Z is for Zombie

by Geron Kees

Chapter 13

Marnie was up earlier these days, trying to beat the sun at starting the day. She had made it a priority to now get up while the last of the night was still at hand, to avoid the possibility of another sneaky visit by their zombie friend. The realization that the creature could move before the sun was actually up had scared her. They had been banking on darkness as security, and knowing now that even the pre-dawn scatter of illumination at the horizon was enough to set the creature free had made her determined not to be taken by surprise again.

It was only a matter of about twenty minutes, anyway, and getting up that much earlier didn't bother her one bit. The little battery-powered alarm clock that Richie had brought back for her from town gave out a soft enough buzz to just wake her, without rousing the whole camp. She would get up and dress, wash her face and her hands, and then rouse Mom. The two of them would start breakfast, and having a few extra minutes had actually worked in their favor. The sun, when it did come up, invaded the interior of the camp quickly, and seemed to wake everyone up at the same time. The wonderful smells coming from the kitchen area did the rest, and before she knew it she was surrounded by a rowdy, babbling mob, all demanding to be fed.

It was moments like that when she felt some reassuring hand on her soul. No matter how dark things seemed to be at times, they always managed to pull through. She understood that there was an almost unnatural strength in their unity, that this group of people were something special, something meant to go on. Her being with them was also something special, something meant to be.

She absolutely loved every minute of it. Marnie loved all the kids, loved them like they were her own. She had taken to being something of a mom to them with no effort at all, having been the oldest of five kids at home, and used to being the one that broke up the arguments, tended to the minor emergencies, and kept things in something resembling order while their parents worked.

Before the Changes had come along and taken all that away from her, that is.

But she had found a new purpose at the camp, and the loss of Jack Castle had only further thrust her into a role of authority. Richie and Jeremy had turned out to be wonderful at getting the things done that it once had seemed that only Jack could do, and in the year since the tragic loss of the man, all the kids had developed into survivors with a will she found absolutely wonderful. Richie, especially, had emerged as a leader, and she joined the others in trusting his judgment on many things.

But that Richie was simply the more decisive half of a bonded pair was also something she knew and accepted. She had known both boys before the Changes, and word was already starting to get around that Richie and Jeremy were together long before the night that ended the world as they knew it came about. She loved both of them now, but it was the love one had for brothers, and she had already come to terms with the idea that finding someone to play the role of boyfriend in her life might not ever come about.

After breakfast, Richie and Jeremy had gone out to work on the truck, with Sherry and Mike watching over them. They had traded the new door for the old, bent up one the afternoon before, and that morning Jeremy had welded a new cage over the window and changed the locks while Richie had loaded canteens, ammo, and other supplies behind the seat, and made sure they had everything they needed for the trip to town. And then the two older boys, and Sherry, and Will, had driven off.

Marnie set Tina and Bennie on window duty, and had Mike help her move some of the heavier things they had stored about the floor so that she could sweep under them. Mom was busy in her rocker, knitting another something that had no real purpose, and the camp grew quiet after Marnie and Mike were done evicting the dust and dirt from the floor.

"We could check a few of the closer traps," Mike suggested after that, but then immediately shook his head. "No, that's a dumb idea."

Marnie laughed at that. "You're getting wise in your old age."

Mike grinned. "I slipped back into pre-zombie mode for just a second. Sorry."

"The guys should be back early enough that the traps won't spoil. If it was summer, maybe not, but the mornings are still cool."

Mike was silent a moment, but then looked up at her. "If we didn't need the traps to eat, I wouldn't do it. I hate killing things. Even zombies."

Marnie felt her eyebrows go up. "Is this Mr. gung-ho zombie hunter talking?"

Mike looked sheepish. "Aw, I only do that so I can feel better about it. Zombie's are dangerous, and it's us or them. I'd feel the same about a killer bear on the loose out there. I'd much rather kill it than have it kill one of us." He shook his head. "But I wouldn't like that I had to do it."

Marnie sighed, and gave the boy a gentle hug. "It's because you have a good heart, Mike. And, maybe, because you have come to see the value of life. I never really understood that before the Changes, myself. Life just seemed like it would go on forever, you know? That's the way it felt to me."

"Not anymore. First the Changes, and then Jack." Mike's eyes looked a little haunted when he looked up at her. "I worry about everybody now."

"I do, too. That's just the way it is." Marnie smiled at him. "But it's good that you watch out for the others. We all need to watch out for each other."

Mike sighed, and looked around the interior of the camp, obviously wishing to change the subject. "Floor's clean, dishes are done. What else do you need me to help with?"

"Nothing right now. Morning chores are on hold until the others get back. You can pick a window if you want, and watch. It's a pretty day out, anyway."

Mike grinned at her, and sauntered away, stopping at the gun rack to pick up his Thompson before walking over to talk to Bennie. Marnie smiled after him. If he was a little older, she could find it in her heart to love him a little differently, maybe. And, maybe in just a couple of years, the two-year difference in their ages wouldn't matter at all. Mike was going to be a fine man someday, and would make someone a fine mate.

Marnie sighed. What a great bunch of kids. It was amazing that they had adapted so well, and worked so well together. Personalities were a new factor in her life just before the Changes, and she had already had enough experience with them at school to know that some people were just born and bred difficult. It would have only taken one such personality among their group to throw the whole thing off base. That it was this bunch of kids surviving together, and not some other group, still amazed her.

She walked over to where Mom was slowly rocking in her chair, the needles in her hands moving by rote as they formed yet another square of aimless purpose. This one was a vibrant maroon and gold, Jeremy having found the boxed yarn stock at the store in town last trip and brought back some wonderful new colors for Mom to play with.

Marnie smiled, and carefully fingered the edge of the square laying in the woman's lap. "That's beautiful, Mom. What's it gonna be?"

The woman looked up at her and smiled. "A scarf."

For a second Marnie just stared, disbelieving her own ears. And then she became aware of the total silence in the room.

"Mom talked!" Tina suddenly squealed, rushing over to look gleefully at the woman. "You talked!"

Mom smiled up at her, but didn't say anything else.

Both Bennie and Mike were also staring. "I heard her, too," Bennie said.

Marnie leaned down towards the woman and gently touched her arm. "Mom?"

The woman smiled at her, but her gaze was distant again, whatever momentary contact she had shared with those in the room, now gone. She was aware, but she wasn't present - not totally. That's the way Jack had described the woman. Whatever had briefly brought her home again, the moment was past.

Marnie nodded, and gently patted the woman's arm. "It's going to be beautiful. Maybe you can make me one, too?"

Mom just smiled again, and went on with her knitting.

Marnie took Tina by the arm and guided her back to her window. "Don't forget your watch, honey."

"But she talked," the little girl whispered.

Marnie nodded. "It's a good sign. Maybe, someday, whatever pushed her to be this way will leave her again. And then she'll talk some more."

Tina sighed, and gazed fondly at the woman in her rocker. "I'd love to be able to talk to her."

"Me, too. I'd be willing to bet she has a lot to teach us."

Tina nodded, and gazed up at her, somehow looking a little embarrassed. "I always wondered...if she ever had a little girl like me."

Marnie smiled. "If she was lucky, maybe."

Tears appeared at the edges of Tina's eyes, and she leaned into Marnie and hugged her. For a moment they just stood that way, squeezing each other; and then Tina pulled back and wiped hastily at her cheeks. She patted the front of her shirt, and briefly touched the butt of the .357 Magnum belted about her hips. "I should be watching."

Marnie smiled, sitting hard on tears of her own. Little girls should not have to grow up this way, toting guns and worrying that something awful was sneaking up on their homes. The world could be a total bitch at times.

But...Marnie was reminded of something her grandma Nancy had used to say, while sitting in front of the TV and watching the world news. Some story would come on about some horrible incident, somewhere in the world, and grandma would shake her head, and say, "Such times we live in!"

And that was the bare truth of the matter. These were the times they were living in. This is what they had to work with.

Tina turned to look out her window, giving one last rub to her cheeks. "This is a special place, you know that?"

Marnie nodded, feeling that one deeply, herself. "Yes. It is."

Lunch time came and went. Mom helped prepare sandwiches without a word, and Marnie hoped that what had happened earlier wasn't just some fluke. To have the woman more a part of life in the camp would be a blessed thing, she thought.

They ate and talked, and the kids on window watch smiled a lot more than was normal. But no one shirked their duty, no one wasn't watching. Marnie noted the way their gazes roved the fields and woods outside, so practiced, so purposeful, as they talked and laughed. No one was one hundred percent when their attention was split between two things; but these kids had learned the art of observation as few others outside of law enforcement or military positions had come to know. Looking was one thing; seeing another. Marnie had every bit of confidence that no zombie could sneak up on them with these kids watching.

They were talking about what the guys might bring back from the library in town when a fierce detonation echoed across the land. Marnie's first thought was that the dynamite in the root cellar had somehow gone off. She rushed to the window facing the barn and squinted out into the sunshine, only to find the landscape as peaceful and serene as usual. No column of smoke hovered above the barn; no debris littered the fields around it.

"Something blew up, I just know it."

"No," Bennie said immediately. "That wasn't an explosion."

"It wasn't like any thunder I ever heard," Mike immediately spoke up.

Bennie waved a hand for silence. "I think that was a sonic boom."

Marnie stared at him, remembering then that Bennie had a thing for aircraft. "You mean, like when a plane goes really fast?"

"Yeah. At a certain speed, it starts to move faster than the pressure waves it generates can get out of the way. The result sounds like what we just heard."

Marnie raised one eyebrow. "You've actually heard one of these before?"

Bennie nodded vigorously, but then grinned. "Yeah. On YouTube."

Marnie opened her mouth, but then closed it. YouTube hadn't really been an authority on anything, but it was a tremendous repository of knowledge, if you just knew where to look.

Well, it had been once.

"How fast would a plane have to go to make this sound?"

Bennie frowned. "It varies by the density of the medium."

Marnie smiled, and Bennie immediately looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry. At ground level on a day like this, maybe seven-hundred and fifty miles per hour. The higher you go, the thinner the air gets, the less speed you need to make a boom. That's because the speed of sound becomes less as the air density goes down."

Mike clapped the side of his head, grinning. "Holy shit. We've had a brain with us all this time, and we didn't know it?"

Bennie's face reddened. "Things that fly interest me. Just like all that space stuff interests you."

Marnie waved a hand for quiet, and went to a window and peered up at the sky. It was blue - an absolutely gorgeous blue - and spotless. Not a cloud in sight. No airplanes, either.

"Oh! Look over here!" Tina suddenly hissed.

Marnie did an about-face and ran across the room, the intensity of the little girl's voice making it clear there was something there not to be missed.

At first she looked to the sky, but then realized that Tina's eyes were on the field to the south of the camp. She dropped her gaze, searching...and there it was. The zombie, standing at the very edge of the woods, motionless, simply looking their way. This was the first time they had seen it since the dawn attack the other day.

Marnie waved her hand behind her back. "Guys. Come here."

Mike and Bennie immediately crossed to the next window over.

"He's out of range," Mike said, immediately.

"He's naked," Bennie added, a trace of a laugh in his voice.

Marnie really noticed that then, and couldn't help laughing. "He is, isn't he?"

Mike slapped the windowsill, laughing. "We burned his clothes right off him."

They stared at the creature, while it stared back. It simply stood there, as if scoping out the camp and its surrounds. Marnie could see that the zombie was naked, but he was so far away that she couldn't make out any details. Only the fact that he was now uniformly a purplish-blue all over cued her in to the fact that the creature's clothing was now history. She felt her face get slightly warm as she wondered what details she was missing due to the distance, and that maybe she should get the binoculars that hung on a peg by the gun rack.

"You know what?" Mike suddenly said. "I'll bet he came to see if we made that boom he just heard."

Marnie looked over at the boy, saw that he was serious. "You think?"

"Why not? There's no way he missed it. Probably came to see if we had gotten ourselves a cannon or something."

"I thought we decided that zombies didn't really get tech?"

"I was kidding, Marn. Sheesh. Girls!"

Marnie turned and stuck out her tongue. "Boys!"

Everybody laughed.

"Look," Tina said then.

The zombie turned, looked back at the camp one more time over its shoulder, and then disappeared into the woods.

"He'll be back," Bennie said. "I see he looks all healed up now."

The walkie talkie clipped to Marnie's belt chose that moment to squawk. "Marnie? You there?"

She grabbed at the device, pulled it to her mouth. "I hear you fine, Richie. You must be getting close."

"We're still maybe five minutes from the drive. Just took a shot at the radio, and here we are. Must just be a good transmission day."

"Did you hear the sonic boom?" she asked.

The radio was silent a moment, and then squawked again. "Good call, Bennie."

The boy grinned, and Marnie laughed.

The radio hissed, then settled down again. "We have a lot to talk about when we get back."

"Some things here, too," Marnie returned. "We just saw our friend, standing at the edge of the field, looking us over. Mike thought maybe it heard the boom and came to see if we did it."

"That's not so hard to believe. How did he look? Healed up?"

"Seemed to be. And we could see everything, too, because he was naked. All his clothes must have burned up."

When Richie came back, she could hear the others laughing in the background. "Are you serious?"

"He was as naked as a new baby. Well, I couldn't see his, um... feet, so maybe he still had shoes on."

The radio gave out a squawk, but Marnie couldn't make out what was said. "Say again. You faded on me."

"I said, 'Did the zombie just look the place over and then go away?'"

"Yes. It didn't seem anxious to come and see us."

"Okay. Keep an eye out on everything, and especially the trees by the drive, okay? We don't want him sneaking back over there. He's just as dangerous with his dick hanging out as he is with it in his pants."

Mike slapped the windowsill again, and Bennie hooted. Tina turned to look at Marnie with her mouth hanging open, but then smiled. "He's bad!"

Marnie laughed, and raised the walkie talkie to her lips. "Tina said, shame on you, Richie Kincannon."

The walkie talkie chuckled. "Sorry. It's still true, though, so be careful, okay?"

"Okay. See you guys soon."

"About five minutes. Hugs to everyone."

The radio squawked again, and went silent. Marnie stared at it a moment, surprised at how good Richie had sounded. Strong and happy. She knew he had been feeling the weight of things lately. Maybe the road trip had been a boost in more ways than one.

Mike trotted back to his window on the other side, where he could keep an eye on the copse of trees. There was no way to spot the zombie if it sneaked up from the back side of it, but if it started pulling trees down again, they would see it. Marnie circulated around, looking out each window as she went by, but everything outside seemed calm.

A few minutes later they heard the truck, and Marnie crossed back to stand beside Mike. The GMC came into view, moving through the field to one side of the drive, away from the copse of trees. But nothing happened as they came abreast of it, and they passed the danger point and the truck eased back into the drive. A few moments later, it was backing up to park beneath the window.

The passenger door opened, and Richie stepped out onto the running board. He looked about carefully, and then climbed down to the ground. Sherry followed, her Thompson at the ready. The driver's door opened, and Jeremy slid out, followed by Will. The four of them stood quietly for a full minute; listening; and then Richie looked up at the window. "Hi!"

Marnie grinned. "Hi, yourself. Did you bring me something good to read?"

"Absolutely. About eight boxes of good reads, to be exact."

"You get the mannequins?"


"Wait until you see them," Sherry called up. "The girl is kinda cute, but the guy is a real bozo."

The four on the ground laughed. Marnie smiled at how cheerful they all seemed. "Mom talked."

Richie gaped up at her, and the others looked much the same. "Are you serious?"

"Yes. Why don't you guys come inside?"

Richie grinned. "Drop the net for these boxes of books, okay? We'll leave the lovers in the back of the truck for now."

Marnie smiled, and waved one more time. "Glad you guys are home!"

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