Suburban Survival

Continuing the story of Sam and her family’s fight to survive in the suburban zombie apocalypse. If you haven’t read the first two chapters, you can find them by going back to my previous posts.

As always, please let me know what you think of this story.

Chapter 3 — Reality bites

“I’ve noticed that you haven’t been bringing much to our community dinners,” Brent said to me on our fifth night at the compound.

“You’re right,” I said. “An awful lot of food goes to waste during these events and I’m concerned about how quickly the food will be gone.” I managed to catch Josh’s eye as he was talking with Beth and some others. He excused himself from the group and wandered toward Brent and me. I was glad to have his support if this conversation turned ugly.

“We’re all in this together, Samantha,” Brent said. “We need everyone to do their part.” His words trailed off, leaving me with the impression that if I didn’t start upping my contribution, there would be repercussions for my family.

“I’m happy to do my part, Brent.” I don’t take well to threats, even when they’re veiled behind smooth words and a genial tone of voice. Maybe especially when they’re hidden behind falseness. “I’d be happy to take a look-out shift on the roof. I’m pretty good with a rifle.”

Brent looked at the ground, unhappy with being challenged. I’d met his kind before: the office bully, the women-should-be-in-the-kitchen sort of guy. I don’t like that attitude and it just made me more unwilling to submit to his will. I knew that it probably wasn’t the best idea, considering we were safe for the time being and he had the power to get us ostracized but I willing to take that chance because he pissed me off.

“We have enough people on the roof,” he said. “What we really need you to do is give your fair share.”

“I do provide our fair share but I’m simply not going to waste what we have so everyone can pretend we’re at a backyard barbecue.” My voice was rising and those nearby were glancing in our direction. I took a deep breath to bring myself back under control. “The real issue here is that we need to conserve our supplies. You are in charge here and it’s up to you to bring that to everyone’s attention. This is not a party and we’re all fighting for survival here. There are going to be very real, very serious problems here soon if it isn’t addressed.”

“Why don’t you let me worry about that.” Brent might as well have patted me on the ass and told me not to worry my pretty little head. I turned my back on him and muttered “asshole” louder than I had intended. Another deep breath and I marched back to our camper. Josh knew me well enough to let me go alone and tried to smooth things over with the people who had heard my tiff with Brent.

I stewed in my anger as I tried to make some semblance of order in the trailer. While we could theoretically sleep 10 people, it was tight and the possessions of the eight of us staying there overflowed the minimal storage we had. I gathered the empty bottles we’d been saving and filled them with the water I’d collected during the one small rain we’d had. Those I tucked into the space under the master bed. The unopened cans of food on the dinette joined the water. There was enough room left for most of the dirty clothes piled in the useless shower. We’re going to have to do laundry soon, I thought. I’m pretty sure the kids are out of clean underwear.

A soft knock sounded on the screen door as I was putting the bed back in order. I could tell it was a man standing on the steps but the sun was behind him and kept me from seeing his face. I didn’t like the way he was blocking my only way out and I was immediately on guard.

“What?” I was still mad from earlier and my voice reflected it. I didn’t want company and this man was looming over me.

He took a step back, putting some space between us, and brought his hands up in front of him in a gesture of peace.  When he moved, I could finally see his face and he looked vaguely familiar. “Sorry to bother you,” he said. “I’m Tom Brown and I used to live on Meadowlark Lane.” All the streets in our neighborhood had nature-inspired names, an attempt to mask the lack of nature in the addition, I guessed. “I overheard you and Brent talking a little bit ago.”

“OK,” I said, wondering where this was going and not yet ready to give up my snit.

“I agree with you,” said Tom. “And I’d like to find a way to get the others to realize the dangers too. Maybe we can work together on this.”

My shoulders relaxed a fraction and I stepped out of the trailer, breathing a little easier at no longer being trapped. “I’m Samantha. Sam, for short. My husband is Josh and our friend Beth is staying here too.” I tried to be a little friendlier to Tom, hoping he was sincere in his offer of help. The strangeness of the situation in the storage facility, though, kept me from fully trusting him. And I still didn’t like how he’d shown up when I was alone in the trailer.

“Tell you what, Tom. Why don’t you come back later this evening when Josh and Beth are here and we’ll all talk about what to do.” Tom said he’d come back after dark.  Time on a clock didn’t mean much these days; most of our days were measured by daylight and what I used to call hiker midnight, when the sun went down and everyone tucked into their beds for the night. I couldn’t even say for sure what day it was.

I went back to my cleaning and thought about my conversations with Brent and Tom. The facility would make a good base if we could make some changes. Brent was pretty well entrenched as the de facto leader but he was ignoring some pretty important stuff. Food and water were the primary issues but already one section of fence was leaning inward as the dead outside pushed against it. I’d ceased to hear the awful sounds coming from the other side of the walls, much as I’d stopped hearing the whistles of the trains that used to run on the tracks near our house. That didn’t mean the threat wasn’t still out there.

It was easy to forget the dangers when we had solid structures between us and the monsters. Only when the wind brought the smell of decay into our protected enclave did people seem to remember this wasn’t just for fun. Somehow we’d have to remind them that this was now our way of life; no one was coming to save us.

Josh and Beth returned with the kids as the sun was setting and I filled them in on my visit from Tom.

“I think I know who you’re talking about,” Beth said. “He seems like a nice-enough guy but, if it’s who I think it is, I’ve seen him talking a lot with Brent.” Josh said he was pretty sure he knew Tom, too, but hadn’t had any conversations with him or noticed him talking with Brent. We decided we’d keep an open mind but not reveal too much about ourselves or our thoughts.

Tom showed up just after it had gotten fully dark and introduced himself to the other adults. Beth caught my eye and gave me a slight nod, letting me know she’s been right about Tom’s identity. Josh stood at my side, not moving more than a few feet away from me. I think the  unexpected visit earlier had freaked him out a little. This new world was full of more dangers than just the hungry dead.

Tom settled back in his seat as the small talk died down. “I think we’re all aware how desperate our situation is about to become.” The three of us acknowledged this but didn’t agree or disagree with him. “So I’m curious what you all think we should do about it.”

“I’m not sure there is anything we can do about it,” I said. “Any changes need to come from the leader of this group. If he’s not on board, then the others won’t be either.”

Tom nodded his head as I spoke. I wasn’t willing to tell him what I really thought considering Beth’s report that Tom was frequently talking to Brent. “What do you think we should do?” I turned the question back to him.

Before Tom could answer me, screams sounded at the front of the storage complex. Panicked voices called out but the words were garbled and we didn’t know what was happening. Leaving Beth to tend the children and defend our home, Josh and I grabbed our weapons and rushed out the trailer. Tom was at our heals, suddenly wielding a hunting knife. I don’t know where he was hiding it but it worried me that I hadn’t seen it on him when he was in our home.

We were nearly overrun by people stampeding away from the main section of yard. Terrified parents herded small children in front of them, urging them to move faster, faster, faster. Only one thing could scare this group this badly. The dead had invaded our safe haven. Sure enough, when we reached communal area, zombies were climbing over the broken section of fence and shuffling after the living who were too frightened to move. Bloody bodies littered the blacktop and the dead hunched over them, feeding on the still warm flesh.

Tom ran into the chaos, swinging his knife in front of him. Three of the monsters fell at his feet from the blows he’d delivered to their brains, dead for real this time. Josh and I waded in, too, drawing the attention of the biters from those who were unarmed, giving them a chance to escape. A few others joined the fight too. Together we stabbed and hacked our way to the downed barrier. Tom and Josh kept the zombies off us as we worked to raise the fence. The dead pushed against the downed section, grayish hands grasping around the edge, trying to get at the living. Decaying fingernails raked the skin of one of the fighters, drawing fresh blood and creating a frenzy among the things we were trying to keep out. Pushing with everything we had, the fence finally slipped back into place.

We braced it as best we could and left two people to make sure it didn’t come down again. I rushed to Josh’s side and we set off in search of the few remaining zombies. The wails from the living had drawn the biters toward the temporary shelters of the compound. Ten or so remained to be taken care of and we were able to dispatch them before they devoured anyone else.

“Now maybe Brent will listen to us,” Tom said at my side. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve, leaving a streak of blood across his face. His clothes were smeared with gore and I could only assume all of us fighters looked the same. “It’s ok to come out,” he called. “They’re all gone.”

The stench of the slaughter hung in the air as I made my way back to the compromised wall. We were going to have to find a more permanent solution for that. Flies buzzed around me, already descending on the feast of dead bodies. I pulled my shirt over my nose to keep from vomiting. We’re going to have do something with these too, I thought. But the fence was more important at the moment.

Josh had already made his way to the wall. I’d stopped to let Beth and the kids know what had happened and that we had survived the fight. I asked Beth to keep the young ones inside. I didn’t want them to see the carnage. Although, in hindsight, it may have been better for them to see what we were dealing with. By the time I made it to front, Josh had gotten a repair crew organized and they were busy ripping the metal doors from the storage lockers to reinforce the fence. Heavy furniture was dragged out of the open units and pushed up against the vinyl posts. The salvaged aluminum went behind the dressers and tables to block the remaining gaps.

Josh and his crew had the repairs under control so I turned my attention to cleaning up the mutilated and festering remains on the ground. More survivors wandered to the front to help with the aftermath. A massive old truck with a cargo bed and flat tires served as the dumping ground for the zombies. Only four of our group were killed in the invasion. Amazing, really, considering how ill-prepared we were. We laid the four in an out-of-the way nook and covered them with tarps. Loved ones would be missing them by now and would come searching soon. They deserved better than to be dumped in with the creatures that had taken their lives.

Three of our dead I only knew from the community dinners. I’m sure I’d spoken with them at one time or another but I didn’t know their names. The fourth one we’d lost, though, shook me. The fourth one was Brent. I hadn’t liked the guy. I didn’t think he was doing any of us any favors by pretending our nightmare world wasn’t real. But he didn’t deserve to die that way. None of us did. I placed the gray tarp over his body and told Josh what I’d found. Tom was part of the fence crew so I motioned him over and broke the news to him as well. We all stared at our feet for a moment before Tom broke the silence. “Let’s call everyone together and talk about this,” he said.

The fence was as solid as it was going to get for the night so I headed to the tents and trailers at the rear of the complex. I knocked on doors and announced myself at the nylon structures. Everyone was jumpy and I didn’t want to be mistaken for a biter and get shot. I explained that the coast was clear, the zombies were all back outside where they belonged, but that we needed to have a quick meeting with the adults of the community.

Thirty minutes later most of the group was gathered in the main area. The truck full of zombies was parked nearby but we’d used more tarps to cover the gore. A painter must have rented one of the storage units because there was a treasure trove of canvas and plastic coverings.   Tom addressed the crowd. “We lost four people when the zombies came in. One of those people was Brent. Brent kept us going during the early days of this nightmare. He is going to be missed but we’re going to have to decide what to do next.

“The fence that broke is repaired as best as it can be for now. It is too dark for us to continue to work on it but it is secure for now and we will keep a watch until it is fully fixed. If anyone wants to volunteer for a shift, we’d appreciate it. See me, Sam or Josh if you want to help.

“Tomorrow is soon enough for deciding our next steps. Get some sleep tonight and know we are safe.”

I thought he’d made a good speech. He let the people know our leader had been lost but that we were all still safe. We had things under control. My opinion of Tom rose a little with his words. A few came forward to volunteer for the night watch and Josh and I wandered back to our trailer with the rest of community. Josh pulled me close to him and left his arm draped over my shoulder. I sagged against him as the adrenaline from the fight drained out of me.

Zombies in Suburbia

 

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.

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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?”

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?”

First drafts

“The first draft of anything is shit,” said the great Ernest Hemingway. Those words hold a special meaning for me these days as I work to polish my first manuscript. I’ve dreamed of writing a book for as long as I can remember and I have at long last achieved that dream. Now the real work begins: editing, rewriting, creating a synopsis and a query letter, editing and rewriting again and again and again. My beta readers have the second draft in their hands and I’m anxiously awaiting their reviews and suggestions. When I need a break from editing, I research the path to publication. One suggestion that keeps popping up is that agents and publishers like authors who already have an online presence. And so Camping and Other Ways to Stay Sane was born.

As the title of this blog suggests, there’s more to me than writing. I find myself inspired by nature and my writing reflects my love of the wilderness.  I find that I am happiest when I am outside or when I am creating something. This blog will likely be a reflection of the usually scattered aspects of my life. Here’s a short of list of topics I may write about:

Camping: Our family bought a camper this year. I enjoy getting away from the suburbs and spending time around the campfire. I may detail camping trips we’ve taken and review the campgrounds we’ve visited. I may even include the littles’ reviews of the camping trip.

Writing: I’ve been writing (or trying to) for most of my life. I remember getting a manual typewriter for a birthday, the kind with the plastic cover to keep dust out of the keys when it wasn’t being used. I spent hours pounding out Detective Becky stories because I was a huge Nancy Drew fan and wanted so much to be like her. When I need a break from editing my manuscript, I’ve been working on a short story that I may post here when it’s finished.

Crafting: I am a creator and sometimes the words just aren’t flowing. When that block happens, I work on making crafts to break through. I find that turning my mind to something else lets the story percolate in the back of my brain and I’ve come up with some of the best aspects of my works that way.  I make wreaths, signs, t-shirts and work with vinyl decals frequently. You may see some of my projects here.

Family: I’m the wife of a commercial pilot so I spend a lot of time solo parenting my littles. Some days are great. Other days, not so much. You may get to hear about the great days and the bad ones. Probably the bad ones.

Adventure: Since I spend so much time solo parenting and my kids are still too young to be home alone, sometimes I escape to an adventure. I’m usually backpacking when on an adventure but not always. I have had adventures on horseback and on the water too. My adventures always include the outdoors, though. I can’t imagine any blog of mine without adventure posts.

These are the some of the ways I stay sane while trapped in suburbia. I look forward to sharing these with you and hearing about your methods of sanity.

Cheers!