Running from zombies

This story was published in Colombia, in the tenth grade book “Anthology of stories for the pleasure of reading N°10”. It is also part of the cycle «Zombies prefer sushi».

Illustration: Donata Małecka – niphree.

We were hungry. Through the boarded-up windows on the second floor, we watched the wandering zombies. Slow, stunted predators in the late stages of infection. Capable of mutilating themselves as long as they have something to chew on. We saw them chasing hungry dogs. We even had a suit-clad zombie sited on our front porch all night. He was rocking and humming a hit song from when I was ten. They were people like us. Even in that pathological state, they were able to connect with some surviving part of their memories. 

We spoke in whispers as we planned a ride to the supermarket. Dad couldn’t move with his right leg in a cast. Mom was useless, on the verge of catatonia most of the time. The twins sisters were out of the equation. Only I remained, young, healthy and appetizing. The only one qualified to do the task. 

We drew up many plans and settled on the simplest. So, first thing in the morning, I got ready to go out. With my reinforced cycling suit to avoid fractures and chews. Military gloves and boots that I found in an abandoned store. Plus the motorcycle helmet that my father kept as the only treasure from when he was young. Because mine broke the last time I headed down flying on the park stone stairs, trying to show off in front of some school girls. It feels like it happened ages ago. 

I armed myself with a heavy iron bar, the backpack, and we unnailed the boards of the back door, very fast. My bicycle was still lying where I left the last spring, the day we were quartered. 

I moved around the side of the house and started running down the street on my bike. I dodged traversed vehicles and chewed up bodies. The smell of corpses was nauseating, when the sun cast its first timid ray over the mountain range and among the clouds of flies. 

I found dozens of dying zombies on the way. Most of them could barely move. Exposed teeth after eating his lips. Roaring, a scream that died in their dry throats when they saw me and couldn’t reach their breakfast. The disease was slowly killing their brains, and before long they would lie still, comatose, and stop breathing. 

But there were also new zombies. I suppose that during the last week, they went out to seek food or that they were fooled by an infected person who asked for help. Those newly zombified could still reason. But slowly they were carried away by the hunger. Some simply stopped fighting the desire, knowing they were already dead. And those were the worst, fast, strong, ruthless. 

They waited like predators and came out of their hiding to catch me. I saw them running after my bike and roaring their frustration. I got lost behind some curve, looking over my shoulder at them as their wide eyes begged me for a piece of fresh meat.

After ten minutes, I arrived at a large supermarket that was not completely ransacked. Perhaps due to the presence of a zombie inside during the first days of panic. The doors were open and there were merchandise scattered everywhere. 

In some corner of the dim room, a battery-powered radio was playing at full power. Tuned in to one of the many radio stations that were connected in a chain to keep us informed. They all broadcast the same recording for the last eight days. Countries in Europe and Asia were devastated. Perhaps there were people “safe” in isolated localities. The echo of those news echoed in my head like a nightmare. At home, we stopped listening to it days ago.

I cycled through the messy hallways. I knew where I had to go. But most of the passageways were clogged with stacked shelves or merchandise or some zombie walking around the area. I even saw an old lady pushing a cart full of detergents, too slow to react to my presence. I got to the canning area, which was a disaster. I couldn’t make it through the mountains of scattered cans on my bicycle. And a zombie was trying to get out from under them without much enthusiasm.

Armed with the iron, I dove and collected as many cans of tuna as I could. I looked over my shoulder in all directions for every five beats of my racing heart. I wasn’t concerned about the brand or the price, although Mom preferred the Robinson Crusoe ones. I included some pineapple preserves and strawberries for the twins. And several cans of ravioli ready for my birthday, which would happen the following week. Nothing else fit in the backpack and even if I could have put more, my body would not have supported the weight.

There was no zombie chasing me. So, I breathed easy for a while and walked calmly through the rest of the supermarket. I don’t know what I was looking for. I found a carton of cigarettes, Mom would be delighted. I picked up two new dolls for the twins and got ready to go when I heard it.

Beneath the echo of the radio and its looping message, lower than the gibbering of some terminal zombies… I heard a baby crying. It was a little bellowing. It would have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for my experience taking care of the copy/paste sisters. 

The radio at full volume was distracting. The zombies would come in and leave when they couldn’t find talking food. Or it could be a trap. The baby must be anywhere. I kept looking through the supermarket. That’s when I heard it again and recognized the direction, towards the local bakery. I approached stealthily with the iron bar raised and tried to open the door. But I was stuck.

“Anyone home?” I asked in a whisper. I heard the baby in there, grunting its discontent. A live baby and probably one or more adults with him. Dad would beat me with a stick for what I was going to do, oh God. 

“If you are not infected, I have a safe shelter and food.” 

I heard movement. I backed away from the door and waited, while a sluggish zombie was staring at me from the end of the cereal aisle. 

The door opened and on the other side a bulging-eyed woman with no lips peeked out. She was carrying a small baby with little pink arms, well wrapped and not at all malnourished. I went on guard, but the woman did nothing to attack me. She put the baby down on the floor and looked at it once more. She caressed her little face with rubber-gloved hands. Then looked at me for a moment with her eyes that seemed furious, and backed to her hiding place in the bakery, without taking her eyes off the baby. And the door closed. 

The cereal zombie was walking down the hall looking at the snack on the floor in front of me. I picked up the baby and walked away, fast. The woman’s muffled sobs and the zombie’s protest could be heard as I exited the market. 

I could ride the bike with the little one in one arm and hold the handlebars and the protective iron in the other. It would be slow, but not impossible. I collected a large handful of bags from the supermarket, and put them in another large bag along with a jar of powdered milk. I couldn’t waste any more time, and the baby was sobbing. 

The way back was terrible. I followed the same route that I came from, and that was a tremendous mistake. The predatory zombies were waiting for me. One caught the rear wheel with his leg and knocked me off the bike. I fell backwards on the backpack. The baby started crying, and that got the zombie’s attention more than anything else. 

He jumped on me and I received him with my legs bent. He bit my calf, and I pushed him aside. With the iron in my free hand, I hit him in the neck before he got up. His body jumped off the ground with epileptic spasms. But he no longer tried to attack me. In the distance, I saw other predators running at the top of their lungs.

My bitten calf hurt too much. But I couldn’t stay there any extra second. I got on my bike and finished the route, crying from muscle pain. There were no zombies near my house, just the neighbours, trying to steal what I had in my backpack. I recognized them. I once had elevenses at their homes. I played with their children. I dated their daughters. I attended parties and birthdays. However, in a situation like this, there was no room for charity. Please, God, forgive me.

I left my bike in the front yard, went to the back door and entered my house, followed by a horde of hungry people. Dad locked the door and despite his fracture, he managed to nail it down quickly before the neighbours managed to get in. He even threatened to poke their eyes with the same knife that he pricked zombies.

Knowing that healthy people could do more damage than a zombie had me with nightmares from the start. We witnessed it when my father came back broken. Now the neighbours were yelling us to help them. But in their eyes we saw the criminal instinct of someone who doesn’t want to die and is capable of murder. 

The neighbours gave up when several predatory zombies appeared on the street. I didn’t hear any screams, so I suppose they survived. 

Mom was gaping at the surprise that I was carrying in my arms. 

“Didn’t you want a grandson?” I asked. 

The twins were fascinated. They didn’t care that I brought them new dolls or canned pineapples. 

Dad was grunting with a scowl, perhaps thinking about the extra mouth to feed. But he didn’t seem entirely dissatisfied. 

There was a baby at home, a survivor. A male child. I told the story, in great detail, of the zombie mother who did not eat her son. And I saved the worst for last.

“I have a bite,” I said.

The fuss they made… We knew that if any were infected, it wouldn’t manifest right away. Still, the news was a shock to the family, and Mom quickly took the girls and the baby upstairs. 

Dad and I checked my wound. The teeth mark was impressive, purple. But there was no blood. In theory, I was not infected. But that could not be known yet. So, we set up a quarantine for me. We prepare for the worst. Dad didn’t want to, Mom hardly even looked at me. The twins had teary eyes, and they ran to hug me, but I didn’t let them. 

We had a last feast, ravioli with tuna. Mom seasoned the girls’ with breadcrumbs. I silently told myself that it was my early birthday party. I wanted to tell some joke, a typical zombie table joke, but none came to mind. Mom tried not to look at me suspiciously, although every time I moved she jumped in fright. 

It was my funeral. And my mouth felt weird. In a few hours, I had thick saliva and a metallic taste on his tongue. 

It was indisputable. I was infected.

I thought about leaving the house and waiting for my luck in the street. It would be the best for the family and for me. Dad sensed my intentions and forbade me to act, brandishing a knife. As if it were of any use. But he was not willing to lose another family member. 

It reminded me of my uncles, my father’s sister and her husband, who lived ten blocks away with their youn boy. They walked one day outside the house, their dentures exposed, and their forearms chewed up. 

We had no further news of other relatives, and they probably are all dead. 

I listened to my Dad. But without any hope. He insisted that, somewhere, someone was working on a cure. I sensed the opposite. 

That night, I spent the long hours in my room without sleeping. At some point in the early morning, I had to urinate in a bucket because the door remained locked. 

I took a notebook and my dynamo torch to have some light, and wrote down the experience. I hoped that the twins would remember me as the brother who loved them, and not like the monster that might have eaten them if it could. 

The haunting expression on the mother of the baby kept appearing in my memory. It told me that it was possible to fight the disease, at least in the early stages. 

The day that followed was sunny, but cold. No one in the house could get their face out of their ass. There was a dead person walking inside the house, a time bomb. 

The lodge was a fairly secure place for me and for the family, with solid walls and a metal door. It had an inflatable camping mattress taking up all the available space. Dad could pass me food through a small window. I could pee in a sink next to the washing machine and to deposit my poop in grocery bags, for later disposal.

I took all the books from the house. The girls’ children’s readings and Mom’s brainy sociological treatises. Dad had no books. With luck, he read the captions on the TV. 

In my opinion, this would be a typical wealthy holiday. And the books would be my connection to the real world. As soon as I could no longer reason with the pages, it would be time to use the knife I hid under the clothes dryer.

I tried to relax. The twins liked to sit and play by the door and ask me questions. I didn’t answer nor growled at them to leave me alone. I didn’t want them to suffer. But they ignored me and kept talking girlish things, with a twist. So, they mixed reality with fiction in the adventures of their new dolls, Good Zombie Barbie and Angelic Barbie without Halo.

The first day I got really bored. As much as I tried to read, I couldn’t attend to what I was reading. For a very short period, I imagined that I actually had a badly treated flu. But then I remembered that I was about to become a cannibal and very soon I was going to eat my lips. I wasn’t hungry, just extreme dry and had itchy palms. My skin paled and by dinner time, my fingernails were purple, and my eyes felt sunken.

That night I had nightmares. The food turned in my stomach. I threw up a thick, bloody vomit. I slept fitfully. I woke up anxious. I had a tremendous desire to get out, to scream, but I stopped myself by banging my head against the ground.

The next morning, the extreme anxiety began. My pupils dilated to the maximum. The colours looked unreal, as if dyed by a constant rainbow. Dad came to talk to me, to tell his stories about being a soldier, with a rifle and a knife. Or to tell again the day I was born. I wanted him to shut up, but I couldn’t do that, not to him. So, I let him recap his entire life, until zombie time.

The first news of the start of the pandemic was an article in a tabloid newspaper. “Zombies Strike,” read the small headline about an old woman who ate bats in the Amazon jungle. And that she bit a tourist, who then had a strange case of rabies. A week later, the entire world was in lockdown, in a state of shock that only grew. No one could leave their homes. If someone was hungry or thirsty and there was no food or drinking water left, they had to go out and loot a supermarket or a neighbour’s house. We heard gun shots at all hours. 

Zombies were prowling in every corner of the city. Millions of them wandering through populated areas, patios, and rooms in abandoned houses, looking for a bone to gnaw. They swallowed everything they could without ever satisfying their hunger, most of them died intoxicated or with a splinter of bone stuck in their throats. The zombies were a danger to themselves. But no one cared. 

My father had his military service training during the years when we were about to go to war with Argentina. And his trucker’s belly was good for times like these, like a reserve or something. He fractured his right leg during the looting of a supermarket, before its owners burned it down. He managed to be treated in a precarious ambulance just before the state of siege was declared. Since then, he had a cast full of drawings and stories of princesses. And rested his robustness in the living room chair, with several knives at hand and some sticks and pointy irons, in case any zombie tried to sneak in. 

Mom looked like a walking corpse. If anyone had seen her on the street, they would have run away on the spot, or they would have shot her in the head. She didn’t have the strength to scream, and she had puffy circles under her eyes, and pale skin. We had to force her to eat. My sisters played the aeroplane game and occasionally, it worked. Other times she would break down in tears or just yell at us without saying anything. 

My sisters were twin princesses with long brown hair and searching eyes. They would do their hair and make-up in front of a piece of mirror and pretend their dolls were undead-killing heroines. Now Barbie Slayer and Barbie Chainsaw. 

During our lockdown, I spent most my time looking at the ceiling of my room. Trying to remember songs and writing them in my school notebooks. Playing with the twins. Helping Mom with whatever she asked for, which wasn’t much. Taking care of the waste, we left in grocery bags that were already starting to run out. 

There was only rice to eat. The cans of tuna ran out. We drank the tuna oil in sips. Mom found a sealed bag of breadcrumbs, for the girls when there was nothing left. And the rice ran out on the third week of quartering. The twins no longer asked what was there to eat because they knew the answer. Without electricity or drinking water, we were lost. So, it occurred to us that someone had to go out and rob a supermarket. I went. Then I found a baby, and a zombie bit me. And here I was, locked up, listening to old stories of combats in Patagonia that were not as fascinating as they were told. 

By nightfall, I felt thick. I do not know how to describe it. It was similar to the feeling left after spending the whole day in the pool, but not cold. Slowly, I lost sensation in my hands and then in most of my body. It was like being under anaesthesia at the dentist. Something is felt, but it is not clear what. 

I couldn’t close my eyes for more than five seconds. Nor sleep. My head was racing at a thousand kilometres per hour. I was unable to concentrate on anything, but I could think about several topics at the same time. The equations in the maths books solved themselves. Memories of my entire life were DVD quality. I think that was the only positive thing, the certain feeling of being smarter, even if it only lasted one day. There was no use for being smart if in no time I would become a troll. 

I no longer listened to Dad or the girls. I started to moan. I guess I felt bad. But I felt nothing. I don’t remember what I felt. Everything became diffuse. I no longer accepted the food that was offered to me through the window. I had no interest. There were no smells or tastes. I didn’t know if it was day or night. 

I started nibbling my lips, lightly at first, like at exam times, when I ended with a case of intense stress. And in a matter of a few hours I was really biting my lips, hard, without feeling pain. I looked at my bloody hands and licked them. A strange flavour permeated my taste. It was not delicious. I don’t even know how to describe it. But it had me desperate. It was the taste of my flesh and my blood. And I enjoyed it. 

And so, I ended up like any other zombie, without lips, moaning my shame. I didn’t bleed too much. The wounds in my mouth healed almost immediately. Then I remembered the knife. I looked for it and it wasn’t there. I went crazy, I turned everything around. My strength was failing me, but even so, I managed to tear the air mattress into pieces. 

Dad was watching me from the window. His eyes filled with tears, but firm. Someone spoke to him and he responded. I understood perfectly. Although, it is as if the meanings of these words ceased to be important. I knew that in a few days I would be a jerk. And in a few weeks I would be dead. 

I had no pride left. Not without my lips. 

I ate my tongue as far as possible. I was already considering eating the meat from the palm of my hands, under my thumbs. When Dad opened the door. 

“On your feet,” he said, and I felt a choking panic. Not out of fear that he would do something to me, but out of fear that I would try to do something to him, to my father, to my sisters… The twins were behind him, and it was as if they were offering me water in the desert. I saw myself chewing on their little faces. I lived the experience, even without doing it, over and over again. And I wanted to die immediately, I wanted they to kill me, or I would have to kill them. What were they thinking, walking into the cell of a hungry zombie like that?

“Extend your hand,” Dad said in his martial voice. As a child, I was afraid of him. As a grown up, I didn’t give a damn about his cardboard authority. But I knew that if I disobeyed, I may receive a slap from his brick-heavy hand, at least. 

I looked at the twins one more time… and they were smiling. 

I held out my hand and received my birthday present. 

Spiders. Living spiders, but their legs had been cut off. 

“Get bitten,” Dad said. 

I spent too many seconds looking at him, puzzled. If he really wanted me to die, that was going to be a slow death. 

“Do it! Please trust us,”, he said. 

The twins smiled. Dad wasn’t one bit afraid. He fully trusted me. He trusted his zombie son. So, I pressed the spiders against my forearm. I guess I got bitten because I immediately felt a tingle. We stayed like that, watching each other, for I don’t know how long. 

Maybe they expected me to say something. But I couldn’t, not without lips and tongue. 

A minute passed, then another. And we kept looking at each other. 

“Do you still want to eat us?” Dad asked, and it was like a bucket of ice water was poured over me. A blackened welt was drawn on my forearm, where the spider bite me. And the sensitivity returned with a pleasant tingle around the bite mark. 

I looked at the bruised spiders and put them in my mouth. I think I laughed, while chewing. My brain reacting as if I woke up after a night of partying. I was me again. 

Minute after minute, I ceased to be a zombie. 

I hugged Dad and really didn’t want to bite him. I was so happy… I bent down to hug the twins ones and saw their smiles, without lips. My princesses, turned into zombies. The marks left by the ropes with which they were tied to their beds could still be seen on their small arms. They hugged me. Then showed me their tongues, at least something had not been lost. And they laughed. Their laughs were like Christmas bells. 

Dad and the twins led me into the living room. There was Mom, without lips, the poor thing, rocking the baby. A thin, almost ghastly creature, drinking milk from a bottle. 

“He infected us,” Dad said without a hint of rancour. 

I looked at him, tall and stocky as always. Now without his trucker belly and barely limping. He had the dilated pupils of the infected, but kept his lips intact. In fact, he was thinner and looked like the Rambo I remember from when I was a kid. 

I wanted to know how they found out. I did the mimic, a spider walking on the head of the twins. And Dad just pointed at the battery-powered radio, beat up but still working. Now with the volume low so as not to wake the baby.

“…corner spiders, the toxin from their bite, has been shown to be almost immediately effective against the effects of the virus. You can find them in dark places. In the middle of rubbish in the patio, or under the bed and behind the closet. Wherever you keep things that you haven’t moved for years, there they are. Just one bite is enough… The cure exists! And it’s something as simple as corner spiders, the toxin from their bite…” 

We all jumped of pure joy in the living room and woke up the baby. Poor lucky creature. 

It would be several weeks before we could go out on the streets. A spider bite gave us enough toxin for a week, and we were a big family. The skin around the bite fell off like wax, and we had to do daily cleanings. But we healed soon, too fast. Dad started talking about the military use of the zombie virus, that it all made sense now. 

We went out to hunt spiders in the yard and the surrounding uninhabited houses. We were even forced to fight some zombies, of the few that were left. The situation seemed almost ridiculous. We felt powerful, invincible. The zombies couldn’t infect us because we were already infected. We were faster and smarter. 

After a month of lockdown, surrounded by death and misery, it was natural for us to feel euphoric. 

Our neighbours feared us. How not to. We would give a thumbs up and pray to God that there was no wacko with a shotgun. 

With Dad, we used to go out on bicycles. His leg was already healed, and the exercise did him good. We toured the neighbourhood searching for food and spiders. By the way, we annihilated all the terminal zombies. We once tried to recover one with spider bites, but the result was painful to watch. The poor thing was better off dead. A strong blow to the neck or trachea was enough, it was the kindest thing we could do for them. 

When a vigorous zombie chased us, we’d throw a tennis net over it. And we would pin him to the floor to give him a dose of spiders. As soon as we saw an improvement, we would leave him to his amazement and instructions to look for his bugs. 

That was the beginning of the best years of my life.