Welcome to the 3rd annual zOctober event hosted here on My Book Addiction! I’m super thrilled to have so many fabulous authors on the blog, as well as so many incredible fans stopping by to see what’s new in the zombie world. Thank you to everyone for being here!! Let’s welcome our next author….
After Tomorrow Anthology
Publication date: December 10th 2014
by Crushing Hearts & Black Butterfly Publishing
Genre: Horror, Post-apocalyptic, Science Fiction, Zombies
Dive into worlds that have survived the worst mankind has ever seen and join us on our journey into the unknown. Nothing is what it seems and survival is the ultimate goal in these tales about the world After Tomorrow. Zombies, time-travelers, cyborgs, aliens, and cannibals are all finally in one amazing post-apocalyptic anthology! 16 stories, four poems, and 5 pieces of original artwork all combine to form this one-of-a-kind anthology. Read stories from some of your favorite authors and find new authors to love!
~Dead World by Toni Lesatz~
Starting my day in a panic was always the worst. Little did I know how bad my day would be when I woke that stifling morning in June.
I rolled over in bed and opened my eyes to darkness. The blackout curtains helped keep the sun’s rays from penetrating my room. I was greeted by the horrible sight of flashing lights on my alarm clock, which made me shout obscenities. I shot straight up in bed, immediately grabbing my cell phone to check the time. Do I need to rush to be only slightly late for work, or am I already screwed? Do I even have time for a much needed cup of coffee? The digital clock on my cell phone revealed all zeros instead of the time.
I sprung out of bed. “What the hell is going on?”
Irritated at whatever devil had cursed me to this kind of hell, I stomped off to the kitchen for my morning fix. More numbers flashed at me from all over the room. My coffee maker, microwave, and the stove all mocked me. At least the power was back on and I could actually have a cup of coffee. People could be seriously injured, potentially resulting in death, if they were forced to face me decaffeinated. I popped a K-cup into the machine and waited. Even with the reduced time to make a single serving, I impatiently drummed my fingers on the edge of the counter. Patience is not my strongest virtue. Someone needed to invent a coffee maker that started brewing when I began thinking about coffee from the comfort of my bed. All would be right in the world that much sooner if a freshly brewed cup was waiting for me each morning.
I sat down at the kitchen table with my tablet to scroll through my Facebook feed and check my emails, but when I logged on I found something strange. Nothing had been updated in eight hours. No emails had come through, and no new posts had been made. I’d read all of the posts before I went to bed, so it couldn’t have been later than seven AM. It was dark and cloudy outside, which made it difficult to tell the time by looking out the window. I tried refreshing the page, resetting my cable modem, and anything else I thought would force something new to show up. My efforts were in vain. I checked other sites as well, but found the same results on every page. The most recent updates showed the same tag under each status: posted eight hours ago.
I walked into the living room, the bottom of my red fuzzy slippers scraping across the dark kitchen tile as I went, and flopped into the tan recliner with my cup of coffee. With the remote in hand, I flipped through the TV stations to find static on every one.
“What the heck!” I shouted at my television set, as if it was responsible.
I went outside to see if my neighbors were out searching for answers as well. The wind ripped the screen door from my hand and slammed it into the side of the house. I pulled my robe tighter around me. The air was warm, as it usually was in June, but I felt chilled for some reason.
My two-story house sat in the middle of the block. I scanned the area but didn’t see anyone outside. Everything appeared normal. My neighbors’ cars were all parked in their respective driveways. Bubble mowers, brightly colored big wheels, and an assortment of other children’s toys were scattered across their yards. I realized something after a moment; none of the cars had moved. Cars that should’ve been on the road were still tucked into their spots from the night before. There was no traffic, no dogs barking, no lawn mowers humming, and no children frolicking around annoying me with their high-pitched squeals. I’m not the biggest fan of kids, which is why I’m still single at thirty and not reproducing pint-sized monsters that reflect everything I hated about my own childhood. Other than the gusts of wind, nothing outside moved.
I shook my head. “Something ain’t right.”
I was in close proximity to Detroit so there was always noise, even in the middle of the night. If it wasn’t the constant din from the commuting vehicles on the nearby interstate, then it was coming from the airplanes that made their way to and from Metro Airport every few minutes. There was nothing; not a bee buzzing, a fly to swat, or a squirrel scurrying up a nearby tree.
I walked out into the middle of the street and looked to where a busy road intersected my own street three blocks down. As far as my eyes could see there were no signs of life.
“Hello!” I shouted with my hands cupped tightly around my mouth.
I crossed to the other side of the street and walked one house over to the neighbor I liked the most on the block. She didn’t have kids. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed her company so much; no whining in the background anytime we sat down to have a drink.
Tap, tap, tap.
I knocked on her front door and waited. I was anxious to find out what she thought about all of this. I was dying to speak to anyone that might know what was going on and I grew impatient.
Bang, bang, bang.
I knocked louder in case she was in the bathroom. I knew she wasn’t at work because her car was still in the driveway. I waited two minutes, plenty of time for her to get to the door, before deciding to let myself in. The door was locked, but she was one of those forgetful types who kept a house key behind a loose brick next to her mailbox.
“Shelley!” I shouted through the open door. “It’s Laney!”
I walked through her cluttered living room, continuing to make my presence known. I didn’t want to frighten her. “I just want to make sure you’re okay. I knocked a few times, but—“
“Oh my god!” I shrieked as I stumbled upon her body lying outside her bedroom door. I dropped to my knees so fast that one of my slippers flipped off my foot.
“Shelley?” I shook her gently. “Shelley, what’s wrong?” I continued my attempt to wake her, more violently now. She was so pale that her skin had a blue tint to it. I put my fingers to her neck and checked for a pulse.
I tried performing CPR, but it was hopeless. She was already gone.
How did this happen?
There were no marks on her that I could see, and after a quick walkthrough, I confirmed that the doors and windows in her house were all locked. What were the chances she died of natural causes at twenty-eight years old?
I started sobbing immediately. I wasn’t sure if I was crying because my neighbor was dead, or because this was officially the worst day of my life, not including the ability to have a cup of coffee this morning. I ran back to the living room where I’d seen her cell phone sitting on the coffee table. I needed to call 911, although I didn’t think they’d be able to do anything for her now. I pushed the top of her Blackberry up with my thumb and was greeted with a bright, blank screen. The light was on, but nobody was home.
“Wonderful,” I muttered. “What the hell is going on here, Shelley?” I knew she wouldn’t respond, but I needed someone to answer my questions. Now would’ve been a good time to have a dog, and although they weren’t the best conversationalists, I’d heard they were good listeners without judgment.
My neighbor was lying dead in her house and I had no way to call for help. The world seemed to be dead, too, at least in my neck of the woods. I continued to the next house on my block and began to knock on the door. Again, I was met with no response. I started banging as hard as I could, loud enough to wake the dead. Well, maybe not. The panic rose to an overwhelming level. My pulse raced out of control and sweat began to bead on my forehead. Catching my breath was becoming more difficult by the second.
I was officially freaked out.
I tried to scream, but the words came out in a broken sob. “Can someone help me, please?”
The knot forming in my throat grew larger and I did my best to swallow it down. It was not the time for a meltdown. I would mourn for Shelley when the time came, but I had to find someone to call for help first.
“Hellooooo!” I screamed again. “I need help here!”
I ran back to my side of the street and started pounding on everyone’s door I knew before knocking on the ones that I didn’t. No one answered. I looked in the windows, but the view inside was difficult to discern. Most of the lights were off and the dismal sky did nothing to aid my sight. The air seemed to be growing colder, which didn’t make sense in the middle of the summer.
Maybe I’m going into shock.
I trudged back home to get dressed. After putting on the first clean outfit I could find, a pair of jeans and a gray t-shirt to match my mood, I pulled my blonde hair up in a ponytail to wash my face. I stared at the image in the mirror, my eyes red-rimmed from crying, and silently pleaded with myself to wake from the nightmare.
“What am I going to do?” I asked my reflection. It didn’t have any answers, just as I’d suspected.
I tried flipping through the TV stations again, but the continued static ridiculed me. Grabbing my keys off the counter, I jumped in my car and drove to the police station, which was only a mile away. Chills crept up my spine as an eerie feeling overwhelmed me. It was as if the world had just been created and I was the first person to inhabit it.
I parked my Beamer behind the local police department and slammed my fist against the steering wheel before getting out. I really wanted to punch something, or have someone slap me. I have to be dreaming. I have to wake up eventually. I envisioned myself curled up in bed and having a bad dream. I didn’t even care if I would be late for work, as long as it was all just my mind processing the scary movie I’d watched before bed last night. My boss would forgive me. John was a decent man who understood that shit happened from time to time. It wasn’t as if my duties were paramount. Being an orderly at the nursing home was rewarding since I preferred senior citizens to children, but if I showed up late for work, no one died because of my negligence.
The glass, metal-framed door swung open with ease as I entered the station. I didn’t know what to expect when I entered. I wanted to see cops running around in a panic, speaking to each other in clipped tones caused by the stress of the situation. What I found was nothing more than the buzzing and flickering of fluorescent lights above as I walked swiftly down the narrow hallway. I reached an open area of desks littered with paperwork, stained coffee cups, and more dead phones. Not one of them was ringing. A giant balloon of disappointment swelled inside of my chest until I thought I’d choke on it.
Deep breaths, Laney. Stay focused.
I knew cell phones weren’t functioning properly, but I desperately wanted something to be happening.
I walked further into the room and my eyes widened. Two police officers, probably from the night shift, were lying on the floor, their skin pale just like I’d found Shelley. One of the officers was a large man, the buttons on his shirt strained against the pressure of his distended belly. His dark hair and eyes looked surreal in contrast with his bluish, pocked skin. The other was a muscular gentleman, probably a man that made housewives flock to the station for even the smallest occurrences. His sandy hair fell in waves over his forehead and his piercing blue eyes that stared at nothing caused me to shiver. Just like with Shelley, there didn’t look to be a struggle, just more dead bodies.
The lump in my throat became too big to swallow, and I crumbled to the floor in a fit of frenzied weeping. I didn’t know these men. I wasn’t crying for them, really. I was crying for me. I am completely alone.
I don’t know how long I lay on the police station floor. I looked at the large clock on the far wall, but the time hadn’t changed since I arrived. Through the windows of the precinct, the sky was still washed in gray, just as it had been since I walked into my kitchen that morning. I couldn’t see the sun behind the clouds to determine the time of day. I finally peeled myself off the dirty floor and headed back toward the door.
I was startled by a noise before I could reach the hallway. The sound had come from behind a closed door over to the right. The name Captain D. Ross was etched into the gold nameplate in a bold font. Approaching the door, I put my hand against it before pressing my ear against the smooth wood. I listened intently, hoping to hear more movement to prove I hadn’t gone insane. The buzz, buzz, buzzing from the fluorescent lights was ear-splitting in contrast to the otherwise silent world. I ground my teeth in frustration. The inability to hear anything more through the door furthered my irritation, so I turned the knob and flung the door open without another thought.
I called out into the dark office. “Anyone in here?” My voice was gravelly. My throat had gone dry long ago when the tears dried up. A drink of water sounded like heaven.
I walked into the office and felt along the wall for a light switch. When my hand made contact I flipped the knob up, but nothing happened.
A discouraged growl escaped my lips. “Of course.”
I ventured further into the shadows toward the large rectangular outline I presumed was a desk.
“Hello! Are you hurt? Do you need help?”
Papers crinkled under my sneakers with every step. I felt around the desk, my eyes beginning to adjust in the darkness, but it was empty. Strange, I thought. I walked around to the other side and began pulling drawers open.
Bingo! With the flashlight in hand, I flipped the switch to the on position while pointing the bulb away from me to test its strength on the farthest wall.
And it works. One point for Laney.
I shone the light around the office to get a better look at the scene. It appeared that most of the contents from the top of the desk had been cleared in one continuous sweep. I followed the trail of evidence across the floor with the beam of light until my screams filled the air.
I expected to find someone scared and hiding, not another dead body. The older man’s eyes, like all the rest, were staring off into the distance, his skin the same pale tint of blue. By the trail of paperwork, scattered pens, and the smashed computer monitor on the floor next to him, I deduced he’d been standing when his body shut down and he took everything off the desk with him. Perhaps he had grasped for something to keep him upright when he began to fall. Who knows? It doesn’t matter now. He was gone, like everyone else I’d encountered in town.
Minutes later I was back in my car. Not knowing what else to do, I cautiously drove around town looking for any signs of life. Most of the houses I happened upon were locked up tight, the way they were left when the occupants had gone to bed. There were dead bodies, in the same condition as the others I’d found, lying on the streets where they’d been at the time the event, or whatever it was, happened. In the more populated areas of town, I had to carefully navigate around wrecked vehicles. Silhouettes slumped over steering wheels and vacant faces pressed against glass. I could feel the hair on my arms rise as I took in the horrific scene. The silence around me was deafening. It was as if the world had just stopped while I was sleeping. Like God had flipped a switch and shut down his main project. The world was dead.
Why have I been spared from this hellish tragedy? Maybe this is my own personal hell where I’ll be trapped alone for the rest of time. The thought caused a shiver to travel the length of my spine. There has to be someone else. I can’t be the only one still breathing.
With no other options remaining, I formulated the only plan I could.
I must find another survivor.
A week later I sat at my kitchen table with only a small candle providing light. The power had gone out before the end of the first day. With no one alive to keep things running, I should’ve expected it, but it was still a shock. On the worn out map spread out before me, I checked off the places I’d been that week and began to circle the areas that I still needed to scout. I tried my best to adjust to my new way of life, but that didn’t stop the tears from streaming down my face every chance they got. Scavenging for supplies and searching for survivors during the day kept my grief at bay, but trapped in the house at night with only my thoughts was a different story. I had played my last game of Angry Birds two days ago before the battery on my phone finally died. I had only my mission to keep me occupied, and that wasn’t going too well.
Each day I travelled farther out, always starting and ending the day at my house. Heading into Detroit on the second day was my least favorite part. The amount of people lying in the streets smacked me hard across the face. This is my reality now. No nightmare can last this long. I’m not dreaming and I am pretty sure I’m not in a coma. The smell of rotting corpses was enough to convince me. I had never been near a decaying body before. The odor was one I couldn’t possibly make up in my head. The sickly sweet smell of rancid meat assaulted my nose at every turn. I lost count of how many times I’d vomited by the end of that day. I was beginning to think that no matter where I went, no matter how far I ventured away from home, the scenery would be the same everywhere. There is nothing I can do except get used to it. I was looking forward to winter for once in my life, praying that the lack of heat would eliminate the smell. Yes, I still pray in the midst of this hell.
On the bright side, because I believed in silver linings, there was no one around to oppose me when I began ransacking stores to stock up on food, water, and a laundry list of other necessities. My basement was stocked with supplies; everything from non-perishable food to hygiene and medical products. I’d traded in my Beamer for an oversized truck that allowed me to haul whatever I needed. Gas wasn’t a concern once I learned how to siphon it from other vehicles. Sucking gasoline through a piece of plastic tubing wasn’t the most pleasant job, but at least it gave my nose and taste buds a respite from the film of decay that saturated the air.
I was up long before the sun and prepared to head west toward Grand Rapids on day eight. I hated the number eight. Flashbacks of that first morning rushed my mind like water from a damn.
Posted eight hours ago.
Tears threatened to pool in my brown eyes, but I immediately thwarted their attempt to spill over on to my face. There was no time for brooding at the beginning of the day. I had work to do, a plan to execute, survivors to find. No matter how hopeless it seemed with each passing day, I refused to give up. I had a gun set aside on my nightstand for use when the day came. I would know it when it was time. I was certain of that. There would be no more tears. The emptiness would come to an end, and maybe there would even be someone waiting for me on the other side when I decided to go, though I wasn’t ready just yet.
I went outside to start a fire in the pit I had dug in my yard four days ago. Boiling water outdoors was the only way to get my coffee fix in the new world. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but I refused to surrender my caffeine addiction. I missed my flavored creamer, but the powdered stuff was better than nothing. It was one of the first things I hauled out of Sam’s Club on my way back home the second day. I may have been in hell, but I didn’t think even Satan would deprive his minions of a decent cup of coffee.
With my truck already fueled up and ready to go, I headed due west out of town with my trusty map splayed out in the passenger seat beside me. The sky was still dark, the radio had long since gone silent, and the world was still dead as far as I could see.
More than two hours had passed and I was tired of driving, being alone and of having no one to chat with. I sang every song I could remember from before the world ended. I couldn’t hold a tune to save my life, but luckily, I didn’t have to worry about anyone hearing me, so I belted out the off pitch lyrics like a rock star.
Just as the sun began to peek out above the horizon, I turned off the interstate at a rest area. I maneuvered the truck into a parking spot near the small brown building that housed bathrooms, vending machines, maps and brochures. I jumped out of the truck and stretched my cramped limbs, bending over and letting the tips of my fingers graze the cement below me, loosening my stiff back. I shot up quickly when my ears picked up a low moaning from inside the dilapidated building. My first thought was to rush inside, but my feet were rooted to the spot. My pulse quickened as my mind raced with thoughts of who or what could’ve made the sound. Is someone hurt? Is it a rabid dog? I’m quite a distance from any major cities. What if it’s a wild animal? My brain began to run through the prospects. Coyote, bear, or a big wild cat?
I grabbed the crowbar that I’d found hiding under the front seat when I stole the truck days ago. I had no idea what I might run into on my travels so far from home, so it seemed logical to keep some type of weapon close at hand. I quietly closed the door to the cab of the truck, wincing when the latch clicked. In a silent world, every noise echoed.
I walked cautiously toward the structure, stepping over abandoned trash and empty pop cans that littered the ground. Another moan erupted from the propped open doors. I guessed that whatever was making the noise was tucked away in one of the bathrooms because I couldn’t see anything in the main area. Hearing the noise a second time provided hope that I hadn’t imagined it, like I had that first day in the police station. Sound is good. It means I’m not alone!
I pushed open the door to the women’s bathroom first; not because I’m a woman, but because it was the closest door to the entrance. The putrid smell made me gag immediately. I rushed to the sink and violently emptied the contents of my stomach. When I was finished, I twisted the faucet out of habit, but not even a drop leaked out.
I shook my head. “Great, now I smell as bad as the rest of them.”
I kept my voice low, but it echoed through the tiled room anyway, causing the moaning thing to stir again in the distance.
“Well, you’re not in this room.”
I walked slowly through the bathroom, each door emitting out a bone-chilling groan as I inspected the stalls. I had to be sure nothing was missed before moving on. Satisfied that the only thing in the women’s bathroom other than me was the decomposing corpse in the second to last stall, I quickly exited. I turned left out of the bathroom and headed toward the men’s room. I put my ear up to the door, but heard nothing. I tapped the crowbar on the door twice before entering. The noise I had made caused the moaning to begin again on the other side. With my heart pounding in my chest, I pushed the long metal handle down and pulled the door open hard.
The man on the other side pushed as I pulled and sent us both flying to the ground hard, his weight knocking the air from my lungs. The back of my skull hit the concrete floor with an audible crack, and my vision blurred instantly. A guttural sound filled my left ear where the man’s face lay only inches away. With my hands on his chest and my eyes squeezed tight, I pushed as hard as my scrawny arms could manage, but the man was strong and unrelenting. Don’t let me pass out. Grunting and screaming, I tried to force him off of me. I managed to lift his weight enough in my panicked frenzy to wedge my left knee between us. With the newly gained leverage, I pulled my right leg up next to my left and heaved the snarling man off with my feet.
I scrambled to my feet, quickly searching the ground for my crowbar, but with my head pounding, my vision distorted, and my pulse racing, there wasn’t enough time to regain composure before the maniac lunged at me again. I dodged and ran out of the doors screaming my fool head off. I don’t know why I was yelling for help. The only other person moving was obviously not concerned for my safety. Luckily, I’d left the truck unlocked because I barely made it into the safety of the truck cab before he rammed his shoulder into the side, making a sizeable dent. I quickly locked the door and reached over to do the same on the other side. Looking through the passenger window brought a whole new set of problems. There were at least five more people charging at my truck, most likely attracted by the commotion.
I’d lost my crowbar, the only thing I had in the world to defend myself with. I am screwed. What do these people want from me? In that moment my vision cleared enough to notice the pale blue tint of the man’s skin. His sunken eyes were as cloudy as the sky.
I screamed at the enraged man in a voice I hardly recognized. “Holy shit…you’re dead!”
The high-pitched squeal of my voice seemed to rile him up. He continued to pound against the truck door with seemingly super human strength. I fumbled with the keys before shoving them into the ignition and turning the engine over. Throwing the vehicle in reverse, I looked behind me as I backed up. The resounding pop of gunfire whipped me back around, and I watched as the feral man dropped to the ground in front of the truck. My mouth fell open as I watched the thick black substance ooze from his open skull. The acrid smell permeated the air conditioning vents from twenty feet away causing my eyes to water and my vision to blur once more. If there’d been anything left in my stomach, I would have been wearing it.
When the shock of what happened wore off, I wiped my face and turned to look out of my window. A younger man, closer to my own age, approached the scene at a steady pace. He wasn’t charging at me like the other guy, but I threw the gear shifter into drive and prepared to run him down anyway. He stopped just short of the man he’d shot and aimed his large gun beyond my truck to the right. He pulled the trigger repeatedly and without hesitation until the last of the angry mob fell, the pile of limp bodies releasing a pool of black sludge around them.
The younger man slung a thick black strap over his shoulder, allowing the rifle to slide across his back and proceeded to head toward me.
He raised his hands in surrender and shouted, “Are you okay?”
I stared at him for several seconds before I felt my head slowly nod. I couldn’t be sure that I was okay, but I was still alive after the horrific ordeal and I was pretty sure I had him to thank for it.
I hadn’t given up.
I’d found another living, breathing person in this dead world.
But my victory brought with it a new mission…
~About the Author~
Toni Lesatz is a wife, mother, author, blogger, gamer and lover of the culinary arts. Her short stories, Ashes to Ashes and Dead World, were published in the fall of 2014. She is currently writing full-length novels continuing both stories, and she has a few other stories up her sleeve as well.
Toni lives in Michigan with her husband, children, and two cats. If she’s not writing or curled up with a book, you’ll most likely find her playing with her kids, baking cupcakes, or killing zombies.
Toni’s Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
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