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The air was cool and crisp as a figure made their way through the park. In the near distance, the sound of the tides crashing against the rocks nearly drowned out the sound of autumn leaves crunching beneath their feet. Each step crushed the dried foliage and rustled loose pieces around their tennis shoes. On the breeze the smell of the sea was potent, as if taking in a very nose full of the water itself. It had become dark by now, the world engulfed in the blanket of the night sky. Above, stars twinkled and danced. Beautiful. That was what Dean Carver thought as he came to a stop near the edge of the treeline. Beyond the firs that retained their needles, he could hear the sound of footsteps. Odd… Others tended to avoid the park at night. That was why he'd chosen to jog in the dark in the first place. At first the steps sounded slow and hesitant… They weren't jogging, but walking. No… Not walking. He realized that they were stumbling and falling over themselves like a newborn deer. Concern fell over him and he took a step toward the treeline.
“Hello? Is someone there? Are you okay?” His call heeded no response and for a moment even the footsteps fell silent. He noticed now that the crickets had stopped chirping and the cicadas no longer sang. “Hello?” His stomach tightened as anxiety overtook him. Clouds moved across the moon, blotting out the light. “Do you need help?” he called again. Still, there was no response. The footsteps, however, had begun to move toward him. Stumbling, slow, awkward. Part of his mind was screaming at him to flee but his legs felt stiff and he couldn't move. “I'll call you an ambulance if you need it!” He didn't know why he continued to attempt conversation. Whoever was coming his way wasn't much for it, after all. Still, he couldn't just leave them there if they were hurt. As he stood there the steps grew closer. Through the trees he could see the outline of a person. He let out a breath that he didn't realize he'd been holding.
“Stay there, I'll get you help!” He offered them once more. The figure came to a stop for a moment. He could feel something strange fall over him, a mix between fear and euphoria. Finally the figure approached once more, stepping through the trees. He had expected them to be in bad shape… but what he saw caused bile to rise in his throat. “My god...” He couldn't move. He was frozen to the spot, even as they neared him. “God...” He couldn't think of anything else to say. The smell of rot fell over him. He finally managed to take a step back, but even that couldn't save him. A hand landed heavily on his shoulder, fisting in his shirt. “Dear god...” Words still escaped him.
He could feel himself falling backwards, and the bony hand clung to him all the while, falling with him. He thought about calling for help… but who would hear him? He had jogged the park paths for years… He knew how abandoned the park became at night. “Please...” The figure's jaws snapped wildly at him as he tried his best to hold them back. The skin was wet and bloated, as if they had been in the water for years. Maybe they had been. He supposed he wouldn't get the chance to find out. Nails seemed to dig away at his skin until he could feel them puncturing him. Blood oozed from the wounds, trailing down his arms.
If he didn't know better, he'd have said it was a zombie. But zombies weren't real. And yet what he was looking at was clearly dead… Its breath stunk of rot and decay and patches of skin were missing from its face and neck. He could see the tendons and muscles and veins… Dear god, he could see bones. He couldn't wrap his head around what he was looking at… It was decaying, so much so that it must have been dead for years on end. What he was seeing… He thought it used to be a man… but how could he tell for sure? The body rose from him, and for a moment he thought that this was his chance to escape. However, ice cold hands slammed onto his ankles and his legs were lifted ever so slightly from the ground. He felt his body moving, being drug across the pathway.
Rocks scraped at his skin. He didn't think to struggle until he was already being pulled through the underbrush between the trees. He called out for help despite knowing not a soul would hear him. “Please! Help! Anyone!” His voice fell on nothing more than the trees around him. “Please...” He could feel a rock scrape across the back of his head and pain seared through him. Whatever was pulling him, it was far stronger than him. No matter how he fought it pulled him along as if he were nothing but a pillow. Was he going to die? God… He took in a deep breath, but felt his lungs burning.
He tried to pull away until the very end. His legs and arms sunk into the sand and he struggled to find purchase, failing all the while. That was when he finally looked around. The air felt cold on his skin, colder than it had ever felt. Tens… Hundreds… Thousands… He couldn't count. But he could smell them… and the strength of it choked him as he gasped for what air he could get. “God… God why...” He was going to die here. That much he was sure of now. He was going to die and nobody would know what had become of him until it was too late for them too…
The town itself would fall apart. He knew that the moment he saw them. The town behind him was unsuspecting. Some limped, some crawled… He could do nothing to help anyone… not even himself. The groaning was overwhelmingly loud… louder than an entire hive of bees buzzing around him at once. Hands landed on him, so many pairs that he couldn't count them. And then they began to tear him apart. Whether they were eating him or not, he didn't know. Despite the pain and the screams that escaped his throat, to the very last moment… All he could think about… was that from the very water itself, bodies dragged themselves ashore… the sea was alive with the dead…