Vanessa Ridolfi woke up about eleven Tuesday morning, and was immediately sorry she’d gone out the night before. Her head was pounding. Six mango-rum margaritas was five and a half too many. Carefully, she rolled over and buried her head under her pillow, hoping to make the pounding stop. After several minutes of pressure, she gave up, took four Advil and got in the shower.
She scrubbed off the nightclub smell, a mix of stale cigarette smoke, alcohol and the Axe body spray every douchebag in Raleigh seemed intent on wearing when they went out to a bar. Vanessa, her old college room-mate Janae, and a few of their friends had been celebrating Janae’s recent promotion. As she rinsed the conditioner out of her hair, she laughed about the number of UNC frat boys that had tried to pick one or all of them up. It took a lot of guts to approach five women sitting in a tight circle. Guts or several of whatever beer the trendy guys were drinking these days.
After a long, hot, shower and enough time for the Advil to kick in, her head was feeling much better. She toweled off, French braided her long, black hair in a tight braid and stared at the bags under her huge brown eyes. She slid into a pair of charcoal colored spandex shorts and a green running top and ran down the two flights of stairs, through the lobby of her apartment, and out onto the street. She was listening to Nicki Manaj on the iPod strapped to her arm, and fell easily into a well-practiced stride.
She ran, lost in the music, following her usual track. Vanessa was taller than most of her friends, a holdover of her Italian heritage, she was a long legged five-eight, a body made for running. It was warm that morning, almost eighty five degrees. Sweat ran down her back, and stuck the cherries that hung from her navel ring to her stomach. It wasn’t the worst thing, the bouncing was annoying.
Vanessa turned left at the park, and started up the long hill along Atlantic Avenue, singing along to “Starships” in her head as she ran. The top of the hill was the four mile mark, her usual half-way point. That morning, despite the hangover she’d woken up with, she was feeling good. She decided to keep going and ran onward. Two streets up she could make another left to start the trip home, which would make for a ten mile run.
It always took a couple of miles to get into her groove enough to look around her. She supposed that was the “Runner’s High” she’d always heard about. It was the moment when it stopped hurting, when running stopped being work, and started to be enjoyable. Today that happened at the top of the hill, just before Market Street.
The twenty-three year old woman was running along a busy street. On a typical weekday when the weather was nice, there would be hundreds of people sitting outside at the restaurants she was passing eating their business lunches. Her watch said it was ten past noon, but when she looked up, there wasn’t a single person in sight.
She passed her favorite Thai joint. The hostess stand was set, but Amorn wasn’t standing behind it today. Vanessa had eaten in that restaurant every day for a month before she worked up the nerve to ask the cute Thai girl out on a date. The two women had locked eyes several times, so she knew she was interested but Amorn refused. Vanessa worried that she had misjudged the looks.
It was only once she got home and emptied her pockets out that she saw Amorn’s phone number on the back of her receipt. The two of them had gone out three times, before Amorn stopped returning her texts after their first kiss. Over dinner on their first date they’d talked about how the beautiful Thai girl’s father would never let her date another woman, and Vanessa hadn’t pressed the issue, but she’d never been back to that restaurant. Vanessa often caught her looking when she ran by in the mornings.
It finally occurred to the runner that there was something seriously wrong. A few steps past the hostess stand; she stopped running, and hit stop on her iPod. She looked up and down the street, not a single creature was stirring. No people, no cars, no delivery trucks or taxis. It was deserted. She whirled around at a sound behind her, to come face to face with the first person she’d seen all day. It was a man in his thirties, wearing a business suit. Blood was running down his shirt from a wound at his neck, making it look as if he was wearing a wide red neck-tie. His skin was pale, ashen looking, and his eyes seemed sunken into his head.
Vanessa backed up a step as the man stumbled towards her. “Are you okay? You look hurt, you need an ambulance. I don’t have my phone,” She spat out all at once, the words falling from her mouth.
The man said nothing, just grunted a bit as it closed the gap between them. Vanessa backpedaled and stumbled over a chair laying on its side in the middle of the sidewalk. She fell backward, cutting her palms open on the concrete, and smashing her head against the concrete.
Blood streaked the concrete as Vanessa skittered along backwards on her hands and feet. Despite watching Vanessa trip, the man tripped over the same chair, landing just short of the girl’s left sneaker. His face hit the sidewalk right in one of her bloody handprints, ripping a large gash in his cheek. The man’s tongue darted out, licking up some of the blood.
Vanessa recoiled in disgust and got to her feet. By the time she was up, the man was on his hands and knees licking the blood spot on the concrete. She turned and ran, one more block along the row of restaurants, before making a left and turning for home.
“Oh my god,” she said to herself as she ran around the corner. “Where is everyone? What is going on! I’m never running without my phone again!” Her legs were a blur; she was running as fast as she could. She knew she wouldn’t make it home at that pace; it was still five miles up the wide city road. Two blocks ahead was Clementine’s Bakery, a cake shop specializing in crazy cupcakes, run by her friend Tammy. Tammy would let her use the phone.
The Door to Clementine’s was unlocked. Vanessa yanked it open and ran up to the counter. “Tammy!” She called. “Tammy! Where are you? I have to use your phone. What the hell is going on? Tammy!”
There was no answer. Cautiously, Vanessa stepped through the opening in the counter. “Tammy? Are you in here?” She approached the doors to the kitchen with some dread. A set of brown swinging double doors separated the front of the bakery with the kitchen in the back. Each door had a small rounded window in it, so you could see if someone was coming through in the other direction.
Vanessa peered through the window, looking in the back. A wet smacking sound drifted through the kitchen, but Vanessa couldn’t see anything. Whatever it was, the sound was coming from between the counter and the ovens. Vanessa pushed the door softly open, and crept into the kitchen. Tammy was one of her best friends, and this whole situation was beyond anything Vanessa was prepared to understand. She was worried about her friend being sick, maybe she passed out and hurt herself working in the bakery this morning.
Vanessa stepped towards the end of the counter and saw a pool of blood blooming around the end. The smacking sound stopped as she stepped out. Tammy was sitting upright on top of her partner, Amy, and had blood oozing out of the corners of her mouth. Vanessa looked into her friend’s eyes. They were slightly cloudy, and lifeless looking. Tammy smacked her lips, chewing twice and swallowing before leaning down ripping another piece of Amy’s right breast off. Flesh was hanging out of her mouth when she sat up again, and slowly chewed. Vanessa froze in place, absolutely petrified, unable to move, unable to even breathe. Her mind locked up, questions spinning her brain into incoherence.
The baker slowly stood up, leaving the lifeless helper on the ground in a pool of her own blood. Vanessa was completely paralyzed with fear. Tammy lunged towards Vanessa. The dark haired runner’s self-preservation instinct overpowered the paralysis, and she leapt backwards away from the snapping mouth. Unfortunately, the blood had pooled under her feet, and she found herself skittering backwards on her hands and feet for the second time that day.
Tammy reached out and grabbed on to Vanessa’s leg, pulling it towards her mouth. Vanessa kicked as hard as she could, screaming “NO!” out of instinct. Apparently some of the lessons from her college “Women’s self-defense” classes had stuck with her. Vanessa’s shin impacted the baker’s mouth, rocking the sick woman’s head back. That gave the girl a chance to run. She bolted out of the kitchen, lept the counter, and ran out into the street. She ran at her best speed, her only thought was to get home, where it was safe. There were more and more of these sick people about now, walking out into the road, covering the sidewalk. She weaved in and out of them, driven by the throbbing in her shin. She must have nicked her shin when she kicked Tammy.
The by the last block, Vanessa was breathing raggedly. Her head was pounding, and she was beyond exhausted. During the last blocks there were sick people all over the place. She’d had to knock several of them over just to get past. Each one of them reached out for her with their mouths open, just like Tammy had. Her energy was fading. Between that and the headache, her mind translated every one of them into Tammy, reaching across a bloody floor to bite her.
Finally she reached her apartment building, punched her code into the door and slammed it behind her, sealing all those sick people out. She turned around and bolted towards the stairs, which she took two at a time. Seconds later she was safely in her apartment.
Vanessa’s leg was on fire, burning and throbbing as she stood with her back to the door. After nearly five minutes, she had regained some strength and was able to think a little. She pulled out her first aid kit, dumped some hydrogen peroxide on the small cut on her shin, and put a bandage on it. The last thing she remembered was taking another handful of Advil and passing out on her bed.
Her dreams were filled with the horrific images of her run. Just before she got to her apartment, a man in running shorts tried to grab her. His stomach was torn open, and his intestines were hanging out like an apron, bouncing off of his knees as he stumbled towards her. She’d only barely escaped his grasp, it was only the fact that her arms were slick with sweat and his hands were coated in blood that she’d managed to wiggle loose before he bit her. In her dream, however, the unfortunate jogger bit her. She screamed as he consumed her. At the first bite, her brain seemed to light on fire. She couldn’t think, she couldn’t move. The dream jogger ate most of her arm before he wandered off and she passed out. When she regained consciousness, she was hungrier than she’d ever been. And then she woke up.
About the Author
Kirk Allmond started writing the first bestselling What Zombies Fear novel in 2010 as an online story as part of his website The Zombie Preparedness Initiative. When the idea to write a novel struck him, he took his own “Zombie Apocalypse” plan and turned it into a story. That story has now spawned six novels and two short stories, and is showing no sign of letting up.
When he’s not writing or talking about zombies, the Michigan born writer holds firmly to the southern roots of his family. He grew up in Chicago IL, and Roswell, GA. Kirk has an amazing little boy who was born in 2007, who is the basis for the character Max in his novels. His time growing up in the south with his grandparents taught him the value and skills to live off the land. He is an avid outdoorsman, loves hunting, fishing and backpacking. When he’s not honing his survival skills, Allmond is often found sitting at a role-playing game table, either as the GM of his own Zombie Apocalypse role playing game or as a participant in games run by one of the members of Grown as Gamers, the premier podcast for all things geek and pop culture.
Laura Bretz has been immersing herself in fantasy lands, apocalyptic settings and all things impossible since she was a child. Pretending to survive in a post-apocalypse world set fire to her imagination and teaming up with Kirk Allmond and “What Zombies Fear” finally gave her an outlet to express and bring her characters to life. Graduating with a focus in interior design has given her an excellent eye for detail. Combining her love of painting and attention to detail is what allows Laura to create vivid pictures with words. When she is not obsessing over tenses and punctuation, Laura is usually spending time with her dogs Marty and Teddy, painting, or singing with her local Sweet Adeline’s International chorus in south-central Pennsylvania.