Infected - a short story

“Emma, wake up,” a low voice calls.

Her eyes flash open instantly, her senses heightened and her brain already firing off alarm bells. What’s happening? Her hand reaches for the knife lying on the forest floor, an inch from her hand. A precaution. Dad said to always be too careful. What danger are they in?

“What is it?” she hisses, lunging into a crouch, almost knocking Owen over in the process. He grabs her forearm and pulls her to stand. Her shoulder sings in pain as she straightens, but she grits her teeth and ignores it.

“Nothing’s wrong. We need to get moving, that’s all.”

The alarms in her head subside, her breaths slow as she realizes they’re safe. There’s no danger, at least not right now. Her heart is still beating against her ribs like an angry hummingbird, but they’re already moving, so there’s no time to calm herself further.

Owen hands Emma her bag and she slings it onto her back, adjusting the straps and falling into step beside him. He hands her half of a granola bar and twists open a bottle of water. The water will last them the day if they ration properly and Owen has probably already eaten his half of the granola bar.

“Where are we going?” She asks. This has become the routine for them. He wakes her up and they get moving. She asks where they’re going and he gives her the same answer every time.


They’ve been walking for almost a month now. At first, it was moving house to house, finding shelter wherever they could find it and stocking up on food and supplies wherever they came across it. Almost three months since the world had gone to hell, and Owen is all Emma really has left. Her parents are gone, her big brother is on the other side of the country and she has no way of telling if he’s still alive or not. There are no planes in the sky, no cars on the road – besides the van, but now even that’s gone. Every phone they checked was dead and every television station was nothing but static.

The virus had left ninety-six percent of the world as stumbling, decomposing, bloodthirsty things. Emma is part of the “lucky” four percent left human. So is Owen.

Finding Owen was pure luck, a bloody needle in a haystack.

She’d come across him a few days after her parents were gone. Their blood was still caked under her fingernails. She’d heard gunshots from the neighbours’ house that morning, and had stayed hunkered down in the basement for hours. When she finally came out, she watched the guy across the street pick off infected with a shotgun for hours before she finally decided to leave.

She picked through the garage for anything she found useful, hammered some nails into her father’s wooden baseball bat, loaded up the mini van with all the food they had left in the house and hit the road.

She found Owen that night, walking down the freeway with a red backpack on his shoulders and a headlamp on his forehead. She offered him a ride and a cup of instant coffee and the rest is history. Bloody, violent history.

Owen’s got some anger to let out. He doesn’t talk about it much, but she’s got theories about him. He’s good at this. Too good. He seems to like it, which might be the strangest part about it. He seeks the infected out, knocks them down like pins in a bowling alley. He likes her baseball bat, with the nails. Emma lets him use it as long as he cleans it off afterwards.

But Emma can’t really blame him. His parents were immune too, but they were killed by a swarm of infected.

A month after she picked Owen up, the van’s engine died. They went on foot from there, always heading East. When Emma left home, she hadn’t really picked a destination, she just started driving. Owen was already heading East, so they just kept going. Two months together and the food was easy enough to come by. Most of the grocery stores were still stocked, but hard to get into. Big buildings were tricky: the more space inside, the more space there were for infected to hide. If they were lucky, they’d come across an empty house, but the residents were usually still inside, and hungry. Owen would take care of them, and they’d hunker down for the night.

Owen walks a couple of steps ahead of her now; his legs are longer than hers but he always stops when he’s five paces ahead and waits for her, tapping the nails on the bat against the toe of his shoe. She’s noticing her shoulder more, a sting of pain flickering with every step, every shift of her weight. She should have told him right when it happened! God, why didn’t she tell him? They could have tried looking for meds if she had said something. She’d kill for an Advil.

“You okay?” he asks, tapping the bat against his shoe one more time. “You’re slower than usual.” His last sentence comes with a grin; he’s kidding.

“Well, sleeping on the ground is really doing wonders for my back,” Emma says sarcastically. She rotates her shoulders carefully, testing the bad one before she moves it. “I’m just sore, is all.”

She’s lying and she’s hoping to God Owen can’t see it in her face. She is sore, that part isn’t a lie. But it’s not from sleeping on the ground.

Last night, they split up when they came across a small-town mall. Owen went into the gas station in the parking lot to loot for supplies and water and Emma headed into the mall to look for a new pair of shoes. Her Converse had holes in the bottom from all the walking and she was hoping for a pair of hiking boots.

Inside the mall, the emergency lights were on, but they flickered every couple minutes. She was inside for five minutes when they all went out together, sending her plunging into complete darkness. Instinctively, she threw herself against the wall, holding the bat in front of her. After a few more moments, the lights came back on

And Emma came face-to-face with an infected.

It was probably the ugliest thing she had ever come across in her life. Its skin hung from it’s skeleton like someone had sucked out all the muscle. Its eyes were grey and lifeless and sent a chill down her spine. It held bony hands towards her, lunging for her throat with a guttural shout. Emma screamed and swung the baseball bat, but it missed and she spun around, feeling the nails sink into the wall behind her. She yanked hard, trying to pull the bat free, and felt the thing’s teeth sink into her shoulder, through her t-shirt.

A soundless scream made her mouth drop open and she pulled her knee back quickly, kicking backwards and hitting the infected in the gut. It stumbled back and she yanked even harder, dislodging the bat and swinging it around. This time, the bat connects with the thing’s jaw, making it fall slack on its hinges, rotted teeth tumbling to the floor with little pings that make Emma’s gut lurch. She swung again and heard its neck snap, the sickening crunch of bones breaking echoing through her ears. It collapsed to the floor and Emma felt tears trickle down her cheeks, dripping down her chin and neck, seeping into the collar of her t-shirt.

She was done for.

When they’d first met, Owen had told Emma everything he knew about the infected. He was from the city and there had been reports about how to handle the infected. Mostly lists of supplies you should try and collect, the best weapons to use for defence, and one major rule: don’t get bitten. The bite would turn you into one of the infected, immune or not.

She was done for. She’s become one of them and Owen would kill her.

The infected lay still on the floor, not moving even when Emma kicked it hard in the ribs. She could feel blood soaking through the fabric of her shirt and dripping down her arm, almost reaching her wrist.

Would Owen think twice about killing her, really? Would he try and save her? What if she turned into one of them overnight and killed him in his sleep? Would he leave her to fend for herself and go East by himself?

She didn’t have answers to those questions. She didn’t know.

She only had a few minutes before Owen left the gas station and headed into the mall, so she left the dead infected and found the closest sporting goods store. She did a quick sweep of the place, looking for any more surprises with her bat raised high, ready to swing. She found a pair of hiking boots in the shoe section after a little bit of searching through boxes for her size and found a first aid kit in the back room. Emma cleaned her wound with an alcohol wipe and taped pieces of gauze over the bite. She washed the blood from her arm and grabbed a fleece sweater on her way out. She felt cold all over.

Owen was walking through the doors she’d come in through when she left the store. He stopped at the body on the floor and yelled her name, running towards her. “Emma!”

She was expecting him to slow as he approached her, but he just kept running. He scooped her into his arms, hugging her tightly, one hand fisted in her hair. Then he pulled back, his hands holding her face and his eyes darting all over her.

“Are you okay?”

“Owen, I…”

He hugged her again. “Oh god, please tell me you’re okay.”

“I…” She trailed off. Shit. She couldn’t tell him. Clearly, this would hurt him. “I’m okay.”

Now, he searches her face, one brow raising. “Are you sure?” He offers her the water bottle. “Here. You drink the rest. Maybe you’re dehydrated.”

Emma just nods and takes the bottle from him, taking a long swig of water and savouring the way it feels in the back of her mouth. She has the fleece sweater zipped to her chin and she still feels cold. She’s starting to lose feeling in the tips of her fingers and her feet feel like they’re ghosting along ground.

They find an empty cabin to spend the night in. Owen starts a fire in the fireplace and heats up a can of soup for them to share. Emma sits close to the fire, warming her numb toes. She can almost feel the virus running through her veins now, her shoulder pulsing wildly with every beat of her heart. It’s not just her shoulder that hurts now; her whole arm aches as though she had badly burnt it. Her legs are sore, but she’s not sure if that’s from all the walking or the virus.

Owen comes over and sits beside her, on her uninjured side. Her hand is squeezing her knee and he reaches for it, holding her fingers between his own and rubbing his thumb over the back of her hand.

“You really scared me last night,” he mumbles, his voice quiet. “I thought the thing bit you. I was so scared.” He reaches out and rubs his thumb across her cheek. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

She has to tell him.

Emma inhales deeply, taking in the scent of the wood burning in the fireplace, of the remnants of the vegetable soup they shared, of the shower gel Owen used the last time they bathed. She wants to remember it.

“I got bit, Owen.”

There. She’s dropped the bomb. He looks at her in disbelief, so she unzips the jacket, shivering when the air hits her cold skin. She reaches for the gun at her hip in the same motion, moving the jacket off her shoulder so he can see the bite.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks. Already, she can tell he’s upset. Not that she can blame him.

“I didn’t know how. I…I was scared you’d leave me behind. But I need you to kill me, Owen. Please. Go on without me, head East, get to whatever it is that’s out there.”

“The ocean,” he says, not looking at her, his eyes unfocused and unblinking.


“The ocean. I wanted to see the ocean.”

“Then go. For me. Go see the ocean. And keep yourself safe. Please.”


Before he can say another word, she pushes the gun into his hand. “Will you do it? I don’t want to be a monster, Owen. I don’t want to be one of them. Please.”

His lip is quivering as he cocks the barrel of the gun and lifts it. The end presses against Emma’s temple and she shuts her eyes.

“I’m so sorry,” he says and the gun goes off.

Photo Credit: David Cowan


Kayla Randall is a 20-year-old aspiring novelist with a passion for coffee, books, and driving around her hometown. Eldest of five siblings, she often misses home in Mississauga, but is still having the time of her life living in Ottawa and trying to make her mark in the literary world.

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It's Okay

There’s something that writing these posts have taught me. I came up with the idea for writing a blog about homesickness two months ago and I have changed since then. Not to say that I don’t miss my family, because I do. I miss them every day. But writing about it has taught me this, something my mother said to me once, but something I didn’t quite understand yet:

The past is a nice place to visit every once in a while, but you can’t live there.

I understand that now, in every sense. As a person, you move forward in life, changing and shifting with every day and every event. The present becomes the past and the future becomes the present. You lose people and you find new ones; relationships prosper or they simply cease to exist.

And that’s okay. It’s okay if you aren’t still close with everyone you were with in high school. It’s okay if the person you have romantic feelings for doesn’t feel the same way. It’s okay if you only talk to your parents once a month, once a week, or once a day. It’s okay.

Because home isn’t a place. I thought that maybe it was, that my home could be contained within four walls and some bricks, varying shades of paint and a patched-over hole in the kitchen ceiling. But it’s not. Home is who you’re with, not where you are.

I feel just as much at home here in Ottawa as I do back in Mississauga. Yes, there are things that I miss dearly about Mississauga (looking at you, Burrito Boyz). But there are so many things that I will miss about Ottawa if/when I leave.

That’s another thing. Honestly, I don’t know where I’m going after graduation. I don’t know if I’m going to stay here, go home, or pick up and head across the ocean. I seriously have no idea. Two years ago, that would have terrified me to no end. I would have been an anxious, shaking wreck seven days a week.

But I’m not the same person I was two years ago. I have changed since then.

It’s funny, isn’t it? How your perception can change so quickly?

I know this for certain: I will always go home. I will always return to my family, no matter where in the world they are. I will cross oceans and skies and mountains for them

The present will become the past, and the future will become the present, but I will still have a home, and I will still carry on, no matter where I am.

Photo Credit: Kayla Randall


Kayla Randall is a 20-year-old aspiring novelist with a passion for coffee, books, and driving around her hometown. Eldest of five siblings, she often misses home in Mississauga, but is still having the time of her life living in Ottawa and trying to make her mark in the literary world.

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A House Is Not A Home

It finally happened! I went home for five glorious days filled with driving around in my PT Cruiser, cuddling the little munchkins I missed so much, binge watching Grey’s Anatomy with my mother, and having lunch with my Gran and Granddad multiple times.

It was great! I surprised my little sisters at their bus stop after school and they ran right off the bus, throwing their arms around my waist. Raychel – the younger of the two – just kind of hung there for a while, smiling like the Devil and holding her legs up around mine.

“Did you miss me or something?” I asked. She giggled and hid her face in my coat.

Stepping foot into my house was a whole other thing. It felt…alien, almost. Like I was just a visitor, floating from city to city, with no real ties anywhere. I recognized the smell, but everything felt different, as though something had infiltrated my memory of the house, moved everything half an inch to the left, and dulled the colours only slightly. There are lyrics to a song, “Hurricane” by Halsey, that really resonated with me and played through my head when I walked through the front door.

Don’t belong to no city / Don’t belong to no man.

                                                                                                                        It’s true. I don’t belong to a single city. My home is in Mississauga, but all my things are in Ottawa. I slept on the couch while I was at home. It was a strange, surreal feeling; like I’d gotten into a spat with my former self and wasn’t allowed in bed that night.

The more I think about it, the stranger it seems. What does it really mean to have a home? What is it about one place that makes you ache when you leave, or when you haven’t been there in a while? Is it the people? The paint on the walls in a bedroom that isn’t even mine anymore? The way my stepfather parks the cars in the driveway like Tetris pieces? The way my baby sister cried the night before I left and couldn’t tell me the reason why?

I think I know the answer. It’s all of it. It’s the paint and the cars in the driveway and the crocodile tears on Raychel’s cheeks when I tucked her into bed. It’s the look on her face when I told her I’d be back before she knew it. It’s the smell of my mother’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and the smile on my stepdad’s face when he saw me.

It’s all of it.

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Photo Credit: Kayla Randall                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Video Credit: HalseyVEVO


Kayla Randall is a 20-year-old aspiring novelist with a passion for coffee, books, and driving around her hometown. Eldest of five siblings, she often misses home in Mississauga, but is still having the time of her life living in Ottawa and trying to make her mark in the literary world.

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Where Have I Gone?

It’s currently 5:57 in the evening. I’m sitting at the kitchen table with two of my three roommates, all of us making some kind of attempt at our coursework. We only figured out how to use our furnace the other day and the vents have just started spewing air, sending our olive-green curtains into a flapping frenzy of heat. It smells vaguely like dryer sheets and maple syrup. The latter might be a result of the giant candle                  I picked up from the grocery store the other day. We have a penchant for smelly candles in this house, something that’s almost unheard of back in Mississauga. The smell hurts Mom’s nose and makes my littlest sister break out in hives.

It’s now 6:25. I had an issue with my laptop and had to reboot. We figured out what to make for dinner: pulled pork and mashed potatoes on pitas. I’m excited; I’m usually excited about food. I’m on my way home in less than a week; five days to be exact. Mom promised roast beef for dinner at least once.

I really miss home.

The other night, I abruptly woke up from a dream. You know, how it looks in the movies? With the sweaty forehead, heaving breaths and confused expressions? That was me, looking around the room I currently sleep in, terrified as anything because I thought I was at home. I was looking for the dark-grey walls and the dim light coming from under my door. When all I found was the faint outline of the balcony door and the streetlamp outside, looking like a ghostly, white orb behind the black curtains.

It doesn’t feel like my room. Maybe because it doesn’t feel like my house. Yes, I pay rent and I have a key that unlocks the front door, but it doesn’t feel like home. It feels something like home: temporary and disposable. If I never came back, it wouldn’t matter and I wouldn’t feel any different.

Now it’s 7:09. To be perfectly honest, I’m struggling to write this. The wait to go home – to see my family and set foot in my house again – feels like a weight on my chest. I think I’m gonna give my mom a call in a bit, just to chat and see what’s going on with her.

I’ll leave you with this funny bit of information. You know how when people get outrageously drunk, they sometimes call their significant others or the people they’re interested in and leave rambling voice mails about how much they miss them?

I was that outrageously drunk the other night and you can take a wild guess at who I called...

My mom.

Photo Credit: Screen capture from Time and Date


Kayla Randall is a 20-year-old aspiring novelist with a passion for coffee, books, and driving around her hometown. Eldest of five siblings, she often misses home in Mississauga, but is still having the time of her life living in Ottawa and trying to make her mark in the literary world.

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To Have A Home

I have known many houses in my lifetime. I have been a wanderer of sorts, a nomad tied to my family and pulled along like a kite on a string. I have sat in window seats with books stacked at my side, warmed my toes by fireplaces built into the walls of my youth. I have known rooms painted midnight-blue and sea-glass green, palest-pink and storm-cloud grey. I have known rented rooms, townhouse noises, and apartment floors.

But there is only one place that has ever truly felt like home.

The house sits just before the curve of the street; the driveway is unbroken by a sidewalk and the grass is mostly clover in the front yard. There’s a tree on the neighbour’s lawn and the branches dip down over the asphalt in the winter, dropping closer as the boughs grow heavy with snow. When spring comes, my stepfather trims back the limbs so they won’t scratch the tops of the cars when they grow back. In the summer, my mother hangs baskets of flowers from ornate hooks on either side of the garage, full of pink begonias and purple pansies. At Halloween, we spread fake spider webs along the bricks that lead to the front door and a giant felt spider that’s been around for longer than I can remember hangs beside the mailbox.

That’s just the outside.

Inside, the walls hold more memories than I can count. Christmases and birthdays, New Year’s Eve bashes and my parents’ baseball team celebrating both wins and losses. The smell of cookies wafts from the kitchen into the living room, where my stepdad watches baseball or old episodes of The Sopranos. I've had heart-to-heart chats with aunts and cousins around the dining room table and I've stumbled to the powder room in a drunken stupor to toss my cookies into the porcelain bowl. I have chased my sisters around the main floor, listening to their giggles of joy.

That is my home. That is where my soul lives. That is the place I will always return to.

As of this moment, I am 470 kilometres away. I packed up most of my belongings, my personal possessions, and moved here, to Ottawa. I don’t regret it, and I don’t hate the place I’m in. But I’ll be damned, where I live doesn’t feel the same as home.

This is my journey, my homesickness, my thoughts.

Photo Credit: Screen capture from Time and Date


Kayla Randall is a 20-year-old aspiring novelist with a passion for coffee, books, and driving around her hometown. Eldest of five siblings, she often misses home in Mississauga, but is still having the time of her life living in Ottawa and trying to make her mark in the literary world.

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