Sneedville, TN. / 15:31 Hours / November 13, 2013
The butt of my rifle collides with my shoulder with a reassuring bump, which reminds me of my days on the ranges in army. I stand looking at the lifeless creature a few paces ahead of me. The usual feelings of pride and satisfaction surge within my chest as I step forward to get a closer look. Iíve been tracking this thing for hours and now it is mine for the taking.
My hands are about to reach for the antlers when I hear a rustle behind me. I drop low to the ground instinctively in case another hunter isnít paying attention and attempts a shot. The rustling continues, so I turn. For a minute I expect to see one of the stray dogs that roam about the hills and streets of Sneedville, and in that first moment after turning, I actually do thing I see a dog. However, after my eyes adjust I am suddenly taking in something much larger, much less furry and harmless. Thereís a gaping hole cutting through the creatureís center and I find myself staring at the trees and ground behind it, like watching television on a screen thatís able to follow you.
This is the first undead Iíve seen and Iím not as prepared as I thought I would be. Now Iím required to do something, to take action and end this thing thatís ambling towards me. I raise my rifle and take aim, finger on the trigger, ready to squeeze, when I see seven people barreling down the hill towards me. Itís their attire that makes me hesitate; they are dressed in heels, skirts, slacks, and loafers, like theyíve come from church. What are they running from? Are there more undead chasing close behind them?
It isnít until they get closer that I can see fresh bites on their faces, necks, and arms. The white under-shirts the men are wearing are now turning red as the cotton soaks up the blood from their wounds. I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention as it finally dawns on me. This is a damn pack of undead, not a group of living running from the creatures. I make the decision not to shoot. I donít know if there are any more close by and I certainly donít want to find out.
I turn and run following the valley back towards the road, jumping over the rocks and broken trees which are littering the trail. They are fast, faster than I had imagined and they quickly gain on me. Early reports had stated they were slow, stumbling creatures, but these are fast, strong, and hungry. This must be how they spread north from the border so quickly. The news had become spotty, and now, apparently somewhat unreliable.
As I make my way back up the street, I continue shooting glances over my shoulder to check the progress of the undead. My stomach plummets as I start to realize how much further I have to go and how badly my lungs are aching from the effort mixed with the cold air. As I jump through a bush separating me from the street, I laugh at myself because it was idiotic of me to go out in the woods so unprepared. As if by some miracle, I hear the rumble of an old engine behind me over the moans of the undead. I look back and see an old blue pickup coming around the bend while plowing through three of the creatures, sending them skidding off the side of the road. As the truck speeds towards me, the window rolls down and the driver shouts to me to jump in the back. He keeps moving forward, only slowing down enough for me to climb into the bed.
He opens the rear window and frantically asks, ďWhereís your place?Ē I point in the direction and shout the house number to turn into.
By the time we turn into my driveway, the truck pretty much dies and we coast down to the house. The radiator seems to have blown apart, probably from the force of all the bodies he must have cleared off the road on his way here; I hop out of the back of the old pickup to the driver side. The man who has just saved my life remains in his seat in a bit of a daze. I reach in to the open window to shake his hand and thank him.
ďIím Jack, Jack SkoalĒ I say, giving an attempt at a smile. ďThank you for helping me out back there, I didnít think I was going to make it back here alive.Ē
After a second he looks at me and shakes my hand. ďYouíre welcome. Nameís Carl.Ē
ďI nod and glance over my shoulder. ďWe should probably get in the house quick, before they spot us.Ē
Carl has no supplies to bring in, and since I had to leave behind my prize kill at the bottom of the valley, thereís nothing encumbering our short walk to my front door. I have an electronic lock from Home Depot I had installed long before the outbreak so no key was needed, just a four digit combination. Itís a nice thing to have in a zombie world, when stumbling for keys can mean the difference between life and death. Of course I do hide a key in a weak spot in the siding in case the batteries die, trapping me in the undead world just inches from the safety of my palace.
Once inside we, check out a window I didnít have boarded up since itís high enough off the ground. Thankfully the dead had not followed us down to the house. The engine must have died just in time to mask our escape. We can see them on the street as they are ripping apart one of my neighbors. They attack like savage beasts, swarming the poor bastard and biting anything they can sink their bloody teeth into. We watch in a combination of horror and fascination until they finished devouring his meaty flesh, limb by limb, then shamble away gnawing on his bones. We stand there watching out the window for a good while, taking in the newly horrific view of my once quiet neighborhood. From time to time the dead can be seen shuffling between my neighborsí houses as if theyíre a group of Jehovahís Witnesses looking for an ear to preach to. A smirk creeps onto my face as I imagine what the members of a religious sect like that might think of this kind of second coming; thatís if there are any members left. My smile grows larger.
When we feel confident that they havenít discovered our presence in the house, I nod to Carl and move into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. Thereís nothing like caffeine to settle the nerves.
We stand in the kitchen staring into our mugs and sharing a moment of silence. ďThis canít be real. The dead canít move.Ē
I looked at him for a second, waiting for the punch line that never came. I think he figured that out when I slid the sugar over to him. Carl had watched the news and saw what was happening in the world, but when he meet the plague face to face he had a hard time grasping the concept. I get where heís coming from and it makes me think back to that moment in the woods. All my preparations could have been for nothing if Carl hadnít appeared out of nowhere. I could be out there wandering the streets right now with the rest of them, peering into my own windows searching for the living. The thought creates a nervous tension in my gut and I look up at Carl. The look on his face makes me wonder if heís picturing a similar scenario. Itís been so long since Iíve really shared a space with anyone, had to read their expressions, interpret their silence, and even though I wasnít expecting to sit this out with anyone, I have to admit that the presence of a person, a real, live person, is reassuring.
We stand for a while longer before I suggest moving to the living room. I ask Carl what heís seen so far, where heís been, and his answers seem to suggest Iíd completed prepping in the nick of time. It doesnít sound like weíll be getting anymore supplies in the near future. I spend the rest of the evening hours showing Carl the house and explaining what I had been planning for the last several weeks. I give Carl the spare room and tell him I will stay up on watch for a while and let him rest. He nods in thanks and I leave him to it.
It doesnít take long for the rotten creatures to show up at the front door. Around 10pm I hear the first sounds of them outside, shuffling and moaning. I had thought the ones pursuing us earlier would have been right behind us, but I imagine one of my neighbors probably diverted their attention. I check on Carl, who is sound asleep, before moving to a window to better assess the situation. I slowly pull the curtain back for a peek. Itís dark but I can make out some of them moving around the yard, dark silhouettes hunched like the trees in the backdrop. They are slower now and I watch them move aimlessly around the house. A few move onto the front porch, their toes dragging across the planks, thumping between boards. I hear moans from off in the distance and I wonder if the noises mean anything. Maybe theyíre calling to each other, a primitive form of communication through agonizing groans and moans. Or it could mean nothing at all, just the cry of a dead soul.
The doors are solid. I know theyíre not getting through it, but I watch the inside of it as they start clawing and scratching at it. I donít know if they can hear us or if they just want to come inside and search. Iím unable to see the ones at the door from any windows; I can only hear the horrifying sounds they make while they seize my front porch. I watch the door a while longer as they shuffle around out there, hoping that if I remain quiet enough, theyíll eventually move on. I donít want to wake Carl but I canít take the chance of him waking and freaking out. I donít know him well enough to gauge his reaction, so I move to his room.
I clamp my hand over his mouth as gently as I can, ďSshhh, itís just me. Donít make a sound, theyíre outside but I donít think they know weíre in here.Ē
His eyes jolt from side to side, filling with fear, until he realizes what is going on. We are safe as long as they donít know we are here, and even if they do figure it out, I have faith that I fixed up the place well enough to keep them at bay. We both stay awake the rest of the night sitting on the floor in the corners of the room, just listening to the horrible noises coming from the outside.
That first day they appeared really hit home. But now itís not hard to see how half the world is infested with these cockroaches. They donít fight back with weapons or tactics, but with fear and numbers. They donít seem to sleep or stop, they just search. I donít know if itís for food or just because they want us dead. So many questions drift in and out of my mind. Some I give voice to, and Carl gives what Iíve come to discover is his normal response, a shrug. Others I try to tackle in my head, a strategy I learned in the hills of Afghanistan when I needed to stay sharp and focused, or just stop from going insane, and the only tools I had at my disposal were my thoughts. I ask myself a question and try to muster a response. Whatís driving them? Whatís in their heads? Do they think at all? I donít have many answers, but Iím able to at least define them in my mind as the enemy. I donít want any more moments where Iím caught off guard. Doubt and hesitation, thatís what gets people killed.
Three days have dragged by since they first showed their rotten flesh here. Thankfully the power is still on, but I donít know how much longer it will last. Itís hard to tell myself having it is a luxury, but I know it could get us killed if weíre not careful. We have been sitting low trying not to make any noise since from what we can tell they seem to be attracted to sounds and lights.
The nights are getting colder and last night we had our first frost of the season. The front windows at ground level are all boarded up, so Carl watches the security cameras I have streaming to the laptop. The night vision is a little grainy from the cheap cameras I bought online but they do the job. I watch out of a rear bedroom window as I have the last two nights, but last night was different. They werenít moving as fast, in fact they seemed to hibernate when they werenít searching. I donít know if itís the cold or just how they are.
In the morning we talked about our options, which are pretty limited:
1. We can stay put and wait for help that is almost certainly never coming. .
2. We can try and find a safer place.
3. We can convoy across the country, never staying in one place too long.
Carl points out that they each have their advantages and disadvantages, but staying here would eventually end in a siege leading up to our own Alamo. Finding a safer place would be no easy task; certain things needed to be present to ensure long term stay. First and most important was the security of the building, but it also needed to be able to sustain life long term. No place currently comes to mind.
Our little gathering around the round table is cut short by a crash at the front of the house. The two of us rush to the computer and investigate the cause. As we click through the images, I can see six of them on cam 2 gathered around a fence where my bird feeder once rested. Feathers float to the earth around the mob that is now fighting for a morsel of the fresh meat. It seems that these zombies donít discriminate when it comes to food.
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