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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.

SMALL AND AFRAID by Vincent L. Cleaver
September 30, 2011  Short stories   Tags:   

The man was big; they called him ‘Bear’ or ‘Papa Bear’. Stan thought about male bears and hoped that he was a papa wolf, instead… in the Zombie Apocalypse, such a big guy had done better than most, bashing in undead skulls and keeping beyond their cold hands with the reach of the tree limb pruning-hook that he was carrying. It looked like serious hurt.

Stan and Daria had observed the survivor group, about thirty strong, for a few hours, as they approached in good order and made camp for the night. The two had decided to risk talking to them. They didn’t really have much choice- his broken leg was just beginning to heal and he, Daria and the dog, Scar, were running short of supplies. Stan had not bothered to joke about eating the dog…

He did it for Daria, and she did it for him, the dog, and for one other reason, which was one of the things they didn’t mention in their sales pitch. A gimpy hitter was bad enough, but the whole thing was sort of like an undead version of ‘The Gift of the Magi’.

“We’re down to just the two of us and the dog. We lost a man a week ago. Good man, name of Kermit,” Stan said, and shared a look with Daria. She just smiled and hugged Scar, who grinned a doggy grin over his shoulder at her and kept watch on the open end of the courtyard of the motel which the survivors were prepping for the night. Scar was a good set of eyes, and calm, for a dog, no barking and yapping at the undead. He was a survivor too, and had worked out the rules as well as any human. “Daria’s been keeping me alive, really…”

“Tell me, Mr. Warshawski, why should we take you in, risk me and mine for two, three, more mouths to feed?” Bear asked him, not unkindly.

It was a very good question, Stan thought.

“I’ve done okay up until I broke my leg. I’ll be pulling my weight again, very shortly, and I’ll be worth it. I kept myself alive all this time, and small groups, too.”

“How about you and the girl?”

“Her name is Daria,” Stan said a little bit more testily than they could afford. “She’s good point, a good fighter and scavenger. Level, cool, maybe a touch sentimental…”

“The dog?”

“No,” Stan said, and dropped his voice, “Doesn’t like putting down Kay Zees.”

“Kay Zees?”

“Kiddie zombies.”

“Oh.” The big man looked lost in thought for a moment, and then asked, “Are you two an item?”

“No!” Stan said, and blinked in surprise at the force of his own denial.

The man-bear sat back on low brick wall a little and laughed heartily, if quietly, from the belly. “Well, Mr. Warshawski, you’ll do, I think. You just might do.”

“My friends call me Stan.” They shook on it, and Bear shook Daria’s hand as well.

“Very good, Stan, Daria, Scar,” this last directed at the mongrel, “I’m glad to have you as part of our merry little band.”

He brought them in, so to speak, sending them upstairs before the three-worker team had finished cutting it away from the second floor landing. A pair of carpenters had already put together a ramp for getting back down in the morning, and the wagons and wheel-barrels of stuff had been unloaded and carried upstairs as well. Stan nodded approvingly at all of this.

“Now that’s organization!”

“We have to be organized; wait till we send out drag-teams tomorrow, to draw off any unwanted company. Plus we’ve got a kid with a sling, who can put a stone through a zombies’ skull at fifty yards. Nice and quiet, just like I like it.”

Stan looked at him and decided to ask the question that ate at him, a little. “What’s it like, to be responsible for this many?”

Bear shrugged. “I sorta drifted into it, y’know? Got pushed around a little…” He laughed at Stan’s expression. “I see what you’re thinking, it’s all over your face- who pushes a giant, 6′ 2′, still 200 plus pounds after all these months of want? Well, just about everybody… first there was the little old lady who scolded me into breaking up a fight when I just wanted to mind my own business. Then the wife, slapping her shame-faced husband around, screaming at him when there were Zees about. The kid who wanted just a little more of what I had to eat…”

He was quiet, and they stood at the railing of the second floor, amidst the noises and smells of cooking and eating and bedding down. To the west was a pretty fine sunset. It was good to be alive, Stan thought, even as the leg began to let him know that he needed to get off his feet. He shifted around on his crutch and lean heavily against a steel column with flaking paint.

“The little ones push me around the most,” Bear continued. “I don’t like the, the powerlessness. I guess in a big guy like me, that’s strange, but it’s what gets me. It makes you feel small and afraid, and that’s the worst thing…”

Daria touched his arm and Stan saw that she’d brought two folding chairs, one of which she was handing to Bear. He could almost kiss her. “Thanks.” She smiled and disappeared.

Scar had wandered up to Bear, sniffing his hand and really grooving when the big guy scratched behind his ears. Then the dog whined at Bear softly, looking up into his face with the frank stare he’d used on Stan, Daria, and… Kermit, when the dog had joined up with them. He seemed to be satisfied with what he saw, for he licked the man’s hand and went off looking for Daria. Bear stared after him and then at Stan, who just shrugged.

“I always used to get so very angry,” Bear finally went on, “when I saw the ‘beaten-dog look’ in a small person, a girl or a woman, let alone in a dog. I’m a big guy, nobody wants to mess with me, and I don’t want to mess with them, I just don’t… I like dogs and I never could have done that sort of job, before, to be a good cop or an animal control officer. My idea of justice is five minutes alone with the two-legged rat-fucks-” Bear swallowed, his face hard as stone. “Excuse me.”

“Justice is five minutes with a crowbar and then leaving them alone with their pain and fear for a few days, just bread, water and penicillin. Not because I don’t want them to die- because I want them to suffer.” Bear looked over at Stan, who was wondering if the man had ever done this, or if it was just a fantasy.

“I’ve wanted that, myself.” Stan admitted. “Never have; I wouldn’t trust myself to do the right thing under those circumstances. Besides, examples don’t work on cowards or bullies.”

“So what would you do?”

Stan thought of Daria. “A man like that, or a woman, I suppose, is a threat to us all. No more jails, and… I never liked putting people away, paying for it, the depravity of jails, all of it. I’d kill them, quick and clean,” Stan said looking over into Bear’s eyes, and they both nodded in understanding. “I’m not really a very nice man.”

Bear smiled at that. “We picked up a woman and her child the other day, just two more strays we found along the way. We do that, because we do, that’s all. Because, if you don’t… Well, how could you not? Just… how?”

“They were both small fry, but when the woman looked up and met my eyes later that evening, I smiled at the power that I found there. A survivor, and that’s a fact! They always have a story; sometimes they want to talk and sometimes they just want to forget.”

“‘You want to tell me about it?’ I asked her,” Bear said, looking the same question at Stan. “She was one of those who desperately needed to talk.”

Stan nodded; he knew all about those, and the other kind, too.

“We survivors have all reached down deep to get this far, and found our well-spring,” Bear continued, “Found that we have what it takes. Sometimes it’s ugly, sometimes it’s beautiful, but it’s almost always awesome and life-changing. Or sometimes even mundane.”


“We- we were with a larger group, before…” The woman began, and I nodded encouragingly. It made sense; strength in numbers, until numbers attracted greater numbers of the walking dead. If you were careful and lucky, you could handle that, too.


“Frank wasn’t my husband. I don’t know…” She looked at the little boy, fast asleep. About five or six. He was curled up to her like a puppy and now he stirred. “Mommy?”

“Hush, baby. Go back to sleep.”

He went right back to slumber-land, and I wondered at that trust and obedience. Rare in the old world of ‘no!’ and terrible parenting, but a godsend now. He’d do.

“Frank took care of us. He was a good man and we-”

I just nodded. These things happened in the Z-pocalypse and they were beautiful; a little warmth in a cold, undead world. You learned to keep looking for the good.

“Things went bad, fast. Then we were on the run, got trapped and had to climb for it. The back of an alley with half-burned buildings all around, but it was just what we were looking for. They couldn’t get to us, not in a mob. By then we were down to me and Bobby, Karen and Frank… Karen had gotten bit, and hid it from us.”

I winced. I’m always so sad for those poor damned souls; not just for being bit, but for when they lose their way. For denying the facts, for not doing what’s right. Life is so very precious now, and worth any sacrifice to protect it.

“When she turned, she bit Frank before we put her back down. We tossed her body into the crowd… I couldn’t let Frank go. He lingered, he humored me, and then, when I fell asleep, he got up and jumped.”

She couldn’t speak anymore for a while, so I said, for her, “He was a good man.”

“We were alone for a few days… on our own and getting more and more desperate. The food lasted longer, but we still ran out of it and water, but we didn’t run out of zombies. I finally realized that they were attracted to our smells, especially when we had to use the bathroom.” That little wrinkle got more survivors killed at this point than anything else, except maybe for in-fighting. She suddenly laughed. “Apparently, warm piss equals warm flesh!”

She was quiet again and I imagined a woman and a little boy- no, a fine, brave little man, versus the alley full of undead. “Couldn’t you get out some other way?”

She shook her head. “We were blocked. No more stairs, just the third floor; no other way back down. And… Frank was crawling around down there. I went down part-way, dropped broken concrete and bricks on a few from above, but there were always more coming. Just enough, looking to see what was up!”

There was a fragile tinkle to her laughter this time, and I reached out to her, took her small hand in my big paw. “How did you get away?”

“It took a lucky accident. I had to make, you know… I had to go and didn’t have time to get to the bucket. So I went; I figured, they don’t count, right? But I splashed a couple of them, not on purpose. It’s not like you guys, I couldn’t aim or anything, but what got spilled… they went crazy, the others attacked the two that I’d urinated on, tore them apart- Tore them apart!”

She smiled a wolfish, triumphant smile; a good one, nothing wrong with that! “I went and got Bobby. I told him to pee for Mommy. And he did!”

She tussled his hair. He stirred and smiled.

“I told him to be brave while I went down and mopped up, and then I called for Bobby. He came down to me and we ran for it! Ever since, well, we’ve been keeping a water-pistol full of it, warm, right next the skin. It works like a charm for when you’ve got two or more…”

“Weaponized pee,” I mused. It was amazing, the things that people will do to survive; a funny world.


  1. I’m glad to see the continuation of Stan, Daria and Scar. On a technical note:

    Weaponized pee = AWESOME IDEA

    That never crossed my mind. Good job.

    Comment by JamesA on September 30, 2011 @ 10:31 am

  2. This is truly original. Great story. Adding ‘water gun’ to my list of supplies to pack for the zombie apocalpyse.

    Comment by Linda on September 30, 2011 @ 11:12 am

  3. I done stole it from HG World. I don’t have link handy, but I need to listen in again…

    Wonderful audio-plays, interesting take on Zombies-as-hive-mind, and some of my favorite UN-peacekeepers trying not to be shot by the angry and confused ‘Merikuns!

    Also, unaccountably Ski is Stan here- dunno why I did that, but I prefer Ski, and he’s the same pretty kewl stressed-out survivor group leader that I’ll continue to do horrible things to, y’know? But at some point, Z-pocalypes or no, Ski and Daria and Scar, and Bear and his traveling circus, will earn their happy ending!

    Comment by Vincent L. Cleaver on September 30, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

  4. Very nicely done, Vince.

    Comment by Jeff Boyle on October 1, 2011 @ 6:20 am

  5. U my friend gave me a awesome idea. Pls keep ur stories comming

    Comment by Richard on October 2, 2011 @ 8:55 pm

  6. Best story I have read to this point. Pee Power

    Comment by racouple73 on October 4, 2011 @ 3:27 am

  7. A touch of humor in the midst of an apocalypse. Good short 🙂

    Comment by Jiggy on October 4, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

  8. By taking away his nick name –Ski– you’ve helped to humanize him further.

    Comment by James on October 10, 2011 @ 3:11 pm

  9. I’m flattered! Enjoyed your story, Vincent. And thanks for the kind words about HG World. 🙂

    Comment by Jay Smith on November 6, 2011 @ 7:46 pm

  10. Remember that scene in Home Alone 2 when Kevin poured the bird feed on the crooks and the pigeons swarm them? LOL awesome!

    Nice story, I’ve never read a detail like this before! There’s been rubbing clothes with zombie to disguise smell (Walker), but to make some zeds smell like us?

    Comment by Georgie on February 26, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

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