North

by Jay Gillard Jr.

'North'

A Short Story

By Jay Gillard Jr.

People use to laugh when I told them I had a Zombie Plan. You know, a systematic approach to surviving a pandemic where everyone but you turns into the ravenous undead.

What a humorous interlude.

That is how it started, and depending on the crowd, you would usually find me laughing right along. It made me feel disarmingly nerdy. A science fiction geek dreaming a science fiction wet dream. It kept the dialogue moving, and it was one hell of a fall back topic.

If a spontaneous conversation even hinted at the threat of awkward silence, WHAM! 'Zombie Plan.'

The concept would spark debates.

Call it a defense mechanism if you have to. I just hated running out of things to talk about. The Zombie Plan did it all. It gave me a good indication of the personalities in the room. It was my sci-fi nerd and potential-friend filter. Mostly, it said, 'This laid-back geek before you, has thought of everything'.

Everyone who didn't reflexively look detested and leave, agreed it was an interesting idea. Those brave enough to stay would laugh, carry on, and argue some minute detail of the plan.

Good times.

Your primary goal, if you found yourself trapped amidst a zombie epidemic, is to survive as long as possible. The second goal, really a subset of that, was to avoid infection at ALL costs.

At first glance, they might both seem like the same thing.

They are not.

I have personally witnessed an incalculable number of frenzied feedings. With a large enough group of 'deadies' or 'juicers', nothing goes to waste.

Pieces lost in the rush are rare.

Conversely, I have gathered that a single bite or exchange of fluids acts as the primary infecting agent. I think. It doesn't seem to be airborne or transmittable by touching. Thank God, I guess.

Whatever this Zombie bug is, it is a nasty one.

Sometime chunks of the living do fall through the cracks of dead teeth. However, pieces pose little threat if you are careful. Even Zombies still require half a body to be somebody. A solitary bicep or severed foot doesn't run you down or use up your ammo.

Notice the difference?

Oh, and you know that, 'Shoot them dead, with one bullet to the head' thing? Wrong. I should say dead wrong. You literally have to take their heads off for their bodies to stop moving. If you are short on time or ammo, you can just take off their lower jaws. Then they can't bite you.

You get proficient at shooting, and swinging for the remains of bottom halves of faces, in short order.

The dirty cannibals with even eat other wounded deadies. This is a useful trick, if you find yourself in a pinch.

What you also learn is that the Zombies that look the most like normal people are the most aggressive. These succumbed to a single bite or small exchange of fluid. They are almost physically normal. These ones don't get tired, and they will not stop. They don't even sleep.

Avoid being bitten or touched is the only way to go. It has worked well for me so far, not that I have stooped to eating remains of these creatures. I might be gaunt and starving from years of surviving this plague, but I still have my pride.

Avoid infection and exposure at all costs.

Those are the goals of the plan.

To meet them you need a laundry list of materials. Most of which, I still have committed to memory: Weapons, clothes, first-aid kit(s), foodstuffs, sturdy transportation, and lots of gas.

I assumed the worst-case scenario.

You have to accept that everyone in the world ends up a zombie.

Ever take on the entire population of the planet before?

You know that even if there were pockets of people left that you are going to have to make it on your own, or at maximum, with uninfected and trustworthy family. Any attempt to organize, or create a counter strike would be futile and in direct conflict with your plan's objectives.

There are always too many zombies.

Always.

Therefore, plan for the worst-case scenario and you won't be disappointed.

That is what I have done, and the worst-case scenario told me to, 'get stocked-n-locked-n-loaded, and get away to a remote location at first proof of the epidemic.'

Only way to go.

Everyone needs a good destination. It came as a mild surprise to me that location was the most hotly contested point of my Zombie Plan conversations. You know, back when it was funny.

My thinking was that Zombies were still going to be water based organisms and that I could exploit that as an advantage. Extreme climates of the far north, and deadies traveling exclusively on foot, implied logically, that they would freeze solid before getting close to my hiding place.

So all you needed to do was get as far north as possible. There it would not matter if they had edible-life-form-GPS, Mother Nature would stop them for you.

They ended up being more dawdling than expected, and way too dumb to wear layers. They froze solid. Dead in their tracks.

My destination was remote. My choice covered all the plan's requirements, but did not exceed my ability to get there. I am no pilot or sea captain after all. Places accessible only by plane, and remote islands that required solid navigational skills were, and continue to be, non-applicable.

My destination was the smallest most northern town on the North American continent still accessible by road. It's a little place in Canada called Inuvik, population well less than my stock of ammunition.

Seemed the obvious choice.

The hot button blocking carte blanche agreement that this town was the only place to go was another viable option: Albuquerque. Most people thought getting deep into the desert in New Mexico made more sense. The zombies' decomposition would accelerate exponentially in that environment, and there would be fewer people to compete with in the desert.

Mother Nature still in charge.

Compelling.

Throw in the benefit of early olfactory notification, and you have an all-natural detection system: yet another undeniable benefit of hot-n-dry versus cold.

I could see where they were coming from.

What you find out later, when it really happens, is that regardless of environment all deadies and juicers smell horrible. Imagine a month old gangrene infection taking a shit and you're about sixty percent there.

I don't know if it is the zombie ailment or the dead person creating that intolerable funk. I don't care. I just hate that smell. You might as well burn your clothes if you get any of their splatter on you. It is the only way to get the smell out.

I seriously considered the desert because of that reasoning, but I could not adjust my plan. North remained the more appropriate option for me. My thinking was, the desert's indiscriminate propensity for dehydrating everything made living in that venue almost as dangerous as the zombies.

I hate feeling overheated more than I hate being cold all the time.

I loved the heated squabbles over destination, but I had my own, and I was not going to change it. Confidence in your direction is good.

The discussions would invariably move to gear.

By way of a quick inventory, important stuff first; I had two pump handle twelve gauge shotguns, two modified Glock 21-C's with those cool integrated laser sights and thirteen round clips, and a pre-ban AR-15 with six, thirty round clips.

I always kept the clips loaded, but kept the guns safely locked down in the walk-in closet of the master bedroom.

For clothes, my wife and I had double insulated Sorrel boots, multiple snowsuits, leather jackets, and tons of jeans, shirts and sweaters.

We didn't have time to grab any clothes for the baby.

We only had enough instant and canned food for about a month, if we stretched it, so I figured we would get to my parents house before heading to Inuvik. There we could pool our food and armaments.

As a family group, we could loot some water and other foodstuffs on the way, just like everyone else. But we'd have more success: Our advantage, organization, high-powered firearms, and the willingness to use them.

My Father's gun collection was so extensive that he required a Federal Firearms License. A second amendment guy to the end, he even had all the re-loader hardware for bullets and shotgun shells, including manuals, materials, and illustrated how-to guides.

He use to tell me to recycle my brass in order to save money on my target-shooting fix, but I never did.

My truck was the standard production jet-black heavy-duty GMC, with scoops on the front hood and a flat hard topper on the bed. It had those aggressive off road tires and the rims and runners gleamed with chrome. The engine purred, or growled, depending on how close your right foot was to the floor.

We even got decent gas mileage.

I loved that truck.

My plan accounted for having to get out of the house in a rush, but I found that planning and practice are two different things when your wife and kid are involved.

We originally bought our house because of the windows. Windows, good for resale value, bad for slowing down large zombies throwing things.

You have never been all thumbs until you are torn from slumber by the loud crash of your three-hundred pound defensive lineman of a neighbor, hurling cinderblocks through your downstairs bay windows.

It was five twenty-four in the morning on Saturday June 3rd, one lifetime ago. I haven't been home since.

You have never been more confused as when you, screaming for your neighbor to stop, pump two rounds from one of your pistols into one of his kneecaps. Your three hundred-pound defensive lineman of a neighbor takes it without so much as a flinch, and keeps clawing his way upstairs grunting and moaning.

He should be screaming with pain, I thought to myself.

His eyes looked like they were bloodshot with coagulated blood. Almost black.

One bullet to the stomach and two more to the head, and he is still coming. Two more and he's almost to the baby's room. The last four get the job done.

In a blur, that probably took a short time than it felt, I slapped in the second clip, handed the pistol to my wife. She was on point while I gathered the baby.

I covered the lower half of my face and stepped over my large neighbor's headless corpse, fighting back a gag.

My wife had filled one of the shotguns by the time the baby and I got to the master bedroom.

I tried 911. Nothing. Not even a dial tone.

We heard something else crashing through the broken window downstairs.

Two shots of buck to the throat, and my neighbor's wife joined him. Her eyes were black, and her pajamas covered with someone else's bloody flesh. Female Zombie neighbor seemed almost as startled by her second death, as my wife was from the kick of the shotgun.

You could hear chaos and panic outside. Screams, gunfire, and moans carried each other along in the breeze. Echoes of a variety of death slapped and recoiled off the smooth maintenance-free sided houses next door.

It seemed unseasonably chilly.

With my hands shaking, I decided it was time to get dressed and execute the plan.

Get our gear, clothes, and ride, and get to my parent's house. Get loaded up and organized there, then head to Inuvik. The family would come with us north, when I sold them on the benefits.

I instructed my wife of our material needs. I would protect while she collected.

I ran cover on the main floor with the AR-15 semi-machine gun, since reloading was quick. Plus, I figured one-hundred and eighty shots was better than twenty-four shotgun shells or twenty-six pistol shots. Glock clips are difficult to load.

My wife got the baby and our supplies into the truck in four trips. Three more deadies advanced through the broken bay windows. That was as far as they were going to get. Just add them to my death toll for the day, I thought.

Our active resistance was starting to get us more attention from the groaning masses outside.

Signs of life, to these juicers, meant food.

We took the shells and all of our guns. I almost buckled under the load.

I gave my wife a reloaded shotgun in addition to another loaded pistol clip. I carried my loaded pistol in my belt.

I should have purchased holsters, I remember thinking.

We ran into very little resistance in the closed garage once we got everything into the truck. Leaving the neighborhood, I forced myself to concentrate exclusively on avoiding the other cars and the anarchy in the streets.

I'll feel bad about the body count later, I thought just before I thanked God for my truck. Hooray for four-by-four.

Another quick word on the undead: They are dumb. Your basic deadie is just smart enough to be able to clean bathrooms for a living. That is, if they studied earnestly and you showed them how to operate the door every time. The concept of pulling a door open is too much for them to handle, and they startle easy. You know, like newborns. It becomes somewhat comical once you are use to their appalling physical presentation.

They remind me of drunks, who are mad enough to throw things but too inebriated to hit anything moving as fast as the GMC. They have no concept of size or fear of momentum, making them dangerous in compact large groups, but twitchy-coagulated-puddles when Joe and Jane Juicer neglect to get out of your way. Messy.

I would avoid them where I could, but I was, in no uncertain terms, getting to my folks' house. If deadies were not clear of our path along the roads and in the ditches, they were a wet spot.

I'll have to clean them out of the scoops when we get up north, I thought.

We didn't stop to help anyone along the way. It was everyone for themselves, and everyone knew it. You could never be sure if that someone you try to assist wasn't already infected, just waiting to change over.

We had no desire to be a part of a horror movie surprise.

No time for full roadside physicals.

Even if they were clean, it's a safe bet that they were just waiting to shoot you in the back the first second you turn it.

We finally made it to my folk's place. It took us two with the detouring, road killing, and off-roading. Normally it takes half an hour to make the trip, but at least we had made it.

You have never tested your mettle until you've had to kill the dogs who have been part of your family for years.

You tell yourself that they are infected.

You tell yourself it is them, or it's you.

You say you are too late to help them.

You think you are doing them a favor.

You are, but that part of you that grieves remains. It's the same part that already has an adrenalin hang-over. That part, your humanity, becomes your biggest liability. It manifests itself as hesitation and tears.

Your sense of danger returns to the forefront only because your wife is screaming at you. Survive, and avoid infection at all costs!

Cock-aim-fire-and-fire-and-fire-and-fire.

Repeat until they stop advancing on you with pulled back jowls and blackened eyes.

The grooves that serve as the sights for the AR-15 do not compensate for tears, but the number of shots per clip does.

The spray of buckshot does not stop you from feeling guilty about having to kill the deadie versions of you brother and father, either.

I found them fighting each other and clawing at a locked door upstairs. They wanted to get to my mother who was hiding in the bathroom. They were fighting over who was first to feed. They were fighting the door because they had forgotten how to open it. My mother was crying behind it.

Firearms are a defense, not a vaccine. You can't bring them back. Killing them is their only cure. Your brother has dog bites on his legs and your father has brother bites on his right arm.

God, the reek in that house was almost unbearable.

Survive and avoid infection.

You fire, repeatedly until your shotgun is empty. They would do the same thing if fates were reversed.

You understand. Hell, even your dieing mother understood.

She had been bitten pretty badly. I knew it was only a matter of time until she turned. You hate knowing what would happen after she did.

She's confused, she is calling to God, and she is telling you good-bye. She knows the score. She tells you that she truly wants you, and your family to endure. She tells you to go as she falls forward, dead.

She was my mom until that last breath.

She was my mother until she stood up reeking of new death.

Her lurch towards my jugular was the last thing she ever did.

It took my wife, again, to remind me of the plan. Screaming for me focus my attention to our goals.

Our family.

Us.

The survivors.

We had inventory to gather before any more juicers knew where we were. My mom would have wanted it that way.

That's what we did, although thinking back I don't remember much of it. Grab-n-go isn't the most appropriate description, but it's the first one that pops in my head.

In the back of the truck five hundred pounds of food, guns, gear, and clothes. I even snagged two of those plastic industrial strength fifty-gallon barrels. Don't know why my old man had those laying around, but by the time we left one was filled with spare gas.

I was actually able to siphon gas from all of my family's autos. I never believed that siphoning actually worked, but thankfully, I was wrong.

My wife ran cover for the baby and me while we got loaded. It seemed like we had not drawn any unwanted attention. Yet despite the rural location, our heightened sensitivity to smell and movement remained.

Numbness sets in at about hour ten on the trip north by northwest. Your wife and child sit silent, each in as much shock as you. The baby occasionally whimpers for food or a diaper change, and you less occasionally sniffle.

Sporadic radio reports detail the comings and goings of the deadies and the aggressive advance of the epidemic. It's described as an insistent, and exponential swell. Talking heads fill you in on all of the theories of where it all started and what you should do.

One source story claimed it all started in the homeless community in San Francisco. Another story reported that an infected person brought it to the US west coast on an overseas flight to SFO from China.

Both really creepy, but I projected myself better into the second story. You know, being the one sky-marshal on that alleged flight. Being the only one in the 747 wide body, that could defend him or herself, knowing full well that there were too many deadies, too few bullets, and no where to go.

Hopeless, but at least he or she hadn't had to kill their, dogs, whole family, and twelve neighbors from their tight-knit suburban community.

If that airliner story was true, I wonder what the arrival at the gate was like. What did the pilots do when they heard screams, shots, or when the flight attendants stopped reporting in halfway over the pacific?

Damn.

I hoped the alleged sky-marshal saved one last shell for themselves.

Well, on closer examination, maybe we were better off than I thought. Our way out was north, and I had no short supply of anything but distance between my family and the undead contagion.

The talking heads all agreed that it started in San Francisco, and that the CDC had been sluggish and completely impotent in response.

Have to love critics even in times like these.

The talking heads' answer to the crisis: Don't panic John Q. Public. Everyone just stay indoors.

They always say that, I remember thinking.

Then again, my Zombie Plan had cross catastrophe applications. Survived nuclear attack, civil war, some kind-of ridiculous Caucasian holocaust: Yep, in retrospect, it would have worked across the board.

I locked eyes with my wife just long enough, to risk not hitting anything immobile yet with enough brevity to avoid crying. I needed to occupy my mind with something wile driving through South Dakota.

Main issue with our situation was that my plan really only considered me. A plan for one sole survivor, not for three. Not for a family with an infant. What would I do if one of them became infected? Got eaten?

Could I become more horrible than I had already? Could I kill them? Give them mercy? I had already killed my entire extended family. How long could I protect my immediate family?

I blinked away tears at the thought.

My humanity was in a no holds barred battle with my will to survive.

Later, I locked eyes with my wife again. It was an easy decision to make. I needed to protect them, for me. We were going to survive. Together.

I loved them.

I decided to cope with the happenings of the day by sublimating grief with planning. You know, logistical filler over the screams outside and the reports on the radio.

I never got the chance to tell my wife about the adjustments.

They say that in politics gridlock enables the status quo. Well, the same holds true at border patrol checkpoints. A Marshall Law deadlock at the entrance to Canada was enabling the deadies' cause. That was the status quo. It was allowing them to walk up the road from behind us, and feed or at their leisure. The crowd was getting larger and larger.

Big rock, and a much worse hard place.

I could see the wave fast approaching from my rear view mirror. We had come too far to sit there.

Small town shops were the safest to loot, and siphoned gas usually only cost about a clip of bullets. That was, if you ran the deadies down with your first.

I even stocked up on wiper blades and windshield wiper fluid. Both of which, we needed badly.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were indiscriminately killing anyone who failed to turn back, or tried to cross the border of their country from Montana. We all waited, log gammed at the border of our deliverance.

Why aren't these people home protecting their families, or executing their own emergency plans, I remember thinking. They must think that if they defend the borders they can keep the infection out. They were trying to contain it within the borders of the United States.

"Don't they know this is futile?" I said to myself.

Almost immediately after I spoke, as if on queue, I saw a juicer's blackened eyes looking at my child and wife in the back seat. The dirty zombie had actually climbed atop of my truck's flatbed cover holding a rock.

An unacceptable desecration with intentions that made me as angry as it did sick.

He had a dark seeping bite gouge on his cheek.

I immediately chanced the RCMP fire.

Mr. Sneaky slipped off the back the second my foot hit the floorboards.

To the Mounties' credit, they did manage to hit my truck with some crossfire. Thankfully, no engine hits, and the tires remained un-punctured.

The driver's side window exploded. My right bicep was struck with what felt like a sledgehammer. I could hear other bullets careening into the truck.

Please God, don't let them hit the gas or shells in the bed, I remember thinking. Please God, keep the cab safe!

By luck and with some help from the wave of undead breaking over the RCMP checkpoint, we made it.

Yeah, lucky to make it. Sure.

The engine growled for hours after that. My wife wrapped my arm in a t-shirt from the back seat and sat crying softly and mumbling to the baby.

My adrenal glands were firing blanks.

My arm ached with each beat of my heart.

We drove north and northwest as fast as possible, bullet holes in the truck whistled the whole way. We passed few other groups of people.

I pulled a sweater over me to fend off the chill.

Ignore their cry for help and keep moving, I thought. It's probably a set up.

I must have been so focused on pushing hard north that everything else faded into non-concern. There was nothing but total focus on getting north, until the empty fuel light on the dash blinked yellow, snapping me back into real consciousness.

I felt spent and light headed.

In shock, perhaps.

I remember thinking, now would be a great time to wake up.

You have never truly felt irrevocably hollow until you realize, at that first stop mid-Alberta, that sleep wasn't the reason you wife and baby had been so quiet for the past four hours.

Fucking Mounties.

Why hadn't she said anything?

If a scream could purge the remnants of humanity from your carcass, then you can go ahead and call me a deadie. It was the last sound I ever made. I became a silent empty hole around a blackened deflated soul.

A nothing, with nobody left.

Suicide became my new plan. I wanted to be close with my family again.

Kneeling on the ground next to the driver's side of the truck, I held my limp wife and son tightly in my arms. The breeze was cold against my back, the blood dark and slippery along the insides of my arms. Their faces cold as I kissed them goodbye. My eyes were the only thing that felt warm.

With a freed trembling hand, I put my wife's pistol to my temple.

I pulled the trigger. Misfire.

I cocked the pistol again and aimed it under my chin. Misfire.

I dropped my dead wife and son to the ground and angrily cocked the pistol a third time. This time I put it in my mouth. Misfire.

I looked at the pistol and regarded my family on the ground in front of me.

It was a sign. It had to be a sign.

Unfair.

What were the odds of three misfires from our stock of well-maintained munitions? Even a smaller chance that they would all be right next to each other, in one clip of thirteen.

Highly, highly, highly unlikely.

I cocked the gun again and put the next four live rounds into the jaw of a startled juicer trying to sneaking up on us from underneath the truck.

Stupid deadie.

I needed to survive, but I wanted to die. No. My wife would want me to remember the plan's goals. That had to be why she had been quiet.

I could almost hear her screaming at me about the plan when I shot stinky Mr. Sneaky.

"Survive and avoid infection at all costs!" she yelled down to me.

The deadies get nothing.

After that, it was nothing but cold calculated survival.

Nothing else mattered, and I have let nothing interfere with my priorities.

The plan's objectives were to survive and to avoid infection at all costs, so that is what I have done. No apologies.

A dead soul, that's what makes you able to survive the living dead.

No infection.

Survival.

All costs.

I made it to Inuvik after stopping off to bury the last of my family.

I even remember the spot.

It's at the bend in the road off Highway-Eight. I dug out a spot for them fifteen paces due west from the road sign declaring Inuvik's city limits were one-hundred and fifty kilometers away.

I buried them there and not closer to Inuvik because I wanted to give them the proper attention. I wanted to reflect, and managing crowds of survivors, zombies, and potential zombies would have been too hard.

Survival means thinking ahead.

Besides, I had dealt with enough shit that week already.

What I have come to realize looking back at my story here, is that plan or no plan, this plague does not have to consume or infect you to win. It's true. I envy my family. I envy that alleged sky-marshal, my neighbors, and everyone one here the Northwestern Territories. At least they are free.

Damn infection was already running its course in the streets of Inuvik by the time I got there. I think a ship or someone ahead of me must have brought it. Half of the town was trying to eat the other half, when I declared my arrival with a screaming truck and constant fire.

That was a lifetime ago, now it is just me.

I have taken to lopping heads off with a super sharp Japanese sword. I took the blade from one of Inuvik's last potential zombies. It saves ammo, but it did cost me one of my last pistol bullets.

As it turns out, it was well worth the investment. With fields filled with frozen juicers as far as the eye can see, it is all I get to do for fun around here.

Survivors have posed a persistent threat to my survival. You just can't trust anyone anymore. Everyone who is not me is either a zombie or a potential zombie.

Don't get me wrong, survivors do get more humane treatment from me than the deadies do. Nevertheless, the outcome is always the same.

It may sound barbaric but it isn't.

I have always been upfront and straightforward about my intentions.

I'm not shooting anyone in the back.

No scary movie surprises, no last minute betrayals.

I figure, what's fair is fair, so my conscience is clear.

I've noticed lately that frozen zombie numbers have been tailing off a bit. There seem to be fewer replacements for the ones I cut down. I'm starting to think that they've lost interest.

Perhaps decomposition has done its job?

Maybe the waiting game is over?

It sure took long enough.

But then again, I 'm not going to hold my breath.

Until I die or I become infected, I will continue to exist in a perpetual reactive state. I will spend every single second within reach of a weapon, every waking moment on guard or ensuring viable escape routes. It's not living, but it is what remains of my life.

It just hurts when you have nothing to live by but a plan that started out as a joke.

I am so sick of the cold.

I am so sick of the smell around here.

Perhaps I am due for a change of scenery. Maybe, it is time for me to violate everything and head south.

You know, go to the desert and see how the other half lives.

Maybe we can put together a counter strike or something.

Might as well.

Rate this submission

Plot:
Dialogue:
Characters:
Wording:

You must be logged in to rate submissions