It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon. A soft breeze blows through newly sprouted leaves and several students are lounging on the grass near the quad. Inside, however, sitting on a worn leather couch in the common room of their dorm, Garrett and his best friend Jonah are watching a football game eating take-out. Having just torn open a container of Lo Mein noodles, Jonah asks “hey, did you do the anatomy homework yet?”
“Nah, I was going to save that for Sunday. I don’t give a shit if it’s late.”
“I mean,” Jonah starts, “it was due on Tuesday, so if you need help, let me know.” The young men sit in silence, occasionally cheering for their team between mouthfuls of greasy food.
“Hey,” a voice calls from behind them. “What’s for lunch?” Aniah, the third wheel of the friend group walks over to the small table on which the food is laid, standing directly in Garrett’s way. “Aniah, get the hell out my way, I can’t see anything.”
“Ooh, someone’s grumpy” she says, popping a fried chip into her mouth and slowly moving from side to side, forcing Garrett to bob his head back and forth.
“Mind if I join you?” she asks.
“We don’t really have the food for three people” Jonah replies.
Aniah shrugs and says,“It’s alright, I’ll eat some rice or something.” She grabs the entire container of rice and fits herself into the small space between Jonah and the arm of the couch. He politely moves over to the chagrin of Garrett who then shoots him a dirty look.
“Did you hear about Dr. Cambridge?” Aniah asks. There’s silence, but after some time Jonah replies
“No, what happened?”
“He’s sick; like, really sick. They had to send him home in the middle of the lecture yesterday. He was sweating and breathing all weird” she paused here to cram a large plastic spoonful of rice into her mouth, then continued “they took him to the ER.”
“Oh wow, I hope he’s okay, Shauna had something similar the other day and had to skip her classes.”
There was a long pause in which crunching, slurping, and Garrett cheering could be heard. The troupe finished their food and each grabbed a fortune cookie.
“Ugh these are weird” mused Aniah staring at her fortune.
“Why, what does yours say?” Jonah asked.
“‘The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.’ I think that’s one of those phrases that sounds meaningful but isn’t.”
“I like it. It’s…inspirational,” replied Jonah with a small smile.
“How ‘bout you?” asked Aniah.
“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible,” Jonah read, his face falling as he did so.
“Woah, that’s deep.” Aniah mused.
They both turned to look at Garrett who was crunching his cookie loudly between his teeth and staring intently at the game. When he didn’t seem to pick up their cue, Jonah grabbed his fortune and read “‘all things are difficult before they are easy.’ That’s a good one, you should keep it.”
“Pfft.” Garrett said in reply, waving his hand.
“Welp, this was fun, but I have to head back to my room to get some homework done. Later losers.” Aniah said with a toothy smile. She stood up and brushed the rice that had fallen into her lap onto the floor. She strutted out of the room and Jonah moved back to his original seat.
“What a bitch.” Garrett said, without caring if Aniah was within earshot.
“Well, that’s not really fair. She was hungry and she’s our friend.” Jonah said sympathetically.
“So we have a class with her and she just happened to sit next to us on the first day. God, you’re such a pushover. No wonder Shauna walks all over you,” Garrett shot back. Jonah said nothing and started cleaning up the mess.
“I think I might head back to my room too. I should get started on that term paper for COMM101.” said Jonah, a slight quiver in his voice.
“Whatever” said Garrett.
Just as Jonah was tossing the trash into a can next to the television, Aniah rushed back into the room. Sweat glistened across her forehead and the tight bun she always maintained was frizzy and unkempt.
“Guys, there’s something wrong” she said through panting breaths.
“Get out of here, Aniah, I’m trying to watch this damn game,” Garrett said angrily.
“What’s wrong, Aniah?” Jonah asked, concerned.
“I-” she started “I don’t know. I was just walking to my dorm and someone chased me. I didn’t even know them but they looked like a student. They were screaming and moaning. It was terrible. Another student joined the other one before I got through the door here. I don’t know what’s happening.” She was panting and her eyes were welling up with tears.
“Zombies? There are zombies out there? Right.” Garrett said, laughing and looking over at Jonah to gauge his reaction. Jonah was not laughing. I fact, he looked terrified and like he might cry.
“No, no no, I have to get out of here,” Jonah said, darting past Aniah out of the door.
“The fuck did you do, idiot?” Garrett yelled, standing and outstretching his arms before Aniah. He didn’t understand what was going on and directed that rage towards her. She shriveled away a bit, and flinched as he brushed past her to go after Jonah.
Aniah stayed in her flinched pose for a moment after Garrett had left, but suddenly realized she needed to find shelter. These…things weren’t playing nice and she couldn’t bring herself to deal with Garrett again.
She glanced around the room. It was an open space with a few couches, a coffee table, a TV, and a kitchen. Little to no coverage and few hiding spots. She didn’t want to have to back track, so she closed herself into a storage closet near the kitchen. It was so small she could barely move her elbows. Aniah struggled to stand still. Adrenaline and fear pumped through her body at a rapid pace and her mind was racing. As if being chased by two strange students wasn’t frightening enough, now she’d done something to upset Jonah and Garrett.
Tears fell from her eyes and her heart pounded in her chest. She was terrified and alone. Suddenly she heard a rustling in the common room. Frantic footsteps made it seem as if someone were running around. Whoever was there suddenly screamed at the top of their lungs; it sounded pained, and male. Aniah jumped, making a slight whimper as she did so.
She slapped her hands across her mouth, mucous covering her palm. Her nostrils flared with each heavy breath as she heard the footsteps approach the closet. Blinking through fresh tears she could see the shadows of two feet standing before the thin piece of wood. With a quick movement, the figure before her crouched down and stuck his nose under the door. Sniffing frantically along the base, he moaned loudly. He was frustrated. Fingers wrapped around the one inch space between the floor and the bottom of the closet door.
Aniah kicked at them, yelling “leave me alone!” but the fingers persisted, ripping pieces from the door with inhuman strength. The deranged man was screaming and frothing at the mouth as he picked the door apart like a piece of paper. Aniah grabbed a mop from behind her and, with what space she had, she held it before her in defense. The man was making quick progress and the moaning seemed to get louder, mixing with shrieks from what seemed like more creatures. As a hole formed through the door, Aniah saw dress shoes, a ripped suit, greying beard, and balding hair.
“Dr. Cambridge?” she said incredulously, loosening her grip on the mop.
He didn’t respond or wait for the door to open. His arm reached for her legs and pulled her through. She tried her best to swat him away with the handle of the mop, but once she was pulled from the closet, she realized there were more moaning and screeching creatures surrounding her. They descended upon her skinny frame lying on the floor, her screams muffled by theirs.
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