It’s been twelve years since the world ended. I’m starting to forget things, and every year it gets harder to remember. I had to search through fifteen houses to find a laptop that still functions. What happened to them all? Before the end, everyone I know had at least one, and sometimes two or three laptops. My fingers are starting to remember how to do this. I’m nowhere near the hundred fifteen words per minute I used to be able to type though.
I suppose if I’m penning my memoirs, I should introduce myself. My name is Victor Tookes. I’m fifty-two years old. If all had gone according to my plan, I would be retiring this year, or at least taking a consulting position for three more years until my son Max graduated from High School.
Max is the reason we’re alive today, and he’s the reason we continue to live. He had just turned three a few months before z-day.
That Day. The “D” will always be capitalized in my head when referring to it. The memory of that Day is forever seared in my mind. The Day I lost almost everything. The Day the world ended. I’m telling this story for future generations, so that they may know what I’ve learned through all of this. I’m recording the events for posterity, so the world will remember.
This is the story of my second life, my memories of the days after the apocalypse.
01. The Office
I woke up that Tuesday morning to the sound of the alarm on my phone. It was blasting the theme song from the Transformers movie. My wife Candi rolled out of bed and stumbled towards the shower. I took a moment in bed to grab my phone and check my email, but not before taking a moment to admire Candi’s beautiful figure as she walked into the light of the bathroom. She was in good shape, even after fifteen years together she was still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on. I’d always had a ‘thing’ for short women, she had managed to avoid cutting off her long dark hair when our only child Max was born.
After reading a couple of overnight emails, I got up and headed to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee. Then it was my turn to head downstairs to “my” bathroom, mine was the one with the tiny sink and stand up shower. I showered, shaved, and ducked into the laundry room to grab a pair of slacks and a white T-shirt. From the laundry room I could hear Candi waking Max in the bedroom directly above. The thought of three and-a-half year old Max waking up always brings a smile to my face. I knew Max would be giving Candi her morning hug and kiss, and she’d be starting the arduous task of getting him dressed. I threw on my pants, noting that they were getting a little snug in the waist. I vowed for the fourth time that week that I would eat a little less fast food today. I’m not massively overweight, but I didn’t exactly lead a strenuous lifestyle in those days.
I carried my T-shirt upstairs and stopped in Max’s room
“Good Morning little buddy!” I said with a huge smile on my face.
“Morning Daddy,” said Max as he held out his arms for a good morning hug.
I gave Max a big hug and kiss on the cheek and said “I love you buddy.”
“I love you too, Daddy.” Max said in that perfect three year old way.
I stepped into my bedroom put on my T-shirt. I pulled a freshly pressed Oxford shirt, and selected a tie to go under my gray suit coat. I tossed the tie over my shoulder, grabbed my suit coat and fastened my cufflinks while I headed into the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee. I was just stirring my coffee when Max came toddling in and said, “Ser-ral bar Daddy!”
“Are you sure Dooder? Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have a bowl of cereal?”
“No way! Ser-ral bar!”
I reached into the cabinet and pulled out a cereal bar. It was strawberry flavored. His favorite. I pulled it out of the wrapper and handed it to the boy. Max walked over to his chair at the kitchen table and I turned on the TV. At six-thirty in the morning ‘Ni Hao Kai-Lan’ was coming on, Max’s current favorite show. I looked him over, as a parent often does to their child. He was tall for his age and currently a little pudgy. ‘Like his old man’, I thought. Max still had baby blonde hair, although it was just starting to darken a bit, kept in a short buzz cut. He has his father’s blue eyes, but the shape was the almost almond shape of his mother’s.
Candi stepped out of the bathroom, looking amazing in a black skirt that fell just above her knee and form fitting charcoal top. She never left the house without some sort of heel on. Today they were three inch black heels with a small platform. They were not a stripper-platform, but just close enough to invoke sexiness while still staying on the line of appropriate business attire. Candi had a way of pushing just to the edge of sexy, without being too overt for work.
“Okay boys, give me my kisses,” she said. It was part of the morning routine before she left for work. She knelt down as Max ran over, gave her a big hug and kisses and said, “Love you Mommy.”
My turn was next; as I gave her the longest kiss I could in front of Max, which is to say it was pretty chaste. I turned us both around so I could give her butt a little squeeze while I hugged her without Max seeing, and said, “Love you, see you later.”
Candi left and Max and I started putting on his socks and shoes.
“Max, are you going to play with dinosaurs at school today?” I asked. This was a habit I started shortly after enrolling him in this daycare, when he was new and didn’t want to go. We call his daycare ‘school’. Asking these questions gives him something fun to look forward to at school, and made him want to go.
“Are you going to play with race cars?”
“Are you going to play with action figures?”
“Well, let’s go then Max, there are some action figures waiting for you!”
The conversation was the same every morning, although the toy that got the ‘yes’ was different almost every day. Most mornings I could name enough toys that eventually he’d say yes. If not I could still just start the list over again until I got a yes.
Shoes on, we walked out to my truck. Max likes to walk through the grass; I prefer to walk on the sidewalk to keep the grass, dirt, and morning dew off of my shoes. I’m not a neat freak, but I do generally try to stay presentable for work. As we were walking out to the truck, I heard three gunshots in quick succession. We aren’t very far from the farm land on the outskirts of our small town, so it’s not completely unheard of to hear shots. At the time I didn’t give it much thought.
Max’s school is about five minutes up the road; we talked about the same things we talked about every other morning. Max likes to point out specific land marks and of course any large vehicles we pass. It was early summer, so there were no school buses, but he pointed out every dump truck, garbage truck and fire truck we passed. Drop-off at daycare was uneventful, and I started the ten minute drive towards the office.
I pulled into the parking spot labeled “Reserved -Victor Tookes”. When I got my latest promotion to senior vice president, they put my name on that spot. It was terribly embarrassing. It was a nice perk though, not having to carry my laptop and the reams of paper I took home with me every night all the way to my truck. The parking for junior associates is across the parking garage, down four flights of stairs, and across the alley to the office.
My office is in a fairly rough section of town. The rent on the building was cheap enough that we could hire an outside company to provide two security guards to work around the clock and still come out ahead on the rent in a more desirable part of town. The employees were safe enough walking from the building to the parking garage. Even the call center employees who left at three in the morning could get an escort to their cars. This morning, Chuck was the guard on duty patrolling the garage, and I waved to him as I passed by.
“Good morning Chuck. Looks like it’s going to be hot out again today!”
“Morning, Tookes. I’m going to be sweating in my uniform by ten am!” Most people who know me call me Tookes. My constant refrain is ‘rhymes with kooks, not cooks’. It helped make it stick in people’s heads.
As I stepped away from Chuck, we both twitched as we heard gunshots loud enough to be fairly close, within a couple of blocks. I hurried inside the building, the last thing I saw before the door closed was Chuck speaking into his radio.
My office is along the back of the building. I had a great view of an alley and of a cinderblock wall that blocked the industrial looking train tracks out back. I suppose I shouldn’t complain, at least it wasn’t a cube. Most mornings around ten-thirty my stomach started rumbling for its mid-morning coffee and bagel. There was a small café on the ground floor of the building, like every other day I walked in and said, “Good Morning Bev!”
“Good morning, Tookes,” said Bev, the manager of the store, “The usual?” She got right to work toasting a plain bagel for me without even waiting for my response.
One end of the store was all glass with a door in the middle. I watched out the window while Bev toasted my bagel. A stumbling figure walking across the street got my attention. It wasn’t because he was jaywalking, that was commonplace in this industrial city, but because he was clearly drunk at ten in the morning. He staggered into the one-way road right in front of a red car. The driver of the Toyota Camry started yelling at the guy who turned slowly and lurched towards the driver side window. “Hey Bev, did you see that? Looks like we’re going to see a fight,” I said, “Get ready to call 911.”
I stepped towards the door as the drunk started pounding on the driver side-window of the Camry. The driver didn’t wait around; the Camry sped off up the street and squealed around the corner onto Maple Avenue. The drunk held his hands out and started stumbling after the red car, but gave up after only a few steps and finished his walk across the street and into the open doorway of an apartment building.
Down the street, I noticed another drunk and thought, ‘This is getting ridiculous, even for York.’ This second drunk was really in bad shape. He looked like he’d twisted his ankle. One leg of his pants was torn almost completely off, and his tee shirt was in shreds. He walked up to a passer-by; I assumed to ask him for some change. The pedestrian shoved him, and the drunk bit him!
“Holy shit Bev! That drunk just bit some guy! Call 911!” I ran over towards the combatants, and by now the drunk had the guy down on the ground. As I was running up the drunk bit the pedestrian in the throat and ripped a substantial chunk out. That stopped me dead in my tracks. The guy bit again, pulling strings of flesh between his teeth. I watched a vein stretch and pop. The victim let out a guttural yell as blood spurted out of his neck, which was abruptly halted when the drunk took a third bite directly on the center of the throat.
I was close enough now to see that clearly the drunk wasn’t just drunk, he was really sick. I was close enough to see him swallow the bits he ripped out of the man’s throat. I realized this wasn’t an attack. It was a feeding.
Immediately ‘zombie’ came to mind. Not just because I’d seen every Romero movie, but because Candi and I had been joking about zombies the past weekend. On the Baltimore Sun’s website, there had been a story about a huge fight in a parking garage a few days earlier. All of the survivors of that fight claimed that a woman and a man had rushed into the garage and started biting and even killing people. Two people told stories of the woman eating her victims, and how she was insanely strong and really fast. It was almost like something out of a movie, they said. In all, thirty-two people were killed.
‘Maybe they are zombies,’ I thought to myself. Candi would never believe it. Fearing for my own safety, and knowing there was nothing I could do for the guy with his throat missing, I turned and ran back into the building to wait for the ambulance and police. The homeless guy got up off the pedestrian. I watched him as he walked down the road, slow and stumbling. That was when the police sirens first came within ear-shot. ‘At least they’re Romero zombies, not rage zombies like in 28 Days Later,’ I mused to myself. It’s amazing what coping mechanisms our brains create.
The attacker turned left down an alley when I saw the police cars. I ran back outside to discuss what I saw with the police. I suppose it’s a holdover from my troubled youth that I’m always hesitant to talk to the police. I’d had a hard time with it ever since I got busted blowing up mailboxes with pipe bombs in my neighborhood. Maybe it was all the things I did that I didn’t get in trouble for. Or, maybe that’s a natural instinct that everyone has. Two police cars came to a stop at the downed pedestrian, and I approached the first officer out of the cruiser.
“The attacker went down the Grant Street Alley, just a minute ago. He’s moving slowly,” I yelled to the cop as I crossed the street. A second police officer had exited the first cruiser and started that way at a trot with his hand on his sidearm. The first officer went to the downed pedestrian and radioed for the ambulance to hurry. The man was in a large maroon pool of his own blood. Even with his neck completely torn out, the blood appeared to have stopped flowing and the pool wasn’t getting any larger. I had no doubt the pedestrian was dead.
From my vantage point by the police cars, I could see parts of his vertebrae exposed all the way through his neck, and strings of gore. It looked like the victim had swallowed a huge firecracker. The bits of torn flesh laid outward down the sides of his neck. Drying blood streaks covered him from chin to navel. The two police officers from the second car also split up, one of them sprinting after the attacker, and one of them walking towards me.
I relayed the story, in detail of what I had seen. At the last minute, I included the information about the first drunk and the Camry. As soon as I finished, he asked me to point out which building the first guy went into and ran off, yelling over his shoulder to stay right there. Something tickled my brain about that, that he so quickly ran to that apartment, but before I had any time to process it I heard three gunshots from the alley way, followed by two more. After a pause of about ten seconds, I heard both officers empty the remaining bullets in their weapons.
That was enough for me, “I’m going inside!” I yelled to the first cop standing over the dead pedestrian. He motioned me to go without ever taking his eyes off the corpse, his hand on his gun. It was much later that I realized he was waiting for the victim to stand back up. I turned to open the door to my office building when the first cops partner came walking out of the alley holding his left hand; even from my position across the street, I could see he was bleeding profusely. He was missing his pinky.
I walked through the café and up the stairs back to my desk. When I got there I pulled up every news site I could think of. CNN.com, newyorktimes.com, I even pulled up foxnews.com to see how they were blaming democrats for the zombies. There was not a single word about zombies on any of the big news sites.
Maybe I was imagining things, I thought, maybe Candi really would laugh at me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was right though. What else would explain what I saw? I saw a man eat another man’s neck. I watched him swallow huge bites. And what would explain all the gun shots? I heard several shots, followed by a pause, before they emptied their weapons at the man. What I saw didn’t coincide with the reports from Baltimore over the weekend; those descriptions were of super-human strength and speed. These things I saw were barely able to walk.
I turned to YouTube. I searched everything I could think of, and finally searched Zombie Baltimore and got a hit. I watched a grainy cell phone video of a man ripping huge chunks out of a woman’s shoulder and swallowing them. I turned my leather office chair sideways, leaned back and put my hands behind my head to think. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement behind the graffiti covered cinderblock wall that was my office view. All I could see was the top of a head, the scalp partially removed, flopped over to one side like a bad comb-over in a wind storm. Two more figures moved slowly by. From my vantage point, I could only see the top couple inches of their head, but it was clear that they were not walking normally.
For the first time since all of this started, I got the feeling that things would get bad; and it would get bad quickly. I moved out of my office window to the break room on the side of the building. Walking through the rows of desks, I had the strong urge yell, ‘Get out of here, there are zombies outside!’ But who would believe me? Inside the break room, I could see the alley, and I could see Chuck. Chuck was leaning against the elevator of the parking garage, pepper spray in his hand. There were two of the things on either side of him.
I almost ran to the windows on the front of the building. From my second floor vantage point, I could see down to the police cars, and the ambulance that had finally arrived. They were loading the pedestrian victim into an ambulance; he was already on a gurney. They pushed the gurney over to the ambulance. Right as they bent down to lift the gurney into the back, the corpse on the stretcher abruptly sat up and bit the front medic on the nose, completely removing it. The medic threw his hands over his face, blood spurting out between his fingers as I stood there transfixed; horrified as the creature on the gurney chewed and swallowed the medic’s nose. The injured medic climbed in the back of the ambulance, and the other ran around the front of the truck. The corpse on the gurney struggled within the straps that were holding him pinned, from the waist down, to the bed. The doors slammed shut and the ambulance took off at a high rate of speed. The freshly reanimated corpse slowly rolled down the street, still strapped to the gurney.
The police officers were nowhere to be found. One car was still there, and one of the officers had lost his hat on the sidewalk.
That made up my mind; I needed to get Candi and Max out of town. I needed to get them safe. When I thought of Max, all thoughts for my own security flew out the window. All I could think of was getting to him and making sure he was safe. Candi would never believe me. If I’d snapped a picture of the zombie ripping the victim’s throat out and sent it to her, she would still never believe me. I had to come up with a way to make her come home. She worked about forty minutes south of York, so I needed her on the road, now. I texted her, “Max is in trouble. Come home now. My phone is dead.” She would be pissed at me if I couldn’t convince her that this was real when she got home.
I was at the bottom of the stairwell when I got her return text ‘omw’. ‘Good, Candi was on the way home. Now I just have to make it to the truck’, I thought.
The door closest to the parking garage was a gray solid steel door. There was no window to look through, and it had been about five minutes since I’d looked outside at Chuck. Last time I could see, he was by himself, but I couldn’t help thinking, “what if the ones from behind the block wall at the back of the building had come around?”
I quickly looked around and there was nothing to defend myself with, and there was a nagging voice in the back of my head that I was over reacting to this whole thing anyways. I opened the door outwards and stuck my head out. The door swung back towards the building, and I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. The nagging feeling got a little stronger, and I stepped out towards the parking garage.
As soon as I was out in the open, I ran towards the parking garage I heard a chorus of low moans. Over my shoulder I saw a group of ten or twelve of them shambling down the alley towards me. One of them appeared to be slightly more coordinated than the rest; he was at a near trot. That scared me into action, and I took off running as fast as I could for the truck.
I sprinted across the alley, rounded the corner and ran straight into Chuck. Or what used to be Chuck, all that was left of his uniform shirt was the shoulders and sleeves, the front and back had been ripped away, and it looked like a pack of wild dogs had been feasting on his intestines. The little that was left of his guts was hanging down his legs. I crashed into him so hard we both went flying. I landed on top of Chuck, his hands came up to grip my throat. Kicking hard to roll to my side, and grabbed at chuck’s hands. His grip wasn’t very strong, I was able to force his hands away from my neck, but doing so put my hands very close to his jaws. I forced his arm down across his face, effectively plugging his mouth with his own chew-marked bicep, which bought me the time to leap off of him. I took off running, hoping that his lack of mid-section muscles would make it harder for him to get up. I was halfway up the stairs before Chuck regained his footing, and started after me. The crowd that had been coming down the alley was right behind Chuck, and starting up the narrow stairs. Running up the stairs I was fumbling in my pocket for the key fob of my truck, which had broken off my keychain a couple of days before. Cursing myself for not getting that replaced sooner, I managed to get my finger on the unlock button just a step from my Four Runner. I ripped the door open and leapt inside. I’m not sure how long the window would hold with Chuck beating on it, that’s not a piece of data I was interested in testing.
As quickly as I could, I started the truck and inched forward. The creatures were all around the truck now, and it was rocking slightly back and forth from their pressure. I couldn’t bring myself to run them over. I’d seen every zombie movie ever made, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that these were people, and maybe we’d find a cure for this. I doubt we could cure poor Chuck of his missing entrails, but some of these people didn’t look so bad. I inched my way through the throng, and sped away as soon as I’d managed to nudge them away from the front of the truck.
‘I bet Candi won’t make fun of my brush guard now’, I thought to myself. No telling how much damage it had absorbed, but one side of it was slightly bent. It must have taken an enormous amount of strength to bend that, it wasn’t solid steel, but it was made of one half inch welded tube.
When I bought the Four Runner a year before, Candi had made fun of me for spending an extra $4,500 customizing it. She called it my “Mall Crawler”, because with the exception of driving through the yard a few times my thirty-five inch tires had never seen any dirt. At the time I didn’t really care, I loved the off-road look. I loved the lights mounted to the roof rack, even if they’d never had their covers off. I loved having my spare tire up on the rack like those safari vehicles in Africa. Maybe it would all pay off now.