Evan pulled up to the light a little too roughly. He had been ready to leave but with people seeming a little more on edge with that news report, it seemed to make things all the more frantic. Renee’s mom’s voice could be heard through the phone. Evan couldn’t make out what she was saying to Renee, but he was able to hear her. She sounded like one of the adults from Peanuts. Renee was becoming more and more agitated with every answer, as much as she cared about the situation, as much as she loved her mom.
“…Can you hear me? I don’t know. No, I don’t know, the phone keeps breaking up. No, we’re heading home right no- No, Mom, he’s driving.
Renee slightly turned her head to Evan, who seemed like she was getting ready to blow a fuse, going quietly insane, fidgeting in her seat. Evan sensed this but if he was going to be stuck in traffic, he should at least be able to listen to his music.
“Mom wants to know if we’re still coming to dinner tomorrow night.”
Evan rolled his eyes and loudly whispered, “Tell her to stay inside.”
Renee returned to her mom. “He says he hopes so. Mom, I’m gonna go, okay? Stay inside and lock the doors. I’m gonna go now Mom, my phone keeps breaking-“ Renee stared at her phone as if it offended her. “That’s weird, my phone never does this.”
Now that she was done messing with her phone, she seemed to start taking in her surroundings. She always did this by subtly squinting her eyes and slowly scanning the area. Evan always loved this. “How long have we been sitting here?” she asked.
“Longer than I want to be. Look.” Evan pointed right down the road to other stoplights. They were blinking. Evidently there was some sort of wreck but there were so many cars huddled together, it was hard to see. Renee always got sympathetic so quickly.
“Oh, I hope no one was hurt.”
“Somebody was. Ambulances are all over the place.” Evan shook his head and quietly murmured to himself, “What the heck is going on?”
A police officer with a bright yellow vest who obviously didn’t want to be in the middle of a chaotic four-way intersection waved them on. Renee had worked herself up just enough for a question that would put her on edge depending on Evan’s answer.
“Does this have anything to do with what’s going on with the news, do you think?”
Evan tried to keep it light and vague.
“I have no clue. Let’s just get home.”
Home was about twenty-five minutes South from where they were, the actual city being about twenty-five minutes North of the mall. It was a pretty quiet neighborhood for the most part except for the house at the end. The owners were suspected of dealing drugs to teenagers looking to get a certain amount of “cool points” by buying from them. But that didn’t disturb Evan or Renee’s daily routines. Just a concerning thought when brought up. They pulled into the driveway, Evan was in something of a rush to zone out watching TV and hope everything on the news would blow over. Terrorist threats staying threats or actually being carried out were, in many cases, a nuisance. He hadn’t known anyone directly related to any bombings so for the most part, like the kids down the street selling crack or smack or grass or Hawaiian Ice or whatever it was, it didn’t hit him the way it should of. He wasn’t uncaring. He just didn’t know what he could do to care more. Listen to more talk radio? Watch the news more? Get everybody’s side in the matter, form my own ill-conceived opinion, then shove my views down everyone around me’s throat? He’d rather watch The Office. But all of these thoughts were just on the trip home. Actually pulling into the driveway, his mind turned into that of a kid getting home from school. That kid doesn’t want to think about homework. He wants to watch some loud, obnoxious TV show. And Evan didn’t want to think about terrorist attacks. He wanted to watch some loud obnoxious TV show. Or The Office. Either way, he was home free.
Renee had other minor things to worry about as well. Their neighbor, Josh, who lived behind them, was outside. If he was home, he was outside. Swimming, tanning. Swimming so he could get a tan. It’s always been a habit for Renee and Evan to enter their home through the backdoor and therein lied the problem. Josh would always see them. And he always wanted to talk. Their backyards faced each other and Josh was always there. He didn’t want to talk about things that were interesting either, but about how great he was or how great the things he’d done were. He loved telling anybody about his sexual exploits and conquests with the women at work. The only story Renee wanted to hear about was Josh contracting an STD. But they’d never get that story unless it came with a story about how he got it from a “really hot chick.” But today the woman Josh had brought home was especially hot. Relaxing on his lawn chair, she looked at home, as if she’d always lived there.
Renee tried to rush in through the backdoor but didn’t think to look for her keys until she was actually at the door.
“Crap, crap, crap…” she said to herself. Evan casually strolled in. He wasn’t a lawn care specialist by any means but he always admired how green Josh’s backyard. He’d never even mentioned it to anyone, it was a stupid thing to bring up. But when he got the chance, he’d always look. That might have been part of the problem; Evan looks at Josh’s yard, Josh sees Evan looking in his direction, and BAM: instant terrible conversation. Renee found the keys but then had to find the right one. Evan still wasn’t paying attention to Renee’s obvious rush.
“Who’s Josh with?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. Just don’t look over there, he’s probably already seen us.
Evan looked over instinctively after being told not to. It was in his blood. Right on cue, Josh was already staring. He raised his hands, displaying his tan and ripped abs. The kind of guy you love to hate. And he made it easy. His wave was really nerdy for such a “cool” guy which had always made Evan suspect he wasn’t always Mr. Fake Tan, and at some point might have been Mr. Dungeons and Dragons. He also loved to yell everything he said.
“HEY! EVAN! RENEE! WHAT’S UP?” He finished it off with an annoying laugh even though nothing funny had been said. Renee held her eyes shut for a moment, knowing Evan would take the bullet for her by talking to Josh. Or maybe she was hoping that he would ignore Josh too because she put her head against the door and it didn’t look like she was going to answer. It was Evan’s fault anyway. He shouldn’t have looked over. Evan didn’t mind as much. It was kind of a joke to him, how into himself Josh was. It’s great to have confidence but for your entire life to revolve around yourself seemed…empty. That’s probably one reason he wasn’t married. Or cared to have a relationship lasting more than a night. Evan began to walk to the backyard fence to meet Josh who practically hopped out of his pool. Evan subtly turned to Renee as she waited at the door. “It’s alright, this’ll just take a second.” He assured her under his breath before he turned back around to Josh who had pimp walked down to the fence. “Josh, how’s it going man?”
Evan tried to shake Josh’s hand but Josh went for the weird “bro” shake, which Evan could never figure out. Everybody’s is faintly different, how is everybody supposed to know what to do? Josh finished it up with the no armed hug, putting his shoulder into Evan’s chest, wetting Evan’s shirt. Swimming in October. Huh.
“It’s okay, it’s okay.” Josh smiled and turned around to check out the woman in the chair. “It’s about to be going a lot better if you know what I mean. He laughed even though it wasn’t funny. Come to think of it, he usually laughs at the end of his sentences. Evan always expected the women Josh brought home to be girlfriends. He still hadn’t learned.
Josh smirked. “She wishes.”
Evan waved to the girl who waved back weakly. “What’s her name?”
“Karen. Or Gwen. Something like that. Met her at the gym. Today.” He laughed again. Evan kind of forced a little chuckle out but he wasn’t as impressed as Josh was. He just wanted to watch TV. But that was until he actually saw Karen. Or Gwen. Whatever her name was. She didn’t look relaxed like he thought she did from where he was. Now she just looked….dead.
“Is she okay? She looks a little sick.”
Josh scoffed as if Evan was trying to belittle his “prize.”
“Yeah, she said she felt a little dizzy. Probably throwin’ the weights around too hard. You see that stomach though? Whoo… I give her an eight and a half.”
There was no doubt the woman was at least an eight by any guys’ standard. The problem was, besides looking as though she had passed out, was the bandage tightly wrapped around her ankle over what looked like some sort of third degree burn. Josh didn’t draw any attention to that though and Evan just stared. “What’s up with Renee? She don’t like me no more?” Josh wouldn’t have asked if he really believed it, or at least that’s how Evan saw it. Truthfully, Evan always figured that Josh thought that if he really wanted Renee, he could have her. But that he liked Evan enough to not ruin the “friendship” he had with him. What a guy. But that’s a thought Evan would never speak out loud. What would’ve been the point to telling anyone? Josh waved to Renee and of course, laughed a little. Renee forced a smile and weakly waved back. Renee wouldn’t want Evan to cover for her but he did anyway. Or maybe it was more for himself at the moment.
“No, no, no… she just… she’s a little sick. She needs a nap.”
Josh didn’t seem to hear any of what Evan said. “HEY RENEE! HOW YOU DOIN’, BABY?”
Renee’s tight lipped smile should’ve been obvious to anyone any closer than Josh was.
“Doing fine, Josh. You know how I love when you call me baby. How are you?” She wasn’t even trying to be convincing on that last part, Evan thought.
Josh smirked “Well, I’m about to be doing a lo-“ Josh turned back to see if the lawn chair woman was listening. Nope.
“I’m about to be doing A LOT b-“
Evan couldn’t take it anymore. He was ready for couch and TV.
“HE’S ABOUT TO BE DOING A LOT BETTER!”
Inside the house, everything felt great. Evan and Renee (but especially Evan) felt like they were away from every wrong thing on the planet. If Josh comes to the door, we can just pretend we’re dead. That’s how Evan thought of home anyway. Safety in brick and mortar. And whatever else the house was made with. But safety didn’t mean they were free from thinking about how irritating their neighbor was. Renee was especially annoyed whenever they saw him.
“I can’t STAND him!”
Evan was still a little bothered by the woman on the lawn chair.
“Did you see that woman he was with?”
“Yeah. I saw today’s catch. But not the other day. But I did the day before that….
Evan was actually concerned with the woman’s battle wound, not so much Josh being a man-whore.
“Did she look sick to you?”
Renee was on the warpath though. “Isn’t that what he goes for? The sick ones? The weakest of the herd? How else is he going to get a girl if she’s not sick or just plain stupid?”
“No I meant sick, sick. Like, ‘bleeeeh…’” Evan casually imitated puking along with his sound effect with his hands in front of him, as though you catch puke or something.
“I don’t know, Evan. I couldn’t see that far. I try to keep my distance in case Josh discovered a new STD we don’t know about.”
Evan thought about it for another few seconds before letting his brain throw it in the mental compactor. Hm. On to the living room. He plopped down on the couch in one smooth motion, if ‘smooth’ and ‘plop’ can go in the same sentence. He turned the TV on, skipping past on the boring sports channels and straight to The Office. Great show. Renee soon followed and stood in the doorway, staring at Evan as if insulted her.
Evan was just getting into the episode and was already laughing. “What?”
“Did we come home early so you could watch this episode for the 7th time?”
Evan had sincerely forgotten why they had come home so early but he was getting back on track. Kind of. Oh yeah. The news. Fuuuuun….
Evan flipped through to the station that seemed least likely to exaggerate the facts at the time. Renee sat down next to him, ready for a night of excitement, intrigue, and whatever else Don Foree, Channel 3 Action News anchor could offer. He was still in the middle of reporting when the couple joined in.
“….where many of the Expiscor’s crew members are under very careful observation. Officials have also stated that all of the infected, given a very short amount of time become very slow, yet highly volatile. Very slow with quick sporadic outbursts of energy all directed toward hurting the person closest to the victim. Anyone near or harboring infected individuals should stay as far away as possible. Okay, we bring you breaking news story as we join our eye-in-the-sky news correspondent, Mark Freeman, where on I-75, near down town, an oil tanker has actually overturned, already costing thousands of dollars in property damage that we know of. Mark, are you with us?”
Renee got more and more freaked out by the minute. But it wouldn’t do any good to say anything. There wasn’t a connection between the chaos on the highway and this strange disease, was there? Suddenly the news cameras changed shots from a news room to a helicopter, shaking and uncertain. The camera moved down to show exactly what the anchor had said: an overturned tanker truck on the highway. The difference was, he hadn’t described everything the camera showed. Maybe the evident chaos had been more serious than either Evan or Renee had realized. In fact, that’s definitely what it was. The entire highway was in disarray. Random fires everywhere; whether they had been set by people or from the truck was unclear. The tanker truck itself look like a beached whale. It was as big as the things get. The kind of truck you try to stay two lanes away from when you drive. Smashed cars lay toppled all around it. The “eye-in-the-sky” kept talking but he was only describing what was visible anyway. Or at least what anybody with common sense could figure out. For whatever reason, the truck mimicked the Titanic more or less, the cement median in the middle of the highway playing the iceberg. It looked liked the idiot driver just scraped further and further up the median until it toppled, destroying several cars in the process. There weren’t any cops, paramedics or firemen anywhere. The strangest part though wasn’t the lack of government authority, but the people who were there. There must have been thirty people just……walking around. Maybe they were in shock? Thirty people in shock, all experiencing it the same way? By walking around in a daze toward the crushed cars?
They couldn’t have been looters. Looters would be running. And trying to get anything of value out of these cars would be like trying to get dirt out of a screw head with your finger. Evan thought about it for a little bit longer, but not much longer after these wandering thoughts, the people in the highway’s intentions were clear. The “what,” was anyway. The “who” and the “why” became even more dire. The reporter who had been describing the carnage finally broke his daily humdrum monotone voice to scare the piss out of everyone that was listening by screaming “OH MY GOD! ARE YOU SEEING THIS?!?” So much for professionalism. If his next line were to be “I just peed on myself,” it would’ve been fitting for how scared he sounded. The camera jerked over to what essentially seemed to be under the helicopter. More wreckage of course, but even more people tearing at several cars, finding something more valuable than jewels, money, or anything else “looters” might have wanted: human lives. The people on the road dragged out what looked like a man in his thirties and a woman of a similar age, possibly a married couple. “OH MY GOD,” the reporter continued, escalating everyone’s tension. “ARE YOU SEEING THIS?!?” YES, WE ARE SEEING IT. PLEASE SHUT UP. But what the camera jerked over to reveal next was worth screaming the same phrases over and over again. Another crash. Another group of strangers pulling someone out of their car. The woman tried to fight but there were too many people against her. Once they got her out, their next move took Evan completely out of the situation. It took him to a mental place he hadn’t been to since he almost drowned when he was seven. Just somewhere to organize and file what his eyes had just seen. To process things so he could continue with his life and pretend to be normal. His mouth opened, the closest he’d ever get to his jaw dropping in all seriousness. Under his breath, practically mouthing “What…?” Renee actually covered her face. And for good reason. The mob was now eating people. Ripping them apart and eating them.