Halfer: My Life in The ZA

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Halfer:  My Life in the ZA

So, if you’re reading this, I guess there are survivors. And, I guess I’ve long since turned.

Maybe it’s been 2 months since I straggled in here, carefully evading the black helicopters that relentlessly circle—those guys can’t tell us from the herd. I get it, though. Physically, we look like full-on Zs, even if we still have a chance. We do, or…did, you know? If they’d worked towards a cure.  We kept our faculties for a while. I’m proof positive. I mean…hello! I’m writing this aren’t I?

You’re probably wondering why this place. Why would I choose this place to spend my final days? The answer is really as simple as it is complicated. We had a plan in the beginning. The boys—my boys—were just going to get food. I had to be where they could find me if they…I mean…just in case.

We weren’t stupid or careless like some. We’d laid in enough supplies to last us for months the minute, probably the second, the news of the first “unexplained” death hit. Both sheds were chocked full to the rafters with water, canned goods, first-aid stuff, gasoline, and, of course, all the ammo we could get our hands on. We’re survivalists by nature. No way a few moaning, limping Zs were gonna take us down.

And they didn’t. We trapped rabbits and squirrels that happened to make their way into the yard to extend our protein. When spring came around, we grew a garden from all the seeds we had left from last year.

My daughter-in-law and I made quilts and clothes for winter. She and I canned food over the fire pit my sons built for us in the yard. All summer we stayed busy readying ourselves for what seemed more difficult than the Z part of the ZA: learning to survive as our ancestors had.

We’d seen a few at first, but our town was small, and we were already amidst a deep freeze when it hit here in our neck of the woods. That slowed ‘em down, I guess. We put as many of ‘em out of their misery as we could. We reinforced the fence, and planned for the future. It’s a small town. There could only be so many. Not to mention, back before we only had RFA (Radio Free America), all the radio stations were saying the government “was working hard to contain the situation and guarantee the safety of EACH and EVERY United States born citizen”. Unfair, probably, but we would be covered, or so we hoped. But of course, they lost. Big shocker. They were never prepared for real home born terror. Nope. They were too busy creating imaginary threats and increasing the empire to see death of US citizens as a cottage industry.

To be honest, we’d been screwed since Trump was elected in ’16. After his inauguration, he continued to ignore climate change, and by 2020, just as scientists had predicted, the Arctic turned into a massive 7-11 Slurpee instead of the ice rink it had been for centuries. Whatever was lying dormant in that thousands year’s old ice floated downstream straight to where it could do the most damage.

First, it was a swimmer of Miami. She lost her shit on the beach, taking out a couple dudes who’d been ogling her all day, hoping by night she’d be drunk enough to fuck. They laughed at her hobbling along the beach for hours until she finally went full-on Z. The hot Miami sun must’ve helped the virus bloom, because by the time night came, those dudes were nothing more than her moonlight snack. Hell, she probably picked them specifically before she turned-Dumb bastards. They had it coming, if you ask me. As usual, the Trump administration blamed immigration—said it was probably Ebola or some kind of typhoid. If he didn’t really know better, he sure learned when he put his thousand dollar boots on the ground in Texas for that emergency meeting they had. First president to die in the ZA. We barely noticed he was gone.

It wasn’t until the leaves started to turn that we noticed them coming more frequently to the fence. My boys said they didn’t recognize the faces anymore. The way they had it figured, as cold as it gets up north, they were making their way south—a zombie migration along with the geese they seemed to follow. I guess even people go back to their animal roots if we don’t have a choice. Darwin in reverse, but it means survival, so it makes sense.

Anyway, we made it pretty good, though. La Niña visited us with a cold, wet, early winter. So, by December, we were safe in our own home, nothing stirring outside. The basement was full of our summer’s work, and we stayed warm by the fireplace my boys had built. We even had clean drinking water because of the water filtration system my DIL and I devised. You had to  think smart and not drink the water after the water plant was shut down. God knows the shit lurking in that water.

By and large the first year was okay. We made it until February, when as it usually happens with an early winter, it turned 72 one week. The ground turned sloppy from the melted snow, and the Zs who were too slow to make it to their macabre vacation destinations awoke from their icicle haze.

We fended them off as long as we could mostly stay indoors. Once our supplies started running low, we had a problem.

The bunnies and the squirrels quit traveling through the yard. I guess they ended up Half-Z food. My DIL lost so much weight we could see her ribs. My sons decided they simply must hunt. Folks can’t live on poke and wild strawberries. We needed protein and fat. It’d be too long before our garden would grow in earnest. “she might die,” he’d said.

“Hold down the fort, mom, we’ll be back soon.”

They’d been gone about two hours when they broke through the fence.

I failed.

My sons were out there somewhere looking for food, fighting off a herd, and I couldn’t protect us from 4 Zs.

She wouldn’t listen to me. I wanted her to say in the house. I had them by the willow tree all together. It was too hard to get them with the brain smasher we’d made. I had to use the gun. She came running out the door as a fired the third round into the head of the next to last walking corpse, but the gunfire drew more. As she ran out across the yard, two more who’d squirmed through the fence took her down.

I tried to get them in time. There was nothing I could do. They disemboweled her as I ran, firing all the way. She was gone. I dropped my gun as soon as I knew no more were coming. I held her close as I pushed the knife through her brain. I couldn’t bear to watch her become a …a…one of them.

I mended the board on the fence while I tried to find the words to tell my son. She was like a daughter to me, but to him. Fucking Christ. He might never forgive me for letting her die.

Somehow we made it through the next few months. Life was hard without her. It was hard for my son to accept her death. He buried her next to the cherry tree—it had been her favorite place in the yard. I think he forgave me. I guess I’ll never really know.

Summer came and went, and once again, the leaves began to turn as frost set in. We didn’t have so many encounters this time, so we relaxed a little knowing the herd slowed in the cold winter.

Except it wasn’t a very cold winter. Every couple of weeks the temps would rise, giving way to more broken through fence. In January, our food supplies were running low again. The boys decided to leave me there alone. It’s a decision I’ll regret forever.

It seems like it was before 7 am when they left, but being winter, it’s hard to tell. My middle son stayed with me, the boys having decided it wasn’t safe to leave me alone. After some hot biscuits, I hugged my sons tight.
“We love you, Mommy, and we’ll come to you soon,” are the last words I ever heard my eldest and youngest say.

All I remember is my middle and I chopping wood. Then there were those fucking black helicopters. The whir of their blades must’ve stirred them up. Those “combat experts” had no idea how to maneuver in the ZA. They’d never been trained for that.

This wasn’t fucking Iraq or one of those other places where they went to be Badass of the Year. This was home soil they had their “boots on the ground” on, and those were Zs—-fucking Zs, man. They had to know they’d attract a cosmic fuckton of those things. Surely they knew, but they hovered there for so long they probably knew what color my eyes were, anyway. I guess civilian casualties didn’t mean anymore to them at home than it did across an ocean.

I probably couldn’t have counted to 100 after they left before we heard them. There must’ve been hundreds of them, maybe more. Real Zs—no half-lifers. This was the real deal. Shit had hit the fan. You couldn’t get their attention like you could with some of the halfers. There’d be no trying to distract them and put them down easy. Nope. These monsters were ravenous. I guess their food supply was low, too.

My middle yelled, and I did just what he said: I followed him into the shed, and we secured the door. His brothers would know there was trouble if those doors were closed. They’d see the closed doors as soon as they walked up the sidewalk. They’d hear us. They’d save us.

There were just so many.

Looking back now, it was probably only seconds. Those bastards smelled dinner. They pushed open the doors on that decade’s old hunk of metal, and…well, before I knew it….

He was screaming so loud. His voice reverberates through my ears, into my soul. I can feel his wet blood on my face. I see him… I just….God. My middle. My son.

I failed him.

Somehow, I made it to the house. The herd was so busy with my son that they didn’t notice me squirm away. I had to, at least, try to protect my last two boys.

Once the door was closed tight, my head started spinning. Maybe that’s when I was conscious of the fact he was really gone. I was in the house, and he was still out there.

I must’ve fallen backwards down the basement stairs, because when I came to, my ankle was facing the wrong direction. That wouldn’t matter much, though. What I would eventually notice was the set of teeth marks on my shoulder. They’d gotten me, too.

I knew I was infected, but I hadn’t turned. I was a halfer.I was also a danger to my other two sons should they be near me when I made the turn. I wrote a note, and closed myself in the closet.

I’M IN THE CLOSET. HE’S GONE. I’M INFECTED. PUT ME DOWN. I LOVE YOU. SURVIVE!

Who knows how long I waited. Hours turned to days, but they never came back. Eventually, the house was overran with Zs. They could probably smell the recent kill. It pulls them in like catfish to stinkbait, you know. Luckily, I guess, for me, the full-blowns couldn’t tell I wasn’t one of them anymore than the dudes in the choppers. Maybe they can smell the infection. Who knows?

After a few weeks, I decided if my boys came here, they’d be in too much danger. There must’ve been thousands of the turned. I grabbed some spray paint, and left them a note on the outside of the house.

OUT FOR PIZZA. YOU KNOW WHERE.

It was something no one else could decipher. It seemed logical. When my boys came back to me, they’d find me easy enough. We’d been going here forever. Although, now, the smell of rotting flesh had probably overtaken the smell of fresh made sauce. I don’t really know. Once you’re infected, it’s hard to tell.

The weather is warmer now. It must be March, April maybe? I could feel the infection taking over more and more of my body as the temperatures warmed. Once in a while I stare off into space, looking over and over again at that sign that says “A La Familllia”. A strange hunger grows ever stronger inside my gut.

Every now and again the whir of the helicopters make some of us move by the front door, catching my attention. Today, some of them stopped out front, shuffling in place,  mumbling the mutter of “ma ma ma ma”. Today, I joined my family.

(Image source: http://coolwallpaperz.info/wallpaper/entertainment-zombie-apocalypse-academy-183902-wallpaper_w8905.html)

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Excerpt from “The Daughter” from Portrait of An American Family Short Story Series

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“No right to what? I never really hurt you. It was all just a bad dream, remember? You say one thing about the nightmare you’ve invented and you’ll never make it to that cap and gown you ordered. This conversation is over. Take yourself up the stairs, neatly collect your things, and leave. I’ll make sure the good doctor is paid in full, and explain that you won’t be returning. You’ll be a good sister who keeps her mouth shut, and we’ll live happily ever after. Oh. And while you’re upstairs, make your bed. The last thing I need now is to hear our mother complain about your stupid sheets on the floor.”

Joe released his grip from Evey’s throat, letting her fall gasping on the floor. He turned to his plate of bacon, grabbing a slice with one hand as he wiped his brow with the other. Half crunching his bacon, half choking from his own tirade, Joe muttered “It’s cold. See what you did, Evey, you stupid whore. My bacon is cold.”

She never heard him. She was already back in her room packing her bag. It would be the last time she’d ever be back in that town, alive anyway.

An Excerpt from “The Daughter”-Part 2 of the “American Family” Series

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“Lloyd had been gone nearly 10 years now. The judge granted her mom a divorce after he’d been gone 2 years, but not without a fight. A husband who vanished into the night never to resurface, even for part of the bank account, raised more than a few eyebrows for quite some time. There was a relentless investigation led by none other than Langston’s very own Sheriff Markel, but to no avail. Nary a shred of evidence led them to Mr. Dimesdale. Eventually, the good judge signed the court order relieving Elenore of her marital status, and awarding her sole custody of the home, bank account, and both children. That no one ever heard from him again, not even his own family, was the demon in Evey’s attic she couldn’t quite exorcise.”

Quick Excerpt from “Spoof”

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“We grew up with parents who did the very best they could for us. They tried hard to teach us what we’d need to succeed in life, but they failed us. Their failure wasn’t their fault, though, you see. They failed us because the American Dream failed them.”

The Sheriff walked away wishing he didn’t have to tell the boy that, break his heart that way, but someone had to set him straight. It wasn’t small-town life or the people who lived it who ruined the world for the kid. It was something far beyond anything they could ever imagine that had torn their town, Keller, apart limb from crumbling limb.

It was the citizens who were the endangered species. Sure, they’d fought for the whales, the bears, birds, fish, and even plants, but no one had ever taken into consideration it would be the biggest species on earth that the government would let fade out of existence—well not all of them. Just the unimportant ones. The ones that didn’t matter. Those outside a tax bracket that could fund a campaign. Politicians couldn’t kill them off—hell no, that’d be a crime. But they sure could let their industry die, and after that followed the livelihood, the happiness, their lives. Moving to the city was about all they had, but he’d be damned if he’d let what his grandpa helped build be destroyed in a generation. As long as he could still slide his feet into his boots, the Sheriff made sure that town’s heart was beating.

Excerpt from ” Spoof”

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“I definitely believe in certain situations it is better to be feared than loved. People will walk all over love–they’ll take advantage of love, and throw it away. People don’t fuck with fear too much. If they do, if they overthrow the one they fear, that means they’re bigger, stronger, and more worthy of fear. A person can respect that because they earned it. There’s nothing respectable in those who just take advantage. So yeah, sometimes I’ll pick being feared all day long.”

Bringing the Outdoors In

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This is a tiny story inspired by all those DIY shows that overuse the phrase “bring the outdoors in.”

Bringing the Outdoors In

Every morning she awoke to the sun shining across the mud room into her bedroom. The warmth of the sun lifted her from her bed, relieving her of the ailments that accompany being her age. After the percolator completed its symphony of bloops, she’d enjoy one cup—never more, of her favorite morning blend as she admired her friends just past the kitchen door.

At exactly 8 AM sharp, she’d slip her feet, bunions and all, into the vinyl gardening shoes she’d purchased down at Herschel’s Hardware. They were pink just like her favorite wave petunias.

Carefully, she’d remove her garden implements from the porch sized portable shed, and she’d slide on the vinyl gloves with the yellow daisy print whilst greeting her blossoming buddies with “Good morning, dolls!”

Knelt down beside them, the woman would strangle the tiniest of weeds that had sprouted up in the night, pulling them from their seats next to her friends.

“You don’t belong here,” she’d say. “This row is for the beautiful people.”

Admiring her work, she’d smile at the perfectly manicured rows of color. Her arthritic knees would grind in protest as she’d try to stand. She knew there wouldn’t be many more mornings like this.

As the sun rose overhead, she’d return the garden tools to their spot in the shed, and make her way into the mud room, slipping off her pink slip-ons before returning for lunch and a second cup of Joe.

Each afternoon, a new piece of dirt collected next to her shoes, slowly taking over the space one grain of dirt at a time. Her eyes never noticed it lying on top of the brown hardwood floor.

One morning, something was different. As she woke, the aroma of dirt that had been lucky enough to catch a soft spring rain wafted across her as the sun smiled down on her. The birds seemed, closer, louder, happier, perhaps.

Her old bones creaked as she rose from her bed, placing her feet on the cool floorboards.

“What….What is that….I…I…think I’ve….My eyes….Something is wrong with my eyes,” winced the lady as she moved steadily towards her bedroom door.

“That tree…It…How in the world?”

Just as she moved closer to the mudroom, she could see clearly. The room was full of dirt, trees, flowers.

“How…who…who did this?”

“This isn’t funny. I know I’m old, but you vandals. You come out this instant before I….”

Before she could finish her sentence the branch of the red oak reached down and pulled her closer.

She felt instantly comforted as it pulled her closer and closer, enveloping her in its soft, green leaves.

The woman began to ask if she was dreaming when suddenly the tree swept her up and swallowed her whole.

Just like that, the woman was gone, the tree making room for a younger, more beautiful specimen for it to gaze upon.

Several weeks passed before the new family could finally move in.

As the new mother looked onto the mudroom floor, she yelled into the kitchen at her husband:
“Geeze Louise! Will you look at all this dirt? What did that lady try to do, bring the whole garden in with her?”

“It’s okay, hun. We’ll get some new floor covering if you want.”

“Nah. I kinda like it. It gives it that woodsy feel. You can’t go wrong with nature.”

Newest Excerpt from “Spoof”

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“You see, son, killers are like nightmares. They both start out benign-friendly even. No one ever drifts off to sleep and falls smack dab into the middle of a nightmare. Nightmares are what happens when that beautiful dream twists and turns in your head until it becomes so distorted it starts attacking you. Killers are the same way.

Most folks aren’t killed by strangers. It usually turns out that whoever’s doin’ the killin’ used to be the victim’s friend–an acquaintance at least. Then somethin’ happens –jealousy, an argument, just somethin’ that twists that friendship until someone ends up dead. Ya can’t always trust friends, boy. ‘Cause just like your dreams, friends can make you wish you’d never closed your eyes.” ~From “Spoof”-TLN