Since I started writing again, The Pilot has been bugging me to write a story about zombies. We’re big fans of The Walking Dead and often discuss what it would be like to live in such a world and how we’d survive it. We frequently frighten friends and family with phrases like “when the zombies come” and “that’ll get you killed in the zombie apocalypse”. We’re not really serious (at least I’m not) but it’s fun to mess with people.
Now that The Lost Fortune of the Smoky Mountains has been sent out to various agents and publishers (and been rejected by most of them), I’ve started on the zombie story for The Pilot. It began as a short story idea but I’ve since decided to expand it to a full novel, tentatively titled Preparation Z. It’s been fun imaging what would happen if zombies invaded suburbia. Who is going to survive? And who is going to thrive in this new world?
I hope you enjoy Chapter 1. Please let me know what you think.
Chapter 1: Sweet Revenge
“Now aren’t you glad I bought all these things, Samantha?” Josh asked me as we were loading the back of the Jeep. Josh had been prepping for this event for years – ever since we started watching that show about zombies. Every time a new “Zombie Killer” weapon showed up at the house, I teased him mercilessly. I rolled my eyes at him and slid in another box of the canned food Josh had accused me of hoarding.
“Aren’t you glad I had all of this food on hand?” I asked. While Josh had been foolishly wasting money on knives and guns, I had been wisely preparing our family for a natural disaster, one that would make a quick trip to the grocery store impossible. Turns out we were both being smart.
The kids were already sitting in the car and had strict instructions to stay there no matter what. Banging on the garage door reminded me that we weren’t packing for a weekend camping trip and this wasn’t the time to bicker over which of us had been better prepared.
“Let’s go over the plan one more time,” I said, closing the hatch on the Jeep. I didn’t want the kids to overhear us and become more scared than they already were. “I’m going to slide up the garage door and you’ll back out as soon as it’s up.” Josh nodded his agreement. I wanted to just smash through the door but Josh was right. We couldn’t risk damaging our getaway vehicle, especially with the kids inside. “Then I’ll run to the car, jump inside and we’ll take off?”
“That’s the plan,” Josh said.
“Then let’s do this.” I took my place behind the carefully crafted pile of toys and hoped it would keep the monsters off me long enough to execute this half-assed plan. I bounced the machete in my hand, trying to find the right balance. Josh started the Jeep and rolled down the passenger window, giving him a clear shot to help me if I got in trouble. On the count of three, I threw up the garage door, ready to face the rotting but ambulatory corpses that were once our neighbors.
I recognized some of the things as they surged toward me. My kids used to play at that one’s house with her son. Where is her son? I wondered as I stabbed her in the eye. I really hoped the kids had covered their eyes like I had told them. They didn’t need to see their friend’s mom like this. Josh took out a few I didn’t know as he backed out of the garage, giving me a clear path to the Jeep that was now idling in the driveway. This was the first time any of us had been out of the house in the weeks since the world had gone to shit. As if to mock the horror our neighborhood had become, the day was perfect; the kind of day that once would have brought all the kids out to play together in the cul de sac.
I ran for the car as more of the undead shambled up the driveway. The kids cheered from the back when I made it safely inside and hit the button to close the window. Josh ran over more as we backed into the street. I couldn’t help looking back at the house we’d built, the only house our kids had ever lived in. As much as I loved that house we couldn’t stay there. It just wasn’t defensible enough. There were too many windows to keep the zombies and the looters out.
“Josh, stop the car,” I said.
“Are you crazy?” he asked, pointing at the creatures in the street.
“Probably,” I said, “but I can’t pass up the opportunity to kill that one. Pull up beside it and I’ll roll down the window just far enough to take her out.” It has once been the woman I hated most in the neighborhood, the one who was mean to my kids and talked shit about everyone.
Shaking his head, Josh did as I asked. I cracked the window and slid the machete through the small space. The thing opened her mouth and reached toward the opening, trying hard to get a bite of me. “Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person,” I whispered as I watched her patchy red hair fly off with the rest of her head.
“So?” Josh asked.
“Oddly satisfying,” I said, wondering what kind of monster I was becoming.
We’d made it through the first part of the plan without getting eaten, and it was time to move to the next step. We didn’t have far to go. Our camper, the one I’d begged for a few years ago, was at a nearby storage yard. The facility was surrounded by a 10-foot-tall fence between the solid brick buildings. There probably weren’t too many people inside. The plan was to move into the trailer and use the fence to keep out the monsters, both the dead and living kinds. We’d be able to move the trailer if we were getting overrun and still have shelter wherever we ended up. The problem was that the gates didn’t work without electricity and the power had gone out just a few days after all hell broke loose. I didn’t know how we were going to get the Jeep inside the fence. Nor did we know what was between us and there.
Josh did his best to avoid running over any more creatures on the short trip to the storage facility. Like deer, though, some jumped in front of the Jeep at the last minute and got taken out. Every time we hit one, I cringed and wondered what kind of damage was being done to our vehicle. Without that hunk of metal and rubber, we’d be up close and personal with the zombies. I didn’t want to risk that with the kids if we could help it.
We lived in a large, suburban neighborhood with close to a thousand homes. All those families turned into the undead, wandering their overgrown lawns. Weeks later, it was still surreal. Ours was no longer the only one on the block with weeds growing in the landscaping but I’d take that embarrassment over this living nightmare. If there were any other families still alive in the addition, they were still hunkered down inside their homes. Maybe they would see us drive by and feel brave enough to leave too.
The horde thinned once we left the neighborhood. One of the advantages of living in suburbia were larger lots and fewer people than in the city center. The storage unit was close by and had been a major topic of discussion when it was built. Few of the homeowners wanted a storage unit within sight of their beautiful homes. I have to say I was with the majority on that subject. Now, though, I was mighty glad to have it so close. We were almost there.
“Katie and Drew, you two stay in the car unless your dad or I tell you to get out. If we tell you to get out, do it immediately without arguing. This is very important,” I said. Katie and Drew were good kids and usually listened but not always. Katie was 10 and Drew was 8. Both still young enough to be terrified into inaction and I needed them to do exactly what we asked. I coached the kids on the next part of the plan. “Dad and I are going to try to force the gate open. Drew, you watch your dad and yell if any monsters are coming toward him. Katie, your job is to make sure none are coming toward me. Got it?”
Josh tucked the Jeep against the brick wall of the storage unit building, leaving just enough room for me to squeeze out but not enough for a zombie to fit through. That was the hope, anyway. The back of the Jeep was lined up with the edge of the gate so we wouldn’t have to wait for it to fully open before reversing inside the fenced area. On the other hand, if we weren’t able to get the gate open, we could quickly toss our supplies through the gate before climbing over the fence.
A few zombies shuffled along the short access road but no more than I thought we could handle. We’d spent the last couple of weeks practicing our zombie-killing skills on the undead that got stuck against our backyard fence and I was pretty confident we could hold them off. I snaked my way around the car and shot the closest one in the head so Josh could get out too. He stepped up to the gate mechanism and I positioned myself to defend him.
“Hurry, Josh,” I said, eying the approaching group. There were more than I’d initially thought and the throaty boom of my 12 gauge had lured them closer. I should probably use the knife, I thought, but didn’t want them to get that close while Josh was distracted by the gate.
“I don’t think I can get this open, Sam,” Josh said amid curses at the device. “I think we’re going to have to climb over.”
The horde neared the front of the car that held our children and all of our survival gear. I could hear Katie and Drew screaming inside the car. We were going to have to fight hard to get to them. I stepped from behind the car and took aim at what used to be a man. He was wearing a polo shirt with the logo of the gas station where I always stopped. He didn’t look familiar but I probably had interacted with him before. I put some buckshot in his head anyway.
“What the hell? How?” Josh said just as I realized the gate to the storage unit was rising.
Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I shouted for Josh to get inside and I’d bring the car in. I was closer to the driver’s side and there was only one monster in my way. Katie’s door flew open and I started to yell at her for getting out of the car when I saw that she’d smashed the door into the zombie blocking my way.
“Way to go, Katie!” I said and hopped into the Jeep, throwing it in reverse. I squealed the tires backing up, something Josh would have been mad at me before but I was pretty sure he would be okay with it this time.
“How’d you get the gate open?” I asked Josh when I got out of the car. Zombies shoved their arms through the openings still trying to get at us, mindlessly opening and closing their mouth. The relentless groans grated on my nerves but I turned my back on them and let the kids out of the car.
Josh wasn’t paying attention to me. He was looking up at the top of the nearest building, staring at the weapons pointing down at us. I pushed Katie and Drew behind me and raised my arms slowly.
“Who are you?” a voice called from above. “What do you want?”