Authors: Timothy W. Long
Tags: #apocalypse, #zombies, #end of the world, #tim long, #romero, #permuted press, #living dead, #dead rising, #dawn of the dead, #battle for seattle, #among the living, #walking dead, #seattle
Beyond the Barriers
Timothy W. Long
Published by Permuted Press at Smashwords.
Copyright 2011 Timothy W. Long.
Cover art by Zach McCain.
Guy E. Meadows
1920 – 1974
The bravest man I never knew.
My awesome test readers: Mary Nilsson, Patrick Rooney, and Parick D’Orazio. My cheerteam: Theresa Labbe, Andrew Chapman, Melanie Strom, Chip Fehd, Jeremy Mahan, Julie Scott, Karen Standley, Jin Moore, Dave Hoffman, Steve Medaugh, Christian Willhite, and Maggie Sudduth. To all the writers, artists, and friends that inspire me: Jonathan Moon, David Dunwoody, Eric S. Brown, Rhiannon Frater, Jonathan Maberry, SG Brown, Wayne Simmons, Stephanie Gianopoulus, Tonia Brown, Stephen A. North, Jacob Kier, Matt Edginton, Lee ‘Goatboy’ Hartnup, Crystal Connor, Derek J. Goodman, Michael S. Garner, Ash Mearns, Bill Tucker, Chuck Messinger, Dan Galli, Zombie Zak, Eloise J. Knapp, Louise Bohmer, Luke (Evil!) Green, Marshall Popham, Moody’s Survivors, Robert Elrod, Stuart Conover, and Doc Pus.
“Carry the battle to them. Don’t let them bring it to you.
Put them on the defensive. And don’t ever apologize for anything.”
—Harry S. Truman
No one plans for the end of the world. They talk about it. They stock up on supplies. They practice what to do, where to hide, and what to eat. They build shelters and participate in drills. They draw escape routes, keep extra batteries, and gallons of water on hand.
They plan for earthquakes, meteors, volcanoes, and nuclear strikes. But no one guessed the true way humanity would come to an end.
Then it happened.
* * *
I had been watching the news compulsively for three or four days before it happened. I watched the stupid television so much that it put me off shopping until it was almost too late.
It was the weekend, and I called in sick on Friday so I could stay home and follow the developing madness on the TV. The media made a point of saying that people weren’t going to work. I was one of them, content to be somewhere safe while civilization fell apart.
I was low on goods, like fresh meat and vegetables. The bottom drawer in my freezer was filled with crumbs from some chicken crap that spilled out a few months ago. Smelled too. That freezer burn reek that never really goes away no matter how many times you clean the damn thing.
I dug out a half pound of ground chuck and tossed it in the microwave to defrost. Half an hour later, I remembered it was done, and formed a half-ass hamburger out of the meat and fried it in butter. An egg and ketchup went on top.
Bon appetite. Enjoy the food, because it may be your last meal,
was my only thought as I ate like an automaton.
I could have become a survival nut—boarded up the place, set up guns by each window on the second floor. That way, if one of those things, or my ex-wife’s boyfriend, showed up, I could blow their heads off. That would be a fine sight. Allison returns to beg for help from her former military husband, and I start taking pot shots at them. Maybe I could grow a long scraggly beard and run around in my underwear, shouting about the end of the world. Now that would be a funny sight. Sure to keep the scavengers away for a few days.
I’ll never forget the day she left. She took her shit and left a big hole in my chest where my heart used to be. “Erik,” she tried to reason, “it’s not you. There is something wrong with me. Something that all the counseling in the world can’t fix.”
In the end, I tossed her bags on the sidewalk, took her keys, and removed the one that opened the deadbolts on the house. Then I threw them in front of the car.
Her new guy just sat there like a lump. He had on sunglasses and refused to look at me, no matter how long I stared. She had to load her stuff in the back of his beat-up Volvo, and then he puttered away from my now-lonely house on a stream of exhaust.
I crouched a few feet from the little, flat-panel TV I picked up at one of those Christmas sales and chewed the food, barely tasting the lump of greasy meat. I’m sure it was great, but I didn’t taste a single bite.
CNN had a live crew in Portland, and they were following a pair of the dead things around like paparazzi. It was silly, yet I couldn’t look away from the TV. I should have changed the channel to see if there were some better coverage of the event, but I let it roll as a pretty reporter in high heels followed the dead things, with her cameraman close behind. In the distance, a pair of camouflaged trucks rolled by, filled with men who had large guns in hand. It was so reassuring to see them on the scene that I almost cheered, like my team was winning a sporting event.
Then the camera panned back to the reporter as she approached one of the dead that stumbled around like a kid in shock. The dead guy’s arms hung at his side, and his head was cocked to the left like he had a terrible neck pain and couldn’t straighten up. The back of his head was drenched in blood, and he was missing part of his side. I could see ribs showing under the ripped shirt where the skin was torn away.
A flashing message on the bottom of the screen advised ‘viewer discretion.’ The video should not be watched by young people. No one should watch this stuff. No one in his or her right damn mind. But watch it I did.
Another of the dead came out of the space between two buildings—a little alley that was littered with torn trash bags. Discarded objects lay in piles over which the dead woman stumbled, falling to one knee then rising again on shaky legs. A normal person would have grabbed her appendage in pain, winced or sworn, but this thing just got up and came on. I could see where the skin was broken from when she hit the ground. A fresh stream of blood ran down her pantyhose-covered leg and onto her expensive-looking shoes. She had a blonde bob, and was probably a looker earlier in her day. Now she was missing most of her bottom jaw, and one arm hung by sinew and strips of flesh at her side.
It was like a movie, and I wondered for the hundredth time if I were just seeing some crazy prank put on by my friends. I wanted to run up and down the street and find those responsible and beat them to a pulp. I had seen a ton of zombie movies, and they were, for the most part, enjoyable but unrealistic. At least that was my opinion up until then; now it had changed dramatically. I wanted nothing more than to go back and watch those films, knowing they were BS, and make all this real stuff go away.
The reporter was so focused on following the dead man that she missed the woman coming out of the alley. The reporter had perfect hair and a face made for television. She was tall and lean, and I could pretty much watch her talk about stuff all day. Then the undead bitch closed in on her, looped one arm around her neck, and tried to bite her shoulder.
The reporter recoiled in horror, stumbled, and, in a half-professional move, dropped one knee and flipped the girl over her back, onto the hard pavement. It was a beauty of a throw, and I heard the cameraman gasp. She didn’t look much like a fighter, but that move was perfect. She fell back, landed on her ass, and then stared at the thing at her feet. She scrambled back as it came to its feet again, slowly, like a drunk getting up from a bender.
That’s when the cameraman started shouting for help and the view went shaky. He said some words that would have the FCC calling in the morning, and then the screen was filled with sky as he apparently fell down. There was movement all around as a swarm of the things descended on him. The noise that came out of the speakers horrified me. The guy tried to scream, but either his mouth was covered with something or, even more disturbing, the attackers were tearing his face apart. The noise of skin being ripped off was the worst, and it sent me cowering deep into the couch. I wanted to run to the toilet and throw up, but I stayed glued to the TV. It was almost as bad as the day the twin towers fell.
“They are everywhere!” the reporter yelled as she ran.
The camera fell over, and the screen came to a jarring sideways stop against the ground. The last image was the reporter running by with a couple of the things in pursuit. The cameraman’s arm plopped down limply by the screen. One of the dead things dropped beside it and clamped teeth on the exposed arm. With a jerk, it tore out a chunk of skin.
Then the screen went blank, and the shocked faces of the newscasters came on. After a few seconds of stuttering, trying to explain what we had just seen, the speakers crackled and the emergency broadcast signal came on, but there was no message.
I jumped to a local channel, and they were talking about the infection, or whatever it was, in calm voices. They made it seem like everything was under control, but if people saw what I just saw on CNN, they knew how serious this was. Portland overrun with the dead.
I didn’t even want to think the word let alone say it aloud, but I did anyway. It just slipped out.
“Zombies.” It was absolutely ridiculous, but there it was. The dead were rising and attacking people.
I took a breath and went back to the fridge for a Coke. There was a fresh six pack in the back, and it was ice cold. I popped one open and guzzled half of it in one shot. I felt unsteady as I looked toward the ceiling while the sugary bubbles slid down my throat. It reminded me too much of the camera’s view just before it fell on its side and the reporter ran off.
I took stock of my pantry. My weekly trip to the store should have been a few days ago, but the crazy stuff on the news kept me indoors. I wished now I had gone when the shit started to hit the fan, but it was no used getting worked up over it now.
I went to the front of the house and looked outside. It was picture perfect, calm, bright and clear. There were no cadavers walking around. But that was where the normal ended and the weird began.
The neighbors at the end of the little street were packing everything they owned into a car. Two children came outside with tearstained faces. The boy sobbed when his father took a big box of toys and threw them back at the house like they were trash.
I felt for the kid, but his father was just being practical. To a little one like that, maybe six or seven years old, he must have seemed like a monster. He spun around, picked up his boy and hugged him tight, while he whispered in his ear. His shirt rode up, and he had a big automatic pistol in the band of his pants.
Why did I ever give up my guns?
That gave me an idea, but indecision gnawed at my gut like I’d eaten some bad shrimp. I decided to get a feel for what was going on out there, so I grabbed my keys and walked to the living room, across our light-brown, hardwood floors. We spent a couple of weekends putting those things in, Allison and I. We worked hard, and when we were done each day, we took a shower together and made love like normal couples were supposed to. I didn’t know she was screwing that guy from work at the time, or maybe the affair hadn’t even started back then. It doesn’t matter now, I guess. What’s done is done.
I grabbed my shoes, sighed, and went back to watch more TV. It was comforting to have them on, just in case the things arrived. I didn’t really expect to see the dead here. I mean, we were pretty far off the beaten path in our little town of Vesper Lake.
The reporters went on, looking at each other in disbelief as each story was told. It was the same on every channel I turned to, as I spent several minutes trying to tie my shoes. Just a pair of old sneakers, but I kept pausing to watch the incredible images on the screen.
I came across a news chopper in the air over Portland. It was obvious events had gotten much worse. It was almost like a riot in the streets, and there were people running everywhere. The man in the chopper was talking into his mic about the level of hysteria, advising people to stay inside.
I had seen enough. I marched to the door, locked it behind me, and jumped in my Honda SUV.