Authors: T.W. Piperbrook
OUTAGE 5: THE CHANGE
Survival is just the beginning…
Having escaped the hospital, Tom must face a new enemy: himself. New questions arise as he struggles through the white wasteland. Will he survive the remainder of The Great Storm?
More importantly, does he want to?
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By T.W. Piperbrook
White dots blurred Tom's vision as he navigated his way through the snow. He held his arm against his face, trying to defend himself against the wind, but the gale persisted. He'd do anything to give up his battle against the elements, to stop walking and find shelter.
But it wasn't only the snow he was fighting. Tom felt something primal inside him, something doing its best to take over. He couldn't let it consume him. Each step through the knee-high snow was a protest against those animal urges.
, he told himself.
He needed to get away from the bunker. Thoughts of saving Jeffrey had been cast aside for now.
His body radiated heat. The burning sensation from his leg worked its way to his extremities, as if he were on a fast-acting drug. He could no longer blame it on the pain medication. That had worn off a long time ago. Looking up at the moon, he wondered how long he could withstand those impulses.
Morning was hours away.
It was as if some god were punishing him for sins he wasn't aware he'd committed.
Tom repressed memories of the people he'd lost at the hospital and concentrated on forging through the snow. He recalled the stories he'd heard about the change over the past few days. Would he be cognizant when it happened? Would some primitive conscience overtake his rational brain?
He tried to convince himself that Abby—the girl that had saved him on the first night of the storm—had controlled it. If she had, he'd be able to do the same.
He had no choice but to hold on to that hope.
The wind broke, allowing Tom to survey the neighborhood. He'd traveled a few miles. At least, he thought he had. The houses around him were almost identical to the ones he left. He felt like he was walking in circles, reliving the same night over and over again. He'd lost his sense of direction. Curtains flapped in and out of broken windows. Front doors were kicked in; cars were abandoned across the road.
But that wasn't the worst part.
Bodies lay around him in grisly poses, wrapped in a white covering. Tom fought sickness and his anger. How many people had to die before the storm was over?
Fighting through the pain, he headed for the closest figure—the lifeless body of a woman. He knew he was too late to help her, but he had to focus on something other than pain. His head throbbed. His skin felt like it was crawling off of him.
No. Dammit. No.
He couldn't let the change happen.
He plodded on until he reached the woman. Her purple fur-lined jacket was spackled with blood; her hair swayed in the wind. Her hands were pale and white and splayed over her head. Tom rolled her over. Her stomach was gouged open, innards protruding from the wound.
The beasts had gotten to her. Of course they had. He looked around, as if one of the creatures would appear and lay claim to its prize. But the beasts had moved on, intent on ravaging another neighborhood.
Pretty soon, he'd be doing the same thing.
A tear fell down his cheek.
Was this penance for letting down Lorena, for letting down the others?
He looked around the street, searching for proof that someone else was alive, but found nothing. The pelting snow did little against the fire in his skin. His body felt as though a creature were trying to burst through him. Tom forced himself to his feet.
He stared at several abandoned cars in the road. He had the irrational urge to get inside one and start driving. Maybe if he got far enough away, he wouldn't hurt anyone. But the cars wouldn't move any more now than when the people had first tried to flee in them. They were virtually useless.
A heavy gust of wind pummeled him with snow, blowing his hospital gown behind him. He clutched the blanket Kelsey had given him. It was the last gift he'd received from someone who'd showed concern. Ice clung to Tom's cheeks and eyelashes as he set his sights on the nearest house, a white ranch with an open garage.
If he could get inside, maybe he could beat this thing.
He trudged away from the dead woman and headed for the open garage. He could only see bits of the interior, but he found himself less afraid of what lurked within than he might have been before.
What could the beasts do to him now that was any worse than what he had already witnessed?
He veered around a sedan stuck at the base of the driveway. Without wanting to, he became more aware of the dead bodies around him, as if the corpses were calling out to him to feed.
His nose stung with the scent of blood. His senses were sharpening.
. His body was transforming, no matter how he tried to fight it. He held his breath, hoping a lack of oxygen might stop the beast, but nothing would. Tom stumbled to one knee, barely putting his hands in front of him before he hit the snow.
At the last second, he looked up at the house.
Two faces stared at him from the window.
A woman and a little girl.
Tom opened his mouth to warn them, but before he could, everything went black.
He awoke naked and cold. Tom scanned his surroundings, momentarily forgetting the events preceding his collapse. His cheek was pressed against cold linoleum. His eyes twitched as they came into focus.
Something was wrong.
things were wrong.
Blood covered the floor. A chair missing a leg was tipped over. The room smelled of sweat and copper. His body was sucked of energy.
What had happened?
Blinking, he located his hospital gown across the kitchen floor. It was a shredded, soaking mess.
Had he gotten to the woman and child?
Fighting dizziness, Tom turned his head. He immediately wished he hadn't. Lying on the other side of him was the gutted body of a man. The man's innards were scattered across the floor. Bite marks told a tale of a man's last, agonizing moments. Tom coughed, his mouth filling with the taste of blood.
He cried out and kicked backward, backpedaling from the dead body. Wind and snow pummeled the house. He stared around the small kitchen, as if the cabinets and appliances might come alive to punish him. But the room was silent, save his gasping, horrified breaths.
He spat the taste of flesh and blood from his mouth, but it invaded his senses—in his nose, in his mouth, filling the room.
Tom forced himself upright and slid back across the floor, banging against a kitchen table. He hugged his knees. Bits of memory came back to him as he recalled being in the garage, then in the house.
That was as far as his memory went.
He had no further recollection of the woman and child. Even so, his body was bathed in the evidence of the man he'd killed. Whether he'd fought the change didn't matter.
He'd killed someone. Maybe others.
Tom wiped his face, but succeeded only in smearing blood from his hands into his mouth. The red fluid was all over him. He needed to get clean. It was all he could think to do. Sick and horrified, Tom forced himself to his feet, sliding over the slippery floor, making his way across the kitchen.
Gray morning light seeped through a window above the kitchen sink. There was no sign of the moon. He turned his attention to the body. He didn't recognize the person. There wasn't much to recognize—the man's face was torn open, his body filleted.
Thank God the woman and child weren't next to him.
Wrought with guilt, Tom left the scene, leaving sticky footprints on the floor. His hospital gown was ruined, unusable. No matter what happened after this moment, he needed something to wear.
He didn't deserve to live.
He trudged through the kitchen until he came upon a bathroom. Walking into it, he surveyed smashed cosmetics and toiletries, evidence of a struggle. He turned the faucet on, wanting nothing more than to sluice away the blood from his skin. The tap water was cold, but good enough to clean him off. He dried himself with a towel and wrapped it around himself. He looked in the mirror, expecting to see a monster, but instead Tom saw the same face he was used to. Several scrapes on his cheeks were the only remnants of his gruesome night. Looking down at his leg, he noticed the wound had healed. The bite marks were gone, and so were the stitches.
The affliction ran deeper.
I need to get out of here.
I need to get away from what I've done.
Maybe he could lock himself away before he hurt anyone else. He glanced out the small window, watching snow drift past the pane. He didn't think he'd been knocked out for more than the remainder of the night. That meant another day and another night were left in The Great Storm.
But how many more after that?
He walked into the hallway, swallowing the sickening pit in his throat.
He treaded up a staircase, looking for the master bedroom. Several pictures hung on the wall, but he looked away from them, walking past an empty child's bedroom and a vacant office.
Finally, he reached the master bedroom. The empty bed reminded him of a time when he'd been lying next to Lorena. He'd do anything to return to that time.
The sight of his reflection in a wall mirror made him jump. He swallowed and looked away, unwilling to face himself again. Locating the closet, he opened it.
Wedged on the floor, staring at him in terror, were the woman and little girl.
The woman waved a knife. "Stay back!"
Tom jumped back in shock. The little girl buried her head in her mother's arms.