Book 1, “What Zombies Fear: A Fathers Quest” is available for $2.99 from Amazon
(Click the book for purchase from Amazon)
Book 1, “What Zombies Fear: A Fathers Quest” is available for $2.99 from Amazon
(Click the book for purchase from Amazon)
By the time I made it back to Max, I had a pretty solid plan in place for clearing the zombies on the bridge, but I had to find a couple of things first. About halfway around the curve ahead of me, there was a downhill road off to the left. It went through a small group of houses, a strip club/biker bar named “Twin Peaks”, and a small shabby looking mom-and-pop hardware store.
I struggled to push the silver SUV to the top of the hill, but with one final heave I managed to start it down the other side and hopped in the drivers seat to steer us into the bar parking lot. I felt really naked without a handgun, and I was thinking a biker bar might be my best bet for finding one in this general location. The gravel crunched under the heavy weight of my overloaded SUV seemed louder than gunfire, and I immediately wished i’d left it on the pavement
I pulled my truck right beside the building, as close as I could get Max’s side to the wall without hitting it. He could probably wiggle out, but there was no way anything was getting in his door. Of course, they could come in the drivers side of the truck, but having the one side blocked made me feel better.
“Focus, Tookes,” I said to myself “There’s going to be a mess in there, check yourself”.
“Don’t forget your hatchet,” Max reminded me from the back seat, forcing me to look down and see that it had fallen out of its loop on my belt, and beside the center console of the truck.
“Max, I’ll be right back buddy. You stay here, but undo your buckles, just in case we need to run.”
“We’ll be fine daddy, you can handle these two.”
I’m learning to trust the little guy’s offhand comments, so I prepared myself for two or more. It was imperative that I remain silent, I’m under a mile from the bride now, and its very likely that the zombies up there would hear any gunshots. There was no way I was going in there without a gun though, so I took the black nylon strap off of my 30.06 and tied it to the ak47, and slung the whole thing over my shoulder before walking over to the door of the bar.
Gingerly I tried the knob on the solid steel doors, and in what might have been my first stroke of good luck, I found they were unlocked. I nudged the heavy doors inward, and quickly let them swing closed with a clang. Once closed, I banged on one with the back of the hatchet a couple of times, and stepped a few feet back. This was a two fold test, could they open doors, and were they attracted to sound. As an experiment, I was ecstatic with the results. I heard at least 2 banging on the doors, but they were unable to open them.
From about 5 feet away, I got a running start and hit the doors low. The doors flew open from the center, sweeping the 2 zombies apart and throwing them back into the room. My momentum carried me, hatchet in hand, right by one who was struggling to get up when the blade sunk deep into his forehead. With 1 final convulsion, he was dead again, and my hatchet was free of his head. The other zombie was down and not moving. Was there any chance I was this lucky? I kicked her head, and saw that the back of her head was smashed in, making a mess of her platinum blonde hair. I think her back was turned when I hit the door, and the edge of it split her skull. She was wearing a fluorescent g-string, and a garter with pretty good stack of bills rubber banded around it.
“She won’t be needing this,” I thought to myself as I unwrapped the rubber-band and pocketed the thick wad of bills. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever need it, but a wad of cash might still have some trade value. The room smelled horrible. Even after just one day, the corpses smelled terrible, like 30 lbs of rotten hamburger.
Feeling like a badass from my easy victory, I checked through the bar, looking for interesting things. I set 3 unopened bottles on the bar, 1 bottle of grain alcohol, a bacardi 151, and an old looking bottle of scotch. Under the bar I found a box of match books, with “Twin Peaks” underneath a pole dancer on the covers, this was a classy place. I added the match books to my pile on the bar, and headed back towards the office.
I listened at the office door, knocked with my hatchet, and waited. Hearing nothing, I opened the door and peered into the the dim room. There was a large, beat up oak desk against one wall. I flipped through all the cups and trays on top looking for keys, before even trying the drawers. I found 2 sets, and tried the drawers in the desk. The top drawer was the only one unlocked, so I started trying keys. In the bottom left drawer, I found the handgun I knew would be there. I read the barrel, it was a smith and wesson model 629, a nickel revolver with black hand grips and what I hoped was matching ammunition, 44 magnum. I pressed the cylinder release and emptied a round out into my hand, it was the same as those in the mostly full 100 round box. Replacing the round, and snapping the barrel shut, I slid the weapon into my waistband, and quickly surveyed the room but didn’t see anything else useful.
On the way out of the building, I grabbed the liquor bottles and matches off the shelf, and headed out to the truck with them to check on Max. He was sleeping soundly in his seat, so I took the opportunity to really study him. He was so big, and yet so small. I remembered the time when he could fit in 1 arm, and how I used to carry him everywhere like a football. I hated leaving him here, in the truck, sleeping, but it seemed less dangerous than taking him into a building that probably had zombies in it. With all of my “Twin Peaks” loot dropped off in the back of the truck, I left the ak47, and went across the street to the hardware store, in search of a few more items needed for my plan.
As I walked across the street, I thought to myself “Tookes, you idiot. You should have asked Max how many were in here,” followed by a quick head shake and “what in the hell am I thinking. He’s 3 and a half years old.”
When I got to the truck, I looked in the back seat to see Max crying but otherwise Ok, and yanked open the passenger door. Candi’s lifeless body rolled out of the truck onto the ground. I fell to my knees; she had been hit by two bullets, one to the abdomen and one to the right temple.
I sobbed, I screamed, I raged, I yelled at god or the trees or whatever was listening. I wept for what seemed like hours, tears streaming down my cheeks, wondering what I was going to do without her. Imagining trying to survive in this life without my partner, without my team mate. Ultimately, it was Max’s small voice that brought me back to reality.
“Daddy,” he said calmly, “We have to go.” Gathering myself, I kissed her on the forehead, stood and walked around to the front of my wrecked truck. There were bullet holes right through the passenger front fender, front passenger door, and rear quarter panel, but not a single bullet in the rear passenger door. The window was even still intact.
I looked down at the rifle in my hands, an American version of an AK47, 7.62mm bullets; the same size as my rifle, but not quite as powerful. They wouldn’t pass through the engine block, but they’d do a number on all the stuff around it. I jumped inside the truck, turned the key, and miraculously the truck roared to life. From the sound, it had taken a shot to the exhaust manifold. I wouldn’t be sneaking up on anyone, but it would run. I checked on Max, his fever seemed down, but not out, and the bite mark on his leg was closed up. It didn’t look all that bad actually, maybe he didn’t get infected. I handed him the whole box of cereal bars, and he unwrapped one and started eating.
The tire was easy enough, I knew there was a benefit to keeping the spare in the roof basket, even if all my off-roading buddies complained about raising the center of gravity and called me silly for liking the look.
‘Who’s the mall crawler now?’ I thought to myself, thinking back to the derogatory term real “Rock Crawlers” used to describe guys like me. I left the old wheel on the side of the road, a bullet had passed through the tire and out the wheel, and it was useless now. In the back of the truck I pulled a blanket out of one of the plastic storage tubs, and wrapped Candi’s body up in it. I would bury her in the garden at Mom’s, there is a beautiful spot in the formal garden we’ve often talked of having our ashes spread there. Right now I didn’t have time to think about all that; I had to get us across the bridge fifteen miles south.
Heading south at around sixty-five miles per hour along the deserted highway, the wind blowing in Candi’s window was bothering Max, who was trying to sleep after eating four breakfast bars. I had about an hour of daylight left, and I was facing a decision. If this outbreak was in both in both York and Frederick, there was a good chance Leesburg, Virginia was going to be infected as well, and I had to pass through the most heavily populated section. The town of Leesburg was the part of the trip I was most dreading. If I could get across the river tonight, there were miles and miles of undeveloped national forest between the bridge and the town.
My first option was to find a deserted fire lane leading a few miles into the national forest, pull off and camp for the night in the truck, with Candi. My second option was to continue on, with one headlight, one fog light, and the two KC style running lights mounted to the roof basket. It was an hour and a half further to my family home-place after Leesburg. I’d been making pretty good time, and the whole incident at Frederick had only taken about forty minutes total. I was going to have to take it much slower from now on, and Max wouldn’t be able to stay in his seat much longer. At the very least he was going to need to get out to go to the bathroom, and the thought of getting him out of the truck frightened me the most. I can’t afford to make any more mistakes. My heart can’t take any more mistakes like Frederick.
Still pondering, I slowed down and stopped at the last curve in the road before the bridge. I whispered to Max that I was going to get out, but that I wouldn’t go far. I was stopped about a mile from the bridge. I wish I had some high powered binoculars, but my rifle scope would have to do.
I scrambled up the embankment, and a couple hundred feet up the side of the hill into the woods. I couldn’t get too far from the truck, but I needed the elevation and cover of the trees up here. There was enough light to see the old blue-green iron bridge, and see that there was another set of cars blocking both ends. I watched through the scope as zombies walked up and down. I watched for as long as I could, not wanting to leave Max alone for too long. I counted five zombies, four of them walking fairly normally, and one who was stumbling. The four were armed with various assault rifles; I was too far away and not knowledgeable enough in firearms to tell what exactly they were from this distance. They were all pacing back and forth, about half the length of the bridge. I watched the road leading towards me, and saw nothing, I looked in the woods on either side of the river and they seemed likewise clear.
I began to formulate a plan as I headed down to the truck, back to Max, back to my reason for surviving
The roads were empty. We passed mile after mile of farmland, cows and other livestock grazing peacefully in the fields. Every few minutes we slowed down as we passed through some small town with a few dozen houses and a single traffic light. In Ladiesburg, Maryland, we saw a woman bent over a man in the middle of the street. She was chewing on his arm, ripping large hunks of flesh and gristle.
I think that’s when Candi started to believe me. “Go, Go!” She said, firmly. “Drive around them, we have to get away.”
Max was thankfully watching a movie, and Candi and I talked about the situation. She flipped out when I told her about the guy in the street this morning at work, and how close I’d gotten to him.
I explained about my run from the office, and the gang of zombies in the parking garage, all about chuck, and how his intestines were looped all the way down to the ground. I described the gore, and how he was still walking. I described them shaking the truck, and bending the brush guard.
Candi was always a realist. I was always the one thinking about zombies, or aliens or natural disaster. I don’t think she would have ever believed me if she hadn’t seen one with her own eyes.
We made good time. The closer we got to the city, the more often we saw other cars. I passed several heading north, but saw no one else heading south. Just above Frederick Maryland, we’d been on the road for about an hour, I slowed the truck down. There was a wreck ahead, were cars across the road, but something didn’t look right. The whole scene set my instinct to run.
As I got closer, I realized they’d been parked there, not wrecked. None of them were dented. I reached down beside me and pulled my rifle up on my lap, flicking the safety off. “Max, this is going to get loud buddy. Keep your headphones on, okay?”
“Yes Daddy,” he said, “But Daddy, don’t shoot the ones in the front, shoot the lady with red hair in the back, she has the most bugs.”
With my rifle ready, I cranked the wheel to the left and gassed the truck quickly towards the median to get around the cars blocking the road. I knew the median would be muddy, but my truck was pretty tough, and it seemed better to risk the mud than try to push the cars off the road with my already damaged brush guard. I reached up and hit the sunroof button, and it slid open quickly as my tires hit the grassy median. As I passed the first row of cars, I heard the crack of a rifle, and a bullet hit the front of my truck. I floored the truck, as a spray of bullets riddles down the passenger side. The passenger side rear tire went flat, and I realized I did exactly what they wanted me to; I had driven into their trap. All four tires spun in the mud, slinging it everywhere, but we were slogging forward at a snail’s pace. Random thoughts ran through my head. I was calm, ticking off a situation assessment. My truck won’t last through this. Max and Candi are on the side of the truck facing oncoming fire. Anger flares inside me as I saw the steering wheel back to the right, heading out of the median, back on the road facing directly into the incoming fire. “Get Down, Candi!” I yelled over the gunfire.
“Hold on!” I yell, as the front of the truck smashes into the corner of one of the cars. My headlight blinks out and the truck stalled, still taking fire. The passenger side window blew out, and Candi slumped forward. I felt a warm spray hit my face, and knew that she’d been hit.
“Mommy!” Max screamed, barely audible as the blood pumped through my ears. Time seemed to slow down, I ripped my seatbelt off, and stood up out of the sunroof, oblivious to the oncoming fire, and lined up the scope of my rifle. Center mass on the first target. Remembering the police officer pumping round after round into that man this morning, I adjusted my aim upwards and watched his head explode through the scope of my rifle. In the time between squeezing the trigger and the bullet hitting the target, I noticed he was unarmed. I raised my rifle, scanning behind the line of now approaching people, and spotted her.
She was tall, thin, with long red hair. She was holding an assault type rifle, long banana clip sticking out of the receiver, one of those thirty round types. I was vastly outgunned, if I was going to save my family this had to end quickly. I lined up the scope on her head, exhaled, this was a long shot, and I haven’t shot in a while. Squeezed the trigger, I heard the rifle report, although it seemed muffled and distant. Through the scope, I watched her head move to the side, just as I squeezed, like she knew. Or saw the bullet coming, but how could anyone move that fast?
I levered the bolt forward and back, and squeezed off another shot, bolt forward, ejected the spent round, back, squeeze. I aimed at both sides of her head. She dodged back the other way, avoiding the second bullet, and my third round was low. Low, but it connected with her shoulder. She spun around with the bullets impact, and I levered back and forward again.
My last shot hit her center mass, right in the middle of her upper back. It shattered her spine, and I lept out of the truck through the sunroof. Three steps away from the truck I took aim at one of the closer zombies, and watched it crumple to the ground in my scope. I hadn’t fired a shot.
Three more zombies fell in succession without me firing a shot. I ran through the line of zombies, up the embankment on the far side of the road, towards the red head. I remembered Max telling me to kill her first, and at this point, that was the only information I had. Scrambling up the hill, I saw her lying on her back, a very large hole in her chest. Except that the hole was getting smaller. She was healing in front of my eyes. I let out a guttural scream, and fired one more shot at very close range, decimating her head.
I turned to see that the remaining four zombies were heading my way. I slid the bolt forward, and back, lined up on the closest one, and once again it crumpled to the ground. Looking away from the scope, I saw that all four had fallen mid-step. Their heads appeared intact, there was no obvious reason, but I wasn’t going to go inspect too closely. I grabbed the redhead’s rifle, and one more magazine from her back pocket. An automatic would come in handy. I hadn’t seen any other armed zombies, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t checked on Max and Candi. I leaped off the embankment, falling nearly fifteen feet to the road surface, and took off running for the truck.
“Candi,” I said as she came walking up the hardwood stairs, her heels clicking on every one. “Zombies. Max is bitten. We’re bugging out.”
It was not my finest monologue. I probably could have worded that more tactfully, but at the moment I was feeling fairly stressed out.
“Mommy!” Max said excitedly, “Mommy, I’m hungry. The inside bugs are eating everything.”
Candi looked at me, puzzled “Tookes, what?”
I pull Candi into our bedroom, and start to explain. “Candi, I know you’re not going to believe this, but I promise you, it’s absolutely true.” I saw Chuck get eaten. He was inside out, and he tried to eat me. His guts were hanging down past his knees, and he was walking towards me. I could see all the way through him. I saw strangers attack and bite people, and when those people died, they stood up and tried to bite more people. I watched a man literally eat the throat out of another man. I ran as fast as I could. I got in my truck and drove straight to Max’s school. I can’t begin to describe the horror inside there. I killed someone with a flashlight. I didn’t get to the daycare fast enough. Max got bitten. Everyone I’ve seen get bitten has gotten sick. Max just has a fever. I think I got to it in time. When we got home I dumped everything I could find on his leg, from rubbing alcohol to peroxide. He’s got a little fever, but he’s still Max. I’m sure he’s going to be fine.”
Before I could say anything else, Candi rushed over to Max and picked him up. “Oh my god, Tookes, he’s burning up!”
“I know. You can see the bite mark on his leg.” I said, “I gave him ibuprofen, the fever is down some. In an hour we can give him some Tylenol too, I believe that will knock it down even further. I think he’s going to be Ok, Max is a tough kid.”
“Candi, we’re getting out of here, we’re going to moms. Check the closet and see if there is anything else you need. I think I got everything. The truck is packed; we need to leave in ten minutes. ”
“We need to get Max to the doctor. I don’t want to go to your mothers. We need to go to the hospital,” she said.
“The hospital is the worst place we could go,” I explained. “That’s where everyone who’s been bitten will go. I watched a man get bit and then stand up. He had no guts, you could see all the way through him, but he was standing up!” I was almost yelling at this point, only worry of frightening Max keeping me from it. “We have to go to Moms. It’s in the country. It will be safe, there’s no one around. Now please, go get your things!”
Candi went off to the bedroom, I knew she was going to come back with a few things she couldn’t leave the house without, but I didn’t have much time to argue with her. We needed to move. Between Maryland and Virginia is the Potomac River. Where Route 15 crosses the river, is a five hundred yard two-lane bridge. The river is deep and fast. It’s an hour and a half south of my house, and I knew if that bridge was impassable we were in serious trouble. We had to get across that bridge before it got shut down, or worse, the National Guard put up a checkpoint there.
“Max, buddy, how are you feeling?” I asked walking back into the living room.
“I’m okay Daddy, why is Mommy mad? Is it because I got bit?”
“No duder, she’s not mad at you. She’s worried because you’re hurt. We don’t like to see you hurt, it makes us sad.”
“Don’t be sad Daddy, it doesn’t hurt,” he said.
Max’s verbal skills were always ahead of other kids his age, but he still had some trouble with words. Today he was speaking like an eight year old. I pushed that out of my mind, picked him up and yelled to Candi “Three minutes! Come out to the truck.”
I checked the windows to make sure there was no one around, and ran across the lawn to the 4runner with Max. “Max, this is going to be a long trip. What movie do you want to watch?” I’d primarily bought the truck for road trips; one of the first things I added was a DVD player in the passenger headrest so Max could watch movies while we drove. It was a moment of Daddy genius. I have no idea how parents did road trips before DVD players.
“Finding Memo!” Exclaimed Max.
I started the movie, and went around to the driver’s seat. For the fifth time that day I checked my rifle to make sure there were bullets in the magazine, and one in the chamber. I flicked the safety from “Safe” to “Fire” and back to “Safe”.
Just inside the three minute window I’d given her, Candi came running out of the house. She’d changed into a pair of jeans and sneakers, and a hoodie. She was carrying a purse, and from the way it was swinging it looked heavy. She hopped into the truck and we were away, starting our three hour drive towards safety. I thought.
My earlier feelings that I was exaggerating the situation were now firmly gone, replaced by the need to get to Max and make sure he was safe.
I sped down the alley way between the office and the parking garage, no sign of the group that followed me up the stairs in my rear-view. Driving down Philadelphia St. I began to get a picture of how badly York had been affected, every block or so I saw a house with a zombie beating on the door. They would look around at me as I drove by, a few of them even took a few stumbling steps towards me. I was driving about fifty miles per hour down a twenty-five miles per-hour street, and I was well past them before they could make it down the steps and across the sidewalk to the street. The only thing keeping me from finding out the maximum speed of my truck was the thought of hitting someone running away from one of these things. There were no cars on the road, other than the ones parked along the side, making it extra difficult to see someone who might run out in front of me. The Four Runner makes a lot of noise, between the aftermarket exhaust designed to boost the power of its v8 engine and the noise of the off road tires, but who knows if someone would be paying attention to traffic. I could see people watching me pass out of their second story windows, a look of fear on their faces.
‘How do they all know to stay in their houses?’ I wondered, and turned on the radio to see if I could catch any information. I scrolled through all of my pre-programmed channels, and heard only music. On the AM dial, all I heard were the right wingers spewing the same crap they all must get in their daily talking points memos.
Radio off; I started the plan for picking up Max. My hope was that this mess hadn’t reached him, but given the situation in the city, I couldn’t be sure of that. I ran down the list of items in my truck thinking about anything I could use as a weapon.
In the cargo area I had my tool box, which probably wouldn’t be much help. Mostly it contained small tools, at best a lug wrench. It also had my roadside emergency kit. There was a flare in it, and a can of wd40 in my toolbox. My instinct said that a flaming zombie was even worse than a regular zombie, so I decided quickly against that. I keep a four cell mag light in the truck; I always told Candi it was in case I had to change a tire at night. Really it was because holding that thing made me feel like a badass. That was my weapon of choice.
Outside of the city, the houses were set way back off the road. I eased around two car wrecks noting that none of the wrecked cars had any people in them or any bodies at all. One car had bloody footprints leading away.
When I finally pulled in to Max’s day care, there were two cars in the parent pickup spots. I parked in the third and looked in the picture window. It was bad. Inside there was a woman chewing on the leg of a child, her shoulder so gnawed that her left arm hung limply at her side. The child was screaming, even out in the parking lot I could hear screams from further inside. Wasting no time, without a thought I brought the MagLight up to the picture window and hit it as hard as I could. The flashlight bounced off the window, leaving just a chip.
The door to the building was always locked. Under normal circumstances, you rang the doorbell, and one of the teachers came and opened the door for you. I smashed out one of the smaller panes in the door with no trouble, reached through and yanked the bar to open the door, cutting my arm on the broken glass. I didn’t even notice it at the time; I was so intent on getting to Max. I ran inside, towards the back of the facility.
As I passed by the woman feasting on the now silent child, I swung the MagLight in a giant arc and smashed the butt of the flashlight into her temple. She went over in a heap. I leapt the baby gate into the back area without missing a step. One of the teachers was holding Max, another teacher was trying to fend off a zombie with a chair. The zombie was pinned in the corner by a small child sized chair, but that left it enough room to bite the teacher on the arm. The teacher screamed and dropped the chair. The zombie stumbled forward just in time to connect with the back of my flashlight. I smashed its teeth out, and clearly shattered its nose, but it didn’t go down like the first one. I wasn’t wasting any time though. I snatched Max out of the other teacher’s arms and ran out of the building. I could hear the teachers screaming for help as I ran off. I’ve always felt a little guilty about not helping them more, but Max was all I cared about at that moment.
I set Max in his car seat and ran around to the front of the truck.
“You forgot my buckles, Daddy!” Max yelled from his seat.
“I know buddy, we’re not safe. We need to run now, and we have to hurry. Can you put them on yourself?” I replied.
“Not safe because of the bugs?” asked Max. Not knowing how to reply, I just said, “Yea buddy, because of the bugs,” as I floored it out of the parking lot. It wasn’t until I got home that I noticed the two arcs of a bite on Max’s calf.
I yanked the straps off of his car seat and ran him into the bathroom as fast as I could. I started dumping everything I could think of on his little leg. He never once cried, even when I drained an entire bottle of rubbing alcohol over the small cuts. After that I poured hydrogen peroxide, sprayed iodine, slathered it up with Neosporin, and wrapped it in a bandage.
“It’s okay Dad, Micah’s mommy bit me but the bugs can’t hurt me”.
“You’re gonna be fine buddy, I promise.” I said to him, hoping against hope that there was some immunity or that I got it disinfected fast enough. Knowing I did not. Tears welled up in my eyes. “Let’s go watch some Wonder Pets.”
“Yay!” Max yelled and ran into the living room. “Wonder Pets, Wonder Pets, we’re on our way!” he sang.
I turned on the TV and found an episode I’ve only seen three hundred times. “Max, I need you to stay here while I do some work in the basement, call me if you need something!”
“Okay Daddy.” Was all he said, already engrossed in the episode.
In the kitchen, I grabbed our recycling bin and dumped all the aluminum cans in the trash. I refilled the bin with all the food from our pantry. We’d just been to the warehouse club, and were well stocked. I carried that bin down to the garage, opened the garage door and backed my truck into the garage.
One more trip with canned food, and I started grabbing clothing. Everything from Max’s closet went into a Rubbermaid tub. My yard work clothes, jeans, Dickies, work shirts, flannels, fleeces, and our heavy coats, even though it was summer, I didn’t think I’d ever see this place again. I changed out of my suit and into camouflage cargo pants. They were the heaviest canvas pants I owned, even though it was summer, I wanted padding and layers between me and anyone I had to go through.
From the garage I packed all of my hand tools, and my battery operated DeWalt skill saw, reciprocating saw, and drill combo kit. My chain saw, my bow saw, my chopping axe and my hatchet.
I stopped at the hatchet for a second, noting that it had a belt loop on the leather sheath. So far, that was the best weapon I had, so I added the sheath to my belt and strapped it to my side. Feeling better, I continued to pack everything I thought might come in even marginally handy.
Finally I made it to the gray plastic gun case on the back of the shelf. I owned several guns, but Candi hated them. When we got married, I told her I sold my two pistols and shotgun; but that was a lie. Really they were wrapped in oil cloth in a hidden gun safe at my mothers. I wished I had them now.
I grew up an outdoorsy kind of guy, when I was in my teens and twenties I went hunting a couple of times a year. I bought the Savage arms 111 FCNS 30.06 a couple of seasons before I met Candi. It was excessive for deer in the woods around my house, but I’ve always wanted to go elk hunting. At the time, the salesman had thrown in two extra six round magazines to go with it. I had two boxes of ammunition, forty rounds total. I loaded one magazine and inserted it into the rifle I’d always called Sammie, pulled the bolt to chamber a round. The action was smooth, still oiled up from when I dug it out a year ago to clean and oil it. It hasn’t been used in many years, but I always tried to take care of it. It would need a good cleaning at some point, but would be serviceable now. I ejected the magazine and refilled the empty slot. I loaded and slipped the other two magazines into one of the cargo pockets of my pants, comforted by the weight there. I attached the scope to the rail, a Leupold 14mm x 50mm. The case went into the back of the truck. At one point on a calm day I could hit a two liter bottle from eight hundred yards with this rifle and scope. It had been a long time though. I’d always promised Candi that I would keep this gun hidden and locked in its case when Max was born.
The truck was fully loaded with everything I could fit. It was weighed down, but would make the trip. I hadn’t checked on Max for a few minutes. When I got up there he was red, and flush with a fever. I felt his head, he was burning up. In the upstairs bathroom, I’d left a few things to pack at the last minute. I grabbed his bottle of liquid ibuprofen and sucked up a dropper full. Candi would say, “He only gets half a dropper,” but I couldn’t afford to mess around with this fever, and Max has always been bigger and taller than everyone his age. He loved the taste of medicine, so it was never a problem to get him to take it. His show was over, so I started a new episode and called Candi.
“Hey Babe. I have Max, we’re at home. How long until you get here?”
In typical Candi fashion, she started off by asking what was going on, and yelling at me for letting my phone battery die.
“Candi, I don’t have time. Where are you?”
“What’s the matter with you?” she asked.
“You are not going to believe me. Drive home; do not stop for any reason. Do not stop. I’ll explain when you get here. Where are you?”
“I’m about five minutes away.”
“Ok, see you in five. Do not stop for anything. Pull your car into the garage when you get here.” I ordered. “I love you the most!”
“Love you too, you’re scaring me.”
I will explain when you get here, just get here.” As I hung up the phone, I said to Max, “Max, I need to move my truck out of the garage so mommy can get in. Do you hear me?”
“Okay Daddy. I’m hungry. The bugs are eating all my food.”
“I’ll get you a snack in just a minute buddy.” I said.
I checked at the door, and no one was in sight, so I pulled my truck out of our one car garage and parked it on the street. Before I locked it up I grabbed a serial bar out of the back and headed inside.
I opened the bar for Max and picked up my phone again to call my mother.
“Hey Mom. We’re coming down to your house. There’s some really ugly stuff happening up here, and we need to get safe.”
“Oh my God honey is everyone okay?” she asked.
“We’re fine; Max has a bite on his leg. He has a fever and is saying some strange things. I’m worried about him, but I don’t know how to tell Candi. Mom, its zombies. No, really, they’re zombies. I watched a man eat another man on the street in front of my office. Then I watched the eaten man get up and bite the paramedics.”
“Victor, get your family safe, then we’ll figure out what this really is. Do you need to take Max to the doctor?”
“Mom, zombies. I’m serious. The doctor is the last place I want to go. Do you still have the 30/30 and .410? If you do, go get them and keep them handy. Lock the doors and don’t answer for anyone. If they don’t look right, or don’t speak, don’t go near them.”
I heard the garage door opening, and Candi pulling in the garage.
“Mom, I gotta go, Candi is here. Yes mom, I love you too. See you soon.” I ended the call.
It’s been twelve years since the world ended. I’m starting to forget things, and every year it gets harder to remember. I had to search through fifteen houses to find a laptop that still functions. What happened to them all? Before the end, everyone I know had at least one, and sometimes two or three laptops. My fingers are starting to remember how to do this. I’m nowhere near the hundred fifteen words per minute I used to be able to type though.
I suppose if I’m penning my memoirs, I should introduce myself. My name is Victor Tookes. I’m fifty-two years old. If all had gone according to my plan, I would be retiring this year, or at least taking a consulting position for three more years until my son Max graduated from High School.
Max is the reason we’re alive today, and he’s the reason we continue to live. He had just turned three a few months before z-day.
That Day. The “D” will always be capitalized in my head when referring to it. The memory of that Day is forever seared in my mind. The Day I lost almost everything. The Day the world ended. I’m telling this story for future generations, so that they may know what I’ve learned through all of this. I’m recording the events for posterity, so the world will remember.
This is the story of my second life, my memories of the days after the apocalypse.
01. The Office
I woke up that Tuesday morning to the sound of the alarm on my phone. It was blasting the theme song from the Transformers movie. My wife Candi rolled out of bed and stumbled towards the shower. I took a moment in bed to grab my phone and check my email, but not before taking a moment to admire Candi’s beautiful figure as she walked into the light of the bathroom. She was in good shape, even after fifteen years together she was still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on. I’d always had a ‘thing’ for short women, she had managed to avoid cutting off her long dark hair when our only child Max was born.
After reading a couple of overnight emails, I got up and headed to the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee. Then it was my turn to head downstairs to “my” bathroom, mine was the one with the tiny sink and stand up shower. I showered, shaved, and ducked into the laundry room to grab a pair of slacks and a white T-shirt. From the laundry room I could hear Candi waking Max in the bedroom directly above. The thought of three and-a-half year old Max waking up always brings a smile to my face. I knew Max would be giving Candi her morning hug and kiss, and she’d be starting the arduous task of getting him dressed. I threw on my pants, noting that they were getting a little snug in the waist. I vowed for the fourth time that week that I would eat a little less fast food today. I’m not massively overweight, but I didn’t exactly lead a strenuous lifestyle in those days.
I carried my T-shirt upstairs and stopped in Max’s room
“Good Morning little buddy!” I said with a huge smile on my face.
“Morning Daddy,” said Max as he held out his arms for a good morning hug.
I gave Max a big hug and kiss on the cheek and said “I love you buddy.”
“I love you too, Daddy.” Max said in that perfect three year old way.
I stepped into my bedroom put on my T-shirt. I pulled a freshly pressed Oxford shirt, and selected a tie to go under my gray suit coat. I tossed the tie over my shoulder, grabbed my suit coat and fastened my cufflinks while I headed into the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee. I was just stirring my coffee when Max came toddling in and said, “Ser-ral bar Daddy!”
“Are you sure Dooder? Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have a bowl of cereal?”
“No way! Ser-ral bar!”
I reached into the cabinet and pulled out a cereal bar. It was strawberry flavored. His favorite. I pulled it out of the wrapper and handed it to the boy. Max walked over to his chair at the kitchen table and I turned on the TV. At six-thirty in the morning ‘Ni Hao Kai-Lan’ was coming on, Max’s current favorite show. I looked him over, as a parent often does to their child. He was tall for his age and currently a little pudgy. ‘Like his old man’, I thought. Max still had baby blonde hair, although it was just starting to darken a bit, kept in a short buzz cut. He has his father’s blue eyes, but the shape was the almost almond shape of his mother’s.
Candi stepped out of the bathroom, looking amazing in a black skirt that fell just above her knee and form fitting charcoal top. She never left the house without some sort of heel on. Today they were three inch black heels with a small platform. They were not a stripper-platform, but just close enough to invoke sexiness while still staying on the line of appropriate business attire. Candi had a way of pushing just to the edge of sexy, without being too overt for work.
“Okay boys, give me my kisses,” she said. It was part of the morning routine before she left for work. She knelt down as Max ran over, gave her a big hug and kisses and said, “Love you Mommy.”
My turn was next; as I gave her the longest kiss I could in front of Max, which is to say it was pretty chaste. I turned us both around so I could give her butt a little squeeze while I hugged her without Max seeing, and said, “Love you, see you later.”
Candi left and Max and I started putting on his socks and shoes.
“Max, are you going to play with dinosaurs at school today?” I asked. This was a habit I started shortly after enrolling him in this daycare, when he was new and didn’t want to go. We call his daycare ‘school’. Asking these questions gives him something fun to look forward to at school, and made him want to go.
“Are you going to play with race cars?”
“Are you going to play with action figures?”
“Well, let’s go then Max, there are some action figures waiting for you!”
The conversation was the same every morning, although the toy that got the ‘yes’ was different almost every day. Most mornings I could name enough toys that eventually he’d say yes. If not I could still just start the list over again until I got a yes.
Shoes on, we walked out to my truck. Max likes to walk through the grass; I prefer to walk on the sidewalk to keep the grass, dirt, and morning dew off of my shoes. I’m not a neat freak, but I do generally try to stay presentable for work. As we were walking out to the truck, I heard three gunshots in quick succession. We aren’t very far from the farm land on the outskirts of our small town, so it’s not completely unheard of to hear shots. At the time I didn’t give it much thought.
Max’s school is about five minutes up the road; we talked about the same things we talked about every other morning. Max likes to point out specific land marks and of course any large vehicles we pass. It was early summer, so there were no school buses, but he pointed out every dump truck, garbage truck and fire truck we passed. Drop-off at daycare was uneventful, and I started the ten minute drive towards the office.
I pulled into the parking spot labeled “Reserved -Victor Tookes”. When I got my latest promotion to senior vice president, they put my name on that spot. It was terribly embarrassing. It was a nice perk though, not having to carry my laptop and the reams of paper I took home with me every night all the way to my truck. The parking for junior associates is across the parking garage, down four flights of stairs, and across the alley to the office.
My office is in a fairly rough section of town. The rent on the building was cheap enough that we could hire an outside company to provide two security guards to work around the clock and still come out ahead on the rent in a more desirable part of town. The employees were safe enough walking from the building to the parking garage. Even the call center employees who left at three in the morning could get an escort to their cars. This morning, Chuck was the guard on duty patrolling the garage, and I waved to him as I passed by.
“Good morning Chuck. Looks like it’s going to be hot out again today!”
“Morning, Tookes. I’m going to be sweating in my uniform by ten am!” Most people who know me call me Tookes. My constant refrain is ‘rhymes with kooks, not cooks’. It helped make it stick in people’s heads.
As I stepped away from Chuck, we both twitched as we heard gunshots loud enough to be fairly close, within a couple of blocks. I hurried inside the building, the last thing I saw before the door closed was Chuck speaking into his radio.
My office is along the back of the building. I had a great view of an alley and of a cinderblock wall that blocked the industrial looking train tracks out back. I suppose I shouldn’t complain, at least it wasn’t a cube. Most mornings around ten-thirty my stomach started rumbling for its mid-morning coffee and bagel. There was a small café on the ground floor of the building, like every other day I walked in and said, “Good Morning Bev!”
“Good morning, Tookes,” said Bev, the manager of the store, “The usual?” She got right to work toasting a plain bagel for me without even waiting for my response.
One end of the store was all glass with a door in the middle. I watched out the window while Bev toasted my bagel. A stumbling figure walking across the street got my attention. It wasn’t because he was jaywalking, that was commonplace in this industrial city, but because he was clearly drunk at ten in the morning. He staggered into the one-way road right in front of a red car. The driver of the Toyota Camry started yelling at the guy who turned slowly and lurched towards the driver side window. “Hey Bev, did you see that? Looks like we’re going to see a fight,” I said, “Get ready to call 911.”
I stepped towards the door as the drunk started pounding on the driver side-window of the Camry. The driver didn’t wait around; the Camry sped off up the street and squealed around the corner onto Maple Avenue. The drunk held his hands out and started stumbling after the red car, but gave up after only a few steps and finished his walk across the street and into the open doorway of an apartment building.
Down the street, I noticed another drunk and thought, ‘This is getting ridiculous, even for York.’ This second drunk was really in bad shape. He looked like he’d twisted his ankle. One leg of his pants was torn almost completely off, and his tee shirt was in shreds. He walked up to a passer-by; I assumed to ask him for some change. The pedestrian shoved him, and the drunk bit him!
“Holy shit Bev! That drunk just bit some guy! Call 911!” I ran over towards the combatants, and by now the drunk had the guy down on the ground. As I was running up the drunk bit the pedestrian in the throat and ripped a substantial chunk out. That stopped me dead in my tracks. The guy bit again, pulling strings of flesh between his teeth. I watched a vein stretch and pop. The victim let out a guttural yell as blood spurted out of his neck, which was abruptly halted when the drunk took a third bite directly on the center of the throat.
I was close enough now to see that clearly the drunk wasn’t just drunk, he was really sick. I was close enough to see him swallow the bits he ripped out of the man’s throat. I realized this wasn’t an attack. It was a feeding.
Immediately ‘zombie’ came to mind. Not just because I’d seen every Romero movie, but because Candi and I had been joking about zombies the past weekend. On the Baltimore Sun’s website, there had been a story about a huge fight in a parking garage a few days earlier. All of the survivors of that fight claimed that a woman and a man had rushed into the garage and started biting and even killing people. Two people told stories of the woman eating her victims, and how she was insanely strong and really fast. It was almost like something out of a movie, they said. In all, thirty-two people were killed.
‘Maybe they are zombies,’ I thought to myself. Candi would never believe it. Fearing for my own safety, and knowing there was nothing I could do for the guy with his throat missing, I turned and ran back into the building to wait for the ambulance and police. The homeless guy got up off the pedestrian. I watched him as he walked down the road, slow and stumbling. That was when the police sirens first came within ear-shot. ‘At least they’re Romero zombies, not rage zombies like in 28 Days Later,’ I mused to myself. It’s amazing what coping mechanisms our brains create.
The attacker turned left down an alley when I saw the police cars. I ran back outside to discuss what I saw with the police. I suppose it’s a holdover from my troubled youth that I’m always hesitant to talk to the police. I’d had a hard time with it ever since I got busted blowing up mailboxes with pipe bombs in my neighborhood. Maybe it was all the things I did that I didn’t get in trouble for. Or, maybe that’s a natural instinct that everyone has. Two police cars came to a stop at the downed pedestrian, and I approached the first officer out of the cruiser.
“The attacker went down the Grant Street Alley, just a minute ago. He’s moving slowly,” I yelled to the cop as I crossed the street. A second police officer had exited the first cruiser and started that way at a trot with his hand on his sidearm. The first officer went to the downed pedestrian and radioed for the ambulance to hurry. The man was in a large maroon pool of his own blood. Even with his neck completely torn out, the blood appeared to have stopped flowing and the pool wasn’t getting any larger. I had no doubt the pedestrian was dead.
From my vantage point by the police cars, I could see parts of his vertebrae exposed all the way through his neck, and strings of gore. It looked like the victim had swallowed a huge firecracker. The bits of torn flesh laid outward down the sides of his neck. Drying blood streaks covered him from chin to navel. The two police officers from the second car also split up, one of them sprinting after the attacker, and one of them walking towards me.
I relayed the story, in detail of what I had seen. At the last minute, I included the information about the first drunk and the Camry. As soon as I finished, he asked me to point out which building the first guy went into and ran off, yelling over his shoulder to stay right there. Something tickled my brain about that, that he so quickly ran to that apartment, but before I had any time to process it I heard three gunshots from the alley way, followed by two more. After a pause of about ten seconds, I heard both officers empty the remaining bullets in their weapons.
That was enough for me, “I’m going inside!” I yelled to the first cop standing over the dead pedestrian. He motioned me to go without ever taking his eyes off the corpse, his hand on his gun. It was much later that I realized he was waiting for the victim to stand back up. I turned to open the door to my office building when the first cops partner came walking out of the alley holding his left hand; even from my position across the street, I could see he was bleeding profusely. He was missing his pinky.
I walked through the café and up the stairs back to my desk. When I got there I pulled up every news site I could think of. CNN.com, newyorktimes.com, I even pulled up foxnews.com to see how they were blaming democrats for the zombies. There was not a single word about zombies on any of the big news sites.
Maybe I was imagining things, I thought, maybe Candi really would laugh at me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was right though. What else would explain what I saw? I saw a man eat another man’s neck. I watched him swallow huge bites. And what would explain all the gun shots? I heard several shots, followed by a pause, before they emptied their weapons at the man. What I saw didn’t coincide with the reports from Baltimore over the weekend; those descriptions were of super-human strength and speed. These things I saw were barely able to walk.
I turned to YouTube. I searched everything I could think of, and finally searched Zombie Baltimore and got a hit. I watched a grainy cell phone video of a man ripping huge chunks out of a woman’s shoulder and swallowing them. I turned my leather office chair sideways, leaned back and put my hands behind my head to think. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement behind the graffiti covered cinderblock wall that was my office view. All I could see was the top of a head, the scalp partially removed, flopped over to one side like a bad comb-over in a wind storm. Two more figures moved slowly by. From my vantage point, I could only see the top couple inches of their head, but it was clear that they were not walking normally.
For the first time since all of this started, I got the feeling that things would get bad; and it would get bad quickly. I moved out of my office window to the break room on the side of the building. Walking through the rows of desks, I had the strong urge yell, ‘Get out of here, there are zombies outside!’ But who would believe me? Inside the break room, I could see the alley, and I could see Chuck. Chuck was leaning against the elevator of the parking garage, pepper spray in his hand. There were two of the things on either side of him.
I almost ran to the windows on the front of the building. From my second floor vantage point, I could see down to the police cars, and the ambulance that had finally arrived. They were loading the pedestrian victim into an ambulance; he was already on a gurney. They pushed the gurney over to the ambulance. Right as they bent down to lift the gurney into the back, the corpse on the stretcher abruptly sat up and bit the front medic on the nose, completely removing it. The medic threw his hands over his face, blood spurting out between his fingers as I stood there transfixed; horrified as the creature on the gurney chewed and swallowed the medic’s nose. The injured medic climbed in the back of the ambulance, and the other ran around the front of the truck. The corpse on the gurney struggled within the straps that were holding him pinned, from the waist down, to the bed. The doors slammed shut and the ambulance took off at a high rate of speed. The freshly reanimated corpse slowly rolled down the street, still strapped to the gurney.
The police officers were nowhere to be found. One car was still there, and one of the officers had lost his hat on the sidewalk.
That made up my mind; I needed to get Candi and Max out of town. I needed to get them safe. When I thought of Max, all thoughts for my own security flew out the window. All I could think of was getting to him and making sure he was safe. Candi would never believe me. If I’d snapped a picture of the zombie ripping the victim’s throat out and sent it to her, she would still never believe me. I had to come up with a way to make her come home. She worked about forty minutes south of York, so I needed her on the road, now. I texted her, “Max is in trouble. Come home now. My phone is dead.” She would be pissed at me if I couldn’t convince her that this was real when she got home.
I was at the bottom of the stairwell when I got her return text ‘omw’. ‘Good, Candi was on the way home. Now I just have to make it to the truck’, I thought.
The door closest to the parking garage was a gray solid steel door. There was no window to look through, and it had been about five minutes since I’d looked outside at Chuck. Last time I could see, he was by himself, but I couldn’t help thinking, “what if the ones from behind the block wall at the back of the building had come around?”
I quickly looked around and there was nothing to defend myself with, and there was a nagging voice in the back of my head that I was over reacting to this whole thing anyways. I opened the door outwards and stuck my head out. The door swung back towards the building, and I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. The nagging feeling got a little stronger, and I stepped out towards the parking garage.
As soon as I was out in the open, I ran towards the parking garage I heard a chorus of low moans. Over my shoulder I saw a group of ten or twelve of them shambling down the alley towards me. One of them appeared to be slightly more coordinated than the rest; he was at a near trot. That scared me into action, and I took off running as fast as I could for the truck.
I sprinted across the alley, rounded the corner and ran straight into Chuck. Or what used to be Chuck, all that was left of his uniform shirt was the shoulders and sleeves, the front and back had been ripped away, and it looked like a pack of wild dogs had been feasting on his intestines. The little that was left of his guts was hanging down his legs. I crashed into him so hard we both went flying. I landed on top of Chuck, his hands came up to grip my throat. Kicking hard to roll to my side, and grabbed at chuck’s hands. His grip wasn’t very strong, I was able to force his hands away from my neck, but doing so put my hands very close to his jaws. I forced his arm down across his face, effectively plugging his mouth with his own chew-marked bicep, which bought me the time to leap off of him. I took off running, hoping that his lack of mid-section muscles would make it harder for him to get up. I was halfway up the stairs before Chuck regained his footing, and started after me. The crowd that had been coming down the alley was right behind Chuck, and starting up the narrow stairs. Running up the stairs I was fumbling in my pocket for the key fob of my truck, which had broken off my keychain a couple of days before. Cursing myself for not getting that replaced sooner, I managed to get my finger on the unlock button just a step from my Four Runner. I ripped the door open and leapt inside. I’m not sure how long the window would hold with Chuck beating on it, that’s not a piece of data I was interested in testing.
As quickly as I could, I started the truck and inched forward. The creatures were all around the truck now, and it was rocking slightly back and forth from their pressure. I couldn’t bring myself to run them over. I’d seen every zombie movie ever made, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that these were people, and maybe we’d find a cure for this. I doubt we could cure poor Chuck of his missing entrails, but some of these people didn’t look so bad. I inched my way through the throng, and sped away as soon as I’d managed to nudge them away from the front of the truck.
‘I bet Candi won’t make fun of my brush guard now’, I thought to myself. No telling how much damage it had absorbed, but one side of it was slightly bent. It must have taken an enormous amount of strength to bend that, it wasn’t solid steel, but it was made of one half inch welded tube.
When I bought the Four Runner a year before, Candi had made fun of me for spending an extra $4,500 customizing it. She called it my “Mall Crawler”, because with the exception of driving through the yard a few times my thirty-five inch tires had never seen any dirt. At the time I didn’t really care, I loved the off-road look. I loved the lights mounted to the roof rack, even if they’d never had their covers off. I loved having my spare tire up on the rack like those safari vehicles in Africa. Maybe it would all pay off now.