Have you ever felt like you were on a treadmill, but no matter how fast or far you ran, you never dropped those pesky last fifteen pounds? Yeah, welcome to my life. Only I’m not trying to lose weight (okay, I’m a girl, I’m always trying to lose weight), I’m trying to lose the slobbering, moaning, growling group of mindless zombies that always seems to be on my ass.
Every time I look back over my shoulder, it seems like they’re right there. Their feet pound on the pavement, their clawing fingers (complete with long, dirty, dead person fingernails – um, manicure people!!) reach for me, trying to give me one scratch, one bite, one little nick that spells certain death… er, living death… for me.
They never stop. And so I never stop. I just run and run and run…
With horror movie slowness, I turned and there was David, my husband, my partner in crime and in fighting for our lives. He smiled at me, but it didn’t comfort me because as his lips pulled back I saw that his gums were black. His teeth were beginning to rot. His eyes were red rimmed and focused on one thing. Eating me.
And not in the porn movie way.
“Stop running,” he said, his voice garbled with infection and transition as he reached for me.
I sucked in a breath and sat up, but as I did so my forehead collided with something. Something metal that I smacked into hard enough to make my vision blur.
“Son of a-!” I grunted as I reached up to touch my head.
Already the knot of a bruise started to throb just under the skin. Slowly, I opened my eyes and looked around. As my sight cleared, I willed my heart to slow down because I was safe. There were no zombies near me. No reaching hands, no frigid breath, no clawing fingers straining to tear and pull at flesh. Just a dim room filled with dusty gym equipment, including the treadmill I had apparently fallen asleep on.
“I knew I was on a treadmill,” I muttered as I ducked my pounding head from under the bar of the machine and pushed to my feet.
“Did you say something?”
It was David’s voice coming from the other room. Not garbled by infection, though. Just plain old David. I smiled as I moved through the entryway to a weight room. The lack of power made the other equipment in the gym useless except as a very uncomfortable bed, but the weight sets still did their job. No juice required.
“Nope, just dreaming,” I said. After a hesitation, I added, “Nightmaring, I guess, is a better description.”
I tilted my head as Dave braced himself on the weight bench and pressed a bar filled with weight plates… a lot of weight plates… over his head
“Need a spotter?” I asked as I stepped closer.
“Nope,” he grunted. “I got it.”
Dave’s face was red with strain and sweat rolled down his cheeks to drip on the dusty mat below him. He wasn’t wearing a shirt and even more sweat collected on the muscles of his chest. Yeah, you read that right. My once-unemployed, gamer husband with the little beer belly now had ripples of muscle on his chest. He was even starting to get some abs.
He held the bar above himself, suspending it even as his arms shook ever so slightly from the weight. With another grunt, he eased the bar back into place on the rack. Once it was steady, he reached up to wipe the sweat away from his brow with the back of one gloved hand. His gaze slipped over to me slowly as he did it.
“So what was this one about?” he asked as he set his hands back in place and pressed the heavy bar upward again.
This time I counted the weight plates and blinked in surprise. He had to be pushing over 350lbs. Pretty impressive since I don’t think he ever topped out over 200 before the zombie outbreak that had changed our lives, and ruined my sleep, forever.
“Sarah?” he asked, his voice strained as he held the bar above his head.
“Huh?” I shook my head. “Oh, just the usual. You know… getting chased by a horde of drooling zombies.”
He lowered the bar again and this time he ducked under and sat up on the bench. He grabbed for a dingy towel that he’d draped across another nearby machine and wiped himself off before he said, “And was I in this one?”
I turned away a little. Dave knew about my dreams. Only because sometimes I talked in my sleep, though. Nothing like screaming out, “Dave, please don’t eat me!” to let a guy know you’re thinking about him.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he said softly.
As he peeled off his weight gloves, he pushed to his feet. When he opened his arms, I stepped into them without hesitation, despite my troubling dream and his stinky body.
“I’m okay, you know,” he whispered after he’d given me a rather sweaty hug for a few minutes.
I nodded, but out of the corner of my eye I looked at his right hand. On it was a scar, black tinged and gnarled, that covered both the top and palm of his hand. It marked the place where a zombie had bitten him over a month ago. If we hadn’t had a miracle serum… a cure… my Dave would have been nothing more than a roaming, mindless eating machine.
Oh, who am I kidding? He would have been a stain on the wall courtesy of yours truly. And there are not enough self-help books in the world to get over that one. Trust me, I’ve had a lot of time to look.
“I know,” I whispered as I pulled away with a smile I admit I had to fake. “But you might not have been.”
“But I was,” he insisted with a shake of his head as he patted the sweat off his forehead and motioned toward the dressing rooms in the back. I followed close behind.
“I know,” I said with a sigh. “And I guess our personal experience is pretty good proof that the cure worked. So now we just have to get it to the Midwest Wall.”
Dave was silent as he hesitated at the door marked “Men”. His frown made my own fake smile fall.
Okay, so this rumor about a wall in the Midwest, one built by the government at the beginning of the outbreak to cut off the zombie infection from the rest of the country… we both knew it was a long shot. But we kept moving toward it despite our misgivings. Kept hoping it wasn’t all a colossal fake out.
If it was… well, I had no idea what we’d do then. We’d have one vial of a cure and no one to give it to. Plus, since it had taken us a month to get from Phoenix, AZ to Oklahoma City, we had to figure it would take us another month to get to the Wall, which would put us smack dab in the middle of a Midwest winter, complete with snow, ice and frigid temps. Fun, eh?
Yeah, sounded like a freaking laugh riot to me.
David motioned me into the dressing room without any more discussion on the touchy subject of walls, or lack thereof. Inside he had set up a portable shower we’d managed to grab from a camping supply store somewhere around Albuquerque. The shower would be cold, but it would do the job. Although since I hadn’t actually worked out at the gym we’d taken shelter in, I didn’t exactly need it. I was mostly there to stand guard.
Which I did (along with take a couple of peeks by lamplight at my sweetie soaping up… what? We’re married and I like him!!). But pretty soon he was changed and we started toward the vestibule of the gym, with Dave loading up a shotgun as we went.
“Okay, so I’d like to get in at least thirty miles today,” he said absently as he cocked the shotgun with one hand.
So I’m sure that sounds crazy to you. Thirty miles in a day? In the pre-apocalypse days we would have been talking thirty minutes, probably less if we really put pedal to the metal. But these are not pre-apocalypse driving conditions, people. There were several things that kept us from getting much further:
1. We tried to stay off main roads. And by that, I mean, big roads… freeways meant abandoned cars to move, fires to put out (literally and figuratively) and the occasional highway man to avoid (when humanity goes to hell in a hand basket, it really goes to hell in a hand basket).
2. We tried to avoid cities. So I’d said we were in Oklahoma City, but that wasn’t exactly true. We were actually about fifteen miles north of there in a town called Guthrie. Unlike the real city, which had over five hundred thousand residents who were probably pretty much all zombies now… Guthrie rocked a little less than ten thousand. See what I’m saying?
3. Finally, the last reason we moved so slow became very clear as we stepped up to the floor to ceiling glass doors that led to the outside and the parking lot where we’d parked our big old SUV right in a pimp spot.
That reason would be the zombies.
“I guess they saw us come into town,” I said mildly as I peered outside. It was early morning still and the sky was dark from dawn and from the heavy rain clouds that were gathering in the distance.
Oh yeah, also it was dark because there was a crowd of at least twenty zombies all gathered at the windows. They pressed their faces against the barrier until they smooshed rather comically, climbing up on top of each other as if they could climb right through the glass. They were growling and pawing until they streaked the windows with sludge and blood and… goo of an undefined nature.
Which is more disturbing, by the way. Definable goo is way better, trust me I’m an expert by now.
“I guess they did,” Dave said with a long-suffering sigh. Like it was so hard to beat the zombies.
Okay, it was.
He turned toward the check-in desk where we’d left a pile of our shit when we entered the gym last night. There were all kinds of guns in a big mass there, including a super cool multi-shot cannon that he swept up with one hand (I had to hold it in both, it was so heavy, but I guess all that weight lifting was starting to pay off for him).
“Well,” he said with another heavy sigh. “Ready to do this?”
I grabbed two 9mms from the counter and slipped clips into place in a smooth motion that had taken months of practice to perfect. I was quite proud of myself for that move. It was very “movie version Sarah”.
“Hell yeah,” I said with a big smile. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
With a half-grin in my direction, Dave flipped the flimsy lock on the glass door and let the horde in.