Jake Bernardino and Father Hoffman heard the two people before they saw them through the thick fog.
Once they got close enough, they spotted two people on top of an overturned bus.
A woman and a young boy, probably no more than twelve years old.
The woman held a pistol. The boy was wielding a police baton.
The bus was on its side. It sat on a stretch of highway somewhere in what used to be the state of Kansas.
The two on top of the bus stood with their backs to each other.
They each had a backpack on.
The area wasn’t safe.
Jake and Father Hoffman also spotted at least a dozen zombies in the area.
The zombies, slow-moving Shamblers survivors of the undead apocalypse called them, were trying to make their way to the trapped woman and boy.
“I have an idea,” Father Hoffman offered.
Before Jake could ask what it was, Father Hoffman was on the move.
When Father Hoffman was a good distance away, he aimed his shotgun, a Remington Model 870 Father Hoffman was never seen without, into the sky and fired.
The shotgun’s blast was like a clap of thunder.
Father Hoffman had gotten the zombies’ attention.
The undead all turned towards the direction of the shotgun blast. Each began to slowly make its way towards Father Hoffman.
Father Hoffman kept moving.
Despite knowing how slow Shamblers were, he wasn’t about to get them close enough to surround them.
If that happened, he knew he was as good as dead.
If he even died, that is.
Most likely, he’d come back as one of the infected. And for Father Hoffman, returning as one of the undead was something he’d been dreading since Z-day, Zombie Day, the beginning of the undead apocalypse.
He knew what was happening in the world was God’s response to the multitudes of sins humanity had been making for centuries.
The first time God decided to cleanse the world of it sinners, He sent a great flood of water to cover the Earth.
Father Hoffman knew that God had decided to cleanse the Earth once again.
This time, God had sent a great flood of the undead to cover the Earth.
However, it didn’t end in forty days.
It had been over five years since God brought down His wrath upon the people of His world.
Jake Bernardino, an ex-con with a rap sheet longer than the highway he was standing on, saw his chance to act.
He waved his arms to get the woman and boy’s attention.
They both looked at him, unsure of what to do.
He signaled for them to stay where they were.
As fast as he could run, Jake made his way to the bus.
He scrambled up the bus’s chassis.
Once on top of the bus, he was able to get a better look at the woman and boy.
The first thing he noticed was that if the boy was the woman’s son, he didn’t look like his mother at all.
They both had dark hair, but that’s where the similarity ended.
The woman was not, to Jake’s less-than-discerning taste, completely unattractive. She looked to be in her mid thirties. She was physically fit.
“Look, we’ve got to get out of here,” Jake said with urgency. “In a few minutes, there’ll be a lot more zombies in the area.”
“We’re not leaving until we search the bus,” the woman said.
“Didn’t you hear what I just said?” Jake said. “Father Hoffman’s shotgun blasts will attract every zombie within a mile of here. We don’t have much time.”
The woman clearly understood.
But she wasn’t budging.
Meanwhile, the boy had moved to take a closer look at a hole made by large section where the bus’s window had once been.
But as he got closer, the side of the bus the boy was standing on gave way.
With a scream, the boy plunged into the interior of the bus.
“Bryan!” The woman yelled.
She moved to the edge of the hole where the boy had fallen through and looked down.
“I’m alright Mom,” the boy said from below.
Jake slowly moved to the edge of the hole as well.
He could see that the boy was lucky. He had fallen on top of a large cushioned seat that had come off the floor.
The woman was relieved to see the boy unharmed.
“What do you see down there?” The woman asked.
“It’s a bit dark down here, but there are some passengers still trapped in their seat,” Bryan said. “They’re mostly skeletons now.”
“What else do you see?”
“There are bags all over. I’ll check them.”
“OK, honey. Be careful.”
Jake stood next to the woman. “This is crazy. We really need to get out of here.”
“We’re running low on supplies,” the woman said. “We need to search this bus. Nobody asked you for your help, you know.”
Jake was getting annoyed.
Even if she was attractive enough, he didn’t like her tone.
He considered climbing back down and leaving the two behind.
After all, he and Father Hoffman had survived well enough on their own for some time.
Jake remembered Z-Day.
It was the day he had just posted bail after being caught driving across two states with his stash of marijuana in the car.
The stuff was legal in one state.
But not the other.
After posting bail, the judge had given him a date to appear in court.
But then Z-Day happened.
The court date didn’t matter anymore.
All’s well that ends well, Jake heard it said.
It definitely ended well for him.
Or so he thought.
The next few years became a matter of survival.
Jake, who never really had a place to call home since his parents’ bitter divorce when he was barely a teenager, moved from state to state.
He tried to find any of his contacts he knew or owed him a favor.
But the world as he knew it had gone to Hell.
There had been mass rioting leading up to Z-Day. Jake didn’t care for watching the news much.
He didn’t care. The news was always full of sad stories about sad people.The Jerry Springer Show. Now that was entertainment!
He missed watching trashy-looking people fighting with each other.
Every episode was the same.
But he never got tired of it.
Trailer park people seemed to pride themselves on cheating on each other, living off welfare, and trying to raise more kids than they could handle.
Maybe he liked watching The Jerry Springer Show because in a way, it reminded Jake of his own life.
In some sick way, he felt a kind of kindred connection to those people he felt sorry for.
About two years ago, while high as a kite in a run-down apartment Jake had made sure was free of zombies, Father Hoffman found him.
Jake thought the old man, who proclaimed himself a preacher whose duty to God involved making sure he could save the living sinners of the world while putting to rest the undead who still walked the Earth, was some serious nut job from a nearby asylum.
It didn’t matter though.
Father Hoffman, crazy as he was, was a Hell-raiser with the shotgun.
That meant if he stuck around with the preacher, Jake stood a better chance of surviving in this new world.
“Alright, Bryan,” the woman said. “Hand me the rope from your backpack and I’ll pull you up as soon as you’re done.”
Bryan spent about half-a-minute rummaging through the bus before he made his way back to where he fell through.
He held a large bag. “I put the stuff I found in this bag, Mom.”
“Good work, Bryan. Now throw up the rope.”
Bryan did as he was told, but he wasn’t strong enough to toss the coil of hemp rope up to the woman.
Jake couldn’t believe what he was about to do.
He jumped down into the bus. He landed next to the boy.
He then took the rope and tossed up to the woman. She quickly wrapped around her waist and waited for Bryan and Jake.
Ryan climbed out of the bus, while Jake did some searching of his own inside the bus.
An addict, Jake needed to find some drugs—particularly some marijuana—soon.
All he found was a box of ammo.
Not wanting to risk staying too long, Jake climbed up after Bryan.
Once up top, Jake took the rope and wrapped it around the bus’s rear tire.
Testing to make sure it was secure, he and the others lowered themselves to the ground.
Fortunately, Father Hoffman’s shotgun blasts kept the undead focused on him. At the edge of the fog’s visibility, Jake could just make out the old preacher staying as far ahead of the zombies as he could.
With no zombies near enough to threaten the three, they quickly ran as far from the bus as they could.
Soon, Father Hoffman rejoined the others.
When they were far enough away, they stop to catch their breaths.
“My name’s Sarah James,” the woman introduced herself. “This is my son, Bryan.”
“Nice to meet you both,” Father Hoffman said while reloading his shotgun.
“I’m Jake Bernardino.”
Bryan rummaged through the bag he took from the bus. Inside was a football helmet. The logo on it indicated it probably came off a high school football player.
Bryan tried it on.
“Perfect fit for you, son,” Father Hoffman said. “You know, I used to play a little football in my younger days.”
Bryan also took out another shotgun, a plug-in radio, and enough supplies of food and water to last a week.
“I think someone else tried to search the bus before,” Bryan said. “There was body there that wasn’t a skeleton yet. He had pretty bad looking wound on his side.”
“You were very brave, Bryan,” Jake said.
“Thank you both for helping us,” Sarah said.
“You’re both welcome to join us, " Father Hoffman said. “Where were you headed?”
Sarah looked past Jake and Father Hoffman.
“Somewhere south of here,” Sarah began. “to a place called Stadium City.”
“We’ve heard about such a place,” Father Hoffman said. “It’s supposed to be in the vicinity of where East Texas used to be.”
“But the place probably doesn’t exist,” Jake added. “We’ve heard about it from a few we’ve ran into before. East Texas is outside Rotter Land. There’s nothing there.”
Sarah looked disappointed by what she had just heard. “We’re hoping Jodie may have made there years ago.”
“Who’s Jodie?” Jake inquired. “Your sister?”
Sarah wasn’t sure how to answer him. Sometimes people had a hard time accepting others for what they’re like.
“Jodie’s my…wife,” Sarah said. She looked to Father Hoffman, who gave her a look she couldn’t quite figure out. “Jodie and I adopted Bryan when he was about five years old. About a month before Z-Day.”
“So what happened to Jodie?” Jake asked.
“She was on a business trip in Angel City when Z-Day happened. I tried every way possible to contact her, but I couldn’t get a hold of her.”
“What makes you think she’s still alive? It’s been over five years.”
“I don’t know for sure. It’s…it’s just a feeling I guess.” Sarah’s eyes began to tear. “Maybe she’d heard of Stadium City and may have made it there.”
“So that’s why you’re headed that way?”
Sarah nodded, fighting back a surge of tears threatening to overwhelm her.
She pulled her son closer to her in an embrace Jake couldn’t remember ever having received from his own mother.
“It’s getting late, folks,” Father Hoffman said. He started to walk south. “Best find shelter before nightfall.”
The four gathered their gear and walked into the fog.
And into a future of uncertainty.