Julia translated Joe zombie’s pantomiming for Stacy. “He’s saying ‘we should shoot them’ – that’s the pointing gun finger symbol, then, see how he’s eating a sandwich? He’s saying we can eat the dead. He emphasizes the point by rubbing his ample belly. ‘yum yum.’”
“Now Kay answers. She’s shaking her head ‘no.’ She points to herself and everyone else and draws a line across her neck. That means ‘all of us will die.’”
No one had to translate the fat zombie beating his chest or Kay’s exasperated sigh. That was the end of the negotiations, because without warning, Kay’s head exploded in a bloody splatter on the side of the barn. Her tiny body crumpled to the ground, and Julia shrieked.
Jack jumped in her lap and she clutched him to her while Stacy wheeled her inside the barn. “Julia,” Stacy hissed, “get it together. You need to lead your friends out of here.”
Julia sobbed “no, no, no,” pressing her face into Jack’s fur while gunfire picked up outside. Stacy wheeled her out to the closest group of zombies she could find. Three men and one woman cowered behind the barn. They wouldn’t want to stay and fight. She brandished Julia as best she could, “This is Angela Worthy, and she’s telling you to come with us to safety.”
The four looked at each other and back at Stacy and nodded. Stacy considered trying to find more until a bullet whizzed past her. A zombie with a peg-leg toted an assault rifle towards the front of the barn as the cacophony grew, and she decided four would have to do. She booted up her phone to get the map to Building Z. “Follow us!”
The chaos fell behind them. Tragic as this turn was, at least they wouldn’t have to worry about being chased for a while. Stacy wished she’d brought a bottle of water as she pushed Julia through the woods. The stumbling zombies gave her an excuse to slow down.
“Where?” one zombie in a tattered blue button-down shirt panted.
“We’re going to Building Z to get you cured.”
“Julia, tell them,” Stacy said, but Julia didn’t respond. Her head hung down, bouncing with the chair on the uneven ground. Oh, no. She put her fingers to Julia’s neck. Clammy, but there was a heartbeat. Why does it always come down to me?
“There’s a cure. You’re going to get it and be healthy again. Then we’ll use you as examples and give the cure to everyone.”
One man stopped. He looked like he had a red beard of mold. “No.”
Fucking institutional distrust. Stacy could hardly blame them, though. She knew what the government and big companies did to zombies. She stopped and turned back. “Yes. The cure is real. You will be healthy again. You just have to come with us.”
Redbeard stared in silent defiance. Stacy tried another tactic.
“Angela” she shook the unconscious body in the chair, “says you should.”
Redbeard shook his head. Stacy realized she didn’t hear gunshots in the distance. If the fighting was over, maybe they beat the tappers back. Or maybe the tappers had killed them all and were on their way to finish the job.
“You know what? Do whatever you want. I’m going this way.”
Stacy kept moving, the three remaining zombies keeping pace. A minute later, Redbeard tripped and stumbled until he made it back to the group. “That’s what I thought,” Stacy mumbled.
The trek continued for an hour. Stacy never thought she’d be so happy to see Building Z’s brutalist spire. No sooner had they reached the parking lot than a squad of hazmat suits stood ready to take them.
Redbeard grunted and reversed course so quickly he fell backwards. He pushed himself away on his arms and legs, shouting “No, no!”
Stacy ignored him. He was going to take that cure, and he was going to like it, Goddamnit. “Get her back to the hospital,” Stacy shouted to the hazmats, pushing Julia’s wheelchair towards them as they closed in on the cowering zombies. To their credit, none of the others had shouted or tried to flee. “Can some of you come with me to pick up my dog?”
Sherry took deep breaths and told herself everything was going to be fine. She acted in the Christian spirit helping those girls and they took advantage of her. God wouldn’t hold that against her. Their boys’d take out the zombies, come back victorious and everything would be fine. She decided under the circumstances she could let herself have a small plate of macaroni and cheese.
“Don’t worry, son, Daddy’s gonna make it back just fine, and if he doesn’t it’s Sherry’s fault.” Skinny Tammy comforted Little Ray one second and shot daggers at Sherry the next. Sherry looked at the tiny serving of macaroni and cheese she had given herself and thought about how comforting it would be to eat straight from the tray. Drown her stress in processed salt and fat and carbs. No. Jimmy’s gotta eat more, and I gotta eat less. She took one limp noodle at a time, savoring the greasy goodness, blocking Skinny Tammy out with her mind with artificial cheese.
As she reached the last congealed fat at the bottom of the styrofoam bowl, Sherry looked up, and saw a US flag. She pointed, “It’s them! They’re back!”
Mothers, wives, little sons and daughters, all cheered together, a parking lot full of dogs barking at the chaos. “DoubleTap saved the day!”
As they came down the switchback path, people started to make out details. “They got out the stretcher. Somebody’s hurt!” Sherry peeled her eyes for Jimmy’s big hat, but she couldn’t find it.
“Jimmy!” She shouted as the caravan reached the parking lot. “Where’s Jimmy!?”
She drove her scooter straight into the crowd forming around the returning party, shrieking for people to get out of her way. “Jimmy! For Chrissakes, somebody tell me Jimmy’s ok!”
“Sherry!” came a voice from the crowd. Jimmy looked a decade older without his big hat, and he literally was a foot shorter. He brought his bald head down to her face, his eyes red with tears. “Sherry, they shot my hat. They shot my hat. It’s gone.”
“Jimmy, you purebred moron, don’t you fuckin’ talk to me about your stupid hat. Just come here and let me hug you forever, you big idiot.”
She forced herself out of her scooter and grabbed him in her arms. Then a thought came to her. “Wait — what do you mean they shot yer hat?”
The next scream came when the stretcher reached Tammy. “Rich! Rich!”
Tammy’s husband Rich lay on the stretcher, his camo soaked with blood. He moved his mouth, but no one could make out the words. Tammy sobbed, “I cain’t hear what yer sayin’ Rich. Ray, yer daddy loves you.”
Rich stopped speaking, and closed his eyes, Tammy put Ray down and screamed, beating Ray’s chest, fighting with GB and the other stretcher-bearer to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
GB spoke, dripping with sweat, one shoulder wrapped in a tourniquet. “We lost a lot of good men. Too many to haul back. Rich was in the best shape. An ambulance is on the way.”
Tammy’s mascara bled down her face as GB lay the stretcher to the ground. She knelt to Rich and GB turned to address the waiting family in the parking lot. “We met an unexpected force in the colony. The zombies that sought to get rid of our guns turned out to have guns of their own.”
“What!?” Sherry’s knees felt weak and she fell back onto her scooter. “That’s impossible!”
Tammy rose behind GB, her face red and streaked with black lines like a nightmare mask of some stylized monster. “Oh, it’s possible, Sherry. It happened. My husband is dead, you know why?”
Sherry stared and said nothing.
“Zombies have guns if people give them guns. People like those deadhearts.” She pointed a finger. “You welcomed deadheart gun-smugglers into the colony, Sherry! Fuck you!”
Sherry was dumbstruck. Could her Christian charity have been the cause of such a disaster? Tammy grabbed Ray and lifted him up in one arm. She spoke to him at full volume. “Honey, there are bad people in this world. When people attack you and hurt you — little boy, learn this lesson. Listen to momma. When people hurt you, don’t just take it. If you just take it, you teach them they can walk all over you whenever they want. No, you gotta show them,” she walked right up to Sherry and glared, “You gotta show them you don’t take their shit.” Sherry cowered on her scooter. She didn’t know what she’d do if Tammy attacked her, but she didn’t. Instead, she put her free hand out to Jimmy. “Gimme the gun.”
“Uh, Tammy, sure, but don’t shoot my wife.”
“Nobody’s gonna shoot yer stupid fat wife, Jimmy. Gimme the gun so I can shoot that deadheart’s dog.”
Sherry shook her head, but Jimmy shrugged and passed the gun over, butt-first. GB stepped in front of her. “That dog is not a combatant. This is not how we conduct a war.”
Tammy shoved GB, and was unable to budge him. “GB, they made fools of us! They gave zombies guns! They killed my husband! Lemme have this!”
GB was unmoved, and Tammy shoved the gun in his face. The dog in the car howled, and Tammy tried an end-run around him. He grabbed and disarmed her in one swift motion, but a matronly woman spoke up.
“Just say the word, Tammy. One dog’s a small price to pay for Ray’s father.” She stood next to the deadheart car, her pistol cocked and ready to shoot the animal in the head.
“Somebody’s got her head screwed on right,” Tammy breathed.
Before Tammy could give the order, yellow and green lights bathed the parking lot. Two hazmat suits with shotguns stepped out of an unmarked van. “Everyone, put your hands up and step away from the car.”
“No!” Screamed Tammy.
GB let her go. “We’ve got women and children here,” he shouted, lifting his hands, the gun loose in one finger well out of Tammy’s reach. “Don’t shoot!”
“Tammy, protect Ray!” Sherry shouted. Why was she always having to remind that woman to be a mother?
GB let Tammy go, keeping the gun, and the other woman lifted her hands. Sherry was silently thankful that the gun was in GB’s hand, not her husband’s.
The intercom blared. “A young woman is going to get her car and her dog, and you’re going to let her do it safely.”
“Government fuckers!” Jimmy screamed impotently.
One of the two deadhearts stepped out. The darker one who pushed the wheelchair. Her long, wavy brown hair was drenched with sweat, and she shuffled more than walked to the car, not making eye contact, but keenly aware of all the guns around her. “Move out of the way” said the megaphone as the deadheart turned on her vehicle. Sherry, Tammy, Jimmy, GJ, and Ray all stared as she drove away.
Then, as if nothing had happened, the flashing lights went out and the shotgun-wielding suits disappeared back into their truck, which drove away.
Jimmy turned to Sherry. “That was the government, right?”
Sherry took her husband’s emaciated hand in her own. “I have no fucking idea, honey.”
Did you like? Don’t forget to hit the “like” button below!
Do you want to read more? Subscribe at the bottom of the page!
Can’t get enough Munk Fiction? Sign up for the newsletter!