Wednesday, July 25, 2007

School Daze

I know precisely what madness looks like. I can identify the impossible juxtaposition of the real and the unreal; I know the chaos. I know the smell, sweet like rotten flesh, and thick like the musk of a cornered and rabid animal, and you cannot help but breathe it in; in and out mechanically, inexorably drawing the fetid stench of raw death further and deeper into you. Soon, the chaos around you settles into your bones, it becomes you, propping you up; your very being dependent on it until you feel stretched thin and tight around it, flesh beating like some hellish drum across the face of insanity. Time slows, and pauses, but despite what they say, it never stops, eager to show you the next gory vignette. Here a woman huddled over her toddler, shielding his corpse as shuffling damnation slowly closes the last gap that will ever matter for her. Even when you try and look away, that moment burns, stays inside you, and even when you try to shake it, try to move your eyes, to shift, to run, you become awash, swept up and away into the next mad moment. Madness creeps into you, it drifts up into your brain like vapor, penetrating you even as the screams and moans of fear and rage and stupid, unthinking hunger bounce and echo off the same cheerfully colored cinderblock walls that once bounced and echoed the joyous shouts of children, children almost certainly now lost to a walking, grinding abomination. There is no way not to take in the screams of impossible agony and terror. Sounds of madness drift like a soft killing mist around you, and you are covered, blanketed in thick, wet woolen horror. I daresay, I know madness, and for a moment, maybe two, I was consumed by it, became it, and reveled in the terrible glory of awful and final knowing.

It was maybe two minutes, maybe less, that I stood stock still, dumbstruck as they poured in, filling the gymnasium like some cold writhing tsunami of rotting death. I watched, even as they moved further and further toward us; I watched as they cornered a woman and a terrified boy of no more than three (Did I know her? Maybe I did, earlier perhaps, even today. It seemed so long ago already). I was powerless, unable to move, rooted in the glossy wooden gym floor as one of them, a bald, fat man, obscenely naked except for a John Deere trucker hat and a terrible dry maroon gash in the fat of his prodigious belly, grabbed the child with his enormous, fat hands. I watched as the child was pulled and shaken, first screaming, then more terribly still, silent, an impossible tug of war between ghoul and mother. It takes so little time for a life to extinguish, quick as a candle flame.

I think it was the child’s flopping, lifeless head whipping back and forth that snapped me out of it. I blinked, and in a moment was back, present and accounted for, stranded in the center of the gym, Colleen holding Finn who was wailing. He was nearly impossible to hear over the din of slaughter and fear. I think my inaction saved us, or at least bought us the few moments we needed. As the dead piled through the door, everyone retreated, yelling and screaming, running to the sides and rear of the gymnasium, becoming trapped against locked doors and immobile walls. Standing in the heart of the carnage, we were almost invisible, unmoving. I looked forward, to the door they were still streaming into. A few feet back from the door, lay a dead soldier, and above him three of the politely, almost affectionately referred to “infected” crouched over his lifeless body feeding like lions on the savannah. Near him, unused, was his assault rifle, and on his belt, what looked to be a pretty serious pistol.

I turned to Colleen and, knowing it was the only way to guarantee she would not argue, I screamed at her, “Right fucking behind me! Not a foot, not a fucking foot away from me! Now!” and I took off running toward the dead soldier and toward the streaming masses of undead.

As I ran, I slowed for a moment and grabbed one of the aluminum and canvas cots. I braced it hard against my chest, crouched low, still running and slammed into the the feeding undead, feeling Colleen pounding along behind me.

The force of the impact sent the three sprawling from the corpse, and I fell, hard to the unforgiving gym floor. I tasted blood and felt a bit of a tooth and what I thought was the tip of my tongue swirling like a coppery stew in my mouth. There was no pain and I swallowed instinctively, pulling the broken bits of my mouth into my stomach. Crazily, I thought “Best fucking meal since we got here.” I scurried quickly on my hands and knees searching for the gun like a lifeline. I found it, and as soon as my hands closed around it, Colleen screamed.

I stood up, swinging the rifle as I came up and slamming the butt of the gun up under the chin of the zombie who had closed in on my wife and child. The impact shocked my hands, and I grimaced, struggling to keep hold of the rifle. The thing’s head snapped up, hard and fast, and its head seemed to lock at an unnatural angle. It went down like a tongue of bricks.

I looked around. They were coming in around us in a circle of gaping death, closing the gap to no more than ten or twelve feet in a ring around us. I looked down at the gun, flipped the safety off, and took aim.

Thankfully, the gun was not set to fully automatic, and I was able to shoot carefully. I shot and spun, shot and spun. I didn’t hit my target everytime, I won’t pretend I did. I was scared, but a strange calm had settled over me, and I started putting bullet after bullet into their stupid groaning skulls. One by one, they began to fall, forming a small wall of twice murdered corpses around us. Colleen was crouched with Finnegan, watching my back as I aimed, shot, aimed, and shot. When one of them got too close, she would tug on my pant leg, giving me the time to swivel around, aim, and shoot.

The ghouls had stopped coming in through the door, and after what seemed like hours, but couldn’t have been ten minutes, the gymnasium was clear. Colleen and I stood, lone survivors in the center of a scene of such bloody wrath it would have seemed impossible in any but this mad new world we found ourselves in. I looked down at the dead soldier whose gun had saved our lives. Stooping, I closed his eyelids, then stripped him of two more clips, his pistol, and two clips for that. I tried to hand the pistol to Colleen, but she shook her head, eyes terrified, but clear, sane, and with perfect understanding. Without another word, we ran out, into the camp.

Everywhere, fires burned. A semi truck was crashed through the razor wire fencing, trailer open. Around us, we heard gunfire, small explosions, screams, and moans. Gesturing for Colleen to follow, we ran out of the camp, and into the fields of corn that seemed to stretch for miles.

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