Zombies Are Easier
by S. L. Scott
Michael rifled through a mound of once-worn clothes for his black button-down shirt. He had worn it to church, the last time he went to church months ago, and it hadn’t escaped the pile since. He sniffed it: still good. A run down to the dryer would fluff out most of the wrinkles. Or his Mom would iron it.
He didn’t understand the point of ironing. A smooth shirt wouldn’t matter if the zombies came. Scavenging a clean shirt would be lucky, but not completely necessary. Zombies didn’t care if who they were eating was well dressed.
His half-opened door swung the rest of the way as a metallic knock clang softly from his mother rapping on the thin warning sign nailed to his door, proclaiming “No Zombies Allowed” beneath a crossed-out zombie silhouette.
“Dad just called. He’s on his way home to pick us up for the memorial.” She eyed him up and down and her face softened when she took in his state of unreadiness. A couple of days ago she would’ve fussed and fretted to see him still in his shorts.
“My shirt’s wrinkled,” he said, holding up the battered button-down for her inspection.
“I’ll go throw it in the dryer,” she said, taking the shirt with a sigh so tender it made Michael uncomfortable. She headed back to the door, but her fingertips barely touched the wood before fluttering off, as if she’d been shocked by the peeling paint. “Michael, are you okay with going back to the school?”
Michael continued to kick his way through another pile of clothes on the floor and started humming the upbeat tempo of “The Gonk” from the original Dawn of the Dead. He kept humming until he heard his mother’s black heels clicking on the hardwood floor downstairs. She’d left the door open.
He picked out a pair of black slacks from the pile and sniffed. Not good. Smelled like feet. Probably shouldn’t have left them with his dirty socks. Athlete’s foot and all that, even though he wasn’t an athlete. He’d need clean ones.
“Mom,” he called down the stairs, not wanting to stick his head out the door, “my pants need to be washed.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that yesterday?” she said, her nasal voice muffled by the distance.
“I didn’t check yesterday,” he said.
“Well, we don’t have time to wash it now. Go take a pair of your father’s, they should fit well enough.”
His parents’ room was neat and organized and completely boring. No personality. They were always the first to be eaten by zombies: the ones without personality. They had no creativity, no ingenuity. But if the zombies ever did come, Michael was prepared. He knew what to do and how to do it. He’d take care of his parents. Family had to stick together, otherwise he’d be just another face in the crowd.
Running for your life, no plan, no weapons, no chance to escape the imminent, looming threat of death walking towards you. You stumble over a chair, a desk, another person already lying on the red-stained ground, her once pretty green eyes dulled with death. Staring at you. Empty eyes taunting you: You’re next.
“Did you find a pair?” his mother asked as she entered behind him. He hadn’t heard her come back upstairs, but when she stared at him her face seemed older than a few days ago. Tired.
Michael stared at the uniform section of pants folded over their hangers, each hanger shoved tight against the other to accommodate the explosion of dresses on his mother’s side of the closet. His mother loved wearing dresses. Sundresses and “teacher” dresses, those nice and modest but still girly kind of dresses. The empty hanger on their bed was for the black dress she was wearing today.
“You know, if zombies ever attack, wear pants. They’ll catch the dress too easy,” Michael said in a shaky voice that didn’t sound like his own. He grabbed a dark pair from a hanger and smiled, not quite meeting her gaze.
“Well I’m sure I can steal clothes from you or your father, but then one of you would be stuck wearing my dress,” she joked, but the faux-mirth never touched her eyes.
“I can run in my boxers.” Michael chuckled to himself, a sound so alien he had to look around to make sure it was him. It felt good to laugh.
“Won’t it be cold at night?” his mother urged on, moving to grab the lonely hanger from her bed and return it to the closet.
Michael pulled away the closer she got, stepping back one by one on the overly plush carpet. “I did it with Dad when we went out camping. Not too bad.”
“You’re the survival expert, I’ll take your word on it.” She sighed again, that same sigh that drew him in and made him want to run all at the same time. “Just stay close by if the zombies ever come.”
His eyes snapped to attention, trapping his mother speechless as he watched her. “I’ll protect you.”
Before she could ask the question he knew was waiting on her lips just after the ‘Michael’ she said next, he headed across the landing back to his room. “I’ll go put these on,” was the only explanation he offered as the door closed behind him. He didn’t like questions right now; the answers made him think of things better forgotten.
Michael exhaled through cracked lips and let the chaos of his room calm him. Unlike his parents’, Michael’s definitely had personality. Posters covered the once blue walls in a collage tribute to zombies. Milla Jovovich drenched in picture-frozen rain, her black t-shirt twice as sexy as it would’ve been dried; chainsaw-wielding Emma Stone stuck behind Woody Harrelson in the Zombieland gang; and of course the all too cheesy Army of Darkness poster that looked like something out of a bad seventies film.
It wasn’t only all movies but the whole zombie culture. His mother had given him a small, plush zombie. She was so proud of herself for buying it he didn’t have the heart to tell her it was too cute to be accurate. It now dangled from his dresser drawer securely restrained by a wallet chain he’d scavenged to keep it from escaping.
Michael even belonged to the Zombie Squad — other people like him who enjoyed being prepared for the zombie apocalypse. His Dad joined too, for quality time with Michael, he’d said, that and they actually did teach practical skills for disasters, which was useful, zombie apocalypse or not.
His favorite t-shirt hung in a plastic dry-cleaning bag, proudly displaying the group’s motto: Making Dead Things Deader. They’d had to take it somewhere to get the blood out; he’d been wearing it that day.
Lying still on the ground. The warm, wet pool of blood beneath you from another unfortunate soul flows across your cheek as the firework-muffled room masks the footsteps. Slow footsteps behind you, trudging forward; fast in front, running. Always running.
You hold your breath, swallow the pounding of your heart away so hard the pain presses in the back of your eyes, and pray that trudging figure doesn’t notice the tears dripping like bombs into the slow-moving river of blood beneath your face. Just play dead. Just play dead. Just play dead.
“The pants are too big,” he whispered, fingers pulling the tight-woven fabric so taut he could see through the cross-hatch pattern. “I need a belt.”
His belts were easier to locate than clean clothes, at least. His Mom stuck those sticky strips that held a hook onto the outside of his closet door so he could keep them straight. He fiddled longer than necessary with one that was “nice”: boring and black. He’d wear that one today.
His fingers snuck over to his second, the one with little silver spikes sticking out, then to the last, a utility one that he only wore when he went out camping, because it had loops and clasps that he could slip his knives into for ready access.
The corner of Michael’s mouth whispered at a smile as he rubbed the rough fabric, seams dimpling the loop that normally held his fillet knife. His Dad bought him a set of skinning and filleting knives after they’d learned how to hunt and cook small game in the wild in one of the Zombie Squad’s activities.
During the warmer seasons his Dad would take him camping at least once a month. It took them three hours to recatch their first rabbit after it escaped the trap they’d set up. Another three to skin it properly and cook it. They’d gotten pretty good at barbecuing small game.
A crash, a bang, a blast boomed beneath his feet and Michael’s whole body went rigid.
A smell like burnt matches, only hotter. Scorching your eyes and lungs, making it hard to breathe. So loud the ground vibrates and the walls sing with echoes. Rattling on and on, firecrackers exploding all around you until even the screams are muted beneath the ringing in your ears. ratatat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat...
“Mom!” he screamed, shrill and hoarse. His heart throbbed so hard in his throat he could barely breathe.
“Sorry,” she called up, her nasal voice muffled from the distance, “the pots fell out of the cabinet.”
Michael waited for the “that wouldn’t happen if you put the dishes away correctly” that normally followed, but it never came. He inhaled, long and slow, hearing the shuddering whistle as the air passed through trembling lips. “Think about something else. Think about something else.”
The gun-toting figures on his walls blurred as quick as his vision passed over them. Michael would never use guns, not even in a zombie apocalypse. No, he’d stick with knives. He liked them better anyway. His parents had even bought him a machete, blackened steel, the real thing. Sure it’d taken him a year, a hundred conversations on safety and necessity, a course in proper training and maintenance, and his mother’s realization it could help with the ivy that attacked her garden each year before his parents finally agreed. But they did. They trusted him, they’d said.
He trained with it all the time, always careful. It was a real weapon, capable of hacking limbs with enough force behind it. Michael’s eyes flickered to the wooden display mounted into the wall that normally held his prized weapon for the undead. It was empty. Michael had taken the machete to the shed out back after the shooting.
You take the axe from the pegs holding it, careful not to jostle the “break in case of emergency” glass shards still stuck to the frame and alert anyone. It’s heavier than you expect. Top-heavy. You need two hands just to keep it balanced. You watch your feet, careful of the slick feeling beneath your shoes. You can’t fall. You can’t make a sound or he’ll know you’re there. You stare at him. The dirty section of exposed neck, blood-smeared. One chance. You regrip the handle, tongue pressed against the roof of your mouth as you brace. Just swing.
Soft hands took his shaking fists and held them secure in his quiet home, safe in his mother’s grip. Her gentle touch brought him back to her, to sit on the unmade bed behind them and cradle his hands in her lap.
“Michael, I need you to talk to me. Are you okay?”
Michael turned away from his mother as best he could without pulling from her hold. He knew she wouldn’t let go even if he wanted her to, and he didn’t want her to. Her skin was warm and alive and brought him home.
He breathed, loud and deep, if only to prolong the silence a moment more. “I don’t want everyone looking at me.”
“You know that they’re not looking at you because you did anything wrong.” She craned her neck, a silent invitation for him to look at her that he refused to take. When she continued, a cautious lilt tempered her voice. “That girl, Sarah, the one that got shot in the leg, she called you a hero. She’s alive because of you. She’ll be at the memorial tonight. I’m sure she’d like to thank you in person. A lot of people are alive because of you.”
“Zombie movies don’t have heroes, just survivors.”
Michael shrunk deeper into himself, not willing to let go of his mother’s hands but not wanting her untarnished gaze to reach him. “Why couldn’t it have been zombies? Zombies would’ve been easier.” They’re already dead when you kill them.
His mother wrapped her arm around his lean frame and held him close the way she used to when he was little. Even though he was a teenager and now half a foot taller than his mother, Michael didn’t resist. With a soft smile, too brief to be true, she kissed his temple. “Survivors stick together, though. They help each other. They might be able to help you, too.”
Below, the sound of the front door opening made Michael swallow. His mouth was so dry it hurt to force the muscle to contract and push the saliva down. “I’ll need my shirt.”
Copyright © 2013 by S. L. Scott