Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mallville Special - Turning to Ash

Hey, hey, don't try to sit up so fast. You're safe, just relax. You're lucky to be alive, I guess we all are though, right? Here, have some water, you've been out for awhile.

Who am I? The name's Ash, and I'm the chosen one.

What? Okay, so that's not totally true. I'm not the chosen one (not as far as I know anyway), and I'm not THAT Ash. Actually, I didn't even used to be Ash. I'm not gonna bore you with that though, don't worry.

So where are you from, anyway? I haven't seen a lot of people since after Mallville blew up. Oh that's okay, you don't need to tell me al that if you don't want, I won't be offended.I'm sorry if I'm talking too much, it's just I've not had much chance to talk to a living person in awhile, you know?

What? You do want to know about me? Okay, well I was born Samuel Haff, but when the world took everything from me, that me, the Sam me, died and I rose from the ashes. Rose from the ashes, get it? Heh heh... yeah, sorry.

Anyways, I was always a big fan of Bruce Campbell, so when it came time to re-invent myself, who else would I choose? I mean, I didn't really choose or anything, not consciously, but some part of me chose. You know, I like to think that he's still out there somewhere slaying the undead. I think he'd be proud of me if he could see me.

I once told this guy I met that no one would want to hear my story. Of course I then proceeded to tell him my story, and he did legitimately seem interested. Those guys were in a bad way, but if there are such a thing as good guys and bad guy, they were the good guys. I haven't seen those people since Christmas, I wonder what's become of them.

Anyway, as I'm sure you remember, the end of the world started on a Sunday afternoon in March, although I don't think anyone knew it was the end of the world at the time. I was at work at T-Mart, where I worked in, of course, housewares. This was supposed to just be a job to earn some money to enroll for classes in the summer, not the last job I would ever have. I was about halfway through my shift when I saw the first signs of the end of everything.

I had noticed that it was quieter than normal for a Sunday, but I liked having time to re-merchandise some shelves without people moving stuff or leaving their trash on the temporarily empty shelves. I swear, some of the people that shopped at Tyranno Mart... I should have started a website about it.

Being inside of a T-Mart was kind of like being inside a casino, you know? Is it daytime? Nighttime? Raining? Summer? Winter? Has the world ended? Who knows, it's always midday bright and seventy-eight degrees. Even our TVs were just a DVD on loop most of the time. As a result I had no idea what was happening in the rest of the world until a co-worker told me.

“Did you hear what's going on?” Hector asked me as he was heading to the back. Hector Rodriguez was an interesting guy, maybe not the best worker in the world, but not a slacker either.

“Nope, someone getting fired or something?” I asked.

“Naw man, something up at the hospital,” Hector replied, “A riot or something.”

That got my attention. You see, my mom was a nurse at Covenant General, and she was supposed to be on duty.

“A riot? Are you sure?”

“They were sayin' on the radio that there's a bunch of police and stuff there, an' that some people were trying to bite people.”

And that was when I figured that Hector was just making a lame joke, “Biting? Get out of here, stop wasting my time, man.”

“No, I'm serious. Go check out the TV in the lounge, man, I'm sure it's on there too.”

I would have, but a scream echoed through the store at that moment. Hector and I both headed in that direction; not because we knew that something bad was happening, but because we were nosy. I figured someone saw a mouse or something, or maybe a shoplifter was getting busted.

The scream had come from the front door; it was our greeter, Dotty. She musta had quite a set of lungs in her seventy year old body for her voice to carry across the store like that. Dotty was laying on the floor clutching a wound on her left arm while two of our cart wranglers were wrestling a middle aged man to the ground.

The man was wearing a thin blue bathrobe over a white t-shirt and blue striped pajama bottoms. I could tell immediately that something was wrong with him, and it was the pajamas or the fact that had bitten Dotty that were the clue, we got people in the store dressed like that all the time. It wasn't even the fact he was fighting Raj and Edgar, trying to bite them either, as that wasn't really all that uncommon either.

What seemed off about this guy, the thing that set him apart from your average meth-head, was his color. I mean, he was a white guy and all, but really white; his skin was almost gray. He was the first zombie I ever saw... first of many, unfortunately.

“It's jus' like on the radio, man!” Hector said to me, pointing at the struggling man.

“Ow, fuck!” Edgar yelled as the gray man bit him on the upper right arm; his teeth making a ragged whole in Ed's blue polo shirt. Edgar shoved the man away from him, and Raj let go too, sending the man stumbling towards me and Hector.

The man looked at me for a moment, and I could see that his eyes were milky white. The zombie started to stumble towards me as Hector backed away. I didn't know what to do, so I turned and grabbed the nearest thing, a shopping cart from the corral, and shoved it into the man.

“Someone do something!” I yelled as the ghoul tried to reach me over the length of the cart..

“Sam, in here!” called Odette Walker, one of the cashiers. She was standing next to the Game Zone family friendly arcade room (which consisted of two rigged crane games, two hunting light gun games, and an old Crazy Taxi with the seat stuck as close to the steering wheel as possible so that no one over five feet tall can even play) with her hand on the controls to raise and lower the room's gate.

I turned, keeping the cart between myself and the gray man, and shoved him in the direction of the arcade as hard as I could. The man stumbled towards the doorway, still trying to reach for me over the cart as we went. Together, myself, the zombie, and the empty shopping cart charged into the arcade. I let the cart go at the doorway as Odette started lowering the gate.

The cart stopped rolling forwards as soon as I let go, but the zombie kept stumbling backwards, its arms flailing like a man trying to regain his balance. Like most zombies though, this one wasn't very coordinated, and he ended up stumbling into and tripping over the Crazy Taxi game's seat.

The gate finished coming down as the gray man struggled back to his feet. He shamble-ran to the gate, and pounded his fists against it while pretty much everyone in the front of the store gathered around to look at this strange creature with the gray flesh and ring of red around its mouth, kinda like a little girl putting on her mom's lipstick for the first time, or maybe a person who really enjoys their watermelon.

“What is going on up here?” bellowed a voice better suited for football field than the storefront in front of customers (all four of them). It was Tom, one of the assistant managers (or “ass man” For short).

Tom was the very model of a modern T-Mart manager, always clad in a white dress shirt and a T-Mart neck tie the same color as my hideous green vest with Terry the T-Rex's smiling face on it. If you saw Tom it generally meant you were in some sort of trouble since he only ever came out of his office to berate someone for something.

No one answered Tom's question, as we were all still too busy looking at the gray man throwing himself against the gate to the arcade, as if he could pass through it just by sheer effort and get to us.

“Why is there a man locked in the Fun Center?” Tom asked, and then he saw Odette helping Dotty to her feet, “What happened? Are you hurt?” his tone was still severe, but not as confident.

“That man bit Dotty and Edgar, Mister Wingates,” Raj answered.

“It's like on the news!” Hector said.

Tom looked angry, “Raj, take Edgar and Dotty in back to the first aid kit. I'm going to call the cops,” and he started to take long strides across the front of the store over to the Customer Service Manager's stand in front of the long row of cash registers.

As a point of fact, Tom should have already been up there that day. He was scheduled to fill in as CSM since he had not wanted to schedule one for the afternoon, but Tom's office was his own little fortress in the land of T-Mart, and he was always reluctant to leave it for anything.

“Get back to work all of you!” Tom yelled, rather inappropriately in front of the customers I thought, as he stomped away from us. Odette and the other cashiers scurried back to their registers while Hector went to clock in from lunch. I stayed, looking back and forth between the gray man and Tom as he got on the phone.

“Sam, don't you have work to do?” Tom called to me.

“I'm on break,” I replied back, and slipped my green vest off, folding it in half, and then in half again and stuffing it into the pocket of my khakis.

“Go find something else to do then!”

So I went into the Burger Bro next to the Fun Zone.

“Hey bro, what can I get you today,” said Xuxa Tarico in a tone that said I-would-rather-be-anywhere-than-here.


“Oooh, big spender there, Sam.”

“That's how I get all the ladies,” I replied. Xuxa laughed and got me a cup of ice water from the soda dispenser.

When I came out of Burger Bro, Hector had returned with a mop bucket and was cleaning up the blood that had dripped on the floor from Dotty and Edgar's wounds. He kept looking up at the gray man as he mopped, and he looked seriously freaked out.

I thought of going back to my locker and calling my mom, but at that moment I was too interested in Tom's phone call.

“What do you mean you can't send anyone?” he said too loudly, “Someone just assaulted two of my employees, they need medical attention and he needs to be arrested!”

Tom listened for awhile, his face alternating from scared, to impatient, to pissed off, to confused, and then back to scared again. I wouldn't be surprised to have found out he crapped his shorts there, but in the next few days we all would, yeah?

“Yes, gray skin,” Tom said into the phone, and then a pause, “well, yes, we sell guns, but,” another pause, “What do you mean shoot him?” he bellowed.

I walked casually over to Tom as he looked at the phone curiously before hanging it up, “Problems, sir?” I asked in my best employee voice.

“They're not sending anyone. They said that they don't have to resources to send someone out for just one of them. They said to just shoot him.”

I sucked some water through my straw, and said, “Sounds like maybe we should close up.”

Tom looked at me, fire in his eyes, “I am not closing this store.”

It ended up that Raj tried to drive Edgar and Dotty to the hospital, but they were back before the end of my shift. Raj said that the hospital was all blocked off, and that they couldn't get near it for all the cops and news vans.

“The cop at the roadblock said that everything was under control, but that if their injuries weren't life threatening that he couldn't let us through, “Raj explained to me, “He said a lot of people were bit today, and to just clean and bandage the wound, that's all they were doing for people at the hospital anyway.”

So yeah, they totally did not understand what was going on, but it was about a week before anyone really put it together. It wouldn't have made any difference to the people who were bitten even if they did know that first day. I suppose it might have saved the rest of us though.

When I got home that night, mom was already there, a thick white bandage wrapped around her left hand. She was in our smallish kitchen, I say smallish because it was big enough for all four of us to be in there together, but only just barely.

Mom was making Hamburger Helper (she worked long hours, so I never gave her crap for the fact that most of our meals came out of boxes and cans, at least they didn't come out of drive-thru windows) , while my sisters helped. Mel, she was nine, was making a salad, and Becky, eight, was gathering up silverware to set the table with.

Dad was not in the picture, he left shortly after Becky was born to move to Utah and marry three other women, so neither of the girls have any memories of him. We never saw him, and rarely heard from him, but the Christmas and birthday presents from him and our step-moms were epic. I don't know why mom tolerated that, but she did.

Mom had changed out of her scrubs and was wearing a blue sweatsuit and a grease stained apron with the phrase “Southern Cookin' Makes You Good Lookin'” on it over a caricature of Paula Deen's face. She generally only changed before making dinner when she had gotten blood, or some other nasty substance on her clothes at work.

“Mom, what happened to your hand?” I asked before she could even say hello.

“You've heard what's going on, right?” she asked.

“The crazy people?” I asked, “Yeah, we had one in the store, still do actually. Do you know that the people at nine-one-one told Tom to shoot the guy? Is that insane of what?”

“They're not crazy people, Sam,” her voice sounded unusually shaky when she said that.

Let me get something straight here, my mom was not a weak person; she was not one of those cry-at-the-drop-of-a-hat, Lifetime-watching, Oprah-following women (although she did read Twilight, but I guess everyone has a vice, right?). Hearing that shakiness in her voice was really unusual.

Mom put the skillet on one of the cold burners, and motioned for me to go into the living room. She followed me in there, “Sam, these people are dead.”

“The guy seemed pretty active for a corpse, he bit Dotty, the door greeter. They wouldn't help her at the hospital, what's up with that, mom?”

Mom held her bandaged hand up to me. There was a splatter of greasy gravy on it from the Hamburger Helper, “I saw it with my own eyes, okay?”

“What happened?”

“A girl who was brought in. she had fallen down the stairs is what we were told; she died before we could do much for her. CPR failed, everything failed, and Doctor Cosroy had called her TOD. We were getting ready to move her down to the morgue when she opened her eyes.

“We thought we had made some sort of mistake, maybe the EKG was not working right or something. When Cosroy tried to check her pulse, she bit him; took a big chunk out of his arm. When I tried to restrain her, she bit me too.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, comparatively,” she said shrugging, “It happened in other parts of the hospital too. Another one in Emergency, one up in ICU, and four down in the morgue. Marvin Dellindo was killed by one of them.”

“Wow, mom, that's horrible.”

She shook her head, “No, it's worse. He turned into one of them. They had to shoot him; had to shoot all of them.”

“Are you going to be okay?”

“I feel fine, but the hospital is still a mess. They've been turning away anyone without major injuries. A lot of bites, like mine.”

Thinking back on all this, and even considering that my own mom was one of those effected, why the hell did no one think to quarantine people who had been bitten until they knew what they were dealing with? How many people around the world were just left to roam around until the infection, The Zed Virus, killed them? Turned them?

Maybe it wouldn't have saved the world in the long run, but maybe it would have saved Becky and Mel. I'm sorry about my mom, but if I could have saved my sisters....

No need to dwell on that though, right?

I watched the news that night, not something I normally did, and was surprised to see that this was going on all over the world, and that absolutely no one knew what to do about it. Some people were saying it was God's wrath, some said it was because there was no more room in hell (yeah, I saw that movie too). Still others, the ones that could maybe have been called more rational, were saying it was some sort of mutated viral infection, but that didn't make sense, I mean how would it mutate the same way at the same time all over the world? I guess I should have paid more attention in biology.

Then there were the real nutbags; you remember these type, right? You know, the ones who didn't know what the cause of it was, but they were damned sure that it was the end of the world. One point for them, I guess.

Looking back, there is only one thing that was certain on that first day. It was a worldwide thing, and no one, not the president, the press, the brainboxes, no one knew what to do about it. They were able to kill the things easily enough, but no one knew it was communicable. We would know soon.

I went to work like normal the next day. The streets were emptier than normal for a Monday, and instead of the usual golden-ager greeting at the front door to the store there were two of our larger stockers, Aiden and Rocco, and they were armed with baseball bats.

I noticed that the gate to the Fun Zone had been covered with a blue tarp. I didn't hear anything moving inside there, but I don't know if there was any real significance to that. I headed to the back to clock in.

I ran into Bob Valentine, the supervisor of the electronics department, at the time clock. Now if Tom was the epitome of retail management, then Bob was the opposite of it. Bob usually wears short sleeved shirts instead of long sleeved ones like Tom, and spends almost no time in his office.

Bob was essentially still more one of us hourly workers than the salaried management, and how he got to be in management I'll never know. He was the sort of guy who would take his “Ask Me, I Care” name badge and add the word “if” to the middle of it in tiny letters. Basically he was a good guy.

“Hey Sam, how's things?” Bob asked as I swiped my badge to clock in.

“I'm a little surprised the store is open today.” I said.

“Why?” Bob asked, “With Seras off in Hawaii, and Wingates in charge it would take nothing short of the end of the world to close this store.”

“Some people are saying it is the end of the world.”

Bob waved a hand in the air, “No way. I don't know what's going on, but the government will figure something out and kill those things. We're safe in here in any case, Rocco and Aiden aren't going to let any of those zombie people in.”

Bob was reading an email that had been thumbtacked to the corkboard next to the timeclock. It was an email from home office telling us to run like normal unless directed to close by local authorities. I guess in some of the more urban markets they were already having a problem with looters and the spread of the undead.

There was one paragraph that had been highlighted towards the bottom, “In order to protect Tyranno-Mart associates, customers, and property, we are authorizing employees to incapacitate any undead aggressors present on the premises of your store. Store management is to replace scheduled door greeters with willing associates they deem most suitable to this end. According to government officials then best ways of incapacitating the undead are by removing the head or destroying the brain. Please keep your own safety as well as the safety of merchandise and customers in mind if you are forced to do this.”

“Wow, never thought I'd see that in a corporate email,” Bob said after reading, “Hey, doesn't your mom work at the hospital? That's where it all started. I she okay?”

“One of those things bit her, but she says she's okay,” I said, “She was a little freaked out by it all, but she was going back to work today, so I guess she must think it's under control.”

“Uh oh,” Bob said, pointing to Tom Wingates coming down the hall towards us, “Prepare to get yelled at.”

“You two need to get out on the floor,” said Tom in a much more subdued tone than normal, “We had a lot of call-ins today. Bob, I need you in your department, Sam finish getting the stockroom ready for tomorrow's delivery as fast as possible, and then come find me; I may need to put you on a register.”

Bob looked at him curiously, “You okay, Tom?”

“Huh?” Tom asked, distractedly, “Yeah, I'm fine. Go on, get to work.”

I never had to get on a register, as it was really quiet, even for a Monday. There were a few of the regulars in; the Hot Wheels collectors pestering Toys and Sports to see if any new cases had come in, the old guy who just seems to wander the store for two hours and then just buys one thing, that sort of thing. Then there were a few of the doomsdayers; the ones who were certain that this was the end of the world and wanted to stock on before the store was cleared out.

The doomsdayers were right of course, except that the store shelves never did clear out before we closed.

Mom didn't come home at all that night, but she called to let us know that she was okay. She said that the hospital had taken on an almost warzone-like atmosphere with armed police officers along with the normal hospital security stationed all over the place, especially the emergency room.

She told me that they were seeing an increase in suicide attempts, people trying to get help with bite wounds, accidental shootings, and that sort of thing. She sounded pretty freaked out by it all, but told me to keep the girls inside and safe, and that she would be home in the morning.

It was announced on the news that night that the school would not be open on Tuesday, which made Becky and Mel happy. They found a friend that they could stay with so I could still go to work, and so that mom could rest if she was able to come home.

Even less people showed up for work that third day, and there was no email from home office at all which was odd. The truck showed up three hours late, and the driver told us that the highways were a nightmare; people trying to get from one place to another for no obvious reason since the problem was everywhere. He also told us that after this he was heading back home to Alabama to be with his family until this was all over. I hope he made it.

There were more doomsdayers in that day, and we had quite a run on baseball bats, axes, crow bars, and tire irons. We had none of our regulars though, not even the old guy who just wanders. That massive over-order of ammunition in the sporting goods department finally resolved itself as a lot of people came in for ammo. We didn't sell any guns though, no one wanted to wait the ten days until we could release them. Good call.

I think the lack of contact with home office freaked Tom out more than anything up to that point; even more than when Rocco had to fight that zombie in the parking lot that had a woman and her kids trapped in their car. I helped him drag the body around to the side of the store were there were already three other bodies stinking to high heaven, including our original gray man. Of course that is a smell I would come to know well, since everything smells like it now.

At the end of my shift I decided that maybe the doomsdayers had a point, and stocked up on some canned foods. Whatever happened we would have a couple of weeks worth of canned ravioli, soup, vegetables, and Beefy Cheese and chips. Alright, the last one was not really an end of the world provision, I just liked the stuff.

Mom came home that night, but she went right to bed. She said she was feeling tired, and who could blame her? I mean she had just worked something like a thirty hour shift. Of course that wasn't the real problem, but I wouldn't know that for a couple more days, and by then it would be way too late.

On the fourth day, Wednesday, a number of things happened. Tom totally freaked out because not only did we not get anything from home office in email, but he couldn't even get a hold of our district manager. No replies to email, no answers on the phone, nothing.

Then there were the zombies. Aiden and Rocco had both not shown up for their shifts as armed greeters, so Tyrone took up the bat at the door. There were maybe a half a dozen of us that showed up that day, so no one noticed when Tyrone went out into the parking lot after one of the undead, and three more got into the store.

Odette was the only cashier that day, but she had left her register to find Tom, and didn't see them come in. Bob was the first one to see one of them, and he alerted the rest of us.

The overhead music stopped and Bob called over the speakers, “There's one in the store, in electronics!” he called into the phone, followed by “Shit! Aaagh!” and then the sounds of scuffling.

I was working on restocking the canned vegetables aisle, trying to do an entire pallet by myself. I got up from where I was kneeling, taking my box cutter and a can of peas as the closest weapons to me, and ran for electronics.

I cut through the crafts section, and as I was rounding the corner to the kids crafts aisle (tempura paints, glitter, construction paper, sheets of felt, that sort of stuff) I had my second up close and personal encounter with the living dead. It was a middle aged woman with bright red hair and gray roots, and I ran smack into her as I rounded a corner, knocking her into the shelves.

“Sorry, ma'am,” I said, and then she grabbed for me, and I noticed her skin and eyes. I pushed her back away from me against the shelves, knocking over a few bottles of glitter glue, and sending a couple of small jars of glitter to the floor where they burst open, and scattered gold and silver glitter everywhere.

I threw the can of peas at the dead woman; it struck her in the face, and then thunked to the floor. Far from killing the woman, it seemed to kinda piss her off. “Stay back!” I yelled, holding my box cutter out in a threatening but totally useless manner. What the hell was I planning to do with it? It would take a long time to decapitate her with it.

The zombie woman started towards me, and suddenly a three foot long shaft appeared in the side of the woman's neck, sending her stumbling into the shelf again. As the woman tried to regain her balance a second one appeared in her right shoulder. I realized then that these were arrows.

Turning in the direction that the arrows had come from, a third arrow thunked solidly into the zombie's chest, knocking more crafty things to the floor.

Another arrow, this one in the throat near the first one, and the zombie was starting to resemble a pin cushion. There was a long pause after the fourth arrow, and the zombie actually got a couple of steps, almost past the edge of the gondola and out of my view when the fifth arrow appeared in the woman's forehead. She stumbled back hard into the shelf, and slid down it to the floor, pulling a bunch of bottles of glue and glitter down on top of her.

Some of the glitter bottles broke open, covering the dead woman with little metallic sparkly bits.

“Hey, it's Esme Cullen!” Odette said pointing to the sparkly corpse as she stepped around the endcap and into view. She was holding a dark green hunting bow in her left hand, and had faux leather quiver of arrows hanging from her right hip.

“Where did you get that?” I asked, my heart pounding in my chest.

“Sporting goods. I was near there when Bob called,”

“And rather than get a gun you grabbed a bow an arrow?” I asked, “Couldn't you find the Red Ryder BB rifles?”

“I don't have keys to the gun case, now do I?”

We heard a crash a short distance away, and headed in that direction together, Odette with her bow and arrows and me with my mighty, mighty, completely useless box cutter.

We found Bob standing over a dead man, blackish blood leaking from its head. He was clutching a badly dented frying pan in his hands, and there was blood dripping from a wound in his neck and shoulder.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“I'm doing better than him,” Bob panted, pointing to the corpse on the floor, “Clean up on aisle 42, eh?”

The third zombie was killed over in automotive by Betsy Zimmer, who had brained the monster with one of the last tire irons in stock. She had managed to kill it without any injury, but she lost a part of herself in the fight. For the rest of the day she just stood around wide-eyed and silent, like something had broken inside of her..

That was it for Tom, he must have decided that it really was the end of the world, and he ordered the store closed. The gate was pulled across the front, that final register, with its three or four transactions, was counted down, and Tyranno-Mart closed forever. Kinda makes me a little misty-eyed thinking about it.

The fifth day, Thursday, I stayed at home with my sisters. Mom had not come home again on Wednesday night, but she called to let us know she was okay. She sounded bad; really tired, but I chalked that up to how much she was working.

In the afternoon I got a call from Bob from work. He said that a few of them, him, Tom, Hector, Xuxa, Tyrone, and a couple of others, were going to hole up in the T-Mart. It had food, it was secure, and they could protect the place from looters. We hadn't actually had any looting in Covenant yet, but I don't consider what I've done looting. If you do it merely to survive, it's not really looting, is it?

I thanked Bob for the offer, but turned him down. “I've got my mom and sister to look after,” I said.

“You can bring them too, we have plenty of food here for a few weeks, and I'm sure this will all be over by then,” Bob offered, “Tom's bringing his wife.”

“I got some supplies here, I'm sure we'll be fine,” I said, having no idea just how wrong I was. Although being inside the T-Mart wouldn't have made a difference in the end; might have made it worse really.

“Well give us a call if you change your mind, and we'll let you in.”

I thanked Bob again, and hung up.

Mom came home that night, and she looked horrible, all pale and stuff. She assured me that it was just exhaustion. I made dinner, and served mom in bed. She spilled her glass of juice; it was like she was having trouble seeing clearly. She barely ate anything that night.

In the morning mom told me to call the hospital and tell them that she couldn't come in; that she had a bad flu or something. I wasn't able to actually get anyone at the hospital to answer their phone, so I left voice messages at a few of the numbers I tried.

I didn't watch TV much that weekend. When I wasn't busy taking care of mom, I was taking care of the girls. They helped me with mom as much as they could, but they really were making more work for me. I didn't have the heart to tell them that though; they were scared enough as it is.

I sleep with my door closed, have since I was old enough to value my own personal privacy. It is this fact alone that probably saved my life. The girls always slept with their door open, and so did mom. I wonder if I had closed mom's door if it would have made a difference? I mean, I've seen that some of them can work door knobs.

It was Sunday morning, one week from when it all started, when my own personal world ended. I woke up to the sound of something crashing somewhere in the house. I leaped out of bed, and opened my bedroom door. My first thought was that someone had dropped something in the kitchen, but the lack of either mom cursing herself for dropping something or the girls arguing told me that wasn't the case.

My second thought was that one of the zombies had wandered into our neighborhood, and was trying to get into the house. My mind went to the shotgun in mom's closet. The gun was one of the few things my dad left us, and mom said I could take it with me when I moved out, but for the time being it stayed in her bedroom. I knew she had the shells for it in there somewhere too, and I went for her room to try and get her to tell me where they were.

Umm, things get pretty bad here, are you sure you want me to go on?

Okay, just gimme a second here...

So I went into mom's room to ask her about the gun, but the thing was she wasn't in her bed. The sheets and blankets were dragged halfway across the floor, and the lamp on her nightstand was on the floor, broken into a dozen blue ceramic pieces. There were other things on the floor too, the pictures of me and my sisters that usually sat on top of her dresser had also been knocked to the floor, the glass in a couple of the frames had broken and the pieces of glass glittered in what little light was peeking in around the curtains.

I completely forgot about getting the gun, and went to the girl's room next to check on them. What I saw there froze me in my tracks. The room was bathed in blue light from the sunshine coming through their thin curtains, and it made the blood look almost black.

The bedding from both of the girls' beds was tossed on the floor, and the nightstand between their beds was tipped forward onto the floor, the carousel lamp that sat on it looked like someone had stepped on it, and some of the crushed horses seemed to look up at me from the floor, pleading with me to put everything right again.

The sheets were more black than white, blood that could only have been from the girls was soaked into it in large splotches. Had someone broken in while I slept? Was it looters? What had they done with the girls? I should go get the gun, even if it's not loaded, maybe I can scare them off.

I started to go back towards mom's room when I heard the noise again; it was something crashing in the kitchen. I went as quietly as I could to see what it was. There was a person standing at the sink, on the floor next to her was the dish strainer with pieces of what had been the dishes I washed after Saturday night's dinner. Two of the chairs from the kitchen table were knocked over, and there was a big splash of white powder next to the stove from the flour canister that used to sit on the counter.

The person was my mother, I recognized her nightdress. She stopped moving as I approached, as if she sensed me there.

“Mom?” I asked quietly, “Are you okay?”

As I reached out to put a hand on her shoulder, she turned to face me. I'm not ashamed to admit that I did piss myself then, you would too if it was your mom, and you're a goddamned fool or a liar if you say otherwise. What stared me in the eyes, mouth open in a silent howl, was a ghoulish impersonation of my mother. Her face and the front of her nightdress were stained with drying blood. It was a deadite right out of the movies.

What I might have known, not that I would have had the balls to do anything about it, mind you, if I had watched the news the night before was that the people who had been bitten in the first couple of days were dying from an infection apparently transmitted by the blood and saliva of the zombies. You didn't have to be killed outright to succumb to the Zed Virus, you could be infected and die slowly before rising up too.

I think I said something upon seeing my zombified mother and drenching my shorts, but I don't know what it was. It was probably just gibberish; certainly not anything snarky or courageous. Bruce Campbell would have had something clever to say there, but that was still Sam Haff facing his undead mom, not me as I am now, not Ash.

Mom came at me, trying to grab me, but I stepped back, and threw one of the two chairs that were still upright down in front of me as I did. Mom tripped over the chair, and went down into the pile of flour on the floor.

I rounded the table, looking for something to use as a weapon. I passed up the knife block, there was no way I was going to be able to use anything in that against her.

Mom turned to look at me, the flour on her her face making her look like some nightmare mime, as if mimes weren't scary enough to begin with. She started to get to her feet, and I grabbed the first suitable weapon I saw, a frying pan that had been in the dish strainer was sitting on the floor.

“Stay back!” I warned my mother, brandishing the pan like a club. She came at me and I swung. It sounded, to my ears anyway, like someone ringing a church bell when the pan struck her head. She staggered back into the kitchen table, making its legs scrape on the linoleum floor.

I swung the frying pan again as my mother came at me, her milky white eyes staring at me; through me. “CLANG”, the pan hit her, “CLANG, CLANG,” I hit her again and again. She fell to the floor, and I kept hitting her until she stopped moving.

I dropped the pan on the floor with a final clank as I stood over my dead mother. I was panting from the exertion, and I realized that I was crying. My tears were not the only moisture on me though; I looked down at the white t-shirt that I has slept in and saw that I was covered in sprays of her reddish-black blood.

I think one of the most interesting things about the zombies is their blood. They seem to bleed, you know? Like a normal living person, but their blood is more black than red. Is this caused by some sort of oxygen deprivation? Is it just a byproduct of the Zed Virus? Maybe someday I'll try and find someone smarter than me who might know the answer.

After standing in the kitchen for what seemed like hours I suddenly felt the need to be somewhere else. I had to get out of the house; I had to get outside. I knew the street would look normal, and I had to get somewhere normal, I couldn't cope with this.

I ran from the kitchen, through the dining room, and into the living where I stopped short. The girls were there, trying to open the front door. I guess they wanted to get outside too. I'm not sure why they didn't come for me in the kitchen, maybe they thought it was still just mom in there making noise, maybe they can't really hear that well (I don't think this is true, as later experiences have taught that they damn well can hear). All I know for sure is if all three of them had come at me, the old Sam Haff me, in the kitchen I would not be telling you this story right now.

Mel and Becky turned on me, and if I hadn't already pissed myself, I would have then. My mother looked almost normal compared to the nightmare the girls had become. Their pajamas, cute matching things, white with lots of little blue birdies on them, were soaked in blood; their own blood.

It looked like Mom had gone for Becky first, which makes sense since her bed was closest to the door. I like to think that Becky never woke up as Mom attacked her. Her throat had been torn out, and there was just a gaping bloody hole, her blood, was still slowly flowing from the wound and down the front of her pajamas.

Mel must have woken up while the thing that was our mom was killing her sister. The sleeves of her pajamas were torn and bloodied. She must have fought hard, but she was just too small to fight off an adult, even an undead one Her head was hanging at an odd angle, I think Mom may have broken her neck.

The one thing that haunted me then, still does I guess, is that I slept through it. Mel must have screamed; must have made noise and I didn't hear it. I failed them totally and completely. Of course that's only part of what killed Sam Haff, a big part, but there's more, and I'm still getting to it if you still want to hear.

You do? Okay.

My sisters, or at least the undead monsters that had been my sisters, ran at me and I froze. The thing about kid zombies, and it's kind of an odd thing, is how fast they are. I haven't run in to too many, but they all have been so much faster than adults, and I can't figure out why.

Mel and Becky hit me, and drove me off of my feet. I hit the carpet hard with the girls on top of me, and something in me clicked. I think maybe it was beginning of who I am now; the first bit of Sam Haff turning to Ash, or maybe that was when I brained my own mother with a frying pan.... Yeah, it was probably then really, so this would be the second part of the change.

I fought; the girls were light, and I was able throw them off easily. Becky recovered first, and was back at me. As I struggled to my feet I grabbed the first thing available; the lamp on the end table next to the couch. I swung it as Becky closed on me; there was a brief resistance as the power cord tore free from the brass-colored base of the lamp. I could feel the crunch as the lamp caved Becky's skull in through my whole body. I hit her so hard that the lamp, a cheap thing to begin with, snapped in half, leaving me only a couple of inches of metal in my hand.

Before Becky had even collapsed to the floor, Mel was on me again. I stabbed her with the broken base of the lamp, turned, and threw her over the back of the couch. She crashed to the floor hard, but I could hear her already trying to get back to her feet.

I moved to the fireplace, spying what was easily the best weapon in the room. I grabbed the fireplace poker from its rack, knocking the rest of the tools onto the bricks with a clatter, and rounded on my sister as she came for me. I swung low and hard, and caught her right in the side of the head.

Mel stumbled and fell, but was still moving so I hit her again.

And again...

And again...

And again....

I realized that I was yelling at the top of my lungs as I did this. By the time I stopped my sister, young Melanie Haff was completely unrecognizable as the little girl I put to bed the night before.

I was alone in my family home surrounded by the corpses of my family. I had failed to protect them, had failed to even allow them a dignified death, but the least I could do now was to give them the proper burial that so many people would never get.

I'm sorry, give me a second here. Even though that was another lifetime, I still find it hard to remember. I know, not macho at all, right?

I didn't even bother changing clothes, all I could smell was blood and death anyway, I carried my sisters out to the backyard, and laid them down on the small patio. People talk about the idea of dead weight, but even Mom was easy to carry out there.

The back lawn, which is probably too grand a term for our backyard as it would have been too small for a medium sized inflatable pool to fit in, was overgrown. Mom had been after me for weeks to mow it, but I kept using work as an excuse not to. Personally I had thought that one of the girls could do it; I was mowing the lawn when I was nine.

I got the mower and a shovel out of the garage, and mowed the lawn quickly, which took all of maybe five minutes, and started digging. The sun was high overhead when I finished digging the three graves. Filling them in however took a lot longer, not because it was harder physically, but because....

Anyway, I felt that I should pray, or at least say something. I've never been terribly religious though, nor much of a public speaker. In the end I just sat on the grass and cried for awhile.

I guess I must have dozed off or something because the sun was disappearing over the neighbor's house when I woke. Sleeping outside like that is incredibly stupid, but I was still Sam then, and didn't think like that. What woke me up was someone calling my name.

“Sam!” a woman's voice called; it was familiar, “Sam, please be here!”

The yelling was coming from the front of the house. I got up and went inside where I could clearly hear the person pounding on the front door. I made my way through the mess that used to be a living room, and opened the door to find Odette Walker there looking slightly panicked. When she saw me her look of panic changed to one of fear, and she took a step back.

“Sam?” she asked cautiously, as if she were afraid that I were one of the undead.

“Hi, Odette,” I said.

“Are... are you okay?”

I shook my head, “No. I am very very far from okay. I'd invite you in, but the house is a bit of a mess right now.”

“What happened?”

I gave Odette a brief rundown of what happened, the first of only two times I have told anyone about that morning. Well, I guess it's three times now. It's easier this time though, like it really happened to someone else. It's like Sam Haff was a character I played in a video game; like I was never really him.

“Oh God, Sam, I'm sorry,” Odette said, her eyes wet with tears. Even though Odette lived just a couple of blocks away we didn't hang out all that much, so she had only been over to the house a couple of times before. She had met my family, but didn't really know them.

“Did you come over for something?” I asked, trying not to sound like she was inconveniencing me.

“Well, my parents went to the hospital a couple of days ago, and never came back, and neither of them are answering their phones. I was hoping you could take me there to look for them, but it's okay. If I could borrow your car though,” she said, motioning towards my old forest green Toyota Tercel in the parking lot next to Mom's brown Aerostar.

“No, no, Odette, I'll take you,” I said, knowing already that it was a horrible idea, and would almost certainly get us killed, but what did I really have to live for? “Can you just let me get cleaned up first?”

“Yeah, sure,” Odette said, smiling shyly.

I'll be honest with you, I've always found Odette attractive; she has skin the color of one of those sugary coffee milkshake things that Apollo Coffee sells... sold, and long dark hair that normally framed her face, although it was tied back in a ponytail that day. She's slim, but not skinny; well proportioned with a body that is maybe a couple of Bacon Cheese Big Bro's this side of athletic.

Now Odette was no supermodel or anything, but she had that cute girl-next-door thing going on. The main reason I'd never asked her out is that I've always felt that workplace romance is kind of inappropriate; not the romance itself, but the face that people cannot keep it outside of work. When they are still in love you always catch those people sucking face In the stockroom when they think no one is looking, and when the relationship ends they can never keep their attitudes to themselves. I just didn't want to be one of those people.

I stood there in the doorway looking at Odette, and she stood on the doorstep looking back at me, “Ummm,” she said after a few moments, “Can I come in though? It's kind of creepy out here.”

I looked back at the living room, at the mess of things knocked over by my sisters, the drying blood from when I beat them back into unlivingness, and thought that it was kinda creepy inside too. Then again, if looking at me didn't send Odette running in terror, then I guess the crime scene that was my house wouldn't be considerably worse.

“Yeah,” I said hesitantly, “You can wait in my room if you want,” I said, “No one died in there.”

Yes, I really said that.

No, I'm not offended that you ask; I know if I read that in a book or heard it in a movie I would call bullshit on it, but I didn't know what else to say. What did you say the first time you killed a zombie?

So Odette sat on my bed while I went and took a shower. My room was not exactly clean, but there were no splatters of blood or anything in it. It seemed a bit odd to leave her in my room alone to see what a dork I really am, but the only other room that hadn't had a zombie in it was the bathroom, and I was using that.

When I came back into the room wearing a fresh t-shirt and a pair of jeans she was watching TV. On the screen they were showing the fighting going on in New York as the National Guard tried to stop the spread of the zombies and evacuate the city. This was after that briefly famous video of the Wolf News New York studio being overrun live on the air, so I knew it was probably old video being run out of the network's LA studio which wouldn't go off the air for a few more days still.

“It's really the end, isn't it?” Odette asked me.

I shrugged, “Probably.”

“Can we go look for my parents?”

“Yeah, but did you bring any weapons with you? Weapons seem like a really good idea right now.” I said.

“No, I left my Robin Hood set at the store,” Odette said, forcing a smile, and that made me laugh.

“Then let me go find something,” I said, and left Odette in my room again while I went to my Mom's room.

I turned on the lights, and went to Mom's closet. The shotgun itself was in the black hard-sided plastic case leaning up against the back wall exactly where it should be, and the key to the case was stuck to the back of the Thomas Kinkade print next to the window. The challenge was finding the shotgun shells.

Mom wasn't anti-gun or anything, but she didn't want to risk one of the girls hurting themselves, so she kept the gun and ammunition separate, and didn't even tell me where she kept the shells. I'm not sure what the point of that was because I could have just bought my own at work if I had wanted to.

I eventually found two boxes of shotgun shells hidden inside of a shoebox under the bed labeled “2002 tax receipts”. As you may guess there was no thought ever given to needing the gun in an emergency.

When I got back to my room with the shotgun and ammo I found Odette asleep on my bed as two people who looked like they haven't slept in a couple of days argued on TV over whether or not the loss of New York City would have an effect in the next election. Idiots.

The streets of Covenant were downright eerie as we drove towards the hospital to try and find the fate of Odette's parents. They were almost totally deserted I think we saw two other cars, and a half dozen of what were either people on foot, or zombies.

Now I knew that chances were good that Odette's parents met a similar fate to my own family, but I wasn't going to say that to her as we slowly moved through the streets. At this point trying to help her out was keeping me going as much as anything else. If she hadn't come along I would probably have still been in the backyard feeling sorry for myself.

The inside of a Toyota Tercel was clearly not designed with carrying a shotgun in mind. Odette had to roll down the window and have the barrel sticking out of it to hold it comfortably. The alternative was to have the barrel pointed across the front of me, and there were a number of reasons that I didn't want that.

We didn't make it to the hospital that day; we didn't even get within two blocks. We could see the hospital building towering above the shorter buildings around it from a distance, but the streets around it were crawling with the undead.

I have never figured out why there are so may of them there; even today the only place that seems to have more of them around it is what's left of Mallville. Is it because so many of them rose there, or are they drawn there by something?

Three blocks from the hospital I stopped the car; there were at least a dozen zombies on the road ahead of us. Now maybe if this had been in a movie I would have just plowed through the things, but it wasn't; I knew this because if it were a movie I would have been driving something nicer than a beat up old forest green Toyota Tercel. A van, a Hummer maybe, but not my piece of crap car.

We ended up abandoning our quest, and I took Odette back home. She asked me to stay with her, and I agreed. I was not ready to face my house, nor did I really want to be alone. Nothing happened though, I slept on the couch, the shotgun on the floor next to me just in case.

Odette and I spent the next two weeks together living out of her house as the rest of the world died. I know you're expecting me to say that we did all the things that young people in end-of-the-world movies do like break into stores and try on lots of clothes, and steal fast cars and drive around the city at ludicrously dangerous speeds, and then abandoning them, doors left open of course, when they get damaged or run out of gas. We didn't.

What we did do is start stockpiling supplies. We went back to T-Mart to try and see if they would let us have some food and ammo, but no one answered our banging on the doors, and the power and phones had gone out by then, so we couldn't even call them. That didn't stop us from trying other places though.

I guess it was when we broke into that hardware store that I really started to become the me I am now. I saw those chainsaws there, and just could not resist taking a couple to use.

“Umm, Sam,” Odette had objected when she saw me with two chainsaws in my cart, “Don't those things have safety devices to keep them from being used on people?”

“Yeah, but I'm a smart guy, I'm sure I can figure out how to fix that,” I told her confidently.

I did too. Of course I realized shortly there after that a gas powered chainsaw had some dramatic drawbacks. Aside from the obvious use of gas that we really couldn't spare there was the fact that leaving it idling all the time made quite a bit of noise. The noise not only bothered Odette and covered up any noise that creeping zombies might be making, but it also seemed to attract them.

We found this out the hard way while searching the neighborhood for any survivors. We had gone around the back of one house to look in through the windows, and when we came back around the front there were three of the zombies there waiting for us. Odette took out two of them with the shotgun, and I killed the third with my safety-free chainsaw. We figured that they must have heard the saw idling, and came after the source of the sound.

The saw did work really well though, it tore through zombie flesh like it were a thin tree limb, and I found that if I hold the saw in front of me in a defensive posture it made it impossible for the zombie to get close enough to bite anything but my arm; I just had to make sure my arm didn't get anywhere near its mouth.

As far as survivors go, we only found one. A guy a couple of blocks away who threatened to shoot us if we didn't get away from his house. He seemed pretty dangerous, so we left. It's kind of a shame since I imagine he was well armed. He had this big camouflaged truck with an NRA for Life bumper sticker on it. I've never bothered going back there though.

After a couple of days of lugging around the gas powered saws we hit the hardware store and picked up a couple of cordless electric chainsaws. According the the signage in the store these were new models with “the longest bar of any cordless chainsaw on the market”. Not only were they silent unless I was actually running the chain, but they weighed a bit less than the gas powered ones as well.

I also picked up a bunch of spare batteries, chargers, and this weird scissor looking chainsaw called The Alligator. I think was planning on catching the zombies arms in the thing or something, but I've never found a real use for it.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking, “but if the power was out already, how did you plan are charging the batteries?” That's simple, the sun. We also picked up some of those solar charging mats that they used to use for charging RV batteries and stuff like that. They work beautifully for charging spare batteries for my saw.

Everything went great until I failed Odette utterly and completely, and I lost the new world I had created for myself.

We had strayed too close to the police station and found a roadblock set up with cars parked across the road. There were at least two dozen dead bodies there, zombies we thought, but I don't know really. If I had known what would happen I would have turned around and got the hell out of there.

I parked the car by the roadblock, and got out. “Hello?” I yelled into the empty street on the other side. I figured someone had to block the road, and maybe that someone was still over there.

“Get back into your car, and leave immediately!” an amplified voice replied.

I looked around, but didn't see the source of the voice.

“Who are you?” I called out, “Are you from Mallville?” I asked, figuring that if it was those bikers they would have just shot me.

“Return to your vehicle and leave immediately or we will open fire!” the voice commanded.

“Are you nuts?” I asked.

The was a cracking noise, like a branch breaking, and Odette screamed. I turned to see a small hole in the windshield of my car. They had shot my car. While I watched there was a second cracking noise, and another hole appeared next to the first.

“Sam!” Odette screamed.

A third crack, and I felt bits of the road spray up and hit my legs. They had shot right in front of me; I was lucky that the bullet didn't ricochet into me.

I jumped in the car as fast as a I could, started the engine, and slammed the car into reverse. Two more bullets struck the windshield while I tried to turn the car around. They were shooting at us; I don't know if they were trying to actually hit either of us since the bullets kept hitting the center of the windshield, and maybe what happened was an accident when I was turning around, I do know, but....

I sped away, and even though I could'nt hear the rifle shots anymore, I could hear bullets pinging against the back of the car; the rear window shattered. I looked over, and saw Odette's head lolling forward, blood leaking from her mouth. They had shot her. She was my chance at redemption, and I had failed her just like I failed my sisters.

My world spun, not from anxiety or anything like that, it literally spun. I'm not sure what happened; maybe they hit a tire, maybe it was my shitty driving, but the car flipped. I saw the world outside rotate, and felt the butt of the shotgun hit me in the jaw as it slipped from Odette's hands and flew around the interior of the car.

Mercifully darkness took me.

Something pulling at me woke me up. Everything was blurry at first, but I could tell it was dark. There were actually two things pulling at me, one was tight across my chest, my seatbelt, the other was a cold hand reaching through the gap between the deformed window frame and the road. The car had ended up upside down, and it was a miracle that I hadn't broken my neck of cracked my skull open when the roof collapsed in on me.

I looked to my right, and saw Odette hanging there a pool of drying blood was on the ceiling under her with the shotgun laying in it. She didn't rise, I think one of the shots struck her in the head; she was dead before the crash. I had to get out of there, and not just because something was pawing at me from the outside.

What exactly happened at that point is all a bit fuzzy. I remember being in pain. I remember dropping to the ceiling of the car, although I'm not sure if I unbuckled the seatbelt or if I had to cut it with something. I remember sliding under Odette; through her blood, and out the window on her side where the car hadn't collapsed as badly.

I am pretty sure I shot the zombie that was trying to get at me through my window with both barrels. When I went back later there was a nearly headless body next to the car. I did give Odette a decent burial in my old backyard next to my family; next to the other people that I failed.

I lost most of a couple of weeks after that. It was kind of a blurry fuzzy montage sequence of me building stuff, killing zeds, gathering supplies, that sort of thing. Hopefully there was a catchy tune that went along with it, but I don't remember what it was.

The next clear memory I have is of me as I am now. Sam Haff was gone and now there's only Ash. I had built a bracer out of aluminum that attached to the end of one of the electric chainsaws and it not only covered my hand and forearm, but it distributed the weight so that I could swing it easier with only one hand. I suppose that I'm lucky that I didn't actually lop off my hand and try to attach the saw to the stump during that lost time.

I was also not wearing my standard t-shirts and jeans anymore, but a blue denim shirt and brown work pants along with thick boots. Some might argue that this look is not fashionable, but it is badass.

So, from my mind anyway, I went from this kinda dreamy existence of those lost weels to being surrounded by five zombies in a grocery store with my chainsaw in one hand and my good ol' double barrel in the other. I don't know how I got there, or how I got in that particular situation, but I do know one thing, something I mist have learned during that missing time.

I knew that the were two keys to survival. One, don't be afraid to die. Two, take the fight to them.

I squeezed the trigger of the chainsaw, and struck out at the three zombies on my right while giving one of the ghouls on my left a face full of buckshot. My saw tore into the zombies, and I saw a hand and a few fingers fly off as I cut through them.

I fired the other barrel into the remaining zombie on my left, making its head resemble a rotten soft-boiled egg that someone had dropped on the floor, and leaned into the attackers on my right, tearing deep into their flesh until they fell to the ground. Once all the zombies were down I reloaded the shotgun, not easy to do left handed, let me tell you, and shot the one zombie that was still twitching.

That's it, that's my story. I found myself a nice little apartment above a used book store and filled it with supplies and spent my days and nights hoarding supplies and kicking deadite ass. I didn't need anyone, and no one needed me.

Sure I had to hide from the cops and the bikers, and there was that time I helped those people from Mallville, but for the most part I've been on my own because I knew none of those groups would survive; they would all fail eventually, and I was right.

Someone attacked the cops, I'm not sure if it was Mallville of the Postmen, although I'm pretty sure it was Mallville, but they slaughtered every last one of them as best I can tell. Then the Mallville people attacked and killed the Postmen. That left Mallville as the only large group of survivors in the city.

You know, when I first ran into that group from Mallville; they invited me to join them, they knew that they needed a badass like me, but I said no. I knew that they couldn't last, and now Mallville is overrun with the dead and unlivable. Even I am not crazy enough to try and get in there for supplies, and believe me, I've been tempted

I ran into a couple of groups from Mallville shortly after the explosion there. The funny thing is that the first group was mostly the same people I had seen before, and the second group was looking for the first. Both invited me to go with them, but I still wasn't ready to be around people yet, and they were pretty much the last living people I've seen.

Well that's not totally true. Last month I saw a skinny guy in a brown coat running down the street outside with a red haired woman. I went after them, but they disappeared around a corner and I lost them. Then of course there's you.

That was quite a stunt you pulled, trying to slide across that power line with your bat like that. Too bad it sagged in the middle, huh? How did you even get trapped on that roof like that? Still, I got to you before they did, and with a little bang-bang and a little buzz-buzz I got you out of there. Too bad you weren't awake to see me, 'cause baby, I was amazing!

Don't try to get up. As far as I can tell you didn't break anything, but you should probably rest. You should stay here for awhile, maybe. I'm used to being on my own and all, but maybe it would be nice to have someone to talk to sometimes. I had this volleyball for awhile, but I had to get rid of him when he started talking back, you know?

Besides, every king needs a queen, right? Hail to the king, baby!

Ow! That hurt!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fifty-Fourth Entry: The Coming Storm

August 19th

I had a dream last night. In the dream, none of this was happening; no Lovelock, no Mallville, no zombies. In the dream I worked in an office, and had my own little cubicle. Sharon was in the cubicle to my right, Beth to my left, and Gerry was on the other side of the wall, his chair facing me if I could see him.

My desk was littered with little plastic figurines. I remember seeing a tachikoma, a bob-omb, a Smurf with a wooden nose and feet (I think he was called Clockwork Smurf), and a Harry Potter LEGO minifigure. I don;t know what it was that I was meant to do at that desk, I didn't do any actual work in the dream.

There were other people there too. Tara was our supervisor, and Alex was her boss, and while I never actually saw her, I could hear Maria somewhere in the office cursing at the copy machine. I also saw Pippa pushing a mail cart, maybe she was some sort of intern or something; her hair was short and and a dark shade of red. She smiled at me when she handed my a small stack business sized envelopes as she pushed her cart past the opening of my cube.

“Psst!” a voice said to my right; I looked over and saw Sharon's head poking over the top of the cubicle wall.

“What?” I asked.

“You ready for the con this weekend?

“Yeah. Did you get your costume finished?”

“Yup! If you want to come over tonight, I'll show it to you. I think it looks pretty good, but my contacts haven't arrived yet.”

“I'm sure you'll be the best Suiseiseki there anyway,” I replied.

“Nerds!” Gerry's voice drifted over the wall, but there was no malice in it.

“Geeks, actually.” I corrected him

“You're just jealous. You wish you were cool enough to spend the weekend looking at scantily clad cosplay girls,” Sharon added.

“Are you going to be scantily clad?” Gerry asked.

“No,” I laughed, “Suiseiseki practically wears a burkha.”

“Pfft, forget it then. I have the Internet; I can look at all of the scantily clad women I want from the comfort of my home,” Gerry sniffed.

“Hey kids, some of us are actually trying to work here,” Beth reminded us over her wall, “If you guys have so much free time, I'm sure Tara can find more work for you to do.”

“Yes mom,“ Gerry said.

“Can we get everyone to move to the conference room please?” I heard Tara's voice nearby, “Alex has some announcements he wants to make.”

“Oh, the wardens call,” Gerry crowed just loud enough for those immediately around him to hear.

There was a hand on my shoulder, I turned and saw Tara looking like she did when I first met her; her hair was dark brown again and she was smiling warmly, “Come on,” she said, “We don't have a lot of time, and you don't want to miss this.”

As I rose from my desk, I woke up in my dark room on my makeshift bed on the floor. It took me a few confused seconds to realize that it had all been a dream. I cried for awhile; something I've been doing far too much lately. Everything there was so normal, and everyone was alive and safe, and it felt good. I wonder if there is some other reality somewhere where I am living that life. I wonder if that me realizes how lucky he is.

Things are bad all around right now; my life is falling apart again, and this journal is the cause of a lot of it. I knew I should have kept it with me and not gone back to hiding it in my room, but I didn't feel I had much to write about, and I wanted to conserve these final pages for what is coming; it seems like it is a good place to end this book, and start a new one; maybe things will be better in that one.

Pippa played a part in all of this, of course. I guess she feels that I have not been spending enough time with her (and to be fair, she has been left on her own a lot lately with Gerry being on runs a lot, me being with Tara, and Beth hanging out with Barbara, more on that shortly), so she decided to get back at me. She let Tara read the journal.

Now one might not think this is too bad a thing. I've never really said anything bad about her in here, and have indeed confessed my love for her repeatedly, and maybe if she had read the whole thing she might have seen that. She didn't read the whole thing though.

I came home two nights ago after my shift at the gate, afternoon this time, and it was miserable because it has been raining all week. It looks like winter may come early, but not early enough to really do us any good. I'll get to that more in a minute though.

I come into my room, and there's Tara sitting on my makeshift bed (she had spent the night) with the journal in her lap. She looked up at me when I came in, and I could tell from her icy blue eyes that I was in trouble.

“You son of a bitch!” Tara snarled.

I froze like a deer in headlights, “What?” I asked.

“How dare you play with my emotions!”

“Should I come in again, and we can start by explaining what I've done wrong?'

Tara held up the journal, “Pippa showed me where you hid it!'

Damn it, Pippa!

“Okay,” I said, still confused, “I was going to let you read it eventually anyway, but-”

“You lied to me!” Tara yelled. I could see now that the icy blue was ringed by red, like she had been crying.

“About what?”

“About Sharon!”

“I told you that we were together.”

“You didn't tell me that you got married!”

“It's not like it was a legal marriage or anyth-”

“You got married in a church by a preacher! Who gives a shit about a piece of paper from a government that doesn't even exist anymore?”

“You told me you had someone else too.”

“I didn't marry him! I wanted you! I kept hoping that somehow we would find you, and that you would be waiting for me. I finally find you, and you're not even the same person, but that's okay, because we all change, right?” Tara rambled, “But you didn't tell me that you got married! You kept me going along thinking that things were going to be good between us again. You treated me like an idiot!”

Part of me wanted to throw Oliver in her face. I still haven't explained fully to her why he was over here that day, and I somehow doubt he has either. Part of me wanted to tell her she was being an idiot. What I really told her was, “I didn't think it mattered. I mean she's... she's dead, Tara.”

Tara crossed the room and get right in my face, or as close as she could manage “If it didn't matter, then why did you keep it a secret from me?”

I suppose that's a fair question really, especially since Beth told me to tell her. I think I didn't tell her because I was afraid she would react like this, which I think actually validates my decision in a way.

“I wasn't keeping it a secret, I just didn't think it was relevant.”

Tara is a physically stronger person that she used to be; she may look frail but she hits hard. She slapped me across the face hard enough to make me stagger back into the hallway, “No, why would it be?”

“Tara, I-,” she slapped me again, “Stop doing that!”

“Don't talk to me!” Tara yelled, “Just leave me alone! I'm not your fucking consolation prize.”

This was all a bit odd coming from someone who is living with her on-the-road boyfriend, but also someone who only was seeing be because Alex Sigler was having it off with the woman I was in love with. I mean, wasn't our falling for each other just an accident to begin with? Was I really wrong for being with Sharon afterwards?

“I never thought of you like that,” I said.

“You never asked me to marry you either!”

“There were reasons I asked her, didn't you read it?”

“Yeah, I read how she tried to kill you! If I come after you with a sword, would you ask me then? Maybe I should lose my mind, would that do it? Should I just try and make you feel sorry for me?”

Her words were hurting a lot more than her hands, and I started replying in quieter tones, “If you had been there, if you hadn't chosen Alex over me, it would never have happened.”

Tara's eyes went wide, “So it's my fault? Fuck you!” With that she slammed the journal into my chest, and let it fall to the floor. She pushed past me, “Let me know when you grow up and stop being such a user!”

Tara stormed out of the house, punctuating her departure by slamming the door; an exclamation point at the end of her statement. I haven't seen her since. I tried to go to her house yesterday, but Toni answered the door and told me that Tara didn't want to see me.

“Do you hate me too?” I asked.

“No, I know that things can't be the way she is making them out to be, but you need to understand that she never stopped thinking about you, even when she was... you know, even then she still was thinking about you. Just give her some time, hon, she'll come around. You're not the only one that was writing out there on the road, you know?”

“Tell her I'm sorry, and I love her, okay?”

“You got it,” Toni looked sad, “I'm serious, she loves you so much, I think just seeing that stuff in writing was too much for her. She'll come around.”

“Just how much did she tell you?”

“Enough to make you sound like a bad guy, but she's just hurt, you know? I know you're not a bad guy.”

“Thanks, Toni.”

“You take care, and I'll send Bishop down if there's any developments, okay?”

“Yeah, thanks,” I did my best to smile, but I doubt it was very convincing.

Beth did her best to comfort me while keeping the I-told-you-so's to a minimum.

“ I told you to tell her,” Beth said.

“I know you did..”

“This is exactly the sort of disruption to this house that I wanted to avoid. Now you're upset, Pippa's upset,”

“What is Pippa upset about?” I asked, “This is her fault.”

“That's why she's upset. I don't think she meant to cause trouble this time. I think she genuinely thought that Tara would appreciate all of the things you said about her in it,“ Beth said, “apparently, anyway, not that I've read it.”

“Well she focused on the stuff about Sharon.”

“Women are strange, you should realize that by now. Toni's right though, if she really does love you, then she'll get over it. You should talk to Pippa though.”

“I really don't want to do that right now,” I said.

“I know, and you shouldn't until you are sure you're not going to yell at her, but you do need to talk... again.”

“How do I keep getting myself in these situations?”

“You're a man.”


“Listen, I need to get ready, are you going to be okay here tonight?”

“Do you have a date?”

“I'm just going to Bacchus with Barbara,” Beth answered.

“Oh? So what's going on there, anyway?”

“We're friends,” Beth replied, maybe a little too quickly.

“Okay, but you know you can talk to me as much as I talk to you.”

Beth bit her lip, “Okay, yeah, I like her.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Oh, okay?” Beth asked, “That's all you have to say?”

“What did you expect me to say?” I asked, “Can I watch, or something?”

“Well, kind of, yeah.”

“I think you are both attractive women, but I've got enough trouble with the woman I am already involved with, I don't need to go pissing you off. Plus I've seen how Barbara hits, and don't really want to be on the receiving end of it”

Beth looked at me strangely, “Did you already know?”

“I had wondered, yeah.”

“And it doesn't bother you?”

Now it was my turn to look at her strangely, “Do you really think that little of me?”

“No, it's just that guys usually act strange around me when they know, I don't know why.”

“They're just afraid that you'll steal their girlfriends,” I said, and winked.

“Well, Tara is kind of cute... the silver hair gives her a unique look.”

“I'll let her know you're interested.”

“I'll kick your ass if you do.” Beth said, and we both laughed.

I think that may only be the second time she's opened up to me, usually it's all of us opening up to her. It must get tiring for her to not have anyone to talk to.

Beth gave me a kiss on the cheek, “You really are a sweet guy. Tara's going to realize how lucky she is to have you. Just give her some time.”

“If we have time,” I said.

“Yeah, that. Are you coming out with us tomorrow?” Beth asked.

“Doctor Byron sent me an email and said that I could. I guess it'll be better to see what we're up against than leave it up to my imagination.”

“You should ride with me and Justin then,” Beth said, “We can play I Spy.”

“You don't seem very worried,” I commented.

“We've survived this long, I don't care how many zeds there are, they have to fit into four lanes to get to us, we'll wipe them out in a bottleneck like that,” Beth said with such confidence that I believe her.

I mean look at all the crap we've been through, and we've survived, and now we are part of an organized force who won't make the mistakes of the early days of the end. We will not show mercy, we will not treat them as human, and we will win. I am getting out of order again though.

A little while later, Beth came by my room before going out. I have to admit, she looked good.

“Pigtails?” I asked, looking at the two fountains of black hair spraying of the sides of her head.

“She likes them, maybe it's a teacher thing.”

“That's a little creepy,” I said, getting up off of my makeshift bed, and coming over to the door.

Beth shrugged, “Are you sure you're going to be okay tonight?”

“I'll be fine, just go already.” I said, gently pushing her down the hallway.

“Talk to Pippa, okay?”

“I make no promises.”

Beth stopped our progress down the hall, and turned to face me, “Really, you two need to talk... again,” she thought for a moment, “You know, really, the two of you are like some sort of really dark sitcom siblings.”

“I am glad to be here to amuse you.”

Beth chuckled, and gave me a hug, “Tara really will come around, you know?”

“If she doesn't, then it wasn't meant to be.”

“Wow, that's awfully mature. Do you really believe that?'

'I like to think that I do.”

Beth gave me a kiss on the cheek, “I'd better go, thanks for not freaking out.”

“I am a little insulted that you think I would,” I said, but smiling.

“Don't wait up, okay? I'm taking the car.”

With Beth gone, it was kind of like being home alone. Pippa stayed in her room, and I stayed in mine. I heard her in the kitchen at one point heating up a can of something to eat, but I kept my door closed.

I wanted to be the bigger person, really I did, but every time I thought about talking to her I got this incredible urge to either scream or cry. So once again it was Pippa that initiated things. I hope to God that this is the last one of these little talks we ever have to have.

It was close to midnight, and I was lying in bed reading when she knocked softly at the door.

“Can I come in?” Pippa asked softly.

I put the book aside, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. After exhaling, I answered calmly, “Yeah, come in.”

Pippa opened the door slowly, and stuck her head in, “Do you hate me now?”

Hate is a bit strong....

“No, Pippa, I don't hate you, I'm just upset.”

“I'm sorry,” she said.

“I know you are,” I took a breath, and then tried to ask my next question as nicely as possible, “Can you just tell me why you did it? What was going through your mind when you gave her the journal?”

“I thought that maybe is she saw how much you missed her she would choose you over Oliver. I don't like him; he's a douche.”

“But Pippa, honey, my journal is private,” again, I was trying to keep my tone as pleasant as possible, “That's why I have asked you not to read it. I would have shown it to her when I felt it was the right time.”

“I know. I promise not to look in it again without your permission,” Pippa was studying the pink socks on her feet instead of looking at me, “Would it help if I went and talked to her?”

“No, you're not the one she's mad at, and she doesn't want to talk to me.”

“Beth says that she thinks Tara'll get over it.”

“Toni thinks that too, but only time will tell.”

“Do we have time?” Pippa asked, finally looking me in the face, ”I mean with the zeds coming?”

“Beth seems to think so. I haven't seen them yet, so I couldn't really tell you.”

“You're still mad at me, huh?” I guess I must not have been doing such a great job of hiding my mood.

“Yeah, I am, but I'm also tired and upset,” I answered honestly.

“I really was trying to help, like you and Beth did with Richard.”

“I know, and I appreciate what you thought you were doing, just please ask me before you do something like that again, okay?”

“Okay,” Pippa said.

“I'm going to be totally honest with you; I am very very upset right now, partly with you, partly for other reasons, but that doesn't mean that I don't care about you. Short of killing me yourself, there is not much you could do to change that.”

“So you'll still be my big brother?”

I think that was the first time she has ever referred to me like that, to my face anyway, and it made me feel bad inside for being so mad at her.

“Of course.”

Pippa came into my room, and knelt down on the bedding. She crawled over to me, and gave me a hug. I hugged her back.

“I love you, Pippa,” I said softly.

“Perv!” she whispered back.

“Not like that, you brat!” I said, playfully pushing her away, and then throwing a pillow at her for good measure.

Pippa scrambled to her feet, and ran out the door as I threw another pillow that harmlessly bounced off the door frame.

“Goodnight, big brother!” she yelled as she ran to her room. I heard the door shut behind her.

I went to sleep shortly after that, and had that dream. It was so vivid; maybe this is all a dream, and that's my real life. What I would give to live in that world; where Sharon, and Alex, and Maria are all still alive, and there are no flesh eating monsters roaming the Earth.

I fell back to sleep at some point after the dream, because the next thing I heard was Beth knocking on my door, “Come on, get up if you're coming with us!” she yelled.

I had slept a lot later than I normally do, it was already ten. I had to rush to get ready before Beth left. Gerry had gotten home sometime this morning, and was coming with us as well. Pippa wanted to come, but we all told her that she couldn't. I sometimes wonder how she likes essentially have three parents now.

Beth drove me and Gerry to the hospital where we would all leave from.

“So I hear that Tara read your diary?” Gerry asked during the ride.

“Yup, and now she won't talk to me,” I answered

“See, that's why I keep it all inside; up here,” Gerry tapped the right side of his forehead for emphasis.

“You can't keep it inside forever though, Gerry,” Beth said, “You'll lose your mind at some point.”

“I don't think that would be a great loss,” Gerry said, “Sorry to hear about you and Tara though, I hope you two make up.”

“I don't want to lose her again,” I said.

“You won't,” Beth insisted, “Just give her space and time and stop worrying about it.”

I looked at Gerry, and he shrugged in reply, “If anyone in this car knows about women, it's Beth,” he said.

“What's that supposed to me?” Beth asked indignantly.

“That you're a woman,” Gerry replied, grinning. Did she tell him before me?

Beth found a parking spot where she could plug in the Xebra so we could get home later. We joined Justin Lassit in a waiting Genetitech Security car; well, Beth and I did, Gerry went to ride with some other people from Acquisitions. Barbara filled the empty spot in the backseat with me. I would have offered to switch with Beth, but I don't know who she has and hasn't told about her lifestyle, and it probably would be against the rules for her to sit in the back anyway.

Our convoy to Harlan was pretty long. I think something like a hundred of us actually went. Even though Doctor Byron had not acknowledged the problem officially yet, a lot of people already knew what we could be facing and wanted to see it for themselves.

“I'm sorry about your girlfriend,” Barbara commented to me as we rode.

“Yeah, that's rough,” Justin said from the driver's seat, “I had a girlfriend once who found my blog, so I know what you're going through.”

“Just how many people did you tell?” I asked Beth.

“Umm... a few.”

It was early afternoon when we finally arrived in Harlan. I didn't realize there were places in America that are as isolated as Lovelock is. Well, in Alaska maybe, but not in the lower forty-eight. Our caravan slowed to a stop outside of town though.

Doctor Byron's voice crackled over the car's radio, “Could everyone please move towards the front? Thank you.”

“I guess this is where we get out,” said Justin, turning off the car's power.

We joined the group of people walking up the road to the top of the hill where a White SUV (electric, I'm sure) was parked. I could tell where Doctor Byron was standing amongst the crowd of security officers, scientists, and civilians like myself because she was holding a blue parasol up even though he sky was cloudy.

I worked my way to the front of the crowd, leaving Beth, Justin, and Barbara behind amongst the other familiar and unfamiliar faces. What I saw when I reached the top of the hill froze my blood. From there we could look down over a good portion of Harlan. I could make out the fenced off area where we had done the weapons tests not too long ago; it was easy to spot, as it was the only space in the town where I could see the ground. It seemed like every other square inch of the town was covered in the walking dead..

If you've ever seen army ants in action, then you have some idea of what this looked like; every visible open space was filled with writhing shambling undead. It was last Halloween multiplied by about 5000.

“So you see it!” Doctor Byron spoke loudly from close by; I hadn't realized I had gotten so close to her, although the parasol should have been a hint. Even without any sort of amplification her voice carried surprisingly well, “They are coming closer to Lovelock every day, and we will need to stop them or lose all that we have worked for.”

“This is why we have spent so much time building weapons. I knew that we would need them eventually, and that time has come,” Doctor Byron announced, “Tomorrow I will be making an announcement on TV about this, and everyone in Lovelock will be able to see what we are up against, and what I plan to do about it.”

It was then that I realized that I was standing in front of a KVMS news van. I looked off to the side of the road at the front of the crowd and saw a man with a large camera perched on his shoulder. He was filming the mob below us.

“I will let all of you know now what I am going to tell everyone else then; We will win, Lovelock will not fall to the animated corpses, humanity will not fail. We begin the fight for Lovelock now!”

A horn honked loud, and everyone turned at once to see one of the larger trucks trying to pull out of the column of cars into the oncoming lane. It crept forward slowly as men and women cleared a path for it. As it drew nearer I could see Doctors Carraway and Hutchins in the cab of it. Two security cars followed; I recognized Beth's friend Kyle in the passenger seat of the second one.

“Have at them, doctors!” Doctor Byron called, and everyone cheered.

Once clear of people the truck accelerated down the hill towards Harlan, and I could tell that the cameraman from the TV station was taping it the whole way. When they were about two hundred yards away from the slowly advancing front edge of the horde, the truck stropped. The two security cars stopped farther back, and made u-turns so that they were facing us at the top of the hill so they could get away faster.

The four security officers exited the cars, each one carrying what looked like FN 2000 rifles (they might have been something else, I was kinda far away). They spread out in front of the truck that the scientists were in, and watched the tide of undead slowly surging towards them.

Doctor Carraway hopped down from the driver's side of the truck, and doctor Hutchins from the passenger side. Before either of them got to the back of the truck the door started to slide up, and doctor Vang jumped out. Vang and Carraway climbed up the ramp and disappeared into the back of the truck.

When they started to roll down the ramp, a few people cheered, the rest did not know what they were seeing yet. Rolling down the truck's ramp, one after the other, were two of the Battlebot looking Da Vinci Scythe Chariots. They still had their two levels of curved blades on the top like pair of helicopter rotors, but now also had large curved scythe blades protruding from the sides of its body right above the tank treads, and a stubby, spiked, almost drill head looking thing sticking out of the front and back of the body. Basically there would now be no safe way to approach these things as long as they were moving.

Doctor Hutchins stood well back from the truck as Vang and Carraway jumped down from the back of the truck, and maneuvered the almost vending machine sized robots around to the front. They put their controllers down on the road surface, and ran around to the back of the truck while Doctor Hutchins went to each of the chariots and did... something to them. Even if I was standing right next to her whole she did it, I probably would still not be able to describe what she was doing.

While Hutchins tended to the robots, Vang and Carraway wrestled the trucks ramp back up. The zeds were getting closer to them now, and they needed to be able to get away quickly too. They pulled the truck's door down, and Carraway went and climbed back into the driver's seat while Vang joined Margaret Hutchins.

A zed broke free from the pack, a small one, a child. It was heading straight for Doctor Hutchins, who was now closest to the front of the zombie horde. The little ghoul was practically running, but before it got halfway across the shrinking gap between the zeds and the humans Kyle fired two shots from his rifle into the creature's head; the two weak popping noises reached my ears a moment after I saw the muzzle flashes. The momentum of the little monster carried it forward, and it slammed face first into the road. The child lay still.

Doctor Carraway didn't have quite enough room to turn the truck around in one try without running into the steep slope on the left side of the road, and had to back up to finish. When he was done though, he hopped back down from the truck, and rejoined Vang and Hutchins by the scythe chariots. It was time to put on a show.

I understood watching this that the whole point of this was to be a morale booster. Doctor Byron will make her speech in the morning, and counter the shock of what we face with this example of how we would face it. There were thousands of zeds in that pack, and there is no way that these two machines would be able to make a significant dent in their number, but it would show people that we are prepared to fight, and that we do have hope of winning.

The three doctors backed away from the scythe chariots, and as the blades started to rotate, people cheered. To me it looked like they were spinning faster that then had been the last time I had seen one, but then I wasn't so far away last time. The two Ginsu whirlybirds rolled forward towards the zombies at a high rate of speed.

Carnage is the best way to describe what happened next. When the spinning blades hit the first of the zombies it was like someone had dropped them into a blender; the blades cut through them like they were made of paper, paper filled with packets of blood, but paper all the same, sending pieces of heads and arms flying through the air in a spray of blackish infected blood. Headless and partially headless zeds fell into the midst of the other zeds as the blades protruding from the sides of the chariots bodies took their legs out from under them.

The scythe chariots cut a wide path through the zeds, but now moved slower as the treads had to climb over the bodies of the already fallen ghouls. More zeds filled the holes that the chariots cut, now surrounding the machines, but from our vantage point at the top of the hill we could still see them tearing through the flesh of the undead, sending a mist of gore into the air above them.

The most interesting thing to me, aside from seeing the zeds getting hacked apart a half dozen at a time, is that most of the zeds seemed to have forgotten about the humans now less than a hundred yards away from them. They were focusing on the scythe chariots. Part of me thinks that they were attacking them, that some part of them still knows to defend themselves, but then another part of me remembers Sharon.

I know I haven't written much of it, but I have not forgotten Sharon rising. I wish I could forget, but I can't, and I never will. I remember her asking me to kill her, and maybe it's only because she had just risen, and that was one of her last conscious thoughts, but I still believe she was in there. What if they were charging the scythe chariots because they were looking for that release? What if they were trying to free themselves from the rotting prison of their bodies?

Some of the zombies were still trying to get at the doctors and security officers though, and ones that broke from the pack were quickly dispatched with carefully aimed gunfire. Even with the scythe chariots cutting wide swathes through the mob, it still moved forward from the edge of Harlan and onto the highway. Like Beth said though, this is good for us, as it forms a relatively narrow bottleneck.

As the road travels up to where we stood, the sheer wall of the mountain forms the border at one side, and a pretty steep drop borders the other. Their front line could not be wider than the four lanes of road and the narrow shoulders at each side. If it weren't for the sheer numbers forcing them forward, a couple of the scythe chariots alone could probably hold them back.

Of course it was only a matter of time before disaster struck. One of the chariots, the one Doctor Carraway was controlling judging by him waving his hands around when it happened, tipped over. Some pieces of the metal scythes went spiraling into the air, but I think most turned to shrapnel shards that embedded themselves in the zombies that surrounded it.

Doctor Carraway looked angry; my guess is that the blades sticking out of the side of the machine were supposed to keep it from tipping onto its side as much as they were to take out the zeds' legs.

“Well that's no good,” I heard Doctor Byron say to a security officer near her, “Have them wrap it up, I think we got what we needed today.”

The security officer spoke into the radio mic clipped to his shoulder, and I could see the officer's below listening, and the relaying the information to the scientists. Doctors Carraway and Hutchins moved quickly back to the truck.

Doctor Carraway opened the driver's side door for a second, and then went back to join Doctor Hutchins at the back of the truck. The two of them pulled out the ramp while Doctor Vang had his chariot carve a path back out of the zeds, whose front line was now only fifty yards away.

A couple more zeds broke from the pack, coming towards Doctor Vang, but they were dispatched by the security officers before getting more than a few steps from their mob. Their corpses fell to the ground, and were quickly swallowed u by the advancing mass of ghouls.

As the scythe chariot rolled towards the back of the truck its blades started to slow, coming to a complete stop before actually got anywhere near any of the scientists. It had survived its first real test, and if two could do this how much damage could a bunch of these do?

The scientists loaded the surviving scythe chariot into the back of the truck. Other than its shape, the used robot looked nothing like the gleaming metal monster that had gone into the zombies, but was now a dark blackish red as every single inch of it was coated in zombie gore.

Doctor Vang did not ride in the back of the truck as they made their retreat, and who can blame him? I've smelled more than my share of dead zeds, and I can easily imagine how that machine must have smelled. Instead he rode in the security car that Kyle was riding in.

As they three vehicle drove back up the hill towards us, a voice called my name; it was Doctor Byron. “Yes, Doctor?” I answered.

“So what do you think, do we have a chance?”

I never really know how to talk to her. I feel like she's trying to trick me into something. I guess it's just that she radiates such intelligence that it make me feel stupid... or maybe it's just because she's an albino and I'm prejudiced. I would prefer it be the former though,

“There's always a chance, ma'am.”

“That's not much of an answer,” Doctor Byron commented, and I saw something in her eyes I had not seen before; fear. “You are scared though, right?”

“I would have to be an idiot to not be,”

“You're right,” she agreed, “I'm scared too, but we will win. I have been planning for something like this since the day I took over, and starting day after tomorrow we will take the fight to them, and we will not stop until the last one falls.

Since I had been thinking about Sharon, and the bit of her that seemed to be left behind when she rose I decided to take the opportunity to ask Doctor Byron something, “Doctor, can I ask you a question about the zeds?”

“The only way to learn is to ask, you are always welcome to question me.”

“Do you think there's anything left of someone when they change into a zed? A part of their soul that remains behind?”

“I am not the right person to be asking about the soul.”

“Alright, personality then. Is there something left behind of the person they were when they were alive? That girl in Doctor Grimm's lab-”

“Harriet Nivens,” Doctor Byron interjected.

“She looked like she was trying to speak to us, and I've seen... other zeds look like there was... I don't know, intelligence in them still?”

“Wow, you do not ask easy questions, do you?” Doctor Byron seemed legitimately surprised, “Come with me.”

Doctor Byron led us away from the crowd gawking at the horde of zeds slowly starting up the road towards us. When we were away from the bulk of the crowd she spoke again, “That has been a subject of debate since the beginning. I personally don't think the animated corpses possess anything that we would consider higher intelligence, but they do seem to retain some muscle memory which is why they can wield crude weapons and why some seem to know how to fire a gun.”

“Some do believe that there is a remainder of the living person in there. Not a soul necessarily, but a still active part of the brain; the part of the brain that makes you you.”

“What about Harriet? What did you do with her?”

Doctor Byron looked at the ground as if she were ashamed to look me in the eyes, “I don't really want to talk about that,” she said slowly.

“I'm sorry, I'll just go back to the car.”

Evelyn looked up at me, “No, I do not wish to keep things from you without good reason, and with what is coming I see no reason to lie about this. Harriet Nivens is being kept in the underground labs. I understand that the humane thing to do would be to simply destroy her, but Xavier was on to something, and she is too valuable....”

“I think I understand,” I said.

“There are times when this job forces me to do things I find... distasteful. If you think less of me for this I understand, I think less of me for this, but it truly is for the betterment of all.”

I looked into her oddly colored eyes and shrugged, “I know.”

“I sometimes worry I am becoming like Xavier. He wasn't a bad man, you know? He changed, and I worry that I too am changing.”

“You're not like him.”

“No offense to you, but you did not know him; not like I did. You only knew what he became, knew what he was at his worst. The monster that rose from the depths of his mind lays dormant in us all, but that I think you do know.”

Doctor Byron brightened suddenly, “Hmm, maybe you're not the only one that could do with a little counseling, huh? Enough of that; we have a war to win. Lets get everyone back to town.”

“Yes, Doctor,” I said,

“Oh, and I heard about you and Miss Lafferty; I am terribly sorry to hear about that."

Damn it, Beth!