Eugene placed his hand over Melinda's mouth, and instructed that she stay quiet. There was a moment of silence, then a stampede of heavy boots on the first floor. The couple jumped from their bed and crouched near one another as the box-spring creaked, barely masked by the banter carried-on downstairs.
“C'mon boys, ain't nobody in this joint.” one of the men belched.
Melinda began to panic. She now covered her own mouth and whispered, “They are people, and they're inside.”
Eugene inched toward the bedroom entrance, making sure not draw attention. Shards of glass splattered onto the floor as the group piled into the house.
“Nice find, Duncan. You're finally contributing to the group.” said an intruder as he threw his arms over his head to stretch.
“Check out the door.” said another man as he pointed with his ring covered hand.
“Yeah, so? What about the door, Theo?” replied Duncan.
“You blind? Or just stupid?” he questioned, “It's boarded shut. Someone's been living in here.”
Eugene motioned for Melinda to come closer.
“We have to keep our stealth, I'm not certain these gentleman want a welcoming committee. We'll hide, then we'll figure out how we remove ourselves from this predicament.” He convincingly masking his fear. The pair began to crawl into the bedroom's walk-in closet.
The men joined together in laughter but Theo, the leader of the pack, was not amused. He rushed forward, yanked Quentin by his jacket collar and shoved him toward the stairs.
“Go make sure, you dirty shit.” Theo ordered. Quentin sneered and angrily adjusted his collar. After a quick turn, he began up the spiraling staircase.
The couple, now huddled inside the large closet, tried to steady their breathing.
“You're shaking honey.” whispered Melinda.
“I'll be alright, just keep quiet and shield yourself from the light.”
They sat with their backs to the wall, pulled their knees into their chests and draped the hanging clothes over their heads. There was a large drawer wedged between them and the closet door; the only obstacle keeping the couple from being picked out.
“Im scared, Eugene. I don't have the gun.”
“That is a perfectly reasonable response to this situation, one I am trying to diminish myself. I am not going to let these marauders get to you, that you can be sure of. Now, tell me once more, where is the gun?”
“Downstairs, under the coffee table.” It dawned on the pair how comfortable they had become. With all that was going on outside their walls, they had slipped. No longer were they as aware or spry as when the pandemic began.
“How about the bat?” she asked. Eugene gave it some thought, closed his eyes and dropped his head.
“That is on the bathroom counter.”
The difficulty of retrieving the weapon sunk in. The bathroom was across the long, second floor hallway, next to the home's guest room. Well aware of the creakiness of their floor boards, the trip would guarantee that the couple would be found.
Quentin whistled loudly as he dragged his feet up the stairs. He stood at the top and turned left toward the bathroom, each footstep smeared dirt onto the cream carpet. The bathroom door was slightly open but he turned away, and rammed his shoulder into the guest room.
The room remained intact, which for nine months after the 'end of the days', wasn't bad. The walls were painted maroon, and the white crown molded corners demanded your attention. But not that of Quentin's.
He placed his arm on the nearby dresser, and in one large swing, knocked all the trinkets onto the floor. The thin man followed his action with laughter and yelled out to the scoundrels downstairs, “I found my room!”
Without any further inspection, he jumped backwards onto the bed and used his muddy boots to push himself to the headboard.
The couple, still inside the dark closet, became panicked by Quentin's ruckus. This was exacerbated by the cabinets being slammed on the first floor. They looked intently at one another; a plan needed to be formulated fast.
“The obvious plan would be to get them out of our home.” said Eugene.
“Eugene, how are we possibly going to do that?”
“We'll make a run for the bathroom, dispose of whoever intends to investigate the uproar, retrieve his gun, go-”
“Eugene," Melinda interjected sternly. "There's got to be four or five of them. They'll get us.” She began to quiver. “I think we should get out of here. We can use the window, we can run.”
“This is our dwelling, Mel. I have not spent my life acquiring the means to gain this home, only to surrender it at the sight of harm.” Eugene said, angry at the idea. “These hooligans intend to possess what is ours. To break into our home, steal our things and leave us to die. Everything we have is within these walls. Everything we need to sustain, and have sustained on, is within these walls.”
“They'll kill us, honey. Or worse. Can't you see that? We can start over elsewhere.” Eugene yanked on his hair in frustration. Melinda took his chin into her hand and whispered, “All we need is each other. We'll find somewhere else.”
Eugene knew she was right, but he couldn't come to terms with leaving their home. The pair never had much before the pandemic, but they had their home. Eugene worked long hours and Melinda sold all she had to lock in the location. They struggled to make ends meet, but it was theirs, and it was worth the struggle. Their idea was to turn the guest room into a space for their first child. It was the next step in their marriage, but was put on hold. This house meant everything to them.
“Give me a hand here!” Roy yelled out. His stubby arms weren't long enough to grab the cans of food on the top shelf. Miles sat up and came forward to help. Unlike Roy, Miles was a massive body. He towered over each of the intruders but wasn't as vocal. Miles grabbed the remaining cans that Roy had reached for. “Give it here, those are mine.” Roy said and proceeded to snarl at the bigger man. Miles rotated the can to see the contents. “Give it here, you idiot.” continued Roy.
Miles had heard enough. He kicked Roy square in the chest and knocked him backwards into the refrigerator. The intruders fed off of the chaos and began to tear the house apart.
“Don't leave anything unturned, boys!” Theo ordered.
The couple's belongings smashed onto the floor. The men proceeded to pull the cupboard doors from their hinges. Quentin jumped out of the bed and ran to the stairs.
“You sons of bitches startin' the party without me?!” He raced down the stairs, skipping the last three steps to jump onto Miles' back.
“They are ruining it all, Eugene. When they're done, there won't be much of a home left.” Melinda urged. Her words forced Eugene into action.
“Grab your clothes. We will tie them together and fasten a rope to escape out the window.” he told her. The couple snagged the clothes off the hangers above them and began to connect them piece-by-piece. “Keep tying, I'm going to check outside.”
Eugene hobbled to the bedroom window and ripped open the curtain. The cloud of dust that showered the room told the entire story. The duo had shut themselves in completely. Not a decent amount of sunshine had entered that home since it all began.
The dust reached Eugene' throat and caused him to cough. He shared a frozen glance with Melinda, both in wonder if the men below had heard.
“Keep tying.” Eugene mouthed to Melinda.
He unlocked the window and shoved it open. The cool air surged inside the bedroom as Eugene peered below to an unnerving scene. The intruders brought a crowd, twenty to thirty undead deep. In a slow shuffle, they followed one another toward the front of the home.
Melinda lightly ran to Eugene' side, a trail of tied shirts in hand. She moved Eugene aside, who was numb, and she gazed outside. Melinda let out an audible gasp, then quickly covered her mouth.
“The room on the left is mine!” Quentin yelled out. The group of men began their ascent up the stairs.
“Not one to rush, but that's our cue, Mel.”
“NO! We can use another window.”
“Mel, they are just about knocking on our door. I do not want them to get their hands on you. Now please.” Eugene pleaded.
The men's footsteps arrived at the top of the stairs. Eugene tied the makeshift rope to the leg of the bed at the expense of precious portions of its length. Quentin ran into the guest room, claiming it a third time. The other men pushed into the bathroom and hall. Roy continued toward the bedroom, intrigued by the flickering sunlight glaring onto the adjacent wall.
Without any time to add to the rope, Eugene threw it out the window and assisted Melinda in her descent.
“It's too short.”
“I know, we have to drop down.”
Melinda cleared the window and began to inch downward, feet wrapped firmly around the rope.
"Thanks for saving the best for me, you idiots!" Roy exclaimed as he neared the couple's bedroom.
Eugene motioned to Melinda and quickly retreated back into the closet.
"What the hell is this!" Roy screamed out as he noticed the tangled clothing which extended out the window. The thief ran to the agape glass and emitted a maniacal laugh. "Boys... the entertainment has arrived!" Roy proceeded to reel in the rope but was immediately blindsided by Eugene who let out a savage wail of his own.
In an act of pure adrenaline and survival, Eugene slammed Roy's gun wielding hand onto the wall, which effectively disarmed the thug, then proceeded to shove Roy out of the window. His body narrowly missed Melinda whose whimpers grew as she struggled to maintain her grip. Roy's body smashed below in a loud thud, followed immediately by his plead for help as the walkers spared no time on their assault.
Eugene took the gun and pointed it toward the doorway as Theo emerged.
"Whoa now, fella. Be cool. Why don't you put that down and we can have us a dialogue. Nothing more has to happen here." Theo said calmly.
"Eugene!" Melinda screamed out as her grip began to fade. The walkers were now pawing at her shoes as she dangled dangerous close to disaster. Theo looked back toward his group of thieves then returned to Eugene with an ear-to-ear smile. The thoughts surged into Eugene's head and his instincts took over once more. He raised the gun and fired a single bullet into Theo's still grinning face.
With fluidity, Eugene grabbed the rope and mounted downward while Theo's lumping body fell backward onto his men. Melinda let out an identical scream as before and grabbed his leg for support. Eugene reached back to grab Melinda's arm and relieve her hold. The walkers below grew in tens but Roy's remains parted the horde into a narrow path.
"Climb onto my back, we're going to drop down and take off running." Eugene instructed. Their plan was shredded as their makeshift rope detached from the bed at the hands of Quentin who rushed to see the results. The couple banged onto the dirt floor, cushioned by a pairing of walkers. Eugene's flailing arms paved an immediate space. Melinda grabbed hold of his back.
Eugene aimed his gun but froze, shock stricken by the volume of undead bodies surrounding his person. The decaying flesh began to muddle his vision with his trigger finger in a violent shake. Melinda shrieked for him to shoot but it culminated in inactivity.
A gunshot from the above window shook Eugene from his trance. His gaze darted to Melinda whose cries returned to full volume. A walker had grabbed a hold of her waist and devoured a sizable chunk of her left shoulder.
"Mel!" Eugene screeched as he shoved the immediate walkers from his wife.
Melinda's eyes glazed over from the commotion and pain. Eugene slung her right arm over his neck and darted into the first opening he could find.
Minutes later, his breath finally gave out. Eugene collapsed to the floor in front of a large tree, houses away from his own. Melinda's skin was flushed and her breathing was labored. In the distance, walkers began to climb into the smashed window made be the rambunctious men.
"Do not leave me, Melinda. You cannot leave me." The tears welled into Eugene's eyes. He wiped them away with his drenched shirt and lightly placed her at the base of the tree. "I cannot do this without you, I will fail. I concede that I am not a suitable patron of this new world, I need you."
Melinda looked up and collected her breath.
"How many bullets... in the gun." she struggled to word. Eugene's eyes widened behind his inflated eye bags.
"NO! We will find a cure! I will make this right, trust this, please!" he pleaded with his wife.
Eugene's head dropped into his arms, he shut his eyes tight in an attempt to banish the sounds of the walkers that approached. His mumbles deteriorated into heavy breathing.
Melinda slowly moved for Eugene's hand, took time to nestle within it, then reached for the gun at his knees.
A gun shot echoed into the streets.