Saul and Vernon had a quick and quiet breakfast in the sunlit kitchen. They both would have wanted a few more hours of sleep but Vernon wanted to be far away from the city. Saul tried to hide a quick yawn but it was too late.
“Saul, I wonder if those things were in my head? I had a nightmare last night,” Vernon explained.
Saul nodded. “I understand what you mean. We need to be far away from those... things,” Saul said with disgust.
Vernon took one more lingering gaze around his beige colored kitchen. He remembered dinners, lunches and breakfasts sitting at his table.
This was it, he was never coming back to his cozy apartment. Anger rose up inside. Those damned creatures! Just as quickly, his anger faded. He wondered if more of those floppy brain creatures will show up and break the door down and get him if he stayed.
He shook his head no. Vernon did not intend to be here. His fists clenched as he thought of what they made him give up. I will make you bastards pay, he resolved.
“Vernon? Are you OK?” Saul asked fearfully while his friend stood up and balled his fists.
“Yeah,” Vernon replied.
The next half hour was spent cleaning up and teaching Saul the basics of handling a gun. Once Saul had that down, Vernon unlocked the door then he peered outside.
The hallway was clear. Two of the apartments had cracked open doors. Vernon motioned to Saul to stay where he was.
Saul clutched his gun. He was hoping that he would not need it so soon.
Vernon walked up to Apt 6A and listened carefully. After that he opened the door slowly and crept inside the apartment.
Saul noticed that Vernon came back quickly with a grimace on his face. “What did you see?” Saul asked.
“I saw some sort of green fuzzy stuff growing all over the apartment. We need to go,” Vernon replied. “Wait,” Vernon said and then he went through his bag. A few minutes later he gave Saul two white plastic gloves. “When we get outside, take them off and throw them away,” Vernon said.
They started down the stairs while listening for footsteps. While they passed the lower floors, Saul and Vernon saw that some of the doors were open. Vernon hoped that nothing was waiting for them outside.
At the bottom of the stairs, there was a furry pile. Mold was growing up the wall and on the carpet. Vernon figured that was the body of the creature he killed earlier.
They carefully stepped over the line of mold that was growing across the floor.
Outside the apartment building, they shivered in the cool air but maybe it was fear.
Vernon did not like how the streets were still quiet. No birds or cars or people screaming on their cellphones, it was like a ghost town. A really big ghost town with fuzzy mats of gray mold on the ground.
Vernon fished his compass out of his pocket then he glanced at it. “We have to head that way.” He pointed down the block.
Saul just walked behind Vernon and then they headed down the block gingerly stepping over furry gray patches of mold.
For several hours, they traveled the streets, senses alert for any sound or movement. The group skipped lunch so they could keep going.
Vernon lived in a residential area but now they were in an area with a lot of restaurants. One look in an Italian restaurant's window ruined Vernon's appetite and added fear to the menu.
Inside the restaurant, the two men could see large greenish white fuzzy cocoons covering the chairs. All of the cocoons looked like they had been opened from the inside.
“How did this terrible thing happen?” Saul asked.
“I think when the black dust fell, people breathed some in and...” Vernon explained. He briefly thought about sneaking in and scavenging but he did not want to walk around the cocoons. Also there was a chance that something was still inside.
Saul crossed the street and screamed. “Oh No! Not Trattorino Azzura!”
Vernon looked around then followed Saul across the street.
“I used to eat here with Morty and some friends!” Saul whispered when Vernon joined him in front of the doomed restaurant.
Gunshots and screams sounded in the distance. Saul glanced at Vernon.
Vernon just said,”Slowly.”
They crossed another street and used cars for cover. Vernon and Saul ducked behind another car. The sounds of barks and growls made them more nervous.
Vernon flicked the safety off of his gun then he carefully peeked.
Three floppy brained dogs were attacking a group of four people. A guy lay on the floor groaning about his leg. A white terrier was humping another woman's leg, it would have been funny but the white haired woman kept screaming, “Get it offa me! Its screwing my leg!”
The last two people were trying to keep a flappy brained pitbull at bay with wild swings of their bats. A brown and white terrier joined the pitbull in growling and snapping at the bat swingers.
“Vern, we gotta help them!” Saul whispered.
“Ok, Saul shoot the terrier that is banging the lady's leg. Don't forget the safety,” Vernon said.
Saul looked at his gun and turned the safety off. He aimed at the white terrier. Saul squeezed the trigger. The white terrier fell over.
Vernon aimed for the pitbull and put a round in its chest. The flappy dog's chest blew apart spraying greenish red blood on the ground.
The brown and white terrier took advantage of the guy swinging the bat and clamped onto his leg knocking him down.
Vernon and Saul ran up to the group. The white terrier tried to stand up but Vernon put a shot through its head ending its leg raping days.
Saul checked out the first guy, he had stopped groaning. Mold was growing so quickly all over his leg, Saul could see it spread, that made his stomach roil at the sight.
“Please help me. I can't feel my legs,” The white haired woman gasped.
He reluctantly looked at her mold covered legs. Green strands were already growing toward her thigh.
“Lady, I don't know what to do,” Saul said.
“If you can't do anything for me, just kill me. I don't want to slowly die this way,” The woman gasped.
Saul raised his gun but he could not pull the trigger. Suddenly, a bullet hole appeared in the woman's head.
He looked up and saw Vernon's mournful face. The only survivor of the group walked up to them.
“Why did you do that?” The brown haired woman said.
“We do not have anything that could help them. Do you want to have them come back as floppy brained freaks?” Vernon replied.
The brown haired woman looked down. “How do you? Wait.”
She looked at her traveling companion's still bodies. It looked like they were sleeping. Greenish gray strands of mold were already crawling up on their bodies.
“Please, put the other ones out of their misery. Please,” She begged.
Saul looked at the mold growing on the bodies with disgust. Even with seeing the green strands spreading, he still wondered why she would let Vernon shoot her friends so quickly.
“Lady, I'm sorry for your friends,” Saul said.
They both flinched as two shots rang out.
“My name is Caroline, Caroline Hawkins. I just ran into these people a half hour ago,” Caroline said.
“I'm Saul, Saul Gerstner,” Saul said.
Saul looked at Vernon, he was just standing over the last victim of the dogs.
“Vern, are you OK?” Saul asked with concern.
“Yeah,” Vern replied and pocketed his gun.
“We should keep moving,” Vernon suggested.
“What about their stuff?” Caroline asked.
“Do you want to paw through their stuff while more dogs or worse might come by?” Vernon asked.
“Can I come with you guys?” Caroline asked while glancing at Saul and Vernon.
Saul and Vernon exchanged a glance before saying yes.
“Sorry, I should have introduced myself earlier. My name is Vernon Johnson,” Vernon said.
He did not stick out his hand to shake. His hands were still shaking from the adrenalin coursing through his veins.
“Guys, I know a place where we can get guns and some ammo. Maybe we can stop by there and get some?” Caroline suggested.
“Yeah, we will get some more ammo but we can only carry so much,” Vernon agreed.
After Vernon checked his compass, they headed down the block. Saul did not even look back at the furry mass behind him.
“So, where are you guys going?” Caroline asked while they headed to the gunshop.
“We are going for Chedds Ford or some other suburb town. I think that there will be less flappy brain things there. In a war, if you have limited resources, you go for the population centers first. Most people are in cities anyway,” Vernon explained.
“That is a cold way to think of things but it makes sense. What are the flappy brained things you mentioned? I have seen the dogs but I have also seen the larger cocoons too,” Caroline said as a shiver ran down her back.
Saul also thought Vernon's reasoning was kinda cold too but he knew that Vernon had been in the Army.
“Saul and I ran into a flappy brained human or something that looked kinda human. I had to kill it,” Vernon replied.
Caroline had to stop a second to process that there were flappy brained people.
“What did it do?” Caroline asked with a look of fear.
“It tried to spit some sort of black stuff on me but I stuck a knife in its head and it died,” Vernon replied.
“It would suck if flappy brained people were smart enough to use guns,” Caroline stated with fear.
“That is why I would like to be out of the city,” Vernon said while he looked around like gun toting flappy brain people were going to appear.
“Excuse me Caroline, but how did you survive? You have seen the piles of mold. People that breathe in the black dust...” Saul asked.
“Well, I have air conditioning. So all of my windows are closed. Also my bedroom is in the center of the apartment. Anyway, I only saw the black dust when my air conditioner spat out some before it stopped working. I also heard the emergency broadcast messages so I knew not to touch the stuff,” Caroline said and turned around to face Saul and Vernon.
“I went outside and looked around a bit and decided it was the End of Days. I went back to my apartment then I had a party of one. The next day, zombies and demons did not fill the streets so I figured that I might have a chance. After walking around a bit, I found some folks to travel with. Well, you saw how well that went,” Caroline said sadly.
“We need to move...” Vernon suggested.
“Yeah, sure,” Caroline replied and led the way down the street.
They started to walk away when Saul grabbed Vernon's arm.
“What are we going to do about them?” Saul asked.
“I don't know. I don't think we have the time to do anything,” Vernon replied.
“I agree with Saul, we need to do something,” Caroline pushed.
Vernon turned to face both of them.
“We can't leave their dead bodies like that, its not right,” Saul urged.
Vernon kept his eyes on Saul's face. “I hear you but what can we do?”
Saul's eyes looked all over the place before focusing on a car. “Maybe we can siphon some gas from a car...”
“OK, but you will need a tube to siphon gas with. I don't have one in the bags. So we have to scavenge for that. After that we have to burn the bodies and put the fire out. How are we going to do that?” Vernon asked.
“We can't just walk away!” Saul continued.
“I understand. I wish I could do something but time is running out. I don't and you don't want to be fumbling around in the dark looking for a safe place to sleep and eat,” Vernon said.
“Caroline, did you get any warning before the flappy headed dogs attacked?” Vernon asked.
Caroline glanced to the left and then looked back at Vernon. “No. There was no warning. No howls, nothing. One second we were walking and the next the dogs were on us,” Caroline replied sadly.
Vernon looked around but he managed to not look closely at the moldy pile behind them.
“We have to go and get more ammo. Maybe we can get better guns? Now we need to move on,” Vernon said.
The group continued down the block.
A few hours later, they passed Fanier Park. Seeing an empty children's park added to Saul's melancholy. No rugrats running around screaming or climbing on the monkey bars.
Vernon was happy that he did not see any mold cocoons large enough to cover a kid. There were a few for birds and some large enough for squirrels. The idea of having to fight birds clawing at his face or squirrels gnawing at his feet made him walk faster past the park.
Carol stopped in front of a gun store named Philly Arms, its windows were covered by silvery metal gates.
“Looks like its closed,” Vernon stated.
“Yeah, we have to go in the back. Just hide your guns and relax. Clayton is kinda squirrely. So I have to speak slowly and carefully,” Caroline explained.
“I don't think we have the time for this. We should keep going. I do not want to be fumbling around in the dark,” Vernon pushed.
“Clayton, um Clay, we go way back. I think I can get him to help us,” Caroline urged.
The group walked around the corner into a small alleyway. Vernon clutched his gun through his jacket. He kept expecting something to jump out at them.
Carol stopped in front of a gray door covered with rust streaks from the iron grill over the window. She pressed a button on the rust covered intercom.
Saul eyed the rusty grill and the dirty doorway with disgust. It offended him. Everyday, Saul inspected and cleaned up the outside of the store.
A tired voice crackled through the speaker,”Frag you, I am not joining anything!”
Vernon felt a chill race down his back. Clayton was still human but Vernon wondered when and how the floppy brained humans contacted him.
“Clay, its me, Caroline,” Caroline said cheerfully.
“Caroline? Is that really you? Who are those people with you?” Clayton asked with a voice filled with distrust.
Vernon looked around for a camera but he could not see one.
“These guys saved my life when we got attacked by some flappy headed dogs,” Carol explained.
“Flappy headed dogs? Those things exist?” Clayton asked.
“Yeah Clay. Lost some friends to them too. Come on and open the door and let us in. Its dangerous out here,” Caroline urged.
Vernon looked at Saul.
Saul looked back.
Vernon wanted to say something but maybe he would piss off Clayton and they would get nothing.
“You know what, I don't really have enough ammo or food to share with you. That is why you are here right?” Clayton asked.
“Yeah Clay, anything you can spare. Heck, we can scavenge for you if you want,” Caroline offered.
The setting sun and growing shadows were making Vernon nervous. Soon they would have to find a safe place to rest and make something to eat.
“You know what? I don't have enough but I can see you need something. Caroline take a few steps back and I will throw you a box with an emergency radio. It does not need batteries, just a strong arm. Get ready,” Clayton said.
Caroline sighed and moved back.
A window opened above them with a rusty shriek. Clayton tossed a box out the window. Caroline barely caught the brown box, if she was bit slower, it would have hit the ground.
Vernon pushed past Caroline and pushed the intercom button. “What do you see in your dreams Clayton?”
“Crap man, don't mention my friggin nasty dreams,” Clayton replied with fear.
“You can't stay here, they might find you. Who knows how powerful they will get. At least if you leave the city, the dreams will go away. Come with us,” Vernon offered.
“Thanks for the offer man but I will stay here. Its getting dark. Check out the RentaStor building two blocks away from here. Their security is sloppy but if you can get in one of the larger storage rooms or containers, they have metal doors. I doubt the floppy brained freaks carry blowtorches. You should be safe until morning,” Clayton suggested.
“Thanks,” Vernon said.
He looked around and saw the setting sun. It was coloring everything orange and red.
“Come on! You don't want to be outside when it gets dark,” Vernon said.
Saul and Caroline followed Vernon as they headed to the storage rental building while the sun painted them the color of blood. Saul hoped that he would not be shedding any tonight as he scurried after his friends.