This story is by Kelly McLain and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“Attention passengers, this is your conductor speaking. We are experiencing a momentary delay because of train traffic ahead of us. Thank you for your patience.”
The subway car remained at a standstill with its doors open to the platform. Meg glanced up from reading her book, her concentration broken by the booming announcement. She had 20 minutes before she was supposed to be at the restaurant. She knew from experience that a subway delay in Brooklyn often turned into a longer holdup, and she didn’t want to keep her dad waiting. It’s only a few extra blocks south, she estimated. Meg sighed as she stuffed the book in her bag and stepped out of the subway.
As she trudged up the stairs, Meg heard the crash of steel against buildings and the shattering of glass. The smell of gasoline and smoke lingered in the air. People flooded past her in every direction, some in silence and others screaming uncontrollably. She froze near the subway entrance, trying to find the source of what seemed like a bomb threat, or a shooting.
A man clutching a briefcase pushed past her with such force that she fell back against the entrance railing. Meg’s bag fell out of her hands as she collapsed. The man turned to look at Meg with a frantic look, but he didn’t stop to help her. He kept running.
Meg scrambled to push herself up. She could see a woman leaning down to grab her arm, but the woman didn’t grab Meg’s arm by her hand. She grabbed Meg’s arm with her teeth. Appearing disheveled in a torn sweater and no shoes, the woman looked to be Meg’s age. Her pupils were milky white, like an aging dog. Ravenous. Rabid.
“Oh God!” Meg cried out.
At that moment, a second woman, panicked by the chaos and oblivious to what lay in her path, collided with Meg. She let out a sharp squeal as she stumbled on the ground. Meg felt the woman’s jaw loosen from her arm, and watched in horror as the woman fell prey to a savage bite to her shoulder.
Meg’s only instinct was to survive. She spotted an empty car a few feet away from her with its left turn signal blinking. Once she scrambled inside, her pale hands shook uncontrollably as they struggled to grip the steering wheel. Her rapid heartbeat was erratic compared to the gentle croon coming from the car’s satellite radio.
“Oh honey, darlin’ of mine,
The thought of you makes me feel so blue…”
Leaning toward the windshield, Meg’s eyes wildly scanned Fulton Street. The long stretch of road was littered with abandoned cars. Emergency lights blinked and doors were propped open as if it were an impromptu auto show that Saturday evening in Brooklyn.
Piercing screams drowned out the radio. A horde of men and women sprinted past the car. Meg watched as they ran like a pack of wolves, their bodies hunched forward and moving at an alarming pace. But they weren’t wolves. They weren’t human, either.
If only she had turned back, Meg panicked, she could have made it to the subway platform. The train might still be there to take people out of the city. Or she could have run into a nearby building and taken refuge on the roof.
Meg winced. She darted a glance to the source of throbbing pain in her right forearm. Lifting her shirt sleeve, she saw an unequivocal outline of teeth marks that formed a perfectly symmetrical ellipse. Although the bite punctured her skin, there was no hemorrhaging of blood. Only bruising.
“Shit shit shit!” she cried.
Meg clenched her teeth tightly. Her stomach spasmed as a sinking feeling of dread washed over. How much longer until she would turn?
Her thoughts were disrupted by a vibrating pulse in her pocket. A photo of Meg and her dad flashed on her phone’s screen as she held it in front of her. He was alive!
They had scheduled to meet for dinner at their favorite Italian restaurant. He would order the baked clams and ziti, and Meg the veal marsala. Father and daughter dates were frequent, since Meg’s mom passed away last year from an unknown viral infection. Several similar cases were reported in New York City, but the media died down a few months after city officials claimed the virus was under control.
The phone fell from Meg’s hand to the floor before she could answer it. A man, clad in orange safety gear, violently slammed his body into the passenger side of the car. He jerked his head forward, and the glass made a sickening noise as it cracked. In plain view, she could see a trickle of people running toward the car. There was no clear path forward or behind her.
In that moment, Meg thought of only one choice.
Her foot slammed on the gas pedal. The car lurched forward, tires screeching. She turned the steering wheel sharply to her left and and shut her eyes.
Not one human sound.
Compressed like an accordion, the front bumper of the car protruded through a brick building, smoke rising from the hood. Fragments of broken glass were strewn everywhere.
Meg’s lifeless body sprawled over the steering wheel. Her arms lay at her side and her neck dangled forward, causing her auburn hair to shield her face. Her phone, still vibrating, lay near her feet. It silenced to voicemail.
“Meg, are you there? It’s Dad. I-I’m okay, Meg. I was at the restaurant when I heard the news. A group of us are hiding in the back room. Call me back when you get this, Meg, I don’t know how much longer the phones are going to be working. Just please don’t be dead. Please don’t be dead, M-Meg…”
His voice cracked from choking on his sobs. The satellite radio continued to play, the woman’s voice calm and soft.
“I’ll always remember you,
My sweet love of mine…”
Meg’s hand twitched. She was overcome with an insatiable hunger.