I think this is a cute story (as zombie stories go), but it’s never going to sell to a market, so I’m publishing it as part of a brand-spankin’ new, occasional series of Friday fiction pieces. I hope you enjoy reading it.
RUNNING FROM ZOMBIES
Ezra walks like a drunk sailor, or how I think a drunk sailor would walk, because like I have never seen one but I’ve heard that sailors drink a lot and drinking makes people stagger around the way my little brother does, but whatever, Ezra stumbles around the house all the time. Mostly he clings on to furniture if it’s near enough to cling to, but some of the stuff that Mom Two buys on her antiques shopping sprees is really tippy, so then I have to rush up to Ez and make sure that he doesn’t bonk his head or break some fancy Louis XIV chair in the process. It gets tiring, but the extra allowance is worth it. Plus he’s cute, and so when we’re out somewhere like the arcade or the hipster park where everyone beautiful plays lawn Frisbee or whatever the hell it is, people come up to us all agog and shit because Ezra is teetering around, saying “arararar gagagaga Amuhwee” which is some apparently adorable pronunciation of my name, Emily.
Yes, our parents gave their two children E names. It is so awesome being us, let me just say. Actually my original name was not Emily. I had to convince my parents that I was really a girl. It wasn’t easy to get them to believe me, but they’re more or less okay with it now, and I have learned all kinds of ways to be a more patient person. The universe gave me my parents so I would learn how to get what I need, and then it gave me Ezra so I would continue to work out my core muscles. Thanks, universe, for looking out for me.
The phone rings. It’s my friend Iggy who is also trans and a year younger than me. He left his extremely crappy high school because of constant bullying. Iggy is funny as hell lately because he finally started hormones after years on the blockers and now he texts me every time a new chin hair appears. Seriously. I have like 126 texts from him, all about freaking chin hair. Guys are so weird.
“What’s up, Ig?”
“I was going to hang at Gus’s house, you wanna come?”
Gus is one of those kind of asshole, kind of cool dudes you can’t ever pin down. But his parents have a pool and it is close to 100 degrees outside, and he’s willing to hang out with us, which is more than I can say for 98 percent of my high school classmates.
“Well, but I have Ez today. Mom One is in surgery.”
“And where’s the other one?”
“At some fancy furniture store in Oregon, I can’t remember where.”
Iggy sighs into the phone, which I hate because it sounds gross and wet.
“I mean, can you keep him from drowning?” he asks me.
“Do I have the word stupid tattooed on my forehead?”
“I don’t know, because we’re not on video, dude. See you in twenty,” he says. But Iggy doesn’t comprehend punctuality.
I pick up Ezra on my way to my room. Swimsuit, board shorts, protective sun shirt, sunscreen, and then I rush down to the nursery to get Ez’s swim diaper and bright green floppy hat, because nothing says baby like old lady hats and nothing says fun like trying to keep a hat on a baby’s head for more than twelve seconds.
“Gah,” says Ezra, who smiles at the sight of his green and blue shark swimsuit. Ez only has four or five words, but he uses them for 800 different things. Context is key.
He coos at me as I strap him into his little seat that sits behind the rear tire of my bike. If I didn’t have his little carrier we would never go anywhere, and since he’s got his favorite blanket and a bunch of old raisins in there, he loves going on all of our adventures.
Gus’s house is ridiculous, with these huge iron gates that block the roadway, flanked by lions, and you can only get through once someone inside buzzes you in. I could totally climb the gate or the fence, but I did slip once doing it and pierced my right ass cheek.
“Let me in, jackass,” I say into the monitor.
“Screw you, buttwipe,” he replies, and the gates open.
By the time I reach the front door Gus is standing on the top step, a towel thrown over one shoulder like it just happened to land there. He is so clueless. Off in the distance I see Iggy scraping his way through the gates before they close. It’s not until evening that I realize they didn’t shut all the way.
Iggy barrels up to us.
“You daredevil you,” I say.
“I live for the thrill,” he says.
Gus shakes his blond head, his hair is shaved close enough that I can see each individual hair at its sprout point. The haircut is new.
“What’s with the Hitler Youth look, bro,” I ask, and Iggy cracks up.
“I don’t even know why I invite you two clowns over,” says Gus. He actually looks a little defeated, and I feel badly for him. He didn’t ask to be wealthy and beautiful.
“Street cred,” I say, and I pick up Ezra under his armpits, making a beeline for the pool, which is a magnificent creation. It is lined in pretty blue and green glass beads, a mosaic of waves and small fishes, and every time I come over I find a new part of the picture I’ve never noticed before. Gus’s parents clearly spend a lot of time out here because the pool chairs are made of thick canvas and easy to nap in; the large umbrellas keep the sun off in a wide circle and there’s a wet bar out here with its own soda machine and we can splurt out a pop anytime we want one. Being rich is gross and amazing all at the same time.
It’s not long before Gus and Iggy find Ez and me in the shallow end, with Ezra kicking and laughing. Pools are his favorite places.
Iggy calls out a cannonball and a giant wave of water mushrooms over us, splattering the pool deck. Gus shakes his head.
“Be right back, gotta take a piss.”
“What a gentleman,” I say.
Iggy does his best to float quietly on the surface of the water, but as he comes near us he takes aim at me with by splashing at my face. Ez, ever the expert modeler, starts kicking hard and then Iggy is on the defensive, covering his face with his arms.
“Stop, kid, stop it!”
“Don’t talk to him like that,” I say, and at the same time Ezra squeals from all of the fun he’s having.
It’s the scream from inside the house that makes us all jump.
“What the hell,” says Iggy, and he launches himself onto the deck from the side of the pool. But he doesn’t make it into the house before he backs up toward us again. And then he can only talk in a weird low voice that not even his man-hormones have given him before now.
“Em, get out of the pool,” he says.
“What? Why? Where’s Gus?” I don’t even know why the hell I’m asking these questions, but they seem to be all I can manage.
“I’m telling you, get OUT of the POOL,” he growls, and I listen because some part of my lizard brain understands that he’s genuinely afraid to speak any louder. I shush Ezra as I climb back out of the shallow end. Once I’m in the shadow of a big bright umbrella I can see into the house.
Four people are eating Gus.
It takes one second for me to understand the catastrophe in Gus’s great room—a woman looks like she’s face-planted in his chest and when she pulls up her head I see that part of his intestines are hanging out of her mouth, while a grown man is gnawing on one of his feet, another man is chewing what is left of his face, and what looks like a large child or teenager is ripping Gus’s right arm apart with his teeth. It takes half of the next second for me to scream because I can’t unsee any of this, and one more millisecond for me to stifle the sound coming out of my mouth because I know that beyond the complete wrongness of what I’m seeing, I’m in danger, too, and so is Iggy, but oh my god so is Ezra.
Iggy slaps his hand over my mouth to cover up the split second of my howl but it’s too late and not enough, and the crazy killer people all look straight at us, then come barreling toward the floor-to-ceiling windows that line the side of the house between the great room and the pool area.
Holy shit, is all I can think before I pivot and run to the fence beyond the pool. Ez is crying again, only now it sounds far away even though I know he’s still in my arms. His wiggling and arching makes him hard to hold.
“Please Ez, settle down,” I say even though this is ridiculous. My own heart is pounding out of my chest. The people bang against the windows like animals, and I turn and see Iggy yanking an umbrella out of its stand.
He runs up to us, flips the umbrella, and yanks the pole off the fabric.
“What are you doing?”
He says nothing but his eyes look wild.
One large window pane cracks, and then two more whacks later it shatters, looking a little like the mosaic at the bottom of the pool.
“We have to get out of here,” I say, “not joust them!”
Iggy points to the brick wall that stands a few meters past the deck, just beyond the expensive landscaping. I gulp down and balance Ez on my shoulder as I bolt for the wall. It must be seven feet high, so why we’re running to a dead end, I’m not sure. No sooner do I question Iggy’s intelligence than he plants the pole into the grass and flies to the top of the wall like he’s some Olympian. Holding on to the top of the wall, he hoists himself up and then straddles it, leaning over with his arms out for the baby.
Without considering the safety of my brother I hand him up.
The people clambering after us aren’t super-fast because their legs don’t move the right way. But they’re not exactly taking all day to get to us, either.
“I don’t know how to get up there,” I tell Iggy, who has wedged a screaming Ezra between his legs.
“Grab the pole, Em!”
I find the umbrella pole and turn around to see that they’re figuring out how to cross the pool area just fine. I give the end to Iggy and he orders me to climb up.
I don’t have this kind of upper body strength anymore, or at least, not in usual circumstances. But in this life/death moment, my shoulders find a reserve of strength and I make it halfway up the wall where Iggy grabs me and pulls me up. Then the pole clatters to the ground, and the murderers try to claw their way through the brick. We look at them.
Only now do I see how moldy their clothes are, covered in blood and threadbare in places. Their skin is mottled, one woman’s arms are atrophied and I flash back to when I’d gotten a cast removed from my leg after a roller skating accident, when at the time, I could barely move it. She seems pretty capable though, smashing herself into the wall with control, if not athleticism. I get a glimpse of one man’s eyes, and I know instantly several things at once—that his irises are gone, along with most of his eyeballs, that thus he shouldn’t be able to see anything, and that he’s not just a psychopath on a killing spree.
“Iggy, I think they’re dead.”
“Emily, they’re zombies. What the fuck? They’re actual zombies.”
“Don’t swear in front of the baby.” Ezra is grabbing at my shirt, looking for a shred of comfort.
For a moment we’re quiet, stuck. I can’t figure out what to do next. Then one of the people below breaks their arm off banging into the wall, and completely ignores that it’s now lying in the grass.
“Okay, they’re zombies.”
Iggy peers over the wall.
“We’re screwed,” he says.
Instead of asking why—because really, aren’t zombies enough to answer that question—I look at the house and see that it is now overrun with at least two dozen of them. Poor Gus, I think. There must be nothing left of him.
“Look!” Iggy points beyond the wall we’re on. I look over the other side at the fake rolling hills of the golf course. I only see one group of people playing, and they look like they’re actually uh, playing golf. Iggy and I scan don’t see any zombies. But they’re piling up on the wall in Gus’s backyard, and we start to feel the vibrations of their pounding through the stone.
“We have to get out of here,” I say.
Ezra makes a sign for food. I hold him close. All of this scrambling around and we’re only in our bathing suits. I’ve got scrapes on my hands and knees and they hurt.
Iggy jumps up in an entirely imprudent fashion and I realize that he really has taken to this whole androgen thing. At least for once he’s using his muscles and not bragging about them. I scramble after him and we jog down the top of the wall. It’s a few inches wider than a balance beam, thank goodness, because I am not known as Tipsy in phys ed for nothing. Iggy points to a large pond at what I guess is the eighteenth hole of the golf course, because there’s a grandstand behind it, as if anyone would ever come here to watch golfers. I mean, maybe people come here and watch golfers, and maybe other people enjoy watching paint dry.
Iggy leaps off of the wall and careens through the air, flailing his arms and legs in I don’t know, some kind of attempt to fly even though we all know flying isn’t a thing people do very well. Next I’m blowing on Ezra’s face like we do in baby swim class, and he looks at me like he knows not just to hold his breath, but like he knows everything that is going on. The undead killers, the death of the friend we pretend to hate, our scrambling around and the holy shitness of the whole afternoon that has literally, and I mean literally, gone to hell.
I push off the wall as hard as I can, and now that we’re hurtling through the air in what I can say is a completely ungraceful way, and my right shin has already begun reliving the last time it broke in two places in a painful V fracture, I want to take back the decision but honestly, I’d rather start the whole day over. I don’t know why there are zombies, or why jumping off a wall into green algae seems like my best option, or how long we can keep running with no shoes on and a small toddler to haul around, but as I break the surface of the water I feel little Ezra’s fingers clasp my shirt, and I shut my eyes to stop the tears.
Then we’re back above water and I’m crying as Ez giggles in my ear. I seem to be in one piece, and Iggy has found a golf cart for us. We rush into it, and I strap Ez to the seat, grateful for a moment to catch my breath. I look back at the brick wall and see only ivy and mortar and stone and for too short a time I can pretend that we’ve just been having some elaborate dangerous fantasy.
“Hey!” yells a groundskeeper who has managed to be completely unaware that the world is in jeopardy.
“Get in,” says Iggy, circling back for him.
He tries to take the wheel from Iggy, who tells him to sit down in the last of the four vinyl seats.
“You can’t just steal a cart, son,” says the guy, and it’s then that we hear the moaning and a section of the wall crumbles. Sixty people fall over themselves and stagger onto the rough of the golf course.
“Oh yes I can,” says Iggy, and he floors it so now we’re going at a not-fast-enough clip of ten miles an hour or so.
Groundskeeper looks back, trying to understand the mound of moaning people. He looks tidy for someone who works in dirt all day, with his light brown button down shirt tucked in to his belted pants, and his fitted baseball cap resting perfectly on his head. He’s got a farmer tan, his forearms a few shades darker than the caramel tone on the rest of him. Small wireframe glasses look weightless on the bridge of his nose and his tan work boots are worn but clean. It doesn’t look like a lot has ever interrupted his world before, but I’m not a good judge of people.
“What the hell?”
“We can explain later,” I say, as we cruise along the paved paths.
It seems easier to make introductions.
“I’m Emily, and this is my friend Iggy, and this is my little brother, Ezra.”
He looks only behind us, at the zombies who are now ruining his careful gardening.
“I’m Greg,” he says, in a daze. He pushes his glasses up his nose.
“What’s wrong with them?” he asks, not taking his eyes off of the dead people.
“They’re zombies,” says Iggy, skeetering around a turn behind the country club pool house.
“Zommies,” says Ezra.
“Where can we go that’s safe around here?” asks Iggy.
“Safe?” asks Greg.
“You know, that’s strong and where there aren’t many people,” I add, trying to be helpful. Greg is maybe not worth dragging along with us, but I can’t see leaving him, not after what happened to Gus.
“You need to snap out of it, man.”
“Okay,” he says, straightening up and blinking.
“Turn right, go down that hill. Holy shit, are those people eating her?”
“Don’t look at the zombies, Greg.” I say. “Just tell us where to go.”
“Okay,” he says, and he tells Iggy to turn left, go down this path, and then we’re at some strange building half-buried in the slant of a hill.
“What is this,” asks Iggy, jumping out of the cart.
“It’s a fallout shelter,” says Greg.
“It’s locked.” Iggy is jiggling the handle but the door is stuck tight.
“I’m one of two people on the whole course with a key.”
“Who’s the other person?” I ask.
“Uh, she was being eaten,” says Greg. He’s coming around and I feel sorry about that.
He pulls a huge key ring out from a retractable cord attached to his belt, and starts sorting through them. I hope he knows which key it is before mummyland catches up with us.
I hold Ezra tight. Hang in there, baby. He grumbles in my arms and rubs his eyes. I realize we smell really bad from the pond dunk.
The door scrapes open and I am almost grateful how musty it is inside. Not a pleasant smell, but better than us. I look around for zombies and don’t see any, and finally remember my phone at Gus’s house.
Greg clamps down the door, sliding a heavy metal bar across the doorframe.
“I wish I could call my moms,” I say.
“There’s no signal in here anyway,” says Greg. Ezra is crying, loud. Two lights cover this main room, which is not much more than a couple of cots and shelves that line the length of the space, most of which is army green. I see a toilet in the corner. I guess privacy isn’t much of a concern during a nuclear holocaust.
“Do you have a phone,” I ask Greg.
“It’s a fallout shelter, girl, we’re inside four-foot thick concrete walls.”
I roll my eyes at him because he just wrote me off, but I stand my ground.
“Isn’t it worth trying?”
Greg sighs and pulls a phone out of his pocket. I notice he has the screen lock on. Guess you just can’t trust the country club set.
“Nope, no signal,” he says, staring at it for a few seconds before he shuts off the phone.
“You can put the baby down now,” says Iggy.
“I can’t put him down, look at him. Is there any food in here? I think he’s hungry.”
“Next room,” says Greg, who shuffles past the interior door.
“This is a hell of a luxe bomb shelter,” says Iggy, looking around the quarters. He runs a hand over the comforter on the cot that sticks out of the wall and flops down on it.
“Pretty sure these sheets are nicer than mine at home.”
“Dude, foster care isn’t known for the amenities.”
“Shit, ain’t that the truth.”
“Shi,” says Ezra.
“I told you, no cursing!”
Iggy sighs. “Sorry.”
“What are we going to do? We’re talking about sheets and it’s like the end of the world out there. I want to know where my moms are.”
“I don’t know what to do, Emily.”
“I do,” says Greg, walking into our room with a handful of stuff. He’s got a radio, bottled water, some green boxes, a pile of blue shirts, and a teddy bear of all things. Ezra right away makes a pinching motion for the bear, his cries shifting into snuffles.
“This fallout shelter thing is weird,” I say. I find a kid’s shirt that mostly fits Ezra, and another for myself.
“It’s cool as hell,” says Iggy, now bouncing on the cot.
Greg flashes Iggy a little grin that looks like pity, but Iggy is too excited about the box of rations to notice. I’m worried, meanwhile.
“Our phones didn’t work, so why would the radio?”
“Totally different frequency system,” says Greg. There’s more to this guy than impeccable dressing standards. Who is he?
He clicks it on. Like everything else in here, it’s army green and surplus issue. I used to love hanging out in army-navy surplus stores before I transitioned, and I still think they’re cool, but I haven’t gone since I started hormones. A bunch of static and then through the crackling:
… counties are under a mandatory curfew from the governor’s office—Yolo, Placer, and Sacramento. Please shelter in place and wait for further word from the California State Government. Repeat, the following counties are under a mandatory curfew…
“Well, that’s us,” says Iggy, sighing again.
“Yes, but it isn’t everyone,” I say. It’s not Mom Two, Meredith, because she went to Bend for the day. But Mom One is probably at the hospital. I’m still worried but I decide I can handle it, mostly.
I look over and Ez is eating a chocolate bar.
“They seriously have candy in here?”
“Oh sure,” says Greg, who has a little smile at the corners of his mouth, having just fed a toddler chocolate without—ahem—consulting his caregiver. “Back in the day everyone had a fallout shelter. The President told us to build them, and we did, and we put all of the stuff in them that we thought we’d need.”
“That’s uh, some old chocolate.”
“The course manager liked to keep things fresh in here. She was one of those doomsday preppers.”
“Dang, and she got eaten in the first hour? That sucks,” says Iggy.
“How long were people supposed to live in these?” I ask Greg. “They seem a little…overstocked?”
“Well, this one is for a lot of people, so it’s got a lot of supplies. But two weeks or so.”
Iggy stands up, stretches, points at Ezra’s chocolate covered face and hands. For his part Ezra is thrilled with his situation.
“At least he doesn’t understand what’s going on,” says Iggy.
“He does and he doesn’t,” says Greg, who reaches down to tousle Ez’s short halo of brown hair. Ezra giggles in response.
“He’s really cute,” says Greg.
A loud bang ends our moment of chocolate happiness. Greg rushes to the door, moving faster than I’d think someone his age could manage.
He puts his ear on the metal door.
“You can’t hear anything through there,” I say.
More banging, insistent. Ezra starts crying again, and crawls over to me, leaving a trail of chocolate on the concrete floor. I pick him up and squeeze him.
Greg makes a move to release the slide bolt from the door. I yell at him.
“Stop! Don’t do that!”
“I think it’s a person,” he says.
“I don’t care if it’s a person! Those things are out there!”
Greg stands aside, looks at me shocked while the pounding continues.
“Don’t you have a heart?”
“We have hearts, and those zombies want to eat them,” yells Iggy.
“Guys, we have to see…I think it’s a person. Like an actual person!”
Without any further discussion he opens the door.
An older white man rushes into the room.
“Close it, close it, close it!” he says, and Greg complies. I immediately decide I don’t like him, nor his yellow polo shirt and plaid golfing pants. His cleats click on the floor. Plus with all of his apparent money nobody has told him that wraparound hairdos are a fashion no-no.
Greg slams the door and throws the metal bolt behind the clasps.
“Oh my God,” he says, panting. “What are those things?” He turns to face the door as if it’s not made of lead-lined, nuclear-repelling atomic whatsafiggies. Like I’m pretty sure Clark fucking Kent can’t see through this door, jackass.
“They’re zombies, duh,” says Iggy, and I have never felt such fondness for him as I do right now.
Captain Wraparound ignores Iggy, staring only at the shelter door and Greg, who has slowly backed away from him. I see that Greg has started shaking a little.
I pull Ezra to my hip, smelling a tiny waft of chocolate along with pond scum. I realize I’m scanning the room for any kind of weapon, because the hairs on the back of my neck tingle.
Mr. Golf Pants keeps panting and muttering. Greg points in the smallest way at the man’s midsection, and I have to sidestep a few inches to get a better angle, but then I see that there’s a tear in his polo shirt and a spreading line of maroon.
“They got you?” asks Greg about as casually as one can inquire during the zombie apocalypse.
Iggy who has been fuming about the man’s incredulousness snaps to attention, and I try to point with my eyes at a plunger that sits mostly behind the toilet in the corner. He gives me a subtle nod, and while Greg is conversing with Bleeding Plaid Man, Iggy gets the plunger in his hand and tucks it behind his shoulder blades.
“What?” asks the golfer, who even though he may not be ready to accept his injury, has put one of his hands over the spot.
“Your shirt…” says Greg, as he backs up two steps.
It isn’t far enough.
In a blink Mr. Ugly Pants turns freakazoid and screams, lunging at Greg, trying to rip out his throat with his teeth. But Greg fixes his palms on the man’s shoulders and holds him off, looking like Ripley in Alien 3, complete with the streaming saliva.
“Now, Iggy!” I shout.
Iggy plants the plunger on Dead Golfer’s growling face, shoving him into the door. Or the lock bar, more precisely, because his cleats have slipped out from under him and his head has made a beeline for the bar.
A loud crack bounces around the room and I spend a second shocked that skulls aren’t tougher than a metal rod, but this is a ridiculous thought and I need to get back to what I should do next, so I look away from the goo sloshing down to the floor. Ezra of course is screaming and I try to cover his eyes with one hand as I pivot back to Iggy. Newbie zombie, between losing his brains and you know, just now becoming one of the undead, can’t seem to figure out why there’s a big suction cup on his face.
Iggy asks Greg if he’s been wounded, and Greg shakes his head, moving to release the lock.
“Don’t touch the goo,” I say, completely unhelpfully.
We are not stopping to think about what else is right outside, if the golf cart is there, if we’re opening Pandora’s stupid box, but none of us needs to be convinced that getting out is better than being stuck in a fallout shelter with grumbling hungry zombie, especially if he has the gall to wear plaid pants in the afterlife.
Greg grapples with the bar and then Plaid McPlaiderson scrambles back to his feet and hurls himself at Greg again. So I trip him. This time the golfer runs into the wall, sliding down in a groan, leaving a narrow strip of blood and snot behind on the concrete. Back outside we hear moaning and screaming from all around us, but for the moment we don’t see anyone. Greg checks the cart, which looks just as we left it a couple of hours ago or however long it’s been.
“Seems okay,” he says, motioning for us to jump in.
I’m worried about Ezra and then I remember we’re back outside.
“Give me your phone, Greg,” I say, holding out my hand.
He unlocks it again and it gets warm as it searches for a signal. And then:
EMERGENCY ALERT: Gangs of criminals at large in Yuba, Sutter, Placer, Yolo, Sacramento, and El Dorado Counties. Curfew in effect. More information to come.
A bright red button underneath reads:
I push the button and Greg speeds away. Iggy points off in the distance.
We look back toward the driving range on the side of the golf course and see three older men in golf gear limping toward us.
I look at my phone. It’s ringing 911. Ringing. Still ringing.
“I think they’re a little busy,” says Iggy, scanning for more zombies.
I try to call Mom One. There’s a beep and a voice message: “System busy.”
Mom Two. Same result. I really hope they’re okay. I try not to think of every sweet memory we’ve ever had together in the last seventeen years.
“So, any ideas on where to go?” I ask.
Greg shakes his head.
“The fallout shelter was my best idea.”
“It was a fine place until you let that asshole inside,” says Iggy.
“You know, I’m doing my best, kid,” says Greg.
“Hey,” says Iggy, “we should go to the reservoir!”
“Are you kidding?” I ask. “That place is huge. It’s got to be swarming with zombies.”
“It’s totally closed off, chained up, nobody is allowed in there except the crew and they only go in there like…like not often.”
“How do you know all this?”
“Three or four families ago, the dad worked for the water department.”
“Wow. Way to go, foster system for once. But how do we get in?”
Iggy smiles and gets this champion look in his eyes.
“Titanium golf clubs are probably strong enough to break the chain at the gate.”
“Of course,” I say. “Titanium golf clubs.”
I look at the back of the cart.
“And there they are.”
A zombie lurches at us from the sidewalk, and Greg swerves hard to avoid him.
“Dude, drive faster,” Iggy says.
“This is as fast as it goes.”
Iggy stares behind us, which makes me turn to look.
There are at least fifty zombies running after us. Arms outstretched, full Thriller mode, groaning and making their way up the street.
The reservoir is past the next hill.
“So, even if it’s empty now, it will be full of zombies as we lead them there,” I say.
“Point taken,” says Iggy. “But at least we can drown them this way.”
“Sure, and never drink the water again,” says Greg. “I’ve got a better idea.”
“Oh, better than the country club fallout shelter?” says Iggy.
Greg grunts in response.
Our golf cart hums along. Now that we’re heading downhill, we pick up a little speed. The zombies, not so much. Ezra points at them. I cover his eyes with my hand but he’s strong and he pushes me away easily. I wonder what kind of emotional damage this is doing to him.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“The hills,” says Greg, and then he pauses. “But we need something other than this to get there.”
Iggy taps Greg on the shoulder.
“Pull over here, next to that Suburban.”
“Just do it already! Jesus!”
Greg growls, but pulls over. I wonder if he’s thinking he hates getting bossed around by two trans kids and their youngling, but whatever.
Iggy leaps out of the cart, runs to the driver side door and checks to see if it’s locked. It opens.
“Dang, and I was gonna break the window and everything.” He genuinely looks disappointed.
Iggy waves at us to get in. I have a pang of guilt because there’s no car seat, but I figure the rules are a teensy bit suspended today. He clicks the unlock for all the doors and we hop inside, Greg running around to the front passenger seat, me and Ezra climbing in the back. By the time I strap us in Iggy has pulled out the starter wires from the console and I hear the engine turn over.
“Gone in ten seconds,” he triumphs.
“You’re a criminal,” says Greg, buckling in.
“Please. I’m not a criminal.”
He speeds off toward the mountains to our east.
“It’s the system that’s criminal!”
“Where are we going,” asks Iggy, already pulling away from the curb.
“The fracking wells,” Greg answers. “You know where I mean?”
“Down on Butte? Sure, I know where you mean. There’s a fence and monitors and stuff, though.”
“I don’t think those will stop you,” says Greg and I think they may be bonding? Ugh, boys.
Up ahead of us are seven or eight zombies, these in nice-ish suits.
Iggy plows right through and a couple of them fly up in the air, landing behind us in dull splats, a greenish, reddish muck spewing out of them all across the roadway. The rest we mow right over.
I ask Greg for his phone again, which he still hasn’t reached for the whole afternoon. He chucks it back to me. I dial Mom One and it actually rings.
“Emily? Emily, are you okay?”
“Mom!” Tears flood my eyes and instantly my nose is stuffed with snot. Terrrific.
“We’re okay, I’ve got Ezra, he’s okay. We’re uh, trying to lose the trail of these things. Where are you?”
“I’m on the roof of the hospital along with the most of the staff. We’re okay. We managed to get some of the patients up here with us. But … we couldn’t get them all.”
She’s talking through tears. I can’t remember the last time Mom One cried. Mom Two is all mush and sobs over long distance commercials. But Mom One is a surgical nurse and a rod of steel.
“I haven’t gotten through to Mom Two yet.”
“I talked to her, my phone keeps cutting out. She’s still in Oregon. This crap isn’t happening where she is.”
Well thank Xena for small favors.
“Do you … have a plan?”
“We’re waiting for the National Guard to come to the helicopter pad. They’re going to take us to 63rd Regional …” The phone cuts out.
“Mom? Mom? Mom!”
“She said she was going to be airlifted to 63rd-something.”
“63rd Regional Support Command,” says Greg. “It’s near San Jose.”
“You’re a font of information. How do you know that?”
Greg makes a flat smile.
“I was Army.”
Iggy weaves around one random zombie who has managed to lose both of his legs below the knees, so he is pulling himself along by his beat up fingers. On the side of the road we see a small girl, crying. Without thinking I look her over for blood, guts, or signs of impending zombification.
“Pull over,” I tell Iggy.
He mutters but stops the car. I push past Ezra and burst out the passenger side door, and run over to her. The hot asphalt hurts my feet.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
“Did anyone cut or bite you?”
She shakes her head. Her black hair is a mess, much of it in her face. I push it aside and see she’s sweaty but unhurt.
“Come with us, we’ll keep you safe.”
That’s all it takes and she practically leaps into the car. I run around to my side and get in, closing the door right before another zombie throws himself at the glass. He’s too dumb to realize the structure of human mouths don’t lend themselves to biting through windows.
“Okay, you can drive now,” I say.
Iggy speeds off, and now everything on the other side of the window is filtered through a streak of zombie gore.
Greg’s phone buzzes.
EMERGENCY ALERT: The public is under mandatory evacuation orders to leave the city limits of Sacramento before 6:00PM PST.
“Huh,” I say, as I tell the others about the message. The little girl looks terrified.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“Rosa,” she says.
“What a nice name, I’m Emily!”
She gives me a smile, then it fades.
Iggy passes Sunshine at the edge of the city. Then we’re peeling onto a service road that leads to the dusty highway into the hills.
“Where are your parents?”
“No say. Yo estaba en el apartamento de mi abuelita cuando llegaron las personas enojadas.”
The angry people, she calls them. She buries her head in my arm, so I pat her back and feel useless. I can’t imagine seeing my grandma get killed by zombies.
“What is our ultimate plan here,” asks Greg as we speed away. It’s weird there aren’t more cars out here. Maybe everyone is evacuating in a different direction than us.
“Well, I want to get my GED, and then apply for community college, and get some vocational training or maybe an apprenticeship to a trade,” says Iggy.
It doesn’t escape me that Greg hasn’t noticed all day that either of us is trans. I guess all we needed to pass was a small-scale zombie epidemic.
We drive by a small airport. I see a lot of blood, a few dead bodies, and hear some groaning, but no zombies in sight. Then Iggy makes another turn, and we come to the fence that blocks off the natural gas reserves.
“Okay, here we are,” he says like he’s a tour announcer and these are the Hollywood Hills.
I look around. No zombies. No people. No bird noises. No grass. No water. This is a decidedly unattractive stretch of earth. Stuff seems mostly dead, and not from what’s been going on today. Like, it’s been dead for a while here.
“This place is a shithole.”
I open the door for Rosa and lift Ezra out of the car. After some hesitation, Greg and Iggy exit, too, and we wind up standing behind the idling SUV, looking back at the city.
Iggy’s plan is to set the fracking well on fire and cut us off from the zombie brigade. If there were one.
“Well, I’m not sure we need to blow anything up,” says Greg, looking around.
“I guess we can get to Mount Aukum and wait until the government does whatever it is it’s going to do to end this,” I say. Like hey, it seems that once again we’re totally inconsequential, but then again, maybe there’s something to be said for not having to figure out all of the world’s problems oneself.
Greg’s phone buzzes in my hand. It’s Mom Two.
“Mom gave me this number, is this Emily? Emily?”
“Hi, Mom! You’re okay?”
“Yes, but you need to get out of the city, now!”
“We did. We’re maybe twenty miles away?”
“Go farther if you can. You need to hurry.”
I put my hand over the speaker.
“Mom Two says we need to get further away.”
“They’re going to bomb the city,” says Greg.
“You’re okay, Mom?”
“Yes, honey, I’m fine. Please, keep going, get as far as you can.”
Silence. I yell into the phone for Mom Two but again the call has dropped. I try the star-69 and get a strange beeping tone in response.
“How do you know?” Iggy asks him, but Ig is already running to the car. Ezra protests about going for another car ride, but once again, I’m ignoring him. Good thing we have such a great relationship, because I’m calling in all my favors today.
Greg runs to the driver’s side and motions for Iggy to get in on the passenger side. There’s no time to complain, and once our asses hit the seats Greg peels out toward the mountain. I kind of wish I’d taken the time to learn to drive, but cars are planet killers. Instead I think about the city: the carefully lined up palm trees, the grand Spanish architecture, the colorful markets spilling over with fresh fruit. My home. I stare out the bloody window at the dusty mountainside and Rosa takes my hand. I give her a little smile. I’m not sure which of us is comforting the other.
“What we really need to do is get to the other side of the peak so we’re not in the valley anymore,” Greg says as we bump along.
“Okay, so you’re not just a groundskeeper former Army dude,” I say.
“There is nothing undignified about being a groundskeeper, girl, but I was Army, yes. Did three tours in Iraq. Worked in counterterrorism.”
The phone buzzes again.
EMERGENCY ALERT: Fifteen minutes until mandatory evacuation order is in effect. The public must leave the city limits of Sacramento before 6:00PM PST.
“They’re going to kill anyone still in the city. How can they do that?” I can’t believe our government would just drop a bomb on us.
“They must think there’s no other way,” says Greg. “Half a million people in Sacramento, seven million in the Bay Area. That’s what they’re trying to protect.”
“Fuck everything,” Up in front, Iggy is crying.
It’s too much. We’re freaking kids. Is my mom at the air base? I bang on the phone but it doesn’t connect.
Three minutes before six we are up at the top of the ridge, and Greg pulls over, the car still idling.
We get out and stare through the haze at the city. Who thought this was the best solution? Did everybody get out?
Up in the sky are five shiny large planes in a big V. Their wingspans are enormous.
“I can’t believe our own government would do this!” My whole body is shaking.
“I can,” says Iggy. We stand in a line on the roadway’s edge, me and Iggy still in bare feet.
“B-52s,” says Greg. “Here we go.”
The bombs fall silently in little lines, like they’re chasing each other. I cover up Ezra’s eyes and he cries at me and tries to yank my hand away so I hold his head in the middle of my chest and face away from the city.
We only hear a dull roar as the bombs hit the ground. The people, the houses, the my house, whole neighborhoods. Citrus Heights. Arden-Arcade. Curtis Park. Colonial Heights. Folsom. They’re gone, it’s all gone, we’re gone.
Rosa tugs on my board shorts. I pick her up, so now I’m holding two small kids as if I am a protective adult.
I am an adult.
The rumbling comes to an end and I look over at Iggy and Greg.
“I fucking hated that city,” says Iggy. “But it was home, too.”
Greg is crying, the first actual emotion I’ve seen from him all afternoon.
Fires sprout in columns across the valley and the skyline is so different I can’t pick out specific blocks I should know. I walk slowly back to the car with the small ones. I don’t know what happens tomorrow.
“We have to keep driving,” I say.