11: Eating the Living
I’m a woman.
That means I break hard and mend like a motherfucker;
all sexy and full of heartbreakingly beautiful scars.
Instead of leading, Lisa trailed her new family. They’d slowly changed over the past several weeks since she led them from the home where her parents died. Now, they were edgy, easily distracted and continually searching. They still enjoyed her singing and, given enough prompting, didn’t object to her directions, but they behaved differently. Their heads would swivel at the slightest disturbance and they kept surveying their surroundings. Lisa knew precisely what they sought. She’d witnessed this behavior, just before she and her parents were attacked. It meant they were hunting human flesh, and as the only living human within sight, she felt exposed and vulnerable.
They continued to feed on bugs and small critters each night, and often during the day, but it didn’t seem to be enough. The longer since they last fed—on Lisa’s own parents—the more skittish they became. Uneasy about her standing, she tagged along partially to see what they did, but also to help prevent them from doing something she might regret.
Despite her precarious position, they not only continued to ignore her as a food source, but valued her attention. She wasn’t sure why they hadn’t attacked or when her luck might turn, but she realized she couldn’t survive without their assistance. She was concerned with what they might do. More than anything else, she felt responsible, viewing them as helpless but dangerous children who couldn’t be trusted on their own, no matter her personal risk.
Whenever they witnessed a living creature, a squirrel on a branch or a bird overhead, they’d lunge forward, rushing ahead as they scurried for it. Starting so far back, they never caught one; however she realized they were hunting larger, slower game.
With her zombies leading, Lisa merely followed as they revealed their true nature: that of stealthy hunter. They’d stop, turn their heads up, sniffing the air. She assumed they smelled blood. It was long rumored the undead could detect the blood of the living from a distance, and now she witnessed it personally. She continued singing to keep them calm and warn anyone nearby there was someone afoot. She didn’t understand why they didn’t turn on her, but since they’d accepted her, they never once questioned whether she belonged.
They followed an old deer trail—overgrown and little used—when they froze, turned their heads and sniffed again. With no additional warning, they broke into a run. Lisa took off after them, hoping to intercede—dreading what she might discover.
As the zombies spread out amongst the trees, someone yelled. Moments later the unmistakable sound of a gunshot rang out. The moment Lisa dreaded was at hand. She almost wished they’d turn on her rather than make her a part of the murder and dismemberment of other humans. However, whatever she desired, she was one of them now.
Still running forward, she saw three of her companions attacking another of their kind, the one who’d been shot. She then realized that, even if she was accepted—blood is blood. If she were injured, she’d likely be killed.
The others rushed ahead as she attempted to keep up without knowing where they were heading. She heard a commotion, and coming around a bend, saw an abandoned house with a vehicle parked in front and a woman running for the front door.
“Hurry, Mom, you can make it!” a small boy yelled—which excited the undead more. The woman glanced back, stopped and turned to face the approaching zombies as she shouted.
“Close and bolt the door! Don’t you dare unlock it.”
Though she couldn’t see them, they waited momentarily, before doing as she demanded, slamming the door with a deadly finality. The woman knelt, her back against a planter, aiming her pistol. She fired once. It missed and she paused to fire again, striking Baldy. He halted, but apparently wasn’t injured enough to attract the others’ attention. They continued rushing forward.
Standing her ground, she continued firing a couple seconds apart. Lisa saw her friends struck, but none were killed and they never turned on one another. Now that they’d identified their prey, they wouldn’t be denied.
“No!” Lisa shouted. The vehemence of her cry caused the zombies to turn, hesitating, during which the woman fired, striking Green Shirt, who twitched. Their attention refocused, they ran after their goal once again. She fired again, hitting one of Lisa’s companions. Pausing, Lisa changed tactics, singing out. “Nooo! Dooon!” but to no avail. The woman shot twice more, missing both times, and they descended on her.
As thoughtful and carefree as they’d been with Lisa, they were savage beasts now. The woman screamed as each grabbed a limb, chewing on her flesh and tearing her skin with their teeth, trying to reach her life-giving blood beneath. As she bled, they’d latch on, thrashing their heads and opening her wounds further, draining more of her blood. Those who couldn’t reach any would chew or bite somewhere else, seeking a vein or artery—though they didn’t seem to grasp where to find them.
Catching up, Lisa stopped, horrified. “No!” she gasped, but without enough force to change anything. The woman’s life ended with a desperate gurgle, and Lisa thought of her own parents, the parallels between the two situations clear. Her mother and father ordered her to hide, not revealing herself no matter what happened, realizing they’d die yards from her hideout. The woman’s kids—whether biologically or not—watched the zombies consuming their only hope of surviving. Lisa had the benefit of safety to reflect on how her parents were spared the horror of becoming what they most feared, something these children didn’t share. As her friends ripped the woman to shreds, Lisa approached the house. She stopped to pick up the woman’s pistol, mere feet from the savagery unfolding, and carried it to the porch.
“Stay back or I’ll shoot!” a young boy declared.
Holding her hands up, palms exposed, she lowered her voice. “Don’t. It’ll only draw their attention. They’re hungry for blood and will stop at nothing to get it. Remain quiet and they’ll calm down. Once they do, I’ll lead them away.”
She set the pistol on the porch, glancing back at the continuing feeding frenzy. Turning back to the front door, she consoled the children.
“Don’t look. There’s nothing you can do, but this is the best thing for her. If she was injured, she’d turn into an undead creature herself, never dying and wandering the earth forever. This way, her end is swift and it’s over once and for all.”
“Why don’t they attack you?” a young girl asked.
Still hearing the gnashing of teeth and the tearing of human flesh, Lisa stood again. “Meet me by the back door. It’ll be safer talking there.”
Without hurrying, she walked swiftly around the house, understanding the children would watch her rather than the most recently departed. Finding the back door, she approached, observing three small children—clearly unrelated—peering out an exposed lookout in the window.
“Don’t open the door, it’s still not safe, but the zombies won’t leave the front until they’re done. Once they do, I can draw them away so they won’t threaten you. Once I do, they won’t return. Give us a couple hours, arm yourselves and try to find safety somewhere else. Is there anywhere you can go? Do you know any other humans around here?”
“There was a house not too far away,” the boy said.
“Good, head there. Don’t fire your pistol unless absolutely necessary, as it’ll draw others.”
“Can’t we go with you?” the girl pleaded.
Lisa’s heart broke. She was only slightly younger than the eldest. If not for her unusual twist of fate, she’d be in their shoes herself. She was unsure why she wasn’t, but with such luck came new responsibilities.
“No, I’m the only one who can draw them away. To keep them away, I’ve got to go elsewhere. While I’m gone, these won’t disturb you, so you can find another shelter. If you can’t escape, simply stay here. For now, no other zombies know where you are, so you should be safe. Do you have enough food and supplies?”
“We have some, but not much. We have no heat other than whatever dry wood we can find to cut.”
Lisa surveyed the back yard, trying to improvise. “I’ll collect firewood for you. Don’t open the door. Do you have chamber pots or do you use an outhouse?”
They hesitated, as if afraid to respond. “We have both. When we can’t go outside, we use the pot.”
“Good, bring any crap you have left and leave it outside the door. If you have a bucket and rope, I can use those too. I’ll see if I can make this place safer for you.”
Not waiting for a response, she turned and walked around the house again. Her friends finished their grisly task, and though they remained intensely focused, they weren’t as on edge. Taking advantage of their response, she sang to them, drawing them away from the house, stopping to pick up scraps of wood as she went.
Once she collected an armload of dry firewood, she instructed those with her to remain where they were and she wandered back. Reentering the porch, she noticed the pistol still undisturbed. She was relieved, as the children hadn’t focused on the woman’s remains.
She piled the wood on the porch. She also found already-split firewood by the side of the house, which she deposited by the door as well.
“Are they gone?”
She glanced back, observing her people watching her movements. “No. Stay inside. It’ll take me a little while to finish, but you’ll be safe as long as I’m here.”
“Then why wasn’t Mama spared?” a young girl demanded.
“I don’t know,” Lisa admitted. “I haven’t worked this out yet.”
She turned, reminding her people to remain still and visited a small shed in the back. The door was blocked but unlocked, so she opened it and searched inside. It took a little time, but she found what she was after. She walked out with a trowel, a shovel, the bucket and rope she’d sought before.
The outhouse was harder to locate, as there wasn’t one. Instead a latrine sat back a short distance from the house. That meant they’d been forced to defecate in an exposed position, glancing over their shoulder for any oncoming attack.