I, Zombie Page 15


She should’ve prepped differently. Rhoda kept berating herself for not prepping differently. All around her were people in shoes, some in boots, women in heels that had popped off their feet and clung to their ankles, the dainty straps like thin and desperate arms. They dragged along behind bare feet through pink-tinted glass.


There was a woman up ahead in trainers, glorious trainers. A man in work boots, a blue-collar and burly man that Rhoda would never have traded places with under any circumstances. But now. Oh, now. His steel-toed Hummers crunched through the glass oblivious to the pain, and this was all Rhoda could think about. Nerve endings burned throughout her body. The pain was up to her elbows. She thought of that guy from Moonlighting who’d gone bald and been in that movie, the one with the skyscraper. The scene of him sitting down and pulling clear daggers out of his feet, she couldn’t stop picturing that scene. Rhoda had daggers like that right up against the bone, could feel her shredded flesh dragging across the pavement behind her in torn ribbons. Another glittering puddle ahead, and the scent was gonna drag her right through it. Shop glass: the worst. From a nearby storefront looted early on. There were real jewels in the window, absolutely worthless.


Worthless.


Rhoda’s mind swung back and forth around what was valuable and what wasn’t. She’d been through this once before, a breakdown just like this. And now somewhere, someone was probably coming across her stash. She feared they were finding what she’d hidden away, and at the same time: she hoped someone was. She hoped it wouldn’t go to waste. She imagined them breaking into her apartment and finding her closet full of prepper gear, all the gear her friends had made fun of her for.


A closet full of supplies. Water, food, camping gear, purification tablets, protection, even a small generator that she ran once a week like the manual said. Exhaust hose shoved out the window, her tiny apartment smelling faintly of gas. There was a pump for pulling moisture out of the air that she could never quite get to work right, not the liter of potable fluid a day that it promised. There were the flashlights and a radio that she could wind up to power. Everything in her closet that her friends said she didn’t need, not in New York City, that island of plenty.


They made fun of her for keeping her clothes in plastic crates, shoved under the bed, the bed she’d raised on cinder blocks to make more room. They’d made fun of her apartment, not quite 400 square feet, and a good bit of that devoted to the end times. They told her to live in the moment, the now. Rhoda had always smiled and kept her thoughts to herself. She knew. She watched the History channel, which was as good as any university, and she learned. She studied. She read all the books, the ones she had to order because the library didn’t carry them.


And Rhoda got ready.


Her sister Charlotte had outed her at Thanksgiving two years back. Charlotte claimed to be worried about her, said she saw the stuff Rhoda was reading, or maybe she’d heard from her friends or spotted the pattern on Facebook. Whatever. She had grown concerned. And so she outed her right there in the kitchen in front of everyone. Rhoda’s mom had been confused.


“I think it’s fine that she dresses nice,” her mother had said, peering into the oven to make sure she didn’t burn the turkey like the year before.


“Prepper, mom,” Charlotte had said, exasperated. “Not preppy.”


Rhoda had argued and felt betrayed as Charlotte explained the differences. But their mother was impervious to either of their worries. While Charlotte stressed about where her sister was putting her money, Rhoda had much larger concerns. She tried to tell them all that could happen, explain to her mother and sister about the Mayans and how their calendar could be read so many different ways, that time could run out tomorrow or maybe ten years later. And didn’t they know New York was due for the Next Big One? Or about the bees and their collapsing colonies? Or how water was running out, and the weather changing? Didn’t they watch the news? Tornados were popping up everywhere. And look at what happened to the dinosaurs. Another impact like that, and every human being alive—


A stab of pain reminded Rhoda of the now, of the moment. It dragged her back from the past with an electrical shock shooting up her bare feet. She wore glass slippers. Glass crunching on glass. Soles embedded with a fine layer of what felt like razors drenched in alcohol. Needles into her heels, the flesh between her toes ripped and burning, glass caught between them and driving between the small bones there. Her feet were being mutilated. It felt like she was hobbling along on bare bone, on the ends of her shins.


The sight of others in shoes drove her mad. How one was shod when they got bit was important. Maybe this was the most important thing. It wasn’t a detail that came up on the History channel, shaking her confidence in that learning institution. Unless she missed that show. Maybe she had. Boots, of course, she owned. Good ones. But she never wore them. They were stowed away in her closet, balls of white paper huddled inside, perfectly safe and snug, protected from the holocaust.


Her closet.


Rhoda imagined someone finding all her gear. The MREs and the jugs of water. Guns she’d only fired the once at a range. Stupid stuff. Before she’d started prepping, before she’d needed to put her bed on cinder blocks to make room, the closet had been full of clothes. It’d been full of shoes and belts and jewelry. Preppy stuff.


Her sister Charlotte had been no different, even back then. Always making fun of how she spent her money. Laughing at her collection of shoes, some of them too painful to even wear, some of them that didn’t go with a thing she owned or a night out she could possibly imagine having. And Charlotte had been right to make fun. Rhoda knew she had a problem. New York was a difficult place for a woman. So many windows full of tempting footwear, so dainty and perfect on their glass stands, beautiful just like that: Empty. Waiting. Footless.


There were shoes that felt perfect off the feet, their straps caught in the pads of her fingers while Rhoda strolled through the great lawn in Central Park. Shoes that looked perfect lying on their sides at the foot of the bed, ready to be donned and seen. Shoes that were wonderful simply in pairs of pairs of pairs at the bottom of her closet, lined up like soldiers. Perfect shoes, just knowing she had them.


But, instead of wearing them out to be seen, she stayed in and watched her little TV. And the shoes ate at her soul. Money wasted. Charlotte’s voice. The end was coming, and she would be caught flat-footed. She wouldn’t be ready. She was wasting her money. Her time. She needed to prepare.


When it finally and truly dawned on her, she’d made a drastic change. There had been a purge, and the purge had made Rhoda feel alive. Her friends were more than happy to come over and paw through her collection, seeing what fit, snagging designer heels at a fraction of the price. Rhoda watched them behave like animals. She watched from the bed, seeing herself as she had once been, digging through the aisles at Macy’s on Memorial Day. She had been disgusted and relieved, seeing people she thought she knew behave like that. They paid her a fraction, and she took it gladly, the proceeds going to things that mattered. Rhoda would prepare for the worst. And when her few and sporadic dates came over after dinner or back from a bar, she would pray they wouldn’t look inside her closet at the things she had chosen to accumulate.


More glass in the streets. Glass from smashed traffic and from storefront windows, glass from overhead where people had tossed furniture out of offices to make the only escape they knew how. Glass from bottles tossed for fun and dropped by looters, all picked up a shard at a time by tender flesh.


She should have known better, should have taken steps. But how would she have guessed that her mind would make this journey intact, that her flesh would rot, her nose wear away, while her every thought remained to haunt her?


Charlotte had been right: Rhoda had been a blasted idiot. She had wasted her money and time prepping to survive. Stomping heavily through that shimmering hell-storm, that weather of the apocalypse, she dwelled on all she’d done and the money she’d spent to prepare for her survival. When what she should’ve been readying for was what came after.


31 • Carmen Ruiz


There were three of them still alive in the break room: Jackie, Sam, and Anna. Carmen could hear them talking through the door. She could smell them through the walls and through the vents. The two women cried while Sam tried to comfort them, but Carmen could smell the fear on him the worst. They talked and talked and filled the air with their ripe scents, no clue that the rest of the office could hear what they were saying, could smell what they were afraid of.


Carmen jostled among her coworkers outside the door, her belly swollen with an overdue baby and yesterday’s grisly meal. She could flash back to eating Kassie or being bitten by Rhonda, but where does the blame start? Where does it stop? Each of them did what they were bound to do, and it probably went right back to the very first person with the sickness. Bit by a monkey in a lab somewhere, pricked by an experimental needle, a rip in a white suit, any of the scenes from all the films Carmen had seen.


However it started, there was a chain of blame that linked them all together. Carmen had been angry at the start, angry and scared, pissed at Rhonda, but those feelings had grown stale as the days piled up. Gruesome black bites marked the faces and arms of men and women she’d known for years, and it was getting hard to remember who had bitten whom. Those frantic days were long gone: the quarantine of the office, the handful who had tried to make it home, the cell phones clogged from overuse and then batteries dead from trying over and over anyway.


Now there were only three of them left, terrified and starving in the break room, and Carmen could hear them conspiring. They didn’t know she and the others could understand. How could they? How could they know the monsters jostling outside the door were still aware of what was going on? Look at Mr. Helm, their asshole boss. He stumbled around in the dim hallway with the rest, eyes glazed over, shoulders hunched, a nasty wound on his chin where white bone peeked out between flaps of gray flesh. He looked as dead as the rest, but Carmen knew better. He was locked away just like her, trapped with his own demons, brushing up against the rest and hungry as hell.


The three of them inside the break room argued for the dozenth time about what to do. There had been five of them for a while. Louis had made a run for it. The idiot tried crawling through the ceiling, white flakes of Styrofoam or whatever the hell those panels were made of snowing down in drifts while he crept noisily overhead. Carmen had been one of the small pack to follow, sniffing after him. When the idiot broke through and crashed into Margarite’s cubicle, she’d gotten a few bites in before the others crowded her away. And then there’d been four of them left to argue about what to do.


The three who now remained argued over the food, over how to get started. Anna said she wanted to start a fire. Sam called her a stupid bitch. He was from accounting, where Carmen imagined the phrase stupid bitch was common. He reeked of fear. Bullied the others. Carmen was hungry for him. She was hungry in general. Everyone was. But she had a baby inside her, taking up space, and maybe that made her more famished than the rest.


There were footsteps in the break room, the smell of Jackie approaching the door. She pounded on it with her fists. She yelled at those outside, almost as if she knew their souls were still trapped in there, as if she knew they would hear. But Carmen suspected she just needed to yell at something.


“Goddamn you!” Jackie screamed. “Let us go, you fuckers!”


Anna tried to calm her down. Sam told her to shut the fuck up. He said if they kept quiet, maybe the infected would leave. But Jackie knew what Carmen and the rest of the undead office knew: They weren’t leaving. None of them were. Maybe not ever.


The survivors returned to their discussion in the break room. There were plastic forks and plastic knives. There had been five of them, now there were three. Louis had gotten himself eaten when he fell through the ceiling. Bits of him were all over Margarite’s desk, smears on a monitor. On both sides of the break room door, there were groans from trapped and tortured souls. Sam told the girls that the plastic knives were a lot sharper than they looked. Anna wanted to build a fire. Sam told her she was a dumb bitch, that they would suffocate.


And so the shambling monsters of Della, Baigaint & Padder moved in agitated circles outside the break room. There was a smell in the air, a maddening smell. On the other side of the door, a starving trio continued to argue, even as they began to eat. There were five of them two days before. Carmen and the others had gotten one. Now she listened as Sam showed them just how sharp the plastic knives were, sharp enough to bite into flesh. Anna made gagging sounds. She wanted to build a fire. Jackie sobbed and filled the air with fear while Sam took the first bite.


There had been five of them, now three. Carmen shuffled in circles, her stomach full of unborn baby and the meat of her coworkers. And she wondered, listening to the survivors in the break room eat their gory meal, how the barred door between them made them any different.


32 • Margie Sikes


There was a boy in the back seat, no more than fifteen or sixteen, and not for the first time, Margie Sikes found herself feeding on the young. She ripped the poor boy apart, him kicking and screaming and pleading for her to stop, tears rolling down his unblemished cheeks, Margie trying her best not to think of what she was doing.


The boy had been cornered car-hopping. Margie had seen it before, had even seen it work a time or two. Survivors ran through the streets and dove into intact cars while they waited for the wind to shift and lure the infected away. She’d seen it work up close. A good seal on a car, and the smell of its contents would eventually fade. It was maddening to be driven off by a fickle breeze. In her mind, she knew a good meal lay cowering on the floorboard of that SUV, but her brain would catch a whiff elsewhere, and try as she might to urge herself to stay and wait the hopper out, her feet would carry her inanely upwind toward some other struggling soul.

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