In the beginning was the word, and the word was “Holy shit! Holy shit!” I can’t believe I’m taking the time to think like that while Ed’s in as much trouble as he is, but I am. The joke was there and my mind picked up on it. Even as he screams for help I find myself wishing he’d gone with “God” instead of “Holy”. It would have been neater, you know?
“Hold on!” I shout. “I’m coming.” I rush towards Ed, trying to push them off him but they’re too strong. I punch one in the face and she goes down. Way to go Marcus, hit a woman. How chivalrous of you. She’s back up in a moment, swinging fists that would best be described as claws. What the hell is wrong with these people?
“Dude, I think these guys wanna eat us.” Way to state the obvious there, Ed. One of the men leaps on me as he speaks and tries his damnedest to bite my shoulder. Luckily Ed is there and smashes him away from me with a branch he picked up. We square off against the three crazy people again and my jaw drops. The man who tried to bite me has a gaping hole in his head where Ed hit him and he’s still coming. Drool falls from his lips and blood pumps from the wound, thicker and darker than that they show on television. Yeah, fists are not going to help me survive this encounter unless they’re holding something heavy. A chainsaw perhaps? No, don’t want to go getting arrested because the mountain folks have lost their minds. I reach down by my foot and grab a branch myself, securing it just as the three… crazies charge. Almost allowed myself to think that word then.
“You okay?” I ask Ed, as the last of our insane assailants falls to the floor. I look at the state of them, the damage we had to do to emerge in one piece and I can’t help but grimace. I tell myself that we just knocked them unconscious but I’m not about to test that by taking a pulse. No sirree, not a chance.
“One of those psychos tried to bite me.” Ed says, his voice higher from the fear than I’ve ever heard it before. There’s that word again, lingering at the back of my mind. “But yeah, yeah I’m fine.” I notice he won’t look at the bod… unconscious people at our feet. For my part, I’m keeping eye contact as we speak too. God, do I look as pale and scared as he does? Man up, Marcus.
“Well, we can’t stay out here in the open, that’s for damn sure.” I say, indicating with a nod that people up the path. They could well be friendly but we thought that about these three as well. We can both see they people further up are walking a little stiffly and that word slithers into my mind again, ignoring all attempts to eject it.
“Ranger station?” Ed asks shakily.
“Ranger station.” I agree. “Maybe we can find some help there.”
“What the hell, man? We’re gone two weeks and – and what? Everybody takes up cannibalism?” Has it been two weeks? We hiked, we fished, we joked around and drank a kayak of beer. Yeah, it’s a measurement. It’s how much you can fit in a boat with two guys and not sink.
Two weeks away and everyone has turned into… No, I refuse to say that word. “Beats me.” Ed is probably thinking that word too. We do watch the same movies, after all.
“Shit, those guys look messed up too.” Ed points to a group of people simply standing on the path we’ve been walking up from the river. They’re injured, that much is clear, but they aren’t acting injured. They’re just standing and looking away from us, and it has the hair on my arms standing up.
“Yeah. Stay low and keep quiet. Maybe we can get past without being spotted.”
We drop down on our haunches, using what a lifetime of video games has taught us is stealthy and hard to spot. Right now I’d happily cover myself in a cardboard box if I thought it’d help. Don’t you have lied to me, Konami.
We sneak carefully past the crazies, keeping out of their line of sight and sneaking into the car park of the ranger station. As we pass I see Ed quickly cover his mouth and nose with his hand, giving me a seconds warning before the smell hits me too. These people smell like old meat that has been left in the sun. That word floats around the back of my mind again, laughing and pointing at me for not seeing it. I want to scream at it to go away but that would probably rile up the meatbags near us so I hold onto what little sanity is left and move through the car park as quietly as possible.
“Here, help me move this against the wall. We need to clear a space for the wounded.” The voice is coming from the ranger station and I can see movement through the windows. “Wendell, start doing an inventory of whatever medical supplies we’ve got. We’re gonna need them.” Real live people, not these things. I’ve never been so happy to hear the voice of a man giving orders before.
Checking that none of the crazies can see us, we enter the station and quickly take in the scene in front of us before closing the door when we know we’re safe.
“Man, can anybody tell me what the hell is going on?” No “Hello”, no “Nice to meet you”, definitely no “We just killed a few people down by the lake”. Just straight to business with a room full of scared strangers.
“What’s going on is there’s more of them up here than I expected.” says a man in a shirt that has seen a lot of action recently and obviously hasn’t been washed in all that time. “We need to sweep the rest of the cabins for survivors, but I’ve got injured people here I have to tend to.”
I look around at the people crowded into the trashed ranger station. A girl peers out of the window nervously, while a boy not old enough to drive is tending to the wounds of another man on the floor. “Okay. We’ll see what we can do.”
“We will?” Ed chimes up, missing the opportunity in front of us. A group has a better chance of surviving whatever this is. A group can stick together and fight off the occasional… crazy. Prove yourself invaluable to a group and you’re safer than out on your own.
“I appreciate it.” The balding man says, ignoring Ed. “There’s a water tower out back that has a good view of the campgrounds. Might be worth your while to climb up there and have a look around first.”
I nod, and look out the window at the tower, noting the ladder leading up. I always did hate heights.
“We’ve got some supplies in the locker over there.” he says, pointing to a battered old cupboard. “Take what you need. And stay safe out there.”
A quick look through the cupboard shows their supply situation is pretty meager. A snack pack, a bottle of painkillers and a few bullets for a gun I don’t have and wouldn’t know how to shoot if I did. I grab the snack and inhale the thing before tackling the water tower. If I’m going up there I want as much strength as I can muster.
Did you know water towers are actually taller than they look? I always knew they were tall but you can’t appreciate how tall until you’re standing on top of one, hearing the metal creak under your weight and feeling the whole structure sway slightly in the wind. I really don’t want to open my eyes but these things could be anywhere and knowing where could be the difference between life and death.
I take note of a few abandoned cars, tents and the toilets but it is the store that I make a special note of. There might be food or other supplies there. It isn’t an immediate concern, but I’ll definitely be getting over there when I get back from the cabins. I plot my route, noting places where visibility is low and where these crazy people seem to be gathering.
The going is slow and what may have been a twenty-minute walk normally is close to an hour as we try to stay out-of-the-way of the crazies. In the end it’s all for nothing anyway. Most of the cabins are empty, and the few people we find in the last one have lost their senses long ago. One of them simply stands slamming his head against the wall, a red stain dried on there letting us know he’s probably been at this for much longer than we’ve been watching. Still nauseous from our previous battle, we decide to be discreet and sneak away before we’re forced to fight again.
And that’s when we heard it, the most glorious sound a human being can hear in this situation – gunshots.
All thought of stealth disappeared and we found ourselves racing through the trees towards the sound of the shots. Some of the crazies turn towards us, some even give chase. We’re much more agile though, much more capable, and much more aware of what we have to lose. We run so fast, faster than I’ve ever known either of us to go before, that we’re clear of them before they can even start running properly.
“Colton!” a woman’s voice cries out as I slide down an embankment towards the river. “Strand?” it follows up as Ed slides down behind me. As we round the corner we see a man, presumably Strand, go down under a pile of bodies. They tear at him, pulling him apart with their bare hands like in those movies. No, do not think about that.
The source of the cries is a woman who is trying to pull crazies off her friends. Ed and I waste no time in running to aid her. Perhaps this will make up for my previous lack of chivalry.
I kick one of the crazies away from Strand, noting with a sigh that it is too late for him. The crazy falls in an odd way and I see his arm break and get caught behind him. He doesn’t even seem to notice, and why would he? One of his friends is doing well enough with a missing arm and a fresh wound where it once was. Ed kicks the one-armed man into the water and hammers down on him with a bat he found in one of the cabins.
“Listen asshole.” he says as he smashes the mans head open and exposes what shouldn’t see the light of day. “We don’t want any trouble.” Yeah, you might have thought about telling him that before you displayed his brains to the world, Ed my boy.
“Oh shit, are you okay?” Ed asks as we dispatch the last of the attackers.
“You mean aside from being lost in the woods, attacked by psychopaths, and watching my two best friends die?” the woman replies, avoiding the word Ed and I had avoided ourselves so far. “Yeah, I’m peachy.”
“Sorry I asked…”
“So, is it this bad everywhere?” she asks and Ed shares a look with me.
“Man, I hope not.” I tell her, as honestly as I can. “We’ve got some survivors back at the ranger station that seem to know what’s going on, but we didn’t have time for orientation.”
“You wanna know what worries me? They’re setting up an infirmary in there. Like, why aren’t they taking these people to a hospital or something?”
I want to pat Ed on the back for thinking of that question. I want to ask him how he noticed that when he is consistently surprised that the bad guy in Scooby Doo is an old man in a mask. What I say instead is “I dunno, man. Whole situation’s pretty messed up.” Way to go Marcus. Play it cool and monosyllabic in front of the ladies. There’s nothing a girl likes more than a caveman when she’s just seen her friends die horribly.
“Ya think?” Ed asks, and for a moment I wonder if he’s talking about ways to impress grieving women. “What’s next, razor wire and guard towers?”
“That’s not a bad idea actually.” Especially if that word keeps coming up like this. “We need to make things safer around here.” Especially if that word won’t go away and let the world make some kind of sense.
I want to tell the woman my name. I want to introduce Ed and I and not have all this hanging over us. I want things to be normal again, but they aren’t and that word keeps calling to me. I turn away from her and towards the ranger station, leading her away from the site of her friends massacre, and she follows without a second glance or another word.
The crazies we stirred up on the way are mostly settled now, and we’re able to quietly take out the few that get in our way. None of us are kidding ourselves that we’re just knocking them out anymore and that bothers me. More accurately, it bothers me how little it is actually bothering me. Perhaps the shock hasn’t worn off yet.
“What the hell?” I mutter as I enter the ranger station again. The place is even more trashed and the few people who had been holed up in here have been savaged. A quick count shows that the man who was injured is missing, and yet again my mind goes to that word.
“I thought you said you had survivors holed up here?” the woman asks.
“They were fine just a minute ago.” What was his name, the guy with the injured arm? Warren? Wendell? I can’t remember.
“Well, obviously not any more.”
“Guys, guys. Come on, we gotta at least check the place. Somebody might have survived.” Yeah Ed, just like Warren or Wendell or whatever his name was. Survived and then turned, and this is what happens when you lie to yourself about what is happening.
Ed runs over to check the nearest body, and it is a body no matter what we try to tell ourselves. He takes a pulse and shakes his head sadly. “He’s gone.”
“Yeah.” Of course he’s gone Ed. He’s dead and I’ll bet I know what did it. I’ll bet you’d know too if you could figure it out, you poor dumb son of a bitch.
“Poor bastard. Well, let’s see if he’s got a wallet on him or something.”
“What the hell, Ed?” Really, you want to go shopping at a time like this?
“To check his ID, for Christ’s sake.” Oh yeah, why didn’t I see that? Is this what shock feels like?
“Shit!” Ed screams as the dead body rolls over on top of him, roaring and tearing at him. “Get it off, get it off, get it off!” he cries as the beast attacks him. “Help me!”
I want to move but it’s like I’m frozen to the spot. The barricades on the windows stick out to me. They weren’t broken into, they were attacked from within just like this.
As the woman rushes forwards to help Ed that word jumps forwards into my mind again. I don’t want to say it, don’t want to even be thinking it. The world makes no sense if I admit to that possibility. Everything sane goes out the window then, and everything insane has an entrance to our world. And yet there it is, plain as the day.
In the beginning was the word, and the word was Zombie.