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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.

RURAL DEAD by Bret Hammond
October 20, 2008  Short stories   Tags:   

We’ve blocked off the reference room in the small community library for these interviews. Otto Miller sits across the table from me, his arms folded tightly against his chest. He is an elder in this small Amish community and looks every bit the part. I ask him to state his name and he simply stares at me and then looks down at the digital recorder I’ve placed on the table. He strokes his beard a couple times and then folds his arms again. I can see we’re going to get nowhere with this.

I click the device off. That’s not enough. I put it back down in my satchel and pull out a yellow legal tablet. As I click my pen he begins to speak.

“I have nothing against you, English, nor your devices. But you have to understand US. We don’t cling to your machines, we don’t participate in your ways, we don’t ask anything of you. But you and your…things…your ways…they are constantly thrust upon us. Even your plague.”

He points his finger squarely at me. I’ve heard of “righteous indignation,” but I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen it. “I read your newspapers, listen to your broadcasts. You think this plague was the hand of God? Wouldn’t that be convenient? If all this were simply the divine pouring out judgment and wrath upon the world. No, this was your own doing. You—you English—you played with the natural order of things and this was the result. Like breeding your livestock in one family line, sooner or later the results will haunt you. They haunt all of us.”

I’m eager to get the interview on track. “Why don’t we back up a bit, Mr. Miller. When was it the infection first touched your community?”

Otto Miller looks out the window for a moment and gathers his thoughts. “You are from the city, yes?”

I smile, “Yes. New York. My home is very far removed from what you have around here.”

“You might think that we’re completely isolated from the rest of the world, but it’s not true, that’s not our way. Separate but not isolated. We are not yoked to the world the way you are. So we were aware of the sickness the “African Rabies” as they called it. We read the reports in the newspapers, listened to the radio and even watched the news on the television in the store in town. As more and more truth came out about what the disease truly was we were…cautious. But it seemed as far removed from us as…well…as New York City.

“It was in March, after that first winter. It was a hard winter and I suppose if it hadn’t been we would have seen them sooner and maybe been able to prepare ourselves better. I was up at 4:00 am preparing for my morning chores. I was walking into the milking barn when I heard an odd sound in the pasture. I raised my lantern and that’s when I saw my first….plague victim.

“In life he had been Jonas Yoder a Mennonite from up the road. Jonas was a good man, I had known him all my life. There he stood in my pasture mouth open, moaning and what must have been a pitchfork wound through his chest.”

Elder Miller looks deep into my eyes to the point of discomfort. “I suppose something you need to understand, being from the city, is that the first victims we ever saw were our friends and neighbors. People we had known our whole lives. I’ve read your ‘survival guides’ with faceless pictures of the undead. These were faces we had known and welcomed into our homes for years. You need to understand that to understand us.”

I nod and he continues. “It was still an hour or so from daylight, so I was very aware of the need to get back inside. I wasn’t sure how Jonas got into my pasture but I felt sure he couldn’t get back out on the side closest to my home. I went back inside, locked the door and waited for sunup with my wife.

“Sunrise brought a horrifying sight. Jonas wasn’t alone. There was Rebecca his wife. Further out in the pasture I noticed members of the King family, the Beilers and a few people from town—some of them familiar others not. I also saw the gaping hole in my fence on the side closest to the road. That’s how they had gotten in.

“Even worse they had gotten into the barn through some loose planks I had intended to fix in the spring. They were in the stalls with my work animals. The sounds were awful. I could hear my horses crying out as their flesh was torn. The sound drew the undead into the barn to feed. By the time my son arrived there must have been over 30 of them in the barn.”

“So what did you and your son do?” I ask.

Otto Miller chuckles, “We simply did what needed to be done. We fixed the fence.”

I laugh with him. Here was a man who faced the worst disaster in history with the simple truth he had learned all his life—if there’s a hole in the fence you have to fix it. The world was going to hell but the Amish remained unchanged.

“We knew enough not to get close, we knew about the danger of the bites. But they were in the barn, so my son, Amos locked them in and we went to work fixing the fence. We couldn’t afford to have any more on our land so we strengthened the fence, added braces and chicken wire.

“So at this time it was just you, your wife and your son?”

“He had brought his wife and two children with him. After we fixed the fence he went out to the neighbors and brought back everyone he could find and convince to come. We are blessed with a large home that was often used as a meeting place. By the end of the day there were sixteen of us. We were able to bring a few more of our fellowship in over the next week or so. We grew to 33 members in our home.”

“That seems like a lot of people to house, let alone feed.”

Mr. Miller straightened in his chair. If I didn’t know of the humility of these people I would have thought there was a touch of pride in his response. “To be Amish is to know how to provide for your family and those you are in covenant with—even in the most difficult times. That is simply our way. Your infection simply allowed us to do for one another what we had always prepared to do.

“Canned goods were brought from other homes. There were still chickens in the coop, so we had eggs and the occasional fowl. We had to keep the birds inside the coop most of the time, though, their movement attracted too much attention from the infected and—we feared—would attract attention from survivors as well.”

“You saw other survivors from outside your community?”

“Occasionally. It is very difficult to know the intentions of those outside of the fellowship. We did our best to remain out of sight—as we always had—but occasionally they would come to the house looking for help or refuge.”

“Did they get any?”

“We wouldn’t turn them away empty, English. That wouldn’t be Christian. But we would give them some food, some water and send them on their way. ‘A cup of cold water in Jesus’ name’ is what the Scripture commands. They received that and more.

“However, we were very aware that our supplies were limited. It was just gardening season and while we could grow plenty for ourselves it would be some time before we could harvest. And we had no idea how long the ordeal would last. We knew it was best to not attract attention to ourselves. It was then that we realized we could use the infected to our advantage. Just like with our livestock, we would release them from the barn every morning and let them into the pasture. The sight of them was enough to keep the curious away.”

“So you would let them out of the barn by day? What about at night?”

Otto Miller looks at me like his next answer was the most logical and obvious. “We would herd them back into the barn. We had always done it with our livestock, it just seemed natural to do it with the undead. Also, we were uncomfortable with the idea of them roaming at night.”

“I’ve interviewed survivors all over the world. No one else ever reported of ‘herding’ the zombies. How did you…”

“Herding is something we’ve done all our lives. We were able to modify the cattle chutes that we had used to guide livestock into wagons for market. We would walk in front of them, guiding them to the barn and then use a rope ladder to get ourselves into the hayloft and back out of the barn.”

It seems time to ask the question that I’ve been waiting for, the question that makes the survival story of this Old Order Amish community so unique. “So was that when you came upon the idea to…make use of them?”

“As spring wore on and summer was coming we became aware that we might be in for a long stay. The infected had killed my workhorses and while we wouldn’t need as many crops, a few acres of corn and wheat would go a long way towards providing for us over the coming winter.

“Abraham Schrock was with us and he was an exceptionally skilled woodworker. One night as the women were putting the children to bed he showed me his plans for a new type of yoke. He estimated it would take eight of the infected to pull a plow and we would have to learn how to direct them but it seemed possible. He had brought his woodworking tools and within a few days we were ready to test the new yoke out. “

Mr. Miller catches my laughter. I shake my head and comment, “You actually farmed with zombies.”

His glare narrows at me, “What would you have me do? These were infected people who I had known all my life. It’s not in our way to ‘remove the head’ as your news reporters so eloquently put it. The Word of God tells us, “if any would not work, neither should he eat.” Well, they had already eaten my livestock. It was time for them to work.”

We are silent for a moment. I use the time to collect my thoughts and clarify my notes. Finally I break the silence. “So how well did it…work.”

“Better than you might think. It took two men with ropes around their necks to hold them straight from the sides, one man to guide the plow from behind and one or two of the little ones in front to….encourage them.”

“Little ones?” I ask.

“The children. We found that they made good lures for the infected—like dangling a carrot in front of an old mule. Yes, our children work, they do their share. They are strong and capable and never were in any real danger—no more danger than being trampled by a horse and we have known too many of those losses over the years.

“At any rate, the crops were in the ground. It would be a late harvest but there was still plenty of time. That winter there would be grain for flour, bread for the table, warmth in the home.”

“It sounds almost ideal. You’re an amazing group to have survived so well.”

“We know it was the Lord’s blessing. In fact, that fall we decided to hold a feast—a harvest festival. We prepared food from our crops, killed a few of the chickens and gave thanks. I remember it was the Sabbath—Sunday. We do not work on the Sabbath so the infected were kept in the barn all day.

“I suppose that’s why ‘they’ came. They didn’t see the infected and the children were playing in the yard under the trees. The adults were inside on the porch talking when my grandson brought the men to us.”

He shakes his head and looks down, “They were scavengers. Vile men who were simply moving from town to town, taking what they wanted. Killing. Raping. Here they had come…on our Sabbath. On our day of thanksgiving.

“They had guns. They walked into my home and ordered us to the center of the sitting room. There were only five of them but…it’s not our way to fight and with the women and children there it would have been…improper. They needed to see that our faith was strong that our ways were steadfast.

“I spoke up and told them what I had told the other visitors over the months. We had food and would share and could provide them with water and even directions but they could not stay. They merely laughed.

“One of them spoke up. I supposed he was their leader. From his swagger and his large gun I suspect he was used to others kowtowing to him. He said, ‘Well I’m sorry, Old Timer, but that’s just not going to work for us. You see, we’re going to stay for as long as we want and take what we want.’

“Those words were emphasized with a glance towards my daughter-in-law. I saw Amos bristle and step forward. I raised my palm to him and he backed down…as he should have. The outsiders just laughed.

“One of the other men must have realized that Amos was her husband, he pushed him with the butt of his rifle and Amos…poor Amos…always with the temper. He swung a fist at the man. The blow connected and he knocked him to the floor. That was when the leader stepped forward…put his gun to the side of Amos’ head and pulled the trigger.”

Mr. Miller stops and lowers his head. He removes his glasses and wipes his eyes, all the while in silence. I know enough to realize it’s their way in prayer. I know better than to break the silence.

He sighs, “My son was gone. All those months among those undead, what some consider monsters and yet here these ‘uninfected’ had brought the worst plague upon my home. My wife was in tears, holding our son. His wife in tears beside her. My grandchildren simply looking on…frozen in the moment.”

“I’m sorry,” I offer, knowing my words mean nothing. “You have my sympathy.”

“I think it was then, “ he continued, “that those men began to speculate on whether or not this would be as easy as they had thought. One of them said, ‘We don’t need this trouble, there’s too many of them. It’d be a waste of ammo. Let’s just take what we need and get out of here.’

“That must have sounded agreeable to their leader. He shook his head and looked back at me. ‘We’re going to need food. All we can carry.’

“’The women will pack it for you,’ I told him, glancing over at Katie Schrock. She nodded and went to the kitchen to prepare the bags for them.

“The man tapped me on the chest with the barrel of his gun. ‘You’re Amish, so I don’t suppose you have a car, but you must have horses around here somewhere. We’re going to need transportation.’”

“I tried to tell him the horses were gone but he didn’t believe me. In earnest, I didn’t want to delay his leaving us so I didn’t offer much more of an explanation. Finally he raised his weapon at my daughter-in-law and tapped the barrel against her head with each word, ‘Where…are…the…animals?’

“I looked him in the eye—just as I’m looking at you now, English, and I told him quite simply, ‘They’re in the barn.’”

The words just hang there and we sit in silence as I let the full weight of them press down on me. I cannot help but think of the “scavengers” as they walked out to the barn and wonder what images of riding off in the sunset filled their minds.

Otto Miller stands and takes his hat in hand. He nods a “good-bye” my way and walks out of the room. I surmise that in his mind the interview is over. He has told his story. The rest is actually common knowledge in the area, told in hushed tones by the “outsiders.” Mr. Miller led his scavengers to the barn, held the door for them as they walked in, closed it behind them and braced it. Muffled screams were heard and one or two shots were fired. The next spring he added three new members to his plowing team.

Otto Miller is a simple Amish man. His plain homemade clothes identical to those wore by his father and grandfather. His life as it always has been, revolving around his family, his fields and his faith. Whatever else he has done is between him and his God and certainly not open to the speculation of an outsider.


  1. I love the unique view of this story – There are so many great stories taking place in the city and yes, some in the country as well, but how many have really taken the view of a different culture such as the Amish?

    Comment by jenn on October 20, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

  2. Really interesting take on the genre. This short recaptures what I enjoyed most about the style of WWZ, viewing the outbreak from many different cultural angles. Nice use of the genre while taking us to a new and unexpected place.

    Comment by Brad Simmons on October 20, 2008 @ 5:08 pm

  3. This is a good one.

    Comment by Brian on October 20, 2008 @ 8:18 pm

  4. Wow Bret! This is excellent! I can’t wait to read more stories that you’ve written or will write in the future. This somehow reminds me of Simon Pegg’s stuff and is just as hilarious. Shaun of the Dead meets Witness? I don’t know, just loved it man! Keep it up!

    Comment by Heath on October 20, 2008 @ 10:37 pm

  5. I live fairly close to the Amish and I can see this actually occurring. Thanks for a great story.


    Comment by Joe Mc on October 21, 2008 @ 9:47 am

  6. Great story I loved it. Thanks.

    Comment by Zoe on October 21, 2008 @ 1:40 pm

  7. Great story, nicely written, original. I like it

    Comment by Piratepete on October 21, 2008 @ 2:17 pm

  8. Wicked awesome story, loved it from beginning to end. It’s refreshing to see a different take on the genre. Keep up the great work!

    Comment by Crazy Dame on October 21, 2008 @ 6:55 pm

  9. Wait so diary of the dead? …. Amish character? Is this the inspiration?

    Comment by Steve on October 22, 2008 @ 3:11 pm

  10. Thank you to everyone for reading and for your kind comments. They are very encouraging.

    The inspiration for the story came from living in small towns and having interactions with those in Amish communities. I wanted to take the flavor of what I read in World War Z and see how it played out in that setting.

    Thanks again,


    Comment by Bret on October 23, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

  11. A very refreshing look at the outbreak from a entirely different prespective.

    Comment by itor66 on October 29, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

  12. There are more than one type of Amish peoples. Not all of them forsake electronic devices as the devil. The amish character doesn’t have to sound like a ‘ye old’ pilgrim to be amish.

    Comment by Tim on October 29, 2008 @ 2:14 pm

  13. Great story. Moves well, and sounds like the practical I know and the Mennonites in my family. I live in farm country, and can see something like this happening. I’ll look forward to more of your work, Brett,

    Comment by David on November 8, 2008 @ 2:10 pm

  14. I enjoyed reading your story. It was a nice change of pace. I would like to see more.

    Comment by Rick on November 19, 2008 @ 8:36 pm

  15. WOW! My grandparents live near an Amish community, and I think that this is just perfect, it’s how they would be. Great job!

    Comment by ashes7811 on December 10, 2008 @ 6:24 pm

  16. Terrific story. Well written and full of vivid detail. I have always said that when it all comes to a crashing end for most all of us the Amish will survive and this story just backs it up. You are an excellent writer. Keep them coming.

    Comment by Andre on December 14, 2008 @ 2:20 am

  17. I see Amish people almost every day at my work. I could honestly see them doing something like that. Awsome story

    Comment by Justin on December 21, 2008 @ 7:55 pm

  18. This short would have made a perfect episode for Rod Serling’s Night Gallery(i.e., creator of The Twilight Zone). Nice and twisted.

    Comment by Therese on March 1, 2009 @ 8:00 pm

  19. The Amish rule.

    This just reminds me of that one scene in Diary of the Dead, where they meet a mute Amish man who kills a bunch of zombies with a pipe bomb. When they turn around again, he’s holding up a sign that says, “Hello, my name is Samuel.”

    Comment by Liam on July 7, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

  20. I really liked the interview style of this story, very well written. Thank you for an excellent read.
    J. Roy

    Comment by J. Roy on July 7, 2009 @ 4:40 pm

  21. A very enjoyable read, and I liked the setting a good deal. The main character was well thought out and likable. It almost made me yearn for more details. My imagination is running wild now. Thank you.

    Comment by brycepunk on July 20, 2009 @ 9:13 pm

  22. Fantastic.I’m from Kentucky(bordering Ohio),so I am very used to seeing Amish.I have always enjoyed my interactions with them.I think that was an excellent way to portray him(them).Again,very nice.

    Comment by fred on September 10, 2009 @ 1:05 am

  23. Very creative take on the Zombie war!! I look forward to reading more!

    Comment by jim dandy on October 12, 2009 @ 1:45 pm

  24. Great story! I love survivor interviews. One question, though…what happens when livestock are bred in one family?

    Comment by Cherry Darling on November 27, 2009 @ 10:09 am

  25. Good story, Bret. Congrats on the anthology selection.

    Comment by Al Payne on January 16, 2010 @ 7:00 pm

  26. Growing up in my early years, my family and I lived close to a small Amish community. I must say that for what I remember of them, they were pleasant people. They were certainly devout and goodly christians. I would like to read more on this subject matter.

    Comment by Oppressed1 on April 14, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

  27. @ Cherry Darling When livestock or any mammal including humans are bred in family deformity and mental retardation occurs.

    Comment by Mark on August 3, 2010 @ 10:50 pm

  28. […] Rural Dead — Bret Hammond […]

    Pingback by John Joseph Adams » THE LIVING DEAD 2 on August 30, 2010 @ 3:34 pm

  29. I liked this one! Nice job.

    Comment by Merc on August 30, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

  30. […] Rural Dead — Bret Hammond […]

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  31. […] Here is Bret’s zombie story http://www.talesofworldwarz.com/stories/2008/10/20/rural-dead-by-bret-hammond/ […]

    Pingback by Take Him With You » #87 Zombies, Geocaching & Faith- A visit with Bret Hammond – the Take Him With You Podcast with Rick & Amy Moyer on September 25, 2010 @ 12:24 pm

  32. […] David Moody"The Days of Flaming Motorcycles" by Catherynne M. Valente"Obedience" by Brenna Yovanoff"Rural Dead" by Bret […]

    Pingback by SF Signal: Free Fiction for 4/30/11 on April 30, 2011 @ 12:26 am

  33. Loved this. A certainly unique story within the genre which I read originally in the BAen Library book The LivingDead 2. Can’t wait to read more by Brett .

    Comment by Lisa Bradley on March 15, 2013 @ 5:23 am

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