This Dead World

CHAPTER ONE

The world has been over for a decade and I can’t even get a drink. “No can do, kid. You’re not old enough and I’m not about to serve a minor a drink.” The bartender shakes his head as he moves farther down the bar.

“But that law doesn’t even exist anymore.” I call after him, watching him take an order from someone who is clearly old enough to drink. I’ve been fighting the infected since I was ten years old, that should earn me a drink. The music playing in the bar pauses for a moment before leading into one of ten songs that plays on the old machine in the corner. It sounds like something that Dad used to listen to in his truck.

I weave my way through the crowded tables until my eyes land on the back of Felicity’s head. She is leaning forward on the table, her hands covering her mouth as Jay is talking loudly with her hands. My chair squeals against the wooden floor as I pull it out from the table and I quickly reach across the table for the blue tinted glass sitting in front of Jay. Her hand wraps around it quickly, sliding it away from me. Damn. “What do you think you’re doing, Samson?”

Felicity laughs next to me, but I leave my hand extended across the sticky wood table. “Come on, Jay. I just want to try it.”

Jay shakes her head. “You’re too young. Not twenty-one yet, Sam. Felicity’s almost there,” She turns to look at Felicity, “Do you want to try it?” Offering the blue glass of homemade alcohol to her.

I raise my eyebrows at Felicity, and a smile spreads out across her face. She tucks a piece of bright blonde hair behind her ear. “My stomach’s a little upset or I would.” Jay shrugs her shoulders and takes a drink.

I tap my fingers against the table, noticing the way her face scrunches together as she swallows the liquid. “You know, the legal drinking age doesn’t really matter anymore. What are you going to do? Call that idiot of a Sheriff?”

A group behind us erupts in laughter, and I glance over my shoulder at a table of men. The bar is full tonight which is because it’s one of the only places that is open after five. All of the men have large glasses sitting in front of them, and one of them is waving his hands around enigmatically, his words coming out loud and fast. He looks familiar to me, but I can’t remember his name. Maybe I’ve seen him at work.

“Still too young. I’d feel responsible if you got drunk and then ran into an infected. You’d be all off your game and I don’t want to have to deal with you as a rabid.” Jay’s glass clinks against the table as she sets it down, “And you just hate the Sheriff because he held you in quarantine when you came here.”

“Yeah.” My voice is loud. “Because of some stupid tech issue with their testing machines and he kept me there for over a week. Which is longer than normal. Do I look infected? No. ”

Jay points her finger at me, a smile starting to peek through. “He kept you longer than normal because you were a smart ass.”

Felicity laughs, and I look over at her because it’s one of my favorite sounds. I let the warmth of her laughter rid my chest of frustration. “Never mind that. Jay, it’d be doubtful that we’d run into any infected. That’s what the wall is for.”

“True,” I add and lean into her, “We just finished all of the repairs and reinforcements to the walls. I don’t think anything is getting through.” The work was hard, especially over the last few weeks but it felt good to finish. Work was a nice replacement for fighting the infected. It kept my mind from wandering down the bloody memories of the years outside the wall. The wall keeps Mt. Smoke safe and it felt food to be a part of those helping to make it stronger.

Jay rolls her eyes at me and runs a hand through her short brown hair. It’s shorter than mine, only about a inch long but she likes like that. “Go order one if you want to try it that badly, Sam.”

“He won’t give it to him. He knows that Sam is only twenty and is abiding by the law from before,” Felicity says with a smirk on her face, leaning forward over the table.

Laughter roars out of Jay’s chest, and I meet Felicity’s gaze. “Really? You had to tell her that?”

She shrugs at me and then kisses me quickly on the cheek, “It’s pretty funny.” Felicity does a lousy job of stifling her laughter.

I open my mouth to respond when a scream cuts through the air, and a deep voice yells, “What the hell!” The room erupts with more cries. I turn around, standing up out of my chair and my stomach drops. Everyone is backing up, rushing over tables and chairs. Voices are layering on top of each other and it’s hard to make out what they’re saying. Underneath it all, the beat of the rock music is pulsing. Past them, I see an infected with its hand grasping at a woman’s back. It jumps at her and sinks its teeth into the soft part of her neck. Her skin breaks, blood exploding out like rain around her.

How the hell did that thing get through the wall?

“Don’t move,” I say to Felicity, not stopping to look back.

I pull my knife out of the sheath and push through the people rushing my way. Another infected steps in through the open door. My heart is crashing in time with my feet against the sticky bar floor as I rush the infected. It stops moving when I slam my long knife into its head. The dead things mouth falls open and foamy blood starts to cascade out. My blade is covered with thick red after I pull it out, not bothering to watch the infected crumpling to the ground.

“Get away from me,” A deep voice timbers through the bar, and it makes me turn around. My heart is pounding hard in my chest when I register what’s happening. The second infected is walking toward the bartender who keeps backing up. He has a look of panic on his face as the infected snaps its teeth at him. The thing is moving so fast that I almost don’t know how to come at it, not wanting to risk getting scratched or worse. The bartender meets my eyes, and the fear is dripping out onto his cheeks. I jump over the corpse on the ground and rush around the bar. It doesn’t turn toward me as I step behind it which makes it easy to grab the infected by the back of the neck and throw it into the wall. The infected’s head smashes into the glass bottles sitting on the shelves, and it starts to fall toward the floor. A sound erupts from the crowd behind me and the bartender bangs into the wall behind him. I crouch over the squirming infected and quickly slam the knife down into its head. The dead thing jerks one last time before laying still. I turn around quickly and look out at the crowd, everyone’s eyes on me, “Are there any more?”

Jay rushes toward the door, the crowd parting for her, and she quickly peeks her head outside. Her face flushed when she turns back to me, “I don’t see any.”

I take a step back, the pool of blood starting to grow too close to my shoes and I notice something about the now twice dead infected. Something’s off. They look clean. They look like they took a shower and put on clean clothes this morning. Not like they’ve been roaming around outside for the last ten years, or even the last three months. The one at my feet has blood covering just one of their arms, the fabric of their sleeve torn and through the scraps, I can see something white.

How long have they been dead?

My hands are shaking when I walk out from behind the bar, "Please,” A small voice calls out, and I see the woman lying on her side, a pool of blood expanding around her.

I don’t move closer to her. Not sure why but something keeps my feet from walking closer to her. The man I recognized from work steps out from the crowd and says, “She’s a goner.”

“Please,” The woman says again, her words strained, “Just do it,” The pain on her face makes me tighten my grip on my knife. Something like nervousness rises in my chest as the color starts to fade from the woman’s face. She’s going to turn. So someone has got to do it. Someone has to kill her. I couldn’t begin to guess at the number of infected I’ve killed but I can remember all of the ones who were still human. Not quite gone yet. It doesn’t make it any easier to remind myself that she’s infected. She’ll turn soon.

Looking around the room, I see people holding onto each other, and some of them have their backs turned. Felicity’s face peeks out from between two people and meeting her blue eyes stabilizes me. I focus on her heart shaped face and the way her mouth is pressed tightly together. She nods her head slightly and her bright blonde hair dances around her chin. I try to block out thoughts from my head and force my legs to move. My muscles strain against the weight of whatever is trying to keep me in place as I take a step forward. Someone has to do it. I squat down next to the pool of blood and let out a deep breath. I force myself to look at the scuffed up wood floor next to the woman’s head while I try to steady my hand. It’s glossy like someone painted over the wood but underneath the gloss is a long scratch. My hand shakes but I don’t hesitate, quickly thrusting the knife into the woman’s eye. Groans fill the air, and I hear someone whimpering.

A moment passes, and I open my eyes, letting out a deep breath. My palms are sweaty, and the handle of the knife slides in my hand, “What the hell were those things doing inside the wall?” Someone asks softly from behind me. I stand up, wiping the knife across my jeans and follow everyone else’s gaze to the man I recognized before.

Putting my knife back in its sheath, I open my mouth to speak, but a tall woman on my left says, “They don’t look like they’ve been dead that long.”

“You did a hell of a job killing those, Sam,” the man from work says, and I suddenly feel bad for not remembering his name. “I guess I’m a little rusty. Damn walls are making me soft,” He says as he walks over to his table and picks up a glass of the clear homemade alcohol.

The sound of glass clinking makes me turn toward the bar, and I see the bartender pouring a drink into an old glass jar. He looks at me, and I can still see the drying tears on his cheeks, “Here you go, kid.” His hand shakes as he pushes the glass toward me. “You earned it.”

“They seemed different though,” Another voice calls out and then continues, “Faster.”

Felicity comes through the crowd but stays at the edge of it, her blue eyes stuck on the bodies crumpled the ground. She looks up at me and says, “I think that’s Jax from the butcher.”

The tall woman takes a step forward and then looks around the room, the color draining from her face. “And the other one is his wife!”

A murmur starts to spread through the crowd and a single drop of sweat rolls down my back. “Let’s call the Sheriff. Right?” Trying to make my voice sound stable and calm to combat the panic that’s sweeping through the room. He’s the last person I would ever voluntarily call, but this is something that he needs to see.

I turn around and see Jay walking around the bar to grab the radio hanging off the hook on the wall. She holds the button down and speaks into it, “Sheriff. Sheriff, we have two -“ But the murmur in the bar has turned into a low roar, and she turns around yelling, “Everyone shut the hell up!” Sheepish looks are exchanged as people start to sit back down at the tables, avoiding the corpses taking up the floor. “Sheriff. We have a situation at Smokey’s Bar.”

Static comes out of the radio, and I step over the infected body of Jax, moving closer to Jay as the distinct voice of the Sheriff comes through the radio, “Copy. What kind of situation?”

Jay meets my eyes, and I shrug my shoulders, holding my shaking hands together. “I mean, just tell him the truth?”

She holds the button down on the large black radio and says, “Two infected. Jax the butcher and his wife.”

Static fills the awkward space in the air, everyone behind us now quietly staring at each other. And then it stops, “Uh,” There’s some shock or maybe disbelief in the Sheriff’s voice, “Okay. Nobody leaves until I get there.”

“Copy,” Jay responds and hangs the radio back on the nail.

I turn around and see Felicity still standing in the same spot, her arms wrapped around her stomach, the blue shirt she’s wearing makes her eyes seem so much brighter as I walk toward her. “Felicity?” She looks up at me and tries to force a smile on her face, but I put my hands on her shoulders and turn her around. “Why don’t we sit down?

Leading her back to our table, Jay comes up behind me and says, “What the hell was that?”

Felicity sits down, but I stay standing, wanting to be ready in case anything else happens. I look back at the two bodies on the ground and know that there’s only one way they could have turned. Which means that there are more of them inside the wall. I keep my words quiet as I turn toward Jay, “We need to send a group around the wall. Check for breaks or holes.”