Everyone has stories from after the Fall, but they always ask about mine. Most people probably had to do the things I did at some point, but very few actually made a career out of it.
I hated it.
I mean, I know it was important and all, but it really bothered me the whole time I was involved in it. A lot of people don’t know how much it bothered me.
Christ, it’s still hard to think about.
Okay, let’s get to it. I won’t bore you with the history of the Akron Incident or the North Korean Gambit. That’s Historians’ work now, and they could probably tell it better than I could. No, everyone wants to hear about how I became the Valkyrie, the human killer, so I’ll cut to the chase.
It started in January, because that’s when all of our stories start now. I think it was the 22nd or the 23rd, but it was after calendars stopped being important, so I guess the exact date doesn’t matter. By then we’d forgotten about the various international crises that had sprang up in the past month. The world had checked out for the long count. We wanted to think that madness was spreading through the air—and it was—but we were about to see how it spread through teeth, through fingernails.
On the last day in my house, we finally knew what it was. It was no madness, no disease that could be treated. We knew, but it was too fantastically horrific to imagine. The news report was darkly funny, looking back at it now. They tried to use every word they could think of to avoid saying “zombie.” It’s so easy to say that word now, but the media tried to keep the public from knowing that life had shattered into a very real 3-D horror plot.
The news reports went on about symptoms as well. Headaches, nausea, the appearance of black dots on the skin. It could be transmitted through the air, but they said the incubation time was weeks shorter—that it was actually only a few minutes—when spread through a bite or deep scratch. We originally thought the virus was some sort of new chicken pox or measles. Society’s name for the disease was Dots. Short, sweet, simple. Medical professionals called it Ereptor.
We tried to fortify ourselves at home until everything blew over. We boarded the windows up with whatever sturdy materials we found lying around the house; it wasn’t enough. Since the electric grid was still up, my parents and I tried to stay on top of the news reports.
We managed for a few days, probably because we were on the outskirts of town. Curiosity drew me to the windows countless times, but Dad drew me back. He told me that everything was okay, under control, chill. Soon enough we’d hear helicopters again. Oh, I longed to hear the sound of rotors once again; the sound of an entirely silent sky during a disaster was maddening. Dad said we’d be airlifted to safety. It was a temporary thing, and we’d all be safe soon enough. As more time passed, I wondered which of us Dad wanted to convince.
Mom didn’t have such an easy time with the ordeal. I don’t know what snapped in her, but she cleaned nonstop. She swept the kitchen, polished tabletops, dusted behind pictures that hadn’t moved since my first memories. She even swept the attic once. I knew she felt helpless in the face of the end of the world. She needed a sense of purpose, though, so I never said anything to her. When she cleaned, she had purpose; I couldn’t take that from her. We were little more than prisoners in our own home.
Like most people who tried to hide away in the suburbs, we didn’t last long. The walking dead finally caught our scent—or whatever they catch—on the third day, and they made short work of our barricades.
When Dad was young—in his mid-teens—he and his father went on weekend hunting trips. He always held on to those cherished memories, but he also held on to the rifle he carried back then. I don’t remember the caliber or anything, just that it was a Browning. I never knew much about rifles in the first place, and later circumstance would see that I didn’t really need to.
Dad had kept that rifle, but his father had a Browning Hi-Power he’d kept from after the Korean War. Dad got the pistol after my grandfather died. Years later, I held that Browning pistol in my shaking hands as the bookshelf in front of the window—a key part of our barricade—fell over. I wanted to pull the trigger at the figures that broke through our front window, but they still looked too human to me, even covered in those dots and blotches. Every time I had a face in my sights, I strayed from target and couldn’t make myself take the shot.
Dad was much better. As soon as one of them set foot on the carpet, a bullet destroyed its brain. The news reporters came right out and said “shoot them in the head” for the past three days, but they wanted to skirt around saying “zombies.” Regardless of what the news wanted to call them, Dad knew the drill. He fired an entire magazine into the foreheads of people from all over town.
“Sandra, shoot dammit!” he shouted at me. I finally turned my head aside and squeezed off a shot towards the window. When I looked back, I saw a bullet wound in an invader’s shoulder. The undead monster didn’t slow, still making an attempt to climb over the corpses of the others. It stared at me through glossy eyes, the bullet in its shoulder not affecting the former person at all. I flinched and fired again, this one aiming low and shooting another zombie in the stomach.
“Aim!” he screamed at me, firing his rifle into the mass.
Then I did aim, bringing the gun up, carefully looking down the barrel, lining up a shot onto a human head. He was a pudgy guy, looked like he was in his mid-40s. He wore glasses and was dressed decently enough, but he had a long gash across his blotchy face. Where his cheek should have been, there was only a hole and a flap of skin, dangling most of the way to his jawline. I forced my eyes open and crooked my trigger finger, this time sending a bullet through his left temple. Pudgy slumped and fell onto the carpet, serving as a clumsy ramp for the others.
Mom screamed bloody murder behind me. We only had the two guns in the house, and Dad and I knew that she had checked herself out mentally. A lot of people had. That definitely didn’t help our situation.
The invasion was endless. They pressed into our house, and it sounded like we hadn’t made a dent in their numbers. Behind the ones breaking into our home were ones that milled about on the front lawn, undoubtedly wanting to get in but making no clear effort. We couldn’t shoot fast enough to get them all down. They advanced into our living room, slowly but endlessly.
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