There's No Place Like Home, Part 1
Updated: Sep 26, 2021
A widower falls asleep one night and wakes up in a world overrun with zombies. Will he survive long enough to get back home? Read it here or download the ebook.
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Max set the beer down and stared at the wall above the television as news reports echoed throughout the house. He ignored the newswoman reporting record-breaking deaths attributed to the virus that swept the planet. While the rest of the world panicked, Max sat in his chair and fidgeted with a small box of matches. He slipped out a single match and twisted it between his fingers.
After igniting the flame, Max stared into the burning light. It reminded him of her. She was the only woman that demanded more from him, and he gave her everything: heart, soul, and body. Then she died.
The match burned out, so he dropped it and lit another. Max’s eyes watered at the memory of his dead wife. Six years. That’s all he had with her. He wasted so much time before meeting her. Wasted it on partying, women that didn’t matter, and a biker gang that only wanted to drag him deeper into the criminal world. Then she saved him.
The second match died, and Max struck a third. He pinched this one tight and extended his arm out over the open gas can sitting at his feet. She saved him from a short-lived criminal life, only to abandon him to a long, miserable life without her. She was his moral compass that kept him on the right path. Without her, every breath Max took seared his lungs and squeezed his heart, and he couldn’t think of a reason to keep enduring the pain. There were no pictures on his walls of family or friends, only her. And she was gone.
The flame crawled down the match toward his tender fingers, and he grimaced. He should’ve done it. He should’ve just let go, but Max knew what she would’ve said had she seen him like this.
“Sometimes doing the right thing is hard,” he said to the match. “Do it anyway.”
As the fire touched his skin, Max flipped the match into his palm and smothered it. He stared at his fist for a moment, then he sighed and dropped the cold stick into the can. It floated along the surface of the gas with dozens of other burnt torches, while he slipped the box of matches into his jacket pocket.
As the newswoman reported on a meteor shower that was expected to brighten the sky that night, Max stood up and switched the television off. He screwed the lid onto the gas can and set it back against the wall before heading to his bedroom. He collapsed on top of his sheets, still fully clothed, and buried his face into his pillow. The alcohol and late hour did what he intended, and Max passed out within a few moments. Several hours later, the meteor shower sparked above Max’s neighborhood right on time.
The next morning, gut-wrenching anxiety propelled Max out of bed. At first, he wasn’t sure what caused the intense reaction that woke him. It could have been a dream that he forgot the moment he reached consciousness, or maybe it was the unfamiliar noises of the old, rotting building around him. Max spun around, examining the surprising state of his home. When they’d purchased the small house a year ago, his wife spent hours painting the walls, dressing the windows, and decorating until it felt like home. Now it was all gone. Nailed boards covered the shattered windows, gunshot holes peered through the rotting walls, and water stained what remained of the ceiling. His furniture was gone, save for the old mattress on which he’d woken.
Max stepped around the collapsed roof in the living room and trudged through the grass and vines overrunning the dilapidated building until he found the only item left in the house that he recognized. He lifted the shattered frame from the wreckage and tugged the photo free. Max stared at the faded and torn image of his wife and wondered how this could’ve happened. How did his house age like this overnight? How did it crumble around him without waking him? Who could’ve stolen everything he owned, even his bed? Was he drugged? Even that didn’t explain his broken home.
Unsure what else to do, Max slipped the photo into his pocket and found the small box of matches he’d stashed there. The box looked precisely as it did last night, as did his clothes. Sighing, Max shoved the photo and matches into his pockets and shuffled toward the front door. He had to figure out what was happening to him. He slipped out the open front door that hung crooked on its hinge, and, looking around, he found the neighborhood in the same condition as his home. The middle-class neighborhood that once hosted block parties, cookouts, and play-dates now looked abandoned and run-down with graffiti, boarded-up windows, and collapsed roofs. Even the yards brandished dusty soil rather than the treated, green grass to which he’d grown accustomed.
Max frowned at his empty driveway and grimaced at the salt in his wounds. Of course, someone stole his bike too. Grumbling, he hurried down the sidewalk in search of a new ride. He checked a few cars still parked along his block, but none of them were in working order due to rotted tires or empty gas tanks. At the corner of his street, Max noticed some odd mud tracks running along the street perpendicular to his house. They led past several homes, over a curb, and into a wooded area behind the neighborhood. The large tread marks reminded him of a small tank, but that would be absurd.
Max glanced around at his strange surroundings and shrugged before following the tracks toward the woods. After passing a few houses, the sound of breaking glass caught his attention.
He twisted toward the open door from which the sound escaped and called out, “Hello? Is anyone there?”
When no one answered, Max stepped closer, leaning against a mangled fence. “I don’t know what’s going on here. I’m looking for help.”
Again no one responded, but Max spotted a shadow glide across the open door. He sighed, glancing back at the tracks that led into the woods, then reached for the broken remains of the picket fence. He tugged one of the angled boards free and swung it like a bat as he trudged toward the front door. His eyes darted around the crumbling debris of the foyer as he stepped into the house. Turning a corner, he froze.
A tall man aimed the business end of a shotgun at Max’s chest and shook his head. “How stupid are you?”
Max stuttered nonsense as he dropped the board and backed away with his hands in the air. He stared at the gun, wondering if this was the end.
“Stop right there,” the tall man said. “Where’s your camp?”
Max shook his head. “My what?”
“Turn around.” The tall man jerked the shotgun at Max. Slamming him against the wall face first, the stranger searched Max’s pockets and frowned when he only found a matchbox and an old photo. The man stepped back, letting Max go, and shoved his belongings back at him.
“Do you have friends with you, or are you suicidal?”
“I’m alone,” Max said, snatching the photo in one hand and the matchbox in another. “I’m just looking for some help, man.”
“I don’t believe you. Get out,” the tall man said, motioning toward the door.