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There was less blood than he expected, and the sound they made when they popped out was almost like boots breaking through crusty snow. And just yesterday, a zombie-proof life had seemed so simple.
* * *
Not long before that, Ronald had been sitting on the toilet seat and listening to the zombies paw at the locked door.
These zombies understood the mechanics of doorknobs, but weren’t quite smart enough to use tools to batter down doors. More Russo zombies than Romero or Brooks. But not textbook Russos: They grunted and snarled, but none of them spoke.
At least they weren’t fast.
* * *
At home in his attic, Ronald had crates of rations and water, a shotgun, six rifles, boxes of ammo, fuel, even a cylinder of liquid nitrogen. The steps to the attic could be pulled up in seconds, keeping anyone hiding there safe from all zombies but those capable of using fire or ladders. Ronald doubted if fifteen other people on the planet were so prepared.
At his workplace, Leon’s Lenses, he had cut a hole in the drywall of the upstairs storage room and crammed in a katana and three weeks’ worth of dried food and bottled water. It did him no good anymore, but he hoped that if any of his coworkers were trapped in the building, one of them would stumble upon it. He wasn’t close to any of them, but there was no sense in all those supplies going to waste.
Ronald wasn’t the type to be caught blind by zombies—in fact, he was only in this mess because of a SNAFU with his registration at the BMV. The BMV prohibited concealed weapons, even permited ones, so Ronald was even more vulnerable here than when he showered. The car was hardly worth the hassle, even in normal circumstances. He had three durable bikes at home—what did he need with a vehicle that required fuel? But one of his buddies on the zombie message board had said it was a vital part of the toolkit in case you needed to leave the area entirely, so he’d grudgingly plunked down for a used car.
“Too bad,” the withered red-haired woman behind the counter told him, as she looked at his papers. “You could have just mailed this in if you had form 89B-4.”
Before Ronald could answer, the screaming began. The BMV’s windows only provided an oblique view of the outside, but he could see that the parking lot of the strip mallwas suddenly dotted by bloody struggles as the broken forms of the undead lurched towards them in a mob thousands strong.
“What in the holy hellheck?” sputtered an octogenarian, holding fast to his place in line. Ronald grimaced. These poor fools had wastedsquandered years of potential zombie preparation time—they never believed it was coming.
Ronald quickly ticked through the options. This couldn’t be a natural zombie apocalypse caused by disease, aliens, or government—there would’ve been warning signs, heralds of doom. This must be Zombie Apocalypse Scenario VII: Sorcery or Demonic Influence.
But there was no time to waste considering causes. Instead, he ran to the back of the BMV’s lobby as the first of the zombies crashed through the glass door. He rushed through a door marked “Employees Only,” the clerks and a few patrons right behind him. He was hoping for a rear door, but saw nothing but a pair of restrooms and an open area with a couch.
It was odd, Ronald thought later, that we segregated so naturally. All the women in their bathroom, and me alone in mine.
* * *
But those were the good times, before the bite, back when he still had a chance. Now, his body going numb and a sick hunger growing in his belly, he was fumbling with a tool kit. He could feel vigor mortis setting in. He would have to hurry, but he was cool under pressure.
* * *
Approximately one hour and fifty-seven minutes after first sighting, he heard the first scream from the women’s restroom. He could guess the reason: ZA Threat #3: An Infected Hides Among Survivors. One of them must have been bitten or scratched, but hid with the others in the bathroom anyway. The women had been too trusting. Far too few people knew the necessity of mandatory strip searches. Ronald used to chide such characters at the movies, but listening to the women’s anguish actually made him sad.
Poor naïve fools.
One of the women apparently survived the initial attack and yanked the door open, but this just caused the zombies outside to start shuffling towards her. Her screaming was steady, hit an extreme high, and then went quiet.
Didn’t get far, Ronald thought. Must be a lot of them.
Ronald had a global satellite phone with a high-speed internet connection and detailed maps, a wonderful survival tool. It was under the seat of his car. He couldn’t call for help and had no idea what was going on outside his immediate vicinity.
I have been uncharacteristically sloppy, Ronald chided himself. Just when it mattered most.
He at least had the sense to fill the sink with water, and was filling the wastepaper basket as well when the lights flickered and went out.
Most definitely Scenario VII. The strip mall was positioned in the power grid such that a single downed wire wasn’t likely to cause a blackout. No, the power here wouldn’t go out so quickly…unless the zombies were deliberately targeting power sources or generating technology dampening fields.
It occurred to him that he had spent far too much time concentrating on biological zombies.
It was his frustration that made him risk opening the door.It was so dark inside the bathroom that even the BMV offices seemed bright, since the sun was still shining through the shattered front windows. The shadows fluttered, and at least three zombies turned to look at him. Ronald took stock of the layout and slammed the door. Back in pitch darkness, he heard dead fingers scratching outside, but he was actually relieved. He’d trained for this scenario thousands of times.
On the opposite side of the bathroom, he leaned hard against the wall. Finding two studs, he crushed into the drywall between them as quietly as possible with the steel tip of his shoe. The zombies outside the door didn’t move, implying low-grade senses, intelligence, or motivation.
He had hoped that the other side of the bathroom wall would give him a clear line to the outside, but instead it opened into a storage room, full of boxes and papers. Enough light streamed under the door that he could see that the area was clear. He slid across the small room and listened at the door. Nothing, but these zombies weren’t exactly chatty.
He cracked open the door and peeked into the BMV’s back offices. No zombies were visible, and the route to the exit, just around the corner, looked clear.
He took a few quick steps. Battle plan: Formulate tactics based on the threats around him. Make it home. Reach the attic. Fat city.
The lights flashed on.
Ronald lurched and sprinted back to the storage room. Computers were rebooting. Somewhere a radio crackled.
No! Why would the power come back on? Did the zombies have anything to do with it after all?
Rule one: Focus. Don’t worry about the power supply while surrounded by zombies.
A rotten hand snaked out from behind a desk and grabbed his sleeve.
Ronald always went over his clothes with razor blades before wearing them, carefully sawing away at the seams so they would rip if pulled. His sleeve tore off, and the zombie stuffed the cloth in its mouth before realizing its mistake. But others were popping up, blocking the path to the door. He’d never get to the exit now, but he might make it back to the bathroom.
A huge zombie, the remnant of a man too obese to walk while alive, shuffled towards him, the first of a pack. Ronald vaulted over a desk, scattering registration forms and pens, dodged the fat zombie, and ran towards the bathroom.
He’d practiced just this maneuver hundreds of times at home.
Almost there, almost there. The bathroom was a zig and a zag away. A legless zombie dragged itself from under an overturned chair, and three more lurched around the corner.
Ronald cut to his left, evading the crawler, grabbed the chair, and pushed it into the three walkers. Before they could recover, he dropped and lunged. He would have been home free, had the obese zombie not grabbed his bare arm.
Faster than they should be. Most definitely supernatural.
He spun away from the heavy zombie, dodged the other three, turned the corner, and slid inside the bathroom, just beyond the zombies’ reach. He allowed himself a fraction of a second of satisfaction before realization sank in.
He was in the women’s room.
A zombie hit him from behind, scratching at his shirt and hair. He’d kept his hair trimmed short so there was nothing to grip, but the swipe set him off balance. He’d studied martial arts for years, but this zombie was faster than the ones he’d trained for. He elbowed her in the head, tore open the door, and barreled into the men’s room.
It was as empty as he’d left it, hole in the back wall and all. He locked the door and slumped to the floor. He couldn’t believe the lights had thrown him so much. He had mapped out better defenses against zombies than anyone else on the planet, but it didn’t matter anymore.
The rotter had bitten him.
On the upper part of his arm, a few inches above the elbow. If only he’d worn one of his leather jackets, or if the other zombie hadn’t ripped off his sleeve. If only…but it had been so warm this morning. Global warming: the zombie’s stealth ally.
He traced the bite mark with his fingers. It wasn’t much. Skin barely broken. And these were Scenario VII Zombies. Maybe they didn’t transmit through biting. Maybe….
But his whole arm was going numb, and despite his terror, his heart was beating far too slowly. No, this was clearly Scenario VIIC: Sorcery or Demonic Influence Transferred by Bodily Fluids. It was only a matter of time.
Ronald was realistic enough not to mope.It might be possible to decapitate himself with something in the supply room, but–some side effect of the infection?–he couldn’t bring himself to try. There had to be something. Something to show the survivors that he hadn’t been caught unprepared. That, despite his misfortune, he was a man who knew his zombies.
He searched for a bit, found a small tool box in the supply room, and finally knew what to do. Not as dramatic as decapitation, but the survivors might see him, recognize him as a man with foresight and planning. A far worthier immortality than being undead.
* * *
It was getting harder to concentrate, but once he set up his grip, they’d wiggle out without much effort. He pulled another and another, until only his top molar was left. He yanked, crushing the enamel somewhat, but still getting it out, root and all.
He flipped the last tooth and the pliers into the sink. His vision was beginning to cloud over, but his gums were empty. He gave himself a bloody grin in the mirror. Hell may be full and the dead walking the earth, but he refused to be part of the problem. He had more foresight than that, and they’d all be grateful when they saw his walking, toothless corpse.
Whoever found him would know that, even if Ronald T. Turner had been unlucky as hell, he had damn well–damn well–been prepared.
Copyright © 2010 by Mark Mills
Illustration copyright © 2010 by Brian Elig