- by Gitabushi
A few days ago, I published a teaser of the Group Apocalypse story I’m working on. By doing so, I experienced the benefits and drawbacks of publishing a teaser: I received some ego-stroking compliments, I received some good feedback, and now I want to make a very small, but truly substantial, revision to the original text. Basically, I want to increase the uncertainty over whether Beverly is infected or not. Since I’ve made the change, I will now republish the revised first section here, along with section two:
Beverly woke, feeling groggy, not sure where she was for a moment. Her bleary eyes blinked the world into focus. Metal, glass, tile. People hurrying past. Voices over an intercom: “Flight 262 to Washington Dulles International, now boarding Zone 3.”
Beverly pressed the palms of her hands against her eyes. Zone 3? That was her boarding group. She stretched, picked up her backpack and purse, stifled a yawn and stood up. She shuffled over to the line, then fished her boarding pass out of her purse. Another yawn rose, and this one would not be denied. She covered her mouth, but despite her best efforts, this one was audible.
The man in front of him turned around at the sound. “Tired, huh? Well, you’ll get some sleep on this red-eye, as long as there are no infants near you.”
“Yeah, I just flew in from China. I’ve already been traveling for 22 hours. I couldn’t sleep on the plane earlier, but I just caught a nap there in the waiting area. I think it made me feel worse.” The line moved forward a step.
“Wow, long trip! Where are you headed?”
“DC is my last stop. Good thing. I feel like a zombie or something.” A few more steps forward.
“You’re not sick, are you?” The man looked like he would sidle away if he could.
“No, I loaded up on vitamin C before the trip. I’m just tired.”
They reached the flight attendant, and the conversation died. As he was looking at Beverly’s boarding pass, she heard some yelling down the foyer, maybe 10 Gates away. The flight attendant glanced past her shoulder, a puzzled look on his face. The sound of commotion increased, and Beverly turned to look. She couldn’t see anything at his angle, and wasn’t willing to step out of line to see better. The attendant motioned her to go on, and she smiled faintly at him as she walked past. Just as she entered the jetwalk, she heard what sounded like a scream, and a loud report like a firecracker.
No way. Beverly shook her head. Guns aren’t allowed in airports.
She found her seat, put her cellphone in airplane mode, and started fading out of consciousness as the pilot started talking about a disturbance that wouldn’t delay departure. She didn’t even feel the take off 20 minutes later.
She woke again as they were making the final approach into Dulles, then dozed until they pulled up to the gate. Lack of sleep and disruptions to all the normal biological cycles made her feel groggy even after she gathered her purse (no carry on!) and staggered off the plane and up the walkway.
Her luggage would be arriving at the very last turnstile. Before walking down there, she stopped off in the Ladies Restroom. She sat in the stall, staring at nothing, trying to will herself fully awake.
She heard someone stagger in, then stumble over and push at her door.
“Taken! Try the next one.”
More pushing at the door. The groans sounded a little urgent.
Whomever it was seemed to take the message, and stumbled into the stall next to hers. She could see the woman’s feet, rather large in tennis shoes, in the 12-inch gap. She saw a hand reach through and paw in her direction.
“Out of toilet paper? Okay, hold on a second.” Beverly unwound a big wad, reached down and held it out. The other person knocked it from her hand. Fine, I don’t care, Beverly thought. Some people just have no gratitude.
She closed her eyes and put her head in her hands, took several deep breaths. She pulled out her cellphone and held the button until it began to turn on. She stood up, and had just gotten the door open when she felt her foot grabbed. She looked down in time to see a man’s head stuck through the gap between the floor and the stall divider, and saw him sink his teeth into her ankle.
“SON OF A BITCH!” Beverly yelled, and dropped her phone as she yanked her foot free. She aimed a kick directly at the side of his face, heard his head bounce off the base of the toilet. She opened the door and ran out with her purse. She heard the man struggling to get out of the stall behind her.
Out of the restroom, she picked out a security guard a few dozen yards away. She staggered up to him.
“A man just assaulted me in the ladies restroom!” She pointed back the way she had come. She had to repeat it again before he understood. He looked grim and began to walk in that direction, lifting his radio to his mouth as he went.
Beverly hesitated a moment. She didn’t really want to wait around and see the guy. Just thinking of him gave her the creeps. There was something funny about his eyes.
She also didn’t want to wait around to repeat her story a dozen times to the police. She knew that she should do her part to get a jerk like that off the streets…but she was exhausted, and just wanted to go home. At least she could pick up her luggage first. That would also give her more distance from the bathroom.
She limped another couple hundred yards to the luggage turnstile, which was already turning with a few pieces forlornly waiting for owners. Hers was already there, too. She grabbed her suitcase, then heard a scream and turned to look back at the bathroom entrance.
A struggle was ensuing between two security guards and the guy. It looked like one of the security guards was down with the guy on top of him, and the second security guard trying to pull him off. As she watched, the second guard pulled the assailant off of his buddy. The guard on the floor wasn’t moving at all. The creep turned in the second guard’s grasp. It was hard to tell from the distance, but it looked like the guy was winning!
Beverly felt a bolt of terror in her heart. She turned and hurried toward the exit. She looked back as she reached the door, saw the guard fall to the ground and saw the man stagger in her direction. She pushed out the doors as fast as she could, scrambled out onto the sidewalk.
She looked for the economy parking lot bus stop. There! And her lot color was already there. As she ran toward it, dragging her suitcase, it started to pull away.
Then the driver must have seen her, because it stopped and the doors opened. She clambered on board, yelled, “Go!” and collapsed into a chair. She looked back at the baggage claim door, but didn’t see her assailant emerge.
Her ankle throbbed. She pulled her foot up to the seat, looked her ankle over. She winced as she pressed and explored the bite area. It hurt so much it seemed impossible there wasn’t a chunk of flesh missing. But there was no blood, at least.
When the bus reached her stop, Beverly raced to her car, jumped in, and locked all the doors. She sat, shivering with reaction, for about 15 minutes. She transitioned directly from panic to exhaustion, however, and woke herself when her head lolled forward.
She shook her head to clear it, glanced at her watch, and estimated she had lost only about 20 minutes dozing.
“Better I get back home as soon as possible and crawl into bed for some good sleep,” she said out loud, trying to wake herself up. “I just hope I don’t nod off on the road home.”
Not many cars were on the road.
At one point, she saw someone walking across the freeway ahead of her. She slowed slightly, until she saw that he would pass safely across before she reached him.
Within about 40 minutes, she was turning the key of her Eckington neighborhood town home. Three levels, 4 bedrooms, all hers. Well, after another 27 or so years of mortgage payments, as she liked to say to friends.
She stripped her clothes and showered as rapidly as she could. She checked out her ankle and still didn’t see a wound, rubbed some soap on it to be sure, and sure enough, there was the sting of open skin. She looked more closely, but didn’t see any teeth marks; it was more like a scrape. And, of course, it was already a vivid, angry purple. Clean and not bleeding, there was nothing more to do but wait and see if it got infected.
The sky was just beginning to lighten as she stumbled into her bedroom and slipped into bed. And then out of bed again to close the heavier curtains, to make sure sunlight drifting in between the slats of the blinds after daybreak didn’t wake her.
She set the alarm for a little over 6 hours later, pulled the covers up to her chin, and waited to fall asleep immediately.
35 minutes later (as confirmed by the bedside clock), she was still waiting. She started the self-hypnosis technique she had learned back in college, and before the second set (backwards from fifty), she felt that curious falling sensation that accompanied entering sleep when completely exhausted.
Something was wrong, but she wasn’t sure what it was.
She lay in bed for a few minutes, trying to piece it together.
It was morning. She could tell by the dim glimmer of light sneaking in past the edges of her heavy curtains. She had slept more than 6 hours, she could feel it…but her alarm hadn’t gone off. She glanced at the clock, and saw why: the power was off.
She reached a hand out of the blankets to snatch her watch, and pressed the button to let its backlight shine through the artificial dusk in her room.
Three in the afternoon! She had slept for a full ten hours!
That’s when it dawned on her what was wrong: there were no traffic sounds from outside. Her windows did a fairly good job of keeping the sound to a minimum, but she lived on a main street, and normally you could hear cars going by almost constantly. Now, there was nothing.
She slipped out of bed and padded over to the window, peeked out. Sure enough, no cars on the road at all. Most of the cars were gone from the street parking places, too.
Was there an evacuation or something? Why? It isn’t hurricane season or anything. She thought for a moment. There might be a surprise gully washer thunderstorm this late in the Spring, but what kind of flooding would it take to evacuate DC? She looked at the sky. It’s not even cloudy, much less raining.
She pulled on some comfortable clothes and went downstairs to the kitchen. She would call Erik and…oh, holy crap! I never picked up my cellphone after that creep bit me. She was sure she could get it back from the airport’s lost and found later, but in the meantime, she was cut off from everyone. She could call from her neighbor’s phone later, but first she wanted to get something to eat.
She opened her refrigerator and looked for anything that might spoil if the power was out too long. Some eggs, some cheese. No fresh veggies because of her trip. The bacon looked okay. Should she make rice congee? No, rice was stupid in a power outage. It has to be something you can do with natural gas, on a stove. Okay, an omelet.
She cooked, ate, and cleaned up.
Still no vehicle sounds. What the hell was going on?
She walked outside, down the steps, and up her neighbor’s steps. She knocked, and waited. She knocked again. Waited. She pounded the door.
She tried the door.
The silence was kind of strange. A city shouldn’t be this quiet. The faint sound of a car horn drifted in with a strong breeze, but its obvious distance just emphasized the uncanny absence of city noise.
She looked up and down the street. She saw a few people walking down past the intersection at New York Ave, past the gas station. But that was a mile away, or more. She didn’t feel like walking down there.
She went back home, shut the door and locked it, and sat on her couch. No electricity kind of screwed things up. No TV. No wifi for her laptop. She normally would have used the 3G connection on her smartphone, but that was at the airport.
She sniffed, then coughed.
Do I have a fever? She felt her forehead. Well, she didn’t feel well, but maybe it was just jet lag.
She climbed two flights of stairs to the small room she considered her library and picked out a book that she had purchased a few months ago but never got around to starting, and sat down by the window to read.
Two hours later, there was no mistaking it; she was coming down with something. She had coughed a dozen times, and was at least a touch feverish.
Erik was had planned his backpacking trip to get back the same day as her flight, or today at the very latest. He would stop by after he took a shower, wouldn’t he? He normally stopped by at least once a week, and they had their separate trips to talk about. He would particularly make sure to drop by with things weird like this, wouldn’t he? He would call, and when he didn’t reach her, he would rush over to make sure she had made it home safely.
So what’s taking him so long, then?
Maybe he called and someone at the airport answered and said the phone was in Lost & Found. He must have gone there first to pick it up for me. Erik was always doing things like that.