Is that a zombie in my hometown?
Run! Unless you want to be a zombie.
Do I really need to say it? I mean, the subject line should tell you why I’m sending this email. Okay, fine, I will.
THE CURE IS OFFICIALLY RELEASED TODAY!
It feels good to say that. I thought to celebrate, I'd share the first four chapters.
I am not a murderer.
The man flailed at the end of the noose, and the rope groaned as it dug into the tree branch he hung from. His face was cherry-red, and his brown eyes bulged. He stretched his legs in a desperate attempt to reach the ground. His arms were bound behind his back. He jerked his shoulders as he fought to free his hands. His expression was torn between horror and confusion. Why? Seconds ticked by. His legs stopped kicking. A breath wheezed through his blue lips. His gaze went blank, and he became motionless.
I am not a murderer.
My heart beat against my ribs as I cut down the body. It thudded to the ground. I removed the rope from his neck and wrists. Angry red marks burned the tawny skin where the noose had bit into his flesh. I backed up quickly, grabbed my shotgun, and aimed at the head.
Silence fell around me. The air was still. Not a bird chirped. It was as if the world waited with me. And then...
A finger moved. An arm twitched, and the eyelids fluttered. A moan rumbled in the zombie’s throat and it clambered to its feet. Strands of ebony hair hung in its face. Guilt surged through me, but I squashed it.
I am not a murderer.
Vacant eyes scanned back and forth before locking on me.
I rested my finger on the trigger. “That’s right, buddy. Your meal is this way. Follow me.” I backed up.
The zombie staggered after me. Its dirty black and white sneakers dragged in the grass as it struggled to walk. It moaned again, as if moving hurt. Hunger flickered in its dead stare.
“Keep coming.” My voice was calm despite the tension twisting inside me. The shotgun felt as if it weighed a ton. My pulse pounded thunderously. One wrong move and I’d be its first meal.
I risked a glance over my shoulder. Except for a few abandoned cars, Water Street was vacant. The gas caps to the cars were open, the vehicles drained. Yards of homes were choked with weeds and the houses left abandoned. I led the zombie to the U.S. Coast Guard base that sat along St. Mary’s River in Sault Sainte. Marie, Michigan. We passed through the open gate and into the empty parking lot. Leaves danced across the cement. They gathered around the remains of the base. Broken windows looked like teeth.
The zombie never took its gaze off me as we walked. At a patch of ground where there used to be a tree, I veered left. The zombie didn’t change its path. It fell through the tarp and into the hole hidden beneath. A dull thud set my teeth on edge.
I inched toward the trap.
The zombie laid in the dirt with one arm bent underneath it. It kicked like a turtle stuck on its back before rolling over and clambering to its feet. It limped.
After I ensured it couldn’t escape, I threw a dead squirrel down the hole. The zombie fell on the corpse with a snarl. While zombies craved living, human flesh, they would eat any meat—dead or alive.
I recovered the hole and secured it with cinder blocks. Then I returned to the gate and shut and locked it. I checked the perimeter of the base, ensuring the fence was intact. My footsteps were heavy as I trudged back across the parking lot. Memories of the base floated through my mind—cars filling the parking lot, uniformed guards working, one manning the gate I had just shut. It put a knot in my chest.
At the river’s edge, I slung my shotgun across my back and gathered my long hair into a ponytail. The water was dark blue as it flowed past. I untied the inflatable raft I had found on the base and paddled home.
Home was a small yacht I had found floating abandoned by the Valley Camp Museum. I had swum out to it, and to my luck and surprise, it had gas and food in the cabin. The engine had turned over reluctantly, and I drove it back to the Coast Guard base where I anchored it 500 feet from shore and claimed it as mine.
It provided safety from zombies. The undead couldn’t swim; they sank like rocks and drowned. As a result, they avoided water.
Inside the cabin it wasn’t much warmer than outside, but I had escaped the wind that never ceased to blow down the river. My stomach growled. The sound made me cringe. After all, I was one bullet away from being like the creature I’d hidden on land.
I snagged a bag of BBQ potato chips—I hated the flavor, but beggars couldn’t be choosers in the apocalypse—and curled up on the couch. Across from me was a TV. It didn’t work, of course. A photograph of a copper-haired woman sat on top of the TV. A crack through the glass made her smile jagged. An ache pierced my heart. I sucked in a breath as memories resurface. I could hear her laughter…
Shoving the image and accompanying emotions back, I picked up a book. I read until it became too dark to see and marked my spot by turning the edge of the page down. For a moment, I wondered about the people who had given up physical books for eBooks. I bet they regretted that decision.
If they were alive.
I rose with the sun. A yawn shook me as I wiped the sleep from my eyes. Before the world ended, I wasn’t a morning person. Most days I woke closer to noon. My job as a freelance writer allowed it. Like an idiot, I took it for granted. Now, if I wanted to get anything done, I had to do it while the sun was up and visibility was good.
Damn, I missed sleeping in.
I dragged my feet as I headed to the deck. Sunlight cast golden rays across the river. Waves lapped gently at the yacht’s side. The air was crisp, and my breath fogged.
I cracked open a bottle of water and took a sip. What I wouldn’t give for a cup of coffee. I used to have a canister of instant coffee, but I ran out three months ago. I was still chastising myself for not rationing it better. Later, I would go to the Soo Locks Park and stock up on supplies. I could barter for more there.
Acquiring coffee had to wait, though. My new friend needed to be checked on.
I scarfed down a breakfast bar before grabbing my shotgun and a backpack and clambered into the raft.
A moan pierced the air as I reached land. I secured the raft and darted to the base. I entered a small reception area. A waist high desk was near the door with a computer sitting on it. A few chairs were set in the center of the room. Notifications hung on a cork bulletin board. Silence hung in the air as if the room was a bubble that somehow escaped the apocalypse. I almost expected to see Coast Guard personnel walk through the door and demand to know what I was doing.
I shook the feeling off and strode to the red cooler under a window. Flies swarmed around it. When I opened it, a sour stench assaulted my nose. I gagged, barely holding down my breakfast, grabbed a dead rat, and slammed the lid shut.
I walked to the tarp, removed a cinder block, and lifted the edge. Snarls greeted me. The zombie clawed at the sides of the earth. Hunger lit its eyes like fireworks. I lifted my shotgun and pointed it at its head. It stilled.
“That’s a good boy.” I lowered onto my knees. “You’ve been dead long enough to develop your basic instincts. How to walk and run. I’ve heard stories of zombies who forgot how to do that.”
The zombie watched me with narrowed eyelids. The color of its eyes had dulled to a muddy brown, and the whites were tinged yellow. Was it trying to figure out how to get out and eat me?
I smirked. “You should know how to hunt by now. Zombies sometimes hunt in packs. You aren’t as mindless as movies made you out to be.” I dangled the dead rat above it.
The zombie snarled, and spit flew from its mouth.
“I bet,” I continued, “it’s the hunger. It’s consumes you, like a vampire’s bloodlust. Well, if those were real.” Thank goodness they weren’t. One supernatural creature had been more than enough to destroy the world.
A surge of bitterness rose up my throat. The skin on my knuckles turned white from how tightly I clutched the rat by the tail.
This could’ve been stopped. Lives and the world could’ve been saved. She might still be here.
That’s why I did what I did. Why I turned someone into a zombie. No one else knew what I knew. I had to act. The world depended on it, and I was determined to avenge her.
Tears threatened, but there was no way in hell I would I cry in front of a zombie. I drew a breath to push the emotions down to the pit of my stomach. “I bet you can learn to control your hunger. Regain your humanity.”
The zombie had stopped snarling. Every so often, it’s gaze flicked to me, as if encouraging me to continue.
“I propose a partnership. I’ll help you learn to control your hunger, and in return, you’ll help me. Deal?”
The zombie breathed heavily but was otherwise silent. It let out a low groan and held out its hand. I took that as confirmation and tossed it the rat. It caught the rat mid-air and shoved the dead animal into its mouth. Thick blood spurted down its chin. When it finished, it looked back at me.
“We have a deal.” I recovered the hole. A grin filled my face as I strode away. I could train a zombie, no problem.
The zombie lunged at the side of the hole. It clawed the dirt, but it couldn’t get purchase to climb. It snarled. Saliva coated its chin. I tossed the dead rabbit to it, and it tore into the flesh.
Frustrations swelled through me. This was more difficult than I had assumed, but I figured after a week, I would’ve made progress with training a stupid zombie.
The zombie had finished eating. It looked up at me. Was that disappointment in its eyes?
“Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way,” I said. I had been holding out entire dead animals and expecting the zombie to resist. That was a leap. I needed baby steps. I rose and dusted off my jeans.
Back in the base’s reception area, I unpacked the dead animals from the cooler. The stench of dead flesh seared my nose. I gagged and worked faster. Outside, the zombie moaned.
“Patience,” I grumbled.
Blood had congealed in the bottom of the cooler. I ran outside, found a stick, and returned. I swished the end of the stick in the blood. Clots stuck to the end. “All right. Baby steps,” I said as I returned to the hole. I tossed the stick in.
It landed at the zombie’s feet. The zombie looked at me then at the stick. Its nose twitched as it sniffed. A grumble rumbled through it, but the sound was halfhearted.
I smiled broadly. “See? You can do it.” A cold wind blew my hair around my face. Brown leaves skittered across the parking lot. I shivered and wrapped my arms around myself.
The zombie whimpered as it watched me. I swore it looked concerned.
Stomach clenching, I popped to my feet. I was humanizing it too much. Zombies were no longer human. The one below me had left its humanity behind when I put a rope around its neck and killed it.
Guilt flooded me again. I ignored it. I’m not a murderer. It had to be done. The world depended on me training this zombie.
After covering the hole and grabbing my shotgun, I headed away from the base. The streets were empty, and the wind blew debris and leaves across my path. I held my shotgun at the ready and scanned back and forth, hyper-aware of any movement.
Downtown Sault Sainte Marie had been cleared of zombies six months ago. A man-made canal surrounded the area, and the bridges that crossed them had been destroyed. No one could get to or from downtown without a boat. The chance of running into a zombie was nil. I only had my friend because he was a resident of the area and had been alive eight days ago.
Still, I had to be vigilant. Zombies weren’t the lone threat. You never knew how desperate a survivor would be, and you’d be forced to defend your life. In the apocalypse, death was commonplace.
As long as the body was destroyed so it couldn’t rise as a zombie.
My thoughts went to one of the last broadcasts before communications stopped. The deceased had been reanimating as zombies for months. Scientists struggled to figure out why. Eventually, they tracked it down to a virus, one we hadn’t known existed, that infected every person on the planet. Everyone would become a zombie when they died.
We were all doomed.
The Soo Locks Park used to be a tourist trap. People from around the world would come to watch giant 1,000 foot freighters full of iron ore sail through the locks, which lowered or lifted ships so they could travel between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. A tall fence surrounded the area, making it easy to secure from threats. In the center of the park was a welcome center, which was now used as a meeting place. A maritime museum on site had been converted to storage.
Along the water’s edge, an observation deck overlooked the MacAuthur Lock. The windows were busted out and the steps and ramps were destroyed. Ladders were the sole access. Guards stood on the third story and kept watch for danger.
Below them, tents were set up in the grass. Merchants hawked their wares to the survivors—ammo for guns, clothing, food, or seeds. One vendor sold broken electronics. You would think people would forgo those for more practical items, but they flocked around her, hoping for a memory of the way life used to be.
I walked among the living. Tingles ran down my spine. They had no idea I had hidden a zombie a few blocks away. If they did, I’d be run out of town and forced to survive on Michigan’s mainland. I wouldn’t blame them. I had put everyone in danger.
But I was committed to my plan. There was no turning back. Everything hinged on the zombie learning to control itself. It had to succeed.
“Erin, I figured you would be around soon.” The man who had spoken wore a wide-brimmed, straw hat, slacks, and a white shirt. He had a thick, long, reddish-brown beard. A shotgun sat at his feet.
“Hello, Josiah.” I smiled warmly as I stepped up to the Amish man’s tent. Vegetables were piled in baskets. Jars of honey sat on a table with small, yellowish candies. Herbs hung overhead. I perused the food. “I’m looking for root veggies.”
Josiah hefted a basket of potatoes onto the table. “The harvest had been good this year. Plenty of potatoes, carrots, onions, and beets. I have kohlrabi as well.”
I unzipped my backpack. “I’ll take some of each. Fill ‘er up.”
“Gladly.” Josiah loaded my backpack.
“What are these candies?” I asked, examining the packets.
“My wife made them out of maple syrup. Want one?”
He threw a baggie in and wrote up the invoice. He handed me the slip of paper. “That’s five of each and will be a day’s work.”
“Sounds good. When do you want me?”
Josiah scratched his beard. “The cows broke through the fence last week. I got them contained, but I could use help patching the fence properly. Does sunrise work for you?”
“I’ll be there.” I slung my backpack onto my shoulders. I grunted at the extra weight.
I bid Josiah goodbye and hit up a few other vendors. Money was obsolete. People had used it at first, but found it worthless. Now, they exchanged services for the items they needed. In the time since the world ended, I had learned to build homes, cut hair, cook food, sew, and a host of other things.
Restocked, I headed back to base. I never lingered at the Soo Locks Park long, because people reminded me of what I had lost. I thought about her enough as it was.
The zombie moaned when I approached. I flipped back the tarp. It looked up at me. Did it look worried again? No. It was probably hungry. I retrieved a few dead rats and tossed them to the zombie. It hesitated a second before shoving one into its mouth.
Once I ensured the zombie was secured and locked the gate, I stored my food in the base and returned to the yacht. The sun cast brilliant yellows and pinks across the horizon. I leaned on the railing and watched it sink. Voices whispered in my memories, taking me back to the time when I had a life and a future.
Now that you've enjoyed that, head over to your favorite retailer to buy a copy so I can stop judging you and bashing you over the head with the link. 😉
AND OF COURSE THAT'S NOT ALL!
Be on the lookout for a giveaway to win a swag pack or handmade bookmark in the next few days. I also hope to have the energy this time to do a Facebook Live, but I don't want to promise it and have to back out again, so let's play it by ear. Make sure you have liked my Facebook page so you don't miss it if I do it.
Thank you for being with me on this journey and for all your support. Now, let's go eat some cake, but use your forks or spoons. We aren't mindless zombies with no table manners, after all.