It wasn’t obvious at first. People shuffled about downtown in the crowded city. A million distracted souls were occupied with a million different missions. None of them payed much attention to the others. There were people from all creeds and walks of life. In the sea of souls, their faces blended together to form an urban tapestry of cultural diversity.
A businessman walked past with an expensive tailored suit but the garment had seen better days. It had frayed edges around the lapels and unraveled stitching on most of the seams. The whole thing might have gone unnoticed if he hadn’t carried such an air of esteemed dignity. Almost immediately, a hot dog seller passed him, walking the other way. His uniform was actually in tatters. It hung off of him like dry-rotted rags.
Anyone who saw the street vendor might have been tempted to make assumptions about the quality of his food, but that value judgment was quickly lost. Soon a menagerie of clothing misfits were everywhere. Ladies in threadbare rags, children dressed in heavily patched jeans. Wheelchair bound veterans adorned in faded cheesecloth and teenagers who looked as if they had just exited a collapsed coal mine. For as far as the eye could see, everyone in view was stricken with the depressing raiment of a threadbare apocalypse.
The sheer volume of individuals and the incredible range of their biological differences ruled out the possibility of a coordinated effort. Being a coincidence however was even more difficult to accept. It was as if a zombie-clothing plague had infested the city, one ruined garment at a time. The people themselves looked normal in every other way.
Barbara ducked down an alleyway and ran into a trendy third-avenue clothing boutique. There she hoped to be safe from the endless waves of disheveled drones wandering the city. To her horror, the whole store was filled with dilapidated, pre-worn yuppie garments and uneven fringe hanging off the stoic mannequins. They were every bit as hideous as the ‘clothing’ being adorned by the mindless ghouls outside! A pseudo-goth chic with pre-shredded clothes looked up from her cell phone and muttered a tired, insincere sales greeting. Her overwhelming level of disinterest was deeply apparent.
Just as Barbara was sure the end was near, a family of four entered the front door. With fanny packs and local attraction brochures in hand, they were clearly tourists. In a stroke of delicious irony, they were the first decently dressed individuals she had witnessed since the nightmare began! Outside ‘La chic boutique’, the hordes of poorly dressed slobs shuffled past, oblivious to their own fashion demise. The hapless tourists had stopped in to get directions but Barbara managed to sequester them from harm, just in the nick of time.
She drew them aside and warned them of the rising chaos outside. Just as most out-of-towners are clueless to the dangers of a large city, they too were unaware of the recent fall of civilization. Barb knew it was up to her to save all of them. They had to avoid the dreadful spate of material deterioration rampant everywhere until they could escape the fallen city. With luck they could locate a military command center for secure dress accommodations. Their chances were slim.
Barbara led the Puttermans out the back exit and down a series of side streets. The only other souls they encountered along the way were homeless vagrants. For once, their filthy jogging outfits and droopy socks fit right in with the rest of society. That led to another serious question. Where they infected with the plague too, or was it just another Tuesday for them? Barb didn’t want to take any chances. She instructed the naive family from Oshkosh Wisconsin to avoid all contact with them. It was then that she ripped off her back pants pocket, squeezing between two smelly dumpsters.
“Damn it to hell!”; She exclaimed. The infection would soon spread to the rest of her meticulously matched ensemble. There was no saving herself but she could still save the wholesome Putterman clan. She didn’t set out to be a martyr but when duty called, she rose to the occasion. Barb warned the patriarch Ross that she would soon undergo an unrecognizable metamorphosis. He would have to lead his family to safety once her faculties were fully compromised. He nodded. There was nothing else left to say. Jane and the kids hugged her while it was still safe to do so. They all wept. It was a noble sacrifice.
A few minutes later, Barbara’s knit sweater began to unravel. It was just the first stage in the unrelenting fashion plague. Soon she would have massive holes and artificial tears in her clothes as if a hipster doofus paid someone to deliberately ‘pre-wear’ them. The tell-tale signs of ‘dry rot’ pinholes began to show on the creases of her faded pants. It wouldn’t be long before she would possess the vacant stare of a fashion zombie.
Once back out in the open, the five of them had to blend in with the frumpy, sidewalk-dwelling crowd. Barb warned Ross and his family of what to watch for and how to avoid detection. They had their shirts untucked and their shoestrings untied but there were still suspicious looks on occasion. As an additional precaution, the Putterman boy wore his pants half way down his backside and the girl turned her sport coat inside-out. With agonizing precision they bobbed and weaved through the affected, gaudy masses.
“O.M.G! I just looooveee how your pocket is missing on the back of your pants!”; An angsty club kid complimented Barbara. “It looks sooooo cool how the material is a different color where the pocket used to be! Who did it for you?”
The Puttermans observed the cringeworthy exchange, nervously. If Barbara was unable to withhold her contempt, it would give all of them away. If she accepted the ridiculous compliment too naturally, it might indicate she’d already turned. It was a conspiratorial balancing act and they had to maintain the facade until they were safely out of the city. Not only did Barbara appear enthusiastic about the clothing discussion, she continued to engage the angsty girl for several more minutes. It wasn’t a good sign. She didn’t come across as the type of person to be able to hide her true feelings.
Just as they had decided that Barb had completely turned, she turned and winked at Mrs. Putterman. They all breathed a collective sigh of relief. They were just four blocks from the train station when the boy made the mistake of complaining about the discomfort of his sagging pants. Immediately they were the focus of intense scrutiny by all the fashion zombies within earshot. Barbara quickly shot into action to create a diversion so they could escape. They came for her. It was the last time the Puttermans saw her before she faded into the mindless, unthinking horde. Her personal sacrifice saved their aesthetic dignity. They would never forget her for it.