Sirens wail near and far, peppered with the sounds of gunfire. Single shots, bursts, desperate fusillades. Here and there, and in every direction. Chad peers out his window -- the upscale Newport Beach neighborhood is bathed in the alternating red and blue siren-lights of a police car parked in front of his house. Down the road in one direction a geyser of water is shooting up from where a fire hydrant has been knocked off by a car, and in the other direction a crashed car burns -- but they are not necessarily related. The police officer is standing inside his open car door with his m-16 at the ready. Bodies can be seen strewn around the street in various places. Down the road Chad sees somebody -- some THING -- lurch around a corner. A human form with an unearthly stilted gait.
Chad looks back at the officer but he's currently scanning in the other direction. The officer nerviously looks at Chad.
Chad collapses back onto the floor, leaning against the wall and hugging his legs, muttering "Oh god oh god oh god." He closes his eyes and desperately tries to pray or wish it all away.
He can still picture his friend Brody, saying "As a wise man once said, 'if wishes were horses ... we'd all eat steak'," grinning in the tropical sun. It had only been a week ago, after all, that they had been in Africa together on a mission trip with their church group. "We're gonna give em heaven and hell boys!" Hunter Johnson had eagerly boasted earlier in the trip. Only a week ago they had felt like they were taking the world by storm, fighting the good fight.
It was towards the end of their trip, deep in the Congo, that they'd been told of the forbidden valley. The villagers had an intense superstition that "shadow people" lived in the next valley over, that no one who went there would ever return alive. No missionaries have ever gone there.
"C'mon guys! Let's show them that the power of Christ is stronger than their superstitions!" Chad had said eagerly to his friends. "Guys?" But the utter fear of the locals appeared to be contagious.
"Nah, bro, uh, look, our translators won't go there so who are we goin to talk to over there?" reasoned Travis.
"Yeah man, don't worry about it, bro," reasoned Hunter.
"You guys chicken??" Chad taunted.
"El oh el man, no, but we don't have time to go frolicking in the jungle, c'mon," answered Hunter. Chad could see the fear in their eyes though, and it infuriated him. "We should confront and disprove their superstitions!" he thought to himself in a huff "not huddle in fear of them ourselves!"
"Well, I'm going myself then!" he announced and immediately started walking through the cluster of huts in the direction indicated.
"Bring us back some souvenirs!" called out Travis, trying to sound nonchalant, "a voodoo cursed rock or something!" The villagers, with aghast expressions, spluttered at the interpreter while gesturing at Chad, and the interpreter tried to translate they boys' intention to them.
A narrow overgrown path went out in that direction, which Chad followed through the humid shade of the jungle. At first there were animal skulls placed prominently on rocks and in crooks of trees, a clear "do not go this way" sign by the villagers, and also some offerings had been left on or near the path to appease some kind of spirits. Chad scoffed and kicked these out of the way.
Just as he was starting to think he'd find nothing interesting and he should turn around, from a rise he saw through the trees what looked like a clearing. Continuing in that direction, he suddenly came upon another village. A cluster of huts not terribly different from the ones he had left. The villagers all stood up and stared at him as he approached. They all had an ancient, timeless look about them. Even the children gazing calmly out at him had a weathered look about them. Chad walked up until he was surrounded by them and looked around.
"Uh, hello!" he said, waving a hand in what he hoped was an inoffensive friendly manner. No one said anything, they all just stared at him, with their sunken cheeks and ancient eyes. Chad noticed nervously that the incessant chirps and squeals of birds and animals seemed to have stopped. He couldn't remember how long ago he stopped hearing those noises, having been lost in his thoughts on the walk over.
A few villagers shuffled from one place to another to form roughly a circle around him. When they walked it was with a strange stiff hobble.
Chad fumbled in his pocket for the brochures they had had made up that talked about Jesus in a variety of local languages and tried to hand them to a few members of his mute audience, but none of them lifted a hand to receive them or took their unblinking eyes from his face. "No wonder no one comes here," Chad thought to himself "these dudes are totally awkward," but, despite the bluster of his internal monologue, he was feeling increasingly creeped out himself.
He looked up as a new person arrived from somewhere in the village -- a beautiful girl walked purposefully, yet haltingly towards him. She looked to be in her early twenties, like Chad himself, but as she approached he noticed she too had a subtle weathered look about her. She continued approaching Chad, with a sort of mona-lisa smile -- the only of the villagers to have any expression at all. He found himself captivated by her eyes -- despite her brown skin and dark curly hair, her eyes were a deep timeless grey. Her eyes seemed to contain decades, --no, centuries-- of sadness and suffering.
Chad found himself rooted in place, ensorcelled, unable to break the gaze of the approaching girl. She walked right up to him, with her timeless eyes and knowing smile, and in one fluid motion gently put her hands on either side of his head, leaned in, and kissed him on the lips. Most shocking of all, Chad found her lips and hands to be entirely clammy. There was not a hint of warmth to her.
After the kiss she backed away a step but kept her eyes on Chad, with the same mischievious smile. Chad backed away, now thoroughly freaked out. "I, I, I, umm, I need to be getting back," he stammered, looking around at the expressionless faces. He dropped the brochures on the ground, backed his way to the edge of the jungle, and began to run. And were those bones in the bushes? Terror gripped him as he bolted back the way he had come.
He had time to compose himself before re-entering the village his friends were in, and he did his best not to look shaken, though he couldn't manage much bluster. "Yeah, there was a village over there. Just uh, another village. I gave them brochures. Are you guys done here yet?" he couldn't wait to put a great deal of distance between himself and the forbidden village. As soon as the interpreter informed the villagers what he'd said, about visiting a village over there, the locals all looked terrified and fled to the other end of the village, through desperate hand gestures and invocations making supplications to their gods for protection.
Brody looked around, "Well, I guess we are now. Thanks to your little quest!" he said accusingly, but then smiled to show he wasn't really bothered. Chad was in no mood for joking around now though.
It's that incident though, that Chad has been dwelling on. It must have been that.
Outside, several bursts of gunfire come from the direction of the police car. Chad peers out again, and sees an increasing number of nightmarish shadows shuffling through the dim sepiatone glow of the streetlights. The officer is taking out the ones that get closest to him but there are more and more of them. Chad knows why an officer has been posted in front of his parent's house too -- they must have figured it out. It was Chad's friends who became infected first. And before the televisions went off the air they had commented that it appeared to be everyone who had been on flight 613 --HIS flight-- appeared to be the first infected. The CDC must have figured it out. Everyone but him, everyone he's come in contact with, everyone but him. He'd brought back hell.
The officer was getting hemmed in now, firing as fast as he could keep his gun loaded, but there was only one way this could end. Chad slumped against the wall again, he didn't want to see this. His brother wandered into the room, looked at him, past him, with dead unseeing eyes, and lurched towards the front door.
Chad stared at the ceiling and tried to wish it all away.
A sort of prologue I've been meaning to write for my continuing series on the coming zombie apocalypse.