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Heartless (Pt. 3)
When something tragic happens to you, your life instantly becomes divided into the “Before” and “After” in relation to the incident. I read that somewhere in a book and as I’m trudging along the highway, headed towards Vancouver, which I’ll pass through to reach Seattle eventually, and it suddenly becomes so true. Before the zombie attack, I was a regular girl going to a public school. I was enjoying my summer, dreading it’s end and worrying about assignments, homework and friends. After the zombies, I have grown accustomed to being alone. I worry about finding food, water and if a zombie is going to crack open my skull and scoop my brain out with thick grey fingernails. The last human being I recognized was a girl from my English class, Tabitha Secord, and she was lying in a driveway, brainless and covered in blood. In my hand isn’t a cellphone, textbook or tube of lipstick, but a rusty ax, stained with the black and green guts of the last zombie I encountered. I try to stay away from the creatures, travelling by myself in the light of day, sticking to open areas, but they’ve evolved and are literally around every corner, dry tongues craving the taste of the human brain. I listen to the radio every evening, sitting in some stranger’s abandoned home, eating their food, using their facilities, sleeping – but mostly just staying awake, too paranoid to sleep much – in their beds. I hear as the pandemic sweeps across the world, hitting thickly populated and busy cities in the US like New York and Los Angeles. I cross my fingers and pray that it doesn’t hit Australia, where my parents – if still alive, which I doubt, since my calls and texts aren’t going through – might be crouched beside the radio, listening with my brothers and long-haired Uncle Isaac.
A rumbling sound echoes down the highway and I jump to the side, glancing back and forth. The sun beats down hard on the cement and for a moment, all I see is the heat waves rising off the concrete. Then, a car bustles down the highway, beat-up and rusty, but running none the less.
Zombies don’t drive cars.
I step onto the road, waving my arms up and down. I put down my ax so I can jump and wave my arms frantically with vigour, the car slowing down. I run to the side door, where a dark-haired guy in his mid-twenties looks me up and down. I can’t see his eyes, they’re hidden behind the lenses of aviator sunglasses. In the back, there is a curly-haired woman holding a child to her hip, curly-haired and sweated as well.
“Where are you going?” I ask.
“We’re headed for the airport in Seattle,” The mother speaks up, “It’s the only one that isn’t closed.”
“I would be so, so grateful if you would give me a ride. My parents and brother left and my school_”
“What can you trade us?” The guy interrupts me.
“Johnny, please,” The woman hisses.
“No,” He snaps, glancing in the mirror, “You need to give us something otherwise I’m driving off right now. Do you have food, extra weapons or clothes? Something?”
“Johnny, stop this!” The woman snaps.
“How many zombies have all of you killed?” I asked, leaning against the driver’s door, “Johnny? How about just you?”
“I killed one,” He murmurs, eyes forward.
“One, huh? Well,” I lean forward and bring my face close to his, “Let me tell you, Johnny. I’ve killed twenty, at least, in the last two weeks. I’ve also been walking, completely alone for that long, so I can offer you a couple of things. Mainly, I can offer the expertise and everything I’ve learned about zombies.”
He moves away from me, “What, you’re an expert now?”
“We’ve all known about zombies for pretty much the same time, but considering you folks have been driving around in your little car all this time, avoiding the things and I’ve been walking on my own, yes, to you I am an expert. But, right now, walking doesn’t seem so bad, so, bye.”
I step away from the car, pick up my ax and backpack and begin to walk, my feet kicking up dust.
“Wait!” The woman rolls down her window, “You can come.”
I wish I could say I got to know the nice family that drove me through Vancouver and past the abandoned border, but I really didn’t. The mother asked nice questions about me, like how old I am, where was I when the attack happened, what happened to my parents, cooing and admiring my strength and fortitude. I simply nod, silent as Johnny, as we drive into the night, the radio squawking the bad news of the zombies spreading through the world.
“But, there’s good news if you can survive until winter, folks,” The host says, “Specialist say that the zombies and their virus won’t be able to survive the cold.”
“But that’s three months away!” The mother cries, her child beginning to sob in a way that makes me want to crawl into a hole and wait this horrible thing out.
We pull up to a gas station just before midnight and Johnny cuts the lights and engine, leaving us stranded in the silence. Neon signs cover the windows, advertising cheap gas, groceries and cigarettes. The lights are on in the gas station, but the windows are shattered and we don’t see anyone moving inside.
“I’d feel better if you two went together,” The mother says as Johnny unbuckles his seatbelt.
“Sure,” I agree, grabbing my ax and stepping out. I pace back and forth around Johnny as he manages to get some gas to drip from the hose.
“We should check inside,” He murmurs, walking towards the convenience store.
I step over the shattered glass windows, knocking the final panel out of the pane with the tip of my ax. The fridges and glass containers with spinning conveyor belts for hot dogs have been tipped over, powered down and all the candies and chips have been ripped off of the shelves, packages split open with clumsy hands. Johnny walks through the broken aisles like it’s a normal shopping trip, ignoring his shoes sticking to the floor. He grabs some browning bananas, some packs of sour candy, a bag of liquorice, five room-temperature energy drinks, four bottles of water, and as many other things that he can shove into his pockets. I grab myself some things too, mainly chips and candies, because it’s really all they have, plus a 4L bottle of cola. It’s as Johnny is leaning over the counter, checking out the register that I see something moving beside the car outside. I leave my snacks on the counter and take a step forward, ax leaned against my shoulder. A subtle groan can be heard now that everyone has stopped stepping on the crackling broken glass. The interior lights are on, but neither the child nor the mother are aware of what’s lurking just outside.
A hand slams through the back windshield and the screams of the woman and her two children can be heard. Johnny yanks on the chain hanging from his jeans, a thick hunting knife slipping into his palm. I run to the car as three zombies circle it, slapping their palms against the windows, yanking lazily on handles, climbing onto the roof. I swing my ax, throwing my weight behind it and cut the zombie climbing the roof clean in half, my ax banging against the car. It’s top half clings to the roof and I pry it off with the dull edge of my knife while Johnny stabs the one climbing through the back window. I shut my eyes as I push down on the ax, feeling it cut through tissues and bone and muscles as it goes down. Johnny is screaming and so is his mom. Two other zombies are hobbling towards us. I swing my ax, sticking into one of their sides. Abandoning the ax, I slip my knife from my hoodie pocket and slam it upwards, into the soft flesh between neck and chin.
When the adrenaline finally fades, all I can hear is a quiet sobbing. Johnny is kneeling next to a small figure, a little girl. I catch my breath and look away, the ax feeling suddenly extremely heavy in my hands. His mother places her hand on my shoulder. I am expecting comfort, but instead, she pulls her long hair off of her back, revealing a large gaping hole in her back. If she wasn’t already changing, she would be flat-out dead, but instead, a black mold is spreading over the cut, festering and exhaling spores to stick deeper in her skin. I cover my mouth, feeling sick at the sight of her heart ripped clean from her back.
“They got me,” She whispers quietly, “The two of you have to go before I change.”
It’s already beginning, her teeth growing slowly more ragged, her skin turning greener. Her hair is beginning to fall out in tufts.
“No, mum, no way,” Johnny insists, “We’ll find a doctor, a specialist_”
“Oh, they can’t help me now,” She whispers, shaking her head, “Pack the car and go.”
I help her pack the car while Johnny stands by the car, arms crossed.
“Bite me, mum,” He insists, holding out his wrist. She swiftly grabs him by both shoulders and gives him a good shake, insisting he goes with me. I turn my eyes away, grabbing a paper towel from the dispenser and wiping my blade clean.
“You’re being a stupid boy, Johnny. Leave us here, we’re goners. The two of you go and try to make something good happen, okay? We’ll be fine.”
It’s only when she’s almost completely changed and she’s beginning to forget, her tongue going slack and her fingernails turning into thick claws that I lose my patience and grab him by his shoulders, walking him sternly to the front seat. His mother weakly steps towards me, a shadow of what she used to be and I jump into the car, locking the door. She scrapes her fingernails sadly down the glass and I get a good view of the mold covering the empty hole in her chest as I push Johnny to drive away. He slips on his glasses, but not before I catch a devastating sadness in his eyes.
“Let’s just get to that goddamn airport,” He snaps, slamming on the gas.