Hollywood got it all wrong, you know. They don’t crave brains, they crave any living flesh. And they’re not slow, shuffling mindless creatures either. They’re fast, fast and clever, which makes them formidable monsters. I wouldn’t exactly call them “smart” though; if they were smart, they would know that pretty much every house has people in it. I think of them more like sharks- if not in the CDC’s captivity, they prowl their territory until they see food and then they are vicious and relentless trying to get it. You know those sharks that adapted to hunt from directly below and jump straight out of the water to catch the seals? The undead are like that.
We moved our arsenal to my parents room. It feels safer to have yet another door between us and them. On a new moon night, you try to keep your house looking as empty and lifeless as possible. If they know you’re in there, they’ll do anything to get in; so we keep all the lights off, sit on the floor next to the bed, and try to distract ourselves by playing go-fish by the dim light of one tiny candle we have lit. Far in the distance, the CDC helicopters, armed with the largest guns they could gather, circle the containment center at The Wall in case of a break-out.
It’s around midnight when we hear it, the first sounds that tell us that the CDC failed to get all of the undead. Those sounds which tell us it’s going to be a long and stressful night waiting for sunrise. Whatever is happening doesn’t sound like it’s too far to us, and the sound of gunshots are unmistakeable. With a quick puff, the candle is extinguished and the cards that were in our hands have been abandoned and replaced with whatever gun was closest to us.
Crouching low, we make our way over to the barred window, my mom pushes it up to open it just a few inches, so we can better hear what’s going on outside. Through the crack a gentle breeze floats in, the calmness of it so contradictory to what is happening a few blocks away. A few minutes of non-stop gunfire goes by before all is quiet again. Although we don’t say anything, I know my mom is wondering the same thing, who died to cause it to stop? Did the undead make it inside and kill the living? Or did the living people manage to get the head shot that causes final death for the undead?
Another cool breeze pushes it’s way inside and instead of bringing noise with it, it brings pollen which causes a loud sneeze to erupt from deep within me. The noise is so loud and startling in the pregnant silence that it causes my mom to jump at the sound. I mouth a few “i’m sorry’s” to her as she composes herself and stares out the window, waiting to see if any nearby undead may have heard that.
Every breath feels like an eternity as we peer through the window, watching for any sign of movement. Ten long minutes pass before we are finally able to relax a little. I lay my handgun in my lap and stretch my fingers, trying to relieve the cramps from holding the gun in a vice-like grip for so long.
My mom maintains her guard position at the still cracked window, keeping her eyes and ears peeled for any sign that the undead are making their way up our street. I crawl my way back over to the bed and grab a book I had tossed on it when we made camp earlier that night. When she breaks off her vigil and catches my eye, I shake the small box of matches and she nods, a wordless gesture of permission. She feels it’s safe enough for me to fire up the tea light candle to read by.
In the bouncing candlelight, the words swim on the page in front of me. It takes me hours to read a few paragraphs. I’m staring at them but my mind isn’t absorbing them. My mind keeps drifting to the violent sounds from earlier, to what my life would be like if the dead never rose, to Tim, to life outside the wall. I finally give up and close the book, shoving it under the bed in disgust and frustration.
The green illuminated numbers scream 5:27 at me from across the room. One more hour until sunrise, and things have been quiet for hours. We may be in the clear, I think.
A scream cuts through the night.
My mom hasn’t moved from the window since the sneeze but I can see her whole body tense at the sound. I grab a gun and make my way back over next to her. We both know it- that the scream was the sound of the undead, frustrated and hungry. And it was close.
I stare so intently out into the darkness that my eyes quickly begin to feel fatigued and dry. I blink away the discomfort and check the clock again. 6:01. I blink a few more times, pushing through the exhaustion and try to refocus them outside and that’s when I see it. The one thing you don’t want to see on a new moon night.
That’s the only word I could possibly use to describe it. At least 20 undead are moving in a group down the street, walking slowly with their gray eyes scanning wildly around them for any sign of movement that could mean a quick meal. And they spot it at Mrs. Gunderson’s house across the street and three houses down. She must have pulled a curtain back to watch the horde and they caught it.
More shrieks erupt as they race across her lawn to the front of her house. From our vantage point, we watch as their rotten fingers try to pry off the metal shutters, probing for any weakness in her defenses that could get them through the front door and on top of their meal.
If her shutters can hold out another 32 minutes, she’ll be safe. But that is a long time against a horde.
While some of them work on her front door, others split into groups and try to pry the shutters off her windows. They hiss and shriek and make guttural noises as they work. One of them grabs a rock and begins smashing at the bolts holding a corner in place. In the darkness this sends a tiny shower of sparks with each hit.
It’s 19 minutes until sunrise when their effort pays off and the shutter over the front window begins to peel away. The groups all converge on the tiny breach and every hand begins working at it, trying to pull it open enough that they can pass through.
And that’s when I feel the tingle in my nose again. No, no, no, no, please god no. Fucking pollen! I press my non-gun hand to my face, trying to smother the feeling, but it’s coming.
My sudden movement got my mom’s attention and her face contorts into pure terror as she realizes what’s about to happen. She drops her shotgun and tries to shut the window but it’s too late.
My sneeze booms throughout the room and the silence that follows is deafening. My mom is frozen on her knees with her fingers pressed to the window frame ready to close it but not actually closing it. As soon as I recover, I follow mom’s stare to the horde and see that every single gray eye is fixed on our house.
Those few seconds that follow, nobody moves at all: my mom, me, the horde. It’s as if you can see their thought process, continue working on the shutter or take a crack at the new food source. All at once they decided and charge down the street, directly to our front door.
The banging they make on the front door shakes the entire house. My intestines feel like they’re in knots. They’re directly below our window so we can’t really see them, but we can hear and feel them. Our reinforced front door is holding but we scramble and grab the rest of our guns and lay them out around us on the floor, facing the bedroom door, ready for anyone that makes their way inside.
I have so much adrenaline coursing through my body that my fingers tingle as I fumble with my handgun.
“Mom?” my voice trembles, but hers is rock steady as she replies.
“We’ll be fine, honey. There’s only 15 more minutes until sunrise. That door can hold out for 15 minutes.” She must be terrified too but she isn’t showing it and I love her even more right then.
Every bang sends my heart into my throat. There’s too many of them, they’re going to get in. Sweat beads up on my forehead. My breath is coming in quick pants. I feel like I’m going to pee myself or hurl.
Then the banging slows and there’s a different sound that replaces it. The window is still cracked open behind us and we can hear their snarls and grunts and somehow they sound as if they’re getting closer.
We spin around just in time to see dead fingers grabbing at the windowsill between the bars. Two seconds later the gray eyes pop up over the edge, frantic and hungry. With no hesitation, mom grabs a 2×4 and shoves it through the open gap, pushing the head back. He loses his grip on the sill and tumbles backwards down the pile of undead that he climbed up.
Ten minutes. Please. Just ten more minutes.
In no time, another face appears in its place, another undead made his way to the top of the pile, trying desperately to get to us. He makes it higher than the last one.
I aim the gun but can’t pull the trigger. I don’t know his name, but I recognize him from the restaurant- cheeseburger, medium rare, salad instead of fries. In mere minutes, he’ll be back to normal. I can’t end his life now. Mom tries the 2×4 trick again, but he somehow manages to grab it and yank it out of her hands and out the window. I hear it thunk on our walkway below.
With one hand, he’s got a firm grip on the iron bars across the window, with the other, he balls it up and slams it through the window, shattering the glass and sending it spilling into the room.
“Please stop!” I scream at him even though I know he won’t respond, not yet. The sky is getting lighter behind him. Any minute now he’s going to snap out of it and be himself again, but right this second his free arm is through the bars trying to grab us. My mom aims her shotgun at his head, finger hovering over the trigger. “Mom, no! Wait!”
His fingertips graze the end of the barrel just as she fires. He managed to move it just enough that instead of the headshot she was going for, a chunk of his forearm and elbow are blown off, falling to the carpeted floor with a sickening sound. The shot throws off his balance and he falls back but manages to keep his grip around the bars. With what remains of his arm, he shoved it through the bars again, trying to get at us with his stump.
With one last shriek, his face changes from the monster it just was to the face I know, only now it’s clouded with confusion. The pile below that was holding him up collapses as they all return to their normal state and his face disappears from the window, leaving just his arm on our floor.
My mom lets out the breath she’s been holding for who knows how long as we set our guns down in the warm orange glow of the morning sun. Then the air raid siren sounds again alerting the townspeople of sunrise.
Read Part 4