“I can’t believe this shit!” Jack pumped the accelerator pedal with his foot and tried not to look at the growing sea of deformed, smelly zombies surrounding the little Fiat. The car had captured his attention – brilliant red with silver chrome and no windows broken out of it, and even more importantly it was not completely blocked in by other abandoned cars. He saw in an instant that even though the street itself was littered with all sorts of vehicles that had encountered the growing mob of drooling monsters, the downtown sidewalk was relatively free of obstacles and seemed an accessible form of escape – and when he ran up to it he saw the keys had been left in the ignition. There had been no time for prayers of thanks or supplication, as the rancid claws of at least a dozen zombies pawed at the air just behind his shoulders, so he dove into the empty Fiat, locked himself in, tossed his backpack into the seat next to him and was now trying fervently to get the damned thing started.
He turned the key in the ignition again and the engine roared to life. “YES!” he bellowed triumphantly as he dropped the lever between the seats to “D” and mashed on the gas. Three of the snarling zombies that had been in front of the Fiat flew upon the hood. He identified the one in the center as being old Herb Canyon, owner and chief cook of the Blue Plate Restaurant just one block away, but could not recognize the other two, a woman wearing what was left of a pink print blouse and red high-water pants and a heavy-set older man in tee-shirt and shorts. All three bore the same unmistakable signs of being zombies: gaunt, pale faces with eyes that looked like twin lumps of coal in a snow bank, a constant stream of drool running from the corner of their mouths, the shuffling walk that reminded Jack of that famous music video, and the unstoppable hunger that scared him the most. This particular breed of zombie, however, displayed an additional feature he had never seen or heard of in all the movies he had been to: without exception, their skulls had been bashed open and their brains were noticeably absent. Evidently anyone who became a victim of a zombie attack had their brains sucked out and consumed, and then became a brain-hunting zombie themselves. He wondered if they would be fiending for a heart, too, if theirs were nommed. He didn’t intend on finding out, either. He just wanted to get away before he became one of them. He had become attached to his brain and didn’t intend on making it someone else’s lunch.
As he maneuvered his way around the wreckage of cars, Jack did not fail to notice the lack of dead humans lying about. This spoke loudly of the fate of those who had fallen victim to the zombies. There were the skull-sucked carcasses of what were once family pets scattered throughout the sidewalks and street, an obvious testament to their inability to carry the virus, or whatever it was that passed from zombie to human. He looked down and saw the gas tank on “Full”,glanced upward and this time gave a silent prayer of gratitude to whatever God existed in this crazed world. The car bounced over the speed bump of a dead german shepherd and, finally beyond the one-block traffic jam of Pinch, West Virginia, he pressed on the accelerator and sped through the hilly countryside toward Indian Creek Road. This close to town was a wide variety of houses in no particular order. A two-story brick home with manicured lawn had as its neighbor a ramshackle dwelling patched together with plywood and two-by-fours with rusted out Oldsmobiles and Buicks decorating its unmowed front yard, and beyond that a neat and trim Cape Cod festooned with garish ornaments left over from Christmas, followed by an Antebellum mansion surrounded by weeping willows and then a double-wide trailer with concrete blocks for steps and a grass-bare yard covered in various toys. Jack kept on the lookout for zombified humans staggering about their yards and did see a few in a ragged huddle trying to catch stray cattle, but did not intend to hang around and see if they were too slow for the bovine, or if beef brains would be on their menu shortly.
The madness started the day before, when he came downstairs and noticed that his parents were not at their usual posts: his father seated at the dining room table with a plate of microwaved sausage and cheese croissants his head buried in the Charleston Gazette (which he called the “Quarrelsome Gazette”), and his mother seated across from him nursing a cup of coffee and fiddling with her latest tech-toy (currently an IPad). His morning and that of his parents were so predictable you could set an atomic clock with it, so it was with some concern that he stared at the empty table. He found them both in the back yard, pale-skinned and bloody, their brains having been sucked out and their bodies mechanically roaming around trying to climb over the privacy fence surrounding the yard instead of unlatching the gate and leaving. At first he thought his folks were playing a practical joke on him. His father’s head reminded him of that orange-haired comedian, and his mom seemed to have gotten her looks from a certain pop legend’s Halloween video. Watching them for a moment, however, convinced him that something was seriously wrong, because while trying to scale the fence they kept falling onto the grass with enough force to have stunned even him, yet they got back up again and again and resumed their quest to overtake the fence; at their age neither of them had enough stamina to mow the yard or take out the trash, and he quickly knew something must be wrong. After going through the natural reaction of completely and totally freaking out, Jack made sure to lock the back door just in case one of them discovered how to turn a knob. He ran to the front of the house and saw through the open front door that pretty much all of his neighbors had been turned into zombies. Mrs. Peterson from down the street wrestled a screaming UPS driver out of his truck and then proceeded to bash his brains out on the street while other hungry zombies closed in on the scene hoping for a morsel of his cerebral cortex or even a taste of his medulla oblongata. Jack somberly decided that the delivery guy deserved what he got, driving into a clearly zombie-infested neighborhood. He noted somberly that they may ‘heart’ logistics, but they don’t ‘think’ survival.
Judging by the amount of blood on the doorstep, his father must have gotten his brain eaten while going after the morning paper – how many times had he told his father it was easier to get news online! – and then turned on his mother. He slammed and locked the front door and then peered out one of their curtained windows again. There couldn’t be more than twelve or thirteen zombies roaming through the neighborhood, which Jack considered a good thing, considering how many seemed to clog up the screen at the theater. Having no intention of handing over his brains, Jack set about barring the windows and doors with wood he got from destroying their furniture, a shitload of nails from his father’s work area in the garage and a sturdy hammer. He initially worried that the noise he made would attract the zombies, but soon realized that they either lacked the brains it took to figure out that hammering meant fresh meat, or their hearing didn’t work. Still, he kept a constant eye on the activity both in the front of his house and his parents in the back.
Inevitably, though, the drooping, shuffling monsters approached his house by twos and threes, scraping at the siding and moaning as if they had bagpipes stuck in their throats before moving on to the other houses. The hardest part was seeing his parents roaming around the back yard like old rabid dogs, their fingers splayed open to the bone from trying to scale the eight foot tall fence, their mouths slack-jawed like idiots. He knew right away that he couldn’t survive forever like this and eventually gave up trying to board up the house. He searched the place up and down for the keys to his father’s Cadillac with no luck. When he remembered that his father was stumbling around the back yard in his business suit, he realized the keys were probably in the old man’s pocket. Jack thought briefly about trying to subdue his father, but no matter how the situation played out in his imagination, it always involved killing one or both of his parents, and even under the current circumstances he didn’t think he had the guts to do such a thing. Here was where he had his biggest problem: he had no idea if a zombie could be killed. They seemed to get around just fine without their brains, if by ‘just fine’ you mean shambling around haphazardly without a brain and obviously not dying from it. He wished he had seen more zombie movies. All he could think of was to somehow impale them to the ground with a spear, like mounting a bug on a piece of cardboard, or herding them into a place where they could be contained, like his parents. He also wondered if they would starve to death without dining on other people’s brains, but since this had just happened, he had no way of finding out just then.
He watched the zombie parade out his front windows, and didn’t see any additional participants. Mr. Tucker from next door was one of them, still in his bathrobe, except it was now flapping loosely, exposing his white, round belly, whitie-tighties thankfully covering whatever Jack didn’t want to even think he had, and toothpick legs that looked as if they had never seen the sun before. He spotted Mr. and Mrs. Finklebeck meandering across the half dozen lots on their street and wondered where their twin daughters were, Bambi and Becky, who were only about six or seven years old but who had already made their mark on their street as whiney little princesses and first class nuisances. It wasn’t long before he saw movement from their house across the street and figured the twins must have gotten trapped inside. He supposed they had been zombified, too, by the noticeable lack of little girl screaming, but if they weren’t he was most certainly not going to rescue those little fiends. In a short matter of time he was able to identify almost everyone in his neighborhood.
He noticed how slowly the zombies moved, as if they were trying to swim in mud, and decided that he would have no trouble outrunning them. He thought his best bet would be to somehow get to the Pinch town square, stock up on food and other survival items such as beer (who would card him now?), a gun from the Lucky Seven pawn Shop and a fast car, and then drive to the state capital, Charleston, where there were sure to be survivors.
Things didn’t go as planned, though. He grabbed his backpack (after tossing out all his school books and stuff – classes were suspended indefinitely) and slipped out the garage door. He really had no trouble staying away from the slow-moving atrocities in his neighborhood, but the closer he got to the bustling downtown area (the Blue Plate Restaurant, an Exxon gas station, the Pinch Pharmacy, the Lucky seven Pawn shop, Piggly Wiggly grocery store, four churches and laundry mat spread out over a half mile of two-lane county road that sliced through the tiny village like a butter knife) the more zombies there were wandering around. It seemed like every resident from within five miles had shambled to the same place as if a truckload of brains was expected to show up at any moment. Jack tried to sneak into the Piggly Wiggly but found it stuffed with mindless zombies roaming through the aisles, bumping into each other and trampling on the groceries that had fallen to the floor. The Lucky Seven Pawn shop was boarded up, and the owner – an old black man who had survived Viet Nam – was behind the counter holding something that resembled a bazooka. He had yelled to Jack that it was too late to let him in, considering the pains he had gone through to keep the zombies out, and that unless Jack found a way to get west of the Mississippi River he would be eventually be caught and his brains munched. That was when Jack had spotted the little red Fiat.
County Road 47 became County Road 49, or Indian Creek Road, as everyone around here called it. Called it as in the past. Looked like there would be no need to worry about highway names now. All he had to do was keep the wheels on the road and he’d be in Charleston in about half an hour. It didn’t take too long for him to discover that it would probably take a little longer, considering how many cars were sitting at odd angles on and off the blacktop. Most of them had
shattered windows, which meant the occupants had been dragged out, no doubt screaming and kicking. It was while he found himself weaving around an old F150 and a Toyota Tercel that he saw a CD sticking halfway out of its player. He pulled it out and read the title, Sevendust: Cold Day Memory, then slid it into the console. Just then he felt a heavy thud on the back of his car that caused him to hit the accelerator and almost slam into the Tercel. One quick look in the rear view mirror confirmed his fear: a brainless zombie that had at one time been a farmer judging by his blood-soaked coveralls and hard-weathered face had latched itself onto his Fiat, and as he watched it began slamming its fist into the rear window trying to break it. He looked around quickly and saw that a couple of other skull shattered zombies had seemed to materialize from nowhere and was almost within striking distance of him. This time he did mash on the gas pedal, skidding around the disabled truck and clipping its bed, knocking farmer-zombie off in the process. He didn’t bother looking in the rear view this time as he gripped the steering wheel and tried to bring his adrenalin level back into Earth’s atmosphere. The rock band’s music soon coursed through his jangled nerves and helped calm him down.
Soon he approached the southern suburbs of Charleston. The sheer number of trundling zombies seemed to double every mile he came closer to the city, and by the time he came to the Interstate 77/64 exchange he knew the entire city must be crawling with the brain dead. Smoke spiraled up from at least a hundred different sources in the direction of West Virginia’s state capital. He sped onto the Interstate going south and zippered through the schizophrenic jumble of cars and trucks left by new converts to the zombie resurrection. The further he retreated from Charleston the less traffic he found. He didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing, but he hoped the nightmare was falling behind him.
to read the rest of this story,
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