The end of the world does nothing to affect the passage of time.
An individual’s perception of time, however, is greatly affected. Days where the sunlight provides some semblance of safety feel shorter and nights, where threats hide just beyond the glow of a dying flashlight, seem longer. The silence of an empty city makes your ears ring and the deserted buildings loom high over you, and seconds pass like hours as you hide in the shadows, praying that the shuffle you heard is only the sound of a paper bag caught in the wind.
Leonard McCoy knew that time would do it’s thing the same way as always, no matter the current state of humanity. The sun was going to rise and set at it’s usual pace, and Fall was going to sweep over Georgia as the blistering Summer heat subsided. August may have felt as if it had passed in the span of a week as society began to crumble, but it hadn’t. It had been 31 days long, as always, and McCoy had somehow gotten through it. He’d made it out alive.
And today, the first morning of September, was going to pass as it always had, like any other Fall morning.
Didn’t stop it from feeling like one of the longest damn mornings of McCoy’s life, though.
It was six days after he'd left with two others on a supply run to Johnstown, four days longer than they were supposed to have taken.
Now, on the sixth day, he was alone. He’d been waiting on the first floor of an abandoned First Capital Bank for what felt like hours. Both the silence and darkness around him was somehow deafening and heavy all at once, and he wanted nothing more than to clamber out the broken window across the room to breathe the fresh air of early morning and escape the confines of an empty, silent building.
It didn’t help that every time he clicked on his penlight and ran the beam of light over the tiled floor, the empty teller stations and overturned chairs, he was reminded that he’d been at this very bank months ago. It had been crowded then. The windows hadn’t been broken, the doors hadn’t been barricaded with the manager's heavy mahogany desk. The lights had been bright and McCoy had bumped shoulders with strangers--living strangers-- as he got in line to deposit a check. At the time he’d only worried about what he was going to buy for dinner for himself and his daughter, since he’d be getting home late and wouldn’t have time to cook a homemade meal.
It had never crossed his mind that he’d actually miss bumping shoulders with living strangers or that he’d have to clarify that the strangers were living at all.
The memory of the crowd’s chatter and the sound of traffic outside made the current silence all the more deafening. With a sigh, McCoy rubbed his brow and clicked his penlight off. He sat back against the teller’s booth he’d taken refuge behind and after a moment of staring at the ransacked cabinet across from him, counting his heartbeat and trying to keep his breathing as steady as possible, he reached out to the duffle bag at his side and clutched the strap.
Instantly, a sliver of stress and anxiety was shaved off. He relaxed just a bit. It was too dangerous to relax completely, and he couldn’t even if he wanted to, but this little comfort was at least enough to keep him from becoming a shaking mess.
The duffle bag full of supplies had become a sort of anchor for McCoy. Because despite everything that had gone wrong in the past week, this at least had gone right.
He patted the bag once then clicked his penlight on and shined the light on his wristwatch.
The time was 7:10 in the morning.
50 minutes, McCoy thought, watching the second hand ticking away. 50 minutes gone. Where are they?
50 minutes he’d been waiting for Ellis and Davis. 50 minutes after being told “wait here, doc,” before the two young men snuck out of one of the windows to scour the grocery store two blocks down for more supplies. 50 minutes of silence, of sitting alone on the floor, of feeling his heart pounding in his chest.
50 minutes of praying to whatever deity was still listening to keep the Infected wandering the streets instead of wandering across his hiding place.
50 minutes gone, and it felt like 50 years.
McCoy was still staring at his watch, briefly contemplating moving to the other teller’s booth just to pass the time, when he heard a shuffling noise.
His breath caught in his throat. The noise had come from the lobby, where McCoy’s view was blocked by the very teller’s booth that was keeping him hidden. He stuffed the penlight into his shirt pocket without shutting it off, because even the click of the button was too loud in the silence, and pressed himself back against the booth. He held his breath and listened.
He waited for what felt like an hour before letting himself breathe again. No other sound had reached his ears. Carefully, slowly, he went to his hands and knees and lowered his head until his cheek pressed against the cold tile. Through the narrow space between the booth’s edge and the floor, he could see the empty lobby. He squinted and saw the dark shape of the desk against the front doors, smaller shapes of overturned chairs, a short coffee table, a plastic plant laying on it’s side under a broken window.
There was no lumbering silhouette of a stranger, no shuffling feet moving across the floor.
McCoy sat back up and let his shoulders sag. With a huff, he removed his penlight and checked his watch again.
It was 7:12.
Well, he thought. There you go, another example of your surroundings affecting your perception of time. Those two minutes felt like a goddamn hour.
He sat back up and grabbed the duffle bag. It was going to be sunrise soon. If he hid behind the last teller’s booth, he’d have a decent view of the nearby window. Sunlight would shine through and he’d be able to keep a better eye out for anybody--friend or Infected--passing by.
He wrapped the bag’s strap around his hand and stood, hefting the heavy bag into his arms, and rolled his stiff shoulders.
Something shuffled behind him. His heart stopped. He whipped around, and before he could run, a body emerged from the darkness and slammed into him.
He choked on a curse and held the duffle bag up like a shield, shoving against the body that was pushing him towards the wall, until two hands grabbed his shoulders and shook him.
“Doc, it’s me!” A voice hissed.
McCoy froze. Breathing hard, he squinted and through the darkness saw two wide eyes in a young face staring back at him.
“Ellis?” He gasped, and when he heard a breathless “Yeah, doc,” in response, he relaxed back against the wall. He could breathe again. He ignored his racing heart and hissed back, “The hell have you been? Y’all disappeared almost an hour ago, I was beginning to think--”
“Shh!” Ellis slapped a hand over McCoy’s mouth. “Get down, the floor--”
Together they crouched on the floor. Ellis removed his trembling hand from McCoy’s face and fell back against the wall, still gasping as if he couldn’t get enough air into his lungs. Heart racing ever faster, McCoy set the duffle bag between them, and immediately aimed his penlight at Ellis’s face.
Ellis was unnaturally pale, sweat slick on his brow. Rather than meet McCoy’s gaze, he stared ahead with wide eyes.
Flecks of blood dotted his cheeks and neck.
McCoy pressed two fingers to Ellis’s neck and found his pulse. He noted the cold sweat, the slight tremor, the rapid heart rate. Slowly, he removed his hand and said, “Ellis. Were you--”
“No,” Ellis breathed. He wiped a hand down his face and said in a shaky voice, “I just--Hugh, he, he was--”
“Where is he?” McCoy asked. He somehow knew the answer but didn’t want to believe it. Hugh Davis, the young man who had volunteered for the supply run with such gusto, should have appeared alongside Ellis. But there were no accompanying footsteps in the lobby, no breathless apology for falling behind.
Ellis swallowed and gripped McCoy’s wrist. “It wasn’t my fault, doc. He went into this room. I told him not to, he didn’t listen--”
At that moment, someone screamed.
McCoy jumped to his feet. The scream was faint, far off, somewhere deeper in the city. Without another thought, McCoy hefted the duffle bag over his shoulder. Someone screamed again, a desperate and horrible sound, and McCoy looked to Ellis impatiently.
Still sitting against the wall, Ellis had a fist pressed against his brow, and didn’t meet McCoy’s eyes.
“Let’s go!” McCoy snapped, gesturing to the broken window. Ellis would have to lead the way.
But instead of moving ahead, Ellis grabbed McCoy’s hand and pulled him back to the floor.
“Ellis, what the hell!” McCoy cried out, falling to his knees. “What’s the matter with you? That’s Davis!”
“It’s too late,” Ellis gasped. “Too late.”
“No,” McCoy said, “He’s still out there. Where did you leave him?”
“It’s too late,” Ellis moaned as another pleading scream sounded. “There’s too many of them. They had him. And they followed me. There’s too many, doc.”
Looking entirely defeated, he released McCoy’s hand. McCoy stood again, but at that moment, the scream was silenced.
Instead, McCoy heard noises as if a crowd was moving slowly down the street. Shuffling, moaning, moving towards the First Capital Bank.
Feeling suddenly dizzy with grief and frustration, McCoy went once again to his hands and knees. He looked through the space between the booth’s edge and the floor. Soft beams of light shone in above the mahogany desk that leaned against the entrance’s glass doors.
The beams were interrupted by slow shapes moving along the sidewalk.
“God forgive me,” Ellis said in a thick voice behind him. “I didn’t mean to leave him, I swear.”
McCoy didn’t answer. Davis was gone. Infected were at the door. McCoy was hiding behind a goddamn teller’s booth with a penlight, a duffle bag heavy with supplies, and a man more terrified than he was.
This really was shaping up to be the longest damn morning of his life.