His eyes opened and captured the characteristics of the carcass lying before him.
That was the first time he knew his world had changed forever.
Lying naked amidst leaves, feeling the chill of the breeze, Alan bolted up from the ground and took a step back. His right hand touched his face, lingered there for a moment or two. When he looked at the red in his palm, he shook his head, closed his eyes. Yes, things were different now for him. He had changed physically. He could even feel it, how his senses had become sharper, his nose picking up a myriad of scents, his ears hearing leaves rustle from far away.
He opened his eyes and gazed at the dead deer before him. Its neck had been snapped. Its stomach was torn open, bones sticking out, blood and intestines flooding the land between the deer and Alan. A leg was missing, torn right off. Such a savage sight. Brutal.
So Alan had transformed into a werewolf.
And here he was in the woods, a mile from home, dealing with the consequences.
He thought back briefly to the time he spent getting stitches in his arm. How afterward his eyes seemed ever more compelled to drift up to the moon. How passing stores selling meat made him nearly drool, filling him with an almost uncontrollable urge. All a little ironic considering how he had been a fairly cerebral person, almost a stereotypical accountant, fixated on numbers and math, a little dry personality. Outside of hiking, he had never been all that adventurous. Of course, a happenstance encounter with a wolf one brisk evening was that one thing that led to this.
His new condition.
Alan shuffled his feet, listened for the stream that ran through this area. He started jogging, then running faster and faster. Adjustments would have to be made. There was a way to deal with this. There had to be. All he had to do was think. And plan. And find a way. Find a way to adjust. But first … water. He needed to dive in. He needed the waves to the wash over his body, cleanse everything away from his skin.
Once he arrived, Alan dove right in. The currents felt wonderful. Feeling the coolness press against his body in a constant flow served as meditation in a way. Every second a new force pushed to a certain point, pushing against him and around him. He stayed still, then moved his arms in a circular motion before splashing some water on his face.
A symbolic awakening, he thought as he climbed out of the stream several minutes later. Though, to be quite honest, he wasn’t sure what he had awakened to exactly, and whether it could be considered a good thing. Business was his specialty in school, not literature.
So that was, in essence, the first time Alan realized his world had changed.
And the second time occurred not too long ago.
Alan sat for eons in his office on that day. Numbers dominated his vision, a constant stream. He had a big lunch since he knew he’d be working late and he would probably not have the chance to cook or go to one of his favorite restaurants. But on the way home, that fast food sign just teased his vision. His instinct was to just go home and grab a snack, but the thought of a burger shoved such a notion aside. He turned into the parking lot, and practically gassed it into a parking spot.
Why go to the drive-through and sit in the car eating? Or maybe have it be cold before going home? Alan turned the key, and left the car. He strolled into the restaurant with his eyes fixated on the board above the counter. All the various meals and combinations reverberated through his math-soaked brain. With fries or without. The works or plain. Side orders. Oh, such delightful quandaries to consider. Even the growling hardly penetrated his contemplation. Until he realized it wasn’t his stomach. That the growling emanated from somewhere within the restaurant. He blinked his eyes. Then he slowly turned to look over the surroundings. A dog surely wasn’t loose on the premises, he thought.
And he was indeed correct with that guess.
A sudden noise burst from behind the counter.
Alan turned, looked at a panic stricken service worker holding a gun, young, maybe a college student. His head swiveled towards the tables and back again.
“Stay back I said!”
Alan’s eyes bulged. He raised his arms.
“I didn’t do anything!”
“I’ve seen some of — of – those movies!”
Alan snuck another peek then. And it was right then that he knew what the worker was talking about. A body laid underneath a table to the left of the ordering area. And two zombies, a man and a woman, seemed to be chomping away at him. Or her. Well, he didn’t know who that was, didn’t know who they were, didn’t know a damn thing apparently. Except the fact … the fact that something bad was happening. And the movies the kid was referring to was zombie movies. Apocalyptic movies. He felt a deep sadness rising. As dour as he could be sometimes Alan liked the world. He really didn’t want it to end. Try to think, he told himself.
That’s when his college tuition kicked in. That’s when his day job sprang into action.
2 Zombies + 1 Dead Person Being Eaten – Gun-toting Fast Food Worker % Unsure of Minimum Wage Increase is Good Enough = T.R.O.U.B.L.E.
Which wasn’t an equation that solved anything, really. But there were other options. He tried to channel his new werewolfishness, find a way to release that newfound power. Really though, his eyes kept bouncing from the gun to the zombies. A growl emanated from them every now and then, but they were preoccupied. Only for a short while, he surmised. So his big thing was to get this youngster to point the gun in the right direction, which would be away from him. Damn, did he hate guns.
Alan motioned with his hands for the kid to calm down.
“Right, zombies,” Alan said. “I am not one of them, ok? Hear me? I am talking in a fairly intelligent manner right now even though you are pointing a gun at me. Do you understand?”
The worker looked towards the zombies and back at Alan.
“I think I do need to defend myself.”
“Agreed. But not from me. I’m really not a part of, uh, this. I like eating cows, not people.”
“Have you been bitten?”
“By a zombie?” Alan shook his head. “No.”
They both turned their heads to the zombies. The zombies looked up, flesh falling from their teeth. They saw, yet didn’t really see. It was the first time, Alan thought, that he was looked at as if he was a meal. Unfortunately, it was hardly the last time.
“I think we should run,” Alan said. “Bolt out the door.”
The worker nodded. “Agreed.”
They ran and burst through the doors. Alan ran for his car, looked over his shoulder.
“My ride’s over here,” the worker said, pointing to the opposite lot. “Sorry I pointed the gun at you …”
Alan stood by the driver’s side door, looking at the kid run. He considered shouting an invitation, a suggestion that they stay together. Yet he really didn’t know the exact situation at all. What he saw could be isolated. And there were others he probably should check in on as well. Though that would have to be a few days later after the full moon had passed.
Now Alan was sitting in the car before a traffic light. A couple weeks had passed by since he first entered the fast food joint, now living in an entirely new world again. The traffic light above blinked yellow. Ha, caution. More math popped up in his mind.
??????????#Zombies – Infrastructure – Communication = GO SOMEWHERE ELSE AS FAST AS POSSIBLE.
Yet he lingered. Kept the car at the intersection, looking ahead, looking right. Sitting and wondering where to go in the immediate future, though knowing exactly where he wanted to be in a few days when the full moon arose once again in the sky. He had plenty of provisions packed, enough to keep him going for a while. After they were gone, well, the then after that would be defined when it actually happened. For really, who knew where the zombies would be going and what they were doing? He thought of his old friend Jason. He thought of his ex-girlfriend Leslie. Both lived to the right of this intersection, a few blocks separating them. He tried calling, tried e-mails, but everything collapsed so quickly. Once people in the “right places” were zombified, which stunningly, perhaps, happened very quickly, communication and the digital structure no longer connected people to each other.
The days after the encounter at the fast food encounter filled Alan with terror, even at a safer distance. Once he got back into his apartment, he turned on every device he had: the television, the radio, the internet. Chatter that had begun as bewildered queries had transformed into outright panic, with some suggestions thrown in. Minute by minute, hour by hour, services vanished, disappeared. Before long, the digital world did not serve as any tether whatsoever between him and the world, between anyone and the world. What Alan heard of the outside world was growls and screams, mainly from the street, possibly from the building as well. When the day of the impending full moon arrived Alan sweated profusely as he eyed the creatures lingering on the street outside. No way would he take a chance that he’d make it to his car. He would have to undergo the transformation inside. Lock everything up, hope for the best.
Somehow he found a way out.
Only snippets of memories linger from his time as a werewolf. Mostly, he remembers flashes, quick visions that come and go. Usually the faces of his prey become embedded deep within, as if a conscience wants to do battle with the wolf’s primal instincts. For some reason, he remembers his time as a wolf in the building very well. Once he got past the locked doors, he slowly trudged through the hallway. And while he may be incorrectly recalling the wolf’s reaction, Alan remembered cringing. The wolf stopped in the hall, went down on all fours. He gave a whimpering sound, laid his head down on the carpet. Whatever the werewolf’s scents picked up, it turned the snarling beast into a fearful creature.
Footsteps caught its attention. The wolf sprung up, bared its teeth. It looked up at the ceiling, trying to discern where the steps originated from. The patter seemed to echo throughout the building, up staircases, down hallways. The wolf heard it all. The wolf did not want to move. He turned to a door down the hallway. The knob was jiggling. Rattle, rattle, twist and turn, as if someone was having a problem with the doorknob. Those someones soon opened the door and stepped out into the hall.
That was the first time Alan as the werewolf encountered zombies. They looked in the direction away from the werewolf first. The wolf stepped back. A low growling sound escaped its teeth. The zombies turned to the wolf. They were his neighbors, Martha and Edward, two upper middle class people who usually offered nice pleasantries and were often very welcoming with their invites to their various parties. Now their clothes hung tattered from their frames, much like the flesh which had now turned into a ghastly pallor. Bones could be seen, what remained of muscles. A few seconds passed, a minute. No one moved. These supernatural creatures simply gazed at each other with something bordering incomprehension.
The zombies took a step forward to the werewolf.
The werewolf leapt.
Having its primal self-defense nature kick in, the werewolf did not hold back in the least. Maybe even a little bit of Alan had something to do with its ferocity, the repulsion at seeing his neighbors transformed into something so hideous. Whatever it was the werewolf swiped and clawed and ripped through the zombies’ bodies. The claws tore through flesh, shredded the zombies’ limbs from their bodies before finally tearing their heads clean off.
It was swift and brutal. Once finished, the werewolf raised its head and released the saddest howl one may ever hear. The wolf lingered there a moment, sniffing. Then the wolf slowly walked down the hall. Its eyes glanced left and right. The wolf’s eyes took in the doors. The walls. The wolf’s nose inhaled the fetid stench that arose from many places in the building. The wolf felt something it rarely felt – wary. Claws traipsed over carpet. The concrete stairwell. Listening to the growls. The screams. And a couple times, when the wolf crossed paths with roaming zombies, the wolf lashed out with the claws, tearing the rotting flesh away from the people that walked without life.
Alan sat in the car looking at the blinking traffic light. Life. When he had transformed back into his human self, after somehow finding his way back to his apartment, he knew that term’s concept had changed. He locked himself in for who knows how long before realizing that staying sedentary would do no one good. So he hunted for provisions, gathered up as much as he could, then made a plan to make a trip back to the preserve. And hopefully timing it right for when he would become a werewolf.
But he wanted to make a couple stops first. The question that nagged him relentlessly as he looked at the traffic light was: should he? He had led a bit of solitary life. He had been an only child and his parents both died when he was in college. His personality did not lend to him making friends easily. So he thought that, yes, he probably should see how his old friend Jason is doing. And yes, he should check in on Leslie, even if they had broken up a couple months ago.
Alan turned the steering wheel, driving the car down the street to the right. They only lived a few blocks from each other, thankfully, so the excursion wouldn’t have to be necessarily all that time consuming. He drove past some high end real estate that no longer looked so high, thinking that his clients Don and Mary wouldn’t be so happy about that. If they still had brains left to think about it anyway. Other places weren’t as bad as he thought they might be, many still looking the same as if just closed overnight or something like that. He parked his car by Jason’s building with a little hope.
The silence in his building really jangled his nerves. The door was open so he didn’t have to ring a buzzer. And since he thought using the elevator might be a bad idea, he climbed the stairs to the fourth floor where Jason lived.
He walked down the hall quite deliberately. The blood on the walls told him to run. But he persisted forward … in case. In case he might be needed. In case Jason was indeed still Jason. Jason’s door was open. Alan knocked, listened. The floor was quiet. Alan knocked again and when no one responded Alan moved slowly inside.
“Hey Jason!” Alan said. “You here?”
Alan cringed at the sound of his own voice. It practically made him think he was bleeding in shark-infested waters. Which, in a way, he was.
Alan stepped forward, looked around. Unless Jason was asleep or unconscious … or dead … or walking dead … he was not in his apartment. He moved with half his mind on Jason, the rest on the possibilities of zombies. Due to their busy schedules, it had been a while since he had walked in this apartment. But his eyes glanced over the familiar cds, the posters (damn, did he love Westerns), the books, the films, the color scheme, the laptop — he walked to the kitchen, his eye dancing, taking in the cabinets, all doors shut, the frying pan on the burner — opened the fridge, viewed the beer bottles, the containers holding food, the juices, many organic, guess he got into environmental causes, huh, always had a nature streak, he guessed …
CD COLLECTION + FURNISHINGS + CLOTHES % VIOLENT SCENARIO = NOSTALGIA
Everything seemed neat. Nothing smelled. He inhaled deeply, tried to find a trace of Jason’s presence. Nothing registered, no sweat, no colognes, aftershave or hairspray. Maybe Jason went on a trip before the zombies arose. That would have been nice. Having a chance to reunite at some point would be some cause for optimism.
Alan felt his pulse racing a bit. A bead of sweat trickled down his brow. He picked up the pace and instead of leisurely walking through Jason’s various rooms, he moved briskly around, bouncing from the bedroom to bathroom and back again to the living room. Now was not the time to linger. He felt strongly about that. And since Jason did not seem anywhere on the premises it was time to move on.
Alan moved to the door, looked around. For some reason he felt he was missing something, but that probably had more to do with the fact that he felt unsatisfied with the lack of answers to where Jason was and what he might be doing. Alan sighed, opened the door and shut it behind him.
LOCKING THE DOOR + EMPTY APARTMENT – COMMUNICATION OPPORTUNITIES % ZOMBIES = CHANGE OF LIFE
Life had changed drastically. What the future held would be decided elsewhere.
But there was one more stop he wanted to make. And he hoped that this had a different result. He walked out the apartment building, and almost instantly he wanted to keel over. A rancid scent assaulted his senses and it took all his willpower just to stay upright. Alan, tottering a bit, looked around. A few seconds passed by as he thought about different possibilities, but really only one thing came to mind: zombies were nearby. He looked down the block at his car. Then he looked over his shoulder. Zombies. A few of them were shambling his way.
Alan bolted for his car. Just as he was thinking he was glad the zombies were at least coming from the opposite direction, he was grabbed and tackled. Somehow a zombie had been hiding between cars and jumped out at him. Alan looked up at that hideous decaying face and pushed with his arms, using all the might he could be muster. He was surprised to see the zombie flew off him and landed on top of a car a few feet away. Alan scrambled to his feet, looked behind at the approaching zombies, and once again bolted.
When he reached his car, he went into the trunk and grabbed a baseball bat. Then he jumped in and drove off as fast as possible. Thankfully Leslie’s place wasn’t far away, and he got there fairly quickly.
He brought the bat out with him and approached Leslie’s building. Please be home, Alan thought. Though they hadn’t necessarily parted in good terms, he did love Leslie. Maybe they didn’t have enough to be compatible for a true long-term relationship, but they were good together.
Alan stood in front of the buzzer. He held the bat tightly, and pressed the buzzer with his free hand. Alan shuffled his feet, looked across the street. No one lingered, not much could be heard. Wherever did everyone go? He really wanted to know where.
Alan pressed down on the buzzer once again. And he smiled when he heard a voice arise from the intercom.
“Who is it?” Leslie asked.
Alan paused a moment, closed his eyes.
He waited a second. Then another.
He paused another second.
Alan nodded, opened his eyes a bit. Leslie! Oh, thank …
“Oh great, a zombie!”
Alan leaned his head against the speaker. Well, he knew the situation hadn’t ended on the best note, yet, well, at least she answered.
“Are you going to let me in?”
The buzzer boomed loudly, almost resonating like a bomb. Alan looked around sharply, put his hand on the door. He heard the words he had been yearning to hear.
“Come on up.”
Alan raced up to the third floor. And it was there he paid attention, listening intently, letting the aromas waft through his nostrils. Alas, not much resembled the finest in the world, nothing like a simmering meal, more like a stench of piss and – and bad things – but at the same time, no danger seemed imminent.
He walked quickly to her door. Each moment felt like it would last eternally. His fist gently knocked on her door once, twice, three times. A moment later her voice soared through the wooden barrier.
“That you Alan? You’re not really a zombie now are you?”
“It’s me. I don’t think I’m a zombie, no”
“Step back from the door so I can look at you.”
Alan stepped back. He looked down both ends of the hall. A click sounded in front of him. Thankfully the locks were being turned, and the door opened. Leslie appeared and waved furiously for Alan to hurry on inside.
“Don’t loiter! Come on in!”
Alan rushed in, and closed the door behind him. After he was done locking the doors, he heard another click. He turned and looked at Leslie pointing a gun straight at him.
“Why do you have a gun?” Alan said. “When did you even get a gun? I hate guns.”
“You would since you have one pointed right at you.”
Alan sighed, turned his head slightly to the wall.
“Fair point. But I’m not a zombie. I’m not here for any dark reason or anything.”
“Why are you here?”
Alan spread his arms out. “I missed you. I wanted to see if you were okay, if you were still around.”
He paused, tried to expound on what he felt.
“The world out there seems so empty now. I was going to run, well, I am going to get out, but I wanted to check in on you and Jason.”
Leslie nodded, lowered the gun. “How is Jason?”
“I don’t know. He wasn’t in his apartment.” Alan pointed at the gun. “Seriously, when did you get a gun? You never –“
“Huh! How are you going to defend yourself from zombies?”
Alan raised the baseball bat. “This. If I start using a gun, then they would really win.”
Leslie looked up at the ceiling.
“They’re not terrorists Alan! They’re zombies! ZOMBIES!”
Alan nodded. Leslie sighed. They stared at each other, then embraced. Differences aside, it was comforting for both to hold each other. To be in each other’s lives again. Seconds passed. Minutes. Days. The physical embrace returned at times, becoming sexual again. Their words also served as tethers, cords that tied one’s hearts for a while. Little snippets could provide a jumping off point for a memory.
“Remember when …”
“That’s where …”
“How is …”
“Oh, we watched …”
“We heard …”
Only a few words, a phrase, yet they barreled forth a tumult of memories and feelings. Places seemed to spring up around them, if only in their mind. Time was spent in their favorite cafes, all their cherished locations. Small quirks became charming reminders. Like how one coffee shop always put a board out in front with a quote of the day. Their minds became embedded with some other visuals, a message written in concrete, a glass window featuring charming signs. The way the sunset sometimes immersed certain areas with a radiant glow.
But yes, time passed. With that passage also comes a new era. When discussing Alan’s possible escape, that’s when their roads diverged once more. Though she didn’t own a car, and was anxious to leave, she simply rejected Alan’s attempt to get her to go the woods with him. No matter how bad it was, that was the last thing to do, especially given his newfound feral nature.
ALAN BEING A WEREWOLF + LESLIE’S UNCERTAINTY OF BEING IN WOODS = REJECTION OF ALAN’S PLAN A.
REJECTION OF PLAN A – NO CURRENT VIABLE PLAN B = SEPARATION
There was no way around it. Alan just had to accept that as much as it would have been nice to be together again, even the end of the world couldn’t reasonably bring them back together. They just were on different paths. Alan knew he had to get on that path very quickly. He said his goodbye to Leslie. They kissed softly, then hugged. She looked up at him, apologized for calling him a zombie. He apologized for, well, being emotionally distant at times when they were together. Seconds passed. A minute. Time going by. Time gone by. Then he was gone. He closed the door behind him, heard it click shut. Tears trickled down his face. He raced to the car, turned the ignition as fast as he could. The car jolted forward. No going back. Leslie stated her intentions clearly and firmly. You know what? He thought she was right. Roaming in the woods with a man who turns into a werewolf did not make a dangerous situation all that safer. Sure, she could hide during the time he was a wolf, but it just didn’t make a lot of sense. She was much better off finding a way here and then hope to reconnect with Alan in the future.
Alan slammed on the brakes. Was that —? No, he thought, it couldn’t be, but, yes, two of his clients, Don and Mary were waving their hands on the side of the road. He opened his driver’s side window and they scampered over.
“Oh my goodness, Alan!” Mary said. “Unbelievable! We really need help …”
Alan jerked his thumb to the backseat.
“Get in the back,” he said.
They did. They looked red, their clothes a little haggard, Don’s polo shirt slightly torn, Mary’s jumpsuit a little shredded as well. Their disheveled hair also added to their discombobulated appearance. Leslie – he sighed internally – looked much the same as she did when they were going out, petite but healthy frame, same crooked smile and nice short black hair. She mentioned he had lost weight, didn’t sport as much a belly, and he thought that might have been one more side effect from the bite.
He couldn’t help but think about her as Don and Mary discussed their zombie attacks, how they tried to scrounge for supplies. With each block they passed, Alan became amazed at how much they did own. So much territory were held their hands. They remarked upon some destroyed buildings, glass strewn onto the pavement while fires incinerated whatever was inside. Alan just kept driving, told them he was going to the park. They said anywhere would be good. That’s the thing he thought, anywhere was good until it became nowhere.
Soon. Soon he would become a werewolf. The sun was setting. He looked in the rearview mirror, and cringed. Both Don and Mary featured bite marks. He didn’t comment on it, really had no idea what that might mean. But he had a pretty good guess.
“I’m going for a run when I get to the woods,” he said. “Scout for some … safe spots. I would hide if I were you, and then I’ll come find you in a day or two.”
“A day or two?” Don asked.
Alan said yes. They didn’t like it, but seemed ok to them as long as they were away from the city.
It didn’t take long after Alan parked in the lot. Don and Mary complained of headaches, then of muscle stiffness. Alan ran ahead, said he’d be back. He did come back, but only after the full moon had appeared. The memories come in flashes. How he looked down from a tree branch and spotted their zombie-like forms. How they came across a delirious young man and sunk their teeth into his flesh. How he kept his distance, looking, until getting closer … and closer … and then pouncing, tearing away at their vestiges of humanity, shredding the flesh and muscle that had become infected. Standing over their bodies that no longer were in one piece. Then waking up in the morning light with blood all over him.
ZOMBIE CLIENTS + WEREWOLF HUNGER%CURRENCY MATTERS, UNCERTAINTY+ END OF CAREER=?
Yes, his life no longer resembled his life. Alan stood up, gazed at the blood on his body. He listened to the flowing water in the distance. At that moment, he stood alone and felt alone. All the numbers he had worked with over his career almost seemed irrelevant now. All he really wanted to know now was the numbers that mattered, meaning the number of regular humans left in the world. Hopefully there were a few, and that those numbers would give him some comfort.
Even though he knew he couldn’t count himself among them.
But the sun still shined.
The moon and stars still existed in space.
Wildlife still grew and roamed.
All it takes is a step forward … and then another step … and then another step …
And before he knew it, he was back in the water washing off the blood.
A former writer and editor for several sports publications, Patrick McEvoy has had stories included in various comic book anthologies such as Emanata, Continental Cryptid, Uncanny Adventures, Indie Comics Quarterly, and GuruKitty’s Once Upon a Time and Gateway to Beyond. Illustrated stories have also appeared on Slippery Elm’s website, Murder Park After Dark Vol. 3 and in New Plains Review. A short story has also appeared on Akashic Books’ website. In addition, short plays he wrote were chosen to be performed at the Players Theatre in New York as part of their various festivals (Sex, NYC and BOO) in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019. And he wrote and directed short plays for Emerging Artists Theatre’s New Works series in 2021 and 2022. A play anthology called What May Arise was also streamed June 30-July 6th 2022 as part of the Rogue Theater Festival. He also wrote and directed Directions, which appeared in the 2022 Dream Up Festival. Photography has also been exhibited with the Greenpoint Gallery, Tiny Seed Literary Journal, Molecule, riverSedge and Good Works Review.