If you called me a murderer, I wouldn’t argue. I might not be directly responsible for what happened to my wife and five-year old son—or that little girl across the street—but hiding like a frightened child and doing nothing to help them makes me guilty on some level. My hands might be clean, but my conscience isn’t.
I’ve had plenty of time to mull that over in the weeks since the world went nuts.
I don’t remember when I first heard stories about the dead coming back to life—probably on one of those news shows my wife likes to watch. I didn’t pay much attention at first; seemed too ridiculous to be true. I didn’t realize how serious things were until the President declared a national state of emergency—a “global blight,” he called it. Something about that stuck in my mind.
I saw my first zombie at work the next day. I was stocking shelves when I heard a commotion toward the front of the store. One of the dead had come through the automatic doors and attacked the greeter—bit his freaking ear right off. In spite of the gruesome scene, I got a chuckle afterwards when my boss slipped in the puddle of blood and fell on his ass while frantically ordering my coworkers to mop it up.
My good humor faded considerably when I saw the newspaper headlines that night. England, Russia, China—all overrun by the walking dead. After police declared martial law the next day, I watched incredulously from our apartment window as gunshots and screams sounded in the distance like some surreal war zone. I turned away in horror when a zombie in the alleyway below my window disemboweled a stray dog it had caught and began to feed.
I couldn’t sleep a wink that night.
I remember how scared I felt a few days later when my wife informed me that we’d run out of food. So despite the danger, I reluctantly headed out to gather some canned goods for my family. I slipped outside, disoriented by the empty, quiet city streets. I’d only gotten partway down the block before I encountered a scattered group of the walking dead—dozens of them. I panicked and fled, running until it felt like my lungs would burst. I knew I was a goner out in the open, so I broke into a house and hid.
I barricaded the front door and slumped to the floor, knowing that I’d gotten lucky. When I caught my breath, I explored my new hiding spot. The house was empty, but there was enough food in the pantry to last awhile. I decided to wait for the dead to disperse before heading back home with whatever I could carry. Until the coast was clear, going back out there would be suicide, though, so I decided to wait things out.
I tried to phone my wife, but the line was dead. TV went dark later that night, and I couldn’t get any reception on the radio. Outside the house, a throng of the decaying abominations persistently roamed the streets.
I spent the next few days in isolation, ashamed about leaving my family, but too frightened to leave the safety of the house. When the food ran out, I skulked down the street in search of a new hiding spot, avoiding houses that looked like they were still occupied or had already been looted. When a group of zombies down the street took notice of me, I knew that I’d pushed my luck as far as I dared, and I hid inside another house.
I’ve been here ever since… alone with my thoughts, alone with my guilt. Having no way to pass the time is torture. Although the house is full of books, I’m not much of a reader. I found a rifle in an upstairs closet, and pass the time by peering out an upstairs window through its scope.
That’s how I first discovered the little girl in the house across the street.
She couldn’t have even been a year old, and I watched perplexed for several minutes as she crawled about the living room unattended, intermittently bawling and playing with toys strewn about on the floor. How long had she been there alone? Where was her mother?
I got my answer moments later when I spotted someone lying on the floor behind the couch. The air above the body teemed with flies.
I knew I had to do something; the baby would die without my help. But scanning the street, there were too many about to risk going out in the open. I’d never be able to get to her without attracting their attention. Much as it pained me, I decided to wait.
I watched intently through the rifle scope for the next few hours, feeling more anxious with each passing minute. Just when I’d made up my mind to get off my ass and do something, my heart sank when the little girl’s dead mother sat up, glaring at the baby with putrefied eyes.
A wave of nausea swept through me, knowing that I’d missed my chance; there was no way I could get there in time to prevent what was about to happen. When the dead woman began to advance toward her unsuspecting baby, I set the rifle aside so that I wouldn’t have to watch and puked on the floor.
That happened three days ago, and something inside of me broke afterwards. The prospect of spending even one more day alone with no one to talk to is intolerable, but it’s not nearly as bad as the crushing guilt I’m living with… if you can call this living.
I’m almost out of food, so I’ll need to find a new house soon. What other choice do I have?
I’d end this wretched existence if I could—the rifle is loaded, after all. I’m just too much of a coward to pull the trigger.
BIO: Ryan Neil Falcone’s short fiction has appeared in various prominent horror, sci-fi, and fantasy themed markets [including Stupefying Stories and Macabre Cadaver] and in numerous print anthologies commercially available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. He currently serves as a story editor for Dark Moon Books and Dark Moon Digest, and is an active member of Cornell University’s Irving Literary Society.