Dylan woke to the insistent buzz of his alarm clock, his whole head feeling like it wanted to explode. He smacked the clock to turn it off, rolled out of bed and staggered to the shower. The Grant Starr concert had left him totally wrecked. Lots of ambient pot-smoke and someone had passed him a popper. He considered calling out from work this morning.
He sniffed, wondering why the smell of frying eggs wasn't sending him to the bathroom to heave. Then he remembered, Aaron was gone. Nobody was cooking breakfast, laughing at his hang-over. Aaron had stormed out the afternoon before, leaving him on his own for the concert.
The previous day came back to him in a haze. Dylan suddenly noticed that the morning was very quiet. No ambient traffic or street noises filled his apartment. Only birdsong came faintly through the closed window.
Hesitant and worried now, he peered out the window. No cars moved in the streets. A man lay face down on the sidewalk across the street, a key still clutched in his hand.
“Oh shit. It's the zombie apocalypse!” Dylan said, startling himself with the sound of his own words. He looked up and down to see if anything moved. The coast was clear so he hurried down the steps to see what had happened to the world.
Up the block, a woman sat on the curb, her head buried in her hands. The soft sound of sobs reached Dylan in the quiet morning. Zombies didn't cry.
He walked down the block and sat beside her. She didn't notice he was there until he spoke.
“What's going on?” he said, as softly as he could so as not to startle her.
She jumped anyway and then looked at him, wet streaks all over her dark cheeks. “My husband and babies are dead. All of them!” She buried her face in her hands again and cried some more.
Dylan put an arm around her, human contact in a world where humans seemed to be gone. She leaned into him and cried until she had no tears left.
“I'm sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “I don't even know you.”
“Dylan Taggert. I live across the street and down, in the Covington.”
“Tawanda Matthews.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder at her own building. “I can't go back in there. But who is going to bury them or preach the funeral? I don't even know who to call. All the cell towers are jammed, and I can't get anything but a recording when I call 911 on the landline.” She laughed, sounding hysterical. “My husband is a cop, and I don't know who to call in an emergency.”
Dylan rubbed her back a little. “I don't know. Is anyone else alive in your building? I haven't checked mine.” Finding other people seemed to be the first order of business. He wiped away a trickle of sweat. Then, getting away from the dead people. If the empty street was anything to go by, there would be too many to bury. Striking out for open country might be the best.
He took a deep breath, feeling very uncomfortable at even making a suggestion. “Tawanda, we might be the only people still alive. Or we might not. Let's go find out. You work your way through your apartment building. I'll go through mine. We'll meet back here with anyone we find.”
She took a deep breath and stood up, wiping away the end of her tears. “Yeah, I can do that.” A wide-eyed look of horror crossed her face. “The people above me have a new baby. If they're dead and it's alive, I have to save it.”
Dylan smiled. “Yes. We'll decide what to do about our own dead once we see who is alive.”
Tawanda hurried into the building, pausing for just a moment. “Do you think it's the Rapture and God just didn't take their bodies?”
Dylan shook his head as he got to his feet. “Probably the CDC let some nasty virus escape.”
“You go on, too. See you in a bit.” The gloom of the lobby cut off the sight of Tawanda.
Dylan cursed himself for a cad and a coward. He couldn't lead a group. He couldn't be around people. Tawanda had been the limit of people he could handle for the day. He went up to his apartment, packed a small bag with the bits of camping gear he had in the front closet, and drove away without knocking on any doors. The others would have to make do on their own. He had a plan.
He never saw Tawanda again.