Description: A novella chronicling one man’s plight to find a safe future for his son in post zombie apocalypse America. Nocturnal zombies sprint and howl for the blood of the few survivors that have lasted the three years since the Old Days ended. In the New Days it’s every man for himself. Kill or be killed.
Chapter One: Arrival
I took the Iowa Street exit off of I-5 and my Mack truck rumbled to a halt. Tears streamed down my face. After all of this time we had finally made it after thousands of miles and months of traveling.
I looked at my son, Brock, asleep in the passenger’s seat. His lissome body was curled in the fetal position. The dirty blonde mop of hair on his head was slick with sweat. I wondered again why children become like little furnaces when they sleep. He was nine years old now. He had just turned six when the dead started eating the living. It seemed like another lifetime.
Back then his biggest worry had been finding his library books on Monday morning. It was a lot of responsibility to foist on a kindergartner; but hey, who was going to be paying the fees for lost books? Once in a while, a book would go missing. We would have to head out to the bus stop without it and he would cry.
Brock was a child then. Plenty of times I heard people say their child was six going on sixteen. How naive those people were.
That was the Old Days. When life was an artificial thing. We worried about unimportant crap and were mindless consumers. We read parenting books written by child physiologists and pushed our children to become what society had deemed was healthy and normal. Nothing makes you grow up like searching for food and water knowing that you will die without them, all while you’re avoiding the zombies trying to eat you at every turn.
In the beginning, people thought they could sit back and wait for it to end. The military would straighten it all out. That’s what they were there for, right? Even if they didn’t, how long could a rotting corpse sustain mobility?
Well, it turns out they weren’t really rotting all that much. Whatever had caused their reanimation was so unnatural that bacteria and insects avoided the infected as much as we did. The zombies dried out over time and got a little slower, but they didn’t rot.
When it all started our family was living about a hundred miles west of St. Louis, Missouri. There were four of us: my wife Jeanne, our daughter Sally, Brock, and me. Fortunately, we lived out in the sticks.
After two years as a pro football player in St. Louis; I blew my knee out and was unable to return. I didn’t really have much to fall back on; I had gotten a degree in political science never really expecting to have to apply it to anything. I settled for becoming a Phys Ed teacher while Jeanne went back to teaching the third grade in a little town called Hapsburg, population one hundred and thirty-five.
Jeanne’s parents had gotten out of the big city just in the nick of time. I don’t know how they had managed it at their age. Harold had cataracts and Audrey wouldn’t drive their old Pontiac over forty miles per hour. It had been coming on for months. We were all just pretending it wasn’t.
It’s not like you used to see it happen in the movies. In the movies it all seemed to happen overnight. That wasn’t really the case. News flashes were all over every station. America watched with fascination as the disease spread across Europe and Asia. All international air traffic screeched to a halt and the coast guard was rerouting all marine vessels. But life went on. Other news began to filter into the broadcasts and within a week or two you rarely caught more than a few snippets about the zombies. Most of the country still got up and went to work. Movies premiered, Obama was re-elected, and we celebrated Thanksgiving.
When the first reported cases of the disease hit our shores, it came from both sides. Somehow a few of the infected got into the country from Mexico and turned into the sprinting dead somewhere in East L.A.
On the other side of the continent, John Sutter, an American businessman who had been shut out of the country for weeks paid drug smugglers to get him back home. They dropped him in Miami. By the time he reached Atlanta he had turned. He bit several random people on the streets before finding his way into a nightclub.
The infection spread rapidly on both coasts after that, most Americans saw it as something that was happening somewhere else to someone else. In those days there were still people trying to donate to the Red Cross, like a few bottles of water and a blanket would fix the problem. Churches filled up no matter what day of the week it was. Survivalists bragged about having predicted it all. But no one really did anything.
Obama and the top members of his cabinet evacuated D.C.; that’s when Americans finally woke up. Hollywood had conditioned us to wait patiently for that fateful sign. In all the disaster movies, that was when it was time to tuck tail and run, only there was nowhere to go. The disease, infection, or virus was everywhere and thanks to the internet and the unregulated crap that can be presented as fact, the populace didn’t have a clue what it was or how to protect themselves from it.
By the end of December everything was gone: the TV stations, phones, radio, internet, and then finally the power grid. Unmanned nuclear reactors melted down. Unregulated turbines at dams seized up causing the dam to break. The human race was thrown back into the dark ages. Only this wasn’t the bubonic plague that was spread by rats. This plague had conquered the world. All told it was seven months from the first reported case to the fall of civilization. The last few radio broadcasts finally released the estimated death toll that had been kept from the public. More than ninety percent of the world’s population was dead.
The Mayan calendar ended and so did the civilized world. Doomsayers had predicted several ways it could happen; but I never heard a single theory involving a raging undead army scouring the streets clean of the living. I suppose there were the religious nuts that popped off with scary rising dead quotes from Revelation.
So here we had come to the far corner of what had been the United States of America, less than fifty miles from the Canadian border. I stared out the truck window at the sun estimating how much time we had before it set. Amazing how good you get at that when your life depends on it.
These aren’t vampires. The zombies are fully capable of abiding sunlight, but for some reason they come out in droves at night. I figured it’s got something to do with their dehydration problem, but I’m no scientist.
Less than two hours until nightfall. We needed to find a place to hold up for the night. Maybe get some food in our bellies. I took a left and started weaving through the abandoned and dilapidated cars strewn about like the floor of a kids messy room. I had rigged a snow plow on the front of our old dump truck. It came in handy when the road was completely blocked and when zombies were dumb enough to wander into the streets investigating the noise of our big diesel.
Grass and weeds grew up out of the cracks in the pavement and on the vehicles where dust had collected in pockets and crevasses. The wind had swept dirt up against building walls where seeds had taken root. Mother nature was doing a decent job at taking back the world we had been abusing for thousands of years.
I saw a Dairy Queen on the right and thought how much I missed ice cream. The windows were all busted out and the sign that had once been a bright red bonfire of welcome was dirty and faded. A vivid green moss stained it, streaking down its face following the trails from frequent rains. On the left, down the road a stretch was a McDonalds. Those golden arches were like a headstone for the way of life that had died in the latter months of 2012. Now any food we could dig up was our Happy Meal.
“Are we there yet?” Brock asked, as he woke and rubbed his eyes.
I smiled at the age old question. I imagined for an instant that my boy was still a child and we were on a family trip. But we didn’t have a family anymore. In all of the world we only had each other.
“Yep, Bellingham, Washington,” I said with cheer that I didn’t feel. Getting here had cost us so much.
“I don’t see an ocean.” he said as he scanned the streets over the large flat hood and bulky snow plow.
“The bay,” I corrected, “It’s about a mile more to the southwest.”
“So we’ll be on the boat tonight?” he asked excited.
“No kiddo, tonight we are going to find a place to lay low and get a bite to eat. Tomorrow we will collect some supplies and get a real good boat and be on our way.”
“But we’re so close, can’t we just go have a look at the bay?”
“Well, I suppose, if you’re willing to skip dinner we could go have a look.” I tried to play serious; but my son had long since learned the finer points of my sarcasm.
“D-a-d,” he said, stretching the word into an admonition, “let’s look for dinner down by the water.”
Always the problem solver.
I shifted gears and headed west. The road maps that we were using didn’t depict grocery stores; but after three years most of them had already been picked clean. As survivors go, there weren’t that many of us left; but in the beginning, we were still Americans and acted like Americans. We horded and wasted our resources with no thought of future needs. I guess most people thought it was silly to plan for a tomorrow they most likely wouldn’t see.
I stayed on the wider main streets scanning for signs of danger. Not from zombies mind you, but from the living. People in the New Days had become territorial and greedy. Outsiders were often met with violence. Killing a man for his truck, his weapon, or his dinner was more common than bartering for them. In rare cases, you could be killed to become dinner.
There were rumors of cannibalism in every camp we had encountered. It was always the people in the next valley or the next town over. Food had become scarce. Meat was a luxury, so people had withered away. Many suffered from malnutrition and had come to resemble the zombies. I sometimes wonder how many people are killed by friendly fire just because their thin and raged looking.
I have been hungry and Lord knows I’ve seen my family on the brink of starvation, but I couldn’t live in a world where we had to resort to that. I couldn’t eat human meat and look my son in the eyes. I couldn’t ask him to do such a vulgar thing. I was a good provided before the New Days came and I’d been a good provider after.
While others ransacked liquor stores and restaurants, I was looting from GNC and payless. Body builder use protein supplements. The tubs of protein were awful tasting, but they kept us healthy and fit.
“Dad, I see it!” Brock exclaimed bouncing on his seat pointing.
We had never made it out to the coast in his normal life before the world died. He caught his first glimpse of salt water. I blinked away tears that threatened to fall at the wonder in his eyes.
The sun sparkled off the bay like a beckon of hope. The yellow shimmer off the water was the finish line we had spent the last eight months running towards. I shivered inside at the thought of all we had lost. Our exodus from America’s Bible Belt had been a grueling tribulation.
The first to die had been Jeanne’s parents, then Jeanne, and finally our daughter, Sally.
“If I squint I can see the island,” Brock said.
I squinted in that direction. Was that a hazy outline of trees? I couldn’t be sure.
“That’s the right direction,” I said, “Keep your eyes peeled for a likely place to set up shop for the night.”
I coasted the truck through the burned out section of downtown. All of the cities had burned to some degree. Almost every city across the country had suffered from raging infernos. Some burned from the initial invasion, people escaping their homes and forgetting to turn off the stove. Several cities didn’t get the natural gas shut off in time. In those places the fires had devoured everything, laying waste to major metropolitan areas.