Tess squeezed her eyelids tight.
Was it morning yet?
She strained her ears.
The snarls and growls had stopped.
She slowly opened one eye and saw the sun rays peeking around the blue curtains. Letting out a shaky sigh, she sat up. Her back and neck ached from the cold, hard ceramic surface of the tub. A wooden bat lay across her lap. With each breath, she saw faint white mist rise in front of her face. No doubt that the plumbing in the house was now frozen.
She gingerly stepped out of the tub, and poked her head out of the door and peered down the hallway.
Tess stepped out and tiptoed down the steps and into the living room while she listened for any unusual sounds.
She entered the bright kitchen, and stared out of the windows. Just buildings and trees as far as her eyes could see. It looked like fresh snow had fallen overnight as a new layer of gray-white blanket covered the streets and tree limbs.
Quietly setting the bat down on the dining table, she went to the counter and rummaged through each cupboard section. All she found was one can of peaches. She pulled it out and set it down on the granite countertop, and with a manual can opener, proceeded to open it. Her stomach growled in protest.
It had been days since she woke up. Still no sign of any rescuers. Now that she had basically run out of food, she knew there was no choice but to head outside to find more. Her insides lurched at that thought as she replayed the animal sounds she heard each night as they emanated from outside. There was no sign of Dad's shotgun anywhere in the house, so that left her with only a measly wooden bat to defend herself. Hopefully, whatever lurked at nights had bedded down during the daytime.
Only one way to find out.
The sun shone brightly against the snow. With a hand, Tess tried to shade her eyes from its brightness. It had been nearly three weeks since she stepped foot outside. She still felt weak and shaky, but at least the dizziness was now gone. After she closed the door, she carefully made her way down the snow-covered pathway which led her to the road. She winced at the crunching noise that each footstep made.
Tess noticed all the make-shift flags that hung from each building, including her own. White and red ones. What did these mean? As she studied each house, she saw red X mark spray-painted on most of the doors, again including her own house. Something drastic happened here, but what?
The frigid air stung her face as she continued down the road. Tess hoped that the grocery store would still have food left. At the end of the street, she turned left, and at the end of that one stood a long warehouse-shaped structure which held a large sign -- High Peaks Food Mart.
As she walked across the parking lot, she wondered about the many cars left there, abandoned. Near some were shopping carts, half-filled with food items; some even tipped over on their sides. Strangest part? There were no bodies. Anywhere. It looked like people just left everything, and ran away.
What were they running from?
Tess pushed on. When she approached the double doors, she saw that the glass within their frames was shattered. She slipped through them, cautious not to get sliced by the shards.
As she strolled through the first few aisles, the stench of spoiled food filled her nostrils. Tess tugged at her turtleneck sweater, and pulled part of it up and over her nose. She moved on until she got to the canned goods. Pulling the backpack off, she began to fill it with assorted items. From what she seen so far, there should be enough non-perishable items here to last her for quite a while. At least she wouldn't starve. For now.
Picking up the bag, she swung a strap over one shoulder and moved on to the next aisle, when she halted.
A pile of shredded clothing items spread out on the floor ahead; but that wasn't what caused the bile to burn in her stomach. Embedded within the various fabrics were bloodied chunks of bone and flesh. One of the them resembled a finger.
A shudder violently went through her. She took several steps back, and skipped the aisle. Tess didn't want to even think about what had happened to that person. The next two aisles were where the freezers were located, so she moved past them until she came to the final aisle which contained the bakery and deli sections. She quickly surveyed them only to decide that everything there were rotten. As Tess turned to walk away, something caught the corner of her eye.
She turned and looked.
On the other side of the deli counter, several townspeople stood in a semi-circle. Their backs faced her.
Her heart raced. Hurray! She wasn't alone!
As her mouth opened to call out to them, she suddenly stifled any sound. Wait a minute. Something was wrong with them. With her head slightly cocked, she looked at them again. No, something definitely wasn't right here. These people were ... growling? They were standing, but their backs were hunched over. Clothes tattered. Tess nearly jumped when one of them turned and snipped at another. The face ... it was distorted. Mouth ... bloodied.
What the heck?
Were they responsible for the pile of clothes and flesh she'd seen?
Those terrifying sounds she heard during the nights?
Tess swallowed hard. Cold sweat trickled down the sides of her face. Her legs suddenly felt heavy. She held her breath, and took one step back. Then another. And another. She made her way backwards until she no longer saw them. She turned and quietly stepped through the front doors.
Once outside, she ran.
Article © Carrie A. Golden. All rights reserved.
Published on 2016-09-12
Image(s) are public domain.