Continuing the story of Sam and her family’s fight to survive in the suburban zombie apocalypse. If you haven’t read the first two chapters, you can find them by going back to my previous posts.
As always, please let me know what you think of this story.
Chapter 3 — Reality bites
“I’ve noticed that you haven’t been bringing much to our community dinners,” Brent said to me on our fifth night at the compound.
“You’re right,” I said. “An awful lot of food goes to waste during these events and I’m concerned about how quickly the food will be gone.” I managed to catch Josh’s eye as he was talking with Beth and some others. He excused himself from the group and wandered toward Brent and me. I was glad to have his support if this conversation turned ugly.
“We’re all in this together, Samantha,” Brent said. “We need everyone to do their part.” His words trailed off, leaving me with the impression that if I didn’t start upping my contribution, there would be repercussions for my family.
“I’m happy to do my part, Brent.” I don’t take well to threats, even when they’re veiled behind smooth words and a genial tone of voice. Maybe especially when they’re hidden behind falseness. “I’d be happy to take a look-out shift on the roof. I’m pretty good with a rifle.”
Brent looked at the ground, unhappy with being challenged. I’d met his kind before: the office bully, the women-should-be-in-the-kitchen sort of guy. I don’t like that attitude and it just made me more unwilling to submit to his will. I knew that it probably wasn’t the best idea, considering we were safe for the time being and he had the power to get us ostracized but I willing to take that chance because he pissed me off.
“We have enough people on the roof,” he said. “What we really need you to do is give your fair share.”
“I do provide our fair share but I’m simply not going to waste what we have so everyone can pretend we’re at a backyard barbecue.” My voice was rising and those nearby were glancing in our direction. I took a deep breath to bring myself back under control. “The real issue here is that we need to conserve our supplies. You are in charge here and it’s up to you to bring that to everyone’s attention. This is not a party and we’re all fighting for survival here. There are going to be very real, very serious problems here soon if it isn’t addressed.”
“Why don’t you let me worry about that.” Brent might as well have patted me on the ass and told me not to worry my pretty little head. I turned my back on him and muttered “asshole” louder than I had intended. Another deep breath and I marched back to our camper. Josh knew me well enough to let me go alone and tried to smooth things over with the people who had heard my tiff with Brent.
I stewed in my anger as I tried to make some semblance of order in the trailer. While we could theoretically sleep 10 people, it was tight and the possessions of the eight of us staying there overflowed the minimal storage we had. I gathered the empty bottles we’d been saving and filled them with the water I’d collected during the one small rain we’d had. Those I tucked into the space under the master bed. The unopened cans of food on the dinette joined the water. There was enough room left for most of the dirty clothes piled in the useless shower. We’re going to have to do laundry soon, I thought. I’m pretty sure the kids are out of clean underwear.
A soft knock sounded on the screen door as I was putting the bed back in order. I could tell it was a man standing on the steps but the sun was behind him and kept me from seeing his face. I didn’t like the way he was blocking my only way out and I was immediately on guard.
“What?” I was still mad from earlier and my voice reflected it. I didn’t want company and this man was looming over me.
He took a step back, putting some space between us, and brought his hands up in front of him in a gesture of peace. When he moved, I could finally see his face and he looked vaguely familiar. “Sorry to bother you,” he said. “I’m Tom Brown and I used to live on Meadowlark Lane.” All the streets in our neighborhood had nature-inspired names, an attempt to mask the lack of nature in the addition, I guessed. “I overheard you and Brent talking a little bit ago.”
“OK,” I said, wondering where this was going and not yet ready to give up my snit.
“I agree with you,” said Tom. “And I’d like to find a way to get the others to realize the dangers too. Maybe we can work together on this.”
My shoulders relaxed a fraction and I stepped out of the trailer, breathing a little easier at no longer being trapped. “I’m Samantha. Sam, for short. My husband is Josh and our friend Beth is staying here too.” I tried to be a little friendlier to Tom, hoping he was sincere in his offer of help. The strangeness of the situation in the storage facility, though, kept me from fully trusting him. And I still didn’t like how he’d shown up when I was alone in the trailer.
“Tell you what, Tom. Why don’t you come back later this evening when Josh and Beth are here and we’ll all talk about what to do.” Tom said he’d come back after dark. Time on a clock didn’t mean much these days; most of our days were measured by daylight and what I used to call hiker midnight, when the sun went down and everyone tucked into their beds for the night. I couldn’t even say for sure what day it was.
I went back to my cleaning and thought about my conversations with Brent and Tom. The facility would make a good base if we could make some changes. Brent was pretty well entrenched as the de facto leader but he was ignoring some pretty important stuff. Food and water were the primary issues but already one section of fence was leaning inward as the dead outside pushed against it. I’d ceased to hear the awful sounds coming from the other side of the walls, much as I’d stopped hearing the whistles of the trains that used to run on the tracks near our house. That didn’t mean the threat wasn’t still out there.
It was easy to forget the dangers when we had solid structures between us and the monsters. Only when the wind brought the smell of decay into our protected enclave did people seem to remember this wasn’t just for fun. Somehow we’d have to remind them that this was now our way of life; no one was coming to save us.
Josh and Beth returned with the kids as the sun was setting and I filled them in on my visit from Tom.
“I think I know who you’re talking about,” Beth said. “He seems like a nice-enough guy but, if it’s who I think it is, I’ve seen him talking a lot with Brent.” Josh said he was pretty sure he knew Tom, too, but hadn’t had any conversations with him or noticed him talking with Brent. We decided we’d keep an open mind but not reveal too much about ourselves or our thoughts.
Tom showed up just after it had gotten fully dark and introduced himself to the other adults. Beth caught my eye and gave me a slight nod, letting me know she’s been right about Tom’s identity. Josh stood at my side, not moving more than a few feet away from me. I think the unexpected visit earlier had freaked him out a little. This new world was full of more dangers than just the hungry dead.
Tom settled back in his seat as the small talk died down. “I think we’re all aware how desperate our situation is about to become.” The three of us acknowledged this but didn’t agree or disagree with him. “So I’m curious what you all think we should do about it.”
“I’m not sure there is anything we can do about it,” I said. “Any changes need to come from the leader of this group. If he’s not on board, then the others won’t be either.”
Tom nodded his head as I spoke. I wasn’t willing to tell him what I really thought considering Beth’s report that Tom was frequently talking to Brent. “What do you think we should do?” I turned the question back to him.
Before Tom could answer me, screams sounded at the front of the storage complex. Panicked voices called out but the words were garbled and we didn’t know what was happening. Leaving Beth to tend the children and defend our home, Josh and I grabbed our weapons and rushed out the trailer. Tom was at our heals, suddenly wielding a hunting knife. I don’t know where he was hiding it but it worried me that I hadn’t seen it on him when he was in our home.
We were nearly overrun by people stampeding away from the main section of yard. Terrified parents herded small children in front of them, urging them to move faster, faster, faster. Only one thing could scare this group this badly. The dead had invaded our safe haven. Sure enough, when we reached communal area, zombies were climbing over the broken section of fence and shuffling after the living who were too frightened to move. Bloody bodies littered the blacktop and the dead hunched over them, feeding on the still warm flesh.
Tom ran into the chaos, swinging his knife in front of him. Three of the monsters fell at his feet from the blows he’d delivered to their brains, dead for real this time. Josh and I waded in, too, drawing the attention of the biters from those who were unarmed, giving them a chance to escape. A few others joined the fight too. Together we stabbed and hacked our way to the downed barrier. Tom and Josh kept the zombies off us as we worked to raise the fence. The dead pushed against the downed section, grayish hands grasping around the edge, trying to get at the living. Decaying fingernails raked the skin of one of the fighters, drawing fresh blood and creating a frenzy among the things we were trying to keep out. Pushing with everything we had, the fence finally slipped back into place.
We braced it as best we could and left two people to make sure it didn’t come down again. I rushed to Josh’s side and we set off in search of the few remaining zombies. The wails from the living had drawn the biters toward the temporary shelters of the compound. Ten or so remained to be taken care of and we were able to dispatch them before they devoured anyone else.
“Now maybe Brent will listen to us,” Tom said at my side. He wiped his forehead with his sleeve, leaving a streak of blood across his face. His clothes were smeared with gore and I could only assume all of us fighters looked the same. “It’s ok to come out,” he called. “They’re all gone.”
The stench of the slaughter hung in the air as I made my way back to the compromised wall. We were going to have to find a more permanent solution for that. Flies buzzed around me, already descending on the feast of dead bodies. I pulled my shirt over my nose to keep from vomiting. We’re going to have do something with these too, I thought. But the fence was more important at the moment.
Josh had already made his way to the wall. I’d stopped to let Beth and the kids know what had happened and that we had survived the fight. I asked Beth to keep the young ones inside. I didn’t want them to see the carnage. Although, in hindsight, it may have been better for them to see what we were dealing with. By the time I made it to front, Josh had gotten a repair crew organized and they were busy ripping the metal doors from the storage lockers to reinforce the fence. Heavy furniture was dragged out of the open units and pushed up against the vinyl posts. The salvaged aluminum went behind the dressers and tables to block the remaining gaps.
Josh and his crew had the repairs under control so I turned my attention to cleaning up the mutilated and festering remains on the ground. More survivors wandered to the front to help with the aftermath. A massive old truck with a cargo bed and flat tires served as the dumping ground for the zombies. Only four of our group were killed in the invasion. Amazing, really, considering how ill-prepared we were. We laid the four in an out-of-the way nook and covered them with tarps. Loved ones would be missing them by now and would come searching soon. They deserved better than to be dumped in with the creatures that had taken their lives.
Three of our dead I only knew from the community dinners. I’m sure I’d spoken with them at one time or another but I didn’t know their names. The fourth one we’d lost, though, shook me. The fourth one was Brent. I hadn’t liked the guy. I didn’t think he was doing any of us any favors by pretending our nightmare world wasn’t real. But he didn’t deserve to die that way. None of us did. I placed the gray tarp over his body and told Josh what I’d found. Tom was part of the fence crew so I motioned him over and broke the news to him as well. We all stared at our feet for a moment before Tom broke the silence. “Let’s call everyone together and talk about this,” he said.
The fence was as solid as it was going to get for the night so I headed to the tents and trailers at the rear of the complex. I knocked on doors and announced myself at the nylon structures. Everyone was jumpy and I didn’t want to be mistaken for a biter and get shot. I explained that the coast was clear, the zombies were all back outside where they belonged, but that we needed to have a quick meeting with the adults of the community.
Thirty minutes later most of the group was gathered in the main area. The truck full of zombies was parked nearby but we’d used more tarps to cover the gore. A painter must have rented one of the storage units because there was a treasure trove of canvas and plastic coverings. Tom addressed the crowd. “We lost four people when the zombies came in. One of those people was Brent. Brent kept us going during the early days of this nightmare. He is going to be missed but we’re going to have to decide what to do next.
“The fence that broke is repaired as best as it can be for now. It is too dark for us to continue to work on it but it is secure for now and we will keep a watch until it is fully fixed. If anyone wants to volunteer for a shift, we’d appreciate it. See me, Sam or Josh if you want to help.
“Tomorrow is soon enough for deciding our next steps. Get some sleep tonight and know we are safe.”
I thought he’d made a good speech. He let the people know our leader had been lost but that we were all still safe. We had things under control. My opinion of Tom rose a little with his words. A few came forward to volunteer for the night watch and Josh and I wandered back to our trailer with the rest of community. Josh pulled me close to him and left his arm draped over my shoulder. I sagged against him as the adrenaline from the fight drained out of me.