or not…I’m not going to be able to weasel my way out of here. Not with those snapping teeth and reaching arms.

What do I do??? Ahhh…FUCK IT!!!

I rushed out of the driver’s seat so fast that I didn’t even realize that I had left the keys in the ignition. I was quick to climb on the back and look out to see if I could figure out where the helicopters were headed and where the flashing lights of the local police cars were. My elevated position gave me a bit of direction, but it was so dark that I wasn’t sure that they’d be able to see me out here.

Ummmm….shit!

WAIT! Ok!

I lifted up the tarp in the back and grabbed a couple of my dad’s road flares. Praying that they’d work. He’s not known for maintaining things for any length of time. Then I looked for a break in the steady flow of middle class zombies and hopped back down to the concrete.

I could see the flashing lights of a few police cars in the distance. Maybe four or five blocks down. I wondered if Stephen was with them. If they had come to save the day when he needed it most. Was he in the back of one of those squad cars? Was he ok? Was he ‘alone’?

With two flares shoved in my pocket and one in my hand…I began moving towards the center of the neighborhood street. Keeping my distance from anything covered in blood. Jesus Christ…this is really happening, isn’t it? The whole world has gone insane.

I slid between them, out-walked them, outran them, outsmarted them. Only a few blocks to go. Just a few.

I was startled when I heard the thunder of gunshots in the distance. More sirens. More helicopters. Military orders being shouted into walkie talkies and the sound of large rescue jeeps charging up to take people to safety. Play it cool, Donovan. Almost there. WATCH IT!!! That lady almost took a bite out of you! Just keep your eyes open! Watch their every move. Not a bite. Not a scratch. Pay attention! Take it one step at a time.

Then…just as I was getting close enough to think that I might not need a road flare at all to get some help…I noticed a dark figure standing up against the fence surrounding one of the houses to the right of me. I think what most caught my attention was the fact that he was standing perfectly still at the time. Everyone else was scattered out at random, mindlessly marching to a silent tune that no one else could hear. But this one guy…he was still. Absolutely still.

When I turned my head to look at him, I could have sworn that he was looking right back at me. It snatched my concentration away from me, as his empty hollow eyes were followed me. Tracking me. So red, and carried by dark, sleepless circles, underneath. There was something about the way he watched me. A reflection of malicious intent in their gaze. And the moment I tried to look away, I heard the night being pierced by the sound of another painful shriek that didn’t seem to be achievable by a human body until you heard it for yourself. With a sinister leap forward, the monster’s mouth agape in a scream that nearly unhinged his jaw…this thing RAN at me!

And I mean RAN! Full speed!

It covered so much distance, so quickly, that I instantly became hysterical. I screamed out loud, and took off running myself! No longer concerned with being careful about the other stumbling figures around me, I found myself charging right through them, bumping them with my shoulders, pushing them aside while having them reach out to scratch and claw at me…trying to slow me down. I could hear the hurried footsteps behind me getting closer. This thing was so FAST! And smart enough to keep up with me! I couldn’t seem to lose him at all.

While running, I popped open one of the road flares and shouted for help! The bright red fire sparked up, sending out billowing clouds of smoke as I carried it like an Olympic torch, praying that one of the nearby jeeps or police cars would see me.

“HELP!!! HELP ME!!! OVER HERE!!!” I was trying to yell as loud as I could, but had to save my breath to keep running. That thing was hot on my heels.

I felt a sharp pain on the back of my hand as the flare began to burn me. Something was leaking down, and my first instinct was to immediately throw it away. My only light was behind me now. Still burning bright while I became just another shadow among hundreds of others.

I heard another monstrous shriek from behind me and I tried to light up another flare as a military chopper passed overhead! “HEY!!! DOWN HERE!!! PLEASE!!!” They flew right over, obviously tending to another emergency elsewhere, but when I turned the corner around the next block, my lungs throbbing with pain, my legs going numb with fatigue…I ran into a small convoy of military vehicles. Armed soldiers were doing all they could to help out whatever survivors they could find…and they were just at the end of the block.

My heart had been overworked, my eyes tearing up with panic…but I switched into a new gear and ran even faster! My feet barely touched the ground long enough for me to spring forward with another step. I waved my flare back and forth over my head, hoping they’d notice me. Hoping they wouldn’t mistake me for one of those creatures and gun me down.

I ran. Dear God, did I run! And soon, a few of the officers caught sight of the sparkling red fire in my hand. Even as the hot liquid began to severely burn me again, I gripped the flare tightly and refused to let it go. Then…one of the soldiers shouted, “DROP DOWN, KID!!!”

I merely let my exhausted legs give way and fell hard to the pavement, painfully rolling over as my body tried to slow its momentum down to a complete stop. Then I just curled up in a ball and covered my ears as bursts of machine gun fire rang out all around me. The creature chasing me was in mid leap when they practically tore his decaying body to pieces. He fell just inches away from me…his dead eyes still glaring at me with a hatred that kept me frozen still. It’s hand was still reaching out for me…the spasming jaw muscles still trying to get in just one, juicy, bite. I had never felt terror like that. Not ever.

I was suddenly yanked up to my feet and dragged back to one of the trucks in the convoy. “I need you to tell me something, son, and I need you to tell me the truth!” A soldier barked at me. “Were you bitten?”

I couldn’t find the words to speak. I was still watching that creature on the ground as someone walked over to put an extra bullet in the back of its head. “I…I don’t…” I stuttered, my adrenaline still on high alert.

“FOCUS! Look at me, kid! Alright?” The soldier grabbed both sides of my face and looked me in the eye. “WERE…YOU…BITTEN???” I shook my head slowly. “Put him on the truck! Let’s get the fuck outta here! Move it! Move it! Let’s go, people!”

The surreal nature of the nightmare had truly taken a hold of me. It wouldn’t let me go. My brain wouldn’t function properly…even when I was loaded onto the back of that truck with a crowded selection of other people. Each one stuck in a nightmare of their own. It had to have been at least fifteen minutes worth of traveling before I regained some of my senses. Looking at the world around me as an all out war had broken out between humanity and ‘non-humanity’. Guns, sirens, fire and blood. Bodies lying on every street corner, sprinkled throughout every park…and more people running…crying out for help.

What happened? Where did my reality go?

I glanced around the truck, seeing nothing but strangers at first. Wondering if maybe I’d catch a glimpse of Stephen’s soft blond hair among the masses. But I only made contact with one familiar face on the back of that truck. Just one.

Sitting in a corner, with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders…was Sheriff Rainey. Our eyes only connected for a moment before I looked away. Not a word was spoken. What could I possibly have to say?

All I know is…there’s no way he can pin this on me…

Published March 1, 2016

Comments:

  1. Is is good! I just saw this story today and completely unaware of that it was here and i may have missed this at voy. Wasthis discontinue? I’m very intrugue what happen next. Is this somehow connected with the Shelterverse. Thanks for this awesome story comsie.

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