Al Bruno III
The following story was originally published by Eden Studios
The living dead shambled aimlessly down the street, their clothes and flesh in tatters. My heart in my throat, I angled the van around them as best I could, but they flail at the vehicle as it passes, their slimy fingers streaking the body. I had hoped to find settlements here on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. All I found was abandoned cars and shattered storefronts. The Pancake House was in flames, the grocery stores had all been looted, zombies milled around inside the showroom windows of a department store, gnawing confusedly on half-clothed mannequins. Every few miles I tried the CB radio, hoping to find someone, anyone out there that could help.
The seat beside me was filled with ammo and weapons. The medical supplies and food was in the back with Laura. She breathed harder and harder with each contraction. This wasn't planned -- you have to understand -- none of this was planned.
I had been making my way North. Everyone's been making their way North since the zombies came. The theory is that the undead will be less active in the colder regions. Don't know if its true or not, but it seemed like a good idea.
I had came across Laura by the side of I-90; she had run over one too many zombies and it had gummed up the underside of her car. They had started to swarm her little Volvo.
I had pulled over to the side of the road and popped enough of them to give her a chance to make a run for my vehicle.
Sometimes it amazes me how good a shot I've become over the last year. When all this started, I didn't even know how to fire a gun. Guess all those games of DOOM were good for something after all.
I had figured I'd be dropping her off at a settlement someplace, so I had asked her where she was going.
"North." she had said.
And that's how we started traveling together. It was nice to have someone to talk to again, and someone to watch my back when I was foraging. She was no great beauty by any stretch. I mean, she could have been a real looker but there was something sour about her looks. She was good enough company though, and when we had made love at night in the back of the van she was eager and welcoming.
That was then. Now, the gas gauge read a quarter of a tank left. Laura was moaning in pain, she pushed and pushed but the baby just wouldn't come. It had been almost twenty hours of labor and still nothing. She was going to die if I didn't do something soon. I tried to CB again, hoping to find a settlement, a military base -- someplace with a doctor.
I knew I should have worn a condom or pulled out or something, but she told me she couldn't have babies. She said there was something wrong with her ovaries. Something gynecological, I don't remember what exactly. But she got pregnant anyway. Figures, I never won a damn thing in my life before.
Suddenly an idea occurred to me. Ocean World was up ahead. They have -- they had rides and animal exhibits and dolphins and killer whales. A place like that has to have a first aid kit, several first aid kits maybe.
Laura is saying my name over and over the whole time I made my way to Ocean World. The parking lot was empty. We drove around the skeletal remains of a bear on the way in but aside from that it was clear sailing. There didn't seem to be a lot of zombies milling around. Always a good sign. They had probably eaten everything there was to eat months ago. The living dead aren't above eating animals -- I've seen them chow down on anything from cows to kittens. I think they prefer people though, I've never seen zombies swarm a caribou the way they swarm people.
Maybe it's the way we taste.
I parked the van as close as I could to the main entrance but Laura was beyond walking now. I told her to wait there and I'd get a cart or something to bring her in. She begged me not to leave her, not to abandon her.
It took me fifteen minutes to calm her down. Jesus Christ! Fifteen minutes wasted! I locked her inside the van. I had the hunting rifle and a handgun with me. Extra ammo was loaded into the pockets of my jeans. Hopefully, I wouldn't need any of it but zombies are like fucking roaches. They get everywhere.
Ocean World might have been a fun place to visit before, but it was creepy now. The grass was overgrown and heavy with weeds. The rides creaked and rocked to their own rhythm. I found a couple of golf cart things right away but they didn't have any power. There was a sign that pointed me towards the Visitor's Aid Station. That was where I had to go.
Most of the animals were dead in their pens. Looked like starvation, but what do I know. Poor things. Some of the bears had gotten out somehow but the zombies had gotten to them and picked them clean.
Speaking of the devil, I spotted a pair of zombies staggering around the remains of little building called the "Snack Shack." They were bloated and weird looking. Huddling in the corner of the aquarium building, I thought about taking them out.
Problem was they might not be the only living dead in the park and I didn't want to attract too much attention if I could avoid it. I decided to cut through the aquarium and take the long way towards the first aid station. I passed through the archway that invited me to "Explore the Wonders of the Deep" and entered the darkness of the dead aquarium. I'd forgotten the flashlight, but I didn't want to go back to get it. I was afraid I'd loose my nerve.
Rifle drawn, I made my way through the murk by touch. Occasionally, my hand would stray across the clammy surface of a tank. I couldn't see the dead fish floating inside but the cloying stench told me they were there.
The passage I was in seemed to be turning. I wondered if I was going in circles. What if I came right back to where I started? Could Laura afford for me to waste any more time?
Squelching footsteps alerted me to the fact I wasn't alone. Something moved in the darkness, a shadow among shadows. I shouted a warning but there was a no answer. The shape moved closer. I fired, but th e shot was wide of the mark. The muzzle flash gave me a momentary glimpse of my attacker -- a zombie in the garb of an Ocean World tour guide.
The bullet shattered one of the fishtank walls. Water and dead barracudas spilled out over the floor, knocking the zombie off-balance. It wobbled a moment and then fell clumsily into a heap.
When its head was up over floor level, I fired again. It twitched once and then lay still. I slumped against the wall, trying to bring myself to keep moving. I really just wanted to curl into a ball and wish this shithole of a world away. Before Laura I used to think about suicide -- sometimes I would hold a gun under my chin and wait for my courage to take hold. Of course it never did. I don't know what scared me more, the thought that there might not be a next life, or that there would be a next life and by killing myself I'd lose the chance for it.
But I couldn't die now, I had responsibilities. I got up, started moving. Stagnant water and liquefied gray matter pooled around my feet. A few moments more of walking and I saw light at the end of the corridor. I picked up the pace.
The exit brought me out to a huge amphitheater, seashell-shaped with long benches interspersed with tall stairways. There was no stage at the heart of this auditorium though, just a huge tank. The thick glass walls of the tank were frosted with grime and lichen. The water was brown and murky and it sloshed gently over the edges. I had a momentary vision of warm weather, frolicking dolphins and laughing families.
From there it was quick sprint to the squat Visitor's Aid Station. I kicked open the locked door to find medical supplies in abundance.
And wheelchairs! They had wheelchairs!
I grabbed one and headed back for the van. I didn't go through the aquarium this time. I just popped the two zombies hanging around the "Snack Shack" and prayed my luck would hold out.
When I got to Laura she was hyperventilating and there was some kind of fluid staining the crotch of her sweatpants. It didn't look like blood or water.
Not good at all.
I took a long hard look around before I set the rifle down beside the van. It was all clear.
"I didn't thin k you'd come back," she kissed my hand like I was the Pope or something. "I love you."
I shushed her and got to work. It wasn't easy loading her into the wheelchair. No matter what I did it seemed to hurt her. In the back of my mind, I started thinking about that Robin Hood film they did with Kevin Costner. I remembered the black guy in the movie had delivered a baby by cutting the mother open and taking it out.
Jesus. Would I have to do that?
Grabbing a knapsack full of iron rations and bottled water, we got moving. I rolled her through Ocean World. Halfway to the Visitor Aid Station, I spied one of the living dead off in the distance. I thought about taking it down, only to realize that I'd left the rifle back by the car. I still had the pistols, but I decided to save them for now. As we passed the amphitheater, something I spotted out of the corner of my eye made me stop dead.
There was a dead killer whale floating at the top of the stagnant water. Had that been there before? Or had it jut bobbed to the surface? I couldn't be sure. Huge swathes of its black and white flesh had been gnawed to the bone. It writhed with zombies. Th ey crawled over its massive bulk like maggots, immersion in water had left their bodies bloated and warped.
The awfulness of what I was seeing held me there I couldn't look away.
Suddenly one of them saw us. It fumbled off the whale's body and clawed its way over the thick walls of the tank. It flopped onto the ground with a wet smack. Others started following, seething up over the edge of the tank trampling each other in their hunger.
Laura's scream goaded me back into action. I started running, pushing the wheelchair ahead of me with all my might. I could see the Visitor's Aid Station just up ahead.
I didn't see the crack in the pavement.
The front wheel of the chair hit it at just the right angle, knocking Laura face first onto the pavement. The impact with the back of the chair knocked the wind out of me and I fell -- I wheezed something unintelligible about the baby. Laura stirred groggily, blood trickling down her forehead.
I rolled over and saw zombies, too many to count, bearing down on us. I drew one of the pistols and fired four times, three zombies fell, and one stumbled, th e rest just swarmed over them.
Laura was trying to get to her feet, but she was too swollen, too sore to move quickly enough. Our eyes met. "Save yourself!" she said, "Leave me!"
Save myself? I knew that alone I could outrun them, she was only slowing me down. And for all I knew she might die anyway giving birth. It wasn't cowardice. Not when she wanted me to do it.
The legendary settlements in the North beckoned me. I stood slowly, felt my legs tensing.
The zombies were close now, close enough for me to hear the squelching of their footsteps. Staring into a sea of putrid, black gummed mouths, I made my decision. I hefted the wheelchair over my head and with an indignant cry hurled it into the thick of them. Some of the zombies toppled like bowling pins; the others just kept coming.
Somehow I lifted her up into my arms and started running.
It wasn't long before my lungs were on fire and my muscles were screaming in protest. I was afraid to look back, too afraid to see how close they were. Laura moaned with fresh contractions.
I barreled through the door to the Visitor's Aid Station and let Laura slide from my grip.
Cold hands locked around the back of my neck, dragging me back through the door. I screamed and tried to kick free. More hands found me.
And I knew that this was it. I had failed her, failed my child, failed at everything, as I always knew I would.
Laura pulled one of the pistols from my waistband and fired over my shoulder. Blinded and deafened, I fell forward. On her knees, she fired again and again.
I can't believe I almost abandoned her. Funny thing, I wasn't really aware of how much she meant to me until that moment. I think that the real horror of all this isn't that the dead were coming back to eat the living. The real horror is what it's making us become. What we're letting it make us become.
Hours later, barricaded in the Visitor's Aid station, I watch Laura breastfeeding our newborn child. The zombies are camped right outside, we're both sore beyond description, and the only thing more limited than our supply of food is our supply of bullets. We don't know how in the Hell we're going to get out of here, and we have no idea what the future might hold.
But right now that doesn't matter.