Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Well. I'd forgotten how much damage we did at that house. I think this is a good place to take a break. A good day to rest, mostly. But but but, you say, wondering why this is necessary. You only write a couple posts a week. Why do you need to take a break on a day you'd normally be telling us another part of the story.

Because it's hard for me. The words come easily, but with them necessarily comes the memories. I have to put myself back in those moments and feel what I felt then. Think like I thought then. It's not just about remembering the visceral fear that a zombie would take me at any moment. Thankfully I lived through it and the telling isn't so bad for that fact.

It's putting myself back in my own shoes while knowing everything that comes after. It's deliberately sectioning off my own mind to shield the story from being contaminated with the events that follow. In that sense, telling this story isn't unlike holding that piece of wood I slapped together. Any given moment might not be that hard, but in total it's a lot of effort.

Adam is gone. Not GONE gone, but away from the cabin at the moment. He's hunting. It's something he can do easier than pretty much anyone else thanks to his special talent. Really, we don't need the meat. This place sits right on the edge of a lake. The fish have had years to breed and they teem. Usually we just net them out of the water. It's easy.

But variety is something everyone needs. I'm a creature of habit. I can be perfectly happy with a set routine and eating the same food every single day. It's just wired into who I am.

There are a few zombies out there right now. I can see them through the window. Adam built a little wall around our solar panels and the cell transmitter. They're as safe as we can make them. I'm not worried about the dead. This place was built by someone afraid of something a lot more dangerous than shambling beasts with human strength. The windows are quarter inch plexiglass set in thick steel frames. The doors? Ha. You could probably drive a car into them without worrying.

I sit here in the little sun room, constructed with the same worries in mind at a cost that must have been astronomical by the way we used to measure things. I sit here, and I write. Or think. Some days I just watch the world in front of me, the good and the bad alike. The spread of wildlife across the nation, thanks to the lack of human civilization, has been incredible. A month ago I saw a black bear casually take down a zombie with a few swipes of its paws.

That's all the variety I need. All the change I want.

Turns out some people need more.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Chapter 18: Decapitation

On the one hand, I deeply hated standing in place and doing nothing while Jess and Adam fought for their lives. On the other, I was silently thankful it wasn't me. I was hurting and almost incapable of movement after nearly half an hour of holding the shield in place. Had it been a matter of actually lifting it, I'd have collapsed a long time before. Instead I leaned my shoulder into its back and held on.

It took that long for the pair of them to clear the house. They thinned the herd down to make the New Breed easier to get to. Jess distracted while Adam sneaked up behind every smart zombie and killed them with a single hit. There was of course a lot more to it than that, but I can only relay what I witnessed through glimpses when I was able to glance over the top of the shield. Every few minutes they'd come over and clean off the zombies starting to pile up against my position, the few who couldn't be bothered to try for Jess, the harder prey.

In that half hour, they cleared the house completely. I was fucking thrilled to set the shield aside and move around, working feeling back into my arms. Jess vanished as soon as this first part of the job was done, darting from the garage to the bedrooms carrying a ladder and a bag full of salvage from one of the storage bins.

When she came back, Jess was all business. "Okay, we'll need some more blood. A good amount of it." She gestured to my slight wound and I obliged, rubbing a cloth she handed me against it vigorously to get the flow started again. She produced her own cloth and a small razor that looked liberated from an old shaving kit, scoring a line on the top of a forearm.

Adam blanched thirty seconds later when we handed the bloody cloths to him. "What do I do with these?"

Jess pointed toward the front door. "You're going to go outside and wave this in front of them. Be thorough. Get them to come in. Then, when all or at least most of them are inside, close the door. Go toward the bedroom we slept in last night. There's a hole in the ceiling with a ladder running into the attic. You leave the door open and let them filter into the bedroom. We'll drop down through the hole in your room, which I've secured, and head out the window."

I opened my mouth to say something, then shut it. "That's a really good idea."

"I know," she said. "That's why we're doing it. Worst case, they break the windows and eventually come after us. This way we don't have to spend all day wearing ourselves down to take them out."

I collected the things I thought we might need from the garage, careful not to indulge my inner packrat and overdo it. There would be other places to stop, more things to scavenge. We'd need to start getting serious about hunting soon, and finding new supplies, but having the tools on hand to survive out in the world was almost as important.

Jess and I climbed the ladder and then lowered ourselves down into the barricaded room using a rope she had secured inside the attic. The trip down was incredibly not fun for me; my arms almost gave out after the first foot. But I made it. We made it. Then it was just a matter of waiting as Adam did his thing, maybe ten minutes of work.

It was a plan brilliant in its simplicity, and I was caught up in a cycle of wonder at how different it was from my own ideas. This way trapped the enemy and kept us safe while using every resource available in a way that leaned heavily into its advantages. I was the initial distraction and defender. Jess was the active element and thinker. Adam did his ghost routine to draw the enemy in. We were a damned good team. By cutting the head off the zombie swarm--taking the New Breed, who were the leaders--we effectively neutralized their ability to organize against us as a single entity.

An hour after the first zombie hit my shield, we were through the window and on the road again. A few stragglers Adam hadn't been able to wrangle tried to follow us and were quickly put down. There was no way to know when or if more undead would show up, but given that they weren't supposed to be in this area to start, discounting the possibility would have been idiotic to a suicidal degree.

But for now, we were okay. Free to wander as we liked.

It wouldn't last long.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Chapter 17: Hold the line

It wasn't as bad as I thought. Jess somehow managed to let in a handful of zombies, then shut the door again. I know this because she zoomed through the kitchen and explained it to us as she danced around the small swarm that followed her in from the front of the house. She took some of the attention off me, and my muscles were thankful for the distraction, but it was not the fucking plan.

I was supposed to be the bait while Adam worked his way through the crowd and thinned it out. Jess was meant to attack from the rear, taking out stragglers one by one. I keep the attention, they bring the attrition. Simple. Not easy, but simple. And something at least Jess and I had enough practice at to make it a functional tactic.

Nor was I opposed to changing things on the fly as needed. That wasn't the issue. I'm adaptable and pretty chill about those kinds of things. We live in a chaotic, dangerous world. It doesn't pay to hew strongly to preset ideas and expectations.

But practicality mattered here. My body was still in recovery. I wasn't the tank of a man I'd been before the Fall. Then, I weighed in at 240, 250 pounds on a six foot frame, most of it muscle. I worked in a nursing home every night, hauling entire adult human beings up in their beds, holding them on their sides with one hand as I changed sheets or diapers. I walked god knows how many miles on a given shift. Point is, I was a Mack truck of a dude. Strong as hell and with a lot of endurance.

Now, I was below two hundred pounds and had been for years. When my knee wasn't injured, I could run like the wind but the majority of my bulk was long gone. The end of the world tests you, starves you, and reduces you to the most basic core of what you are. Practically speaking, I just wasn't as strong as I had been. Not by a long shot.

"Stop bringing new ones in until I can get a fucking break!" I shouted. "I don't know how much longer I can keep this up!"

Jess yelled muffled words of acknowledgment from across the house as she made another circuit of the place, a trail of zombies behind her. Adam had dispatched the New Breed giving me trouble, but my shield was already being tested by another, if shorter and less intelligent, zombie. Its shoulders weren't quite high enough to reach over the shield even with a corpse to stand on, which left its arms sort of waving with ineffective anger up in the air. I used this moment to risk a look into the kitchen.

My head popped over the rim of the shield just in time to see Jess zoom by, a joyful but almost manic expression on her face. As the trailing zombies followed, Adam took a moment to bring down a claw hammer onto a zombie's head, then yanked another out of the train, sending it tumbling to the floor. He bent over and brought the hammer down with a practiced overhead swing, blood from his nose whipping around in an arc from the rapid motion.

I tried estimating the number of dead people chasing my wife, but there were still others in the kitchen focused on me. The crowd made any kind of judgement on numbers a fool's errand.

Adam, to his credit, did step over and kill the tiny zombie in front of me. It was either a small woman or a child, and neither option made me want to check any harder. My arms cried out with relief as the weight dropped away. The sudden lack of strain was like a drug.

"Getting pretty tired here," I said, loud enough to be heard from anywhere in the house. "How many more are outside?"

"Dozens," Jess said as she came to rest at last, staying in the kitchen to help Adam thin the herd.

I suppressed a groan. "I don't think I can keep this up that long. I'm...not in good shape."

Jess shot me a grin. "You won't have to. That last trip brought in the last of the New Breed. Without smart zombies to lead them, the rest will be easy to deal with."

"In some way that doesn't require me to lift my arms?" I asked. "Because that's gonna be an issue really soon."

"Yep," Jess said, and then she told me how. I felt like an idiot for not thinking of it first. She always has a plan.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Chapter 16: Bug, not a feature

"Adam? You okay in there, buddy?" I yelled from behind the shield.

A series of curses uttered in the familiar wet, pained voice that comes with a well and truly broken nose issued from the other room. I glanced up to see the New Breed pause, its eyes narrowed in concentration. It could hear Adam even if its nervous system and brain were being tricked into not seeing or smelling him.

"Might want to keep it down," I said loudly. "Looks like this guy here is smart enough to know you're there, and he hears you."

Adam went as silent as a record with the needle suddenly pulled away. Oh, wow. I just realized I'm so old that I actually have had a record player. I mean, sure, almost all technology in the world is relegated to the trash heap of history at this point, but still.

A few seconds later he was up, and I risked shifting position to get a look. No question about it, that nose was fucked. It was crooked in a way usually reserved for venerable British wizards and pouring blood. I still wasn't quite used to seeing freely flowing blood that didn't send zombies into a frenzy like they were coked-out 1980's stock brokers who just scored an eight ball. He backed away a couple feet and the angle made it so all I could see was the top of his head.

"What should I do?" he asked, clearly thrown off his usual game. I sympathized. Having your basic abilities compromised, especially in a way that shows a glaring weakness you didn't even know you had, was never an easy hit to take. I've never been a soldier in the traditional sense, but over the years we've fought a lot of battles and one war. I knew the damage that single shot to the face had done on Adam's confidence and mental equilibrium. Just like I knew the best, and only real, option was to get back on the horse.

"Keep with the plan," I said, not unkindly. "Just be more careful. Take them out one by one, and listen for Jess. She'll yell if she needs help."

"Okay," Adam said, sounding a little more level. "Okay, I can do that."

Of course he could. That's why I told him to. People are weird creatures. Screw up their ability to rationalize with any sort of surprise, and it could ruin the entire universe of spinning plates running inside their heads. Human consciousness is hugely complex and incredibly fragile, composed of everything from thought to ego to subconscious desires. The slightest tremor in any one of them can send the entire system spiraling wildly out of control.

Yet give that person a task they can accomplish, even just remind them of what they're supposed to be doing in the first place, and you can set it mostly right in a single breath. In that way we're resilient in ways that few people really appreciate. Our ability to lock down our inner chaos and narrow our focus to a job at the exclusion of all else is one of our greatest strengths. It's also probably the leading cause of failed relationships, alcoholism, and offbeat sexual fetishes. Extreme focus often impacts everyday life and requires...specific stress relief mechanisms. Hey, everything has its counterbalance.

The strain of holding the shield in place only grew over the next few minutes. Adam was doing his job, and presumably Jess was doing hers elsewhere in the house, but mine was to hold this line. Be the bait. Jess would be taking her own share of attention, but with me drawing the majority with my blood on the air, I was sure she'd mow through hers like the killing machine I knew her to be.

Every thump of a body hitting the floor was music to my ears. I kept hoping each one would be the last. Eventually I got really tired, arms burning with effort, and lost my temper.

"What the fuck is taking so long?" I barked at Adam.

He paused. "Uh, sorry. I think Jess opened the door to let some of the ones from outside in. Maybe we're supposed to kill them a few at a time? I don't know, man. I can go ask her."

Instead, I yelled the question across the house. The response cut across the din of zombie noises with ease.

"Calm your tits! I'm trying something out here!"

Whether my arms could hold out long enough for whatever she had planned, I didn't know. But I was smart enough to buckle down and try my best. After all, the worst I could do was die.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Chapter 15: Melee

The good thing about fighting zombies is that you can talk all you want about your plans and actions without fear of the enemy reacting to the words. Oh, they might react to the noise, but if they already know you're there or are about to, so what?

I started the party. The interior garage door was just off the kitchen on the far side of the house from the bedroom, and it was of much higher quality than the other doors. Unless I missed my guess, it was actually a repurposed front door, what with it being metal sandwiched around a dense wood core. Secured with a deadbolt--the key was in the lock, thankfully--the mechanism hadn't been touched by the zombies on the other side. Lucky for me, Jess was at the other end of the house keeping the New Breed too busy to go exploring.

I'd taken longer than I wanted putting together my gear, but I was ready. One last bit of preparation required: I pulled back the bulky makeshift sleeve on my left forearm and made a shallow cut there. I wiped the blood on the front of my shield quickly and liberally. Not as some kind of macho show of fearlessness.

Nah. I was the bait.

I unlocked the garage door and opened it, stepping bracing myself on the pair of concrete steps leading up to the door as I set the shield in place. I'd added a couple supports around the door frame that the shield slid into nicely. By themselves they stood no chance of holding back the weight of even one person, but they'd add some much needed bracing when the flood hit me.

"Hey, assholes!" I shouted at the milling bodies whose heads had craned toward the open door. I was going to tell them to come and get me, but as always the cannibalistic dead were a step ahead in that regard.

The doorway was a natural choke point, which had its good and bad elements. Narrow enough that only one or two bodies could actively snatch at me at a time, but also concentrating the weight of every zombie pushing on them into a very small area. My legs were braced for the impact, and since I stood on the steps, I was lower than I would have been on level ground. The first zombie, driven crazy by the smell of fresh blood, had to reach up and over the shield's edge in an attempt to grab me.

I held the rock hammer in my right hand, my left attached to the thick plywood. On my head I wore an old construction worker's helmet, secured with a bit of rope. Heavy safety goggles sat on my face, a cloth with some stains I'd tried hard not to think about knotted over my lower face. I ducked down and let the fingers scrape along the helmet, time my attack, and brushed the overextended arms to one side with my shoulder as I popped up and slammed the narrow end of the rock hammer into the zombie's skull.

You might be saying, oh, no, what about the other zombies grabbing at your poor arm? Won't your giant, manly muscles take scratches when the try to claw it?

Your concern and admiration is appreciated, but no. In addition to covering my head as best I could, I used a roll of duct tape, some more rags, and a few select pieces of scrap wood to armor my forearms. Is it ugly? Of course. It was awkward and laughably thrown together. But it fucking worked.

The body of the zombie I killed fell back into its companions. I'd hoped to knock a few of them off their feet or at least backward an appreciable degree, but no dice. Instead it dropped almost where it was and tangled their legs as the swarm tried to press forward. Three or four basically tripped over each other and fell into the shield as a group.

Some of the force was directed downward, but enough slammed into me that one of the braces I'd hastily hammered into the door frame popped right off. My jaw clenched with effort, I put my left shoulder into the shield and held firm. My limbs didn't quite shake with the effort, but the deep ache in my knee rekindled, sending fresh new heat radiating down to my toes and up to my hip.

It took a few seconds for the toppled mass to right itself and relieve the pressure on me. The moment it began to let up, I chanced shifting myself to get a better look. Lucky as ever, the bare edge of a zombie's head hovered just over the rim of the shield as it steadied itself. I took another swing, moving a lot less so I didn't let up on my pressure against the barrier.

That zombie went down, too, but things got...complicated.

I hadn't planned for the dead behind the fallen bodies to step on them like stairs. I should have, especially since I've seen them do it before, but in the rush it just hadn't occurred to me. The next dead man to step up stood a good ten inches higher than the last, easily able to maintain its balance as it reached down at me. I crouched, which was convenient since I had a couple weapons laying on the top step. I sat the hammer down and grabbed a long, huge screwdriver, thrusting it up between the extended arms of the zombie and through the bottom of its jaw.

I used my legs to give the shot more power and damn near lost the fight right there. I almost toppled as the shield shifted in front of me. A pulse of fear shot down my throat, paused at my belly, and settled somewhere in the vicinity of my bladder. I was not going to piss myself. Death before dishonor!

Just kidding. I have no shame.

Unfortunately, the zombie sprawled backward when I killed it and took the screwdriver along for the ride. "Fuck," I said. I had other weapons, but I couldn't afford to lose them. Wasn't like I could leave this spot and go get more, after all. "Gotta be more careful."

"Oh, don't worry about it," Adam said from the room full of zombies in front of me. "I'll get it for you."

A few seconds later, a hand appeared and dropped the weapon into my waiting fingers. It did this by brushing aside the arms of a New Breed zombie trying to climb over the edge of the shield. I was looking up when it happened, and my heart dropped. The New Breed couldn't see or sense Adam in any way, but it was smart. Its arm was shoved aside, and its eyes narrowed in response. It knew something was there, even if it couldn't see it.

I tried not to lose my shit when the New Breed whipped an elbow into Adam's face with thunderous force.

This was super not good.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Chapter 14: Junkyard Dog

I'll spare you the details of getting into the garage. It was basically how I made my way to the attic, but in reverse and a ton easier since I could just kick holes in the drywall as needed. I had to make a couple to line myself up over the work bench, and luckily the garage was empty of zombies. I pondered what I'd do before I lowered myself down. If the door was locked, I was probably safe. If not, I'd need to come up with a battle plan post haste in the likely event that the dead heard me and came to check it out like curious, flesh-eating kittens.

Deciding that, yes, 'fuck it' was basically the theme of my life to that point and not wanting to break the streak, I lowered myself down with just my arms, touching my boot to the work table with barely a scrape. It was a display of upper body strength the me or pre-2010 would have been envious of, but modern Josh had a more nuanced view of what had been required to make those muscles happen.

"I'm gonna stay up here," Jess said, her head hovering over the hole. "I'm gonna go wake Adam up if I have to fall on him to do it."

"Right on," I replied. "If there are tools in here we can use, I can pass them up to you and we'll hit them from three sides."

Jess nodded, then vanished. I climbed down from the work bench and took stock of my options. Like any practiced looter, I started rifling through the place unabashedly. There were a handful of circular saw blades in various states of wear, the expected tools like hammers, screwdrivers, and other standard items. I never discount a length of hardened tool steel. That shit is tough and almost always useful somehow.

The full-sized wood ax was less ideal. Powerful and deadly? Totally. Easy to swing inside a cramped hallway? Not in the least. A hatchet would have been far better, but honestly almost any of the short tools hanging on the peg board would have been. The problem was being able to handle a swarm without being overwhelmed. My coat had an armored lining of plastic discs in it, but that only went so far. When four or five zombies take you to the ground, nothing short of Iron Man armor is gonna save your ass.

This is the part where I'm supposed to come up with some brilliant, out-of-the-box solution that blows everyone away, but real life isn't like that. Instead I found some pieces of plywood leaning behind a pair of tall cabinets and realized some familiar ideas from Haven might come in handy.

I packed up some tools in a bag for Jess when she came back, then got to work. Inside the cabinet, I found lots of the weird items that accumulate in garages. Door handles, cabinet fixtures, rope, sealant, dozens and dozens of random things. I pulled a four by two foot section of heavy, three quarter inch plywood from its stack and started on a shield. I kept a rock hammer for myself, and attached a strap to it. Why the person who owned this house had a rock hammer in the first place, I have no idea. I wasn't going to judge. Before the Fall, I myself had a collection of weird ass tools I thought I'd need but never once used.

The total work time for me was about ten minutes. When Jess reappeared, I at least heard her coming this time. No getting startled.

"What's the plan?" she asked, eyeing my homemade tower shield dubiously.

I told her. Nobody was really happy about it.

(Hey, guys. I've started a new serialized Zombie Apocalypse/Futuristic SciFi/Dystopian story called Deathwatch and I hope you check it out. The site it's hosted on pays by so many page views, so share it far and wide. You can bookmark my Vocal Media author page, where all the chapters will show up, for easy reference.)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Chapter 13: Overhead

Jess had followed me, of course. Not all the way up into the attic since she was well aware of the spider population of such spaces and had no qualms about letting me take the traditional male role when dealing with them, but standing on top of the dresser with her head and chest through the ceiling.

"They've got my leg," I said, a little panicked as I yanked my foot away from the zombies again. "Little help please."

And Jess actually hesitated. Mind you, it was because she looked at the insane collection of spiderwebs and (I'm pretty sure) had to stop her brain from just noping out right there, but still. Hesitation. I catch exactly no fucking breaks at all.

To her credit, she hauled ass once the mental tug of war was over, not even bothering to duck around the spiderwebs. Look, I know I'm harping on this pretty hard, but both of us were severely afraid of spiders. Stop laughing, you assholes.

"Count of three," she said when she grabbed onto my wrists. "Kick hard."

She counted it out and I lashed out with my foot just before she yanked me upright. Pushing with my scrunched-up leg was super not fun, but we managed it. Thank god I was able to free my right leg, or the assist wouldn't have accomplished anything. As it was, I sort of bobbed up and fell over, sprawling across the beams as Jess let go. Hard to blame her for that. I would've done the same to save my balance, too.

"Looks like you lost a boot, there," Jess said, nodding at my right leg.

On my back, staring at the dusty ceiling through silvery threads of webbing, I grunted. It was a general ungh of assent. Yes, I hear you. Yes, dear, you're right. Lost that damn boot. Can you please just give me a second to suffer in peace?

While I tried to recover, the deep pulses of nausea-inducing agony thrumming through my body slowly losing power, Jess deftly stepped over my body and looked down through the hole. "Ugh. Goddammit. It's always something. What do you want to do?"

I lay there for another thirty seconds without answering. My brain was starting to settle down but still had a bit of pain-fuzz to shake off. I pursed my lips as I thought about it. "Did you see whether this place had a garage?"

Jess cocked her head. "I...think so? Pretty sure it's on that end." She pointed toward the side of the house opposite the master bedroom. "But we have weapons. What are you thinking?"

"That if we use a gun, we're gonna draw every zombie for a mile around us," I said.

Jess nodded. "Yeah. There are a lot more than there should be. And it's going to be a lot of work to knife all of them without making a mistake and getting overwhelmed. Should we just go out the window? Knock a hole in the ceiling over Adam and pull him up, then leave together?"

I pondered the idea. "We can always do that if we want, but I'm a little worried they'll chase us if we just try to leave. Wouldn't hurt to see if we can't find something better than a knife that doesn't grab the attention of a gun." I left unsaid the fact that I'd left our other weapons just outside the room, thinking like an idiot that it was better to spread them out in case one of us got trapped in another part of the house. Being prepared is good, but stupidly over-preparing has pitfalls.

I sighed and rose to my feet. "I'll check it out if you want to try waking sleeping beauty again."

Part of me was hoping the garage would be infested, too. Just so we could call it a day and take our chances outrunning the zombies. It was less work, and I was out of practice dealing with the constant stress of being in the wild.

Jess, however, seemed to be coping with it just fine.