It's an interesting twist, a fluke of nature, or some bizarre angelic scheme. The philosophical questions that drive us; do we have free will? How will I die? I already know these answers. I'm locked, on a rail as it were, knowing exactly what is coming, exactly where the story goes, and exactly how it ends. What I don't know is the past. For me, this is the beginning. The woman next to me, she will be with me until the end, but I can't even say for sure if she's my wife, my girlfriend, or my sister. I don't even know her name. Mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, laugh around the room in celebration. Among them could be my father, or my mother, I don't know. All I know is that shortly they will all be dead.
"Oh Frank," she says, "turn that off," referring to the news TV that another man (apparently "Frank") has decided to interject into the gathering. What should I call her? After all, she's the star of this story. Really, the story follows her. I follow her. I can see how someone, in my place, with a certain history, would make these decisions, but they are not my decisions to make. I worry about my lack of knowledge about her or our past creating an awkward situation, but then I remember, everything is already laid out. Word for word. Step for step. I've seen this all before.
She's tall, lanky, a blond bombshell. Her muscles ripple as only an athlete's can. She's smart. Smart enough to outlive everyone else in the room. Well, almost everyone. But would I make any different choices if I could? If I could make a choice, if I could make a change, would I do anything other than what is also predestined? I don't know what I would do. It's a horrible, claustrophobic feeling to know the future, to see to the end, to not be able to change, and to not know what to change even if I could.
"The world is falling apart," Frank shakes his head at the TV. "Look at this."
The TV shows an apparent riot, a large street fight, exploding in the city nearby. It's the beginning. I can see she's unnerved, and I wonder if, maybe, she's somehow like me. She somehow knows. "Let's get out of here," she whispers to me.
"Where are we going?" I ask as we drive away from the family home.
"Friend's house a half mile away," she says, "I know where he keeps his emergency supplies, and he's out of town."
"So, we're going to steal his supplies?"
"We'll return it, or replace it. We need it, and we can't go into town. I'm worried this riot will spread."
I admire her. Her foresight, really. Her determinism. Her courage. Too bad about how it turns out, really.
She knows where the spare key is kept, and we descend into the basement of the older craftsman style home. I should give her a name. Something fitting. Something to refer to her by before the story ends. How about "Grace". If I could smile, I would. Yes, Grace will do.
A single naked bulb illuminates the room, stocked with boxes and dust, a lone drain marking the low point in the concrete floor. The smell of mold is overpowering. "Come on," Grace says.
I follow her through the keepsakes and trinkets, the old clothes to be worn when the time is right (never), and the memories of a younger age. We find the emergency supplies. "Take this box out to the car," she quips, as she repacks a second box.
The stairs creak as I haul the box slowly up toward the light. I should be terrified when I hear the shotgun racking ahead of me. I drop the box and cover my face. "Who the hell are you?" the grizzled old man demands, the shotgun close to my face.
It's an interesting experience. I should panic, I should be terrified. But I already know where this is going. I know this isn't the end. I breathe, waiting, silent. "What are you doing in my house, you damn looter?" He demands again.
"Aaron, what are you doing? Put that down!" Grace calls from the bottom of the stairs. "It's my fault."
"You.. What.. What are you doing?" he stammers, lowering the shotgun.
"I'm sorry, I thought you were out of town, and we need the emergency supplies. I'm worried about the riot."
"Ain't no riot, honey," he shakes his head, and turns away, "it's the end of the damn world." We follow him into the den and stop short at the new horror being portrayed on TV.
We watch, transfixed, as TV cameras capture "people" tearing each other apart, limbs from bodies, biting into their flesh. These are no longer humans in anything but appearance. They are faster, stronger, and imbued with a viscous bloodlust beyond what a human could field. It's spreading. Police and military are becoming infected, falling to the disease and becoming creatures of rage. The deaths of so many, so brutal, so violent.
The old man looks at us. "Take the supplies. Go. I wish you the best of luck."
Grace falters, and I wonder if she knows, but she doesn't. She can't. We carry the boxes out to the car. "I never imagined it would be like this," her voice shakes, "but I made a shelter in my apartment. I got some bulletproof glass panes from work and built a safe room. I figured I'd use it if someone broke in while I was sleeping."
I wonder lazily where she works. A factory, perhaps, or a warehouse, that supplies banks and other high-risk ventures with protective glass? The question never comes up. In the rear-view mirror, as the house begins to fall away, I see the shotgun flash in the window. The old man made his choice. He won't experience the horror. In a way, I envy him.
Her apartment is on the third floor of a modest structure. The streets are deserted, and I can hear strange calls, inhuman screeches mixing with all too human screams in the distance. Not far, though, not far enough. Maybe this is where I would change the story. Tell Grace to forget the shelter. Go. Drive. Into the country. Into the woods. Away. But of course, I can't. The story is predetermined. It's already been written, and now I just have to live it.
"Come on, hurry," she says. Her athletic frame has no problem jogging a heavy supply box up several flights of stairs, but it is difficult for me to keep up. She enters the spacious, if Spartan, apartment and starts unpacking the box. "Let's get this stuff into the shelter."
I can hear the creatures, the former humans turn monsters. They are getting closer. Do they see us? Do they track us by smell? I don't know, but they know we are here.
We're running now, bringing things from her kitchen and pantry, along with the emergency supplies, into a small makeshift room at the end of what used to be an open floor-plan living area. She's installed a sliding-glass door sealing off the far edge of the area. True to her word, the panes of glass are exceedingly thick, no doubt bulletproof as she claims.
As we carry the last of the supplies into the room, I lazily note that there is no toilet accessible. Not that we'll have time to need it. The shelter has a window, looking out from the third floor. "Is this window bulletproof too?" I ask.
"No," she says, "That window was always there, it's the original glass. But it's the third floor, straight down, I don't figure it will be a problem."
I look at the aged window, the blackened of its seal and the discoloration of its single, thin pane. Air seeps through the edges even while the window is closed, its flimsy latch not sitting properly against the frame anyways. Three stories, straight down. Or, the roof, right above us. Maybe if I could change the story, and be mischievous, I would mention that. But really, what good would a little more fear do?
Whump! The heavy sliding door closes, and Grace engages the locking mechanism. Immediately inside the door, she draws closed a pair of heavy curtains. I wonder if the curtains are to dissuade attackers, or just for her own sense of security. What's more important to Grace, that the enemy can't see her, or that she can't see the enemy? I don't know her. But I've seen enough. She's no coward.
The door firmly locked, she turns to me and smiles. A smile of accomplishment. A smile of victory. "They'll never get through that glass," she says with relief.
In some sense, she's right. The glass is strong, bulletproof even. The window looks like a weak point, and it probably is. It's easy to imagine a sophisticated enemy dropping down from the roof and coming through the window. But these are animals now, humans turned to rage creatures, bloody and violent in a single-minded way. They do not plan. They just destroy.
She smiles, "We made it. We're going to be ok."
I smile broadly too, because that's how the story goes. But she doesn't know what I know. That it is not the window, not the glass, but the sliding frame it is mounted into. Metal, to be sure, but not strong. Not strong enough. She doesn't know how the story ends. But I know that the story is ending here. I know. They are coming.
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