The knock on the door makes me jump. My hand instantly travels to the knife on the moth-eaten couch beside me, gripping the cold handle. I stand up, ready to see one of the horrid undead falling apart. But as I peer through the ripped screen door, I see a familiar shape moving toward me.
“You scared me,” I gasp, clutching my chest.
“Did I?” Ryan pokes his head in, his brown hair a complete mess and sticking up straight on the side. “Sorry.”
“Is the van ready?” I ask.
He nods. “I think I got it working. We ready to move?”
I nod, slinging my worn backpack over my shoulder. The cans clink as I follow him out to the van. The hot, humid air hits me the second I step through the door. I send a wistful glance back at the house that has been our safe place for so long. Memories linger in every room, every place. Ryan and I have been best friends ever since I could remember. I would spend almost every afternoon here, running through the woods in the back, sitting on the swing chair, trying—and failing to climb the giant oak tree in his front yard. We would sit in the living room and watch the snow fill up the yard, laughing with joy. Now, there hasn’t been snow for years, the entire earth covered in a layer of dust and dirt.
I take a deep breath, looking around at the old house before I slide into the front seat next to him.
The van was Ryan’s dad's, before he disappeared and left the entirety of the house to Ryan. It’s old, scratched up, and missing the left mirror, but it’s all we have. I have to slam the door shut several times before they stick. Ryan grins at me before he turns the key in the ignition several times, listening to the engine splutter before it finally starts.
As we speed away from the house, down the gravel road, I lean against the window, wondering how this all happened.
One year ago, the dead suddenly decided they wanted to live again. No one is certain how, but around the world, the graves erupted as the skeletons and rotting corpses clawed their way up to the surface. Intent on killing anything that moves, they have been adding to their ranks every night. Besides a few terrifying encounters, we haven’t seen most of them.
It’s unsettling how easily we settled into this routine. One day, we were sitting in calculus class, listening to our teacher drone on about derivatives and limits. The next day, the TVs flashed with images of the world falling apart. And the day after that, half the population was dead and the rest of the survivors went into hiding. The change was immediate, forcing us to go from life as normal teenagers to life on the run, trying to survive.
We stayed at Ryan’s house for as long as we could. It was rural, smack in the middle of goddamn nowhere. His nearest neighbors were miles and miles away, and it was good, as long as we had supplies. But now, we are heading toward the city, trying to find any other people who are still alive. How many there are left, we’re not sure, but it’s worth a shot. Sometimes, it feels like we are the only living people on this whole planet.
As Ryan steers down the desolate highway, I keep watch around for any other signs of movement, dead or alive. There’s no need to keep in the lanes, Ryan drives right between the left and center ones, the van bumping over the white dashed lines. As we zoom by, I see movement out of the corner of my eye and tense, thinking it’s a zombie, but it’s just a brown doe that springs out from the forest, neatly dashing across the pavement.
“How much gas do we have?” I ask.
“Enough, I hope,” Ryan answers. “If not, we’ll have to scrounge some up.” Already, I can see how low the little red arrow is pointing. We are still several miles from the nearest city. If the van breaks down now, we are done for.
The skyscrapers loom above us as we near the city, stretching toward the skyline. It’s so desolate out here, the once bustling cities and streets empty. We steer through the empty streets, seeing trash cans blown around in the wind and dust hits our windshield. Just our luck, the van splutters to a stop a few blocks from the town square.
“Shit,” Ryan mutters. He hits the steering wheel, frustrated. “We’re out of gas.”
“What should we do?” I ask, glancing around anxiously. I see no sign of movement, from humans or from zombies.
“Walk?” Ryan asks. “I think we’re clear.”
I nod, but I’m doubtful about our chances. Still, I hop out of the van, helping Ryan lift the few bags of supplies we have. Together, we walk down the streets, scanning the city around us. It’s eerily empty.
Ryan freezes suddenly, making me crash into him.
“What—” I stop when I see what’s in front of us. Two zombies stand there, blocking our way. They’re just a horrible as I remember, skin mottled black and blue, long scarlet gashes stretching down across their bodies. For a moment, the four of us stare at each other, no one making a move. Then the zombies lurch toward us.
“Run?” Ryan asks.
“Run,” I agree. Ryan grabs my arm, tugging me backward. We sprint down the street, pursued by the horrid smelling beings.
“Here!” Ryan gasps, pulling me aside. We duck into the next alleyway, hearing the roaring fade away.
“That was close,” I pant, leaning against the wall. There’s a strange mark on the wall next to my head. I’d think it was graffiti, but the paint is too fresh, recent. I turn to warn Ryan when a hand clamps over my mouth. I let out a yell, struggling against my captors. I catch a glimpse of Ryan doing the same as we’re pulled backward into the darkness.
“They’re alive!” I hear a voice call just as the light flicks on. I squint into the light, seeing another girl standing there in front of us.