Apocalypse, Interrupted

by Corwin MacAvoy

 

        “What.” Ben said. It was more a statement than a question. Gavin’s girlfriend did it all the time. His ex-girlfriend, anyway; he supposed there was a difference. It was Gavin’s chance to take back what he said, to think of something more intelligent to say, or to drop to his knees in front of her, flowers in hand, and beg not to be evicted from the bed for a week. Well, not this time. This time, Gavin was keeping his words and his bed. So to speak.
        “I said I found a zombie—a true blue ‘I’ll-eat-your-face’ zombie.”
        “I thought that was what you said. Did you kill it?”
        “Zombies are dead, man, you can’t kill the dead.”
        “Sounds like your work is cut out for you then,” Ben said. His glazed over eyes finally found the time to look up from the television and meet Gavin’s. “On another topic, did someone slip something in your drink? You look annoyingly serious.”
        “Only because I am.”
        “About the zombie?”
        “About the zombie,” Gavin confirmed with all the confidence of a man keeping a dead person in his shed. So to speak.
        “Fine, I’ll bite,” Ben said, anxious for Gavin to catch the pun. “Where is this zombie?”
        “In the shed.”
        “In the—” Ben started. He looked out the window at their backyard. Beyond the grass that was beginning to resemble a jungle, past the novelty birdbath his mother had given him, and just before the edge of the woods was the small rustic shed Gavin spoke of. Ben counted his prayers and pinched himself to make sure he was not dreaming. To his chagrin he wasn’t and now also had the makings of a bruise.
        “Gavin, is there a dead body in my shed?”
        “Our shed—I pay rent.”
        “You didn’t say no, Gavin.”
        “It’s both dead and a body, but if it still moves then it’s a zombie, right?”
        “Your logic is infallible; or it would be if this was an AMC show. It isn’t. So tell me, did you kidnap someone? Are you keeping a dead body in my shed? Or are you pulling my chain? Be warned, my reaction to any of these may be equally violent.”
        “You’re an angry man,” Gavin said. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
        “Show me? Dear god, you are serious.”
        “I thought we covered that.”
        Regret weighed every step that tore Ben further from the comfort of his couch, his television, and the undoubtedly now lukewarm pizza that he left behind. Once out the backdoor, it was weeds and dips in the ground that slowed every step thereafter. Some of the grass came halfway up his pants leg, leaving them both entirely unsure of where their feet were going. Ben wondered briefly how the yard work had fallen so far behind. Then he remembered that he really did not care. There was apparently a dead thing ahead.
        Gavin gripped the knob and gave the door a tug to pull it open. Ben noted the lack of keys or lock that entered the equation. As the door a foot lower than their heads pulled open and sunlight filled the mostly empty room, Ben also noted it was less empty than he remembered it being. There was, in fact, a person standing inside. This person was unusually pale of skin even in the dark, wore what probably used to be a suit once upon a time, and had misplaced some of its torso. It seemed rather undistracted by any of these things, and focused in on the two young men as soon as it saw them. Its eyes were glossy and murky, blank in stare as if vacant emotion. Its mouth hung open and saliva dripped out onto the concrete below. Claw marks some manner of wildlife had ripped suit and skin alike. The smell was reminiscent of road kill after a week on its own.
        Finding his own mouth hanging open just as the person’s was, Ben shut it and stuttered for words. He failed. Gavin smiled. Victory.
        “I’ll be damned if that isn’t a textbook definition of a zombie right there,” he said.
        Ben tried again for words. Still a no go.
        “Come on; speak so I can rub it in your face.”
        “Holy shit.”
        “Probably more unholy.”
        “Where did you find this?” Ben asked, his voice having regressed to puberty.
        “It came stumbling in out of the woods this morning. I tied its hands and stuck it in here.”
        Ben looked at Gavin and his stupid, smug face. He looked at him hard.
        “You’re skipping something,” Ben said.
        “Like what?”
        “Like all of it! How did you tie up a zombie, how is it a zombie, and what the freaking hell?!”
        “You’ve got to breathe, man. It’s cool; it didn’t bite me or anything. I just hit it with a stick and tied its hands. Turns out dead guys are really slow moving.”
        “You don’t say,” Ben said.
        “I think it still wanted to eat me. It was stumbling in my general direction.”
        “It probably just wanted a hug, Gavin. Dying’s some rough business. Go give him one.”
        The zombie looked at Gavin, drooling.
        “You give him one.”
        Ben stopped. His mind wasn’t ready for this. His eyes continuously looked between the zombie to make sure it was still there, Gavin to make sure this wasn’t an elaborate joke, and their small house to make sure he was still in the real world. As scientific as his process wasn’t, he couldn’t deny that he appeared to be in real life. The comfort zone of a dream was itself a dream. Ben put his face in his hands.
        “So,” Ben started with a long breath, “glossing over the fact that your first instinct at seeing a zombie was to hit it with a stick and tie it up. Moving past the fact that you only tied its hands and put it in a shed which you then failed to lock, and looking beyond the fact that I’m staring at a real-life zombie that’s eyeing me right-freaking-now, why isn’t it dead?”
        “It is dead, Ben. It’s a zombie.”
        “Why haven’t you brained it with a log or something?”
        “I was going to, but then, I got to thinking,” Gavin said.
        “Dear god.”
        “I haven’t heard any news of attacks or sightings. Aside from our boy here, everything’s been quiet all over town. I think he’s the first one.”
        “The first zombie?”
        “Yeah man. Think back to the movies. There’s always a horde of them tearing up the place, but they had to start with one, right? Well, what if we happened to run across the very first one before he had a chance to infect him up some friends?”
        “That’s great,” Ben said. “It still doesn’t explain why you haven’t killed it.”
        “I could, but one zombie doesn’t seem very…zombie apocalypse-y.”
        “What.” Ben’s tone didn’t even make a question. He didn’t want to hear it again, his brain just failed to come up with any better a response.
        “If this is supposed to be the zombie apocalypse, we can’t end it with just him. An apocalypse that hasn’t killed a single person is a sad excuse for one,” Gavin said.
        The zombie looked at Ben, its saliva dripping down onto its jacket.
        “So, it’s either kill this thing right here, right now…”
        “Or let it loose and live out all of our wildest zombie apocalypse fantasies,” Gavin finished. “We’ll fortify the house, drive a hummer, date Emma Stone, I’ll get a crossbow….”
        “That’s stupid. You’re stupid.”
        “Don’t insult me in front of our would-be killer.”
        Ben felt the urge for a drink—a strong one. Wordlessly he turned away and waded through the grass back for the house. Gavin closed the door and hurried after him. Though he knew his friend was distracted, Gavin prattled on with stars in his eyes.
        “We’ll lay low the first few months, killing any that near, but then we’ll find other hardened survivors and invite them into our fold,” Gavin said.
        Ben looked back at him as he walked and started to say something. It was cut off abruptly by a birdbath to the crotch. Ben went down. Curled up in a ball in the tall grass, Ben kicked about amid curses and language not even reminiscent of English. Gavin kneeled down next to him and laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder.
        “This yard is a freaking minefield, man. Oh! Landmines. We’ll have to line the yard with landmines.”
        Gavin helped him inside, supporting him around the sadistic birdbath and through the sliding glass door and to the kitchen table. They sat in silence, each in their own world. One world was filled to the brim with dead men, headshots, and beautiful, gracious survivor women. The other represented a crotch in agony and what Ben believed to be an ulcer growing. He was going to name it Gavin, he decided. His introspection shattered and his head throbbed at the clinking of glass on the table. It was a bowl, it was full of cereal, and it was set upon by a far too excited Gavin. Ben stared at him hard and unblinking for a moment.
        “You are way too okay with this.”
        “It is a little out of date, but the marshmallows are still just so damn good,” Gavin said.
        Gavin watched Ben’s face fall into his hands again. His friend was really stressed out. He needed some kind of relief something fierce.
        “Look at it this way,” Gavin said. “We set that sucker out there on the streets, we’ll have ourselves a survival scenario in a month. Your boss: zombified in two weeks. That professor that failed your exam? A brain-muncher in a week tops. My cheating ex? A Monster Mash reject by the end of the night. That’s what these zombie apocalypses are all about, man. Because it’s not murder if they’re trying to eat your flesh!”
        “There’s something not quite right about you.”
        “Because I plan to loose our snazzy-dressed zombie friend on an unsuspecting world, which will result in the deaths of millions, if not more, for sport?”
        “Actually…yeah, hit the nail right on the head there.”
        “I’m not a complete idiot, my friend,” Gavin said.
        A loud thwack came from their backyard. Ben started to look, but decided he really just didn’t want to know. He instead kept his forehead firmly and comfortably on the table where he liked it, eyes fixated on the floor. Gavin glanced out the window at the end of the kitchen, a few feet from the table. Scanning the yard for noise makers when absolutely none are desired, Gavin’s find made his stomach drop—figuratively. The shed door was blowing about merrily in the wind. It shifted back and forth, taunting Gavin with how poorly it was doing its job of keeping a barrier between him and a guts-hungry zombie.
        “Gavin?” Ben asked, his face still adorning the tabletop.
        “Yes?”
        “Did you lock the shed door this time?”
        “I sure didn’t, Ben.”
        Chairs fell over in unison as the two bolted in opposite directions. Ben was in his room, locking the door and suiting up. In his man-cave of sports memorabilia, Nascar posters and anything not pink, Ben pieced together his game plan. First, armor. He didn’t have any. Cursing his lack of foresight for such a scenario, he grabbed the closest thing he had: an umpire’s chest padding and helmet. Rummaging through a closet chocked full of dirty clothing, he withdrew and donned his gloves and baseball bat. A pair of soccer shin guards and a mouthpiece later, Ben reemerged from his room a different man. He was ready to face the dead.
        At the same time, Gavin was beside the shed, closing the flapping door and retrieving from beside it a slightly bloodied branch. It was the same piece of wood he had gripped earlier upon seeing a real-life zombie, so to speak, and thus far had served him unfailingly. In his hands, the branch was a club that had battered more zombies than any other weapon in the world. That is to say, one.
        Setting aside the fact that Gavin had left the sliding glass door open on his exit, Ben set foot into the backyard, baseball bat raised high and ready for blood. One footstep after another, he waded out into the nearly two feet high plant life. He knew the zombie wouldn’t be crouched and waiting, oh no. They weren’t strategic beasts so much as savage. This monster would have gone directly for blood. Either it ran back into the woods where its hunting grounds had proven fruitful, or…it had somehow slipped past them back into the house. Ben turned around and stared back inside through the door he too had left open.
        His blood was pumping, his heart racing. In that moment, Ben had never felt so alive. It was mano-a-mano, every man for himself. A life was on the line today—his life. This was a true animal; a vicious, single track minded killer. It would stop at nothing to feast upon his flesh and pick its teeth with his bones. If zombies were into the whole dental thing, anyway. It could be anywhere, behind any corner. Ben could have mere seconds left before—
        “Found him,” Gavin said.
        Ben spun around to face his friend, bat raised. Gavin stood beside the birdbath, branch in hand, poking down into the tall grass. Upon closer inspection, Ben found the victim of Gavin’s prodding to be none other than their dead…er captive. Face down and bound hands facing the sky, the zombie lay still on the ground, a new red smear across its head. The stone birdbath, the only monument above the flora tossing about in the wind, also had a new red smudge on its side right about where Ben had run into it earlier.
        “I guess he tripped,” Gavin said.
        Ben poked the dead body with the baseball bat. It was surprisingly therapeutic. They stood in silence for a long, long time.
        “Well, this was anticlimactic,” Ben said.
        “Poor dead cannibals just have it so rough in this world of obstacles and uneven surfaces.”
        Ben looked up at the sky. A few clouds drifted lazily in the nearly clear, blue horizon. Around him, birds chirped their songs from the trees and the occasional car whisked down the road in front of their home. The breeze even had the audacity to feel good. All in all, aside from the smell of a dead guy at their feet, it felt very unapocalypse-y.
        “So, there was a zombie, and now—“
        “Yep,” Gavin said.
        “What was the point, then?”
        “We learned important life lessons along the way.”
        Ben looked at his friend, wondering if he should expect much of his point.
        “Like?”
        “That the fixation on zombie epidemics is a reflection of ever increasing aggression, fear, and dread in a dividing community that craves societal downfall? That we need to look past the simple, mindless pleasure of killing dead people and embrace the value of human life and dignity?”
        Ben turned back to the re-dead man. Tallied up, the man had been killed by who knows what, been zombified, been hit with a large stick, been tied up, and finally brained by a birdbath that not even the birds would touch. Ben also noted that Gavin was still poking it.
        “No, definitely not that.”
        ““Then how about: ‘don’t mow the yard. It might stave off dead people.’”

 

Corwin Alexander McAvoy, an undergraduate at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is earning his B.A. in Psychology and has been known to write fictitious things on occasion. He would like to thank his amazing cousin, Kelly Pacheco, for threatening him into submitting this work. He also thinks you're awesome. Look for him on the Facebook. Read his stuff!