In September one of my giveaway gifts was a short story featuring the winner as a zombie apocalypse survivor. The giveaway is done through my mailing list which is at my website www.eloisejknapp.com.
For these giveaway short stories I ask the fan what their weapon of choice would be and if there was anyone they wanted to suffer a gruesome death. What Daniel said surprised me. “Life’s too short to hate anyone.” I thought that was awesome. It wasn’t what I expected and it made me think. I wanted this story to reflect something I rarely touch on in the zombie apocalypse, which is the good side of humanity.
Daniel covered Jordan as he shoved cans of food into a plastic bag, feeling optimistic about their find. His gaze never settled in any one spot on the tiny convenience store. You were knew where the dead would be lurking.
Chili, baked beans, pickled beets. Almost three cans of each. Plus they’d found a few packages of jerky in the convenience store break room. This was a feast, more food than they’d had in weeks.
Jordan hefted the pack onto his shoulders. He grinned. “It’s heavy.”
“Not for long,” Daniel said. “I’m starving. Back to base?”
“Yep. Quick and quiet. Let’s go.”
The two paused at the entrance to the quickie store, taking a look outside. Thick lazy snowflakes drifted to the ground, adding to the already five inch deep layer. The snow made things difficult, but it also helped them see any tracks left by the undead. The only set of prints was theirs coming from down the street directly to the convenience store.
Daniel’s heart pounded in his chest, but he kept his nerves in check. He clutched the suppressed .22 handgun and strained to hear any groans or shuffling. The snowfall dampened sounds.
No matter how many times they left to find food, it didn’t get easier. They still feared for their lives, or that they wouldn’t find any food at all.
“Clear, come on,” Daniel said.
He went first. They followed their own footsteps exactly, using the indents to make their progress home a little quicker. Neither Jordan or Daniel liked trudging in the snow longer than they had to. The city might look abandoned, but it wasn’t. There were zombies. Other survivors who had bad intentions. All hidden and waiting for the right moment.
They turned left at a daycare. Behind the chain link fence trikes and toys were all smooth mounds of snow. The door was open–had been open since forever–and the skeleton of a kid was halfway out. Daniel looked away and focused on the pig plumes of white coming from his mouth. They needed to find a different route. He hated walking by the daycare.
After another block they were in front of base. At three stories, the office building was the tallest structure in the town. It was the newest, too, built only a couple years ago. The colors were tan and blue with white trim, and a peaked roof had a giant clock. It was supposed to look classy. Daniel and Jordan chose it for its vantage point. If they climbed up the service ladder they could see through little windows across the entire town.
Daniel kept watch while Jordan moved a bench from the front doors. It wouldn’t do much to keep out humans, but it was good enough to keep the dead out. He unlocked the doors and they shuffled inside. They waited five minutes, listening and waiting for any signs someone followed them. Satisfied they were alone, they took off their gear and settled in. If they were lucky, they wouldn’t have to leave for another week.
The chili steamed on the small propane stove, its scent filling the office they designated as a kitchen. Daniel’s stomach rumbled. He was so hungry it hurt. The last time they ate was four days ago; canned pineapple and Vienna sausages. The pineapple gave him canker sores.
“I think it’s hot enough,” Daniel said. He clutched his metal spork in hand.
Jordan used the sleeve of his jacket to move the can in front of Daniel. “Definitely. Here you go, man.”
It tasted like heaven. He shoveled in two bites before he realized he’d burnt his mouth terribly. Daniel gulped down some melted snow from a beat up plastic cup and made himself slow down. They ate in companionable silence until Jordan–as usual–started talking.
“I always thought when the zpoc happened I’d go kill my boss over at Dairy Queen. I regret not doing it. Hell, there’s a lot of people I would’ve offed if I had the chance. What about you? Who did you want to revenge kill?”
“What? You’re kidding.”
“Life’s too short to hate anyone, so no,” Daniel said. “I never dreamed of the zombie apocalypse happening so I could kill someone or get revenge. That just isn’t me.”
Jordan took a big bite of his chili and spent a good minute chewing it. He had a pensive expression and Daniel could tell wheels were turning. Finally, he shrugged. “Good on you, I guess.”
Even though he and Jordan had been survival companions for two months now, they rarely spoke about life Before. It was painful for Daniel. He’d lost everyone within the first couple weeks. A year later did nothing to mend the grief or depression. There was a permanent bleakness to the world that, he imagined, would be there until the last living person died.
Lately Daniel wasn’t sure what he was living for. Not Jordan. He wasn’t a friend. He was a nice guy, but Daniel always suspected he’d leave him for dead if he ever had to. He hadn’t encountered living people for months. Before that, the ones he did were terrible or wanted nothing to do with him. If there was nothing in life to live for, living was pointless. He was going through motions, nothing more.
Despite their constant hunger and the bleakness of their lives, Jordan enjoyed it all. He liked killing zombies. He’d killed living people too, in self defense he claimed, and was not fazed by it. He liked not having anyone rely on him.
Those kinds of thoughts were what kept Daniel awake at night. He imagined some day his last drop of hope would evaporate and he’d feel it, like a shift in his body, and he wouldn’t want to live anymore. Or worse, he’d be like Jordan.
His chili gone, Daniel rinsed the can and his spork, and went to his sleeping bag. He slipped out his pocketknife and faced the wall, adding another tiny line to the tally of days survived.
“Daniel! Daniel wake up.”
His eyelashes were frozen shut. Daniel had to cover his face with his hands and exhale hot breath to free them. When he looked up, Jordan was already going up the ladder to the clock.
“What is it?”
Daniel’s stomach tightened into a knot. People could mean a lot of things. They could be raiders who’d kill them for fun or their supplies. They could be other survivors who needed help, more help than they could give. Or, what Daniel hoped, they were better off and would help him and Jordan.
He wiggled out of his sleeping bag and followed Jordan up the ladder. At the top was a narrow walkway just below the clock. There were tiny rectangular windows overlooking one side of the town.
“Morris street,” Jordan said. “Oh God. They’re headed to the FEMA camp. Gonna be a blood bath.”
About a half mile down Morris, four adults and two children walked single file down the snowy road away from the tower. Daniel knew they were following signs to the old FEMA camp. It was set up just outside of town a month into it all and was overrun with dead a week after. The dead congregated there for some reason, their bodies statues inside tents and trucks. It was why Daniel and Jordan were so quiet; loud noises might draw the horde deeper into the town.
“We need to stop them,” Daniel turned and began descending the ladder. “They’re going to die.”
Jordan leaned over the edge, but did not follow. “Let them go, man. They’ll be at the camp before you can catch up with them.”
“I have to do this.” Daniel hustled down the ladder and grabbed his suppressed handgun. He couldn’t explain to Jordan why he needed to try and save the people outside. The guy wouldn’t understand.
He removed the barricade from the door. Suddenly Jordan was behind him and helped pull the bench aside. “I’m not going. I’m staying here. But you can come back if you make it.”
Daniel gave him a curt nod. His body felt electric as adrenaline coursed through his veins. He descended the steps and broke into a full run around the building towards the group.
When he realized how far he had to go before he met up with him, it didn’t discourage him. It made him work harder. He eventually caught up with the path they’d already cut in the snow and used that to his advantage and picked up speed. He clutched his gun tightly, eyes scanning the buildings flanking him. So far no dead.
After another few minutes he caught up. He spotted them clamoring on top of an overturned humvee. About fifty yards away was the FEMA camp. Six undead were shuffling towards the group, but made terribly slow progress in the snow. There were already four around the humvee trying to scramble up. It was an awful idea going up there to begin with; more would congregate around them and then they’d have no chance of escape.
Daniel was a good shot, but with little ammo every shot had to count. He used the dead’s distraction to his advantage and crept up behind the first. With his gun pointed directly at its head, he fired. The bullet went through its soft, rotten skull and ricocheted off the humvee. Daniel’s heart skipped a beat at the sound. He needed to be careful.
His action drew the attention of the two nearest him. The first tripped over the body of its comrade and tripped, its head landing conveniently at Daniel’s feet. He saved a bullet and crushed it’s skull in with the heel of his boot. The skull caved in and the monster stopped moving.
One of the survivor’s on the humvee leaned over the vehicle and used the butt of his rifle to knock down the other undead. It turned to its assailant and Daniel closed in, pointed the gun at its head and pulled the trigger.
There was still one left. Daniel closed in on it and put it down with one of his last rounds. Beyond, more zombies approached from the FEMA camp, drawn out by the noise.
“Get off there, quick!” Daniel shouted. “Before they get here!”
The biggest figure climbed down first and started helping the others down. Daniel came forward to help, too, but the survivor brought his shotgun up.
Daniel raised his hands in the universal sign of peace. “I don’t want any trouble.”
“Neither do we.”
“I came to warn you about that camp. There’s nothing there. Just a ton of dead. As you can see.”
The man was at least six feet. He stood in front of what must be his family with a protective stance. He glanced behind him at the two undead, the seemingly empty tents. “We need supplies.”
“There’s dozens in there. Once you get into the tents you’ll see. They’re just standing around. There might be supplies but you’ll die trying to get them.”
They were all off the humvee now. One of the adults came beside the man. Daniel couldn’t make out a gender—the figure was bundled with scarves and a hood–but when she spoke he heard an older woman’s voice. “I think we should trust him, Charles. He just saved us.”
“We can’t trust anyone, mom!”
That last drop of hope was threatening to vanish. Daniel knew why he wanted to save these people. He wanted to know, once and for all, if there was something worth living for. He didn’t know what he expected to happen. Part of him felt foolish. He’d risked his life, and ammunition, to rescue them and they were doubtful of his intentions.
“Listen,” Daniel said. He paused. What did he have to tell them to convince them? At a loss, he said, “I just wanted to help. That’s all.”
It must’ve been something in his voice. The man was silent, then nodded. “I believe you. It’s just, well…there aren’t good people out there anymore. We’ve come across a lot of bad ones.”
Good people. Daniel was a good person. It was easy to lose sight of it in this new world so wrecked from death and destruction. When you were isolated you lost sight of humanity. All that time in the clock tower, surviving but not living, ate away at him.
“We need to get out of here,” the older woman said as she looked back at the undead. “We live outside of town in a farm house. Do you need a place to stay?”
“We don’t have much,” the man said and shrugged. “But you’re welcome to.”
All he had was a bit of food and his sleeping bag at the clock tower. Nothing worth going back for. He knew Jordan wouldn’t come with them. Jordan just wanted to survive. He wanted to kill, to use the new world as an excuse. Daniel wanted something more. A new life—yes, a life—might be in store for him if he went with the people in front of him.
That inkling of hope shifted. Grew.
The man motioned for his family to start walking. He pulled his scarf away from his face, showing a stubbly chin. His eyes were a startling shade of green. “What do you say? We could always use help getting supplies and taking care of the place.”
Daniel managed to smile, for the first time in a year. “Yes. Thank you.”