“--- The disease that has been contracted by these unidentified citizens appears to be extremely contagious. It is advised that people stay in their homes until absolutely necessary. If you have come into contact with an infected person, please quarantine yourself and contact emergency services immediately.”
The radio hissed silent after that chilling message had played. The door was swung open as a young man sat on the edge of the driver’s chair and smoked a cigarette. His blue eyes stared off blankly at the meter on the gas tank as it slowly ticked up, the clicking of the meter drowning out the chaos surrounding him. When the lurch of the handle broke him from his daze, the reality of the situation started to weigh on him.
Dozens of cars, filled with men and women in a panic. Each shout was louder than the next as they fought over who would fill up next. The attendant in the station didn’t even bother. He had locked himself in the bathroom hours ago. Jack sat and surveyed the chaos until a glass bottle whizzed by his head.
“GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE WAY, ASSHOLE!” The woman screamed, pointing at him.
Jack quickly put the nozzle back and locked his fuel cap on before he jumped in a pulled away. He was glad his truck had the extra fuel tank in the rear. He wouldn’t be filling up again until this chaos was under control.
“People panic far too easy…” He said, talking to himself under the hiss of the radio and the emergency broadcast system message, “Then again… That report didn’t sound good.”
Jack had spent the last 3 weeks with his best friend touring the country in his truck. A cross country road trip that they’d both wanted to do since they were kids. They only recently had the time. Jack hadn’t had an hour since he dropped off his friend until the reports started rolling in of an outbreak of an infectious disease. It was spreading fast. The symptoms were fever, headache, weakness, necrosis, and eventually loss of sanity. It was transmitted through bites, scratches, or contact with the infected. The terrifying part was that the people who caught it were attacking others and eating them.
Jack wasn’t sure how serious it actually was, judging by how the media tended to react to anything that might be a story that would bump their ratings. He’d do what the radio said. Go home, make a sandwich, and wait to this thing to settle down.
*** 4 Hours after the outbreak ***
“Hey, Rich! I’m home!” Jack yelled out as he walked in the door, shutting and locking the small home on the outskirts of south suburban Chicago that he shared with a co-worker. There was no response. Jack assumed that his roommate must be out and about. The guy was rarely around, anyway. Jack couldn’t help but shake. He had held it in on the drive back, but the scene at the gas station troubled him. He sat down on the couch and took a few deep breaths.
He hated conflict. He’d always had an uncanny ability to deal with it in the situation, but he never could keep his shit together afterwards. Hell, fights at work between construction workers could get ugly, and when they did, Jack could hardly work for about 10 minutes afterwards.
When his nerves finally calmed down, Jack walked out back to have a smoke. His roommate's car was out back, and there was blood on the door. “What the fuck is that,” Jack said as he moved toward the door. There was blood on the handle, on the door, and on the ground leading to the house.
His breathing shortened as a ringing started in his ears. He felt light headed and his hands slowly started to tremble. Pounding in his head was the sound of his heartbeat, like a drum that he couldn’t stop. He tried to slow himself down and take a deep breath. It didn’t work.
Dropping the cigarette from his mouth, he turned and ran into the house, heading up the stairs to Rich’s room, where he saw nothing but a bloody handprint on the bathroom door. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up as a cold sweat rolled down his forehead. His body shook as he reached for the door handle.
“Rich?” he said quietly as he opened the door.
The sight that he beheld he would never forget. Not until the end of his days. His roommate and friend stood there staring at him. Eyes glazed over and almost lifeless. Blood was everywhere. But the worst of all, was Rich’s throat had been ripped out.
“JESUS!” Jack said as he slammed the door shut and his roommate started pounding on the door, growling and snarling, scratching and biting. He could hear the teeth gnashing behind the closed door, and Jack fell back onto his butt as he backed away from the door. His breathing now was labored and rapid, and his vision clouded from the corners as panic set in.
“Aww man… What the hell, Rich.” Jack said, frantically as he got to his feet and quickly bolted out of the room and down the stairs. He noticed the drops of blood leading upstairs, something he had missed before as he nervously made his way up there. That was when he started thinking about what else he had missed.
Rich couldn’t have made it far before bleeding out with those injuries. “Oh fuck.”
Jack swung around and his back door was still open. He hadn’t shut it when he walked inside trying to figure out what had happened. That was when he heard the growl. Exactly like Rich, he turned and saw a man standing in the hallway, except this guy had his stomach ripped apart. Jack could do nothing but scream in terror as he backed away and the man grabbed for him. Jack fell over backwards and scrambled backwards on all fours.
The man in front of him had fresh blood all over the place, his guts were still spilling out of him as if it had just happened. Jack scrambled to his feet and grabbed the bar stool at their dinner table. He threw it at the man, knocking him over. Snatching up his keys, Jack bolted for his truck out the front door.
*** 8 Hours after the outbreak ***
“HEY! GET THE FUCK OUT HERE! WE ARE NOT STAYING NEAR CHICAGO!” Jack screamed into his phone.
“No, I don’t give a fuck what the TV said. Those people ain’t sick! They’re dead! Get the fuck out here and get in my truck… No… NO! I don’t care if you have your neighbors over. It’s time to fucking go! Trust me! How do I know? Because I was attacked by my roommate with his throat ripped out and by some fat old bastard with no guts! That enough for you?! GET THE FUCK OUT HERE!”
*** 1 Week after the outbreak ***
They sat out in his truck some 100 miles outside of Chicago in an empty parking lot for a hardware store that had clearly been looted: his best friend, a kid, and the kids’ father. Jack shook with fear as he listened to the radio. He had taken back roads and non-highway routes since a lot of other people had the same idea to get the hell out of town. Nobody talked. They just listened to the radio.
“Be warned that the disease is spreading quickly. Quarantine zones are being established inside the city. All cities within the immediate Chicago area are classified as a pandemic level 10, newly established to mean a mortality rate of greater than 90%. The infected hearts are stopping before they rise to attack the living. Currently, the only known way to disable the attackers is to destroy the brain... God help us all…”
Suddenly the voice over the radio became frantic as the sound of gunfire can be heard, “I’m being told we have to be evacuated from the station. It is this reporters opinion that it is best to stay away from hospitals or any high concentrations of infect---.”
“TIME TO GO! Soldier, bar that door!” another voice interrupted.
“James Mary, signing off.”
The group sat silently as static came over the local NPR affiliate.