Christopher Avery went about his usual morning routine. He gathered his bag and headed off to work. He was a math teacher at a high school in the western suburbs. Chris walked out the door to his basement apartment and headed up the stairs. As he was leaving the building, one of his neighbors, Mrs. Oldlady turned around the landing on the first floor.
“Good morning, Mrs. Oldlady,” Chris called up to his elderly neighbor. She didn’t reply. She just slowly walked down the hall. Chris thought this was strange. She was usually so friendly.
Chris got into his car and headed down the road to work. He stopped at the gas station a block from his home to fuel up for his commute. He was puzzled to find the doors to the store were locked. There was a note attached to the door which said,
“The pumps are on. Please take only what you need. Good luck and God bless.”
Chris folded up a twenty dollar bill and pushed it through the small crack in between the doors. He pumped his gas and went on his way. Chris enjoyed his morning drive. There was never any traffic, he was heading away from the city, and he had time to enjoy one of his CDs.
As he made his left onto the onramp, Chris began to think that something had happened. The westbound lanes of Route 5 were bumper to bumper. This had never come close to happening in his previous years of making this drive. He switched his CD over to the radio to find out if there was a bad accident up ahead that was causing the traffic slowdown. Each station had the same broadcast. The Emergency Broadcast System had been activated. This was not only a test. The warning kept repeating that an uncontrollable infection was affecting the area. Anyone who could should leave populated areas at once. Chris got off at the first exit and tried to get in touch with his family. It was no use. The phone lines were jammed. Chris had a few messages on his voicemail but could not access those either. He headed back towards the city to see if his family had made it out.
The drive into the city was the longest of his life, even though with the lack of traffic headed in he could drive as fast as he wanted. When he arrived at his parents’ house, he found a note left on the kitchen table. It said that they were headed to the family camp in Orwell. Chris quickly got back in his car and headed for Route 81 to go north.
As soon as he hit Mattydale, traffic came to an abrupt stop. Chris sat in his car for a few minutes wondering if the back-up went all the way to the Canadian border. By this time, he had been boxed in, and it would not be easy to get out of this mess.
He tried to get in touch with his family one more time. The call went through, and the other end started to ring. He heard his mother’s familiar voice answer.
“Chris! Are you all right?”
Before he could respond, there was a loud thud at the driver’s side window, which caused Chris to drop his phone. The sound was made by a hideous creature being slammed into his door. The ghoul was missing a good part of its face, and what remained was bruised and was dripping blood. Chris quickly unbuckled his seatbelt and jumped into the passenger seat, fumbling around for his cell phone while keeping his eyes on the beast. Reaching under the seat for the phone, he only found a snowbrush left over from the winter. He opened the window just enough, and then pushed the creature off of the door. Just as he did, a large man came running up to his car and bashed in the skull of the creature with a tire iron. He looked at Chris and the others still in their cars and yelled, “If you want to live, run!”
Chris grabbed his snowbrush and started running north. He knew that he couldn’t run all the way to Orwell, but he still had to get away from the crowd on the highway. He ran down the first exit he encountered towards Hancock International.
— — —
A week later…
Chris was getting used to his new life in the Zone, but he longed for the day when everything would return to normal. He joined the Corpse Corps and was assigned by Slater to the 17th squad. They weren’t the best squad, or the flashiest, but they were effective,
As the squad left Hancock and headed down Route 81, Chris looked over at the northbound lanes. The vehicle passed all of the burned wreckage left on the highway, including his own car. Chris was constantly reminded of the fateful day when his life disappeared. He tried to keep his mind off of his missing family and friends. He often found things to keep his mind busy on the drive.
“1.36,” he said to break the silence from the squad.
“What’s that Calc?” asked Erin. She gave him his new nickname after their second mission together. Chris had a tendency to perform calculations in his head. He figured that a sharp mind was what separated him from the zombies.
“1.36 miles per hour. That’s how fast Zack walks, give or take a hundredth of an mph. I figure, the major cities are all at least 250 miles away. Since they don’t seem to sleep, if Zack started heading this way, it would take about 7.6 days for them to arrive from New York City, a few more days to arrive from Boston. The bad news is that there’s millions of people in those cities. The good news is that they might have funny sounding moans.”
“That’s just what we need, but they shouldn’t arrive until tomorrow? So we should be all right today?”
“That’s only if they walk straight here, which is pretty unlikely. I think we’re only going to see Central New York Z’s.”
They arrived at their location for the day. They were to check the Camillus Home Depot for any zombie activity. The scavenging team would be through shortly behind them to obtain supplies for the zone.
They made short work of the few zombies they found in the store, mostly cashiers and a few weekend carpenters. As they were leaving, Chris took the keys and decided he would drive them back to base. He made a left turn, instead of a right, out of the parking lot much to the surprise of the other three squad members.
“Hey, Calc! Base is back that way! Where are you going?” yelled up Hank from the backseat.
Chris pulled into an apartment complex down the road and parked the vehicle behind his old building. Chris was delighted to see that the building hadn’t been damaged by fire, and it appeared that Zack hadn’t done too much damage to it either.
Chris jumped out and called for Hank and Ace to stand guard. Chris and Erin made their way towards the door.
“Slater’s not going to like this. You know the Corps doesn’t loot.”
“It’s not looting if you have the key. I used to live here.” The two made their way through the dimly lit back hallway. They checked the laundry room for any activity, but it was empty. Chris opened the door to the main stairwell. Mrs. Oldlady’s corpse lay motionless on the bottom step. Chris paused for a moment, remembering their last encounter, before opening the door to his apartment.
A thin layer of dust covered everything inside. Erin made her way to the kitchen hoping to find anything edible.
“Don’t bother. There was never much in the fridge. Just some spoiled milk and some cheese. There might be a cracker or two in the pantry.”
“So, if there’s no food, why are we here?”
“For this.” Chris said as he picked up a picture frame holding a family portrait. “I didn’t know when I’d be this close to my family again. ”
The two then packed up some warm clothes, blankets, and towels to take back with them. The last thing that Chris grabbed before leaving was a pen and some paper. Before leaving, Chris rang the doorbells of the other apartments to see if anyone was still there. No one responded. On the drive back to base, he wrote a letter to his family. When they arrived at the airport, Chris dropped the letter in the mailbox near the terminal. He knew that it wouldn’t be delivered anytime soon but hoped that someday soon it would be.