“Alright, chief, you better wake up and tell me where to go.”
I jump awake, a nightmare quickly fading where I was being chased by a zombified version of my daughter.
“Whoa there, pal,” Guy laughs. “Just a dream.”
“I hope you’re right,” I say through labored breath. I blink several times as my eyes adjust to the bright light. I see a sign on the right side of the road indicating exit # 45 ahead.
“Oh, wow,” I say gruffly. After clearing my throat, I follow up with, “How was the drive?”
“Pretty uneventful,” Guy answers. “From all those movies or whatever, I had kinda expected the roadways to be full of all sorts of nonsense. Truth be told, I haven’t seen anything of note since we left Waukesha, outside of a glow worm every few miles or so.”
“Glow worm,” I laugh. “I like it.”
“Yeah, spent a while coming up with things to call those suckers. Using the word zombie just feels wrong, you know. Like we’re playing pretend or something.”
“Yeah, I still have a hard time believing this isn’t all some sort of dream.”
“I know what you mean, boy. So, this your exit or what? You said Menomonie, right?”
“Yeah, but take the next one. Number 41.”
“Okidokie,” he says, speeding up as he does.
I take a look at the clock on the dashboard of the vehicle. 9:47AM. I’d hate to jinx myself, but it is sure as hell starting to look like I may actually be able to keep the promise I made to Zelda. It seems like a good enough omen to allow my heart to cheer tentatively.
“So,” Guy says hesitantly. “I know I don’t know you all that well or anything, but I’ve been doing some thinking while you’ve been sleeping. Um, well, I can’t help but think that it may be important for me to, well, you know, prepare you for what might be coming.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I mean, look around,” he says, gesturing to the sides of the road. “I had my doubts before, but I think now it’s pretty obvious. Those glow worms are here.”
“Yeah,” I say, not wanting to even consider where he may be going with this conversation. “But–“
“Come on, kid. Don’t make me say it. You know what I mean.”
“Of course I know what you mean,” I say, a little more emotionally charged than I need to. “Don’t you think I’ve been obsessing over that exact thing ever since I woke up to this mess? Do you think it’s even possible I haven’t already imagined my perfect little daughter’s death over and over again? Do you have any idea how many different ways I’ve had to watch her die and then come back?”
“There is only one thing keeping me from jumping out of this van and letting those gross abominations eat me. One single hope that I have left. The hope that my beautiful little girl is somehow being kept safe against all odds. That somehow, against all reason, she’s one of the few who has somehow managed to stay alive.”
“Okay, I get it already,” Guy interrupts me. “I’m sorry I even mentioned it.”
“Good,” I say as I take a deep reassuring breath. “Now, let’s go find my daughter and get the hell out of here.”
“Alright,” he says as he pulls off onto the off-ramp for exit 41.
“Take a left at the stop sign here,” I say, unnecessarily pointing as I do. “Wow,” I gasp as we drive through town.
Driving down North Broadway at this time of day has never really been a source of any real amount of traffic. Today, we’re the only thing moving. That alone makes things seem off. The fact that the few wobbly ex-humans standing around are all staring blankly at the sky does even more to set me on edge.
What I find most odd is the absolute lack of noise. There’s no wind, no engines, no horns, no music, the lights are all off everywhere. The place is absolutely silent. Outside of our own van, there seems to be absolutely nothing going on.
“Yeah, I get ya, kid,” Guy says softly. “Felt the same way as we were leaving Chicago. Seems weird, but I found myself missing the constant blaring of car horns.”
“I noticed that too!” I yell in response. “Who’d have thought that all those annoying things would be the first we’d miss when they’re all gone?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say they were the first thing I missed,” Guy answers solemnly.
“Right,” I say, being reminded of the task at hand. “Take a left up here.”
“At the taco joint?”
“Yep, right there.”
Guy speeds up his already high speed run down this almost idyllic-seeming street. He takes a hard left, causing the tires to skid against the pavement as we fishtail along a large patch of ice. Guy expertly manages to get the car back under control.
“Okay, see the alley up ahead?”
“No,” he responds, which is understandable. With the recent snowfall, the alley is all but completely obscured.
“Right after the fence here,” I point, this time more usefully.
“Oh, yeah, okay,” he grimaces as he slams on the brakes before taking a harder than necessary turn into the alley. We bounce off the garage on the other side of the entrance before regaining our forward momentum.
“Slow down,” I shout as we near the house.
“This one yours?” he says as he brings the van to an idle.
“Well, not mine, mine’s on the other side of the road. This is where Zelda was staying.”
“Want me to come with you?” he asks as we notice a pair of zombies swaying behind a dumpster ahead. They don’t seem to notice us as their attention is directed toward the sky.
“Yeah,” I reply, recognizing the two, who are still in their spandex running attire, as the couple who live just down the street. I feel disappointed in myself for never learning their names.
“In a sense,” I answer, grabbing the tire iron from below my feet.
Guy grabs my hand with one of his own and pulls the weapon away from me with the other. “I’ll take care of them. No sense in making you deal with that.”
“Kid, if you’d seen the stuff I saw when I was your age, you’d know this is nothing.”
“You in the war?”
“Something like that. Why don’t you stay in here while I deal with this, and I’ll let you know when I’m done?”
“Okay,” I say grimly. “Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it,” he says as he jumps out of the cab. He runs toward the people I’m pretty sure used to have the last name of Carpenter. I close my eyes as he nears, and cringe at the pair of splats and thuds which follow shortly after
“Alright, kid, let’s go find your daughter and get her out of here,” Guy says as he returns to the vehicle.
“I just hope she didn’t turn—“
“You had better start taking your own advice there, Bert. She’s gonna be fine.”
“Right,” I breathe deeply, “she’s going to be fine.”
“Alright, now, come on. Let’s go!” Guy slams the door and stands waiting for me in front of the van. I force myself to open the door, really not wanting to know the truth of the situation. Right now I can convince myself Zelda’s okay. Once I go in there, it’s all too possible that I’ll end up face-to-face with a growling, glowing, maybe screaming, version of my little princess.
I shudder at the thought and fortify myself against such nightmares before I jump to the ground and join Guy.
“So, this one, right?” he says, pointing to the beige-colored house in front of us.
“Yep, that’s the one.”
“I’m not really liking that they’ve got this privacy fence thing going on, or that the back gate is open.”
“Well, if the gate weren’t open, the fence would be pretty great, wouldn’t it?”
“Hypotheticals don’t really help us here, kid. And I don’t like that we don’t have a good view into the yard.”
“Would it help if we went in through the front?”
“Naw, the van’s parked back here. We want to use the same path in and out, to keep things clear. Besides, I just want to get this over with already.”
“Whatever you say,” I reply.
“You ready for this?” he asks again.
“Wait,” I state as I walk over to the dumpster the Carpenters had been hiding behind. Pulling the rolling green container closer to Guy, I make sure not to look at the location my ex-neighbors had been laid out. “Can you give me a hand?”
“Good idea, kid,” Guy says as he assists me. “What do you see?”
“Looks empty back here, but the back door to the house is open.”
“Shit. So it’s a crapshoot as to what we’ll find inside.”
“Yeah,” I say. My mind begins drifting to images I dare not envision.
“Hey, kid, don’t get lost on me now. She’s okay, alright? She’s perfectly okay.”
“Right,” I say, again reassuring myself with a deep breath. “Let’s get in there and get her out.”
“That’s the way, kid,” Guy says. “Follow me!” After my feet hit the ground, he’s in the gate and speeding toward the back door.
I run to catch up to him. “No,” I say as I place my hand on his shoulder. “I’ll check things out first; you wait out here in case it’s a death trap.”
“You sure, kid? Seems to me it might be best for me to see what I can first.”
“This is something I have to do.”
“Whatever you say, kid. Just know I’ll be right outside here if you need any help.”
Without a second thought, I sprint to the door and enter the building, running through the kitchen. I’m already in the living room before I even notice the house is absolutely littered with the living dead. As I notice the danger I’m currently within, I freeze in terror, my eyes darting from corpse to corpse as I look for a way out of this situation.
The faces of my friends and neighbors surround me. There’s a blankness in their expression which shows they are nothing more than rotten flesh and spoiled blood. Heck, even the mailman appears to have found his way in here, although it’s still way too early for the mail to have been delivered.
Suddenly I realize they aren’t moving. They’re all staring at the window which looks out upon the street with a dazed intensity, paying absolutely no attention to me. As silently as possible, I creep to the back door.
Without a noise, I’m outside. Guy looks at me fearfully. “What happened? Where’s the girl?”
“I’m headed back in to find her. I just came out to let you know they aren’t paying any attention to me. It’s almost as if they’re completely stunned by the light outside.”
“Okay, then let’s get in there and find your girl,” he says as he starts toward the entrance.
“No,” I say as I again restrain him by pulling on his shoulder. “Let’s not press our luck. You stay out here and get the van ready. I’ll head back in by myself.”
“Whatever you say, boss,” Guy replies. I can tell he’s still not happy with my decision to leave him out, but he seems willing to comply.
Without a word, I reenter the house, creeping as silently as possible through the swaying horde. Upon reentering the kitchen, I notice there are at least ten monsters in here alone. They all stare at the back door as though it promises some sort of amazing wealth.
I begin to wonder if they had been in the midst of hunting for food before the sun came up. I’m just guessing the sun is the reason they’re stopped in their tracks. Carefully, I look in every corner to make sure my little girl isn’t hiding. I’m also extra careful to ensure to do so quietly in order to avoid waking these vile beasts from their apparent slumber.
I feel assured Zelda’s not in the kitchen and exit to the living room, once again checking each corner and hiding place carefully. I even find myself looking within the cabinets of the entertainment system in the effort of thoroughness. No Zelda.
I stop momentarily to count the zombies in this room. Sixteen. Sixteen of my friends and neighbors are all swaying in here as they stare at the light outside.
The terror threatens to take over my body and cause me to completely seize up, but I make the effort to focus on Zelda. Reminding myself that I have only one task left to complete helps my resolve. I push forward into the hallway of this, thankfully, small house. There’s a closed door on the left, appearing to have been severely damaged by someone, or, I suppose, something. In eager anticipation, I swing the door open, only to find within the darkened room, yet another zombie staring at a window. I instantly recognize it as being Roger Jones, the man of the house I’m currently standing in.
I decide to leave the door open, since he seems more interested in the small bathroom window than me. I’d prefer not to risk making any extra noise, if possible.
I continue by entering the room opposite the bathroom and find myself in Julie’s bedroom, the daughter of the family. The shades are drawn in here as well, creating an atmosphere much darker than I care for. I move as quickly and as silently to the other side of the room and open the drapes to find that I’m, thankfully, alone. I guess they must have gone toward the light as the day progressed.
A thorough search of the room, including the closet and under the bed, proves fruitless as well. I exit the room feeling even more certain the worst possible thing has happened to my little girl. The only thing which keeps me from breaking down completely is that I still haven’t found her body.
And that it hasn’t found me.
Forcing myself forward, I walk to the end of the short hall, to the doorway leading to the master bedroom. The daylight shines brightly in here, showing me quite clearly the seven bodies standing and staring at the window. Through blinding tears I didn’t even realize were falling, I see a short one standing next to Laura Jones. A short one with blonde hair looking up at the light with the same stunned innocence as the rest of these things.
I stumble out of the room, falling to the ground in the hall, my face buried in the carpet as I realize my worst fears have come true. Bawling loudly, without regard for the danger all around me, I cry out.
“No!” I scream. “Nooooo!” I burble into the floor, my body becoming a heaping mess of emotion. The ground trembles slightly as something nears.
“What’s wrong, kid?” I hear coming from the other room. The footsteps come nearer and stop in front me, “Oh.”
I continue to sob uncontrollably, not knowing what to do next, not caring what terrible things might happen to me if I can’t stop. Guy sits down on the floor next to me.
“I’m sorry, Bert. I knew I should have been the one who came in here first.”
I find myself incapable of words, the sadness of the moment ripping my heart apart. Until her voice fills my mind. Faintly, I hear her singing to herself, as she would so often do when feeling scared. The tears come on stronger now as I realize I’ll never be able to comfort her again.
“Do you hear that, kid?” Guy asks.
I glance up at him with my bleary, red eyes. “What?”
“That singing. Don’t you hear it?”
“Holy shit!” I yell as I jump to my feet. “I thought I was imagining it! It’s her!”
“But, didn’t you—“
I run to the master bedroom and look in once again. I had been too prepared to see my little girl. I hadn’t even realized the possibility that I would walk in on a mother and daughter. Although I should probably feel sad to know what happened to Julie and Laura, I can’t help having a smile cross my face.
“She’s alive!” I scream, followed by cocking my head to the side to figure out where the sound is coming from.
“Uhhh, Bert,” Guy says. I immediately shush him, the sound of Zelda’s voice too faint to even know what song she’s picked.
Finally, I have an epiphany as I realize there’s still one part of the house I haven’t searched. “The basement!” I yell as I run back to the kitchen to the door leading downstairs.
Guy grabs my shoulder just as I’m about to head down. “Make it quick, kid,” he whispers firmly as he places a finger to his lips and gestures to the suddenly stirring monsters around us. I realize my volume has roused them and urge myself to be better about my excitement.
“Sorry. You get the van started. We’ll be right behind you.”
I bound down the steps to the darkness below, wishing I could turn on a light or something to get more visibility.
Her voice is louder now, echoing oddly through the darkness. I want to yell out to her, but have no idea if we’re even alone. If there’s the possibility that even one of those things is down here, I’d prefer not to alert them to my presence. Even if it means it takes longer to find Zelda.
“…his name was Tiny Tim, I took him to the…”
The sound of her voice sets my heart afire with excitement.
“Zelda,” I whisper. I don’t know why they haven’t been alerted to her yet, but I definitely don’t want to be the one who causes it to happen.
“…bubble, bubble, POP!” she continues, obviously unaware of my attempt to find her. I find myself wondering how many times she’s repeated this song before now.
I decide the best option is to follow the exterior wall, hoping to find some sort of closet or something she might be hiding in. Just then I hear a groan coming from the top of the stairs. My heart races.
“I had a little turtle…” she begins again, singing louder as she’s obviously heard the same sound I did.
“Zelda!” I whisper more loudly now.
“…his name was Tiny Tim…” she continues, also getting louder.
The groans continue from up above. The light which had been shining in from the top of the stairs is now blocked by one of the beasts. They’ve found us!
“Zelda!” I yell, unable to contain myself from finding her any longer.
The song stops and after a brief pause I hear, “Daddy?”
A slight hiss comes from the top of the stairs.
“Zelda, come on, let’s get out of here.”
“Yes, Zelda, sweetie. Now, come on, we need to go, now!”
“Are you one of those…mean guys, like Mrs. Laura and Mr. Roger?”
“No, sweetheart. It’s me. I’m here to save you.”
I hear a slow creaking noise come from the other side of the room. I run toward the source of the sound. I see my daughter’s pale face shining at me through the drape-filtered light.
“Zelda!” I yell, grabbing her up in my arms and holding her as tightly as possible. My face streams with tears as I am able to finally hold her once again.
“Daddy, I missed you and I was scared and I hid.”
“I know, honey, but I’m going to get you out of here and keep you safe, okay?”
“Okay,” she answers.
A loud series of thuds come from the stairwell. I look and see that one of the zombies has fallen down the stairs. He’s quickly followed by three more. Obviously we aren’t using that way to get out. I look up at the window.
“Sweetheart, I’m going to have to put you down for just a second, okay?”
“Just for a second, okay? I promise. I just have to get this window open so we can get out of here, alright?”
“Okay, Daddy,” she says uncertainly. I can already hear the tears welling up in her voice.
“I promise,” I repeat as I place her on the ground. I see a chair nearby and pull it under the window, giving me the additional height necessary to work with the window. It’s old, but I see on the sides that it’s held in merely by a couple of simple turnbuckles.
They’re both pretty rusty, but in my adrenaline-fueled rush, I manage to twist them open. Unfortunately, the window appears to have settled into its casement. I frantically work my fingers into the sides. Nothing I do seems to help me get a handle on the window. The sound of hissing and groaning gets closer.
“Daaaaad,” Zelda whines beneath me as the hissing grows closer, joined by a rattling. A faint glow of red shines in the reflection on the window.
“Just a second longer,” I console her as I punch a hole through the glass, grateful I am still wearing my gloves. I pull firmly on the wedge of wood in the middle of the window frame. It gives!
The noise has caused a faster movement from the impending zombie attack. I hear another two of the things fall down the stairs and join the fray. A loud scream fills the air. I don’t have time to determine if it’s Zelda or one of the zombies.
I look up and see there’s still a storm window between me and freedom, which just so happens to be just out of reach. I use the frame of the newly removed window to shove against the storm. It falls out of its spot easily, for which I thank every deity I can think of.
I use my gloves to brush the area free of glass and jump down off the chair to pick up my daughter. She is frozen with fear as she stares at the glowing chests of the five zombies. Their mouths are open wide with ear-splitting screams. I lift her up to the open window and shove her to safety.
“Run,” I yell to her as she stands.
“I need you, Daddy,” she yells in return.
“I’m right behind you,” I yell as I return to the chair and struggle to pull myself out of the dark hole in the ground. I can’t reach anything with which to give me leverage. Tentatively, I stand up on the back of the chair, feeling it wobble beneath me as I get my hands wrapped around the exterior of the house.
Zelda screams loudly outside.
I feel something bump against my legs as I struggle to pull my weight out of the tiny opening the window space provides. Then I feel something wrap around my ankle.
My screams mix with that of the zombies and my daughter as I’m pulled backward into the basement. My gloves keep me from getting a strong enough hold on the house.
Just as I feel my grip give way, something takes hold of my left wrist. I look up and see the determined face of Guy as he pulls me from the depths and onto the cold snow above. In his arms I see the frightened face of my little girl.
“Come on,” he yells. “Something’s gotten them all worked up.”
I look out to the street and see a large gathering of the glowing beasts headed in our direction. Guy is already on his way rounding the privacy fence to the alleyway as I finally get to my feet and follow him.
Within a matter of seconds, we’re all inside the cab of the van, Guy in the driver’s seat, Zelda in the middle.
As I struggle to catch my breath, I wrap my arm around my little girl as tightly as I can.
I look at the clock and see it is now, 10:15.
“I’m sorry I’m late, sweetheart.”
“Where to?” Guy asks as he puts the van in gear and speeds down the alley toward the road.
“Anywhere but here,” I reply.
“Daddy?” Zelda asks, climbing into my lap. “I’m not in my car seat.”
“No, sweetheart,” I laugh. “You’re not. We’re going to just have to be extra careful, okay?”
“Can you get me back to the highway at least?” Guy asks.
“Sure, take a right up here,” I answer.
“Daddy,” Zelda says again as she lays her head against my chest. “Are Mr. Roger and Mrs. Laura going to be okay?”
“I don’t know, sweetie. But we are. Left up here, Guy.”
“Any idea of where we might be safe?” Guy asks me, his eyes still wide with fear.
“We could head up north,” I answer. “There shouldn’t be too many people up there at this time of year. That’ll keep the zombie count down.”
“Sounds like as good a plan as any,” Guy smiles. “North it is.”
“Daddy,” Zelda says again.
“Don’t worry, sweetie. You don’t have to be scared anymore.” I wrap my arms around my little girl. “I’ll never let go, okay?”
Go to Table of Contents