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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.

    ZOMBIE WALKING by Tania Walsh
    October 4, 2010  Short stories   Tags:   

    Odan stood motionless in the heat as a gentle dust cloud whisked around him. The sun glared from a sky that was, as always, cloudless, but never empty. He studied the large black ships hovering in the air, sanctuaries for the privileged. Everyone else remained down on Earth, trapped in a nightmare as unrelenting as the sun.

    His wife, Jesmin, crouched on the concrete yard, gnawing a synthetic chew bone. Saliva glistened off the toy which squeaked each time she bit into the plastic. Her fingers tore at the plaything, and when that didn’t work she clutched it between her teeth and swiped her head from side to side.

    He squeezed the chain and slab of tranquilized meat in his hands, wondering how long before she spotted him. The day before she had flung herself at him the instant he strolled outside and his heart leapt with the thrill. Now, his gift distracted her.

    The sunlight thrown off the metal brace around her neck revealed the piece was stained with dirt and blood. He had figured the collar would not remain clean for long, and decided to purchase a second one. A pink one; it was her favorite colour, he was certain. He scratched his head. Maybe it was red. He rubbed his ear. Too much time had passed to remember such trivial details.

    A clack sounded as the front door locked shut. Jesmin jerked her shoulders backward, and raised her head. Her black eyes locked onto Odan and the toy dropped from her mouth. A deep groan rumbled from her throat, and the sound chilled his bones. Jesmin crawled closer on all fours, with her bottom in the air, just like the monkeys had done on the cyber programs he watched. Drool trickled from her gaping mouth onto the yellow ground, yet always her cold eyes were on him. He caught a hint of the stale decay on the wind.

    “Good morning, my peach,” he said and limped closer.

    He stopped behind the red line smeared down the centre of the front yard, and waited for the usual display. No rush.

    Across the street, a neighbor caught his attention. Odan nodded his head at the elderly bloke dressed in a similar white body suit. At the side of his yard, the young daughter rolled in the dust. The man waved, causing the chain clutched in his hand to dance on the yellow earth.

    Odan said, “It’s going to be a nice day.”

    As he finished speaking, Jesmin lurched toward him. He never flinched. Snagged by the shackle at her neck, her torso pressed forward while her head pulled back. Gargling noises erupted from her thin mouth. Her extended arms burrowed through the air to reach him, and while he ached to feel her soft caress, he knew the rules.

    He lifted the pinkish meat in his hand and swayed it in front of his beloved. “Meal time, my sweet.”

    In one swift movement, he tossed the piece of drugged food toward his wife. Her hands jerked and snatched the flesh-like snack out of the air. She shoved it into her mouth, her teeth chomping on the protein. Bent over, she coiled away.

    An arid wind whipped across his face as he listened to the sound of lip smacking, tearing and chewing. When Jesmin had first returned home, the sound disgusted him, but now it was normal, just like the howl of the wind.

    He retrieved a handkerchief from his pocket. With his fingers wiped clean, he set the timer on his watch to one hour and pressed the lock button before glancing over at the front door.

    The small entrance cubicle reminded Odan of the old fashioned telephone boxes he’d read about.  Beyond the front door booth, the land was flat and coated in yellow desert dirt. The room descended into the earth, until it vanished. A sheet of metal slid over the top of the elevator door, and already the wind sprayed golden soil over the top.

    Adjusting the dust mask over his nose and mouth, he noticed Jesmin stood upright in the middle of the yard. In a straight posture, she was beautiful. Almost stunning, despite the torn red and white polka-dot dress suspended off her body. Half her black hair had fallen out, but her high-cheeked face remained unscathed. Crimson coated her lips, and Odan’s breath caught in his throat. Aside from the putrefied flesh on her limbs and slim frame, she was still twenty years old, and would always look that age. He looked down at his own wrinkled hands. The trembling had grown worse of late.

    Turning his attention to his beloved he tottered over to her side.

    “I’ve missed you,” he mumbled. He peeled the mask from his mouth and lifted the scarlet stained hand to his lips. With eyes closed, he kissed her skin. He remembered their wedding day and the promise he had made to care for her always.

    Without wasting time, he proceeded to unlock the fetter binding her to the yard. In haste, he looped the chain in his hand through the connector on her metal neck brace.

    Her eyes followed his every movement. She watched him with soft eyes, and to Odan it seemed she may want to speak. She never did.

    A bare shoulder revealed rotted flesh. An ashen collar bone was exposed, and he tisked. “We can’t go out in that condition.”

    Drawing the ends of the strap together, he tied a knot atop her shoulder. He grinned to himself. “Much better.”

    The side of his finger trailed the length of her cheek and he picked off remnants of food from around her mouth. “You always were the most beautiful girl.”

    Shading his eyes with his hand from the sun’s glare, Odan gazed at the flat land beyond his front yard. Nobody in his street was home. Even his neighbor had commenced his walk. Streets farther away revealed people already strolling with their dead family members. As bizarre as the scene seemed to Odan, the feeling soon passed.

    He inhaled the baked air, mingled with the smell of rotten meat. It stung his nostrils. He tugged at the collar of his white jumpsuit and turned his eyes to his wife.

    “Sometimes I wonder if this is just in my head.” His voice trembled.

    He swallowed a dry lump in his throat and supposed he’d better make a move. Drawing on the chain in his hand, Jesmin followed him onto the cemented path. The yellow desert swept over the passageway and Odan followed the safety of the trail. Each day the path reminded him of the young girl who perished into the golden quick-sand on either side of the man-made track. His lips tightened at the memory, and clasped his wife’s hand.

    In front, the neighborhood burnt a sickly hue. He strolled in silence. Her hips touched his with each stride. She was never a talker, and he preferred that, unlike the unstoppable chatting birds his buddies married. He took the time to relish the moment and momentarily glimpsed at Jesmin who stared ahead. Always one to focus on the job at hand, she seemed to almost smile under the sun’s brilliance.

    “You are just perfect, my Jesmin. If only…” His head bowed and he kicked the dust at his feet.

    If only he had known an outbreak would spread across the world he might have tried harder to save Jesmin. But how could he? Within a week, the air-borne virus spread across the planet. He remembered the news readers had said everyone was a carrier and that the trigger was synthetic food. But not everyone changed. Odan’s head shook and he retrieved the handkerchief to wipe the perspiration gathering across his forehead. Jesmin was one of the unlucky to contract the virus. Nothing could change that, he knew. Yet, it still stung.

    Heat waves fluttered in the distant path. The pair followed the circular road which guided them past the myriad of residential streets. Curving onto Eighty-Ninth Street, he spotted his old buddy Charlie.

    Dressed in a similar white one piece garment, Charlie strolled in his direction with a puffed-out chest. The man he had bonded with in the Dry Lands was accompanied by two females. Odan knew neither of the women were his wife or partner. They were too young. The reality that infected people who were unclaimed by their families were available for purchase boiled Odan’s blood. How folks discarded their nearest and dearest never sat right with him.

    Charlie guided the ladies by a chain attached to their necks. His silver hair, pulled into a pony tail, glistened beneath the sunshine. Charlie’s mouth stretched wide into a warm smile as he approached. In his time, he had been in real estate and earned himself a wealthy bank account. That was before the out-break. Odan recognized snippets of Charlie’s arrogance float to the surface every now and then, yet a lonely life was just that.

    “People are starting to talk.” Charlie clapped a hand against Odan’s shoulder. “Always with the same girl.” He chuckled, and the crows feet around his eyes deepened.

    Odan glanced at Jesmin and clasped her fingers. “She’s the only one for me.” He turned to face his friend and raked his fingers through the thin layer of white hair on his head. “When’d you get these two?” His eyes flicked to the girls and back.

    “Haven’t you heard?” Charlie stepped closer to Odan. The smell of pine and musk lingered near. “Statute Fifty One has been amended. The waiting time for a lifeless has been stamped out. They’re all up for grabs my friend.”

    “What?”

    Charlie’s brows arched. “The government’s stopped funding the lab tests.” He rubbed his hands together. “They want to get their money back by selling off the lifeless in their cells. Over in Russia, they are being used to work the land, rotating them every hour until their bodies give out.” The man sniggered. “And to think the government tried to pass this over by saying it was a connection to our loved one. Ha!”

    Odan’s shoulders drooped. His eyes fell upon the young girls. A brunette, maybe eighteen or nineteen in age, slim and dressed in mini shorts and a tank top. Her tanned skin was almost flawless. Even their putrefied smell was faint, brushed away by the wind. She was a newbie. The red-head by her side was no different.

    “There’s only one rule to keeping a lifeless these days,” Charlie gave a crooked smile. “Keep it chained up when it’s not sedated. Otherwise, the guys upstairs don’t really care what happens down here.”

    Odan snorted. “What if the girls’ families want them?” Odan’s shaky hand constricted the chain in his hand. “Have you no decency?” His voice climbed more than he expected.

    Charlie’s face scrunched up. “Have you forgotten what world we live in? It’s 2096. Decency had flown out the door a long time ago buddy. Accept that, or it’ll eat you up like the virus.” He retrieved a cigarette from inside his chest pocket.

    Odan curled his hands into fists and gritted his teeth.

    Charlie drew the mask from his mouth and lit his smoke. He inhaled multiple drags, pointed his long chin upward and blew rings of smoke into the air. “You’ve got to change with the times. I’ve been telling you this for ages.”

    Odan looked past the man’s clear glasses and into his pale blue eyes. He wondered why he called him a friend.

    “This is good.” Charlie took another puff and balanced the cigarette between the tips of his fingers. He drew the butt from his lips and said, “We should make a request to visit the impound together. Get yourself a fresh one.” He winked.

    Odan’s body flinched. “You’re a fool.”

    Charlie shrugged his shoulders. “Suit yourself.” He moved closer to the young girls and caressed the brunette’s arm, before pushing her hair behind her ear. His hand cupped one of her breasts.

    Heaviness in Odan’s throat prevented him from answering, and then he shook his head. “Let’s be heading home, Jesmin.”

    He marched past the man and his escorts.

    Charlie’s voice carried on the wind. “You’ll change your mind.”

    Odan wanted to yell he would rather sink in the yellow earth before taking someone else’s lifeless. He didn’t. He stomped with his aching hip, refusing to let Charlie catch a glimpse of the pain he suffered. They traveled onward. Other seniors walked with their partners along the wide path. Odan avoided their stares. Instead, he wanted to shout at each one of them.

    He traveled past too many front yards with a lifeless still chained to the ground. Mostly children and females. Odan refused to accept that his neighbors might have ordered non-family lifeless just as Charlie had done.

    The temperature seemed to rise, or at least it had for Odan. Sadness lay deep in his chest. He wanted to tell Jesmin not to worry because the wrong would correct itself. But he was unable to convince himself. The urge to hug and kiss her in that moment flooded his thoughts. He continued his shuffle and turned right onto the main cemented strip.

    Ahead, he noticed a four-man space ship block the entire path. The outside shell was ink black. Wooden crates huddled near the vessel. Several men in blue uniforms unloaded more boxes, no doubt filled with provisions for the locals. Even from afar, he recognized their young and fit physiques, filled with eagerness to prove themselves.

    Once at the site, a tall man approached Odan. His brawny frame filled out his uniform, and sweat stains marked his armpits. The shirt carried a golden service badge, in the shape of a half moon with the name Sim printed on the symbol. Odan recognized the insignia as the same league he had served under.

    “Your arm,” the young man said as he wiped the sweat bubbles from his upper lip with the back of his hand.

    Odan noticed the black laser gun in the officer’s holster. He released Jesmin’s hold and stretched out his arm. The officer scanned the watch on Odan’s wrist with the plate secured to his palm. The fellow’s gaze fell to his own wrist band.

    “Mr. Theps.” The young man raised his head. “This passage will be blocked a while longer.” His arm dropped by his side.

    “I live on the other side of the transporter,” Odan said, and glimpsed at the count-down on his watch. Five minutes, twenty-two.

    The young officer placed his hands on his hips. “As I said, you will need to go around, Sir. We will be a while longer unloading supplies for everyone in the Dry Lands. We can’t move until it’s finished.” He leaned on one leg.

    Odan looked into Sim’s eyes for any sign of remorse, anything to find the real human being inside. He held the young man’s stare; his empty expression frozen in time. Was the officer trying to intimidate him?

    Odan’s face pinched. “We won’t make it back in time. Please make an exception?”

    The side of Sim’s mouth twitched. “I’d like to help, but command makes the calls.” His eyes drifted to the sky and back. “Maybe Mr. Theps, you should leave your lifeless with us?”

    Odan stepped backward. “There must be another way.” He glanced frantically over his shoulder to the elderly in the distance then back to the officer. “Do you have some tranquilizer drugs?”

    “She’s had her dose for the next twenty four hours. No other drugs will work on her today. You know this.” The boy looked down his nose at Odan. “Those things are an abomination,” he scoffed. “And yet you keep her like a pet. It’s people like you who have divided our society.”

    Odan’s feelings frayed against the backdrop of the man’s words, chattering voices and a wailing wind. The predicament was surreal, and he pondered if a dream plagued him. Anger foamed at the back of his throat. A few years earlier, he might have knocked the young man’s block off. Now, his joints and bones ached, and he was tired of too many things.

    Sim said, “Your time is ticking away.”

    That it was, Odan thought. With another glance to the man’s gun, he turned and trudged along the path he had traveled down. He turned right onto the nearest path with no home lots. The quickest route, he hoped.

    He glanced at his watch. Two minutes, fourteen seconds before Jesmin’s sedative wore out.

    Half way along the empty street parallel to his own, he pushed his sore legs into a faster walk. Sweat clumped behind his neck and trickled down his back. “Keep walking,” he told himself. The path meandered forever in the distance.

    Another glimpse, one minute, six seconds.

    To his left, the place he called home pulled further away with each stride. Jesmin remained by his side, calm and lovely as always. He gripped her hand in the rush, relishing her cold touch. “No, this can’t be,” he mumbled. He glimpsed over his shoulder and spotted Sim with folded arms, watching him from a distance.

    One quick look at his watch revealed thirty three seconds before his wife reverted back into a bloodthirsty creature.

    His ankles burnt, as did his lungs. He gasped for air and halted in the middle of the path. The distance was too much he decided, and turned Jesmin to face him.

    “You are special. Always have been. Could never understand why you chose a fool like me.” He glanced at his feet momentarily and then back to his wife.

    A flash ran across Jesmin’s face. The muscles around her eyes twitched and the creases reappeared. Her lip peeled back, revealing stained teeth. She cracked her neck.

    He felt her hand constrict around his own. When a loud screech permeated Odan’s ears, he pulled his hand free. “Oh dear God, no!”

    Time was no longer his friend. He recoiled. “Please don’t do this, my sweet.” He was certain the pain in his chest was his heart splintering.

    Jesmin iced over with wide eyes set on him. Her shoulders rasped as they hoisted upward and leaned forward. She readied to attack, and he was all too familiar with the pose.

    His body slumped as he closed his watery eyes. Odan no longer cared that his limbs wavered, ready to collapse. His wife would collect him into her arms, like she used to do. Tears dribbled free. In his mind, he already felt her warm embrace, smelt the floral scent of her hair and heard the hushed whispers only meant for his ears.

    A high pitched growl hung off the wind. His eyelids and fists scrunched tighter.

    The midday quaked with the shrill of a laser. His thoughts spiraled to the officer with the gun, and had no doubt Sim had taken the opportunity to shoot his Jesmin.

    Peeling open his eyes, he watched Jesmin’s body hurl backward. She stumbled off the path and dropped into the still sands alongside the path. His hand jutted out for her, but it was too late. The earth swallowed her body with haste. Jesmin didn’t fight the seas of death. She only stared at him. The alarm on his watch screeched. He ripped it off his wrist, flinging it into the quick-sand.

    “You will always be beautiful to me,” Odan’s lips quivered.

    Splodges of yellow sand bubbled around Jesmin’s body, drawing her deeper within its grasp. Odan thought he spotted a glimmer of change in her eyes, just as her head submerged beneath the yellow mass. Maybe it was in his mind, but relief coated his body as he knew his end was also near.

    9 Comments

    1. What a surreal imagination. I’d like to learn more about this. A good short in my opinion, left me wanting more. I was a bit confused about the quicksand though.

      Comment by Pete Bevan on October 4, 2010 @ 4:19 pm

    2. I’m hoping you have more stories to tell us in this universe Tania. Color me interested.
      Maybe a prequel to give us some backstory.

      Comment by Barrett on October 4, 2010 @ 6:28 pm

    3. Thanks Peter and Barrett…I am definately looking at writing more in this world…hence giving the reader more background on characters and the world:)

      Comment by Tania Walsh on October 5, 2010 @ 4:34 am

    4. Very nicely written, I look forwards to reading more.

      Comment by John on October 5, 2010 @ 9:46 am

    5. A new take on the relationship between us and them. I really liked this story and would love to know more about the world. Sad and beautiful. Great job!

      Comment by Kassandra on October 6, 2010 @ 11:05 am

    6. great story fantastic imagination

      Comment by uncleb on October 6, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

    7. Talented writer

      Comment by John Falvey on October 10, 2010 @ 2:51 am

    8. A very solid story – that is not quite easy to find in a zombie universe, where most of the stories tend to be repetitive. Congratulations Tania, I am very impressed.

      Comment by oliviu craznic on June 16, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

    9. Very compelling. The best short story in the zombie genre I ever read, actually, but I must admit I didn’t read too many. Good luck, Tania, and I am proud for Romanians are making such a great job outside!

      Comment by Mihai G. on July 1, 2011 @ 12:33 am

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