Chapter 2

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Life was good, not perfect, but good. The lows were just low enough to make the highs feel like flying. Sarah and I had been together for two years and living together for one. We stayed in the neighborhood and still frequented the same haunts; the local bar, the farmer's market she loved, the taco stand that was always open. Our path was clear. She was much more career-focused, climbing the corporate ladder with such speed that it was dizzying, but it didn't daunt me. I was happy to support her ascent.

Not that it was always easy. Bickering marred our last day. Sarah was in a mood, and nothing I did was right. Tiny squabbles flared and threatened to burn the whole forest down.

"Did you shift all of the spices around?" She began before even saying good morning.

"I used the spices," I acknowledged, already feeling attacked.

"I have them in order so we can find them. If you aren't going to put them back right, don't use them at all."

"You're welcome for making dinner last night." It was not my most mature moment, but when she started to manage the apartment like she managed her team at work, I quickly grew defensive.

There was no apology, just a sigh of resignation. Breakfast passed in stilted conversations that bit at me.

"Let's go to the farmer's market," I suggested. It was a peace offering that I knew she would hear as an apology and admission of guilt, but I was too tired to keep up a fight.

"Fine, if you want."

She knew I didn't want to go; I was still not too fond of the farmer's market and all the pretentious people buying bruised produce at insane prices. That was Sarah's scene, not mine. I would be happy eating a hot dog from a convenience store; the thought erupted a craving in me, and I hoped to sneak away to grab one why she was pursuing heirloom tomatoes or jewelry made from tin cans. Her comment was more to ensure that I knew she saw the invitation as my admission of guilt in the spice fiasco. Again, I just let it pass.

It was a sunny day, vivid beneath the beating spotlight of the sun. The warm weather and clear skies had pulled even more people to the farmer's market. It was a sea of people milling from booth to booth with their cloth tote bags and baskets. I don't recall the booths we passed, but I remember that Sarah and I were not connected. Around us, couples grasped each other's hands to stay close in the rush of the crowd, but Sarah and I didn't reach for each other. It was our mood; we were just as often among the clinging couples, but not this day.

The flowers' scent was overpowering in the heat. The perfume invaded my nose and clung to me; it was unrelenting in its assault. Sarah was carefully plucking individual flowers for her perfect bouquet. I sympathized with the scrutiny the blooms were getting but grateful the attention had finally shifted from me, if even just for a moment.

I only vaguely remember the first scream. It came from behind me but didn't register. My thoughts drowned the volume. Sarah's face made my heart stop. Her eyes widen, and her mouth went slack as she saw the unexplained begin to surround us. The flowers fell from her hands in slow motion. I still couldn't hear the screams, but I heard the bouquet hit the pavement with a dull thud.

I expected death. We live in a world where deafening fear ends in death at the hands of a madman. My hands reached for Sarah. Our last minutes couldn't be disjointed. I needed her to know that I loved her; all her demanding, short, and perfectionist faults were nothing to her gentle gaze and twinkle of a laugh. But as I reached for her, something behind me pulled us apart.

"Run," escaped my lips, and for a split-second, Sarah reached back to me. "No, run," I demanded as I was pulled into the clutches of an unknown assailant.

She was gone, and I was fighting. They looked like people, the same people I had just walked by a moment before. But there was an emptiness to them. As I tried to fight off the arms clamoring for me, the faces continued to plunge into an unhealthy pallor. No emotion was raised from them, no anger, fear, nor frustration. The faces were slack as their bodies continued to push in on me.

I struggled against them, trying to escape and follow in the wake of Sarah, but just as I thought I was free of them, something else began to devour me, a hunger. The world started to grey, but the sun was still high in a cloudless sky when I looked up. Disorientation began to fill me as I gazed around; suddenly, the clamoring for me was gone. I was no longer a target. Soulless bodies were moving by me as though I were invisible.

My mind was jumbling in confusion, but I clung to what I knew. I had to find Sarah. Something terrible was happening around me. Fear should have filled me, but all I could think of was food. My craving for a hot dog was diminishing, though. The thought of a hot dog made my stomach churn. I was craving something else.

In a flash, I saw him; I couldn't miss him with his skin gold in the sea of pale bodies. It was like he was the last plump juicy apple in the orchard, and the crash of the hungry crowd was converging on him to his horror. But I didn't see him as a person; he was a meal. I wanted something from him; I wanted his brain. I shook the awful idea from my mind. I just needed a hot dog, but as I tried to pull my feet in the opposite direction, I failed. The urge drew me closer and closer to him. And then, nothing. I descended into the grey that had been slowly saturating my mind. Just like Sarah, the day slipped away from me. 

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