This story is by Bryant.T.White and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A surge of relief swept over Ryan as the long day was finally done, now a free man he paid close attention to the flow of the old warehouse as the shift change bells began to toll. Which brought about an unnatural movement in the workers. Ryan positioned himself near the time clocks.
Those coming in moved like the walking dead. Ryan chuckled to himself as he actually saw a mouth breather slowly trudge by. On the other hand, those getting off of work seemed to be free of the T-Virus as they briskly walked around the counterparts quickly exchanging goodbyes. The walking dead won’t turn them into crazies.
Taking a break from making fun of coworkers, he looked at the clock which another employee was, he guessed, replacing batteries on.“Yo Chuck chill out” Ryan called to the man on the ladder who looked around until finally placing eyes on Ryan, he rolled his eyes. “Don’t you have something to do?“ the man asked Ryan. “Yeah, I gotta make sure the wifi is good on your pacemaker and install those canes on your ladder then I can go.” Ryan joked as several employees laughed in passing. “Don’t you got somewhere to go? Oh yeah no, nobody loves you.” Chuck said in jest. “We got off early, class in the morning.” Ryan said to Chuck as Chuck was now descending the ladder. “Hold up” Chuck said.
Ryan and Chuck both African- Americans. Ryan thirty, Chuck fifty shared a handshake and embrace.“They’re headhunting trying to shift the blame for the two boys who got messed up so bad they say it was like the pipe where bleeding nine accidents in one week it’s unnatural. “Chuck whispered, ending their embrace. “Let’s go Ryan always lost” a voice rang out it was his long time friend Frank I that helped him land the job. “Yo Frank how did you sneak past me” Ryan said walking up to join his friend.
Upon clocking out when Frank went to leave Ryan nudged him to the right. Frank noticed the course adjustment and asked “What’s up?” Ryan pointed to the ladder they were now going around instead of under “Bad luck Bro” Ryan responded.
“Really mister superstitious keep your head out of the clouds. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear.” Frank said to Ryan as the exited the building Frank was somewhat a mentor to Ryan he was a Hispanic male in his late thirties, unlike Ryan he was set in his ways he just knew he had life figured out.
When leaving the building and beginning their all too familiar trek home. Since neither had a car it was a comfort to have someone to walk to and from work with. The refreshing night air was a blessing. Continuing on the darker blocks they would stay in the middle of the road and carry dog repellent as wild animals and random dogs would constantly spring out at them like an eight-bit video game. They would always put pep in their step for the dark leg of the journey, both were relieved when they reached the single-family homes with their closely manicured lawns, they loved the view.
Closer to home but blocks away still passing the single-family homes they noticed a small group of people ahead on the next block causing some type commotion. Ryan shot a confused look at Frank. Frank smiled “ Don’t be scared of uncle ben and a couple of soccer moms” Frank shook his head knowing he and his companion could do more than hold their own.
The closer they got to the small crowd they noticed the numbers grew as they congregated across the street. It looked like a debate. Ryan walked into the middle of the street trying to get a listen. He heard Frank call him nosy as he walked forward pretending not to be interested.
The group consisted of two older men, one white one black, a young Hispanic couple, and three white women who couldn’t seem to agree. As Ryan walked past he could only make out six words “the blood judgment reckoning many taken” the rest of the words became a jumbled mass of words that were incoherent. Ryan moved back beside his friend.”Well, nosy?” Frank asked, genuinely interested now. “Some kinda lawsuit, they were talking about judgment” Ryan answered, “Okay weird.” Frank said as they continued home.
Frank, knowing Ryan to be too worrisome, decided to steer the conversion to a funny incident at work until he was interrupted on the next block by a larger gathering of at least twenty people. It was a very odd sight especially at this time of night.
This time Frank shot Ryan a nervous glance the crowd was loud and belligerent. Ryan moved toward the street to listen like before but Frank grabbed him “this is giving me the weirdest vibes. Let’s hustle to the crib” Frank said thinking of his family.
Ryan was still attempting to hear, but because of the distance or the heat of the conversation, he couldn’t even make out a word. Frank paid no attention to the crowd as they passed. Ryan did notice Frank was back in pep step mode and matched his pace.
They were both relieved to see that no one was outside on the block leading to their apartment complex. Frank was happy it seemed the madness was behind them. “You good?” Frank asked Ryan who seemed a little shook up.”Of course” Ryan replied “You were the one” Ryan started switching to a whiny voice to mock Frank “Hurry my family, please let’s hurry home I’m scared” Ryan mocked as Frank pushed him not appreciating the joke. Ryan sped away from Frank. He turned the corner to their complex and froze. Frank saw the seriousness in Ryan’s face when he walked up. He also froze taking in the scene.
The two walked up to the back of a large crowd gathered in front of the town’s mystic’s door which happened to be right under franks dwelling. “What the hell is going on mama Thea?” a short bald Asian man yelled, “my wife said shes covered in boils and the water is running red” a large white male yelled enticing gasps from the crowd. “The toads in Florida, the sika deer in Tel Aviv, wild boar in N.Y.C c’mon” a tall younger white man yelled. “Damn all that I just cut off mine and both my kids dreads from the lice, that’s some white people shit” a plump African American woman exclaimed.
“Easy easy” Mama Thea raised her hands to silence the crowd and slowly began to speak “no man woman or child can disregard the judgment” she bellowed in a thick Jamaican accent. “ The reckoning is nigh only the sacred blood of the lamb can provide protection, all is not lost, but many will be taken.” Mama Thea said, calming some disturbing others.
“Baby back bullshit” Frank said walking into the crowd “Now break this up before I call the cops” He began to ascend the stairs when he turned to Ryan and said “ you get some sleep” then putting his eyes on Thea he said “ some of us need to work in the morning” Frank slammed his door hard causing some in the crowd to walk away.
Ryan followed after and was stopped by Mama Thea “Trust yourself did you hear any birds, animals, dogs, anything” she asked as Ryan walked passed without an answer not wanting his friend to see him talking with Thea. He couldn’t help but think it was eerily quiet tonight not a bird, cat, but what was really strange no dogs, not one.
Finally home he flicked through the news channels. “Rash of boils breaks out in daycare” click “tragedy in spaceport as fiery hail falls on the U.S.S Defier” click “ The double whammy of the darkness and locust affecting N.Y.C. “All bad all the time thanks news” Ryan thought as he checked outside to his surprise it was empty. Just the paint in the bucket remained.
Ryan shot out of his house straight to the bucket dipped heavy and coated his door and for some reason some of his neighbors until a noise caused him to return the brush spilling a small amount of blood on the railing and banister while rushing back home, wherein no time he fell asleep.
Ryan awoke to heavy cries and wails from outside. He burst outside to see Mama Thea sitting calmly outside her door. Many others were crying holding what appeared to be bodies of loved ones and those whose doors were painted rejoiced as whatever it was passed them over. Ryan’s eyes finally laid eyes on his friend who was beyond distraught, holding not one but two children with his wife sobbing behind them. The wailing was deafening and Ryan’s heart sunk as he realized he could have prevented his dear friend’s losses.