Chapter 4: Alaric
Valentina grabs me, "I need you to focus, Alaric. You can't let shit sidetrack you. Remember when we were all getting blood drawn
back at school. You told me to be
brave. To focus.
I need the same from you right now."
The argument with her brother is getting worse. I dislike Ignacio more than I've ever disliked anyone in my life. The way he is looking at me right now, standing next to Sunday gets underneath my skin. Ignacio knew damn well that he had said those things about Sunday. Sunday looks awkward. He looks like he wants to be anywhere but here. Ignacio on the other hand looks just pissed. He looks like he wants to kill me and I was willing to give him the shot.
We don't get the opportunity. Something is happening. Zoe screams out.
We turn at that moment and notice what is going on outside.
"Holy shit..." is all I can bring myself to say.
There are all of these people outside. They aren't like us though. They are swarms of people. They all look sick wandering around aimlessly. They bang up against the glass on the store. Mr. Drake and the others are attempting to secure the door. I don't think it's working really well for them.
"What the hell is wrong with them?" Valentina asks.
"They were bitten."
We all turn to Luna who just spoke. She is on the opposite side of the wall. She's glued there. She looks so upset over something. The girl has always been creepy. Whether it was staring at me at weird moments or following me around. But this had to take the bait. For some reason Luna seemed to know exactly what is going on. He stares at us with her wide eyes.
"How do you know?" Michael Power asks her.
She doesn't answer. She just keeps staring out wide eyed and dumb almost as though not really understanding the question. She did hear the question, loud and clear.
"How the hell do you know?" Zoe barks at Luna even louder.
Luna didn't hang around girls like Zoe. Guys like Michael Power hardly realized she existed. She was that quiet odd girl who listened to music and didn't speak to anyone. Everyone else had friends. Even Mitch, the guy who got picked on the most. He hung out with the art kids. Luna didn't really have friends. No one knew much about her. She always dressed as like she was going to a funeral. Always dressed in black. Even now she had on all black. She looked scary to say the least.
I can tell Michael Power and the others were getting more
and more impatient with her. Ignacio is
giving her a hard look. They look like
they are about to go in on her.
I don't know what gets over me.
I put my arm out, "Guys who cares how she knows? Right now
she seems to be the only one who knows what's going on. Maybe we should hear her out instead of
trying to fucking scare her."
The others get quiet. I know raising their voices at Luna would just make her retract a little bit. She looks at me and she smiles. Not with her teeth. She smiles with the sides of her mouth in a real awkward way. I smile back, hoping that at least it would make her feel a little comfortable to open up to us. She has that innocent look on her face. It's real innocent.
"They aren't alive, not in the way that we think..."
"What do you mean?" Zoe asks, "They are walking around. You see them fucking walking around..."
Zoe points outside.
There is a loud bang. It causes half the room to scream. There is a dent in the glass. A guy is outside. He has a glazed over look and a shirt on that says ZipTrip. It's the same gas station that we are located at now. He works here. Or at least he used to. Right now, I'm not sure he is ever going to work anywhere else again. He nearly shatters his head when he bangs it up against the glass. As if that's not enough, he steps back and rams it up against the glass again.
"They have no sense of preservation," Valentina butts in, "That's
what you mean right Luna? Even animals
have a sense of preservation. An
acknowledgement of life to avoid danger.
These things don't have that. All
they have is some sort of hunger."
"What could cause it?" I ask.
Valentina was smart. If Luna was too shy to help us figure this thing out than who else better than Valentina. She runs her hands through her hair. I've noticed her doing that when she was deep in thought. She stares out at the glass. Then she starts walking right up to them.
"Valentina, what the fuck are you doing?" Ignacio asks.
I wonder the same thing. I chase after her to make sure that she's OK. Her curiosity isn't what we need right now. She makes her way up to the glass and I stay close by. Together we can see the things snarling. All you see is saliva and spit. The blood stains the glass. It's not the regular color of blood. It has turned almost like someone who has been dead for quite some time.
"People were sick. A lot of people. Right?" she asks.
"What if this is some sort of virus?" she asks, "A virus that doesn't kill people off. Not so that they are dead but takes over their body. Completely."
Zoe looks confused on at her friend, "How is it passed?"
"A bite," I respond.
I look at the guy with the ZipTrip uniform. Sure enough he has a bite on his arm. It is still clearly visible. Colored veins come out from the bite like tree branches to other parts of his body. It's some sort of infection.
We all look back at Luna.
She was right. Somehow this girl knows exactly what is going on. Somehow she knows exactly what is causing this and I have no idea how. She realizes other people are staring at her so she turns away slowly...quietly. It's clear that she is shy. I feel bad for her. She's only trying to help.
"Michael Austin was bitten," Michael Power states.
A bite does it. Just at that moment I look over at Sunday. I see him adjusting something. Adjusting his collar. He doesn't look different. Actually he looks normal but he was bitten. He was clearly bitten.
My heart drops.
Was this going to happen to Sunday next?
"Enough of this," Mr. Drake says, "We'll deal with this when we get back to Savannah. We'll tell the cops back home what's going on out here. We need to figure a way to get to that bus."
Mr. Drake and a few of the others walk way. Valentina is with him. If anyone can help figure things out it would be Valentina. My eyes shoot over to Sunday. I'm worried about him. I saw him get bitten. I saw the bite mark. If this was happening to others then who knew? It could happen to him as well. My heart is racing scared that this might happen to him. Sunday didn't deserve something like this...but then again who did?
Michael Austin? The guy with the ZipTrip uniform? Or the dozens of other dead people walking outside.
I walk over to Sunday.
Maybe this disease was fair. Anyone can get bitten. Anyone can get sick. I remember the guy at the hospital and how scared he was. I remember when he shot Michael Austin. I remember when he turned the gun to Valentina. He was scared shitless. This disease didn't discriminate. But right now, I was being selfish. Right now I just cared whether or not Sunday was OK.
"Are you OK?" I ask him.
"I'm fine," he shoots off.
I grab him before he can walk away, "Yo what's your problem?"
I'm just annoyed. I'm clearly concerned about him and he's clearly acting as though he could care less.
"I just want to be left alone."
"If this is about how I acted after our little thing...you have to be patient with me," I explain, "I'm not used to doing things...like that."
I can't help but to have the feeling that I've ruined things with Sunday. I withdrew like a fucking coward. Now that I found out that Sunday was bitten things were different. I didn't have forever to explore what was going to happen with him. What if he turned today? What if he turned in a few hours? He'd die without knowing that I enjoyed those moments we spent. He'd die without knowing that those moments we spent were the only moments in my life that I was truly myself.
And that was all because of Sunday.
He gives me a hard stare. He doesn't seem to be willing to open up.
"Look dude. You don't know me. I don't know you," he tells me, "One of my best friends really doesn't like you and I'm going to always take Ignacio's side. Fuckin' leach."
I swear he just called me a leach. Hearing the words come out his mouth were harsh to say the least.
We are stuck in the damn market for hours. It's not getting any better. It's only getting worse. More of the infected have shown up. They crowd around the doors like a fucking swarm of ants. They seem to know we are there somehow. I'm not sure what their senses are that are strong. Is it sight? Is it smell? I'm not sure. They just seem to KNOW that we are there and they seem to want to spread their virus. The virus in them wants to go further. It wants to spread.
"You OK?" a voice says, "You ain't sleeping."
I turn to see Michael Power. He's over me. Zoe is asleep in the next aisle. Valentina is over by the door with Mr. Drake, Quest and Mitch. They are still tryinig to figure out a way out of here. Sunday is next to Ignacio. They are talking about something. Luna is by herself near the cooler aisle. I think she might be getting something to eat or something.
I look across the aisle towards Sunday. He's just sitting there. God the kid is attractive. I don't even realize until I see myself staring at him as hard as I do. He has this cute little expression on his face because he's sleepy. Ignacio is talking his ear off and I can see Sunday clearly attempting to stay up either out of fear of going to sleep or out of fear of being rude to Ignacio. I wonder if Ignacio is trying to explain away the whole gay thing. Maybe he's changing the subject and acting as though it didn't happen. We both knew it did though. Either way Sunday isn't really excited about whatever conversation they are having.
"So am I man. Zoe
sleeps all the goddam time. I can't
"MP, I honestly can't deal with you complaining anymore about Zoe. If you hate her so much break up with her," I let him know.
This wasn't the first time and it wasn't the last he'd complain about Zoe. But she had money and money meant the world to Michael Power. He wasn't going to break up with Zoe just because.
"Nah," he responds, "I'll deal with her. Just annoyed that's all. Like lets be real. C`mon.
People are acting weird. I swear
Mr. Drake is acting weird. Look at
him. He's not surprised by any of this
shit. Heard him talking not too long
"Shut the hell up."
"No serious. He was talking on the phone."
"No one has signal."
"Exactly. Why does he?"
"Power. You're tripping. Mr. Drake does not have a signal. You're imagining it."
"Oh yeah. Am I imagining Luna too? Luna, the girl who got lost in the hallways at school seems to know more about what's going on than we do. I don't trust none of em."
I sigh, "Luna is harmless."
"Whatever. Say what
you want. I'm warning you. These people...they lost their minds."
"What are you talking about?"
"Luna talking about this virus bullshit."
"You think it's bullshit?" I ask Michael Power.
"Hell yeah. People are just messing with us. You know social media has all these challenges and shit nowadays. This has to be some type of Zombie challenge or something."
I look at Michael Power. I swear the guy has my back and that's the only reason I kept him around. He was dumb as a rock.
"You think this is social media challenge? Michael Austin was shot."
"Was he? Was he really?" Michael Power asks, "I think this is all a hoax. I say we ditch this place."
"You going out there?"
"Not the front. Out the back. Let's get Zoe and Valentina and while everyones distracted we get out the back and head to Savannah ourselves. I saw a car on the way here."
"What about everyone else?"
"Man fuck everyone else. The car is a fuckin' suburban. Your brother Nixon taught me how to hot wire cars."
"Nixon taught you how to hot wire cars."
I don't know why I'm surprised. Nixon.
My cool older brother who had everything made for him. He was always well taken care of. He was
"It was from some movie he was in. I thought it was so cool. Asked him to teach me. I know how to do it. It can't fit everyone. So just the four of us."
Power is scared whether he wants to admit it or not. If he thought this was all some sort of hoax there was no way he would want to be sneaking out the back. I knew him. He had some balls. He would want to go right out of the front to show off for Zoe. That wasn't the case.
Power had a point though. The glass of the gas station walls wouldn't last forever. Sooner or later they'd get in here. I didn't want to be around to find out if this was a hoax or if this was real. I wanted to get out of here. I didn't owe these people anything.
"I don't want to leave the others."
I look at Sunday when I say that. Valentina wouldn't come anyway if Sunday or Ignacio were left behind. Mitch, Luna, Quest and Dr. Drake were also going to be left behind. I knew Valentina though. I knew her too well.
"This is your last chance man."
I shake my head.
The next morning Michael Power and Zoe are gone.
"Did they just leave?"
I don't know if they made it but the truth is, yes, they just left. Valentina is the one who asks me the question. She's shocked about Zoe just leaving her. I'm not so much. Michael Power had always been someone who was about self preservation. He was the Running Back on the team. He always would sell his soul and his teammates out just to get that extra mile. I wasn't surprised. Nor did I really blame him. He was smart. People like Michael Power survived.
People who stuck around hoping they can help someone didn't. They just never survived.
"We'll catch up with them back in Savannah," I tell Valentina.
"They just left? Just like that?" Valentina keeps asking.
She looks upset. Actually Valentina is in tears. Maybe she doesn't think Zoe would just do something like that without telling her. They were best friends. It takes Ignacio to comfort Valentina to make her stop crying. It's hard honestly. Truth is I don't know. The others are looking at me for answers to why Michael Power snuck out the back. Some think he's dead. Others think he made it. There's no time to really sit around and wonder about it.
"I'm going to go out the back," I volunteer.
"You going to leave us?" Sunday asks.
I look back at him. It isn't really so much of a question as a statement. He probably looks at me like I'm Michael Power. You know? The birds of a feather flock together thing. Truth is I'm not mad at Michael like the others. Maybe he's right to a point. But I had my pregnant girlfriend here. I
"I'm going to make my way to the front and get that
bus. I'll park it by that exit, the one
right there with the broken glass. When
I back the us up you guys jump right in."
"I'll go with you," Sunday says.
"Hell no," Ignacio butts in.
The moment Ignacio butts in I can tell that he doesn't want me alone with Sunday. I wonder what he's afraid of really. If Sunday couldn't tell that one of his best friends has been in love with him forever than I don't know what to tell him. Ignacio hasn't left his side. That's the annoying thing. Ignacio is being the biggest cock block in history. And the truth is I'm halfway glad. I was with Valentina. I was in a relationship honestly and I had a baby on the way. The last thing I needed were the complications with Sunday.
But honestly I liked the idea of Sunday.
"I can take care of him," I respond.
I sound desparate. A little too desparate.
"We need some muscle back here, to make our way to the bus once you back it in," Valentina jumps in.
I wonder if she's suspicious. I would be if I was her. Sunday was gay. It wasn't only that he was gay but it was
also clear that we had disappeared together.
Ever since then there has been a tension between Sunday and I. We knew what it was about. It was sexual tension. The question is how many other people knew
what it was about. Luna clearly did,
Ignacio must have had a feeling, but what about
Valentina? Did she suspect the truth
between Sunday and I?
"You're right," Sunday pulls himself out of the equation, "I'll stay here. Where I'm needed."
I want to say something to stop him from staying. Truth is just a few minutes alone with Sunday would have meant a lot. I just needed some time to clear the air with him which didn't include Ignacio cockblocking, or Luna acting weird or Valentina interrupting. I just needed a few moments alone with him to figure out what the fuck we had to figure out.
That would have meant the most to me.
"I'll come with you," Luna steps in.
"I can do it alone."
"You can use the back up," Mr. Drake responds.
Realizing that it's Luna who wants to come with me kind of makes me uneasy. Luna is a sweet girl. She always has been. That's not the problem. She's just so weird honestly. I can see the way she smiles with this broken smile almost uneasy. Truth is I want to know how she knows what she knows about the dead walking outside. I want to know how she does it.
I agree to take Luna with me, reluctantly.
We are armed with nothing more than two metal bars that we found in the store. My heart is racing. Truth is I'm scared to death.
We head outside. The sun is hot. It's beaming in the air. It comes down on us like some dreaded heat making us sweat up a storm. Luna doesn't complain about it but I want to. This is shit! All shit. Luckily there are no dead out the backdoor when we make it. It makes me believe that maybe Michael Power made it out fine.
"This way," I tell Luna.
I am the man in this team. I want to lead the way. I don't get the chance though because Luna just jets out in front of me. She runs to the side of the building so fast that I find myself chasing after her. When she gets to the side of the building I see three of the dead. They notice us. You can tell because their eyes lift slowly. The hands that they have reach out like crazed lunatics. They spread towards us attempting to grasp us. The hands are clearly wanting to take, grab, hold us. Long enough so they can bite down.
I jump backwards.
Luna runs forward!
She runs like a madwoman and I almost scream after her. She runs right into one of the dead shoving the metal bar right between their eyes. She shoves it so deep and long within their eyes that it gets lodged in them.
The dead falls to the ground instantly.
She jumps back towards me as the others rally forward slowly but jerking forward quickly trying to grasp at us.
"You have to be careful," she tells me.
"I'll be careful."
"Don't think of them as human."
"What are they then?"
"Dead. Not human. They are dead. You understand? Yeah? Good. You can't kill something that's already dead Alaric. You have to be quick about it. You get it. You have to kill them the moment you can. No hesitation. Just do what you have to do. Kill them. You get it?"
I nod, "Oh, ok."
"You have to get them in the head. The virus. That's where it lives. In the head. You have to do damage there."
I used to play baseball before football. That was lucky enough for me because I run forward and swing away with the metal rod. I swing so hard that I damn near clean one of the dead's head. The impact causes it to fall over and it stops making noise. It's stop snarling. It stops spitting. It stops trying to grab. Luna was right. The head was where to hit it. Right in the head.
I make my way forward at that moment. One after the other I hit them in the head. It's easy to the side because there weren't many of them. When we make it to the front however it's a completely different story. There are dozens.
I take a look at the van.
"Stay here," I tell her, "I'll make a run for...LUNA! LUNA!"
I don't get the chance to make a run for it before Luna takes her. Her tiny frame speeds through the zombies. Some of them reach out for her. They can smell her but Luna takes off as fast as she can. I can't help but to follow closely behind her. I have no choice.
The zombies follow behind us. My heart is racing! Sweat is dripping down my forehead. My feet feel like glue. The bus is close. So close. I can almost smell old leather. I am slowing down though. I don't know if it's fatigue or fear, but I know I'm slowing down.
That's when I feel it.
The arm grabs me and pulls me to the ground!
"HELP!" I'm screaming out.
I don't' know what else to say. The dead zombie starts to bite towards me. I feel it's drool falling down on my shirt. I see the teeth. They are damaged. The teeth of someone who has been furiously biting at something it shouldn't have been. The teeth are still there though. The dead man tries to bite down at me. I shove my arm up against the throat preventing it from getting too close. I push back as hard as I can! I'm so tired. I have to find the strength though. I HAVE to find the energy. Valentina was depending on me. That baby was depending on me.
I think at that moment what would Nixon do. I had two older brothers but Nixon was always got exactly what he wanted. Nixon wouldn't call out for help. Nixon would fight back.
So that's what I do.
I push the thing back. I push as hard as I can. I reach to the ground with my left hand while pushing back with my right hand. I strain!
I hurl spit right back at the fucking Zombie.
It's so close to biting me.
So close. I can feel it's breath
up against my arm. It's snapping. Any moment now. ANY MOMENT!
I find something!
I grab it and immediately smash it against the Zombie's head as hard as I can. That's when I turn and make it to the bus. I run as fast as I can and join Luna. She helps me up. She looks over at me. She shuts the bus. The dead are surrounding the bus. They are all over it.
"We make a good team," Luna notices almost immediately.
"You're tougher than you look," I give her credit.
I remember how she ran forward. There was no fear in her heart. The girl definitely had courage. I couldn't take that away from her. Her running forward the way she did took something that a lot of people didn't have.
She nods before smiling, "Honestly, I just wanted time to be
That's when Luna does something I don't suspect.
She puts her hand up against my face. She touches my face gently, almost with all this feeling. I push her away not really understanding what the hell she was doing.
"Yo what's your problem?"
"I see you looking at me."
She is dead serious when she says that. I don't get it.
Now if Sunday had said something like that he would have a
point. I stared at that kid all the time
trying to figure out what it is that got me so attracted to him. I stared at him all the time trying to figure
out my own sexuality and if those feelings I had when we were alone were worth
pursuing. He would be on point to ask me
to stop staring at him or stop pursing him.
Hell, even Valentina. I found myself still attracted to
Valentina. Luna though? Seriously.
Did this girl really think that I had some sort of crush on her or
"Luna, I think you got it wrong."
The girl really was out of it. I feel bad for her honestly. She wasn't the first girl in high school that got a crush on me. I knew I was good looking. Nixon used to warn me that girls would go crazy over me. He said that as a kid. Nixon AND Beric told me how I should treat them. Be kind but be stern. We were a good looking family. I didn't mean it in a cocky way. I was just being honest. Shit like this happened to us. But at the end of the day I didn't want to hurt Luna's feelings, but I had to be strict, just like my brother Nixon taught me.
"Luna, I look at you more as a friend. Just a friend for now."
"Really. I thought...you know we had something in common. That we were both onto Sunday."
The hell was she talking about?
"On to Sunday."
"That's why you were pretending to be interested in him right? That's why you were pretending to be gay...or...oh god...was that not you pretending?"
I pause. This girl was acting weird. Real weird. How the hell did she think I was pretending that day that she caught me with Sunday.
"I'm going to need you to spit it out," I tell her.
"You knew Sunday was special. You knew they wanted him, right?"
"Knew who wanted him."
Luna gets weird. That's saying a lot for a girl like her.
She shakes her head, "Oh nevermind um...nevermind..."
"Who is they? Who wanted Sunday?"
"I already said too much," Luna responds, "We should get this bus going. The others are waiting for us to come get them. I'm sorry for saying something. I'm sorry for saying anything."
She is shutting down. She must be realizing that whatever fantasy she had playing in her head wasn't the truth. That was good, but what I needed to know was what information she had on Sunday. What information she was attempting to give me right now.
I grab Luna's hand.
"No...we are on the same page..." I tell her.
I hold Luna's hand. It's wrong. It's all wrong putting her hopes up like this but truth is I need to know what she knows about Sunday. I need to know how Luna knows so much about all this zombie shit. So that's why I'm doing what I'm doing.
"Yes . You're special."
A smile spreads across Luna's face. The girl is crazy. Crazy is saying the least. She really thinks I'm falling for her and right now I have no choice but to play up her little fantasy.
"Yeah," I tell her, "So special. That's why we need to continue this
connection. I need to know what you know
about Sunday and the zombies. What's the
She heads to the steering wheel. She turns on the car. I think she is going to ignore me but she doesn't move the car. She just sits there ready to move before turning to me. It's clear she has a lot on her head. I can tell by her expression. Something is really getting to her.
"No one sees me. In
school. At home. Anywhere.
No one sees me. I don't
exist. There is a good thing about not
existing though. You notice things. You hear things. You get in and out before anyone notices you
are there," Luna explains, "I found all the notes on what was going on. They
were locked up but I was curious. So
curious. So I snooped around. It's not
hard when no one notices you."
"All the notes on the outbreak. All the notes on the dead. I couldn't take them, but I could read them. I could memorize the little I knew. I could volunteer to go on a trip that would take me far away from Savannah once the outbreak hit. That's hot it started. Right in Savannah."
"How do you know all this stuff?" I ask shaking her head, "Where did you find these notes?"
"At the highschool. I would spy on him and read his notes. I knew he was looking for Sunday. I knew he wasn't who he said he was. I knew he was a plant from somewhere else. I overheard him on the phone. I overheard him talking about how Sunday was special. They had to find him before the outbreak. They had to keep him safe. They had to drain him. It'll kill him. That's what they said, but they had to drain him none-the-less before they caused the epidemic. The outbreak."
"This. Whatever is happening now. It was all in his notes."
I pause. I have a feeling I know who he is talking about. I remember what Michael Power had said. Maybe Michael Power wasn't bullshitting when he said it. He said someone had a phone. A phone that was working while everyone else didn't have a signal.
"Luna. Who is the person who had these notes on Sunday? Who is the plant from somewhere else?"
Luna looks over at me, "It's Mr. Drake."
My heart sinks.
I'm scared. I'm scared
to death. Mr. Drake hadn't been acting
surprised this whole time. He knew
something was up. I had no idea that he
knew beforehand. Luna mentioned
something about "they caused the epidemic."
Did she mean Mr. Drake? Did she
mean whoever sent Mr. Drake to our high school to pretend to be a high school
I knew Mr. Drake was far too young to be a high school teacher. He was far too smooth. We didn't get guys like that as high school teachers. He always seemed like something else. Some agency. Maybe military? Something else that wasn't what he said he was.
I find myself backing up to the school. I don't waste any time slamming right into the store and opening the emergency lock so that they can jump in.
One after another they are all jumping in.
All of them except two.
"Where is Mr. Drake?" I ask panicking at that moment, "Where is Sunday?"
It's Ignacio who seems to panic as he looks back at me. Right at that moment he must see the panic in my eyes. Anyone could realize that I discovered something about Mr. Drake.
That's when Ignacio shakes his head, "Sunday went with Mr.
Drake. They said they were going to give
you guys back up."
"They never came."
"Should we be concerned?" Valentina asks me.
"Mr. Drake isn't who he says he is..."
"Who is he?" she asks.
I think at the moment.
I had spent so much time with this teacher. I had one on one's with him. I had opened up to him about my football
career and my relationship with Valentina.
I had looked at him as a mentor.
All the time Mr. Drake wasn't who he said he was. He wasn't here because of us. He was here because he wanted something from
"I don't know..."
We take off on the bus. We drive around the area several times but one thing has become clear. No one says it until Valentina shakes a little bit. I can tell she is worried about her friend. I can see the look of worry in her eyes.
She opens her mouth and admits what the rest of us are thinking at that moment.
"They are long gone," Valentina responds.
To read the next story in advance go to www.crushedcrown.com