The funny thing is it didn’t happen by accident. In the movies, zombies were always caused by some government spill of toxic materials. Or a supernatural explanation is given. Hell, for instance, no longer has any room, and so the dead walk the earth. If they could get in some slap at Christianity, they did that too. You know those Jesus freaks were always into the end of the world.
But when it happened for real, it was just because a few immature morons thought it would be funny.
Before everything went dark, we used to have computers. These were complex machines that performed a number of different tasks. Most people used computers responsibly. Well, maybe that’s stretching it. The overwhelming majority of people used the most outstanding technology ever designed by man to view pornography or argue about politics or say terrible things about each other, but they generally didn’t try to destroy each other’s computers and work and lives. The ones who did we called hackers. They created things called viruses, a kind of machine sickness, just for the hell of it, just to piss people off, damage for damage’s sake, and these viruses destroyed computers. My machine caught a virus once and it corrupted a file of a novel I had been working on for three years. The entire tale was lost and I almost went bankrupt because of it.
By the way, I’m a writer, a novelist. Or I used to be. I guess I still am, which is why I’m writing this, when there is no one left to read it.
I can’t be sure of that, but I believe it to be so. I don’t think I’m the last man on earth, but I must be one of the last, and those of us who are left are isolated from each other with millions of zombies between. It’s a little like extra-terrestrial life. They may be out there, but there is so much space separating us that they might as well not be.
Right at the moment, the extra-terrestrials are probably pretty happy about that.
Anyway, it was the hackers, the anarchists, who created the zombie virus. The bastards even pompously took credit for it. Like it was an accomplishment. Like terrorists who boasted about blowing up pregnant ladies in pizza parlors. These “zombie hackers”, as they called themselves, took their inspiration from the horror movies, like some NASA scientists took their inspiration from Star Wars. They experimented on animals, then on a human, had a breakthrough, and finally they lost control of it. At first, they probably thought it was funny. And then their mothers tried to eat them. And then their mothers did eat them. I caught all of this on the radio before everything slid to static.
I’m locked up in this house. Stroke of luck, really, that I have survived. It has more to do with my father than me. He was sure that the world was going to come to an end. Despite my protests about wasting my inheritance on a monument to paranoia, he built this fortress in the boonies with enough supplies to last one man and his family several lifetimes, if eating beans doesn’t drive them batty first. There are seven spare generators and enough oil lamps and batteries to light up Texas. It even has recyclable water. Once you get over the idea that you’re drinking your own recycled bath water and urine, it doesn’t even taste bad.
I remember him building it. Mom had died the year before, and Dad seemed to lose his mind. Fresh from my first year of college, I told him, “You’ve either gone too far or not far enough. You can survive a nuclear blast, but what about the radiation? You can hide from the religious revolution, maybe, but what will you do when they set up the theocracy? Hell, they’ll overrun this house and convert it into a coven.”
He told me I would see someday. He wasn’t worried about nuclear war, he said, and he was devout enough to think that prayer in school wasn’t the apocalypse. What he feared he never directly said, which only added to my worries about his sanity. Yet unlike my professors at school, he seemed untroubled by politics, the rise of religious fundamentalism, the election of Republicans, or anything like that. He was almost dismissive when I brought these subjects up, as if they didn’t matter, and yet kept building the fortress and adding to it. Until lung cancer took him.
I remember standing over his grave, a smirk on my still young face, saying, “How’d that fortress help you with this end of the world scenario?”
I inherited the fortress, of course, but didn’t move in. Who would? There was no school for the boys for 40 miles and my wife hated the place on sight. Not that I could blame her. It looks like the House of Usher. I tried to sell it a couple of times, but nobody wanted to pay what it was worth. So, I wrote my novels here, the isolation being useful for that, and this is what I was doing when the zombie virus hit the fan.
There’s not even a phone here. No TV. I even removed the internet. My only contact with the outside world was a small radio that Dad kept down in the basement. Because of this and because I was so immersed was in the novel I was writing, I didn’t even find out something was wrong until the outside power went out. By then, the first zombie was already stumbling around the walls of the fortress.
There was nothing I could do. A drive toward the nearest town taught me all I needed to know. I didn’t even make it half way. Listening to the radio broadcasts in my car, I learned the full extent of the devastation.
I imagine Rita and my sons, Jackson and Jeffrey, tried to reach me. They would know the best place to run to in case of such an emergency was my father’s fortress. They would also want to get to me. But we lived two counties away, in a densely populated city, and they didn’t make it. Somehow, they must have failed. I had at first thought it best to wait at the house, thinking we could very well miss each other, them coming here while I heading there. However, as the zombies began showing up outside my father’s fortress by the dozens, then hundreds, then thousands, I knew they were dead. Any attempt to find them would only lead to my own destruction. I wouldn’t even get through the first wave of zombie bodies.
So here I am. Entombed alone in this house, surrounded by the animated dead, a cemetery without gravediggers. That is to say, if the zombies are indeed dead. It’s possible they are alive. I don’t know anything about the science of it except that it had something to do with the Emerald Jewel Wasp. I do know these zombies eat flesh, though it doesn’t seem to be for nourishment. They don’t seem to need nourishment. They aren’t especially interested in killing and eating. They merely do it when the opportunity arises. They are, however, drawn to the living, those of us, at any rate, who are not yet zombies. It is as though they can sense where we are, smell us, hear our blood flowing, or something, and that is why there is now thousands around the fortress, a sea of bodies like the most ridiculous concert you ever saw, with my non-zombie flesh being their Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock.
As far as I can tell, no zombie has ever made an effort to get in. They’re just planets in orbit around my star.
From time to time, I pull the shades on the top floor window. I watch them pass by, this procession of swarming bodies. They can’t get too close to the house because of the reinforced wall Dad built to surround the fortress. Who knows, maybe someday the thrush of millions of them will overwhelm the wall, or they will simply climb upon one another over the wall, like those killer ants did to cross the moat Leiningen built in “Leiningen Versus the Ants”, and they will make a brainless assault on the house itself.
If that happens, I have the bomb shelter that goes down several stories that I truly think is impenetrable. There is nothing to climb over. There is only one steel door that gets bolted from the inside. Since the zombies have never shown an ability to open any door, let alone bully their way through eighteen inches of solid steel, I imagine only by collapsing the whole business inward could entry be made. While not impossible—imagine a billion zombies atop this one space—I do think it unlikely. At least it’s unlikely considering my life span, which must now be reckoned to be much shorter, given the lack of medical attention. My father stocked a good deal of medical supplies, but there’s nothing like a team of surgeons when you need them. As I turn forty-three next week, I do not expect my time here will be overly long.
I’ve moved most of the supplies down into the bunker, just in case, bringing up only a week’s essentials at a time. I have enough paper and writing instruments to continue my vocation for as long as I am able and willing. As a writer, solitude doesn’t bother me. There are times when I think of Rita and the boys that I become filled with such grief and rage I do not know how I can go on another minute, but these times pass and soon I fall back into my general stoicism. I believe, truly, that upon my death we will be reunited. What’s the point of being Christian if you don’t believe that?
For a long time, months, I let myself hope that the zombies would simply fizz out. They would starve or walk themselves into the lake and drown or whatever. And yet it hasn’t happened. In the early days, from the upstairs window, I shot several in the head. None went down for long. I shot them elsewhere also. The heart, the stomach, even the balls. Nothing. In the movies, you could kill a zombie, but these zombies will not ever stop. It’s possible that you could incinerate them, and that would make them stop, but nothing short of that would work. With my binoculars, I’ve seen dissevered zombie fingers crawling aimlessly around like worms. My big fear is that something like a hand will get in and strangle me in my sleep. That’s why I’ve sealed everything down to the last inch. Fortunately my father also installed devices to recycle the air.
So here we are. You (my imaginary reader) might wonder why I even want to live in such a world, especially given my access to a quick death. Well, I have my reasons. One is because, as a Christian, I believe suicide is always wrong and that hope is always possible. Another is my great love of reading, and my father left behind an enormous library to peruse, though it has probably too many how-to books and not enough Dickens for my liking. But the biggest reason is that I refuse to let a few punk hackers have the final word on humanity. I can’t stress enough that it wasn’t the government or the religious or some evil corporation or God who did this to us. It was just some spoiled suburban pranksters with too much time, money, privileges, education, and not enough God-fearing morality to find a better way to cure their ennui than to destroy the world.
Just as my father, I now realize, always understood.
James Valvis is the author of HOW TO SAY GOODBYE (Aortic Books, 2011). He has published hundreds of poems in places like Anderbo, Arts & Letters, New York Quarterly, Poetry East, River Styx, and Verse Daily. His prose is also widely published in places like Daily Science Fiction, Los Angeles Review, Pedestal Magazine, Potomac Review, storySouth, and Superstition Review. He lives near Seattle.