Chapter 2:

Invasion

Alive


"Do you know why we called you here today?" Mr. Jefferson had his hand interlocked on the desk, back straight, imposing Anna with his presence. She glanced at Alex who was slouched on his chair, elbow cockily swaying on the armrest, not giving a care about the fact he was in trouble in this school as well. She pulled a pleasant smile to hide her jitteriness but it faded away by his next harsh words.

"Your son had bullied three children. We let the previous case slide as it was his first offence but now this is his second." The principal glared at Alex.

"I'm sure there is a misunderstanding there. I mean... how can an eleven year old bully not one but three fourteen year old... they are all bigger than him." She nervously grabbed the glass of water presented to her, sipping a little not sure if she should defend partially blind. Alex never tells her anything so she always comes here confused, going on with what others say. The last incident was harmless but this one seemed more serious.

Alex snapped back at him. "Maybe if their younger brothers weren't SISSIES, they wouldn't pick fights they can't finish and call for their older brothers to "help". I hardly bullied those cowards." Anna from the side nudged him to tone down the excessive insults. His mouth never helped their situations ever.

"That's not an excuse for violence!" He slammed the table, startling her off her seat but she was quick to the new uptake. She didn't know what transpired but she was a good listener. "It sounds like they bullied my son first."

"Oh really? Then explain why they have more injuries then he does? They are in the hospital, needing stitches because of him! What do you have to say about that?" He waited for her to refute and Alex looked at her expectantly but she didn't know how to respond to such a claim. Alex was known for his violent behaviour since the day she met him. He was always a brute. She fidgeted in her seat, trying to think of the best solution.

"And as a parent, you should know age doesn't matter." Her heart clenched in resignation. He struck the nail on the head with that statement.

"I-... you are right, I should have taught him better. I'm willing to pay their bills..." She slouched down in shame at him calling her out like that. She should have known better. "If you tell me which hospital-"

Alex's loud scoff discontinued her words. He got off his seat and kicked the desk of the principal in rebellion. "Adults are disgusting. How much money did his father pay you to place the blame on me?"

The principal responded with a sarcastic laugh. "He will get disciplinary action."

She struggled to come up with an explanation to justify his behaviour. To imply the principal was taking bribes was really rude. Why would he say that?

"I don't care if you did. You have always wanted me out anyway." He spat and when Anna tried to calm him down so they could sort it out, he slapped her hands. "But you are worse. Pretending to be my mother and then blaming me with him. I really do hate you."

All she could do was watch his retreating back with a heavy heart. When will that day come? When he opens up to her?

"Well... that escalated quickly." The door had been locked by none other than Sam, who was breathing heavily inside William's office, wiping the sweat off his forehead.

"Ya think?" Sam yelled, as he started to pace around to find things to barricade the door. He reached out to the table at the centre, ignoring the set of books and papers layered on top of each other. William stopped him immediately, prying his fingers off.

"Calm down." William pushed him back, fixing the books that tilted from the brief contact. "You almost ruined my research."

"Huh? Fuck your research! We are about to die!" Sam's disbelief spread on his hands, trying to bypass him. When William refused to budge, he returned to the exit, pushing his ear to the door for any sound on the other side. Lots of growling and screaming filled the hall. He backed away in fear.

"If you stopped panicking like a headless chicken, you would realise they won't come in because others, who are just like you, are doing a fantastic job of directing their attention to themselves." William took a seat on the swirling chair, opening the drawer to take out a small notebook.

As if processing, Sam blinked rapidly, taking uncertain steps inside the small office he visited many times before. He took a seat as well, where the patient usually is. He was unable to see the bed that had a curtain hanging halfway so he focused more on the small window on the side, showing off the night sky. "So we're just gonna chill here while people are being eaten?"

A small smile stretched on his face and Sam swore this man lived in a world of his own. William leaned over the desk and pulled out one of the pens on Sam's coat. "Perhaps."

He shoved it in his own breast pocket and left his seat. He reached the door and unlocked. "Hey! Are you serious?"

William didn't wait, he peeked left and right and when it was clear, he stridden. His index curled on a hidden scalpel as he followed the sound. The muted screams got clearer whenever he advanced. The slippers on his feet masked his trail. He reached his destination near the patient rooms, number five two nine where the person he's looking for should be laying there. All the doors were open from the panic, giving everyone easier access to come in. The screams of fright mixed with horrifying beast grunts, incoherent chattering kept echoing in and out. The scene that unfolded had William freeze in place.

"Help me! SOMEONE-"

Near the reception curved counter, one of his co-worker was on top of a woman, clattering his yellowish teeth to capture her in between his mouth. She managed to push him off her but he grabbed her by the ankle. She tried to shake off his grip away but it only succeeded in dragging him along. He bit her leg and her screams of terror got louder, alerting more. William tore his eyes off, got in and quickly used the curtain to hide.

"Ashley?" He asked cautiously the pale, sweaty woman, laying on the bed. Her eyes wide, clenching on the blanket as if she saw a ghost. She robotically turned her head and he reached his palm out for her to take. "Are you okay?"

She seemed confused before she held it. He pulled her up and checked over the curtain, observing the situation from his position. After that chaos, it was strange for a low pitch to fill the air. The munching and teeth smacking was there but his attention was all on that woman. They both slipped out and from the corner, he saw her body twitching, growling, bones twisting. They both locked eyes together and she howled. That was his cue to run back to where he came from. He opened the door, pushed her in and closed it immediately. Sam was startled when the door started to shake. William, Ashley and Sam both used their bodies to secure it. It went on for a few minutes before it calmed down. All three let out a sigh of relief. The silence went on, as if they were unsure, their ears were all over the door. There was a piercing scream and footsteps thudding away from them. Once they were sure it was gone, Sam broke it immediately.

"What the actual fuck is this?" He whispered, pointing at Ashley. "You went out-"

He signalled at the door then back to Ashley. "-just to bring an infected in? Are you fucking crazy? Is she your secret lover or something?"

Before he could answer, Sam gasped. "Wait... I knew Ashley liked you but I didn't know you liked her back! Why else would you save her?"

Ashley took a look at William, interest sparkling in her eyes at the implication. William's mouth opened as if he was about to refute then closed exasperatedly, it opened again then set in a straight line, very disgusted. He rubbed the ring in his finger to remind himself of his commitment. He went to his desk and took out the pen from earlier. "Your stupidity exceeds even my expectations. I am married, I would never cheat on my wife... she is the only one who could tolerate me, knowing my condition."

Ashley frowned while Sam seemed confused. "Then why would you save me? Like he said, I'm infected... maybe because I'm a nurse but I know there isn't any hope for me."

He dismissed the thoughts of his family that started to fill his mind when he remembered his goal. He flipped his notebook to an empty page. "Oh that? I wanted to know how long it will take for you to turn."

Both Sam and Ashley were baffled. "W-what?"

William scribbled a few notes as he took a seat. The lettering of 'Ashley equals eight PM, twenty sixth August, two thousand eighteen. Bitten in the neck.' After they got over their initial shock, Sam suddenly seemed very uncomfortable. "Damn man, I didn't know you were this twisted!"

Ashley was undignified, short breaths left her mouth from disbelief. "You are making me your test subject? An experiment for you?"

William nodded, continuing scribbling information.

"You sick bastard!" Her mouth hung open and tears stained her cheeks, having a meltdown that all he cared about was to know when she will die. "How can you do this to me? We worked together for five years! I may die but it doesn't mean you can treat me this way! I'm not here to be your sick experiment!"

Her hand trembled as she covered her mouth. Sam now felt more sympathetic to her than before. William snapped his notebook closed and cocked his head. "Stop being pathetic. Both of you are in a medical field yet all you could do is whine? You do realise we are not the only ones affected by this right? At this rate, half of the population will suffer so someone needs to figure out some answers even if we can't find the solution yet. Maybe if you weren't busy dwelling in self pity you would realise Ashley was the first one bitten yet she hasn't turned yet while those bitten after were. That's why I went to check if she was still unturned."

It was like the engine in their heads was finally operating after this revelation.

"Wait a minute... how?" Sam paused for a moment then suddenly rummaged through William's cardboard, pulling out gloves to wear, syringe, thermometer, stethoscope and every basic equipment they have. "Is she immune?"

"So there is hope for me?" she asked, the perspective of living lit up a fire in her. She went and attached some of the monitors they had to help.

"I don't think she is immune from the symptoms she is displaying right now. It's unlikely we will get a cure by then so don't raise your hopes up Ashley." William reopened his notebook to continue where he left off. She seemed devastated but she wasn't mad about being a test subject anymore.

"Have you figured out why she isn't turning yet?" Sam motioned her to sit as he started doing the basic check up, noting down the symptoms.

"Bites might be the determined factor here." He recalled his co-worker and the woman in the hallway. "How many times were you bitten?"

"Only once."

"Hmmm," he mused as he wondered if the placement of the bite affected the results as well. He would need to reconfirm by having another human example but that will definitely be hard to find. "We should get a blood test."

"How? There are many infected waiting for us outside." Ashley now was worried, more for their safety than hers.

"We will eventually have to leave. It's not like we can jump out of the window and hope we will survive the fall." His sarcastic reply reminded them of their predicament. They didn't have food, water or a place to take out waste. They also had families they wanted to go too.

"Right." Sam looked around the tiny office in fondness. It was a brief safe haven for him. "Didn't expect us to leave this place soon but here we are."

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Alex stood from a distance observing the back of a figure that was making those sounds. It was couched down, body jerking while another body lay down but he couldn't see beyond the torso from his position. Did this guy need help? William always told him to look out for others. He narrowed his eyes in suspicion and neared a newly built house that was still in construction. He was familiar with the area as it was the next street district. He avoided stepping on the flowers of some houses yards and went to the construction site. His hands curled around some random metal pole that always littered and went back. He never trusted adults so it's better safe than sorry and if someone asked, he could just say he was playing with it. He approached the man and noticed a trio of guys smoking in the distance. Why didn't they try to help, he didn't know.

"Hey, are you okay?" Alex asked and when he didn't react, it made him hesitant for a brief moment. "Hey."

Alex placed a hand on his shoulders and he looked at him. Red veins popped out of its face that made it look inhumane, a piece of flesh in its teeth. In that split second, Alex caught the bones of the man beside him. Just when it dropped what's inside its mouth, Alex hopped back, barely getting away from it's hold. "Don't touch me!"

When it didn't communicate but snarled and crawled towards him, Alex sensed this wasn't a human... anymore. He positioned the pole and struck it in the face. It plopped down before it's head looked at him again. Alex curled a brow before he did it again. That seemed to catch the attention of smokers because they finally seemed to care.

"Hey kid, stop it. You shouldn't be bullying homeless people." One of the guys tried to take the pole away from him but Alex got out of his reach. "Don't stop me, I'm killing that monster."

"Monster? Did your parents not teach you they are huma-" It grabbed the man's ankles and bit him hard. He yelped and his friend helped him by subduing it. "What the fuck! WHAT IS THIS!"

The other body contortionist, the gaping hole in its leg oozes yellow and black substances but it didn't deter it from moving. It ducked one of the guys that tried to subdue them, claiming another victim. The third friend just ran away in a frenzy, not caring to help out. Alex took backward steps when one of them looked at him. It ran after him and he cantered backwards, well aware there is a tree a few metres behind him. As it lunged at him, he hopped aside, watching it smash into the tree. He covered his whole body on the side of the tree, waiting for it to show up. Instead, it didn't show up in his line of vision. He can hear it wandering around and as the sound got further away, Alex took light steps away. He kept his eyes on the two creatures as he trot away. As he was running away, a thought filled his mind. One that proved Alex was smarter than he looked.

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"What is going on down there?" Daniel yawned, his knees reaching his chest, back being supported by the thin wood threshold. Underneath was a strange human behaving like an animal. It was a large woman, twirling around like a dog following its tail. He took a quick glance at the watch on his hands, noting how Alex and Max were ten minutes late already.

"MAX! ALEX!" He yelled, waiting to see if anyone responded. Unexpectedly the woman jerked towards him, launching to the tree, trying to eat the bark. Now that she was closer, he can see the red veins on her ears as she behaved aggressively for no reason. He observed her for a little more as she calmed down soon after. His brief observation made him nodded thoughtfully, apologising in his head for disturbing her. He figured out that the sound was the reason behind her aggressive behaviour. Maybe a medical condition she was suffering from?

Daniel checked the time again, noticing five minutes had passed and they still weren't here. He sighed in exasperation, getting down. He will look for Max first since he was the youngest and lacked proper judgement. He swore if he made friends with grannies again, he would ditch him because taking him away from them was a hard task. Daniel shivered when an unpleasant memory of trying to say no to old people failed multiple times. At least they give him free cookies when he goes there. He dusted his clothes and started to stroll from the direction Max went. He and the woman made eye contact and he smiled awkwardly as he continued on his merry way. He decided to search near their playground first before delving deeper. As he expected, Max was there with a wide smile, skipping steps. Once he saw him, he waved at him happily. Daniel shook his head as he made his way there.

"What did I tell you about walking on your own?" Daniel's tone immediately went into scolding Max for separating from them. "Did I not tell you how strangers prey on children like you?"

"Not this again." Max muttered under his breath but Daniel heard it loud and clear. His hand was on his hips, quirking a brow. "I'm old now!"

"You are only nine."

"Old enough to do my homework alone!" Max proudly proclaimed.

"...children." Daniel shook his head while Max frowned, ready to refute him but ended up interrupting himself.

"Oh Alex!" Max waved at a figure bolting towards them while checking his surroundings. Alex skid to a stop, trails of sweat drenched the front and back side of his shirt. He breathed in heavy and clutched Max by the biceps.

"Where were you two? Did you get hurt?" Alex worriedly turned him around, pulled his shirt up to check his skin for any scars on his stomach, back or arms. After what he witnessed along the way, he was afraid. Max was used to his antics that he didn't flinch but rather spread his limbs apart for him to inspect better. Daniel held him back from going too far. Alex didn't look like it but he was such a mama bear when it came to Max. "Relax, he can speak."

"I was making a new friend, Alex!" He jumped in excitement at how cool that experience was. "I named him Hubie!"

"Is your friend a dog?" Daniel snickered.

"Did you guys not see those creatures?" Alex's breathing slowed down as he realised none of his siblings had encountered those things if they were this careless and carefree.

"What creatures?" Daniel held his chin in thought.

"You mean the zombies?" Max filled in casually that it made Alex and Daniel look at him like he sprouted another head, both for different reasons.

"Zombies? No wa-"

"You saw them?"

Daniel head whipped to Alex, wondering what he missed.

"Yes, Hubie and I were watching them. They wanted to eat me but Hubie sent them away."

Daniel was horrified that his brother was in danger while Alex nodded, not worried after he checked him in.

"Good thing you had that dog to save you-" "He's not a dog!" "-but now, we have to get out of here." Alex pointed a finger towards the path they came from, it had many infected surrounding the path.

"That's our way home..." Daniel carefully observed their situation, the lady from earlier came to mind. If she is one of them then her behaviour can be explained. Alex fixed his pole placement, ready to battle if necessary.

"We have no choice but to take a detour."

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"Are you going to open the door?" Ashley asked, tensely holding a scissor with one hand and a needle with the other.

"Okay relax, will you? You want us to rush to our deaths with these lame weapons?" Sam snapped, looking over his shoulders to her then back to the door handle.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that."

"I know, I'm just nervous." Sam breathed in and out, preparing himself mentally. He opened the door, waiting behind for a signal. William surveyed the area from his right, sticking one finger up for them. There was one infected and Sam shook his head to tell him not to go out for it but William had different thoughts. He took off his hospital gown, rolled it around and took careful steps like a hunter approaching his prey. It looked at him but it didn't jump at him. When it jerked it's head to him, he stopped. It started walking aimlessly. He noticed that it had red lines extending toward it's ears. As it passed by him, William twisted, rotating the coat into its neck, choking it aggressively. It reacted like a human, struggling and if it wasn't for it's inhuman snarls, he would have been convinced to let it go. He dragged it with him into his office, kicking it in. Sam and Ashley got out as William closed the door. He wore his coat back and they both stared at him dumbfounded but they didn't say a word. If anything, zombie movies taught everyone not to make sounds. He led them away to the end of the hall, stopping near the edge. There wasn't anyone from his front view. He pulled out his phone and opened the front camera, sneaking it from under his feet to check for positions. Unexpectedly, there weren't any within that shot either. He poked his whole head out to confirm, Sam from the back pulled him by the back of his collar.

"What are you doing?" He mouthed.

"There is nobody there." William whispered. Sam quickly brought a finger to his lips, trying to keep him quiet until he registered what he said. William stood up, sweeping the floor with his dragged steps, having replaced his slippers with shoes. They followed his lead in curiosity and like he said, nothing was there. The reception was empty and with papers knocked around in various places. Eerily quiet, not a single sound running except the vibration of the air conditioner. Where did they all go? They looked around paranoid. Their heart pounded aggressively in their chest at the thought that maybe they were hiding, waiting for them to let their guard down. That many infected couldn't have gone anywhere. William started to pass the reception area, to the elevator towards the staircase nearby. The stairs were an option most people's instincts leaned too. His head twisted above to check if there were any on the treads. To his relief, the coast was clear. He trudged up, Sam and Ashley followed behind, not willing to explore beyond what's required. Once they reached above, it was also empty. It didn't hurt to be cautious so they tried to move as quietly as they could to the laboratory area and there they heard some sounds. The closer they got, the louder, the familiar sound got. Near the, now covered with a curtain, see through glass of the laboratory room, were several infected, filling the room to the point it was unnatural. So this is where they all were... they backed away near the exit sign. Sam gave a timeout sign. They needed a plan.

William brought out his phone, typed in his notes and showed it to Sam. 'We need to lure them away. They are probably there because there are many survivors inside.' Sam brought a finger on his chin. Usually he wouldn't want to risk his life for some strangers but those were his coworkers. Ashley nodded, on board with it. She took out her phone as well, typing.

'I don't think these things can see.' She checked their facial expression to confirm if they were within the same wavelength.

Sam immediately wrote something back. "We can use our ringtone to lure them away but I can't give up my phone, I haven't contacted my family yet."

There was a brooding silence as they each waited for the other to volunteer. No one wanted to volunteer. It wasn't an easy decision since they had to regularly keep in contact with someone from their family. Sam's eyes narrowed and he trailed over his surroundings. He moved towards the vending machine and pulled out his wallet in a hurry, taking out bills. His hand shook as he tried to shove it in the bill acceptor. He licked his lips nervously when the machine kept rejecting it. William grabbed the money off his hands and helped him, figuring out what he had in mind while Ashley kept watch for them. William ordered a bunch of colas as Sam took off his own coat, stuck his hand under the lid and padded them to reduce the sound. He took out one cola and handed it to Ashley who finally figured it out. She took it without question and started to aggressively shake it. In total, he ordered six bottles and they shook each one like their life depended on it. Now who is planning to open this and risk their life to lure them away? It was between Sam and William since they needed Ashley's blood. Sam raised his hand as a volunteer as William created a plan for them. With two bottles, one on his hand, the other under his armpit, he went further inside to the divided halls. He took a deep breath and waited for William's signal for movement. It was a three way signal. Ashley would watch the infected from a safe spot, William would use the automatic door to seal them inside and Sam would escape through the next route... if he could outrun them. Sam took a long drag of breath to regulate his speeding heart and tensed in preparation. He twisted the lid so fast, it exploded right into him, the liquid rushing out like a fountain. He quickly ran towards the next position, adjusting the bottle to his hand and checking on William for any signal but there weren't any. That must have been too far to reach their ears. It means he had to get closer... He opened the next one on his way, the short-lived burst of explosive must have reached this time because he saw the signal from William. He threw the bottle behind and quickly took the next hall. They came out in a horde and William waited in hiding for Ashley to give a signal. Even when they stopped coming out, she never did... she looked rather terrified. He had no choice but to push the button to close it early. He let out a suffering sigh at the fact they didn't catch them all. He went to check on Ashley to see what went wrong and as he expected, there were eight there. He thought they looked interesting. They were different from the previous ones he dealt with. They had red lines on the edge of their eyes. A fly zig zagged in the air and the infected pupils followed it, reacting to it by following it. Those co-workers of his were... now that he thinks about it, a realisation hit him and his voice rose.

"Those infected can't hear us," William said it so loud that it made Ashley jump. She almost thought they were doomed when nothing came for them.

"Do..." she whispered, unsure, "do you really mean it?"

"I think those are sight infected. That would explain why they didn't follow Sam." Their chin lay on the side pillar. "I wonder if it's based on our own senses since they have twenty twenty vision while the others don't."

Ashley considered it thoughtfully and it had some truth but she didn't know if she wanted to let her guard down yet. "So how are we going to get in?"

William was thinking for a solution when Sam came in and he didn't come in secrecy, he strided way ahead of their expectation. They tried to beckon him back, whispering to come back.

"What? Why- oh my god!" Sam yelped in fear at the unexpected revelation. Ashley clamped her eyes in fear, unable to watch. Sam hid on one of the columns, surprised that he wasn't caught when he was so loud. The door to the laboratory room was a few metres away.

"Try to get the people in the laboratory to open the door." William shouted, startling Sam with his voice. He looked around, unable to get his legs to move. The laboratory room can only be opened from the inside.

"DO IT! They are not looking right now!" Ashley encouraged and even when he didn't know what's going on, it became clear they didn't react to the sound. He knocked on the door aggressively.

"Open the door! OPEN THE DOOR!" He backed away back to the column, looking at them from the side. They nodded at him, Ashley giving a thumb up.

"Who is this? Sam?" Someone from the other side asked.

"Can you open the door please? We have some survivors here." Sam's voice shook, swallowing the tension in his throat.

"Okay, I'm opening in five, four, three, two, one." William and Ashley started sprinting from their hiding spots at the countdown and Sam, slipped in first when both the steel automatic opened. The light from inside reflected onto the other wall. The infected snapped, turning back. Sam quickly pressed the button to close, watching as his two friends entered.

"What the fuck! You didn't tell me these things were still there." The slight accent of a panicked Indian woman as she ran backwards with all of them. The door was so slow in closing that a few snuck in.

"Quickly close the other door!" Sam yelled to the next door that the laboratory usually had. The Korean man behind already did the moment he saw them. Ashley being the slowest had to tilt her body to enter before it was too late. The thuds of banging had them all backing away from the closed door. They turned to the crowd gathering and noticed some holding chairs, flasks half filled with chemicals as their weapon. They seemed relieved to see their coworkers alive but also very suspicious.

"Wasn't Ashley bitten?" Dozens of people were suspicious of them and some of their coworkers started to inch closer in caution, ready to attack them. William and Sam raised their hand up in surrender while Ashley hid behind them.

"We came here to get Ashley tested," William started since it was his idea to come here. "As you can see, she hasn't turned into an infected person even when she was bitten first which means she may have a cure or there might be a setback to this."

He knew the head of the laboratory, Kim Jihyun would be interested to hear his theory. That man was like him, always seeking answers. Most of the doctors and nurses stayed in their seats, near chemicals trying to observe the situation quietly with the other staff from different departments.

The one who opened the door for them, Anita wasn't here for it. "She could turn at any time, are we going to risk everyone for one person?"

"You can lock her in one of the rooms as we check everything." Surprisingly those words came from Sam. They looked at the wide space where all sorts of expensive medical equipment littered around. From the MRI room to the wide range of nephrology division.

"How long has it been since she was bitten?" Gina asked, one of the physicians under director's Jihyun, tapped the pen on the table as she leaned back on it.

"It's been thirty hours." Ashley responded, hiding her stiff arm behind her back. She couldn't tell them she felt weird. Gina narrowed her eyes but she nodded, twirling the pen.

"I think it would be worth it to get some test results. If there is a cure, we all would want it. Besides, this is our job." Gina shared a small look with Jihyun as if asking for his permission and he gave her.

"I agree with Gina, it's best to check since we are locked inside anyway. Any objection?" The mixed race crowd seemed to mutter among themselves and eventually resigned. Ashley was taken and kept inside as they took her blood test. Sam was there with her for support and to make sure everything went smoothly. William waited outside of the room, licking his lips, wiping his own forehead and constantly checking the watch on his hand. He stood up from his seat to his Korean companion. They had a mutual respect as fellow researchers and their conversations were always countering each other's theories or discussing about it.

"Can I have a cigarette?" William cut to the chase and the surprise in Jihyun's face fleeted as fast as it came. That's not what he expected to hear from him.

"I thought you didn't smoke..." Jihyun trailed off as he opened the zipper of the bag strapped on his shoulder to pull up a pack of cigarettes and lighter.

"I did quit six years ago but-" The resigned sigh coming from him made Jihyun give a comforting pat on the shoulder to let him know he understood.

"I understand. This whole situation is- the perfect time to smoke." He handed him a loosie and a lighter. William gave him an appreciative smile before taking off to the MRI to have some privacy to himself, away from everyone else. He flickered the led lights that lit up the room beyond the glass to keep it dim and dark. Unable to keep his straight face, William lit up the cigarette. Wisp of smoke loitered the air, the shapeless swirls inducing him into his thoughts. Taking a deep breath of nicotine as it spreads. He was about to put it in between his lips when an image of his disapproving wife came to mind. Anna never liked him smoking...

It dropped off his fingers and he stepped on it, pivoting his ankles. Staring for a minute at the dismantled tobacco in silence. He decided to take a seat on the swivel chair, leaning forward as he pulled out his phone. The blue screen reflected back as he pressed for messages. Twenty two unread messages from his wife. He didn't dare click on it right away. A part of him was looking for courage. He leaned back, taking off his shoes to bring his feet to the tip of the chair. His thumb waiting to press. He let out a sigh before doing so, checking what she left him.

'When will you be home' was the last message. He frowned, he thought she would have texted him about the crisis but it may have not reached her yet. He scrolled up through the same text, passing ten that were similar, all asking him when he would be home. It made him wonder when was the last time he was home.

William ran his fingers through his hair. Loving the same person for ten years had its ups and downs. The relationship becomes comfortable and romance isn't a priority anymore. He reached a point where he wants to indulge in his research rather than be home. When he returned, she would constantly nag at him, complain, lose her temper more often than not, talk about the kids, accusing him of cheating... he was tired, exhausted, only wanting to have a peace of mind from his otherwise, mentally unstable job. Creating a bond with patients as his therapist suggested then losing some of them had eaten his mind away and she was his breaking point. He wanted to get away and regain what he lost.

William paused when he reached a bigger text. The context had him bite the tip of his nail. The date was in March, two months ago.

"I contemplated long and hard about whether to tell you this but I haven't been feeling well. I think I'm losing myself slowly. I'm getting more angry than usual and it's scaring me. I've been eating like a pig and then feeling nauseous as fast. I'm sleeping a lot as well. I feel like I have no energy anymore. I wonder what's wrong with me? It's been happening for over a year. It was temporary before but now, everyday I feel dead inside. Should I visit the hospital?"

His teeth bobbed the nails in a pattern, the heavy, dull sound reduced all the background noise and alleviated his thoughts. His wife was sick... and he didn't know about it? He? The doctor? He tried to recall symptoms she displayed. William stopped bullying his nails. Was she short tempered because of her illness? It would explain a lot of her irrational behaviours. He lived with her everyday so the changes she went through, he wouldn't notice because the progress leading to that point was subtle. He also hasn't been home for a while so he wasn't sure how bad the condition is.

He scrolled further up, reading through more "please come home" until he paused again at the oldest text that stole his breath away.

"I miss you" three months ago.

His heart ached a little, guilt seeped in. The fondest memories of her filled his mind. When she smiled at him after a long day... she looked the most beautiful when she smiled. His lips set in a grim line, his nose scrunching up as he forcefully closed his phone. He sat in complete silence, staring beyond the window where the MRI room was.

"I... I miss you too," was said to nobody.

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The kids! Anna frantically stood up, running to the doors and out of the streets, her hands fumbling with her phone to call Daniel. Her bare feet increased in speed as she started with a walk. For a brief moment she regarded her lack of shoes.

Anna looked around worriedly, the news called them zombies but... that can't be true. Zombies only existed in movies. She once again, redialed the number, heading towards the playground. They had to be there, maybe in their made up tree house. She picked up speed, now sprinting, the phone stuck to her ears as she waited. At the corner of her right eye, she caught one of those "zombies", it was pacing around at the house of her neighbours, knocking it's head on their door. Her legs slowed down, suddenly all her focus was on it. She felt the air get stuck in her throat, unable to believe what she saw. It didn't seem to notice her. The news didn't say anything on how to deal with them... then again, she didn't wait to find out.

She returned to walking, looking back to make sure it didn't notice her before sprinting again, this time the panic was setting in as she called Daniel, the battery on her phone showing five percent.

"Fuck!" She should have charged her phone. Suddenly, she sees red and blue on the horizon and in a few seconds she can see Daniel, Alex and Max running. Relief washed over her and she smiled when she saw they were safe.

"Alex! Daniel! Ma-" The words got lost when she saw behind them were dozens of zombies and they were running after them. She quickly pivoted, turning around, her dress twirled in movement as she ran back. Her fingers clutched the sides of her dress, raising it to give her easier access to run. She turned her head to check and as she predicted, the kids were catching up to her faster. Exhaustion was settling in but she pushed through.

She passed the same road and a blur of shadow invaded her peripheral vision. The zombie from earlier noticed her this time and was following her. It grabbed her cardigan and she took it off as fast, continuing her path, which caused it to stagger and lose it's footing. With Alex leading the race, he fearlessly jumped on the back of the infected head, smashing it down further. She gaped in terror at his reckless act. Max was about to do the same but Daniel being the mindful one, used his hand to redirect him away from the infected.

Even though she had the head start, the kids caught up to her. Once she reached the front door, she skidded to a stop, slamming her biceps on the doorway, stumbling and falling. She picked herself up, kids running inside.

Anna's hand extended to the handle when she saw a zombie right by the door... She could have swore they had a bit of a distance so how did this one make it this fast? Anna pulled without hesitation. The door never closed. Half of the infected body had made it in, it's veiny hand grabbed her fiercely, neck lowering to bite her. She tried to twist her arms away while her other held onto the handle. Her leg rose, kicking as much as she could. Anna felt like she was ripping her own arm out instead of it.

An iron tip was shoved right into its face and the attacker was none other than Alex. He shoved it over and over again in the mouth while Daniel was prying it's finger off.

"I can't hold on!" As if those words were a curse, her finger shakily lost its grip. She fell on her rear, her arm free when Alex gave it one last nudge.

"Oh! This is the one from the backyard!" Max's remark had all of them muddled but they didn't have time to think about it because the door was now wide open thanks to her earlier power struggle. Many of them were around the entrance and she yelled.

"UP!" Max was the first to dash, followed by Daniel then lastly Alex. She scurried, using her hands to paddle the stairs like a four legged animal into standing. "My bathroom!"

A ringtone played loud and clear, startling her into dropping her phone that was in her hand. She looked back, getting a glimpse of the caller, 'My Darling' on the screen. She muttered a curse under her breath but the attention of the infected were all on the phone, struck in a trance.. they weren't moving much while some of them didn't care.

The kids were the first to reach her bedroom into her bathroom leaving the door open for her and she slipped in, closing the bedroom door first and straight into the bathroom. The key on the door was turned with a slight sound, locking the door. They could hear the crash. She didn't wait to find out if they could break in, instead she climbed on the bathtub and opened the small window above. It was small and enough to fit the kids... She beckoned Max to come up and carried him in her arms to the ledge. If someone had to live, it should be her children.

A loud bang struck. Growls and multiple movements were coming from the bedroom. She tried to push him out but he flung his arm around her neck, shaking his head. Drops of liquid trickled down her neck, understanding what this meant.

"Please go," she whispered, once again trying but to no avail. He had her in an almost choke hold. Daniel hugged her waist, as well holding her in place because he didn't want to go without her. Alex was the only with crossed arms, watching them in exasperation at the drama scene they were creating. Alex tugged her dress and pointed at the door then at his ears, mouthing a few words. At that she noticed the sound had subdued a lot and the fact they haven't broken into the bathroom was a good sign. She waited a little to reconfirm her suspicion. She patted her youngest son back in comfort and her other stroked the hair of Daniel. Alex took a seat, leaning on the bathtub, settling the pole on his lap. After a while, she sat down on the tub, knowing they were safe and Daniel picked up the bottles littering corner, placing them away so nobody would knock anything by accident.

Max clung to her like the baby he was and she hugged him, letting him rest on her. It was dark and quiet, the small light from the moon was their only comfort. All she could think about while glaring at the door was how she needed to get that phone.

Alive