Running on empty, p.1
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Running on Empty
Running on Empty

  by Tara-Lee Green

  Text copyright © 2013 Tara-Lee Green

  All Rights Reserved

  Dedicated with love to BCH

  The silence of the dark night was broken by the little yellow sigma that dared to brave the lonely highway. The sole occupant of the vehicle was listening to loud music through earphones and had an open packet of lollies on the seat beside her. A suitcase, some pillows and loose linen covered the back seat haphazardly.

  The car passed a large road sign, and the driver visibly relaxed. Finally, she was nearly home. Of course, it would be a lot quicker if she could drive through Balun, like she used to do. Her eyes flicked down to check the fuel gauge on the dashboard. Nearly empty. She'd better stop at the petrol station.

  Liz wondered again if she was making the right decision. Of course it would be good to see her parents again. And in these terrible times, everybody wanted to be closer to their family. Her mother had been quite overbearing since the disease had first hit the headlines, but surely she'd calm down once Liz was living in the same town again.

  She slowed down as she saw the familiar sign of the petrol station, wondering why it wasn't lit up at this time of night. She turned carefully into the driveway before coming to a stop, and looked at the shop in surprise.

  She'd never seen it closed before, but the lights were off and the glass door had been smashed in, spraying glass shards all over the driveway. The car's headlights gloomily lit up a window, showing that much of the stock, and even the shelving, had been taken. Red paint smeared one of the outside walls.

  She shuddered. That was paint, wasn't it? She nervously locked her door and looked around for any signs of movement.

  This had been stupid. Stupid! Why hadn't she asked her parents about conditions on the way home? She should have realised that things would have changed. The world was different now.

  She sighed and tried to think. What could she do? She was nearly out of petrol, and still too far away from home to make it. There were no other petrol stations on the way. She could shorten her trip dramatically if she went through Balun, but that was too dangerous. There had to be another way.

  But there wasn't. 17 years living in this area had taught her that. Maybe it would be alright. After all, Balun had now been abandoned for months, maybe the things would have starved to death or moved on. The town itself was quite small, she'd only be there for five minutes. And it would more than halve the rest of her trip. She'd get home. It was the only possible solution to her dilemma, yet she hesitated as she looked out into the dark for a few moments more. If this is what the petrol station looked like, what terrors could Balun hold?

  She put the car into gear and drove off again. She didn't even bother indicating as she turned left at the next intersection, she hadn't seen another car all night.

  The car slowed to a crawl as it hit the outskirts of town, and Liz took her earphones out absent-mindedly. She knew these houses. She'd driven through here many times while growing up, heading to sporting events and friends' homes. Every house was dark and quiet. Some of them had doors or windows smashed or simply open, gaping. Some had been vandalised with a bright yellow paint she could recognise. Tainted, beware. Children's toys sprawled across yards as though they'd just been left. Had they really left so quickly that they'd had no time to pack? Or had they never left at all?

  The headlights flashed over something white in the middle of the road, and she slowed down to check it out. A human skull, the polished bone stripped of all flesh, leered back at her.

  Liz squealed and slammed her foot on the accelerator, not caring that the car knocked the skull aside recklessly as she drove through. Her hands were shaking so badly that she could barely keep her grip on the steering wheel, and tears flowed unchecked down her cheeks. She needed to be out of that town now, before she could see anything more that would haunt her dreams. Her mind thought back to news footage she had seen of actual attacks. There were bodies that could only be identified by their dental records. And then there were those who'd just disappeared in the night.

  The car hit a large pothole with a sickening thump and careered wildly into a nearby tree before going dead.

  When Liz groggily regained consciousness, pain was roaring through her head like a raging fire. She looked around, trying to make sense of her strange surroundings. She was sitting in her car on a dark, strangely familiar street. There were houses all around, yet nobody had come to investigate the crash. That was strange. People might not always be overly helpful, but they were generally curious.

  A warm liquid trickled slowly down the side of her forehead and she wiped it away absent-mindedly. She glanced at the red stain on her hand, and realised she was bleeding. Great. She checked herself in the rear vision mirror and saw that there was a large cut above her left temple. She wasn't bleeding badly, but she needed to see a doctor. She looked out the windscreen, now dominated by the tree that seemed to have taken residence where her car's bonnet had once been. That tree really did look familiar.

  Then with a sudden horror she remembered everything. She was in Balun. Cursed Balun, blighted by that terrible disease!

  That disease. She couldn't remember what the scientists had tried to name it. It didn't matter, the media had quickly renamed it the Zombie Virus. It got a far more emotional response. And here she was; stopped, injured, in Balun – the town that the disease had ravished.

  She needed to get out of here.

  She turned the key in the ignition, but the engine refused to turn over. She tried again, slamming her foot on the accelerator. Again and again she tried, each time with more urgency. The car would not start.

  She sank back into her seat, defeated. She couldn't just stay here tonight, but the car wasn't able to get her away. She knew nobody else would travel through there tonight. Of course! Her phone! She should have thought of that before. She got out her mobile and selected her mother's number form the contacts list.

  She waited for the familiar dial tone, but it didn't come. That was odd. She checked the phone's screen. There was no reception. Wonderful.

  Liz felt the panic rising within her, and her hands started to shake so much that she dropped the phone. What could she do? She couldn't get home. No random stranger would pass by to help her. Her parents might be worried enough to send help, but nobody would have thought she'd come through Balun. There was no hope.

  That's when she remembered she'd seen a phone booth in town. She'd noticed it, even in her panicked state, because it was the one fixture that still had working lights. The booth's glass had been shattered, of course. There was still every chance that it wouldn't actually work.

  And it would mean leaving the safety of the car. But, where those things were concerned, was a mere car sufficient for safety? She doubted it.

  Besides, the town had been abandoned for over six months now. There was every possibility that any remaining zombies had left in search of food elsewhere, if there were any. She hadn't seen any in town, after all, and she'd been stuck here for a while and nothing had come to the vehicle. Surely the crash would have attracted any nearby attention.

  The phone was only three or four blocks away, even in her groggy state she was sure of it. If she could just get there safely, she could call her father to come and rescue her.

  If. Could she really put her faith in two such insignificant letters?

  Taking a deep breath, Liz slowly unlocked the car and opened her door slightly. She paused, but no horde of grotesque flesh eating monsters rushed at her. She undid her seatbelt, and cautiously stepped out of the car.

  The cool night's breeze hit her with a shock, and she shivered. The car was so warm she'd forgotten it was July. She looked nervously around her but only lifeless houses stared back. She took another deep breath and closed the door. Again she waited, but again there was no response.

  “Well, that was silly,” she said aloud. “Getting all upset like that when they've obviously gone.” She'd thought that hearing her own voice would be comforting, but it only sounded thin and strange in that eerie place. There was no point in locking the car, it wasn't going to go anywhere. She turned resolutely towards the town and started walking.

  She walked briskly and with purpose, hoping that if she looked confident she could maybe start to feel it, too. At first she paused as she reached the end of each house to look down its side and reassure herself that there was nothing hiding in the shadows. The only sounds that could be heard were the sounds of her own footsteps on the bitumen and the wind in the trees. It was
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