Crushed

The lights flickered. All of us huddled together looked up, as if the answer to why would be above our very heads. Of course, it wasn’t.

Jake spoke first. “The wiring, it’s gotta be the harness.”

Mark spoke up. “Nah, man, it’s just the bulb. We need to get new ones.”

I smiled. Leave it to the guys. It was probably just the wind.

The shouting started soon after. I jumped up and raced to the wall switch, flicking off the lights. I slunk back to the circle, daring not to try and peek out the windows.

We sat in silence until the shouting stopped. Jake whispered, “Katrina, you okay?”

“Fine.” I replied.

Eliot grumbled. “Are we ever gonna get to sleep?”

I shrugged and then grinned, sure they could make out my outline in the grayish light. Part of me wanted to laugh out loud and break the silence that held us tense in our positions.

More shouting started up, and I tried to catch what they were saying. Something about being infected. Infected with what I couldn’t make out.

I stifled some laughter. It’s the zombie apocalypse. No, really it wasn’t funny. But in a way it was. These few years and you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about zombies. Zombie movies, zombie books, zombie races and zombie theme parks. And now it was really here? Coincidental, for sure. My mind wandered: the government was surely in on it. Did they start it? Politicians lately seemed like zombies. All dead pan and straight faced, telling lies through their teeth. No, they were just brain dead, and they convinced themselves they could change something.

Greg grabbed my arm. “Come sleep with me,” he whispered. He stood. I stayed put. When he saw I wasn’t moving, he stalked off alone.

I stood. I could see the questioning looks in their slight posture changes. Their silhouettes told a story and I read each of their emotions loud and clear. It astonished me how much I learned about each of them with every day that went by.

Instead of following Greg into his bedroom, I slid onto the couch. There was a crinkly old blanket here, one that was prickly to the touch. But it warmed me, because it was made by someone, somewhere. I often wondered what they were thinking about when they made this blanket. Were they daydreaming about their life outside of their work? Or were they thinking about who would use this to keep warm?

I stood and tried to peer out the window, the blanket wrapped around my head and shoulders. My mom often joked that when I did that with blankets, I was like her little ET. I only watched the movie once, when I was little and was way too freaked out. I never kept Reese’s Pieces in the house after that, and screamed when my mother brought them home.

The street lights illuminated most of the street, but they only were a distraction. The real events happened out of their dim lighting, in the alleyways where their illumination couldn’t reach.

Someone staggered out into the street, right under the light. He started shouting. Some others shouted back at him from the darkness. Then he collapsed in a small heap, in a way I’ve never seen someone collapse. It was like his bones fell into a small pile. They stopped holding him up.

He was smiling when he fell.

I stepped back off the couch and almost fell backward. Or at least, I would have if Eliot wasn’t there. “Ouch.”

“Sorry. I didn’t know you were there.”

“Someone has to look out for you.” He sighed. “What happened out there?”

I was shaking and I knew he could feel it. “Someone collapsed. Like his bones gave up on holding him up. And he was smiling. An eerie smile.”

“Waking nightmare.” He muttered.

“How many cans do we have left?”

“A bunch, don’t worry. We’ve got meat ravioli for days.”

Some of my shaking went away. “What’s really going on?”

“I don’t know.” He led me back to the little group. “We should all try and get some sleep.”

We each lay down on the floor, most of us too afraid to leave the safety of each other. I had the prickly blanket with me. Most everyone else just flattened out. I waited for the barrage I was sure was coming.

Instead it was deathly quiet. No one came to collect his bones. And his smile haunted my dreams.

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