So I have had some people asking me about working more on my NaNo from last year. It was my first stab at something more contemporary for adults/young adults and I was really enjoying writing it! But alas, I didn’t make it to the finish line last year and hadn’t picked it back up until just recently. I released the newest book of The Aspen Series and just needed to work on something different and out came the zombie story that sat unfinished on my laptop. Earlier posts would catch you up as I had posted chapters 1-6. Here is number 7! Happy reading! 😀
August 4th, 2016
It felt as though she had contracted the flu. Natalie’s body ached, her head hurt and she thought she might throw up.
“I must be dehydrated,” she muttered to herself and took a water out of her pack. It was the last of her water, besides what was up in the pan in the closet. The water felt cold running down her parched throat. She drank deeply and sank back down onto the pillows and blankets, but was afraid to sleep anymore. Afraid of what she did not understand. Afraid he would come for her again while she was vulnerable. Even more afraid that maybe the same fate had befallen her friend. The image that had been burned into her mind scarred her. She could not imagine Derek as a monster.
When Natalie started awake again, it was almost noon by her watch. A groan escaped her as the room swam before her eyes when she tried to sit up. The pounding in her chest was proof she was still alive, but she felt dead. Or at least among those close to death.
She let out a cry of pain when she moved to get up. Instinctively, she grabbed at her leg and bit down on her lip reflexively. Pulling her blankets aside, she could feel the heat coming from her wound. This could not be good.
The swelling that had come on overnight had filled in the leg of her pants so they felt tight. Quickly she shimmied out of them and donned a pair of shorts. It was her last clean pair of anything.
Removing the elastic bandage, she gasped in surprise at how bad the bite had become just in the few hours she had been sleeping. The gaze was stuck to the outline, where the teeth had penetrated the skin and she found she just had to pull it off. She shrieked in pain and tried to catch her breath.
The swollen mess of skin was double the size it had been, easily, than when she went to bed. Finding some ibuprofen, she downed four tablets. She had to get out of there, find a doctor, and get home. She redressed the bite with gauze and ointment before she closed up her bags. Finding it difficult to walk, she made it to the door hoping the man was not out there waiting for her.
Carefully cracking the door, she peered out into the gloom of the basement and saw no one. She sighed and opened the door so she could get through. With one glance back at the message on the wall, she made her way to the stairs. The thought of dragging herself up that flight of steps about made her want to cry.
She hefted her bags as far up as she could and then crawled to them, repeating that to the top when one bag fell to the floor under her. It was the one with her money. A cry of frustration escaped her and she dropped her forehead to the edge of the step feeling her chin tremble.
“I have to go back,” she said aloud. “I need my money.”
So she turned around and sat, then scooted herself down all those stairs. The closer she got to the bottom, the more she smelled the damp and mildew scent. It hadn’t occurred to her that it was starting to mold down there, but it made sense.
Hobbling to the bag, she flung it over her shoulder and returned to the foot of the stairs. Keeping it hooked with her arm, she made it back to the point where she was almost free.
The man had moved the door to come inside, but he hadn’t put it back. But she could tell that it was a hot, yet overcast day. Climbing out of the hole, the gray light from the clouds hurt her eyes. It almost looked foggy all around her, as if she had entered another world completely. Nothing around her looked familiar anymore.
Down the road she went, the pain in her leg was almost too much to bear. It was a hard sensation to explain, she tried thinking of ways to let a doctor know what she was feeling. It was slow progress, and she tired easily. Her bags seemed like they weighed 50 pounds each! The stopping to rest every so often was the best thing she could do in order to keep going.
As she dragged herself along, she kept her eyes open for anyone else. It was so desolate. Not even any evidence that there were others among her, alive or dead.
The light in the mid-afternoon was overcast and gloomy. It would be the perfect scene for a vampire movie or some horror flick. Natalie swept her eyes from side to side over the road and her ears open for any sounds of movement. But all she could hear was the sound of her step and drag motion, her heavy breathing in her ears. It was another humid day, yet not as hot. But then again, maybe being stuffed in a little room would make any ventilation impossible, but would heat up with her in it…like a lobster in a pot slowly cooking to death.
The road ended abruptly, disappearing into the ocean before her. Using her hand like a visor, she scanned her surroundings for another path and caught a glimpse of the newer hospital that had been completed a few months earlier that stood proud on the edge of a small mountain in the distance. It looked like the only way to get there would be to find her way through the brush and trees. The roads all pointed to the valley that no longer existed.
It smelled strongly of fish and seaweed, the heady scent of a salty brine tickling her nose. The steeple of the church appeared to have all but been swallowed by the unforgiving sea. Out in the distance, she could see a few logs floating, bobbing like buoys in the waves.
“I wonder if those are people out there,” she whispered. “I don’t understand where the aid is. They must know we are in trouble. They would have to!”
It was still a long way to get over to the hospital, it would probably take her until nightfall to get there, she supposed. So, she squared her aching shoulders and stepped forward on her good leg, the pain in her bad leg let her know it was not doing so great.
Natalie ventured off the road and into the vegetation growing all along the side of the hill she was on. The tall trees loomed ever nearer with every step, gaining height and the fear that there would be more people in the trees where she couldn’t see them grabbing at her. She tried to put that thought out of her head. Perhaps that man was a chance meeting. Maybe he was the only one like that.
One tree to her right, three to her left and she was enclosed within the canopy of forest that could help her or hinder her journey. She found a felled branch a handful of steps into the forested area. It was strong and would support her weight. Holding it at her right side, she used it almost like a crutch and walked a bit easier but her bag kept sliding off of her shoulder when her bag would smack against the pole. After hobbling along like that for an hour or perhaps a little more, she took the bag and hung it where a twig had broken off. It was not the best solution to her problem, but it took pressure off of her body. She slipped her arms through the loops of her backpack so she was wearing it over her back, feeling weightless.
A horrid stench invaded her nostrils. It was a smell that she had only known once. The gruesome smell of death. She looked carefully before each step not knowing what she would encounter. It all hit her like a wall, like when you come upon trash that has been sitting in the sun for days, maybe even weeks and she vomited.
Memories flooded her with nothing to stop the assault.
Natalie heard it coming but she had been paralyzed with fear. Her brain told her to get down into the cellar, to wake the others in the house so they could get to safety, but her feet were firmly planted in front of the window and her eyes were transfixed on the fury of twisting wind coming her way. She tried to call out to them, she opened her mouth but nothing came out. As the funnel cloud reached her, the screeching wind and rumbling ground told her she was going to die. It screamed it at her. But all she could do was stand there.
It ripped her house apart, debris flying through the air. She did scream then. Her arms flew up instinctively to shield her face. Her efforts to protect herself failed and the last thing she remembered was a board coming at her just before her head exploded into pain and everything went dark.
Having no idea how long she had been unconscious, Natalie woke and had forgotten everything that happened. She carefully scrambled to her feet and felt the world swim before her.
Looking out over what was left from the house, she felt deflated and lost. Slowly, she took it all in. The destroyed chair next to the sofa that was not damaged at all, the walls that were torn apart on her left side and in tact on the right. It was insanity how Mother Nature could just destroy one thing and leave another.
Stepping over boards and torn up carpet, she knew she needed to get some help. Her roommates had been in the area of the house that had been destroyed. She could see that many houses had suffered the same fate.
It felt hard to breathe after that first encounter with a tornado. Neighbors began popping out of the rubble, some crying hysterically, some in shock just like her. Walking to person after person, she begged for help to find her friends but no one seemed to see her or hear her, they just kept staring at their property and mumbling to themselves.
“I need your help! Please help me find my roommates. I have three of them. They may be buried at my house and needing help to get out!” she screamed at a police officer who had materialized to keep people calm and to keep unaffected people out.
“Ma’am, you need to take a few deep breaths. Come sit over here and drink some water,” he said with a kind voice.
“I don’t need water, I need to find my roommates! One of them is my boyfriend!” she yelled batting the officer’s hand away when he reached for her shoulder.
“Look, sweetheart, we will get to you. There are a lot of people hurt. We can’t do anything about the ones who are dead. We should look at your head. You are bleeding pretty good there,” the officer said.
Tears sprang to her eyes. She felt so small. So insignificant.
“I will go help them myself,” she replied wiping the tears off of her cheeks.
Natalie spent the next few days calling her friends’ names while she moved beams and boards, shingles and doors. She scavenged for what food she could find and the Red Cross finally arrived with some canned goods and clothing for the people in her neighborhood. Most of them were college students peppered with a few home owners. At that point it didn’t matter, none of them had a place to go.
“It is all my fault,” she told herself.
With no word having been said about the people missing, she could only assume they were dead. But, she hadn’t found their bodies so there was still hope. Later that day, she found Anne and Malcom’s bodies beneath a bunch of mangled wood. Three days of digging and she found them. But Thad was nowhere to be found.
She sat there and cried, mourned her friends’ deaths. All she had to do was yell for them and she didn’t. They were gone because she was weak, afraid, and pathetic. By nightfall that evening, she had her two dead friends out of the mess and onto the road. They smelled pretty bad. Like cleaning out the fridge and finding a bowl of moldy surprise waiting for you, they had been lying in wait for her to uncover them.
Two days later, she could smell something that made her stomach turn. It invaded her nose and wouldn’t leave no matter how far away she walked. It gagged her and made her feel queasy.
She went for a walk, one of many, to try to clear her sinuses. She was a few hundred feet from her house when she saw a hand sticking out of a nest of clothing and some furniture. Uncovering the body, she found Thad. He looked like he had been beaten in a rough fight and left for dead. Well, he was dead. The smell of him got to her, the sight of the insects crawling over him made her sick, but the grief was enough to kill her.
“No, no, no!” she moaned through her sobs as she brushed him off and took his face in her hands. “I’m here, Thad! Wake up now!”
She thought of the times they had dreamed about getting married after graduating school, the talk of children while they were studying late into the night, the conversations of opening their own law firm together and passing it down. He was her whole life. There was nothing else in Oklahoma that mattered to her. Her life seemed to drain out of her body the longer she held his face and tried to talk him into coming back to her.
When there was nothing left inside, she stood up and took Thad by his arms dragging him back to the house. By the time she got back, she was dry heaving from the rancid smell of rotten meat.
It was the insensitive burial by the clean up crew that really got her. She didn’t really feel like she said goodbye to him. But then again, how do you say goodbye to the one person you loved with all your heart? How do you move on with life when you invest everything you have within in another person and they are just gone one day?
She struggled to concentrate through her classes once they resumed. None of it really mattered to her anymore.