The world had gone to shit about two and a half years ago.
Jeremy had been alone for that time. He had some things from his old friends: Rich’s busted cell phone, a bag of Brooke’s hairpins (good for lock picking), Evan’s favorite book about trees, and his most precious item: one of Michael’s sweaters. But other than those, he had nothing from them. He didn’t even know where they were. Well, he did have an old pair of his headphones and someone’s abandoned iPod and charger, but he had no clue whose it was. He just knew they really liked Taylor Swift. He had the entire 1989 album memorized thanks to it.
He guessed that Jake and Rich would have stuck together, same with Connor and Evan. Zoe probably went on her own and god knows Jared was probably living in a lush store. The rest of the girls probably stuck together as well, so they wouldn’t be hard to track down. It would be Zoe who would be hard to find. Both of the Murphys actually. So that also included Evan. Connor would not let Evan get hurt.
Michael…Michael could be with anyone.
And there was always the chance the Jeremy was wrong about who was with who.
They all probably went towards New York. Jeremy had gone towards Philadelphia, not even considering his friends. He just felt the need to get out of New Jersey. It sucked not to have his friends there to help him, considering that everyone was grouping up with other people to claim territory. Luckily, not many of those groups came near the suburbs, so Jeremy just hopped houses. He raided each for food, electricity, and running water. He left it basically unusable for anyone else.
He was in the eighth house he raided. A nice and cozy one-story house. It kinda reminded him of his house back in New Jersey. Maybe that's why he liked it so much.
He tried for the eighth time that year to restart Rich’s phone using hair clips and a generator. Rich had a Samsung, so he couldn’t use the iPod’s charger. Damn Apple and their unique cords. It didn’t help that the phone was so beaten up that the back was starting to come off. Jeremy is pretty sure the phone was like that before the apocalypse. How Rich made the thing function was a secret only Rich knew.
He tried to move the pins a bit. But from the looks of it, it didn’t help. It made a few small noises, but the screen remained black. Jeremy huffed and unplugged the generator. It had been running on fumes anyway. Stupid thing.
He gathered up everything he could from the house. He had called it home for about 3 months. But now that the electricity was almost gone, there was no reason to continue hanging out. He stole some clothes from the dressers around the house and took what was left of the food, which was mostly cans of soup and crackers and other canned goods. He stole some travel mugs from one of the drawers and filled up all of them with water. He gathered the food in one crate, water in another, and shoved the clothes in his backpack. The same backpack he used at school. It even still said ‘boyf’ on it. Right before he decided he had everything, he ran to the bathroom and grabbed a bar of deodorant.
He stacked the crates on top of one another and threw his backpack over his shoulder. He carefully maneuvered over to the door and grabbed his crowbar, which he also stole, that was leaning against the wall next to the door.
Walking up the beat-up Mazda that he stole from one of the Murphys neighbors, he opened the backdoor awkwardly and put the food and water crates down. He made sure to buckle them into the seat. He couldn’t risk losing food or water to the void beneath the seat.
Moving to the front, he got into the driver’s side and put his backpack and crowbar in the passenger seat. He plugged in the iPod. As he started the car, a wash of cold air washed over him. A contrast to the spring weather outside.
He started driving out of the neighborhood. Jeremy had only gotten his learners permit, but he knew the fundamentals of driving. Taylor Swift kept singing through the radio. He knew could easily switch it to one of the many radio stations that had been taken over by people who were trying to get society back on track. But when Jeremy went to one of their so-called ‘safe camps’, all that it was was disease-ridden, hunger-laden camps. He left nearly as soon as he got there.
He kept his attention on the road and on the road signs as he left the suburbs. He had to make sure he was heading towards New York and not Connecticut. He had heard from people early in the apocalypse that Connecticut and Rhode Island had basically become hell holes.
He really wished someone was here. Michael preferably, but at this point, he’d be fine with Jared. He’d happily listen to Connor talk about his favorite books or to gossip that Jenna overheard. Anything was better than this person-less silence and Taylor Swift.
He really missed Michael. It sucked that all Jeremy had of his best friend was his ‘CREEPS’ sweater. That stupid sweater had so many terrible memories attached to it. But it was all he had. At least he had something. But god he wanted more. He wanted Michael. He wanted to hug him and cry into his shoulder. He wanted to fight right by his side. He wanted so many fucking things that it was making his head hurt.
He broke out of his thoughts when his eyes darted to the dashboard and saw the dreaded ‘low fuel’ light on. He clicked his tongue and sloppily pulled his car over to the side of the road. He got out and went to the trunk. Inside he had three gas containers. And to his misfortune, they were all empty. Sighing, he slammed the trunk and got back inside the car. He would have to go to a gas station. And with gas being limited- almost all the gas stations had become group territories. He’d have to fight them off to get gas.
Speeding down the interstate, he managed to catch a sign that pointed out the next gas station. A small little no-name town. Perfect target for groups. It had hotels and fast food joints and nearly three gas stations. Jeremy hated dealing with groups. A lot were very protective of their hard-won territory.
Turning off the interstate, he immediately saw signs of this being marked territory. Shitty cardboard signs and graffiti were littered everywhere. Cars were parked haphazardly in the street, and garbage cans didn’t seem to exist. It was disgusting.
Jeremy slowly drove into the closest gas station. Thankfully, it was devoid of any group members. That probably wouldn’t last long. He got out and turned his car off. He went through the whole startup thing, using one of the many credit cards he stole from houses to ‘pay’. He had gotten the car tank and two of the jugs filled when he heard the sound of oncoming people. He capped the last gasoline jug, which was nearly full and stashed it in his trunk.
As he slammed the trunk, a group of rough-looking women and men appeared in front of his car.
“Look what we have here, a scrawny trespasser.”
“I could use him as a toothpick.”
“He looks like a girl.”
“This will be fun.”
The tough but short looking girl at the front cleared her throat. As everyone went quiet, Jeremy tightened his grip on the crowbar. “Look, I mean no harm. I’m going to leave, like, right now.”
The girl chuckled and tapped her chin, “I don’t care. You’re trespassing. Didn’t you see the signs?”
“Most of them were water damaged.”
“Who cares? What’s important here is that you trespassed and stole our gas. And we’d kinda like our gas back. So hand it over, and we’ll let you go with only a black eye or two.”
They couldn’t see the crowbar. They didn’t know he had a weapon on him. Jeremy smiled, and in the sweetest voice he could muster, said: “No.”
She clucked her tongue, “you’re going to be difficult, eh?” She simply pointed forward towards Jeremy and her little band started to circle around the car. Jeremy let his face soften and grabbed his crowbar with two hands. He slowed his breathing and parted his feet wider.
With a whistle from the girl, they charged at him. Some even dared to climb over the car. They probably scratched the black paint with the studs on their boots. Good thing Jeremy was not planning on selling the car anytime soon.
Jeremy swung the crowbar like a bat as they neared. The bent part hit a guy right in the side of the neck. The guy stumbled backward from the impact. He raised a hand to his neck and winced as he touched the cut the crowbar had left. Jeremy took the opportunity to raise the crowbar above his head. He brought it down right at the back of the dudes head. He swayed helplessly before landing straight on his face.
Someone grabbed the back of his jacket and pulled him back. Jeremy slammed the crowbar back into the attacker’s stomach. They didn’t back off. Instead, they grabbed Jeremy’s arm pulled it down towards the ground. The attacker slammed their elbow down on the back of Jeremy’s neck. He managed to not fall on his face by stopping himself with his hands.
Jeremy rolled onto his back and hooked his attacker’s leg with the crowbar and pulled back harshly, hitting another guy in the shin. The attacker fell straight on their back. The other guy tumbled back with his hand on his shin.
He pushed himself off the ground. As soon as he got his balance, someone else shouldered him. At least he still managed to stay upright.
Turning on his heal, he came face to face with a very tall, burly guy. The guy grabbed the collar of Jeremy’s jacket and lifted him up off the ground. Jeremy struggled to get out of the guy's grip but to no avail. The guy was basically just a lead weight. So instead, Jeremy just lifted his feet and put them squarely on the guy's collarbones. The guy gave Jeremy a confused expression, just before Jeremy’s crowbar hit him square in the face. He swayed, his grip on Jeremy weakened. Jeremy pryed his fingers off of his collar and landed on the ground.
Moving around the guy, he got to the driver’s side. He made sure to lock the door as he got in. The car roared to life, and Jeremy immediately slammed on the gas. The ‘ringleader’ of the group barely made it out of the way of the car. Jeremy could hear her protests and threats over Taylor Swift.
Moving back onto the interstate, Jeremy let himself marvel in his own victory. They didn’t stand a chance. He had a heavy steel crowbar. He might have accidentally killed the first guy, but that didn’t matter now. No one could punish him now that there was no legal system.
Well, Evan would yell at him if he ever found out. And an Angry Evan™ is a scary Evan. Even Jake was scared of Angry Evan™. But Jeremy would have to find Evan first.
Jeremy noticed something in the distance. A deer maybe? No, it was human-shaped? Another group? Fucking great. Just what he needed. Jeremy slammed on the brakes. It was just a small group of three people. One guy and two girls. They stood menacingly at the hood of his car. The only guy had a baseball bat, one of the girls had a lead pipe, and the other girl had a curling iron. He went to grab his crowbar, but then he realized. He knew these three.
He turned off the car and stepped out.
“Jeremy?” Jake said, removing the baseball bat from his shoulder.
“Jeremy!” Brooke yelped.
“You’ve looked better,” Chloe said.