I have the great pleasure of hosting Melanie Karsak on the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour. Her book “The Harvesting” is Available for Purchase Here. She has offered us the first three chapters, which is a huge sample of the book.
The Harvesting By Melanie Karsak
“If you ever need to slice someone’s head off, this is the blade you want,” I said as I lifted a curved sword off the table in front of me. “We’ve been practicing épée and foil so far, but tonight I want to introduce you to the sabre.” The practice sabre’s curved blade reflected the orange streetlight shining in through the window. A grant from the Smithsonian where I worked allowed me to teach my two passions: ancient weapons and their arts. “The sabre is a slashing weapon,” I continued and then lunged, showing the wide-eyed and excited students a few moves. “And in general, it’s my favorite,” I admitted with a grin.
The students laughed.
“Is that why you have it tattooed on your arm?” Tyler, one of my best fencers, asked.
My hand went unconsciously toward the tattoo. The ink was a sword interlaced with other once-meaningful symbols. “That’s not just any sabre,” I said, mildly embarrassed. “Here, let me show you. I brought something special tonight.” Setting the training sabre down, I lifted a rolled bundle. I laid it down on the table and unrolled it to reveal weapons in various elaborate scabbards.
“Some are épée, foils—you can tell by the hilt—a broadsword, a claymore, a katana, a scimitar, throwing daggers,” I said, pointing, “but this, this is a Russian shashka.” I pulled the shashka from the bundle. “It’s like a traditional sabre, but has no guard. She’s light, single-edged, wielded with one hand, and good for stabbing or slashing. Not awkward in close quarters like a Scottish claymore, but it will kill you just as dead,” I said with a smile. I unsheathed the weapon and gave it an under-and over-hand spin around my head, shoulders, and back.
The students grinned from ear to ear.
I put it back in its scabbard and handed the shashka to them. “Pass it around, but keep in mind it is sharp enough to cut a blade of hair in half.” I then turned my attention to Tyler. “Now, since you’re so interested, let’s see how you do with the sabre.” I tossed one of the training swords to him.
Tyler, already in his gear, jumped up and lowered his fencing mask. “But you’re not in gear,” he said.
I shrugged. “Hit me, if you can.”
We stood at the ready, made the ceremonial bow, and began. Tyler was not overly aggressive, which is partially why he was so successful. He waited for me, moving slowly. He was smart, quick, and often tried to over-tire his opponent.
I waited, dropped my sword a bit, and let him make the lunge. He took the bait.
The swords clanged together, and we clashed back and forth across the strip. He lunged and slashed while I dodged and blocked. He was fast. I was faster. When he lunged again, I ducked. With an upward movement, I went in.
“A hit,” Kasey called.
“Man, that’s what you get for taking on a former state champ—and the teacher,” Trey told Tyler with a laugh.
Tyler pulled off the mask and smiled at me.
Just then, my cell rang. I would usually ignore it, but something told me to answer.
“Everyone pair up and start working with the training sabers,” I said and pointed to the sword rack. I went to my bag and grabbed my cell.
Before I could say hello, she spoke.
“Layla, Grandma needs you to come home,” my grandmother’s voice, thick with Russian accent, came across through static. I was silent for a moment. My grandmother lived 500 miles away, and she never used her telephone. With the exception of her T.V., she hated technology. She’d cried and begged me to take away the microwave I’d purchased for her one Mother’s Day.
“Grandma? What’s wrong?”
“Come home now. Be here tomorrow,” she said. She hung up.
I lowered my cell and stared at it. Confused and worried, I dialed her back. The phone rang, but she did not answer. I had obligations: practice, bills to pay, groceries to buy, tons of work to do, and a date for god-sakes. But my grandmother was the only one I had left in the world.
“Sorry, guys. Emergency,” I called to my students.
Disappointed, they groaned.
“Sorry. Let’s pack it up for the night.” My hands shaking, I slid the shashka back into the bundle and rolled up the weapons. What had happened? Maybe Grandma was sick. Maybe she had some problem. Or maybe she had seen something.
The monuments on the Mall faded into the distance behind me as I made my way to my Georgetown apartment. It was Friday night. Wisconsin Avenue was packed. The upscale shops and restaurants teemed with people. In the crowd you could see the mix of international tourists, Georgetown students, and designer-dressed hotties headed to clubs. I sighed. For the last month I’d turned myself inside out trying to get the attention of Lars Burmeister, the German specialist the Smithsonian had brought in to consult on our new medieval poleaxe exhibit. He had finally asked me to dinner; we were going to meet at Levantes, a Turkish restaurant near DuPont Circle, at nine that night. I had dreamed of authentic dolma and a chance to sit across from Lars somewhere other than a museum. I had even bought a new dress: black, strapless, come-hither.
I circled my block three times before I finally found a parking space. Regardless, I loved Georgetown. It was early fall. The mature trees had turned shades of deep red and orange and were losing their leaves. The air was filled with an interesting mixture of smells: the natural decay of autumn, dusty heat from the old cobblestone streets, and the mildly rancid odor of too many people. In my 4th floor attic apartment of an old Brownstone, I could occasionally catch the sweet scent of the Potomac River. It reminded me just enough of home.
The apartment was ghastly hot. The small, one bedroom place had been closed up all day. I lifted the window and let the noise of the city fill the room. The street lamps cast twinkling light across my apartment. The weapons I had mounted on the wall, swords, shields, axes and the like, glimmered. I peeled off my sweaty practice clothes. Pulling a bag from the closet, I threw in several changes of clothes and a few other supplies. On my coffee table, my laptop light blinked glaringly. An overflowing email inbox, an article on bucklers that needed editing for a peer-reviewed journal, and a PowerPoint on Medieval Russian swords for a presentation for next week’s symposium all called me. My coffee table was stacked with paper. I was flooded with work; half my department was out on sick leave. There was a bad flu was going around. Thankfully, I had not yet gotten sick.
I pulled my cell out of my bag. I stared at the phone for a moment; Grandma’s call was still displayed on the screen. I dialed Lars’ number. My stomach shook when he answered.
“Guten abend, Lars. It’s Layla.”
“Ahh, Layla, good evening,” he replied.
I loved his German accent. He’d learned English from a British teacher; he said arse with a German lilt. It made me smile. I could tell by his tone he was trying to hide his excitement. I didn’t let him get far. I told him I had been called away for an emergency. I could sense his disappointment.
“I’ll be back by Monday. Let me make it up to you. Dinner at my place Monday night?”
“Gute nacht,” I said as sweetly as possible, hoping I had not pissed him off, and stuffed my phone into my bag. I stared out the window taking in the view. I didn’t want to go back, not even for a weekend. I loved my life. Hamletville was an old, ghost-filled place: too many memories, too much heartache. Yet I knew my grandmother. If she said I needed to come home, then I needed to come home.
I closed the windows, slid on a pair of jeans, a black t-shirt, boots, and a light vest. I looked again at the display on the wall. At the center I had crossed two Russian poyasni or boot-daggers. One dagger had the head of a wolf on the hilt. The other had the head of a doe. I grabbed them and tossed them in my bag. I then headed back downstairs and into the night. It was the last time I would lay eyes on Washington.
Hamletville. My grandmother had travelled from the Mother Country all alone. When she arrived in New York, she got on a westbound train and stayed on until “the spirits told me to get out at Hamletville, so I got out.” She’d purchased as much land as her money could buy: 100 acres backed up to a National Forest. She said she felt safe there. While her profession was a seamstress, her true talent was as a Medium. And according to the children of Hamletville, she was also a witch.
My grandma, however, had done her best to raise me. When my mother ran off with the town drunk—and who knows who my father was—my grandmother had not batted an eyelash. She moved me into the Fox Hollow Road cabin and took care of me. My mother never came back.
I was sleepless, smelled like Doritos, and had drunk far too much bad coffee, but almost eight hours later my SUV rolled into the small town of Hamletville. It was like reliving a bad nightmare. Memories of an only occasionally happy childhood and even worse youth lived on every corner. When I drove past his shop, my heart still hurt—even four years later. I strained my neck to try to catch a glimpse. Nothing.
My Range Rover easily took the bumps, turns, holes, and trenches of Fox Hollow Road. Guilt overwhelmed me when I arrived. It had been almost a year since I’d been back. My grandmother’s lawn had not been mowed in ages; weeds were knee high. Some shingles had come off the roof, and the place looked even more like a witches’ cabin than ever. My grandmother had closed all the shutters on the house and had nailed boards across most of them. Despite the fact the sun had just risen, my grandmother was there, hammer in hand, working on barring up the front picture window. She was wearing a purple checked dress, and her hair was covered in an old yellow and blue flowered babushka. When she saw me, she came off the porch and waived my SUV forward.
My first thought was that she was not well. Last year my assistant’s mother had entered early stages of dementia and started displaying odd behavior. Perhaps my grandmother . . .
“No, no, Layla, Grandma is fine. Come. Help me now,” she said, interrupting my thoughts as she opened the door to my SUV. “Oh, Layla, you need a shower.”
“Of course I do, Grandma. I just drove across four states to get here.”
“Ehhh,” she muttered then led me into the house.
The scene was one of complete disarray. It looked like she had unloaded every cupboard and was sorting items.
“Tomorrow the men come to fix the roof and clean the chimney. Already I’ve had wood delivered, but Layla, I had the men put it in the dining room. I know, everyone thinks Grandma is crazy.”
“Well, Grandma, it is a dining room.” I noticed that the old oak China cabinet had been pushed in front of the living room picture window. It blocked most of the light.
“Grandma . . .” I began, but I was not sure what to say.
“Here, Layla, I want you to go to the store. Buy all the things on my list. No questions. Just buy it all,” she said then handed me a wad of hundred dollar bills. I looked from the money to the list to her and back to the list again. “No questions,” she said, “but take a shower first. You stink.”
“I’ll get you a towel.”
My grandmother’s bathroom, decorated with red lace trimmed towels and smelling like lemons, was a stark contrast to the rest of the house. So confused by the scene, I didn’t know what to do. Like the obedient girl I’d always been, I did what she told me. As the water poured over me, I tried to make sense of what was going on. All I knew was every hair on the back of my neck had risen and there seemed to be an odd buzzing in my ears, like the feeling of being near something high voltage. I tried to shake it but couldn’t. My grandmother’s seriousness made me want to obey her, but too much life and education made me want to stop in my tracks.
When I came out of the shower my grandmother was nowhere to be found. She’d left me a clean towel and a note written in Russian: “Went to the woods. Will be back. You go to the store.”
I went to my room to unpack. It was full of boxes. Inside I found cases of antibiotics, bandages, and other medical equipment. I dressed quickly and went onto the front porch. From that vantage point, I noticed that Grandma had recently installed a very tall chain-link fence around the house. I was so tired when I’d arrived I hadn’t notice it. The gate stood ajar. Grandma must have left it open when she went on her walk. Things were getting weirder by the moment.
“Grandma?” I called into the forest behind her house, but there was no reply. I decided to head to town.
It was a Saturday morning, and the streets of the sleepy town were a-typically quiet. I pulled into the parking lot of Hicktown Hardware and Huntin’ Goods. At least the owners, the Lewis family, had a sense of humor. I made a silent prayer to God that I wouldn’t run into anyone I knew. No luck.
“Ah, Layla, are you here to pick up Grandma Petrovich’s order?” the owner, Mrs. Lewis, asked as she snubbed out her cigarette. The air around the cash register was hazy blue. I had not seen Mrs. Lewis in almost five years, but she still looked exactly the same: tightly permed brown hair, overly thick, smoke-stained glasses, and blazing-pink fingernail polish. She’d been glued to a small T.V. sitting beside the cash register. I could hear the over-expressive voices of excited newscasters.
I nodded. “She added a few more things,” I said and read off the list which included more batteries than one person could need in a lifetime, two-way radios, three axes, and high-powered binoculars.
Mrs. Lewis instructed a shop boy to gather the items on my list. I paid cash, nearly $1200, for all of the items, including the preorder which was packed into mystery boxes.
At the grocery store I was met with a similar preorder.
“Have to admit,” Clark said as he helped me load my SUV, “I was surprised to hear your Grandma on the phone. She is almost a recluse. I think Father Meyers checks in on her from time to time, but otherwise she doesn’t come out much anymore. What is she doing with all this stuff anyway?”
Something inside me told me to lie. “We’re going on a trip out west. You know how these old people are. She wanted to make sure we had enough.”
“You gonna rent an RV or something?”
“Yeah, that’s the plan.”
“Whoa, what are these?” Clark asked as he stumbled across the swords and fencing gear I had left in the back.
“Swords, actually. Well, I should be getting back,” I said, looking down at Grandma’s list. Clark waved goodbye, and I slid back into my SUV. The first two stops on the list were not difficult, but the next two puzzled me.
She left instructions for me to stop by Campbell Feed and Lumber. She knew very well that was the last place I would go. She wanted fifty pound sacks of corn and wheat flour. I looked up the street toward the shop. I waited. After a few moments, Ian appeared on the loading dock outside the store. He lowered two large bags onto the back of a flatbed pickup. He laughed as he talked to the driver. I could almost see that funny wrinkle he gets in the corner of his mouth when he smiles. He waved goodbye to his customer and turned to go back inside but then he stopped. He looked up the street, his eyes settling on my SUV. He took two steps down the loading platform toward me.
“Oh my god,” I whispered.
A moment later, Kristie, his wife, appeared at the shop door and called him back inside. He turned, casting one last look my way, then went in.
“Bitch,” I whispered and turned the ignition over in my car and headed up Lakeview Drive toward the Catholic Church.
My grandmother was not a religious person. Whenever she was invited to go to church, she would decline, saying “no, no, no, I am Russian Orthodox,” and the conversation would end. Privately, however, I had never seen my grandma act in any way that was remotely Christian. In fact, some of her odd “old country” practices often had a pagan flavor.
When I got to the Catholic Church the doors were open. I stopped when I entered, taking a moment to smooth my hair, checking my reflection in a mirror hanging on the wall just by the door. I was glad Grandma had made me take a shower. I pulled my thick black hair into a ponytail. The church candlelight made my green eyes sparkle.
“Can I help you?” a voice asked.
I turned to see Father Meyers standing there. It had been years since I’d last seen him. He used to coach the boys high school basketball team. He looked so much older. “Father, I’m Layla Petrovich. My grandmother asked me to come see you,” I replied.
“Ah yes, Layla. How is your grandmother?” He was quick to hide his confusion. I could almost hear him thinking: what is she doing here?
“I’m not sure, Father. But, regardless, my grandmother asked me to come by and request holy water.”
“To be honest, I don’t know. My grandmother has her ways, and most of the time I just do what she wants.”
Father Meyers laughed. “Well, with Grandma Petrovich, I understand. Now, we are not in the practice of giving out holy water, but I suppose it won’t hurt anything. I’ll be back in a moment,” he said and went to the rectory.
I sat in the last pew and waited. I felt like a stranger in a strange land. The stained glass windows bore images of saints. The window closest to the pew where I sat had an image of St. Michael slaying a dragon. Behind me a statue of Mary stood over the votive prayer candles. Five candles were lit. Their flames cast glowing light on Mary’s elongated face and hands. The statue depicted Mary with overly-white skin and pale lips. She wore the lightest of blue robes. A small chip had come off one side of her nose, disfiguring her. It showed the gray plaster beneath. I closed my eyes. The images in the church bombarded me. I could not quiet my mind. Flashes appeared before my eyes, random unclear images. Then the face of a dead woman appeared before me; like Mary, her nose was torn off. She was grunting and biting at me through a fence. Though her decayed face was horrific, I noticed she had a striking red ribbon in her hair. I shuddered, my eyes popping open.
“Here you are, Layla. Can I expect you and Grandma at Mass this Sunday?”
“Thank you so much, Father. I appreciate it. No, I’m sorry. You know we are Russian Orthodox. Thank you again,” I said and hurriedly left the church.
Before heading back to my SUV, I walked to the cemetery to the right of the church. Grandpa Petrovich was buried there. It occurred to me that Grandma might not have been by to clean his headstone. I walked toward the tall willow tree; Grandpa Petrovich was buried underneath.
Though I had never met him, I’d heard about Grandpa Petrovich often enough that he seemed alive in my memory. My grandma loved to tell their story. Back in Russia, their families had known one another. They courted but nothing came of it. Then my grandmother decided to come to the US. My grandfather, Sasha, had written to her every week for five years asking her to come home. Since she always refused, he finally came to the US to join her. They were married almost immediately, and my mother was conceived. But my grandfather died shortly after coming to the United States. There had been some sort of accident at his work. “Well, I told him not to come,” my grandmother would say, but I saw the pain behind her eyes. I always wondered if she had foreseen his early death.
I found his monument in the same state as Grandma’s house. First, I cleared away the weeds. Taking a scarf from my pocket, I wiped off the face of his tombstone. It was a shame. I would bring my grandmother by to plant some flowers.
“Layla, is that you?” someone called.
I turned to find Ethel, my classmate Summer’s mother, crossing the cemetery. She was carrying a basket. Inside I saw she had stashed a small shovel and gloves.
I rose, wiping my hands on my jeans. “Hey Ethel,” I called and walked to join her.
She mopped sweat from her brow. “How long you in town for?”
“Not sure, actually.”
“I’ll tell Summer you’re home. How is Grandma Petrovich?”
Indeed, how was she? “About the same.”
Ethel smiled knowingly. How many times had Ethel sat across the kitchen table from my grandma to hear advice from the spirit world? “Well, your Grandma always tells it like it is, but I sure was glad she was there when your mother ran off. You ever hear anything from her?”
I shook my head. “For all I know she’s dead.”
Ethel sighed. “That is a pity. She’d be really proud of you, honey. You had a rough start, but you sure made good out of it. Of course you were always the smartest child I ever saw. No one was surprised when you got that scholarship, but I think most people worried that Campbell boy would–”
“Planting flowers on Phillip’s grave?” I interrupted. Ethel’s husband had died the year Summer and I were juniors.
We looked across the graveyard together. “Oh, yes, every fall I plant chrysanthemums,” Ethel said. “Seems like they’ve buried a lot of folks the last couple of weeks,” she added and pointed to some freshly dug graves.
We turned and walked back toward the street.
“Some kind of bad flu going around,” Ethel said as we walked by one of the fresh graves. “We lost old Mrs. Winchester,” she added, pointing to the grave nearest us. “You know she had a green burial? They dropped her in the ground wrapped in nothing but a light blue shroud. Oddest thing. ”
We stared down at her grave.
“I loved her oatmeal cookies,” I said.
Ethel looked questioningly at me.
The soil stirred.
“Watch yourself, Layla. The earth is still settling,” Ethel said, pulling me back and looping her arm in mine.
I walked Ethel to her car. She opened the trunk and dropped the basket inside. She then turned and hugged me. “Don’t be a stranger, honey. Come by and see us,” she said, squeezing my arm, then she got into her car. With a wave, she drove off.
I gazed toward the graveyard. Mrs. Winchester had been the town librarian. I used to sit in the back of the library and hide from my mother, hide from whatever man she’d dragged home that week, hide from the chaos of our house. Mrs. Winchester would give me homemade oatmeal cookies and would lie to my mother when she came looking for me. Mrs. Winchester would wait for my grandmother to turn up. From time to time I still craved those cookies. As I slid back into my SUV, I made a mental note to pick up some flowers for Mrs. Winchester too.
When I got back to the cabin it took nearly an hour to unload all of Grandma’s supplies. By the time I had finished, Grandma returned from her walk.
“Ah, Layla, my good girl. Thank you so much,” Grandma said and clasped her hands together.
I noticed she was carrying her herb satchel. “Harvesting, Grandma?”
She laughed. There was a hard edge to it. “Oh, yes, it is harvest season. Come. Now we go in and get everything ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“Ehh, you’ll see. Come now, Layla.”
That night Grandma and I turned the house upside down. Grandma must have tossed forty years of junk, knick-knacks, and all of the other useless things a person collects over a lifetime. In their place she stocked the cupboards with supplies. I must have made 10 trips to the dumpster at the end of Fox Hollow Road. No matter how many times or ways I asked why she had all that stuff or why she was throwing everything away or why she had called me or what was wrong, all Grandma would say is “you’ll see.” Thinking of all the possible answers she could have given, that one seemed the worst.
I woke near noon the next day to the sound of men hammering on the roof. Grandma was in the kitchen storing a massive tray of beef jerky.
“That looks like a whole cow,” I said with a yawn as I sat down at the table.
“Two,” she answered absently as she stopped her work to pour me a cup of coffee.
“Why two?” I asked as I stirred in the cream.
“The spirits said two, so I made two,” she replied.
I stopped and looked at her. “Grandma?”
“Tu-tu-tu-tu,” she jabbed at me with a wave of the hand. “I made you piroshky,” she said, pulling the warm pastry from the oven. All other thoughts left my mind. “I love you, Grandma,” I said with a laugh.
She chuckled. “My darling.”
After I ate, Grandma put me to work. We boarded up the barn windows, secured loose hinges, stored food, and sharpened axes. We were adjusting the last items in the kitchen when Grandma asked: “Where is the flour?”
I pretended not to hear.
“I couldn’t do it.”
“Oh, my Layla, that boy, he is so stupid. He had a beautiful Russian girl like you, and he married that stupid fat girl with a face like a donkey. And for what? She didn’t even carry that baby to term. You see, she just got that baby to steal that boy from you, and now he is stuck with her. He is too stupid, Layla. And thanks to him, now you have that ugly tattoo on your arm and shoulder. What about some nice rich man? Didn’t you find a nice man at the Smithsonian? So many nice looking men in suits in Washington, so many soldiers . . .”
She continued, but I’d tuned her out. She was right. Ian was stupid. After one fight, Ian had slept with someone else. His dumb, rash decision resulted in the conception of an innocent child who, sadly, had not lived. Ian had done right by Kristie and married her, but he had not done right by me.
“. . . and anyway, it no matter. Come tomorrow, no one will care anymore anyway. You see, all things happen for a reason. Now, we are done here. I will go pay the men for the roof, then I will show you the guns, then we’ll drink tea.”
“Ehh, peel some potatoes,” she then wandered outside, still muttering.
“This is a Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol. Most policemen use this gun. Comes with 17 rounds. You pop in the cartridge like this and . . .” Grandma squeezed the trigger, blasting a decorative plate with a picture of fruit on it. It used to hang in the dining room. Ignoring my astonished impression, she handed the gun to me. “Didn’t you go hunting with the Campbells?”
“Yes. I can shoot a gun, Grandma,” I said bewildered. Why in the hell did my grandmother have a semi-automatic pistol? We were standing behind the barn. She had guns laid out on the lid of an old feed barrel. I set the gun down.
“Good, good, then you’ll have no problem. Now, this is .44 Magnum, like the Dirty Harry movie. It has good stopping power. Lift up the safety and boom,” Grandma said pulling the trigger. The gun barrel let out a resounding noise, shattering Grandma’s old mantle-piece vase. “The man told Grandma this is a kill-shot gun, very powerful,” she said and set the gun down.
I picked it up, took aim at an old porcelain figurine, and fired. The smiling cherub exploded into a puff of dust.
“Very good! Ahh, here we are,” she said picking up what looked like a machine gun. “This is Colt 9mm sub-machine gun. Grandma had a hard time getting this one, but a nice man on the phone, of course he was Russian, helped Grandma get this one ordered for you. This gun can shoot almost 1000 rounds per minute. Very fast, no?” Grandma said and launched a spray of bullets toward the remaining china pieces she had set up on the fence-post. “Here, you try. Watch for kick back,” she said and handed the gun to me.
I set the gun down and took Grandma by the hands. “Grandma, what in the hell is going on? You’re scaring me.”
“Shoot first,” she said, picking the Colt back up and handing it to me.
I sighed. The gun, surprisingly, didn’t feel heavy in my hands. I held it as I had observed Grandma doing, and as every drug smuggler on T.V. had done, and let off an easy rattle of ammo.
“You see, very easy.”
I set the gun back down. “That is enough, Grandma. Please. What is happening?”
Grandma inhaled deeply and took me by the chin. She looked into my eyes then kissed me on both cheeks. “First, we’ll put guns away,” she said, picking up the weapons. “Oh, I also bought grenades. Just like on T.V.: pull the pin, throw, it explodes.”
After we had restocked Grandma’s personal arsenal, we went back inside.
“Sit down in living room. Watch T.V. I’ll make tea,” she said and wandered into the kitchen.
“Tu-tu-tu,” she said to shush me. “You watch T.V. I’ll come in a minute.”
I flipped on the T.V. to find it tuned to the news channel. At once I saw what appeared to be a riot taking place. At first it looked like just another scene of violence, but then I started reading the crawling banner: wide spread outbreak and rioting in major US cities in the south and on the west coast. Police had instituted martial law in LA, Miami, and Atlanta. Outbreak reports were cropping up in all major US and foreign cities. Airlines had closed all international travel. The United States President has been moved to a protected location.
The T.V. buzzed with three loud chimes: the Emergency Broadcast System had been activated. The screen went blue and after a few minutes, an official looking White House spokesman appeared at a podium, the emblem of the CDC hanging behind him.
“Grandma? You should come see this,” I called to her. I felt like someone had poured cold water down my back. Every hair on the back of my neck was standing on its end. Is this what Grandma had foreseen? Is this why I was here? Did the spirits tell her something?
“At this point it appears to be a highly contagious flu-like pandemic,” the Director of the CDC was saying.
“Citizens are urged to stay inside their homes. Military personnel have been dispatched to major US cities,” the White House spokesman added.
A reporter asked why the pandemic seemed to happen almost overnight. I noticed then that the press were all wearing surgical masks.
“Incidents of flu have been steadily on the rise for the last one week which has exacerbated accurate diagnosis. The symptoms of this particular strain resemble seasonal flu at the onset—body pain, fever, and vomiting—but gradually worsen with additional non-normative symptoms,” the Director of the CDC explained.
“Non-normative? What does that mean, and how is it being spread?” a female reporter asked. I recognized her from the President’s regular Press Club. I’d seen her in person once at a downtown café. She’d been eating a massive plate of fries.
The Director of the CDC gave a sidelong look toward the White House spokesman. “Citizens should avoid direct physical contact with the sick until we can pinpoint the cause,” the CDC Director said at last.
“Is there a vaccine or immunization?” another reporter asked.
“Until the cause is identified, it is difficult to develop a vaccine, but we are working around the clock analyzing possible contaminants,” the Director replied.
“What is the mortality rate?” someone asked.
The Director of the CDC looked uncomfortable. “It is difficult to ascertain. At this point the mortality rate appears to be 100%, but post-mortem there appears to be brain activity-”
“No further questions at this time,” the White House spokesperson said with a scowl and ushered the Director of the CDC out of the room.
Grandma sat down beside me, setting a serving tray on the coffee table. She picked up the remote and muted the T.V.
In the far off distance, we heard the alarm on the town fire hall wail. It was used to call in emergency volunteer firefighters and medical personnel or to warn of tornado. Three rings to call for help. Seven rings for tornado warning. The alarm wailed and did not stop.
“When I was 12 years old, my grandma knew I had the sight,” my grandmother began. “My mother only had the gift a little. She had good instincts, but she never heard the spirits. I was lucky. I was born with the mark of the bear,” she said, showing me the small birthmark on her knee shaped like a bear’s paw, “so everyone knew I would have the gift. But when I was 12, my grandmother sat me down in her living room and poured me a cup of tea,” she said as she poured me a cup. I noticed that she had placed two slices of a strange looking mushroom in the water. “My grandmother told me, while I was lucky to hear the spirits, there are other things in this world, some good, some evil. There exists spirits, demons, creatures who are not like us. She wanted me to see them. She wanted me to be safe from them. She said that until the great eye inside is awake, we do not see them. She said, I must awaken and see. That is what my grandmother told me as she handed me a cup of tea,” my grandma said then handed the mushroom tea to me.
I took the cup. I looked back at the T.V. and saw strange images of people in hospital gowns being shot by military men.
“Drink,” Grandma encouraged.
I did as she asked, polishing off the cup.
“My grandma loved me. She tried to protect me by making me see the otherworld. She was right. Afterward, I saw and heard spirits and those other things in this world. This has kept me away from evil and has helped me see good. Did you know there are forest spirits living right behind our house? Ehh, anyway, my grandmother loved me, so she made me see. I drank the tea then slept for almost two days. When I woke, I could see.”
My head felt woozy. Images on the screen melted into a strange haze. I reached out for my grandmother.
“You sleep now. I’ll go close the fence and bar up the doors. It has already begun,” she said.
“What has begun?” I asked drunkenly. The room spun, and I felt like I might be sick.
“The harvest,” she replied. I heard the front door open and close then everything went black.
If you’d like to Read More of “The Harvesting” By Melanie Karsak, please follow this link: http://www.amazon.com/Harvesting-Melanie-Karsak-ebook/dp/B009GI3YBY/
The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 33 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser from one of our 33 of the world’s best zombie authors… and pick up some great FREE swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #SummerZombie