||The past few days had been a rolling nightmare.
Gabe had come home from school, just as he had done every day. It was warm, the sun felt good on his back, and all things were normal in his white picketed fence neighborhood. The only thing out of the ordinary was that he saw no one outside. Odd, most of the neighbors were quite fanatical about their yards. Up until the snow came they were outside cutting fertilizing, trimming and washing. He thought that maybe today was not the popular day for yard work, so no need to keep up with the Jones'.
He hopped up onto the freshly painted porch and headed for the front door. Gabe was a little startled to see the door agape, as if it was flung inward, the shade was knocked lopsided. A pile of mail rested on the threshold, as if it had just been tossed there by a hurried mailman.
He picked up the mail, and stepped into the house. He knew how much his mother hated it when he forgot to close the door. He reminded himself that the last time he had left the door open; Scruffy had gotten out and was never seen again. The house was out of order, like someone ransacked the entryway and living room. The table that was next to the door was tossed aside. The living room rug was bunched up and dragged into the hall.
Just as he was coming through the entryway, Gabe heard something that sounded like wheezing, emanating from the living room. He crept up slowly to the doorway trying not to make any noise. Gabe slowly leaned his head out, and around the door jamb peaking one eye around the corner. The living room was trashed, the TV was on the floor, mom's angel figurines were strewn across the room, and the large steel, gothic style lamp was knocked over on the couch.
Looking to the next cushion over from the lamp, Gabe found the source of the wheezing; it was his father. Sitting on the couch with the phone in his hand, he looked deathly ill, sweating profusely, jaw clinched tight, and shaking. He must have come home from work early, it was only three o'clock and he was wearing his "Jim's Auto" work shirt.
Gabe, a little shaken, stepped around the corner and asked, "Dad, what's wrong? Are you OK?"
His father winced and said "I'm OK. I'm just feeling a bit like I have a touch of the flu. Did you see your mother?"
His pain was obvious, every little twitch seemed more intense than the last, and when he talked blood could be seen flowing down his gums, staining his teeth brick red.
Gabe answered "No dad, I didn't. Where is she? Sure you're fine? Your mouth is bleeding."
His father said "When I came home, I found her upstairs lying in the hallway, she wasn't breathing. She had no pulse; her skin was so cold. I picked her up and was going to drive her to the hospital but she woke up halfway down the stairs...."
Gabe started to tear up, suddenly aware that his mother was nowhere to be seen. In a half cry, Gabe cut off his father and said, "Dad, where's mom!"
Gabe couldn't tell whether if his father was crying or it was just sweat pouring down his face.
His father said "Son, I don't know...... When she woke up, she went all crazy, like a wild animal. She bit me pretty bad." He pulled the blood soaked collar of his shirt back; it revealed what looked like a large, swollen bite mark on his lower neck.
He continued "I tried holding her down, but she was too strong. She kept trying to bite me, so I locked myself in the bathroom. The sounds she made...were... inhuman."
His father seemed to be losing consciousness, but continued "She was trying to beat the door down. I thought the hinges were going to come or something."
He stopped to take a deep breath so that he could finish "Then I heard someone on the porch. Whoever it was she went after them. I heard her growl, then take off. Someone was screaming, but eventually the sound started to get farther away."
Gabe tried to compose himself, but trepidation surged over him "I'm calling 911!"
"I already did, they said they'd be here soon. That was an hour ago." Gabe's father said.
His father coughed before continuing, "I tried to call them back just before you got home, but it just rang and rang, no answer, so I hung up."
Gabe knew that his father needed to get to the emergency room. Blood was starting to seep from his skin like he had sprung a leak and his coloring was that of a corpse. Bruises were forming around his joints and his eyes were cloaked in crimson fluid.
He gently took the blood covered phone from his father's stiff, ice cold hand and began to dial 911. It rang and rang, finally an answer.
"Hello, you have reached the McLeod county Emergency Services". The voice was sterile and rehearsed.
There was a pause.
Gabe was relieved "Please, I need help, my Dad, he's sick....." the voice cut him off mid sentence.
"The governor has declared a state of emergency; please turn to TV channel 2 or radio channel 103.1 FM for news and locations of emergency aid posts. Thank you."
The message started to play again, from the beginning "Hello, you have reached......."
Gabe hung up and slammed the phone on the ground, annoyed with the cheery "thank you". He cursed. "Shit! Thank you?"
His mind raced, just this morning he was enjoying his mother's home-cooked breakfast; fluffy pancakes and greasy bacon. The smell of the bacon and the sound of the grease spattering, his mothers soothing smile, Dad patting him on the shoulder on the way out - he loved mornings.
Today was to be special; dad was going to take him out driving legally for the first time since he earned his permit. He dreamed the entire year about driving and getting his license. Dad, as excited as he was, started fixing up the old sun bird parked next the garage. It was going to be his first car - when he turned sixteen.
In the course of a day, his whole world went straight to hell. What happened to his mother? Why was his father so ill? State of emergency? Had the whole world gone to hell? These are all questions bouncing around in his head. No time to find answers.
Looking around he blurted "Dad, where are the car keys?"
"Huh? I can't drive Gabe; I can hardly see." he grunted, voice crackling.
Gabe responded, his thumb pointing to his chest "I'll drive you to the hospital."
Dad looked up and waved towards the kitchen door "They're in the kitchen, on the counter, I think."
Gabe stepped, turned and ran to the kitchen. Just as he was entering the door he heard pans crashing to the floor. He stopped in his tracks and pushed the door open, just enough to peak through. His eye stabbed around as much of the room as he could see through the small opening. The blue and white checkered floor tiles glistened, lit by the afternoon sun coming in through the windows. He swung his eyes right, toward the black granite counter, and scanned from one end to the other. Nothing; the kitchen seemed to be empty.
Gabe slowly opened the door and looked around moving his head back and forth in paranoia. The back door was wide open, an unseasonably cool breeze whisking across the kitchen floor and around his ankles. Muddy, bare foot prints lead up to where the pans were knocked off the wall hangers. Looking at the prints, it appeared the person was dragging one foot and shuffling with the other. The prints lead away, around the corner and towards the hallway to the basement.
"There ain't no way, I'm following those" he said under his breath.
Gabe, relieved to see the keys were on the counter, crossed the kitchen in a flash. As his hand touched the keys, he heard a loud growling sound coming from behind him, form the basement hallway. The growl sounded more like a choke mixed with a grunt, a sound a beast my make.
He snapped around, eyes widened with fear, to find his mother standing there eyeing him. Her eyes were covered with waxy film, but he could still see her dark brown eyes through it. She had blood stains all over her face, small pieces of what looked like meat caked with blood, stuck to her cheek. She was still wearing her jogging suit from her morning run, but one arm of the suit was torn off and a huge gash had been taken out of her arm. Blood stained the front of the white suit top, in the sloppy way a toddler would eat. His mother was missing her shoes and her right foot dragged behind while the left shuffled forward. Her skin was white and pale, but nearly black around the eyes as if she had been bashed in the eye. A terrible smell of rotten meat permeated the room. It made him wretch. One of her hands was clutching a red, dripping piece of flesh and the other a blood stained, blue piece of cloth.
She took a ragged, lopsided step forward and raised the flesh to her mouth taking a ravenous bite.
Gabe's jaw slackened in disbelief as he backed away.
"Mom? What's wrong with you?!"
His eyes widened with tears welling up inside.
His mother looked at him; let her arm holding the flesh fall straight down. When her arm reach full extension (knuckles towards the floor), she let her grip on the flesh go. The result was a sickening "splop" sound.
She tilted her head to the side, let out a gurgle, and then flung herself at Gabe. She was surprisingly quick and snatched up Gabe's arm and began to pull him closer. Her grip was strong as iron: He could not break free.
Gabe was inches from the edge of panic. His, once loving, mother is now some sort of mindless beast. She kept dragging him closer, despite his best effort to break free, with her mouth open.
In a last ditch attempt to reason with her he screamed," Mom, what are you doing! I'm your son, Gabe! Leave me alone!"
Suddenly, she stopped pulling and gurgling. The slightest bit of relief went through his mind as he saw the look on his mother's face change. Just a second ago she was racked with rage and bestial fury. Now her expression was calm, a hint of recognition showing through. It seemed like her motherly instincts were kicking in as what appeared to be a tear trickled down her cheek.
He noticed her mechanical grip loosen a bit and decided it the time for escape now or never. With all of his strength he yanked his arm free.
His tactic backfired, as his defiance only enraged her more. As Gabe snapped away, her hands lashed out like whips and latched on. She drove him backward so fast their feet tangled, duping both of them to the floor in a heap. She leaned forward, stretching her neck towards his face, jaw open, teeth shown. The noxious stench of death exuded from her mouth stinging his eyes.
He was able to fend off her bites with a good stiff-arm to the forehead. Somehow he managed to get both feet underneath, against her belly.
Gabe exploded with all the strength in his legs bouncing his mother up and backward onto her feet. She stumbled a bit and caught her balance.
Just as she started her lunge towards Gabe, a large figure stepped in the open door. The light from the sun hid his identity, but his heavy boots announced his presence on the kitchen tile.
Before his mother could react, the stranger lifted the implement in his hands above his head. The light coming in the window above the door highlighted the weapon, which laid the shadow of a cross on its target.
With a swatting stroke, the stranger brought down the cross down on Gabe's mother. The blow struck her square on top of the head with a nauseating thud, spraying blood and brain matter across the room.
His mother's smitten body crumbled to the floor, still and cold.