As I watched the sun rise over the distant mountains, I thought about everything that had happened. How everything had turned to ashes in a matter of seconds. I thought about how the only place of safety I once had was now lost. How the Undead took it away, scattering blood and—
I looked down at the bowls of beans on the portable stove. Only three bowls and three spoons; one for me, one for Antonio, and one for Jason. I adjusted the propane level. It was luck to see that every bandit and traveler had left the stove and propane untouched. The beans were definitely a surprise, but the oven mitten and spoons were expected. After seven years into the zombie apocalypse, I expected everything to be gone. Couldn’t say that it would always turn out where we had food to eat, however.
The door to the Winnebago opened behind me. I turned where I sat on the dirt hill to see Antonio Hernandez walk out and sit down beside me. He was tall and thin, around the age of thirty with dirty black hair that sat atop a broken, square face. Glasses, cracked and bent, hung on the rim of his crooked nose. His bottom lip had a scar that ran down to his chin.
We sat in silence for a while, until the silence was broken when Antonio asked, “Is it ready?”
“Oh yeah, here.” I picked up the oven mitten, grabbed a bowl, and handed it to Antonio. I grabbed a spoon, which was lying on a piece of tissue next to the stove, and handed it to him.
“Thanks,” he said as he took it. The silence returned as he ate his bowl. When he was almost finished with his, I took one for me. Best thing I’d eaten in a week.
“Are you still blaming yourself for Amanda’s death?” Antonio asked while I chewed.
I nearly choked on the beans when I swallowed. “Wha-what do you mean?”
He shrugged. “You know, ever since the Undead got to her, you’ve never been the same. You always sit by yourself and just look at nothing. Whenever I try to ask you about it, you zone out and say ‘I’m fine.’”
“See! You’re doing it again!” I barely heard him, his voice a mere echo in a long tunnel. Images were passing through my head. Her tears running down her cheeks. Her blood streaming down her neck as the Strider dug its teeth into her. Her screams of pain. The baby inside her stomach kicking, trying not to be food for Striders.
I shook my head and squeezed my eyes shut. I felt something trickle down the corner of my eye. “Amanda died because of me. My baby—my baby son or daughter—died because of me. I just stood there and watched her die. Her death is my fault. My fucking fault! MINE!”
“You can’t blame yourself for her. She wasn’t your responsibility.”
“The hell I can’t.”
“Listen… I know what you’re going through. I understand what—”
“You don’t understand! Don’t tell me you understand!” There were tears rolling down my face. They were cleaning it of the dirt that covered it.
“Okay then,” Antonio said, and shifted where he sat, “story time. I once had someone I cared for. Seven years ago, before the world turned to shit. She was beautiful, and I thought I loved her. We went everywhere together. To the mall, to the store, to the movies, you name it.
“Then the apocalypse hit. The first Strider I saw was a father biting into his wife’s neck, on my very street. I left my mom to go search for my girl. Mom lunged after me, but I kept running. But when I walked into her house, it was too late.
“She was lying on the couch, face pale and expressionless. Her stomach had been ripped open and everything inside was being eaten by her brother. I knocked him off of her and beat his head in. Then I cried at her side before leaving.
“She was gone, but I’m still here, aren’t I? You don’t see me regretting her death and saying it was all my fault. Granted, it’ll take some time, but what I’m trying to say is that Amanda Colt’s death is not your fault. Just remember that, Justin.”
I looked back toward the mountain. The sun was way above it now. Then I looked down at the valley of Lakeview. Leaving it would be hard; I had spent all of my childhood there. There were hardly any memories of my mother, Helen. But memories of my father, Adam, were clear. The good times and the bad times. The times he got drunk and beat me. The times where he came home late with a different woman each night, kissing her neck and leading her to his bedroom. The times I lay awake at night, hearing things a young seven-year-old should never hear, ’Fuck me harder!’ But there were also the good times with him, when he wasn’t drunk or banging every chick he came across. We would go to the movies. We would relax and watch TV. We would wrestle, and he would win.
Then there were memories with Amanda Colt, the girl my father never knew. The girl that I knew since kindergarten. Even back then, she got me into the worst sorts of trouble, always getting me into shenanigans, and every time we got caught, I took the blame. It was because I thought she was pretty. Around the fifth grade, she stopped getting me into trouble. We just walked and talked and laughed. But now I’m twenty-years-old and have gone through shit, and recent memories were fresh, as if I were looking into a puddle of undisturbed water.
The door to the Winnebago opened once again. I turned off the propane and stood up to see Jason Vasquez walking towards Antonio and I. He used to be large around the waist and short, but the lack of food made his stomach cave in. Before, he would stand out as an average middle school student. A silver tooth was visible when he yawned. He rubbed his baggy eyes. His face was covered in scars, and he hardly had any hair left, since he had cut it all off with scissors. He was also in his thirties, maybe late twenties.
When he finished rubbing his eyes, he saw the bowl. His expression brightened as he walked over to the stove. When he saw how much was in the bowl, however, his face turned sour. “You sons a bitches ate all the beans. Don’t you know I’m fuckin’ starving?”
“Jason, there wasn’t that much in the can. We each had some,” I said carefully.
“I don’t give a shit if you’re hungry or not! Have you even thought about bigger meals, Justin? I’m bigger than the both of you two combined, so your skinny asses should have to share one bowl!”
“If you haven’t heard the news, dumbass, the zombie apocalypse came seven years ago. Supplies are low everywhere. You’re lucky we found this, much less me having the decency to make you one and not eat it.”
“Don’t tell me I’m lucky! I will fuck you up before you have a chance to fuckin’ blink!”
“Not with your slow, fat ass you won’t.” Good job, Justin. Start a fight with an already pissed off guy with tons of fighting experience.
Jason launched towards me, grabbing the collar of my shirt and trying to throw me down all in one motion. That was his flaw. He had a lot of flaws, including running his mouth off.
When he flew towards me, I let him grab my collar. When he tried to throw me down was when I acted. He tried to throw me down to his right. Instead of falling onto the dirt, I wrapped my arm around his neck and swung him onto the ground. While he lay face-down, I put my knee on his back to hold him down. I took his left arm, held his wrist with one of my hands, and put pressure on his elbow with the other hand. “One move and I’ll break your arm,” I whispered into his ear. “Now be a good boy and stay still.”
There was a bang. I looked to see Antonio shooting at something down the hill. I heard the moans. There were Striders, and a lot of them. Maybe a few Screamers. And I wasn’t hoping for any Berserkers; those things are nasty.
“Antonio, hold them off! Jason, get to the RV!” I pulled Jason off of the ground and threw him towards the Winnebago. He stumbled, but he ran. He closed the door behind him. I ran towards Antonio, the gunshots filling my ears. I pulled out my Python and started firing once at Antonio’s side. And my eyes saw nothing but dead bodies walking.
Most of the Undead walking up the hill were Striders, your average zombie. There were a few Screamers, which screamed to attract the attention of other Undead when they see prey. Thank God there were no Berserkers, which were large and muscular, and had adapted to the environment over long periods of time. I aimed for the heads.
“Antonio!” I called over the gunfire. “Grab the stove and everything and get back to the Winnebago! Cover me as I run back!” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him nod and run behind me. I also heard gunshots behind me. The Undead were all around the hill.
I kept firing and reloading, hitting and missing my small target. I pulled out my knife, which hung on my belt loop. I stabbed a few Undead that got too close in the eyes and temples. Better to save the bullets if they got close enough to stab.
“Okay! Get your ass over here!” I heard Antonio yell. I pivoted on the spot and ran. There were about five Striders in between me and the Winnebago. I wasn’t going to let myself die. My grip on the knife tightened. I sliced one arm that was reaching for me away. Then I swung—with full force— the knife through a Strider’s neck. The head fell onto the ground, still snapping. I continued to run past the last three Striders. Antonio had already started the Winnebago by the time I jumped in and slammed the door shut.
The Winnebago started forward, and soon we were driving. I took a deep breath as I sat down on the couch behind the driver’s seat. “Where’re we going, Antonio?” I asked.
Without looking back, he said, “Somewhere in the outskirts of San Bernardino. We can make it that far.” With that being said, he went back to driving.
I looked around the Winnebago for the first time in what seemed like forever. It was one of the bigger models that were produced. The stairway led up to two leather seats, one of them the driver’s seat, the other the passenger. Two couches sat across from each other, both exactly the same: leather with three flower-decorated pillows. Next to the couches was the kitchen, containing a stove, microwave, sink, and fridge. Across from that was the table. Down the hallway were the bathroom and the master bedroom. Jason was inside, lying on the bed. A small window was above the bed, allowing sunlight to enter.
I stood up and caught my balance as Antonio turned the Winnebago. I walked towards the bathroom slowly, holding onto the counter and table for support. I opened the bathroom door, but looked over at Jason before going inside. He had his arm over his eyes, and wasn’t moving except for the slow rising and falling of his chest. He hadn’t gotten bit, though. I knew he didn’t.
The bathroom was small, barely having any room to move around in. I looked in the mirror over the sink. A man—with long, dirty, blonde hair, blue eyes that have seen too much, a small beard that was growing on his chin, and several pimples scattered across his face—looked back at me. That man was me. Those blue eyes that have seen too much were mine. That small beard, which I didn’t take pride in, was mine. And the few pimples on my face were mine, though I thought my puberty days were far behind me. It was the dirt in my face that created those pimples.
I turned on the sink, let the water warm up, then cupped my hands underneath the stream and splashed it onto my face. The dirt came off of quickly. I dried it with a towel that sat next to the sink.
I walked out and back to the couch. There I lay, having just survived a zombie attack and alive. There I lay, and went to sleep, where nightmares greeted me.
I was crouched and moving through the cafeteria. I was at Mountain Shadows Middle School, and I knew when. It was about six months ago. There was a light coming from the kitchen. I knew very well who was in there and I was about to kick his ass. He deserved an ass-kicking.
I stood up straight and walked through the door. There he was. Thomas Smith. He stood there, looking through the food. A player all through school, catching the eyes of almost every girl he met.
“Did you fuck my girlfriend?” I asked. He didn’t turn around, but his head rose.
“What would you do if I said yes?”
“I’m not playing your fucking game anymore, so enough with the bullshit! Did you fuck Amanda?”
He turned around. “Yeah, I did. And I’ve been smuggling food for her. For the baby. For my baby.”
I ran at him, screaming, “YOU SON OF A BITCH! I’LL KILL YOU!” I grabbed his neck and started to squeeze. He kneed me in the stomach. I released his throat and stumbled back, trying to breathe. He tackled me to the ground. I blocked most of the punches he threw at me. I eventually had enough, so I grabbed his head and brought it down to mine. He got off of me and stumbled back, hands on his forehead. I stood up, the rage building inside of me. Just keep fighting… for her.
I ran towards him again. This time, however, I kicked him. He doubled over, allowing me to grab his head and bring my knee to it. He caught it, picked me up, and slammed me to the ground. I felt the wind leave me. I lay still trying to process the pain. Thomas got on top of me, throwing punches at my face. I couldn’t feel the pain; my entire body was numb. Then I pictured Thomas and Amanda together, having sex on the classroom floor. Just keep fighting… for her.
I heaved Thomas off of me. He went flying to the right. I stood up, rubbed the blood off my lip, and then waited for Thomas. He stood up and charged for me. I was ready for it. In one swift movement, I had tripped him and he was on the ground. Then I was on top of him and beating his face in, screaming, “THE CHILD IS MINE! THE CHILD IS MINE!” He tried to throw me off, but I pinned him down and held his neck again. And through all of the blood on his face, I looked into Thomas’ eyes and saw the guilt before it was replaced by emptiness. I rolled off of Thomas Smith’s corpse, and cried. Just keep fighting… for her.
The world slowed down, and when it returned, I was standing in front of Amanda. She was looking up at me. She was beautiful, with her smooth face, blonde hair, and dark hazel eyes. I had just confronted her about Thomas.
“…we didn’t have that affair, Justin! You gotta believe me!”
“Tell me the goddamn truth, then! Is the baby mine or his?” We were both in tears and alone.
“I… I don’t know. I don’t know whose it is.”
“Don’t tell me that. Please don’t tell me that. Oh God…. You… you cheated on me!”
“I’m sorry, Justin. I’m so sorry. I swear. I swear I am! I just got lost in the moment.”
“Lost in the moment? Lost in the moment! What other excuse do you have for me? ‘I banged him on accident’? Is that a good one? How about, ‘I accidentally let him put his dick inside of me’?”
“Justin, please stop.”
“The bastard is dead now! I killed him, Amanda! I’ve never killed anyone before! It’s different than the Striders! I was mad, but I didn’t mean to kill him! He’s dead now! He’s dead!”
“I… I shouldn’t be yelling. I shouldn’t be yelling at you. Just don’t talk to me for a while. I don’t want to hurt you anymore.”
“You never did hurt me!”
“If you ever need anything… urgent… you know where to find me.” I left her there, crying.
The world slowed, and when it came back I was running from something. I didn’t know what, but I kept telling myself, Just keep running… for her.
I entered classroom 20, the door closing behind me. I took off the backpack and threw it on the table. The supplies kept getting lower and lower. There hadn’t been much food in the cafeteria, but I took what I could. Jason sat in the corner, looking out the window. Antonio was talking with Darian Jones. He saw me and walked over.
“What did you get?” he asked.
“Not much,” I answered. “A few sandwiches and one bottled water. We’re going to have to move pretty soon, or this place will be a gold mine for the Undead.”
Amanda walked by, took her food, and left. Antonio and I watched her walk away.
“How’s she doing?” he asked.
“How am I supposed to know?”
“You guys aren’t doing well, are you?”
“Ever since Thomas, nothing between us has been the same.”
“So when are we planning on leaving?”
“As soon as she has her baby.”
“Whoa, whoa, hold on there. A newborn baby couldn’t last out there. Much less a woman after giving birth.”
“I know, but I’m trying my best. I still love her, but can’t tell her. She hates my guts right now, and there’s nothing I can do about it. As soon as she gives birth, we’ll give her some food and leave this hellhole.”
“Where are we gonna get formula?”
“Mrs. Gertrud had a baby around the time the apocalypse started. We’ll search her house.”
“Listen to yourself! What if there isn’t anything left? What would you do then?”
“I don’t know!”
The world slowed down again, only this time when it came back, it stayed slow. Striders surrounded me. Some were feasting and others were trying to get some food. I was looking at Amanda, who was being eaten alive. Blood poured from an opening in her neck and arm. Her tears and screams almost broke me. Her stomach kicked as the child inside tried to free itself….
I screamed, and the world exploded.... The Striders disappeared. Amanda disappeared. I stood alone in the darkness. The darkness stood around me. There was only silence. I cried, but I couldn’t hear it. I screamed both a scream of rage and regret. Amanda was gone. My child was gone. Gone. Taken from the world. I realized that pouting wasn’t going to bring them back. Nothing was. They were gone. I screamed again. The darkness shattered, and I was surrounded by flame….
Just keep going, and you’ll find salvation… you’ll find hope….
Just keep living… for her….
I sat up quickly, my forehead, palms, and chest sweaty. I was back in the Winnebago, sitting on the couch. Sunlight poured in through the windows. I turned to look at the front. Jason was sitting in the passenger seat, and Antonio was still driving. They were talking and laughing about seven years ago, before the outburst. I looked out the front window and saw that we were on the 215. Abandoned cars were scattered all over the road with corpses hanging out of them. There weren’t that many blocking the road, allowing Antonio to be driving about thirty-five miles per hour. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, or a zombie in sight. But the world was… quiet. And it always would be.
Some people speculate that the apocalypse started due to a flu symptom that was sent out around the world weeks before doomsday. Scientists, hidden away and secure, were trying to find one of those symptoms and analyze it for traces of Solanum, the disease that is said to infect people, kill them, and bring them back. But it brings people back… different. Hungry for flesh, and thirsty for blood.
I asked, “How long have I been out?”
Jason looked back at me, but Antonio answered, “About three or four hours. We’re almost to San Bernardino.”
“About damn time you wake up, too,” Jason said, but when I glared at him, he turned in his seat and looked forward again.
I sat on the couch, pulled out my book, started reading, and waited until the Winnebago pulled off of the highway.