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WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

CLEANUP CREW by Patrick M. Tracy
October 17, 2007  Short stories   Tags:   

Andrea leaned against the wide windowsill of the capital building and looked down into the square. In the distance, fire was consuming the outlying districts of the city. The end of everything—the big, stupid hammer between the eyes that knocks society down—the movies, bibles, and chiller books always made it seem as if it would be so loud. Eardrum-smashing screams as everything blows up and goes dark. Really, it had been quiet. Maybe that was the whole idea. You just exhale, and it goes away. Free at last, free at last.

She turned back, away from the burning horizon. “You know what really gets me?”

Vincent came to her, putting his hands on her shoulders. She leaned back against his chest, her dark hair cascading against him. A few weeks before, she’d been a high-powered young lawyer, on the fast track to big money and a mansion on the hill. He’d been a janitor, barely making the rent and alimony payments. Vincent wins, world loses. More at eleven. “What gets you, hon?”

“They still feed the dead.”

Vincent looked down. He’d been trying not to all day. The blank-eyed hundreds stood very still, waiting for their turn at the soup line. They would step up, hold out their tin cup, and walk away with their vegetable beef, sipping slowly. Orderly. The complete calm of the soulless. Some of them, far gone already, shambled like the old horror movies suggested they would.

They needed fuel enough to move their masses of necrotic tissue around, fuel enough to do whatever incomprehensible task that kept them shambling. If they dropped their cup, chances were they’d soon slump down and start to rot. No one could say whether their jobs had been completed or left undone. You could see the mechanism, but never the purpose.

“Feed ‘em or fight ‘em, Drea. We already saw how that went. We’ve got the guns, but they’ve got the numbers. I just hope we don’t run out of vittles before they cull down to a reasonable number.”

“Do you look at their faces, Vin? Can you bear it?” She turned around and held him tight, burying her cheek against his chest.

He breathed out. “Yeah. I do, but I don’t like it. I don’t like seeing people I used to know. I know that whatever was Dave Jenkins in real life—he’s gone, but something is still walking around in his skin, wearing that damn blue suit of his, still smelling like Aqua Velva, beneath the death stink.”

“I saw…” she started. “It’s just that, I mean, it’s everybody, Vin. Even the people I didn’t like, even that reporter who made me look like an idiot on the news last October. It’s hard to come up to that sandwich board and eat, you know?”

Andrea never cried. This was the closest she’d ever come, and she kept it together. Vincent felt the dampness start at the corner of his eyes. “It’s a lot of goodbyes I never got to say. Even Martina, much as we fought…we loved each other once.”

“Big Dave’s Radio Free Denver said that maybe only one in a hundred people survived Day Zero. He said that there’s no rhyme or reason for why one person zombied up and another was fine and another just turned to ash. How could that be? I mean, there’s this light in the sky, and then…silence.”

Vincent kissed her on top of the head. “Don’t know. No one does. Much as we study some things, I don’t think we’re big enough to see all the way around them. Nobody’s admitting to anything. If anyone’s responsible, or if anyone responsible survived their big experiment, they’re not talking.”

“The radio’s been quiet for days. Even Big Dave Ohlfest’s gone dark. I wonder if they got him.”

Vincent shrugged. “I hope he just lost power. He was a pretty cool dude. That second night, when we were all listening, hoping for a pulse…” Vincent broke away, brushing at his eyes. He walked to one of the other windows. The mountains out to the east were the same, untouched, indifferent. His heart thrummed. He didn’t know if it was hate or hope.

“When they’re gone, do you think it’ll be over? Is this all there is? I mean, what the hell are they doing?”

Vincent’s voice shook, but he kept it together. “I hope it’s not just the beginning. I hope, whatever’s keeping the dead ones moving, it’s something we won’t ever know, won’t ever have to understand. I hope it’s just…just fucking random, like some cosmic power cord got pulled out of the power socket.” Vincent didn’t try to brush away his tears anymore. If Andrea wouldn’t cry, he’d cry for her. “One thing’s for sure. The planet’ll be happy to shake the dust of us off its back. No more factories. No more cars. No more hole in the ozone layer. We’re out of the world killing business.”

She put her hands on his cheeks. “There you go with your silver lining again, Vin.”

He coughed, blinking the blur away from his vision. “I’m a naturally positive guy. What can I say?”

“You can…” Andrea started. A commotion rose up from the capital’s front lawn. Screaming. Gunfire. That constant, A-Flat tone that all the shambling dead make when they’re restless and looking for a fight.

“Come on, hon. Looks like it’s back to fighting.” Vincent picked up his Mossberg shotgun and two boxes of ammunition. At least it would be a break from the silence, a break from having to think of the reasons and the consequences. A break from having to think about anything.

Andrea turned pale, sweat popping on her forehead. She lifted the MAC 10 from the desk that had belonged to the governor and slipped a magazine into its grip.

“The sound’ll bring them up the hill, you know. We’ll be fighting them all afternoon now.”

Vincent’s smile seemed like a pale sunset in winter, even to him. “Don’t pout, sweetie. We’re all janitors now. Someone made a big mess and we have to clean it up.”


Author Bio: Patrick M. Tracy was born in Maine, but moved to the Southwest at twelve years of age. He attended Northern Arizona University, where he graduated with a degree in English. A published fiction writer and poet, he currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he fixes computers at a library to support his writing habit. For more information, please go to pmtracy.com


  1. Cool story with a new spin on the zombie apocalypse idea. I liked the ending. Keep up the good work.


    Comment by Paul Genesse on October 18, 2007 @ 12:19 pm

  2. A chilling start to a compelling story line. “…there’s this light in the sky, and then silence.” That’s a pretty good hook right there. “We’re all janitors now…” The concept of some becoming Zombies, some being vaporized, and a few others apparently unaffected is pretty interesting. I’d like to see how this tale unfolds.

    Comment by Bobby-T on October 18, 2007 @ 2:09 pm

  3. A good story. Well written and well thought out. Definitely leaves the reader wanting more. Looking forward to reading more of your work.

    Comment by drthunder on October 18, 2007 @ 5:52 pm

  4. Interesting take…good story

    Comment by Max Smith on December 15, 2007 @ 2:44 pm

  5. Is there going to be more, this and the Big Dave piece, could stand on their own, but reads like interesting chapters now, with the beginning and more to come endings.

    Comment by Mercurial Georgia on January 19, 2008 @ 9:02 pm

  6. Thanks, everyone. I appreciate that you took time to read my little story and comment. Mercurial Georgia, I do intend to continue the “flashover” story line. I have two more stories in the works at this point, and I’ll submit them when they’re ready.

    Again, thanks.

    Comment by Patrick M. Tracy on March 3, 2008 @ 9:15 pm

  7. The smartass comment I think is what hooked me into this one. “Vincent wins, world loses. More at eleven.” Brings the whole situation down to earth and a little bit of humor goes a long way.

    I’ll keep checking for more of your stories on here. Can’t wait for the next.

    Comment by Terry Schultz on August 13, 2009 @ 12:34 am

  8. Reminds me of S.M. Sterling a little with the “Change”. Like the idea

    Comment by Chris on October 8, 2009 @ 9:16 am

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