Jordan Walters woke in a cold sweat. His hand flashed instinctively for the gun that slept under his pillow and sat bolt upright, his sure hand guiding its aim all over the dark room. The lingering remnants of his dream clung to his consciousness, setting his heart racing even faster. His eyes searched the shadows, looking for the hulking form that haunted his sleep. Slowly, with the early morning sun peeking over the windowsill he calmed down, his heart rate slowed and he lowered the gun. With a deep exhale that was almost a resignation, he dropped his head into his hands.

    He looked over at the black alarm clock  that sat on his bed side table. It read 8:55 AM. He flopped back down onto the bed and combed back his hair with his fingers as if that would wipe away the dream and reality both. As well as the disappointment that he had woken up five whole minutes before his alarm. He flopped backwards onto the bed with a loud groan, the springs in the bed groaning in protest to the sudden movement.
Reluctantly he rose to a seated position and reset the alarm on the clock and threw back the sweat soaked sheets. He stood up and stretched, his body cracking and shivering with delight. His muscular frame flexed as he stretched his arms and legs. With a swish he opened the curtains, letting in the bright morning sunlight through the barred window. His eyes squinted until they got used to the light, and then he yawned and turned to the business of getting ready for the day. He pulled open the drawer of the dresser across the room and pulled on a faded pair of blue jeans and a black t-shirt with a small hole in the left shoulder. In the bathroom he pulled a comb through his mussed up hair, keeping it out of his eyes and pulled some water from his bathroom catch bucket .

After splashing his face, he looked around his meager bedroom, the dresser and bed the only furniture besides the bedside table. His house was old and small, but it had strong walls and only one door to get into the house. A back door was more trouble than he could handle if it all went to hell It was getting more and more important for a place for a person to live to be strong and easy to defend. Odd that defensibility would be one of the things that he would look for in a house. Or that anyone would for that matter unless they were living in an active war zone.

Downstairs he pulled open the cupboard in the kitchen, revealing his meager stores of canned, dried and preserved food. After rustling around in the packages of Top Ramen, cans of Chef Boyardee and baked beans, he pulled out a can of chili. He felt like going a little fancy today, and he was going to go shopping anyway.

He lit a fire in the fire pit that he had dug in the center of the kitchen through the linoleum and stoked it. The smoke curled and wound it’s way up towards the grated hole in the roof. He had to reinforce it with metal bars when a feral tiger had tried to claw it’s way in one night. Turns out that if animals really want to they can escape from the zoo. Especially when they have developed a taste for ape meat. A few minutes and a couple logs later he had a nice little fire going, which he used to heat the chili still in the can.

The few dishes he kept around were mostly utensils, a spoon, a fork, a cooking pan and bowl,  a sharp knife a few glasses, a big bowl and a ramen bowl and a single plate. It simply wasn’t worth having more dishes than that, since he never had company and never needed more than that for himself.

With each spoon-full of the food he imagined a real breakfast with his eyes closed. Fried eggs and pancakes, with a double side of bacon and an overflowing glass of cold orange juice. He sighed, somethings were healthy to fantasize about, but good food was definitely not one of them. Even his full belly felt empty and his brain kept yearning for more and more, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to ever to taste something like that ever again. He couldn’t even find powdered eggs anymore. It turns out that was the only thing that the ferals liked at all.

After his breakfast, he headed up to the roof. He unlocked the metal plate that he had installed there the last week. It was dangerous to go up there, he could be spotted, but the roof gave him access to the impressive view of the surrounding city and whatever might be in it. He looked from horizon to horizon, searching for the hulking and swaying forms that haunted his dreams and the snarling and vicious ones that haunted his reality. Instead only the wind disturbed the streets, blowing a plastic bag along like a lone tumbleweed in a ghost town. A poet might have written about the romanticism of the bad being like a human being floating around his or her life. Only there were no more poets to write about, and almost no-one left to read their work even if there were any soft shelled poets left.

Jordan climbed down back into the house and collected some of his survival gear from the kitchen. The little green backpack that he stuffed full of things held almost everything he would need to survive, and had saved his life more times than he could count at this point. He unzipped the pack, filling it with replenished gear, food and water.

He refilled the canteen and water bottle from his catch basin in his kitchen, wasting not a single drop to the floor or his clothes or skin. It was important to stay hydrated, especially when he was exhausting himself so much every day. He was always making improvements to the house, keeping it safe and secure. Scrounging for supplies was not the easiest thing to do either, with all of the hazards out in the world, even then. He made sure that his emergency rations of trail mix were full and the bags did not have any holes. The damn rats always had to chew into the bags. He checked to make sure that the gauze and medical kit were there. Scrapes and wounds were bound to happen, and when they did he was going to be ready. He also checked to make sure the machete and hammer were there and strapped them to the outside of the pack where they could easily be in reach.

Satisfied that his going-out kit was complete and refilled, he walked into the armory room, formerly the family room and stared in awe of what was contained within. Instead of the standard couch, television and assorted soft chairs there was instead 4 gun cabinets, each with an assortment of rifles, shotguns and hand guns and their ammunition. He selected his favorite, an automatic military grade shotgun and slipped it into the holster that ran along his shoulder blades. He briefly considered one of the few hand grenades he had been able to salvage. He shook his head, he probably wouldn’t need one of those today.

He hefted the back pack and started walking towards the metal crossbarred front door and then slowed and turned back to the cabinets. He opened up one of them and selected a Beretta and three full clips and slipped them into his back pack. He also collected thirty shells for the shot gun and added them to the ammo belt that was in there as well. He hefted it and clipped it closed around his waist. It was always to go out in the world completely prepared, even overly prepared for whatever was out there.

With a deep breath he headed to the front door. Sometimes one of them would lean against the door, as if catching it’s breath before continuing on to whatever it was it was doing. Then try to turn and sink it’s rotting teeth into his leg. Slowly he opened the door, shotgun leading the way through the crack in the door,  but this time there was no heavy weight that he could feel. He opened it fully and saw nothing but the familiar sight of overturned and burnt out cars. He had buried the bodies that were around his house so that he wouldn’t have to look at them every day, that would have driven him insane.

He released the tension in his body with a deep sigh, but tension and adrenaline seemed to be a constant part of his life. is body tensed up again, as if saying that he should stay in the relative safet of the house, and not go out into a fierce and savage world.  He forced his legs to move, and forced himself not to think of the hundreds of people that were in the buildings around him. He didn’t have the courage or the stomach to clean them all out. He just didn’t. And even if there were any, they were probably scavenged by the ferals by now.

His shotgun at his shoulder he made his way into the center of the street. It was easier to be ambushed if you stayed too close to the walls of the cracking and crumbling buildings. In the center he had a 360 degree view of the surrounding area, important for survival in the world. He had learned that the first week after the incident, when a feral had lept down from a window above him and that had almost been that for Jordan Walters. His lucky utility knife had gutted and sliced the creature before it had shrieked for the rest of it’s hunting party.

He made his way towards the downtown area, where the best salvage was. The large amounts of stores made it easier to move from one building to another without arousing unknown attention and he was more likely to come across useful food and equipment that had not been broken or picked over yet. A few hours later he came to his prize salvaging area.

The abandoned Target lay ahead, the way strewn with abandoned carts and more than a few skeletal corpses, most of the meat eaten away by the roves of feral people and animals that haunted the night. The front of the building had been broken into, but the merchandise was only mostly ransacked and not salvaged. For some reason the ferals just ate meat and the few fruit and vegetables that still grew.

He could see a murder of crows circling not far away, over the fields where the ferals liked to fight. After the usual decapitation of the loser, their bodies were stripped of meat and organs and heaped in a pile, where the crows liked to pick apart the skull to get at the fine meats of the eyes and brain. He had spied on them one day, trying to find a pattern to what they did. He didn’t find any and just decided that they were too far gone to save.

His shotgun at the ready, he stepped over the cracked and broken entryway. He made his way to the food section of the store, where cans and jars were broken and scattered on the floor. every single chip in the place was smashed and crunched on the floor. The ferals aparently like the sound the bags made and prized them as armor. Further on he saw that the pile of laundry bags that he had hoarded in one spot. Picking one up, he made his way to the section that had canned goods that had not been broken and scattered. He filled up the bag with preserved and canned food until he felt that he could carry no more and still be mobile. It was always important to be mobile.

As he made his way to the entrance, he heard the clatter of a disturbed can in the shadows off to his left. His shotgun up and at the ready, he moved slowly towards where he heard the sound. He had to kill whatever it was quietly, or the nearby ferals would hear. Sweat began to bead on his face and neck and his heart sped up thumping into his temple. His eyes struggled to see through the dark inside the building, straining to even see a shape. Then he saw it, bent over a dead animal carcass. It’s putrid stench filling his entire being until all he wanted was to be anywhere else. It made small grunting noises, as if trying to imitate speech as it’s hands dug through the deer’s tender insides.

His foot cracked on a piece of broken glass by accident, sending spikes of adrenaline through his body. With a disturbed screech the decaying creature stood up and whirled around to face him. It was disturbingly fast for a zombie and more graceful in it’s movements than any other he had encountered. It’s face was corroded and cheekless and it leaked fluid from where it’s eyes should have been, probably picked out by the crows. The chest cavity still leaked fluid, and as it moved a few random and still fleshy organs slopped to the ground. Another shriek came from it’s lipless mouth and it charged, dragging it’s broken leg behind it at an odd angle as it shuddered toward him.

Jordan pulled the trigger twice on his shotgun, blowing the top of it’s head clean off. It fell in a ruined heap on the floor, seeping blood into a spreading puddle on the tarnished linoleum floor. The echo of the shot was deafening in the combined space, and a light mist of blood and body fluid was already settling over his clean clothes.

“Shit” he said softly. The loud sound of the shotgun still rang through the almost empty store. The loud sound was likely to draw the ferals and any other creatures to his location. He ran through the entrance, his bag of canned food slung over his shoulder. He heard the rudimentary groans and whistles of the ferals as they talked to one another. He did not stay long enough to find out if they even knew he was there.

He ran as fast as he could, his legs and arms pumping as quickly as he possibly could. The bag of cans on his back clanged violently and made a huge amount of noise as he ran. Hopefully he would be far enough away from the store when the ferals got there that they wouldn’t hear it.

“Damn” he whispered as he heard the scrabbling of about fourty feet behind him. Good thing I work out more than they do. He thought.

A few adrenaline filled miles later he could feel himself reaching his limit as far as running was concerned. His lungs burned for more air and his legs ached with fatigue. Just as he felt he couldn’t keep going any more, he heard them stop and howl softly, as  out of breath as he was. He slowed to a walk and turned around, and saw the dirty rag-backed feral humans retreating and limping on their unclod feet. One of them tripped and fell, slicing it’s leg open on a piece of sharp metal. The rest did not waste any time, but pounced on the unfortunate victim, biting and clawing for bits of flesh.

Jordan turned and walked away. With food at hand, the ferals would be busy for a short time. And that was all he needed in order to get far enough away that they would simply forget about him. Breathing hard, he turned down a side street and covered his ears until he coul dno longer hear the yelping feral calls and the smacking of blood soaked lips.

The rest of the trip back to his home was uneventful, although he came across several new stripped corpses on his way back. The ferals had started turning against themselves even before the rest of the human population was gone, separating into several clans or tribes that preyed on the others, capturing them and forcing them to fight for sport. Then they ate the losers. His skin crawled at the thought.

“At least the dead don’t kill people for sport.” Jordan thought to himself.

The walking corpses were relatively rare, but were aggressive and attacked him at every opportunity. Jordan was never very good at science, only the pseudo-science that was advocated on the ScyFy Channel. The best he could come up with was that it was a mutated parasite that animated the dead. And it was only the bodies that the ferals did not burn. He was not interested in saving the human race, he would let someone else do that. It was hard enough for him to survive by himself. His stomach seized when he realized that he was alone.

As he unlocked the door to his house, he felt a shiver of premonition. He had learned to trust his instincts in the world-after, and he only opened the door slightly. His shotgun at the ready, he peered into the dim interior, his breathing loud in is ears as he strained to hear any sound that would give away the presence of a corpse or a feral.

He could feel nothing with any of his senses, so he opened the door a little more. It creaked and groaned open and Jordan winced as the sound seemed to be a thousand times louder than a jumbo jet. It was then that he heard the floor creak upstairs. His breath quickened as he turned towards the staircase.

Standing there was a girl. Not the feral women that were kept for breeding ad pleasure, nor a walking corpse with rotting skin and meat hanging from her lips. This was an honest to good woman, clad in beige pants and a dirty white blouse. And pointing a rifle straight at his head. Automatically the shotgun went to his shoulder and trained itself on her head.

“Who are you?” she demanded, the rifle shaking slightly in her hands.

Jordan was stunned, he hadn’t seen a normal human being in months, and those were raiding bandits hoping to steal anything of value from anybody left behind.

“You are in my home” he managed to croak out. “What are you doing here?”

“Nobody has lived like this for a long time.” She said bitterly. “How can you?”

“I manage.” He said. “Now put down that gun before I put one in your head. And I really mean it.”

A scowl crossed her face. Slowly, she lowered the rifle a hair, just enough that it was not overtly threatening. Jordan lowered his shotgun the same amount and motioned for her to follow him into the nearby kitchen. A thousand thoughts raced through his head, along with even more questions. Who is she? Where is she from? Why is she here?

He turned around and saw her pointing the rifle at him. She had moved so fast and quietly that he hadn’t anticipated her move. He moved to raise the shotgun, but she fired a round into the wall near his head.

“Don’t even think about it cowboy.” She murmured. “I was in the military before all this shit went down. Do you think you can raise that gun and fire before my itchy trigger finger shoots your ass full of lead?”

Jordan untensed his body. “Are you crazy?” He whispered loudly. “They could have heard that!”

“I didn’t think so. Now be a good boy and drop that nice shiny toy for momma.” She said with a sly grin on her face. “Now.”

Slowly Jordan lowered his weapon to the floor. It clattered on the linoleum floor. He raised his hands up above his head.

“Now go and close that front door of yours before any of those ferals hear it and become curious. Go on!”

Jordan made his way to the door and shut it, the lock clicking into place. The woman came into the entry way and motioned for him to move into the living room. He flopped down onto the couch, his heart racing yet again.

“Now I am going to lower this gun and we are going to have a nice little chat before I blow your brains out.” Jordan nodded and she lowered the gun so that it was pointed to the ground.

“Now for starters, who are you.” She asked.

“My name is Jordan Walters.” He said with a voice that was cracked from dissuse. “Now it would be polite for you to introduce yourself.”

“Lieutenant Lynn Harrows.” She said. “Out of Travis Air Force Base.”

“Not too far from here.” Jordan grunted. “ have you been walking here all this time? What have you been doing since, you know.”

“Mostly staying out of everybody’s way. I try and avoid all the flesh eating freakazoids. They tend to want to kill and eat me.

“I know what you mean.” He said with a little laugh.

She cracked a grin. And that set off a cascade of relieved laughter form the both of them. Laughter that they were not the only person left in a world that had gone completely insane. For one moment they were just two people who were happy to be alive. And then the moment passed.

“I suppose you can stay here if you would like. You would have your own room, and the walls are nice and thick and all the windows are reinforced with bars.” said Jordan as the last of the laughter leaked from his lips.

“I don’t even know you. For all I know you could be a serial rapist that was in prison when all this went down.” She said with a wary glance in his direction.

“I haven’t tried to eat you, that’s a plus.” said Jordan with a grin.

“That’s true!” She said with a syrupy sweet smile on her face. “But I will give you fair warning that I will be sleeping with my own arsenal under my pillow, and I am willing to bet that I can kick your ass in a fight if I needed to.”

“No ma’am!” said Jordan as he leaped to his feet and flashed a sloppy salute.

“You must have been a comedian.” She grinned. “You haven’t had an audience in a while, have you?”

“Yeah I have been alone for a long time.” Jordan said, sitting back down on the overstuffed chair,  his voice now drained of mirth. “I started out on a camping trip with my girlfriend. You know, no signal up in the mountains. By the time we got back, everything had gone to hell.”

“Where is she now?”

“Buried out back.” Jordan said simply. “She stepped on a rusty nail and wasn’t up to date on her tetanus shots.”

“I’m so sorry…” said Lynn in a whisper. “That must have been hard.”

“Not as hard as losing all of civilization. But yeah, she was my last connection to my old life.”

“What was that?” she asked.

“You sure are nosy for a military chick.” said Jordan a little suspiciously. “Why don’t you tell me something about you ‘Lieutenant’. I sleep with guns under my pillow too.”

“I was in cyber warfare. Nit actually in the computers, just a liason with the higher ups. I would translate what was going on for the tech illiterate. It was a helluva place to be when the virus hit.”

“What happened?” Asked Jordan, sitting forward.

“I was actually in the elevator and the power went out. We still had emergency lighting, but I could hear people screaming and tearing eachother to bits. I was scared and I had left my sidearm and phone at my desk. I don’t know how long I stayed there in the dark. Hours I think. Eventually, I just did like they did in the spy movies. I opened up the top access panel and there happened to be an open door I could reach.” she said, her eyes glazed over in remembrance.

“Damn.” Whispered Jordan. “At least we had no idea what was happening until we got back into town. How did you make it out of the building alive?”

“Well the crazies don’t forget everything. There was still plenty enough killing skill that was ingrained in muscle memory that by the time I got out, they were either all dead or had left. That was how I got my whole arsenal.” She gestured to a black duffel bag that was in the corner of the room that Jordan had not noticed before. “Where did you get that impressive collection in the living room?”

“Well some of the National Guard didn’t have their radios on when it happened, so they rolled into town trying to keep the peace. They ended up in pieces and their equipment fell to me. Other than that I have been raiding sporting goods stores and the like. I even went on a trip to the armory in Santa Rosa when I still had the car.”

“Do you think  there are others out there? Like us?” She asked. “I mean the whole world couldn’t have gone to hell, could it?”

“I think you are better equipped to handle that question than me missy.” Jordan said. “There are a lot of rural places, maybe even some people that don’t even know what happened, like in Tibet or something.”

“Maybe.” Lynn said wistfully. “I haven’t seen many people since I started out. Most of them were just interested in eating me or just for my guns. I, I just refuse to believe that it’s all gone.”

“How could this happen anyway? I mean one signal sent out over all of media? Is that even possible?” Jordan asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe it was a physical signal that just flipped a switch in our heads. Maybe it was just the final straw. Maybe-”

She fell silent as they both heard it. The groaning and screeching of a feral tribe out on the street crept in through the barred windows. Jordan stiffened and motioned for Lynn to be dead still. The Air Force woman already had her rifle out and pointed at the door, where they could hear one of the deranged creatures marking the doorway by peeing on it. The almost musical tinkle of the urine mixed with the deranged howls of the troop and created a demented chorus that made Jordan shiver in fear and disgust.

With a laugh and a feral scream, the troop left. They could hear then laughing and yelling as they leaped from discarded car to car in a deranged game. Only when the two of them could hear nothing, did they both relax. But only slightly.

“Well, I don’t know about you Lieutenant, but I am bushed. Let me show you and your armory to the extra room. It’s not very big, but it has a bed and I haven’t used it for anything.” Jordan said in a tired voice.

“I think it would be nice to have a safe place to sleep for a change. Is it upstairs or down?”

“Downstairs,” He replied. “All of the upstairs rooms are full with all of my emergency stuff.”

Lynn thought he averted his eyes too quickly for that to be the whole truth, but he hadn’t done anything overly terrible or menacing to her. And she was confident that she could fight him off if she had to. Either way, she was going to be vigilant for her stay with Jordan Walters.

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