It had been 212 days since Stan’s normal routine. The sounds of his alarm clock waking him up for school, putting on his school uniform and getting ready to greet the day, a soft smile on his face. But now, Stan didn’t sleep. It wasn’t safe. No telling who or what could pray on him while he slept.
Stan couldn’t remember how it began, just that it did. He was on the subway when he saw his first infected. It was a young man, no older than thirty. His bright green polo was stained with blood and half the man’s jaw was missing. His eyes were white and his skin was dull and grey. His fingers were bony and his nails were gone.
The other passengers on the subway screamed and ran but Stan stood there, paralyzed. The infected started to stagger over to Stan, groaning. Stan couldn’t move. He felt a hand grab his wrist and pull him off the subway. He came face to face with Mike Hanlon, his childhood best friend. The two attended the same college, yet only Stan lived off campus.
Mike was yelling something at him but his ears were ringing and he couldn’t quite understand.
“Go! Run, Stan! They’re coming!”
Stan snapped out of his thoughts. Now wasn’t the time. He had to go on a supply run. There was an abandoned Costco down the road. He had done some recon a few days ago to make sure it wasn’t overrun, and while there weren’t many supplies, left it was safe. He grabbed his gear, slinging the crossbow he had stolen from a Bass Pro Shops over his shoulder.
He lived in a new world. A world full of ruin and despair. It was a lonely world and Stan had never felt more hopeless. Maybe he was the last one left.
He walked down the now deserted road, kicking small stones on the path to keep himself entertained. The internet services had gone out two months ago. The government shut down a month before that. There were no police. There were no laws. Only the dead, the living, and the infected.
Stan wasn’t entirely sure of what they were infected with, if anything. They were shells of people. Back but not quite. Humans without humanity.
The Costco towered over Stan, a large relic of what life used to be. He had memories of going to Costcos just like this one, when the world was happy and simple. The sliding doors were closed but the glass had been shattered, providing Stan with an entrance.
He stepped through the glass and surveyed the ruins of Costco. Boxes were overturned and the shelves were practically empty. The rotting meat from the butcher’s counter in the back had started to smell, making the entire store reek. He began throwing boxes of crackers and cans of beans into his bag, desperate to get out fast.
As he was packing, a sound echoed out. It sounded like a bang followed by a muffled voice. Stan stopped what he was doing and looked up, fear mounting in his body. There was someone else here, or maybe something. Stan heard footsteps approaching where he was. He ducked down and peaked his head over the shelf.
Stan saw a figure. They were tall and skinny with a long black overcoat covering most of their body to combat the New England cold. They wore a black bandana over their mouth and nose, concealing their face.
The figure walked to the center of the room and sat down, taking off a backpack and putting it on the floor. They were holding a can of soup which they cut open using a knife.
Stan shifted his foot and knocked a can over, alerting this figure to his position. The figure stood up and looked around. Stan could feel the fear building in his chest, making it hard for him to breathe. His hands shook as he unsheathed a knife from his boot.
“Are you infected?” The figure called out, a thick accent slurring his words.
“Huh? No.” Stan replied, wary.
“How many with you?”
“Are you a killer?”
“Have you killed?”
“No-no. Never. I’m just nineteen!”
“You can come on out. I won’t hurt you. Promise.”
Stan, placing a strange amount of trust into this stranger, got up, gathered his gear, and walked over.
The figure pulled down his bandana revealing the rest of his face. His mouth was drawn into a thin line as his eyes wandered up and down Stan’s body, sizing him up.
“Stanley.” Stan stuck his hand out to the stranger.
“Boris.” Boris returned Stan’s handshake.
“Where are you from? Your accent doesn’t sound like you're from around here.”
“Vegas. Ukraine originally.”
“Want some soup? It’s cold but it's not too bad. I think it’s italian wedding.” Boris smiled and gestured down to the soup can on the floor.
Stan’s brain was telling him to run. He didn’t know Boris and it was the end times. No one can be trusted. But Stan was hungry. And Boris seemed nice.
Stan sat down next to Boris and the two of them traded off drinking.
“So, what’s your story?” Boris asked, breaking the silence.
“I was a college student in Boston. Studying ornithology. One day I got on the subway and I saw one of those infected and it started to walk over to me and I didn’t know what to do. I felt someone pull my wrist and then I saw my best friend, Mike. He told me to run. It was too late. They were pouring in all the entrances. Mike, he tried to put up a fight but there were too many. He needed me. And I just stood there like a fucking dumbass. He died because of me.”
Stan noticed then that he was crying. He breathed in, trying to compose himself. He wiped his tears with the back of his sleeve.
“God, sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I haven’t thought about Mikey in a while.”
“How’d you get out?”
“I just hid. The infected went away and I was left alone. I haven’t seen anyone since. I got out of the city and now I’m here. I..I never got to look at Mike’s body. It was there but I couldn’t look. It was my fault.”
“I’m sorry. That must have been hard.”
“What about you?” Stan asked, quick to change the subject.
“I was in Vegas when I heard the news. I figured it would be my best bet to head East. I caught a ride with some guys in Texas talking about a cure for this. But that was two months ago and these things are still around. What’d you call ‘em? The infected.”
“I don’t think they’re infected though. I just don’t know what the hell they are.”
“The guys called ‘em walkers. I heard some others called them the dead. But I like yours. Infected makes it sound like at least some part of them is left.”
“Sky’s getting dark. Why don’t you stay the night?” Boris invited.
“I don’t know…”
“You said you had no one. Well neither do I so, maybe we could have each other?”
Stan relaxed slightly. Boris meant no harm. He was just lonely, something Stan could relate to.
“Alright. Guess we’re partners now.”
“You know, like partners in crime?”
Boris laughed softly. “Partners in crime.”
Stan and Boris had lived in that Costco for fourteen days, but only if you measure in those terms. For Stan, it had felt so much longer. He felt he had known Boris since before the turn of the world.
“What’s your favorite holiday?”
“Easy.” Stan replied. “Halloween. You?”
“Thanksgiving. So much food.”
He and Boris had a nice set up going. They had a tent set up in the middle of the store and camping chairs arranged in a circle, as if anyone else would be joining them. They had stolen sleeping bags and lanterns from the camping store down the street. But Stan was worried. The rotting meat in the back of the store had started to smell considerably more and it might attract some infected.
“Calm down, we will be fine, no? Nothing but, how do you say it, smooth sailing.” Boris insisted.
“We should get a move on soon.”
“But where will we go?”
“Maybe Europe. If we can find a dock somewhere maybe we can steal a boat and see what’s going on over there. You said there wasn’t much out West so let’s just go further East.”
“Or Canada. Could have more supplies. Perhaps you and I could get a nice cabin the woods somewhere. Leave this bullshit behind.”
Stan had to confess, this rotting meat smell wasn’t the only thing he was running from. In the fourteen days he had gotten to know Boris, Stan had grown to love him. His heart started to race when Boris said his name and his stomach would do somersaults at the pure thought of him.
“A nice cabin, yeah.” Stan nodded, trying not to be awkward. “Didn’t think there could be such a thing as nice anymore.”
Boris stood up and walked towards the exit.
“Where are you going?” Stan asked.
“Gotta take a leak. Be back in a minute.”
Stan watched Boris walk out the door. It had barely slammed shut before Boris ran back in.
“Stan! Stan, we must go! Quickly!” Boris yelled.
“What’s going on?!” Stan looked to Boris, panic coursing through him.
“There’s a horde. Quick, grab our stuff.”
“What’s a horde? Boris, please what’s going on.”
Boris put his hands on Stan’s shoulders and brought their faces close. In a hushed tone he whispered: “You can do one of two things; just shut up, which is something I don’t find easy, or learn an awful lot very fast which is what I tried to do.”
Stan shut his mouth and nodded.
“The guys I rode over here with, they told me that sometimes the infected move together. That’s called a horde. There’s a whole large group of them in the parking lot. I’d have to say over a thousand of ‘em. We can sneak out the front and walk through the woods but we have to be fast. And then we can go up to Canada and find ourselves a nice little cabin, I promise.”
Stan started to pack up his things as hastily as he could. He followed Boris out the front door and was shocked by what he saw.
Every square inch of that parking lot was covered by infected. Stan could barely see the end of them. Blood from various infected had stained the concrete, twisting Stan’s stomach into knots.
“I can’t. I can’t do it.”
Stan ran away from Boris to a less populated area. There was a crashed car with the doors open, which he rushed inside of. He slammed the door behind him and felt his entire body shake. He couldn’t stop thinking about Mike. But it wasn’t Mike this time. It was Boris, lying dead across the cement, infected feeding on his ribs.
“You did this, Stan.” He heard Boris say. “You killed Mike. And now you’ve killed me. Are you proud?”
Stan turned away from Boris’s body to see Boris standing in the doorway of the Costco, maggots falling out of his mouth, blood pouring from his nose, tears falling from his eyes.
“YOU DID THIS!!”
“Stan!” Stan was back in the car. Boris was sitting in the passenger seat, shaking Stan’s shoulders. The infected had gathered around the car, pounding on every window.
“I’m sorry. I can’t. There’s too many. Go on without me, Boris.”
“Stan, look at me. You can do it. I’ll be right here.”
“I’m going to get you killed, okay! Just go!”
“I’m not going anywhere. We can find a way out-”
“If you’re here you’re already dead.”
“Oh for fucks sake.” Boris muttered before kissing Stan on the mouth. It was sudden but Stan relaxed under Boris’s touch and the thousands of infected outside melted from his thoughts.
“I’m not leaving. Ever. So stop saying it. We’re finding a way out of this car and then you and me are going to Canada.”
“Could we go up through the roof?” Stan suggested.
“Perhaps.” Boris opened the roof and climbed up on top, sticking his hand back to help Stan up.
“What do you have for materials?” Stan asked, the gears turning in his head.
“What do you need?”
“A bottle, part of your shirt, some booze and a match.”
“Molotov cocktail. Get the fuckers away from us and we make a break for it.”
“I think I’m in love with you.”
“Me too.” Stan smiled.
Some moments later, after rounds of blushing on both sides, the cocktail was complete. Boris flicked his lighter open and lit the sleeve of his shirt on fire.
“Suck on this, asshats!” Stan yelled before chucking the cocktail a few feet away from the car. The infected saw the bright flames and slowly staggered towards it.
“Now!” Boris said. Stan grabbed his hand and the two of them jumped off the car and sprinted across the parking lot, pushing infected out of the way as they ran. Stan followed Boris into the woods, his feet starting to ache as they ran parallel to the road as to not get lost.
“Hold up a sec.” Stan breathed out, slowing to a halt.
“What’s wrong? Did you get bit?” Boris looked Stan over, concern showing in his voice.
“No, nothing like that. Just tired.”
“Me too. I think we’re in the clear.”
The sun was setting, painting the sky a beautiful shade of orange. Stan took Boris’s hand and started walking.
“Where are we going?”
“Canada. That’s what you want right?”
“Doesn’t matter, as long as I’m with you.”