THE DESIGNATED HITTERS LAMENT by Vincent L Cleaver
January 17, 2010 Short stories Tags: Vincent L Cleaver
A Zombie Apocalypse Love Story
Joseph had seen them heading out to check out the zombies hanging around No. 4 wind turbine; ‘Sarge’, ‘Gomer’ and Barnes, the rancher that they’d hooked up with two days back. The ranch had five wind turbines built on easements leased to a Texas power utility, and the ranch was unlikely to ever be without power. They had power, and a good, deep well; now they needed food, some kind of fence, and a lot more; an endless list.
He and some civilians made a morning sweep of the area around the ranch house, barns and outbuildings, after those three drove off in the ranchers’ pickup, a mobile treasure with its portable generator, hundred gallon diesel tank and pump. A little later, he heard gunshots, and saw zombies go down for good a half-mile away. It was a wonder, this new situational awareness; surreal, hyper-real. There were zees about, and where you saw one, yeah, where you saw one, there were always more.
The three, plus two, rolled back soon after, unhurt and un-bit. No, make that plus one. Gomer was holding a young woman’s arm behind her, and his ugly mug had a look of infinite sadness. That’s when Joseph knew, even before they got out of the pickup and he saw her bloody pants leg. She’d been kicking at the zombie, the fresh cut of meat that had still had it enough together to climb up after the young woman and the little girl.
There was also something ineffably sad about the skillful way that they had separated the little girl from the woman, her older sister. “Go on, little Jay. Big Sis has to go.” ‘Jay’ didn’t ask, didn’t need to ask. Those eyes were full of knowledge, and she was only being brave for her sister. She went with the old woman, the rancher’s momma. She was seven or eight, and her sister was barely a woman, but they both had haunted eyes, ancient.
Sarge called him over. “Joseph? We’ve, ah… come here, please.”
Joseph had made himself the ‘designated hitter’, their self-appointed executioner. In his opinion, it made more sense that only one man should have to carry this burden, and that it shouldn’t fall to the Sarge, who was not even really a sergeant, although they called him one. Everybody had to be able to trust Sarge, and it wasn’t right, or safe, to put it on the bitten.
“How bad?” he asked, businesslike.
“It got me deep, and carried away a chunk of m-” ‘Big Sis’ suddenly turned and threw up against the corner of the barn that that bastard, Smith, had shot near to hell on the first day. Most of the men looked pointedly away. The vomit smelled like rotted lettuce and probably was, for all Joseph knew. He put a hand out and carefully squeezed her shoulder. She reached around and grabbed his wrist, so fast and violently that Gomer jumped and his rifle went halfway to his shoulder. Joseph didn’t start or wince.
“Do you know what happens?” He asked her. Even now, days after, some didn’t; but the young woman nodded.
“If you’ll come with me, ma’am, there’s something we have to do. Do you understand?”
“Y-yes,” she stammered.
“Lean on me, if you need to; I’m here to help.”
Gomer had gone pale as death, only they all knew better, now; death was bloated, black and mottled, and smelled bad. Joseph knew, because he had seen death go a-walking, shambling along the road. His job was to keep death away, to keep it out. The problem was, death still managed to get inside, no matter how hard you guarded against it. He had seen death in the mirror this morning, and that was very, very bad.
The two of them went around the corner of the barn, a slow three-legged race with her leaning increasingly heavily on him. They found a little privacy out behind the buildings, on a hay-wagon with the high metal framing on three sides. The steel was rusty beneath the flaking red paint. He sat on the front edge, legs kicking loosely, and she sat inside, cross-legged, leaning back against a post.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked. He always asked.
“Not particularly, but I guess that I should.” She looked up at him. “Why would you even want to know?”
Joseph shrugged, helplessly. “It’s sort of a barometer. When I don’t care, it’s time to stop.” He had picked out a bullet against that need, when he was no different from the walking dead. It rolled around in his pocket, over his heart. With any luck at all, he’d use it on the real deal, instead. Luck!
“My name is Sarah, and the little girl is my baby sister…” Her face crinkled up in grief, then smoothed out a little, and she did not cry. There were more than ten years between their ages, Joseph thought. Mom and Dad and how many children? “Jacqueline, ‘Jay’. There were three Jackies in her 1st grade class. She’s seven, going on thirty-seven, so she’ll make it.”
“I expect that she will.”
“Do you have any idea what happened, I mean, why?”
Joseph couldn’t say that he did, but he felt the need to say something, anything. “I heard, well, I heard it was terrorists…”
She started laughing, bitterly, and crying. Joseph set his rifle down, and crept over to her, scared and sick of it all. He wondered, idly, if he was trying for ‘death-by-zombie’; maybe.
She was feverish to his touch, a very bad sign. This normally ran its course so very fast only when the bite was in the neck. Her eyes were yellow and bloodshot, whereas, just a little while before, they had been the prettiest blue. Those eyes held death, promised death, and very soon would yield to death.
“Why?” Did she mean, why was she dying, why she had to?
“I don’t know. I wish to Christ that I did, but I don’t.” Joseph shrugged, again with the helplessness. “I really don’t want to be here, doing this, not anymore-”
“Don’t you dare give up!” Sarah pulled his face around in her hands. “I don’t know these people, but I-” She swallowed, then coughed and coughed. Death had her by the throat.
“I need to know that someone will look after her. Not just her, but not give up just because it’s all gone to shit, and-”
“Sh, sh; I will.”
“I can barely see; it’s so dark.” She looked around, her eyes cloudy, now. It was a bright and sunny morning, turning into an unseasonably warm October day. “I want you to hold me, but I don’t think that you should…”
Joseph held her anyway, and after a while she asked him, “What happens next?”
“Do you trust me?”
“Think of something nice, and I’ll take care of the rest.”
She was smiling, but oh, how she trembled, from fear and her body giving way to the inevitable. He would not have to steal too much away from her, at least.
Joseph got his knife out, and then he used it.
When he was alone again, he made sure that she wasn’t going to get back up, ever. Then he carried the body over to the little pile of exed out roamers. They really needed to dig a pit and burn the pile, for hygiene. Walking dead wasn’t the only way to get dead.
“She had such pretty eyes,” he said to himself. Then he turned away and went in search of Sarge, the guys from his squad, and the rancher.