St. Mary – 50 km from Augusta city – Maine – Blake family’s home – 10:00 a.m.
Seven days. It’s been a whole week since we’ve been shut in our home by now. Provisions are beginning to run out, my daughter is becoming an uncontainable fury and my wife doesn’t stop crying. She had another panic attack last night and I had recourse to all my historic patience to manage to calm her down. Only three bottles of water, a bottle of wine, half a carton of milk and some canned food are left, and they will be barely enough to survive for other 2 days. I’m sitting by myself in the kitchen and I keep on barring the list I wrote down a few days ago.
No matter what, I’ll go to police station to see the sheriff today. They can arrest me if they want, I don’t give a fuck anymore.
“Can you at least tell me what is going on in our town?” I ask the small crucifix hung on the wall.
I’ve been trying to call the sheriff, my friend Sam Greene and even my colleague Benjamin Johnson for days, but it seems that St. Mary’s phone lines have all been blocked. I don’t think there aren’t any toxic cloud’s residues in the air at this point. They’re bullshitting us and they will end up seriously pissing me off. The door bell rings once, twice and three times within a few seconds, as if some madman was stuck to it. I rush to spy from the eye hole and I immediately recognize Ben Johnson with his wife Darla and their daughter. The woman has got her long red hair all messed up in a hurried bun on her head; the baby is still wearing her pyjamas. I open the door and they rush inside, almost running me over. The chemistry teacher is shaking and I’ve never seen him so upset. He’s always been a very reserved kind of person and a very professional man in his job. Now he looks like the shadow of his former self. What if all three of them were infected? The thoughts run after each other in my mind weakened by stress.
“What’s going on, Ben?” I ask him, trying to calm him down.
He doesn’t answer me and I realize that something serious has happened. Katie starts to cry without being able to stop and I invite them to sit down on the sofa in the living room. I turn on the TV but it doesn’t seem to work, either. They’re cutting us off from the entire world.
“Darla, Katie…Can you tell me what’s happening? They had forbidden us to go out…”
“The military, John.… the military.…” his wife starts sobbing without being able to carry on talking.
“The military? What have they done?” I ask, as shaken as them.
Their house is about 1km away from ours, not very far from the 95 highway. Ben takes his glasses off and he wipes his tears from his eyes before answering in place of his wife.
“We’ve woken up…..ar-around 8 this morning….” He cannot speak.
I rush to the kitchen to get a glass of water and I bring it to him.
“Calm down, Ben, calm down. You’re safe among people you know”
“Thank you John” his words sound sincere even if he can’t stop shaking like a baby “We woke up at 9 and my wife went to the garden to take some tools and to check the tomatoes hadn’t gone bad. The…..tth….the old Bernie, I don’t know if you remember him….”
“Yes, the gardener that worked in your house last season” I tell him straight away, just giving him time to get his breath back.
He calls him ‘old’ Bernie even if they probably have about the same age. Darla is definitely younger than Ben, approximately twenty years younger than him; she was a student in his chemistry class.
“Bernie was outside the fence, completely blood-stained and he was looking at her….without moving”
“Blood-stained?” I ask him looking both at him and his wife.
“Yes. He had a bad wound on his throat, as if something had deeply bitten him. The gate on the back yard was open and Bernie came in. My wife ran towards him to ask him what happened when he attacked her. He…..oh my God John, I swear…..he threw her to the ground and he tried to hurt her. I rushed to help her and I pushed him away with a broom. He stood up and he came towards us. His eyes, Holy Mother, his eyes John…it was like they couldn’t see anything, glassy and completely reddened….”
What I’ve just heard isn’t normal at all. I need a few long seconds in silence to gather all those information and to stop shitting myself. I’m scared but I have to show those people I’m calm, otherwise how will I manage to reassure them? I need a drop of whisky.
“Has Bernie tried to hurt you? What did it happen once you went inside your house again?”
“I saw him banging against our kitchen’s rear door, as if he wanted to smash it down. He carried on banging his fits on the table until we heard him leaving and walking around the house”
“Why have you gone out, Ben? You could be ill; the virus might have infected you too. Don’t you think you could have endangered your family with your wicked gesture?” I start to get nervous and they notice that.
“In less than 20 minutes the troops have surrounded our house and I’ve heard them opening fire. They’ve been shooting for a long time John and I’ve heard some people screaming in the street. Then they suddenly came inside our house and….for all the saints in heaven Darla…”
Benjamin starts to cry louder than his daughter and he seeks for his well-built wife’s support. She takes his head in her hands trying to calm him down, and she begins to speak in his place. The little I can do is opening the drawer in the furniture which is next to us and offering the baby one of the last little rice cakes left.
“Those men weren’t wearing any protection masks on their face. When my husband refused to open the door they unhinged it with a kick and they came inside. They forced us to go out still wearing our pyjamas, with these few little things you can see on us and….and.…they burned everything down. They set our house on fire. Everything destroyed John, a whole life of sacrifices and savings completely vanished”
“What do you mean they burned everything down? What the fuck are you saying?” I ask loudly forgetting there’s a frightened baby next to me.
My wife must have heard our voices, I see her coming down from upstairs. Lily is not with her. She comes towards us and she hugs her friend Darla, then she sits down next to us and she becomes acquainted with the whole story.
“Holy Christ John, we must do something!” she says to me as soon as Darla finishes telling the terrifying fact.
“What do you think we should do? My name is John Blake, not John Rambo. There are at least fifty soldiers armed to the teeth out there. They had no problems with burning down Benjamin and Darla’s house; do you want them to do the same thing to our house, too?”
“What could have happened to Bernie to reduce him in that condition?”
“I...I don’t know. We don’t’ know. He looked like a madman” Ben manages to answer me; it seems he’s calmed down a little bit.
We keep talking a little longer and after a while Brenda takes them to bathroom so that they can freshen up a little bit. She gives some clean towels to them and she takes care of the baby while her parents have a shower. The situation is worsening more than necessary; I go to the corridor and I speak in a low voice with my wife.
“What the hell are we going to do now? We haven’t got food not even for ourselves, how can we lodge them?”
“We must think out something as soon as possible. Take the baby upstairs and leave her with Lily. I have to think what to do…”
I lean my back against the front door and I strongly bang my head twice. Seven days as prisoners and now three more mouths to feed. I will go out, as I intended to do, at the risk of being shot. Fuck the county, fuck Sheriff Coltrane and fuck the army.
St. Mary – 50km away from Augusta city – Maine – Blake family’s home – 2.30 p.m.
We finish our lunch with the few little things left. Apart from some beans cans, a piece of bread as hard as rock and a few chips we haven’t got much to offer. Our cupboard is completely empty. The two little girls stand up from the table and they run to play in the living room. I’m glad at least they seem to be peaceful and Katie’s presence can be nothing but good for our little queen. My wife makes a coffee and we all enjoy it slowly, in silence.
“There’s no more food left” I articulate every single word to make sure the message is clear “Ben, we must go out without being seen and get something at the King’s Mall”
The chemistry teacher puts his cup on the table and he looks at me as if I had just sworn. He takes off his glasses and he quickly clean them with the tablecloth before wearing them again. I know him very well and I can tell he must be particularly nervous.
“After what I saw in my house I will never set foot outside until the sheriff has came to inform us that the danger has been avoided”
I’m speechless while my wife anticipates me with a quite tense tone.
“I don’t know if you’ve realized what’s the situation like, ladies and gentlemen, but we have” she stands up and, as to emphasize her words, she opens the fridge and she shows us the cosmic emptiness in its inside “What are you planning to eat tonight, at dinner? Wood chips with a sprinkling of tab water, perhaps? All provisions have ran out and we’ve given you everything we had”
“I can understand you Brenda and I don’t really know how to repay your kindness, but I’m really scared. Think if the virus was still in the air and it had infected other people like it happened to the old Bernie. What are your husband and I going to do in case the soldiers arrested us?”
“No one will see us if we pay attention. We’ll take the path that leads to the fields up to the small Andrew Woodkock’s farm and we will cut through under the 95 highways bridge. The shopping centre is just three km from here, it’s not far away”
Ben and his wife seem to start considering my words. The fear that’s gripping us is indescribable but there’s nothing else we can do. Apart from the very first days no one has called in to give us some good news and if we wait for longer we risk starving to death. We must thing of something and we have to do it as soon as we can.
“All right John…I’m in. Let’s wait at least until it gets dark, so no one will be able to see us”
The idea of going out at night is not very tempting. It feels like I’m in a second-rate horror movie, when the two fools give their lives for their families. I really hope I’m not one of those fools. We all go to the living room and we stay with the two little girls. About one hour goes by, maybe less. There’s a great noise coming from the street and we all look outside the window. A military jeep, with a man driving and another one holding a long shotgun, is shooting at something we cannot see. Every time we hear a shot we all put our hands over our ears, frightened. None of us has ever seen a firearm in action. Only the two little girls, who don’t realize the entity of the danger, seem calm.
“Good Lord, what are they shooting at, those madmen?” Darla asks with trembling voice.
We’re so focused on looking at the street that none of us pays any attention to her. The soldiers carry on shooting but I can’t hear anyone screaming. After a while Ben squeezes my arm tight and he addresses my eyes towards The Hills’ house. The old Carla Petrucci, that crazy neighbour who takes her cats for a walk on a lead every morning, is walking on the pavement, not very far from our window. The military don’t seem to have noticed her. I see she’s moving forward, stumbling with a glassy stare, and with her night-gown completely blood-stained. It seems she’s falling to the ground for a moment, but she manages to balance herself and she comes towards us. Without thinking twice my wife runs towards the front door and she flings it open, while Darla and Ben shout to us not to do that. I go after her and I place myself before her. Carla seems to recognize me and she comes towards me, reaching out her skinny and pale arms. She doesn’t look like feeling very well, and she needs our help. I haven’t seen her in the street for days and I thought she had already left to see her relatives outside the town.
“Mrs Petrucci, what are you doing around here at this time?” Brenda asks her approaching her.
The woman carries on moving forward with a staggering step and she doesn’t reply, as if she hadn’t heard us.
“Brenda, close immediately that fucking door! She’s got the same face as Bernie, the same eyes as him…” Darla shouts to her running towards us with her husband.
The military jeep catches sight of us and it gets back at high speed, stopping in the middle of the street. I see the young military sitting on the passenger’s seat taking aim. What the fuck is happening?
“GO BACK IMMEDIATELY TO YOUR HOUSE, RIGHT NOW!” the military who’s driving the jeep shouts through a megaphone, while the other keeps on aiming the weapon at us.
That’s when I go outside the front door and I start shouting, too. I’ve had enough of this whole situation.
“WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT TO DO YOU UGLY PIECES OF SHIT? DO YOU WANT TO SHOOT AT US?”
“GO BACK TO YOUR HOUSE!”
“FUCK YOU! YOU’RE KILLING US!”
I reach out my hands towards Mrs Petrucci and she squeezes it tight. She almost manages to hurt me although that old woman’s strength has definitely gone now. I’m about to hug her and to hold her up but she opens up her mouth showing me those few decayed teeth left. She rushes upon me and she tries to bite my neck, but with a leap backwards I manage to free myself from her grasp. She falls out of step and then she falls to the ground, panting. She hasn’t said a single word and she keeps on panting, as if she was about to have a heart attack.
“Close the door John, I beg you!” Darla implores me, crying.
At that point, the inevitable happens. The soldier opens fire twice and both the shots hit the target. The first one hits the poor Mrs Petrucci’s back, the second one probably hits her under her knee. That madman has opened fire even if I was in front of her and he risked killing me too. He must have been very clever, or maybe just very lucky. I rail against him and I would like to hurl myself at them. My wife holds me back crying and she begs me to go back in. I free myself from her grasp and I remain where I am. They’ve been keeping us shut inside our home like prisoners for a week now, they’re killing people in the street and I should pretend nothing happened?!
“YOU UGLY BASTARDS THIS POOR WOMAN DIDN’T DO ANYTHING WRONG. DO YOU WANT TO KILL ME TOO? DO YOU WANT TO KILL MY DAUGHTER? DO YOU WANT TO SHOOT US ALL, YOU MOTHERFUCKERS?”
Something is seizing my right leg. I look down and I see Mrs Petrucci still alive trying to set herself back on her feet. Her chest has almost blown up for the bullet’s impact. How can she still be alive? My blood runs cold and I piss myself without even noticing. The urine runs over my thigh creating a small pond underneath me. Everybody starts screaming and rushing inside the house. I try to do the same but I can’t turn to run as much as I would like to do. I’m paralyzed by pure terror. The old lady starts to walk again and that’s when the soldier shoots one more time making her head blowing up like a watermelon. Her blood and the pieces from her brain splatter on my face.
“Shit, shit, shit….”
I fall to my knees and, using all the strength I have in my elbows, I drag myself up to the doorstep. I can’t get on my feet. My wife and Darla draw me inside my house and they close the door behind me. I crouch in a corner like a psycho and throw up. That little I ate at lunch is now all over the corridor’s floor. We’ve just seen some soldiers shooting at a sick woman, maybe infected like Bernie. Carla Petrucci is dead just a few steps away from me and I’ve got pieces of her all over my clothes. I throw up once again and then everything starts to get dark. I lose consciousness a few seconds later.
St. Mary – 50km from Augusta city - Maine – Blake family’s home – 11:25 p.m.
I’m lying on our double bed and I smell of vomit and blood. I don’t know for how long I’ve been unconscious and I haven’t regained my self-control, yet. I can hear the voices of the people surrounding me but they’re muffled, they seem far away. Am I dreaming? I recognize my wife’s voice at first, she doesn’t stop crying.
“Have you gone crazy Benjamin? We’re not in a fucking horror movie!”
“That’s what I’m telling you, Brenda. I’m sure you’ve seen some of those rubbish late night horror movie shown on the country channel at least once in your life.”
“That stuff makes me sick….but….I can’t…b..believe the dead have come back to life”
“It’s very hard for me as well, Brenda, but what else can they be, besides being zombies?”
“FUCKING SICK PEOPLE, THAT’S WHAT THEY ARE, CHRIST!!!”
I hear her running out of the bedroom heavily slamming the door while I drift off to a deep dreamless sleep again.