I watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower last weekend and it was great and it made me both happy and sad. I related to Charlie, the main character and an outcast of sorts. I could not relate to the Charlie who finally found a place he belonged. But good for him.
I just wondered if there was a story out there about a boy who never found his place. Where was the tale of the guy who sat at the lunch room table by himself? Where’s the book about the boy who reached the end and found nothing was resolved? Stories like that don’t exist because people don’t want a depressing ending. They need to have hope for the boy because they are the boy and if the boy doesn’t make a connection, they fear they won’t either and no one wants to consider that could be a reality for them.
So we set him up with some good friends and a crush and he gets kissed and holds hands under the stars and it’s book perfect. And we feel both happy and sad because we don’t have that but the boy is us and so if he finds it, so will we.
But some people know better.
In the movie (and book), Charlie writes letters to someone, chronicling a year in his life, but we are never told who he writes. And it made me want to write letters to anonymous people, too. What if I selected an address out of the phone book and wrote to this stranger, told him or her what was going on in my life? What if I sent several strangers these kinds of letters? What if I followed up every month or two? “Hi, it’s me again. This is what has happened since the last time I wrote you.” But I’d keep myself anonymous as well. A letter written from the heart and sent to one stranger from another.
Of course, it could be borderline creepy.
I think there’s something kind of romantic and beautiful about reaching out to a complete stranger, making an intimate connection, sharing personal struggles and triumphs through a filter of anonymity. I like the juxtaposition and the…well, borderline creepiness of it, to be honest. I just know if someone sent me a random anonymous letter that let me glimpse into their life, I’d be fascinated. Well, it was a good life with good writing, of course. I don’t need anyone sending me their school schedule or grocery list.
Oh, and I listened to the author/director commentary after I watched the movie and it was almost better than the movie. He delves deeper into the book and the movie and the characters and how he felt about making the movie and writing the book and all the feels he tried to capture and it was just nice and warm and beautiful and I recommend it.
“You’re not alone, you’ll never be
just like the stars lay over sea…”
-Jem, You Will Make It
“This could be a movie, this could be our final act,
we don’t need these happy endings…”
-Funeral for a Friend, Drive
Hands 10 and 2.
He watched the broken yellow lines slide beneath his car, one after the other, hypnotic in repetition. Gliding through liquid time and space. The drive, the road, the interior reaching different levels of quiet calm. The kiss of wind. The lulling hum of the engine. The soft squeak of leather from shifting matter and a thumping chest. He turned up the music and exhaled as the tempo traced ’round his ears. Steam from the coffee in his cup holder rose and twirled in the air.
He felt the warmth in spite of the broken heater and the frost outside. It wrapped around him. Around them.
He reached across the caffeine and crumbs and slid his hand in hers. He kept his eyes on the road, his concentration on the yellow lines, his skin on the other, foreign skin. Cashmere atop tendons. Cool and fragile. A burst of nerve cell signals.
He had written this scene so obsessively, dreamed this dream for so long, a dream miles away from reality. Was it possible that when she came to him, materialized in bones and blue eyes, he had willed her into being? Had he etched her into the interior of his retinas, cones and rods vibrating, crafting her shape and angles? Or had the divine hand peeled back its palm and formed her with featherlight lips and sent her to him?
Did such mercy exist?
As far as his memory could reach, he had traveled with a knife in his neck. It was a pain he knew better than himself. An old companion. A disease he wore like a winter coat. And then she came and withdrew the blade with breathtaking ease. Without the obstruction, he was able to look up away from the dirt and into the sky. Eyes opened with a mobile spine. This was how humans lived, how they felt. This was the way it always could have been.
He was a pauper turned to a prince. A bug into a boy. He wasn’t used to such delectable treatment from anyone. It was scary and unnerving and unrelenting. It was decadence and sugar and flooding. It was a revelation, a religious awakening. God existed in the space between pressed lips and pounding hearts.
Despite his resolve, he smiled, sank into the seats and into the moment, fleeting pleasures of pavement and porcelain. The sun was spinning back around to find him but for those moments, the world was asleep and they could sneak away to enjoy the shadow sky, just the two of them, reveling in the moonshine and kissing under the holes poked through the charcoal veil of heaven.
He said if only they could escape the sun, driving off the path and into their own world, from gravel to grass to galaxy, they’d be free of it all. She whispered something but the music drowned out her words, consonants cut up and lost in the percussion.
He felt her touch withdraw. He looked down and noticed the cold coffee. He looked to his right but only saw a blur of green from the passenger’s window as the trees rushed past him, felt the jolt of a popped valve, smelled the black streak parallel to the yellow lines.
He found his answer.
He watched, suspended, his neck tensed, as the trees lifted off the ground and tumbled in the sky.
I participated in National Novel Writing Month again this year. I did it back in 2010 and skipped 2011. I almost didn’t do it again this year because I have too many other book projects I should focus on but then I did it anyway and actually started on the 2nd.
The reason I participated in 2011, and one of the basic ideas behind National Novel Writing Month, is because I wanted to write a book. I had been working on my memoir for years and not making much progress and so having guidelines really helped me discipline myself. I had a goal and I managed to not only meet it but surpass it. It was a great feeling and once I knew I could actually write a book, I was satisfied. I think that’s why I didn’t do it the next year.
But this year, I decided to do it again. In one way, I wanted to see if the first book was just a fluke because I actually had no trouble writing it. Every day I sat down, the words flowed and it was a good feeling to know there was a story inside me. The other fun part was I had the flimsiest idea and yet I let the story tell itself and nothing ever felt forced or rushed. It just fell into place. I wanted to see if I could recapture that.
In some ways, I did. The idea for my first novel was a very basic idea that I had been floating around for maybe a year or two. My idea was that I would maybe write a short story based on the idea but I never went as far as to develop it into something. With this book, however, I had a good idea of how I wanted the story to go. I’ve had this concept in my head ever since 7th grade and so I’ve had many years to mull it over in my mind and kind of expand the story. It’s a dumb story but yet it’s one I’ve kept going back to and thinking about and so in a way, I feel I need to write it down and tell the story. Because of that, I thought it would be a good idea to use for National Novel Writing Month because neither the story or NaNoWriMo are too serious so they fit together.
The cool/weird/disheartening thing is the story isn’t finished. The story in this book is finished but the story itself will continue. I don’t know if I should wait until next November to write the next part or get started sooner. Well, I actually need to finish my memoir first and after that, then I can decide which project to tackle next.
It’s been a long month and I’m glad I did it but I’m also glad it’s over.
Wind separated leaves from limbs in the darkness. They pirouetted down onto the boy and girl as they lay in the grass beneath an old tree. Ligaments wrapped together, he supported her neck with his shoulder and she slid her hand underneath his shirt.
“You’re not as dead as you think,” the girl said.
“Oh yeah? How do you know?” the boy asked.
“Because of this,” she said. “Us here. Now. Sharing this moment. Connected to the earth. To each other. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“It’s sufficient,” he said as he brushed a fallen leaf from the girl’s hair.
“You can’t fool me. You wouldn’t be here with me, like this, otherwise.”
The boy shrugged.
“It’s all of us,” the girl said. “You are alive because I am. Because the world doesn’t spin for the dead.”
“Oh, God,” The boy rolled his eyes, stifling a laugh.
“No, seriously,” she said with a giggle. “Your eyes sparkle like the shooting stars above us. Your stubble is gritty like the dirt beneath us. And your chest,” she said as she gently pressed on his sternum, “is warm from the blood rushing through us. I know you’re alive because I can feel it in you.”
“Actually, I just had a sip of this white chocolate mocha,” the boy said, raising his Starbucks container. “What you actually felt was it pass into my stomach. That’s all.”
The girl stared with blank eyes as the boy drained his cup.
At the behest of my work girlfriend (who I will refer to as WG for short), I read Fifty Shades of Grey. I didn’t really want to but she kept insisting and I thought it could be something new we could discuss. We’ve never talked about books before so I was looking forward to an intellectual exchange regarding fictional characters and their motivations.
But as I read, I kept pointing out problems I had with the book. Christian Grey was too perfect, too mysterious. Anastasia Steele was too innocent, too inexperienced. Early on in the book, she said she didn’t know why she was falling for him.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” I mentioned to WG. “He’s super rich. He’s super handsome. He’s graceful and just distant enough to leave her wanting more. That’s reason enough to fall in love with him. Any girl would. Heck, I think I’d fall in love with him, too.”
WG laughed. “Well, he does have some physical flaws, though. He’s not perfect.”
“Oh, yeah? What? Is his penis so large he can’t find comfortable underwear? What a tortured soul!’
She laughed again. Ah, such a nice sound.
“So, what is so appealing about him?”
“I don’t know,” she said, her kohl-lined eyes wandering off to the ceiling, pondering. “I guess I just like that he’s dark.”
“I’m dark,” I said. Hello, I was dead for three years.
“No you’re not,” she said with a smirk. “You’re just emo. And you choose to be that way.”
Ah, not such a nice sound. She really knows how to stab a guy right in the face.
“He had a really dark childhood,” she added.
“You don’t know about my upbringing. It could have been dark, too.” It wasn’t.
“Not like his,” she countered.
“You don’t know what I’ve been through!” Nothing.
I just wasn’t that impressed with the book. I’ll admit I jump on literally bandwagons. I read the Twilight series and The Hunger Games series and I always tried to enjoy the books for what they were instead of what they were hyped to be. And they were both all right. But this one I just couldn’t seem to get into like the others. I guess I can understand it’s popularity because it’s so provocative but honestly, it wasn’t as filthy as I imagined, which was admittedly another reason I wanted to read it. I wanted to see how raunchy it really got. Maybe I’m just a sick mofo but it seemed a little tame to me. It’s possible things get more extreme in the other two books but I think the first one walked the fine line between kinky sex and all out smut, just enough to titillate and not alienate, which is why it worked so well. So I give her props for that but the writing is pretty amateur.
Ana uses way too many phrases like Oh crap, double crap, and triple crap. She’s also always flushed and blushing. At least every other page she’s blushing and flushing and with all that blood going to her face, you’d wonder how she got any to her vagina. People on the street probably thought she had a nasty case of Rosacea. She also says delicious way too much and Christian is constantly scolding her for biting her lip and I wonder if she has a chapped mouth all the time. Between her chewed up lips and the red face, she’s probably looks like she’s running around with a constant cold. I mean, do people even really bite their lip that much? I know people say Kristen Stewart does it a lot in the Twilight movies and as we all know, the books were inspired by the Twilight books. I think they were also inspired by the films as well because Christian runs his fingers through his hair, much like Robert Pattinson does. The author seemed to have gathered the actors’ ticks and put them in her books.
I also have a problem with how Ana is so easily turned on by all the kink. Everything Christian does is hot. His feet are hot. His stubble is hot. The way he wears his pajama bottoms are hot. At one point, she uses his toothbrush and thinks it’s hot! To me, that’s pretty gross. Yes, I know, I understand, they French kiss and have sex and swap bodily fluids on the regular but…a toothbrush is a cleaning device, something you use to remove food and grime from your teeth. It’s not the same as swapping spit. You’re swapping tarter. How is that hot? I was waiting for her to dig through his trash and take the cotton swabs he used to clean his ears and slide them up her snatch.
How convenient that she’s magically turned on by leather whips and balls inserted into her cooter. I wonder if she really likes it or if it’s just because she doesn’t know any other way of having sex, since she was a virgin when she met him. Can someone really be so sexy and sexual that everything they do is a turn on? Am I just so in the dark about sexuality that I don’t know these things? I mean, if he farted was she gonna stick her nose in his butthole and inhale?
I talked to WG about this and she shared with me that your first sexual experiences do influence your future inclinations. At least, that was the way it was for her. It makes sense. I do suppose your first sexual partner can shape your sexuality but that seems most likely in regards to “vanilla” sex, as Christian likes to call anything that doesn’t involve a ball gag. But what happens when you do introduce a ball gag? When you get your novice partner involved with sexual acts that deviate from “vanilla”, does that also influence future deviations with other partners? If Ana hadn’t ended up with Christian in the end, would she have desired such submission with other lovers?
And can we talked about how she lost her virginity? If I remember correctly, he just plunged into her like a he was throwing a javelin and I’m pretty sure that’s not how it’s supposed to work.
And she cimaxes like crazy! From what I’ve heard and read and discussed with female acquaintances, including WG, it’s not as easy as it’s portrayed in the book. Girls don’t just climax so easily. Well, some do, some don’t. But mostly, it takes some work. Ladies, I’d love to get your opinion on this! Also, the sex scenes did nothing for me. Most of them felt like quickies than actual articulate sessions of full bodied sex, from foreplay to penetration to the eventual release and afterglow. It was more like wham, bam (literally), and thank you ma’am.
I was also creeped out by how immature Ana sounded with her oh craps and such talk. She’s 22 so I’m not criticizing the immaturity, just pointing it out. She’s kind of childish and with that being said, Christian calls her baby a lot and spanks her like a baby and the whole thing felt really creepy. I wasn’t turned on by reading these sex scenes but felt uncomfortable like it was slightly statutory, ya know what I’m saying? Fifty shades of Peder-ass, much?
I just feel like people such as Christian (and Edward from Twilight) set up this impossible ideal for girls and women. Guys just aren’t that perfect. They don’t glow and make you orgasm with the slightest touch. We all have imperfections other than a few (hardly noticeable) scars on our chests.
Christian is rich and semi-famous and a total stud muffin but he’s got a messed up past. That makes him less than perfect, right? WRONG. It makes him more perfect for women because there’s an aspect to him that is fractured, something women can gravitate toward because women love to fix men. His past and issues stemming from such a past is like a wet dream for females. His imperfections make him more attainable. His jagged emotional scars act like an invisible line that ground him to Earth, keep him from touching heaven where he belongs, thus allowing mere mortals to interact with him, touch him, love him, fix him. Oh, women, you’re so silly.
I don’t mean to be critical of this book. As an aspiring author, I know it’s not easy to write a book. I say God bless for her being able to get her writing out there and for being able to touch (pun intended) so many lives. But for me, personally, it just didn’t do much. Of course, I don’t begrudge her any of her success or wealth. She did what she wanted to do and made a ton of dough off of it so can you really hate on her? Not everyone is going to be impressed with everyone’s writing style. If it works for some people, then she’s done her job.
I don’t know the details but did she ever really intend to publish these books? I know she posted them online and they kind of took off from there but if she never expected all this publicity over her stories, then can you really blame her if they aren’t perfectly written? If she just did them for fun and they exploded, then that’s great. If only we could all be so fortunate.
I couldn’t help but to keep thinking about what WG said about me choosing to be emo. Somehow, my darkness wasn’t as enticing as Christian’s and I wondered why. Or did it have more to do with the package instead of the contents? Isn’t that just the way it goes?
I spoke to another coworker who had also read the book (and loved it) and brought my quandary up with her.
“I don’t get it,” I said. “I get why women are so into Christian. He’s dark. He’s damaged. And he’s a challenge. But, I’m challenging, too, without trying at it. Girls always say they want the good guys but gravitate toward the bad. I’m good and bad! And even some bad guys aren’t good enough for them. Where do I fit in the mix?”
She must have sensed the confusion/desperation in my eyes because she leaned in, the line of her cleavage stretching for miles, and looked at me with all sincerity and said, “Honey. Here’s the secret.”
I leaned in, my eyes expanded. Here it was, what I’ve been searching for years: the answer to what women really want. And from a woman. Straight from the source.
“Women don’t know what they want.”
We both leaned back as I took in the information. It was simple, really.
“Wow,” I said. “That was probably one of the most honest, succinct answers I’ve been given.”
She smiled and nodded and walked away.
Maybe WG sees me as something of an anomaly. We get along really well but maybe she only sees me as a friend or maybe she would like me more if I were more attractive (or of she didn’t already have a boyfriend). Where did I belong in the realm of her desires? Was I just a friend she reached out to for a good laugh? Was I a penis placeholder, a guy she turned to when her boyfriend was away at work, then placed on the side when he came back around? How did she really feel about me? And why was I so interested in knowing? What did it matter to me? Nothing would come of it, no matter how hard I desired it or how hard I tried to make it happen. It just wouldn’t.
I never even intended to get so deep into it. I’ve exhausted my musings regarding love and relationships and I had gotten to a point where I didn’t understand human connection and I accepted it and tried to move along but her offhand comment about being emo really shook me. Is that really how she sees me? Do I seem pathetic to her? I keep getting these mixed signals and as much as I’d like to figure out what it all means, what she means, what she means to me, it’s too much of a hassle and I don’t know if it’s worth pursuing, if she’s worth pursuing. Stupid books. Stupid girls. Stupid hearts.
“My will is at God’s hand, never within man’s teeth…”
-The Devil Wears Prada, Revive
Tears of joy flooded Noah’s eyes. Relief swelled inside him like a warm bath. He tucked the cane underneath his arm and put his face in his hands. He had made it. He had found his home. Noah quickly wiped his hot cheeks with his palms and sniffed up the loosened snot from his nose. No, he still had to go inside, still had to make it to the doors. He hadn’t made it yet. He wasn’t safe until he had passed through the threshold, until he had a solid barrier between him and the dead world outside. The house was still half a mile away. Being as sick and injured as Noah was, that half a mile felt like fifty. The warm bath water relief turned ice cold as the realization that he might not make it came over him. His heart could give out at any time. Exhaustion was clawing at him. Hunger was pulling his stomach into the dirt. Put his home pulled him forward.
Noah walked as far as he could until the pain in his thigh took him to the ground. It was as if someone had shoved a hot poker right through his flesh to the bone. Noah tried not to scream, waited for the wave of pain to cease like it normally did, but it did not alleviate. Sweat poured from Noah’s body causing the dirt to stick to his chest and stomach. Noah rolled over on his back and could not hold in the hurt any longer. The pain was not subsiding, only increasing in intensity. He screamed out in absolute agony. More liquid dribbled from the corners of his mouth. The pain multiplied at an alarming rate and even worse, began to spread. Noah could actually feel the disease of the bite worm its way down his entire leg and up into his groin, other leg and stomach. It took hold of his testicles and intestines and squeezed. It felt like everything was being blending in his body, liquified. It was as if piranhas were inside of him, eating away at his insides, swimming and scurrying up and down the lower half of his body.
Noah fought the pain and turned over onto his stomach. He began to crawl. Guttural screeches of misery filled the clear sky and called the creatures to him.
Noah felt chilled to the bone despite the radiating heat of the sun. The breeze was gone. The rain was only a memory. There was nothing and no one to help him now. Goosebumps sprung along his body and raised the hair on his arms. Noah continued to crawl, the dirt and rocks scratching at his nipples, his hair clinging to his forehead like a watery glue. Noah crawled and crawled and seemed to make no progress at all. He didn’t even know if he was moving or imagining himself inching closer to his home. Noah’s eyes began to cross and his vision started to blur and go black. The pain came in waves of terrible to excruciating. The painful poison spread completely to Noah’s legs and up into his chest. Noah involuntarily vomited a milky yellow bile. It heaved up in ropey strands, his stomach contracted so hard a rip of pain sliced through his torso and accompanied the pain that was already there. The bile bubbled in the dirt. Small particles were floating in it. Noah crawled through the substance.
In the distance, he could hear the people coming again. The dead people. The things. Maybe one of them was the lady with the tongue? Had the wicked witch melted in the rain or was she one of the survivors? Had he shot her, stomped her with his foot or cane? He couldn’t remember anymore. Noah craned his neck back and with his limited vision, he could see the group lurching up ahead of him. He was so close to home but he would never make it. This was it. They were all around him in every direction and he could not stand and fight. He was practically dead. What was going to get him first? The existent bite mark or another bite from one of them? Maybe they only wanted fresh meat? Ever rational, Noah wondered if maybe they’d look over him as damaged, used up, and would go about their way? Is it going to hurt when they bite into me? he wondered. How silly a thought. He was already in so much pain nothing would make it worse.
Light me on fire, peel off my skin, pluck out my eyeballs. It’s all nothing compared to…this. This is how it’s going to end, after everything. After making it so close. God, why? Why do you let me suffer so much? Just let me go home or kill me now. Take me before they do.
Where are you? Whereareyou…
Noah saw something dancing in his peripheral vision. He looked over and it revealed itself to be a fairy. The tiny woman’s skin was made of silk and her wings of glitter. She was snow white and naked, her breasts heaving as she flew around him. The wings buzzed in his ear as she flew around his head. She caressed his chin and ear and quietly sang to him. He reached out to touch her and as he did, she dissolved into a million particles.
I’m losing my mind, Noah thought. The infection was starting to reach his brain. Could he trust what he was seeing anymore? Were these people even real or was he imaging them as well? The moaning from the dead grew in range, twisting itself into a kind of song. The trees above Noah danced and shook their branches to the morbid music that was going to be the death of him. Sunlight came down, trickled through the moving branches, and resembled the sweeping points of light from a disco ball. This was all a production, an elaborate musical number that would accompany his death. The world was putting on one last show before he bowed out. Noah turned onto his back again and slid his hand into his left pocket. He looked up and saw a group of them heading his way. The sun was shining directly behind them, their heads pitch black against the blinding sun, a halo of radiance setting their skulls aglow.
They looked like angels.
Noah blinked through teary eyes. Three woman, one man and two that were indistinguishable. They were fresh. No missing body parts, no gashes or lacerations. Some of them still looked human. Maybe they were. Maybe they were coming to save him. But the groans told him different.
Noah reached for the familiar lump and pulled it out of his pocket. He raised the small box to his eye level. He opened it and smiled. The sun shone brightly on the elegant ring that sat safely tucked inside, untarnished. The sparkle carried his mind off into his memories, the one place the sickness had yet to reach, the only scrap of safety he had left.
She was there, a mold made from his mind, a memory in flesh and love. He saw her there at the coffee shop, at church, in his bed. Black hair and bone pale skin. Piercing eyes that fell in the color scale somewhere between emerald and sapphire, piercing him through and though. Pink lips that he never tired of tasting. A face that swelled his heart, a love that swelled his soul. The way she understood the little things, accepted his flaws and transformed his life just by being in it. The promise that he made to her when everything changed, when everyone died. Two flesh becoming one. A promise he feared he would not be able to keep. His love for her had been strong enough to bring him to the home they shared, strong enough to carry him this far. He only hoped his love would be strong enough for her to feel, whether she was in that house or wherever she happened to be. He ran a finger over the smooth finish, the simple diamond that sat atop the ring. A small, fragile tear worked itself up in Noah’s eye before snaking down his dirtied cheek. The ring illuminated in the shining sun, mimicking the way she illuminated him, his godsend, his blessing, the only beautiful thing he had ever known. His absolute everything. Noah’s heart felt full, despite beginnings of failure.
The groaning brought Noah back to reality, back to the blood and dirt and pain of the world. They were there and Noah’s resolve strengthened despite his body that begged him to give up. He reached for his gun.
It wasn’t there.
Panic temporarily overtook all other emotions as Noah plunged his hand into his right pocket, then his left. He patted down his entire lower half. It was not there, only pain. It was gone.
I must have left it back when I stopped to rest! How could I be so stupid? How could I have done that, God, how could I have done that?! Whereareyouwhereareyouwhereareyou…
It was probably best the gun wasn’t there. He would have used it on himself when they began to devour him. He was pretty sure he had one bullet left. He knew it was a sin but the pain was so unbearable. He might go to hell but maybe he was already in hell. Hell was the world and demons were people. God brought people and people brought pain. A bullet to end the pain of people. A bullet to open the door, to create a path to some hopeful paradise. It would be much faster, much less painful than being slowly eaten to death. Noah had felt enough pain, pain that wracked his body so hard he shook. Something wet came out of his mouth. Maybe it was the last vestiges of vomit or maybe it was liquified lung. He didn’t want to endure any more but it looked like he would have to, would have to watch and listen as they tore the flesh from his arms and legs with a wet, shearing sound. They’d jam their fingers into his stomach and peel back the thick skin until they reached the rich, meaty center. They’d spread out the slimy tubes of his intestines and bite into them, breaking the protective barrier of connective tissue and sucking out the thick substances inside. The acrid smell of blood would douse the air in death. The only question is would they leave enough for him to come back as one of them or would they tear him apart completely, so disassembled that he wouldn’t be able to get back up? Maybe they’d tear his brain out so he’d never have to know the experience of eating someone else. Noah began to giggle.
The people closed in all around him. Noah closed the box and gently wept. He slid the boxed ring back into his pocket so that no blood would get on it. He clasped his hands together and prayed through his sobbing. He tried to talk out loud but his throat was too raw. He mumbled instead, his lips limping around his teeth. He had lived in sin, no doubt, and he was being punished. The pain overtook him.
Noah woke up bleary eyed and moving. His eyes rolled from the back of his head to the sky above and all around. He was gliding on his back. Confusion joined the pain in his body. He was getting farther away from the people in front of him. The disappointed groans grew quieter and Noah thought he might have been floating. The shards of light that fell from the trees passed over his skin and blurred his eyes. He felt a tug at his wrists and realized his arms were being pulled. Someone was dragging him away from the dead. Someone was saving him.
Noah’s head was spinning, dizzy from the pain. He wanted to throw up, to pass out again to relieve himself of the nausea and agony but he needed to see who was pulling him away from danger. He looked up to see the identity of his savior. Noah lost his breath. Those piercing eyes. That hair and skin. The slender arms and body. Even upside down and blurred through tears and delirium, Noah knew it was her. She had come from the house to save him!
Ah, you were there God, with her the whole time, protecting her. Thank you, God. Thank youthankyouthank….
Noah collapsed under the relief of it all and let himself sink into darkness that floated below him and offered peace and no more pain. She was his darkness. She would bathe him, dress his wounds and they would leave together, find safety, shelter, salvation. Even if the darkness that was devouring him was death, he was glad his final moments were with her, that she was still safe, that she would carry on and and he prayed that God would spare her his suffering. Noah’s eyes cleared and he looked up to see her. She was staring at him, love in her eyes, relief that he was still alive, that he was all hers. Her red lips were smiling. Noah closed his eyes.
Noah’s lover dragged him the rest of the way, carefully avoiding the clutches of the dead. With the tenderest of touches, she heaved him past the stairs to their home. She pulled him through the threshold and then closed the door.
The sky reached its darkest dark as night spread across the land. The collected dead began to disperse, defeated and hungry, blinded by the dark, scattered like marbles to find fresh meat.
The next morning, light shone on an even deader day. The air was silent, cool. Even the dead that stuck around the house were quiet this morning, staggering, lost. There was movement within the house of Noah and his love, however. The front door slowly opened. The sun set its gaze on the lovers’ faces. Two pairs of blank eyes stared ahead. Hand in hand, and with one finger bejeweled with a simple diamond ring, Noah and his love walked out of their home, down the steps and back onto the road, ready to receive the world as their wedding feast.
“Oh, God!” Noah screamed.
Surrounded by dead bodies that were closing in all around him, Noah realized there was no way to break through their rotted line of flesh. The man and woman and their followers were closing in behind him and the new group wasn’t too far ahead of him. Noah only had two bullets left, not even enough to put a dent in either group. For a second, Noah thought that he should just take his chances and jump into the woods but quickly tore that idea from his temples. The woods were too dense, too full of hiding places for those people. They could be behind any tree, ready to grab him by the arm or neck and pull him down and that would be the end. Noah then thought he could tackle them, break through their line. The ones ahead looked a lot frailer than the ones behind him. They had been dead for a long time. Maybe they’d go down easily. But what if they didn’t? He could handle one but if two or three of them grabbed him all at once, he wouldn’t be able to fight them off, especially with the throbbing in his leg that was slowly crippling him.
Noah stood there, not knowing what to do. His mind raced but he couldn’t think of anything in particular. In an attempt to come up with a split second solution, he froze as a trillion other things blurred past the eyes of his mind. Looking down, Noah noticed there were no tree limbs or heavy rocks for him to use, nothing to help him. The rain began to hit his head harder, fatter drops of water splashing off his nose and hands. Noah pulled out his gun. With no more time to organize a surefire strategy, he decided to shoot the ones closest to him and hope they’d go down. With enough luck, they would create a hole large enough for him to squeeze through. The odds weren’t good but Noah was battling a sudden onset of exhaustion, fear and tremendous pain that wouldn’t allow for a better plan. The rain spread out and came down harder, drenching Noah and making visibility low. The groans of the people were drowned out by the falling rain, splashing down on everything, turning the ground into slippery mud and stifling Noah’s concentration.
One of the men approached, staggered, lunged his red hands at Noah, his mouth open, ready to receive Noah’s flesh.
“Father, forgive them; forgive me,” Noah said and with a flash of light, he shot the man in the face. The man went down in a wet heap on the ground. Noah aimed for the next person in line. It was a teenage boy not much younger than him, his throat torn open, his Adam’s apple dangling onto his chest with every soggy step. Noah raised his gun to the teenager and as he concentrated on the face of the person he was going to kill, Noah saw that the hair on his head was falling out, being washed away by the hard rain. Noah’s eyebrows flared up in confusion. In a matter of moments, the boy’s nose fell right off his face. His lips and cheeks were next, sloughing off his skull like wet tissue paper. Soaked lumps of rotted meat slid off the teenager, splattering on the ground that was turning into thick mud. Splat, plop, splash. His outstretched arm, wet and full of protruding veins broke off at the elbow and fell with another wet thud. Around him, the other people were also feeling the effects of the falling water. One severely decomposed man’s head fell completely off his body, sending him to the mud with a sickening plop.
It was the rain.
Suddenly, Noah remembered what his grandmother had told him.
“The rain is only God’s tears, sugar. It’s His way of letting us know He’s watching over us. When the world has become too wicked, the Lord becomes sad and cries. His tears fall from Heaven and those tears wash away all the bad. When the rain dries up, man’s sin has been cleansed and everything is made good again.”
Wash away all the bad.
One by one, the dead people collapsed and did not get back up. They tried but the muscles that moved them were disintegrating. They were becoming skeletal, the hard rain stripping all the flesh from them, the rotting smell of death and fat melting in the mud. The rain fell intensely and Noah thought he heard a clap of thunder. Or maybe it was a faraway gunshot. Out of the estimated fifteen dead people, all but three had fallen, writhing in the mud, bellowing, dying again. Enough were down to allow for Noah’s escape. He started to run through the mud and quickly slipped. His legs flew out from underneath him and he fell on his side with a hard thud, right onto the bite wound. Despite the softening blanket of mud, the ground beneath was still hard and provided no cushion for Noah’s fall. Pain ripped through Noah’s leg like white hot lightning and Noah screamed with abandon. Rain fell into his open mouth, momentarily choking him.
After a few moments of cradling himself in the mud, Noah collected himself. The three dead people were still after him. He had to get up. He looked behind him to see the dead slipping and sliding in the mud. One wasn’t wearing shoes. He couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. It also slipped in the mud and upon impact, its left leg fell off at the knee and its left arm fell off at the shoulder. The others slid clumsily, trying to gain traction while keeping their focus on him. If the threat of being eaten wasn’t so close, Noah might have considered this comical. If he weren’t so exhausted, he might have laughed. The dead thing on the ground pulled itself through the mud with its one good arm. The other two were still coming, their faces slowly melting under the merciful rain. Noah got back up and continued to run. Their bodies fell out of view but their moaning followed Noah the whole way.
The clouds were gone now and the beating rain was replaced with the beating sun. Noah was sick. The pain in his leg was so intense it made his stomach wrench in response. Along the road, he had found a sturdy tree branch and after removing the small twigs and leaves, used it as a makeshift cane. It helped take some of the pressure and discomfort off of his leg but not by much. Noah’s face felt hot and cold at the same time. His clothes became moist with the sweat that dripped from his nose and chin. He was starving. He stunk. The pain and the hunger and the heat made Noah throw up. Because his stomach was empty, nothing came out but an acidic froth that bubbled around his mouth and burned his cracked lips. As much as he didn’t want to, Noah had to stop and take a break. He fell to the dirt and cried. In the middle of the long stretch of dirt road that never seemed to end, the tears mingled with his sweat, making his face a wet, red pulp. How much longer was this road? Noah peeled off his shirt and wiped his face. His ribs felt like they were pressing against his back so hard they would break through his skin. Noah cried until he ran out of tears, until the sobs became dry and burning to his eyes and throat.
As if a ghost had passed him, the air began to cool and a breeze brushed up against his back like a feather. The air was cool on his skin and the wind felt calm after the rain. Almost fresh. Noah unzipped his jeans and attempted to take them off. They became stuck on his thigh at the wound site. Noah tugged at the jean carefully. Whatever burst when he pressed on his leg earlier had now glued his jeans to his leg. Noah slowly and painfully pulled the jean and the dried, crusty material attached to it, down his leg, ripping away at the scab and the hairs surrounding it. Noah winced. The wound was large and gaping now, red and glossy under the sunlight, like black cherry Jell-O. The edges were rimmed in black and yellow with gritty puss. Heat rose from the wound in pulsing waves. Black veins branched off the wound in all directions and the redness had spread from his hip to his kneecap. Noah almost threw up again. The wound was getting worse, spreading, intensifying in pain. It was now a race to see what would eat Noah first, the dead people or the disease that was slowly consuming him, sampling his flesh before diving in for the main course of meat. Noah looked up. Nothing. Just dirt and trees. No moaning or groaning. No dead people around. No life. No birds or small animals scurrying around. There was only him and the noise of wind through branches of trees. Stillness. Cold, unnerving stillness.
Noah struggled to tear his shirt into strips, going for a frayed spot at the bottom of the material to aid in ripping it. He didn’t have much success. He put the fabric in between his teeth and yanked. With a slight rip, he managed to elongate the small tear. Noah was hungry and his strength was waning. The combination of the heat from the sun and the sickness swirling inside him made his head feel like the Jell-O that was now his thigh. He took two of the strips and wrapped them around the wound, not knowing if it would even do much good at this point, and tied it into a sturdy knot. He wiped his face again with the rest of the strips. He then put his jeans back on and checked the left pocket. Still there. Noah smiled, reassured, motivated and reminded of the purpose of his journey. He got up and started to walk again.
It seemed like Noah had been walking for miles. He hadn’t seen any of those people. He only ran into a few disassembled bodies every mile or two but it looked like the rainfall from earlier had taken care of them. Mostly. Those that only had their limbs unattached were still twitching. They craned their necks at the sound of Noah walking and started gurgling. Noah was disgusted and horrified by the sight and sound of them. They were pathetic, disgusting, scary, sad. Noah’s head was a whirlwind of emotions and sickness. Noah risked getting too close to the creature’s teeth so he could help them. He went down the road, impaling their skulls with his homemade cane, squashing them into nothingness, easing their hunger. He hated it, didn’t want to kill them but they were suffering. Noah didn’t want to see anyone suffer, not even those things. They didn’t choose to be that way. They were just as much victims as he was, or so he tried to convince himself.
Noah limped on until he was stopped once again. This time shuffling creatures weren’t in his way. No, nothing horrible was waiting for him at his stopping point. Noah’s knees weakened and if it weren’t for his tree limb cane, he very well would have collapsed.
The perspective lines from the tops of the trees to the edges of the dirt road all led to a single point off in the distance: his home.
The lady with no jaw was coming for Noah.
She looked iridescent and ghostly in the limited light that struggled to break through the clouds. Noah groped at his pockets. The gun was in his right, the other item in his left. He surveyed the ground beneath him. Spotting a reasonably large tree limb, Noah picked it up and went to meet the woman.
He found her, her arms outstretched, her tongue lapping at her teeth, her legs struggling to keep up with her urge to feed. Noah’s throat tightened. His lower lids began to sting with the saline that was trying to crawl through. His cheeks flushed. His chest turned to lead. Pity washed over Noah. This woman so desperately wanted to eat him. The one eye she had widened, glistening blue like the ocean, the depth of her hunger unfathomable. Her tongue wagged at the sight of his skin. If she had any lips, she might have been smiling.
Noah had to do this. This woman, this soccer mom or president of some club, this daughter or wife, this human being needed to be killed for her own peace. Kill or be killed. He hated killing them. He just had to. He thought about the old man. He thought about the man before him, the two women, the child. But with the exception of the old man, they were all sanitized by distance, dispatched by his gun. He did not have the luxury of a bucketful of bullets anymore. He had to get his hands dirty again.
Please, God, forgive me. Where was Gran? Where were those cookies? The woman got closer.
No, I can’t think of this now.
Noah’s mind tried to take him away from the happenings, an instant involuntary self-preservation mechanism. He would go insane, snap if he had to deal with what he was going to have to do again. His sanity was on the brink of breaking but he was also within teeth’s reach of death. Noah had to overcome his fear, his reservations, his own mind. He breathed in the deep, death-filled air in a vain attempt to calm himself for the job at hand, to forget about the wonderful times that once brought him peace. Those times were done. Vanished forever in a fog of dead flesh. Noah readied the tree limb. He cleared out his mind and focused all thoughts on his swing.
But as the woman approached, Noah heard a shuffling from behind him.
His head immediately shot up, his gaze jerked behind him. Another one. A man. Not alive. Not there to help. More crunching of limbs and leaves revealed the presence of a third person. Noah realized his scream from when he fell earlier had grabbed the attention of the people that were close by. Noah turned his attention back to the woman. She was upon him now, her mouth open, her breath attacking his senses, stinging, blinding. Noah had misjudged her speed and she was closer than he had anticipated. Her sudden grip on his shirt startled Noah. Instinctively, blindly, he plunged the tree limb into the woman’s face. He missed her brain completely, managing instead to hit her nose and cheek. Landing the skull wouldn’t have worked anyway because the tree limb merely crumbled in her face and did not penetrate her flesh by much. The tree limb looked fine on the ground but beneath the good bark, it was black and frail, more rotted than the woman was. The impact of the tree limb did not kill her. Instead, she fell back onto the dirt.
Thin drizzles of rain struck his skin.
The two other people, the two dead men, stumbled out of the trees and set their sights on Noah. Moaning and groaning, lustful cries, hunger pains. The woman scrambled to find Noah’s feet. She grabbed his right ankle and tugged, causing a shooting pain in Noah’s bite wound. It felt as if the pain were blooming inside him, burying its way through his skin and into his bone simultaneously. All he could see was a searing hot white light stabbing his eyes. Another scream escaped Noah’s lips, louder and longer this time, no doubt attracting more of those people. Ringing a dinner bell. The woman opened her mouth to take a bite out of Noah’s shoe.
“Not again!” he screamed as he kicked the woman in the face, sending her nose flying but not killing her. Noah continued to kick as the two men drew closer. Their groans reached him long before they did, the sounds sneaking up on his skin and seizing him by the neck, sending pinpricks of fear into his scalp, jerking his shoulders up in defense of his unprotected neck. He jolted and stomped on the woman’s hands, fighting through the agony and breaking off fingers and snapping her wrists until she finally let go. Her digits snapped like twigs and the bones in her wrists and arms cracked like the shot of a BB gun. In the struggle, Noah wasn’t sure if it was her bones or his that were breaking. Adrenaline had taken the place of pain and Noah felt nothing but a surge that forced his veins to press against his skin and splinter off like the branches that lay before him. The sight of these veins set off moans of lust and agony from the woman with the broken arms. The sounds poured over her teeth and got caught in her black, wagging tongue. Noah shifted his weight onto his bad leg and then raised the good one, sending his heavy boot down on the woman’s head. Her skull cracked like a watermelon but he hadn’t managed to get to her brain.
“Die, bitch!” he screamed as he desperately stomped and stomped until the pain in his leg was too intense to bear.
Noah turned around to see two pairs of hands in his face. Rotting hands. Visible cartilage, joints. Blood-stained fingers and broken off nails. The smell of rot right under his nose. Noah gasped and gagged at the same time, choking on his own saliva. He leaned back and tripped over the woman, falling on his tailbone and knocking the air out of his lungs. He grabbed his chest as the two men shuffled toward Noah, stepping on and over the woman to get to him.
Overhead, the sun was shining through the cracks in the clouds, sending down bars of light onto the dirt. One stream of light shone directly over Noah, blurring his vision of the men over him.
Breath finally managed to sink back into Noah’s lungs as he reached into his pocket for his gun. He aimed it at the man on his right, the one who was closer. He pulled the trigger and with an unsettling sound like thunder cracking, the man whipped back with a loud moan and then set his gaze back on Noah. He had only managed to clip the man’s shoulder. Wasted shot. Four more bullets. He aimed his gun at the second man. This one smelled the worst, like rotting meat and feces. He had probably defecated on himself when he was attacked and killed. Noah pulled the trigger and with a thunderous boom, the second man was down. Noah kicked the first man and managed to snap the man’s ankle, sending him to the ground next to Noah. This gave Noah enough of an opportunity to get to his feet and run. Three of them on the ground and none of them were dead. Noah quickly assessed his performance and was unhappy. The woman had managed to survive Noah’s barrage of stomping and kicking and the man that smelled the worst hadn’t been shot in the head, either. He was too decomposed for Noah to tell where he had been hit. He supposed it didn’t matter because the man was still moving, still coming for him.
The light closed up as Noah ran. The clouds took over the sky and sent more and more droplets of rain. Noah was surrounded by darkness, death and decay. All three of them were on their feet now, following Noah, even the man with the snapped ankle. He was obviously a lot slower now but the other two could still cause a problem if he hit a roadblock up ahead. Noah ran but the pain in his leg never left, never let up. It took him over. The agony formed hands that held him in place. He tried not to yell. He swore instead. A string of obscenities flew through his teeth, as many dirty words and phrases that his mind could conceive. Noah wasn’t one to swear as it wasn’t a very polite or Christian thing to do. He used to only do it when he was angry. Somehow slipping dirty words past his lips made him feel better, as if the satisfaction of sneakily naughty behavior temporarily distracted him from his problems. He tried that strategy this time but bad words would not alleviate the agony.
A dead finger hit his forehead.
Noah’s heart rose up into his throat. No, it was wet. Blood? No, just more rain. He clenched his teeth and grabbed his thigh, squeezing it in hopes the pressure would take away the pain. He felt something wet hit the inside of his pants, a jolt of pain that took his breath away. Then, relief. The pain subsided enough so that he could run again. He had to run fast. The man and woman were catching up. Noah heard more rustling on either side of him, a commotion in the trees. Around him and up ahead he could barely make out the faces of people in the limited light. They were all around him, all coming out to see who’s for dinner. Noah’s heart raced not from his running but from the fright of all of these people piling into the road. They were surrounding him now, the trees opening up like a macabre curtain, the dead coming onto the stage and joining the man and woman following Noah’s trail. He didn’t dare look back, too scared to see just how many were behind him, just how many were all too willing to tear him limb from limb.
What was driving these people? How were they able to walk, to stand, to live after being shot and beat and set on fire? Noah had a hard time believing they were dead. It was the rational part of him, the logical reasoning and thinking Noah that couldn’t understand the happenings. He knew better, that they were dead, that they were ghouls and monsters sent from hell to collect souls but he didn’t want to accept it. He had seen with his own eyes the destruction inflicted upon these people and how they still sat right back up, still kept coming, enduring damage that no ordinary human would be able to survive. He had even done terrible things to these people, all in an attempt to escape them, of course, witnessed it first hand by his own doing and still they rose. Nothing stopped them except enough damage to the brain. It was the only method Noah knew. Although he hated killing these things that he still considered people, he knew they were already dead. I’m not doing anything wrong, not truly killing anyone, he tried to convince himself. Just trying to survive. Still, despite everything, he felt like he was going to hell for taking a human life. Those people, those creatures. He tried to dehumanize them. Those things. He couldn’t tell if it was working. Nature was dead. Human laws no longer applied. Yet, something within him felt guilty. But, something deeper within him wanted to live at any cost. Could they hear him running, see his muscles swimming beneath his skin or just smell the fresh meat of him? Whatever motivated them to come back from the dead, Noah had a motivation, too. He had to get back to…
His face grew pale as the rain lightly sprinkled across his face, as if the water were rinsing the color from his skin. In front of him, bleeding and groaning, were a line of those things stretching across the entirety of the road, all moving forward at the sight of him. They all stared at him, their eyes plotting the point where they’d bite. Noah realized there was no way to break through the dead. Everywhere he turned, they were there, stumbling forward. Encircling him.
A few yards ahead, Noah spotted one of them. It was a woman. Her back was facing him. She was shuffling along the edge of the road among the opening of the trees. Noah took in a deep breath and fixed his eyes to the back of her head. He grabbed his gun from his pants and ran his hand along his left front pocket. Still there. It was comforting, reassuring, motivating him to continue forward to reach the end of this journey, of all this madness. Noah slowed his pace, picking up each foot high off the ground so as not to shuffle and cause noise. He inspected the ground before stepping to avoid any rocks or twigs. His eyes took hold of the woman’s head as he slowly inched his way toward her. Stepping carefully. Slowly. Methodically. The woman just stood there, sometimes leaning one way or the other but mostly just standing still. Noah had wished she’d walk around, at least for a bit, so that the crunching of her feet in the grass would somehow mask the sound of his own footsteps. God, what was in front of that tangled mess of hair? He tried to subdue his imagination, to stop the possible images of the woman’s torn face from flooding the front of his mind. He had seen some terrible things in the past few days…or was it weeks…but he still hadn’t gotten used to the human carnage that still churned his stomach. He had his gun and he could just shoot her easily but he didn’t want to waste bullets if he didn’t have to. He only had four in the chamber and no more. What if he needed them when he found himself in a more desperate situation? What if the bullet he used on this woman could be used for when one of those people was right on top of him? And there was no telling how much longer he would have to walk. How many times had he driven down this desolate dirt road and never paid attention to the length of the drive, to the road signs, to the landmarks? He had no idea how far away he was from safety and he cursed his careless ways. He had never paid attention before but now he was making up for it, focusing all of his energy and concentration on his surroundings. He couldn’t let another person sneak up on him like that old man. He felt blessed to survive one close contact encounter. He wasn’t sure he’d survive another.
Noah inched his way beside the woman. Several feet of dirt separated them. The closer Noah got, the more he could hear the woman. She was moaning. Was she is pain? Was she tired? The moaning became louder, more unsettling as he passed. There was a wetness to the noise, as if she was gargling mud. Moist. Drowning in her own fluid. Yet, alive. A part of him wanted to shoot this woman, to put her out of her misery, to relieve her of the burden of her hunger. He contemplated the woman just like he began to contemplate the old man. Then, he stopped himself. No, he had no time. He couldn’t lose focus. Besides, he didn’t want to kill anyone if he didn’t have to. It felt filthy, sinful. Noah stopped momentarily, lost in the wave of thoughts that seized his body and locked it into place. These people had to be dead, right? Shooting them would not be sinful. I am not committing murder, he tried to rationalize. But, there was no rationalization left. Nothing made sense anymore. The very nature of life and death was done, no more. None of the rules of humanity or morality existed once the first dead body woke up. Now, there was just survival. There was just making it to the end alive. Noah stared at the back of the woman’s head, not looking at her but through her, allowing his mind to take him out of the dirt road and into some semblance of balance, into something that he could wrap himself in, a blanket of sanity, security.
And then she shifted.
Noah sucked up a breath of air that expanded his lungs to their capacity. His eyes lost focus for a second and his body lost its balance. The woman began to walk and then staggered back, moaning and looking up into the sky. Her balance looked shot as well. She turned to her side and Noah saw that her face had lived up to his morbid imagination. Her face had rotted away. Or maybe it was bitten off. The distance was too great to see clear enough to tell. The sky that surrounded them became dimmer, laying a blanket of deadly dark on top of them. Another drop of rain fell across Noah’s cheek and startled him. He let in another sharp breath of air in response. His heart pounded so hard that he knew the woman would hear the muscle in his chest crashing against his ribs. The woman was missing all the flesh from her lower jaw, only bone and teeth remaining. A black tongue uncoiled from her mouth and slid across her bloody lower teeth. A black hole replaced the area where an eyeball once sat. Her clothes were modest and tattered, an oversized sweater over a green shirt and a floral dress that was ripped in the back. They were covered in blood. He guessed she was in her mid-thirties. Another drop of rain on his face. Maybe she was a mother. Another drop splashed on the tip of his nose. She probably ate her kids. Splash, splash. The woman shuffled again but this time she turned her back to Noah. Looking down, he noticed the road was clear of debris and he felt confident that he could safely make it past this woman without disturbing her. At the very least, he could outrun her if she saw him.
Low groans escaped the missing flesh of the woman’s mouth. Pain. Hunger. Mourning? A slight sadness squeezed its way into her fractured voice. This poor woman, Noah thought as he walked backward, not taking his eyes off her. Pitiful creature. He raised his gun to her head. Could he make the shot from here? Noah’s cheeks began to burn. His teeth clenched. Something was rising within him, filling up his torso and working its way to his eyeballs. They blurred with tears as his stomach flew forward in sickness and sympathy. The woman went out of focus as the tears blinded him. God, help me. He wiped the tears away and focused the point of the gun toward her head. His arms were weak and felt like they weighed a thousand pounds. He couldn’t keep his aim straight. Would he just hit her in her back or miss completely? If so, she’d come for him. She wouldn’t stop. He could outrun her but she’d never stop following him. He would tire out but she would not. He lowered the gun and then turned around.
Noah began to walk when he felt something stab him in the leg. The pain was too great to go unheard. A wail of agony rushed through Noah’s cracked lips. He fell to his knees right into a group of rocks. Sharp jabs of pain prickled his kneecaps. He grabbed his leg, the one the man bit into. Noah went out of his mind with pain for a brief moment. As it slowly washed over him and away from him, he realized he wasn’t stabbed or shot or attacked by anyone. It was the bite that brought him down. It was definitely infected and definitely getting worse. The pain from his knees hitting the rocks tingled, almost tickled in comparison to the pounding in his thigh.
The woman with no face turned around. She had heard him scream. Her one eye fixed on Noah and she groaned, a sound of steadfast satisfaction. She staggered toward Noah at the speed of hunger, much faster than Noah had previously seen these people go. From Noah’s perspective on the ground, the woman towered over him, the lady with no face. Her skeletal arms were outstretched, thin and full of veins like thick, blue cables. Her gait was jagged, one leg stiff, one leg damaged. She staggered toward him, her jaw open and nearly unhinged from the rest of her skull, her greasy black tongue flapping in the air.
Noah immediately swore and groaned to himself. Through clenched teeth, he let out a small scream to release the hurt and then stood up on his feet again. The pain was dizzying. His head swelled and his surroundings twirled around his eyes. The woman was after him. Her eye met his as a few more drops of rain fell onto his face and shoulder, startling him. Early on, Noah had prepared for any random touch on his face or body to be an attack from one of them. His defenses were up and his adrenaline was coursing through his body like a bad trip but it was only the rain that had reached him. He relaxed slightly, as slightly as he could while being chased by a possibly dead woman with a mangled face. He was still safe as long as they never got their hands on him, as long as she didn’t touch him. He began to run.
Noah put quite a bit of distance between him and the woman, looking back only occasionally to see her getting smaller and smaller in his line of sight, yet still staggering toward him. He slowed his pace when he noticed a large tree limb to his right. His lungs were burning, like a fireplace in his chest. There was a stitch in his side, as if someone were pinching his lungs. It hurt to breathe but he craved as much air as he could inhale. He breathed in heavily, taking in as much oxygen as his body would allow. But, they were not cleansing breaths. The smell of death permeated each mouthful of air. The oxygen was tainted with decaying flesh, rising up off the dead and thickening the air. The smell made Noah squint in disgust, the odor pushing its way into his nostrils, almost tangible in its viscosity. Noah took a few moments to catch his breath and inspect the fallen tree limb. It was brown and rough with long striations of bark that ran the length of the limb. Noah thought he saw parts of people, severed arms, hands locked into a death grip, fingers flayed out in hopes of grabbing onto safety. The darkening sky and the density of the trees fooled Noah’s vision. They were only smaller tree limbs, rough, gray branches that twisted like arms reaching out for his flesh. The skull was only a collection of rotting leaves. The tiny white body was just an abandoned doll. At least that’s what Noah thought. He wasn’t sure he wanted to really know. Noah sat on the large limb to rest. A cold wetness spread across the seat of his pants. He raised his hand in front of his face. What was that wetness? Blood or bits of wet bark? Or both? Noah stared into his hand, into the tiny black bits that rested in the lines in his skin, into the shiny wet, getting lost in the mess in his palm when the moaning snapped his attention into place. Noah’s ears perked up and he looked to see the woman with no face still following him, her hunger guiding her to his body. Noah’s stomach gurgled. Funny, he had ran away from the woman’s hunger but he could not run from his own. Despite being chased by frenzied, mangled people, his body still needed nutrients, still growled the way it would if he were not in danger. He had hoped all bodily functions could be pushed aside in favor of safety. This was not the case. How long had it been since he had eaten? Hours? Days? The pain in Noah’s thigh began to sting in small trembling waves. No time to worry about his hunger, his pain. He had to keep moving.
The woman was catching up.
A work of fiction presented in five parts.
“Now this will be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the peoples who have gone to war against Jerusalem; their flesh will rot while they stand on their feet, and their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouth. On that day a large-scale panic from the Lord will spread among them. One person will grab the hand of another, and one will attack the other.”
– Zechariah 14:12
Noah felt the pain of the old man’s bite rip through his thigh, as if someone had injected boiling water into the veins of his leg. The filthy old man managed to break Noah’s skin despite the thick denim material of his jeans. Noah howled in pain, which only seemed to make the old man sink his teeth harder, deeper, into Noah’s thigh. His withering arms flailed at Noah, tearing at his shirt and jeans. Noah reciprocated, jerking his body and kicking up his legs the best he could, fighting the dead weight of the old man. Noah hit the man in the head with his fists, clawed up clumps of dirt and threw them in the man’s eyes but it didn’t stop him. The man held his grip on Noah’s thigh. Noah managed to inch himself closer to the gun that was bucked out of his hand when the man tackled him. He kicked and clawed and screamed his way to the gun, wrapped his finger around the trigger and then aimed it at the hungry old man’s face. He started to squeeze the trigger but thought better of it. He didn’t want to waste any bullets if he didn’t need to. Instead, he took the end of the gun and jammed it into the old man’s ear. The old man immediately let go of Noah’s thigh, a ropey string of slime and saliva coming off the bite. The old man, too, howled in pain, an inhumanly low gust of agony that escaped his bloodied lips. Noah repeatedly struck the old man in the ear and face. His skull didn’t give as easily as Noah had hoped. He was a fresh one. Noah freed his good leg from under the old man and kicked him in the chest with all of his might. The old man fell back and Noah took advantage of the man’s temporary disorientation and pounced on him, straddling him to keep him pinned to the ground. Noah raised the gun in the air and slammed it down onto the old man’s face, crushing his nose and releasing a spray of coagulated blood and cartilage. The gun came down again and again, slowly caving in the old man’s face until it was nothing more than fragile bone covered in a thick mass of blackened blood and disassembled brain matter. His arms and legs fell to the ground. Shaking. Twitching. Still. Noah’s chest heaved in a rush of adrenaline and exhaustion. Noah stayed on top of the man for a few minutes, allowing his breath and heart beat to slow before using the old man’s shirt to clean the mess off of his gun.
Noah got off the old man and stumbled to his feet. He wiped the sweat from his face with his forearm. Looking down, Noah contemplated the bloody mess that once used to be a man. No, he didn’t have time for that. Noah felt a rush of nausea hit his stomach but he willed it away. He pulled his pants down to his knees and inspected the damage. Jagged red marks formed an ellipse right between Noah’s kneecap and groin. The old man hadn’t bitten too deep or managed to tear away any flesh but it still stung like hell. Small scratches from the old man’s fingernails were scattered about Noah’s arms. Most of them weren’t deep, just superficial and slightly raised. His stomach was sore on the outside and nauseated inward. No time to be concerned. Noah had to get back to his destination. He’d be okay if he could just make it there.
The dirt road seemed to stretch into oblivion, when in reality it was just a few more miles. Noah was flanked on both sides by the density of trees, their trunks and branches and twigs intermingling and creating a web of cover that was both a good and a bad thing. They provided good cover and protection for him but also for them. Noah could see nothing but straight ahead, which didn’t bother him in the slightest. It made his destination easier knowing he wouldn’t have any detours or distractions. It also made it more dangerous. Those people could be hiding behind any tree, lumbering around in the tall grass and he would never know until they were upon him. That was the case with the old man whose skull he had just bashed in. Noah lost his concentration for only a few minutes. He wasn’t paying attention, got to close to the trees and the man lept at him. Noah silently swore at himself for being so careless, for not being alert enough. He ran his hand over the lump in his front left pocket. It hadn’t fallen out during the fall. Good.
The light from the sun that was illuminating his path was becoming dimmer. The sky was graying. Clouds were filling in the blank spaces in the sky, meshing the red dirt with the gray sky into a muddled brown. The air was dusky and dark. This was good. He had heard they didn’t have good eyesight. Unfortunately, neither did he. Noah had been walking for so long. How long, he didn’t know. The days were flowing into one another with the same monotonous activities of walking and evading, sometimes running and defending against those people. Monday, Tuesday, Deadday, Rotday, one giant day of the week, one giant week of the month, one giant lifetime of oblivion. It would have been nice to sit somewhere but to sit in the road would have been stupid. There was no shelter. He had to move quickly through the darkening sky. It looked like it was about to rain.
“Fantastic,” Noah said out loud, right before putting his hand over his mouth. His eyes widened in fright.
No sounds! he reminded himself. It was bad enough that he had to walk the dirt road filled with crunchy leaves and twigs. He didn’t need to bring any more attention to himself by speaking. Those people could hear him and would for him. They were attracted to noise and movement. Noah calmed himself down and continued to walk the path as it continued to blur in front of him. Rain was definitely coming. Just how soon? Noah felt an unease come over his skin, sinking into his stomach and coming up through his throat, thickening his tongue and closing off the air in his lungs. He shuddered.
Every since Noah was a child, the rain had made him uneasy. He was particularly troubled by the Bible story of Noah, for whom he was named after, and the flood, which he learned about in Sunday school. Being a small child, Noah was more than a little freaked at the idea of God swooping in and drowning the entire world. Although the story of Noah continued with God promising not to destroy the world in such a way ever again, Noah always wondered if God might change his mind and usher in the rapture in the form of rain. Noah’s little boy brain began to spin with apocalyptic scenarios of ever running bathwater or eternal rain, water that would collect until it covered his entire house and swept away his Mom and Dad before coming after him, the gray sky blanketing everything in wet death. Any time it would rain or even hint at raining, Noah would get upset and cry. The only person who was ever able to comfort him was his grandmother. She was very heavy and very religious woman. She knew the Bible like the back of her liver-spotted hand and if anyone knew about God, Noah’s grandmother did. He trusted her.
Noah’s parents couldn’t afford a babysitter, so when they had to work or went out, they’d drop him off at his grandmother’s house. Her house always felt warm to him, an acceptable alternative to his own home. Gran, as he called her, always wore what the family referred to as “inside clothes,” mostly muumuus or sleep pants and over-sized shirts. Her hair was long and gray and always in a ponytail. She didn’t wear makeup like Noah’s mother but her face was pleasant anyway. Her large size made her fun to cuddle with. She was like her own bed and Noah often fell asleep on her pillowy breasts. Gran kept a chest full of old toys from when his father was a little boy: green army men and Legos, simple toys that other children might consider obsolete when stacked against articulate action figures with karate chopping spring action or multi-cannon launching capabilities but Noah didn’t mind so much. The simplicity allowed him to create his own attributes to toys. The Legos became buildings or forts or roads or cars and Gran’s sleeping body often became hillsides and vast desserts on which epic battles would take place, that is until he got too loud, startled Gran awake and lost some of his soldiers in the cracks of the couch. Gran made very good cookies, too.
One day, while Noah was enjoying a fresh batch of chocolate chip gooeyness, he heard the first drops of rain hitting the screen door of Gran’s home. The cookies lodged in Noah’s throat. The unease wrapped itself around his torso and squeezed. Suddenly, the droplets of rain turned into a thunderstorm. Rain pelted the door and the room dimmed from the clouds that masked the safety of the sun. Noah started to cry. Gran came in from the kitchen, scooped him up in her giant arms and laid him across her lap. She stroked his hair and talked in a smooth and slow tone.
“The rain is only God’s tears, sugar,” she’d purr. “It’s His way of letting us know He’s watching over us. When the world has become too wicked, the Lord becomes sad and cries. His tears fall from Heaven and wash away all the bad. When the rain dries up, man’s sin has been cleansed and everything is made good again. So, see, it’s actually good when it rains. It let’s us know God has not abandoned us.” This made Noah feel better. Well, a little bit. The fear in his little boy brain wouldn’t allow him to be entirely convinced. Why didn’t God just wash away man’s sin the first time around? Why did He have to go and kill everyone? Maybe He was just really angry. What if He became really angry again? Noah tried not to think of such things. If his grandmother said the rain was good then it was good. Gran always made him feel safe, always found a way to make everything feel okay. The cookies helped, too. Still, like most childhood fears, that unsettling feeling never completely went away. The rain always reminded him of the rapture. Something about witnessing the end of the world, seeing and hearing all of the widespread panic, the horrified faces and the undeniable anarchy that would ensue really upset Noah. As Noah grew older, he learned to control his fear of the rain but it never fully relinquished its control over him.
Noah was glad his grandmother had passed away in her sleep two years ago, long enough not to have to witness this. He hated to think like that, as a part of him still wanted Gran around, but he couldn’t imagine his grandmother frail and helpless, unable to defend herself from those people. The sheer agony of being pulled apart, the pain of each bite multiplied all over the body must be the worst way to die. Even more horrible, he couldn’t imagine her as one of those people, killing others and…my God, eating them!
I suppose I should shake off this fear of rain, Noah thought. Obviously the world won’t end in water. It’s ending right now, like this, with people maiming and devouring each other. It’s ending in teeth and disease, in blood and broken bodies.
Noah looked down the path of the road, squinting his eyes to sharpen his vision. The path stretched out like silly putty into the nothingness ahead. Noah had no idea how much farther he’d need to go. As he walked, the quiet allowed Noah’s nerves to get the best of him. His head wasn’t good at soothing him. Just like when he was a little kid, thinking about the world ending in water, he began to wonder how many of those things were between him and his destination. He began to wonder how many of them were close by, how many he might have to take out like the old man. In reality, he had no idea if they were anywhere close to him. He could have been completely alone but his mind wouldn’t let him think that way. His skin began to tingle with anxiety. Tension built up in the muscles in his arms, contracting, constricting his bones. They were there. He couldn’t see it. He could feel it. They were all around him. He could smell them. Maybe they could smell him, too. They might be far enough to outrun but they were still there. Distance didn’t mean much when he could practically feel their eyes on him. If he couldn’t run, couldn’t walk, he’d be dead. They’d catch up to him and rip him apart. His gun would run out of bullets. His legs had to hold up. Just then, the pain in his leg spiked, like little needles poking the exposed nerves in his leg. Noah undid his pants and lowered them again. The bite was looking worse, a red halo surrounding the wound. He touched the area around the bite and it was blistered and tender. It was also hot. He sucked in a sharp slice of air. It hurt. The bite itself had raised along his skin. It looked like it was becoming infected. Red blood caked along the irregular wounds but it was no longer leaking fresh blood. Noah pulled up his pants and continued down the road.