Katy wakes up, blanket and sheets soaked in sweat. Yet, she is shivering, feeling no warmth at all in her body. A touch to her wet forehead, and she feels she is burning up, her bodies futile effort to fight off the infection. She closed her eyes tightly, till stars exploded in the dark. She was doomed. There was no way around it.
She got out of bed, got in the shower, shivering even in almost scoldingly hot water. She was starting to shake again, and her muscles felt stretched and stiff. She still had to go to work, despite what was coming. She head no choice. The rent was do, and the bank was breathing down her neck, and she couldn’t just lay down and die. She wanted to, to just put herself away. And she would never, in the time left, get out from under it. Maybe a week left. Maybe a week and a half. And then, her debt, her obligations would pass on to her brother. The cycle endless, even in death.
She dressed in her maintenance worker uniform for one of the tony stores out in Turkey Creek, her job to keep everything running smoothly for the rich and haughty people there to throw around their riches and expect to be treated like royalty. They’d stare down there noses at her, a lowly servant basically, even if she wasn’t infected.
The TV in her tiny living room played the local morning news, now starting at 4 A.M., when she was getting up. A blandly pretty blonde talked about an upcoming celebrity wedding. She drank her bitter, black coffee as the blonde prattled on about how amazing the couple were, trying to sell everyone on way this was so exciting. All while the country sank into ruin, and the quiet plague that everyone tried to keep out of their minds.
She rode the KAT bus all the way from Chapman Highway, just past the Kroger, to West Knoxville. She tried to listen to music on her phone and earbuds, something sad but soothing. But all the sounds in the world where coming into her head like a dull roar, a tall and angry wave that never crested, so she gave up.
She turned and looked out the window, seeing one of the unfortunate, one that had turned, like she would, one of the undead. Two police officers had young man, thin and wiry, down on the sidewalk, gun drawn to his head, as he snapped and tried to bit them, kicking and writhing. It was all the officers could do to keep him down and get him handcuffed. Extreme aggression was the last stage.
Getting off the bus, finally, in Turkey Creek, her hands trembled. She almost couldn’t light her cigarette. Then, once it was lit, she immediately was hit by a wave of nausea and she throw up onto the sidewalk.
Letting herself into the shop with her master key, she noticed the edges of her vision were haloed by darkness. All of it taken together, the sweats, the cold chills, the dull roar of all sound, the tunnel vision, meant it wouldn’t be long before she turned, before she too was just another raving monster that would be put down with two in the head. Another victim of the plague, the unfortunate undead, that would be cast aside and ignored by everyone who could.
She felt another wave of nausea hit her, and she rushed over to a garbage can, feeling as if she might vomit again, but it was just dry heaves.
“You alright?” Someone asked.
She stood back up and turned to see Richie, another one of the maintenance workers behind her. She tried to catch her breath and smile.
“Yeah. Breakfast must not have agreed with me.”
“You okay, though?”
“Yeah…just….a little out of sorts lately.” She said, trying to paper over all that was failing, all that was happening with a smile.
Richie didn’t look convinced, but didn’t push it.
“I’ve got a bottled water.” He said, slinging his backpack off and digging inside of it. “It might at least get that awful taste out of your mouth.”
“Thanks, Richie.” She said, taking the offered water as he produced it from his backpack. She smiled at him, genuinely this time. Dear, sweet Richie. Always looking out for her. Always quick with a witty line. It was a knife in her heart that she didn’t have time to get to know him, become his friend.
Katy drank the water greedily, taking the whole bottle in one draught. She threw the bottle in the trash. Richie smiled at her, and she squeezed his shoulder.
“You’re a good kid.” She said.
Katy started on the daily checklist, all that needed to be done before opening for business. She started shaking again, and her teeth chattered with another cold chill. She hoped when she turned, she sunk her teeth into one of the rich assholes, and not her own kind.