I've heard it said that without serendipity, the human race would have never evolved beyond the spear-chucking, cave-huddling stage we went through umpteen million years ago. What is serendipity, you might be asking? (If you are, you shoulda paid more attention in school . . . then again, the zombies kinda called a permanent recess when they began eating everyone.) It's been called digging for worms and finding gold, which is close enough most of the time. The trick is to keep digging, but this time look for the gold, not the worms.
Anyhoo, I got my crack at the gold in the form of my neighbot, one Harold M. Jones. Oops, I meant to say "neighbor." Heh. He always was kinda stiff and mechanical . . . most of the time.
Y'see, Harold was a worrier, much like his grandpa a few generations ago. The old man had built a bomb shelter, disturbing a whole bunch of worms. When things got less tense (and grandpa got shipped off to an old folks home), the kids took it over as clubhouse until Billy Wiggins fell down the steps and managed to break BOTH his arms. Harold's pop locked the thing up on the grounds that not only was it too dangerous, is was too deep to make into a decent storage room. That ended matters until Harold came over last year with a look in his eye that on most people would seem like mild interest, but I knew was hoppin'-barefoot-on-summer-blacktop excitement for him.
"Forrest, have you heard anything about Y2K?", he asked, his voice barely rising above normal tone. (And if you even THINK about saying the "G" word, I'll show you that fifty years just means that I'm fifty years meaner than the nasty cuss my poor mother gave birth to.)
"If there are people on MARS, they've heard about it, Harold."
"Ummm, yeah. Well, I've made some preparations. Cleaned out the old shelter, put in food, water, batteries -- stuff like that.
He seemed startled by the idea. "Guns? I mean, do you think that's necessary?"
"Son, if you are going to all the effort of trucking hundreds of pounds . . . "
"Thousands." (I told you he was a worrier.)
" . . . thousands of pounds of stuff down some narrow stairs, you must think someone will be coming after it. This millennial bug isn't like a blizzard, Harold. If it was, you could just keep your supplies in your garage. It's about people. What you are hedging against is that when food runs out, somebody is going to try to take your stuff."
"I guess you're right, I hadn't thought it all the way through." He turned away with a thoughtful expression on his face, then turned back and asked, "How are you getting ready?"
"I have a case of Jack Daniels in the house, plus a bottle of champagne."
A grin appeared on his face suddenly, "No guns?"
"Son, I always have some guns around the house."
A few days later, he dropped off a key to his newly redecorated shelter. " . . . just in case."
Well, the whole Nemesis thing fit well enough into Harold's plans. Hell, the shelter was arguably better against that than the atomic bomb or hordes of pate-deprived yuppies.
Y2K came and went with barely a whimper, overshadowed by the whole "rouge comet destroys humanity" ruckus. Half the human race got real religious and the other half decided to throw the most hellacious party of all time. But everyone was glued to their tubes to see if the rockets would wipe out Nemesis.
I kept a bottle handy figuring that I'd use it one way or the other. Bang! Comet gets busted up.
Glug, glug! Forrest takes a nap. The next thing I remember, Harold shaking me awake.
"Jesus Christ, Forrest, wake up!" His voice was full of panic and the first thing I remember thinking was, "That's doesn't sound like Harold." The next was, "If this headache doesn't kill me, he's a dead man."
The terror-stricken look on his face got me awake in a hurry, though. "What the hell is wrong with you!" I bellowed.
< FONT SIZE="3">"We have to get to the shelter before They get here!"
Despite outweighing him by forty pounds, he managed to get me off my bed and halfway to the door before I planted my heels.
"Damnit, Harold! Who's coming? The IRS? The commies? The yuppies?"
With a look of dread that drained the remaining bit of color from his face, he whispered, "The zombies."
A smartass reply was coming to my lips when a dull, rhythmic pounding started on my front door. I shrugged him off and peeked out the window and stared chaos in the face.
Dozens of people --zombies -- were staggering through the street. A few I recognized, while others had been in the ground awhile. At first I thought it might be some elaborate joke cooked up by people who had been driven around the bend by the tension of the past year.
Then I saw someone burst from behind a bush. It was Amy Wilkins, a thirty-something mother who lived across the street. I was about to call to her, when on e of the zombies, an old one that was missing an arm and dressed in a very dirty black suit, grabbed her and managed to tear out her throat with one bite. She twitched once as the now blood-splattered thing began to feed on her.
I carefully closed the window and then dived for my closet. "Harold," I whispered, "close and lock my bedroom door." Despite his fear-widened eyes, he managed to force himself to quietly shut and lock the thing.
A moment later, a thunderous crash announced that my front door was no longer occupying its usual position.
"Damnit, I hoped it would hold longer that that." I dragged out a shotgun and two boxes of shells and thrust them at Harold while I strapped on a gunbelt and shoved some ammo into a pillowcase.
As if soothed by my taking charge, Harold immediately calmed down, checked to see if the shotgun was loaded and then took off the safety.
Surprised, I asked, "You know how to shoot?"
He nodded, &qu ot;I've been taking lessons. Shotguns seemed the easiest."
"We'll see if you got your money's worth soon enough."
The crashing downstairs began to get closer as the monsters discovered the stairs and began to climb.
"Help me with this and we'll see if we can make it to the shelter." Together, we pushed a heavy bureau in front of the door just in time to hear something try to break its way in. The flimsy interior door only took two hits before a worm-eaten face and arm became visible. The zombie tried to crawl in. I dropped back and Harold fell to the floor in shock. The stench was incredible and the blood splashed around its mouth didn't help any.
Old reflexes took over and I shot it twice in the face. Its head exploded nicely. Good news.
The sounds from outside the room (and window) became louder and more focused. Not so good news.
"Out the window!" I yelled and beat him to it. I kicked out the air conditioner and watched with no small amusement as it knocked off a zombie that had been climbing my trellis. The air conditioner landed on the thing and by the wet crunch, I guessed that its ribcage was crushed. It was still moving though, and began to drag itself to its feet. Only then did I notice it was Amy Wilkins. Shit.
My first shot hit her in the shoulder, but didn't slow her down much. The next hit her between the eyes which seemed to work much better.
"Go for the head, Harold! And cover me!" I heaved myself out the window, not waiting to see whether he had heard me. Waitin' that long can make you dead, y'know?
The shotgun went off twice when I was halfway down, almost causing me to fall onto what was left of Amy. On top of my chain link fence was another freakin' zombie. Or rather, two halves of one, momentarily caught on the wire. Harold finished it off as I got to the ground, and then gave me a grin before he slung the shotgun and clambered out the window.
I kept a sharp eye out and had to take down another one. By this time, the noise had attracted more. A lot more. Ha rold gave out a cry and I was forced to turn around and look up.
One of damned things, formerly a local teen, was leaning out the window and trying to drag Harold back in by the strap of the shotgun. I cussed and shot at it. My slug hit its elbow, causing it to lose its grip. This let Harold rip himself free and fall to the ground, while the zombie fell back into the room. Unfortunately, the thing took the shotgun with it. Frankly, I was happier when they had just been vandalizing my mailbox.
"Get up, Harold! They're starting to swarm worse than lawyers at a fifty car pileup!" Four more shots and two more zombies later, he managed to drag himself to his feet. He broke toward his house in a staggering run, not unlike that of the monsters following us. I tried to count how many bullets I had left. Sure, I had plenty in the pillowcase, but you try and reload while running for your life.
Well, to make a long run short, we must've had fifty of the things behind us by the time we made it to Harold's house. I saved my bullets for the ones in front and we barely made it into his yard with the pa ck slavering (literally) at our heels. I slammed the door of his high fence and yelled, "We got maybe a minute, get the shelter open!"
He was already on his way when he skidded to a halt. Sammy Thompson, our local paperboy was between us and the shelter. By the odd angle of his neck and his lack of obvious wounds, I guessed that he had climbed the fence and had fallen. I raised my gun and pulled the trigger, but the hammer came down on an empty chamber. Before I could even start cursing, Sammy was on top of me.
Damn, but he was strong! The old Sammy I could've broken with one hand, but I could barely keep this one away from jugular. His hands were wrapped around my head and I could feel my blood throbbing as the pressure increased and his teeth inched toward my face.
A shadow covered us, which Sammy ignored . . . until a ten-pound sledgehammer smashed into his head. Harold kept pounding on the corpse, while Sammy's blood splattered all over his clothes. There was a manic look in his eye that I remember from the war, and I had to physically drag him away.
We staggered the last few yards to the shelter when he said in a dull voice, "Oh, shit."
I risked a look around and saw what he meant. Over every side of the fence, there were corpses on the move. "Get the door open! Now, soldier!" I yelled. Something in my tone must've gotten through to him because he became animated again and began to frantically unlock the thing with fumbling fingers. His hands shook so badly, it sounded like he was ringing a bunch of really crappy bells.
The next few minutes were a blur. I kept reloading and firing, reloading and firing. At first, I almost thought I could hold them off. Corpses (unmoving ones, that is) were piled around the fence.
Then the gate broke in.
Dozens of the things rushed me. I had just enough time to slam one bullet into the clip and raise the gun to my head. I'd be godDAMNED if I was going to be eaten by those things!
Just as I steeled myself to fire, I felt someone pull me back into the darkness and the hollow thud as the door was shut behind us. The pounding of the undead was eerily quiet through the thick door . . . easily drowned out our harsh panting.
A light came on as soon as the door closed and I saw that it had automatically locked as well. Harold pulled a big steel bar out of the wall, further securing it. Without a word, we both walked down the stairs (with what looked like a new handrail and non-skid treads on the steps).
Down below, there was a surprisingly comfortable room. Yeah, there was stuff piled up everywhere, but there was also a couch and entertainment center. When I looked at it, Harold just shrugged, "If I was going to be down here awhile, it'd suck to go crazy with boredom."
I plopped down in the couch. "All the comforts of home, eh?" I began to laugh, which set him off. We must've gone on like that for fifteen solid minutes until we finally ran down and the adrenaline washed out of our system.
When I had recovered my breath, I leaned back and grinned, "The only thing I'm missing is the rest of my case of booze."
Harold chuckled and pointed across the room. I'd be damned if it wasn't a case of Jack Daniels and a bottle of champagne!
I wound up with plenty of smooth Kentuky gold, when I had just been hoping to stay alive.
Like I said, serendipity.
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