Today’s Soundtrack – Miss Missing You by Fall Out Boy
Jolene Haley is one of the nicest people I’ve met during my time on Twitter. She truly is. Finding someone who doesn’t like her would be like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. And her story is killer – following directly on from its predecessor, #8. Thinking Big by Julie Hutchings. Jolene will light up your Twitter feed – so follow her. If you want to see more, check out her website, which is coming soon. She likes gritty stories, strong female protagonists and things that go bump in the night.
Less of the preamble; on with the show!
by Jolene Haley
I never actually thought I’d make it out of the small, crappy little town of Haley. Most residents were born here, raised here, and died here. Haley was the kind of town where kids have one dream: get out of town and actually make something of themselves.
Dreams were, of course, before the outbreak. Dreams were before things were hopeless. Before I had a glowing chip unwillingly implanted into my wrist to sell me out the second I was infected. Dreams were before the citizens of Haley started to drop like flies.
The warm night weighed on my shoulders and the stars glittered in the sky, like always. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that nothing had changed. But the stars lied. Nothing ever remains the same.
I stood alone in the dark, feet planted firmly in the dirt outside of Blue’s Diner, ready to run if anything unexpected were to leap out at me. I’d never experienced a zombie attack nor had I ever actually seen one in person, but you couldn’t be too careful these days.
Come on Mason. Where are you?
My head jerked in the direction of movement; the sound of shoes on dirt. My heartbeat quickened. I gripped the small axe in my hands.
Soon, the silhouette of Mason Hutchings emerged from the darkness, his bright blue eyes in all their glory. He looked like he normally did: blue jeans, black sneakers, and a dark hoodie. His hands gripped the straps of the backpack strung on his shoulders.
When he saw me he tucked a strand of unruly brown hair behind his ear before giving me a quick wave of his hand.
“Are you ready?” he asked, with a grin.
Boy had things changed. I’d met Mason Hutchings in the 7th grade and every day since that I’d spent my time lusting after him. Of course, he’d never known, but I had hoped one day I’d have a chance to tell him how I felt.
Now, I couldn’t find a time that was right. A crush was stupid and irrelevant to survival.
I flashed a confident smile; one that didn’t reveal the thunderstorm raging inside me.
I wasn’t. I wasn’t ready to leave this town yet. Though I’d spent all of my teens talking to anyone who would listen about how I’d get out one day, fleeing my own imminent death was the last way I imagined my escape. I wasn’t ready to leave my family. I didn’t want to leave the familiarity of home, even though now it was covered with dust and overrun with rats.
“You didn’t tell her did you?” Mason stepped closer and placed his hand on my arm.
Ruth Ann was my sister who ran Blue’s Diner, the main source of food in town.
Most of the town recently started getting really ill. Two of the latest to succumb to the fever were Mason’s parents. I saw Mason at his parent’s funeral and we got to talking. We talked about life, the outbreak, and discovered that we both had the same goal: to get out of this town. Alive. So why not do it together?
I moved my arm out of his grip.
“Of course I didn’t tell her.”
But I almost had. One thousand times.
“It’s for the best, Penny,” Mason assured me with a lazy grin. I used to go weak at the knees for that grin.
He led me to the back door of the restaurant. I unclipped the keychain from my jeans and selected the spare key I’d “borrowed” from Ruth Ann a few hours before.
Mason and I had talked about this a few times. The plan was to sneak into Blue’s, grab a few sealed containers of food and alcohol (since all the uncontaminated water no longer existed), and leave this town forever.
I didn’t really like the idea of stealing this stuff. Believe me. If money still mattered and we even had any, lord knows I would’ve walked to the nearest store (had one still been open) and paid for the few items we planned on taking with us when we left.
I wasn’t about to die a victim. If there was a chance we could make it somewhere else, I was going to take it.
The door groaned when it opened, revealing dark empty halls and peeling paint.
Frankly, I didn’t want to be in front or in back of Mason. What I really wanted was to be living two years in the past. Mason must have sensed my unease, because he grabbed my hand as the shutting door enclosed us in complete darkness inside Blue’s.
I reached in my backpack and pulled out a small flashlight, handing it to Mason. He led us to the kitchen and I couldn’t help but wonder how differently this could have ended if it were a movie.
“Aha!” he said as he found the large walk in freezer.
When he opened the door, nausea hit me as the smell of rot hit my nostrils. Mason’s hand shot to his nose, clamping it shut. He slammed the heavy freezer door as quickly as possible, but it was too late. The hallway now smelled of putrid stink.
“I think I’m going to throw up,” Mason said gagging, leaning forward with his hands on his knees.
I didn’t blame him. I’d already swallowed down the bile rising in my throat. To think that I’ve possibly eaten something from inside was too much.
I snaked the flashlight out of his hands and motioned towards a storage room door.
“I’ll check in here.”
The door was heavy as it swung open and —
A hand reached out from the inside the closet and wrapped around my wrist—hard. In shock, my axe tumbled from my hands.
“Mason! Help!” Shaking my arm I tried to wriggle free but it didn’t help. It only seemed to grip harder on my wrist, pulling me towards its gaping mouth and digging its blackened fingernails into my flesh.
It had a human form but it was no longer human. There was no skin. In place of skin were large red boils seeping clear and green fluids. Its mouth hung open revealing chipped teeth. It managed an eerie shriek from its open mouth that was spilling bloody saliva down its face.
Mason reached me quickly, just as the thing’s jagged teeth clamped down on my wrist. I howled but the screams made no difference. The pain was searing. It wasn’t just biting me, it was grinding its sharp teeth through my flesh.
“Help, Mason! Get it off me!” I managed, in between kicking and punching the thing.
“I’m trying. It’s not fucking letting go!”
Mason rushed over to the axe that I dropped and came back swinging. I was freed quickly and Mason was already pulling me out the door with our bags slung hastily over his shoulder.
We didn’t stop running until we both couldn’t run anymore, and even then, we ran.
We only slowed our pace when we came to a sign that said, “Welcome to Ackles, Population: 247.”
“Mason,” I started turning to him. “That was—”
“You’re fine.” Mason placed a hand gently on my cheek. “We’re okay.”
I pulled him close and to my surprise he didn’t pull away. I melted into his arms and I was certain that everything would be okay.
I took a deep breath in. Everyone smelled of dirt these days but not Mason. He smelled amazing. He smelled like the forest. Like the air after a rainstorm. Wait, that wasn’t it. Mason smelled amazing like…a steak.
The realization of my thought made me gasp. What did I just think?
We slowly let go of each other and I turned towards the sky that was starting to change colors from the dark night to pinks and purples.
I was just tired. After all, we’d run for miles and miles. Everything was going to be okay.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get to you sooner.” Mason said softly behind me. “I tried. I want you to know that. You understand.”
I turned around. What the heck was he talking about?
But when I turned back to Mason, my face wasn’t focused on his. It was focused on the axe in his hands that was raised and ready to strike me.
“Mason, what are you doing?” My heart was thundering. I was too young to die. This was ridiculous! I didn’t flee a town just to get killed.
“I saw that zombie bite you, Penny. I saw it. I’m not stupid. It’s just a matter of time.” His eyes were welling up with tears. He kept the axe raised and ready to swing.
“If I was turned, wouldn’t I be after you already?” The axe only lowered for a moment, but he quickly changed his mind and raised it back up again.
The breeze was blowing now, whipping through the hills and carrying a few clouds through the sky.
“Show me your chip, Penny,” Mason commanded.
I didn’t really know how they worked other than red meant you were infected, yellow meant that you were in the process, and green meant that you were okay.
“This is absolutely insane!” I threw up my hands in frustration. I held out my bitten arm to show Mason that he was way out of line.
A faint red light blinked up at me from under my flesh.
If you loved this, make sure to check back in next Sunday for the next link in our grizzly chain, by the sizzling Louise Gornall! Also, one of our amazing writers, Julie Hutchings, has just been published! ‘Running Home’ is now available on Amazon. Believe me – you want it. Click here to check out that awesome.