Roger heard the dead behind him; he wasn’t pulling ahead as fast as he’d have liked.
“Still the right decision,” he said to himself. Taking the car would have had him back in thirty minutes, but the sound of the engine would have pulled zombies in from all around; he couldn’t chance to find himself under siege and stuck at the pharmacy. What would become of Mary, then?
Besides, leading the zombies away from the bunker was a good thing, but having them always behind him was a tad disconcerting.
Just don’t slip, he advised himself. Then, as if the thought were its cause, there was a slip. He looked behind at the sound just as the lead zombie fell face first into the alley with a crunch of bone. Roger cringed involuntarily; the dead don’t feel pain, but he’d had his nose broken more than once.
It became a Keystone Kops episode, as the dead fell over one another until all were on the ground. Most tried to right themselves, but the slick ice and uncoordinated limbs prevented them from doing so. They slipped and fell over and over.
He couldn’t hold back the laughter. Pratfalls of the dead, Roger thought and debated taking a couple out with his Woodman’s Pal before they could get back up. He looked at the one that had fallen with that horrid crunching sound, it wasn’t moving at all. Nope, better not chance it.
He turned and headed towards 95th Avenue. Seemed a good spot to search a few houses. Maybe he could even pen up the group behind him in a fenced-in backyard. Assuming they’ll be able to get back up, of course–he could still hear them slipping and falling.
“I’ll have to get Mary here,” Roger said while looking at the bare lilac trees growing on the other side of the road. They’d bloom in a few months, providing a pretty and sweet-smelling reprieve from the undertones of decay.
Movement in the backyard of a home caught his attention. A girl walked towards him.
The quicker... step of the newly-turned had fooled him...
“Hello!” Roger managed, after shaking away what must have been a stunned look; besides his wife, he hadn’t seen another living person in months. And, as she approached the fence gate, walked into it, backed up, and walked into it again, he realized that he still hadn’t. The quicker, more coordinated step of the newly-turned had fooled him.
Roger looked at her more closely. She was still a child, mid-teens, perhaps. Dead, but walking, of course. The girl–the zombie–he had to stop thinking of them as human, kept bouncing off the gate and walking right back into it, like an album skipping at the same spot.
clack… clack… clack…
The wound on the torn neck looked relatively new and not the dark greyish tone found on zombies that had changed weeks ago. The reality of that hit him.
“Just a block away,” he whispered. She could have been safe if he had known. Her family could have been safe, living with him and Mary in the bunker. A block away and neither one aware of the other.
“Is your family in there? Did one of them turn and attack you?” Roger asked. The zombie replied by walking into the gate again, its fingers bending awkwardly against the wire of the chain-link as it tried to reach for him.
She must have fled the house after being attacked, the wound not allowing her to get beyond the backyard before dying. Now here she was.
clack… clack… clack…
Worried the noise would attract more of the dead, Roger pulled out his axe. But he ran into the same issue as he had with Bert; it’d be like striking down his own wife. A day or two ago this girl was full of the memories sixteen years can hold; places visited, moments of life shared with ones that loved her and she loved back. Then, a single bite, a single affliction, had pulled those memories from her mind like chapters tore from a book until the story was lost forever. Now, she was simply a shell that moved and walked, stripped of the moments that lent to the person she once was.
Much like Mary.
Anger swelled up, surprising Roger. He raised the axe in order to strike down the zombie as if it were a manifestation of the malady inflicting his wife. For several moments he struggled with the action he wanted to take. Finally, with a half-sigh half-cry, his arm drooped to his side.
“Can’t. I just can’t,” Roger whispered. She had been someone’s daughter. Still is, really. And she was no threat to him locked up the way she is.
He could almost hear Mary teasing him about such sentiments; not unkindly, mind you. It was just the difference between the two of them, Roger was quicker to accept things than Mary. But once accepted, Mary never hesitated to act. It was like his role was to persuade his wife and hers was to put in motion what needed to be done. It was part of what had made them such a great team. At least until Alzheimer’s had reared its head.
“I miss you, Mary” Roger said.
The zombie’s fingers had snagged the chain-link, and it didn’t seem to know to let go as it attempted to move away from the fence again.
... he probably would have died as he stood transfixed by the girl...
He probably would have died right there, transfixed by the girl, if the other zombies hadn’t given themselves away.
I’m glad these things can’t sneak, Roger thought, as he looked behind him at the sound of lazy steps scuffing across asphalt and ice.
Most of the Keystone dead had regained their footing and shuffled towards him. The first that had fallen was obviously never getting up again, and the new leader was much closer than Roger was comfortable with.
“Foolish old man,” he scolded himself. His window of opportunity had closed–no time to check homes now. He turned and hurried up the alley. One more block to go. He’d have to push himself if he hoped to lose the dead before Crestwood Centre. But he had a plan for that.
Coming February 23rd, Chapter 4: Old Man, Wintered
Thanks to Fred Armbruster, Executive Director & Founder of the Canadian Civil Defence Museum And Archives for providing details, images from inside the bunker, and making this project much more than it would have been without his cooperation. Thanks, Fred!