In the land of the dead

July 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Note: I wrote this years ago for my friend Kevin’s website. It’s my take on zombies. Enjoy.

In the movies, they’re all stupid, slow, and practically unstoppable. To be fair, in my experience, this is a perfectly accurate portrayal in most cases. Most cases. I assume that films are made without direct experience, because thankfully they aren’t common. Getting more common now, but in this case more common means a few outbreaks here and there.

In the city of Megiddo, more than three thousand years ago, there was a huge garbage heap. That garbage heap has come to lend its name, ultimately, to the end of the world itself: Har-Megiddon, the mound of Megiddo. People assumed that hell would smell like that, a huge heap of garbage, and that at the end of the world all the Kings of the world would come and fight it out in the refuse of Megiddo, which would spread to cover the world.

Well, let me tell you, the mound of Megiddo existed in my roommate’s half of the apartment the last day I had a sense of smell. Old pizza boxes, underwear that reeked of wet burlap from his policy of wearing them three to four days in a row, dusting them with talcum powder when they got too ripe… the odor of his toilet, which he could never seem to piss directly into, the beer cans with their half a sip each remaining, his flatulence, it all combined in a rank, searing smell that actually grabbed me by the nose in the morning and squeezed tears out of me. I never said anything because he paid his half of the rent on full and on time every month, making him a damn sight better than the last six roommates put together. Oh, and also because I was a huge wimp and would never address how bad his room stank up the place: if I’d had a chance in hell with women, I would probably have been pissed that I could never bring any home.

Since that wasn’t happening anyway, I didn’t see much point in screwing up prompt rent payments. I just kept steadily increasing how much his ‘half’ of the rent actually was to the point where he was paying 2/3rds of it. He never complained: I doubt Davey Radamus ever even noticed.

You know, it’s funny: I still have no idea what the hell he did for a living. Or anything else about him, either: I’m mostly telling you about the stink because otherwise, the fact that he lay dead in his room for a couple of days would seem outrageously callous of me. Honestly, I didn’t notice: the only real change in my life was that I could finally watch the Cartoon Network in peace without him plopping down on the couch next to me with his legs splayed, snorting at everything, including commercials, as if it was the funniest goddamn thing in the universe. Caught up on my Samurai Jack.

I was watching some anime or another… maybe it wasn’t, it’s not as if I really care… when he came out of his bedroom staggering funny. How’d I know he was dead? His face was missing, if I’d even needed the clue. His shirt was speckled with red stripes about an inch long.

No, not just the skin, the whole fucking face. His eyes, his nose, it was all gone. In fact, much of his upper body looked like it had been gnawed on: I guess all that garbage in there attracted rats. Anyway, despite having no eyes, he gamely crashed over into the kitchen counter and knocked everything onto the floor, flailing wildly with his arms and making unintelligible groans and screams.

I just sat there on the couch for a while watching him bump into things. I probably would have stayed like that had the muffled screaming not started in some other apartment in the building somewhere. It was isolated at first, but then I turned off the TV and could hear some groaning and gurgling on the floor below us and a relentless pounding, hammering going on a floor or two above us and I figured it out.

I got up, carefully staying out of Davey’s way, and picked up a big wok from the floor, figuring it would work as a serviceable club. It had a pretty solid wood sleeve over a metal handle bolted into the metal of the bowl itself, I’d often considered using it to crash my own head in when my mom called with more of her did you see the 700 club last night revelations.

My first swing glanced off of Davey’s shoulder and he swung his arm back, just missing my face and caving in the front of the freezer around the back of his hand. I think I peed myself a bit, but there wasn’t a lot more to do (and I heard that shrill bitch from 212 A howl and then go quiet and that made me want to pee myself a lot) but to jump back, choke up, and crash the wok down hard on top of his head.

It took several more shots to finally crack his head open: skulls don’t cave in easy. That surprised me. I got some of his rancid blood and bits of decaying brain all over me pounding on the top of his head till he fell down. Still, I eventually got him down, and once he was down it wasn’t that hard to take the Masahiro cleaver off of the counter and hack him apart.

My upper body burned like fire and I got the cleaver stuck in the floor by the time I finally stopped. Bits of Davey were wriggling around, still not aware that they weren’t supposed to be moving. I marched over to the sink and sprayed myself with the little attachment for washing dishes, not wanting to wait even a second to get the bits of him off of me, still hearing the moaning and thumping and screaming all around me.

My security deposit was pretty much fucking gone by that point. I mean, I had dead Davey on the floor in pieces, along with some pretty heinous fucking gouges and divots from the cleaver more or less ruining the hardwood. You can hire a cleaner to cart away garbage, but dead bodies and a pool of black shit that didn’t really look or smell like blood? Nope.

I ripped off my clothes in the hallway, got changed in my room, packed up a bag with a change of clothes and my laptop (hey, thing cost me three grand) and poked my head into Davey’s room carefully. It reeked, but there weren’t any other dead bodies in there, thankfully. What I was after was a gun, but I didn’t see one in there, and I wasn’t too eager to go digging through the piles of his shit considering, so I finally just gave up and left the place to the rats and Davey’s wriggling bits on the floor after wrestling my Masahiro out of the wood.

The halls were deserted when I walked out, no emergency lights or fire alarms. I figured most of the people were fine, sitting in their rooms trying to ignore the yells and grunts around them: that jibed with my view of people. I had a pretty tight grip on the cleaver as I stalked for the fire stairs, but I tried to look casual. It occurred to me that I might just be crazy: didn’t bug me all that much. But I didn’t want to snap and accidentally bury the cleaver in old lady Luchasic’s forehead because she spooked me in the hallway.

I took the fire stairs three at a time and walked out into the lobby.

It was full of the fucking things. I mean, like thirty of them. They were shuffling around, bumping into each other, staring with unfocused and in some cases rotting eyes… I didn’t think they could catch me in a sprint, but fuck me if I wanted to try and cleaver my way through that many of them. I also wondered where the fuck they’d all come from and why they didn’t seem to notice each other much.

They did notice me, though. If you’ve seen that Michael Jackson video, you’ve kind of seen what I saw next, a whole lot of not entirely there heads swiveling on necks, some even crunching as they turned too far. Some looked alive, except for those weird eyes (I recognized the blond girl from 101A I see in the laundry from time to time, still pretty except for the big bites on her neck where someone had gnawed holes in her, muscle tissue grey and slimy in the fluorescent lighting) while others weren’t just obviously dead, they were rotten. The big fat guy in the track suit was closest to me, stuff wriggling under the fabric. He made a sound like a tire deflating and swung his hand at me.

Wasn’t very close to me, and for a bit I contemplated heading back up the stairs and trying to find another way out. Meanwhile, I didn’t even know I was swinging the cleaver until I’d buried it in his neck, feeling the great folds of rotting fat around his windpipe twist apart like bags of suet being chopped open. He didn’t react, didn’t scream or moan or twitch in shock, and if I’d been thinking that probably would have been enough for me to freak out. Just tore the cleaver out of his throat and watched his head flap backwards instead, his arms wiggling about blindly.

Thing is, they’re not hard to hit. They’re slow, you see, and they don’t even try and block or feint or any of that. You’ll never see defense wounds on a zombie. But that’s because they don’t care if you hit them… hell, I don’t even think they know when you hit them. Couldn’t tell you how much thinking is going on in there, don’t care. I dropped my shoulder and rammed the fat-ass as hard as I could in the sternum, right between his man-boobs, and tipped him right over onto a couple of others.

Then I pitched the cleaver right through the plate glass window and ran out of the fucking lobby ahead of the undead citizen’s brigade. There were a few milling around in the street outside the building, and I started to wonder just how many of the fucking things were up and about. Still, it wasn’t that hard to avoid them, if you paid attention.

Still, I didn’t much like the idea of walking around with these things around, and I didn’t think a car was a good idea, either… too big, too easy to get blocked in if traffic gets bad. I knew Scott had bought himself a Honda Gold Wing a few months before he moved in with Frija, mainly because every time I called their house to see if he wanted to do something  I could hear the tail-end of some argument or another about the bike. So I figured I could make my way there, see what was up.

I got there and all the lights were on, which made me shake my head in disbelief. The front door was closed and there were several dead bodies around the house, heads with huge jagged holes in them (Mister Georg, the neighborhood postman for ten years, was laying there twitching with most of his face blown back into the braincase, which had dumped its contents all over the lawn) so I immediately held my hands up as I got close.

“Hey, Scott! I’m not dead! Don’t fucking shoot me, okay?”

“Jeremy?” I didn’t see him, but I could hear him from somewhere on the roof. “That you, man?”

“Yeah, it’s me. I really don’t want you to shoot me!”

“Shit, how do I know you aren’t one of them?”

“Because I can talk?”

“Hell, that blond bitch over by your feet there could talk, too.” I looked over at her. She was dead, all right, brains and cerebro-spinal fluid and blood all over her back in a speckled pattern against the robin’s egg blue of her blouse. She wasn’t twitching like old mister Georg was.

“Well, then I think you shot someone a little too soon, because she’s not moving and these other ones are.” I felt that urge to piss my pants coming back, knowing that Scott was somewhere I couldn’t see him with a rifle powerful enough to turn my head to pudding probably trained on my head. “Shit, if me talking isn’t enough to convince you I’m not a zombie…”

“What the fuck are you talking about, zombie?” He laughed, the same deep broad laugh he’d let loose when we went mailbox baseball crazy in 11th grade, driving around in one of the old junkers we’d restored smashing at anything we could find with an aluminum bat from our softball days. “You drunk?”

“What, you just decided to shoot people in the head for the fun of it?”

“No, but they’re not zombies, man. Maybe they all got rabies or something.”

“Sure, okay, whatever, I don’t have rabies either. See, no foaming mouth, not bitten anywhere.. hell, you can have Frija hold the gun on me and give me a strip search if you want, just don’t shoot me, okay?”

I stood there sweating hard, looking around to see if any more of the ‘rabid’ walking corpses were around, but other than the almost headless things flopping around on the lawn near my feet, wasn’t a lot going on. I kept expecting to hear a loud crack and feel my head explode, and that burning sensation in my groin got worse and worse… I wanted to piss myself so bad just to make it stop at this point… when the front door opened and Frija poked her head out, holding what looked like a Ruger Super Blackhawk in a very steady hand. Shit, he taught her how to use one of those things?

“Hey, Jeremy. You can come in, but if you make me I’ll use this.”

“Okay. Should I keep my hands up? I have a meat cleaver in my belt, been using it…”

“Yeah, we’ll take that when you get inside. Now hurry up.” She gestured with the pistol and I took her advice.

Inside the house, you could see the disaster mentality. They had shotguns, pistols, rifles laying in a neat pattern on the table, probably Scott’s work. He’d spent a couple years in the National Guard and came out with a stiffy for guns you would not fucking believe: the kind of guy who uses words like hoplophobe if you don’t immediately agree with him that AK-74’s are perfect for hunting. Of course, right at that moment I found the guns a lot more comforting than normally. Frija kept that cannon pointed at my head the whole time, slammed the door shut once I was in the room without ever getting too close to me. I tossed the cleaver over on the floor near the guns, figuring it was better than waiting to be told.

“Sorry about this.” Frija didn’t sound terribly aggrieved, but she didn’t sound like she was about to blow my head off, either. I was okay with that. “The news is going nuts, no one knows what’s going on.”

“Apparently no one’s seen any George Romero movies at Channel 10, then.” I heard Scott’s heavy treads coming down the stairs and turned my head to see him come down in full camo with his dad’s Springfield .30-06 in his hands. Scope looked new. He held it casually but I definitely felt like he might be able to snap a round off into my head if he felt like it.

“You still going on about zombies?” He looked at me, sweat glistening on the sides of his face, as square as a block of wood. His eyes were bloodshot, and the blue iris of each looked pale and watery. “Shit, man, maybe you’re losing it…”

“I had to chop Davey up into little pieces today, Scott.” I kept my voice very even, almost trying to be soothing with the tone of it. “You’ve been on that roof for a while, right? You can see that some of those bodies out there are still twitching even with most of their heads gone, and how long have they been? Hours? You tell me what’s going on.” I saw the two of them trade worried looks… clearly, they didn’t really want to be hearing this, but I didn’t get a sense of immediate bullet holes in my future, so I pushed it a little further. “The only way anyone’s getting through this alive is by facing it clearly and head on, man. They’re zombies. Maybe they even eat brains, I haven’t seen that part.”

I kept my hands up and kept my eyes locked on his, knowing that I had to make him back down, but I couldn’t do it by challenging him. He had to think this was his own decision or I was fucked. Next to his head on the wall heading up the stairs was a picture of the two of us and his older brother Everett at Rocky Point back before they closed it down, all smiles after getting soaked on the log flume. The smell of oil and cordite from the dining table began to make my eyes water.

“Scott, maybe he’s right.” I almost wanted to kiss Frija at that point. “I’m scared.” Being the good boyfriend/fiancŽe he was, Scott went over and hugged her close, manfully not saying anything. The sight of her wrapping her arms around her with that huge chrome-plated mother of a gun in one hand while he cradled her in his, bolt action rifle pressed against the small of her back, forced me to bite the inside of my mouth a little.

“It’ll be okay, Frija. It’ll be okay. We’ll get through this.”

“Yeah. We have each other.”

“Can I put my hands down now?” I almost broke up laughing at the sight of the two of them remembering I was there. “I mean, if you’re going to shoot me, you can do it with my hands down, right?”

Scott finally grinned at me at that.

The rest of the daylight went away while we busied ourselves with things like blocking all the doors and windows with available furniture, loading up as many clips as possible for the handguns and rifles, making sure all the shotguns were set to go, and even putting ammo in the five magazines Scott had ordered for his prize BAR, which I didn’t even know worked.

“Is this thing going to blow my hands off?”

“It’s just the same thing as the .30-06, but automatic.”

“Fully automatic?” He smiled at me again, which might have unnerved me a couple of weeks before. “You made this thing full-auto?”

“Wasn’t hard. Took some time in a machine shop is all. This one even goes semi-auto, like the Marines modded theirs.” I fought really hard to not wince as he prepared to go into another of his spiels when the telephone’s intercom chirped. “Honey?”

I didn’t hear what she said, but his face went cold and he started to sweat again.

“Okay, I’ll be right up.” He stabbed the off button with his thumb. “Frija is coming down and I’m going up. She says there’s a bunch of them coming down the road, smashing into houses along the street. Thirty or forty. Should be able to take them out, but gotta get to it. If any get past me, use the Remington 870 or the Winchester, they’re both pumps, you should remember how pretty easily.”

“All those weekends with you and your dad.” I smirked at him as he snapped off the mock salute from those days spent blowing up watermelons, pumpkins and oil cans full of sand and stalked up the stairs two at a time. I picked up the Winchester… a 12 gauge, I remembered… and walked over to the front door, looked out the small window. Didn’t see anything, but as slow as they were I knew that didn’t mean anything.

“They’re still down the block.” Frija came down the stairs, that Super Redhawk still in her right hand. She’d been carrying it around all day, and even though it was as steady in her grip as it had been, I’d by now caught the hundred little expressions and gestures she and Scott were using to try and reassure each other.

That they were scared wasn’t necessarily stupid, but I knew staying holed up was. I didn’t say anything, though. Instead, I turned and nodded to her, letting her know I saw her, and then looked briefly out the window again before deliberately walking over to the table and putting the Winchester down. She was watching me, and it was important that she see me fidgeting with the Remington for a while.

“How are you holding up, Jeremy?”

“Uh…” I looked away, swallowed, fidgeted some more with the gun. Important to look natural about it. “Shit, I don’t know. Everything’s fucking different now, you know?”

“I don’t…” She looked out the front window herself, the big revolver held up in the air but ready to be used. “You said you had to chop Davey up?”

“Yup.” I put the Remington down and picked the Winchester up, making sure the safety was off. “Into little pieces that wriggled around on the floor. My chest was aching after that, arms too.”

“Did… did he look wrong? How’d you know he was one of them?” She shuddered. “I haven’t seen any of them up close yet, I’m afraid I won’t be able to tell, won’t be able to shoot.”

“Some of them almost look normal, but the ones I saw in the lobby… they all move wrong. Some stiff, some almost jerky, but all of them move like they’re driving a car with a standard transmission and a missing leg, you know? Popping the clutch a lot.” I settled back against the table, making sure I had a clear line of sight to the front door and the stairs.

“Did Davey?”

“Oh, yeah. He was staggering around like he’d been on the king of all benders. Was pretty obvious he hadn’t been, though.”

“How come?”

“His face was gone.” I fought the grin at the memory. Had to wait until I heard my cue. “Eyes, nose… I think rats had been chewing on him in his room, you know what a pigsty his room was. I guess it could have been roaches, don’t know.”

“I can’t imagine how you could live with him like that.”

“It was pretty hard. I mean, sure, I liked that he paid his rent and bills on time… first roommate I had who every did, not even Scotty here was always on time… but the food wrappers left in the fridge, the glasses of milk left to curdle in the sink, his hostility to the concept of a shower or washing your clothes, the pizza boxes left lying around everywhere, his incessant flatulence…” I clicked my teeth shut to keep from grinding them for a moment, remembering it. “It was pretty bad.”

Blessedly, I heard the crack of the .30-06 above our heads, and saw Frija turn and look out the window, equally terrified and relieved.

“Oh God I hate this, I hate this so bad. I’m so fucking scared and I know Scotty is too… we killed that woman, she was begging us to let her in and we shot her, we shot her. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

“Yeah, fear’s a big problem.” I brought the Winchester up across my chest, checked the breech again, heard another shot from upstairs and another, knew Scott was picking them off from a distance now. “Now, I don’t blame you guys so much for killing that lady, but I know you’re all guilty over it. It wasn’t until I realized how much fear was holding me back recently that I decided to try and live without it, you know? Be fearless, be in control. Can’t be afraid of things.”

“I can’t… I mean, look at it all.” She shuddered, watching whatever show Scott and the zombies were putting on for her, unable to look away. “How can you not be scared? When you realized Davey was dead, weren’t you scared?”

“When I realized he was dead? Nope.” I slid the shotgun down, barrel towards the door. “Of course, that’s because I stabbed him to death, the fat fuck.”

I pulled the trigger and felt the recoil of the Winchester, was surprised at how loud it was going off in the living room. It tore her back open and she slid down the door, her face still turned away from me. Not being one for taking chances, I jumped over and kicked the Ruger out of her hand, then yelled out.

“Scott! Get the fuck down here!”

I heard him coming even before I yelled, of course… I knew he’d hear the shotgun going off and assume we were in trouble. The slam of the attic door swinging down, then his feet pounding on the stairs, and then he came into view.

I waited until his chest was visible and then I shot him. And shot him again. And again. I emptied the shotgun into him to make sure that Springfield wasn’t going to find me, to ensure that any other gun he might have in his other hand didn’t get a chance to fire. I grabbed the Ruger up from the floor and stalked over to him, making sure his chest and legs were hamburger, seeing his head lolling against the wall with his eyes staring up at me and a fine pointillist screen of red dots all over his skin, and I fired the revolver into both his eyes at close range just in case whatever was making people into zombies got him. I then turned and emptied the chamber into Frija’s head to make sure.

I then picked up the BAR, checked the safety, grabbed the magazines and opened the front door. Sure enough, there were about ten of the fuckers coming up the lawn… really goddamn slowly, mind… and I figured there were more in houses all over the place.

If you’ve never fired a fully automatic Browning Automatic Rifle, I really recommend it. It turned Bonnie and Clyde into legends, and it turned zombies into lawn ornaments. I fired and reloaded and fired again, chewing them up into little fucking bits, and then when I was sure that I’d bought myself enough time I slammed the door shut and headed into the garage.

Only took me a few minutes to load up the saddlebags on the Gold Wing. Mostly pistols and ammo, shells for the Winchester, and the remaining magazines and rounds for the BAR and Springfield. Thank fucking God Scott bought himself such a goddamn tank for a bike. Part of me wanted to tell Scott that it wasn’t anything personal… but staying put with zombies is stupid: mobility is the way to go. Also, he and Frija were too scared to be collected, and you want to be collected in a crisis situation. In any situation, really. Fear, love, hate… they just get in the way. Like I told Davey when I started sliding my best work boning knife in and out of his chest, being afraid of him had held me back too long: I wasn’t going to be afraid of anything ever again.

Keep moving. That was the right course of action. I had enough ammo and enough weapons to tear up anything that got in my way, now, and a vehicle that could be mobile enough to get me out of town. Maybe I’d head to Warwick and see about picking up a Hummer from a dealership, trade up for armored protection if the motorcycle seemed lacking.

Hit the ignition, felt the bike rumble to life, thumbed the automatic garage door opener and tossed it aside. There was a straggler about thirty feet down the drive, but it didn’t take more than two shots from Scott’s prize IMI .50 to blow its head clean off its body, and then I was down the drive and on the road, watching the march of the herky-jerky dead on lawns as I went past. Gas tank was full, should be able to get a ways… Gold Wings are pretty good touring bikes.

I felt bad, but not really all that bad. I mean, I was still alive and in good shape, after all. As long as I didn’t let fear slow me down, I was more or less in charge of myself and my situation, maybe for the first time ever. I was surrounded by twitching, shambling dead, but I was still alive, and I was my own king.

That felt pretty sweet, actually.

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