'Something New'

'Something New'

Status: Finished

Genre: Science Fiction

Houses:

Details

Status: Finished

Genre: Science Fiction

Houses:

Summary

Former college student, Max, awakes in his car surrounded by thick fog on all sides. His car won't crank, there's no one else around on this desolate highway. He leaves his car and starts walking down the highway where something sinister lurks in the shadows.
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Summary

Former college student, Max, awakes in his car surrounded by thick fog on all sides. His car won't crank, there's no one else around on this desolate highway. He leaves his car and starts walking down the highway where something sinister lurks in the shadows.

Content

Submitted: May 22, 2017

A A A | A A A

Content

Submitted: May 22, 2017

A A A

A A A


‘Something New’

 

Max awoke with a start in his little Acura Integra.  The coupe was parked off to the side of a narrow two-lane road with tall pines on either side.  But all that could be seen out of his windows was a solid white sheet of fog.  It enveloped him and everything around him.  He couldn’t get it out of his mind.  He felt like he was being watched from something within the mist.  The former college student kept his head down and scanned everything around him.  To get a better view, he reached up and opened the sun roof just enough for him to stick his head through it.  The trees were barely visible to his immediate right.  There was no sound, which was scary in itself.  He strained to listen to birds, squirrels, or insects of some sort.  Nothing made a sound and nothing stirred in the fog. 

Something’s out there, he thought to himself.  But this fog is so thick, they can’t see me.  Can they?

He ducked back into his car and shut the sunroof.  After a moment, he reached for the ignition and turned the key.  His car clicked, but didn’t crank up.  He tried again and again and again, but to no avail.  His car was dead.  Max slapped the steering wheel angrily and cursed at the dark instrument cluster.  There was nothing he could do.  The last car he remembered passing last night was about twenty minutes away, and he was driving a little over ninety miles per hour then.  He sat there for a moment thinking.  If he chose to leave his car, he could use the fog as cover.  But there were worse things out there than just bandits and raiders.  The infected had a keen sense of smell and hearing, though their sight was just as limited as it was before they turned. 

Max weighed his options.  He could be tracked by infected, and they would only be able to rely on scent and hearing.  If the fog remained this dense, he could possibly be hard to smell out.  Then, there were the bandits who couldn’t see him.  Waiting here would probably be the death of him if there were infected lurking in the fog looking for last minute snacks.  Max let out a long sigh and opened the car door.  His dome light didn’t come on.  The battery was completely dead. 

The faster he got his gear together, the better.  He snatched the keys out of the ignition and unlocked his trunk.  Inside, there was a sawed-off shotgun, hatchet, and a tactical vest filled with extra magazines, ammo, and other things.  He threw it on, secured the shotgun and hatchet to it and walked around to the passenger side of his car.  In the seat, he grabbed his pack and an M4A1 assault rifle he found on a dead soldier near the beginning. 

Max started walking, still very hesitant of his surroundings.  He looked back at his first car one more time and frowned deeply at all the memories he had with it.  His sneakers were silent as he tip-toed down the highway.  At times, he would splash through a small puddle, freeze, and listen for any other sounds.  Nothing. 

He continued marching.  Max paid more attention to the tree-line on either side of him, swinging his rifle from side to side in a meticulous rhythm.  It didn’t take him long to learn how to be tactical in bringing up your weapon and aiming at a moving target.  In this new world, you either learned or you died.  A lot of his friends had died.  It was his blazing fast pace that made him become a lone wolf now.  What few friends remained found somewhere relatively safe for the night, and laid low for a week before Max was ready to go.  They had only stopped to scavenge for more food and gas before continuing their trip south.  Unfortunately, they didn’t want to leave the safety of their new hovel.  Max had no clue what became of them now. 

The fog began to thin in places now, he noticed.  Though, it was simply rising.  Not dissipating.  He stopped for a moment and whistled a blue jay tune.  Nothing gave a response.  Then again, nothing moved to investigate him either.  He lifted his rifle a little higher and continued walking.  At times, he would peer through the mist before him and behind him to check and see if he was followed.  Nothing but dull gray in both directions.  He looked off to his right and then tripped. 

The assault rifle was flung from Max’s hands and clattered to the shoulder of the road.  He let out a muffled cry of surprise and then disgust when he saw what tripped him.  It was the body of a ghoul.  A dead ghoul, but a ghoul nonetheless. 

“Oh crap!  Oh crap!” he shouted and back pedaled away as fast as he could.  His breaths came in short and sharp, threatening to send him into hyperventilation.  The body, gray and devoid of blood and life, simply gazed at the sky through dim eyes.  Its mouth was twisted and gaping in agony.  Max steadied his breathing and inched around the body toward his rifle.  He kept a trembling hand on his shotgun slung to his chest.  Once he got his hand on the grip of his rifle, though, he suddenly felt safer. 

The beating of his heart pounded in his ears, drowning out the sound of everything else around him.  There was little time for him to think, he simply scanned his surroundings haphazardly.  There was no noise, other than his ragged breath.  He exhaled and wiped both of his hands on his pants.  It was time to investigate the pour soul before him. 

It was once a man, maybe.  When a person became a ghoul, it was difficult to tell much about them from a casual glance.  Max leaned over the body, examining the multiple bite marks along the neck, arms, and a couple on his chest.  There were no bloodstains, other than where the marks were.  Even so, all the marks appeared to be done by needles or pin pricks.  Not chunks taken out of him.  Max nudged the body with his boot.  The head lulled to one side, staring down the road where Max just came.  Rigor Mortis had yet to set in.  This made Max extremely uncomfortable.  This ghoul had not been killed too long ago. 

Slipping into some gloves, Max got down on one knee and pried the thing’s lips apart.  There appeared to be no signs of infection.  This person was never a ghoul, but a human.  The feeding process had been done by multiple infected, causing the ghoul process to come over this man rapidly.  They sucked him dry of blood within minutes.  At least the body was very cool to the touch.  If it was still warm, Max might have pissed himself. 

Max continued to trudge on, keeping his eyes open all around him.  The fog had dissipated into a cold, cloudy day.  The overcast sky above was just as grey as his spirits below.  He feared that it might start raining.  If it started raining, they would continue to lurk, even in the daytime.  The road continued with no signs of life on it.  Every so often, there were black skid marks in the road where an accident had occurred long ago.  Max would sometimes stop and investigate them, trying to see if he could tell just how old the incident may have been.  He used to do that when he was younger.  Before the infection started. 

There was a small maw-and-paw gas station tucked away in a sharp curve on the road.  Max stood outside, listening for any sounds from within.  He grabbed an old soup can and tossed it through a shattered window.  It clattered against the tiled floor inside, but nothing made any noise in protest.  He decided it was safe and pushed through the door.  A bell over his head rang, causing him to bring up his rifle and wait for something to attack him from the shadows.  Nothing.  The bell fell silent.  He reached up and snatched it from its place at the top of the doorframe. 

“Piece of crap,” he mumbled to himself and carefully placed it on the counter nearby. 

The store had been raided many times.  All that remained on the aisles was trash and wrappers.  He licked his lips at the pictures of hot and ready chicken and pork chop plates hanging from the wall.  That was long ago, however, and he was left to eat MRE’s and the occasional can of ravioli.  It didn’t matter to him, though.  Food was food nowadays. 

Max used a dumpster outside to climb on top of the store’s roof and watch the road while he ate his MRE.  Today it was chili with beans.  A small bag of Skittles fell into his lap.  Max let out a short gasp and placed them in a certain pocket on his pack with several other bags of Skittles.  His friends always wondered why he saved them, and he claimed it was for a special occasion.  Now, he wasn’t quite sure what that occasion would be. 

The overcast sky didn’t last much longer.  It soon cleared and the sun shone brightly on the road and through the woods around him.  Max smiled and greeted the sun’s warmth hungrily as it shined on his face.  He smiled, despite himself, but it didn’t last much longer.  His face grew stony grim once more.  Raiders and bandits would probably start setting up roadblocks and scavenging for food now.  It was better to come across them anyway, because they usually killed you instantly.  Nobody wanted to suffer a torturous death brought on by the infected. 

All was silent as he marched into the afternoon.  Something would snap a stick in the woods nearby, but Max was certain they were just woodland animals.  The wind was cold.  Winter in Tennessee would be a cruel one this year.  Max tugged on the straps to his pack and kept walking.  The road curved ahead.  He raised his rifle and slipped off into the ditch on the outside of the road, hoping to catch a glimpse of some raider’s roadblock through the trees.  There was nothing but a white house.  He sat in the ditch for almost an hour just watching the house through a pair of binoculars.  It was dark inside.  Nobody entered or exited the premises. 

He assumed it was safe, or there was infected lurking inside, but they wouldn’t dare attack in broad daylight.  On rare occasions, they would pursue prey for a short time if they were desperate, but the sun would usually do its work and kill them.  Max picked up his gun and started around the corner.  No other houses were around.  The woods opened up to a large pasture across the road from the house, and the woods around the home had been cut back to allow for a large shop.  It was never finished being built.  Tin roofing for the shop was still stacked in neat piles to the side of the metal frame.  The only tree near the house was a large, old oak tree with wide branches still thick with green leaves.  Max walked around the house to inspect it and froze.

A pair of eyes glared back at him from underneath the meager shade of a large patio umbrella.  He snapped his rifle up quickly and lined the sights up on the pale skin of her forehead.  She shivered violently, clutching a thin hoodie over her thin shoulders.  He hesitated, finger hovering over the trigger.  She looked back at him with fear in her crimson eyes.  The sun wheeled through the late autumn sky slowly.  She was losing her shade by the minute.  The wind blew gently, stirring her silver hair.  She reached up to tuck a strand behind her ear.  Max refused to lower his rifle. 

“Can you speak?”

She nodded her head.

Max found himself stepping closer.  There was something different about this one. “Are you cold?”

She nodded again and croaked, “Thirsty.”

“How long?” he asked.

She tilted her head confused.

“How long have you been infected?” he barked.

She flinched at his voice and held up two fingers.

“Two what?”

“Years.”

Max lowered his weapon fully and stood just out of her reach.  Sunlight was especially damaging to those who had been infected since the beginning of the outbreak.  There was no way she would try to risk attacking him now.  He produced a small bottle of water and held it out to her, his hand in the shade.  She took it, making no move after his flesh, even when his hand lingered before her. 

“What’s you name?” he asked as she downed the water.

“Kate.  Thank you for the drink.”

Max noticed just how much the shade had moved since he first came across her.  “Max.  Are there any more of your kind around here?”

She shook her head.  Max took in a deep breath and stepped into the shade with her.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“We need to find you some better shade.  Come on.” He pulled the patio umbrella out of the ground and angled it to where Kate could walk with him to the house.

She followed him wordlessly in the shade.  Max let her hold the umbrella as he opened the door to the house.  Kate went inside first with Max on her heels, sweeping his shotgun from one doorway to the next. 

“Why are you helping me?” Kate exclaimed suddenly.

“Shh!” Max hissed and alternated between aiming down the hallway, up the stairs and the entryway to the living room. 

“There’s no one else in here,” she sighed. “I can’t smell anyone but you.”

Max turned his weapon on her and shot back, “Anyway, why aren’t you attacking me?”

“Unlike most infected, I have a sense of morals.  I also used to be a decent human being.  I don’t feed on people.”  Kate flipped her hair and moved deeper into the house. “No matter how bad it tastes, I still eat regular food when I can find it.”

He continued aiming at her while she walked. “But I thought the infected go crazy after about a week.  Driven mad.  I’ve seen it happen before in Ohio.”

She paused in front of a shattered family photo on the floor.  “They do.  Because I’ve seen it as well.  But I’m still normal after two years.”

Max frowned. “Didn’t think that was possible.”

“Well, it’s just a story, so the author can do whatever he wants.”

“What?”

“So, as a result,” Kate carried on, “I’m not driven into a blood frenzy.  The sun still hurts; I don’t have to rely solely on blood.”

They moved into the living room and sat in silence.  Max found himself staring at her for a while.  She stared back at him with a small smile on her face.  He broke eye contact with her and began to blush.  Kate drifted about the house, humming to herself.  Despite what she said or sensed, Max carefully cleared each room, closet, and the attic.  Meanwhile, Kate flopped down on the sofa and started painting her fingernails with some nail polish she found.  Max descended the stairs and looked at the fireplace. 

Gas logs, he thought.  Max leaned down close to the hearth and attempted to ignite the pilot light. 

“What are you doing?” Kate asked.

“Trying to see if there’s still some gas left for heat,” Max answered.  He left his pack on the floor and grabbed his rifle.  The tank wasn’t too far from the house, but it was shaded by the woods close by.  Max lifted the lid and tapped the gauge.  The needle jiggled just above the half-full mark.  He shut the lid and began walking back to the house.  Kate stood in the kitchen window, watching him from the shadows.  Max turned to look back over his shoulder.  Something didn’t sit right with him in that treeline.  He felt exposed to someone or something.  Like it was watching him with hungry eyes from the shady woods.  He heard the small kitchen window open behind him.

“What’s wrong?” Kate called out to him through the mesh screen.

Max continued scanning the woods and brush. “Can you smell anything?” he asked.

“No, not really.  Some birds, but that’s it.  What’s wrong?”

He made one more sweep with his eyes and shook his head, “Nothing.  Just thought I saw something.”

Later that evening, Max and Kate sat in the living room eating MRE’s and drinking water.  He got the fireplace working, but there was no water pressure for them to take hot showers.  Max thought back on their silent afternoon together.  They barricaded the doors and windows using furniture and the tin roofing from the unfinished shop.  They also placed heavy blankets over the windows to keep any light from escaping.  He found himself staring at her again.  The firelight danced on her skin and glimmered in her crimson eyes.  And she stared right back at him.

“So, why did you do it?” Kate asked.

“Do what?” Max played the question off.

“Why’d you help me?”

He shrugged and frowned at the bubble gum in his MRE.  It was hard as a rock. “Just being a good Samaritan.”

“To an infected?” she scoffed. “Doesn’t really make much sense to me.”

“Well, your whole situation doesn’t make much sense to me either!  I also just saw something unusual in you.  Something different.  I guess I was right,” Max said. “Usually when I see infected caught in the open, they hiss at me and try to attack.  But you didn’t.  you looked terrified of me!”

“If I wasn’t so dehydrated, I would have peed myself,” she joked. “Thanks for that, by the way.  The water and – well – everything.”

Max shrugged and picked at the bubble gum wrapper. “I just wanted to help.”

Kate was wrapped up in several blankets, staring distantly into the flames. “Where will you go after this?  You look like you travel light.”

“I’ve been trying to get to Florida since this whole thing started.  I was a part of a much larger group from Wyoming.  But they just really slowed me down,” Max told her.  He thought about his friends he left behind.  How they begged him to stay and promised they would keep pace with him.  Shelly stood out prominently in his memories.  The tears were streaming down her face, smudging the dirt and grime that collected on them from months of not washing.  Max knew the girl had a crush on him through high school and college.  Why else would she follow him to engineering school? 

“Don’t go, Max.  Please stay with us,” she cried as snot ran out of her nose. “Please don’t do this.”

“You’re the main one slowing me down,” he returned coldly.  Max left in the middle of the night with a full moon lighting his way.  Nobody heard him slip out because he had the watch that hour. 

“I wouldn’t slow you down!” the girl blurted.  It pulled Max out of his dark memories. “I- I can help!”

Max glared at her, considering his words carefully.  “You’re infected.  You can’t move in the day.  And I’m not moving around at night.  You’ll really slow me down!”

“All I need is this,” she pulled a thicker hoodie out of her pile of blankets.  “And if we can’t, moving at night will still be safe with me.”

“They work in hordes too, you know?  Roving around the countryside at night,” a smirk formed on Max’s face. “You know you’re faster and stronger than me?  You’ll leave me behind, and I’ll be consumed.”

Kate shoulders slumped noticeably at this. “I know.”

Max grabbed his rifle and headed out of the living room.

“Where are you going?” she called after him nervously.

“To keep watch.”

It didn’t last for long though.  He fell into a fitful sleep, watching the ghoulish faces of all his friends passing before his eyes.  There were fangs and bloody claws ripping them apart, covering Max in gore.  He tried to run away, tried to scream, but someone had an ice-cold hand clamped down over his mouth.  All he could do was watch as he heard Shelly’s sing-song voice whisper in his ear. “Watch.  You doomed us to this fate.  You abandoned us – abandoned me, Max.  You left us to die…”

…”You need to wake up!” Kate whispered urgently. “Max!  Wake up!”

He flailed his arms about and tried to pry her hand from his mouth. “Shh!  Listen!”

Max relented to her command and slowed his breathing.  There was a loud bang coming from downstairs at the front door.  Another one followed it, then another.  Max could hear the furniture that served as a makeshift barricade scrape the hardwood floor.  It wouldn’t last much longer.

When Kate pulled her hand away from Max’s mouth, he grabbed his assault rifle and crept toward the bedroom door where he had slept.  “I’ll take care of him.”

“Them,” Kate corrected and looked at him with worry and fear in her eyes. “There’s seven of them.”

Max mumbled a curse and tried to think of what to do.  The most infected he’d ever taken on at one time was three.  Even then, one of them was injured, but it still put up a good fight.  Max barely made it out alive.  There was no way he could take on seven infected.  They could try to run, but the infected could overtake him easily.  If he stood his ground to fight, they would overwhelm him.  All he had was three shotgun shells, and he refused to waste them like this.  His assault rifle would provide a steady stream of fire down the stairs, but he had to actually aim for the head or heart.  He couldn’t just fire wildly.  The banging on the door continued. 

Max closed his eyes and gripped his rifle tighter.  He tried to think, but panicked thoughts began to fill his mind.  Something dark passed before him, and he opened his eyes.  Kate was crouched down in front of him, glaring at him with her crimson eyes.  Suddenly, the sound of crashing furniture and heavy feet bounding through the house filled him with dread.  Kate’s eyes widened, she reached out and grabbed Max, slamming him to the floor. 

It was so sudden, he barely had time to react.  He felt a sharp pain on his arm, and he could feel Kate sucking at his neck.

She bit me!  She’s feeding on me, that bitch!  Max thought, but fear overrode his senses.  He lay on the floor, his body refusing to move. 

“Get out of the way!  We need to feed!” a raspy voice came from the hallway.

“He’s mine!” Kate hissed and went back to sucking on his neck.

Other infected gathered in the hallway, growling and mumbling amongst themselves in low tones.

“There’s plenty to go around, whelp!” came another voice.

“I said he’s all mine!” Kate screeched.

“Just a drop from his arm!” Max heard the first voice move closer into the room. 

“Back off!” There was a flash and a scream following a mix of hisses and growls.  Then, a fight ensued.  Max dared to steal a peek at what was happening.  He caught a glimpse of Kate surrounded by six infected.  The seventh was on the ground, a large chunk of his chest was missing.  Kate’s nails were long, razor-like claws that shimmered blood red in the moonlight through the window. 

The other infected swung at her, but she was too small and nimble.  Kate was able to avoid them easily and went to work digging her claws in their chests, faces, and eyes, ripping them to shreds!  Max began to feel sick and scoot backward in horror at the gore as it shimmered in the light.  Blood painted the walls, floor, and ceiling.  They whimpered and cried.  Some stood back idly, waiting for a moment to strike or frozen in fear of this new enemy.  Kate turned on them too.  She let none of them escape.  When it was all done, she returned – darkening the doorway.

She approached him slowly, walking with a feral gait.  Max trembled with fear, but he aimed his rifle at her and rose to his feet in defiance.  “Stop!” he squeaked. “Don’t come any closer!” His hands shook violently.  Max’s sight picture bounced all over the place. 

Kate moved with inhuman speed and swiped the rifle out of his nervous fingers. “Don’t point that at me!” she smiled brightly, barring her white fangs.

Max melted back to the floor, tears welling up in his eyes.  He felt hot urine running down his pants leg. “What are you?”

She leaned down and whispered, “Something new.”

 

***

Max awoke the next morning underneath a pile of blankets.  He was completely stripped of his clothes and gear.  Max also noticed he was back downstairs on the couch.  Kate stood nearby, hovering over the gas logs and stirring a pot.  There was a fresh pair of camo pants and his combat shirt folded on the coffee table beside him.  She glanced his way once, but pretended not to notice he was awake. 

“What happened?” he asked.

“You feinted,” Kate answered. “You peed yourself, and then you feinted.  I couldn’t clean your pants, so I left to find you some new ones.”

Max picked at the clothes and discovered an unopened pack of boxer shorts and socks underneath them.  Kate kept facing the fire and let Max have some privacy while he got dressed. 

“Did you bite me last night?” Max inspected the bandage wrapped around his forearm. 

“No, I grabbed your pocket knife and pricked your skin a couple of times.  I needed some blood to smear on my mouth and fangs to make it look real.”  Max rubbed his neck as she continued, “As for that, all you have now is a hickey.”

He blushed and slipped his combat shirt on. “You said something last night.  You’re different, or something ‘new.’”

“I’ll tell you in time.” Kate poured what looked like stew into a bowl.  “But you need to eat first.  Something real.”

There was some sort of mystery meat floating around in a bowl of brown gravy with carrots, potatoes, and onions.  “What is this?”

“Rabbit stew.  It’s about all I could catch this morning.”  Kate sat down on the hearth and picked at her clean, normal fingernails. 

“What about you?  Are you going to eat?”

“I already did,” Kate answered calmly.

Max shuddered and ate a spoonful of stew.  It was delicious and hearty!  After eating nothing but MRE’s and granola bars for a whole year, Max the stew was the best thing ever. 

“This is really good,” he mumbled and shoveled more into his mouth. 

“Thanks.  I loved to cook before this.  Stew was one of my favorite things to fix.” Kate stood up and pulled a blanket off the window.  She shielded her eyes from the bright sun that shone through the cracks in the boards.  “Hmm.”  She pulled her hood up over her head and turned around. “Well, we better get going soon.”

Max dropped his spoon into the bowl. “What the heck are you?”

The intense morning sun outside barely affected her skin.  It was only slightly pink like a mild sunburn, where most infected appeared to boil alive.  She simply smiled and licked her fangs.

“Something… new.”


© Copyright 2017 DarkKnightGreatsword. All rights reserved.

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