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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.

IT’S IN THE PAST by Philip Roberts
September 9, 2008  Short stories   Tags:   

The man lit his match on the cement guardrail along the edge of the building. He touched the flame to the tip of his cigarette, and then flicked the match off the roof. Cigarettes had become a rare sight, and Jack suspected that the man had killed someone to get that pack.

He was a big man, the bulk of his weight centered in his gut. A thick, brown beard covered his face. He wore a flannel shirt, torn in several places, and a pair of dirty, faded jeans. Chubby fingers plucked the cigarette out of his mouth, which was curled into a smile as he stared at the roof across the street from him. On the ground Jack made note of the shotgun leaning against the guardrail, as well as the pistol tucked away in the man’s pants.

The man didn’t see Jack; far more concerned with the family across the street, though, as the conversation continued, it became obvious the man really just cared about the family’s thirteen-year-old daughter.

“Hey, if you want help, you have to pay the price, and money ain’t worth shit anymore,” the man yelled. Two lecherous eyes fixated on the young girl who did her best to hide behind her father.

Jack had been listening to this conversation for the past ten minutes. The family across the street was trapped, and this man happened upon the roof and saw them over there. They called for help, which he said he’d gladly give, for a price.

On the streets below them thousands of corpses shambled along. This block was once part of a nice downtown district, filled with just about anything a person could want. Now, it was a cemetery just like the rest of the city. Jack had grown so used to the low moans and cries the dead made, he didn’t even notice anymore.

“Fine. If you want to die over there, be my guest,” the man yelled. Jack could only partially hear the other side of the conversation. He hid behind the stairwell door that Mr. Pedophile had walked through a few minutes earlier. Jack stood on this roof for the same reason Mr. Pedophile did; he had been rummaging through the stores for anything useful, and planned to get to the next building by rooftop. When he heard the sound of footsteps, he decided it might be best to observe his friend before making contact. Jack was happy with his decision.

“Well fuck you too buddy. You can rot over there.” Mr. Pedophile turned around and shook his head. He reached down to pick his shotgun off the ground. He froze before his fingers could touch it.

The barrel of Jack’s gun almost touched the man’s forehead. A man like this didn’t deserve to live. Even if the world hadn’t gone to hell, Jack would’ve had no problems putting a bullet through the brain of a pervert. He certainly didn’t hesitate now.

The bullet ripped through Mr. Pedophile’s right eye and blew out the back of his skull. He stumbled back, dead on his feet, and slammed into the guardrail. Jack quickly leaned down and grabbed the man’s legs to finish tossing him over the edge. Might as well give the dead something to eat.

The body slammed into the roof of a car and immediately the zombies swarmed all over it. They tore at Mr. Pedophile until there was nothing left, most of his body gone in the span of minutes there were so many of them.

“Why’d you do that,” Jack heard someone yell. He looked up at the family across the street and the look of anger on the father’s face. He probably hated the notion of murder, even if the person deserved it.

“I helped improve the human gene pool,” Jack replied, annoyed with himself as he realized he didn’t take the cigarettes from Mr. Pedophile before he pushed the body over the edge.

The father looked like he wanted to say more, but then obviously realized it might not be in his best interest to insult the man who might be able to save his family. So instead, he yelled back, “Can you help us?”

Jack leaned over the edge of the roof and stared down at the street filled with zombies. “And what might you need help with?”

“We need to get out of here. We don’t have any food left. My family hasn’t eaten in days.” His wife stood next to him, thirteen year old in front, as if he showed her off to Jack as a means of getting sympathy.

Unlike on the side of the street Jack stood on, the buildings across the street were further apart. That was one of the reasons Jack didn’t bother to loot them. The risk was just a little too high.

“And where do you expect to go?” Jack yelled.

“We just need to find someplace with food.”

There really wasn’t any conflict of interest. A family needed help, and Jack had the ammunition to help them. “Okay, I’ll be right over, but remember, I’ll help you, but I don’t need a family tagging along behind. Understand.”

“Yes, and thank you,” the father yelled.

Jack turned away from the ledge and glanced down at the shotgun. As tempting as the weapon was, he already had plenty of ammo and weapons. He had a backpack slung across his shoulder filled with various supplies. Looting a gun shop proved quite helpful.

He walked down the staircase and thought about what he planned to do. He didn’t have access to any kind of sewer or underground passage to the other side of the street. If he wanted to cross, he’d need to shoot his way through the masses, and the idea didn’t sound tempting, but in the end, he didn’t know what other choice he had.

At the entrance Jack stopped and took off his backpack. Given what he was about to do, he didn’t feel like reloading if he could help it. He already had two fully loaded guns tucked in his pants, and another almost fully loaded gun in a holster on his hip. He grabbed another one, and zipped the bag back up. With a deep sigh, Jack pulled open the glass entrance to the store he stood in, and ran out in the street.

Guns weren’t a hobby of Jack’s before all of this started, however, survival proved good for training. He fired off five quick shots and took down two directly in front of him. Another bullet ripped through the head of a third one. By this point all of them turned to grab for Jack as he tried to weave in between them without wasting too many bullets. He quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen.

Decaying fingers groped at Jack’s arm. His bullet tore through the corpse’s neck, shattered its spine, and blew its head clear off. Another one, once a middle-aged man with a receding hairline, lunged at Jack’s throat. The barrel of the gun was almost in the zombie’s mouth when a bullet burned away its tongue before it blew out the back of the zombie’s head.

Jack didn’t hesitate and didn’t waste too much time aiming anymore as the hordes closed in on him. He unloaded his weapon and quickly grabbed the next, almost to the other side of the street and safety. Only then did he really consider whether or not the door would be unlocked, a fact he wished he had considered when he found it wasn’t.

He almost shot out the glass door, aware this would leave the building open, but what other choice did he have? Then, from inside, he saw movement as the father ran down the stairs and to the door.

Seven more shots, and Jack pulled out another gun. Jack had killed most of the zombie’s closest to him, allowing him a bit of safety, until he heard the sound of bare feet pounding on pavement. Apparently he’d found a runner.

The corpse of a teenage boy clad in a t-shirt and jeans burst through the crowded streets and ran towards Jack. Part of his right arm had been chewed away, presumably the wound that had eventually killed him. Aside from that unfortunate injury, he looked fine, probably turned only a few hours ago at most. The runners were always fresh.

Jack took aim at the running boy and fired. His bullet cut through the side of the boy’s neck, and didn’t make him falter in the least. Doing his best to aim, Jack waited for the boy, until he was almost there, bloody hands outstretched in eager anticipation. The entire top of the boy’s head exploded. Dead feet no longer supported the body, but the momentum still carried the boy, and his near headless body crashed into Jack and knocked him to the ground.

By that point the father managed to open the door, his family behind him, and he help push the corpse off of Jack’s chest and help him into the store. He shut the door while Jack wiped blood off his face. Outside the zombies closed in around the door, but none of them made any worthwhile motion to break the glass.

“Are you okay?” The wife asked with a look of concern. Jack nodded and looked around the building. He stood in the middle of an antique store, the family’s home presumably on the second floor.

“How long have you been here?” Jack asked as he looked around.

“A few weeks. Since all of this started,” the wife answered. She reached out her hand to Jack in order to shake, and said, “My name is Mary.” Jack took her hand and shook it, and as he did she motioned to the rest of her family. “George is my husband, and this is my daughter, Tracy.” Mary placed a hand on Tracy’s shoulder. The girl stared at the glass window; stared at the bloody, putrefying faces on the other side of it.

“Is there any backdoor to this place?” Jack looked at George as he asked the question, but Mary answered. Still, Jack couldn’t take his eyes off of George, who had a look of contemplation on his face that Jack didn’t like.

“Yes, to an alley behind the building, but those creatures are out there, too. We tried to leave, but we can’t get past them, and don’t have a weapon to use.”

“Let me see,” Jack said, and started to follow Mary as she motioned to show him to the back door. They only made it a few steps before George gasped, and drew everyone’s attention.

A stricken look touched George’s face as he stared at Jack, and Jack knew George recognized him. Jack had never met George or his family before, but that didn’t mean George wouldn’t know Jack’s face. Most of the country knew Jack’s face before all of this started.

George lunged for him. Jack assumed George hoped to catch him off guard and get the guns away from him before he could defend himself. George did manage to slam Jack into the wall. He reached for the gun in Jack’s holster, and Jack wasn’t able to stop him from getting it. However, Jack managed to pull out a gun of his own, and so the two faced off, each with a weapon pointed at the other.

“What are you doing?” Mary screamed at her husband, but her voice was drowned out by the sound of two gunshots.

The glass entrance shattered as the bullet that tore through George’s head continued on into the door. Blood trickled down Jack’s shoulder from where George’s bullet had grazed him, but he ignored the flowing warmth. He saw only the glass shatter and hands covered with dead, rubbery skin reach through into the store.

Time slowed for Jack as everything went to hell around him. From far away Jack heard Mary scream her husband’s name. She rushed to the side of her dead husband, her goal to grab his gun. Would she use this gun on the horde of the dead climbing through the door, or Jack? Mary brought the weapon up with a scowl on her face. She screamed something Jack didn’t hear. He didn’t hesitate when he saw her intentions.

Two bullets, and Mary crumpled lifelessly to the floor. The zombies fell to their knees in front of the two bodies and began to claw into them. Jack didn’t let this momentary reprieve go to waste.

In the corner of the room Tracy tried to make herself invisible, both to the zombies and Jack. He hadn’t wanted to kill her parents, nor did he want to see her die if it could be helped. He’d seen far too much death already that day. So Jack hurried over to the girl. She screamed as he grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the room.

Already most of the zombies hurried past the fallen Mary and George. Jack ran through a long hallway with a set of stairs at the end of it and a fire escape along the wall. Fortunately, Tracy only cried, and didn’t struggle against his pull as he dragged her down the hallway.

Out the back door and into the alley Mary had told him about. Only three of them shambled along, but that would quickly change when the others came flooding out of the back door.

Four bullets, and two of the three zombies crumpled to the ground. He had two doors to choose from, one of them he found locked, the other thankfully open. Jack slammed the door behind him but couldn’t find a lock. Of course, so far as he’d seen, the dead couldn’t turn a doorknob.

The two of them stood in a storage room. Metal shelves stacked with books surrounded them. The lights overhead were dead, the power to most of the city long since extinguished. For a few minutes the two of them didn’t do anything, Jack leaning against the door, and Tracy a few feet away.

Now had come the time to face the girl. She stared at him, obviously fearful of his intentions, but just as afraid to run. Jack didn’t say anything at first as he met her gaze. Finally he lowered his head and took a seat on the floor.

For a month before all of this started everyone in the country knew the name Jack Krendan. The body count was up to twenty-three before society crumbled. No connection between the victims. No specific group targeted. He’d kill anyone if he wanted to, and he always carved his initials into the victims. Let the world know he’d done the deed.

His face from a mug shot taken a few years back was all over the media. Jack was on the verge of getting caught, and nearly did, when out of nowhere, the dead began to get up and walk.

And why did Jack kill all those people? At the time, it gave him a rush of power he’d never had before. He killed each to prove his worth to himself. Now, Jack knew how powerless he really was. Surrounded by death, saving a life seemed more meaningful than taking one.

“I’m sorry,” Jack finally said, and glanced over at Tracy. “I didn’t want to kill them.” And he didn’t. Jack didn’t want to kill anyone anymore. The very idea disgusted him, and when he thought about the people he had killed, his stomach hurt. People like Mr. Pedophile he had no problems killing. People like that only caused misery, and right now, the world had too much misery.

He almost tried to explain that he’d changed, and that her parents brought it on themselves, but in the end Jack didn’t say anything. He stood up, pulled off his backpack, and pulled out a gun. Tears streamed down Tracy’s cheeks as she backed away, but still didn’t run.

Jack made sure the weapon wasn’t loaded before he walked up to Tracy and handed it to her. She recoiled from him at first. “Take it,” he finally said, and Tracy obeyed.

“Like I said,” Jack continued, “I didn’t want to kill your parents. Here’s a weapon. I’ll leave you some ammo for it. If I thought you wouldn’t shoot me, I’d give you the ammo right now.” Jack opened his mouth to say more, but in the end just shook his head and walked past Tracy.

Where the storeroom ended Jack opened a door into a bookstore. He glanced over his shoulder at Tracy motionless behind him, the weapon gripped firmly in her hands. He felt sorry for her. She was going to die. There was no getting around it. Even though he wouldn’t pull the trigger, her death was his fault. Jack set the ammo on the ground and walked into the bookstore.

Out front the street was largely cleared away as the dead continued to pile into the store next door. A few zombies turned to face Jack when he walked out into the street, but they never came close to him before he hurried to the next store. He needed some food himself.

Before he went in another building Jack couldn’t help but glance back at the broken glass door. He wanted to think his days of killing people were over. Hopefully the next survivors he came across wouldn’t recognize him.

With a sigh, Jack walked into another building, and left the dead behind him.


Please see www.philipmroberts.com


  1. Brilliant! i loved it!

    Comment by Serum Senyx on September 9, 2008 @ 11:43 am

  2. Finally a new story. Thank you I loved it.
    Please keep writing you are very good. More please.

    Comment by Zoe on September 9, 2008 @ 2:20 pm

  3. That was top notch. Really fantastic.

    Comment by Joe from Philly on September 9, 2008 @ 3:41 pm

  4. Simply amazing! I LOVED this short!
    Great short that built the suspence and character very well. I was looking for a story for a short horror zombie film we intend to make and would love to use your story with permission. Email me if you you are cool with it.

    Keep writing!

    Comment by Nico on September 10, 2008 @ 5:24 pm

  5. NICE. Love the idea of a person having two lives pre and post-apocalypse. Nice work.

    Comment by Clitoris Rex on September 15, 2008 @ 11:10 am

  6. this was the first story i read on this site. its amazing and i doubt much will compare. i want to read more. this was great sir… truly great

    Comment by damien on October 1, 2008 @ 2:59 am

  7. Nice, one of the better stories and feels more related to the original than many others!

    Comment by John on October 2, 2008 @ 3:56 am

  8. Terribly sad but realistic. The only flaw I found was that a supposed one armed teen attacked him and in the next sentence he was avoiding bloody it’s “hands”. He only had one left.

    Comment by Andre on December 17, 2008 @ 2:12 am

  9. Great short story! I like the original viewpoint of an apocalypse-savvy criminal.

    Comment by Eric on January 7, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

  10. Oh, poor Jack. Or perhaps more so, poor Tracy! Great story, it really shows how people can focus more on someone’s past, even when the present’s falling apart all around them.

    Comment by Liam on July 7, 2009 @ 6:14 pm

  11. Good stuff =)

    Comment by Cody on July 13, 2009 @ 8:00 pm

  12. I especially like the whole theme that a person who has done bad things for the wrong reasons has the moral compass to do them for the right ones.

    Comment by Oppressed1 on April 14, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

  13. I feel extremely sorry for both Jack and Tracey.

    Comment by malta307 on June 1, 2012 @ 9:31 pm

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