The quiet knock shocks me so bad that I cough out my soggy mac and cheese.
I stare at the door. I had to have hallucinated that, right? There can’t be any human for 10 miles around; I haven’t seen another person in months. Yet, there’s no way one of the Gross Dudes would have knocked… unless they’re getting smarter. Oh, great, that’s a terrifying thought.
There’s a sliding sound and a quiet groan, which really doesn’t ease my worries. The knock comes again. It’s from lower down this time, as if the person bent down to rap on the bottom third of the door.
I’m on my feet in an instant. Dad’s pocket knife is in my hand without a conscious thought. I walk to the door, stepping on the non-creaky parts of the floor with a practiced ease. I raise myself onto my toes to peer through the peep hole.
A leg. That’s it. Ugh. It better not be one of the Gross Dudes’ gracious “presents” again. Severed body parts are really not my thing. Luck’s on my side though; the leg moves, and I’m about ninety percent sure that means that it should be attached to someone.
Unfortunately, this “someone” is sitting and leaning against the door. If I try extra hard, I can see a glimpse of their knee on their other leg, but that’s it. I'm tempted to just "nope" my way out of the situation and go back to my soggy mac and cheese. Then I remember the bottle I'd set down on the table next to said mac and cheese. I elect to ignore the thought of what I was doing before.
What exactly am I supposed to do here? I wish I had a clue. If this were before the GD, I’d probably dismiss the person as a homeless and/or drunk individual that made the decision to camp out on my front porch for some reason. I’d leave the worrying to my Dad and the “taking care of it” to my mom. This is a different world, however, and I can’t leave the door-opening to my parents.
Before can get myself too depressed, I raise my voice and half-yell, “Who are you?”
The leg jolts, surprised. Serves them right for making me choke on my “meal.” The person stands up with obvious difficulty.
“Oh, thank gosh. There’s someone in there. Miss, my name is Enoch. I’m hurt real bad. I need help.”
Oh my God. It’s a kid. Judging by his voice, he can’t be any older than twelve.
Dang it. An ethical dilemma. I’ve been avoiding those like the Plague because they make me uncomfortable. Up until this point, I’d been doing a pretty good job at it, but now there’s one staring me in the face. Or, staring at the door, I guess. Do I trust him? Or do I leave him out there to potentially die?
Being responsible for my decisions sucks. I’m not even legally an adult. I shouldn’t have to be responsible for things like this. If the person had waited another hour or so, I wouldn't have had to worry anymore.
“Why should I?” I respond cautiously.
Enoch takes a step back, looking around and giving me a better look at him. The freckles dotting his face stand out against his pale skin. One hand is clutching his left side with the shadow of a pained grimace on his face, and the other is holding what looks like a sling-shot.
His gaze lands on the peep hole. As if he can tell I’m looking through it, he gives me the stink eye. “Um, because I’m a kid? And I’m bleeding out on your porch? I need help.”
“How do I know you’re telling the truth?” If the Gross Dudes are getting smarter, then this could totally be a decoy or something. He doesn’t look diseased, but he could easily be hiding something under that four-sizes-too-big parka.
A sassy one. Great.
He opens his mouth to say something that’ll probably be sarcastic, but then he just… deflates. His shoulders slouch, his face darkens, and he suddenly looks more world weary than any kid his age really has the right to be.
“You don’t. Okay? You don’t know I’m telling the truth. I know you’re just doing the smart thing here and being cautious or whatever, but… please. I don’t wanna die.”
Jesus. Now I feel heartless. I don’t want to be heartless. I want to be smart. Practically every post-apocalyptic book, movie, or show says that people can be more dangerous than the monsters sometimes. But at the same time…
I sigh, letting myself fall back on my heels and resting my forehead against the door. My hand hovers over the lock on the doorknob.
I've been alone here for so long. So long. My parents left to bring my older sister home from college when all of this started, and they never came back. It was nice at first, being out from under their overbearing hands, but now I miss them more than anything.
I miss my friends.
I miss my family.
I miss hot mac and cheese.
“Oh, no. Oh, nonono. Miss? Miss, please, they’re coming.”
Crap. Of freaking course.
He starts knocking on the door again. His high, panicked voice is the sad background music to my internal misery. I peep through the hole again. He’s looking out of my line of sight, off to my left, with eyes wide and scared.
That’s what does it. I tilt my head back, not allowing the tears to spill over my eyelids.
Then, I quickly unlock the door, grab a fistful of parka, and yank him inside. I slam the door shut after him, before staring through the peep hole again.
Seconds later, the shadows creep up to the door. They crawl over the ground, a menacing purple mist prowling for prey. Even though they’re on the other side, the temperature in the room drops a few degrees. I shiver. Behind me, Enoch whimpers.
Through the hole, I can only see one Gross Dude, but I know there are more. There are always more. It walks robotically up to the porch, and then runs into the door because it couldn’t think to stop walking.
If it still had eyebrows or eyes, I imagine it’d look confused. Instead, though, the slits of its nostrils just kinda flare a bit. The skin around the lipless mouth stretches taut as the gaping hole opens, revealing the signature purple glow of whatever weird energy powers them from within.
Then, it turns and walks away.
Absently, I wonder who it was before it died. It has a female body and is wearing a tracksuit, and its wispy brown hair is still up in a loose ponytail – a mom at the gym? A college student going jogging? There’s no way to tell. Her features have long since melted away, leaving this thing inhabiting her body in her place.
“They’re gone?” a muffled voice from behind me says slowly.
Holy— oh yeah. Enoch. Right. I’d forgotten about him.
He’s made himself comfortable on the couch… with my mac and cheese?! Ugh, the nerve of this kid.
I stomp over and yank the bowl from him, setting it on the table. He whines quietly and pouts, but otherwise doesn’t move. I frown. He doesn’t look too good. If anything, he seems paler than he looked before, which I didn’t even think was possible.
"Right. I guess should probably patch you up now."
His eyelids start to droop.
"Oh, no you don't," I say, grabbing my Med-Kit from nearby and yanking open his parka. Oh, gosh, there's so much blood.
"'M sleepy," he says.
"No, you're not."
He whines again. "My stomach hurts."
"Maybe... maybe you're just hungry."
He manages to dredge up enough energy to give me the stink eye again through hooded eyes. "Sure. That's why."
"Shut up. Just..." I look at my sad little bowl of soggy mac and cheese. "Take the mac and cheese."
"But it's soggy."
"You didn't have an issue with it earlier! Just take it."
I move to grab the bowl, but my hand lands on the bottle of pills I'd set there earlier. I stare at it for a moment. This morning, I'd looked at that bottle in a completely different way. Now? Now it's just in the way of my mac and cheese.
I chuck the bottle across the room and grab the bowl of food, ignoring the voice in my head telling me it's my last. I have a kid to take care of.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.