There was so much panic.
On the last day of school, nobody except the teachers knew it would be the last day. And some of them didn’t even know. We were called to an assembly, where the principal told us that the disease was becoming more and more of a problem, like we didn’t know that. I mean, we’re in high school, so we had some outside knowledge, I’d like to hope.
This was right before the climax of this disease, right when they found the patient in New York City and some people that he had infected. They informed us of this, too, and some kids were afraid, crying. A few walked out, heading home, not to return. Teddy was in the lower grade school, and I wanted more than anything to leave and go find him. They couldn’t be giving this talk to the little kids - it would absolutely scare them - but they were, and it did. When the school day finally ended, and everybody said goodbye to each other, I rushed out to find him.
It sounds, almost, that it was a calm exit. Lines formed and everyone left school in an orderly fashion, picked up by their parents who were obviously scared but tried their best to put on a happy, ignorant face for them. That was not the case at all - there was mainly a mad rush for the door, including teachers, when the alarm sounded. Somebody must have pulled it, but we have no idea who and probably will never find out. It isn’t like that matters now anyway - that’s all done and gone. I wanted more than anything, as the rush began, to find someone that I had known, someone I was comfortable with, and be able to leave with them. I thought - wrongly - that I might see some of the people I wished to say goodbye to again.
I wasn’t all wrong in thinking this. I saw some of their walking shells, and a few of their corpses.
Teddy was terrified. I found him under the bleachers, and he was crying, telling me that he didn’t want to get sick and he didn’t want us, his family, to get sick. I promised to him that I wouldn’t get sick, and he’d be alright. Now I wish I hadn’t.
Because Mom fell ill, and then we were afraid Dad was sick. He had been caring for mom, but he had worn gloves and thick clothing. He was coughing, but Dad was okay - he only had a seasonal cold or flu of some sorts. He healed in a few days, back on his feet. That was when it started to get colder.
People started panicking even more when it started to get cold. They were afraid that they wouldn’t have enough food to last them through the winter, and that they’d freeze to death, and it would be a brutal winter. The winter wasn’t brutal, but it was still chilly, and many people ran out of food. I was lucky to find some canned goods, food that was non-perishable and would last me a while if I rationed it, but I don’t know what I wouldn’t give for a slice of warm pizza or a hamburger.
You’d think we miss the little things like that so much more than we actually do. Yes, I miss school, and worrying a bit too much about my appearance or what I was going to wear the next day. But now it’s so much easier to pick things like that, because there’s nobody to criticize. Every single day, I wear the same ripped jeans, white tank top, and olive green jacket with black, lace-up combat boots. I always have the same red, chipped nail polish on my fingers. I wear the same baggy sweatshirt and sweatpants every night, except for the nights when it’s warm enough to just wear a tank top and sweatpants. I never change my honey blonde hair - it always stays in a messy bun, and my pale ivory skin isn’t enhanced by makeup. My nose piercing stays, and so do my earrings that my mom got me for Christmas one year - little dangling peace signs. They remind me what I’m fighting for, though ironic. I like this whole aspect - not caring. It lifts a huge weight off of my shoulders.
I miss my mom, and I actually miss our fights. It was when we truly got to talk, even if both of us weren’t level-headed. When you’re angry, words come spilling out of your mouth like a river, whether you intended to say them or not. Your brain goes fuzzy and spews like a volcano, and you get to know someone during these times. This is the only time when you can truly gauge how a person is, which is something I learned when she was gone.
Being 16, I was mean to my mom somewhat often. I didn’t respect her, or talk to her as often as I should have. There’s no way for me to get through to her now, no way to talk to her and tell her that I love her. That I miss her. That I would give so much away just to see her face, beautiful and freckled, again, or to hear her rich, smooth voice again.
After my mom was gone, I made a promise to myself and to my remaining family that I would stay with them and make sure to speak my feelings. I would tell them what I felt, and help them through this troubling time. But there was so much panic.
There were mobs of people, swarms trying to flee, escape this area, this country. Once they heard about the outbreak in New York, they went insane, fighting for their lives. Nobody who was panicking was truly thinking about others - they were just thinking of themselves.
There was a mad rush to stores and shopping areas, and one of those rushes included my family. We tried to stay together desperately, but to no avail; my dad and brother were swept away by a swarm of living people, a somewhat rare sight even then, though even more rare now. I searched for them, but I couldn’t find them, and that was when they came.
The Infecteds, these swarms just showed up, and everyone ran, including me. I wanted desperately to stay and help my family escape, but if I did, I wouldn’t make it. I nearly was trapped, but I was able to fight my way out and run.
I sprinted as far away as I could without becoming too tired. I was grateful to have my backpack with me, which had a knife and some cans of food. It was heavy, which deterred me from running too far, but I made it to an area in the woods somewhere that seemed relatively clear.
I have planned on heading back to the store to find them, but I know they won’t be there, and it might end horribly. I do not know if it was cleared out, but I am honestly afraid to go and find out; if I get trapped, they’d never know. Then again, if they’re dead, I’ll never know if I don’t go looking.
I would like to go find a good place to camp - maybe an actual building that’s been cleared, or is relatively clear, enough that I’d be able to clear it out myself. The area I’ve been in and near isn’t far from my old home - maybe I’ll head back there and scope things out.
For now, I stay camped out in the same clearing of the woods. I have some wire that I string around trees, creating a makeshift fence to keep the Infecteds out. It works well - of the few that have invaded, I have been able to keep them out long enough to get my gear on and dispose of them properly.
I don’t bury the bodies. My dad helped me bury Mom’s body, while Teddy stood watch, but I cannot do it on my own. I am strong, but not strong enough to dig and then haul adults and children alike into their graves.
I would burn the bodies, but I have no fuel with which to light them. Instead, I haul them away with my gear on, taking my time and making sure that no others are around. Usually I place them in piles if I have to kill more than 2, a mound of bodies, and sort of use them as landmarks, to show my trail. It’s quite effective, actually, as I was lost in the woods one day, terrified, but was able to find my way back.
I have only seen a few Infecteds with clear eyes, and I stay away from them. If I can avoid killing them, I will. The Reds, while unsettling, are slow and easy to kill. These shells, however, are dangerous and fast, and I do not know how strong. Their eyes stay open perpetually, staring at me like I am the odd one out, the one who doesn’t belong.
At this point, however, do I? Or have they outnumbered me already?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
My mother made me a paintbrush one day.
It was beautiful - just thick enough to make the perfect lines, but not too thin. I could get all the little details I wanted to on the canvas. It was almost a magic wand, this paintbrush that could singularly convey every one of my ideas without fail or flaw.
She had woven some thin twine to make the bristles and even carved the handle of the brush from a small piece of wood. It was the perfect length and width - easy to hold but I would never drop it. It was controllable and incredible - I used it for painting after painting.
I keep this brush with me still, although I have no paint. The only color that is available to me at this point would be red, but I am not a monotone painter. I use all the vibrant colors that I can get my hands on - yellows and blues and greens. Red is beautiful, but in excess can become either a bother or a bit unsettling, especially after all of the blood that has been shed.
That was the one bond that my mother and I truly ever shared. The one thing that we connected. She was a crafter, and could sew and stitch and carve. I was a painter. Us artists worked together, and together would create masterpieces. I am glad to say that I thanked my mom for this gift, telling her constantly that it was perfect and that I was grateful.
I wish I could say I had many more positive interactions with my mother, but I didn’t. I wish I could say that towards the end, we were able to say our goodbyes and make up, but we weren’t. If I could go back and do it all over again, I would, but not without hesitation.
Honestly, that terrifies me.