Telecom handheld transmission:
Jay and I headed out just after dawn. Normally, I’m not a morning person, but I hardly slept last night, too busy thinking that maybe–just maybe–I might actually start making some headway on this whole Selena-sometimes-a-zombie-sometimes-not thing.
I’m writing this on the handheld as Jay and I walk around my neighbourhood, keeping our eyes peeled for Selena–or, Selena number 29 or whatever. We figure that if she kept coming to see me, there’s no sense in going deep into the city to try and find her. If history is any guide, she’ll come to us. Eventually.
As Jay and I walked around, he did most of the talking. Too much time by myself has wreaked significant havoc on my socializing skills. I can maintain a conversation, sure, but I’d much rather listen. Besides, I don’t think I’d have all that much to contribute anyway.
When we first left the apartment, the streets were fairly empty of the undead. A few stragglers stumbled about here and there, almost all several blocks away, so there was no real threat. As long as we kept our distance and our voices down, we weren’t noticed. Until . . .
“See that?” Jay said.
“What?” I said and put the telecom away. (I’ll finish this later if something happens.)
He pointed down the street, past a row of zipcars that had managed to line themselves perpendicular to the way they were supposed to be, plugging up the entire road. I followed his fingers only to see a row of the undead on either side of the zipscars, moving toward us single-file.
We both looked at each other and said, “Run!”
We turned to bolt in the other direction; more undead were headed our way, this group stretched the width of the road and up onto the sidewalks on either side, creating a barricade of rotted flesh and decayed skin.
Buildings lined us on either side.
We were boxed in.
Jay patted himself down, searching his pockets. “Got nothing useful,” he said.
“Me neither.” Man, I wished I had my razor-coated baseball bat.
The zombies drew closer.
“Can’t stay here,” I said.
“You don’t have anything?”
“Why you looking at me?”
“Just curious. Take it easy.”
Jay patted his pockets again. “Got a lighter, a can-opener, and a pencil.”
Not exactly a threatening arsenal.
We slowly backed up, the undead in front of us closer than the ones behind.
I tugged at the bottom of my shirt, nervous. Then I had an idea. “Gimme your pencil and lighter.”
“Just do it!”
“Okay, okay.” He handed them both over.
“Ever hear of a Molotov cocktail?”
Jay merely grinned.
“Follow my lead.” I quickly jabbed the pencil through the bottom of my shirt, just to get a hole started, then dug in my fingers and ripped a nice fat ring of fabric off the base. “I need you to keep them busy.”
“I don’t know, but we need to get to those zipcars.”
I took off, running toward the cars and heading straight for the undead.
“Hey, wait!” Jay shouted behind me.
Thisiscrazythisiscrazy . . . I thought. Just keep moving. Don’t give them anything to grab onto. I weaved around the first zombie, shoved the second with my shoulder, then got up on the hood of a red zipcar before hopping down between it and another one. I scanned the sides of the vehicles, searching for its tank. A scraggily hag of a zombie with wrinkled skin and half her face missing started to squeeze in between the vehicles. I ran at her, kicked her down, then went back to the side of the vehicle. When I located the tank’s hatch, I flicked it open and shoved on end of the piece of torn shirt in there, getting it good and wet with fuel. A pair of undead came in from the other side, both with arms stretched just ready to grab me. All I could do was back away from them, step on the old lady I just sent to the ground, and use her as a boost to get onto the roof of the zipcar.
Jay was on the ground, a solid thirty feet away, doing jumping jacks and yelling, “Yo, over here! Hey, yeah, here, me! Come get it!”
Some of the undead took to his distraction; others stayed fixated on me.
I hopped to the next roof and then to another, getting some distance from the undead already climbing up on top of the cars. As fast as I could, I crouched low, sheltered my fuel-dipped shirt rag from the wind, and lit the gas-run lighter beneath the cloth. It quickly went aflame and I had to hold my arm out to prevent getting burned.
I should have asked him for that pencil, I thought. Crap. Could have used it as a miniature torch handle or something.
“Yeah!” He suddenly tailed it in high gear, getting away from the undead that had come right up to him. He dodged one and ran around another.
“I did this backwards. Need some help.” So should have just used my shirt as a wick or something.
“I said I need some help!” I jumped to the next roof. There, other undead were already in between the vehicles, their rotted hands reaching up to the zipcar’s roof, trying to grab my ankles.
Jay was still running, his legs a blur beneath him. He was nearly at the end of the row of cars. Some undead hobbled after him. Others, it seemed, realized that running wasn’t their strength so turned around and headed toward me instead.
“Idiot,” I said. The flame from the lit rag licked the inside of my wrist and forearm. I shouted from the sudden pain, dropped it, and was about to leave it when another idea hit me, one easier than the whole Molotov thing.
“You’re crazy,” I told myself, picked up the rag and hopped to the next roof. I jumped two more and finally landed on one where the undead would have to catch up.
I jumped to the ground, opened the zipcar door, got in and waited, hoping my backup plan wouldn’t kill me. It wasn’t long before a zombie with greenish-gray skin started to climb into the car with me. I immediately threw the flaming rag under him. At first, nothing happened and I thought he extinguished it, but a moment later his tattered clothes began to alight. Soon, he was a flaming body coming toward me, the inside of the vehicle suddenly hot. I backed up into the other door, opened it, and fell into the arms of a zombie waiting on the other side.
Where the heck was Jay?
The undead man grabbed me and held me in a tight bear hug. I spun on my heels and, shooting out my backside, was able to dump him onto his fiery friend. The two creatures cooked in the zip car. I grabbed the nearest zombie and threw him into the mix for good measure before getting the heck out of there.
Zombies swarmed the cars: some in between them, others on the roofs.
I just ran like the dickens, sprinting to the furthest building, now a safe zone thanks to all the zombies crowding the vehicles. I scanned the street for Jay.
The roar of flame rose on the air as the wind kicked the fire to a whole new level.
I turned a corner. “Jay! You down here? Jay!”
Gasping for breath, my stomach swam and twisted in knots. I had to stop so leaned up against a wall and bent my head between my legs.
“It’s okay, you’re safe,” I told myself. Where is Jay?
Catching my breath, I headed down the street, my throat dry and in desperate need of something to drink. A few zombies lumbered about, but none were close enough to be a threat just yet.
A hand touched my shoulder from behind. It wasn’t Jay’s.
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Telecom handheld transmission:
Have you ever looked at a dead person?
Death . . . it’s one of those things our brains aren’t built for. We see the person in front of us yet know there’s no one there at the same time. It’s the same brainfreeze I get when I see the undead walking—ghosts, physical forms with no substance.
It was like that with Selena.
I let her into my apartment, not knowing if it was a ghost coming to haunt me or if, somehow, she was healed and back from the dead. Even stranger: back from the dead in a good way.
She didn’t shamble. Didn’t have gray skin. No bruises or cuts or gashes. Just my girl. And she was beautiful even in the filthy garbage bag she wore.
Just like . . . before.
When I opened the door, she ran in, shoved it close behind herself, then threw her arms around me and held me so tight I couldn’t breathe.
“You’re alive,” she said.
I couldn’t find the right words to respond. The best I could come up with was a gentle, “So are you.”
I didn’t know if I was holding a ghost right then or someone with special healing abilities . . . and I didn’t care. Not when it came to her. When you lose something, you’d give anything to get it back, risk it all and just be happy you got a second chance no matter how it came.
“You’re shaking,” she said as she pulled away. “Did they get you? You know, those people outside?”
I simply shook my head.
“Good. There was no one else to turn to and I knew . . . I knew you’d help me if you were still . . .” She didn’t finish, but I knew what she meant.
Then I processed what she said. “Wait. You knew I’d help you if . . . um, if what?”
“If you were still alive.”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you mean what do I mean? Still alive. Breathing. Living. Not one of those creatures.”
I furrowed my brow. Was she okay? Didn’t she know? “Selena, the undead have been around for a while. Don’t you know that?”
She appeared as if to say something, then held back. Her eyes searched the air, as if seeing something I couldn’t. “I came here. I saw those things.”
“Where were you? How did you–?”
“I was home.”
Déjà vu hit me like a punch to the face. We had a conversation like this before. She had on the garbage bag, but this time she wasn’t hurt.
“Selena, we’ve already crossed this road. Don’t you remember? This isn’t normal. We were just together. We were . . . and then . . .” Why couldn’t I tell her what happened? It was those eyes. Her beautiful brown eyes. The way she held my gaze told me everything: she didn’t remember. She looked at me with nothing but question marks for irises, her brow slightly furrowed as if I was the one with the screwed up memory. And to be honest, that very well could be.
The blessed relief at her resurrection fled and I wondered if I was truly talking to someone or, in reality, was merely talking to myself. This shouldn’t be so hard.
Are you supposed to entertain imaginary friends? Or do you give in to the delusion because if you don’t your brain—that created the delusion in the first place—needs to take part in the fantasy or it’ll fry itself from within.
All I could say was, “Are you real?”
Her gaze softened and she smiled just a little, in that way where you knew she was happy and thought you were cute. “I’m real, Marty.”
I took her in my arms again. She didn’t embrace me back right away, but after a moment, she held me tight.
Ghost or not, we were together.
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Selena and I dropped behind a counter loaded with scattered spoons and pots. Both of us breathed quick and short, our breaths echoing the fast beat of our hearts. We looked at each other with wide eyes, knowing the slightest sound would alert the dead to our location. Selena’s lower lip began to tremble. I don’t know why it happened then, of all times, but tears dripped from the corners of my eyes–not because of fear, but of seeing her so scared. I wished so badly I could just wrap my arms around her and shelter her from the undead lumbering into the kitchen, their groans echoing off the walls.
But I couldn’t.
To sit there, eyes closed, pretending we were somewhere else would only ensure our deaths.
So we sat there, as still as statues, hoping the undead wouldn’t shamble around the whole kitchen. If only they’d just leave. The moments ticked by, time seeming to be caught in a slow drip of molasses.
Selena squeezed her eyes shut when a zombie let out a raspy howl. She broke down, sobbing. She did her best to stifle each choking gasp, but the best she could do was make it sound like some kind of inverted sneeze.
The zombies’ footsteps drew closer.
“We’re going to have to run,” I whispered.
She opened her eyes and nodded, her expression clearly displaying she knew it was her fault the undead heard us, her gaze asking me for forgiveness. Even if we were going to die, of course I’d forgive her.
The dead drew nearer and I guessed they were right up against the other side of the counter. How many were there, I didn’t know.
“Arms up and plow through,” I told her. “Let me go first.”
I duck-walked past her then drew my arms up so my forearms were held in front of me like a couple battering rams, my bat held vertical like some kind of flag of land and country. Selena held her cleaver aloft.
“Now,” I said, and stood quickly. Ignoring the head rush, I rounded the counter and propelled myself forward through a pack of zombies about four bodies thick.
“Run!” Selena screamed from behind.
We headed for the kitchen door, leaving the shamblers behind us. We emerged back into the dining room proper, which was now swarming with the undead. Bat in hand, I went to work bringing its razor-covered end into every rotting head I saw. Blood and skin tore from decaying skulls, sailing through the air like a black, red, and gray mist. Selena grunted behind me as she took the cleaver to anything that came near her. Bodies dropped, and I learned a secret to fighting the undead at The Wok: keep moving. You cannot let yourself become stationary when under attack. Just move, move, move and cut your way through like a madman.
My bat sliced open the chest of a woman, the interior of her breasts sliding out like moldy chicken from a couple wet paper bags. I brought the bat up into the stomach of an dead old man, removing his guts, making them drop out to the floor.
“Get to the door!” I said.
“Should have seen if there was a back one,” Selena replied as she drove the cleaver home into a dead teenager’s skull.
“Didn’t see one running off the kitchen.” I took a deep breath, brought my bat against the head of another zombie, then called to her, “We get outside, go right. I think there was an opening there.”
“Not as many zombies.”
With a shriek, I ran for the doors, swinging my bat side to side, its bladed end tearing into some of the undead, other times serving more as a battering ram, helping to clear the way. Selena was right behind me. The blade of her cleaver nicked the back of my arm. I barely felt it; just a mild sting. I don’t think she realized it because she didn’t say anything.
We emerged through the broken front doors of The Wok, the zombies out front ambling about in different directions, the majority, however, stumbling toward the restaurant.
“Move!” I shouted.
We headed to the right as planned, taking out as many of the undead as we could. We only fought those who were too close for comfort. When fighting zombies, you see, you don’t make active work of it. The goal is to get away and do what needs doing in that regard. Try to take them on like some kind of He-Man and you’re dead meat.
Half-eaten bodies lined the streets; all missing their heads. Whether that was from other folks killing the undead or from the undead themselves going after the brains, I’m not sure. Some of the bodies were missing arms and legs. Some just a hand or foot. Guts and blood coated the pavement as if a truck filled with paint cans had crashed and spilled black and red and brown and gray everywhere.
The stench of rot was so thick I think I heard Selena throw up while running behind me. I was about to ask her if she was okay when an dead Asian dude stepped in front of me, hands outstretched. I brought the bat down on his arms, tearing through the rotting skin. The bones within broke and what was left of his arms just dangled there at the elbows. I took the bat to his face and dropped him. Selena and I jumped over the body and kept going.
Finally we were able to turn a corner into an alley. Fortunately, it was open-ended so if worse came to worse, we wouldn’t be trapped.
We stopped and put our hands on our knees.
Selena did have a bit of throw up on her mouth. She must have saw me wince because she quickly brought a hand to her face and wiped it away.
“Sorry,” she said.
“It’s okay. Are you all right?”
“No. Just . . . shaky, grossed out. Sick.”
“I know the feeling.”
We kept an eye on the mouth of the alley as we caught our breaths.
“So thirsty,” I said. “Feels like I’m swallowing a washcloth.”
She nodded. “Yup.”
A shudder ran through me; my legs were weak. I didn’t want to admit it in case Selena was more or less sturdy now. Didn’t want to be the weaker one. Not right here.
“Come on,” I said, and slowly began backing out of the alley the opposite way we came.
“We’re going home, right?” she asked.
Never thought I’d hear her refer to my place as home. “I don’t know. We still need food. I’d rather just get it all in one go instead of coming out later.”
She didn’t reply, and I didn’t want to press the issue in case we’d fight or something.
At the mouth of the alley, opening up onto a new street, I stopped, turned around and surveyed the area to get a handle on things.
I didn’t like what I saw.
The zombie came, arms outstretched, reaching for my neck and shoulders. I stepped to the side; she narrowly missed me. The zombie had its back to me but before I could raise the bat, long, matted brown hair swirled around and a pair of yellow teeth burst forth from a pair lips along with a terrible hiss. Those eyes, sunken and dead, looked at me with such hunger that I couldn’t believe Selena would—Selena…Selena…it wasn’t Selena.
The zombie grabbed hold of me, locking its arms around my waist. My own arms were free. I dropped the bat on purpose and shot out my hands and held back the dead girl’s head so her snapping jaw wouldn’t take a bite out of my face. I had to know for sure. The girl’s skin was bumpy and boiled, gray and lifeless. Chipped, yellowed teeth snapped up and down in front of a shriveled tongue. Vacant eyes kept staring straight ahead, just past me, as if seeing something that wasn’t there. It just kept snapping its mouth open and closed and open and closed and…those eyes.
They weren’t brown.
They were blue—faded—but blue.
I shoved the dead girl away from me, quickly crouched down, picked up the Louisville, then let her have it across the skull. The shards of glass along the bat’s weighted end lodged themselves into her head. I ripped them clean out, dragging along bits of flesh and bone with it. Syrupy blood splashed against the floor. The zombie teetered to the side. I came down on her head with the bat again. She fell. I stepped on top of her stomach and plowed the slugger into her face at least twenty times.
She made me think she was Selena.
After her face and head were good and gone and was nothing more than a stringy mess of skin, blood and bone, I finally stepped off her and moved to the side.
Then I heard something coming from the direction of the bedroom.
I kicked what was left of the dead girl’s head just for good measure.
She made me think she was Selena.
She made me think…
That sound again.
I moved toward it.
Selena’s bedroom was just down the hallway, the room on the right just before the bathroom at the end. I’ve been down that hallway hundreds of times before and there was one time in particular that I’ll always remember. More on that in a second.
The Louisville unexpectedly grew heavy, my heart pounding knowing what I might find. The hallway’s white walls seemed oddly out of place all of a sudden, the white an awful contrast to the dark world Comtropolis now found itself in never mind the darkness in my own heart telling me I didn’t belong in such a bright place as this.
I hoisted up the bat shoulder height and stood in front of the bedroom door. Inside, dull thunks echoed, at first just one then a whole series of them. They stopped then resumed. Stopped then resumed. Then kept on going, each thunk nearly matching the frantic beating of my own heart. It took a moment for me to realize that tears had formed at the corners of my eyes. I thought I was already all cried out over her. Now…
My breathing sped up and no matter how hard I tried to slow it down, I couldn’t. Throat dry, I clenched the bat, reached out—and opened the door.
Thunk, thunk, thunk. Thunk, thunk, thunk.
Across from me, in between a pink-quilted bed high enough above the ground for a princess and an ornate dresser up against the wall beneath the window, was a girl who I’d recognize anywhere, back turned to me, repeatedly walking into the wall, her head smacking against it as if trying to beat out black and tormenting thoughts.
She wore black pants, a gray sweater a couple sizes too big, no shoes. Her wavy brown hair hung loose halfway down her back.
My arms ached to reach out and hold her.
Thunk, thunk, thunk.
I wanted to speak, to get her attention. My voice caught in my throat and the words didn’t come.
I stepped in further, each foot dragging a dumbbell.
Thunk, thunk, thunk.
“Se—Selena…” I barely managed.
Thunk, thunk, thunk.
I went closer, about ten feet away.
“It’s me. Marty. Are you—” My voice caught again. I cleared my throat. “Are you—” I wanted to ask if she was okay but something inside me said that if I asked that, that when I saw her it would hurt even more.
Only a few feet behind her now, my bat still raised.
She kept pounding her head against the wall.
“Selena…” I reached out and touched her shoulder.
Selena kept hitting her head.
I tried again, this time pulling a bit on her right shoulder to help turn her around.
She was dead.
Her gaunt skin was like skim milk, her brown eyes pale and vacant. Dry, cracked lips that hadn’t seen a drink in who knew how long grinned then displayed yellow teeth just like the other girl.
My arms dropped, the bat suddenly too heavy for me to carry. I still held onto it though I couldn’t bring it up in between us when she lunged at me. A dull thump boomed inside my skull and the back of my head lit up in dry pain. It took a second to realize I was on the carpet, Selena on top of me, seeming to weigh twice as much as she did when she was alive though no extra weight showed.
Growling, her mouth went immediately to my neck. I jerked my head to the side, bought a few inches, the let go of the bat and pulled my hands up between us and pushed her off. Rolling over, I scrambled to my feet, Selena somewhere behind me. Running to the opposite side of the room near her closet, I planted my feet firmly, raised my fists and got ready. She darted toward me, low, guttural groans dripping from her mouth like drool. She didn’t recognize me or care who I was.
The realization almost paralyzed me then, her not caring. Felt too much like how she treated me after we’d finished dating.
My bat was on the other side her.
She latched onto me with both hands, her grip hard and firm, squeezing the life out of the muscles just beside my neck. On instinct, I shot my first out, punching her in the chest, the force strong enough to cause her body to bend at the waist. She straightened in no time then came in again, this time forcing me into her. I went with this, shooting my weight forward, knocking her to the ground so this time I was on top. Of all things to think or feel or notice, when I drew my hands in between her arms to break her hold on my neck, it reminded me of the time she had once put her arms around me, drawing me in for a kiss. I had similarly reached in between her arms, gently pulled them down then ran my hands across her cheeks and brought her face close to mine. Our lips locked, tongues searching the other’s, nothing but passion and love.
A kiss of need.
Now, I put my hands to her face again, this time gripped her hard, my fingers close to her ears, my thumbs on her cheekbones. I bent my arms at the elbow then shot them straight out, slamming the back of her head against the floor.
I did it again, this second time fazing her.
I got off her and ran for my bat. When my fingers wrapped around the wooden handle, it was like coming home. Movement behind me. Spinning around, I was greeted to a blur of brown hair and gray material. I cracked the bat across her face. Her body reeled to the side. One giant step closer and I brought it down on the back of her skull. Her neck cracked. She dropped to her hands and knees.
Whatever tenderness for her that was in my heart vanished and was replaced with the life-giving breath of rage.
“You took everything from me!” I screamed.
The bat came down, plowing once more into her skull. Her body dropped by my feet, prone, face down. I got on my knees, rolled her over, her dead eyes now blood shot, her face a mish mash of ripped flesh and blood.
“I loved you and you destroyed my life! I hate you! I hate you!” And I brought the butt end of the bat down into her nose, crushing it.
Selena coughed, threw up blood, then tried to attack me though the attempt was feeble.
“How could you!” I shrieked. “How could you!”
Nothing but low groans escaped her lips.
She didn’t hear me.
She didn’t care.
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