The Plan…Was To Party…
The car trip seemed unbearably long. Eva’s dad had just told her that he and her mom were getting a divorce. She wasn’t shocked. They had been fighting for years, but still she felt like a kid peeking into the ocean and realizing that life was so much bigger than she thought.
As he continued to talk about how much they both loved her and how they would still in some ways be a family, Eva continued to text her friend Alicia about the party.
“You almost here???” Alicia asked.
“Almost, we just passed the CVS on Jackson Street,” Eva replied.
“K,” Alicia responded.
Then Eva heard her dad sigh as he tightly gripped the steering wheel. “Eva, are you even listening? Look, I know you don’t WANT to hear this, but-“
Eva sighed back. “It’s fine dad. I know how mom can be. You’ll probably both be happier.” She said with a halfhearted shrug. He nodded slowly in agreement.
They pulled up to the Henderson’s driveway. It had been a tradition since Eva was eight years old. The Henderson family would throw a beginning of the school year BBQ pool party and invite all of the kids in their daughter’s class. ALL of them. It didn’t matter if she liked them or not. Eva sure didn’t care too much for their daughter, but Alicia would be there and of course James. James wasn’t her boyfriend…yet anyway.
Eva’s dad let out an unexpected chuckle.
Eva turned to look at him. People said she looked so much like her dad. Growing up, she had wondered if that was why she and her mom didn’t get along-because she reminded her mom so much of her dad. Eva had the same wavy thick brown hair as he did. The same deeply tanned skin.
“What?” Eva asked. Her dad looked back at her with the same black eyes as her. She called them “poop brown” eyes. James told her that her eyes were like looking into the abyss. She had tried to explain to him numerous times that wasn’t a compliment.
“I still can’t believe you’re going to be a senior this year. Time went by too damn fast,” he said in wonderment.
“Not fast enough for me,” she said as she hit SEND after typing some more words to Alicia on her cell phone.
He shook his head.
“Just you wait kid, when you go off to college you’ll be begging your mom or me to do your laundry on the weekends.”
Eva grinned. “Probably,” she admitted.
“I haven’t even been accepted to any colleges yet though, so don’t jump the gun,” she added.
“You’re smart, you will be,” he said as he gently ruffled her hair.
“Dad, you’ll ruin the dry shampoo!” Eva moaned.
“What is dry shampoo?” he asked in complete seriousness as he pulled into the Henderson’s driveway.
Eva moaned again and mumbled under her breath, “Old people.”
She grabbed a bright yellow beach towel from the car and her purse as she shut the car door.
“You going to embarrass me dad?” she asked as she smoothed down her auburn frizzy hair and the frays on the end of her jean cut offs that she had decided to wear.
He smiled at her as they walked to the front porch. They joked back and forth a lot, but she liked that about him. As far as dads went, he was a pretty okay dad.
“Of course Evie, it just wouldn’t be a pool party at the Henderson’s if I didn’t,” he said.
Eva’s dad leaned over and pushed the doorbell. Almost immediately, Mrs. Henderson answered. The only way that Eva could think to describe her was that she was perfect. She had a perfectly cropped blonde bob with perfect bangs that swooped to the left and she had perfectly ironed white Capri pants with a sleeveless top that looked like it could have been ordered out of a “Casual Mom’s Weekend” catalog. She wore white sandals with heels and had brightly painted coral toe nails with the fingernails to match. Mrs. Henderson immediately put on her “hostess” smile as she led them inside the house.
“Dante! Eva! So good to see you both!” Mrs. Henderson said in a booming voice as she flashed her megawatt smile.
Eva’s dad nodded in acknowledgement. “Lola,” he responded.
They walked out to the pool. The kids all lounged around the backyard, looking bored. It was still early, so of course the parents were all still pretending to be parents, making the kids drink sodas while Don Henderson grilled steaks while he chatted with the other parents. Eva heard him talking loudly about the latest gig he’d scored. A contract with the U.S. Government. He was a Supervisor at a manufacturing plant that produced antibacterial bathroom products-the kinds that companies liked to put in corporate business hotels.
The contract would make him and his family even richer than they already were. Don’s title was Supervisor, but Emmy had told her once while rolling her eyes that he just drank beer all day in his office while his drones did the work for him. The other adults were nodding at his story, but Eva could see a faint look of envy in their eyes. The Henderson family was one of the richest families in town.
Things wouldn’t get more relaxed until the adults got into their rum and cokes. That was usually when the kids could get away with sneaking into dark corners and the parents would be too hammered to remember seeing them in the morning.
Eva walked over to Alicia and her dad dutifully walked over to the parents. Eva didn’t see James’ parents. They didn’t usually like to go the parties because they weren’t big socializers. The day moved slowly. Eva overheard Don Henderson complaining about a nagging cough he’d had for a couple of weeks and then hack up into a Kleenex. Eva couldn’t help muttering “Ewww” as she saw droplets of blood pop up on his Kleenex.
Still, she turned back to her conversation with Alicia. Alicia was complaining about yet another douchebag that had convinced her that he was different from the other guys she had dated. Eva was nodding, but really, she was looking for James through the sea of teenage bodies that were bobbing around in the Henderson’s blue tiled Olympic sized pool.
“He’s hanging out in Emmy Henderson’s bedroom,” Alicia said in a flat voice. Eva’s head immediately snapped back to look at Alicia.
“What?!” Alicia said in an irritated voice.
Alicia smirked. She ran her fingers through her long platinum blonde hair and flashed her piercing blue eyes at Eva.
“Don’t worry, Evie,” she said teasingly, “They’re not alone. I think there are a couple of other people in there too…but you may want to go say hi before Emmy figures out how to get James alone,” she said.
Alicia didn’t have to say anything else. Eva was through the living room and walking up the stairs in a “non-panicking” stride, yet maybe “concerned?” stride. She burst through the door, half expecting to walk in on James and Emmy alone together. Of course, they were innocently sitting on the floor in front of a TV watching an episode of American Horror Story.
“This is such a good episode,” James said as he grabbed some potato chips out of a bag.
On the TV screen, yoga instructor Shelby Miller was drinking wine in a Jacuzzi relaxing outside of her house deep in the Roanoke woods. Suddenly, she’s yanked under the water by a hand. She finally manages to break the surface, but as she’s gasping and looking around the foggy night, the assailant is nowhere to be found. Emmy was staring at James, but he was oblivious.
“Hey,” Eva said, because she didn’t know what else to say.
“Oh hey,” James responded. He rubbed his greasy hands on his pants as he jumped up and gave Eva a peck on the mouth.
“A little late, aren’t you?” Emmy said as she got up from the hardwood floor.
Eva sneered. “Early enough.”
Emmy shrugged. “Let’s get this party started,” she rolled her eyes and opened her bedroom door to lead the three of them out.
“Maybe the steaks are finally ready,” she added. The three of them passed by some of their classmates as they walked through the living room, but it seemed like all the adults had gathered themselves around the grill, maybe each hoping to be the first to get a good cut of meat. Emmy put her hand on the sliding screen door that led to the backyard-and that’s when they saw it.
Don Henderson staggered. The spatula he had been using to turn the steaks slid out of his hand and clanked down next to his flip flop clad feet. He coughed up some more blood, a little dark river of it this time, and a couple of the adults let out a startled gasp. Eva immediately looked to see where her own dad was, but she didn’t spot him. That’s when Don leaned on one of the other adults.
The man automatically put his arm around Don’s shoulders to steady him…and Don Henderson proceeded to take a huge bite out of the guy’s right ear. The guy screamed in pain as blood soaked into the collar of his pink polo shirt. He grabbed his ear helplessly, his hands touching the dangling pieces of flesh that brushed his now red collar. He pushed Don back, but by that point, the majority of the ear was already gone, being chewed between the teeth of the Homecoming Queen’s dad.
Emmy tried to push open the door to get to her dad, but James smacked her hand away from it.
“Don’t!” He said. “Something’s wrong.”
Emmy stared at him and shifted her weight from one foot to the other.
“Dad!” she yelled through the glass.
Don Henderson looked at his daughter, but it wasn’t Don Henderson…He was something that had just swallowed an ear…His head was cocked to the side, crimson liquid smeared on his upper and bottom lip, and Eva had no doubt in her mind that he was trying to figure out how to get to his beloved daughter so he could eat her.
The adults shrieked and all tried to get as far away from Don Henderson as they could. They shoved and scrambled with desperate hands, but the screen door that led inside was just out of reach. Don Henderson’s victim with only one ear bit into a woman’s shoulder suddenly. Before anyone knew what was happening, one person kept turning on the other person…It was as if they were playing a fast game of “pass the torch”.
Eva couldn’t help but back away from the door. James was trying to hold her and comfort their friend Emmy at the same time since she had just collapsed onto the floor and started moaning for her dad.
Eva looked James in the eyes. “James, I don’t see my dad,” she said in a small whisper. She saw James looking out into the crowd, scanning faces, but she could see that he hadn’t found her dad.
“I don’t think he’s out there,” he said.
The adults had stopped turning on themselves and were now grabbing for the teenagers in the pool. Eva saw the flash of Alicia’s blonde hair as she stood next to the pool, and her terrified face, but then she was gone. Eva turned away. She could hear splashing and crying as the crazed adults yanked the kids one after another out of the pool. She closed her eyes, but couldn’t escape the sounds. Eva knew it would only be a matter of time before the adults ran out of victims outside. They would start trying to get inside.
“We need to get out of here,” she whispered.
Emmy was shaking her head back and forth, tears streaming down her once perfectly makeup contoured face. “The gate is locked…and the only ones who have the key code are my mom and dad.” Eva knew they were screwed. She glanced back nervously at the backyard. Don Henderson was busy snacking on Lola Henderson’s arm…Lola’s manicure still looked perfect though. James tugged Emmy up from the carpet and grabbed Eva’s hand.
“Come on,” he said. “The least we can do is get out of their sight.”
Apparently, a lot of the other kids in the house had the same idea. Some were hiding behind the couch and the loveseat-which Eva just thought was pointless…this was clearly a zombie apocalypse, not a fucking surprise party. Others had opted to exit out of the front door-Eva guessed they had no idea that the gate was locked and that it would only be a matter of time before Don got tired of grazing on Lola and decided to hunt still moving game.
Eva could tell that Emmy was trying to stop crying. She was gasping through her tears and her involuntary shaking was slowing down. “The attic?” she said. “I guess we could go to the attic?”
James looked down at the ground deep in thought and then shrugged in a half-defeated gesture. “Well, if we’re going to die, I guess at least we’ll be the last ones to die,” he said. No one answered him. The three of them marched up the stairs. Eva could hear glass breaking behind her and running downstairs. The adults must have gotten tired of being outside. Shouts kept ringing in her ears. She wanted to cover her ears, but she knew that would do no good. This day was burned in her memory anyway.
Emmy led them to the attic’s “trap door”. James pulled the little white string down and flipped down the folding wooden steps. Without a word, the three of them climbed up the steps. James pulled up the steps as the three of them heard what sounded like a stampede in the living room. Eva and Emmy clung to James. If it hadn’t been the end of the world, it would have been a very awkward moment.
It seemed like forever. The screams continued and loud sounds of things breaking echoed. Still, no one thought to come up to the attic.
As the three of them molded themselves down as close to the floor as possible, perhaps hoping that the closer they were to the ground, the more invisible they would be…the sounds stopped and instead were replaced by a deafening silence that didn’t fill Eva with comfort, but instead with a sickened stomach. More time passed, and still for a long time, none of them said anything.
Finally, after Eva had become used to the only sounds being of their breathing, James whispered, “We have to go.”
Emmy was shaking her head, trying to stay planted in her place on the floor, but James finally convinced her to get up and Eva was still not saying anything. She didn’t know what to say. Emmy’s whole family was dead, James didn’t have to worry because his parents never showed up to anything anyway, but Eva had no idea where her dad was. Maybe he had gotten away? Ran off to get help?
They managed to make it to the living room. There were bodies everywhere…pieces everywhere…Eva didn’t want to think about it. They slowly began to make their way around the maze of corpses, but then James jumped back and pushed himself in front of the girls.
“What is it???” Eva said in a panicked voice.
She got her answer. Two black boot clad feet appeared around the hallway that wrapped around the living room. Then she saw the body that was connected to those boots wearing military clothing and a gun was pointed at them. The man had green eyes and shortly cropped red hair. Red stubble covered his face. He looked a bit disheveled for a military guy.
“Are you one of them?” the man asked them slowly. Eva could tell he was a little bit scared even though he was pretending not to be.
James put his hands in the air as if in surrender.
“No,” he answered. “We got away, but they came back, I mean they came back to life. We should leave before more get up,” he added.
The man nodded. Emmy let out a whimper as the sound of a gun firing resonated behind her. There were three other military men behind her and they had just shot one of those things in the living room.
“It was about to jump on you,” one of the men explained.
“Thank you,” Emmy murmured as she hugged herself.
“What about the gate?” Eva asked the first man they’d talked to.
“My friend says it’s locked,” she added.
The red headed man shrugged. “We already broke through it,” he said as he led them all toward the front door.
“Seriously???” Eva responded.
“Yeah seriously,” he said as he clicked back the safety on his gun and shoved it back into its holster.
The gate was a standard security gate, it probably wouldn’t have been hard for these military guys to get the access code, but instead the doors were smashed to bits, metal was littered all over the Henderson’s freshly clipped lawn. The doors were bent outward, like a car had crashed through it, but no alarms were going off. Eva guessed that they had gotten their hands on the security code after all.
“Are you taking us home?” James asked the man. The man was looking at his phone. He had just received a text message from someone.
“No,” he responded. “We’re taking you to the base. We’ll need to make sure you’re not going to turn into one of those things. Your parents should be there. Well, not YOUR parents obviously,” the man said tactlessly to Emmy.
“I guess you can stay with me at my house when they let us leave,” Eva said to Emmy as the three of them climbed into the back of a jeep. Emmy nodded. Her shoulders were pulled down in defeat.
It didn’t take them long to get to the base. Especially since the military man drove like a bat out of hell and had a flashing caution light on the top of his jeep. When they arrived, he got out and waited impatiently for the rest of them to climb out. Eva was relieved to see her mother exit one of the buildings at the base and run towards her. She happily embraced her mother and allowed her to shower kisses on her forehead.
“Oh baby! I’m so glad you’re alright!” her mother said.
Eva’s mom looked over at the man. “Were you able to find my husband yet?” she asked him in a small voice.
The man shook his head. “I’m sorry Mrs. Rodriguez. We’re still in the process of locating survivors and identifying the dead. I’ll let you know when I know something,” he said as he read another text message from his phone and promptly texted the person back.
She held Eva tighter. “Okay,” she managed to respond.
Eva felt relief again as she saw James’ parents approach them. James met them half way. They embraced their son, crying. He hugged them back, excused himself for a moment and then walked back to Eva. He gave her another quick peck on the lips and looked into her eyes.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said quietly. She nodded, not really wanting him to go. He walked off and Eva felt her heart plunge as she somehow knew deep down inside that she would never see him again.
The military man escorted Eva, her mother, and Emmy back into the building her mother had appeared from.
“Mrs. Rodriguez, I’m taking you and the girls to a room we have set up for refugees. There are three cots in there. Fortunately, the three of you won’t have to share the room with anyone else.”
“Please, call me Marie,” Eva’s mom said as she tried to smile, but failed.
The soldier paused in his stride. “I’d rather not,” he said as he opened the door to the room.
It was a small space, not much bigger than a closet, but there were three cots there like he promised. Sheets were folded with pillows on top of each bed.
Marie Rodriguez sighed as she began to unfold the sheets. She looked exhausted. Eva felt wired. Emmy was just quiet, still hugging herself.
“Well girls, I don’t think there’s anything we can do now. I know you’re probably not going to be able to sleep, but we should all at least try. We’ll just have to wait until morning to see if they find Dante…in the deceased.”
The two girls nodded. Eva crawled onto her bed. The mattress was flimsy and sagged. She stared at the ceiling, imagining that she’d never be able to fall asleep, but eventually the endorphins wore off and her eyes closed.
“Is he here yet?” A man asked as he straightened his scarlet tie. The gesture was more out of habit than anything else.
“Yes sir, he just arrived on the base,” the other man responded. It was the same man who had escorted Eva, Marie, and Emmy to their room.
The first man smiled. It was a crocodile kind of smile. He straightened his cufflinks, again a habit, and brushed some invisible lint off of the shiny flag pin that decorated his suit’s breast pocket.
“Good, we’ll let the experiment continue then,” he said as he crossed his arms over in thought.
“Yes sir,” The other man responded.
“You’re doing a fantastic job, Captain. Your fellow Americans will be proud if this is something we can use in the war. And these people, The Lopez family-“
“It’s the Rodriquez family sir,” the soldier interrupted.
The other man glared at him. He didn’t like being corrected. He would make sure that this soldier found that out very, very quickly.
“The Rodriguez family…and all of the others…will someday appreciate what they did for our country.”
The soldier nodded, sensing it was best not to say anything. He had already crossed the powerful man once. Cross him again, and he would no longer be standing.
Eva awoke several hours later to the sound of knocking at the door. No doubt it was the military man wanting them to get up.
Eva began to pull the sheets back from her bed, but grabbed the rails on the cot in surprise…It was her dad. It was really her dad hugging her mom and he didn’t look like any of the killer adults had! Eva rushed to her mother and father as quickly as she could and joined the hug. Tears ran down her cheeks as she told him over and over how much she loved him.
“How, dad? How did you get away?” Eva asked.
He looked tired. “I hid under some of the bodies. Not fun, but I don’t think those things were able to smell me.” She nodded.
Eva’s mom wiped away some tears of her own. “Well, thank God! Thank God we’re all together. How about I go look for somebody who can help us get some breakfast? You must all be so incredibly hungry!”
Dante nodded slowly, as if thinking over Eva’s mom’s statement. “I’m just going to go look for a bathroom for a minute. I’ll be right back.” Eva watched her father walk over to a bathroom labeled Family Bathroom just a few feet from their room. She went to check on Emmy who was still asleep in her own cot.
Then remembered her bad feelings yesterday about James. She should probably call to check on him. As she passed by the bathroom in search of a phone, she noticed that the door was wide open. Eva decided to talk some more with her dad since the door was open anyway, but then she froze.
Dante Rodriguez had been putting eye drops in his eyes. His eye balls were becoming a sick pink color and were threaded in red unhealthy looking lines. As he leaned up against the bathroom sink putting the drops in, his plaid shirt scooted up his stomach to reveal a bruised crescent shape on his side. A crescent shape that looked like teeth marks…Slowly, Eva’s eyes traveled from Dante’s stomach to his face. He was staring right at her. Her heart beat quickly over and over. She didn’t know what to say.
“Hey guys! Breakfast is ready!” Eva’s mom shouted to them down the hallway. Eva knew that her mother was close, but didn’t dare look away from her father.
She swallowed and took a step back from him. Dante continued to stare at her. Then he put the eye drops down on the counter, never once taking his eyes away from her.
He put his pointer finger to his lips and said, “Shhhhhhh.”