A block never seemed so long. He couldn’t hurry as fast as he’d like, but the zombies kept slipping, making it easy to stay ahead.
I have time, Roger thought, looking behind him. Up ahead, a brown, wooden fence prevented the alley from continuing forward, instead, it ran left and right. The dead would follow either route.
“Over the fence, then,” he muttered.
A truck was the only vehicle in the small parking area. Chunks of shade, from the nearby evergreens, slowly two-stepped across its white surface.
As good as a ladder, Roger thought, heading towards the truck.
Stepping onto the rim of the front tire, he grabbed a windshield wiper and began pulling himself up. With a snap, Roger found himself falling backward, with the broken blade still clutched in his hand. An explosion of light filled his vision as his head slammed against the ground.
Don’t pass out… don’t pass out. He repeated to himself. The world spun and he couldn’t focus as if he’d just gotten off The Zipper at K-Days.
shuffle… scrape… slip… shuffle…
They were too close.
He tried to gain his feet, but dizziness swayed him. Not going to happen, he thought. Maneuvering to all fours, he crawled towards the truck and pulled himself upright. Placing his foot on the front bumper, Roger grabbed the top of the fence to pull himself up. He couldn’t. One of the dead had a hold of him.
The zombie pulled on his backpack, biting the top of it, as Roger unclipped the strap and shrugged it from his shoulders. With the sudden lack of resistance, the zombie overbalanced, and Roger heard it fall in much the same way he had a moment before.
He scrambled up the truck’s hood as more dead hands tried for purchase; their bumping and jostling for position prevented them from doing so.
He went over the fence like a toddler attempting a somersault; graceless comedy.
He went over the fence like a toddler attempting a somersault; graceless comedy. And for the second time, in as many minutes, Roger found himself falling. He landed laying partially on his side. A snow drift cushioned the blow and numbing cold embraced him as snow travelled down the neck of his shirt.
Stupid invention, Roger thought; winter would never be a preferred season.
He lay on his back looking up at the clear sky, and took slow, deliberate breaths, trying to calm his hammering heart. He was healthy, but preferred not to learn the limits of that.
“I’ll hurt tonight,” he said aloud, then admonished himself as the zombies attacked the fence with added vigor. Whatever, a bird’s fart will have them off in another direction soon enough. He stifled laughter–it was glorious to still be alive.
Crazy, damn world. They were words that had popped up in his head several times a day for the past half year, or so.
He’d never had such a close encounter with the dead before. He’s seen them up close, walked roads with them in sight, but never had one grab or almost bite him.
They’d been lucky, him and his wife. They lived out the first few months after Deadmonton in their home. The shutters on the ground floor, which had been installed to help keep the house cool in the summer, made it possible to do so.
Even when he dragged his wife screaming to the bunker, there’d been no interference from the dead. But now, after this encounter, everything was much too real.
Tortoise and the hare, Roger thought. They just kept coming; didn’t need rest, didn’t need to recuperate. They’d continue until you either faltered, screwed up, or wore down. That’s how they took over Edmonton–the world–slow and steady. Well, except for the beginning, there was nothing slow about them then–venturing outside was tantamount to suicide.
They'd continue until you either faltered, screwed up, or wore down.
He turned his thoughts back to the task at hand. The backpack would have made it easier to bring back the medications, but the zombies had claimed that for themselves. The pharmacy would have bags, though, and there wasn’t a lot on his list.
It was the store that he and Mary used, chosen simply for the name–Crestwood Apothecary–it seemed a spot in a Tolkien village. It was the service, however, that made him a long-term customer. Hopefully, it’d serve him one last time.
He moved to get going, and with a hissing inhalation, Roger slapped his hand to his side. What have you done now? he wondered, pulling his shirt and jacket up to take a look.
If he had landed on the other side, he would have been fine; The Woodsman’s Pal had a protective carrying holster, his other axe didn’t, the handle of which he simply slid between his belt and pants. When falling, the blade had sliced his stomach. Not severely, just a shallow gash a few inches long, but enough to be of concern–couldn’t see a doctor if it became infected. He mentally added disinfectant to the shopping list. For now, he held a handful of snow against the wound to both soothe and clean it.
No more wasting time, Roger thought, as he left the axe by the fence so it wouldn’t rub and irritate the wound further. He took a look around; to his left were the West 43rd condos, with the Valleyview Condominiums on his right. Directly ahead was 96th Ave. Cross that and he’d be at Crestwood Centre, where the pharmacy was located. A three-minute walk, if that.
Not bad, he thought, only almost died once. He smiled, then thought of the axe, and how if he had landed a little more on his side, it probably would have gone right into him. But he didn’t, and it didn’t; couldn’t really add that to his near-death count. Perhaps he’d embellish a little when he told Mary.
Eyes set on the pharmacy, Roger preceded forward, passing between the condominiums. It wasn’t until the zombie stepped out from around the stairs on his left that he knew it was there.
He grabbed for his Woodsman’s Pal, as the zombie lurched forward, but the carrying holster was snapped closed. He frantically tugged harder; once, twice. Too late… too late, he thought, as the teeth drew nearer.
Backpeddling, he tripped and landed beside the cement steps. The zombie came with him. Roger pushed its head back to keep the things teeth away. The bulk of the zombie lay on top of him, and it made for a lot of bulk; Roger doubted it was much healthier in life than it was in death.
He couldn’t wiggle free while fighting off the zombie’s attack, and the Woodsman’s Pal was pinned between him and the girth of the dead thing moving on top of him.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Roger repeated; Mary in the forefront of his mind. His arms were weakening, and water kept dripping on his forehead and running into his right eye; an added annoyance he could do without. He tried to angle away from the drips, and light reflected in his eye.
What is that? He shifted his head again and squinted up. Icicles lined the railing of the stairs like stalactites at the mouth of a cave. A drop of water landed in his eye. He blinked it away, and it ran down his cheek like a tear.
Roger braced his left arm against the zombie’s neck, pushing forward as he reached up. He missed the icicles; wasn’t even sure how close he was to reaching them. He dropped back, using both hands to push against the zombie again, his right slid a little in the sloughing flesh of its neck.
This is it, he thought. With strength ebbing, it would be his last try. Taking several quick, shallow breaths, he counted off.
“One.” “Two.” “Three!” Roger pushed back as hard as he could and swiped out at the railing. The tip of his finger met the tips of two icicles. One snapped off and rotated as it fell, smashing against the cement of the stairs. After a moment, the other came straight down, leaving a cold, stinging trail across his ear as it landed in the snow beside him.
He frantically grabbed for the length of the impromptu weapon, snatched it up, and rammed it forward.
“Turn it, you fool!” Roger yelled as the fat, blunt end of the icicle smacked the zombie in the eye with a sickening squelch sound.
The zombie began to move closer, its jaw snapping open and closed. He just couldn’t hold it away any longer. Turning his head, he braced the weapon against his cheekbone and let the zombie go.
It lunged forward; teeth clamping closed an inch from Roger’s flesh. A moment later, cold gore ran over his fingers and pooled on the warmth of his cheek as the zombie came to rest on top of him, the icicle embedded deep within its brain.
Roger didn’t know whether to cry or laugh, instead, he turned his head and vomited. His heart was triple-hammering away again. He jerked and twisted under the twice-dead body and worked himself free. Gaining his hands and knees, he crawled three feet away before collapsing. It felt like his body was coming apart–heart hammering, stomach wretching, body trembling with adrenaline–but beneath that, was the euphoria of being alive.
It took much longer this time, but his heart rate eventually slowed to somewhat normal.
Winter, Roger thought, with a new appreciation. Had it been summer, he’d be dead now. Three near-death experiences in less than ten minutes–two zombies and an icicle–probably no need to exaggerate the tale to Mary.
He shook as he stood, exhausted by the last few minutes.
“No rest for the weary,” he said. Or was it, no rest for the wicked? He couldn’t quite remember, not that it really mattered. He walked to the edge of the Valleyview condominiums and peered cautiously up and down 96th Avenue, not wanting to be surprised by another zombie, or worse, a group of them. Check both ways before crossing the street. Seemed more important now than when the city was alive.
Satisfied, Roger crossed the road to Crestwood Centre.
Coming March 2nd, Chapter 5: Hope Found
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!