“Uh-huh. Yeah. I will. Lo-love you too, Mom.” Kris flipped his phone closed and pushed it into his pocket.
“Your family okay?” Sky asked him, her eyes on the empty road ahead.
“Uh, yeah,” Kris said. “Ma and Pops and my uncle are in a disaster shelter or whatever with other families. They’ve got food and water and stuff.”
Sky gave him a concerned look. “They shouldn’t be around a lot of other people. What if one of them’s infected?”
Kris shrugged. “Ma said there’s doctors there. I think they’re okay.”
The road heading toward Chicago was desolate. Just over the median to the Cadillac’s left, six lanes of traffic in the direction away from the city sat completely gridlocked, lost in a sea of ceaseless honking and panicked screams. It had been like that for miles.
“Look at them,” Sky said, her fingers drumming the steering wheel. “They’re like trapped animals. Just this morning, everything was fine, and now dead people are walking around? Even in Maine?” She bit her lip. “Try the radio again.”
Kris leaned forward and turned the volume up. He flipped through stations, hearing nothing but static and dead air until he passed over a woman’s voice.
“There!” Sky said.
Kris dialed back and found it again.
“—spreading over the entire continent. Reports of the living dead have come in everywhere from Mexico to Montreal. Experts say this record-breaking virus spreads to people who directly ingest an infected person’s blood or saliva through their eyes, mouth, or an open wound.”
Kris glanced at his injured hand. He was suddenly aware of how hot it felt under the torn part of his green t-shirt he’d used to bandage it.
“How’s it feel?” Sky asked, seemingly reading his mind.
“Okay,” Kris lied.
The newscaster droned on. “Police and first responders warn people to leave crowded cities where the infection is spreading quickest.”
Sky turned the radio off. “Don’t worry. They’re on the west side of Chicago. We’ll be in and out in an hour.”
Glancing at the stonewalled traffic to his left, Kris felt a pit in his stomach. “W-what if they’ve already left, like everybody else?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Sky said, panic lacing her voice. She pulled her iPhone from her pack again and dialed. She groaned when no one picked up. “Come on!”
Sky slammed on the brakes and tried to swerve. Kris heard a sickening crunch as the person they hit splattered against the windshield, rolled over the car, and dropped onto the pavement on the other side.
“Oh, God, did I kill ‘im?” Sky asked once the Cadillac skidded to a halt. She glanced through the rearview mirror.
Kris looked over his shoulder and watched in horror as the now-disfigured person struggled to its feet, its exposed flesh a mess of rot and blood. “No,” he whispered. “He was already dead.”
Sky hit the gas. A horrible screech and a wall of smoke erupted from under the hood, but the car hardly budged. She turned it off and tried to start it again. The engine struggled to turn over. “Come on, come on,” she whispered to herself.
“I-it’s no good,” Kris said.
“No, I got this,” Sky insisted. She tried to start the Cadillac again.
Kris heard a low growl behind them. The zombie was closer now, limping its way toward the car. Kris tapped Sky’s shoulder. “Uh, S-Sky?”
“What?” she snapped.
Kris didn’t respond. He unbuckled his seatbelt, opened the door, and wrapped around the car. The zombie stood mere feet from the driver side door. Kris gulped and readied his bat. “S-Sky?” he tried again.
She groaned in frustration, looked over her shoulder, and gasped. In a second she was out of the car and pulling Kris away from the undead minion before he had to bash its brains in. “Why didn’t you tell me he was still alive?” she cried. She was half-jogging down the middle of the road, her backpack bouncing with every step. Kris struggled to keep up.
“I…tried,” he gasped between breaths.
Sky slowed and looked behind them. “I think we’re safe now.” She peered to the left where the miles of thousands of cars still sat bumper to bumper. Legions of families with nothing but small suitcases weaved between the vehicles, leaving their own cars and possessions behind. Others leaned out their windows, screaming obscenities and honking at the people in front of them. “Look at them,” Sky whispered. “This is insanity. A bus took me down this road this morning, and now look at it.”
Kris found the whole situation almost impossible to believe. He felt like he was in some lucid nightmare he couldn’t wake up from. All he could do was put one foot in front of the other and pray he wouldn’t have to use Mr. Trivilidis’s bat anytime soon.
The city was close, closer than Kris had seen it in months. He arched his neck back to look up at the skyscrapers. He scratched his arm. “Uh, h-how far is your apartment?”
“Not far,” Sky said, squinting toward the city. “You can see it from here.” She pointed. “See that brown, brick building?”
Kris squinted. He saw at least a dozen buildings that fit that description. “Uh, yeah,” he fibbed.
“That’s it.” She hiked her pack up higher onto her shoulders. “Let’s go.”
They walked in silence, observing the throngs of panicked people along the westbound highway. The closer they got to the city, the more survivors they saw hopping the median to escape, leaving their vehicles still running behind them. Kris saw fistfights, crying children, looters rummaging through stalled cars. After ten minutes of walking, Kris realized he and Sky were the only two people heading toward Chicago rather than away from it.
“So, Kris,” Sky said to break the silence, if the constant sound of sirens and screams could be called silence. “You’re, what, thirty? How come you work in a comic shop?”
Kris adjusted his cap. “Uh, I’m twenty-five.”
He shrugged. “I, uh, moved from Maine when I was eighteen. I-I went to art school in the city but had to quit.”
“Art school, huh?” She grinned over her shoulder at him. “I can tell. Those dudes you drew were pretty good!”
“So why’d you have to quit?”
Kris sighed and squeezed the bat between his meaty fingers. “Money.”
Sky clicked her tongue. “That’s a bitch.”
Finally they reached an exit ramp veering off to the right. They ascended, climbing over some more abandoned vehicles, and entered the city.
“Jesus,” Sky muttered. “Look at ‘em all.”
Trash and broken glass littered the street, as did the occasional body. People ran from convenience stores, gas stations, and shops, their arms burdened with loads of food and clothes and diapers. Kris didn’t see any undead, but they couldn’t be far off.
“W-we shouldn’t be here,” he said.
“We’ll be quick,” Sky promised. “My place is right up here.”
They weaved their way through the growing chaos on the streets up to a brown, brick building. Sky hesitated before pushing through the doors into the lobby. The lights overhead flickered above the abandoned front desk. A black payphone hung off the hook, swinging by its metallic cord. Spots of blood plastered the cheap wallpaper.
“What happened here?” Sky asked in horror. She ran toward the stairs, taking them two at a time. Kris saw her dart down the hall to her left. He followed, ascending the stairs at a comfortable pace.
He found Sky on her knees at the end of the hall, elbow-deep into her backpack. She muttered to herself as she fished for something, until she pulled out a key. She shoved into the lock and burst into the apartment.
They found themselves in the kitchen. Cupboards hung wide open, their contents disheveled. Kris could see into the living room. The glass table in front of the cushiony couch had been shattered, and the flat screen TV had been knocked over. Kris couldn’t help noticing Sky’s westside Chicago apartment was nicer than his in Rosemont’s. How did she afford this, anyway?
“Hello?” Sky called out cautiously. She snuck into the living room and leaned around walls, shouting names. “Shawna? Mariah?”
He had his answer: roommates.
“This place looks abandoned,” Kris said. “Th-they probably left already.”
“Wait here. I’m checking the bedrooms.” Sky dropped her backpack and made her way down the hallway.
Kris held his bat up as he walked into the living room. The place seemed deserted, but he wasn’t about to take any risks—not that it mattered. When he felt sure he was alone, he plopped onto the couch and checked the makeshift bandaged he’d wrapped around his hand. The blood had already soaked through, staining the cloth a dark red. He closed his eyes and wondered how long it would take before he’d turn.
A gurgled cry nearby caused Kris’s eyes to snap open. Out of nowhere, a zombie fell onto him. Kris cried out as its jaws chomped blindly near his face. He reached for his bat and tried to push the zombie off. By the looks of it, the person trying to kill Kris had turned only hours ago, but its skin still felt cold and clamy. Kris mustered all the strength he could and shoved the creature back with his feet, knocking it onto its back, right on top of the shattered coffee table.
He didn’t stop to think. He brought the bat down into the zombie’s face, crushing its skull and brain with one mighty blow. A scream from behind made him spin around, bat up, its end dripping blood and brain matter.
Sky stood in the hallway, her eyes glued to the body, which Kris realized then was a young man. Immeasurable pain etched her features, and tears welled in her eyes. She collapsed, knocking pictures that hung on the wall to the ground.
She choked as she spoke with a breaking voice. “You…killed my boyfriend.”