"I'll be riding the truck in another week," the man said.
"You just got it then?"
"Yep. Four days ago I was thirty-two. Today's my last work," he
grunted as they heaved the shot corpse onto the truck. "My
strength's gone. It gets you that way, you know. I may look forty,
but I feel seventy. Time to retire." They heaved on the last of the
pile, stopped for a breather while the truck moved ahead. "It was
just like they say, the first sign is you can't get it up. That
started about a week ago. Soon my face showed the signs. Ain't
easy to take, the Death I mean."
"You should save your strength," Chris suggested.
"For what?" laughed the man, as he dabbed a sleeve at the sweat dripping down his forehead. "My old age?"
"They say it's going to get everybody."
"Death always has. Just not so soon. Don't know what the kids
are gonna do though. I'm one of the oldest left," said the still
nameless man. "The kids'll have to carry us away. We gotta work
right up to the last, to make it easier for them. They got
enough to take care of, let alone have to pick up the dead."
"Yes, I guess so," replied Chris.
"How old are you? Really, I mean."
It was the question Chris feared most. "Nineteen," he lied.
"Yeah?" Chris felt the man's eyes scrutinize his face. "It'll get you soon. Maybe started already."
"Could be," murmured Chris. Sometimes he wished it would. He thought of asking the man how he'd escaped the Death for
so long, decided not to, fearing the man might respond with the
It was time to work again; they walked down the block
towards the next pile of bodies. It was hot and humid, and the
smell was rapidly getting worse.
On the street corner sat two old looking men in wheelchairs.
Just past them was the next pile of bodies. There were two other
trucks, already loaded with dead, waiting with their crews at the
end of the block.
The two old men stared from their wheelchairs as the workers
walked past. One of them said, "Hey Ed, you gotta light?"
Chris' companion stopped to oblige.
Trying not to look at the old men, Chris walked on. The
voice had sounded disturbingly familiar. He was sure it was that
of someone he had met several days ago.
The crew of sweaty men had worked its way to the last pile
of bodies at the end of the block by the time Ed caught up again.
Chris wondered what had taken so long. Feeling apprehensive, he
started trying to think of a way to excuse himself from the work
Instead of rejoining them, Ed walked straight across the
street to where the crews from the other two trucks were sitting
on the curb.
Chris was just heaving on the last corpse when he noticed
that the other crews had risen from where they were sitting and
were following Ed back across the street. They're all looking at
me! Chris took a step backward involuntarily, hoping that it was
just his paranoia. They began to run for him!
Chris spun and ran back down the sidewalk, his heart in his
They're old, he thought, I can outrun them.
Glancing over his shoulder, Chris crossed the street towards
the other sidewalk. They were so close! His feet seemed to
barely even touch the pavement as he ran with the effort fear
compels. His backpack whipped his back as he ran, as if to spur
His ears told him they were still close behind as he rounded
the corner to the left. He crossed the street again, this time
to the right. If only I can get some distance on them, he
thought, I can duck into an entrance after I turn the corner at
the end of the next block.
Without looking back, he knew he had pulled away by the time
he turned right at the next intersection.
Through the broken glass front door of a department store he
flew, into the cool darkness. Making his way through the isles,
he tried not to stumble on the rubble while his eyes adjusted to
the dimness. He searched ahead towards the back wall for the
shape of a doorway, found the outline of one against a lighter
shade of blackness. He pushed through, thankful it made no
As the door swung shut behind him there was absolute
darkness and the smell of mildewed concrete. Reaching both arms
out to his right, he felt around for a wall, tripped on a
stair step. What now? he thought. He turned around and felt
about carefully with his foot; found the steps leading down. He
was on a small landing in a stairwell; the last wall was blank.
As he hesitated, Chris felt a wave of desperation sweep over
him. He had hoped for a back door. While not really wanting to
go up or down, he certainly did not want to go back the way he
had come. He decided he would rather go up and started climbing
quietly, carefully in the dark.
He tried to figure out what the others would be doing. He
had heard no one enter the store after him, but they would figure
that he had ducked into some doorway, and would certainly check
this building. There were many stores, many doorways however,
and they wouldn't know whether he had escaped out some back door.
He passed a landing and continued on up. When his feet
found the next landing he felt for the door handle, pulled,
stepped back from utter darkness into dimness. Now he was on the
floor two flights up from street level. The small rectangles of
sunlight coming through the windows across the room were so bright they blinded him to everything inside the room.
There was a clear area at the center of the floor with display cabinets filling the rest of the area. If I can just find a cabinet or something to hide in until night time, he thought. He crept over to a window and carefully looked out at the street, wary that someone might be looking up at the windows. All three trucks had moved to the intersection directly below him, but he could see only a handful of men. They're all searching! he thought, panic beginning to gnaw at him again. Where can I hide?
When he turned back from the window to look for a hiding
place though, he found that his eyes had readjusted to the
daylight. The inside of the store had become darkness again. He
cursed as he waited for his nightvision to return.
Still feeling panicky, he began wandering around, crashing
noisily into the debris on the floor, trying to see through the
lingering afterimages on his retinas. His legs found a display
table. Suddenly there was a glow of light over to the left; he
thought his eye caught some movement near the floor. The moving
object seemed to be someone's head sticking up out of the floor!
As his terror took form, so did the glowing shoulders which rose
from the floor beneath the moving head.
Finally he realized that the man was walking up out of an
escalator, holding a flashlight. Chris knelt down, searched
desperately for a door to the cabinet, found it already half
open, slid in as quietly as he could. His backpack hung; with a
twist he got it unstuck. There seemed to be an insufferable
amount of noise involved. He tried to pull his feet inside
without any more rustling of the paper the cabinet seemed so full
He didn't dare leave the cabinet door open, hated to risk
the noise of closing it. He found the edge with the fingers of
his left hand, began sliding it slowly shut, gauging his speed by
the noise that it made.
Then he listened, trying to control breathing which seemed
loud inside the cabinet. He hadn't heard a sound since he had ducked behind the counter. Had the man come on up? Were others with him? Why is it so quiet? worried Chris.
Copyright ©1995 R. Verner