My Dark Place

My Halloween short story for the year... A bit darker than usual...

I miss my family.

But really not much else.

My only real tie to the past are a few wrinkled pictures. Loving and kind faces that have no place in what's left of this world.

In retrospect, I suppose I should thank the drunk driver. He sparred my wife and kids a worse fate. The accident was only three weeks before the Fall. Their death was instantaneous and at least I got to bury them in a proper grave, uneaten. More than most got. Certainly a better deal than the POS drunk driver got when the undead overran the jail.

I didn’t shed a tear for him, of course.

Honestly, the fact that I was waist deep in my post loss anger phase probably was the reason I survived the first few weeks. I’d been on the verge of homicide before the Fall. The zombies were a perfect and acceptable outlet for years of pent up anger and frustration, amplified by the loss of the wife and kids. I got plenty of opportunity to work out my hostilities in those first weeks. Unfortunately, I’ve become even less discriminating as time has passed.

The speed of my adaptation to this new world scares me. Or did. Not so much now. I have these vague memories of somebody who looked like a softer version of me. A lot softer. A person with limits. Not me now, that's for sure. No one ever wants to admit these things, but I suspect that mine was less a transformation and more just releasing something that had been hold up in a dark place all along. Waiting for its chance. It gets lots of chances now. The beast is out and he is a bad ass.

In the world of zombies, the cunning man without remorse or attachment is king. I thrive in the zombie world. It’s a clash of two opposing forms of antisocial behavior. The zombies are slow, relentless machines that kill at close quarters. I am a fast relentless machine that kills at long distance. There are more of them, but my speed, cunning and lethal reach more than balance the scales. So far.

Zombies have a certain appeal to me.

No. Appeal’s not the right word.

I suppose I should say they have a strangely refreshing simplicity. Zombies are without guile. They mill around instinctively until they sense a living creature and attack without remorse or cunning. There’s no organization or planning. They are more forces of nature than true adversaries. Savage killing machines who bear a strange resemblance to your neighbors. It’s a dangerous world with them about but most really aren’t much more self-centered as walking corpses than they were among the living. My opinion of them hasn’t changed that much to be honest. More a matter of degree and no more etiquette. I no longer have to feign interest in their existence or goings on. If I need something and they're in the way, I take them out. No one left to make me behave.

Conflicts are fast, direct and can end in only one way. No more need to talk through problems or take part in empathetic roll playing. No guilt. I don’t ponder zombie motivations. See one - shoot it in the head. It’s become a very black and white world out there. Even the living have to play by different rules with me. No more waiting in lines or patience with some bureaucratic nonsense aimed at the social least common denominator. The most extreme form of objectivism. Ayn would be so proud.

We survivors, like the zombies, have become laws unto ourselves. Our laws are harsh. I can’t say that I ever liked being told what to do. I hated hearing no. Zombies don’t talk so that’s never going to be a problem again. There aren’t enough surviving humans to cramp my style much either and most are way to busy surviving to pay much attention to me. For the most part.

Some people I’ve met are spooked by the fact that zombies go around in uniforms, suits and ties, and even with those little name tags you used to get working at the mall. Not me. I find it a plus. I’m not saying this is a good thing. Or that it doesn’t reflect something pretty dark about my character. It just is. Every person who ever screwed or annoyed me in life has a zombie familiar. I suppose I shouldn’t admit it, but sometimes it’s cathartic to shoot them. Without the civilized veneer that my family and career provided, I’ve found that I’m a pretty cold bastard. Particularly since the old social fabric of fighting fair is out the window. I don’t fight fair. I fight to survive. Zombies don’t have a rule book and there are no fouls. I don't fight at all really. I kill preemptively without visible remorse.

Why I chose to go on living in a world where everything I care about is dead, is a bit of a mystery even to me. I guess my survival instinct is just as mindless as their blood lust. I’m little more than a survival machine. It’s sort of become a surreal game I play. How many levels of Resident Evil can I survive with only one life and no replays. So far, my fifty cent token has gone a lot further than most. Plus, I’ve always been stubborn. It may boil down to the simple fact that I’m just too stubborn to quit. I'd always imagined people were trying to pull me down, and feed on my carcass - metaphorically. I wasn't allowed to shoot them before.

On a positive note, I’ve gotten a lot buffer. All that fresh air and exercise. And the total absence of fast food - for the living at least. On foot, I move with the sort of steady determined trot that you used to see in all those nature films about the big cats. Pistol in hand and at the ready. I keep the pistol out for two reasons. One, it’s a lot lighter than the assault rifle, and two, the danger while transiting is from pop up zombies who appear at close quarters. Close range combat requires ease of movement potentially in a tight space. Handguns work well for that. I only shoulder the assault rifle if I need to clear a path.

It took awhile to get my combat kit just right. I even tried a couple of Molotov cocktails in the beginning. Bad idea. I almost bought it. See, all a Molotov cocktail does to a charging zombie is turn it into a flaming charging zombie. The undead have no survival instinct. Turns out it’s really hard to cook one enough to achieve a mobility kill. Obvious now, really. Don't do it.

Despite those few fits and starts, I’ve pretty much figured out the zombie menace. You can’t drop your guard but they are predictable.

When it comes right down to it, It’s the surviving humans you have to worry about. The survivors are either simply lucky - a trait you can’t continue to bank on, delusional, tribal, narcissistic or sociopathic. The lucky ones tend to put far too much stock in their abilities, like any successful card player. They think that luck is some kid of system.

See a zombie and they attack. Very binary. No angles or subterfuge. It’s the humans who may smile and then stab you in the back. So not much has changed in that department. Before the Fall, people would drag your ass down to the deep to get one more breath even if stranded alone in the middle of the ocean. You can’t trust them on a good day and the last of those was months ago.

Fate selected the survivors simply. It wasn’t on merit. We were either off somewhere secluded when this started, weren’t in the confusing first few waves of victims, or survived long enough to witness what was actually happening without being paralyzed by the shear f’ed up nature of it all. The media was little help. All their little mobile vans accomplished was to get eager reporters eaten in the second or third wave while out hunting for exclusives. Details weren't forthcoming at 11.

Not many people of the privileged seemed to last. A sense of entitlement is not helpful in an apolitical food chain. Some soft former exec tried to bribe me into taking him along. He offered me jewelry and gold to help him out. I just shook my head. Anything that doesn’t keep me warm and dry, treat my aches and pains, fill my belly or come out the business end of a weapon has no intrinsic value now. And he could neither trot nor shoot. He had a use though. When he bought it, it kept the zombies busy long enough and saved me a lot of ammunition. Probably the first thing he ever did that actually benefited someone else. If I sound hard, well...

No, the remaining survivors share only one trait. A willingness to do what is necessary to survive. The definition of that has changed drastically since this time last year. But people haven’t changed that much. Get three of them together, and two will take sides against the one. Right up to the point when the zombies remind them of the new paradigm. I suppose there could be some good ones out there, but there's no way to tell until it's too late. The best one's would be smart too. So they won't advertise their presence. Best to assume the worst and avoid them all.

As for the tribes, they come in two flavors: outlaw gangs or clingers on. The clingers generally want to preserve the old way of life and don’t realize yet that its gone for good. They want to elect leaders and shit. But the best and the brightest faired poorly in the first rounds with the undead. So the leadership pool is shallow. Again, not much has changed. The really smart ones that are left tend to keep to themselves. Democracy is of little use at the most fundamental levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. In fact, it’s detrimental. Myself, I prefer to be a nation of one.

It’s really ironic that our tribalism, which presumably evolved to help us survive predators in the wild, is really a disadvantage in zombie world. The predators we face are different. They aren’t fast and cunning. They are slow, relentless and numerous. Huddling around a camp fire keeps big cats at bay. It only attracts zombies to the smorgasbord. Speed and mobility is life. Clinger tribes are slow.

The outlaw gangs are a lot different but are easy in that you never feel remorse when you handle them. I treat them like fast moving semi-organized zombies with a greater kill radius. Not entirely true since I really can’t seem to hate the zombies all that much. The target kill zone of an outlaw is a lot more generous than for a zombie, of course. That’s a plus. You don’t always need a clean kill or even a mobility kill. Slow them down and the fetid clean up crew will finish it.

The gang leaders are usually cunning and sometimes intelligent. They’re always cruel and depraved. But never diabolical. At least not yet. No, that’s my edge. Because I am. They never see me coming. The expect everyone to fear their machismo. I like an opponent with a big head - it's a bigger target. They thrive amongst the living and the dead only because the remaining living cling to the obsolete morality of a dead world. The living hesitate when preemptive action is required. The outlaw gangs expect that. Depend upon it for survival. It’s a fatal approach when dealing with an ambush predator like me. Most survivors instinctively want to talk or negotiate which gives the gangs their opening. They also incorrectly view the zombies as the greatest threat. The clingers on are only worried about not attracting the attention of zombies. But zombies don’t track and hunt. Don’t kill for sport like the gangs. Really, the gangs are the most evil of the lot. I spend more time being ready for them than I do the zombies.

I never use the long gun for zombies. Only the gangs. 400 to 600 meters is my domain, though I have a couple of gang leaders that I plinked at close to a 1000. Take out a couple of the top dogs and the zombies will usually be able to effect the clean up within a few days. The gangs really are like the zombies in one respect. They always attack even when a tactical retreat would better serve them. Their stones remain larger than their brains. I’ve hit both at range.

Damn gangs ruined my resort spot. If I’d been in it at the time, I’d have bought it for sure. Fortunately, I was foraging at the time. It had been perfect. I found an old Airstream. I welded a steel frame around it and I towed it out onto a train viaduct. I used a loader and a few come-alongs to suspend it from the underside of the bridge. I had a rope ladder to get in and out. It was close in to the city but impossible for them to get at. Safety and foraging convenience are hard to come by. Any Zombies that tried for it, always fell into the river below and were carried off. They always slid off the round edges of the trailer. Like I said, it was perfect.

Propane was easy to come by so I had hot water and food for a change. It was very comfortable and safe - from zombies. Of course the asshole biker gang had to ruin it for me. Oh well. It was their last bad act. Plink, plink. Their leader had some time to think before the zombies got him.

Pissed me off something fierce. That was the day I started hunting the gangs. Call it my civic duty. I’ve closed at least 3 local biker chapters. Like I said, they assume that everybody else is prey. Driving around on their motorcycles just telegraphs their approach for miles. It's like Charlie and the aircav back in Vietnam. Aircav had mobility but you can hear a helicopter for miles. Plenty of time to pick your vantage point. They might have had better luck against me on foot. It's a lesson I make sure they never learn. I don't give them any time to improve their tactics.

The only one’s I feel any sympathy for are the occasional families. I’m careful to sympathize at a distance, though. They have no chance. Kids simply shift the survival equation irretrievably toward the ‘not’ category. Kids compromise the freedom of movement and stealth that are required for survival in zombie world. Kids are a priceless possession. In zombie world you sometimes have to let go of possessions in a pinch. Even a good rifle. I avoid families for a whole host of reasons. I can’t afford any sentimentality. Not since we left the plains of Africa have feelings been this big of a survival no-no. Plus, their parents will do anything to protect the kids. Including killing me in my sleep for my supplies. Natural selection has never been about planning for the future or what’s the best for the race. Then as now, it’s simple survival. The meaning and significance of who survives, if any, and who doesn’t is something the future will ponder. Not us. Not me. If humanity survives, I suspect this period of intense and wholly unnatural selection will result in a very different being. Not a pleasant one, either. A real nasty one.

Or maybe somebody just pushed a big reset button. The one that erases any of the moral gains we’ve accumulated over the centuries. Non of that matters and there’s no reason to think about it. well, that's another positive note - philosophy is dead at last.

The reason escapes me but I did share some hand written notes with a small enclave of families. I left the notes nailed to a tree where they could find them in the morning. They never saw me. Not a good predictor of their longevity. I pointed that out in the text. The notes contained some of my collected wisdom. Maybe it’ll help them. Maybe they already know, but I doubt it from what I saw. They still seem to be as hungry for some sense of normalcy as the zombies are for their flesh. Normalcy is something that hell has already had in short supply.

What’s my advise? My collected wisdom? That’s easy. Like I told them:

  • Zombies aren’t forever. That’s important to remember. Whatever caused them in the first place seems to only spread by exposure to the infected’ fluids. People (the very few) who die of natural causes don’t seem to reanimate. Zombies are decaying. In a few months they won’t be able to cause anymore problems. Hold out. As the Brits used to say “Keep calm and carry on”.
  • Save your ammo! Never shoot a zombie that isn’t directly a threat and that you can’t out pace. Tomorrow you may need those rounds. It’s a zombie eats dog world unless the dog kills the zombie first.
  • Don’t anthropomorphize. Zombies aren’t human no matter what they look like. Zombie etiquette is easy;
  • Elderly female zombie - shoot it in the head
  • Toddler zombie - shoot it in the head
  • Cute girl zombie - shoot it in the head
  • Zombie in a wedding dress - shoot it in the head
  • Sad woman zombie - shoot it in the head
  • Child with doll zombie - shoot it in the head
  • Minister zombie - shoot it in the head
  • You get the idea. If not, you’ll die.
  • Observe humans at a distance. You can sometimes benefit from the human herd without actually having to get too close. Don’t advertise your existence or location. Many of those left alive survived because they are worse than the undead. At the first sign that a band of humans is a threat, kill them without warning. If you survive, the history books will be yours to buff as needed.
  • Never slow down.
  • No such thing as a wounded zombie. They are either a threat or they are headless.
  • Zombies don’t climb. Hide and rest in places that can only be reached by hand over hand climbing. Make sure you leave yourself plenty of escape routes because if not;
  • Zombies are patient. They’re dead so it’s not like they have any place to go once they spy your tender flesh and;
  • Zombies love crowds. Zombies instinctively know that a bunch of other zombies only mill around food. A large patient band of zombies will be the end of you unless you are lucky.
  • Railroad bridges are your friend. They are narrow so zombie approach paths are limited. You can sling a hammock off the pilings and then have 3 different escape routes should you need it. They are a lot easier to climb too.
  • Zombies don’t drive. If pursued by zombies, a vehicle will put some distance from you and the hoard. Practice hot wiring cars. Stick to the old models.
  • Zombies aren’t team players. One zombie is out for its bite only.
  • Zombies start out playing zone, then man to man.
  • Zombies are like moths. The walk toward lights and fires. Don’t use any unless it’s part of a roundup.
  • Zombies are slow. A normal walk is faster than a dead zombie can move. Don’t run, just hurry. Save your strength and only run to maneuver out of tight spots with many zombies.
  • Zombies don’t scare. Warnings are a waste of good air that you will need for escape and evasion. Pointing a gun at them doesn’t change their behavior. Blowing their head off does.
  • If at all possible don’t come closer than 100 meters to any zombie.
  • Enough zombie guts will stop any vehicle. Really important. It is tempting to plow through a crowd of zombies with a big truck. Don’t do it. Once enough of them mob the vehicle you’ll lose traction, then your life in a very unpleasant manner. If you have to drive through a crowd of zombies keep your speed around 25. It’s fast enough to squish them but not so fast that you’ll lose control from all the scattered debris.
  • Goggles are a must. Zombie juice in the eyes kills you just like getting bitten.
  • Zombies don’t travel. They stay around one area. Move to the rural areas. Fewer zombies and you can see them coming.
  • Don’t use wire - you may get caught in it and it’s harder for you to get clear of it than it is for them.
  • A locomotive is the greatest invention of Man. I like locomotives. It’s my preferred way to travel. It’s big and bad, can run over hundreds of zombies without missing a beat, is impossible for them to break into, and it pumps out gobs of AC electric power. A locomotive is a portable generator. I’ve used them to bait big crowds of the undead with lights. Get lots of them close then blow a couple of tank cars with volatiles and by by zombies. It’s quite a show. Everybody should experience this at least once.
  • Zombies don’t swim. With no air in their lungs, they drop like a stone. They aren’t coordinated enough for swimming. And lack the strength to swim to the surface.
  • The safest place to be is in a river. Zombies can’t swim and any current will carry them away. If you really need a rest period, anchor a boat in the middle of the channel and rest up. Careful pulling up the anchor though because;
  • Zombies don’t breath. A zombie caught on your anchor chain for hours is still dangerous.
  • Get used to the smell. Anything you use to cover it up will only mean that you will associate that ‘fragrance’ with rotting flesh forever if you make it through.
  • I’ve found a one thousand and second use for Duct tape - zombie armor. I’ve wrapped some of it around my sleeves and pants legs. It doesn’t slow me down and a zombie can’t break skin beneath it. It’s given me time to kill them without being bitten at least 3 times. Great defense against the pop up zombie that shows up unannounced.
  • A rock hammer is a great close quarter weapon. It’s light enough to carry and weld but will punch through a skull without a big windup.
  • If you break a leg, treat yourself like a horse. You aren’t going to make it. Eating a bullet is far better than being eaten.
  • Thank the gods for the crazy gun lobby. I’ve been able to keep my ammo stashes and weapons handy from the left overs of the dead.
  • Fire a round, top off the clip at the earliest possible moment. Never carry a weapon without a complete load. Since you should only fire when escape is otherwise not an option, then stay frosty and keep the ammo topped off. You will find yourself in a place where every round comes in handy.
  • Reload out in the open. A popup zombie is close quarters with an empty weapon is a death sentence.
  • Never venture out with less than 3 weapons: an assault rifle, and a high capacity 9 or 10mm, and a scoped rifle. The rifle is only for other humans. Rapid fire and high capacity are more important for close scrapes with zombies. I will admit that from time to time I have found a long gun and enjoyed a bit of zombie plinking until the ammo for the long gun was dry. I don’t use shotguns. Way too heavy and the ammo capacity too low. The stopping power is awesome but for zombies it’s all about the kill shot to the head. A high capacity handgun is better. Besides zombie blood spray is dangerous.
  • If surrounded by zombies, don’t panic. Pick an escape route and take out the closest zombies to the left and right of your desired path. Then trot and fire at the ones directly ahead of you. As long as you don’t stop, never look back. If you do stop, you’re dead. Move fast enough to put some distance behind you but not so fast that you can’t fire accurately. Slow and steady keeps from being eaten alive. You always outpace the ones behind at a slow trot. So the only ones you need to worry about are straight ahead. It’s tempting to look back, but don’t. The danger is out in front.
  • Never never NEVER try to take something off a dead zombie. It might not be dead and there’s nothing of value that they are carrying. I’ve yet to find a zombie with a slung AKM or M4. If I ever do, maybe I’ll be tempted to violate this rule, but probably not even then. There’s no place to spend money or hock jewelry anyway.
  • Never advertise your location. No one’s left to rescue you. By now, anybody that’s left is likely worse than the zombies.
  • Don’t use grenades on zombies if you find any. Save a couple of grenades for yourself. A bullet might not do it or you might mess up and only wing yourself. A grenade does it quickly and reliably. Plus the zombies like it better anyway. Makes it easier to share.

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