“Dinner everyone!” An old man crackles with a raspy voice into our room before continuing the message down to the next group. I recognize the wrinkly face of the man with his bushy grey beard as our school cafeteria “chef”. The food at our school was a sorry excuse for lunch.
“Let's go,” Matt says, hauling himself up from his sleeping bag “I’ll tell you the rest at dinner. Just follow me and I’ll show you how it works.” We all get up and follow Matt to the hallway. There is a distinct gold trim along all the edges that pops from the subtle deep maroon red paint that covers most of the walls. It's only now that I realize how many people are actually here at Rehab.
About a hundred people funnel out from various age grouped rooms and roam towards the main domed roof building. Old, young, male, female, everyone is here. I recognize a few of the faces. As we approach the main dome-shaped room, I see Charlie and a few other people, including the school chef I saw earlier, are holding styrofoam takeout boxes. He starts handing them out to various people. “It’s one box per two people, you two will share,” We grab our box and begin to shuffle through the crowd back to our room when I hear a woman begging.
“Please, can I have two boxes?” The woman looks six months pregnant and very frail and weak.
“I’m sorry ma’am, only one box to two people,” Charlie says.
“But my baby needs more food, I haven’t felt her kick in a while. Please, I’m begging you.”
“Sorry, my hands are tied, we have to ration food,” The woman walks away defeated, she walks down the deep maroon hallway.
“Wait, ma’am!” I shout after her. She stops and turns to face me. “Here you go,” I say, handing her the black styrofoam container that held our rations.
“Thank you,” She whispers “People like you are going to make this world great someday,”
“Jake, over here!” Matt yells ushering me towards him. I jog back.
“Where's our food?” Tom asks, seeing that the box is missing. “Did you-,”
“Yes, I gave it to her. But we have some food in our packs. Matt practically has his jaw hit the floor when he heard that.
“You guys have different food?” He screams at us then he starts laughing. “What kind,”
“Some soda and chips,” I say. “Not much,” I can see the excitement in Matt's eyes. He opens up the styrofoam box to show the content. It's a lonely pale looking biscuit, obviously stale, drowning in a small pool of horrible looking breakfast gravy.
“I’ve been eating dried meats and this for the past 2 weeks, give me the junk food,” We all laugh and start heading back to the room.
We’d just got back to the room, which was now potent with the smell of old gravy. I plop down onto our deep blue sleeping bags and open up our backpack.
“Not here,” Tom whispers “We’re supposed to be rationing food, if someone sees you have it they’ll take it away.” I guess that makes sense. “I know a spot where we can go, it's just a short walk from here.” A secret spot?
“Is it really such a good idea to go somewhere without telling anyone? Especially during this?” I chime. I’d always been a rule follower. Rules provide structure to society and without them, we wouldn’t really have civilization.
“Stop being such a woos, it’s not like we’re going outside,” Toms says smacking me on the back.
“Come on guys,” Matt says and we unknowingly follow him.
“We’re almost there,” Matt chirps. It's been ten minutes of twisting and turning down all of the paths. Left, right, left, left, ri- or was it left again? I lose track of our direction. We’re in a completely different part of the building now. The walls are now a tan color with blue doors dotted along the walls. Tom seems to have also lost track of where we were and was just as confused as I was. We come up to a yellow door at the end of a hallway. Tom pushes the door open into a small garden.
We’re surrounded by the blurry glass walls of a greenhouse. Lots of plants flourish and grow around us. Some tall, other short, all held in beds of acacia. Some of the plants I recognize are parsley, tomatoes, and two corn stocks.
“Welcome to the garden,” Matt grins and spreads his arms wide.
“This is sick, does Charlie know about this?” I say walking around and checking out the plants.
“Not that I know of, I don’t know who even tends to it.” I sit down on the edge of the garden bed and swing my backpack onto the floor. Matt unzips the bag and immediately pulls out a liter of cola and starts chugging it. I grab a bag of crisps and begin to much down. It's only now that I realize how hungry I am. It's been a few days since I last ate.
"You hungry Tom?" I ask. He just lay on the ground, not eating.
"You sure? It's been a few days since you last ate." I wonder what's on his mind. Maybe it's his dad, or maybe it's the whole situation. Our lives will never be the same after seeing this. After what I’ve heard, I’m not even sure these things are human. Are they zombies? How is this affecting the rest of the world? We haven’t contacted anyone and who knows what's happening with my dad. He should be safe, being at a government facility. I hope my mom’s okay, wherever she is.
“You wanna finish your story, Matt?” I ask him curiously.
“Sure,” He says. Tom sits up and Matt continues his story.
“They came from Brewl. There were about four, located in the cabin. I think they followed the men who went to get a drink from the stream. They came upon the house and attacked us. They pounded at all the windows and doors. They were going to get in eventually going to get in so we took charge. Charlie had a few shotguns in the cabin so we used those. We lost a few to the scythes but we powered on and killed three of them. We were about to finish off the fourth when it started signaling.”
Tom asks the question “What's signaling?”
“Right, you haven’t been here. Did you hear them screaming, like static?” Matt explains “They use it to communicate with each other. The frequency is just right to make us hurt but it doesn’t seem to affect them.”
“Noise-canceling headphones?” I joke getting a laugh. “And we’ve heard signaling before.” So Charlie deemed it signaling, makes sense. I hope all of the power isn’t getting to his head. If he goes berserk, I don’t know what would happen.
“Ten more of the things came stumbling towards us. We were so horrified, it was hell.” Tom wells up more as he speaks “Some of them already had blood on their scythes and we just ran. Some people tried to fight or hide behind a tree but… they didn’t make it. There were just 5 people left. Me, my mom, and a family of 3. No matter how fast we ran, the things kept gliding towards us, getting ever closer. It was like their feet weren’t even moving. We made it out of the forest and spotted Charlie who was coming back. He cocks his shotgun and blasts all of them down. He looks at us and we tell him everything that happened while he was gone. He tells us that we need to go to Town Hall and set up base there. We went and looked for survivors and rounded them up here. Fast forward about a week and Charlies got everything set up like it is now.”
“Damn, you're tough,” Tom exclaims. He’s true. We’ve not been through nearly as much stuff as him. “Does Charlie have you doing jobs?”
“Yeah, me and this man John have been rounding up survivors,” Matt says “Charlie has us going down to the water plant tomorrow to check it out. I’ll ask him if you can tag along.” He grins “If you’re tough enough,”
“Sure,” Tom says “Anything to help, but why are you doing this instead of adults,” I ask. It would be a lot safer to have adults do it.
“My brain,” Matt says. Of course, he can gather intel and relay it in exact detail. It seems obvious now.
We spend the rest of the dinner laughing and talking and eating junk.
“Shit,” I whisper, “Get down.” We all crouch down and hide out of sight. A reaper. I can see the distorted black figure though the window. Its hooded head turns towards us gazing. We lock eyes, it spots me. A familiar static sound fills the air and the glass shatters.