Thursday, April 8, 2010

Served Cold

The need of the undead is perfect.

I realized this as I ran, as the rage and despair began to filter from my mind, began to drop away with each pounding step of my feet, with each yard that I ran toward the house, toward the gunman, toward the hordes of the undead.

Of course, I was far from perfect, my need, my body, my spirit, even my desire to keep on living was imperfect.

It had to be so. Imperfection, it seemed to me, defined us, marked us as individual, as fully human. It is what separated us from them, from the implacable, horrible perfection of their need. As I ran, as the exertion of exhausted muscles forced once more into strained and improbable service cleared the emotion from my mind, I began to hope that this difference, this imperfect need of mine would save me.


Finn’s cries acted like a dinner bell to the undead. I made no efforts to comfort or quiet him; no efforts even to avoid his jostling. I wanted his cries, hoarse, terrified, constant. Let Finn use his breath to call them. I needed my own breath right now. Gnarled, weary, bone tired, but no longer carrying the extra weight of a sedentary office lifestyle, I ran toward the gathered undead.

They turned toward me almost immediately. Some of the fresher ones began to run. They came fast and hard, holding nothing back. I turned quickly running parallel now the farmhouse. Like hellish dominoes one by one they turned from the farmhouse as they heard Finn’s cries and began toward me. A pack of the quick ones began to form, nearly twenty strong. Many more of the slower ones staggered, dragged, or crawled behind. The quicker ones were gaining on me now, closing the gap, not having to pace themselves. My lead dwindled. Fifty yards away and gaining with each step, the freshly undead sprinted greedily toward me.

Shots from the nut in the farmhouse broke the afternoon. I dared a glance back and saw one of the undead drop and flail. Another shot kicked up dirt behind me. Clearly the first shot that took down the ghoul a moment ago was a miss by the shooter. I changed direction when I reached the opposite edge of the farmhouse. I now had every ghoul’s attention, and began to run away from the farmhouse, back toward the silo from whence I came. The zombies trailed behind me, stretching back in order of their swiftness. The quickest continued to gain on me, my lead dwindling to less than 25 yards. More shots kicked up dirt behind me, each one getting closer.

As sharply as I could, I changed direction, angling now back from where I came. This was the gamble. Everything rested on this decision. I ran harder now, as fast as I could, running back toward the ghouls, at a slight angle from my original path, back toward the farmhouse.

The ghouls closest on my heels attempted to change direction, to follow like freight cars the engine of their need as if hitched to my trajectory. Others who were further behind and could change direction quicker did so, stumbling into the path of their hungry compatriots, neither party willing to call it, neither able to veer from their need, to avoid each other. They crashed together, stumbling and falling, their once almost orderly procession now in disarray as each of their ruined minds attempted to correct them, to put them on a new course toward the dinner bell. Each of them failing to take heed of obstacles, of each other, a glance back brought some satisfaction that most of them were bumping and colliding, falling into one another. My tactic seemed to have confused the shooter as well. More shots rang out, but the distance between myself and the clouds of kicked-up dirt lengthened. The shooter would have to try again, would have to reorient his aim to my new trajectory and try to dial me in again.

Another course correction now, this one slight and I was heading toward the farmhouse door. Two of the fresh ghouls were hot on my track, but the rest of the brat pack that had been trailing me so closely had lost time, stuck in a sea of reaching arms and flailing limbs. They made no efforts to untangle themselves from each other, merely attempted to push between and through one another, causing more problems for them, giving me more time.

I was almost to the farmhouse, was headed toward the door. I picked up speed again, felt my legs screaming in protest, my lungs burning. Still running, I began to turn, twist my frame even as I ran so that all of the force of my body would concentrate onto my shoulder and hip. As I did so, I angled Finn, still howling in protest, up and back, and crashed into the front door of the farmhouse, the undead only moments behind me.

The impact was sudden, much more jarring than I had expected. My shoulder burst into agony, and then thankfully went numb. The door buckled, exploding into the house and sending wooden shrapnel through the air. I staggered, nearly losing everything, nearly falling, knowing there would be no chance to get up. With a lunge, I regained my balance and ploughed ahead, first sighting the stairs, and plunging recklessly upward. At any moment the gunman could appear, take me out with a quick shot, even the most cursory wound now would be enough to lose the fractional edge I had on the pursuing undead.

At the top of the stairs was a 90 degree bend that led into the hallway. The bend bought me another second, maybe two as the nightmares behind me fought to negotiate past one another. I sprinted forward, guessing that the shooter was in the middle bedroom, shooting from the best angle the house provided, using as a rest the ledge of the the window overlooking the roof that divided the first floor from the second. Another door, this one closed. I skid to a stop, tried the knob, found it unlocked and burst into the room, feeling the fetid breath of the undead just behind me.

I threw myself to the side as hard and fast as I could, clutching Finn like a football, protectively trying to curl and roll as I neared the hardwood floor. The undead were just behind me, and straight ahead of them, an old man, decked in overalls, a stained white tee shirt and brandishing that damn rifle. The first shot missed me by luck or by fate and buried itself in the first pursuing ghoul. The sound of the rifle in that enclosed space was enormous, earth-shatteringly loud. Three more ghouls pushed past the first zombie who was slowed but not stopped by the high powered round. They raced toward the sound of the gunshot, toward the prey immediately before them, forgetting Finn and I, focused now on the incredulous, hateful man in front of them, each of them singular in their focus, perfect in their need. Slinking silently back out of the room, and quietly running to the bedroom at the end of the hallway, I heard the screams of the old man as they tore him apart. That goddamn rifle didn’t go off once.