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The Disappearance, Chapter 5: Lives and Knives

At the peak of France’s capital, I gazed out at the Parisian sunset, wind gently flowing all around me, until I turned to Claire, her hand in mine.

“Let’s never leave this place, shall we?”

“Oh David, I don’t know…”

“Well, I do. We’re staying.”

A sharply dressed man with white gloves and coattails offered me a phone.

“Call for Mr. Help. From Mr. Bed City.

When I put my ear to the receiver, it slowly dawned on me that the caller was speaking in a foreign tongue, what sounded like Latin. Soon after, the scene faded into nothingness.

I awoke groggily, with an odd, stale taste in my mouth, to find myself in Claire Baxter’s living room. I studied my surroundings intently; I then, somewhat pointlessly, made a mental note not to sleep on Claire’s couch ever again.

            I rubbed my eyes and then closed them again. I had been dreaming that I was enjoying a nice vacation with Claire in Paris, France, until we received a phone call from our hotel, informing us that we were actually on the planet Neptune. The harsh, permanent winter that Neptune suffers through proved to be too much for us, and we slowly froze into a state of unbeing.

            Well, the vacation part was nice, anyway, I thought to myself. I heaved my body off of the couch and made my way to Claire’s kitchen,  to once again pillage her refrigerator and find out what time it was.

            The clock read 9:32. Then I remembered that I had fallen asleep at around 8:30 last night. Wow, did I really sleep for 13 hours straight?

            Well, good morning sir. I hope you enjoyed your evening at Hotel de la Baxter-Miller.” I did my best not to roll my eyes. I hadn’t noticed Eric sitting at the table, reading a book and drinking coffee comfortably.

            “Thanks, that I did. Will there be a continental breakfast provided at the so-called ‘Hotel de la Baxter-Miller?’” I said with a smile as I took a seat across to him.

            “Sorry, man, I may be a gourmand, but this here is a self-serve type situation; at least for you…” Eric looked at me and grinned that big, sleepy grin of his.

            Not wanting to further examine what he meant by that sentence, I got up and peeked through the shelves of the ‘Baxter-Miller’ fridge. With nothing really looking that appetizing, I decided to make myself two slices of peanut butter toast and a cup of coffee. After I poured my coffee, I took my place across the table from Eric.

            “Man, you were out like a light last night, what was it, like 8:30?” Eric asked.

            “Yeah, I guess I was still pretty exhausted from the situation at my house,” I said solemnly.

            “Well, again man, I’m really sorry that that happened. I mean, what’s with this whole Disappearance bullshit anyway?” Eric asked angrily. “Where did everyone go? I’m starting to think it might be some elaborate prank,” he said as his face reddened. I get the feeling Eric wasn’t used to getting pranked very often.

            “No, Eric, it wasn’t some trick. That would be way to complicated to pull off, not to mention cruel and unusual.”

            Eric slowly moved his eyes down to his book. “Yeah, I s’pose you’re right,” he agreed, taking a bite of his toast. He started to flip through the pages of the novel in his hand. “Oh man, I don’t know why I even bother with this book; I’m never gonna finish it.”

            I looked down at the book on the table, but I couldn’t read the title. “What book is it?” I asked curiously.

            “It’s called “The Sun Also Rises,” by Hemingway. You know, I had to read this for that Early American Literature assignment, but I doubt I’m gonna have to finish it now,” Eric stated sadly.

            I thought for a moment. I guess Eric had gotten it through his head that Early American Literature, as well as any high school class, was over for good now.

            “What is the story about?” I asked earnestly.

            “Well, if you really wanna know, it’s about this group of friends who decide to travel from Paris and explore Spain to see the running of the bulls. It’s kind of interesting, I guess,” said Eric lazily.

            “In my opinion, you should keep reading it,” I said. “We’re not going to have much else to do with our spare time, which I’m guessing we’ll have a lot of these days.” Just then, a faint springing noise informed me that my toast was now ready.

            Just as the crisp bread rose from the toaster, Claire made her way up the stairs. Even in the haze of sleepiness surrounding her, she still looked more beautiful than most other women do after hours of makeup.

            “Good morning, Dave. I didn’t think you’d be up yet; otherwise I wouldn’t have let you see me this way, so shabby.”

            “Good morning, Claire I’m glad to see we’re all still in good health.” I smiled at Claire as she sauntered over to Eric and gave him an over-the-shoulder hug and kiss. Despite myself, I couldn’t help but think they looked cute together, albeit sickening. Eric, dropping his book rapidly, turned his full-attention to Claire to give a proper good morning. While Claire and Eric slowly devoured each other’s faces, I grabbed Eric’s book from across the table.

            The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, had, like most books, a very obtuse cover image with little meaning to any outside reader unfamiliar with the book. The cover showed an illustration of a nude man, with what appeared to be an apple in his hand.

 I hadn’t been in Early American Novels, but I’m sure if the second semester had taken place I would have read the story as well. I don’t remember when I learned this, but somehow I knew this book to be Hemingway’s first novel.

            I looked up to see Claire snatching a bite of Eric’s jellied toast. “Hey! I demand you give that back this instant!” Eric said with a sly smile and feigned annoyance. I was a little surprised at the couple’s complete lack of tact around me, the houseguest.

            After giving them another minute and finishing my own toast, I took a sip of coffee and keenly cleared my throat. “Well, I guess we’d better get started on coming up with a basic plan for the next several days.” I suggested. Snapping back to reality, Claire and Eric (rather disappointingly) glanced back up at me, their expressions turning stern.

            “Yes, well, I was thinking about it last night, and I thought we should stop to see if Megan, Olivia, or… Jeff are still alive,” Claire said, with her voice quivering before mention Jeff. I had known that Jeff and Claire had been good friends, and that Jeff had even helped Eric and Claire get together.

            Actually, they had all been friends of ours. At the beginning of our sophomore year in high school last year, Claire, Jeff, Megan, Olivia, and I had been a gang of pals. In fact, Megan and Olivia were twin sisters. Jeff had a sister in the grade ahead of ours, whose name escaped me.

            For some reason, I had always gotten the distinct impression that Megan had a crush on me, though I was too distracted by Claire to really notice her.

            “Yeah, that’s a great idea,” I said to Claire. “But I think we need something more concrete than that. You know, something to do after checking on Jeff and Megan and Olivia.”

            “Well, what do you have in mind, smart guy?” Claire asked icily.

            “Um, I was kind of thinking we should check on the school, see if there’s anyone there with more information than we have,” I said.  I hadn’t actually thought about the school until the idea had left my mouth; it was a plan, nonetheless.

            “How about Newport?” Eric asked hopefully. He had family members living in Newport, the next town over from Providence.

            “Eric, I was in Newport, it’s kind of like ground zero for me and the Disappearance. I don’t think we’ll find much there,” I said to Eric, trying to soften the blow for him a little bit.

            “It’s worth a shot though, isn’t it? I mean, what were the chances even that any of us would still be safe and sound?”

            “Yeah, I agree that we should go to Newport, David. But Eric, don’t expect much; remember, Dave had to walk all the way home from there, and he said he didn’t see a soul.” Claire settled the argument in a logical fashion; another strength of hers.

            I drank down the last remaining sips of my coffee, pondering the plan. I couldn’t help but have second thoughts about Claire and Eric’s involvement with whatever was about to happen. Is it the wisest thing to include them on this trip? I made up my mind soon enough, however.

            “Okay, good. Let’s leave in a half hour.”

            When breakfast a la Hotel Baxter-Miller had ended and Claire, Eric and I had finished making our immediate plans, I hopped in the shower for a much-needed clean.

            As they often do right before beginning the day, doubts and negative thoughts began to storm and swirl around in my head in the shower, just as the scalding water circled the drain.

            Is it the best idea to be leaving the Baxter house? This might be the only safe house we have, and we’re just going to leave to enter who knows what? My second thoughts were not without truth and reason, but the decision was already made. Besides, I thought to myself, am I really okay with just staying here, like a sitting duck?

            When it regrettably came time to exit the soothing heat of the inviting shower, I stepped out and dried my face, rubbing over my eyes again and again. I still could not tell if I was making the right choice; only time and the dangers that come with it would ever know.

           

            As soon as I climbed out of the shower, I noticed that I couldn’t hear Eric and Claire being the usual, sappy couple that they were. Maybe a little peace and quiet is what they need right now, I told myself warily. I shrugged off the observation carelessly as I finished getting dressed and ready for the beckoning day ahead. While brushing my teeth, I couldn’t help but remark to myself that the silence continued. That’s when I heard the first noise.

            Bang. A sound from outside the bathroom warned me that something was amiss in Hotel de la Baxter-Miller; another boom noise sent shivers down my spine as I cautiously made my way out of the bathroom and into the hall.

            At first I suspected that Eric, for some reason, was beating Claire; no, that can’t be. I grabbed my Louisville slugger (which I had taken with me in the bathroom) and carefully stalked into the living room.

            Eric’s face was frozen in shock. Claire’s bottle-green eyes were wide with fear as they stared unblinkingly at the front door of the Baxter-Miller. I turned and, making my way to the front window, saw the source of the mysterious and sickening noises.

            A zombie had made its way toward the house.

            The body of the poor soul whom the zombie mind now controlled was that of a tall, white, almost indiscriminate male. He was probably in his mid-thirties when he had lived, and had had a bit of a beer belly. To top it all off, the body was wearing blue jeans, a white tank top, and bright yellow construction helmet, which was clean save a spattering of blood across the front. It was like a character out of the book on stereotypical blue-collar Americans.

            Despite the familiar features, the bloodlust in its eyes and the careless spittle left on its chin betrayed no hint that this man was now a zombie.

            The thing began to repeatedly bang on the door at a faster rate, as if it was coming with urgent news. I couldn’t help but remain still, despite the need for one of us to act quickly.

            Somehow, the zombie soon figured out how to properly work the door handle, and calmly made its way into the house.

            Snapping out of the daze slightly, I swung my Louisville Slugger as hard as I could, aiming the blow at the zombie’s lower back.

            Without missing a beat, the zombie’s arms swooped in too gracefully and caught my bat mid-swing. The zombie then somehow managed to throw the bat and myself over its shoulder with little effort, knocking me back towards the closet, my head crashing through the thin-wood frame itself with a crack.

            The zombie, ready to strike another crushing blow against me, defenseless, turned its attention towards the kitchen when Eric let out a gasp. Oddly, the zombie hadn’t seemed to notice Eric standing so close to it in the kitchen, paralyzed from fear and confusion, witnessing the battle unfold between us.

            The zombie seemed to contemplate for that moment what its next move would be. Looking down at me once more with the same eager, hungry look I saw in little Steven Zimmerman’s eye, it decided to let me lay in pain and turned to face Eric; it was clear who the next target would be.

            Still in the doorway, the zombie pivoted its body to face Eric and the kitchen and stood up straight. He had been a tall man and, despite the beer gut, was most likely athletic. With its gaze fixed totally on Eric, the zombie let out an inhuman growl, almost as a roar of intimidation. So this is how it ends; so soon, I thought to myself, still in a daze from breaking through the closet door with my head. We didn’t even get to make it outside the Baxter house.

            I hadn’t noticed what Claire was doing. Neither had the zombie.

            With the zombie’s hulking presence in the entryway of the house still focused on Eric, Claire had grabbed a knife from the kitchen.

            “Say goodnight.”

            With that, Claire hurled the pointed knife with all of her might across the kitchen and towards to zombie. Caught off guard by yet another human in the room, the zombie fixed its eyes on Claire just in time to see, as if it was guided by a godly hand, the knife fly directly into his right eye, penetrating deep passed the socket and into the brain.

            With a wide-eyed look of dumfounded surprise on its face, the zombie toppled backwards, falling flat on his back, with its bloodstained, yellow construction hat tossed off its head. It didn’t even scream.

            Eric, still comically standing still, slowly turned to face Claire, his mouth agape with astonishment. I lifted my head slightly to get a better look of Claire; looking fierce and fearless, Claire had a look of power and concentration in her eyes that I had never seen before. She took a deep breath as I thought it to be the best time to pass out from pain.

            

The Disappearance, Chapter 4: Reunion

            Rows and rows of houses, faintly lit in the dead of night by a few well-placed streetlights, flew by the windows of my dad’s Dodge Charger as I slowly make my escape out of the horror that occurred on West Hill Lane.

            My mind was still racing with thoughts of rage and regret over the way little Steven became the mindless being that I had fought in the basement of my house.

            What the hell happened back there? Where am I going to go?  The questions that struck me as I drove out of that Rhode Island suburb were ones I couldn’t answer, ones that I didn’t want to answer.

            As I made my way out of West Hill Lane into the other neighborhood of Magnolia Street, I couldn’t help but feel a little sentimental. Despite the dire situation I was now in the thick of, I still slowed the car down as I came across Claire Baxter’s house. Claire, with her fierce red hair, soft, leaf-green eyes, and down-to-earth personality, had been my crush since we first met, when I moved on the next street over, back in 1st grade.

            I gazed at the Baxter House’s familiar cobblestone walkway, French doors, and green blinds with bittersweet nostalgia. Remembrance of things past came to mind, like the time Claire’s brother Cameron broke his arm falling out of the front-yard tree, or the times Claire and I innocently sprawled out on a blanket together on the cool grass in front, wasting the hours away talking about life. It was lame, I knew, but I missed those days.

            As I sat in my idling car, drowning in memories, a small glint of light, coming from one of Claire’s windows, caught my eye. I realized that my headlights shown directly in the direction of Claire’s house, and that the high beams must have annoyed whoever was in the house.

            But, wait, no. I had nearly forgotten all about the disappearance; I failed to remember that the Baxter’s were all probably gone by now.

            But why did I see a light on in their house? Desperately, I eased the Charger into the Baxter’s driveway. It was too optimistic to think that the family would still be here, and even more dubious to believe that the entire household remained alive and well, and non-zombified.

            Even still, I grabbed my Louisville Slugger from the backseat of the Charger and cautiously made my way up the front steps of the Baxter home. With the night’s darkness blanketing my environment, I blindly groped for the front door handle. Why I forgot my flashlight in the car, I don’t know.

            When I first set-foot into the house, I was greeting by taunting silence; clearly this home was not occupied.

            “Claire? Mr. Baxter? This is David. Is anybody here?” In a too similar fashion, I called out the Baxter family in vain, just as I had to my own family. Suddenly, I heard footsteps. The footsteps came fast, frantic, numbered, as if something inhuman was quickly making its way toward me. With adrenaline making its way through my veins, I assumed the attack position with my Louisville Slugger. I then received an ecstatic hello from Claire’s dog, a terrier named Ringo.

            Tail wagging happily, Ringo eagerly licked my hands and stood on his hind legs, as if to say welcome. I reciprocated the cheerful tidings with relief; if Ringo had managed to stay alive in this house, surely no zombie lived here.

            Hmm… The disappearance happened over a week ago, unless this dog has a life’s supply of milk bones stashed away, someone must be feeding him. Before I had time to ponder this thought any more, I was given a happy answer.

            “Hello, David. I can’t tell you how good it is to see you.” As Claire Baxter flipped the living room’s light switch, the entire house was bathed in her warm smile and inviting, green eyes.

            I heaved a thankful sigh of relief. “Claire, I honestly didn’t think you would still be alive. What a week it’s been, huh?”

            “You’re telling me,” Claire’s smile soon evaporated into a look of fear and disgust. “Do you have any idea what the hell has been going on these past few days? One day I came home, and my entire family had just vanished. It seems like almost everybody has disappeared, Dave. Do you know what happened?” Claire couldn’t mask the eager curiosity in the inflection of her voice. She too had lost her family.

            “Claire, I wish I could tell you more, but I honesty have no idea what caused the Disappearance.”

            “The Disappearance, huh? It has a formal name now.” Claire rolled her eyes with derision; I was eternally grateful to be in her company, to the point where the stress of the past 24 hours with Steven had almost melted away.

            “Listen, Claire, I don’t know what is going on, but I’ve seen it. Last week, the entire crowd at the parade Thomas and I were marching in completely disappeared into thin air, and I had to walk back to Providence with the weight of Thomas’s death on my shoulders. When I got home earlier today, my family was also missing, and I had to fight off and kill a rabid, zombie-like Steven Zimmerman with my bare hands. I don’t know what to tell you, but I know we have to act fast.”

            Claire took a minute to digest what I had told her. “Thomas died? You killed your brother’s friend?”

            “Yeah, Thomas was trampled by the rest of the parade after the chaos of the Disappearance. And Claire, I know this sounds strange, but I didn’t kill Steven. What ever was in that body definitely wasn’t little Stevey, it was some possessed, bloodthirsty monster. You’ve got to believe me; I didn’t want to kill him, all I did was defend myself.”

            Claire paused to think; she was, no doubt, contemplating whether or not I was telling the truth, or if I was just some savage who had senselessly murdered my brother’s friend. Finally, she made her decision.

            “Hmm… okay. I believe you. I know you wouldn’t have killed anyone without a reason, and judging by that bat, you didn’t come here to kill me and Eric.”

            My heart lifted, then immediately sank. Eric Miller was Claire’s boyfriend; she hadn’t mentioned he was also staying in the Baxter House.

            Eric Miller and I weren’t enemies. In fact, we got along pretty well, and I even considered him a casual friend of mine, until he and Claire had started dating, the summer before the Disappearance. Soon, Claire didn’t seem to have any time for anyone else aside from Eric, and Claire and I’s friendship disintegrated.

Eric was a tall guy, skinny; he had the body of a swimmer. His short, stylish crop of auburn hair seemed to go well with the pair of hazel eyes that sat behind his rectangular, wire-rim glasses. Eric’s good looks seemed effortless; most days he had the tracings of five O’clock shadow around his face, as if he had just gotten out of bed. Eric managed to put out a laid-back vibe without betraying the fact that he had brains, and was one of the smartest kids in our school. He was a great guy, one of the few people I know who might even deserve someone like Claire. Naturally, I couldn’t help but like him, despite my hatred.

            Claire had thankfully made up her mind about my truthfulness. “Eric, are you awake? Hold on David; let me go wake him up.”

            Claire headed downstairs, leaving me alone in the kitchen with Ringo. Claire’s house was very modest; her father was a freelance writer and her mother had been a 3rd grade teacher, so with two children to take care of, The Baxter’s had had to make a few compromises in their living arrangements. The house, which had been built in one of the many suburbs that were established when the baby-boomers began starting their own families back in the late 1970’s, was certainly nothing to brag about, but seemed to house the Baxter’s comfortably.

            I sauntered to the kitchen sink, above which stood a window. In the lighting, I could clearly see my reflection; I had seen better days. My shorter, dark-brown hair was shaggier than normal, and in general I looked more disheveled. There was dirt on my long, slightly bent nose. My lips looked chapped; my darker complexion was streaked with sweat; clearly it had been a stressful day for me.

            I splashed some cool water on my face; Damn, I’m hungry. I realized that I hadn’t eaten since I first came home after the Disappearance; my mother would be mortified, as she was always trying to fatten up my slender frame.

            Claire made her way up the stairs. “Eric will be up in a minute; can I get you anything? You look famished.”

            “Yeah, do you mind if I raid your fridge? I guess zombie killing makes people hungry.” I quickly turned away from the worry in Claire’s eyes; clearly it was a little too soon to be making zombie jokes.

            I kneeled down to examine the contents of the refrigerator; I eagerly grabbed a package of cold cuts and made myself a ham sandwich. Devouring it hungrily, I did my best to answer Claire’s onslaught of questions.

            “So you think whatever was in Steven was a zombie? How did you kill it? Did any part of Steven come back? Where do you think everyone else went?”

            “Ing nunk neyd…” I swallowed politely. “ I think zombie is the closest term we have to whatever occupied Steven. It wasn’t what you would think of as a classic zombie; whatever was in Steven moved fast, and was clearly alive, as opposed to being undead. I pushed whatever it was down the stairs, and the back of the zombie’s head was impaled on a coil of upturned nails my dad left on the basement floor.

            “No, I hate to say, but the Steven that we knew was definitely gone before the zombie took over. I think it is safe to say that whatever zombie we encounter from here on out should be killed. Honestly, Claire, I wish I could tell you more about the Disappearance. Your guess is as good as mine as to where everyone went; they might be dead, on another planet, who knows.”

            Claire once again took time to absorb the new information she had received. Before she could ask any more questions, Eric Miller made his way up the staircase and into Claire’s kitchen.

            I had forgotten about how tall he was. He greeted me with a polite, jovial smile. “David Help! Man, I can’t believe it’s you!”

            “Hey, Eric. It’s good to see you. So how did you and Claire manage to avoid any danger this past week?”

            Eric’s smile soon disappeared, and was replaced by somber expression. “It’s hard to explain; I came over here to ask Claire what happened after everyone else vanished. Then we started to notice all of these weird-looking people walk by the house, so we just decided to stay indoors.” Claire nodded her approval of the story. I found it interesting that neither had tried to contact me.

            “So tell me what happened to you, David. How did you manage to survive this whole time?” Eric asked curiously.

            Once I finished telling him about the chaos at my house on West Hill Lane, we sat in a stony silence for a few minutes.

            Finally, I broke the silence. “Listen, Eric, Claire, I’m glad you guys are okay, but it’s stupid to stay here in this house; we should operate under the assumption that whoever disappeared isn’t coming back.”

            Claire winced. “David, what makes you the expert on this so-called ‘Disappearance?’ Eric and I can do whatever we please!”

            Eric, playing diplomat, tried to calm Claire down. “Let’s just here him out, okay honey?”

            I thankfully continued. “It’s getting late; if you guys don’t mind, I would like to get a few hours of rest here. In the morning, I’m leaving. I don’t quite know where I’m going yet, and if you guys want to join me, let me know.”

            Claire, her helpful nature getting the best of her, relented. “Of course you can stay the night, Dave. I’m not going to make you go out there by yourself. Eric and I will join you, but tomorrow morning, before we leave, we’re going to plan out a rough outline of where we are going to go, okay?”

            Eric seemed to agree. “Yeah, man, come on. Do you really think Claire and I would kick you out, all by yourself? We’ll join you, wherever you’re going,” he looked down solemnly. “There’s not much left for us here anyway; it’s probably better if we try to find some more company.”

            “There’s only one stipulation,” Claire piped up. “If we get to go with you, so does Ringo.” The dog looked up at me happily, wagging his tail. Lucky dog.

            “Okay. It is really good to see you guys again,” I said thankfully. I still couldn’t believe that the girl I loved was still alive and well.

            “Well dude, until tomorrow then, goodnight!” Eric said happily. He departed downstairs.

            Claire grabbed me a blanket and pillow from the closet, and set me up on the couch in the upstairs living room. “I am really happy to see you again, you know that, right Dave?” Claire looked at me cautiously with those heart-melting green eyes.

            “I know, I can’t believe how thankful I am that both of you are still alive. Thanks for letting me stay here.” I said. She smiled warmly.

            “Goodnight, David.”

            “Goodnight, Claire.”

            She made her way downstairs. I then jumped on the couch and, as soon as I closed my eyes, fell asleep.

David Help

-10/13/21

            

The Disappearance, Chapter 3: The First Kill

             As I stood in the doorway of my brother Ron’s room, facing his friend-turned-zombie Steven, my mind stayed eerily clear. Steven stared at me, with those blank, dark, lustful eyes, for what seemed like hours before either of us made a move.

            Standing still, in those few seconds, I was forced to make a decision: either kill Steven, or die violently in my own home. I had always liked Steven, too; he was a shy kid, really into video games and music; he seemed innocent and had never shown an ounce of violence in his entire being, before the Disappearance.

            I no longer had time to contemplate my choices; Steven lunged at me with all of the force and hunger of a spiteful cheetah, racing to take down a gazelle. Luckily, my instincts kicked in, and I took advantage of his limited, zombified mind to slam the door in his face. The sickening thud told me that the cedar wood door had done its job of stopping the Zombie Steven in his tracks. 

                                                                …

            With the precious seconds the door had bought me, I made my way out of the basement of the Help family home on West Hill Lane and upstairs into the kitchen. The tacky rooster-shaped clock above sink informed me that it was 4:45; a look outside told me it was solemnly raining.

            You know, my father had always loved canoeing, but I doubt he realized that the decorative, full-sized oar he had hung on a mantle on the wall of the kitchen, next to the fridge, would ever serve a functional purpose such as the one it was about to. I reached up the wall (which was not a difficult feat, considering my 6 foot, lanky frame) and carefully brought down the cherry-oak oar.

            Bracing myself, I did the best I could to hold my back against the door of the fridge, just out of site from the stairwell. Soon, I heard the booming footsteps of a zombie scorn, the sound of Steven charging full-steam ahead to the kitchen with a vengeance. Oddly, I thought I heard an awful stabbing noise, as though something had penetrated Steven’s foot. I then remembered my father’s endless construction project downstairs, and how he always left his tools strewn about the basement.

            As Steven leaped up the last stair of the staircase, I swung the oar with all of my might at the zombie attacker.

            The smacking noise his face made as it met the solid oar was a sound I will never forget. Regrettably, one of the lenses in Steven’s eyeglasses shattered, sending its glass and other debris into the zombie’s eye. Steven’s mousy brown hair flew back as in shock from the hit, and his face scrunched-up tightly as a reaction to the devastating blow.

            The oar’s clotheslining-effect proved to be too much for the zombie Steven, and his head, along with his full body, tumbled down the staircase in surprise. The moment his head finally hit the end of the stairs is a moment I will not soon forget.

            Cracking against the cold, cement floor of the basement, his head not only made contact with the ground, but with one of my dad’s handyman utilities as well; specifically, a coil of upturned nails. The sharp, precise nails sunk 3 inches deep into the back of Steven’s head. The rate of impact gave the nails enough power to stab through Steven’s skull and into his zombie brain. With his eyes wide in surprise and one lens on his glasses missing, zombie-Steven coughed up a gulp of blood as whatever life left within him disappeared.

            I cautiously made my way down the stairs, oar in hand, to check on the status of Zombie Steven. When I made it to his body at the foot of the stairs, I slowly crouched down to get a closer look.

            Peculiarly, the right side of Steven’s face was splattered with streaks of blood. His slightly askew lens, which had been shattered, was stained with a perfect outlining of blood, around the spiky shards of glass remaining.

            Steven’s left side, however, remained almost perfectly normal looking, as though his last moments of life had not been spent in a zombified mess. His left cheek still showed a little rosiness, and his closed-eye almost gave the impression that Steven was only sleeping.

            Sadly, the nails protruding out of the back of his head, as well as the pool of candy-apple red blood surrounding his cranium gave no doubt as to Steven’s status. He was gone.

            It was over. I had one my first battle with one on the other side of the survivors of the Disappearance. I killed the zombie, Steven, and was rewarded with another chance to survive.

… 

            I salvaged some choice items from my house; ones I felt would help me survive. Among other things, I grabbed a few extra changes of clothes, a journal, water, a few snacks, and my brother’s Louisville Slugger baseball bat, as I did not know the combination to my father’s safe for his gun. I packed them in a duffel bag, and hopped into my dad’s black, 1970 Dodge Charger (don’t ask me how he kept in drivable shape). Pulling out of the garage onto suburban sprawl that is West Hill Lane in Providence, Rhode Island, the bright, white streetlamps informed me that the rainy day had evolved into a cold, dark night.

-David Help

10/12/21

The Disappearance Chapter 2: Coming Home

Rhode Island used to be a welcoming place to live. Don’t get me wrong, growing up in the Providence/Newport area was pretty boring and all, but I guess I had a nice life.

            Before the Disappearance, the worst people you had to deal with in my hometown of Providence were those high-class, snobbish east-coasters who would bore you to death with their long list of bragging points. Since the Disappearance, being in a group of only a handful of people can be suffocating and might lead a person to severe depression.

            Alright, I give; I miss Claire. Claire, with her effortless red hair, bottle-green eyes, and soft, unassuming face, was the love of my life. Okay, I admit, we never dated or anything, but we were been childhood friends and I’ve had feelings for her as long as I can remember.

            It is now October 12, which means those of the Remainders have been coping with this post-apocalyptic shit are now onto week 2 of hell on earth. When I first got back from Newport to Providence, needless to say I was a little on edge, as it was up to me to inform everyone at home of the death of Thomas. One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t have a chance to bring Thomas’s dead body back with me from Newport on that first day of the Disappearance, because I was forced to walk home the 20 miles.

            Hours later, when I first arrived to my family’s home on West Hill Lane in Providence, something about the way my house looked, as though it was barren or deserted, caught me off guard. Initially, I didn’t know what to make of the Disappearance; I nearly fooled myself into thinking that it was some elaborate prank. But my parents would not have gone in on a sick joke like that.

            When I walked up the familiar cement steps to the front door, my heart stopped. I took a sharp intake of breath when I noticed the slight blood steak across the clear glass pane of the front door.

            No, no, it can’t be, I so pitifully told myself. My mind was racing, trying to easily explain away the blood on the front door. Maybe it was Ron, my inner monologue assured me. That silly little brother of mine is always getting hurt; maybe he was just careless about wiping down the glass. No, my mom would rather have been caught dead then see a dirty glass pane on our perfect New England home.

            I swallowed my heart and reached for the door handle. The once shining gold-colored knob was now bloody as hell. That’s… funny, I worriedly thought, why did they leave the door open? With the door slightly ajar, I cautiously pushed it open with the tip of my now-shaking fingers.

            “Hello? Mom? Dad? Ron? Mia? Hello?!” I frantically called out to my mother, father, brother, and sister while I slowly made my way throughout the house.

            In my heart of hearts, I always wanted to fight crime. I watched episodes of old crime television shows obsessively, studying intently what I wanted to make my profession. Despite this, nothing in those crime dramas can prepare you for an investigation into the disappearance of your entire family. I was in tatters.

The house, which was the proto-typical, four-person household, roomed my brother and I downstairs while my sister and parents shared the top level. The kitchen looked just like any average kitchen; pots and pans hung from a low rafter above the island countertop, the fridge clothed top to bottom in magnets and pictures of my siblings and me, from various family vacations and sports pictures. Despite myself, I gazed with a longing sigh at a picture of my first year in soccer, when I was 9, decked-out in shin-guards, cleats, and the bright yellow jersey of our team, the Bulldogs (why we wore yellow, I’ll never figure out). I brooded, desperately seeking an answer out of my own nine-year-old face, guiltily wishing for a time portal back to those simpler times.

“HELLO?! WHERE ARE YOU?! HELP FAMILY, ANSWER ME!” I cried out, in a daze over the desertion of my loved ones.  When I made my way downstairs towards Ron’s room, I received an answer to my longing call. The answer I got wasn’t the one I was expecting.

            There I stood, gawking at the almost-unrecognizable figure before me. Standing in the doorway to Ron’s room was Steven, a brown-haired, bespectacled, rather scrawny kid, who Ron’s best friend and fellow 8th grader. Only the child I saw wasn’t Steven, nor was he even a child at all.

            Steven’s torn-up, crimson-soaked clothes and dazed, thousand-yard gaze gave no misconceptions of what Steven had become. Steven was a one of those who had Come Back.

 

David Help

10/12/21

The Disappearance Chapter 1: The Solemn Parade

A gust of wind. The subtle caw of a seagull in the distance. The arbitrary clearing of my throat as I rub eyes, shocked into disbelief from what I had just witnessed. Inexplicably, the crowd for the parade I was proudly marching in along with my marching band had suddenly, sullenly, disappeared without a trace.

   Wait… no. This couldn’t have just happened, right out of the blue. I looked over to my fellow marching band member and good friend Thomas, whose glasses were comically fogged up, as though he had had a physical reaction to the shock that bore out his body.

  “What the hell?” I asked rather caustically, eager to mask my surprise at the disappearance.

  “I don’t know, man; maybe an alien came down and sucked up the crowd!” Thomas exclaimed.

  I heaved a sigh; sometimes Thomas could say the dumbest things. Before I knew it, the band as well as the rest of the parade had stopped. Soon, the band was loaded onto the bus and ready to roll as quickly as possible out of boring old Newport, about 30 miles from our school. The only problem arose when we realized our bus driver was among the Disappeared.

  That was two weeks ago. October has been an eventful month after the Disappearance for those parade participants and I. Being 17, I had enough stress to deal with, before the Disappearance.  Of course, a group of 102 people be together for very long before the inevitable happens; Thomas was the first to go, he being the one that was mysteriously trampled by the rest of the parade as we were loading the school bus. Maybe it was for the best; Thomas was always a fan of all fiction post-apocalyptic, but I doubt his geekiness would transfer well into survival.

 -David Help

10/5/21