Updated: Nov 18
Elliot’s hands trembled as he held them between himself and those who were about to be his murderers. They were as useless as his words, but he had to try something. He couldn’t die like this. This couldn’t be real. None of this could be.
“Nnn– please… please dd-don’t…” Elliot begged. Spittle clung between his lips as he scooted backward on the pavement. The front lawns of the suburban neighborhood were choked with weeds. The overgrown vegetation extended four feet in the air, creating a wall of green that surrounded the sidewalk he sat on. Elliot scooted backward until he bumped the third man’s legs. His eyes focused on the size of the man’s black boots and how they were nearly as long as his entire forearm but wider. Without thought, a silent movie played in his head as he imagined the man’s boot stomping his arm flat and shattering every bone inside him before raising his heel to crush Elliot’s skull like an empty cardboard box. The sound of his skull cracking open would mimic that of thick winter ice crunching beneath heavy steps.
This is real. This is real. I’m going to die…
The three looming figures were giants in height and girth compared to the sixteen-year-old Elliot. The pencil-thin boy with short, wrinkled hair looked more boy than a man in the awkward stage of puberty he was in. Before April 20th, the day the world was forever changed, Elliot was not a track star, wrestler, or even a basketball player. His picture in the yearbook would be one that no one in his school would look for or notice this year or any year in the future. His free time was spent studying schoolwork just enough to pass the class with an un-extraordinary B-. An unimpressive grade, but high enough to keep his parents off his back when he spent the rest of his time gaming with his few friends in school and his many friends across the world. Gaming, though, did not prepare Elliot for the apocalypse nearly as much as he had hoped.
He had only been out in the streets of Chicago for a single morning when he had been discovered by this band of leather-clad bikers. Their black jeans and black leather jackets were offset by the silver zippers that chimed as they surrounded the boy. Each of the men’s faces appeared sickly pale white and covered in scraggly, unkempt black beards. The Four men had chased Elliot on their motorcycles for the better part of an hour. The boy would ditch and hide in the tall grass or behind a garage and the four would split until they caught sight of him again. As far as Elliot could tell, this was fun for them.
Hunting kids is fun for them…
Looking up at the crooked smiles on the three biker’s faces who surrounded him, Elliot knew, no more running now.
“Where’s Dalton?” One biker asked.
“Taking a shit in one of them houses,” the wide-bodied man responded. “Nick, we taking this one back with us for baptism?”
“Fuck no,” Nick snapped from behind Elliot. Elliot’s eyes raised to the pump shotgun in Nick’s hands and the black barrel that hovered over Elliot’s back. Any slip of the finger, deliberate or accidental, and the shotgun would blast a hole through Elliot. “If we brought this sheep back for Bishop Jacob, he’d crucify us both. Starting with you, Rob,” Nick said.
Rob sneered a grimace as he struggled to reach around the front of his gut and itch near his belly button. The long leg of the third man swung like a golf club as the tip of his boot connected with Elliot’s mouth. The strike jarred him causing blood to drip to the cement and numbness to permeate his face.
Elliot screamed and covered his mouth as he rolled on the ground. The dizzying spell of malnourishment, dehydration, and now the concussive strike had brought him to the edge of unconsciousness.
“Damn, Eddie,” Rob half laughed. “Chill the fuck out, man.”
Through eyes blurred by tears, Elliot rolled over to see the tall, skinny man leering down at him. Eddie’s hand clenched the silver pistol he kept to his side.
“If we ain’t bringing him back for the Bishop, why we spend all morning chasing after this fuck?” Eddie growled. His voice was low, and his hate was palpable.
“Well, I didn’t know how much of a bitch he was until we got him stopped now, did I?” Nick snapped back at Eddie, who didn’t seem satisfied with the answer. “Besides, you got somethin’ better to do, huh?”
Elliot tasted the copper taste of blood pooling on his tongue and spat it out on the ground beside him. The splatter of spit and blood caught the other’s attention as Nick backed away so as not to get any on his boots.
After a moment of silence hung in the air, Nick pointed at Eddie and Rob. “You two get on with it then. Find Dalton’s fat ass and start checkn’ the next block for supplies. I’ll kill this bitch.”
Elliot’s focus returned to him just as the three men’s eyes fell on Elliot’s body. They didn’t look at his face or eyes like he was a person. They saw him as the sack of meat he would become shortly. An object in their way. It was at that moment Elliot heard the tiniest squeak of a tire as another man rounded the street corner at the end of the block.
This man wasn’t Dalton–the fourth biker who was indisposed at the moment–this man was older, leaner, and on foot. He paused in the middle of the road, staring at Elliot and his three attackers just as they stared back at him. The salt and pepper-haired man pulled a small red cart behind him that bulged at the top with supplies but was hidden under a black tarp that was bungee corded down. The bikers turned to face the man, adjusting the grip of their weapons as they sized up the older man.
The old man looked both ways down the desolate road. The wind picked up and blew the tall grass and weeds to the side before it returned to its resting position. With a finality to his sigh, the old man turned towards the bikers and walked their way.
“What’s up?” Nick said, blocking the center of the sidewalk.
With his eyes on the pavement in front of him, the old man edged to the side of the walkway and went around Nick carefully. Eddie and Rob tensed as the old man walked past them as well. All their eyes lingered on the overflowing cart the old man pulled behind. Elliot’s eyes did not. His eyes were on the man’s tattoos. The man who was easily pushing fifty had toned arms that were covered in tattoos that faded after long years. Along the side of his neck, Elliot saw a thick snake tattoo coiled up behind his ear that disappeared down in his shirt along his collarbone.
“This guy fuckn’ serious?” Nick shot Rob a look.
It wasn’t until the old man passed them on the sidewalk that the three bikers seemed to loosen up from the moment and their nerves subsided.
“Hey man, what you have in that cart?” Rob hollered.
The old man continued his walk. Elliot was just glad, for the moment, that their focus had shifted from him to this man.
Maybe I can make a run for it?
“Hey! We’re talkin' to you!” Nick shouted.
When the old man still refused to slow his walk, Eddie had seen enough.
“Fuck this,” Eddie murmured to himself as he pointed his pistol at the man’s back and stomped towards him. “Hey, you stupid son of a–”
The old man turned, and the gunfire started immediately. Grabbing Eddie’s silver pistol in one hand, the old man twisted it free from Eddie’s grip with a short, violent pull and pushed his black handgun out towards Eddie’s torso as he fired several rounds into the man’s body.
“Hey, don–” Nick grunted as he fumbled with his shotgun.
Rob and Nick seemed caught off guard by the man’s speed and violence. By the time Rob had fished his handgun out from his baggy pants, the old man had stitched several shots up and down the chest of the heavy-set man. The old man went to change targets to Nick, but by now, Nick had enough time to gather his bearings and aim the shotgun in the old man’s direction.
The shotgun jumped in Nick’s hands as the biker fired. A shell ripped into the tall grass to the left of the old man as Nick pumped the shotgun, loading another shell. The old man leaped onto the front lawn, burying himself in the weeds and Nick followed with his barrel. Firing into the grass, he pumped the shotgun again and tracked farther into the tall grass, estimating how deep the target might have scurried into hiding.
When he fired a third time deep into the weeds, there was a sudden motion by the pavement beside Eddie’s body. Rolling free from the tallgrass almost exactly where he had entered was the old man. His handgun pointed up at Nick from where the old man lay prone. He squeezed his trigger continuously as he filled Nick’s chest, arms, and stomach full of bullet holes.
The old man raised to his knees, then feet with surprising speed while his left hand disappeared behind his hip and reloaded his pistol with another magazine. Elliot had his knees tucked into his chest as his entire body shook from the fear-filled adrenaline coursing through his body. Looking from one biker to the next, he saw three bloody bodies flail as the final bits of life escaped them.
When Elliot’s eyes returned to the old man, he was standing over Elliot with his black handgun pointed down at Elliot.
“No, no, d-don’t! I-I’m not with them, please,” Elliot stuttered and extended his empty palms.
The old man eyed him for a long moment before reaching down with his free hand and patting down Elliot’s waist and pocket. Once satisfied Elliot was truly as helpless as he appeared, the old man tucked the handgun back into his waistband and went to work. Silently, he searched each of the bikers’ bodies thoroughly, then moved on to the bags on their motorcycles.
Elliot rose to his feet, still wiping blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. There was an awkwardness as he stood there for several minutes as the man piled all the bikers’ gear and weapons onto his cart and then strapped it down with his bungee cords.
“Um… hey, sir?” Elliot said as he worked his jaw, which felt loose from Eddie’s kick. “Thanks for, um–you know, saving me from those guys…”
The old man didn’t bother to look in Elliot’s direction as he finished organizing his things.
“Do you think—would it be all right if I hang out with you for a while or—”
“No,” the old man said flatly as he got into position and walked down the sidewalk again.
Taken aback by the man’s abruptness, Elliot shook his head where he stood and asked, “Well if I can’t come with, can I have some of that stuff at least–a gun or food?”
He was half a block away when he answered, but Elliot could still hear the old man’s simple response. “No.”
“Shit,” Elliot whispered to himself as he looked down at the now still and silent bodies that surrounded him. Minutes passed as he tried to think of what to do now. He felt watched as he stood in the center of the empty subdivision. The sun’s glare reflected off dozens of house windows that surrounded him. It was then he heard the distant rumble of an engine. A motorcycle engine neared Elliot’s location.
The fourth biker, Elliot realized. Dalton is looking for his friends.
To hide in fear or to flee elsewhere in search of hope? Or is it to hide in the hope of rescue or to flee in fear?
Elliot smelled the stale, warm air of abandonment. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dark, shaded tone inside the house. The kitchen cabinets and drawers were left open, like so many other houses. The furniture turned over; half of the windows smashed. A thick trail of worker ants cut across the long wall diagonally as they marched to and from something delicious that they had found.
The sputtering motorcycle engine took a turn down a nearby road and grew louder. Elliot ran to the back of the house and pushed himself inside the small closet in the last bedroom. The motorcycle’s growl circled the block like a lion circling its prey.
Time passed as he hid in the closet. He didn’t know how much. It could have been twenty minutes or an hour. Phones stopped working a month ago, along with his smartwatch and every other electronic that required a charge. Electricity was a thing of the past now. Enough time passed for Elliot to regret choosing this closet to hide inside. Half the clothes were gone, leaving bare hangers next to several soft and colorful formal dresses. They clouded the closet with the remnants of the owner’s musky perfume. It was a thick odor, so pungent it made Elliot’s nose and the back of his throat itch. He imagined the lady who once lived there was an older woman with a bunch of cats.
What did she do with all her cats when she fled the city? Did people take their pets with them? Or did they leave them behind to starve? The houses of their owners becoming their tombs?
Elliot had wanted a dog from a young age but now was glad he didn’t have one. Since he was in elementary school, he had begged his parents for a golden retriever or a black lab like his friend Andy had across the street. A great big oaf of a dog that knocked over the furniture with its tail when someone came home. Elliot’s mom loved dogs, too, but wouldn’t allow it. His father was allergic. Even a trip to the zoo was enough to start Elliot’s dad down the path of one of his sneezing fits. Now Elliot was hesitant to continue his food search. He was scared the next door he opened, he’d find the bones of a forgotten pet.
Elliot held his breath to listen for the motorcycle that hunted him, but it also had the added benefit of giving his nose a break from the perfume. He could hear nothing but the loud growl of his stomach. He had passed the point of hunger yesterday to where now his belly was plagued with cramping twists. It might be the thirtieth day—he had lost track—that Chicago was without power, but this was the first day Elliot had left the safety of his parent’s attic to search for food, and it was the third day with no food. Now, having been through dozens of houses and not finding a scrap, he wondered if he’d waited too long.
It was his father who had told him and his mother to go into the attic when the looting had worsened all those weeks ago. Houses in their neighborhood burned with no fire trucks in sight. Looters stole electronics and food at their leisure, and people who resisted were battered or shot with no approaching police sirens heard. Elliot’s dad was scared, which terrified Elliot more than anything.
Pulling at his hair and going from window to window to see where each of the screams came from, Elliot’s dad fought back tears and hid his shaky voice when he spoke. Dads aren’t supposed to get scared, Elliot had thought. His father had gotten Elliot and Elliot’s mother up the draw ladder into the attic. They each brought a few cans of food—chili, corn, beans, soup—and a case of water. His dad went back downstairs to empty the pantry of food when Elliot heard the glass break downstairs and people walking inside their home.
“Tom!” his mother called. “Tom!” When she didn’t receive an answer, she started down the ladder.
“Mom,” Elliot whispered in a panic. He didn’t care that he was a high schooler and nearly a grown man. At that moment, all he wanted was to stay with his mom. Elliot could feel the heat from their neighbor’s house in flames. There was yelling that mobbed outside the house only to be speckled with sharp pops of gunfire. Elliot did his best to keep the tears at bay.
“Stay up here and stay quiet,” his mother whispered. “I’m going to get your father.” She took a step down the ladder and hesitated. When she looked at Elliot for the last time, there was a flash of pain in her eyes as she nodded. “I love you,” she said.
His mother went down the ladder and ran to her husband, but not before shutting Elliot in the attic's darkness. With the attic shut, he never heard screams, only the pops of two muted gunshots. They never returned, and Elliot never opened the door. Every minute that passed, he thought he should go downstairs to check on his parents, but hoped they would just appear. When days passed, he knew they weren’t coming back. He knew he couldn’t stay hidden, that he should leave the attic, but he didn’t. Not for a month.
Shaking his head free of the thoughts, Elliot pressed his palm against his growling stomach to quiet it. He was feeling the effects of malnutrition. Headache, stomach cramps, cold sweats. This house, like every other in this subdivision, was probably picked dry. If he didn’t find food and water soon, being chased by a vengeful giant on a motorcycle would be the least of his worries.
Elliot cracked the closet door and peeked his head out suspiciously as if an attacker were waiting just outside for him. He stepped out into a still bedroom. There was a certain security he felt inside a house as opposed to wandering the streets. It was a primal feeling. Animalistic. Outside, he was vulnerable. Inside this house, he had shelter from predators. As far as Elliot knew, the infection had yet to reach Chicago, but it was coming…
And nothing terrified him more than being caught outside when the infected arrived.
The front door to the house swung open and thudded against the wall. Elliot’s eyes widened, and he ran back into the closet, shutting the door.
How did he find me? I didn’t even hear his motorcycle—was he on foot?
Elliot’s hands trembled in the dark. There were no weapons or even anything he could use as a weapon in the closet. He had already checked. Just high heels and dresses, and Elliot couldn’t see a high heel helping much. The man who chased him was a leather-clad giant, with silver chains that dangled and clanged from his jacket and jeans. The shotgun he carried was almost as tall as his torso.
There was rummaging through the kitchen cabinets.
The biker had been chasing him since he had spotted Elliot standing over his three dead fellow bikers.
There were footsteps now. They crept down the hall. They came closer. He imagined the closet door opening just enough for the black barrel of the biker’s shotgun to extend inside, then the explosion of furious fire marring Elliot’s face before he died.
His hand grabbed hold of something hard at the floorboards of the closet, and he clutched it to his chest like it was a teddy bear in the arms of a child. The footsteps were here. Someone stood just outside the closet.
Elliot felt the intruder’s presence, the shift in weight on the floor before him. He felt an urge to yell for mercy, to cry for help, but the door swung open too quickly. He wasn’t ready. Elliot chucked what was in his hand outside as hard as he could from his cramped position.
“The fuck!” a baseball bat swatted at the airborne heels.
“Stop—don’t hit me.” Elliot sank back against the dresses with his hands up.
“Then don’t throw shit at me,” a woman yelled. “Jesus, was that a high heel?”
“Jesus, was that a high heel?” she asked.
Elliot opened his eyes and saw a young woman, maybe nineteen or twenty years old, standing over him. She kept the wooden bat raised between them as her eyes measured his next move.
“Can you lower your bat, please?” Elliot finally asked.
“You got a gun or a knife or anything?” Her eyes narrowed on him.
Elliot’s eyes glanced down at the black high heel he had thrown at her. “If I did, you think I would’ve opened with high heels?”
The woman thought about this for a moment, then finally lowered her bat and backed away so he could stand.
“Thanks. I’m, um… I’m Elliot.”
The woman stared suspiciously at Elliot’s outstretched hand, then finally shook it. “Kat.”
“Kat.” Elliot made a face. “Kat like Kathy or cat-like, you know… meow?”
“Kat like Kat.” She glared.
“Oh, nice… my grandma had a cat…” It had been some time since Elliot had spoken to anyone. It felt almost relaxing to hear someone else’s voice, not to mention his own. While hiding in his attic for weeks on end, he had done his best to keep from talking to himself, figuring it was a slippery slope.
While searching houses today, Elliot had come across a few people. With the incessant pops of gunfire that still filled the city streets day in and day out, Elliot took the safe rather than sorry approach and hid as each person passed, none the wiser of his presence.
Kat stared at him for a long minute before she spoke again. “You live here?”
“No, my house is a few miles that way—off of Eleventh Avenue.”
“Then why are you out here?” She crossed her arms, tucking the bat under her armpit. Elliot monitored her baseball bat wherever she moved it. He made note that Kat was taller than he was by a couple of inches and had broader shoulders like maybe she was a college athlete. Elliot had always been the skinny kid, and at five foot seven and near starvation, he doubted he could even take Kat in a fight without the bat. After all, the last fight he had been in was in kindergarten, and he had lost.
“You know, just looking for food.” Elliot motioned to the kitchen on the other side of the wall with his hand.
“With no weapons?”
“I’m not really good with guns or anything… My—I never was a fan of guns. We never had any.” Elliot crossed his arms.
“We?” Kat eyed him suspiciously.
Elliot rubbed a hand over his face and took a deep breath. “Yeah, um… my parents. They’re not… they’re…” An awkward silence hung in the air as he struggled for the word.
“Sorry,” Kat finally said.
Elliot nodded. He realized it was the first time since his parents’ death that he had talked of them. Or tried at least.
“Are you, uh… are you from here?” Elliot cleared his throat.
“No, I go to Northwestern… or went to Northwestern.
“Oh,” Elliot said. “So, um, look. I haven’t checked this house yet, but all of these—this whole neighborhood has been raided already. “
“I figured.” Kat walked into the hallway, and Elliot followed. “Those bikers had been through here all week filling bags of things.”
“You saw the bikers?” Elliot touched her arm, and Kat’s head snapped back at him. “Sorry, it’s just… they’ve been chasing me all freaking day. This one guy, really, now. A big guy with a shotgun. I was hiding from him when you found me…”
“Good thing for you I came here and not him.” Kat pointed with the tip of her bat at a trail of muddy footsteps that led from the front door to the back bedroom. Elliot looked down at his shoe and saw a halo of caked mud around the outside.
“He thinks I killed his friends, but I didn't. I was just… there.” Elliot shrugged. “I watched someone else kill them, sure. But I didn’t kill them, you know?”
“I saw,” Kat replied. “They got the black bands around their arms. Means they’re LC. You want to stay clear of them. They’re killing everyone.”
“Lord’s Chosen. They’re the ones hunting all the people. It’s a gang—or a cult or something. They’re the ones you run from.”
“Wait, you saw?” Elliot held a hand up as he thought. He pointed to the muddy footprints. “You knew someone was hiding in that closet when you went in there? How’d you know I wasn’t some mass-murdering clown or something? I mean, I still could be for all you know. I mean—”
“Some big badass murderer who was hiding in a closet with high heels?” Kat raised an eyebrow.
“Hey, killers hide in closets all the time in the movies.” He pointed at her.
“I don’t know.” Kat shrugged. “I guess you didn’t look all that scary to me.”
“Hmm. I see…” Elliot said. “Wait. You were watching me?”
Kat snapped her attention to the front door, and then Elliot heard it too. The motorcycle rumbled down the street and was coming closer. They both went still as the revving engine slowed and hovered just outside. When it shut off, Elliot and Kat scrambled to run into the recesses of the house. Kat grabbed Elliot’s forearm in the middle of the hallway and when he turned, she was pointing furiously at his feet. He tried to pull away so he could hide, but she wouldn’t relent, jabbing the tip of her bat at the ground. The heavy footsteps of the biker clonked up the front porch stairs. Metal chains and zippers chimed together with each step.
“Shoes!” she mouthed silently, and Elliot finally understood. He shook free from Kat’s grip, kicked off his muddy shoes, and continued to run. They ran into a teenager’s bedroom this time. The room smelled musky. Like dirty clothes and sweat. The walls were lined with video game posters and anime characters. Elliot recognized most of them. On the wall opposite the closet was a thirty-two-inch flat-screen TV atop a large brown dresser. Kat dove for the closet and had to clamor over a pile of clothes to get inside. Elliot tried to slide under the bed but was stopped by the baseboard.
“Hello, little boy,” a deep voice boomed. “The Lord’s Chosen you.” It was loud enough that Elliot thought he had been caught and froze.
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