Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mallville Special #1: Eric the Read Skips to the End

One year ago I set up this blog, and posted the first entry of "Mallville - A Journal of the Zombie Apocalypse" (Still just tentatively titled "Mallville"). I did this as a result of a number of things:

First off I had been listening to a lot of the great work by authors like J.C. Hutchins (whose "7th Son" trilogy has been optioned by Warner Bros.), Scott Sigler (now a New York Times Bestselling author), Mur Lafferty (Who is about to start the fifth season of her "Heaven" series), and Chris Lester (whose "The Metamor City Podcast" is about to wrap up its first season).

Second, I had been toying with the idea of doing a zombie journal story for literally a decade (little did I realize that zombie fiction was about to become big again, making me just another among may, but oh well). I have actually started a nuber of different takes on zombie stories over the years, but when I combined it with my idea for the Mallville Shopping Community I thought i had something that worked pretty good.

Third, I had written what would eventually be the first entry or two as a really short flash piece for a podcast called "Air Out My Shorts" (Episode 96 "Less Than Lizzy" if you are interested). Not only did they not tear it to shreds, they seemed to sort of enjoy it. It was when I started to write a follow-up that I realized there might be a lot more to the story, so I decided to do a little research on Creative Commons Licenses, re-write the beginning without the 800 word limit, and "First Entry: Life Changes" was the result.

Over the last year "Mallville" has started to pick up a following. Some are people who know me in real life, but some of you are people who found this story through other means. I want you all to know that I appreciate that you take time out of your life to read my story, and I really appreciate that you tell your friends about it.

Okay, you're not here to see my stroke my ego. So without anymore blather by me, I hope you enjoy it, here is Mallville Special #1

Eric the Read Skips to the End
by VOID Munashii

Priscilla Redd can only really be said to have taught her son Eric two things during the drunken blur that was her life after her husband left; she taught him to love books, for when she was not lost in a bottle she was lost in a book, and she taught him to never skip to the end; never peek at the last page and spoil the story for yourself. This was of course before she, while drunk, drove her car at high speed into the back end of a big rig, turning her sedan into a chopped top convertible.

Eric Redd (Eric the Read, pronounced like the colour, to his few friends) became a simple man; he loved books, his friends, his fiancĂ© Emma, and his book store. Eric had inherited a large sum of money when his mother passed, and some smart investing meant that he was set for life as long as he didn’t blow all his money frivolously. With the help of his best friend from childhood, Franny Resaca, he opened “The Redd Pages”, a used book store where he can basically sit around and read all day.

The interior of The Redd Pages is similar to that of many used book stores, cheaply constructed shelves bowing under the weight of the books piled on them. The staccks of books on the top shelf almost touched the ceiling (certainly in violation of local fire codes) and created a labyrinth in which new customers could easily get lost (the experienced customers just tended to lose themselves in the pages of the books). The store could have maybe been more brightly lit, as most of the light in the store filtered in through the front windows rather than the overheard fluorescents, but there was enough to read by as long as you didn’t mind the occasional headache from eye strain.

In the center of the store with a clear view of the front door was a desk that served as the sales counter. There was a telephone, a table lamp, a flat screen monitor, keyboard, mouse, and a small printer (the computer itself was under the desk). Behind the desk was a well use office chair, and behind that was a big comfortable looking brown suede sofa with a floor lamp on one end, and a door to the back of the store on the other. Franny could usually be found at the desk, while Eric usually occupied the sofa.

One of the reasons Eric picked this location was that it had upstairs rooms, the previous owners, a clothing store, had used it as storage space, but Eric had it converted into a two bedroom apartment where he and Franny could live meaning he could go days without ever actually having to leave his books.

Emma Grainfield was the perfect woman for Eric. She accepted that he and Franny lived together without being romantically involved, and she was tall enough that she could look at Eric face to face without towering over his five foot eight frame, a little overweight, but not fat by any means, and raven haired. It was not just her appearance that made Eric lover her though, it was her love of books.

Emma was a writer constantly on the verge of making it big. She had been published a few times, but just short stories sold to magazines or podcasts. She had her own apartment in Mallville, the giant “commerce community” at the center of town. Eric had invited her to move in with him and Franny, but she said she just couldn’t write above the book shop.

“There’s just too much pressure having all of those better authors below me,” Emma would say when asked why she got writer’s block while in the shop, but she would still stay with Eric some nights.

When the world ended, Emma was not staying with Eric, or even at her own place in Mallville. When the world ended, she was in New York trying to finalize a deal with a major publisher, “This is it, guys,” she told Eric and Franny before leaving on her trip,” This is the big time.”

It was the end of March, and spring was in full swing. Emma tried to get Eric to come to New York with her, to see Central Park in spring would be romantic according to her. Eric pointed out that she did not need him around distracting her when she needed to concentrate on her book deal, and Emma reluctantly admitted he was right.

When the end started, Eric was lying on the sofa, black hair sticking out in random directions dressed in a wrinkled black button-up and black khakis, reading a somewhat worn copy of the novel “Contagious”. On the floor next to the sofa was a sweating glass of iced tea. Classical music floated through store from a radio on the floor next to the lamp.

There were no customers in the store, and Eric had no problems with this at all. Customers had a nasty habit of interrupting his reading. This is why Franny was the one who took the most responsibility for trying to make the store profitable, partly because she enjoyed it, but mostly because she didn't like feeling like she was leeching off of her friend.

Suddenly the door to the back room burst open, and Fran came through, her long blond hair trailing behind her, highlighted by the red blouse and blue jeans she wore” Eric, Eric, Eric, Eric!” she cried excitedly as she entered.

“Hmm?” Eric replied without looking up from his book.

“There is the weirdest shit on the news, you need to come see.”

“It’s raining jelly beans?” asked Eric still without looking up from his book.

“No. There’s a riot or something at the hospital.”

Eric yawned in response, “Well come get me when it starts raining jelly beans.”

“You need to see this,” repeated Fran, and sat at the computer, intent on bringing up one of the local television stations video streams.

Before Franny could get anything up on the computer screen, the music on the radio ended, and a smooth cultured British accented man replaced it, “I am Bennett Nigel, and you are listening to UPR, United Public Radio, ninety-point-six FM. It is four thirty in the afternoon, and it is time for news.”

Another voice came on the radio, this one still smooth, but not accented, ”Our top story right now is the unusual reports of violence coming across the newswire from across the country of what can only be described as bizarre assaults at hospitals and… funeral homes?” the last part was more question than statement,

Fran looked at Eric as if to say “See?”

“We will bring you more information on this developing story as we get it,” stated the befuddled news man, trying to regain his normal professional tone.

“So it's not just local then.” said Franny, aiming her concentration back at the computer.

“It's probably just some sort of joke organized by the freaks on the Internet,” said Eric.

“I don't think so.”

A few more taps on the keyboard and clicks of the mouse, and Franny had a video running on the computer screen. She clicked on the little box with the arrow in it to make the video to take up the full screen.

“We are live on location at Covenant General Hospital, and the scene is something I can only describe as chaotic,” stated the balding reporter identified by the caption as Mel Vacca in the center of the screen. Behind him a large group of people were milling around. Franny and Eric could identify doctors and nurses in the crowd by their clothes as well a number of gown clad patients.

Eric rose from the couch, and stood behind Franny at the desk. He leaned over a bit to get a closer view of the computer screen. He watched the video with his mouth hung open in disbelief.

Police had set up a barrier around the front doors consisting of four police cars with yellow tape strung between them. The six police officers were successfully keeping people away from the door, but this seemed to be more because no one was trying to get in than due to any actual efforts on their part.

“With me is nurse Dolores Tremane. Miss Tremane, can you please tell us what you saw inside?” asked Mel.

Dolores, an attractive black woman looking to be in her early thirties with short flat hair spoke into the camera. She was clad in pink scrubs with smears of blood on the front, and hints of madness danced in her eyes, ” I was going into the morgue when I saw Marvin, one of the orderlies, come staggering out like he was drunk, but then I saw he was covered in blood, so much blood, and his clothes were torn, and it looked like part of his shoulder was missing, that's where it looked like the blood had come from. I called to him, and when he looked at me , he looked all weird, his color was wrong and his eyes looked all weird. He came at me,” she paused for a second, “ I think he tried to bite me, so I pushed him away and ran.”

Before the reporter could speak again there were screams from behind him and the nurse. The camera zoomed in shakily to center on the automatic doors as they slid open, and a man staggered out.

The man was in his twenties, blond with grayish skin, and wearing a blood spattered t-shirt with the logo for the rock band “Trailer Park Street” on it. He looked like he had been in a car accident; the bloody white bone of his jaw shone through where the flesh had been ripped from the right side of his face.

A pretty red-headed nurse, probably in her late thirties, ducked under the police tape and between the officers who had turned to look at the newcomer, She ran dutifully up to help the injured man; putting an arm around his shoulder. The reporter's microphone did not pick up what she said to him, but it picked up her screams of terror and pain perfectly as the man opened his mouth wide, and rounded on her. Her shriek as he sank his teeth into her neck came through the computer's speakers crisp and clear..

The cameraman caught every second of the attack; the look of anguish and surprise on the nurse's face, the crimson spray of blood as the man's teeth ripped through her flesh, and his head pulled away, leaving a semi-circular hole through which blood fountained. He caught the police rushing forward, pulling the two apart before the nurse could be bitten again, and the middle-aged police officer's reaction as the thing which had once been a man rounded on the cop, and sank his teeth into the officer's forearm.

“Holy shit! Did you get that!” asked Mel to the cameraman.

Eric and Franny heard no response from the cameraman, who kept his shot focused on the violence unfolding by the hospital's door. The Hispanic police officer who had pulled the red-haired nurse away from the accident victim cast her aside, and rushed to help his partner who had awkwardly pulled his baton with his left hand, and was beating at the thing latched to his arm over the head with it.

The Hispanic officer pulled his sidearm, and shot the cannibal in the leg. The thing staggered, and let go of the middle aged cop, but did not go down. Instead it turned on the younger cop, and lunged at him.

The young officer panicked, and emptied his gun into his attacker. Bullets tore into its head, neck, and chest. One of the bullets went through the thing's throat, and hit his partner square in the chest. Since he had already been bitten, it might have been better if the middle-aged officer had neglected to wear his vest that day, but instead he just went down clutching at where his vest had stopped the bullet.

The one time accident victim, now murderous flesh-eater went down, and stayed down. Doctors and nurses rushed forward to help the injured, for all the good it would ultimately do, while the other four officers talked frantically into their radios.

It wasn’t the bell attached to the front door ringing that actually got Eric and Franny to look up from the computer monitor, it was the smell. The shop was suddenly filled with a mixed odor of rot and raw sewage. Franny looked up first, and screamed.

Eric’s attention was jerked away from the computer and he was greeted with a vision out of his nightmares. Shambling through the shop and towards him and Franny was a man in a filthy wet gray suit and a tie that was probably paisley originally. His dark hair was matted to his skull, his eyes were a cloudy white, and his pale skin was saggy as if it he had been submerged in water for a long time.

The soggy horror shambled towards them as fast as it could, but it seemed unable to move quickly, as if it had not used its muscles in a long time. It lurched forward unsteadily, reaching its arms out towards Franny and Eric as if to give them a big friendly hug.

“Sir, I must ask you to leave; you’re dripping all over my floor,” said Eric uncertainly, not knowing how to handle the situation.

Franny was much quicker on the uptake than her friend, and grabbed the nearest thing not tied down, a copy of “I Am America, And So Can You” that happened to be sitting on the desk, and chucked it at the ghoul. The book’s spine hit it squarely in the face causing it to stagger back a step.

Franny practically launched herself out of her chair and over to the nearest bookshelf, Politics, and started throwing books at the wraith, Eric moved in right behind her. Despite being fairly sedentary people, Eric and Franny had pretty decent throwing arms, and almost every one of their projectiles hit their target. Bill O'Reilly, Al Franken, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore, Michael Savage, Jim Hightower; throw after throw, the creature was pelted with political rhetoric.

In what seemed like a good idea at the moment, Eric grabbed a copy of “America the Book”, and charged the creature with the textbook sized tome intending to try and bash its head in. Unfortunately he tripped over a copy “Bushworld', and went sprawling into the monstrosity, driving it to the floor.

For its lack of coordinationg, the creature was surprisingly strong, and rolled Eric onto his back and was on top of him in a flash. Eric held up the book he had intended to brain the thing with, and pushed back against the monster's gnashing teeth. The only thing between him and being this thing's dinner was a single volume of dated political humor.

“Get it off me!” yelled Eric in a decidedly non-hroic fashion.

Franny appeared to have frozen, a copy of “Bushwhacked” raised over her head ready to throw, but she couldn't get a clear shot at the monster as it rolled about the floor with her best friend. Thinking she had a shot, she flung the book.

“Ow!” cried Eric as a corner of the book's cover gouged the side of his head.

“I'm sorry!” cried Franny, now panicking.

“Do something! Help me!” was Eric's reply.

An idea struck Franny, and she ran from the storefront into the back room,” Where the hell are you going?” yelled Eric, the creature still trying to take a bite out of his face.

A moment later Franny came running back into the storefront, a gleaming reproduction of the sword of Godric Gryffindor raised aloft. She screamed like an Valkyrie charging into battle as she swung the blade at the monster just as it finally knocked the book out of Eric's hands, and reared back to bite him.

The sword whistled through the air, and was stopped with a thickening crack as the blade split the skull of the rotting creature. The force of the impact caused the blade of the display quality sword to bend, but not before it stuck into the rotting brains of the monster to the point that it was almost touching its ears.

Franny's momentum kept her moving forward, causing her to fall over the pair struggling on the floor, and land forehead first on to linoleum floor with a resounding “thunk!”. She rolled over onto her back and lay still.

Nothing moved for a moment, everything was still, and the only noise in the shop was some Chopin drifting up from the radio, and the increasingly panicked voice of a news anchor from the computer. Franny, Eric, and the flesh-hungry creature all lay perfectly still.

“Euuuuurrrrghhhhh!” cried Eric as soon as he realized he was still alive, and that his face was coated in the blackish slime that was oozing out of the fractured skull of the now dead creature that was pinning him to the floor. He struggled his way out from under it, and frantically started trying to wipe the slime off of his face with his hands.

Franny opened here eyes, and found herself looking at the ceiling through a layer of gray sparks floating before her eyes, ”Eric, are you okay?” she asked groggily.

“I’ve been slimed!” he cried inappropriately.

“Did it hurt you?” asked Franny.

Satisfied that he had wiped as much of the rotting cranial fluid off his face as he could, Eric now took to trying to fling it off of his hands, ”I’m still in one piece, I think.”

“I wrecked your sword, didn’t I?” asked Franny, still lying perfectly still on the floor.

Eric stopped flailing his hands about like a girl, and looked at the sword. The top and bottom of the blade were visible, but the middle of it was buried in the skull of the attacker. The sword of Gryffindor was now bent like a scimitar.

“I’d say so, yeah…. Thank you,” replied Eric.

“Sorry,” replied Franny, slowly trying to sit up, and being rewarded with what felt like someone playing the Anvil Chorus inside her skull for her efforts.

“Are you okay?” asked Eric.

“It feels like the worst hangover I’ve ever had without any of the fun that normally goes with getting hungover. I think we should close for the day,” said Franny, clutching her head in her hands.

“Right,” said Eric, scrambling to his feet, stepping over the stinking corpse, and going to the door. He turned the lock with a click, started to walk away, and then turned to flip the sign hanging in the window over so that it read “CLOSED” on the side facing out.

“We need to get this thing out of here, it stinks,” said Fran, now rubbing the growing knot on her forehead.

“Do you think this is related to that stuff on the news?” asked Eric.

“I hurt too much to be sarcastic at you right now,” was Fran’s reply.

“The police! We need to call the police,” exclaimed Eric.

“You do that. I’m going to get some Advil.” Fran walked into the back room and up to the apartment above while Eric dialed 911 frantically.

After a couple of minutes on hold, Franny walked back into the storefront carrying an open bottle of water,” Well?” she asks.

“I’m on hold,” says Eric.

“Nine-one-one put you on hold?”

“Yes, it says all operators are busy… hold on. Yes? My name is Eric Redd, and one of those things from the news attacked me…. What? No, we, we seem to have killed it…. No, no one is in immediate danger now, but we have a body in the middle of my store…. What do you mean get rid of it? Get rid of it how? That's what I'm calling you for! No, we need the police here, this guy tried to kill me!” Eric takes the phone away from his ear, and looks at it in disbelief.

“What happened?”

“She hung up. She said to dispose of the thing, that the police are too busy to come to help us if we are not in immediate danger,”

When the phone rang in Eric’s hand a moment later, it startled him so much that he almost dropped it,” What?” he said into it.

“Real professional way to answer your phone,” replied Emma’s voice, half joking, half chastising.

“Emma! Honey, are you okay?” asked Eric, failing to notice to combined look of curiosity, annoyance, and pain cross over Franny’s face.

“Yeah, I’m fine Eric. You sound upset, what’s wrong?”

“Haven’t you seen the news?”

“Yeah, some sort of organized rioting or something? It’s nothing to worry about,” said Emma.

“It’s not a riot. Franny and I were attacked by one of those things!”

“What? What happened?” Emma sounded concerned at that.

“This guy came into the store and attacked us.”

“Attacked you? Are you okay? Have you called the police?”

“Yes, we’re fine. Franny killed it. The police said they couldn't come out to help us.”

“Stop making shit up,” replied Emma, all concern gone from her voice.

Eric looked down at the corpse before speaking,” I’m not making it up. You need to come home now. You’re not safe there.”

“I’m perfectly fine, and I’ll be home in two days. I’m getting the contract. They’re going to publish my novel!” squealed Emma, now on the topic she actually called about.

“The news said this is going on all over.”

“Yes, there’s some disturbance at the hospitals here, and something about the East River, but nothing is happening where I am. If we were in danger someone would tell us. Can’t you just be happy for me? This is what I've always dreamed of!”

“I’ll be happy for you when you come home,” replied Eric.

“Dammit Eric, this is the big time for me! I’m not leaving until that contract is signed, and if you are going to be a shithead about it, I might not come back at all,” said Emma petulantly, “ Now I’ll be home in two days, and you had better be happy for me then!” she yelled before hanging up. It would be the last time Eric would ever hear from Emma.

That night Eric and Franny dragged the body out back into the alley behind the store. They were unsure if they should say something, or try to put it into the dumpster, or just cover it up. Not wanting to handle it anymore than they had to, Eric covered the body with an old paint-stained drop cloth.

Four days passed, and Eric and Franny watched as human civilization crumbled. They ventured out once to find the streets largely empty save for a few scared looking people like themselves, and a number of shambling undead like the one they had faced off with.

Tyranno-Mart seemed to be about the only store still open, but the kindly old door greeter had been replaced by two men in their twenties armed with hunting rifles; They still politely welcomed Franny and Eric to T-Mart when they came in though. The armed door greeters informed them that it was a good thing they had come by, as there was talking of them closing down like most everyone else already had.

The store was still surprisingly well stocked; people either did not expect that they would be open, or were too afraid to leave their homes. Franny and Eric loaded up a cart with non-perishable food, and a couple of sturdy aluminum baseball bats, paid, and went back home.
The next two days found Eric glued to the television as he watched his world crumble. His worry about Emma seemed to create a morbid fascination with the nearly useless information the news was supplying.

“This is clearly a new tactic by Al Queda to try and shake our resolve in Iraq!” blustered Wolf News host Owen Flaherty from the TV in the small two bedroom apartment’s living room/dining room/kitchen.

“I think raising the dead is a bit beyond the abilities of Al Queda. I certainly think it beyond them to overrun the city with them!” retorted Melvin Toomey, Flaherty’s slightly less right wing co-host.

“That’s just what I would expect a liberal to say! These are not the undead, as the president wants us to believe, this appears to be some sort of hoax aimed at America by hostile outsiders,” replied Flaherty.

“What about the reports coming in from England, France, and other parts of the world? Are you going to tell me those things the police and National Guard are fighting down in the streets are Islamic terrorists in make-up?” as Toomey spoke, footage of National Guardsmen firing their rifles into groups of what looked like people came up on the screen.

“Just more efforts to make us panic and pull out of Iraq and allow the terrorists to win!” bellowed Flaherty.

“Turn that shit off,” called Franny from the window where she was sitting to keep an eye on the street below. The streets had been largely deserted since the news announced that what was first thought to be riots were actually the dead coming back to life; a leap of logic that the authorities made far easier than they really should have.

Eric was not paying any attention to Franny; his attention was split pretty evenly between the television, and the phone he clutched in his hand, willing it to ring. He occasionally would try to call Emma’s hotel in New York City, but kept getting an ‘all circuits busy’ message. He had tried her cell phone, but she wasn’t answering it.

“Eric, find another channel! I cannot stand another minute of Wolf News!” yelled Franny.

Eric looked up, startled, and startled rummaging around himself for the remote, when suddenly the image of the two bickering hosts disappeared in a blast of static.

After a moment a news desk appeared where a man with puffed up blond hair and a tan looked into the camera nervously and holding his hand up to his earpiece. The caption identified him as Rex Mulroy,” Umm, I’m sorry about that folks, but we seem to have lost communication with our New York studios…. What?”

The video changed back to the studio in New York, but was pointed at an odd angle, revealing the edge of the set, and the various cables and light stands normally out of scene. Flaherty and Toomey were still at the desk, but they were looking off to their left.

“They're in the building!”a woman's voice yelled.

Franny left her spot at the window, and came over to join Eric on the couch.

“What about the soldiers?” bellowed Flaherty on the television.

“They got past them; through them.” came a man's voice.

“New York?” came Rex's voice, “Can you hear me? What's the situation there?”

Flaherty looked at the camera, “Are we still on the air?” he asked, “Get that back on me!”

The camera moved up, and centered back on the set; Flaherty put his normal television face on again, while Toomey sat with his face in his hands, “This is Owen Flaherty coming to you live from Wolf News studios in New York.”, he said.

“Owen? This is Rex Mulroy in Los Angeles, what is the situation there?”

“The terrorists have apparently breached the building, and-”

“Goddammit, Owen!” yelled Toomey, looking up, “They're not terrorists! This is not some plot by Muslims, or liberals, or any of that shit!”

“Real professional there, Melvin!” Flaherty answered.

“Don't you get it, Owen?” asked Toomey, “We're going to die! This isn't some story! This isn't some abstract situation for you to pontificate on! These things are going to kill us! You can't just shout them down, or turn off their mic!”

“Just the sort of defeatism I would expect from a liberal like you.”

Toomey gave up, and put his face back in his hands, and started repeating “Oh God, what have I wasted my life on?” over and over.

“Turn his mic off!” Flaherty yelled.

A young man with unruly blond hair ran in front of the camera, and looks into it, “They coming up the stairs; there's so many of them. The streets are full of them, there's no way out!”

“Get out of the way!” shouted Flaherty, “I'm broadcasting here! Doesn't anyone here have a goddamn sense of professionalism?”

From somewhere off camera, a tear soaked woman's voice shouted, “Fuck you, Owen!”

“They're on this floor!” screamed another woman's voice, “Oh God, they're here!”

“Stop them!” ordered Flaherty, “Block the door!”

A man in a white shirt and khakis ran in front of the camera carrying a fire ax, and a pair of gunshots could be heard in the distance. Panicked yelling echoed through the studio while Owen Flaherty looked off screen at the sources of the noise.

“Owen, you guys need to get out of there!” said Rex Mulroy.

Toomey looked up and shouted loud enough for Flaherty's microphone to pick it up, “Go where? This is a city of the fucking dead now! There's nowhere to go!”

Suddenly the camera swiveled as the cameraman abandoned his post. Flaherty and Toomey blurred off the screen to be replaced by a shot of the studio wall, and half of the door leading to the hallway outside.

As Eric and Franny watched, a woman in a rumpled gray suit jacket and skirt burst through the door, “They're coming down the hall!” she yelled, “Scott and J.C. Are trying to hold them off.”

Faint gunshots came through the television's speakers again, and the man in white shirt and khakis who had moments before run past with a fire ax burst back through the door. He was still clutching his ax, the head of which was now coated in reddish black wetness.

“They got Scott!” yelled the man, “They're right behind me!”

Sounds of panic and confusion came over the television as the Wolf News staff contemplated their final moments on the Earth. When the studio door opened again it revealed the shambling corpses of the undead.

“Get behind me!” the man with the ax, presumably J.C., yelled from off screen.

The zombies flooded into the room, and then the image suddenly switched to a very scared looking Rex Mulroy in the Los Angeles studio. He was looking off camera at a video monitor. When he realized that he was being broadcast again, he suddenly looked back at the camera, and in that moment there was not enough makeup in the world to keep him from looking like he was in his fifties.

“Uhh, “ Mulroy said quietly, “Go... go to commercial.”

Rex Mulroy disappeared from the screen and was replaced by a man with a headset microphone yelling about super-absorbent washcloths. Franny got up from the couch, crossed over to the tv, and turned it off.

Eric just sat there staring at the blank screen.

“Eric, “ started Franny, “Are you okay?”

“You don't think Emma is still there, do you? She got out before it got bad, right?”

“I don't know. I'm sure she will find her way back to you if she did though,” answered Franny in her most comforting voice.

By the beginning of the second week, Los Angeles had fallen too, and San Francisco was losing control rapidly. Many of the networks, even cable, had gone off the air. Most of the local channels continued to broadcast, as did a number of the radio stations, but some of both had seemingly just gone to playing automated content.

By the end of the second week, all the stores in Covenant were closed, and many people had started leaving their homes. Most were leaving the city for who knows where, but some were heading to Mallville, which had begun accepting refugees. Eric and Franny stayed in the apartment above Redd Pages, one of them keeping an eye at the window at almost all times; Franny was looking for threats or rescue, Eric was just hoping to see Emma come home.

Halfway through the third week, Eric and Franny got a visitor. Dionte Bartel was the third generation of Bartel to run the Bartel Pharmacy across the street from Redd Pages. The Bartel Pharmacy had somehow managed to survive the proliferation of Tyranno Marts and Bianco Drugs, but the end of the world looked to mark the end of Bartel Pharmacy as well.

Franny had been at the window when Dionte pulled up to the curb in front of his store in his black hybrid Ford Escape. Even through the tinted windows Franny could see that the back was stuffed full.

Dionte opened the door, and slowly, cautiously got out of the vehicle, looking around to double check that the street was clear. He leaned back in, saying something to his wife in the passenger seat, and then came out with an old .45 revolver in his hand; it had belonged to his grandfather, the same man who opened Bartel Pharmacy back when this part of Covenant was new.

Dionte crossed the street coming towards Redd Pages. Franny was puzzled, but left the window and hurriedly ran across the apartment, and down the stairs to the storefront. She went as quietly as she could to avoid waking Eric, who was asleep on the couch in front of the tv, which showed a woman with tousled hair reading off what little was still known about the Zed Virus, as the remains of the media had taken to calling it.

Dionte saw Franny coming through the storefront as he was preparing to knock on the glass, and he waved with his left hand, the one not holding the gun, and smiled wearily at her. Franny unlocked the door, and opened it.

“Hey Franny, how ya doin?” Dionte asked in a pale impression of his usual good cheer.

“Not so great, but we're okay,” Franny returned an equally tired smile.

“I was wondering if you guys would still be here, I told Marla wanted to say goodbye to you if you were.”

“Eric wants to wait for Emma,” explained Franny.

“Still no word, eh?”

“No, and I don't have the heart to fight him about it. We have enough food for another week or two as long as we're careful, “Franny explained, “So where are guys going?”

“My dad's old cabin up north a ways. I don't want to be here when what happened in LA happens.”

“You don't really think that will happen here, do you?” Franny asked.

“Dunno, but I don't really wanna find out either,” Dionte shrugged, “I want to know if you guys wanted to come with us. There no room in the car with Marla and Jefferson, but you could follow us, there's plenty of room in the cabin, and there's a lake full of fish to eat. Marla'd love to have you guys.”

“Eric won't go.”

“I thought you'd say that, “replied Dionte with a smile, “If you wanted to go without him, we wouldn't think any less of you though.”

Franny looked shocked at the suggestion, “I could never leave Eric behind,” she said with a humourless chuckle, “He's my friend, and he'll never survive without me.”

“I thought you'd say that too, which is why I brought you this, “Dionte reached into his left pants pocket, and pulled out a ring of keys. Handing the keys to Franny, he said, “These are the keys to the store. If you need anything, feel free.”

'We can't take your stuff. This isn't going to last forever.”

“You're not taking it, I'm giving it to you, “explained Dionte, “If things go back to normal, we can settle up accounts then.”

“Dionte, no.”

“I'm not gonna argue about it. There's medicine in there, as well as some food and water. If you don't take it, someone else will. I'd rather see it go to you guys.”

From behind Dionte, the horn of the Escape honked. Dionte turned to see Marla, a mocha skinned woman with straight brown hair down to her shoulders, waving urgently from the passenger seat; she clearly wanted to get going.

Dionte frowned, “I hate to leave you guys like this.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“Are yo sure you don't want to go with us? We could all watch out for each other.”

“I'm not leaving Eric, and Eric won't leave.”

Dionte nodded his head in resignation, “Yeah, well don't let that man get you killed, okay? This shit is not a joke.”

“We'll be fine. You just take care of your family, don't worry about us.”

In the end, Dionte forced the keys into Franny's hand, gave her a final hug, and returned to his car. Franny watched them drive down the street, and out of her life forever.

By the end of the third week the power was out, and even on Eric's wind-up emergency radio they couldn't get any signals (although the light built into the radio was useful). Miraculously, or maybe not, the water and gas still worked, so they sould still cook and bathe. Deep down, Franny wished that they had gone out too so that they would be forced to leave.

Eric had retreated into books, reading most every moment he was awake, and leaving Franny to keep watch. He wasn't sleeping much, would barely eat anything, and rarely spoke. When he did sleep, he mumbled, and Franny could hear Emma's name mentioned frequently.

For her part, Franny had taken advantage of Dionte's gift. She had salvaged every piece of food from the store, as well as some of the medicines, including some sleeping pills for Eric, and some stumlant pills for herself. The food was nothing great, but a diet of crackers and spray cheese, macaroni and cheese, and candy bars was still better than nothing.

More and more frequently, Franny would see the undead shambling their way up and down the street, but days would pass now between seeing any living people going by in cars or on motorcycles. Franny felt her own sanity slipping a little day by day, if Eric could just hold the occasional conversation with her, she felt she would be okay, but he still rarely spoke to her anymore.

The final straw for Franny came at the end of the second month. A black SUV being pursued by a half a dozen motorcyles went screaming past the store. The bikers, a local gang known as the Hell's Postmen, were shooting at the SUV as they drove, one of the bullets hit the window right over Franny's head, scaring the shit out of her.

“Shit!” Franny screamed as as she realized what had just happened, and fell sideways out of her chain and onto the floor.

Eric jolted awake on the couch. Being on the tail end of a drug induced sleep, his voice sounded confused and groggy when he spoke, “Wha? Wha happened?”

“That's it, Eric. We're getting out of here!” Franny yelled as she got back to her feet.

Eric stared at her for a minute confusedly before speaking, “No, “ he half mumbled, “My store... Emma?”

Franny sighed, and scrunched her face up in thought, trying to figure out how to finally force this discussion. Finally she decided to just go for it; it had to be done, “Eric, honey, Emma's not coming back,” she said as tenderly as she could.

Eric cleared the rest of the haze from his head, “No! No, she is! She said she was. Emma got out of New York before it got too bad.”

“I'm sure she did, but there's no way for her to get back to us. How would she get across the country with things the way they are? She's probably wishing she could get back to you as much as you wish she could,” Franny lied.

“She'll get here eventually, we just have to wait, “ A sort of manic energy came over Eric, and he rose from the couch, tossing aside the blanket that had been covering him.

“We can't stay here. We're almost out of food, toilet paper, and it's just luck that none of those things have tried to get in here at us. Plus now there are assholes out in the street shooting at each other, “Franny pointed to the hole in the window to illustrate.

Eric looked at the small hole surrounded by a spiderweb of cracks, “Oh God, are you okay?”

“Yes, but we need to go before something happens to one of us,” Franny walked over to Eric, and put her hands on his shoulders, “I don't know what I would do if something happened to you here, and I know you couldn't make it here without me.”

“No!” declared Eric, “I'm not leaving my store, not until Emma gets back. I'd rather die.”

“I'm not asking you this time, Eric, this is not a suggestion; I am telling you,” stated Franny firmly, the months of weariness making her face look ten years older, “If I have to knock you out and drag you to the car, I will. We are leaving, and we are going to see if Mallville is still taking people. I cannot do this anymore, and I will not leave you to die on your own!”

“But Franny...”

“No!” Franny's eyes were starting to water up, “I'm not debating this. Do you know how long it has been since I've slept properly, 'cause I don't. I cannot do this anymore. Leave a message for Emma, if we get into Mallville we won't be that far from here. If she can cross the whole country, another couple of miles should be easy for her.”


“No!” screamed Franny, and then more calmly, “No, now start packing.”

Eric did not argue any further, and within three hours they were packed. Franny made sure to pack the rest of the supplies they had, as well as clothes, and their baseball bats into the backseat and trunk or her pale blue old VW Bug. Eric made sure to pack books. When the car was full, Franny instructed Eric to meet her out front while she brought the car around from the alley behind the store.

There was a moment of panic in Franny's chest when she thought her old reliable transport was not going to start, but after a few seconds of chugging, it did. Franny piloted the car, dubbed Blue Beetle after to comic book superhero, around the block to the front. Here jaw dropped at what she saw.

Eric was standing on the bench in front of his store painting on the window with a can of house paint that he had found in a storage closet. Franny remembered them purchasing the red paint with the intent of painting the old wood bench that Eric was standing on a cheery color to attract customers, but this isn't what made her jaw drop.

What had so surprised Franny was the shambling zombie about ten feet away from Eric, shuffling up behind him as he painted the window in broad strokes, totally unaware of its presence.

The Blue Beetle's engine roared like a lawnmower on steroids as Franny pushed the gas pedal to the floor, and shot forward. Eric looked to see Franny speeding forward, and saw the zombie coming towards him. He dropped the paint can, which splattered all over the bench and the legs of his black pants, and almost fell backwards off the side of the bench.

The zombie also turned to see the source of the noise, and Franny caught a glimpse of the woman's milky, almost sad, eyes as she went up onto the hood, and into the windshield. The window spider webbed from the impact, and Franny slammed on the brakes, launching the ghoul off the hood and onto the pavement.

In a flash Franny was out of the car, and clutching one of the metal bats that she had stuck in the back seat. She went over to the zombie, which was struggling to move with a pair of broken legs, and bashed its head in with two arcing swings.

Flipping her hair back out of her face, she looked up from the dead zombie to Eric, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Eric replied, and went back to finishing up his painting with the paint still on his brush.

“You see,” Franny started, pointing at the dead zombie with her bat, “This is why we need to get out of here. That thing could have killed you.”

“But if we were staying here, “Eric replied sadly, “ I would not have been outside for it to kill.”

Franny squeezed her eyes shut and sighed. Abandoning her argument, she asked, “Are you done yet?”

Eric hopped down from the bench, and placed the brush on the seat next to the overturned paint can, “I guess so. Do you think she'll understand?”

Franny looked at Eric's work; into two foot tall block letters Eric had painted the words “EMMA MALLVILLE” on the glass, “Yeah, I think that's clear enough, “she answered, knowing deep down that it didn't matter.

“You're asking me to leave everything behind, you know?” Eric asked, standing there and staring at his store, his home, his life for the last time.

“Not everything,” answered Franny, “You've still got me.”

Eric turned to face Franny, who was still standing over the stinking corpse, and gripping a bloody baseball bat in one hand. He smiled weakly at her, “Yeah, I guess I do. You're a good friend, Fran,” without looking back at the store again, Eric breathed in deeply, and walked to the car, “Well, come on then, lets get going.” He tried to look like he had accepted the situation, but Franny could tell that wasn't quite the truth.

The drive to Mallville was short, the process to being admitted was considerably longer. Franny was directed around to one of the parking garage access gates. The blue beetle descended the ramp into the Mallville complex's basement levels, and the heavu metal gate rolled down behind it.

After being let in, Franny and Eric were ordered out of the car by a number of security officers, who served as Mallville's police force, carrying Mossberg 590A1 shotguns. They were not quite pointing them at Franny or Eric, but it was clear that they would bring the weapons to bear at the slightest provocation.

A tall blond man named Alexandre Rontreal, the second in command in the Mallville security force, came down to meet them. He questioned them extensively about where they had come from, what they had brought with them, and how much contact they had had with the undead. He was professional, but extremely unfriendly; just being around him made Franny feel uneasy.

After the interrogation came an escorted trip to Mallville's medical center where, after a multi-hour wait, Franny and Eric were separated and given thorough examinations for any signs of infection. After finding no signs that either refugee was suffering from anything more than fatigue, they were released.

Eric was a little surprised at how big Mallville actually was; in the few years it had been open he had never once felt the need to go there. He was also quite displeased to discover that so many people were already taking refuge there, that he and Franny were issued a tent and sleeping bags, and told to find a spot in the large pentagonal park that made up the center of the structure.

Franny selected a spot not too far from the pond, thinking that the water in the pond might help keep them a little bit cooler under the hot summer sun. They set up their tent, which turned out to be a hideous maroon and gray thing, and loaded their belongings into it, which basically amounted to their clothes, Eric's books, and some other personal items. Their bats and food had been confiscated by security.

“So I left my home for this?” asked Eric as he unrolled his sleeping bag.

“We're safe here.” explained Franny, trying to get comfortable on top of her bag, “and it's kind of nice. It's going to be like camping.”

“I don't like camping,” replied Eric, “and this place looks like a well decorated prison yard. I feel too closed in.”

“You never leave the shop, you like being closed in.”

“I don't like this,” stated Eric, laying down on top of his sleeping bag, “I really don't.”

Franny rolled on her side, and looked at him angrily, “Well maybe if we had come here when I first suggested it last month we would have gotten a spot inside, but you wanted to stay at the shop! You wanted to wait for Emma!”

“She's coming back!”

“She's not!”

“She is!”

“If she's even still alive she's going to be trapped on the other side of the country. Unless whatever caused all this is stopped we will never see her again! That's if she's even still alive, and not one of those mindless monsters out there! Grow the fuck up, Eric! Deal with it!” Franny yelled, realizing a second after the words had escaped that it was too much.

Eric stared at Franny in silent reply. His eyes started to water, but he clenched his jaw and refused to let the tears come. He rolled over to face away from her.

“Oh Eric, I'm sorry,” Franny tried to put an arm around Eric, but he shoved it off roughly, “I didn't mean that. I'm just tired. I'm sure she's fine.”

“No,” Eric said in a choked voice, “You're right. She probably is dead.”

“Eric no, she-” Franny tried to put an arm around him again only to be shoved off even harder.

“Just leave me alone, Francesca.”

Franny sat there for a second before getting up and leaving the tent. She hated being called Francesca, and Eric knew it. He had only ever called her it three times in all the years they've known each other; once when he had been dumped by a long-time girlfriend and she would not give him enough space, once when she accidentally broke one of the shop's front windows by knocking over a bookshelf onto it, and once when she ran over his foot with her car. She could get mad about it, but she knew that what she said was unbelievably insensitive at the very least.

Two weeks passed, and while Franny had adjusted to the life of a refugee well enough, Eric had become more and more withdrawn, even worse than when they were at the shop. He would go days without leaving the tent to even eat. He even stopped reading altogether, spending his days and nights just sitting in the tent and staring at the nylon walls. Franny let him do it; wanting to give him the time to process his loss and thinking that he would get better in time.

Unfortunately Eric took this as abandonment, and even though the remains of his rational mind told him that he had pushed her away in a quite literal sense, the part of him that was losing touch with reality was in control. This final loss was too much for him, and he realized that it was never going to get any better.

Getting out a notebook from his personal belongings, Eric wrote a letter to his best friend. When he finished he placed the notebook on Franny's sleeping bag, and rummaged around in his belongings until he found what he was looking for.

Even though all of their food had been taken when they came to Mallville, the people who had gone through their stuff had left him the bottle of sleeping pills that Franny had taken from Bartel's for him. It was with these pills Eric the Read decided that he would sleep forever.

It was a reasonably pleasant July evening, the temperature was dropping nicely after a hot day, and people were making the best of it. There were people on the jogging path, people playing basketball on the park's courts, and kids playing in the play ground. Franny decided that this was it, she was going to get Eric out if it killed her.

Clad in a gray t-shirt and blue jeans in an attempt to stay cool in the summer heat, Franny strode of of the central third of Mallville's shopping section and into the park. She made her way through the groups people talking, playing games, trying to carry on as normal a life as possible, and headed over to the tent she shared with her friend.

Yanking the zippered flap open, Franny started talking, “Okay, Eric. You're getting out of this tent if I have to drag you...” her words trailed off as she realized what she was seeing.

Eric Redd was lying on his sleeping bag, foamy white vomit running from his mouth. On the floor of the tent lay an open and empty pill bottle, a bottle that Franny recognized.

“Oh no, Eric, you didn't,” Franny knelt down, and placed her hand on his neck, he was still warm, but she couldn't feel a pulse, “Please no.” she plead quietly.

It felt as if her heart froze solid inside her ribcage as, Franny put her ear to his chest as tears started to run from her eyes. Eric's heart was still and silent buried inside his ribcage. As much as he had felt he had lost everything, she now truly had. Her tears flowed down her face onto the front of his shirt.

Franny was shocked from her sorrow by a hand closing on her wrist. She jerked up, and looked to see that Eric's eyes were open, but no longer Eric's. The formerly deep blue eyes had taken on a a milky look, and his skin was fading to a pallid gray.

Screaming, Franny pulled back and out of her undead friend's grasp as if she had just received an electric shock. She staggered to her feet, and backwards out of the tent. Eric sat up, and clambered to his feet, pursuing her.

“No, no, no, no, oh God, Eric, no!” she sobbed as her insides turned to water. She staggered backwards across the grassy surface of the park as Eric came towards her. It was as if someone had not only taken from her everything that mattered, but then was mocking her about it, turning her best friend, a person she had loved for years into a mindless monster.

“Get away from it!” Franny half heard someone yell, but she was too much in shock to even fully comprehend him, let alone act on his suggestion.

Franny's feet hit the edge of another tent, a blue one that was much more tasteful than her tent, and she lost her balance. She fell over backwards onto the tent, snapping the flexible poles that were holding it up as she went down. The fabric of the tent billowed over her, and she suddenly found herself struggling to get out of it.

The park was nearly silent except for Franny's sobbing as the people around her stood frozen to the ground as she struggled. No one tried to save her, no one could accept one of the undead inside their sanctuary; their fortress.

Eric lunged forward, pouncing on his friend. Franny threw her arms up in front of her to try and protect herself. She shrieked in terror and pain as Eric's teeth sank into her right forearm and he tore free a chunk of her flesh.

Suddenly Eric flew up and off of her as a teenager wearing a Sacramento Kings basketball jersey yanked him backwards. Eric snarled, blood running down his chin, and tried to turn on the only man, hardly more than a boy really, brave enough to help a woman being attacked.

As if teleported to the scene, Alexandre Rontreal shoved his way through the crowd towards where the kid was struggling to keep Eric faced away from him, and away from the crowd of other people who were happy to back away and give him space. Rontreal shoved the kid aside, and pulled his Glock 22 from its holster, put it to Eric's head, and pulled the trigger.

The bullet from Alexandre Rontreal's gun tore path through Eric Redd's brains, and the zombified bookworm crumpled to the ground. Rontreal holstered his sidearm, pulled his radio from its own holster, and walked a few feet away as the kid in the Kings jersey helped pull Franny up out of the collapsed tent.

Franny clutched her bleeding arm to her chest, knowing deep inside that not only was her friend dead, but so was she. They had said on the news that a person bitten by the undead would be infected with the Zed Virus too, and that there was no treatment for it, they would get sick, die, and then rise again. She sobbed not only for her friend, but for herself as well.

“Rontreal to Kaur,” said the tanned blond officer into his radio, “we have a problem.”

Hashmir Kaur, the head of Malllville's security force, responded through the radio with an accented voice, “What is the situation?”

“We had a roamer in the park,” replied Alexandre, “A civvy's been bit.”

“That is not good, “replied Hashmir, “You know what needs to be done, and make sure that the remains are disposed of properly.”

“Yes sir. I'll take care of it.” Rontreal re-holstered his walkie talkie, and then walked back over to where the kid in the basketball jersey was still helping to keep Franny on her feet.

Without speaking to her, or even giving anything away on his face, he drew his pistol in a flash, and shot Franny Resaca in the head and point blank range. Before she could even register that Rontreal had pulled his gun, the back of Franny's head had disgorged its contents turning the collapsed tent behind her into some horrific Jackon Pollock painting

Women screamed (and some men), children cried, men yelled out in protest. The kid in the basketball jersey just stood there as the blond woman fell out of his arm and onto the ground, dead before she hit the grass. He stood there looking down at her, too stunned to move.

The crowd started to yell in protest ,”What the fuck is wrong with you?” someone's voice barely carried over the din.

“She had been bit,” Rontreal announced loudly and evenly, “she was infected! It was to late for her; if I had let her live, she would have become one of them, and infected more people. We must not let our emotions endanger our chances of survival, and I WILL NOT let them endanger Mallville!”

Mallville security ushered most people away from the scene, mostly back inside of the building itself as quickly as possible. Eventually security head Hashmir Kaur, a portly man of Indian descent clad in a bright white uniform shirt and black trousers, showed up himself to oversee the clean up.

The two bodies were wrapped in plastic, and loaded onto the back of a maintenance cart to be taken to the incinerator. No funeral, no memorial, no one there to say goodbye, and the only people who would mourn them would be strangers who didn't even know them. They were mourned for the manner of their deaths rather than any loss experienced by the mourners.

As Eric and Franny's belongings were packed up, and loaded onto another maintenance cart a notebook fell onto the grass unnoticed by the security and maintenance workers. It was open to a handwritten letter:


I'm sorry.

I know that you have sacrificed a lot in you life for me, to help me, to stay with me, and you should have abandoned me a long time ago. I don't blame you for turning your back on me now. I know I deserved it.

I know you are right, have been since the beginning; Emma is almost certainly dead, and I will never see her again in life, so I am going to go be with her. You will likely be better off without me anyway. I almost got you killed by making you stay with me, and I could never forgive myself if that happened.

You will be mad at me for what I am about to do, but I pray that you will forgive me in time. I just cannot take it anymore. I've taken a peek at the last page, and it just ends with me dead and alone anyway, so I'm skipping to the end now, and getting it over with. I hope that your story continues longer and happier than mine has turned out.

You are the best friend I have ever had, and if not for you I might have done this weeks ago. My story ended when the world did, but you at least helped me have an epilogue.

Please find it in your heart to forgive me.

your friend forever,
Eric Redd

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