Small Town USA of the Dead
The sun rose lazily, doing a half-assed job lighting the fog-strewn landscape of Shady Vales. This was the start of Day Two of the Zombie Apocalypse, which began late evening the day before in a violent and sudden fashion. In an instant, our family dinner was shattered when we heard a cacophony of screams and moans, bones splitting, blood splattering, gunshots, and footsteps. It happened in an instant that somehow dragged on for bloodcurdling hours.
Sequestered in Aunt Edna's modest home, my extended family and myself hid from the beasts roaming outside. We were safe, but only for a little while. Throughout the night they pounded senselessly at the door, beating their bloodied heads and limbs in a desperate attempt to get in. We closed the curtains and turned all the lights off, remaining silent. Occasionally Grandma would angrily shout, "Go away!" We'd rush to quiet here and then hope to God that the zombies did not hear her or any of us for that matter. After several horrifying hours, the zombies gave up and stopped trying to get in. We knew how to hide from the zombies using techniques honed from years of evading Jehovah's Witnesses.
"Well, good grief, it's 6:30 AM now," said Aunt Edna. "By now the morning paper should be here. Go fetch it, won't one of you?"
"Are you mad? The morning paper? There was a zombie apocalypse last night!" I quickly responded.
"Yes, but my paperboy is fantastic. He never misses a beat, and he even gives cards to everyone on his route every Christmas. Bit suspicious looking, but he comes through."
"There are zombies roaming in the front yard," replied Uncle Ernest. "I'm pretty sure your paperboy is either dead, hiding, or among the zombies. Something tells me that the newspapers aren't going to be printing today. Real shame, too. I always enjoy the Sunday comics."
"He's a good paperboy. Never misses a beat!"
Grandpa chimed in "I want to read Old Stephen Eggbert's column. He's a hell of a writer, and I agree with his angles. Go and get the newspaper, will you?"
"Zombies," I said. "Zombies will feast on our flesh if I do!"
"Well," chuckled Grandma, "at least somebody will be eating a decent meal around here!"
"Well what are we supposed to do?" asked Aunt Edna. "We're going to have to go out and get food eventually anyway."
Grandma butted in, "That's not true, we have plenty of leftovers! You people are all skin and bones. It breaks my heart to see all that food prepared and not eaten. We'll have leftovers for a week at least!"
The news was disquieting, as the zombies had much more appetizing food opportunities than us.
"You know," Grandpa said, "there could be important news in the paper. Maybe about this zombie business! At least the sports scores, for God's sake."
"Yes, that's right," added Aunt Edna. "Important news we need to survive!"
"But we may die just getting the paper. Is it that important?"
"Look, can't you at least have a look outside the window and see if the zombies are still there?" pleaded Aunt Edna. "It may be they've gone on to better things. You know how kids are!"
"If I open these curtains, and they see me peeking out, then they'll know this house is full of fresh food!"
"Just look out the peephole then," blurted Grandma. "Paperboys always throw them on the porch. Should be in plain sight."
"The peephole is splattered with blood," said Uncle Ernest. "One of those zombies was beating his head pretty hard against it."
"Great, now I'll have to get a new door!" said Aunt Edna in an angry tone. "I hope he at least got a concussion."
"I don't think his brain functions that way—" I started to say.
"No," said Aunt Edna, "I take that back. I'm not a mean spirited person."
"Alright, alright! I'll peak out the damn curtains!"
The sight just outside the window was ghastly. The lawn, and every street and every lawn visible beyond was littered with mangled corpses and smeared with blood. There were graceful pink flamingos towering over scenes of complete carnage and horror, and abandoned sprinkler systems still going, washing blood into the streets where it pooled up. There were zombies drinking from these pools, and feasting on the mangled corpses, and on each other. It was a sight I staggered to comprehend. I quickly jerked away from the window, careful to ensure the curtain remained fully closed.
"Well, is the newspaper out there?" demanded Aunt Edna.
She continued to badger for an answer. "What? What did you see?"
"I—I forgot to look."
"You forgot to look? That was your one job! To look for the newspaper!"
"Look, it's horrible out there. I want to puke all over. They're everywhere. We can't go out at all. We'll die if we do. Die for certain, I know it!"
"Oh don't be so melodramatic," argued Aunt Edna. "It can't be that bad."
But it was. It was a true, genuine zombie apocalypse. The world was in the grips of murderous fever transmitted through killing. Only no one truly died of this fever. It was a horrifying climax to a family get-together, to know that the world had truly ended and there was no going back.
"It's a zombie apocalypse, Aunt Edna. It's the end of the road!"
"How did you get to be such an expert at zombie apocalypses? Huh? How many zombie apocalypses have you survived?"
"Well," I replied, "just one."
"One? There's only been one so far in human history!"
"I thought you meant counting this one."
"It's not even over yet, so how can you count it?"
"If I was dead I couldn't count it, but I'm alive so I'm counting it. One zombie apocalypse survived thus far."
"Yes, well then I guess we're all zombie apocalypse experts then," said Grandpa.
"Look," I said, "the whole man-zombie relationship is defined by them being out there and us being in here. The second you change that relationship, one group ceases to be. It's simple science!"
"Well I don't believe this," said Aunt Edna. "I'm going to take a look myself." As she spoke she yanked the cord, pulling the curtains wide open and exposing everybody in the house to the scene of absolute, unimaginable horror. Death was splattered all over the once serene neighborhood, now pulsating and bubbling with unnatural life.
"There!" Grandpa said triumphantly. "There's the newspaper over there underneath that dead colored boy!"
"That's my paperboy," responded Edna, "and we call them African Americans, Dad. Guess I won't be getting a card this Christmas."
"What a horrible sight," said Grandma. "Have you ever seen so many messy yards in your life? Look at the shape of that yard across the street. Absolutely shameful!"
"Well, Mom," said Aunt Edna. "You can't really blame them given the zombie apocalypse. I doubt they planned to die and get eaten on their lawn."
"No, but look at that grass. It hasn't been cut in at least three days. And over there, those flowers aren't even planted yet. There's no excuse for such an ill-kept yard. I'm 76 and I still have time to plant my flowers and your father still has time to mow the lawn, bless his soul."
"Did your neighbors get a new roof? Those shingles look awfully new compared to the siding on that house over yonder," said Uncle Ernest, pointing to a house across the road.
It was all more then I could stomach. They gawked in horror at the state of the neighborhood, oblivious to the walking danger roaming mindlessly outside the thin sheet of glass.
"Please for the love of god close that damn curtain before they see us!"
"What?" responded Grandpa.
"Close the fucking curtains before the goddamn zombies kill us all!"
"Well, I don't appreciate that kind of language, young man!" responded Grandma. "You should really mind your tongue. It's that rap music, isn't it?"
Just then a zombie, apparently unconscious beneath the window, staggered to his feet, surprising everyone. He weakly banged his frail arms against the glass while murmuring "braiiinnnnssss!"
"See," said Grandma, "that's a healthy attitude towards eating. He's skin and bones like the rest of you, but at least he wants to get healthy. We should give him some leftovers!"
I marched over and yanked the curtains shut, staring at everybody in angry dismay.
Grandpa said, "Well, enough of that anyway. The newspaper is right out there, so you can go fetch it now."
"I'm not going out there! No way in hell. Those zombies will see me!"
"I'm not so sure," said Uncle Ernest. "I read in that Terri Schiavo case she was blind. Yep, the part of her brain responsible for sight was withered away."
"That's not true!" said Grandma. "She was a good girl and the Lord would have taken care of her if the doctors gave her time!"
"What the hell does that have to do with anything?"
"Well," said Ernest, "if these zombies are suffering from brain damage, there's a good chance they're blind as well."
"That's absolutely true," said Aunt Edna. "Why that one outside said 'brains!' He must have meant that his brain hurt!"
"Terri Schiavo was a good girl," continued Grandma. "A real good girl and she was nothing like these creatures!"
The zombie outside was tapping at the glass still, hungry for brains. But the people inside were more insane. It seemed inevitable I would have to go outside at some point. At the very least, I could get a look at my car parked on the curb, and see how easy it would be to escape if need be. I'd rush in and out quickly before the zombies had a chance to see me. If I didn't get the paper, it seemed all but certain I would be driven insane.
I quickly ran to the dead paperboy, turned on his stomach with his newspaper sack beneath him. I tried to remove a newspaper from his hand, but rigor mortis had practically grafted it to his skin. So I improvised, turning him over. His body rolled, but his insides remained, spilling out like a bucket of red spaghetti all over the bag of papers and my hands. I vomited a little, and the gagging sounds seemed to attract the attention of the zombies kneeling over a corpse in the neighboring yard.
"Brains" they all murmured in surreal synchronization. "Brains...."
I plunged my hands into the guts, pushing them away in a desperate attempt to grab hold of a newspaper out of the sack. They were wrapped in plastic and so slimy I could barely hold grab hold of them. It was the kind of hellacious task you'd see on some demonic version of "Double Dare." The more you clamped your fingers down, the more they squirmed away. It was as though they were alive, like fish, evading your fingers. My hands were cold and numb and drenched in blood.
Finally I got hold of a paper and yanked it out just in time to turn around and swing it at a zombie sneaking up behind me. The impact of the extra heavy Sunday edition of the newspaper sent his head flying clean off his body.
"That a boy!" I heard Grandpa yell. I turned and saw him clapping in the window.
I turned back when the headless body began clawing at me. I quickly shoved it, knocking it on its back as I began to run towards the door. Just then a thought in the back of my head climbed over a legion of frantic thoughts of survival to remind me of something important. "The car," it said.
I turned back to look at the car, surveying it to make sure that it would prove useful in escaping the neighborhood. I thought I should move it onto the lawn, near the door for safety. I ran towards it and began to rummage through my pockets for keys, spinning around as I did so as to see every angle of attack.
The door to Aunt Edna's house opened behind me. "The paper, you idiot!" screamed Aunt Edna. "We want to read the damn paper today!"
"I call the opinion section," yelled Grandpa. "Sports, too."
"Comics," shouted Ernest. "I call comics!"
"But the car, I need to make sure we can get out of here!"
"You can do that after we eat breakfast and read the damn paper! You need to learn some patience!"
I found the keys in my pocket, but dropped them the second I pulled them out. Just then the zombie from the front yard started waddling towards the open house door, so I ran frantically to intercept him. I clotheslined him with the heavy newspaper just as he neared the door, splattering his brains all over the porch. Then I quickly ducked into the house. Within seconds the door was locked shut and the curtains were drawn.
It was a good thing, too. The ruckus had attracted the attentions of all the zombies in the neighborhood. They were slowly waddling towards the house, singling certain doom now that we had no easy way out. We could hear them outside, a chorus of creaking bones, soft footsteps, and ethereal moans.
The newspaper was wrapped in an orange plastic bag, which was good because the bag was soaked in blood and disgusting bodily debris. It seemed especially heavy, but given that this was Sunday it was only natural the newspaper was overloaded with sale flyers.
Aunt Edna slowly removed the rolled up newspaper from the bag, careful not to let any of the guts drip onto the paper and smear the fine newsprint. As she unrolled it, she took a big look at the headlines while the rest of us were left to stare at the back of the paper.
"Will you look at that," she said. "Now that's just ridiculous."
She turned the paper over and showed us the headline. It read, in giant bold print, "BRAINS!" The zombies had gotten to the newspaper, and no doubt the rest of the city. Maybe they got the entire country, too, and the world beyond. From lawns to towns to states to countries, it seemed certain.
As she shuffled the paper in her hands, its raw guts fell out and spilled over the floor. There were no advertisements, no sale flyers, no sports or lifestyle sections. No comics for Uncle Ernest. Today's Special Zombie Apocalypse Edition was nothing but obituaries. Everybody in town was dead. Everybody but us.
There would be no escape. Not from family, not from town, not even from the leftovers. The zombie apocalypse had made certain that no one would ever truly live again, not even the survivors. Now all that was left was to wait for the inevitable moment of bodily transcendence and hope that it would not last long.
In my Daily Dirt for the week I share some colorful feedback I got last week after making fun of live action role-playing in the Awful Link of the Day, as well as some other stuff!