“Are you there, God? It’s me, Bob. I expect that you’re rather busy- it’s Hell on Earth here… I’m sorry, I shouldn’t mock you. You know all the mysteries. I- I’m just a man. Mortal, fallible, afraid… sick to death for me and mine. They’re all I have, Lord. Watch over us and protect us. Amen.”
-Bob, Zombie Hunter
“Are you there, God!?” Bob wailed. He swung and connected. The meaty crunchy sound was sweet in his ears. He was covered in gore and probably should have been more worried about that. But his world had ended ten minutes ago. All that was left was to go through the motions and put down a few more Z’s. He welcomed an end to grief and pain.
“Why? Why did you take them, you bastard! Wasn’t I doing the best that I could? Did I complain too much? Did I break faith with you!?”
His daughter was back up again. She was wearing the green dress that set off her red hair, a dress that they’d found for her yesterday, the special birthday trip that had led to the big fight, in-group, and led, indirectly, to this. She had been eight, and had asked if they would being going to Grandma’s.
He’d said, “Maybe.”
Bob could not do it. The halligan tool dropped from his senseless fingers, and he fell to his knees. The littlest zombie came at him gnashing her teeth. Bob made no move to defend himself.
A long blade swung lazily into his field of vision from his left. The sword cut into the undead little girl’s ripped-out throat and cleanly separated head from body. The head flew through the air and bounced off of a wall, back at him, to come to restlessness at his knees. Then the sword tip smashed down through the still gnashing skull.
Bob slid sideways into unconsciousness.
Bob came back to the awareness of hands holding him and reacted. As he struggled he heard, “Whoa, he’s awake! Break, break!” The hands released him.
Blearily he grabbed up the first weapon at hand, a two-pound stone, a chunk of cement block, actually. Three or four people were giving him space without fleeing. Waiting to see what he would do. Someone said, “Good reflexes…”
Bob took his time then. You weren’t safe now, not ever. Even less so around people. So it paid to be cautious and assess your options. He was half-naked. They had apparently cleaned him up with wet rags- his old clothes and some that he didn’t recognize. The gore was still a thin layer and he didn’t feel clean, just better.
Bob looked up at the point of the sword, and on up at the man who wielded it. A little old black man, bald and wrinkled, he looked like James Earl Jones’ little brother, the runt of the litter. The man smiled and sheathed the sword.
“Do you believe in the efficacy of prayer?”
Bob closed his eyes, felt rage and a soul-weary tiredness, and he shook his head ‘no’. He opened his eyes again and saw that the old man was nodding. He wore cargo pants and a faded yellow T-shirt that read ‘My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter.’ There was a strike through ‘Boss’ with black magic marker.
“Good, you stopped to think. Did you wonder what I wanted to hear, or did you… yes. You did. You thought about it. You are a man who believed in God, until today- easy!”
Bob was on his feet. Stone versus sword, not good. He glanced around at the group, and saw them for the first time. A half-dozen, all different ethnicities, black, white, brown and yellow. Bob dropped the stone and laughed coldly. “What’re y’all, an after school special? Is this supposed to be a ‘Very Special Blossom’, ‘I was a teenage Zombie Hunter?’”
“Friend, I saved your life. Did you… want to die?”
Bob hung his head.
“I heard you, there, just now,” the old man went on. “I talk to God all the time, too, and I don’t even believe in Him! But I accept the possibility that I could be wrong…”
“Whatever. It doesn’t matter.”
The old man sighed. “Our medic pronounces you ‘clean’. We strip-searched you while you were out, for bite marks. That’s SOP with our little band. Thank you for your cooperation!”
The group laughed. They were keeping good watch and had all the avenues of threat and escape covered. Bob looked from one to the other thoughtfully. If only… He sank to his knees again. The old man came over to him and took a knee by him. Quietly, for his ears only, he said. “Well, ‘Whatever’, it’s all up to you, now.”
“What is? And my name is Bob. What’s yours?”
“They’ve been calling me the Deacon, for some reason. If you want to join us, I’ll introduce you to the bunch- good people!” More soberly he added, “We all carry away stones, friend. Lighten the load, if you can. Cast yours away.”
Bob shook his head, but when the Deacon stood and offered him a hand up, he took it. A sandy-haired woman whose good looks were marred by a scar on her left cheek offered him water, and he drank.
“I want you with us. There’s strength in numbers and we can use another good hitter. Look, do you feel that there is no hope left in the world? Just billions and billions of empty mouths that want your flesh and blood? I can’t prove to you that it’s worth enduring. If you keep going, you may come to a better place. If you just give up, then you sure as hell won’t!”
The Deacon turned away. “If it helps to hate God, then hate. If it helps to hope, then do that. If it helps to serve, to go on for duty or love… Whatever it is, come with us.”