Saturday, March 8, 2014

He Dropped It

Martin couldn't find his journal. He kneeled at his bed, and made to reach under it for the eighth time with 85% less hope than he had in the beginning that he would find it. The proper deduction of hope per try signified a NexGen characteristic the companies had only just begun to understand when the infection hit.

His hand rested on the carpet, just at the border between the shadow of the bed and the light. His fingers wiggled, almost imperceptibly. Then he brought his hands to his face, "I cannot. Cannot. Cannot. Believe this."

His hands fell from his face.

"Beth!!" he yelled, not without some aggravation.

"I haven't seen it, Martin!"
He rose from the floor, and trudged into the kitchen. Mom and Dad sat at the round, blue table, their knees touching.
Martin's hands were deep in his pockets.
"Oh, Martin." said Mom. The chair groaned across the floor as she slid away from the table. She rose, and hugged him.
"I'm sorry."
"It's stupid." said Martin, "I mean. Just memories, right? I haven't written much in it apart from the infection. This terrible time. The terrible, stupid time . . . lost."
The floor opened up beneath him, seemingly, sending his heart plummeting into that void between hope and hopelessness where the thought occurs, "Why even live?"
And the answer reverberates, "Because we must."

"I'm going for a walk."

Mom let him go.
"Martin." she said.
His walk slowed.
"It's more than memories. They're your memories. We will keep looking. Just be careful, and remember that we love you."
"I love you, too." he answered.

The cheap golden doorknob clicked the click of low quality merchandise as Martin turned it. His stomach turned. Forced into this cheap apartment, commanded to cohabit with whoever the remaining government ordered them to. Soon enough more refugees would arrive, and Martin would be sharing his bedroom with a stranger.

The hallway closed around him, causing his head to ache. He kicked open the door to the stairway, and made his way down, leaping down the last few stairs. He pulled open the door and was met by two gun barrels pointed right down his gob.
He rubbed his head, and looked at the Marines behind the weapons, "Really guys? Zed is going to come down stairs from the top floor of a heavily fortified housing complex?"
Their looks would have withered an oak as they lowered their guns. Martin brushed past them, hands in his pockets.

The sun struck his corneas as he walked toward the exit. It throbbed and soothed at the same time. The guards by the door were distracted, looking out into the parking lot. The glitch of radios could be heard throughout the lobby. It got louder when he exited the building.

"More noise." he complained, as he turned left. He walked, staring at the ground, and tried to enjoy the feeling of the sun on his back.

So many memories. Since before the earth became Zombieworld. Only a few days, but at least it was a record of the evolution; boarding up the house, Scotty, the first kills, blood, fire, and drama. Dogs. Zombie dogs. While he was gone the Marines went insane on the dogs, eliminating and burning every single mongrel they could attract. He was sorry he missed that. Must have made zombie mode in Call of Duty look boring.
The chatter washed over him.
"From the South!" someone screamed.
Martin heard the tanks before he saw them. He stopped abruptly on the sidewalk and watched them race past.
"Didn't know those things could go so fast."
The armored parade lasted only 30 seconds, but its ambient rumble was felt until they stopped. Martin ran toward them. The closer he got, the thicker the Marines became, all armored, some in spacesuits, jogging, running, but never walking. They began lining up.

Then gunfire, tittering across the streets, bouncing off the buildings, and the mountains. It was further South. And it was building. No one was stopping him as he ran to the line.

Only when he arrived did he realize . . . his family was on the other side.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Out Of The Fire

I was just excited. It had been a few terrible days for all of us, and I was sure my homecoming would lighten the mood.

Instead, Beth answered the door with an alarming indifference. I got my first look at the apartment as I followed her in. It was a lint trap of a place. The whitewashed walls looked like crepe paper over a coffee stain. Dad was off in a corner, and Mom . . . I didn't know.

"Heeey." I said, a smile on my face and my arms held out.
Beth faced me and rolled her reddened eyes, "Ugh." she groaned. "I'm sorry big bro." She wrapped her arms around me. It was water in the desert to my soul. I held her a long time. She came away with tears in her eyes. I watched her walk to the hallway that I could only assume led to the bathroom and our rooms.

I approached Dad carefully. He sat at the table crushed by the weight of the moment. I put my hands on his shoulders. He was quick to grasp my hand. And he squeezed. He squeezed so hard. I squeezed back.

He let go of my hand and turned, his eyes drowned. He just hugged me. He didn't rise from his seat, he just wrapped his arms around me and squeezed. He wept silently.

"Oh Martin!"

That was Mom. Then Beth. They joined our reunion. I was being squeezed to pieces by four surprisingly strong arms. Beth leaned on my back. Wrapped up in their warmth and smell I finally lost it. I told them everything - the walk, Summit, the church, Scott, the Marines, the bureau-rats. All of it.

We sank to the floor together, and slumped in a comfortable heap.

"I'm so sorry, son." said Dad.
I just shook my head. Such is life, even in a zombie apocalypse.
"Do you remember shaved ice?" asked Beth.
Dad and I nodded.
"I had options," said Mom.
"What, mom?"
"Options." she said, again, "I was offered a scholarship to Emerson College. I was going to be a stage director, or set designer. Or both."
Her eyes glassed over.

"Holly." said Grandma Reese, "What are you going to do, sweetheart? That money will pay tuition, and part of your education costs. The rest, well, I'll convince grandpa he should help."
Grandma got a reply in a sweet, but sad smile.
"I appreciate the offer, Grandma." breathlessly she said, "I really really do." She hadn't been told that a heartbreak made a sound. Suddenly her ears were ringing.
"I just . . ." she paused.
"Just, what, Holly? You would be the first Reese girl to go to college!"
Holly looked her grandmother in the eye. Grandma looked back, her eyes gray and solid.
"It doesn't feel right." said Holly. She looked into the street where the neighborhood kids rode their bikes, "Martin does."
She expected grandma to roll her eyes, smooth out her dress, lean forward, and give her the matronly stare that said you listen, and you listen closely, child.
Instead grandma chuckled. The old woman was smiling at the children on their bikes, riding circles in the street. She seemed to be looking beyond the children, though her eyes still followed them.
Suddenly she was back in the present.
She looked at Holly, "Sweetie, if he feels right, chances are very good that he is right."
Holly's lip trembled.
"Oh baby." said Grandma. The old woman took Holly's hand in her own, and squeezed with a surprising strength. "I'm not upset. You follow your heart."

"Emerson?" I asked.
"Set designer?" asked Dad.
"You missed out on college for Dad?" said Beth. She then looked, eyes wide open at Martin, Sr., "Sorry Daddy. I meant . . . I would have chosen you, too. It's just. Set design would be so cool."
They laughed, the Ashtons in an intimate huddle on the floor of this apartment the remaining powers that be assigned them. It was pretty awesome.

We had been a close family before, each person comfortable, and annoyed just enough by one another to be a loving unit. But now my absence, and successful return amidst chaos, and death seemed to push us over the brink of a nice family, and into becoming essential to one another's life. I had never felt more at home . . . not even at home.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


photo courtesy of 2012

I kept to the Interstate on the way home, unsure of what I would say when I got there.

"Hey! Well. Things are bleak. I'm okay. Only had a couple of adventures. Found Scotty." When I imagined telling the story about Scott I couldn't help but choke up. Then I'd walk about half a mile trying to collect myself. Then I'd stop, kneel down, and cry. The only way to stop myself was to say over and over, "You're getting dehydrated doing this Martin. Stop crying." Over and over until the salt in my tears set off a kind of repugnance.

Trudge trudge. The heat baking off the concrete freeway, cooking me from the calves up. Every breath from an open oven. The sun, though. The sun made it worse. The air I can stand, but that summer sun beating down on you? It took awhile to accept that there would be no relief. I imagined myself a walking raisin with wisps of ginger hair fluttering in the desert.

Any more exposure and it was sure to become a reality. I turned off the Interstate and made for the foothills. I walked toward some scrub. It had a nice little alcove that was deeply shaded. A place that I would have avoided like the spider infested hole it was before the infection now looked like a welcome oasis in the middle of the Sahara. I was all set to cuddle up with the black widows and wait out the sun when the brush came to life.

It began to shift.

No breeze.

It ground against rock.

Gravity's good.

Then figures started to coalesce. Human. Armed.

"Hands up."


I put my hands in the air, "Got any water?"
"Identify yourself."
"Ah . . . Martin. Martin Alan Ashton. Cedar City. Go Redmen. So!" I said, "One. May I have some water. Two. I can see six of you, how many can't I see?"
"Just stay quiet for now, Martin." said the one wearing the most beat up ghillie. He signaled all around him. Several more Marines rose from the landscape.
He walked toward me, gun still pointing in my direction, "Keep those hands up, kid."
He did a quick pat down. Took my gun. My knife. I wanted to protest, but I wanted to live more. And water. I wanted water.
"Alright," he said, "Hands at your side. Just remember how many sites are on you." He rose and looked me in the eye, "And my boys never miss."
I shrugged, "I'm cool. Kinda glad I ran into you. Now. Do you . . ."
He held up a canteen he had manifested from the suit. I drank. A lot. You know that feeling. It comes in steps.

1. Uh . . . so thirsty. I'd drool if I could over this wet, wonderful beverage.
2. Drink.
3. Man that feels great!
4. Body wants more!
5. More
6. More
7. More!
8. Breathe! (insert choking if you ignore this impulse)
9. Water settles a bit.
10. Satiated. For now.

I handed the canteen back a lot lighter. The Marine smiled, but gave me a look. I grinned and shrugged.

"Come with me." he said. He took the lead, and two more Marines followed. He led me up over a rise and down into a wash. They had a Humvee parked there. "Does that thing have air conditioning?" I asked. The boys behind me laughed. Mr. Light Ghillie suit signaled for me to halt.

He walked to the Humvee. Its diesel engine was clicking away, you know that sound. It's a rumble, but it's punctuated by clicks. The Marine walked up to the driver's side.  The window rolled down, and I saw the driver. Beneath the loosely worn fatigues I could see a blue shirt collar and black tie. Aviators. Lean jaw with a clean shave. He spoke tersely to the Marine, who nodded rapidly.

The Marine turned and walked back to me. As he did, Aviators looked straight through me. When the Marine was within a couple of feet I asked, "Who's that? This isn't the first time I've seen suits over the military."

The look I gave him told him I wasn't going to buy the superior officer/bureaucrat thing. Those aviators had that big screen sheen to them that told me they were ridiculously expensive.

The Marine smiled at me. He gestured with his head, and turned back to the Humvee. I was obviously meant to follow. As I walked Aviators never stopped staring at me. I lifted my chin at him. You know that gesture. It's a bit passive aggressive. It's like saying, "Yeah. I know you see me. What's up." I got no response. Just stared at. The closer I got the more I could make out my reflection in his glasses.

"Hi." I said.

He faced forward. The Marines helped me into the back of the Humvee, which was unusually clean and cool as a tomb. I leaned my head back, and placed my hands in my lap. Aviators put the vehicle in gear. As we bounced over the terrain toward Cedar City I drifted off. No one spoke.

It wasn't a long drive. I was only a few miles from home. We hit pavement. I woke up. As we approached the city I saw road blocks. Several of them. We drove a mile off the Interstate, and it took way too long.

"Hey, guys." I said, "I live just a few streets over."
"You're not going home." said Aviators.
Aviators adjusted the rearview so he could see me, "We have no record of you. You will be detained until we assign housing to you."
"Assign housing?" I said, "I have a house. A family. Surely you have the Ashtons on file."
He shook his head.
I about swallowed my tongue. I choked.
"What?" I gasped.
No answer.
"Hey, shades." I yelled, "Where's my family!"
He adjusted the rearview back to where it had been.
I looked at the Marine who had talked to me, "What does he mean?"
"Maintain silence." said Aviators.
"I . . ."
The Marine grabbed my arm. I looked at him. He shook his head briskly. I was pissed. I scowled at the back of Aviator's helmet, and sat quietly. We came up on a hotel. Obviously a headquarters of some kind. Armed Marines, sandbags, razor wire, check points.

"I'm bored." I said.
The Marine beside me snickered. Aviators brought the Humvee up to the entrance. The nice Marine got out and beckoned me to follow.
"Thanks for the ride, James." I smirked. I think I saw some color rise up that collar as I got out. Good. I hate talking to walls.
"What's your name?" I asked the Marine, "I'm tired of referring to you as the Marine in my inner monologue."
"You're a turd, aren't you Martin." he answered.
"Like I said. I'm bored."
"You can call me Alvarez."
"Alvarez it is."

I followed him into the elevator. We rose up to the fourth floor. I enjoyed the coolness of the building as the floors ticked by. Three dings later the door opened. Alvarez pointed me out the door. "Room 403." I shook my head as if to ask, "And then what?" but the door closed before I got a response. I walked down the hall and knocked on 403.

Another suit answered the door. While the door frame was a hard rectangle, the man himself was pear shaped. He leaned his pin head into the hall, and looked both ways. I ducked his wobbling chins, my mouth a tight line.

He looked at me like you'd look at a toddler who had just threw flour all over the kitchen. "I love it when they drop them off. Come in."

I smiled at him, "After you."

We walked to a circular table and sat opposite each other. He typed away on a Netbook. "Can I check my email?" I asked. His fingers paused for half a second, then he continued typing. I leaned back and counted the squares in the ceiling.

Then it came. That feeling like the boredom couldn't possibly get worse. I explored the options in my head. Get up and walk around? Boring. Stay sitting? Boring-er. Dig in my pockets? Worse, yet. I began vibrating in my seat.

"Please stop doing that." said Chins.
Apparently I had been sighing. I sat forward, and gave him a full sinus sigh, cascading my breath onto the table. Now his mouth was a tight line.
"What is your name."
"What is yours."
"I don't have time for this."
He removed a phone from his shirt pocket, fumbled around, and then put it to his tiny ear. After a couple of rings I caught a muffled voice.
"Freckles, red hair, looks like a NexGen . . . teenager. Yes. Just came in. Thank you." He hung up. "How do you spell Ashton."
S . . . c . . . r . . . e . . . w . . . u came to mind. I was antsy as hell. I spelled it for him, then added, "Like it sounds." just to be a smart-arse. "Why am I here? Why can't I just go home?"
"Where have you been?"
I rolled my eyes, "Out."
"Doing what."
I groaned, "I was trying to find my buddy, Scott. He and this chick took off from our house, headed north. I followed 'cause I felt bad. I was kind of a jerk." I winked at Chins to let him know that I knew that he already knew that. The pain of losing Scotty came back.
My smile faltered. A potent urge to cry took over. I leaned forward over the table. Some tears fell. Now it was Chin's turn to sigh. I felt him rise from his chair. He rested a surprisingly heavy hand on my shoulder.
"We've all lost somebody." he said. I wasn't cold to his comforting touch, but I was still angry about being here. He lifted his hand, and sat back down.
"I have a Martin Ashton, here, but he's twenty years older than you, son."
"Dad." I croaked.
"My dad." I felt an immense relief.
"Ah good." he replied. I was still staring at the table, watching the dance of the ceiling fan reflected in my tear drops.
"Holly?" I asked, "Bethany?"
Chins hummed as he typed. "I have three members of the Ashton family."
The tears really came, now.
Chins kept to himself.
I heard a printer start. He retrieved a piece of paper from by his foot. He placed it on the table between us. It soaked a couple of tears.
"This is your father's unit." said Chins, "We have collected the remaining population in a fortified area. An apartment complex on the south side of the city."
"Why." I muttered.
"Protocol." I was irritated with him, again. My family and I had survived because we were on our own, isolated. These morons had just concentrated Zack's food source. That ought to make it easy for them.
"Yes." he answered. I looked up at him, wiping my cheeks.
"The martial law protocol calls for a concentration of the population. It makes it easier to defend, stand against Zed. And all citizens can have access to all the resources they need to survive."
I could tell from his voice he didn't believe any of it. But that small smile of his never faltered. He pointed at the paper, "You are in unit 716. Some of these units share a room with more than one family, so I don't know how crowded it's going to be. But you won't lack for anything while you are there. I'll have Alvarez take you there."
He walked me to the door, "You know we're all dead, right." I said.
His silence was complete. He closed the door. I felt a palpable fear throbbing in my chest. The hallway was empty. The pinging of the elevator the only sound. I walked to the window and looked down on the city. Half of it was burned. It was all yellowed, and dead. The trees were dried up, great mummified hands straining at the sky. I looked north and east. I saw a bit of green. My little oasis where I had turned my jealous fury on Zed. I clung to that only sign of life. My eyes couldn't leave it.

The elevator door opened. I felt Alvarez, rather than heard him, walk into the hall. He let me have my moment. I was heading to a prison. A trap for Zack.

And I was the bait.

"Come on, Martin." Alvarez said. I held on to that green amidst so much burned desert for a second longer, then turned and walked into the elevator.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Wandering Lost

When I woke up, and it was dark again, I knew the world had flipped itself completely upside down. I lay on the earth looking up at the few stars I could see. The only sound my breathing, as I held my hand against the mound of earth my friend was buried under.

How many more would I have to put in the ground before this nightmare ended? The loved, and the unknown? It felt strange to be working the night shift, as my Dad would say. Disorienting. I had to wait for the moon to break the mountains before I had enough light to see. I stood at the foot of Scott's grave, and slapped my forehead.

Only I would know who was buried here. I had to make a marker of some kind. I looked around. Tie two sticks in a cross . . . no. Hang something in the tree? I slapped my pockets. Just ammo. Gun. Crap. Nothing to fix anything with . . . wait.

I dug around my pockets, and found it. The pocketknife. Scotty's knife. I unfolded the blade, and tested its sharpness. It felt sharp. I picked up a couple of sticks, and went in search of something to tie them together with, make a sort of dreamcatcher thing. Digging around the brush, it hit me.

I turned and went to the head of his grave, and began carving in the tree. It wasn't easy, and it probably looked like crap but I attempted to carve - Scott Redwyn, 18 yrs old, CC, Ut. I didn't want to explain his death, or that he was a Zed when he was laid to rest. Some information you just don't want to pass on. I rose, and stood again at his feet.

"So long, pal." I said, "May angels lead you in, my friend." Lips trembled, tears welled up in my eyes. I sank onto my haunches, "Dammit Scott. Dammit. If you'd have just stayed with us, you'd have been fine. Why'd you have to go? Huh?" I was yelling, "Why'd you have to chase after that . . . that . . . her! Man! She was dead where she . . ."

I held my face in my hand. There was no point chiding the kid. He'd been gone a few days already. You can't fight the past. Linear time. What's done is done. I straightened up, folded up the pocket knife and slipped it into my pocket. I patted my back pocket to make sure I still had the note. Then I began walking.

Toward home. At first.

But home seemed . . . uninviting. The whole world, in an instant, felt full of stupidity, and ignorance, and the basest of human feelings. I wasn't ready to go back to that, yet. Not to say mom and dad and Beth were . . .  maybe I was just feeling that way myself. The whole wide hell of a world, and I was powerless to do anything about it. That was it.


Parowan is where I was headed when I left home, Parowan now seemed the right place to go. So I went. I did an about face, and headed north. Having acted carelessly in Summit (not the first time, is it?) I decided to be cautious. I stayed on the high ground, as much as I could navigate it. For the first time in a long time I was absolutely unaware of what time it was. I have usually just been able to feel it. But I felt nothing. It could have been 10 PM or 4 AM. I didn't know.

In that confusion, and in the darkness I came upon a curiosity. It was a fire, obviously, permeating the dark ahead. The shuffling of feet put me off, as you can imagine. Whispers carried up the draw. Distinct words: family, shelter, safety, lost. Lost. As I got closer to the fire, I could see shapes. People walking here and there. An apparent confusion of people meandering by the fire. I approached the edge of a dusty clearing, and watched. One man sat near the fire, absently warming his hands. He was shaggy, and thin. I could not see his face, but his posture was one of deep contentedness. Around him, behind him, by him people walked. Just walked.

One would appear from the surrounding scrub, a lost look in their eyes. Then. Then. Then they would walk. Sometimes around the fire. Sometimes straight through, paying no heed to one another, and no attention to where they might be headed. One nearly stepped on me as she made her way back into the night. I watched the bob of her head as she disappeared around a bend.

When I looked back the man at the fire was facing me. Still unsure I hid.

"It's alright, young man." he said. His voice, deep, and soothing, carried so well it felt like he was at my side. "Come on out."

He must be talking to me. I rose, and stepped into the dusty clearing. I waited, and watched. Living people, these were. Not Zeds. They would emerge, do a round or two, then leave. I dusted off my pants, and walked toward the fire. The man smiled to see me, and, as I approached the fire, he held out his hand. I took it. It was cold.

"My name's Petros." he said.

"Martin." I answered.
"Pleased to meet you Martin."
I nodded. "What's, uh . . ." I twirled a finger in the air, "What's going on here?"
"Oh, they've come for days and days. From all over, really. Always living, never Zed. The disease seems averse to this place."

I watched the people walking. Tried to make eye contact, but failed.

"They're dead enough." I said.

"Aye. They may be." he answered.
That made me scowl.
"Death, after all," he said, "Occurs at so many different levels." He began to point at the people, "Lost a husband, lost three children." He pointed at a man whose clothes were at one time, beautiful and expensive, "Lost his reason for breathing." Petros sighed and looked at Martin, "And yet, he still breathes."
"How do you know this?"
Petros shrugged, "I fancy my ability to read people. Ask them yourself, if you like. You'll find I'm never wrong."
I smiled a half-smile. "Alright."
I stepped away from the fire, and drew up next to the woman who had lost her children.

"Excuse me," I muttered. She kept walking, barely giving me a glimpse. "Ma'am." I said, "Did you . . ." How do you ask this question? I walked with her for a minute. I couldn't think of anything to say. I fumbled with some muttering, and a hand gesture or two.

"I'm uh . . . I'm sorry for your losses." I said. I put my hands in my pockets and walked back to the man. The woman disappeared into the brush.

"What are they?" I asked, "What is this place."

"Just somewhere they are drawn." he answered, "Have you ever felt drawn to a place, a thing, or a time period?"
"Yeah." I said, "The Norman Invasion drives me crazy."
Petros chuckled a bit to himself, his head bobbing on his thin shoulders. "Understandable." he said, "Events like those, the ones that really throw a wrench into the cogs of history have a lasting effect. It is said that, as a result of Guillaume's little spat with Harold, that the English language adopted a large amount of French words. The idea of inheritance of thrones was introduced, which ultimately led to several revolutions including our own. In a day England became a foreign land to its natives. The ideas behind modern justice permeated Anglo-Saxon culture, leading to modern law theories. Just to name a few rippling effects."
I raised my eyebrows, "Yeah." I said, "Just a few."

As we spoke new faces emerged, walked the dry earth, and disappeared again. "All lost." I said, mostly to myself, "All looking for somewhere to go."

Petros smiled. 

"And you must go, too."
I nodded, eager to leave. I didn't want to follow anyone out, so I waited until a calm in the traffic. I shook Petros' hand. Even though he had been warming it over the flames, it was as cold as it had been when first we clasped hands.
"Petros." I said, "May we meet again under better circumstances."
"Oh I doubt that." he smiled, and uncovered a nasty wound beneath his sleeve. It had an unmistakable shape.
"Once I get these hands warm, I'll vanish into the brush." he said, "And take a spill into a welcoming chasm."
I felt a lump rise in my throat. "And what did you lose?"
He shook his grizzled head, and a tear fell immediately from his eye, "The greatest man I have ever known. And the greatest friend." He looked up at me, pleading in his eyes, "Understand Martin. When we accept this world, we accept this truth - it's all an illusion."
He looked back into the fire, hands outstretched, and continued his efforts to absorb the heat. He did not look at me again. I walked across the dust, and when I came to the wilderness edge I stepped into it, and rounded a draw.

Something told me strongly, not to go back, to stay on course. I heeded that call. The sky turned pink again as I trudged through the brush. When at last I crested the hill I could see Parowan below.

Sweeping the valley I saw no sign of Zed. I approached cautiously. It took some time to clear the last hill into the city. I had hit Main Street by some miracle of navigation. I walked up it just a couple blocks. Saw a church. It looked barricaded.

Just then, as I was deciding whether or not to approach the church something in my head, my heart, and my gut told me to turn around, and go home. I stood stone still on the spot. I tried to take a step forward. 

I was walking south, and didn't even recall taking the first step. Fast walking. Like urgent. That feeling consumed me, "Get the hell out, Martin." it screamed, "Get out."

I-15 loomed ahead. It wasn't the route I wanted to take. So I stood and stared at it for a long time. The urge to flee had left me, but the command to get back home sat throbbing in the back of my mind. It was time to go. I smiled, and squinted in the sun. 

For all those lost people back there, I wondered why. Why did they meander so? Why was their compass broken? 

And most importantly - why did I have a direction.

Monday, August 19, 2013


Photo courtesy of Skize26

That same dark night. I had two choices. I could take the Interstate, open, exposed, straight; or I could take the main street . . . open, exposed, and mostly straight. Either way I would end up in Parowan. I opted for the main street since I was on it anyway, and because if there was a Zed it was most like to be wandering down the Interstate.


I have no idea. Personally I felt really stupid being out in the open like this when I knew dang well that the people in the church knew I had left. I stopped walking, and looked for sanctuary of some kind. That's when the fear took me.

I was looking at a house. In the moonlight I could make out the windows and the front door. The darkness inside, a darker dark than I was standing in, seemed to seep from the home. I looked away, feeling the chill of danger freeze my insides. I looked for another house. They all looked the same. I found myself running, panicked, breathing shallow, and rapidly.

"Stupid." I kept repeating. "Stupid. Stupid. Stupid."

I whipped around in a haze. I didn't know where I was. I lost my balance and landed on my butt. The spinal jarring seemed to knock some sense into me. I sank my head into my arms and calmed my breathing.


"Oh crap." I said, but it was spoken more like, "Ocrap." Because that's all I had time for. I was on my feet. That same steel fear overtook me again. With a small snap there emerged one, two, three, four . . . seven of them, that I can see. Yep. That awful smell. I can smell it, now. Freakin' smoke has wreaked hell on my sinuses.

They stumbled from their hiding places in an eerie coordination, and that moaning escaped their lips. Surrounded. I can do this. My nine is in my waistband. Ammo in my pocket. I recounted. Ten. Gotta move.

They are coming together, forming a circle. Is that possible. My heart is vibrating in my throat.

One weakness.

There. Between an old woman, and a painfully thin man. I ran at them both. They reached for me, their moans turning into a howl. Must have been hungry, these creatures. I just ran. I felt the impact as I knocked them over. I heard a head crack the ground hard, that solid thonk! of a skull hitting a hard surface. I would have looked back but I was too scared to. I ran.

I must have woken the whole town. They were everywhere.

Tree. Find a tree. I was running past burnt trees, fallen over trees, trees with no foliage. None of them had foliage. So dry, this place. I had my water. I could last in the trees until . . . until what? Until the shell-shocked shut-ins at the church came for me? No. No. There was no guarantee. Still running I faced a series of choices. Back to the church, or into the darkness? Bring the monsters to the food, or draw them away? At that point came the question; live or die? I was running toward the church. I slid to a stop. I could see the lump on the roof of the chapel that represented Mike (I think). I threw up my hands and shook them, warning him off. I hoped he was watching.

I nodded at him, and rose one hand in the air. I pointed at him, then pointed at my hand. Zed was closing in, but I waited. Slowly the lump rose its hand.

He was watching. I signaled for him to be quiet. I pointed at the Zed, then at myself. Then I made my decision. I pointed north by northeast. And I ran.

My ankle was holding up fine. Felt great, in fact.

So I ran away from the chapel. Into the darkness. I heard several feet padding after me. "Where." I breathed, "Did they all . . . come from?" That was what was really getting to me. The more I tried to understand these creatures, the more monstrous they became. Mythological, ethereal, spooks, ghouls . . . monsters. There was nothing simple about them. They weren't just teeth with feet. They lurked. They hid. They hunted.

But what about the swarm? Why weren't these ones picked up?

The padding feet behind me began to ebb. I looked back. They stopped suddenly. All of them. All at once. They watched me leave, and then dispersed like a crowd no longer interested in what was happening. The dissolved into the darkness. I stopped running. What impulse took me, I again cannot be sure. But I started yelling.

"AAAAAAH. HEEEEEY! OVER HERE! AAAAAAAH" Waving my arms over my head. I began creeping back toward them, my gun suddenly in my hand.

"Come on." I whispered. "Come on."

There. The wobbling heads. I had regained their interest. I rose the gun.

PAP! POW! PAK! Three down. More of them coming. Seven rounds left.

POW! PAK! PAK! Three more.

POK! POK! PAP! My ears were ringing. POW!


I ejected the clip, which clattered to the ground. "Crap." I picked it up. Hands shaking. I fumbled around something bad reloading that clip. Stupid. Only got seven rounds in before they got too close. I slammed the clip home, cocked the weapon, and backed away quickly.

POW! PAK! PAK! POK! Four flashes of light. Four times, a familiar face. I dropped the gun to my side.

Four Zed advancing. I backed away, losing feeling in my legs. POW! PAK! PAP!


I stood there, my stupid gun empty. The last Zed reached out for me with both arms. I grabbed its wrists and held it tight. It turned its head, ogling at me, its mouth opening and closing. All I could do was stare at it.

The tears coursed down my cheeks. I could hardly speak, "Scott." It snapped at me harmlessly.

Scotty. Scott-o. He didn't make it. My face scrunched up in fury, "I want you to know," I whispered, "That I came looking for you, buddy." It moaned at me.

In a flash I had flipped him around, and put him in a head lock. It struggled feebly. "I'm sorry, my friend." A quick jerk, a dry pop. He went limp.

I didn't want to leave him here, alone. More Zed were coming. I hefted him onto my shoulders. In retrospect, a pretty bad idea, but I did it all the same. I stepped off the road, and meandered into the darkness. Zed followed, but I lost them over a barbed-wire fence. Scott and I headed into the foothills together. The sky turned pink as I crested the hill.

I looked down into the valley. They were everywhere, wandering the fields. I heard a couple of shots from Summit. I suddenly felt extremely tired. I propped Scott up on a mound of earth, and waited for an energy burst. It was slow in coming. The heat began. Soon it was sweltering. I swear it was September. When would this summer end? Regardless I got to work. I checked his pockets. He had a small pocket knife, a few rounds for his gun, and a note in a ziplock bag. I fetched it out, unfolded it, and read.

"This seems stupid." it began, "Like if I get blown up, or if I lose my clothing. No one will read my note then. Or if they find it in a discarded pair of jeans it won't make sense. My name is Scott Redwyn. I am 18 years old. I am from Cedar City, Utah. My family is dead. My friends are dead. All except for one. I hope this note finds him. His name is Martin Ashton, and he's an amazing guy. You hear that, Martin? You're awesome. Thanks for being my friend. I want you to know that I did not mean for this to happen. I hope that I don't die a zombie, but you never know in this place. If I do I hope I don't kill anyone." Here the writing changes, "She didn't bite me, Martin. I don't know who did. I ran into a few of them outside Summit. One of them got me. I've bitten my barrel seven times, Martin, but I just can't do it I can't pull the trigger. It's supposed to be hot outside, but I am so cold. I'm so cold. Sometimes I think I see my mom, Martin. Sometimes I . . ."

I folded the note, and put it in my pocket. My face was soaking wet with tears. Scott.

In a shaded area, underneath a big cedar the earth was soft and, a few inches down, moist.

I dug for hours, but it still ended up being a shallow grave. It didn't matter. This was a pretty place.

I buried my friend.

Then I cried. I curled up on the ground next to him, and wept. I'll admit it. Couldn't help it. The sense of loneliness and isolation only worsened with the tears. I missed my family. They must be dying, worrying about me. That made me cry all the harder. I would get to them soon. I slept in the sweltering heat of this southern Utah day, comfortable, and still.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Stepping Out

I took a cue from those girls and left in the dead of night. It wasn't difficult. I think I was even spotted by the rifle on the roof. They said nothing, and just let me walk. As I strolled down the road I couldn't help but shiver off the atmosphere of that church. I wish them survival, but I don't think it will go beyond that.

Many of them are already dead, they just haven't stopped moving yet.

I walked away down the main street, immersed in the muggy warmth of night in the high mountain desert. It's like being hugged by the breath of a volcano that is trying to smother you using a thin, and worn out pillow. After awhile you get used to it. Your body puts up a fuss at first, upset that it can't get away from the heat. But the human is a highly adaptive animal. We can ignore and adapt to discomforts, and loss of limbs. We can adapt to climate, to altitude, to pressure, or lack thereof.

But when it comes to an extreme survival situation . . . most people die. They don't freeze to death, or impale themselves on a branch, or die of infection, they simply . . . die. I can't say I think it improbable that this has already happened. I haven't run into anyone that has lost hope so completely. But I had to leave that church because that's what I felt there.

The people had lost their spirit. The building was nothing more than walls blocking them from the outside. A death has happened to humanity apart from the rise of Zed. We've died within. Yet strangely I've never felt more alive.

As the stars wink in the sky I paused to watch. I stood still, a lone living figure in an all engulfing darkness, gawking upward at a sky full of ancient light. I look out there, and feel simultaneously trapped on this enormous rock, and hopeful for the future of the race. We play out our silly games on this planet, mundane, contemptible - continually one-upping each other, positioning for status, power, and sex. Running after the almighty dollar like one possessed.

Madness in all this infinity.

Pointless spending of energy. Because we've all been taught to think, act, and perceive short-term.

I began walking again, one soul surrounded by the depths of the darkness. Small wonder then that my mind began to wander onto the problem of being short-term thinkers. Will this disaster change our perceptions? Shift our veritable paradigms? Will they who survive have exercised that atrophied skill called thinking in the long term? My thoughts shift into rebuilding.

When humanity rebuilds . . . if. At the top of their list of priorities will be prevention. They will want to prevent Zed from ever happening again. They will want to build a framework of freedom and security. We will once again have leaders with character, and selflessness. We will have governing bodies who will sacrifice themselves for the survival of their families, and neighbors. They will survive, and inspire survival, and all the best things in the human race.

For only they who have the compassion, and the empathy, and the vision to carry the human race into the future will persist in this environment. And if they do not have these most essential of human traits, they will have to inherit them. If they don't they will not last. They will die.

I will die.

The thought brings me back to earth with a thud. I was walking south. Back home. I didn't come here, twist my ankle all to blazes, and enjoy the deadest living company for three days to turn around and go back home. I am going to find Scott. I came this far. I won't leave until I find him, and bring him home.

I pivoted on my bad ankle, which gave the tiniest bit of protestation, and walked north, stepping off the shoulder of the road and into the dust, catching a full nose-full of Utah's southern desert. It's on to Parowan. May he still be there.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Church

I've had too much time to sit and think. Maggie has wrapped, unwrapped, cleaned, and rewrapped my ankle three times. I can't quite nail it down without asking, but I think Maggie is Burt's wife, Mike lost his family in the plague of Zed, and the remaining young couples are only recently married, and therefore unsociable. All in all this church is host to less than 15 people. I also cannot claim that the rest of the town has perished, but that is the cold, hard reality.

I've also concluded that Scotty is a lost cause. I cannot say that I could predict his disappearance, or his manic behavior. To be honest I don't know how he survived as long as he did. That sounds mean. The longer I live, and the more I come to understand how the living stay alive, the more it is affirmed to me that they with weak constitutions cannot survive.

Call it natural selection, call it survival of the fittest, call it chaos evolution - it is simply consequence. It is a consequence of the collapse of infrastructure, with the wildcard variable of Zed, that they with weak constitutions perish. Death is an inevitability.

Am I saying I'm better? No. Geez no. You remember how I was when Daisy was around. Had I taken that out into the cold, undead world I would have lasted mere hours. It's been hard enough gathering my wits about me again after that. I almost got myself killed after I left the house to scream at the world that afternoon. Remember that?

I remember that.

Suddenly I'm scared. Everyone seems so on their guard. Unwilling to let me know them. I'm going to get Maggie alone and crack her like an egg. I need to hear what happened here.

As she came in I thought about everything I had tried to get her to talk. I tried charm. I tried being funny. I tried being cute. I tried to sit there and listen - and nothing came of any of it. Today, I'm scared.  Today I have to know. Today my life hinges on the answer to my question.

She got up from wrapping my ankle (which was green and in pain, but not swollen anymore). The tape still in hand, I grabbed her wrist. I held on firmly, without squeezing. She didn't struggle, but neither could she look me in the eye. I let the time pass, let the tension build. When I felt it was right I spoke.
"Maggie." I said.
"Maggie please."
For a moment she tensed to wrench her arm from my grip, but gave up without any attempt. I gave her the scared eyes, the worried eyes, the eyes that say I need your knowledge.
"I need to know."
She glanced at the door, as if worried that someone might be listening. She put her ear to it and listened. Satisfied that no one was coming she pulled a chair up right next to me, and leaned into my ear.
"I know this seems paranoid," she said, "But we cannot be too cautious."
I listened.
"The Marines came at the head of the zombie hoard," she continued, "They were pushed toward Summit, retreating . . . running scared. They had casualties in Cedar City, and on the way here. When they were just a few miles out of town they said the hoard continued north off of I-15. Away from them."
She put her fingers together, and looked down at her hands. "They were shell-shocked a bit when we took them in. They were kind but sarcastic. Then, they started competing for the girls. We had several single girls here. Some of them young widows. It wasn't long before they became violent."
She shook her hair out, and rubbed her scalp.
"They fought. Two were shot to death. The remaining five stabbed each other. Our men tried to break up the fight. That's how we lost Jason, and Max. So much blood."

Well that explains the recently dug graves.

"We are reluctant to take anyone in, but they were soldiers, and they were armed."
She gave me a questioning look.
"They're not soldiers. They're Marines. And I think the ones that arrived back in Cedar City are something of a different nature." I looked at her, unblinking, "Why do you think they killed each other?"
She shrugged, "It's the same no matter where men are. They lose their wits, they stop thinking, and it becomes all-out survival of the fittest. I have a feeling that's how the world will end. They'll kill each other until there is only two, like in the Book of Mormon. Then one will lop the head off the other, and that will be the end."
"Or one will eat the other."
She shuddered, "Awful thought."
I took her hand in mine. It was warm, and dry, singing with life, "I'm sorry." I said. "So what happened to the girls?"
"I don't know. One night they were with us, the next morning they were gone. Mike didn't see them leave."
"Maybe they were the smart ones."
She laughed, "Maybe."
"So what happened to the town?"
"When the plague struck us, it struck from several places. The infection spread too quickly throughout our small town. Nearly everyone went undead. The ruins, the houses, everything was a last effort to strike at the heart of our own little swarm. Mike detonated several homes at once. Fires burned the rest. It took us days to clean up the bodies and burn the dead."

I felt sick. I've been hiding in my house, having a good old time living a semi-normal life, with occasional encounters with the undead, and here's hard case Maggie battling an entire town of Zed to save what little of reality is left.
She excused herself and walked out, gently placing my hand on the arm of the chair. I didn't watch her leave, I stared at the carpet, thinking. I was trying to reason out volunteering to stay and help, or helping them get across the desert to Cedar City, or just leaving in the middle of the night like those girls. I miss Scott. I miss my family. I've been away a few days.
I have no faith I'll see Scott again.

And the next swarm is coming, I can feel it. I feel it in the ground, the thrum of a million feet. With the way things are going in the world of Zed, the swarms can only get bigger. I'm just not sure how anyone, or anything can stand against it.

Uh . . . it just struck me that there won't be just one. All at once the populations of California, Oregon, the Midwest, and the East Coast came roaring at me in my mind's eye. One hundred million zombies, reaching, and moaning for my blood. One hundred million walking dead.

I had to get home. Tonight.