Chapter 29 - Inevitable Collapse

I’m not sure where the hell he got it from, but I watched as Sonny pulled a smashed bologna sandwich with mayonnaise out of one of his pockets and unwrap the plastic that was covering it. “ have no idea how long I’ve been hiding this!” He whispered, and he tossed the plastic aside just seconds before jerking his head forward to take two or three big bites out of it, smearing the smooshed mayonnaise across his upper lip and cheek.

He closed his eyes and sighed with relief, humming thankfully as his puffed out cheeks did their best to hold it all in while he chewed the meat and bread as if he hadn’t eaten in weeks.

“ good. So fucking good.” He said. “I’d offer you some, but I really don’t want to. This is all mine.”

“Hehehe, it’s ok...” I answered quietly. “You know, we really do have a breakfast coming up soon. I’d be surprised if people weren’t getting in line to grab an early tray already.”

He took another big bite of his sandwich before he even finished ravishing the last few bites. This time, wiping his mouth on the back of his arm. “Unh unh. Not yet. I’ve gotta move around first...check things out. Until then, the less people around me, the better.” He said, licking his fingers. “You’d think that the scariest part of this whole zombie mess would be left isolated and alone...but the exact opposite is true. I guess I was just looking for one friendly face in the crowd to keep me sane for a little while. Today...that happened to be you.”

“I guess I could take that as a compliment.”

“You should.” Suddenly he stopped chewing, and he began to visibly tremble as he stood up and looked over the side railing to check the rest of the staircase. “Keep your ears open, k? They like to sneak around in the dark sometimes. By the time you even notice’s pretty much too late. I don’t know what it feels like to have a set of human teeth and a powerful jaw bite down on you hard enough to spray the walls with blood...but judging from the screams I heard, I can’t imagine that it tickles.”

Jittery and stuck in a state of high alert, I almost didn’t want to ask any questions that might dip into whatever kind of traumatic issues that he must have gone through before he made it way out here with the rest of us...but when he sat back down and continued to completely ravage more of his snack, I found myself being almost overwhelmed with questions. He was so paranoid. What the hell was he a part of and how did he get away? I was going to wait until he finished his sandwich first before practically assaulting him with a barrage of pressing questions...but by the time I turned my head to look at him again, he was putting the last big chunk in his mouth and sucking his fingers so intensely that I was afraid he was going to start gnawing on them next.

“I’m sorry if you lost a lot of people.” I said softly. “Especially the people closest to you. It must have been hard.”

“Well, they’re dead now. No need to cry about it. It’s not like it’s going to bring them back or anything. Besides, it’s not like I had a whole lot of people in that place that I would actually call my ‘friends’, anyway. I’m already starting to forget what some of them look like.” He said, dismissing any sentiment that he might have attached to the people he went to school with. “Speaking of’ve got a nice, fine, crop of possibilities in this place. I noticed some of them walking around here while I was being processed. Not bad. It’s got me thinking that maybe I was living on the wrong side of town all these years.”

I think he could see a bit of confusion on my face, and it made him smile. “A crop of...possibilities…?”

“Yeah. Potentials? Heartbeats? Snake charmers?” He said, and when I didn’t respond, he lightly rolled his eyes with a smirk. “Cute boys? Does that ring a bell for you?”

My breath got caught up in the back of my throat when I heard him just come right out and say it like that. “Oh! Oh, you mean...ok.” I stammered. “ you’re…?”

“Queer? Yep. And it’s a label I wear proudly. I hope that doesn’t freak you out or anything, but I find that it’s always better to let people know where I stand before having to figure out where they stand first. Judging by the way the world looks’s not a good practice to have any enigmas wandering around in my inner circle. You know what I mean?” He said, and I nodded, not exactly knowing what to say to that. Then he lightly gave me a playful shove to wake me up again. “Loosen up, kid. You can’t be all that surprised, right? I don’t have the best ‘hetero disguise’ for anybody who takes a second look at me. Relax.”

“I will. I mean...I am. I’m relaxed.” I said, and wondered if I should do the bold thing and tell him about me and Alex too. What could it hurt, right?

But just as I was ready to open my mouth and say something, Sonny got back on his feet and checked up and down the stairway again. It was almost like a twitch or something for him...almost as if he couldn’t help himself. As if he was always expecting to see a horde of those killer cannibals secretly creeping their way up to take a bite out of us at any moment. And despite Sonny’s apparent nonchalant and even carefree attitude...he couldn’t fully hide the way he was shaking whenever he went back for another security check. Especially when it came to a nervous tremor in his right hand.

He looked back over his shoulder to see me watching him, and he mumbled, “Sorry. Force of habit, I guess.”

“It’s ok. I get it.” I told him. “We’ve all been through a lot.”

He began to snicker to himself as he sat back down. “A lot. Sure.”


“Trust me, you don’t know what ‘a lot’ is, Jake. Not yet, you don’t.” Sonny hugged his arms around his knees and began to slowly rock back and forth. “You know...I think they blew up the hospital. I was on the top floor at Hillside to see what was going on with all the armed choppers and military threat suppression...and way off in the distance, there was this bright light. It just flashed for a moment before being covered up with black smoke and debris...but I remember being kind of fascinated by it. For that one brief felt like there was a spark, some kind of an answer. And then I realized it was the hospital that was going up in flames and I figured that this might really be the end. You know? Not just for me, but for everybody. All of it. The whole city of Chicago was just as fucked up as Hillside was, so even if I found a way out...where would I go? Even if I decided to try and wait it out… who would rescue me?” He said, this blank stare in his eyes as he squeezed himself tighter. I mean, I could practically feel the tension rising up within him, and I wasn’t sure if I should try to stop him and put his mind at ease...or if I should let him vent and get it all out of his system. “Once it happens, Jake...and it’s like every single part of you that you knew or at least thought you knew about’s just going to shut down. And it’s going to retreat to a place where you’re going to have to work really really hard to find it again. And even then, it’ll be fractured somehow.” He said. “I doubt if I even remember who I was a month or two ago. I don’t think I have any way to retrieve all of the missing pieces. Pretty wild, huh?”

I asked, “How did you keep yourself safe for so long?”

He shrugged. “I did the only thing that I could do...I separated myself from everybody else, I locked myself in a tiny space where I could see who or what was approaching from any angle at all times...and I tried to reach out for help. For...for HELP! And there was no one who could get me out.” He said, his breath getting heavy as his hands began to shake again, even more violently than last time. He was trying desperately to keep from panicking but this was clearly something that was rapidly rushing to the surface in order to get out. He was ready to explode. “Help me, I said. Help me...” He repeated in a far away voice. “...Help me...”

This time, Sonny quickly shot up from his seated position on the steps beside me, and he hurried back over to the railing to check the stairs again.

“Sonny?” I said meekly. “It’s ok, dude. For now...everything here is cool, ok? We can chill out.”

“That’s what they said at Hillside too...”

“I’m not sure where their problems started or what went wrong, but we’ve got the military looking out for us.”

“Don’t you get it? They won’t be enough!” He said, now raising his voice. “They’re doomed too! Just like the rest of us!”

He was breathing in short huffs now, his voice trembling along with the rest of him. “I’ve seen them in action, dude. They’re pretty good at handling themselves and protecting us from the horde...”

“That’s OUTSIDE, Jake!!! Outside! They don’t know what’s coming yet! And if we tell them, you and me and everyone like us are dead anyway!” He exclaimed. “Jake, we’ve gotta get out of here! You need to grab your stuff and your friends and whatever supplies you can carry and get the fuck out of Dodge before it’s too late! Do you hear me? It may already be too late!”

Was it me that had suddenly triggered this massive Jekyll and Hyde transformation within him, or was he having some kind of major anxiety attack all on his own? Either way, we both heard one of the staircase doors open up downstairs as a couple of soldiers started making their way to one of the upper floors. Without a word, Sonny swallowed a chaotic whimper and ran to the top of the steps that we were sitting on, charging through the door and running out into the hallway without any warning at all.

Jesus...thank God is was just a couple of random soldiers. Because if they had been zombies or even a modern day movie slasher in a mask, I’d obviously be on my own. I didn’t think even little Preston could make that quick of an escape from a potentially dangerous situation.

The soldiers were pretty young, and stopped when they saw me sitting there on the steps by myself. “Hey, know they’re getting ready to serve you all up with some breakfast in about fifteen minutes, right?” One of them said.

Knowing that Sonny was already long gone, I replied, “Yeah. I’m going. Just trying to work some stuff out in my head right now, that’s all.”

“Aren’t we all?” The other guy said. “Well, take an extra minute if you need it, but you should know that sitting here all alone in a high school staircase might not be the best of ideas right now. Try to stay visible. Cool?”

“Cool.” I said with a half smile, and as soon as they left, I stood up and brushed myself off before walking out into the hallway myself. Sonny must have either run off too far for me to catch sight of him, or he hid himself away to keep from being seen. I found his sudden personality switch to be pretty disturbing to say the least, but I don’t think he was anywhere near being crazy. A bit frantic and greatly bewildered about what was happening to him right now...but not crazy. He just sort of caught me off guard, I suppose. He seemed so normal and friendly at first, and then it was like someone had flipped a switch in his brain somewhere and he was like a completely different person. I suppose that different people handle trauma in different ways. Depending on how severe it is, of course. kind of got me thinking as I headed back to the cafeteria to mix it up with my friends again for the day. The ‘outside’. That seemed to trigger Sonny more than anything when I mentioned us being safe in a place like this. He said that it wouldn’t matter and that it wouldn’t be enough...meaning that there had to be something on the inside, in here with us...that caused their unavoidable breakdown and demise...and was destined to cause our own too.

Maybe sooner than later. Ugh! I would HATE to have to admit that my brother was right about this.

As my darkest assumptions began to swirl around in my head, I thought more about what Sergeant Brower told Dr. Vega and the other soldiers about how the virus was laying dormant in the DNA of practically every teenager on the premises, just waiting to be awakened...and what they might have to do to us as a ‘security measure’ if they saw even a hint of trouble. I mean, how can anybody even determine the rules of puberty at this point. Some kids are ready and some aren’t. It’s not really an exact science that you can place rules and regulations on. You just have to assume that we’re all the same, either pushing us forward or holding us back. And what boys like Spencer who are right in the middle of it for the first time? Should we be afraid of him? He has been acting really odd since he’s been here, and if they start rounding kids up based on appearances alone, he’s going to be one of the first boys to go. If puberty is our only measure of viral maturity then we’re screwed.

The inside...

Who here among us is going to turn without the rest of us know it? How fast does it happen? Will we see it coming, with signs like the ones Sonny mentioned...signs that we may already be seeing in Spencer? Or will it be quick and merciless, totally out of the blue like with Sonny’s mood swings? What happens if it’s me? Or Alex? Or how did Eddie survive out there before coming back to meet up with Walker again? How did Walker survive in that basement for as long as he did? And Donovan’s friend, Stephen...who managed to show up with a caravan out of the blue? The truth could be any of us, at any time. And if I allowed my mind to entertain those ideas for too long...I guess I’d be just as paranoid and uneasy as Sonny was.

He seems a bit manic to me.

“It’s raining.” Even softly spoken, the voice coming from over my shoulder scared the living shit out of me! I guess I was a bit lost in my own head for a few moments there.

“GEEZ, Donovan! Don’t DO that!” I said, turning to look at him as he used his hands to sort of tease his soft dark curls with both hands.

“Don’t do what?”

“Make me want to jump out of my own fucking skin like that!” I said.

“All I said was it was raining.”

“Well, you could maybe take a second to warn me first.”

He wrinkled up his forehead. “You want me to warn you before I say something as passive as ‘it’s raining’, from now on? Is that what you’re telling me.” I know that it sounded silly, so I just went through my stuff on my little cafeteria palette and tried to fix myself up just enough to grab myself some breakfast. “You’re awfully jumpy today, Jake.”

“It’s been a weird morning.”

“It’s only been morning for, like, twenty minutes...”

“That more than enough time for things to get weird around here, believe me.” I told him.

“If you say so...”

“Heya, Jake.” Preston said, peeking around my shoulder to look at me with tired eyes and a seriously unfixable case of ‘bed head’. “Where’d ya go? You left me here all by myself.”

“I was just trying to get some room to breathe, that’s all. No big deal.”

“Oh...” Preston said. “Well, you should take me with you next time. Then we can breathe together. Cool, right?”

Donovan grunted. “That defeats the whole purpose, pipsqueak. Haven’t you ever just wanted to be alone for a while?”

“What? You mean, like on purpose? Heck no. I like being with you guys better. It keeps me feeling good.” Preston grinned, still rubbing his eyes a little bit.

Donovan was going to try to explain himself in a way that navigate his past Preston’s tireless enthusiasm, but decided that it was just plain pointless. Besides, just as we were getting ready to go and get in line for breakfast, he seemed to be distracted as he saw Stephen walk right past him in the cafeteria without so much as saying a word. I mean, Donovan actually does have feelings, you know? Sure, it may take a jackhammer to break up the concrete surrounding his heart, but once you crack the code...he can be a real sweetheart when he wants to be. You just have to rush in and take advantage of it before he resets the wet cement again. Whatever he did to piss Stephen off so much, I’m sure that he didn’t do it on purpose. least I think it’s safe to assume that. I don’t know all the facts behind their interaction just yet.

Then...there he was. My Alex. My true morning sunshine.

“Hey...” I said, blushing as I gave him a little smirk.

“Hopefully, you guys weren’t leaving without me.” Alex said, and I struggled with the impulse to put my hands on his hips and pull him in for a deep kiss on the lips.

“Nope. Never.” I giggled.

“’s raining...” Preston said, looking at the water pelting against the window.

“Careful, Pres. Jake’s feeling jumpy today about the weather.” Donovan said, his defenses back up already as Walker and his friend Eddie walked past us.

“You don’t like the rain?” Preston asked me. “There’s nothing scary about rain. It’s just water falling from the...” Suddenly, a loud boom of thunder rattled us all from overhead, and Preston was quick to leap forward and hug me around my waist for protection.


As long as we had some hot food waiting on us, I’m sure that the day was going to start getting better from there.

Donovan was looking behind him to make sure that all of us were with him when he accidentally bumped into the shamefully round belly of Sheriff Rainey, who purposely stood directly in his way and got in his face to further antonize him for no good reason whatsoever.

Donovan scrunched up his face in disgust and leaned back away from him. “Fuck, Rainey! Do you wanna point that sloppy pig snout of yours somewhere else? I’m trying to keep up an appetite for breakfast here.”

“Is this going to be the day, smartass? Huh? Let’s see. Let’s find out how cool you are when the gloves come off.” He said.

“You wanna fight me? What are, TWELVE?” Donovan said. “Get the hell out of our way and go find yourself a rabid raccoon to play with or something. We’ve got shit to do.” That said, he just stepped right around Rainey to head for the hallway so he could get in line...and he led the rest of us to do the same. What a weirdo. I’m glad that Donovan has some experience dealing with the likes of him, because the rest of us might have been slightly intimidated...with him being the top cop and all.

“The day is coming, young buck. You and me. You’ll see.” He called after us. “Your smug little comments aren’t going to help you then. It’s a new day, punk! And I’m gonna teach you all the lessons your daddy couldn’t! Before he became zombie chow, that is!”

Low blow. And highly unnecessary. I hope Donovan gets his chance and pounds his face into a bloody puddle of mud. Asshole!