This is a free zombie fiction preview of the short story "Infestation" by Bryan Cassiday. Cassiday's anthology, Comes a Chopper, will be released June 3rd. This is the first time this excerpt has been released publicly.
The silence was deafening. It was like snow falling, entombing Los Angeles in ponderous layers of quiet. And yet it wasn’t snowing. It was a warm spring day. And this was Los Angeles. It never snowed in Los Angeles.
Sitting beside the window in his apartment, Sully could feel the warmth of the sunlight as it struck his wrist. From the direction of the sun, it was about five o’clock in the afternoon, he figured. It was a good way to tell the time of day, especially when you were blind.
But why was it so quiet? he wondered. The question kept niggling at the back of his mind. Where was the endless sound of traffic beneath his window?
Not that he really needed to know the time of day, since he had no job to go to or anywhere that he had to be. He had lost his sight in a car accident while returning home from a night of pub-crawling in Hollywood. He should have had a designated driver with him, but he had gotten pie-eyed alone. Monday morning quarterbacking was always twenty-twenty. There was no sense in crying over spilt milk. He could not set back the clock and he wasn’t going to spend the rest of his life wallowing in self-pity because he went on a toot one night.
He simply had to learn how to adapt to his new life of being blind. It had been all of five years since his accident and he believed he was getting along pretty well, considering the circumstances. It wasn’t every blind man who could live alone and take care of himself, in spite of his handicap. That was something to feel proud of. And he did feel proud. Lonely in his separation from humanity, but proud nonetheless. He was beating the odds every day he got by on his own and made it through another day.
There was something odd about today, though. The quiet. The interminable quiet. No traffic. No garbage truck picking up trash.
There weren’t any sounds. It was stone quiet—like three feet of snow had fallen on the city.
He cupped his hand around his ear to amplify his hearing. It did no good. He still heard nothing. He shook his head in disappointment. Was he going deaf? he wondered. On a normal day he could hear dogs barking, cars whooshing underneath his window, buses chugging by, brakes squeaking to a halt, tires shrieking, the shrill of an ambulance’s siren, planes flying overhead, pedestrians chattering on the sidewalk underneath his window . . .
What had happened to them? he wondered, becoming apprehensive now. Something definitely wasn’t right today.
The sun was still out, though. He could feel its warmth on the back of his wrist, reassuring him of its presence. He chuckled to himself at the thought. As long as the sun’s shining, all’s right with the world, he thought. So what if he could not see it? He could feel it. That was the most important thing. Feeling.
But the deadly quiet was unnerving.
The refrigerator clicked on and fell to humming. He startled at the sound. At least, the refrigerator was working. The power was on. But where was everybody? He reached for the transistor radio on the coffee table in front of him.
Flicking on the radio’s dial, he got white noise. He tried another station with the same result. No matter which station he tried, he got static. He turned off the radio, the static grating on his nerves.
As he tried to figure out what was going on, he heard a commotion beyond his door in the stairwell. Two or more persons were rushing up the stairs. One guy was ascending two steps at a time. Some kind of an emergency, Sully decided, heartbeat accelerating.
He flinched as a flurry of fists commenced pounding on his locked door.
“Help!” cried the person.
Apprehensively, Sully got up and made his way to the door, as the frenzied rapping continued.
“Who is it?” he said, reaching the door.
“Help us, mister!”
“They’re trying to kill us!”
“Open the door before they get here!”
It was a woman’s voice this time, Sully realized. So there were at least two of them, as he had suspected.
“Who’s trying to kill you?” said Sully.
“We don’t have time to talk about it. Open the door or we’re dead!” said the woman. Her voice became more frantic. “They’re coming up the stairs!”
How could he trust these strangers? Sully wondered. He had no idea who they were. They could be burglars trying to escape the police, for all he knew. On the other hand, he had not heard any police sirens. If the police were near, he would have heard a siren.
Then he heard what sounded like growling gibberish. He didn’t know how else to describe it. He heard guttural sounds that didn’t form words. There was something ominous and nerve-racking about the harsh grunts emanating from the stairwell. They were animal sounds. Something not human, anyway, decided Sully.
The rapping on his door became more frenetic.
“They’re almost here, mister! Let us in!” cried the woman.
She sounded young, in her twenties, Sully decided.
He unlocked his door and opened it. He had no idea what was going on, but these people were in trouble. There was no doubt of that.
The two strangers barged past him, all but knocking him over in their haste to enter his room. They slammed the door behind them and locked it as a mob of howling, grunting people that sounded more like animals than people crashed against it, trying to get in.
“Is that door gonna hold, Roy?” said the woman.
“I hope so,” said Roy. “It looks pretty solid.”
Roy sounded about the same age as the woman, Sully decided.
Sully could smell the rank odor of sweat mixed with fear in the room. The air fairly crackled with the anxious tension of the two strangers.
“What’s going on?” he asked. “Who are those people out there?”
“Don’t you know what happened?” said the woman.
Sully shook his head.
“He doesn’t know, Beth,” said Roy.
“Don’t you ever look out your window?” Beth asked Sully.
Sully didn’t know whether he should tell them he was blind. At this point, he wasn’t sure they could be trusted. After all, he had no idea who they were. They were two complete strangers that had barreled into his room, reeking of panic.
“I was asleep,” he said.
They would probably find out sooner or later that he was blind, but he decided he would not tell them yet.
“How can you sleep through something like this?” said Roy. “And why are you wearing those shades inside?”
“They relax my eyes.”
“I guess you haven’t been outside lately, have you, mister?” said Beth.
“No, I don’t get out much these days. My name’s Sully.”
“You’re old, Sully, but not that old. What are you? Scared to go out? Do you have agoraphobia?”
“I’d be scared, too,” said Roy. “The way things are now.”
“That’s understandable, because you’re a coward,” said Beth.
“What are you talking about?” said Roy, bristling.
“You ran away. That’s your answer to everything. Running away.”
“I could kick the shit out of your ex-boyfriends any day of the week.”
“Settle down,” said Sully.
He had no desire to listen this quarrel, especially since it reminded him of his ex-wife, who had left him a year before his accident. She had called him a coward because of his drinking. She had said boozing was a coward’s way out. She could really get under his skin, he had to hand it to her. This Beth was riding Roy the same way, and Sully didn’t want to listen to it.
“Who put you in charge, old man?” said Roy. “You got your head buried in the sand like an ostrich. You don’t even know what’s happening out there.”
“What is happening out there?” asked Sully.
“Take a look outside your window.”
"Cassiday blends thoughtful suspense and pulse-pounding terror to deliver a novel with both bite and creeping dread."
Comes a Chopper is a collection of Bryan Cassiday’s tales from the dark side.
--David Dunwoody on SANCTUARY IN STEELBryan Cassiday's "Chad Halverson" zombie apocalypse series includes ZOMBIE MAELSTROM, ZOMBIE NECROPOLIS, SANCTUARY IN STEEL, KILL RATIO, and POXLAND.
Comes a Chopper is a collection of Bryan Cassiday’s tales from the dark side.