State of Decay (Omnibus (Parts 1-4)), p.1
Copyright © 2013 Peggy Martinez
Cover Art by Najla Qamber
Interior design & formatting by Inkstain Interior Book Designing
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law
DESPITE WHAT YOU’VE BEEN TOLD, the Apocalypse doesn’t begin with fire raining down from the heavens, nor does it begin with the human race falling down on their faces in supplication before a triumphant god. No, the sounds of the Apocalypse are much more terrifying than that, and I should know … I’ve heard them, and hearing the world tumble into chaos around me is not something I’ll ever forget.
The first sounds were just a buzzing really, a buzzing of television newscast in the background of our house, like so many other homes in America … just the news playing in another room while we all went on about our day-to-day lives. The reports were of something happening far off—not to us—so it didn’t worry anyone all that much. The sound of reporters and main stream media feeding us all a bunch of hoopla to keep the masses entertained and calm when they should have been telling everyone what was really going on and how to protect themselves and their families. And my family, just like most others in the world, fed into their lies and sat idly by while an epidemic swept through the world when we were all sleeping in our beds, assured of one thing … we were too advanced a people, too evolved a species to ever tumble into a dark age of death, destruction, and chaos. Oh, how the mighty and powerful fall.
Have you ever heard the sounds of mass hysteria or the sounds of a Boeing 767 plummeting from the sky to land in your neighborhood? It isn’t a pleasant sound. There is a deafening roar as the plane falls from the sky and lands on top of houses you had walked past just the afternoon before, an explosion so loud, you swear you’d never hear again … and then the screaming. Dear God, sometimes when I close my eyes, I can still hear the screaming. Even to this day, when my adrenaline’s pumping, when I find myself in a tight spot, or I just know I’m this close to dying, there is a flash back of that sound … a sadistic mix of tearing, screeching metal, and gut-wrenching screams that make me dizzy from the high pitch wail echoing inside my skull.
And then there are the sounds that don’t make sense to you, the ones you can’t place … the ones that your brain can’t seem to comprehend even if everything is playing out right before your eyes, in all its technicolor glory.
GO GET THE HANDGUN. Go get the handgun. Go get the handgun. What my dad had said as he ran through our front door was playing over and over again inside my head, like a scratched up CD that couldn’t get past the deep gouge in its surface.
My dad was rushing through the house, hollering for me to get a bag together and to be ready to leave when he gave the word. I watched him as he ran out the front door, toward the wreckage to search for survivors. That’s who my dad was … a hero. I could hear my own labored breathing—harsh to my own ears—as I hurried to my room and grabbed my beat up, army green back pack and shoved random stuff inside of it, not really seeing what I was doing, not really paying attention to whatever crap I was packing. I threw a black tank top over the blue one I was already wearing, discarded my cookie monster pajama bottoms in favor of black cargo pants, and made sure to yank on my most worn-in black combat boots, lacing them up quickly.
“I’ll be right back, don’t worry. Everything will be fine, Mel. Go get the handgun and bullets and put them in your bag.” That’s what he had said. Did he know something was going to happen or was he just taking a precaution with all the chaos surrounding us at that moment? Didn’t matter. I ran to my dad’s room and unlocked the gun case, stowed in his closet, and made sure to do exactly as he told me. My dad had been an officer in the army for over twenty-five years and I knew he wouldn’t have told me to get the gun if he didn’t honestly believe there was some kind of threat looming. I found a camouflage rucksack, what my dad referred to as his “bug out bag”, in the bottom of his closet. After making sure the safety was on and the gun was loaded, I stuffed it and all the ammo I could find in the bag and then headed to the kitchen.
I grabbed everything I thought that my dad would have told me to. Bottles of water, beef jerky, granola bars, cracker packs, a bag of apples, and a pack we always had ready in a closet for when we went camping, which was often. The screams from outside seemed to be getting louder, which only intensified the ache pounding through my head. I stood in the middle of our living room with no idea what to do next … I wanted to just drop everything and run to help my dad, but I knew that wasn’t the smart thing to do. I stood rooted to the spot I was standing in, listening to screams and the sound of sirens in the distance.
I’m not sure how long I stood in the living room, wondering if I should go in search of my dad or just hang tight like he’d told me to. I quite clearly remember the uneasiness worming its way into the pit of my stomach, the prickly sensation at the back of my neck, and the sense of dread settling around me like a thick fog. When my mother was alive, she used to tell me that I had a sixth sense about me, that all the women in her family did, but I never really put any real stock into what she was saying. After all, what good is it to have any extra “senses” if they didn’t help you out in anyway? But regardless, I felt something shimmering just out of focus, something niggling in the back of my mind that things were never going to be the same, that after that night my world would forever be changed. I can see that now … but back then, I was still a naïve teenager, not realizing things bigger than the plane crash were happening, not understanding that I should have been wondering why the plane had crashed in the first place. Instead, I was too busy wondering how long it would take for everything to get cleaned up, how my neighbors were, and when things would be getting back to normal.
When my dad swung open the front door early in the morning, I had dozed off on the couch with my backpack still on and the rucksack sitting on the coffee table in front of me. My dad looked around the house, his eyes slightly out of focus, as if he wasn’t really seeing anything around him.
“Dad?” I whispered gently. His head swung around and his eyes met mine and I knew right then that he’d seen some horrific things through the night. I just didn’t know how horrific.
“Mel, get the keys to the jeep and put your bags inside. Get in and wait for me, I’m going to grab my gun and then we’ll leave.” His jaw clenched and his hand balled tightly into a fist.
“I’ve got the gun, Dad, it’s in my bag … just like you told me.” I picked up the rucksack and walked around the coffee table to stand in front of him. His eyes hardened and he strode past me, toward the back of the house.
“Not that gun, baby girl.” I heard him murmur harshly under his breath. I knew my dad owned other guns … guns he didn’t normally use for protection. He collected guns and used them at shooting ranges and for hunting, and some he still had from his Army days. I knew those days haunted him and I knew he wouldn’t be bringing those guns out unless something was seriously wrong. I wiped my damp palms on my pants and ran to the kitchen to grab the keys out of the cookie jar and then went into the garage to put the bags in the backseat. When my dad came back out he was wearing full Army camo and was carrying a very large duffel bag and his sniper rifle over his shoulder. I swallowed back the fear and apprehension clawing its way up my throat and climbed into the passenger seat of our jeep. My dad put his bag in the
“There’s something going on, I’m not sure what exactly, but it’s serious, Melody.” He glanced over at me. I swallowed and licked my suddenly dry lips. I could see the fear behind his eyes and if my dad was scared …. I really didn’t want to contemplate what could be happening. “Where’s the gun I told you to grab?” he asked gruffly.
“In the back,” I answered. He reached into the backseat and pulled the rucksack onto his lap. When he pulled out the handgun his face was a mask of stone, his years of Army training taking over, and I was actually relieved to see it. This was the version of my dad I could handle in the face of whatever was going on. His finger clicked off the safety and he checked the gun over, nodding in approval that it was loaded. He pulled two extra magazines out of the bag and handed them to me. After he threw the bag back into the back of the jeep, he clenched his jaw and turned to me.
“Keep the safety off. Keep your gun where you can have easy access to it, and … be careful. You’ve been handling guns for a long time and I know you’ll act responsibly. I just can’t take you out of this house without knowing you are fully armed … that if anything were to happen to me …”
“Daddy …” He held up hand and turned to face me. His face was granite, his eyes hard and unyielding.
“If anything were to happen to me, you’d have a good chance to survive. I’ve taught you how to shoot, how to take care of yourself … everything I know. Don’t trust anyone and always remember … survival means being smart. Acting rashly is what gets people killed.” I blinked furiously, trying to keep the threatening tears from spilling over. What was he saying? What was going on beyond the plane crash in our neighborhood? I swallowed hard and nodded my head sharply as I looked my father in the eye.
“I’ll remember, Daddy,” I promised softly. My dad’s eyes softened a fraction and his hand cupped my cheek gently before he handed me the Colt 1911 handgun and a simple, black leg holster. I took the gun with a shaking hand and attached it to my right leg as my dad backed the jeep out of the garage. As soon as we pulled out onto our cul-de-sac, I was immediately, unequivocally sure that my life as I knew it was over.
My first real glimpse of my neighborhood in the early morning light took my breath away and left a gaping hole in the center of my chest. Over half of the houses in my line of vision had been completely demolished, fires burned in every direction, and debris littered the entire area. We began moving slowly down the street, trying to avoid chunks of metal and wandering people. Mr. Howe, from a street over, was sitting on the edge of our sidewalk, still wearing his pajamas and missing a shoe. His face was blackened and smudged in what looked like soot and blood had dripped down his face and splattered all over his white tee shirt from a large wound on his head. He was just staring off into the distance as if he were waiting for something to happen. I didn’t see his wife or daughter anywhere and I suddenly didn’t want to know why that was. There were a dozen or more people, some hurt more badly than others, some not hurt at all, but they all were either screaming and crying or completely emotionless. In the far distance, I heard a rat-tat-tat and the only thing I could think was … why would there be shooting at a plane crash site? A shiver slithered down my spine.
“Should we be leaving?” I asked my dad. “We could stay and help out everyone … they’re our neighbors, our friends.” I pleaded. My dad’s hands clenched the steering wheel as he drove off the street to avoid a large piece of debris in the middle of the road before turning out of our cul-de-sac.
“We have to leave. We have to get out of here and get to the base.” I searched his face, wondering why he wanted us to get to a base. Surely we could go after we helped our neighborhood.
“Why, Dad? What’s going on? I need to know. I need to be prepared.” My dad’s face gave nothing away as he pulled our jeep onto a main road that would lead into our local, small town of Midtown, North Carolina. We had barely been residents of Midtown for a month, but we’d come to love the small town and gorgeous forest areas since my dad had retired from service. I tried to relax back into my seat, but my body was tense, my mind racing a hundred miles a minute. When my dad finally spoke, I flinched at the invasion of my inner turmoil.
“There have been reports … reports that most civilians were not supposed to hear. I wouldn’t have heard, except some of the officers from the base were helping with the wounded at the crash site and recognized me and broke protocol to tell me.” He ran a hand roughly over his face and shook his head. “I didn’t believe it completely … but if you had seen the look on their faces … you wouldn’t have doubted them. I realize that now. And then when the bodies—the bodies that weren’t incinerated in the explosion or the crash—began … twitching.” My dad swallowed loudly and then cleared his throat. My hand spasmed around the door handle and I tightened my grip, preparing myself for whatever he was about to say.
“At first, even after what the soldiers told me, I thought that they had somehow survived … somehow pulled through. I ran to the person nearest to me who was making horrible gurgling sounds and writhing around on the ground like a wild person and grabbed their blackened arms and began to pull them from the wreckage, only to have a soldier to come up behind me and point-blank shoot the survivor right between the eyes.” I gasped, unable to control the spurt of emotion … but my dad’s story was far from finished.
“I screamed at the soldier and got in his face, telling him he was a disgrace to America, but then all of a sudden, like a demented orchestra, bodies began to thrash around and the moaning … God, the moaning and gurgling. Soldiers began shooting … and I still didn’t understand. It wasn’t until a volunteer who had been helping us with survivors through the early morning hours, ran over and knelt beside one of the writhing bodies right next to me … to help them … and the body—the thing—reached up and sank its teeth into the neck of the volunteer and blood sprayed from his carotid artery, did I finally get it through my skull. We weren’t dealing with survivors, we were dealing with monsters … monsters who live inside of dead bodies.”
My dad drove for a few minutes in silence and I tried to digest everything he had just told me. The government obviously knew something, but the general public had no idea what was going on. The dead were somehow reviving and killing humans. It all sounded so surreal, so completely insane, that if anyone else had told me … there was no way in hell I would have believed them. But my dad … my dad was the strongest and most down to earth person I’d ever met. There was no way he’d be exaggerating or could have mistaken something as serious as this. He may not know everything, but he knew enough to realize the shit was about to hit the fan and we needed to get to the best place possible if we were going to be safe. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t realize the extent to which the problem had spread.
I pulled my cellphone out of my pocket and tried to send my best friend, back in our hometown, a text. It wouldn’t go through. I bit my lip and tried again. I hadn’t seen Jess since my dad moved us away right after I’d graduated over a month ago. He felt we needed a change of scenery after all that we had been through the past year, and while I didn’t want to leave Jess, I had agreed with him. Jessica had gotten me through so much and I could only hope she would be okay. My mind drifted back.
“Come on, Mel, you know you want to.” I threw a fry at Jess and smirked when she ducked to dodge the greasy bomb sailing her way. I did want to go, but that was beside the point. She didn’t let up. “You know what they’re playing, don’t you?” she asked in a sing-song voice. The old movie theater in town was playing “Benny & Joon”, one of my all-time favorite movies, for their Thursday Throwback feature show. All that awesomeness for a throwback ticket price of one dollar. “You probably also know Miguel will be there too, right?” My eyes widened and Jessica giggled. I hadn’t known that. A
“I’d love to, Jess, but I probably shouldn’t tonight,” I said with a sigh. “I have tons of homework to catch up on and I’m supposed to spend some quality time with my dad making fun of Jerry Springer reruns.” I laughed when Jess choked and ranted because I’d used the terms “quality time” and “Jerry Springer” in the same sentence. But, when it came down to it, Jess didn’t push. She never did. She knew my real reason for not going out, but she understood that I didn’t want to talk about it, and that made her the best friend in the world. My mom’s surgery had failed and her brain tumor was more aggressive than ever and I spent all of my free time with her.
“Well, don’t blame me if Miguel has a hard time keeping his hands to himself … I am pretty fabulous, you know.” She flipped her long, blond hair and winked at me.
God, I hoped she was going to be safe.
“Jesus,” my dad muttered as we drove into town. I snapped out of my memories, sat up quickly, and placed a hand on the gun strapped to my leg. The scene we drove into was so unbelievable that I was sure I was either having some sort of out-of-body experience, or that we had somehow driven onto the set of a horror film. Fires burned everywhere, people ran and screamed, some were bashing in store front windows … and mixed in with it all was tumultuous violence and the stench of death. Bodies lay haphazardly on sidewalks and out in the middle of the street, people fought off humans with eerie, vacant eyes, blood clotted around their mouths, and ripped skin hanging from their teeth as they tore into the remains of their latest victim.
“Dad?” I whispered as I swallowed the bile in my throat.
“Hold on, Mel. We are going to get out of here.” I gazed straight ahead and tried to block out all the violence and gore surrounding me, tried to see how my dad was going to get us out of the center of town … but the streets were becoming more and more congested and I couldn’t help but feel panic starting to claw at my chest. My dad gunned the gas and we began to weave dangerously through the streets, trying to get free of the madness. If we could just get off of the main drag in town, and make it to the main highway, we’d have a straight shot to the army base. A woman ran out in the road and my dad swerved hard to the left. I screamed and grabbed the door handle, holding on for dear life. We missed the woman, but only by a few inches. My dad swerved again, this time trying to miss one of the lumbering corpses, but the jeep swiped him, causing the corpse to fly back in the street. I glanced back and saw the body get up like nothing had happened … and then attack the woman we had just missed a few seconds earlier. My hand immediately went to my gun, but we were speeding away and I couldn’t do anything. I had never felt so utterly wretched as I did driving out of that city and not doing a damned thing to help anyone. I could only hope help—in the form of police or military—would be on their way to help as soon as possible.