Tuesday, April 22, 2008


By the grace of God I spin around with barely enough time to flee forward from the three undead Burns children that had emerged feral and angry from the screen door of the farmhouse. I drop my canteen - the organic juice jar half full of lukewarm water. It shatters on the pavement and I take off in a sprint down Gorham road. I am less than a quarter mile away from Mom and Dad’s house. The crowbar in my hand wobbles about madly as I run, pitching me slightly off balance. My arm aches and I feel sweat trickle down from my armpits and it itches. The Cat keys are tight in my jean pocket and rub raw against my thigh as I pump my legs. The undead kids are either moving faster than the regular undead I have encountered, or I am just damn slow. They seem to gain faster than they should. I calculate that I cannot make it all the way to Mom and Dad’s. From Gorham Road I cut right through the lush green yard of a very military man and wife whom I grew up next to.

The McCormick’s yard, once immaculate, grew upwards to reclaim the space betwixt expensive patio bricks and curling vines snaked around their metal clothesline poles. The shade from their yard provided a brief few-degree cooling as I dart through its tall grass to reach the property line of my parent’s immediate neighbors. The property line is backed up against the woods I love and I remember the old tree house on the yard’s border, perched in an ancient White Oak. That thing was rickety when I was young but I need it to be there, rickety or not, as the snarling of the mutants grows louder behind me.

I reach the base of the enormous oak and search for the two by fours nailed to the tree that serve as the ladder. There were still several but they were gray and rotting. The nails are rusted and the years had grown around them. Dead wood nailed to live wood. A sick irony if one views it as nature necrophilia.

I have only seconds to get up this tree. In a decision of wretched stupidity, I drop the crowbar on the ground, as I need both hands to scramble and scrape to pull myself up the old wood pieces. I didn’t even think of putting it through the loop of my jeans. Dumbass. I clasp the first “piece of ladder” which looks to be covered in poison sumac and yank myself upward, grateful that the dead and dry wood doesn’t threat to break away. As I whiteknuckle the pitiful wood pieces and grunt to raise up further, a dead hand tries unsuccessfully to grasp my foot. The undead children’s heads are about level with my feet. I swing my foot up wildly to the next piece of wood. I feel a bit of pressure on my foot and kick it away from the source. I look down to see part of the black rubber sole of my shoe being gnawed grossly in the mouth of the little girl. By God, she bit part of my shoe off. I do a quick self-check and assess that my foot is not bit and turn my attention back to scrambling further up the tree.

I am halfway up the gigantic oak before I hear a different growling. I look up above me to see the menacing masked face of a huge female raccoon. She is hunched in the opening of the battered tree house, crouching in an attack position. Her growl is deep like one long internal burp; but more guttural and serious. Shit. Of course it’s not that easy. I grimace and look down; well below me now, the undead brats circle and uselessly claw at the huge old grooves in the oak’s bark. So, here I am with a decision. Well, not really, I don’t have a choice but to keep moving up the ladder. The longer I put pressure on these old pieces of wood, the greater the odds of them crumbling and giving way to my death. My fingers that have gripped the wood sustain a few deeply lodged splinters. My chances of getting mauled by a big raccoon and surviving are better than my chances of jumping to the ground to break my ankle and meet my fate at the mouths of three rabid kids. I would have to fight a raccoon…fuck, and meanwhile my crowbar laughs at me from its snug place in the grass at the foot of the tree. The brats mull around it, here and there unintentionally kicking it and tripping over it.

Oh God, I pray, grant me the strength. I slowly move up another rung, a signal to the hunched raccoon to escalate its defenses to the “baring teeth stage”. It hunches lower and looks more prepared to attack. I’m scared as shit. I do the only thing that comes to mind: I reach into my pocket for the Cat keys. I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do with them. What? If I toss them past the raccoon into the farthest corner of this tiny one-room tree house, do I think it will go after them like a dog chasing a toy? I hold out the single long Cat key like a little knife between my sweating fingers. I slowly move up the second to last rung before the opening. This is it. Fight time. And I have to do it with one arm wrapped around part of the wood rung as best I can. I don’t even hear the continuing of the moans below or notice Farmer Burns slumping up with his one pitchforked arm to join his brood around the bottom of the tree. I know that if I fall I am done for and the adrenaline surges once again. I have to pee really badly.

Moving up the last rung I take a deep breath and swing out my arm at the raccoon, hoping to (at the very least) catch and scratch its face with the metal key in my hand. It growls loudly and jumps back only to jump forward in a flash and plant its sharp teeth into my forearm creating an instant jolt of red pain. Fucking thing (what if it’s rabid?). I manage to somehow grab one of its black-furred legs by its soft padded foot and pull it down with all the force I am able through the opening of the tree house, screaming and also dropping the Cat keys as I yank it down. It must have weighed fifteen pounds. The animal plunges past me, falling downward the fifteen or so feet, fur shaking like a bear as it lands on top of the little dead boy’s head, knocking him to the ground and biting him in the neck before it scurries away injured into the woods. If I wasn’t so scared and hurt I might have laughed at that ridiculous scene. The little boy, unfazed, clumsily stands up with nothing but a black gaping wound in his neck the size of a half-dollar, devoid of fluids, whereas I am dripping small dots of red everywhere as shaking I desperately climb up through the opening into the old tree house and huffing and crying roll onto my back on the old wood planks, hoping I don’t fall through the old and rotten wood. Fuck….all I can do is cry and press on my trembling arm with my hand to create the pressure of a tourniquet…and say fuck over and over.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Once and Future Kent

“Fend For Yourself”

Kent Akerlund stood with his arms akimbo as he stared upward at the large banner hung above his workbench. His vision narrowed to include only those three words. It was no longer just a company slogan. The phrase swelled within his brain and muffled the sounds that echoed throughout the high ceilings of the warehouse.

“You're Goddamn right I will” he muttered under his breath.

In place of a period at the end of the statement rested the Gerber Legendary Blades logo. A sword thrust downward into a mountain like the mythical Excalibur buried to the hilt within a stone. He who could draw Excalibur would be the one chosen to lead the people through their dark times. Kent passed his gaze down to the ax he held in his right hand. Twenty-eight point four six inches of glass filled nylon adorned with a forged steel head designed specifically for splitting a winter's worth of firewood year after year.

“Axcalibur”, he muttered. He even managed a soft and honest chuckle at his private joke.

It was no magical sword, and Kent would settle for it leading him through the dark time waiting outside the door. At this thought, his ears exerted their will on his inflated sense of pride and reminded him that a few friends were knocking at the side door. He let out a long exhale and rolled his shoulders and neck around in large circular motions. The sort of limbering exercises that seem useful but do absolutely nothing to help. Determination drove his heavy heeled steps towards the side entrance. There were only two doorways into the building. The fire escape at the back by the bathrooms was sturdy and quiet. He would worry about fortifying it later. The other was the normal entrance for the employees.

This was an old building. It had been used as the manufacturing center for Gerber for around forty years. The concrete foundation rose up about six feet off of the blacktop lot that surrounded it. Above that was ten feet of brick and cinder block wall. This is where the heavy door frame was secured. Even higher rose the steel beams and walls which held the large dirty windows and a sturdy roof. The grade of the roof wasn't steep since large snow accumulation was rare in Portland. This would make maneuvering along the rooftop a much safer affair, which he figured would come in handy. Half the length of the building contained a second floor about fifteen feet off of the ground. It housed the managers' offices and the break room. This would be a good space for sleeping quarters, and the stairs could be disabled if something went wrong.

Kent passed rows of large machines and tables. A myriad collection of tools and parts sat upon them. That's why he was here. Tools. Lots of them. Tools and survival gear.

Survival Gear.

Funny, that almost no one used any of it to survive anything. Well, maybe that had begun changing already. Perhaps that computer tech who liked having a set of needle-nose pliers with a screwdriver in the handle for convenience found it pretty damn beneficial to have a good serrated blade in there to sharpen a chair leg into a weapon. Survival gear, he was going to put that title to the test. His left hand pulled a sturdy pair of gloves from the thick tool belt which hung lopsided off of his waist. His feet stopped.

“This just won't do,” he said with a shake of his head. On a normal workday, he could stop to adjust his belt when necessary. He didn't have that luxury any more. The buckle's pin was forced into an unfamiliar notch two doors away from its usual home. It disagreed for a moment, but Kent was much larger than it was, and after all, it was just a belt buckle.

Kent ran a final check of his equipment. He pulled the Kevlar sleeves upward along his biceps as far as they would stretch. The TurtleSkin safety gloves were tugged down sharply onto his scarred hands. He hadn't thought all that much about safety equipment until he saw a coworker lose a thumb. The puncture and cut resistant gauntlets were ordered the very next day. They slid around his thick fingers and callused palms as if they were made from a mold of his hands. He was glad to have a broken in pair with him. They're a bit too stiff when brand new, and he needed as much dexterity as he could retain. On either side of his hips was a ridiculously sharp machete with a serrated blade along the back and a fifteen inch hand ax.

About four paces ahead of him stood the door. It shuddered under the constant abuse it received from the other side. Those things had seen him enter, and he knew there were at least a few of them out there. There were good and bad points to the current situation. On the good side, the stairwell leading up to the door came from the left and wasn't very wide. You couldn't fit that many people on it at any given time. Also, these creatures didn't seem to be very bright. It should be easy to trap them. They were also just humans, or they at least possessed normal human muscle mass. This meant that a one hundred-seventy pound man was only as strong as a one hundred-seventy pound man. On the bad side, they seemed to move in packs, so he had no idea how many of them were out there at the moment. Complete pandemonium could be heard outside. The elevated highway was a mere two-hundred meters to the East, and the mass of humanity trying to move along it was creating a cacophony of panic and destruction. He would just have to boot the door open and see what happened. Kent had taken a length of steel and secured it to two heavy tables by the door. With any luck, the dumb beasts would trip over the bar, and he could more easily dispatch them with a blow to the head.

“Time to find out if I'm the adder or the knight.”

His thick steel reinforced boot struck the push-bar on the door with all the strength he could muster. One snarling zombie was flipped backwards over the pipe railing that surrounded the concrete landing in front of the door. A second was knocked sideways towards the stairs. Kent didn't see a sea of undead outside, so that was good. He didn't have much time to scan the area as outstretched arms and snapping jaws lunged through the doorway at him. He hopped back a step and raised the head of the ax up next to his temple. As he had hoped, the first creature rammed its shins into his trap and crashed face first into the floor. A swift radial movement of his hands and the ax head was brought down with ample controlled force. The blade cleaved through the back of the once living man's skull and bit into the concrete floor with a resounding “clank!”

“Thus began the Battle of Camlann.” The words shook as they exited his mouth. Adrenaline was now pumping unabated through his veins, and his muscles quivered as if he had drank a pot of coffee before the fight. Oblivious to fate of the first one in the door, the second zombie pushed in and tripped as well. “Clarsh-Clank.” Another kill.


That wasn't the sound he wanted. There was no floor left for Kent to cleave through to. His ax head was now firmly lodged in the shoulder of one of the previous targets, and it didn't look like the next visitor was going to wait for him to shake it free. His left hand pulled up the hatchet from his belt and brought it across the next creature's temple. It stuck for a moment before a sharp kick to the lifeless thing's face loosened it up.

His right hand now drew the machete from its sheath as the seventh zombie pushed through the doorway. The weight on the trap from the bodies caused it to buckle, and the zombie stumbled mostly unchecked into the building. The machete caught it just below its left ear. The body dropped lifelessly to the floor, but the jaw continued to snap at him harmlessly. An eighth was already regaining its footing in front of him. Kent wasn't sure if these things kept their balance the same way living humans did, but he flipped the hand ax around to test it out. The flat hammer-like surface was brought across squarely onto the zombie's skull. The shock did seem to disorient the beast. Unable to keep its feet organized, it fell to the ground sideways. The machete bit into its eyesocket and cut deep into the brain. There was no getting that blade back quickly, so he let it go.

Shifting his remaining weapon to his right hand, Kent spun to face the doorway and engage... nothing.
No shuffling or moaning could be heard on the stairwell. There was only the snapping of the head to his left. In a large arc he brought the back of the ax down across the jaw of the still functional assailant. The bone ripped out of the socket and tore the entire lower half of its face off. The other side sat connected by nothing more than a short length of muscle and sinew. The eyes were unchanged. They darted around as if searching for a part of his body close enough to eat. The bit of muscle still attached to its jaw pulsed rapidly as it still fought to devour him. With a wiggle and a tug, Kent recovered his two-handed ax and turned to the mangled head.


After cleaning his weapons and securing them, Kent stepped outside. He scanned the area. It was an industrial complex, which was good. Less people around to deal with. To his right, he could make out some of the events on the highway. He was glad he wasn't up there. He wondered how long it would be until the screaming stopped. Walking to the front of his former workplace, he could make out more shapes shuffling about in the area. It wasn't the same as elsewhere in the city, though. Up on the highway, they were running and screaming. No idea of what to do. No plan. That's not what was going on here. In the street, some guys were using loading vehicles and trucks with makeshift weapons on the front to wipe out the walking dead. It's just how they do things. Tools are no good without people, and these were the right people. No analysts. No consultants. Not one of these guys prioritized action items. They built. They repaired. Kent had spent ten years in the Army Reserves. He looked at the situation and analyzed the possibilities. There were only two real options :
1.Run to a safe zone.
2.Create a safe zone.
He definitely liked the second option. This area made sense. It had large secure structures and lots of raw materials. Twenty yards ahead of him was a construction supply distribution center. Two miles away was a fresh water lake full of fish. There were two grocery stores within a mile of where he stood, and there were at least twenty other shipping, receiving and manufacturing buildings in the area. There had to be an inordinate amount of food and supplies in close proximity.

He had already made the calls, and people were coming to him. His family. His coworkers. Other laborers from nearby businesses. They were coming here to start construction on a secure compound. They needed to move quickly while the zombie threat was dispersed. They had the tools, the materials, and the people. What they didn't have was time. Of course, with a little luck, perhaps the time wouldn't be a factor. A young man eyed up Kent through the ten foot tall gate across the street. Kent nodded to him and looked both ways before crossing the street.

Excalibur helped to create Camelot.

“Let's see what Axcalibur can do.”

Saturday, April 19, 2008

When you look into the abyss, the abyss looks into you


Or the text version for those poor souls at work unceremoniously robbed of sound card goodness:

There is no light. There is only the darkness, thick, almost palpable, perfect. I have insisted on being in the front of our tiny line as we creep along, although I’m not sure what good it can do. Finn has stopped crying. He had been screaming for so long it became background noise, the steady undulating cries playing the rhythm section in the orchestra of madness up above. But he has stopped now. Did I mention the darkness? It is suffocating, like being coated in inky black jello, we cannot walk through it so much as wade through, arms stretched out, stumbling over tiny wet imperfections in the floor. The sounds of chaos fade as we make our way forward, but into nothing, vast insurmountable tracts of nothing. Time passes, but I cannot tell how much. We walk. Sometimes we stop to take breaks. I doze off, but no one wakes me. I can’t tell if I’ve been sleeping for minutes or hours. Sometimes Finn cries, and Colleen gently, urgently shushes him. He calms so easily in this dark, as if he realizes that here, in this black, his tiny cries disappear too. No one says much of anything. Our voices feel faint in our own throats, small, unknowable. When we come to a fork in the tunnel, or a branch, or an offshoot of where we travel, there is a brief, tremulous query. The answer is always the same. We do not deviate. It seems to make the most sense to go in the straightest line possible, but there is no way to know if we have simply walked down dozens, maybe hundreds of diverging tunnels. Most often, there is no way to know if we have come to a fork other than to literally walk into it, cursing softly. My fingertips have been rubbed raw, the skin trailing across what must be miles of tunnel walls, and still I cannot bring myself to lift my hand, not even for a moment. Floating here in this impossible silent dark, the cool rugged concrete tunnel walls are all that seem to ground me, to hold me to the very earth. It is insane, but I am afraid that without this touch I will simply float away, disconnect from the group, from the earth, from myself. So we walk, and I grind the tips of my fingers off just to be sure I’m still here. When I die down here, I think crazily, they’ll never be able to identify me. I have no fingerprints. I try not to remember that there is no they anymore. We continue to walk in silence. More than anything, I long to reach out and hold my wife, my son, but I can’t do it here, in this darkness. Too recently has the touch of flesh meant only disaster, only horror. To feel flesh beneath my palms without seeing their faces? I cannot bear the thought. We walk alone. We sleep, huddling as close as we can, no one daring to make contact. Hawthorn moans slightly in his sleep, and I am up. That sound, the moaning. I wonder if a man can live long enough to forget that sound. From the gentle rustle of clothes, I hear that everyone is up, afraid. Even Hawthorne is awake. We sound tired, but too afraid now to sleep. Wordlessly, one by one, everyone begins to stand, and again we walk. I cannot help but notice how like them we must seem now. Slow. Arms hungrily outstetched, not for blood but for light. Oh how I long to see light again! Any light, no matter how faint would be a blessing. I feel thirsty for it, parched of retinal stimulus. For a moment, I begin to believe that my need to see something, anything in this abyss is causing me to hallucinate, and for a moment longer, I am grateful for it. It is not a hallucination. Ahead, at the very ends of the earth, as distant as a tiny sun, there is the faintest prick of light. I turn my head, but it remains fixed. I close my eyes, and for the first time in days, there is difference when I open them again. Light. The others see it, and we pick up our pace, walking faster and faster, chasing that tiny stationary light. For a crazy moment, I think that Hawthorne is moaning again, and then the light winks out, then reappears, then winks out. Hawthorne is not moaning, and something is coming for us.