This is a continuation of the first Vaxdemic
You can find Chapter 1 here
I slept with my curtains and blinds open for the first time. I wanted to be up once it was light outside. I had decided I needed to know if my neighbors were still around. That meant, that if they didn’t answer their door, I would have to find a way inside. I lived near the end of the street with two houses between my own and the corner. The houses in my neighborhood were decently sized at around two thousand square feet. Most of them had two stories. I never used my upstairs since there was a bedroom on the first floor and my living room was my office. So, there was just a few boxes of stuff I never used up there.
I decided to start with my neighbors to the right. Their house looked a lot like my own except it was blue where mine was brick. One car was parked in the driveway but I was pretty sure the last time I checked they had two. Since that was almost a year ago it could be new people. I knocked on the door for ten minutes with no reply. I tried yelling. I normally don’t talk much since I don’t see many people. Yelling was hard, and my throat started to hurt very quickly. Either they couldn’t hear me or they couldn’t answer.
I tried to open the door but it was locked. I walked around the house trying all the windows, but they were locked too, but the gate to the back yard wasn’t. The yard looked like it always had, as much as I could tell. The tree had lots of branches laying at its base and the leaves looked like they needed raking but maybe they were lazy like me. I tried the basement door. The doorknob didn’t turn, but the door wobbled when I pushed it. Something at the top kept me from opening it more. I shook the door as hard as I could but it didn’t open. I tried to kick it, but all that did was wear me out. Since the stairs came down the side of the house I decided to push against the wall and try to force the door open.
On the third try the lock gave way and I fell flat on my face. It had been a long time since I had been hit in the face with anything, and a concrete floor is not soft. I got away with a bloody nose and a scrap on my right hand. Once in the basement I could see stairs going up to the rest of the house. I couldn’t hear any footsteps above me. The basement was filled with the kind of junk all basements are filled with, except mine. There were tools, innertubes for tubing, fans, and random boxes of junk. It was hard to see much more without any light. I carefully made my way up the stairs.
The main floor was neat and clean. I came up through the kitchen. In the dining room as a bowl of withering apples. They weren’t rotten but they were getting wrinkly. I couldn’t hear anyone in here either. I walked around the main floor. The living room was clean, the kitchen was too, as was the bathroom. None of the appliances were on since the power was still off. I moved up to the next floor.
There were three bedrooms up here. Each one was empty. One was obviously the parents’ room, or parent. I never knew them so I didn’t know. The two kids’ rooms were easier to identify. One had a game console and the other a laptop. If I had to guess they belong to a boy and girl respectively. There was just no one here. I decided to try my neighbors to the left.
Leaving the house was easier than getting in. I unlocked the front door and walked out. No need to lock it back, I didn’t have a key after all. To the left of my house lived an old couple. At least I was pretty sure. I remember them waving to me when I moved in almost a decade ago and I’m pretty sure it’s the same car in front. Just like the last house no one answered when I knocked. The front door was locked and so were all the windows. They had a basement door too, but there’s too much junk in front of it to open, or I’m too weak to push it out of the way. I tried kicking in the front door and I was glad no one saw me fail, because I fell off the stoop and the door didn’t budge.
I lay in the brown grass of early November and tried to think of a way in. I decided to go back to the other neighbor and see if I could find a crowbar in their basement. The basement looked a lot darker from the inside stairs so I searched the kitchen for a flashlight. I found a cheap plastic one who’s batteries were nearly dead, but it’s better than nothing. It took an hour of searching and the death of the batteries but I found a crowbar. It was heavier than video games led me to believe.
If you’ve never used a crowbar before like I hadn’t, it's a lot harder than you think. I tried gently putting it between the door and frame. That just crushed the wood around the door but didn’t open it. With the gap between the door and frame visible I tried to pry at the knob to disengage the lock. That also didn’t work. The front door had a big oval shaped piece of glass that looked like stained glass. You couldn’t see through it. I tried but couldn’t see anything. I sat down on the porch and tried to think of something. Maybe I could pry open a window? No, the windows were kind of high. I doubt if I did, I could climb through it. Breaking them was the same problem but with broken glass. A sudden epiphany hit me. I didn’t have to break the other windows I could just break the one on the door.
I got back to the front door and hesitated. Until this point, I had never broken a window before. What if they were in there only ignoring me? What if they called the cops and I went to jail? I looked around. I still hadn’t heard any traffic all day. The articles I had read said the death toll was uncountable because it was so high. There may not be any police to respond. There was certainly no power. I decided I would try, and if there were people inside all I could do was apologize and pay for the damage when things got back to normal.
Video games make breaking a window look really easy. My first swing chipped the glass, my second cracked it. I had to take a break after that. Once again, I was too weak to do something I thought I could do. I guess years of computer work don’t really build strength, or the glass was made to resist this somehow. I got up and tried again. The crowbar went through but it took several more swings and a few more breaks to clear out all the glass. With the hospitals full I didn’t want to take the risk of getting cut. I reached in and unlocked the door.
The house smelled faintly of rotten meat. I had heard stories that old people’s houses stunk sometimes when no one cared for them, but this house looked pretty neat. There was no one in the living room or kitchen. As I got further into the house the smell got stronger. I remember hoping that maybe it was an old used adult diaper, or some actual meat that for some reason wasn’t in the kitchen. When I opened the door to the bedroom on the first floor I found out where the smell was coming from.
Both of the old people were in the bedroom, dead. One was on the bed, the other was in a chair. Both were rotten and it was the worst thing I had ever smelled in my life. I ran outside as fast as I could and threw up in their yard. I’d seen corpses in video games and movies, and was suddenly glad none of them had smell. These bodies didn’t look like they did in video games. They were pale and black at the same time, and strangely shiny, like they were covered in liquid. I decided not to go back in that house for now. The smell followed me outside. I closed the front door and the storm door and retched a little at the thought of what I had just seen. I also decided if I found that smell in any of the other houses I would not go looking if I could help it.
I went back to the first neighbor’s house and got a bottle of water from their kitchen to rinse my mouth out. The search of my neighborhood now had an uncomfortable element of surprise. The daylight was half gone by my estimation. I needed to find something to cook with since the power was still off and I wanted something other than candy, having finished off the jerky the night before. I decided to check out the first neighbor’s basement again. After another hour of digging around I found and old camp stove and a bottle of propane. In their kitchen I found several cans of vegetables, soup, and other things to eat. I opened their fridge but they had obviously cleaned it out before leaving.
I settled on a meal of chicken noodle soup. I didn’t want to try anything else with my stomach still rolling from my earlier discovery. After the meal I decided, I didn’t want to spend the evening in the dark so I took my car back to the super market to look for a flash light. It took a few hours. The emergency lights weren’t as bright this time. I also got a pack of water and all the jerky I could. I didn’t want to come back for a while if I didn’t have to.
The sun was setting as I drove home. I was starting to get worried. Did everyone else die? Was I all alone? What would I need to do to survive if there was no one else? I was so involved in my own thoughts I almost missed the person walking down the sidewalk. I slammed on my breaks and threw my car into reverse. Standing on the side walk looking back at me was the smiling face of an old woman. I rolled down the window and she immediately said, “I’m so glad to see someone else. Can you talk? Can you understand me?”
I nodded at her and said, “Yes, I can.”
Her eyes started to water. “Oh, thank goodness. I thought everyone else was gone, even the crazy ones. My name is Ruth.” For the first time in as long as I can remember, I was happy to see another person.